Monthly Archives: May 2010

Just Do It

“whoever comes to Me and hears My sayings and does them, …is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock….But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation…”(Luke 6:48-49)

“”Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Cor 5:58)

The men of Simple Free try to keep each other accountable on a number of things– spiritual disciplines like reading the Bible, sometimes eating habits, sometimes exercise, and also not looking at porn.  A friend of mine not from Omaha recently told me that his friend at work was going to borrow his computer and said “don’t worry, I won’t check out what sites you’ve been looking at on your history” and my friend said, “go ahead– you can check it.  I used to struggle with that, but then I made a decision not to look at that stuff anymore, and I never have since I got that computer”.  His friends response was: “wow, I didn’t think any guys didn’t look at porn.”    My friend told me that he had has accountability partners, and read books and listened to talks and marriage seminars about looking at porn, but what really made a difference in his life was when he simply decided to get serious about it and follow through.  The passages above seem to point us towards just that– that we need to make a decision and stick with it. 

Oswald Chambers book MY UTMOST FOR HIS HIGHEST is one of my favorite devotionals, and recently (may 20th) the passage he wrote spoke to this notion of simply making a decision:

“There are certain things we must not pray about – moods, for instance. Moods never go by praying, moods go by kicking. A mood nearly always has its seat in the physical condition, not in the moral. It is a continual effort not to listen to the moods which arise from a physical condition, never submit to them for a second. We have to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and shake ourselves, and we will find that we can do what we said we could not. The curse with most of us is that we won’t.”

That is certainly my own problem– that I am not willing to push myself to follow through to just do what I know I should– to stick to my conviction and change my behavior as I need to.  It is frustrating to see habits get the best of us, whatever they are, when we know they are not good or right.  It is also hard to change, but we sometimes let ourselves off the hook by pretending that there isn’t much we can do about it, when sometimes what we need to do is simply discipline ourselves and get serious. 

God’s grace is sufficient for all our transgressions– but it is also sufficient to help us break the chains of life-destroying habits which can undermine our lives and our work in the world for Him. 

May God have Mercy on us all…


From Iran to Vegas

Reflections on the difference between a radically muslim country and las vegas, the iconic american city of freedom..
Last Monday morning at 3am I arrived in Iran. Its a great country, with a rich history. Known as Persia in Biblical times, Iran was a center of learning, with great medical knowledge, philosophy, and especially poetry. When the Arab Muslims overran the Persians they destroyed many of the Persian libraries and much of their art when they converted them, but still the Iranians remember this heritage and much of it still remains. Often Iranians will tell me that they are Persians who are Muslim (persians first). So Iranians are not arab. They are also not Sunni muslims, as most arabs are. Saudis and Kuwaitis are Sunni Muslims. Iranians and Lebaneese and the majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslim– followers of Ali, Mohammed’s brother in law. Of course both Sunni and Shia muslims follow their prophet Mohammed and the Koran. They just differ on a few other issues. The Iran-Iraq war was between Shia Iran and Ayatollah Khomeni on the one side, and Sadam Hussein the Sunni ruler with his Basque minority Sunni group ruling over the Shia majority of Iraqis. ( Shia also don’t have one supreme leaders– followers choose which Imam to follow.
Iranians tend to love American culture, and always tell me that they like Americans. They just don’t like our government. I tell them many Americans feel exactly that way about Iranians, although many Americans don’t know anything about Iranians at all apart from what the Iranian president says. (I had a fortunate opportunity to meet the current Iranian president and shake his hand when he was still the Mayor of Tehran in 2004. Not realizing he would become president, I gave him a copy of John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty” as a gift) Anyway, there is a lot of misunderstanding and mistrust unfortunately between our countries.

Iran is much less conservative than Saudi Arabia. For example, women do not have to cover their face, but only wear a scarf over their hair/head. You will often find that the women are wearing jeans (under their long coat which is standard expectation for women there). You also can find many recent movies, Iranian rap music on TV, and BMWs and Mercedes Benz’s in the streets. I saw Gucci and Addidas stores in the market, and there are McDonald’s knockoffs even. What I noticed in the youth is that often they are adopting American style without understanding it very well. That is unfortunate because if there is anything we probably shouldn’t be exporting abroad from the US it is our pop culture. When you realize that much of the middle east’s notion of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ really is seen by many to mean libertine attitudes towards sex and freedom to not follow rules, it becomes easier to see why Iranians religious leaders are not excited about America having an influence in their society and culture. (By the way, the Sunni’s have their radicals– Osama Bin Laden– and the Shia have theirs– Hezbollah.

I’ve noticed that Las Vegas is different than Iran. I got to Las Vegas tonight (Saturday).  I’ve been coming here for 5 years for this class I teach on Vegas and LA, and I’m getting used to this place. Not that I like the Gambling or the sexual overtones which are everywhere– they are annoying and I find gambling boring myself…but this is a unique city which appeals to something in a lot of people, and it is probably the wrong sense of freedom which many foreigners confuse with liberty– libertineism. Vegas is where people come to be anonymous and do anonymously stupid things. Of course thats not all its about, but it is a prototype of the commodification of our culture– where you can buy happiness and obtain a license to do what otherwise you would be embarrassed to do. Its a place of extreme leisure and extreme vacation. Here many take what William James used to call a ‘moral holliday’.

In the last couple of years Vegas has come to be known even more pointedly as a place of excess which has led to phenomenal default rates on mortgages. The real estate bubble burst hit here particularly hard as people (in traditional vegas fashion) overbet their hand and ended up with upside down mortgages (owing for example 300,000 on a house which now is valued at less than 200,000).

In a city of Image, Neon and Glitter, it can sometimes be difficult to find substance, solidity, and real meaning. Vegas is a city of hyperrealities– of images of reality which are in some ways better than reality. Like an airbrushed photo on the cover of Vogue, the New York New York casino is much cleaner and safer than its actual counterpart on the east coast, and the Venetian Hotel and Casino has canals with Gondolla boats which are cleaner and much cheaper than the actual ones of Italy which it Mimicks.

Next weekend we go out into the wilderness desert to the south for a few hours and arrive at Joshua Tree National Park. That is a desert wasteland– a beautiful desert wasteland– which is similar to what was here before Vegas came to be created. Joshua Tree is the reality which has been covered over by the concrete, steel and neon of vegas.

Strangely, that desert of Joshua Tree is quite similar to the desert countryside south of Tehran in Iran as well. The desert is where the early church fathers used to escape to to get away from the crowds and the busyness of the cities. Being in Vegas, its pretty easy to relate to that desire in the early church fathers…

May God have mercy on us all…


conservative, liberal, frankfurt, iran

I’m in frankfurt germany en route to iran to give a paper on media and technology at a conference on media and society. i’ve been thinking about restrictions on media, and restrictions on freedom, and our notions of conservative and liberal. I suppose some would say germany is a liberal country, especially when it comes to social issues– and iran would be considered more conservative, especially with regard to social issues, because women must cover their heads, etc.

When I was in Iran in 2004 I happened to get invited to the welcome center of the mayor, where he gave us a nice feast around a big pool with traditional iranian musicians playing. We had a great time– most of us invited up there were foreigners from the conference (about 25 of us). At one point my translator asked if I wanted to go over and meet the mayor. I told her sure, and we went. I only had brought one book that night, and I decided to give it to him as a gift. It happened to be John Stuart Mill’s ON LIBERTY, the classic treatise on allowing freedom of thought etc from 1800 Brittain. The mayor at the time happened to be the future president of Iran– akmadinijad. Looking back, I wish I’d got a picture.

But mill is liberal in that he wants to allow freedom of thought, but conservative in that he doesn’t want to interfere in peoples lives. A hands-off approach. People can do whatever they want so long as it doesn’t impede other people’s liberty (play whatever music you want, just don’t play it so the whole neighborhood has to hear it, etc)

I know I’ve said things like this before, but I think the reason I am not willing to be a Calvinist, or a full-bore armenian is because I am too conservative, or rather, because those views are too liberal. And the reason I think the conservative position is to not read more than we have before us– constitutionalist judges are like that– they don’t want to add to the constitution…and I tend to be like that with scripture. so if Scripture is not absolutely clear on something, then I think its a great hermeneutic to also not have too clear a position on that topic– or rather– to have an awareness of the arguments on both sides and their relative merits, and not require one over the other. You cold see this as a hermeneutic of charity, or a hermeneutic of humility, or a hermeneutic which is radically biblio-centric.

Anyway, I only have 4 minutes left on my t-mobile account here in frankfurt, so I’d better go!! I hope to post some sweet pictures of Iran soon, although will spend most of my time at a conference this time around 🙂