Coming Soon

I will have a new post up on Saturday and should be able to be more consistent once this semester is over. Saturday's post will be about advent, peace, war, and the promises and prophecies about the messiah.


No "I" in "Team"

I just came across a fantastic example of putting the team before yourself. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine posted a blog entry about leadership and how an integral quality of a leader is putting her/his own desires and ambitions second to the needs of the team as a whole. In a sense, it is having the attitude that they would rather win as a team and fail (or not look good) as an individual than have individual success yet see their team fail.

Last night (11-25-08) Loyola (Md.) was crushed in basketball by Davidson. Now, this was actually the anticipated result considering Davidson has the top scorer in the country (averaging 35 ppg. and has only ever not reached double figures twice in his career) and has a significant size advantage over Loyola. According to the article, the story isn't the win but how it happened.

A common defense utilized by teams when playing a team with a player that is heads and tails above the rest is a box-and-one where four players are in a zone defense and the "one" is playing a denial man defense against the star player. Loyola took this concept even further and decided to double-team Curry. Now, typically a double-team would consist of one person permanently guarding Curry and the other defenders covering him as well when he enters into their specific zone. It takes a lot of work for the defenders but it is designed to leave the farthest area of court unguarded... the area least likely to have a scoring opportunity at that particular moment. But Loyola's coach simply put two men on Curry and told them to stay with him. Early in the game, Curry was frustrated since he had trouble getting the ball through two defenders, but quickly he realized that this wasn't a match-up zone or a box-and-one but that he was simply being double-teamed.

So, what did the top college player in the nation, most likely the number one draft choice, do? He stood in the corner... literally. He would play hard defense and then, when he team would take possession, he would jog down the court and camp out in the corner, taking his two defenders with him and leaving a 4 on 3 advantage for his other teammates.

For the first time in his career, Curry was held scoreless for an entire game. His team won by 30 points. That is selfless. That is teamwork. That is leadership.


Finishing Strong

Two more weeks of classes this semester! This has been the hardest one I've had since going back to school. Six classes, only two of which I was truly interested in (although one of them has become very interesting), plus the part-time jobs, plus finding time to spend with Kristy, plus getting stuff together to apply to seminary has really been tough. But, it has been good. It has shown me that I can work extremely hard at something, succeed, and go all the way to the end with it. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The little victories along the way help to keep the motivation high, but the race does not end with the little victories, it end with the tape being broken.

Whether or not I am the one who breaks the tape is irrelevant (although it always increases the desire to think about winning), the fact that I will finish is what matters. As long as I can honestly say I didn't hold anything back and I virtually collapse on the other side of the finish line, I will be more than satisfied.

I was on the Track and Field team all four years in high school. I was more there for the field events (specifically high jump... personal best was 6'3" in case you were wondering), but because Madeira (Home of the Mustangs!) was a small school we had to pitch in where we were needed. My senior year I was tapped to be a part of the 3200 meter relay. This is where four people run two laps (800 meters) each, passing a baton after each leg. An 800 is one of the hardest races in track since it is right at the break between a distance race and a sprint. Basically, you are sprinting a long distance... it sucks. But, I have always been sort of competitive so I tried to take it seriously. I was given the third leg to run.

The first meet was a tri-meet where one of the schools was our rival. Turns out, I knew the guy running the third leg for them. We competed against each other in football, basketball, and even (**NERD ALERT**) Latin competitions ("Certamen" if you will). So, I wanted to beat him. Unfortunately, when I was handed the baton, we were in last place by at least a quarter lap. So, I took off. I ran as hard as I could. At the halfway point I had caught the other two runners. By the end of my leg, I had gotten us a quarter of a lap lead. My time was 2:04. I threw up on the infield as soon as I stepped off the track.

Sadly, our anchor was not as "into it" as I was. He showed up wearing high tops for crying out loud! He lost the lead I had gotten and we lost the race. I was pissed, but I also knew I had left everything on that track... and so did my coach.

That is how I want to finish school. That is how I want to finish life. That is when the Father will say, "Well done good and faithful servant."

Finish Strong.



This is why this place even exists in the first place!

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is supposedly built on the spot of the tomb that Joseph of Arimethea owned and gave for Jesus' burial, from which Jesus rose a few days later. During a meditation service, a fight broke out amongst the different Christian monks (Orthodox and Armenian mostly).

"And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one." John 17:11


Complaining, Anger, and Bitterness

I just read a short story by Richard Matheson (author of I am Legend) called "Mad House". He typically does sort of horror / suspense type stories which is why Stephen King credits him with influencing his own writing the most of any other author. The story basically goes:

A man has become increasingly angry over the years to the point that anger and rage are the only emotions he experiences anymore. These emotions have been manifesting over the years through him yelling at his students (he is a professor), berating his wife, and throwing or kicking or hitting objects in his home that don't respond the way he wants. For example, a rug in his home slips under his foot so he kicks it across the room. The pencil tip breaks so he throws it against the wall. You get the idea. Well, his wife has finally decided to leave him.

Meanwhile, a science professor friend of his tries to share a theory that he has come up with. He suggests that the emotions of anger and rage, when constantly expressed, are absorbed by the objects (be they human, animal, or even inanimate) around them. He worries about his friend. He seems to think that his friend is in danger from his own home retaliating against him. He theorizes that the objects in the house will sort of come alive and end up treating Chris (the main character) the way he has been treating them. Well, SPOILER, they do and the house ends up killing him in the end.

The story got me thinking about how much I complain. When people don't meet my expectations or if I feel slighted by someone else, I want to vent or yell or tell my wife or confront them or...
Well, I think complaining, at least in my life, leads to anger, and then to bitterness. I am trying something that I've heard other people have done with some success. I am going to try to avoid complaining for a while. My attempt will be through the New Year (sort of a pre-New Year's resolution), and then I will see if my emotional state is any different.

I'll let you know how it goes... it's probably going to suck! Just kidding :-)


I remember when...

It's weird to think in the moment, "Man, I am actually watching history take place. I am experiencing something that is soon going to be in textbooks and will be study 1,000 years from now or more." There have been a few events like that in my 32 years on this planet. There have also been some minor events that people remember vividly but might not ever be included in a history book.

I remember on November 9th, 1989 when the people of East and West Germany were finally free to pass back and forth because they tore down the Berlin Wall. Heck, I remember movies based on the split within that city (anybody ever seen Anthony Edwards in Gotcha! because it's a horribly great movie).

I remember January 28th, 1986 when the space shuttle, Challenger exploded. We had to watch the news coverage in school (I was 9 years old).

Of course I will never forget the morning of September 11th, 2001. I got up and was on my way to the Young Life office. I got in my car, turned on the radio to what was normally a comedy show. It was eerily somber. They were reporting on a plane crash in New York City. I didn't really get what they were talking about until one of them yelled that another plane had just crashed at the same spot. Needless to say, I didn't do much work that day.

Minor events that I remember and that have made it into pop culture sort of history would be things like Kirk Gibson's home run in game 1 of the 1988 World Series. I remember Kerry Strug's vault at the 1996 Olympic games basically done perfectly on one leg.

Last night was an historic event that I am so glad I got to be a part of. Not that racism is dead in this country or anywhere in the world, but an amazing step was taken last night by one of history's biggest proponents of racially based slavery. We elected an African American as president. I know that this country was sharply divided in this election, and this divide was evident as John McCain tried to graciously concede as well as to remind us all that we are united and that we can and should unite (as he was going to do) behind our new president elect and his supporters began to boo incessantly when the new president and vice-president's names were mentioned.

An amazing thing happened last night, but we have so much more ground to cover and more history to see being made... or to perhaps make it ourselves.


Free Speech

Politics and religion are traditionally the two topics that should not be broached in "polite" conversation. But can they be discussed amongst a group of people who have the ability to respectfully disagree, debate, rationalize, and still treat each other with love? Now, is that type of discussion permitted in public... say a restaurant?

This morning, I had breakfast with my friends Guy and Tim. Typical of our get-togethers (we have breakfast just about every Saturday morning to discuss theology and politics and also because Tim is a professor at UNF who Guy and I are doing a Directed Independent Study in Biblical Greek with), we began to get engrossed into a discussion about the theology of the body and its impact on stewardship, the role of the church in the world, and eschatology. As an aside, I lost 50% hearing in my right ear at a concert in a small bar about 12 years ago and it makes it very difficult for me to make out specific words in a crowd of noise. Because of this, I tend to talk a bit louder in public places (like a restaurant with wood panel walls and no carpeting, thus causing the noises to bounce around rather than be absorbed and making it even more difficult for me to hear). These friends also talk a bit louder so that I can hear and because this restaurant can get a bit loud. Mind you, we do not shout, nor do we argue or toss out inappropriate words, we simply might get excited or might have to talk above the conversation taking place at the next table.

Well, apparently our topic of discussion this morning was too much for our neighboring table to bear. As someone who has some difficulty hearing in public, I can completely respect a request of trying to "keep it down a little," but our neighbor did not utilize such tact. Here was his statement (and I think I am quoting pretty accurately):

"Fellas, it's breakfast time in a public place, and when I can hear your conversation at my table and you are talking about religion and politics and sexuality, then it's time for you to go."

So, instead of saying, "Hey guys, my wife and I are trying to eat breakfast and have our own conversation, but it is tough to hear each other over you. Can you please keep it down a little bit?" To which my reply would have been, "Certainly. Sorry we got a little carried away. We will try to keep it to a dull roar," and maybe our neighbors and us could have had a little laugh about it. Instead, this man told us that our conversation wasn't welcome there and that we should leave! So much for free speech. We politely told him that we were going to continue our conversation and that he was entitled to his opinion. I did try to explain that I had a tough time hearing which is why we might be talking a bit loud, but the man simply responded by saying, "Well, you heard me!"

I wanted to call the man a number of names. I wanted to rip him to shreds by showing how tiny his mind must be to actually think he had any right to limit our topics of discussion. I fully admit that he had every right to politely ask us to talk quietly, but he has no right to tell us that if we are going to discuss certain things that we had to leave. We did try to talk softer because, even though the man a severe deficiency in communication skills, we recognized that we could be more courteous. However, I will not back away from an uncomfortable topic simply because it might ruffle someone's (or my own) feathers. Comfort is the enemy of growth.



So, it is 2:30am, I have two midterms tomorrow, and I should be studying. I just can't get going. I studied for these exams over the weekend already so it's not like I am in dire straits (great band by the way) or anything. This isn't a cramming session. I just need to make two really good grades to keep up my hopes of having a 4th straight semester of all As.

I have been doing lots of things to distract myself, but it is now time to put my nose to the grindstone and go over this information so that I can get two 100% scores tomorrow. I have tried to be really consistent in how I study. Music in the background is bad for me. Television is bad for my studying. Kristy being home and awake makes it difficult. So, I am sitting at my desk at 2:30am and it is time to get going. Here I go.



So, my grandmother died almost two weeks ago and I have been too busy to truly process yet. Today's post will be a bit of that.

This might sound strange but I am 32 years old and my grandmother is really the first death of a family member that I was close to that I have experienced. My grandparents on my father's side either died before I was born or lived too far away for me to truly get to know. My paternal grandfather died when I was 7 and I only have a few clear memories of him. But, my grandmother has been a part of my life since my birth.

Alberta Springfield was born March 18th, 1908. That's right folks, she was 100 years old when she died! She lived pretty much her entire life in Cincinnati, OH. Her father went looking for work in the early 1930s (of course she was already in her early 20s by then) and never came back, leaving her, her younger sister Georgette, and their mother to take care of each other. My grandmother embraced that role which is why she didn't marry until after her younger sister had and Alberta could be sure that Georgette was secure.

She ended up marrying a man from Alabama who had moved to Cincinnati to work for the railroad (a good job that was deemed necessary to national security, thus keeping him out of WWII). They had 4 children (my mother being the third and the youngest girl). My grandmother was an extremely religious woman. I know that in the present day and age the term "religious" is more often than not used as a negative word, but she truly loved her God and sought to serve in whatever way she was gifted.

Growing up, my parents both worked (well, at least my mother always had a job and worked) so my sister and I would go to grandma's house after school nearly everyday until I got into high school and started playing sports. I remember getting there and her having a snack of apple slices, fig newtons, or maybe even some vanilla wafers and milk ready for us. We would settle in to watch some Thundercats and He-Man (then She-Ra came on so I stopped watching and started either doing homework or playing cards with grandma). Later, she even started preparing our brown-bag lunches for us each day. Her house was on the way home for my mom so she would pick up the lunches the night before. My grandma really took care of us.

She had an enormous impact on my life. I will always cherish the times that I was able to sit and ask her questions about her life. I interviewed her for a paper in middle school on the Great Depression (I wonder if I will ever be interviewed by a younger relative about living through a similar time...) and got an A on the paper because of the amazing detail she provided. She was already a very old woman by the time I started forming concrete memories. She was 40 when she had my mother and my mom was 29 when she had me... a 69 year gap between us. She taught me how to play Canasta (my wife thinks she taught me how to cheat at it but that is just because Kristy is really bad at Canasta), she showed me that grandparents can be indulging to a point, and she showed me that God really can give us the strength to overcome.

One of the strongest memories I will always have of my grandma was how she quit smoking. I remember one day when I was 8 or 9 (she would have been 77 or 78), she finished smoking her 3rd pack in one day. It was right around the anniversary of her husband's death so I am sure that had something to do with it. She realized how addicted she was to those things and decided she was done smoking... she never smoked again! This was one of the strongest women I have ever (and will ever) known. When I was in high school, I asked her about it. She told me that whenever she started craving a cigarette, she simply prayed. Mostly the rosary or pre-written prayers, but she gave that craving up to God... much like a fast. Probably the most valuable lesson on prayer I have ever gotten.

I remember when her mind started slipping. It was scary and strange to see this woman who had always been so sharp start to forget and fade into daydreams and mix them up with reality. It was little things at first, but it eventually got to the point where the woman I had known was pretty much gone. The last 10 years or so of her life were spent in this cloud. It was heart-breaking to watch. I cannot tell you how many times I asked God why she was still here. All of her friends had died. Her sister had died. Her children had all moved away (except for my mom). She could no longer care for herself so my parents bought the house from her and moved in so that my mom could take care of her (which she did for the next 9 years). I began to try to find reasons that God was keeping her body alive. Maybe this was a lesson to me and others on how to truly love and honor our parents. Instead of just sticking her in a home, my mom dealt with frustration and heart-ache for nearly a decade just so that she could make sure her mother felt loved... even if she didn't recognize her own child anymore. Maybe it was practical since my parents and brother sort of depended on her social security check to buy food for all of them.

I think both of those are true in a sense. I also think a powerful third reason exists. Even though Alberta couldn't remember her own children, where she was most of the time, or even her own age (she would regularly get up in the morning thinking that she had to go to school) she could always remember how to pray. I was shocked one day when I went there and saw her in her bedroom with EWTN (the Catholic channel) on. The program was a Latin Mass and my grandmother knew every word... in LATIN! She never forgot how to pray her rosary or did she ever stop whispering her personal prayers to the Lord. If EVER there was an example of "pray continually", it was my grandma.

Just 5 days before she passed, she broke her hip. No one saw how it happened and the theory is that she didn't really fall, but that she stood up and her 100 year old hip just crumpled to pieces. The doctors said it was not worth it (I don't like that phrasing but I can't think of another way to say it) to do surgery. So, they tried to make her comfortable, they gave her pain medication, the nurses visited with her regularly, and my mom's office is in the same complex as the hospital so she visited her every day. They said that because she was going to be laying down all the time now, her lungs wouldn't last long. They lasted nearly 5 more days. Alberta Springfield died at 5:30am.

I am reading a book right now called Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. In it, he argues that most Christians today don't ascribe to historical Christianity's teaching about death, life after death, and resurrection. He articulates a lot of what I had been learning through personal study. The hope of Christians is not that our souls would go to heaven to dwell with God in some spiritual realm for eternity. The hope is that death is truly vanquished. After our bodies die, our spirit either enters into some sort of sleep, goes to some sort of waiting area, or perhaps even does dwell with God... but for a limited time. Because, in the end, God will raise all of the dead ("resurrection of the flesh" is one of the last beliefs stated in the Apostle's Creed) but with perfected bodies. God will create a new heaven and a new Earth (and a new Jerusalem) where we will live for eternity in our uncorrupted bodies, in full fellowship with each other and with God. My grandmother prayed the Apostle's and Nicene Creed on a daily basis. This is what she believed and I know that this is where she placed her hope. Someday, I will see my grandmother again, but not as some glowing spiritual being. I will see her as she was meant to always be. Her mind will be sharp again and her body will be strong. She will be funny and insightful as well as able to run and jump and roll on the ground in laughter without any thought of her hip ever breaking again.

I love my grandma and I miss her. Even though she had basically been gone for 10 years, her death really solidified that for me. I can't wait to see her again and I thank God that her pain (physical, mental, and spiritual) is now gone and her hope is all the more closer to becoming reality.


Salvation by Numbers

So, I am going to try to make this somewhat of a quick thought. I am in a small group of guys that meets usually every Wednesday. My friend who facilitates this little group is an extremely skilled counselor trained by Larry Crabb. Because of that, Larry tends to get some "press" in our group... lol.

The other day we read a very short excerpt from one of his books about how to be free from pressure in your life. While no analogy is perfect, this little concept made me think.

Larry writes that people operate from one of two "laws." First, the Law of Linearity describes the lifestyle of thinking that if I do A & B the result will be C. Apply that to a spiritual paradigm and we slip into thinking that as long as I don't: smoke, drink, have sex outside of marriage, cheat on my taxes, kick my dog, etc... or do: serve food at the shelter, support my family, lend a cup of sugar to my neighbor (literally or figuratively as long as it doesn't violate #3 in the don't list), go to church, pet my dog, etc... we will receive favor from God. That favor can either be blessings (as in health, wealth, happiness, etc.) or the big one, salvation. The Law of Linearity makes logical sense, but it also is based on performance and inherently brings pressure.

The second is the Law of Liberty. This law is not motivated by gaining C (the favor/blessing/salvation). The goal is simply to dwell in whatever God has for us... good/bad/ugly (great movie by the way). It sounds a little passive-aggressive (hence no perfect analogy) but it also takes away the idea that we have to perform. The scary part is that there is no longer anyway to be able to say with certainty that we can predict God.

For me, it makes me continue to rethink salvation. For too long I have thought of "being saved" as being so easy "a caveman could do it" (too bad there is no such thing as cavemen, right Ken Hamm? I hope you caught my sarcasm). It's as simple as ABC: admit, believe, commit and you'll be saved. Ultimately, this puts a formula onto God's actions, makes God predictable, and therefore removes the possibility that the god of this type of theology is actually God (at least in my book... which will be in stores a month from never). It is hard for me to believe in a God that I can predict. So, I think the Law of Liberty is key in truly submitting ourselves to a God of mystery, unpredictability, danger, adventure, heart-break, and the like. I want to want what this God wants. I want to move away from wanting to figure out how to get what I want. I do this in too many of my human relationships already... it's called manipulation and I am tired (literally, it's exhausting) of doing it in any relationship, let alone my relationship with God who sees right through my attempts.



Okay, so this blog entry is not meant to be political but I thought this cartoon was funny.

Mainly though, I just wanted to share why I haven't posted in quite a while. Writing here was giving me a lot of joy. It was fun to articulate things I was wrestling with and to receive comments from people who could possibly sharpen me. That joy started to become a bit of an obsession and the idea that I was sharing MY thoughts began to cause me to be a bit prideful. I began neglecting other things because I "had to do my blog entry." This is a pattern I have struggled with many times in my life.

I have spent my life making excuses. By this I am not necessarily just saying that I tried to come up with explanations of why I did something or why I didn't or why something happened. It wasn't even about pushing the blame onto circumstances or other people. Although, those things were all a part of it, the underlying reason I lived by excuses (and have died by them too) was because I felt I could always justify myself. I was always right. Even when it was clear I was in the wrong, I would find points where I was right (according to me) and focus on those. I would find anything to distract me from the things I just simply didn't want to do / didn't value / found unimportant / etc.

For much of my adult life, I have especially used spirituality for this end. If I didn't do the paperwork I was supposed to do... I would make the person confronting me guilty by saying (and usually honestly) that I was busy meeting with someone / praying / studying scripture / preparing a talk / etc. I thought all of those things far more important than paperwork and phone calls and e-mails and ... you get the picture. And, it's true, they are. Ultimately, God is not going to ask us if we (and I will use a Young Life reference here) got our greensheets in on time. God is not going to focus on whether or not I wrote my paper for my high school English class. God will not particularly care if I call you back the next day / next week / next month. God's focus is on eternal things and God calls us to focus on them as well.

So, I used this thinking and categorizing as a cop-out and excuse for not doing things that I placed little or no value in. The problem is, there are eternal elements in everything we do. I just didn't like that thought so I distracted myself from the theology of work by using (like a heroin addict) relationships (a good thing), prayer (a good thing), and the study of scripture (a good thing). The lesson though is that every good thing, when used inappropriately, becomes a bad thing. I have paid some dear consequences for my perverse use of spirituality. This blog began to become a distraction... an excuse... rather than a blessing (which it has the potential to be) in my life. My little break has given me a chance to hopefully re-focus.


I suck

I know, I know... I said I would try to have my second marriage post up by the other evening. I just haven't had the time to write it all out yet. I will really try to post it tomorrow afternoon. 

In the meantime, I will share with you that Kristy and I bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner a little while ago. Those things are expensive. I thought her obsession with getting one was a little ridiculous. Why pay $600 for a vacuum cleaner when you can get one for $60 at Target? She swore that the Dyson was better. So, she did what does and started searching for the one she wanted and trying to find the best deal on it. My wife is a total "super-shopper" in that she is really good at researching the best products and then finding them at the best prices. She ended up finding a floor model of the "Animal" vacuum cleaner that is specifically designed to pick up pet hair (and when you have an Australian Shepherd, that is important) for sale at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for 40% off the original price. She then negotiated with the sales guy a little and got him to take another 10% off. By the way, you can negotiate prices just about anywhere. I have even haggled at Walmart and gotten the price I wanted.

So, now this vacuum cleaner is going to be $300 plus tax. She then, and I love this... probably because she got this from me, whipped out her 20% off coupon. So, we ended up buying a $600 vacuum cleaner for $258. I still thought that was expensive but she had done such a good job so I signed off on the purchase as well.  

The vacuum is TOTALLY worth it! It really is a superior machine. The carpet looks brand new after every time we run the vacuum. 

Anyway, I know I suck for not getting the 2nd marriage post up. Sorry.


Still Working

So, my car broke down and we are trying to figure out where to get it worked on. I am still working on marriage post #2. I will try to have it up tonight.


"Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday."

That quote is from the Princess Bride. I love that movie. Anywho...

So, I am sitting in class and we are discussing Hinduism yesterday and we get to the story of the Hindu god Krishna. He, in his youth, was known as a great lover. He would come down and seduce the milkmaids in the fields (and show them pleasures beyond pleasures... baw chika baw waw). As he matured, he fell deeply and passionately in love with Radha. It is tough to say whether this is a different god (or goddess) or just his female counterpart (balance is important in Hinduism) but she can be considered a separate entity. The interesting thing is, the other gods and goddesses (most at least) were married, Krishna and Radha were not because their love was to be the ideal form of love  to which all humans should aspire. The reasoning is that once a couple is married, the love leaves.

I am also studying Love, Sex and Marriage in the Middle Ages this semester. We are looking at the views of these during Medieval Times (my Prof. might fail me because of that link!) and it is interesting how many views support stereotypes that we have of the Middle Ages and how many throw those stereotypes out the window. 

There is a lot that the church has to say on the subject of marriage in those days because that is when marriage as we know it today (especially within Christianity and the Christian West) was truly defined. The arguments centered around when and how the actual sacrament (called this as early as Augustine and Jerome if not earlier) takes place. Is it at the moment of consent? Does it entail a sort of public pledge? Is it strictly a secular affair or does the church have involvement (the church maintained their control over marriage while the state saw marriage more as a contractual agreement)? Does consumation have any bearing on the validity of marriage? Can you marry a relative and, if so, how far removed do they have to be (this was an important question... especially to royalty)? Ultimately, the church began putting lots of restrictions on marriage as well as sex in marriage. There is a theology that marriage is fundamentally different after the Fall. In Eden, marriage was instituted by God, but sin corrupted marriage to the point that celibacy was the ideal life and marriage was only necessary to keep people from sinning because of their lust. Interesting way to view something known as a "sacrament" don't you think?

So, on the ecclesial side, we see sort of a prudish attitude towards marriage developing out of three things (in my opinion... I need to do more research on this but this is a preliminary statement): the church's teaching of the higher state of celibacy, the church's desire to extend more control into civil matters, and the church's attempt to define proper Christian behavior.

However, on the secular side we see something very different. We see a similar attitude to that of Hinduism. Unmarried love is far more passionate and true than anything we see in marriage. The Arthurian Romances repeat this theme over and over again, as do the Lais of Marie de France. Every example shows (of course only beautiful and noble... meaning upper class... people are the subjects of these stories) someone in an unhappy marriage finding the love of their life and entering into deep passionate physical behavior (wink wink, nudge nudge) with their new love. Often, these arrangements don't end well, but that furthers the theme that true love cannot last. In fact, that is something that is said repeatedly in the Princess Bride but the movie attempts to quell that thought. But, sometimes they work out for those lovers.  The example of failure in love is Lancelot and Guenivere. Tristan and Isolde offers a couple of scenarios... mostly bad but some end well (the story is so old that there are many different versions, but it is the quintessential love story as well as the oldest in Europe of the time... many other stories quote or refer to Tristan and Isolde).

The point is, what is marriage? Is it possible for passion to remain? Is marriage even supposed to be based on love or is it simply to relieve the burden of sin or to align families in civil contract? Why do we base our feelings of love today on pure passion (as the medieval romances seem to do) when we also seem to think that passion ALWAYS dies within the context of marriage (as Krishna and Radha's example seems to say)? 

Tomorrow, I will further explore marriage today and discuss, based on some of the history of marriage in the church as well as secular, whether our views on marriage and who can and should be allowed to marry are actually faulty. Yes, gay marriage will be talked about, but so will the concepts of pre-marital counseling, the sacramental nature, marriage roles, etc. 



So, I felt that I needed to put a disclaimer up here. I posted about war a few weeks ago (I actually tried to post it way before I talked about baptism, but I did it from youtube and it didn't post until much later... and it posted like 5 times... I erased the extra ones). That seems to be the single most read post of my blogging career and it sparked a lot of good and challenging comments (I was challenged on some of my thinking which is always a good thing). One sort of pet peeve is when folks don't comment under their own names or profiles because it is tough to engage in dialogue when that occurs, but I made a decision when I started this blog that I would welcome any and all comments. I promised myself that I wouldn't censor anyone's words, even if they were negative and/or insulting, they were their words and what they wanted to say. If I am going to hang or fly by my words, so should all of us.

That being said, I felt the need to clarify some of the intent behind my posts. I am writing about things they way (in my view of the world, history, scripture, etc.) they ought to be. I fully understand the way things are but I am attempting to call for something better. I am by no means the first to do this. There are people of great spirituality and intellect that have influenced (and continue to influence) me. I, as all of us, have been shaped by those around me. I hope (and in many cases know... as much as it is possible to know) that they have been iron and that I have been also so that the iron is sharpening iron as scripture says. I am trying to communicate the way things were meant to be AND could be again. I am doing this by suggesting some radical shifts in thought (at least radical for me) and behavior. 

BUT, understand this... some of what I say is extreme and I know this. I do speak in hyperbole sometimes. For example, by suggesting that there is no such thing as evil (as I did in the war post) I very much meant that evil is not an entity in and of itself, but I did not mean that there are not actions we can describe as evil. My point was that evil is not a noun, but it can be an adjective. The way I worded it all, however, was very harsh and hyperbolic. 

I say all of this so that anyone who reads my thoughts here (which I guess I still don't understand why folks read them... but I guess I read other people's thoughts and that we can all challenge each other) understands that, while I might not give much power to the way things are, I very much understand them. I am simply trying to show that all of this was intended to be unbelievably different. I am also trying to show that it was not meant to be inconceivably different. When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, I am convinced (as much as one can be convinced yet remain open to the idea they may be wrong) that He was speaking of the Kingdom He was restarting and that He was leaving it to His followers to see this Kingdom realized "on earth as it is in heaven." So, while I do include some hyperbole in these posts, it is intentional. 

Oh, and the most awesomenest, topest, amazingly amazing book I am reading now is Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. I highly recommend it for it deals with realizing the Kingdom here and now. I am also enjoying Jesus for President as well. It is from this book that I want to quote as an ending to this post. The authors are quoting the early church father Origen (who some condemn as a universalist although I think that is a bit of a mischaracterization because he seemed to teach that Jesus was the only way, truth, and light... he just seemed to believe that all of creation and every human ever would one day acknowledge that fact... he never really said, as far as I can tell, that that meant they would all live in the Kingdom of God for eternity, but that could be inferred and perhaps was his point... one that I don't necessarily disagree with but am still working out) who is quoting a critic of Christianity named Celsus and then responding to the quote. Notice Origen's conclusion:

Celsus: "If you set aside this maxim (that of serving in the military and accepting government offices), you will deservedly suffer for it at the hands of the king. For if all were to do the same as you, there would be nothing to prevent his being left in utter solitude and desertion, and the affairs of the earth would fall into the hands of the wildest and most lawless barbarians."

Origen: "... would that all were to follow my example in rejecting the maxim..., maintaining the divine origin of the kingdom (rejecting that Rome has any claim to divine Origen... much as I reject the U.S. having any such claim as well), and observing the precept to honour the king! In these circumstances the king will not "be left in utter solitude and desertion," neither will "the affairs of the world fall into the hands of the most impious and wild barbarians." For if, in the words of Celsus, "they do as I do," then it is evident that even the barbarians, when they yield obedience to the word of God, will become most obedient to the law, and most humane; and every form of worship will be destroyed except the religion of Christ (destroyed by love and conversion rather than the sword), which will alone prevail. And indeed it will one day triumph, as its principles take possession of the minds of men (and women) more and more every day.

Even Origen spoke in terms of what was possible and spoke of the radical means by which the unbelievable yet conceivable (I know... paradoxical ain't it) can come about. Origen knew the dangers in the world... he knew that people would lose their lives in this process. But he also knew that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.



There is a theory put forth by Victor Turner that the bonds of community are formed through liminality. This means that by beginning in one state, entering into and experiencing a common in-between state (one that is not permanent but is also separate from the beginning state and the ending state), and then finishing in an entirely new state that can only be reached through the liminal state, people form into a community.

An example of this liminal state would be bootcamp. Presently I have two friends who have joined the marines and are going through their 12 weeks of bootcamp. Before they left, they were private citizens just like the rest of us. However, once they climbed aboard that bus they were no longer private citizens... but they were also not fully marines. These next 12 weeks are going to be grueling and taxing but they are by no means going to last forever, they are only 12 weeks. But, at the end of this process, they will be marines. No longer will they be merely private citizens (even after their service has ended they are always known as "veterans" rather than just "citizens"), but they will be full-fledged marines. Other marines will see them as brothers. The uniform, the haircut, the look in their eyes, and sometimes the tattoos will make them fairly recognizable to others who have also passed through the liminal state of bootcamp. A community exists and the initiation into it (marking the permanent "citizenship" in it) was the bootcamp experience.

Religions function much the same way. Since I am a Christian, I will only talk about that experience here. One of the liminal states in Christianity (and perhaps one of the most important) is the conversion experience. Whether you are someone who can point to an exact moment when your heart turned to God or you went through more of a process, there was a time where you (to use the imagery of Jacob) wrestled with God. You had heard something or experienced something that challenged the ideas/beliefs/goals of your present community and you went through a time of reflection on those things. That time of reflection was liminal. It would not be (nor is it meant to be) permanent. People either eventually decide to move to the other side or they go back where they were and never completely pass through the liminal state. Anyone who calls themselves Christian (and actually understands what that means in a spiritual way rather than a cultural way... although cultural Christians are a community with an initiation as well) has experienced this liminality. That is why we call each other "sisters" and "brothers" because true community is really the same as a family bond.

I think this community is reinforced by entering into liminal states together regularly. These shared moments of limbo strengthen our family bond. Worship does this. In worship, we are not completely in this world... we are glimpsing into a world that is beyond (not to be too neo-platonic). We consciously enter this state and should come out changed (together) on the other side. Does worship do this for you? Does it do this for me? It should. We should not be able to enter into the presence of God together and come out the other side exactly the same as we went in. If that is happening, I would suggest that either you (and I) are not truly entering into worship or that our community as a whole is not.

There are many other liminal states within Christianity that further bind our hearts together. Service, suffering, miracles, etc. all serve this purpose. Mission trips, camp trips, a conversation... none of these are permanent but they should leave us changed and should strengthen our bonds of friendship... or better yet our family. If we don't enter into these states (they are scary if you think about entering into something that is inherently volatile since it is not permanent and it will enact change in your life) then we will never get to experience the community. 


Welcome Back!

So, I have not been blogging as regularly as I would like, and that situation is ending now. I went on vacation (it was great, thanks for asking) and school started back up immediately after we got home.

My class schedule this semester is not as grueling as this summer, but it is tough. I am taking 5 classes on campus and doing an independent study... so 6 classes in total. 

One class, the professor herself (whom I've taken before) told me I could almost sleep through it and get an A (always nice to hear from your professor... but it is a required class for my minor so I'll suffer through an easy A). I am taking a class on Ancient Greece from a guy who studied at Oxford and is notoriously nit-picky. I am going to have to work hard in that one. Medieval Britain is a class that I think I will do well in but I am still trying to figure out the professor so I know how to write for her. My class on the Politics of Britain and Ireland (Murph I'm sure is proud that I am learning about his homeland) seems like it won't be difficult but it will be time consuming with readings and studying for the exams. Plus, the professor in that class is extremely strict and has the toughest grading scale I've ever experienced (96-100=A, 91-95=A-, 86-90=B, etc.). My class on Love and Romance in the Middle Ages is interesting and enjoyable... plus I have already read most of the books in other classes and the theological stuff is familiar to me as well. My independent study is with a professor that I've gotten to know as a friend. He is unbelievably intelligent (7 Master's Degrees and he will get his Doctorate this year despite going blind in the past 2 years), and he is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church. We agree on many things theologically (although we do differ on some things as well), and he has agreed to teach me Biblical Greek this semester and next.

The great thing about the independent study is that it will put me ahead when I head off to seminary next year. It will allow me to pursue further study in Greek while in seminary and to take more difficult classes in more specific areas as well. Plus we get to move at our own pace (which, thankfully, is faster than a typical class of 30 or 40 students).

Overall, this semester will be challenging but good. I see no reason I can't succeed in all of my classes, but one of the lessons I am beginning to grasp in my life is that I must always work as hard as possible. Why do something if you aren't going to do it the whole way?


It's evil, don't touch it!

If you have never seen Time Bandits, you need to run (don't walk) to your local library/video store and get it, bring it home, and prepare to enjoy a fantastic film. Of course, this clip is a bit of a spoiler as it is the ending, but it really doesn't have a ton of bearing on the rest of the movie.

The question I am asking today is, does evil really exist? Is there such a thing as evil? Can evil ever really be "incarnate"?

I was reading a review of The Dark Knight (fantastic by the way... see it in IMAX if you can) and this was the question being asked. There is no such thing as darkness, just the absence of light. There is no "cold" only the absence of heat. Is evil like this? Does it actually not exist in and of itself? What if evil is just the absence of something else?

If that is the case, what is the "something else" that is missing when we experience things that are evil? I think "good" cannot possibly cover it. I have been in plenty of circumstances where good had no presence but I didn't experience evil. Ultimately, evil is the word we attach to anything that lacks love. Love is the thing that, when missing, makes evil seem so real.

But evil has no power of its own. Even if you think of a being like Satan or the devil as being evil, the truth is that he/she/it is actually the absence of God (who defines himself/herself as "Love"). There is no point in combatting evil. It is not a real thing. If we stop focusing on the experience of an absence and simply bring back the presence of that which is missing, evil will cease. As trite as this sounds, love really is the answer. We must choose to respond to the absence of it by bringing it with us rather than simply responding by continuing to dwell in love's absence. War is the absence of love. The way to end war and conflict is through love, not more war.

War: it's evil, don't touch it.

Rocky Mountain High

So Kristy and I are heading for Durango, Colorado in the morning. I have been looking forward to this vacation for 3 months... ever since summer classes started and I had 12 straight weeks of 21 hours of classes to sit through each week, I have been pining to go to my in-laws' house in the mountains and sleep late, eat home-made soup and bread, and play scrabble.

There are two unfortunate parts about this trip.
1) The 'rents still use dial-up! This means posts might be few and far between since the closest town is 20 minutes away. I will write when I can.
2) Our dog can't come. We thought about letting her fly in the cargo section of the plane, but when we looked into it we heard horror stories of the area not being pressurized correctly and the dogs dying or the sheer stress of it killed the dogs. We are not willing to take that chance. She would be so much fun at their house. They are on the side of a mountain and Ellie would love running through the woods and chasing the squirrels. She adores my father-in-law also. But, we opted for having our friend, Guy, come and watch her. He is the one who wrote the post on Animal Theology I linked to a couple of weeks ago, so I'm pretty sure he values creation enough to care for our kid/dog for a week. Plus we paid him.

Hopefully I'll be able to get a couple of posts in this next week. If not, I'll be back on the 25th! Pray that a hurricane doesn't hit Jacksonville while we are gone.



Also known as eucharist or Lord's supper. It is the oldest element of Christian worship. Although there are many Old Testament/Hebrew Bible/Tanakh allusions to the eventual sacrament of communion, it was fully established by Jesus at the Last Supper and has been THE staple of Christian worship for 2,000 years.  Interestingly, in the past couple of hundred years many denominations have shifted the focus away from communion.

Here are a few of the basic disagreements regarding communion: symbol vs. sacrament, necessary elements, frequency, who can partake, and the ultimate purpose of it. 

Again, I will show my hand at the start.  I see communion as a sacrament (a rite that conveys grace, blessing, or holiness to the believer who participates in it). The elements are bread and wine (I am okay with grape juice as long as we understand that unfermented grape juice didn't exist until Welch's invented it). I am a proponent of it happening every week (even though my denomination usually only does it once a month). I think it should only be for those believers who have joined mystically with the Body of Christ (the Church universal) through baptism. I think the purposes of communion are:
1) Renew and strengthen the Church
2) Offer a sacrifice to God
3) Mystically connect with every other believer
4) Mystically connect with Christ
5) Point to the day when we will eat with God at the banquet table

I will now reveal more of my hand. Despite my seemingly strong and somewhat nit-picky beliefs, I also think that we must avoid the temptation to make it too formulaic. While I think there are proper ways of participating in communion, the goal is to participate. If you don't have wine or grape juice, use whatever you have. The point is to eat together. The point is to open up a place for Christ to be present. The point is to be strengthened. The point is to experience some of heaven on earth.

Christ said, "This is my body." Now, I am not much of a literalist, but I do believe that Jesus meant that in some way, he is Truly present in communion. Not just in the way that he is always there, but that in the act of the words being said, the elements being offered, and the people being gathered together Jesus is actually present. This is known as the real presence. Did you know that not only do Catholics and Orthodox believe this (Catholics define it as transubstantiation which means that the elements become the literal flesh and blood... the Orthodox do not have this defined the way Catholics do, but they are similar), but both Luther AND Calvin taught forms of the real presence? Luther taught consubstantiation. This means that Christ is present with the elements. Once the meal is done, he is not longer present. This is why he had a problem with the Catholic practice of eucharistic adoration. I don't have a problem with that practice since they are approaching it from the standpoint of believing that they are worshipping Jesus. If they believed he wasn't in the bread and still worshipped it, that would be idolatry, but it is not the way Catholics do it! Calvin said that Jesus was present in the meal by the preaching of the word and the blessing of the offering.  

All three positions teach that grace is received through communion. Not the "saving grace" we think of when we normally hear the word grace (necessarily), but more the grace of experiencing God more and being further equipped because of the experience to love the world more. The position that it is merely symbolic loses this. It reduces the table to just a mere act of remembrance. While that element is definitely there ("do this in remembrance of me"), it is only the beginning. Again, as with baptism, stopping at the symbols is failing to see the bigger picture.

Because grace is conferred and the meal itself is unifying, there is absolutely no good reason not to do it every week (hell, the Catholics have it even better by doing it everyday)! Do we not want too much grace? Is too much unity unhealthy? 



There are plenty more aspects to this issue than the argument between baptizing infants or baptizing "believers" only.  There are disagreements over the method: sprinkling or full immersion.  There are arguments about what actually takes place: purely symbolic, sacramental, or even actual forgiveness of sins (original sin included).  Some even say that baptism in necessary for salvation while others would say that it is not.

The interesting part is that all of these positions have some biblical support.  I know, some of you just blew a gasket.  "How the hell does the Bible support baptizing babies??!!"  or "HERESY! How dare you say that the Bible says baptism doesn't remove original sin!"  But bear with me.  Before I start any of this, I have to make one point.  Walter Brueggemann (one of the world's foremost biblical scholars) suggests that it is impossible to interpret scripture completely free of bias.  John Wesley said a similar thing long ago as well.  I agree.  Brueggemann says that we all interpret scripture based on 40 verses (or passages).  We find the 40 that we like/agree with/can ascribe to, and then we sift all other passages through those verses.  So, if one of your verses is Acts 2:37-38 then you will probably view all passages talking about baptism as having to do with people who believe, but also having to do with sins actually being forgiven and the Holy Spirit entering the life at baptism.  However, if you like verse 39 more then you might think baptism is for children.  We all have bias when approaching scripture.  I do too.  But this is my blog so I get to say what I think... lol.

First, is baptism for "believers only" or should the church baptize infants?  I will start by revealing my position.  I strongly believe that we SHOULD baptize infants.  The arguments against are purely arguments of omission.  The fact is, baptism is repeatedly compared with circumcision in the NT.  A Jewish baby is traditionally circumcised on the 8th day.  This circumcision makes that baby a member of Abraham's line.  This takes placed based on the faith and heritage of the parents... the baby has no say in it.  Now, if some one converts later in life to Judaism (traditionally speaking here), he is to be circumcised as an adult to enact the same effect.

Now, if baptism is simply an "outward sign of an inward faith" as many like to say, this analogy makes no sense.  If the ingratiation into the Christian family has already taken place and baptism is merely the outward sign of that, then a baby doesn't need to be baptized. Unfortunately for those who believe this, circumcision meant more than just an outward sign. It was that as well, don't get me wrong, but it began the membership in the community.  That boy was now a Jew for the rest of his life.  No matter what, he had been claimed and that claim was based in the faith of his parents.

Nowhere does the Bible forbid infant baptism.  In fact, a strong argument can be made that when "entire households" are baptized, infants would be included. Jesus warns NOT to hinder the little children from coming to him. And the strongest example of God acting in a person's life based on the faith of others is the story of the paralytic.  A man is brought before Jesus by his friends.  It is the faith of the friends that prompts Jesus to heal the man.  The man does nothing! He could have chosen not to get up. He could have gone home and laid back down on his mat. Many who are baptized, even though they have experienced this healing from God based on the faith of their parents and the priest/pastor end up laying back down on their mat. If you lay down long enough, your muscles will stop working. Nevertheless, just because we do not choose to live in the truth, the truth is no less true.

Those who oppose infant baptism most likely ascribe to a more contractual form of salvation rather than covenantal. The problem is, there was no such thought of contractual salvation until Calvin (pretty much). The promises of God were passed from parent to child. Blood carried it, and blood delivered it.  Jesus' blood was the instrument of the new covenant (not contract). A contract can only be entered into by those who are able to understand it. This is where we get an idea of an "age of accountability." A covenant, however, is passed on with or without our consent. Age of accountability is not found anywhere in the Bible. A key argument against infant baptism is that it is not explicitly found in scripture, but the same folks who make this argument ascribe to the "unscriptural" idea of an age of accountability. It is an interesting inconsistency.

But if it is covenantal instead of contractual, and if it actually begins something rather than just symbolize something that had already begun, then what actually happens at baptism and how do we get it to happen? I loathe reducing God (or the actions of God) to a formula.  If I do A and B then God does C.  It's bologna (I would use another word beginning with "b" if I didn't want to keep this family friendly). But, God promises that if, in faith (whether it be a "believer" or an infant brought before the community of believers) some one is baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, then that person receives grace. That grace has many functions: it removes sin, it opens up space for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it initiates the person into the community, it begins the relationship with God. Now, again, there is an element of symbolism in this act, but there is so much more as well. The act does symbolize what happens inwardly. It also symbolizes the participant dying and raising again, just like Christ (and with Christ). But grace is present. It is sacramental. Something mysterious takes place and we lose that when we fear what we cannot completely understand.

So, does it have to be by immersion or is sprinkling okay? Well, all of the denominations that use sprinkling agree that the preferred method is immersion. But they all say that it is not the necessary form. What is necessary is: water, faith (again, either of the individual or the community for the individual), and the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If immersion is the only way, why are there so many places in this world where that would be impossible? Does God not want people in the Sahara to be baptized? Do we have to spend money on building a pool in our sanctuary, or can we give that money to the poor and just use a little tub and sprinkle the water? God wants us to use our heads. I find it interesting that it is the people who ascribe to a purely symbolic baptism who also demand immersion. Which is it? Is the act just a symbol and thus, not really necessary, or is it more than that? It is more than that which is why God is just fine with freedom in the method.  Again, only 3 things are said to be necessary (Jesus says unless a person is born of water and the Spirit... He does not say immersed in water): water, faith, and the three names of God.  

Overall, when we reduce baptism to a symbolic act, we lose the mystery that accompanies it. When we close it to only those who believe, we block the saving power of the faith of others in our lives (just like the paralytic got to experience). When we limit it to immersion only, we reduce God to a formula. Baptism is about being a part of the new covenant, joining the family of that covenant, experiencing grace, receiving the Holy Spirit, allowing freedom to reign in our lives and the life of the church, and challenging the community to love this new member of their family. A baby dedication (also not found in the Bible the way those who practice it today do it) does not accomplish all of this and certainly does not bind the community together in covenant.  It is just another line in contract. We need to move beyond the legal and into the familial. God is about relationships, not clauses.


Embracing the Past

Christianity has such a rich tradition.  Unfortunately, in an attempt to throw of the rules and regulations of the past in order to usher in a new age of freedom, we have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

So, for the next few blog posts, I plan on exploring different aspects of Christianity through (my own biased) historical and modern lenses.  I plan on discussing baptism, communion, liturgy, meditation, evangelism (this one will be in a couple of parts: 1. method of salvation we communicate, 2. modes we use to communicate, pros and cons of these), church governance, and some others.  This might be what you see in here for the rest of the month.  I welcome any and all comments, criticisms, and "funnies" (as my wife calls them).


5 years!

Apparently the 5 year anniversary is the "Wood" anniversary.  So, today (August 9th), I am trying to find a good wooden gift to give my wife (view what she does all day here). Well, since marriages don't last as long as they used to, some people have tried to push for a modernization of the traditional anniversary gifts.  Some are saying that 5 years is now the "Silverware" anniversary.  Kristy says if I buy here silverware I won't be sleeping in the bed tonight. 

I can't believe it has been 5 years.  When we first got married, it was weird to sleep in the same bed with some one else.  I had trouble falling asleep for a while.  Now, it's weird when she's not there.  When I turn 55 years old, I will hit the point where I will have been married longer than I was single.  That is a long way off, and I think that my life already feels that real.  She has been such a great partner, friend, confidant, and lover (yeah, I said it!).  I know I am a lucky guy. Happy anniversary, Kristy (if you ever read this...).  ;)


Hello (hello, hello) can anybody hear me?

So that's twice this week my titles have quoted Pink Floyd.  Is there some blogspot award for that?

I don't think even my wife reads this blog.  I know that my friends Mike (formerly Mike-dogg) and Shelley have stopped by, but other than them I am not sure anyone is reading this.

Oh well, it's a good thing I am not really writing in here just about everyday for others.  This has been a great outlet for me so far and my wife (again, who doesn't read this) doesn't have to endure my ramblings quite as much (unless she gets some alcohol in me).  

Well, I will continue writing.  I hope to get better.  If you have any suggestions let me know.
I sure Wish You Were Here (hey, there's another Pink Floyd reference!).

Battle of the Sexes

So I just finished reading Lysistrata and it was pretty good. It is basically a battle of wills between the men and women of Greece. The women are pissed that the men are warring with each other and Lysistrata leads the women in withholding sex from the men until they make peace.  

I heard about an experiment one time where they took mice and put them in a cage with two levers.  One lever would release food.  The other lever would create a sensation similar to an orgasm.  
The mice starved to death.  That being said, I'll let you guess how the play ends.

One of my favorite shows of all time is "Cheers". The cast of characters was fantastic.  I liked it with and without Diane (Shelly Long), but I thought Rebecca (Kirstie Alley... the Jenny Craig woman) got a little crazy towards the end of the series (which ran for 11 years... that makes it the 2nd longest running, non-animated, sitcom of all time... trivia: 1. What is the longest running, non-animated, sitcom of all time? answer at the end of the post... 2. What is the longest running, animated, sitcom? answer at the end of the post).  By far, though, my favorite was Norm.

I think the line that made me laugh the most was when the guys were sitting around talking about Sam's woman troubles and Norm says, "Women, can't live with them... pass the beer nuts." I don't even remember the next scene because I was laughing so hard.

One of the battle cries in Lysistrata is said by the Chorus of Men... their "motto" is: Misogyny Forever!" While it is meant by the author comedically, the line seems to still be lived out today in much of the world, and the church seems to have shaped itself to the world so much that it is no different. Women, in much of the church, are still denied certain positions simply based on what (or what isn't) is in their pants.  Some churches have moved beyond this, but I wonder if they all reached the correct conclusion for the correct reasons. A female Episcopalian Priest said, "I have more respect for some one who denies my ordination based on their strongly held beliefs about tradition and scripture than some one who supports my ordination out of some sense of human rights.  It has to be supported theologically or not at all." 

Obviously she (as do I) feels women's ordination is fully supported biblically, historically, and theologically (as well as simply logically), but I know that I have, at times, slipped into the "human rights" argument and almost a false messiah complex that I need to save women from this oppression.  The argument does not need me.  It is well supported without my help.  I am not the savior women have been waiting for... and neither is any other person (save for Jesus of course).  Our job is to support each other and strive to help each other fulfill God's call on our lives.  That support comes from biblical, historical, theological, and practical places.  It cannot come from feeling sorry for some one.  I confess I have done that in the past... and I apologize.

Answers: 1. The Danny Thomas Show aka Make Room For Daddy (351 episodes), 2. The Simpsons (ca. 420 episodes and still going!)


Money, it's a gas

Well, Pink Floyd almost had it right.  They should have said, "Money, goes to gas."  Holy crap I can't believe how much our household expenses have gone up.  My wife and I have a few dollars remaining to last us the day and then her check is deposited tonight at midnight.  Payday couldn't come soon enough.  Gas and milk both cost $4.  Produce is through the roof. We don't eat meat (just fish sometimes... I am rethinking that in light of animal theology) so that helps, but healthy food (organic, free-trade, etc.) seems to have gone up the most.  Oh well, I am just happy I can open my fridge and know that there will be something in there I can eat.  Of course, it might just be a SmartDog or a SlimFast shake, but it is more than a lot of people get... and for that, I am grateful.


On Belay!

For those of you who have ever worked at a ropes course or gone rock-climbing, you know what that phrase means.  For those who haven't, there are two options for ropes courses.  One is static and the other is dynamic.
Static (left) means that each person in the air is attached with a short tether to the belay cable or anchor point.  The participant/climber removes, attaches, and secures themselves as they move through the course and is only able to move along the lines of the course and the length of their tether (6-8 feet usually).  They are on their own for the most part and this is usually the safest option.

Dynamic (right) means that for each person in the air there is a facilitator on the ground holding their rope (the belayer).  Thus, dynamic courses require a dependence on another person.  They also offer more freedom of movement (side to side, up and down, etc.) for the participant/climber yet are inherently more dangerous.

Static courses are easy and usually don't get a lot of people who want to do them again and again.  They are for beginners.  The are great for getting some one over their fear of heights and for establishing certain principles and ideas in climbing.  Dynamic courses are the most fun. They offer scary moments even for the most seasoned participants.  They have the element of mystery attached to them as every movement can lead to a different path than before.  You can swing your self around an obstacle instead of having to trudge the same path as every other person has done.  

Faith is supposed to be dynamic.  We aren't supposed to know every step of the way.  There are supposed to be constant questions and multiple options.  It's supposed to be scary.  It's supposed to be fun.  A static faith is the one filled with expectations and responsibilities.  A dynamic faith moves past those into freedom.  Granted, that freedom should not lead us to detach ourselves from the rope and the one it is connected to.  It should not cause us to abuse the person holding the rope by jumping off at random points and expecting them to always save us.  We must respect, honor, and cherish the one who takes upon themselves the responsibility and care for us.  But we also get to trust that person and swing and change direction and free fall and experience the freedom that comes with dynamic faith.

The Bible is a dynamic book.  Anyone who reduces it to "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" cheapens the danger that lies within.  They abandon the freedom it represents.  And worst of all, they limit its truths to that which is contained between the covers.  They do not allow the experiences of others to shape how we view the narratives (which are just written experiences) within.  The Bible, in a sense, is still being written.  It is living and active and remains so as long as we continue to live it and allow it to live through us.  As we activate it and we contribute to the story, the Bible continues to grow and become more and more relevant to us and the world in which we live.  Those who limit it or claim to understand it or cheapen it to a list of "do's and don'ts" make this dynamic book static.  It will only ever take them 6-8 feet. Those who strive to let it be dynamic will get to experience the wonder and terror of this incredible narrative.  And our stories will continue that narrative.

Bottom line, the Bible is not the course.  It is not the belayer.  It is simply the rope.  The course is our story and the limit we place on the rope will limit our experiences.  The belayer is Christ. And we are the precious ones whom he chooses to attach himself to.  He does it to save us, to free us, and to watch with joy as we swing through the trees.  I pray I move more towards that dynamic faith.  I pray I view the Bible as active.  I pray the static mindset I (and the church in general) have clung to is shattered and adventure comes in its place.


New Math

Yesterday in the mail, I received a newsletter from an old friend.  This guy is a key figure in my spiritual development.  I was in a Bible study that met at his house on Sunday evenings for about 3 1/2 years.  Not only that, I took his class, worked out with him a few times a week, and spent one on one time with him regularly.  

I remember one day, he came to my apartment and said that we were cleaning my car.  I used to be pretty messy.  Not that I am the picture of tidiness now, but I do my share of chores (reluctantly) and generally keep things in decent order today.  Back then it was a different story and for over two hours we cleaned my car.  Mind you, this was a 1986 Mazda 323 so it wasn't a very big car and it took us two hours to clean it.  I was delivering pizza at the time and my car was disgusting.  Evan's point wasn't for me to have a clean car.  His point was that, as a grown up... a "man of God" if you will..., I needed to start being responsible.  I needed to put myself in a position where I could have credibility when representing Jesus.  If I was to impact the world, I had to be in the world AND I had to be some one the world would listen to.  The world I was trying to reach probably wouldn't pay attention to some one who kept 3 week old pizza under their passenger seat.

Evan practiced incarnational ministry.  Although he is a fantastic teacher with a lot of head knowledge, he knows that life-on-life interaction is what really shapes some one else.  The ministry he runs at the University of Cincinnati is the Navigators.  They value discipleship over big programming.  Don't get me wrong, they run meetings and events for people to come check them out, but those are not the focus and certainly NOT where the leaders and staff spend the majority of their time.  It is in meeting with individuals and small groups.  Iron sharpening iron as proverbs tells it.

Evan shared an example with me once and it has stuck (and sticking to it has caused friction for me in ministries that don't have an easy time getting past the big meetings).  This is the new math.  If you take a preacher who runs around and converts 1,000 people a year and compare him/her to a "discipler" who converts 1 person a year but then teaches that person to do the same thing with 1 person the next year (then the two of them do the same thing the next year... etc.), the numbers are astounding.  After 5 years: the preacher has 5,001 (including themselves) and the discipler has 32.  The preacher is kicking some ass!  After 10: preacher = 10,001 and discipler = 1,024 (didn't the preacher have that after 1 year??  Sheesh, what is this person doing??).  After 15: preacher = 15,001 and discipler = 32,768.  What the hell just happened?  The discipler has now impacted double what the preacher has impacted.  The discipler might not be as famous, but he/she is having a far deeper impact on the world.  Incidentally, after 30 years the preacher has reached 30,001 while the discipler has reached over 5 billion.

Now, I know that is an extreme example.  There are very few "preachers" out there who don't desire their converts to go off and  share the gospel with others.  But where are we putting the majority of our time?  Is it in preaching or discipling?  The latter cannot happen in large group meetings.  It is in one on one, small groups, life-on-life, iron sharpening iron, etc.  My friend taught me that and his recent newsletter reminded me of it in a powerful way.


Right to Life

I get so bothered by people who claim to be pro-life but really aren't.  Being in favor of life must mean ALL life.  Not just innocent babies.  Not just those who cannot make life and death decisions on their own.  ALL life.

Here is the list of things anyone who call themselves pro-life must care about.

1. Abortion: I do believe this is an important issue.  I would love to see no more abortions happen in the world.  The problem is that just passing laws or overturning cases from the 70s isn't going to solve the problem.  Did you know that at least 200,000 abortions occur in the U.S. every year because the women have no financial options that they know of?  If they had childcare options, medical benefits, a living wage, etc., there would be 200,000 new lives walking among us each year.  If you care about abortion, you better start caring about women's financial situations.

2. War: For the first 400 years of Christianity, violence and force were completely forbidden... even in cases of defense of others and self.  This changed when the Church and Rome became partners.  Some argue that it had to.  That's fine.  But taking a life is still taking a life and is always wrong... it just might (and I use "might" very loosely) not be as wrong in some situations as others.  Did you know that even during the Crusades, one of the bloodiest legacies of Western Christianity, when a soldier killed an "infidel" (better known as a Muslim today) they were still required to do penance?  Even the thing for which they received an indulgence for was considered wrong... just not AS wrong as letting the Holy Land go.  While I disagree with the priorities, it should still be noted that the taking of a life is always considered wrong and should only be done in the rarest of cases (if at all!).  War should never be entered into by a Christian in my opinion.  I know there is theology out there that disagrees with me.  I also know that my belief has more biblical support.  Either way, even if war is permitted in certain circumstances, Christians must carefully look at the situation.  We tend not to.  It is interesting to me that many of those who supported the Iraq War in the beginning were also vehemently pro-life.  Yet, despite every major Christian denomination (except for Southern Baptists) saying it did not meet just war requirements, they turned a deaf ear and showed they aren't as concerned with some lives as others.  Incidentally, since I started this blog we have spent over $3 billion on the War in Iraq.

3. Death Penalty: It is completely unnecessary in most of the world today.  We can keep some one in prison without parole for the rest of their lives if they are truly a threat to society.  Those who seem to favor the death penalty say that those people are guilty.  Aren't we all?  Don't we all deserve the "wages of sin"?  These are human lives and we are just willing to take them if a jury finds them guilty.  Look up how many innocent people that have been executed and later shown to be innocent.  The number will make you sick to your stomach.

4. Stem-Cell Research: This is a somewhat difficult one for me.  I want to value these human lives.  But what if they are already dead?  Should they be allowed to be used for possible life saving research?  Would that open the door to the manufacturing and killing of these lives?  I would hope not.  It is such a slippery slope.  I would consider myself against the harvesting of living cells from a living being that will die because of it.  I would not be opposed to taking cells from a being who had already died.  But as I think abortions should end (and combatting poverty and the other root causes will be much more effective that criminalization), this issue becomes increasingly difficult because it would lead to manufacturing these embryos and then destroying them.  We should also care about finding cures to disease.  How do we balance the two?  This one requires deep reflection.

5. Euthanasia: Does some one have the right to decide when their own life should end?  Does some one else have the right to help them in their decision?  Legally... I have to say yes.  Morally, I trust God and His timing.  Of course, I am not in a position of experiencing excruciating pain on a daily basis.  I think one way of lessening the need for euthanasia is for the younger generations to start caring for their elders again instead of dumping them in nursing homes.  Even through pain, if family were present everyday and caring for them, pain is easier to manage.  I think euthanasia has a root cause in loneliness and fear of being a burden (this is why most of Dr. Kevorkian's patients have been women... they fear being a burden far more than men do according to most studies).  If the family can eliminate the burden fear and the loneliness, euthanasia will decline dramatically as a desired procedure.

6. Health Care: If we really care about life, we would be willing to sacrifice time and convenience to protect it.  Free-market solutions to the staggering health care problem are NOT the answer.  All they do is say "you are on your own" to millions of Americans.  We fear having to depend on each other.  It is the "American" in us.  We are fiercely independent creatures and it is wrong.  We must ensure that ALL people (beginning here at home and moving outward) have the same access to medical care as the wealthiest currently do.  It is simply anti-life to be anti-health care for all people.  

I know I have sounded harsh, but the time for change is now.  I am sick and tired of being lumped in with anti-abortion zealots who want to arrest women in poverty for exercising the only choice they think they have while the same people cheer as we drop bombs on Iraq and scream foul when the government wants to intervene on behalf of its own citizens' rights to Life by universalizing health care.