April 2009

computer_screen_bigI was recently at a conference where Spence Smith and Randy Elrod taught a group of traditional communicators about the new media world.

They covered Blogging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube … and then they got deep.

It was very clear – the world is changing. The wild new open source world gives more people a voice to be heard by more people than ever before. There is a dramatic shift in power toward the masses.

Part of me was excited – “Power to the people!”

Part of me was a nervous – “Hey wait, I am kind of in an authority role.”

Here are some reasons, beyond “being relevant,” why I am optimistic about ministry in the new media world:

Transparency – No one controls what we tweet or post, yet there is a feeling of accountability to others. In general our public and private lives seem to blur in this new world. I think that this ups the transparency bar, and if we are honest about the past 30 years, we know that bar needs to be raised.

Accessibility – People have unprecedented exposure to great content (I get to read new McKnight daily!). People also have unprecedented ability to follow leaders (I knew Mike Hyatt weeks before I met him in person.). We can be better informed and more closely connected than ever before.

Mobilization – All people have an unprecedented ability for influence. Elrod and Smith told us of a “stay at home” mom whose blog has 10,000 followers. It is safe to say that she has as much influence as any pastor in her town. Ministry leaders talk a lot about getting people involved in ministry. The new open source world provides an amazing context for this mobilization. In fact, it is producing a generation who insist on being engaged. If we want people involved in God’s ministry, not just our ministry, then we should be thrilled about the new media world.

Addressing One Concern:

What about Truth? Some people fear that if everyone has an equal voice, then those who have devoted themselves to deep study will lose their voice, and then the community will lose a grip on truth.

I think that there is some validity here. If a person has spent years in serious study of the scriptures, then we should probably lift up (but not idolize) their voice on those topics. At least that is what we do in most areas of life.

However, we can not confuse holding on to traditional power structures with holding on to truth. I do not think that heresy (wrong belief) is any more likely to come from community truth than it is to come from charismatic authoritarian leaders. In fact, there tends to be an accountability for truth in the context of community.

Overall, I believe that the new media world provides a great opportunity for fresh and vibrant ministry.

May we spend less time on blanket criticism and fear, and commit more energy on creative engagement!

For more information on the New Media check out:



Ron Sider is a professor, author, and organizer who has been a consistent, strong, and reasonable voice calling Christians to be biblically faithful by prioritizing social action. If I ever meet Dr. Sider in person (and I can speak) I will give him a heartfelt “THANK YOU!” However, until that day I will give him a public shout out.

This is why I admire Ron Sider:

The Whole Gospel for the Whole World: That is the motto of Palmer Theological Seminary where Sider teaches. It fits Sider well. He has called Christians to recognize the enormous amount of scripture that directs us to care for the poor and marginalized. We can not ignore such a major theme in the Bible. Sider is right to remind us.

Social and Political but Not Partisan: Sider recognizes that the scriptures have great social, cultural, and political implications. I think that he has done a brilliant job pressing into those realms without becoming partisan. In a system where no party fully embraces the ethic of the scriptures, Sider has done well to challenge both sides.

Called for Justice when it was Not Hip: Today a number of younger evangelicals (and other believers who will not use that label) are prioritizing justice issues. Sider was on it well before this trend. He had the courage to stand for the biblical call for justice, even when it was not marketable.

Built a Lasting Foundation: Sider has written over 20 books. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger has been recognized as one of the top Christian books of the century. I would also recommend Just Generosity and The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscious. In addition to his books, articles, and teaching, Sider established Evangelicals for Social Action an association of Christians seeking to promote thoughtful and biblical engagement on social issues. Click here to experience the ESA website: http://tinyurl.com/4wtvoy

It is my prayer that Sider’s writing, teaching and organizing will prove effective in multiplying his efforts.

From where I sit, this world needs a lot more Ron Siders to faithful live out Jesus calling.



Lake Michigan is simply unbelievable!

Some of our geographically challenged friends did not know that Milwaukee was located on this great lake.

We are.

Unlike our larger and more famous sister city 90 miles south of us, we are actually able to make it to the lake without much fuss. Any point in the city is within a 15 minute drive to Lake Michigan.

The city has done a great job with developing a wonderful lakefront with beaches, museums, parks, festival grounds, marinas, the port, and trails – all aspects worthy of future posts. Most of those things are easy to get to and free to visit. I think that is great stewardship of this great resource.

Today though, I just want to celebrate the lake.

It is adventurous, calling us to the horizon.

It is daring, exploring all shades of blue.

It is exciting, brining new wave after new wave.

It is inspiring, showing us just how big somethings (outside of us) can be.

It is comforting, remaining just to the east of us at all times.

Much of our life, especially in the summer, revolves around trips to Lake Michigan.

In Milwaukee, we can squeeze a mini beach vacation into any afternoon. In fact, this post would have been up earlier today, but it was sunny and 82 degrees outside in April, which left us no choice but to visit the beach.

Lake Michigan is yet another reason why we love living in Milwaukee!


The view of Milwaukee and lake Michigan from Bay View on the City’s south side.

lake-mi-mke-winter-1Even in the winter, Lake Michigan proves an awesome sight!

For more great pictures of Lake Michigan – come visit Milwaukee, or search Robyn’s blog: http://tinyurl.com/d85exl

Are you down with Earth Day or down on Earth Day?

Here is a previous post on why I think that it is important – everyday. http://tinyurl.com/cpanf9

What do you think about Earth, God, and People?


This morning I read one of the greatest quotes that I have read in some time.

This quote is from an interview with Bishop NT Wright about his view of justification (I know that I just lost some of you – but please stick with me!!!).

Wright clarifies that he does not deny the individual/ personal aspects of Christianity. However, he does feel the need to place them in the proper context. He uses the example of the earth orbiting around the sun.

We mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that everything that God does is just for the sake of little old me. We should rather realize that in biblical theology it is we who are circling round God; it is we who are in orbit around Him. God and God’s purpose for the whole creation are what matters, and we should be so lucky as to be caught up in orbit round God.

Let that statement, and that image, sit with you.

Who orbits whom?

True biblical faith certainly includes our personal individual healing, but the setting in which that takes place is with a God and a mission that are much bigger than any one of us.

I fear that we often place the individual at the center of the universe, and look for a god who will circle around us.

We often make ourselves the master, and we demand that a god serve us.

We need a faith that is worthy of the God that it presents. Yes, my personal rescue is something that only God could do. I can not overstate how grateful I am for that! However, as I read the biblical story, I am convinced that my rescue is only possible because of who God is and the larger rescue mission that God is on. In fact, I actually believe that my personal healing takes greater strides forward when I put it in the right context and join God in that larger mission – the healing of the world.

To read the entire NT Wright interview with Inter Varsity Press:

What do you think about this quote?


This year at Christmas Dinner we began a tradition of sharing things that we were thankful for (Robyn gets credit for that idea!). I was thrilled to have a long list that evening. Right at the top of my list was, “I am married to a person who cares about things that matter.” That is still true four months later, and so I give my Sunday Shout Out to Robyn Beckley Vining!

Here are a few of the many things that I love about Robyn. I think that you will see why I am happy to be doing life with her.

Thoughtful – Robyn is a thinker and learner. She is not satisfied with overly simplistic analysis or sound bites. She is committed to researching things, exploring different angles, and reaching thoughtful, comprehensive positions. We may not always agree (we normally do agree on the things that matter most in life.), but I know that she has good reasons for her perspective.

Compassionate – Robyn is quick to consider the feelings of others. She has a burden for the outcast, the oppressed, and the marginalized of culture, or subcultures. Her compassion has been inspiring to me. She even pushes herself to extend compassion to those who do not extend grace to her. Now that is hard core “image of God” compassion!

Courageous – Being thoughtful and compassionate does not always lead a person into the most comfortable or convenient situations. In fact in a world that is full of brokenness, thoughtful and compassionate people often find themselves in difficult positions. It takes a person of courage to press on and do or say or write the right thing. Robyn has shown that courage

Joyful – Those challenges which require such courage, rarely steal Robyn’s joy. She is quick to have fun, be silly, and to celebrate. She is committed to doing the right thing and to changing the world, but she is wise enough to realize that should be a joyful, not joyless, existence. I am thankful for the laughter that she brings to our home.

I could go on and on, but I am trying to keep my blog posts shorter – an idea that Robyn disagrees with in a thoughtful, compassionate, courageous and joyful manner.



What do you think of when you think of poor people? How does your faith community describe the poor, or do they? How are the poor described in your media sources? The assumption by many is that people are poor entirely because of their own doing. We are told that poor people have made bad decisions, or they are just plain lazy, or they have given themselves to some type of sin.

There are times when those in poverty have done/ do things that place/ keep them in poverty. Individuals do have power in their choices. However, I believe that explanations that place all of the blame on the individuals who are poor are often false, always overly simplistic, and generally dangerous. While placing the blame on the poor certainly makes the rest of us feel better about ourselves (we did it, why can’t they?) , and less compelled to care (those people would just waste my time & money!), that approach offers no hope for the poor and will damage society. Placing all of the blame on the poor does not fit reality.

Let me illustrate with a couple of personal stories:

After graduate school my wife and I went to work with an organization on a start up venture. We knew that working on a start up was risky, but we also knew that it was needed and we thought that the organization was committed to supporting us. The problem is that the organization changed their approach, leaving us without support. We were (really!) poor. In many ways – it was not our fault. How did we recover from that situation? Yes, we worked hard, but we also had friends, family, churches, and government help us. All of those were crucial pieces. We could not have recovered on our own.

We almost lost everything in a cross-country move for work. We signed a contract on our old house. Then we signed a contract for a new house. On closing day, the day after the moving truck left, we learned there was a delay that would be resolved “within a few days.” The sale of our house eventually failed because of wrong doing by the potential buyer, things that were never disclosed to us. We had to live on one side of the country for work. We also had pay for our old house on the other side of the country. We simply could not afford to do that. Then the housing market collapsed, and even after massive price cuts, our house sat on the market for a year. We could have lost everything. In many ways – it was not our fault. How did we get out of that situation? Gracious people stepped up and helped us. It was humbling to accept their help, but we never would have made it on our own.

Sociology, economics, history, scripture, reason, and experience point to the reality that the poor do not bear all of the blame for their situations. Identification of the cause(s) of a problem is always important because it helps us move onto the solution stage. Simply placing the all of the burden of poverty on the poor does not fit reality and will therefore never lead us to real solutions.

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