Friday, January 30, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

The 25 Random Things About Me thing has been circulating Facebook recently, and I finally got around to writing my own. Figured I'd repost it here. This ended up way longer than a lot of folks' lists, and it's a little unnerving how geeky I really am. Anyway, here goes:

1. I was born in New York City, and one of my earliest memories is going to a park (perhaps Central Park) and climbing a tree and getting stung by bees. And on another occasion getting wet cement in my hair. And getting spanked for sticking a fork in a rotary fan and shattering the plastic blades. If you want young kids to remember their early childhood, give them traumatic experiences that will imprint on their memories.

2. I grew up in Minnesota and lived there from age 4 to 21, and I still consider myself a displaced Minnesotan. I drink pop, eat hot dish and play Duck Duck Gray Duck. I went to Twins games at the old Met Stadium in my hometown of Bloomington (the site is now the Mall of America).

3. I moved across town between third and fourth grade and changed schools, and my claim to fame as the new kid was that I could solve the Rubik’s Cube in less than two minutes.

4. I had some minor degree of childhood asthma, and my mom didn’t want me playing a brass or woodwind instrument because she thought it would be too hard on my respiratory system. So I played violin instead and hated it. But I enjoyed piano, once I got to play music I liked.

5. In eighth grade I got third place in the entire state of Minnesota at the St. Cloud Math Contest. I was also on our school’s MathCounts team, and in our state finals, the top four finishers went to the national competition in Washington DC. I tied for fourth, and after two tiebreakers, I lost by one point and didn’t get to go to nationals.

6. I got completely burned out by accelerated math programs, so I gave up on math and switched to the humanities, especially literature, theatre and creative writing. In tenth grade, I wrote short stories starring my friends and classmates. One story had my honors English class trapped in the school and all of us getting murdered one by one. Other stories cast our group of friends as having paranormal superpowers, or exploring fantasy lands a la Dungeons & Dragons, or in sci-fi scenarios like Star Trek.

7. I was in 4-H for many years, despite having no farming or agricultural experience. My projects were in things like bike safety and photography. The first time I ever danced with a girl was at a 4-H leadership conference held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.

8. I’ve kept a journal pretty much every day since tenth grade. I was really shaped by Bob Greene’s book Be True to Your School based on his high school journals, which he described as “time preserved.”

9. During high school I once had a part-time job doing phone surveys and market research, and of course I got a lot of hang-ups and annoyed people. So now I like getting phone surveys and always try to complete surveys whenever I’m called.

10. I also had a summer job working at Dairy Queen. We got bored making the same kinds of Blizzards all the time, so we’d invent our own. Or make alternative Peanut Buster Parfaits with layers like blue raspberry, Heath Bar, mint, Oreos, etc.

11. Once in ski club I was coming down an icy hill and couldn’t stop, and I collided with a popular cheerleader and ended up lying between her legs. I don’t know which one of us was more mortified.

12. I was in high school debate league and went to a two-week summer debate camp. I was told that the girls had a “hot guys” list posted in the girls’ bathroom and that I made the list. (Which probably isn’t saying much, but hey.)

13. I ran track for one year because most of my friends ran track. I never did very well, but I trained enough to bench my weight and run a six-minute mile.

14. I had bit parts in theatre in high school. One play, I had thirteen words (not lines – just words), so my cast T-shirt said “Thirteen.”

15. I love Broadway musicals. I’ve seen Les Miserables four times and pretty much have the whole three-hour symphonic recording memorized.

16. Ellen and I have a bunch of Coca-Cola polar bears because a few months after we started dating, she was in the hospital for abdominal surgery, and her family brought her a Coca-Cola polar bear from Hardee’s. I got one as well so our polar bears could date. When we dated long distance, one or the other of us would keep both bears so the bears could be together even if we were apart.

17. One of my college responsibilities was filling pop machines. Just before graduation, I and a friend put some cans of non-alcoholic beer in the pop machines in rarely consumed slots like diet A&W root beer, so they wouldn’t be discovered until the next school year.

18. When I went to Urbana 93, I bought two full boxes of IVP books. I now have what is probably the world’s largest collection of autographed IVP books – over 400 signed titles.

19. During grad school I had a journalism trip to Washington and one of my classmates was friends with a Secret Service agent, so we got a behind-the-scenes tour of the White House. We stood at the doorway to the Oval Office and got to sit in the private presidential movie theatre. I have a picture of myself standing at the press room podium. We also attended a real press briefing, and I stood two feet away from George Stephanopoulos.

20. My master’s thesis at Wheaton was the basis of my first book, Singles at the Crossroads. I had been dating Ellen for three years at the time, and I waited until the book proposal had been accepted and contracts signed before I proposed to her.

21. I love buying books at thrift shops for a quarter and selling them on Amazon for ten or twenty bucks. It feels like magic.

22. I like team comic books like Justice League and Teen Titans and ensemble cast shows like Friends and Lost. Probably has something to do with a yearning for community and the sense that we are better together than on our own.

23. I consider myself a moderate evangelical mutt. My church history has included Covenant, Evangelical Free, Alliance Church, Church of Christ/Christian Church, went to Lutheran retreats, worked at a Baptist camp, etc. I joined the Anglican church in 2005 and appreciate its ancient-future liturgy and worship. Many of the Christian writers who have most shaped my thinking are Anglican: C. S. Lewis, John Stott, J. I. Packer, N. T. Wright.

24. I have never had a broken bone. Or any major surgery, I think.

25. I am an ENFP on the Myers-Briggs and an Enneagram Seven (the enthusiast), so I am described as “a frisky puppy that likes to have his nose into everything.” My virtue is taking joy in life, and my vice/besetting sin is gluttony – I want to try everything and don’t want to miss out on anything.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Christianity Today Book Awards

I am happy to report that two of Christianity Today’s 2009 book awards went to IVP books that I edited: Andy Crouch’s Culture Making in the Christianity and Culture category, and Emmanuel Katongole and Chris Rice’s Reconciling All Things in the Christian Living category. Here’s what their judges said:

On Reconciling All Things: “I love this book for its range, the weave of the two writers’ voices, its deep appreciation of process, and its combination of spiritual groundedness, accessibility, and ecclesial, psychological, and political awareness. It retrieves the term reconciliation from the buzzword bin, and offers hope and direction at the same time.”

On Culture Making: “An astonishing work that moves from sociological analysis to biblical theology (in story form) to their practical implications. Crouch’s main contribution is to show how Christians can and should do cultural analysis but not stop there: They should proceed boldly and deliberately to creating culture itself. This is a book for the whole church.”

(Just for the record - when I brought Andy's proposal to our publishing committee some years ago, I said, "This is the quintessential IVP book, and I predict that it will get a starred review from Publishers Weekly and win a CT book award." I'm not always correct in my predictions, but with this particular book, I was right on both counts. And it was named one of PW's best religion books of 2008, as well.)

In addition, IVP's Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings edited by Tremper Longman and Peter Enns received an award of merit in the Biblical Studies category.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Suburban Challenge

I haven't posted for a bit because of any number of factors - busyness at work, inaugural hoopla, watching all of season 4 of Lost last week - but now that the premiere of season five is past us, it's time to move on. Unfortunately I have nothing particularly new or exciting to say, so let me just link to this Newsweek article about "The Suburban Challenge," which highlights some of the changes and issues suburbia faces:

Suburbs now provide more jobs than cities. Only about 22 percent of jobs in major metropolitan areas are located within three miles of a traditional downtown; twice as many are more than 10 miles out. Suburbs also host more immigrants: in the largest metropolitan areas, nearly six in 10 foreign-born residents now live in the suburbs. In places like Charlotte, N.C., Minneapolis, Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, the first address of many new Americans is most likely down a suburban lane.

Then there are the downsides. Nationwide, a million more suburbanites are living below the poverty line than city dwellers. Suburban St. Louis County, Mo., has 50 percent more working-poor families than the city of St. Louis itself. The mortgage crisis only adds to the problems. The foreclosure rate in Clayton County, which encompasses many of Atlanta's southern suburbs, is twice as high as that in Atlanta. Homes in neighborhoods close to downtown Chicago, Pittsburgh and Portland, Ore., have held their value, while prices for homes far from those urban cores have plummeted, according to new research by Joe Cortright, an economist at Impresa Consulting.

The article goes on to note that "the mental line between city and suburb no longer makes much sense; policies need to treat metropolitan areas as a whole." I've argued for some time that we need not pit cities against suburbs, but rather that we should seek the welfare of the whole metropolis. Urban issues are suburban issues, and vice versa. As new suburbs and exurbs become the new cities, old suburbs become old cities, with all the same kinds of challenges and issues. The article concludes:

The end of the (traditional) suburbs was inevitable. Hopeful, mobile Americans may once have thought they could leave behind the pressures, demands and compromises of city life. But social concerns inexorably follow society. Our leaders, starting with a metro-minded president, now have to make the mental jump across the urban-suburban boundary, and catch up.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Living with limits

This past weekend our church had a brief men's retreat (just a Saturday morning thing) on the theme of living within limits. It was quite timely, given the nature of the economy, and indeed several folks in attendance were dealing with employment issues. But all of us bump up against limitations in various ways, whether physical health, relational challenges, adult children outside of one's control or personal vocational/career ceilings. Now that I'm closer to 40 than 30 (ack!), I've been feeling the limitations of life a lot more. When we're in our twenties, everything is ahead of us and we think of life in terms of open-ended possibilities. As we approach middle age (ack!), we realize that there's only so many opportunities available to us, and that perhaps we will not be able to accomplish everything that we might have hoped for.

So our retreat looked at the theme of contentment in Philippians 4. Our retreat leader, Kevin Miller of Church of the Resurrection and Christianity Today, pointed out that the apostle Paul's life divided into two parts. The first half of Paul's life was one of status, opportunity and privilege as a Roman citizen, a top-notch education under Rabbi Gamaliel, an up-and-coming leader with power and influence. But the second half of his life, after conversion to Christianity, was one of persecution and suffering, beatings and imprisonment. And yet Paul was able to say in Philippians 4 that he had learned the secret of being content, in want or in plenty.

It occurs to me that it might be harder for us to be content when we are surrounded by plenty. We look around us, and our affluent suburban consumer culture shows us what we don't have, or how much other people have. On the other hand, facing realities of limitations like economic trouble or declining health might push us to be more grateful for what we do have.

We also looked at the temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4. Kevin mentioned the story of Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales, and how he wrote in his book that he was gradually seduced by the desire to be the next Walt Disney. Vischer had been hiring corporate executives to work at Big Idea Productions, and along with that came a desire to live an executive lifestyle with executive-level income, housing, cars, etc. And then everything came crashing down and Big Idea went bankrupt. It's a cautionary tale about discerning one's vocation and giftedness (Vischer freely admits that he was not cut out to be a corporate mogul and was best as a simple storyteller), and also of the temptations of power. Matthew 4 is not only about resisting the temptations of grasping for that which we shouldn't have - it's also about being wise stewards of what we do have and not misusing our power.

I was processing some of these thoughts, and I'm not sure what to do with it all. There are any number of things that are outside my control, and only so much that I can do about them. I'm inclined to let a few things go and just not worry about them for now. In some ways, living with limitations and realizing our human finitude connects well with the serenity prayer - serenity to accept what we cannot change, courage to change what we can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Chicago area sub•text forum coming Jan. 17

sub•text is a site/blog/resource/community for people interested in suburban ministry and mission, and they're hosting a free forum on Saturday, Jan. 17. I'll be presenting some material about suburban culture, and I trust that we'll have a good discussion about ministry in and to our suburban context. If you're in the Chicagoland area, come on by! Here are the details:

On January 17th the first sub•text forum is being held at Redeemer Fellowship in Saint Charles, IL from 10:30am - 2:00pm.

Al Hsu, author of The Suburban Christian, will be our guest speaker and will address the topics of “The Suburban Culture,” and “Mission to Suburbia.” The two main sessions will be broken up by a lunch (not provided). You can brown-bag it, bring in your favorite take-out, or order in some pizza. We want our lunch to be a good time of networking meeting others concerned for the glory of God and the good of the suburbs. Following the second session is a time for Q&A. Spread the word, bring some friends and join the conversation.

The sub•text forums are open to all and free of charge. We will take up an offering to cover any related expenses.

All the details are below.

The First sub•text Forum

Date: January 17th
Time: 10:30am - 2pm
Place: 1125 Oak St. Saint Charles, IL 60174

Session #1: 10:30-11:30 (The Suburban Culture)
Lunch Break: 11:30-12:30
Session #2: 12:30-1:30 (Mission to Suburbia)
Q&A: 1:30-2pm