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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Best Movies Ever: "The Right Stuff" or My thoughts on how to get Obama to fund the American space program again!

Yesterday I felt this compulsion to watch "The Right Stuff" the 1983 film chronicling the test flights of Chuck Yeager and first flights of the original Mercury 7 astronauts.  My friend Tom reminded me on Facebook that it was probably because it was the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy!  Wow, I hadn't put the two together but it is funny that I really wanted to watch that movie last night!

BTW, not to digress, but where were you when the Challenger exploded?  I was working out at a gym doing some cardio on a bike machine.  The gym had the radio on and suddenly there was breaking news that the Space Shuttle had exploded shortly after take off killing everyone on board.  I just sat on the bike stunned as everyone in the gym just went quite.  A mixture of horror, helplessness, and sorrow...

Anyhow, The Right Stuff... Why is it called "The Right Stuff".  When you see what these pilots and early astronauts went'll know immediately.  The film is a snapshot into an era where America was reaching for the stars and every boy my age wanted to grow up to be an astronaut.

Scott Glen, Ed Harris, Sam Shepherd, Fred Ward, and Dennis Quaid are the flyboys whose competition and comraderie turn this film into a high octane film for men.  I must have seen The Right Stuff  20 times and every time Alan Shepherd is about to launch or Chuck Yeager is accelerating to Mach 1, I get goose bumps and giddy inside.  Fast cars, fast planes, fast rockets...yep this is a "guy night" flick.

And this all got me thinking.  President Obama recently put the axe to President Bush's vision to see NASA go back to the moon as preparation for a manned trip to Mars.  I admit it, I'm a hypocrite because I think the President doesn't do near enough spending cuts...but I flipped out when he cut NASA.  Why?

Because reaching to do the impossible is what makes America.  It's in our DNA.  If we are told the boundary is "X" we'll make it "X" + 1.  We HAVE to go...because its THERE! It's who we are as a people!

So how do we make Obama change his mind?

We have to trick him.  We have to frame it as an issue that he and the Democrats can really sink their teeth into.  And there is nothing Democrats love more (after taxes)  then turning any completely random issue into an issue of racial and gender discrimination.  Now watch closely (but don't try this at home, leave it for the professionals):

"President Obama do you realize that at this very moment the American flag is flying on the moon  but that only WHITE MALES have been allowed to go there.  That's right...women, minorities, gays...ALL have been excluded from that private bastion of white male privilege we like to refer to as 'the moon".  

And have you seen the film footage of them there?  

Astronauts taking golf shots and driving around their private country club in that expensive moon buggy bought and paid for by the American taxpayer.  I have no doubt that while they were hidden behind those protective visors, they were secretly laughing and joking about how they don't have affiliate  with "those people" while "up here.".  

President Obama, this discrimination and exclusionary policy must be stopped at once! The moon must be a place where men & women of all ethnicities are able to stand tall and walk proud. (By walk I mean that 'hopping walk' thing the astronauts do there)  

Please Mr. President, for the sake of fairness & equality, we need you to fund NASA now!!!!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Church and the Things People Hide!

My blogging peer Michael over at Megaloi-Great Things posted a thought-provoking piece recently. He raised the issue of a lack of transparency in church circles despite our claims to be an open, sharing community. He notes the following encounter at a church small group:

Classmate: I think our church is an open place, and the members are open with one another. We share our lives.

Me: I don't think that's true.

Classmate: What do you mean?

Me: I think most of our lives, especially the struggles, are almost completely hidden from our church friends. Take divorce, for example. At least five couples in our group have been separated and divorced over the past few years, and none of us saw it coming. Because they never opened up to any of us about the problems in their marriage. For all I know many of you are having those types of struggles right now. Or maybe Jamie and I am. But the history shows that you'd never know and we don't talk about it here.

Classmate: What can we do about that, though? If they don't choose to be honest and share their lives, how can we know if they need help?

Me: That's just the thing -- I think we've created an environment that makes it almost impossible to be honest about these things. It's like there's a list of sins or problems that we're not allowed to talk about at church.

Classmate: (Challenging) Give me an example.

Me: Let's start with sex, since it's probably the easiest and most obvious. Do you think there are men in this church who struggle with lust, pornography and adultery?

Classmate: Probably.

Me: No probably, I guarantee it. With more than 1,000 members in this church, I guarantee you that there are triple-digit numbers of guys wrestling with pornography. I'm one of them, but it never gets talked about here.

Female classmate: (confused) Triple digits?

Me: At least 100 guys. Sexual temptation and struggle is almost written into our DNA, but after more than 30 years attending church I can't think of a single time I personally witnessed a man testify to his struggle with sexuality. We don't talk about it, and that silence makes it seem that nobody is having this problem. So 100 guys are left to feel alone with no support system until the problem grows large enough for painful consequences to set in.

Classmate: Okay, I see what you're saying. Are there more things on this list?

Me: Substance abuse, greed/stealing, addictions of various types. How many times have any of you seen a public or even classroom/group setting where a person confessed to one of these things? The only struggles that seem to be okay to discuss at church are depression, joblessness, and "not living better for Jesus". Meanwhile we wrestle with all of these other very real issues on our own.

Classmate: But what would change that?

Me: Somebody would have to be very brave and step out in trust that they could talk about this type of thing in vulnerable confession, and that the group would respond in love. If it worked, it might make it easier for the second person to come forward. If not, then we'd prove we aren't a safe place to come with problems, and we can forget about getting deeper than the happy-looking surface level in this building. I think it's tragic, and that Jesus would say this is a place for the sick and the hurting. How sad that this is the last place people want to bring their real problems.

Unlike Michael, I have experienced times of transparency in the church that have provided powerful moments of healing from those that are hurting behind closed doors...but perhaps not often enough

Tammy and I have run marriage groups that ran over the course of 14 weeks.  The first 3-4 weeks everyone is pretty tightlipped, and then slowly, as they get to know one another, things come out.  And then everyone realizes that we are ALL struggling with the same issues.  One wife, wishing her husband would be more like "that guy" in the church, finds out "that guy's" wife is really irritated with the same things she is.  Husbands find out that their struggles are not isolated but shared by most everyone else.  Put that in an atmosphere where we are asking God to to restore and Whammo... lives are healed and marriages are strengthened.

But it doesn't happen near enough.  We live in a culture saturated with sensuality and lust and I just read an article at CNN that for the first time there is a significant number of 20 something males that are off of the "long term" relation market affecting the marriage prospects for women.

 The reason?

Internet pornography is so wide spread that they choose to forgo the commitment and expense of an actual relationship and simply, "take care of themselves".

If the church thinks this issue doesn't affect its congregations, worship teams, leadership teams, and even its better think again.

And yet it is the church that has the answer which is the Grace of God provided through Jesus Christ.

Its tragic though when churches fail to really teach grace in areas where people struggle because then the initial blessing that the transparency provides morphs into a never ending cycle of guilt and shame that stem from the sin, repent, sin, repent lifestyle.

I've mentioned before how I've known far too many church men's groups that instead of providing a platform for equipping and releasing men for works of ministry degenerate into confession booths for weekly sexual temptation mishaps.

Here's hoping for increased transparency in the church so that God's grace can be released even more.

Friday, January 14, 2011

In Memorium: "Touched by an Angel's" John Dye

Just wanted to note the sad passing of actor John Dye at the tragic age of 47.  Dye is primarily remembered  for teaming up with Della Reese and Roma Downey as the angel "Andrew" for 9 seasons of the CBS show Touched by an Angel.

When Tammy, Gabriel, and I first moved to Boulder Colorado 11 years ago we didn't have a church family yet.   Being new to the area, we used to joke that for the first few weeks there, the show Touched by an Angel became our weekly "church" meeting; and Dye's "Andrew" was a favorite .

We loved that show!  Week after week people were shown that there is a God who loves them, and even though the world is hard, to have hope because HE has overcome the world. 

The clip I include is from an episode called 151st Psalm.  I must have watched this episode five or six times and can't get through it without shedding tears. A boy with Cystic Fibrosis is dying and his mother has lost her faith in God.  At the end, Dye's character takes the boy home to heaven as his mother sings the song she has written to God that despite tragedy, she will sing of His love!  My heart sores and is torn every time I watch it.

Dye character was the "Angel of Death", but in a much more positive light, he would prepare people for eternity.  As Dye himself has entered eternity, I trust that he is now in the hands of our Father. Good bye and God Speed John Dye...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

America: Let's make "Civility" contagious!

The shooting in Tucson was tragic!  Twenty people shot, 6 fatally including a 9 year old girl and a United States Congresswoman who is in critical condition with a bullet through her head  I won't go more into the details as we all know what occurred.  Instead, I want to say again, as I so often do on Beyond The Pale;

"Can we dial down the crazy...Please!"

Even as the nation seems to be demanding a stop to the vitriol and blame game, our 24 hour news rags seem to have non-stop talking head segments with Crazy Left and Crazy Right battling it out to see who can take the blame for an even more crazy nut that was the source of the tragedy.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said it best when he said can we finally have an end to the societal downward spiral that is the result of an "I'm Right & you're Evil" siege mentality.

Ok, is it possible? Can we as a nation begin to see people whom we disagree with on public policy simply as wrong, and not evil?  Can we agree to disagree yet still respect our neighbor as a fellow American?

Can we?

Well, I suppose someone has to go first, so goes

Dear President Obama,

I'm a Conservative Republican who, most likely, will never vote for you (even if you run against Sarah Palin, in which case I'll probably write in the name of some random guy who lives across the street).  I don't think you are doing enough to reduce our national debt, nor to create jobs.  I believe you and I have fundamental disagreements on some of the key social issues that divide our country and I believe you are ineffectual and slightly naive in regards to foreign policy at a time when America can't afford to be ineffectual.  Having said that, I want to say

  • I admire your commitment to your wife and children and feel it serves as an inspiration for families around our country.  
  • I have concerns about your health care plan but don't think its part of some "Fabian Socialist" plot to undermine America.  I believe it's born of a genuine desire to see health care available to the most vulnerable of my fellow Americans.  I just think we need to work on it some more...
  • I believe you have tried to maintain a modicum of integrity in an arena that has all but jettisoned it
  • I would thoroughly enjoy having a beer with you 
  • That you are my President and have my support 110%.  

Oh and:

  • I am a Pentecostal Christian who doesn't believe you are the Anti-Christ, 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, or any other character from the Book of Revelation.
Your Sincerely,

Stephen Hackman
Fellow American

Well, now it's your turn.  Choose one prominent politician from "the other side" with whom you most disagree with.  Examine them and find 1 or 2 things you can say something positive about.

You have to watch civility though, it could become contagious... 

Friday, January 7, 2011

John Boehner & the 112th Congress

I'm becoming more and more impressed with John Boehner!  As the new Speaker of the House assumes his gavel and the newly crowned Republican led 112th Congress take their seats, a lot of expectation is growing as the country tries to climb out of the downward spiral of unemployment and debt. 

Boehner delivered a short, thoughtful speech making special note of the humility the congress felt at being reminded just how temporary their time there could be.  I believe Boehner just might be what America needs right now.  He is not a firebrand or a radical.  He has the ability to cooperate with the far right of his own party and yet have enough respect in the "relationship account" to reach across the aisle to create working policy.

Joe Scarsbough, on his show Morning Joe, discussed the increased humility he is seeing from both Democrats and Republicans alike.  Back in 1994 when the Republicans assumed power, it had been a Democratically controlled house for 40 years!  The obituary of the Democratic Party was wrote after that but all it took was 3 or 4 years of Newt Gingrich and a Congress who felt entitled to be there for the American people to send them packing.

After the 2008 Tsunami that swept Barack Obama and the Democrats in, multiple news organizations were declaring  the end of the Republican Party as we knew it.  At best, it would be regulated to a regional party centered in some of the southern states.  Everytime someone would say that to me I would shake my head and respond, "The Democrats will screw it up soon, and then all will change again."

Well, the Democrats screwed it up and the the "dead" Republican Party rose from the grave and have taken up control of the House of Representatives... again.  This time though, there is a sense of humility.  John Boehner knows, as do many of his colleagues, that if they can't deliver jobs and lower our national debt, they'll be given their walking papers in the next election.

But I think John Boehner is no Newt Gingrich.  I used to think that was a bad thing. Now? ...I think that's a good thing...and maybe a thing America needs.