Monday, October 27, 2008

Art * Music * Justice

Last night I was privileged to see the last date of the Art * Music * Justice Tour, featuring Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Sara Groves, Charlie Peacock and Brandon Heath. I'll admit that I was originally just excited to see so many of my favorite artists in one place. I've been a fan of Derek's ever since my friend Josh Petrillo introduced me to Caedmon's Call at the publications office at Grace. Derek is a prophetic truth-teller and is not afraid to tackle hypocrisy and politics and religiosity and doctrine. And his wife, Sandra... She has a voice like a young Emmylou Harris and writes gorgeous, life-affirming music. And Sara Groves... So inspired and gracious. And Charlie Peacock... He's a legend. I discovered him in 1990 with the release of The Secret of Time, and since then I've discovered all his other music. I wasn't really familiar with Brandon Heath, but he was clearly the one most of the people were there to see and hear. Apparently he is a member of the UMC church in The Woodlands where the concert was held.

As a concert, the show was beautiful. The artists all appeared on stage at the same time, backed by a superb rhythm section, and accompanied one another in various combinations. There were three large rear-projection screens behind the band. They used them to show all kinds of moving images, sometimes directly relating to the music being played. It was a lot more than a concert... Its stated purpose was to "add to the beauty, seek justice and give God praise." It started with a video of Martin Luther King Jr. on the eve of his assassination, talking about having "seen the mountaintop," interspersed with quotes by the likes of Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, etc. Then the band launched into a lovely, shimmering version of Sara's "Add to the Beauty" complete with a mesmerizing video presentation...

And then the artists began to open their hearts, to tell stories and sing songs, to lead us in worship, to challenge us to live in new ways... To open up our minds and our wallets... To truly make a difference in this world for Jesus.

Derek and Sandra played for a while...

It was great to see their loving interaction on the stage. Sandra is obviously pregnant with a second child, so that's cool!

And then Brandon hit the stage. Like I said, he was a pleasant surprise. I loved how humble he was... like he was blown away to be surrounded by such a roster of brilliant artists. His guitar and vocal abilities are strong, and his songwriting was solid. I really liked this guy.

In the second half, Charlie really took on a pastoral role, reading scripture and talking about the Kingdom of God. I loved his encouraging words. Then Sara talked extensively about the ministry of International Justice Mission. We heard stories about slaves who had been freed and the role that we can play in praying and giving... She brought her husband, Troy, and boys up on stage to talk about how their family tries to make generous living a priority.

It's hard to put into words what I experienced last night, and I'm not doing a very good job. I guess they just helped me think beyond myself again... to remember that in Christ I can do all things... that I can actually make a difference, change this world for the better, show people a better, higher way to live... and point the way to Christ through it all... the Way, the Truth and the Life! These are things I know. But I need to feel them now and then. Music and art open up the soul... help us to experience God in different ways.

As Sara sang her poignant songs about meeting young girls delivered from sex slavery and asked us to pray for them, I looked into the eyes of precious young girls and saw my Emily... My eyes filled with tears as I remembered my obligation to pray and seek justice for the oppressed! It made me want to stand and fight, to rescue those sweet little girls from the jaws of death. And there is hope. They CAN be rescued. They CAN find new life and redemption. We can partner with Jesus in redeeming this world for His glory.

Sara's song, "I Saw What I Saw," made me remember the mission trip to Romania and Hungary last year.

And the powerful "When the Saints" closed her set, reminding me that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, those who have gone before us and are cheering us on until we cross the finish line and kneel at Jesus's feet.

We finished on our feet, proclaiming the salvation of Jesus, who is "Mighty to Save," and then remembering the hope of the Savior... singing together Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released."

I didn't want to talk afterwards. Sometimes silence is best. I'm grateful for the show last night and for five artists who pointed me to Jesus and reminded me of my salvation and calling.

Today was a bummer in some ways... It was back to plumbing problems and financial pressures and the never-ending challenges of parenting. But God is God, and even in the day-to-day reality of my life, I will still proclaim His truth and live in His power. He is mighty to save!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

America's Best Dance Crew Live

Went to see America's Best Dance Crew Live tonight in Houston. It was the last stop on the tour, and it was basically a party from start to finish! Insane... H-TOWN, WHAT UP? ARE YOU READY TO PARTAAAAAAY??

Since it was the last stop, they had special guests popping up all night... 2 Houston crews, Distorted X and SoReal Cru, showed up, and musical guest Baby Bash ("Cyclone") dropped in for a couple of songs.

I had a blast, and I felt so old. And my ears are still ringing. And I'm glad I went!

Thanks to Ted and Amy for taking Luanne and me...

I Can't Wait

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Access Live

In just a few hours, we go "live" at our new location and hold our first public worship gathering. Pray with us as Access attempts to be a new community living by faith, known by love and extending hope to Houston and all around the world.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Brian McLaren on Why He's Voting for Obama

This is a long one, but I think it's worth your time. Brian McLaren has long been a favorite author of mine. His A New Kind of Christian trilogy radically challenged my assumptions and set me on a journey of discovering God that continues to this day. When Brian speaks, I listen. I encourage you to read these words with an open mind and heart, keeping in mind our values as followers of Jesus in the US in 2008.

Reason 1: Framing Story

My top reason for supporting Barack Obama for president centers in the narrative I believe he frames his life and work by, in contrast to the narrative John McCain frames his life and work by. To me, this issue of narrative (or framing story, for readers of my book Everything Must Change) means far more in a president than whether he claims to be liberal or conservative, religious or nonreligious, Christian or otherwise, Democrat or Republican.

Does anyone doubt that Senator McCain lives by a warrior narrative? This is the most consistent theme in his campaign. For him the world is clearly divided into us and them:

We are good; they are evil. We are right; they are wrong. We are about safety; they are about danger.

This dualistic and fearful narrative is deeply rooted in McCain’s generation. They were formed in the simple, binary context of Axis and Allies, and then Communists and Free World. When Communism collapsed, a new antagonist conveniently presented itself (pre-empting the expected "peace dividend" and keeping the famed "military-industrial complex" well funded). This new war became what McCain calls “the transcendent challenge of the 21st century,” the clash of the West with fundamentalist Islam. McCain’s word “transcendent” is significant. It suggests a kind of holy war mentality, because for McCain, these us-them dualisms are absolute and therefore of a cosmic, metaphysical, even spiritual nature.

The dualistic us-them mindset, I believe, is bogus and dangerous. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is, ironically, the same narrative that drives “fundamentalist Islam,” and so by following it, we will become more and more like those we call our enemies. We already have done so in recent years, in fact, with torture and secret prison camps and the like. This warrior narrative is what Senator McCain has most dangerously in common with President Bush. This “transcendent war” narrative is what we are in most desperate need of changing through this election.

Think about where this warrior narrative can lead in the next four years. From war with Iraq to war with Iran, maybe even war with Russia, any of which would likely require the reinstatement of the draft since our troops have been stretched to the breaking point over the last four years. Soccer and hockey moms who are comforted by McCain's warrior posture should keep this in mind, because there may well be an unanticipated downside to his fighter mindset.

Senator Obama certainly believes in a strong national defense. But I believe he leans toward a profoundly different narrative. It is a reconciliation narrative, a peace-building narrative, a collaboration narrative. He made it clear when he said he would change President Bush’s policy of not talking to our enemies. McCain and others tried to portray this alternative approach as cowardice and appeasement, but they were wrong. Instead of dividing the world into “us” and “them,” Obama’s narrative seeks to bring people together in a expanding us. While McCain’s narrative only offers enemies surrender and defeat, Obama’s offers them the possibility of reconciliation.

I favor Obama’s narrative or framing story because of two convictions I hold very deeply and passionately.

First, I am a committed Christian, and I believe a narrative of reconciliation is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Conversely, a narrative of domination and defeat is not: it is the way of Caesar, or what Jesus called “the kingdoms of this world.” I believe that at the core of Jesus’ teaching is the world's truly transcendent challenge and call – to rise above the old narrative of “love your brother and hate your enemy.” In other words, rather than to “transcendent war,” I believe God’s call to all people is toward transcendent reconciliation. I am convinced that war is inherently non-transcendent. It is, in fact, anti-transcendent. I feel the God-given call to love enemies and seek reconciliation and eventual collaboration rather than domination and defeat and extermination. I know that many Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists would feel a similar revulsion to voting an energetic promoter of a warrior narrative into office for another four years (or more).

Second, I believe we have crossed a threshold in my lifetime. Senator McCain, because of his age and his viewpoint, lives on the older side of that threshold. This doesn’t mean he is evil, but it means he is responding in ways that are no longer appropriate to a world that no longer exists, and in that way, his viewpoint is no longer helpful.

On his side of the threshold, war – including nuclear war - is an option to keep on the table – so that “bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” slips so easily off the tongue. On this side, war is an abomination, a horrible evil that can never be entered into rashly or lightly (or under false pretenses). On his side, wars can be justified if “we” launch them, but not if “they” do. On this side, they are horrible and tragic no matter who launches them.

On his side, evil resides in them and goodness in us. On this side, there is goodness and evil on both sides.

On his side, the greatest enemy is “them.” On this side, the greatest enemies are realities both “we” and “they” must face together – environmental destruction, carelessness toward the poor, and the death-wish of security through war, for starters.

I believe McCain’s old warrior narrative is simply too dangerous to live by any more. That’s the first reason I am voting for Barack Obama. He would be the first to say that he’s not the Messiah, and he isn’t perfect, but he represents a turning … a turning away from the fear-based Bush-Rove-Cheney-McCain warrior narrative, and a turning toward a narrative that seeks peace through reconciliation and creative collaboration rather than through domination and a go-it-alone cowboy/bomber mentality. We’re not just voting for a president this year: we’re voting for a framing story our nation will live by, or kill by.

Reason 2: Leadership Integrity

I am voting for Barack Obama because I value personal integrity in leaders. Personal integrity requires a leader to repudiate falsehood, hate hypocrisy, and pursue fidelity to justice and truth, in private and in public. A person shows a pattern of integrity through fidelity to his or her spouse, through his or her refusal to employ falsehood for personal advantage, and through his or her willingness to admit mistakes and forgo excuses or blame-shifting whenever lapses occur. It seems clear to me that Senator Obama surpasses his counterpart on all counts.

Sadly, tragically even, Senator McCain has not repudiated the proven dishonesty and deceit of the Bush-Rove-Cheney years. In fact, his campaign has been outstripping even Bush-Cheney-Rove in misleading the public with a straight face while claiming straight talk. Even fellow Republicans are finding McCain's tactics indefensible. Recalling the old saying about all being fair in love and war, McCain seems to see the world through a consummate warrior narrative (see EMC, Part 5), which leads him to love winning at all costs – including the expense of integrity, which in turn makes fidelity to “the reality-based community” quaint and only advisable when it is advantageous. Yes, all of us have lapses in integrity at times; all of us need grace. As a deeply flawed yet committed Christian, I am the first to affirm this. But when you look at personal and public patterns of integrity over many years, Barack Obama shines and John McCain stumbles badly.

But my concern is not only John McCain. I’m also terribly concerned about the party that nominated him. I don’t believe that a party that rushes to war based on a false pretenses deserves to be re-elected, no matter how loudly it claims to be for "family values" or "small-town values." Do you? Is there an integrity lapse more serious than this?

Some of us believe that the Bush-Cheney administration was sincerely mistaken about weapons of mass destruction in their build-up to war. In this view, we went to war because of a failure of intelligence. It was an honest mistake, some say – being careful to remember that the honesty of the mistake does not minimize its seriousness. Others of us believe that Bush-Rove-Cheney cynically manipulated the data – and us, the American people - to legitimize a war they wanted to prosecute for other reasons. In this view, it was a dishonest abuse of power. Either way, whether because of a deficit of good intelligence or a deficit of integrity, I believe that a party that puts so many American and Iraqi lives in harm’s way without sufficient cause does not deserve to be re-elected. They should be sent into the penalty box for at least one period or given a red card for at least one game. How can they be rewarded with another presidency?

If the Bush-Rove-Cheney party had repudiated their false premises for going to war, it might be different. If McCain had been true to his “maverick” reputation and had stood against the Bush-Cheney failure in intelligence and/or integrity, perhaps voting for him could be reconciled with a high commitment to integrity. But McCain has been the opposite of a maverick on the war’s “weapons of mass destruction” justification, and on the idea of pre-emptive war on which it stands.

Senator Obama has been the maverick. He stood against the war from the beginning. He wasn’t beguiled by “false intelligence” and he wasn’t fooled by a beguiling rationale. This reason alone would put me in Obama’s camp. I’ll raise the question once more: Does a party that creates a pre-emptive war based on false claims or poor intelligence deserve to be rewarded with another term?

Of course, we could add to the duplicity about WMD many other Bush-Rove-Cheney betrayals of integrity: hidden prison camps, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture, forged letters, the Valerie Plame incident, and so on. We could talk about the Republican duplicity of giving massive tax cuts to the rich while saddling the next generation with a record national debt, a classic case of robbing an unborn Peter to pay a fat-and-happy Paul. We could also lament how Senator McCain has stooped to the same kind of Rovian electioneering tactics that President Bush used against him so unfairly in 2000, and so on. Beneath all these issues, one issue is obvious: if we reward with another term in office a party that has deceived or misled us, we will get what we deserve.

Reason 3: The Least of These

I’m a Matthew 25 guy. That means that I take very seriously Jesus’ words about caring for “the least of these.” I don’t believe a nation’s moral greatness is measured by how many tax breaks it gives its richest individuals and corporations, or by it's kill-power in terms of weapons and readiness to use them, but rather by how it cares for its most vulnerable people – its children, its sick, its disabled, its unemployed, its minorities.

So when I come to an election, I don’t just ask, “Which candidate will do the most for me and my nuclear family?” I extend my concern.

I extend it to my extended family, which includes people with special needs and disabilities, people with chronic illnesses, gay people, poor people, people of advanced age, people with histories of addiction and crime and mental illness. How will they be treated in a McCain administration? How will they be treated in an Obama administration?

I extend my concern even farther. How about people who live less than an hour from my front door – in inner-city Washington DC, in impoverished sections of Baltimore – how will they fare? Which president will be most concerned about them? Or how about people in states like Ohio and Michigan … where hundreds of thousands of people are unemployed because too many American corporations shipped jobs overseas? Or people in Katrina-devastated areas of Mississippi and Louisiana? Or people in the coal country of Kentucky or East Tennessee and West Virginia, whose lives are being devastated by the “externalized costs” of “cheap coal?”

I don’t stop there either. I go beyond the US. I think about slums where I have walked, people I have met, shacks I have sat in and shanties I have eaten meals in … from Mexico to Chile to South Africa to Burundi. Which candidate will do the most for the least of the least of these?

And when I ask these questions, it’s not just a matter of foreign aid, as important as that may be. It’s a matter of trade as well: which candidate is most interested in trade policies that avoid exploitation abroad as well as at home? And it’s also a matter of war, because a nation at war has fewer resources to be generous.

The gap between rich and poor is growing greater and greater, in this country and around the world. So I ask myself, which candidate is concerned about strengthening the economy in robust ways that will not simply help oil companies, coal companies, and job exporters make higher profits, but will instead support the development of new “green” businesses that have the most promising future and can provide meaningful jobs here and abroad that workers can take true pride in?

Which candidate best understands poverty and economic vulnerability through the closest experience of it? Which one promises to bring the most resources – energy, intelligence, creativity, and commitment – to helping the least of these?

I don’t doubt that Senator McCain would make national defense his top priority as president, and I don’t doubt that he would be most ready to sustain or expand our war-making activities around the world. But I’m ashamed of our nation being known for rushing to war. I would like to be known for helping the poor.

In the end, I truly believe that a nation that helps the poor will have fewer enemies – and therefore more national security – than one that pursues its own national interest through war. As the Apostle Paul said, “Do not look out only for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Your attitude should be that of Christ Jesus.” That other-oriented mindset is, to me, a powerful reason to support Barack Obama for president.

(You may be wondering, “What about the unborn? Aren't they among the least of these? And what about other living creatures - endangered species and the threatened ecosystems on which they depend? Aren’t they among the least of these?” I plan to address these issues in upcoming posts. Stay tuned. For more on Matthew 25, check out the Matthew 25 Network.)

I believe that Senator Obama is an extraordinary candidate. While his opponent indulges in surprisingly dishonest and divisive attack ads, Obama has resisted responding in kind, instead focusing on critical issues and "a new spirit of unity and shared responsibility." But even if Barack Obama were merely mediocre, simply based on the failures of the Republican Party to hold their president and vice president accountable for their lack of integrity (and/or intelligence) over these last eight years, I believe it’s high time for a change.

The American people have been fooled once already in this new century. Those who fooled us should not be rewarded with another term. I hope we won't let ourselves be fooled again.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Celebrating Sarah

I know I got all political there for a day or two... and I'm so glad I did! Good conversation both here on my blog and on Facebook... And I hope that I'm helping people to see that there are two sides to every story. We are a sadly divided nation, and we rarely take the time to truly listen to the perspectives of others. It's too easy to demonize an opponent and mischaracterize his or her viewpoints. And then you get Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh involved... Well, that's another story.

I do want to take a moment to say that I like Sarah Palin, though; really, I do! I think she's a refreshing alternative to the usual inside-the-Beltway types. I really like what Eugene Cho wrote about her a few days back... I agree with him. I don't think she's the best choice for Vice President, but I think there's much to like about her.

OTR Live on Mountain Stage

Here's a great reminder of why I love Over the Rhine. Listen to their recent Mountain Stage set featuring songs from their latest studio album, The Trumpet Child. You can download the album here... It's well worth your $$.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Amy, Amy, Amy...

My friend Tony has always been a great example to me of prayer. And one thing he does is pray for celebrities. Madonna and Britney spring to mind as targets of his fervent prayers. And why not? If we see someone in need, we help them. This is a thoroughly biblical idea. And if I cannot, for instance, physically take the pills out of Amy Winehouse's hands and drive her to rehab myself, I can pray that somehow someone will intervene.

She is, reportedly, on suicide watch and pretty miserable. She needs our prayers. She's such a gifted musician with such a bright future (just watch this amazing performance of the sadly ironic "Rehab" on Letterman in happier times) if she could just find some meaning and purpose to life...

Save her, God...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Green House Gallery

Just got back from a great night out with Luanne. We went to an art gallery opening. The Green House Gallery showcases the work of local Houstonians who share a passion for environmental issues. One of the artists, Elizabeth Cencini, displayed her work at Vox Culture's Global Cafe in August. We also met and hung out with a couple other artists: Victor Rojas, a furniture maker, and another Vox artist, Dune-Micheli Patten, who afterward introduced us to House of Pies (apparently a fine Houston tradition) and Bayou Goo.

It feels really good to finally do the things I moved to Houston to do.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In Which Matt ::Gulp:: Talks Politics

So last post I let it slip (way down toward the end) that I am planning to vote for Barack Obama. I have heard from a couple of people who sincerely wonder how I, as a committed evangelical Christian, can vote for him. What do you think? Here are a few links that I have found interesting and instructive.

Matthew 25 Network
Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace
National Catholic Report: "I'm Catholic, Staunchly Anti-Abortion, and Support Obama."

I'm happy to continue the discussion in a constructive way with anyone who asks...

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