Thoughts on Kingdom, Church, and Grace from an American living in Hong Kong

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Signing off...and new address!

This will most likely be my last post on this "blogspot" blog.  There is a great scene in the movie Apollo 13 where the astronauts move out of the Lunar Module which had been their life raft back to earth.  As they jettison it, they thank it for what it had done for them.

So even as I "jettison" Beyond the Pale here, it's new incarnation is up and running at   I hope you come around for a visit.

So, signing off from the blogspot here...Cheers!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Changes coming to Beyond the Pale

Some changes are coming to Beyond the Pale soon.  When I started Beyond the Pale back in 2008 it was simply a fun little project to keep me occupied while I lived in a very remote area in China.  It offered me a chance to give my input on topics I loved namely: God, politics, foreign affairs, movies, books, and baseball.  It was always nice to hear someone read and enjoyed a post but if no one did read, at least my grand kids (someday) may have something to know what grandpa was like.

Since moving to Hong Kong however, and particularly since the start of this year, I find my Christian faith stirred and  my blog posts have been increasingly reflecting that.  Where before I might have been writing on Christian topics 20% of the time, now it has been more like 90%.  I am also posting a bit more frequently and will continue to do so.

For that reason Beyond the Pale is going to make some changes over the next few weeks.  Yesterday, I purchased my first piece of digital real estate;  (Unfortunately the .com address is taken by a more talented and better looking "Steve Hackman" who seems to be a music conductor)  I am working with a friend to design a new webpage for "Beyond the Pale" and soon we'll be redirecting everyone to the new site which will focus primarily on my passions surrounding God's Kingdom, Church, Culture, and Grace.

I realized that it was hard to develop a bigger viewing body when the topics I covered were so eclectic.  A radio station that plays the London Philharmonic, followed by a Gospel Quartet and then topped off with Led Zeppelin will struggle to find its audience.  In the past I didn't care so much...but increasingly I want some of the things I may have to say to be read by more people. 

I have been thinking of how I can still insert some other items without upsetting the applecart and will most likely do a "Weekend Update" a la Saturday Night Live.  A single blog post once a week where I can offer my two cents on the news, film, politics, and current events.  Like the fact:

* that Detroit Tiger Miguel Cabrera won baseball's Triple Crown last week (highest batting average, most home runs, most runs batted in).  It has not been accomplished since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967

* that Republican Mitt Romney totally won the first presidential debate...don't know what game Obama was bringing...but it certainly wasn't his A-game

*  that I love living in Hong Kong and might just write about some aspect of living here

Anyhow, if anyone has advice on who to use for

* website design
* hosting
* any other tidbits you've learned

Look forward to seeing you online and will let you know when Beyond the Pale makes the final move

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Prophecy & Nationalism? Proceed With Caution

"In my opinion, the next event on the prophetic calendar will be the rapture of the church. I think that could happen at any moment and as we see all of these other things happening that only reminds us that the rapture is even closer."

OK, that wasn't my quote, that's from Greg Laurie, Pastor of Harvest Christian Church in Southern California.  The quote is from Laurie's recent sermon, "Israel, Iran, and America in Bible Prophecy"

Now Greg Laurie is a respected Bible teacher and pastor and I honor that (especially since he came out of the Jesus Movement which I have a soft spot for) but I find it interesting that it is American ministers in general that seem to focus the most on end time prophesy, timelines, and trying , awkwardly I feel , to insert America into that equation.  I mean why not, "Israel, Iran, and Canada?"  Russia?...Mexico?  See what I mean? I think we err when we, often unintentionally, begin viewing the Bible, and particularly prophecy, through the lens of culture and nationalism.

I know what you're saying, "but Steve, America is the superpower in the world not to mention the main ally of Israel.  Surely it has a role to play in the "end times"?


...but I also know that since that day when Christ promised to return there has been a number of superpowers that have come...and gone.  The Imperial torch passes again and again...and in the end it will be the Lamb (Jesus Christ) who is shown to triumph over them all.  Until Christ does come again there will always be a new power on the block that feels it has the right to rule nations and shape history.  If the Lord tarries 50 years, Laurie's teaching may be titled "Israel, Iran, and China"  Should the Lord not return for 150 years the sermon may become, "Israel, Iran, and Australia"

Yes, could happen! ;)  

It's funny how my view of the "rapture" has changed as well.  When I first became a Christian as a young boy I totally understood the "prophetic calendar" Laurie is referring to.  A long map with the cross on one end, Christ's return on the other and a whole lot of action in between.  I even had a T-shirt that had two empty tennis shoes with a "whoosh" graphic like someone had been snatched from them and the words "In Case of Rapture this T-Shirt Will be Empty" emblazoned on the front.

A snatching away of Christians... Mmmmm makes me wonder who would actually "make the cut" if Jesus did return for His Bride.  I think we'd all be shocked but I'll save that for a whole other blog post.

Until that all reveals itself though I tend to resonate in my heart with something Pastor Brian Zahnd says.  "The Blessed Hope is not that 'we're going' but that 'He's coming.'

I think the thought that Jesus is coming is a joy all Christians can agree with.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Blue Like Jazz: Movie & The Book

When Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz came out in 2003 and was the "must read" book throughout most of the decade in the Christian community I thought "this will be the book for me."

It wasn't.

I mean, it should have been.  Lifetime Christian questioning the structures of his religious upbringing while attending "America's most liberal campus"; Reed College...sounds like something that would immediately warm my heart.

It didn't.

Maybe it was a narrative that seemed to go all over the place (I know, its supposed Jazz)

Maybe it was that fact that I was already living in the very liberal college town of Boulder Colorado and didn't need anymore "fuzzy around the edges" in my life.

Maybe it was the famous scene in the book where they set up the "confession booth" and ask forgiveness of non-Christians for all the bad stuff Christians had done know like, the Crusades! (I thought, "Really, this guy is taking responsibility for a political conflict that occurred 1000 years ago.  Couldn't Christians apologize for something a little more recent and know, like maybe Jerry Falwell?)

Whatever the reason, Blue Like Jazz remained on my bookshelf with a bookmark about 3/4 of the way through...unfinished.

Recently though Donald Miller was being interviewed on a podcast I listen to and he was talking about how the movie had come out and they screened it at Reed College.

That got my interest!

Miller, in the interview was pretty humble and engaging.  He talked about how some conservative groups he thought would hate the movie, loved it and some more "progressive" groups didn't.  Go figure...  Miller went on to talk about the screening at Reed and how 2000 people who came out at first to mock the movie, instead were by the films end, silent and reflective.

I was intrigued! I got home that evening and watched the movie in my living room.  (How did I watch the movie in Hong Kong you ask?  Well, lets just say, this is Asia and when I meet Donald Miller one day, I owe him 10 bucks)

The movie itself takes the narratives from the book and loosely translates them into the fictional account of Don, a southern Baptist teen heading off to his first year at a Christian university.  He discovers though that his hyper religious mother is having an affair with the youth pastor and in an act of rebellion to spite his mother, church, and faith, heads off to the very secular Reed College. 

Under the direction of Steve Taylor, the iconic 1980s Christian rocker who was popping religious church balloons far before it became fashionable, Blue Like Jazz creatively navigates a difficult tension between showing the real challenge a Christian has in engaging a "real world"...and not showing so much of that "real world" that no one under 18 is allowed to watch it. 

At the film's beginning Don lives in a Christian bubble.  Anyone who has lived in that bubble and has come out will cringe at some of the scenes depicted here including when Don, before heading off to Christian college, is made to stand in front of the church in full Sunday School issued "armor of God" costume.

Like anybody living in that bubble though and then stepping out, the initial steps can be disastrous.  Don quickly succumbs to the temptations of Reed College and from there the film spends the remainder of the story reestablishing his faith on more solid ground than how he had begun.  The film concludes with the infamous "confession booth" from the book but which was much more emotionally relevant...especially as it didn't focus on apologizing for the Crusades.

Blue Like Jazz is not for everyone and certainly pushes the boundary of what can be considered a "Christian" movie.   My guess though is the film's creator's didn't set out to make a "Christian" movie.  They set out to make a film about how one discovers a legitimate faith in Christ that can replace the cultural doppelganger Christianity that is so pervasive in America and the West.  A faith in Christ that can stand in the storm of modern voices that ridicule it.

Blue Like Jazz accomplishes this.  Its not a "great" movie...but its pretty darn good! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: The Gospel in Ten Words

I've been doing a number of book reviews here at Beyond the Pale but this is the first review I have done where I have known the author on such a personal level.  Paul Ellis, author of the Escape to Reality blog , has published his first "Christian" book.  I have to designate the "Christian" part because Paul, as a university professor of 15 years in Hong Kong, is one of the most prolific authors in the field of International business.  Fortunately for us, Paul has shifted his energies from the academic arena to the area he is most passionate about; the Grace of God.

The Gospel in Ten Words unpacks the grace of God through the use of ten, often misunderstood, words.  I have been on a Christian book marathon since about February and I have read a number that have blessed me greatly.  However, I can name two that will have long term impact on me and I will be buying and passing out copies for years to come. 

The first was Brian Zahnd's Beauty Will Save the World which caused a paradigm shift in my thinking about what church is meant to be.

The second is Paul Ellis' Gospel in Ten Words which will become a major resource tool for me as it is, in all honesty, the best book on explaining the grace of God I have ever read.


Using these 10 words Paul defangs law, cripples self-righteous effort, and reminds the children of God that they are His children and that none can pluck them from His hand! Ten Words reminds us that the "good news" is indeed, good!

Because of Paul's many years as a Christian and ten years as a pastor, he may not have seen it all, but he's seen ALOT.  For this reason,  he is extremely adept at turning long entrenched religious structures inside out and exposing them for what they are; dead works that often keep the Children of God in chains and ignorant of their position as sons and daughters of the Most High.

For example, much of my Christian life has revolved around getting people to "accept Christ."  However, Ten Words suggests:

"The gospel is not an invitation to accept Jesus; it is the stunning announcement that He accepts you.  Although the law reveals it is impossible for you to make yourself acceptable and pleasing to God, the gospel of acceptance declares that in Christ you have been made acceptable for eternity.  Nothing you do can make you more or less pleasing to God than you already are.  All this is to the praise and glory of His grace."
"Secure in your Father's favor you will become fearless and bold.  You will dine in the presence of your enemies and laugh in the face of adversity.  You will dance upon the waves of circumstance and when you are tried by fires of life you shall not be burned."
I've enjoyed the irony of seeing a very academic professor, whose previous professional articles on statistics, research, and business models I could barely understand, produce a book on the gospel that is so profound and yet, so simple.  Probably the reason for that is he ultimately brings everything back to Jesus!

The individual chapters are bite sized nuggets that can be easily digested in a short read.  Hence in the coming weeks and months I will be returning to the book to spend 20 minutes reading about "Holy" or "Loved"; allowing these foundations to be reenforced so that my "good news" remains good.

I really recommend you allow this book to be a blessing to you as much as it has been to me.  Check it out on Amazon here 

Friday, September 28, 2012

My love for "Relevant Magazine"

My wife and I have a little inside joke between us;  Whenever we are a little critical of someone or something, that person or thing will, without fail, turn around and demonstrate some act of charity or kindness which leaves us with egg on our faces.  I think it started with Tammy commenting before our marriage that a particular female worship leader's attire was not appropriate one Sunday morning and then having that same person gush to Tammy how much she would like to volunteer to make our wedding reception something special...

...that kinda situation has been happening ever since.

In March of 2009 I wrote a blog piece on my view that there should be a moratorium on use of the word "relevant" in church circles as people were coming dangerously close to making it a sacrament alongside marriage and baptism.   In fact, my precise words were:

 There are a few words I believe the church needs to have a moratorium on. These include use of the word "Extreme" in any youth group related activities, use of the word "Victory" in any church names, and use of the word "Relevant" in any form whatsoever.

So it goes without saying that in a small way that post has come back to bite me.  Last week I subscribed to Relevant a periodical that monikers itself as a "Magazine on Faith, Culture, and Intentional Living."  And to add insult to injury, I'm addicted to the weekly Relevant podcasts which I often listen to on the train heading to and  from work.

Founded by Cameron Strang, son of Christian media pioneer Stephen Strang, the magazine, while maintaining an anchor in evangelical Christianity, penetrates outside the traditional Christian bubble and examines issues such as social justice and culture.

Put it this way, you're more likely to find Mark Ruffalo on the cover than Mark Driscoll. 

As they say at their website:

We try to publish ideas that break stereotypes, challenge the status quo and spur a generation to know God more—and change the world while they're at it. We want to engage our generation in a deeper conversation about faith, challenging worldviews and causing people to see God outside the box they’ve put Him in. Encountering God changes things.

I really love it but wished it had another name...  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Young Evangelicals are going Liturgical

I have a confession to make;  I have been, and probably still am, a "sneaker."

Now, don't look so surprised.  There are a LOT of us and if you are a Beyond the Pale reader there is a chance you either are one...or may give it a try :)

So what is a "sneaker" you ask?

Well, I read an interesting blog post over at Adorate Worship about how many, mainly young people, are "sneaking" out of their evangelical / charismatic churches on the off Sunday to go hang out with the Catholics, Anglicans, and other more mainline denominations to participate in a little liturgical worship.

Now some of you reading this are wondering "Why on earth would anyone want to do that?"  Others of you reading this are nodding your head and whispering an "amen" because you know exactly why they're doing it!

I've been a Christian for 37 years now and remember the 1970s when the "sneaking" went the other way.  Catholics, Lutherans, & Methodists, bored by the monotony of traditional hymns and church organs, were "sneaking" into charismatic worship times for a little hand clapping, foot stomping "Hallelujah" action.  I remember being 10 years old and telling my Catholic friend Bobby, "Dude, we have electric guitars and church."

Oh, how the times have changed...

So why, after 30-40 add years where evangelical "praise and worship" has become the new "traditional",  do young evangelicals "sneak" off to more liturgical and corporate times of worship?  The blog piece at Adorate Worship suggests:

The reasons for this new wave of sneakers are obvious.  They’ve grown up dancing, so they long to kneel.  They’ve grown up with masterfully orchestrated services, so they long for worship that may be planned, but never rehearsed.  They’ve grown up with the latest, so they long for the oldest.  They’ve grown up with, “God is here, let’s celebrate!”   They long for “God is here, let’s kneel and be silent.” 
They’ve grown up being urged, “Now, everyone can just worship God however you might want.  Just let the Holy Spirit move you.  We are all different.”  So now some are seeking worship where the implied advice is, “Now, everyone leave your hyper-individuality at the door.  Let’s say words together.  Let’s make gestures together.  Stand together.  Kneel together.  Let’s listen to the wisdom the Holy Spirit has given over the centuries."
My own experience in "sneaking" started in 2004.  I attended the Pastor's meetings in Boulder, Colorado and one of the attending minister's was the priest from the local Catholic church.  The very fact that a Catholic priest wanted to join with his protestant brothers instantly warmed my heart to him.  His church was nearly walking distance from my house so one Sat. evening (yes, its easier to do this on a Sat. evening especially when you are "sneaking" away from your own church :) I went over with the family to check it out.

I LOVED it!  There was just a different atmosphere and feeling of reverence that I longed for.  It wasn't "better" per se.  It simply allowed my spirit to experience a form of worship to the Living God that for many in that service was "normal" but for me, at that moment, was new and refreshing.  It's like having eaten hamburgers every Sunday for 30 years and then biting into a nice hot dog.  A different flavor...a different texture.

A visit to the Catholic church became a semi-regular occurrence for me. I even "snuck" out to visit a liturgical Presbyterian church and was amazed that during the Lord's Supper there was ten minutes of silence for reflection. TEN MINUTES!  When was the last time you had corporate silence for 10 minutes  in a charismatic church service?

Not better...just different...