Saturday, March 27, 2010

"White Flag Warriors" - FloBots

White-flag-warriors  I was caught off guard the other day while listening to the radio.  The four stations that I have programmed into the car memory are National Public Radio, KLOVE, classical music, and Q101 Heavy Rock.  If I had to narrow it down, I would have to say that hard rock has always been my favorite genre.  Be it because of my instrumental love of drums and guitar or because of the adrenaline surge, I find myself most drawn to listen to the beats of heavy rock. 

However, the amount of sex, drug, and rage references are usually too much to bear.  As I was driving to Chicago a few days ago, a song came on Q101 that quickly drew my attention.  It had the rapcore sound that I loved and featured the well-known voice of Tim McIlrath of the Chicago band, Rise Against.  But one line in particular stood out: "We'd rather make our children - martyrs than murderers." 

When I got back home, I did a google search and found out that it was written by the band Flobots, who have actively engaged in non-violent response at the local and national level.  I recommend checking the song out.  I was thankful for this type of message to be spreading through a genre that is typically characterized by violence.  The following are a few lines from the song (not in order), and below that is the music video hosted on the band website. 

We request to negotiate
We come to you unarmed
We desire to communicate
You cannot do us harm

This is love this is not treason
Won’t study war no more this millennium
It’s never again to me or anyone
So think harder when you refer to us
Rather make our children martyrs than murderers

They shell dwellings to quell the shelling
They lift taboos to seduce the cowards
They say we’re too yellow-bellied
But we say we’re the new superpower

We seek waivers to not be liable
We claim to speak for a higher truth
We stand opposed to the homicidal
We tell you you’re fireproof


Friday, March 26, 2010

Did Jesus Intend to Found a Church?

Torah On a number of occasions over the last few years, I have heard the complaint and critique against the Christian church of the history books, who with abusive liberty took the moral teachings of Jesus and created a separate church in his name.  This church distorted the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount into a new religious sect; something that Jesus himself certainly would not have wanted.  Therefore, the task of revolutionaries presented with this prophetic understanding of the imperial church is to return to a "church-less" following of Jesus - one that takes seriously the ethical teachings of Jesus, and allows these teachings to be the end in and of themselves.

N.T. Wright addresses this issue in the seventh chapter of Jesus and the Victory of God.  The problem with the question, "Did Jesus intend to found a 'church'?" is that it cannot be answered with a 'yes' or a 'no'.  Instead, Wright argues that...

"Jesus did not intend to found a church because there already was one, namely the people of Israel itself.  Jesus' intention was therefore to reform Israel, not to found a different community altogether." (275)

When we take into account the stories, praxis, questions, and symbols of the Jewish framework - those things that form the paradigm for interpreting the world - we simply cannot resolve to limit Jesus' goal to that of a great moral teacher.  Jesus' ministry can be summarized as proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand; repent and believe.  The exile has ended!  The Messiah has come!  It is even now at hand!  The faithfulness of Yahweh has not been abandoned; the covenant is lasting. 

It is undeniably true that Jesus worked to call his followers into embodying this new community, which would be shaped by love, hospitality, and generosity.  Preaching that the long awaited for exodus and universal reign of God were at hand would certainly have had moral implications.  But the point of Jesus ministry was certainly not to start a new type of church or religion, nor was it simply to provide moral guidelines for living an acceptable life: instead, Jesus subverted the expectations of the Jewish story and reformed it with the unfolding mystery of God's plan.

Why is this important?  While the critiques of many of those embittered by the religiosity and corruption of the church throughout history have opened our eyes to failures that must be repented of and corrected, the answer cannot be to swing towards a gospel of a Jesus who merely preached morality.  This is simply not what Scripture says, especially when read in light of the cultural context of which it was written.  What we can be certain of is that Jesus believed the climactic, eschatological event of the redeeming and faithful God, to have broken into historical reality.  This was not simply a fact to believed.  Proclaiming the kingdom at hand was a way of calling those who could hear to live in this spectacular reality. 

Yes - the reality of the in-breaking of the kingdom meant a new way of being in the world which Jesus taught.  Yes - those who caught hold of this were called into a new way of being together.  The answer to "Did Jesus intend to found a church?" is best answered by saying that Jesus preached a subversive message to that of Jewish expectation, which would necessarily have transformed praxis and community.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

 Jamie and I were blessed with the opportunity to see the hit-Broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast, while on tour in Chicago last night.  It was a delightful evening with my bride, but the show itself was in great need of the fine-tuning and tweaking that typically make Broadway theater shine above the rest.  

First of all, the sound system was very low, making it difficult to pick up the nuanced dialog (tone, pitch, rhythm, etc.) that creates the emotion in scenes.  This was particularly apparent with the character of the  Beast, who (according to character), has a loud, bellowing, and angry voice, which should have been felt, rather than followed by, "What did he say?"  

Second, the microphones kept shorting out!  This was happening most often to the characters of Cogsworth (clock) and the unnamed Dresser.  Sometimes this was no more than annoying, but at other times, the harmonies were shattered, and at others, the conversation completely lost.  

Be Our Guest - Led by the candlestick, Lumiere  Third, during the audience favorite, "Be Our Guest," a number of characters playing dining utensils lifted bugles to their mouths - each bugle having a flag hanging down that had a letter to spell "B-E   O-U-R   G-U-E-S-T."  Somehow the bugles got switched and it ended up spelling "B-E   O-U-R    S-E-U-G-T."  Again, nothing to horrible, but not typical of other Broadway shows that we have seen in the past.  

Finally, we couldn't have been more disappointed with the transformation of the Beast into the Prince.  I had anticipated this moment, thinking that there would come a thrilling light show, or some type of set-special-effect, or at minimum some stage-fog; instead, the stage went black and the pit orchestra played some less-than-climactic song.  This lasted for a good thirty seconds or more, and when the lights came back on, the Beast had transformed.  I WAS SO DISAPPOINTED!

But given all the complaints, it was an absolutely wonderful night.  The best part of the night (besides spending time with you, hunny :)), was watching all the little girls dressed up in yellow dresses, wishing that they were Bell (at least, the final Bell).  There was such excitement in their eyes.

I don't mean to be too much of a grouch, but I probably would not recommend spending the money to see this play on tour.  My guess would be that all of my critiques are due to its being the 2nd night of the showing and being a tour production.    



Monday, March 22, 2010

Beauty - Universal or Contextual?

Ironshackles I have recently been consumed with perceptions of beauty.  Jamie and I live with some very good friends - Thomas and Jean Sharp - and Thomas often comments about the various controversial understandings of beauty within architecture: Do all people of all time have a common criteria for judging something as beautiful or ugly, or is beauty locally defined according to cultural context and history?  Is beauty only found in orderliness and structure, or also in chaos and destruction?  (sorry, Thomas, for butchering these questions and philosophical inquiries).

These questions are consuming, not only because Jamie and I await the birth of our daughter - who will be bombarded with competing and influential definitions of beauty - but because we are approaching Holy Week, where beauty is paradoxically defined through the cross and resurrection.  It is difficult to project beauty as we know it back on the events of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day.  What is beautiful about a man riding in on a donkey, making an in-glorious entrance into the religious/political center of the Middle East?  What is beautiful about sharing a meal in an upper room with a small band of followers?  Where is the beauty in washing someones feet?  

Finding beauty in these events is relatively easy when compared to finding beauty in a death; but not just a death, a torturous crucifixion!  Is there beauty as we know it in the act of burying another?  Is there beauty in mourning?  

The wonder of Holy Week is not that we are able to look upon it with modernistic-culturally formed perceptions of beauty and identify beautiful aspects.  It is not a beauty which is universally perceived; in fact, it is quite ugly and detestable to that which our culture defines as beautiful.  It is not beautiful in the demythologized sense of getting to the deep spiritual core.  

Holy Week is not beautiful: it defines beauty.

In this sense, I am certain that beauty does in fact exist in a universal and complete form, but that we can only grasp glimpses of this beauty by being wholly present within our cultural traditions.  In this sense, beauty is seen in the ordered and structured, just as God has revealed Himself as the creator not of chaos, but of order.  But there are also times when this order and beauty is on display in the destruction of oppressive power structures, leaving all who are left behind in humility and dependence.  There are times when we look upon a Cathedral as the epitome of God's beauty and majesty, and other times as symbols of distortion and idolatry.  There may be times when constructing a place of worship that tells of God as King of the Universe is not in building a mulit-million dollar cathedral, but by gathering in the basement of a house for prayer and silence.  

Georgian Orthodox Cathedral in Tbilisi - finished construction in 2004 as a sign of "spiritual revival" for the Georgian people.  Basement of Archbishop of Baptist Church in Georgia where we daily gathered for prayer and the Eucharist 

 This opens us up to listen to one another, giving a particular ear to the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized in our society, who otherwise are cast to the side and deemed as ugly; ugly to a progressive and pure display of form and a structured society devoid of their presence.  The beautiful society expected and hoped for was turned on its head in the incarnation and events of Holy Week.  Jesus displayed beauty through poverty.  Jesus displayed beauty through humility.  Jesus displayed beauty through death.  But all of these beauties make sense only through the Christian profession that "what God has always been doing is setting things right - for the entire cosmos."


  • Is God's beauty seen in order and structure?  Yes

  • Is God's beauty seen in destruction and seemingly-chaotic circumstances?  Yes

  • Is the ugliness of our sin seen in order and structure?  Yes

  • Is the ugliness of our sin seen in chaos?  Yes

We need one another to see where beauty is on display, and we need one another to see where ugliness is on display.  We need to listen specifically to those who have no voice in defining the beauty of the world - the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized.  May we be open to seeing the beauty of God working in the world in the upcoming weeks, as we mourn the sin that separates us from God and celebrate the beauty of reconciliation and redemption!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Shamrock Shuffle 2010

It was hard to believe that I would have to put on so many layers of clothing this morning.  I awoke at 6:30 AM and immediately navigated to on my phone, only to have the anticipated fears of cold weather and rain confirmed.  Two days earlier I had spent the afternoon lounging in the backyard with a good cigar and a good book: now there was snow everywhere.  IMG_2700  

It was the morning of the Shamrock Shuffle, and although I wanted to run this race the previous two years, this was the first time that I submitted my registration on time.  This year there were 36,000 participants to run the Chicago 8K race, and there would certainly have been many more if it had not been capped at that.

I ran a half-marathon in 2007 in New Prague, MN.  While I don't recall exactly, I remember the theme of the race was cows and milk; lets just say that the Shamrock Shuffle carried with it a much different (and more exciting) atmosphere.  It was a great time.  People were excited about the outfits they were wearing, many of whom had been planning their costume for months.  Seas of green spandex, Luck' of the Irish shirts, red beards, tall green hats - people excitedly talking about the races they were signed up for in the next few months and those that they had previously ran.  Nostalgic stories of previous Shuffles were told to friends and strangers alike.  There were no outsiders in these waves of people - everyone had something in common.

The race was scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM, but those in the second wave (like myself) did not approach the Starting line until closer to 9:25 AM.  I had hoped to average ten minute miles, and I actually ended up beating that goal by 30 seconds per mile, finishing in approximately 47 minutes.  It felt good to have accomplished this as a beginning landmark in the training for the Magellan Chicago Spring Half Marathon to take place in May.

There is a camaraderie in running these races that is not seen in many other places.  The race is not between you and the "other," but this does not mean that it is without competition.  Competitions both large and small are formed constantly throughout the race: "Can I pass that guy with the blue hat?"  "Can I keep a faster pace up the hill than when running on flat terrain?"  "Can I keep up with the gal who just passed me?"

Most days I tell people that I really don't enjoy running, but that I see the importance in doing so.  Today, however, despite the interrupted sleep and dreary cold weather, I state with honesty that I enjoyed the run.  I won every competition that I had formed and came up against.  I enjoyed being in and among people of laughter and excitement.  I enjoyed the kinship that I felt with people who I would probably never see again.

It was a great race and a great jolt of encouragement as I face another eight weeks of training before the half.  

IMG_2693 IMG_2696 IMG_2697 IMG_2698 


Run captured with Garmin Running Watch 


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Education Budget Cuts in District U-46

Golden_apple  The media-machine has announced, over the last few months,
that the dread and drear of the potential depression has surrendered to a
rising economy.  “The night has passed,
and the morning has come.”

However, as an employee of School District U-46, I arrived
at Century Oaks Elementary School yesterday morning to find that thirteen of
fifty-one employees - this school alone -are being let go next year, due to
budget cuts at all levels; this is over twenty percent.  These are not bad teachers and bad
para-educators.  In fact, working at this
school renewed my hope for public education of our students.  Despite the standards that need to be met,
the diversity of students, and the economic disadvantages of the students,
these teachers care for the
students.  They care for their home life.
 These teachers can be seen crying with
their students.  They boisterously
celebrate the successes of their students, whether it is in passing a test or
getting an answer right or owning up to making a mistake. 

These are good teachers who are losing their jobs, and it
truly is the students that are punished. 
I realize that there are no easy solutions to the education problem – at
any level – but this cannot be the only way. 

As a Christian who believes that Jesus Christ as Lord, I
struggle to have words to say to comfort and encourage others in this
time.  As someone who has studied for
many years to become a faithful and obedient worker in the Church, I have never
expected to make money.  Neither have
these teachers.  Yet we entrust our kids
lives and education to them. 

I ask for your prayers for all of the teachers and support staff
that has lost their jobs over the past few days.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Harmony and Dissonance

The final lecture-driven course of New Testament Theology was focused on unity and diversity within the New Testament.  It concluded with an analogy using music theory terms of harmony and dissonance.  The proposal was that dissonance is not a "bad" thing, but rather always moves towards resolution.  When we approach texts that appear to be contradictory in nature (i.e. James emphasis on faith and works and Paul's emphasis on faith alone), we are not required to skip over them, nor add additional notes to make a "clean chord," but rather we sit with a listening ear and honestly confess that, "although this doesn't sound just as my ear wants it to, somehow it is part of the composer's composition."

The beauty in the analogy is its ability to allow the listener (as well as the violinist) to listen with one another.  In fact, as the violinist we utterly depend on listening to the 2nd violins, the 3rd cellos, and the 1st violas.  It means that we hear and play the music of the composer with those who find beauty and resolve at different points in the composition.

This analogy further raises the question of the formation of the ear to distinguish between what is in harmony and what is dissonant.  It may be assumed that when the first, third, and fifth of a chord are played together, that chord is said to be harmonious and appealing to (universally) every ear and at every time.  But postmodern critique has shown that even this sense of harmony is the product of formation towards desiring completeness, and  that even the feeling of "completeness" is shaped by contextual understanding.  What of those who find harmony in a quarter tone?  What of those who experience harmony not in a single chord, but in a complete movement?  What of the fact that "resolution" of a suspended chord is needed to bring rest?  

We need to listen to one another and be open to hearing as the other hears.  As this analogy relates to New Testament Theology and unity and diversity, I am primarily concerned with an openness to listening to stories of interpretation.  Where John's understanding of light and darkness is harmonious with my understanding of God's kingdom verses a kingdom of the world, another might interpret these as utterly dissonant and irreconcilable.  How have I too quickly forced harmony on John's understanding?  Where can I offer a harmonious interpretation?

This was a very enjoyable discussion, particularly because I enjoyed my past education in music theory, which has remained largely in the backseat during theological studies.  It is often said that music is  the language that reaches and touches the world - regardless of cultural context.  I contend that music has to be created in the cultural context, and that we need to be open to hearing and learning what harmony and dissonance mean within those contexts, as it shapes us more fully to understand the symphony of the composer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Baby Girl!



It's a girl!  Jamie and I rejoice in the news that our baby is growing strong and healthy, and that everything seems to be as it should be at this point.  We went in for the ultrasound yesterday and skipped-and-hopped out of the hospital with the joyous news of a baby girl.

We were asked many times before this day what we "wanted."  After removing the word "want" from it's Western-consumer context, I responded that I will be overjoyed with any healthy baby, but that I am brought to tears thinking of daddy's little girl.

That to say, the past two days have been filled with immense joy.  We continue to request your prayers for this little girl, who we anxiously wait to welcome into the world where Jesus Christ is Lord!  



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Postmodern Lunatics

I just had the following conversation
with one of the teachers in the elementary school:

Teacher: “So what
classes are you taking right now?”

Andy: “New Testament
Theology, Church in Post-Modern Context, and…”

Teacher: [interrupts]
“I don’t like it.”

Andy: “Don’t like

Teacher: “Post-modern. 
I know some of them, and they are crazy!”

Andy: “What do you

Teacher: “You know,
like, Rob Bell?  And there are others who want to, like, blow up
the church building and stuff.”

Unfortunately, this teacher
had to take her students back to the classroom, so we were unable to
continue the conversation.  This person goes to a mega-church in
the area and has heard prophetic warnings proclaimed from the pulpit
about the lunatic post-moderns who seek to devour and destroy the church. 
I look forward to engaging in further conversation with this teacher,
and I hope to be able to share some of the philosophies inherent in
post-modern thought that work towards re-invigorating the church to
be the beautiful bride of Christ. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Art and Music in the Public School System

There is great potential that art and music will be removed from our children's schooling in the upcoming years.  These are viewed as "extra" to the more important and foundational education elements of mathematics, science, history, and geography.  Working in an elementary school, I hear the uproar from teachers everyday about these decisions.  These "specials" (as they are called in our district) are not just the tasty toppings on the top of the cake, but the very ingredients that make the food worth eating.

I had the opportunity today to sit with an art teacher who is working intently at the local and state levels to ward off this atrocity.  He told me of his own story and described how he would have certainly dropped out of high school had it not been for the arts.  While I never had the urge to drop out of school, music is what kept me passionate.

From a teachers perspective, the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act shackles the educational process, reducing it to measurable standards as formed by white, middle-class, scientific-driven politicians.  We need art and music in our schools, and cannot place these as "extra-curricular."  What are we left with when we lose the ability to tell stories?  How can we describe a confusing and seemingly chaotic world, if not with symbol and expression?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Suburban Gym Experience

Poor-Running-Partner  The gym is a very interesting
place.  People are there for primarily the same purpose: to get
into shape and maintain a healthy lifestyle (although for a number of
different motives).  Usually when people are gathered into the
same space for the same purpose we are drawn into conversation with
one another.  “You mean you are here because you love SPAM…ME
TOO!”  We feel kinship with people working towards the same purpose. 
We are motivated and challenged.  We enjoy talking with people
with similar values and passion.  Yet my experience at suburban
gyms is that, even though we are working towards the same goal, communication
is off limits.  “This is my time.”

This surprises me, because
I have always appreciated encouragement and challenge while working
out, not to mention appreciating a distraction from any pain I might
feel.  I realize some people do the best when they are able to
get into “the zone,” where “nothing else matters,” but this
has rarely been my experience.  When I am exhausted and wanting
to quit, but haven’t yet met my goals, I crave a friendly voice to
say “how far you running?” or “good job” or “pick it up!” 

I have just finished the first
week of training for a half marathon to take place in May, and yesterday
was my first five mile run. At about 3.5 miles, I was completely exhausted
and frustrated.  I couldn’t believe that, though every treadmill
around me was full, no one was talking to one another.  We all
kept running, watching TV and listening to music, hoping that we would
have enough self-motivation and endurance to finish.  All I could
think about was how I wanted to write a blog about my frustration with
the way no one communicated. 

And then a young man stepped
onto the treadmill next to me, looked over at me, and said “Hey, how’s
it going?”  We engaged in conversation for the rest of the run. 
It was easy from there to the end.

The point is that, not only
does meeting people and conversing at the gym offer encouragement and
challenge and distraction, but we are meeting people as witnesses to
Christ.  Everywhere we go and everything we do proclaims the story
we believe in.  We witness to the fact that we need one another
and love one another.  We witness to being part of a story where
the characters do not quietly or passively float by, but actively engage
every in every part.  We witness to God’s presence in all of
life, even when they seem as trivial as a suburban gym.

There are very few places where
I regularly engage myself with strangers and people who do not already
know the reconciliation of Christ.  I pray that the gym become
a place where I can step out, like the man next to me did, and be open
to God’s presence, even when that place is a suburban gym.