Tag Archives: christianity

Preacher Man

A week and a half ago I preached in my church for the first time. Our regular pastor is on sabbatical this summer, and a diverse preaching team is tackling lesser known or lesser read books of the Bible. Mine was Joel, a book I’d frankly never read three weeks before delivering a 25 minute talk about it. Now I’ve read it probably about 20 times and could quote you several passages from memory. One of the first things I did when preparing for Joel was to write a 43 line Python script pulling down 9 different translations from Bible Gateway and turning them into an eBook so I could compare. That web-scraping thing from yesterday at its most noble, maybe.

Writing a sermon was a very different kind of writing from what I’m used to. I’m comfortable talking in front of people. I’ve given presentations at work before, and I’ve sung, taught Sunday school and been the worship leader in my church in recent memory. But figuring out how many words I even needed to write to fill the time was a challenge (turns out for me about 5000 though some people think my delivery was a bit fast). I’ve generally contended that I’m a much better writer than an off-the-cuff speaker,but writing with the specific intention of reading aloud has a different flow. The writing must rise and fall with the rise and fall of your voice. Words that are perfectly fine in an essay on Joel can become unworkable on the tongue.

And writing a sermon should have some application to life, a point you’re trying to get across. I’m not so bad with the analysis and research bit, but this was the point that my wife kept asking me, and I was never sure I had a good answer for it until the night before the actual delivery.

And more than any other piece of writing this was something I was writing not just for myself, but for people to hear. It can be a strange thing to think about writing something as speaking for what God wants to say on a particular Sunday. You can dismiss it as putting too much stock in what people actually hear, and indeed the memory life for even a great sermon can be frighteningly short. But the writing isn’t just in your voice, it means something. This isn’t to say that I felt like I was taking God’s dictation. When God talks through people, they are still speaking with their voice, with their patterns, passions and priorities (something apparent in a prophet like Joel).

I wrote about half the sermon in a coffee shop, and the other half in our empty sanctuary, sometimes with the computer at the podium, typing changes as I practiced delivery. I still went through all the same things I do with a chapter of The Sky Below, research, rough drafts, revisions, cuts, new thoughts, and the eventual pressure of a deadline (one in this case which I couldn’t push). I listened to Moby and Olafur Arnalds which proved to be just as good at aiding the writing of scripture as they are most everything else. But I also had to think about how fast I was talking, waiting beats to emphasize something or let people laugh at the few funny points. I had to make sure I was looking at everyone as I talked while still keeping the text in front of me. And I had to figure out if I was going to stand or sit on a stool, and even how I was going to sit on that stool.

But this kind of writing is oddly energizing. First of all its probably one of the most immediate feedback mechanisms I’ve ever had (even more than blogging). People walk up, shake your hand, want to discuss the text, while your head is still spinning not sure if you even said everything you had written down. It was really interesting to go in deep on a passage, analyzing its structure, its history, its meaning. It was interesting to think about how people would hear the text 2500 years ago, and how they’d hear it that Sunday. And frankly it was interesting to be praying to God about what I was going to say. A lot of writing just happens for me, without a lot of thought about how it applies to the spiritual side. But during a lot of periods of writing this I felt unusually energized, words flying off my fingers. Maybe some of that was the thrill of trying something new. But then again … I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to try this again.

A common piece of writing advice is to write for yourself, not to worry about what others want you to say. But the more I think about it, I’m not sure if this is entirely true. You shouldn’t be trying to follow publishing trends, or writing what you think people want to hear, or what they want to read, what they can handle. But it can be really thrilling nonetheless to think about your audience, to think about how they might hear your words, and what it might inspire them to. You’re not writing or preaching to have people tell you you did a good job, you’re writing to get people to think, to convey God’s word, and to be more than just the words you put down on paper.

My inner censor thinks this sounds kinda hippy-dippy. But I’m just calling it like I see it. Writing that sermon was the most fun I’ve had writing in a while. Now I just gotta figure out how to do the same thing with everything I write.


Filed under Faith + Life, Writing, Writing Goals

This is who we are

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry, has been derecognized by California State University schools. 23 chapters (groups) that meet on the CSU and affiliate campuses are no longer recognized student organizations. The InterVarsity chapters affected will no longer have free access to campus facilities, will receive no campus activity fees, are barred from participating in the school activity fair, and are not allowed to include the university in their group name.

The reason for the derecognition? A requirement that leaders within the IVCF chapter affirm InterVarsity’s doctrinal basis and “exemplify Christ-like character, conduct, and leadership.” In other words, leaders of a Christian organization need to be Christian.

Leadership in a Christian organization like InterVarsity entails both spiritual and practical responsibilities. Spiritual duties include discipling younger Christians (helping them grow in their faith and to act in a Christ like way), conducting worship services and organizing outreach to seekers and other non-believers outside the group. Practical matters are the managing of funds received both from private donations and from university activity fees (which usually come with strict standards). Money is primarily used to support the spiritual aims of the group.

InterVarsity does not require its members be Christian. Typically, the only requirement of membership is two months of regular attendance to meetings. As an outreach organization, it encourages all who want to learn about Christ to become part of their group. But because leadership positions are as much about maintaining the spiritual well-being and direction of the group as they are about practical matters of funds maintenance, leaders need to be Christian.

InterVarsity doesn’t go about this in a de-facto way. It’s probably true that they could remove the requirement from their chapter constitutions, but in practice only elect believers as student leadership. CSU might not police the group as long as the official rule is struck out. But this would in effect be lying about the nature and character of the group, something InterVarsity to its credit, has chosen not to do.

Some people have compared the university’s position to allowing a democrat to be the leader of a group of young republicans. Or the leader of a music appreciation group liking Justin Bieber.

(Okay, had to insert some levity in this post somewhere).

Where these kinds of analogies break down for me is that while they get one part of the argument, that it just doesn’t make sense for a group to be lead by someone who doesn’t share the group’s common set of values, they don’t get the scale quite right. Religion is something deeply important to a lot of us. It affects the course of our lives for decades to come. I could mix religions and say something like a Jewish person leading a Muslim chapter, or a Christian heading up an atheist group, but again that almost sounds like political parties.

Here’s what this seems like to me, a drunk leading an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Meaning, someone who is actively and potentially harmfully deviating from the group’s intended purpose. You wouldn’t want someone who is actively drinking to be your sponsor. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t believe in God helping you to understand your faith.

The reason for the university policies is discrimination. They see creedal organizations like InterVarsity as excluding people. But in doing so, they are committing discrimination of a different kind. They are saying that a Christian organization (or any religious group) can’t have a set of standards by which they choose their leaders that is consistent with their faith and the desired purpose and direction of the group.

This makes sense to everyone, right? I mean, really, why would a Christian want to be a leader of an atheist (free thought) group? Maybe the purpose would be to disrupt the group and “get everybody saved”, but that would be infringing on the beliefs of the people who formed that free thought group in the first place. People who believe there is no God should have a place on campus where they should meet, and so should people who do. The CSU case is not unique around the country, though it is significant as one of the largest state schools to create these sorts of policies.

My alma-mater (which has had some struggles in this area in the past) now has a great guideline for student organization registration:

“A student organization formed to foster or affirm the sincerely held religious beliefs of its members may adopt eligibility criteria for its Student Officers that are consistent with those beliefs.”

Again, we get that, right? It’s not discrimination to want to be consistent with your beliefs. And if we’re talking racial diversity, the Inter-Varsity chapters affected by this derecognition were 70% persons of color.

What can you do? Well, for one you can pray for wisdom for University officials and perseverance for the students and staff in California. You can give financially to IV chapters or if you live in the California area you can help transport students, or even just bring food. To rent college facilities absent the recognition will cost the IV chapters $13-30K a year, so every little bit helps.

Related Articles:

IVCF Campus Challenges

Access Concerns California State University System

InterVarsity “Derecognized” at California State University

Wrong Kind Of Christian

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Putting my imagination to work

This post, and the one following it on Going Deeper at 12:45, are part of a mini two-part series exploring Christianity and imagination. What does it mean to have a Christian imagination? What part does imagination play in our lives and in our faith? Since we’re over here at Ben Trube, Writer this morning, let’s talk about the kind of imagination I deal with on pretty much a day to day basis, telling stories.

Imagination is a key component of writing. My pastor defines imagination as the ability to see a reality different from the one we can observe. That pretty much sums up writing, creating characters, situations, even settings that have no equivalent in the real world. For writing imagination takes two very different forms. The first is inspiration, my first glimpse of the world or story I’m trying to create. This often comes from my mind wandering, or connecting two disparate thoughts from days apart. The second is application and definition, taking scenes and connecting them together, further defining character traits and arcs. One is hazy like a dream, the other is very much like reality and requires a similar level of detail.

You might say the inspiration phase is a lot like daydreaming. For me it can really happen anytime, though it is more likely in periods of repetitive activity, like my daily commute or the shower. One thought leads to another leads to another. A phrase that was used a lot in the Bible studies I was a member of in college was “thought life”. In that case it primarily was referring to sexuality, to lustful thoughts from a idle mind. But the idea can apply to any thought that takes our mind off God, off the way he’d like us to live, to look at the world.

But I’ve never been really able to look at my “thought life” in such a fearful way. I’m aware of the lustful aspects of myself, as I trust every man is, but when I’m trying to think of a good story, I don’t immediately think about whether it is in keeping with glorifying God. Here’s how I look at it, having the thought is not such a bad thing, but committing certain ideas to paper is something else entirely.

I think even authors who don’t have an angel sitting on their shoulder think about this kind of thing. Do I really want this idea to be associated with my body of work? What kind of impact will my words have on the thoughts and minds of others? We’re all capable of coming up with some truly wonderful, and truly terrible ideas. Having bad ideas is natural, but engaging with them may not be. The more time we spend with an idea, the more it comes to dominate our way of thinking. This can happen for good ideas and for bad. A good idea gives birth to the next idea and the next.

I don’t think of my writing as having a specific “missional” aspect. Something about applying that word to my work feels unnatural, forced and tacky. The purpose of my work, other than to entertain, is to explore if for no one else but myself some of the mysteries of life, and some of the specific technological and sociological challenges we’ll face in the coming decades.

Boy that sounds lofty!

Okay, I’ll say it better. I think about a lot of things. I read technology magazines, listen to the news, read fiction, play bad video games and read graphic novels. I like everybody else am trying to figure out how to be a good husband, a good parent, a good adult, and yes a writer people actually want to read. Sometimes exploring these ideas in stories helps me. And sometimes I write something down just to riff (like the story I’m planning for Jo’s Bradbury 52 (a ghost, a school and a breakfast indeed)).

As I talked about in one of my early posts in this blog, I try to write from a Christian viewpoint, but I’m not a Christian writer. I try to write about life as I see it, and a little bit of how it can be. Right now I’ve got a main character who is suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress (a condition I gave him after a couple of revisions 🙂 ). Throughout this book, and into the next one I’m trying to explore aspects of denial, trauma, vengeance, justice, friendship and yes God. This means I have to be okay with my character starting in a messy place, and ending in maybe a better one that takes a while and several different roads to get to. The temptation is to fix everything too quickly, to not give proper weight to circumstances and feelings. As a writer you can throw a character into a situation, and then not be sure you should have, using the next chapters to try to pull him out. That wouldn’t do the story justice, though, and it doesn’t fit with my experience of life or of God.

Christianity is not a quick fix. It’s not an “accept Jesus and everything will always be awesome” kind of deal. It takes work. I’m all for being able to picture eternal life, a new heaven and a new earth and a new body. Faith takes imagination. But in my experience you also have to be able to relate to people’s needs as they are, the things they worry about on a day to day basis. And maybe because I’m a futuristic science-fiction writer, get them thinking about a few things they might be dealing with in the future.

Imagination is an essential tool of the writer. It’s a weapon that can be used well or haphazardly. Imagination doesn’t do us much good without something to steer it, otherwise all stories would be a series of random thoughts and images (not unlike this blog post 🙂 ).

How do you think about your imagination?

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You Almost Lost Me: Creation Care

One of the six reasons David Kinnaman outlines for young Christian’s leaving the church is that the church is perceived as being anti-science. (You can read an overview of the other reasons in my Dad’s post here).

My experience here is a little unique. My Dad works with grad students who work in all sorts of fields including physics, chemistry, engineering, etc. I’ve known many people who practice their faith and their science alongside each other. My workplace is full of lots of technical people, engineers of all stripes and programmers. And faith is in the house there as well, both in my little group and in conversations with other people. In other words, I know lots of smart people who believe as well, and who practice their faith in their work as well as in their church.

But here’s where I get tripped up, global warming or climate change, or just general care for the environment.

Here’s a little of what I’m talking about (Warning this is Louis CK so there’s quite a bit of language):

Somewhere along the way it became less about taking care of the planet God gave us, and more about keeping the economy going.

Now I know climate change isn’t exactly settled science, but there is definitely reason for concern. Even if our burning of oil is not changing our atmosphere, things are measurably different than they used to be. I’ve heard the argument that this might just be a planet cycle and we have nothing to do with it. That may be true (though I kinda doubt it), but whether we’re the cause or not, we need to be part of the solution, because it could be our survival we’re talking about.

Okay, lot of maybes and what ifs there. I recognize this is an area for discussion. What bothers me is the outright rejection of that discussion.

And unfortunately I have seen a lot of what CK is talking about, both at times in my church, and in my work.

This kind of anti-science mentality is more damning I think than evolution. The debate about evolution and creationism is an esoteric one. At the end of the day, does it really affect our day to day lives which is true? And for that matter, many Christians, myself included, are perfectly comfortable with the idea of evolution as part of creationism.

But if weather patterns change, if water levels and temperatures rise, that’s going to matter to our real lives, even the economy. Rejecting climate change and creation care kind of makes Christians hypocrites. We’re called to take care of what God gave us, to be faithful stewards of this world. That doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want with the Earth’s resources. We’ve driven hundreds of species to extinction, we’ve mined the ground and stripped the forest. And because America set such a good example, the emerging world is doing the same thing, and getting smog filled air in return.

Ultimately I’m still in the church because I do see some good examples of people who care about this stuff (my Dad and my pastor), but I know plenty of places where this is not true. The church needs to take a hard look at its stance on issues like this, and pull themselves away from the viewpoints of a “Jesus and” mentality. I’m not asking you all to be democrats (because I’m not one, neither am I a republican), but I am asking you to think about our responsibilities here, and the potential dangers as well as the potential good that come from clean energy, and turning climate change around.

Okay, now that I’ve riled you up I’ll pass you back to Dad 🙂


Filed under Faith + Life