May 16, 2011

easter hymn: the roots - "walk alone"

had the opportunity to write a guest post over at my friend christian's blog, he has been writing a series of posts titled "easter hymns" - telling the story of Christ's death and resurrection through hip-hop tunes. i've really enjoyed them, so i am pretty honored to get to contribute to them. mine is the fourth post in the series.

check out my post here: the roots - "walk alone"

check out the previous three installments here:
kanye west - "Jesus walks"
T.I. - "dead and gone"
common - "a dream"

thanks to doubledizz for the writing opp.


May 05, 2011

dr. martin luther king jr. - the white church's stance on social injustice.

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership...I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church...When i was suddenly catapulted into leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows...In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, unbiblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular...There was a time when the church was very powerful - in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail"
as transcribed in Soong-Chan Rah's Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church


May 02, 2011

osama bin laden is dead.

osama bin laden is dead, and our nation is celebrating heartily.

a man who orchestrated the deaths of thousands of people was brought to justice yesterday at the hands of the united states military. almost ten years after september 11, our government has finally taken out the man they swore to find and kill.

this is potentially problematic for those of us who identify as both americans and christians.

on the one hand we want to celebrate with our nation because the man who epitomized evil in our eyes finally faced what he had forced so many others to face: death. even as christians we are to seek justice and strive to eliminate darkness.

Micah 6:8 - He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Psalm 106:3 - Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.

Isaiah 1:17 - Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

yet at the same time, we remember the words of Jesus concerning evil:

Matthew 5:39 - But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:43-45 - You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

so already there is some conflict with how to respond as christians. act justly, but love mercy. we are to defend those who have lost loved ones, but pray for those who persecute them. seek justice, but if someone strikes your cheek, offer them the other one. this is certainly one of those times where we wish God was a little more explicit in his opinion on what justice looks like in a nasty world.

thus, the conflict i felt last night as i watched the nation rejoice. was justice served yesterday? was the murder of a murderer a justifiable act? i felt that we had fought for those who had lost loved ones. our nation was defending the widow and fighting for the fatherless. justice was being sought, but was the death of osama bin laden something Jesus celebrating?

Leviticus 19:15 - 'Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

Romans 12:19 - Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 - Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

justice is for God to decide. he will have his vengeance if he wants to have his vengeance. we are to forgive others and allow God to judge the unrighteous. killing osama bin laden is something that i struggle with because it's broken human beings bestowing judgement upon another broken human being. when we decided that someone is worthy of death we are judging them as only God can. do i think God would've judged him the same way at the time? probably. but more than anything else, God seeks redemption.

Ezekiel 33:11 - As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

God takes pleasure in wicked people turning from their ways. there is no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

a few days ago i was watching a national geographic film called "science of evil". part of the story centered around serial killer jeffrey dahmer. dahmer was convicted of murdering 17 men from 1978-1991. these murders were the some of the most gruesome the world had ever seen.

after three years of his life sentence, dahmer requested to have a pastor come to the prison and baptize him. the pastor interviewed him about repentance, salvation, and reconciliation, and after a lengthy discussion, determined that jeffrey dahmer's motives were legitimate and he was baptized in a bath tub right there in the jail.

just months following his baptism, dahmer was murdered by a fellow inmate. 15 years later, the pastor was interviewed about his experience and he maintains that he fully expects to see jeffrey dahmer in heaven someday. there was still good in him. [insert darth vader reference here]

we can celebrate the redemption of jeffrey dahmer. we do not celebrate his actions, but we can absolutely celebrate his deliverance. one can only assume that we cannot celebrate the redemption of osama bin laden. i wish we could. i wish we at least had hope that we could.

one can argue that the 3,000+ lives on the hands of osama bin laden is vastly greater than the 17 gruesome murders committed by dahmer, and i would likely agree with that stance. my point is that pure evil is abundant in this world, that we cannot deny.

1 Peter 5:8 - Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

evil is on the prowl, and it will always be on the prowl. we should be alert and seek justice as best as we humanly can. but God does not celebrate with us in the death of a wicked man. i wish there was another way. it is so good to fight for those who need it - the fatherless, the widows, the poor, the sick - and i think american was right in seeking justice. i'm not certain that america's concept of justice is the same as that of God's.

i just wish that osama bin laden had the opportunity to be won over by Jesus Christ. that's all. maybe there was still good in him. who are we to say there wasn't?

i'm happy for the families who have been in mourning for the last 10 years seeking justice. i'm happy that they feel vindicated, but i'd be even happier if i knew that bin laden could be redeemed.


April 28, 2011


...i've always wanted to use that blog title.

i'm not sure if people saw this, but apparently someone went around setting up "hipster traps" in new york city - fake ray-bans, american spirit cigarettes, a pbr, holga camera and a bike chain on a large bear trap. let's take a moment to reflect on how perfectly hilarious this is.

hipsters are so funny to me. and funny is the perfect word because they fit both definitions of the word: i literally laugh at them, but i'm also so perplexed by their peculiar ways. they may be the first trendy lifestyle that is completely aware of their strangeness. most labeled groups aren't conscious of how ridiculously classic they are - ditzes are oblivious, computer programmers look down on others and think they're the most un-weird people around, drama kids like to sing musical renditions in public settings completely unaware of their embarrassment - but hipters totally understand who they are and are just fine with falling into a perfect stereotype. funny haha, yet funny peculiar as well.

i posted a link on my twitter to the traps knowing full well that my abundance of followers would want to share in my chortle. the next day i received a response via google buzz from a friend of mine that said:

"what would be in your trap?"

at first i was stunned. because i realized that, just like the hipsters, i certainly fall under a certain umbrella too - the only difference being that my umbrella is much smaller than theirs. i recovered well - i soon was able to fully embrace myself, and i started thinking about the five items that would be found in an "apc trap".

i felt like there needed to be some rules too - obviously i'd be enticed by an iPad or a $100 bill, but wouldn't everyone? the things needed to be relatively inexpensive, and enticing to me and very few others. my list had to be of equivalent value to the items on the hipster traps. so i needed to put a dollar value on the items and match them accordingly.

so, here are the items i came up with:
  • pabst blue ribbon: $2
    my replacement: a lego boba fett keychain
    last time i was in chicago i picked up an admiral ackbar and a stormtrooper at the lego store on michigan ave for $2.50 on sale. i could do a chewbacca, C3PO or lando too. even greedo.

  • american spirit cigarettes: $5
    my replacement: a pack of 2010 Bowman Chrome baseball cards
    the hobby packs retail between $4 and $7 depending where you go. i still want that bryce harper usa card, but i could certainly also go for a stephen strasburg, or a jason heyward auto or an aroldis chapman red prospect.

  • yellow bike chain: $10
    my replacement: "rome" - danger mouse & daniele luppi
    actually, this would come in the form of a $10 iTunes gift card right now because the album doesn't actually drop until may 17, but i've pre-ordered it on iTunes for $9.99. producer danger mouse (cee lo's partner in gnarls barkley, creator of the grey album - jay-z's black album mashed with the beatles' white album, half of the duo broken bells) is duking it out with kanye west and the neptunes for my favorite producer(s) in the music business, and supposedly this collab with luppi (an italian producer and composer whom i honestly know nothing about) is five years in the making and it's what danger mouse is truly most passionate about. it was recorded in a church-converted-studio in rome and utilizes vintage instruments and was inspired by the pair's love for 60's italian film soundtracks. all i know is that if DM is amped about it, then so am i.

  • fake ray-bans: $20
    my replacement: a dharma initiative metal lunchbox - anyone who loves LOST like i do understands the awesomeness of the dharma initiative and would pounce on that trap if saw something so awesome. would i actually use it to take my lunch in? not a chance. i'd use it to keep secret items in: memories, artifacts, ancient coins, prized possessions, etc. i'd probably hide it under a floor board or in a vault behind a photo of abe lincoln on my wall or something.

  • holga camera: $35
    my replacement: two tickets to a royals or cardinals game in a stadium i've never been to before. like san francisco, or new york, or seattle or boston, or los angeles. cheap seats would be fine - whatever price value is equivalent to a holga camera works for me. one of the greatest aspects of baseball is the beauty of the stadiums. the grass, the dirt, the irregular outfield wall shapes with nooks and brick walls...or that strange hill in houston. it's a gorgeous game and tickets to anywhere would be super rad.
that trap would clamp down on my ankle in a heartbeat, and it might even be worth it. now it's your turn: what would be in your trap?


April 25, 2011

Book Review: Jesus Creed for Students

the first sentence of the forward of "Jesus Creed for Students" makes it perfectly clear why this book was written: "this book is about following Jesus." the authors (Scot McKnight, Chris Folmsbee and Syler Thomas) explain that this book is to be read alone but dissected in a group setting. the "Jesus Creed" is straight from Matthew 22, "love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." in short: life is about "loving God and loving others."

this book has been rewritten from the original version specifically for students to connect with, and it does an incredible job of being relevant, stylistically conscious, and, ultimately, very applicable for the life of every teenager.

relevance: this book takes questions that ever student deals with and packages them in a way that students can understand and wrestle with. questions like,

- who am i?
- who does God want me to be?
- how does God want me to live?
- is there more to Christianity than just being "good"?
- how do i talk with God?
- what is life all about?

but even more than providing accessible answers to those and similar questions, the authors are contextually relevant to today's teenagers. topics like social media, respecting parents, school life, labeling and judging. there is so much insight that can be gained from so many books, but very few books are written so that students can connect with them. students pick up a book, read the first couple chapters (maybe) and then put it down because it never connects with their world. this book does that very well and is very relevant for youth. my personal guess is that this book would be perfect for the 8th-11th grade age group.

the answers to these questions also push against the religious stances of today's American teenager. in the book, "Soul Searching", sociologists Christian Smith and Melina Denton study the religious life of the American teenager in ways no one has before. they concluded that rather than the true Gospel of Jesus, today's youth are following what Smith and Denton call "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". this idea affirms the existence of God as a Creator and supreme being, but that he is only essential in hard times and that the most important parts of life are being nice, morally good people and to be happy about oneself. clearly, this is an incorrect view of the gospel, but it is a reality of today's students. the questions that "Jesus Creed for Students" asks are exactly what is relevant.

writing style: this book is a quick read - students won't have to stumble over cumbersome wording like they may when reading a book written for adults. the authors do an amazing job of articulating the Jesus Creed in a way that is accessible to youth, but also that it doesn't lose any of its overall message. the book paints what the true Gospel is all about in a way that students can read and not be bored or turned off.

it does this in a few different ways: first, the book uses this generation's lexicon. words like "wannabe", "grunge", and "popularity" - subtly, the authors have inserted the language that students can understand and connect with, thus, making them more effective in reaching their target audience. they avoid complex language and colorful sentences and instead employ hyphenated descriptors and culturally conscious creations.

- instead of "disciples" it's "Christ-followers".
- instead of the "second commandment" it's the "love-others statement".
- instead of "material possessions" it's "iThings", "iWants", or "iNeeds".

they're youthful enough to connect more effectively, but not childish enough to lose focus or impact (or to become overly silly with their creativity). students will connect with this book - with the concept of "loving God, loving others" - because it is written in their vocabulary.

practical application: in my opinion, application is the easiest way for students to connect well or to not connect at all with a certain concept. if i say, "pray more," then students may or may not actually pray more. but if i give them a exact prayer to pray with guidelines and a terrific explanation of how to pray and when and why, then they are absolutely going to apply "praying more" in their lives. this book's greatest strength is providing practical application points for the concepts introduced.

at the beginning and the end of every chapter it either states "Recite the Jesus Creed" or "Say the Lord's Prayer". it encourages this repetition as a way of establishing a spiritual rhythm in life. they suggest reciting the Jesus Creed every morning and every night and upon both coming and going from their home. and then add to it by reciting the Lord's prayer with it at the same times for a month solid.

the authors also encourage students to get involved serving somewhere without anyone else knowing: a way for students to grow strictly with God, and to develop their desire to serve for the right reasons.

they are also very specific when it comes to asking questions. there aren't any vague or unclear questions; they are focused and intentional:

- "what do you think 'whenever you pray' means?"
- "how are you doing on reciting the Jesus Creed daily?"
- "what is your biggest temptation when it comes to branding yourself?"
- "what do your possessions reveal about where your heart is? are you serving two lords?"

questions like these interrupt the text so that students can think about them as they are reading the next paragraph - simultaneously reading and applying the text. students need this sort of dialogue within the text if they are going to process what they are reading. the application is consistently the most effective aspect of this book.

cover to cover, this book is a home run. students can connect, comprehend, and have perfect outlets to apply the Jesus Creed. i would 100% recommend this book - in fact, in the season of planning summer activities and curriculum, this book will certainly find its way into the conversation.


buy the book: paraclete press.

theology of hip-hop: questions.

i got halfway through this post on friday morning, but then i deleted it because it wasn't taking form the way i wanted it to. but when my bro CDoubleDizz over at posts on the theology of kanye's "jesus walks" just three days later...well, i just can't help myself.

i grew up in suburban kansas city. most of you know this. if not, welcome to my blog. when i was young, i thought hip-hop was evil. i based this on the fact that rap used cuss words and was nothing but the sex-drugs-cash trifecta. i decided that DC Talk was a better route - meet rap halfway, i guess. wouldn't want to fill my mind with unholy filth. i have an inkling that this thought process was (and would still be) supported by the church i grew up in and am now employed by. this isn't a dog on my church - but more a truth about the western suburban church in general: act like life is perfect. don't doubt God. hide your sins, etc. the church isn't a place for hip-hop.

i supposed this may be partially true - guys like snoop dogg and soulja boy likely have very little to say regarding theology, faith and spirituality - but a strong collection of the rap/hip-hop artists have a great deal to say. it's honest, and that honesty makes the christian world uncomfortable. but if we were as honest as the rappers out there, i think we'd would realize that the hip-hop community has just as much (dare i say more) to say about life and theology than the white suburban culture that i've been raised in.

where does rap and hip-hop come from? it comes from the ghettos and the public housing systems - well, at least the honest stuff does. it comes from the 12 year old drug hustlers who have dreams of getting out of life they've been handed. it comes from the kids who didn't have a shot at "the good life" that i was raised in.

they're telling their story.
and their story is what frames their theology.

it's no wonder the suburban church struggles with concepts like "hope" and "mourning" and "doubt" - our theology has been framed by simplicity and ease, comfort and shelter. we avoid the challenging questions and speak in generalities like "Jesus help me to trust you more." we don't ask questions like...

"Jesus, why was there another earthquake in Japan last week?"
"Jesus, why was i born into an upper middle-class home and not into a slum in india?"
"Jesus, why do so many people have to suffer so greatly?"
"Jesus, why don't my parents love each other anymore?"
"Jesus, if you're so great, why couldn't you heal my friend's dad?"
"Jesus, why don't i even remotely feel your presence?"

and even when we ask these questions, we give answers like, "well, we live in a fallen world," or "we don't understand God's plan," and immediately extinguish a legitimately terrific theological question. a question that we ought to wrestle with, but instead we can forget about because of the ease of the culture that defines our theology.

hip-hop does not forget about these questions. why? because it can't.

the artists and musicians that feed hip-hop culture has defined their theology in a culture that isn't allowed to ignore those questions because they live it. it is their story. the people of Japan aren't allowed to ignore the answer to the "why was there another earthquake?" question. if someone from the Indian slums asked me, "why was i born here and not where you were born?" and i answered, "we just don't understand God's plan," then i would hope they would slap me. cause the next question would be "so God's plan involves me growing up on pennies a day?"

hip-hop is a voice for the oppressed, for the less-fortunate, for the marginalized.
it's a voice for the people who never had a chance at a different life.
it's a voice for the individuals who wrestle with the toughest of questions.

hip-hop is truer theology than most people realize - or maybe better phrased, than most people allow themselves to realize.

listen: The Roots - Dear God 2.0


April 07, 2011

the greatest story ever.

i am in a book club with a handful of my closest guy friends. it was suggested by someone that we read this book called "water for elephants" which was supposed to be a real gem.

we were reluctant at first - the book was written by a woman and this is the "ultra manly book club" (iUMBC* for short) - but we all agreed that if it was so highly acclaimed that this book must be worth some literary value.

we should have followed our hunch - the book is awful.**

the book developed well at first. it was entertaining and interesting and had all the details that made you ask, "man, how is the author ever going to get this story to come together in the end?" i like books like that. books that make you think there are going to be loose ends, but end up coming together beautifully in the end. where you turn the last page and you think, "wow. that was impressive work."

then suddenly, about 2/3 of the way through the book - on page 299 - [spoiler alert/saving you the frustration] two minor characters with developing story lines are thrown off a train to their deaths. no resolution. no answers. no real reason - they are just ditched from the story, and the reader is left to wonder why they cared so much about their well being in the first place.

the Bible does not do things like this.

the Bible is a mysteriously ancient book full of questions, creation, destruction, war, letters, songs, prophecies and stories. there are thousands of pages. there are countless stories - some historical, some metaphorical, some prophetical. the first 2/3 of the christian Bible - the old testament - is comprised of 39 different books written by a bunch of different people, but despite its varying authors, tones and styles, all the pieces fit together to develop the most incredible back story ever written. and what makes the Bible even more amazing is that everything comes together in the end. there are zero loose ends.

everything is fulfilled to perfection.

tonight i had the privilege of partaking in a passover seder dinner with this year's confirmation class and their parents. i had never had been to one of these jewish traditions before, and i didn't know exactly what to expect. i knew it would be a lot of symbolic foods and actions that pertain to the delivering of the Israelites from Egypt following the Exodus "passover". that's about all i knew.

i was amazed at the power of this meal. every piece of this Jewish tradition pointed to Jesus. granted, we read a modified script that detailed exactly how each piece of the dinner perfectly foretold the coming, suffering, dying and ressurecting of our Lord. i found myself thinking, "how can anyone read this text and be blind to how wonderfully Jesus fulfills everything foretold in the Scriptures?"

in Exodus, God sends an angel of death to Egypt to kill every first born son - man and animal - and the only way to avoid being subject to this killing is to kill an unblemished lamb and - without breaking any bones - spread it's blood across the doorframe of your house. that is what will save you from death.

1000 years before he was even born, God was already pointing toward Jesus - the sinless man who would bleed to death while hanging on a wooden cross.

just as the Israelites were delivered from bondage, so we are delivered. through the death of this "lamb" that was foretold about 1000, 800, 600, 450 years before he even shows up. the links between the old and new testaments are too perfect to be anything but God-breathed.

as we near the beginning of Holy Week, i am struck more powerfully than ever before by story of our God and how perfect his ways are. there are no loose ends or unexplained storylines. everything works together exactly how it should.

and that includes my storyline.
and it includes your storyline.

the same unchanging God who delivered his people from the grip of Pharoah, the same God who parted the Red Sea. the same God who miraculously provided food and water for his people in the desert. the same God who spoke to his prophets. the same God who sent his foretold son so that we too may be delivered.

that same God - the one who knitted us in our mother's womb and set us apart by his grace - has included you and me in his perfect story. and you better believe that he isn't going to chuck us off a train and dispose of our storylines because he's having trouble working us into his perfect plan.

cause clearly, that's not something our God does.
just look at the book he wrote.


* - the "i" has since been added because one of our members is now in the country of columbia - making the word "international" essential to our title.

** - and i'm going to go out on a limb that the movie will be entirely worse. casting cedric diggory/mr. twilight/robert pattinson as the protagonist was the perfect move in making a bad book into a worse movie.

March 31, 2011

educating myself in the art of mystery.

over the last few years, i have grown to discover that mystery is something that deeply intrigues me. it has probably always been present, but only recently have i become totally self-aware of now mystery affects my soul. if i were to make a short list of the things that have sparked this discovery, the list would look like this:

2. exploring the old, rundown attics and bell towers on kstate's campus.
3. traveling to spain and seeing the alhambra.

suddenly i am asking questions like, "i wonder if someone hid their baseball cards between the walls of my house," or "i wonder if we drained this lake if we'd find all sorts of treasures from 100s of years ago at the bottom," or "if i hide a note in a random book the library, i wonder how long it would take for someone else to find it." those are the questions i find myself thinking on a daily basis. i wonder, i wonder, i wonder.

but here's the catch: i'm not certain that i really want to know the answer to any of these questions. the mysteriousness of the question greatly outweighs the knowledge of any of the answers. j.j. abrams (creator of LOST) says that "mystery is a catalyst for imagination...and there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge."

i want to discover what it is that makes mystery so potent. i want to edcucate myself on the art of mystery - books, movies, history, stories - i want to find the best examples of mystery and pack my brain with tales of curiousity and questions and wonder. i don't want answers. i just want to learn of new ways to cultivate questions.

it's a large task, i know, but i already have a trio of ideas on where to start:

1. the classics according to the world
- sherlock holmes - sir arthur conan doyle
- the maltese falcon - dashiell hammett
- anything by agatha christie

2. every book seen in/referenced/that influenced LOST - amazon has a handful of LOST reading plans, and LOSTpedia has an extensive list of references and influences. i will begin this list with:
- "the mysterious island" - jules verne
- "the third policeman" - flann o'brian/brian o'nolan
- "everything that rises must converge" - flannery o'conner
- "20,000 leagues under the sea" - jules verne

3. The Bible* - the greatest mystery ever recorded.

so that's where i'm beginning my quest. i want to feed this new self-discovery. hopefully this is a launching pad into all sorts of adventure.


* - side note here: how cool would it be to create a YouVersion reading plan reading the Bible from a "mystery" perspective? who knows what that would look like, but it's a fun idea.

March 20, 2011

guat 2011: flying home.

our flight (continental 2976Y) is on time and scheduled to land in kc at 11:09pm! see you then!

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