Archive for May, 2009

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

We’re in a season of celebrating at my house. The reason? Rochelle and I decided a few weeks ago that life was too short not to live with great joy! Plus, we realized that there is much to celebrate in life (and my mom bought me a sweet grill). One of our upcoming celebrations will be Loving Day!

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving began dating when Mildred was just 11 years old and Richard was 17. In the early years of their marriage, Mildred and Richard were arrested several times together. The reason? Mildred was black and Richard was white. And in 1958 it was illegal for them to be married in the state of Virginia. Apparently, Virginia has not always been for lovers.

Threatened with years of imprisonment, the Loving’s changed history when they challenged the Constitutionality of Virginia’s marriage laws and in 1967 won the day when the Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. From that day forward, every state, including those in the south, which had laws forbidding it, were required to recognize interracial marriage.

Mildred lived a quiet life after Richard’s death in a car wreck in 1975. Not one for the spotlight, Mildred said of her life, “I never wanted to be a hero, just a bride. It wasn’t my doing, it was God’s work.”

Each June 12th, couples across America celebrate “Loving Day” which celebrates the legalization of interracial marriage.

So for marriages like mine and kids with mocha colored skin and long, curly hair I say to Mildred and Richard, “Thank you for Loving.”

This my review of Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in An Age of Excess which I also posted over on Viral Bloggers.

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I’ve been speaking to my friends and anyone else who would listen lately about the lack of exegetical living in the contemporary American church. By it I mean that my lifestyle, and the lifestyles of most of the people I know in the American church does not resemble that which we see in the New Testament. We are rich, white (though I am not), and overly concerned – some might say, “obsessed” – with politics, power and control (at least in my humble opinion). All that to say, Will Samson’s newest book, Enough: Contentment in an Age of Excess is part of a necessary corrective the church needs.

Following in the vein of Justice in the Burbs, Samson, offers forth an argument for people of faith to ask difficult questions regarding excess, the Other and how much “stuff” is “enough stuff.”

It should be said at the outset, as a reader of Justice in the Burbs and as one who is and has friends connected to Christian involvement in social justice and emerging churches, I strongly agreed with Samson’s assessment of American Christianity. I found his diagnosis predominately correct and his suggestions useful. Unfortunately, I suspected I would before the book arrived in the mail for review. Therefore, I attempted to read the text as someone who would be either neutral or suspicious of Samson’s views.

Enough establishes two dominant goals for itself. First, Samson wants to reveal to us how deeply consumed we are with “stuff.” Indeed, “consumed” is the operative word throughout Enough. Secondly, Samson offers to call us to an alternative consumption: A vision of God and God’s work in the world.

The Major Problem:

Enough is divided into two sections. The first six chapters lend themselves to theological concerns, while chapters 7-10 present issues and suggested actions and attitudes to alleviate or relieve the before mentioned issues. As Samson clearly states, if you have a strong theological background or formal theological education you can skip the first section of the book, and I suggest you do.

The major deficit within Enough is that it is simply not convincing – at least in terms of convincing those who need convincing. Reading as a neutral, someone in need of convincing, I continually thought that I didn’t understand what the problem was/is. Samson’s work simply does not lay out the argument in ways wherein someone who did not care would be caused to care. It was not until chapter 7 that Samson states, “…we are consuming ourselves to death.”

As a pastor, I know many good people who are casualties of commerce, one-sided political listening, and American exceptionalism gone mad, that they simply see nothing wrong with our culture of excess. What’s more, when presented with an argument like Samson’s, they respond to it as “radical liberalism” or “radical social justice.” This issue of contentment and consumption is important enough that I wish the theological rationale was as weighty as the issue itself. Oftentimes, I felt Samson voiced a strong conclusion that his argument either could not or did not support.

Part of the unconvincing nature of the work is the overt, left-leaning political messages. Throughout Enough, Samson takes us on his own political journey from a political, social, and cultural conservative to someone who has rejected much of what he once held dear. I fear that many who would benefit from reading Enough, will be off-put by a tome that too often reads as a quasi-treatise on “How Christians Can Be Democrats.” This, ultimately, blunts Samson’s message. It becomes too easy to dismiss. Again, this is not necessarily a repudiation of Samson’s ideas, rather I offer a perspective on how more people may embrace contentment over consumption.

The Major Benefit:

However, there is far more positive than negative to say about Enough. It’s greatest strength is that Enough does not leave the reader in the abyss of ideas. Samson furnishes some real, reasonable, and workable solutions to finding contentment.

First, Samson highlights the importance of the Eucharist as a lens in which we view the Other and what it means to live at table with others. This image alone should reshape much of what happens in the American church. Using the Eucharist as way of life has endless implications. Samson could have massaged and developed that metaphor alone and Enough would be well worth the sticker price.

Second, throughout Enough, Samson drops thought-bombs that prompt the reader to set the book aside and think about the repercussions.  Such lines include the following: “There is a big difference between being pro-life and pro-birth,” and “…without government spending, companies such as Amazon or Google would not exist.” Here Samson puts many of our assumptions under the microscope and reveals our forked-tongued lifestyles and rhetoric.

Third, Enough places lifestyle over think-style as the major conversion from carnality to Christianity. It have an inclination that many of the young people in my faith-community and the larger community where I live would be easily won to the vision of Christianity outlined by Samson. It is both compelling and, at times, inspiring in terms of the what the world would be like if more Christians were drawn into Samson’s portrait of the Kingdom of God.

Fourth, the concluding chapters of Enough are choc-full of realistic, helpful suggestions for moving away from consumption. This is truly what people need. In fact, if someone does not need convincing, the last six chapters will serve as a valuable “how-to” that should be kept near your day-planner in order to check in monthly and ensure you are moving toward goals of repair and sustainability.

Conclusion:

Book reviews should answer one question: Should I buy this book? In the case of Enough, the answer is an adament “maybe.” It’s just hard for me to suggest making a purchase when we’re discussing consumption. I am one of those people who have read and own enough books for any two or three people, and often I purchase books I can’t possible read in a timely fashion. Currently, I have 5 books on my “to-read” list. For me, reading and books are a problem of consumption. I consume ideas and the articles, books and blogs that contain them.

At the same time, I know that books are the best way to disseminate information, and the information Samson sketches needs to get out. So the decision is ultimately yours. I will say this though; the ideas argued in Enough are good and worthy of integration. Shop wisely….

awkwardLast night I began preparing for my summer preaching series, “Summer Blockbuster.” I’m going to take a look at movies that subversively — even to the authors and producers — tell the gospel in beautiful and compelling ways. One of those movies will certainly be “Lars and the Real Girl.”

Lars… is about a quirky young man who falls in love with a sex doll. Believe it or not, it is one of the most touching movies I have ever seen. The ragweed must have been really bad in NorCal last night because toward the end of the movie my eyes were watering. In the film, Lars Lindstrom orders a sex doll (Bianca) on the internet and introduces her to his brother and sister-in-law, Gus and Karen, as his girlfriend. Bianca is a wheel-chair bound returning missionary who does not believe in pre-marital sex (which you would expect from a returning missionary), therefore, she lives in the house with Gus and Karen while Lars remains in the converted garage. Wisely, Karen suggests Biance see the local doctor, who is also a psychologist, since she just returned from the mission field. The doctor’s suggestion to Gus and Karen? Treat Bianca as if she is real. Gus and Karen follow the doctors orders, and so does everyone else in town.

Bianca attends church with Lars, gets carted around town by others, given baths, is invited to parties, everyone treats her as if she is real. Bianca even gets elected to the school board. How great it that!! There is a terrific scene in which a church council is discussing what to do about Bianca if Lars should bring her to church. One woman advocates treating her like anyone else. The woman goes around the room reminding the council of their and their family members quirks and failures. It was simply beautiful! And hilarious! It reminded me of Jesus writing in the sand in the midst of those who attempted to stone the woman caught in adultery. No one gets to exclude because God went to great lengths to include us all.

As the story moves forward, the thoughtful viewer recognizes what Bianca has become for Lars. She is a way for him to work through his terribly damaging emotional issues in a safe, non-threatening way allowing him to open himself to love, to being loved and involvement in the lives of others. But more than that, Bianca becomes a conduit of grace for the entire town. Something about her non-existence allows others to more fully express their own existence. Through doing so the viewer is witness to the only kind of grace there really is; the uncommon kind!

The movie simple ask, “What if we took everyone seriously? And took their needs, took the places they are mentally and physically — seriously? And what if we responded to others by immersing ourselves in what people need in order to receive healing instead of writing people off and penning others’ epitaphs prematurely?”

I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say:Even though a central figure is a plastic doll, the movie is one of the more real things I have ever seen.