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LIFE AS A MIDDLE MANN

The Heavenly Man

In addition to my new feature of movie reviews I've also decided that with every book I read I'll post a picture of the cover and share some reflections. I always forget what I read and this might help me remember and get some of my immediate thoughts down. The Heavenly Man is the autobiography of Brother Yun, a Chinese house church leader and the leader of the much talked about Back to Jerusalem movement. This book was selected as the Christian Book of the Year in 2003 and the Christian Autobiography of the year in 2004. My wife picked it up as soon as I finished it and I'm telling her she has to finish it so we can talk about it without me ruining it for her. She's also not allowed to read this post until she's done, there are a few spoilers in here. This book tore me up inside. Every once in a while you experience something that wrecks your perspective and completely ruins you for 'ordinary.' This book did that again for me. This book reads like a Chinese version of the book of Acts, literally. It makes me feel like I've seriously been 'playing church' the way we all remember playing house growing up. It's not real, it's not close to real. Having spent a significant part of my childhood growing up in China I felt a special draw to this book, it was also on a recommended reading list for our church's trip to China that Becca and I will be going on this July (support us!). His is an intense story of persecution and faith, of abundance in spiritual blessings with a complete lack of material blessings. His story is inspiring if not annoying. On a bad day I don't want to read about this guy? I want to read about the people that I'm better than, the ones who are complaining about missing t.v. shows and stuff, I like to compare myself to them and feel good. This guy, yeah, not so good. God has also been stirring in my wife and I's heart towards possibly taking the blessings he's given us to some of the most church-forsaken places in the world, China being at the top of that list. It was hard to imagine after reading this book just what we could possibly bring that would be of any benefit. Now, if they'd like to dilute the strength of the church and the move of God's spirit, then I'm just the guy! But my western arrogance, the view that any majority world country would be blessed to simply have a few Americans in their presence. Well, that had been fading for some time but it is now officially gone. In fact, maybe God is calling us to go to China...to learn from them. I'm not sure I can recommend this book, it'll bug you as it paints a different picture of what it means to give your life to the person of Jesus and the way of Jesus. A neat part about the ending of the book unfolds as he describes the Chinese church's commitment to take the gospel to the remaining unreached places on the globe. They have 100,000 who have committed to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, through the three main roads that connect China to the Middle East. I wish we had that same vigor, commitment and willingness to sacrifice for people and places that have never heard Jesus. Or maybe I wish I had the same vigor, commitment and willingness to sacrifice.

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Movie Review: Factory Girl

"What can you offer my daughter?" "I can maker her famous." "Famous?" "Yeah, isn't that what we all really want, to be famous?" Edie Sedgwick, muse of Andy Warhol, cousin of Kyra Sedgwick, artist, sculptor, jeweler, movie star, debutante and enigma of the 1960's. Her story is told in film. This film is dark at times and portrays both a period of time and a philosophy of life that could be most summed up in the life of Edie Sedgwick. She died at the tender age of 28 but not without more crazy experiences than most will experience in a lifetime. This story really focuses on her relationship with Andy which provides an interesting glimpse into the person who was responsible changing the way the world viewed art and commercialism. I was completely unfamiliar with both of these characters but they sparked my curiosity in a lot of ways. Edie came from a significant New England family line but dealt with severe family dysfunction and sexual and emotional abuse from her father and immediate family. She seemed to have a spirit about her that captured the attention of all wherever she went. She lived a carefree, spontaneous, and often empty life seeking freedom from her inner demons but with subconscious resignation that it was futile and that they would ultimately do her in. Hers is a story that we see played out time and time again just in lesser degrees. If the enemy, the devil, all that is evil and twisted in the world, whatever you want to call 'that,' gets a hold of a child and can frustrate and derail the healthy development of a child then the rest of their life they will be a shell of a person looking for hope, meaning, relationship, love, trust in any and all ways imaginable. I believe that no amount of self-talk and counseling can allow this person/these people to experience any semblance of a normal life ever again. To some extent we all enter adulthood bruised and broken but for children of divorce to children of sexual, emotional or physical abuse, the damage is often too much to overcome. I personally believe that this is exactly why God, wrecked that this can and does happen, intervened at one point in history for all of history and through what the image of the invisible God, Jesus, did reverse the effects that our sin and selfishness have caused. I believe that the Edie's of the world and the Edie in me have hope that their relationship with God, with others, and with themselves can be restored. An interesting movie, not one I'd necessarily recommend but one that proves that those with fame and fortune suffer through many of the same, if not more, of the complicated and confusing things of life...

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Movie Review: Breach

In an effort to remember which movies I've seen recently I'm going to jot a few thoughts down after recent movies I watch or books i read. I absolutely loved this movie. It was entertaining, intriguing, suspenseful and surprisingly accurate to what actually took place in 2001. I remembered a ways into the movie reading about this story in the newspaper during the time it was uncovered. Eric O'Neill is hired by the FBI to be the clerk for Robert Hanssen. He is initially told that Robert is a sexual deviant and they don't want him to embarrass the agency. Eric is struck by the character of Robert and grows to trust and respect him. Only later, confused why he is following this man is he informed that Robert has been suspected of spying for the soviets for more than 20 years. They viewed this case as the greatest security breach in United States history. It keeps you on the edge of the seat and has some surprises in the end. A few thoughts jumped out at me after watching this movie. Hiding behind the church-It is not hard to imagine someone becoming increasingly religious in an attempt to divert suspicion surrounding their character and activities. This can be both a guise and also genuine. Sometimes the person wants to hide and no one would ever suspect a daily mass attender to do something awful like this (how many of them doing 'it' does it take for us to lose credibility in people simply for attending religious services, oh wait, we're already there). There are other times when the person, racked with guilt, indulges in religious activity to almost try and make up for their immorality. It is a genuine quest for forgiveness and cleansing. Either way...this isn't the first time that someone has been 'caught' while checking the church box. Hence the words of an eighth century prophet, later quoted by Jesus, "These people honor me with their lips but the hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain..." Living a lie--seems intriguing, risky, and adventurous. But a life spent looking over one's shoulder, habitually covering tracks is no life or liberty even though it started as a sincere pursuit of happiness. Pride--The biggest question in these stories both for the people involved and for those watching from a distance is, "why?" Why did they do it? After reading Hanssen's wikipedia entry a line emerged that surprised me but at the same time made perfect sense, sadly. "Hanssen felt that his skills were underused and sought acceptance and appreciation from his peers which never materialized; therefore, he began to spy for the KGB which recognized his lack of friends and attempted to compensate." A case of feeling left out, hurt feelings, a bruised ego...the stuff of elementary school playgrounds never seems to stay on the playground. Four-square and dodge ball are exchanged for more sophisticated games and for those who feel ripped off or were picked last, the methods of revenge take on new more sophisticated forms. In this case, betraying your country, compromising it's security and billions of dollars in exchange for...finally feeling significant. The drive of a bruised ego.

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What Do You Believe?

What do you believe? Christian Smith in his beast of a book Soul Searching found that most students who graduate high school cannot articulate what they believe and in many cases didn't even know what they believed. How important is it to know what you believe? Don't we just need to love God and love others and call it good? Well, even that statement--that we just need to love God and love others is a significant statement of belief. Are you sure we shouldn't hate God and hate others? Are you sure there aren't many more important things to build our lives around? Every statement we say and each moment of the day we are affirming or denying some set of beliefs. We don't even need to be cognizant of what those beliefs are for us to be living life according to them. Since we are going to be living according to some way of seeing the world wouldn't it make sense to take time to assess what that is and which way of seeing the world makes the most sense with what we experience in the world? Does anyone want to live a life that completely missed the point? I don't think anyone wants to but I think many do. These past few weeks we, the middle school community at Salem Alliance, have been on a journey of sorts exploring where and how to look for truth today and what does it tell us about the world, God, ourselves and each other? It has become apparent to me throughout this series that it is much easier to teach students what to think rather than how to think. Are we guilty of that sometimes in church? I'm afraid many of our graduating students don't have the ability to think critically in regards to issues of spiritual things as they enter a world that is increasing critical towards the church's perspective on spiritual things. This last week I was very encouraged as we explored the question of who is Jesus. I showed them the statement which was the core truth about Jesus as revealed through the New Testament but I told them that they could earn a dum-dum if they asked strong questions from the perspective of someone who didn't believe the statement. Hands shot up all around the room as kids asked incredibly insightful and thoughtful questions regarding much of the confusion and mystery of Jesus. The reality is that when they leave church they're walking in a world that predominately does not affirm the statements they do. If they never get a chance to think and ask from the perspective of many of their peers and assess the credibility of those different perspectives then their ability to stand on their own conclusions and articulate their whys and whats does down the tubes. If this proves to be too difficult I think we might just go back to telling them the answers.

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A New Era

I'd hate to over-promise and under-deliver--but you heard it here first folks, I think that we might be on to something with our new style of outreach event. How did we land on it you might ask? Great question. We were getting too big for our current room to have 5-6 group games over the course of a few hours with everyone participating. We don't have access to any other facilities at the moment so this forces us to do more of a 'come and experience' more than a 'come and participate.' We will essentially be producing a live, televised game show with the students as the studio audience. Our students love this game and can't believe they could play for real money! We're going to have commercial breaks and homemade commercials (the message will actually through the commercial breaks via video) the banker, the sound effects, lots of prizes to win throughout, a bald host, and $1,000,000. Just kidding. I think 250. I hope we see at least that many students as well!

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