Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: A Hole in Our Gospel

Another book review:

Have a nice day! I'm off to write a Sunday school lesson, a blog entry, and record in my journal. And for whatever reason I'm very much content with all of this!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Nose to the Grindstone

“When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:36-38).

Tomorrow is the first day of school. As one of the many “laborers”, say a little prayer for those of us who are back in the trenches, hoping to do some good in the world.

 And to my fellow teachers: kids want to learn. Surprisingly, they want to please us, even the ones who pretend otherwise. Look for good in them with unwavering fury; it might be like finding a needle in a haystack, but when you make the discovery it is gold. And then tell them. Tell them they are awesome and lovely and smart and funny. Laugh with them. Smile at them. Be supportive. It’s hard to declare war on someone who likes you. And above all else, remember:
“Be kind. For everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” -- Plato

Saturday, August 25, 2012

“Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.” – St. Francis of Assisi

“But then my cynicism got another helping hand—a tiny virus called AIDS. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The ones who didn’t miss it could see it only as divine retribution for bad behavior. Even on children.” – Bono On the Move
Close your eyes. I want you to visualize HIV.
            See it in your head. What does it look like? What is the feeling? Now consider the following:

1.      Two-thirds of the HIV cases reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. (AMFAR)
2.      Over 1,000 children are born HIV positive in Africa daily. (UNICEF)
3.      Only 23 percent of those children receive proper health care. (UNICEF)
4.      There are 2.1 million children worldwide who are HIV positive. (UNICEF)
5.      370,000 children are born each year HIV positive. (UNICEF)
6.      There are 14.8 million orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa due exclusively to AIDS. (AVERT)
Other interesting elements to this problem:
1.      In third-world countries, the transmission is predominately heterosexual. Consequently, men bring it home to their wives.
2.      The man dies, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. The wife is frequently ill in these scenarios.
3.      The wife dies, leaving their children orphaned.
4.      There is significant misinformation about the transmission of HIV in third world countries. There is also misinformation regarding “cures”, which will spread the disease further to the innocent.
5.      It is not uncommon for HIV to wipe out entire families, or leave children to be cared for by great-grandparents.
6.      Because of the horrific living conditions, including malnourishment and bacteria-infested water, Africans who contract AIDS do not survive long term as many Americans who live relatively normal lives with HIV.
Before I read The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, this wasn’t my visualization of HIV. When I thought of AIDS, I saw it as a problem left to the promiscuous, the irresponsible, the homosexual, or the drug addict. And those in America, despite their sins, can live long, productive lives with proper medication in the 21st century.
What I did in considering HIV/ AIDS this way was to turn a pandemic into a behavior-oriented consequence of being “bad”. And so I could dismiss it because I can rationalize a natural consequence for a behavior, right?
Periodically, someone will announce to the world HIV/ AIDS is God’s punishment for our immoral society. I think a more accurate assessment would be Satan uses the pandemic to mislead Christians down a false path marred by a pseudo moral high ground, judgment, and fear. It alienates its victims in the west while it ravages an entire continent on the opposite side of the globe.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned.
I read chapter six of Matthew, hearing Jesus give incredibly explicit directions in regards to giving and worship. To paraphrase He’s telling us our behavior is between the individual and God.
            The rest of it is insignificant.  
            Just please God.
            This is why “when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4), and “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).
            Again, just please God.
            It’s a double-edge sword, my friends. The ten percent rule has been thrown out the window. There is no legalism. But the answer is much more intricate.
            Just please God.
            God might want more than ten percent of our wealth. Maybe He wants more money. Maybe He wants our time. Maybe He even wants our lives.
            Just pleasing God gets frightening.
I’m an American. Although I don’t feel rich (remember I’m a public educator, peeps), I’m fairly confident I’m in the top five percent of the world’s wealth. I want for nothing. The green tea I just purchased at Starbuck’s cost more than much of the world lives on for an entire week.
I cannot rationalize my place in the universe by anything I did. God put me here. He gave me to American parents in a culture motivated by materialism.
All I can do is just try and please God.
One of the points Stearns brings up in his book is that as president of World Vision, a leading evangelical humanitarian relief organization, he experienced incredible resistance from churches in fundraising and other forms of support in regards to any global humanitarian effort involving AIDS, pediatric or otherwise.
            We could talk all day about finance philosophies in churches, concepts of evangelism and priorities behind establishments built by Rick Warren or Francis Chan (which both do so much good in the name of Christ), and even exactly why HIV/ AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is perceived as an “R-rated problem”, but really it doesn’t matter.
            Just please God.
            On some level we have to get past our own guilt. Or at least I do. Maybe you don’t experience “white liberal guilt”, despite not being particularly liberal, but I think Satan uses it as a way to paralyze our charity. There is no evidence wealth in and of itself is a sin. God allows us to be rich. Wealth is an opportunity. And although we cannot “serve two masters”, and thus “cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24), maybe, just maybe, our culture would be so much happier, so much more content, if we looked at problems such as AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa as our problem as a world community and invest a little in its solution.
            Would that be pleasing to God?
            I’m going to go out on a limb here and appeal to our own self-centeredness: humanitarian efforts, which help individuals, making their lives healthier and less tragic in a very obvious and tangible way, create safety for us. The Taliban couldn’t have gotten its grips on Afghanistan if the regime before it was useful to its people. (I learned this from reading Kite Runner—pick it up, my friends, after your read A Hole in Our Gospel that is.)  
Part of the problem is in America we tend to look down our noses on people in poverty, calling them “lazy” or “stupid” or a “self-fulfilling prophesy”.
I pay a guy fifty bucks a month to mow my yard. I have no room to call anyone lazy.
            And although I bet the third-world lazy poor end up dead for the most part, I will concede there are lazy poor people, in America, where poverty has become an anomaly of our own bizarre culture because instead of investing time in people we in the west have a tendency to throw money at problems, expecting the drowning man to swim to shore, if we just tell him to move his arms. It can’t be done that way. We actually have to look at the poor to show them love. We have to communicate and invest time in actual people. We have to persevere and accept their failures as much as their triumphs.
            I have no concrete answers and I’m hoping I didn’t come off ridiculously moralistic, as I type on my laptop computer out in suburbia where all of my neighbors are housed and fed and my biggest concern is I need to get the oil changed in my car before I go to work on Monday.   What I’m writing today has more to do with me: I know I can do more. I need to do more. Because really, what is my purpose as a Christian otherwise?   
            Just please God.

Saturday, August 18, 2012


So I woke up this morning in a state my highly regarded and notable medical background (meaning none whatsoever), would call “bummed out”.

There are a myriad of reasons why this could be— I counted ten things which were bothering me. Six were out of my control. Three probably weren't worth my thoughts. Only one required action on my part. But that really isn't my point here. Just understand I woke up this morning bummed out.

Interestingly, I started reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield this week, which is about overcoming what I would call “depressive moments of frustration” and he calls “resistance” in the process of creating. Although Pressfield does acknowledge these feelings as legitimate, and there are forces in the universe stronger than we are, the fundamental difference between the amateur and the professional is the ability to cope and carry on.

When Steve Martin wrote his book Shopgirl, in which one of the central characters was clinically depressed, he asked a female friend to explain the experience. She told him it was like having the flu, in that everyday tasks from getting out of bed to cleaning house were arduous and seemed almost impossible.

This is resistance. And it can be palpable beyond imagination.

So I had been lying on the couch in my completely filthy living room (nothing adds to a state of depression better than staring at your own filth) for about two hours this morning, considering my options in regards to how to get over this funk. I thought about going outside and reading my Bible (natural sunlight and theological wisdom never hurt anyone, I don’t suppose, even in Houston August). I was considering taking a walk through my neighborhood (exercise increases endorphins—and would give me some alone time with God—again, even in Houston August). I was even considering cleaning my house (shocking). And then I checked my email.

It appeared one of my concerns could be easily checked off my worry list. That one gave me way to remove three more, at least for now. And strangely that’s all I needed to move.  

Just a little bit of encouragement.

Conversely, why do I need tangible evidence of my significance in the world from others to get me moving? In a nutshell this is what prevents me from achieving greatness: allowing the world “open access” to control my feelings.   

So I read my Bible, out in the backyard, in the Texas sweltering heat for a whopping seven minutes. I decided to start reading the New Testament one chapter at a time daily, pondering the small section of Its glory and perhaps writing and journaling (i.e. blogging) from there. Today was Matthew One, which is the genealogy of Jesus.

I used to wonder about the purpose of those genealogies which appear throughout the Bible. As a kid it appeared redundant to make a list of all those people. Yeah, we know: they were Jesus’ relatives. That’s pretty significant. Congrats, again your name will appear in a New York Times best seller.

After you’re dead and no longer care.

But I missed the point entirely.

Consider those names. You have Isaac, whose children were in fierce competition for his love. Jacob, who after manipulating his brother, ends up manipulated several times by his father-in-law. Boaz, the son of a prostitute who married Ruth the Moab, who, if you know anything about Moabs, you know they were not exactly “God’s chosen people”. Ruth and Boaz ended up the great grandparents to King David, who is the father of Solomon, whose mother was the wife of Uriah, a man King David more or less had assassinated for the purpose of taking his wife. Solomon, who perhaps falls in love when he might shouldn’t (for more on this read I Kings 11:1-4), but still continues a line which will eventually lead to Jesus Christ Himself.

So my point is this: in the words of Gary Thomas: “Christian keep running”. It isn’t about the past or what you did or didn’t do. It’s about overcoming. It’s about being a better person today than you were yesterday.

It’s about knowing the only people who don’t make mistakes are the people who never try.

It’s about realizing the saying “When God shuts a door he opens a window” is lame. If a door is shut, it’s just shut. TURN THE FREAKIN’ KNOB!

It’s about accepting we will experience resistance, but we must still endure. The trick is figuring out how.

May whatever challenges you are experiencing today lead to a path of both accomplishment and greater fulfillment tomorrow.