In Which Calvin Defends Lip-Gloss (Christ and Pop Culture)

lip-glossMy wife spent this last Saturday morning ministering to and mentoring young women in foster care. As part of a larger program, she spent focused one-on-one time with a number of six teenage girls, listening to their stories, talking to them, and giving them a gift that she has cultivated with care and grace over a number of years: proper skin care and a knowledge of how to apply makeup that works with their facial features.

A number of these young women have grown up in difficult and abusive homes. Some don’t have mothers. Others had never had a stitch of makeup on in their lives and wouldn’t know where to start. And so, my wife, expert that she is, taught them how to wash their faces, massaged them, and then helped them understand how to use makeup in a way that amplifies and accentuates their natural features–eyes, cheeks, lashes, and lips–instead of drowning them out in a wash of paint.

I see this as a service and not simply a misguided encouragement to vanity, and to make my case, I’d like to call to the stand a witness: Genevan Reformer John Calvin’s theology of the body.

You can go read the rest of this, admittedly provocative, story at Christ and Pop Culture.

Arguing Against the Argument Culture (Christianity Today Interview)

Tim Muehlhoff

Blood pumping. Temperature rising. Voices thundering. Anger and confusion. Do all of our conversations about difficult topics—politics, family, finances—need to be this way? Tim Muehlhoff, a marriage expert and professor of communication studies at Biola University, doesn’t think so. In I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations with Truth and Love (InterVarsity Press), Muehlhoff charts a path for navigating difficult conversations with grace and truth. Derek Rishmawy, a minister to students and young adults in California, spoke with Muehlhoff about combining modern insights from communication theory with timeless biblical truth.

What makes the subject of communication methods so urgent?

As a culture, we’re losing the ability to talk about the deepest things in a tolerant and civil way. That’s bleeding down into our personal relationships. Georgetown linguist Deborah Tannen calls it the “argument culture.” You see it in American politics any time we try to talk about same-sex marriage, immigration, or other hot-button issues.

We have to find productive ways to communicate with family members, coworkers, and children, whether it’s sharing our faith or talking about the kid’s schedule that’s gotten out of control. This book takes modern research on communication and develops a practical strategy for entering tough conversations in a productive way.

Please go read the interview over at Christianity Today, or catch it in this month’s print edition. Also, please pick up this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Soli Deo Gloria 

‘Catching Sleep’ & Catching the Spirit (Or, a Note on the Phenomenology of The Spiritual Disciplines)

I’ve found a number of dangers when it comes to introducing my students to the spiritual disciplines, or the regular rhythms of the Christian life like prayer, Scripture-reading, and commitment to regular corporate worship. Aside from giving them the false impression that I’m good at them, the chief difficulty I find is explaining their importance while avoiding a sort of magical ex opere operato idea that encourages discouragement when nothing happens as you first attempt to adopt them in your own life.

sleepTo do this I’ve sort described them as ways of putting yourself in a position to communicate (commune) with God. In the same way that it’s silly to expect hear from your friend if you’ve got your phone turned off, it’s silly to expect to hear from God if you never actually open your Bible, try to pray, or go to church with regularity. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll “hear”, in the sense of having some subjective experience, from him each time.  Yet still, if its going to happen, it’s more likely to happen in one of these ways.

James K.A. Smith uses an analogy from philosopher Maurice Mearleu-Ponty in his Phenomenology of Perception (PP), that I found quite illuminating on this point:

In the context of discussing this mode of intentionality between intellect and instinct, and a kind of action that is neither voluntary nor involuntary, Merleau-Ponty points to an intriguing analogy: sleep. I cannot “choose” to fall asleep.  The best I can do is choose to put myself in a posture and rhythms that welcomes sleep. “I lie down in bed, on my left side, with my knees drawn up. I close my eyes and breathe slowly, putting my plans out of my mind. But the power of my will or consciousness stops there” (PP 189). I want to go to sleep, and I’ve chosen to climb into bed–but in another sense sleep is not something under my control or at my beckoned call. “I call up the visitation of sleep by imitating the breathing and posture of the sleeper…There is a moment when sleep ‘comes’,’ settling on this imitation of itself which I have been offering to it, and I succeed in becoming what I was trying to be.” (PP 189-90, emphasis added). Sleep is a gift to be received, not a decision to be made. And yet it is a gift that requires a posture of reception–a kind of active welcome.

Then Smith asks the money question:

What if being filled with the Spirit had the same dynamic? What if Christian practices are what Craig Dykstra calls “habitations of the Spirit” precisely because they posture us to be filled and sanctified? What if we need to first adopt a bodily posture in order to become what we are trying to be?

Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works, pg. 65

Much in the same way that we can’t force ourselves to fall asleep but can only adopt postures that welcome it, so in the same way, we cannot force God to attend to us, speak to us, make his presence known, and so forth. And yet, and yet, we can adopt practices and postures in prayer, Scripture, and corporate worship (alongside of the other classic disciplines such as silence, solitude, etc.) that indicate a welcome, an openness to the Spirit of God to work in our lives.

Soli Deo Gloria

Akot Beatrice: A Portrait of Empowerment

I have a friend named Sean Galaway. He’s fabulous. One of the reasons he’s fabulous is because he works for a great non-profit named Krochet Kids. Here’s a little picture of what they do:

I love the model. There are a lot of great charity organizations out there, or even enterprises that harness the power of the market for the common good. But the focus that I so love about Krochet Kids is the holistic approach to empowering the women in the programs, beyond just the first job they get with organization. There are education programs, banking options, mentors, and a host of other facets to their multi-layered approach to community uplift.

beatriceNow, I normally don’t do this sort of thing, but, I’d like to ask you to consider joining in their work in one of three ways:

You can buy – This one is maybe the simplest. Krochet Kids makes and sells clothes for men and women, bags, hip baby attire, and other such things. These things are good quality. They look good. You can wear them and also look good. This is an easy win. You can shop for stuff here.

You can donate – If you’re not sure you can pull off a beanie or a knit bow-tie, they will allow you to simply give them money, without them sending you clothes. That’s also a good option. You can do that here.

You can pray – Please pray for the work. It’s that simple. J.C. Ryle says that prayer “moves him who can move heaven and earth.” Ask God to bless the efforts of the Krochet Kids team, the women working in Uganda and Peru, and the communities being transformed by the work.

If you want to know more, you can read about their story here, and their model here.  Also, transparent as they are, they’ve posted their financials here.

Soli Deo Gloria

If God is a Blackguard, then He Isn’t

C.S. LewisTucked away in this fabulous little essay by C.S. Lewis on the problem of the “futility” or pointlessness of the universe, is the crux of one of his more famous arguments against the problem of evil:

But there is a real difficulty about accusing it of anything. An accusation always implies a standard. You call a man a bad golf player because you know what a bogey is. You call a boy’s answer to a sum wrong because you know the right answer. You call a man cruel or idle because you have in mind a standard of kindness or diligence. And while you are making the accusation you have to accept the standard as a valid one. If you begin to doubt the standard you automatically doubt the cogency of your accusation. If you are skeptical about grammar you must be equally skeptical about your condemnation of bad grammar. If nothing is certainly right, then of course it follows that nothing is certainly wrong. And that is the snag about what I call Heroic Pessimism–I mean the kind of Pessimism you get in Swinburne, Hardy and Shelley’s Prometheus and which is magnificently summed up in Housman’s line ‘Whatever brute and blackguard made the world’. Do not imagine I lack sympathy with that kind of poetry: on the contrary, at one time of my life I tried very hard to writ–as far as quantity goes, I succeeded. I produced reams of it. But there is a catch. If a Brute and a Blackguard made the world, he also made that very standard in them whereby we judge him to be a Brute and Blackguard. And how can we trust a standard that comes from such a brutal and blackguardly source? If we reject him, we ought also reject all his works. But one of his works is this very moral standard by which we reject him. If we accept this standard then we are really implying that he is not a Brute and Blackguard. If we reject it, then we have thrown away the only instrument by which we can condemn him. Heroic anti-theism thus has a contradiction in its centre. You must trust the universe in one respect even in order to condemn it in every other.

De Futilitate, in Christian Reflections, pp. 65-67

So, if you want to accuse God of being a Brute and a Blackguard, if you think your complaints are just and true, and not simply your own preferences about things, then he isn’t a Brute and Blackguard.

Soli Deo Gloria