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

Friday, February 27, 2009

My Response to Gov. Bobby Jindal's Response to Pres. Obama's speech

During the 1990's and early 2000's I actually felt sorry for the Democrats. They just didn't get it. As they lost the congress and then the presidency, the Dems, horribly out of touch with the American electorate, became a virtual party in exile.

I'm starting to get that feeling again...but this time it's the Republicans who seem to be like a deer caught in the headlights as the American people increasingly see them as out of touch.

I started this week in a good mood. I read that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal was going to deliver the Republican response to President Obama's first State of the Union address. Gov. Jindal is a rising "star" in the Republican party and is seen by many to be the GOP's answer to Barack Obama. His Indian heritage helps the party break the perception that it is a "whites only" club and his intelligent take on issues has helped foster a respected reputation.

However, I saw Gov. Jindal on Meet the Press this past Sunday. I was amazed at how out of touch the Governor was. In addition to muttering nothing more than the same GOP mantras "tax cuts" that have gotten them nowhere, he seemed to be disconnected to the situation that is surrounding him. I thought if he goes on Tuesday night after Obama's speech to give the Republican response with the same demeanor, he's going to get crucified!!

Sure enough, when I woke up Weds. morning here in China I saw all the news agencies talking about Gov. Jindal's amature performance. When I viewed the clip I kept wondering if he was talking to a 4th grade Social Studies class. I was literally cringing as I watched thinking it was some kind of Saturday Night Live parody!

This was possibly the worst opposition response to a State of the Union I have ever heard.

Hope is not lost though. I have seen some voices of reason in the fog. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist came across brilliantly on Meet the Press following Jindal. He was everything Jindal wasn't namely he connected with the struggles the American people are going through and is prepared to rationally address those struggles in the political arena.

Kudos also to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who had a one on one with George Stephanopolous on Sunday morning. Listening to him on the weekend convinced me we should have some kind of special dispensation to allow the foreign born Governor to run for President. He was smart, rational, and knows how govern effectively in a two party country.

Sadly, until some of these GOP leaders, with both sense and sensibility, are allowed more onto the party's center stage, the Republicans will continue to wander in the wilderness.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oscars

My friends know that every year I host an "Oscars" party at my house on the night of the Academy Awards. I am a movie lover..uh hum...I mean film lover, and the Oscars is a day and evening to celebrate all things film. I usually start by watching E channel (about the only time of year I watch that juvenile channel) because they have the earliest "red Carpet" coverage. I know some of you reading this are rolling your eyes...but indulge me.

The guests usually arrive just before the awards start and we celebrate a fun evening with good food, good drink, and many, many laughs. We play "Oscar Bingo" which is similar to normal bingo but you get to tick off the various boxes on your bingo card when traditional Oscar moments happen like winner thanking their mother, winner begins to cry, or winner stumbles on the way up to the stage. The bingo winner gets to pick any DVD from my collection as a prize (multiple disk sets not included :)

This year Tammy and I are in China and no one seems to be interested in an Oscar party. One of the reasons is that Sunday evening in America is Monday morning (and a work day). However, that has not deterred me from trying to catch up with the films and actors that are being nominated. Being in China (where there are not so much copyright laws as much as copyright suggestions) the availability on DVD of most of the main films has been possible.

I walked into my DVD store here in Qingdao and handed my Oscar ballot list to the shopkeeper who was able (after brave attempts at deciphering the English) to get most of my requests. I even feel a bit like an Academy member because nearly every movie I bought occasionally would flash at the bottom of the screen, "For Academy member viewing purposes only. Unauthorized sale or reproduction prohibited."

Anyhow, here are some of my thoughts on what I've watched so far:

Slumdog Millionaire: My pick to win best picture. It is a film about two brothers and the choices they make. The story tells of one of the brothers success on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. His unprecedented success on the show coupled with his humble "slumdog" background causes him to be questioned by police for possible fraud. In a series of flashbacks, the brother tells his story of overcoming adversity and the events that unfolded to bring him up to the present situation. It is a wonderful movie and Tammy and I enjoyed it immensely.

Doubt: Doubt tells the story of a of a priest suspected of inappropriate behavior at a Catholic school in the 1960s. At first I was thinking it was going to be yet another swipe at the Catholic priesthood on an easy and overflogged topic...but it wasn't. At the end, you don't know if the priest was in fact, guilty of anything other than a genuine concern for the kids. Instead, the film explores such topics as doubt, fact, appearances, and truth. The always brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the priest under suspicion with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams serving as his accusers. All three actors are nominated for Oscars this years and offer stellar performances. As a side note, considering the subject matter, it was remarkably clean and watchable by more sensitive movie watchers.

Milk: Sensitive movie watchers on the other hand may want to give Milk a miss. Sean Penn plays homosexual rights activist and first openly elected gay politician Harvey Milk. The film follows Milk from his arrival in San Francisco to his assassination in the late 1970s. Penn is nominated for Best Actor and like many of Penn's performances, he offers a strong acting portrayal of the slain gay rights activist. I felt though at times the film was unfair in some of its portrayals. For example, anyone disagreeing with the homosexual lifestyle was shown as either a hate filled "homophobe" or a religious buffoon. In the end, if you are a proponent of increased acceptance of gay lifestyles, you'll probably like "Milk", if you don' won't.

Frost / Nixon: For political junkies like myself, Frost / Nixon is a rare treat. Based on the play by Peter Morgan, the film follows the events surrounding a series of interviews hosted by British pundit David Frost to recently disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon. The cat and mouse strategies employed by both sides becomes the movie's central theme with rising T.V. personality David Frost trying to score the big hit that will make him a household name outside his native Britain, and Richard Nixon breaking his post resignation silence in an attempt to explain and redeem himself. Michael Sheen (fresh off his brilliant performance as Tony Blair in The Queen) plays David Frost, and Frank Langella, who is nominated for his performance, plays Richard Nixon. It probably won't win Best Picture...but you should watch it!

The Visitor: Richard Jenkins is nominated for best actor in this film about a professor who lives alone and reaches that point in life where the vigor of youth has passed and you find yourself just going through the motions. He maintains an apartment in New York and while visiting it discovers a Syrian drummer and his Sengalese girlfriend "squatting". Rather than throw them out, Jenkins character is intrigued with their lives and over the course of the movie, their relationship with him gives him a fresh infusion of life. Wonderful tale. Jenkins will probably lose the Oscar to either Micky Rourke or Sean Penn, but his performance in the movie of a man who dreads life, to a man with a fresh lease on it, I heartily recommend.

Have not been able to get The Wrestler or The Reader, which are two Oscar movies I would very much like to see. Anyhow, we'll see you Sunday night on the Red Carpet.

Friday, February 20, 2009

You really can't make this stuff up!!

Muzzammil Hassan came to America from Pakistan 25 years ago. Living the American Dream as a successful banker, Hassan and his wife, Aasiya Zubair Hassan began to get frustrated with the portrayal of Muslims in the American media. In 2004 they decided to form Bridge TV "aimed at overcoming the negative stereotypes associated with the religion." Said Hassan, ""There should be a Muslim media so that Muslim children growing up in America grow up with the self-confidence and high self-esteem about their identity both as Americans and as Muslims.

A noble vision, and in the last five years Bridge TV has served to challenge negative stereotypes of not only Muslims, but other minority groups in America.

However, the relationship between the Hassans crumbled and Aasiya filed for divorce from her husband. These things unfortunately happen in America and Muzzammil Hussan did what any American husband would do when faced with a wife wanting to divorce him.

He went to where she was staying and chopped her head off!!

I told you, you can't make this stuff up. Hassan calmly then proceeded to the police department and informed the authorities of what he did.

This guy is upset with the way Americans view Muslims and then goes out and beheads his wife???

Furthermore, an employee in the CNN article who was interviewed asked not to be named because of retribution. Which has me wondering, "Who is out there that is going to get this guy."

If this event wasn't so tragic it would be laughable, but it isn't. Instead of helping to overcome the negative perceptions Americans can often have of foreigners, Muzzammil Hassan's actions have served only to fuel them.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Joaquin Phoenix on David Letterman

OK, no deep thoughts, discourse, or editorial here. Just plain funny! Joaquin Phoenix was on David Letterman last night and made a complete fool out of himself. Letterman at first was being gracious but finally gave in and just started having fun with it... at Phoenix's expense. The clip is REALLY funny and painful at the same time!! Then the question to ask is

* Was he just being a jerk on purpose?

* Was he on drugs?

* Was it a setup by he and Letterman?

* Was he doing it just for fun and to see if he could?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where's the Jesus Movement?

I became a Christian during the tail end of the Jesus Movement. For those of you who weren't around then, the Jesus Movement was a Christian off shoot of the counter culture movement of the late 1960's and 1970's. It pretty much started in southern California and moved eastward through the States and to other parts of the world. It was an exciting time because traditional church models were being challenged as long-haired, sandled hippies armed with large Bibles began sharing Jesus with ALOT of enthusiasm.

I was 9 years old and my family and I were visiting a Lutheran Church we'd been invited to. I remember the first time I walked into the church. There were drums and electric guitars (I had only known church organs previously)but the thing I remember most was following along with the sermon in the modern day language Bibles provided in the pews. The Bible literally became alive to me, and even more than that, people in the church were excited about Jesus. I'd never seen that before...I mean your supposed to like Jesus because, you know, he's the Son of God. But this was the first time I saw people wanting to be with Jesus and with others who loved Jesus!

Another big part of the Jesus Movement was the belief in the empowerment and baptism of the Holy Spirit. There are a few events that most church historians point to as the beginning of the Jesus Movement. One of those moments was when Episcopal priest Dennis Bennett stood in the pulpit of his church in 1960 and declaring he had been baptised in the Holy Spirit. As you can imagine, that didn't go over to big with the Episcopalians and he was asked to resign. But that declaration ignited a charismatic revival that began sweeping the U.S. The Jesus Movement was birthed and became intertwined with the Holy Spirit.

The Jesus Movement, like all movements, had a life cycle. And by the early 1980's the movement was coming to an end. New church streams such as the Vineyard and Calvary Chapel were products of it and many great ministries such as Jesus People USA are still with us today. However, like most moves of God, once men get a hold of it, they take the fresh breath of the Holy Spirit, package it, market it, and try to sell it...usually with disastrous results.

In the early 2000's I began to get excited again. I started reading about the "Emerging Church" and some of its proponents such as Dan Kimball and Brian McClaren. I had been getting discouraged with the dry "wineskin" of the evangelical church structure and was looking for a fresh "Jesus Movement". In the "Emerging Church" I saw some of the same spirit I had known previously. Like the counter culture movement 30 years ago, a new generation of leaders were challenging the present structures with a fresh emphasis on social justice issues that sadly, I saw not taking a proper priority with much of the traditional American Church.

Anyhow, I started reading books like A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McClaren and sharing about missional and post-modern ideas with the church I was pastoring and anyone else that seemed interested.

And then something happened.

I started seeing a some differences between what I was looking for and what Emergent seemed to promote. Some of those areas that concerned me were:

  •  Cynicism: There was an attitude that was coming out of "Emergent" proponants that I didn't like. During the Jesus Movement there was almost a childlike innocence of people just happy to be Christians and discover Jesus. Most people in the Emerging Church movement did not come to Christ through the movement. They are usually trying to reconcile their years in the evangelical church (and the inevitable bad experiences) with their present relationship with God. In essance, I realized that the Emerging Church was not so much a movement of God but more a 12-step program for recovering evangelicals. That in itself is not so bad, the evangelical church has hurt a lot of people in different ways and a stream of the church to help people work through that would have some benefit. However, there is alot of patronizing cynicism in the emerging church. These two videos show the difference of attitudes, in my opinion, of the two movements.

Yes, it's a little Corny and cheesy but it's real. These people love Jesus and each other. The singer is innocent, genuine, and sincere. (And you have to love the hippie beard)

Contrast that to the clip of Emerging Church leader Tony Jones:

Tony, asked if he is "born again", delivers this patronizing attitude about his walk with God. Rather than finding the common ground that they both share in Christ which they obviously do, he instead creates a "my Christian story" and a "your Christian story" argument. Even when the interviewer agrees with him that coming to Christ is not a one time event but something that you need to do everyday, Jones ignores him and continues as if they don't agree. Then he ridicules his own emotional encounter with Christ as a young man. Underlying his response is an gnostic arrogance that says "My revelation of Christ is so much deeper and more complex then your simple notions".

  • Repentance: Nearly every genuine move of God seems to be preceded and sustained by the repentance of God's people. When the Holy Spirit moves, people have a strong desire to get right before him. Before Jesus came, John the Baptist came "making the way straight" with a baptism of repentance. Within the Emerging Church conversation there is little to no discussion on repentance. There is a push for corporate repentance for past sins of the church including the treatment of Native Americans, slavery, racism etc. These are noble intentions and along with the social justice emphasis, was a major attraction for me to the Emergent model in the first place. But at the end of the day, its easy to say I'm sorry for things I really had no direct responsibility for. However, when true repentance comes, the Holy Spirit reveals to a person their real heart and its relationship to a Holy God. That tends to lead to a brokenness of the person before God in a way that would be hard to find in Emerging Church circles.

  • Biblical Directives: The Emerging church tends to champion the commandments found in the Bible that have a social justice flavor to them. Because Emergent has positioned itself as the counter-evangelical culture, pretty much anything evangelicals champion are immediately suspect. Beyond that though, directives that are given in scripture that are palatable to non-Christian society (loving the disenfranchised and poor or providing sustenance for the needy) are embraced. Preaching the gospel, casting out demons, believing for supernatural miracles are pretty much conveniently ignored. To be fair, the evangelical church is just as guilty of ignoring Bible commands that would embarrass them in outside society. To be even more fair, I'm guilty of ignoring God's commands that would embarress me.

I contrast this to the Jesus Movement when people said, "Hey, if the Bible says I should prophesy, well heck, I'm going to find out what prophesying is...and do it!"

  • Evangelism: A lot of Christians that are 40+ years old became Christians during the Jesus Movement. The main reason for that was a heavy emphasis on telling other people about the relationship we had with Jesus and asking them if they would like to have one too. Within the Emergent Church there is a deep suspicion of evangelism, mainly because anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time has experienced some bad, or worse, manipulative evangelism techniques. Unfortunately their views on evangelism get shaped by those experiences rather than on what Jesus asks us to do. I'm not unsympathetic to their concerns as I've wrestled with it as well. The reality though is not to many people "become Christians" in the post-modern models. Mainly because evangelism is very passive if done at all. I came to a decision during this time that I was not going to let bad models or experiences unduly influence me. If I'm not sharing Jesus with people I need to ask some serious questions on why not.

This is, unfortunately, a simplified list of some very complex issues.

At the end of the day, I don't want to to be overly critical of the Emerging Church movement. There are some noble things that they bring to the table. However, for me, there were too many I'll keep looking.

I realize there won't be another Jesus Movement...that day has passed. With Jesus though, things are always fresh and new. I'm not looking to eat yesterday's manna but I do know that Jesus is on the move and the Holy Spirit is alive and well in His church.

So, in the meantime, I'm getting ready!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Mark Driscoll on ABC Nightline

ABC Nightline just did a news report on Mark Driscoll and his church "Mars Hill" in Seattle. The report had that sensationalist edge to it trying to create a "buzz" or a controversial slant. I think its comical that today in America if you believe in the Bible, you believe that Jesus came to save us from our sins, that there is a heaven to attain and a hell to miss, essentially if you believe in what C.S. Lewis would describe as Mere Christianity then you are radical.

I personally agree with most of Mark Driscoll's theology. Usually if I wince, its in the way he says something rather than the right or wrong on what he actually said. I can picture him in 10 years saying alot of, "Yeah, I could have said that better...but I was young."

But I do have a lot of affinity with him. Like me, he was on the Emergent Church train, saw where it was heading, and quickly got off. He is preaching Biblical Christianity in a city (Seattle) where it would be very easy to take a wishy washy position on a number of crucial Christian issues.

He also goes against the flow in being a role model for manhood. There is a feminization which is gripping our culture. Masculinity is practically portrayed as something to be cured of. Heck, even Bill Maher bemoans America's feminization. Driscoll preaches a responsibility of men to be men and lead their homes, families, and churches. This is a message that is usually ignored even in conservative evangelical churches.

So, yes Mark Driscoll uses words like "dude" and that make me cringe. But he also preaches a strong Biblical worldview and is unashamed while doing it. he's a baseball fan which makes him OK in my book!