Archive for December 17th, 2008

I have nothing to add to that title.  I’m just curious about how this site’s detractors will argue with it.

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That's a Lion!Question: All other things being equal and athletic ability unknown, if I gave you a list of 60 Canadian 18-year-old boys and their basic bios (birthday, hometown, siblings, income level, academic achievement, etc.) and told you to pick out for me the 20 who were most likely to be hockey stars, what biographical trait would most help you select the hockey wheat from the chaff?

Answer: Put them all in order by birth month, Jan – December, and choose the first 20 in line.  Seriously.  Why?  The age cut-off for youth hockey in Canada is January 1, and hockey leagues start around age 6.  Thus, the kids that get selected for the best teams are the older kids (because 1 year makes more of a difference when it makes up 17% of your life than at age 18, when it makes up 6%).  The older kids get put on the best teams.  The best teams have a lot more practices, more games, and better competition.  The next year, the kids who got more practice, games and competition will make the better squads.  And they will have a lot more practices, more games, and better competition.  And on.  And on.

Last week I finished Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers (an excellent, thought-provoking read I highly recommend), which explores “positive deviance” – what unseen factors make some people successful and other people not – like birth month and hockey; or birth year and computer programming; or practice time (you need 10,000 hours of practice and application to become an accomplished master at ANYTHING – from violin to programming to biblical scholarship); or cultural norms.

With the hockey example, Gladwell refers to this as “the Matthew Effect” – taken from Matt 25:29 -

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

This is observed, from a social science aspect, where those who have some advantage – often based upon forces apart from their own personal merits (like birth month, nationality, etc.) – are able to multiply that advantage into success.  Conversely, those with very little in the way of such advantages – even if they have interest in a certain venture – have no multiplying factors (like more practice, more games, better competition) and do not succeed.

[Note: This is just from Chapter One of Outliers (did I mention that you should go buy it now?)]

The Digital Divide

Right after finishing Outliers, I was sent this article from Sojourners by a newsgroup I belong to.  It is about TechMission, a Christian non-profit group that works to teach computer skills, and bring digital skills and abilities to disadvanteged Christians in minority and poorer areas of America.  What they have found online is similar to what we observe in real geographies – a segregation of Christians between “haves” and “have nots”.

As the recent book Divided by Faith points out, the segregation of the church results in a separation between rich and poor communities, which in turn perpetuates injustice. For example, a church member in a very re­sourced church who is looking for a job may get 10 referrals from friends in the church, whereas someone in a church where half of the attendees are unemployed might not get any referrals.

You can see a similar segregation reflected in profiles of Christians on online social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace; most people will have friends with backgrounds similar to their own. If everyone links to people they know, the result is that a disproportionate number of resourced individuals and ministries will link to each other, while ministries serving under-resourced communities are stuck in a virtual ghetto. The rich link to the rich, while the poor link to the poor.

TechMission started to see these effects when we launched our Web site ChristianVolunteering.org to match Christians with volunteer opportunities. Within a few months, our organization had secured partnerships with the Christian Community Development Association, the Salvation Army, World Vision, the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, and most other major national Christian organizations serving under-resourced communities—not surprising, since we had strong relationships with people in those organizations.

Then we did a similar push for partnerships with Christian organizations with ties into wealthier communities and suburban churches—the same amount of effort, but with almost zero results.

Even within the church, it appears that “the Matthew Effect” is in force – and that’s not a good thing.  The author of the article suggests that one way of combating this is through simple linking – to missions and ministries like ChristianVolunteering.org and other similar sites, or become a Facebook Fan of TechMission and similar ministries.

Beyond that, look for opportunities both to train, to mentor and to utilize Christians from backgrounds outside of suburbia – to get them valuable experience and practice in their crafts.  Volunteer for organizations like The Legacy, teaching art and music skills to Native American Jr/Sr High School kids, and help them find vocations and careers outside of the reservation system (If you’re interested in the Legacy and are free for a week in early June next year, join my family and some other folks in SW Colorado working with the Souther Ute Tribe!  I’d love to meet more of the folks I converse with here – or who just lurk here.)

The Matthew Effect is powerful, but it can be overcome through Christian brotherly love…

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It seems only fitting that we have a Christmas Version of the “Learning to Listen” series, where we examine what non-Christian voices in the world observe about life, God, Jesus, his bride – or any combination of the above. Lest weaker brothers stumble, we are not fully advocating any artists, music or messages, nor are we fully endorsing anything/everything about them. We’re just trying to observe, in the same fashion as Paul on Mars Hill, the icons of the culture and how we might apply them to our own walk or to teaching about the truth of God.

In this installment, I’d like to examine “The Rebel Jesus” by Jackson Browne, first recorded with the Chieftains for their 1991 Christmas album (which I own and enjoy) called “The Bells of Dublin”.  Below is a studio solo version (I wish I could find a good Chieftains version, but it will do):

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All the streets are filled with laughter and light
And the music of the season
And the merchants windows are all bright
With the faces of the children
And the families hurrying to their homes
As the sky darkens and freezes
They’ll be gathering around the hearths and tales
Giving thanks for all gods graces
And the birth of the rebel Jesus

Well they call him by the prince of peace
And they call him by the savior
And they pray to him upon the seas
And in every bold endeavor
As they fill his churches with their pride and gold
And their faith in him increases
But they’ve turned the nature that I worshiped in
From a temple to a robbers den
In the words of the rebel Jesus

We guard our world with locks and guns
And we guard our fine possessions
And once a year when Christmas comes
We give to our relations
And perhaps we give a little to the poor
If the generosity should seize us
But if any one of us should interfere
In the business of why they are poor
They get the same as the rebel Jesus

But please forgive me if I seem
To take the tone of judgment
For Ive no wish to come between
This day and your enjoyment
In this life of hardship and of earthly toil
We have need for anything that frees us
So I bid you pleasure
And I bid you cheer
From a heathen and a pagan
On the side of the rebel Jesus.

While Browne seems to have a dark, cynical view of Christians and the church, it is hard to argue with him, sitting here warm and safe in America.  Christmas, as a holiday, has taken on a life of its own that is far removed from Christ (one of the reasons I’ve written the De-Sanitization series), but the world looks on and sees massive cathedrals with the homeless sleeping in their shadows. It sees a health & wealth gospel providing limos, jets and jacuzzis for its practitioners, while more than a billion people are sickened from a lack of clean water.  It sees Christians hit just as hard, in the same numbers, as everyone else by the greedy behavior of overextended and sub-prime borrowing, unable to adequately assist in a time of poverty.

And it sees Jesus – for better or worse – as someone completely different from those who are called by his name.

But which is worse:

1) Sitting ignorant of how our actions appear to the world around us.
2) Understanding how we look, but turning an unsympathetic eye, because it’s not our problem.
3) Feeling paralyzed and guilty, but still doing nothing about it.

I have to admit, I often find myself in boat #3.  And while I do, the world is looking on and wondering why I, who claim the title of one who follows Jesus, sometimes seem to act more like those he rebelled against than fellow rebels in his cause.

But it doesn’t take all that much to turn things around.

I have been greatly appreciative and thankful for some of the high-profile efforts in the chruch, where it has been trying to demonstrate Jesus’ love an compassion.  One example of this has been with the mission to end AIDS in Africa, with Rick Warren and Bill Hybels as a public faces of the church – not for their own glory, but to try to demonstrate the kinds of things the church could be doing in the world that would give demonstrable flesh to the spirit we claim.  Another has been with the efforts to provide clean drinking water to impoverished communities in South America and Africa, where multiple Christian churches and individuals (like Rob Bell in the Everything is Spiritual tour, which supported WaterAid) have spearheaded efforts.

Let us be part of the rebellion, with the Rebel Jesus at the fore, and not part of the Empire, which seeks power, material wealth and insulation.

Let us be on the side of the Rebel Jesus…

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From here:
You find statements like this and just scratch your head.

From our forward firing base here at Apprising Ministries along the Eastern Front of this Truth War we see Emergent rebels becoming more emboldened as they continue their build up. Here’s just a couple of examples.

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One the most fascinating facts I’ve learned in my studies of Old and New Testament theology has to be about the role Satan actually plays.  I think American Christians tend to focus on Satan as the originator of all evil, as he rightly is, but I think we tend to forget some of the more nefarious roles he plays.  In Hebrew, the word satan actually means something very close to the accuser.  It’s as if Satan is a spiritual prosecutor, accusing people of crimes and misdeeds they may have or may have not committed.  This role is probably best seen in the book of Job or in Revelation 12:9 & 10:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.

So here, Satan is described as “the accuser of our brothers”.  As a being he spends his time pleading a case before God that we deserve to be condemned.  God, it seems, has little time to hear these accusations, though, as they are covered by the blood of the Lamb.

So it’s interesting to me that there seems to be a good number of Christians who seem to have the idea that taking on this accusatory role is a good thing.  I see a post like this or this which basically seem to serve no purpose but to throw an accusation out there demanding a defense.  It’s as if they have decided to take the role of prosecutor, judge, and jury upon themselves.  I wonder, whose work are they doing?

Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m not accusing these men and women of being instruments of the devil or anything like that.  I don’t even doubt that they have good motivations, really.  I just wonder, though, if they have been working under a wrong assumption about the justice and judgment of God and how it gets doled out.

I believe that God alone has reserved the right to judgment.  I think that a main reason this is the case is simply because of the great power that comes with it.  When Adam and Eve partook of the Tree of Knowledge, their eyes were opened to things that God never intended them to see.  It was as if they were given a “serpent’s eye” view of things.  So instead of trusting God and taking Him at His word, they began seeing things through the eyes of the accuser.  I think it’s very easy for us to fall into this original sin today.

So my encouragement would be this.  Instead of looking for ways to accuse our brothers and sisters, shouldn’t we look for ways to build them up?  Do we really need to play the Devil’s Advocate.  Do you we need to demand answers from people who we really have no connection to?  Can we not trust that God is the only true and righteous judge?

It’s my hope that we will learn to put our hope in the judgments of God rather than our own.

Grace and peace.

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