Archive for November, 2011

In the run-up to the ‘04 election, journalists joked that if Senator John Kerry was asked for the time, he would give a thirty minute lecture on the making of wrist-watches.  In contrast to Sen. Kerry’s verbosity, was the heavily circulated six-word explanation for America’s preemptive intervention in the Middle-East: “They hate us for our freedom.”  This wasn’t a single-party catch-phrase; it was frequently used by members of both major parties.  But as time has passed we’ve come to see that each of those six words carried with it its own depth and nuance.  We’ve learned what many foreign policy experts knew in 2004…

..that “They” are not a single, collected body with a single, centralized, anti-Western agenda. 

..that “hate” is not always the best way to describe the mood of everyone who takes issue with US foreign policy. In the case of many younger men and women, “disappointment” and “anger” are far more appropriate and accurate descriptions.

..that, even when “hate” is an accurate descriptor, it often isn’t “our freedom” that illicits hatred; it is what some of us choose to do with it.  For example, the critique by many Muslims (though shared by even more with no religious affiliation) that American industry “exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools.”

Of course, this isn’t a blog about foreign policy.  I’m not a foreign policy expert.  I wouldn’t want to make the decisions necessary to be one; it’s a difficult and complicated endeavor deserving more nuance in communication than  “They hate us for our freedom.”  I am growing more comfortable with letting go of the comfort that comes from the aphorisms I often use.  Certainly there is truth in simple words.  Yet the power of truth is in how it is lived out.  While simple words like “nothing is certain but death and taxes” or “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” or even “God is good” can be an impetus for a more courageous engagement with life, once I am engaged I find that I must move beyond the aphorism and embrace complexity and even, at times, contradiction.

I believe “God is good” with my whole self. I’ve bet my life on it, actually.  Yet, I know that the lived reality of that aphorism is rather complex; that each of these words carries with it a world of complexity.

Aphorisms are not containers for truth. They are more like access points or doorways. From a distance, everything on the other side of a doorway is framed nicely and neatly. But once you are IN the doorway, the world on the other side is revealed to be made up of far more than the doorway can frame.

Here are a few Thanksgiving thoughts I’ve put together from notes to a recent sermon. I hope to have the audio in hand shortly and will likely post it to Facebook and Twitter

“Thanks” is short for “Thank you,” which is, itself short for “I thank you.”  With every reduction, a human element of the phrase is eliminated; first “I,” then “you.”

The english word “thank” comes from the same root as the word “think,” which means “to hold in one’s mind” or “to perceive.”  So, at least part of what I am saying when I say “thank you” is that I see the person at the other end of the exchange.  I am acknowledging that they are more than a vehicle for the distribution of goods and services; more than just an instrument of economy. 

Recognizing the human on the other side of a gift exchange means recognizing a gift as the result of choice.  The gift-giver chose generosity and kindness over selfishness and greed and I believe that it is worth noting whenever someone chooses their better nature.

“No problem”
In his insightful book “The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor,” author Mark Labberton laments the cultural shift from responding with “You’re welcome” to responding with “no problem,” writing that  “The phrase assumes that the service offered is primarily measured by the cost to the one serving….”

I can think of ways I’ve expressed this sentiment:

No problem.. It was on my way
No problem.. I had an extra
No problem.. Because you’ll pay me back
No problem.. It didn’t cost me anything

But if it was a problem, the chances that I’d do it take a dive.

Labberton goes on: “The fact is, however, that a lot of the service we need to receive and offer is really going to be a problem… Our lives are meant to carry and share in the problems of others.. That’s called love… Our goal is not to keep the cost of love as low as possible.”

Which is why, along with the author, I prefer the words “You’re welcome.”

“To say ‘you’re welcome’ carries with it an acknowledgement of the dignity of the person who thanked you, your intentionality as the giver and even the value of the gift.”

I would take this a step further and suggest that it is this sentiment “you’re welcome,” that frames the entire exchange.  In offering a gift or my time etc,.. I am actually offering a part of myself; Instead of giving according to the toll it takes on me I give according to the relationship I have or desire to have with the recipient, welcoming them into my life, even if in a small way.

As a christian, I find this expressed in these timeless words from John’s apostolic letter:

“We love because He first loved us.”

I am welcomed by God through Christ. And in Christ that welcome comes at the cost of the Cross. This frames the way I now offer myself to my world. I give of myself to a world that is welcomed into relationship with God; I get to extend that welcome in acts of generosity and kindness.  When those acts are seen and I am thanked for them, I then have the opportunity to proclaim that welcome aloud.


Sunday Reflection: Tim Tebow & Christian Tribalism

I don’t root for Tim Tebow**.  It has been suggested that I ought to since he is an ‘outspoken Christian’ playing quarterback in the NFL.  But I believe that rooting for an athlete simply because he or she is a christian is as odd as supporting politicians for the same reason; as if a common faith trumps job performance and competency.  I would suggest that faithfulness to and excellence in one’s job is at least as Christian an endeavor as wearing Bible verses on ones’ face or doing charitable work apart one’s primary vocation.

As a Christian, I don’t feel a need to root for members of my tribe simply because they are members of my tribe. I want to support athletes, artists, writers, politicians etc.. who are good at what they do. 

That said (and speaking of tribes), I am a fan of the Oakland Raiders because they’re local and because citizenship in the Raider Nation is McRoberts family tradition. Beyond that, my support of an athlete in the NFL (or in any sport for that matter) generally has more to do with the way that athlete contributes to their sport; I believe excellence in a person’s work, regardless of his or her faith, brings glory to God.

Supporting Christians in any industry simply because they are Christians strikes me as a kind of tribalism that pits “our” tribe against “theirs” and that makes me uncomfortable.  It grates against the Biblical image of being salt in the world; salt enhances the flavor of whatever it is added to rather than serving to enhance its own. Christian hope for the world ought not to be a Christian conquering of it but it’s completion, redemption and fullness; that is a vision much larger than Christians doing well in the world.  Tribalism detracts from the larger hope.


**This is especially true today when the Denver Broncos play my beloved Raiders in Oakland.

I'm Still Around?

Caption Contest Winners

Last week, we posted a few choice images from a recent photo shoot and asked for captions over Facebook and Twitter. Winners of the contest received download of either “C” or “M” (the first two EP’s of the CMY(K) project) as well as having their captions designed into ads.  Below are the caption-designed images our winners helped us make:


Winner: John DiBiase
Runner Up: John Herring with his caption “Squirrel!?”


Winner: Barbara Anderson
Runner Up: Linsdsey Anderson with her caption: “I Should Really Invest In A Kindle.” 

Winner: Noel Mabry
Runner Up: Dan Portnoy with his caption: “Duuuuuude” (but with fewer “u”s)

Winner: Ryan Scott
Runner Up: John P Land with his caption: “I Stand On The Shoulders Of Giants But Mostly On The Bindings Of Books”

Thanks to everyone who submitted captions. This was a blast. If you missed it, you can read most of them at my Facebook Artist Page.
We’ll be posting a few more fun ads later today at Facebook and Twitter






A Girl In The War: Further Reflections On Being Right

This is a followup to a blog I posted Sunday regarding “rightness” being framed by relationship.

I was in High School during the first Gulf War.  My friends and I held some very strong opinions about the war and even blocked traffic on the main road through town, holding anti-war signs.  A decade later, I was afforded the opportunity to play songs for, speak to and spend time with soldiers in the US military in Western Europe along with their families.  I received emails of thanks from teenagers whose parents had been serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Some of these kids’ parents had lost limbs. Some had lost their lives. Each of these kids was deeply proud of their parents and their service.

Later, I found myself standing with a guitar in front of the Army’s 120th Division in South Carolina, most of whom were about nineteen years old.  Many of them were headed to serve on battlefields somewhere in the world. Not all of them would come back.

I still hold strong opinions about US foreign policy. But those opinions have taken on a much more human shape since “war” became a much more human affair for me.  This doesn’t mean a compromise in my principles, per se.  It does mean that my opinions have undergone a process of refinement, mainly because I more regularly find myself in the soup with people holding other and contrary opinions, many of whom I have deep respect for.  I can be (and am) a staunch supporter of the U.S. Armed services. I am also a responsible critic of much American Foreign Policy.  Holding my opinions is not as simple as it used to be nor is it as fulfilling to simply revel in those opinions.

My opinions about human affairs (and they are all human affairs), if they carry any weight, change the way I live. What I think about war or economics or sexual identity means I live differently in those areas, which means I will either enrich or impoverish my world depending on the accuracy and “rightness” of my opinion and the strength of my social network.

In Josh Ritter’s “Girl In The War” he writes a fictional dialogue between the Apostles Paul and Peter, reading in part…

“Peter said to Paul you know all those words we wrote
Are just the rules of the game and the rules are the first to go
But now talking to God is Laurel begging Hardy for a gun
got a girl in the war man I wonder what it is we done”

Paul said to Peter “You got to rock yourself a little harder
Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire.”
“But I got a girl in the war Paul the only thing I know to do
Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through.”

I love this. Paul stresses the deep in importance of “the game” (dragons and fire) while Peter likens it to “a war” involving someone he loves.  Setting rules to a game is one thing; playing that game is means people are actually involved, which often comes at the cost of rules being bent or even broken.  But the stuff of life is generally too important (and far too complicated) to be subject to dumbed down.  If I allow my opinions to subject to reductionism, the life I live will reflect that reductionism… and I don’t want a small, safe life.