Friday, March 28, 2008

Right Brain/Left Brain

I found this at Joel's Thoughts and traced it back to the Where-what-How-Why blog. It's one of those optical illusions that you can see two ways.

Supposedly if you see the girl spinning clockwise you are using the right side of your brain, and if you see her spinning counterclockwise, you are using the left side of your brain. The left side of your brain if supposed to be the creative side. Again, I'm no expert, but this is what the proverbial "they" say. If you can make it switch directions, you are apparently in the small sector (14%) of people who can see a situation from either side.

So which way did you see it?

(By the way, I'm pretty sure this is the first time there is a visible nipple outline on my blog.)

Update: Apparently the info is wrong. It has nothing to do with left brain/right brain. Thanks for Mark for pointing us to this blog that seems to clear things up.

This news article, like many others, ignores the true source of this optical illusion and instead claims it is a quick test to see if you use more of your right brain or left brain. This is utter nonsense, but the “right-brain/left brain” thing is in the public consciousness and won’t be going away anytime soon. Sure, we have two hemispheres that operate fine independently and have different abilities, but they are massively interconnected and work together as a seamless whole (providing you have never had surgery to cut your corpus callosum).

These kinds of optical illusions are always fun. What they reveal is how our brain processes visual information in order to create a visual model of the world. The visual system evolved to make certain assumptions that are almost always right (like, if something is smaller is it likely farther away). But these assumptions can be exploited to created a false visual construction, or an optical illusion.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Meeting Tony Campolo

Dr. Tony Campolo was in town this week to speak at North Central University. I was able to attend and listen to Tony live for the first time, as well as meet him afterwards. He is the same in person as he is on his podcast and in his books. He loves to laugh and joke. He is passionate. He's pretty much quit caring what his harshest critics think about him on certain issues.

It was a great experience.

Other people on my people to meet list: Rob Bell, Brian McLaren

Celebrating Easter with the Historical Jesus

In college I took a class called "Jesus in the Gospels," a seminar class with Dr. Bob Berg that was one of my favorite classes in my time at EU. One of the topics we talked quite a bit about in the class was the idea of "the historical Jesus," that is, the Jesus we know existed from history, removed from all of the faith claims of resurrection, God incarnate, and others (Note: searching for the historical Jesus is not denying the faith claims, it is just not concerning itself with answering the faith questions in the search.)

Anyway, one of the optional texts in the class was A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus by John P. Meier. I had asked for this three volume work on a Christmas list before, but apparently they came in the mail a few weeks after Christmas, so my mom just gave them to me for Easter. I was excited!

It is a three volume work (volumes 1 & 2 are here, 3 is on the way) of about 1500 pages, so needless to say I haven't finished them yet. It is actually more of a reference source than a cover to cover read. Nonetheless, it has some very interesting content, I am finding as I plow through it.

The approach Meier (a Catholic scholar, shown here holding volumes 1 & 2) uses is this:

Suppose that a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jew, and an agnostic--all honest historians cognizant of 1st-century religious movements--were locked up in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School library, put on a spartan diet, and not allowed to emerge until they had hammered out consensus document on who Jesus of Nazareth was and what he intended in his own time and place. An essential requirement of this document would be that it be based on purely historical sources and arguments.
pg 1

An interesting quest, to say the least. That is what Meier is attempting for in this work. I'll let you know as I come across more interesting nuggets.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The New Christians

Tony Jones, the national coordinator of Emergent Village has a new book out called The New Christians: Dispatches From the Emergent Frontier. I picked it up at Barnes and Noble 2 weeks ago and didn't expect to read it right away. I had other books ranking higher on the priority list. but then I made the mistake of starting it. I found that I couldn't put it down and few days later I was done.

The book is part history, part theology, part memoir. Tony starts by telling the story (at least, his take of the story) of how the emergent conversation began. The initial meetings, the conferences, the people involved, Tony gives you a broad look at the emergence of emergent 10 years ago. Chapters 3-5 look more at what the emergent churches are, their DNA, what makes them unique. Chapter 3 attempts to answer the question "Who are the Emergent Christians?" and includes 3 characteristics of emergents based on a number of interviews Tony conducted himself. Chapter 4 is about theology, and how emergents relate to theology. Chapter 5 is about truth, and how the EC relates to truth.

Chapter 6, the last chapter in the book, is an interesting look at 4 emergent churches, each different and unique, to give the reader some concrete examples of emergent churches. He also takes a closer look at some of the elements, including a look into "Wikichurch", which is so interesting that it is alone worth the price of the book.

I have said before that if one wants to be inteligible about the Emergent conversation, s/he must read and be familiar with the ideas presented in Scot McKnight's article on the topic. I must now amend that statement, and add that The New Christians also belongs on that list. All future writing on the Emergent conversation will have to take this book into account. It is a great read, regardless of what you think of the emergent movement, and will inspire you to think while setting the record strait regarding what you have heard about it.

NOTE: Scot McKnight has used the term "Emerging" to refer to the movement as a whole and "Emergent" to refer to those who identify with Emergent Village. I asked Tony which of these groups he was writing about, and he says that he rejects the difference in language and uses "Emergent" to refer to the whole movement. Thus, the book is about the movement as a whole, not only Emergent Village.

That being said, let me offer a scattering of quotes to wet your appetite.

"The soil of that growth is deep and complex, a melange that includes the advent of "new media" (blogs, email, social networking sites, podcasts, webcams, instant messaging, and so on) dissatisfaction with politics as usual, the postmodern turn in philosophy, and cracks in the foundations of mainline and evangelical Christianity. Emergents--and I consider myself one--think that this movement is but one manifestation of the coming dramatic shift in what it means to be Christian." pg XVIII

"We are not becoming less religious, as some people argue. We are becoming differently religious." pg 2

"The emergent church cannot be separated from the postmodern situation in which it was born." pg 38

"Emergents are unwilling to blindly accept the underlying assumptions of the stories they've been given." pg 40

"There is no ideological requirement to join, just a shared commitment to robust, theological dialogue about issues that matter." pg 82

"[E]mergents have pursued a faith that spurns easy answers." pg109

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

May the joy of the resurrected Lord, and his victory over death encourage and strengthen you today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Emerging Church Responds to its Critics

In 2005 some Emerging Church leaders wrote a response to criticism that they were getting. Certain people were starting to speak out and even write books that were very uninformed. As a response, Brian McLaren penned a letter that was edited by a handful of other Emergent Leaders. It should definitely be read by anyone who seeks to converse with or about this movement.

The letter is basically laying out the attitude that most in the EC have, and attitude of humility and wanting conversation. In addition, it responds to some of the criticisms as well, and in doing so contains one of the best paragraphs I have read (best in that it is funny and crams more info into one paragraph than I have perhaps ever seen). Here it is:

Sixth, we would like to clarify, contrary to statements and inferences made by some, that yes, we truly believe there is such a thing as truth and truth matters – if we did not believe this, we would have no good reason to write or speak; no, we are not moral or epistemological relativists any more than anyone or any community is who takes hermeneutical positions – we believe that radical relativism is absurd and dangerous, as is arrogant absolutism; yes, we af firm the historic Trinitarian Christian faith and the ancient creeds, and seek to learn from all of church history – and we honor the church’s great teachers and leaders from East and West, North and South; yes, we believe that Jesus is the crucified and risen Savior of the cosmos and no one comes to the Father except through Jesus; no, we do not pit reason against experience but seek to use all our God-given faculties to love and serve God and our neighbors; no, we do not endorse false dichotomies – and we regret any false dichotomies unintentionally made by or about us (even in this paragraph!); and yes, we affirm that we love, have confidence in, seek to obey, and strive accurately to teach the sacred Scriptures, because our greatest desire is to be followers and servants of the Word of God, Jesus Christ. We regret that we have either been unclear or misinterpreted in these and other areas.

It is perhaps best quoted with the paragraph after it as well:

But we also acknowledge that we each find great joy and promise in dialogue and conversation, even about the items noted in the previous paragraph. Throughout the history of the church, followers of Jesus have come to know what they believe and how they believe it by being open to the honest critique and varied perspectives of others. We are radically open to the possibility that our hermeneutic stance will be greatly enriched in conversation with others. In other words, we value dialogue very highly, and we are convinced that open and generous dialogue – rather than chilling criticism and censorship – offers the greatest hope for the future of the church in the world.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Donald Miller Interview Video

About a year and a half ago I went with a good friend to interview Donald Miller. The church I attend was doing Blue Like Jazz for the mealgroup book and we talked with Don a bit about the book. I posted about this experience here, and here you were able to read a transcript of the video above. James finally uploaded the video to google, so I present it to you now. As you will be able to tell, it is edited and some things are cut out, including editing some of his answers, which got a bit long. James is the guy in the video asking the questions.

Let me know your thoughts!

PS And by the way, I'm the guy who threw the book. Didn't I nail it?

Monday, March 17, 2008

7 Most Important Qualities for a President

I'm no political affeccionado, but I came across the Tim Russert Show the other night and he was speaking with the always interesting presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about the most important qualities for a president to have. They tend to be based on history (i.e. the best presidents did these things, Lincoln, FDR etc.), and they are pretty generic (i.e. nonpartisan and not based on morals or anything like that). I thought It'd be interesting to share. Let me know what you think.

1. Withstand Adversity
2. Diverse Perspectives
3. Loyalty
4. Admit Mistakes
5. Emotion
6. Define Goals
7. Relax

When talking about diverse perspectives, Goodwin uses the example of Lincoln appointing his fiercest opponents to his cabinet. He apparently go ridiculed for it and basically said, "Hey, they are the best minds in the country. I need them on my side right now." A very interesting insight in light of our current political situation. She writes about this and other stories from Lincoln's presidency in her book that I want to read called Team of Rivals.

What do you think of this list? Which is the most important? Least? What would you add?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Boyd on Violence in the OT

I love the way that Greg Boyd continually explores the difficult topics in the christian life, even when they are wildly unpopular. This is no different.

Greg has started a series of blog posts looking into the horrific violence that we read about in the Old Testament. Concerning the verse where the Psalmist talks about bashing his enemies' babies heads against rocks (Ps 137:8-9), Greg says:

Let's be honest. This passage is barbarically ugly, and we've got to wonder what on earth it's doing in the "inspired Word of God"! How are we to see this passage as "inspired" in light of the fact that Jesus taught us to love and bless our enemies, not hate and curse them? How could the same Lord who taught us to turn the other cheek, never retaliate and never use the sword inspire the Psalmist to gloat over the splattering of infants' heads? If harboring anger and speaking nasty words ("Raca") to another person puts us in danger of hell, as Jesus taught (Matt 5), what kind of danger must the Psalmist be in for harboring this utterly vindictive attitude toward the Babylonians?

He also asks the honest question, "doesn't this depiction of God look more like the God of Osama Bin Laden than the Father of Jesus Christ?"

We have to admit that these are some troubling verses. He has only offered an introduction so far, but in the mean time, I was wondering if you guys felt like offering some responses. What have you heard to explain the violence in the OT? Many bad answers, I'm sure (which I want you to share), but any good ones? Let's have a conversation about this.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Evolution Discussion Thread

If anyone from this discussion or anywhere else wants to talk about Evolutionary Science (or creation), you may do that here. Please just remember (1) not to make any personal attacks or (2) link to really lengthy articles or websites you expect us to read. You may be interested in the previous blog conversations from the last few months that took place here.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Emerging Chart

Hello friends.

So I have been wanting to post this for awhile, but have been limited due to my html deficiencies. I am reading An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, a great book by the way, which is a collection of essays from around the emergent world. One particular essay is written by Tim Conder called "The Existing Church/Emerging Church Matrix: Collision, Credibility, Missional Collaboration, and Generative Friendship." As the title suggests, Tim is talking about the ways in which the emerging church and the existing church can work together and communicate. In the chapter, Tim has created a fantastic chart to encapsulate the differences between these two organisms he is comparing. I have tried with little success to recreate that chart in html form for you here. The result is too big to fit on my page (and there are some other issues as well. I welcome html advice). Suffice it to say, I am left to articulate the chart in mere words, imprecisely placed (what's the point, right?). So, here goes (ho hum).

The chart has two columns, labeled Existing/Modern and Emergent/Postmodern, followed by rows representing a number of categories. Here it is, and hopefully it makes some shadow of sense.

Existing/Modern VS Emergent/Postmodern.
Ethics: abstract/absolute/transcendent vs corporate/contextual
Epistemology: abstract/absolute/transcendent vs corporate/contextual
Theology: systematic/propositional vs narrative/missional
Gospel: eternal salvation vs present reign of God in this world
Mission: defined by personal, spiritual needs vs defined by God's redemptive agenda
Biblical Interpretation: propositional/dependent on theological systems vs contextual/narrative
Leadership:positional/hierarchical vs relational egalitarian
Spiritual Formation: linear/cognitive/personal vs nonlinear/holistic/communal
Basis of Community Formation: boundaries formed by doctrine/confession vs boundaries shaped by ethical and missional commitments

I'm not sure about you, but I think better when I have a visual, an organized framework to help me mentally absorb info. Does it help you? What are your responses to the chart? Would you agree with Tim's assessment?

Here are my responses:

1. The first one, ethics, is bound to make fundamentalists squirm. To suggest that ethics are anything other than absolute and never changing is heresy to some. However, it is undeniable that at least some (most?) ethics are contextual or corporate. Jesus even hints at this when talking of the early church ("binding and loosing" is thought to mean allow or disallow, "when two or three gather in my name" is in the context of church discipline, and these suggest that the early Christians are contextually and communally deciding the ethics of their community). Now this can certainly get dangerous if taken to an extreme, but let us not make it say something it is not or jump to extreme conclusions.

2. Spiritual Formation as communal is also a breath of fresh air as I've noticed it in the emerging church. I spent my first years as a Christian in the largely individualistic evangelical "community." I am a fan of "sharing faith" with others in community, and I'm glad to see that becoming stressed more and more. By the way, I think the small groups movement in evangelicalism is, at least in part, a longing of Christians to be less individual and more communal. However, to truly transform, some major shifts in how evangelicals view spiritual formation need to happen.

3. I love the Basis of Community Formation. Emergents embrace the reality that we cannot agree on all of the minor (or even the major) points of theology. But, perhaps we can all agree in certain elements of practice (i.e. social justice, reducing poverty, communion, prayer, mission etc.).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Jesus For President

Shane Claiborne is out with his 2nd book. You may have read his first called The Irresistible Revolution. If you haven't, you should. His new one is called Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals.

The book is divided into four parts, with a number of headings and subsections in each part. Let me give you a quick overview before I get into my thoughts.

Part 1 (called "Before there were kings and presidents") is a retelling of the story of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. From Genesis 1 through the prophets, Shane offers his telling of the story and traces the work of God throughout (with his commentary thrown in), and the original plan to not have a king, but God giving in and allowing it based on the continued grumbling of the people.

Part 2 (called "A new kind of commander-in-chief") is a deeply contextual look at Palestine in the time right before, during, and after Jesus. The politics. Rome. The oppression etc. One of the neatest things in this section is a look at many of the terms that Jesus used or were applied to him, like kingdom, gospel, savior etc. and compares them to what the terms meant from the perspective of the Roman Empire. The result is a really cool chart on pages 67-69.

Part 3 (called "when the empire got baptized") is where Shane hits his stride. If you were not offended by the first two parts, this one will probably get you (particularly if you have connections to the military or are rich). It is in part 3 where I think you see Shane in the role that fits him, calling out injustice, national sins and the like. I think Shane is most closely identified with the prophets in the Old Testament (though not in the prediction way). He is living a very radical, alternative life. He is a prophetic voice calling out to the followers of Jesus. That is his role. But, he does it in love. He is not into guilt, he is into truth. He doesn't play games or coerce, he tells stories and mimics Jesus and loves.

Part 4 (called "A peculiar party") is mostly a collection of stories from the community Shane is a part of, or from letters he gets from soldiers etc. A good chunk of these stories appeared in his first book.

Here are some overall thoughts.

1. Shane's second book is not nearly as good as his first.

That isn't really a slam on this one as much as it is a testament to the first. His first included a lot of his own personal story and testimony, which is one of a kind. That is hard to beat. Make sure you read The Irresistible Revolution before reading this one.

2. The book is an experience.

This is one of the most visually unique books I've ever read. It is filled with art, marginal notes, creatively written quotes, pictures, and other stuff you just have to see. It is a great feature. It makes the book come alive a bit more. you experience it, rather than just read it. If nothing else, next time you are at a book store, page through it briefly and you will see what I'm talking about.

3. The book pulls from a myriad of other sources in compiling the book.

I think this is a great feature. Shane has placed countless quotes, blockquotes, excerpts, etc. in the text. It goes a long way in showing that his ideas, though revolutionary, are not new. It also creates a great opportunity for readers to continue research on the subjects covered.

Is it worth reading? Definitely. It is the kind of book that each of us should read every so often to stir us up about things that stir God up. Will you agree with every word? No, but do you ever agree with every word in any book? (If so, you need to expand your reading horizons and stretch yourself).

Pick it up. You'll be glad you did.

Here are some quotes from JFP as I leave you:

"Jesus taught a third way. Here we see a Jesus who abhors both passivity and violence, who carves out a third way that is neither submission nor assault, neither fight nor flight." pg 94

"The young church lived within the messy collision of kingdoms. The more the early Christians reflected on the life and message of their rabbi-messiah, and the more they tried to live the way of the way of the gospel, the harder they collided with the state and its hopes and dreams, militaries and markets." pg 141

"The history of the church has been largely a history of "believers" refusing to believe in the way of the crucified Nazerine and instead giving in to the very temptations he resisted--power, relevancy, spectacle." pg 166

"The bloodstained pages of history are filled with people doing terrible wrong out of a deep sense of right." pg 203

"Perhaps there is no more dangerous place for a Christian to be than in safety and comfort, detached from the suffering of others." pg 292

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Myth of A Christian Nation, Q&A

I told you once we finished to book that I was going to be emailing Greg with some questions that came up from my second reading of the text. I have done that and he has answered. Here is what he had to say:

1. You refer several time to the ways of the Kingdom of God being simple. Could you expound a bit on that? It seems that with they myriad of opinions on every topic under the sun, that it is anything but simple, or, at the very least, that man has made it not simple.

It's simple in that it always looks like Jesus and thus reflects a Calvary type of love.

2. Some (friendly) critics have said that Colossians 1 contradicts your thesis a bit:

"I sincerely believe that Christ seeks to redeem everything. I believe what is written in Colossians—"For by him (Christ)all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Col 1:16, 19-20)."

Most scholars grant that the Powers referred to here are not earthly powers and thrones, but spiritual entities. As such, I don't see how it affects my thesis.

3. We hear stories of heroic acts like the passengers on flight 93, who used violence/power over to subvert the terrorists and save lives. what would your comment be on a situation like this? I know it is a bit unfair to throw extreme exceptions into the fray, but I'm just curious.

AS with many acts of violence throughout history, the violence on flight 93 was good and heroic. But the Kingdom is not about being good or heroic. It's about imitating Jesus. Now, this mightnot rule out using a minimal ammount of force to restrain the high jackers, but it would mean, at the very least, refusing to kill them. Ideally, however, I think a Jesus follower would try to communicate God's love to them, non-stop, even if they killed them to get them to shut up.

4. Can you tell us a bit about the next book you have coming out?

It's called REvolting Beauty: A Theology and Practical Guide for Kingdom Revolutionaries. The central thesis is that followers of Jesus are called to manifest the beauty of God's reign and revolt against everything in the world -- and against the Powers -- that stand against it. This always looks like Jesus. So I explore Jesus' life and suggest ways his followers can manifest the beauty of God's reign by revolting against such things as * idolatry * judgment * religion *secularism *individualism *nationalism * racism * classicism * poverty * violence * sexual immorality * sickness * demonization and * earth abuse. (each of these has a separate chapter). It's due in 3 weeks and should be out late fall or next spiring.

This concludes our series. I hope it has caused us to think in this election year. Thanks for tuning in.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Book List

Some friends were asking me what I had read recently and as I was telling them the said, "If you put a book list together, Nick, I'd read through it." Being one who rarely backs down from such a challenge, I thought it would be good to make a list of "must reads." (If you are regular reader, you may have seen me drone on about these already. Pardon my redundancy.) To be on the list, they had to meet a few requirements:

1) It has to be a very good book. Perhaps this goes without saying, but it is the first requirement.

2) It has to be challenging and cutting edge. We don't want any biographies or walks in the park here. Only books that make you think, challenge your paradigms, and rock your world. Those are the best books.

3) It has to be somewhat mainline. No esoteric works here, please. It has to be written in such a way that it can benefit everyone.

With that being said, here is my short list of five must reads, with a few other optional ones thrown in.

Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller

Perhaps my favorite book of all time. Miller wrestles with the issue of identity like no one else that I've ever seen. It is funny, artistic, profound, and brilliant.

The Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne

Perhaps the most challenging book I've ever read. shane has an amazing story, and challenges "American Christianity"in a unique way. You won;t agree with everything he says (like in any book), but his heart and his radical movement will inspire and challenge you.

The Shack by William P. Young

A very good fiction work about a man who suffers the loss of his 5 year old daughter, which greatly effects his relationship with God. He ends up getting a letter in the mail from God asking to meet with him. What ensues will rock your world.

I have blogged about it here.

The Myth of A Christian Nation by Greg Boyd

A great "recalibrator" when it comes to politics. Boyd is non-partisan, and encourages us not to violate the purity of the Kingdom of God by mixing it with politics. I just finished a 14 part series on the book if you want to read more.

Adventures in Missing the Point by Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren

Two of my favorite thinkers team up in this work to cover a myriad of topics and the new ways Christians are thinking about them. Campolo's chapter on homosexuality is mind blowing, and McLaren chapter on scripture is good too. The cool thing about this book is that they critique and respond to one another, so it is more like a conversation that you get to observe than a normal book.

Others not in the top 5:

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell

This is a great book about the way we think of church.

A New Kind of Christian by Brian McLaren

This is more for church leaders, but it is perhaps the key text for the emerging movement.

The Judgement by Chart Korpjitti

This is a Thai novel that you would probably have to borrow from me if you want to read it (though you can buy it online). It is a great story of religion and judgement in social settings.

Thanks for considering. If I inspire you to read any of these let me know. If you have read any of these, I welcome your comments. What other book would you add to the "must read list"?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tony Jones in Conversation

Here is a great video of a conversation between Tony Jones, the leader os Emergent Village, and John Chisham, a pastor in southern Minnesota who has been very critical of Tony and the emerging stream. In what is typical of the Emerging (and Emergent) movement, Tony opted to sit down and have a conversation with John. The video is about 34 minutes long, and it is unedited, so you get some conversation about movies and stuff, as well as another camera person blocking the view at times. But, it is a very good example of how two people can disagree in a civil manner. It is a great look into the differences between someone who may be a good spokesperson for orthodox (fundamental?) evangelicalism and an emerging Christian. It is well worth the time.

I'm curious to hear you thoughts and responses.

UPDATE: The video I linked was removed, so instead I have replaced it in 3 parts from youtube. Same stuff, just in 3 parts.