The Best of Jim and Dwight

I know, I know... I'm a late-comer to the fan club for NBC's TV show, The Office.
But I've become hooked.

I was turned off at first by some raunchiness I saw in the few episodes I watched. But now I'm enjoying the show. I've not seen every episode; some weeks are better than others. However, overall, I think it is one of the better written, better acted, and better directed television shows to come along in a long time.

Here are some of the great scenes between Jim and Dwight.

Experiment on Dwight

Dwight's stuff in the vending machine

Future Dwight faxes Present Dwight

Jim impersonates Dwight

Michael Intervenes in the Jim and Dwight Conflicts

Dwight considered by the CIA for a top-secret mission

Dwight keeps his rear defense

Jim and Pam invent diseases for Dwight's office health care plan

Montage of clips - Dwight and Jim's Relationship


Conservatives and the Minimum Wage

Listen to well-intended fisal conservatives, and you might think that raising the minimum wage is a lame-brained fanciful idea that will actually hurt the poor.

Christians have it tough when it comes to deciding who to believe in these economic debates. One side says one thing; the other side says exactly the opposite. It is hard for us who are not trained in economics to understand all the nuances.

I've been doing some research. Here's some of what I've found.

Fiscal conservatives say that most economists agree that the existence of minimum wage laws destroys entry-level jobs.
“Today, that number would probably be cut in half, says Robert Solow, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who won the 1987 Nobel Prize in economics. A turning point in the debate came in the 1990s as states such as New Jersey began boosting their mandated wages above the federal level. In 1995, Princeton economists David Card and Alan Krueger published research on unemployment trends among fast-food restaurants in New Jersey and neighboring Pennsylvania. They found that the number of jobs rose in New Jersey compared with Pennsylvania, even though New Jersey had a higher minimum wage. The study, while not perfect, ‘provided evidence that went against the common view,’ Solow says. ‘It changed the way many economists look at minimum wage.’” - Higher Minimum Wage No Longer Seen as Sure-Fire U.S. Job Killer, Kim Chipman (Bloomberg, August 7, 2006).
Fiscal conservatives also state that small businesses are hurt by higher minimum wages. However, this does not seem to mesh with the data.
“In examining state-level small business job growth, the best government data available permits a comparison of 1998 and 2003; the latter is the most recent year for which the data are available. For the 10 states and the District of Columbia that had set their minimum wages above the federal level for most of this period, indicators of economic performance were consistently better than for the other 40 states where the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour prevailed.” - States with Minimum Wages above the Federal Level have had Faster Small Business and Retail Job Growth, Fiscal Policy Institute, March 30, 2006.

As we wade through all this, we must be humble in our search for the truth. I am not an economist, nor am I a son of an economist.

But one thing is sure: Jesus Christ wants us to care for the poor. It is a non-negotiable. When I make economic decisions based on my own comfort or on the desires of the rich (something that I have been very guilty of, being both comfortable as a Suburban American and relatively rich - I'm in the top 1% richest people in the world according to Global Rich List {see how rich you are}), I am not following the way of the Lord.

The Economic Policy Institute has a "Raise the Minimum Wage" campaign. Over 650 economists, including 5 Nobel prize winners and 6 past presidents of the American Economic Association, believe that increasing federal and state minimum wages, with annual cost-of-living adjustments for inflation, “can significantly improve the lives of low-income workers and their families, without the adverse effects that critics have claimed.”

Read the statement here.

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You shall not murder

The Image of God in Humanity and in Jesus Christ

I am quite enamored with the commandment to not murder another human being. That may sound strange. But this commandment gets to the heart of my theology of redemption.

I find it interesting that the commandment not to kill is not until number six in the Ten Commandments. I think it would be the first that we humans would probably write ourselves. It is probably one of the only ones people “on the street” could name. So, if it’s that important, then why isn’t it the first listed?

We first hear a lot of commandments about God. The ancient rabbis believed the Ten Commandments were on two tablets. The first five were about having right relationship with God, the second half were about having right relationship with human beings (they saw the "honoring of parents" as an extension of honoring God).
1. God. 2. God. 3. God. 4. God. 5. God.

God comes first. We humans need to understand that before we have a proper understanding of the value of humanity, we must have a proper understanding of the value of God. We have value because God has bestowed upon us our value - We alone bear his image.

I see humans sometimes belittle human life (via abortion, war, greed and power games that cause poverty and disease, inequities in the justice system, etc.). I think it’s because we don’t know how incredible each human being’s life is; we don’t grasp the glory found in each human being because of the imago Dei found in each.

I see humans struggle to understand why human life is more valuable than animal life. They intrinsically understand that all creatures of God have dignity and need to be protected by us. But some make the mistake of equating animal life with human life. Again, I think it’s because we don’t grasp the glory found in each human being created in the imago Dei – and given the mandate to “have dominion” and “care for” the creation. God loves all his creatures, so much so that he has put humanity in charge of them all (maybe it seems like a bad plan, but that’s only because of the Fall. Without sin, humanity would not exploit his environment and God’s creatures like we do now).

God created all human beings in his image. This means that each and every human life is sacred. I choose that word on purpose. Sacred. Each human life is sacred because each has the breath of divinity. This is why we must not kill other human beings. This is, according to Jesus, why we must not even harbor anger toward our brothers and sisters. This is why we must not think low thoughts of others, calling them demeaning names. This is why reconciliation is so important to the Christian life (see Matthew 5:22-24).

Christ is the perfect image of God. He fulfills, in his humanity, the mandate we human beings are meant to have in carrying the imago Dei. He is our redemption because he is the way to recreating the imago Dei in each of us.

You shall not murder God's image.

This is another way to see why killing Jesus Christ on the cross was so key to redemption.

Do not murder. Why? Because God has created each human in the His image.

Jesus comes as that image renewed. Jesus comes to both fulfill our mandate so that we can do so, and to take on the worst that our evil can dish out so that that evil can be exhausted.

We humans kill him. And, in the grace of God, it is through that murder that our image bearing capability in restored.

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Blue Ocean Faith

Businesses that keep using the same methods for success that everyone else has used for a long time are fishing in red oceans – where the market space is too crowded, the lines get tangled, and the competition turns the water bloody.

However, there is a new type of business that seeks to create what some have called a "blue ocean." Curves, Southwest Airlines and Cirque du Soleil all saw the wisdom in reframing an all-too-familiar message. Their businesses are thriving because they are no longer thinking or using language in the same ways as the rest of the people in their industry. They are fishing in blue oceans. And they are finding success.

This might remedy some of Christianity's modern day irrelevance – reinvent itself as a blue ocean faith.

Mike Metzger is the President and Senior Fellow of The Clapham Institute (whose mission is to help people and organizations advance faith-centered cultural reform). He was the speaker at the CCO’s last Staff Seminar, and he introduced the concept of a “Blue Ocean Faith.” As I listened to him and interacted with him, I thought, “This is a great way to think of reform in the church!”

Here's an excerpt from his recent Clapham Commentary:

Several years ago Harvard Business School professor Laura Nash surveyed eighty-five CEOs who identified themselves as evangelicals. She applauded their emphasis "on self-discipline, hard work, thrift, and delayed gratification." But Nash was surprised to discover evangelicals were as unschooled as the general public about how Sunday connects to Monday – if it does at all. Welcome to the red ocean. It's a continuous film loop of sermon series covering worship, family, fellowship and evangelism. As one friend puts it, high predictability, low impact. Or, as Dallas Willard says, our system is perfectly designed to yield the result we are getting.

Albert Einstein said we could never solve a problem in the framework in which it was created. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Talking about Jesus, church and faith in the same old way and expecting things to get better is a red ocean faith. The "brutal reality" – as Jim Collins puts it – is that American church growth has stagnated. The fastest growing churches do so largely by transfer growth (people leaving one church to join another) rather than new folks coming to faith. We're fishing in the same small red ocean.

Curves, Southwest Airlines and Cirque du Soleil all saw the wisdom in reframing an all-too-familiar message. How about Christianity? In the blue ocean, we reframe the historic gospel in language that connects Sunday to Monday.

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Talkin' Eschatology and Emmanuel Kant

Akron / Canton Emergent Cohort 7.13.07

I was going to start an emergent cohort in my area, but lo and behold! One had just started up!

We met Friday night at a local coffee shop (Arabica in Canton’s Belden Village area). About 11 of us sat outside, drank coffee drinks, and talked about Christianity in a postmodern culture.

The conversation was very stimulating. Everyone in attendance was extremely thoughtful about theology and philosophy.

Jared Coleman facilitated the discussion. We talked about how a Christianity that preaches an eschatology of delayed gratification later for believing the right things now seems too much like salesmanship. “Buy this now, and you’ll receive rewards later.” This “metanarrative” focuses on the reward of heaven. Thus, Jared was saying, this metanarrative must be viewed with incredulity. The counter to this type of Christianity, it seemed to the group, would be to embrace an eschatology that does not offer an escape from this world to a better life elsewhere, but one that offers God coming to this existence and offerin a better life here and now. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” But in order to get beyond the narcissism so prevalent in modern Christianity, this Christianity must be less about me and more about us. In other words, this better life should not be merely for my own individual benefit, but for the benefit of everyone – here and now. And we each need to sacrifice for the sake of this better life for everyone else’s benefit. This seems to us to be the mandate of the Christian life – being a redemptive community for the sake of all peoples.

Another thread in the conversation revolved around how the metaphysical concept of God is difficult to believe by way of scientific proof. One person in our group had been influenced by Emmanuel Kant, saying that because of the limitations of reason, no one could really know if there is a God. God is a mere concept that we may believe by faith but cannot actually know in any real way, since we have no sensory data to prove God exists. The group worked with that throughout the evening, trying to figure out how, if God is very real to many of us in the group, he is, in fact, real! We finally came to the conclusion that Reason does indeed have no way to really prove God’s existence. This is why we, as a group, are embracing some of postmodernism’s ideas about a skepticism of Reason. We find that we experience God in ways other than through mere logical proofs; we experience God in Christian community, in love, in worship, in the kindness of strangers, in doing good, in witnessing others (Christians or not) doing good, in the poor and needy, in the hurting, in the hardships, and in the joys and the celebrations. God is here. And we have chosen to see the world around us with eyes of faith – so that we can see him.

Akron / Canton Emergent Cohort Blog

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In order to reach those in a postmodern culture, the story of the gospel I tell is about...

Participate in the new poll in the left-hand column!

Results from our last poll:
"When I think of the "gospel," I think of..."
First Place (tie)
52.5% - Jesus brings people into right relationship with God and others
52.5% - God is redeeming the creation through Jesus' Kingdom

Third Place (tie)
40.0% - God's justice for the world will be accomplished through Jesus' Kingdom
40.0% - Jesus is Lord

Fifth Place
30.0% - Jesus is the Prince of Peace, bringing Shalom back to the world
Sixth Place
25.0% - I am assured of salvation if I believe in Jesus' sacrifice for me
Seventh Place
20.0% - The world is put to rights through our doing what Jesus would do
Eighth Place
17.5% - Jesus died to forgive me of my sins so I can go to heaven
Last Place (tie)
2.5% - Those who are enemies of God will be punished with everlasting fire
2.5% - A musical genre

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The Cross of Christ Exhausts Evil

“Jesus on the cross towers over the whole scene as Israel in person, as YHWH in person, as the point where the evil of the world does all that it can and where the Creator of the world does all that he can.

Jesus suffers the full consequences of evil: evil from the political, social, cultural, personal, moral, religious, and spiritual angles all rolled into one; evil in the downward spiral hurtling toward the pit of destruction and despair.

And he does so precisely as the act of redemption, of taking that downward fall and exhausting it, so that there may be new creation, new covenant, forgiveness, freedom, and hope.”

What do you think...

...of the new layout?


Justice and Fair Trade Coffee

Are you buying all your coffee from 100% Fair Trade vendors? Here's why you should.

Mugged: Poverty in Your Coffee Cup from Oxfam:

Sept, 2002 - Over the past five years, the price of coffee has fallen almost 70 percent from a high in 1997, to a 30-year low, in many cases, forcing coffee farming families out of business. Small coffee farmers in developing countries sell their beans for less than they cost to produce. Meanwhile, the largest coffee corporations continue to reap enormous profits.

In this report, Oxfam calls for the major players in the coffee industry to support a Coffee Rescue Plan to overcome the current crisis and create a more stable market. The report analyzes the origins and effects of collapsed coffee prices and urges American consumers to join Oxfam in bringing relief to farmers and a change to the system.

The Lutheran World Relief Fair Trade Coffee Project:

Coffee is big business—it’s one of the most heavily traded commodities in the world. But for the majority of small-scale coffee farmers, the benefits are few.

Conventionally traded coffee involves a lengthy, and expensive, cast of middlemen between the coffee farmer and the consumer, each taking their share—or more—of the coffee price. What’s left for the farmers may not even cover their production costs or basic living expenses.

Overwhelmed with debt and unable to earn a consistent income, farmers are moving to the cities or migrating to other countries in search of work.

One answer for small-scale farmers is fair trade. Fair trade shares the bounty of the coffee trade with those who grow the crop, helping them build a better future for themselves and their communities.

By working together and pooling their resources to form a cooperative, farmers can sell their coffee directly to international buyers without relying on middlemen. Through fair trade, farmers receive a fair price that covers their cost of production and guarantees them a living wage for their labors.

Global Exchange:
The United States consumes one-fifth of all the world's coffee, making it the largest consumer in the world. But few Americans realize that agriculture workers in the coffee industry often toil in what can be described as "sweatshops in the fields." Many small coffee farmers receive prices for their coffee that are less than the costs of production, forcing them into a cycle of poverty and debt.

Fair Trade is a viable solution to this crisis
, assuring consumers that the coffee we drink was purchased under fair conditions. To become Fair Trade certified, an importer must meet stringent international criteria; paying a minimum price per pound of $1.26, providing much needed credit to farmers, and providing technical assistance such as help transitioning to organic farming. Fair Trade for coffee farmers means community development, health, education, and environmental stewardship.

See also:
Presbyterian Coffee Project
Catholic Relief Services - Fair Trade

I buy all my coffee from Dean's Beans. I love their Oromia Blend (which I use for espresso) and their Costa Rican French Roast (which I use for drip coffee).

All of Dean's Beans coffee is 100% Fair Trade and Organic. The prices are very competitive.

Another Fair-Trade coffee vendor is Equal Exchange, and there are a whole lot of others.

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Missing White Woman Syndrome

As I watched this story on CNN and read about it in our local newspaper and stood outside the house of Bobby Cutts as FBI agents removed evidence, I couldn’t help but think that something was inherently wrong with this as a news story.

Not to deny that the
Davis murder was a gripping story: a pretty, pregnant woman missing, her young son left alone for 30 hours, her cop-boyfriend under suspicion.

But as I pondered this, I wondered how her race, her prettiness, her age, and her social status influenced how much media coverage this was getting. What about all the other terrible murders that have occurred in our area? Why does Jessie Davis’ murder receive full coverage on Larry King Live while all the other terrible murders are left unreported?

Then, I learned about Missing White Woman Syndrome (MWWS). Something that has now become such a part of our media that it now has its own entry on Wikipedia.

"Missing white woman syndrome (MWWS), also known as missing pretty girl syndrome, is a term used to describe alleged disproportionate media coverage of white female victims. The individual may be missing, murdered, captured, or even have faked her own abduction; the essential element of the syndrome is that her gender, race, prettiness, age, or social background is alleged to have extended the media coverage and public interest in her case.

There is more interest among Western cultures in news coverage regarding missing or murdered white women and girls, especially blondes, while cases involving missing men, non-caucasian women, older or unattractive caucasian women, or other news stories receive disproportionately less airtime. Reporting of these "missing white woman" stories may last for weeks or months and displace reporting on other current events. However, it has been most prevalent in U.S. media, particularly on 24-hour cable news channels."

– Ahhhh. It makes sense now.

There’s something dreadfully wrong with us when we care more about certain types of people than we do for others. Justice is needed for all peoples, no matter their gender, race, or social status.



Modern Philosophical Apologetics in a Postmodern Milieu

“Apologetics is the discipline that deals with a rational defense of Christian faith…Socrates said ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ He surely would have been willing to add that the unexamined belief is not worth believing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christians to give a reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15). This is part of the great command to love God with all our mind, as well as our heart and soul (Matt. 22:36-37). People rightly refuse to believe without evidence. Since God created humans as rational beings, he expects them to live rationally, to look before they leap. This does not mean that there is no room for faith. But God wants us to take a step of faith in the light of evidence, rather than to leap in the dark. Evidence of truth should precede faith…The rational person wants evidence that God exists before he places his faith in God. Rational unbelievers want evidence that Jesus is the Son of God before they place their trust in him.” –“Apologetics, Need for” in Norman L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999), pp. 37, 38)

Let me say that I agree that the Christian faith is rational, and that God provides evidence for his existence and his redemption all around us (in His Creation, in His people, and in His Word). I also believe that the ultimate evidence of God’s existence and redemption is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

But Norm Geisler’s underlying presumption is that the Christian faith can be rationally defended to such a degree that one is led to faith. Apologetics in the modern era adopted the mentality and methodology of the analytic philosopher—that reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth and therefore we must use the rules of logic to prove the truthfulness of our faith.

In a postmodern culture, however, the unbeliever is less likely to need to have a rational explanation about things of faith. She is willing to take a step of faith into a dark mystery. Yes, she is seeking to do this in the light of evidence, but it is not rational evidence that she is seeking. She is seeking a compelling reason to do so; she wants to know that this faith leap is real, authentic, relational, transformative. She wants to know that if she makes the leap, she won’t be sorry. The leap will connect her with God in mysterious ways and will make her a better person because of it.

Myron Penner offers a different way to do apologetics in a postmodern milieu:
But what sort of model should we have for apologetics—“the rational defense of the faith”—other than the analytic philosopher, with her emphasis on demonstrating or proving the propositions of Christianity are both universally and objectively true? Make no mistake: I greatly value the insights of analytic philosophy and admire its rigor, but perhaps we should consider the New Testament apostle (or Old Testament prophet) as an alternate model for our apologetic efforts. Paul never tires of pointing out that apostles and prophets, unlike modern philosophers, do not predicate their authority on clever arguments, logical coherence, rhetorical brilliance, or anything like the modern conception of human reason, but on the divine source of their message. It is not so much that the apostle cannot or even will not engage in rhetorical brilliance or philosophical and logical argumentation—as St. Paul is certainly capable and often does; it is rather that the apostle does not base the authority of his or her message on his or her own intellectual resources. The apostle’s primary mode of address is, then, kerygma, proclamation or preaching, and any argumentation is a secondary discourse designed to facilitate the primary one. - Myron Bradley Penner, "Postmodern Apologetics" in A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith

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Atonement Wars Starting to Heat Up in England

Christianity Today reports that three of Great Britain's most prominent Christian groups have ended their 14-year conference partnership because of a disagreement over a speaker, Steve Chalke. Chalke has been quite controversial in that he demeans the Penal Substitutionary view of the Atonement in favor of the Christus Victor view. Chalke's caricature of the Penal Substitutionary view compares it to "divine child abuse."

"The Word Alive committee, in good conscience, just didn't feel it would be appropriate, during that week, for Steve Chalke to be given a platform," said UCCF communications director Pod Bhogal. "Steve Chalke has made his dislike of penal substitution really, really clear, and … we didn't feel the nature of the atonement was one of those things you could agree to disagree over."
Keswick and UCCF (the U.K.'s sister body to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) plan to launch a new Word Alive conference without Spring Harvest's sponsorship in 2008. World Alive has scheduled two strong proponents of substitution as speakers: Donald A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and John Piper, preaching pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.

Here we go. D.A. Carson and John Piper are called in like the Calvary to save the day (and the church from supposedly false doctrine). Interestingly, in this same article, we read the insights of one of evangelicalism's greatest living theologians:

According to J. I. Packer, British-born board of governors' theologian at Regent College and CT senior editor, various biblical understandings of the atonement need not conflict. Rather, penal substitution, Christus Victor, and other Scriptural views of atonement work together to present a fully orbed picture of Christ's work.
"To omit any part of this story," Packer said, "is to distort and damage the gospel."

Let's remember Packer's words before we begin the next ugly round of Christian battles.

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When Patriotism Warps the Christian Faith

Bob Hyatt, one of my favorite bloggers, has been featured in an editorial by USA Today.

The title of the article is "Faith shouldn't be red, white and blue."

Patriotism and religion each hold a prominent place in the American story. That’s as it should be. To wed the two, however, is a disservice to patriots and to the faithful...

Bob Hyatt, now pastor of the upstart Evergreen Community in the Portland area, worked on the staff of a local megachurch in the fevered period immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Despite being raised and educated in a strict Christian conservative environment in which the United States was regarded as God's favored nation, Hyatt was aghast to find the sanctuary frequently decked out in red-white-and-blue bunting with a pair of 50-foot American flags. In the Sunday service nearest the Fourth of July, congregants recited the Pledge of Allegiance and sang patriotic songs. As the pattern continued through the early months of the Iraq war, Hyatt could hold his tongue no longer. At a pray-for-our-troops rally at the megachurch, he took a turn at the microphone and cited the teachings of Jesus in making the unpopular suggestion that the congregants also pray for Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people. He went on to write an Internet article titled, "Profoundly Disturbed on the Fourth of July," which was not well-received at the church and led to his leaving its staff.

Reflecting on those patriotic services, Hyatt wrote: "We had taken a time that belonged to the worship of God and turned it toward the appreciation of a country, a political system, a flag. We said that we were worshiping God through the singing of those patriotic songs, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance and the rest, but in fact we were worshiping America."

This article that Bob wrote should be re-read every year during the first week of July.


Responsibility in Marketing

Seth Godin writes books on marketing ethics, like All Marketers Are Liars. His new post on Responsibility dovetails nicely with what I wrote last week about advertising and the 10th Commandment.

Advertising and promotion and lobbying cost money. And organizations pay for it because, by and large, it works. Not all the time, and rarely as big as people hope, but sure, you can influence the public by spending money.

Which leads to the key question: are you responsible for what you market?

Some people will tell you that the market decides. They’ll remind you that most consumers are adults, spending their own resources and doing it freely. That people have a right to buy what they want, even if what they want isn’t good for them (right now, or in the long run). That’s what living in a free country is all about, apparently. Buy what you want.

But wait.

I thought we agreed that marketing works.

If marketing works, it means that free choice isn’t quite so free. It means that marketers get to influence and amplify desires. The number of SUVs sold in the United States is a bazillion times bigger than it was in 1962. Is that because people suddenly want them, or is it because car marketers built them and marketed them?

Cigarette consumption is way down. Is that because people suddenly don’t want them any more, or is it because advertising opportunities are limited?

HT: Chuck Warnock

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