Monthly Archives: November 2011

Advent Prayer Requests

Oh Jesus, come. The world groans for you.

The streets are bloody and the debts are rising. There are riots all around, anxieties about the future, 72-day marriages, 5th grader suicides, political stalemates, crashes of every sort, too-high heating bills, faucets that don’t work, pencils that smear instead of erase, milk that goes sour, teeth that get cavities, and cancer that keeps coming back.

Messiah, come.

Come and bring justice to the perpetrators of evil: The dictators who oppress, the pedophiles who abuse, the rich who swindle, the thieves and murderers and liars and cheaters and addicts… Basically, all of us. Judge us, refine us, renew us oh Lord. Cast our sins into the depths of the sea. Show your faithfulness to us oh God, as you did to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Bring a father to the son who’s never known one. Bring a day of rest to the mother who hardly stops. Bring buckets of cold, clear water to the parched lands throughout the world. Bring peace to the places where war has settled in. Bring hope to the suffering in Japan, and Joplin, and every place in shambles.

Oh sprouted blossom from the root of Jesse, come and heal the nations.

Give hearing to the deaf, sight to the blind, joy to the lowly. Bind up the wounds of your people.

We are all hurting. Broken feet. Infected cuts. Insecurity. Heartbreak.

We are all sick. Coughing. Contagious. Medicated. Prone to wander.

We are all tired. Of work. Of failure. Of the persistence of disappointment.

We are all hungry. For a community that will last. For love that doesn’t fizzle. For something–anything–of permanence. To know ourselves. To know the truth. To understand how it all makes sense. To see the face of God.

In the midst of all this, Jesus came.

Is coming.

Is here.

Food, Thanksgiving, Shabbat

A major biblical theme as it relates to food is thanksgiving for God’s provision. One of the most interesting food-related stories in Scripture is the miraculous appearance of manna each morning for the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness (Exodus 16:4). That they gathered only enough for one day on each morning demonstrated the extent to which they had to trust and depend on God’s faithfulness. For them, the manna was a very tangible, honey-tasting reminder of why eating food is an act of thanksgiving.

Frequently in scripture, thanksgiving manifests itself through celebration and feasting on food. In the Old Testament, meals were often events that symbolized the ratifying of an agreement. After Isaac and Abimelech made a covenant of peace, Isaac “made them a feast, and they ate and drank” (Gen. 26:30). Similar feasts happened after Jacob and his father-in-law made an agreement of peace (Gen 31:54), or when David and Abner patched things up at Hebron (2 Sam 3:20).

For the Israelites, feasting together on food was the central act of public, communal thanksgiving for God’s provision. In the Jewish calendar, a cycle of seven annual feasts celebrated food and the blessings of God.

“The covenant requires human response to God’s initiatives of created goodness and blessing,” writes L. Shannon Jung in Food For Life. “Understanding food as created good, a blessing, and a gift from God leads to a central aspect of human response: appreciation. In response to Yahweh’s gift, the creatures are to enjoy that gift; they are to celebrate, feast, and party.”

I was recently invited to attend a Friday night Shabbat dinner with a small community of twentysomething Messianic Jews in Los Angeles. Enticed by the promise of plenty of good food — fish tacos, margaritas and cake were on the menu — and the opportunity to get to know more about the culture of Jesus-believing Jews, I happily accepted the invitation. It was a beautiful experience. As the kick-off service of the day of rest (for Jews, beginning at sunset on Friday night), the Shabbat dinner was a rich, sacred, long meal full of prayers, songs, scripture reading, laughing, and plenty of “L’chai-im!” toasts.

Though I was a “goy” guest in this intimate gathering, I didn’t feel like an outsider. We were all believers, and we joined together in the breaking of bread, the drinking of wine, and the joyful consuming of fish tacos and a table full of other delicious things. Some of those in attendance had read Hipster Christianity, so we talked about that, and we talked about Israel and Palestine, and the Jesus people, shofars and worship flags, even Rob Bell and the Love Wins controversy (still a topic of discussion even among this group of a dozen or so Messianic Jews). The whole evening actually reminded me a Rob Bell quote from Velvet Elvis on “the art of the long meal”:

“As Christians, it is our duty to master the art of the long meal…. What was the ritual the first Christians observed with the most frequency? Exactly. The common meal, also called the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. And what did this meal consist of? Hours of talking and sharing and enjoying each other’s presence. Food is the basis of life, it comes from the earth, and the earth is God’s. In a Jewish home in Jesus’ day – and even now – the table is seen as an altar. It’s holy. Time spent around the table with each other is time spent with God.”

The Shabbat dinner experience was a great reminder to me of the sacredness of the dinner table and its knack for bringing together people of diverse classes, ethnicities and cultures who together break bread in fellowship, celebration and thanksgiving for the bounty of God’s provision for us.

L. Shannon Jung argues in Food for Life that the Biblical themes of eating coalesce around two poles: “the pole of enjoyment, providence, goodness, delighting,” and “the pole of hospitality, justice, mission, sharing.”

Indeed, if we look at the instances/themes of food in the Bible, these two broad themes do come up again and again. There’s a vertical component to how we should eat — as an act of gratitude to God and worship of Him — but there is also a horizontal component: eating in community, missionally, with hospitality. Both the vertical and horizontal were in wonderful harmony at the Shabbat dinner I attended, and it offered me a picture of just how meaningful, rich and transformative food can be in the context of our faith.

This Thanksgiving, as we feast on good food, among family and friends, let’s remember that food connects us both vertically and horizontally: With God, the provider of all things, and with our fellow man, with whom we share in the goodness and bounty of God’s provision.

4 Films for Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving is all about family, and often, it’s all about movies. After feasting, football & shopping, going to see a movie together has become an American holiday staple. If you’re looking for a film to see this Thanksgiving, here are a few I recommend–unless you want to take your kids (then see Hugo or The Muppets). Each of these films is in some way about family and is near the top of my list of the best films of 2011. If one of them is playing in your city, go see it!

The Descendants: Set in Hawaii, Alexander Payne’s family dramedy is rough around the edges but has a sweet heart. It’s a film about a father (George Clooney) trying to be a good parent, a loving husband and a respectable citizen. It’s also a film about dysfunctional families and the passing of character down from one generation to another. With its Edenic setting and themes of fallen paradise and inherited sin, The Descendants is a deceivingly smart, spiritual film. It’s also a tearjearker, so come prepared for the final 10 minutes.

The Way: Directed by Emilio Estevez and starring his father, Martin Sheen, The Way is a “Wizard of Oz”-esque journey movie, set on the Camino de Santiago (“The Way of St. James”) in Spain. It’s an uplifting film about family, pilgrimage, and coming back to faith. If you love travel, or have ever experienced the beauty of being thrust outside of your comfort zone in a foreign place, you’ll enjoy The Way. It’s one of the most underrated, refreshingly sincere films of the year.

Martha Marcy May Marlene: If you’re in the mood for something a little less heart-warming and a little more thrilling this Thanksgiving, try Martha Marcy May Marlene. It’s a beautifully made, haunting film about a woman (Elizabeth Olson… the Olson Twins’ younger sister), who is psychologically damaged after she escapes from a cult. The film alternates between her experience inside the cult and her readjustment to life outside, as her sister tries desperately to care for her in the midst of her fragile state. The filmmaking is top-notch here and director T. Sean Durkin leaves much to the viewer in terms of interpretation.

Melancholia: What better way is there to celebrate and give thanks for life than to watch a film about the destruction of all things? Seriously though, there’s something undeniably transcendent to behold in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, an ostensibly nihilistic film that in spite of itself manages to grasp something beautiful and sublime about art, life, and humanity’s place in the world. Don’t expect pretty things and joyful reconciliations in Melancholia. In spite of its wedding motif, this is not a happy-go-lucky rom-com. It’s dour and bleak… but strangely beautiful.


Some time soon I would like to host a double feature screening of Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Both of these 2011 films are experimental, ambitious, sprawling epics by respected auteurs; both juxtapose the cosmic and the intimate; both depict the destruction of Earth, to the lush cacophonies of Germanic classic music; both debuted at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, mere days before Harold Camping predicted a real-life end of the world.

But as similar as the two films are in some ways, they also offer strikingly contrasting visions of what it means to exist in the world. Melancholia, like Tree of Life, vividly depicts man’s flawed, sinful nature and his temporal smallness in the grand scheme of things. But whereas Life offers a hopeful portrait of human potential for redemption and hints at the existence of a meaningful, grace-filled telos in the world, Melancholia offers a bleak, bereft-of-hope portrait of humanity as irredeemably self-destructive and helpless, at best deluded by idealized notions of love and purpose.

The latest film from Danish provocateur Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dogville), Melancholia opens with a stunning overture, to the music of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, depicting the cataclysmic collision of Earth and a fictitious planet named Melancholia. This sequence, which includes gorgeous slow-mo shots and painterly tableauxs, “gives away” the ending from the outset: the Earth will die, and everything in it. Our foreknowledge of this impending apocalypse colors our perceptions of the family drama that follows—which concerns sisters Justine (Kirsten Dunst), Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and their extended dysfunctional family. The juxtaposition of the ridiculous, petty shenanigans of the family and the reality that everything is about to end serves as the film’s central conceit, and it works brilliantly.

(Read the rest of this review at Relevant‘s website)

You’ve Got to be a Talker Too

In the wake of his numerous gaffes and “um, er, uh… oops!” flubs on televised debates and in campaign appearances, Texas governor Rick Perry launched a new ad motto: “I’m a doer, not a talker,” as if that’s supposed to make us all feel more confident in his presidential abilities. You may have seen one of his TV ads, like this one (which inexplicably aired even in California this weekend):

Newsflash to Rick: no matter what good things you’ve done, you can’t just be a doer if you want to get elected president. You’ve got to be a talker too, and a good one. In this age of soundbites, 24-hour cable news media ubiquity, televised debates almost weekly and must-do “gotcha” media interviews (Meet the Press, etc), a president has to be talking all the time, in front of the world, hopefully eloquently. It’s part of the job.

A teleprompter doesn’t make a president a good speaker. George W. Bush had a teleprompter and he never really came across as eloquent. Obama has a teleprompter and uses it well. Whatever else we might say about Obama, we have to agree: he’s a good speaker. He’s a good talker.

In the post-Dubya world, I think America (and the world) wants a talker in the White House. That is, a talker who is also a doer. We want someone who comes across as intelligent, someone who speaks with ease about a number of issues, someone who has mastered the art of rhetoric and can come up with the right things to say on the fly. We want a talker who is eloquent not because he or she is well-coached or can read a teleprompter well, but because they are smart and know how to think critically in the moment and respond to questions with genuine, nuanced, accurate answers. We want someone who is conversant in the language and ideas of the media elites, even while that insider/intelligentsia rhetoric doesn’t define them. We don’t want someone who will fumble around for answers to basic policy questions.

Rick Perry is not a bad guy. And we all make mistakes. We’ve all been in that “frozen” moment where we can’t recall something obvious. But a serious candidate for president of the United States and leader of the free world cannot make as many “talker” faux-pas as Perry has. A serious president is a doer, yes, but must also be a talker. They must be both. Otherwise we won’t believe anything they have to say.

45 Things I Want in a Presidential Candidate

A year from now we will (very possibly) have a new president-elect in the U.S. As a registered voter in California, I will have zero influence in deciding the election. But that doesn’t keep me from having opinions about what kind of candidate I’d like to see succeed in becoming America’s 45th president. If I did happen to live in a state like Iowa, New Hampshire, or one of the other “primary” battlegrounds where my vote might feasibly matter, I would be looking to cast a vote for a presidential candidate who fit the following qualifications. Are there any good candidates out there?

Someone who…
  1. Is ethical and principled.
  2. Is eloquent, nuanced, and good with the media.
  3. Is well-read and can speak the “intellectual” language without sounding aloof.
  4. Can relate to working people, NASCAR folks and the NPR crowd without seeming inauthentic
  5. Has a record of being nice to and working with members of the opposing party for the sake of getting things done for the people.
  6. Stands by convictions, but isn’t afraid of compromise.
  7. Can give “moderate” a better name and can build consensus and temper the intensely partisan nature of Washington.
  8. Is a Christian. The authentic, “I think about everything through the lens of Christ-following” kind.
  9. In list of favorite books, films, TV shows, music, etc… has at least a few things that are bold and/or unpredictable.
  10. Reads, and could feasibly write for them.
  11. Saw The Tree of Life and found at least some value in it.
  12. Is generally in favor of lower taxes, but willing to compromise and isn’t shouting “no new tax hikes EVER!” from the rooftops (we need to be reasonable).
  13. Has read a Cormac McCarthy novel.
  14. Can find Kazakhstan on a map.
  15. Is a good politician in the “I have great relational skills and can win friends of all stripes” sort of way.
  16. Does not believe that the Garden of Eden was in Jackson County, Missouri.
  17. Favors smaller, streamlined government, but doesn’t see government as a n’er-do-well bogeyman either. Rather, looks for what government does well and has done well historically and what states & the private sector do best, and budgets accordingly.
  18. Genuinely, passionately, actively cares about the poor and suffering.
  19. Has a reasonable plan to simplify the tax code and shrink federal bureaucracy.
  20. Recognizes that America needs to be weaned off of oil; seeks policies that are friendly to clean energy and alternative fuel research/development.
  21. Can be articulate and impressive on Meet the Press.
  22. Hated the term “freedom fries.”
  23. Cares about human rights and is against torture.
  24. Doesn’t want American to be more like Europe, except in having a less car-reliant culture.
  25. Policies are friendly to business and favor job creation.
  26. Has the leadership style and familial demeanor of Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights.
  27. Is pro-life on abortion, stem cells, cloning, etc.
  28. Also pro-life on things like helping the poor, reducing global misery, ending slavery/trafficking, etc.
  29. Has experience as an executive (preferably in business and government).
  30. Cares for his or her spouse and children.
  31. Sees the separation of church and state for what it was originally intended to be: a protection for religion (against government meddling), not the other way around.
  32. Favors policies to protect the rights of private schools and private businesses on matters of religious preference.
  33. Reads constantly.
  34. Supports gradual draw-down of troops abroad and perhaps a slight reduction in military spending.
  35. Supports reforming TSA and Homeland Security to make them more efficient.
  36. In general does not have an “America is the police of the world” attitude, but isn’t isolationist either.
  37. Doesn’t believe in bailouts.
  38. Can reasonably articulate “The Bush Doctrine” and situate it within history.
  39. Has a favorite Radiohead song. Or at least knows who Radiohead is.
  40. Would consider asking someone other than John Williams to compose music for the inauguration.
  41. If elected, won’t spend half of his or her time in office fundraising and campaigning for reelection.
  42. Values intellectual nuance, complexity, and avoids simplistic black & white binaries.
  43. Favors faith-based charities and boosting the non-profit and volunteer sectors.
  44. Wants the world to flourish, but not because America is the “last, best hope” for mankind.
  45. Isn’t perfect.
What sort of qualifications are you looking for in a candidate?