The Weekend Wanderer: 15 September 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing“China outlaws large underground Protestant church in Beijing” – Those connected to the church in China are aware that the government has been putting increasing pressure on churches in China. This latest news is one more example of that. “Beijing city authorities have banned one of the largest unofficial Protestant churches in the city and confiscated ‘illegal promotional materials’, amid a deepening crackdown on China’s ‘underground’ churches.” See Christianity Today‘s helpful write-up about this here.

 

O6THYFTPZII6NGJ7OPDJHKEYEA“John MacArthur’s ‘Statement on Social Justice’ Is Aggravating Evangelicals” according to Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast. And they’re not alone, as is evidenced by a lot of mainstream attention to “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” authored by John MacArthur and others (see last week’s “Weekend Wanderer” for more info). In one of his columns this week at The Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes in response to the statement that “Christians are suffering from complete spiritual blindness.”  Over at the Missio Alliance blog, Dennis Edwards posted a two-part response to the statement. I keep intending to write something on this, but have not had the time to get there this week. However, I did mention in my message last weekend at Eastbrook Church that the church should be a kingdom-oriented community that is so heavenly minded that we are more earthly good than anyone else.

 

girl-1192032_1280“Gen Z’s Biggest Legacy: Has Social Media Hacked a Generation?” – Rachel Seo, a sophomore at UC San Diego, reflects on social media’s impact on her generation. “There is research now that, in addition to paralleling with my own experiences, reveals the darker effects of social media, most particularly its long-lasting impact on Gen Z. Did anyone predict the impact of how a few apps could lead my generation into a mental health crisis? Could anyone have predicted it? Or, perhaps more hauntingly, did some people know about the potential effects that it would have on others—and simply not care enough to share?”

 

religious-father-praying-with-children“How parents act on their religious beliefs linked to the onset of atheism in their children” – A recent study at Religion, Brain & Behavior (“Predicting age of atheism: credibility enhancing displays and religious importance, choice, and conflict in family of upbringing“), highlights the fact that the credibility in the way parents live out their faith directly influences the way in which their children lean toward atheism. Eric Dolan writes of the study: “People tend to become atheists at a younger age when their religious parents talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, according to new research published in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior. The study provides evidence that exposure to religiously-motivated actions plays an important role in the onset of atheism.”

 

virtues“Why You Can’t Name the Virtues” – Speaking of credibility in our faith, Karen Swallow Prior writes about the moral vacuum, not just in terms of action, but in terms of character formation. This is basically an excerpt from her book On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books, which was just released. She writes: “For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception. But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.”

 

24f547f8af102a02576ce0a9d5d7bda6“When the Ship Has Sailed: Alan Jacobs on Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis” – Alan Jacobs’ new book, The Year of Our Lord 1943, explores the inheritance of the Christian intellectual tradition in the middle of the twentieth century, weaving together the life and thought of W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil.Whether you have or have not read the book, you will likely enjoy this interview with Jacobs by Robert L. Kehoe III at The Point in which they discuss various strands of Jacobs’ argument in the book, with a few loose ends in greater depth, including a few last words about Jacques Ellul.

 

perfect storm“Leadership’s Perfect Storm” – Steve Smith of Potter’s Inn reflects on the leadership failures in the evangelical church, giving attention to four main forces that he finds most concerning in today’s realm of leadership: “a success intoxicated leadership culture; the cult of emphasizing leadership gifts and skills rather than integrity and character; unchecked power in positions of leadership; and the unchecked speed and busyness in the life of a leader.” This is definitely worth a read, and has wider application than simply in the church. [Thanks to Tom Keppeler for sharing this article.]

 

power“Confronting the Toxic Power in Me: High-profile stories of fallen pastors can distract us from ourselves or hold up a mirror to our souls” – This article pairs well with Steve Smith’s above, this time giving attention to our own selves. If you ever read articles about the failure of leaders and say, “I would never do that,” then you are deceiving yourself in some way. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel offer a very meaningful look at power and the ways in which we all can deceive ourselves. I remember the words of an older Christian who, in the midst of a discussion about temptation, said to me: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” May we let God’s grace into our lives in ever-more transforming ways.

 

alan lee“Making fantasy reality: Alan Lee, the man who redrew Middle-earth” – With the release of the latest posthumous collection of J. R. R. Tolkien’s stories from Middle-Earth, The Guardian offered a nice interview with Alan Lee. Lee’s illustrations of Tolkien’s world are so closely linked with the works themselves that his vision of Middle Earth was one of the greatest inspirations for the film adaptations, aside from Tolkien’s own illustrations.

 

sub“Eerie photos show dilapidated relics of the Soviet era” – When I saw some of these photos, my mind spun around in all sorts of combinations of post-apocalyptic movies with some tinges of science fiction. If that’s your sort of thing, you should spend some time browsing through this unique photo collection. “Many of the areas where the photos were taken were inaccessible during the Soviet era, as they contained classified technology. They depict monuments, factories, military bases and various kinds of vehicles and technology, most in an advanced state of decay.”

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 14 July 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

82591“Guess Who’s Coming to Church: Multiracial Congregations Triple Among Protestants” –  “The percentage of Protestant churches where no one racial group makes up more than 80 percent of the congregation tripled from 4 percent in 1998 to 12 percent in 2012, according to new research out this week from Baylor University. Evangelicals and Pentecostals show even higher levels of diverse churches, up to 15 percent and 16 percent, respectively. Overall, nearly 1 in 5 of all American worshipers belong to a multiethnic congregation.” This is something that is really important where I serve presently at Eastbrook Church. Of course, this is not just a trend, but something significant within the trajectory of salvation history toward Revelation 7:9-11[Thanks to Bryan Loritts for sharing this article.]

 

ows_152950853349496Then, at the same time, we read an article like this “As Churches Close, a Way of Life Fades.”  The subtitle for the article is: “Minnesota’s mainline Christian denominations face unprecedented declines, altering communities and traditions celebrated for generations.” As you would guess, this is an examination of mainline church declines in the Midwest, and the chart in the middle of the article is worth viewing in itself. This is an echo of the larger trend of the decline of Christianity in North America, particularly in mainline Christianity. Of course, we must not miss the fact that the world is simultaneously becoming more religious, not less.

 

soccer“Understanding the ‘Beautiful Game’” – As the World Cup winds down, you may want to read Alan Jacob‘s review of Laurent Dubois’ The Language of the Game. “It might be easy to conclude that soccer is the sort of game that you either get or don’t get, yet Laurent Dubois takes up the noble and difficult task of trying to make soccer comprehensible and interesting to people who are used to games that follow a different logic. It’s a task he handles very well.” If that’s not enough, then you should watch the famous Pele move that Alan refers to midway through the article (seen at 4:19 in this video).

 

82639“How Charles Taylor Helps Us Understand Our Secular Age” – Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast takes a look at why the work of Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is influencing so many Christian thinkers. I have read Taylor fairly deeply over the last two years after encountering his thought both in the work of Pastor Tim Keller and Professor James K. A. Smith. Taylor’s thought factored into a recent series I preached on identity, “Who Am I?”, fairly significantly. If you want to dip into Taylor’s writings, there is no easy place to begin, but his most well-known book is A Secular Age. If you want a good to his thought, then I’d suggest Jamie Smith’s How (Not) to Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor.

 

cross-and-lynching-tree-e1530797675581In other reading news, here’s Timothy Thomas at The Witness offering a compelling look at “Why You Should Read ‘The Cross and the Lynching Tree.'” Thomas is new to James Cone’s work, which has spanned decades. This gives him fresh eyes in looking at Cone’s pivotal work on racial issues in America. If you’re unfamiliar with Cone or this book, please read Thomas’ reflections on this penetrating and important book published in 2011.

 

1_amXomiXpD9wDJ2xSS7On1w“The Tech Industry’s War on Kids: How psychology is being used as a weapon against children” – Adolescent and Child Psychologist Richard Freed writes: “What none of these parents understand is that their children’s and teens’ destructive obsession with technology is the predictable consequence of a virtually unrecognized merger between the tech industry and psychology. This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.” [Thanks to Andy Crouch for sharing this article.]

 

starbucks straws.pngThis week Starbucks announced that it would cease using plastic straws by 2020. This is great news for the environment, especially when you get a view of the impact of plastic round the world (see “What Happens to the Plastic We Throw Out” from The Weekend Wanderer: 2 June 2018). Sure, it would be great if they would move more quickly, but as Ethan Epstein points out hopefully this sort of self-regulation would catch on with other companies.

 

mr rogersAnd last, but not least, here’s David Brooks with “Fred Rogers and the Loveliness of the Little Good.” David Brooks is an insightful social critic and here he holds up the life and legacy of Mr. Rogers as an important model in our divided days. While I resonate with Brooks’ desire, I’m beginning to lose my optimism that a return to the kindness of Mr. Rogers will do anything in the face of the increasing rifts between people in our nation. Brooks’ essay is, at least in part, a reflection on the new documentary about Rogers’ life, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” which I do hope to view sometime.

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 23 June 2018

The “Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Jeff SessionsRomans 13 and Illegal Immigration? This past week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions referenced Romans 13 in support of the Trump administration’s policy of dealing with illegal immigration by separating children from parents. Daniel Burke attempts to look at the text in light of our current democratic context. Matt Soerens of World Relief highlights the fact that Romans 13 cannot justify separating children from families. Then there’s Greg Strand of the Evangelical Free Church of America who speaks out against separating children from families on the basis of love for God and love for neighbor. David Gerson offers a pointed critique of the current administration’s policy: “the centerpiece commitment of Christian social ethics is not order; it is justice. For a good introduction to the concept, Sessions might read the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail.’ ‘A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God,’ King argued. ‘An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.’ And how should justice be defined? ‘Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.'” It’s always interesting when parts of the Bible become headline news.

 

Andrew Brunson 2“Experts Say Turkey’s Indictment of Rev. Brunson Full of ‘Blatant Lies'” – Lela Gilbert, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, speaks to the terrible situation that Andrew Brunson is going through in Turkey. She writes: “Turkey’s formal indictment of U.S. Presbyterian Pastor Andrew Brunson is so tenuous and thinly supported it strongly suggests humanitarian groups are justified in their argument that he is a diplomatic hostage rather than a legitimate criminal suspect.”

 

3000“To survive our high-speed society, cultivate ‘temporal bandwidth'” – So says Alan Jacobs in a recent essay in The Guardian. “It is hard to imagine a time more completely presentist than our own, more tethered to the immediate…to find a healthier alternative, we must cultivate what the great American novelist Thomas Pynchon calls ‘temporal bandwidth” – an awareness of our experience as extending into the past and the future.”

 

82470“4 Ways to Share God’s Love in Summertime” – In light of recent studies revealing that American Christians are unlikely to share their faith, Tina Osterhouse offers four practical ways we can share God’s love in the “ordinary time” of summer. Take a look at this realistic and down-to-earth approach to evangelism. Then, go out and try something that she mentions.

 

milky-way“It Is Highly Unlikely That Any of This Exists: On the Origins of the Universe” – Over at Literary Hub, Oren Harman tells us honestly, that any of this exists at all is so very, very random. He delves into the search for dark matter at the beginning of the universe.

 

elevator“What Was the Point of Elevator Music?” – Since you probably have been thinking about this (or not) for quite some time, Patrick Carrajat comes to the rescue to save us from false thinking about the rationale behind elevator music. “‘I don’t think elevator music was really designed to soothe the raging beast,’ says Patrick Carrajat. Instead, he says, elevator music was there to…” Well, I guess you will have to read the article in order to find out why. [Thanks to the Prufrock News for this article.]

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 2 June 2018

The “Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly post in which I gather a smattering of news, stories, resources, and other media you could explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

82255“Despite Disappointing Some, New Mark Manuscript Is Earliest Yet” – “On the basis of the handwriting, Obbink and Colomo estimate that the manuscript was written in the range of A.D. 150–250. The manuscript itself is tiny, only 4.4 x 4 cm. It contains a few letters on each side from verses 7–9 and 16–18 of Mark 1. Lines of writing preserved on each side indicate that this fragment comes from the bottom of the first written page of a codex—a book rather than a scroll.”

 

4556657462_3a6ca1b8a0_b-1-375x250.jpgMiles Smith’s article “Evangelical Indifference to the Immigrant in Historical Perspective” is an important read in the current immigration debate. Smith brings much-needed context on the issues of separation of children from their families and why “even pro-slavery Christians in the slaveholding South took separating children from their parents seriously enough to publicly and regularly denounce the practice, in print and vocally in their churches.” The separation of children from parents at our borders is something we must not avoid speaking about. (Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this article.)

 

EDN_U2_2018_01-1480x986“The artists pushing modern stage design forward” – Over at Radio Milwaukee,Joey Grihalva chronicles how stage design in modern concerts is pushing the envelope of what’s often called the fourth wall in performance experiences. “From Es Devlin and Willie Williams’ cutting-edge production for U2’s new arena tour, to the complex choreography that David Byrne brought to the Riverside Theater, to the immersive elements of the Eaux Claires festival, to the hand-painted installations of local creative Kristina Rolander, modern stage designers are deepening the connections between musicians and fans through innovative artistry.”

Read More »

Image and Idolatry

image 6 - out of focus.jpg

A quick search online reveals that a lot of us have image problems. Not only do you and I have image problems, but it seems like every category of person, career, human activity, and individual has an image problem.

The Satanic Inversion of the Image of God

As I mentioned in my message this past weekend, “I am More than My Image,” the deepest root of our image problem is the Satanic inversion of how God created us in His image. In Genesis 3:1-7, we can see three aspects of this inversion within the dialogue between the serpent and Eve:

  1. Satan questions the truth of God (“Did God really say?…”) – something which humans in original innocence took for granted as true and good
  2. Satan questions the motivation or rationale of God’s truth (“You will not certainly die…for God knows…”) – something which humans in original innocence took as in their best interest
  3. Satan questions the human relationship with God (“And their eyes were opened”) – the original harmony (shalom) or relationship is no disrupted

The opening of eyes gives more than humanity bargained for as this taints the image of God within humanity. That image is still there – an amazingly good reflection of God in our lives – but it is fogged over and cracked like a damaged mirror.

Human Dissonance about Image and God’s Guidelines

As we look at the story of the Bible after Genesis 3 we see that humanity tends toward putting the self at the center. Not only that, but we construct the world in a way that lifts up images outside of us and inside of us that are contrary to God and His ways. This is a direct reflection of the dissonance we experience as a result of the Satanic inversion of the image of God in Genesis 3. Read More »

5 Reasons I’m giving up social media during Lent

People talk about all sorts of things you can give up during Lent. For the past three months, I’ve sensed that it would be spiritually upbuilding for me to take a break – a sabbath of sorts – from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more. In the past, I’ve utilized my blog and social media as a tool for inviting others to be God-focused throughout Lent (my series of posts last year entitled “40 Days” are an example of this). However, I think I need to do something different this year.

So, I’m giving up social media during Lent and here’s five reasons why…

  1. From Distracted to Present: My daily routines are often filled with many things. I have rhythms that shape my days, some related to daily time with God, some related to work activities, and some related to happenings with family and friends. In the midst of all these things, I also give a lot of attention to social media. This allows me to stay connected to people and the world around me through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and more. I love this but sometimes I become distracted. Sometimes I become more than temporarily distracted but become characteristically distracted. I sense the need to take a different routine than that for a while so that I can be fully present with people. Hopefully, this season will enable me to grow deeper into Psalm 86:11, “give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
  2. Turning Off the Information Tap: Social media makes me aware of so many things I might not otherwise know,and this is good and bad. I know about events in Somalia and Ukraine faster than ever, so I’m motivated to pray. I read up on the latest research about learning styles or urban life, and it shapes how I approach my work. I can keep up with distant friends and relatives’ lives and loves each day. So much of this information is fun and intellectually stimulating. At other times, I feel like I’m too informed about too many things without actually being able to think or consider what that information means. During Lent, I am stepping away from social media in order to intentionally limit what comes into my mind. “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7).
  3. Cultivating Appropriate Quiet:: When we take something away during Lent, true spiritual transformation only happens when we put something of value in its place. The corollary to turning off the information tap is cultivating appropriate quiet. If I am going to reduce the flow of connectivity and information, then I must intentionally replace it with another practice. This season of 40 days is intended to stop th high level of connection to others so that I can live from the center of things and have needed space for reflection. Lent is a good time to live into the words of Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”
  4. Less Self-Consciousness: By its very nature, social media is centered on the presentation of facts, photos, questions, or information related to ourselves or our interests. Because of that, social media makes me more conscious of how I present myself to others. While that may be good in some ways, that self-centered presentation at times serves to reinforce my own tendencies toward stultifying self-consciousness and people-pleasing that are neither helpful for me nor honoring to God. Lent is a good time to step back from that self-consciousness in order to become more God-conscious. I believe that stepping away from social media during this season will be a good practical practice for me in that direction. I hope it will help me to grow in Jesus’ summary statement of God’s desires for us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27).
  5. From Hearing Voices to Hearing God’s Voice: With all the voices coming my way through social media, whether friends or various colleagues or news feeds, my inner mind often feels like cavern reverberating with the echoes of others’ words. It becomes harder to reflect and, many times, harder to hear God’s voice. Lent is intended to be a focused time for self-reflection, repentance, and purification under the penetrating voice and astute hand of God. It is my aim that consciously eliminating some of those voices for a season helps me to hear and respond to God more truly and vigorously. The prophets constantly called the people to just this, as Hosea declared: “Hear the word of the Lord” (Hosea 4:1).

I will continue to post on my blog occasionally, which automatically posts to my social media accounts. However, I will not be active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Instagram from Ash Wednesday (March 5) through Resurrection Sunday (Easter, April 20). If you need to contact me, please email me.

WWJT: What Would Jesus Tweet (!?!)

In my ever-continuing conversation with folks out there about the uses of social media, from Facebook to blogging to Twitter, I’ve encountered another bit of fodder for the conversation.

It came via a Twitter re-tweet that I read entitled “7 Reasons Christians Should Twitter.” Before I make any comments on this let me say that, in all fairness to the author – whom I have never met – I can see a clear desire for ministry and creativity at work in life. That being said, I felt like the author’s framework for thinking about use of social media generally, and Twitter specifically, was simplistic.

The author of the article was essentially saying, ‘If we care about Jesus’ mission for the lost then we should be tweeting.’ That’s a bit like saying, if we care about Jesus’ mission for the lost then we should be bicycling. Now, I love bicycling, but the point of bicycling is not to connect with the lost. It’s to get from one place to another or to get exercise, to name a couple of things. Sure, bicycling – and Twitter – can be a means by which we share the message, but to say we should use those things solely because of that gospel reason, in my opinion, loses the tool’s purpose. This was not helped by having WWJD as the seventh reason, stating: “Jesus Would Twitter; the message doesn’t change, but the methods must change!” This could be happily rephrased as ‘What Would Jesus Tweet’!

Twitter exists as a means of social connection and community building. Bicycling exists as a means of transportation and exercise. If we ignore their purpose for existence with a missionary over-purposefulness, then we can easily abuse the means. It’s no longer redeeming the means. Twitter can be a powerful means for making connections amongst people, who otherwise would  never meet or would not maintain connections. It can also be a meaningful force for social change and influence.

While Twitter is misused by many propaganda artists as a means of promoting a product, most Twitter users recognize that for what it is. We do not want to do that with the gospel. We should look for ways that thoughtfully recognize the tool for what it is – Twitter as a form of social media – and then use it within its purpose to achieve a greater end.

Given this, WWJT?