Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
I'll miss my family though this weekend. Especially because I'm turning 33 tomorrow and won't be with them. My wife is the best and surprised me this morning with a little care package to go with me. I'll do anything for that woman - I admire her and respect her in so many ways. Thank you God for my family!
Blessings on you wherever you are this weekend.
Rewind with me to eight years ago. A little film arrives on the scene about a male model, the struggles he faces being himself, his rise to stardom and his subsequent fall from public preference. His life entailed all the things you’d come to expect from ridiculously good-looking men of fashion: daily trips to the hair stylist, personal trainer sessions, red carpet affairs, made-to-order blended fruit drinks and walk-offs. The film is . . Zoolander. Not to be missed was Will Ferrell’s unforgettable performance as Mugatu, the evil fashion guru in cahoots with nefarious world powers to turn the star, Derek, into a mindless - but ruthless - killing machine. One of the single quotes I find myself always parodying is taken from a scene where Mugatu, with his henchmen, is attending a fashion awards ceremony and he lays eyes on the newest kid on the block - Hansel. The words from Will Ferrell’s lips are timeless and flawlessly executed . . he says, “That Hansel, he’s sooo hot right now.” A legend was born. Those words have been immortalized in my mind’s backlog of music lyrics, movie one-liners and immortal quotes from famed people of ages past.
I find that line amusing on three levels. First and most easily noticed is that it came from one of the funniest (opinions count!) actors on the planet, if only for the looks on his face. Mr. Ferrell gets me nearly every time by just the sight of him. Secondly, the line itself and it’s general social awkwardness as Mugatu (a self-obsessed fashion designer) makes endearing remarks about another man (a male model, also a self-obsessed) produce an uneasy snicker. Thirdly, the comment causes me to ponder human behavior and social trends that seem to be on repeat as they play out time and time again in the context of our relationships with one another. The line, “. . he’s sooo hot right now.” is tell-tale of our human need for significance which reveals itself most poignantly in the two words “right now”. Temporal (limited) appeal and fads mark our search for significance as human beings. Each one of us is addicted to significance . . and therefore power . . and therefore the persona of celebrity. We ALL want to feel special in some way, to someone, at some time. The need for significance is so deeply ingrained in our personhood that we have idolized its function and embodied its draw on our psyche. We have created the ‘celebrity’.
Why do we attribute more influence, affluence and privilege to a select few and sit contentedly peering at them from afar? Why are we so interested in their work, their relationships, their finances, their wardrobe, their itineraries - even their quirky habits? What is it that we (those of us who are not fixed in the public eye as they are) get from our mild - sometimes fanatic - interest and investment of ourselves in the any celebrity’s life situations? The answer is easy. It all comes full-circle. Those that strive for stardom seek this, as do those who are dogged on-lookers . . it’s significance. We can’t get away from it - we desire to know and be known, and so, we create a class of people (in an unconscious, impulsive sort of way) to incarnate our need for approval, affection, affirmation - significance. Either by direct effort, or by vicarious living, we grasp for that which nothing can provide - save One - through the role of celebrity; personifying our greatest yearnings and longings. What is it that is so attractive about being in the public eye? The possessions? No. Many who have ‘it all’ attest to still desiring more, their appetites, like ours, are unsatisfied by that which we can own. Is it the accolades? No. Again, many will agree who have finally gained what for so long they strove after that it provides only temporary delight and satisfaction until the ‘next thing’ looms on the horizon. Is it because celebrities are people of indomitable character and truly upright in conduct? Unfortunately, oftentimes the opposite is the case. But it didn’t always use to be that way.
Once upon a time, the masses celebrated (do you hear the semblance within that word?) people solely because they were people of moral ‘uprightness’, unswerving principle and sincere self-sacrifice. They were lauded, not because they sought it, but because they naturally drew it through a respect that is earned - not bought or conferred. They were called Saints. People with God-like character (because humanity at its core, believes God to be the epitome of everything that is right and good) that had a natural appeal which resonated with something deep within each person of what life was meant to be like, should have been or at least could be. Saints used to be a reminder of what we could become as our ‘best selves’. They were often - rightly so - attributed with the implied characteristic of having been tight with God. Thus followed the obvious indicators of imitable character traits. At some point, we began relegating Saints to another category, other than ourselves - totally inaccessible. A new class began to emerge - our own brand of ‘saint’ - someone to be admired, applauded, worshiped(?) and adored who had our own base set of personality traits and accouterments which promised to meet our immediate felt needs rather than those of others. Enter celebrities.
Names like St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Patrick, St. Aidan, St. Augustine, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. John of the Cross, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis and St. Ignatius (the title ‘Saint’ can be problematic) were replaced with names like Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, 50 Cent, Coldplay, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and J.K. Rowling. Admittedly, some of our celebrities have made positive contributions to the lives of others by exercising their personal giftedness, bringing joy and laughter, offering hope and raising the collective consciousness through inspiring works, but by-and-large their personal exploits have left us wanting. Not to say that anyone has reason to elevate themselves above another in judgment (we all know our own short-comings), but if all of society lived lives in the same fashion as some of our contemporary ‘saints’ (celebs) . . the world would be in serious danger. The role of celebrity carries with it implicit responsibilities regardless of whether it is acknowledged or not. People ‘look up’ to and seek to emulate those in the public eye. It’s in our nature. It’s what we do. For that very reason, they are leaders because they exercise a disproportionate amount of influence over the lives of others. Few who reside in these positions of power recognise the impact their actions have on shaping the world around them. It’s inestimable.
Since celebrities now occupy the place in society that saints of old used to hold, it is important that they become better stewards of the influence they wield as shapers of people’s hearts and minds - of culture. I’m not simply referring only to those who are actors, musicians, athletes and the like. I’m referring to anyone whose name can be spoken and be recognized by more than a few hundred people. If we desire to see human relations bettering each other and be the cause for determining a better world for all, we need better role models. To deny that that is what celebrities are is ludicrous. If people look up to you (not necessarily respect) because you’re in the public eye, you’re setting an example in some fashion and therefore are a role model none-the-less. Some celebrities are doing exceptional jobs of stewarding their platforms by utilizing it for the benefit and betterment of others. For others, nothing could be further from the truth. How is it then that those who fulfill the role of a celebrity can maximize their impact on the world for good, turning the sum of the attention they receive away from the bottomless well of human nature’s need for significance and toward the enrichment of those less favored? That process begins by encountering an alternative vision for what life ‘lived best’ can be like, as well as choosing to surround oneself with people who call the best out of us and remind us of who we could become should we desire it. Change happens best when wonder replaces wandering and humility replaces hubris.
What would become of our world if those in the public consciousness responded to the undeniable reality that how they live their lives has implications on the choices that others make? How could the masses be mobilized if a majority of celebrities became those who were admired for their character as opposed to being regarded for their possessions? Let’s consider this further next week through the role a ‘soul friend’ plays in a life changing for the better.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Monday, January 19, 2009
Here's the widget for the most recent release from Nashville-based powerhouse, Kevin Max. Kevin has earned his stripes over many a year traveling the globe and garnering a number of GMA and Grammy Awards. Not to be pigeon-holed, Kevin a masterful creative, has also ventured into film and penned a number of volumes of poetry. With one of the most unique voices in the industry and a penchant for saying what needs to be said, you - and I - will not be disappointed with his latest offering. I have been listening to Kevin's euphonious tones for twenty years and I don't plan on stopping now.
For you Irish/British readers, the word is that Kevin Max will be making an appearance or two on these shores this side of summer. Watch his site at www.kevinmax.com for more info.
Are you getting the picture? Words wield formative power over us. They shape who we become. We’ve all been subject to words that have caused pain and sorrow. The Scriptures encourage us to be peddlers of words that give life, not death. One of my favourite verses from the Bible in the past few years has been Psalm 18:24, “God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the book of my heart to His eyes.” [MSG] This verse, for me, is a reminder of a couple important realities in life, namely, that God is always authoring stories with peoples’ lives. Stories full of wonder, adventure, hope, joy, meaning, purpose and transformation! The second thing that I’m reminded of is that He is willing to write those same themes into our lives - should we let Him - by opening our hearts to Him and trusting His good intentions for us. Let us not say, as Chris Martin solemnly does in the ‘Cemeteries of London’ from Coldplay’s most recent album Viva La Vida, “I see God come in my garden, but I don’t know what He said, for my heart it wasn’t open . . not open.” Thirdly, by implication, this verse reminds me that, with God working in us, we can work with Him to co-author the lives of others through our actions and words. This is a most fearful responsibility and truly an immense privilege.
This is how we feel the weight of the world.
When we recognise our responsibility to bring true life and transformation to the world, as God works in us, it’s not long til we realise we are God’s best hope for the redemption of all things. Every action taken, and yes, every word spoken, either contributes to the redemption of the created order or it’s destruction. We build God’s ‘Kingdom’ one brick at a time by our direct involvement in bringing life to others - whatever that means for them, in their skin. I love the endless examples of Jesus stopping - noticing, seeing - random people on the sides of the dirt paths he walked and responding to their cries for help. What they seemingly most oftentimes desired was either freedom from a deep personal wound / spiritual plague or to be restored to full physical health. I am comforted by Jesus’ response to them by meeting their immediate felt needs, but He was ALWAYS offering more - more of Himself to those hungry and thirsty to receive. There is always more you see . . always more.
Prior to sensing God’s leading to move to N. Ireland in 1999 I had been on two short mission trips to the country during the first half of 1996. The first trip was through my undergraduate, Taylor University, in January of that year. The second trip was with my (then) girlfriend’s university, Indiana Wesleyan, in May - only four months later. As a little aside, I proposed to my girlfriend on that trip at the base of a beautiful mountain range along the sea called the Mountains of Mourne in Co. Down. Score! During those two trips our teams worked with an organization called Project Evangelism. Now, the director of that organization is named John Moxen - a truly inspiring and unique man. He resembles a miniature Alfred Hitchcock with his bald head, protruding belly and big lips (he says this about himself!). Originally from Liverpool in England, John has spent nearly forty years in N. Ireland serving the people of this island and bringing hope. One of his most famous sayings, which I will never forget goes like this, “The Bible is not just black ink on white pages . . [with a hush] . . it’s the living Logos.” I don’t know how many times I heard those very words roll off those lips of his, but they have always stayed with me.
There is a difference you see, between reading words - reading the Bible for instance - and actually seeing yourself as living the story - playing an active role in the unfolding of the story of all Creation. We can be passive observers, wishing to be absorbed into a dynamic, enthralling tale of exciting acts and meaningful connection, or we can truthfully be written into it by the Author of Life. That is the invitation God extends to each one of us no matter who you are or what your particular backstory is; you too can play an active role in this unbelievable (but that’s why we want to believe it, isn’t it?) and thoroughly engaging tale revealing itself in humanity. Not only are we invited into an already unfolding story but we’re invited to co-author our own with God. This is more than amazing - God has given us freedom to be actively involved in our own personal development. We can choose, with God, the kind of person we become. This comes about through the daily, minute decisions we make like who are those people nearest our hearts; what we watch, read, listen to and ingest and how we invest ourselves utilizing the gifts, strength and wisdom we’ve been given. We have been entrusted with so much, and our words, chiefly illustrate our readiness to partner with God in His work here. The Bible aptly describes this reality in the book of Luke 6:45, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” [NIV]
Words, words, words - there is no shortage of them! In a consumer culture built upon capitalism, advertising and marketing play crucial roles in convincing us we are generally unhappy about not owning something that catches our interest. The [empty] promise that comes with that sense of unhappiness is that once we own the item, we’ll be happy again. This psychological game is (mostly) common knowledge. The point is that words can help promulgate false modes of thinking like this and generally distract when there is an abundance of them. The Scriptures shed light on the potential disasters of an overly wordy existence in Proverbs 10:19 when it states, “The more talk, the less truth; the wise measure their words.” [MSG] Well-known author, Henri Nouwen referred to this ruinous employment of careless speech in his book The Way of The Heart - Desert Spirituality in Contemporary Ministry when he named our contemporary society a “wordy world”. He had noticed an alarming trend within himself and much of American society to avoid silence in an effort to elude loneliness.
Nouwen, along with others contributing to a deeper awareness of the spiritual life like Dallas Willard, note the immense importance of employing the practices of silence and solitude in order to make space within ourselves for God to rush in. I’ve even heard Dallas Willard state that these two disciplines are foundational to the person wishing to emulate Jesus Christ. Silence and solitude are the cornerstones of a dynamic, enriching life because it’s in silence and solitude that we learn to hear the voice of God, enriched by being thoroughly saturated in the words of Scripture. Silence, does in fact, help us ‘tune in’ to God and become more aware of how He is at work within and around us. I am no expert practitioner of these two foundational elements of a thriving, full life of faith in Christ.
I struggle to implement them into my daily routine like anyone else, but that doesn’t diminish the necessity of constantly revisiting them as intentional disciplines to practice. Any way in which we can simplify and de-clutter our lives - in any sphere - can only be helpful. The trend in the West is in the opposite direction, no thanks to technology (which I enjoy fully). That these things are so accessible make being disciplined all the more difficult. As illustrated in our long Christian heritage, silence and solitude are places of transformation. It’s the person who escapes the clamoring voices within our culture (as a regular practice) that re-enters it and changes it from within. I was struck by this quote from Winston Churchill recently which alludes to this very reality,
“Every prophet [one who communicates God message] has to come from civilization, but every prophet has to go into the wilderness. [S]He must have a strong impression of a complex variety and all that it has to give and [s]he must serve a period of isolation and meditation. This is the process by which ‘psychic dynamite’ is made.”
God’s words are living and active (Hebrews 4:12), and He is still in the process of creating the world through them. He is bringing dead things to life and creates new realities out of nothing. He is still speaking to all of humanity - even in silence. God is constantly inviting us out of the ruckus of our overly inflated ‘busy-ness’, to get away with Him and be re-created from the inside out. To the one who has entered silence, words are far more revered and respected. In our use of language (as in everything) - informed by silence and solitude - God is inviting us to be co-authors of His new world which is coming into being, one life at a time. The power of this story He is writing with our lives is evident in the degree to which we imagine, and allow, ourselves to be a part of it. The Author is making all things new. He’s inviting you to be written into the next chapter of humanity’s history-in-the-making.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Long before Bono began drunk blogging for the Times and investing $100 million in Palm Pilots, he fronted the U2s. They're still very, very popular. As mentioned here last month, the band's 12th studio album will be called No Line On The Horizon and was produced by Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite, and noted political pundit Brian Eno. It's now got an all gray cover and tracklist, too.
I'm sure I don't have to tell you that this image of the sea meeting the sky is by Japanese artist and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto. Sophisticated.
Here's the tracklist:
01. "No Line On The Horizon"
03. "Moment of Surrender"
04. "Unknown Caller"
05. "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight"
06. "Get On Your Boots"
07. "Stand Up Comedy"
08. "Fez - Being Born"
09. "White As Snow"
11. "Cedars Of Lebanon"
"Get On Your Boots" is out as a digital single on 2/15. The band will perform it a few days later at the Brit Awards. UPDATE: According to one press release we just got, the song hits the Web for streaming on Tuesday.
No Line On The Horizon (Interscope) hits Irish record stores first on 2/27, then the rest of Europe 3/2, and North America the following day.
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
This is a great shot of Cork City Hall from across the river. The second shot is of a building adjacent to City Hall that had this glowing front of vibrant colors which kept changing gradually every second. Tonight we re-instituted a gathering of young men, after a year's hiatus, that explores life from the lens of faith. Specifically, we're focusing on the importance of character in an age of image. This stuff is for real!
Monday, January 12, 2009
"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind."
- Rudyard Kipling
I have long been intrigued and influenced by the power of words.
One of human kind’s greatest achievements and most foundational activities is the acquisition and effective employment of words for self expression and communication. Take a moment, fire up your imagination, and think about what life might be like without the facility of language and words. Seriously, indulge me . . it’s scary and amazing isn’t it? We don’t have to look long to find examples of the immanence of words. Consider podcasts. I love podcasts. I drive a good deal around this beautiful island called Ireland and to help the miles pass smoothly, I listen to loads and loads of podcasts and audiobooks. Recently I was reflecting on how strange it was that oftentimes now I choose to listen to people talking while in my car than actual music - and oh, how I LOVE music. I remember thinking when I was younger that only old people listened to people talking - news, interviews, lectures and the like - while in the car. Guess that means I’m going the right direction then!
One of the podcasts I enjoy ruminating on is called Napkin Scribbles’ by futurist and cultural analyst Leonard Sweet. While I have yet to read any of his books, I appreciate his approach to many topics as he simply presents what’s floating across his mind that day. During one such Napkin Scribble from a couple of years back, Len began sharing about a gentleman by the name of Dr. Masaur Emoto who had spent twenty years studying the effect of words on the structure of water. Dr. Emoto exposed separate samples of water to different words, spoken or written, and then proceeded to freeze each of the samples to record any variations in water crystal formation. He employed the use if words like ‘You Fool’ and ‘Thank You’ on the water and what he found is nothing short of amazing - if you can believe it. The crystals that formed from ‘negative’ words like ‘You Fool’ appeared incomplete and without luster - lacking something. The crystals that formed from words like ‘Thank You’ had a beautiful symmetry and radiance about them - qualitatively different from their negative counterparts. Interestingly, Dr. Emoto found that the most powerful words which had the greatest effect on the water crystal formation were ‘Love’ and ‘Gratitude’.
Now, it doesn’t take a scientist to know that certain words help and heal, while others harm and harass. It’s an intriguing thought to contemplate Dr. Emoto’s work and why his findings might have turned out the way they did. For those with a penchant for reflecting on ancient words, one of the oldest texts in the world to inspire faith in human souls is today known as the Bible or the Holy Scriptures. Right throughout that unique tome of inspiring words resides many, many references to the influence of words over the lives of others. Beginning right at the start of the Scriptures we find an account of the genesis of the world and how it was lovingly crafted by the Creator. Much of that account recorded in Genesis chapter one, is bold and direct stating, “And God said . .” and then it relays those things He spoke into existence, “Let there be light . . Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear . . Let the land produce vegetation . .“ On and on God speaks and new things come into existence! Chapter one hundred and four, in the book known as Psalms, also poignantly illustrates the reality of words bringing matter into existence and that same matter continuing to respond to the words of God. No matter whether you’re a sceptic or a believer, the mere concept of One speaking and matter responding by coming into being within space and time is nothing less than astonishing. It’s the power of words, God’s words, having effect in the created order. In this, a precedent was set.
That words continue to have effect in our world is an understatement. The creation and employment of language is a non-static endeavour. Languages are constantly changing, evolving and morphing. I was recently responding to an email from a friend and in the course of my response I used a word that made me stop and think, “Is that a real word or did I just make that up?” I asked myself. I had to go and check it out. It turns out that the word isn’t even in the dictionary, BUT it is used in much of our contemporary speech within English speaking circles. I saw it listed in the index of the ‘Urban Dictionary’ but without definition. I know what I intended it to convey, and what I believed the context of its common usage was, but it wasn’t ‘on record’. I used it anyway, presuming my friend would understand my intent. Just yesterday I heard on CNN that a particular ‘watchdog’ group claims by April 29th, 2009 (give or take five days either side), the English language will have a total of one million words in usage. Some claim that is already the case. Either way the point is that words, and how we use them, constantly changes.
One incident that illustrates well the power and influence words can yield over one’s life came when my wife Christy and I were at one of life’s important decision-making junctures. We were about to graduate from college, and being already married, we were trying to discern God’s leading for what lie ahead, beyond the cap and gown. We had been exploring the possibility of moving from rural Indiana to the metropolis of Chicago in order to participate in a youth ministry internship with Willow Creek Community Church. It was our second official visit to the church and the Sunday service led by Bill Hybels was our final experience before hitting the road back home. We were challenged and moved by what we heard and experienced that morning - specifically by what Bill had shared on moving forward with God’s intentions for your life. It was one of those moments, that you can unequivocally state, ‘God was speaking directly to me’.
Following the service, Christy and I went about a mile or two down the road for some lunch, choosing to eat at a Chinese restaurant. As you all will undoubtedly know, one essential aspect of the Chinese dining experience is the obligatory ‘fortune cookie’ at the end of the meal (or before if you cheat!). We waited expectantly to view what our unique messages would be and then cracked them open with child-like delight. This was a defining moment. When I read the message in that little flavorless ‘cookie’, the course of our lives were changed forever. This is why I now firmly believe that God is in the fortune cookie business! The little note read, “What can words do to me unless I take them to heart?” Whoa! We had just been stirred, jarred even, by the content of the morning’s church service and were still attempting to come to terms with it when this message caught us by surprise. I thought about those words . . and I have thought about them for many years since. That experience, coupled with many other affirming reassurances, led Christy and I to move to Chicagoland and join Willow in their work among young people. Our time there changed us, and I still have that little ‘message from God’ pinned on a board in my office.
**End Part One**
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
"Apparently and for some not-very-clear reason, it is incumbent upon the faithful in every new epoch or changing era of Christian history to re-define what we mean when we use the words “church” and/or “Church.” But even if some strenuous re-thinking and re-stating had not been required during history’s previous turning points, it none the less would be required for emergence Christianity. There is no question about the fact that this time around everything—whether sacred or secular and with no holds barred—is up for scrutiny and that most of everything, once scrutinized, is up for re-defining, including “church” and/or “Church.”
For quite some time now, analysts and pastors and observant Christian laity alike have known and said that church is not a place, nor is it a thing. Historically, church was probably conceived of in the popular imagination as a thing several centuries before that same shared imagination began to think of it as a place. Of those two, the notion of place as definition is probably the more debilitating, but unquestionably it had also come to be the more dominant of the two during the last century. But as a conceptual definition, neither place nor thing alone is strong enough to support much vitality beyond loyalty to itself."Finish the next few paragraphs ->
Phyllis Tickle is one of the most highly respected authorities and popular speakers on religion in America today.