Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A whole year?

Wow, I see it has been a whole year since I have posted something here. Not cool.
But I'm in fairly decent company as Todd Hunter hasn't blogged for three years.
I hope I can get back to this more regularly soon, but I'm not making any promises!

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Children of Hurin

Today I finished reading The Children of Húrin by J. R. R. Tolkien. I think the next time I read it (and there will be a next time) I will make an enlarged copy of the map and then try to trace the route of Túrin on it, so I can follow the story better. What also might be helpful is to take a huge piece of paper and try to map out just who all the characters are and how they are interrelated! There might be a market for something like that.

Other folks have done much more in-depth reviews of this book than I ever could, so I don’t have much to add, except to say that the more you read, the more you read that there is more to read.

Tolkien had an amazing imagination. Recently I watched all the movies again, and so I’ll probably try to find time to pick up LOTR (in print) again. I just never get tired of the story.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Awaiting Book 7

If you are not a fan of the Harry Potter series, you don’t have July 21 circled on your calendar and you haven’t pre-ordered your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final novel in the series about a young wizard’s coming-of-age and his fight against the evil Voldemort. You don’t plan on mobbing Barnes and Noble at midnight and you haven’t cleared out your calendar so you can read all weekend long.

It’s likely you won’t be able to escape the media hype, however, as the release date of this world-wide pop phenomenon draws near. Will Harry Potter die? Is Snape on the side of good or evil? What will happen to Ron and Hermione? These are just some of the questions I’m predicting will start getting tossed around in the media as mid-July draws nearer.

I must confess that I’m one of the millions who have pre-ordered a copy, and I’ll be one of those making time that weekend to find out how author J. K. Rowling resolves her tale of the love of power vs. the power of love.

How about you? Do you have a favorite story? Will you be making time this summer to re-read an old favorite or dive in to the next-in-line of a series? Maybe you’re more of a movie type and have a couple of “must-sees” coming from NetFlicks, or you have a book on CD lined up to play on an upcoming road trip.

Whether you prefer to read, listen or watch, stories have a powerful impact on us. In fact, stories are what we use to make sense of our lives. Think of the power a story like “the American Dream” has had on our country. People from other nations will risk great dangers to come to America in hopes of an opportunity for living out that story of a rags-to-riches better life.

Or think of how many ways our culture likes to tell the story of “Survivor.” The story of a group of people matching their wits and abilities against each other, forming and breaking alliances, and voting each other off the island (or off the stage as in American Idol). Only the best can be the winner, and everyone else gets to hear, “You’re fired!”

If you see yourself as a character in the American Dream story or in the Survivor story, how will that shape your life? How will that cause you to view your fellow characters, and how will that influence what kinds of risks you might take? How will that define what your goals might be, and how will you react if it seems you won’t reach those goals?

I wonder if one of the reasons the Harry Potter series is so popular is that people are hungry for something other than Survivor-type stories. Survivor, American Idol, The Apprentice and others are really all variations on that “love of power” theme. Maybe there are millions of people out there who secretly hope that there is another story, a “power of love” story, that could define what is worth living for.

As Christians, we soak ourselves in the most powerful “power of love” story every told. It’s a story that frees us from the chains of the love of power, in whatever form those chains take. Along with Book 7 or whatever other stories you plan to read this summer, I encourage you to spend some time reading or listening to the Bible, and live out that story.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ginger Pye

The first book for my summer reading list was Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes, the Newberry Medal winner for the year 1952. It's an entirely innocent novel, and would be perfect for a precocious younger reader to pick up.

This novel won't become one of my favorites, but reading this book made me think of the freedom to roam I had as a kid that many kids today just don't have .

I discovered that Eleanor Estes is a noted children's author; and I was most impressed by her artful descriptions of ordinary events.

I wonder if there is anything being published today that is as well-written and as bright. Much of the popular contemporary children's lit has some rather dark elements. It's good to know that not all innocence in children's lit is gone.

Back from non-blogging

First it was school deadlines, then a month of being tired, but I'm hoping to be more consistent about writing. I like being in school, but transitioning from in-school to out-of-school mode has always taken a few weeks for me. Today I did therapeutic weeding, so the writing synapses are beginning to fire once again.

I hope to blog through or about a few books this summer, both adult and kid's books. I hope to cover a few Newberry titles, and I have about six "grown-up" books on a pile that belong to either the fiction, theology or psychology genres.

It's starting to look like a whirlwind summer, so I hope I can keep up!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Avoiding Worship Consumption

In my online Theology of Worship class with Dan Kimball at George Fox Evangelical Seminary, one of the questions Dan raised this week is how the church can prevent "worship consumption. Here are some of my thoughts on that:

This past Thursday I attended an area-wide youth worker’s luncheon, hosted by the Portland Youth Foundation. I was mostly impressed by what I heard, as well as with the call for us as youth leaders to get our youth groups involved in our communities as the hands and feet of Jesus with a “no strings attached” philosophy.

Afterward I stopped by the Christian Supply book store table, and signed up for a subscription to a quarterly free box of stuff. (Hey, I’m part Scotch and I married a Dutchman. You don’t walk by free stuff. It’s anti-cultural.)

I got back to church and opened my free box. I pulled out an appropriately cool-looking, lightly stone-washed black baseball-style cap with “Jars of Clay Good Monsters” stitched in the same color on the front. I pulled out a pink concert t-shirt of some female music artist (whose name I don’t remember right now as the box is still at church), size small, and the accompanying CD with said artist’s Barbie-looking face staring back at me. There was a mini-poster for the movie Facing the Giants and a copy of the accompanying soundtrack, plus maybe half-a-dozen more CD’s in genres from hip hop to acoustic folk.

And I thought, “Since when did Christianity become an industry?” (To which you might respond, “Well, DUH, Sue. Have you been living under a ROCK?!?”)

Did you know that you used to be able to walk into a Christian book store, and if you couldn’t afford one, walk out with a free Keith Green cassette tape?

But bear with me.

Friday night I took my youth group to the 30-Hour Famine Rally in Beaverton, where several hundred kids gathered in an auditorium-style sanctuary, complete with two screens and all the latest sound and video technology. Even colored lights and lasers. A youth band played up front, maybe singing a lot of original songs, since there weren’t any CCLI numbers with the words on the screens and my kids hadn’t heard most of what they played. Several kids (not many of mine, after all we are Presbyterians) migrated down in front of the stage to be closer to the band and to pogo-stick and dance with the music. (One way. Jesus. You’re the only one I could live for. [One of the songs my kids had heard.])

We had been given a ticket on our way in, and our MC’s, a couple of culturally cool-looking guys who had good “up-front” skills, drew random numbers to give away free stuff, and threw more free stuff out into the crowd. We watched some very well-produced videos which did an excellent job of illustrating the contrasts between the abundance in the US and the poverty in other parts of the world.

But as I sat there I couldn’t help thinking, “The church and the Christian music industry have been doing culturally relevant things like this for years, but once these high school kids graduate from even the savviest of our programs, they are disappearing from the church left and right.”


Surely we are speaking their language. Surely we have entered their world. What were we doing Saturday night that isn’t “2007 American teenager”? It’s not like they go to youth events where we have robed choirs, pipe organ music, screechy sound systems, MC’s wearing pajama-looking green plaid pants (like one of our church’s 70-something parishioners), and dry, 3-point lectures.


If I give away the free stuff to visitors to our youth group, do you think that will encourage them to come back again? Is that what the free stuff is for? Does part of my job description include Christian industry marketing promoter? What would I be “saying” if I did that?

My final question is this: If we speak to our kids in the language of cultural consumerism, even if our words are “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” are we unintentionally communicating that the gospel and Christianity are just another couple of brands which you may opt to purchase or leave on the shelf at will, depending on your “needs”?

My response to the dilemma of worship consumerism: When planning our emerging worship gatherings, in the wider context of everything else we do as a church, we must learn to speak in the medium of covenant, not contract.

Which means you can't just add candles. You will also need to intentionallly equip people with the counter-consumer-culture skills of commitment and community.

(Now where did I leave that easy button?)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love is still politically correct

Today my kids were up and dressed before I was. The occasion? Valentine's Day.

Back in October, I called my kids' schools to find out what happened for Halloween, because I had gotten no communication saying "no scary costumes" or anything such as that.

Turns out, the schools don't do anything with Halloween. Because of the controversy, they don't have Christmas parties either. The secretary at the elementary school said that the only holiday for which the classes are allowed to have a party is Valentine's Day.

It's a good thing love is still politically correct.

But I hope the party police don't find out Valentine was a Christian saint.