Monday, April 28, 2008

On (Not) Getting By in America

Have you ever eaten at a mom and pop restaurant? Have you ever paid attention to the waitresses? Have you ever wondered what their life must be like given their vocation? What's it like to live in their shoes?

Ever been to Wal-Mart? Or K-Mart? Or any other kind of big-box mart? Ever wonder how the non-smiling employees are doing economically? Ever wonder what the promise of always low prices means for employee satisfaction and well-being?

How about all the other low-wage jobs that pay anywhere from $5 to $10/hour? Ever wonder how people make it on those wages? Under what circumstances do people take those kinds of jobs? Why do they keep those jobs? What's life like for them?

Barbara Ehrenreich cares about poverty, and she tried to walk, work, and live in the shoes of a low-wage employee. What is it like to earn poverty-level a single woman, with a Ph.D, a strong work ethic and lots of personal motivation? Hers is a fascinating story full of humor, wit, painful realities and deeply rooted injustices. Note that her point in writing the book is not about how people can't find a way to make it, but rather, they can't if they get hired at many of the businesses that we frequent often. Nickel and Dimed is a must read.

Here's some of what the backcover states:
Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them, inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that any job equals a better life. But how can anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, taking the cheapest lodgings available and accepting work as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing home aide, and Wal-Mart salesperson. She soon discovered that even the "lowliest" occupations require exhausting mental and physical efforts. And one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

Think about it: if you earn $7/hour, 40/hrs a week, that equals $280/wk; or $14,560/yr.
You rent a two-bedroom, one bath, home for $500/month: $6000/yr.
That leaves you $8,560.
You pay utilities - water average $20/mnth; sewer avg $30 mnth; gas avg $100/mnth; electric avg $80 mnth: $230mnth or $2760/yr.
That leaves you with $5800.
You pay taxes - about 20% which equals $2912. That leaves $2888/yr, or about $241/mnth or about $56/wk to cover car payments, car fuel, car insurance, renters insurance, health insurance, medical bills, clothing expenses, and food.

Even if you earned $11/hr, which is $22,880, a person is still barely above poverty-level. Now you can afford a $3000 car, the $1000 car insurance, the $1500 car fuel, the $1000 car repair bills, and just enough money for a $50/wk grocery bill. But still no health insurance, no clothing expenses, let alone the miscellaneous needs that come up like cleaning supplies, personal hygeine items, birthday and Christmas gifts,

And all this assumes you live by yourself.

Consider how important it is to you to pay as little as possible for products or services: the less you pay, the less the employees get paid. America has a interesting track record of trying to squeeze as much output from workers as possible for as little wage as they can get away with. Especially for low-skill jobs. So the next time you eat at a restaurant, or shop at Wal-Mart, or visit your great-aunt in a nursing home, go out of your way to smile at the employees, compliment them, treat them with dignity and respect, and encourage the employers to pay their employees a more decent wage. Or something like that.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do with this book. I just know I ought to do something constructive. The Prophets often make a direct connection between God's Righteousness and Man's Justice: judgment comes when we persist in unjust economic systems that debase the poorer amongst us so that a few of us can have the conveniences and pleasures we don't want to give up. See Amos. Or Isaiah. Or Nathan. Or Jesus.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Emma the Soccer Girl

During practice Emma worked hard on getting a light touch on the ball, she has a tendency to boot the ball. She had fun doing the running everywhere, balls going everywhere...a good way to start her season.

The guys had to bundle up in the sunshine, the wind was strong and brisk - but they braved the weather to support their sister.

Emma loves running! She ran and ran and ran and ran...with a smile on her face almost the whole time!

We worked on her throw-ins at home, she was ready for the game and did a good job, she has a strong throw.

One of Emma's breakaways! Go Emma!!!

Emma got a break during the third quarter. After getting some water she was ready to get back in the game.

Emma is just a few yards from the goal, she's on the verge of breaking away from the pack with the ball, but one of the defender's is right on her heels.

Oh Emma! Are you okay? That big lanky defender caught your heels and knocked you down! But you're a tough little soccer girl, aren't you?

Everyone enjoys snack-time...that's why they play soccer!

Finally a chance to sit down and rest after a hard game. Good joy Emma!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Me Emergent?

There is ever-increasing controversy about being identified as an Emergent Christian. For some Christians, they know nothing about the Emergent movement, for some they don't care, and others they have very strong feelings. I don't have strong feelings for the Emergent movement, but much of what characterizes them resonates with me. Does that make me Emergent? I don't know.

In the right-hand column is a Theological Worldview Survey I took a few months ago that identified me as Emergent/Postmodern (scroll down to view it). I was a bit surprised at the result, but upon further reflection, not so much. As it is, I don't follow much of the Emergent writers/writings, the gatherings, the conferences, the controversies. I am mostly concerned with trying to increase in understanding and skill as a pastor, theologian, Christian, husband, father, man. As I seek to understand the truth, many of my leanings, conclusions, viewpoints, convictions, and beliefs are eerily similar to what others label as Emergent. So be it.

Below is a quote from a new book out about the Emergent movement as highlighted on Out of Ur. Maybe half of the descriptions below are somewhat true of me. The list isn't meant to imply that all of these characteristics are true of every Emergent Christian, but rather that Emergents cover a wide territory, and at least some of these traits are true of Emergents.

Anyway, it's kind of long, but kind of interesting.

After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement.

You might be an emergent Christian:

if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac;

if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas, Henri Nouwen, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis, Frederick Buechner, David Bosch, John Howard Yoder, Wendell Berry, Nancy Murphy, John Frank, Walter Winks, and Lesslie Newbigin (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and Wayne Grudem;...

if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, or Desmond Tutu;

if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;

if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;

if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie;

if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;

if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life;

if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;

if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found;

if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count);

if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance;

if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naïve, and rigid;

if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;

if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;

if you want to be the church and not just go to church;

if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden;

if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway;

if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;

if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;

if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us;

if you disdain monological, didactic preaching;

if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—

if all or most of this torturously long sentence describes you, then you might be an emergent Christian.*

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What About Global Warming?

Like some of you, I've heard about this thing called Global Warming.

What to think of it? According to some, it is a huge crisis; to others it is an overblown scam.

Al Gore earned a Nobel Peace Prize for promoting the dangers of GW, and for suggesting solutions.

But who are the ones providing the other side of the story?

Greg Shoup, a local weatherman, has his own blog where he entered this interesting post about GW. The conclusion? It's a SCAM!

I'm trying to stay open-minded about GW, but here is what concerns me more: pollution. Pollution is supposedly a contributor to GW, but energy conservation and reduction of our carbon footprint gets more attention. Reducing pollution of air, water, food, dirt, and animals is alot more tangible than carbon footprints. I"m all for reducing pollution, but I'm not sure how convinced I am of global warming...yet.

Having a Hard Time Forgiving? Get Wisdom...

You can't whitewash your sins and get by with it; 

you find mercy by admitting and leaving them
Proverbs 28:13

Overlook an offense and bond a friendship; 

fasten on to a slight and—good-bye, friend!

Proverbs 17:9

Keep vigilant watch over your heart; 

that's where life starts.

Proverbs 4:23

Okay, so you know you must forgive. And when you are honest, you want to forgive others. The big things and the little things.

But how do you know what to do and say? If it was just as easy as going up to the other person and saying "I forgive you", you'd have done it. But somehow you know there is more to it than just saying those three powerful words. But what?

There are alot of things to be said as an answer for that question, but the one I want to focus on is this: Wisdom.

God's Wisdom, to be specific.

How do we get it? Here are a couple of ways: Scripture is a good start.
Torah is God's Wisdom for the new nation of Israel.
The Writings of Job, David, Solomon, and Ruth are sources of wisdom of how God's People sought to live in reality, obedient to the LORD of the Universe.
The Prophets reveal wisdom in how God works, what he wants from people, and how far he is willing to go to help people live right with Him and their Neighbor.
The Gospels tell the story of Jesus - whose every move exuded wisdom, whose every word and instruction exuded wisdom, who's ever reaction and response exuded wisdom.
The Epistles are letters of Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude - letters rooted in wisdom to Christians on how to think, act, live in the midst of a difficult and hard reality.

Another way to get wisdom: choose a wise pastor, choose a wise friend, choose a wise neighbor to examine your heart, your motives, your attitudes, your desires. You need help understanding the Wisdom of Scriptures, and you get wisdom from those who understand more than you. So be willing to make a new friend, or to get to know your pastor better, and get wisdom.

One last way: along with the Wisdom of Scripture and of Godly Christians, you get wisdom from experience - learning from your past can be a good source of wisdom. When it comes to forgiving: you'll probably note from your past that when you do forgive, you give the relationship a chance to heal to some degree and move forward in health and goodness. Or, you'll note that many times you did not forgive, and how those relationships have either withered or worsened. Learn from your past: tis better to forgive than forge ahead in bitterness.

Wisdom gives us perspective on our own need for mercy, and thus some reflection on how to give it to others.

Wisdom gives us understanding on what to overlook, and how to make friends out of those who have hurt us.

Wisdom gives us promise and warning: enlarge your heart through forgiveness, lest you shrink your heart through resentment.

There are many proverbs about mercy, forgiveness, and making amends...find some that help you and seek ways to live it out. Today.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bottled Water and High Gas Prices

It seems kind of silly to complain about high gas prices if you also purchase bottled water.

A month ago, on NPR Science Friday, I listened in on an interview with various water experts about the current H20 crisis. Half-way through the interview they opened it up to callers with their questions. Unsurprisingly, someone asked about the ridiculous business of bottled water. It's ridiculous because of the cost we are willing to pay for the convenience of bottled water, ridiculous because of the environmental impact caused by the creation of, transportation of, and disposal of bottled water, and ridiculous because of the "fears and beliefs" people accept by which they buy bottled water in bulk.

The other night I went to Scotts and purchased a 24-pack of non-brand bottled water for $4. I brought them home, and for whatever reason began to feel guilt over my purchase. I pulled out our water utility bills from last year to figure out how much it would've cost me to fill 24 water bottles out of my tap. Based on my calculations, it would've cost me $.04 to fill all those bottles. I paid 100 times that amount for the convenience of someone else to reverse osmosis the water and put it in a yet unused plastic "disposable" bottle. That, my friends, is ridiculous.

According to the interview, it takes about four bottles of water to make one bottle of water: this includes making the bottle, purifying the water, and transporting the bottle. This is a waste of water for mere convenience. Considering the rapidly developing water crisis in the West, and the lack of clean drinking water in underdeveloped nations, what business do we have wasting water on bottled water?

What are the benefits of bottled water? The taste? The convenience? The health factor? All nonsense. Ridiculous. How hard is it for you to purchase your own reverse osmosis machine and wash out and reuse a fashionable water bottle? And the health factor? Most people are not going to get dehydrated throughout the day because they don't have a convienient disposable water bottle next to them every waking hour.

We would be less reliant on foreign oil if we quit using plastic water bottles at the rate we do. We'd have lower gas prices too. And our budget would ironically be freed up to better accommodate rising gas prices.

But of course, who in their right mind would want to live life less conveniently?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Our Duty to Love Those We See

For to be able to love a man in spite of his weaknesses and errors and imperfections is not perfect love; it is rather to be able to find him lovable in spite of and together with his weakness and errors and imperfections. pg 156

...this discussion is about the duty of finding in the world of actuality those we can love in particular and in loving them to love the men we see. When this is the duty, the task is not: to find - the lovable object; the the task is: to find the object already given or chosen - lovable, and to be able to continue finding him lovable, no matter how he becomes changed. pg 158

...the holy God is gracious and therefore always points away from himself, saying, as it were, "If you wish to love me, love the men you see. Whatever you do for them you do for me."

God is too exalted to be able to accept a man's love directly, to say nothing of being able to find pleasure in what pleases a fanatic. pg 158

If anyone says "Corban" of the gift by which he could help his parents, that is, that it is intended for God, this would not be well-pleasing to God.

If you want to show that it is intended for God, then give it away, but with the thought of God. If you want to show that your life is intended as service to God, then let it serve men, yet continually with the thought of God. pg 158-9

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How do you help save a marriage?

This is the question I've been trying to answer lately...alot.

It's a good question, but it does me no good to keep asking it...I must find some good answers. Thanks to so many men and women who also are asking that question, there are alot of good answers out there. There are many that I have found, one in particular has been very helpful.

Divorce Busting is a book and organization started by Michele Weiner-Davis in her effort to stop divorces. She's brilliant, passionate, and really good. Click here for a series of really good articles, tips to help you help a couple save their marriage.

If you have any friends who are getting a divorce, thinking about it, or possibly headed there, if you see it, and care about it, know that you can do something about it. You may not know what to do, but if you check out the Divorce Busting material, you will be very encouraged and better equipped in the basics.

I work hard to increase my knowledge and skills to better help couples save and improve their marriage. If I can do it, so can you. It's not a matter of intelligence or talent, but of will and heart. If you see a need, and it moves you, there is something you can do.

Oh, and if you want, I have some of her books available in my study as well as in the Anchor Library. And you can buy them on, used, for an affordable price. Not that price should keep you from buying a book that could help you help a friend save his or her marriage.

Monday, April 07, 2008

What to do about politics...

Condi Rice as VP? That's one of the most interesting possibilities yet to emerge amongst the Republican Party.

But...there is not much I know about her. I'm sure if she gives indications of interest, the media will help us get to know her. Sort of. Like Mike Huckabee, they'll publish some stuff, but not the kind of useful stuff that you can use to weigh meaningful decisions. I guess to get that information, one has to do your own digging. But isn't digging the job of journalists?

But if I was going to do my own digging, how much energy should I personally put into my political interests? How much does politics really matter? People who have power, influence, money, and ambition will seek high political office, so what difference does my political interest or vote really matter? Is there a better use of my time and energy?

The men and women I'd really like to serve our country are either too busy doing good work elsewhere, or they don't think they could do good work in government, or for some of them, they don't want to use their talent for such a thankless, grueling, and cheap job.

As far as I know, there are some good men and women who serve in the political arena in a local, state, and federal level. But not enough. But my voting is not really the difference maker. What makes the difference is the kind of people who choose to use their skills and enter the arena.

A new book by Shane Claiborne has some strong words for those who rely too much on politics to make the difference that Christians want to see in the world. Pick any realm that the government is involved in: the economy, health and human services, transportation, environment, etc: the chronic problem is the human element. Christians want to help humans receive a changed heart that loves one another as our Creator God loves us. Not a mushy, soft-skinned kind of love, the the one marked by strength, loyalty, integrity, generosity, sacrifice, atonement, forgiveness, patience, goodness. What will help fellow-citizens serve their country with that kind of heart? What role does the government have in helping change human hearts?

I'll likely vote for somebody...whoever is elected will be responsible for decisions with enormous implications for the next generation. No pressure...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

What's Your Luggage?

This morning at Anchor we used a Rob Bell Nooma film as part of our teaching on forgiveness. You can preview it here: Luggage/07.

Forgiveness is a good topic during the Easter Season; it's at the heart of why Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. We may not always be clear on our doctrine, on the chronology of Christ's life, or the meaning behind all the stories, but we are usually pretty clear on our need to be forgiven by others. We are always clear when we know we want someone to forgive us, but usually we fear that they won't.

But what about when you are the one who needs to do the forgiving?

In my life there are a handful of "things" that I harbor in my heart, grudges, resentment, disappointments, irritations, even anger and bitterness toward others who have not done to me what I wanted or feel I deserve. Maybe you are a better person than I am and you do not harbor these things. Instead of holding it in, you let people know how you feel, you don't take nothing from nobody...

Two things from the film that stuck with me: in forgiving others, in letting go their debt, I'm the one how is being set free. I'm the one letting the grudge go, I'm the one erasing my resentments, and my heart is glad for it.

The other thing: I'll know I've forgiven "that person" when I can genuinely wish them well.

R.T. Kendall, in his book Total Forgiveness, does a good job of spelling out this concept in some helpful details. Wishing them well, or blessing them, is not only to be our first response to those who have sinned against us, it is also God's disposition towards us. This is idea is not new...but it is connecting with me in a new way.

Who do you need to forgive?

What's keeping you from forgiving your friend or family member?

What do you need to forgive? Little everyday things? Big hurtful things?

"Father, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us."

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

Tara and I took the Emma, Levi and Isaac to the Huntington 7 for their very first movie theatre experience. It was alot of fun!

They were all grins from the moment we walked in. The seats were a bit big for Levi and Isaac, so they sat on the edge of their seats during the previews. It was a bit chilly in there, so Levi sat on my lap for most of the movie, which was kind of neat.

And we all thoroughly enjoyed the Dr. Seuss movie. Though we've read the book many times, we sat riveted throughout the whole movie. Of course all the kids ate all their popcorn before the movie even started! But they stayed with the whole movie, Emma sat giggling and squirming in her seat most of the time - very cute!

It was a good movie mostly for the kind of character Horton is - an elephant who is faithful 100%! His commitment to people who are people no matter how small - well that is something I can rave about!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Gorbachev's Perestroika

Gorbachev is a Christian?

The article in the Telegraph briefly hints that the Russian Communist leader may be a follower of Christ. Apparently some think he's been a believer for many, many years. Some see this secret faith as one of many factors for his support of perestroika (practice of restructuring/reforming) and glasnost (wider dissemination of information) in the Soviet Union during the 80's.

St. Francis of Assisi, the famed saint who forsook his father's wealth to serve the Lord by embracing the poor, inspired Gorbachev, though is that the same as salvation?

Growing up in the 1980's, Communism was a big threat. Gorbachev was the enemy. But even then, as a middle schooler, there was something impressive about him. In his own way, he tried to increase the spiritual and economic welfare of the country. Rather than continuing the injustices of the SU, he sought to address them.

May Gorbachev continue to influence his motherland to embrace a form of perestroika and glasnost that fuels justice for the hardworking, mercy for the downtrodden, peace for the nation and abundance for its neighbors.

Another article at Christianity Today tries to dig deeper. I suppose there is more than one side to each story. But it's an interesting story.

Check out his personal website.