Headlines from First Thoughts

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bread, Circuses, and Haiti in Big Orange Country

"Bread and circuses," distracted the Romans and their leaders in the 1st century. In Tennessee over the past couple of weeks, the athletic arena has been a circus of distraction. Fans (short for "fanatics") confuse the historical with the hysterical and prefer to spend the public's money firing coaches rather than recruiting them. It's no wonder that when Lane Kiffin takes his dream job, and someone ponies up the $800,000 to make that happen, that this event overshadows the real issue in the world that day.

Thousands die in Haiti. An earthquake destroys lives. Pain and suffering are all around. This is not the first time for suffering to collide with sports. But when they occur on the same day, we have a chance to think about priorities, distractions, and the real cost of human life.

The gift of sports to our community is a means to an end. It's the great ends of beauty, love, friendship, and sacrifice that call to all of us. It's not the best or the only way to follow those pursuits. Sports just happen to be a popular one that I and so many others enjoy with my family.

As people in Knoxville, we view sports as the end rather than the means to that. This is our god, and we love, pay, sacrifice, and give to it so. In this most recent iteration, the means became the NFL, winning at all insults, and competition over a brand or a rival at the expense of decency. If this is how we live our lives, then we need to get a new life. The reason bread and circuses work so easily is because they are not nearly as challenging and complex as what calls out to us from our souls: the deepest longings for relationship and life after death. The immediate gratification of a scoreboard, a contract, a salary, and a career inoculate us to a deeper pain.

The Haitian experience, however, invites us into the real world. This is not a place of where lives are so easily replaced with someone else to entertain us. We cannot point fingers at one another in the rubble. This is the place of suffering and anger, hurt and despair, worry and grief, questions and loss. This is a world that is classified as "natural" disaster, but requires supernatural answers. This kind of thing happens around the world all the time. We rarely get to see something like this so close to home. It's also the place where the kingdom of God breaks in with thousands of relief workers, volunteers, missionaries, and people rushing into demonstrate what people do best. In moments of crisis, people at their core naturally help, serve, and love each other. The real story of disaster from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 to Hurricane Katrina of 2005 to the Haitian experience to start this decade, is that we solve the greatest sufferings of the world with the greatest service. People go and live like Jesus right there; and if they can't go, they give. They give with public, private, charitable, and religious dollars. And we all work together for the common cause of taking what life has left behind and helping people put the pieces back together. We help people make sense of it all not by answering questions but by living out the questions beside one another, by crying and weeping, and praying when the only words we have are groans.

We will welcome a new coach into our arena. And more importantly, we will weep with those who weep and rebuild lives on the journey toward the greatest of these, which is love.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book Recommendations

My top books for the year.

Shaye D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Second edition. 2006

  • Cohen's survey of middle Judaism provides a helpful treatment of Jesus' Jewish world.


Eddie Hammett, Making Shifts without Making Waves. Columbia Partnership, 2009.

  • Hammett understands the dynamics of individual and group coaching better than most. If you meet with people individually for support or are wanting to do some self-examination, Hammett teaches that the best answers are found in asking the right questions. Great for Stephen Ministers, caring friends, and pastors.

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven: Yale University Press

  • Hart is theology Prof at Providence College and reframes the history of early Christianity and theological conflicts in a helpful intriguing way


Michael Horton, Christless Christianity: the Alternative Gospel of the American Church. Baker Books, 2008.

  • -Horton is a Reformed theologian from California. A helpful critique of Osteen and Warren, even if his solutions stretch a bit.


Leander E. Keck, A Future for the Historical Jesus: the place of Jesus in Preaching and Theology. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.

    -Keck's critique of the 2nd quest for the historical Jesus is still applicable to today's quests.


Salt and Light: a Guide to Loving Knoxville. Edited by Andy Rittenhouse and Heidi Unruh. 2009.

-This is a new improved version of the Salt and Light Guidebook for ministries. Anyone doing ministry in Knox County needs to see the big picture. This book captures it.


Robert Lithicum, Building a People of Power: Equipping Churches to Transform their Community

  • This is Lithicum's manual on the church as the Christian community organizers. Helpful reflections on Nehemiah as well as first-hand suggestions on the real gritty work of taking care of a neighborhood.


Robert D. Lupton, Renewing the City: Reflections on Community Development and Urban Renewal. Intervarsity Press, 2005.

-Lupton operates a faith based community development corporation in Atlanta. This book is a Bible study of Nehemiah with modern application to churches trying to be on mission in the city.


William Gilmore Simms, Sabbath Lyrics: A Christmas Gift of Love. Charleston: Walker and James, 1849.

-Simms and his wife had 14 children. Five of them survived him. This book is a collection of his poetic paraphrases of the prophecy of Christ's birth in Isaiah intermingled with his reflections on the death of children. Complete version available at Google books.


Rebecca Solnit, Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. Viking Press, 2009.

  • Solnit uses sociological disaster theory and creative writing to prove the thesis that disaster can be good for us.


Janet Soskice, The Sisters of Sinai: How to Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels. Knopf Publishers, 2009.

  • Soskice captures the dynamics of women in late 19th century Victorian Scotland and their quest to retrieve and publish a copy of a Syriac version of the Gospels.


Albert L. Winesman, et al. Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community.

-This book is the Christian edition of Gallup's "Strengths Finder" approach. Winesman uses spiritual gifts language to discuss strengths. Great for team building and individual reflection.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Wednesday night Studies, January 6, 13

Join us in the Fred Brown Chapel for Bible Study at 6:00 p.m. each Wednesday
Led by Dr. Shiell

January 6
Jesus the Whippersnapper?
John 2:15

A discussion of John's unique account of Jesus' cleansing of the temple

January 13
Knowing the Times: Trends Affecting First Baptist in 2010
1 Chronicles 12:32

How do our lives in Knoxville impact church life today at First Baptist? We will think strategically about 2010 by paying attention to the times in which we live.

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