Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At Urbana 09

I'm at the Urbana 09 student missions convention in St. Louis, and there's a lot of great stuff going on both in the program and in the bookstore. If you want to watch, you can see many of the plenary sessions online at the free webcast page of the Urbana 09 website. Check out the amazing 15-minute Welcome to Urbana tap dance/spoken word presentation of John 1, Ruth Padilla DeBorst's talk on the movement of peoples, York Moore's abolitionist testimony, the Rahab dramatic monologue and the video clips on the state of Christianity and on human trafficking. Powerful, moving stuff.

My job this Urbana, as at previous conventions in 03 and 06, is to manage the book info booths in our bookstore. That means I roam the floor in a bright orange Home Depot-like vest answering questions and helping people find the books they're looking for (and didn't know they were looking for). We get questions like "Do you have books by Paul Bunyan?" or "What is the best book ever?" or "Um, I have a friend who is wondering if you have any books about how to meet girls." What's always so exciting is to see hundreds and thousands of college students with armfuls of IVP books. Urbana delegates are some of the most motivated, activist, missional, globally minded Christians, and it's fun to see them recommending books to one another and hear them talk about how certain books have changed their lives.

New this year is that we're having author signings in the bookstore and author interviews at our morning bookstore team meetings. Yesterday we heard from Julie Clawson, author of Everyday Justice, and this morning we chatted with Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor, authors of Global Mission Handbook. So far we've had signings with Scott Bessenecker (How to Inherit the Earth), Andy Marin (Love Is an Orientation), and we just had huge crowds for Shane Claiborne (Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers) and John Perkins (Welcoming Justice).

One of the featured books of the day is James Choung's True Story, and as they were making the book plug from the platform, James overheard a student telling her friend, "I reconverted to Christianity because of that book!" James told her, "I wrote that book!" And I was encouraged to hear that this book that I had acquired and edited had been helpful to her and many others in their spiritual journeys. Much of my work is with manuscripts and Word docs as books are being developed, so it's fun to come to conventions like these and see how our books are changing the lives of real readers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Josiah quotes, 2009

I just discovered a Facebook app called My Year in Status that lets you make a collage out of your Facebook statuses. You can customize it to select your favorite statuses from the past year. I used it to copy and paste all my statuses into one document (over 400 in 2009!), which serves as a nice snapshot and record of my thoughts and doings over the year. And I've been meaning to collect my statuses about funny things my older son, Josiah, has said, but haven't wanted to fuss with scrolling back through my actual Facebook wall. So this app let me pull all my statuses together, and I just searched for Josiah-related ones. Here are things my 7/8-year-old son said this past calendar year:

Wrote: "I, Josiah Hsu, will try to help my family by cleaning my room, help cook the food, warn them when Elijah poops all over the downstairs floor."

Ellen said, "Josiah, go brush your teeth." Josiah replied, "La la la la la - I can't hear you! La la la la la - I'm not listening!"

Josiah said, "I didn't mean to bump Elijah's head on the bed. I meant to drop him on the floor."

Josiah and I went out for donuts yesterday morning. At bedtime last night, Josiah prayed, "I pray for donuts. Ask and you will receive."

Got fettucine alfredo for dinner a few nights ago, and the pan and receipt both said "FETT." I showed Josiah, and he said, "Boba Fett pasta?"

Josiah: "I wish we had a tambourine." Ellen: "We have a tambourine." Josiah: "That you can jump on?"

"Mommy tickles better than you do. But nice try."

Al: "Free pizza! Wahoo!" Josiah said, "You shouldn't be so happy about it, Papa. Somebody had to pay for it."

Al: "When I was a kid, we didn't have goody bags at birthday parties." Josiah: "Was that back in the olden days?"

On 4th of July, asked Josiah, "Want to walk down to Starbucks?" Josiah said, "I think you've spent enough money for today."

Al: "I got some sourdough bread from Trader Joe's for you." Josiah: "That's the kind of parent I like!"

On our fridge is a guide to help kids if they ever need to call 911. It currently reads: "My name is: Josiah. My address is: stupid. I need help because: chickin on the loose."

Josiah, trying to get back to sleep: "Sheep have no effect."

Josiah's letter from history camp: "I feel crazy being in the army. I'm only doing this for money. We played baseball and screeeaaamed. See you in a few days. Bye!"

It's Wave Wednesday of Hawaiian Week at Josiah's day camp, so we suggested that he wear a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. He said, "No way. I am definitely not wearing those dorky shorts."

Josiah: "Either I need to get fatter or I need a belt."

Josiah: "Can we get some of the sizzling grape juice?"

Asked Josiah, "Did they talk about September 11th at school today?" He said, "Yes, it's a sad holiday. Two planes crashed into the Sears Tower and another one hit the Hexagon Tower."

Josiah said, "My rib hurts. Maybe I'm having a girl."

Josiah went to the mailbox in anticipation of getting a new video game. While opening the package, he said, "It better not be a book."

Told Josiah that Rio got the Olympics instead of Chicago. He asked, "Can we move to South America?"

Was playing ping pong with Josiah at a friends' house. He was retrieving a ball and bonked his head on a bar. I asked, "Are you okay?" Josiah responded, "I think I'm going to live."

Gave Josiah applesauce and goldfish crackers (in two separate bowls). After a while, he said, "I don't want applesauce anymore. I keep dipping my fingers in there when I want goldfish."

Josiah, talking about his Narnia videogame: "There's a phonics attack." Me: "What's a phonics attack?" Josiah: "You know, a phonics. The bird that breathes fire."

Josiah: "I want to make a flip book of a chicken dying." Ellen: "How about a butterfly flying?" Josiah: "Okay, a butterfly flying into a window and dying."

Ellen brought back German, Swiss and Russian chocolate. Josiah: "Does it have crickets in it?"

Al has a germy son who says, "Beware the fingers of doom."

Me: "What's leprosy?" Josiah: "When a leopard bites you."

Josiah: "I learned a new phrase from Charlie Brown: 'Great scott!'" Me: "What does that mean?" Josiah: "It means Scott is great."

"It's 32 degrees. It's a water-freezing day."

Josiah: "Do you want a snack?" Danny: "No, we're scientists doing experiments." Josiah: "Scientists need food too. We can't just drink potions."

Got donuts with Josiah. Me: "So if it's $4.00 for a dozen donuts, how much does each donut cost?" Josiah: "Dude, it's winter break. I don't want to do math."

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

If Facebook statuses were really honest

A lot of Facebook statuses are fairly innocuous – observations about life, work, daily activities, current events. Most folks are self-conscious and careful about not disclosing things that are too personal, especially anything that casts them in a negative light. There’s rarely any confession of wrongdoing other than “Jenny is stealing her kids’ Halloween candy.” But what if people really said what was really going on? Then instead of a status like “Mark is hiking the Appalachian Trail” you’d see “Mark is ditching his family and job to rendezvous with his Argentinian soulmate.”

A few years ago I heard about the concept of the Johari window, which organizes people's interpersonal interactions in different categories of people’s self-perceptions and perceptions by others. One category is the “arena,” that which is known to oneself and publicly made known to others, that we see and that others also see. Most Facebook statuses probably fall into this category, stuff that people feel comfortable making public about themselves.

Another category is the “facade” – that which we know about ourselves but is not seen by others. We are selective about what we disclose and edit out the naughty bits. So if we were to pull back the facade, our statuses might say things like “Wally is looking at porn,” "Eliot is visiting a prostitute" or “Carrie just slapped her daughter.”

Even more interesting is the category of the “blind spot” – that which others know about us but that we don’t know about ourselves. It’s hard for us to get clued in on things in this category unless we have trusted friends that let us know what's going on, but this might be something like "Michael is offending coworkers left and right" or "Dwight is totally staring at Pam's chest and is completely creeping her out."

The fourth category is "mystery," that which is unknown to both ourselves and others around us. This might be something like "Britney is acting out because of childhood issues" or "Ted is in serious denial about being gay."

It's interesting to think about Facebook statuses through the lens of the Johari window. Is that status really real or just a facade? What's not being said in a status that might reflect a blind spot or an area of mystery? Integrity, many have said, is who you are when no one's looking. In an age of Facebook, integrity might be having your Facebook status really reflect who you are and not just how you want people to think about you.

(P.S. Just found an interactive Johari window online, but I'm scared to try it.)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Encouragement for aspiring writers

Yesterday morning I was at Wheaton College to talk to English majors and writing students about editing and publishing work. Had a great time interacting with folks and answering questions about the writing and publishing process. One of the handouts I distributed contained the following quotes:

“First of all, if you want to write, write. And second, don’t do it. It’s the loneliest, most depressing work you can do.” Walker Percy

“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” Gene Fowler

“Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.” Jessamyn West

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Red Smith

“It should surprise no one that the life of the writer – such as it is – is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world. This explains why so many books describe the author’s childhood. A writer’s childhood may well have been the occasion of his only firsthand experience.” Annie Dillard

“In general, very little happens to a writer. Now do you understand why we put so much emphasis on artificial reality? Our actual reality is insufferably dull. A Federal Express delivery is far and away the most dramatic event in my day.” Philip Yancey

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.” Philip Roth

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.” Joseph Heller

“The first draft of anything is [poop].” Ernest Hemingway

“Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you’re going to say.” Francoise Sagan

“Writing is no trouble: you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself – it is the occurring which is difficult.” Stephen Leacock

“Writing is a form of therapy. Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human situation.” Graham Greene

“The secret of good writing is to say an old thing a new way or to say a new thing an old way.” Richard Harding Davis

Monday, November 23, 2009

Win a free mission trip to Haiti

IVP is cosponsoring a contest to win a free mission trip to Haiti with Kent Annan, codirector of Haiti Partners and author of the new book Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle: Living Fully, Loving Dangerously. Six people will be chosen to receive an all-expenses-paid 5-day mission trip to Haiti from May 20-24, 2010. To enter, answer this question:

How are you personally challenged by Jesus' invitation to live more fully and love dangerously, and how could this trip be part of that?

with either a 300-400-word essay or a 2-to-3-minute video posted to YouTube. Entries must be submitted by Feb. 15, 2010. The first 50 entries will win a free copy of the book. See contest rules and entry form.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Deadly Viper authors and publisher retract book

In the past few weeks, Asian American Christians have been protesting the release of the Zondervan book Deadly Viper Character Assassins for its insensitive use and stereotypical appropriation of Asian and Asian American images and themes. The charge has been led by several of my authors, primarily Soong-Chan Rah (see key posts here, here and here) as well as Kathy Khang and Ken Fong, and many others (Asian and not) have been involved. I have weighed in here and there but have not said anything yet on this blog because as an editor at another publishing house, I did not want to be seen as taking potshots at a competitor. However, I am thrilled that I can now pass along the official news that Zondervan has issued a public apology and is pulling the Deadly Viper book from publication and distribution. Reposted from Soong-Chan Rah's blog:

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins”

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins. It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ. This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject. We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart. In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products. He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God. We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth. And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite. Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message. We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side. This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion. We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.



And the authors of Deadly Viper have removed all previous materials from their website and posted this apology:

To our Friends and Family:

Due to an unfortunate conflict that arose around our use of Asian American themes, we have decided to close this chapter of Deadly Viper Character Assassins. This decision has been a very difficult one for us and one that we did not take lightly.

For the past 2 years we have had the honor to be part of an incredible movement of advocating for radical integrity and grace. We have been deeply humbled hearing your stories of how Deadly Viper has impacted your life, family, and relationships.

We and our team will continue to commit our lives to the message of integrity, grace, and most of all becoming People Of The Second Chance.

We thank you for your prayers, support, and kindness through this season.

We love you.

Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite

I heartily commend Zondervan and the authors for this action and am glad for this result. It is stunning to see authors willing to give up an invested brand identity in order to make things right. I am grateful for the dialogue that has taken place and that people in positions of power were willing to listen and learn.

Takeaway for the church overall: This is how it's done. This is The Next Evangelicalism that Soong-Chan writes about - a church that is stronger, more authentic and has more integrity in its witness when all members of the body are honored and respected. The church is becoming more global, more diverse, and the future of the North American church will depend on how readily it incarnates the totality of the body in all its ethnic and cultural dimensions.

Takeaway for Asian American Christians in particular: As I've said before, Asian Americans have an opportunity to become culture makers. It's not enough to protest when injustice occurs (as important as that is) - we must also be contributing to the conversation and involved in the business of creating cultural artifacts that shape society. We need Asian Americans (and people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds!) as authors, editors, marketers, designers, journalists, bloggers, publishing executives. It's likely that this Deadly Viper incident would not have happened if Zondervan had had more Asian Americans on staff. So Asian American community, as Paul Tokunaga says in Invitation to Lead, it's time to step up. Write books. Apply for jobs at Zondervan (and other Christian publishers). Get in the game.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Find Work That Fits You

[This is part of an article I wrote for TheHighCalling.org that was posted a few months ago.]

My high school friends were a microcosm of school society. Eric was a photographer and yearbook editor. Ann was a leader in the marching band. Bill was the lead actor in theatre productions. Laura was in the dance line. Jeff was co-captain of the track team. Carol was co-captain of volleyball and synchronized swimming. Dan was in speech and debate.

Me? I lettered in debate and theatre, and I ran track for a while. I also participated in things like academic decathlon and science olympiad. But my senior year, my primary involvement and identity was as an editor for the school newspaper. I had published a poem back in first grade in our school district's poetry compendium, and I had always loved reading and writing. So the school paper became my niche.

Why did my friends and I gravitate to certain interests and not others?

Some of it was parental influence. Teachers and coaches may have encouraged us to try out for certain activities. And, of course, peers had something to do with it. I never would have run track if my friends had not also been on the team. But to a large extent, we all had certain gifts and talents that geared us in some directions rather than others.

Some people distinguish between gifts and talents. They say that gifts are those natural, innate, God-given abilities to excel in certain areas, whether intellectual, artistic, or athletic. And talents might be thought of as skills that can be acquired and learned, regardless of inherent ability. I'm not sure it's quite that clear cut, but I do recognize that people have different gifts and talents.

This seems to have been the case from the very beginning. Genesis 4:2 says that Abel was a keeper of sheep and Cain a tiller of the ground. We don't know why they differentiated as they did; perhaps Adam and Eve assigned them these tasks arbitrarily, and they learned to do them. Or maybe as children Abel always loved animals, while Cain was a budding agriculturalist. We have no idea. But either way, they were shaped and formed to particular vocations.

[Continue reading the article here.]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On checking Amazon sales rankings

"...he found himself checking Amazon every ten minutes or so to see how his crossword books were selling. They always had depressing numbers like 673,082 or 822,457. Once his latest had made it up to 9,326. It had given him a happy afternoon, until he logged on before going to bed and found it at 787,333." - Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry, p. 49

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

"The Day We Let Our Son Live"

My wife, Ellen, wrote a blog entry about our son, Elijah, that has been reposted on Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog. (The opening paragraphs below are by editor Katelyn Beaty; Ellen's material follows.)

The Day We Let Our Son Live

It ended up being the most important day of my life.

When it comes to the chance for those with genetic defects to live, the news has not been good on either side of the Atlantic. Last week’s Telegraph reported that of all women in the U.K. who find out through prenatal testing that their baby will have Down syndrome, about 90 percent choose to have an abortion. And yesterday, ABC News reported a near-identical rate among women in the U.S.: 92 percent of those who find out their child will have the chromosomal defect decide to abort. One geneticist at Children’s Hospital Boston found that, without prenatal testing, the number of Down syndrome births would have increased by 34 percent between 1989 and 2005. Instead, the number of Down syndrome births has dropped by 15 percent over that time.

Upon hearing such news, I remembered Ellen and Al Hsu (pronounced shee), a Christian couple who works at InterVarsity Press in Downers Grove, Illinois, and who faced the same situation as the women above. This is Ellen’s story of Elijah, their 4-year-old with Down syndrome, as originally told on their family blog, Team Hsu.


I gazed in wonder at the blurry form on the screen. “Hi, Baby,” I whispered. The image of our baby was much clearer on the level-two ultrasound. The technician rolled the ultrasound wand over my growing abdomen, and I marveled as I watched our son squirm and suck his thumb. A new life forming within me.


Our OB/GYN had referred us for a level-two ultrasound after he noticed choroid plexus cysts on our baby’s brain during the standard 20-week ultrasound. I was anxious about what the maternal health specialist might find. We knew a couple whose ultrasound also had showed choroids plexus cysts, but whose baby was perfectly fine when he was born. We had spent the past week praying for our baby and hoping for the best.

Al walked into the exam room as the technician was finishing up. She hadn’t said much and explained that the doctor would be in to take a look for himself and to explain what he found. Al and I chatted quietly while we waited. I was relieved that he had made it before the doctor came in. Little did I know how much I would need him.

The doctor came in and began his exam. I was delighted at the chance to see more images of our baby. But my world was shaken when the doctor finally began explaining what he saw. “Something is very wrong with this baby.”

He continued to roll the wand over my tummy as he pointed to various spots on the screen and began listing all the “abnormalities”: larger than usual nuchal folds; clenched fists; possible club feet; something wrong with the liver; enlarged ventricles in the brain; possibly no stomach. My tears flowed as his list grew longer. My delight at the new life within me turned to icy fear, and I clutched Al’s hand tightly.

The doctor suspected a chromosomal problem, possibly Trisomy 13 or 18, birth defects caused by an extra 13th or 18th chromosome. He explained that both of these conditions are generally “incompatible with life.” We were told that if our baby was born alive, he was likely to die within a day. If we were lucky, he might survive for 6 to 12 months. We wondered if we should begin preparing for death instead of life.

Continue reading The Day We Let Our Son Live...

Monday, November 02, 2009

Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh

Now that I've gotten some books off to the printer, I have a little more breathing space to announce books that have just been published. One that I'm excited about is Adam McHugh's Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. (You can download free PDFs of the introduction and the first chapter.) I'm not an introvert myself, but I'm married to one, and I've found myself becoming somewhat more introverted in my rhythms over the years. Adam's book is a groundbreaking work that validates introverts' identity and temperament and lifts out the value and place of introverts' contributions to Christian life and community.

Adam wrote the book because much of the contemporary evangelical church tends to be extroverted in temperament and style, leaving less place for introverts as well as for practices like contemplation and reflection. So the book is a healthy corrective that highlights how the church needs introverts and extroverts alike to fully be the body God intends it to be. (I've thought for years that every wacky extroverted youth pastor out there needs to partner with introverted youth workers that can connect with the quiet kids who would never open up to the extrovert.) Adam has some fascinating insights into how the introverted mind and temperament work. Neuroscience shows that introverts' brains are wired differently and process information differently. I was particularly interested to learn that introverts tend to need more sleep in order to recover from a full day of interaction.

The book suggests practical ways for introverts to navigate extroverted Christian subcultures and to practice introvert-friendly ways of doing community, spirituality, leadership, evangelism, worship, preaching and more. If you've ever left church early to avoid the coffee fellowship time, this book is for you. If you have ever been frustrated with church culture that seems to equate being more extroverted with being more spiritual, this book is for you. And if you are an extrovert who wants to better understand the introverts in your life or welcome introverts to your church, you must read this book.

It was fun to get some nice endorsements for the book from introverts like Dan Kimball, Don Everts and Lauren Winner, who says, "Introverts, take heart! As an introvert myself--an off-the-chart 'I' on the Myers-Briggs--I find certain aspects of church life, like speaking to other human beings every Sunday, really taxing. McHugh thoughtfully explores the gifts introverts bring to the church, and he considers both how introverts can live well in the church and how churches can be more hospitable to us."

Adam blogs at IntrovertedChurch.com, and you can become a fan of his book on Facebook here.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ted Ward, Groundhog Day and cultural impact

As part of my PhD program, I have the opportunity to meet with veteran educator Ted Ward, who played a key role in developing Trinity's PhD programs in educational studies and intercultural studies. Over lunch today, he told our group of doctoral students that back in the 1930s his father was a publicist for the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Many towns in the area also featured groundhogs, but Ward's father helped establish their town as the groundhog capital. The result is what we know today as Groundhog Day.

This was fascinating to me because any of those Pennsylvania towns could have done something with groundhogs, but Ward's father did something intentional to brand their town and create a cultural phenomenon with lasting impact. This seems analogous to Ted Ward's own influence in educating a generation of leaders in missiology and Christian education. Many current professors and church leaders did their doctoral work under Ted, including Compassion International president Wesley Stafford, TEDS president Craig Williford, Wheaton missions prof Evvy Campbell, Biola prof Klaus Issler, and several of my IVP authors, including Duane Elmer, Steve Hoke (coauthor of the recently released Global Mission Handbook) and Jim Plueddemann, whose new book Leading Across Cultures just came in from the printer yesterday.

Every February 2, and every time someone watches the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day, we experience something of the cultural legacy of Ted Ward's father. And every student or reader of Ted Ward's students continues to experience the effects of Ted's educational thinking and influence, even two or three generations afterward. I'm grateful for the chance to learn from Ted and have him speak into my thinking, and I'm challenged to contribute to the shaping of lives in ways that will influence not just the present but also generations to come.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

A couple of years ago I read A. J. Jacobs's book The Year of Living Biblically, which I enjoyed but critiqued as being a rather individualistic exercise rather than rooted in actual communities of spiritual practice. Well, I just read a book that follows Jacobs's lead but ups the ante. Kevin Roose, who was a research assistant for Jacobs on Year of Living Biblically, left his liberal Ivy League college to spend a semester at the fundamentalist/evangelical Liberty University, exploring how life is lived and faith is practiced at Jerry Falwell's school. The result is The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University.

I loved this book. It was a delight to read, laugh-out-loud hilarious at points, poignant and thought-provoking at others. A nominal Quaker who does not self-identify as "born again," Roose is tremendously fair to the folks at Liberty, as he finds himself slowly becoming acculturated to the conservative Christian subculture. He discovers that students at Liberty are not all the religious wingnut stereotypes many outsiders imagine them to be; they're just people, with all of the complexities and foibles that mark the human condition.

What's fascinating is that Roose enters into regular rhythms of Christian practice such as prayer, reading Scripture, participating in worship services and sharing in small groups. The result is that he starts to see things from the point of view of his Liberty classmates, so much so that when he visits his secular relatives he feels odd not praying before dinner and wonders if people he sees are saved or not. He becomes far more understanding of Christian belief and even becomes sympathetic to Falwell himself, despite disagreeing strongly with him on many issues. Roose is a model of civility, and his participant-observer exercise in undercover journalism should help believers and unbelievers alike understand each other better.

I have been noticing in recent years that most arguments in religion or theology, as well as many attempts in evangelism and witness, go nowhere because people on different sides have different "plausibility structures" that make certain beliefs possible or impossible. In many ways, we are socialized into or out of our beliefs; we find ourselves in communities that support or reject our thinking, and we find new ideas more plausible when we are in subcultures or contexts where such beliefs are the norm. Kevin Roose dared to leave his previous context to immerse himself in a conservative evangelical world that his friends and families thought outrageous and even dangerous. The result was a certain degree of change in belief. It wasn't a dramatic Damascus-road conversion from 1 to 10, but perhaps more of a subtle shift from maybe a 3 to a 5 or 6.

I don't consider Liberty or Falwell my particular tribe; I find them to be more conservative than the moderate evangelical circles I usually move in. But Roose's book helped me see the Liberty community as real people and not just caricatures. And Roose himself is honest about his own doubts, objections and questions, giving Christian readers keen insights into how non-evangelicals hear and perceive evangelicals. This would be a great book for Christian and non-Christian friends to read and discuss together.

Part of me thinks this book should be made into a movie, though another part of me thinks that a Hollywood treatment would probably ruin the experience. Reading this book was an engrossing, immersive experience, one that evoked memories of my own undergrad years at a conservative Christian college. The Unlikely Disciple is a gripping narrative, and not just because you want to find out if he ends up with the cute evangelical Tina Fey-lookalike girl. This book is probably the closest that many folks will ever get to attending a school like Liberty, and it's amazing how Kevin Roose makes you wish the semester wouldn't fly by so quickly.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Urbana experience

This December 27-31 is Urbana 09, InterVarsity's 22nd student missions conference. So right now I'm in the midst of sending a slew of Urbana-related books to the printer and helping to plan things for the onsite bookstore. If you're thinking of attending, registration fees bump up on Oct. 17, so now is a good time to register. Urbana is an amazing, life-changing experience. Below is a testimony I shared with my IVP colleagues in 2003 in anticipation of Urbana 03, reflecting on my experiences at Urbana 93:

I went to Urbana 93 as a senior in college, and it was a defining experience in my life. I got scholarships from my InterVarsity chapter, college and church, which combined was enough to cover all the convention fees and travel costs! So I knew God wanted me there.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry for Monday, Dec. 27, 1993: “The auditorium was packed to the hilt with over 18,000 students singing ‘O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.’ The worship experience brought me to tears. The theme for this year’s Urbana is ‘God So Loves the World,’ with the focus being on God’s extravagant love for us. And wow, I was overwhelmed with a tangible sense of the power of God’s ultimate, infinite love. All of the thousands of us joined hands in prayer for us to know the love of God, for it to be infused into our lives, and for it to empower us to minister to this world. It was just awesome.” And then I note, “Afterward I picked up a packet of books.”

The next day I discovered the IVP bookstore. I was already an IVP Book Club member and literature coordinator for my IV chapter, so I already had lots of IVP books. But a whole store of IVP books! And all these bargains and specials and packages! Kid in a candy store. My journal entry from Dec. 28 says, “After lunch I journeyed to the Armory, where exhibits of mission agencies and organizations were set up, and the awesome coolest thing was a huge IVP bookstore with thousands upon thousands of IVP books on dozens of shelves. I was in IVP heaven. I bought over 30 IVP books for $93.50. I just went nuts and hauled back a huge box full of IVP books. It was awesome cool.” And my journal says that I didn’t make it to any seminars that day because I spent all afternoon in the Armory. And that was just the first day. The bookstore was selling the BSTs with the old covers at clearance prices. I bought them all. I bought every bargain book available. And this was the year that the books of the day were these shrink-wrapped packages with four books and a video. I bought every package. You know how they say that Urbana is like drinking from a firehose? In my case, it was a firehose that was spewing IVP books. All the money that the scholarships saved me? It went to IVP.

Then there was the convention program itself. Several things hit me during the plenary sessions. First, a tentmaking missionary in China talked about how she had gone to the most isolated village in China. They had gone as far as the train would go, then by car as far as the road would go, then on foot as far as they could go to this totally remote place. When they got to this village, the kids came running up and said, “Americans! Are you Americans? Do you have Coca-Cola?” And they said, “No, we don’t have Coca-Cola. We’re here to tell you about Jesus. Do you know who Jesus is?” They shook their heads and said no, we don’t know who Jesus is. Then the missionary said, we were in the remotest part of the world, and people had heard the name of Coca-Cola, but they had never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Wow.

Then on Thursday the 30th, there was an offering for IFES. The person leading the offering time challenged the delegates by saying, “Many of you have bought things for yourselves this week. We challenge you give as much to this offering for others as you have spent on yourself.” At that point, I had spent over $150 just on IVP books and a sweatshirt. So I wrote a check for $150 for IFES.

A few more journal entries. Dec. 31. “I went to a seminar by Dr. James Sire, whose IVP books I have a lot of. But I was just so drained, I fell asleep during the session.”

Jan. 1, 1994. “I just celebrated the new year and the end of Urbana with 18,000 people! Tonight’s worship closing session was absolutely awesome. Thousands have committed themselves to lives of Christian ministry, service and mission, across the country and around the world, on campuses, to students, to children, to Muslims, Arabs, homeless, poor, urban centers, Buddhists, everything imaginable. It’s just staggering to think about what kind of impact these 18,000 people can have on this world and for the kingdom of God.”

And after I got home, Jan. 2. “I showed Ellen my Urbana stuff and gave her an Urbana NRSV Bible, an Operation World, and an IVP book on dating that I also got for myself. I figured it might be nice for both of us to have. I showed her the Urbana summary video and told her all about the week.”

On my commitment card, I’d committed to getting missions training and reading books on missions. All week I wrestled with how God might use me in missions. Little did I know that three years later, my job would be to help plan the IVP bookstore at Urbana 96! God is good.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Reflections of a Chicago 2016 volunteer

I've loved the Olympics ever since I was a kid. I had a knit cap with the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games logo, and I remember watching the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, especially a closing montage set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." My grandfather lived in LA at the time, and he went to the Olympics and brought me my first Olympic pins and flags and other memorabilia. I've wanted to attend an Olympics ever since. But they've always seemed so geographically and economically out of reach. Until I heard that Chicago was a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Games. A chance to have the Olympics in my metropolitan backyard!

So over the last year or so, I've been an occasional volunteer for the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. My son and I held up signs and flags in the rain during an IOC evaluation visit and handed out wristbands at pro soccer games. I distributed literature and helped out with some demos of Olympic and Paralympic sports at events. I've been an enthusiastic backer of the bid, even though I'm fully aware of the financial and infrastructure challenges they would likely bring to the region. My sense was that they'd be a mixed bag of pros and cons, but on the whole I felt like it would be a net benefit to the Chicagoland area. I liked volunteering for the 2016 bid in that it got me outside of my usual circles and activities and let me be part of a larger community with a common vision and interest.

Like many Chicagoans, I was disappointed with the news this morning that Chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting. But that's okay - Chicagoans are used to disappointment, as any Cubs fan will say. On the other hand, I'm thrilled for Rio de Janeiro and for what the decision represents. It's the first time the Olympics will be held in South America. Brazil was the only country of the top ten global economies never to have hosted a Games. This selection seems to be another indicator of the spotlight shifting away from the U.S. and toward the global south. North Americans should get used to this shift. The future of international business, geopolitics and the church is increasingly globalizing. The global south, the BRIC countries, the emerging economies of the world are no longer just potential consumers of Western goods or the objects of North American missionaries; they are subjects in their own right and mutual partners in global commerce and mission.

As I wrote in a CT column last year, I love the Olympics for its peaceful international celebration and cooperation, which seems to me a sign of the kingdom of God. Of course, the actual preparations for the Games are fraught with potential problems and injustices, such as the displacement of the poor. Julie Clawson, author of our new book Everyday Justice, blogged a while ago that Chicago may have been less problematic than the other candidate cities and that death squads in Rio may be used to clear out unwanted populations. Here's to hoping that Rio will take the 2016 Games as an opportunity to protect its people and to develop a more just society.

And in the meantime, I will recalibrate my own hopes of seeing an Olympics in person someday. Now Vancouver 2010 feels a little closer and doable than London 2012 or Sochi 2014, but still much more difficult to get to than a Chicago Olympics would have been. My wife, who works with Brazilian publishers, would love to go to Rio 2016. We can always dream, but if not, we'll at least get to watch the Games on TV.

Monday, September 28, 2009

William Safire's rules for writing

In memory of William Safire, I'm reposting his famous rules for writing:

  • Remember to never split an infinitive.
  • The passive voice should never be used.
  • Do not put statements in the negative form.
  • Verbs have to agree with their subjects.
  • Proofread carefully to see if you words out.
  • If you reread your work, you can find on rereading a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
  • A writer must not shift your point of view.
  • And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. (Remember, too, a preposition is a terrible word to end a sentence with.)
  • Don’t overuse exclamation marks!!!
  • Place pronouns as close as possible, especially in long sentences, as of 10 or more, to their antecedents.
  • Writing carefully, dangling participles must be avoided.
  • If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
  • Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors.
  • Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
  • Everyone should be careful to use a singular pronoun with singular nouns in their writing.
  • Always pick on the correct idiom.
  • The adverb always follows the verb.
  • Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
  • Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  • Never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
  • Also, avoid awkward or affected alliteration.
  • Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kids don't walk because parents drive

Our sons usually take the bus to and from school, but last week my wife and I picked our older son up at the end of the school day for an event. Ellen said that we should get there about ten, fifteen minutes early to get a good place in line; otherwise we'd have to wait a long time to get out. I thought that was odd, but we did, and we were the third car in line. Pretty soon there were several dozen cars lined up behind us, clogging up the parking lot. I said to Ellen, "I don't remember so many parents picking up their kids like this when I was in elementary school. Everybody walked or took the bus."

Well, a recent New York Times article describes how kids no longer walk to school because parents usually drive them. A major factor: fear of abduction, heightened again by the Jaycee Dugard case. As a result, parents sit with their kids in cars at the end of driveways before the bus comes, and parents drive kids to school two blocks away. But those fears seem to be vastly disproportionate. The article reports that about 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, while 250,000 kids are injured in car accidents. Which is the greater danger - walking or driving?

Also: In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose from 20 percent to 55 percent. More than half! No wonder my kids' buses seem so empty.

The result? Kids don't get as much exercise, there's more traffic clogging school areas (with the increased risk of car accidents) and we use way more gas than we used to. Protective parents don't let kids play unsupervised, even in their own neighborhoods. And kids lose out on certain aspects of unstructured, exploratory play.

It seems to have become a cultural expectation that kids should not walk alone. The article mentions a 10-year-old who was walking to soccer practice (about a mile), and people who saw him walking alone called 911. A policeman picked him up, drove him the rest of the way, and reprimanded the mother.

I think this article highlights how much commuter culture has shaped our modern practices. The geography of our neighborhoods, especially in the suburbs, is designed for cars, so our default setting is to drive everywhere. We don't even think of walking anymore. Now it has become a countercultural act to let our kids to walk to school.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kids and race awareness, and why parents don't talk about it

The cover story of this week's issue of Newsweek is "See Baby Discriminate: Kids as young as 6 months judge others based on skin color. What's a parent to do?" The article highlights that kids are aware of racial differences far earlier than most parents think, and parents generally don't know how to talk about them. Some key points:

- While most parents think of themselves as multicultural and colorblind, their kids pick up on unspoken racial attitudes. When asked "Do your parents like black people?" 14 percent said, "No, my parents don't like black people" and 38 percent said "I don't know."

- Parents avoid talking about race because they don't know what to say and are worried about saying the wrong thing. Parents worry that calling attention to race, even with a positive statement ("It's wonderful that a black person can be president") still encourages a child to see divisions within society.

- In a 2007 study of 17,000 families with kindergartners, nonwhite parents are about three times more likely to discuss race than white parents; 75 percent of white parents never or almost never talk about race.

- Kids are developmentally prone to in-group favoritism. Four- and five-year-olds randomly given red and blue T-shirts didn't segregate by behavior, but when asked which color team was better or might win a race, they chose their own color. When Reds were asked how many Reds were nice, they'd answer, "All of us." Asked how many Blues were nice, they'd answer, "Some."

- Three-year-olds shown pictures of other kids were asked to choose whom they'd like to have as friends. 86 percent of white kids picked whites. At ages 5 and 6, the kids were asked to sort cards into two piles however they wanted. Only 16 percent sorted by gender; 68 percent sorted by race.

- Researchers have found that the more diverse the environment, the more kids self-segregate by race and ethnicity, and the likelihood that any two kids of different races have a friendship goes down.

- In junior high and high school, kids in diverse schools experience two completely contrasting situations: many students have a friend of another race, but more kids just like to hang with their own.

- The odds of a white high-schooler in America having a best friend of another race is only 8 percent. 85 percent of black kids' best friends are also black.

- Parents are generally very comfortable talking about gender stereotypes ("Mommies can be doctors just like daddies"), and this can be a model for how parents talk about race.

This article was quite insightful and thought-provoking, and it reminded me of times like when my older son mentioned classmate who was "dark," and I didn't know quite how to explain terminology like "black" or "African American." Because our kids are biracial, we have occasion to talk about ethnic identity and cultural distinctives. When at buffet restaurants with self-serve ice cream machines, we've used the analogy of the twist cone - there's vanilla, there's chocolate, and there's both. It's hard to tell how much they understand or care at this point, but we're working on it.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Deep Church

I blogged awhile ago about what emergents and neo-Calvinists have in common, and I wondered if Christians from different wings could meet together and learn from each other. Well, IVP just published a book that aims to do just that. Deep Church: A Third Way Beyond Emerging and Traditional by church planter and pastor Jim Belcher is now in print (PDFs of the introduction and first chapter are available for free). Here's an excerpt from the introduction:

This book is written for those who are caught in between. They are unhappy with the present state of the evangelical church but are not sure where to turn for an answer. They like some of what the emerging and traditional camps offer, but they are not completely at ease with either. The public conflict makes this anxiety worse, and these people don’t know who to trust or believe. What if both are off target? Is there a third option, a via media? I believe there is a third way. It is what C. S. Lewis called “the Deep Church.” Deep church is a term taken from Lewis’s 1952 letter to the Church Times in which he defended supernatural revelation against the modernist movement. He wrote, “Perhaps the trouble is that as supernaturalists, whether ‘Low’ or ‘High’ Church, thus taken together, they lack a name. May I suggest ‘Deep Church’; or, if that fails in humility, Baxter’s ‘mere Christians?’ ”

Second, this book is written for those on the outside who want to understand the debate. They are new to the conversation and want to understand what all the fuss is about. They have heard of the emerging church but have no idea what the term stands for or what it is advocating. The whole conversation seems foreign and is outside their church reality. Why is this debate important? How does it affect their church world? Should it concern them? This book will explain the contours of the conversation, what the emerging church is and desires, and why it has created such a strong pushback from the traditional church.

Third, this book is written for seminarians, those who are attempting to work out their ecclesiology—their theological view of the church, its purpose, structure and goals. Seminary is a great time to test inherited beliefs, dig deeper and then slowly work out in greater depth biblical convictions about ministry. This book lays out the options, the two sides of the debate, so seminarians can get a handle on what they believe Christianity and the church is all about.

Finally, this book is for pastors who have been in the ministry for a while and have begun to question how ministry is practiced in their context. Many pastors who reach this midlife ministry crisis end up burning out and even leaving the ministry. I don’t want to see this happen. Some pastors are disillusioned with aspects of evangelicalism. They are searching for pastoral models that can refire their ministry, their calling and their church. Though they may not know how to achieve it, they know they want a deep church, one that is profoundly meaningful to them and their community, and brings glory to God. This book is for them.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Still thinking about death

I can't seem to avoid this topic. Besides Senator Ted Kennedy, the news has also highlighted the recent passing of South Korean president and Nobel laureate Kim Dae-jung, author Dominick Dunne, 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt, columnist Robert Novak, theologian Geoffrey Bromiley . . . the list goes on and on. A couple days ago I remembered what would have been my father's 70th birthday, had he not died in 1998. He has been gone now for almost a third of my life, and I still grieve his absence. And just last night I learned that a high school classmate had been killed in a car accident this past weekend, leaving behind her husband, daughter and son. So sad.

I read a lot of the Kennedy coverage yesterday, and the article that jumped out at me most was this one in the New York Times, because it gives insight into how Kennedy prepared to die. He was a "man who in his final months was at peace with the end of his life and grateful for the chance to savor the salty air and the company of loved ones." He spent time with family at dinners and singalongs, and he told friends, "Every day is a gift" and "I've had a wonderful life." He ate ice cream and watched James Bond movies and 24 episodes. The article makes brief mention of Kennedy's growing reliance on his faith in his later years. He was described as "someone who had a fierce determination to live, but who was not afraid to die."

All this reflection on death makes me wonder if I'm ready to die, or if I really live my life like I could die anytime. I don't mean that I'm afraid to die, but I feel like I should be thinking more strategically, more intentionally, about everything I want to do before I die and focus on that. Do I spend too much time on stuff that doesn't really matter and that I should just quit doing? What should I be doing that has eternal value?

I'm reminded that Henri Nouwen wrote somewhere that death brings us into solidarity with all humanity. All of us are part of the same human community that journeys this earthly life together. All of us are mortal, and our time here is brief. I was reading Facebook comments about our classmate, and one of the things that struck me is that even though many of us didn't know her well in high school, all of us feel a sense of loss. It doesn't matter if we perceived each other back then as jocks or nerds or partiers or outcasts - nineteen years later, we're just people, all aware of our own mortality. John Dunne wrote, "Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind." So we grieve our classmate, and we are reminded of our connections with each other. And we pray for one another for comfort and hope.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Thinking about death

There have been quite a number of prominent deaths this summer, and not just Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. TV host Ed McMahon. Veteran news anchor Walter Cronkite. Vietnam War-era Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Former Philippines president Corazon Aquino. ’80s filmmaker John Hughes. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. Memoirist Frank McCourt. And in the Christian publishing world, Robert Short, author of The Gospel According to Peanuts, and Marie Little, wife of IVP author Paul Little. All of these passed in just the last few months.

I just looked up some of these and discovered that Wikipedia has running entries like “Deaths in 2009” or month-by-month listings like “Deaths in July 2009." Reading these entries is sobering, as you see the lives of the famous and the not-so-famous summarized in a single sentence, often with the cause of death - colon cancer, heart attack, car accident, hanging, brain aneurysm. Regardless of the individual's notoriety, fame, wealth or power, death comes to us all.

I'm certainly familiar with death; I've already lost my father, a cousin, an aunt, an uncle and all four of my grandparents. But it feels like there have been several recent reminders of death close to home; my wife's aunt died of cancer earlier this summer, and a publishing industry friend lost his wife. It's scary when people of our own age or generation start to die. It's my twenty-year high school reunion next year, and I'm nervous about finding out if any of my classmates are gone.

So how do we live in light of the presence of death? As I get a little farther along in my mid-to-late 30s, I find myself a little more aware of my own health. I get worried that aches and pains could be more serious. A friend from church found a benign tumor a few months ago. What if that shoulder or back pain isn't just a muscle or joint thing, but cancer?

I've been thinking about all this partly because I'm the editor for a forthcoming book by Rob Moll on The Art of Dying: Living Fully into the Life to Come (releasing spring 2010). I was reviewing an early draft of the manuscript as my wife's aunt was in the final stages of cancer. And what struck me most about Rob's book is that throughout most of church history, Christians have practiced the spiritual discipline of dying well, of anticipating one's own death. It had been an intentional practice of numbering one's days, of reckoning with one's own mortality.

These days people often say that they hope to die quickly, in a sudden accident or something. But Christians throughout history usually preferred to have time to prepare and anticipate one's death, to make peace with God and others. One's approaching death was a time of saying the important things, like sorry, thank you, forgive me, I love you. The reality of death often jolts us into living more meaningfully.

I remember after events like Columbine and 9/11, one significant result and response was that people hugged their kids and had significant conversations with their loved ones. It seems to me that every new celebrity death in the news could be a trigger to remind us to do the same.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How John Hughes's movies shaped Generation X

[I wrote an article on the impact of John Hughes's movies that was posted online yesterday at ChristianityTodayMovies.com. My working title was "Don't You. Forget About Us." Here's part of the article.]

Shaping a Generation
Looking for love, friendship, and community: How the movies of John Hughes shaped Gen X's ecclesiology.
Al Hsu

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

In the 1980s, when the generation yet-to-be-tagged-as-X were still known as "baby busters," a series of John Hughes movies depicted what it meant to be a teenager in America. Sixteen Candles. The Breakfast Club. Pretty in Pink. Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Some Kind of Wonderful. Long before Napoleon Dynamite, Juno or High School Musical, Hughes's films captured the particulars of teen angst and relationships.

Hughes died last week of a heart attack at the age of 59. His funeral was held yesterday in the Chicago suburbs where so many of his movies were filmed. Ben Stein, a longtime friend and one of the Ferris Bueller stars, said Hughes "was the Wordsworth of the suburban America post-war generation."

Hughes's movies are more than a time capsule of '80s music, fashion and hair. They were formational for the worldview of many Gen Xers and shaped how we view friendship and community. By extension, they offer a glimpse into what Christian Gen Xers yearn for in the church.

Another movie of the late '80s, Dead Poets Society, exhorted viewers to carpe diem, seize the day. But what would we actually do if we were to seize that day? Ferris Bueller's answer was to take the day off with his best friend and girlfriend and hit the city. The average suburban teen moviegoer could relate more to catching a Cubs game than reciting candlelit poetry and that barbaric yawp stuff.

But the overarching theme of Ferris Bueller's Day Off is not merely "follow your heart" or "skip school." It's friendship. While Ferris is the focus of the movie, viewers do not generally identify with him. He's too singular, too unconventional. His best friend, Cameron, is the Everyman character. We all know what it's like to want to stay in bed and hide from the world. And every Cameron out there needs a friend like Ferris—someone who does unimaginable things to challenge us in ways we would never expect.

Similarly, the female protagonist is not really Ferris's girlfriend, Sloane, who is little more than eye candy. The most important female character is Ferris's sister, Jeanie, struggling with sibling rivalry and family dynamics while searching for her own identity. She too is on a journey from alienation to significance, and she finds some degree of connection to others even as she becomes more comfortable with who she is.

Yearning for community

Likewise, The Breakfast Club is about an alienated generation's yearning for friendship and community. The movie featured one of the first true ensemble casts, presaging TV shows like Friends or Lost where no one character is the lead. All of the Breakfast Club members are equally necessary for the dynamic of the movie to work. It was not just a Molly Ringwald vehicle with a supporting cast. And all of us watching longed for a community of peers where we could have equal billing and our share of the stage, not just be a sidekick to someone else's lead.

The Breakfast Club identified teen archetypes but then transcended them. On one level, the takeaway message is the familiar refrain that "we're more alike than different," looking beyond the stereotypes to show that these five seemingly diverse teenagers have more in common than not. But on another level, the movie worked to hold individuality and community in dialectical tension. Each of the five protagonists remained their own distinctive character, even as they grappled with their particular problems in the context of a larger community.

A. O. Scott of the New York Times, in his appreciative remembrance of Hughes's movies, noted that "the great, paradoxical insight of The Breakfast Club is that alienation is the norm, that nerds, jocks, stoners, popular girls and weirdos are all, in their own ways, outsiders." As a high schooler, it was a shock to my system to realize that the popular kids had their own insecurities just like the freaks and geeks did.

A movie like The Breakfast Club is intended to be viewed with friends and then discussed afterward in community, as my high school friends did on many occasions in those late '80s. We asked ourselves, "So which one do you identify with?" And we'd surprise ourselves when we found that the athlete related more with the stoner or nerd than the archetypal jock.

My sophomore year of high school, I wrote some short stories with my classmates as characters. At first they were indiscriminate, with my entire honors English class as the cast. But they gradually centered on a smaller group of friends in an attempt to define a brat pack of our own. I wanted to bring together disparate individuals from different spheres and create a Breakfast Club-like community. But I learned that community could not be artificially orchestrated, and I was often surprised with friends I would not have expected or chosen.

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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Refrigerator rights

I recently got a call from one of my best friends from high school, who happened to be back at his parents’ house and was remembering times we had spent together hanging out there. We caught up and talked about mutual friends and whatnot, and we recalled all the significant late night conversations that took place around their kitchen table. I mentioned to him that awhile ago I had come across the book Refrigerator Rights, which talks about how real community, friendship and hospitality can be measured by the degree that friends have "refrigerator rights," the comfort level and freedom to just open up the fridge and feel welcome to use things there without asking.

My friend's parents really modeled this for us. They would insist that any of us high schoolers should feel free to get pop or juice from the fridge and snack on whatever was around. This seemed odd at first, but soon became normal for us. And much of our friendship and community was facilitated by the food and hospitality symbolized by open access to that refrigerator.

It seems to me that one easy way to offer refrigerator rights is that the next time you have people over, in addition to asking, "Can I get you anything?" you could also say, "Feel free to get whatever you need from the fridge." And don't get freaked out if people take you up on it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Success is a lousy teacher

"Once we reach the age of thirty, success has nothing to teach us. Success is fun and rewarding, but we don't learn anything new from it. It's not a bad friend; it's just a lousy teacher. The only thing that can teach us, that can get through to us and profoundly change us, is suffering, failure, loss and wounds." - Richard Rohr, cited in The Folly of Prayer by Matt Woodley, p. 132

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Redefining attitude

I'm an occasional contributor to the Christian business/marketplace ministry site TheHighCalling.org, but I often forget to highlight my articles because of the time lag between writing and publication. So here's part of an article I wrote on "Redefining Attitude" that was posted a few months ago:

In the business world, "attitude" is a bit of a buzzword. One's mental attitude, whether positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, is said to be a key factor in the success of our work projects and professional relationships. You've seen the motivational posters:

• "A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes."
• "A positive attitude is a powerful force."
• "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."

While all this seems to be helpful, it is not distinctively Christian. In fact, the emphasis on an internal positive attitude can devolve into mere selfism, since it doesn't require dependence on God or others.

On the other hand, at my high school church camp, someone would occasionally yell, "Attitude check!" and all of us would respond, "Praise the Lord!" In the Christian world, it's often assumed that the proper Christian attitude is one of always being happy or joyful in the Lord—sometimes in seeming denial of challenging realities. That view also seems somewhat insufficient. Attitude has to be more than just happy feelings.

Is attitude primarily an issue of one's temperament, personality, emotion, or cognitive thinking? Is it just a mood? Can we cheer up and have a better attitude—or is it something more than that?

. . . Our attitude should be like Christ's, not merely in being mentally humble, but in taking the nature of a servant and being obedient to death (Phil. 2:7-8). It's significant that both the Philippians 2 usage of phroneo and the 1 Peter 4 use of ennoia connect a Christian's attitude with Christ's suffering.

If anything, Scripture's discussion of attitude is less about projecting a positive outlook on life and much more concerned with having a willingness to suffer as Christ suffered. For the Christian, attitude is directly connected with action, especially in taking on service-oriented, sacrificial acts.

As Max De Pree said in Leadership Is an Art, leadership means bearing the pain of the organization. That's a more biblical sense of what it means to have a Christlike attitude. Having a good attitude doesn't mean that we are chipper and happy in the face of adversity. A Christlike attitude means that because Jesus suffered, we too are willing to suffer. We do not avoid pain and difficulty; rather, we resolve to face it and bear it on behalf of others, because we know that it will serve the common good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Partnering with civic organizations

Two alumni of my undergrad alma mater recently wrote an article, "It’s Simple: Why We Partner with Civic Organizations to Serve the Community." It's a great example of how churches can partner with the public or nonprofit sector to seek the welfare of the city and to be good neighbors to their community. Here's part of the article:

Attend a community council meeting and you quickly discover what’s important to the people in your county. What some people call “bellyaching” sometimes tells you the most:

“We don’t have enough programs for our kids.”
“The shopping center is run-down and poorly lit. It attracts gang activity.”
“The homeless are tracking through our property to get to the liquor store.”

To address concerns like these, our community council naturally looks to its members, local law enforcement, and a host of civic organizations. While these groups may not be explicitly Christian, they are already engaged in many of the issues that should concern the church.

So, when discussing whether the church should partner with the government to serve its community, our first impulse has been to ask, “Why not?” If civic agencies organize themselves to invest in our kids, shelter the homeless, or care for any of those who have been marginalized, why wouldn’t the church, in the name of Christ, show up to work with them? If government bodies are fed up with the filth or the gangs or the drug abuse, then why wouldn’t we join them, in hopes of realizing true transformation?

Many of these agencies, after all, have already done much of the background work to identify needs and establish relationships; the church can extend its reach rather quickly by serving alongside them. And by doing so, we might help the community renew its confidence in the church as an agent of change. We can demonstrate that we’re not just a bunch of “bellyachers” ourselves, but that we care for our community and want to be part of transforming it.

Working with and through government agencies is also a healthy expression of the church as “the people of God everywhere and all the time,” rather than as an organization that just runs its own Christian programs. Simply put, “being the church” in the community does not require that we invent our own stuff.

Consider this: If the government operates an after-school program at the local recreation center, but most of those staffing the program are from the church, isn’t that the church being the church? Preaching the gospel may not be the program’s objective, but attracting 100 kids for a few hours every day certainly creates space for the gospel. It’s a venue where we can show up with the hands and feet and heart of Christ.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The "more likely to be killed by a terrorist than marry after 40" myth

Audio and video for weeks 2 and 3 of my Willow Creek class are now available online. Week 2 was on "Seven Myths About Singleness and Marriage," and week 3 was on "The Power of Community, Inside and Out." Here's part of week 2, one of the myths about singleness and marriage:

Have you seen Sleepless in Seattle? Remember the line: “It’s easier to get killed by a terrorist than to get married after 40”? Where does that come from? Well, it comes from a 1986 Newsweek cover story. In 1986, Newsweek reported on an unpublished study and said that by age forty, a single, educated career woman is more likely to be “killed by a terrorist” than to ever get married. Supposedly they had a 2.6% chance of getting married. The study argued that “white, college-educated women born in the mid-1950s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent.” This study was widely quoted. The only problem was that it was totally wrong.

A Census Bureau report from about the same time found that single women at 30 had a 66% likelihood of getting married, not 20%, and at 40 had a 23% probability of marriage, not 2.6%.

The killed by a terrorist line wasn’t based on any research on terrorism. It was an exaggeration on Newsweek’s part, not a statistical finding of the study. It was written as a funny aside in an internal reporting memo by Newsweek’s San Francisco correspondent Pamela Abramson. She said years later, "It's true--I am responsible for the single most irresponsible line in the history of journalism, all meant in jest." In New York, writer Eloise Salholz inserted the line into the story. "It was never intended to be taken literally," says Salholz. But most readers missed the joke.

Newsweek finally retracted this “killed by a terrorist” claim twenty years later, in May 2006. Twenty years after the original article, they reported: "Those odds-she'll-marry statistics turned out to be too pessimistic: today it appears that about 90 percent of baby-boomer men and women either have married or will marry, a ratio that's well in line with historical averages."

The new article now says that the odds of getting married after 40 are more than 40%. And contrary to earlier projections that college educated women are less likely to marry, it’s now much more likely for women with college degrees to marry than not. A 2004 study says that of female college graduates born between 1960 and 1964, 97.4% will marry.

The original 1986 article looked at 14 women who were single and supposedly more likely to be killed by a terrorist. Twenty years later, Newsweek managed to track down 11 of the 14. Eight are married and three remain single. In other words, 72% of those eleven got married. One got married at age 40 and remains blissfully married at age 50. Several have children or stepchildren. None divorced. And none have been killed by a terrorist.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Singles at the Crossroads class at Willow Creek

I'm in the midst of teaching a 3-week class about singleness at Willow Creek, based on my book Singles at the Crossroads. Video for the first week is available here, and you can download an mp3 of the talk here. I never like watching myself on video after the fact. I know you're supposed to review yourself so you can learn from it and improve your presentation skills, but I always feel like I look and sound goofy. One of the things I like most about book publishing is that it's a way of sharing and teaching without having my physical traits get in the way. (I caught a cold over the weekend, so last night my voice felt all scratchy and strained. Managed to get through most of it without too much coughing or hacking.)

Anyway, things have been going pretty well so far. First week I gave a basic biblical/theological/historical overview of how Christians have thought about singleness and marriage over the years, and last night I ran through seven myths about singleness and marriage. Whenever I present on this topic, it seems that the part that folks respond to as most helpful is my take on the "gift of singleness." Here's an excerpt:

In 1 Corinthians 7:7 Paul says, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another of a different kind.” This is the verse that some say is about the "gift of singleness." Sometimes people refer to the gift of celibacy or the gift of chastity. They usually mean something like if you have the gift of celibacy, you don’t want to be married or are specially empowered to resist sexual temptation or whatnot. Some Christians look at this verse and think people with the gift of singleness don’t desire marriage, and that if you desire marriage, that means that you don’t have the gift of singleness and ought to get married.

I think that confuses things and implies things that aren’t really there. The passage doesn’t say anything about people not having the desire for marriage. There’s no “gift of singleness” that magically makes people happy singles.

So what is the gift of singleness, if there is such a thing? How do I know if I have the gift of singleness? What if I don’t want the gift of singleness? My answer is pretty simple. Here’s my take. If you are single, you have the gift of singleness. If you are married, you don’t; you have the gift of marriage. Simple as that. Paul just says that some have one gift, some have another. Paul’s just saying some are single, and some are married. Paul isn’t making a distinction between singles who have some supernatural gift of singleness and singles who don’t. He’s saying that some are single, and that’s a gift, and some are married, and that’s also a gift.

The confusion comes because people think that the gifts in 1 Corinthians 7 are the same as the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. In chapter 12, Paul says that folks have different spiritual gifts – teaching, healing, leading, etc. The Holy Spirit empowers people to exercise their gift in ministry. That’s why they’re spiritual gifts.

But that’s not the case in 1 Corinthians 7. Nowhere does Paul say that marriage or singleness are “spiritual” gifts – only that they are gifts. In other words, he’s describing an objective status. These gifts are descriptive gifts. If you’re single, you have the gift of singleness. If you’re married, you have the gift of marriage. Neither one is a promise that the Holy Spirit will spiritually empower you to have a healthy marriage or a happy singleness. They’re not spiritual gifts. They’re not in 1 Corinthians 12. Paul doesn’t say that someone with the gift of singleness will not desire marriage or will be free from sexual temptation, any more than he says that those with the gift of marriage will be always happy with their marriage or not be tempted to stray. He just says that both are gifts and are to be valued and honored as such.

And if you don’t want the gift of singleness? Paul would say, you can get married. It’s not a restrictive gift, just a descriptive gift. If you have opportunity with someone who is willing to marry you, you can get married. When two people get married, they exchange the gift of singleness for the gift of marriage. When you exchange a gift at the store, you can’t exchange it for something of greater value. You can only exchange it for something of equal value. So singleness and marriage are equal gifts of equal value. Sure, both have their own opportunities and disadvantages. Both have their own sets of problems and challenges. But neither one is more spiritual or more valuable than the other. Both are ways to serve God. The challenge is to make a success of the single life if you are single, and to make a success of the married life if you are married.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lessons from a 48-hour power outage

Some severe thunderstorms came through the Chicagoland area last Friday evening, knocking out power for our neighborhood for the next 48 hours. Service wasn't restored until Sunday evening. A few observations on our experience:

- Neighbors are helpful. We brought some of our frozen foods and perishables over to a neighbor's house. They were just a few blocks away, but they had power. So we were grateful for their freezer/fridge's hospitality.

- Neighbors can be annoying. Some neighbors ran generators to create their own power supply. Which was fine, except that they were quite loud and ran late into the night. I don't know if our particular city has noise ordinances, but the experience made me wonder what it means to be good neighbors at such times, how we balance neighborliness and inconvenience.

- So much of our leisure/entertainment depends on electronics. No TV, no DVDs, no videogames. Josiah was charging his new Nintendo DS when the power went out, and he wanted to make sure that it was fully charged before playing it, so he very patiently waited all weekend until we got power back to charge and play it. Elijah kept trying to put videos in the VCR and eventually realized that it just wasn't going to work. So the power outage became a good unplanned fast from electronics. We spent much of our time reading, playing piano, and inventing a blow-up-the-Death-Star board game using checkers and wristbands. And we went to the local bowling alley for Father's Day, which was fun.

- Most non-cooking food choices cost more money. I got annoyed that we had to eat out more than we had planned. It's almost always cheaper to make meals than to buy meals, so it was frustrating to have our options limited to being consumers instead of meal-makers. (Though we did make do with what we could.) On Saturday afternoon we pulled our melting ice cream out of the freezer and told Josiah, "Okay, eat as much as you want."

- Teachable moments. Josiah couldn't sleep because of the neighbor's loud generator and said, "I'm so annoyed when there's no power!" So we told him that actually, many, many people in the world don't have access to power or electricity. We explained that we actually have to pay for power; he hadn't realized that. He said, "I think we should get solar panels for our house."

- It's good to clean out the fridge every few years. After we got power back, we went through the fridge and got rid of all sorts of stuff, including salad dressings and condiments that were probably several years past their expiration dates. Funny how we never think to purge stuff until we need to.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Acts 8 on reading and understanding

The board of trustees for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship recently was in town and visited our offices at InterVarsity Press. During their meetings I gave an opening devotion out of Acts 8:26-40, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Here's an excerpt of my remarks:

Let me zero in on just a few key verses. Verse 30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And the eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”

This passage highlights reading and understanding. Reading plays a key role in people’s faith journeys. This has been true for centuries. Christians are people of the book. We have a heritage of reading, of being discipled by the written Word of God and Christian literature. But reading by itself is not enough. Do you understand what you are reading? How can I, unless someone guides me? Let me put it this way: Reading plus guiding equals understanding. We need to read, and we need to understand.

Reading by itself is not enough. Content is not enough. But relationship with no content is not enough either. Reading biblical content, in the context of Christian guidance and relationship, produces understanding and spiritual insight.

Obviously Philip is the main guide that helps the eunuch understand the text. But that’s not all. There are more characters in this story. First the angel of the Lord tells Philip where to go. Then the Spirit tells him what to do. Philip the guide is also himself guided.

The prophet Isaiah is also a guide. He is a written guide, giving testimony to who Jesus is, a sheep led to slaughter. Isaiah uses the power of the written word to point the eunuch to Jesus. Isaiah and Philip are partners in witness. They work together to bring the eunuch to Christ. And there’s another hidden guide here. Luke, author of the book of Acts. Luke writes and records this passage, and it’s a gift to guide us in our study and edification.

This says something about the nature of the written word. Writings are an extension of the writer. Through the written word, writers travel through time and space to be present with us. Isaiah still speaks to us today. So does Luke. And Augustine, or Bonhoeffer, or C. S. Lewis. I have a personal copy here of the very first IVP book, Discovering the Gospel of Mark by Jane Hollingsworth. Written six decades ago. This printing is from 1950. Through this book, Jane still speaks to us. She guides us through the gospel of Mark, just as Philip guided the eunuch through the prophet Isaiah.

Books are our guides when people are not physically present. In the early days of InterVarsity, staffworkers covered several states. They might visit a school every few months, once or twice a semester. Veteran staff Marilyn Stewart saw her staffworker just twice a year, so they made the most of their visits. And often those early IV staffers would disciple their student leaders through books. They’d leave behind an IVP book and say read these chapters, and we’ll discuss them the next time I’m in town. Books discipled our student leaders when our staff could not be present.

And IVP books extend the ministries of our IV staff authors. James Choung, Doug Schaupp, Nikki Toyama, Jimmy Long, Paul Tokunaga – great people, but they can’t be on two hundred campuses at the same time. But their books can go places that they can’t. And I’m thrilled that thousands upon thousands of students can benefit from their books.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Firms of Endearment: What makes you emotionally loyal to a company or organization?

I recently came across the concept of "firms of endearment," which comes from the book Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose. Firms of endearment are companies that endear themselves to stakeholders (employees, customers, vendors, shareholders, etc.) "These companies meet the tangible and intangible needs of their stakeholders in ways that delight them and engender affection for and loyalty to the company."

The book reports that not only are these companies more beloved by customers, they are also significantly more profitable than comparable companies on the S&P 500 and even the benchmark companies chronicled in Good to Great by Jim Collins. In case you're curious, here's the list of the top FoEs:
Best Buy
Commerce Bank
Container Store
Johnson & Johnson
Jordan's Furniture
L.L. Bean
New Balance
Progressive Insurance
Trader Joe's
Whole Foods
(There are other companies that are FoEs, like Target, that didn't make this top list.) The authors argue that people feel customer loyalty and attraction ("endearment") to these companies in ways that they do not to other companies. This rings true to me; I love Honda and Target but ignore Buick and recoil at Wal-Mart. I've always bought Reeboks and never Nikes. An excerpt from the book:
Of course, millions of customers do shop routinely at many other companies with which they feel no emotional attachment. Customers can be loyal in behavior to a company without being loyal in attitude. Attitudinal loyalty comes from emotional attachment, a force that causes a customer to drive past a Sam’s Club near her home to shop at a distant Costco instead, for example.

The logical “left brain” says you should shop at Wal-Mart so that your shopping trip ends up saving a few bucks. However, the emotional right brain may not welcome the experience. Integrating the two sides is one of the secrets to Target’s success. “Tar-zhay’s” customers get low prices, as well as a pleasant experience and more stylish products than they would find at Wal-Mart. Now consider the impact of these experiential differences from an investor’s perspective: Wal-Mart’s stock has been stagnant for the past five years while Target’s has risen nearly 150 percent.

Seems like this concept holds true not only for businesses but also for nonprofits, churches and parachurch organizations. What makes you love some organizations and not others? Why do I love listening to NPR and feel emotionally attached to them in a way that is not true of other media? What endears you to a particular ministry, church or community? And is there anything we can do to endear our own organizations to others? I'm curious what companies or organizations you find yourself fiercely loyal to, and why.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Summer in suburbia

I haven't been able to blog lately because of school, work, life, etc., but here are some tips from a subtext article by Steve McCoy about how to live missionally in the suburbs this summer:
So summer is an ideal time to connect with new folks in your suburb as we enjoy the weather and the culture around us. Here are a few suggestions for your summer from the things my family is doing. I hope you will add your suggestions, stories of stuff you’ve done, and share your plans in the comment section.

Be a Participant

Get involved in the life of your suburb. Find a community calendar on your city’s website and put some stuff on the family calendar. We recently attended a very popular fair in downtown Woodstock. My son and I were in the Little League section of the Memorial Day parade and my daughter was in the middle school band. Molly and the other two kids were enjoying the parade with some local friends from school. Through events like these we’ve met new folks, made new friends, and supported the life of our suburb.

Be a Servant

I’m the dad to four great kids, ages 6-12. I made a commitment to try to be a servant when possible as they get involved in public activities. This works best for me with sports. I’ve coached just about every team they played on. Just last night I sat in on the Bittie Ball (“coach pitch” level) coaches meeting. Daniel (6) is on the Devil Rays this year (Satan’s team). So while I’m already an assistant coach for Little League and soccer, I’m now also the head coach for Bittie Ball. It’s going to be a busy summer, but I get to serve a bunch of great kids and their families by being a coach. It forces me to learn their names and get to know them, and they want to know me too.

If you are going to serve as a coach or help out at the local school (as Molly does) or help with a summer play or whatever else, you need to do it with excellence. It’s frustrating to have someone in your family in a public activity only to find out the people in charge are incompetent. If you serve, do it well. Truly love your neighbor and consider them as more important than yourself. It not only makes folks love the experience, but it endears them to you.

Serving through various cultural activities also provides us the opportunity to serve our neighbors beyond these events. We often see former team members and/or their parents out in public or at their schools. I will always be “coach” to these kids. One thing we work hard at is trying to have at least one cookout a year for players and their parents. And that leads to another suggestion for your summer in suburbia…

Be Hospitable

For Memorial Day (last weekend) we had a cookout. It was mostly community friends we’ve connected to through local school involvement, but we also invited a church friend or two and a visiting couple from the previous week’s worship service. We had about 40 people there, some I knew well and others I met for the first time. It was a blast. Here are a few things you should do to make your cookout a hit.

- Introduce people. If you are bringing folks together who don’t already know each other, and you should, make sure you introduce them so they all feel comfortable.

- Have plenty of good food. We had too much food because we wanted to be generous. Nothing like a cookout where you feel underfed. And make it good food, please. I don’t want to come to your house if you are going to buy the hot dogs with the highest amount of rat hairs and bone chips. Not all hot dogs and hamburgers are created equal. Get quality stuff. And spice it up. We got burgers at Sam’s and then added a layer of Famous Dave’s burger seasoning. People raved about the burgers, though most of them didn’t know why. You want your neighbors happy.

- Let people bring something if they want to. Sometimes people feel obligated. Sometimes they really enjoy bringing something. Don’t presume on people and don’t ask them to bring something. But if they want to bring something it can be a good thing. It makes them feel like they’re a good neighbor too. For our Memorial Day most everyone insisted. Some brought a dish, or chips and soda. One family brought a ton of Edy’s ice cream they got for free in a contest. It added a super-charge to the cookout that none of us could probably afford otherwise.

- Have plenty to do. We had more games we didn’t use than we used. You are providing opportunities, not a schedule. We had kids playing baseball in the church field, jarts, football, a fire pit as it cooled off in the evening, lots of lawn chairs, sparklers for kids after dark. And think of the little things, too. We fogged the yard before people came to kill most of the mosquitoes and then we had several cans of Off available. We had sunscreen. We had music. We tried to cover all the bases, though we learned a few bases we didn’t cover as well as we will next time.