Archive for March, 2010

Recently on the Jon Stewart Show, there was a story making fun of a man who was protesting the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to have a stamp featuring the face of Mother Teresa. The man represented an atheist organization who thought that a “religious figure” should not be allowed. The USPS said that they were honoring her for her humanitarian efforts:

 “With this stamp, the U.S. Postal Service recognizes Mother Teresa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work. Noted for her compassion toward the poor and suffering, Mother Teresa, a diminutive Roman Catholic nun and honorary U.S. citizen, served the sick and destitute of India and the world for nearly 50 years. Her humility and compassion, as well as her respect for the innate worth and dignity of humankind, inspired people of all ages and backgrounds to work on behalf of the world’s poorest populations”

The most interesting part of the whole piece was the audience’s reaction. They were laughing hysterically as the interviewer asked the man over and over if he really saw Mother Teresa as a threat, did he really want to protest Mother Teresa? Because of her undeniable love for people, all people, almost noone questions the authenticity of her faith. This audience considered it laughable that someone would oppose her. There aren’t many Christians who would elicit the same response.

 I’m not arguing that all Christians will or should be celebrated by their culture. It is probably the opposite. I am saying that when we really love and serve our community the message of the gospel is much more likely to be heard.

Luke 10: 36-37: “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”


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You might remember Joshua Harris from his best selling book “Kissing dating goodbye.”  I never read the book because, frankly, I was not interested in the premiss. I liked dating (I know it is more nuanced than that, but I think you can pick up what I am putting down.) Well, Harris has written a few books since then and his new one looks interesting. I have not read the book so I am not recommending it but I will say the video below is worth checking out. I am grateful he is helping people see why theology matters. What we believe necessarily forms our life. I will let you hear it from him:

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Black Liberation Theology (BLT) was pushed to the forefront of our culture during the last presidential campaign with the coverage of President Obama’s former pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright. Most of America had no idea what BLT was, or is, and therefore had no framework with which to process what they were encountering. Bradley’s book is a thorough introduction to BLT and helpfully articulates it’s formation through James Cone who “developed black theology in the late 1960’3 out of a frustration that at no point in his seminary or PhD studies, at predominately white schools, was there any discussion about racism and segregation in America.” So Cone set out to bring theology into closer contact with the social issues blacks were experiencing in America during the 1960’s.  Cone prioritized the socially oppressive culture for blacks in his day (and their oppressive history in America) more than Scripture, causing him to redefine God solely as social liberator while reorienting the redemptive story of Scripture around the liberation of people under socioeconomic and political oppression. In exchange for the authority of Scripture Cone and his fellow proponents of BLT traded black power, Marxism, cultural relativism, and the like. Bradley points out that within the context of this theological thought the black person was turned into victim and the white person and the systems they represented were oppressors. This starting point of black people as victim, called victimology, developed as the consciousness of the ideology  and serves as the starting point for understanding the development of black theology and all aspects of its vision for the black church in America. Bradley helpfully articulates both the formation and development of this theology, articulating formative factors both inside and outside of the black church of the day. One that is particularly worthy of note (esp as a Memphian) is the formative reality of the silence of the white church during slavery and segregation. Their silence on the issue is clear to document  and Bradley articulates well what the church fell pray to, summed up as “the whole basis of the Christian dehumanization of enslaved Africans (being) an illegitimate view of humanity- a view in which skin color determined not only a person’s status but indeed the presence or lack of the image of God.” The silence and redefinition of the white church during this time is potent for Memphians. It was the cry of the garbage worker’s who were striking in the 60’s to be recognized as men, people who deserved to be treated as people. And their cry fell silent on the ears of local white churches who remained silent (at best) on the issue. This picture tells the whole story (and these signs were printed in the basement of the old 2PC building on Beale): Bradley thoroughly challenges Black Liberation Theologians to strive for an orthodox approach to Scripture that will chart a more faithful course for their theology and necessarily replace the role of victim as the starting point for black anthropology with the Biblical designation of all God’s creatures- Image bearer. As Bradley challenges the second generation of black theologians of our day (and maybe the last generation, as BLT is losing footing rapidly) he also challenges the reader to not be formed by the social contexts we find ourselves in but rather to be formed by God’s revealed word. No matter where we find ourselves culturally, we should never prioritize our experiences and preferences over Scripture as they are “never authoritative enough to be primary over the text, or objective enough to relegate Scripture subordinate to it”. God’s word in fact establishes every human as an image bearer of His and calls his people to fight for the application of Christ’s work to all of life. Right now, in the theological circles I find myself in, we are not wrestling with issue pertaining to many African American realities in THIS CITY such as slavery, racism, unemployment, the status of African American men, drug abuse, welfare, affirmative action, ect…  I find myself wondering if I am contributing to the root of the development of Black Liberation Theology all over again by editing out theological application to issues that are not a part of my immediate social context. Am I being faithful to the entire Biblical narrative, the God of my salvation and what it means to live faithfully as one of His people in His world? Am I allowing Scripture to form me in a way that I am being faithful in the application of Christ’s work to all of life, in all my city? or am I falling prey to prioritizing my immediate social context, the nice, safe, and cozy world I regularly inhabit? I pray that I, we, allow ourselves to be more formed by God’s Word than the culture we are swimming in. May God have mercy on us all.

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OK, since Mitchell promised, here are my Final Four picks.

I will confess now that I am completely incapable of objective reasoning for this tournament. I want Kentucky to lose early and often, and in the most painful way possible. Maybe on an outrageously bad call, the kind that’s obviously bad on the replay. Or a 60 foot three at the buzzer. Seriously, Cal did alot of good in Memphis, and I hope he’s happy in Lexington. But I hope they don’t win it all. It’s not because John Wall and Demarcus Cousins would have been playing here (and  Xavier Henry and Darnell Dodson and…), because it’s not just about winning. It’s not because now Josh Pastner is our coach, cause I’m crazy about the guy. It’s because I love Memphis, and I believed Cal did too, the way we do. He talked about how generous the people are here and what a really great place it is. He fought our causes and sang our praises to everyone who would listen, and he always did it on a big stage. I thought he got it. That Memphis wasn’t just a job, that it was family. That he could do big things here, more than just win games, and we didn’t have to be UCLA or Duke… or Kentucky, to be special. If you have grown up in Memphis, you know what Tiger basketball means to this city. How guys like Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, Penny Hardaway and, more than anyone else, Larry Finch, brought every part of Memphis together. In the end, it wasn’t enough. He wanted bigger, brighter lights- a different kind of special. If you love Memphis, you know what I’m talking about.

Final Four: Kansas, Duke, Kansas State and ABK (Anybody But Kentucky)

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Here is a excerpt of an e-mail I got from a missionary in Asia:

  One friend travelled to a very remote region and entered one of the Buddhist temples.  Overcome by the atmosphere of emptiness and futility, he said that no Christian had ever been there before.  Just then, one of the Buddhist monks passed by carrying a Coke and, underneath his long flowing orange robe, he was wearing Nike sneakers! Our friend felt a great sense of sadness, realizing that Coke and Nike had gotten there before Christ’s messengers had. Our region has over 400 people groups, and 97% of them have never had a Christian among them to share the Gospel.  That’s a lot of places to reach before Coke and Nike do!

I’m not sure what the significance of this is, but I know it to be true. I have been to rural northeastern China and remote parts of Romania and the Czech Republic and Coke is there. Grace went to rural Zambia and it was there also. We went to Egypt and found that if you are looking at the Sphinx, you can do a 180 and be staring at a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Maybe it just means that everywhere and everyone is accessible if we want to go there bad enough.

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It is tournament time! Take a gander through this year’s bracket and then take some time to fill it out (even non-sports fans have fun with this). Coming soon, Matt & Mitchell’s final four picks. A hint- Matt will NOT pick Kentucky to win it all! (IF you want a printable bracket go here: http://a.espncdn.com/i/ncaa/10mens_bracket.pdf)

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“Historically the church has indeed seen its mission in these broad terms. It is not a matter of engaging in both the gospel and social action, as if Christian social action was something separate from the gospel itself. The gospel has to be demonstrated in word and deed. Biblically, the gospel includes the totality of all that is good news from God for all that is bad news in human life–in every sphere. So like Jesus, authentic Christian mission has included good news for the poor, compassion for the sick and suffering justice for the oppressed, liberation for the enslaved. The gospel of the Servant of God in the power of the Spirit of God addresses every area of human need and every area that has been broken and twisted by sin and evil. And the heart of the gospel, in all of these areas, is the cross of Christ.”   

Christopher J.H. Wright, Knowing the Holy Spirit through the Old Testament

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Last week I went to Costco, and on my way out I picked up a couple of slices of pizza to take home for the kids. I placed my order, and the lady taking my order smiled and replied,”Will that be all, honey?”. She was probably in her mid-50s, very busy and very sincere. A couple of weeks ago, I got lost at Methodist Hospital in Midtown. I asked two women at the info desk how to get to Madison. One of them said,”Sweetheart, you don’t know because you didn’t get where you are by yourself, God brought you here.” We spent a few minutes testifying to this truth and then she pointed me in the right direction. This has happened alot lately. A lady named Lydia at M.L.G.&W. helping me solve a problem, the folks at Muddy’s making a last second “Prozac” cupcake, the nurses taking care of my grandmother. All of them with a smile, a kind word, a little bit of a story. All of them ready to treat me like something more than the next customer. I heard a friend who is leading a ministry in Binghampton say this week-

“The light that shines the farthest, has to shine the brightest at home.”

It made me wonder if, as I dream of doing Big Things, am I loving the people right in front of me? All of these folks had a job to do, and probably a bunch of stuff on their mind, and for a few minutes they were genuinely sweet and friendly, to me. Sure, this is probably going on in lots of cities, but I know it is happening to me every day here in Memphis. I think it happens more here. It’s what happens when you mix “Mama said” with Sunday School and southern hospitality. It’s one of the things I really love about calling Memphis home.

UPDATE:  We really do adore Memphis . . . and Muddy’s.  https://awalkingpace.wordpress.com/2010/04/17/how-to-eat-a-muddys-cupcake/ for some life-changing reflections on Muddy’s.

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“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work.” –Oswald Chambers

The Lenten Prayer of St. Ephram (of the Eastern Orthodox tradition): “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. 
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”

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I must make a public confession- I watched some of the oscars on Sunday night. There is much to comment on as Christians should reflect on the way our culture celebrates Hollywood and the “achievements” of those who make tinsel town what it is, the extravagance with which some people live, the window into the hearts of our culture as to what we hold out as our standard and what we celebrate together, the remarkable gifts of creativity men and women possess, and much much more. But what I wanted to reflect on here involves the casualties, or unfairness, of our consumption. Let’s be honest, Hollywood is what it is because we the people put it there. We pay for the movies with money from our budgets, we watch the movies with time from our day, and we are formed by the theatre we are so drawn to (case in point, you will not get more than one day from me where I do not quote Raising Arizona). It is our consumption of what Hollywood produces that endorse what was celebrated Sunday night.  As Sunday evening passed I could not help but reflect on what happened to the child stars of my favorite movie of 2009, Slum Dog Millionaire. I guess I was not the only one wondering this as CNN ran a story on it the next day. Freaky. The story they put together (in video below) raises many questions that Christians need to wrestle with. I am an example of someone who saw the movie in the theatre and then got a DVD when it came out. I am one of millions who did this and the result was that the movie made hundreds of millions of dollars. But the movie was made on the backs of the poor, literally, in one of the worlds biggest slums (and VERY little has changed as far as the restoration of dignity of the stars, their family, and just as important, their community). The movie, like many of the other luxuries we enjoy in life and luxuries we consume on a regular basis (chocolate, clothes, shoes, technology, jewelry, ect…) does not go to the lengths it should to restore the dignity of the people who make the luxury possible. This example from Hollywood is only a window into the reality of our consumption and the effects, or lack there of, on the poor who make it possible. My question- should the concept of Justice Matt talked about in his last post effect the way we consume? I will post something from Calvin later in the week. For now, check out this video and tell me what you think:

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