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Time for Casting Crowns?

If not quite the crown of life itself, music is at least one of the most valuable jewels adorning the crown. It's pointless to specify 'good' music, because that determination is truly subjective. If there is someone, somewhere, who simply cannot get through life without dancing around their world to One Direction at least twice each day, then that is good music. Music exists to help us survive the mundane and the traumatic. Music exists to wrap us in emotion. Music exists to tell us stories - stories about life, stories about love, stories about war, peace, and everything in-between.

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Hearing the Music of Redemption in Begin Again

In several ways, Begin Again follows in the steps of Once, the indie film that shocked and charmed the world some seven years ago. Mark Ruffalo’s Dan is an alcoholic, has-been music producer best represented by the aging, once-glorious Jaguar in which he rumbles through the streets of New York City. Keira Knightley’s Gretta is a free-spirited but internally chained folk-pop artist who has followed her boyfriend (Adam Levine) to the United States as he makes his own run at stardom.

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40 Under 40 - A New Generation of Leaders in the CRC & RCA

Many of our readers likely caught Christianity Today‘s June cover story, “33 Under 33“, highlighting 33 young leaders that are shaping the future of faith in the Church worldwide. That got us thinking: what young leaders are rising in the CRC and RCA? We asked one question: “Who do you know under 40 that is doing something very innovative and/or is influential beyond their home church?” We received a plethora of responses and then attempted to pick the leaders with the most votes that represented the widest and most diverse spectrum of our collective movement...

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Christian Hospitality and the Sharing Economy

A recent Time article highlighted the legal issues faced by companies such as Airbnb, Uber and Lyft. These companies are part of the sharing economy, which uses technology to connect consumer demand with goods and services provided by individuals rather than traditional businesses. Personally, I’m partial to the crowd-sourcing and small-scale ways of connecting promoted by the sharing economy. But legal issues with the sharing economy quickly arise. I’m not at all against making money for legitimate purposes, such as renting out a room or giving someone a ride.

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From Putumayo to Neerlandia

It was a very cold day in November when I (Cenaida) and six of my children arrived in Edmonton from Ecuador. Let me tell you how we came to be refugees. In Putumayo, Colombia, we were very scared of the national army as well as the rebels. They would enter our homes, hold us at gun point and accuse us of siding with the enemy, killing whoever they wanted to. Late in the year 2000, just before Christmas, a letter arrived in our town, stating that a gift was arriving for everyone: death. They were going to kill everyone in our town...

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Through an Algorithm, Darkly?

Two recent news stories – about the “right to be forgotten” by Google and Facebook’s surreptitious newsfeed study - have me thinking about what technology enables us to know about each other. In May, the European Union affirmed a “right to be forgotten,” under which people are asking for news stories and other pieces of information to be scrubbed from Google searches. It’s an amazing image of public grace that also might lead to abuse...

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A Lament for Immigration: Celebration

A year and a half ago, a small faith community in central New Jersey found themselves in the midst of despair, with little hope of relief. The Reformed Church of Highland Park is a modest worshipping community comprised of young families, students, and a burgeoning group of undocumented Indonesian refugees. For years, the church had walked alongside its undocumented brothers and sisters--offering legal assistance, advocating with Congress, and even offering sanctuary when deportation orders were issued. And what did they have to show for their efforts?

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The Fleet's New Captain: YALT's Interview with Steve Timmermans

This past week, the new Executive Director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) took office officially. His name is Steve Timmermans, former President of Trinity Christian College, former Calvin College professor, former CRC Board of Trustees member, former psychologist, current husband and current father of a slew of young adults! His passion for young adults really came through in his interview before Synod 2014 in Pella, IA...

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Lament for Immigration Part 2

Nehemiah could not ignore the dangerous state of the city he loved. Nehemiah knew that a city in such a broken state, facing constant threat, would never be able to thrive. He knew the people would struggle and it broke his heart. This story reminds us what is at stake in our work for justice. We speak for immigration reform in our own backyards. To us immigration reform will never be dead until we can look in our own communities...

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Practicing Presence

The goal of the Ministers of Presence program is to encourage members of Sanctuary to spend intentional time in the space [Green Bean]. More than just supporting the business, this is our approach for engaging in the community at the Bean, and in our neighborhood, Greenwood. The inspiration for the program comes from Henri Nouwen, who wrote about the importance of simply practicing life together with others...

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Jesus Didn't Tap - But Would He Have Even Played?

Despite my young obsession with the Power Rangers, I have never understood the culture surrounding mixed-martial arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). I was a bit surprised and taken aback, then, to learn that there is a faith-based line of MMA clothing and gear headed by Jason David Frank, a former Power Ranger. The clothes, which feature slogans like “Jesus Didn’t Tap,” “Blood, Sweat & Prayers” and "The blood I shed..."

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It's a (tbd)!

I was reminded of Beckett’s play, and this particular line, upon reading a recent post at Slate presenting a melodramatic scene of a doctor announcing the sex of a newborn child (never mind that the sex of most children is identified via ultrasound well before birth).

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Generous Spaciousness: Responding to Gay Christians in the Church - An Interview with Wendy Gritter

I feel a particular sense of gratification when a pastor will tell me that the book is so helpful as they think about other issues that their congregation is having a challenging time navigating because of the diversity of perspectives. The gift of dialogue, the discipline of peace-making, and the pursuit of a humble justice are central to the book.  That transfers to so many other matters beyond same-sex sexuality...

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My Daughter's Muslim-Christian Bible Study

It can be tough to promote a Bible study at a public school when you aren’t allowed to use the word Bible. After the high school administration rejected her third design attempt for a promotional flier, my daughter settled on a quote from C.S. Lewis. “What draws people to be friends is that they see the same truth. They share it.” We agreed that sounded Christian enough. Her main hope was to connect with other Christians through Tribes, the “unofficial group” she founded her sophomore year, since she also wasn’t allowed to form an “official club.”...

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Churches Commit to Climate Justice

Many of us know the first verse from Psalm 24: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and all those who live it.” Yet how often do we forget that the wondrous creation surrounding us is God’s doing? That in creating, God repeatedly declared the earth’s goodness? And how often do we stray from God’s call to serve and preserve God’s beautiful and bountiful Earth? Recalling this message would help us break through the conflicting noise about global warming and ready ourselves for what needs to be done...

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Planting Pines, Praying for Peace

When someone mentioned the benefits of white pines recently at an ecological design course I was taking in California, my ears perked up. I’d just coordinated the purchase of 100 white pine seedlings before I departed home, to be planted along the road at the retreat center where I work, joining other white pines as a barrier against noise and visual clutter. I scribbled on the corner of [my] notes: white pines — medicine, symbolism...

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Best Albums & Songs of 2014 (So Far)

Many outstanding projects have been released in the last 6 months, but which ones have really stood out as "gourmet music's best"?  Recently our 10-member panel of critics weighed in on the music that has caught their ears the most.  Here are all the cited responses, in no particular order. We hope this list sparks some new discoveries for your playlist. [Music qualified if it was released between 12/1/13 and 6/1/14, and from a Christian artist/songwriter.]...

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Why World Cup Whining is Blind to the Beauty of Sports

The World Cup reaps its harvest in summertime. With each Cup, a fresh crop of fans spring from the earth like overnight mushrooms. Every fourth summer, flags and patriotic t-shirts and beach towels are snappily unfurled from dormancy. After the Olympics, this is the golden hour of international unfurling. In addition to all the fair weather patriot-fans, the World Cup elicits its share of soccer critics, particularly in America...

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Chick-fil-A Consumption

So what does make a company “Christian”? Is it John 3:16 stamped on all of its carry-out bags? Is it shuttered doors on the Sabbath? Is it self-identification on its website? All of these things can certainly be pieces of it, but I for one hope that there’s more. Does a company speak prophetically within its particular industry for issues of justice and equity? Does a company treat its employees fairly, offering them adequate healthcare and a living wage?

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The Church Should Function Like a Startup

There is a mindset most successful startup companies have that could really benefit churches. First, startups are trying to identify and fill unmet needs.  They’re not copiers but problem solvers.  It’s hard and financially improbable for a new company to do what someone else is already doing.  Instead, they have to find their niche, whether it’s a new process or innovative product. Likewise, I believe a church that cares about its congregation and surrounding community needs to think like a startup.  God has uniquely equipped each church...

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Repenting of a White Savior Complex

I need Juan. He understands where I’m at in a way that someone who’s not also walking through a valley of the shadow of death can’t. And maybe I’m not adding to his burden. Maybe he’s tired of being the one who’s helped, and wants to take a turn as the one helping for a change. Maybe he wants a two-way friendship. I suspect that the reason that he and his family have been isolating themselves lately is that they’re tired of being only takers, not givers. They love to give...

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Edge of Tomorrow and Tom Cruise's Works-Based Salvation Ethic

For a science-fiction blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow offers some surprising parallels to the doctrine of salvation. Too bad they’re largely of the works-based kind. There’s something appealing, at first, about Edge of Tomorrow’s underlying rejection of atheistic fate. Cage’s grim future can be avoided, even after it has already happened! Yet already here a sort of works righteousness creeps in.

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Doing Our Young People Injustice: Christian Dream-Killing

Injustice all too often rears its ugly head in a myriad of ways, and it deprives people of their God-given human rights—indeed, their God-given gifts. Gary Haugen defines injustice as someone with power using that power to take from those who are weaker the gifts that God has given them, gifts like life, liberty, equality, love, and the like. One injustice that I’ve recently become more aware of is what I’ve begun to think of as “dream-killing,” and it’s an injustice that those of us in the church practice all too often against our young people...

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Beyond Greeters: Welcoming is a Church-Wide Value

There is more to the company Zappos than just selling shoes.  The ecommerce giant spends a lot of time casting and sharing their core values for running a business that values customers beyond them buying something. In a tweet, there was a great quote about customer service from Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.  He said, “Customer service shouldn’t be just a department; it should be the entire company.” For me, there are some easy tweaks to make for this to be relevant for churches.  Maybe something like...

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Sharing Vulnerabilities

Residential school survivors and their children are doing the most courageous act of being vulnerable at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). They are sharing their pain, hurt, joy, and sometimes the shame that have been a part of their identities and they are not choosing their audience! It is hard to share such truths to people that may not understand the context and presume to judge.

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Outsourcing Our Memories to Instagram

The advent of instantly posting photos online has revolutionized our documentation of our lives, especially the lives of our children. It's not uncommon now for us to take a picture a day, filling up Instagram and Facebook feeds with our everyday activities. NPR recently reported on a study of this phenomenon by Maryanne Garry. "The problem is people are giving away being in the moment,” Garry said...

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Death without Hope in Japan's Valley of Dolls

Nagoro, a small town situated in the Shikoku valleys, once was prosperous and lively, thriving off of the local industry connected to the nearby dam. When Ayano Tsukimi returned to her home village 11 years ago, though, she found it dwindling, as older residents had passed away and the young had moved out to the cities in search of work. In order to fill time on her return, Tsukimi decided to make a life-size scarecrow based on her father. Now, 10 years later, she's made more than 350 of these beautiful and haunting dolls to replace the people who have died or moved away.

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The Clean Power Plan: Why it Matters

There’s a good chance that, at some point in the last few days, you’ve heard something about the Environmental Protection Agency or the Clean Power Plan. In short, the EPA’s new rule--called the Clean Power Plan--is the first governmental effort in the US to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide that an existing power plant is allowed to release into the atmosphere, effectively categorizing carbon dioxide as a pollutant for the first time.

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Maleficent's Nuanced Understanding of Evil

In 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, Disney offered an iconic personification of evil: Maleficent, the spurned fairy who bestows a curse on a newborn princess. The new Maleficent, told from the sorceress’ point of view, gives that evil some background and nuance. In the process, the story becomes less a fairy-tale version of good and evil and something more akin to the human sinfulness we all know...

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We're No Longer #1!

Earlier this spring, the New York Times reported that the American middle class is no longer the richest in the world, having been surpassed by Canada. Although those at the top end of the income brackets remain well ahead of other nations, those at median income and below are being passed by countries like Canada, Norway and the Netherlands. Middle-class income is not the only area where the United States is no longer first in the world... 

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Should Churches Aspire to be Mega-Churches?

If pastors and members are honest, they have probably wished this about their own church at least once or twice. But how about this: Have you ever wished your church was smaller? I’m not referring to just the people you don’t get along with leaving, but an actual reduction in your members and regular attendees. Is that sacrilegious? Possibly. However, whether we like it or not, the Willow Creek/Saddleback movement has...

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The U.S. Immigration System: Why We Need Reform

Some of the push factors causing Central American migration include a high homicide rate (40 per 100,000: double Mexico’s rate1) and extreme violence which includes large criminal organizations connected with local gangs. In addition, many Central American countries do not have the capacity to improve these problems, along with government corruption contributing to these problems. Furthermore, many heads of households leave their families to find work in Mexico or the U.S., leaving their children at risk of being targeted by gangs...

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The Unassuming Faith of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou didn’t call herself a Christian. The famed poet, memoirist, activist and author, who chronicled her life in several autobiographies, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, saw calling yourself a Christian as referring to something that was complete, rather than a work in progress. “I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, ‘I’m a Christian,’” she said in a 2011 interview, on the occasion of her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “I think, ‘Already? You already got it?’ I’m working at it...

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The Danger of Loving Your Church

Yet now that I’m settled at a church I love, I find myself not enjoying attending other churches very much. From the moment I walk in the door, I’m looking around, taking stock of the greeters or lack thereof, noticing the bumpy transition between songs, and analyzing the sermon. Worst of all, I’m mentally comparing all of it back to my church, gauging who’s doing it better. Which is entirely not the point of church at all.

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Tempering Our Faith-Science Debates

A recent study on "Religious Understandings of Science," conducted by Rice University sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, was encouraging in its overall revelation that the gap between faith and science may not be as wide as is commonly perceived. Yet there was one statistic I found concerning: of those surveyed, 22 percent of scientists and 20 percent of the general population say religious people are hostile to science...

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Whose Progress?

My wife and I travelled to India in October to visit relatives and friends. We have been there several times in the past 45 years and clearly, changes over that period are dramatic. In the 70s, power was erratic, the water supply inadequate in quantity and quality and medical care rudimentary. There were limited opportunities for good education, and getting around meant cycle rickshaws, packed ramshackle buses or slow trains...

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Bridging America's Civilian-Military Divide

Since leaving the Army and returning home to Illinois in 2009, I have discovered that revealing that I have served in uniform is usually a conversation stopper. Generally, a very awkward silence follows the inevitable response of "Thanks for your service." My sense is that the silence flows from a mix of good intention - a desire to not say the wrong thing - and of a perceived lack of knowledge of how to engage...

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The 9/11 Museum and Viewing Tragedy from Above

New York City’s National September 11 Memorial & Museum opens to the public today. The hope is that this facility will be the next step in a collective healing process, a place to understand and remember, a place where the world can come and learn about loss and resilience. A recent report in The Globe and Mail describes the museum as austere, striking, astonishing and excruciating...

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Memorable Brand Identity

Being memorable has two sides to it. First, there’s the positive. You create an experience or foster a community that makes people feel great about who you are. For a church, this could be intentionally making the Bible relevant to people’s lives today. The other side of this is creating a negative memory.  Perhaps for a church this is creating a culture that feels more like a country club than a welcoming family...

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What's Godzilla Doing in the Book of Job?

Elijah Davidson, co-director of Reel Spirituality, recently put together this frame-by-frame comparison of the 1954 Godzilla and descriptions of Leviathan from Job 41. Eyes like the rays of dawn? Breaking iron as if it was straw? Causing the depths to churn like a boiling pot? Certainly sounds like Godzilla. This striking Biblical imagery – of an aquatic behemoth man cannot contain – is meant to put Job in his place.  As Davidson notes, God’s description of Leviathan concludes this way: “He looks on all the proud; he is king over all proud beasts.”...

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The Boko Haram Kidnappings' CRC Connection

As we saw the news reports of kidnapped school girls near the Nigerian town of Maiduguri something nudged me from deep in my memory.

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Persecution: Bring It On

“For the love of God, we are prepared to endure any kind of torture.” Forty Roman soldiers said these words to the local governor in 320AD. Known as the “Forty Martyrs of Sebaste,” those bold words sealed their fate. They were stripped naked and forced into a small lake on a bitterly cold night where after hours upon hours of standing in the cold water, they froze to death. As western society becomes increasingly secular...

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Bonhoeffer, Blue Ruin and Relinquishing Revenge

One of the more eloquent ruminations on revenge that I’ve seen is Blue Ruin, a small, independent movie. It’s a rough, riveting thriller that’s two parts Coen brothers and one part Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Blue Ruin begins by immersing us in the daily struggles of a scrawny, bearded vagabond named Dwight. Living out of his car, Dwight seems content to live as a nomadic hermit. But then he learns that the man convicted of his parents’ murder is...

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Review: The New Jim Crow

In her book The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness, Michelle Alexander asserts that in an age of color blindness the racialization and oppression of African-Americans continues uninhibited by the actions of civil rights advocates. She builds her case by recounting how plantation owners created social control over slaves...

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Canadian/American "Relations"

I’ve lived roughly half my life in the US and half in Canada. I’m about 970 km (600 miles!!) away from completing a full circle around North America.  My extended family is all from Canada, but my dad’s work moved us to the US when I was three.  I basically grew up in a “Canadian” household in California. I learned from a very young age that Americans know next to nothing about Canada...

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Making Room for the Bible's Maternal Images of God

Mother’s Day makes me think about God’s maternal side. Christianity has been guilty of a patriarchal history that has been oppressive of women. Our conception of God as masculine - God as Father or King - certainly contributes to this. Although written in patriarchal contexts, the Bible itself does not refer to God exclusively in masculine metaphors. There are, albeit few, feminine metaphors used to describe God in the Bible worth highlighting...

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Mission Impossible? Attracting a New Demographic to Your Church

Many of the questions I get are about how to bring significant change to an established church. The answer is usually far more complex and long-range than the asker would have hoped. Deep Change = Deep Effort + Lots of Time. One of the first questions and, in my experience, one of the hardest things in changing the direction of a church is attracting a new demographic. That could be a racial group that’s not represented presently in your church or an age group that’s completely missing or a life stage segment (singles, DINKs, families, retirees, etc.) not represented.

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Review: The Middle of Everywhere

Are you interested in the plight of refugees? Would you like to sponsor refugees as a group or church? The book The Middle of Everywhere by Mary Pipher is a great resource to help you understand what you would be getting yourselves into. No refugee family comes healthy and unscathed by the trauma they experienced in their homeland, during the escape and in refugee camps. I wish we had read this type of book earlier...

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Botched Executions and the Blood of Christ

The botched execution of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett is forcing state and federal officials to reconsider the practice of the death penalty. On this grisly occasion, Christians should do so as well. The lethal injection administered to Lockett April 29 did not go as planned. Lockett suffered a ruptured vein and then a heart attack 43 minutes later. Critics of the death penalty have pointed to this incident as further proof of the cruelty...

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Restoring the Water of the Walleye

One of the tributaries that drains into the Grand River is Plaster Creek, now recognized as the most damaged creek in West Michigan. In 2004, faculty at Calvin College began service-learning projects for students, collecting data on the state of the watershed and organizing stream clean-ups in collaboration with other community partners. By 2008 a group of concerned organizations, including Calvin College, began meeting regularly...

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