From Urbana…another quick post

December 31, 2006

I’m tired and ready to go home. I miss my wife and feel pretty fried out. Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be flying back to Minneapolis, so this will be my last post from Urbana.
I don’t want to give you a play by play of the last two days, so here are just the highlights:

Biblical Seminary has a booth here. It was exciting to hear about how they are trying to reimagine seminary education around missional ideas. Most folks within the emerging church or missional movement recognize that seminary education needs to change. Few are trying to change. I thank God for Biblical Seminary’s approach and hope they succeed.
I was unable to go to the track offered by Shane Claiborne yesterday…the room was packed and a line was forming outside. I realized that if I got a seat it meant that someone else wouldn’t, so I decided to skip it. I was hoping to not only hear what he had to say, but to introduce myself to him. There really aren’t that many neo-monastic communities around, so it would be good to be networked a bit.

Once again, InterVarsity impresses me with their open-handedness. They’ve given a good deal of stage time to World Vision. Two nights ago the emphasis was on the aids crisis in Africa. We heard from a world vision spokesman, Princess Zulu, and Bono (via a satellite feed). It is exciting to see God’s people take a proactive role on something so important (for a change).

Rick Warren spoke last night. He shared briefly from his P.E.A.C.E. plan. I have some issues with a lot of what Rick Warren has written in the past, but I am truly glad that he has made this most recent shift in his ministry focus. I hope that other suburban pastors jump on this bandwagon.

The Conflict in Somalia

December 29, 2006

Because thousands of East Africans live in Minneapolis (a good many in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood), I have an above-average interest in the goings-ons in Somalia. I just read the following from the Pew Forum’s news feed:

Troops from Ethiopia and Somalia’s weak transitional government cornered Islamic fighters Wednesday in their stronghold of Mogadishu, and witnesses said the once powerful religious alliance was rapidly disintegrating. Some key Islamist leaders resigned their posts and were seen attempting to flee by boat, officials said early today.

A weeklong assault led by Ethiopia’s military, which sent about 4,000 troops into Somalia at the request of the transitional government, has resulted in a surprising reversal of fortune for the Islamists, who have lost nearly all of the territory they seized in the last six months.

The Islamists lost two more key areas Wednesday, including the town of Jawhar and the port city of Kismayo, officials said. Ethiopian and transitional government troops moved within 18 miles of Mogadishu, and government forces were preparing to enter the capital today.

Islamists distributed guns to civilians, urging them to help fight off an attack. But some fighters were rejoining their former clan-based militias; others shaved their beards and removed Islamic caps in an effort to blend in with the population.

My hope and prayers are for peace in Somalia. And while conflict SEEMS to be somewhat curbed, my gut tells me that this is simply a false ending to conflict in Somalia. My fear is that Somalia is an emerging front line in growing conflicts between Islamists and somewhat pro-Western forces. We, the Church, need to think very carefully about how we–the embodiment of Christ’s presence on earth–respond to this particular situation, and all the coming conflicts which arise on the edges of Islamist power.

CT’s Top Ten Stories of 2006

December 28, 2006

These are the “top ten stories of 2006,” according to Christianity Today. They are “the events, people, and debates of the past year that Christianity Today’s editors and writers believe have shaped, or will significantly shape, evangelical life, thought, or mission.”

1. Sex Scandal Fells NAE President Ted Haggard

2. Israel Invades Lebanon

3. Court Decisions Favor Traditional Marriage

4. Muslims Riot over Pope’s Comments

5. Religious Left Declares Victory in Midterm Election

6. Violence Sends Christians Packing from Iraq

7. Southern Baptists Crack Down on Tongues

8. Immigration Debate Splits Evangelicals

9. Ministry Leaders Sign Evangelical Climate Initiative

10. Christians Flock to See The Da Vinci Code

What does this list tell you about North American Evangelicalism? In my perspective, the most important on this list are 2, 4, and 8. I have no idea why 1 and 10 (and possibly 7) made the list.

a second quick post from Urbana 06

December 28, 2006

My particular job at Urbana is to be the “clicker” at dinnertime. In other words, I will be the one standing at the door counting all 23,000 people as they come through the door. Good times. Yesterday, I was trained into my job. After training and dinner, I attended the main session, which was a line by line commentary of Ephesians 1:1-14 by Ajith Fernando (National Director for Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka). The worship music was well done and loud, but not my style. I understand why people really enjoy large worship gatherings, but I prefer singing with a handful of people with unplugged musicians.

Nevertheless, it is awesome seeing 23,000 people in one place. And those faces aren’t homogeneous. I’ve been impressed by the diversity at Urbana. While white students are in the majority, there are students from all corners of the earth here as well as students from every state in the US and province in Canada. Over 200 organizations are represented here (from across the evangelical spectrum). I’m pleased that while InterVarsity hosts Urbana, the conference isn’t “all about” InterVarsity.

Furthermore, I’m pleased by the bookstore. It doesn’t have that over-loaded consumer feel that one finds at many ministry conferences. The selection of books is broad, yet restrained. There are a number of books that encourage a radical Christ-centered life (in the best sense of the word “radical.”)

This theme of radical discipleship finds its way into the “majors” (seminar tracks) being offered. Here are the different majors:

  • Africa
  • Aids
  • Around the World
  • Arts
  • Asian
  • Campus
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Diverse People
  • Evangelism
  • Getting Ready to Go
  • Global Missions Issues
  • Healthcare
  • High School
  • Missions 101
  • Pastors and Church Leaders
  • Slum Communities
  • Urban
  • Workplace and Academia
  • World Religions
  • General Interest

While there is certainly a global focus, the overall sense of Urbana is that God’s call can lead anywhere. There is no privileging of “foreign” missions over “domestic.”

I’ll be attending only three sessions, because of my job responsibilities. Here’s the sessions I’ll be attending:

  1. Justice 101: Intermediate Steps to Transforming the City (Kevin Blue) Urban Major
  2. The Simple Way: The New Monasticism in North America’s Cities (Shane Claiborne) Urban Major
  3. Mission and Monasticism: Is this Ancient Form of Mission Reemerging? (Scott Bessenecker) Slum Communities Major

My reason for attending these tracks is to 1) go deeper in my understanding of engaging in urban mission as a neo-monastic community and 2) to meet others who are either doing such ministry or are interested in doing such ministry.

a quick post from Urbana 06

December 27, 2006

I’m hoping to post on my experiences at Urbana. I’ll try to post something each day, starting today.

Some of you may be thinking: why should we care what Mark learns at Urbana? I think you’ll be surprised. Let me be honest with you: I wasn’t looking forward to going at all. I’m not a big fan of short-term missions, and in my mind Urbana was a sort of clearinghouse for short terms missions. One of the first things I did after I arrived and got settled was to read about the different tracks being offered. I’m impressed. Many–if not most–of the tracks being offered have to do with domestic issues (especially urban issues). There is something for almost everyone here. Urbana is no longer about MISSIONS…it is about MISSION. InterVarsity, it seems to me, seems to following a profoundly incarnational impulse. They aren’t simply interested in sending out missionaries to various places. They are interested in how we understand and embody the Gospel wherever we are sent.

I was especially pleased to see that Shane Claiborne would be here, as well as Ray Bakke and Tom Sine. Good stuff. Though I won’t be able to go to every session (since I have to work in the later afternoons), I should be able to suckle enough thought-nectar to share with y’all. :)
In the meantime, I encourage you to read the posts I wrote during the past week. At first, I was genuinely confused about the sudden drop-off in comments on my blog. Missionthink is by no means the most popular blog in the blogosphere, but I do get some thoughtful dialogue going for most posts. My beloved wife pointed out the obvious: the reason most folks aren’t commenting on my blog this week is because it is Christmas. Sometimes I am pretty dense (some would say most of the time).

Talking to Saison

December 26, 2006

The other day at Hard Times Cafe, I had a conversation with a 30 year old African American man named Saison. The conversation stayed mostly on politics and race issues in the United States. At one point he brought up the complicity of American Christianity with all-things-bad in American life.

Saison shared from his own experience (I paraphrase): “When I was walking the streets of my home town, I’d run into drug dealers all the time who would try to get me to trust in Jesus–they knew that I had left the church. One day, they’d be pushing drugs. The next day, they’d be in church, dressed in a suit. That’s f***ed up.” He continued to link it to the current situation: “The same thing is happening with the United States. George W. goes to church every Sunday, and so do so many millions of others in America, but then he pushes a war and oil and gets rich off of others.”

Our conversation at that point went on to how most people in America may call themselves Christians, but most folks don’t act like Jesus. Saison isn’t a Christian–not even close. But he seemed to respect Jesus. But every experience of Christianity he’s had has been disconnected from regular life and lack the power to challenge or transform the injustices and/or banality around him. Around that point, he asked me what I did for a living. I said to him: “I guess you could call me a pastor.” He grimaced and then smiled. Then he asked me a valid question: “If most Christians don’t do what Jesus did, and you think that real Christianity is about being like Jesus, then why do you call yourself a ‘Christian’…you should call yourself something else.”

What do you think? Should I (like my blog friend Graham) stop calling myself a Christian in an effort to differentiate myself from mainstream vapid Christianity? Or is it better to redeem the name and make sure folks know what SORT of Christian I am?

Off to Urbana

December 26, 2006

I’m off to Urbana today…I’ll be gone all week. I’ll TRY to blog while I’m away, but I can’t promise anything. For some reason, I’ve been in a writing mode lately and it hasn’t been uncommon for me to post twice a day. I haven’t been spending any more time than usual at my computer, its just been flowing.

Merry Christmas: From the Missio Dei Book of Prayer

December 25, 2006

Week 1: Monday Evening

Call to Praise

After a time of reflective silence, proclaim:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Psalm 140

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Rescue me, LORD, from evildoers;
protect me from the violent,

who devise evil plans in their hearts
and stir up war every day.

They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent?s;
the poison of vipers is on their lips.

Keep me safe, LORD, from the hands of the wicked;
protect me from the violent,
who devise ways to trip my feet.

The arrogant have hidden a snare for me;
they have spread out the cords of their net
and have set traps for me along my path.

I say to the LORD, “You are my God.”
Hear, LORD, my cry for mercy.

Sovereign LORD, my strong deliverer,
you shield my head in the day of battle.

Do not grant the wicked their desires, LORD;
do not let their plans succeed.

Those who surround me proudly rear their heads;
may the mischief of their lips engulf them.

May burning coals fall on them;
may they be thrown into the fire,
into miry pits, never to rise.

May slanderers not be established in the land;
may disaster hunt down the violent.

I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.

Surely the righteous will praise your name,
and the upright will live in your presence.

Matthew 5:6

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Reflect upon the injustices of this world. Reflect upon the unrighteousness in your heart. Confess them to the Lord and ask for his justice to prevail.

Mary?s Song

My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,

for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful

to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.

Closing Prayer

May we never be satisfied with the justice and righteousness of this world, Lord. Awaken us from our apathy as we cry out for your justice, your righteousness.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Freaky Elijah Wood

December 24, 2006

I took a picture of these statues from the U of M West Bank. Something about gray statues with prosthetic eyes is especially disturbing. Especially because it makes those statues look like Elijah Wood.


Christmas wisdom from N.T. Wright

December 23, 2006

From a recent CT Article (What Is This Word?) by N.T. Wright:

There is a fad in some quarters about a “theology of incarnation,” meaning that our task is to discern what God is doing in the world and to do it with him. But that is only half the truth, and the wrong half to start with. John’s theology of the Incarnation is about God’s Word coming as light into darkness, as a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, as a fresh word of judgment and mercy. You might as well say that an incarnational missiology is about discovering what God is saying no to today and finding out how to say it with him. That was the lesson Barth and Bonhoeffer had to teach in Germany in the 1930s, and it’s all too relevant as today’s world becomes simultaneously more liberal and more totalitarian. This Christmas, get real, get Johannine, and listen again to the strange words spoken by the Word made flesh.

At first, I didn’t like what he was saying here (you should read the context in the article out of which it comes). Then I realized how profoundly Anabaptist it was and quickly agreed ;)

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