Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review of Gandhi by E. Stanley Jones

My dad highly recommended this book years back, and I finally got around to reading it.  I loved it.  I actually read it as part of my devotions.
E. Stanley Jones (one of the world's most famous missionaries, who spent 50+ years serving India) knew Gandhi as a personal friend.  Here's a quick summary of the book: Gandhi (a Hindu) intentionally modeled his life after Jesus and actually lived more like Jesus than any other human being since Jesus.  Gandhi's life, death, and enduring influence are a call for Christians to return to the Christ of the cross.
Gandhi showed the world that the way of nonviolence is not only possible but successful.  I personally felt challenged to follow Christ more closely throughout my reading.
One of the most powerful statements (one I might actually use in my sermon this week) was this.  After a night of soul searching, Gandhi broke through to the truth of simple living.  Then, Jones says, "Many of us would have talked and debated and consulted interminably.  Gandhi decided at dawn to reduce the principles to practice.  That is the essential difference in Gandhi; he acted on what he saw to be truth.  He didn't see all truth, but he acted on what he saw, and that made the difference" (79).
May God help us all (especially me) to be faithful to the truth that we see.
The Josh rating: a strong 5Js - JJJJJ.  Read this book!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review of Ford County - by John Grisham

Sarah and I often read a book together before bedtime.  We take turns choosing.  This was my pick. 
I love reading John Grisham, but I usually try to stay away from him when I'm not on vacation.  I have a bad habit of staying up late into the night to finish one of his suspenseful books.
This book is a different format, though.  Instead of his standard novel, this is a collection of short stories.  Also, none of them are terribly suspenseful, so that made it a nice fit for reading before bed.  We could stop whenever we wanted.
 The stories all have a loose connection with law: death row inmates, wills, bankruptcy, lawsuits, divorce, etc.  However, law and lawyers play a much smaller role in most of the stories.  In fact, only 3 of the 7 have a lawyer as a main character.
This was a good read, but not one of my favorite Grisham books.  It reminded me a lot of Ernest Hemmingway's short stories.  There is this deep sense of disappointment with life - especially in small town Mississippi.  (All of the stories are placed in Grisham's home area: Ford County, Mississippi).  Every story has a deep note of sadness and even despair.  Yet, even so, reading them is enjoyable - in a cathartic, companion for misery, kind of way.
I would recommend this book for someone who is just looking for some casual reading or for someone who wants a look (albeit a bit depressing) into small town American life.  The Josh rating: JJJ.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Three Cups of Tea - Review

I've seen some of my friends reading this book for years.  Many of them have highly recommended it to me.  Somehow it has escaped my reading list until this month.  Michael and Elizabeth gave me a copy for my birthday, and I'm so glad they did.  This is one of the best books I've read in a very long time.
The first half of the story is simple.  Greg Mortenson was part of a team trying to climb K2 (the world's most dangerous mountain) in Northern Pakistan.  Through a series of injuries and mishaps, he became disoriented and separated from his group.  After getting lost once and spending a night alone on the ice, he missed a turn and lost his guide again.  He wandered into the small mountain village of Korphe, and this forever changed his life.
The people of Korphe, despite their poverty, showed him great hospitality and love as they nursed him back to health.  Without a plan, without prior community development experience, without funding, he promised to return to Korphe to build a school for the children who were stuck in a generational cycle of poverty.
The next third of the book is his amazing and frustrating journey to build that first school.  Through many ups and downs and confusions about Pakistani mountain culture(s), he persevered.  Several key people came to his aid through funding, cultural support, physical protection, and emotional support.  After several years of struggle, Mortenson founded the Central Asia Institute and completed a bridge to Korphe and Korphe's first school in its 600 year existence.
After that first school, CAI's activity mushroomed.  A retired Swiss-American scientist endowed them with a million dollars, and slowly publicity and funding began to flow in jerks and stops.    As of 2009, CAI had built 81 schools in northern Pakistan and Afganistan.
Two parts of this story deserve special mention.
1) One of the beautiful side-effects of Mortenson's mission to build schools is combating terrorism at its roots.  Mortenson argues repeatedly and beautifully that the root of terrorism is ignorance not Islam.  In fact, Muslims - including the highest leaders of Islam - have been some of Mortenson's biggest supporters.  Radical Islamicism, which breeds terrorism, grows through radical madrassas, which are built in the poorest areas of Pakistan and Afganistan - often as the only available option for education.  Many join the Taliban forces because these are the only available jobs for low-skilled workers.  Furthermore, while the militaries of the West may destroy many terrorists, the collateral damage from our bombs plants the seeds for countless more radical enemies.  Building schools (and wells and hospitals) is infinitely more effective than dropping bombs - in terms of building friends and reducing enemies. 
2) As Tom Brokaw says on the cover, this book is "thrilling ... proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world."  I hope that all my friends will read this book and develop a similar passion, audacity, and hope that our little efforts really can be multiplied to cause momentous changes.  We have to think big and start small.
I highly recommend this book.  The Josh rating: JJJJJ!

Like a Butterfly

Truth lingers like a butterfly
on the edge of a flower
And we chase it
like children at play
At play but in serious pursuit
We long to catch this truth
this floating, fleeting, flying
display of obvious beauty
We long to grasp it
not only with our hands
not even especially with our hands
but with our eyes
in our minds
in our hearts
We long to hold this beauty
fluttering, ephemeral, eternal truth
For in this flapping of the wings
and moving of antennae
we see and sense
the Real
And the Real in us
calls to the Real before us
seen and touched and met by us
Like a butterfly on our fingertips
Real meets Real
And we chase and follow
drawn by the eternal magnetism
of Beauty and Truth

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We Need Each Other

As I prepare for our upcoming series on Jesus and World Religions, I find this video to be encouraging. We need all our stories. We need Lutherans and Anglicans and Calvinists and Baptists and Pentecostals (and Nazarenes) because we all have stories to tell and practices to share that help us to understand our amazing God.

But this raises a few questions for me. Do we also need Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus and Secular Humanists and Ancestor Worshipers? They also have stories to tell. They also have practices to share. They also have meaningful questions to ask.
My tentative answer is: Yes. Yes, we do need people of other religions. But we need them in a different way. The difference between denominations within Christianity is very different from (but somehow also similar to) the difference between Christianity and other religions. Yet perhaps as we discuss, dialog with, and engage other religions, our practice of Christianity is enhanced. Perhaps, this discussion will open us to parts of our own tradition and faith which have been buried or ignored for too long. Perhaps, through discussion and dialog, we will all grow closer to God together.
Don't get me wrong. I am in favor of evangelism. I believe it is good for people of other religions to become Christians. However, I also believe that (ironically) people of other religions also have something to teach us about Christ and Christianity and engaging God.
I know that's a radical statement, but that's where we're going with our sermon series for the next 7 weeks. I would appreciate your feedback along the way.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Rocky (Greatest American Movie #57)

Last night, Sarah and I watched the classic Rocky. Surprisingly, this may have been the first time either of us have watched it in its entirety. I have seen parts of it, and I may have watched it all the way through as a kid, but I don't remember.
In many ways, it is simply a classic Cinderella story. Poor guy gets his break and makes it big. In some ways, it was Forest Gump before Gump.
However, in addition to the raw triumph over adversity, this story holds powerful moral for us. We become better people through love. As Rocky and Adrian begin to love each other, they both blossom into better people. Adrian comes out of her pet-store shell. Rocky becomes better and stronger. He has someone to lean on in the most difficult and discouraging times. Even Adrian's deeply flawed brother seems to be bettered by their love - almost against his will.
Love makes us better. When we love each other, our wounds are healed, and we open the way for our truest and best selves to emerge.
This was a genuine - but not overpowering - classic. The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Revenge and Redemption (Luke 15:11-32 and Luke 20:9-19)

Josh Broward
September 19, 2010

Luke 15:11-32 and Luke 20:9-19

With 5 seconds left on the clock, the quarterback dodged a tackle, rolled out to his right and threw a desperate pass toward Jaime Alejandro. Jaime launched over two defenders to make a one-handed catch in the end zone.
The stadium erupted! People rushed to the field celebrating the amazing catch which earned the Fighting Falcons their first State Football Championship in history. Everyone was caught up in a wave of euphoria - jumping, shouting, crying, hugging.
Everyone - except Jorge. Jorge Hernandez was the other wide receiver. Jorge was sitting in the other corner of the end zone, seething in jealousy. “That pass should have been to me. I was wide open!” As Jaime was carried of the field by cheering teammates and fans, Jorge brewed alone about his long-standing rivalry with Jaime Alejandro. Somehow, although he was just as talented, just as smart, and - in his opinion - better looking, Jorge was constantly coming up short of Jaime.
As the two fastest high school athletes in their city, both Jorge and Jaime qualified for the Regional Tournament in the 400 meter dash. Before the race, Jorge cut Jaime’s shoelace on one shoe. Jaime never noticed until the shoe started coming off around the the second turn. Amazingly, Jaime just kicked it off and finished the race with one shoe. Jaime still finished first and earned a photo in the front page of the city newspaper for the escapade.

After high school, Jorge studied law, and Jaime studied for the ministry. Both were smart and successful, but they took very different paths. ...

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Governance and Ministry Book Review

I just finished reading Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership by Dan Hotchkiss. This is a very good book about how to have good church boards. I believe the church board has the potential to be a center of strength, change, and spiritual discernment for our churches. However, much of the time our boards are mired in reports and rubber stamping the decisions of our staff members.
Over the past 6 years, I have been on a steady mission to improve the functioning of our church board. This has included a wide variety of approaches. I've concentrated mostly on improving our meetings in terms of quality of discussion, flow of information, use of time, and pursuing larger topics (delegating the smaller topics to our various teams).
Along the way, I have been greatly helped along this path with articles from the Alban Institute. This book collects together much of that sage advice in a framework guiding a church leadership team on how to restructure a church board for greater effectiveness.
At first I thought, we might go through the whole restructuring process they recommend (including a 1 year research and planning phase). Because of some other issues, I don't think that level of change would be best for us at this stage. Also, because we have been changing incrementally, we may not need a total overhaul. However, I still found many useful tips, thoughts, and techniques.
Reading a board book can be a bit boring at times, but I would still recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a better church board. The Josh rating: JJJJ.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Church on Mute

I just read: "Our message has been muted as we try to communicate from generation to generation." The author (Carol Howard) was talking about how the changes in culture affect the church, systemically and technologically. The article is an excerpt from her book: Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation. However, this one phrase jumped out at me: "Our message has been muted."
This seems to be very true of today's church. We see the preacher talking, but it's like there's no sound coming out of his mouth. Maybe because we don't understand the words. Maybe because he's talking about stuff we just don't care about. Maybe - and this is what seems to be the deepest problem - because we don't see any actions that match the words.
Imagine people in a room doing various activities with a large TV on mute. People may occasionally glance at the screen to see the sports scores or the music video gyrations. But nobody really cares very much about the sound that they're missing. Every now and then, something changes. Every once in a while, someone will see something particularly moving, compelling, or interesting on the screen. Then, that guy shouts, "Hey, turn the volume up! What's going on? What is this?"
The Church is on mute. People are tuning us out. We definitely need to update our language and methods. We definitely need to talk in relevant ways about relevant things. However, the single most important thing we can do is to give people compelling pictures of the gospel through our actions. If we live in dramatically beautiful ways, then people will be spontaneously interested in what we are saying. "What's going on? What is this? Turn the volume up!"

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Here Comes Everybody

Here is a great lecture (by Clay Shirky) about the power of social media. This reminds of The World Is Flat. I am not sure where all of this is headed, but it's pretty cool. (Thanks to Steve Larson for the link.)

September 5, 2010
Josh Broward

I’m cheap! I don’t like to spend money. In fact, I hate to spend money. I hate to pay full price and love to get a bargain. Sarah and I love to get furniture for free or cheap. In our apartment right now, we most of our furniture belongs to us, and we’ve only paid for one couch and one chair - and we bought those used.
I hate to pay full price for anything. Once I bought a shirt at a thrift store with someone else’s initials on the sleeve. Like I said, I’m cheap.
It’s one thing to cheap about money, but it’s another thing to try to go the cheap route with God. I try to do that sometimes, too. Can’t I just give up this much? I’ve already paid so much; can’t that just be enough? I’ll give you this God, but not this; that’s too high a price.
In our passage today, Jesus wants to make clear that he doesn’t make deals. There is no such thing as discount discipleship. There are no cheap tickets into the Kingdom.

Read Luke 14:25-33.

Let’s work through the passage little by little.
The first thing to notice is that large crowds were following Jesus. He had been healing people left and right. He had been “sticking it to the man.” The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were the ruling powers. They controlled everything, but Jesus was showing the to be incompetent teachers and frauds at every turn. The people loved it. They could smell a revolution. Besides, even if the revolution didn’t come, Jesus was where the action was.
Jesus turns to the crowd and says, “Hey, just hanging around with me doesn’t make you my disciple. It takes a lot more than that. Standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car. Going to the airport doesn’t mean you’re traveling anywhere. Don’t be fooled in to thinking that you’re a disciple just because you’re traveling with me.”
You can almost hear his disciples saying, “Oh man, there Jesus goes again, running everybody off as soon as he starts to get a crowd.”
But Jesus doesn’t want anything half-hearted ...

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