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Stockpiling Treasures in My Junk Closet

How I got rid of 1,000 things and finally found shalom.

Show me a Real Simple magazine article on “decluttering your home” and all I see is a stack of shiny pages to decoupage Christmas ornaments over the long Thanksgiving weekend. That’s how I roll: for years I’ve squirreled away craft supplies (aka stuff to make other stuff), torn backpacks (aka stuff to carry other stuff), matchless socks, rusty baking trays, extra linens, and shelves of books no one will ever open again. I certainly wasn’t the kind of person you’d think would be captured by a movement as horrible-sounding as “minimalism.”

Minimalist blogger Joshua Becker describes it as “the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it.” The movement sounds radical to the North American ear—perhaps, even, easily discounted as the neuroses of extremists working out childhood deprivation issues. But this philosophy can be traced throughout Jesus’ life and teachings: take one outfit and a single pair of sandals for the journey, ask our Father for enough food for this day, and, for the love of God, please reconsider that reno on your double-wide storage pods..

Some adherents of simple living—Francis of Assisi, Mohandas Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy—cite spiritual inspiration for the practice. Others want to reduce their ecological footprint. Inspired by bloggers, their communities, and their own convictions, today’s minimalists make changes big and small—from moving into tiny houses and going on month-long “no buy” periods to declining gifts at kids’ birthday parties (or at Christmas) and maintaining smaller wardrobes. Minimalism is practical, efficient. But ...

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Full Bellies, Thankful Hearts

God designed your stomach and your heart to be intimately connected.

“Eat your food!” That’s what many of us were told as children. “There are starving children in Africa.” It turns out, however, that we can better contemplate the needs of starving children once our own bellies are full.

Especially at this time of year, it might seem incongruous to think of those in need while we load up on Thanksgiving goodies for ourselves. I know I feel a twinge of guilt while rushing out the grocery store and past the food drive donation box.

Yet gratitude and compassion go hand in hand with full bellies. Recent studies show that we find it easier to turn our eyes to those who are less fortunate when we have enjoyed some abundance ourselves. As Christians, we are designed to both enjoy and share God’s good creation with gratitude and compassion.

As we contemplate our own prosperity, it can prompt us to better love others. One recent study found that people were more generous toward others when they had recently experienced the satisfaction of a need. Comparing hungry people with recently fed people, researchers found that those who had just eaten after being hungry were more willing to help another with a growling stomach. (They weren’t more helpful in general, just when others were hungry.) Another study found that people who were hungry were more likely to avoid others who showed possible signs of disease.

This is no surprise when we consider that compassion and our bellies might go hand in hand, neurologically speaking. The gut has as many neurons in it as does the spinal cord. Many scientists call this neuron-intensive region the “second brain.” Perhaps this is why we have “butterflies” in our stomachs or “gut feelings” ...

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America the Beautiful, America the Violent

Ferguson may be about race, but it is also about violence. And we should have something to say about both.

Let me be clear: I believe that Ferguson is about race.

I know that many people disagree with that statement, that Officer Darren Wilson’s actions were not ostensibly motivated by race, and so could not have been racist. But racism goes beyond an individual's prejudice against people of a different color. It is a historical reality that goes back to the inception of this country, and exists not only in people’s minds but in the halls of our most powerful institutions. So even if an event is not directly motivated by personal prejudice, it can still be about race. I think Lecrae put it far better than I ever could:

When people say "why are you making this a racial thing?" They've unknowingly answered their own question. —@lecrae, November 25, 2014

Come to think of it, Lecrae says everything far better than I ever could.

But what I find strange about Ferguson is that no one is addressing the overarching theme to this entire tragedy: violence. Surely that is the common thread that ties all of these stories together: a young black man who commits a strong-arm robbery at a convenience store. A young white officer who felt his only recourse was to shoot that unarmed black man. A city that reacted to the killing with Molotov cocktails, and a police force that responded to the Molotov cocktails with equipment that made veterans of the Iraq war raise their eyebrows. The events of Ferguson may be about about race, but they are also about violence, and a society that seems entirely unable to react to difficult situations by any other means.

In this way, both Michael Brown and Darren Wilson are the products of our society—American society. Our country was birthed out of armed ...

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A Decision in Ferguson: How Should Evangelicals Respond?

The grand jury has made a decision in Ferguson, now we have to make ours. How will we respond?

In light of the grand jury decision handed down tonight in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, MO, I think it is of utmost importance that all Christians, but specifically white evangelicals, talk a little less and listen a little more.

Or, put another way, maybe some need to spend less time insisting that African Americans shouldn't be upset and spend more time asking why some are. Yes, this case reminds us again that the racial divide is clear, as a just released CNN poll demostrated.

I wasn't in the grand jury room, and I don't know the evidence, but many godly African American leaders are hurting and they are explaining why.

I think we should listen to them.

Race Remains

The issue of race remains contentious in our nation and in our neighborhoods, and many white evangelicals remain confused as to how they should respond. It is often difficult for those of us on the outside of an issue to fully grasp the complexity and the hurt of those from a different background.

Throughout the course of the events in Ferguson I have tried to seek insight from friends who can speak to this issue in ways I cannot, and have dealt with this struggle in ways that I have not.

A couple of months ago, Lisa Sharon Harper and Leonce Crump shared their thoughts on the death of Michael Brown and the aftermath.

White evangelicals must listen because there is a context to this tragedy, we must listen to feel the pain behind the problem and finally we listen so that we might acknowledge that injustice really exists.

Understand the Context of Tragedy

In “The Lie”, a post by Lisa Sharon Harper, Lisa outlines the important, if seldom acknowledged truth, that racism is still present and ...

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Our Bodies Were Made for You, O Lord

We've been designed, right down to the DNA, to love and serve our maker.

If Psalm 139 were published as a contemporary book, it might look a lot like Rob Moll’s What Your Body Knows About God: How We Are Designed to Connect, Serve and Thrive (InterVarsity Press). Channeling the psalmist’s wonder at having been “woven together in the depths of the earth,” Moll, a CT editor at large, wonders at the marvel of humanity: its dynamic blend of body, mind, soul, and spirit. Christians don’t worship God, serve their neighbors, and connect with other people merely because of external rules; such impulses are inscribed in our DNA.

“Spirit and flesh, it turns out, are intimately intertwined,” writes Moll. “And understanding how things work—how our bodies are designed to commune with God—can enhance our faith and give us a fuller picture of God’s work in the world and in our lives.”

It’s not easy to live as embodied creatures today (to say nothing of previous eras). All too often, human bodies are treated (by others, and even ourselves) as commodities or instruments of sexual satisfaction. They are bought and sold, mutilated by others, and hit with self-inflicted harms. Yet Moll reminds us how high a privilege it is to dwell in flesh. “Our bodies, the Bible says, are the temples of God—the place where God lives.”

Embracing the Body

Over hundreds of years and across various cultures, Christians have carried on a rich conversation about the body: its nature, its value, and its purpose. Moll strikes an excellent balance between invoking the best of that tradition and making it fresh for today’s readers. What Your Body Knows About God draws from Christian history, cutting-edge research in neuroscience ...

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News: Medical Missionaries' Ebola Pullback: No More Kent Brantlys?

As ministries report record interest in serving, Samaritan's Purse shifts strategy on what expat doctors do.

After contracting the world’s most deadly virus while serving as medical missionaries in Liberia, both Kent Brantly of Samaritan’s Purse and Nancy Writebol of SIM became household names—as did Ebola itself.

They survived. As did Rick Sacra, an SIM missionary doctor from Massachusetts also serving in Liberia. But this week, Martin Salia, a Maryland surgeon serving in a United Methodist hospital in his native Sierra Leone, did not.

He joined the World Health Organization’s tally of 329 health care workers (out of 584 infected) who have died from Ebola so far. The disease has now killed more than 5,400 people out of 15,000-plus reported cases—mostly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

Brantly, Sacra, and Salia were all affiliated with the Christian Medical and Dental Association (CMDA), which reports a surge in interest in medical missions. But will we see another Brantly? Christian ministries are no longer letting American physicians get so close to Ebola patients.

Brantly was one of about 900 doctors that Samaritan’s Purse sends to Africa each year to work in missionary hospitals. In Liberia, the Christian relief organization had its expatriate staff switch their focus to Ebola in June, but soon pulled about 60 people back to the US after Brantly and Writebol contracted the virus in July.

Samaritan’s Purse returned American workers to Liberia in September. But their focus is now not on Ebola patients themselves, but on managing the health of nearly 400 Liberian staff running 15 community care centers on the front lines.

“After Dr. Brantly got Ebola, we just thought there’s got to be a better way of doing this,” said Franklin Graham, Samaritan’s ...

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Interview: Forming a Society Worthy of Humans

Robert Sirico says that in order to get economics right, we must first understand what it means to be human.

Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest and co-founder of the Acton Institute, is perhaps one of the most economically literate clergymen you will find among America’s public intellectuals. While most seminaries do not train future pastors and lay leaders to think theologically about economics, Sirico says understanding questions about economics is necessary if Christian leaders want to rightly seek the good of society and train others to do the same. Joseph Gorra, founder and director of Veritas Life Center, talked Sirico about economic life and human flourishing.

At this year's Acton University conference, you spoke on how love is an indispensable basis for economic life. To some, that might seem odd if economic life is viewed as the maximization of utility and material well-being.

We can’t enter the marketplace as something other than what we really are, and real human love demonstrates the impossibility of being merely homo economicus (“the economic man”), which is essentially a thesis that reduces human beings to their materiality.

Humans are simultaneously material and transcendent, individual and social. We are not merely individual entities, though we are uniquely and unrepeatably that, even from the first moment of our conception. Yet the whole of our lives we are social and individual, material and spiritual. If we ignore this existential reality, then we fail to understand what it means to be human.

Love—authentic human love—helps us understand this anthropological reality. Even conjugal love offers more than physicality. In this act of love, we offer our whole selves, including our ideals, dreams, and indeed our future to one another—none of which exists in material ...

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Thanks For the Shibboleth

It's a 'West Wing' episode worth revisiting on Thanksgiving.

I saw it for the first time just last month, so I can't exactly call it a “tradition,” but if I had a Thanksgiving-watching tradition other than football, it would be to watch The West Wing, Season 2, Episode 8: “Shibboleth.” Unscientific research reveals that this is pretty much everyone's favorite West Wing episode.

A lot is going on, of course: C.J. has to pick the most photogenic turkey for the President to pardon and doesn't know the words to “We Gather Together”; Charlie needs to get the President a new carving knife, and Bartlet's being eccentrically specific about what he wants; Toby wants the President to make a somewhat radical recess appointment who also turns out to be Leo's sister, and Leo is furious.

But the anchor for the episode is the arrival of a group of Chinese refugees in California, where they seek asylum from religious persecution in their homeland. The Chinese government claims they left unlawfully and should be returned. A group of religious leaders arrive at the White House to advocate on behalf of the refugees, while other people uncomfortably remind the White House that some who flee China are coached to say they are seeking religious asylum.

“Shibboleth,” which aired in 2000, is mostly about religious freedom in the face of the culture wars. There are the refugees, of course, but there are two other bits. The religious leaders who come to the White House include the abrasive Mary Marsh, who was associated with some efforts (kept vague in the episode) to “blow up” a theatre at which a play called Apostles was being produced, which suggested that Jesus was gay. In classic Sorkin fashion, this seems to be a ...

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This Odd American Holiday

What the strange beauty of Thanksgiving has taught us about dependence

It strikes me as both odd and beautiful that America—this nation of fiercely independent citizens—slows down to give corporate thanks each year. Our other national holidays either come laden with controversy (consider the secular/sacred divide of Christmas and Easter, or the liberal/conservative skirmishes over Columbus Day), or these holidays stand as opportunities to take a day off from work without much thought given to the reason for the pause. Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, President’s Day, Martin Luther King Day—families do not make travel plans or roast turkeys to celebrate. But Thanksgiving cuts through religious and political divides, it brings families together and offers a time not only to celebrate but, more so, to give thanks.

My husband Peter recently pointed out to me that gratitude goes hand in hand with dependence. I was away from home on a Sunday morning, so he went to church with the kids on his own. He sat in the pews with our three children wriggling beside him (and for all I know, underneath him—Marilee has a way of lying down under the pew at some point in most services), and he was surprised to find himself feeling grateful. He could have felt angry, of course, at the kids and their inability to sit still. Even more likely, he could have felt resentful of me since I was off teaching adult Sunday School elsewhere with a childfree day ahead of me. But instead, he felt grateful as he realized how much his typical Sunday experience depended upon the help of the people around him.

Soon enough, Penny and Marilee both identified women in the pews nearby who welcomed them to their side. They spent the remaining hymns and prayers snuggled up next to these surrogate mothers ...

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Even on Thanksgiving, Its Okay to Ask for More

How our requests to God can actually fuel our gratefulness.

The family sits down, lights the candles, admires the turkey, and begins the generations-old family liturgy: I’m thankful for family. I’m thankful for friends. For a house and a job. For this delicious food. But what if, in addition to naming our blessings, we also went around the table and asked God for the things we still want? I long for a husband. I need wisdom. Reconciliation with my neighbor. Healing from this cancer.

Would the act of asking contradict the spirit of Thanksgiving?

Frequently, I notice Christians trying to separate thanks from asking. We fill blogs and notebooks with lists of nothing but thanksgivings, numbered in the thousands. We write articles urging readers to focus on thanks and to save their requests for another day. We urge ourselves to appreciate what we have been given, and especially on Thanksgiving, it feels ungrateful to ask for more.

When we pray, we often compartmentalize our prayers in some variation of the ACTS (adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication) formula, and give our prayer group instructions like these: Okay, everyone, we are going to thank God now. Please don’t pray any requests during this time. First praises, then prayer requests.

I think we set up this artificial separation because of the ingratitude we see within and around us. CT's Mark Galli correctly describes the ambient ungratefulness of our culture this way: “Anyone with half an ounce of self-awareness recognizes how much we whine about what is missing in our lives... and how often we are just indifferent to the many divine gifts showered upon us hour by hour.” We are thankless people living in a greedy world, and we often respond by promoting thanksgiving without ...

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Review: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch makes even the invention of the computer into compelling cinema.

mpaa rating:PG-13 (For some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking.)Genre:Biography, DramaDirected By: Morten Tyldum Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance Theatre Release:November 21, 2014 by The Weinstein Company

For a long time, every time a computer or something geeky appeared in a movie, it was either to show how evil the villain was (look, he has a machine that will take over the world), to be the villain itself (“I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that”), or just plain gimmicky (you've got mail!). When digital tech was a point on which the plot turned (say, in a spy movie or sci-fi), everything moved so fast that the audience didn't have time to feel left out.

But smartphone-toting audiences are comfortable enough with their devices talking to them and giving them directions and ordering their food that creators are convinced they needn't mark it off with blinking red lights anymore. Computers are part of the background to life now, like refrigerators and cars.

So in 2010, we got The Social Network, which featured shots of hackathons and glimpses of Zuckerberg's PHP. More recently, the TV shows Silicon Valley and Halt and Catch Fire dramatized and skewered start-up culture. There was Her, in which the operating system played the romantic lead. And last year's The Fifth Estate took a look at Wikileaks. Though movie wasn't great, it did give laymen a pretty good idea of the technology that let Julian Assange pull all this off.

The best part of that movie (and, let's be honest, many movies) was Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange, and he's also the best part of The Imitation Game. Based on a book by Andrew Hodges and directed by Morten Tyldum, the movie tells the story of Alan Turing, the English mathematician and logician who helped crack the Nazis' Enigma code and win World War II.

I learned about Turing during a history course in college, but as inventor ...

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Why You Should Still Care about Ferguson DESPITE the Facts

Regardless of what the grand jury's decision means or what the facts say, we should still care about the people of Ferguson.

The grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri has decided not to indict police officer Darren Wilson following the death of Michael Brown. Last night, after the grand jury's announcement, peaceful protests quickly turned into violence, arson, and looting.

It breaks my heart to see.

As the family of Michael Brown and the President of the United States ask for peace and change and this is what we see. However, it is important to note that this does not mean most African Americans are involved in the looting. Not at all.

Yet, the looting itself is repugnant in more than one way. It will cause many to lose property and some may lose their lives. However, it may also cause many to say, “See, this is what happens with those people.”

Even more, we need to be careful about our discussion of "facts." Bryan Loritts says, "Facts are a first and last resort in a court of law, but when it comes to human relationships, let us first stop and feel before we go to facts."

Please do not be one of those people who ignore the hurt. You would not do that in your interpersonal relationships, so don't do that in our national conversation.

The point is not to ignore or devalue facts in a specific instance, but to recognize that, in all relationships, there are other issues to also consider.

Every right-minded person I know condemns riots, and every right-minded person should also still learn from this entire situation. Officer Wilson was not indicted. That is done. The facts have been in dispute, but now a mixed-race grand jury has heard them and they have made their decision. So, part of this moment is over. But it is not all over.

My exhortation is that of my several African American leaders I ...

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Waiting on Thankfulness

How God works in us during times when we cant muster gratitude.

We’d been home for months when this curious stranger approached me with eyes full of questions. “Where are they from?” and “Are they siblings?” and “Are they all yours?” stumbled out of her mouth. I was trying to shield little ears from hearing when she looked at my daughter and said, “Sweetheart, you must be so thankful to have a mommy like this. You sure are lucky.”

I cringed, hoping my little girl didn’t hear. Sure, she’d been adopted. We flew halfway around the world to get her. To this innocent bystander, my daughter had a bed and a doll and cute boots and a headband and could expect a meal every 3 hours. She was getting an education and could take a shower every day. She was “lucky.” Why shouldn’t she be thankful?

For many years before that bed and doll and those warm showers, my little girl went to sleep every night afraid. No one had told her the boogie-man wasn’t real. She didn’t even have a last name. The intersection of that history and ours came to mean that two strangers with skin that looked and smelled different were telling her to call them “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Becoming a daughter meant inheriting even more questions, and different from when she was one survivor among many. Did my birth mommy’s nose wrinkle when she smiled, like mine does? Would she sing while she cooked? Did she talk to God? During these early days, thankfulness would have been an extension of luck. Airy. Light. Here today, gone tomorrow. Mere optimism, with no weight.

This woman’s well-intentioned mention of thankfulness spoke to the way we can so often short-circuit the long and painstaking work ...

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News: Quitting While Ahead

Why some United Methodist evangelicals suggest a split, even though their side is winning.

Every four years for the past four decades, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination officially debates homosexuality. And each time, the United Methodist Church (UMC) affirms the position that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

Contrary to other mainline groups, the UMC’s stance is increasingly unlikely to change. Approximately 5 million UMC members are in Africa, compared to 7 million in the United States. The socially conservative African contingent gains 200,000 members each year as American churches lose 100,000. And attempts to let Americans set policies without African input were soundly defeated at the denomination’s two most recent conferences.

Yet this year, 80 evangelical Methodist pastors and theologians proposed that traditionalists and progressives, like Paul and Barnabas in Acts, "part amicably."

Decades of fighting over the issue have been "emotionally draining" and "spiritually nullifying," said Maxie Dunnam, a former Asbury Theological Seminary president who organized the public letter. A tipping point came when some bishops refused to discipline pastors who married gay couples. Dunnam believes ministry by both sides would be more effective without the distracting debate.

Pastors have suggested multiple models for parting ways. Kansas megachurch pastor Adam Hamilton favors allowing each of the five regional US conferences to handle same-sex unions and LGBT clergy as they deem best. Illinois pastor Chris Ritter proposes that two ideological jurisdictions—one progressive and one traditionalist—replace geographical ones.

Finding a way to exist both separately and together would be ...

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