Religion and Hip Hop at Rice University

This popped up in my Twitter feed today via both okayplayer and BLUNTIQ and I thought I should pass it along here. 

Bun B is co-teaching a course on religion and hip hop at Rice University with Professor Anthony Pinn. There is an on-campus version of the class, but also a free online version as well. The course is six sessions. I’ve enrolled. If you have even a cursory knowledge of hip hop music, I encourage you to look into it for yourself at EdX.org.

If you enroll in the next month maybe we can go through it together!

I’m a fan of anything that reframes religion in new ways. I’m a believer that we all experience God in different ways, and that there are huge spiritual/religious intersections in all areas of life. It’s is a driving driving force behind the book project I’m working on, and in my opening chapter, I hope to encourage all people do discover where it is that they see God connecting in ways traditionally understood as non-religious or secular.

I’m not a hip hop guru like these fellas in the video (plus I’m white, and I’m unable to fully grasp the black experience that much of hip hop is rooted in), but I do love the genre and have come to appreciate it on a deeper level. I’d say I’m mostly plugged into mainstream stuff, but I was raised listening to DC Talk in elementary school (to which I’m not remotely embarrassed, but Rosenberg jokingly brings up in the interview as the band kids would pass out CDs of in the cafeteria – that wasn’t me as far as I remember). Bun B brilliantly responds that there “probably wouldn’t be Lecrae without DC Talk.”

I’m deeply invested in church culture, a current seminarian, and have great concern for how the gospel is extended in our world. Everything Eblo says regarding “Christian music” resonates strongly with my experience of the genre too – which is why I get so excited about Lecrae breaking into the Best Rap Performance category at the GRAMMYs this year. I’m tired of Christian music being labeled separately from “secular” music. It fragments the music industry and cheapens music both within and without the “Christian” genre. As if non-“Christian” music has nothing to say about God (which it does), and often “Christian” music, frankly, isn’t very good, but can survive by marketing themselves as such. There’s also a session on Islam, which excites me.

I’m enrolled in the course beginning in late March. Excited to see what Professor B has to say about the overlap between religion and hip hop.

-apc.

Image cred: EdX.org.

Myanmar – Day 5 & 6

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I realize this post is two weeks overdue, but I have two excuses for my tardiness:

  1. First, I was exhausted from my return travel, was sick for 4 or 5 days right after getting back, and had to put all writing on hold for a bit to recover.
  2. More importantly, I’ve needed more time to process these experiences. I felt like I couldn’t respond as well as I wanted on here, so I put it on hold for that reason too.

But here I am, two weeks later, ready to share with you all what went down on my last two days in Yangon before embarking on our 9 million hour trip back home. Let’s talk about days 5 and 6. If you need to, here are the past posts from my pilgrimage:

Pilgrimage to Myanmar & Thailand
Bangkok – Day 1
Bangkok – Day 2
Myanmar – Day 3
Myanmar – Day 4

If you’ve read these posts, you know that my most recent responses haven’t been entirely positive. The culture had me really down in the dumps. It felt hopeless, lost and confusing. I was really caught up in the thought that the kids there were being pushed into Buddhism because it was the cultural norm, and they weren’t given an opportunity to choose their faith (or lack thereof) for themselves.

On Thursday – Day 3 – I saw teenagers “worshipping” at Shwedagon Pagoda, adopting a Buddhist way of life.

On Friday – Day 4 – I saw little kids playing while their parents were kneeling before a giant Buddha, creating a sad juxtaposition between how much ope there is for kids, yet how little I find for many adults.

Saturday and Sunday changed everything.

The entire week I was searching for ways where God was at work in Myanmar. In our class debriefs each evening, we would practice Ignatius’s exercise of consolation/disconsolation – where we saw God at work, and where we saw God grieving – and I am excited to share that the areas of consolation were way easier to report on these last two days.

Both days were spent at Ywama Baptist Church in Yangon, and I can tell you that hope abounds at YBC.

On Saturday we spent an hour playing with street kids. Many children in Yangon are expected to sell things on the streets to help provide for their families. Ywama Baptist Church began an outreach program to these kids, providing them with a place to play, laugh, sing and dance for just an hour or so each weekend. They also provide them with a place to shower and clean up because hygiene is not a priority for these kids.

I spent my time with the kids making goofy faces and teaching some dance moves – Gangnam Style is universal apparently. – while they covered my face with makeup and made fun of my inability to break dance. Typical language barrier activities.

It’s nothing huge, but it’s a place for kids to connect and feel like they belong. Which is actually a way bigger deal than it sounds. Belonging to something positive is hugely important for kids. Especially for kids growing up in such bummer circumstances. And while Buddhism attempts to transcend suffering through achieving “enlightenment”, the Church enters into suffering as a change agent. It’s hope for the hopeless.

They also have a health clinic that provides affordable doctors and dentists to the rest of the public. How incredible is that?! The Church in Myanmar, it turns out, is vibrant and full of life!

This was most evident on Sunday morning, when we had the opportunity to worship with hundreds of Burmese people at YBC. I was blown away by the number of people gathered for worship that morning. They had a choir and a orchestra group to play along with them. There was such joy and excitement in that space, and I felt like God was doing significant things both within their church, but for the Yangon community at large.

It was a powerful day. And I left Ywama thinking about how powerful a place like that was for a community with so many needs both physical and spiritual.

Days 5 and 6 were the best of the pilgrimage. I appreciated the immersion into Buddhist culture, and I’m going to be continually trying to unpack these experiences for years to come, but my greatest moments were the ones full of joy, life and love at Ywama Baptist Church.

God is at work in Yangon. Sounds obvious, but it took me a surprisingly long time to notice it. And it was an honor to observe, learn from and participate in his work in my short time there.

-apc.

Myanmar – Day 4

Today (Friday) was my birthday. Moving on.

We visited another pagoda this morning with another buddha sitting in the center. I’m already desensitized to seeing pagodas and buddhas. I’m certain I’ve seen hundreds of both in the two days I’ve been here so far. I mean, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen em all, right?

While we were at the pagoda, I wasn’t very interested in observing more people kneeling and praying at the feet of another buddha, so, instead, I walked to the edge of the area and watched a group of small children chasing each other around. They were giggling and playing and squealing and laughing and doing all the things that children do.

It felt surprisingly normal.

Kids are kids wherever you go. Whether in Myanmar or Kansas City or Europe or Uranus, kids are always the same. We all start the same. We giggle and play and squeal and laugh and do all the things that children do.

It felt right and unbroken.

I may have even shed a tear.

I turned around and faced the buddha behind me and watched two different groups of people engage the statue. First, the parents of these kids were doing their rituals and chanting their prayers. Second, all the Americans who were there to sightsee were snapping photos and asking questions about what the heck was going on.

Two completely different sets of adults. Little in common. Drastically different beliefs, rituals, and values. Buddhism is technically atheistic – it’s a way of life and a philosophy, not a belief in the divine or spiritual – so there was a chasm of belief in a higher power too.

What a juxtaposition: kids being the same wherever you go, and adults who couldn’t be more different.

I felt like Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, not wanting the little ones to grow up. I wanted to protect them from losing their innocence. Keep them from moving forward into the way of life their parents were certainly going to teach them.

From the pagoda, we visited a Buddhist monastery around the corner. In Myanmar, once boys reach 7 or 8 years old, they are able to enroll in the monastic education. They leave their homes to become monks, and this brings great honor to their families back home. They memorize the Buddhist “scriptures” – basically just commentaries on the teachings of the Buddha, with perhaps some oral tradition involved as well – and when they’re 20 years old, they get to decide whether they want to take vows and become a monk for the rest of their adulthood.

So before they’re even teenagers, they decide to commit to a certain way of life so they can bring honor to their family. I mean, if I was a parent, I’d encourage my son to pursue a monastic life too. Practically speaking, Buddhism is all about merit. Doing good deeds to rack up merit in your earthly life. It’s not about the other. It’s about gaining honor yourself.

We got to “observe” the monk kids eating lunch together, which felt extremely uncomfortable – a bunch of Americans standing around snapping photos and taking video of these kids in matching maroon robes.

I noticed a couple of the youngest kids peeking at us during their prayers and gesturing to their Buddhies* and giggling under their breath. I was reminded of the kids at the pagoda earlier. It was a tiny glimpse of childhood shining through. But they weren’t kids anymore. They were monks and were expected to live a certain way.

* – Okay. This is hilarious. And potentially insensitive, but c’mon.

My friend Sylvester asked one of the head monks what they got to do for recreation. The monk responded that they spent their free time going to homes in their community to beg for food. They don’t get to play or laugh or chase each other anymore. Those things don’t bring honor to a family.

What is even sadder is that if kids don’t make it into a monastery, they typically end up street vending to help support their families. Tomorrow we are supposed to be going to a ministry that lets kids play for an hour a day to take a break from selling trinkets and be kids again. I am fairly certain it will be the highlight of my trip.

In youth ministry, I talk with my colleagues all the time about “faith ownership” – reaching adolescence and claiming ones faith for their own. It’s not the faith of the family or the pastor or friends – it’s their own.

Maybe the family values and cultural dynamics here don’t support that way of thinking. It breaks my heart to watch kids be removed from the life they experience as little ones only to be forced into a “religion” they didn’t choose for themselves.
Especially a religion that is atheistic and feels so jumbled and backwards.

Life is not about gaining merit for yourself. It’s about loving the Creator and loving others.

Life is not about emptying oneself in the present. It’s about living abundantly in love in the present while having hope in the future.

I see little Buddhist kids and I see all the hope in the world. And I see Buddhist teenagers and I see that hope fading. And I see Buddhist adults and I see little hope whatsoever.

Not to say that Christianity in America has it all figured out and is perfect in every way, but when a way of life is so blatantly opposed to God’s ways, it breaks my heart.

Hoping for a more hopeful tomorrow.

-apc.

Myanmar – Day 3

We arrived in Yangon, Myanmar, this afternoon, spent an hour or so at the hotel pool, and then quickly went to experience the Shwedagon Pagoda.

The main Pagoda is 100 meters tall, is made up of thousands of solid gold plates worth $250M. The very tip is a 10 inch by 2 foot orb of gold covered with diamonds rubies, imperial jade and sapphires. I have no idea how much all of these gems are valued at, but it’s got to be outrageous. The diamond at the top: 76 karats. We were fortunate enough to be there at sunset, and the glow of the sun on the western face of the Pagoda was absolutely gorgeous.

The main pagoda – the 100 meter high gold one – is surrounded by hundreds of smaller pagodas each one with a different Buddha statue underneath. These are gifts from private donors. 

And surrounding these smaller pagodas are people.

People are pouring water on the Buddhas. People are lighting incense and burning candles. People are ringing giant bells with big wooden jousting rods. It’s a majorly ritualized system of honoring Buddha and gaining recognition for the good deeds they’ve done.

I’m not sure the people would themselves say that they were “worshipping” Buddha – he isn’t considered a deity, he was a real person who lived 2500 years ago and achieved “enlightenment” – but to my eyes, that’s exactly what it looked like. Worship. Worship is essentially expression praise and adoration to something or someone else, right? When we bow before something, we’re posturing ourselves to praise another.

Anyway. That’s what we did last night. It was one of the most foreign experiences of my life. And I’m still trying to process it this morning.

I don’t have a lot of time, but I want to mention another takeaway for myself before I wrap this thing up.

Two nights ago, we were at dinner in Bangkok with the head of Bangkok Christian College, and he started talking about how highly esteemed they view missionaries in their culture. They get tax breaks and perks and half price transportation among other things. He asked our group whether any of us were considering becoming missionaries. My response was essentially…

Eh. No.

And I felt guilty about that quick response at first. I felt like coming on this experience I ought to feel a call toward cross-cultural missions of some sort. But I don’t. To be honest, I do not feel burdened to share the gospel in other countries, far off lands or distant cultures. I just dot feel that is my calling as a part of God’s Mission.

Until I was at the Pagoda last night and saw some middle school aged kids participating in worship. And it broke my heart more than anything else so far this week.

These kids are in their prime years for determining their faith trajectory over the rest of their life. The decisions these adolescents make at this point in their life is likely going to hold for the rest of their life. Every day they get further from these formational years, the more unlikely it is that they will pursue anything other than the faith tradition they adopted as teens.

They’re asking “Who am I?” and “What am I about?”…and here they are finding the answers to those questions in Buddhism.

And it tore me up inside.

I wanted to smile at them and tell them that my God loves them and made them in his Image. That they were created by Love to be Love to others. I wanted to encourage them that there was another man who lived 2000 years ago who wasn’t just a man, but was also God himself, incarnate. And who calls us something so much larger than just “enlightenment”.

The major difference I’ve noticed between Buddhism and Christianity so far: Hope.

The life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus brings us into a Story of hope for this world. Buddhism acknowledges that there is brokenness and difficulty in the world too, but rather than entering it to bring hope to the world, the Buddha simply overcame it mentally. There is nothing to look forward to or live for or hope in.

And when I look at a middle school kid, I see hope.

Hope abounds in adolescence.

I see a life that is primed to be shaped in the way of Christ. I see a kid seeking answers to life’s riddles. Who am I? Where do I belong? What I I to be about? How am I unique?

And it broke my heart today to see these teenagers finding these answers in something other than my Creator.

So do I want to be a cross-cultural missionary? Absolutely not. But instead,I continue to be called to “the trenches” of youth ministry. I’m called to the bafflingly wonderful culture of adolescents. Their distant world is where I belong in God’s Mission, and I’m thankful to have had that confirmed again in my life. To remember why I do what I do. Because I love my God, and I love middle schoolers, and I love introducing the two.

Okay time for breakfast. See you all tomorrow.

-apc.

Bangkok – Day 2

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Today was our only full day in Bangkok, and I’ll first mention a couple highlights.

1. I rode on an elephant today (!!!) and became besties with another named One Pin (above photo). What we have is deeper than just friendship. It’s an “elephrenship”. Also, go Royals.

2. I ate all sorts of new foods today, including, but not limited to: duck tongue and skin, lobster head, butterfly pea jelly, kiwi juice and peppered ostrich, which was my personal favorite.

3. The architecture here is largely based around trees, hedges and shrubs – which I love. The greenery tends to influence design, and not the other way around. Maybe it’s the drastically changing seasons KC experiences, but this is a rarity back home.

I want to spend a little bonus time on the third point as I see it pertaining to cross-cultural ministry and the gospel.

Today we spent about 5 hours at the Bangkok Rose Garden, and there were dozens of buildings that had been built around a pre-existing tree. One was growing up through the middle of a roof. Another tree was growing up out of the street and cars were simply expected to go around it. And even when it wasn’t there before the Garden was, the whoever designed the layout utilized hedges and shrubs to partition the entire complex into smaller spaces.

Instead of clearing out branches and tree trunks out and building a structure in its place, the architects use what nature has already provided to frame their design.

In Bangkok, nature often dictates design.

Which seems directly oppositional to how most of the United States tends to operate. We clear the land, lay a concrete foundation, and execute the design the way it was drawn up in studio.

In America, design often dictates nature.

I say all this because I wonder if Christians, in an effort to live out Matthew 28 and spread the Good News “to the ends of the earth” have often done the dictating in other cultures.

When we present the gospel to another culture – with its own histories, stories, faiths and traditions – do we allow space for the message of God to partner with the host culture? Or do we step in with our own methods, bulldoze the “nature” that already exists so we can implement our own pre-conceived design?

What if there was a way to recognize the ways God is already at work, and let those things help dictate our method instead?

I think about when Paul is in Athens (Acts 17). He is walking around the Areopagus taking inventory on the different gods the Athenians are worshipping. He sees one idol with the inscription, “To an Unknown God.”

Paul sees this and decided to reason with the people concerning this “Unknown God”. The Athenians were scholars and thinkers and philosophers who “spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas”. So Paul met them in the conversation they were already having by referencing the way they were already worshiping.

Paul allowed the culture of Athens determine his method of sharing Christ with them.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22, 23 NIV)

I’m talking about cultural sensitivity, yes, but that’s not all I’m talking about. I’m asking us to consider whether there are ways to point at the culture we are engaging, recognize where God is already working, and partner with those methods rather than enforcing our own.

In Bangkok, Buddhism is the official religion. I am traveling to Myanmar tomorrow, and Buddhism is the most practiced there as well. The central idea of Buddhism is achieving enlightenment – complete awareness based on examination and exploration of the present moment. And I wonder…

Can we recognize God in Buddhism?

And when/if we can, do we believe that our methods are flexible enough that we can partner with the host culture instead of imposing our own design?

Do not mishear me: I am not advocating for a flexible gospel. The goal does not change. I’m advocating for flexible methods. Methods that utilize the pre-existing nature of the culture in the design rather than the opposite.

Instead of bringing God to Myanmar, maybe we should be asking how we can partner with the ways God is already at work. When I show up tomorrow, God will already be there. When my seminary first started visiting Yangon, God was already there. And when Adoniram Judson visited Myanmar in 1813, God was already there.

And he was, and is, and always will be at work.

That’s my primary takeaway from my day in Bangkok as we prepare to travel to Yangon tomorrow afternoon. Can’t wait to discover where God is already working over the next few days.

-apc.

Bangkok – Day 1

…or is it Day 2?

It’s confusing, honestly. It’s like Tuesday didn’t even happen. Our group flew out of Kansas City at 10:30 Monday, and 35 hours later we pulled into our hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, at 2:30am Wednesday morning.

So I’ve been gone two days now, yet I just woke up for the first time on this trip.

Except that’s not entirely true. I slept for 6 solid hours on the flight from Tokyo to Bangkok. The back row of the plane was empty – 4 seats across – so I commandeered it, spread out across the seats, put on my headphones and slept better than I have in weeks probably. Norah Jones, man. She’s magic.

Today is a purely tourist day. Matt and I woke up early and walked the streets around out hotel for a bit. Street vendors galore. And all of the smells! At one point, I was smelling BBQ chicken, fresh oranges and maple syrup covered waffles all at the same time. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t exchange any of my money for this leg of the trip. Who knows how much money a guy like me could spend on street food?

It’s a 12 hour difference here. Which makes it easy to know what’s happening back home. As of this blog post, the Jacob’s Well Youth are just finishing up a scavenger hunt on the plaza.

Sigh, missing you guys. I feel like I’m missing so much.*

* – Also, c’mon Chiefs. I leave for like 2 minutes and Dexter McCluster is suddenly a Titan!? Better go pick up Darren Sproles…

Stay tuned for some actual theological reflections later. For now, just updating the world that we are here.

-apc.

Pilgrimage to Myanmar & Thailand

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Next Monday, I am traveling to Bangkok, Thailand, and on to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), with my cohort at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Central has a partnership with the Myanmar Institute of Theology in Yangon, and we will be pilgrimaging there to study cross-cultural ministry in a drastically different setting from our own.

As I understand it, the name Myanmar was given to the country when it came under military rule many years ago, but the people there continue to call it by it’s former name, Burma. So those names can be used interchangeably most of the time. For those who are not geographically savvy, Myanmar is situated east of India and northwest of Thailand on the north edge of the Indian Ocean. Here’s a map:

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I hardly know anything about this culture, so I’ll be learning and processing a lot of new information and experiences. Part of my course is to post a handful of blogs about my experiences and takeaways, so over the next couple weeks, you’ll see this space and all my social media outlets flooded with content about this experience.

So, if you’re interested in following along with me, be sure to check back here soon and follow me on Instagram/Twitter: @adampaulcooper.

Supposedly the Wifi is spotty over there, so we’ll see how that goes. Regardless, all my posts will probably come while everyone in the US is sleeping, so don’t be shocked if you wake up to a barrage of updates from me.

Please keep our whole group in your prayers next week. We return to the states on 3/17.

-apc.

Creation Debate: Genesis 1 & 2

Bill-Nye-debate

I had to go back and watch the Creationism Debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham from the other night. I didn’t watch live, but I did follow along with some of the reaction on Twitter. I dropped in my uninformed two cents on Twitter as well: here, here, and here. Those comments were not in response to anything Nye or Ham said, mostly just my response to how I would anticipate a scenario plotting a “science guy” against the head of the Answers in Genesis ministry.

It’s science versus religion. Again.

It’s creation versus evolution. Again.

I’m tired of these two parties facing off, and I still am unsure why we need to belabor a debate between the two. As I tweeted the other night, creationism ought to be large enough to hold evolutionism within it. In my opinion, these do not need to be adversarial perspectives.

Like I said, I went back and watched the debate later. And it was more or less as I expected it to go.

Actually, I think I even had higher expectations for it than it ended up going. It seemed to just scratch the surface. I really hoped Bill Nye’s voice would dig deeper than it did. There was little information that we haven’t all heard already. Both men seemed too intent on defending their own perspective than actually asking questions about the other’s perspective.

The first 90 minutes was not very exciting, but it was rather frustrating. Ham spent most of his time talking about how it is impossible to prove the past based on historical science, but that you can prove the present based on observational science. He said that while we may all have the same evidence available to us today, we each draw different conclusions on it about the past. In short, according to Ham, historical science is relative to individual bias.

Ham said his belief is that the Genesis 1 account is the only proof we need to know the facts about our origins: that our Creator, in six days, created everything we see, and our world is only 6,000 years old, and that we know that to be fact because Genesis says so.

In essence, Ken Ham believes Genesis 1 to be observational science and not historical science.

The problem with that, unfortunately, is that Genesis 1 wasn’t written until way later by individuals who were trying to record their own origin stories for themselves.

The Bible didn’t just fall from heaven with Genesis 1 already written out for us. Scripture is written by humans. Inspired humans, sure, but still humans. And the humans who were writing the book of Genesis were living in the 1000-500s BCE. And the world, according to Ham, was created in the year 4000 BCE. So the authors of Genesis were writing 2500-3000 years after the fact.

Which means they weren’t using observational science at all.

They were using historical science.

Which, if I understand Ham correctly, doesn’t prove anything at all.

From where I’m sitting, his own argument is working against him.

What complicates this situation even further is that entire book of Genesis wasn’t even written by any one person. You may have noticed I said “authors” before…as in plural writers. These writers were coming from different regions and had different accounts for their origins.

Ever noticed how in Genesis 1, God speaks everything into existence ex nihilo – out of nothing – yet in Genesis 2, God actually forms Adam and Eve out of the dust of the ground?

In chapter 1 he speaks humans into life.

In chapter 2 he creates them out of materials.

Why the difference? Because these two chapters were compiled together later to tell the entire story, and they were written by totally different people groups. This also accounts for the 500 year gap I have in the time they were written (1000-500 BCE). Genesis 1 was written by a priestly group around 500 BCE during the Babylonian exile, while Genesis 2 was written much earlier around 950 BCE in the southern tribes of Judah.*

* – In fact, the entire Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy – were written by four major people groups over that 500 year span, and then compiled together later. This is called the Documentary Hypothesis. It’s ironic that is a Wikipedia link, because it too was compiled by multiple authors with multiple edits all over the world.

All that to say, Ham’s foundational understanding of the Book of Genesis is mistaken. Which, is somewhat embarrassing since he’s created an entire museum and ministry based on his beliefs on that misconception.

And if the two narratives are different – did God speak us into existence or form us out of materials? – they can’t both be factual, can they? If two different eye witness accounts are given at a crime scene, then one of them is inherently false, right?

Not necessarily.

Something doesn’t have to be fact for it to be true.

Did God create the world in six actual 24-hour days? Personally, I don’t think so. But I don’t think that’s the point of Genesis 1. There are lots of beliefs on this: Maybe he’s been orchestrating everything from the Big Bang and beyond. Or maybe he set everything up the way he did so that it would look like it’s 4.6 billion years old. Or maybe it literally is 6 days worth of creation.

But again, I don’t think that’s the point.

The point is that Genesis 1 is not a list of facts or an eye witness account or a history book or a record of events.

Genesis 1 is a poem.

It’s a poem about our origins, and poetry doesn’t have to be fact to hold truth for our lives. In fact, I would submit that poetry, music, art, or dance can convey more truth than any string of words on a page.

Because these things evoke emotion and beauty and love and can transcend the facts. This is something that an order of events cannot do.

Genesis 1 opens with three sets of separations: light and dark, sky and water, land and sea. And with each separation, God looks at what he has done and declares it “good”.

And then it fills those three separations with various items: the sun, moon and stars*; birds and fish; plants and animals. And each time he fills up a space, he declares it to be “good”.

* – If the sun wasn’t created until day four, then how did God measure the first three days?

But then he saves the best for last.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;*
male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:27

* – Something I just noticed, and need to look deeper into…there was no punctuation in the original Hebrew text, which means this semicolon could be a comma and the two commas could be semicolons.  Seems insignificant, but that would draw the focus of what it means to be made in God’s image away from “his own” and toward the “male and female” part instead. The image of God is both genders, not just male. Hmm.

Finally, God gives mankind a few pointers. He says to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule over every creature” and to “eat fruit for food.”

Ultimately, what we have here is a poem about who we are, where we came from, and how we are supposed to live. Genesis 1 was never supposed to be read as a list of facts, history or “observational science” (as Ken Ham calls it). It was meant to evoke a greater Truth: that the Creator of the Universe made all of this for us.

For us.

I’m currently writing this from the ski lodge at Monarch Mountain in Colorado. I’m speaking for a middle school ski retreat, and our sessions have centered on creation and that we are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). We’re currently getting completely dumped on with snow: 17″ yesterday and it’s still coming down. Amazing conditions.

God created these mountains for us to enjoy. The Creator designed these ski runs so that we might experience joy – “Life to the Full” as John 10:10 says.

So the point of Genesis 1 is found here. This creation is for us, his masterpiece, to enjoy and experience.

That is how Genesis 1 plays out. And Genesis 2, while different, has other truths for us to encounter. This is where we meet Adam and Eve. Let’s take a look at these names really quick.

Adam: Hebrew for “man”. Derived from the Hebrew word for earth (adamah).

Eve: From the Hebrew word “to breathe” (chawah) or the related word “to live” (chayah).

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Wait. What?

When God breathes into the dirt, we find both of these names. Adam: man of the earth. Eve: to breathe or live. One doesn’t have to scratch their head long to piece together the fact that these feel less like names, but more like representations for all of humanity.

Which begs the question: were they even real people? When we draw our our family tree back to the beginning, will we actually find the names Adam and Eve there? Or are their names there to illustrate something bigger?

I don’t know. None of us do. Because this chapter is believed to be written even longer ago than Genesis 1 was. It’s our origin story as God-worshippers. It’s our creation narrative. It’s a story, and the point isn’t whether Adam and Eve are our great-great-grandparents.

The point is to tell about how things came to be. It’s backstory. Pre-history.

It’s setting the stage for how Abraham would father a nation of God’s chosen people, Israel, and how they ended up in slavery once in Egypt, and how they were delivered out by Moses only to find themselves back in bondage in Babylon years later.

The point of the first few chapters of Genesis is not to record the beginning.

The point is to explain who we are, why we are here, and how we got to this point.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. This was supposed to be a post about the debate, but instead I got carried away with Genesis. That was a long long way of explaining the fact that Ken Ham’s argument is slightly misguided and doesn’t really thrill me to support his perspective from the start.

During the audience Q&A session, someone asked Ham whether he would still believe in God if he knew for certain that the Universe is not only thousands of years old.

And he didn’t answer the question.

How can someone who’s belief in God is so foundational for his way of life not immediately answer that question with a “yes”? If your entire theology is based only on the fact that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, the I question your faith and direction.

Is your God not big enough for that possibility?

I mean, it sure feels like the Creator of the Universe ought to be.

In fact, when we refuse to ask ourselves the difficult questions about life and doubt, I think we are being as faithless as possible. Is it really faith if you’re avoiding the tough questions? Are you scared? Are you afraid that the God you believe in is suddenly going to abandon you because he’s been around longer than you thought?

Ultimately, I was struck with how pointless the discussion really seemed in the end. Bill Nye was honest and curious and admitted when he genuinely didn’t know the answer because science hadn’t figured it out yet. But creationism can use “God’s Word” as a crutch for avoiding the struggle of doing the work that faith requires.

I believe in a Creator who reigns in my life and in the world. God is bigger than our questions and our doubts and our unbelief. It frustrates me when we get so caught up in the facts that we miss that point.

Anyway. There was way more I was going to discuss about that debate, but I think I’ll just leave it there. I just wish we could quit labeling evolution/science as a rival to Christianity. I support teaching scientific fact in schools, and I hope it propels us all to ask deeper questions about our God, our world and our theology.

Okay, I’m going to go ski now.

-apc.

could MJ play at fifty?

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DISCLAIMER: i’m sitting in a class called “writing for effect” right now and we’re doing a ten minute free writing exercise. the prompt is, “write about whatever is running through your mind right now.” there are two things on my mind. dissecting justin timberlake’s new album track list (but that blog is coming later this week and requires way more time and intentionality). the other one is from this article…”could michael jordan still play at 50?” here’s what i wrote. unedited…just ten minutes of flow.

Prompt: Could Michael Jordan still play at 50?

Could Michael Jordan still play at 50? The real answer is…SHOULD he play at 50?

There is no doubt in my mind MJ could be a 6th man and play a productive 15-20 minutes and put up 10 points a game. But if we learned one thing from his stint with the Wizards it’s this: MJ’s legacy can be tarnished. Luckily he had a few moments where he managed to transcend his otherwise unfulfilling return from retirement. Let’s be honest though, when we consider MJ’s career, we usually ignore his return because it doesn’t fit into his larger-than-reality persona that he managed to create in Chicago.

What would happen to his legacy if he returned and only averaged 5 points? Right now our memories tell us he can do anything, but what if the reality doesn’t line up with our hopes and dreams? What if he ruins it? What if he doesn’t live up to his own greatness.

He CAN’T live up to our expectations. He just flat out can’t. Our expectations are that he would average double digits, but our underlying motive is that he would have at least one moment where we saw a glimpse of the old MJ: the player that could make grown men look silly. Our underlying desire is to be wowed again, and averaging 10 points a game is not being wowed. Even if the dude is 50 and could be the father of half the league.

His track record doesn’t support his success either. Retiring once to try out baseball: failed. Coming back to play at 40: not necessarily a success. He simply cannot live up to our tall-tale expectation.

Or could he?

What if he did?

No no no. He couldn’t.

But maybe?

This series of “what if” questions is what MJ risks. Could it be amazing? Absolutely. But is it worth the risk if it doesn’t work out? My head tells me that he’d be putting his career on the line and making arguments for Kobe and LeBron to truly enter the “best ever” conversation. But my heart says do it.

So…please come back MJ. but only if you succeed. For our sake and your own.

UPDATE: this is part two of our exercise: write a response to your own writing that is intended as a letter, blog, poem or paragraph directed towards a high school audience. again, this is a ten minute free writing assignment. no editing, just flow.

What can MJ teach us about legacy?

Legacy: what we leave behind. Michael Jordan is pretty much inarguably the greatest NBA player of all-time. He did things no one else ever did. He made grown men look silly. He left us with our hands over our mouths in awe and wonder of the freak he was.

But legacy has a way of growing and maturing over time. Like cheese or wine or tabasco, the longer a legacy sits on the shelf, the longer society has the ability to glorify (dare i say deify?) a legacy to where it transcends the facts and figures of a lifetime.

MJ turns 50 next week, and the question on everyone’s chapped lips: could MJ still play at 50? My primary argument is that he should not. It could tarnish his legacy. It could ruin what he spent decades creating.

But the real question we should be asking is this: what legacy is MJ going to leave beyond 50? What if his post-NBA career managed to out-shine his playing career?

See, MJ – just like everyone else – is on a life-long journey of leaving a legacy. We know what he’s done from 0-50…what will people say about years 50-100?

As you navigate your personal journey, consider what you want your legacy to be, and what you want to be remembered for. Will you do something huge that will change the landscape of this world? Maybe it’s something tiny, yet still significant, that no one even knows about. Maybe it’s revolutionary. I don’t know. But maybe you do.

But your journey is happening NOW. What are you doing right this moment that you want to be remembered for? Are you living life with legacy in mind? Often we think about the future so much that we ignore the present. Where are you impacting this world in a way that is leaving your thumbprint behind? No matter how obvious or imperceptible, our legacy is being created right this moment. Let’s be conscious of that and live into this reality.

estp.

last week, i spent some time with my seminary cohort dissecting everyone’s myer-briggs personality type. i’ve done this before, but no one has ever really taken the time to teach me what my results mean for me in ministry, so i was thankful for this time of discussion. then i wanted to know more. here’s what i’ve learned.

the myers briggs is a system of dichotomies. are you introverted or extroverted (I or E), do you focus on concrete and practical data (sensing – S) or on abstractions, concepts and theories (intuition – N), do you process information through thinking or through feeling (T or F) and do you orient your life as more structured and planned or more loose and spontaneous (judging or perceiving – J or P).

i score as an ESTP.

extroverted. sensing. thinking. perceiving. i gain my energy from people (E) and i like to structure my life very open-ended and spontaneous (P). i gather information concretely and practically (S) and i process that info logically and critically (T).

now i’m reading this book called “personality types and religious leadership”. it was written in 1988, so the facts are a bit dated and the cover looks like a Super Nintendo instruction manual, but some of the facts surrounding my type and my role as a church employee were kinda crazy to see:

– ESTP: % of clergy – 0.6%
– 38% of the US population has the combo “SP” versus only 8% of clergy population having “SP”
– Extrovert: 75% of the US vs 61% of clergy
– Sensing: 76% of the US vs 43% of clergy
– Thinking: 50% of the US vs 32% of clergy
– Perceiving: 45% of US vs 30% of clergy

awesome. literally, every facet of my personalty is more common outside of the church than inside. my immediate reaction is, “do i belong here?”, my next reaction is, “where are all my friends?”, but my eventual reaction is, “what is it about ESTPs that doesn’t jive with the church?”

no, i’m not doubting my calling because some book tells me that my personality doesn’t function well in churches. in fact, it’s refreshing to some degree. no wonder the church – and organized religion for that matter – isn’t attractive to so many people. there are a ton of personalities that simply aren’t present in church leadership and don’t know how to relate. why would a sensing thinking perceiver want to hear from an intuitive feeling judger in service every week? or maybe a better question: why would an ESTP want to sit in a pew for an hour every week AT ALL? ZZZZZZzzzzZZZzzzzz…get me some crayons or something for crying out loud.

then i read a little more in depth into my type and found this little nugget…

A major barrier to SPs becoming ordained clergy is the academic requirements. SPs have little tolerance for the abstract, theoretical, non-practical and non-functional nature of the educational system. Considering that we require an additional three years of seminary education, which is even more theoretical and impractical, we can see why so few SPs become ordained.

In fact, our entire school system beyond seventh grade conspires to increase the disinterest of the SP. In grades 1 through 6, which are characterized by learning activities from play dough to science projects, SPs have some of the highest IQ scores. By grade 7 the emphasis has shifted to theory and continues through grade 12 – then individuals can go on to college to learn even more theory! If you pursue post-graduate work, your education becomes even more abstract and detached from reality. No wonder almost every major discipline requires an internship to get people grounded in the practical world again.

The Church has bought this model hook line and sinker. It requires all ordained professionals to jump through academic hoops, then field work or internships are required to get them rooted again in the practicalities of parish life.

nailed it. i haven’t read anything more refreshing in years. this is the last 12 years of my academic life summed up in 2 paragraphs. thank God i was able to volunteer and work internships with students throughout that time period, or there’s no way i would’ve made it to where i am today.

of course, it also affirms all the fears i have of seminary in the first place. they’re right. i have little tolerance for abstract, non-practical and non-functional discussions. i don’t care about the theology behind why serving together is important for middle schoolers. i know it’s important because i have SEEN it’s effects and i’ve HEARD from students how it impacted them. don’t tell me the terms and concepts behind what just happened – that means nothing to me because it’s not REAL yet.

although, there are certainly instances – and i recognize this – where learning the theology and the concepts behind the experiences and the events is extremely instructional for me. i’m currently working on a research paper on jurgen moltmann and his book “theology of play”, and i know that when i’m finished, i will be so thankful that i understand theologically why getting together for “play” is a constructive and worth-while thing to do as a Body. right now, i know it’s a powerful asset to community, but i don’t have a clue why. i know it, because i’ve seen it, but i can’t articulate it.

and maybe that’s a better way of talking about why i’m going to seminary. so i can articulate why we do what we do in ministry. so i can know with confidence that my ministry is constructed on theology – not just constructed on what i’ve seen work in the past.

i highly recommend this book to anyone who works in a church in any capacity – staff or volunteer. a few days ago i asked my team of volunteers to take the myers-briggs and send me the results so i can learn a little more about their strengths as leaders in our ministry.

-apc.

i used to dream every night.

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i’m writing this from conception abbey, a benedictine monastery about two hours north of kansas city in northwestern missouri. i’m doing a 4 day orientation and intensive course as apart of central baptist’s “create” program. i am in a cohort of nine individuals who i will be spending quite a bit of time with over the next three years.

we’ve had the opportunity to take part in the daily prayers with the monks, and have spent time doing lectio divina together. the place is quiet and thick with wisdom. i already feel enlightened to a spiritual life i had no clue about previously.

that being said, these are the words that have been resonating with me over the last few days:

“i used to dream every night. now i never dream at all. i hope it’s cause i’m livin everything i want.” – donald glover, aka childish gambino, “outside

yep. came to hang with the monks and can’t get the first line of a rap song out of my noggin. what’d you expect? some 6th century monastic quote? check in with me in a few years and i’ll be throwin those out left and right, but today’s word comes from donald glover.

let me try to explain. while i’ve been here, we – my cohort and i – have been led through a series of dialogues reflecting on our life…
– how did we get here?
– where are we going?
– what do we hope life looks like when we get there?
…questions like that have got me dwelling significantly on the last handful of years that have prepared me for this new venture in theological study. and a “handful”, in this case, has the value of exactly 8.

eight years ago i started my undergrad at kstate. while it wasn’t a pointless phase of my life – i did manage to acquire a degree and a wife while there – but i certainly didn’t feel like i was living out my dreams. those closest to me know that college was a time of tension for me; it was like i was stuck in a purgatory before i could begin my youth ministry career in kansas city. i knew i needed to be there if i was ever going to do seminary someday, but the present was tough. i could see the future, and i couldn’t wait for it to be in the here and now.

a bit over 3 years ago, i finally got to start doing year-round youth ministry. soon after that i got engaged to the love of my life. then we bought a house. then we got married and have gotten to travel all over the world and enjoy our marraige greatly. then i got my dream job working a jacob’s well. and then 3 months ago i found out i got a full-scholarship to seminary.

literally, all my college dreams have come true. let’s recap. college dreams:
1. do youth ministry in kansas city.
2. somehow dupe karlie into dating me.
3. put my undergrad degree to use by going to seminary someday.

check. check. check.

so back to donald’s lyric. in college, “i used to dream every night”, but since then, my life has slowly morphed into “livin everything i want.”

how about that?

but as i’m entering seminary, i feel like i’m throwing away those dreams. i have two options:
door #1. continue living everything i want.
door #2. ruin everything by adding 25 hrs/wk of class, dialogue, study, and stress.

and i’m choosing door number two. and that’s annoying to me somewhat, but i know it is what i am called to live into. i wrote a few days ago about “why i’m going to seminary“, and i still think that’s true – i’m going because i want to be the best youth pastor i can be – but i think it’s more than that too. i think i’m also going because it is where God wants me in this season of my life. if that means throwing away the good life in order to live more fully in my calling, so be it. because ultimately, living fully in my calling is more life giving than any good life i could dream of.

a wise man once said, “if you vote for me, all of your wildest dreams will come true.” an even wiser man once said, “i have come that you may have life and have it to the full.”

so i think that’s what i’m doing here. entering into the next phase of life because i know that living in the fullness of Jesus is worth more than living in the fullness of my dreams from 8 years ago. besides, if i’m already living everything i want, then i should probably think up some new dreams to strive for. like getting to perform the wedding of some former students someday. or celebrating a decade with my wife. or building a treehouse with my son or daughter someday. or maybe write a book or two. those are just a few already coming to mind.

so here’s to ruining everything and actively waiting to live my dreams even more fully. both now and someday in the future.

-apc.

why i’m going to seminary.

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if you’re in ministry of any kind, you know what it’s like to tell people that you work in a church. suddenly they are a little more conscious of the language they’re using and they begin to apologize for the things they mentioned prior to finding out what i do with my life. happens all the time, but airplanes and hair salons are the true jackpot.

just this week i was getting my haircut (see above), and the woman cutting it was trash talking some of her fellow employees under her breath to me. every time I get a haircut it eventually gets brought up that i’m a youth pastor, so i was savoring these moments of “real” conversation before the facade took over.

finally she asked me, “so, did you just get off work?” (it was around 5:30pm).

i said, “actually, no, monday is my day off.”

she was confused and pressed, “what kind of a job gives mondays off?”

and i knew the time had come and i had to let the cat out of the bag, “oh, i’m a youth pastor.”

she gulped, and replied, “oooooohhhh, well that’s great, i bet that is so rewarding. good for you.” she stumbled a bit over her next few sentences as she attempted to simultaneously affirm my career path and subtly mention how important youth and religion and God are to both her and society. she asked, “so did you have to go to school to do that?”

i told her i’ve got a bachelors degree from kstate (go cats), and that i’m going to seminary in the fall*.

* – this fall, i am entering seminary. i got a scholarship to central baptist theological seminary to be apart of their CREATE cohort program. technically, my first class is next wednesday, but since i have to read 4 books and write 3 papers before my first class, i have basically already begun.

then she asked me a great question. she didn’t mean for it to be a great question, but it’s the same question i’ve received dozens of time this summer as i updated various people on my life. the question is this…

“so what will you be when you’re finished?”

the question these people are actually asking is, “what will your master’s degree be in when you are done with school?”, and i know they’re meaning to ask that, so usually I just say, “I’ll have a masters of divinity.” but sometimes that answer is even more confusing – a master of WHAT!? I don’t even know what that means – so this go around I went with an alternative answer…

“hopefully, i’ll be a better youth pastor.”

which is the absolute truth. i don’t care about the degree or the title or any of that business. in fact, i’m not totally certain what my title will be when i graduate…Reverend APC? APC, MDiv? Master Cooper? whatevs, they all make me sound old and lame and someone i wouldn’t want to really hang out with. i hope my professors all ask me to call them by their first name and not “Dr. Fillintheblank”. that just makes me feel weird. it creates an us-and-them mentality…as if reverends or pastors or doctors aren’t just broken icons of God’s image too. cause that’s what i am. and this degree won’t change that one bit.

but anyway. you can pray for me as i enter into this next busy phase of life. i’ve never been a good student. i’m lazy and unmotivated most of the time. but I’ve also never gone to school because i wanted to go to school. i just went because society said i should. hopefully that changes my work ethic and excitement level. i told the cbts professors that about me back in june during my interviews and they still gave me a full-ride. so either they’re just throwing money around at whoever will apply for this scholarship, or they actually believe that i can do it. i pray it’s the latter and i pray they’re right.

toward the end of my conversation with my hairstylist (read: great clips employee) as i was signing my credit card receipt, she said, “honey, i know we don’t really know each other, but i think you’re going to do great.”

i smiled and said, “thanks, i really appreciate that.” maybe she was just being nice. maybe she was just hoping i’d add another dollar to her tip (which I did), but regardless, I felt pastored by this woman who only minutes ago had been ragging on her co-workers. it felt like a role reversal of sorts. in fact, it felt like an encounter with Jesus.

and i think that’s my point here. you and i and that woman at great clips and your neighbor and my friend and your mom are all created in God’s image, and can all look an awful lot like Jesus from time to time.

so…seminary or no seminary, pastor or not, i just want to act more like Jesus as i disciple the students in my life. that’s all.

-apc.