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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!

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.)

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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!

Well, if you guys were expecting a “post-election” post on this blog…you were right! (I know I’m like a week late on this…sorry.)

I still can’t really get over what happened Tuesday night. We all knew that it would be historic if Obama won, but I don’t think it really sank in for me until it actually happened. For the first time ever, the leader of our country, our primary representative overseas, the person who will address our nation from the Oval Office, will be a black man.

november-4-2008

I’m not an extremely emotional guy, but I couldn’t stop from tearing up a little bit as I watched our President-elect address the crowd in Grant Park. It was obvious that people were there not just to celebrate their candidate’s victory, but to see a noble and long-awaited dream finally realized. While it’s obvious that the celebration was particularly meaningful for African-Americans, that didn’t stop people of every color and background from joining in the celebration. This was what I found most beautiful about the night. At least for those few moments, any hints of racial conflict or bitterness seemed to be forgotten, and a spirit of “we’re all in this together” appeared to saturate the evening.

And as poignant and moving as it was, I couldn’t help but realize that this is not what it’s all about. The real “hope” and “change” that we need is not in a black President, or even in racial reconciliation. Our Messiah gives us real hope, and it’s His kingdom (not Obama’s America) that is truly good, and any good work we do on earth should be for the glory of God and His kingdom. I hope that for Christians, Obama’ s example of good work will not just encourage us to work alongside him for the sake of our country, but spur us on to join God in His bigger redemptive work in the world.

When I think about the reasons I voted for Obama (his decency, common respect for people, love for his family, concern for the poor, desire to reconcile people together, etc.), I realize that Jesus blows Obama out of the water by embodying these things perfectly, and that it is He who will ultimately make things right. If Obama can point our country in a more redemptive direction, we should be thankful for his efforts, imperfect as they are. I just hope we will continue to look to Christ for our true hope, example, and glory.

With that said, congratulations to Barack Obama for an absolutely history-making win, and hopefully a fine four years to come!

Jim Wallis is a Christian I deeply respect. In addition to writing several books on faith and politics (which are still on my list of to-reads), he’s the founder of Sojourners, a Christian organization that promotes social justice from a biblical perspective. I read his blog frequently, and I particularly appreciated one of his more recent posts in which he lists his personal “faith priorities” that will guide his vote in this election. His insights are thoughtful and worth considering, especially for those Christians who are still undecided on who to vote for.

At the end of his post, he invites us readers to examine our own faith priorities and make a similar list for ourselves. Over the past few months I’d had numerous friends and family members ask me why I’m voting for Obama in light of my Christian faith. I thought this might be a good opportunity to discuss the faith priorities that have guided my decision.

Consistent life ethic. This is probably the most significant of my faith priorities. Since God is the author and giver of life, I believe He alone has the right to decide when to end it. I believe our job then is to defend and preserve life “from womb to tomb.” This belief guides my position on a few issues (in no particular order)…

Foreign policy. Since I believe life is sacred, I think war is something to be considered with a great amount of caution. While I don’t believe all war is wrong, I do believe that there are certain criteria for a “just war.” While there are various “just war theories”, here is a short list of things I personally consider important criteria:

  • The intent is to leave our world a safer and more peaceful place than when we began, and has nothing to do with economic or political gain.
  • Every practical non-violent solution has already been tried without success.
  • There is a real, legitimate threat to our security if military action is not taken.
  • Benefits of success are proportionate to measures necessary for success.
  • The intended outcome is sustainable after troops are withdrawn.

To me, justification of war is just as much a life issue as anything else. I cannot support a candidate who so disregards the sanctity of life as to send our soldiers to risk their lives in an unjust war. I’m interested in a candidate who “chooses life” whenever possible in this regard. To me, this approach is not only more honoring to God, but also more consistent with the values of life and liberty that America is supposed to represent.

Abortion. Continuing in this consistent life ethic, I also believe in the sanctity of life in the womb. I believe abortion is more than an unfortunate reality of our time, but a brazen rejection of sacred life. Whatever our different spiritual beliefs are about when life begins, I think we can all agree on a goal of reducing the abortion rate as much as possible.

While there was a time when I wouldn’t have even considered voting for a pro-choice candidate, I’m now convinced that this issue demands a deeper look than simply a candidate’s position on Roe v. Wade. Given the implications that financial status, availability and affordability of health care, economic assistance, and other social services have on the abortion rate, I’m interested in a candidate’s stances in these areas. I believe that if a candidate truly cares about the welfare of the unborn, it will be reflected in his policies, not just his words.

Obama’s support of the 95-10 Initiative, in addition to his health care plan and other economic policies that will aid lower and middle class women, indicate to me that he offers (whether intentionally or as a by-product) a pragmatic, realistic plan to reduce the abortion rate in this country. While I commend John McCain’s verbal opposition to Roe v. Wade, he has not backed up his words with the kind of policies that have proven to be effective in reducing abortions. In short, I value a plan of action more than lip service, which is why I enthusiastically support Obama on this issue.

While there are other important issues I believe a consistent life ethic applies to (world hunger, genocide, social security, veteran care, capital punishment, tax policy, etc.) I will pass these over for brevity’s sake in order to discuss some other reasons why my Christian faith leads me to vote for Obama.

Personality. OK, pease don’t misinterpret me here; I’m not talking about Obama’s oratory skills or charisma (although these attributes would serve him well as President). I’m talking about his personal demeanor and temperament. Having now watched Obama endure the attacks, smears, and hostile debates that characterize any presidential campaign, I have seen him firmly defend himself and argue against his opponents, but have never seen him lose his cool or react with anger or disrespect. His calm, collected composure and ability to control his temper are in sharp contrast with McCain’s angry, belligerent demeanor. As a Christian looking for attitudes and behaviors that reflect the heart of Christ, I think it’s obvious which candidate stands out.

Racial reconciliation. As our country continues to deal with foreign and domestic racial conflict, I’m looking for a candidate (white, black, or otherwise) who will stimulate progress in this area. To me, racial reconciliation is not just a social ideal for a stronger nation, but a crucial element in a God-honoring worldview.

Barack Obama has helped heal a lot of deep-seated racial tension in this country. Yes, it’s true that he can’t help the fact that he’s black. I believe, however, that his ability to bring racial and ethnic groups together is not just a result of his being black, but of his values and actions in this regard. I believe Obama has displayed one of the most unifying and God-glorifying attitudes toward race that I’ve seen. The speech he gave on race back in March was a great example of this attitude.

I believe an Obama administration would also bring much-needed healing to our relations with the Muslim world, and hopefully diminish the anti-Muslim sentiment that has grown rapidly in America since 9/11. When we make terrorist jokes about Muslims, or when a country singer blares on about how “we’ll put a boot in their ass ‘cuz it’s the American way”, or when a presidential candidate makes a joke about bombing a Muslim country, this brings racial and ethnic bigotry from both sides to a greater level. It does nothing to promote reconciliation, and certainly doesn’t reflect the heart of Christ. I’m not so naïve as to think that Obama will single-handedly solve the problem of racism, but his attitudes and policies indicate a significant step in the right direction.

This is only a short list of faith priorities I’m basing my decision on, and there are many other reasons, faith-related and otherwise, why I’m voting for Barack Obama. I realize that my political views are different than those of many Christians, and that I might catch some flack from other Christians for supporting Obama. I do believe, however, that our differences in this area are very small compared to our common ground of a love for Christ, and I have nothing against those Christians whose faith leads them to check a different box in the voting booth. With that said, I’d love to hear your thoughts, and maybe even some of your faith priorities for this election.

Stay classy. :)

As a big Donald Miller fan, I was pretty excited to read this!

Before I begin, let me just come out and say that I support Barack Obama. I know that it’s practically unheard-of for a Christian (much less a Southern Baptist church member) to support a Democratic candidate, but there you go. If I’ve learned anything from George W. Bush, it’s that the Conservative Right isn’t always, well, right. But I’d better hop down from that soapbox for civility’s sake.

Most of the people I work with and go to church with are conservative, so I try not to start up political conversations with people I’m sure to disagree with, or I at least try to be gracious in my disagreement. I care about most of these people, and would hate to give up good relationships with them over a political disagreement.

However, I do enjoy a friendly debate. I think political and even theological debates can be productive and enjoyable if there’s respect and civility from all participants. But this is where things tend to go south. I think the reason why politics and religion are considered taboo is that we forget that we can disagree and still get along. My political views are based on my human (read limited) interpretation of the world around me. While there are certain positions I doubt I’ll ever change on, I can’t insult another person’s intelligence or character if they disagree with me. There are godly and sound-minded people on both ends of the political spectrum. Neither conservatives nor liberals have it completely right (or completely wrong).

Plus, there’s the inescapable truth that no matter what side you’re on, you’re still casting your vote for a freaking politician. To further expound on this thought, let me borrow a line from Derek Webb:

“You can always trust the devil or a politician to be the devil or a politician.”

Now don’t get be wrong; I really like Obama. I think he represents a much-needed change in our political system, and it’s evident in the way he’s run his campaign. (For more on this, check out this guy’s reaction to meeting him before his campaign began.) Barack Obama is undoubtedly a different kind of politician. But he’s still just a politician, indeed, just a man. His ability to solve our problems is surface-level at best. Even his greatest efforts to improve our nation will be motivated, to some degree, by political expediency.

Maybe it was providential that Drea and I saw Derek Webb in concert this weekend. I have a lot of respect for this guy. His more recent music has a decidedly social/political orientation, but he’s also quick to remind us that political ideals are not the answer to our deepest issues. Hearing him speak at the concert reminded me of one particular truth: that the commands of Jesus to care for the poor and love our enemies have nothing to do with any political agenda. They have everything to do with His desire for us to reflect His love and servanthood in our interactions with the world. Who I vote for should be merely peripheral in light of this greater task. (I’m paraphrasing Webb’s words here.)

It’s for this reason that I believe it should be even easier for Christians to get along despite political differences. We have a common ground that transcends everything.

I guess my point is that for Christians, political discussion and action is worthwhile, but not nearly as worthwhile as our greater task of sharing the love and message of Christ. It would be a terrible shame to see this greater task overshadowed by our preoccupation with secondary political and moral issues, which I fear is the path we’re headed down.

So here’s to a ceasefire on the political front, and a renewed focus on the task, which will be the same whether we put a Republican or a Democrat in the White House.

Cheers!

I’ve begun to wrestle with some things recently. Things I thought would be long gone after marriage. Things that are hard to realize. Especially when they are about you.

I was talking with my dear friend Anna last weekend about being a female and finding your fulfillment. For some reason, our hearts just scream for attention. Everyone thinks that marriage ends these voices. But it doesn’t. My fulfillment does not come from Drew.

I am not complaining about my life. I have a super gracious husband, a budding career and more encouragement than a girl could need. But those things do not satisfy me. Even if I think they do for moments, or days or even weeks…they run out. Drew is not immortal, friends scatter and careers end. And I am left alone with my poor, screaming heart.

This morning, I went through my normal blog-stalking routine. I came across this post. She’s on to something.

Perhaps I am naive to think that God will fulfill my heart, that he cares or even exists. But one simple look at my life makes me care less about being viewed as naive. He’s real. He cares. He fulfills. I’m the proof.

Drea’s previous post is pretty much dead-on. I’m excited about this election! Who’d have thought I would ever be interested in politics? I remember pretty much not giving a crap in the ’04 Bush/Kerry race, despite that at that point I was in college and surrounded by people who…DID give a crap.

Anyhow, I guess I’m just now beginning to feel a real sense of ownership about who I vote for. (Maybe it’s because now I’m actually earning regular income, and therefore more aware of how the government spends our taxes.) I also care about how our country is perceived around the world. (I heard it recently said that we’re making enemies faster than we can kill them. How true.) There are many things about America I don’t like, but many things I do, and probably even more things I take for granted. All things considered, I’m proud and grateful to be an American.

With that said, I’d like to share a few of my reactions to the way this election is panning out. While I’m all for free speech, I think some people just need to exercise a little more decency. I’m obviously too young to remember, but I bet there was a time when politicians and their supporters could have a decent, civil conversation about the issues they disagreed on. I guess we’ve always had bipartisanship here in America, but only recently has it seemed so excessively polarizing. A few examples…

– The way many evangelicals will not just write off, but publicly berate anyone who is pro-choice or for gay rights without listening to a word they have to say about other topics.
– Christians implying that Barack Obama is a terrorist and/or the antichrist based on his cultural ties to the Muslim world and because his name sounds like Osama. (I’ve heard this one in person.)
– “Political analysts” on news shows interrupting and even insulting each other just to get their point across.
– Preachers from both the right and the left abusing their pulpit (and tax-exempt status) by promoting or bashing political agendas.

It’s not necessarily the conservative or the liberal agenda that’s to blame; it’s when either one is blown out of proportion. There is no imaginable situation where this kind of extremism is appropriate. Maybe I’m an idealist, but I’d like to think we can disagree while still having respect for our opponents, maybe even recognizing that our opponents might have a few good points. My dad recently sent me an email thread between him and his brothers about the election. One of them invoked Tony Campolo’s view that conservatives and liberals actually need each other to ensure a healthy balance. I did some more research on this idea and found the context of Campolo’s idea here.

I think the fact that Jesus steered clear of politics says a lot. I think it’s the reason why political discussions immediately go downhill when someone tries to put God in their political party. We only need to look at Jerry Falwell and Jeremiah Wright to realize that both sides are guilty of this. It’s OK to have strong political convictions, but it’s not OK to say that God hates everyone who disagrees with you. I think our society would be more civil and productive if we didn’t take ourselves so seriously. I think it would also give us Christians a great opportunity to show Christ’s love for everyone, which is the main point anyway.

The other night, I was reading and, for some reason, the hymn “The Solid Rock” popped into my head, particularly the refrain, “On Christ the solid rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.”

I have no wise insights or elaborations on that. But I just found myself relishing in those two lines, and in the truth they portray. We shouldn’t be surprised that anything else we try to stand on will sink. I’m becoming more and more aware that I can’t stand on my ability to be a faithful servant of Christ, or even a half-decent Christian husband to my wife. But if I stand on Christ, I am standing on a Solid Rock – THE Solid Rock. If I try to stand on my own knowledge or gifts, they will absolutely fail every time. Last week, our pastor (a.k.a. my father-in-law) was preaching about hope in Christ. And as followers of Christ, we can rejoice that our eternal hope is provided exclusively by Christ’s work on the cross. What a frightening thought, that if not for God’s unmerited act of kindness, I would be absolutely without hope.

This is an idea I’ve been familiar with for some time. But it seems that God, in His grace, has chosen this time to remind me of the gospel that I forget so easily. I believe He’s providentially placed certain events in my life, and certain reading materials, not necessarily to teach me anything new, but to refresh the simple gospel message in my heart. I’ve always associated spiritual growth with learning new things about God. So to re-learn things I’ve already “learned” seems weird to me. But maybe it’s just me learning for the first time that the gospel itself should be the true center of my faith, that I should “know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Co. 2:2) It baffles me how something so simple can be so hard for me to understand, much less live out in my everyday life. Maybe that’s part of why the gospel is mysterious. But God has been faithful and patient with me. So I’m grateful.

I guess I’ve (we’ve) been pretty good about updating this blog every two weeks or so. Usually it’s just a look back at the previous two weeks between blogs…sometimes some fun pictures. This blog, however, is a look backward AND forward.

The past two weeks have been really exciting, really GOOD and really scary. God has busted into our lives in a forceful, welcomed way. Goodness. We have taken a good look at where we are and perhaps been shown glimpses of what the next few years might be like. To be honest, the excitement and novelty of being newlyweds got old pretty quick. This is the nitty gritty, real, messy stuff we’ve been waiting for: the rest of our lives.

It’s funny, when we first started dating and really wondering where our futures were going, we talked about things like, “What if God called you to another country to die there? Would you do it?” or “I want to live in a mud hut.” I remember the excitement and romanticism of those conversations, mixed in with falling in love. What a crazy time. But I can honestly say that our hearts were fully God’s. Maybe even more than they are now. We were so ready to do anything for Him, NO MATTER WHAT.

Now, two years and a wedding later, some of those grand aspirations look a little different. Instead of martyr, maybe it’s mother. Instead of missionary, maybe it’s full-time employee (who says they are that different?). Either way, the past week has been an evaluation of if we are still willing to live a life of worship, no matter what is looks like. I can say with a good amount of certainty that God is not calling us to a mud hut in India (though if He did we might pee a little in excitement and fear). God, in His goodness, is calling us to average American lives. To pay bills and deal with money. To buy “work clothes”. To drive the beltway. To interact with people who’s cars are more important than their spouses and their jobs more important than their kids. Sometimes, I think it’s harder than shacking it up in a mud hut.

Though I’m not giving a lot of detail about what we think might be in store for us in the near future (at least not until a few more things are really solidified), I can tell you that we are excited. And terrified. I will also tell you that God is near. More near than we’ve let Him be in some time. I had forgotten what it was like to trust someone else with my future. It is the most reassuring thing to be led by someone who’s proved Himself, even when you forget He has.

If you read this blog and feel so inclined, please pray for us. Though this is an exciting time, it is also a confusing one. We are so worried of wrong motivations and eagerness to the point of rushing. Pray that our next steps are clear and that no matter what they are that we will take them.

Thanks.

It is a ridiculous life we (all) lead. How great it is to know that we are not missing out on anything. We have been promised a FULL life, the whole shabang. No second guessing or regretting or wishing we had tried something else. Just life.

Until next time…ehh, two weeks or so… :)