Archive for August, 2009

Below is the book review I offered for ViralBloggers.

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If you’re looking to engage a delightful story of discovering faith, then Alicia Britt Chole’s Finding An Unseen God: Reflections Of A Former Atheist is just right for you. As one who frequently digests academic theology, Chole’s memoir of faith was a wonderful change of pace. Sprinkled with the occasional clever turn of phrase and Chole’s magnificent way of drawing the reader into her story, Finding invites reader’s to simply sit back and hear a beautiful story of emerging faith.

The Best Part

The first thing you’ll notice when you pick up Finding is the captivating manner in which it is told. The cover itself is an actual word-find. And for folks like me, who loved word finds as a kid, I was super-excited to be able to work the word-find before diving into the first chapter. Each of these words, turns-out, becomes important to Chole’s story. What’s more, as Chole tells her story, the chapters are intermixed. The first chapter you’ll read is Chapter 52 and the second chapter is Chapter 1. Half of the book (every other chapter) tells Chole’s story from the perspective of her rearing, while the next chapter recounts where she is now and how she is interpreting the present and past events of her life.  The reader is moving through Chole’s story in two directions.

Second, Chole’s story itself is told with a clear voice and delighting manner. You’ll feel as if you’re sitting with Alicia and hearing her talk about growing up as an atheist only later to encounter Jesus. As you engage Chole,  you’ll sense that life has been dark and bleak and black for your friend, yet it’s that blackness that somehow lead her to the foot of the cross, as darkness often does. Chole becomes a conversation partner, someone you sit and have coffee with as she reveals just enough of herself that you are interested and feel as though you’re getting to know her, and not so much that it seems as if she is neurotic and hogging the conversation.

What’s more, if like me, you’re concerned deeply with gender-justice in churches, you’ll be refreshed by a genuine encounter with God that reminds you why female voices, prayers and pens are important to the church.

Third, you’ll hear from a committed Atheist. While her arguments for her own atheism may not be the strongest you’ve ever heard, they vibrate with rings of authenticity that allows the reader to know that for whatever reasons she choose to be an Atheist, so did choose for herself.

The Second to Best Part

It wouldn’t be right to leave you simply with the brilliance of this little book, there is one thing – that while not bad – you might want to be aware of before you plunk down your stimulus rebate on this book.

What is it? you ask. Simply this: At times, Chole gets a little preachy. I’m usually OK with preachy, after all, if someone has a message, we’re bound to advocate it strongly. However, when Chole’s preachy-ness reared its head in this artfully designed conversation, it put the brakes on the discourse. It was the only time I felt that Chole was losing her voice and needing to insert some paranesis at the request of a publisher. Can’t you hear that conversation now, “No one wants to just read your story, you have to advocate some kind of behavior.” This, however, is it. That’s the only editorial comment I will offer.

Should You Buy It?

Finding An Unseen God is worth the time, and it won’t take much of it. If you’re looking for advocacy or heavy-duty theology then this book is not for you. If, on the other hand, you want to reconnect with the simple story of a loving God who pursues His people even when they’d rather be left alone, then get your copy today.

I’ve had a hard time convincing my wife and others like her why I Twitter. “Why do you use twitter? What’s the point? Isn’t Twitter just another in long line of mouthpieces for self-obsessed people with delusions of grandeur? Don’t people just post inane information about themselves in the vacant hope that someone will care?” These kinds of questions and taunts are routine and have recently been asked by my favorite sports talk show host, Jim Rome, who spent a good portion of his show last week mocking Twitter and those who tweet.mm_twitter

If you’re wondering whether or not some of the folks tweeting are self-obsessed and tweet only about their mundane lives, yes some are. I don’t follow those people! Those folks serve little purpose, and I’ve put the public on notice that those who tweet about what they’re having for lunch run the risk of being “unfollowed.” Still there are a great many people who use Twitter to great effectiveness for their mission, message and tribe. I think primarily of Michael Hyatt, Guy Kawasaki, Tim Sanders and others. And you can too.

Let me give you some reasons why I think Twitter is a powerful resource.

  • Impact. Through tweeting you can get your message in front of a lot more people. Because your text is limited to 140 characters, you can’t blather on, but you can inform, encourage, and direct your audience. Plus, they don’t have to come to you like a blog post. You go to them. All you have to do is figure out a way for them to follow you. I used to blog in this space quite a bit. Quite frankly, it got to be a hassle. I was an early-comer to blogging, and the medium has changed significantly over the last five years. One thing that was always true though was that to have a high readership I had to post 4+ times per week. Many times I didn’t have that much to say! With Twitter now, I simply reference that a new post is up and hundreds of people can potentially see it within minutes. The same number of readers it took days to accumulate, now access the blog within the first hour it’s posted. This combined with retweets has exploded blog readership (though not comments to my discontent). My impact is now far wider, and because of it, I can post just once a week and my content is generally stronger. This is a win-win when your message is the Kingdom of God. I reach more people with my messages through the web (blog + podcast + Twitter + facebook) than I do on a Sunday morning. Maybe up to 4 times as many. That’s an impact for God’s Kingdom. Brought to you by twitter!
  • Knowledge. Twitter, more than anything else, gets knowledge and information to me fast. I learned of Michael Jackson’s death, the uprising in Iran and countless other news items through Twitter. Most of the time, someone on Twitter “breaks” the story before traditional news agencies. An easy criticism is that the folks on Twitter can post anything and we should be slow to trust what we read there. That is a possibility, however, my experience has been that Twitter-ers, like me, are incredibly concerned with their own credibility and treating their followers as friends. We are generally slow to throw a disprovable “fact” against the wall. Interestingly, it has been those in the news media, politics and public life who most often tweet first and think later. More than that, I follow the tweets of people in the same industry I’m in or want to be in or those who have something to teach me. They direct me to great information that I’m blessed to know. I’ve learned about writing, leadership, marketing, technology, missional living and ministry by following people who know more about those things than I do. I draw from the wisdom of Andy Stanley, Greg Daniel, Donald Miller, Rick Warren and others without paying a dime to hear them at a conference. I know what they’re reading, what they’re thinking, and how they are working with and leading organizations. For free.
  • Followers Become Friends. I have friends on Twitter that are not my friends in the conventional sense. I have spent little or no time with Dave Lemley, Greg Kendall-Ball, Travis Stanley, Darin Campbell and others, but we share both a common faith heritage and common perspective on U.S. and world events. I’m allowed to dialogue with them about those particular items and build relationships with them though I’ve never spent more than an hour with any one of them. In other cases I follow and am followed by people like David Christian whom I have never met, yet we’ve had many discussions. That’s just cool! It’s a glimpse of heaven where we will know and be fully known.

  • Thinking. Like all writing, tweeting makes you think about what you think. Do you really want to advocate that position? Is this something I should post without being able to enter a conversation or give some background? How can I be coherent in 140 characters (in 119 characters if I want to be retweeted)?

I encourage tweeting and am trying to discern ways that I can incorporate it in meaningful ways during church services, and classes and with our staff.

To get started on Twitter, check here, here and here.

On facebook, I’ve been chronicling my ups and downs – mostly downs – in dealing with my former landlady here in Redwood City. From our arrival six months ago, she has been – in our opinions – intrusive, abusive, and over-bearing, to say the least. At first she stopped by the house every day to see if she had mail, later she asked if she could house an automobile and some possessions in the garage for a nominal fee, which she alone set. Plus, she would drive by the house daily, sometimes stopping to sit across the street for long periods of time. According to her, she “wasn’t bothering anyone.”

But that wasn’t enough.

Light in Darkness

Light in Darkness

Once while Rochelle and I were out-of-town she went by the house everyday to “check on things” and angrily recounted her unhappiness that we hadn’t told her we were going away. She visited my office asking my secretary where we were and if she could go by the house to screw and unscrew the porch light, she also erroneously reported to my secretary that we were late on the rent. When our family returned from our travels we found her parked across the street. As summer wore on, she stopped by early in the morning to check the sprinklers; sometimes we would only know that she was on the property when we saw her walking in the back yard with the gardener. More recently, after we returned from a summer trip to Texas, she was sitting in the yard watering the grass upon our return. Mind you, all this is against the law in California, as well as most other places. More incredible than all that, several times she was openly belligerent and verbally hostile to both Rochelle and me in front of our children.

So when she requested that we break our lease in order to allow her to return to the house and secure a reverse mortgage we agreed. As you might guess, our landlady continued to harass and hound us for her benefit. Some of these exchanges have occured with the full knowledge – and sometimes in the presence –  of my church members. At least one of these church members has known my former landlady for over 20 years and has had multiple contentious interactions with her. The testimony of this member combined with that of our neighbors and our personal experience has led me to believe that she is singularly the most difficult, truculent person I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with.

But I’m a Christian and a pastor, so I couldn’t take her back to the woodshed, and trust me when I tell you that there have been multiple times when I wished I could.

In these waning days of dealing with this vitriolic personality, I’m faced with the difficult question of how to behave towards a pugnacious woman while everyone in my church is watching (Note: This home is 365 steps from the church building.) The advice I had from some was to match her venom; to return fire with fire, and indeed in the end, I might have to take legal measures.  But my instincts, and the New Testament, tell me that I should be the last, not the first to go legal or make threats. At times, this ethic has made me feel interiorly weak, as if I’m not standing up for myself or advocating strongly enough for my family. And it is in those times that I must force myself to reclaim the idea that I AM fighting, I’m just doing it with different weapons.

One of the most moving passages of Scripture is found in John 1. The highlight of which is, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.” And believe it or not, that is what I – even in this most tense of situations – have endeavored to do.

It is unlikely, though not impossible, that my landlady will ever come to have a meaningful relationship with God. But I’m not choosing my behaviors for her. Rather, I’m trying to behave as I think Jesus would, and live a sermon for my church. This morning as I spoke with two church members, who are closely associated with my situation,  and both stated, “You’re a better man than me.” While I’m not testing manhood, I do want to be the kind of pastor of whom my parishioners can believe without hesitation that I live out even the most difficult of behaviors that I teach. In doing so, I believe that I am a “witness to the light.”

Does being a witness mean that I have to hear a lot of slurs, untruths and insults without reducing myself to unwholesome talk? Yes. Does it mean that it cost me money and time, as it did with an unplanned and unbudgeted move as my children try to enjoy their summer and prepare for our first year of school? Yes.

But there is a pay off.

I go to sleep every night with the confidence that I have lived with integrity and honesty. I know that my life has coherence between what I say I believe and how I behave. I see in my daughter’s eyes the trust that Daddy does not debase himself or his language when provoked. I live with confidence that I have testified to the goodness of God through my own consistently good behavior. And I trust that when I am as old as my former landlady, I will not live a friendless, lonely, bitter, bellicose life, as she does.

And that’s worth it!