I Stole from Target Yesterday…Woops!

Yesterday afternoon I put my hand into my jeans pocket and in my best Bilbo Baggins impression asked, what do I have in my pocket?

The answer: Burt’s Bees Lip Balm.

The problem: I had not paid for this when I left Target earlier!

The story:

Yesterday morning Junia and I were walking the aisles of Target in search of a variety of things.  With chapped lips causing quite a bit of pain, I needed lip balm.  I found it and was overwhelmed with the choices.  Did I want to rejuvenate or refresh my lips?  Should I nourish them?  How about replenish?  I wasn’t about to get crazy with the “ultra conditioning” kind.

At some point, Junia got hold of one of the lip balms and threw it on the floor.  In the process of picking that one up, I must have put the one in my hand into my pocket.  Next, in a moment of short-term memory loss (I did turn 33 yesterday, I suppose this will happen more frequently) I forget about it.  Junia and I walked to the check-out, bought our other items and went home.

Hours later I was in my living room with the dawning realization:

I am a criminal.  

Be assured, my integrity is intact.  Today Junia and I returned to Target and I paid for the lip balm.  That’s right, we walked around the store putting a couple other things in the cart that we needed and at some point I nonchalantly took the lip balm out of my pocket.  This time I paid for it, no memory loss!

My conscience is clean.

Another Book that Broke My Heart: Girls Like Us by Rachel Loyd

Rachel Loyd’s fantastic book, Girls Like Us, interweaves her story as a survivor of sexual abuse with stories of girls she works with in New York City through her organization GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Services).  What is happening to girls in our world right now is heart-breaking and I am thankful for those like Rachel with the courage to not just speak out, but to share their stories.

Over the last few years I’ve tried to familiarize myself with human trafficking worldwide and its incarnation in the United States as sex trafficking – the abuse of women and girls who are forced to sell their bodies.  I was familiar with the story of GEMS from watching a documentary on their work.  Yet this book still shook me.  At one point Rachel talks about being invited over to the home of a couple from her church in Germany.  She tells how the husband asked the wife for a cup of tea when she went into the kitchen, but the wife forgot to bring it.  Rachel recalls a sense of fear welling up inside her, fear that she will now witness the husband begin to beat his wife in punishment.  Instead, the husband smiles and says he’ll get his own tea.  Rachel says she was shocked because all she know of life was that women are punished when they disobey men.

I can’t imagine seeing the world this way, going through life where it is just accepted that men abuse women.  Unfortunately, this is the life too many women live and think is normal.

Stories like this break my heart.  I am also left wondering what I can possibly do to change much of anything?  I suppose I can give money to GEMS, supporting the work of Rachel and others like her.  But what if I want to do more than just give money?  I can raise my daughter as best I can, hopefully that would count for something.  It is difficult to know what else.

Just knowing what is going on is better than not knowing.  I think of the story Rachel told of a woman testifying against her abuser (i.e., pimp).  This woman was underage which means her pimp was a rapist who sold her to other men to rape.  Yet Rachel tells how all the jury saw was a woman who had chosen this life, even though she was not old enough to choose and no one would choose such a life.  The public need reeducated so that we do not see these girls as “child prostitutes” but as victims of crime and abuse.  Maybe I’ll never be on a jury.  But there are and will be juries where pimps are on trial.  Hopefully more people on juries in the future will have read Rachel’s book and will listen to the victim’s testimony rather then judging her.  Through this, criminals can be put in prison where they belong.

So I highly encourage you to read this book and then to pass it on to others to read.  May we read it and think of ways to bring about change in our culture.

Other books on human trafficking and related topics:

Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It – David Batstone

The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today – Kevin Bales

Escape From Slavery: The True Story of my Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America – Francis Bok

Good News About Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World – Gary Haugen

Renting Lacy – Linda Smith

Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide – Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

The Singularity, Misquotations, Guns and Church (Recent Reads)

What happens when your iPhone is literally in your head?  The singularity is near.

Beware the three dots that often appear in quotes (…).  These three dots show that something in the original text was skipped over.  Usually this is simply a way to make a quote cleaner and briefer.  But it is also allows deception on the part of the writer.  Case in point is Richard Dawkins’ quoting of St. Augustine.

Everybody is talking about guns, gun violence, gun control and so on.  I’ve read a few things here and there that I find helpful.  It is pointed out that the Second Amendment was alive and well during WWII when the American government put thousands of Japanese immigrants into internment camps.  Also, Nick Kristof is one of my favorite writers and as usual, he makes some good points:

To reduce auto deaths, we’ve taken a public health approach that you might call “car control” — driver’s licenses, air bags, seat belts, auto registration. The result is a steady decline in vehicle fatalities so that some time soon gun deaths are likely to exceed traffic fatalities, for the first time in modern American history.

There are no magic solutions to the gun carnage in America. But in the same spirit as what we’ve accomplished to make driving safer, President Obama has crafted careful, modest measures that won’t solve America’s epidemic of gun violence but should reduce it.

If we could reduce gun deaths by one-quarter, that would be 7,500 lives saved a year. Unless life in America really is cheap, that’s worth it.

Whatever you think about guns, I find it disturbing to see so many followers of Jesus demand their rights.  When I read the gospels, Jesus does not seem too concerned with your rights, he actually asks his followers to lay aside their rights for a greater good.  But didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to go forth armed?  John Fugelsang puts this misinterpretation of Luke 22:36 to rest.

Finally, here are some encouraging words from a friend here on WordPress: Church Isn’t Easy.

Walking with the Saints: Asking Uncomfortable Questions

I am a people-pleaser.  I like to make people happy.  I want people to like me.

This is not always a bad thing.  But it is a bad thing when tough words are called for.

John Wesley writes in his journal of the following exchange with a Mr. Oglethorpe.  This conversation occurred early in Wesley’s life, during his extremely difficult mission in Georgia:

He said, “My brother, I must first ask you one or two questions. Have you the witness within yourself? Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” I paused and said, “I know He is the Saviour of the world.”  “True,” replied he; “but do you know He has saved you?” I answered, “I hope He has died to save me.” He only added, “Do you know yourself?” I said, “I do.” But I fear they were vain words. (Wesley, John (2009-06-09). The Journal of John Wesley – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 500-504). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition.)

John Wesley was a Christian.  As he said, he knew and affirmed that Jesus is the Savior.  But Ogelthorpe digs a bit deeper, getting personal, asking Wesley if he has taken this truth to heart.  Though Wesley said “I do” he realized those words were false.

I think such a question strikes us as offensive today.  Most of us would respond to such questions with anger, seeing the person asking it as judgmental.  That said, it is difficult to ask these questions without being judgmental and arrogant.  It takes a gifted person, the type this Mr. Ogelthorpe certainly was, to ask such pointed questions with clear love and care that leads to honesty on the person being asked.

I originally wrote this post a few days ago and now I can’t help but think of the tweet by Mark Driscoll yesterday where he basically called President Obama a fake Christian.  There is a world of difference between two men having a serious dialogue, as Ogelthorpe and Wesley did, and a man publicly claiming something about someone he has no personal knowledge of.  Driscoll’s tweet is judgmental and arrogant.  On the other hand, I find Ogelthorpe’s question to Wesley to be appropriate, seeing as it is in the context of a private discussion between two men who know and care about each other.

It is clear from reading Wesley’s journal that he certainly was a Christian.  This question is not about Wesley being a fake Christian.  It is more about him having a weak, superficial Christian faith.  Wesley had what he called a “summer religion” – something that works when things went well but not in the face of suffering:

“I went to America, to convert the Indians; but oh! who shall convert me? who, what is he that will deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, ‘To die is gain!’ (Wesley, John (2009-06-09). The Journal of John Wesley – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 792-795). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition).

As I ponder on this, I ask myself a series of questions:

Am I open to in-your-face, serious, even at times nearly offensive questions from trusted people?

Am I willing to move past superficial questions and ask others challenging questions?

Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.

Estimates are that between 100,000 and 300,000 girls are enslaved and sold for sex in the United States every year.  Millions more are sold for sex worldwide.  

Those who sell them make billions of dollars.  The average age for entry into prostitution is twelve years old.  This means that even most women who are prostitutes, who often are looked down upon by society, are in reality survivors of child rape and abuse.

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There are four factors that go into creating this sex industry here in America and worldwide:

1. The Traffickers – the pimps, the ones who sell the girls and who make a ton of money doing so.

2. Vulnerable people – the victims, the growing number of girls at risk to be forced, manipulated or coerced into the sex trade.  

3. The Buyers – the men who buy the women.  

4. A Society that looks the other way.

You could say these are four links in a chain that leads to the bondage of sex slavery.  The question is, which links can we work on breaking to break the chains and set the captives free?  Most of us can probably do little in regards to #1 and #2.  Unless you work in law enforcement or in some social service, these two are outside your influence to a large degree.

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But we can all do something about #3 and #4.  Really, sex trafficking is about simple supply and demand.  There is a demand because men want to buy women and girls to have sex with.  If we make an effort to stop demand, we can begin to loosen the chains.

Last week at Penn State Berks we began asking men on campus to do what they can to stop demand.  We simply asked men to take a stand, to commit to not buying girls.  This was an idea that we borrowed from the Demi and Ashton Foundation.  They did the same thing over a year ago, asking celebrities to have their picture taken holding a sign saying “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.”

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Well, we may not have any Justin Timberlakes or Sean Penns at Penn State Berks, but we have a lot of men who eachhave a circle of influence.  So we asked them to have their picture taken, holding the sign.  These men are part of a movement to end the demand for sex trafficking.  May more men step up and say with a loud voice that it is not cool to buy girls.

We did take it one step further than Demi and Ashton.  As we engaged students throughout the day, we also brought up the connection between sex trafficking and pornography.  Many survivors of sex trafficking have shared that not only were they forced to have sex, they were also forced to make pornography.  Women who used to work in the porn industry often share stories of how they were forced and coerced to do things they had not signed up for.  Every time you click on a porn site, even if it is “free”, you are increasing demand.  You are voting with your computer that you want to see these things, even if more girls and women are abused to create the product

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May we continue to work toward the day when there are no girls being sold because there is no demand.

If you want to see more pics of the men at PSU Berks, or if you want to learn more, follow Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved on Facebook.

Before you complain about the Hobbit movie, listen to this podcast!

Okay, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hit theaters one month ago so it is a bit late to ask people to withhold complaining about it.  I thought it was a fantastic film but I did come across a good number of people who did not like it.  Some were thoughtful in their criticisms, others were irrational.

Many people go into movies like this one ready to decry even the smallest change from the book.  The book is practically sacred scriptures to some and if the filmmakers dare make changes to the story, they are the worst sort of heretics.  Such complaints forget the fact that books and movies are different medium and that to translate a book to a film requires choices to be made.  We who watch the film and love the books need to try to take the film for what it is.

If you hated the movie because of how it differed from the book, you need to start listening to The Tolkien Professor, Dr. Corey Olsen.  I’ve been listening to his podcasts for the last year and they are excellent.  Recently Dr. Olsen did a podcast titled “Adaptation and the Hobbit Movies.”  I think this podcast would be very informative for those critical of the Hobbit movie.  Warning: it is over two hours long so prepare to listen to it in bits and pieces.

Walking With the Saints – The Journal Of John Wesley

I love history.  As a Christian, I enjoy learning the history of the Christian church, both the good and the bad.  In my reading I make it a point to read works from times and places other then my own.  Books on Christian spirituality are (almost) a dime a dozen in any bookstore.  Some are great, many are awful.  When I go to the classics I find books that are often much more difficult to read, but reveal an incredible spiritual depth.

Before I started blogging I read many Christian classics, ones I would love to blog through but am not ready to reread.  I have blogged through works from some medieval saints, such as Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.  The title of these blogs was “listening to the saints”, the idea being that in the cacophony of our busy and loud culture we Christians do well to listen to the wise words of those who have gone before.

(I just spent the afternoon sitting on campus at a table to raise awareness and make a call to action about human trafficking.  The vast majority of students who walked by alone had earphones in, listening to music.  God forbid we don’t have some sort of constant noise in our heads!  Wow, I sound like an old man.)

As I return to blogging on the works of Christians long-dead, I am re-titling it “walking with the saints.”  I still think we ought to listen to what they have to say.  But it helps to remember that these people were much like us, people with passions and desires and struggles who sought to follow Jesus in their lives.  I like the image of all of us Christians, the communion of the saints, walking together as disciples of Jesus.

One of my favorites is the English preacher John Wesley (1703-1791).  Wesley was a preacher at a time of nation-wide revival as many came to renewed faith in Jesus.  He is the founder of Methodism, a denomination still strong today and with many offshoots of its own.  I have begun reading through Wesley’s journal and will blog thoughts on that in the coming months.  A couple years ago I read Wesley’s book A Plain Account of Christian Perfection and found it incredibly thoughtful and encouraging:

A large part of Wesley’s argument is that since God commands this of us, then it is obvious that it should be possible.  He also spends a good amount of time refuting attacks on this doctrine.  Some say it is too human centered.  Wesley’s response is that those who reach this perfection do so by God’s grace and are so in touch with God that they recognize, more than other Christians, their need.  Along the same lines:

“If we were not utterly impotent, our good works would be our own property; whereas now they belong wholly to God, because they proceed from him and his grace: While raising our works, and making them all divine, he honors himself in us through them”.

He says that those who are perfect can continue to grow in grace “not only while they are in the body, but to all eternity”.  Further, these are not super-Christians, Wesley even says that they can still learn from those who have not yet achieved this perfection.  Finally, it is not impossible for a Christian to fall from this perfection.

I am not sure if I am with Wesley on this.  But I think part of the challenge is that so much of the Christian subculture, at least the impression I get, is an emphasis on our sin and how we will never be holy in this life.   I wonder though, is not this emphasis on our sin an emphasis on who we were?  And now, are we not new creations in Christ?  Does not the emphasis on sin leave out truths about the resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

All that aside, reading Wesley’s work moved me, I want to grow closer to God, to be consumed by the love of God.  I want to love God with my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself.  That is my prayer.

I am sure I will be encouraged by his journal as well and I look forward to blogging through it.

Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Cross the Road (A Review)

Growing up in a Christian home I eventually, like most kids, began to question the faith I had been taught.  Some stories of questioning begin with taking a biology class and learning about evolution.  This was never a problem for me.  I always figured that the truth of falsity of evolution had little to do with the central claims of Christian faith.  For me the questions always revolved around other religions.

If I believe Jesus is the savior of the world, is unique, what does this say about other world religions and religious figures?

If there is only one God, how come there are so many religions? 

Can people of different religions ever learn to live together in the world?

It was questions such as these which led me to major in religious studies at Penn State.  And it is questions such as these that lead me to pick up books such as Brian McLaren’s Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Muhammad Cross the Road?

Brian McLaren is one of those authors that causes me to get nervous as I write a review of their books.  If I say positive things, some Christians will assume I have gone down the same path of apostasy that they say Brian has, a path that will lead to hell.  If I say negative things, other Christians will assume I am just a closed-minded fundamentalist who thinks I am one of the lucky few who get to go to heaven.  The truth is that I enjoy reading McLaren’s books because they make me think and question my own assumptions.  I am less and less interested in reading books that just reinforce what I already and have always believed.

This book is McLaren on how Christians ought to relate to followers of other religions.  He sees a problem in the Christian church.  Those who have a strong Christian identity, who are unquestionably orthodox, often are very hostile to outsiders.  But those who are kind to outsiders often water down their Christian faith to such an extent that there is not much “Christian” about it.  McLaren seeks a Christian identity that is both strong and kind.  He does this with sections on doctrine, liturgy and mission.

I imagine that those who are already fans of McLaren will enjoy this book while those who see him as a false teacher will not like this book.  Personally, after finding much to like in many of McLaren’s books I did not like his A New Kind of Christianity (I think I gave it 2 stars out of five) so my expectations for this were not high.  That said, I found this book mostly helpful, challenging and encouraging.  McLaren correctly identifies the problem that most of us Christians (and really, most humans) find our identity in what we are against.  In other words, “we” are right and “they” are wrong,” or, “they” are the problem which needs to be changed or fixed.  McLaren’s argument is that Jesus frees us from this hostile attitude and sends us in the world to reach out to the other in love and friendship.  He says that the world does not need Christians to abandon their faith, it needs Christians to take their faith even more seriously.

What if we Christians took our faith, took Jesus more seriously?  What if we really did seek to love our enemies, even to the point of dying for them as Jesus did?

What if instead of trying to change everybody into clones of ourselves, we sought to serve and bless others as Jesus did?

Those are the sorts of questions I take away from this book and for that I am grateful.

Looking Ahead to 2013

Over the holidays I took an unintentional break from blogging.  I had been spending December blogging through Advent, until my own holidays got quite busy.  My last post on advent was December 19th.  Oh well, such is life.

With a new year here I have been thinking about why I blog and what I ought to blog about.  The reason I began a blog was because I work in campus ministry and blogging would be a good way to connect with my prayer and financial supporters.  Thus many of my posts had been updates from what is going on at campus.  Along with this I also wanted to blog on books I was reading, to share with people what I was learning (and also so my supporters know I am pursuing life-long learning and not just sitting on campus drinking coffee and playing Farmville).

Those purposes of the blog still remain.  I will still post stories from Penn State Berks as well as other reflections that I think are pertinent to campus ministry specifically and related topics such as higher education and the cultural milieu.

I will also keep posting book reviews.  Though I do hope to blog through one or two books, chapter by chapter to both help me understand them better and to share deeper thoughts with the reader (perhaps the first will be Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies).  I also hope to do more “Listening to the Saints” posts.  These began as I enjoy reading Christian classics and wanted to share some of the wisdom from these great men and women.  I have begun John Wesley’s journal and will post on that.

Beyond all that, two other topics have become passions of mine.  One is human trafficking and I will keep posting on this (and you can read previous posts here).  The other is parenting and dad-stuff.  I probably count as a stay-at-home dad as my wife works during the day (and I am on campus when she is done with work).  Being a parent gives you lots of stories and thoughts to write on, so we’ll see what that leads to as I write.

Thanks for reading.  When I got my year end report from WordPress, I was surprised to see how many views this blog got in 2012.  So thanks and I look forward to another fun year in 2013!