Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas everyone! I am sure you have an email box full of "Merry Christmas" wishes. I just checked my cell phone and I have several "Merry Christmas" text messages waiting to either be answered or just experienced as a nice greeting on my white Christmas.

Last night, the folks in our church fellowship got to experience a first-of-its-kind worship service. We had a joint worship service with the Asian American Ecumenical Church. I was surprised to learn that this was a first for us--something I didn't know until Dion mentioned it in the service. After the service, Dion said that his congregation has worshiped with us on a few occasions but this was the first bona fide joint worship service.

In case you missed it, our congregations' choirs joined together and Dion and I tag-teamed in preaching. Then, we sang lots of Christmas carols and ended the service with a Candlelight service singing Silent Night. And the sanctuary was packed! We had chairs in the Social Hall (which is connected to the sanctuary separated by sliding doors that were opened up for the occasion). We had so many people, it was standing room only. Or at least, it looked that way. ;)

Dion and I had planned the preaching service so that we'd tagteam the sermon, each taking turns preaching on a shared theme: how to interpret the themes of Christmas (the themes of Advent too) into our current ecomonic and social unrests. We also spoke about bringing the Christmas spirit throughout the year thereby making Christmas a year-long experience.

The wonderful worship service reminded me how much I enjoy this season. And, to be honest, I am a bit tired of hearing all the bad things about this season. Sure, its a season of commercialization and overspending--but don't we hear that every year? This year I did my best not to mention it--both because no one has any money (which made it easier) and because it's a tired mantra. Instead I hope we can focus on the things about Christmas we enjoy--because it is something we truly all experience, in one form or another. Garrison Keillor said it best when likening Christmas to a thunderstorm:

"A lovely thing about Christmas is that it's compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together."

Having this shared experience is good because it teaches others the lessons we learn while we're enjoying it. Rather than focus on the negatives of Christmas (which in turn get retaught, re-experienced, and regurgitated season after season), I think it's better to focus on the good of the season and being mindful of the traditions we celebrate, create, and pass along to our children, partners, families, and families of choice.

And so I wish you a Merry Christmas and hope that all your traditions are bringing you closer to one another and closer to God. Fortunately, when we're being drawn to one another in love, we're also being drawn to God (I love how God made love to be the transcendant magnate that benefits the Kingdom while benefiting those who employ it with one another). May your season be blessed. And may you experience all the joys and fun of this season.

I'll see you all next week. Tomorrow I am leaving to Oklahoma for 4 days of my own familial traditions.

h/t to The Bilerico Project for the Keillor quote.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Catching Up

Today is an unusual day in my pastoring in that I am caught up with many things. With Sunday's Scripture and Carol service prepared and the Christmas Eve service nearly planned (but need more information from others before I can finish it up), I have an afternoon to get caught up with other things.

For the last couple of hours, I have been online getting caught up with my blog readings. As many of you know, I read a lot and much of what I read is online. I read a cornucopia of blogs ranging from LGBT issues to church growth, evangelism, and various theologies. I also read friend's blogs, organizational ones, and even a few decorating ones.

Today I watched a video about the impact of evangelicalism in America and how BIG it really is. I knew it was big, by the way, but the video I watched was simply amazing. There are six parts to the video and are worth watching in their entirety.

I also watched a YouTube video from Penn (of Penn and Teller) talk about how he was approached by someone prosyltizing to him (and Penn is a notorious atheist). Penn's reaction to this someone is heart-felt and good to watch.

I read a whole lot about Obama's selecting Rick Warren to lead his inauguration prayer. Many folks are furious about the selection but Pastor Dan sums it up well (although he uses a horrible cuss word in doing so). Maybe it won't bother you...maybe my Oklahoma sensibilities are just too sensitive.

And now, I just read an interesting post from Chuck Warnock about 5 Lessons I Did Not Learn in Seminary which hit home.

I'll be doing more surfing throughout the afternoon. Now I need to finish reading a couple of books for school. Presently I am reading Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey, by Jim Herrington, Mike Bonem, and James Furr and The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, by Alan Hirsch.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

You Cannot Live on Hope Alone...but you can't live without it either.

This video is from a speech by Harvey Milk shortly after he was elected to office in San Francisco. The video is about hope and today, Sunday, November 30 marks the beginning of our Advent season as we look forward and backward to the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

Today hope comes in many forms. We can look to Jesus as the source of our hope but then what? Is hope merely wishful thinking? Or, does it propel was forward into something greater? The hope in Jesus' first and second comings are meant to inspire us, not merely an assent to God. The hope we have believes a better world is possible. The hope we have motivates us to be better than we think is possible. And yet, it also reminds us that Jesus' hope for us is for us to rely upon him, trust him, and remain expectant in his ability to transform us, our community, and our world.

In some ways, its a dynamic tension--trusting God to care for the world and knowing that we have been empowered by God to work out the hope that God instills and inspires within us. How we go about doing that will be the recurring theme throughout this Advent season.

h/t Michael Piazza for the video.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

7 Ways To Recession-Proof Your Life

Here is a story written by Amy Fontinelle of Yahoo's Personal Finance that can help us keep our heads about us in our challenging economy. She writes,
Are you worried about how a recession might affect you? You can put your fears to rest because there are many everyday habits the average person can implement to ease the sting of a recession, or even make it so its effects aren't felt at all. In this article, we'll discuss seven ways to do just that.

No. 1: Have an Emergency Fund

If you have plenty of cash lying around in a high-interest, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured account, not only will your money retain its full value in times of market turmoil, it will also be extremely liquid, giving you easy access to funds if you lose your job or are forced to take a pay cut. Also, if you have your own cash, it won't be an issue if other sources of backup funds dry up, such as a home equity line of credit.

No. 2: Always Live Within Your Means
If you make it a habit to live within your means each and every day, you are less likely to go into consumer debt when gas or food prices go up and more likely to adjust your spending in other areas to compensate. Debt begets more debt when you can't pay it off right away - if you think gas prices are high, wait until you're paying 29.99% annual percentage rate (APR) on them.

To take this principle to the next level, if you have a spouse and are a two-income family, see how close you can get to living off of only one spouse's income. In good times, this tactic will allow you to save incredible amounts of money - how quickly could you pay off your mortgage or how much earlier could you retire if you had an extra $40,000 a year to save? In bad times, if one spouse gets laid off, you'll be OK because you'll already be used to living on one income. Your savings habits will stop temporarily, but your day-to-day spending can continue as normal.

No. 3: Have More Than One Source of Income
Even if you have a great full-time job, it's not a bad idea to have a source of extra income on the side, whether it's some consulting work or selling collectibles on eBay. With job security so nonexistent these days, more jobs mean more job security. If you lose one, at least you still have the other one. You may not be making as much money as you were before, but every little bit helps.

No. 4: Have a Long-Term Mindset With Investments
So what if a drop in the market brings your investments down 15%? If you don't sell, you won't lose anything. The market is cyclical, and in the long run, you'll have plenty of opportunities to sell high. In fact, if you buy when the market's down, you might thank yourself later.

That being said, as you near retirement age, you should make sure you have enough money in liquid, low-risk investments to retire on time and give the stock portion of your portfolio time to recover. Remember, you don't need all of your retirement money at 65 - just a portion of it. The market might be tanking when you're 65, but it might be headed to Pamplona by the time you're 70.

No. 5: Be Honest About Your Risk Tolerance
Yes, investing gurus say that people in certain age brackets should have their portfolios allocated a certain way, but if you can't sleep at night when your investments are down 15% for the year and the year isn't even over, you may need to change your asset allocation. Investments are supposed to provide you with a sense of financial security, not a sense of panic.

But wait - don't sell anything while the market is down, or you'll set those paper losses in stone. When market conditions improve is the time to trade in some of your stocks for bonds, or trade in some of your risky small-cap stocks for less volatile blue-chip stocks. If you have extra cash available and want to adjust your asset allocation while the market is down, however, you may be able to profit from infusing money into temporarily low-priced stocks with long-term value.

The biggest risk is that overestimating your risk tolerance will cause you to make poor investment decisions. Even if you're at an age where you're "supposed to" have 80% in stocks and 20% in bonds, you'll never see the returns that investment advisors intend if you sell when the market is down. These asset allocation suggestions are meant for people who can hang on for the ride.

No. 6: Diversify Your Investments
If you don't have all of your money in one place, your paper losses should be mitigated, making it less difficult emotionally to ride out the dips in the market. If you own a home and have a savings account, you've already got a start: you have some money in real estate and some money in cash. In particular, try to build a portfolio of investment pairs that aren't strongly correlated, meaning that when one is up, the other is down, and vice versa (like stocks and bonds).

No. 7: Keep Your Credit Score High
When credit markets tighten, if anyone is going to get approved for a mortgage, credit card or other type of loan, it will be those with excellent credit. Things like paying your bills on time, keeping your oldest credit cards open, and keeping your ratio of debt to available credit low will help keep your credit score high.

The best part about these habits is that they won't only serve you well during times of recession - they'll serve you well no matter what's going on in the market. But if you implement these financial strategies, a recession is less likely to have a significant effect on your financial situation.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Weekly, Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Great Relationship Advice

I was reading over at The Bilerico Project and discovered this wonderful advice column on relationships.

"Sometimes I wonder if something is missing from my relationship. How do I know if I'm in the right place or not?"

~ Just Wondering

Dear J. W.,

Did you know that it's not a good idea to substitute baking powder for baking soda when making chocolate chip cookies?

I learned the hard way; having to endure the most disappointed little cookie monsters imaginable. When faced with flat, dry, broken cookies that even our dog wouldn't eat, my son cried, "Mommy, these are Bisgusting." (That's not a typo - disgusting became bisgusting in our house when, as a toddler, Mitchell couldn't pronounce the "d" sound - so we all embraced the new, more powerful word, bisgusting.)

Like cookies, primary love relationships also have essential ingredients. And while substitutes for these ingredients may create a close approximation of a good relationship, the outcome can be equally flat, dry, and eventually broken.

What do you need? The answer to this question is 50% of the recipe for your particular relationship's success. We all partner to meet our needs.

Happiness in love depends on your ability to get core, emotional needs met. If unmet, most of us will ineffectively attempt to pacify ourselves with excessive sleeping, eating, working, drinking, or we may turn to others to meet our needs. We are more likely to pursue ineffective means to meet, or soothe, our needs than to accept they just won't be met.

Our ineffective attempts to meet unmet needs can lead to some of our greatest relationship struggles.

Seeking to feel loved by drinking, or trying to feel safe by sleeping, is akin to scratching my nose to ease the itch on my knee. It doesn't matter how many times I scratch my nose, if it is my knee that itches, then it is my knee that I must tend to. We all want to feel emotionally safe, secure and loved. We want to feel connected, valued, understood and respected. How we arrive at these feelings is different for each of us.

A chocolate chip cookie needs baking soda to rise, what do you need to rise in your life? According to Gary Chapman, there are five key love languages, (he is author of The Five Languages of Love). This book is a great introduction to the concept that we all go about getting our needs met differently. What matters is that we both have opportunities to experience the things that are important to us; not that they are the same.

Ask yourself these questions and start to uncover the essential ingredients for your relationship success:

  1. What are your core emotional needs and how are these needs best met?
    • Are you doing what YOU can to meet these needs yourself?
    • Is your partner able, and willing, to support you in getting these needs met?
  2. What are the core emotional needs of your partner, and how are these needs best met?
    • Is your partner doing what he/she can to meet these needs herself?
    • Are you willing, and able, to support her in getting these needs met?

While partners do not have to have the same language to meet their respective needs, we do need to have the ability to get our needs met to feel satisfied in our relationships. No one wants to feel trapped in a relationship where it is not possible to get their needs met. (Read this If you are unsure about the difference between a want and a need.)

I wish for you the perfect ingredients to rise in your life, and in your love.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Don't Give Up, You Are Loved

Here is a great video of Josh Groban singing "Don't Give Up, You Are Loved".

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Where the Heck is Matt?

Internet phenom Matt, a person who travels the world (as an airline attendant?) and documents each stay with a unique dance has captured the hearts of millions. He's posted his dance over the past year or so online. Here is a new collection of places and dances, this time accompanied by others dancing with him. I found it so inspirational. I hope you do too.

Where the Hell is Matt? (2008) from Matthew Harding on Vimeo.

If you discover the video taking too long to load, you can click off the HD feature.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Funny Sayings with a Twist

Church member Glenn Woertz sent me these funny sayings in an email. They're pretty funny!

Sometimes, when I look at my children, I say to myself, 'Lillian, you should have remained a virgin.' -Lillian Carter, mother of Jimmy Carter

I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalog: - 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.' -Eleanor Roosevelt

Last week, I stated this woman was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister, and now wish to withdraw that statement. -Mark Twain

The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible. -George Burns

Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.
- Victor Borge

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
- Mark Twain

By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher. - Socrates

I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.
- Groucho Marx

My wife has a slight impediment in her speech. Every now and then she stops to breathe. - Jimmy Durante

I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back.
- Zsa Zsa Gabor

Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and fat. - Alex Levine

My luck is so bad that if I bought a cemetery, people would stop dying.
- Rodney Dangerfield

Money can't buy you happiness .. But it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery. - Spike Milligan

Until I was thirteen, I thought my name was SHUT UP. - Joe Namath

I don't feel old. I don't feel anything until noon. Then it's time for my nap.
- Bob Hope

I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.
-W. C. Fields

We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress. -Will Rogers

Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you. -Winston Churchill

Maybe it's true that life begins at fifty .. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out. -Phyllis Diller

By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he's too old to go anywhere. -Billy Crystal

And the cardiologist's diet: “If it tastes good spit it out.”

Computer Trouble

This is supposedly a real conversation. I doubt it though, it's just too funny. But who know, right?

"Ridge Hall computer assistant; may I help you?"
"Yes, well, I'm having trouble with WordPerfect."
"What sort of trouble?"
"Well, I was just typing along, and all of a sudden the words went away."
"Went away?"
"They disappeared."
"Hmm. So what does your screen look like now?"
"It's blank; it won't accept anything when I type."
"Are you still in WordPerfect, or did you get out?"
"How do I tell?"
"Can you see the C:\prompt on the screen?"
"What's a sea-prompt?"
"Never mind. Can you move the cursor around on the screen?"
"There isn't any cursor: I told you, it won't accept anything I type."
"Does your monitor have a power indicator?"
"What's a monitor?"
"It's the thing with the screen on it that looks like a TV. Does it have a little light that tells you when it's on?"
"I don't know."
"Well, then look on the back of the monitor and find where the power cord goes into it. Can you see that?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Great! Follow the cord to the plug, and tell me if it's plugged into the wall."
"Yes, it is."
"When you were behind the monitor, did you notice that there were two cables plugged into the back of it, not just one?"
"Well, there are. I need you to look back there again and find the other cable."
"Okay, here it is."
"Follow it for me, and tell me if it's plugged securely into the back of your computer."
"I can't reach."
"Uh huh. Well, can you see if it is?"
"Even if you maybe put your knee on something and lean way over?"
"Oh, it's not because I don't have the right angle-it's because it's dark."
"Yes-the office light is off, and the only light I have is coming in from the window."
"Well, turn on the office light then."
"I can't."
"No? Why not?"
"Because there's a power outage."
"A power... A power outage? Aha! Okay, we've got it licked now. Do you still have the boxes and manuals and packing stuff your computer came in?"
"Well, yes, I keep them in the closet."
"Good! Go get them, and unplug your system and pack it up just like it was when you got it. Then take it back to the store you bought it from."
"Really? Is it that bad?"
"Yes, I'm afraid it is."
"Well, all right then, I suppose. What do I tell them?"
"Tell them you're too stupid to own a computer."

h/t to dalek spock

Monday, November 10, 2008

Prayer Station

Isn't this cool? I found this post on a blog written by a New Yorker, that I read often. Here is what he says,

Dr. Jeff sends in this shot of the Prayer Station he came across on the Upper East Side. It's an art installation. Dylan Mortimer’s work deals with how private faith functions in the public realm.

The interactive Public Prayer Booth is a synthesis of a telephone booth and a prayer station. The viewer can flip down a kneeler and engage in prayer. “My goal is to spark dialogue about a topic often avoided, and often treated cynically by the contemporary art world,” says Mortimer. “I employ the visual language of signage and public information systems, using them as a contemporary form of older religious communication systems: stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, church furniture, etc. I balance humor and seriousness, sarcasm and sincerity, in a way that bridges a subject matter that is often presented as heavy or difficult.”


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Video Weekly, Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Front Fell Off

Last year, an oil taker split in two dumping thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean off the coast of Australia. In this video, a senator from Australia is being interviewed about why the 'front fell off' the oil tanker.

Watching it, I thought I was watching a Monty Python skit. While the situation was serious, this interview is riotously funny.

* Editor's Note: I just received a note that this video is indeed a comedy sketch after all. And, the tanker in question was from an incident in the early 1990s. has its backstory.

h/t my friend Doug

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It Can Always Be Worse

Think you have tough family trials and tribulations? Well, you may. But there are always others who have it far worse than you. Read the below obit to see what I mean. Click the image to embiggen it.
h/t to The Bilerico Project

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thoughtful Cartoon

Click on cartoon to 'embiggen' it.

h/t to todd littleton

If You're Gonna do it, do it right

A part of me feels ashamed to pass along this bit of wisdom but hey, if you're gonna do it anyways, there is a 'proper' way to do it.

h/t to caughtinthemiddle and sbctoodazed

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Video Weekly

Here is this week's Video Weekly. I put it in our church's eNewsletter on Tuesday, but haven't posted it on here until just now.

The Senility Prayer

Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Improving Your Situation in Life

We all want a better life, right? We want to be comfortable--maybe not insanely wealthy, just enough to pay our bills, vacation twice a year, and enjoy our idle time. Unfortunately, one of the reasons we aren't as comfortable as we like is because we've made wrong choices. This is most apparent in our lifestyle choices: what kind of car we drive, our big our house is, and deciding we no longer need to keep learning. How does that last choice affect our comfortability? When we stop learning, we stop seeking ways to learn new ways of making better decisions.

Yahoo's Finance quotes a great post from about the reasons we make bad choices and how those choices affect our income. I am reprinting that story below. After reading it, see if you fit into any of its categories..and then, see if you can pick one category and change it.

10 (More) Reasons You're Not Rich

by Jeffrey Strain
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
provided by

Many people assume they aren't rich because they don't earn enough money. If I only earned a little more, I could save and invest better, they say.

The problem with that theory is they were probably making exactly the same argument before their last several raises. Becoming a millionaire has less to do with how much you make, it's how you treat money in your daily life.

The list of reasons you may not be rich doesn't end at 10. Caring what your neighbors think, not being patient, having bad habits, not having goals, not being prepared, trying to make a quick buck, relying on others to handle your money, investing in things you don't understand, being financially afraid and ignoring your finances.

Here are 10 more possible reasons you aren't rich:

You care what your car looks like: A car is a means of transportation to get from one place to another, but many people don't view it that way. Instead, they consider it a reflection of themselves and spend money every two years or so to impress others instead of driving the car for its entire useful life and investing the money saved.

You feel entitlement: If you believe you deserve to live a certain lifestyle, have certain things and spend a certain amount before you have earned to live that way, you will have to borrow money. That large chunk of debt will keep you from building wealth.

You lack diversification: There is a reason one of the oldest pieces of financial advice is to not keep all your eggs in a single basket. Having a diversified investment portfolio makes it much less likely that wealth will suddenly disappear.

You started too late: The magic of compound interest works best over long periods of time. If you find you're always saying there will be time to save and invest in a couple more years, you'll wake up one day to find retirement is just around the corner and there is still nothing in your retirement account.

You don't do what you enjoy: While your job doesn't necessarily need to be your dream job, you need to enjoy it. If you choose a job you don't like just for the money, you'll likely spend all that extra cash trying to relieve the stress of doing work you hate.

You don't like to learn: You may have assumed that once you graduated from college, there was no need to study or learn. That attitude might be enough to get you your first job or keep you employed, but it will never make you rich. A willingness to learn to improve your career and finances are essential if you want to eventually become wealthy.

You buy things you don't use: Take a look around your house, in the closets, basement, attic and garage and see if there are a lot of things you haven't used in the past year. If there are, chances are that all those things you purchased were wasted money that could have been used to increase your net worth.

You don't understand value: You buy things for any number of reasons besides the value that the purchase brings to you. This is not limited to those who feel the need to buy the most expensive items, but can also apply to those who always purchase the cheapest goods. Rarely are either the best value, and it's only when you learn to purchase good value that you have money left over to invest for your future.

Your house is too big: When you buy a house that is bigger than you can afford or need, you end up spending extra money on longer debt payments, increased taxes, higher upkeep and more things to fill it. Some people will try to argue that the increased value of the house makes it a good investment, but the truth is that unless you are willing to downgrade your living standards, which most people are not, it will never be a liquid asset or money that you can ever use and enjoy.

You fail to take advantage of opportunities: There has probably been more than one occasion where you heard about someone who has made it big and thought to yourself, "I could have thought of that." There are plenty of opportunities if you have the will and determination to keep your eyes open.

Copyrighted, TheStreet.Com. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Video Weekly

Well technology keeps presenting itself to me and I keep trying to find ways to incorporate it. One latest example is our church's new webcam. I purchased it to record a video version of our weekly eNewsletter The Weekly. Tentatively called The Video Weekly (creative, huh?), it will feature what's going on in our congregation each week plus give you a heads up to the sermon on Sunday.

So, without further ado, or adue...or however you spell it, here is our first Video Weekly. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Dave Ramsey's Economic Fix

I received an email today from Dave Ramsey, the personal financial consultant and author of a few debt management books and video courses. As many of you know, we just finished offering his Financial Peace University's Debt Management Course and let me tell you, it was transformational for all who attended. My personal debt is finally manageable and I have already paid off significant debt, with the rest on a very do-able pay-off plan plus have a Savings Account with over $2000 in it.

Anyways, Dave Ramsey just sent an email with his recommendation for the financial mess on Wall Street. You can read online his entire proposal. He is urging those who received it to forward it onto our senators and lawmakers. It looks pretty sound although I really have no idea about what the particulars actually mean.

So I am posting it here for you to look at and see if you think it's helpful.

The Common Sense Fix

Years of bad decisions and stupid mistakes have created an economic nightmare in this country,
but $700 billion in new debt is not the answer. As a tax-paying American citizen, I will not support any congressperson who votes to implement such a policy. Instead, I submit the following threestep Common Sense Plan.


a. Insure the subprime bonds/mortgages with an underlying FHA-type insurance.
Government-insured and backed loans would have an instant market all over the
world, creating immediate and needed liquidity.

b. In order for a company to accept the government-backed insurance, they must do two
1. Rewrite any mortgage that is more than three months delinquent to a 6% fixed-rate mortgage.

a. Roll all back payments with no late fees or legal costs into the balance. This brings homeowners current and allows them a chance to keep their homes.

b. Cancel all prepayment penalties to encourage refinancing or the sale of the property to pay off the bad loan. In the event of foreclosure or short sale, the borrower will not be held liable for any deficit balance. FHA does this now, and that encourages mortgage companies to go the extra mile while working with the borrower—again limiting foreclosures and ruined lives.

2. Cancel ALL golden parachutes of EXISTING and FUTURE CEOs and executive team members as long as the company holds these government-insured bonds/mortgages. This keeps underperforming executives from being paid when they don’t do their jobs.

c. This backstop will cost less than $50 billion—a small fraction of the current proposal.


a. Remove mark to market accounting rules for two years on only subprime Tier III bonds/mortgages. This keeps companies from being forced to artificially mark down bonds/mortgages below the value of the underlying mortgages and real estate.

b. This move creates patience in the market and has an immediate stabilizing effect on
failing and ailing banks—and it costs the taxpayer nothing.


a. Remove the capital gains tax completely. Investors will flood the real estate and stock
market in search of tax-free profits, creating tremendous—and immediate—liquidity in
the markets. Again, this costs the taxpayer nothing.

b. This move will be seen as a lightning rod politically because many will say it is helping
the rich. The truth is the rich will benefit, but it will be their money that stimulates the
economy. This will enable all Americans to have more stable jobs and retirement
investments that go up instead of down.

This is not a time for envy, and it’s not a time for politics. It’s time for all of us, as Americans, to
stand up, speak out, and fix this mess.


What do you think? Do you think this can work or is his Reagan-like 'trickle down' investment solution a thing of history not worth repeating?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Dogs in Heaven

Here is a funny collection of pictures bantering the questions, "Do dogs go to heaven?" My brother sent this to me in an email and I just had to share. You can click the pictures to see a larger version, if you need to.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Remaining Intellectually Curious

One of my chief pursuits in life is to remain both spiritually and intellectually curious. This way, I find myself always learning something new. I decided this is something I wanted to do several years ago after visiting high school friends who, upon a few conversations, I discovered hadn't changed their opinions or minds on anything since they graduated from high school. The thought shocked and scared me.

There is something innocent about the pursuit of knowledge. In one way, it reminds us that we still have much to learn about life. We don't think we have all the answers and ultimately leave ourselves open to discovering them. Have you ever met someone who "knew all the answers" and remained clueless at the same time? These are people with old prejudices, various forms of "isms" attached to their opinions, and generally are cantankerous at the same time. What good does that kind of attitude do? It does no good whatsoever.

There is an old saying that says, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Actually this isn't true. You can teach any dog anything...if it actually want to learn anything. People are like dogs (sometimes).

One way you can discover your intellectual curiosity may be to enroll in school somewhere. Take a class on something. Or, you can enroll online at a host of colleges that provide online learning. Many of these courses are free but they offer no credit. If you're up to the challenge, go over to LifeHacker's post on Technophilia. The post will direct you to universities offering free online courses. There is a huge variety to choose from.

Another way can be participating in a few of our church activities. Soon, we will be offering a few Adult Education book studies over the course of this church year. We are looking at having a book study on the phenom book The Shack, by William P. Young.

Whatever you're interested in, let me encourage you to find new ways of learning old things or entirely new things altogether. Your mind, your attitude, and your well-being will thank you.

Monday, September 08, 2008

West Point Football

This past weekend, Jay and I were invited by the Bob and Elaine Hargrove to attend our first ever, West Point Army football game. Although it rained practically the whole time, Jay and I had a wonderful time! Unfortunately Army got whupped by the University of New Hampshire.

Speaking of getting whupped, I remember my high school football team back at Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, OK. We weren't a very good football team. My entire 4-years I spent there our football team went defeated. By that I mean, we didn't win a single game in four years. So I am used to defeat. Army played okay and they would surely have beaten my high school football team. But'd think a team of future Army soldiers would play like a video game of Quake or Doom and obliderate the opponent.

Alas, Army didn't play like that. But they did play a decent game. What I enjoyed most was the game itself, the band, the music, the me, it was all a wonderful treat. Having spent 12 years in the USAF, I missed the atmosphere of the military and last Saturday, I sure got a dose of what I'd been missing.

I am definately going back although next time, I'll go when it isn't raining. I hear the events prior to the game are as much fun as the game. They have booths open with food, games, and activities for the entire family.

Doomsday: Large Hadron Collider

Okay, so it probably won't happen...doomsday I mean. Truthfully, people have been predicting the end of the world for ages now. You might say, "Yeah, but that's different...this really could happen!" For those not in the know, the Large Hadron Collider begins operation this Wednesday as it will collide its first particles. Nervous folks have speculated that this Collider has the capacity to create a black hole. Some of those nervous folks are famed scientists themselves. Actually the debate has taken on quite a flair. To me, I'd think if there was even the slightest possibility of doomsday, you know, ending all creation itself, we wouldn't even consider it. In some ways, it's like betting against the odds. What are the odds of say, getting struck by lightning or winning the lottery? The answer is that some people do get struck by lightning and someone almost always wins the lottery, right?


I supposed that I'm not really too nervous--I just don't understand particle accelerators as much as I would like. I guess that's the real issue. It's like flying in a plane. If I knew how to fly, I'd want to fly instead of sitting in a seat trusting people I don't know to take me where I need to go safely. Putting one's trust in someone else's hands is challenging for sure. One thing for sure, I always pray before I fly and come Wednesday, or Tuesday night depending on the time changes, I'll be offering yet another, "Let us all land safely prayer" directed towards those operating the LHC.

h/t to Confessions of a Small Church Pastor

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Doing Liturgy Anew

This coming Sunday, you, the worshiper will see a few things different when you walk into the church sanctuary. This being the close of our summer worship, I still have a couple of Sundays before Gathering Sunday on September 21 to try some experimentation.

One of those experiments will look familiar. After we installed our new carpet, we moved the pews back to their original places. As of yesterday, the pews have been spaced further apart, turned inwards, and allowed for well, more space in the sanctuary.

Another change will be the projector screen you'll see as you walk in. We will be using a PowerPoint presentation during the service to help folks "look up" during the service rather than keeping one's head buried in our lengthy liturgical Order of Worship. That same Order of Worship will be shown on the projector screen.

We will make use of the projector with two additional elements not present before in the Service: a countdown to the start of worship (to help us begin our worship "on time") and we'll have a brief movie (2 minutes) during the sermon to help illustrate it.

Finally, this being communion Sunday, we will include a new function: prayer. Once you receive the communion elements, I will be offering you an opportunity to pray, led by either Jack Rickly or myself. This will be a short prayer or blessing. If you have a need you'd like prayed for, this is a time for that to happen. We will still have our Prayers of the People following our Pastoral Prayer later in the service.

You may ask: Why the change? Why the additions? It is my belief that one challenge we all face is learning to keep our faith and practice "fresh". This isn't to say that the old ways of doing things are necessarily bad but new ways of doing familiar things can remind us of what we're doing. It is also a chance to keep us from being stale or boring, doing liturgy without thinking about what it means, or drifting in worship whereby our thoughts move and leave the worship experience. Being fresh means we try new things to enliven our faith traditions and perhaps even start new traditions...or not. Being fresh means we try new things and keep what we like and discard what we don't.

The challenge to being fresh is a challenge that affects our sensibilities. Should we embrace technology? Should we be simpler? Do we only practice the basics of our tradition or ought we do delve into our tradition more deeply? These are questions the Church has been asking for two thousand years.

J.R.R. Tolkien offers an interesting thought on how the Church is to function.

The 'Protestant' search backwards for 'simplicity' and directness - which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because 'primitive Christianity' is now and in spite of all 'research' will ever remain largely unknown; because 'primitiveness' is no guarantee of value, and is, and was in great a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian liturgical behavior from the beginning as now. (St Paul's strictures on Eucharistic behavior are sufficient to show this!) Still more because 'my church' was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history - the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the 'mustard-seed' and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth, the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is part of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree. Very good: but in husbandry the authorities, the keepers of the Tree, must look after it, according to such wisdom as they possess, prune it, remove cankers, rid it of parasites and so forth. (With trepidation, knowing how little their knowledge of growth is!) But they will certainly do harm if they are obsessed with the desire of going back to the seed or even to the first youth when it was (as they imagine) pretty and unafflicted by evils. The other motive (now so confused with the primitivist one, even in the mind with any one of the reformers): aggiornamento: bringing up to date: that has its own grave dangers, as has been apparent throughout history. With this, 'ecumenicalness' has also become confused. (The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien, no. 306.)

How we go about embracing our future or integrating it into the life of our traditions is one function of worship. And, being your pastor, it is one of my responsibilities to you: making worship a practical and spiritual blessing for you and our God.

Join me this coming Sunday for a new experience. I am confident you'll be glad you did. See you Sunday!

h/t to Everyday Liturgy

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Harsh Words in the Bible

Last Sunday I preached a particular sermon about mercy and how we, as Christians are to engage it. I also gave some examples when we're NOT very merciful and on a couple of occasions, I said some shocking things. Admittedly that was on purpose--it was meant to keep us attentive to the need to reflect on our own shortcomings when it comes to being merciful to others.

I noticed a few of you wince with one particular example. Interestingly, no one commented after the sermon about my shocking examples. But I readily saw and felt your response during the sermon.

And so today I discovered a fortuitous example of using harsh or hard-to-hear words and examples found in the Bible. Below is a video from Mark Driscoll about such language (he is often fond of using it in his sermons and often feels the affects from those who hear it and hate it).

h/t to Todd Littleton for this video.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Racism: How Do You Respond To It?

Many thanks to The Bilerico Project for posting this video from It's a clear, and admittedly entertaining, way of determining what and how to respond to racism.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Emergent NJ

Last night, I met up with an Emergent Cohort, a gathering of young emergent church leaders, dreamers, and faith seekers. We met at The Office, an incredibly cool bar in Ridgewood, NJ. During the meeting, we discussed the upcoming Emergent Mid-Atlantic Conference to be held in Philadelphia, PA. I am already signed up to attend.

We also discussed faith, how we can go about expressing it to a post-modern culture. And, then we spoke about one particular leader in the emergent movement named Brian McLaren. This man's name will be familiar to most in our congregation because I have referenced a number of his books in my sermons from time to time. One book in particular, Everything Must Change, was an Advent study we did last year.

The conversation about McLaren, however, took an unexpected turn in our conversation when we talked about his recent support and naming a particular Presidential candidate as his candidate of choice. I guess I was very surprised in that McLaren seems to go to great lengths not to disgruntle or alienate particular groups in his call of church renewal. To name a particular candidate though seems out of character with how I view him, even if I could figure out who he was going to vote for anyway.

The Emergent Cohort was also rather upset. They were upset with what appeared to be the particular candidate of his choice whereas I was only upset that he actually named him. The meeting was very interesting and reminded me that not all Christians vote the way I do. I knew the emergent folks were going to be a bit more conservative than I so I wasn't blown over by their discussion. What did impress me was the civilty in our conversation and the friendliness that abounded. These folks really are rather super.

In any event, I know where many in our congregation side with on the political conversation and no doubt, you know where I side. But I can't image that I'd ever endorse a candidate. Maybe I am too cynical realizing that politicians are... well, politicians. What they say during their campaigning will bear little semblance to what they actually accomplish. While I do enjoy the rhetoric of one candidate, to me, I am voting for the political party machine. It would be nice if both candidates were truly God's agents on earth--but they, like we are, of the same metal. While in some capacity we have some variation of God-agent-like-ness, truth be told, we're also of the same sinner-metal too. We're all imperfect, tempted with various temptations, and make promises we don't keep.

That's my minor political stumping. But to the cohort meeting, I enjoyed a nice conversation with people of different minds but worshiping the same Creator. I am definitely looking forward to meeting with these folks again and then up in Philly for the conference.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another Sign I Am Growing Older

Last week, some of you may have noticed something. I was preaching out of a different Bible. The reason for that was while I was on vacation, I found a GIANT print translation of the New Living Translation and let me tell you, you can see the font print from across the room. It sure makes for easy reading--without having to squint.

And here I thought having bifocals would be the end of my aging process. ;)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Gift of Hope

Here is an amazing video with a guy without arms playing his guitar to the Beatle's tune, Let It Be.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Obesity: A National Concern

When it comes to actually naming national concerns, it is often easy to overlook those that are no longer considered in fashion. Sure, murder and socio-economic injustices rank high as any simple reading of Isaiah or minor prophet or Jesus might explain. But what of those concerns that involve the person? I am usually very careful not to point and say, "You're a sinner," because when I point one finger I usually have three more pointing back at me. Yes, it is true, I am a sinner too.

So I offer my idea of a national concern simply as a matter of information. We, as Americans, are growing so large that its tearing us apart...quite literally. According to a new study released today from Johns Hopkins University, it is expected that roughly 86% of Americans, or nearly 9 out of 10 Americans will be classified obese by 2030.

When one thinks of obesity, the conversations aren't about being 10 lbs. overweight or needing to get out and exercise more often. Sure, there are also many people whose bodies are simply larger than ours. Genetics and heredity play a role in many people's body shapes. However, the national problem of obesity is about being way overweight, whereas one person who is obese does not have to be so. And to this point, where we are growing larger, not because we're wired to do so but because of our lifestyle choices, this is where our national diet and lack of exercise puts us at risk. Given the meteoric rise of Insulin-related illnesses such as pancreatic cancer and Diabetes, obesity will be affecting us in ways both horrific and costly. And, given the challenges in healthcare reform and insurance coverage, we're a nation that does not need nor can it afford this kind of healthcare crisis.

The Apostle Paul told us that our bodies are a temple--that in it resides the Spirit of God. Should we not care for our bodies as temples? The way we go about doing that has a lot to do with not only exercise but what we put into it. From the way we eat to what we eat, we need to take serious our health responsibilities. Otherwise, the sins of doing otherwise may prove the prophet's warning that the sins of the parent visits their children and their children's children. Let's change how we eat and how we use our bodies--and how our children learn to eat and do as we do so that we can do our best to curb the obesity problem before it ravishes our nation, our communities, and ourselves.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Great Book Worth Reading

As you may remember during my sermon this past Sunday, I told you about a new book that I am reading called, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, by Paul Nixon. Let me tell you something, this book is simply incredible.

The book came recommended to me by the new pastor at my former church, Broadway UCC. The new pastor, James Campbell has since led a small group book study of the book and his church is now blossoming, or growing like a weed!

As many in our church might be offended to imply that we're dying, in truth, we're not. As you can testify (and as others continue to do so), we're actually thriving. Worship attendance throughout the year has quadrupled over the past two years and everyone can feel the energy and aliveness. We're raising money, donating money, creating new programs, and reaching out in some ways to our community. However, I am convinced that we're at a precipice. While great things have been happening, we've actually only been preparing ourselves for the magnificent journey that awaits us. That journey will be about reaching out--and as a result, growing our faith and congregation in new and surprising ways.

Just look what we've accomplished in this past year: We went through the Open and Affirming discernment process and voted to declare ourselves an Open and Affirming congregation; We reviewed and approved our new Constitution and by-laws, thereby radically changing how we organize ourselves and do ministry; We've remodeled and updated the church building; We approved the formation of a new Board called the Board of Outreach. In all the areas of change we've worked on--now we're more prepared than ever to begin to apply our faith, impact our community, and grow our congregation. How we accomplish this will begin with a vision, an identity, and a purpose. Let me invite you to read Nixon's book and see where it leads you and how it inspires you.

As you rest this summer, let me encourage you to also daydream. Let this time be one of reflection and focus as we determine how we can promote the Good News in ways that are not confrontational and yet, are also transformational at the same time. I believe this book will help us begin the conversations necessary as we find ways to grow.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Central Atlantic Conference, Univ of Delaware

As many of you know, I am at this year's Central Atlantic Conference's annual meeting in Newark, Delaware. I prolly should have written this post last night but am about to leave shortly and wanted to let you know about this weekend's conference.

Last night started our Conference's theme: Imagine: A New Church is Possible. John Thomas, the soon-to-be retired President and General Minister of our denomination gave a nice sermon with great visuals about how we might imagine a new church. His two visuals were a large tent and a happening parade. We are already doing the first: most all folks are welcome in our tent--in our church, in our lives, in the UCC. A happening parade invites everyone to join us on our journey. The clowns and the acrobats, everyone is invited and encouraged to go with us as we celebrate and make our faith real to our communities.

Today we'll be having workshops, business meetings, and a host of conversations about such an imagining. I am signed up for two workshops: one on how to invite strangers into our church and make our outreach effective. It will also discuss immigration and the church can participate in meaningful outreach to the various immigrants in our communities and two, how to help the church raise its needed resources through fundraising and particular stewardship fundraisers. I had signed up for two other workshops but they were closed when I arrived last night.

I'll write more later (now I want to get down for breakfast before it's over).

Friday, June 13, 2008

It's Official!

As many of you know, last Sunday, June 8, our congregation voted to approve our Open and Affirming (ONA) Resolution. As of this week, we have registered our church with the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns (our national ONA office in Cleveland), which has posted our church as an Open and Affirming church in the national church directory, the ONA directory, and through local conferences to include the Central Atlantic Conference and the New Jersey Association.

As of yesterday, Thursday, June 12, we were listed as the 765th congregation in the United Church of Christ to declare itself Open and Affirming. Perhaps we could use that number '765' in a creative way--like everyone getting that tattooed on their forearms. ;)

A whole lot of work went into our year-long discernment process and our ONA Discernment Committee deserves a lot of praise and thanks. A special thanks goes to co-chairs Kathy Lindner and Mary Mayer for their valiant and dedicated service.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Leonard Cohen's "Halleluja"

Some say this is the best version of the song ever played. I don't know who these guys are but the song is simply inspirational.

Go here to hear KD Lang sing it more bluesy.

h/t Daily Dish

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Least of These

I've been fermenting and fomenting a post in my head for the last couple of days. I am doing this because of a post I found through the Bilerico Project that led me to a post over at POZ magazine. In this post, lay leader Bill Day out of San Antonio, was arrested for participating in the controversial needle-exchange program. It is so controversial in Texas that the state has made the activity illegal. New York City has a wonderful non-profit organization called the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center that engages ways to decrease the harm that affects those to whom Jesus might classify as his "least of these" (Matthew 25:40).

So this has got me thinking: who exactly would be those Jesus might say are the "least of these". One might assume that would include the poor and disenfranchised. And I would surely agree--but the poor fall into so many categories. The disenfranchised is a category all its own that is usually left up to interpretation. Would all the disenfranchised be included in this list? What about the folks who purposefully fall into that category rather than those who accidentally fall into it through no fault of their own? It's this category that has me wondering.

Would drug users who shoot heroin through their veins be part of the disenfranchised? Did they opt out of reality? Did circumstances fall upon them that encouraged them to make that decision? And then, once addicted, should we have less compassion on them because getting off heroin is very difficult, but not entirely impossible?

Or how about prostitutes? Especially young ones? Do they fall into the disenfranchised category? I lived in NYC for about 10 years and was fortunate to participate in a street outreach to homeless youth, many of which were gay or transgendered. Of those youth, many have been solicited for sex in exchange for money or a place to spend the night. One youth told me, "You do what you have to do, when you're living on the streets." And few of us would disagree with that. However, why would a youth be on the street in the first place? Many homeless youth, who self-identify as gay or transgender, while in their teen years risk being thrown out of their parents house--esp those who are religious. There are estimates that suggest 25-40% of the homeless youth self-identify as gay or transgender. Would these kids, some through no fault of their own, be classified as true disenfranchised?

Or how about illegal immigrants? Just this week, 52 immigrants were arrested and are facing deportation in Arizona. What about the families of those arrested? The women and children? Not having a breadwinner come home to provide for them leaves them destitute, impoverished, and at risk. Does our nationalism give us an excuse to break apart families and leave them in such a horrible situation?

It is a controversial discussion when we think about those who 'deserve our support' and those who 'get what they deserve'. Where do you draw the line? Do we make anything our government declares to be illegal the litmus test for our compassion? Or, do we point and say, as some might do to an overweight person at the all-you-can-eat buffet line, "Hey, fattie--got heart disease yet?" In other words, do we hold back our compassion on anyone we determine (at face value) can help themselves?

As we educate ourselves on the challenges of the disenfranchised, many of us learn that it isn't so easy to determine who can help themselves and who can't. Given the advancement of science, we're learning that some of us are hard-wired in ways very different than we are. And, given the challenges of obesity, consumerism, religious fundamentalism, nationalism, and pride, is it any wonder that there are so many people who have fallen through the cracks. When someone does fall through, how responsible are we to help them out?

I believe Jesus tells us how responsible we are. To him, it's very simple. When he tells us that when we care for and defend "the least of his", we are actually caring for and defend Jesus himself. And, when we fail to do so, we are failing him. Why would the Son of God so link himself to the raggamuffin's and ne'er-do-wells of society if he didn't think it was so important to care for them? Maybe because it is so important to him, that Jesus tells us this very thing.

In Christian soterilogy, there is a tenet called Substitutionary Atonement. Many Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, taking our sins upon himself and offering himself as a sacrifice to God. As a result, when we believe in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God. For those who hold fast to this salvation narrative, is it any more difficult to look to Jesus as taking the lives of the disenfranchised upon himself and telling us, that if we don't care of them, we're not taking care of Jesus?

Okay, so if this is so--and Jesus has told us that if we don't care for the poor and suffering, then we'll go to hell (he really says this!), then how exactly do we care for them?

There are many ways we can do this--and some would argue, many ways we shouldn't do this. Handing out clean needles to heroin addicts prevents them from acquiring deadly diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis. Is cleaning the needles encouraging more drug use? Is it condoning it? It is buying time for the drug user to get clean?

Or how about outreach services to prostitutes that provide limited health care, such as STD screenings and food or a place to spend the night, free of hassle? Does offering these services condone the activity? Make it more attractive to stay in it? Or does it buy time for the prostitute to leave that way of life?

Would providing legal aid to immigrants condone their presence among us? Would it encourage more immigrants to come to America, use our healthcare system, and make a better life for themselves at our expense? Or, would it help alleviate the emotional cost of broken families? Would it help poor women whose husbands have been arrested and/or deported, feed their families?

How do the laws of caring for illegal immigrants speak to our faith? If Jesus were walking down the street and stopped to aid an illegal immigrant by offering him a piece of bread or a place to sleep, should he be arrested? Do you think the State's actions would be justified? Do you think Jesus' actions should be criminalized? As of right now, there is a legal Act that does just this.

When we speak of our faith and what it means, does it mean more to be an American, caught up in its consumerism and prosperity gospels than it does to help the helpless? If Jesus were an illegal Mexican fallen down, beaten and unconscious, what is our responsibility to him? I don't think I need to actually answer that question. If you're familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan, then you know the answer.

But what about prostitutes and drug users? Can you imagine Jesus shooting up with a needle late at night in a Lower East Side tenement? Or, could Jesus be the face of a runaway teenager sitting on a stoop in Greenwich Village looking for a place to sleep, and being willing to do anything than spend the night sleeping on a park bench in Washington Square Park?

If you can imagine that far, then let me also encourage you to answer this question: What are you going to do about it?

Go here to see what some folks are doing about immigration. Go here to see what a non-profit in the Lower East Side is doing about it. Go here to see what one church in NYC is doing, go here to see another. Go here and here to see outreach efforts to homeless youth.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Bill Moyers Commentary on Dr. Jeremiah Wright

This is an eloquent and insightful video of a Moyer's commentary on Jeremiah Wright. In many ways, a subtitle could be added that might read: Wright and America's Politics of Racism. This video is fairly short and is worth watching and listening to.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Everything Must Change, Part 2

I returned from the Everything Must Change conference last night needing a long nap. My day had started early and realizing I must've picked up a cold or other sickness bug while at the conference, by the time I got home I was more tired and worn out than usual. The conference itself was incredible and I am glad to say that I wasn't disappointed (I was worrying that I might be after the previous night's implication of white privilege introducing the "cure' the world needs to hear from us, the privileged white Christians.)

The conference began with music and time to get acquainted. Following that, the morning consisted of personal testimonies that reflected on our need to be "in the world" but not "of it". Sure, this is Christian-speak but it simply means that Christians are to live by the values of Jesus rather than of the values that demean, destroy, and promote unsustainable wickedness. These testimonies began with coffee...the free coffee that was provided was of the Just Coffee category--coffee that isn't just free trade, but grown, packaged, and sold by farmers for farmers. This basically meant that the coffee farmers received a fairer share of the profits than through the normal ways in which they receive less.

Afterwards, a panel discussion was provided with a talk-show-like conversation between McLaren and 5 Latino workers from the church where the conference was held. One worker was the pastor of the church, one was an evangelist, two were social workers, and the last was the pastor of a recent church start in Harlem. These particular workers were and are involved in the restoration of the South Bronx (which historically has been a hotbed of crime and ridiculous poverty). These workers shared their vision of equality, hope, sustainability, and Jesus. It was a powerful time of testimony. And, what made it even more interesting was their critique of McLaren's way of confronting the 'suicide machine' by showing how "we" help to keep the machine moving. One of the panelists named Gabriel (the evangelist) explained it by commenting on a liturgy we all recited about our involvement in creating the continued atmosphere of destruction, "When you say 'we', I was shocked because I didn't create it, I am living in it. I am living in the machine that you created!" While victimhood often precludes a person from thinking they are ever a part of the system they are condemning and deconstructing, Gabriel made a great point. He explained that one reason the machine continues to dominate our culture is due to racism--he explained it further, "If a Spanish man had led this conference, would you have come? If I spoke in Spanish, how many of you would have understood me (he illustrated this point by, yes, speaking in Spanish)?" He concluded his testimony by underscoring everyone's responsibility to share in each other's framing stories so that the smaller voices can become larger ones. Seriously, this was one of the most powerful testimonies I've heard in a long time and the audience agreed with an eruption of applause, Amens, and the recognition that Gabriel was more than right.

After the panel discussion, we were led in a time of prayer and meditation. The meditation focused on artwork created for the conference series presented 15-or so cities across the country). At the end of the evening, everyone was to be (and was) invited to Union Theological Seminary's James Chapel to see the artwork that was shown on the monitors and copies of the artwork that was included in the information packets handed out at the beginning of the conference. The prayer and medication lasted for about an hour, that also inclued written and shared poetry, flow poetry (that is also called Slam Poetry here in NYC) and song.

Following this, we broke for lunch. And let me tell you, it was tasty!

We regrouped after lunch and heard more testimonials from those in the evangelical circles sharing what they are doing to reimagine church. One such person that I later made a personal contact with was Jeff Kursonis, the developer for, an online gathering spot for emergent cohorts (small meeting groups) that meet across the country.

There were also a testimonial and presentations from one of the sponsors of the conference Mars Hill Graduate School. Later, we heard a testimonial from Jay Bakker, the infamous son of Jim and the late Tammy Faye Bakker. Jay is the pastor of Revolution, a new church start in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, focusing on a newer generation of post-modern and hip Christians. You'd be surprised by his tattoos. They are ALL over his body and some of them even made those sitting around me cringe. Personally I love tattoos (and even have one off my own). Later I had a chance to meet him personally. He has such a spirit of peace about him.

After a brief break and a time to pick up some books from the bookstore (I bought McLaren's Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, Diana Butler Bass's Christianity for the Rest of Us, and Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination), McLaren took the stage. He preached a good sermon on Jesus and the need to bring him into the conversation of restoration, reformation, and social renewal. He showed us ways in which we can begin to be a part of the renewal process by getting involved in environmental causes and concerns, using our buying power to shop wisely and support companies that promote the vision for a cleaner and better earth, and how our faith can speak to those who challenge us (and we will be challenged and confronted, he said). He showed ways to integrate these ideas into church liturgies, sermons, and faith conversations. After his sermon-like presentation, we concluded the conference with a time of prayer and a fun exercise whereby everyone wrote messages on their hands, they were photographed to be used on a larger montage for the conference itself, and joined together in closing liturgies, prayers, and song.

All in all, I had a nice time. But not everyone did. My friend Michael continued his frustration from the evening before with what appeared to be 'white privilege' revealing itself again during this day's conversations. Sure, that could be gleaned but it was actually named and identified from the panelists and later from McLaren. Still, this didn't sit well with him and I have asked him if he wouldn't mind letting me post his concerns here in another post later. He said that he'd think about it.

As for me, I found it to be the continued motivation to bring Jesus' call for unity and societal justice into a larger framing story that epitomizes my own call and ministry. It was a time of personal and spiritual renewal for me. I am glad I went. And, I am glad to have met new friends as well as sharing my time with old ones.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Everything Must Change, Part 1

Last night I attended Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change tour in the Bronx. Thinking I'd be the only one there I knew, I was pleasantly surprised to find two friends walk in the door, Elise Brown and Michael Caine, my former Conference Minister. Naturally, we all three sat together. They too, thought they'd be the only ones they knew at this thing.

The evening started with lots of free trade coffee and all the cookies and brownies you could eat. People were mulling about. There is a nice and yet not 'over the top' bookstore available. Arriving early, I got the chance to talk with Brian McLaren again (I met him last year at the Fosdick Convocation held at The Riverside Church, in NYC).

The conference started with some singing and liturgy. Following that, opening remarks and instructions set the rules for the weekend. Then, Brian McLaren took the stage. He spoke for about 2 hours and discussed an overview of his book, Everything Must Change. He talked about the four pivotal crises affecting America gleaned from a host of others who broke down the crises from much longer lists. Each of these lists detailed global crises of hunger, poverty, and differing degrees of environmental challenges.

McLaren created his new list from the lists of others to what he felt were the foundations of the crises: prosperity, equity, security, and a suicide machine. He explained that these differing areas meant that everyone wanted the basic resources of a sustainable life (prosperity) but that it wasn't evenly divided creating tension (equity), and therefore needed security to either keep one's resources or fight to achieve one's equal and fair share (security). The idea that we're consuming more resources than the earth can replenish is causing such tension that the world may ultimately destroy itself (suicide machine). He concluded his talk by explaining that the only solution to these crises is Jesus--and McLaren explained that historically, the church has spent most of its energy and resources addressing issues of church life rather than societal issues that are destroying it. For McLaren, the real issues aren't morality and church strife; rather, the real issues that matter have a larger concern and Jesus' call for renewal was addressing these larger ones.

The service ended with an opportunity to pray and make a spiritual assent to continue the conversation about how we can be the agents of change in our world.

After the conference, Michael Caine and I went out for dinner at this great Dominican restaurant in Washington Heights. Together we talked about McLaren's points and felt that while is perspective has merit, he was talking from a position of white power and privilege. To that end, he may not be underscoring the base problems as clean as he thinks he is. When he used terms like 'prosperity' to describe a sustainable wholeness (two words that were gleaned from a time of small groups during his presentation), he betrayed his own faith's influence by attaching a terminology that also means wealth and entitlement. His commentary was a like a white man telling us why the black man is oppressed--rather than having a black man tell us his story. His words would have been more powerful with personal testimony from the four categories rather than having his own interpretation.

On the whole though, it wasn't a bad introduction. I've actually read his book Everything Must Change and used it as the catalyst for preaching during last year's Advent season. I love the book but am careful not to interpret for the oppressed from a viewpoint of privilege. Instead, I like to go and hear from the voices of the oppressed themselves.

I am looking forward to today's conference and see how we'll use McLaren's vision of Jesus' Kingdom conversation to address and deconstruct societal ills. It should be a good experience. I'll write more about today's conference when I return.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Four Noble Truths

Church member Steve Moldt writes his second installment explaining faith from a Buddhist perspective:

To follow up on my last blog regarding my current understanding and questions about suffering, I would like to discuss the four noble truths of the Buddhist tradition as I understand them. I should say that I have had no formal training and this is my understanding of these principles at this stage of my own journey.

The first of the Four Noble Truths states that life means suffering, or life is suffering. We are born into suffering, have hungers, thirsts and anxieties. We suffer through fear, illness, desire, pain, insecurities, etc. There are as many ways to suffer as there are beings to experience it.The second Truth states that the origin of suffering is attachment. We suffer because we become attached to transient things, not only objects, wealth and power but ideas, desires, passions, even our notion of our “self” as a separate entity, instead of a part of the on-going ceaseless becoming of the universe. Craving and clinging keep us from our greater realization of our connection to all things.

The third Truth is that cessation of suffering is attainable. This is can be done by remove the source of suffering, by ending the craving and the clinging to transient things using techniques meant to achieve a dispassionate state know as Nirvana. Nirvana is the freedom from desires, complexes, insecurities and ideas. It means openness to all levels of experience without judgment and without limiting knowledge. It is the experience of the unity of all things.

The fourth Truth describes the way to the cessation of suffering by way of the Eightfold Path which, briefly, consists of Right View and Right Intention which are manifestations of Wisdom; Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood which are manifestations of Ethical Conduct and Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration which are manifestations of Mental Development.

When I first came upon the Four Noble Truths, I was astonished by the simple logic. In our ‘modern’ world there are literally billions of dollars that are spent on ways to alleviate suffering. The range of drugs alone used to treat depression, phobias, anxieties fuel an entire industry.

The Buddhist way does not deny suffering. It recognizes it as an unavoidable, even essential part of life in this existence. By recognizing suffering as integral to the process of life, it is not such an overwhelming force and can be addressed by pursuing the eightfold path. This is not to say that the way is easy, but the difference in perspective from the way we commonly address suffering in our material society makes sense to me. What do you think?