Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Thursday Reflection for Week 5

We talked about the Holy Spirit empowering us to create microsocieties with our community of faith, but when we are outside of the community, there are two ways to respond to the outside world: we can choose to witness, or we can choose to be invisible. I think that the latter is far easier. We can retreat behind the walls and into our little bubbles, and everything is just fine and dandy. But is this living? Is it ok to compartmentalize our lives? Do we believe that the Holy Spirit is in every part of our lives, or is He just Lord over the "church" part of it? Has the cynicism that Lasn talks about in Culture Jam also invaded the church and how we see the world around us? I think that perhaps it has, because I can sense a bit of that cynicism within me...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Book Review: Kalle Lasn, "Culture Jam" (New York, NY: Quill, 1999)

Kalle Lasn is the publisher of Adbusters magazine and founder of the Adbusters Media Foundation, Powershift Advertising Agency, and the Culture Jammers Network. He lives in Vancouver, Canada.

What It's About
This book sets out to demythologize brand “America” which we have created and perpetuated through institutions and the mass media, and which we have bought into in such a way that is not only detrimental to our culture and identity as human beings, but also in a way that negatively affects the global community. This book is reassurance that life in America doesn’t have to be one big consumer binge, but by combating cynicism, “We can change the world” (xi):
I'm not trying to sanitize America. The world I'm proposing isn't some watered-down, politically correct place. It's wilder and more interesting than your world in every way. It's open TV airwaves where meme wars, not ratings wars, are fought every day. It's radical democracy--people telling governments and corporations what to do instead of the other way around. It's empowered citizens deciding for themselves what's 'cool'--not a society of consumer drones suckling at the corporate teat... What I'm saying is that the American dream isn't working anymore, so let's face that reality and start building a new one (167-8).

Lasn divides this call to reclaim our lives and culture “to restore their original authenticity” into four main sections: Autumn, Winter, Spring, and Summer (181). In Autumn, he explains what is happening to us now i.e. what we have become as the result of allowing media and corporations to run our lives. Winter then goes on to explain the roots of this problem, and how we have allowed what we have created to rule over us. In Spring, we get to see how we can begin to subvert and change the systems, and in Summer, we see the tangible results of “demarketing” and other strategies in order to “[construct] a spontaneous new way of life” and to experience true freedom (215).

I want to be a culture jammer… but for Jesus. This book expresses many of the themes and principles that Jesus embodied during his ministry—confronting powers, empowering normal people, and trying to get people to experience life as it was intended. However, Lasn does not mention faith as the driving force behind all of his “rage.” Without God in all of this, it seems like he wants just a different version of the American dream, but that just seems as hopeless to me as the old version he wants to change. Is a little spontaneity in your life the only thing that is worth doing all of this for? If that’s the case then I should just start my own Fight Club. This book reminded me of that movie, but of course this book is a much more peaceful response to the anomie of society. But without Christ it’s just as empty. So how do we use these tactics and still remain faithful to the Gospel?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tuesday Reflection for Week 5

It's hard to say what Jesus did in his lifetime was political, but Tuesday's class was very enlightening in this regard. As was presented, when Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven" he was essentially doing away with the current power structures, and liberating people from the iron clasp of the temple system. That to me is just amazing. Who would would have thought that the forgivness of sins was essentially a declaration of independence from the structures and evil that exist and persist in society? That's what it means to be radical... And yet how can that work today? Sometimes I just get discouraged when I see the reality that we face. But is it any harder to confront these evils, or is it a lack of trust in the power of God? I think I need to pray through some of these things more, and see how that can be lived out in my own life...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Thursday Reflection for Week 4

Thursday we talked about Jesus and how he "stuck it to the man" through his announcement of the Kingdom of God in what he said and did. But the thing that struck me was the role that we play as the church today. It seems pretty obvious, but our mission as the church is nothing new: we are to carry out the mission that Jesus started during his lifetime, with our participation made possible through the cross. But for some reason it seems to me that we are trying to do "new" things in our churches today. We come up with all of these elaborate programs thinking that we are cutting edge or something, but if they stray from our task of pointing to the Kingdom of God, then what's the point? Ryan commented that the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to continue the mission of Jesus through the church, by empowering us, and gifting us to do so. Then why do we focus on all sorts of other things? Are we grieving the Spirit in doing so? But before all of that we have to know what Jesus was doing, what he was about. Because how else will we do his work?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Book Review: Naomi Klein, "Fences and Windows" (New York: Picador, 2002)

Naomi Klein was born in Montreal in 1970. She is an award-winning journalist and the author of No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies, an international bestseller. She writes “an internationally syndicated column” for the Globe and Mail in Canada, and the Guardian in the U.K. She has been covering the anticorporate activist movement for the past six years (quote from the back of the book).

What it’s all about
This book is a collection of Klein’s articles, speeches, and reports from the beginning of what has been called the “anti-globalization” movement by the media, from the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, to the events that unfolded after 9/11. But through her reporting, she shows how this movement rather than advocating against globalization is pushing for globalization i.e. the ideology vs. the reality:

the task now is to measure the euphoric promises of globalization—that it would bring general prosperity, greater development, and more democracy—against the reality of these policies. We need to prove that globalization—this version of globalization—has been built on the back of local human and ecological welfare (243-4).
Thus the main point of this book is to show how globalization instead of eliminating the barriers between people, cultures, nations, economies, and so on has been erecting barriers—“fences”—leading to oppression, poverty, and all kinds of ills on global fronts. However, at the same time, through the movement of social activists around the world, “windows” are being opened through which these evils are confronted and ultimately democracy is allowed to shine forth as originally promised by globalization.

The book is broken down into five major sections. The first section deals with how the protest of the WTO in Seattle turned into this worldwide activist movement in which people awakened to the ugly reality of globalization. Section two shows that in exchange for a world of “free-trade” democracy has been co-opted by big business, creating even larger disparities between the rich and the poor. Section three explains that even the right to protest such injustices has been criminalized as control and power over individual actions increases. Section four explains how terrorism has hindered democracy—ironically centralizing power in efforts to spread democracy. And section five presents the ways in which groups of people around the world are trying to envision and actually practice a world in which globalization as a people-empowering, power-decentralizing, democracy-spreading movement is alive and well.

This book was very enlightening because I must admit that I had forgotten much about this issue of globalization and what it does to people around the globe. But beyond all of this, it made me think about what we seemingly consider “good,” or “right,” might not always be so for everyone. Even how we define such a thing as “globalization” and what it will look like has very much to do with structures of power that exist in the world: It is the powerful who define how it should look like, and we are left to take it as they give it to us. And this is how we can allow these corporations and governments to oppress us, all under guises such as “democracy,” “free trade,” or “progress.” It is scary how subtle evil can be… But is the church guilty of doing some of the same things, oppressing people spiritually, physically, emotionally in subtle ways?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Tuesday Reflection for Week 4

"We need to love people not like us for the gospel to be real." Ryan said something to that extent on Tuesday and it struck a cord with me. Of course there is a tendency in churches all around to be filled with people like us: talk, act, think, look, dress etc. like us. Being in an Asian church (2nd gen Asian) that is pretty much how it is. And for the longest time I have wondered is this just how it's supposed to be? Or what can we do to change the culture of the church so that it is more inviting to "others" i.e. non-Asians? And one thing that was very helpful to me was when Ryan said that partnerships and other expressions come into play. I had never thought of it that way, but since, for instance, we will never be a white church, why not partner with a white church? Or since most of us will never be poor, why don't we partner with the poor in trying to make their lives better? These are totally viable options for our church to explore. If only I were freed up to do some of this stuff...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Thursday Reflection for Week 3

We talked about Wink on Thurday and how his views on power parallel the idea of practices. I thought that the concept of thronos i.e. the seat of power, was very enlightening. I know that there is power inherent within titles and roles, but I think in talking about thronos it was a good reminder. But this is why having a Christian in these various positions of power will not do much in causing transformation. It seems that that is all we are banking on as Christians to change the world: if we only had a Christian president, or if that CEO were Christian, and so on. But what has that done for us? I think that has hurt us in the long run, because if those individuals are open about their faith, their witness to the rest of the world doesn't look to good. Do I have to mention Iraq? A lot of the problem is that we don't realize that there are powers and norms that go along with having power that even the best of individuals is powerless to combat. The whole power system has to be changed, otherwise it will remain what it is: the domination system, with Satan at the helm. That to me is scary. But what is even scarier is that we don't even have a clue. We just keep trying to combat the world using the world's tactics, trying essentially to fight fire with the same fire. How about we try something different for a change, like hm.... water? But I'm not saying that we do not use power. Power is everywhere. But the question is what kind of power should we use? And how do we use it in a way that is consistent with Scripture? I think that Linthicum gives good insight into this. But again, how does that look for those who do not have power? How do we speak for the powerless when we can't even speak for ourselves when it comes to the powers that surround us?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Book Review: Robert Linthicum, "Transforming Power," (Downers Grove, IL: IV Press, 2003)

Robert Linthicum is currently the president of Partners in Urban Transformation. Prior to that, he was the director of urban work for World Vision International (info from back of the book).

The main point of this book is for Christians to use the power that God has given them to transform society in such a way that is faithful to Scripture, to bring us closer to the ideal world that God intended for us to have—the “shalom community” i.e. the Kingdom of God (13). Linthicum identifies this God-given power as “relational power:” “It is only by using the power of relationships that the church can work for the shalom of the city and thus become in deeds, as well as in words, the people of God” (82, 90, respectively).

The book is therefore divided into two major sections: one concerning the theology of power, and the other dealing with the practice of power. The theology section is where the author lays out biblically how God intended for the world to be, and how that vision has been tainted by evil, which has both personal as well as social aspects due to sinfulness. This section also talks about how the church should be concerned with what Jesus was concerned about, mainly the announcement and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God, and to use relational power as Jesus did to transform lives and systems. Linthicum also mentions the Iron Rule of Power—“never do for others what they can do for themselves”—as the way ministry should be done to allow relational power to empower people to change the communities in which they live (111).

The practice section (unsurprisingly) explains just how this relational power can be used tangibly and realistically to bring about the transformation put forth in the previous section. The author spends considerable time explaining first how to build up relational power—by individual meetings with people in the community, through house meetings, through social research, and ultimately through action (ch. 9). And the end result of all of this relational power that is built up is the creation of a community built around that power so that we can experience the “resurrection of all creation” that we find in Jesus Christ (190).

Linthicum ends his book with a charge for us not to sit and do nothing as a result of reading this book, but rather to “get to work” in using this transforming power to “make the most significant differences in [our] church and community” (193). I appreciated this book because unlike the previous reading (Transforming the Powers) this reading was much more concrete. Linthicum explained more of the theoretical/theological side of things, but did not just leave it at that, and went on to present more of the practical concerns—the “how.” I seem to resonate with most of what he had to say. I think that a community built upon the mission that Jesus started and left for us to complete cannot help but to transform this world in which we live. However, how do you get the current culture of your church to change? How do you get people to see that there are other important things to be concerned about than just the saving of individual souls so that they can go to heaven?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Tuesday Reflection for Week 3

On Tuesday, Ryan said that modernity has created the "heresy of secular space"--because everything is God's. Nothing exists apart from Him. This has caused the church to retreat to the margins of society, thinking that it only has the power to influence "spiritual" things and nothing else. This secular-sacred divide has really caused a lot of problems in trying to do ministry, because people's lives are compartmentalized as they see Christianity as something they do only on a Sunday. For the college students that I minister to, this would also include Wednesdays and Fridays, but the concept is the same. How do I get them to realize that Christianity is more than just a religion--something that we do--but it is who we are? This is a 24/7, 365, until-Jesus-comes-back kind of thing. And according to the talk on practices, if practices are able to transform us and actually make us who we are, then basically if we change or transform our practices we should be be able to transform our lives. Simple, no? But how do you get someone to change their practices and adopt new ones--the right ones i.e. the practices of Jesus--when they are fine with the status quo? The ways in which we live should be appealing to those outside the Church (the Body of Christ), but if we look, act, think, and talk like everyone else, what does that say about our witness? What does that say about Christianity? What does that say about Jesus?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Thursday Reflection for Week 2

Thursday's discussion concerning ideologies and the reading, Transforming the Powers, got me thinking about power and how mass media is used to feed us all kinds of ideologies that we don't even bother to second guess. Through advertising and "reality" television, we are duped into believing that those products or those lives are what we desire. But how much of those things are giving us what we want, and how much of it is the Powers telling us what we want? The fact that that line is nearly indistinguishable worries me a bit. It is scary to think that I am conditioned by the desires of others, but that is closer to reality than anything we can get through the media. I think that it is ironic that we value individuality so much in a society where conformity to what the Powers dictate is commonplace. I was just thinking about this the other day concerning what songs I liked to listen to on the radio. Did I like that song because it's a good song musically, or do I like it because the radio station plays it a million times an hour and they tell me that I like it? Frankly, I don't know and that is alarming... This reminds me of the movie The Devil Wears Prada (don't ask why) because there is a scene in that movie in which Meryl Streep's character tells Anne Hathaway's character that her(Anne's character's) choice to buy that blue sweater that she was wearing was due to decisions made by the people in that very room, and then later it finally trickled down to the masses through the Old Navy. But by the time it got there it was no longer in fashion. I hate the idea that this is what is happening to us all the time, and we couldn't care less. So I struggle with how to stick it to the man, Jesus style. How do we transform these powers without allowing them to transform us first? Does this happen more subtly like with Claiborne, or it is something even more obvious e.g. nonviolent active resistance?

Book Review: Ray Gingerich and Ted Grimsrud, Eds. "Transforming the Powers," (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006)

Ray Gingerich is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Ethics, and Ted Grimsrud is Associate Professor of Theology and Peace Studies, both at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. Other contributors, besides these editors, include Daniel Liechty, Nancey Murphy, Glen Stassen, Willard M. Swartley, and Walter Wink.

This book is basically part of an ongoing conversation about the Powers—referring to “all human social dynamics—institutions, belief systems, traditions, and the like”—based upon the language of the “Principalities and Powers” as found in the NT, that Walter Wink helped to popularize with his trilogy of books on the Powers—Naming the Powers (1984), Unmasking the Powers (1986), and Engaging the Powers (1992) (2). In those books he claimed that the Powers are “part of the good creation,” “fallen,” and in need of “[healing] and [transformation]” all at the same time (1). The writings that follow then are grouped according to how they interact with Wink’s ideas concerning these three characteristics—some articles focus on the level of identifying or naming, understanding, or engaging the Powers.

The first section is titled “Worldviews and the Powers.” The first article is by Wink, and here he argues that the Integral Worldview is the new worldview that is emerging which is the best at helping us understand that everything has both and inner and outer reality. Nancey Murphey claims that the social sciences instead of being completely objective in describing reality describe a reality that is anti-Christian. Daniel Liechty advocates for “nonviolent direct action” against the evil that we see, for it keeps us from defining evil to narrowly and doing evil ourselves (52). Ted Grimsrud shows how the pacifist worldview challenges the violent modern worldview in loving all of creation.

The second section is “Understanding the Powers.” Wink writes on providence and how God cannot fix the world because Powers also have power to prevent things from getting fixed. Nancey Murphy then argues that Anabaptist communities hold the key to restoring fallen powers even in the academic world. Willard Swartley argues that the early church had a more holistic approach to dealing with powers in proclaiming the victory of Christ over them. Ray Gingrich then calls for nonviolent and communal paradigms to transform the politics and economics of overt and covert violence.

The third section is “Engaging the Powers.” Glen Stassen talk about the “third way” of Jesus—“transforming initiatives” that transform the powers using nonviolent means—and how this strategy can and has been used to actively make peace (129). Willard Swartley then writes about how the Christian response to evil powers is to love and in that way evil is overcome either through “resistance” or “nonresistance” (156). Finally, Stassen, going beyond Wink, explains that understanding justice is essential to understanding “the way of Jesus” and the key to help us deal with the powers that exist in the world (175).

This reading really got me thinking about the inner and outer dimensions to the huge social forces that are around us. On an everyday basis I don’t walk around trying to see the “demons” behind every little thing, but I know that it is important to know that there are powers behind the things that we see in the world and that we need to not only be aware of, but to actively transform these social structures. And it seems that for a lot of this transformation to occur, nonviolent action is the key. But how do I go from “passive-ism” to actively making peace happen in the world? And if I don’t care enough to see this played out in my own life, how can I get others to care in a culture that values violence? Would my college students even care about this stuff?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Tuesday Reflection for Week 2

Tuesday's class dealt with culturalism, and the various ways that different scholars defined culture. What really caught my attention, though, was the view of Stuart Hall who said that rather than looking at the differences between elite and working class culture, we should be evaluating culture as good or bad. I was waiting for Ryan to give us Hall's criteria for evaluating culture, but all Ryan said was that his criteria wasn't clear. "Darn," I thought to myself, because I was wondering how someone outside of a Christian mindset would judge culture as "good" or "bad." And then I got to thinking, how do I judge culture? Well as a Christian I would love to say that it's based on Scripture, but is that always the case? To be honest, I highly doubt that it is, because I know for a fact that a lot of the things that I judge to be good or bad are simply subject to my likes or dislikes, which are fleeting to say the least. And what about our Christian sub-culture? It's funny how just because something is labeled as "Chrisitian"--music, books, movies, and so on--it is uncritically considered "good" or even "better" than anything else. But is it? More often than not, it isn't even close to what the world has. So then what's going on here? Are we to avoid all culture that is not "Christian" because according to some standard it is "bad?" But then we are left to create our own sub-culture that is somewhat of a cheap imitation of popular culture. Is that what it means when we say that the Kingdom of God is here? I sure hope not, but is this the picture that we are painting for the rest of the world? Obviously conforming to the dominant culture is not the way to go, neither is creating another culture based upon the dominant culture. The only option is to let the Spirit of God transform culture so that it can be "good" (in the biblical sense). And this should happen through us. But are we ready to bring that transformation? Better yet, are we ready to allow that transformation to occur within us first? Am I?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Thursday Reflection for Week 1

Thurday's class focused on culture. So in small groups we tried to come up with our own definition of "culture," and then Ryan proceeded to lecture on the history of how culture has been viewed in the West. Most of the things that we were talking about I was familar with because of my background in sociology. However what struck me was the fact that in terms of missiology, no one in the West bothered to study culture and its effect on how people live their lives until way later. How are we to properly minister to people we know nothing about? And this just does not go for people and places overseas, but also has to do with our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Ryan commented that this failure to recognize these social factors has caused two levels of faith to develop--unless the reality of God is at the core of who we are, we will create another surface level faith, while the core of who we are is deep into something else. He said that missions is supposed to help create this reality within people so that God is at the core. I really feel that these two levels of faith are at work within my context of college ministry. I think this is why students can justify getting drunk on Saturday night, and then go into church on Sunday morning. So what are the powers that we must identify and combat within the college context to allow God to penetrate the core of student's lives? And once those are identified will we be equipped to do something about it?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Book Review: Shane Claiborne, "The Irresistible Revolution" (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006)

Shane Claiborne is “one of the founding members of The Simple Way”—a Christian community in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (quote from the back cover of the book). According to his profile on the Simple Way website, he graduated from Eastern University, where he studied sociology and youth ministry (http://www.thesimpleway.org/shane/index.html). He is a “hellfire and damnation preacher,” writer, and circus performer according to the same site. He is also an avid activist.

This book is a call for Christians to become “ordinary radicals”—“ordinary people choosing to live in extraordinary ways”—by simply following the Way of Jesus Christ, “a new and ancient way of life,” as put forth by Scripture (20; 356). And in doing so, an “irresistible revolution” will begin within us that will transform the world (356).

Claiborne calls his book “a book of stories,” and that is what it essentially is: to develop his thesis about there being another way to live the Christian life, he tells stories about how living like Jesus has changed not only his own life, but the lives of those around him (28). He begins by recalling his Christian upbringing in the conservative South, and the longing that he felt to “find those who tried to live out the things that Jesus taught” (46). This longing led Claiborne to Eastern University where he learned solidarity with the poor in Pennsylvania, to Calcutta where he learned to care for the dying, and even to Iraq where he learned what it meant to truly love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44). All of these things led Claiborne and others to form the Simple Way, a community dedicated to “[loving] God, [loving] people, and [following] Jesus” (121). Through this community Claiborne and others have seen God transform all aspects of their lives from economic decisions, to politics, and even down to the very clothes that they wear on their backs. And Claiborne claims that communities are just waiting to “[wake] up” and discover this “new (ancient) form of Christianity” and to join into this revolution fueled by “little acts of love” (348).

I honestly could not put this book down. I think that a lot of the things that I have been questioning in terms of my own walk with Christ were addressed in this book: Am I truly living the Christian life, or is it just something that I’ve created for myself that is neither Christian nor is it life? Is it even possible in this western context to live as Jesus did? Claiborne’s stories gave me hope for Western Christianity, something that I have felt disappointed with for awhile. It’s reassuring to know that our faith does matter—something that I have been preaching on the college campus that I have been doing ministry, but something that the majority of them haven’t grasped fully. It seems like Christianity is just another thing that they do, like party and school, and not an entire way of life. Not seeing their lives transformed and hearing the same issues—like if it’s ok to drink, and still be Christian (This is an issue that makes me want to pull my hair out whenever it comes up. And, boy, does it come up a lot!)—come up time and time again has even caused me to doubt if that transformation is possible for these students. I think that God has given me “the gift of frustration,” as Claiborne calls it, but now what am I to do about it (354)? ...