Archive for June, 2010

“Did Sarah Palin have breast augmentation surgery,  more commonly known as a boob job?”

That question came across my news radar last week sometime but I simply dismissed the ‘news story’ as political provocativeness and general nonsense.  But then I stumbled across this article by David Gibson called “Sarah Palin’s Breasts Are Real; Not So With Growing Number of Faithful”. Of course I was intrigued.

The main essence of the article is that our society has become increasingly comfortable with cosmetic surgery.  This trend also includes many Christians, particularly Conservative Christians.  He gives numerous examples, even citing Joyce Meyer as having work done on her face.  Probably the most disturbing was lament from J. Lee Grady in 2004 saying that he knew of a large Pentecostal church where, “all the women on staff — and the wives of all the pastors — have had breast-enhancement surgery.”

Since this blog posting should have something original rather than merely re-posting from some other blog, I do have a significant thought to point out that Gibson did not.  Gibson essentially makes the case that Christians do not look on cosmetic surgery with disdain anymore.  Cosmetic surgery has become mainstream.  After reading his article, and specifically the justifications by Christians that he quotes, I don’t think he’s gone far enough.

It’s not just that Christians are OK with it, it’s that Christians see it as a sign of being a good Christian.

Here are the two main theological values that I hear in their statements and in his article.

1) God wants me to be happy.  Even in Joyce Meyer’s quote, a personality who I usually am OK with, she essentially comes to the conclusion that God wants us to be happy and that if making a little adjustment makes you happy, it’s your face so go for it.  While I think God wants us to experience Joy, this idea is against two traditional Christian views.  One, Jesus tells us not to get tied up in vanity and not to invest in the things of this world because they will all rot and decay (store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, etc….).  Cosmetic surgery seems to be the ultimate definition of fleeting.  Second, there is a traditional value that this world, and specifically our bodies, do not belong to us but rather belong to God.  i.e the whole ‘treat your body as a temple of the Lord’ thing.

2) Material wealth is a sign of God’s blessing.   One of the subtle but very present theological values is the idea that God blesses Christians with more stuff.  Again, Joyce Meyer’s quote says a lot, “I want to look my best for God. So many people have the attitude that if you’re a Christian you’ve got to dress bad, wear an old color, not do anything to your hair, have nothing. It’s no wonder that Christianity is not very attractive.”  The logic is essentially that if I’m a better Christian then I will have more stuff and, in this case, look better.  Therefore, if I can make myself look better then I must be a better Christian.

Ultimately, Joyce Meyer and this whole line of thinking is missing what actually makes Christianity attractive.  The assumption is that the reason people are and should be attracted to Christianity is because of what it can offer in terms of measure of wealth, power and prestige by the worlds standards.  That is a fundamental heresy to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Christianity becomes truly attractive and meaningful when it rejects the worlds definitions of power, wealth and prestige.  That is the Upsideown Kingdom that Jesus taught and lived.


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Reflection on Bolivia

I went to the Grand Canyon with my family when I was in High School.  As my family toured various parts of the canyon and different times of the day it felt as though I was seeing new things about every 10 minutes.  And of course, I felt compelled to take picture of every new thing that I saw.  When we got back home and had our pictures developed I remember looking at all of the pictures and thinking, “yep, that’s a hole in the ground.  Yep, another hole in the ground.”  What had been so vivid when I was experiencing it lost it’s uniqueness when I tried to put it on film.

We just got back from a 2 week trip to Santa Cruz, Bolivia and on some level, I have a similar feeling about this trip.  This trip was an intense and life-changing experience for everyone who was on it.  But it is a really hard thing to figure out how to explain that to the people who stayed at home.  To me, every picture of construction that I have is unique, but for most people looking at them, it’s hard to tell them apart and it’s just one more picture of kid’s moving dirt.

At one point on the trip I asked the kids what was the one thing they wanted people to really understand about this trip when they got back home.  There’s all kinds of things that we can’t fully explain but what is the one thing that they would want family or friends to really understand.  As I thought about this for myself, my one thing that I want people to really understand is what it really means for all Christians to be one in Christ.  I want you to really understand what it means to seriously say that we are brothers and sisters, that we are family with the people in Bolivia (or anywhere else for that matter).

To tell you what I mean by this I first need to tell you what I don’t mean.  When we in North America look at the relationship between us here and the Bolivian Mennonites there are a number of reactions that I often hear that really seem to miss the mark.  The first reaction is often one of pity.  When we are confronted with the differences in material and financial wealth, and the poverty that exists, often our first reaction is to feel sorry for them.  One night when we were talking with one of our hosts named Tito, he made a very profound comment.  He said, “It is true that we have poverty here in Bolivia, but we are not poor”.  I think he meant a number of things by that comment.  One of the biggest things that he meant by that statement is that there is more than one way to measure wealth.  We in the U.S. often think of wealth in terms of having money and physical possessions.  However, it is also just as important to measure your wealth in terms of your faith, the strength of your family structure, your community and many other things that can’t be measured in Dollars and Cents.

The other reaction that many Christians have when they see the differences between Bolivians and ourselves is to think, “look at how God has blessed us.”  Some of us have the tendency to think that the physical wealth and the financial wealth that we have in comparison to those in Bolivia is a sign that God has blessed us and has given us much more than them.  Even if we want to say that because of this blessing we should be responsible and generous, this understanding of blessing is a false one because it is not a full measure of the ways in which God blesses people.  I would guess that all of the youth would be willing to say that after getting to know the people in Bolivia and seeing how God has blessed them, that in reality, we are the ones who are dirt poor.  We are the ones who are lacking in faith, in strength, in family.  We just have more stuff.

The last main reaction that many people in the states have is one of guilt.  We can look at the gulf between us in terms of money and resources and we can become very guilty for how much we have accumulated.  This is probably the feeling that I have struggled with the most.  Early on in the trip one of the people at the daycare complimented me on my camera.  I instantly felt a sense of embarrassment and shame.  The reason is that I recently learned that I paid more for my camera than most manual laborers in Bolivia would make in a year.  This sense of guilt can almost be crippling at times.

All three of these reactions are understandable, but I would say that they are ultimately wrong.  They’re the wrong reaction because with all three of them they maintain the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’.  With all of these reactions we continue to see ourselves as somehow different, or separate from the people in Bolivia.  If we are going to seriously say that the body of Jesus Christ goes across borders, nationalities, continents, races and whatever boundaries we might set up, then this separation between us and them has to go.  We must see ourselves as one family.

The best analogy that I can think of right now is that of a marriage relationship.  There are some relationships where one person is working outside the home and is the one who is responsible for earning the income for the family.  The other person will often work just as hard as the breadwinner and contribute just as much to the relationship and to the family even if that work isn’t measured in terms of dollars and cents.  It does not mean that either one is less valuable.  It also means that the one who earns the money freely shares those earnings with their spouse, not out of pity, not out of guilt but out of mutual, self-giving love.

This is what our relationship needs to be with the church in Bolivia.  Yes, we have should have a great desire to give to the Bolivian church.  But it should not be out of a sense of pity or guilt.  And it had better not be out of a desire to make ourselves feel good about how much stuff God has given us.  We need to give of our resources because we are the family of God and that’s what families do.

I can tell you that the Bolivian church has given this group and has given our church much more than we have given them.  It is my prayer that God will continue to keep this family together and that we will all continue to build up the kingdom of God.

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Hello all,

I promise that I’ll do an update about our trip to Bolivia.  However, first I wanted to share with you the article that I just had published in The Mennonite.  It’s on tensions between our church colleges.  For the original article, click here. I’ve copied it below too.  Enjoy.


It’s not every day that you have an epiphany that helps you understand the world in a new way. Several summers ago I had one that helped me better understand my church.
I was sitting in a seminar at the South Central Mennonite Conference annual gathering listening to John Sharp tell about the history of Hesston (Kan.) College. As he recounted the beginnings of the college, he said the question raised at the Kansas-Nebraska Conference gathering in 1907 that began the process of forming Hesston College was, “Would it advance the cause of Christ to have a Mennonite college in the west?” Sharp’s next sentence was, “Never mind the fact that Bethel College had already been there for nearly 20 years.”  What became clear to me in that moment was that the relationship between the former General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) and the former Mennonite Church (MC) was not one of antagonism but of irrelevance. It’s not that the two groups were at odds but that even though they would have seen each other as Christian, they didn’t see each other as being similar enough to even be in conflict, let alone consider working together.

Eight years after the official merger of the two denominations, there is still a palpable tension between the church schools. Distrust, misinformation and stereotypes have all contributed to a level of antagonism that leads some to see some of our institutions as not even Christian.

While there is no shortage of inaccurate stereotypes floating around our colleges, the reality of the situation is that if you compared all the Bible and religion faculty at all five of our Mennonite colleges, many would be surprised at their similarity of views and their adherence to mainstream Anabaptist beliefs. All our Mennonite institutions have and are making significant contributions to Mennonite history and theology. From John Roth to Patty Shelly to Trevor Bechtel to Marion Bontrager or Mark Thiessen Nation, all our Mennonite institutions are furthering the rich Anabaptist tradition.

To be truthful, however, we must admit there are some real differences in how our church colleges function, especially in relation to Mennonite Church USA. The differences among the schools, however, come more from the historical differences between the MCs and the GCs than anything else. The problem we find ourselves with is this: We have lost the language to describe adequately the differences within Mennonite Church USA and especially among our church schools. As this language has faded, it has been replaced by terms such as “liberal” and “conservative,” and all our children are left with is that Dad doesn’t like Bluffton or Mom doesn’t like Goshen. Ultimately, the oversimplification of the issues and the language involved is simply inaccurate and unhelpful.

My sincere hope is that we can work through this persistent animosity. To that end I offer a modest proposal.

• Let everyone in Mennonite Church USA agree that all our church colleges are genuinely attempting to be faithful Christian institutions in the Anabaptist understanding of the faith.

• Let all of us agree to speak accurately and truthfully, actively working to dispel all stereotypes and rumors.

• Let us all think it possible that we may have something to learn from each of our colleges and seek to learn from those who are different from us.

• Let us all have the maturity to admit where we have contributed to divisions and humbly ask forgiveness from each other and from God.

Since the merger, our denomination has been struggling to come to a new understanding of identity. Many of us have seen ourselves in a particular way for our lifetimes or even generations. With the merger, many of us are now confronted with a denomination that has a different identity from what we have ever known. While the animosity among our church schools has its particulars, it is one of the concrete areas in which the growing pains of our struggle for a new identity can be felt. In a relatively short period of time, our church has expanded to include institutions and people that some of us, quite frankly, didn’t think possible. What is called for now is not a purging of our differences in search of uniformity but a call to unity that draws strength from our varied perspectives and traditions.

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I really don’t know what bird this is, but I love the iridescent blue head.

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Cats #1

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