Archive for the ‘blogs’ Category

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….

A few months ago I sketched out a blog post about the death of blogging. In the post itself (which never met the net), I described how boring blogging had become and how I felt that there wasn’t much being said on most blogs — including this one. I posited that the reaosn for this was that most blogs and bloggers I read were ministers/pastors and or professors which meant, like our preaching itself oftentimes, their writings had to be safe in order not to “offend” anyone. Therefore there was never space for authentic questions and genuine dialogue about the sticky issues of life and faith — fundamentalism, politics, sexuality, race, war, pacifism, and the like. Not only that, but some of my favored bloggers, like Scot McKnight, had gone “corporate” moving their blogs from independent site host like WordPress and began blogging with For-Profit companies like BeliefNet. Something seemed lost. I was done! In the post I intended, in my best Nietzsche-esque voice, to proclaim: “Blogging Is Dead” and announce that I was shutting down my little corner of the web. There would continue to be Palmer, but no more Perspective.

Then two things happened: (1) People started talking to me about my blog and about the things (read: ideas, thoughts, opinions) that they liked and disliked. Since I believe that writing best serves the world as discussion-starter, even the fact that some folks disagreed with me fulfilled the intent of the blog, and (2) Mark Love started blogging. Mark is not only a great speaker/preacher and the best missional mind in my ecclesiological tribe, he is my “pastoral coach,” a name I came up with for lack of anything better. Mark, for me at least, has the freedom to actually say some things, and as you would suspect, says it well. So I decided to file away my eulogy on blogging and committed to posting a blog entry from time to time. 

But now something else has happened that renews my faith in the power and usefulness of blogging. I have been invited into 2 new blogging adventures, and I’m excited about the possibilities for both.

The first is a project shepherded by Dr. Love himself. The object is to discuss missional ecclesiology. When the site goes live you will hear from learned professors, pastors and ministers working in church contexts, spiritual directors, and laity. The group is broad, and I expect will continue to broaden. We are men, women, African-Americans, Caucasians, scholars, young and old, as well as some international voices. But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll get more information as the launch dates approaches.

The second is a partnership with The Ooze called Viral Bloggers. The folks at The Ooze identified some blogs/bloggers they liked and asked us to partner with them in the great American pastime of generating commerce. Every so often, I will review a forthcoming or recently released book aimed at the Christian literary market. I’ll post the review here, and copy/paste the same review over at Viral Bloggers. 

What will this do for you? It will help folks like you — in these economically testy times — identify which books are worth your dollars. At the same time, Viral Bloggers is a great place to find out what others are saying and what is happening in the Christian community (especially those of us with a slightly missional, emergent, social-justice bent). Some of these books will find there way to your bedside table and/or serve as starting points for small groups. 

What will it do for me? Well, none of your business 🙂 No. While you’re saving money by only purchasing the books you’re really interested in, I’ll be…well, none of your business! But there are some perks for me, too.

All this to say that I have entered the world of “Poly-blogging” or “Multi-blogging,” contributing to multiple blogs. Whether poly-blogging is for people who have large blog followings or for folks whose blogs don’t have the muscle to stand alone, I’m not sure. I don’t know how many readers other bloggers have.  All I can say is that I hope this reading (and largely non-commenting) blog community will join in the fun at these two other blog-stops on the road to Christian dialogue and conversation.

Texas/Ohio Tears

Posted: January 7, 2009 in blogs, kids, sports

A friend of mine, Russ, recently wrote a post about “When Prayers Collide.” It was a helpful reminder than many good people are often praying for opposing things, as is the case with the video below.

I have to admit, I was pretty happy when Texas’ Colt McCoy and Quan Cosby connected for the late go ahead touchdown Monday night, but this little boy felt differently. You have to hurt for him!

Man, I have to teach my kids to take sports with a grain of salt.

Rush on Wednesday

Posted: December 3, 2008 in blogs, friends, Rush

One of my favorite blogs in authored by Mark Love. Each Sunday, Mark writes “Dylan on Sunday” a reflection on the music of Bob Dylan. I kinda think that’s a fun idea. One problem: I don’t like Bob Dylan. I’m okay with you liking him, his just a little nasal for me (begin throwing stones now!). Anyway, to mimic Mark (Mark, I was trying to figure out how to use the term “mimetic impress” here, but couldn’t), I thought I’d occasional share reflections on some of my favorite bands, singers, musicians, etc…

One of the bands that genuinely shaped my thinking as an adolescent was Rush (OK, I take back what I said about nasal singers). As I grow older, I’m shocked at how Rush lyrics actually shaped how I see the world. I was  HUGE Rush fan in high school and college, regardless of their agnostic worldview. I always found them thoughtful, deliberate, forward-looking and peace-embracing. One of there more thoughtful recent songs is “Workin’ Them Angels” from the Slings and Arrows CD.  I think all of us would agree that our actions, over time, have caused our angels to clock in a few more hours in order to watch over us.

Workin’ Them Angels

Driving away to the east, and into the past
History receeds in my rear-view mirror
Carried away on a wave of music down a desert road
Memory humming at the heart of a factory town

All my life
I’ve been workin’ them angels overtime
Riding and driving and living
So close to the edge
Workin’ them angels – Overtime

Riding through the Range of Light to the wounded city
Filling my spirit with the wildest wish to fly
Taking the high road to the wounded city
Memory strumming at the heart of a moving picture

All this time
I’ve been workin’ them angels overtime
Riding and diving and flying
Just over the edge
Workin’ them angels – Overtime

Driving down the razor’s edge ‘tween the past and the future
Turn up the music and smile
Get carried away on the songs and stories of vanished times
Memory drumming at the heart of an English winter
Memories beating at the heart of an African village

The Voice: New Testament is here and available for purchase at your local book seller. The Voice is a dramatic re-telling of scripture. The project began with writers, musicians, speakers and poets retelling the Biblical story with editorial and scholarly review being added by some of the world’s best Biblical theologians. If you’re a long time follower of the blog, you know that I was asked to contribute to the Old Testament, which will not be released for a while.

The Palmer Perspective is one of one-hundred blogs selected to read and review The Voice as it enters in first month and pre-holiday sales period. As soon as the book arrives from the publisher, I’ll launch into the review. Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Sean’s a contributor to the project, so his review will be biased.” You’re right. I am both proud and honored to have been asked to participate. Very proud, indeed. Though I’m a gnat on the backside of this project, Brian McLaren, Lauren Winner, and Donald Miller are some of my favorite writers, and Chris Seay is one of the kindest people I know. So to have my name alongside their’s is incredibly humbling. But in the end, I will try to be fair and open.

The truth is that though I have had some advanced copies and the editions of the gospels that have been released individually, I have rarely used The Voice. Plus, some of what I’ve read, I have had slight criticism of. I even brazenly asked Brian McLaren (a friend and man I greatly admire) about his use of “ritual cleansing” in Luke rather than the term “baptism” (here I show my church of Christ stripes). So, I will try to be fair, and the publisher has asked me to review it from “a writer’s perspective.” I blushed at that. No one has ever called me a “writer” before. Little does he know, huh?

At any rate, I ask you to pick up a copy of The Voice: New Testament and read it along with me. I would love to hear your thoughts, and how you’re using it in your home, with your friends and among your community.

Check back here later for the review. Let’s read the Bible together!

Bored Emerging

Posted: September 24, 2008 in blogs, change, emerging church, grace, missional, ranting

Warning: This is not the post I intended for today. I’ve been working on a series of posts that will come perhaps later this week, but I needed to get something off my chest first.

I am now officially BORED of the “What is Emergent/ing?” conversation. I have, and likely will, participate in the conversation. What I like about emergent/ing is the open, honest conversations about what is happening in the culture and the church. I have learned a great deal from it. And quite frankly, the people I have encountered have been some of the best folks I’ve ever met — gracious, generous, confrontational, confessional. No one every said emergent/ing was the answer to all problems or infallible or that it was fully matured or the world’s last best hope. It has always been people asking and searching. That’s all really.

Yet time and again, I stumble across articles, blogs, books, etc…arguing about emergent/ing. I’m tired, okay. What it is is people trying to figure out how to do church in the face of a changing cultural landscape sharing questions and learnings together. Just today, one of my favorite bloggers, Scot McKnight, has posted about a new group he is partnering with. For a while, Scot has been involved with Emergent Village, and is a friend to many others involved in it. Of course, those critical of EV, will herald this as part of the death of all things emergent, and it might be, but I have to ask about all the fervor. Why are we so concerned with names and the minutia of every single person’s and group’s theology? Theology is clearly important, but we are naive if we think the folks on the same pew with us on Sunday morning are always in the same neighborhood with us concerning theology.

The reason I know this? I see how people behave.

We have tricked ourselves into thinking that someone’s doctrinal positions are in line with what they say their doctrinal positions are, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our theology is evidenced in what we DO and PRACTICE! Something about human nature makes it easy to crucify the gracious among us if they disagree with our theory of the atonement. Does that make any sense at all? Is that logical or Christ-like?

I guess I just don’t understand all the hype about names, terms, groups, organizations and the who’s in, who’s out, who’s right, who’s wrong, culture of American Christianity — the “they’re not this enough” and “they’re not that enough” debates some Christians have. It is no wonder so many people in emerging generations toss aside the church and every fundamentalist, emergent, missional, main-line, emerging, restorationist, Calivinist, evangelical, and whatever else that comes with it.

Word Stops

Posted: September 14, 2008 in Blogroll, blogs

Most blog writers are blog readers. They are typically people who love the world of words and ideas and the way words and ideas become realities in the real world. The average blogger begins his or her day in front of the computer checking their favorite blogs. This is what I do. So today I offer you some of my favorite blog stops and why they’re my favs. I hope you’ll check them out.

1. Mark Love’sAll That To Say.” Seriously Mark is one of the few Church of Christ people (my tribe) who has much interesting to say. And he says it well. You won’t find recycled bad ideas here, and his stuff on missional transformation is some of the best you’ll read anywhere. Plus, there is always a freshness to blogs written by people who are well-educated and committed to life-long learning. You owe it to yourself to read Mark’s stuff.

2. Brian McLaren’s Blog. Well, obviously, it’s Brian McLaren. Whether you agree with Brian about everything or not, you can’t help but be challenged by his thinking. He just recently began a series entitled “Why I’m Voting For Obama and Hope You Will Too.” This goes far beyond the soundbite culture that we’re so used to in our political discourse. There’s real thinking here; much more than who said what about lipstick.

3. Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed. McKnight is a professor and simply the most prolific blogger in the world. What is great about Jesus Creed is Scot’s balance. Also, his political blogs reveal the great spectrum of diversity within Christendom and politics. The commenters are all over the place. Scot post about three blogs per day, so there’s always a lot to read.

4. Tony Jones’ Blog. Tony is the National Coordinator for Emergent Village. Tony will be edgy for many people, but I really like his frankness. Soon Tony will be heading over to blog at beliefnet. It will be interesting to watch the conversation he generates there.

5. Russ and Rebecca Debenport’s “Riding a Tangent”. R&R are great friends of ours, and both work for Compassion International. It’s always fun to follow thier travels.

Go ahead and place these stops in your bookmarks or put them on RSS. Your world and words will be expanded.