Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Velvet Elvis :: Movement One :: Jump

Rob's preface reads like the back cover, an anecdote to illustrate how this book is a part of a conversation, not an argument or a sermon. This conversation has been going on for thousands of years, and it will never end because it's about mystery. But more on that in a moment...

The first movement of the book centers around one of my all-time favourite analogies for faith: Some people talk about the faith in terms of foundations and building blocks, and their beliefs and doctrines and so on make up the bricks. Rob suggests a different view: springs in a trampoline.

When bricks are made well, they make strong walls--walls to keep people in or keep people out. And if a few bricks fail, the walls come down; the bricks are interdependent. But springs are made to be stretched and strained, and if one gets completely discombobulated, the others pick up the slack. Our ideas and beliefs should be able to handle our most rigorous tests; we shouldn't ever have to take on a defensive posture when talking about ideas on God, which is
"one of the things that happens in brickworld: you spend a lot of time talking about how right you are. Which of course leads to how wrong everybody else is. Which then leads to defending the wall. It struck me [...] that you rarely defend a trampoline. You invite people to jump on it with you." (27)
Ha! I love it. Rob then rounds out 'movement one' with a discussion about the importance of questions--raw, difficult, vulnerable questions, and how we shouldn't be afraid of them. Being my father's son, I need a faith that embraces questions. Sean Penn of all people sums up beautifully the joy of jumping on this great big trampoline:
"'When everything gets answered, it's fake. The mystery is the truth.'" (33)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Velvet Elvis

It's been an inspiring morning. I woke up and followed my everyday routine, but when I sat down in my usual chair on the porch under the mango tree, something was different. And all I can tell you is that it had something to do with the breeze. It was the perfect temperature, mild and refreshing, persistent but varied, and smelled subtly of home. (A breeze that doesn't smell of diesel or human waste is a welcome enough change here, but this was so much richer. It was startling.)

So I sat there and soaked it in and marveled once more at how blessed I am. And then I felt a little embarrassed at how little I do to try and spread that joy. When people ask "What's new?" I blush that my life revolves around my work and nothing much to say besides that. Nothing much to blog besides that. Yet I smile like I've got an oil well / pumping in my living room. (Thanks, Maya, that's exactly it!)

Then I thought about the book I'm reading, Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell: how it challenges and encourages me to think destructively about established patterns of thought, and compellingly about new, creative, communal ways of thinking about and living and breathing in God.

So I thought, Why don't I just blog this book? And to reassure any of you that think I'm about to get up on a soap box, allow me to introduce this book by quoting the back cover, a tidy glimpse into its tone:
We have to test everything.
I thank God for anybody anywhere who is pointing people to the mysteries of God.
But those people would all tell you to think long and hard about what they are saying and doing and creating.
Test it. Probe it.
Do that to this book.
Don't swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it.
Just because I'm a Christian and I'm trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn't mean I've got it nailed. I'm contributing to the discussion.
God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right?

Right off the bat, Rob speaks to my own discomfort and insecurity around mainstream Christianity. If Christianity has become a list of things to subscribe to and affirm and vote for, then I'm simply not. But if it's about living more in tune with the ultimate reality that creates and sustains and loves, then I'm in.

That's what this book is about: claiming truth -- wherever you find it! -- and throwing out the garbage. It's a discussion. And I hope you'll join in.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

What do YOU think?

I love the video below, because it captures something of the struggle I have with some of the stereotypes around Africa. Stereotypes not only of famine and war and flies in their eyes, but stereotypes of helping, too. Of what aid is, what missions is, what development is -- and what they can do.

There are so many boxes: Here's what I can do. Here's what I can't.

Well, here's to a "new conversation."

Friday, 8 May 2009

Dude, a new dog!

Forget rusty razor wire and dozing security guards--the best security money can buy in Liberia is a dog. I've seen time and time again how terrified Liberians are of OneLove (our companion of two years), despite how friendly he is. Usually.

Anyway we've just doubled our quadripeds on patrol with the addition of Dude. After an agonizing four-minute debate in the driveway over names like 'HeyYou', 'Bro', and 'TwoLove', we decided that you can (should?) begin or end most every command with 'Dude'. So it stuck.

He's still learning the ropes and licking way too much for anyone's comfort, but he's irresistibly cute in that dumb-as-nails, puppyish sort of way. 
OneLove's energy level is now that of a 90-year-old, as he's now forced to wrestle or avoid Dude all day, every day. The guards have taken to calling him Ol' Papie.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


Last night I was asked to read a screenplay on the life of Joshua Milton Blahyi, formerly known as General Butt Naked -- one of the most notorious fighters in Liberia's bloody history. From 1980 up to his conversion in 1996, he and his boy soldiers killed many thousands and engaged in unmentionable atrocities including human sacrifice.

We read the script for Joshua and a couple of other key characters in a quiet living room, to give them a chance to make corrections and suggestions. It was so strange, so sobering, taking on his voice and acting out some of those atrocities -- and right in front of him, too. But it is a truly powerful story, as true to life as a movie can be, of redemption, of transformation, of victory over evil.

Joshua is now a pastor working full-time with ex-combatants, encouraging them to turn from crime to peaceful, Godly lives. To talk and laugh with him now, I can't imagine the things he's seen and done; there isn't a mean bone in his body. That God can so completely transform one life gives me so much hope for the rest of this nation as well.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Emptyish nest!

L to R: Jen, Matt and Mariel Le Page, Moi, Ashley, Cramer, and Deb

It's one of those things that stays uncrossed-off through dozens of generations of to-do lists: one decent team photo. Well, the day Cramer left we got this. Matt and Deb have now left the five of us to slug out the rainy season. (Missing from photo: OneLove and Dude--the new puppy)