Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What to Do With Beggars?

The best thing to do when you see a beggar or a homeless person holding a sign is:

a. Call the police to get him off the sidewalk
b. Talk to her and see if you can meet a need right then
c. Give socks, packaged food or bus tickets to them.
d. Give them a Rose City Resource Guide.
e. Ignore them and give to Anawim.

b. Talk and meet an immediate need. The best way to help anyone is to find out about them as an individual and try to meet their individual need. Talking to strangers is scary, and strangers holding signs even more so, but that is probably the best way to love. If you don’t have time for that, if you had something you could give to them immediately that would be helpful, like socks, packaged food or even a resource guide (available from Street Roots), would be really helpful. No one would complain about a dollar, either. Neither would Anawim 


The majority of donations to Anawim come as:

a. Money
b. Chickens
c. Food and clothes
d. Housing
e. Good advice from well-meaning strangers

c. Food and clothes. We gain an abundance of “in-kind” donations, including coats, socks, canned food and other food. And yet, we still are seeking out other food to make our meals with! Some of the donations are so abundant that we provide other ministries with clothing and food as well, especially the St. John’s food bank. This is not to say that we don’t receive some money—usually just enough to pay our bills at our facility at SE 39th and our house on N Williams. Thankfully, the house is paid for by a generous provider. We bought the chickens ourselves and the advice is welcome, but neither got us any more socks to hand out.

Homeless Income

What is the average amount a homeless person makes in a month?

a. 500 dollars a month
b. 300 dollars a month
c. 100 dollars a month
d. 50 dollars a month
e. Varies, depending on their stock portfolio that month…

b. 300 dollars a month. Of causes of homelessness, the one that needs to be most remembered is the inability to make enough money to pay for housing. Three hundred is enough to meet one’s basic needs, but not enough to pay for housing, even if two homeless people work at it together. If the homeless had more possibilities to work for their keep, they would better be able to earn their keep.

The Homeless and Violent Crime

How much more likely is one to be a victim of a violent crime from a homeless or mentally ill person than from a housed, non-mentally ill person?

a. 15 percent more likely—“My sister was beat up by a schizophrenic once…”
b. 10 percent less likely—“How nice homeless people are!”
c. 5 percent more likely
d. 5 percent less likely

b. 10 percent less likely. Violent crime is actually less likely to be done by the homeless and the mentally ill. The media tends to focus on the cases of the mentally ill or homeless doing violence, which only increases the false fear that people have of the homeless and mentally ill.

Focus on Single Men

How many of the homeless are single men?

a. 90 percent, all of them looking for single women…
b. 80 percent
c. 60 percent
d. 50 percent

d. 50 percent, or 51 percent to be exact. Most of the services for the homeless, especially in central locations are for single men, but there is a growing population of women and youth who are homeless. Services for single women and couples are sorely lacking. 17 percent of the homeless are single women. Around one third of Anawim attendees are women.

Emergency Shelter

How many cities in the United States have enough shelters for all the homeless in an emergency?

a. 0 percent
b. 5 percent
c. 10 percent—“Look, it’s the best we can do…”
d. 20 percent

a. 0 percent. Not a single city in the United States is prepared for the homeless in case of an emergency. However, the use of temporary emergency shelters is spreading, so there is growing hope in this area. Local emergency shelters need more churches to be involved in opening their doors to folks on the street in emergency situations.

Bible Question 2

Which of the following passages is in the Bible?

a. “With righteousness He will judge the anawim.”
b. “The anawim will inherit the earth.”
c. “Seek the Lord, all you anawim of the earth.”
d. “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the anawim”
e. “The schemes of the schemer are evil, he devises plans to bring down the anawim.”

All of them. “Anawim” is a Hebrew word that is translated “the poor” or “the outcast”, but in context means “the outcast who seeks the Lord for deliverance.” This is the foundational idea of our community church for the homeless and mentally ill. a. “With righteousness He will judge the anawim” is found in Isaiah 11:4. b. “The anawim will inherit the earth” is found in Psalm 37:11, and is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 5:5. c. “Seek the Lord, all you anawim of the earth” is found in Zephaniah 2:3. d. “…Good news to the anawim” is found in Isaiah 61:1 and is quoted by Jesus in Luke 4. e. “He devises plans to bring down the anawim” is found in Isaiah 32:7.

How Many Meals?

For the last four years, Anawim has served approximately how many meals a year?

a. 2000
b. 5000
c. 10,000
d. 13,000

d. 13,000. That’s approximately 250 meals a week. Early on, Anawim was simply a family ministry, serving 50-100 meals a week. Now Anawim is a network of street people and other churches serving anyone who is hungry—poor or wealthy, good or bad—with the dual goal of both being like Jesus and encouraging others to live in Jesus.

Bible Question

Which of the following passages is in the Bible?

a. “God helps those who help themselves.”
b. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.”
c. “If you don’t have a job, you don’t eat.”
d. “God chose the poor of this world to be rich in faith.”

Both b and d. “Blessed are you who are poor” is found in Luke 6:20, a version of the more common Beatitude found in Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” “The poor…rich in faith” is found in James 2:5. “If you don’t have a job you don’t eat” is what many people understand Paul to be saying in II Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, he shall not eat.” But Paul would include most of the homeless as “workers” who work for their money and volunteer at soup kitchens. “God helps those who help themselves” was written by Benjamin Franklin in the first American political cartoon, written in opposition to the Quakers.

Alcohol, Drugs and the Homeless

How many homeless have substance abuse issues?

a. About 70 percent
b. About 90 percent
c. About 20 percent
d. About 40 percent

Somewhere between c and d 20-40 percent. This number is difficult to determine because it is so difficult to find the homeless and get reasonable social statistics on them. However, it is certain that most of the homeless do not become that way due to drugs or alcohol. If a person becomes chronically homeless, the chances are much higher that he or she would become addicted to alcohol or drugs. However, a homeless person who obtains permanent housing is also likely to break that habit. More often than not, drugs or alcohol is a result of homelessness, not the other way around.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

NY Hero Left To Die

AOL news reports that a homeless man stops a man wielding a knife from harming a woman, but he is harmed in the process. The woman runs away, and the homeless man, Tale-Yax, collapses on the sidewalk. Over a period of twenty minutes, a number of people see Tale-Yax, face down on the sidewalk, injured, but do nothing. A couple even stand and stare at him for a minute. Finally, someone calls 911 and firefighters come to help him.

Why was this man ignored? He deserved better, after delivering this unknown woman from harm.

I don't know what people were thinking, but I can guess. "Here's another homeless bum passed out on the sidewalk." Even though he is showing blood, what does that matter? Some people might even be thinking that they are doing him a favor by ignoring him, letting him remain passed out on the sidewalk.

But the main thought would be: "It's none of my business."

We are trained to ignore the homeless, even if they don't look in the best of shape. In New York City, the homeless are treated with such disdain by the police and city officials that they have become non-citizens, less than human. People who should be given no more thought than an animal.

God help us if we act toward anyone this way. No matter who they are, even our worst enemy, in Jesus we should help those who are injured. We should love those in need. I pray that our churches would learn justice, so that society at large would be ashamed at their treatment of the outcast.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Mental illness and Homelessness

How many of the homeless are diagnosed with a mental illness?

a. 100 percent—“You gotta be crazy to be homeless”
b. 80 percent
c. 40 percent
d. 20 percent

d. 20 percent. This statistic is strange, as in the general population of the United States approximately 40 percent have been diagnosed with a mental illness sometime in their lives—if only an anxiety disorder or depression. The key to this statistic is the term “diagnosed”. Because of the extreme lack of healthcare—especially mental health care—for the poor, most of those on the street who have mental health issues haven’t been diagnosed or treated.

Transient Homeless

How many homeless live in their home town?

a. 10 percent
b. 17 percent
c. 35 percent
d. 57 percent
e. 75 percent
f. Most of the homeless have moved to Portland or San Francisco by now.

e. 75 percent. The homeless are rarely transient. They typically live in their own town, trying to make do with what services are available in their place. For this reason, the homeless are everywhere. They only sometimes go to towns that offer better services. So it makes sense to have a community church for the homeless, located in a stationary place.

It is interesting that according to federal numbers, San Francisco has the highest number of homeless, and Portland has the highest number of homeless per capita (proportionally to the population). This means that we in Portland have a bigger task to help our homeless than any other city in the U.S.!

Homeless in Vehicles

How many homeless people live in vehicles?

a. 5 percent
b. 12 percent
c. 32 percent
d. 59 percent

d. 59 percent. Most of the temporary homeless live in their car—the “middle class” of the homeless set. When someone loses their housing, they make sure they retain their vehicle and live in that. Most of these who have vehicles also keep up their registration and insurance, making that a priority. These are also those who get off the street the quickest, as they are better able to take advantage of services offered them. Perhaps 10-15 percent of those who attend Anawim live in vehicles.

How Long Homeless?

How many people are homeless for less than two years?

a. 20 percent
b. 40 percent
c. 50 percent
d. 70 percent
e. 100 percent
f. Any of them who come to Jesus.

d. 70 percent. The far majority of people who are homeless get off the street as quickly as possible, needing just a little bit of help to do so. Because of the infrastructure available to families, they tend to get off the street almost immediately. Of course, there are some, about 30 percent, that remain on the street longer. They are called the chronic homeless, and about half of Anawim is made up of that population. And there are plenty of Christians who are homeless—come to Anawim and find some for yourself!

How Many Homeless?

How many people are homeless in the U.S. for any amount of time each year?

a. 220,000
b. 1.3 million
c. 3.5 million
d. 128 million
e. Whoever was too lazy to get a job.

c. 3.5 million. This is approximately 1% of the population of the U.S., or about 1 out of a hundred people. Ten percent of the United States is under the poverty line, and a tenth of them will be homeless at some time any given year. If you know a hundred people, about one of them has experienced homelessness this last year. And one of them will be homeless this next year. The homeless are not some strangers, but they are us. There’s no reason to be scared of homeless people—we know some of them. And those who are too lazy? If that were true, some out-of-work CEOs ought to be homeless.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Something New Under the Son

By Larry Norman

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This album is simply the best underappreciated Christian album ever. Why is it so good?

Because the story is so true to life. This isn’t just about some teenage angst or existential malaise. Rather, it is about a young man who has been rejected by his family, and through misunderstanding and depression finds himself separated from all humanity. But in attempting to commit suicide, he finds God is his true father and he goes through a true conversion. This album is less evangelistic than just telling the story of one individual, helping us see both his wrong thinking and his true hope.

Because it is a truly classic rock album. The best of classic rock—Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, for example—is simply electrified blues. Something New is in that tradition of classic rock: raw versions of some classic blues tunes and the invention of new blues songs. Every time I listen to the album I get pumped up and excited. It’s a garage-band sound that is full of energy and power.

Because humor strikes home when you least expect it. Just as the album begins to really get serious, that’s when Norman throws in his funniest lines, just like in the best blues traditions. “Papa broke his glasses when he fell down drunk—tried to drown a kitty-cat, turned out to be a skunk.” It’s not just the humor itself, but the way it’s expressed, to let us in on the joke in a sly way. It is the darkest album with a truly funny side that makes this the most rare of Christian albums.

If you are tired of your Christian albums being full of clich├ęs you’ve heard a million times, with over-produced packaging for the broadest possible audience, and you like rock/blues, please check this album out. You’ll thank me.

Oh, and check out Rez Band too. They rock.

Monday, April 12, 2010

How To Love Idiots

“Love one another,” “Treat others as you would be treated,” “Love your neighbor as yourself” “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful” “Love your enemy, do good to those who hate you”— Jesus was clear, that loving those around us is our most important task, apart from being faithful to God.  And yet, it is funny how we often take our relationships for granted (unless we are dating someone we really like).  We assume that we treat everyone fairly and with love—even though sometimes it is “tough love”—and we expect to be treated fairly in return. 

However, dealing with people is the most difficult task imaginable—just ask God, He has a terrible time with it!  Jesus told us that our relationships should be a major priority in our lives just because they would be so difficult to maintain!  Jesus didn’t tell us to treat everyone with fairness, but with love and humility.  And this means, often, that we need to set aside our own ideals and focus on someone else’s needs and goals.  We cannot love if we are just thinking about being “fair” in relationships.  To love we must sacrifice and reach out.

1.       Meet others needs
When Jesus taught about love, he did not mean that love is a feeling, or a response, or a particular kind of relationship.  Rather, when Jesus said, “love” he meant an action.  To love is to act in the other person’s benefit, whatever that means.  And the most basic way of doing what will help another person is to make an attempt to meet their needs.  This is why when Scripture talks about Christian duty, it describes feeding the poor, visiting the sick and welcoming the stranger.  Because loving means seeing the need and doing your best to meet it.

                But we also need to recognize that people need more than bread and clothes.  Jesus himself did much more than meet people’s physical needs—although that was a big part of what he did.  Fundamentally, people feel that they have the following needs:
·         Survival—Having one’s basic needs met, such as hunger, sleep and health
·         Security—Feeling safe from what one fears
·         Inner Peace—A sense of contentment with life
·         Pleasure—Enjoyment and laughter
·         Honor—A sense of being significant to others
·         Society—Feeling a part of others and communicating with them
There are other needs that we have—a relationship with God, understanding significant truths, a sense of being a “good person”, but we don’t always feel these needs.  The six above we feel almost every day at one point or another, and they deeply control our sense of well-being and color our perception of everything around us.  When Jesus met needs, he recognized that people not only needed their “survival” needs met, but also the other ones.  Especially in his teaching, he wanted people to feel secure, to have peace, to have joy, to gain honor and to be a part of a good society. 

                Even so, when we are looking to meet people’s needs, we need not only look at survival needs, although those are foundationally important.  But we must also remember to give people respect, to ease people’s fears, to help them laugh and enjoy themselves, to just communicate with others.  In doing all of this, we are loving.  And all of it is acting in love.

2.       Be Humble
Perhaps when you picked up this tract, you thought, “Oh good—I’ve got a lot of idiots I’m supposed to love.”  However, the most important lesson Jesus taught us in loving others is “the first shall be last and the last first.”  If we really want to love others, the first step is to remember that, more often than not, WE are the idiots, not the people around us.  Rather than thinking, “I wish so-and-so could read this tract,” you need to take responsibility for your own idiocy in relationships.  If we are really going to love, we need to be humble.  How can we do that?

·         If a mistake was made, give others the benefit of the doubt
·         Take blame upon yourself, instead of pushing it on others
·         Focus on what other’s need, not yourself
·         If changes need to be made in communication, take as much responsibility on yourself as you can
·         Pray for other’s blessing—especially those you are in conflict with

If we place ourselves in the giving position, then we will find that we can actually deserve the honor we might expect others to give to us—whether we get it or not.  Most importantly, assume that the other person is trying to be as good and as polite as they can.  You may feel that they are acting rude or badly or stupidly.  But, chances are, they are not.  They are just trying to meet their needs, just like you are.

3.       Recognize differences in communication
Another way we can be humble is to recognize that, more often than not, the people around us are not idiots, or jerks, or rude, but they have different communication patterns than we do.  If we see someone who looks like an immigrant come up to us and speak loudly in a foreign language, waving his hands, we would not think he was rude, but that he just didn’t have the same customs that we do.  But if we see someone speak to us in our language, with our accent, speaking loudly and waving her hands, we would think that she is rude, or possibly have some mental problems.  But some people grow up in situations in which speaking loudly (or quietly) and using expansive gestures (or using none at all) is normal, and they are just trying to speak to us normally.  We do not feel that it is normal at all—we feel that it is rude, or that they have a problem with us.  But often it is not that case at all.  We have to take account of other’s different way of speaking.

                For instance, different people have a different sense of how long one must pause to allow another person to speak.  If one person expects people to talk over her, then she might not give anyone else a chance to speak, and so feel that no one is interested in what she is talking about, because no one is responding.  On the other hand, another person might feel that she is hogging up all the time to speak because she won’t stop for a few seconds so they can chime in.  Neither person is rude, they just don’t understand how the other person communicates.

                There are many kinds of communication differences: How much space to give another person when talking, how direct or indirect one’s requests should be, what kind of touching is appropriate between people, how people should apologize, and how a conversation should begin.  Instead of assuming others are “idiots”, perhaps we should try their kind of communication with them and see if they respond positively to it.

4.       Respond Positively to Interactions
Every time we communicate with others, we may have as many as a hundred interactions with them in ten minutes.  With everything people say to us, we are reacting—even if we think we are giving a neutral or a non-response.  With every bit of communication, we either respond with them—on their side—against them or just ignoring them.  In a positive relationship, up to 9 out of 10 responses will be positive.  If even four out of ten of the responses one gives is offensive or ignoring the other, then the relationship is rapidly going downhill, and may never recover unless something is done. 

                A negative response to someone doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree with them.  On the contrary, two people could be having a conflict, but their reactions are positive toward each other.  It is HOW they disagree.  If they keep the conversation upbeat, break the heavy discussion with humor sometimes, always show respect for the other person and the relationship, then even a conflict can be a positive relationship. However, if a conversation is characterized by biting sarcasm, insults, outbursts of anger, threats, treating the other like a child, or simply ignoring what another person says, then that conversation will tear down the relationship.

                In loving others, we need to work on our communication, so we always try to respond positively.  This does not mean just ending the conversation on an upbeat note, but trying to communicate in a positive way throughout the conversation.  This can be difficult, and we can make many mistakes along the way, but with God’s help we can do it—even to those who have hurt us.

5.       Find the True Meaning behind the Words
None of us means what we say.  Most of our communication is a parable of what we really mean.  We often ask “how are you?”, but we almost never are looking for a doctor’s diagnosis.  A husband may say “I love you,” but not at that moment feel a surge of emotion for his wife.  Our child may say, “I don’t feel good,” but they might just be emotionally hurt, not having a physical ailment.  Even so, quite a bit of our words have meaning that is not stated directly in the words we used.

                And it isn’t only words.  I could say, “My mother in law is coming to visit,” and depending on the look on my face or my tone of voice, I would communicate to you whether I liked that idea or not.  But if you didn’t understand my non verbal communication—you heard disgust in my voice when I was trying to communicate with my face happy anticipation—then we will get our wires crossed and spend time trying to unravel the miscommunication.

                Or we might get into a conflict with another person, and we can argue about the silliest things—whether the sky is actually sky blue or not—whatever.  But if we get into a conflict, often the conflict is not about what we are directly discussing.  Perhaps the argument is about how one communicates.  Or it could be about a long-held ideal or dream that hasn’t been communicated yet.  And the conflict could go on eternally without resolution, because the true meaning of the conflict hasn’t yet been discussed.

                If the person we are communicating with understands our indirect communication, fine, no problem.  However, every time we use indirect communication, we are taking the chance that the other person might misunderstand.  And then we don’t understand what they misunderstood because we communicated as clearly as we could—or so we thought. 
                We need to do our best to get behind the simple meaning of the words.  And how do we do this?  We ask.  We tell the other person what they think they meant by a face or an argument, and give them a chance to explain in a different way. 

6.       Listen Carefully
Jesus told us that we must “Be careful how you listen.”  It is never enough to just listen, but we must listen in a way that communicates.  Even our listening communicates a reaction to what others say.  And how we listen can either meet others needs or tear them down. 

                If we do not look like we are listening to the other person, then they think we are ignoring them and they are not important to us.  One person may expect someone to look at her when she is talking, but her partner may need to look at the floor to concentrate.  Even if he can repeat everything she said, she will still not feel listened to, but ignored.  When listening, we need to show that we are interested, in the best way we can, in the way the person we are listening to understands.

                We might ask questions, but not too many.  We might make listening “noises” like “uh huh”, but not too often.  We might nod, but not too excitedly.  If we do not do these things enough, the other will think that we are ignoring them.  But if we do these things too much, then the other person will think that we are not trying to listen, but to take over the conversation.  We must find the right balance for each person.

                The most important part of listening in love is two things:  First, don’t be trying to force your agenda on the other person.  Let them say what they need to say.    Second, do your best to give them your full attention.  Because we live in a society in which everyone feels that everyone is too busy to listen, this is the best gift that anyone can give.

 (Thanks to the work of John M Gottman and Deborah Tannan)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

O Lord, Please Don't Let Religion Be Misunderstood

In the midst of a discussion on "Religion v. Relationship with God" on Facebook

I am a firm believer in relationship with God. I think that the term "religion" is very much misunderstood. I think that the real problem is not religion-- a system of connecting with God-- but ritual without relationship. Religion does not have to be that, even as education or politics must be without relationship. It is both together that is a benefit. 

Anyone who goes to church regularly has religion. That's not bad, but they also must have relationship or else the religion is worthless.

Spirited Away

Chihiro ignoring a Japanese spirit.

From the movie Spirited Away.
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Why Spirited Away Is My Favorite Movie

Originally published in the Filmspotting Forum:

I really appreciate what a co-movie lover said recently, that as one gets to the top of one’s all time favorites list, that it becomes more personal.  I think that is really true.  My top ten is peppered with films that mean something important to me personally, but may not be as thrilling to others: Wendy and Lucy, The Mission, Being There.  They all carry double meaning for me: not only being well done films in their own right, but also expressing messages that are important to my life.  They not only speak to others in a general way, but they speak to my life directly in a way others might not understand.

So, with Spirited Away, I can give you the many reasons why this favorite film of my favorite director is generally excellent.  The animation is top notch, for one.  In re-watching Ponyo, I realized how much we are missing in focusing on computer animation instead of hand-drawn.  It has taken hand-drawn animation almost a hundred years to reach this place, while computer animation is still a teen.  Computer animation is wonderful, but it still has a long ways to go to establish a set of symbols we recognize as human emotion.  Miyazaki, however, has taken the step that Disney never did to make characters that are so real we feel that we know them.  This is certainly found in the writing and the voice acting (even the dubbed vocals!), but especially in the drawing.  It is not because they are more realistic looking, but because we grew up with this kind of animation, and Miyazaki, adding in expressions found in manga and older anime, has given us a visual language we can truly connect with.

Also, Spirited Away is one of the magnificent stories of imagination.  Setting aside the Japanese spiritism (which we will talk about in a moment), the amount of imagination that creates both the setting—a bath house for spirits—and specific unique characters such as No Face and the Radish Spirit, takes even the imaginative achievements of The Wizard of Oz, The Neverending Story and Labyrinth to new heights.  But more than that, this imaginary story is realized perfectly visually.  We can see this world existing.  This isn’t just an amusing tale with muppets or dressed up humans or poorly executed claymation.  This is another world that we have the opportunity to visit for a couple hours, and that experience gets added to our own.

I am just saying what could really be said of almost any of what I call “first tier” Miyazaki.  As well as this: Miyazaki’s characters are fully realized.  These are real people, even the spirits are of a type of character we recognize.  While there is sometimes comedy, it is the comedy of real life, not just pratfalls and one liners.  When there is achievement, it is rarely of the deeply heroic kind.  Rather, it is the daily success of those who act noble in small ways.  In this way, Miyazaki can connect to us in ways that blockbusters rarely do.  There are scenes in Miyazaki that, despite the outlandish settings, we can see as reflections of our lives.  Or our lives as we wish them to be.

There are two reasons, however, that Spirited Away especially speaks to me personally.  First of all is because we get to see Chihiro/Sen grow up.  I have three children of varying ages—17, 14 and 9—and they are all in different stages of development.  All of them are, in a sense, Chihiro.  At the beginning she is whiney and grumpy and self-centered.  The move is hard on her, her parents realize this, but it is necessary and they need her to stay strong through the difficulty.  But it is when her parents become self-centered that she is forced to grow up and become stronger than she—or her parents—ever thought she could be. 

Step by step we can see her shed her self-centeredness and fully take on the task of being responsible as the best of grown-ups are.  This is in contrast to Kiki of Kiki’s Delivery Service who begins the movie responsible and hard working.  Chihiro had to struggle through every step of the way.  First she expresses the moral outrage many young people express when they see grown ups acting irresponsibly.  Then she follows important instructions for how to live in the new world (something most fairy tale protagonists fail to do).  Then she learns boldness and tenacity in the face of threat.  Then she learns about hard work under someone else’s orders.  Then she learns about loving people even when they seem to not be lovable at times.  Then she learns about sacrifice for love.  And finally, she learns that intelligence balanced with care and wisdom is what truly saves the day. 

These are the life lessons I want all of my children to learn.  They are the lessons I see them learning, bit by bit.  The art of raising children is the art of seeing them become the Chihiro at the end of Spirited Away.  Every once in a while, as a parent, you can think to yourself, “I taught them that”, but most of the time you can’t.  These are lessons they have to learn themselves in the midst of the struggles they have to face in life.  But at the end of the movie, I am so proud of Chihiro, the buttons on my vest would burst, if I actually wore a vest.  She is my children.  My son becoming a responsible adult.  My oldest daughter being self-confident and self-reliant.  My youngest daughter learning to speak with respect and act in mercy.  This is all I hope for my children, in the strange worlds they will have to challenge.

My final reason is my strangest, and probably my most significant personal reason why I love this film.  I am only going to tell you guys, and I hope you won’t tell anyone else.  Not because I’d get in trouble, but because it’d be difficult to explain to my denomination and especially my congregation.  I could do it, but it wouldn’t do any good, so why bother?  Anyway, here it is:  the metaphysics of Spirited Away is pretty close to how I see the world functioning.

No, I don’t think that spirits have their own bath house and restaurants.  I don’t think that if humans eat spirit-food that they turn into pigs.  Nor do I think that young girls could be hired by someone to serve spirits.  I do, however, believe that there is an alternative universe, that runs on its own physics, that runs parallel to ours.  I do think that there are beings—and you could call them spirits—that live in that universe.  I also think that most of them are morally neutral, neither good nor bad, just trying to live their lives by their own values.  And I think that, at times, the two universes can converge, and allow communication between them.

This is not an unusual worldview, in the broader scheme of things.  Historically, before the Christian era, almost everyone in the world believed that summary of mine.  Certainly the ancient Jewish people did, as well as the first Jewish Christians.  It is Plato and his disciple Augustine that began to turn the world away from this notion.  They saw the spirit world as either the realm of ideas or as under the control of a single unified being.  Under their philosophy, the spirit world is neat and orderly, with everything politely lined up perfectly, within the mental grasp of humanity.

The ancient pagan world, the ancient first temple Judaism and the first century Christian church saw the spirit world as full of chaos as it was of spirits.  Each spirit had its own focus and desires and hopes.  They had their own realms of responsibility—jobs, if you will—of rivers and vegetation and winds and planetary beings.  Part of the spirit world is described as a sea, filled with dragons of chaos, battling against spirits who desired order and peace in both the spirit world and on earth.

Spirited Away, although a fantasy, is based on Japanese spiritism, a form of that ancient worldview.  In a twisted sense, the metaphysical basis of that movie is somewhat the same as the writers of the Bible.  This is how I see the world working.  I do not deny scientific reality—our world does operate on the laws of physics and development of life as discovered by scientists.  But looking at the physical realm is only a part of the story, like Chihiro’s parents seeing an abandoned amusement park. 

Some are content with this world and understanding its laws.  Others get to see the wonder and magic of the world below the surface, on a level not usually seen by eyes.  I wish to be one of the later.

Any who are concerned about my right to be a pastor, or my sanity, I would be glad to give the phone number of my denomination, and you can rat me out.  I understand.  Sometimes I don’t think I’m completely sane, either.  By the way, my wife already knows, so you don’t need to bother calling her.

The Joy of Discovering Homelessness!

Anawim Christian Community invites you to their first fundraiser, “Sweets for the Homeless”.  This is a desert social, in which people are free to come, eat a variety of delicious homemade desserts, and to find out more about the homeless and the mentally ill.  There will be opportunities to speak to people who have experienced homelessness and to find out what the homeless really need, as well as being able to help Anawim, a community church for the homeless in Portland and Gresham.  Come for as long as you like and join the fun!

Host: Portland Mennonite Church, 1312 SE 35th Ave, Portland—just a block north of Hawthorne Blvd.
When: Saturday, April 24, 2010 from 6:30-8:30pm
Cost: Free, but please be prepared to offer donations!

Sunday, April 04, 2010

John Takes A Vacation

Reported in Crosswalk.com:

The Christian Post reports that well-known author and pastor John Piper will be leaving the pulpit for eight months, his first-ever break from ministry in 30 years. Piper stressed that the break is not a resignation from ministry, but a time to address "ongoing character flaws." After his Sunday sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, he said, "The reality check is what will happen to John Piper's soul ... and to my marriage ... and to my future ... when there will be no prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety." The 64-year-old preacher continued, "I need to find that out and I don't know any other way to do it." He stated that there is "no whiff of unfaithfulness" in his marriage, but that "several species of pride" have taken an emotional impact on Piper and his wife of 46 years, Noel. He said he hopes to return to ministry for another five years after this period of "fasting."

I'm proud of you, Dr. Piper.  That takes boldness and humility to not only recognize the problem, but to take a break specifically to deal with it.  Although Dr. Piper's theology and my own have often diverged, I find that his exegesis and his character are of the highest quality.