Archive for October, 2009

Into the City

Wow, the last week has been busy.

If you’ve kept up with me recently, you know I have been praying for a job in downtown San Diego and for housing near downtown as well.  Why downtown?  Because downtown is the center of the hub of the fellowship of which I am a part.

Well, last week, God saw fit to provide a job in downtown and housing 1 mile from downtown within the period of about 48 hours.  On Wednesday, I landed a job at Java Jones, 1 of only 2 coffee shops in San Diego Country that serves only Certified Fair Trade and Organic coffee.  It’s a pretty cool place too.  They roast all their coffee in the same building.  On Friday, through the connection of a friend of a friend, I got the ‘ok’ to house sit at a place overlooking the airport and the harbor.

I moved in Saturday.

It’s been quick, and already, life is so different.

First of all, I’m on my own.  Which is not new for me, but it has been a while.  The last time I lived alone was my junior year in college- – 3 years ago.

Secondly, I’m cooking… without a microwave.   I can already tell I’m going to miss my sister’s great cooking (not to mention years of missing Mom’s cooking), but the cool thing is that I’m cooking for myself.  I’m no professional, but I find it soothing.

Thirdly, I might get fit.  I’m riding a bike, borrowed from my bro-in-law until I can afford one.  Work is 2.5 miles away and almost all downhill, which means that I can relax while trying not to get side swiped by morning traffic.  The downside, or upside depending on how you see it, is that the way home is all uphill.  The steepest part is poetically located right before I reach home.  This must be the only part of San Diego that seems more like the urban hills of San Francisco.  Today was my first time up the hill, and I won’t lie, I had to stop on the side of the road twice, panting hard for air.  Embarrassing.  Anyway, after a season of avoiding physical activity, this whole biking thing is going to be good for me.  (Plus, it saves me money on parking and gasoline)

Fourthly, the loss of distractions.  I like that at my place, I don’t have the internet.  I don’t have a TV.  I don’t have a radio… Although, I usually end up playing tunes through an old keyboard amp (I would die without music.)  It’s different than I have lived for a while I guess.  It’s great for reading, writing, playing songs, and being able to hear myself think.

Fifthly (is that a word?), I might be turning into a cat person.  I’m not quite sure yet, and the constant shedding is annoying, but Zeke and I are getting along pretty well.

So that’s the recently city life.  It’s fast paced and reflective, break neck and contemplative, high stress and relaxing; a bundle of contradictions.  That’s what’s been up.  I’ll be back this week with the book review of Chazown. . . and I just realized I haven’t even mentioned the band I’ve been practicing with… all in due time.




Life Together

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Revew by: Kenny Liles

Having seen the Tom Cruise flick, Valkyrie, twice this year, I have a newfound respect an appreciation for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Dietrich, after all, was martyred just as Cruise’s character, Von Stauphenberg, by the Gestapo near the end of WWII for his involvement in an assassination plot against Hitler.  Although the parallel is obvious, Bonhoeffer was not a military man.  He was a theologian.  A Christian.  Bonhoeffer had a great influence on 20th century Christianity and his presence still lingers through his writings even today.

Life Together is a work of Bonhoeffer’s that springs from a time when he lived in Christian community with 25 vicars.  In this book, the author explores the definition of Christian community and offers his ideas of how best to live out the Christian faith within said community.  He digresses on the spiritual basis for community, the daily habits of those in community and those in solitude, the ideas of ministry within the fellowship, and the rhythms of confession and communion.  I read the book as part of a leadership training course we are offering at our church.

First of all, I must say that it is a testament to the book’s validity that it is still heralded as a must read, even though it was written 65 years ago and translated from German.  Bonhoeffer definitely had a gift.  That being said, I had problems with several parts of the book.

The book is filled with brilliant ideas and superb sound bites, but certain areas stray from biblical basis and lean more toward personal preference.  Which would be fine, if indeed those parts of the book were presented as personal preference and not under the guise of ‘biblical foundation.’  However, one of Bonhoeffer’s strengths was his ‘realism,’ his ability to bring faith into the tangible realm (see The Cost of Discipleship).

Life Together is a great book to get the wheels turning for ways in which to create authentic Christian community.  The author talks about both the abstract and concrete aspects of Christian faith being lived out.  In most of the theory I agree with him, but in several of the practice we disagree.

For example, I agree with Bonhoeffer and Luther that the Christian community should not isolate itself from so called “bad people,” but should interface with the world.

“The kingdom of God is to be in the midst of your enemies.  He who will not suffer this does not want to be a part of the kingdom of Christ, he wants to be among friends, to sit with the roses and lilies, and not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!  If Christ had done what your are doing, who would have even been spared?”

Quite a striking blow to place on the first page of a book written for Christians.

And I like Bonhoeffer’s simplicity, his ability to see the faith as simple but not easy.  But at the same time, part of his simplicity can be his downfall.  He spends much of the first chapter delineating between human and spiritual community, as if one is all bad and the other is all good.  But I’m not so sure that these aspects can even be separated from each other.  God created us as bodies and souls, and I’ve never seen one live without the other.  So why should we be compelled to call everything human “bad,” and everything spiritual “good?”  I guess I don’t see the distinction as clearly.

Another place I disagree with Bonhoeffer is in the details of common life.  He goes so far as to talk about how much scripture should be read each day, how long prayers should last each night, and even that songs should be sung together in unision (as opposed to parts) so that no one with a good voice will steal glory for themselves.  I don’t have a problem with his suggestions, but to implement them in every fellowship would seem foolish to me.

The author does a great job of addressing Christian ministry.  He starts by viewing everyone, including ourselves, ‘under the Cross.’  He talks about he importance of not building community around personality (as that would be building the church around something/someone other than Jesus and his work). He also emphasizes that Jesus made authority in the church depend on service toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Whosoever will be great among you will be your servant.  Mark 10.43

The church does not need brilliant personalities, but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren. – D. Bonhoeffer

At the end of the book, Bonhoeffer explains the purpose for confession more clearly than I’ve ever heard it taught.  This explanation alone might be worth the price of the book.

I would recommend this book to those interested in fostering authentic Christian community.  You will find many valuable principles, but know that you might have to sift through some outdated German-church tradition and some personal preference.  I admit you may lose focus a bit in the middle of the book when the author lays down the line about how many songs to sing and how to properly meditate, but the small nuggets of gleaming truth in the book are worth sifting through the rest.


Next week I’ll be reviewing Craig Groeschel’s Chazown. Chazown is the Hebrew word for “vision.”  Maybe you can spend this week learning how to pronounce it.  Warning:  you may need a paper towel to wipe the spit from your computer screen.


“Gainful” employment

Well, I have a job.  Finally.

Friday I will fill out the new-hire paperwork at my favorite, downtown, all fair-trade, organic coffee house – Java Jones.  Yes, I’m going to be a Barista again.  Which may have you wondering why I’m so excited?  (Pushing coffee isn’t exactly lucrative.)

I’m excited because I haven’t had a job since early January.  In fact the other day, I was telling a friend that I feel like I need a new hobby.  “You know,” I said, “something else to do with my time besides write songs and blogs.”

“You mean a job?” she said.

“Right.  I need a job,” I replied, as if it were a new thought.

Anyway, this is just a quick report to say that God is good.  He made us with needs so that he could show himself as provider in our state of need.  Maybe this is why Jesus referred to himself as the bread of life, or why he offered rest for the weary.

So this is a testimony.  I came to San Diego in the middle of the worst recession in 70-80 years, where 1 in 8 people are unemployed, in a time when people my age are unemployed in the 50% range.  I needed a job, preferably downtown, and God provided.

God is good.

BTW- the book review on Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is on the way.  Actually I’m halfway through the next book because I couldn’t resist being a little ahead.

On a lighter note. . .

I call that one “The Wakeful Dreamer”

And I call this one, “One step forward, two steps back.”


Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century

Fire From HeavenSo last week I read Fire From Heaven upon the recommendation of a friend of mine.  Written by Harvey Cox, the Victor Thomas Professor of Religion at Harvard University, the book is not quite a page turner.  I found it rather thick and sometimes felt that reading it was like plowing a field or grinding at the mill.  That being said, it was definitely refreshing to read commentary on pentecostalism from outside that is not derogatory in nature and truly makes an attempt to understand the ins and outs of the branch of Christianity in which I grew up.  It’s nice to read some literature about pentecostalism that isn’t overtly biased, because I find so often the people who write about pentecostalism, from without or within, are write very slanted.

Cox’s research took him to innumerable church services on four continents.  He took time to get to know the background and history of the pentecostal movement, and to explore some of the possible reasons for its incredibly rapid spread.  Cox rightly compares this global spread of pentecostalism to fire.  Can you believe that pentecostalism went from about 0-500,000,000 people in about 100 years?  I still can’t get over the fact that pentecostalism is the second largest branch of Christianity, behind Catholicism, and yet it’s only been around a little over 100 years now.

Cox begins the book with an exploration of the religious climate of America before the turn of the 20th century.  He then moves on to the beginnings of the pentecostal movement tracing the story of the Azusa Street Revival and William Seymour, including his influences.  I found it interesting that in the beginnings of the movement, Pentecostals claimed that the evidence of the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues AND the racial barriers falling down, not just tongues.  Pentecostalism began as a movement that tore down the walls between the races, but as the years went on, many white ministers caught flak for worshiping with blacks.  These white churches viewed tongues as the main evidence of the Spirit, and ignored the part about racial integration.  In the beginning of the movement, ministers were quote, “the color line was washed away by the blood,” but many racial walls were re-built thereafter.  That being said, pentecostalism remains one of the most racially integrated forms of Christianity.

Cox also talks in the beginning of the early pentecostals disdain for “man-made creeds” and dead rituals.  Also, he spoke of the movements undeniable resilience.  When early ministers were locked out of other churches for their beliefs, like Seymour, they just picked themselves up and kept preaching.  Similarly, this environment of dividing and multiplying is present even within pentecostal churches.  Today pentecostal churches have a tendency to divide and make new churches because of all kinds of issues.

In the book, 5 main factors are identified as reasons that Pentecostalism has done so well in an age when scientists and academics had all predicted the death of religion after the ‘death of God.’ Cox labels 3 main aspects of pentecostalism that he terms “primal” because in his point of view, pentecostalism has tapped into some forms of human religiosity that are present in all humans across all cultures.  Primal speech, primal piety, and primal hope.

  • Primal speech: ecstatic utterance, the language of the heart, beyond the words of men.  This is what pentecostals refer to as “speaking in tongues” and scholars refer to as “glossolalia.” In the beginning, tongues were though by pentecostals to be a sure sign of the near second coming, and an enabling by the Spirit to speak in other human languages they had previously not known.  As a result, many of the early pentecostals bought one-way tickets to countries across the globe in order to preach the gospel to unreached cultures by speaking in tongues.  As the years went on, most pentecostals have changed their theology behind tongues, and usually refer to it as a language between a person and God that only God can understand.  Despite the evolution of theology behind tongues, Cox believe that it is a reminder of a fundamental pentecostal belief, that God is available to all in an immediate, intense, and interior way.
  • Primal piety: trances, visions, dreams, healing, dancing.  Cox believes that pentecostals engaging in these activities are tapping into something deeply embedded in human spirituality.  He spends a few chapters of the book addressing how pentecostals in Asia and Africa have built theologies and even churches around these aspects of spirituality, including the similarities of shamanism present in Asian pentecostalism and the healing aspect that is so central to African indigenous churches.
  • Primal hope: here the author is referring to the millenial expectancy into which pentecostalism was born.  I have even experienced within my upbringing that much of pentecostal preaching revolves around the imminent return of Christ and his Kingdom.  This aspect has appealed to many people because it is the hope of a brighter future, that things will get better, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  This hope may have a hand in explaining why pentecostalism tends to draw in the poor, outcast, and people from the wrong side of the tracks.  (If you disagree or are offended, I’m speaking of the beginnings of pentecostalism and the global pentecostal population by and large.)

The author also refers to the role of women in the movement and the role of music.  Often women are drawn to pentecostal churches in numbers much larger than men.  Cox had to ask why, especially because most pentecostal churches are against female leadership, at least in theory.  He determines that it must have something to do with the pentecostal belief that the Spirit of God may speak to and use any one at any time.  God is no respector of persons, your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, etc.  Also, he recounts of stories like Aimee Semple Mcpherson, who traveled across the country preaching and singing with a full band.  When she met criticism, she began her own church in L.A. and later on her own denomination (FourSquare, with now over 1.7 million members).  In Aimee’s case, she was successful in pentecostalism simply because she didn’t ask permission to lead.

The author also references the role of music in pentecostal churches and the openness with which pentecostals allow people to play their instruments, whatever they may be, in church services.  He also draws quite a compelling parallel between pentecostalism as a religious movement an jazz as a musical genre.  Both begun with down-and-outs, both began in African-American cultures and them became more divers, both involve improvisation (think of anecdotal and Spirit-led pentecostal preaching as opposed to sermons, and improv jazz nights as opposed to orchestral sheet music), both are expressions straight from the soul, both appeared at approximately the same time, etc.

Cox also speaks of some of the great strengths and weaknesses of pentecostalism.  One aspect that is possibly both a strength and weakness is the ability to absorb aspects already in the local spiritual landscape and to incorporate them into pentecostal worship.  On the one hand it has helped pentecostalism spread all over the world, and on the other hand it is hard to tell exactly which ideas are absorbing and which are being absorbed.

The author ends the book by addressing some of the parts of the movement he deems as unattractive or dangerous, such as the health-and-wealth gospel, name-it-claim-it ministries, and the obsession with demonology.  He then talks about the future of pentecostalism, and the choices to make between fundamentalism and experientialism.  I find it interesting that the pentecostal movement began as a stark contrast against the man-made creeds that fundamentalists hold so dear, and yet is now sought after as an political ally with fundamentalist groups.  The movement seems to place a high emphasis on personal experience, as evidenced in the old adage, “the man with an experience is never at the mercy of the man with a doctrine.”  But as a movement that centers around personal experience of the Holy Spirit, pentecostalism could run into trouble if more defined terms for “experience” and “Spirit” are not generated.  In a post-modern age, where people judge all truth by their own personal experience, a person can claim any sort of experience to be from God.

All in all, I thought the book was great commentary on the rise of pentecostal spirituality.  Although I may not fully agree with Cox’s explanations of why pentecostalism has spread so quickly and been so far reaching, I applaud his efforts and his ability to define some of the key areas of the pentecostal movement that speak to the souls of all of us left in the wake of modernity.  He did a great job explaining the ways in which women leaders in pentecostalism have pressed against the boundaries in a good way.

I would recommend Fire From Heaven to anyone who wants to know more about this thing called pentecostalism.  As some elements found within the pentecostal movement have tended to embarrass many pentecostals, I think this book does a great job of highlighting the aspects of pentecostalism that pentecostals can be proud of.  (With a good pride, of course. . . not the sinful kind.)


Well, there it is; the second book review.  Since last week’s reading was a bit thick, I’ll be taking it easy this week.  The next book review will be over:  Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The Tangible Kingdom – Creating Incarnational Community – The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now

This is the first book I’m reviewing in my new reading project (one book per week.)

If you don’t agree that there are a few problems with the way America ‘does church’ and the way Christians are perceived. . . this is probably not your book.  You might want to start somewhere like “UnChristian,” where the Barna group reveals the harrowing statistics of the negative perceptions of Christians.  But if you are interested in learning more about the mindset of missional church planters who are trying new things (that are really ancient things) in an effort to truly “BE” the church. . . then this book might interest you.

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay are church planters and co-authors of the book.  They identify with many Christian leaders from the past few decades who are saddened by the rate at which Christians are leaving the institutions and structures common in American Church, and they have built their lives around trying to find ways to “live out” the kingdom principles that Jesus lived and professed.

So how to describe the book?  I think it’s a good place for disillusioned church leaders to vent frustrations about church and to consider new/yet ancient solutions to the concept of living out the Tangible Kingdom instead of just attending Sunday service; creating incarnational community instead of an affinity-based small group.  The authors are quite candid with their opinions of Christendom, but do so with humor.  Their goal is not to bad mouth God’s bride by any means, but to in some ways call the church back to her roots.  Also, it’s quite funny to refer to the rise of Christendom via Constantine as the “1700-year wedgie.”

I believe in the chuch.  I believe God loves his church and that he’s quite ticked that his bride looks like “Fiona the Ogre” instead of Cameron Diaz. I believe he desires a beautiful bride- one the world looks to with awe and amazement, with intrigue and longing.” p.2

The book is about dreaming and discovering ways to BE the church.  The first half of the book is more of an explanation why this needs to be done.  The second half of the book is more about how to do it, ways in which church leaders can begin to bring the gospel to their cities, instead of waiting for the cities to come inside their walls.  They describe it in terms like “living out” the kingdom principles and “inviting in” those who are seeking for God.

I liked the book’s practicality, but at the same time, I fear they may have too much of a pragmatic approach.  By that I mean, church planters often begin by asking, “what works?” instead of beginning with the Gospel.  I think this approach has much to do with the current state in which we find the American church.  Many have planted churches asking, “how can we make this relevant?” or, “what works?” and what we have often ended up with is a performance-driven Sunday meeting that caters to our society’s desire for entertainment instead of a living, breathing, kingdom community that is at it’s core determined to live out the principles that Jesus taught.  Often we’ve grown megachurches from Christians that switch from one church to the bigger one, without focusing on conversion growth.  One statistic in the book states that in the year 2000, that roughly half of all churches in American did not add one new person by conversion. . . Ouch.  That doesn’t really sound like the kind of community that is turning the world upside down from the inside out — which is what we want, right?

So, I will say that just because I line up with a lot of their thinking about missional church, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I like their premise.  I think it would be best to agree that the Gospel is the most relevant thing to everybody, and therefore we shouldn’t necessarily begin by asking, “what works?”  We should primarily concern ourselves with becoming the gospel-centered community that displays and declares God’s Word with our lives and actions.  That being said, I bet the authors would agree.

It’s a good book, written well with several humorous anecdotes that get the point across.  If you are interested in modern ecclesiology, give it a read.

Well, that’s my humble opinion and maybe writing a book report will help sharpen my skills.

Next up will be:  Fire From Heaven – The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century

Back from Blogging Oblivion

I dare you to say that title out loud 5 times fast.

So, I’ve been on a short hiatus from my blog recently.  Mostly because nothing has been happening in my life worth talking about.  Well, that’s not altogether true.  I have loved the last few weeks of being with my community at Anchor Gaslamp.  God has really done a lot in our church since I first left for Kenya and even since I was here for a week or so in May.  It’s amazing to see how he is drawing us closer, bringing to bear the identities he has given as as the family of God and as ambassadors of reconciliation to our city.  Plus I was in a great wedding and at a good birthday party.

But besides my time with Anchor, I’m pretty much doing nothing.  I sleep.  I look for a job.  I hang with the crew.  I go back to sleep.  All the while trying to eat cheap, which explains the tv dinner-lunches every weekday and skipping breakfast altogether.

I’ve found that I am more productive in all areas of my life when there is some sort of structure in my life.  Which is probably why thelast two months have been pretty much unproductive.  I’ve found it difficult to transfer back into American life after being away for so long, with a different schedule and a different mindset.   So here I am, desiring a structure, which would most likely come in the form of a job; but discovering that I need to have some sort of structure in place before I can even get a job.

Anyway, one new resolution that I’ve made is to read one book every week.  It’s quite a big step for me, but it will definitely help me get a little structure in my life.  One thing that I’ve always thought about doing some day is writing a book.  The thing is, I don’t know what I’d write about… and I’m not sure I could write anything worth reading!  haha, but I think the best way to learn to write is to read more.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll start writing book review on all the new things I read.  Just a thought.

So that’s that.  I’m back.  And sorry for skipping out on a few weeks.

God is Good!