Sunday, January 31, 2010

Faith in the Midst of Suffering

Matt Chandler is a young pastor in Texas. I've never met him nor heard him preach. I don't know a lot about him other than the face that he is a year younger than myself and is currently battling brain cancer. About two months ago, Chandler had a seizure at home and, afterwards, learned that he has a brain tumor. He is married and has three young kids.

It is natural for us to ask why these types of things happen to those who live relatively good lives and even have committed themselves to serving God and others. I have wrestled with those types of questions myself after seeing a couple of close friends pass away this past year from cancer. But I have learned that the Christian is not immune from the same kinds of suffering that anyone else deals with. We get sick, we get into accidents and we get cancer.

Chandler's perspective is well outlined in a recent Associated Press article where he gets to tell some of his story. You can read it here. As I've learned in my own life, it is often in our trials that we learn more about God and experience Him in new ways. Look at what the AP article has to say:
"Chandler never thought such a trial would shake his faith. But until now, that was just hope in the abstract.

"This has not surprised God," Chandler says on the drive home. "He is not in a panic right now trying to figure out what to do with me or this disease. Those things have been warm blankets, man."

Chandler has, however, wrestled with the tension between belief in an all-powerful God and what he, as a mere mortal, can do about his situation. He believes he has responsibilities: to use his brain, to take advantage of technology, to walk in faith and hope, to pray for healing and then "see what God wants to do."

"Knowing that if God is outside time and I am inside time, that puts some severe limitations on my ability to crack all the codes," he says. "The more I've studied, the more I go, 'Yes, God is sovereign, and he does ask us to pray ... and he does change his mind.' How all that will work is in some aspects a mystery."

Since falling ill, Chandler has gotten letters from the governor and pastors in Sudan. He has tried to steer attention to others, including a 6-year-old Arizona girl with cancer.

At church, he has deflected sympathy with reassurances that this is a good thing, that he is not shrinking back. Chandler has preached the last two weekends and is planning trips to South Africa and England. He recently lost his hair to radiation but got a positive lab report last week and feels strong.

"The human experience commonly shared is suffering," said Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church and a friend of Chandler's. "If he suffers well, that might be the most important sermon he's ever preached."
Having seen several close friends walk through the cancer journey, I know that sometimes God chooses to heal and sometimes he chooses not to. He knows the reasons behind that and we do not. Matt Chandler provides a telling example of how we can suffer and still trust God through it all.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

College Students & the Hook Up

The following is taken from the Ivy Jungle Network Campus Ministry Update, December 2009:

Hook-Up Gender Gap: "That men and women pursue sex for different reasons is not a new discovery – women are looking for love and men are looking for, well, sex. In the current hook up culture, however, the benefit is clearly for the guys – sex without relationship. Some sociologists suggest that the current love affair with the Twilight series among young women may in fact be a reaction to the hook up culture; a fantasy of love without sex. Kaltheene Bogle, author of Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus states that most students perceive the hook up culture on campus to be even worse than it is. Nationally, about 25% of college students remain virgins. Among the 78% of students who reported hook ups at one university in the study, only 38% included intercourse. For many college women today, they feel that without a level of easy sexual activity, they may never find a boyfriend. Guys are ok with that, often enjoying the hook up and not calling back. Given the 5:4 ratio of women to men on campus, the competition favors the guys as well."
(Chicago Tribune November 29, 2009)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tim Tebow & The Abortion Debate

For millions of Americans, Florida Gator Tim Tebow is a football star and a positive role model for little kids everywhere. But to a vocal segment of our population, the former Heisman trophy winner has been ruffling some feathers recently. It all started when word got out that Tebow would be featured in a 30-second spot that will run during the upcoming Super Bowl.

The ad will focus on the choice that Tebow's mother made to give birth to him after some doctors suggested that an abortion would be advisable after she contracted a serious illness. As you know, Mrs. Tebow went ahead with the pregnancy and Tim turned out fine.

As I've heard numerous opinions on this issue, I've seen three different perspectives:
1. Tebow should have a right to say what he wants in whatever forum he wants.
2. Tebow has a right to say what he wants but not during something like the Super Bowl.
3. Tebow is a narrow-minded, religious nut for even suggesting that it might be a good thing for women to consider that abortion might not be the best option.
What I've found most interesting about this whole debate is that many individuals that consider themselves "pro-choice" seem to get really upset any time someone advocates that women keep their baby. It doesn't sound that many of them are truly pro-choice. It feels like they are almost angry that Tebow's mom chose to have him and she wants others to consider the same choice. Many of the same people, who are the most staunch proponents of non-censorship, want to censor those that they disagree with.

The reason why I am pro-life is that I believe that abortion is the murder of an innocent human being. And I am not in a small minority. In fact, Americans are nearly evenly split on this issue. As I've said before, I believe that abortion is my generation's slavery. It is a terrible evil that is allowed by our government. Just as many in the South argued that the Civil War was really about states' rights, many pro-choice advocates claim that the abortion debate revolves around the civil rights of women.

The primary "right" that the South was fighting for in the Civil War was the "right" to own human beings and treat them as chattel." The reproductive "rights" that are involved in the abortion debate is the "right" to kill an innocent child within it's mother's womb. You may disagree with my perspective, but I believe that scientific evidence backs up my belief that abortion is murder. Children are the most vulnerable members of our society and to not speak up for them when they can't defend themselves is wrong in and of itself.

But what if children that were about to be aborted could defend themselves. Would that change things? Look at what Stephen Schwartz has to say:
"Suppose, in the encounter between doctor and child [in an abortion], the child won half of the time, and killed the doctor in self-defense—something he would have every right to do. Very few doctors would perform abortions. They perform them now only because of their absolute power over a small, fragile, helpless victim."
So for something that I feel is the greatest evil of my generation, I believe it is totally appropriate for a well-known figure to speak on behalf of children that can't speak for themselves. Over 200,000 people died in Haiti recently and we applauded each star that spoke out on their behalf. Close to 50 MILLION children have been killed in their mother's womb since 1973 in the United States alone! Isn't it fitting, then, that in the midst of one of the most-watched viewing event in American television challenges people to consider this all-important issue?

I appreciate what Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel said about this as he compares pro-life advocates to civil rights activists:
"I strongly disagree with my friend and colleague, George Diaz, who argued today that the Super Bowl is the wrong time for anyone to press political or social issues. Would one argue that if, 55 years ago, Rosa Parks had wanted to air a PSA for civil rights, that she find some other, “more appropriate” time to do so? (Excuse me, Mrs. Parks, but if you wouldn’t mind just keeping your seat in the back of the bus until we can see if the Giants pull this victory out, that’d be swell. Besides, there’s a really funny commercial involving monkeys and soda coming up.)"
I realize that there are people that will be reading this post that are just as passionate about this issue as myself but on the other end of the spectrum. That's okay. I still consider you a friend. But it doesn't mean that I agree with you. This issue is too important for me to say "to each his own." It is not like the choice between Coke or Pepsi, Nike or Adidas. It involves human life and for that, I will always choose life.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Disaster Brings Out the Best...and Worst in People

In the aftermath of the devastation caused by last week's earthquake in Haiti, there has been an outpouring of support and aid provided to those affected by this disaster. Unfortunately, there has also been disturbing reports of violence and individuals looking to profit financially by preying on the most vulnerable -- children.

Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll was on the ground in Haiti earlier this week and reported on an unnerving encounter that he had while serving those in need of help. Driscoll said this:
"We were downtown loading up our film crew. There were no police, no medics, to be seen by a huge park with hundreds of people camping out with no where else to go. There was a little cart with a red umbrella and a man selling cell phones and cigarettes -- and a few young girls.

"You want to buy loving?" the guy asked me. I said, "What in the world are you talking about?"

But there was another guy there, who claimed to be a translator for a relief agency, who was negotiating a price for a girl. I asked him what he was trying to do. He said, "Oh, she's a friend of mine. We're just trying to connect."

That's ridiculous. A young girl. A man 20 or 30 years older. I told him this was unacceptable. MacDonald confronted him, too. But there were no police and you could argue all you wanted but the girl took his money and they walked away."
Even though we see the goodness brought out in humanity after tragedies like this, we also see greedy people who seek to profit from the misery of others. If Driscoll's report is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), there was a man that was supposedly there with an agency that was supposed to be helping the people of Haiti, but he was instead pimping young girls so he could make a buck.

Please continue to pray for all those that have been affected in Haiti. If you would like to give a financial gift to help efforts there, I encourage you to consider giving to Global Aid Network (GAiN). GAin, the humanitarian aid arm of Campus Crusade for Christ, is a multi-national network of ministries serving to demonstrate the love of God, through word and deed, to hurting and needy people around the world through relief and development projects.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson & A Christian Response to Haiti

If you've been following the news then you've undoubtedly heard about the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti yesterday. Estimates indicate that as many as 100,000 people have died in this most recent natural disaster as rescue worker frantically seek to save those still clinging to life.

Numerous religious organizations, charities and individuals immediately responded in helping to provide aid and assist in recovery efforts. Many Christians have moved forward with the compassion of Jesus and are already making plans on how to care for those that have been affected by this tragedy.

Unfortunately, Christian television personality Pat Robertson has once again chosen to assume that a natural disaster is a sign of God's judgment. Robertson had the following to say on his show "The 700 Club":
"The Haitians "were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever," Robertson said on his broadcast Wednesday. "And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, 'We will serve you if you will get us free from the French.' True story. And so, the devil said, 'OK, it's a deal.'"
Instead of choosing to respond in compassion to the millions of people that have been affected by this, Robertson has used this opportunity to proclaim who he sees as evil. I rarely criticize other Christian leaders publicly, but I am tired of individuals like Robertson who, in attempting to speak for God, bring more pain to the already hurting. As an evangelical Christian, Pat Robertson does not speak for me nor do I think he often speaks for God.

As I read the Holy Scriptures, I get a different perspective from Jesus. He was the one who said "I have not come to condemn the world but to save the world" (John 3:17) and "when he saw the crowds he had compassion on them because they were like a sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36).

I do not know any of the Haitians that were killed in this earthquake. Nor do I know why God allowed this to happen. But what I do know is that my heart is just as sinful as anyone else's and I will not attempt to speak to why tragedy befalls some and not others. God causes the sun and rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous (Matt. 5:45). Yes, even earthquakes befall the good and the bad. What Haiti needs now is God's love shown through his people not condemnation.

For some good thoughts from Donald Miller on this, check out his blog.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Media & Its Fascination with Missing White Females

After spending the summer in Michigan two years ago, I was confronted on my return home to Orlando with not only the heat and humidity that August brings in Florida, but also with the media onslaught of yet another missing person case.

I had heard of the story of the missing little girl, Caylee Anthony, while up North, but since her home is just minutes away from my own, our local newspaper and television coverage of the case has been rather extensive. Even without the benefit of cable television and 24-hour news coverage, the drama of the Anthony family seems to constantly be in front of me.

While I have no problem with her extended family getting the word out about her disappearance, I am growing tired of the media's fascination with missing person stories. I certainly wouldn't want to hinder a family from doing whatever it takes to find a missing loved one, but it appears that the media only wants to help with these searches when the missing loved one is a white female (and it doesn't hurt if she's pretty or cute and her family has some money). Sadly, my perception is based in reality.

In a study done a few years ago by Scripps Howard News Service, it was discovered that although whites make up just over half of all missing persons cases, they accounted for 76% of CNN's coverage. Black children, on the other hand, made up only 13% of CNN's coverage of missing individuals although the FBI found that 1/3 of missing children are African American. Hispanic children made up only 9% of CNN's focus, yet were 21% of missing children in a Justice Department study. In addition the reporting on missing boys and men compared to females is woeful.

So why do the sad tales of Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway and Elizabeth Smart and Madeleine McCann and Caylee Anthony garner so much attention and hardly any of us have heard of someone like Tamika Huston, a young African American woman who was missing for more than a year before her body was found? Her disappearance generated little national media attention and is just one example of a media bias that has even led to the coining of a new phrase, "Missing White Woman Syndrome."

One of the most egregious examples of this would be the case of Jennifer Wilbanks, the woman who got cold feet before her wedding and took off without telling anyone. To make matters worse, she called the police and told them she had been kidnapped by a Hispanic and white women (Of course, this was all a lie). It brings to mind the case from the mid-90's of Susan Smith, who had accused a black man of taking her kids, when she, in fact, had murdered them herself. So not only are people of color not equitably represented in the media when discussing these cases, but they are often wrongly accused by those involved.

As I mentioned previously, I don't fault the families for using all available resources to find those that they care about. I would do the same if I were to be in their position. But I do blame those that report the news for not giving adequate attention to those that have been abducted simply because they aren't white enough, rich enough, feminine enough or pretty enough. It is truly heartbreaking when anyone goes missing and those with the resources and platform to help should do so without discrimination.

There are a number of websites that are seeking to help bring attention to this problem by reporting on under-represented cases of missing people. A couple sites that I found in researching for this post are Black and Missing and Missing Minorities. Check them out to learn more.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Little Debbie Turns 50

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Little Debbie Snack Cakes, I thought I would repost something I wrote last year after Thanksgiving. Even though I haven't had a Little Debbie in some time because of my new eating habits, I still have fond memories of them. Read on...


Thanksgiving dinner always seems to get me thinking about the foods I love since there are so many things that we have at Thanksgiving that I enjoy. Around the dinner table this past Thursday we had a conversation with our friend, Greg, about some of his family's Thanksgiving traditions growing up and the foods they enjoyed.

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, our family always went to my Gramma's house as we packed an unbelievable amount of people into her small home. I always looked forward to her deviled eggs, my grandfather's French onion soup and Stove Top stuffing. My favorite dessert at Thanksgiving has been pecan pie. But for a dessert throughout the year, you simply can't beat Little Debbie snack cakes.

If you are not familiar with these morsels of delight, Little Debbie's are these wonderful little cakes and cookies and pastries that have brought me immense pleasure throughout my lifetime. I grew up on them as a child and have never taken a break from liking them. Our children now enjoy them as a treat with their lunches and I'm glad that we've been able to stockpile them wherever we have lived.

Here's some history on the brand from the corporate website:
"In 1960, McKee Foods founder O.D. McKee was trying to come up with a catchy name for their new family-pack cartons of snack cakes. Packaging supplier Bob Mosher suggested using a family member's name. Thinking of what could be a good fit for the brand, O.D. arrived at the name of his 4-year-old granddaughter Debbie. Inspired by a photo of Debbie in play clothes and her favorite straw hat, he decided to use the name Little Debbie® and the image of her on the logo. Not until the first cartons were being printed did Debbie's parents, Ellsworth and Sharon McKee, discover that their daughter was the namesake of the new brand.
The first family-pack was produced in August of that year and consisted of the original snack cake, the Oatmeal Creme Pie. Family-packs were one of the first multiple-item baked goods available with individually wrapped products. The cost per carton was only 49 cents. By combining a quality product with outstanding value, Little Debbie® quickly became a member of America's households. After its initial introduction, more than 14 million cakes were sold within 10 months. While the Oatmeal Creme Pie was the original Little Debbie® snack cake, there were 14 different varieties by 1964 including the ever-popular Nutty Bars® Wafer Bars and Swiss Cake Roll.
Since 1960, Little Debbie® snacks have remained a value leader. Currently, they sell for less than other leading brands while providing quality products. More than 75 varieties are available. Little Debbie® snacks are available in all 50 states, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico, as well as on U.S. military bases throughout the world."
My favorites?

10. Pecan Spinwheels Sweet Rolls.
9. Honey Buns
8. Nutty Bars
7. Fudge Brownies
6. Marshmallow Supremes
5. Star Crunch Cosmic Snacks
4. Oatmeal Creme Pies
3. Fudge Rounds
2. Cosmic Brownies
1. Swiss Cake Rolls

A funny story from when I was in college... I was home during a break, I can't remember if it was Christmas or summer break, but I was at my parents with my friend, Scott. Being the good hostess that she is, my mom offered Scott a package of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls, my favorite. I objected to her offer knowing that 1) Scott would likely accept, thus lowering the number of Swiss Cake Rolls that I could consume and 2) Being well aware of Scott's appetite he would quickly devour the two Cake Rolls in that package leading to an offer of another.

Well, this is exactly what happened. Because I resisted so much, my mom offered him another couple of the packages because, in her own words (and this is a paraphrase), she was the one who in fact purchased the Little Debbie's and she had the right to give them to whomever she liked. You'll be glad to know that I am still on speaking terms with both my mom and Scott.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Proud to be a Chippewa

Congratulations to the Central Michigan Chippewas football team on an outstanding season, capped by a thrilling 2OT win over a solid Troy team in the GMAC Bowl. A 12-win season, top 25 ranking, 3rd Mid-American Conference Championship in 4 years, a win over in-state rival Michigan State and the MAC's first bowl win in 15 games. It was a great season by Dan LeFevour and crew. Thanks for representing my alma mater well!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

How One Church Grapples With Diversity

For over 90% of American churches, the idea of having a racially diverse congregation is something that is not thought about or is an opportunity that has yet to be realized. One well-known evangelical church, Willow Creek Community Church (located outside of Chicago), is featured in a fascinating article by TIME in which Willow's attempts at racial reconciliation and diversity are examined.

As a leader in the evangelical mega church phenomenon, Willow Creek and its senior pastor, Bill Hybels, is admired for its ability to reach the unchurched. But it has only been in recent years that it has begun to have a greater representation of American ethnic minorities within its congregation (its members are now 20% people of color). Even with the increased diversity of its church, the leadership of the church is still made up overwhelmingly of those of European descent.

As a church that exploded in numbers based on the principles of the People Group approach to evangelism and church growth (popularized by individuals like Donald MacGavran, Ralph Winter and C. Peter Wagner), the leadership of Willow Creek realized that people are most likely to come to faith and get involved in a church community with those that are most like them. Willow grew as a church because they focused on meeting the needs of white, suburban, middle-class individuals and families. They are now attempting to change the DNA of their church by becoming more inclusive to those that don't necessarily fit the above categories. Although this reality doesn't mean that a truly diverse congregation can't happen for them, it does make it extremely challenging.

Although the bulk of my local church experience has been in congregations with those that come from similar cultural backgrounds as my own, that hasn't always been the case. During my time as a campus minister at Kent State University, I was a member of a large, predominately African American church in west Akron. Even though I have many fond memories of my time at The House of the Lord, it was not always an easy experience. I was well-aware that I was in the minority in a congregation that was nearly 90% black. All but one member of the pastoral and administrative staff was African American. The praise team was all-black and only one or two members of the choir looked like me.

It was a tremendous learning experience for me to me part of this church. I developed some really good friendships, learned a lot about the black church and African American culture in general. Much of what I learned has been invaluable in my ministry among students of African descent. But the reality was that I was someone that was already a Christian. In fact, I was in vocational ministry to African Americans. The experience would have likely been much different for someone that grew up with a similar background to my own but was not already a believer in Christ.

And so it is for most people that are in the minority in a church setting. As loving and caring and kind as the people may be, you never forget that things are not necessarily designed (intentionally or not) for the context of your culture. But it doesn't have to be that way. Churches can take intentional steps to recognize and value its members that are in the minority (no matter what their ethnicity may be). Seeing diversity up front and in its leadership, references in sermons to music, movies, literature, etc. from various ethnic communities, playing various musical styles during worship services and emphasizing God's attitude toward racial injustice in messages and small groups are several ways that churches can include various ethnicities.

With nearly fourteen years of cross-cultural ministry experiences under my belt, I know firsthand that these things are not easy. For the individual that wants to cross long-established racial and cultural boundaries, there will be a price to pay. I have paid some of them and you will, too. Having said that, I don't believe that multi-cultural church models are the only way to "do church." I still think that most people in the world will come to faith and be nurtured in their faith in a community from their own culture. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as they are not intentionally excluding those not from their community. But for those that are willing to make a sincere and intentional effort to build a multi-cultural community, there are few pursuits that are more challenging or rewarding in Christian ministry.

Even as Willow Creek continues on its admirable pursuit of greater inclusiveness, they are still a long ways off from fully embracing and affirming all the cultures represented in its membership. For example, even though it is now comprised of 20% ethnic minorities, it still means that 80% of the membership is white. In essence, which changes or adjustments have its white members made so that its non-white members are more included and empowered? Successful multi-cultural churches require real sacrifices and until there has been equal sacrifices across the board, I don't think it can be defined as a truly diverse church. But, still, Pastor Hybels commitment to racial justice and unity is noteworthy and hopefully more churches will examine this area within their own fellowships.

*Thanks to Justin Taylor for the link.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Peculiarity of How "Whiteness" is Defined

Here is an interesting article from Gregory Rodriguez that was published in the LA Times last week regarding the troublesome process of how racial classifications have taken place over the course of America's history.

Originally only those with primarily British heritage were given full acceptance into American society and others, most notably Native and African Americans, were excluded from rights that were extended to white people. Over time, other lighter skinned people (e.g. Germans, Irish, Italians, etc.) were accepted as they downplayed their own ethnicity and adapted to the British-inspired values and customs that dominated the mainstream way of life within the United States.

As Rodriguez notes, as more and more immigrants came to the U.S., whiteness became more defined by who wasn't black rather than who was "white." He has this to say:
"Many books and articles have been devoted to explaining what it means to be white in America, but my favorite way to get at it is to describe an interview I helped conduct three years ago with a retired sheriff in Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta, where, like most places in the U.S., the "white" population is actually a fragile amalgam of diverse subgroups.

"Are Lebanese white people?" we asked the 71-year-old gentleman who considered himself white. "Yes," he said, "although they're real dark." How about Italian Catholics; are they white? Sure. And Jews? Yes. What about the Chinese? "Yes," he said, "they go to the white schools." And Mexicans? "They're becoming more white," he said. "More of them are getting an education."

Then what is a white person? we asked. After some confusion, our interviewee gave us this answer: anybody "who isn't black."

Over the decades, new immigrants to these shores were obliged to fit themselves into this black/white racial scheme. Not surprisingly, most chose to identify themselves with the group that had full rights. In books such as "How the Irish Became White," scholars have traced the path that immigrant subgroups took to become considered part of the "white" race. It's a poignant and peculiarly American journey. The protection and status of whiteness was not without costs. Most distinct subgroups gradually lost their distinctiveness. Their members traded specific ethnic labels -- Italian, Swedish, French -- for the generic racial label of "white." They exchanged identities that told us something about their unique histories for an elastic racial category that mostly tells us what they are not."
You can read the complete article here. Thanks to Racialicious for the link.