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.