Tag Archives: Public Life

Lent: Regaining Balance

Today marks the beginning of Lent. A season of the Christian year devoted to reflection, contemplation, and a reordering of priorities. Lent is often viewed as only for a certain kind of Christian, or the time of year when devout Christians give up things in their lives they really enjoy, to prove their devotion to God. Unfortunately, these depictions of Lent are short-sided and lame.

Lent provides the space for us to reevaluate our lives both spiritually and physically. For the Christian, Lent calls us to renew our devotion to the disciplines of the faith. The daily office of prayer and meditation. The sacrificing of certain practices or activities to better focus our attention on Christ. The discipline of fasting.

Lent is a 40-day preparation for the observance of Christ’s passion and Easter. It gives us an annual opportunity to trace the history of redemption. – Michael Horton

In today’s culture, the need for balance is an ever elusive destination. The ebb and flow of a chaotic year can leave us too busy for family, and too busy for God. Or, perhaps the chaos of life has already over taken and you have resigned yourself to sadness, depression, and resentment. The gospel tells us that Christ breaks into our “out-of-balance” lives and sets things back in order. Lent is about regaining balance. Spiritually and physically.

Lent is not behavior modification… It is most fundamentally about your willingness to surrender to the God who wants to invade your heart with disruptive love, who wants to stifle your exhausting attempts to manufacture love with unfathomable grace.  Lent affords you this unique opportunity, by God’s grace.  The way down is the way up.  Through this Lenten journey, you might find yourself hidden in Christ, and revealed ultimately in the Easter reality of God’s resurrection life, stripped of pretension and falsehood, and revealed as a humble and dependent son or daughter. – Dr. Chuck DeGroat

Instead of giving up something you secretly love, think about a better balance. Instead of diving back into the deep end of your spiritual life after not swimming for months, think about a better balance. What would happen in our daily lives if we made time to listen, without desiring any answers? This is how the season of Lent can become a refreshing time for all who come to the well that is Christ, and drink living water.

God asks us to trust him in a new way, to put aside our natural reactions, to listen humbly for a fresh word and to act on it without knowing exactly how it’s going to work out. That’s what he’s asking all of us to do this Lent. – Bishop N.T. Wright

It is my goal to post as often as I can through the season of Lent, offering some kind of resource, thought, or encouragement that helps us find a better balance in life. On this Ash Wednesday, we first come to recognize our sin and brokenness, and the reality that without the cross of Jesus Christ, we are left “dead in our trespasses.” The Hope of Easter however, lifts us up to drink deeply from the refreshing, living water of Christ.

Lent Reading I ::
Acts 1:1-14 ; Psalm 51:1-17

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The 5 Steps of Linsanity

Jeremy Lin

From the beginning my hope for this blog was to get behind issues, topics, thoughts, and view them from another angle. A different, hopefully better angle.

Over the last two weeks something has happened to America. Linsanity. Even if you are not a sports fan, you have probably seen or read a story about a new person on the New York Stage. Jeremy Lin, point guard for the New York Knicks.

To better understand the power of this story, here, in my opinion, are the five steps of Linsanity:

1)   Basketball – We’re talking about a 6’3”, undrafted, rookie basketball player from Harvard University. Not exactly the basketball factory of Tobacco Road in North Carolina. Lin, passed on by every NBA team in the draft, was already cut this year by his hometown Golden State Warriors, and the Houston Rockets. The desperate New York Knicks took a flyer on him. Due to injury, and the ineptitude of their current players, Lin was given an opportunity.

Here are the facts: The man can play basketball. He can run an offense, distribute the basketball, pull up and shoot long jump shots, and amazingly, consistently drive to the basket and score. These are things that Harvard doesn’t prepare you to do. Many are wondering if Linsanity will last. Can he keep up this level of play? The answer is yes. Because he’s that good of a player.  The first step of Linsanity is to realize what you’re dealing with. Talent.

2)   New York City – The media, and the public are fooling themselves if they don’t believe the second step of Linsanity is the combustive ingredient of New York City. If Lin would have taken off with his home town team in Golden State, it would be a very nice basketball story, maybe the basketball story of the year, but it would NOT be Linsanity.

Just like everything else New York City touches, it turns to gold, or ashes. And this is gold baby. Gold.  Like no other place in the history of world civilization, New York gets its hands on a star and makes it shine brighter than the Sun. The second step of Linsanity is believing that place, location, and timing are equal players in the creation of a phenomenon.

3)   Harvard – While you are fully coming to terms with the importance of step 2, go ahead and mix in the most influential educational institution in our nation’s history. New York + Harvard = step 3 of Linsanity.

The Harvard’s, Yale’s, and Oxford’s of the world do not waste time producing athletes at the highest level. They produce wielders of social and political power. We’re now dealing with an individual who is uniquely gifted. Certain institutions in our nation wield different levels of power. It’s called social capital. The Wall Street Journal and New York Times hold more social capitol in our society, than the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and  Kansas City Star. Harvard holds more social capitol in our society than every school known for their basketball prowess. Skilled, intelligent, smart, and standing atop the mountain of the social heap in America. Step 3 of Linsanity, is a grab for power.

4)   Christian – This is perhaps the most interesting step of Linsanity. There has been much talk surrounding the faith of famous athletes recently, most notably the popularity of Tim Tebow in the Evangelical Christian community. A phenomenon reaches new heights when entire people groups can embrace it. Just like Tebow, Jeremy Lin is someone Christians cheer for and identify with. If you doubt the validity of step 4 of Linsanity, I invite you to read Michael Luo’s recent piece in the New York Times (here) Luo writes,

He grew up, like me, in the United States, speaking English; his Chinese, like mine, could use improvement. He went to my alma mater. And, yes, he is a Christian, too, but with a brand of faith, shaped by his background, that I can relate to much better than many I have seen in the public arena.

It’s that last bit that sticks out. I’ll let you the reader chew on that and decipher what you will, but that last line, is a line tailor made for this blog.

5)   Race – There’s no way around it. The final step. Race, is step five of Linsanity. Many in the media struggle to find the right tact, tone, and words to fully unravel this facet of the Lin story. Talking about race in America can be the stuff of legends, or the revealer of fools. Race is indeed a part of this. Once again I refer to Michael Luo,

The feelings the Lin phenomenon instill in me are orders of magnitude greater because he is an Asian-American, like me, whose parents were immigrants to this country, like mine. He grew up, like me, in the United States, speaking English; his Chinese, like mine, could use improvement.

He looks different than anyone on the court. And that helps our interest.

Couple that interest with eye-popping, out of nowhere untapped talent, the stage of the Big Apple, the social capital of the leading institution in America, and a vibrant faith… Boom. Linsanity.

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Be Decent, People

We are in the midst of an extended, tiresome campaign cycle. Elected officials more than ever before have come under criticism for their continuous campaigning and what seems to be diminished time governing.

Candidates find their voice often by trying to shout louder than the others, even if they are saying much of the same things. But it’s not just the candidates. Try, just try and sit down to have a meaningful, civil, discussion with someone from another point of view, and see if you can do it.

Civility in the public square is gone in America. Whether its politics, elections, religion, spirituality, or even sports, engaging in meaningful debate is as elusive as a photo of Mitt Romney’s hair out of place.  What happened? Is it all the result of “opinion TV”? Cable news networks baiting both sides to argue against each other while a powerless host tries to play referee?

Is it because information can be channeled to us by preferences? “A la Carte information.” Today you can receive emails, Facebook messages, and browse websites from the perspective that you choose, while never having to introduce yourself to an idea from another point of view.

Politics and government are not the only playgrounds for civility loss. As a pastor, I see too often within the church a lack of civility between parishioners. However, the bigger lack of decency is often found in leadership. Leaders who are schooled from one perspective, who read from one perspective, refuse to engage others, and befriend people with whom they may disagree only further the divide. Those leaders stifle civility in the public square.

Perhaps we should define what it means to be civil. Dr. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena California, clarifies civility in his book Uncommon Decency:

Civility is public politeness. It means that we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners toward people who are different from us. It isn’t enough, though, to make an outward show of politeness. Being civil has an “inner” side as well.

Nothing has challenged the way I as a pastor share my faith than this. How can I effectively engage people radically different than myself if I do not consider them a friend? If I’m not viewed as a friend and a person of peace, then immediately my “outward show of politeness”, is deemed fake, offensive, intrusive, and close-minded.

Mouw further explains:

Many people today think of civility as nothing more than an outward, often hypocritical shell. But this cynical understanding of civility is yet another sign of the decline of real civility. In the past civility was understood in richer terms. To be civil was to genuinely care about the larger society. It required a heartfelt commitment to your fellow citizens. It was a willingness to promote the well being of people who were very different, including people who seriously disagreed with you on important matters. Civility wasn’t merely an external show of politeness. It included an inner politeness as well.

The reality. Most political analysis and Christian thought fail to take into account how much we are shaped by our social networks, familial ties, and church traditions. If you grew up in a Republican family, friends with other Republican families, you’re more than likely a Republican. All of the political analysis, exit polling, and independent swing vote seducing, fail to adequately take this into account. If you’re a Christian, who grew up in a Christian home with other Christian families in networks of Christians, its quite likely difficult to find friends in your life that don’t believe what you believe.

Our social backgrounds and networks influence how we vote, and how (if) we worship.

Unless we break the cycle.

Civility is cultivated when we engage people we seriously disagree with, politely, and lovingly. Political conversations and the exchange of ideas in the public square become MORE civil when we uphold a “heartfelt commitment to our fellow citizens.” The sharing of the Christian faith with others who are seemingly hostile to the message of Jesus Christ changes when we lead with civility. When we lead with love.

This is NOT about the compromise of values, truth, or positions for the sake of civility. It’s about the civil, polite, and loving communication and exchange of those values, truth, and positions.

So, get to know a Republican. A Democrat.

Get to know someone who doesn’t believe the claims of Christianity. Make them your friend.

Get to know a Gay person. A Straight person.

Get to know a NY Jets fan. (Well, maybe not.)

Be decent, people.

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