Monthly Archives: November 2009

Announcement #2

So a few weeks ago we find out that we were pregnant again. And after having such a great kid like Eden, we couldn’t be happier with the news.

This is a video of our trip to the doctor yesterday. We had a blast doing this, Eden’s not quite sure what’s going on just yet, but she was pretty excited about whatever it was (as you will see). It was good getting to see that our new baby was healthy, and everything was fine, and we wanted to share with you what we were Thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, the Storments.

p.s. please don’t comment about what gender the baby is. Let it be a surprise to everyone else.

Emmaus and Social Justice

So one of my good friends wrote a blog recently about how to be a Jesus follower in a world that is deeply broken. It’s a great post, written by someone who has crossed socio-economic lines, and has the ability to communicate to both worlds. One of the observations he makes is that privileged Christians should make it a spiritual discipline to notice the brokenness around them.

He does a good job not demonizing wealthy Christians, but challenging us to look past our own self-inflicted boundaries. And he does it with this question: “Study and try to find a way that the system is broken without having to experience it.”

I saw a story on CNN this past weekend about a girl who was from another country who was promised a modeling job if she just came to the U.S.A. to work. She came, and immediately had her passport taken away and told that she had to work off $25,000 worth of debt before she could be a model.

And you probably know what kind of work they had in mind.

One of the people interviewed said that this happened all the time. It’s all around us, but no one was paying attention.

Did you know that 12 million people are considered by the U.S. State Department to be in slavery? And that 14,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year? Slavery is happening all around us.

But when was the last time you’ve seen a slave?

One of my favorite gospel stories comes at the end of Luke. The Disciples are walking away from Jerusalem. Crest-fallen, heart-broken, whatever words you want to use, they were deeply, deeply broken. Their hope, the one who was going to set the world right, had become a victim of the very systems he was speaking against. 

And so they’re all headed home.

But then the risen Jesus comes along side these disciples and they don’t recognize him. It’s a bizarre scene. They just want to cry alone, and here they are having to give directions to some country bumpkin who can’t tell when someone’s depressed. But this “stranger” refuses to leave them alone. He prods until they unearth the very thing that was the most tender to them, and then something even more strange happens.

Their eyes were opened and they saw the “stranger” was Jesus.

I’d like to tell you about how they thought Jesus was just a common beggar, who saw some people walking and was trying to ask for money out of those who had enough resources to travel.* I’d like to tell you about how their “eyes being opened” was a footnote of a story of disobedience in a Garden in the beginning. But the main point of this story is that these people were right next to Jesus, and for a while they didn’t even know.

Mark Twain once said, “I cannot see how a man of any large degree of humorous perception can ever be religious — unless he purposely shut the eyes of his mind & keep them shut by force.”

And to some extent I can see what he’s saying. Religion can do this. It can close us off, build walls to keep us in, and others out. But a genuine Christian faith has to refuse this, because central to our faith is a God who is opening our eyes.

We notice people because we follow a man who did. And not only did he notice them. He identified with them. And so maybe the call of Jesus is to start paying better attention. Look at that clothing tag before you buy that next shirt. Ask harder questions. Look past the parts of the world that work for you and ask who it’s not working for.

And while it must not stop with our noticing, it must begin there. Because in looking for others, we find Jesus.

*Jesus’ disciples were quite used to this occurring e.g. Mark 10:46-47

The Morality of Acceptance

For most of this week I’ve been wrestling with the book of James. It’s one of the best sections in the entire New Testament…you’ve got the actual brother of Jesus talking about how to live out this thing that his brother started. And one of the main ways James says to do that is to be a part of a community that doesn’t show favoritism.

Most of the run in with celebrities that I have had, have been disastrous. I met Houston Nutt one time, and I think he almost called security on me. But the worst (and I’m really tipping you off to how nerdy I can be) was when I met the theologian, Walter Bruegemmann. We were both at a conference, and I went up to him, shook his hand, and said something like:

“You’ve given me the capacity to dream again.”

Our conversation didn’t last very long. There’s not really many places it could have gone from there, other than talks of restraining orders.

I’m telling you this because I think James has a word for me, and probably you too.

In Donald Miller’s classic memoir “Blue Like Jazz,” he’s got a story tucked away in the end of the book about his friend named Nathan he met a Reed college.

He says that Nathan was this short, stocky kid with a speech impediment. Miller said that he actually sounded a lot like Elmer Fudd, and that his initial response when he heard Nathan talk was to laugh. He suppressed it, and tried to listen to the person behind the voice, and found out that Nathan was brilliant. He researched Nuclear chemistry, was actually kind and descent. He was, in other words, more than his voice.

A few weeks later, Miller was speaking to some preachers in California. They were asking him about how hard it was to live at Reed college (a college notorious for immoral behavior). And Miller’s response has stuck with me for years. Here’s what he says:

“I have never thought of Reed as an immoral place, I suppose it’s because somebody
like Nathan can go there and talk like Elmer Fudd, and nobody will ever make fun
of him. And if Nathan were to go to my church, which I love and would give my life
for, he would unfortunately be made fun of by somebody somewhere, behind his
back and all, but it would happen, and that is tragic….What I love about Reed
college is that there is a foundational understanding that other people exist and
they are important, and to me Reed is like Heaven in that sense.”

Here’s what James is saying. This is just as important as any other moral that you’ve got. Go back and read what he says. That caring about people, without showing favoritism, is just as important as not committing adultery.

One of the more frustrating things about churches, the thing that James is putting his finger on here, is that we tend to define much of our ethics based on what happens, or doesn’t happen, below the waist. God knows those kinds of ethics are important, but just as important, James is saying is how we treat others.

James is showing that Christian ethics is not only based on what you don’t do. It’s based on how you treat others, and the way people can tell what you think about God is by looking at how you treat people.

And so preachers, deacons, Sunday-school teachers, listen up…Those people, the Extra-Grace-Required members of your church, you need them, just as much as they need you. The ethic of James is to treat them just as well as anyone else. Because there is a morality of acceptance that you are showing, or not showing, to those you are leading.

And if we don’t treat those people well than our faith may be holy, righteous, and whatever other word you’d like to put there, but it’s not Christian. We treat people better than others because we’ve seen Jesus’ Glory. Not just in the tomb, but in the manger, in the dinner parties with hookers and religious elite, talking to the thousands, and to the promiscuous woman at the well.

We’ve seen his Glory, and so we look for it in others.

Manufactured Beauty

Last week I heard a story on NPR about an interesting development in India. Since their county has about 1/6 of the world’s population and their economy is beginning to rise, they are becoming targets for major marketing campaigns. But one of those campaigns is surprising.

It’s directed toward Indian men. For Cosmetics.

The marketing firms have discovered that creams that lightens someone’s skin have really sold well to Indian women. So they’ve also begun to peddle it to the men. They’ve realized that this is a huge market and so they’re trying to persuade Indian men that they need a new look. They’re telling them that “white is hot,” but the implied sub-text is that “dark is not.”

And while their marketing isn’t that overt about it, that doesn’t mean that what’s being said in the villages is so subtle. One of the men interviewed said plainly, “Dark skin is seen as a curse for their ancestors pillaging and raping.” The pregnant women are under such pressure for their children to be light-skinned they commonly resort to wives-tales and eat saffron or powdered gold.

Now most of us hear this and think immediately how ridiculous this is. That people would exploit others in the name of beauty.

And then we all go to our gyms and tanning booths.

A few years ago I had a conversation with a girl that really shocked me. She told me that she had struggled with an eating disorder for a few years and didn’t really like herself. In a moment of God-given wisdom, I asked her what she saw when she looked in the mirror. This girl was thin as a rail, she had several guys who were pursuing her at the time, she was by anyone’s definition, beautiful.

And she said she was fat.

One weekend, when I was in college, a friend came up to me while I was at a Harding basketball game and introduced me to someone that he had just met. Her name was Jamie, she was born with a birth defect that had disfigured her face significantly, and she was considering suicide.

We took her to Waffle House (the place for ministry at Harding) and talked for a couple of hours. We asked her what she thought about herself, and how she thought God saw her.

You’d be amazed to hear the stuff that she’d heard in her life (from friends and family). Almost everyone had bought into the idea that how someone looks is directly correlated to what they’re worth, and she had bought it hook, line, and sinker.

Jamie at the deepest part of her identity saw ugly.

I’ve been to a lot of different places in the world, and know that different places consider different things beautiful, but it never really occurred to me that someone might be pulling the strings for corporate gain. But it’s true.

Fashion is a trillion dollar industry, that operates on making people believe that who they are is not enough.

There’s a beautiful passage in 2 Corinthians, where Paul is talking about the church as the new humanity. A place that doesn’t operate by the same rules as everyone else. And in this new humanity, Paul says, “we no longer regard anyone from an earthly point of view.”

Fat people, skinny people, jocks and geeks, light skin and dark skin, acne and cleft palates, glasses, flat feet, and Nascar fans.

All have a place in the Kingdom of God.

I wish I would have known better what to say to the many girls I have prayed with who have eating disorders, or the many guys who have self-image problems. I wish I had more wisdom in how to get this deep spiritual truths out of the Bible and into our hearts. But I am thankful that on that night in Waffle House God gave us the insight to say the one thing to Jamie that mattered.

We told her what I think Paul would have told her, we told her she was beautiful.

Because after all, she was.

Church at N.A.A.C.P. Awards

I’ve got a lot of grad school this weekend, but I wanted to leave a real quick post of this video that I found earlier this week. This is Bono giving a speech at the N.A.A.C.P. awards.

Bono does a good job of eliminating the divide that we have made in our culture between the Sacred and the Secular. U2 consistently lives in the world of art and justice sometimes making the two interchangable.

What I love about this clip is how church breaks out toward the end. At the N.A.A.C.P awards Bono testifies to the power of our story, “God is with the poor, and He is with us, if we are with them.”

Who else can pull this off as consistently as Bono? What Christians do you know who have earned the right to be heard in the world with this kind of platform?

Part of the danger of the Christian Ghetto (leaving Twitter for is that we leave the very world we could have a voice in.

Jesus once said that if people didn’t talk about him the rocks would cry out.

Sometimes it’s the rock stars.

A Theology of Creation

The other day on 30 Rock, Kenneth (the backwater Christian) who is my favorite character on the show, was asked what his favorite subject was in school. He said “Science…Because I love the Old Testament.”

Now the show is known for taking light hearted jabs like that to all different kinds of tribes, but behind every joke….

When I was growing up in Homeschool/Highschool one of my assignments was to do a lot of reading, and then give a speech on Creation Science. I read apologetics, and Genesis, and plenty of obscure references in the Bible that probably meant something else, but if pressed and taken out of context could prove exactly what I wanted. (Sons of God, and daughters of men anybody?)

At the end of my speech I had the feeling that I had definitively proven that God created the Earth (in the particular way that I laid out). Since then I’ve learned that Genesis is not really addressing a post-enlightenment worldview. It’s actually teaching something that is much bigger. But I was right about this, the main point of Genesis is that God Created.

It’s the first words of the Bible…God Created, and then the way that Genesis tells us about this majestic event is, well, Creative. It’s a poem. Than the next chapter is the same story, told from a different angle and with a different beat or rhythm.

This weekend before church a woman came up to me and told me that her mom was coming to church with her for the first time in 37 years. Which is quite a streak to break. The woman’s mom was the Cal Ripken Jr. of not coming to church. But what I found impressive was the reason this mom had decided to come to church.

She said that she was coming because she had seen such a drastic difference in her daughter since she started following Jesus. And so she wanted to see what had caused this.

The best way to show others what you really believe has always been to put skin on it.

I have a feeling that if the average person was to walk into the average church without any pre-conceived bias’ their first thoughts probably wouldn’t be, “This place is so creative.” I don’t know anything about the above video clip. I’m sure it’s probably done by well-meaning people with a great heart. All I know about it, is that it was sent to me by a pagan friend who thought it was lame.

And he was right.

One of the dangers of our Christian sub-cultures is that we tend to evaluate poor things poorly. We say something is good if it just doesn’t use cuss words or show the “good characters” drinking. But the problem with that is that it undercuts the very things that we say we believe.

Namely, that God created, and what he created was good.

See a Theology of Creation, like everything else we believe, has to be embodied.

I think that churches should be the most creative, most innovative places on earth.

And I’m not just talking about our powerpoint slides. I think that what the world needs is a group of people who are connected to the Creator God and are looking at everything from the war in Darfur to Nuclear Weapons to the AIDS crisis.

People who don’t just fall into the partisan lines that their political parties draw. But find a creative third way to communicate and enact change.

People who haven’t lost hope in the power of a God who is still creating.

And it is good.

The Sound of A Heavy Rain

Idolatry sounds like something so primitive, so primal. But there is a reason that the Scriptures speak so much about the danger of making our own gods. The first commandment is for us to put no gods before the Lord. Martin Luther once said that if we could just keep this commandment, we would never break another one. Here’s what I think he means:

[audio:|titles=The Sound of A Heavy Rain]

Thus Saith the Lord

This weekend I went with a friend to Abilene, making a trip that I have made a hundred times over the past few years. It’s not the best drive. Between the town of Ranger’s cops, and the constant construction, I-20W can wear you down. But the thing that has consistently gotten on my nerves are the billboards.

Chances are you’ve seen these on the side of the interstate before. Sometimes they’re slightly funny, and other times they make you want to commit vandalism. For example, the one that says, “You think it’s Hot here? -God.” or “What Part of “Thou Shalt Not,” Didn’t You Understand?- God”
I know the heart behind these signs is probably good. Somebody, somewhere had access to money, and thought it would be good to get people to think about God. It’s noble that they don’t seem to attempt to get God to endorse a particular ministry or agenda. But…

There’s a story in 1st Kings that has always disturbed me. It’s a story about this young prophet who God sends to the King of Israel to basically condemn him for worshipping idols. The whole scene goes as intended. King gets indignant, King gets owned, Prophet goes home.

But here’s where things take a left turn.

Another prophet, an older guy, hears about the young prophet and goes to bring him home for lunch. The young prophet says that the LORD has told him that he is to go straight home and not eat with anyone. And the older prophet says something to the effect of “Yeah God told me He told you that, but now he wants you to come eat with me. He told me so.”

And the prophet does it.

And the prophet dies.

It’s kind of bizarre actually. The LORD sends a lion to come eat the young prophet and then the lion just sits there. Doesn’t eat the body, just sits there. The older prophet hears what happens and comes and gets the body, buries it, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Does this bother anyone else?

I remember hearing that story as a kid and thinking God sent the lion to the wrong guy. Clearly the lion was confused but the old guy was the one who lied, he’s the one who should be some predatory animal’s appetizer.

I saw a video earlier this year where the Westboro Baptist church had showed up somewhere with their usual signs of God hates everybody. I’ve gotten past the point where I get angry with them, but I was especially disturbed this time, because they were yelling at one guy in particular, (a guy was none of the things that they typically label and hate). He asked them can I ever do anything to make God love me? Which is a pretty weighty question, he had let them get to him, and he wanted an answer.

Their answer was no.

They told the guy that no matter what God will never love him. Thus saith the Lord/Westboro Baptist church.

The 3rd of the Ten Commandments is probably the most misunderstood one. It’s where God tells the Israelites not to take His name in vain. As a kid, I always took that to mean that I couldn’t say Gosh, Golly, Gee, or anything remotely close to God’s name. The Jewish people took special care not to spell out the name of God, they used a special pen when writing just to write the resemblance of his name.

But that’s not what this command is about.

God knows the tendency of people to slap His name on their own agenda. To say Thus saith the Lord whenever they want something, or don’t want something. He knows how easy it is for us to reduce Him to some Grand Rubber Stamp of Approval.

The third commandment is a caution against using “Thus Saith the Lord” lightly.

It’s a word of judgement against those who would say that God feels or thinks exactly the same way that they do.

So be careful with your billboards.

Because God can send a lion when you least expect it.