Coupland,The Gum Thief

I have to admit that I love Douglas Coupland books. He is a Canadian writer, who coined the term, Generation X, with his book of the same title. I feel like his small book, Life After God should be on Seminary book lists because of it’s treatment of postmodernity and religion. His books aren’t always especially awesome, but his treatment of stories is so remarkable I can never get away from them; the stories stay in my head forever.

I have made it a pilgrimage tradition to only buy Coupland novels at Powell’s when I am up there. And I prefer to buy them used. I try to be as hipster as possible to get the full experience. It’s an extra bonus because I never remember where the books are so I get to ask someone for help, and publicly identify myself as someone who is into an author the store clerk has never heard of. It’s a great chance to practice being self-righteous in a non-sinful setting.

The Gum Thief is about some people who are working retail, at a Staples, who develop an unlikely relationship. They write to each other in the break room, as they write and read a story that one of the characters is working on. The book itself is really unique as it goes back and forth between the story and real life – with the anticipated intermingling that every reader is expecting.

Here’s 2 long literary quotes to help you chose next time you are up at Powell’s:

  • p.23, “I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween…Who made the rule that everyone has to dress like sheep 364 days of the year? Think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to – like talking to dogs. Hey cool costume! I dig vampires too.
  • p.192, “I have to add another way that Kyle is driving me nuts. He has a digital camera, and when he shoots something like a bridge or a thousand pigeons, he almost immediately scrolls through his pictures and looks back on what’s basically the present moment and treats it like it’s the distant past – even if the bridge or the pigeons are still right there. // At the end of the day, I’ll scroll through the day’s photos with him, and even on the camera’s dinky little screen the whole day comes back to me, which is unsurprising, but what is surprising are the background details I remember that I might never have remembered otherwise: an Evian truck blowing blue smoke; a woman walking three wiener dogs; a cloud shaped like a muffin. So imagine if you could scroll backwards and look at your whole life the same way. God only knows how many trillions of memories are stored inside us – memories we’ll never retrieve simply because we don’t have a device that allows us to browse them properly. With your mother, do you think the memories were still locked inside her and she couldn’t retrieve them? Or do you think the memories were simply gone? Is anyone’s existence only as good as their brain is at any given moment? And if so, what about the soul?”

 

 

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Driscoll, A Call to Resurgence

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged out any books I’ve been reading – which means I have a stack of about 10 books that I need to process and think about – and what better place to start than with Marky Mark Driscoll. It seems a media storm has been following Driscoll around lately – and by media I mean bloggers and Christian magazines. The actual world doesn’t have any idea how much of a big deal we all think this is. It must suck to be in a position where people you don’t even know have whole blogs to criticize and even condemn you, but it’s not like Driscoll is one to avoid controversy. He has built a church on his pulpit – which has some real liabilities to it (and opens itself for real conversations about how a church should probably be built by Jesus and on Jesus).

For all the Driscoll hate that is out there, I appreciate him. He’s a guy with problems, sure, but he’s also done a lot to help me grow and refine my thinking – and I’m not even a little bit reformed in my theology. His most recent book, A Call to Resurgence: Will Christianity have a Funeral or a Future came out last year, so the big publicity push is done, but I just read it this spring. The premise of the book is pretty silly to me – of course Christianity will have a future – isn’t that the whole idea? But it takes a very American-centric view of Christianity and really is a discussion of whether the church in the USA has a funeral or a future in store.

It has all the regular Driscoll fun in it. Little sentences that make you wonder if his editor was asleep at the wheel. Like when he opens the book by saying Christianity in America ended the day that Louie Giglio was un-asked to pray for the Obama’s inauguration. It was a mess for the Obama administration, and it does have implications for the future, but to say that evangelical Christianity is over because we are no longer cuddly with the political power seems like a line to sell books (by fear).

Thankfully, the rest of the book is a little more robust and gives better treatment to the sociological implications of evangelical Christianity moving from the center to the edges of western culture.

Here’s some money quotes for me later:

  • p.7, “The Associated Press reported on the significance of the whole ordeal” ‘There may be no clearer reflection of this moment in American religious life than the tensions surrounding prayers at President Barack Obama’s inauguration.”
  • p.51, “The plight of the gay population is now commonly compared with the struggles historically faced by ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalized groups. For Christians, racial issues and sexual issues are very different: the same Bible says all races descend from one man and one women and are reconciled together in Christ also says any sex outside of heterosexual marriage – including homosexuality – is wrong.”
  • p.61, “The old view of tolerance assumed that (1) there is objective truth that can be known; (2) various people, groups, and perspectives each think they know what that objective truth is; and (3) as people/groups disagree, dialogue, and debate their conflicting views of the truth, everyone involved will have an opportunity to learn, grow, change, and possibly arrive together at the truth. // The new tolerance is different from the old tolerance. The new view of tolerance assumes that  (1) there is no objective truth that can be known; (2) various people, groups, and perspectives do not have the truth but only what they believe to be the truth; and (3) various people, groups, and perspectives should not argue and debate their disagreements because there is no truth to be discovered and to assume otherwise only leads to needless conflicts and prejudices. // A few things are perhaps most curious about the new tolerance. One, it denies moral absolutes while holding to the moral absolute that there is no moral absolute/”
  • p.115, “It’s important to ask yourself this one final question: Is your tribe a prison or a home? If your tribe is a prison, you rarely get out to meet Christians from other tribes, read anything from anyone not in your tribe, listen to any outside preachers, or sing any songs not created or endorsed by your tribe. If your tribe is a prison, you may not know that your nation is becoming increasingly anti-Christian, because you have been busy working within your tribe and battling against other tribes. If your tribe is a home, you are free to enjoy friendships with Christians from other tribes, read books and sing songs from believers outside your tribe, and pay attention to what is going on in the world.”
  • p.153, “In more fundamental tribes, the Holy Spirit has two primary ministries: to write the Bible and convict us of sin. Basically, you are a nail, the Bible is a hammer, and the Holy Spirit’s job is to pound you.”
  • p.191, “Both homosexuals and Christians are, curiously enough, organized minority groups. If Christians war with homosexuals, what we’re ignoring is the majority – all the people between the two groups at some point on a continuum. And as a general rule, those people in the middle are the very people we’ve been called to evangelize. If they see us as being mean spirited, they will be less likely to want to hear about Jesus from us.”
  • p.197, “‘Single-parent families tend to emerge in places where the men already are a mess,’ says Christopher Jencks, a professor of social policy at Harvard University. ‘You have to ask yourself, ‘Suppose the available men were getting marries to the available women? Would that be an improvement?” Instead of making marriage more attractive, he says, it might be better for society to help make men more attractive.”
  • p.240, “Pastor Doug Wilson once quipped that ‘a great reformation and revival…will happen the same way the early Christians conquered Rome. Their program of conquest consisted largely of two elements – gospel preaching and being eaten by lions – a strategy that has not yet captured the imagination of the contemporary church.'”

NT Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God

It seems like all of younger evangelicalism is taken these days with NT Wright and his first century Judaic contextualized approach to the Scripture. He’s even got a Christianity Today cover – with a photo shoot from his home in the UK! Of course, being theologically smitten myself, I recently picked up Wright’s Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today. It was one of a few books that I checked out to be used as a textbook for an examination I am responsible for as a part of our local denomination’s process for young “t0-be” pastors.

If you love NT Wright, you’ll love this book. If he frustrates you, this book will frustrate you. If you have never heard of NT Wright, you are actually like most people. Wright gives a thorough treatment of Scripture, how he feels it has been misread, and how it should be read. He emphasizes a narrative understanding of redemptive history and sees the Bible as contributing to that. As an affront to fundamentalism, he does not give the Scripture any more authority than that deserved of it’s author, namely God. This is of course, a terribly large amount of authority, but many fundamentalists would enjoy giving the Bible authority even over God, which has disastrous consequences.

For the test I give, I am requiring the reading of the first 8 chapters, but the last two are also outstanding. They are cases studies (of Sabbath & Monogamy) examined through Wright’s own biblical understanding. If you like Jesus, and like the Bible, but sometimes wonder what it all means, this could be an incredibly helpful book for you.

Here’s some golden quotes from the book:

  • p.5, “Like all metanarratives, [the story of the Bible] is instantly suspected of being told in order to advance someone’s interest. It is, people suspect, some kind of a power play.”
  • p.21, “…the phrase ‘authority of scripture’ can make Christian sense only if it is a shorthand for ‘the authority of the triune God, exercised somehow through scripture.’ “
  • p.43, “The backbone of many traditional arguments for the authority of scripture has been those specific sayings of Jesus which stress that he himself regarded scripture as authoritative and criticized his opponents for not doing so.”
  • p.49, “The Kingdom, we remind ourselves, was always about the creator God acting sovereignly to put the world to rights, judging evil and bringing forgiveness and new life. This was what the ‘word’ accomplished in those who heard it in faith and obedience.”
  • p.101, “The main historical source for this is the interpretation by some subsequent writers of the emphasis on ‘experience’ in the thought of John Wesley. Indeed, some have spoken of a ‘Wesleyan Quadrilateral,’ a phrase Wesley himself never used. For Wesley himself, scripture remained the primary authority; the ‘experience’ upon which he insisted was the living experience of God’s love and the power of the Holy Spirit, through which what the Bible said was proved true in the life of the believer… [To play experience off as an authority separate from, and opposed to, scripture] is wholly in line with both the modernist and postmodernist agendas, but I regard it as misleading.”
  • p.127, “The music so far, the voices around us, and the ultimate multi-part harmony of God’s new world: these, taken together, form the parameters for appropriate improvisation in the reading of scripture and the announcement and living out of the gospel it contains. All Christians, all churches, are free to improvise their own variations designed to take the music forward. No Christian, no church, is free to play out of tune.”
  • p.128, “How can we be sure that our understandings and ‘improvisations’ of scripture facilitate the Spirit’ working in and through us, as individuals, congregations and the larger church? We do so by a reading of scripture that is (a) totally contextual, (b) liturgically grounded, (c) privately studied, (d) refreshed by appropriate scholarship, and (e) taught by the church’s accredited leaders.”

Just as a side-note, it is interesting to me to see NT Wright, filling the gap that has been left in neo-conservative evangelicalism, since Rob Bell moved to California, announced his position on homosexuality and buddied up with Oprah, at least two of which are pseudo-mortal sins for the evangelical machine. I think it shows how much we evangelicals love our celebrities, love our celebrities with neo-conservative books and are willing to dump said celebrities just as fast as we can when they decide to stop agreeing with everything we think. There’s definitely more to be explored here because I think there are some unintended consequences to allowing (or even demanding) that Christian, for-profit, publishing houses act as our evangelical “pope” and feed the celebrity-hungry masses.

2 days with Rob Bell part 6

This is part six of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

 

A little bit of the afternoon on Monday was focused on the process and presentation of teaching, particularly in churches. It was presented with a little more application to other careers and roles as well, as the audience at the 2 Days event was not fully pastors. Rob Bell has already made several presentations on this subject, most of which can be found on the old YouTube, so it wasn’t tons of new info to me. So, just for ease of sharing I’m going to go point form just to get this down and maybe be helpful.

  • Adam had a loneliness problem before sin entered the world. Loneliness is a problem independent of the fall. This was just an incredible thought to me – that things were less than absolutely perfect in the garden of Eden from the very start.
  • You know you are prepared for your sermon/presentation when you can give a 10-second version, a 30-second version, a 3-minute version, and a 30-minute version. And it has got to be memorized as much as possible because any energy you spend on recalling is completely wasted energy for the people listening.
  • Structure feeds the spontaneity. Improvisation works when the fundamentals are mastered.
  • Deconstruction can create a lot of energy, but where is it even going? Tearing things down is loads of fun, but then what have you ended up with? A beautiful vision can actually take people somewhere great. It’s so much better to actually build something new, something resurrected from the old.
  • If you communicate on a regular basis, having a system of capturing moments of inspiration is essential. If you can, use Evernote to do this, it has organizational capabilities that make this simple and effective. Also, capture everything without judgment – editing can be done way later – get it into the file.

If you are interested in more of what Bell has to say about the sacred art of preaching, start with this youtube, then click through the links and watch the whole thing…

2 Days with Rob Bell part 5

This is part five of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

During the first session Rob said (paraphrasing from my notes), “Life changes when you decide to be a recipient of grace – when all of life is seen as a gift. Entitlement is boring. Achievement is boring. Gift is interesting.”

This has me thinking because entitlement and worship of achievement seem to be two major flaws that different generations like to point out in each other.

These dang millennials think they are just entitled!

These dang boomers work 80 hour weeks and sacrifice their families just so they can be ‘successful’!

What Rob pointed to as the problem isn’t a generational divide, but is a lack of acceptance of grace. When people don’t believe in grace – in God’s extravagant gift of grace – then they need to act like it’s deserved, either for how special they are or how special their work is. The generational gap cannot be bridged in learning about each other or in changing generational behaviors. These strategies are, at best, temporary and tension filled ways to get people to behave long enough so some sort of cooperation can result. Imagine how much better of a result would be possible if different generations viewed all of their life as the unmerited favor of God.

While I am all for people feeling special and I love working hard to achieve goals, when I begin to think of my personal worth in these terms I tend to run into trouble. It always leads to competition, envy and jealousy. It never leads to grace, mercy, joy and life. So if it’s the latter list that I am living for, why try to live the way that leads to the former!

Rob mentioned a book by Michael Gleb, “How to Think Like DaVinci”, as a resource on looking at the world as an interesting place – a grace filled place. People who are interesting find the world interesting. Apparently Gleb writes about the habits DaVinci had which led to his genius and encourages readers to take them on in order to also be a genius. So genius is less about DNA and more about the habits that allow a person to receive the world with awe. It’s less about workaholism and more about opening one’s self up to what each day has to experience…as a gift!

When you move slow enough to be able to notice how amazing the world is, then you are able to interact with people about things that are fascinating. When busy people just talk all about how special they are or what they’ve managed to achieve it can get dull in a hurry. In reality, who you are and what you have been able to do is a testament to the people who invested in you and gave you opportunities to achieve. The connectedness of the human endeavor is incredible. When we embrace our commonality, we are able to live in a grace that is inevitable and irresistible.

Irresistible grace… now that is a creative concept.

2 Days with Rob Bell Part 2

This is part two of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014. If you want, you can start at the first post.

The day that I was to fly down to Orange County my road was snowed in by an epic winter storm, unlike any seen in the Willamette Valley as long as anyone remembered. Churches all over had cancelled services and I had a 4 wheel drive truck with chains on and I was still spinning out. Thankfully Russell, who is the best Oregon winter driver I know, came to my rescue. I actually had to walk down to the main road with my luggage and meet him as he came down the ruts and drove me down to Eugene. The main roads were totally fine, but getting to them was basically impossible. Then when I was at the airport, all sorts of flights were being cancelled because of thick fog! When our plane landed it was awesome and people were clapping and stuff – this is what it is like to fly out of Eugene. When I got into PDX, we were so late I had to run to catch my connector so I didn’t get to enjoy the most beautiful carpet in the world.

The coolest part of my trip was after I landed in Orange County, I used a company called Lyft to get a ride from the airport to my hotel. The company is set up as an app on my phone that you use to call for a ride and a guy shows up with his car and drives you. It’s terrible for cab companies, but a riot for people who think technology can bring us together! It was cool to be able to try out because I don’t live in a big enough city to have Lyft. Considering the safety factor, I imagine it’s easier for a larger man to try it out, but the company has done a good job ensuring safety and professionalism. To get back to the airport on Wednesday, I left before Lyft was open (they went 24-7 only recently), so I used a different app called Uber. Had another great experience and got to know another stranger!

I also got to go for a run Monday morning that was simply amazing – up to the top of the hills in Laguna Beach. 1,000 feet of elevation gain in 2.5 miles! It was so rough I had to walk a bit, but the views from the park at the top of the hill were superboss.

the $12 million view

This is all preamble to an awesome two days, but it’s so much fun to be alive at such an incredible time of transition in our world. Everything we thought we knew about how to function in society is up for grabs – which is so terrifyingly awesome. There’s a lot of opposition from the structure that built the culture we live in, but to hold on to it is to deny the very spirit that built it. It’s not about staying at some kind of pinnacle, it’s all about taking the next step, going to the next level. Really, this is why I went to 2Days with Rob Bell, so, in a way, I got started before I got started.

2 Days with Rob Bell

This is part one of a whole series of posts I’m doing on my trip to go hear Rob Bell in February 2014.

The second week of February I was able to get down to Laguna Beach to attend a 2-day event with Rob Bell. It was an amazing chance to back up from the week-to-week grind and get some perspective on where we are going and what my role is in all that God is doing with The Grove. I’m going to blog about it just to process some things for myself, and put this out there for anyone who is googling the event in the future and wondering if it’s something that would be helpful for them. I’m not sure he’ll do anymore because of new Oprah-tunities that are coming Bell’s way, so this may be more for me than for the internet, but having it on my searchable blog will be helpful.

If you don’t know of him already, Rob Bell seems to be every former baptist’s favorite heretic. He was a regular, ordinary, run-of-the-mill conservative evangelical who planted a church in Michigan that took off and created all sorts of hype around him. From there he started making videos called Nooma, that became Zondervan’s hottest products. Finally, Bell started writing books that got him in increasing amounts of trouble with the conservative evangelical machine. The final bridge burner was Love Wins, where Bell (through a whole series of non-committal questioning) basically proposes a protestant universalist purgatory. I first listened to Rob Bell at a Youth Specialties conference way back in 2003 and it was so amazingly helpful to me that I have been listening and reading almost everything that comes out over the past decade. It’s interesting to me to see the transition in him (just like you can see in other pastor/leader/authors, i.e. Brian McLaren and Don Miller) away from the church and towards an individualistic expression of what it is to be a Christian. A lot of the noise around these leaders is about their liberal transitions in their positions on the bible, salvation, politics and, (the noisiest) homosexuality and Christianity. The deeper issue, I think, is the transition in their thinking from a Christianity that is rooted in a tradition that you join and it helps define you, to a Christianity that is rooted in traditions that are self chosen and self defined.

So, it wasn’t especially for theological orthodoxy training that I went down to Laguna Beach – which Bell announced anyways when he talked about how it is not his desire to be more orthodox-er. Rather, I appreciated Rob Bell for his ability to express in words the inclinations I tend to have about God, Jesus, what it is to follow Jesus, what Christian leadership looks and feels like and how preaching sermons is a beautiful art form. I learned an incredible amount in a short period and have many threads that I need to follow and work through that will take all year. So, it will take a whole series of blogs, but it should at least be interesting!