Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Leonard Sweet has an interesting way of pointing things out, things that we should have seen, but probably didn't. His recently released book “From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity is Formed” (NavPress, 2014) is no exception.
This is more than just a book about the importance of the table throughout the Bible, it’s more than a reminder of how often food was involved in the ministry of Jesus. It’s also a reminder of the importance of the stories that are told around the table. The stories that Jesus told, and the stories that we tell in our kitchens and our dining rooms, the stories that we tell while dining out with friends, the stories that form part of our mealtime rituals with family, friends, acquaintances and fellow Christians,
Sweet points out that identities, including the faith identity of many people is formed around the table, and he laments the fact that in far too many cases, meal time is no longer a community time filled with stories but a solitary time, minutes at the most, where even if there is someone else there, they tend to be ignored in favor of an electronic device.  And the lack of community, the lack of companionship, the lack of story leads to a lack of identity.
Members of a family which eats together has a sense of who they are. They know their history, they know what matters to them, they know what the values are, and, especially when it comes to faith, they understand why they believe as they do.
When people leave the church, it’s because they don’t know why it matters. When the story is told around the table, the ‘why’ is made evident, and surprisingly enough, there are fewer departures.
This is a book that every family should read and heed. It may be much more convenient to do fast food, or to have everyone fix his own plate whenever he gets hungry. But the reason for eating together is more than just making it easy to get the dishes done.
Check out page 5 for the story of the Bible in 6 sentences, 3 for the Old Testament, and 3 for the New. Follow Jesus example, the table is a great place to tell the story.  
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through a bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

thoughts on Bonhoeffer Abridged

I saw a copy of Metaxas’ very thick book “Bonhoeffer” on a friend’s bookshelf, and thought that someday, when I have lots and lots of time, I would like to read it. And then “Bonhoeffer Abridged: Pastor Martyr, Prophet, Spy” (Eric Metaxas, Nelson Books, 2014) became available for review through BookLook Bloggers. I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.
I’m glad for two reasons. First because I liked the book (more on that in a moment), and second because I think 200 pages was plenty, and I’m not sure the details in the extra 400 pages in the original ‘unabridged’ version would have held my interest.
This abridged version has a wonderful combination of theology, history, human interest and commentary on what it was like to live in Hitler’s Germany. In other words we get to see the man Bonhoeffer from multiple perspectives, a fact that allows the reader to really appreciate the complexity of this man who is known, as the title implies, in so many different capacities.
Growing up in a privileged family has certain advantages that Bonhoeffer took full advantage of, and Metaxas does an excellent job of chronicling the adventures and travels made possible because of those advantages.  Although a lot of the book covers the issues concerning Bonhoeffer and his stance towards Hitler, his faith journey is a compelling story within the story. The glimpse of his studies, his various ministerial positions and how he dealt with the conflict between what he was supposed to do, and what he felt called to do are worthy of a book apart from his fame as a member of the opposition to Hitler.
As a pastor I wonder how I would respond to circumstances like those which Bonhoeffer faced. What would my reaction be? How would I reconcile my beliefs with actions I might feel compelled to take? What is the role of the pastor, the congregation, the church when evil is so prominent in the world. Would I have the strength and the courage not only to stand up for what is right, but also to take the actions to counteract the evil, and then suffer the consequences for my actions? Obviously Bonhoeffer had that moral fortitude, and it cost him dearly. I pray that I never have to make some of the difficult decisions that Bonhoeffer felt compelled to make.  
It’s easy to see Bonhoeffer as being cold and impersonal, but accounts of his family, friendships and the relationship with the young Maria bring just the right touch of humanity to the book and to the person.
And I still might, someday when I have lots and lots of time, read the unabridged version.
(PERSONAL DISCLAIMER: I’ve been criticized in the past because many of my reviews are positive. Not all, but many. I am not selling out, or being kind just because I get a free book. I pick the books I want to review because I like the cover or title, because I think they might be interesting, or because they’re by authors that I like, so it’s no surprise when I like the book. I do not get an assignment to review random books – if that were the case, I’m sure there would be fewer 5 star reviews. Sorry, just had to vent!)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, December 26, 2014

an eye for an eye ?

Is an eye for an eye really the answer, especially when the eye you take is the one who took (somebody else's - not even your) an eye?
              In the aftermath of  the recent shootings of police by civilians after the recent shootings of                   civilians by police, the conversation needs to happen, and it needs to be bathed in prayer. A                few days ago I sent out an email to a lot of people suggesting that prayer was needed. A                      person who received that email is a reporter, and she responded by saying that she had been                thinking about an article on reactions of faith leaders to some of those shootings. I sent a                      rambling response, much of which she quoted in the article. What follows is my original                      ramblings: 
Yes, there probably are some cops who simply have a job, who do the minimal required to get a paycheck, and are counting down the days to retirement. There are others who make mistakes, who might act without thinking things through, even in the split second they have to think-decide-act. There are also the 'dirty' cops that use their position for their own personal advantage or gain. And there are those who let their personal experiences with and opinions of, people of racial or ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation or socio-economic status cloud their judgment and influence their decisions on how to treat the people they encounter in the line of duty. And then there are the good cops, the ones who do their best on a daily basis to treat everyone with respect and dignity as they go to work each day, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way to uphold the law, and to protect the neighborhoods in which they serve. 
 Sounds like any other group of people that is defined by the career they have chosen. (Well, maybe except for the part of regularly, willingly putting themselves in harm’s way.)  There are good cops and bad cops, or firemen, or teachers, or pastors. There are good and bad members of the press, lawyers, bakers, or actors, or electricians, or barbers or garbage collectors. 
 Members of every group protected under anti-discrimination laws are made up of similar categories - those who try to do their best, those who do the minimum to get by, those who make mistakes, those who take advantage of the situation, and those who allow their personal beliefs, feelings, or worldview to influence their decisions.
 So we look at the recent shootings of on-duty police officers and ask if they really deserved to die. Death like taxes, is inevitable, but they didn’t deserve to die like that. As individuals, none of us have been given the responsibility, or the authority to serve as judge, jury and executioner.
Not agreeing with the outcome of an investigation, of a grand jury, or a trial does not give us the right to take the law into our own hands, and because we don’t like the fact that a grand jury chose not to indict one police officer definitely does not mean that we should exact revenge by shooting another police officer.
Our quest for justice should be seeking to make the world a better place for everyone, not just trying to ensure that the “bad guy” gets what he deserves. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NIV) so in a sense we’re all bad guys. We’re the bad guys, and Jesus got what we deserve, so that we can share in what only he deserves.
The conversation needs to happen nationwide about how to deal with disappointment when the system doesn’t work the way we want it to work. Revenge is not the answer, nor is hatred. Looting, burning, random shootings and killings are not the basis for the conversation that needs to happen. The conversation needs to be based on biblical principles of love and forgiveness.
The 10 Commandments used to be posted in public places. The commandments are at a basic level, guidelines for a life in community with God, and with others. Maybe it’s time to start posting them again.

Reading JOHN and The PSALMS through different eyes

This is a difficult review to write. I'm not a scholar of biblical Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, so I can't be sure that the notes are accurate, (any more than I could in any other translation), and since the disclaimer is that the Passion Translation is not a word-for-word translation, but rather a thought-for-thought translation it's hard to see how true-to-the-original  it is.  Having said that, I have to admit that I really enjoyed reading "John : Eternal Love", (BroadStreet  Publishing Group, 2014) from the series The Passion Translation Bible.
                Brian Simmons' passion for the Word of God is evident in both this volume, and another volume, "The Psalms: Poetry on Fire", which was sent for me to review at the same time.  The words of the Word flow across the pages,  and make the parables and teachings come alive with new meaning to a familiar story. The poetry of the Psalms sings out with joy, without seeming to lose any of the meaning of the older and more familiar translations.
                Simmons has thoughtfully included many footnotes that help the reader to understand why he  has chosen particular words or phrasing, including a translation of the word or an explanation of how a particular word was used  in other works. The Words (or thoughts) of Jesus are in Bold print -similar to a red letter edition.
              The Passion Translation seems to be a work in progress:  several volumes cover some of the Old and Some of the New Testament. I certainly hope that Simmons completes the entire Bible, and instead of having to buy several books, the entire Bible will be available in one volume. The separate volumes are useful for Bible Study or small group, but there is much to be said for having everything in one place for easy reference.
          I would give each of these volumes a 5/5. A great new resource for anyone hoping to go deeper into God's Word.

            I was provided a copy of these two volumes in exchange for a review. There was no obligation to write a positive review. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

the Aftermath of a civil War. What happens to Displaced persons. My thoughts on the movie "The Good Lie"

          Last night I was blessed to be able to watch "The Good Lie" on BlueRay DVD.  The movie released a few months ago, and the DVD is available on Dec 23rd. The movie stars  Reese Witherspoon and some unknowns, unknowns because instead of looking for professional actors, the decision was wisely made to find Sudanese refugees or their family  members to bring authenticity to the film. And it worked!
              This is the story of Theo and his siblings and friends who are orphaned during the civil war in Sudan. They have been told to make their way to Ethiopia for safety, but after walking several hundred miles they find that things are no better there, so they change course and head to a camp in Kenya.  Along the way, Theo is captured, but the rest of the group continue on the route to Kenya.  The reach the camp and settle into life in a refugee camp. Thirteen years later, right before 9/11, they are approved for resettlement to Kansas City. They were, but 100,000 others are still waiting for their names to appear on the list of lucky ones.

                 The first part of the movie covers life in Sudan during the civil war. The scenery is stunning, the acting brilliant, and your heart will break over the brutality of war. Senseless killings, children captured and forced to serve as soldiers for the opposing forces. But throughout these scenes there is a sense of hope, even as children are dying from exposure, dehydration, malnutrition, wild animals and yes, enemy gunfire.  In some of the more tender moments the brothers remember their fathers admonition to remember who they are, who they came from,  and their lineage. They have a ritual which helps them remember. Oral history is important.  Yes, there is despair, but even in the midst of misery and pain, there is faith. A Bible is seen in several scenes, and the children pray.

           Hundreds of miles later, they arrive at the refugee camp.  Several years ago,  I visited a camp similar to this in Palestine. Some things are universal.  Thirteen years in the camp, learning to co-exist, sharing the basics, crowded conditions (at one point there were more than 110,000 refugees there). And everyday hoping to be able to return home, or if that were not possible, to be resettled to another country where they could make a new start. 

         And one day a new list is posted of those who have been selected to resettle. Our band of "Lost Boys" - actually 3 young men and 1 young lady, have all been approved to leave the camp and relocate in Kansas City, MO.

           There are lots of "laughs" as this part of their journey unfolds, but they're bittersweet because they're at the expense of someone else. So much of what we take for granted is completely foreign to people in some parts of the world. The airline food on their flight to the US was totally unrecognizable, what's  that machine making the ringing noise, how can you throw away perfectly good food when so many people are starving? If you have traveled to other countries, you know the feeling of seeing something new, and worse, not seeing what's familiar.

Their journey involves finding jobs, learning to adapt to the different customs in a new culture, missing family and friends, falling into the wrong crowd. But just as importantly  the journey involves us, as we have to learn to deal with 'different'.  A part of this incredible journey is seeing how the people who met the refugees  changed with time. Their attitudes changed  as they went from seeing the refugees as interruptions to their lives, as ignorant 'hicks' as problems waiting to happen, to seeing them as the created in God's image people that they truly are.

           The ending, (and I won't tell you what happens) was a little bit  too "Hollywood predictable" for me, but I highly recommend the movie despite that. I don't watch a lot of movies, but I really liked this one on a lot of different levels: acting, local color, scenery, life lessons, and how important it is to believe in something. Also the lesson of an African proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.

            This movie impacted me in several different ways. Karl the traveler loved the scenery and views of life in a different country and a different culture, Karl the visitor to Palestine identified with the situation in the refugee camp, and the living conditions of a people forced off their land and into a strange place where everything is different, and people live for the dream of returning home. Karl the pastor appreciated how so many people were able to survive unthinkable situations because of their faith in Jesus.  And Karl the transplant to Utah is starting to understand what resettled refugees go through and how individuals and churches can and need to get involved in giving people a second chance.
            On average, about 1100 refugees are resettled in Utah each year. If Utah were a country, we would rank 5th , between Sweden with 2000, and Norway with 900+.  My understanding is that since 1975 about 60,000 refugees have been resettled in Utah.  Much of the resettlement is in the Salt Lake City area, but the area where I live and work is poised to become a new center for resettlement in the coming years.  It's my prayer that people will see this movie and learn from it, not just the plight of people in war-torn far off lands, but the people who resettle in this country and what we can do to help them make a successful transition.

             To make this more fun, Sunday evening before I go to bed, I'll draw the name of one person who has commented on the blog to receive a copy of the Blue Ray DVD (they sent me two - one for me, and one for one of my readers.

        WARNING: you might need Kleenex.   There are a couple of incidences of profanity, and the beginning has quite a bit of violence.

I give the movie an A.