Thursday, March 23, 2006

The great mystery

Monday, March 20, 2006

You may call me V

This past Saturday night, Jen & I caught a showing of V For Vendetta. It was quite an interesting movie that mixed politics, religious oppression, the need for justice, freedom, etc, all wrapped up into a comic book movie with blood, violence and pithy little comments.

A few things struck me in a good way after I processed this film and I’ll list them below.
(which means if you don’t want spoilers, don’t read what I am about to say)


The first thing that really hit me was the condition of the people. They knew things weren’t right, but didn’t know how to make them right or who to turn to in order to make things right. They were oppressed and content to be so in the way they were presented. They did not realize they needed redemption. They were in slavery and bondage and not looking to anything or anyone to make things right. I think that captures the natural state of humanity in a sense. We can see society move in its ebb and flow and people know that things are not right, but in a sense many are content to live in this state and just “bide their time”. This was London, this is humanity. People in bondage need to be shown the way to true freedom, they need a hero.

The second thing that struck me is that people need a hero. I think this is evident in the way we are inundated with comic book films – we love stories that involve a hero, even one who’s not the best role model such as V. The people in V For Vendetta were not different. Once the hero came and proclaimed when he would begin his liberating work, hope began to spread throughout the land. We read in the Prophets of a great hero who was promised to come and bring real hope to an oppressed people in need of redemption. V was the hero who came to save Britain in her time of need, but V is a shallow and empty hero compared to the real hero who came to deliver humanity from slavery and bondage.


The third thing that impressed me was the idea that redemption is bloody. V willingly spilled blood, his own and others, and ultimately gave his life for the redemption of Britain. Redemption by blood is all over Scripture. Yahweh required the blood of animals in certain instances for salvation. Think of the plague of death that covered the land of Egypt and Yahweh would only save those in the houses of the bloody doorways. Think of Leviticus and the requirements of blood sacrifices. Even greater than those types and shadows was the perfect sacrifice that Jesus made – His own blood and body. True freedom costs something.

It’s interesting to me that even though V For Vendetta can be accused of having a “liberal slant”, was written by a pagan comic book author who lived with his wife and their girlfriend, and was made into a movie by two godless brothers who are surely not Christian, yet even though there was godlessness that created this story and presented this story to the masses – eternal truths were still there. I’m not saying the Gospel is there, but I am saying that there are elements in this story of a greater story – the true story of freedom and redemption. That story has a hero much, much greater than V, or any comic hero for that matter, and that story offers more than mere entertainment, relaxation, special effects, karate, and intellectual fodder.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Three years ago today




It seems like yesterday...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Human Trafficking is Alive and Well

http://www.worldpress.org/feed.cfm?http://www.irinnews.org:80/report.asp?ReportID=52174&SelectRegion=Middle_East&SelectCountry=LEBANON

LEBANON: Lack of protection for women’s rights fuels sex trade, say women’s groups
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]


BEIRUT, 13 Mar 2006 (IRIN) - BEIRUT, 13 March 2006 (IRIN) – One of the last things that Rima (not her real name), a 31-year-old commercial sex worker, said to the staff at Beirut-based NGO Dar al-Amal was that she wanted to be buried with her mother. Three days later, a drug addict shot her six times in the shabby room in which she lived and worked in the Sabra refugee camp on the city’s outskirts, according to Dar al-Amal staff. The women she had been talking to identified her body and buried her the following evening. The murderer’s motive remains unknown.According to social worker Rania Mansour, who manages the Arab world’s only centre devoted to working with and rehabilitating sex workers, Rima, a Turkish Kurd, was an orphan who had been rejected by her relatives as a child. Violence, powerlessness and social marginalisation are common themes in the stories of the roughly 50 current and former sex workers who are now seeking help at Dar al-Amal, which means “House of Hope”. The centre provides moral support, medical services, literacy courses and legal advice. Most of the women, some of whom started working in the illegal sex trade when they were only 11 years old, are Lebanese. Others are Palestinian, Syrian, Jordanian, Egyptian and North African.

Sex work the only option
While women’s and girls’ rights in Lebanon are generally more protected than in other Arab countries, local women’s groups say that patriarchal social values leave many vulnerable to exploitation.“The man is like God – he can do anything, and beat a woman. It’s also society – girls have to do what their fathers or husbands say,” said Jaqueline, 54, a former sex worker who regularly visits the centre for moral support.“The marginalisation of women in our society is a main reason women turn to prostitution…In some families, the girl isn’t allowed to make choices about work or study or decide who to marry,” said Mansour. “So she runs away.” She added that girls often resorted to running away from home because of forced marriages, which is not prohibited by law, parental unwillingness to support girls’ education and forced work as domestic servants.Meanwhile, abusers regularly go unpunished. Amal Ftouni, vice-president of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence against Women, recalled taking a victim of domestic violence to the police: “Her face was black and blue after a beating from her husband. You should have seen the excuses they came up with not to file a report. They couldn’t find a piece of paper, the man who usually files them wasn’t there… they told her to just go home to her husband.” One woman at the centre said she ended up on the streets after her father tried to rape her. Several others described how they had been put to work as live-in maids, some younger than ten. Most were sexually abused as children. One said her parents sold her at the age of eight to work as a servant with a family who beat and burned her. Jaqueline said she married at 18 to escape life with an aunt who wanted her to prostitute herself: “She said I must go out like her and sleep with Gulf and Saudi men for money,” she said. “I didn’t want to.” Later, her husband turned violent, eventually throwing her out but keeping their five children: “I worked in a bar, selling myself,” she said. “I had a boyfriend who took all the money I earned.” One of her sons, she added, now follows his father’s example and beats his own wife.

Institutional discrimination
A damning 2004 report from US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch on women’s rights in the Middle East noted that inequality was institutionalised in Lebanon, pointing out that family matters tended to be governed by religion-based personal-status codes. “Many of these laws treat women essentially as legal minors under the eternal guardianship of their male family members,” the study found. “They deny women equal rights with men with respect to marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.”These notions, the report stated, were supported by family courts in the region that often reinforce the primacy of male decision-making power. Legal discrimination, meanwhile, put women at increased risk of violence.Although Lebanese women can theoretically file charges against violent family members, rights groups say few abused women are aware of their legal privileges. Many, they say, are too afraid of divorce, ostracism or having their children taken away to report attacks. Compounding matters, a commonly held perception is that female victims of domestic abuse must have “asked for it”.In 2002, the UN Population Fund conducted a three-month, nationwide survey of over 1,400 women aged between 14 and 80 years old. Of these, 494 – some 35 percent – had been exposed to some form of abuse, while 307 – 21 percent – knew of a family member who had been abused. In 65 percent of cases, the perpetrators were the husbands of the victim.In 2005, police registered more than 2,844 reports of violence against women, including 31 rape cases, 177 attempted murders and 85 murders. Women’s groups, however, call these figures gross underestimations.Parallel to this discrimination and violence, Dar al-Amal Director Hoda Kara believes that prostitution is also on the rise, although accurate statistics are non-existent. “Due to the economic crisis here, it’s getting worse,” Kara says. “If economic and social difficulties increase, prostitution and [juvenile] delinquency also increase. If parents are in need, they might send their children to work – even to work as prostitutes.” Last year, Dar al-Amal counted 1,080 sex workers in Lebanon, although it believes many more work behind the scenes. In the meantime, unemployment and economic deprivation continue to drive both supply and demand. “The marriage age is going up because sons don’t have the money to buy a house,” explained Kara. “So men are living with their families for longer and some solve their sexual needs with prostitutes.” For women who find themselves forced into the illicit trade, there is seldom a way out. “The economic situation is difficult for all Lebanese,” said Mansour. “Many are finding it hard to get a job – so how do we persuade a prostitute to stop work?”

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Get Drunk and Be Somebody??

Ever feel like this?

Yeah, the big boss man, he likes to crack that whip.
I ain't nothin' but a number on his time card slip.
I give him forty hours an' a piece ' my soul;
Puts me somewhere at the bottom of his Totem pole.
I don't even think he knows my name.


Yeah, all week long, I'm a real nobody,
But I just punched out an' it's pay check Friday.
Weekend's here, good God Almighty:
I'm gonna get drunk an' be somebody,
(Somebody.)

Yeah, yeah yeah.

My baby cuts hair at a beauty boutique,
Just blowin' an' a-goin' till she's dead on her feet.
They walk right in an' sit right down,
She gives 'em what they want an' then she spins them around.
I don't even think they even know her name.

All week long, she's a real nobody,
But I just picked her up an' it's pay check Friday.
Weekend's here, good God Almighty:
Baby, let's get drunk an' be somebody,
(Somebody.)

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

We're just average people in an every day bar.
Drivin' from work in our ordinary car.
An' I like to come here with regular Joes,
Drink all you want: be the star of the show.

All week long, a bunch of real nobodies,
But we just punched out an' it's pay check Friday.
Weekend's here, good God Almighty:
People, let's get drunk. (Let's get drunk.)

All week long, we're some real nobodies,
But we just punched out: it's pay check Friday.
Weekend's here, good God Almighty:
People, let's get drunk an' be somebody, (Let's get drunk.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.


I think this song speaks to something that everyone is born with. We all long to “be somebody”. This is where the church comes in. We have a message that says everybody is somebody to God. We are all created in God’s image and reflect his glory and character. It is frustrating to think that your boss doesn’t know your name. I’m in that boat at UPS. My district manager, who I see nearly everyday, has never once addressed me by name in the nine or so months he’s been my boss. I can relate to that feeling very well. What helps me cope and what Christians have to offer those people who think they “aren’t somebody” because their employers don’t care, their customers don’t care, and society in general doesn’t care is better than getting drunk to be somebody. I’m all for a tasty adult beverage, but it’s not what gives lasting value to my humanity. When I drink a Guinness, it doesn’t add any value (besides the 125 calories that aren’t on purpose) to my humanity.
What lasts.
What gives me value is that I am an image bearer of God and have life given from God and am in relationship with Him.
It affects my worldview and how I perceive myself.
While, I am a nobody at UPS, I am a child of the King of the Universe.
It’s quite striking if you think about it.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

You don't hear this everyday...

It came from my home church in Oklahoma. I just recieved the monthly newsletter in the mail and found some really encouraging news.
Besides the fact that the church has grown from the mid-200s to nearly 400 every Sunday from Fall 2004 to Advent 2005, it seems giving is up. Not just general giving, but for the Deacon's Fund! No one was "putting the sell" for this fund, but somehow giving to this fund in 2005 was up 78% from 2004! That is so amazing and is a wonderful testimony of God's love pouring out from those he has shown love to.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

What to do...

Due to corporate downsizing caused by poor management of Intrav, Jen lost her job on Thursday along with 30+% of her co-workers. We're one year, two months out from leaving Saint Louis and now she's starting the job hunt again. Blah....

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

New York Times Highlights Tim Keller


February 26, 2006
Preaching the Word and Quoting the Voice
By MICHAEL LUO
In the twilight of the biggest snowstorm in New York City's history, the pews of a rented Baptist church on the Upper West Side of Manhattan were packed for the Rev. Timothy J. Keller's fourth sermon of the day.
The 600 or so who braved the snow for the evening service got what they had come to expect — a compelling discourse by Dr. Keller, this time on Jesus' healing of the paralytic, that quoted such varied sources as C. S. Lewis, The Village Voice and the George MacDonald fairy tale "The Princess and the Goblin." It was the kind of cogent, literary sermon that has helped turn Dr. Keller, a former seminary professor whose only previous pulpit experience was at a small blue-collar church in rural Virginia, into the pastor many call Manhattan's leading evangelist.
Over the last 16 years, Dr. Keller's church, Redeemer Presbyterian, has swelled to 4,400 attendees, mostly young professionals and artists who do not fit the prototypical evangelical mold, spread out across four different services on Sundays. Although Dr. Keller, 55, is hardly a household name among believers outside New York — in part because he has avoided the Christian speaking circuit — his renown is growing in pastoral circles and in the movement to establish or "plant" new churches, a trend among evangelicals these days.
Pastors from around the world are beginning to come in a steady stream to New York City to glean what they can from Dr. Keller and Redeemer. Their goal is to learn how to create similarly effective churches in cosmopolitan cities like New York, which exert outsize influence on the prevailing culture but have traditionally been neglected by evangelicals in favor of the suburbs.
"We're not giving them a turnkey template," said Dr. Keller. "What we're saying is, 'There's lots of overlaps between our big city and your big city. Some of these things you will use. Some of these you will discard. Some of these you will adapt.' "
Believing new churches are the best way to produce new Christians, evangelicals are making a major push to start new churches around the world, said Edmund Gibbs, a professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary outside Los Angeles. But only recently have some evangelicals begun to turn their focus to urban centers.
Dr. Keller "has grasped the strategic significance of the city, of the urban culture and the need to engage that very diverse culture at every level," he said. "Our culture is urban-driven."
In New York City, Redeemer has become the central training ground for anyone planning to start a church in the metropolitan area, whether among Guyanese immigrants in Queens or streetwise youths in the Bronx.
Since 2000, when it established its own training center for "church planters," as they are called in evangelical parlance, Redeemer has helped start more than 50 churches in the city, from faith traditions and denominations as diverse as Assemblies of God, Lutheran and Southern Baptist. In addition, it has helped found 17 "daughter churches" of its own Presbyterian denomination in communities like Williamsburg and Park Slope, Brooklyn; Astoria, Queens; and Hoboken, N.J.
Meanwhile, so-called city-center churches modeled on Redeemer — also attracting audiences of professionals and creative types — have sprung up in places like Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Berlin, London and Amsterdam. The churches emulate much of Redeemer's approach, including its attitude of embracing the city and its focus on the Christian message of grace and redemption, which Dr. Keller argues has been muddled in many churches.
The Rev. Stephen Um, whose church in Boston, Citylife, began four years ago and now attracts about 500 people every Sunday, said he and other pastors had embraced Dr. Keller's emphasis on delving into the prevailing culture almost as much as into the biblical text. Along these lines, Dr. Um is just as likely to cite a postmodern philosopher like Richard Rorty or Michel Foucault in his sermons, as he is, say, Paul's Letter to the Philippians.
"This is Tim's thing," said Dr. Um. "He said, 'You need to enter into a person's worldview, challenge that worldview and retell the story based on the Gospel.' The problem is evangelicals have always started with challenging the worldview. We don't have any credibility."
Redeemer meets in three facilities: the Ethical Culture Society and the First Baptist Church on the Upper West Side, and Hunter College on the Upper East Side.
Unlike most suburban megachurches, much of Redeemer is remarkably traditional — there is no loud rock band or flashy video. What is not traditional is Dr. Keller's skill in speaking the language of his urbane audience. On the day of the snowstorm, Dr. Keller tackled a passage from the Gospel of Mark in which the friends of a paralyzed man carry him to Jesus. At least initially, however, Jesus does not heal the man but offers him a puzzling line about his sins being forgiven.
Part of the point, said Dr. Keller, is people do not realize that their deepest desires often do not match up with their deepest needs.
"We're asking God to get us over that little hump so we can save ourselves," he said. "It doesn't occur to us that we're looking for something besides Jesus to save us."
Observing Dr. Keller's professorial pose on stage, it is easy to understand his appeal. While he hardly shrinks from difficult Christian truths, he sounds different from many of the shrill evangelical voices in the public sphere. "A big part is he preaches on such an intellectual level," said Suzanne Perron, 37, a fashion designer who is one of many who had stopped going to church before she discovered Redeemer several years ago. "You can go to Redeemer and you can not be a Christian and listen to that sermon and be completely engaged."
Dr. Keller shies away from the label evangelical, which is often used to describe theologically conservative Protestant Christians like him, because of the political and fundamentalist connotations that now come with it. He prefers the term orthodox instead, because he believes in the importance of personal conversion or being "born again," and the full authority of the Bible.
An important lesson that Dr. Keller said he had tried to convey to other pastors is that the hard sell rarely works in the city. Becoming a Christian in a place like New York, he said, is more often the product not of one decision but of many little decisions.
"One decision might be Christianity is more relevant than I think," he said. "Or, here's two Christians that I don't think are idiots."
It was the Rev. Terry Gyger, an official with the church-planting arm of the Presbyterian Church in America, an Atlanta-based evangelical denomination, who persuaded Dr. Keller to come to the city to start a church in the late 1980's. At that point, Dr. Keller was a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and the part-time head of the Presbyterian Church's mercy ministries.
His only previous pastoral experience was at a Presbyterian church in Hopewell, Va., a struggling factory town. Under Dr. Keller, the congregation grew from 90 to roughly 300 in nine years, but that was in the Bible Belt, of course, not New York City.
"I just saw in him the raw ingredients," Mr. Gyger said. "I felt he had the inquisitiveness. He had the intellectual capital. He was very articulate, even though he had not had a lot of preaching experience in the big pulpits of our denomination."
Even so, Dr. Keller was offered the post only after two other candidates turned it down. Within a year of its founding in 1989, however, Redeemer had grown from 50 people to more than 400. By the end of 1992, the church had swelled to more than 1,000 people. Since then, it has continued to grow steadily, all while renting space in several locations.
Sept. 11 proved to be a defining moment for the church. On the Sunday after the terrorist attack, more than 5,000 people showed up. So many people packed the church's Sunday morning service that Dr. Keller called another service on the spot, and 700 people came back to attend. While attendance returned to normal in other churches after several weeks, Redeemer kept attracting about 800 more people a week than it had drawn before the attack.
"For the next five years, I would talk to people about when they joined the church, and they said right after 9/11," Dr. Keller said.
After the attack, the church also began to increase its training for those working to found churches. His church's main goal, Dr. Keller said, is to teach pastors how to truly love the city, rather than fear its worldly influences. Unlike many evangelicals, Dr. Keller advocates an indirect approach to change.
"If you seek power before service, you'll neither get power, nor serve," he said. "If you seek to serve people more than to gain power, you will not only serve people, you will gain influence. That's very much the way Jesus did it."
As a result, one of Redeemer's hallmarks has always been its focus on charity, something it emphasizes in its training of urban pastors. It operates a program called Hope for New York that arranges volunteer opportunities for people from Redeemer with 35 different partner organizations. Last year, 3,300 people from the church volunteered their time.
A looming question for Redeemer, though, is how much of what Dr. Keller and his team have built can be maintained when he ultimately exits the stage. When he was out for several months in the summer of 2002 while undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer, attendance dipped noticeably.
For now, the faithful of Redeemer do not have to contemplate that situation. Dr. Keller continues to preach nearly every Sunday, dashing back and forth to its different rented facilities and putting in unrelenting 80-hour work weeks.
On the night of the snowstorm, Dr. Keller closed his monologue with a moving riff on Jesus' love in spite of humanity's flaws, and a quote from C. S. Lewis, one of his favorite writers: "The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation."
And then he prayed for his congregation and his city.
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/nyregion/26evangelist.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

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