Arguing Against Atheists?

An important chapter in the narrative of my personal faith journey has been the influence of classical Christian apologetics on my life. What I mean by “classic Christian apologetics” or what I’ll just call apologetics is the systematic intellectual defense of the Christian worldview. Which practically comes down to Arguing Against Atheists (and other worldviews… I’m a pastor, alliterations are a requirement). Encompassed in the field of apologetics are a wide variety of intellectual disciplines- systematic theology, biblical theology, philosophy, science (particularly biological and cosmological), and rhetoric. Now, my personality has always been very investigative, and I tend to want concrete answers to everything, as much as possible. 

In coming to faith, I had some intellectual concerns with Christianity. I had an incredibly wild experiential encounter with the Holy Spirit where I spoke of things I’ve never heard of before. Sort of like a huge experience of deja vus. Though, I knew that my brain could have merely been playing some trick on me- I could have been having some psychological phenomenon happening to me that some scientist in a lab coat could have explained away. So that set off the alarm to go do some research. And research I did.

I began to read books by Christian apologists to provide me with a reasoned explanation of the Christian faith. And I also read books by anti-theists trying to provide a reasoned explanation for why theism was intellectually bankrupt. So began my affair with apologetics. Needless to say, the Christian apologists had more sound arguments to my teenage ears.

This relationship with apologetics has continued, even until now (for the most part). For my senior project, a state requirement for all public high school seniors, I taught a class on apologetics to my youth group peers. I even ran a college small group last year entitled Apologia, where a group of students gathered to reason through issues faced by Christians.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to wonder just how effective apologetics is. This isn’t to say that it is a useless field… no, it definitely helped me provide a logical framework for my new faith. But I wonder if while we logically oriented Christians are arguing away with atheists, we are subverting our own worldview. How often do we forsake loving and respecting our “opponents” for the sake of being right? 1 Corinthians 13:2 says essentially that all the smooth talking, brilliantly worded arguments (prophecies) in the world cannot get you anywhere if you don’t have love. I’m not saying that disagreement (argument) necessitates being unloving- hardly. What I’m suggesting is that perhaps in our efforts to bolster our faith we’ve forgotten that the best apologetic is a life well lived (1 Peter 3:15). I think an excellent work for every Christian who is interested in apologetics is a book called “Humble Apologetics” by John Stackhouse. My ever so wise pastor, Kevin, required me to read it before teaching my sunday school course on apologetics. If you’re going to do apologetics, do it with a sincere and humble heart, quick to forgive, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

I just wonder how much apologetics is still relevant. For a small percentage of western culture, apologetics may be relevant and valuable, but I really wonder if all apologetics is doing is sidetracking people from the truer reality. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve known who are more content to sit locked up in their house behind a computer arguing with people on teh interwebz then actually engaging with needs in their world. Yes, Christianity has logical grounding, and yes that may be what some people need. But far more people need to know that even though you have “answers” you aren’t too blind to see that they want someone to sojourn with them through the doubts, fears, and struggles they are experiencing in this scary world.

At this point, I don’t really have answers and I sort of waffle on the utility of classical apologetics anymore. I know they were valuable for me during my faith journey and for that alone I’m willing to consider that we still need people to hammer out “reasons” to believe. But I’m still uncertain whether or not the apologetic culture is really advancing the Kingdom of God.

I also wonder whether apologetics is the product of a sort of culture war mentality. The type where Christians have to go to battle with every other belief system to assert our intellectual superiority. The kind where we blatantly ignore scientific data simply to maintain our box that we keep God in. The kind where Christians create some dichotomy between faith and science- like we can’t believe in both evolution and Christianity (I have some students who are so staunch about evolution not having ever existed that I think it really puts off some youth who are not Christian… this isn’t to say evolution is necessarily correct, rather that the matter of factly assertion that it’s not “true” is just as incorrect as the matter of factly assertion that it is “true”). Aren’t we really just taking up our sword of intellect to attempt to slaughter our intellectual enemies, often to the neglect of people and their very real concerns and doubts?

I just wonder if we’re too busy arguing while the world is burning.

What do you think? Is apologetics valuable as a whole? Is it helpful in certain circumstances? Can we carefully and considerately propose our Christian worldview while still maintaining a loving attitude? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

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Environmental protection, Animal abuse, and the Christian

There is someone who attends my youth group casually who is very passionate about protecting animals and the environment. These are two areas where I think Christians by and large have failed to live up to the standards of the Bible (particularly the environment). I was asking for this student to provide a reason why animals (and by extension the environment, though not the subject of our discussion) should be treated fairly and equitably. It was hard to provide any reason beyond the fact that they deserve to be treated fairly/they feel pain. Though I agree that pain is a driving factor in why animals should be treated equitably, I believe there are more systematic reasons why. So to be fair to my student who I pestered for a number of comments, here is why I believe animals and in turn the environment, ought to be treated fairly and justly.

 

As a devout Christian, I believe the Bible is the record God left of his interactions with humans. I believe that, though it was physically written by the hands of men (and some women!), the thoughts and principles contained within it were inspired by God’s Spirit. Thus, I think that when the Bible sees fit to discuss a topic, it is important we listen. One challenge that is present when dealing with the Bible is interpretations of what it actually means! The Bible is written in 3 different languages, with the oldest sections being written likely over 3500 years ago and the newest being written about 2000 years ago! That’s a lot of time to pass between then and now, and it’s a lot of time to pass between the beginning phases of writing and the final phases! That being said, one of the oldest sections of the Bible we have is what is called the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

 

Though there is much disagreement in the scholarly community about the dates/authorship of the Pentateuch, I believe it was primarily written by Moses in the period of time when the Israelites were leaving Egypt through Moses’ death. The first book of the Pentateuch, and the Bible, is the book of Genesis. Genesis begins at the very beginning- with God creating. In that beginning God gave form to everything- he gave it a purpose and a job. The light-bearers (created on day 4) were supposed to contain and harness the light (created on day 1) the land to hold animals, etc. The final day, day 6, God created both animals and humans. The charge God gave to humans? Multiply and “have dominion” over both the land (environment) and animals.

The problem is- for the longest time Christians read “have dominion” as- “do with it whatever I so please” rather than the more accurate understanding of the word which is to “steward.” To steward means to care for and protect- like the Steward of Gondor was responsible for carrying on the business of the kingdom of Gondor as well as protect it while the King was away. This is precisely the sort of work that we humans were supposed to be doing in the Garden of Eden: taking care of it for God, because it is His temple.

So Christians misunderstood what the term “steward/have dominion over” meant- but there is also another problem. Christians throughout the world believe that Jesus will absolutely come back again to this earth. The book of Revelation speaks of Jesus returning riding a white horse and a sword coming from his mouth. There are also some passages in Revelation that speak of 1/3 of the earth being consumed in fire, as well as 1/3 of the stars falling from the heavens, etc. Many Christians have thought that when Christ comes again, he will just transport us into heaven- where we live on fluffy white clouds playing harps all day. Unfortunately, this is a misinterpretation (in my opinion) of the passage of scripture that speaks to the “rapture” mixed in with a healthy amount of Hollywood’s version of heaven rather than the Bible’s. So, you have people who not only think the earth was made just for us to use it to our absolute benefit without looking at the cost, but they also think the earth will just be replaced when Jesus comes again. So they engage in what is known as a “scorched earth” mentality, where they believe that since the whole earth will be destroyed, then you might as well live it up and use up all the oil you possibly can!!! Beat all the animals! etc.

So, why do I think that it’s important to be good stewards of the environment as well as animals? Because God made us to protect and guard the animals and environment. He made this earth to be His temple- it’s our job to take care of it and prepare it for Him. When the Fall happened, we were broken and ashamed… but so was nature. We deal with a broken world as well, until Christ comes to renew the world (rather than throwing it away and starting over!). We need to be treating it with respect and love rather than with contempt (no matter your view on Global warming!). We need to treat animals with love and dignity because they were created by God, and part of our calling in life is to treat them with equity and fairness. Animal abuse is more than just a shameful activity- it actually subverts human nature, because we were made to protect animals. When we batter the environment for a little American comfort, we aren’t just being irresponsible- we are being irreverent and we defile God’s very temple.

So back to my student: why do I believe we should treat animals and the earth well? Because it’s what we were made to do!

I will leave this with one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton!

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.” Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton

The Path less travelled

A blossoming social network, Path, has made some significant headway in the social networking scene

As anyone who knows me well has already figured out, I really like social networking. I think it’s one of the things that will come to define my generation and I’m always interested in ways to utilize social media and to do it well.

It can be an extremely powerful platform to influence and shape, as significantly more people adopt and adapt to an online social presence. Particularly in the area of youth ministry social networking is essential. There is some discussion amongst youth pastors about appropriate usage of social networking, but except for a few detractors still holding out, youth workers have largely agreed that ministry must also extend to the social network scene.

And for good reason. Social networking has this unique vantage point of a person’s life- you’re able to simultaneously see how a student interacts outside of church (if they choose to add you as a friend, as some of my students choose not to for strategic reasons) and you also get to know them better. Social media, though not a perfect representation of the whole student, allows you to glimpse perhaps a different side to your students, and allows you to get to know them better.

Beyond the ministry benefits that come with social networking it has also been incredibly effective at connecting families and friends who experience distance problems (sometimes benefits… let’s be honest here). People have become increasingly mobile in the past half a century- families are often spread all across the country now and thus are unable to connect. Social media networks like Facebook and Twitter have been able to connect these families, even at a fairly basic level, which in my opinion is one of the main reasons they have been so wildly successful. My immediate family, for instance, is spread across 3 states, sometimes reaching 4 or 5 states, so social networking helps connect us at least a little.

Enter Path- a relatively new social networking system that markets itself as an online journal. Social networking sites and corporations have had a huge problem tackling the monster that is Facebook. The problem for startups is that they have to figure out a niche that they can fill that Facebook can’t, and more importantly, won’t be able to fill. The problem that a lot of corporations face is that even if they innovate and do things well, Facebook can simply “borrow” their ideas and simply port them over into their already massive user base. This has been the way of Google Plus- they had some really great ideas, great design, and decent execution, but all it took was for Facebook to simply take their ideas and plug them into their already huge user base. What happened is that people had no motivation to change to Gplus because their network was already on Facebook.

But Path is not doing the same ole thing. They definitely use foundational social networking principles- the status update, the picture uploads, the location, the music, etc. but there’s something different about it. I just picked it up a couple days ago and I’ve already found myself using it way more than I’ve ever used Google plus. Path is unique though, in the sense that it only allows you to have up to 150 “friends” in your network, although it has been raised from 50. It is also a smartphone only platform, which although is still a niche right now, more and more people are moving to smartphones, and as user base increases, mobile phones have the unique capability to do for real what social networks have done in the virtual- connect people. With check-in systems where you can see who’s near you in real life, it allows you to connect to people within your immediate physical location.

A lot of people put Path in the same category as Instagram- primarily as a photo sharing application. Though Path definitely has some of the same capabilities like native filtering and blurring (much better than Instagram’s for the record), I don’t think that’s necessarily the best shelf to place Path on. Path 2.0, as the current platform is being called, has a unique opportunity to change things with a couple of smart marketing techniques. They’ve described themselves, almost in passing, as a mobile journal. This is where they will really succeed if they press this. Because right now, although I only have like 2 friends on Path, I find myself using it a lot. Because I use it like a JOURNAL. It functions as a catalog of what I do, so one day I know I’ll be able to look back on where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and I can track my progress through life. HOW COOL. Facebook has tried to capture some of this idea with Timeline, but they haven’t marketed it correctly as such.

But Path feels more like a personal, private journal, where I can post more intimate details. I can post family photos and videos. I can put up status updates that aren’t like my Facebook or twitter updates. I like it. It’s much cleaner than Facbeook, as Facebook is going the way of Myspace in that people are all game crazy, and ads are everywhere, and everything is getting messier. I will probably adopt it more strongly than any other new social networking site. It fits. It fills something that other networks haven’t for me.

If you haven’t checked out Path yet, try it out. It’s a free App for iOS and Android. It’s clean, it’s beautiful, it’s innovative, and it’s useful.

Prayer Labyrinth, burnout, and other things

This design is an ancient labyrinth design

Over the past month or so, I have been extremely busy (hence why my blogging has dwindled, as it always seems to do). I have an incredible amount of things going on- I have 16 credits at Northwest, plus debate there which could theoretically add 4 more credits, I am a youth pastor at Everett Family Church, I lead worship fairly regularly, and I have a pregnant wife that I have to make time for. I’ve struggled, at times, to make sure I am balancing my time budget well, and I feel like I have been approaching the borders of burnout. Do I do everything as well as I could? No. But sometimes its overwhelming to try to keep everything straight.

That being said, God has been reminding me through various avenues that I need to slow down and take time for him. So, I’ve been very intentional about spending more time with him. I think it’s really helped my productivity, oddly enough as that may be. When you struggle to find time to do everything, and you don’t make your relationship with God the primary concern, you WILL burnout- and much faster than normal.

One of the ways I have been intentional about making more God-time is to focus on praying. It’s been one of the areas I’ve struggled with, constantly praying as 1 Thessalonians 1:17 reminds us, so I’ve really been trying to deepen that time with God. So I’ve done a few things to help me along this path- 1.) I’ve been attending dedicated prayer times at church, 2.) I’ve been spending more God time at home, 3.) using a prayer labyrinth.

Now, most of you are totally comfortable with the first 2 things on this list- me too. Those are my defaults, my comfort zones if you will. The third thing on this list will likely elicit one of two responses- what the heck is a prayer labyrinth? or dude, that stuff is like weird mystic, new agey BS (or maybe you just think it’s dumb).

Let me tell you how I became acquainted with the Prayer Labyrinth. I first heard of it this school year. One of my professors wrote a blog on it and mentioned that he thought it was silly. It did, indeed, sound silly. Basically, a prayer labyrinth is a maze-esque design either inlaid on a flat surface (painted, built with brick, etc.) or a raised wall structure (like a corn maze, or even just rocks outlining a path) that is laid out in a twisted, convoluted path always moving towards the center of the labyrinth. Labyrinth’s are distinct from mazes, however, in that they only have one path and are not meant to confuse the participator. So basically, you walk along this path, making a fool of yourself to anyone who doesn’t know what you’re doing (perhaps a fool even to those who do know) while praying/reading scripture.

Well, I later enrolled in a class with my professor and one of the books we read for that class is by Tony Jones called The Sacred Way. The book is a compilation of spiritual practices that one can use to help deepen their faith, the faith of their students, or the faith of congregants. In The Sacred Way is a chapter dedicated to the prayer labyrinth. Now, my more conservative (read: Calvinist) friends react pretty strongly against the name Tony Jones. He’s one of the leaders of the Emergent movement, especially in youth ministry.

One of the things that categorizes the Emergent movement (as much as this wide-spread, largely diverse movement can be labeled and categorized) is a rejection of modernity’s influence on Christian thought. This influence has lead the church, they claim, to over emphasize propositional truth (truisms, statements, creeds, etc- i.e. you have to believe core doctrine x, y, and z to be a Christian) over the personal and relational truth that exists in Christianity. Their strongest argument, I believe, is that Jesus says that He is Truth. Truth is a person, not necessarily a proposition (that doesn’t mean that truths can’t exist in proposition, however). This challenge is very post-modern (or at least, not modern… the romantic period developed much of the same existential tendencies as the post-modern period has) so much of the church, particularly fellows in the apologetic realm, have come down hard on the Emergent movement and anything that doesn’t fit within their systematized, well thought-out, intellectual perception of Christianity. Thus, practices like walking the prayer labyrinth are considered non-Christian or anti-Biblical- because they emphasize relational truth over propositional truth.

Perhaps I need to rephrase this- the prayer labyrinth is distinctly existential. When I say existential I mean that the meaning and value of a prayer labyrinth is expressly created by the participator. That means that each person develops their own understanding of it and how it relates to their relationship with God. Everyone’s relative truth meters are starting to freak out. It’s okay. It’ll be fine. Bear with me.

The reason this is so, is because ironically, prayer labyrinths are old. We have examples of labyrinths from 1000 BCE. In Greek mythology, it was said that the Minotaur was trapped in a labyrinth and could not escape. Theseus went in after a few failed attempts by others, tied a string to himself so he could find his way out (Hansel and Gretel, you thieves) and successfully killed the Minotaur. The church began to use them as alternatives to pilgrimage in the 14th and 15th centuries, however, in which pilgrims would couldn’t afford the travel to the Holy Land would go to the closest cathedral and walk through a prayer labyrinth on their knees (ouch!).

Eventually, they fell into disuse, and were almost forgotten until a lady in San Francisco began to really push for them to be picked up again in Christian spiritual practice.  Now, they’ve really gained some steam amongst more mainline Protestant denominations (PCUSA, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and the emergent church.

I find them valuable for a couple reasons, but first I need to point out that they aren’t for everyone. That’s the biggest thing for me- they work for some and not for others. Particularly if you’re in ministry, labyrinths will work more for some than for others. If you live in an area that doesn’t really buy subjective reality like the country, or in urban contexts working with minorities, or in poorer communities, this would probably flop. Because, let’s be honest, this whole prayer labyrinth thing will only work for yuppie white people who drink lattes and pretend to be socially and environmentally conscious. That being said, I find value in it for a number of reasons.

Number 1- it forces me to slow down. I live in a busy, loud, crazy world where technology exists only to help you be even more busy. Silence is something my generation cannot stand. We don’t do quiet. Our brains have been rewired so that if we don’t have something to do for 5 seconds (literally, there is research to back this up) we get bored and start trying to find something to do. I struggle with this, and in my loud city I need quiet.

Number 2- walking in a labyrinth is monotonous, so you can focus on God. My brain likes to be doing something menial in order for me to reflect on life. That’s why I like doing yard-work or something simple with my hands. It allows me time to reflect.

Number 3- it’s uncomfortable. This, perhaps, is the greatest benefit to the Labyrinth. When’s the last time you did something uncomfortable? The main reason I chose to do the labyrinth was because it was weird. I thought it was uncomfortable (also, my professor not liking it presented a challenge… what, don’t judge me, I like a challenge). Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zone- you just might be surprised.rd-work or something simple with my hands. It allows me time to reflect.

Are you busy? Does it feel like you rarely have time to breathe? Do you sacrifice your relationship with your Creator for the other things in life? Maybe you too should step out of your comfort zone and walk a labyrinth. Here’s an easy way to find one close. Also, if you’d like a little more info about the Labyrinth, just ask me. I have more resources that I’ve worked on, or I could even do more blog posts about it.

Short Reflection on St. Paddy’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In the midst of all your pinching, a few of you and your drinking, and everyone in their green wearing (warning: I pinch), I thought I would share an encouraging little post.

In all my years, I’ve simply viewed St. Paddy’s day as simply a day where you wear green, and college kids get plastered. Perhaps that biggest tragedy of St. Patrick’s day is forgetting St. Patrick. Though… McDonald’s Shamrock shakes do help make up for it.

Patrick was a saint (hardee har). He loved Jesus. He was taken captive as a slave to Ireland as a young boy, escaped, and returned as a missionary. He taught the doctrine of the Trinity using a shamrock- so as you wear your shamrock’s today, remember that it represents the Triune God. His work started the Christianization of Ireland from paganism.

Ultimately, remember, today isn’t just about fun, it’s also about the sacrifice of great Christians in history. Our picture is painted with the brushes of the saints- and in Protestantism, we often forget that we are connected to a greater history- the story of Jesus’ work through his church. Take time to remember that today. Take time to remember that Jesus is ultimately the true point of St. Patrick’s Day- perhaps this short prayer will encourage you.

I shared this with my youth students two weeks ago- it’s a prayer called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. There is more to it, but this is just a short section of it.

“St. Patrick’s Breastplate.”
‘Christ be with me, Christ in the front, Christ in the rear, Christ within me, Christ below me, Christ above me, Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left, Christ in the fort, Christ in the Chariot seat, Christ at the helm, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.’

#Phony2012 (part 1)

Joseph Kony, number 1 on the ICC's Most Wanted List

I am writing this blog to clear up a few issues surrounding Kony 2012, the initiative started by Invisible Children (IC) to raise awareness and garner momentum for a grassroots movement to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

I have some issues with this movement, and I think they need to be talked about.

I understand that at Northwest University I have a certain reputation that precedes me. As one of my primary roles at NU is as a debater I am often seen as being fairly abrasive and I am often in the thick of controversies. Many who have classes with me will probably know me as the guy they think asks too many questions. I am a very inquisitive and cautious mind. I understand that I can come across as a douche at times and I want to acknowledge that up front.

But in writing this post, I’m asking you to take me very seriously here. This post isn’t just me playing Devil’s Advocate to cause people to think critically. This post is meant to point out some VERY serious issues with the K2012 movement, and to ask people to reconsider their endorsement of said plan- at least parts of it.

Also, I want to be upfront, when I first watched the video I was really excited about it. I was jazzed to see people doing some things for it. I didn’t even watch the whole thing (it was late at night) but I posted a link to their merch page for my youth to see if they would be interested in helping. I was stirred as well. But I couldn’t help but think through a few of the other issues that were nagging me, and I’ve come to disagree with the main goal of their plan- to apprehend Kony (yes, I know their main plan with the campaign is to make him “famous” but the are lobbying for government intervention).

Before moving into my concerns, however, I would like to state where I feel IC does well. Firstly, they have a very genuine and authentic passion to make the children who are forced into rebel armies known to the world and to see them emancipated from their captors. They also genuinely want to see young people in America consider others around the world beyond their own little world. Secondly, they are BRILLIANT marketers. These guys could be making 6 figure incomes or more working for retail companies. Many ministry students would also do well to watch and analyze how they persuade people to action (though their techniques can be a bit manipulative… more on that later). Thirdly, I absolutely support their mission to make Joseph Kony a well known criminal- awareness can breed action. Their execution of their marketing strategies has always been fantastic, but this time they outdid themselves, which is why I’m particularly worried, actually.

I have a few issues with IC’s Kony 2012 campaign. My major concern is how they are trying to accomplish their mission of removing Kony from power. In the video that they released they argue for a couple things, things that besides being contradictory, are silly, dangerous, and do not take the complexity of geopolitical events into account.

First, my favorite part, they tell us that the world has changed and now WE are the ones in power. This is good marketing and is very manipulative because it stirs us to action thinking we can actually do something (which we can… but not by posting their video on your social media site). The problem is that it makes us content to think we are actually contributing to change while we sit behind our computer screens. This shifts our attention from more local issues, of which there are MORE than enough (my area of ministry, Everett, has massive gang issues, hard drug addictions, and severe homelessness). So, instead of actually engaging with the felt needs around us, we pay $30 to buy a highly packaged “Action Kit”, wear a bracelet and feel like we’ve done our good deed for the day/week. Eventually, as I’ve seen before, we will forget about this, and your bracelet will become a mere fashion accessory to show how “socially conscious” you are, instead of actually leading to serious change. So my first issue is that it builds local apathy and complacency. But that’s not even the worst part!

So, after the video tells you that YOU are the catalyst for change in the world now, they tell you that the only way of achieving any solvent change is to enlist their “2012 campaign.” This campaign involves targeting the 20 most popular cultural influencers (Rhianna, Bono, Justin Bieber and others) and the 12 most influential policy makers (John Kerry, Condy Rice, and others). So wait a second… I thought WE were the most valuable asset, yet we have to get the higher ups to still do stuff? See what I mean? Contradictory and done for the purposes of manipulation.

Now the 20 part of this campaign I really don’t have that big of an issue with. It’s the 12 part. The intentional targeting of US policy-makers to intervene militarily in Uganda. This is the part that I feel is incredibly misguided. Because, unlike their website suggests that they’re simply filmmakers and social activists, they have now moved into the realm of geopolitics and thus are playing with some serious fire. It’s no longer about social activism, it’s now about foreign policy making and political action. The problem with IC’s plan is that they want to push the US to train and provide the intel to the Ugandan military so they can apprehend Kony and bring him before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The problem that occurs for me is this: the Ugandan government itself is incredibly corrupt and the US will simply give them more knowledge, more firepower, and better training. Sure, they may be able to capture Kony, but it will only leave a bigger mess in its wake.

Some of my friends have rightly asked me what a better option would be, if I didn’t like IC’s initiative. I would have to say- pretty much anything is better than this plan. See, African politics doesn’t work like Western politics. Africa is a hotbed of culture wars, where tribes are often stuck within borders that don’t make any socio-economic sense. During the colonial era, western powers went through and just partitioned off whole chunks of Africa according to whatever land they could grab. They didn’t pay any mind to the regional politics that were in place. In the post-colonial period, the borders stayed, even though there was (and is) significant amounts of in-fighting that occurs. This caused serious regional instability. The West cause serious regional instability. The same exact thing occurred in Afghanistan (and Iraq, Iran, Israel etc.) conveniently. So we just assumed that everyone could all get along. Well back in the 80’s the US was in the Cold War with Russia. Russia was, at the time, occupying Afghanistan. Many Afghan locals wanted to see Russia gone, so the US capitalized on this and started funneling weapons, training, and intel to a rebel sect called the mujahideen, the group that later formed into the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden was a part of this group, and this group eventually went on to subjugate women, commit numerous human rights violations, razed farmer’s land, and contributed to a whole host of civilian problems. Then the US decided that they had to go fix the problem it created by propping up and providing weaponry and money to the very regime that would come to do MORE harm than the predecessors originally had done. The same exact thing can be said for Iran and Iraq.

So, I think that providing a corrupt government with more power and money is actually MORE harmful than good. So, if you must know, I think that the current problem is better than what they’re supporting. I also have problems with utilizing the Ugandan government to apprehend Kony and any other LRA leaders who are no longer in Uganda. They would have to invade other countries and break their sovereignty which is a major issue. It’s also problematic to ask the US to fund a mission to apprehend Kony to take him before the ICC, which the US revoked its support for. The UN would be a much better actor in this situation, because they have international legitimacy, peacekeeping forces that wouldn’t violate national sovereignty (not perfect but better than Uganda), and a larger pool of internationally supported money. Also, this furthers the silly notion that the United States needs to serve as the police of the world. It takes away from the international accountability that ought to be brought for other countries as well.

This is my biggest complaint with the Kony campaign. Even though the intentions are there, it will actually lead to more problems than it actually solves. There are some more issues which I will illustrate more in my next post, as well as address any concerns that may be brought up regarding this post.

The Yo-yo Gospel?

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Yes. The Yo-yo Gospel. Sure, it may sound ridiculous but hear me out.

Lately, in a fit of nostalgia and more probably, childlike glee, I have had a renaissance with the yo-yo. I was first introduced to the yo-yo in the second grade when I saw some kids on the playground with the Yomega X-brain. I begged my mom to get me a Yomega Fireball and she finally caved. I came home from the mall with my newfound source of joy and ripped it open. When I finally removed the pesky packaging from my coveted prize I quickly put the end of the string around my finger and in one fail swoop managed to tangle my precious yo-yo in a rat’s nest of frustration. But, over time and with much practice I was able to finally throw a yo-yo and get it to do the most important of all things- to sleep. You see, the sleeper is the foundation for almost every trick you can do with a yo-yo.

After a while I developed some significant skills with my weapon (legend has it the yo-yo developed as a weapon in the Phillipines), at least I thought so anyway. I could walk the dog, go around the world, rock the baby, scale the Eifel Tower and even ride the elevator. After a while though, I lost interest in my yo-yo because I encountered a few problems. Number 1 was that I was in second grade, thus the maintenance regimen for my yo-yo was dependent upon my mother’s subsidization, number 2 was that tricks got increasingly difficult, and number 3, finally, was that my yo-yo strings broke while performing around the world indoors and I broke one of my mother’s favorite picture frames. Whoops.

Life moved on and I duly forgot about my yo-yo. Then I encountered it again through my students at EFC. I saw them doing some crazy tricks and asked if I could see their yo-yo. To my surprise I found that yo-yoing is similar to riding a bike. My wife was shocked that I had this secret “talent”. So I got a yo-yo and I am now able to do some pretty advanced tricks.

Between homework assignments I will intersperse some yo-yoing. This means I get lots of practice… cause I have lots of homework. Anyway while I was doing a particularly involved trick called Cold Fusion I got to thinking. I realized how absurd it was that I’m doing such a complicated thing with string and a piece of metal/plastic.

See, the yo-yo is extremely simple. It’s a classic toy- one that has been around for centuries and has entertained even my grandparents. The basic premise is that a circular object descends down a string and returns back up the string. Fun. Simple. The yo-yo is a giant paradox. It is simple enough for a child to pick up and use and complex enough for the masters to baffle everyone with.

The Tuesday after next I will begin a new teaching series at Praxis Youth Ministry. I will be teaching through the book of John. The book of John is the yo-yo Gospel, for it is simple enough that a child can understand what it says and complex enough to have warranted the largest body of Biblical scholarship throughout history. This Gospel is perfect because it is a great entry point for anyone and it is deep enough to keep even the most seasoned Christian on their toes. When you read through John’s account of Jesus life, you WILL encounter Christ. You cannot get around it- Jesus is the center of John’s Gospel. It teaches us more about the person of Jesus than any other body of scripture, in my opinion.

John begins his narrative of Jesus with the beginning. He takes us on a journey through the magnificent work of Christ and the story of His redemption of humanity through history. It begs us to ask ourselves where we fit within the narrative of salvation. How is the story of Jesus continued with us? John’s Gospel will ask these questions of us- even if they are just implicit questions.

So I want to encourage you- if you’ve never read the Bible before, start with John’s Gospel (4th book in the New Testament, about 3/4 of the way through the whole Bible). If you’ve read through the Bible more than once- read John’s Gospel again. Meditate on it. Let the presence of the Word saturate you in the Gospel story. If you are just checking out Jesus for the first time- John is a great place to start. If you’ve gotten a little distracted from your relationship with Christ by the busyness of life- John is a great place to re-encounter Christ. If you’ve been a faithful Christian for a long time, John has a wealth of spiritual depth to discover and mine.

Let us ultimately remember the words of John (The Baptizer), “He must increase, I must decrease.” Amen.