Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why I am in LA

As I sit at my desk and type this blog post, just outside my window is a beautiful SoCal scene. The light of the setting sun is shining on green palm branches and purple flowers. Kids (most TFA Corps Members are just out of college) are strolling along the campus of Loyola Marymount University. And it is a beautiful college campus. One side of the campus offers a view of Venice beach and the other side offers a view of downtown LA. It is quite stunning.

But I'm a bit homesick. While my body is in beautiful LA, my heart is in muggy Gardner. Watching Erin and Dawson walk away from me at the Kansas City Airport last night was a very difficult thing. I had to spend some time in a stall of the men's room before re-gaining my composure. When Dawson heard the garage door open, he asked Erin, "daddy?" During his sunshine bedtime routine, the first person he wanted to sing about was daddy. When I read about that in a text from my wife, I started crying again. Then my roommate walked in (yes, I'm in college again) and it was a bit awkward. One day down, just four weeks and six days to go.

But why am I volunteering to separate myself from my family? Well, the simple reality is that in our country, where a child is born is most often the determiner as to the level of education they will achieve. To put is as simply as I possibly can, that is not right. As someone called to proclaim gospel, a gospel that is first of all "good news" for the poor, I must do my part to address that injustice. The reality is that some kids, good kids living in Kansas City, simply do not have the same educational opportunities that my wife had or my son will have. For that reason, I'm away from them for awhile, being trained to teach in such a way as to close that achievement gap.

After finishing this blog post, I read the lectionary readings for the day. The theme for the week is "service" and both readings applied to what I wrote above.
Psalm 31 is about strength while serving God, and this is the final verse of that psalm:
"So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the LORD!"

And then there is Luke 16. While it seems that much of North American church culture is about having a good family (a very inward focus), Jesus seemed to call us to something deeper. Not that we shouldn't love and serve our family (Paul was clear that we do), Jesus seemed to believe that a healthy family isn't the reason we follow Jesus. We're a part of such a big mission that personal sacrifices are necessary. Read and be shocked:
"A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, 'If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.27 And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.'"

Finally, they're working us so hard here that I barely have time to sleep, let alone to blog. I wrote this a few days before it posted. So, I might not be able to blog much, probably only on the weekends.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dawson's First Royals Game

I'd always said I wasn't paying to take Dawson to a Royals game until he understood the difference between the Royals and the T-Bones. Well, that's still probably true. But since Erin and Dawson were able to join me and the rest of the TFA KC Corps at the Royals game last night, Dawson got to experience his first ever Royals game. He was able to say something that sounded like "Go Wohyahls."

We walked around the outfield first and were standing there for Alex Gordon's lead-off home run. So the first at-bat of Dawson's first Royals game was a home run. Of course, the Royals tanked after that, meaning Dawson get's to understand that to be a Royals fan means you'll usually be on the losing side. But it was still cool to be in the outfield, just under the fountains, for that home run.

We then used the concessions vouchers that TFA gave us to sit at the park benches and eat some ballpark food. We then walked the entire concourse and up the long stairs to our TFA section. Dawson went straight to the top where he climbed in and out of the seats and ran the aisles. We then spent the rest of the night, until way past his bedtime, walking up and down the stairs, hearing all these young ladies telling Dawson how cute he was and pining for his attention. One TFA Corps Member told Dawson to "call me when you're six."

So maybe this is a glimpse into our future. Going to the K to watch the Royals lose and me watching Dawson respond to girls falling all over him. I guess things could be worse. I could be the father of a nice-looking girl and we could be Cardinals fans...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Draft Day

During the first few days of our TFA induction, we were told over and over to "be flexible", "plan for the unexpected" and even "your placement might be the exact opposite of what you were expecting." We heard stories from current TFA Corps Members about having their teaching role switched 3 weeks into the school year, or not getting a job until mid-September. We even had a seminar focused solely on how our TFA KC staff was working hard with the KCMO School District but that at, best case scenario, we'd know just before the first day. We were given a list of attitudes to have during this time and told about a placement fund for those who don't get a job in the first month.

The next day, the head of personnel for the KCMO school district opened his session with, "I apologize for the delays, we usually don't know much until mid-August." But then, he was interrupted by a member of his staff, then turned back to us and announced, "well, it seems we've finalized everything, and the principals are here to announce their new teachers and you'll be able to sign your contracts."

The place erupted in cheers. It was quite a moment. Very well done by the KCMO school district.

I found out later that the TFA KC staff didn't know until a few hours before we did that we'd be finding out our jobs that day. The KCMO school district staff worked very intensely to get us all placed so quickly. Our principals didn't even know who they'd be getting until a couple hours before they met us.

So the head of personnel, acting like the NFL commissioner on draft day, brought up each principal, announced that principal's 'picks' (new teachers) and all the new teachers joined their principal on stage; taking a picture as a 'team' and singing their contracts right on the spot. We were even given hats with our school's name, just like the NFL draft. It was a great scene and atmosphere.

Each time one of the combined high school / middle school principals came up, I was listening intently, since my initial placement was middle school social studies. So when my name was called with George Melcher Elementary school, I almost missed it. If this had been a televised draft, the announcer might have said something like, "in a surprise pick, George Melcher Elementary has selected Donnie Miller to teach 5th grade." As I walked up front, signed my contract, donned my hat, then posed for the picture with my new co-workers, I was thinking "elementary, oh my word. What have I gotten myself into?"

I had been thinking that my original placement (older kids, one subject) would be easier and more to my personality. So it was quite surreal to be 'picked' for an elementary school. I enjoy kids of that age, I'm just nervous about the lesson planning involved in teaching every subject. My fifth grade co-worker is also a TFA corps member (there are 7 of us in our building), so it will be helpful to work and plan with her. But while reading the Bible yesterday afternoon, I was reminded of what I would often tell my congregation, "Serving isn't about you. It's not about what you get out of it. We serve for the sake of the God who has called us to serve and the people he has called us to serve." Well, considering that my school has a lot of room for growth and a lot of opportunities to help kids facing some serious challenges, this will be a great place to serve. As usually happens, I'll likely find out that what I assumed about a situation is different from reality, meaning that I may come to realize that 5th grade is exactly what I'm suited for.

But it will also be a great place to learn about teaching. I've heard a lot about some of the great teachers there and how the principal creates a very nurturing and caring atmosphere, while also maintaining high expectations. And, when the time is right, I'll be able to coach at one of the nearby high schools.

I'll be trained at Institute over the next five weeks, then I strap in for the ride of my life.

The Best and the Brightest

Teach for America claims to recruit America's top college seniors. The time I've spent with them this week has convinced me that it's true. TFA's philosophy is that if people have shown leadership abilities in non-classroom areas, that past experience and inner-drive is what they need to succeed in closing the achievement gap in America's under-resourced schools. The Superintendent of KC, MO schools believes the data supports this claim. So much so that 100% of new teachers the past two years have been TFA corps members and 20% of the teaching force is now TFA. By far, this is the highest percentage of any urban school district.

So in an effort to prepare us for a new leadership role, we've spent time reflecting upon our past leadership roles, including hearing the stories of current TFA teachers. It's interesting to hear "I never failed at anything in college, but my principal told me she was two weeks from firing me." That guy ended the year with the most improved classroom. But here are some of the things I've heard from these leaders; ran track at Wisconsin, rowed for Ohio State, I've been working out with a guy who studied anthropology and swam an Northwestern, president of their sorority, a fraternity president who faced an 80% drop in membership and had to turn it around to keep their mortgage from defaulting, summer research projects at prestigious universities, a young lady who did her student teaching in Germany, founder of a non-profit in Argentina, two people with PhD's, leader of a non-profit in inner-city Houston, a lot of college RA's. I could go on and on with the list. These people have postponed law-school or turned down high-paying jobs for corporate America. And while many of them will later go on to that type of work, TFA believes we need advocates for ed reform in all areas of the country, not just the classroom.

The principal of Troost Elementary told us all that she can't believe the quality of TFA teachers, considering we come through a non-traditional teacher training tract. So TFA's theory seems to work, at least at a higher percentage than the regular teaching force.

While most of them are straight out of college, there are a few with post-college experience and even families. But only three of us in what we call the that 70's club. I've been interesting to some people, "you're that guy who started a church, right?"

Here's the criteria straight off TFA's website. While I did have some leadership experience in college, I got into TFA because of my post-college experience. I never would've been open to the social justice issues addressed by TFA when I was in college, it took seminary and life experience to open my eyes to systemic injustice.

We look for evidence of:

•Demonstrated past leadership and achievement: achieving ambitious, measurable results in academic, professional, extracurricular, or volunteer settings
Perseverance and sustained focus in the face of challenges Sure learned this in starting and leading a church
•Strong critical thinking skills: making accurate linkages between cause and effect and generating relevant solutions to problems
•Superior organizational ability: planning well, meeting deadlines, and working efficiently
•Respect for individuals’ diverse experiences and effectively working with people from a variety of backgrounds
•Superior interpersonal skills to motivate and lead others
•Thorough understanding of and desire to work relentlessly in pursuit of our vision
Successful teachers are also accomplished leaders. Applicants have historically demonstrated leadership within a broad range of experiences, such as:

•Holding leadership roles on campus and delivering significant results for organizations and research projects
•Excelling as team managers at work, coaches of athletic teams, or directors of community organizations
•Demonstrating success in a variety of career fields, such as business, law, medicine, and education
•Achieving measurable results in professional jobs, military experience, or graduate school

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Does bombing Terrorists really accomplish anything?

I recently read an incredible article discussing whether bombing terrorists ends or perpetuates terrorism. While the article is ten years old, it's still a thought-provoking read.
You can read the article in context here, while I'll paste the content below.

Published as a ZNet Commentary, October 28, 2001, also in The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace, Beacon Press, 2003.

To hear those who support the current air assault on Afghanistan tell it, those of us who doubt the likely efficacy of such a campaign, and who question its fundamental morality are not only insufficiently patriotic, but also dangerously naive. Lampooning the left for adhering to such ostensibly simplistic slogans as “violence begets violence,” these self-proclaimed pragmatists insist that sometimes force is necessary, and that in the case of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, little else could possibly serve to diminish the threat of terrorist attack.
It takes me back, all this self-assured confidence in the value of preemptive assault. To 1986 in particular, when a co-worker insisted that although our bombing of Libya had failed to kill Colonel Quadafi, that by killing his daughter we had nonetheless served the cause of peace. After all, said my co-worker, she was destined to become a terrorist someday, so better to kill her before she grew. That others might be able to apply the same logic to Americans — who, after all could grow up to be Oliver North or Elliot Abrams — was lost on her, as she was convinced the world had been made safer that day. Of course, just two years after my colleague insisted that our assault on Libya had made us safer, 259 people in a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland — and eleven more on the ground — learned how dangerously ignorant such faith really was. They, as it turned out, apparently became the victims of actual Libyan terrorists, enraged by the previous U.S. attack on their country.*

All this talk of what’s naive and what’s realistic seems nothing if not bizarre: as if words no longer have their original meanings, or mean the opposite of what one might think.

So to be realistic means to believe that bombing one of the poorest nations on Earth will not only reduce terrorism, but also fail to ignite a new round of anti-American fanaticism. To be naive, on the other hand, is to pay attention to modern history, which tells us that bombing people is rather likely to fuel their anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.

To be realistic is to think that pummeling one nation will have some appreciable effect on al-Qaeda, despite the fact that the group operates in sixty-four countries, including many allies whom we have no intention of bombing. To be naive is to point out that terrorists aren’t reliant on one, or even several countries to operate, and as such, we could eradicate every member of the Taliban tomorrow without delaying by so much as a day any future attacks on our shores.

To be realistic is to say things like “all they respect is force.” To be naive is to point out that the force we have demonstrated over the years by our support for Israel, or bombing and sanctions against Iraq, has apparently led not to something so kind as their respect for us, but rather to their willingness to slaughter as many Americans as possible. If this is how al-Qaeda shows respect, I shudder to think what disdain must look like.

To be realistic is to say, “We tried peace and peace failed.” To be naive is to ask when, exactly, did the U.S. try peace: in the region, or specifically in Afghanistan? Was it when we were selling Stinger missiles to the Mujahadeen, so as to help them fight the Soviets? Or was it after, when we left the nation in ruins, unconcerned about helping rebuild so long as the Russians had fled? Or was it when we cozied up to the Taliban because they promised to crack down on opium cultivation, using the time-honored anti-crime techniques of extremist Islam?

To be realistic is to insist that nations harboring terrorists must be brought to justice. To be naive is to note that a) we aren’t really serious about that–after all, many nations that do so are coalition partners in the war on Afghanistan; and b) by that standard, any number of nations would have the right to attack us.

After all, we have harbored and even taught terrorists and death squad leaders at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. We have harbored known Cuban terrorists in Miami. And we are still refusing to hand over Emanuel Constant to Haitian authorities, even though he has been found guilty in a court of law for involvement in the murder of over 4000 people in the early ’90s coup attempt there.

To be realistic is to believe that the Afghan people will be impressed by our packets of peanut butter and pop-tarts, dropped from airplanes, and that they will thank us, and view us as their beneficent saviors. To be naive is to point out that the food drops, according to relief agencies, are insufficient to meet the need, especially since our bombing has aggravated the refugee crisis to staggering proportions. To be really naive is to note that to even get the food, Afghans would have to traipse across minefields, and might be blown to bits before they can even reach our humanitarian goodies. To be naive to the point of disloyalty, would, I suppose, be to ask whether or not American soldiers in Pearl Harbor would have felt better about the bombing of December 7, 1941, had the Japanese pilots made a second run to drop sushi and edamame.

Perhaps it’s just me. But something seems dangerously Alice in Wonderland when Clinton Advisor Dick Morris can say on national television that we should declare war on Afghanistan, then Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Colombia — and not be viewed as a paragon of mental illness — but Quakers and pacifists are derided as uninformed boobs.

And yet I have no doubt that many of these American warlords will attend Martin Luther King Jr. day celebrations come January, and sing the praises of a man who would have condemned them roundly for their current course of action. And they will continue to go to church — those who call themselves Christians — and sing praises to someone whose teachings run completely counter to everything they are now doing.

But hey: King, Gandhi, Jesus: what did they know? Dreamers all of them: naive, simplistic, and not nearly as informed or clear-headed as Donald Rumsfeld, or Stephen Ambrose, or Tom Clancy, or White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

Even more disturbing than the uniformity with which conservatives have labeled dissenters un-American and unrealistic (which at least is to be expected), is the rapidity with which so-called progressives have accepted the need for, and ultimate propriety of war.

Richard Falk — a longtime international peace expert — has called Operation Enduring Freedom, “the first truly just war since World War II.” This, despite the fact that by the standards he himself has laid out for a just war, the bombing of Afghanistan — and the refugee crisis alone that it has sparked — completely fails the test of justice.

Or Nation contributor, Marc Cooper, who suggests that antiwar protesters suffer from self-hate, and who accuses us of claiming that the U.S. invited the attack, merely because we point out that certain of our policies might have something to do with the motivation for flying 757s into buildings. The difference between explanation and excuse apparently having escaped him, and the good counsel of a Thesaurus that might explain the difference apparently being out of his reach, Cooper insists that the left should embrace limited military action (the substance of which he leaves undefined) as a “moral imperative.”

Perhaps most perplexing is the stance taken by Eleanor Smeal, of the Fund for the Feminist Majority. Recently she testified to Congress about Afghanistan, not to plead for an end to the macho militarism currently underway, which is likely to accelerate the starvation of thousands of women and girls there, but merely to suggest that the women of Afghanistan not be forgotten in any reconstruction government. Not only does she appear to support the overthrow of the Taliban by the same U.S. government that funded it and cared not a whit for the women there until six weeks ago, but she also seems to trust that patriarchy can be pounded into rubble by exploding phallic symbols, dropped and fired by guys whose view of feminism is probably not much better than Mullah Omar’s. To suggest there is any way to reconcile this war with feminism or the interests of women generally strains credulity, especially given the propensity for gang rape so well developed among our new “contras,” the Northern Alliance. Talk about irony.

Again, maybe it’s just me. Or maybe it’s 1984, and War Is Peace, and Slavery Is Freedom, and Ignorance Is Strength. Or maybe all that is just bullshit, being served up on a silver platter, while the servers tell us it’s Goose Liver Pate. It reminds me of something my Grandma once said: “You can call your ass a turkey, but that doesn’t make it Thanksgiving.” Likewise, you can call your war just, and the rest of us naive, but that won’t make it so.

*Although a Libyan was convicted for the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Scotland, and Libyan involvement has long been the accepted wisdom regarding this incident, there is another school of thought worth mentioning. It too would follow the logic of a revenge bombing and would make the point of this author’s paragraph just the same. There are many who believe that the terrorists responsible for the Pan Am bombing were not Libyans, but rather Iranians, retaliating for the unprovoked shooting down of a civilian Iranian airbus by a U.S. Naval vessel earlier that same year (1988). As with the 1986 bombing of Libya, in the aftermath of this incident, I heard many people say it was probably for the best, because that would mean a few hundred less anti-American “fanatics” and potential terrorists down the line. George Bush Sr. — a presidential candidate at the time — remarked: “I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are.”

You can check out Tim Wise's blog here.
And for a similar article, check out Playing the WWII card; nostolgia and the war on terrorism

Being in the Minority

Although books like Lies My Teacher Told Me have opened my eyes to things such as white privilege and the Meritocracy Myth, I've reflected some more on what it would be like to be a minority while reading Diversity, Community and Achievement for my TFA training. But reading and reflecting upon what it would be like to be a minority is a far cry from actually experiencing it. The first item on the "white privilege" list linked above is:
"I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time."

Well, during Erin and my recent trip to Chicago, I got to experience what it was like to be in the minority. While these experiences were short and fairly shallow, they were still effective in getting me out of my comfort zone and forcing me to see the majority culture through the eyes of a minority.

The first experience was on Sunday night, when we were finishing our tour of Chicago festivals. We started with the Blues Festival, moved on to the Rib Festival and then ended the Sommarfest. While walking from the bus stop to the festival, I pointed out two girls holding hands, telling Erin, "that's not something you see that often." As we walked into the blocked off area of the block party, I suddenly saw a lot of girls holding hands, guys, too. My first observation was the lack of pretense and posturing that was evident at the more main-stream Rib Festival. But that thought was quickly replaced by, "Erin and I are some of the few straight people walking around here." Walking around the festival, I spent some time wondering how these gay and lesbian couples feel when at large social gatherings in which they are in the minority.

The next morning, we took the L out to the Chicago Conservatory. It was a neat place to explore, Erin was impressed with the replicated Giverny garden of Monet and the lushness of the Fern Room. After touring the Conservatory, we hopped back on the L and headed west, deeper into the city and further away from the downtown loop. After about one L stop, I realized we were the only white people on the train. When we got off at our stop, while walking to a bus stop that would take us north toward the Cornipcus Theatre, we were surrounded by the usual business of a Chicago street, but unlike other times, we were the only white people on the street. For the next couple of miles, we saw a lot of people; people getting in and off the bus and people walking along the street, but only two other white people. It was one of the few times in my life in which I've been in a large group of people and been a small minority. Some of the thoughts that kept running through my head were "what is everyone else thinking about this white couple" and "what would it be like if being in the minority was a daily experience?" It was an eye-opening experience.

And suddenly, after crossing a street, we were in the majority and non-whites were again in the minority. I assume that the reasons for this type of neighborhood segregation in Chicago are similar to the reasons for the segregation in Kansas City, but the switch was almost instant. And I wondered what it must be like to know that there are certain neighborhoods in which you're not welcome, simply because of your race.

The neighborhood we were going to visit was the Polish area of Chicago. According to the guy who ran the Coperican Theatre, Chicago has the largest concentration of Polish people outside of Warsaw. This guy, who sounded kind of like a Superfan, recommended a tiny little Polish restaurant for fulfilling our desire for authentic Polish food.

The restaurant hadn't changed in years and the food was incredible. Erin had some chicken dumplings and I had an incredible polish sausage with some sweet sauerkraut. The eye-opening part of this event was that our waitress, an older lady who both took our order and prepared our food, kept talking to us in Polish. She was explaining the dishes and asking what else we wanted, but our Polish is, well, not too polished. She seemed to be a bit impatient with us, having an air of "this is a Polish restaurant, why can't you speak our language." In response to, yet again, being in the minority, I wondered what it would be like to be on the other end of the bumper sticker that read Welcome to America, Now Speak English.

Tony Campolo likes to say that the point of Democracy is not to let the majority rule, but to protect the minority. It seems to me, however that that isn't often the case. Sometimes because the majority wants to protect their priveleged status, but usually simply because good-hearted people simply are unaware of the advantages of being in the majority and the disadvantages of being in the minority.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Last Day at FedEx

Well, just a little over a year after I wrote this downer of a blog post, I have completed my last day at FedEx. While FedEx is a great company and they have offer a higher earnings capacity than my new career of teaching, and possibly my old career of pastoring, it's just not what I want to do with my life. Clocking in and out to deliver packages is a fine way to earn a living, but it's not for me.

So today was the last day. And while I'm nervous about my new career, going to be living off savings for a couple months while I train with TFA and stepping out into the unknown, I'm glad to be moving on to something different. While I felt like a bit of a failure, returning to the place I left 6 years ago, overall it was a good experience. FedEx was certainly a wonderful opportunity that God provided for my family's financial health, a pretty miraculous one, really. Read about it here.

But to top it all off, the guy who worked next to me during the morning sort, bought me a cake with "Good Luck" written on it. It was a really, really nice gesture. And since I didn't actually get a similar send-off during my last "last day", it was quite appreciated. My (former) coworker joked, "for your next last day, we'll throw you a cook-out."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Another Kindgom Conversion

It's one thing to hold some intellectual beliefs about Jesus. A lot of people believe he's the Son of God and died for their sins. It's another thing to understand and live into the Kingdom he taught about and came to establish. For me, one of the most important conversion events was in reading Greg Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation. Since reading that book, I've share it with about a dozen people, but offered it to many more.

I just shared the book with a good friend, who after finishing it, sent me this email:

Man, what a challenging book Myth of a Christian Nation is turning out to be. Can't judge a book by it's cover. I really thought it would just be bashing on America. For me it is just highlighting how black and white the differences between the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God really are! And what a blessing. It takes over 100 pages for an open minded educated person to really have it sink in. I know we make our worldly lives complex, but when we look at Jesus, it really is very simple. Which just goes to show how good a trick the devil has played.

Thanks for suggesting it. I don't know what God has in store for me, but I know I want to fight for His kingdom! Keep up the good and non-violent fight!

And since we're talking about Greg Boyd, I'm going to share the contents of a recent blog post of his, which you can read in context here.

Hope you all had a happy Memorial Day. (Isn’t that something of a misnomer — a happy time remembering people killed in war?)

Memorial Day honestly leaves me conflicted.

On the one hand, I am very happy I live in a country where I’m free to engage in my own “pursuit of happiness” (as in “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”). I also appreciate the fact that I live in a country where the governed people get to choose (to some degree) who governs them. For all its flaws, I think democracy is better (though not more scriptural) than dictatorship. And I can’t help but appreciate the young men and women who have laid down their lives to protect this way of life. I benefit from their sacrifice, so it seems appropriate to remember them.

On the other hand, my Lord’s words and example have taught me that it’s better to love your enemy, do good to them, pray for them, and bless them than it is to ever kill them. I’ve been taught to never retaliate but to always return evil with good. I’ve been taught that violence is cyclical, and that if you live by the sword you’ll die by the sword. By submitting myself to this teaching, I’ve come to actually see its wisdom and beauty. I’ve come to see the taking of human life as demonically arrogant – demonic, because it expresses hopelessness in another, which is the opposite of love (I Cor. 13:7), and arrogant, because only the giver of life can justifiably take it.

To be honest, I’ve now come to see war as sheer insanity, and every fiber of my being revolts against it. I’ve gotten to the point where I’d rather die than participate in any of this, for any reason. And I grieve for all who do participate in it, for any reason. The fact that I personally benefit from some of the killing, because some of the killing is (at least is theory) supposed to protect the “American way of life,” doesn’t alter this assessment. Jesus is my Lord, not the American way of life. My allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. (And, in any case, as a white person I continue to “benefit” from the often barbaric and dishonest conquest of my ancestors over the American Indians and the enslavement of blacks — but this doesn’t mean I should approve of it).

I know some readers will immediately wonder, “But what about Hitler? This sort of thinking would let evil take over the world,” etc. Some may in fact experience outrage at my (Jesus’) suggestion that violence is never appropriate for Kingdom people. Some may see it as positively un-American and cowardly! In response, I’ll simply say six brief things:

1) I totally understand and even empathize with the objection, and the outrage. But Jesus’ way of life is SUPPOSED TO BE scandalous to the world. The earliest Christians refused to fight in wars to defend the Roman empire and refused to pledge allegiance to the Roman empire. And this was one of the reasons they were despised and martyred. I think this is how it’s SUPPOSED to look.

2) To act on the fear of evil taking over by killing one’s enemies rather than doing good to them is to simply say that Jesus was wrong and to reject him as Lord in this area of our life. This is not what a faithful disciple does.

3) We who have committed our lives to Christ are called to be faithful, not practical. Jesus’ choice to die rather than defend himself with violence is our example, and his choice certainly didn’t look practical on Good Friday.

4) The notion that we can “save the world” or “fix the world” through violence is the a lie that has fueled almost every war – and it has never, in the long run, worked. Every attempt to save or fix the world through violence simply ensures that violence will raise its ugly head again in the near future.

5) The idea that we can and must “save the world” or “fix the world” through violence is predicated on a mistrust of God’s providence. Do we believe in the providence of God or not? Whether we obey him when it seems impractical to do so reveals our faith — or our lack of faith.

6) I grant the obvious — that this world is the kind of world where it seems that violence is necessary. Common sense usually sides with the violent. But Kingdom people are called to manifest a different world: a world in which God reigns; a world that reflects the character of the loving savior rather than the vicious roaring lion. No wonder the New Testament tells us we’re supposed to be fools.

So yes, memorial day leaves me conflicted. I want to stand in solidarity with those who have lost loved ones in wars defending the American way of life. I want to respectfully acknowledge the depth of their sacrifice and acknowledge that I personally benefit from their sacrifice. But I also want to revolt against the demonic arrogance of violent-tending tribalism, manifested on all sides of any war, that makes bloody wars seem unavoidable. I want to scream, “There is a much better way to live. It’s the way of Jesus. It’s the way of self-sacrificial love. It’s the way of non-violence.”

God bless the families of our fallen soliders. God bless the families of the soldiers on the other side. God bless the families of the innocent victims caught in the cross fire. And God bless all of us by influencing our leaders to end this war, and every potential future war. Maranatha.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Bubba Starling; Putting Gardner on the Sports-World Map

It was a beautiful September night and I was doing what I love to do on Friday nights in Gardner, sitting in the stands with Chris Billings, watching the GEHS football game. Gardner was starting their second year under their future Kansas Football hall of fame coach Marvin Diener, when a tall, but skinny QB broke a long TD run. I looked in the program and exclaimed, "that kid's a freakin' freshman." A couple of games later, a guy behind me mentioned, "oh yeah, he can throw a baseball 90 mph, too." To that I responded, "this kid's a freak." But I had no idea just how talented he really was. It's pretty hard to comprehend, really, watching Bubba play football. The best comparison I can think of is that's it's like a college football video game in which a player with artificially inflated talent runs circles around the other players.

Bubba's performance in GEHS's upset loss to Blue Valley (a team they'd beaten by three touchdowns earlier in the year) in the game to play in the State Championship was the most incredible thing I've ever seen. Due to a few unDiener-like mistakes, the Blazers got down by 17 points. Knowing he'd been put in at safety during another game, knocking down a fourth and goal pass to beat fellow state-championship hopeful McPherson HS, I turned to Chris Billings and said, "they need to put in Bubba on every play." Sure enough, the next kickoff GEHS received, it was Bubba standing on the goal line. Next punt return, Bubba was out there. And he got the ball EVERY single play. It didn't matter that everyone knew he was getting the ball, Bubba literally dragged two linebackers to pick up the first down. But the fact that GEHS's receiving core was less than stellar and that the defense was keying on him, Bubba couldn't bring them back by himself. He started cramping but rather than leaving the game, he simply stretched his legs while calling out the cadence from the shotgun. A few plays later, he collapsed on the field and had to be carried off. But the intensity with which that 'freak of nature' played before his body gave up on him was the most amazing thing I've ever seen an athlete do.

I'll admit, it's a bit weird to talk about a high school kid in that way, especially a kid I've never personally met, but I'm not the only one doing so.

Very interesting read. link

Here's the video on Bubba that was on the front page of ESPN.com this evening. For some reason, the embed code isn't working correctly, so here is the link.

And here's the video I took during the 2009 State Championship Game.

Man was it fun watching him play football for these past four years. And it sure has been cool to have ESPN in Gardner on several occassions this past year. Not that my opinion matters, but I view all of sports through my Hawkeye-allegiance. And while I'd love to watch him play for Nebraska in football in the Big Ten, I'd hate to see Bubba's career ended by a Norm Parker blitz. Wait, Norm Parker (Iowa's D-Coordinator) never blitzs. So I'd hate to see Bubba's chance at millions ruined by Iowa's middle linebacker, Zach Morris. Or maybe I'd hate to see him run roughshod over my Hawkeyes...

But I would love to see Bubba play for the Royals - article link.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Whole Gospel - another article

In a follow-up to this blog post, I wanted to share an article written by a former NTS classmate of mine, Tim Suttle. You can get Tim's new book, here.

You can read the article here, but I'll post the text of the article below.

Evangelical Christians are committed to something called the gospel. It's central to everything we do. The word gospel itself means "good news," and this good news is all about how Jesus came into this dark and broken world to make a way back to God. Over the past few centuries the evangelical version of the gospel has changed and is now something quite different than ever before. The gospel has become overly individualized and reduced to a way of managing the guilt of our own personal sins. This abridged gospel typically goes something like this: If you admit you are sinful, admit Jesus is God, believe he died for your sins, and ask him into your heart, then you will go to heaven when you die. Although this is preached in most evangelical churches, this gospel is actually not all that faithful to our scriptures or church history. Worst of all, it holds few if any moral or ethical implications for our lives.

Here's the problem as clearly as I can state it. For the past few centuries, individualistic conceptions of the gospel have championed some truly good things, chief among them being the conviction that human beings have the capacity to relate to God -- we can know God and relate to God personally. But an over-emphasis on personal faith has distorted the gospel. The good news has been reduced to a message about how to get into heaven when you die. Individualism has truncated our gospel, and left us blind to the obvious social message of Jesus.

The gospel has a personal dimension which is about how each person relates to God -- and this is a critical piece. It also has a corporate dimension which is about how humanity as a whole relates to God and to each other -- and this is a critical piece as well. The personal and corporate dimensions of the gospel must be held together. In American evangelicalism we have the personal covered, but we are lacking in our corporate understanding of the good news. That we are so lacking, I believe, robs the gospel of its impact on our society because the nexus of the personal and corporate is where all the power lies.

The iconic preacher Billy Graham is a representative of the personal gospel. When he preached, Graham would talk about personal sin -- the brokenness that lives inside all of us keeping us from knowing God and experiencing peace. Graham preached about how Jesus wanted to heal each one of us personally and lead us into a better way of life. Graham preached the gospel of personal salvation night after night to packed houses. And the people would sing the gospel hymn "Just As I Am" over and over.

The equally iconic Martin Luther King Jr. is a representative of the social gospel. When he preached, King would talk about social sin -- the brokenness that lives inside our social systems, keeping us from knowing God and experiencing peace and justice. King would invite people to embrace the kind of faith in Jesus Christ which would fundamentally change our approach to one another. King said Jesus wanted to heal not only each person, but our culture as well. He taught that Jesus wanted to lead us into a better way of life not only as individuals, but as a society. King preached the gospel of social salvation night after night to packed houses. And the people would sing the gospel hymn "We Shall Overcome," over and over.

Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. were both evangelical Christians. They both preached a gospel which was incomplete without the other. Graham's message needs King's message and vice versa. The two messages are inexorably linked like two sides of the same coin. If the gospel doesn't include both the personal and corporate dimension of the Christian faith, then it is something very less that the true gospel -- and it will never change the world. Jesus taught that love toward our fellow human beings -- even our enemies -- is the path to God. This is not some ancillary teaching which can be tacked onto the gospel. This is the gospel he preached. You cannot love God if you do not love your neighbor (1 Jn. 4). This is how we see God. This is how we are blessed. This is how we inherit the earth. As evangelicals we need to recognize God's desire is actually not for a bunch of individuals who have been saved, but for a new community -- a new humanity. From a Christian perspective we will never experience this unless we begin to embrace the corporate nature of the gospel.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Our First Family Vacation

While it was short in both time (2 nights) and distance (just the other side of Missouri), the trip we took this past Memorial Day Weekend to St. Louis with the Hupe family was our first ever family vacation.

To be honest, I was quite nervous about going on a trip with two toddlers, not sure how they'd respond to the change in routine and whether the potential lack of sleep would make the whole trip quite difficult. Overall, the trip was a great success! The boys entertained each other fairly well, diffusing some of the potential effects of over-stimulation. Overall, Dawson got enough sleep to keep all of us happy. So I didn't spend the weekend battling an over-tired toddler while in my own exhausted haze.

Here's a recap of our weekend along with some pictures.

Morning: Drive to Saint Louis
At a rest area along I-70, while walking from me and to Erin, Dawson managed to trip, slip and sit down right in a rather deep mud puddle. While he sat in the mud crying, I was both laughing and decrying our terrible luck. It was some work, but we got him cleaned and into dry clothes. I thought maybe that was a sign of worse things to come, but the rest of the weekend went fairly smoothly.

Afternoon: The boys ran wild, with their parents close behind, at the Magic House. We could've spent days in that place.

Dinner: We had some incredible pizza at Deweys Pizza.

Early morning: Though he had slept pretty soundly on one of the beds in our room, Dawson woke me up for good at 3:30 in the morning. At about 5, I jogged through downtown, past the Arch and over the Mississippi and through the quit little suburb of East St. Louis. While I wasn't sure whether I should jog through East St. Louis and I had to cover my mouth to keep out the bugs while crossing the river, overall it was a beautiful and refreshing early morning run.

Morning: We took the boys to Grant's Farm, a much better option for toddlers than the zoo. As you might be able to tell from the picture, Dawson did not enjoy bottle feeding the goats, nor getting swarmed by the eager goats.

Early afternoon: Both boys and both dads took a nap.

Late afternoon: We let the boys get soaked at the City Gardens. That was a good time in a great downtown park.

Dinner: Dawson entertained half the people dining at the Old Spaghetti Factory

Early morning: No jog this morning as Dawson woke up about 8 times during the night, likely because the crib was too small. After breakfast, we walked over to the Arch.

Morning: As we pulled into the National Transport Museum, the boys broke out into applause at the sight of all the trains. Dawson was in heaven and kept running back and forth through one of the open trains.

Lunch: We went over to the West Loop neighborhood and had some "world famous" sandwiches at Snarf's. The food was pretty good, great college neighborhood.

Afternoon: We drove home, both boys took turns napping then waking the other one up from his nap.

Finally, for the benefit of a certain friend to whom I like to give a lot of crap for being from St. Louis, I must admit I enjoyed my time in the Gateway City. The highlight being that I avoided seeing a Cardinals game and getting murdered, two events that occur quite frequently in St. Louis.