Category Archives: Culture

Holiday

This past weekend brought home to me how very different our life feels up here. Apparently in Shoreline, when the law says that fireworks are illegal in the city, people for the most part comply. The night was a far cry from the Kenwood war zone we encountered during our first Fourth of July in L.A. I remember that first year actually being frightened when Doug went out on our little front porch, and begging him to come back inside. I remember not being able to see the apartment building across the street due to the wall of smoke.

This year, Doug and I packed up the kids and made the very long journey to 178th (we live on 180th) to spend the weekend at my parents’ house. We grilled and played in the yard and took a little day trip to Puyallup to see my cousin and her family. Mercy really wanted to see fireworks, so she and I and my dad drove down into Edmonds and sat perched on a bench next to the beach and watched the city show held in a stadium nearby. Aaron is terrified of fireworks so he opted to stay home and cuddle up with On-Demand TV and his grammy.

As we walked along the beach, we passed a quinceniera that was being held in a beachfront community center. Mercy stopped in her tracks and gazed at the dresses and hats and the sheer volume of brown skin that has already become foreign. The bounce of the music was familiar to her and it made her smile. “Mercy, that was the music you went to sleep to for many, many nights,” I told her, smiling as well. This was a serious quinceniera too. There was a tour bus parked outside of the center and a fleet of very fancy cars in the parking lot.

Mercy still asks me a lot of questions about Los Angeles. It’s almost like she wants to make sure that she keeps a hold of her memories. I think we all miss it more than we know how to say.

Provocative

Bill Kinnon posts the following excerpt from an essay on the “Islamization of Christianity” by Udo Midleman:

When life gets tough, we have all heard here and there in Christian circles one or the other of the following comments: It was the right time for her to die. God must have had something better in mind. God in his grace took him home to himself. God allowed it to happen. He made it come to pass. God must have wanted it that way.

Wait a minute! Are these comments typical for Islam or do we hear and read them in wide circles of the contemporary church? They have a ring of familiarity about them. They are the comments made in the face of what we used to consider tragedies. People comfort each other by these words!

To the extend to which we agree with these statements and find them a comfort, we have ourselves moved over from a Biblical perspective to an Islamic one. The change can be gradual and insidious, but we have redefined God for the sake of our peace, our longing to make life in a fallen world less absurd existentially. We have found a way to make the experience of brokenness acceptable: we assume that it was acceptable to God.

Connected

This headline caught my eye this morning:

South Africans head to the polls tomorrow in the fourth elections since the end of apartheid in 1994. More than 23 million people have registered to vote in what is being billed as one of most important elections in the country’s history. 

I visited South Africa in the months leading up to that first historic election in 1994. I remember sitting in the living room in a township where a man who shared seventeen years in prison with Nelson Mandela hosted me and my best friend, Julie, for two nights. He had gathered the young leaders from his community, a passionate group of young men, and while Julie and I had expected to sip tea and ask them questions, we instead faced what we later called “the Inquisition”. The group sat, on the edges of their chairs, one after the other asking us questions about our nation’s foreign policy and our own awareness of what South Africa had endured and continued to endure to that day. It was perhaps the most challenging night of my life.

During our tour we met with religious and political leaders, as well as leaders in the financial sector who were projecting then much of what we see happening in the nation of South Africa now, post-Apartheid. The article highlights “high unemployment, one of the highest crime rates in the world and the highest number of HIV infections globally” as the backdrop for these elections, and I can’t help but remember how my global ignorance and inactivity felt that night in a township living room: the issues and battles are different now, but the overwhelming volume of suffering and loss of life continues.

I have been thinking a great deal lately about God’s global mission, and the scriptures assure us that God’s intention from the beginning is to see all nations blessed. And so I find myself wondering, what exactly does it look like to be partners, participants, servants of that mission? For there is certainly no exemption clause for those who profess allegiance to the Christ! Yet it is all too easy to sit and grow numb and opt for the kind of safe ignorance that a group of young men confronted in me fifteen years ago.

The other morning I lay in a hospital bed watching three different reality TV shows. We don’t have cable, so this was my chance to see firsthand three shows I had heard people talk about. It was alluring, I admit, to enter the intimate space of these peoples’ lives, as choreographed as much of it surely was. And I was reminded of something Dick Staub wrote in his most recent book, The Culturally Savvy Christian:

“Humans sit in front of television sets, passively watching human misery unfold, while just outside their door, down the street, or in an apartment next door, a real person faces the same problem and there is no one to help them because we’re all preoccupied withour favorite characters on reality TV.

When diversion is a way of life, we avoid the very issues to which we shouldbe most attentive. We are diverted from the grim, unpleasant truth that our lives lack meaning withouit God, that consumption does not satisfy, that the differential between wealth and poverty is unjust, that our neighbor is in need, and that the appropriate human response to poeple in need is sleeves-rolled-up service, not simply watching.”

Which takes me back to needs and challenges of South Africa. Part of the good news, in fact the center of the good news, is the truth of what Isaiah speaks in chapter nine: That “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” At first reading, that verse seems to describe “those people”; the ones suffering; the ones living in darkness; the ones I pity or maybe despise. But perhaps the verses instead describe those like me.

Verse five continues: “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be feul for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Battles and bloodshed do not have the final word; not in South Africa where disease and poverty are king, or in those countries where we or any other power wrestles to rule. The final word is that word spoken from the beginning; an unlikely word; a child. And for us to be followers of that Word in our world is not a responsibility we can avoid, deny or reject.

Good news?

I was invited to participate in a blog series hosted by L.A. friend, JR Woodward, exploring how people would describe the gospel, the “good news”, in their given context. My entry will post next week.

JR writes this about the series: In this blog series each of the contributors will be summarizing their understanding of the Good News in 300 to 500 words. Each author is writing their entry as if they were invited by their city newspaper to write an article on the Good News, thus you will find the name of the author’s city newspaper in each entry. This series will challenge us to grow in our ability to share the good news with a variety of people from different perspectives.

The list of contributors and the posting schedule can be found here.

Shane Hipps on Porsches and the Gospel

I came across an interview with Rob Bell and Shane Hipps on the Out of Ur website this morning, and the subject they discuss in the interview is the role of “the medium” in proclaiming the message of the gospel. This is a timely discussion as we see a lot of church-growth initiatives rely more and more on video screens. Just yesterday I sat with an old friend who is a pastor in the area and this issue came up: how new generations are being shaped by technology and how the church is responding to that.

Shane was a TA for one of my preaching classes at Fuller, and he offered a great deal of encouragement and affirmation to me as a preacher, for which I was grateful. I was pregnant with Mercy at the time of the class, and I remember feeling a bit self-conscious in my mostly male class. It was my first preaching class at Fuller and I hadn’t realized it but I was still slightly haunted by my experience at North Park Seminary where a male student shared during the feedback time in a preaching class that my eyelashes were too distracting. I remember debating what to wear when I gave my first sermon to the class and thinking about how to minimize the fact that a child was growing in my belly, fearing the ways that would “distract”. All that to say, Shane was great, and it was fun to see him in this video sharing about a topic that he is passionate about.

I would love to hear any responses to what he suggests in this brief interview with Rob…

Another Mercy

When we were deciding what to name our first child, Doug and I had a funny experience where someone made a joke about a name we could use and then commented that the nickname for that name could be “Mercy”. Neither of us said anything to each other in the moment, but later we both commented to the other that we thought “Mercy” would make a really cool name.

I have known a lot of Faiths, Graces, Hopes and Joys, but I have never met another Mercy. I have enjoyed that Mercy’s name is unusual. I have enjoyed the way it makes people stop and think about the word and what it means, because it is not familiar. I have loved how her awareness of her name has so often reminded me of this central, shaping theme in our life of faith. And I have loved how she has journeyed in her own understanding of what her name represents.

As I sat in the ER on Saturday, I noticed a little news item scroll across the bottom of whatever news channel was playing in the room, and there was a word that leaped out at me: Mercy. The announcement had to do with Madonna and her pursuit of adoption of a Malawian girl whose African name translates into English as “Mercy”.

So now with the celebraddiction that dominates our culture, I expect that Mercy’s name will have lost a bit of its novelty, and now instead of a discussion about our faith with people who comment about her name, we will instead likely end up talking about Madonna.

Young lives

One of the things I am really enjoying here at Shoreline Covenant is the opportunity to be involved with pastoring our youth. There has never been a season in my adult life that I have not, in some capacity, served young people, and while the youth ministries of our church here are not one of my areas of focus here in terms of job description, I am involved in working with all of the other adults who serve our youth in seeking together how we can serve our young people and walk alongside them in their discipleship journey.

This morning I came across a discussion at Scot McKnight’s blog that I will definitely follow that explores what kinds of shifts have taken place culturally for youth, and how the church is or is not responding.

The post suggests that maybe 25% of youth who participate in a church’s youth ministries will grow into mature disciples of Jesus. Do you think that is accurate? Why do you think that is true?

One commenter writes:

The fact that there is a “their” culture is largely “our” doing. Who worships youth? Adults. Who makes the shows, the songs, the technology, etc. forming/facilitating “their” culture? Adults. Who made even ‘big’ church into something that ‘entertains then entertains some more?’ Adults. Who made following Jesus into something you can supposedly do while remaining loyal to consumerism? Adults. Youth groups are just amped up versions of big church, trying to ‘reach’ a more media sophisticated, less religious, more energetic group.

Grace also has a post up this morning that speaks to these questions on a much broader level in defining what discipleship or Christian formation really is. She offers a series of quotations form an article by Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. These are well-worth the read. I will offer some of Willard’s thoughts as a concluding word here:

Spiritual formation is the process of establishing the character of Christ in the person. That’s all it is…Forget about perfection. We’re just talking about learning to do the things that Jesus is favorable toward and doing it out of a heart that has been changed into His.”

Who is paying attention?

There is a couple in our church here that I have known for as long as I can remember. Keith and Florence have devoted much of their life to ministry and training and advocacy for the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and I am privileged to sort of share some office space with Keith (who travels regularly to the Congo in his ministry role for our denomination) in our church building. Keith and Florence have been role models and examples to me my whole life, and I appreciate the ways that their presence in our congregation here reminds us regularly of what our sisters and brothers in Christ are experiencing in the Congo. Looking at Keith during worship, I can sometimes almost physically see his concern, the ache of his spirit, for a people he knows and loves.

I came across this at Brad Boydston’s blog this morning and while I can’t figure out how to post the graphic here, I want to post the link here and encourage you to take a look.