In a time of such deep ideological divides affecting both those that follow Jesus and those that don’t there needs to be some sort of grounding that allows us to see each other not as other but as neighbor. For those of us that know Jesus this process will be significantly aided by deep theological reflection - something missing in many evangelical circles I’ve seen. There needs to be a recognition of what the kingdom of God is (and by extension, isn’t) and what that ethic it demands calls us to. Here is one place to start (in recognizing our national idolatry):
Walter Brueggemann is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars. I’d encourage any one interested in deepening their faith to read through his book “Prophetic Imagination” with an open heart. It is not too long and a challenging place to start.
There’s much surrounding the inauguration of Trump that one could talk about. Little of it is good. Right now I find disturbing his flurry of executive orders (which, by the way, I thought Republicans were supposed to hate? At least that’s the impression anyone would get watching them vilify Obama for them.) Now he’s set to codify torture once again. This madness must stop. As Americans we should be better than that. I’m ashamed that my country would stoop so low as to even consider torture as a viable means of information gathering (and I thank God for men like John McCain trying to stand strong against it).
Ok, while I’m on the topic of a a new US president, here’s a good articlethat dives in to the “whys” of his staff lying (because that’s what alternative facts are: lies). Here’s a good excerpt from the above:
By requiring subordinates to speak untruths, a leader can undercut their independent standing, including their standing with the public, with the media and with other members of the administration. That makes those individuals grow more dependent on the leader and less likely to mount independent rebellions against the structure of command. Promoting such chains of lies is a classic tactic when a leader distrusts his subordinates and expects to continue to distrust them in the future.
And speaking of the above (alternative facts and fake news and the like), Ed Stetzer writes in CT about how it harms Christian witness. As he writes, “Integrity matters.”
I know that us Americans are in the midst of a tumultuous post-election season. If you think of it, say a prayer for Kenya as it gears up for its own election season. Lots of people seem to think it will be a serious one as well (and is already spawning stories like this).
I liked this article quite a bit. It starts with the premise that God is a missionary God (and has always been) and then examines 5 different models in the New Testament (in brief). What I like about it is the premise that everyone can be involved and that there are many different ways to sign on. Don’t think you have to do what we do or someone else does - instead pay attention to where the Lord has placed you and what is within your grasp to do.
Scot McKnight adds to John Piper’s thoughts on the prevalence of single women on the mission field:
But there is another dynamic at work that needs to be mentioned. This goes back to my childhood where I was regaled with missionaries-on-furlough telling stories of missionary work, and a number of our missionaries were single women. On the mission field women got to teach, got to preach, got to plant churches, and got to exercise gifts not permitted to be exercised in the home field of the USA.
“How so, if Jesus wasn’t going to try to overthrow and take Herod’s throne? How was Jesus a legitimate political threat to Herod?
“I think it has to do with how political power is built upon our allegiances, how we swear ultimate loyalty. At root, patriotism is an act of worship. Consequently, while Jesus may not have attempted to seize Herod’s power he did radically undermine his power, dissolving it and reducing it to nothing.
“And when the state sees its allegiances weakened, changed, called into question or vacated it will respond. Violently.
If you are looking for something to read in the new year, I’d highly recommend going thru this list from the GlobalChurch Project. It details 15 books written from the majority world that will help give you a deeper understanding of what Christianity looks like.
If you are based in America, I’d particularly recommend The Next Evangelicalism by Soong-Chan Rah and Subverting Global Myths by Vinoth Ramachandra.
Our 4yo daughter asked us last week if Santa was real. We told her the truth: he’s a fictional character based on a real person that lived a long time ago and is a good excuse to give one another fun gifts. She liked that answer. She also knows the real reason the season is important; her favorite toy is a little people nativity scene and we make a point to regularly tell the story. I don’t know how this pastor thought going to a mall and decrying Santa was a good idea though.
And the people that don’t particularly care about that last link typically are the same ones that don’t see how things like this completely undermine democracy. The more that this happens, the sooner we seize to be the USofA.
If you look inside your Dropbox you’ll notice a new folder:
Dropbox → Apps → Blot
The Blot folder contains welcome.txt. That’s this post! Feel free to edit welcome.txt and reload this page. You’ll see the changes you make update instantly. Blot will publish any text file inside this folder.
To publish a new blog post, just save it as a text file and move it to this folder.
Formatting your blog posts
Blot supports Markdown so you can add lists and headings and more to your blog posts.
Sorry I missed last week. I was in Ethiopia focused on other things. Hopefully you can find some good stories here to make up for it.
Here is a helpful review of Eric Metaxas’s new book, A Republic If You Can Keep It. Unfortunately it seems he’s wandering further into the revisionist history space inhabited by others. This isn’t actually all that shocking to me as his Bonhoeffer book was found to repeatedly misrepresent Bonhoeffer by actual scholars. Buyer beware I guess.
Instagram changed their pic feed. Now it shows you what it thinks you want to see rather than a chronological look of everything. One FB friend commented that she only sees other FB friends now and is bummed about that.
This John Oliver Tonight episode on the debt industry is really fascinating. Even better is how he chooses to explore it: creating a company, buying $15 million worth of medical debt and then forgiving it.
High productivity doesn’t mean squat if the things you’re getting done aren’t truly important. It’s far better to get a few top things done, and done well, than to crush a mile-deep todo list of trivial bullshit.
According to recent research, letting your baby cry it out for sleep actually relieves his or her stress. So there is no reason to feel bad about sleep training (in fact, you are probably developing a better adjusted kiddo).
Initially I was quite excited about Dropbox’s Project Infinite. Now? I’m not so sure. I don’t know if trust them digging that deep into the kernel. It could be a great evolution of the file system, admittedly but the potential for error and the security risks makes me approach cautiously.
I realize I posted a Thrice video earlier this week but I think this video & song are a bit relevant to this notion of escaping the poverty mindset and succeeding as a hustler (or whatever you’d call it in your given culture).
I keep swinging my hand through a swarm of bees ’cause I …
I want honey on my table
But I never get it right … no I never get it right
I keep swinging my hand through in swarm of bees
I can’t understand why they’re stinging me
But I’ll do what I want, I’ll do it what I please
I’ll do it again till I got what I need
I’ll rip and smash through the hornet’s nest
Don’t they understand I deserve the best
And I’ll do what I want, I’ll do it what I please
I’ll do it again till I got what I need
Black Honey by Thrice
There is more to the challenge of the poverty mindset than what I mentioned in the last article. In part 1 I wrote a little bit about the internal challenge of negativity and how that bled out into specific ill-will to those around it (kind of like swinging our naked hand in a swarm of bees if everyone around you shares that poverty mindset). It also works itself out in our actions in other ways too though.
For one, the poverty mindset traps us into always looking for quick solutions rather than taking the time to do the hard work necessary to succeed. Success is rarely found in some sort of a “get rich quick” scheme (although luck sometimes wins out in particular circumstances). We aren’t likely to strike “honey” aimlessly swinging our hand in a beehive. And we definitely won’t if we aren’t willing to do anything at all, choosing to wait for the mystical answer instead.
And unfortunately people trapped in the poverty mindset seem to think they know all the answers and that there is only one certain or specific way. I’ve had so many conversations where I’ll say, “Have you thought of this idea?” Where this mindset comes into play I’m met with blank stares unwilling to even consider that idea as an option: “Yes but if this happened…” But sometimes we are going to have to get creative if we are going to succeed. We may need to listen to goofy ideas or alternate opinions.
A final aspect of this poverty mindset I’ll mention is best summed up in the line, ”I’ll rip and smash through the hornet’s nest, don’t they understand I deserve the best”. It’s an attitude that says ”I deserve everything for free (you should pay me for the privilege to train as example) and I’ll burn the ship down if it doesn’t work out like this.” This works itself out in different ways. To name three more: sabotaging fellow business owners, attempting to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners, accruing debt you know you won’t pay back.
For our work this is an ongoing challenge in some of the places we go. I’ve had numerous people try to take advantage of us. In some locations there is an ingrained perspective that expects us to pay people to train them (while they jump from training meal ticket to training meal ticket not ever implementing anything they learned: I once talked to a guy that had been trained in church planting through 10 different organization and had no designs to actually plant a church himself). I’m not against subsidization (I’m quite for it in fact - it’s something we typically do) but there has got to be ownership and desire to see success.
I think my big take away from this part ii is that people that hustle break free of this poverty mindset by ceasing to tie their success to the whims of others and instead put on a ridiculous looking bee suit before swinging their hand out in a swarm of bees.
(and yes, I know the Thrice song as a whole is about something a bit more political)
In Kenya, hustlers hustle all over the place. A hustler is someone working hard to succeed. Typically they pour all that they have into some glimmer of success, not stopping until it happens. They tend to hold down multiple business ventures and are constantly on the move. And sometimes they even find great success (but not always).
We have some good friends who are married that really define this paradigm well: she works in a field she loves and freelances in the same industry and he cooked for a guesthouse and made the Kenya equivalent of donuts on the side - several hundred per day. For some time they poured their profits into local investments and opened a couple of small stores (basically stalls alongside the road). These profits turned into a takeaway food joint that allowed the husband to quit his guesthouse job. They’ve since added a sit down restaurant that opens in a week or two.
They hustle. All over the place. And they are succeeding in it and having significant kingdom impact as they root what they do in a desire to make disciples and see the church planted where it is not yet.
But it’s not always easy. Poverty is a massive issue throughout the region and the worldview it naturally instills makes success quite elusive. If you don’t what I’m talking about consider this:
Poverty tends to focus us solely on our personal problems and the negative aspects of life (both ours and the life around us). It tends to embolden us to play the blame game rather than to take a serious look at the things we should be responsible for. The deeper this mindset traps us, the more inward focused we become. This in turn produces an environment where we resent successes around us and as it worsens, they actively seek out the failure of those around them.“If I can’t succeed, then why should so and so succeed?”
Our friends are dealing with this in their success. Well the fruit of this in other people I should say. They committed to shred any vestiges of the poverty mindset some time ago but deal with those around them stuck in it. People intentionally belittle what they do, tell them they will be failures, try to curse their work and in general speak poorly of them behind their back in the hopes that if their success turns into failure, the door to success might open for them. Thankfully our friends are strong enough to ignore these voices (and even tell them to buy food elsewhere if they are only going to complain). They know their success or failure isn’t built on the beliefs of those around them. But so many don’t; living amongst it and seeing it work out - it’s easy to see how seductively destructive this poverty mindset is.
And it’s just hard to be a hustler. Kudos to those that are able to do it in contexts entrenched in the poverty mindset.
Donald Trump has activated and emboldened white supremacists in the United States. The various supremacist groups aren’t just pledging support for Trump, they’re issuing press releases, have podcasts — even Facebook pages. As in the ’80s they’re recruiting, they’re rallying, and they will grow. Donald Trump and his campaign have created the moist, dark, warm environment needed for this social e-coli to multiply. Even if he’s not elected, the damage is done.
This is an article that should be read, through thru and shared. It’s a serious look at the growing racial tension coming to a hard boil in the US. The rise of Trump as a viable candidate is a curious thing and it seems to be bringing out the worst in people rather than the best. Thoughts once hidden our now mainstream. I’ve been flabbergasted at some of the things I’ve read in the news and on social media. To think that there are children excitedly telling other children that Trump is going to kill all the muslims is shocking; this should never be OK. An environment creating this possibility will be one in which America could never be made great. The juxtaposition of the American dream to the race fueled dreams of minorities in the linked article should be heard and seriously considered. There is a lot that could be done to make America great again; it’s sad that so many are actively heading in an opposite direction.
In good tech news, Chrome is sunsetting Flash in its install.. I haven’t had flash installed in a couple of years (and don’t miss it). On the very rare occassion its needed I open up Chrome and that will remain a hidden option for awhile.
This vignette about Snapchat amused me. I’m not on it nor do I plan to be.
Josh Harris has apologized for “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and says that he plans to write more about this at some point. I think this is wonderful. In short I found his book creating a generation of passive guys refusing to do anything and girls with standards so high Jesus probably wouldn’t pass. I’d be rich if I had a nickel for every person I’ve talked to that had serious issues because of this way of thinking.
I initially got into the beta of Protonmail and found it interesting but lacking at the time. I decided to check it out again and was really impressed with the improvement over the past year (including the iPhone app). If you are looking for a secure email solution, it’s worth checking out.
I always get a little frustrated when the topic of pacifism comes up as it inevitably leads to someone assuming that the word passive is an automatic synonym. Here is something worth shouting though: there should never be anything passive about pacifism. I’ve actually gotten frustrated enough that I don’t really say “pacifism” anymore; I prefer an actual synonym like nonviolence. It doesn’t carry quite the same (often negative) connotation and actively leads towards a response that’s wholly different than what is typically expected (that being a response rooted in violence).
Violence seems to be a given in the world we inhabit: the lion attacks the lamb, husbands beat their wives, governments abuse their people and wars against other nations are the natural way of things. Strictly speaking it clearly might be the way things are but it’s not the original intention of God. His vision has lions laying with lambs in the garden, with humans walking together unencumbered and unashamed, and God walking with His creation as benevolent ruler and friend. Humanity’s sinfulness forced us out of this garden unfortunately into the harsh landscape of the world we currently inhabit (ruled as it is by the powers of evil). God uses our circumstances for His good though (for example, even as the nations mess up wielding the sword He’ll continue to draw things towards a renewed garden that looks like a city). We though have been given a pretty clear choice as to which kingdom we would live in: that of the world or that of the kingdom of God.
Personally, I have a significant issue with actively choosing to walk in the violence of the world. For one thing, violence tends to feed off of the weak, the marginalized, the oppressed and the afflicted. It’s very nature destroys the image of God in others rather than calling it out. And for those that wield it: it corrupts us through the dulling of our hearts toward the other. Further, it encourages separation rather than unity. It emboldens our own power base rather than putting ourselves in a posture of service to others. And perhaps most significantly it reaps what it sows: violence begets more violence. It’s a myth that it’s somehow redemptive. The tendency of violence is escalation until utter destruction. Yes one side will typically come out ok (losses aside) but what about the other?
For the purposes of this post though I’m less interested in the affects of violence and more interested in our response to it. So I’ll start with this base premise: A person passive in the face of violence, no matter how severe, is of little benefit to the world around them. I agree with those that decry passive-ism; we don’t want to be an apathetic people. Intentionally choosing not to act in any way isn’t helpful and doesn’t actively build the Kingdom of God. Thankfully nonviolent, kingdom-minded resistance is never passive.
I’ve encountered elements within the peace loving tradition that claim the extent of the churches role in confronting the violence within society is modeling an alternative way. They can be quite sectarian, separating themselves from the world, establishing their own little kingdoms, and having little to no lasting impact unless the world seeks them out1. Their impact, though, is typically limited to those circumstances directly affecting their communities rather than spilling out into an active, regular and consistent peace building within the broader communities of the world.
The churches role in the face of an ever violent society though can’t simply be one of modeling when violence threatens it. It actively must find a way of confronting the existing violence of society or else it ceases to operate fully within the scope and power of the kingdom of God. And it must confront it in a way that’s redemptive choosing sacrifice rather than violence. Put in another way it must choose service rather than force. It must choose to take seriously Jesus’ command to put away the sword.
So how? That is the question of the day. The world we live in begs us to fear and lash out violently to destroy. Even in the supposed greatest country in the world violence seems to be the dominate attitude. Just a couple of weeks ago a man was shot at church in an argument over a seat. Some see guns as an answer to prayer. Pastors are promoting them by example. Yet we have this call from Jesus to love our enemies. To actually pray for those that persecute us (rather than praying for a gun). And to actively return good for evil. Vengeance was never ours. Walking in the kingdom of God we know longer hold the right to act violently.
So what then? How do we as church let Jesus’ ethic of peace prevail in how we live and in what we do?
To start we need to start seeing active nonviolence play out by choosing to love. This happens when we stop condemning the Syrian refugee because they’re muslim and instead choose to welcome them to our dinner table with open arms. It happens when we listen to the marginalized and the sinners and engage from that point of listening. It’s like Jesus calling Zaccheaus down from a tree and then choosing to eat with this most hated man. Or seen in how he graciously healed the woman who had bled for so long. Or how he intentionally engaged the promiscuous woman at the well.
We also see it when we challenge the kingdoms of the world with the ethic of the kingdom of God. As we see in Jesus’ example where a man walks an extra mile or when the man gives the shirt on his back to another. We see it when we openly choose to turn the other cheek rather than lashing out in kind. Actions like these actively critique and call into question the ways of the world.
We see it again when we choose to live generous lives that actively bless the one another around us, as the church of Acts did when it shared all that it had. Or as the church under Roman occupation did when it chose to stay with and help plague victims and the sick from other communities.
And we see it when we intentionally lay down our weapons of war and choose to beat them into plowshares. When we engage through sacrifice rather than force. When the pastor lovingly engages the man that comes into the church gun in hand rather than lashing out in force. And we see it when we are willing to unashamedly critique the violence that the kingdom of the world brings, regardless of the government at the head.
It must be noted and understood deeply that we are not always guaranteed to win, particularly in the way that the world outside the church understands winning. We are never promised an easy or care free life. We are never told that suffering won’t come, that persecution won’t happen, that things will be entirely too easy; truth be told we are often told in the Bible that the opposite is true. More often than not a win actually means death. Our blood though acts as seed to spread Jesus’ kingdom throughout the earth. We are here because of Jesus’ blood and the willingness of the martyrs to enter into His death with Him. We are here to sacrifice and a commit to nonviolently love those around us regardless of the cost.
I realize not everyone will likely agree with me and that’s OK. We all live according to an ethic (of some sort). Nonviolence happens to be at the heart of mine because of the example of Jesus and what He has called me to. Post Constantine the world saw the collaboration of church and state and the creation of a justified ethic of violence; today that church is moving away from this just war theory to a just peace theory. But if you are in this place of “Just War” then I hope you still take seriously the call to love our enemies and neighbors and to return good for evil. We might not agree on what good means in that circumstance but we can still agree to be brothers. I hope.
In this, they can have quite an impact as exemplified in the response of the Amish to a school shooting in 2006. But there is so much more that could be on offer.↩
I know it’s been quiet around here the past few weeks; I’ve spent most of it on the road (or in the air), traveling for work. As travel is fresh on my mind, I thought I’d share a few of my travel hacks for going to and fro in the Eastern African context. My guess is though that these hacks would apply to a number of different circumstances.
When traveling via air I never go without my SCOTTeVEST vest. It probably looks stupid on me (and I fought wearing a vest for quite some time because it sounded kind of old man-ish) but it just works. And it works too well. It basically acts as an extra carryon. In fact, I can get everything I need for a long flight into that vest meaning I can maximize the space of my carryons for what I’ll need on the ground. I suppose I should thank my parents for getting this for me as I’d have never thought to.
In the Eastern African context, I always travel with two charged battery packs (11400mHa Anker and a 10200mHa Xiaomi). I never know what the power situation is going to be like and these will generally keep my phone going about a week before needing a recharge.
When traveling via bus, keep your bags with you. This might mean you need to keep your biggest one on your lap the entire trip but this enables a lot of flexibility - you can jump off whenever you need to, your bags won’t get filthy in compartments that have never been cleaned or soaking wet due to the rain falling on it on top of the bus. It also helps prevent theft.
Likewise, in air travel regionally, try to travel with only a carry on. We’ve lost checked luggage a lot here. Most of it was eventually found but not always (and sometimes not before the end of a trip). I’ve got packing down to a science and can basically get all I need for about a week in my carryon.
It’s worth investing in good quality luggage because it gets beat up here. Quality materials and craftsmanship will take it much better and help prevent unfortunate accidents along the way. It also means you are replacing it much less frequently. Both of the bags I regularly use have long term comprehensive warranties. I recommend the Tortuga Travel Backpack as a carryon (reviewed here) and the Mission Workshop Monty as an everyday carry. As a bonus, the Monty above packs flat when empty so it is easily packed for travel in the Tortuga.
Pack light and simple. Just take what you need and not what you might want. I’ve found that I’ll take what I think I might want and then never even use it on trip.
A good book makes the journey faster. On these past few trips I devoured Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives series. I’ve been in a fiction mood this year (which hasn’t happened in a long time) and am really finding a lot of enjoyment in these epic fantasies.
It’s a long list this week as I’ve been on the road traveling for the past 3 weeks; I got back to a lot of news to sort through (and even more email). Hope you can find soemthing interesting to read below!
Gemini is probably the best duplicate finder for the Mac. I think its an indispensable utility to have around. Version 2 came out this week and is worth a look. It’s on sale for 50% off also.
Facebook apparantly censors Republican news articles according to former workers. Facebook responded, “Nope” and hopefully that’s accurate as the social media giant has the potential for vast influence.
Those Dyson airblades? One study shows they are really unhygenic. From the same article, Dyson didn’t particularly agree. Make of it what you will (mostly that public bathrooms in general are a bit gross).
MacStories has a great primer on Bittorrent Sync. It’s a slick alternative to something like dropbox if you have the disk resources.
The Sweet Setup took some time to determine the best iOS Bible app. I think their conclusion is spot on: Youversion for most people but if you are doing in depth research Logos or Accordance. Personally I’m an Accordance user and love it. It’s perfect for study and building lecture material.