Thursday, January 28, 2010

Jean Dominique - The Agronomist

The Agronomist
In the aftermath of the recent earthquake, we're hearing a lot about Haiti these days. It's unbelievable and sad that I know so little about the people, the struggles, and history (even recent history) of this nearby country.

This 2003 film, directed by Jonathan Demme, was an eye-opening experience for me. It documents the life and work of Haitian radio journalist and human rights activist Jean Leopold Dominique and his wife, journalist Michele Montas. Dominique, who was assassinated in 2003, was a huge personality with an unstoppable drive to help the common people of Haiti. He ran Radio Haiti and was a populist voice against the powers of corruption, poverty, and dehumanization that enslaved his country.

Dominique was a colorful and passionate person who dedicated his life toward making a real difference in the world. I'm glad to have finally learned a little about him through this fine documentary.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Two More Books from 2009

The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings by C. S. Lewis
My brother, Joel, gave me this book as a Christmas present in 2008. It's an anthology of excerpts from Lewis' books, letters, and essays arranged as 365 daily readings. End notes provide bibliographic information for each selection.

A little Lewis everyday in 2009 was a good thing! I was inspired and encouraged many times. I was reminded of how brilliant Lewis was, and how fun he is to read. Finally, I was delighted to discover some new Lewis books that really need to find their way into my library. 2009.12.31

True Story: A Christianity Worth Believing In by James Choung
I preached a sermon series called "Trust Worthy: Is Our Christianity Worth Believing?" in the Fall of 2009. During the time I was preaching those sermons, I ran across this book by James Choung at the Intervarsity Press website. The title was so close to that of my series, that I snatched it up to see if there was anything in the book that might be useful to me.

Most of the book is a fictional story of people struggling to understand and share their faith in ways the are meaningful and credible. The story is a vehicle for introducing a new method for talking about the Gospel. In other words, the book is an illustrative narrative that demonstrates Choung's suggestions for how to share the Gospel in our contemporary, western, post-modern society.

In the last section of the book, Choung explains his goals in developing his new method. First, it needed to capture the big picture of the kingdom of God and make it relevant for everyday life. Second, it needed to be framed in the context of the whole of Scripture (Genesis - Revelation). Third, it needed to be simple to understand and short enough to draw out on a napkin. Last, it needed to be presented in a way that truly sounds like good news.

I found Choung's critique of typical evangelical approaches to presenting the Gospel to be right on. His narrative approach effectively and believably illustrated the difficulties of talking about faith and Christianity. I believe his new approach to evangelistic conversation is very useful and have already found it to be helpful in my conversations with others. 2009.10.09

Monday, January 25, 2010

Stravinsky Concert - January 24th

The Minnesota Orchestra and
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra

January 24, 2010 - Benson Great Hall
Conductor: Osmo Vänskä

The Star Spangled Banner (arranged by Igor Stravinsky)
Jeu de Cartes (The Card Game)
Danses Concertantes for Chamber Orchestra
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring)

A superb afternoon of music. I'm very glad to be a SPCO season ticket holder. Some random thoughts about the concert:
• I learned that I like early Stravinsky (pre-1915) better than his later works.
• While the usual SPCO concerts are just perfect for Benson Great Hall, this event was too big for the venue. The orchestra barely fit and the room seemed small for the combined orchestra pieces. Parking was also an atrocious problem.
• Listening to some Stravinsky pieces (re form) is a bit like listening to a very long run-on sentence or "stream of consciousness" story.
• I like the first movement of Rite of Spring. The second movement? Not so much.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two Cross Cultural Movies

In recent weeks my wife and I have been able to enjoy a few interesting and obscure films. I thought it might be worth posting something in case others would like to check them out.

Starring: Shuli Rand, Michal Bat-Sheva Rand
Director: Giddi Dar

is the story of a orthodox husband and wife living in a very religiously conservative neighborhood in modern Jerusalem. The poor and struggling couple find themselves hosts of unexpected guests (escaped convicts) during Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles. "Ushpizin" is the word for guests who stay too long. These guests test the patience and faith of their hosts.

I was struck with the passion and grace and mercy of these people, the wisdom of their rabbi, and the immediacy of their prayer life. I found the acting to be quite good, and the story was both moving and believable.

The Story of the Weeping Camel
Starring: Janchiv Ayurzana, Chimed Ohin
Director: Luigi Falorni, Byambasuren Davaa

This film is a documentary that gives a glimpse into the lives of Mongolian camel herdsmen near the Gobi Desert of southern Mongolia. One of their camels gives birth to a rare white colt, but immediately rejects it and refuses to nurse it. What can they do to save the colt?

The film shows the life, relationships, rituals, routines, and holistic practices of these remarkable people. It's amazing how other-worldly their world seems, and yet how much of the human experience transcends culture and geography.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Overdue Book Reports 2009

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller
A wonderful little book with a great big message. This inspired me to preach my "The Prodigal Church" sermon series. 2009.02.12

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 by Mary Oliver
I just love the poems of Mary Oliver. Her powers of observation, sense of wonder, precision of words, and nurturing tone are nurturing and inspiring to me. 2009.03.01

The Last Word and the Word after That by Brian McLaren
I finally got to the last of the books in McLaren's New Kind of Christian trilogy. I thought his writing style got better with each new book. I appreciate the fictional narrative approach to provoking conversation and awareness about a myriad of relevant and difficult topics (theological, doctrinal, ecclesiological) facing Christians today. 2009.03.11

Between Two Worlds by John Stott
I finally got to this classic book about preaching written by one of the finest preachers I have ever had the privilege to hear. The book included biblical, historical, practical, and personal insights on the craft of preaching. 2009.03.15

Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw
I thought reading this book would give me a good idea of Claiborne's views on politics and social justice. I was right. Lot's of great stuff here, and every page is illustrated in full color. 2009.04.15

Prayer Coach by James L. Nicodem
I heard about this book through Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. It's a very practical "how-to" sort of book for anyone looking for some ideas to be intentional about the practice of prayer. While there is some good basic coaching here, there is also a pretty substantial amount of cheerleading. 2009.04.30

Culture Making by Andy Crouch
There was a lot of buzz about this book. I enjoyed it and thought it was well written. I got the most out of the first half of the book. 2009.04.24

New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 by Mary Oliver
"I tell you this To break your heart, / by which I mean only / that it break open and never close again / to the rest of the world." (From "Lead" p. 54) 2009.05.07

Local Wonders by Ted Koozer
Deceptively simple essays and short prose pieces filled with all kinds of profound insights. The book is arranged in sections that correspond to seasons of the year. I read the book out of order, but in sync with the actual seasons I was experiencing. Took me back to lots of Nebraska memories.

"If you can awaken / inside the familiar / and discover it new / you need never leave home." (p. 94) 2009.05.13

The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory A. Boyd
This is a book I read at the same time as one of my high school students from church. The goal was to discuss Christian perspectives on politics. This book is a thought-provoking corrective needed in this time when so many let their faith be confused with and co-opted by a political agenda. It's a good reminder that the Lordship of Christ stands above and apart from your country and your political partisanship. 2009.05.17

God's Rivals by Gerald R. McDermott
Yet another book I read with a high school student from our church as part of the special Leadership U group I was leading. Rather than simply seeing other religions as nothing more than rivals to Christianity, McDermott explores possible reasons for why they exist and the potential purposes they may serve. 2009.06.01

Creation by Alister McGrath
One of the short and beautifully illustrated books in the Truth and the Christian Imagination series by McGrath. In this book he explains important Christian theological perspectives relating to creation. The commentary is accompanied by seven masterpiece paintings from the history of art. 2009.06.15

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory
Read through this little book as part of my prep for the Dinner with Jesus sermon series I preached last summer. I wondered if it might be something worth putting in our church resource center. I didn't find it to be too good. Typical evangelical "pat answer" approaches to questions unbelievers have. 2009.06.25

The Useful Sinner by J. David Hawkins
Heard about this confessional memoir through the Mockingbird website. It's out of print, but they had a few copies for people who were interested. I read it on vacation up on the North Shore. 2009.06.26

Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus
by Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg
Just something I ran across on an search. It had a few good insights, but was written in almost too much of an evangelical vernacular. 2009.06.27

Consider the Oyster by MFK Fisher
I read this little book at my son Tyler's suggestion. He had heard about it on NPR. Didn't really ring my bell. Maybe I'm not enough of a foodie to really truly enjoy it. 2009.07.05

Living Things by Anne Porter
I discovered Anne Porter's poetry through Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac on Minnesota Public Radio. Her depth, perceptiveness, warmth, and faith come through everything she writes. I hope to read everything she has written. 2009.07.20

At Table with Jesus by John O. Gooch
A nifty little study book I used as a reference while preaching my Dinner with Jesus sermon Series. 2009.08.31

Christianity in Crisis by Hank Hanegraaff
I read this because one of the high school students in my church was reading it. He was very interested in reading a critique of the "prosperity," "word of faith," "spiritual warfare" preachers like Hagin, Copeland, Hinn. I wish there were some other books on this topic. 2009.09.02

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Resistance - Dr. Richard Beck

Here is a fantastic sermon from Dr. Richard Beck. It's a challenging and articulate call to follow Jesus in the resistance of the things that dehumanize.

Dr. Beck teaches psychology at Abilene Christian University, and writes the thought-provoking Experimental Theology blog.