Monday, November 10, 2008

wonder in memphis

On the night Barack Obama was elected president and in the days that followed, I was down in Memphis, arguably the most racially divided city in the U.S. To this day a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a lieutenant general in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan still stands prominently in Memphis' central park. And the city's population remains mostly divided by the freeway "loop" that neatly separates whites from blacks.

As we (most of CRM's senior leadership) met with African American pastors and community leaders during the week, their pride in what had just happened was palpable. But it wasn't loud. It wasn't even triumphant. It was closer to shock. It almost felt like the men and women we met with were lost in the wonder of the moment and were still wondering if it had really happened, or if it was all just a dream.

Just 40 years earlier Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated on a balcony just outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in downtown Memphis. The motel has been converted into the National Civil Rights Museum and it was something we wanted to experience. It was a bit surreal for us to be there just hours after the election, knowing that the President-Elect of our country could not have even sat with us or eaten with us just 40 years ago, let alone lead us. I would have expected the place to be party central on November 5th, but It was nearly empty. There were no celebrations at the motel or in the least not the streets we walked. King had talked about a day when an African American would become president of United States, but his forecast of a black president within 25 years had long since elapsed and for many his dreams had long since been tempered.

One African American leader told us, "You know, we've always told our children they could become anything they wanted to become in this country, but not the president. Today, for the first time, I can look my kids in the eye and honestly tell them they can become anything they want to become, and now I don't have to add 'but'."

To see the wonder in their faces and to hear the hope in their voices was enough for me to celebrate the choice our country made.

Friday, August 01, 2008

soul graffiti

I'd heard great things about Mark Scandrette's book, Soul Graffiti, and I've been wanting to read it ever since we shared some tasty Thai food together last year. But I'd been feeling pretty OD-ed on books about new forms of church, so it took awhile to get to it. But I'm glad I finally got around to reading it because it's not so much about what the church should be as it is about the kind of people we can be as we intentionally put ourselves in the pathway of needs. Mark is one of those gifted people who naturally connects with people who don't share his beliefs and has a beautiful way of making the divine both understandable and compelling. I don't do that so naturally, but I'd like to, and a book like this sure helps. Here are just a handful of thoughts I highlighted from his book that might encourage you to go grab a copy of the book for yourself and give it a good read:

3: "No matter our aesthetics, there is something in the motivation of the graffiti artist that we can identify with, a guttural yelp to be heard and understood, to talk back to the universe or to God when we feel helpless, abandoned, or overwhelmed. It may be that impulse we feel to find our place of significance in the wider world, or to initiate conversation with our Make."

80: Some would say that atheists have the most courage--because of the terrorizing implication that life is without meaning or purpose"

128: "Dwelling is about connecting your words, symbols, and expressions with the ongoing conversation of meaning in your culture."

144: "We live in a fragmented world where we all yearn for wholeness."

161: "The message of Jesus is that shalom is now possible...there is a new way to be human."

172: "Who can we love a God we don't see? By loving the people we can see."

200: "Our culture allows us to claim belief without validating faith by actions."

214: "Jesus unapologetically invited people to abandon their pursuit of pleasure or wealth in order to seek the reign of love."

219: "Entering the kingdom of God is a lot like doing the Hokey Pokey on roller skates."

230: "The place to start is with your next step."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

reggie mcneal keeps it simply profound

Set aside 45 minutes sometime soon to hear a good 'ol boy call out the church to be what it's supposed to be.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

a break from drinking

A friend and colleague of mine recently posted something on his blog I thought was worth passing on. Here it is with my comments immediately following:

I stopped drinking at the end of April. At least for a while.


1. I really felt God was asking me to. Beyond any particular reason or explanation, I’ve had this growing sense that I must.
2. I have sensed that God is wanting to do something significant - in me? through me? Perhaps this is a bit of physical fast to reinforce the spiritual - a time of preparation.
3. I don’t want to miss ANYTHING - good conversation with a friend, opportunity to hear or see God, etc.- because I’ve been drinking. Although I never drink all that much anyway, I’d hate for that to be the reason I miss something.
4. Sometimes I look at people who have been drinking (either too much or too often), and wonder, “Am I like that?” Again, don’t think so, but I’d hate for someone to get a wrong impression or be turned off by that
5. A fair amount of our community drinks, and I guess I want to lead the way in moderation in this area.

The thing is, drinking isn’t wrong. But it sure is easily abused. And because this isn’t a black and white issue, it gets a little complicated when it comes to “how much.”

- When exactly has someone had too much too drink?
- When is someone drinking too often?

I often don’t know when it comes to someone else. I’m concerned that too many of us can’t answer these questions for ourselves. Perhaps a bit of what God wants to teach me is self-control, discernment, and moderation. I don’t anticipate this is a permanent stop, and don’t actually have a plan to end. I guess I’m counting on God indicating it’s ok to drink again as strongly as He told me to stop.

Good for you. I suspect God is nudging us all the time to change directions, to take a new path, to try doing more of one thing and less of another, or even to just try letting go of something to see what happens in us and around us. But most of the time I think we kinda just give God a non-verbal, barely conscious, “Huh,” and then continue on unmoved and unchanged. At least I do. So good for you for listening and acting.

I agree with you that there’s nothing inherently wrong with drinking, but I’ve thought for quite awhile, (and folks in our communities are probably tired of hearing me say it), that our casual and often cavalier attitude about the use of alcohol seems to reveal a naivetĂ© about the havoc it’s wreaking all around us and sometimes an insensitivity to those in our communities who are susceptible to hurting themselves with it. I hope we’ll be different. I hope we’ll be increasingly wise, sensitive, loving, and as you’re demonstrating, attentive to the nudgings of God.

Monday, May 19, 2008

trickle down mythology

I’m a registered Republican, and I’ve actually voted for every Republican candidate from Ronald Reagan in 1980 right through Mike Huckabee’s improbable run in this year’s presidential primaries. My folks are die-hard Republicans, so I guess I kind of just fell into the party. But I’m also naturally optimistic and I tend to think that most people will do the right thing if given the chance, so the Republican idea of a “small government” that frees up resources for people to do the right thing, (vs. a big government that does it for them), made sense to me. I bought into Reagan’s “trickle down” economic philosophy way back in 1980, but unfortunately the altruism of that policy hasn’t really played out in the real world.

Forbes magazine, the self-proclaimed "Capitalist’s Tool,” recently reported that the average CEO in 1980 was paid 40 times more than their average employee, but that by 2008 the average CEO was now making 443 times more than their average employee, a staggering discrepancy. Revenue is not trickling down, it’s being consumed at the top, and at alarmingly skyrocketing rates.

There are obviously exceptions. I know a few honorable CEOs who have voluntarily chosen to cap their salaries, to live more simply, and to pay their employees real living wages that are just and equitable with their own compensation. But sadly, when given the economic opportunity to make more money and distribute it more equitably and justly, most CEOs just aren’t choosing to do the right thing. And now I’m asking myself what’s the right thing for me to do with a historic election just around the corner.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

formed or informed

For the first 2/3rds of my life I mostly read the scriptures informationally. The last third I've mostly read the scriptures formationally. Both are helpful, but they are different. The difference has to do with how we read the Bible and why we read it. Either we read the Bible informationally to learn, or we read it formationally to be changed. M. Robert Mulholland characterizes the different approaches like this:

In informaional (I) reading we...
In formational (f) reading we...

(I) Cover as much text as possible
(F) Cover what we need to

(I) Read line by line
(F) Read for depth, maybe only a phrase or two

(I) Have a goal of mastering the text
(F) Have a goal of being mastered by the text

(I) Treat the text as an object
(F) Treat ourselves as the object of the text

(I) Read analytically
(F) Read receptively

(I) Solve problems
(F) Are open to mystery

Mulholland obviously tilts the scale in favor of reading formationally, which I'd have to agree with. But I want to learn too, and I've got more than a few problems I wouldn't mind solving. So I'm not going to abandon reading informationally, but I suspect I'll probbaly keep spending most of my time in the Bible reading it to be formed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

moving movies

In the spirit of a previous post about movies that take you to another place and time, (and deep into your heart), I saw 3 terrific movies on my return from Spain that really moved me and that I'd strongly recommend:

The December Boys will take you to the Australian coast and deep into what it truly means to be family.

The Kite Runner will take you to Afghanistan and deep into the ways that betrayal plays itself out in our lives.

The Girl in the Café will take you to London and Reykjavik (and deep into the G-8 summit on the Millennial Goals) and show how one courageous voice can make all the difference in the world.

I still find myself thinking about these movies days after seeing them and pondering what they mean for me.