Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A blast from my past

I can't tell you how exciting this was to 10 year old Bryan.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

July Events

We had a fun July. Ellie's parents and sister Emily came to visit us and we spend the month touring around Ohio.

Here are some pictures:

Andrew at our favorite "beach" on Deer Creek Reservoir.

We spent a weekend at Lake Erie. Here we are at the Peace Memorial (3rd tallest monument in the US) which celebrates a U.S. navel victory in the War of 1812. It is on an island called Put-In-Bay, which is a great little resort community. Actually, it is a mix of small town Ohio and resort community.

Here I am on Lake Erie.

On Put-in-Bay you can take a tour of the world's largest geode. It is big enough to fit 35 people inside. Really cool!

Sparklers on the 4th of July. We also went to the Hillard City parade. A fairly unimpressive deal with a bunch of little league baseball teams and local advertising. Fun though.

Nora on the Ferry ride to the island. Kids loved it.


The Irresistible Revolution

I just finished reading The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical, by Shane Claiborne. It is on of those books that really shakes you up if you let it. I'm trying not to let it. Claiborne is a radical -- a Christian radical -- a Jesus-obsessed man. He has the strange idea that a Christan should take the teachings of the New Testament seriously. When the Jesus says, "Sell everything you have and give it to the poor," Claiborne has the nutty idea that he meant it. Likewise, when the NT says that we will be condemned unless we clothe the naked, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit those in prison, he thinks these are things we should actually do. I know, crazy. He also believes, get this, that Christians should be perceived as weird and unpopular, and that they should be allies with the strange and unpopular people of the earth (the lepers, as it were). Christians should befriend the homeless, the prostitutes, drug addicts, criminals, the mentally ill -- you know, the smelly, dirty people that we don't like to be seen with. No easy suburban Christianity for him! To top it all off, Clairborne thinks that the NT says something about "loving your enemies" and "doing good to those who hate you." He thinks Christians could end hatred and war through active and unexpected acts of love -- even if it leads to death. The NT surely can't be that naive...can it?

Clairborn's challenge is to those of us who think that it is compatible with Christianity to live lives of comfort and popularity. He thinks that the NT rejects any such compatibility. A Christian cannot live a safe, ordinary life. Christianity involves taking massive risks, giving up personal comfort, and facing poverty and hatred directly. He writes in the beginning, "I wondered what it would be like if we decided to really follow Jesus." His book is an attempt to tell stories about his journey to take the teachings of the NT seriously. He tells of working with Mother Theresa in Calcutta, of living and working in the "slums" of Philadelphia, of traveling to Iraq to help the very people his country was bombing. His teachings are mixed with the authority of lived experience. I'm getting really nervous about all this, now that I think about it.

No problem, I guess I can just give more to charity, maybe increase my LDS "fast offering" a little bit. Well, here is a sample of Claiborne's writing:

Layers of insulation separate the rich and the poor from truly encountering one another. There are the obvious layers like picket fences and SUVs, and there are the more subtle ones like charity. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, can also function as outlets that allow us to appease our consciences and still remain a safe distance from the poor. ...

It is much more comfortable to depersonalize the poor so we don't feel responsible for the catastrophic human failure that results in someone sleeping on the street while people have spare bedrooms in their homes. We can volunteer in a social program or distribute excess food and clothing through organizations and never have to open up our homes, our beds, or our dinner tables. When we go to heaven, we will be separated into those sheep and goats Jesus talks about in Matthew 25 based on how we care for the least among us. I'm just not convinced that Jesus is going to say, "When I was hungry, you gave me a check to the United Way and they fed me," or, "When I was naked, you donated clothes to the Salvation Army and they clothed me." Jesus is not seeking distant acts of charity. He seeks concrete acts of love" "you fed me...you visited me in prison, you welcomed me into your home...you clothed me."...

Rich and poor are kept in separate worlds, and inequality is carefully managed but not dismantled. When the church becomes a place of brokerage rather than an organic community, she ceases to be alive. She ceases to be something we are, the living bride of Christ. The church becomes a distribution center, a place where the poor come to get stuff and the rich come to dump stuff. Both go away satisfied (the rich feel good, the poor get clothed and fed), but no one leaves transformed. ...

Often wealthy folks ask me what they can do for Simple Way. I could ask them for a few thousand dollars, but that would be too easy for both of us. Instead, I ask them to come visit. Writing a check makes us feel good and can fool us into thinking we have loved the poor. Be seeing the squat houses and tent cities and hungry children will transform our lives. Then we will be stirred to imagine an economics of rebirth. ...

Almost every time we talk with affluent folks about God's will to end poverty, someone says, "But didn't Jesus say, 'The poor will always be with you'?"....Far from saying in defeat that we should not worry about the poor, since they will always be among us, Jesus is pointing to the church in her true identity -- she is to live close to those who suffer. The poor will always be among us, because the empire will always produce poor people and they will find a home in the church, a citizenship in the kingdom of God, where the "hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent away empty." I heard that Gandhi, when people asked him if he was a Christian, would often reply "Ask the poor. They will tell you who the Christians are."

Ouch. That gives new meaning to the question "Are Mormons Christians?"

But is it really that hard to be Christian? Claiborne thinks so:

Jesus doesn't exclude rich people; he just lets them know that their rebirth will cost them everything they have. The story is not so much about whether rich folks are welcome as it is about the nature of the kingdom of God, which has an ethic and economy diametrically opposed to that of the world. Rather than accumulating stuff for oneself, followers of Jesus abandon everything, trusting in God alone for providence.

Reading this, you'd think that Claiborne would be a very serious, somber puritan. Not so: he writes about dancing, singing, and laughing. A God who doesn't dance, for him, is not a God he is able to worship. He writes with humor and wit. I can get on board with that sort of theology. But then he ruins it with all this "give everything to the poor" stuff.

Seriously, this is a very challenging book. I don't think Claiborne's book (or theology) is perfect. He seems to ignore moments in the Bible when God seems to glorify in blood, hatred, and division. I also ignore the uncomfortable stories, of course, but if we are really supposed to take scripture so seriously -- dead seriously -- it would be nice to have a reason why we can also ignore such ugly passages. Claiborne also seems to put a lot of stock in pranks, meant to garner attention for his movement. I don't think Jesus was much of a prankster; he was more of a quiet revolutionary. He wasn't about acting to garner attention. Finally, the book sometimes seems to violate the principle of "doing your alms in secret." The line between teaching through experience and self-glorification is a very thin one, and I'm not sure Claiborne walks it perfectly. But then again, I'm not sure I walk it perfectly when I teach either. Finally, Claiborne really emphasizes high-profile, easy to spot types of human suffering, like homelessness. Not all suffering is found in the ghetto, though. The rich lonely woman dying in a comfortable rest home seems also to be in need, and her need may have little to do with the economics of "empire."

Overall, though, this is a dangerous, life-changing book. It is book very similar to Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion. Stay far away from both of them.


Thursday, July 12, 2007

New OSU President

So, OSU has picked a native Utahn, Mormon, bowtie wearing, education professor to be its next president.

Oh wait...