November 28, 2006

FORGE Weekend Posts

Just putting up a dashboard for the accumulating posts from this weekend, as they are rapidly increasing in number as I think more from the intensive.

G20 Update
The Trinity
How Shall We Know Him?


Tonight we celebrated our newest direction in life with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants here in Melbourne: Taco Bill's. It's mexican like you've never had before. I think that's mostly because Bill was actually a Mexican, and the recipes were supposedly handed down through the family. Regardless, they have some of the best salsa this side of the pacific, and the Burritos are to die for.

On our way home, we were sitting on a bench, waiting for a tram on Elizabeth street when we noticed this guy hobbling across the street to the adshell overhang. He was carrying a pair of crutches in one hand, a beer in the other, and both feet were in padded braces. He was scruffy and hunched over, wincing a little from the pain. But he looked used to it, and hobbled over to the railing and sank down to the sidewalk with a sigh of relief.

It was at this point that I did something I've never really done before: I stood up, walked over to him and asked if he wanted a proper seat.

It bothered me a little that he'd placed his priority on carrying the beer, not on getting safely from point A to point B. I mean, he could probably move more easily if he'd just open the can when he wasn't trying to walk around, but I suppose to each his own.

Anyway, he smiled and, in a rapid country Victorian accent that took me a touch too long to translate, said that no, he preferred sitting on the ground because it gave his feet a chance to rest. He pointed out that if he sat on the seat, the pressure would go on the bottom of his feet still and he was already in a bit of pain as it was. But thank you for the offer, that's very kind of you.

I smiled back, and upon completing my mental translation, said that I agreed, it looked like it might hurt a bit. Actually, I was thinking it looked downright painful, and that I couldn't handle that sort of thing, but he seemed good-natured about the whole set of circumstances. His tram came along at that point, and he said thanks again before grabbing his can of beer and crutches and hobbling onto the tram.

I bring this all up because the uncharacteristic altruism shocked me a bit and at first, I couldn't quite place where it had come from. Don't get me wrong, I'm about as compassionate as the next guy, I guess, but to be honest, I've never really shown that side of myself. I'm not sure why that is, maybe because I'm scared of talking to strangers; it's the introverted part of me.

I remember one day, about a week after we arrived, Liz wanted to go to some shopping center to buy ourselves some sandles, as the weather was very warm (especially for a pair of new yorkers just come from the dead of winter). However, neither Ruth nor Colin were around to drive us to Glen Waverly (a couple of suburbs over) and so we'd have to take public transport.

I was petrified. It took me a good two hours to pluck up the courage to grab my wallet and walk out the door to the wrong bus stop, then have Liz mention we should probably be on the other side. I was so nervous about the whole thing I nearly went straight back home. But guilt prevailed (I'd made it this far) and somehow managed to bluff my way to the mall and back. Now I use the trams, trains, and busses without a second thought, but that's how scared of everything I was when I got here.

On the tram travelling home tonight, I started trying to place how it came to be that I was now ok with talking to strangers at tram stops. I thought, maybe it's because I got used to it. But that couldn't be it. Urban Seed probably helped a bunch, as I have to often talk with people I've never met who look ... well, dodgy, really.

But then it hit me: this is what happens when you start getting to know God. God's power is transforming, intoxicating. It slowly works its way through every part of you, replacing each little piece with something better, something elemental, something more true and good. It's what enables an introvert like me to offer a guy a seat at a tram stop. There are times when it doesn't feel like you've made any progress towards imitating the God you've come to love so much. But then little signs come along, signs that you're not the person you used to be, signs that maybe, just maybe, you're moving forward, even if it is only creeping inch by inch, day by day.

And you realize that you couldn't - wouldn't - do it any other way.

November 25, 2006

How Shall We Know Him?

An Old Talmudic Legend I was given today at our FORGE intensive. I rather like this, hope you do too.

Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai's cave. He asked Elijah, "when will the messiah come?"
Elijah replied, "go and ask him yourself."
"Where is he?"
"Sitting at the gates of the city."
"How shall I know him?"
"He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, 'perhaps I shall be needed: if so, I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.'"


"When my mind thinks about the complexity of the Trinity, the three-in-one God, my mind cannot understand, but my heart feels wonder in abundant satisfaction. It is as though my heart, in the midst of its euphoria, is saying to my mind, There are things you cannot understand, and you must learn to live with this. Not only must you learn to live with this, you must learn to enjoy this. … I need wonder."
~Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

When we talk about the trinity, there is a tendency to make it to be less than it is. This happens, ironically, when we try to understand it, to put it in a box. The fact of the matter is that we don't understand God. We try. We try a lot. We theologize and theorize and make lots of stabs in the dark at exactly who God is, how he works, even what he's going to do next, and yet all our efforts are mostly in vain.

The Bible talks a lot about stuff God does, and from that we start to see a picture of God's character, but in the end, it's only a construct, a language we use to represent the truth. For example, when I say "apple," is the word the object, or is it simply a concept in your head to represent the object? As human beings, we need something to latch on to, something we can understand to make us feel less inferior than we are. I'm fairly certain that's why Jesus came - to, among other things, give us a picture of God to latch on to. Our concept of the trinity is only a picture of God, and a rough sketch at that.

Often enough, it makes me very frustrated. I'm a guy who often enough prides himself in his understanding of things. There's a lot of stuff that I grasp; God built my mind to wrap around concepts with ease (my major failing is that I don't wrap around people with that much ease at all). And yet, my mind does not begin to understand God. There are people far smarter than me who will openly admit that they don't understand the trinity, how three can be one and one can be three all at the same time.

I'll admit, lots of times I really wish I understood. But then God reminds me that if I really understood him, I probably wouldn't be very humble; to understand God fully is to BE God, and I wouldn't be a very humble god. I'd probably go around rubbing it in people's faces. It's a good thing I'm not God.

I think those of us in the academic world often need that reminder. Humility doesn't come easy to academics (you've probably noticed), and so if they don't understand something, it frustrates them to no end. Lots of times they'll make up something to make it sound like they get it, but they really don't. Evolution is one of those things. Trinitarian theology is another.

I'm not saying that the study of the trinity is unimportant, unbiblical, or unChristian or something. On the contrary, to seek God is to seek ALL of God, to seek to understand (and then emulate) his Character. To know that God exists in permanent relationship is to know that WE are to exist in relationship, and not alone. God created us so that we'd know the joy that HE gets in relating to himself. Sounds sort of schizo, put like that, but that's my point - I don't understand how three separate beings can also be one being.

I guess my point in all this is that we have to be careful that we don't make more of our understanding than it is: at some point in our theological ramblings, we need to have the humility to say "I don't know." The trinity is bigger than big: it's HUGE! God is so much bigger than the little construct we've created to try and understand Him. He's without borders or boundaries, and words cannot ever capture His magnatude. In the end, we need to admit that we won't ever understand Him fully. What's important is that we've been seeking Him: after all, he already knows us, and that, if they are willing to accept it, is enough to satisfy even the most curious.

November 23, 2006


Our first thanksgiving turkey, done in our tiny little oven here in Melbourne.

It's been quite a holiday for us. Two days of food preparation, baking, cleaning the dishes we just used, baking some more, cleaning the house ... all over in an hour. Which, granted, is longer than most dinners last in our house. It was fantastic; Liz's stuffing, the turkey, the stuffing, the buttermilk rolls, the stuffing, the casserole, the stuffing, the apple pie ... yeah: it was good.

November 21, 2006

G20 Update

After our recent discussion on poverty spawned from the G20 meeting here in Melbourne, I'd been anxiously awaiting news from somebody who was actually there. Chris, a friend from Urban Seed, was the guy who initially sparked my interest. You too might be interested in what he had to say about the various protests that happened this past weekend - it's a good read:

Urban Seed Protest, Day 1

Urban Seed Protest, Day 2

Urban Seed Protest, Day 3

November 17, 2006

Growing Up

This, as you may remember, is Wisdom. Wisdom has been growing a lot lately, and so we decided yesterday to get her a new collar and leash. The new collar looks very cute on her, making her look puppy-ish (because it's twice the size of her old collar, making her look smaller) and grown-up (since she can now put her head on the couch's arm-rest) at the same time. Our little baby is growing up!

November 15, 2006

Where The Money Goes

It's been raining hard all day, mixed with brief periods of sunshine, heavy wind, and longer periods of pea-sized hail. My original plans for the day foiled, I've stayed home, in the semi-warmth and coziness of our living room, browsing the internet news and reading.

I ran across
this article that worried me a little. In seemingly unrelated news, the G20 conference comes to Melbourne this weekend. The G20 is a collection of money guys from the major financial nations around the world who get together once a year somewhere to discuss global economics and the choices they have to make for the following year. This year it's in Melbourne.

For this some people are happy, because it means that they get to do the protesting they've been dying to do, but which travel costs have prevented in years past. You may recall a
previous post on protesting; I'm not much in favor of it because I don't believe that it really helps anybody, but instead, gets a lot of people emotionally riled-up at somebody else and rarely ends peacefully.

However, the protesting that many are planning seems to be slightly more productive than I had originally envisioned. While some seem to be in it just to make a statement to the G20,
others seem more focused on raising public awareness, and if the G20 pay attention, then so much the better. This I can agree with. But aside from raising awareness, I'm still not sure that demonstrating outside the G20 meeting is going to help much. I think bigger action is needed.

Back to the first article, before you think I'm advocating bombing somebody. I've been getting this uncomfortable feeling about our society lately, and the article about the Red Sox just made it worse: we spend a lot of money on frivolties and entertainment. And it's not just like, a hundred dollars more or something. The Red Sox spent $42 million on the rights just to
BID for a player! This isn't even his salary, this is just so that they can try and convince him to play for them. I'm sure he's a great pitcher and all that, but it seems a bit like overkill.

Even so, I'm not sure that it's even their fault. I mean, sure, a bunch of baseball execs could conceivably decide to forego paying a better player and instead donate the money to charity or to some doctors or a cancer-research foundation or something. I think they could do that, but I don't think that it ever crossed their minds. But that's not the point.

How, I wonder, did these baseball teams (or football, or rugby, or basketball, or soccer, or any other pro sport teams) get the sort of finances to be able to casually spend $42 million bidding for one guy? Where did that money come from? Did they win the lotto? Not really. Besides, it never pays that well and most of the money goes back to the government anyway. Did they rob a bank? Maybe, but still unlikely.

No, the money came because they can charge a lot of money for people to come watch the games, and for companies to advertise at their games. All that money goes into their big portfolios. That's where it comes from. So what does that mean?

It means that Americans and Australians and Kiwis and Brits and Germans and Frenchpeople and everybody else who are "western" pay a lot of money every year just to see a bunch of guys play games. The teams make lots of money and pay their players a lot of money, who in turn spend their vast amounts of money on things like fast cars, big parties, big houses, and on lots of other stuff that I probably don't even know about.

I know, the games are fun to watch (I myself like NRL and MLB; I'm a Melbourne Storm fan and a NY Yankees fan), and often bring lots of people together in "community." So do village leagues and community sport leagues. But I can think of lots of other things to spend money on other than the salary of a team of guys that have so much they don't know what to do with it all. For instance, there are people who aren't sure if they'll get food each day - they could use some of it. There are doctors who wish they could afford to live in Africa and treat medical conditions for people there who can't afford it. They could use it too. How about the orphans and refugees in Thailand that came from Burma? They have nothing, not even a country to call their own - I bet they'd appreciate it.

Have you ever heard the excuse "I'm not giving any money to the begger on the street because he'll probably just go spend it on alcohol and drugs"? But then, why do we give our money to the pro sports players, who then go and ... spend it on alcohol and drugs? It doesn't make sense to me.

I'm not saying we get rid of pro sports. I'm saying maybe it's time to think about paying them less. I'm sure that a pro sportsman could afford to make only $1 million a year (I just said "only" to a million dollars a year, that's sad) instead of $30 million or $300 million or whatever they make. I imagine that it might do a lot of people some good to see those pros give up their ritzy lifestyles for the good of others.

Just think: if one team gave up the salary of one player each year and payed their players even just a little bit less, that's millions of dollars to go towards cancer research and AIDS research and relief efforts in third-world countries. That is SO MUCH MONEY!!!

My trouble is this: I don't know how to go about doing this. Does anybody have any ideas where we could start? Seriously, I'm asking for anybody who might agree with me to start thinking, maybe post a few ideas in the comments section. I think that if it ever worked, we'd do a lot of good for a lot of people.

November 13, 2006

The Death of "Normal"

The way I see it, there's no real clean lines anymore. It used to be that you could classify stuff: One thing was black, another thing was white. Nowadays all the lines have been blurred, fuzzed, and otherwise mauled nearly out of existance. Instead of white, there are many choices: off-white, pale-white, ecrew, mother-of-pearl, stucco, glossy-white, matte-white, and beige are merely some of the variations on a theme.

It's getting harder and harder to draw categories. On some level, this is probably a good thing; it keeps the stereotyping down a bit. On another level, it sucks. Royally. The human brain is designed to categorize things to make them easier to remember. And so, even in this day and age of fuzziness, our brains still try and wrap up everything into nice boxes with bows and labels. [sidenote: I propose this be the new name for whatever comes after postmodernism: The Age of Fuzziness]

See, here's my beef: so far, I've read about a bazillion different articles from nearly as many authors on the subject of what the "emerging" or "missional" church is or is not. In flavor, they range from the "academic" to the "purely emotional rant." In about half the articles, the author makes some sort of claim to the definition to what an "emerging church" is or isn't. In the other half, little else is supplied than some sort of vaguery, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks from context or personal assumptions. In all cases, the author merges some things (churches, behaviors, theologies, people) "into" the category and some out.

The trouble is, the line has become blurred. Again. With all the definitions floating around out there, the emerging church (in its many flavors) has become a catch-all phrase used to denote anything that's "different" from "mainstream church." Emerging might mean a house church, a network church, a bunch of guys sitting in a coffee shop talking about vaguely religious matters, a bunch of guys sitting around in a coffee shop who claim to follow Jesus (but may or may not), or a cult that claims Christianity with a nice coat of paint.

I'm a bit tired of all the fuss.

I can respect the articles that give their own clear definition for "emerging" or "missional" and try to defend their position based on those definitions. I may not agree - with their position OR their definition - but I can respect them for their writing, and I can certainly try to discuss their position with them and perhaps learn from them. Maybe we might even turn out to agree on lots of other stuff.

However, I cannot find it in me to respect those who claim a stance on a subject who are more or less ignorant of their own writing. I know about this because I used to be one of those people - I could bluff my way out of any discussion simply by looking confident of facts I knew nothing about. Then I got to college and realized after my first "D" on a paper that I had to stop making up information if I wanted to get anywhere.

Anyway, the people that bug me are the people who claim to understand a subject but have spent little time trying to understand the categories, little time meeting with people to talk the subject out, and little or no time walking in the shoes of those they so callously dismiss, but instead make broad generalizations about a vaguely named fuzzy category about which they know next to nothing. They group a lot of people into a category (say, "emerging church" or "missional church") who often have VASTLY different approaches to ministry, theology, and God [sidenote: I daresay that the only thing in common for the various expressions of "emerging" is that they HAVE nothing in common, except a desire to follow Jesus]. Many take stances based on rumors, and worse, take much of their material out of context.

I heard somebody say once that "normal is what everyone else is and you are not." It seemed fitting.

Let's get this straight once and for all: there is no such thing as "normal" anymore. Maybe fifty years ago you could have said "they're presbyterian, so they do it like THIS", but now you can't say that. Now you say "they're missional ... damn, I may have to go spend a few weeks with them to figure out how they do church". You also have to know that "they" are going to look, feel, and think differently than pretty much everybody else.

So here's to the death of "normal." While relativism in truth is a bit of a joke (ask a relativist if they're absolutely sure of their position, the answer is usually pretty funny), relativism in methods and that coat of paint I always talk about is alive and well - and frankly, it's ok. To have differing expressions of church means that everybody can potentially find a home that suits them; God made us individuals for a good reason - he gave us tastes and feelings too. To accept that is to get back to living like Jesus; just because somebody doesn't do it the way you wish they would doesn't necessarily make them wrong. And just because they may be right in their methods doesn't mean that YOU are wrong in YOURS; you are, after all, different people living in different places.

Here's to the death of "normal."

November 10, 2006

On Protesting

I have started re-reading a book that inspired me a lot the first time I read it. Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz is a wonderful read; it's easy, it's engaging, and it even has a couple cartoons.

And it's very, very deep.

I've been thinking a lot about poverty lately, about social justice and social action and all the protesting that goes on. Then I ran across this, and ... well, you'll see what I mean.


"Earlier that afternoon ... my friend Andrew the Protester and I went downtown to protest a visit by the President. I felt that Bush was blindly supporting the World Bank and, to some degree, felt the administration was responsible for what was happening in Argentina. Andrew and I had made signs and showed up a few hours early. Thousands of people had already gathered, most of them protesting our policy towards Iraq. Andrew and I took pictures of ourselves in front of the cops, loads of cops, all in riot gear like storm troopers from Star Wars.

Andrew's sign said "Stop America's Terroism" - he spelled 'terrorism' wrong. I felt empowered in the sea of people, most of whom were also carrying signs and chanting against corporations who were making slaves of Third World labor; and the Republican Party, who gives those corporations so much power and freedom. I felt so far from my upbringing, from my narrow former self, the me woh was taught the Republicans give a crap about the cause of Christ. I felt a long way from the pre-me, the pawn-Christian who was a Republican because my family was Republican, not because I had prayed and asked God to enlighten me about issues concerning the entire world rather than just America.

When the president finally whowed, things got heated. The police mounted horses and charged them into the crowd to push us back. We shouted, in unison, that a horse is not a weapon, but they didn't listen. The president's limo turned the corner so quickly I thought he might come tumbling out, and his car was followed by a caravan of shiny black vans and Suburbans. They shuttled him around to a back door where we watched through a chain-link fence as he stepped out of his limousine, shook hands with dignitaries, and entered the building amid a swarm of secret service agents. I was holding my sign very high in case he looked our way.

The President gave his speech inside the hotel and left through a side door, and they whisked him away before we co uld shake hands or explain our concerns. When we were done, I started wondering if we had accomplished anything. I started wondering whether we could actually change the world. I mean, of course we could - we could change our buying habits, elect socially conscious representatives and that sort of thing, but I honestly don't believe we will be solving the greater human conflict with our efforts. The problem is not a certain type of legislation or even a certain politician; the problem is the same that it has always been.

I am the problem.

I think every conscious person, every person who is awake to the functioning principles within his reality, has a moment where he stops blaming the problems in the world on group think, on humanity and authority, and starts to face himself. I hate this more than anything. This is the hardest principle within Christian spirituality for me to deal with. The problem is not out there; the problem is the needy beast of a thing that lives in my chest. ...

More than my questions about the efficacy of social action were my questions about my own motives. Do I want social justice for the oppressed, or do I just want to be known as a socially active pesron? I spend 95 percent of my time thinking about myself anyway. I don't have to watch the evening news to see that the world is bad, I have only to look at myself. I am not browbeating myself here; I am only saying that true change, true life-giving, God-honoring change would have to start with the individual. I was the very problem I had been protesting."

Don Miller, Blue Like Jazz pgs. 18-20

November 8, 2006

Randomness While You Wait

While you wait for my return to blogging (with baited breath, I know), I have a few things for your entertainment, education, and general well-being. There's a great discussion happening here based on a letter Glen wrote to those of us who consider ourselves emerging or missional. If you're either of those things, you should read it and the comments. If you're not either of those things, you should read it for the comments. Either way, it's been an interesting discussion so far, though as usual I talk too much.

Fun article via Myles

Also, I hear there's been something afoot at home. Politics isn't going so well for the conservative right, from what I'm told. Poor buggers. But I believe
Myles may have nailed it on the head. Will anything really change, or are we so bogged down in politics that change is impossible? I highly doubt that we'll be able to pull out of Iraq the way so many democrats have campaigned for - even they know that, despite the war's shaky ethical beginnings, to give up now is probably not in anybody's best interests. But, being politicians, they'll say what it takes to get into office. I'm with Myles ... not much will change. Although I hear that Mrs. Clinton is campaigning for the Presidency; why else would somebody from Arkansas grab a senatorship in New York?

Some fun videos for you:

And some not-so-funny videos, in case you have the time:

November 5, 2006


Jon Cruz wrote something with which I strongly resonate. As I've investigated the "missional church" here in Australia, as I've talked over chai with colleagues in the 'mission field', as I've engaged other Christians in discussion, I've come to believe that the great commission is more than what we in the evangelical community have made it. When we are called to 'make disciples', we are not called to merely preach on the street corners and hope that somebody might be inspired to accept Christ. The great commission is a call for those of us that follow Jesus to inspire and invite others to follow him as well; we are to make seekers of the world, not believers. To clarify: a believer is one stagnant in their beliefs, someone who is convinced of the validity of something, never doubts, never questions, never tries to further refine their worldview. A seeker is one who is constantly questioning their assumptions, their beliefs, their values.

As Christians, we are to seek, to constantly refine our worldview and question our assumptions. Why do we believe what we believe? Is the Bible ok with what we believe? Are we just trying to justify our actions to ourselves?

Just so we're clear, a seeker can hold solid beliefs; they can believe that God exists, they can believe that Christ died and rose again. But it doesn't stop them from re-evaluating their beliefs on a regular basis. If anything, this helps them re-discover their passion for their God, for their cause. Asking "why" is the best motivator for mission I can think of.

November 1, 2006

Where I've Been

For those of you wondering where I've gone, don't worry, I've once again immersed myself in writing. I've been rather busy this week, with a number of essays due. The first I handed in last friday, a paper for my practicum where I imagined what would happen if a seminary became a training ground for the missionally-minded, a place where one could customize their own curriculum for the ministry that God has laid on their heart (whether it be in corporate america or in a slum in Bangkok). If you're interested in reading it, email me and if you ask nicely, I'll consider posting it.

Amidst the various social events of the week (including dinner with Pete and Lisa, and Jericho night tonight) and the mission-related events (orchestra on monday and spent the day at Urban Seed on tuesday), I've spent my free time working on a longer paper. This paper, due tomorrow, is a paper in which I will ... I hope ... describe a philosophy of worship suitable for the postmodern age in which we find ourselves. It SHOULD be easy, since any philosophy of worship should simply reflect biblical principles, but somewhere along the line, the concept got muddled up a bit by the various denominations. And so, in this postmodern age of inter-denominational dialogue, I attempt to find a universal philosophy of worship that can then be applied to each denomination and culture in turn, allowing each their own expression.

We'll see how it goes.