12.25 (or 25.12)

“Do not be afraid,” said the angel, “for see—I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

And the Word became flesh and lived among us … (John 1:14)

Happy Birthday, Jesus, and Merry Christmas to all of you!


Joseph Lowery to Deliver Inaugural Benediction

There are actually two preachers speaking at the Inauguration, though you might not know it. One is Rick Warren, which everyone knows. The other is Joseph Lowery, a Methodist preacher who was a leader in the civil rights movement, who will be giving the benediction at the inauguration. He’s known as a progressive voice that, as Ben Smith of Politico notes, serves in combination with Rick Warren to provide a look at the kind of political coalition that Barack would like to put together, with people from both sides.

Here’s a video of Lowery in action, delivering the eulogy at Coretta Scott King’s funeral in rhyming verse. You’ve got to see it to appreciate it.

Rick Warren to Deliver Inaugural Invocation

After every quarter, I usually (need to) take a few days off to regroup, recuperate and get out of the school mindset, so that I can relax a little more. It’s been a wonderful few days, chilling out with friends, shopping for Christmas (well, shopping at all, really!), getting more rest, watching great movies (of which there will be some mention over the next few days). I’ll offer some thoughts on Christmas soon. But for today, some news …

In the last few days, in case you weren’t aware, Barack Obama tapped Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the multimillion-selling Purpose Driven books, to deliver the invocation at the inauguration on January 20. This has raised the ire both of those on the left and those on the right.

On the left, they lambast Barack for picking someone who disagrees most vehemently with them (and him) on issues of same sex marriage (in a recent interview, Rick equates it with incest, pedophilia and polygamy), abortion (Rick calls abortion reduction efforts mostly “a charade”), and the social gospel Protestantism of the 20th century (Rick labels this “just Marxism in Christian clothing”). Rick also comes under fire for not pressing President Bush on matters of torture because, he says, “I never had the opportunity”; some would view such a comment skeptically.

On the right, conservative Christians decry that Rick is associating himself with a man who does not stand for the same values (at least where gay marriage and abortion are concerned). They might also take umbrage at the interview in which he also offers his thoughts that Christian leaders sometimes focus on gay marriage because “we always love to talk about other people’s sins,” or where he says that he nonetheless supports abortion reduction approaches as a sort of Schindler’s list, a way to reduce the harm of overall evil.

But as several commentators have noted, they do share in common a concern for seeing the AIDS crisis resolved and for social justice. Rick Warren has, because of his conservatism, been one of the catalysts in the expansion of the evangelical agenda, from a two-issue platform to one that seeks to bring faith to bear on all of life; and it has been because he is a social conservative on so many staple evangelical issues that he has influence to bring to bear on these other (I would argue, equally important) issues.

I think this is vintage Barack; he is who he says he is. He says he wants to find common ground, he wants to work with those who disagree with him, he wants to get things done. This is symbolic of who he is, as was the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. During the campaign, he said he wanted to expand our politics, to rise above the pettiness and divisiveness of the last few decade. And now he’s showing it: he doesn’t surround himself with yes-men (or women), with those who will agree with every word he says and every opinion he holds. I believe this makes him a better leader. And I think that if this is the tenor for the next four years, this is something I can stay on board with, and not be disappointed about.

P.S. Rich Cizik resigned as vice-president of the National Association of Evangelicals last week because he’d said in a radio interview with NPR that he supported civil unions for gay people. Rich also played an integral part in expanding the agenda to include the genocide in Darfur, global warming, AIDS, malaria, poverty and religious repression. Prominent conservative leaders on the right weren’t too happy with this, and the interview was the trigger. Here’s Nicholas Kristof’s comment on it. As for my comment, I’m disappointed and angry that this happened, and I hope that this doesn’t signal an undoing of Rich’s work.

Adding to the confusion

One of my non-Christian friends emailed me a couple weeks ago, asking me what the Bible said about killing and murder. He was alluding to the Ten Commandments, and so I told him that the Bible said, no murder (short version), and more generally spoke of a consistent ethic of life and of the value of human life. A few days later, he emailed me back.

“So you should not murder, and therefore the death penalty is abhorrent to all Christians? Sorry if this sounds simplistic.” (My paraphrase.)

I haven’t replied yet, because this could be a paper topic. I could talk about the voice of Scripture that runs throughout the Bible, the witness that says that the value for human life is tantamount, and that any judgment that comes is necessary judgment, and that God does not pleasure in meting out punishment. I could talk about contextualization and how God dealt with the people where they were, culturally and historically. I could talk about the trajectory of history and of the Bible, which reaches its climax in Jesus Christ, the full embodiment of God, and how we look to him to know what God is like and it is through him that we interpret the law.

But I’d also have to be honest with him: the death penalty is not abhorrent to all Christians, just as not all Christians seek to follow Christ with their lives, thoughts, actions, attitudes, and relationships.

My point is …

First, being a “Christian” can mean a wide range of things (and we touched on this in class). Does “Christian” connote someone who is pro-life, pro-death penalty, anti-gay marriage? (Because it does for some people.) Or does “Christian” connote the opposite? (Because I know a good few Christians whose values as gleaned from the pages of Scripture motivate them to fight for the woman’s right to choose, against the death penalty, and for gay marriage.)

Second, how do we navigate this broad swathe of Christianity? Being a Christian, at its narrowest, is to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that he is the Lord and Savior of our lives (or something similar; I’m sure we could make it even more narrower). But it’s in the working out of what it means for him to be the Lord and Savior of our lives that we can sometimes differ.

Third, should we just be okay with this? I think that Christians who differ do so because they are sincerely and genuinely trying to figure stuff out, not because they’re being disingenuous, ignorant or moronic. (Okay, some do … sometimes.) And we all think our understanding or interpretation of the gospel and the Bible is the best, at least as far as we know (and if we didn’t, we’d have great trouble living out our convictions).

So … what to do?

Sports, Music, Engagements and a Daughter

Today, I was reminded of two things (that I can remember):

I love sports. I love playing it, and I love watching it. I love my sports teams. In September, Mara said, “Whoever you end up with is either gonna have to love sports as much as you do, or she’s gonna have to get used to it.” I laughed and said, “I’m not that crazy about sports.” And she looked at me as if I had made the most preposterous statement in the entire world.

Today, after the Seahawks had lost their 11th game of the season, giving up their lead to the Patriots in the last few minutes of the game, standing now at 2-11, I will admit that Mara was right. I do love my sports. I get frustrated when the Mariners or the ‘Hawks or Arsenal are underperforming. And it usually colors my mood for a little while.

(On the flipside, when they win … can’t keep me down.)

I love music. I love playing it, and I love watching it. I love seeing brilliant musicianship. Tonight, after seeing Over the Rhine play at Fuller, I was reminded (as I often am when I go to gigs) of how much I enjoyed playing in Lifesize, and at LST, of how much I enjoyed playing with all the wonderful and talented musicians that I’ve had the pleasure of playing with: Rich, Ben, Daren, and all the rest of W1/2/3.

I miss seeing outrageously mind-blowing drum solos and face-melting guitar licks and Daren bouncing up and down on the bass like he’s twenty years younger than he is. I miss being in the spotlight. I miss writing music every day, words flowing like water from an open sluice. I miss having words and images, rhymes and rhythms always rattling around in my brain.

I love music.

Congratulations to …

… Harris and Jen, who got engaged this last week!

… Rachel, who also got engaged in the last fortnight!

… Sam and Suzie, who got married!

… Joseph and Katie, who had their second daughter, Marlow Finch!

Theologizing Superheroes (or, Revealing my Inner Geek)

Last night I satisfied for a brief moment my inner comic book fanboy and watched Superman: Doomsday, the cartoon adaptation of The Death and Return of Superman series. [Some of you may be saying, “Superman died?!” Others will be rolling your eyes that I even need to explain that, and there will undoubtedly be a few who don’t really care.] I’ve always loved superheroes. Maybe I’m mindlessly buying into what Robert Jewett in Mission and Menace calls “the American monomyth paradigm” (236-238); maybe I’m just indulging in childish flights of fancy. Regardless, since I was a kid, I’ve loved Batman’s fun gadgets, Wolverine’s ridiculously cool adamantium claws, and Spider-Man’s webbing (and humor). But Superman has always been my favorite superhero.

Every hero has angst. It’s part of the comic book code: everyone struggles with something, whether it’s Spider-Man trying to figure out how to balance school and girls and fighting crime, or Wolverine wrestling with his shadowy past and trying to control his feral nature. Superman’s angst is his otherness, his difference, his rootlessness; his struggle is to find his place in a world that is simultaneously his home and yet not.

Here then is the first parallel, one of the reasons I like Superman: because I identify with him. Both for myself as a Third Culture Kid, and for myself as a Christian, whose citizenship is not in this world but in heaven (Phil. 3:20), this search and longing for home—to find people who really understand me and welcome me for who I am—is one of the struggles I face. Where do I fit in this world?

But the second parallel is what struck me (again, but with more clarity) last night, when I watched Superman: Doomsday. What makes Superman who he is? It isn’t just his super-strength, or his laser sight, or his super-speed, or his ability to fly, or his invincibility. It’s his values. It’s the fact that, even though he’s got the capacity to have the world fall at his feet, even though he’s got the power to subjugate all people and do whatever he wants, he chooses to be a servant, even to the point of laying down his life to defeat evil. Uh … obvious analogy, anyone?

Of course, the Superman mythology can be interpreted another way, as feeding into some of the American myths that Richard T. Hughes looks at in Myths America Lives By: of invulnerability, of always trying to do good, of American innocence. But I think even this way of understanding the Superman/Christ/America association belies the way that we as Americans (and we as Christians) can sometimes tend to (consciously or unconsciously) claim for ourselves a messianic mantle. (New discussion … go!)

Anyway … just wanted to bare my comic book-loving soul for y’all.

[Disclaimer: The movie isn’t all that amazing; but it is 75 minutes of fun.]

November’s End & Advent

Rounding up the last week of the best month of the year (so far) …

November 24: Coldplay

My three favorite bands are U2, Coldplay and Lifehouse. I saw U2 in June 2005 at Wembley Stadium. I’ve seen Lifehouse a few times, a couple times in London and once in San Diego. And a couple weeks ago, I finally got to see Coldplay at the Honda Center in Anaheim.




(with Brit)

November 25-29: Thanksgiving in Fresno

Matt and Sara (with whom I also saw Wicked) invited me up to spend Thanksgiving with them (and their families) in Fresno. Good friends, good food, good times.

I had my last class of the quarter yesterday, and I have just a 1,000 word reflection and a 12-15 page paper to write, so … Christmas break is almost here! I’m looking forward to whatever time I have off (which actually usually ends up less than I thought or would like; oh well …).

I’ll leave you with a couple of things:

  1. As a Third Culture Kid myself, I’m pretty stoked to read this article on Barack’s cabinet.
  2. And welcome to the season of Advent.

Worship Fully. Spend Less. Give More. Love All.