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I had no problems finding the Daily Grind coffeehouse in Fulton. It’s right across the street from a church where Drea and I have some friends and where we visit occasionally. I showed up around 8:10 to grab a coffee and a good seat before 8:30 when things were to begin. I was half-expecting a sizable crowd, so I was pleasantly surprised when only a handful of people showed up. A few of us figured out that we were there for the same thing, so we introduced ourselves and exchanged the usual friendly small talk before McLaren arrived.

It doesn’t take much more than Google-ing Brian McLaren’s name to realize that he’s one of the most controversial Christians in the public eye today. His books about faith, postmodernism, and the emerging church have stirred the pot, to say the least. His demeanor, however, wouldn’t suggest this. An average-looking, middle-aged, bald guy with glasses, McLaren has a warm disposition; soft-spoken, sensitive, contemplative, the kind of guy you can tell is really listening to you.

A few more have arrived at this point, and McLaren begins by having us introduce ourselves. I realize I’m surrounded by a very diverse group of Christians, including two Lutherans, one Presbyterian, one Jewish-Episcopalian, one Eastern Orthodox, and two Southern Baptists (of which I’m one…technically).

After introductions, I’m thinking McLaren’s just going to open up the floor to anyone who wants to discuss something. Instead, he looks right at me and says something like, “Drew, is it? You look like you’ve got something on your mind.”

Say whaaa…?

Once I get over the fact that this guy who’s been the subject of Time Magazine articles just addressed me directly, I share my questions and reflections, as we all do. While I imagined this would be more of a Q & A, “meet the author” type thing, it was much more informal. The eight of us just kind of sat there talking for like two hours, drinking our coffee as the snow fell outside. It was awesome. 

It’s true (and not surprising) that McLaren’s been called a heretic. We tend to dislike it when a person calls our way of thinking into question, and it’s easy to write that person off if they’re questioning a belief that’s been in place for a long time. I imagine that the religious establishment is irritated by McLaren the same way they were irritated by Luther’s 95 theses, Galileo’s rejection of the earth-centered universe model, or Civil War era Christians who didn’t believe that the Bible condoned slavery. My theory is that Western Christians like myself call McLaren a heretic because he believes that certain beliefs and practices of Western Christianity are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. That’s a pretty bold statement, and while I’ve never heard (or read) McLaren be unkind or self-righteous about it, he certainly doesn’t mince words. That’s the kind of thing that will get you labeled a heretic.

With that said, I myself don’t agree with everything McLaren believes, but I do think he’s onto something good. One thing I completely agree with him on is that we need some “new wineskins” for the Gospel in our postmodern culture, and we may even need to rethink what the Gospel truly is in the first place. After all, can anyone deny that the Church has severely misinterpreted the message of Jesus in the past, and even the present?

I appreciate McLaren’s willingness to admit that he doesn’t have all the answers. He’s been criticized by fundamentalist types for his “ambiguity” and “vagueness”. I suppose there’s some truth to that, but honestly, I don’t think any of us have all the answers, and I think many us pretend to have answers to things we don’t have them for. And, come to think of it, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we relied a little less on pastors and Christian authors to spoon-feed us the truth. I’m just speculating here, but I wonder if McLaren is being intentionally vague not to confuse us, but to pique our curiosity and invite deeper exploration through prayer and Scripture reading?

In any case, there are some things that McLaren is not ambiguous about. In fact, he addresses some issues that Evangelicals seem strangely apathetic to: poverty, racial prejudice, environmental stewardship, post-9/11 Muslim relations, peace, justice. In this vein, he’s making a clear statement: that Christianity isn’t just about going to heaven after you die, that it also matters what happens here and now. Salvation is for reconciliation with God, but also with each other.

For some reason (Christian subculture, perhaps?), these two dimensions of the Gospel seem at odds with each other. If you emphasize only the individual dimension, you’re labeled a fundamentalist. If you emphasize only the social dimension, you’re labeled a liberal. No doubt McLaren’s books address the latter more heavily, but I think it’s worth considering that his target audience might be those of us Christians that have always emphasized the former too heavily. If by laying it on thick from the social side he can bring those on the individual side into a more balanced view, perhaps he will have succeeded.

I’ve certainly benefited from his books. They’ve caused me to think about things I might not have otherwise; his writings about the kingdom of God have been particularly meaningful and enriching for me. If you’re interested, I would recommend reading them with a lot of prayerful consideration and definitely an open mind. (I loved A Generous Orthodoxy, if you’re looking for a place to start!)

Sorry if my thoughts are little scatter-brained here. Evidently I lack the discipline to better organize them! In any case, I hope none of this is misinterpreted as a full-fledged endorsement of McLaren. I guess my main point is that he’s worth checking out. If you already have, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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I tried to ignore the blitzkrieg of Facebook tags for this “25 things” business, but alas! We’ve been blog-tagged, which seems to carry more authority than Facebook. (I don’t know why – it just does.) But as much as I would love to say that I’m doing this begrudgingly, I’ve actually enjoyed reading various people’s entries, so what the heck – why not join the bandwagon?

I’m going to try to make these fairly original and entertaining for you people, none of these obvious crap answers like “I don’t like it when people are mean to me.” So here goes:

  1. I love driving, but only when the route is a new one or one I haven’t done for awhile. I abhor my work commute, for example. And I used to hate the drive to and from Salisbury, but now that I only drive down there once a year or so, I actually enjoy it. (Gasp!)
  2. Our life group is becoming one of my favorite things about life right now.
  3. Hygiene is pretty important to me. It irritates me when someone who has the means to bathe themselves chooses not to and subjects the rest of us to their rancidness.
  4. Drea and I both have lists of people we would date if we weren’t married. If that sounds weird to you, then…well yeah it actually is pretty weird.
  5. I love my family. Ackermanns represent – for real. The older I get, the more I appreciate my parents and the way they raised me and my sisters. I don’t think Drea and I will do everything exactly the same, but I hope our family has the same closeness and healthiness as mine.
  6. I love books. (Yep, I stole this one from both Lammy and Leslie.) I became a reading junkie right after college, and I regret not picking it up sooner. Sometimes it actually makes me sad to know that there are great books I’ll never have a chance to read in my lifetime. My favorites of 2008 were The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, A Generous Orthodoxy, and In a Sunburned Country. I also love getting book suggestions from people, so keep those coming!
  7. Drea and I love our new (used) Prius. We drive it everywhere, and are looking forward to taking it on some road trips this summer!
  8. We used to want to get a family dog once we start having kids. But a few months ago we spent a week dog-sitting a puppy who was cute, but who also vomited and projectile-crapped all over the place. Repeatedly. So, yeah, we’re having some second thoughts about that.
  9. I love Google, and I use them for everything – email, calendar, documents, maps, web browser, news, RSS, even weather. Google is like the official sponsor of my life. Honestly, if they approached me to do a commercial, I’d probably do that crap for free.
  10. I hate to steal another one from Lammy, but here goes! I absolutely loved college. I met some of my best friends at Salisbury and had some of the greatest experiences of my life there. I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything, but sometimes I get hit with a wave of nostalgia for my college years. St. Martins 118/120 – good times.
  11. Casual dating is still something quite foreign to me. Drea and I already knew each other pretty well when we started dating, and I’ve never really dated anyone else, although there’s been an “almost” or two in there! :) I wonder sometimes how I’d be at the casual, get-to-know-you kind of dating. I’m guessing pretty sucky, as I’m generally not so great with the small talk, or, for that matter, the suave, debonair flirtation skills. Drea’s a lucky lady. :)
  12. I’m not much of a sports fan, but I did enjoy watching the Super Bowl last night. Probably like the third football game I’ve ever watched in its entirety. Who knows? Maybe I’ll nonchalantly follow the Redskins if they make the playoffs next year.
  13. My dad took our family on epic summer vacations when we were kids. Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing the license plate game or 20 questions in the car on the way to Colorado, Wyoming, San Diego, Seattle, or wherever. I can’t wait to do this with our kids.
  14. My verdict on the timeless toilet paper debate: over is right, under is wrong.
  15. My other verdict on the timeless toilet paper debate: scrunching is right, folding is wrong.
  16. I’m all about it when people take pride in their work, no matter how insignificant it may seem. Intentionally friendly cashiers, knowledgeable salespeople who actually help you find what you need, fast food workers who make an effort to move the line quickly – I’m all about it.
  17. I would never want to live somewhere that doesn’t get all four seasons.
  18. I tend to remember movie lines as being funnier than they actually are. Like, the part in The Wedding Singer where Adam Sandler’s sister and her husband are getting ready for a date, and the husband’s not ready to go, and the wife sticks her head in the door and yells “BILLY, MOVE YOUR ASS!” That line is hilarious in my memory, but when you actually watch it, it isn’t that funny. (And I don’t think the guy’s name is Billy.)
  19. This one is weird. Sometimes a certain moment of music and lyrics in a song will just blow me away, and I have to hear it again. For example, I love the line “dreaming of the Osaka sun” from the Coldplay song “Lovers in Japan”, and I rewind it multiple times whenever I listen to it. I do the same thing with the line “let us sing one true tune” from Switchfoot’s “The Beautiful Letdown”. Inexplicable, I know.
  20. One thing God has recently brought my attention to is my tendency to think unkindly about people I feel wronged by; a basic disregard of Jesus’ command to love my enemies. Sometimes my attitude just sucks. I’m really trying to work on this.
  21. My first car was my dad’s old ’88 Honda Accord which ran like a champ until it finally died at 264,000 miles. I’m now on my third Accord, and I love it. It gets good gas mileage, is reliable, handles nicely, and I wouldn’t change a thing about the dashboard layout. I’m sold on this car, and will probably keep buying Accords for the rest of my life.
  22. I wish we had a Denny’s in Upper Marlboro so I could get a French Toast Grand Slam anytime I wanted.
  23. I hate having to shave every morning.
  24. A good way to punish me would be to force me to sit and listen to country music for several hours.
  25. I eat breakfast cereal for all three meals, and I freaking love it. I’ll take a bowl of Life or Honey Bunches of Oats just about anytime.

So there you have it. My 25 things. I’m sure that with enough harassment, Drea will post hers as well. :)

After two great four-day weekends of staying up late, hanging out with friends, and generally goofing off, I’m going through holiday withdrawal this week. (What? A five-day work week? Are you freaking kidding me?) Ah, reality.

Our New Year’s weekend was basically off the hook from start to finish. Well, almost. Drea was in a car accident Wednesday afternoon with a guy in a pick-up truck who tailgated her for a mile or so before finally rear-ending her. But she’s fine and it looks like all our expenses, rental car included, will be covered through this guy’s insurance.

My work closed early on New Year’s Eve, which provided a little chill time before heading to the Janes home to celebrate (as was necessary as I’m becoming increasingly brain-dead after 10pm.) The festivities included homemade party hats, Renata’s homemade New Year’s version of Apples to Apples, and lots of Dance Dance Revolution, which I’m actually getting a little better at! (And “better” is a nice way of saying that, really, I just suck a little bit less at dancing.)

newyears

The gang at New Year's

The late nights didn’t end New Year’s Eve, as we spent Friday and Saturday nights hanging out with Tom and Renata and our life group, respectively. What began as a group bowling night turned into a game night at Mike’s house (bowling lanes were booked till late), playing Loaded Questions and Wii Bowling.

One New Year’s resolution of mine is to read more novels/fiction. I’ve realized recently that my reading diet is a little nonfiction-heavy. I’m about to start David Wroblewski’s novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I’ve heard great things about. Anyone have other suggestions?

Some more of my hopes for 2009 are to be more obedient in day-to-day things: prayer, Scripture reading, intentional silence, maybe even some community service. Less thinking/talking and more doing. Our blog-friend Kate McDonald recently shared some great stuff about this on her blog.

Anyway, I hope you’re having a great new year so far. Here’s to 2009!

If you think that I’m weirder than Drea, well, you’re probably right.  I’m pretty weird.  But perhaps providing a list of the books Drea and I are currently reading will bring newfound insight into our respective weirdness levels.

What I’m reading:

1) “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” – Bill Bryson.  Yet another indication of my growing appreciation for Bryson’s wit.

2) “A Generous Orthodoxy” – Brian McLaren.  His controversy-spurring confession of faith.  Don’t agree with all he says, but fascinated by his innovative take on Christianity.  (I might post on this book later.)

3) “I Am America (And So Can You!)” – Stephen Colbert.  HILARIOUS, and a total guilty pleasure.  I’m OK with it.

So my list is pretty normal right?  OK, here’s what Drea is reading (the first two are pretty normal; the last one will knock your socks off):

1) “A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael” – Elizabeth Elliot.  Sounds like a fascinating biography. Classic Drea book.

2) “Feminine Appeal” – Carolyn Mahaney.  Evidently, a highly beneficial look into Godly womanhood.  She’s actually done reading it, but I threw it in to help you absorb the shock of the next title…

3) “Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park” – Lee H. Whittlesey.  Red flags going up?  I THINK SO.  Ever since our vacation about a month ago, Drea has developed a morbid fascination with people dying in national parks.  After this book, she wants to read a similar one about happy tourists plummeting to their untimely deaths at the Grand Canyon.

People, should I be worried here?  Has my wife gone off the deep end?  Should I exercise more care than usual the next time Drea and I are near a precipitous ledge of some kind?

For good measure, I should mention that we both were fascinated by the Wikipedia article about unusual deaths.  So I guess we’re both weirdos in our own regard.  :)

…Andrea is still around.  And here I am.

Drew’s been hinting recently that I haven’t posted on this blog for some time and something needs to be done about it.  Relishing in a little extra time today, I’m posting.  (Happy, Drew?)

I have been super busy the past month!  I just launched my photography website and have been trying to keep up with my photography blog, in addition to actually BEING a photographer and doing the duties that come with the job.

I’m at home full-time now and LOVING it.  Having just passed our one year anniversary, I think I may have learned some things about wife-ing.  I think the #1 thing I have learned is that I know nothing of wife-ing.  Oh, this little girl has been wrestling with a lot of things this month, in the BEST WAY.

I am reading the book Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney.  If you are a wife, almost a wife, or have ever entertained the idea of being a wife, you should read this book.  Not only is it excellently written, it is thought-provoking and, more than that, HEART-provoking.  Reading the book, I have been forced to look at myself soberly, all the way down to my smallest motives.  It’s horrifying.  It is sort of like looking at a scary monster in the mirror.  At the same time though, I feel such a hope of change and confidence in God about the kind of woman I want to be.

The book has been one of those life-changing books for me.  You know, the ones that define a particular season of life when you think back.  The kind that speaks directly to the situation you are in.  The one that might as well have been written FOR you RIGHT NOW.

Pair that book with daily visits to the book of Matthew (particularly the Sermon on the Mount, talk about heart changing), day-long listening to Sara Groves (that woman speaks to me), and night-time reading of the biography of Amy Carmichael (the woman who gave up everything – including marriage – to serve as a missionary to the poorest of the poor in India) and you might have a slight idea of how I feel.  Talk about tearing a girl up inside!

It’s difficult, wonderful, overwhelming, frustrating.  But colorful.  And vivid.  Things I have been aching for this past year.  An ice heart melting slowly.  The best kind of life.  I’m back.

DISCLAIMER: This post is long as crap.  Seriously, scroll down and take a look.  Do you really want to read this?  I won’t lie.  If I was just looking for something light and fun to read, I would totally skip this joint.  I’d probably check out this guy’s blog instead (hilarious).  But, if for some reason you’re inclined to read my ramblings about this book, go for it!

OK, end of disclaimer.

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Having finished my Bill Bryson book on vacation and having nothing else to read, I picked up Barack Obama’s “The Audacity of Hope” at a bookstore on a whim.  I was curious if what Barack had to say in his book was any different from what I’d been learning about him via the media for the past year.  Some things came as no surprise, but some of what I read gave me unexpected insights into the man himself and his values.  Here are a few of my basic observations…

1.  He’s smart.   OK, duh.  He graduated at the top of his Harvard Law class.  But it would seriously be hard to argue against the idea that Obama is a remarkably intelligent guy.  His analysis in the book of national and world issues are clear-cut and detailed when appropriate.  His well-rounded observations signify the high value he places (and has long placed) on educating himself on a broad scope of issues.  His keen familiarity with American history, combined with a commanding knowledge of other cultures, is impressive.

At times, the book actually reads more like a college lecture than a political analysis.  A former law professor, Obama is obviously in his element as he provides thoughtful insights into human history and its implications today.  It’s obvious that he isn’t just some emotion-manipulating rock star preaching an ambiguous message of change (like some of his critics would suggest.)  While he may be a relative newcomer, Obama knows what he’s talking about.

2.  His experience is unique.   I’ve heard few politicians draw such thoughtful conclusions as Barack Obama.  I specifically applaud his blunt but even-handed discussion on race in America.  While he admits that he enjoyed a more peaceful childhood than most blacks, he is also painfully candid about the racial division he’s lived in the midst of in Chicago (and indeed, that exists in most American cities).  In this regard, he has the invaluable advantage of a more experience-informed view of the whole of America (and indeed, the world).

This is particularly evident in the area of social issues.  While most politicians (I would hope) have at least a rudimentary awareness of poverty and injustice, Barack has lived and worked in direct, continued contact with these vices as a community organizer in Chicago.  No doubt he is personally familiar with the nuances and experiences of inner-city life that can’t be fully understood by occasionally driving through a poor neighborhood or watching a TV documentary.  What’s remarkable is that he thrives in the bipolar environments of the low-income working class and the lofty circles of wealthy academia.  He seems to be highly respected by both inner-city families on welfare and Harvard Law graduates with seven-figure salaries.  The vast majority of his political counterparts simply can’t make that claim.

Obama’s relatively brief career in national politics causes some to be concerned, and for good reason.  I certainly understand the desire to have as President a man who “knows the ropes” before taking office.  Conversely though, I also think that for veteran politicians, all those years of increasingly ugly bipartisanship can cause progress-stinting bitterness, making having too much political experience a potential liability.  So, of course Obama’s limited political experience should be accounted for, but not without also seeing the hidden benefits of fresh new talent.

3.  He’s not a raving liberal maniac.   Maybe that depends on your definition of “raving” and “maniac”, but the point here is that while Obama is a true progressive, he’s not an extreme, post-religious, post-moral, hyper-secularist fanatic.  This is particularly evident in the book’s chapters on faith and family.  While most liberals tend to steer clear of these topics in favor of talking about pluralism, tolerance, etc., Obama doesn’t hesitate to express his dismay at the moral degradation of our culture, and his desire that his daughters be raised to hold Christian faith, family, and moral decency in high regard.  He protests greedy consumerism, pleading for a return to the virtues of simple living and “delayed gratification.”  While he remains true to his belief that the government should never exert itself as a moral authority (a belief I share with him), he implores parents to take a more active role in being a positive moral influence for their kids.

While I’m don’t completely agree with all of his policies, I’m excited about the direction it seems he wants to take our country in, and his book left a good impression on me.  Obama is clearly a man with big dreams and big confidence that those dreams can be eventually realized.  Many have criticized his optimism, calling him naive or idealistic.  But I like to think that our country can, in fact, begin to make some fundamental changes for the better.  Of course, I’m wary of those Obama supporters who paint him as a panacea for every problem we face.  (Here are some more of my thoughts on this.)  But if Barack’s values and goals are what he says they are in this book, I believe he has unique and great potential to help push towards “a more perfect union.”

Casting a vote for any candidate is always a gamble (sometimes a costly one as with our current President), and Obama certainly has his share of shortcomings.  But by and large, what I’ve seen and read so far gives me considerable confidence that a vote for the Illinois Senator seems like a pretty solid bet.

Yesterday, I decided I would go to the pool. 2pm, prime sun, no screaming little kids and the pool to myself. A good plan. I packed up my towel, water and pool pass. Then I decided to scour the shelves for a good book. I stared at the shelf for 10 minutes. I don’t have anything to read!

Every summer, I’ve always had an extensive book list. Because of my lifeguarding job, I usually finished every book on the list. This summer, I didn’t make a list because I didn’t think I would need one. I was wrong. And now, I only have 2 books on the list.

What is What by Dave Eggers
Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders

This is sad to me. Any suggestions for a good read? Please comment and leave your book recommendations, PLEASE!

In order (hopefully) to enhance this blog’s functionality as an archive of our lives, I thought it’d be fun to post my reactions to books I’m reading. I particularly enjoy hearing/reading book reviews of people I know. (One I recently enjoyed was our friend Steven’s reaction to The Shack by William P. Young.) If one of my personal friends likes a book, I find I’m much more likely to read it myself. So maybe this will inspire some of our blogstalkers (who we appreciate!) to check out some of these books themselves.

These won’t be reviews, per se, only my personal reactions. I won’t pretend to know what the crap I’m talking about when it comes to literary analysis. (Drea, having majored in English lit, and having many more difficult books under her belt than me, is clearly the literary genius of our family!)

So, without further ado, “In a Sunburned Country”.

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I was introduced to Bill Bryson’s books by my dad, who gave me a book about Bryson’s hiking adventures on the Appalachian Trail, called A Walk in the Woods. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I ordered a copy of In a Sunburned Country. All I knew was that it was about Australia. I was naturally intrigued.

Bryson took several trips there a couple years ago, and this book is essentially a combined travelogue of those trips. Australia is such a huge country that, even in several trips of considerable length, Bryson evidently barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there. However, he did visit all the major provinces of the country (which could almost be separate countries themselves.) The result is a nicely proportioned preview of the whole Australian continent, complete with Bryson’s signature humor and wit.

I should expound on his humor a little. Bryson was born in Iowa, but lived in England for most of his adult life, only recently returning to the States. An avid appreciator of the “finer things” (expensive wine, the outdoors, seemingly boring museums), he has a certain witty, lofty, British-esque way of critiquing our Americanized, fast-food culture, which is present even in the Australian outback. (He was appalled to find a McDonald’s in Alice Springs.) While you’d think this would come off as snobby, he maintains a charmingly dignified yet self-deprecating humor in his analysis. I love it.

On one trip, Bryson takes us with him on a train ride from Sydney all the way across the continent to Perth, decidedly the most remote major city on Earth. On another trip, he and a friend drive 1,200 miles through the brutal heat and emptiness of the outback to the famous Ayers Rock (Uluru). He praises the unbeatable weather and friendly atmosphere of Sydney, and considers in wonder the sheer distance between Alice Springs and the next sign of civilized life in any direction. He marvels at the many distinctly Australian ways to experience excruciating death, including the tiny, lethal box jellyfish, the world’s most venomous creature. He enjoys the small-town charm of Australia’s rural farmlands, and takes in the glory of the Great Barrier Reef.

All of this he intersperses with relevant snippets of Australian history: its beginnings as a British prison colony, the numerous failed attempts of settlers to conquer (or even effectively explore) the outback, the bizarre story of a prime minister who went for a dip in the ocean in 1967 and was never seen again. (How crazy is that?)

Bryson is also the kind of writer that beckons your interest in the most presumably boring topics. One example in this book is a multi-page tangent in which he talks about some rocks in a bay that have been miraculously preserved in their original state for millions of years because the bay water’s unusually high salinity has prevented the kind of damage from the elements that would have otherwise altered the rocks. Now this, I imagine, sounds like a total snooze-fest for probably 95% of people my age. But Bryson makes it interesting. I can’t explain why.

Australia is so intriguing that a book on it could almost write itself. But Bryson’s masterful storytelling gives the book that page-turning appeal that left me wanting more when I finished it. I laughed out loud several times, and Australia has now been bumped up a few notches on places I want to visit. A worthwhile read for sure.