A Letter to Ndamukong Suh

Dear Mr. Suh,

I’m a big fan.

I grew up watching Barry Sanders, the greatest running back of all time, make men of your position look foolish. I watched the Lions in bad times and in really bad times- when they stunk and when they really stunk. It hasn’t been until this year, that I have ever seen the Lions in what one might say is a good season. But like any fan, we want to see Championships, not just winning records. That is why you have caught my eye from the beginning. You didn’t just help make the Lions a better team, you took them on your back, changed the whole attitude of the organization, and made Detroit think it could win again.  Thanks to you, our defensive line is feared by opposing quarterbacks. You play hard EVERY play, you’re dominant, and despite the leagues borderline scapegoating you as the example of a dirty player, you continue to play with passion, and you do what it takes to win. I respect that. There’s no doubt you are the leader of this team.

With that said, I’ve never been more convinced of you being the Lion’s leader, than after watching the game last night. Suspended two games for letting your passion go too far after a play was over, your teammates fell into line and followed your lead. Personal foul after personal foul. Unsportsmanlike conduct after unsportsmanlike conduct. You and the Lions have lost control of your emotions and put your own pride ahead of winning.

Your lead. Your teammates following your example.

Have I lost faith in my new favorite Lion? By all means NO. I think you have the potential to make Detroit into a Superbowl Champ. But Championship calliber teams not only play hard, they are disciplined. They are respected because they will beat good teams, not beat themselves. If you want to be a really good player, get your emotions in check. Be disciplined. Cut the trash talk. Be the bigger man (on all accounts). Go hit hard and sack the quaterback and move onto the next play. You’re already feared, but its pointless to be feared if you don’t win games. Win games and you’ll be feared and respected.

I think you need to take a page out the Barry Sanders lesson on field conduct. You can be humble and still make your opponent look stupid. He did it every game because he was that good and he worked that hard.

Oh and I guarantee your team will follow your lead. They’ve followed your every lead up ’til now.

Make it happen. Lions fans are counting on you.

Sincerely, your biggest fan,

The Worship Experience: A Hillsong Critique

All throughout college, I was a worship leader. My friends were worship leaders. My dad has led worship at the church I grew up in for as long as I can remember. If there is one thing I find in common, no matter who the person is, all worship leaders are passionate about worship. In college, I loved worship so much that in addition to chapel twice a week and Church on Sundays, (which had a lot of old-cheesy worshipy stuff I didn’t like as much) I was a part of another student-run worship service on Tuesday nights called 10:07. Since maybe my senior year, I haven’t led worship. And I’d like to share something I’ve discovered.

The Christian Experience

Worship is great, and it is usually a healthy and life-giving addition to one’s faith journey, but it is NOT the essense of faith. In fact, it is not even close to the essense of Faith. I have been around people, and have myself been a person, who draws nearly their entire Christian experience from the emotional burst they get in worship. This is not our Christian experience. A Christian life is found in our relationship with others, in the example of Christ’s self-giving love for people. It is found in the everyday experiences of our interactions with people. Its how we treat our neighbor. Its our desire for peace and justice amongst people. It is forgiveness  of people breaking through our walls of bitterness.  If you worship with all the passion in the world, but do not have love, you are but a clanging symbol. Stop worshiping and go love your neighbor.

Emotion is NOT the Spirit

Want to know what it feels like to have the Spirit of God in you? You could try the hypra-emotional ecstatic experiences that one feels when going to the likes of a Hillsong concert. Or if you want that you could just go see Coldplay-  or you could drink the green juice and go to a rave concert. To all of you who haven’t broken down into sobbing, fallen over, been healed miraculously, floated in the cloads, heard the audible voice of God, spoken in uncomprehensible languages, or any of the like. Your faith is not weak. Your faith is not failing. That doesn’t mean you don’t have God’s Spirit in you. That’s not the Christian experience. Stop worshiping and go love your neighbor.

If you want to worship God, be kind to the person you think is a jackass, be gentle in the wake of anger, forgive the person who has wronged you, visit someone in prison, fight the injustices of our society. Do something for somone. As God did something for us.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”
-Galations 5:22-23

The Gaze of the Other

Living well is a true and noble goal. Holding true to good morals and
virtues is an honorable task. But never is life truer and more beautiful than
when lived together. And it is in this together-ness that human life is given
its meaning and purpose.

“Every supposed humanity which is not radically and
from the very first fellow-humanity is inhumanity (228).”

We live life together.

It is in relationship to each other that we find some sort of meaning. It is
living for others and because of others, that life can be known at all. This
idea really should not be passed because I think that if we get this wrong, the
implications are disastrous. If we fail to define humanity in its reciprocal
relation to others, how will we ever love as Christ did? As Christ first loved
us- in that he lived and died for others- so we ought to love one another, and
live our life for others. There was so much from Barth in this reading that I
loved, and frankly I want to flush it all out somehow, but for sake of this
assignment, I want look specifically at page 250 and the notion of “encounter in
which one man looks the other in the eye.”

In looking in another’s eyes, one is forced to see that person. One is forced to acknowledge that they
too are human, distinct from anything else in the cosmos. When a person
acknowledges another’s humanity, acknowledge their distinctness, their being,
their dignity, one is utterly changed. I find so much significance in this act.
Barth takes it a step further.

“When one man looks the other in the eye, it
takes place automatically that he lets the other look him in the eye (250).”

The reciprocity is key to the whole I-Thou relationship. As I am able to gaze into
your soul, so you are given my soul to gaze back. There is a sacred
connectedness in it. It is not mere observation of each other, it is two
“others” connecting and finding definition in each other. I love this idea of
connecting. When we can connect, we are able to love. When we remain in
disconnect, we are capable of the most hideous atrocity. I think the Spirit of
our Creator, the third person of the trinity, is that gaze from eye to eye of
humanity, connecting us, giving us the ability to love. It is a force that is
indescribable, a force that we can merely point to, and discover in living

I cannot quite describe the impact this reading has had on me. Not
because Barth is describing new revelations that I’ve never thought of before,
but because he’s describing what in my core is the shape of who I am and what I
believe. I try best when reading scholarly work to be critical of the text, to
both let it speak to me and question it. I try to let it affect me, but not to
define me.  But I’ve never felt so strongly that a text defines what I already
know in my core to be. Many times in my life I have fought, through tear after
tear, for what I find here. If ever my gut is swirling with passionate anger,
despair, or joy, it is the ideas in this writing of Barth’s that drive me- or
rather take me by storm. I don’t know how else- even if an over-dramatization-
to describe it. All I can say is that for others I hope to live, for without
others, my life is meaningless.

“It is a great and solemn and incomparable
moment when two men look themselves in the eye and discover one another

Reference: Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, written for my class Face of the Other

A word from death row.

Last night at just past 11:00p.m. Troy Davis was executed after being on death row for nearly 30 years. 85% of the testimonies that convicted him had since been recanted and much evidence was brought forward that he was an innocent man. That night for my Systematic Theology class I read an article by Mumia Abu-Jamal, a man nearly in the same situation as Troy Davis, accused of killing a cop, has spent 20+ years on Death Row, and has numerous amounts of evidence proving his innocence- but still yet to have received a fair trial. If the events of last night weren’t a glaring portrayal of how unjust our justice system is in America, I don’t know what else could be.

I’ve been deeply moved since then to listen to this man, a man who is a victim to the oppression not only of white racism, but a corrupt justice system. For if there is any hope for the liberation of oppressed people in our world, it surely must start with listening to their cries. In listening to these cries I hear also the same cries of Christ on the Roman death row. In doing so, I cannot help but shake my fist at my nation, an empirical power that still uses the death penalty to intimidate and coerce- and perhaps more painfully, I shake my fist at the Christianity that has stood by and often sponsored such injustices. How can Christians be staunchly anti-abortion, and not anti-death penalty? Our nation may have been founded on virtues such as liberty, democracy, and the morals of its founders, but it was also founded on a wave of genocides and on the backs of slaves. Christianity is touted as the virtuous base of America’s formation, but takes no responsibility for the injustices that ran parallel to it. On a day like today, these realities which I usually ignore, refuse to be put aside, and leave me deeply troubled.

“Isn’t it odd that Christendom- that huge body of humankind that claims spiritual descent from the Jewish carpenter of Nazareth – claims to pray to and adore a being who was a prisoner of Roman power, an inmate on the empire’s death row? That the one it considers the personification of the Creator of the Universe was tortured, humiliated, beaten, and crucified on a barren scrap of land on the imperial periphery, at Golgotha, the place of the skull? That the majority of its adherents strenuously support the State’s execution of thousands of imprisoned citizens? That the overwhelming majority of its judges, prosecutors, and lawyers – those who condemn, prosecute, and sell out the condemned – claim to be followers of the fettered, spat-upon, naked God?”            – Mumia Abu-Jamal “Isn’t it Odd?”

Just after 10:00a.m. this morning my class received a call from Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row. We were given about 10 minutes to hear his words, ask a few questions, and wish him well. What a blessing it was. I hope we can listen to his words.

Dwelling in Limbo

So, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what’s next- ok- well… A LOT OF TIME. And, needless to say there is a lot to be excited for. Saturday morning my sister called to tell me she is engaged! So freaking happy!! Yesterday, my beautiful wife got her first job interview! (She’s amazing…) With our move out to Princeton, we’ll be experiencing new community, we’ll be closer to Brooke and Josh, and personally, I’ve never been to NYC, so I’m pretty exited for that. This is without mentioning that my favorite season is fall- bonfires, and candy, and apple cider, and Lions football… the crisp cool air, the leaves on the trees, N’Damukoung Suh… homecomings and Thanksgiving, and MEGATRON!- All that to say, in my excitement, I can’t help but pause. We’ve been really fortunate to have the past two months relaxing, fishing, reading, and getting PAID to do it. So I thought before moving to what’s next, its only proper to look back and be thankful.

We landed one of the coolest summer gigs I could’ve ever imagined. We’ve been managers of Hatfield’s Island View Resort, just outside of Detroit Lakes, MN. We’ve had 7 cabins to manage, including seasonal trailer rentals (the “Trailerhood” as they like to call themselves). Our responsibilities included daily taking out the trash and fish heads- and weekly cleaning the cabins and taking the money from the weekly renters. The rest of the week, we swam, fished, read, played speed scrabble, watched Chopped, and cooked delicious meals. Oh and we learned a lot. Here’s to our summer on the lake!

We moved docks, fixed docks, dug up and replaced leaky pipes, put new screens on the fish house, fixed doors, chipped and painted decks, installed air conditioners, and installed a counter-top.

We learned how to rig a fishing pole, learned how to troll for “big-ass” fish, learned how to fillet the fish, and learned how to pan fry them and enjoy🙂.

We scraped poop off of the floaty dock, weeded the bay, fixed an ancient boat motor, tamed and befriended a kitty, ate a zillion marshmallows, and made lentil-bean burgers (don’t judge me Nick).

We bought gas, mixed gas, spilled gas on ourselves, and inhaled its lovely fumes.

We drove a truck around for two months with brakes that didn’t work AT ALL.

We cleaned up a fallen tree, called the electric company and the cable company multiple times, and became intimately acquainted with the insides of dead fish.

We saw and heard hawks, loons, herons, kingfishers, a bald eagle (quite regularly actually), hummingbirds, falcons, seagulls, ducks, ravens, crows, and bluejays.

I killed a pack of mountain lions with my bare hands and then fed them to my befriended bear friend, Winnie.

Let’s not forget we stargazed, watch many an amazing sunset, saw the northern lights, and watched a meteor shower.

I don’t think this would be complete without saying thanks to the Hatfields. Shelley and Vicky, thanks for the amazing week with you two. Thanks for teaching us how to fish and for sharing stories and songs. Tom and Jeanie, thanks for teaching how to fix a lot of things and for welcoming us so warmly when we first got here. Teri, we didn’t get to interact a ton, but it was great seeing you on our visits to DL. Paula thanks for sharing so many great stories about the Hatfield Resort and for the great conversations and bonfires. Take care of smoke!

Smoke, thanks for trusting us and giving us someone to play with and take care of. So much fun and brought joy to some of our loneliest moments out here. You were a great cat!

What an adventure for Lacey and I these past two months. Married in June and off to Princeton in September, we found ourselves seeking desperately to live each day with intention and purpose, though really in the grand scheme of things, being in place that’s neither here nor there, neither behind us nor awaiting us. We were on the boundary between one life and the next, seeking not just to lay our heads for the moment, but to abide and exist fully on this border. There is no doubt that these two months were but a hiccup on our life’s journey, yet to dismiss their significance would take monumentally away from the story. All in all we look back and are exceedingly grateful. I think it takes moments like this in life to recognize and remember that life is a gift. God’s grace is manifest in that we have been given life. And we have each other to share it with. What a gift.

Some Thoughts on worship, God, and America.

Recently, I’ve been struggling to come up with a new topic that I wanted to write on, I’ve read a few books that have been amazing, but can’t seem to figure out how to wrap it into a readable blog, rather than a multi-page essay. Finally, I decided to just write on a subject that has been long in contemplation. This topic goes back probably to my junior year in college, but its been so intertwined with real events and so muddled in my head, that until now, on my sabbatical/second honeymoon/summer job, I haven’t had a good moment to write on it. So, here goes. I’ll try to keep it short and break it up into mini-subjects to keep it blog-worthy. WARNING: You may find this post to be disconcertingly incongruent.

Intro: The God of American Protestant Christianity
As many of you know I graduated with a double major in Marketing and Bible & Religion, an odd combination to many. Nine times out of ten, I get the smart reply “So are you going to sell Bibles?” [To which I usually grin, serving partly as a polite acquiescence to their cleverness and partly a proverbial rolling of my eyes.] In studying both of these fields, I’ve come notice the odd places with which I find resemblance of the two.

Perhaps the most frustrating, and perhaps hidden place I’ve discovered this merging is in the identity of the God of American Protestantism- with which I would argue, has become distinctly and concretely intertwined with the consumerist, individualistic mentality that has also shaped the identity of the American culture. And I don’t mean people are more concerned with “stuff” than with God, as so many have traditionally pointed out.

In our American culture, the marketing world has learned that it can make gobs of money by giving us whatever we want, however we want it, whenever we want it. Wal-mart, Amazon, smart phones… revolve around the idea of us getting what we want in the most convenient and efficient way. Any possible item we want can be bought with a simple drive to your nearest Wal-mart. Any possible thing we might want to know can be accessed within seconds on our “carry internet with us wherever we go” devices.

I would argue, the god of this same society, is a means to our ends. He is another product with which we consume and therefore shape into whatever meets our fancy. Thanks to Martin Luther 500 years ago, we now have thousands and thousands of denominations and non-denominational entities that essentially let us believe whatever we want. And all along we hide behind our mantra, sola scriptura, and say thing like “well it says so in the Bible” while all along our thousands of denominations all disagree on what it “says in the Bible”.

Worship: I’ll take mine sunny-side up.
My most furious implication of this reality it in the modern worship scene. Now let me first say that in my life, singing praises to God with a community of people is a foundational element of Christianity and has been at times in my life a rock for me to lean on and a safe place for me to go (thank you Brandon Schmidt), but there have been other times where I believe the mysterious God of Israel who has “has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy on and shows compassion on whom he wants to show compassion” is put aside and the idolatric god of America shows up to please the masses in whatever way they want.

Worship becomes about an experience for worshipers to consume. Big lights, intense bass, ridiculously idolized lead singers who appear to have all their shit together. Its like a TV show or a concert. Emotion gets mistaken as the Holy Spirit and becomes the measuring stick for how “successful” the service was. And I’ve sat there in those situations time and again and wondered what the heck does this have to do with God? I know people who’s nearly entire religious experience is based on what happens to them in worship. It is their opium. And when it comes to matters of every day life, like forgiving people who have wronged them and having compassion for the least, its all ignored. Because they got their god-fill during worship.

The American Royal Liturgy: Legitimating Our Lifestyles
My last point about worship has a fascinating and troubling implication. When we can get our god-fix in our hyper-emotional worship experiences, the suffering, pain, and brokenness in our world gets ignored in favor of a god who only moves in these emotionally-heavy experiences of worship. Then we go live our own lifestyles, removed from the hurt and pain of our world. We don’t seem to find a place for God within the real spheres of life. I recently watched the movie “The Help” and was reminded that the most segregated time in America is on Sunday morning.

And we go on living our lives. We don’t ask ourselves to face the injustice caused by our life style. We remain removed from the people whom the world is hurting the most. Yet, we go on singing. When we think about how we are doing in our “spiritual lives” we ask ourselves how we are feeling, have we had any good “experiences” of God lately? And if not, we look for whatever can fill that void. “How bout a little devotional time? I haven’t done that in awhile.” “I think I’ll listen to a podcast.” “How about a ‘lil religious television?!” [Its like- “hmmm… I’m hungry, I think I’ll grab a Snickers”]

Yet, with this mentality, we fail to ask essentially Christian questions of our life- “Am I loving my enemies?” Are the imprisoned being visited?” Are the widows and orphans being cared for?” “Is my neighbor in need?” Our liturgy is making our world. And when its primary purpose is to fulfill a need/desire of the one worshiping and ignores the hurt and pain of our world, it isn’t making a world in which God intended form the beginning. It is making a world of a God essentially nothing but serve as a means to our personal end.

The end?
Now, upon reading over what I’ve just written, I’m not exactly happy with it. I’m not sure I communicated well the ramblings of what I feel like my soul should tell the world. I could hit one or two points and just write on and on, which probably makes this hard. Maybe this has all been said before, maybe not. Either way, there you have it. Raw and unedited. Hope you it meets your fancy!

Conflict and the Church

Conflict for the Church has seen days of tremendous polarization, arrogance, and violence. It has torn apart the very vehicle for which peace is to be brought to the world. It has forced people to form sides and figure out how to alienate their enemies. Conflict has had the ability to put up walls and make war out of a people who claim to be a unit- the body of Christ. Yet conflict has also been a tool to shape the very fabric of beliefs and theology that are needed for people to call themselves one. In the Essays of Montaigne, he claims that true discussion, whose objective is for both sides to learn and come away better and wiser, there must be a conflict involved. Without conflict, the Church would be unable to learn and to reform and to become better. For the Spirit of God must at times be as hot coals, ridding its Body of the impurities that cloud its conscience.

The Church has been a supreme example and an abominable failure in confronting issues of conflict over the centuries. Nevertheless, still it stands firm facing old and new issues alike. The strand that has held together the Church since the very beginning has been the council of believers. Guided by the Spirit of humility and urged by the example given by Christ, the council draws together the pieces of the body to decide where it will go, which direction it will choose. In 325 A.D. the Roman Emperor Constantine gathered the First Council of Nicaea to discuss the likeness of Jesus to the Father, issuing in the great creeds that have been a foundation of Christian belief for centuries. Since that time, the Church has proven that council is the means through which conflict must be dealt. The Church has taught us that power has proven corrupt in the hands of few, but when placed in the hands of many, justice can return and truth can free us.

For centuries, the authority of councils was threatened by Rome. The Pope wanted full claim to authority- and to the Pope, for a long time, it was given. The spirit of Conciliarism was wrought in the days of injustice and finally truth had a say. Sola Scriptura was the creed of the Protestant Reformation that freed the Christian faith from the bonds of the few in power and gave it back to the full Body of believers. In Scripture alone we can find the truth and authority of God. But now we live in a world that has swam the depths of modernity and scaled the heights of post-modernity and realized that Scripture, the very place of authority, must still be interpreted. And interpretation always involves conflicting views.

Today, the spirit of council has issued us into a new Ecumenical Movement, whereby the Church in disorient seeks to become its true self in Christ once more. One of the greatest puzzles of the past two decades has been how conflict has been able to polarize the Body of Christ to the point where we disown the very fabric of our being, to love as Christ loved us, and use violence against our former brothers and sisters in the name of truth. Who made humans the great Judge? As we move forward we realize that humility must draw us together. What can we learn from the other? What can the heretic teach us? We are all one in Christ Jesus, differences included. The Church is learning that in order to truly grow and become light to the world, it must recognize our like humanity and our like need of God’s abundant grace.