It felt like Christmas a few weeks back: I got a free book in the mail. I got ‘the Naked Gospel: the truth you may never hear in church’ by Andrew Farley. My hopes were immediately high as the cover art and design are pretty slick. It has a plastic cover on which is imprinted a picture of a leaf, with the title printed over the leaf (presumably the same kind of leaf that was the substance of the first fashion statement, with the table of contents printed on the paper cover. Slick design, but perhaps a little heavy on the usuage of resources just to achieve a look. I think the title along is enough to catch the interest of a potential reader.

The book opens with the author describing his spiritual guilt complex. If he didn’t share the gospel with someone verbally every day he couldn’t sleep at night, often he says he’d have to go out into the dead of night just to find some unsuspecting stranger on which he would relieve his guilt. His premise seems to be that many in the church are consumed with spiritual guilt because of an emphasis on legalism.

If I’m honest, I can understand where he’s coming from, but I just don’t see it. If anything, as a church, we are more marked by the lack of adherence to anything that makes any sort of noticable impression on our day to day lives. This is the theme of another book that is currently out right now by another reasonably well known author: Recovering Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel.

I’m not sure I disagree with anything that Andrew Farley is saying in ‘the Naked Gospel’. In a time where the church finds itself in the midst of some heady discussions in terms of it’s orthodoxy and orthopraxy, it feels a little dangerous to say your reader (I’m sure the average age of the reader of this book is in the 25-35 range) we’re all off the hook when it comes to the 10 commandments and the other OT laws. What might be read and understood through this is that we can live anyway we want as long as ‘we love Jesus’. When what I think Farley is attempting to say is something like: if we are authentically loving Christ and entering into the New Covenant, becoming less so that he will become more, our lives will be marked by a wholeness and holiness that embodies the OT and the requirements of the Old Covenant, as opposed to being whole and holy because of the OT and the requirements of the Old Covenant.

I think this book could be a great resource for people who struggle with guilt and shame due to a legalism they can’t live up to and need to hear the message of grace in a new way. In which case however, they ought to read this book with someone who can help them dialogue with the material and come to grips with what it means in their own life.

For more info go to the Naked Gospel website.

I found this beautiful and poingnant image online. It may sound odd to say that an image where the word ‘Sin’ appears is somehow beautiful. But I find the beauty in the truth that this image proclaims.

When I saw this picture what it said to me is that Sin, or the acts that make it up, at first are like bright lights. They give the appearance of illuminating the darkness because they seem to give us what we want. The lights attract us, draw us in, mesmerize us.

However, after trying, taking, participating, staring into this light we quickly find it hollow, disappointing and their brightness fades. And what once drew us in is discarded to the junk pile until something new can be found to draw us in, tempt us or to defeat us.

The other story this image tells us is about a new life that we can have. That when we surrender to Christ, lay our life before him, and become less so that he can become more (John 3:30), the bright lights, the glitz, the lure of Sin has no more power over us and is forever banished, has no control over us and is banished to the junk heap where it is left to rust until it is no more.

I love coffee. I drink about 4 cups a day. I only french press at home…the way God intended coffee to be brewed. Even though brewing it this way only costs a few pennies a cup, I love coffee enough to pay a few pounds ($4) for a cup of coffee at a good shop.

I also will only buy Fairtrade beans and drink Fairtrade brew…thisworld-fair-trade-day-logo often challenging especially when living in a country where the majority of people, when visiting them in their home, will offer you a cup of coffee, instant that is, and think they are doing you a favor. Instant coffee? Are you kidding me? That’s an abomination for which God should reserve the right to revoke your salvation should you choose to serve instant coffee. It takes months and months to grow the beans, long hours to pick them, dry them, roast them…and then you’re going to brew instant coffee? Blech.

Instant coffee, however, is actually a perfect example of just how little we are willing to pay for a cup of coffee and as a result just how little we think about the people who work so hard to provide us with this heavenly brew. Would you pay just a few pennies a cup for a glass of ‘instant beer’? How about ‘instant wine’? (I guess wine in a box is pretty close). What if they had ‘instant steak’ or ‘instant Ben & Jerry’s’. Ok, taking the thought a bit far.

But the crux of the question is important. How much would you pay coffee_beansfor a cup of coffee? Not because of the quality of the cup of brew…but how much would you be willing to pay to ensure that the person or persons responsible for your beverage were paid a fair wage?

In a Times.com article on Fair Trade coffee, that question was posed in a round about way. A woman, who willingly and regularily spent $4.15 on her frappacino was asked if she would be willing to spend $4.50 or even $5.00 to ensure that the coffee grower would end receiving a fair wage for his/her efforts. The answer was “Wow, these days, that’s a tough one.”

It’s a tough one, because in the midst of paying $3.00 or more a gallon to drive our SUVs for every trivial errand, paying $8.00 or more for a theatre/movie ticket, paying $2.75 or more to have each shirt dry-cleaned, and paying $10.00 or more to have our car washed by a machine so we don’t have to get out of our big SUVs, it is hard to pay an extra .50 cents for our coffee to ensure that coffee growers around the world might be able to make more than $2.50 a day…barely above the world poverty line.

From my standpoint, this issue of how much we are willing to pay is fundamentally about justice. It is about how much we value people and their efforts and the services we provide. The tendancy is to want anything we want at the cheapest possible price. In the pursuit of justice and quality, I personally am making a move towards having less, but what I have is of higher quality and exhibits a desire to be about justice for the poor (Proverbs 29:7).

Less truly becomes more when we think and live a little more like this…the more just happens to be in the pockets of people who need it alot more than I do.

How much would you pay for a cup of coffee?

Go into a Christian bookstore or parouse Amazon looking for ChristianTheGodDelusion books and you quickly realize that Richard Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’ has Christians, or I should say Christian authors, either quaking in their boots or salivating over ready made book ideas. ‘The God Delusion’ has struck such a chord culturally that authors are queuing up left and right to write their own rebuttal. There’s Karen Armstrong’s ‘The Case for God’, Tim Keller’s ‘The Reason for God: Belief in an age of Skepticism’, and I”m sure that Joel Osteen would write one in response if he could only understand multi-syllabic words other than ‘prosperity’ and ‘home teeth whitening kit’.

But honestly, what are we so worried about when it comes to Richard Dawkins and his ideas about God or the lack of any god? 2 Corinthians 12 gives us this great reminder, 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’
When someone like Dawkins attacks, we should celebrate, surely it means it’s something worth attacking.

And when Christians are under attack, sometimes we find allies in some unlikely places. Like Marxist Terry Eagleton.

In the July/August ‘New Humanist’ magazine interviewed Terry newhumanistEagleton and he had some very interesting things to say about Richard Dawkins. Eagleton is quoted as saying, “Imagine,someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.” And this is only in the first paragraph of the interview.

Read the rest of the interview here.

For an ex-Catholic Marxist, Eagleton is very well read in theology and at least warrants a review of his new book, “Reason, Faith and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate”. He provides lots to disagree with, but appears to be an unlikelly ally who reminds us that while Dawkins and counterparts (like Christopher Hitchins) are making alot of noise about the ‘non-existence of God’ they are just voicing their beliefs which “have no unimpeachably rational justification, but (they think) are nevertheless reasonable to entertain.”

In a previous post I’ve commented on how much I like Douglas Coupland and his novels. I’ve just finished reading Hey-Nostradamus-0679312692another one of his books, Hey Nostradamus!, and while it feels like quite a departure from some of his other novels, this novel only confirms my appreciation of him and his work.

On the introduction page Coupland quotes 1 Corinthians 15:51-52: ‘Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.’ Even in the context of the rest of the novel, this is a remarkable set of verses to quote, especially for an author who claims that his greatest fear is that ‘God exists, but doesn’t care very much for humans’ (does Coupland intend this statement to be more about God or more about humans?). But these are remarkable verses to quote none the less because of the inherent hope that lies within them.

Hey Nostradamus! chronicles the journey’s of four people whose experiences are all related. Cheryl and Jason, who are high school sweethearts and are secretly married. Cheryl in confusing bout of adolescent spiritual exploration doodles on her school binder ‘God is nowwhere, God is now here’ is killed, and Jason in a similiar bout of adolescent spiritual exploration never gets over Cheryl. The third character is Reg, Jason’s father, who is still struggling years later from adolescent spiritual battles with his own father and Heather who falls in love with a lost and lonely Jason.

This book is wierd, but it’s a Coupland so it’s normative, deeply depressing, because the humanity that Coupland portrays feels too real and yet so hopeful ending with the declaration of the father of the prodigal son; ‘Awake; Everyone listen, there has been a miracle-my son who once was dead is now alive. Rejoice! All of you! Rejoice! You must! My son is coming home!’

There is a quote that sums up Coupland’s book perfectly, especially in the uncertainty of our post-modern culture: ‘This is far too wise a book to offer answers, but affirms that seeking them is a necessary part of our humanity.’ This to me is what the church needs to do a better job at…we need to stop thinking we have the answers and spend more time encouraging the search allowing the spirit to provide the answers.

I like fast food. I like riding my bike really fast. I love a good fast internet connection. I think the movie ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ is hilarious.

But I don’t think everything needs to be fast. There is a new Samsung phone out in the UK called the Jet. samsung-jet The tag-line for this new phone and it’s advertising campaign is ‘Impatience Is A Virtue’. Apparently you can never have a fast enough phone and phones that allow you to do more things faster is best.

At the moment I’m also reading a pretty interesting counter-culture book called In Praise of Slow: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging The Cult Of Speed by Carl Honore. slow I’ve only just started it, but the author is making the point that for the past 150+ years our culture and our way of living has been accelerating in a way that is neither healthy or sustainable. When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931 he spoke of a world where people complained and moaned about air travels and flights were seconds late…what then must have sounded ludicrous and far-fetched doesn’t seem so distant especially as I sat here this afternoon silently complaining about the lag my computer is experiencing booting up, not responding instantaneously.

I wonder why we settle for living in a culture who says Impatience is not only to be tolerated, but that it is virtuous. Do we really like having to work more, harder and longer to accomplish more in less amount of time to be ‘successful’? Do we like the constant feeling of being in a hurry, rushing from one place to the next, rarely savoring the moment?

I’ll admit I have tech-lust…but do I like that I think I need a cool touch phone? Especially because then I can read the bible on the train on my phone, or even while I walk, get email immediately, respond immediately, or do more things in those rare down moments when I could be…….daydreaming, musing, savoring the moment, or resting? All this to consider and I haven’t even asked what all this hurry, virtuous impatience and busyness does to me spiritually.

Eugene Peterson wrote in one of his books, The Contemplative Pastor, that ‘busyness is laziness’. If there was ever a backwards quote in this world it seems to be this one. But it is a quote that challenges the value system that we build our lives, specifically our spiritual lives, upon. Busyness is a tool that keeps us, willingly, from investing in that which we know to be more important but always seems to take the back seat.

I enjoy being busy sometimes, who doesn’t, it makes us feel important. But do I take joy in it? No. I take joy in the things that really build me up and build up others that I care deeply about.

Is it possible to work harder but to slow some things down like Carl Honore talks about in his book, ‘In Praise of Slow’? I think so…

I think in a world that is consumed with speed and believes efficiency is when something is done as fast as possible I think Christ and the church have an alternative that many would embrace. Have you ever wondered why God took 6 days to create the world (ok, we don’t know if it took 6 24 hour days, but He inspired the human authors to pen it that way) when he could have done it instantly? Have you ever wondered why Jesus only picked 12 disciples to spread the Good News and taught them for three years when he could have done it more quickly and more efficiently?

Emphasizing speed and busyness in so many things can have a serious and unintended impact on our theology and I must take some time to reflect on why I’m always in such a rush, feeling so busy and what it says about my relationship with God and what it communicates to others…and do it slowly.

You can’t turn on the radio in London right now and not hear about Orange’s (a UK mobile/cell phone company) volunteerism program called Orange Rockcorps. Their bigorange tag line for the promotion is ‘Give, Get Given.’ The idea is you give 4 hours of your time, volunteering and serving on a designated community project and in return are given a ticket to a gig at The Royal Albert Hall in London. The catch? You can’t buy tickets to the gig and you don’t find out who is playing the gig until after you’ve earned the ticket and right before the show.

Music is big big business…especially in London. The music and club scene operate at incomprehensible levels…you would never run out of gigs to go and see in this city.
This is just a smattering of the line-up around the city in the next week: 22/08: New Found Glory, 22/08: Steve Lawler (DJ),25/08: The Offspring, 25/08: Wilco…Freakin WILCO!!!, 26/08: LadyHawke…all kinds of music by all kinds of artists and this is the line-up during the massive global festival season where anyone who is anyone is playing one of the bazillion festivals all over the planet. So when Orange rolls out a ‘huge gig’ at an amazing venue and it’s all super secret…who wouldn’t want a ticket, especially if your a cheap/poor student in London? Last year the gig involved Busta Rhymes, Guillemots, John Legend, Feeder and more artists.

My first thought is Orange sounds like they’re doing a pretty cool thing. Fully sponsoring what sounds like a sick gig and in doing so also sponsoring over 50 local projects and increasing volunteerism in the community. The press on this project also seems to pretty upbeat and positive.

Perhaps I’m overly cynical but is this really as good as it seems? Sure loads of work gets done on worthwhile projects…sure loads of people get involved…sure loads of people enjoy a great gig, an exclusive gig (even better, right?). I’d be really interested to find out just how many of these ‘volunteers’ continue doing volunteer work without receiving a gig ticket.

I guess I just don’t see it as true ‘volunteerism’ if you do it to get avolunteering ‘reward’: in this case a free ticket to an exclusive gig. But seriously, we live in a world where you are rewarded for good behavior, good grades, for being a good person. As a youth minister, I’ve been in too many churches and given too many talks to kids where we communicate that if they ‘live right’, make ‘wise decisions’ and ‘love Jesus’ they will be ‘blessed’, He will ‘answer their prayers’ or ‘go to heaven’…when we do mission trips, or take kids to homeless shelters we even ask kids ‘how they felt serving others?’ or talk about how ‘rewarding’ volunteering is. But doesn’t talk of ‘reward’ or ‘what you get out of it’ defeat the purpose of volunteering? Isn’t it the same with living a life for Christ? Shouldn’t we be living it as if there wasn’t a ‘reward’ or upside or benefits for us simply because of who He is? If Christ is as compelling as we say he is, we should live relentlessly, passionately and freely for Him as if there was nothing in it for us…simply because we know He is true.

Ok, back to the Orange Rockcorps. It’s a sliding scale right? This is the first step, from a secular vantage point, of creating a generation of young people who are passionate about volunteering, making a difference in their communities and serving others. If this gets even a hand full of people onto the next step I suppose that’s a good thing. I suppose I’m just not content with the ‘what’s in it for me mentality’ and tired of it seeping into our theology and spirituality. I’m also not advocating a sense ‘obligation’ for Christian living either…that will only lead to a dark and angry place. But what happens if we get addicted to the carrot? Everytime we volunteer or ‘live for Christ’ we need a bigger and bigger carrot in order to ‘reach the next level’? This will only lead to a false sense of intimacy with God and volunteering for a reward will only create a false sense of commitment to one’s community and to those we are in community with.

I’m always diggin for new music. Like Cake sang in ‘Rock n Roll Lifestyle’ way back in the day I have to have ‘the tshirt to prove that you heard of them first’. Good music always seems to sound better when no one else seems to be listening to it.

Moving to the UK has opened some new doors musically. Vinyl stores are a joy to wander through…and tomorrow I’m headed to Rough Trade…one of best ones.

But lately, what’s been playing on my ipod and my shuffle (on bike rides) is Mat Kearney’s new album ‘City of Black and White’. mat-kearney-city-of-black-whiteIts been a few years since his last and it seems to me to be well worth the wait.

The sound seems to be pretty well produced…maybe a little too good. There isn’t any tracks where he raps, which were my favorite on the last album, which is disappointing. But lyrically, I find his lyrics seem to be trying to follow the path Bono has been blazing. The lyrics seem to have mutiple layers that have cultural cache and real spiritual symbolism.

The album starts with “All I Have”.
In the first verse he sings,
“Tired of the same song everyone’s singing
Rather be lost with you instead”
This line is one of those that could be to a girl, but could be something more.

Later in the song he sings:
Oh I still trying to do my hardest
Pick us all up from the fall oh
Off the little corner of the darkness
Just a crack the light in the middle of it all

Here Kearney seems to be speaking of our tendancy to embrace grace but then still expend endless energy ‘doing it on our own’ in a world that seems dark all over and light that we long for appears to be only a sliver or a glimmer.

Closer To Love is even more intense lyrically:
She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away
She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon

And later in the song:
I’m gonna get there soon,
She’s gonna be there too
Cryin’ in her room
Prayin’ Lord, come through
We’re gonna get there soon

Oh it’s your light,
Oh it’s your way,
Pull me out of the dark
Just to show me the way
Cryin’ out now
From so far away…
You pull me closer to love
Closer to love

Some critics have railed against Kearney for his song ‘Annie’ that it’s too cliche, because it’s about a girl…”“Annie” is the token weepy ballad. A song named after a girl? That never happens! (Forgive the sarcasm, but I definitely thought Kearney was above this.)” So what…Taylor by Jack Johnson is a rubbish piece of cliche trash as well?

At any rate, while Kearney’s new album seems a little more mainstream than I’d like, lyrically he has a depth that reveals a deep commitment and passion for his faith and a commitment to contextualizing in way that is relevant and challenging to his listeners, fans and critics.

This past weekend we had a church weekend away. Our guest speaker was Elaine Storkey who used to lead Tearfund. To parallel what she was speaking to the adults about, we took the young people who attended the weekend on a look through the book and story of Jonah as a way of looking at the themes of ‘calling’, ‘mission’, ‘justice’ and ‘compassion’.

The first session we asked our students what they knew about the story of Jonah. Our group had a number of 11-14 year olds…making them born circa 1995 (holy crap do I feel old). They proceeded to regale us with their understanding of Johah. It went a little like this.

‘God told Jonah to go to Nirvana…or something like that…he didn’t noahwant to go…so he got on a boat to run away from God…then God made a huge storm come up and the pirates…’Pirates? What pirates?’…Jonah was on a pirate ship…the pirates decided to throw Jonah overboard to make the storm go away…so he walked the plank and then God brought a big fish come and swallow Jonah…and after a few days God made the fish ‘throw-up’ Jonah through the blow-hole…’

You get the point. After listening to this description of the Jonah story, I was trying to figure out where the ‘pirates’, the ‘gang-plank’ and the ‘blow-hole’ came from. If it was simply a young person’s imagination bringing the story to life, that wouldn’t be bad, it would actually be kind of exciting…a young person spending enough time in the Word to bring it to life in their mind. But no…they told me that was the story of Jonah according to Veggie Tales.

The only problem is that they stated that it was from Veggie Tales as if VT carried the same authority as scripture. One student was prepared to argue that the sailors on the boat that Jonah was on were ‘actually’ pirates. Don’t get me started on the worm that lived on the vine that also sold Ninevah merchandise.

I completely by into the idea of making scripture relevant to young people in a technological culture and making the scripture come alive visually…but at what point are we sacrificing the ‘truth’, ‘sacredness’, the ‘history’ of scripture just to hold the attention of young people? Is a video of a bible story really more powerful than an adult who loves the story conveying it to a young person in a well thought out way, in the context of a loving caring relationship?

I found this really cool piece of artwork online today.


I think the person who created it is trying to be ‘ironic’ and make a critique on Christianity.

Yet I see this image and I am struck by the freedom that comes from ‘submitting’ to someone greater than yourself…and I’m also struck by the incompatibility of this kind of ‘freedom’ with the world’s understanding with ‘freedom’…which isn’t what it seems either.

I’m also left with the question, ‘Am I doing what the empty cross is telling me to do?’

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