A bad back, Dostoevsky, and grace

I was feeling good on Monday; good enough to run the 3 mile path around the lake by my house; good enough to carry out my routine of stretching, and even hang a little bit from the climbing wall that graces my attic office, as I search for strength to climb this spring. At the food co-op that day, I'd picked up a free copy of "Competitor", a mag for runners, tri-athelets, etc. Though I'm in none of those categories, I thought that having the magazine hanging around on the bathroom floor would provide both inspiration and motivation, as I'd see the cover story about 'trimming seconds off your mile' and 'becoming more competitive', all offered against the backdrop of a beautiful blonde on the run.

I ran again on Wednesday, feeling so good that I neglected my typical cooling down routine that lets my body settle into sedentary mode. "I'm so healthy I don't need it" I said to myself. Then I was off to teach a class, from which I returned to engage in some tense, thoughtless words with my wife. In the midst of that, I felt a sharp pain radiate through my lower back, causing me to cry out in agony, and render me nearly immobile. Certain movements were impossible and others felt like knives stabbing into my hips and pelvis.

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Poetry Friday: e.e. cummings

Edward Estlin Cummings is a favorite poet of teenagers the world over because he refused to capitalize his name; he also is one of the most well-known and popular of the twentieth-century American poets.

Chances are you're already familiar with this poem, but spring is slowly springing over New York, and I have never found a poem that expresses the feeling of early spring than this one.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
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Evolution Bill Hits Florida

Ben Stein’s movie Expelled is starting to make an impact (expelledthemovie.com). The movie claims that educators and researchers are discriminated against if they question evolution. After screening the movie, a bill is now being pushed in the Florida House and Senate that would allow public school teachers to present evidence critical of Darwinian evolution without fear of reprisal. The controversial bill is known as The Academic Freedom Act, which seems appropriate for those who want genuine freedom within our classrooms.

The bill does not mandate the teaching of either creationism or intelligent design, but merely offers legal protection for teachers for offering objections and challenges to evolution in class. The Florida Family Policy Council sent a letter to Senators arguing for academic freedom.

The Lion and the Land of Narnia

I was one of the contributors to a recently-released book, The Lion and the Land of Narnia. The book highlights the wonderful artwork of Robert Cording, whose paintings capture the wonder of the world of Narnia, and contains personal essays by a number of C.S. Lewis experts and fans. As the author of a biography of Lewis, I guess I fall into both categories. My essay had to be edited down for reasons of space, so herewith I share the "directors cut."

I arrived late to Narnia, but still in plenty of time for it to have a profound influence on my life.

I envy those who devoured the books as children, turning the pages expectantly to discover the adventures within. But I was nearly twenty, and had already been charmed by Lewis’ winsome theology in books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. In fact, I delayed my reading of the Chronicles in favor of the non-fiction works. After all, I reasoned, I wanted to fill my mind with the “deep stuff” before I bothered with the lightweight children’s stories.

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Making Goodness Attractive

This is not a long or well-developed rumination, and it's probably been said before, but it's something I'd like to share, hopefully to start a civil and redemptive conversation about these issues.

After the talk of "re-humanization" in every facet of life - from business to art-making to wine-making to city-designing - at the IAM conference earlier this month, I've been thinking about re-humanization and Christian humanism in more practical terms. Don't be scared off by the term "humanism" - the idea of religious humanism is a far cry from secular humanism, with which the term is most often associated today. This is more akin to art historian and L'Abri theologian Hans Rookmaaker's statement:

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Why They Killed Jesus

This was my text from Palm Sunday; I thought it would be appropriate still, given the season.

                All over the world today, preachers will be speaking about the paradox of Palm Sunday. On the first day of this week, the people of ancient Jerusalem cheered and wept as Jesus came into town, riding on a donkey. By the end of the week, the same people were calling for his death. This is of course, an example of the fickle nature of crowds and of political opinion. But surely there is more to it than that! Unless some things happened in that week that we do not know about, the crowd’s rapid move from exaltation to rage seems jarringly disjointed. Perhaps that’s why the story continues to intrigue us.

                I was thinking about all of that this week as I began to prepare for this message. I reflected on the social conditions of that era, trying to gain some new understanding of the context within which the events of Palm Sunday and Holy week occurred. As I did, I began to realize that Jesus had become an intolerable threat to many powerful people. His existence had become the source of considerable anxiety for those at the top.

                Of course, the human beings who were so disturbed at Jesus had no idea that they were really small-time players in a cosmic drama. The real powers behind the events of Holy Week, the real source of the anxiety that gripped the kings, priests and finally the mob, were invisible to human beings. The invisible powers were, however, the ones really calling the shots. I want to talk about them in a moment. First though, let’s talk about the human side of this story. Let’s ask ourselves why the leaders of first century Judea wanted to kill Jesus Christ.          

Jesus Was a Political Threat

                Jesus was not a political threat because he cared about politics. Actually, he had become threatening because he viewed the political system under which he lived as irrelevant. He preached that the kingdom of God was coming; that the joys and fortunes of the masses would no longer be dependent upon states and kings. Because of this message, Jesus is often depicted as a revolutionary by those who want to make our Lord look like Che Guevara, plotting against governments out in the jungle somewhere.

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Tags | Belief

To Be a Man

My first-born is 21 today.

He's 21 and far away since I'm at home in Tanzania and he is studying in Belize, Central America. According to the laws of our passport country, Jesse is now officially allowed to saunter up to the bar and order himself a beer. I have to admit that this is not something that impresses him terribly much. Jesse spent his junior high and high school years in Portugal where there is no legal age to pass before purchasing alcohol, though it was loosely enforced as 16. When he did turn 16, he didn't rush out to celebrate either. He took a few sips of beer about 6 months later and decided to pass. If you asked him today, he'd say he doesn't really like beer but he would take a nice glass of wine with a good meal :-)

The fact that the United States says Jesse is now old enough to have a drink is something that befuddles me. The guy has been old enough to maneuver a vehicle on the Los Angeles freeways for 5 years already. (Do you know how many deaths are caused by teen drivers?) For 3 years he's been legal to cast his vote and weigh in on who the most powerful leader in the entire world should be. And, this is the one that really knocks me out, for these same 3 years he's been deemed old enough to die for his country.

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Seekers?

The first time I saw her, she was standing by the vending machine outside the classroom. When I got closer, I noticed that she smelled of sandalwood and rose. She had a string of beads woven into her hair and around her neck hung a thin rope on which was a picture of a brown man sitting in a half-lotus position. Glancing at the picture, I saw that there was a splash of color on the man’s forehead. His hand was raised in blessing and I wondering who he was praying for and why.

   When I realized that I was staring at the picture, I forced myself to look into her eyes. I needed to find out why she had asked to speak to me after class.

    “What did you think of the lecture?” She asked.

    “Well,” I replied with some caution, “the professor was certainly interesting. He convinced me that I need to know more about Bowley and attachment theory.”

The Third Language

Christy Tennant serves as Director of Development and Public Relations for the International Arts Movement. She interviewed Mako about his thoughts on "The Third Language." First, some comments from Christy.

One of the things I love about working for International Arts Movement is that I get face time with our founder, Makoto Fujimura, regularly. What a treat it is for me to sit with this inspiring individual, discussing deep issues, wrestling with the things that are difficult to get my mind around, and gleaning insights about beauty and the gospel. In many ways, and I know I’m not the first to say this, Mako is teaching me “how to see” – art, the Bible, Jesus, and the world around me.

At IAM, we talk a lot about something Mako refers to as a “third language.” This refers to a way of talking about things – culturally, politically, sociologically, internationally – in a manner that seeks to unite, rather than divide. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” so our desire to be unifiers in a disparate world flows from looking at the world through the lens of the gospel. If it matters to Jesus that we work toward making peace with our fellow man, then it must matter to us too.

Taking on the New Atheist

Last week I took twenty-two high school seniors for an experience that was, in the eyes of many, irresponsible, risky, and even dangerous. So, what did we do? We rented four Suburbans and went on a road trip to U.C. Berkeley—the top public university in the country known for being extremely liberal and radical—and invited leading atheists to make presentations to our group. The presenters included Mark Thomas, president of the Atheists of San Francisco, David Fitzgerald, president of the Atheists of Silicon Valley, as well as a former Episcopal priest who is now a homosexual activist and a non-religious group from U.C. Berkeley called S.A.N.E. (Students for a Non-Religious Ethos).

While I have been on many mission trips, spoken at many camps and retreats, and been to quite a few conferences, this was by far the most significant ministry and educational experience I have ever had—period. The students absolutely loved every minute of it. They all agreed that the trip was eye-opening and a quite a few even described it as the most significant experience of their lives.
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