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.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Following who?

At this moment a "Christian" version of American Idol is on TV. In my worship class at George Fox we have been lamenting the fact that so much of contemporary worship music is driven by pop culture, and here is yet another example of Christianity being shaped by culture.

Doesn't it seem that a Christian American Idol is an oxymoron? Is following Jesus supposed to be about attaining fame? About competing with others for a music contract?

Are the Buddhists creating a Buddhist American Idol? Is there a Muslim American Idol?

I understand that the unique thing about Christianity is that it is worked out in every culture. But are there some things about culture which it should not imitate?

Mystery bird

Today we saw a bird we couldn't identify. It was feeding from our upside-down suet feeder and had a yellow head with a black cap and black bar across the eye. I couldn't find anything that looked like it in our Audubon book or in a search engine I found online.

We also have a hummingbird that likes to hang around.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Walking With Angels

Last weekend I went to our church's women's retreat at Cannon Beach. Our topic was "angels."

I believe that there are spiritual beings called "angels," but being a highly pragmatic person, and not recalling ever interacting with such a being, I wasn't sure how much I would get out of the retreat. I thought, "Oh, well, I'll just hang out with the beach angels."

Of course, when you get a group of women together and let them talk, there is a kind of collective wisdom that is shared, and it was highly enjoyable getting to know better a number of the women at our church.

But the joke was really on me. One of the first things our retreat leader invited us to do on Saturday morning was to take a meditation stone and go out on the beach to meditate. As she passed out the "meditation stones," they just looked like flat, oval metal disks, but when I turned mine over, there was the impression of an angel. My "beach angel" after all.

So I took my angel and my camera for a walk during the meditation time, and then again later in the day. You can find images from my journey through our church website, then by clicking on "Women's Retreat" and then clicking on "here."

So no, I still haven't knowingly encountered a heavenly being, but I think I got an angelic message just the same. It was a great retreat.

(by the way, the slide show will deconstruct in a few weeks)

Monday, January 15, 2007

Growing up Christian Reformed

Today a topic at Scot McKnight’s blog is “Trumanist” Christianity. The term comes from the movie The Truman Show, in which Jim Carey portrays a man who is unaware that he exists in a completely contrived world.

I, too, grew up as a Trumanist Christian, and like in the Southwestern Baptist Seminary article that McKnight references, in a denomination convinced it had the monopoly on the truly true Truth. (I wonder if there is anything to the title The Tru(e)-man Show, or if I am reading too much into it.)

I remember hearing several stories of how, when some scholar or another questing person seriously studied the Bible, he (it was always he) was convinced that the Christian Reformed denomination (sorry, SBC) was the one most Biblical.

We knew we were right, and that God had elected us so. So many churches had given up their Sunday evening services, but in our thanksgiving we could continue to faithfully dedicate that time to the Lord. And there were so many other kinds of church folks who broke the Sabbath, using it for pleasure and frivolity (and even yard work!) when the Lord had commanded we set it aside for study and rest.

Those poor Baptists who didn’t have their babies baptized--they had to agonize so much about the eternal fate of a child should it die, while we had the assurance that the Bible taught that the children of believers are holy.

No, the Christian Reformed Church held the keys to the way, the truth, and the life, and joyful were the elect who found their way into the true fold.

Among many of its members, the attitude still exists, along with a general fear of relocating anywhere outside the CRC "map."

I am very thankful for the Christian training I got growing up Christian Reformed, and I hold to Reformed theology quite strongly. But it's been wonderful to get out of the bubble (and it's not even politically correct to claim you have a bubble when you are Presbyterian[USA]) and meet my Baptist, and Methodist, and Disciples, and pentecostal, and charismatic, and non/multi-denominational, and Catholic, and emerging brothers and sisters.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Discovering Portland Food

When Paul's mom was out over New Year's weekend, we paid a visit to Bob's Red Mill Store. We had lunch there and made a few purchases. We have especially enjoyed their Spice Apple Cake Mix. Yum!

Recently we were also introduced to New Season's Market. Lot's of organic foods and things you won't find just anywhere. We were happy to be there for curry sampling day. I'm sure we will be making many future purchases at both of these places.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Scavenging for Identity

A couple of weeks ago we did a mall scavenger hunt with our youth group. I, a couple of youth volunteers and a couple of others all donned disguises and went wandering through the Clackamas Town Center while three teams of youth (who had pictures of how we looked "normally") tried to find us.

Although I have dressed up for Halloween and have gone to costume parties, I don't know that I have ever worn a disguise in as "undefined" a place. I felt like a character without a story, without a context, and I found myself feeling extremely self-concious. I didn't know who I was.

Which brings me to a post at marko's blog today. It seems that teens discard their virtual identities as easily as I pulled off my wig and washed my face after I was "found." And if teens are trying on different identities as they mature anyway, this would only make sense. (By the way, I did go to the original post and there are responses from teens who have kept their names and passwords for years.)

The author is apparently somewhat concerned about this trend, as she argues that the "answer" is not to help teens remember passwords. On the other hand, she compares shedding sites with changing clothes, and sees value in it as well.

I would disagree that teens don't care about losing something that they've spent hours building; maybe teens see these sites more as conversations and less as products. Can you lose a conversation? While a teen may have "lost" a site or password, she hasn't lost the relationships and experiences associated with that site (unless losing some of the relationships is part of the point.)

This is an intriguing article, but I'm not sure it offers radically new insights. It does provide us with one more illustration of teens trying on identities and context in the mall of our disconnected society. I could say more, but I'll close for now.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

You saw it here first

Tonight, just for giggles, I googled the term “missional teen.” I couldn't find those two words next to each other on a Google, Yahoo, Windows, nor on a Blogger search.

You will find the term “missional youth” on a Google & Blogger search, and I found a few vision statements and a list of what missional youth was not, but I found nothing on “how to get there from here.” (Maybe I didn't look hard enough.)

If I remember correctly, I was introduced to the term “missional” in my ecclesiology class with Brian McLaren at George Fox Seminary. The book I read that especially articulated that term for me was Darrel Guder’s Missional Church.

Anyway, “missional” is a term that gets heavy rotation in the emergent world, and for a few months at least, I have been wondering what it might look like to have a missional youth group. And related to that, what would it look like to be a missional teen?

I haven’t figured this out yet, and if anyone has experience in taking youth from non- to missional, they haven‘t posted the step-by-step illustrations on it. Right now I have a lot of questions like, can you even have a missional teen? Considering where they are developmentally, is it even possible? I think you can, because teens can certainly be “missional” about volleyball scholarships, customizing their vehicles, or even adding to their handbag collection.

But assuming a teen can be missional about their Christian faith, what would that look like, say, in sophomore biology class, or in calculus, or on the football team? What would it look like on their My Space page? I’m not sure it looks like the kid in the Christian t-shirt who shows up every year for “See You At the Pole,” but I don’t think it excludes that kid, either.

And then, what does it take to create a missional teen? What kind of rocket fuel do you need to empower a kid to escape the pervasive gravitational pull of our self-centered, consumeristic, even toxic pop culture? Can you provide that fuel if you can’t immerse the kid in a consciously missional community? (Perhaps your youth group is part of a congregation without a missional identity.) Can you provide that fuel in one contact hour a week (which isn‘t fully devoted to “teaching,”) and if not, what kind of contact hours does it take?

Why would a kid want to be missional, anyway? What would be the catalyst for that desire? How do you get the parents/session (church board)/rank-and-file membership on board?

Would you want to have a heavy emphasis on healthy relationship skills? You can’t really be missional while being a jerk. What else would you have to emphasize? Assuming you have a limited time per week, what do you cut out of your youth program?

I’d love to hear from someone who has moved in the missional direction with their youth group, and what that has looked like, and what steps were involved.