Archive for the ‘books’ Category

I’m in the process of redesigning this blog and working more intentionally on branding, so I haven’t been posting. But I couldn’t let this moment past. You can see the post below as a kind of follow-up to a brief post I did several years ago.

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Rochelle and I saw ‘The Help’ this weekend with another couple from church. They are wonderful people and gave me the book last year. Since the wife of the other couple, like me, is from the south, she thought I would resonate with the book, and in many ways I did.

 I was born in Jackson, MS, as were my parents and grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were maids in Jackson, working for multiple white families. ‘The Help’ nails the look of Jackson and its cultural and racial ethos  – both in the 60’s and today. From my read – visiting hundreds of times over my lifetime – Jackson remains two cities; one white, one black. Speak with contemporary Jacksonians, white and black, and you’ll get a completely different picture of the city, just like you do in ‘The Help’. The whites in the movie don’t see a racial problem in Jackson while it’s painfully obvious to blacks.

It’s been interesting to see the response of my white friends to ‘The Help’ (and I have tons of them and I love all of you). What has startled me is the amazement by which they look at the racial division in the 60’s. The white characters in ‘The Help’ are largely unlikeable. They want separate bathrooms, believe in separate stations in life, and mindlessly go along with the status quo; a status quo which occupies a social position of separate and unequal and the theological position that God did not create all people in his own image. When we see it in Mississippi in the 60’s we look back and marvel with confused awe and disgust. Some of us even think, “How could people be that way?” But many of us don’t think that most Sunday mornings when we sit in our segregated churches.

Our senses get offended when someone like Hilly Holbrook speaks of segregated bathrooms because “niggers carry different diseases than us”. But that’s hardly a concern at most congregations I know. There’s no fear of black butts on white toilets because there are no black butts in the building. If you don’t believe me, what’s the racial make-up of your congregation. I bet most of them are OVERWHELMINGLY homogeneous. As a matter of fact, that’s how the church-growth experts tell us is the best way to grow a church.

Once, in college, I sat in a ministry class and listened to a young white woman explain that segregated churches are better because different ethnicities like different worship styles.

Seriously?

It would seem that the apostle Paul didn’t consider the powerful importance of “worship styles” when he said that Jesus Himself was our peace and had destroyed the the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between us (Eph. 2:14). Apparently, even the church is  inventing mythical reasons to keep the races separate. Shockingly, this is antithetical to the message of the New Testament, wherein one of the central questions is bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just this last week on Twitter, someone referenced seeing ‘The Help’ and asked, “I wonder what our kids will look back at and be embarassed?” I submit, it will be the same thing…at least if they’re better Christians than we are. Jesus Himself prays that all his disciples be one (John 17), and Paul works for it throughout his entire ministry, yet it is the least talked about issue in the church. We get all in a bunch about things we can’t do anything about; real important things like millennial debates, and hardly lift a finger to do what was critical to Jesus and Paul, bringing people from different backgrounds together to become one.

The difficult and deadly work of ending Jim Crow and segregation in the south was undertaken by courageous men and women, who under the banner of Christ, sought to end a wicked, demeaning system of life. Yet it was the white churches in the South who were last to the party. In fact, they openly defended the status quo, rebuked Martin Luther King, Jr., and called to uphold segregation and second-class citizenship. These churches and their leaders saw nothing wrong with segregation, with white, blacks, Latinos and anybody else all worshipping separately, though supposedly to the same God.

Some churches still do this.

Some churches maintain racists systems in the David Duke kinda way. But the majority maintain it by not caring at all, not working to end it, not standing up for others and by  sitting on their hands…in the theatre.

How To Read Difficult Books

Posted: May 27, 2011 in books
As a preacher, church and community leader and comunicator, I do a great deal of reading, studying and research. Much of this is difficult technical and academic literature. This reading gives people the illusion that I’m smarter than the average bear, but that’s not really true.
Truth is, even though I read a lot of demanding material; I’m not a natural reader and I don’t think that my IQ is higher than the average person. I merely went to graduate school, which forced me to read a lot, retain a good bit of what I read, and then deliver the same material, along with my own reflections, in ways that make sense to people. I’ve learned is that there are some simple strategies that anyone can employ in order to read difficult texts.
Here They Are:
  1. Read in Short Burst. I rarely read more than 10-15 minutes. I cut out all other disctractions, set the timer on my iPhone, put my head down and plow through. When the time is up, I wlk around, check e-mail or something else for 5-minutes, then set the time again. It sounds short, but you’ll be amazed at what you’ll get done in an hour.
  2. Set A Daily Page Count. Getting through tough reading becomes easier if you’ll covenant with yourself to get through a certain number of pages per day. For me, it’s usually 50-75 pages. That’s not many, but you can make it through a tough book in about one week.
  3. YouTube Videos. Some books (authors) are really difficult to follow. When you come across one, stop reading and hop on YouTube! Hopefully you can find video of the author speaking. Doing this will give you a feel for the author’s diction and rhythm and the way they use language. (Confession: I never made it through a N.T. Wright book until I did this. After hearing him perform several sermons, his books flow much more easily. I began to understand how he communicated.)
  4. Read The Conclusion First. I picked this up from my friend, Kraig Martin, as he wa doing his Master’s in Philosophy. Kraig would read the conclusion of each chapter in order to get a sense of what was being argued. He’d then go back and read the argument. I tried it. It helps.
  5. Keep Resources Handy. I’m not picking up theologians like Mark Heim without my online dictionary handy. He uses words I don’t know. Without the resources hand, I’d be debilitated. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know and look it up. There’s even a Wikipedia for theology.

These tips have helped me and my reading. Reading, in turn, helps me with everything else in life. Try them for a while. I bet they’ll help you too.

I’m very stoked, pumped, excited, and animated to be heading to Rochester College this May 16-18 for “Streaming: Biblical Conversations From the Missional Frontier”. Streaming is an in-depth exploration about the adventure of ministry. It  will focus on the book of James and will offer ministers and church leaders biblical resources to help them lead God’s people in a missional era. Mark Love – the churches of Christ missional yoda and peculiarly dedicated Bob Dylan fan, has put together, along with JoPa Productions, an awesome line-up of missional thinkers.

The featured speakers will be Scot McKnight and Miroslav Volf! Wow!!

Many of you already know Scot McKnight. He’s a Christian blogosphere rockstar (if there can be such a thing), has written a first rate book on how to read scripture and is not afraid to call John Piper’s questions of whether or not “Jesus preached Paul’s gospel” stupid, well “irritating!” His newest book is One.Life.

Perhaps less people know Miroslav Volf, but you should. Volf is as first-rate as first-rate gets when it comes to theology, and his book Exclusion and Embrace is a modern-day classic when it comes to race, identity and reconciliation. His newest release, Allah: A Christian Response is supposed to be excellent as well.

Just those two guys make Streaming worth the mere $189 for the registration. Plus, other incredible folks you’ll want to be around will be there. People like me, Jack Reese, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt.

I hope you’ll join me this May in Michigan.

Last Thursday evening I participated in the Common Ground Speaker Series which my daughter’s school supports. The evening’s speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell. Harvard and Tulane educated, Dr. Hallowell specializes in  advice on how to survive in an ultra-competitive, ultra fast, attention deficit society while remaining sane, how to raise happy children, the art of forgiveness and how to manage worry. His topic for the night found it’s genesis in his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!

Hallowell covered some much already traveled territory discussing the affects of the Internet, social media, cell phones and all other things technology. While this terrain is well-trodden, I think, he’s dead-on concerning the negative effects of “labor-saving” devices. What’s more, Hallowell points out that our time interfacing with screens isn’t only sucking our time and energy, it is also rewiring our brains. This could be good or bad. Who knows? At best, we are entering new territory.

The truth is that as we spend more time engaging socially – like reading blogs, etc… – we are spending less time with one another. We trust “friends” and “followers” we’ve never met with extraordinary personal information, while simultaneously not know the name of our neighbors. Worse still, we run the risk of marginalizing or ignoring the family in our midst.

Hallowell reminds us of two important and basic actions that many of us would be wise to regain:

1. Decide what matters most. Preaching a principle I learned from Andy Stanley years ago, I recently spoke on the topic of deciding what matters most and then shaping our action around them. Implicit in deciding is following up that decision with determined action so that our lives actual reflect what we say.

2. Recreate Boundaries. I am frequently shocked when I see the boundaries people have given up. This is especially true, I think, for Christians. Our willingness to be useful and used, for many, has resulted in sacrificing time and energy to our family. This is tantamount to abandoning our family.

Ultimately, I think Hallowell has much to say, but I’m not doing a book review. I’m just raising your attention to the importance of slowing down your life in order to maximize your impact with those closest to you. As a friend of mine says, “You can’t do anything well in a hurry.”

…it’s time to get serious about transformation. You know you’ve waited long enough to transform whatever it is that you think you want transformed (and yes, I said “think you wanted” because if you really wanted it, you would be doing it already.)

Resolutions are weak! They fail because (1) they begin at the level of behavior, (2) are hastily made and typically cliche, and (3) are arbitrarily set. Yet many of us want to change and live healthier, more productive lives. Here’s how:

  1. Begin With Who NOT What. To sustain a change, you need to decide who it is you want to be; what you want others to think about you and say at your funeral. For instance, if I want to be a generous person, there are endless possibilities – time, money, talent, hospitality, credit. But if you simply want to give more money to charity, your decisions will be predicated by your bank statement. Plus, you have to seek out agencies to give to. Trust me, if you decide to live a generous life, it will transform all your interactions not just one.
  2. Structural Change. We are people of habit. If you want to lose weight this year (which is a bad resolution when compared to being healthy), you’re going to need to physically change  functions in your life. Where is the workout time going to come from? Where will you get the money for new shoes, workout clothes, a trainer, gym membership, or a treadmill? Who are you going to give permission to hold you accountable? What are you going to do with your kids while you workout? How are you going eat differently? Do you need to buy organic? Where will the money for healthier (and more expensive) food come from? If you don’t execute a structural change around your transformation, it will fail.
  3. Reward. You’re going to have to reward yourself – no one else will do it! If you’re looking to lose 40lbs, you’re going to have to celebrate losing 2lbs. This is what Chip and Dan Heath would describe as “shrinking the change.” Before you begin, you should determine when and how you will pat yourself on the back. Major changes take a long time, congratulating yourself along the way will help keep you motivated.
  4. Focus On The Good. It’s easy to quit something after you feel you’ve failed. However, that’s the wrong thing to do. Forgive yourself and start anew. Lamentations says the Lord’s mercies are new every morning. God’s willing to do it for you; do it for yourself. If you miss a deadline or going to the gym one week, just go back. And remind yourself that last year you weren’t going at all.
  5. Embrace The Spirit of Discipline. Of course, it’s going to take some discipline to get where you want to go, but often it’s not the discipline itself that thwarts us. We fail because we don’t understand the “spirit of disciplines.” The spirit of disciplines is that change comes from doing small, often boring things repetitiously and change is produced over time.  Whatever you’re doing is going to take time, become boring, and appear as if it’s not working. You must know this going in. If you don’t, the monotony will wear you down. Remember, the change only comes through the tediousness. When you’re bored, it’s beginning to work

Transformation can come for you, it just takes serious, focused effort over time. Go for it! I’m in your corner.

 

 

On Disappointment

Posted: December 28, 2010 in Bible, books, C.S. Lewis, change, leadership, life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being disappointed with God. Whenever I am faced with an issue–either personal or pastoral–I often come back to the writer who is the source of so much contemporary theology, C.S. Lewis. Cherish these words from ‘The Screwtape Letters,’ (an older demon instructor mentoring a younger).

“Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anti-climax which is certainly coming to the patient during the first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His “free” lovers and servants–“sons” is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to “do it on their own.” And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If only they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much less harder to tempt.”

It occurs to me that the “initial dryness” doesn’t go away after we’ve been disciples for a while, but re-occurs at every intersection in which we attempt to step out with Jesus into something new.

We are never safe because Jesus makes all things new.

Timothy Keller, “Generous Justice.”

Dan & Chip Heath, “Switch”

TNIV Reference Bible

Larry Osbourne, “Sticky Church”

Rodney Stark, “What Americans Really Believe”

Chick-Fil-A Leadercast

Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit

Q

Gabe Lyons, “The Next Christians”

Behance Action Journal

Barnes & Noble Nook