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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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A quick “plus and minus” recap of our weekend:

  • Left Valentine’s Day gift for Drea at work. Husband fail. (-)
  • Finished Season 4 of Lost on DVD. So much more gratifying to watch episodes back to back. (+)
  • Contact lens debacle Saturday morning. In half-awake state, rinsed my lenses with disinfectant instead of saline solution. Talk about burn. (-)
  • Nice ride with Tom and Renata up to western MD; enjoyed novelty of driving on Beltway and I-270 without will-to-live-sucking traffic. (+)
  • Skied at Whitetail with Tom. Fulfilled need to ski at least once a year. (+)
  • Drea and Renata shopped at Hagerstown outlets while Tom and I skied. Everyone wins! (+)
  • Tom forgot gloves. $50 at ski shop. (-)
  • I forgot ski goggles/sunglasses. $30 at ski shop. (-)
  • Pretty much got taken for a ride by monopoly-exploiting jerks at ski shop. (-)
  • Multiple skiing fails on my part. Highlights: not going fast enough to make it over ski jump, sliding backwards down ski jump, almost getting taken out by snowboarder behind me, coming to painful grips with shocking degree of my imcompetence, AND skiing into a fence. Not the wooden kind, the orange plastic safety net kind. But still. (-)
  • Later redeemed myself by nailing a double black diamond. Boo-ya. (+)
  • Met up with Smizz in Hagerstown after skiing/shopping excursions. (+)
  • Tried to see Mall Cop. Sold out. (-)
  • Saw Coraline instead. Good, but freaking weird and definitely not for kids, despite PG rating. (+)
  • Smizz took us to a great little place called Cafe del Sol for dinner. Salsa, nachos, Yuengling, and meat-lover’s calzone. Delish. (+)
  • Starbucks for the ride back home. (+)
  • Sore muscles the next day. Self-loathe for not being in better shape and having to groan like an old man every time I stand or sit. (-)
  • Who cares? Our weekend was off the hook. (+)

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. :)

…we got some freaking snow! Ah yes, the stars of precip and sub-32 temperatures have aligned at last to drop a slight but veritable wintry dusting on the DC area. We don’t get too much snow here, so when we do, it’s like Christmas all over again. I love it. Call me a freak, but I even like driving in the snow, testing my ability to maneuver the slick roads. There’s a certain thrill of knowing that I could effortlessly careen my car into a mailbox or telephone pole or human being or something. It’s a challenge!

I noticed today how funny it is to listen to the traffic reporters trying to be polite as they remind us of basic winter driving precautions. They’ll say things like, “Now folks, you want to remember to give the tractor trailers a little more room, especially in these icy conditions”, or “Now folks, be sure to take it slow on those turns.” Personally, I’d love to hear them add a dash of cutting sarcasm to these reminders. Maybe something like, “Folks, in case you haven’t noticed, that’s a sheet of freaking ice that you’re driving across. So maybe think twice before you take that turn at 75 mph. Good grief, you people are idiots. Your ineptitude is truly astounding. As if plain old common sense wasn’t enough, we take time to go over this crap every time it snows, and yet there’s always a few of you morons who manage to slide into parked cars as you pull out of your driveway.” I wonder if Lisa Baden ever wants to do this? Probably not…

In any case, the snow is fantastic. Ice/sleet/freezing rain are in the forecast tonight and tomorrow. I say bring it! I’m personally hoping for an epic fail from the snowplow crews. Let’s keep that Beltway a frozen mess, people. I’m not trying to come to work tomorrow.

(Crossposted on The Obama Administration)

Drea and I recently had the opportunity to hang out with a friend who just returned from a missions trip to a Dalit colony in India. The Dalits, or “untouchables”, are the lowest-ranking group in India’s caste system and the recipients of brutal and long-standing injustice. Some actually say they are the most oppressed people in all humanity. Because of their status, Dalits are often consigned to live in such colonies where they present no threat of “contaminating” the upper castes. It’s hard to believe that in our modern world, such a backwards social system still exists, but it does. While social equality is officially mandated in the Indian Constitution, the systemic oppression of Dalits persists today, even 50 years after their political emancipation.

My eyes (and Drea’s) were first opened to Dalit oppression and the horrors of caste about four years ago through the amazing Caedmon’s Call album Share the Well. Since then, Drea and I have both developed a heart for India. (It’s actually part of why we started dating, but that’s another story.)

Anyhow, in learning about India’s struggle with oppression and slavery, I’m reminded of our own struggle here in America. While slavery and government-sanctioned oppression of blacks are thankfully off the books thanks to the work of Lincoln, King, and countless others, a stubborn remnant of injustice still plagues our country, just as it plagues India (albeit more subtly). In short, we can see clearly that criminalizing injustice doesn’t necessarily put an end to it.

But praise God for people like Joseph D’souza, the Indian Christian who founded the Dalit Freedom Network; for Bill Hybels, the pastor of a large, well-to-do suburban church whose eyes were opened to the economic and racial injustices in his own backyard, and responded accordingly; for Martin Luther King, Jr., who labored diligently “to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression”; for Derek Webb, whose honest music has educated me, challenged me, and helped me realize that Jesus came not just to die for my sins, but to make things right, including every injustice, both personal and systemic.

Today, we inaugurated our first African-American President, and arguably the first President to, through both racial identity and experience, have significant ties to the developing world. In his inaugural address, President Obama made a pledge:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

I watched Obama’s speech live, and was impressed as usual with his humility and intelligence. But when he said this, I teared up a little. Not just because it’s a beautiful thought, but because of the opportunity being presented to our country right now. It’s not my intention at all to immortalize Obama (he’s only a man, and an imperfect one at that), but it’s obvious that he wields a degree of influence that few political leaders, if any, have had.

In an article published shortly after the election, Joseph D’souza remarked that “the world’s oppressed will follow the statements and actions of this president more than any other.” What an extraordinary challenge our new President has. I pray that Obama makes good on his promise, that he uses his influence to inaugurate peace and justice into the lives of those who have never experienced it. If he can do this, well, I think that will be pretty great.

Barack Obama accomplished something truly extraordinary today. I think that given my meager life experiences, I can hardly wrap my head around the significance this day must have not only for African-Americans, but for every person in the world who’s suffered injustice. As they look by the millions to Obama to champion their cause, I pray that he accepts the challenge as a vital objective of his administration, and more importantly, as his calling as a follower of Jesus.

My deepest, deepest congratulations to President and Mrs. Obama. Let’s do this thing!

Fact: We drink juice straight out of the bottle, sometimes standing in front of the open refrigerator door.  

Chalk it up to a combination of laziness (we’re not the most driven people in the world), convenience (our whole living space is one room), and the fact that all of our kitchen stuff is still packed away (we don’t have our own kitchen yet).  Who needs a glass?  Plus, we don’t even drink the SAME juice.  I am an apple juice girl.  Drew sticks mainly with cranberry based juices.  

Dont hate.

Don't hate.

I guess since this is our blog, I don’t have to make a convincing argument why this isn’t gross.  So, go ahead, call it gross.  We just won’t share any juice with you.

“Commute Haiku”

DC is not bad
Free museums, things to do
Plenty of culture

Close to everything
Beaches, mountains, all within
Just a few hours drive

But driving can suck
Just as it did yesterday
Twenty miles, one hour

DC motorists
Swerve, weave, wildly wave their hands
To save five seconds

Aw, give me a break
Welcome to my lane, jack-___

Such nice thoughts I think

Brake lights, tedium
People here can’t drive in rain
Need new wiper blades

Why do I complain?
My life is pretty great
Food, home, wife, warmth, Christ

I still hate traffic.

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!

Today, at 6:00pm, I realized I had not had a single thing to drink all day. You read correctly. Not a single liquid has passed through my lips since crawling out of bed this morning. The saddest part? The only reason I stopped to recall if I had consumed any drinks today was because I was feeling extremely lightheaded and dizzy. I dehydrated myself for an entire day.

That does it. No kids for 10 years for fear of killing one. Crap.

Christmas absolutely snuck up on us this year.  We smashed all of our Christmas shopping in one day last week!  Even still, I ended up at the mall today to make some returns and get a last minute Christmas need.  Ridiculous.  However, we are so grateful that this year, we are not stressed financially because of Christmas.  We have a sweet little place, great friends, wonderful family and we are happy.  Happy, happy, happy. :)

Despite Christmas creeping up on us, we did manage to get a Christmas card together!  We didn’t send one out last year, so it’s our first!  We didn’t send it to our local friends (sorry guys), but here it is for your viewing pleasure.

I know it’s not a very Christmas-y picture, but hey, we like it. :)  

We also got our tree!  We got another one from Home Depot this year (they are cheap and great).  When we went to look, the trees were all tied up.  We picked one according to height and didn’t bother to check the width.  When we untied it, we discovered it was as wide as it was tall!  So, it’s more like a Christmas bush.  Very stout indeed.

Drew did this.

Since we moved into a new place, we decided the best way to get motivated and put our house together was to host our small group’s Christmas party.  We had 3x the amount of food needed.  It was awesome.  We also did a white elephant gift exchange, which proved to be the hit of the night.  I got a singing bear puppet, and Drew got a set of plastic golf clubs which were used to play a continuous tournament of golf the rest of the night.  

Janaiha got a fabulous pair of socks.  I was so jealous.

Beth got this wonderfully oversized hat, which we all tried on.  Tim was a great model.

Tim and Beth brought Honey Buns, Iced Honey Buns and Nutter Butter bars!  Delish!

Our group is the best!  (Mike, there was a spot reserved for you right above Lewis.  The shadow on the wall is either your presence…or maybe the Holy Spirit.)

And we got the chance to do this:

Have a very merry Christmas!