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Date: Thursday, 19 May 2011 23:21

By Joe Boyd

I am a pastor. But I am also a movie producer, actor and comedian. It is the latter that opens the door for spiritual conversations much more than the former. I have many friends who are not the sort of people one might expect a pastor to associate with – militant atheists, genuine agnostics, outspoken anti-Christian homosexuals, etc. I don’t just call them those things. They like to assign those labels to themselves. All of them became my friends through our mutual respect for filmmaking, comedy or theater. Generally speaking, they remain my friends in spite of my involvement with the church. None of them are my friends because I am a pastor.

Many of my friends genuinely hate the church. Most of them have good reasons. Since 1998 I have kept a working document on my notebook called, “An Open Apology.” I update it from time to time. Sometimes I forward it onto my friends who have been hurt by Christianity. Sometimes I just share part of it with them.

I ask your forgiveness for the ongoing corruption of the church at large since the early days of the church, for I believe that it is a sin to use the church for personal or political gain.

I ask your forgiveness for every boring church event, church service, or sermon since the creation of the world, for I believe that it is a sin to bore people with really good news.

I ask your forgiveness for the silence of a significant percentage of the European church during the Jewish holocaust and of the American church during the years of slavery, for I believe that it is a sin for the church of God to stand by while innocent people die.

I ask your forgiveness for the unimaginable violence done in and through and with the blessing of the church throughout history, for I believe Jesus died once for all of us to put an end to violence.

I ask your forgiveness for the weight of rules and legalism that has shackled the church, making it oppressively fear-based and guilt-centered, for I believe that it is a sin to deny people their freedom in Christ.

I ask your forgiveness for every power-crazed political zealot who has ever advocated hatred against people in the name of Christ, for I believe that it is a sin to judge in the place of God.

I ask your forgiveness for every sidewalk and soap-box preacher who has so much as cracked upon a Bible with anger or pride in his heart, for I believe that it is a sin to misrepresent the character of a loving God.

I ask your forgiveness for every cult leader and extremist group leader who has ever led people astray in the name of Jesus, for I believe that it is a sin to desire the position of Jesus as the head of the church.

I ask your forgiveness for every pastor or priest who has ever served the church to get money, fame or sex because I believe the church is Jesus’ Bride, not some random guy’s mistress.

I ask your forgiveness for the millions of men in the church who have somehow stretched the Bible to validate their own sexist views, for I believe that it is a sin to dishonor a woman.

I ask your forgiveness for the thousands of church splits and denominational factions that have ripped the body of Christ in every direction except heavenward, for I believe that Christians loving and forgiving each other is the best way to show people who God is.

I ask your forgiveness for the thousands of churches who are set up as extravagant social clubs, for I believe that it is a sin to ignore the poor among you.

I ask your forgiveness for every misspent dime that was ever placed in an offering plate, for I believe that it is a sin to waste an old lady’s tithe.

I ask your forgiveness for the prostituting of the American church and the American church leader to the American dream, for I believe that it is a sin for the church or her leaders to love money more than God.

I ask your forgiveness for every self-centered, self-proclaimed “miracle worker” who has sold people counterfeit hope and light and fluffy theology for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, for I believe that it is a sin to spit in the face of God.

I ask your forgiveness for every sin of every priest, pastor, minister, reverend, teacher, elder, deacon, pope, nun, monk, missionary, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and for every Christian who has ever come into your life for any other reason than to love you. If any of us came to you and hurt you, we are the ones at fault. On our behalf, let me say that I am very sorry. It’s not who we are supposed to be.

And lastly for me. I am no better than the rest. I am no role model. I’m misguided. I get confused a lot and I have hurt people in my misguided attempts to be “Christian.” I have not always loved God or the people around me. I am ashamed of me much of the time. I am ashamed of my people who have hurt you.

But I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed of the good news that God has come near to you and is right now available to you through Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is power from a loving God who can save you. He can save us all, even us Christians.


Joe Boyd is the Teaching Pastor at the 6,000-member Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Joe has produced five movies through his production company, Rebel Pilgrim Productions including the multi-award winning comedy, Hitting the Nuts. As a performer, Joe has appeared in multiple stage productions, movies and network TV shows including a recurring role on ABC’s General Hospital and a 500-show run in the Las Vegas/Broadway Company of Tony n Tina’s Wedding.

Joe is also the author of the allegorical fantasy novel, Between Two Kingdoms (Standard Publishing). He lives in Cincinnati with wife and two sons. Read his blog at http://rebelpilgrim.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBoyd.


Author: "DTrotter" Tags: "Uncategorized"
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Date: Thursday, 19 May 2011 18:39

By Spencer Burke

With the recent headlines, is it any wonder why the world may think that Christians seem to always want to run or hide or take the easy way out?

When the “rapture” prediction, bill boards and post-apocalyptic-pet-care-businesses started popping up everywhere, I began to wonder, why am I so ready to escape rather than serve? It feels like placards, amendments and full page ads are arms-length solutions to hands-on problems.

For some reason I can see Jesus fighting off the body snatching beam of light offering a “skip ahead 2 spaces while everyone else loses a turn” proposal. Why would I leave at the moment Jesus would show up? It is in times like these that I get to be love, light, salt, a sweet aroma (fill in your favorite biblical metaphor here _____________________ ).

I watch my children and I see the gospel in action. If a kid is new, left out or forgotten – they are the ones to invite them in. If someone is lost or seems confused or is carrying a burden too heavy – they take the time to help. If a friend did not have a lunch or needed a place to stay that afternoon or could not pay for group activity – my kids would find a way to share. I forget that a dollar to a kid who has two…is still half of what they have.

This childlike faith inspires me to see the opportunities right in front of me, no matter what the date.


Spencer Burke is the creator of TheOOZE.com, and he is the author of three books: Making Sense of ChurchOut of TheOOZE, and A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity.

Author: "DTrotter" Tags: "Culture, Featured"
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Date: Tuesday, 10 May 2011 18:45

By Jonathan Chan

Like just about every other American, I can tell you where I was, what I was doing, and how I heard the news on that September day in 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.  But that’s not the memory that’s been replaying in my head since news of Osama Bin Laden’s death broke.  

Rather, my thoughts keep going back to an otherwise ordinary service in the deeply conservative Baptist church I was raised in. A family friend, who had served with the USO during World War II, stood up and prayed the most shocking prayer I’ve ever heard in my life. He prayed for the salvation of Osama Bin Laden.

I remember hearing the emotions in his voice. A tinge of grief, yes, for his terrible crimes. But also a touch of joy, as if he was imagining Bin Laden meeting Jesus for the first time on a dusty road in Afghanistan. Undergirding it all was a deep sense of longing, borne out of a love for his enemy that could only come from God.

Frankly, I’m still shocked by it. I’m not quite at that level of love yet; to be perfectly honest, if people had been celebrating on my street when the news broke, there’s a fair chance I would have joined them. The world is a safer place with Bin Laden gone. But in many ways, the evangelical blogosphere has reflected the tension in my own thoughts. Together, we’ve gone back and forth between valuing justice and rebuking celebration. We’ve examined Scripture, meditated on the evil in our own hearts, and talked at length about making moral distinctions between ourselves and Bin Laden. Many of us have landed upon “sober satisfaction”; others continue in tears. I’ve found something to agree with in nearly every opinion I’ve read.

But again and again I return to the memory of that prayer, that strange mixture of grief, joy, and longing, made possible only by the cross.  And to my surprise, except for Jonathan Merrit’s excellent article and a few passing allusions, the scandal that stands at the very center of our faith has been mostly absent from this dialogue. Only by fixing our eyes on it and through it will we be able to see through the turmoil.

The cross reminds us that the moral distance between ourselves and Bin Laden is nothing compared to the gaping moral chasm between fallen humanity and a holy God, between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of heaven. We know this because Jesus was not being morally clownish when he equated lust with adultery and hate with murder in the Sermon on the Mount. And neither was he flattening our moral sensitivities in Luke 13 when he told us that “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

The cross reminds us of the death that God does delight in. It was there that “the Lord was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10) for our sake. Jesus endured hell upon that cross, that there might be no condemnation for those found in him.

The cross reminds us that at the climax of history, Christ did not defeat oppression and empire with legions of angels or force of arms. Instead, through his death and resurrection he confounded the powers of darkness and unleashed a revolution whose mission was peace, and whose weapon was love. The cross reminds us that Jesus wants the terrorist. He wants the pedophile, the drug dealer, the homophobe, the robber baron, and the slave-trader. He wants you. He wants me. He wants all of us.  

May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of his sufferings.


Jonathan Chan is  partnerships coordinator for Haiti Partners, an NGO dedicated to helping Haitians change Haiti through education. He blogs occasionally at Front Lines Intertwined. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathanschan.

Author: "david" Tags: "Culture, Uncategorized"
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Date: Friday, 22 Apr 2011 09:15

From the Cross and the Empty Tomb

By Andrew J. Byers

There are no simple theological answers to explain disasters like the Haiti earthquake, the floods in Pakistan, and the earthquake-tsunami in Japan—not even equating the disheveled streets of Port-au-Prince and the flooded fields and streets of the Punjab and Sendai with divine judgment. As we have seen in the previous two articles in this series (here and here), the book of Job urges us to suspend making such theological claims.

The disobedience described in Genesis 3, however, reminds us of the gash in this “good” creation, and the unwelcome entry of chaotic forces like sin and death that resulted. A world dismembered from its Maker can only heave and quake in disarray. Massive beasts will tromp over our security fences and breathe fire onto our fortifications.

Somehow, in the midst of all the rumbling and shouting, there is a God who shouts not only in triumph from “out of the whirlwind” (as in Job) but also in agony from the unnatural disaster of the crucifixion. This God reigns over the monsters and ominous powers of land and sea that elude our control, yet has submitted himself to a disaster that can be attributed to divine judgment.

From the cross we hear not a poetic divine speech of rhetorical questions, as in Job, but instead a pained question that sounds more like a voice crying out from dust and ash: 

In Aramaic: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”

In English: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

In Haitian Creole: “Bondye, Bondye, poukisa ou lage m’ konsa?” 

In Japanese: “Waga Kami, waga Kami, dooshite watashi wo omisuteni nattanodesuka.”

Earthquakes feature in the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Matthew tells us that at one point during the crucifixion, the earth shook (27:51). He later writes about another earthquake (28:2), which took place on the third day, when God-crucified emerged from the darkness of a stone tomb. 

From out of the disaster-rubble. 

When I was in Haiti the summer after its earthquake, I preached in a small church. My text was Ezekiel 37—an earthquake text. In the prophet’s vision Israel, dead as a dry bone pile littering a valley, was resuscitated to life at the shaking of the earth. In Ezekiel 37 as in Matthew 28, we find earthquakes associated with resurrection. God’s power and goodness is such that, somehow, even the trembling of the earth can bring new life—and not in a trite, sentimental sense, but in the sense that in spite of what may be going on behind the celestial curtain, God can (and one day will) raise the dead. 

Isaiah 27:1 tells us that God will defeat Leviathan … one day. The book of Revelation tells us that whatever dragon clambers up out of the sea will be destroyed by the Lamb … one day. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that the dawn of such a day is just beginning to pierce the dark horizon. Resurrection has whispered a death threat in the ears of Death itself, and its draconian minions are howling. 

The mission of the Western church is not to board flights for Port-au-Prince or Tokyo with our platitudes and airtight theodicies of the kind Job’s friends preached when they arrived in Uz. Scripture is not clear enough about the reasons behind suffering to warrant such a mission. What Scripture is perfectly clear about is that this mysterious God has identified with the darkest depths of human suffering. Job’s story shows us that God’s sovereign governance of the world is beyond our understanding. Christ’s crucifixion shows us that God has lovingly endured disaster on our behalf. Christ’s resurrection shows us that new life can burst out of the makeshift graves hastily dug after a heinous atrocity. So we wait, hoping wildly in the face of wild forces, tending faithfully to the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the unclothed, no matter how jarring the footfalls of Behemoth on the ground and no matter how hot the breath of Leviathan on our necks.


Andrew J. Byers leads University Christian Fellowship in Birmingham, Alabama. He blogs at Hopeful Realism and is the author of Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint.

Author: "david" Tags: "Church, Culture, Uncategorized"
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Date: Tuesday, 19 Apr 2011 11:12

By David A. Zimmerman

I’m a little annoyed with Groupon. You get caught up in these daily deals, and you throw down before you think things through. So here I am, sitting around miles from my house, waiting four hours for my deeply discounted oil change. Having now had lots and lots of time to consider the matter, I’m pretty sure that a full-price oil change at a more convenient location would be worth the money.

The purchase made sense in theory: my car needed new oil, and this is a local business, mere miles from my house. It’s just not near anywhere I could hang out and kill time. So I wandered the streets for an hour and a half. I breathed in exhaust fumes from local traffic, stepped over litter and potholes, kept one eye open for a place that would have me and wouldn’t kick me out. There weren’t many. I’ll be honest: I’m sort of waiting for someone to ask me to leave the premises even as I type.

If I want to get anywhere this afternoon, I’m either taking public transportation–which in my area is not very user-friendly–or I’m walking. And my area is not very walker-friendly; where there are sidewalks, they’re not terribly well kept, and in any case the cars have the right of way, no matter what the Secretary of State’s office might tell you.

My feet are tired. I’m sweaty and uncomfortable. I’m cranky. I’d like to be at home, but for the afternoon at least, I’m effectively homeless. I don’t like it.

I realize that I’m not really homeless; I’m merely inconvenienced. The homeless folks I’ve met wouldn’t experience the benign neglect that I’ve experienced hunkering down in this hotel lobby. I have the air of the homeful–a haircut, matching clothes, a defensible number and quality of accoutrements. I get deference where less presentable, more permanently homeless people would get the fish eye and an eventual call to security.

And while I was walking aimlessly, just looking for someplace to chill out, the homeless people I know are walking someplace as specific as it is arbitrary: they’re making their way from one shelter to another, from one service provider to another, from one job opportunity to another. The point of walking is specific, but the destination is based on the whim of whatever church has opted to open its doors overnight, whatever part of town a local government has zoned to allow social service providers to open up shop, wherever the jobs happen to be today. Meanwhile, drivers in car-based towns assume that walkers are walking aimlessly; pedestrians are nuisances to cars, regardless of how dangerous cars are to pedestrians.

I know, I know: I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not homeless, I’m homeful. I just needed my oil changed and this daily deal presented itself, and I opted to inconvenience myself for an afternoon to save a few bucks. But however slight a taste of homelessness is my hour and a half of walking my town, my four hours of waiting for something to materialize, I’ve tasted enough to know that I don’t like it, and I wouldn’t wish it on people I don’t like–let alone people I like.

In Matthew 25, Jesus talks about how he hides himself in the naked and hungry and homeless and unjustly treated. We’re supposed to do unto them what we say we would do unto him. But seeing Jesus in someone sweaty and uncomfortable and cranky (and, frankly, sometimes certifiable) isn’t as easy as it sounds. And more often than not we’re actually seeing ourselves as Jesus instead. 

It’s not something we do on purpose; it just happens, because it’s easier to see ourselves as Jesus than to see someone yucky as Jesus. It’s easier for us, who try so hard to emulate our Messiah, to incarnate than to identify, to witness to someone than to witness Christ in someone.

So maybe, next time you see someone sweaty and uncomfortable and cranky and somewhat certifiable–someone yucky–instead of trying to see them as Jesus, go ahead and play Jesus yourself. Try to see them as me, you’re ole pal Dave, instead. I’m not a yucky person; I’m just having a difficult day. Try to cut me some slack, Jack.

I thank you in advance.


David A. Zimmerman is an author and editor. His booklet The Parable of the Unexpected Guest, a thought experiment for discipleship and evangelism, will be released by InterVarsity Press in September 2011.

Author: "david" Tags: "Causes, Church, Culture"
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Date: Monday, 18 Apr 2011 16:56

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an executive summary for our ViralBloggers. Full reviews of this book are to be placed in the comments below for the benefit of TheOOZE community. To become a ViralBlogger and receive advanced copies of resources, click here to apply.


From the Publisher,

In The End of Evangelicalism? David Fitch examines the political presence of evangelicalism as a church in North American. Amidst the negative image of evangelicalism in the national media and its purported decline as a church, Fitch asks how evangelicalism’s belief and practice have formed it as a political presence in North America. Why are evangelicals perceived as arrogant, exclusivist, duplicitous, and dispassionate by the wider culture? Diagnosing its political-cultural presence via the ideological theory of Slavoj Zizek, Fitch argues that evangelicalism appears to have lost the core of its politic: Jesus Christ. In so doing its politic has become “empty.” Its witness has been rendered moot. The way back to a vibrant political presence is through the corporate participation in the triune God’s ongoing work in the world as found in the Incarnation. Herein lies the way towards an evangelical missional political theology. Fitch ends his study by examining the possibilities for a new faithfulness in the present-day emerging and missional church movements springing forth from evangelicalism in North America.

Author: "todd" Tags: "ViralBlogger"
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Date: Monday, 11 Apr 2011 06:46

“Friends” and Chaos-Beasts

By Andrew J. Byers

What can we say theologically about natural disasters that have struck Japan, Pakistan, and Haiti in recent months? What we cannot say is that there is a definitive connection between such catastrophes and divine judgment. 

As seen in my previous post, the most elaborate critique in Scripture of the oversimplified cause-and-effect formula of disaster-equals-judgment is the tragic tale out of Uz about a man whose integrity God himself described as matchless (Job 1:8). 

When Job’s friends find him wallowing in soot and scratching his sores, they are beside themselves. They had received the reports: raiding marauders, fire falling from the sky, a gust of wind that brought down a building containing his ten kids. “Crush injuries”—a ghastly term introduced in news reports from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake—were fatal to Job’s children, just as they would be to so many children in Port-au-Prince. 

For those friends arriving on the scene in Uz, the shocking image of a once-dignified man scourged with boils and screeching out laments was too much. They are speechless. The sight is shocking and offensive, too absurd to fit within their frames of reference. Their uncomplicated worldviews threaten to unravel. 

But not for long. 

The counsel that follows in the friends’ lengthy speeches appears sensible and suitable; the rhetoric parallels language that many Christians use today in providing solace in disastrous times: God gives good things to good people. God helps those who help themselves. God will never give you more than you can handle. But as we see at the end of the book, God declares Job’s friends wrong: “You have not spoken of me what is right” (42:7-9).           

Speculating about divine judgment while watching people suffer is a dangerous business—profoundly unhelpful for a child screaming out for parents beneath a prison of masonry and rebar, or for an elderly woman who lifts her eyes to see the ocean coming to devour her street-side fruit stand, or for a grieving man with boils covering his flesh in Uz. 

Perhaps it would be best just to stay silent when we are tempted to provide explanations on God’s behalf. As Old Testament scholar Roland Murphy writes, “It is always dangerous to write the script for divinity to be bound by.” Those who must open their mouths from polished pulpits in air-conditioned sanctuaries, or those who would blog their opinions from suburban coffee shops, would do well to resist making statements abstracted from the victim’s suffering. 

Speech-making comes to a decisive end in the book of Job when God decides to make a few speeches himself—though not from a sweet meadow scene bedecked with fluffy clouds. He speaks out of a “natural” disaster. He speaks “out of the whirlwind” (38:1). 

When children are dead and buildings have collapsed, when cholera has poisoned the village well or when brackish floodgates have swept out the skyline, then surviving victims may pelt the heavens with fierce questions, demanding that Someone give an account for the havoc. The presence of lament poetry throughout the Prophets and Psalms seems to permit and perhaps to encourage this raw, honest reaction. But God might not respond with answers. The suffering victim is not shown “footprints in the sand.” Job receives no systematic theodicy to clarify the reasons behind his misery. What he does receive is a jolting theophany, an exhilarating self-presentation of the Creator-God. And in this divine speech, God speaks of mythic beasts. 


I have been telling my little kids that monsters do not exist. After re-reading Job 40 through 41 and after seeing the footage that came out of Pakistan, Port-au-Prince and Japan, I now stand corrected. 

God is sovereign and just, but there is a snorting, pawing wildness to life that ever resists mortal manipulation and domestication. To convey this point with concrete potency, God speaks of two unusual creatures that epitomize untamable feral power: Behemoth and Leviathan. These are not animals you can pay to see on safari or a lazy cruise of the Nile. These monstrosities are uncaged and undefeatable by mortals, swallowing rivers (40:3) and spitting out fire (41:18-21). Ancient Near Eastern readers/auditors of Job would identify such fearsome creatures as the mythic monsters of primordial chaos. 

The accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 were not the only cosmogonies (theological accounts of creation) shaping the cultures of antiquity. The Canaanite and early Babylonian societies were telling their own stories. Their legendary sagas depicted chaoskampf, a German term for the cataclysmic conflict between the creating deity and “chaos,” a foreboding state of disorder and disarray associated with tumultuous waters and personified in frightening entities. Many scholars believe that this dark, watery realm of chaos is being referenced in Genesis 1:2—“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” 

The biblical understanding that the God of Israel exerted his sovereignty over the forces of chaos at creation surfaces in a number of texts (Ps 74:12-17; Ps 89:5-14; Job 26:7-14). In these passages, mythic beasts as the agents of chaos are vanquished. But in Job 40:15-41:34, it appears that those chaos-monsters not only survived but are even enjoyed by Yahweh: 

In Job they are not defeated, and their cosmic menace and hostility to the human race are actually celebrated by [God]! Rather than destroying them to create an orderly world, Yahweh chooses to let them be (although on a leash). God tells Job that these monsters, the very symbols of evil, are alive and well, and that Job must live in the universe where they roam. 

Yahweh, who gently cares for the widow and the fatherless as easily as he speaks from the belly of roaring tornados, is a God who keeps monsters as playthings. Beastly powers of mythic proportions are sometimes allowed to bark and bray in our ears. God is sovereign over all these characters and forces, but there is a complexity to the exercise of this sovereignty that will ever mystify and perplex us. 

Readers of the story know that the supposed “fire of God” that “fell from heaven” was in fact neither “of God” nor “from heaven” (Job 1:16) but were rather unnatural disasters issued from the hand of Satan, though admittedly by God’s permission (perhaps the most troubling detail of the entire story). Readers also know that God esteemed Job as more noble than all the inhabitants of the earth, perhaps allowing for the possibility that Haitians, Pakistanis and Japanese are among the most noble inhabitants of our earth. But readers also know that, while there are moments when God addresses the victims of horrific suffering with words of tender consolation (see Is 40), there are also moments when we should expect no satisfying explanation and no tidy theodicy. 

Though we cannot access the info that would provide us with answers to “why?,” we can say something about who this divine being is. The God of the Bible’s most definitive self-presentation to humanity occurred not from a whirlwind, but from a cross. We turn to Christ crucified and resurrected in the next and final installment of the series . . .


Andrew leads University Christian Fellowship in Birmingham, Alabama. He blogs at Hopeful Realism and is the author of Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint.

Author: "david" Tags: "Church, Culture, Uncategorized"
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Date: Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011 17:10

Tony Campolo is a passionate man, and that passion is clear in his story-telling speaking style. In this 30-minute OOZE cast with host, Spencer Burke, Tony shares some practical ways that writers, speakers and family story-tellers can prepare for telling stories. He also shares his philosophy of why he uses stories and how they can be use to encourage people to take action. Tony has recently launched a blog where he and many others share stories. Find out more about what he’s up to at redletterchristians.org.

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Author: "jon@theooze.com" Tags: "Audio, Causes, Featured, interview, OOZE..."
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Date: Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011 05:58

by Becky Garrison
Marketing driven PR blitzes like the Rob Bell “Love Wins” campaign notwithstanding, my ongoing pilgrimage that I began in Jesus Died for This?: A Satirist’s Search for the Risen Christ chronicles the demise of the author/speaker religious rock star show. In fact, when I was sitting in the press section for Rob Bell’s New York City show, I noticed there was still some available seating in this 812 seat auditorium. Also, the massive Bell v Piper battles waged by their respective camps seem to has died down.

Throughout my travels, I keep hearing from folks how moved they were the first time they heard (insert name of latest holy hipster here). But upon repeated viewings, they noticed that these self-appointed leaders became more focused on marketing their message instead of exploring where the spirit might be speaking. (One could conclude that it doesn’t matter what they believe but rather what they can sell to the missional masses.) In the process, their original voice became American Idolized and they keep hitting the same holy notes until eventually their followers tune out.

International missiologist Andrew Jones (aka Tall Skinny Kiwi) predicted the end to the Christian Conference carnival back in 2008. He reflects, “Let’s move away from celebrity based speaker-fests towards something that is relational, communal, sustainable, accessible and worthwhile. Using homes, kitchens, couches, campgrounds may sound terribly invasive to some who would rather pop into a Sheraton and go home again but a conference should and is an opportunity to experience church on a deep level. The recession might open the door for this to happen.

Toward the end of Jesus Died for This? I started seeing Tall Skinny’s predictions come true as I witnessed this implosion of grassroots communities exploring what it means to be the church in the 21st century. In particular, I was struck how the US and UK Anglican emerging stream that the Rev. Karen Ward brought over to the US started to pick up momentum and was in becoming a river. But could this new water actually birth new forms of church that went beyond cool candle church and quasi-queer friendly holy hipsterdom into producing truly inclusive communities that strove to welcome all into the body of Christ?

Gatherings like Episcopal Village confirm my hunch that there’s a strong desire to move away from the attractional model of church that’s looking for the “next big thing” and go deeper. Ancient wisdom proclaims: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” Episcopal Village, a grassroots community and initiative, resourcing Episcopal dioceses, parishes and leaders for emerging/fresh expression mission with an Anglican ethos and ‘village’ (diocesan approach) was formed to explore applying this wisdom to the Church.

Jon Myers (a postulant and pioneer missioner in the Diocese of Olympia), who is planting Beacon Hill Church in South Seattle reflects on why he decided to co-envision Episcopal Village along with the Rev. Karen Ward, founding church planter of Church of the Apostles.

On March 5th, a group of Episcopal lay and ordained leaders gathered in Boston for Episcopal Village’s third learning party. During a pre-event gathering at Episcopal Divinity School, The Rev. Ian Mobsby, missioner with the London based community Moot, asked if in this post-secular culture how the church can reach those in who would describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Throughout the weekend this question was explored via Ian’s keynote address followed by a Q&A and a series of workshops lead by practioners in the field.

My role in this was to conduct a series of interviews with a selection of New England based church planters focusing on street ministries and intentional communities of young adults and moderate a panel of emerging church pioneers. The feedback indicated that this shift away to a more relational model really helped to connect those who participated in this event with the stories in a way that’s not possible in the typical author/speaker power point presentations. As I’ve indicated on my website, I’d like to encourage this model whereas a writer functions more as a storyteller to report on what they’ve discovered instead of placing themselves in the center ring of the Christian circus.

What emerged from this interactive event was an Anglicanism that could connect with those spiritual seekers who have been burned by religion. Yet they still feel this desire to seek out something beyond themselves which they find by connecting to an aphophatic theology grounded in ritual.

Those looking to learn more about some of these communities should check out Ancient Faith, Future Mission: Fresh Expressions in the Sacramental Tradition edited by Steven Croft, Ian Mobsby and Stephanie Spellers and my book Starting from Zero with $0: Building Mission-Shaped Ministries on a Shoestring.

Episcopal Bishops and Dioceses interested in sponsoring an Episcopal Village Mission Event, sending Pioneers for Missioner Training, or the new School for Congregational Mission (SCM) can contact the Rev. Karen Ward at karen@episcopalvillage.org.

Author: "caleb" Tags: "Church, Featured"
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Date: Tuesday, 29 Mar 2011 00:47

Jesusdise is the word for this Monotation Monday.

If you have a challenge word you want me to consider for the Monotation next week, just type it below in the comments. If I use it I will give you credit in the post.


Author: "cavepaint" Tags: "Arts, Featured, jesus, monotation, photo..."
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Date: Monday, 28 Mar 2011 15:39

Pulling Back the Celestial Curtain on “Acts of God”

By Andrew J. Byers

As they near his property, something on the horizon catches their eye. Something out of place, disorienting—a moving creature in the distance, writhing and contorted. The form is human. The behavior is alien.

The faint image is unsettling and repulsive, dislodged from the sane order of life in which these well-to-do travelers are so fully invested. Yet there is an eerie familiarity about the figure on the dirt ahead of them. The closer they tread, the more gruesome the sight grows through the haze of dust. When the moment of recognition occurs, it is too macabre to bear, too discomfiting to digest. All categories are rocked and then breached.

The spectacle seems unmoored from reality. It is beyond registry, so fantastical that all they can do is to fall aghast at the appalling shape before them, scraping its festering flesh with a jagged shard of clay. They collapse, weep, tear their expensive clothing, throw dust on their heads, and say nothing for a week.

And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. (Job 2:12-13)

This is how Job’s friends found him. And this is how many aid workers and emergency medical personnel have found thousands of victims of natural disasters over the past several days and months in places as diverse as Japan, Pakistan, and Haiti.

The gnawing question: “Why?”

Christians in the Western world seem to have no problem relying on the breakthroughs of modern science to explain normal events in the natural world. Along with any educated secularist, we know that the clouds are hanging low and spilling water because of a confluence of variables like temperature and air pressure. Such technical sophistication has the potential to demystify the created order, which, according to Christian Scripture, is infused with the divine beauty and wonder of the Creator. But when images flash across our television screens from natural disasters of such proportions as the tsunami in Japan, the floods in Pakistan or the Haiti earthquake, then ancient suspicions are raised and we begin to think not just meteorologically or geologically but also theologically. In his recent article for The Ooze, Ed Brown refers to the tsunami that hit Japan as a “monster” that tromped over the shoreline “belching smoke and flame, swallowing everything in its path.” Some of us may wonder if a glance behind the celestial curtain would reveal that such monstrous phenomena are “acts of God,” events in which God decisively interrupts the “normal” ebb and flow of creation to exhibit wrath and fury.

But if a natural disaster can be labeled an “act of God,” then how “natural” is it? To ask an even more daring question, if the earthquake that rumbled Port-au-Prince to the ground and if the seawall that washed Sendai inland are indeed “acts of God,” then should we conclude that God is angry at Haitians and the Japanese? Evangelist Pat Robertson infamously made such a conclusion after the quake in Haiti. It is a conclusion that has been made by many Haitians themselves. Even in secular Japan, the governor of Tokyo attributed the earthquake there to the superstitious notion of “tembatsu,” or divine retribution (though who knows what political motivations may be behind his—now recanted—remark).

Attributing natural disasters to divine judgment is an easy step to make. The chaotic horror is more manageable if we can detect an obvious cause-and-effect relationship between sin and judgment. The formulaic simplicity permits us to believe we have some control over our own fate. If we will just be good little boys and girls, then disaster will be averted. The ground beneath our feet will not give way like it did for those unfortunate sinners on the west end of Hispaniola; the sea will not swallow us like it did those secular atheists busying themselves along the Japanese coastline.

This reflexive reaction of equating disaster with divine judgment was the approach of Job’s friends. And God rebuked them.

There is no question that, frequently throughout the Bible, natural disasters are understood as God’s judgment. There are times, however, when God is “not in the wind,” “not in the earthquake,” “not in the fire” (1 Kings 19:11-12). The unqualified association of catastrophe with divine judgment is challenged in a number of places, not least in the ministry of Jesus. In John 9, he corrects the disciples’ assumption that a blind man’s handicap was due to sin. In Luke 13, he references the deadly collapse of a structure in Siloam to counter this same notion, so intuitive for his audience, that disaster equals judgment; according to Jesus, the eighteen people who were killed in that freakish accident were no more deserving of judgment than the survivors.

So, to the gnawing, age-old question, “Why?” we cannot draw conclusive connections between catastrophic events and divine retribution. At the end of the book of Job, we find that the only parties “judged” are those that assumed the catastrophes were God’s judgment. Twice God says of Job’s friends, “you have not spoken of me what is right” (42:7-9).

We do not know what God is up to behind the scenes while tectonic plates shift and waves crash. There is something we do know with utmost confidence, and that is what he has called his servants to do for those who are thirsty, hungry, unclothed, and victimized. Humanitarian service is of more urgent need than theological speculation.

But theological speculation is still necessary. Christians need to have something to say about the character of God in the face of so-called “acts of God.” In the second installment of this three-part series, we will look at what Job saw when God actually did give him a glimpse behind that celestial curtain.

He saw monsters . . .


Andrew leads University Christian Fellowship in Birmingham, Alabama. He blogs at Hopeful Realism and is the author of Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint.

Author: "david" Tags: "Church, Culture"
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Date: Friday, 25 Mar 2011 17:13

by Tara R. Wood

A friend and I were talking about a recent post where I discussed my conversation with my kids over the current Rob Bell controversy. I was able to share in more detail how that conversation with my kids went and how much I enjoyed having those types of spiritual discussions with them.

After listening for a while my friend stopped me and asked, “Do you really think kids are able to understand spirituality?”

It’s a great question. It’s one many, if not all, parents at some point wonder. Unfortunately, most of us adults have been programmed since we were kids that children are inferior to adults, incapable of understanding and feeling to the abilities of those over 25. We can teach children how to pray. We can teach them Bible stories and speak of the wonders of God, but it’s all data processing for them right now. Kids are just gathering the information, storing it, and practicing routines so that when they become “fully human” they can have a solid foundation to hopefully pursue their own spirituality when they’re developmentally able.

There are many ways and reasons why we’ve all been conditioned to believe this. And yet, most of us have moments where we have questioned this notion that children aren’t capable of experiencing God and spiritual concepts. Whether it’s a dream they’ve had, or a quiet moment that they say they were talking to God or angels, or simply in their unsolicited questioning and wonderment, there are times where it seems they understand (and experience) more than we give them credit for.

In fact, there is amazing research coming out on what little ones are really capable of. Alison Gopnik writes about some of these findings in her amazing book The Philosophical Baby. Some of this new understanding of early childhood suggests that in many ways children are more capable of spirituality than adults are. We may see their ability to imagine and believe in just about anything as proof that children don’t have a “mature” capability to believe in God. But a child’s ability to so easily believe in the concepts that adults work so hard to believe in may be proof of a faith that we were actually originally created to have and that adults loose as they get older. Perhaps it is children who are more mature in their faith than we are. Brings new depth to “a child-like faith”, doesn’t it?

So, to answer my friend’s question, yes. Yes, I believe that my children are more than capable of spirituality. I think that they are able to tap into spiritual ideas in a ways that I don’t. I actually find myself learning a lot more about myself and my own faith when I interact and engage with my children on spiritual topics.

How about you? How would you answer this question? Have you witnessed your child’s spirituality on a level beyond just regurgitating what they’ve been taught?


Tara R Wood, M.A., CGE is an author and educator providing skills and strategies on how to create a sacred family. Tara holds a Masters in Child Development and a Psychology degree with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Services.  She has worked with children and parents for over 15 years as an educator and consultant in parenting skills and conflict, anger and behavior management. Tara and her husband currently live in Hudson, OH with their three children. Read her blog at tararwood.com.



Author: "caleb" Tags: "Family, Featured"
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Date: Friday, 25 Mar 2011 16:59

by David McDonald


Recently, Michigan pastor Rob Bell published a controversial book entitled “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”

The controversy centers on the fact that Bell appears to be a universalist (meaning he doesn’t believe in the existence of a literal hell, or that anyone actually ends up there), a position well outside of Christian orthodoxy. I’ve reserved judgment on the book until I had a chance to read it for myself, which I did a few days ago in the SeaTac airport. Having finished the book quickly (it’s really quite tiny) and having spent some time reflecting on the book since, I can say I really enjoyed about 90% of it. The 90% was good biblical theology, focusing much more on the ways in which we welcome God’s kingdom to be present in this life; as well as working to diminish the hellish quality than many experience while alive in the world. It was clever, sharply written, and fun.

The other 10% was biblically and historically dishonest. Rob refused to acknowledge counter-examples from the scriptures to his main point, dealt clumsily with any perceived objections or inconsistencies and – perhaps most frustratingly – claimed about a dozen or so historical theologians as part of his peer group, many of whom – quite simply – would have had Rob’s opinions tossed from their church faster than you can say the-Council-of-Nicea-wasn’t-just-a-chapter-in-the-Da-Vinci-Code.

I don’t recommend the book, despite its goodness, much like I wouldn’t recommend a delicious chocolate chip cookie that had just been smeared in the armpit of a NASCAR fan. The 90% doesn’t seem so good once it’s covered in the raw DNA of someone who should never touch your cookie.

Others have handled the biblical and theological flaws better than I could (or even care to), but I do have two criticisms of Rob that I wish someone would address…and, as no one has yet brought them to light, I guess that someone is me.

Both of my criticisms concern Rob’s irresponsibility. Firstly, it was irresponsible of Rob Bell to publish this book, with this message, in this way because this book – which challenges orthodox Christian theology and flies in the face of Christian history and tradition – was sure to piss off a bunch of religious right-wingers and incite them toward a flurry of media accusations, hate-mail, and internet-clustered heretic-hunting. Sure, John Piper and his Amazing Friends must always be held responsible for their own antics and their own lack of online decorum (though, really, was John Piper’s tweet [farewell, Rob Bell] really that bad?), but what Rob Bell did was tantamount to poking a wolverine with a sharp stick. Of course the Piper-ettes were going to over-react, and of course they would be exposed as hateful and malicious once again, and of course their responses would remind us all that we really ought to be careful how we choose to express ourselves…but in the meantime, while those mean ole’ nasty new Reformers learned their lesson, Rob Bell has deliberately chosen to expose the world to some of our ugliest flaws. He had to have known that would happen, and he shouldn’t have played into it regardless of the fact that controversy does, in fact, sell lots of books.

There may be times when we have to deal with the wolverine, but let’s not decide to torment it just because we can.

Rob Bell was also irresponsible in publishing this book this way because of what he did to everyday, ordinary pastors like me. I’m neither a new Reformer nor an emerging liberal. I’m just regular. Make of that what you will, but consider this: of the estimated 600,000 clergy currently registered in the USA (give or take), at least 550,000 of us (again, give or take) would hold to a historically orthodox Christian statement of faith; meaning, we all believe in hell (and, sadly, that someone people will go there) based on our understanding of the teachings of Jesus Christ and the information presented to us in both Testaments of the Christian Bible. By coming along and proclaiming that there is no such thing as a hell that some people will go to, Rob Bell has forced the rest of us to speak up about our own beliefs concerning the Final Judgment. In order for us, in good conscience and out of obedience to the witness of scripture, to be faithful to the truth we must now talk about the bad news rather than the good news. We have to tell people that they may be in danger, rather than focusing our efforts on inviting people into the kingdom and showing them the hospitality of God.

Rob just ousted us all, and forced a half-million of us to preach and teach on hell when we just as soon would have probably focused our attention on other things. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we don’t preach on hell enough…but I doubt it. In 15 years of pastor ministry I’ve preached on hell 3 times and they were all on the same day. I published a paper on it, which is readily available through ShadowingGod.com, so I never feel the need to address that topic ever again.

At least until now.

Maybe if Rob Bell had it all to do over again he would. Maybe he would have benefitted from a better editor. Maybe the ambiguity and double-speak in Love Wins wasn’t intentional, but representative of some unresolved conflict on his part that will later get sorted out.


But in the meantime, I just feel screwed.


Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Church in Jackson, MI which has been featured on CNN.com, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. He is the author of Bleached: Hope for the Desolate, Monsters: The Imagination of Faith and Fear, and a new series on the Seasons of Christian Spirituality.

Author: "caleb" Tags: "Church, Featured, Theology"
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Date: Thursday, 24 Mar 2011 20:00

By Tony Melton

I’m driving home from an oil change. I see Bob. He’s sitting outside in the cold, rain dripping on his winter jacket and stocking cap. Obviously waiting for a bus, Bob looks off into the distance – alone and uncomfortable. For as long as I’ve known him, this has been his life as he goes from shelter to shelter.

I’m checking out a book at the library. There’s Lawrence reading a book. I walk past as he sits at a table with other friends from the shelter. Our conversation is short and pleasant. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been looking for places like this to stay out of the heat or cold.

I’m driving to work. I see Wayne walking down Main Street. High school students are flooding into their school parking lot; hundreds of students litter the streets as they try to beat the tardy bell. In just a few minutes, Wayne will pass them all. I wonder, What will they say to him? How will they look at him? Will anyone wish him a good morning?” For as long as I’ve known him, Wayne has taken this walk.

I’m jogging the third mile of an eight-mile run. I see Odell sleeping on a bench. It’s a pleasant morning, and twenty or thirty people are around the park this morning. None of them notices Odell. This isn’t the first time he’s slept on that bench. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s never had a bed to call his own.

When it comes to the homeless, what counts as enough? Is it enough to offer temporary shelter, have some pleasant conversations, share a few laughs and then go home? Is it enough to know their names, learn their stories and offer encouragement? Is it enough to provide an environment where people feel welcomed and valued? Is that enough?

For the last five years, I’ve been asking myself that question. I offer leadership and support to a weekly overnight shelter in my community, and on the third Tuesday of every month I pull together a consistent group to serve dinner, set up sleeping quarters, do laundry, serve breakfast and clean up. We’ve invaded the basement of the First Church of Lombard monthly for the past five years, ready to hang out.

I say “invade” because that’s what it sometimes feels like at a shelter. Sometimes it seems like volunteers want to turn this awesome experience into “Mission: Save the Homeless!” Many people with great intentions think that their job at the shelter is to help homeless folks become more like them. Some think that by cooking up some food, putting down some mats, even saying “Hello,” they are doing these guys a giant favor.

It’s different working with a group of people who “invade” with love. I’ve seen some volunteers walk into the shelter wondering what they can learn from our homeless buddies. I’ve been able to witness a group realize the mutuality of the shelter experience—realize that hanging out at the shelter is, in many ways, a gift.

The volunteers I work with at the shelter aspire toward being a “wheel” for our homeless friends: to form relationships with homeless people and then “go with them” to take advantage of all the resources available to the homeless community. If you visited our shelter on a typical Tuesday night, you might not be able to tell who was homeless and who was a volunteer. Instead, you would see a bunch of people having a great time – homeless people and “homeful” people playing “cornhole” or shuffleboard together, filling out tournament pools together, painting each other’s nails and cutting each other’s hair, singing together and referring to each other by name.

I’ll be honest, the things I’ve seen happen in that basement at First Church over the last five years are incredible. To get to the point where a homeless person can say, “You guys really look like you like being here,” to get to the point where you’d look into the basement and it would look more like Thanksgiving than a homeless shelter. But the question still bugs me, “Is it enough?” Could any of us say that we’ve been directly responsible for a person going from homelessness to homefulness? I don’t think so. Has any of us even gotten involved in their lives past the Tuesday night and Wednesday morning that we’re at the site? Not on a regular basis. Have we been a wheel for our friends? I’m not sure.

As I move through the community and see my homeless friends move from shelter to shelter in between weeks, I’m asking myself the question, “Is it enough?” Is it enough that for at least one day out of the month our homeless buddies can go somewhere they are valued and people enjoy being with them?

Bob is still at the bus stop, Lawrence is still looking for a place to stay warm, Wayne is still walking down Main, Odell is still sleeping on benches. There are still over 1,000 people in my county who are homeless. Is it enough to just be a friend? Is it enough, even, to aspire to be a wheel? Or do we, the homeless and the homeful alike, still need to figure out what being a wheel – being a friend – really means?


Tony Melton is a volunteer with DuPage PADS and the author of Buy This Book So I Can Go to Ethiopia, a book on Christian discipleship; funds from the sale of his book will go toward his efforts at mission partnership with Arbogonea, a village in the Sidama region in Ethiopia.

Author: "david" Tags: "Causes"
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Date: Saturday, 19 Mar 2011 17:06

By David A. Zimmerman

I figured out a long time ago that there’s some music you’re simply not ready to appreciate the first time you hear it. You may be too young; you may be too naive or inexperienced; you may be too emotionally damaged by something associated with the lyrics to appreciate its unique insight; you may even simply have bad taste in music. But for whatever reason, you weren’t ready at first hearing to “get” the song. Mark Twain once observed that the music of German composer Richard Wagner is “better than it sounds”–a particularly Twainy way of acknowledging that music appreciation, like the appreciation of any art form, is a different animal for the hoi polloi than it is for the artistic class.

I studied music in college, earning a minor degree rather than a major because I refused to practice my instrument and follow the direction of my various conductors. But I did leave there with a sense of how music works, my grass roots notwithstanding. I left most of my music bona fides behind, however, when I graduated, concentrating all my attention going forward instead on popular music–so called because it emerges from the popular class rather than the musical elite. The Beatles, for example, made popular music, but not because their music was poor; it was populist at heart, which meant among other things that “popular” was a more convenient way of categorizing them than, oh, I don’t know, all the “elitist” alternatives.

(Pardon my sarcasm; I’m a populist by nature, at least partly as a preemptive strike to excuse my unwillingness to practice my instrument or follow the direction of my various conductors.)

That being said, I usually didn’t have a problem respecting the music of the elites: Wagner or Debussy or Bach or whoever. What I struggled to connect with were actually some of the songs I heard on the radio or saw on MTV, songs which generated a thought along the lines of, What is this nonsense?

I’ve since come around on a number of songs and artists, to whom I hereby extend my apologies, in relatively chronological order:

Bob Dylan. I get it now. The voice is part of the whole package, a fragile delivery system for overwhelming lyrics and powerful musical experiences. Bob Dylan songs sound weird, like muzak, when sung by beautiful voices; each song demands a weathered, plaintive voice, because Dylan was living and singing through weathered, plaintive times. It’s hard to pick one song to repent of hating, but when I now think of Dylan I think first of “Tangled Up in Blue,” and his performance on the Grammys, with Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers, of “Maggie’s Farm” finally made the song make sense to me.

Neil Young. Same thing. I first heard “Old Man” when I was a young boy and thought, Who gave this guy a microphone? Then I heard it as a young man and nearly cried. Then I heard “Heart of Gold” and it changed my religion a little bit. Then I heard Neil Young song after Neil Young song and realized that this was a troubador for the times; this was what conviction sounds like.

Willie Nelson. Voice was, apparently, very important to me when I was a kid. Willie Nelson has this nasally tone that I just couldn’t get behind. Particularly onerous to me was his hit “You Are Always on My Mind”; I hate-hate-hated it. Twenty years later it was my ring-tone of choice for incoming calls from my wife. It’s beautiful, simple, touching, sung by a legend who knows the heart of American music better than maybe anyone.

Chrissie Hynde. The first Pretenders song I remember hearing was “Back on the Chain Gang”; the second was “Brass in Pocket.” I was probably ten, and I was convinced that this lady was weird. She probably is weird, but those songs are brilliant–”Back on the Chain Gang” is wistful and sad and poignant, and “Brass in Pocket” ought to be played for every insecure young woman about to take a risk. Women in rock (and women not in rock) owe a debt to Chrissie Hynde, and I owe her an apology.

Annie Lennox. A next-wave Chrissie Hynde for me, Annie Lennox (of the Eurythmics) lost me with the debut single “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” I still haven’t quite come around on that song; it didn’t help her case when Marilyn Manson, whom I still don’t appreciate, adopted it as an anthem. I’ve landed on the admission that it’s better than it sounds. But when I set aside “Sweet Dreams” and revisit her other early entries (such as “Here Comes the Rain Again”) it’s like wiping the slate clean; it’s easy for me to embrace such diverse singles as “Would I Lie to You?” and “Missionary Man,” as well as Lennox’s eclectic solo work. Sorry, Annie; keep doin’ what you’re doin’.

Counting Crows. I actually liked Counting Crows when I heard their first single, “Mr. Jones,” and later their entire debut album, August and Everything After. It was catchy and different, reminiscent of Van Morrison moreso than their contemporaries Kenny G, Ace of Bass and Michael Bolton. But I was sure the Crows would be a flash in the pan. Somehow they’ve been able to pull off a pretty decent career, selling twenty million records and earning critical acclaim (including an Oscar nomination for their song “Accidentally in Love”), and sticking together for more than two decades now.

Justin Timberlake. I guess you’d call him a guilty pleasure. I still don’t go for his boy-band-era music with N-Sync, but when he first hosted Saturday Night Live and sat down at the keyboard to perform “Senorita,” I decided he had grown up. I still struggle to admit being a fan, and I even briefly reconsidered my fondness for his “Senorita” performance the last time I saw it (mostly because by then I’d seen it in reruns about a bazillion times), and I don’t really like his attitude generally. But I’ve begrudgingly acknowledged his talent (as a singer; I’m not there yet for Justin the actor).

American Idol. I started watching this show about six seasons in–I believe during the Season of Sanjaya. You may recall that Sanjaya Malakar made it all the way to the top seven despite not being particularly good. Some attribute his success to a public conspiracy led by Howard Stern to subvert the show by voting for someone who couldn’t sing. All this to say, my first introduction to American Idol was as a joke, a freak show. But I’ve kept watching, and I find myself with a favorite every year (none of whom ultimately win, unfortunately). I’ve bought individual performances by Andrew Garcia (“Sugar We’re Goin’ Down”) and Lilly Scott (“Fixing a Hole”), and I can see myself buying maybe even whole albums by this year’s Casey Abrams and Paul McDonald (sorry guys; I probably just killed your chances). It’s a silly show, but it does what it sets out to do.

I’m sure there are other artists I owe all apologies to, and I could probably come up with an alternate lists of songs (and singers) I no longer respect. Such is the conceit of the armchair music snob. Popular music is (ostensibly) music of, by and for the people. As such it’s as fun to talk about as it is to listen to. But any art ought to experience a similar tension–the striving to excel and expand the boundaries of form, set against the challenge to court and woo and know intimately an audience–and any artist will experience that tension as a risk. Art that is truly art has a reach that exceeds its grasp; but it also stretches its audience while never abandoning it.

When you think of it that way, I suppose grace is an art form in and of itself. Thank God it’s populist at heart.


David A. Zimmerman is an editor for the Ooze and Likewise Books, and a columnist at Burnside Writers Collective. His booklet The Parable of the Unexpected Guest comes out this fall.

Author: "david" Tags: "Culture, Uncategorized"
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Date: Friday, 18 Mar 2011 13:34

By Ed Brown

It hasn’t been a year since the Gulf oil spill, which we rightly saw as the worst environmental disaster in memory. At that time I wrote a piece trying to come to terms with that situation: “How Do You Pray About an Oil Spill?” And now I sit pondering a disaster that could turn out to be exponentially greater than the BP/Halliburton fiasco.

I am doing so at my dining room table, in a part of the world that is seismically if not politically stable, many miles from the nearest nuclear facility. I am looking out at a landscape where the first birds of spring have arrived and are singing up a storm: Robins, redwing blackbirds, a cedar waxwing and (I think) a pine warbler just this morning. The contrast between my window and the stories on my computer screen could not be more different, and I am forced to ask: How do I pray about what is now happening in Japan?

Let’s start by experiencing the disaster just a little bit. Click here to watch one of the first live reports of the wall of water and debris engulfing the flat land bordering the sea in Miyagi Prefecture north of Tokyo. Take it at least through the first four or five minutes, remembering that every house, every vehicle being swallowed has people in it.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything, even in fiction, like this monster as it races across the landscape, belching smoke and flame, swallowing everything in its path. I feel similarly to how I feel when I stand at the base of Niagara Falls—small and inconsequential. Look—everything human is being obliterated. Our greatest works hardly slow it down. Instead, as human artifacts are swallowed they become part of the monster, swelling its size and increasing its power to destroy.

This is only the middle act of a three-part tragedy. To this we have to add, on the front end, approximately three minutes of the worst earthquake in recorded Japanese history, and on the back end a still unfolding nuclear disaster whose effects could last from decades to centuries.

This is happening in Japan—one of the wealthiest, most technologically advanced countries in the world. Japan is not only the source of many of our cars and electronic gadgets—she is the most prepared-for-disaster country in history. Japan knows earthquakes as Oklahoma knows tornadoes. Building codes are possibly the strictest in the world. Public education, early warning systems, disaster drills: Everything that could be done in anticipation of a disaster was being done. There is no way to blame this tragedy on greed (the Gulf oil spill), poverty (Haiti), or political ineptness (Hurricane Katrina). No—it seems like this is one tragic event that was going to happen and there was nothing anyone anywhere could have done to prevent it or to adequately prepare for it. An article in the New York Times sums up the situation nicely:

No matter how high the levee or how flexible the foundation, disaster experts say, nature bats last.

In such a situation, where the best that human society can offer is less than inadequate, how should we pray?

We need to put God back into the picture. “Nature” is a euphemism; God is the reality. Nature does not control the movement of tectonic plates, the displacement of billions of tons of sea water. But God does. Isaiah 40 might be a useful chapter to run to in these times of trouble and chaos:

He [God] sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
     and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
     and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
He brings princes to naught
     and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
No sooner are they planted,
     no sooner are they sown,
     no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
     and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

Does putting God at the center of the Japan disaster make you uncomfortable? It should. “Fear God” is a common exhortation in the Bible for good reason: overfamiliarity with the God of earthquakes and tsunamis is not a good idea. This leads directly to our second item.

We need to understand our frailty and adopt an attitude of humility. There’s a line I use often in my talks: “The entire human enterprise depends on two things: Six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains.” No matter how clever our inventions, no matter how beautiful our artwork, no matter how profound our works of literature or how powerful our weapons or how vast our (imaginary) wealth, we are in the end biological creatures who suffer and die quickly without air, food and water.

Our frailty is evident in every disaster. Water and food become matters of top priority; their lack is often a major reason for breakdowns in security and social norms. But absent a disaster, we human beings act like teenagers who are invincible and will live forever. Could there be a better description of an economic system built on the premise that perpetual growth is possible, desirable and inevitable? Perhaps James’ caution could apply here:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

We need to admit the reality of our sin and repent. Think back to the image of the tsunami wave racing across the landscape, engulfing cars and buildings and then carrying them along, adding them to itself and using them to consume and destroy yet more cars and buildings. There is a powerful metaphor here: All of our economic, political and social structures have been built, like the Tower of Babel, on a foundation of arrogance and greed. We have in fact “added house to house until there is no more room and we live alone in the land” (Is 5). We have “destroyed the earth” and unknowingly lived on the blood of millions trapped in poverty. And the system we’ve built for our comfort and prosperity is in the process of destroying us—more slowly than, but just as effectively as, that tsunami wave.

Biblical repentance calls for a change of attitude as well as change of direction. “Go and sin no more,” says Jesus to an admitted sinner. Can an entire global society learn to “sin no more”? I’m not sure we can, but I suspect this is the great challenge of our time.

And this brings us to our one hope in all of this: We can appeal to the mercy and grace of a God who is not only wrathful but also loving. While we confess and pray, we can also hang on tight to the words of Jeremiah at one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history, words that are the source of one of our greatest hymns of prayer and praise:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24)


Ed Brown is executive director and CEO of Care of Creation, Inc., and author of Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation. This post is adapted from an earlier post at ourfathersworld.org.

Author: "david" Tags: "Causes"
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Date: Wednesday, 09 Mar 2011 10:00

By Alan B. Ward


For fifteen years Jim Valvano roamed the sidelines as the successful coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack men’s basketball team. In 1983, against all odds, his team won the National Championship. Valvano was a man who loved taking on tough challenges in life. He had a tremendous zest for life that came out in everything he did.

Valvano would ultimately face a battle he could not overcome, however, as his body succumbed to cancer. But even when facing those “impossible” odds his spirit remained strong. In March 1993, a few months before he died, he received the inaugural Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY awards show. The speech he gave has become somewhat famous for its inspirational and hopeful words. For the full transcript and a YouTube video see: www.jimmyv.org/remembering-jim/espy-awards-speech.html.

At the very end of the speech, Valvano utters the following phrase: “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”

Every time I return to these words I am moved. Here is a man who had to know he was facing “the end” and faced the choice we all face when difficulty comes our way.

Would he let adversity make him better or bitter?

Valvano’s legacy shows that he decisively chose better—and the world is a better place because he did. Working with ESPN, Valvano started the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research whose motto was: Don’t give up… don’t ever give up. The foundation grew from humble beginnings and has raised millions of dollars to fund cancer research.

Despite his illness Valvano chose to continue to live life with passion and joy right up to the end—he refused to be defined by his difficulties. He would not let his terminal canner diagnosis stop him from living life to the full and doing all he could to see his dreams come true.

I am inspired by Jim Valvano’s story because it’s how I desire to live. How can you not admire the man’s attitude?! When I face adversity I too want to let what I live through make me better, but despite my best intentions, I think the challenges I face in life often make me bitter.

I frequently find myself lamenting how hard my life is, sometimes to the point where it has a negative impact on others around me. People get frustrated with my attitude and say in essence: “Alan, if you spent half the energy doing something that you did lamenting your life, you could literally change the world.”

Now to be fair, the difficulties I’ve had to deal with in recent months have been significant and it’s only natural that they would impact me on some level. The point is not to deny the reality of my hardship or pretend it doesn’t matter. This approach might be what we think we’re supposed to do as “good Christians” but it’s actually more Buddhist than Biblical!

I cannot choose what circumstances come my way in this life but I can choose how I respond to them. And I think I am learning that this choice makes all the difference in the world when it comes to connecting to the power of Christ in our lives.

When I choose to become bitter about my life circumstances I give them power they weren’t meant to have. Before too long, rather than being defined by my identity in Christ I am defined by my difficulties . My circumstances now control me and start to have an impact on my mind (how I think and feel about myself), my heart (my dreams and desires), my body (physical health), and even my soul (the total package of who I am and how I act).

When circumstances take control of our lives, a subtle shift happens. For all practical purposes, we have decided that the only way we can survive is to push God to the side and take matters into our own hands. We tell ourselves it’s just for a while—until the current crisis is over.

And remarkably, when we do this, God graciously steps aside, surrenders control, and patiently waits for us to “come to our senses”. But that doesn’t mean we escape the consequences of our poor choice.

Our Enemy uses a cunning strategy to separate us from God and render us impotent and ineffective to respond to and overcome the immense problems both in our personal lives and in our world today. It is the same strategy he has used effectively since the beginning of human history. And it is simply this:

He convinces us we can do a better job running our life than God can.

When we fall for the Enemy’s lie, we place ourselves in charge, and in so doing, we cut ourselves off from the power of God—that we see in the life of Jesus, and in the life of the Church during periods of vitality and growth—that can help us thrive during times of hardship and suffering.

Choosing to walk the broken road and let hardship and suffering do their work to make me better is by far the harder choice for me. The bitter road certainly seems the easier and safer road to travel. Becoming bitter seems to come much more naturally to me. Whenever troubles come it tends to be the path of least resistance.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to face the reality of what I have been living through head-on and put into words just how painful it all has been. And when I walk the bitter road I don’t have to do that.

And I have become very proficient at justifying and defending my choice to walk the bitter road lately. Who could possibly fault me for being frustrated about the all challenges I’ve endured recently? Don’t I have a right to be upset that things aren’t going well for me right now? Doesn’t God exist to make me feel good and ease the pain of living? And if I don’t feel good and I am a believer, then something must be wrong with me. Isn’t that right? I don’t want to let the world know how I feel!

But I think Jesus is telling me that if I truly want to become better because of what I have lived through and experience the power of risen Christ in me, then I must be willing to walk the broken road. I can’t really “go around” my troubles anymore—the only way forward is “through” them.

And so for this Lenten season I choose to embark on the broken road. Will you join me on this journey? The journey is easier when we travel with friends. Will you walk the narrow way with me, trusting that strong arms will catch you when you stumble? Will you trust a power beyond yourself to help you stand firm in the face of whatever pain and hardship you face along the way?

Be warned that if you choose to embark on this journey, you are choosing to walk a difficult path. This is not a leisurely Sunday stroll in the park. The journey will require much of you; it will change you in profound ways, and this kind of change is often painfully difficult at first.

But all the risk, all the pain, and all the tears will be worth it if we encounter the risen Christ along the way and connect with the power that he alone provides. In fact, it just might be the best thing that ever happened to us!


Alan Ward lives in Baltimore, MD. He works as a writer for NASA and is paid to tell the story of NASA. His heart’s desire is to share God’s story in a language that connects with the world around us. Many of his articles focus on spiritual formation—particularly how our life experiences form us in Christ. His other calling is as husband to Laurie and father to Brady and Becca. He occasionally blogs at bigalscorner.blogspot.com.




Author: "caleb" Tags: "Spiritual Growth"
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Date: Monday, 07 Mar 2011 15:53

Forward is the word for this Monotation Monday. I took this photo in North Park, San Diego in front of Mission Gatherings entrance to their office.

If you have a challenge word you want me to consider for the Monotation next week, just type it below in the comments. If I use it I will give you credit in the post.


Author: "cavepaint" Tags: "Arts, Featured, monotation, photography,..."
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Date: Monday, 07 Mar 2011 09:30

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an executive summary for our ViralBloggers. Full reviews of this book are to be placed in the comments below for the benefit of TheOOZE community. To become a ViralBlogger and receive advanced copies of resources, click here to apply.

What would the practice of Christian spiritual formation look like in a New Kind of Christianity, for A New Kind of Christian practicing a Generous Orthodoxy? The answer - Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words. Brian D. McLaren acknowledges the breadth of spiritual traditions interested in life with God and offers an encounter with God in the Christian Scriptures.

Many will confuse McLaren’s reference to the breadth of interest in spirituality across human experiences as a flaunting of the Christian vision of life with God in Jesus. Yet, Naked Spirituality opens the reader up to spiritual practices growing out of life with God narrated in the Bible and expressed in the Christian tradition. McLaren encourages the reader to put off the idea we may contain God in our practices and instead practice the habits found in the Christian Scriptures, modeled in the life of Jesus, as a means to acknowledge human finitude and the need for God beyond G-d.

Brian draws out the implications of C.S. Lewis’ charge to avoid the danger of assuming we know more about the God we address in prayer than we actually know. He writes, “In so doing, we may falsely assume that our idea of God is identical to God, that the real God “out there” is no bigger and no different from the idea we have “in here” in our heads.” From there McLaren’s agenda is to guide the reader through the stages of Christian spiritual formation – Simplicity, Complexity, Perplexity, and Harmony.

One day Christians may look at Naked Spirituality in the same way a previous generation of Christians will have viewed Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, as a classic.

PURCHASE: Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have read this book and have a review which you’d like to share, please feel free to post your review in the comments below.

Author: "todd" Tags: "ViralBlogger"
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Date: Monday, 07 Mar 2011 06:00

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an executive summary for our ViralBloggers. Full reviews of this book are to be placed in the comments below for the benefit of TheOOZE community. To become a ViralBlogger and receive advanced copies of resources, click here to apply.

Best sellers often chronicle high profile “falls from grace.” Few people grew up in the aftermath of the kind of high profile “religious fall” as did Jay Bakker. He tells his story in his 2005 memoir, Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows. Publisher’s Weekly hoped Jay would find time to write more. He did.

In Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self, and Society, Bakker continues to use his discovery of grace in the shadows and offers a compelling vision of grace in an often un-gracious church. That’s right, Jay takes aim at the church in hopes of restoring a vision of grace that indeed revolutionizes everything challenging the church to become a transforming community full of grace.

Bakker demonstrates a keen grasp of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. In a day when the Apostle Paul gets vilified, Jay applauds the way grace is championed in the letter by the Apostle who “fell to grace” on a dusty road. Make no mistake, this is no domesticated treatment of grace. Bakker presses the reader to experience the discomfort of grace. That is, what shape it takes when offered to those frequently considered outside the pale of grace.

Bakker, the Outlaw Preacher, is oft accused of overstating how grace accepts us where we are without calling Jesus followers to a more fruitful life in the Spirit. Not so in this volume. Be challenged by this re-counting of what a “fall to grace” might mean for human beings often bent to wallow in un-grace.

PURCHASE: Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you have read this book and have a review which you’d like to share, please feel free to post your review in the comments below.

Author: "todd" Tags: "ViralBlogger"
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