Thursday, March 3, 2011

Something's Brewing

So let's be honest; 35 students can't change a world class city like Los Angeles in a week. But what they can change is perhaps more important--their own mind.  All week I've watched Regent students serve in selfless and powerful ways. They've given out food and clothing to those in need, they've played with kids with no dads, prayed and cried with lonely middle schoolers scared from a drive by shooting. They have done all these things and more...

But some of the most amazing moments were in the quiet moments over coffee on the trip. Students thinking. It's what they're supposed to do, but how often does it really happen? "What will this change in my life? How will I act differently towards those in need back at school? How are the different ethnic groups on our campus getting along? How could we make our community a more loving, compassionate one?

These are the small questions that percolate into large changes. Something's brewing among these students, and I'm proud to say that I know them. It's great to change your Spring Break plans; even greater to change your mind about how to treat others on a daily basis.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Sleep Here?

"Sleep here" the sign says, stenciled onto the filthy sidewalk, barely visible amidst garbage and refuse. The sign is not graffiti, I learn, but official government information, like 'One Way' or "Historical Marker."  The reasoning behind the official solution to the homeless problem on Skidrow seemed plausible enough to city planners. Vagrants and displaced persons took up far too much space on the downtown sidewalks, sleeping in makeshift tents and cardboard boxes. No one could get by. The merchants and residents of nearby Little Tokyo complained; the human clutter spoiling their manicured paradise.  So why not have designated spots where the homeless should stay?

Should any human tell another that it's right or preferred to sleep on a sidewalk? Isn't this a solution less humane than the problem? What can we say about a city whose solution for people in need is a stencil mark on the cement?

Just around the corner, Willie Jordan puts her mark down. She says, "No, sleep here."  The Fred Jordan Mission nestles in the muck Skidrow in downtown LA with beds and blankets and Bibles and blessings. The mark they make is the simple, clear life of a 77 year old woman who reaches out to touch each hand lifted in need. Founded in 1944 by her late husband, the Mission has been a haven to the desperate and the destitute for over 60 years. Willie has worked so long in the place that she has outlived 90 percent of the missionaries sent from FJM, true to her mission to bless the poor.

With each prayer, with each box of diapers handed out to mothers with babies on the street, a hot meal in their cold world, Willie makes her mark on LA. Since she was 15 years old, she has tried to hug the homeless into safety, one person at a time. "Honey, God has a better plan for you... He doesn't want you on these streets. He loves you, and wants you to come home.

Willie Jordan made her mark on me, as strong, caring and great a woman as I've ever met. I pray that she will continue to bless the poor that enter her door.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Young Adults want to Tweet and Serve in the Street

I'm in Los Angeles with a team of students from Regent University and we were blessed on our first full day here to spend time with our friend Matthew Barnett, pastor of the Dream Center. First, I need to say that he has more energy than any one man should possess, and speaks in a steady flow of humor, wisdom and cultural references that defy the mind and astound the soul. He preached a truth wound tightly like a spring, spiralling again and again around a profoundly simple, supple message, "God will supply ALL your needs according to His riches in glory."

He also said something i thought was fascinating.  "I was offered the chance to purchase television time, from a reputable source and it would be an excellent opportunity for our ministry. But you know what? I said 'no.'  Do you know why church? Because that money would be better used to help the poor. Because God hasn't called us to be a television ministry-- he's called us to help the children in South Central who need a father, children who are stuck in the foster care system. That's where we are going to spend our money."

[Historical sidelight: Pastor Barnett uttered those words in the historic Angelus Temple, built by Aimee Semple McPherson well know for her use of media like radio to share her gospel of healing, tongue speaking and faith.  Pretty interesting]

Further, Barnett referenced recent ascerbic debate in the twitterverse between evangelical/reformed heavyweight John Piper and uber cool wordsmith Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church. He said, "I think sometimes we get caught up talking about all these "trending topics" on Twitter and we're just circling around and around the Bible (here the enthusiastic Barnett circumnavigates his Bible on the stage) when what we really need to do is pick it up and read it to a kid that's in need or a prosititute on the street who hasn't eaten or slept in days."

Was it a cheap shot? Well...we've all followed @MatthewBarnett enough on Twitter to know that his words weren't a condemnation of that media.  And to be fair, he didn't do justice to the possibly substantive debate on the nature of salvation that is at the heart of the Piper "twittervention" of Bell's alleged universalism. But Sunday I heard a young man sick of the artificial distinction between talking about theology and doing theology. I saw an assembled crowd of 18-26 year olds that were part of "The Movement" who want to take their Bible and walk it out on the streets of Los Angeles. And without saying that the heavyweights involved in the debate are doing ANYTHING wrong, I know from seeing the lives of the 35 Regent students working alongside Operation Blessing in LA, many young people want to Tweet AND serve in the street.

Why not have both?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Truth, a Social Experiment?

I just saw the movie "The Social Network." I liked it, despite some plot pacing problems. But as I watched it, I wondered how much of the story was "true." Mark Suckerberg, the protagonist boy genius who invents "Thefacebook" comes across as socially awkward but focused and brilliant. The movie highlights his relationships with best friend and Facebook Co-founder, Eduardo Saverin, as well as Napster co-founder and Facebook collaborator Sean Parker. It doesn't take long to guess that the actual principals in the story have to be at the best uncomfortable with their portrayals in the movie. And again I wondered, "Is this how it really happened?"

So when I came across a quote from Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the screenplay, I was stunned.

"I don’t want my fidelity to be to the truth; I want it to be to storytelling. What is the big deal about accuracy purely for accuracy’s sake, and can we not have the true be the enemy of the good?"1

I can appreciate storytelling as much as the next guy, and understand dramatic or "artistic license." But to be so cavalier about "the truth," as if the details of our life were just some artist's palette of colors to be blended and blurred for the sake of expression, seemed to go over the line. If one owes "integrity" to "storytelling" rather than "the truth" doesn't this place entertainment as the highest good? Hasn't the medium shaped the message, as McLuhan and Postman et. al. said it would? 

What do you think? Does the truth have to suffer in order to tell a story? And can "the true" really be the enemy of the good?  

1. ^ Harris, Mark (September 17, 2010). "Inventing Facebook"New York Magazine. Retrieved October 9, 2010.