Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Debt? A few thoughts.

With the current debate on the debt issue in Washington, I am brimming with thoughts and need to get the out before I explode.  

I fail to see the positives of either alternative here. More multi-billion dollar stimulus packages that simply prop up a failing system for another few years, hopefully long enough for our current elected officials to ride out their careers and never have to accept any of the blame?  More half-assed budget cuts that reduce projected (not actual) spending by 1%?  Sounds like a plan for success to me. 

I probably don't agree with everything that all of the Tea Parties say, as I don't have the time nor the inclination to follow congress that closely, but the ones I have heard speak make a ton of sense to me (specifically the Paul's, and my own district's Amash, don't know much about any of the others). 

To be completely honest, I don't trust anybody in Washington to do the right thing. Our elected officials are either too jaded, too out of touch with reality, or too sold out to do what is right for the people, rather than their party or their plan.  

I think it is a systemic problem that reaches beyond Congress, but that Congress certainly contributes to.  I actually blame our media more than Congress, to be completely honest.  We glamorize a life of luxury, but demonize the few that have worked their asses off to actually afford it, only to subsidize those who live like they’ve “made it” when they can’t afford it.   People who have money typically have it for a reason.  80% of the millionaires in the US are 1st generation rich, which means they’ve earned their money, they’ve pinched their pennies and saved.  They’ve worked their asses off, created something for our economy to stand and thrive on, lived within their means for years and now have financial success, but yet we want to tax them through the nose to support those who don’t want to work their asses off, who don’t want to create something out of nothing (aside from their handout), who don’t live within their means, but still want to lead the glamorous life style that they've neither earned nor deserve. 

Call me simple or stupid, but that seems ass backward to me.  We should be learning from their success, not punishing them for it.  I don't understand how raising spending without raising revenue is a sustainable system.  If I have a $50,000 dollar a year income, I can't add $20,000 a year in debt without going broke.  I have to live with my $50,000 a year, and if I want more, I work my ass off, get a raise, but still live like I make $35,000 and put the extra in the bank.  Then, after a few years, I might just have enough money to have the honor of being taxed through the nose as well.  

Nor do I understand how government that is constantly growing out of control based on money we don’t have is a good thing. There is a word for this in medicine; cancer, and last I checked, that is a bad thing.

Yes, maybe it is easier now, and for the next 10 or 20 years (if we make it that far!), to just ride the wave, but at some point, we either run out of money or create too much new money out of thin air that the wave we’re riding so merrily along crashes down on our ever brittling sandcastle. 

Maybe if we stop living beyond our means and start living more humbly, we can fix the problem.  Hell, if we stop acting like asshats on the world stage, maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t hate us so much and we could even cut our defense budget, which would put a large dent in our deficit. 

Will cutting spending and balancing our budget slow the economy? God I hope so. A system that relies on massive amounts of debt to keep up its crumbling facade is not a system I want any part of, and if we continue to try to fix the problem by piling on the load, it will just crash down all the harder.  Better to let it down now than later.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

There is only one death that can set the world right...

Jesus was no stranger to war or terror.  He didn’t have half a globe to separate him from  those who sought to ravage and kill for political and religious gain.  No, they lived in his back yard.  
Our “plight” is nothing compared to the context in which Jesus spoke his words and lived his life.  We live under the distant murmur of terror, the families in Jesus’ land when it intimately.  We have pundits who rile us up and get us to fear a distant threat in the Middle East.  The Jews lived their lives under the thumb of oppressive overlords.
The worst nightmares painted by the talking heads on our televisions screens wouldn’t do justice to the reality of the world that Jesus lived in.  We have rising oil prices, they had death and destruction.  We had one day in September, they had countless days every year.  We have 3,000 loved ones gone, they surely had multiple times more.  
We think we have it bad, but they had worse than we fear.  In Jesus’ own words as he predicts the destruction of the temple and the slaughter at Jerusalem:
"6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains.
   9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death...let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 17 Let no one on the housetop go down to take anything out of the house. 18 Let no one in the field go back to get their cloak. 19 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!"
This reminds me of a certain argument that I hear all too often. “Not my wife, not my kids, I don’t care what you say, I’d kill pick up a gun and kill 100 Arabs before letting them touch my family.”
According to Josephus, there were 1.1 Million causalities at the destruction of the Temple, and nearly 100,000 were capture and enslaved.  A few more than 3,000, if you ask me.  
Jesus saw this death and destruction at the temple coming, but he didn't pick up a sword to defend those pregnant women and nursing mothers.  Seems like Jesus would have wanted to prevent this.
But how?  By killing off millions of Romans instead of millions of Jews?  Death is a cycle, a wheel of destruction.  As Martin Luther King Jr once aptly said, “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  

Just as we can’t earn God’s favor by our own effort, we can’t set the world right by our own devices.  Death is of man and the enemy, how do we expect death to make us safe once again?  The “safety” man has created through the murder of Osama Bin Laden will crumble and fall.  It is built on a false foundation.
Just as we can’t enter the kingdom by propping ourselves up on our own righteousness, we can’t fix our world by continuing the cycle of this world.  

There is only one death that can set the world right.  He did it.

Despite this, the bible doesn’t promise us safety in this world.  Easy to say when our struggles are only financial, but what about when your enemy is in your back yard, breathing down your neck, or even with a knife to your throat?
“Who shall separate us from the love (and death) of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
    "For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
   we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, (not terrorists nor jehad) nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

So how do we respond in the face of terror and death?  
As Chris Martin says, “I don’t want to battle from beginning to end, I don’t want to cycle, recycle revenge, I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.”  
Luckily, we don’t have to.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The death of the tree in the garden in Eden

It is often said that Jesus was a great moral teacher.

When Jesus hung on the cross and with his dying breathe sputtered, "it is finished," he was proclaiming the fulfillment not only of the mosaic law, not even a more generalized set of moral law, but to all the concerns of morality in general.  For a follower of Jesus to still be concerned with morality is to miss the point of his death almost completely.  A Christian concerned with morals is like a computer programmer who is frustrated because he can't get his latest program running on his 1920's typewriter.

At its core, morality is the questioning of what is right and wrong.  Morality concerns itself at its most basic level with the knowledge of good and evil.

The knowledge of good and evil.  (side not: I'm not entirely concerned with the literal 7-day historicity of the account of the story of creation, and Adam and Eve.  I do believe, though, that at the very least, the story is allegorically true, but I wouldn't be terribly disappointed if it were literally 7 days, or even if something along the lines of this happened).  As the story goes, we received this knowledge when we turned our backs on God in the garden and ate the forbidden fruit, and ever since, we have been trying to reinstate ourselves into God's good graces through the very knowledge that got us kicked out in the first place.

The knowledge of good and evil.  Do this and not that.  This action is permissible, that one desirable, and this last one unforgivable.  Our new knowledge inherently begets a hierarchy of rules to be followed; for some, in order to fix our status with God, and for others, to simply regain some semblance of the order we once knew in Eden.

But neither work.  The first presents itself as religion, the other as secular law.  If we follow these rules, stand in the right place, wear clean enough closes, sing the right songs in the correct key in a certain order, if we refrain eat this or drinking that, from looking here or touching there, and most of all if we get into enough of other people's business and make sure they are following all of our rules as well, then maybe, just maybe we can fulfill all the rules that we have put in place and will stand clean before God.  We do it through the Mosaic law, the

Or maybe, if we don't want anything to do with God, we can still rebuild the order we knew in Eden.  We can prevent people from speeding, from stealing, from raping, from murdering or laundering or slandering by putting enough laws into place.

But how can this knowledge of good and evil that we were never meant to have lead us back to a state of innocence before the God who never meant us to have it?  How can our rules and regulations that come solely out of this knowledge be the answer?

By making rules and regulations, we are not addressing the core problem.  We can run around for millennia more trying to force the problem out of ourselves through as many laws as we can think of, but it won't solve the problem: the knowledge of the law itself.

So how do we break this curse that we inherited through Eden?  The bad news is that we can't.  The Good News is that God did.

God the Father, the one who never meant for us to live in this futile state, who never wanted us to deal with these problems of good and evil, who wanted nothing more than for us to live in his bosom, came to us himself to set the world right again.  We couldn't do it ourselves, so He did it for us.

But all too often we fall short of realizing the full ramifications of what our Papa did for us through the cross.  Most of us get the concept of salvation, an eternity spent in the presence of God.  Some of us even get that this salvation is for the here and now, that we are no longer slaves to sin and shame.

What I want to finally get is that what was done for us on the cross reaches all the way back to the garden.  It erases that first fallen bite, and breaks us free from the curse of the knowledge of good and evil and reinstates us as the children of our Father.

We are no longer to be concerned with right or wrong, with good or evil.  We aren't to stick our noses into other people's business, and not even into our own.  We are freed from the hierarchies of this world, as all the hierarchies we have ever known have been built on the concept of right or wrong, good or bad, better and best, with the most desirable at the top, and least at the bottom.

When we associate our identities with anything sort of the loving grace of the Father who now dwells within us, we are falling prey to the curse.  I am a white male of reasonable intellect.  If I take pride in my skin color, I am setting myself against others of different races, saying I'm better, more good, less evil, etc etc. The is the knowledge at work.  If I take solace in my brain power, I am making myself better than the less intelligent in my own opinion. This again is the knowledge at work.

When our knowledge of right or wrong, of good, better, best is removed, so is any necessity or desire to associate with anything other than the only One who can give us our true identity.  We can not receive our true identity as children of the Father without loosing the knowledge that stands against it.

But thank God, He did all the work.  He removed the knowledge and repositioned us into his bosom for eternity.  Through what Jesus did on the cross, we are freed, not by knowledge, but by faith, by belief, by trust in Him.

The cross was the final judgement, once and for all (Hebrews 10).  There is no more room for any sort of judgement, whether eternal or temporal.  We are not to be concerned with good or bad, right or wrong, but only with what the Father is doing, and more importantly, what he already did.  As Graham Cooke says, there are no longer good days or bad days, only grace days.

In the Father, our need and capacity to judge anything at all has been amputated completely.  Our concern is no longer right nor wrong, but only what the Father says.  We are to live as a branch on his vine, a leaf floating on his river, a hose for His overflowing love, and as a small child, giggling in our Papa's lap.  It is only when we take our eyes off our eternal Papa that our desire for that forbidden knowledge arrises and we become more concerned with our own opinions, our own judgments, and our own standings among others than with what our Papa is saying and doing, and more importantly, what He said and did through the cross.

Let us forsake our sophistication and sophistry and once again live as children of the Father.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My thought on Rob Bell and the dangers of dogma

As you probably know, Rob Bell has been sturing up quite a controversy in regards to his book "Love Wins". I want to start by saying that I haven't read the book, but I have read most of his other books, so I am familiar with his style, and I have heard several interviews with Rob about his latest.

If you don't know anything of this controversy, a great place to start is this video:

I love Rob Bell. Not necessarily for his specific theology, but rather for his approach to theology. Rob is a prober, and questioner, and a thinker. As Greg Boyd puts it, "First, Rob is first and foremost a poet/artist/dramatist who has a fantastic gift for communicating in ways that inspire creativity and provoke thought. Rob is far more comfortable (and far better at) questioning established beliefs and creatively hinting at possible answers than he is at constructing a logically rigorous case defending a definitive conclusion. I enthusiastically recommend Love Wins because of the way it empowers readers to question old perspectives and consider new ones."

I have a sneaking suspicion that our christian beliefs all too often turn into law. We want to grab truths and hold onto them, make them our own, memorize them then spout them off when called upon. At the core of it, our truths become our identity.

What we know, how we know it, and who we tell about it, especially in the segments of the church in which evangelism is is emphasized, becomes the currency of our identity. Our christian doctrine comes to define us. Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Charismatic, Evangelical. Even when we stand united and wear the name Christian as a badge of honor, it is typically against something. Atheist, Jew, Muslim.

When our identity is attacked, we revolt. If somebody calls you fat, or ugly, or says your breathe smells like arse, you typically don't react favorably, and these are only passing things of appearance. How much more do we react when the truths that we've built our lives upon on attacked. Our truths must be defended, lest we falter. Our truths must be staked out and guard, lest the things that establish us as "in" and them as "out" fail, lest the things that make us special and unique whither away. It is a scary thing seeing a wave come crashing down on your sand castle home, so we build up our walls and defend, and fight, but ultimately will lose to the tide.

So when Rob Bell attacked the very foundation of our identity, that we are special, we've received the invitation, we're "in", and by correlation that they aren't special or chosen or "in", we begin to fret a bit. If they are actually in too, what does that make us? Less in? Less special? Is our truth less true that we had hoped? We panic. Some write nasty twitter posts and blog about how Rob is misled. Our grasp on our truth begins to fade as our truths are questioned, and we don't like that.

Our identity is wrapped up in the truths we hold onto, and I hope, in that, you see a problem.

The Truth is not a fact or belief. The Truth is a person. And only in that person can we find the Truth.

The very instance we try to take the truth out of that person, to hold it in our own hands, to view it through our own lens, to apply it in a way that we see fit, then the truth is no longer True. It becomes a dogma. It becomes the fickle sand on which we build our faltering homes.

But that was never His intent. We were never supposed to eat from that tree, issues of right and wrong, and of truth or lie, were never meant to be our questions to answer. They were never even our questions to ponder. Our only concern was to be a child to the Father, to be a branch on his vine, to be fully dependent on Him who is the Truth.

But then the tree, the apple, and the fall. We inherited the system of knowledge or right and wrong, the system of identity in "truth" and not in him is the Truth. We received all the faults listed above. So when a man like Rob Bell taps into the idea that the Truth is also Love, and ponders what this Lover did on the cross and what the actually means for the world, and begins to look into this Lover's heart for answers rather than to our dogma, we come at him, pitchfork in hand.

Does Rob Bell have all the answers? No, but you see, that's not the point. It never was, and never will be again. The point is not the answers that we can extract and pin to the wall, but the journey into the heart of Love and Truth.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Helping People...

I got a Facebook message from my buddy Chris K. a few days ago. He wanted to know what to look for in a fountain pen.

I know Chris from several screenwriting courses that we had together at UofM, in which I took notes with my Cross Aurora deep red fountain pen, so apparently he though I am the go to guy on fountain pens. He was probably expecting a few sentences, a link to amazon, and a "good luck" sign off. I wrote back with 7 paragraphs, and it was tough to limit myself to even that. Not because I am overly knowledgeable about fountains (I actually know fairly little), but because I truly wanted to help him. There have been several other similar occasions. A few months back, my best man Grant's little sister Hailey wrote me asking about camera gear. I replied with a series of similarly lengthed messages.

I don't write this toot my own horn, who knows if the advice was even any good, and it surely was too wordy. I am writing this because I throughly enjoyed giving out this advice and hopefully helping these people, which is more than I can say for much of anything I've done for quite some time.

We might be on to something here...

The next obvious thought I have is, "how do I make a living out of helping people?", which instantly spurs up a complex on my part. "If you are making money off helping people, can you truly be genuine? Are you really help them, or just helping your bank account?"

I don't know how to answer that last part, but I do know I like helping people, and that is a start.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Faith in What?

I believe in a God of the possible. I believe that God’s power is infinite and his ability to act is limited only by the human imagination and our ability to believe in his goodness. I believe that the bible is a love letter, an invitation is a dance on such a scale that we can’t even begin to imagine.

Sometimes I try to wrap my head around it all, but it simply wants to explode. I haven’t read Romans 8 in quite a while, but it has been on my mind a lot lately. Two main parts have been really sticking out to me. The first is toward the end of the chapter, where Paul says, “…If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

When I read this, it blows my mind! When I let this verse define my reality rather than letting my circumstances define this verse, but I can’t help but see this an invitation into the gracious gift of all things. Danger comes when I start to limit this verse by my current circumstances. “I don’t feel like I have all things. This and that are going wrong, therefore this verse can’t really be applying to me.” The problem with this type of reading is that of course your circumstances suck, you’re believing the lies of this world more than the promises of a loving God! We must, as sons and daughters, lay hold of this verse as truth and let it define the way we look at the world!

God loved the world so much that he gave the world his son as a peace offering, to reconcile us back to him forever through his son’s own blood! If God is willing to do that, to give his own son, then how could he hold anything else back? He already gave us it all! We can’t earn any more of his favor because he didn’t deserve his favor in the first place! We have it all, Jesus paid it all, Jesus gave it all! He won’t renege now, He can’t! It’s too late! He already gave his life, why would He withhold the blessing that comes from that?

It was all his idea! He died to fix every problem in this world, because every problem in this world is a result of the fall, of sin, which he took care of with his death. We don’t have to convince him to take care of us, he already has. “If God is on our side, who can be against us?” Paul doesn’t ask this, as if he wonders if God is for or against us. The context of this chapter tells us that God is NOTHING BUT FOR US, and HAS NOTHING AGAINST US. What then can stand in our way?

The other part of Romans 8 that has been on my mind is “19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

We see here quite clearly that creation is ready and willing to be set free from bondage. We also just saw that God is ready and willing to do pretty much anything to get this done. In fact, the great news is, HE ALREADY HAS! Note that I could have said, “In fact, the GOSPEL is, HE ALREADY HAS!”

So what is the limiting factor in this equation? Is it God’s willingness? Nope. Is creation against the idea and resisting? Um, no… Is the Devil just too darn powerful to hold us back? Seems to me that Jesus stepped on little snaky’s head (see…um…the whole bible!).

So who is left? Who are we missing? Could it be us? Could it be that we have not yet been revealed as “Sons of God?” That is one possible interpretation, though I argue a very poor one. It can be seen in countless scriptures that God has ALREADY adopted us (and not in our modern western scene, I may have another blog post about this) as sons of glory. The deed is done, it is finished, Jesus paid it all, we have nothing else to earn or buy or receive because Jesus paid the full price, remember?
So what is the limiting factor? Our faith. “Our Faith!?! But we’re protestants! It’s all about our FAITH!!!” yells some indignant reader. Let me ask you, indignant reader, what is your faith in? Is your faith in the fact that you have faith, or in the blood of Jesus? What saves you? Your faith, or Jesus’s blood?

I often find myself thinking more about my faith level than about the very thing I am meant to have faith in. I’m not required to have faith in the fact that I have enough faith, I have required to have faith in the fact that Jesus’ blood covers me and makes me holy. It is Jesus who makes me a Son of God, not my faith or my works or the miracles that may or may not be granted to me.

I think that if we were more concerned with what Jesus ALREADY DID for us and what Paul meant when he said God has given us ALL THINGS, than we are with striving for and earning the things that God has already given us, that this world would be a completely different place.

In Eph 3:20, Paul says that God is capable of abundantly more than we can ever think or imagine. Is he capable of saying, “it is finished” and having it be so? Is he capable of giving us all things just because he is that good? Are we capable of believing him?

All this to say, I don’t want to write a superhero movie, I want to live it. Hollywood can imagine a lot crazy things, but they have no effective power outside GCI and wires. I’m ready to see the Sons of God, the Son of Glory truly revealed. The only thing that is holding us back is our ability to believe. Believe in what?

[cue awesome Rage Against the Machine song as Neo flies away]

What Jesus already did. Now it's your turn!

Significance, Part 2

The thing that really draws me to movies and television is the friendships you create with the characters. It sounds a little weird, but it is true, at least for me. You watch these people on a screen, fall in love with them, root for them, cry for them, miss them when you’re not with them, go through withdrawal during the off season, but for what? It is easy and it is cheap. It is a one-way relationship. I get connected to them, but they don’t know me. They don’t require anything of me, expect that I sit there and become hypnotized, and all I get from them is a false sense of community. I don’t actually have to be vulnerable with them, to show them my heart, to open myself up to them. True love is vulnerability, all TV gives us is a counterfeit. At best, it gives us a temporary escape from our mundane life; at worst it serves as a self-contained substitute for actual relationships with real people.

Dr. Gregory House isn’t a real person, he doesn’t actually have feelings, he doesn’t really have emotional hurts that need fixing. Hugh Laurie might, but I’m not watching Hugh, I’m watching Hugh pretend to be House. It makes me wonder what good it is to create these broken characters who need fixing when the world is full of real characters who need real fixing. Wouldn’t my time be better spent with the wounded and broken of the world, doing the world of Jesus?

This is not to say that there isn’t any place for House, or whatever other show we watch, but at the end of the day, it is all just entertainment. Real transformation comes through real relationships, not through pixels on a screen. Can Jesus use masterful writing to convey a message of hope and grace to a person who would otherwise not have heard it? I’m sure he can. But I wonder at the idea of so many people getting excited about the idea that I might be able to disciple people through writing for TV or a movie, rather than actually discipling people through real, tangible relationships. I’ve been watching masterful writing on TV for quite a while now, but yet, I feel a lack, a void that can only be filled by actual relationships