Friday, November 21, 2008

Are Kids a Big Deal?

Question: What's wrong with this Toys R Us commercial?

youtube link

Answer: "Where Kids Are a Big Deal"

Based on this tag line for the popular children's toy store, it says that at Toys R Us, kids are important. The problem with this is it infers kids are not important outside of the store.

Obviously, this advertisement is targeting kids, because it would likely be played in between cartoon episodes or something. This tag line is used to persuade kids: It tells them that when they visit the store, it is then that they are important. Because when they are just at home with their parents, they aren't important.

When I heard this commercial on tv, my ears perked up and I was immediately saddened. It's sad because it's so true. Many kids are not valued by their parents. I see it every day at work. Jen sees it every day with her kids as well. Parents are much more focused on other things. To be a parent should be such a joy, yet a serious responsibility. Parents should be enveloped in their kids' lives by teaching, interacting, disciplining, and loving them so they will grow up to be responsible and self-sufficient. They are a big deal.

Unfortunately, it took a subtle advertisement to remind me how selfish parents can be sometimes. It encourages me to be much more loving and caring when I interact with them every day.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kid Quote: Counting

The other day I was reading a book to one of our 1st graders for YMCA child care.  The book is called How Much is a Million? and it's all about putting things in perspective for kids about how large the number "one million" actually is.

In the book, it describes the fact that if a person tried counting from one to one million, without eating or sleeping, it would take about 23 days.  Personally, I was pretty shocked by that. But after thinking about it, it does make sense because all of the bigger numbers, such as "seven hundred eleven thousand, five hundred sixty-three," would take a long time to say.

Wanting to involve the 6-year old in the story, I asked him, "Do you think you could count from one to one million?"

He paused for a second to think. "Yes," he confidently stated. "One time I counted all the way up to 150!"

"Oh, wow!  Nice job," I said, congratulating him.

"I had to stop and start along the way, though. I had to catch my breath," he admitted.

It's pretty amazing how limited our human minds are when we are kids.  It amazes me thinking about how now, as adults, we think we know so much but in comparison to what God knows we are still just as limited as this 6-year old.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

End of Another Era

Well I certainly didn't expect this to happen. I sold my car! But not until after it smoked, overheated, and died on I-205. We had it towed to the auto shop. The repairs were beyond our price range, so we were planning on donating it. Thankfully, one of the mechanics offered to buy it.

So now we just have Jen's car. Which is fine. We can live without one more luxury. However, it will be sad to not have my Nissan 240SX anymore. I drove that car for over 4 years with lots of good memories. Most notably, on my second date with Jen, I drove her to go ice skating. It was then that I told her about my gimp arm while showing off my shifting skills. She was impressed... but only by my Nemo arm.

Anyway, this was only the second car I've owned. The first, my sweet mustard-yellow Datsun pickup truck with my awesome flower garden in the back and my witty cheesy bumper sticker. My truck was obviously too cool for school, because it didn't last long. That rad vehicle was my high school transport, while my 240SX got me through college.

I could've been upset and discouraged by this unfortunate event. I would've loved to keep it, but we just didn't have the money to repair it. Now Jen and I will have to trade off the car with public transit. But why be discouraged? We'll be saving a bit of money on gas and insurance, and we'll get a bit more exercise by walking more often. And most importantly, living life without one more luxury reveals to us the most important things in life... I much rather would've had my car smoke, overheat, and die instead of that happening to Jen! My wife is so much more important to me than any other possession.

Sometimes it takes losing things that we take for granted to realize that. Change in life is good. It keeps us on our toes. Alert. So we don't get into a comfort groove. And this is coming from me! I am all about routine, repetition, and organization in my daily life. This whole car ordeal was a big deal to me, and yet at the same time I know, "shit happens." I like that bumper sticker because it's so blatantly true. But the question is, how are you going to react when the shit happens? Or what about when it hits the fan? What are you going to do? How are you going to represent yourself? How are you going to represent what you stand for?

Are you going to trust that God is sovereign, or not?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Consuming Jesus by Paul Louis Metzger

Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church
by Paul Louis Metzger

I enjoyed this book. It stretched me to think about things I didn't really want to think about. Namely, thinking about serving the needy by working together with other churches.

The only problem I had with the book is that the first half of it was very theological. While not a problem if I was better trained in that area of study, it seemed difficult for me (and I think also difficult for the average person) to grasp some of the advanced terminology and ideas. As a result, I felt somewhat confused in the first chapters. For example, he uses terms like "fundamentalist-evangelical heritage," "modernist theology," "denominational seminaries," and "intensifying antagonism" all in the same sentence (p.18). While those terms may be relatively easy to understand by themselves, it slows me down significantly when jumbled together. It seems to me a bit difficult for a casual reader.

That being my only criticism, I thought there were many positives. Since there are so many topics in this book that I resonated with, I will simply list them by bolding the main points and provide an excerpt.

What struck me when reading this book was his huge desire to join the fragmented Church that exists in the world today. Churches need to unify, cooperate, and fulfill God's purpose in a wicked world.
Instead of pointing the finger at the secularists and materialists, we evangelicals need to point it more at ourselves. Jesus did not die to save us from liberals. He died to save us from ourselves. The prophets and the saints of old--I'm not speaking here of America's founding fathers--identified themselves with their sinful nation and asked God's forgiveness for their own wrongdoing as well as for that of the masses (see Ezra 9, Neh. 9; Dan. 9; see also 1 Pet. 4:17). Not only do we need to give ourselves on behalf of the poor, but we also need to be poor in spirit and seek God's forgiveness. Such humility will go a long way as we seek to address the race and class problems plaguing America.

As an evangelical, I struggle with materialism: I am too often fixated on wanting my kids to be well trained, my wife to love life, and my own finances to be in order. I am not often fixated on seeing the church family reordered in view of a nobler vision of being consumed by Jesus and consuming race and class divisions. The evangelical church, including me, must awaken to a missional existence and see itself as a peculiar people with a particular politics, an institution and a people whose mission includes shaping one another's lives through conversion and participation in the crucified body of the risen Jesus, being consumed by him, and consuming race and class divisions. (p.34)

The church should be the setting where Jesus' Good News can work in our lives.
Preachers must deal with problems and bad news from their pulpits--and in their ministries to their communities from the get-go. The Good News does not hide from our brokenness of hide our brokenness from us: the gospel deals with broken people and fallen conditions, and it addresses those human conditions by proclaiming Christ's transforming power. That is what makes it the Good News. Perhaps Baby Boomers do not wish to hear more bad news; but those reaching out to Generation X find that the young want to deal with their pain and brokenness--even on Sunday morning! The preaching and practice of a Martin Luther King, Jr., and a John Perkins do not skirt brokenness (nor do they revel in it, for that matter). Rather, their preaching and practice address our brokenness and pain in order to shape the beloved community in view of our everlasting hope: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream!" (p.52)

It is important for the church to be diverse and unified.
While we evangelicals should guard our strengths, we should critically engage our weaknesses. We should address structural evil as we recognize that individualism structures us negatively and often fosters the negative outcomes of homogeneous small groups. While I see the need for some homogeneous groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, given the shared need for confidentiality and sensitivity to members' individual addictions, we need to be intentional about creating diversity groups that include members from different ethnic and economic subcultures in order to nurture sensitivity and build understanding and reconciliation among these groups. Lastly, we should address our own consumerist impulses. Rather than quickly leaving our consumer-oriented, homogeneous churches--thus becoming connoisseur Christians ourselves--we should do everything we can, working patiently and lovingly to become transforming agents, helping our own churches transform themselves from the inside out.

One last reason evangelicals have a hard time seeing these things and taking them to heart is the long-standing suspicion in many evangelical quarters of social involvement (as I have noted in the last chapter). But the gospel is social, and we must exhort the church to live out now what will one day be true in all creation, which is how Paul exhorted the Corinthians: he told them to restructure their socioeconomic arrangements in view of God's restructuring of human society through Christ's reconciling work, to which the Lord's Supper bears witness. The gospel promise offers energizing hope that mobilizes the church to participate in God's eschatological future, which has already dawned in Christ's mighty acts on our behalf in history. We need to open our eyes to the triune God's multifaceted kingdom work in our midst, which will expand the homogeneous small group's vision so that it becomes the fellowship of the King. (p.66)

Stereotypical materialistic churches are what we will resort to if we aren't gospel-focused.
Some homogeneous units that are meeting behind closed doors in suburban or exurban megachurches act out the concept of Sartre's play No Exit, which depicts hell as three self-consumed individuals who are locked up in a room with no escape and whose eyelids cannot close. These Christians gather there, with eyes wide open, some of them hanging out around the coffee bar to check out the possibilities for future dates, perhaps in hopes of building cozy Christian homes. Some others plan evangelistic ski trips to Vail, with the only aim of showing their non-Christian homogeneous friends that Christians can have fun, too. The predominance of this mindset in many evangelical circles today makes it very difficult to see how diabolical this orientation is, and it blinds us to the fact that by turning inward we close ourselves off to making an exit and entering into true freedom.

Those who look inward today are also often looking upward. While books that warn people not to get left behind when Christ returns may prompt some to put their homes in order and to give to the Master's cause, they may also be used by some as a stimulus to escape this world, to leave everything behind in order to build bigger homes and churches in the suburbs (or now, in the gentrified inner cities), to await that day when they are raptured to that great country club/ski resort/bistro in the sky. Can we even talk about personal holiness without also talking about holistic lifestyles? (p.98)

There is a big problem with outsiders not feeling welcome.
This missional orientation will include greater attention to what we wear and how we relate to the community around our church if we wish to have a sacramental and salt-and-light presence in the community. While it is certainly true of many "white" churches, I know of an African-American church in the inner city that is made up of middle-class commuter members who have virtually no connection with the community around their church. Members moved their families out of the community some time before for greener pastures as they became more affluent; now they come back only for Sunday morning worship services, and they are always very well dressed. The inner-city blacks and whites who have remained in the neighborhood cannot relate to them. An Anglo friend of mine who moved into that neighborhood and attended the church for some time told me that he had invited a black woman from the neighborhood several times to visit the church. Finally, she agreed to go to his church with him. But when he went to pick her up that Sunday morning, he had to wait for some time as she tried to make herself presentable. She finally appeared in a dress, but it didn't fit her. He could tell that she felt very awkward and uncomfortable, apprehensive that she would not fit in with their "dress code" and could not meet their social expectations. She never attended the church again. The problems we face are not simply white and black, but green as well (the separations of cash and class). (p.126)

Metzger explains ways that the church community can reconcile itself in a broken world:

"Individual church ministries need to get beyond their church walls." "Each assembly should be concerned for the total church in a given region, not just for those physically present."
Redistribution of Need:
"A humble spirit of giving and receiving will replace the haughty spirit of charity and snobbery toward the poor," which is something God is teaching me right now.
Redistribution of Responsibility and Blame:
"The church must re-envision its understanding of communal identity in view of its communal and co-missional God as involving solidarity with society at large." "Christians must take responsibility ... we are responsible."
Redistribution of Resources, Talents, and Goods:
"Churches in affluent communities must work together with churches in downtrodden communities to foster and maintain an 'incarnate' presence of healing and hope." "We all say that we hate poverty, and many of us try to relieve the suffering of the poor. But do we hate the conditions that make people poor?"
Redistribution of Ownership:
"Churches can work together in particular areas of need; that is, affluent and poor churches can together take ownership of depressed communities." "The key to explosive and long-term community-development vitality is to ensure that the people in a depressed community fully believe that they are responsible for repairing the foundations and walls of their community."
Redistribution of Glory:
"[1 Corinthians 3:5-7] must come to dominate the church's imagination and its discussions of church growth. It is not about you or me; nor is it about this or that church. In fact, it is not even, in the end, about the church of the city. It is about the Lord. Christ's all-consuming glory captured Paul's imagination, and it led Paul to seek cooperation between Christians in a given church and among churches. We can share with one another because God shares his glory with Christ, and Christ, as the incarnate agent of the communal and co-missional God in the world, shares it with us. As John 17:22 makes clear, 'I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one." (p.139-161).

Thankfully, he consistently states that the real solution for this issue is found in the Holy Spirit. Inward change in the hearts of Christians in the church is how a true community can thrive and mature.
It is God alone who can sustain us, coming to us through the indwelling and empowering Word and the Holy Spirit, the God who enlivens our practices, inspires our imaginations, and gives us hope to pursue beloved community in our own day. This community sees no divisions between race and class, between black and white and Asian-American and Native American, between rich and poor, between healthy and diseased, between young and old. Meeting us in our time of need as we stand firm in the struggle against the fallen powers of base consumerism in the church and beyond, this God will be with us always, even to the end of the age, and beyond it to the eternal dawning of the new age. (p.172)

I am very encouraged by Paul Louis Metzger's passion for seeing God's power in our hearts change things in the church. He is right on when he tells us that the best, most diverse community stems from Christ's redeeming change in our lives. There is a long journey ahead of us that we need to become more aware of in our pursuit toward unity in the church.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Who are the Homeless?

Last night was the second time I helped out at Operation Nightwatch, which is "an ecumenical night ministry of friendship and community for the street population of downtown Portland." In other words, it's a small church service with a meal afterward for homeless and/or low-income people who need some social interaction.

Lately my heart for the homeless has really been changing.

When I was in college in Seattle, I helped out with a few service projects for the homeless. I was happy to help at the time, but I didn't think that it was "my thing" and I assumed that my spiritual gifts were better suited elsewhere in God's plan. I figured there were other Christians out there who were more capable than myself to talk with and help those "less fortunate."

This is relatively understandable being sheltered as a kid in the suburbs, growing up thinking that most homeless were on the streets because they were moochers. I didn't know how to talk to them. I didn't know what life was like being homeless. I couldn't identify with them.

But my heart and my mind is changing.

When I realized I started thinking differently about the homeless, it occurred to me when I did something I did so many times before: drive up to a traffic light and saw him standing with his sign. Usually I would be driving up to the intersection and hope for one of two things: 1) The light would stay green so that I could pass by without stopping, or 2) A car would be in front of me if the light was red, so that I didn't have to stop my car right next to the man. And if I did stop right next to the guy with the sign, I could always hide my eyes behind the side edge of the windshield and pretend he wasn't there. How selfish is that? How unlike Jesus is that?

I began to realize that that man on the corner with the sign is an actual human being. Like me. And that man has a personal story. Like me. And Jesus died on the cross for this man's sins. Just like He did for me.

Jen and I have been learning how to be very self-controlled with our finances since we've moved to Portland. Our incomes have taken cuts since we lived in Seattle, and we've been hovering close to having nothing in our checking account. And it has been now that I finally understand what it takes to be homeless. For us, it'd just be not having enough money. If something happened to us and we were required to pay a large amount of money, we wouldn't be able to pay our bills. Imagine if we didn't have any family or friends to help us. If we were socially isolated, where would we go? Probably on the streets.

God is making it clear to me how fragile and temporary our luxuries are in our lives. One day we are playing with our Wii in our warm home and the next day we could be selling all our possessions just to pay bills and stay warm.

It was cold last night. I have a very nice home with a heater and a cozy bed. There are people on the streets right now whose feet were cold last night. They don't know when their next meal will be because they don't have a refrigerator. They don't have a kitchen.

What I found amazing was that many of these people attending this church service at Operation Nightwatch were thankful to God for what they had. And of what little money they had, many still gave offerings to God. In Ephesians 1:3 it says that God provides for us our spiritual needs through Christ. Is there anything else more important? No. And that's why these homeless people praise God. It makes me sad because this homeless community understands God's blessings so much more than wealthy communities. I guess that was Jesus' point when talking to the rich young man in Matthew 19.

There were two men that I talked to at Operation Nightwatch.

The first man's name was Michael and he had a broken leg. He was hit by a car when he was drunk one night. He went to the hospital and got his leg fixed, but couldn't afford any pain killers. So he has to just deal with the pain. He currently lives with a friend and knows that he needs to kick his alcohol addiction. He knows that his life sucks because of it. He's a smart guy. We talked about where he grew up, his opinions about stuff, etc.

The second man's name was Leonard. He was a 40-something ex-Army staff sergeant with PTSD. He was telling me what it's like living on the street daily, where he gets food, and how much he wanted to go home to Montana. We talked about my job, kids, and how he should've listened to his mother better when he was younger

These are just two guys that have made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. I raise my voice at my wife, I belittle something my sister is excited about, or I forget to do something at work. But the mistakes that these guys made have cost them much more than mine have. Different consequences, but still mistakes nonetheless. I am no better than these guys.

We all make mistakes because we are all sinners. And Jesus bent down to help those homeless people who were sick. The same kinds of people scraping by on the streets of Portland. We can't turn our heads to them. We can't just hope that we'll get a green light to pass them by. God calls us to be servants to one another. Our culture is so distorted that even Christians have a hard time knowing how a Christian should act. But by just reading the Bible we can understand so much better.

We need to be the change that we want in this country, in this world. The church is where the change starts. Christians are set apart to be God's people to change the world. And it can start with just seeing homeless people as actual people who need some help. How can I sit and waste my life with meaninglessness? God has a better plan us. It's all right here.