Sunday, December 16, 2012

The tragedy in Newtown

The tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut is a grim reminder of how vulnerable the most vulnerable among us are. We don't often think about it until something like this happens. We try hard to minimize risk in life. Children are the most at risk and trust adults to do the best for them. Sometimes the risks in life are all too clear and disturbing. Like this week. Before the tragedy this week I had been reading of other tragedies in other places in the world. Places we don't usually hear about. Or if we do we don't hear about the worst things that are going on there. China is much in the news and we can't buy anything it seems without the made in China brand on it. China's official one child policy makes China's children much at risk especially girls. In India it is much the same. The kidnapping of children and the selling of children into the international sex tourism trade operates mostly under our radar but it is growing exponentially. Even in our own American cities. Children in poor countries like Haiti are seriously underfed, uncared for, and many are without anything that resembles what we think of as family life. Children in war torn areas of the Middle East are being raised in a culture of terror and violence. We have heard of the Taliban's war on children.

It is not easy being a child in our world today. This week we are in the third week of Advent in which we celebrate the coming to earth of a child, God's son. He was born at a risky time to poor, young parents. He took a long dangerous journey while he was still in his mother's womb. He was forced to flee to a foreign country with his parents to save his life when he was a toddler.  Much of his early life was lived at risk. Maybe that is why he showed such love and concern for children when he was an adult. In his world, like in many places in ours, children were not valued. They were overlooked, used by others and abused by the adult world. Unwanted children were left by the road to die. More than most Jesus understood the vulnerability of children. Jesus took them into his arms and blessed them. I saw one of those facebook posts this week with a picture of Jesus carrying a child. He carries many children in his heart today and every day. He weeps for the children who are victimized every day. He shares his tears with us so we can pray and so in some small ways we can bless the children within our reach today.

The Hobbit

I saw The Hobbit twice this weekend. I would recommend seeing it more than once. The first time I was mesmerized by the characters ( the opening scene with the dwarves dropping in on Bilbo unannounced is terrific) and the special effects. The meticulous recreation of the Goblin kingdom is a delight to watch. ( I cannot believe A.O. Scott, film critic in the NY Times did not select The Hobbit as one of the years best movies- not even in his top 25! - well who said film critics know what they are talking about. He also wrote a review that said it was too long and boring. Well, this critic loved every minute of it, twice.) I haven't seen Lincoln yet, or Les Mis but The Hobbit will be on my list of best films for the year, for certain. One of my favorite characters, of course, is Bilbo, brilliantly played by Martin Freeman. No one can figure out why Gandalf,  when he was putting together his team for this adventure, chose a Hobbit. Hobbits are homebodies. They like warm homes, good food, and reading books in a comfortable armchair. But, Gandalf had a reason. Toward the end of this first film of three and after Bilbo has saved the life of the dwarf King Thorin, Thorin's perception of Bilbo changes. He had thought it a mistake to bring Bilbo on this journey but now he tells Bilbo he was never more mistaken about anything in his life. I understand completely, Bilbo says, I wouldn't have wanted to take me either. I am no hero, he confesses. And he is not faking sincerity. He believes it. That is way Gandalf chose him. At one point in the film Gandalf says that an ordinary person doing small acts of ordinary goodness can turn back the darkness more than all the power in the world. Bilbo is that ordinary person. In today's action movies the hero looks like he has been working out in a gym at least 8 hours a day for the past three years. Bilbo looks like he avoids the gym at all costs. He is an easily overlooked action hero. No surprise. Small acts of ordinary goodness often are. By the way, if you have seen The Hobbit go see it again then get the book out and re-read it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I've been thinking about humility this Christmas. It seems as I read the gospel story about the birth of Christ a lot of the human characters were humble persons. Think of Mary,  who said to the angel when he told her she was going to be the mother of Jesus, "who me?" and then "may it be to me as you have said." Even though we call her the virgin Mary and venerate her as the mother of Jesus, she did not think of herself as anyone especially deserving of this honor. Think of Zechariah, the priest, and father of John who was the forerunner of Jesus. He was just doing his priestly duties when the angel told him what Gods plans were for him and his family. Far from thinking he was someone special he couldn't even believe it! Think of John, his son, when people thought he was the Messiah he said, "I'm not even worthy to take off his sandals!" How's that for humility. Then, there were Simeon and Anna, the prophets who were waiting for a sign that the Messiah had come. They spent their days watching and waiting basically putting their lives on hold until they were sure God was coming. Think of Joseph, Mary's husband, taking a backseat to all that God had said to her. That gets at the meaning of humility, too.

Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking says true humility doesn't mean to think ill of yourself but not to think of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It's been pointed out that it's hard to be humble because just when you think you are humble you are proud of it. Being humble seems to be more like not thinking about yourself at all. Read Philippians 2:1-18. It may be the best commentary on humility in the Bible.

God's Call

We have been watching the video series Ed's Story in Sunday School. Ed is Ed Dobson who was the pastor of a fairly good sized church in Michigan until he found out he had ALS (known as Lou Gehrig's disease) about 12 years ago. He got it in the prime of his life and ministry at 51. He was forced to resign from his church and was told he had 3 - 5 years to live. He has lived longer but today his body is virtually useless. His last book was written with the aid of a voice activated computer. I was thinking about Ed and other pastors/church leaders/theologians I have known who became disabled or even died in the prime of their ministries. It seems like such a waste. I remember one guy who worked with Inter Varsity and traveled speaking about the intersection of Christ, the Church and culture. I was in my first ministry assignment when I heard him speak and read one of his books. He was a brilliant writer and captivating speaker. Then another friend of mine called to tell me he had been speaking at some meetings and gone outside to jog and died of a heart attack. He was not yet 40. What a waste I remember thinking. Why, God, did that happen? He was such a good one. The Church needed him. Obviously, I don't why. But, it does get me thinking we tend to invest ourselves with much more importance than seems appropriate for the terms of our condition. As a pastor, I am used to another idea we hear in the Church a lot. The word is "call", as in he or she was called to this church. I have heard something like this: we are so glad God called you here. Your calling was an answer to prayer. It can make you feel pretty special to think you were singled out from many others and chosen by God for this particular job. Of course, it can work the other way too as in we were mistaken. We see now you were not the one God called to this place! You're fired!

"Calling" is a strange idea. Is the pastor the only one called to a particular church? What about the youth leader or one of the deacons or the person who heads up the music every week? What about the person who stands at the door and greets or who sees to it the bathrooms are clean every week? Does God call us for certain periods of time and then we are no longer called. What happens when the one called gets sick, or gets ALS or dies or decides its time to retire. Do you even get to retire if you are called. How do you know when your call is up?

I tend to think God calls us to faith in Christ and then there are all sorts of ways to work out that calling. Every one called is spiritually gifted for ministry. Calls are different but no one is higher or better than any other. When I was young we heard the phrase used, "he was called into full time Christian service", but is there any other kind of Christian service?

Ed Dobson was still called to full time Christian ministry even when he got ALS. His new ministry didn't look much like what it had before but his calling never changed. That's the way it makes sense to me; we are called to be followers of Christ and the way that gets worked out is different for each of us. It's not up to us and what's important is that we get to be part of what God is doing in our part of His kingdom.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Best Books of the year (my list)

This is the time of the year that those Best Books of the Year lists start turning up. So for what it's worth,  here is my list of the Best Books I have read this year.

Fiction: Our son Mark is teaching an Asian/ African unit in his literature class so he put me onto some authors I had not heard of before. One of those was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her novel is Half of a Yellow Sun. The setting is the Nigerian/Biafran civil war in the 60s. The main characters are educated in England and are part of a rising middle class. They are of the Igbo tribe who largely make up the new nation of Biafra and while they are hopeful about the birth of their new nation everything goes horribly wrong while the world stands by and does nothing.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen Carter. This is the year of Lincoln with Spielberg's movie just released and Lincoln and vampires out on dvd. Carter's book supposes that Lincoln did not die from Booth's bullet and lived on to fight a congress that was bent on impeaching him for his disregard of the constitution during the civil war. Good Lincoln study and a good mystery, too.

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke. This is the author's second novel. Her first one is pretty good, too. This one is set in Louisiana on an old plantation that has been restored as a tourist attraction complete with slaves quarters. A cast of Black and White are on hand to re-enact early plantation life. The director/manager of the modern plantation/resort grew up on it when it was a working plantation and her mother was the cook. Interesting intersection of race and culture and a good mystery, too.

We love Ann Patchett's novels. State of Wonder was one of my all time favorites. Run (technically not a new book this year but it is my list) is about race and politics and family in Boston and equally as good.

The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce is, well, unlikely. It is full of quirky characters surrounding Harold on a late life journey that gives him purpose.

The Long Halftime Walk of Billy Lynn by Ben Fountain takes place during halftime of a Dallas Cowboys Game. The whole novel! Billy Lynn is with a group of soldiers being honored at halftime. It is an amazing collision of American life and values as these soldiers try to make sense out the society they are risking their lives for.

Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger and The Quality of Mercy. Unsworth's historical fiction follows the building of a slave ship, its maiden voyage, the mutiny of the crew, the wreckage of the ship and subsequent founding of an interracial community in Florida and the slave ship builders son's journey of revenge - it's quite a story.

Non - Fiction

My favorite book of the year was Faith of Cranes by Hank Rentorf.  It is set in Alaska and it's about faith, family and love of place.

God's Hotel was a close second. Dr. Vi Sweet writes about medical care;  the way it was, the way it is no more but the way it should be.

And my other favorite book.... was Katherine Boo's haunting tale of day to day life and the people who live that life - in the slums of Mumbai, India. 

Zeitoun was my first David Eggars book but it will not be my last. It takes place in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and is chilling in its implications for a modern state where security and surveillance take precedence over everything else.

Empire of the Summer Moon by SC Wynne and Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Tim Egan go together. They are Native American history books, cover some of the same ground, and it's historical ground most of us know nothing about - and need to.

Peter Brown, the Princeton historian of late antiquity, has written a classic on wealth, the fall of Rome and the making of Christianity in the West, 350-550 AD. Thats the subtitle of the book. It is massive and while some of it is only of interest to a small group of academics, most of it is fascinating and surprisingly relevant. The Church has always needed money to operate and the challenges of finding that money and using it well have really never changed all that much.

Of course, every year when spring training opens there has to be a baseball book. This year it was written by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey of the NY Mets who just won the Cy Young. How does a knuckleballer win the Cy Young? Its a great story even if you can't hit a knuckleball or don't even know what one is.

There. So many good books and so little time to read them.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The 40th

We went to Anchorage to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Some couples go somewhere exotic for a big anniversary like one's 40th. We flew from our Kodiak Island home to Anchorage which for many people would be exotic enough. It is at least a long way off from the Lower 48. It was not warm, however, with snow on the ground and threats of freezing rain. The foul winter weather was hinted at by the rental car clerk who talked me into doubling my rate and moving up to a 4 wheel drive. You'll be glad you did, she said. I'm not so sure I thought about it much until it came time to pay the bill. While Anchorage may be exotic to some, to us it is familiar. We have been there dozens of times. We have our favorite spots to stay: The Captain Cook Hotel and to eat: Snow City Cafe for breakfast and Glacier Brewhouse for dinner (even though they destroyed the salmon with a way too generous coating of barbecue sauce). We always hit the bookstores and Fred Meyer. We watch a movie at one of those theaters that show more than one at a time like we have in Kodiak. This time we saw Denzel Washington in Flight which was probably not a good choice for someone who lives on an island and depends on air travel. I will try to smell my pilots breath on every flight I take from now on. So, we didn't go to Hawaii or the Caribbean or even Mexico for our  Big 4-0. There was no big party to attend to mark that date. We didn't even dress up to go out to dinner. This is Alaska, after all, and when you are walking in 20 degree temps through ice and snow jeans, fleece and hiking boots are more practical. The important thing is I went with the same woman with whom I have gone 39 other times so I didn't really care if I was in Anchorage or someplace more exotic. Anywhere with her was just fine with me. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Through the Fog

Ed Dobson has done a lot in his life. He was Jerry Falwell's right hand man during the building of the Lynchburg University empire and the Moral Majority days. Later he renounced his political activity and called Evangelicals back to their main ministry - evangelism and missions - in a book written with columnist Cal Thomas. Then, he became pastor of a large church in Grand Rapids. After 18 years there he got ALS. He found out in 2000, stayed on at the church for a few years and then resigned. The doctors gave him 2 to 5 years. He has lived almost 12 but most of his muscle functions have now succombed to the crippling disease. This book, Through the Fog, was written on a voice activated computer. Over the past ten years he has been able to be pretty active. He wrote a book a few years back called The Year of Living Like Jesus which I read and blogged about. In 2008 he endorsed Obama for president because of his study of the gospels. He stated simply that Obama was the most like Jesus of the candidates. It cost him many Evangelical supporters. In this new book which he says will be his last he talks about dying honestly and practically. He talks about what he has discovered about prayer, healing (or not), worry, forgiveness, and gratitude. He talks about what Christians have done and said that have been helpful and other things that have not been helpful. Like I said it is a very honest book. It is clear from the book that Dobson's faith and family are very important to him. He loves life and is not ready to die. He is not afraid to die but he has been afraid of the process of dying. And he grieves what he will be leaving behind. He wants to stick around as long as he can. There have been several bestselling Christian books in recent years about someone dying and going to heaven and then returning to tell us what it was like. It was great, of course. There was even one by a child that became a bestseller. His father wrote down what his son told him heaven was like. But there are no Christian bestsellers that talk about the suffering that comes while we wait to die. And how God is part of that process. It is not hard to see what God has been up to in Ed Dobson's life during the past decade in which he has been dying of ALS. Ed has graciously shared his struggles with us and we are able to see God's strength in Ed's weakness.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Health matters

There was an article in Christian Century magazine this month on clergy health. It reported on a major new study of minister's health habits or lack thereof. Seems we clergy are an unhealthy bunch. We have more health problems than the average person the study found. In the study, some ministers were put on a strict regimen of diet and exercise and, not surprisingly, they improved over the year they were observed. I am familiar with the primary stresses associated with ministry. But, it seems like every job has it's unique bundle of stresses. Some professions are more proactive in dealing with them than others. The clergy are not one of them. It's not hard to tell that most Americans are stuck in unhealthy patterns of living. Our contemporary way of life is unhealthy in so many ways. We are too busy; we don't get enough rest; we eat too much; we eat too much of the wrong stuff; we sit too much; we don't exercise and we spend way too much time on our devices instead of with other people. This is all documented and it pertains to the clergy and most everyone else.

There was an interesting article in the NY Times this week about a Greek American who had lived in the US since around 1950. He married a Greek American woman and lived in Florida. In his 60's he was diagnosed with lung cancer and told he had nine months to live. Rather than an aggressive chemo treatment he chose to go back to the Greek island, Ikaria, where he grew up. He and his wife moved into his parent's small cottage. He went to bed and waited to die. Yet, he didn't. He got up most days and walked a bit and breathed in the fresh ocean air. His old friends came by during the day and visited. He got up when he felt like it and napped every day. He ate local vegetables and drank local wine. He re-discovered his Greek Orthodox faith. Soon, he was feeling stronger and revived the family vineyard and planted a garden. He walked more and more up and down the hills of his island village. He went out with friends and played dominoes at night. That was over 30 years ago. Today, he is 97. A few years ago he visited the US to talk to his doctors and ask them why they thought his cancer was gone. He couldn't find them; they all had died.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The End of the World (Hollywood version)

What would you do if you knew you had only 21 days left to live? What would everyone do if they knew the planet only had 21 days left before it was exploded to smithereens after taking a direct hit from a meteor? That's the premise of the movie, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World. Steve Carrell plays the lead male role and Keira Knightly the female lead. Both are weakly played, in my view, and there is no chemistry between them. Carrell plays his usual decent character who maintains an emotional distance even though all hell is breaking loose around him. He doesn't get caught up in the drug, alcohol and sex fueled partying - and the general social breakdown - that seems like most of the world is doing as they wait for the end to come. Oh, there are the looters, too. No one needs to go to work. Marriages split up. Most social norms are now seen as abnormal. So everyone does what they want to do. It is original sin unleashed. Carrell is on a search for a long lost girl friend and with Ms Knightly they meet a bunch of interesting people who are coping in their own ways with the end that is coming. I have to confess I gave up on this movie before the end came. I guess I was like some of the characters in the movie. It is an interesting question to consider though and it might be a good question to discuss around dinner with a group of friends. What would you do if you knew the End was in three weeks? What do you think others might do?

Empire of the Summer Moon

When I was growing up Westerns were popular tv fare. Of course, there was Bonanza and Gunsmoke. Wyatt Earp and Kit Carson were heroes in our younger days. The Indians were "redskins" or savages and were always causing trouble for the white settlers who were just trying to make a new life out on the western frontier. There was Tonto, of course, who was the best sidekick a white man could have. But he was an exception to the general rule of Indian - White Man relationships. "The only good injun is a dead one" was the code of the west, we learned. Like so many things - as you grow up - this was a little more than a fairy tale compared to the way things really were. S.C. Gwynne's book Empire of the Summer Moon sets the record straight. You won't watch a Western the same way again. In fact, it would hard to watch one that was attempting to deal honestly with the facts. Gwynn is a journalist and he presents the facts as unbiased as he can. His book is about the last of the Indian Wars on the Texas frontier in the 1800's. In his broad retelling of this story he weaves a smaller tale about the white woman, Cynthia Parker, who was captured by the Comanches and eventually became the wife of a Comanche chief. One of their sons, Quanah, was the last great Comanche chief. It was a brutal war. The Comanche's life was centered on Buffalo hunting and warfare. They were the best horsemen on the plains. As the Plains became smaller and smaller, and as the Buffalo were hunted to near extinction they found themselves herded onto reservations. The Great White Father had decided they would become farmers and he allocated every man some land to live on. With no Buffalo to hunt, with really nothing to do, the proud Comanche languished. More than most, Quanah could see the future of Indian - White relations. He reluctantly let go of some of the traditional Indian ways and adapted to the white man's view of the Indian's future. He made himself indispensable as a mediator, scout, and businessman in the brisk sale of cattle. Eventually, he built a ten room home on the prairie where he could entertain Indians and Whites together. It seemed hopeful. But there were not many Quanahs - most of the Indians were homeless, jobless, and dependent on the guarantees of the US government. And those were not worth the paper they were printed on. Soon the brisker trade between Indians and Whites was in alcohol traded for the meager skins the Indians were still able to produce. Meanwhile, Cynthia had been recaptured by US government soldiers and "saved" from her tragic life as an Indian squaw. Even though she protested loudly that she only wanted to go back (she had seen these same soldiers kill her husband) to the Comanche way of life. She became so miserable and hard to control people figured her life as an Indian had made her crazy. She was moved farther and farther East away from her land and her adopted people. Her son, Quanah, met President Teddy Roosevelt once. He visited Washington and advised the government on Indian matters. But, like his mother, no one really trusted that an Indian knew what he (or she) was talking about.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Baseball playoffs

The baseball playoffs are in full swing. Detroit won their series with Oakland and is waiting for the winner of the Yankee - Oriole series. Today we will know which team it will be. New York and Baltimore have been going head to head for the last 5 weeks. They have been as close as close can be. One game separated them for almost that whole time. Several days they were tied for first. It is fitting in this playoff series that each team has won two games with one left to play. In each game no more than one run separated the two teams at any one time. Two games went into extra innnigs. NY won one, Baltimore the other. Todays game may not be decided til well into Saturday! Baltimore has no superstars. In fact, their best hitter was hit on the hand by NY's best pitcher a month ago and cannot play. NY's superstar third baseman, ARod, who makes about as much as the O's starting lineup combined is struggling so badly the Yankees manager pinch hit for him in each of the past two games! Ouch, how's that for a blow to the ole pride. The Yankee's other superstar, Derek Jeter, is hobbled by a nagging ankle injury and did not play shortstop in one game and was taken out of one of the extra inning games. Last night relief pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, was hit in the pitching arm by an air born  broken bat. The father of Yankees coach, Joe Girardi, died last Saturday.  He had Alzheimer's for the past several years and Joe visited regularly. Joe credits his dad for his love of baseball and especially his love of the Yankees. Joe has had no time to grieve. If the Yankees lose today, Joe can grieve tomorrow. If the Yankees win, they will play Detroit tomorrow and his dad wouldn't have had it any other way.

Parenthood, part 2

After a shaky start, Parenthood is on much firmer footing. One of the things Parenthood does best is to show the power of relationships, in particular, family relationships. The Braverman family is there for one another. In this year's story line Kristina has found out she has breast cancer. For several weeks she and her husband, Adam, have kept the news to themselves. In the last episode, they told their daughter who is away at college and their son who is a middle school child with aspergers. While the family is at a restaurant celebrating the first hit in a little league baseball game by the newest Braverman, an adopted son of Adam's sister and brother in law, Haddie, Kristina and Adam's college daughter walks in. Everyone is surprised, of course, and suspects something is up. With tears flowing, Kristina, shares the news of her diagnosis. The  Braverman family is pretty normal and has their ups and downs but their family's strength is the support they give whenever any one of them is in trouble. St. Paul in his letters often talks about how the body of Christ is to be there for each other. Pray for one another, serve one another, submit to one another, love one another, forgive one another, etc., are the sorts of things Paul writes to his churches.  I think Paul had in mind a bigger version of the Braverman family when he wrote about the church. We have good times and bad times; we have successes and failures; we get some things right and some things wrong. But, we are there for each other. The strength of the body of Christ is our support for each other when any one of us is in trouble.

Christian radicals

I was a couple years out of seminary. I had one year of pastoral experience. I had taken courses like Steve Mott's Politics of Jesus and the Church and the Poor at seminary; I had read Ron Sider's book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. We were cooking our meals using Doris Longacre's Living More With Less. We were ready to live out a more radical Christianity and take on the big issues of hunger, poverty, and racism. So we moved from our local church which we didn't think was as ready to engage those same big social issues as we were and we headed for a Christian community in Germantown, Philadelphia. After responding to an ad for a job opening as the first coordinator for Evangelicals for Social Action, I was interviewed and hired. It was a heady time for a wanna be Christian radical. I was interviewed by Vernon Grounds; I stayed with Ron and Arbutus Sider for a few weeks before my wife and young son could move down; I opened an office in a building owned by the Other Side magazine. John Alexander worked down the hall. My wife chose a row house right down the street and we got to work repairing the walls and ceiling and terminating the roaches (you can't terminate roaches). We were living in the city. We joined Jubilee Fellowship which was an eclectic mix of youngish evangelicals, many of whom had their doctorates, some were published authors, and others were experienced social activists. We worshiped in a small community center and we tried to engage the problems of our low income community. We got involved in protests. We stood in lines for hours at the bank, the post office, and the DMV. We had to drive for miles to get to a supermarket or else pay the much higher prices of the neighborhood "convenience" stores which our neighbors had to pay if they didn't have transportation. We heard gunfire from the streets: people were mugged and even killed on our block. There were many anxious nights. First thing I did each morning was check to see if our car was still parked out front. We met our neighbors in our row houses. One night the couple next door was fighting. Her screams for help were so loud I went to their front door and knocked; the husband and I talked for hours on our front steps. On other nights, the neighbors on our other side had parties and we tried to sleep through the steady, loud, boom - boom of the beat of the bass.

I travelled with Ron as he was a much in demand speaker. I wore the ESA hat and spoke on "getting churches involved in social issues" and "why and how we should live more simply". There were many times I felt like I was in way over my head. People would call the ESA office and ask to talk to me, the director, and they would expect some kind of expert on radical Christianity and how to apply it to life. I was only a novice myself but it was funny how when someone has that title, director, others automatically assume you know it all. I had two great assistants from the Mennonite Central Committee. They were young Mennonites who had volunteered for a mission assignment. They were committed Christians who were there to serve. And we had a great time together trying to figure out what we were doing. I only stayed with ESA for a year although I followed its progress for many years. And what ESA was committed to is still very much a part of me. That year helped to me to grow up in those commitments and I had some great mentors. We eventually moved back to New York and I took another job as a local church pastor. I was taken back to that experience with ESA as I read a new book titled Moral Minority this week. It's a fine history of those early years of the rise of the Evangelical Left by David Swartz who is a history prof at Asbury University.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nominating committee season

It's the Fall and while some people's thoughts turn to apple picking, and leaf raking, and football, pastors and other church leaders are thinking about the needs for church leadership in the coming new year. It's nominating committee season in most churches. Not a job most of us look forward to. Time is the new currency as they say today and that means no one thinks they have time to take on one more task. And serving on church boards and committees is not the sort of dream job most people are looking for. So the nominating committee is charged with a difficult task. How to convince people to serve on a committee they really don't want to be on when they are pressed for time to do the things they want to do. I have known desperate nominating committee members to plead with potential candidates for church committees, 'Oh it won't take much time. Just a hour or so a month, and everyone misses some meetings. I would so appreciate it if you would just fill this slot on the board for me! Thanks!"

It may have always been like this in the church even from New Testament times. The first letter from Paul to Timothy addresses Timothy's nominating committee concerns. In chapter 3, Paul lays out the qualifications Timothy should be looking for in church leaders. I find it helpful to review these every year. There is no quota for church leaders. No Scriptural number of elders or deacons a church needs to have. God gives leaders to the church and he doesn't care about how many slots we need to fill.

Church leadership is based on character and faith more than special skills or successes outside the church. The nominating committee needs to be asking who are the spiritually mature persons in our church. It's not a matter of filling slots but it is a matter of providing opportunities for those God has prepared, to lead. Every open slot may not be filled, and that is ok. It's not slots; it's service.

Paul tells Timothy that those chosen to serve must have good references from outsiders (v7). Now, there's a switch! But, I think what Paul is speaking to is the church's missional character. We are to be engaging with our wider community. We are seeking persons who serve who understand that. That we are not staffing our own spiritual club but we are building a mission outpost which wants to reach out for Christ in the place where we live. We are recruiting persons who want to serve others, outside of our own internal interests. We want to get them on board with us for that wider mission.

In v. 10, Paul mentions that the persons we are looking for to become church leaders not be new or naive Christians. They need to be tested. Church leadership is a tough job. People need to know that either by experience or training. We need to tell them up front. Here are some of the issues we are dealing with. Here are some of the conflicts. This is a job that means something. We are calling you because you have the gifts to help us move forward with God's mission but there will be obstacles. Nothing burns a Christian out more than serving on a church committee or board that he or she figured would be a piece of cake and instead finds himself or herself picking up the crumbs. Serving in the church "tests" our faith, our love, and our commitment. It is by meeting these tests that our spiritual life can grow deeper, though.

Nominating season doesn't have to be a bummer. Not if it is seen as a critical way of enabling others in the church to vitally engage in God's mission in our community.


Hurricane Katrina was seven years ago. New Orleans is still recovering and has dodged a bullet already this hurricane season. One of the most damaging storms to ever hit the US, Katrina's fallout was social chaos, and over 1400 deaths. While many residents were able to flee the city before the storm hit most of the elderly, the poor and disabled were left behind. Those without transportation were stuck. Some trusted the levees would hold. Even Pres Bush said he was surprised the levees were breached even though there were warnings for weeks. The city descended into chaos with rumors of massive looting and shootings. The 25,000 people holed up in the Superdome were without essentials like water, food, power, and security for days.

I revisited this nightmare this week reading David Egger's story of one man who stayed behind in New Orleans to help during the storm. Zeitoun is the name of the book and the name of the man who survived, barely, Katrina. It is a must read. Zeitoun is a Muslim, and American, and businessman and family man who had lived in New Orleans for years. He had a home remodel/painting business which he and his wife ran. He employed several people. He had been through many storms so while his family left to stay with friends, he chose to stay and keep watch over his business concerns. Soon he realized he was in over his head, literally,as the first floor of his home was under water. He lived on the roof for days and he took trips by canoe to see if others needed his help. He saved lives, and ferried the sick and elderly to safety. Praying every night he sensed God had him stay in the city to help others. He had a mission. What he failed to see was the sense of chaos and fear building in the city. He couldn't know what was happening or how bad it was because he had no power, no communication. All he had was a daily call to his wife who begged him to leave and join them but he was energized by his mission from God. He didn't know about Mayor Nagin's "martial law" or Governor Blanco's call for help to the military, who had M-16's and were trained to shoot and kill, and I am sure they will, as she said. The police and military came and heard reports of looting, and shootings, and even the possiblity of terror cells operating in the city and waiting for just a crisis like this to launch an attack. Zeitoun, the Muslim, was apprehended in one of the homes he owned and rented out, along with a Muslim friend, a professor at Tulane, and one of his renters. They were taken to a makeshift outdoor jail where they were housed in cages. No rights read, no court, no statement of charges, no phone call; no one knew where they were. They were kept that way for days. Without sleep, and few meals, and daily humiliations like being strip searched and forced to use toilets set out in the open, the men were broken down. Zeitoun spent a month in confinement; the others were held for almost a year.

It is a chilling story that you don't expect to read about citizens of the US experiencing in their own homeland. It's a powerful reminder of the need to advocate for basic civil rights for all people. For in times of uncertainty, those rights are the first to go.

Replacement Refs

The real refs are back. They were the ones getting cheered by the fans before the Ravens - Browns game Thursday night. Coach Harbaugh of the Ravens who was ready to throttle a replacement ref on Sunday night was seen hugging a real ref before the game on Thursday night. Everyone seemed in a good mood because the real guys were back. The game seemed to go off without a hitch, too. The replacement refs are gone, back to families, jobs and real life. For three weeks they got to ref real NFL action. They got paid $3,000 a game which is chickenfeed when you think about what they had to put up with. They were just home minding their own business in July, perhaps thinking about the upcoming high school or junior college football seasons in which they normally reffed when they got an email for NFL commish Roger Goodell. We need you, he wrote. Please consider reffing in the NFL this season. Wow, hard request to pass up if your a ref who never, ever, thought he would ref an NFL game. I wonder how many now wish they had forgotten to answer that email. After three weeks as an NFL ref they have been villified, threatened, treated disrespectfully on and off the field and become the butt of late night jokes on the tv talk shows. No one recognizes their service which allowed the games to go on because the NFL commish couldn't get his job done on time. No thank yous and most definitely no cheers for the replacement guys.

They were too slow to pick up the fast paced NFL games, it was said. They were inexperienced; high school or college games can not be compared to the NFL, the experts said. They were too intimidated by the players and the coaches, others explained. And this was not known before the replacements were thrown to the wolves?  By the third week, the experiment of replacement refs had gotten so far out of control, their lives were certainly in danger. Players menaced, coaches grabbed, and fans roared their disapproval, BULLSHI#, after every call. The NFL leadership was huddled in closed rooms bargaining with the real refs.

It's the Games that are out of control in this country. It's the Fans that are out of control in this country. We really have to pay officials hundred of thousands of dollars to ref less than 20 games a year! They have to study a rule book that is bigger than the US tax code in order to understand a game? Fans have the right to reign down abuse of the most vile nature because they don't like call.

Mr. Goodell, here is what you need to do. At halftime of an NFL game this Sunday you need to bring those replacement refs out at halftime, publicly thank them for their service under great duress and, for heavens sake, let them keep their NFL striped jerseys!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Finally got to see the film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It's out on dvd this week. Since I watched the previews long ago, I have been waiting to see it. It's filled with good, old actors. I emphasize old. Most of the main characters are getting close to 80. Not too many years ago the only film they would have starred in would have been set in a nursing home. But, today we know 80 is the new 60, right.  And it seems to be. In the movie the main characters all end up in the same "hotel" for the elderly in India. It's supposed to be one of those all inclusive retirement places. It looks good on the brochure but it not so good in real life. All of the main characters arrive at the same time but by their own individual routes. They don't know each other before they meet at the hotel. But, they all share a need to reduce their living expenses in retirement and the hotel promises to do that. They have other needs, as well, like cheaper medical care, companionship, and meaning in later life. But, India! It is a huge change for nearly all of them. They are totally unprepared for the chaos they discover in their new country and the hotel. The enthusiastic hotel manager tries to put a positive spin on their new adventure even when everything goes wrong. "Everything will be good in the end and if it's not good, it's not the end." is his personal credo which he shares with each of them. The heart of the film is how each of the characters adapts to their new lives. Some are positive, and embrace the chaos. Some do not and compare everything with home and find their new life lacking in every way and only complain. Some take it slow, cautiously, like a person testing the water at a new beach, and in the process find themselves changing - in spite of themselves.

There's a message here that older folks can enjoy full and vital lives but the more important message is that we can change and adapt - and we have to - at any age. Any one can "be set in their ways". Elders are usually stereotyped that way. But, the message here is that the beauty of life is there, right there in front of you, if you care to look.


Lately I've been drawn to reading mysteries. I'm not sure why. Maybe it is that I am sensing more the mystery of life now that I am in my 60's. I've been a pastor a long time and if anything  teaches one to respect the mystery of life that does.  Why are some people interested in the Church and some are not? Why is God real to some and not to others? Why are some people passionate about matters of faith and some don't seem the least bit inquisitive? I can't figure it out. I have been surprised many times. I cannot predict whether someone will end up in the faith camp or not. I think most are on the way even if they don't know it yet. At least that's the way I approach people. What I do know is the life of a pastor makes you observant -  sort of a like a good detective has to be. I'm watching for signs of God in a person's life. There is no formula. There is no one "Godly" way of life. It seems for many of us, if we are honest - and it's hard to be honest, we are hanging on by a thread or God is hanging on to us by a thread. We need the help of others, but it is hard, too, to admit that. We are used are to thinking we have to do this on our own. I find many Christians seem to be suspicious of others,suspicious of  pastors, maybe they have been hurt by people in the church or by a pastor.  So people tend to hold back relationally.  It's as if we expect our Christian leaders to trip themselves up (not that it hasn't happened).  And we have to be prepared for that to happen. So, we act like we are much more sure of our faith then we really are. That is why we surprise ourselves and others by lapses of faith from time to time. We act so sure, so certain, of what we believe. We want others to be just as certain as we are and in the same way we are. We act like we are most comfortable when we all think and act alike. But, that just doesn't work - Paul spoke about the Church as a body with different parts working together not the same parts all working alike. And thinking and acting alike is boring as all get out. God is not boring and neither is what He is up to in the world. It is beautiful, glorious, and sparks a passion for living in us.

I think if we could talk more this way, if we could accept the mystery of life, and if we could admit that hey some days I feel like I'm just hanging in there - and I don't know the answers so will you pray with me. I think the Church would be healthier.

Mrs Jesus

Making the rounds this week of all the usual media outlets is a slightly sensational "finding" of a Harvard religion professor. She reported a discovery of a piece of a papyrus document (about the size of a cell phone) from around the 4th century that mentioned the words, "Jesus wife" - a reference to which she said has never been seen before. This report is an excerpt from an academic paper about this papyrus document she is working on. Potentially sensational,  it has made the front of the NY Times and other major online news sources. Other scholars have been just as quick to downgrade the seriousness of the discovery. No one really knows where it came from or even if it is genuine. It is like finding a paragraph out of an old book but not knowing what book it was out of. There were many hoaxes back then just as there are now - and it may be a much more recent forgery. Even if it is somehow proved to be as old as the Harvard prof claims it is - it is not surprising that the idea that Jesus had a wife was around back then. There have been a number of other gospels found which claim all sorts of things about the life of Jesus which were not true. Recently, Dan Brown popularized the idea that Jesus had a wife in the Davinci Code (and he and Mary Magdalene lived happily ever after post crucifixion). So it should not surprise anyone that the the idea of Jesus being married was floated a time or two in antiquity.

What is surprising is the media attention an announcement like this attracts. As if it would be sensational news if Jesus did have a wife. There is no reason that if Jesus did have a wife it would not have been reported in the Gospels. Jesus had a mother and a father, and siblings and they are all named. He went to weddings. He could have married and had children. In fact, most parents would have welcomed some instruction on raising kids from Jesus! But, even though Jesus blessed marriages and children, family life was not his calling. He was here on earth a short time and his life ended tragically from a human point of view. His death pierced Mary's heart, why extend the sorrow to others. Jesus' mission was the message of the Kingdom of God. To preach it and to live it. And to share it with others by his sacrificial death on the cross. Then, he was raised from the dead offering the gift of eternal life to us. Philippians says he gave up a lot to complete that mission. Including the joys and demands of family life.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Parenthood, season 4

We've watched the tv series Parenthood the past few years. The premiere of season 4 was this week. The children are growing up. Some are off to college or post high school jobs. What began as a show about the challenges families face depicted in a light hearted way has become a more serious show with a pretty obvious agenda. In this season's first show, Amber,  the 20 year old niece of the Braverman brothers, Adam and Crosby, is working for them at their new music production studio. She is the receptionist/ errand girl. One of the guys in a band whose music the studio is producing flirts with her. He sends her a note to call him. Next scene, they are in bed together. Next day, the guys steady girlfriend brings some muffins by the studio to celebrate their six month anniversary. Amber looks a little surprised but really it's no big deal, you know. She tells Crosby for whom it is no big deal, you know. Adam, however, is the older brother with the older,  more traditional values. He freaks out and screams at the band to get out of the studio. Crosby can't believe it. Amber lectures Adam on interfering in her 20 year old life. I mean, whose the grown up here. This is life and sex and dating today. Adam says he was protecting her honor. He didn't want that jerk to just use her. Really? Amber is ok with it and Adam comes around to this new wisdom and apologizes - for what- wanting to protect her honor? Guess so.

The second theme in this first show of the season had to do with Crosby and Jasmine who had a child, Jabbar, some eight years ago but just got married at the end of last season. In the first episode, Jabbar is seen kneeling at his bed praying. Crosby who sees him praying is more upset than if he had caught him looking at porn or doing drugs. He talks to Jasmine who knows the source of Jabbar's religious longings is her mother. So, Crosby decides to talk to his mother in law. He lays down the law that in his home he and Jasmine will be responsible for his child's religious training. So, she should butt out. What do you believe, she asks Crosby. Well, it's clear he doesn't believe anything in any traditional sense. Later in the show when he and Jabbar are sitting outside looking at the star filled night sky he teaches his son that he believes in him, and his mother and family. He feels blessed but he's not sure if there is a "someone" who had anything to do with it or not. That's it.

Wisdom is found where we find it. It is what seems right and good to us. Those people who are older are not to be trusted - at least not in the areas of sex or religion. All they do is parrot the traditional beliefs of the past which we all know don't work any more. The older brother who has raised a family is not hip to today's sexual ethic and Gramma's church doesn't have any answers to the big questions people ask today.

Where is wisdom today? Guess you just have to find it in yourself or in the stars.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

NFL, AOA (all over again)

So it's football time again. The first NFL game was on Wednesday night. The replacement refs did a pretty good job. Today's Wall Street Journal online had a quick quiz to see if you could be a replacement ref. Six scenarios. I got them all right. So, should I be a replacement ref? No, I got them right but I had the reasons all wrong. The rules are complicated! I guess the replacement refs have a tough job. Chances are good they will not have many easy nights like they did last night. Hurry up and get the real ones on the field!

What are the other big questions of the new season? Will the Giants repeat as Super Bowl champs? (not after watching them last night!). Will Manning be an improvement over Tebow in Denver? (we'll probably know after he takes a hard hit or two). Who will be the most exciting new QB? (Wilson in Seattle, or RG3 in Washington, or Luck in Indy or Romo in Dallas - he's not new but he looked it last night). Will all the money the Bills spent help them win and/or keep them in Buffalo? (I'm betting yes on the first part of that question and no on the second part). Will the Pats be back? (yes they will play the Packers in the Super Bowl if you believe the preseason hype but we know it will be the Bills - Seahawks in the Big Game.Don't we?)

And one long term question: will the NFL survive it's success? No, the controversy over concussions will force the game to change too much - it will have to become slower, with more rules to protect the players, and more penalties, and fewer big time hits that the fans love. (Remember the "Jacked Up" segment of ESPN - kinda makes you cringe now). The studies will continue to show that former NFL players suffer more neurological problems than the average and the expensive lawsuits from former players and their families will make the biggest hits on the league until major changes in how pro football is played are implemented. Flag football, anyone?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Faith of Cranes

I loved the book Faith of Cranes by Hank Lentfer. I read it on Kindle but I am ordering a hard copy so I can share it with Marcia and others. It might turn up under a few Christmas trees this Christmas, as well. If you love Alaska you will probably like this book. If you have ever despaired, even mildly, of what we are doing to the wilderness, you will probably like this book. If you have grown cynical about modern civilization, you will probably like this book. If you need a revival of faith in the beauty of life, the splendid idea of life (as Lentfer calls it), you will probably like this book. If you like to hunt, fish, or hike, you will probably like this book. If you ever thought you wanted to find a wild few acres and build your own home, hunt for your own food, heat your home with a wood stove, and take long walks next to the ocean, you will probably like this book. If you have children or like to look at life through their eyes, you will probably like this book. If you are afraid of death, the death of our culture, the death of the wilderness, or your own death, you will probably like this book. Probably, I am not saying you will because I am sure there are reasons people might not like this book. I am not aware of them at the moment.

The monks of the early church (and some modern day ones) took a vow of obedience to stay in one place. The vow of stability they called it. To care for one place, and for all those who pass by that place. To care for the land and the people. To be undistracted by all the important and exciting stuff going on in other places. To grow roots. To learn and hopefully grow wise. To appreciate the beauty that is there.

"If lamenting the loss of beauty is itself a beautiful act, can beauty really ever diminish?"

Small things lovingly done, are always within our reach" (David James Duncan)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Summer reading

With the best week of summer weather now upon us just as school is in its first full week and football is already into its third week! It must be Fall! So, summer reading is over. It is for my wife since she is back to teaching and her days of leisurely reading are over for awhile. She and I were on a mission to read anything by Ann Patchett this summer. We had read Bell Canto a few years ago and then inexplicably never read anything else by her until we read State of Wonder earlier in the year. We enjoyed that one so much we went on to Run. She went on to The Magician's Assistant and Patron Saint of Liars, both of which I have on my shelf after visiting Title Wave in Anchorage this summer.  She is a marvelous writer and weaves a great story.

I read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry on my Kindle so I had to buy a copy for her to read, too. I blogged about it earlier.

Reading a LaVonne Neff's blog about books, I came across the series of mysteries by the Brit Peter Lovesey. He has written eleven books about the detective Peter Diamond. I am on my fifth. Diamond appeals to me. He is the opposite of Jack Reacher ( I read The Affair this summer, too), he is overweight, does not fight much at all, is happily married - so if you're thinking there is not much sex or violence in these mysteries - you would be right!. But, they are much richer and multi-layered than most of the suspense genre today. Story and characters matter. Diamond is something of a klutz when it comes to technology, too, so I relate. He does detective work the old fashioned way by talking to people and discovering again and again that people are a mystery.

Favorite memoir of sorts was Chris Rice's Grace Matters about his friendship in Jackson, MS with the son of John Perkins. Perkins and Rice begin an unlikely relationship that led to starting an interracial church community and a speaking partnership on interracial issues.

As commentary on our sports/war culture and the intermixing of those images Ben Fountain's Halftime Walk of Billy Lynn is as good as it gets. It is funny and sad, and makes you wonder why it has to be like this.

I read one of those facebook rants about the need to unseat Obama because he is making an end run around the constitution. Rachel Maddow's book Drift makes a pretty good case that presidents since Johnson have been doing it fairly regularly. Reagan was nearly impeached for it (remember Iran-Contra). Clinton and the Bushes came up with the bright idea of outsourcing our wars so they could avoid constitutional issues. The founding fathers wanted to make it difficult to go to war and they did not want one man (the president) to be able to take the country to war on his own. That's why they took war making powers away from the executive branch and gave them to Congress. If we were going to war, they thought the whole country should go on a war footing. Jefferson was very skeptical of  having a standing army. It would be too easy to go to war. Today, and for the past twenty years or more, we have fought wars and increased the defense budget exponentially and it doesn't affect most Americans unless they are family to those who serve in the military. That's an end run around the constitution.

Oh Those Politicians

A week ago most of us had no idea who Todd Akin was. Now we all know who Todd Akin is. Maybe there is something good that we can take from his recent comments on rape and abortion. Since he claims to be an evangelical Christian (cringe) who attends a PCA church one thing we can learn is that just because you identify yourself as a Christian does not preclude your saying dumb things. He also claims he will not remove himself from the race for the Senate in Missouri because God told him to run. So, the second thing we can learn is that just because a Christian thinks God told him to do something does not mean God really did. All it means is that someone thinks God told him to do that. Maybe God told him not to run and he misheard what God was saying just like what we heard was not what he really meant when he spoke about rape and abortion, according to what Mr Akin said afterward.

Then there is what he said. There is no doubt about that. It has been replayed and recorded many times ever since. The words he chose that have some people upset (not everyone - he still has a number of supporters including Kirk Cameron who said he was a really good guy!). He used the word "legitimate" before the word rape making a distinction between rape that is legitimate and rape that is not. Most of us believe that is not just splitting hairs. Rape is rape and it is bad. If our sister or wife or mother was raped we would be angry if some politician wanted to know if it was legitimate" or "forcible". Wouldn't we? I know I would.

Then Mr. Akin made the curious reproductive observation that a woman's body knows when it has been raped and stops ovulating so in cases of "legitimate" (obviously, the female reproductive system is also wired to know the difference between "legitimate and illegitimate" rape) rape, there can be no pregnancy that results anyway. What a relief, Dr Akin!  Not only is this a bizarre notion to think about but Mr Akin actually said it out loud! Like he actually believed it! If this man is running for the Senate of the USA, it is truly a scary moment for all of us but especially American women. Most of the Republican establishment has called for him to step down but so far he has refused. God hasn't told him to. Let's hope Mr Akin is listening.

The other very interesting thing about the news from the Presidential campaign is Mr Romney's finances. I am getting older and so more of my conversations these days are with older people. People my age and older. I was talking with my mom this week about this issue of Mr Romney's finances. She brought it up. Specifically, she brought up the number 13. That is the tax rate on his income Mr Romney paid over the past decade, he said. In 2010, his income was somewhere around 20 million give or take a few hundred thousand. Not to begrudge the man his hard earned wealth but to note clearly that his tax rate is lower than most of ours. My mom noted this fact. She also understood that since his income derives mostly from dividends, interest and capital gains, it is taxed at a lower rate. It's just that most of us don't have that option. If Mr Ryan's budget proposals become the new tax law, Mr Romney's tax rate would be even lower something like .82 %, according to those who do the math. Mr Ryan would do away with all taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest. People my age and older are troubled by these things. The other thing that my Mom brought up was Medicare which is very helpful to her. She does not want to see the program messed with. Mr Romney and Mr Ryan talk like they want to mess with it. Now, they say their proposals won't affect anyone currently on it. My mom has lived long enough to know how those politicians talk, and then go right out and do something else. Doesn't matter which party they are with. The Republicans have some good plans for the country. But, as I talk with people my age and older these are a couple of things older people are talking about.

Last night we had a chance to hear the Republican candidate for VP, Mr Ryan, explain how the Romney-Ryan administration will save Medicare for his (Ryans) mom and her generation, and Ryan's generation and our generations and our kids generations. For everyone it sounds like. How are they going to do that? Their platform spells it out: they are going to take Medicare and Medicaid from an unsustainable  defined benefit entitlement and move it to a fiscally sound defined contribution model. Like the 401(K) plans that were supposed to allow us to retire without worries. In the meantime, we had a financial meltdown and housing value meltdown, and higher unemployment so retirement experts now tell us that most Americans have saved far less than they will need for retirement. One million bucks is what we are now told we will need to retire so we can live off 40K a year. And now they want to make our retirement health care plan another 401 (K) type plan. Since the 401 (K) idea has not worked so well, do we really want individuals to have to fund their Medicare plans, as well?  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Good Idea!

Just got wind of a new thing Rob Bell is up to (he wrote Love Wins and was the teaching pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI). He left the church almost a year ago to devote himself to new projects. One of those projects is a chance for 90 people to spend 2 days with him in So. Ca. He is offering 2 of these 2 day events in October. The cost of the 2 full days with Bell is $500. Then there is a hotel fee of $175 and meals and transportation. So, let's see, for me it would be around $2,000, for 2 days with Rob Bell. Could have gone to his church and heard him speak for free! Not a bad gig. Guy has to eat. On his website, Bell explains why he is doing these events. Because, every so often we need to drop what we are doing, step out of our routine, breathe in some fresh air, and be reminded that we signed up for a revolution! He's right. I think I will drive out the road 40 miles or so, get a cabin for a night, bring my Bible, and journal and another good book, leave my devices at home - and save myself about $1800!

Too good to be true

If it looks like it is too good to be true, it probably is. Cycling's superstar Lance Armstrong was stripped of his 7 Tour de France victories by the USADA, the US anti-doping agency. Armstrong said he had had enough and wasn't going to fight their charges that his victories were tainted by doping. They had a strong case citing at least 10 former team members who were going to testify that he doped and the doping was an essential element of their team racing preparation. If it is true, and we will never for sure will we (wink, wink), it is not surprising. What Armstrong accomplished is beyond humanly possible. We just didn't want to admit it at the time. It's like Tour de France winner Floyd Landis who achieved an amazing comeback on the hardest climb of one of last days of the Tour - and we marveled at his stupendous athletic performance - only to find out later how he did it - he cheated. It's like MLB's Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, both of whom were having remarkable comeback years, and we marveled at their turnarounds, only to find out how they managed such feats. They cheated. Ryan Braun cheated last year and won the MVP for the National League. He said he didn't cheat and had his suspension overturned on a technicality. But, who believes him? Only Brewers fans, I guess. Sports today has a huge credibility problem. We watch suspiciously. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Pro Football begins it's season next week. With replacement refs which should provide some entertainment value and take our minds off the jarring collisions which cause concussions the damage of which will show up years later. But, football is way too popular and makes way to much money to make it safer. Interesting, how many more ex-pro players are saying they don't want their children to play. Who would? I played and got my bell rung many times which is probably why I can't remember last week. But, who knew about concussions then. If you were tough you went back out to play. I steered all four of our sons to soccer. And that was before all the concussion studies. Glad I did.

Pro football's minor league season starts next week, too. It's called major college football. It's entertaining and makes tons of money, too. In an article in SI on the new season at PSU which was rocked by the Sandusky - Paterno scandal the makeover or recovery that is in progress was detailed. Money is no problem. The new weight training coach who came from South Carolina thought the PSU stuff was out of date so he completely redid the weight room. New equipment stations. While most schools begin this week and are scrambling to find money for books, and other resources, big time college football has no money worries. The top 25 rankings are out by the way and the 6 power conferences have 24 out of the 25 spots.  Boise State has the other one and they are moving to the Big East next season. There's your NFL minor league.

Back to baseball, in NY, Ichiro Suzuki has been reborn now that he has something to play for. Just playing baseball wasn't enough apparently. And now that he is gone, the Seattle Mariners have played much better. They are a team without a superstar. Just a bunch of guys who want to play baseball. Let's hope they don't become too good to be true.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Political Battles

Now that Romney has picked his vice president, the political battles are heating up. Ready for more attack ads? More half truths in advertising? Both sides think the way to win is through painting their opponent as the worst possible candidate ever. Romney is rich and out of touch and thinks everyone should pull themselves up by their own bootstraps (or their father's). Ryan is a devotee of Ayn Rand who hardly anyone knows and even Ryan now is backpedaling from his affection for the atheistic philosopher of radical individualism. Both sides are trying to scare senior citizens out of their dentures - who will be able to afford them and all the other health care they need if Medicare as we know it is gone - or if Obamacare as we don't know it bankrupts the country. So for the next few months we are resigned to negative ads informing us why we don't want to vote for the other guy, and scary scenarios about things we don't fully understand.

Most of what each candidate says about the other guy is not true. There are enough fact checking websites now so we can get closer to the truth. Neither candidate is evil incarnate and if elected spells the end of America as we know it. Both sides have some good ideas if they have the chance to lay them out without trying to spin them so they play better for a certain targeted bloc of voters. If we could elect all four of the candidates and make them sit down and hammer out a plan for our country, it might work. As it is now, neither side is honest about what they really think because they are saying what they think will get them elected. That's the way the system works and there are people with big money backing each candidate so they can get what they want and that is who we should be most concerned about. So, the system will work again this November as it has every four years in the past and America will still be here when it is over. We will try our best to get some straight facts and make our decision about who to vote for as best we can. But, what happens in November will probably not affect life here in our hometown too much. Change, if it does happen, is very slow, glacially slow. The bureaucracy of Washington DC is about as easy to change as any one of us trying to turn around a Sumo wrestler. But, we can work to make changes in our hometown. In our churches. In our communities. There is work to be done right here. Honest work where we can see what needs to be done. Committees need volunteers. Shelters need meals. The elderly need visits. Kids need coaches, and tutors, and mentors. Whatever is ailing America can start being fixed right here. Right now.

Olympics and other sports stuff

Ok the Olympics are over. Thank goodness. I watched some of the coverage only because I was trapped in a room at a B&B and I needed a break from reading (ok I really did want to turn it on). There were more commercials than Olympic coverage. NBC showed a few minutes of action and then we were sent back to the ads. Frustrating. Then, there were all the stories of overcoming something. If you were an athlete who never had to overcome something in your life to get to the Olympics, forget having your story told on the air. Sounds a bit cynical, I know, but come on just getting to the Olympics takes an Olympian effort. Then, there were all the individual stars who never got tired of talking about themselves and how great they are. I thought the point of the Olympics was competing for your team or your country. And what about the glorification of athletics itself as if working your tail off for four years (and being supported by someone while you do it) is the greatest good on earth. How many sad stories about athletes in other nations who are basically imprisoned in athletic camps for years so they can win Olympic gold? And what about the Gold. Why so many tears if someone only won silver and forget bronze - its an embarrassment. As usual, the Olympic coverage highlighted the best and the worst of athletic competition. Following on the slipstream of the Tour de France, cheating in sports was a common theme. While some cyclists were exposed for doping, and Lance Armstrong faces the fight of life over doping allegations, some Olympic athletes lost their medals after they tested positive for banned substances. This week pro baseball player Melky Cabrera who was a very average player for the Yankees and the Braves before having an MVP year with the Giants tested positive for testosterone. And believe it or not, there was a report today about cheating at the national scrabble championships - a player was pocketing blank tiles to play at opportune moments. Does our fascination with GOLD lead to cheating? A pro cyclist commenting on Lance Armstrong's upcoming trial said when all the athletes are so good it is a temptation to do whatever it takes to give you any kind of edge over the rest. Not everyone cheats but don't we fans bear some of the blame when all we cheer for are winners. I loved watching Oscar Pistorius run, and Manteo Mitchell finish his race on a broken leg! just to give his team a chance to run in the finals, and Gabby Douglas give it her all even when she didn't have it after she gave her all in the women's all around - full of joy and grace (and tweeting inspirational messages from the Bible), and the runner who came to race from no country, and like most people I was amazed at the speed of Usain Bolt, the endurance of the Kenyans and Ugandans, and the strength and fluid grace of the Flying Dutchman Epke Zonderland (what a great name). So you see even though this blog began on a cynical note - and there is much to be cynical about - it ends on a positive note - there is still much to love about athletic competition.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's a Mystery

I've been reading mysteries this summer. I came upon a series by Peter Lovesey. So far, I have read three of the eleven in the series. My plan is to read them in the order in which they were written. In the first book you are introduced to the primary character, Peter Diamond, a detective who is highly placed on the Bath, England police force. He solves the crime but in doing so he runs afoul of the senior officer, his boss, and resigns in anger. So, in the second book, he is working odd jobs, very odd jobs, such as a store Santa and a security guard. Still, he manages to solve the crime. In the third book, a convict escapes and kidnaps his former boss's daughter because he wants to force a meeting with Diamond who was the detective who put him away for a previous crime. One he did not commit, so he tells Diamond, and so he wants Diamond to prove he did not commit it by finding the real criminal. This book is called Summons and by the end Diamond has his job back.

Peter Diamond is overweight and speaks his mind and is not easy to get along with. Except with his wife with whom he has a solid marriage. She supported him when he walked away from his job even though it meant relocating to some cheaper digs. She volunteers at Oxfam which came in handy when Peter needed to find cheaper clothing alternatives. Peter is old school, too. He doesn't trust technology and thinks too many good cops are wasting their time in front of computers instead of solving crimes the old fashioned way - by good detective work which involves knocking on doors and following leads and talking to people. And using their powers of observation.

Solving a mystery is way of seeing things. Things that are right there in front of you. Seeing how they fit together. Thinking of other ways the facts can fall into place. Reading mysteries remind us that life is complicated, that things are not always the way they seem at first sight. There's a lot going on in this world. If you want to catch on to what God is doing, you have to keep your eyes open and wait and watch.

The Unlikely Pilgrim

Spent ten days on mainland Alaska doing some driving. The only new place we visited was Valdez and with due apologies to Valdesians I was underwhelmed. The last 40 miles or so of the drive was impressive - going over Thompson Pass and then down through Keystone Canyon. But, Valdez itself - it reminded me of a big RV campground surrounding a small boat harbor. There were the huge oil tanks on the shore and not too much else. The bakery we hoped to try out was closed. The B&B we hoped to stay at was badly in need of maintenance. So our stay was cut short. To be fair, had we stayed longer Valdez may have had time to impress me. Of course, the weather was not the greatest either. On a sunny day it all might have looked different. The first half of our vacation was overcast with rain most of the time. The last few days were less so. So, there was time for some reading.

Appropriately, on our road trip, I was reading about a pilgrimage . The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is the name of the book. For Harold, who had just retired, the past 20 years have been lost to grief. A son had died by suicide, a marriage had died, too, although Harold and his wife were still together. They slept in separate rooms and had very little to say to each other. She blamed him for their son's death. Now, his career was over, as well. It had been a job working as a brewery salesman. Harold, the teetotaler, did not like it. So, Harold is home contemplating a life full of regrets. He regrets the way his parents never showed him any love. He regrets the relationship he never had with his son. He feels like he missed out on chances to show him love. He regrets the lack of love in his marriage. He regrets never saying thank you and good bye to a trusted colleague. Queensie took the blame for something he did and was fired and he never saw her again. His life is one big regret.

Then one day, out of the blue, he gets a letter from Queensie informing him that she is dying of cancer in a hospice run by some nuns 500 miles to the north on the coast of Great Britain. She wrote to say, good bye and to thank him for his friendship. Harold is devastated and quite out of character writes her a note. When he goes out to mail it - he just keeps on going. Walking to Queensie. He gets this idea from a store clerk he meets when he stops for snacks that his walking to her will keep her alive. It will give her faith to live. He is not fit, has only the clothes on his back and shoes on his feet, and is, all in all, quite unprepared for this journey.

But then it is a journey of life. One we all take. He meets all sorts of people and finds out most of them are struggling on a journey, too. For the first time in a long time he feels like he is doing something that matters. He goes through times of doubt and discomfort almost giving up. When he is near that point someone is there to comfort and encourage him. He even becomes a media caricature - the pilgrim on a journey to help out a cancer patient. His cause is taken up by many others and he attracts followers - who try to change his journey into theirs and end up criticizing him.

Meanwhile his wife, Maureen, is going on her own journey of change of which Harold is oblivious. She has many regrets too. Most of them have to do with Harold. While he is gone she rethinks her life, marriage, and sees Harold in a new light. Looking over picture books she sees the reality is not the way she had pictured it. She needs to set out and find him and tell him of her changes.

When Harold's journey is over he is a spent man. He has sacrificed his health to reach Queensie. His meeting with her is anticlimactic. She is too far gone to know who he is. His wife, Maureen, shows up just in time for Queensie's memorial mass and she can sense a note of joy in the mass, a message of hope.

Before Harold's walk they had no faith in their lives. No hope. No joy. Harold found it on the journey. Maureen found out she needed it. Together as they hold hands, they laugh thinking of an old memory, and begin a new journey of faith, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Harold, the pilgrim ( a name given to him by others), came to life on the journey to do something for someone else. He learned to strip down to the essentials of living, to live off the road, and the generosity of others. As he asked people for help he discovered the blessedness of receiving from others. He had to trust those he met on the way even as he found some were not trustworthy. Some, in fact, took advantage of him; they were needier than he was. Harold circles around the idea of faith in Someone greater than he is. But, the only self proclaiming Christian in the story is a leech and betrays Harold's trust. When Harold's journey is over it does not end the way he envisioned it would. Yet, it ends better than he could have hoped for. Harold (and Maureen) have found Grace, and finally something to believe in. Together.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Money and Bodies

Jesus talked about money a lot. A lot more than a whole lot of other things. If you total up his sayings, money was at the top of the list of topics he had on his mind. He called money a rival god, even. That's saying something. One of his followers, Timothy, said in one of his letters we have in the Bible that the love of money is the root of all evil. I have heard Christians parse that phrase to mean that money is not the root of all evil. It is the love of it that is. Except, I have never met anyone who didn't love it. Some have loved it less than others but everyone seems to like some of it. It's hard to live without it. And it seems easier to live easier the more you have of it. So the love of it makes for a whole lot of corruption in the world (see previous blog on The Red Market). And insanity. This summer pro athletes are signing contracts that any sane person would look at and laugh out loud. Are you kidding me? Drew Brees, pro football quarterback, is going to make 20 million dollars a year over the next 5 years. That puts him in the same high rent district as baseballers ARod, Jeter and soon to be megabucks star Josh Hamilton. Of course, the average baseball salary now is about 3 million a year. Why is this not laugh out loud funny to the rest of us shmucks who won't make in a lifetime what these guys make in one day? Now, I am not suggesting there is any corruption in how they make what they make. It is all legal and above board. But, if the love of money is the root of all evil, isn't what they're making corrupting them?  And even if we make so much less, how does it corrupt us?

The other thing I've been thinking about lately is bodies. Human bodies. ESPN the magazine is just out with their body issue. Olympic athletes posing nude. Last year they had pro baseballers and footballers, soccer players and tennis players without a stitch on posing only with strategically placed athletic equipment. Sports Illustrated has it's annual swimsuit issue usually featuring semi nude athletes. But even the non athletes look athletic in their swimsuits. There is no excess body fat to be seen and you could see it if it was there, anywhere on the body.

Of course, we know the original Greek athletic games were played in the nude (gymnasium is from the Greek word which meant to train naked).  We know all about the Greek glorification of the body. I guess we are simply reverting to form. Gyms and workout routines have gained popularity in the recent years. Movie actors are much more buff than they used to be. The female figure is used to sell everything from cars to body wash. Maybe we all aspire to the day we will look good nude. For most of us it will take a good long time.

The Jews and Christians were scandalized by some aspects of Greek culture. The gymnasium was one of them. They weren't prudes. They believed in the God who created the human body. It was and is a magnificent piece of craftsmanship. Even God said it was good! But, after that first sin in the garden, God also said put some clothes on. Somehow sin made it impossible to celebrate the human body as one of God's great gifts without our minds wandering to other things. Like separating a body from a person and objectifying it for our own pleasure. I'm guessing it's not the pure love of sports that sells the ESPN the magazine body issue or the SI swimsuit edition. I'm guessing a lot of minds are wandering.

The Red Market

Scott Carney is an investigative journalist who up to now has been published in magazines like Wired, Outside, Mother Jones, etc. His first book is called The Red Market: On the Trail of the World's Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers. The subtitle lets you know what his book is about. I came across it in Books and Culture where it was reviewed. Sounded interesting so I kindled it. It's a disturbing book. I had never given much thought to organ donations. I never needed one and I didn't know anyone personally who did. I had read about the heroic stories of someone donating his kidney to a friend or family member. I had heard the pleas to give the gift of life and donate your organs when you die. It never occurred to me to wonder where all the organs donated come from. Obviously, there are not enough car wrecks with people in them who have decided to donate their organs when they die to supply the need for organs. And turns out the supply is unlimited because most of the organs come from illegal or unethical sources. Carney spends most of his time in Asia and India and he has identified whole villages where women have sold their kidneys so they can survive. Organ brokers buy these organs, pay the donors a small amount (often promising much more later and never come through with it), and then sell the organs at a much marked up price. Then, the hospital where the transplant is done and the doctor who does it receive huge fees from the organ recipient. And the whole time the recipient never has a clue (well he or she has a clue if they read Carney's book) where the organ that saved his or her life came from. But it is really a simple question: where do all the organs come from to meet the ever increasing need for organs? China is only one of the countries that has a government website advertising organs for sale. Where do they get all these organs from? Carney makes a pretty good case that most of them come from prisoners in China's penal system. We even outsource our need for organs to China!

I never knew much about international adoption either. I knew people who had adopted children from third world countries. I had heard stories about children being kidnapped by Westerners allegedly to "save" them from orphanages and bringing them to a better life in the West. Some of these so called "kidnappings" were done by Christian agencies. Usually, the motive of offering these parentless children a better life in the West seemed admirable. And it is for the most part. But, Carney raises disturbing questions. He tells stories about children who have been kidnapped and then sold to orphanages for a few hundred dollars and then the orphanage turns around and sells the child on the international adoption market for thousands of dollars. Of course, no one calls it selling children. It is called paying the adoption fees. But, why does it cost so much money to give a child from an orphanage a new life with an American family? It can end up costing thousands of dollars. Where does the money go? Who gets paid the big bucks? How does a family know where the child came from? So called privacy regulations now make it impossible to track the family origins of an adopted child. That makes it possible for the Red Market in child trafficking to operate. Carney says that most adoptive parents want a child who has spent less than two years in an orphanage - for obvious reasons. So orphanages need a regular supply of younger children to adopt out if they are going to stay in business.

He is not saying that all organ donations are unethical or every adoption is suspect. He is saying that the sources of the blood, the bones, the organs, and the children that are in the supply chain to this country can be questionable at least and unethical or illegal at worst. Let the recipient beware (some people have the attitude I need an organ, you have one for me, I don't care where it came from!) and exercise great caution in the search process. There is a lot of corruption out there in the supply chain! (Check out

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Community is a word that is discussed a lot in Christian circles. The question is asked often, how do we create Christian community? There is a sense in which any Church could be said to be a Christian community but many Christians would quickly admit that there is not much community in a deeper sense in their Churches. There is a community of like minded believers that gathers for Sunday worship and maybe stays for a fellowship time afterward and that is good but not much more than a superficial sharing of lives. There may be a Sunday School class that has met for years so that people get to know each other at a deeper level. That is community, too. Some Christians are involved in a small group in their Church that meets weekly for study, prayer and sharing of lives. That may be the deepest community experience most Christians have in their Churches.

Chris Rice in Grace Matters tells the story of Antioch Christian Community in Jackson, MS. Antioch grew out of a commitment on the part of several African-American and White Christians to live together. They attended the same Church but this was an experience in living together outside their Church fellowship. They shared a house, meals, money, childcare and other household chores. So, not only did they have the usual tensions that arise out of sharing a bathroom or menu preferences, they had to deal with cross - cultural issues, as well. Community is hard enough but when you are dealing with issues of Black and White, community stresses get magnified.

St. Paul talks a lot about community in his letters to the Churches. In his day, most of the Churches were small communities that met in homes. They worshiped, and fellowshiped, and ate meals together, in a word, they spent a lot of time together. So, Paul had to respond to the interpersonal issues that would arise in such a context. These responses led to a number of Paul's "one-anothering" passages, ie, forgive one another, accept one another, love one another, etc. Those passages are the heart of any community.

Rice's book tells the story of Antioch's struggle to love each other even as they got to know the "others" very intimately. Love and acceptance is sorely tested the closer we live together. During Antioch's struggles, they often called upon John and Judy Alexander who pastored a community somewhat like Antioch. The Alexanders were veterans of community living and Antioch benefited from their wisdom. On one of their visits, John shared this: "One of the foundations of community is knowing that you will sin and be sinned against. It needs to be our daily expectation. But there also needs to be an expectation of forgiving others their sins and being forgiven. For some of us being forgiven is harder, because we want not to sin."

Sin should not surprise us. We should expect it. The issue of community is what we do with it, how we handle it. John Alexander simplified community living down to this slogan: care for each other, forgive each other - and keep washing the dishes. It's a good motto for community life whether our community is the Church that gathers on Sunday mornings, or a household of people that lives together day in and day out, or something in between.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Little League

Tonight is our last Little League game of the season. It has been awhile since I coached a LL team. Our sons are all grown up now. But, there are grandsons and granddaughters. One of my sons and I decided to coach his son's team in the division a notch above t-ball. I never could get the sense of playing t-ball. It was like trying to organize a herd of cats. So, how about the next league up? When my sons played there was no machine or coach pitch leagues. So this coach pitch league for six through eight year olds was new to me. At our first practice I could see that baseball at any level was new to most of the kids on our team. They would stand on home plate when they got up to bat and hold the bat cross handed (wrong hand on top). If they somehow hit the ball, they were unsure of what to do next. In the field, they didn't know how to hold their mitts to catch a ground ball and a fly ball put their lives in mortal peril. If a ball - by chance- found their gloves there was no chance they could make a throw to first base (or had a clue why you would want to do that, anyway). Base running was a futile effort even after we established which way to run the bases.

Trying to explain why baseball is played the way it is (the rules) took an even greater effort. I realized again how many rules there are to the game. It is a highly organized game played with very strict boundaries. After 14 games and a number of practices, I think, they know how to tell a fair ball from a foul one. They now know which way to run the bases and they always try to get the batter out at first base when the ball is hit to them -even though the throw is often wildly off the mark. They are learning how the game is played. I never read a baseball rule book but I have played and watched baseball for many years. This is how "learning baseball" begins. I hope this first year for many of the kids planted a seed to play and know more. I hope all the "good jobs!" and "nice hit" and "good idea" will translate into "I love this game!" someday for them as it has for me.

I realized, as well, as we are about ready to end this season that the kids have made progress. No one stands on home plate and nearly every kid gets a hit every game and runs to the right base. They still get picked off when they run on a caught pop fly or when they overrun a base. They do make some plays in the field but the logic of base runners having to run or not having to run and whether you can just touch the base or have to tag the runner eludes them.

There are not scores kept in these games. Each team gets to send up nine batters or until they get three outs. Each batter gets seven chances to hit the ball. The coach pitches from a much shorter distance than the regulation distance from the pitchers mound. The idea is to encourage success. It's hard enough to hit a baseball. I was impressed with how well our kids did. They reminded me of something else. Sportsmanship. It was not unusual for them to encourage players on the other teams. Our little second baseman one night echoed the other teams shouts of "good hit, Max" and then put his hand over his mouth and looked at me, and said, "oh oh, I shouldn't have said that!" "It's ok", I said, "it was a good hit". So, no one knows who wins or loses and they refer to runs as points. They line up when the game is over and high five the other team and then they look for the parents who have the snacks. Tomorrow is the season ending picnic. They are looking forward to that. Like baseball, it's another chance to get together and have a good time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

High Wire Faith

It sure can be confusing to be a Christian sometimes. Imagine what it must be like to be on the outside wondering what this "Jesus" stuff is all about! Last weekend I watched the ABC Wallenda spectacle - three hours of video coverage of a 30 minute walk across Niagara Falls. Of course, I watched it. I lived near there once. It was the place we took all the people who came to visit us. It is a very impressive place. From time to time we would hear of someone who went over the Falls in a barrel. Some even lived to tell about it. But there hasn't been anyone walk across the Falls on a tightrope for over 100 years. In fact, its illegal. Until ABC got involved. It still took 2 years to get all the paperwork done. But what was good for tv ratings was also good for the local economy which has tanked of late. So, it happened. Live, except for Alaska where the screen said Live but we could have peeked at a news source (some of us did) to find out if he made it or not ( I let my wife live the suspense though). Other than all the 5 minute commercial breaks it was an impressive video event. The shots were spectacular. To think of someone walking across the Falls in the mist and the wind - we were reminded constantly of the wind speed and the rain - it was remarkable.

One of the story lines was Nik Wallenda's faith. In fact, it was so prominent no one could have missed it. He prayed with his wife and kids beforehand. Did anyone else wonder - wife and kids - why is he doing something so foolish, so unnecessary? I was reminded of a recent visit to my son and daughter in law's home. They have three children. Our son was talking about the time he hang glided. His young son was not impressed. Didn't you think about your family, he asked (even though he wasn't even on the scene yet - still he had a point). What would Wallenda's kids have thought if he had not made it safely across? Was it worth it?

He did make it safely across. For some reason his father was in a control booth talking to him the whole time. I have never tightrope walked anywhere but I was wondering isn't that distracting? Wallenda credited his concentration as one reason for his success so why was he talking to someone?

He was talking to God as well. And being miked we could all hear what he was saying. It seemed like he was praising God mostly but he was asking for help too. In the end, he said prayer helped but it seemed like it was mainly there to support his training, his concentration and his focus. He said the applause of the more than 120,000 people watching live helped him a lot too. He mentioned a couple of times how extraordinary it was to be the only person in recent memory to accomplish this feat and how much more impressive it will be in the future. Next, he has his sights on walking the Grand Canyon. ABC is already dreaming of the ratings.

In this year of the Christian athlete, Jeremy Lin, Tim Tebow, U.S. Open champ Webb Simpson, R.A, Dickey one could say that there was no more high profile Christian testimony than Wallendas'. It caught the attention of millions around the world as we were continually reminded by the ABC newscasters.

But to what end. What if the story ended differently? ABC made Wallenda wear a tether because they did not want to televise a prime time Live tragedy. O ye of little faith! How would Christians and non - Christians have handled it? Certainly, it would have raised questions and doubts. But, then is it ok for Christians to go out on a limb or on a wire and expect God to hold us up? Wallenda only said God gave him emotional peace; he credited his intense preparations for his success. As he should. Only a fool would climb up there over the Falls with no training and trust God to get him across. Still I have to wonder if many people don't make that leap and believe that somehow faith in Christ means we should be able to pull off any stunt.