Could somebody please explain to me…

•February 18, 2011 • 2 Comments

Confession: I’ve never read anything by Ayn Rand.

Here’s why: Everytime I see someone quote or refer to her books, I immediately think to myself, “Well that’s obviously bullshit.”

Except apparently it isn’t, because lots of people I know are all about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged and Objectivism.

If you’re one of those people, here’s your chance to explain it to me. Someone please tell my why pursuing absolute autonomy or hyper-individualism would make the world a better place.


I’ve been to four funerals in the past year, and all everyone said about the deceased was how much they cared for other people, how selfless they were, how much they gave of themselves. Not a single person, in reverent awe and remembrance, stated that the deceased was a paragon of autonomy, that they never let anyone make a claim on their person, or anything remotely like that. I think I know why – because if the deceased person was actually like that, no one would have been at their funeral, because they wouldn’t have had anyone in their life who was thankful for them, or who cared about them. Because people who are really like that (not just talk about it) are assholes.


I’m sure I’ve mischaracterized Ayn Rand’s thinking. Again, it’s because the initial response I have in my gut is revulsion, and I never get past that to actually reading her stuff. I’m also confident that the ethic espoused by Rand is the opposite of the way of Jesus (this is not about theism/atheism, but rather actual lived practice). Rand fans, make your case. I won’t respond or defend another view, I think anyone who reads this is smart enough to make a decision on their own if the philosophy has merit.


Bonus question: Any Big Tent Christians out there familiar with Rand? Any ideas if or how her thinking could be part of the tent?



Big Tent and Boundaries

•February 18, 2011 • Leave a Comment

As I mentioned previously, I’m not all that into conferences. This stems in part from an experience I had as an undergrad studying music, in which I attended the annual music educators conference put on by the state organization. Other than some cool performances, I found the thing to be exceedingly lame. I know some people feel they learn a lot, but I missed that part. Maybe I was in the bathroom.

I did, however, attend a panel discussion regarding standards in music education, at the suggestion of one of my professors. The main speaker was arguing that real music teachers didn’t need the standards, they were already doing that stuff anyway. The other two speakers didn’t make any sense at all. I’m not sure THEY knew what they were trying to say. During the comments time, my prof chimed in, dropped a few important names to lend himself credibility, and basically said “While we should be willing to constantly knock down, re-evaluate, and re-consider the standards, it’s important to the profession to have SOMETHING that articulates exactly what it is we’re trying to do. Let’s tear apart the standards and put them back together again, but in the end we ought to have something rather than nothing.” It was the kind of comment that silenced the room.

At the Big Tent Christianity conference back in September, there was a bit of talk about boundaries. Some speakers questioned the metaphor of the Big Tent, because even though it suggests broad boundaries, they weren’t sure they liked the idea of boundaries at all. Keith Ward gave a talk about cosmic, universal salvation that drew applause (you can listen to it here). I was definitely feeling it.

But there’s something to be said for boundaries. I don’t want to get into bounded set vs. center set, since it’s been articulated very well in lots of places (“The Shaping of Things to Come” by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost, or do a Google search and you’ll get it pretty quickly). I think what my music professor pointed out could be helpful in furthering Big Tent Christianity conversations.

The typical argument culture approach is to define your boundaries and then fight to defend them. But I think it’s safe to say that the life of Jesus is characterized by breaking boundaries. He broke the boundary of divinity/humanity, he broke gender barriers, he broke economic boundaries…you get the idea. At the same time, I think it could be argued that Jesus established NEW boundaries, in terms of the costs and requirements of following his teachings.

Jesus wasn’t about having NO boundaries, but he brought about the Kingdom precisely in his boundary breaking actions.

More on this to come. In the meantime, check out Lauren Winner’s recent article, “Apostasy Now” and in particular, what do you think of this last line?

“For one might say that a group that lacks the necessary preconditions for making apostates can’t make disciples either.”


Whales, Violence, and the Big Tent

•February 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Japan Suspends Whaling, citing ‘Violent’ disruptions from Activists

“Their harassment techniques, which are controversial even among many opposed to whaling, involve throwing flares and stink bombs onto the whalers’ decks, and throwing ropes to foul propellers.”

Is this ‘violence’?


There’s a level of debate about what constitutes ‘violence’. I’m suspicious people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. would not have been in favor of these kinds of practices. On the other hand, there are those like Dan and Phil Berrigan, known for their protests which involved burning draft cards, and damaging military equipment.


I’m not sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, property destruction of this sort makes a powerful public statement, and could yield results. Yet I would also value the idea that the best resolution occurs when all sides can maintain face. If the only goal is to stop the whaling, then property destruction would be appropriate. I would push further, though, seeking not just a change in practice but a change in the attitudes of those who perpetrate the whaling.


This is relevant for the discussion of Big Tent Christianity. If the goal is to re-imagine Christian theology so that it is more inclusive of marginalized groups and voices, then we can resign ourselves to a large segment of Christians who will disagree and they will simply  choose not to participate in the conversation. The sides will make their claims, argue a bit, probably mock each other, and then go separate ways. If, however, the Big Tent metaphor is an attempt to establish more understanding, more common ground, and more unified action in spite of differences, than a deeper approach, one offering respect of persons and opposing ideas, needs to be initiated, even if that approach is not fully reciprocated.


This is especially difficult when you feel that others have particularly absurd, untrue, unjust, or otherwise offensive views. We have to validate the others’ humanity while invalidating their claims. Too often, the attempt to invalidate claims results in dehumanizing. At the Big Tent conference, there were a few glimmers of the positive kind of connections I’m talking about. Notably, Nadia Bolz-Weber’s story of meeting Chris from Pirate Christian Radio was a powerful testimony of breaking down these boundaries of dehumanization. I would suggest that future Big Tent events be structured around those kinds of conversations – generative, humanizing encounters with those we consider our ‘enemies’.


What kind of environment fosters those encounters?

What attitudes and postures must we develop if we’re to have these conversations?

Is this kind of thing even possible within a conference structure?


Reflections on Big Tent Phoenix 1

•February 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Last week I attended the second Big Tent Christianity conference in Arizona, and it was an absolute blast. A couple factors conspired to get me there (my friend being one of the organizers, free airfare) and it was certainly worth the trip. I got to meet and spend time with a ton of great people, speakers and attenders both.

Now I’m not really a conference guy. I had some bad experiences in my undergrad at music educator conferences, and it’s soured me on the whole experience. As exciting as the speakers might be, I generally don’t feel the need to be present at a conference to hear them share some ideas that they’ve probably already published and then MAYBE get the chance to ask a question. I’m suspicious that if I wasn’t involved in Big Tent, I might have felt similarly about it. My participation as a sort of last-minute volunteer, and my friendship with one of the organizers gave me additional opportunities that, if I had just been an attender, I certainly would not have had.

Rather than use this space to talk about specific things the speakers said, I’d like to try and explore areas where Big Tent could improve. I say this in the most positive way possible; I’ve been to both Big Tent conferences, I now know personally the main organizers, and I share their heart, desire, and hope for what the Big Tent represents. It’s an important vision and represents a practice that is desperately needed, that is, a breaking down of barriers between different and opposing groups.

With few exceptions, I would say that the Big Tent Conferences have not yet embarked on this ambitious goal. I think the Big Tent metaphor has begun conversations about what breaking down barriers would really mean. That’s an important start, but it’s just a start. The really hard work is yet to come. The crowd was broadly homogenous at both conferences, and the speakers, though demonstrating some important diversities, also seemed to have extensive shared perspectives. If there were differences, the conference structure did not serve to bring them about in a dialogue that stretched all sides.

I think these concerns can be addressed in future conferences, as long as there is an intentionality about it.

For those who were there, what do you think? Where did you see the idea of the Big Tent coming into being?


More to come.


Big Tent Tweets

•February 15, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Last week I attended Big Tent Christianity in Phoenix. I’m still processing some things, but I noticed that all of my tweets and retweets didn’t make it over to facebook. Since I have a lot more facebook friends than twitter followers, I thought I’d compile my tweets here so that facebookers could see the things I felt were interesting enough to share. I’ll post some further thoughts on the conference in the next day or so.


@markscandarette – we start to see the power of the gospel when we connect the words to the nitty gritty of our daily lives. #bigtentx

“We need to create ‘sleeper cells.'” -@MarkScandrette#bigtentx

B. McLaren-What if we understand Jesus through his ancestors instead of his descendants? #bigtentx

Tension for pastors: “we’re all doing advertising for a way of life that none of us are living.” -@MarkScandrette #bigtentx

Growing up, @markscandrette heard Borg’s name as a profanity!#bigtentx

Western rationalism has lost understanding of myth, “stories that are not true in particular, but entirely true in general.” Rohr #bigtentx

If you’re a manipulative, controlling person every day, how will that change when you open the bible?  Rohr #bigtentx

“I’m trying to not be a fundamentalist anymore–the left or right. It lacks 2 things that I really need in life: joy & humility.” #bigtentx

“I almost always start @ f*ck you but I almost never stay there” NBW #bigtentx

My conversion is always in the encounter with the other. @sarcasticluther (Nadia Bolz-Weber). #bigtentx

the word ‘christian’ when describing anything other than human beings is a marketing term. – @derekwebb

We can’t love our enemies if we’re not talking to them.#bigtentx

“I think young people and the non-religious have a really good handle on the mythic in our culture.” -@sp140 #bigtentx

Those in power in mainlines need to give it away to millennials, if they want to save their denominations. -@sarcasticluther #bigtentx

RT @eliacin: Favorite speakers at #bigtentx are @bda416 & @sarcasticluther – their words r wise, but it is their character & spirit that I most respect. // Right on.

RT @derekwebb “mostly you can only understand people who are at your same level of stupidity.” richard rohr#bigtentx

“Community doesn’t mean signing on to support somebody else’s B.S.” -@sarcasticluther #bigtentx

“Don’t engineer your own egocentric suicide or else the ego will have just taken on a deeper disguise.” -Richard Rohr #bigtentx

Wish I had a Mcluhan once a day quote calender. #bigtentx#deepwater

RT @mattrundio: “Weakness is the only legitimate power the church can exercise” – @sp140 #bigtentx


If you’re on twitter, you can follow me @joepaparone


A Green Christmas

•December 31, 2010 • 1 Comment

In the midst of visiting family, eating too much, and getting caught in a blizzard, I read a couple great books.  I highly recommend both of them.

Tending to Eden by Scott Sabin gives an overview of the work that Plant With Purpose is doing around the world, and lays out what a holistic engagement with poverty looks like.  He talks repeatedly of ‘upstream’ solutions – exploring and addressing questions of WHY people are poor, WHY the environment is inhospitable and not producing, etc.  If you think helping the poor is as simple as charity, read this book and abandon that assumption.  Sabin does a great job exposing the interconnectedness of poverty, the environment, and spirituality.

The Gospel According to the Earth by J. Matthew Sleeth is his follow up to Serve God, Save the Planet (which you should also read).  I first heard about this guy when he spoke at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids and I was instantly intrigued.  In this book he looks at numerous creation-care concepts and practices, the underlying Scriptural threads, and offers suggestions for how to live differently in a culture pursuing consumption at the expense of the planet.

I know I’m not on the cutting edge with this; there are lots of books and resources available about this topic.  It’s certainly an area that Christianity trails behind in addressing and even considering.  Why is that?  I have two suspicions.

1)   Politics.  Environmentalism has been associated with left-leaning politics and therefore, due to increased polarization of dialogue and the argument culture, become anathema to Evangelicals.  Thankfully that’s beginning to change, but the lengths of time it’s taken is shameful.

2)   Christians consider this to be a secondary issue.  We’ve missed the interconnectedness of poverty and the environment.  That’s what I love about these particular books – they reveal the underlying interrelatedness.  Using less water and electricity is not distinct from loving my neighbor, they are in fact connected.  It’s not a choice between caring for the environment or caring about people.  Caring for the environment IS caring about people, both near and far.

A while back in my small group we talked about local food, and most of us argued for increased involvement and support of our local farmers, for all sorts of reasons (relationships with local farmers, environmental benefits of organic farming, health, etc.)  Someone legitimately pointed out that by choosing to eat locally and organically (and more expensively), they would then have less money to give to charities that they love, specifically referring to child sponsorship with Compassion International.  (Stupid economics…limited resources and whatnot).  It was and is a good question, and there’s no simple answer for what to do in that particular circumstance, but it’s important to note the connections.  It’s possible that by choosing to buy cheaper, non-organic and non-local food that is governmentally subsidized and uses environmentally un-friendly production practices, that we are feeding into the very system that makes the child who needs sponsorship poor in the first place!  That kid might be in poverty because their local market was flooded with cheap US grain, or because the corporate demand for cash crops (like coffee) resulted in unsustainable farming practices that destroyed their local farmland.  Corporations move on and the people are left poor.  In steps Compassion.  Seriously, making a donation to Compassion while drinking coffee that isn’t fair trade and sustainably produced is an exercise in futility.  I am causing the problem I am trying to help alleviate.  Doh!

What does creation-care/environmentalism look like in your area?  Is it even on the radar of your church?  What are people’s responses when you bring these kinds of ideas to the table?

If you haven’t thought about this stuff at all, these two books are a great place to start.  Be forewarned – you can’t keep living the same way after you read them.


•December 5, 2010 • 1 Comment

Wrote and read this at a Jubilee celebration at my church this past weekend.  We celebrated our freedom in Christ, and reflected on what it means for the Church to BE the Body of Christ as a community.


We are free to sing with reckless abandon, songs of hope, joy, peace, love and thanksgiving.  For the Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love…and that is something worth singing about

We are free to create, because the God in whose image we are made created all things, and invites us to join with him in creation, to take care of and tend gardens, scattering seed, bringing forth new life, and gathering our daily bread as he provides.

We are free to cast our cares upon Him, and take up the burdens of our brothers and sisters

We are free to give generously, as God gave, without expectation of reciprocity or return on investment, and we give because in giving, we get to share in the heart of God, who takes joy in pouring out blessing to others.  We are free to reject the lie of consumerism, that tells us more is always better.  We are free to rest in the identity God made us with, and not some lie cooked up by an ad agency.

We are free to forgive, because God forgave us, and in the light of His presence we see that our anger and hatred and bitterness towards one another are chains on our souls, and these chains are broken by his power, if we’ll only allow it.

We are free to wrestle with God, and we won’t let go until He blesses us and gives us a new name.  Like Jacob, we’ll walk away with a new identity, a new destiny, and a new purpose, but we’ll walk away limping.

We are free to grieve, crying out to our Father who hears the cry of His people, and joining the cry of His child who, from the cross asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus wants to save us from having easy answers to our most difficult questions of life and loss.

We are free, like King David, and like the Apostle Peter, to fail, and to fail miserably.  When we fail, we are reminded that His love for us does not depend on our performance, and He restores us, and we go forward with a renewed humility.  We’re free to stop trying to impress God and others.  We’re free to be open and vulnerable with our brothers and sisters, and we’re free to graciously love and restore one other.

We are free to put down the sword and take up our cross – rejecting the myth of redemptive violence and instead, exposing and mocking the principalities and powers as Christ did, through sacrifice.  The prince of peace has come to free us from the violence in our hearts, and the violence of our arms

We are free to abandon the false distinction of ‘us’ and ‘them’ – and learn to see the face of Christ in the ‘other’.  We are free to actively love and serve our enemies.

We are free to join with God in the work He is doing in the world.  We are free to live lives that declare that hunger and misery and violence and death do not have the last word.  We are free to celebrate resurrection in the face of hopelessness.

Follow the Holy Spirit wherever it leads.

War by Kahlil Gibran

•November 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A friend introduced me to this poet and I’ve been really digging his stuff.  Been having an extended discussion re: Jesus and nonviolence over at Everyday Theology and so this jumped out to me.


One night a feast was held in the palace, and there came a man and prostrated himself before the prince, and all the feasters looked upon him; and they saw that one of his eyes was out and that the empty socket bled. And the prince inquired of him, “What has befallen you?” And the man replied, “O prince, I am by profession a thief, and this night, because there was no moon, I went to rob the money-changer’s shop, and as I climbed in through the window I made a mistake and entered the weaver’s shop, and in the dark I ran into the weaver’s loom and my eye was plucked out. And now, O prince, I ask for justice upon the weaver.”
Then the prince sent for the weaver and he came, and it was decreed that one of his eyes should be plucked out.
“O prince,” said the weaver, “the decree is just. It is right that one of my eyes be taken. And yet, alas! both are necessary to me in order that I may see the two sides of the cloth that I weave. But I have a neighbor, a cobbler, who has also two eyes, and in his trade both eyes are not necessary.”
Then the prince sent for the cobbler. And he came. And they took out one of the cobbler’s two eyes.

And justice was satisfied.


Read more of Gibran’s work at

I got you something!

•November 18, 2010 • Leave a Comment

For the last few years, my wife and I have participated in Advent Conspiracy (read more about it here.)  We try to spend less on gifts and instead give relationally, so as to give gifts of real value and use some of the money we save to bless others around the world.  It’s been really awesome, but it’s also a bit of work.

One thing we’ve shied away from, is giving gifts to charities on behalf of other people.  It’s a consideration sometimes for extended family members who we might not see at all, and who we don’t know well enough to give good relational gifts to.

It’s also a bit of a cultural joke.  There’s even a Seinfeld episode about it, where George invents a fake charity and then gives people cards telling them of the “donations made on their behalf”  The joke is that giving to a charity on behalf of someone is not a real gift (even to a real charity), and it is dissatisfying for the receiver and cheap for the giver.

But you know what?  That’s bullshit.  I DO think that a relational gift is going to be better than a donation made in someone’s name, but A) there are ways to make a donation relational, and B) I’d much rather participate in a cultural joke than a cultural lie.  A gift card to Target is not a better gift than clean water for people who have none.  If someone is upset that you helped other people instead of buying them crap they don’t need and won’t remember, that’s their problem.  We could all use continual lessons in growing generosity.

If someone makes a donation for you, be grateful.  If you give a donation for someone, and they don’t appreciate it, explain why you did it.  Let people feel the weight of who you are.  Tell them about the charity, go to the website with them, and write a letter about how giving has changed you.  Don’t give in to the consumer lie.

What I’ll be Reading for next quarter

•November 18, 2010 • 2 Comments

Looking forward to my two courses next quarter.  Here are the reading lists for each.  If you’ve read any of these books, or taken either of these courses, let me know what you think.

Globalization, the poor, and Christian mission

  1. Giddens, Anthony. Runaway World: How Globalization is Reshaping Our Lives
  2. Steger, Manfred. Globalization: A Very Short Introduction
  3. Chanda, Nayan. Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers and Warriors Shaped Globalization
  4. Cran, William, and Barker, Greg, directors. Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World’s Economy, three-disc PBS DVD
  5. Sachs, Jeffrey D. The End of Poverty: The Economic Possibilities of Our Time
  6. Easterly, William. White Man’s Burden
  7. Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done about I
  8. Zakaria, Fareed. The Post-American World


1. Clinton, J. Robert and Paul Stanley. Connecting: Finding the Mentors You Need to be Successful in Life
2. Egeler, Dan. Mentoring Millennials: Shaping the Next Generation
3. Johnson, W. Brad and Charles R. Ridley. The Elements of Mentoring
4. Zachary, Lois J. The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships
5. Creps. Earl. Reverse Mentoring: How Young Leaders Can Transform the Church and Why We Should Let Them
6. Toyama, Nikki A., and Tracey Gee. More Than Serving Tea: Asian American Women on Expectations,Relationships, Leadership and Faith