Thursday, January 31, 2008

MOVIE—Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

Our home community has talked recently about the role of risk-taking in Christian faith; appropriately, this documentary presents some major risks that American Christians often don't take. Loving those who offend us, for example. We like justice, we like things done right, and we like... winning. We risk losing those things by giving grace and love too liberally to (as in the film) skeptical Jews, queer "nuns," those bacchanalian Reedies, and so on. Inveterate fears of being rejected, betrayed, and hurt, also present themselves, as does the popularity factor—most folks don't love so radically. And this is precisely what the film suggests we do.

A corollary risk involves engaging opposing minds in open discussion, and actually listening to them. Sure, it's easy to clam up intellectually when you think you have the Truth. You're set! What else do you need to know? But the filmmakers noticed the clouds of hostility swarming around (and within) American religion; somehow the gospel isn't panning out like it should. The "Bumper-Sticker Man" gimmick was, I think, effective despite its theatrics: what if we actually conversed about important issues, rather than lobbing ideological barbs from an unsympathetic distance? I like it!

Third, Lord, Save Us From Your Followers encourages us to take a chance by identifying and examining our own faults. Obviously, this can be an uncomfortable process. It involves honesty, sensitivity, and humility. The movie is hopeful that doing this will enable us to better love threatening individuals, and to constructively interact with them.

I know this kind of message can easily fall into trite pleas (Why can't we be friends? All you need is love! Can't we all just get along?), but LSUFYF avoids this trap. It is asking us to consider how our beliefs translate to action, how the gospel affects our social and personal relations—and love is central to the gospel!

Other thoughts:

Jesus commanded, "love your enemies," not "make friends with everyone;" and I believe the film catches this distinction.

I wonder how the contestants for the game show were selected; I don't think it was rigged, but it almost seemed like they tried to find highly intelligent non-believers, but didn't exactly do so with the Christians (At least, that's the impression I got. Or maybe it's only me wanting to believe that Christians are not that dull). In any case, the game show drove home the point that perhaps we as the church could do a better job of relating to outsiders. Note that this does NOT necessarily mean steeping ourselves in secular culture—of course it's helpful to know where someone is coming from, but it disturbs me when Christians grow enamored with trying to experience "the real world." Too often it's just a convenient excuse to divorce faith from action.

Well, that's all I'll say about the film for now.

Go see it!! For free! Feb 5, Lewis & Clark College, 7:30pm. Coming to theaters "soon."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

"The problem is me"

I'm a little late in posting this, but wanted to relay some of the discussion my small group had on Wednesday. We began by noting the concept of loving your enemies, as outlined by Dr. Martin Luther King using Matthew 5:44-48. Without a slew of enemies in the Voldemort/Cruella DeVille sense of the word, we listed people (either specific or generic) who bothered/angered us. Here were some of the reasons why we grew angry:
  • I expect the other person to be a mind reader: Classic example -- A roommate has this terribly annoying habit. It's "so obvious" he should change his ways. Every time he does this terribly annoying habit, my frustration builds. Soon I'm treating this person differently, and why? Because he never bothered to read my mind and know how much I hate when he [insert pet peeve here].
  • It's easier to persecute someone else than to learn their story -- At one point I hated Bill O'Reilly so much that I used the word "detest", thinking "hate" was a little too commonplace and compromised the intensity of my feelings. Then I stumbled across an article giving me a little background on the man. Included were details on being physically abused by his father and info on being screwed over at several jobs before the Fox News one. Suddenly I had sympathy for the man. Ever notice how much easier it is to love (or at least understand) a person when you know their background? While it might be unrealistic to learn the back-story on every single person we encounter, we need to be creative and empathetic before being angry. Bothered because the couple in front of you isn't paying attention in church? Maybe it's because they had been fighting previously. Maybe it's some other reason. Instead of harboring anger towards a situation you don't know about, instead be creative in finding a reason to love.
  • Projecting my own version of what people "should" do on someone else: This is by far my biggest issue. Especially when I've made a change in my life, I want everyone to make the same change. Once upon a time I thrived on watching TV. These days, I rarely ever turn it on. To do so, in my opinion, is akin to admitting a reliance on someone else's creativity in order to have fun. When friends talk about "just watching whatever is on TV" tonight, then, I find myself angry. And why? Because they don't see the genius light of my ways. In effect it's simply because they're different than me.
Notice anything about these three reasons?

In all of them, I wanted the people to be more like me. And why? Was that my ultimate mission, my endgame? To create an entire world of little Giancarlos?

The real problem isn't Bill O'Reilly, or the roommate who won't put away the dishes, or people spending evenings watching 30 Rock. The real problem is me. Instead of trying spread the gospel of Giancarlo, I should be spreading the Gospel of Jesus.

I think the Bible suggests that somewhere, right?

(Correct me if I'm wrong)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Quoting Oswald Chambers

This kind of relates to Mike's last half-post, insofar as it encourages us to consider our perspectives on life. I like it because I tend to think about myself too much.

"Many of us have a mental conception of what a Christian should be, and the lives of the saints become a hindrance to our concentration on God. There is no salvation in this way, it is not simple enough. 'Look unto Me' and—not 'you will be saved,' but 'you are saved.' The very thing we look for, we shall find if we will concentrate on Him. We get preoccupied and sulky with God, while all the time He is saying—'Look up and be saved.' The difficulties and trials—the casting about in our minds as to what we shall do this summer, or tomorrow, all vanish when we look to God.
Rouse yourself up and look to God. Build your hope on Him. No matter if there are a hundred and one things that press, resolutely exclude them all and look to Him. 'Look unto Me,' and salvation is, the moment you look."

Excerpt from My Utmost For His Highest
the verse he's referring to is Isaiah 45:22

Monday, January 21, 2008

Addendum to what I wrote last week

Last Friday I received what I consider to be the biggest compliment I've ever received in my life. What made this even sweeter, and which I for some reason failed to mention originally, was the back story:

I had emailed my roommate Dane earlier in the day, telling him I want to come with (that's come con for you Spanish scholars out there). An impromptu happy hour popped up at work. I had a couple beers. *Surprise*, I lost my enthusiasm for the church service.

"I don't think it would really be the right thing to do," I said, "I had a couple beers at work." While I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having a drink or two (provided it doesn't lead you away from the Jesus path), I didn't feel good about heading to church after a couple Coronas.

Then it hit me: THAT IS HOW THE ENEMY WANTS ME TO ACT. The moment I felt like I unworthy of attending church -- the moment I felt unworthy of God's love -- I began running away from Him. This, of course, is not the right move. In fact, when I need Him most is when I am this weak, when I begin to feel unworthy. I'm obviously not advocating a pub crawl before church, but even if you were to do so you would still be loved. We cannot -- cannot -- allow ourselves to walk away from God based on our own self-loathing.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Americans have stuff

Addressing consumerism and stewardship from yet another angle:

The other day I heard on the radio that consumption has declined a bit in our country recently. The voice (I have no idea what station this was) lamented that if the trend continues, our economy will likely slide into a recession. It seemed to me the obvious message was that we need to consume more; does anyone else have a problem with that? I hope so...

The next day, as the voice still echoed in my head, I came upon this website entitled "The Story of Stuff;" it includes a 20-minute video presentation about resources and the economy (in lay terms, with classy illustrations), as well as information regarding things that every good Portlander loves, like sustainability and NGOs, with lots of references (books and websites).

I've only made a cursory exploration of the site myself, so I'm not endorsing it with blood or anything, but at the very least it can help us think more intentionally about processes we easily take for granted.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Leisha=Downer, but I'm okay with that

I hesitate to bring this up, because I feel like I'm on the verge of becoming that person who others avoid talking to at parties, but I'm just going to own it and post about what's on my mind.

On Wednesday night we were talking about the sermon, about giving joyfully, sacrificially, and something else that I can never remember. Because of time constraints our conversation didn't really go beyond joyfully, but I left the conversation feeling a bit uneasy about something. It seems that as American Christians, we don't truly understand the concept of giving sacrificially, especially when it comes to money. Even in our conversation Wednesday, I'm glad that we were talking holistically about worshipping God through the giving of everything we have (e.g. time), but we didn't really talk about giving money. My perception is that it's built into our capitalistic culture to consider our money our own even more than other resources like time, and that we tend to get defensive when it is implied that we aren't truly worshipping God with our money.

In the Western world, we have about 67% of the world's wealth held by about 12% of the world's population. Even though we may not think of ourselves as wealthy people, even the poorest members of our society are richer than most people in the developing world. I found it striking that in the same evening that we're talking about giving, we heard how during our homeless outreach most of the people encountered didn't need anything in the way of food or clothing. (I totally applaud those of you who went on that outreach, and that you were willing to give your time and energy in conversation and building relationship. That was really awesome to hear about.)

I am reading the book Revolution in World Missions by K.P. Yohannan, an Indian missionary. He's quoting a book by economist Robert Heilbroner, describing the incredible difference between the average American family and the average Third World family. In the end the American family is living in the tool shed, eating moldy potatoes, with one set of clothing each, a few old blankets to sleep on, and only one pair of shoes for the head of the family. The nearest school is three miles away, and the nearest health clinic, staffed only by an uneducated midwife, is ten miles away. They do not own any books, magazines, or newspapers, but that's okay because no one in the family can read. K.P. then tells the story of a young Indian man who felt called to a community of families like this one. Since no one could read, he put together a Gospel presentation based on pictures, then needed a projector in order to reach the thousands of people in this community through only he and his wife and small children. He went every week for months to sell his blood at the hospital in order to purchase a projector, even though his own family was on the brink of starvation, because his urgency for the Gospel was so great.

When I compare stories like that, stories of true sacrificial giving, with the luxuries that I heap upon myself daily and take for granted, I am ashamed. How can I feel any satisfaction for the money that I do give, or the time that I spend, or the relationships that I invest in, when my giving is out of the excess God has blessed me with? I have never gone without a meal so that someone else could hear the Gospel, I have never even gone without a movie so that someone else could eat. I believe the self-satisfaction we allow ourselves when we give even 10% of our income is deceptive when we have so much farther to go until we get to sacrifice.

*Steps down from soapbox*

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sermon 1/13/08, some thoughts

As much as we've heard about giving at church lately, I still thought Luke's message today was pretty solid. Really, Imago Dei handles the topic in a more intelligent and nuanced way than any church I've attended.

I especially appreciated these points (which existed either explicitly or implicitly in the sermon):
-Everything we have is God's. Easy to say, but important to remember. Everything we own, He made and lets us have; We are His creatures and servants. It's all His, use it wisely. In a way, this perspective pulls the carpet out from under the argument for literal tithing. Seriously, if everything belongs to God, doesn't it seem terribly conceited to say that good Christians give ten percent to Him?
-We give because God gives to us. This works several ways--1) we give to reciprocate His grace to others, 2) we can only give what God enables us to have, 3) since generosity is God's business, assuming giving attitudes can become an act of worship and a means to know Him more fully.

I liked the way Luke described giving as something deeper than mere acts of compulsory contribution, but I thought he could have connected the dots a little more plainly toward the end (to be fair, I'll grant he was speaking on short notice). Specifically, he could have said, "this isn't just about money"--something which was very much implied, but not stated point blank. I wish he would have included Romans 12:1-2--"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..." We are called to offer God not just ten percent, not just our cash, not even just the things we seem to own, but our whole, living selves. Giving must be a way of life.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Greatest compliment I've ever received in my life

Yesterday was a fantastic day in my life, easily the best of 2008 so far. Not only did I go to see Carmen again, but also...

My roommates and I went to a Friday night service at Solid Rock Church in Beavertron. The service is intended for 18--28 year olds, meaning I'm in a constant state of "I hope they don't check IDs." Turns out, one of the 18-28 year olds was a kid I taught public speaking to last spring. When I approached him, he responded with the greatest compliment I've been paid in my entire life --

"I knew it! I knew you were a Christian! I could tell...I always wanted to go in and ask you where you went to church and never did."

When asked how he knew -- and keep in mind this was completely unsolicited -- he said he could just tell, that there was something about the way I taught and talked to people...he could just see the love in Christ in me.

I mean...For someone like me, whose instinct is ordinarily crack jokes first, care about people later, it is SO AWESOME to learn how the love of Jesus found its way to present itself THROUGH ME in the classroom. Really, I couldn't be happier.

Mark Twain once said he could live for two months off a good compliment. I'm planning on living the rest of my life off of this one. PTL*, my friends, PTL.

*Praise The Lord

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hope found in the bathroom

Once upon a time, I worked in PR for the Philadelphia Phillies. True story. I sat in the press box for 77 of the 80 home games in 2002 (the last one was rained out), watched the entirety of the game and ran errands for whatever press member needed something.

One of the more interesting facets to the job was the stress level. Namely, it wasn't very stressful for me. This was a problem. I'd been warned that one day I would crack, this job really wears on you, etc. Yet the most stressful thing for me was being not stressed. My supervisor was tightly-wound; if there's one thing a tightly wound person hates, it's being around a calm person.

As such, I learned to fake a certain stress level. Seemed like a good idea at the time. When my boss complained about certain reporters, I pretended they bothered me too. I feigned irritation with umpires' calls. I strategically inserted sighs during game play. Like they say in Fight Club, people assume the worst when you don't speak.

The highlight of each game were my trips to the bathroom (bear with me). Since I wasn't supposed to miss any game action, I had less than two minutes to get in, do my business and get out. That added a bit of pressure, but for whatever reason I always liked that.

At any rate, I was in this weird situation where I was faking stress, which gave me actual stress, and had less than two minutes to go to the bathroom. On top of it all, this was my first corporate-type job, which lead to the obligatory "is this what the next 40 years are going to be like?" questions, I was living with my parents AND was in my first year as Christian. One of the weird things about coming to Christ without being raised/schooled Christian is that you literally don't know what to do with yourself. Like, am I just supposed to be nice to people? Give them unsolicited advice on how they're going to Hell unless they accept Jesus? Make a roast beef sandwich for the homeless dude down the street? I simply didn't know how I should act as a Christian (note: kinda still don't, but at least I have ideas now).

Fortunately, I was provided with help. 101 out of 100 men's bathrooms are filled with information on who to call for a good time, how some celebrity sucks, how so and so is gay, and that sort of thing. This one was different. On an green-gray aluminum bathroom, someone had scrawled a message: "You can't handle everything on your own. Your not Superman. Give your worries to Christ" Those words always stuck with me (and not just because of the incorrect use of 'your'). In one of the most negative, loathing cities in the country, in a bathroom used every day by dozens of reporters and sportscasters -- not exactly caring, loving people -- a message of hope. I'm not Superman. Give your worries to Christ. As I've grown older, these words have made even more sense. Human beings -- especially ones who try to choose the biggest piece of Communion bread possible -- are limited, but nothing is too hard for our Sovereign Lord.

I never learned the identity of the bathroom writer. I always figured it was one of the janitors, but that wasn't exactly an easy conversational piece -- Say, did you deface the press box bathroom? I can't imagine he wanted to be identified, anyway. But whoever you are, thank you. Your words made all the difference.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Thoughts while moving spastically

There I was, on the dance floor of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, site of my roommate Mike McDonald's wedding reception. I'm dancing like an idiot. I always dance like an idiot. I have these goofy high-speed gyrations where my limbs flail like a spider trying to get up off its back. I play air guitar, but honestly don't know if I'm hearing a guitar or drums. I feel notoriously self-conscious when I dance, though the "notoriousness" is only within myself. Everyone else thinks I have no inhibitions on the dance floor, since how else could I dance like that?

In actuality, I'm wicked nervous. Whereas in regular life I have no fear of being alone -- in many situations I prefer it -- that's my worst fear on the dance floor. Everyone will look at me, dancing by myself. That I cannot deal with.

...or could not deal with, anyway. Then something occurred to me: I shouldn't care what my friend Todd Hammer thinks. It shouldn't matter what my friend Erica Hubby thinks. It certainly shouldn't matter what complete strangers think. If my comfort is truly in Christ, His should be the only opinion of concern to me. I've thought in the past that I had true freedom because I controlled my own decisions. The truth is those decisions were rooted in (and ultimately limited) by my social world -- by my commitment to myself. Well Mike, that was the wrong focus. As Galatians 5:1 tells us, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." The yoke of slavery. Me caring what people think. Same thing.

We're called to be fools for you, God. While I don't know how moving of a testimonial my "accidental robot" dance moves are, the deeper point is my motivation. Whereas I used to strive to be someone who is "free" and doesn't care what people think, the truth is that was never going to happen. The only way to actually avoid caring what people think is for my comfort -- my security -- to lie in Christ, not in anyone or anything else.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

When it's nice to feel like idiot

One of the nice things about being a Christian is being constantly reminded that I don't know what the heck I'm talking about. Here's today's example:

In about four hours, my roommate Mike is going to marry this fantastic girl Melissa. She is such a catch, and so is he. Thing is, they haven't even known each other for a year. The Mike Pacchione School of Doing Things dictates knowing the other person for at least two years prior to marriage, since studies denote that as being the length of time necessary to really "know" a person.

But you know what? Two years is a mere suggestion. Mike and Melissa certainly don't need that much practice time together. Some people are just ready. These are two of the kindest, most genuinely "I have time for you" people I've ever met. They talk for forever about everything. They're on the same team. They're ready. Pretty much this is one of those situations where God put a special "rush" order in...and I'm mighty confident it's all going to work out for the best.

So, congrats buddy. Can't wait to see what the Lord does for Team McDonald.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Longing for the Prince of Peace

Hey everyone,

As most of you know, I am involved with an organization that works in East Africa, and I have many friends there.Right now all of Kenya is in turmoil from post-election tribal tension. There is rioting, looting, and physical violence throughout Kenya, but is especially bad in the Kibera slum of Nairobi where Lahash works, and the violence is increasing in the town of Eldoret where we have a project and where my boyfriend is from. (Fortunately he is living and working in Tanzania, far from the violence.)

Basically the problems stem from the recent presidential election on Dec 27. The two main candidates were the sitting president Mwai Kibaki (from the dominant Kikuyu tribe) and Raila Odinga (from the second largest tribe of Luhwo). Through the first day or two after the election it looked to be a very close contest, but Raila appeared to be pulling ahead. Then suddenly the results were announced that Kibaki had won and he took the oath of office almost immediately. There have been many allegations of tampering with the vote counts, and some Western observers have expressed concern about the validity of the results. The Luhwo tribe feels that they have been cheated out of the presidency, and some members of that tribe began to lash out in violence.

Please pray for our friends, specifically:

* Mama Margaret and her family in Kibera

Margaret is a Kikuyu who lives in a Luhwo dominated neighborhood. She founded and leads Tenderfeet Education Center, a school for underprivileged children in Kibera, one of the world's largest slums. After being harbored by a Luhwo friend on the first night of violence, Margaret left Kibera to stay with her sister. Her husband is from a tribe that is not being threatened, so he has remained behind with their children. Their family is safe, but food prices have gone through the roof, putting increased pressure on many.

*Frank Atieli in Kibera (shown with my dad)

Frank is a Luhya (different from a Luhwo) and there hadn't been reports of violence against Luhyas, but we heard today that he was harassed by some thugs in Kibera today. His one-room home was looted, and some of his modest belongings were stolen, and his home was also damaged by fire. He has a very modest income from working with Tenderfeet Education Center, with which he supports two school-age brothers.

* Nick Kip Korir in Eldoret

Nick is from the Nandi tribe, allies of the Luhwo tribe, living in a neighborhood surrounded by Kikuyu. Nick spent several days hiding in the ceiling of his home, and while he was there men came in, perhaps looking for Nick, but not finding him, they instead ate his food and left. The father of girl who Nick's organization has helped is on the security patrol for Nick's neighborhood, and he has been looking in on Nick. Nick's fear has escalated to the point where he is considering making an escape to town from the slum, but that is at least as risky as staying in his home. One blessing is that Nick's family had traveled to Nairobi for the holidays, and are safe there.

I have not heard back yet from Bealy as to his family's safety, and we have not had any news about my friends Tabitha and the Angote family who all live in Nick's community. In addition to all of these friends are the huge number of young children and families who are assisted by Lahash partners, as well as the volunteers and other workers in these and other communities affected by the violence.

Please pray for my friends, for their continued safety, and that God would use them as redemptive agents of change in their communities in the aftermath of these events. Pray for President Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, that they would be moved to do more to stem the violence sweeping the country, and that they would value peace over power. Pray for Lahash International as we try to anticipate the role our organization could play in the aftermath of this crisis. Pray for lasting racial reconciliation in a country that has known peace for many years. Most of all, pray that Christ, the Prince of Peace and the only source of true peace, would be present in Kenya.

Thank you, friends, for praying with me. It means so much.

Update 1/2/2008 10:17am

I just heard from Bealy and from someone who's spoken to Nick. Nick is now camping outside the police station with a large group of other people. Nick's wife and kids are still safe in Nairobi, and Nick has been trying to contact his parents and siblings who live in Eldoret. So far he has been unsuccessful, save one brother, who works in a hotel in Eldoret and is okay. Nick will be trying to find more information about his family tomorrow (Kenya time).

My good friend Edwin's family lives in Eldoret, and Nick had heard that they've taken refuge at a large missionary compound where they used to work. Edwin's father stayed at their home alone to defend it against looters.

Bealy said that his mom has taken refuge in a church compound in Eldoret. While it is encouraging that she is not alone at her isolated home, a church compound full of Kikuyu (her ethnicity) was burned to the ground by an angry mob in Eldoret about 36 hours ago. 35 women and children died in the fire. The compound where she is staying is swiftly running out of food and water.

Update 1/3/2008 11:55am

We got another update from Kibera. Although an increasing number of buildings in the slum have been burned and more people killed and injured, Daniel and Margaret are okay, and their home is still standing and the school has not been touched. Margaret is thinking of hiring a security detail and a truck to help move her personal belongings and the school supplies away from Kibera. Her husband Daniel has been helping a neighborhood patrol to protect their homes, which means that he hasn't been sleeping at night, and only for an hour or two during the day. Frank was attacked again today while trying to help some people, but not badly injured.

In Eldoret, Nick has been approached by a number of people seeking assistance, although he has almost nothing for himself right now. If you're interested in helping, you can donate here. We're trying to raise money for small care packages at $25 a piece to help these people who are running out of food and water.