Friday, December 31, 2010

A Quiet New Year

As I sit at home in pajama pants on New Year's Eve morning, I notice, for the first time, the buzz about this day.  All of the morning talk shows are prepping folks for the nights festivities- from the best food to prepare to hang-over preventions for the morning.  Cities around the world are taking care of last minute details for their first night parties, some have already begun.  I'm trying my best to opt out.

I've had my share of New Year's parties.  Lots of them were fun, but largely unfulfilling.  I really appreciate the ones where I had a chance to really connect with a few good friends and family.  But I am really starting to appreciate the virtues of quietly ringing in the New Year and getting off to a well rested and healthy start on New Year's Day.

Prince sang "tonight we're gonna party like it's 1999" and I've often looked to the end of the New Year with a sense of finality.  The year is done, go out with a bang.  Many people recognize the holidays of many non-Christian religions begin at sundown; the day begins at sundown.  Think about what this means, in our ancient past, the beginning of the day began with rest.  I pray that no matter how you celebrate New Year's eve that it will provide you with the rest and energy to face 2011 as the best you that you can be.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Books of 2010

I've referred to several books from time to time on A Pot of Stew, but considering how much I enjoy reading I haven't really given too much space to the books I enjoy the most.  Here are the ten favorite books that I've read in 2010.  Some are old and some are new.  They aren't in any order other than the rough order in which I finished reading each one.

by Leonard Mlodinow

The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives (Vintage)The subtitle of this book says it all.  We attribute so much of what happens in our lives to talent and ability, but Mlodinow says that many of the success stories (and failures) of the world can be explained by simple principles of statistics.  I understood that we are all marked by success and failure experiences.  When those successes come early, we are much more likely to weather the storms later on than when the failures come early and we give up before we even start.  Just like flipping a coin.  Five tails in a row just isn't enough information to decide that your coin is more prone to tails than heads.  So don't give up so quickly.

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior 
by Ori and Rom Brafman

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational BehaviorWhat could possibly lead over 50% of a French game show t.v. audience to respond that the Sun revolves around the Earth?  It was the French version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and apparently the audience did not think the contestant worthy of the prize if he didn't know the moon revolved around the Earth, so they mislead him.  This book is full of stories such as this, backed up with explanations for these behaviors from the world of Social Psychology and Behavior Economics.  I read this book right after Predictibly Irrational and The Drunkard's Walk, and should have given it a little more space, but it was still an enjoyable and interesting read.

 by Timothy Keller

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism After thinking I had read too many psych/social science books in a row, I turned to religion.  I am no fan of apologetics, but Keller's insight on the Christian faith appealed greatly to me.  I get the impression that he is a pretty conservative guy, but he manages to express the Gospel story in a novel and easy to understand way.  He explains why "Jesus is the only way" without alienating.  His answer to "why does a good God allow suffering" satisfies the intellect without insulting the soul.  My intent focus on the dual concept of Justice and Mercy came directly from this book.

by Will Self

The Book of Dave: A NovelThe tone of this book reminded me of "Trainspotting."  It was not an inspiring book and I found it a little on the dark side, but from time to time that can be a good thing.  The book can be hard to follow, bouncing back and forth from present day London to a post-modern (if not post-Apocalyptic) world and using language/dialect that can be sometimes hard to follow.  Reading the book is an experience as the pieces of the puzzle are revealed leading the reader further into understanding exactly what is happening.  Without giving too much away, the psychotic journaling of a London cabbie going through a painful divorce and custody process manages to have a profound impact on a dystopic (I don't really know what that word means, but it sounds right for this) world many years later.

by Francis Collins

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for BeliefI first heard about Francis Collins when I read a blog post about how a number of individuals at a National Youth Ministry conference got a little worked up over his keynote address.  Francis Collins was a former head of the Human Genome Project.  He grew up across the mountain from my current home and spent some time at UVA.  He is a renown scientist and devout Christian and finds no conflict in the two.  In this book he explains how his faith has developed along side his growth as a scientist.  I greatly appreciate his point of view and draw comfort from his experience.  Anyone who finds that a literal reading of the Bible, especially regarding creation, leads them to struggle in their faith would benefit from this book.

by Jeph Loeb

Batman: The Long HalloweenIt's not a comic book, it's a graphic novel.  At least that's what I tell myself to feel better about reading SuperHero books.  It all started last year with The Watchmen.  Ever since, I've really started getting into comics.  After reading The Watchmen, I read several other Alan Moore works, and one of the Frank Miller Batman novels.  This was my first venture outside of Moore/Miller, and I really enjoyed it.  A killer strikes on Halloween and continues through the major holidays of the year.  The book is a real mystery, leaving the reader wondering just as much as the crime-fighter who the culprit will be.  The book reads like a journey throughout an entire year that changes the lives of all the characters involved.

by Seth Godin

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?I read this book at the beginning of the school year and it really inspired me for a while.  The main idea of the book is alluded to in the title.  Rather than behaving like a cog-- an interchangeable, ultimately replaceable part-- we should strive to become Linchpins.  We do this by, among other things, creating art and sharing it with others.  The definition of art here is pretty loose, but essentially we all have the opportunity to go beyond what is expected to create something of true value that will make us stand out and those around us better.  The book even inspired me to write this piece titled "Teaching and Donuts" on a different blog.

by Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four MealsEarly in the year, I stumbled upon a free down download of the book Food Rules and loved its simple advice for eating.  For example, if your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it; regarding cereal, if it turns your milk a different color, don't eat it.  This book was short and pithy, full of excellent advice for better health.  Later in the year, I watched the movie Food, Inc. with my son, and really started thinking about the food that I consume.  Michael Pollan was involved with both of these, and I had talked about Omnivore's Dilemma with a farmer friend of mine, so when I saw it displayed in our school library I decided to read it.  This book impacted me more than anything else that I've read this year.  As Pollan traces the origin of several meals, the true cost of the food we eat is revealed.  We should all consider the food that we eat more deeply-- this book doesn't propose to tell you how you should think about your food, but it definitely frames the ethical, moral, social, and health issues that every human should consider as they consume the food that will sustain their lives.

by Geoff Johns

Blackest NightThis is another graphic novel.  If The Long Halloween was a first venture outside of Moore/Miller, this was my first real superhero book outside of Batman.  This book features nearly all of the DC characters, some of whom I've heard of before (Flash, Green Lantern, etc.) but others of whom I haven't a clue.  I knew enough to know that I didn't know everything that I needed to know to fully "get" this book, but it was still great to sit as an adult and enjoy the action and adventure without getting caught up in the cerebral efforts of reading.  As terrible as this sounds, no matter what the book itself is like, the pictures and art alone are enough to make the book a worthwhile read.

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesThis was one of the first books downloaded on my Kindle.  Best of all it was free.  This volume  contains numerous short stories featuring Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson.  I've been reading on this book all year between reads.  It is a great filler with stories that can be read in just a few sittings (or sometimes one).  I am nearing the end, but I've loved short stories ever since elementary school and I would love to find more collections like this one.

That's my list, I know that at least a few people are reading this blog, so step up and share a little back-- What were your favorite reads of 2010.  You don't even need to explain, just list if you want.  I've got 365 more days coming in 2011 and I'd love some reccomendations.  Click the comment link below if a comment box is not showing.  You may post anonymously or using an account, but let me know if you've encountered a "must read" this year, or if there are any "must reads" on your 2011 reading list.  Happy New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

All Is Well- Christ is Born

This Christmas Eve, I'm reminded of the same thought that came to me on Maundy Thursday this year.  It's going to be ok.  The paths have been set straight, the voices have cried out in the wilderness, the advent is fulfilled and the Christ is born.

The time of setting captives free, of restoring sight to the blind has come.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last.  It is time to bless those who curse you and seek first the kingdom of God.  Take up your cross daily.  This birthday has turned the world upside down, and it might seem strange at first, but this is only the beginning.

Merry Christmas 2010.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Deadliest Year?

Maybe it is just my current state of mine, but in the grand scheme of history, I haven't been to impressed with the "naught" decade-- 2001-2010.  We started with 9/11 and we end with the news that more people died from natural disaster in the year 2010 since the Ethiopian famine of 1983.  Over 1/4 million people this year have died from earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.  

I remember the Ethiopian famine.  Along with the Mexico City earthquake of 1985, it was one of the first events that gave me a real sense of suffering in the world.  When I think about events that have shaped who I am, I have only recently begun to understand how important these "news" items were in shaping who I am.

I don't know why at eleven years old I cared so much, but the media hype from the formation of "Band-Aid" in 1984 and the release of "Do They Know it's Christmas" caught me.  I was taking a journalism class through an enrichment program our school system offered at the time and wrote an article about the effort and spent much of my time in the winter of 1984-85 following the song as it charted around the world raising money for famine relief.  American musicians followed suite in 1985, releasing "We Are The World" and in July I was glued to the sofa watching the spectacle of "Live Aid." 

This was the event that introduced me to U2, and the idea of a social conscience.  I had saved ten dollars that summer and when the Mexico city earthquake struck that fall, our church took a special collection for the tragedy and I didn't hesitate to give all ten dollars to the cause. 

Over 200,000 of the deaths this year were a result of the Haiti earthquake in January.  On January 3, our church packaged over 30,000 meals for world hunger relief and days later, tragedy struck Haiti and every one of those meals were sent.  As much as I hate tragedy, it seems to bring out the good in people.  We respond when others are hurting, but too often we find it easy to ignore the suffering in humanity.  Marx said that "religion is the opiate of the masses" but he was wrong.  Comfort is the opiate of the masses.  In 1985, Bono sang a cutting, ironic line in the song-- "but tonight thank God it's them instead of you." 

Christmas, 2010- enjoy your family and friends and presents, but don't ignore the reason that Christmas is so important.  Our world is broken and can only be fixed through the advent of Christ.  Enjoy peace, joy, hope and love, but in seeking these be mindful of how these can be pursued and shared together; a humanity bound in suffering but able to overcome.  I pray that this "deadliest year" will impress upon some eleven year old in the way it impressed upon me in the 80s.  Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Advent Prayer of Love

Dear God,

Thank you for hearing us.  We open our mouths and hearts in prayer not always knowing what to say, but knowing that we need you.  When times are hard, and our brokenness is clear, we are grateful for your presence.  Sometimes I wonder if we need you even more in the good times.  When all is well, it is easy to say Praise to You with our lips, but in times of trouble our hearts cry out.  Keep us mindful of your presence and your providence always in our lives.  We lift our prayers to you God, we simply present you with our needs trusting that you will know the answer, that you will take care of us.

Two months ago we noticed decorations in stores and even Christmas music here and there—some of us thought it was too soon.  And now it is the Sunday before Christmas.  Where has the time gone?   

We are hopeful in the ability of your Advent to redeem the time.  When we look back on all of our efforts and striving we hope that it will come to good, when we stop to consider our present, we hope for relief, and when we look to our future we hope for salvation. 

We find peace in the knowledge of your advent.  Somehow we know that whatever may come our way; all of our hardship and suffering, grief and loss, it’s going to be ok.  Jesus birth has set things right once again. 

Your advent brings us joy—rarely does the birth of a child, the creation of new life disappoint.  When we consider the Advent, and the birth of our savior we recognize that on Christmas day, not only was a new life created, but New Life was created for humanity.  

We may never fully understand the Love that was shown by your gift given to the world on Christmas, but we give thanks that we can receive it with open hearts.  Hear our voices around the world, a thankful chorus of humanity—in every children’s pageant, in every carol sung, every bell that chimes, with every Merry Christmas wished, we celebrate the day you were born unto us. 


Sunday, December 12, 2010

It Happens Every Year

It's the children's play at church.  That is what it seems to take every year to bring me to the place of recognizing the weight of Christmas.  Ironic that a simple children's musical with catchy songs and a few subtle jokes could have such an impact.  The title of this year's play-- "Arrest These Merry Gentlemen"-- if you don't get the pun in text, try singing the line to the tune of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and you'll begin to get it.  My son played the role of the sidekick to the town sheriff.  He was the "rookie cop" named... you guessed it, Rookie.

But my favorite set of roles were the Shepherds.  My daughter was a shepherd, her name was Vince.  A shepherd named Vince you ask, well, she stood in the middle of Frank and Merv.  Frank and Vince and Merv-- I don't want to insult your intelligence, but just in case you missed it, Frankincense and Myrrh.  Amidst the joyful noise of children's voices and clever puns that many of the actors are too young to get, God speaks.

Nicodemus had a hard time understanding what Jesus meant by being "born again."(John 3)  Jesus said "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 13:3)  When I watch the children creatively tell the story of Jesus' birth every year, all of the mental exercises that I labor over all year long wash away and I simply know-- Jesus was born on Christmas Day.  Simple as that, on Christmas, God became flesh and entered humanity.  It is a story simple enough for a child to tell and rich enough to ponder for a lifetime.

I spend so much of my life intellectualizing my faith, thinking deeply about the meaning of Jesus, but when I hear these children proclaim the Good News-- my intellect takes a back seat and I know that all is well; Jesus was born on Christmas Day-- Salvation is Here!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Christ in Us

 Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.  And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.  Rejoice always,  pray continually,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  Brothers and sisters, pray for us.  Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.  I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.   (1 Thess. 5:12-28)
Often when reading the New Testament epistles I find myself amazed at the language these letter writers used to explain their understanding of Jesus.  They deliver their exhortations to love one another and live in submission with the passion that only one who had experienced Christ first hand could do. 

It is easy to just “read” the Bible without remembering where some of these words come from.  The same Paul who sought out Christians for persecution, who made it his job to payback what he saw as wrong made a complete turn after a direct experience with God, and he encourages us to do the same in this passage.  Paul tells us to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.  This would be easy for us to say, but Paul lived it; he was jailed, beaten, and persecuted but showed thankfulness and joy through it all.

Could words like this come from anyone who had not experienced the glory and the grace of God first hand the way Paul did?   I don’t think so.

This is why advent is so important.  By taking a yearly journey of anticipating the coming of the Christ we reflect on why we need a savior.  By reflecting on the reasons for the birth of Christ our minds turn as well to the Second Coming.  We gain a new appreciation for what Jesus means for us individuals and the world. 

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Authority OR "What Does Wikileaks Have to do With Advent"

1 One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” (Luke 20)
In our world, authority only comes two ways: a) someone takes it or b) people agree to give it.  Every generation struggles with the question of legitimate authority.   Even today, we are in the midst of an “authority crisis.”  Have you ever used “Wikipedia” online?  Imagine the ability to search every encyclopedia in the public library for a topic and getting results in seconds. 

Some teachers discourage the use of Wikipedia because it does not carry the “authority” of Websters, World Book, Groliers, etc.  The authority of Wikipedia comes from the millions of users who not only search for entries, but contribute to the knowledge base through both addition and deletion of content.  Authority is no longer isolated and concentrated, or protected. 

Even in the news lately, we are troubled by the news about "WikiLeaks," essentially a “wiki” site for information leaks around the world.  Leadership can no longer operate behind a wall of separation between themselves and the people.  Authority is no longer isolated and concentrated, or protected.  We began a movement toward democracy over 200 years ago, but we are still moving closer toward it today.

It can be scary to live in a time of uncertainty and questionable authority.  We value autonomy, but we also search for guidance and wisdom in "authority."  The same was true in Jesus' day.  On Christmas, this humble baby was born that would shake the idea of authority in his world.  The Roman political leaders and Jewish religious establishment had cornered the market on authority, but this authority was far from legitimate, especially when they tried to dismiss the wisdom of Jesus.

Authority today increasingly resides in the hands of the masses, the populace of the world.  From rise of democracy in the governments of the world to free-flowing information on the internet, the sources of authority are moving from the few to the many.  But the question of whether authority belongs in the hands of the institution or the individual is irrelevant and misses the point.   The masses are just as prone as the elite to abuse of power, freedom, and authority.  Whether human authority is in the hands of the many or of the few, we still face the danger of dismissing the Son of God. 

We are in a new age of change and uncertainty, once again searching for authority in our world.  In this age of diffused authority may we remember that hope for humanity was born on Christmas day.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An Advent Prayer of Hope

Dear God,

We have come into your house with gladness, may you hear the praises of our hearts.  We give you thanks for all that we have enjoyed this week, time off from work, more and better food than usual, and the company of family and friends.  While we are thankful for all of this may we also know that our joy doesn’t come from holiday, our joy comes from you.  The sounds of this week turn our minds to Christmas, whether we like it or not, the songs, the colors, the symbols and the sales are upon us.  We pray that in the midst of our cultural expressions you would give us a keen focus on our spiritual expressions of hope for the coming messiah.

As we enter this season of advent, we come with hope.  I’m not sure about everyone God, but when I look at the world I only see glimpses of hopefulness.  It is troubling to see people in other countries oppressed because of their beliefs, not allowed to speak out against their leaders.  It doesn’t make sense to see poverty and its results homelessness, hunger, and poor health.  It hurts to see death at the hands of each other through wars whether between nations, ideologies, or individuals who can’t get along.  I worry that I am aware of all of this because I have been blessed with much privilege.  Too often the privilege I exercise is the privilege to do nothing.

I have hope for what you can do in the world.  I have hope for what you can do in me.  I have hope for what you can do in us.  You came into this world to change it, to redeem it.  May we open our hearts to this change.  When we sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel, may we express the hope of our heart that you would enter our lives as you entered the world and reconcile us to you.  In doing so God, may we stop looking into our world for glimpses of hope and look to your kingdom coming down on us daily bringing hope and redemption to our broken world through people just like us, your children, your own.

May we give our lives to you God.  May you take every minute we give to you, every thought that centers on you, every action taken in your name, and every cent that is offered to you and bless it as hope, eternal hope which comes through your son, our savior, Jesus.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Amen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


If this is your first visit to the A Pot of Stew, this post is part two of a look at Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose-- I haven't read his book yet, but according to several internet videos featuring Dan Pink, these three motivators drive innovation in the 21st century.

Of course I can't just leave it at that, I've got to connect it to my faith somehow.  My last post was about Autonomy, so now it's on to Mastery.

Jesus says in John 10:10 that he came so that we may have LIFE, and depending on the translation that we may have abundant life or life to the fullest.  We will have Mastery of our lives.  This can lead us to dangerous ground, and I am not a proponent of "prosperity theology," so what does it mean to master our lives to get the most out of them.

For most of my life I've appreciated analogies that compare life to sailing or surfing.  Sometimes the right opportunities come our way and we position ourselves to take advantage of them.  Sometimes the situation is tough and we find a way to make the most of it.  But still, sometimes we realize we are at the mercy of the winds and tides so we hunker down and simply get through it.  This I believe is the full life.  Learning to appreciate the ups and downs, the thrills and spills and taking control where we can but recognizing that the ultimate control is not in our hands.

Mastery is different than manipulation and some people try to manipulate life.  They have the illusion that it is completely under their control and this false assumption is bound to destroy their sense of mastery.  Mastery is different than control.  Every system that is under "control" is a potential disaster when things go wrong.  Mastery is different than authority.  Too often authority is based on a precarious balance of power and submission.

My best understanding of mastery in life could be expressed in the prayer of St. Francis:
"Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and
the wisdom to know the difference." 

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It's been over a week since I promised a little insight on the Dan Pink video that I posted. I thought I would give a little time to folks to watch it and come up with your own thoughts. (Do you really believe that?)

I narrowed in on Pink's view that traditional theories of motivation-- carrot and stick-- aren't as strong as we'd think. To really motivate people to complex and innovative tasks requires autonomy, mastery, and purpose. This works well when we work for people who give us this triad, but I think we can all find these elements in our lives.

Autonomy is the freedom to direct your own actions, to control your own destiny. Most of us think we are in short supply of this. When I think of autonomy, I get a picture of Jesus, sitting in front of Pilate:
 2 “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.
   “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
 3 The chief priests accused him of many things. 4 So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
 5 But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.   (Mark 15)
Jesus sat on trial in front of the governor of Judea.  Pilate didn't seem too interested in this "Jesus" case and I think he was just looking for a reason to dismiss it.  Jesus found himself in a position in which most of us would be compelled to provide a defense, and then reframe it when it didn't work.  This is true autonomy, to recognize that nothing of this world demands a response in the face of God's kingdom.

When I think of autonomy, I think of the Apostle Paul writing from jail urging people to bear patiently with one another, addressing his audience with Grace and Peace.  He writes some of the most encouraging words of hopes while suffering unto death in chains.  That is autonomy, the ability to live the freedom of the Kingdom even in the face of imprisonment in this world.

The ways of the world take our autonomy away-- we are bound to acquire more, driven to the next best thing, forced into retaliation, backed into deception, oppressed into misery, and pushed into anger.  We only have one ultimate source of accountability and that is to our God.  Jesus promised abundant life, and this is how we take it, by claiming the autonomy and freedom in this world that comes from giving it away for the sake of the next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

I haven't posted in a while, and just embedding a video seems a little like cheating, but this one is changing the way I think about life just a bit.  Among other things, what would otherwise just be another lecture becomes quite engaging with the animation.  I've used this video in a leadership class that I teach and I've been thinking about how the lesson intersects with my own life.  It is around ten minutes long, but worth the watch.  I'll give you my thoughts under the video.

My take-away from this is that traditional ideas on "carrot and stick" motivation is a bit over-rated. The trio of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose motivates us to excellence. Believe it or not, I think this applies to our faith as well. I plan to think about this some over the next few days and offer some thoughts about how these understandings reflect what we may already know about our faith.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Pope Makes Forbes Top 68

"There are 6.8 billion people in the world.  Here are the 68 that matter." 

This is how the list begins as Forbes rank the top 68 people who are making a difference in the world.  Of all sixty-eight, only two would be recognized and counted because of their faith-- The Pope and the Dalai Lama (I won't count Osama bin Laden, lots of reasons).  Most of the top sixty-eight are political leaders or those who deal in money.  But I do think that while the Tim Geithners and Ben Bernanke mix politics and money, several of the top sixty eight deal in money because of their abilities to innovate and fill social needs in our society-- Walmart, Facebook, Apple.

But every Sunday, how many millions of Christians pray "Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven."  If so many of us are offering those words, then why aren't more of the 68 people in the world who matter making a difference for God?  Perhaps they are but we can't see it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Prediction: Obama Re-Elected in 2012

I've tried to avoid the political, but I'm afraid this time I can't.  Living in Virginia's 5th District, I have seen quite a bit of Venom lately-- from the politicians and from the citizens.  Our lame duck representative seemed to seal his fate by voting in favor of the Obama health care plan.  Across the country, the people voiced disapproval of the current Democratic leadership in Washington.  Let's face it, things aren't going very well right now.

I found out that on average, the President's party loses 3 Senate seats and 34 House seats in mid-term elections.  Of course, there have been some real outliers to skew this average, but I'm young enough to remember big losses for both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.  Already we have a President posturing for cooperation and an opposing party, claiming the mandate of voters, expecting to turn back the policy of the last two years.  Sounds like 1994 all over again, and just like 1994, the President will weather the storm.  If the incoming party succeeds in bringing change, the voters will resist and if they fail to make progress, the voters will voice frustration with more of the same.

We continue to have faith in a system that is flawed.  I don't think that we should give up on it, but I think that we need to be careful that we don't let ourselves become flawed by the system.  We provoke each other to anger and attack individuals, neglecting their humanity.  We expect too much from our leaders and in turn suffer from frustration.  Obama did not create the ills that we face today, and he did not even make them worse.  The new Congress will not make them any better. 

I will continue to make my voice heard, and encourage all to do the same.  I even engage in political discussion (some may call it debate), but please understand that as long as our choice is Democrat and Republican we are essentially arguing the same position.  The sun will rise, the sun will set. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

What it Means to be American- Election Day 2010

I am an American.  I'm reluctant to call myself proud, but I will always recognized that I am blessed.  I'm reluctant to use the word proud because I did not do anything to earn the right to be an American, I just happened to be born in the right time at the right place.  I will own all of the baggage that comes with being American, from treatment of Natives to wars that I disagree with because I also own all of the prosperity that living in this land has afforded me.  I cannot say that I am always proud, but I am always American, and always blessed.

America is not a shining city on a hill, or the last great hope for the world, but she has become a land where good men and women can become those things if they take the responsibility of blessing and do not mistake it for right or privilege.  We have the freedom to live, almost as freely as we would choose, I pray that we would choose to live in order to make this world better for having been a part of it.

I would pray that freedom of speech would be used to check our government and demand the common good and not to exploit and demean in the name of entertainment.  I would pray that the freedom of religion would be used to draw us closer to God and not to generate wealth.  I pray that freedom of assembly would be used to gather as like-minded individuals to provoke change for the better and not to rally fear and hatred.  I pray that our right to petition would be used to promote change and progress rather than to demand our entitlements and voice discontent without real desire to change.

On the eve of this election, I pray that every American would exercise a right to vote.  Even if it means going to the polls and casting a blank ballot in protest of a flawed system.  I will exercise my right to vote because pride or blessing, every dollar spent, every criminal imprisoned, every bullet fired, every mother helped, every hurricane victim housed, every bill that becomes a law, and every law that changes lives rests not only on the shoulders of the decision-makers, but squarely on the shoulders of this decision-maker whose responsibility it is to make a decision tomorrow.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Redeeming Halloween

We just finished our annual "big bash" Halloween party.  Every year for the last who can remember how many, we've had family and friends over for a big Halloween celebration.  We've always lived in a close neighborhood, so the Trick-or-Treating is good.  Even before we had parties, it seemed that we ended up with friends over who crashed the neighborhood because they lives so spread out.

This year, we were worried because normally we meet with the Youth at church on Sunday nights.  It didn't seem right to cancel a Youth meeting for Halloween, but we felt like we would be letting our friends and family down if we didn't have our annual trick-or-treat party.  So we did the reasonable thing and just invited the Youth.

So we had an interesting mix of pre-schoolers, third graders, fifth graders, teenagers, and parents.  We cleared out our garage, set tables on the driveway, and rigged a projector and speakers in the front yard.  We ate, sent kids out for candy, and watched "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" all while giving candy to the passers-by.

There are lots of hang-ups surrounding Halloween, but this evening allowed us to open our home to not only our friends, but the entire neighborhood.  We went door-to-door, talking to people we normally see through a car window travelling at 25 mph.  People who we only know from passing came into our yard and conversed.  It seems to me that we need more, not less of this in our world.  So if it takes Halloween to facilitate this, I would say it is time to claim the holiday and redeem it for something good.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Waiting on Obama

It is late afternoon, October 29.  I'm sitting at my house waiting on Obama.  I could run to the airport in less than five minutes.  OK, I should be able to run to the airport in less than five minutes, but today, it might take ten.  Either way, it is close.  But I'm torn.  If I sit here too long, I fear that I may get stuck.  There are only two ways out of my house and there is a chance that when the President arrives they will both be closed.

I want to walk out to the street and take a chance on seeing the motorcade, but am I really that starstruck that I would take pride in saying "I saw a limo, I think the man was in it?"  I couldn't imagine having to live so separated from reality.  That highways and airports would close for my arrival.  That my only interactions with people who aren't tightly controlled or mightily important would come through a tinted window.  Why must leaders be so separate from their people?

A friend of mine takes a small measure of pride in pointing out Obama to a group of high school students dining in Union Station a number of years ago.  He pointed and said "that man is going to be President."  Obama was quite accessible.  Is he that different today? 

It is a shame that we take the humanity away from our leaders, celebrities, and others who keep a high profile.  We turn men and women into figures and lose all touch with the reality of who they are.  We build a wall because we can't accept them as our equals, we insist on making them better, or expecting so much out of them.  It is obvious when it is a President whom I can only view from a distance.  But, where does it start-- how much do I do this to teachers, preachers, police and local politicians,  could this be where the walls of division begin?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Obama Comes to Charlottesville

Unless you live in Washington, D.C., it isn't every day that a sitting President graces your city.  Tomorrow, October 29, Barak Obama is scheduled to speak at a rally on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville.  He will be stumping for the current Virginia 5th District Congressman, Tom Periello. 

I have lived in Virginia's 5th District all of my life, despite the fact that my current home is over one-hundred miles from my hometown as the crow flies.  For many years the seat was held by long-time Democrat, Virgil Goode from Rocky Mount, VA.  Southern Virginia Democrats have been an interesting breed, holding on to their conservative roots until only recently.  Goode in fact became a Republican a number of years ago and served under this moniker until his defeat in the last election of 2008.

Early in this race, it seemed certain that Periello would not succeed in the bid for re-election.  The voters in this district have voiced major discontent with Periello's vote for the Obama health care plan.  Perhaps the most unfair criticism being that he discounted the voice of his constituents.  I can't believe that anyone was surprised that he voted for this plan.  He is a mostly liberal democrat, and he has most open about his political leanings.

As the race proceeds, it looks more like Periello may have a chance to pull it out.  Unfortunately, that means the rhetoric has reached a fever pitch.  It troubles me still that good people could believe that a single person or even a single party has so much power that the social, economic, and moral stability of a nation can rest on their shoulders.  Things seem to have gotten worse in the last few years.  Face it, with the last decade opening with September 11 and ending with economic disaster, we're coming down from a pretty harsh period of history.  I can't look to any policy from the last two years that has substantially made life any worse.

I can understand why people may be disatisfied with our current political situation, but I don't understand the anger.  Our problems are deeper than party lines.  And so far, we've yet to find a viable candidate for any office who seems to be able to rise above this fact, and it seems that even the voters haven't figured this one out yet.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

When a Non-Fisherman Goes Fishing

This weekend I went fishing.  I don't fish.  So why did I go?  Honestly, I think I went because I like fish.  I never fish from the ground in lakes, rivers, or the coast; I probably haven't fished like that in seventeen or eighteen years.  But this is the third time in the last five years that I gone fishing from a boat on the ocean.  It's pretty expensive and quite a lot of trouble for a couple of filets.

On my previous two trips I got sick.  There is nothing fun about throwing up over the railing of a speeding boat.  Not to mention that when you get seasick, everyone seems to have suggestions for what to do about it.  Even worse, people tend to be quite judgmental when you get seasick.  They openly question why you didn't take any medicine (even if you did), or expect to get an account of all that you've had to eat and drink for the day.  Ultimately it becomes a measure of your manhood, and those who didn't get sick seem to feel at least a little superior to you.

I decided that this trip would be my last if I couldn't handle the water without vomiting.  I borrowed a friend's prescription medication and started taking it the night before, but I was still quite nervous that the sea would get the best of me.  As we boarded the boat, and stood on her at the dock I could already feel my legs and body adjusting to a new kind of balance away from solid ground.  But as the day progressed, my stomach remained calm and I made it through healthy and whole.  One of our partners didn't.  I guess it's not a trip unless someone wretches over the boat.  I'm just glad it wasn't me.

We caught our limit and set off for home, about an hour and one-half trip on the ocean.  With limited space to stand on deck, and all seats taken in the cabin, I spied a cushioned bench below deck.  As the vessel skipped and jumped across the water I lay my head on my balled up sweater and halfway fell asleep.  It reminded me of the time when Jesus lay sleeping in the boat while all of the disciples fretted over the storm that was thrashing their ship.

I think I saw this story in a new light, after my experiences.  I found no rest on my first two trips as my body revolted against the sea.  Finally, I managed to "weather the storm" and realizing that I was out of harm's way, it wasn't too difficult to retire below deck and allow the rocking of the sea to send me to sleep.  I would have never appreciated that nap as much if I hadn't been through so much to get there.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Limits of "Why"

Normal dialogue between my three year-old son and I:

"Yes son"
"Why do we have mouths?"
"To eat"
"Why do we have arms?"
"To carry things"
"Why do we have heads?"
"To think with"

...but yesterday, he added this one to the list:

"Why do we have God?"

I paused, and my other children started to offer answers such as "to keep us safe" and "to make sure we have what we need."  But I still wasn't too quick to answer, or even to comment on my other children's answers.  Most people are aware that younger children function from an "ego-centric" point of view; they tend to see the world from their own perspective alone.  So these kind of questions are not out of place.

But I was taken aback because many times our questions about God are framed from this same point of view.  "Why does God allow this?"  "How could God do this?" "Why doesn't God make himself more clear?" The only answer my son can accept about "why we have eyes" would be an answer that speaks to its utility to him.  I could try to tell him that why is not as important as how we use them, or explain that the purpose developed  out of a need, or any number of deeper points.  For him it is just a functional question- what does this mean for me?

If our primary questions about God center on the concern of "what does this mean for me" then the only answers we will ever have ears to hear are the answers that speaks to Gods utility for us.  To really begin to understand the reality of God and to fully understand what it means for us we must get beyond ourselves and open up to the bigger reality that God was not created for humanity, but humanity for God.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


For the last few days, people around the world have been wrapped up in the story of thirty-three Chilean miners.  Certainly, many have followed this story for the duration of the ordeal, lasting over two months.  From the beginning, I found it amazing that these men managed to survive for seventeen days without outside contact.  Following the wisdom of their leader, the men rationed food to ensure survival.

In my opinion, this is where the rescue began.  Buried in the depths of a dark and hopeless existence, one man remembered his humanity and the humanity of his friends.  He demanded sacrifice and expected his men to prepare for life rather than death.  It would have been easy to figure out the best way to live your last few days, or struggle to find comfort in the face of imminent death.  But these men, set out with a will to live.

This is just one life lesson we can take from this experience.  In the face of hopelessness, the right thing often appears to be the foolish thing.  As we live this life, too often we are resigned to our deaths.  Birth simply begins our slow journey to death. We should prepare for life instead of death; think of others as much as ourselves, appreciate moderation, find humor even in desperation, and pull together to make the most of every situation. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Omnivore's Dilemma

In the last two months, I've read two books that have impacted me more than anything I've read in a while.  I mentioned Linchpin in an earlier post, the other book is The Ominvore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.  The author looks at several meals from the ground up-- literally.  He starts with a family meal from McDonald's consumed in the car, then an organic meal composed of grass fed meat, and finally a meal completely composed of food that was hunted and foraged.

The monetary cost of the final meal was essentially nothing, but the author expended an incredible amount of time 1) collecting enough food for the meal and 2) learning enough about how to find food and what is appropriate to eat.  So much time that the real cost of this meal would make this type of eating impossible for nearly everyone.  Of course, the organic meal was a little easier to get, but the monetary cost was high.  We all know that we pay more for this kind of food, which normally informs our purchasing choices, this makes local and organic inaccessible for some.  Finally, good old Mickey D's was the cheapest meal of all.  And of course, compared to the other two meals, much more prevalent in the diets of Americans and perhaps the world.

I don't know if it was the author's point, but for me, reading about the process and connections of these meals from the ground to my belly helped me to realize that we have become so distant from our food that it is unhealthy.  We are beyond the ancient days of ritual and sacrifice, but feeding ourselves still incurs a great cost.  Vegetarian or carnivore, for us to live, something will die.  I'm not even placing a value judgement on forms of life here, but the reality is that my sustenance is costly, and the less I realize that, the less value I will place on life in general. 

We've grown accustom to forking over $3-$10 for a full meal of unrecognizable food.  While this may be the best financial value, we cannot dismiss the ultimate cost this meal that is being paid through a combination of disregard for animal life, degradation of environment, taxation and government policy, declining health, and a loss of civility and social interactions among people.  I may never break out of the unhealthy cycle of consumption in which I've grown accustom to living, but I'm convinced that I must try.

Michael Pollan certainly wasn't trying to make a religious point in his book, but as a Christian, I can appreciate his contribution to the understanding of a consumer society and a return to the supposed archaic notion that our relationship with our food matters.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The "A Pot of Stew Wordle"

I've used this neat application called Wordle on several occasions, and decided to give it a try with my blog.  You can find the application at  It allows you to add your own text or url to create a unique piece of word art.  Here is mine:

Monday, October 04, 2010

Everyone Did As They Saw Fit

Election Day is coming!  Less than one month and we will have the chance to select new (or old) representatives in this republic.  I've been thinking of the election in terms of my experience of reading through the Bible last year and commenting on it here.  I'm up to the book of Judges.  In this book, the Israelites have taken possession of their land (mostly) but they are not under a unified rule. 

The defining passage of this book is the statement "in those days, Israel did not have a king, and everyone did as they saw fit."  Really, this is the reason we contract together under government at all.  We know the outcome when everyone does as they see fit.  But unfortunately, a government can only balance our competing interests and minimize the damage of everyone doing as they see fit.

Today, we have a clash of competing interests.  Two sides who seem to believe that the other is both incompetent and ill-intentioned.  They both seem concerned with getting their own way and holding power more than they are concerned with acknowledging the great responsibility of leadership and accepting it with humility and strength.  From our leaders and our citizens we could learn from the chaotic story of the book of Judges that we can't simply do as we see fit.

We must value and respect each other and learn that neither left nor right can exist without the other.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Act Like You've Been There Before

This post continues the series on my efforts to read the Bible in 90 days.  If you care to catch up on previous entries, they can be found here or just click on the "90 Days" label at the end of the post.

I like watching a football player score a touchdown, make a simple gesture or simply drop the ball, and then jog from the field.  Coaches will sometimes say that when you make it to the endzone, you need to act like you've been there before.  In other words, you know the taste of victory and you know how to hold your head high win or lose.  It shows an appreciation for the effort and respect for the opponent.

When my journey of reading through the Bible took me from Moses to Joshua and into the book of Judges, this idea pervaded my thoughts.  The Hebrews had been promised this land.  God had made a covenant with Abraham many years ago, and while the people may have begun to wonder if it would ever happen, God had given every indication that his word could be trusted.

Moses and his generation did not see this promised land.  It was theirs for the taking, but they approached it with an attitude that had already been defeated.  Only Joshua and Caleb were able to look on this land from the perspective of Victors, and decades later it would only be Joshua and Caleb who entered the land as victors.

When we approach life from this perspective, we confront our challenges head on instead of avoiding them or giving in to them.  We take hold of the opportunities that we are given.  We accept that it may be hard, and the timing may not be in our hands, but our hope keeps us focused on our goals.

After entering the Promised Land, the battles didn't end.  There was still work to be done.  So it is true in our lives.  But when we approach our struggles from the perspective of victors rather than victims, we are able to live up to the coach's advice to "act like we've been there before."  Yes, we face adversity, and yes there will be setbacks along the way.  But with the confidence provided by our faith, we can face this adversity in a way that shows we appreciate the effort and that we respect the opponent.

As winners, we don't have to run up the score.  We can even appreciate the small victories of our opponents and hope they become better for them.  We don't have to be bitter, or get inflamed by the refs; the rules don't cause us harm, even if they've been stacked against us.  When we're taunted or cheated, we can call it for what it is without demanding retribution.  And we can always reach out to lift up those who have been knocked down so that when it's all over and we meet to shake hands we can look our opponents in the eye, and they can look right back at us, and appreciate a game well played.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Another number for a title?  It seems that I've had 95 visitors in the month of September so far.  All I can say is thanks for visiting, I'm pleasantly surprised to find that people are interested, and motivated to continue.

I've been reading a book called "Linchpin" by Seth Godin, and he argues that in our current economy, it's no longer good enough to just show up and be responsible.  This attitude leads one to become another cog in the machine, trading a days labor for a days pay.  A linchpin, on the other hand is not replaceable.  A linchpin goes a step beyond.  According to Godin, a linchpin is an artist, willing to share his or her art with the world.

Tonight in our weekly youth group meeting, we talked about Ephesians 2:10- "you are God's workmanship, created to do good works."  I thought about why I have blogged for several years now regardless of readership.  I realize that it makes me feel good to create.  I create because I can and it brings me pleasure.  I think the fact that I can engage in a creative exercise without the constraint of worrying about what I'm going to get in return (money, lots of readers, publication) makes it even more enjoyable.  But after monitoring my analytics over the last week, the thought that others may be engaged in my creative process has become a source of joy as well. 

This is an encouragement to me in my work, as a teacher and a minister.  I'm growing to see my work less and less as a job, but as an opportunity to engage with others in novel and creative ways-- as a creative process of art to share with the world.  Creating this art brings me joy, and the reception of this art doesn't provide the validation, but sharing it certainly does.

I hope that you can begin to see your activities in life from the perspective of art.  Whether it is your job, school, sports, or volunteer activities, I hope that you realize that you are an artist, a creative force.  You have the potential to interact with others in new and novel ways, adding meaning, if not value to their lives and enriching yours in the process.

And if you happen to share my faith in God, I hope you can see the connection.  An artist creates because it pleases him/her.  The joy in creation is lost if it isn't shared.  You are God's masterpiece, created to do good works that were prepared for you even before you were born.  May you find your art and share it with the world.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Any idea what the big deal is with 61?  I've had a burst of activity on this blog in the last three days.  61 visits to be exact.  More visitors in three days than in the last few months combined, and I haven't posted anything new since the beginning of August.

If you're just stumbling upon the blog, or have been pointed here by a friend, I hope that you take the time to read a few of my posts.  I try to post with some regularity, just thoughts and ideas about things going on in my mind.  The title refers to the story of when Jacob tricks his older brother Esau into selling his birthrite for a simple pot of stew.

Famished and fatigued, Esau was so stuck on his immediate circumstance that he failed to appreciate the significance of the price he paid for gratification.  I try to avoid this in my life- not always successfully- and I believe that we all could learn from this mistake.  After all, that's what life is.  A brief moment of time that we've been given to make something of.  We all have to live IN the moment, but we don't have to live FOR the moment-- I want my life to be bigger than this moment.

That's my journey.  No matter how you've found this, I invite you to join me.  I can't post daily, and sometimes once a month is a struggle, but check in from time to time, and if you know me, feel free to say something.

May you find Grace and Peace in your life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hello Again

Once again, keeping up on the blog has gotten the best of me.  The last few posts related to my attempt to read the Bible in 90 days.  Considering it took me 385 days to read the Bible in 90 days, it could take me a considerable time to completely blog about the experience, so I may abandon it; or maybe not. 

Anyway, I preached last Sunday at Chestnut Grove, and the sermon is posted online at our church's site.  The title of the sermon is "Justice and Mercy"; if you're interested in listening, click the title and it will stream, or right click to download.

I blogged about this topic previously here.  Anyway, if you listen, feel free to comment.

Monday, July 05, 2010


It seemed I’d just begun my 90 day experience when I found myself in the midst of the story of Moses. The Egyptian captivity of God’s “chosen people” had been one of those lingering questions in my mind that I’d never taken the time to contemplate. I thought I was missing something about why the Hebrews had ended up in captivity. Abraham had obeyed, Isaac was faithful, Jacob messed up but seemed to be on good terms with God, and his sons had sold Joseph into slavery, but within that whole story, I find no good reason why the entire nation of Abraham would find itself in such bondage.

I’m not sure the reason is important. Perhaps sometimes in life things happen. Jesus himself did not take any “free passes” or have a divine hand to protect him from the suffering of this world. I wonder if that is what we need to understand. God’s blessing, God’s choosing, is not some special dispensation or ticket to a trouble free life. God’s blessing, first handed down to Abraham was intended to begin redemption of the world. So we don’t get a free pass from suffering.

Jesus said in the gospel of John that “in this world we will have trouble.” The Hebrews found themselves in trouble, and God provided.

The lesson of Moses that is most important to me is the lesson that no matter who I am or where I find myself, my identity is rooted in God. When called by God, Moses asks “Who am I” to lead my people out of Egypt. God’s response—“I am with you.” Moses’ tragedy was this, he did not enter the Promised Land. The reason? He failed to recognize that God was with him and he took matters into his own hands, trusting his own wisdom and experience. This was the failure of the Hebrews he had led from captivity as well. Rather than entering the Promised Land as commanded, they relied on their own experience and understanding of the world, they forgot that they have no identity apart from God and because of this they found themselves wandering.

When I find myself lost and wandering in this life, that is usually the reason. I’ve placed too much faith in myself, and when life gets tough, or the road ahead seems too long or rough for me to travel. So I set out on my own course with no direction, lost and alone. Until I turn and realize—“I am with you.”

Sunday, July 04, 2010

An Independence Day Prayer

Dear God,

We thank you for freedom, and on this day especially, we give thanks for the freedom we enjoy as Americans.  We are reminded that we are Christians first, followers of Jesus above all else, and while we are thankful for the ways that being American make it easy to be a Christian, we are mindful to not fall prey to the ways it is more difficult.

We thank you for men and women of good intent who have built this nation and defended her freedom.  May we take this freedom as a blessing from You and share it with the world.  We also lift up our many errors and mistakes from the past God, and humbly ask your forgiveness for the wrongs committed under the banner of our land under which we celebrate today.  We do not hide from these transgression nor do we ignore them, because we fully trust that in Christ, all wrongs can be turned for the right when your people pray and humbly turn from their ways.

We give you great thanks for the mighty witness of Christian brothers and sisters who continue to claim your name without the benefit of the political, social, or economic freedoms that we enjoy.  We pray for the persecuted Lord and ask that you teach us how to serve them in their struggles.

We celebrate our history and look ahead in hope on this day God.  We pray for our leaders as we move into the future.  President, Congress, courts, and local assemblies--God give them wisdom to do their jobs well.  Give us also the wisdom to do our and to exercise a true freedom.

We come to this day with great joy around the awesome fruits that can grow through the freedom of man.  Give us even greater joy in understanding the even greater fruit that can grow through the freedom of Christ.  We know God that the best of any nation lies beyond the power of any other but you, either to give or take away.  Because of this we pledge our allegiance first to you--

Our Father, who art in heaven
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us of our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory,

Monday, June 28, 2010


When I began my attempt at reading the Bible in 90 days, I managed to stay on schedule for the first six or seven weeks.  So it was only a matter of a few days getting from the beginning to the story of Abraham.  For me, the story of Abraham marks the real beginning of the narrative of God’s work on Earth. That sounds a bit sacrilegious, and I certainly do not mean to dismiss what has preceded. Nevertheless, it is like with any book, you reach a point where you feel like you have really begun. You’re all in, you get what’s going on, and you’re ready to enjoy the experience.

I also relate to the story of Abraham because I remember the first time that I really began to question my faith. It was in high school, and not in science, but in history. We learned about early humans and pre-history. It all contradicted what I had been taught as a child, and even worse, it all made sense. I consider this a milestone in my faith, as we learned stories of creation myths and legends from other traditions, the teacher responded to a laughing student—“as crazy as this sounds, is it any more unbelievable than saying one man built a huge boat to escape a flood that covered the entire earth, and along the way managed to house every species of animal on this boat for the duration?”

That statement hit me like a brick. But later in the semester, the section heading in the chapter was “A Wandering Aramean…” Among the stories of river valley civilizations and empires, I found the story of the Hebrews and their monotheistic religion traced back to Abraham. I began to learn from that experience that to be open-minded toward other beliefs and skeptical of one’s own does not have to delegitimize or minimize our faith. I learned that somehow I have to figure out how to live in this world and not against it, at least not in the traditional, antagonistic sense.  I felt like through this experience I moved from know about God to getting to know God. 

I think this is part of the struggle that the story from Abraham to Moses speaks of. God calls Abraham out of his comfort to experience something new. By joining in God’s covenant, Abraham is called to be different. He is not called home to God and taken out of this world, he is asked to live a different life within this world so that through him he can be a blessing. He is not called to conquer, persuade, or rule, he is simply called to receive God’s blessing so that through him the world might be so blessed. And we learn about the growth of his nation through the blessing of God, and watch God’s people struggle to understand what it means to be chosen, and why they are it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Adam to Abraham

So in reading through the Bible, my first reaction was to be caught up in the scale of this story. I realized that I was in the midst of something not only bigger than myself, but bigger than humanity. All that within a chapter. And then, the story of us begins.

From Adam to Abraham I see a story about how humanity advances in many ways, but continues to fall short in the important ways. I’ve often wondered about the fall. Perhaps it can be as simple as a fruit from a tree, but I find myself creating complexity and trying to understand metaphor in interpreting what happened to us and God so many years ago. I still don’t know. I could ramble on about ideas and theories, but I certainly wouldn’t want any of my thoughts in writing because the fact is that I still don’t know.

But it is clearly something. The evidence is all around us. The longing for meaning, the injustice of the world, my personal failures; something isn’t right, but something is working to make it right. The story of humans as we know them really seems to begin sometime after the garden. We work the soil, care for each other, populate the Earth. It seems that humanity did a pretty good job of it. They built, they created, they procreated, they loved, they laughed, the spread out, they cooperated. But they also destroyed, abused, cursed, and murdered.

They clearly kept a glimpse of God, but they seemed to let themselves get the best of themselves and lose sight of the fact that they were simply the beginning of little story of people fitting into a bigger story of divinity. And then God spoke to Abraham.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I didn’t make the 90-day deadline, but I have finished the Bible, cover to cover. This is the first time that I’ve attempted a straight through reading of the Bible and I am very glad that I did. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to share some of the things that I think I learned through this experience. Some of them from the text, others from the effort.

I began at the beginning. An intentional effort to read through the Bible is a pretty big task. It doesn’t read quite like other books, and it is certainly a lengthy tome. Reading from the beginning, one gets a sense of the scope as the beginning is… well, the beginning. In the beginning, God created. That alone gives quite a perspective on life. I remember reading several years ago the book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. I expected a great history of human development on Earth. Instead I found nothing close to humans covered until chapter 29… out of 30. But I was hooked by the second page:

This story in Genesis at the so called beginning encompasses a story that may be billions of years old. Eons of history developing before this place would be close to ready for inhabitants of our kind to dwell. And here, in Genesis, over just a few verses, we are given but a glimpse of this story. Like a master storyteller, we’re left with thousands of years to fill in the gaps, to speculate on our origins, to wonder how and why we are finally here. But the real importance is that we are, and now that we understand that, what comes next.

That is how I understand the Bible. So many of us place so much value on the literal insight of this beginning, but ultimately, I was created for relationship with God. That’s all I need to know to begin the journey.

But, “in the beginning, God created.” “And so, from nothing, our universe begins.” Folks, this is big. We get to join the story at the beginning, but I have a feeling this “beginning” is just where it starts to matter for us. How much more before or after, what grand thing have we found ourselves in the middle of. This isn’t a life to be dismissed, there’s something bigger going on here, and I want to find myself in it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Bible In 90 Days

Ninety days seems like a long time. That’s three months. I’ve gone for spells of reading three or four books a month before, so surely one can get through the Bible in three months. I ran across this reading plan toward the end of May and decided to give it a try. I set June 1st as day one, but I didn’t really start until several days into June because of work, so I had a little catching up to do. Like I said, I read a lot, and this plan took a pretty good chunk of time each day, but I figured that I could just give up my normal reading for the next three months and devote it all to reading the Bible.

I forgot to mention, that was June 1, 2009. One year and seven days later I’m in the book of James. Things were going well in June and July. I got through much of the Old Testament of the Bible, but I really got stuck in Ezekiel. I’m not blaming the prophet, but I just happened to be attending summer camp with our Youth during this part of the reading plan, and that week was focused on the book of Judges.

So I slacked off for a while. Enjoyed the end of summer, began a new school year, and finally as the end of fall approached, I resumed my schedule of reading. I wanted to finish the Old Testament and read through the stories of Jesus by Christmas. I made it to the minor prophets.

With Lent approaching, I decided that would be a good time to finish my commitment to read the Bible in 90 days, so I managed to finish the Old Testament and read most of the gospels by Easter.

I’m not good at Lent, and I really begin to feel like a failure when I fall short on my Lenten commitments. So I continued reading slowly but steadily. The timing was good when I began Acts on Pentecost. A renewed commitment pushed me to finish the Bible by June. Maybe 90 days was a bit too ambitious, but lots of folks read the Bible in a year. There wouldn’t be any shame in saying one year later- “I made it.”

Did I mention that I’m in the book of James? If you hold a Bible, any Bible, and pinch it at James-Revelation, looking back at the amount of material that I’ve read is enormous compared to what is left. I’m almost there. I’m going to finish, and soon. Is this a failure or a success? Go ahead, you can judge. But I’m nearly done. And I’ve learned much from this experience. Maybe this post is just a way of putting it out there for public consumption so that I have a little accountability. I can’t quit now, even though I feel like the guy at the marathon who struggles to crawl over the finish line hours after the last runner has already finished.

So I will finish, and when I do, I will share what this journey has shown me.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Finale- The Next Day

After I posted last night, I was surprised this morning at the number of “hits’ on my blog regarding the Lost Finale.  Normally I only get a few hits a week at best, but there must have been some serious “googling” going on after the finale last night.  I’m sure lots of people would just like for the hype to be over, but for those who’ve invested mental energy and emotion into the show, it’s not so easy to “let go” so soon. 

I was satisfied with this ending.  Several weeks ago I read an article predicting disappointment from fans because so many people were looking for more than an acceptable resolution for the characters of the show—they wanted a philosophy to add meaning to life.  I found myself in this camp for a time, speculating about the deity of Jacob, the inherent goodness and evil in each human, faith vs. reason, etc.  But as the producers often noted—“There’s a smoke monster!”

So can we expect any grand commentary on life from a simple network drama?  Probably not, but we’ve invested too much in this experience to not reflect and use it as a tool to help us define and refine our understanding of the world and our place in it.

To start where I began last night, is the world in which we live any less a mystery than this Lost Universe created by the shows producers?  We think we’ve got it all figured out; the “rules” of our world are well defined, knowable, stable-- unlike Lost World where the rules seem arbitrary, elusive, and dynamic.  But even recently, we find our world disrupted and out of our control be it tsunami, earthquake, volcano or oil spill.  These disasters, both natural and man-made make a mockery of our understanding of rules and order, yet we hold on to our view of the universe as completely rational and knowable, a pacifier to our fear of uncertainty.

Had the primary motive of the characters of Lost been to solve the mystery of the island, the show would have been pretty boring.  What drove the characters was a journey toward understanding that self-interest leads to isolation; that an overzealous pursuit to possess leads to corruption; that right and wrong are based in the present not the past.

Trying to decipher the mystery kept us interested and generated hype, but watching Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Claire, Charlie, Desmond, Ben, and all the rest muddling through a world they couldn’t figure out, hoping they would choose the right path—or even hoping a right path exited—kept us connected enough to care.   In them, we found our own attempts at figuring out this world and our place in it.