Monthly Archives: April 2010

CT Article … A Response to the Response

A week ago, I wrote this article: a compare/contrast between two conferences and two (I argued) approaches to “unity.” It was not meant to be any sort of definitive or even objective report on two incredibly complex, rich conferences. It was simply my honest, gut reaction to the overwhelming experiences of going to such different (but both extremely valuable) conferences back-to-back. It was an opinion piece. That’s what Christianity Today asked me for, and that’s what I gave them. It was not my attempt to take the pulse of “this moment in Christianity” in any sort of grand, arrogant way. But the fervent reactions–both pro and con, and some utterly unhinged–seemed to indicate that I touched a nerve.

I don’t wish to defend or apologize for what I wrote in the article. I will admit that some of the language I used (particularly a comment about Together for the Gospel being “like a club patting each other on the back…”) was perhaps needlessly harsh, but I don’t regret trying to make the point I was trying to make: that Christians should avoid splitting into factions, alliances, and insular bands of like-minded cohorts prone to viewing those outside their group with suspicion.

Let me be clear: I am not downplaying the importance of fighting for truth, reason, and right doctrine. Some have accused me of downplaying these things in favor of some sort of vague, feel-good embrace of “let’s hold hands” unity. I am resolutely not a universalist in any way, shape or form. If that’s the immediate place people jump to when they hear any sort of criticism of their potentially silo-making barriers, then I’d hate to think how they’d react to Paul were he here today, blasting disunity as he did time and time again in the New Testament.

I’ve been saddened this week by reading some of the comments Christians have angrily left on various blog posts and articles regarding my CT piece. On one blog in particular, the comments have frequently resorted to personal attacks, insinuating that I’m an amateur writer or labeling me “a recent college grad” or “a Princeton Seminary guy” (does that mean I’m liberal?? To set the record straight, I’m actually a “Talbot Seminary guy,” and a fairly conservative Baptist-turned-Presbyterian). One commenter even coined a new term based on my supposed crazy talk: “McCrackpot.” Others just said things like “Mr. McCracken clearly does not get it.”

What saddens me most about the low-blow nature of the response to the article is that I feel like the Reformed crowd instantly disowned me (if they ever thought I was on their side) for daring to say a critical word about them. I suppose it’s the same risk you run when you tell a good friend or loved one that you have a problem with something they said or did. They might get defensive, feel betrayed or hurt, and not want to associate with you for a while. They might badmouth you to others. The saddest thing about that sort of reaction to criticism from “one of your own,” however, is that it makes future attempts at difficult discourse all the more unlikely. If we can’t feel comfortable calling each other out on things without fear of relationship-ruining fallout, what hope is there for a fortified unity that contains and is strengthened by diversity of opinion? If every point of disagreement leads us to distrust and schism, it becomes a lot easier to just retreat to our like-minded camps and happily go about our unchecked ways of thinking and living without that pesky friction that comes with diversity.

Is Christianity in the West so feeble at this point that we can’t risk a healthy level of “all in love” criticism, for fear of completely rupturing at the seams? I mean it when I say that my comments of criticism toward Together for the Gospel (T4G) were motivated not out of bitterness or anger (as some have suggested), but out of love for the church. I went to T4G because I love those people, I appreciate their passionate articulation of Reformed faith for a new generation, and I agree with them on most things. And it is precisely because I love these brothers and sisters in Christ that I said the hard-to-hear things I said about the conference sometimes feeling like a “patting each other on the back” club.

Briefly, here are some reasons why I made this comment: At T4G, after each session of speakers, a panel would get on stage to discuss the speakers’ messages. This happened at the Wheaton Conference as well. But while the Wheaton panel was largely characterized by points of criticism and disagreement, wherein each scholar would point out errors or problematic items in each others’ presentations, T4G’s panels were almost entirely devoid of any criticisms of each other. It was almost all “that was a great point John,” or “You were right about this; well done Mark.” And given the provocative nature of most of the speakers’ presentations, this lack of critical, “might there be points you were wrong?” engagement struck me as problematic. If nothing else, could T4G not have opened it up to questions from the audience, as Wheaton did at their conference? The conference was full of rich, thoughtful, provocative sermons (I especially loved Mark Dever, Thabiti Anyabwile, and John Piper), so it’s a great shame no serious questions/challenges were brought to any of the speakers. This, coupled with the somewhat excessive amount of praise heaped on speakers by their respective introducers (CJ Mahaney’s moment of bowing to John MacArthur as he walked on stage stands out as a particularly unfortunate example), left me feeling frustrated by what I saw as somewhat of an “atta boy!” atmosphere of mutual admiration.

It seems to me that breaking into factions and dividing into subgroups is easier than ever these days, what with the unlimited niche cultures that populate the blogosphere (as well as media in general). If you have a group you resonate with or a point of view that seems convincing, it’s increasingly easy to live out a life that is only and ever informed by media that reinforces your views. But as Christians, called to unity as a church that represents the most diversity in the world, we have to fight these impulses.

One way we can fight the impulse toward disunity within the body of Christ is by seeking out those in other denominations and church traditions, and worshiping with them. I’m not saying we should church hop or anything; just that it’s healthy to fellowship with Christians across a broad spectrum of traditions. One of the great joys of my life–and something that has certainly enriched my faith–has been the opportunity to worship in a diverse array of Christian worship contexts. I’ve been lucky enough to worship with Christians in Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma, Reformed congregations in Paris (in French!), evangelical youth camps in Northern Ireland, Baptist seminaries in Malaysia, Anglican churches in Singapore and Tokyo, missionary fellowships in Vienna, and many other places. In each experience, my view of Christendom is broadened and my love for Christ enhanced. In each experience, I’m humbled in my own view of things and reminded that there is so much I don’t know, so much still to learn.

I also think we can avoid disunity by making sure we read lots of books from lots of different points of view and lots of different time periods. Read N.T. Wright AND John Piper. Read Augustine, Thomas a Kempis, John Calvin, John Owen, Dostoevsky, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Marilynne Robinson, and lots of other things that may not even be Christian (Martin Buber!). You won’t believe every word of all of it (nor should you), but it will help you to avoid anachronism and/or intellectual narrow-mindedness.

At the end of the day, the path to unity requires each one of us to take a step back to critically examine our views and humbly acknowledge that we can learn from others. This is not to say that we should always, in everything, be throwing our ideas into doubt or re-evaluating our beliefs. But we should at least be open to hearing people out when they differ from us on certain points. We need to prioritize humility and love within the body of Christ, realizing that disagreement and debate don’t have to divide us as they do. We need to seek unity through humility, which was Paul’s advice in Philippians 2:1-5:

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit… Let each of you look not only to his own interests…” This is what I hope we can take to heart as the church. Let’s put aside our rivalries, blog feuds, petty squabbles and name-calling, and try not to think so much about our own interests, our readership or blog stats or reputation (all of this goes for me too), and start thinking about Christ and being more like him.

Christians Need to Love Each Other More

Note: This is a re-post from last fall, but it seems apropos to post it again in the aftermath of my article on unity within the body of Christ, which since last week has spawned anything but unity in the blogosphere. I have more follow-up thoughts that I will share in a few days, but for now, here is something to think about:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This is one of the last things Jesus said (John 13:34-35) to his disciples on the night before he was crucified. He told them to love one another in the same way that he had loved them.

This is a verse that gets a lot of play in many churches today. The necessity of love is increasingly heard from pulpits, Christian books, radio shows and so on. Churches and Christians everywhere are scrambling to love the world and serve it selflessly. And that is a wonderful thing. I’m glad to see love making a comeback.

But what about Christians loving one another? Are we as good at this as we are at loving those outside the church? In the Christian world of feuding factions and denominations, theological catfights, and near constant bickering, I sometimes wonder.

Read the words of Jesus again.  He doesn’t say people will know we are Christians because we have so much love for the world. He says people will know we are Christians because we have love for one another.

Perhaps Jesus did mean something more human and universal when he said “one another.” But it almost makes more sense if he was talking specifically about the church loving its own members—his disciples loving each other. Why? Because an unconditional love between people of such diverse backgrounds (Jew, Gentile, poor, rich, black, white) bound only by a common allegiance to Christ IS the most noticeable kind of love. There aren’t many circumstances in this life where people of every sort of class, race, circumstance and struggle are unified and bound by unconditional, unearthly love. But this is what Christianity is supposed to be. And when it IS this way, it is such a powerful witness.

Christianity is about becoming a community of disparate believers who nevertheless fuse together under the auspices of that most binding and barrier-breaking of all sealants: Christ’s all surpassing love. It is only natural that this will look countercultural to a world that more often than not divides itself along whatever lines (ethnic, class, gender, nationality) it can come up with. The Christian church distinguishes itself (ideally) by putting aside these arbitrary dividing lines. As D.A. Carson famously described in Love in Hard Places, we are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake:

The church itself is not made up of natural “friends.” It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance.

Christians loving each other may prove to be the most difficult love of all (because heaven knows we are all so broken and annoying and stubborn), but in the end I think it proves to be the best witness.

I’m sort of tired of Christians fighting with each other so much, tearing each other down, etc. If from the outside, Christian communities look as petty and unkind as anyone else in the world (or worse), why should anyone be interested in Christianity? But if Christians love each other with the sort of unconditional, self-effacing altruism that Christ modeled for us, we will live up to our namesake and people will know we are Christians just by looking.

So let’s put aside our differences, look to Christ, and love each other more.

Hipster Church Tour: Mars Hill Bible Church

Church Name: Mars Hill Bible Church

Location: Grandville, MI

Head Pastor: Rob Bell

Summary: Rob Bell’s church is the lesser-known Mars Hill, and yet it is equally hip. Founded in 1999, the church now attracts upwards of 10,000 visitors on any given Sunday. I visited on Palm Sunday in April and one of the first things I noticed about the church is that there is absolutely no signage indicating that this was indeed a church. As I drove around trying to find it, the thing that finally tipped me off was the large parking lot and parking attendants with neon batons. Only when I got to the door of the building did I see any indication that this was indeed Mars Hill Bible Church. No signs on the road, no signs on the building. It felt like a secret, unassuming, slightly underground gathering—which I’m pretty sure is exactly what they were going for. It reminded me of the new speakeasy bar trend among hipsters: bars that have secret, unadvertised entrances in alleyways and on assuming wall facades. If you don’t know where you’re looking, you won’t find it. Very hip.

Building: This is one of the most interesting things about Mars Hill. The church meets in an abandoned mall (Grand Village Mall). The main worship space, called “The Shed,” is the former anchor store, and classrooms occupy the space of what used to be the food court or other stores. It all adds to the camouflaged, “no one would guess that a church meets here” vibe. The sanctuary hall is a vast square room with the stage in the middle and chairs surrounding in all directions. The lighting and color scheme is very plain and there are very little adornments and no art or decoration to be found. It’s all very Puritan.

Congregation: More diverse (age wise) than I expected. At the 11:00am service I visited, the place was packed with a mix of J.Crew yuppies, North Face outdoorsy-types, and a formidable smattering of Dan Deacon hipsters with Civil War beards. Overwhelmingly white. Lots of people had coffee in hand. Most everyone seemed really excited to be there and the congregation was certainly lively, as evidenced by the occasional whooping and the impromptu standing ovation at the conclusion of the sermon.

Music: The music at Mars Hill, like most of the rest of the church, is refreshingly nondescript. The band—your typical 7-piece church rock band—plays from the stage in the center of the church. The songs were typical fare: David Crowder and Hillsong. Band members are dressed in appropriately gratuitous scarves. A few songs played at the beginning of the service and that was that. Following the benediction, Explosions in the Sky played over the house speakers.

Arts: Not a lot of art. None on display from what I could see. But the fact that they play Explosions in the Sky probably means they aren’t opposed to art.

Technology: Very minimal. A four-sided screen above the stage displays the lyrics to songs—white font on a black background. Other than that, there were no bells and whistles. The church’s website, however, is very extensive and well-designed.

Neighborhood: Grandville, Michigan, a suburb of Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids is a hotbed of Christian hipsterdom, what with Calvin College and a bevy of Christian book publishers nearby.

Preaching: Rob Bell did not preach on the Sunday I attended, and apparently he’s only contracted to preach for a certain number of Sundays a year. When he’s not there, speakers like Brennan Manning, Phyllis Tickle, and John Ortberg are on stage delivering the message. On the Sunday I attended, Dr. Don Davis preached on Lamentations 5. The theology at Mars Hill is narrative-oriented and heavily influenced by people like N.T. Wright. Covenant language is used a lot (you can become a “Covenant Member” of the church if you adopt the church’s shared set of values, called “The Directions”), with emphasis on social justice and “bringing heaven to earth.”

Quote from pulpit: “He will establish a new heaven and a new earth where peace and justice will rule forever.”

Quote from website: “What we believe about God is at the heart of what we believe also about each other, ourselves, and creation: that ultimately everything is part of the one great story.”

You Are All One in Christ Jesus

Last week I had occasion to attend two Christian conferences—Together for the Gospel (T4G) in Louisville, KY and the Wheaton College Theology Conference in Wheaton, IL, which focused on the work of New Testament scholar and Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright.

The conferences were very different, and I would venture to guess that I was one of a few if not the only person to attend both. Aside from both being gatherings of evangelical Christians and both covering the hot topic of justification to some degree, I felt like the groups were desperately far from one another in so many ways. Louisville and Wheaton are not that far from each other geographically, but my experiences in both places last week felt like two different worlds.

And at the end of it all—after more than 20 lectures by renowned Christian leaders, pastors, and theologians; after amassing 30+ books (I shipped most of them home); and after filling most of my neon green moleskin with notes—I’m left feeling simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted. And I’m left wondering what sense might be made of such disparate experiences of corporate Christian thought. Is there any unifying takeaway from these two events? Yes—and I think it is (ironically) the idea of unity itself. Or the lack thereof.

Both of these conferences—on the surface and in their rhetoric—speak the “unity language.” “TOGETHER for the Gospel” bespeaks a coming-togetherness or coalition of various wings of Christianity for the sake of the “main thing”—the Gospel. Wheaton’s conference was entitled “Jesus, Paul & the People of God: A Theological DIALOGUE With N.T. Wright”—language that as well indicates a sort of coming-togetherness, perhaps in a more academic sense.

But what did unity look like in reality at these conferences, and what did they have to say about the idea? Because it’s such a huge topic and because I’m still processing all of it, I’m just going to bullet some quickly-thought out observations here (written down on the plane ride home):

  • N.T. Wright, who is currently working on a massive tome on Paul, to be released “no sooner than 2012,” spoke about unity a lot during the conference at Wheaton. Apparently the overarching theme or argument of his Paul book (the next volume in his magnum opus series that so far includes The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God) is that “the main symbol of Paul’s worldview is the unity of the church.” At various points in the conference he said things like this: “The cross brings together—unthinkably—the slave and the master” (talking about Philemon); “The cross is the place where the unreconcilable can be reconciled;” “The unity of the church is a sign to the world that there is a new way of being human;” “The unity of the church sends a message to the world-be rulers of the world that Jesus is Lord and they are not” (Eph. 3); and “Nothing justifies schism.”
  • Wright often quotes Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
  • The “Welcome!” letter to T4G registrants, which included hundreds of women, began “Dear Brothers (& Sisters!)…”
  • The Wheaton conference was dominated by white men, many with Ph.Ds, many wearing either sportcoats or bowties. But there were three women speakers, and several Canadians.
  • T4G was also largely homogenous (white, male, conservative) but did have one non-white speaker, Thabiti Anyabwile.
  • Anyabwile’s lecture was provocative, centering upon a claim that I’m pretty sure none of the white speakers at T4G could ever get away with saying: “The church is inescapably multiethnic, but it isn’t multicultural. It is monocultural.” He meant, I think, that when one becomes a Christian, he or she must check their old culture at the door, shedding the old snakeskin because Christianity is its own culture, set over and against all the other cultures of the world. I’m not quite sure what this means in practice, though. Are we humans not just as inescapably cultural as we are inescapably ethnic? Can not the Gospel unity which Wright speaks of display the countercultural coming-togetherness of diverse cultures as well as ethnicities?
  • The tone of T4G struck me as being rather on the defensive side. Far from being an olive-branch-extending “dialogue” between Christians of opposing viewpoints, T4G was rather more like a club of quite like-minded conservative Baptists and Presbyterians (PCA) patting each other on the back for their mutual buttressing of the “unadjusted Gospel” (the theme of the conference), while also corporately dismissing and sometimes bad-mouthing any and all so-called “adjusters” of the Gospel—a phantom, threatening group which includes N.T. Wright, anything “emergent,” Catholics, Rick Warren, and basically everyone that isn’t them.
  • The tone of the Wheaton conference was a bit more ecumenical (I saw Anglicans, Episcopals, Pentecostals, Greek Orthodox, and even some Reformed Presbyterians) and intellectually open-minded, full of lively and cordial scholarly debates between Wright and his colleagues, who pressed him on various things they thought he got wrong.
  • Speaking of debate – the elephant in the room at both conferences was the ongoing (and increasingly well-known) debate on the doctrine of justification between N.T. Wright and John Piper. And at their respective conferences, both spoke on justification and made reference to the other’s arguments. The problem is that these men, both pastor/theologians who speak eloquently and love God, are talking past each other on this topic. They are not in dialogue. This might change for the better come November when the two will square off in person at the annual meeting of ETS (Evangelical Theological Society) in Atlanta. But for now, its hard to see much unity in their debate. From my view, they agree on much more than they differ. And however intellectually at odds they might be (which is fine), they are first and foremost brothers in the house of God. I hope they—and their respective supporters in the fray—can model this sort of unified, “mere Christian” spirit. I hope we all can.

A Prophet

A Prophet, directed by Jaques Audiard (The Beat That My Heart Skipped), is the French Godfather. It’s a criminal saga of the scope, dark elegance, and timeless gravitas of Coppola’s masterpieces, with a keen awareness of contemporary European socio-cultural tensions that makes it particularly timely and, perhaps, prophetic.

One of this year’s Academy Award nominees for best foreign film, A Prophet also won the 2009 Grand Jury Prize at Cannes and swept the Cesar Awards (the French Oscars). Set mostly in a prison, the film follows the gradual corruption of Malik (Tahar Rahim), a young Frenchman of Arab descent who during a 6 year prison stay transforms from a relatively good-natured kid to a hardened criminal kingpen. During his time in prison, Malik comes under the tutelage/rule of Cesar (Niels Arestrup), the Don Corleone boss of a Corsican gang who runs the prison from the inside out and all but forces young Malik to join his gang to “be protected.”

Early in the film, Cesar puts Malik in an impossible situation. He wants Malik to kill another prisoner (Hichem Yacoubi) who must be silenced before he can testify. If Malik doesn’t successfully undertake this hit, Cesar will have Malik killed. So it’s killed or be killed. And it’s Malik’s first step down a very dark path.

The scene of Malik performing his initiating assassination is one of the most brutal scenes of violence I’ve seen in a long time–involving a razor blade, a long, clumsy, bloody physical struggle and a viciously slit throat. The scene, which is thankfully the most violent of the film, underscores the significance of that moment–both for Malik and for anyone who takes that step of killing another person, intentionally and nervously. It reminded me of the scene in Crime and Punishment when Raskolnikov actually commits the murder of the pawnbroker, or the scene in Woody Allen’s Match Point when Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character kills his secret lover. In both cases, there are irrevocable consequences resulting from the choice to murder.

A Prophet is no different. After Malik commits the murder, his life begins a downward spiral as he learns the ropes of the criminal underworld. Initially driven by the necessity to survive but eventually by the thrill and hubris of becoming a mob boss who people fear and respect, Malik’s story is utterly tragic but ultimately cautionary.

How are dangerous, reckless criminals made? This movie tackles that subject directly. But perhaps more provocatively it also attempts to understand the ethnic and cultural shifts going on in France (from white to non-white, European to Middle-Eastern, etc) and how it all plays out in the criminal world.

A Prophet doesn’t really prove the power of its name until the final act–and some stunning final shots–but I’ll leave it to you to make of the finale what you will. But suffice it to say, this is a film I highly recommend, and one that will have long staying power as one of the greats of contemporary French cinema.

Just Do It

Much has been made of the Tiger Woods’ scandal, his subsequent departure from and now return to golf, and the various cultural fallouts of the whole overplayed rigmarole. But nothing in the whole scandal has really interested me as much as this strangely mesmerizing ad from Nike, which aired a few times this week on ESPN and the Golf Channel and has since gone viral online (an advertiser’s dream scenario). Here’s the ad:

The 30-second spot features a silent, stoic, ashamed-looking Woods, accompanied by a decontextualized audio clip of his father Earl Woods from beyond the grave. Everything about the ad–the black and white, the slow zoom on Tiger’s face, the what-looks-like-a-golf-course setting, the strange audio clip, the minimalism and even the calculated light flashes at the end–works perfectly to create a strange half minute of arresting ambiguity that leaves people wondering: what was that??

Where does that audio clip come from and what was its original context? It matters not. In a world of mashups and soundbites and outmoded notions of metanarratives… meaning can be repurposed to whatever end its entrepreneurial stewards see fit. If life gives you lemons, find some cognac and champagne and get on GarageBand to remix a French 75. We live in a world of have-it-your-way manifest digital destiny.

Because nothing is owned or fixed or stable and “meaning” is so questionable anyway, why not take something from who knows where/when and infuse your own new use into it? Just do it.

Is your brand tarnished because your all-American golden boy spokesperson took your license-to-be-impulsive slogan a little too seriously? Fear not. All you have to do to mitigate the PR disaster is tackle it head-on. Create an ad that admits the mistake, asks for forgiveness, accepts the public humiliation, and universalizes the problem (everyone can relate to disappointed father/guilty son/lesson learned) all in one 30-second fell swoop. All without even needing to say anything too explicitly.

Context? Meaning? Implications? Lessons? All of that is, um, left for the viewer to infer. Nike need not concern itself with that. Their mandate is written indelibly into the iconic symbol they espouse–that don’t-look-back, move on up, take what’s yours and only apologize as a means to success American swoosh.

Just do it.

Why L.A. Has the Most Exciting Food Scene

People (especially New Yorkers) often have a negative view of Los Angeles, as if it were some sort of cultural black hole. But those who live in this fine city, and who venture all around it and enjoy its mysterious, can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-but-one-of-a-kind aura, know better. L.A. is the most  diverse city in the world, and though certainly sprawling and nearly unnavigable, it has limitless treasures to unearth and lots of cultural richness (and not a little cultural trash) to discover.

In fact, I’d argue that the food scene in L.A. rivals just about any city in the world. And I’m not talking 5-star Gordon Ramsey restaurants (though we do have those); I’m talking street level cuisine–democratized food that is accessible and affordable to most all tax brackets. This is the city, after all, that has popularized the mobile food truck, in recent years igniting a gourmet food truck revolution of uber-tasty, frequently fusion foods that daily show up in new parts of the metroplex, allowing an otherwise disjointed, neighborhood-oriented urban sprawl feel for a moment like a cohesive city with a shared culture.

These Twitter-driven mobile restaurant phenoms serve delights like Korean BBQ tacos (Kogi), gourmet grill cheese, Indian food (India Jones), crepes, and all-day-breakfast (The Buttermilk Truck), among many other diverse options.

The mobile truck trend is a decidedly 21st-century, wholly Los Angeles food craze, and I love it. We are a mobile city, founded by the automobile; and the “where are you at this moment?” geo-locational utility of Twitter makes tracking down a food truck in the maze of the Southland an oh-so-doable task.

On Saturday I went to a “Mobile Mashup” in which four of L.A.’s new gourmet food trucks parked outside a bar for several hours and served special menus in which they used food items from the other trucks to create delicious “remixed” creations. The participating trucks were Mandoline Grill (largely Vegan Vietnamese cuisine), Frysmith (insanely good gourmet french fries), Grill ‘Em All (gourmet hamburgers), and Lomo Arigato (Peruvian/Japanese fusion). The result? Things like fries topped with seared fennel/sausage gravy, cheddar cheese and green onions. Mmmmmm!

The “mobile mashup” idea is totally L.A. Not only does it have the “food from a vehicle/mobility” thing going for it, but it also embodies the melting-pot, multi-ethnic remixability of our fair city, wherein every culture of the world is represented and can proudly offer its unique cuisine to a forward-thinking populace always on the prowl for the new and exotic.

Of course, like any revolutionary new trend in commerce, there are doubters. An L.A. city councilman recently complained that the mobile trucks proved to be unfair competition to businesses in “stationary, permitted locations.” But this assumes that “stationary” is what people want. In a market-driven democracy, why not let the people decide? Do they want mobile food at affordable prices? It looks like they do.

That’s what I love about L.A.’s food scene. It is constantly changing, adapting, and thoroughly influenced by the market. It is super competitive and trendy to the max, to be sure. But in the case of food, I think that ends up being a good thing for everyone.

The Tender Pioneer

Life — is what we make of it —
Death — we do not know —
Christ’s acquaintance with Him
Justify Him — though —

He — would trust no stranger —
Other — could betray —
Just His own endorsement —
That — sufficeth Me —

All the other Distance
He hath traversed first —
No New Mile remaineth —
Far as Paradise —

His sure foot preceding —
Tender Pioneer —
Base must be the Coward
Dare not venture — now —

-Emily Dickinson

On this Good Friday, I’ve been thinking about Christ’s humanity. That he was fully human. That somehow, God became a man that could bleed. A man that could die.

His full humanity is essential for our salvation. He had to live a perfect human life, so that he could atone for our sins as the true high priest for all humanity:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2: 14-18)

Jesus knows what we are going through. He knows the trials and temptations of the human experience. Once upon a time, he was a 27 year old man. He can relate to me, and he can relate to us all, no matter who we are or what we are going through.

Jesus knows what it is like to cry, sweat, bleed, hunger, thirst, feel sick and–yes–feel sexual attraction.

He knows what it’s like to fear death (Mark 14:32-27), feel anger (Matt 21:12), and be disappointed in or betrayed by someone you love (Mark 14:10-11).

He knows what it’s like to be mocked (Matt 27:41-43), and knows the pain of not being believed by even those nearest to him (John 1:11; 7:5). He knows how hard it is when it seems like your father has turned his back on you (Matt 27:46).

He knows how painful and difficult communication can be, and what it feels like to be deeply misunderstood. He knows what it’s like to just be worn out and weary (John 4:6).

Jesus knows what it feels like to be forgotten. He knows what it feels like to be lonely.

He knows what it is like to be hated, spit upon, condemned and executed. Even if he didn’t deserve any of it.

Christ–the perfect human–accomplished what Adam (and every other human) could not. He lived without sin. On the cross, he defeated sin, and conquered its consequence (death). Satan must have been pretty livid at that point. He probably expected that the cross–the horrible torture, the unwarranted pain and disgrace of the whole ugly affair–would have been too much for even Christ. Surely the wrath of God would be enough for Jesus to “curse God and die,” as Satan had previously hoped Job would do when unjust amounts of suffering were heaped on him. But that’s not what happened. Jesus had every right to curse God. He had done nothing wrong in his whole life, but was being nailed to a cross as a despised criminal. Why was God letting this monumental injustice–the biggest injustice ever–to happen? Jesus could easily have cursed God in rage.

But instead he said, rather deferentially, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

Jesus met death–the ultimate price of sin–willingly, even when he had every reason to not meet death at all. In so doing, he paid the price for humanity’s sin and killed off death as the ultimate enemy of man.

As followers of Christ, we should have confidence to go down that same human path (including death) without fear. Christ’s “sure foot” has preceeded us. The “Tender Pioneer” has trod all over this thing called human life, and came out victorious. Base we must be, indeed, to not courageously venture forth, accepting suffering and even death in light of Christ’s pioneering steps.

Holy Week Playlist

I don’t really listen to contemporary Christian music, but I LOVE hymns and older Christian spirituals. And during Lent and especially during Holy Week, I’ve been retuning to these sacred songs–some old, some new–that speak of Christ’s passion and our hope. I’ve compiled a playlist of some of my favorites this year, most of which can be purchased on iTunes.

They are songs that are getting a lot of play during this Holy Week for me, and I highly recommend them:

1)    “In the Garden,” Johnny Cash
2)    “Hard Times,” Bifrost Arts feat. David Bazan
3)    “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Sufjan Stevens
4)    “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” Bifrost Arts feat. Damien Jurado and Rosie Thomas
5)    “Up On a Mountain,” The Welcome Wagon
6)    “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Sufjan Stevens
7)    “How Deep the Father’s Love,” E-Pop
8)    “Deep Were His Wounds, And Red,” The Welcome Wagon
9)    “Amazing Grace,” Sufjan Stevens
10) “It Is Finished,” Bifrost Arts feat. Trent Dabbs, Kate York, Leigh Nash and Kevin Bevil
11) “There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood,” The Welcome Wagon
12) “All Creatures of Our God And King,” Patty Griffin
13) “In Christ Alone,” Bethany Dillon
14) “Jesus the Lord My Savior Is,” Sandra McCracken
15) “Prayer of Saint Francis,” Denison Witmer
16) “My Jesus I Love Thee,” The Mars Hillbillies
17) “May the Mind of Christ My Savior,” Josh Bales
18) “Be Thou My Vision,” Pedro the Lion
19) “Never Grow Old,” Patty Griffin and Buddy Miller
20) “Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” Rachael Yamagata
21) “Little Blue River / In the Garden,” Over the Rhine