Tuesday, November 30, 2010

UPDATED A Bracelet to Remember to Love + GIVEAWAY @mendmark

Read to the bottom to find out how to win a FREE Mend Mark bracelet!

Through one of the organizations from which I receive review books, I received a press release about a product called Mend Mark. It's a rubberband-like bracelet with a goal of reminding us of Christ's sacrifice in order to remind us to love others. The bracelet looks (and feels like a bracelet) with two small circles on opposite ends that when worn, remind me of the stigmata. Further, some of the proceeds benefit Living Water International to provide clean water to people around the world.

I loved the idea, and so I was able to get one to review. The first thing I noticed was that it was smaller than it looks in the pictures. This is actually a good thing because it makes it subtler and more ambiguous, which I like. As the creator, Hunter Harrison, noted, his goal was to make something that people would have to ask about to know the meaning (rather than assuming the meaning). As this blog often emphasizes the problems with assumptions, I like this idea. Plus, personally, I tend to like subtle symbols.

Despite it being subtle, it was unique enough that a few of my co-workers noticed it and asked about it. They all thought it was awesome. One wrote down the website to look into getting one. This could make the bracelet a nice way to evangelize, both to non-Christians and Christians (it's important to remind everyone to love everyone more!). One of my colleagues thought it was a tattoo at first. This is interesting because Harrison made this in place of getting a tattoo.

Wearing it did help me remember to be present and focus on Christ and loving others. The bracelet is also embossed with "Remember Love," one word on each of the circles. The words were rather small, making them more of a subtle reminder than a blaring bullhorn of a symbol. This made it a great contemplative tool to be present in the moment, recalling Christ's sacrifice, and remembering to always love others. These are, of course, excellent things to focus on.

Now to the downsides. It was rather tight. I definitely had a red mark after wearing it. But it didn't hurt. A little extra space would be nice, though. Unfortunately, as I took it off my wrist after the first day of wearing it, I stretched it too much, and it snapped. The packaging reminds users to not stretch the bracelet too much. I was surprised how easily it broke, though. I would have needed to roll it over my hand rather than stretching it over. Considering the popularity of the Silly Bandz (and just experiences with generic rubber bands), I'm sure another form of material could make it more elastic (or maybe make different sizes).

If I had purchased one at $9.99, I would have been very upset (I'm sad anyway, as I would really like to wear it regularly for quite a while--if anyone has ideas how to mend the Mend Mark, let me know). Honestly, it seems quite over-priced. I doubt the manufacturing costs much (again, look at the number of Silly Bandz and their generic forms that come in packages that much less). The impact cost is offset a bit by the fact that proceeds do help a great organization. But still. The packaging was incredibly impressive and possibly cost more than the product itself. Making a cheaper package could have reduced the cost much more.

Considering the ease with which it broke, I doubt I will purchase a new one. If it were of higher quality or cheaper, I'd consider it. It's a great idea that really helped me be present and remember to love others... for a day. But lasting only a day isn't so good. Maybe a fabric elastic attached to two circles so they stay firm to the wrist could achieve the same purpose while not being as tight and being sturdier...

UPDATE 12/3/10: I heard back from the person who sent me the review copies, and she said that she has not encountered any other incidents of the bracelet breaking, so mine is hopefully an isolated incident. She is also sending me a replacement, which I would hope they would do in other circumstances, too. :)

In any case, I also received a Mend Mark to give away here on the blog. In order to enter, leave a comment saying why you would like a Mend Mark. You can get additional entries by (1) following me on Twitter, (2) retweeting my Tweet about this post, and (3) subscribing to my blog by email or RSS. Leave a comment on the blog letting me know you did these (if you already follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my blog, that counts). The contest will close on Friday at midnight. I will need a way to contact you, so either leave your email address, subscribe to the comments feed, or check back here.

If you would like to know more about Mend Mark, below is a Q&A with the creator from the press release.

Q&A With Hunter Harrison,
Creator of the Mend Mark

Mend Mark bracelet.jpgQ: How did you arrive at the idea for the Mend Mark? Why a bracelet? 

A: I always thought about getting a tattoo. I still haven’t, but tattoo designs frequently cross my mind, and if I ever got one I would want it to be meaningful. On one particular day, I had the idea of getting two circles tattooed on my wrist to resemble a hole. But not just any hole—the hole that killed a king. The more and more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that nowadays EVERYONE has a tattoo and it would almost be rebellious NOT to get one. (I guess you could consider me a reverse rebel.) So I decided to do something a little different, something that would reach many more people than just some ink on my wrist. I took the idea and designed a bracelet instead, and consequently, the Mend Mark idea was born.

Q: At first glance Mend Mark seems like a nebulous name. What does it mean?

A: I’ve always liked the word “mend” and I feel like it’s underused. So it was an easy decision to incorporate that into the name. It fit the product purpose, and since it was representing one of the marks of Jesus, Mend Mark was an obvious choice. Plus it had a nice ring to it and with tattoo roots it seemed natural to call it that. I wanted it to be more than just another bracelet or wristband. I wanted it to represent a movement. So the “Mend Mark” it became.

Mend Mark open package.jpgQ: What are you hoping will be accomplished through the wearing of the Mend Mark bracelet and through the Mend Mark movement?

A: There are three main things I want to be accomplished. First is that I wanted people to remember the sacrifice. I wanted to unite people—Christians (no matter the denomination) and even people of other worldviews—on one common message: LOVE. The love that Christ preached in particular. With so many books out there and theological debates on who’s right and who’s wrong, sometimes we forget the simplicity of Christ’s main message: LOVE. I figured that no matter what one believes, they can’t deny that selfless love can change the world… and sometimes we need a reminder of that. So I coined the phrase “Remember Love” to be printed on the bracelet. The second thing is that I wanted people to emulate the emotion. I wanted it to require the wearer of the product to engage in conversation about the love of Christ (and hopefully show that love to others) instead of just letting the product talk for them. I felt that if this was done properly it could force people into intentional situations where they were able to demonstrate their faith. If I was a non-believer and I saw someone wearing an obvious Christian product, I doubt I would ask that person about it because I would already know what they were going to say. But, if I saw this, I would want to know what it was. It sparks curiosity… and in turn that curiosity may open some doors for people to share the love of Christ with others. Finally, I wanted it to inspire people to change the world around them. I decided to find a cause to support through the sales of the bracelet. There was no reason for me to keep all the profits for myself. I wanted to be able to give back and share the proceeds somehow. I researched and prayed and petitioned God on what ministry to support and God led me to Living Water International. I knew I wanted to help fight malnourishment in one way or another and providing “Living Water” seemed to fit the purpose of the product—using “love” to mend. That’s what it’s all about and this product allows that to happen on a global scale.

Q: Where did the inspiration to create the Mend Mark come from?

A: My mother was the most influential person in my life. She raised me on her own, even homeschooled me in high school, and I think that extra time with her really impacted me. She passed away from cancer in 2007, but she always told me I would do great things. My wife, Morgan, has been extremely instrumental in encouraging me to take those words from my mom to heart and make them a reality. Morgan motivates me like no one else can and has been a tremendous source of love and support throughout the entire process.

Then my work in banking inspired me. All day long I am helping people achieve their dreams getting businesses and ideas started. I wanted to get out there and start doing something myself. But I wanted it to be meaningful. Since my son was born two years ago, he’s given me an added motivation to do something bigger than myself, something that will somehow leave a legacy behind.

Q: The Mend Mark is certainly growing as a movement. It’s even been worn by celebrities. What’s next for the MendMark?

A: The Mend Mark isn’t the first idea I’ve tried to get off the ground. It definitely won’t be the last either. By far, it’s been the most fun and the most successful, and the one I’ve been most passionate about. I’m currently working on additional product designs as well as T-shirts that will go along with the original Mend Mark purpose. The future is bright and I can’t wait to see where God takes it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Church Doctrinal Agreements

Last week, I posted a bit about the role of doctrine in Christianity. All churches have some sort of doctrine, set out officially or unofficially. Sometimes those churches don't even know their doctrines. But there is a sort of emphasis, a focus of theology, message, and mission.

It's not possible to have an entire church organization of people who are in 100% alignment with absolutely everything. Heck, good luck finding two people who totally agree on every theological point possible.

This is where it's important to know what's essential and nonessential. What's worth going to the wall over? What's negotiable?

Even with those things that are negotiable, we still need to be in community with some coherence. Most of us would advocate marrying someone who is as much alignment as possible. There's a practical element to this.

I would say a church can have more variation. As I have indicated, I think churches should not require much strictness in agreement from their members. The diversity can be powerful. And frankly, the larger the community, the harder it will be to get 100% alignment. Those communities that require that are just going to get lying members, I think.

Anyway, from the perspective of an attendee/member, how much do you think you should agree with a particular church on nonessentials/negotiables? It probably depends on how much the community emphasizes the area of disagreement and how passionately each side believes it.

A community can be a very good fit in many ways, but also have some challenges on what could or could not be minor issues. Sometimes the differences can help keep us all in check, which is useful. But sometimes differences can just be destructive. Where is the line for a good fit/match/partnership?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Children's Spirituality Lecture This Wednesday

I'm doing a lecture this Wednesday, December 1, 2010, entitled Exploring Children's Spirituality, for the Grand Rounds of Loma Linda University's Department of Psychiatry. If you're interested in attending, it's at 11AM at 1686 Barton Road, Redlands, CA 92373.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Limitations of Apologetics @jrdkirk

J. R. Daniel Kirk recently mused on the limitations of apologetics. This is relevant to my recent posts on doctrine and the point of this blog to examine questions.

I used to love apologetics when I first became a Christian. I was considering it as a career. However, as I came to explore the questions honestly, I found apologetics less-than-helpful. Two quotes from Kirk's article really stuck to explain this for me:
In particular, it gives people answers to questions that they often haven’t asked themselves and therefore cannot feel the weight of. The answer seems to work because they’ve never had to use it to minister to their own heart or mind.
This is a really excellent point and is some of the rationale behind this blog. We need to personally struggle with the issues rather than being given simple, pat answers, no matter how good they are. Without the wrestling, the answer is not terribly meaningful.

The other quote was:
Apologetics is bad for my soul. I’d rather have no answer to my doubts than a bad one.
This is just awesome! So many times our desire for clarity and answers leads us to bad answers rather than acknowledging that some things are a mystery. And some bad answers just make things worse. They close us off to the Truth of God and complexity of life with Christ, however simple those things can be at times.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Loving & Judging

Most of the church communities to which I have belonged have had a strong grounding in the holiness movement. Essentially, it's a focus on "right living," sometimes interpreted as avoiding sin. This movement definitely plays a powerful role in my life still, but I've struggled with it and how people approach holiness.

There is this nebulous disagreement I have with some approaches to holiness that have been difficult for me to really define because theologically, I can't fully disagree. Yet something feels off. It was this same sense of some sort of difference from some Christians that Richard Foster's Stream of Living Water helped define. In this book, Foster describes six streams, or traditions of Christian living and belief. They're not opposed to one another, and in fact, all are important and should co-exist. Yet most of us emphasize one over the others, causing theologically subtle, yet practically significant differences.

What I recently realized (this Sunday to be specific) is that it seems like some of the differences occur with how some of us perceive and relate to God, thus affecting how we approach holiness. John Eldredge discusses the varying and ascending metaphors to describe our relationship with God. He argues (well and biblically, in my opinion) that the ultimate relationship God desires is that of lovers. Close intimacy. Even before that, we are friends and children.

Yet what often happens is many times we view God as judge. Is God a judge? Yes. But I don't think that's his primary role. Just as lovers hold one another accountable, God holds us accountable, but that feeling of accountability is different than that of a distant judge.

When we view God as judge, I believe we approach holiness as a way to avoid judgment. As I heard someone say this weekend with reference to the sexual immorality of the US, "If God doesn't judge America soon, he owes an apology to Sodom and Gomorrah." There are theologically errors in that connection, but regardless, there is this sense of God as Ultimate Judge and not much more. We must live sinless lives in order to avoid God's destructive punishment.

Yet as many people argue and explain, God's primary mission as clearly laid out in the Bible is love. Jonathan Brink wrote a nice reflection on this recently. RELEVANT Magazine also posted an article about love.

In my experience, when we have a close, intimate relationship with God, we want to be holy. It's a way of moving closer to God and becoming like Christ. It's not out of fear, but out of desire. What may look like the same actions are in fact totally different.

Holiness out of love is what I want, not holiness out of fear.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Evangelical & Mainline Differences @CTmagazine

Yesterday, Christianity Today posted an article (more like a summary graphic) based on some research of political differences between evangelical and mainline groups, particularly the pastors.

While the political differences are interesting, I found the right-hand column, entitled Characteristics of Protestant Clergy, to be even more interesting. In fact, it seems like there are even more significant differences between evangelicals and mainliners in these theological areas.

These seems rather relevant to my recent musings on doctrine. In my experience, evangelicals seem more concerned about defending doctrine than mainliners. Yet evangelical pastors are significantly less likely to have graduated seminary. Does that seem ironic to anyone else?

It's hard to truly interpret the data without more information, and as anyone who taken a stats course know, correlation does not mean causation. But I do find it fascinating that those with greater theological education tend to be less apparently dogmatic about their theology overall.

In fact, it seems like evangelicals tend to display more dogmatic, everyone-must-believe-this-exact-set-of-beliefs than mainliners. If you look at the three other graphs, the evangelical line is almost at 100%. All three are on theological beliefs--Agree That Jesus Was Born of a Virgin, Agree That The Devil Actually Exists, and Male (this last one would indicate a belief in complementarianism v. egalitarianism).

I don't think any of these are essential beliefs, but with the almost unanimity that the evangelicals in the study correspond to these beliefs, it could be assumed that many evangelicals do hold these as essentials, either explicitly or implicitly. Even if they don't, I find it interesting that there isn't much diversity in thought on the issues.

In contrast, mainline denominations seem to display much greater diversity in these beliefs. All agree with those statements at over a 50% rate. But the significantly lower number would indicate to me that they hold these as less salvific issues than the evangelicals and allow members to disagree on a greater number of issues.

Again, I may be reading too much into these graphs, which truly provide very limited information. At the same time, these things do match up with my general experiences (there is always an exception on both sides) of evangelical and mainline congregations. What do others think?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Assumptions of Belief

This week I've posted a lot about doctrine and beliefs. One of the things that bothers me most is when I perceive people to be assuming what I believe. This drives me nuts, particularly when I don't hold that belief.

There's times to correct it and times not to correct it. However, recently, I've been hearing some beliefs with which I disagree be presented so frequently and unilaterally that I feel the desire to say, "I don't hold that belief!"

Has anyone else been there?

I'm not sure asserting my belief would do that much good. It could easily come across as antagonistic and put me on the outside of a group.

On the other hand, it could validate others who are in the same position as me, and that's very valuable. Additionally, there may be many people who do not have a firm position on a belief, and presenting and considering an alternative is a very important way of developing a solid, true belief system. Additionally, it is important for everyone to remember that their beliefs are not universally held, no matter what they are.

What do you think? When is it useful and effective and worthwhile to assert one's own beliefs in contrast to others'? What's the appropriate forum (obviously depends on the context)? Short blog post? Tweet with a summary?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Church Groups ≠ Prioritizing and Communing with God

I recently heard someone in two different occasions lift up "church" too highly. And in this context, church was referring to the Sunday service.

The first time, he said that many people do not prioritize God because they do other things rather than "going to church" on Sundays (I'm putting that in quotations because I have theological issues with that statement--church is the people, not a building or service). I think that can very much be true. However, it is not a 1:1 correlation. There have been significant times in my life (recently even) where "going to church" was actually detrimental to my relationship with God. In fact, most of the time, I do not experiences God during Sunday "services." I experience and commune with God more during small group meetings, prayer, talks with my wife, reading the Bible, listening to music individually, being in nature, etc. I firmly believe I can prioritize God and never go to a Sunday gathering.

Does that mean I shouldn't? No, I think we should be in a community. However, many church services are not at all about community. This relates to the second comment. This individual said that God yearns for the people who are not "in church" each Sunday, using the analogy of a mom who does not get all of her kids home at the same time for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

It's a moving image, but I think it's an inaccurate analogy. Church services (I hate the term service, too--we are not called to provide religious goods and services, but to serve) are not about a group of Christians communing together and with God by and large. Some truly have a strong community component. But frankly, most are an experience of passive observation by attendees.

I don't see anywhere in the Bible God yearning for more people to come together to be passive observers.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Challenging and Accepting Beliefs

Yesterday, I discussed some reflections on doctrine. During my thinking and struggling on the issue (it's not over yet, by the way), I read Romans 14 as part of the liturgical year in my Mosaic Bible.

If you don't know Romans 14, please read it now. I've read it a couple of times since because it seems so relevant to my current questions and even this blog. In particular, Romans 14:1 is a good summary of the chapter:
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.
In crafting my post yesterday, I had this in mind a bit, focused more on writing what I believe rather than criticizing others' beliefs. Okay, so I didn't do great on this, but in some ways it relates to the idea that arguing and needing to defend oneself is not necessarily what we are called to do.

The purpose of this blog is to help people explore their beliefs. I've thought of adding a new tagline: "Deconstructing to Reconstruct." However, I also have long said these conversations are not for new Christians. They're for people who want to take their faith to the next level and really challenge themselves to seek Truth.

It's very easy to get into a pattern of pointing out others' false belief and challenging it. I think I've done that a few times here. However, my goal is not to really call people out, but rather to provide a space to validate others who are having similar experiences, thoughts, and concerns.

In various church groups, I get the urge to challenge and criticize others' beliefs. But there may be a good reason they have them. What is the use of making that challenge? Oftentimes, it just causes strife.

I think of an analogy in terms of psychotherapy. I see plenty of people with a very different set of beliefs about behavior, motivation, faith, etc. I don't simply debunk all of their beliefs. For ones that are immediately damaging and to which they are open, I will present an alternate perspective. I rarely say something absolutely to a client or family, even if it's considered to be absolutely true in the field. It's just generally not helpful.

I need to remember this regarding theology.

Providing opportunities for discussion is important. But I also need to know the limits and let people believe what they will, no matter how unbiblical and damaging I see it.

However, if a lot of these ideas are premised on Romans 14, particularly verse 1, then we also need to focus on the phrase "believers who are weak in faith." What does that mean?

Everyone thinks they're strong in faith. So it can quickly result in spiritual narcissism. "I'm more faithful than so-and-so, so I will accept their immature faith." I don't want to be that person, but I border on it at times (and may just simply be there).

I wonder if we're not necessarily supposed to operationalize that phrase. It may be something everyone is supposed to hear. No matter if we think someone is strong or weak in faith, we need to focus on building each others' faith. And according to Romans, that doesn't seem to be about defining right belief or right action. After all, Romans 14:17-19 states:
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.
To me, this emphasizes the futility of detailed doctrinal statements. We are to focus on "living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." Arguing over biblical interpretation and types of sins does not usually do this...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Celebrating Christ, Not Doctrine

The issue of doctrine has come up recently for me in a few forms. I've been in a variety of churches with varying levels of theological conservativeness and liberalness. Some have had no statement of faith, while others have had very detailed statements.

I've recently been hearing some people saying it's important to stay true to doctrine. This seems related to Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears' new book, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. I had the opportunity to review it, but declined because I've heard very little come from Driscoll that I think is biblical, so I didn't want to waste my time.

I'm regretting that a bit now, as I want to know more details of this assertion of orthodox doctrine. From looking at the summaries of the chapters on the website, it doesn't look like it includes most of Driscoll's more unbiblical beliefs. And it's focused more on the essentials.

Many an argument and book have focused on what is considered essential to be a Christian and what should be included in a statement of faith. Therefore, I won't really delve into that. However, I would say that it should be relatively general. I'm not sure how useful very detailed doctrinal dogmatics are except to alienate people and draw arbitrary lines in the sand to make us feel good and others feel bad.

Scripture and Jesus are really more focused on relationships and loving God and others than on right belief. The texts really are helping readers develop a closer, stronger relationship with God. Understanding God accurately would be part of that, but I believe it's less important than others believe.

I really appreciate Azusa Pacific University's statement of faith. It is specific enough to identify clear Christian beliefs, but it not overly specific, allowing for a good ecumenical community. I personally prefer that way of defining doctrine, in contrast to more detailed statements, like that of Biola. I find it interesting that Biola doesn't even have a statement of faith. It is a "Doctrinal Statement." In contrast, APU only has a "Statement of Faith."

Both have pros and cons. In an academic setting, I'd prefer an APU model. I think I would prefer that in a church setting, too.

On November 11, 2010, T. Scott Daniels, PhD, discussed APU's theological heritage. He closed his talk by quoting Dr. Felix, a prominent proponent of APU, as saying, "where other places, their emphasis is on defending Christ, the emphasis here is on celebrating Christ."

I think that is just beautiful. In my experience most doctrinal statements and statements of faith are more focused on some sort of defense. I don't see that in the Bible. Rather, I see a call for celebration. That's what I want to do.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).