Appreciating the Small Things

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*Photo Credit: Jason Long, Unsplash.com

“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…”
~Romans 1:21

 When I first began pursuing my Seminary degree, one of my mentors and advisors warned me, “Seminary is a dangerous place to because it has the power to crush your soul.” The reason is because when we come to Seminary we take an internal passion (for God, the Scriptures, the Church, etc.) and we incentivize it. What I mean is that suddenly the Bible isn’t a way of connecting with God. Rather it is a textbook to be parsed, studied, analyzed, and dissected. Likewise, studying theology is not about growing your devotional life, but about giving you correct knowledge for the purpose of writing systematic papers. And, sad to say, he was right.

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When Tolerance Becomes Intolerant

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Several months ago, my former employer, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, was featured prominently in a New York Times article entitled “Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy”.  It highlights the growing tension on a number of college campuses between campus administration and religious groups, specifically around the issue of who can serve as leaders within these campus ministries.

While this is an issue that is now starting to garner national media attention, for those of us who have been involved in religious work on colleges and universities this issue is all too familiar.  I believe the New York Times piece does a good job highlighting the issues, but to summarize, many universities and college campuses have begun to ban religious organizations from using their rooms and facilities for meetings and prayer. They have also prevented such groups from applying to be student organizations, which often means that they are not allowed to apply for student life fund or advertise their events on campus.

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Advent Devotion: Welcomed Rejects

Photo Courtesy of National Geographic

Pashtun shepherds watch over their sheep. Photo Courtesy of National Geographic

This past weekend we had the chance to watch our kids perform in our church’s Christmas pageant.  It was fun to watch the children dress up in their Christmas best with other kids dressed as angels, wisemen, and shepherds.  In fact, if you’ve spent any time around the church, you are probably pretty familiar with these images.  For myself, the image of the Nativity has become a pretty standard Christmas image, with Mary and Joseph kneeling near the Christ child, with handsome looking shepherds, cuddly lambs, and wisemen looking on in reverence.

However, as I have thought about this story some more, something really stands out to me.  In most, if not all, of these Nativity images the people included all look pretty good.  The shepherds are well dressed and clean.  Mary and Joseph’s robes are neatly pressed and colorful.  Even newborn Jesus looks like he popped out of the womb with a full head of hair looking like a three-year-old.  And this has really forced me to ask the question, “Who is Christmas for?  Is it for the cleaned up and presentable?”

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Advent Devotion: Joseph’s Quiet Faith

Joseph

One of the things that I heard a lot growing up was the phrase, “Actions speak louder than words.”  This was taught in my elementary school and reinforced in the home, so much so that it is something I now teach to my own children.  Actions have an incredible way of telling us more about a person and his/her character than words ever could.

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Healing In A Broken System

how do we fix a broken system?

For a while now I have been relatively silent on social media regarding recent events in Ferguson and New York City surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.  Up to this point I’ve tried to post articles and pieces written by people I respect and who have more insight than I do on the complex issues of race-relations, theological reflection, and social justice.

Why?  Because I need to admit that I am not an expert here.  Furthermore, I know that my own perspective is limited and I have not been as involved in addressing issues of systemic injustice and racial reconciliation as many of my colleagues.  So, I’ve tried to lift up and point to voices that I respect and who I think can help bring healing and perspective to a very deep and long-standing problem in this country.

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What is Love? Just Ask a Troll!

Trolls

WARNING: The following post is rated “S” for “Spoilers”…But seriously, if you haven’t seen Frozen at this point then you are even further under a rock than I am :p

Well, we’ve finally done it. After a year of holding out, we finally bought the movie Frozen and spent an evening as a family watching it. Since that time we have been continuously serenaded with everything from “Let It Go” to “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” The kids love this movie! And who could blame them?! It has a walking snowman for comic relief!!!

But as I’ve been thinking about this film (I’ve had a lot of time on my hands) I’ve started to wonder if we, as a society, have gotten this movie all wrong. Here’s what I mean. Two of the most beloved songs – “Let It Go” and “Love Is An Open Door” – are also two of the most relationally dysfunctional songs in the whole movie.

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An Advent-shaped Faith

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This is a re-post of my inaugural piece on the Sojourners website.  You can visit the piece here.

Well, I’ve finally given in.  It’s November 19th and I’ve decided to start listening to Christmas music.  While this might not seem radical in a culture that starts decorating stores before Halloween, for me this is a big deal.  You see, I’m one of those stubborn holdouts.  In the past I have refused to decorate my house, listen to holiday tunes, or do anything Christmas related before Thanksgiving.  Why?  Because I like having the holidays separated.  I want to be able to enjoy Halloween.  I want to savor Thanksgiving.  And I don’t want to be rushed into Christmas!!!

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Reframing Our View of Religious Terrorism

“Battle-of-Ager-Sanguinis” by Original uploader was Asta at ru.wikipedia – Transferred from ru.wikipedia; transfer was stated to be made by User:nettadi.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battle-of-Ager-Sanguinis.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Battle-of-Ager-Sanguinis.jpg

SETTING THE STAGE
There is a major world religion that very few of us have spent any time studying. Though it has made a profound impact on world history, it is often ignored or overlooked. Over 1500 years old, it has spread from the Middle East to such far-flung places as Africa, Asia, and Europe. And while its adherents can be found in almost every major country, many of them live below the poverty line, fighting to survive on day-to-day subsistence living.

A monotheistic faith, it has rich theological, philosophical, and artistic expressions. Sadly, most of its followers live in ignorance of this fact, believing God to be a harsh and angry judge who punishes unbelievers and sinners in the afterlife. This ignorance is further reinforced by the fact that both its Scriptures and its worship are read and carried out in a language that most of its own people cannot read or understand. As such, the majority of this religion’s followers rely on the interpretations and teaching from a few educated religious leaders.

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It’s Back!!! It’s BACK!!!

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
~Jeremiah 20:9

Yup.  It’s back.  The truth is that, for a while, I had lost it.  But now it’s back.

You’re probably wondering, “What?  What’s back?”

The fire is back.  It’s in my bones.  I feel it when I wake up.  I think about it throughout the day.  It’s back.

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ISIS & The War on Islam

This is a re-post of my guest column from Faithline Protestants, a web forum that explores the intersection between Protestant Christianity and interfaith work.

It’s been hard for me to watch the news lately. Even going on Facebook has been difficult. Every time I go online I hear of more disturbing stories emerging from Iraq and Syria as the militant group ISIS continues to oppress minorities, rape women, and violently execute innocent men, women, and children. But what has made these horrific acts even more difficult to watch is the conversation swirling around them. Over and over again I have watched friends, colleagues, media personalities, and news outlets call ISIS the face of Islam. More and more people have begun to say things like, “This is what Islam is really about. They are finally showing their true colors to the world.” And as I have seen this picture of Islam painted over and over again I have actually begun to wonder, “Are they right? Is this truly what Islam is all about?”

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