Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Really Random Stuff

There's this great store on Main Street in Newark that sells all kinds of great stuff. One thing is this collection of buttons with witty messages on them. I can't help but buy a few almost every time I go in the store. I've given away many - you know, you see the perfect one for a friend or relative, you have to get it for them. It's also a treat for my kids, “Go ahead, pick out a button, I'll buy it for you.”

My main collection (the ones I kept for myself) is scattered around my computer screen at home - I figured I'd share with you the little messages I have hanging around my place:

“Another Deadline, Another Miracle”

“Power corrupts, Absolute power is kind of neat.”

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts”

“You people and your quaint little categories”

“Angst-Free Zone: no wallowing!”

“If you're going to walk on thin ice, you might as well DANCE”

“Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice”

“Tact is for people who aren't witty enough for sarcasm”

“If your coalition isn't driving you crazy, it isn't broad enough”

“I'm one of THEM, and I vote”

“Little chance of success, Certainty of death. What are we waiting for?”

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

This is what Redemption is all about...

NPR has this series called "This I Believe" which encourages people to submit essays about their core beliefs. I enjoy the vast majority of them. This one just stopped me in my tracks.

To listen to the essay read by the author or to learn more, click here.

I believe in the power of redemption.

I was an interrogator at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I don't have any torture stories to share. I think many people would be surprised at the civilized lifestyle I experienced in Guantanamo. The detainees I worked with were murderers and rapists. You never forgot for a moment that, given the chance, they'd kill you to get out. Some committed crimes so horrific that I lost sleep wondering what would happen if they were set free.

But that is not the only reason I could not sleep; I had spent 18 months in Iraq just before my arrival in Cuba. First I served as a soldier for a year, and then returned as a civilian contractor because I felt I hadn't done enough to make a difference the first time. After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, I left because I felt I could not make any difference anymore. Those events simply undermined all of our work.

I felt defeated and frightened and tired, and I hoped I could redeem myself by making a difference in Guantanamo. Still, I couldn't sleep. I was plagued with dreams of explosions and screaming. After being sleepless for more than 48 hours, I began to hallucinate. I thought people were planting bombs outside my house in Guantanamo. That was the night my roommate brought me to the hospital.

When I returned to work, I began to meet again with my clients, which is what I chose to call my detainees. We were all exhausted. Many of them came back from a war having lost friends, too. I wondered how many of them still heard screaming at night like I did.

My job was to obtain information that would help keep U.S. soldiers safe. We'd meet, play dominoes, I'd bring chocolate and we'd talk a lot. There was one detainee, Mustafa, who joked that I was his favorite interrogator in the world, and I joked back that he was my favorite terrorist — and he was. He'd committed murders and did things we all wished he could take back. He asked me one day, suddenly serious, "You know everything about me, but still you do not hate me. Why?"

His question stopped me cold. I said "Everyone has done things in their past that they're not proud of. I know I have, but I also know God still expects me to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. That means you."

Mustafa started to cry. "That's what my God says, too," he said.

Accepting Mustafa helped me accept myself again. My clients may never know this, but my year with them helped me to finally heal. My nightmares stopped.

I don't know what kind of a difference I made to the mission in Guantanamo. But I found redemption in caring for my clients, and I believe it saved my life — or at least my sanity. People say, "Hate the sin, not the sinner." That is easier said than done, but I learned that there is true freedom in accepting others unconditionally.

I believe we help to redeem each other through the power of acceptance. It is powerful to those who receive it and more powerful to those who give it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrapping up 2007

Quick disclaimer:

I am fully aware that the calendar system we all use is pretty arbitrary, I am fully aware that the division of a year into 12 months and marking the point where we watch the numbers change on the year as January 1 has almost nothing to do with anything. For a comprehensive look at the whole measuring-time-calendar thing, I highly recommend the book "Questioning the Millennium" by Stephen Jay Gould -- it is incredible.

OK, now that that's out of the way, let me say this:

I love the whole concept of New Year's Day. This is something I actually mark in my own way for a couple of weeks.

I love spending time thinking about all that has occured in the year, I love everyone's year-end lists -- Best movies, best records (or CDs or whatever the kids are calling them these days), best books of the year, greatest triumphs, biggest embarassments, you name it, I love it!

I can tell you that 2007 has been an incredible year for me. From starting the year off on the unemployment line (well, actually had to wait until January 2 for that, the unemployment office wasn't open on Jan. 1) to spending the first half of the year wondering if I'd ever have a regular, full time job again to getting to spend some great time with family and friends to landing a job that turned out to be better than I ever could have imagined or hoped to getting to do some really neat side projects -- this year has been so much more than I ever could have dreamed a year ago.

Which leads to all kinds of thoughts about 2008!

Oh, one other thing -- I'm not big on New Year's Resolutions. I mean the new year is a great time to try something new, try to start a new ritual or something. But for Pete's sake, if you're going to eat less and exercise more, than just do it -- if you're going to quit smoking, just do it. Stop setting unrealistic expectations on a date, just do whatever you want to do -- really, do it, now!

So, how did 2007 treat you? What are your thoughts about 2008?

A kinder, gentler Christmas message

I think in most areas I can be diplomatic and tactful -- of course then there's the Christmas thing (see previous post).

Thankfully, I have some great people like Bill Barto willing to send along things that kind of carry the same message, but in a nicer way.

It appears that this is one of those e-mails someone created and has since made its rounds (in other words, I don't know who wrote it), but it seems to work. So, here's the nice version:

Dear Children,

It has come to my attention that many you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season.

Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival.

Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime. How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on . If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember : I LOVE YOU, JESUS

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I REALLY don't like Christmas

OK, I was going to hold off on this until December, but certain people have called me out, so here it is.

I hate Christmas -- that's right, I hate Christmas -- not the commercialization (although that stinks, too), I truly, genuinely, down to my bones hate Christmas.

To help you understand this, I'm posting a copy of a piece that ran in the local newspaper last year -- and this is the "nice" version (I still have the original piece I wrote which is a little harsher -- OK, much harsher).

Anyhow, here's the nice version -- feel free to post whatever comments you wish about what a mean, awful, terrible person I am...

Why Christmas?

Confessions of a self-professed Grinch

By Ken Grant

Every December, when that great song, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" comes on, my kids demand that I turn up the radio so they can sing – or gleefully scream – the lyrics at me.

Grinch, Scrooge, the Anti-Claus, take your pick of titles – I gladly wear them all.

I honestly do not like Christmas, I do not enjoy any aspect of it, and I'm finding that more and more people are admitting that they're not all that thrilled with it, either.

I can already hear the cries of heresy coming from faithful Christians and even not-so-faithful-but-we-show-up-for-church-twice-a-year types alike. But, if we take a moment to look at the origins of Christmas, we might find that the truly Christian thing to do might be to shift our focus to something more substantive and meaningful every December.

Nowhere in scripture are Christians commanded to celebrate the birth of Christ. I challenge anyone to find a scriptural reference to the First Century Church celebrating Christmas. In fact, two of the four canonized gospels don't even mention the birth of Jesus.

By contrast, the followers of Christ are admonished to observe two things: Communion and Baptism. All other feasts, festivals, and observances are entirely optional (see Colossians 2:16).

So, when did we start this Christmas tradition? Allow me to quote from George W. Cornell:
For more than 300 years after Jesus' time, Christians didn't celebrate his birth. The observance began in fourth century Rome, timed to coincide with a mid-winter pagan festival honoring the pagan gods Mithra and Saturn. The December date was simply taken over to commemorate Jesus' birth, since its exact date isn't known. Consequently, the fusion of the sacred and the profane characterized the celebration from the start.

The reality is that celebrating new life following the winter solstice is something that's been done for some time – much more than 2,000 years. Switching the celebration from Ra the Egyptian sun-god, Adonis the Syrian god, Mithras the Persian sun-god, and any number of Norse gods (Oden being the most prevalent) to the birth of Christ seemed to have occurred almost seamlessly – in fact, nearly EVERYTHING that we associate with the Christmas tradition (evergreen trees, holy, lights, candles, etc.) can be traced back to one or more of these pagan origins.

To be perfectly honest with you, I don't know how ministers go through this every year. Let's think about this for a moment. The average minister has 52 Sundays a year to teach, to preach, to explore the deep and rich mysteries of scripture found throughout the Bible. Out of those 52 Sundays, the minister is forced by tradition to focus on a small handful of passages for at least four of those Sundays every year – re-hashing the same themes year after year after year.

And again, this is for something that really has very little to do with the crux of Christianity . I challenge anyone to show me where Peter preached about the importance of the birth of Christ. How about an epistle from Paul where he explains to a growing church the need to have a manger scene set up by the second week of December?

The message of Christ is profound – he did not call his disciples to look at his baby pictures . He told his followers to pick up their crosses and follow him to death. Paul tells us that presenting ourselves as living sacrifices is our reasonable act of worship. Peter's sermon at Pentecost focused exclusively on the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Again, the two practices Christians are ordered to observe – baptism and communion – are symbols of sacrifice, death, and resurrection – not of incarnation and birth.

Of course, it makes sense for just about anyone to be more comfortable focusing time and attention on a harmless, cute baby than to deal with the man who calls you to sacrifice your pride and your ego to follow him to an uncertain future.

I am not advocating that everyone quit celebrating Christmas. But I am asking for two things. First, figure out what it is you are celebrating and why you are celebrating it. If it's just tradition or a warm, fuzzy feeling, that's OK – just be honest about it. Second, please don't tell me that I "must" celebrate with you.

By the way, the kids don't seem to mind the fact that their father is a Grinch.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let's open the books!

Anyone who knows me knows that I really can't stand certain individuals who claim to preach about the God of the Bible while actually preaching a message that is contrary to scripture (God wants to give you money) and living a lifestyle that Robin Leach would consider excessive.

Well, it looks like Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa is starting to ask some of these people to open their books to justify their tax-exempt status.

Again, anyone who knows me knows that I am normally opposed to government interfering with anything very much. But, in this case I believe this may be a good thing.

I guess the only thing that frustrates me is the fact that no matter what happens there will always be another group of charlatans and liars ready to fleece the foolish -- and another group of people ready to hand over their cash.

Click here to read Sen. Grassley's press release and copies of the letters he wrote.

Where do you live?

I have some truly interesting, insightful, and talented friends (chances are that if you are reading this you are one of the interesting, insightful, talented people in my life).

I just wanted to share something one of those friends has written (he said it was OK to post it here). Let me know what you think -- and which floor you see yourself on...

Recovery From Pride
By Brad Bosler
October 24, 2007

I lived on the seventeenth floor of a building before. When you have to walk up all seventeen floors using the stairs, you realize what it means to raise yourself up on your own power! When you make it, you feel like you have accomplished something. The building of life, though, is much higher. When adversity eventually brought me down, I realized the stairs I once bounded up with the energy of Pride, were now tougher in humiliation. When I reached out for help, someone showed me another option- the up elevator of grace. Having been raised up, I now want to offer the same option to the homeless of Elkton, Md.

I am in “recovery” from Pride. When I was young, around 18, I lived high on the building of life! Pride energized me. It took me up, high enough to where the view was great! I thought life could not be any better than what I had made out of it. It was as if I was living in a skyscraper. Everyone moved below me. In the distance, the horizon stretched for miles all around, and from my viewpoint, I could see that every road emanated from me. In my arrogance, I believed everyone below me was inferior, and if I wanted to help someone, it was to raise them up to my level because they were less than me.

I was full of pride. Adversity, then, was what I needed to become humble. It would not have been my choice, though. Through a series of adversities, mostly as a result of my arrogant actions, I began to fall down. Sometimes it was down the steps. Other times, I was plummeting in the down elevator. On my way down, I saw those I once thought I towered over become farther above me while I continued to fall. As sadness and humiliation grew, I desperately wanted to stop falling. However, as time passed, I began to see that there was much farther I could fall! Ground level would not be the bottom! That’s when I reached out for help, stopped falling, and got out on whatever floor I was at. I was closer to street level than I had ever thought I would be in my life. If I was full of pride before, adversity showed me I had room to grow.

In a famous poem by Langston Hughes called Mother to Son, the mother who has seen hard times tells her son, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair. It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor—Bare. But all the time I’s been a-climbin’ on…” When I reached my bottom and reached out, I found those same hard stairs she was talking about. For me, life had been crystal stairs, but now, at the bottom, getting back to those stairs seemed impossible. The stairs at the bottom are rough and filled with splinters. The steps I once bounded up with the energy of Pride, now seemed impossible in darkness of humiliation. Despite how low I felt, I did begin to trudge upwards. I was determined to get back up to that towering view, to regain what I once had. The beauty of that view and the serenity of the height enticed me. Yet, as much as I tried, I could not seem to make much progress.

Trudging slowly up the steps, I realized I could only raise myself so far on my own energy. I needed help. I needed a lift. Through personal struggle and the guidance of others who had fallen, I realized I needed a power greater than myself, one that I could fully trust. That’s when I made the decision to step onto the up elevator of grace. Giving up on believing I could get myself back to the top, I found myself raised up. The ride up was easy, freeing, and exhilarating. But too soon it stopped. The doors opened, and I was let out somewhere in the middle. I wasn’t on the top floor. In fact, I could still see the ground easily. Furthermore, I could look up and see that there were plenty of floors above me. The view was nice, and I could see some roads and their apparent directions, but I was more confused as to why I was not raised any higher! I did not get my pride back! Instead, my heart still felt broken, yet it did seem somehow strengthened as a result of my fall. It was then that I realized that I was not supposed to stay on this floor. I was now supposed go back down and lead others to where I had been raised.

That is where I find myself now- drawn to homeless people on the streets of Elkton, Maryland, at Grace Community Church, a church dedicated to reaching the lost. Not all homeless people are all criminals, mental patients, and drug addicts. Some of them are just lost, stuck in the down elevator not knowing that they can get off, let alone aware of the fact that there is a way back up. Many seem to have gotten off on ground level. From there, all they see are the bottoms of the buildings, as they look no farther than their next meal or a warm place to stay that night. They don’t even want to think about the heights they can rise to or the beautiful view above. Some don’t even know how to find the door so they can get in and start climbing again. Opening the door is the goal of our church. If we can feed them and give them a place to stay, maybe they can look a little farther up. Maybe they will decide to start climbing the steps with our help. Better yet, maybe they will decide to take the up elevator and be raised up.

Throughout my life, adversity led me to the down elevator, especially when I half-heartedly tried the up. Fortunately, people reached out to me when I was falling and showed me the way back up. Having been lifted from my fall, I feel like I have been saved. I want to tell those on the bottom floors, those whose vision is so obstructed by the immediate walls around them, that there is a higher floor, one that reveals a vision of this world that is breath taking. Likewise, I also want to go up and tell those who are so high they have lost sight of the ground to remember those below who are in need, those like the homeless people in Elkton. As a result of my “recovery” from Pride, I am living on the middle floor. It’s high enough to see the view, low enough to see the street, temporary enough that I know I am not supposed to stay there forever.

Friday, November 2, 2007

My attempt at a book review

I just finished reading the book "Crazy for God" by Frank Schaeffer and tried to write a review for (it wouldn't take, long story).

So, here's the review:

Imagine trying to explain your life - good, bad, inconsistent, embarrassments - everything.

That's pretty much what Frank Schaeffer has done in “Crazy for God.”

Having read many of the criticisms from those who can't seem to come to grips with the concept of Francis and Edith Schaeffer being less than models of perfection, I have to question whether those individuals finished reading this memoir. I find a Frank Schaeffer who painstakingly tries to share his struggles, doubts, shortcomings, regrets, failures, and - finally - his coming to terms with his father, mother, wife, children, and faith. I find Mr. Schaeffer to be much harder on himself (and his work) in this book than on anyone else.

Schaeffer does something else - he allows us to get the perspectives of his friends, siblings, and children. He seems to give them all the room they need to share their memories and offer their slants on the events in their shared experiences.

Chapter 25 is a must read for everyone who has ever attended a prayer meeting.

Having more than a passing familiarity with at least two of the worlds Mr. Schaeffer exposes (the political and the evangelical), I find his accounts to ring with more truth than most in either camp would care to admit.

In the end, we find a man who is more interested in dealing with life in all of its inconsistencies and nuances than in defining everything in a simplistic “black/white - us/them” fashion.

I would recommend this book for anyone who is ready to wrestle with some of their own preconceived notions about themselves and their beliefs.

UPDATE: While Amazon wouldn't work with me -- Barnes and Noble did, click here to see the site.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Torah class!

It seems like a lifetime ago (actually about 10 years) when I told some friends that I was interested in learning more about the Jewish faith. I told them I would be interested in attending some services and classes but didn't know where to begin. They both ridiculed me and told me that my curiosity would not be welcomed. I believed them.

Fast Forward to the summer of 2006.

I'm talking with my friend, Brad, who tells me about how he's going to start taking Torah classes on Thursday nights. My eyes lit up -- here was my chance -- I asked Brad if there was any way I might be able to come, too.

So it was that last fall I started going to the local Temple on Thursday nights to soak up as much as I could from Rabbi David.

I would come home each Thursday night and tell my wife about what I had learned -- the "new" concepts I was exploring (only things that have been discussed and debated for about 5,000 years now).

The classes went through the early part of this year.

Now, I get to go again!

I think it's safe to say you will be reading a lot about these classes in the months to come.


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Just for fun

Just for fun -- take this quiz -- then cut and paste the results in the comments section.

Why do we love Paul Potts?

Last week I forwarded a link to a couple of videos featuring Paul Potts (click here to see the first video).

The responses to this video have been overwhelming -- several people have been e-mailing me to thank me for sending them the link (that doesn't normally happen) and many have passed the link along to others who are expressing their gratitude.

I have some theories about why this video means so much, but I'm curious to know what you think.

Questioning Authority -- 490 years ago

I know, for most people October 31 means costumes and trick-or-treating -- but for me, it means good, old fashioned authority questioning.

That's right, it was October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany.

Let's take a moment to think about this -- by asking some questions, by pointing out some troubling inconsistencies in an institution, one person radically changed the course of history.

I think that's amazing -- how about you?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rob Bell in Philadelphia Nov. 26

I've been a big fan of Rob Bell for a couple of years now, so I'm pretty excited about seeing him in Philadelphia next month.

If you have not yet read Velvet Elvis or Sex God, go out and get them and read them (seriously). If you have not seen any of the Nooma videos, let me know and I'll show you a sample. If you have never heard Rob Bell, download some of his sermons here (Check out "Gnats and Camels" -- there's some great stuff there)

Now, if you'd like to go to Philly to get the full presentation, let me know. The tickets are $16 (+$6.50 for "processing fees" don't get me started). This will be the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. I'm hoping we can get a group to carpool (save on gas, parking, etc.).

You can order tickets by clicking here, or let me know and I'll order a whole bunch at once (General Admission seating, so we should be able to sit together as a group).

take a survey - help a friend

I know how much you all love surveys (seriously, it's the most popular feature on here -- you guys are just survey taking maniacs!) -- so here's a way to take a survey and help a good friend earn his masters degree:
As part of my Psychology masters course I have to go out and survey people about their thoughts on pleasure and their views on what is a good life. This survey was written by one of our professors and takes about 15mins to do - it's all multiple choice except for one question which asks you to think a little about life and respond. We were given the assignment tonight. The deadline is Sunday. We were sent a 12 page illegible word document to ask people to fill in. My friend and cohort mate Alan thought compiling it into a "surveymonkey" might be easier, so he did. Bless him!

If you found a moment to help me out here at some point this week that would be amazing.

Here's the link:

Let me know if you have any questions about the survey (except for Better Life vs Pleasurable Life). Some of the question wording is a little weird for which I apologize. It's entirely anonymous. There's no right or wrong answers and no need to think too hard about anything in it. Just make sure you put "Brian" in the first field.

No pressure at all. Let me know if you did take it, so I can tell Alan that X number of the surveys are my data.

This came from a visiting professor, so I don't know what he's getting at yet. But I promise to explain it to you if you want to know after his lectures in November.

If you actually enjoyed this, feel free to send it on to other friends, as long as they put "Brian" in the first box.

Thank you - Brian
So, take the survey and just make a little notation in the comments section here so Brian can have an accurate count (you can remain anonymous and I'm not even going to ask how you answered any of the questions).

The separation of legal and moral

If you haven't done so already, go ahead and take the world's smallest political quiz by clicking here.

Some of you have been asking, “Gee, Ken, where do you fall on that scale?” Well, I'm happy to report that I am a fairly consistent Libertarian in my political views.

So, some of you are reading this and trying to figure out how someone who claims to attempt to live his life through a biblical perspective could possibly identify himself with a political philosophy that would lobby for the legalization of recreational drug use, prostitution, and people driving without seat belts.

Let's start with something simple - a few years ago the state of Delaware passed the smoking ban. This ban prohibits the smoking of tobacco inside any public building, restaurant, bar, outhouse, etc.

I spoke out against that legislation at every turn.


I'll go a step further. I believe the tobacco industry is despicable and traffics in addiction and human misery.

But, the fact remains that we're supposed to have property rights in this country. Which, in my humble opinion, means the state government would be entirely within its rights to ban smoking in state buildings. But, it does NOT mean the state government has the right to tell a private property owner that he cannot allow his patrons to engage in a legal activity in his establishment.

On principle, this is wrong.

Hopefully, you can see how I can hold a personal view against a certain industry (tobacco), choose not to engage in a certain activity (smoking), and yet argue against legislation that would ban said activity and impact said industry.

So, what about recreational drug use and prostitution (or insert other activity you may find offensive, abhorrent, or just plain "icky")?

In these cases I believe the “respectable” masses are using the law as a shortcut to public morality - in other words, we are more interested in using the police, courts, and correctional system than our true convictions to make us feel comfortable.

You see, it's easier to get the legislation passed to get “those undesirable elements” arrested, prosecuted, and locked away than it is for us to try to address the underlying issues that might lead a person to make such destructive choices.

Don't worry, I know that my societal dreams won't come to pass in our lifetimes, and the cruel irony is that if all the Libertarians in the country were to gather and organize… well, that's just it, they wouldn't… by our very nature Libertarians are individualists who can't really work together as a large group. So you can all rest easy that the politicians, police, judges, and guards will continue to protect you from those undesirable elements.

Seriously, let's have a conversation on this - let's just explore this concept together…

Actions Speak

The other week I woke up with this obsessive thought running through my head (yea, my wife gets to put up with my obsessive thoughts all day - have pity on her). All I could think about was how focused we are in this society on hearing the right words - how actions really don't matter - how people are just listening for the right “code words” to be spoken so they can feel good about the person they are dealing with.

Christians are particularly bad about this.

A friend of mine who is involved with politics in another state told me about a seminar for candidates where they were being taught which phrases to use to get the “church” vote - I'm not making this up. Just look at all the article and books out about the faith of each of the presidential candidates. What these people DO doesn't matter, just as long as they use the right WORDS.

I think Jesus pretty much nailed where the priorities should be in this passage:

There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”

“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing.

He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.

Which of the two did what his father wanted?

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.”

Matthew 21: 28-31

So, the same day that I woke up with this obsession (which led me to looking up the above) I read the following (emphasis mine):

Under the influence of modernity, the Church became obsessed by definitions and seamless doctrine. Modernity was based on a scientific and rational reasoning that everything could be proven by human experimentation and that this exploration of the scientific field could come up with a superior world and a greatly improved human being. In many ways, this worldview was seen as a huge threat to the mystery of faith. Modernism was driving out the mysteries and belief in a supernatural unseen world, one that was being replaced by a world that could be explained in clear scientific terms. That Christianity should be taken captive by such a system of thought seems a little incongruous, but it led to a couple of centuries of clear systematic theology, apologetics, and an overemphasis on the word spoken and written in the communication of Christian truth. Most of these things in themselves are great aids to Christianity's case in the world, but the loss of mystery, experience and any artistic representation of the Gospel was detrimental.

The Bible uses a wide array of creative ways to communicate truth: law, history, poems, songs, literature, lament, prophesy, proverbs, dreams, angels, miracles, parables, preaching, epistles, and visions. When the evangelicals of the world decided that the Word preached was God's most efficient way of communicating, they overlooked the fact that when Jesus was born, God was saying, among other things, that those ways were not sufficient and that the Word had to become flesh (John 1:1, 14). God's Word is much more than words. Modernity coerced Christianity into taking the flesh and making it into words again. Art suffered. It was not a clearly defined and conclusive kind of rationalism. It left feelings hanging. Stories or songs might stress some points of theological truth and fail to cover other aspects of the Gospel. They missed the fact that Jesus left the crucial doctrine of atonement out of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Jesus, in fact, was much more an artist than a preacher, preferring stories to open the truth and in sometimes oblique ways promising the disciples that those with ears to hear would hear. It could be said that the only writer in the Bible with any interest in theological definition is the apostle Paul, and though we thank God for him and the theological explanation of his letters, we must never lose the balance between this and art.

Steve Stockman
“Walk On”

So, what do you think? Are we more concerned with words than we should be?

Water, Bread, and Wine

My daughter is going to be baptized this Sunday!

Our discussions about baptism started me thinking…

If you read the gospels thoroughly and look at the context, you find a Jesus who consistently challenged, redefined, destroyed, and/or nullified just about every tradition and ritual the religious leaders of the day valued. From washing rituals to Sabbath restriction to public prayers, Jesus cut to the heart of the matter and either showed the practices as the hollow exercises that all rituals can become or challenged the individuals to live up to the true meaning of what they were symbolically declaring.

So, when this same Jesus sets out two rituals for his followers, should we maybe take a closer look at those rituals and what he's trying to tell us?

The two rituals are simple: Baptism and Communion (or Lord's Supper or Eucharist).

Hmmm… what's the significance of these two? Wait a minute, “two” - wasn't there something about all the commandments being wrapped into “two” commandments? Oh yea, "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength" - and "love your neighbor as yourself."

Hey, what if the ritual of baptism (symbolically dying to self) is supposed to be a reference to the first commandment (loving God with everything you are)?

And what if communion (symbolically taking of the body and blood of Christ in an act of unity) is supposed to be a reference to the second commandment (loving your neighbor as yourself)?

Just a thought.

Needless to say, I am incredibly proud of Kelsey and the decision she has made. I can't wait for Sunday!

Are you a Dog Theologian or a Cat Theologian?

A few weeks back I read this interesting piece in the News Journal about an upcoming series on Cat and Dog Theology.

I decided to check it out and I'm so glad I did.

First, I've met some truly great people at Newark United Methodist Church (the classes are held there on Sunday nights). This group has welcomed me and my family with open arms. They are willing to indulge some of my thoughts, observations, and theories -- and they have some incredible insight they are willing to share.

Second, the material is great. I would like to think that I regularly adhere to Dog Theology, but I have to admit the times I find myself acting more like a Cat (check out the material to find out what I'm talking about).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Embracing the Conflicts

The other night I went to my son's high school to go from class to class and meet his teachers -- the usual fall experience known as "Open House."

It was a pretty good experience - especially meeting his English teacher.

This is a woman who has a clear love of the English language and of literature - I hope my son learns from her.

One of the things she talked about was teaching her students about the elements of a good story - the settings, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution.

Here's the interesting part - she said that she could use the same test for any number of books. It doesn't matter whether they're reading Jane Austen, Mark Twain, or S.E. Hinton - she could ask the same questions and they would still apply.

Somehow, I think all of our lives are like that. We all have our stories and we all think they're unique - but the reality is we could all be given the same set of questions and they would apply.

Here's the thing, though, while we all have settings and characters and conflict leading to a climax and resolution - I think most people just want to skip ahead to the resolution. They want to just live “the dream” - peaceful retirement, no problems, no worries, tee time at 10:30, nice weather, every day a holiday.

Or, maybe there's a desire to live just for the climax - to score the winning touchdown, get the true love's kiss, slay the dragon, or win the race. Some almost seem to throw their lives into chaos in an attempt to create that moment over and over again.

I wonder if we should maybe focus a little more of our attention on the conflict - really work through it - in order to give the climax and the resolution more of an impact.

I mean, think of your favorite story - it could be a book or a movie, it could be an adventure, a romance, anything. Now, imagine sharing that story with a friend, but just skipping to the end:
“…and she married Mr. Darcy and they lived happily ever after!”

“…and Luke blew up the deathstar and the Rebels won!”

“… and Neo just blew Agent Smith to pieces and the other guys ran away - it was so cool!”
Pretty lame storytelling, huh?

I think if our lives were just climaxes and resolutions they would be pretty lame, too.

So, here's to embracing some of those conflicts - may they make the climaxes and resolutions that much better.

Does It Matter?

So, does what we believe really matter?

This is a question with which I've been wrestling for some time.

I mean, as long as we're not killing each other, does it really matter what our belief system is? I'm limiting this hypothetical to the world in which we currently live - let's not go into anything about rewards or punishments in an afterlife - I want to look just at the here and now. Does your belief system make a difference?

But wait - before we start with that discussion - we first have to determine what our current belief system actually is.

Based on my analysis of the visits to this blog (yes, I do check these things out) - I think it's safe to say that 80% of those of you reading this would identify yourselves as having a Judeo-Christian worldview. About 15% would probably call yourselves “spiritual” without feeling comfortable with a specific label. And yes, I know that about 5% of you would place yourself into the Atheist/Agnostic/Pantheist category. Quite frankly, I hope there are some who are reading this who would call themselves Buddhists or Muslims, because I would love to get your take on this conversation.

You will notice that I referred to how people would identify themselves, not their belief systems. Maybe it's just me, but I get a feeling that if we were to poll the vast majority of those who claim to hold a “Christian” worldview - I believe we would find most actually hold a belief system that's closer to an Eastern understanding of Karma, an Ancient Egyptian view of judgment, and/or some sense of cosmic justice. There seems to be this sense that if something bad happens to someone (especially someone we don't particularly like), then they are getting what they deserve. By the same token, we somehow believe that if good things are happening to us it's because we're doing the right things.

If you take some time to really examine the Judeo-Christian God, you are left with something altogether different - confounding, simple, complicated, frustrating, liberating - Grace.

T Bone Burnett is known these days as the musical genius behind such music as the soundtracks to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” and “Walk The Line.” Mr. Burnett has always been an interesting musician and an incredible songwriter. In 1988 he recorded a song called “The Wild Truth” (if you ever get a chance to purchase “The Talking Animals” by T Bone Burnett, do - it is an awesome recording). Anyhow, the song ends with these lines:

Are was supposed to take all this greed and fear and hatred seriously?
It's like watching dust settle.
It never changes.
It's too consistent.

Mercy is not consistent.
It's like the wind.
It goes where it will.
Mercy is comic,
and it's the only thing worth taking seriously.

I need the wild truth.

So, do any of us really, truly believe in this mercy, this grace? I am more convinced than ever that this is the concept that must be experienced (both receiving and offering) in order to truly claim to have a Judeo-Christian belief system.

Back to the original question - does it matter what we believe?

I mean, if I believe that everyone is getting whatever they deserve, then when I go to the grocery store and the person in front of me in line starts yelling at the cashier and rudely walks away, then I simply purchase my items and go on with my day. But if I believe in grace, then I might offer a smile to the cashier and maybe an encouraging word. I know, kind of a cheap example, but you get the idea.

I was recently checking out a web site that had this little game. It was an environmental web site, and the game is designed to make you think about your impact on the world. You simply put in how you live - what kind of house you live in, how far you drive, whether you carpool or use public transportation, etc. - and the program would figure out how it would look if everyone on the planet lived like you live.

I wonder what it would be like to have a game like that set up for belief systems - what would the world look like if everyone had the same belief system as you?

I welcome any thoughts…

Friday, September 7, 2007

World's Smallest Political Quiz

OK, quick disclaimer -- this quiz does not come from a neutral organization.

Having said that, it's an interesting exercise that should only take a minute or two to complete.

Take the world's smallest political quiz here.

Then come on back to post your score (or at least let us know where you're leaning).

After a couple of your responses, I'll reveal mine (feel free to take some guesses).

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Are you smarter than a 5th grader?

One of the interesting things about not having cable television is not actually seeing shows that are being written about in magazines and what-not.

So, lately I'm hearing about this Jeff Foxworthy show asking if you're smarter than a 5th grader -- I haven't watched the show yet, but I found this fun little online quiz:

Take the quiz here.

After taking it, come on back here an post your score (I'll tell you right now I got 90%).

Have fun!

Monday, August 27, 2007

An Extremely Dangerous Book

A few months ago my family and I traveled to Western Maryland to join in the celebration as my cousin crossed the threshold from mere mortal to "Doctor William Robert Cooper."

That morning, my cousin was officially conferred as a Doctor of Ministry by Antietam Bible College, Biblical Seminary & Graduate School. That afternoon, as we were all celebrating this impressive achievement and having a good time, I asked Doctor Cooper what the most interesting or surprising thing was that he learned in seminary.

His answer - he was surprised at how much stuff was in the Bible that he had not heard or read before.

Now keep in mind, this is a young man who was raised in the church, read his Bible faithfully, and has probably already sat through more sermons, teachings, and classes than most people three times his age.

And I know exactly what he means.

You see, there's A LOT of stuff that people who hold to a simplistic understanding of faith would not be comfortable dealing with in the Bible - from the basic sex and violence (trust me on this one, there's A LOT of sex and violence) to some truly disturbing questions about morality, reward, punishment, ethics, and the meaning of life.

I joke around with some of my minister friends from time to time, asking them why they don't try preaching a sermon on the incest that led to a whole new group of people (including the great-great-great-[add a few more greats] grandmother of Jesus)? Or how about the righteous woman who tricked her father-in-law into having sex with her by posing as a prostitute? Or the great hero of Israel who shoved a three-foot long sword into the belly of the very fat king who was oppressing the land? Of course, the reality is that all of these stories have significance and meaning, but it would be difficult to convey these deeper truths in a 20 minute sermon.

Frank Schaeffer wrote something in 1990 - I remember reading it at the time thinking there was a note of truth to it. Now that I've read a little more of the Bible, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Schaeffer's assessment:

Only by giving the Bible a devotional spin when we read it, by taking isolated verses out of context and ignoring the raw whole, by filtering and interpreting, do we "civilize" it. Civilized, the Bible has become a devotional prop of middle-class values instead of being the rude challenge to false propriety it actually is. The Bible is a dangerous, uncivilized, abrasive, raw, complicated, aggressive, scandalous, and offensive book.

The Bible is the literature of God, and literature, as every book burner knows, is dangerous.

The Bible is the drama of God; it is God's Hamlet, Canterbury Tales, and Wuthering Heights.

The Bible is, among other things, about God, men, women, sex, lies, truth, sin, goodness, fornication, adultery, murder, childbearing, virgins, whores, blasphemy, prayer, wine, food, history, nature, poetry, rape, love, salvation, damnation, temptation, and angels.

Today the Bible is widely venerated but rarely read.

If the Bible were a film, it would be R-rated in some parts, X-rated in others.

The Bible is not middle class. The Bible is not "nice." The Bible's tone is closer to that of the late Lenny Bruce than to that of the hushed piety of some ministers.

In some centuries, the church did not allow the common people to read the Bible. Now by spiritualizing it and taming it through devotional and theological interpretations, the church once again muzzles the book in a "damage control" exercise.

We now study the Bible but through a filter of piety that castrates its virility.

Seriously, there are times when I read the Bible these days and wonder how we ever ended up with some of the cheap, shallow, flimsy stuff that passes as faith today. I would argue that at least 90% of the people who claim they are "Bible-believing Christians" really don't have the foggiest idea what the Bible contains (at best, some might be able to spout off a handful of memorized verses).

So, I encourage you, dive in, really read what this book has to say - wrestle with it - don't treat it like a collection of sayings from a fortune cookie factory or read it like you're trying to imitate someone reading in Victorian England - ask some of the tough questions. Why did God harden Pharaoh's heart? Why did God love Jacob and not Esau? Why are there two prostitutes in the lineage of Jesus? There's hundreds more where those came from - and believe me, if you're willing to dig and not settle for simplistic explanations that don't fit, you will find some real treasures in the answers!

OK, I'm going to get back to reading that dangerous, uncivilized, abrasive, raw, complicated, aggressive, scandalous, and offensive book now.

By the way, here's a link to my cousin's church in Western Maryland -- if you're in the area, stop in and say, "Hi."

What's the Motivation?

A few months back, a good friend came up with an interesting idea -- she had some key people in her life that all felt like they were meant/destined for "something big" but not sure what, and not sure what to do about it (I think most of us can relate). So, she wanted to start an e-mail discussion group to explore this concept.

The discussions were insightful and thought-provoking. I checked with the key people in the group and they graciously agreed to let me share some of these thoughts on this new blog. So, here's the first of some of those discussions:

One thing I've thought about all my life is how exciting it is to be alive at this point in history (I know, sounds corny, please hear me out). Think for a moment about the ideas, concepts, and communications available to people throughout history. Up until just a couple of generations ago, your thoughts and ideas could only realistically be shared with people in your town (maybe county, possibly more if you were good enough to write a regular column or be featured on a regular broadcast). Today, the whole world is open to us.

I meet with a good friend who has traveled the world and lived in Brazil for at least 30 years. He's now settled in Delaware, but keeps in contact with his friends in Brazil, Africa, Eastern Europe, and Asia (his son lives and works in China). Whenever I meet with Dave, he is able to give me real insights into things happening all over the world -- normally I see news reports from CNN days or weeks later relating to some of these insights. There is no way this kind of communication and interaction could ever have taken place just a few decades ago. This excites me (I know, I'm a geek).

Anyhow, more to the point of feeling "destined" for "something" -- as I think about this, I realize that my mind is going in about 10 different directions. Normally, when that happens, I start to think "multi-part series!"

So, let's dig in with part one: Motivation

If we feel that we are to be part of "something big" -- why? Do we want to get personal glory from it? Do we want to be able to show all those nay-sayers in high school that we could amount to something? Do we want our ego stroked?

Or, do we recognize that things could be better somehow, and we want to do what we can to make that happen, regardless of who gets the credit?

In my opinion, it is only when we get to the point where we say, "OK, I don't care what happens to me, I believe this needs to happen" that we're ready to do whatever it is we're supposed to do.

So, one by one, what motivates you to try and find a way to try and "do something" towards improving the world around you?

Friday, August 24, 2007

ONLY for those with a sense of humor

Some of you know about the Wittenburg Door (yes, it's misspelled on purpose). I remember getting my first issue at a bookstore in Lancaster 20 years ago and getting hooked (I've got a pretty decent collection of old issues at home).

The Door has been described as Christianity Today meets Mad Magazine.

OK, the disclaimer -- this humor is not for everyone. Some people get offended when someone points out that the Emperor (or, in this case, religious leader) might need some covering.

But, if you're ready to enjoy some really funny stuff, you might want to click here and subscribe to the free e-newsletter from the Door.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Check out this blog, too!

Friends warned me that this blogging thing would be addictive -- and it is.

Apparently, it's also a great way to share thoughts, questions, and insights.

Click here to check out a great blog from Terry Foester.

I'll recommend more blogs and other sites as a regular feature here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Billy Graham, Bono, and Mary

I’m struck today by three incredible examples of humanity – Billy Graham, Bono, and a woman who calls us every week named Mary.

While picking up some breakfast food at the market, I see the latest Time Magazine with a cover story on Billy Graham. I was struck as I read the story about some of the doubts this evangelist has wrestled with and some of the mistakes he has fumbled through over the years.

I have an incredible amount of respect for Billy Graham, and I don’t think anyone can argue with the assertion that he has had a profound and lasting impact on the world.

After breakfast, I check the mail and a kind soul had sent me a couple of U2 DVDs (Thank you, Denise, you're the best) – so my daughter and I sat down to watch U2’s concert from Sydney, Australia filmed back in November of 1993. I started to explain to my daughter about the evolution of U2 when something struck me – like Billy Graham, these guys from Dublin have been pretty transparent about their searching, their doubts, and their mistakes.

The thing that hit me is something I think we all intuitively know, but just need to be reminded about from time to time – you only have a lasting impact on the world if you’re willing to take some risks, willing to make mistakes, and willing to be as transparent as possible in the process.

As Kelsey and I were watching Bono singing on the screen, our phone rang and Kelsey answered. It was Mary, and Mary asked Kelsey to hang up so she could call back and leave her message.

You see, our family has only met Mary a couple of times – she attends one of the local churches, she’s getting up there in years, she has a bad case of arthritis, and she can barely see. But Mary does something special. Every week, Mary calls a list of people, waits for their answering machines to pick up, then reads a verse of scripture, offers words of encouragement, and sometimes sings a song. I get a lot out of Mary’s messages.

Mary puts many of us to shame – I know none of us are gifted orators like Billy Graham or international rock stars like Bono, so we think that gets us off the hook for trying to make a difference in the world. But then there’s Mary, she doesn’t have her health, she doesn’t have her sight, all she has is who she is – and she’s willing to put that out there!

By the way, the second paragraph of the Time cover story on Billy Graham contains this line in describing the various people who have visited the Graham family in their home over the years:

“Bono once showed up and played songs on the piano in the living room”

And the song my daughter and I were listening to Bono singing when Mary called –

Love is Blindness.”
May all of us follow the examples of these individuals.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Which Positive Quality Are You?

OK, we had some fun with the "nerd" test last week (and Cynical Cypress, I think I know who you are!) but since then, I discovered that I don't have to sit down and put these quizzes together -- someone else has already done just that (isn't the Internet cool!).

So, take a moment to take this quiz here, then click back to post what your positive quality is (I know, it seems kind of juvenile, but I actually found some of the questions thought-provoking).

After a few of you post, I'll reveal the results of my own test.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Let it out!

OK, you're going to have to work with me on this one.

I've been thinking more and more about this concept that every relationship we have with those around us (spouse, parent, child, friend, co-worker, boss, stranger on the street, everybody) is both a reflection of and something to learn about our relationship with God.

Ponder that one for a moment.

I'll expand on that idea in a future post, but for now I just want to start with that premise and move into the relationship I have with my lovely bride.

Now, this is one that you can't argue with, because if you've been to more than a couple of weddings, you've most likely heard the verse:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…
This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5: 25a, 32
So, allow me to share something interesting about the relationship Kristin and I have.

You see, one of the things I've always enjoyed about Kristin (we've known each other since 1989, you do the math) is her sense of style - she wears the most interesting clothes and jewelry. Some would call her style "funky", others "interesting", still others "wild." She loves the color orange and she makes her own unique jewelry.

Kristin also has an incredible voice - seriously, I could sit and listen to her sing every day for hours.

Unfortunately, Kristin has dated guys in the past who didn't really care for her sense of style, and some who didn't want her singing too loud in church. It would appear that some of these guys weren't too comfortable with Kristin really being herself.

When Kristin and I first got married a little over two years ago, I remember her asking regularly if I was OK with her wearing certain outfits or jewelry, or making sure I was really enjoying her singing.

I believe my message to her has been consistent - I want her to be more of herself than she's ever been before.

Here's the cool part.

She is more of herself now than when we first got married. She loves being able to express who she is - she seems to love knowing how much delight I take in being with her as she does everything that makes her feel like more of herself.

So, is it possible that God is like that with us?

Could it be that while we're listening to people telling us not to sing too loud or to dress a certain way - maybe God is saying, "wait a minute, I like your voice - I like your sense of style - I want you to be the YOU you were meant to be!"

I think so, and I don't think I'm alone…

…as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall God rejoice over you

Isaiah 62:5b

What makes you unique? What is inside of you that you really want to let out? I believe the God who put that creative spark inside you wants to see it come out - wants to delight in what happens when you become more of who you are meant to be.

Monday, August 13, 2007

"Getting" God

Have you ever started talking with someone and feel that almost instant connection - they mention a book or movie or something that they really enjoy and your first thought is, "Hey, I thought I was the only one who liked that!"

And you quickly realize that the two of you "get" each other and a bond of friendship is instantly formed.

And it doesn't have to be over something really deep or important.

For instance, when Bill Berger and I discovered we were both fans of Bruce Campbell, and that we both had a special appreciation for the movie "Bubba Ho-Tep" - well, that pretty much bonded us. I knew as we started quoting lines from that great movie about two senior citizens in a nursing home (Elvis and John F. Kennedy) fighting an Egyptian mummy in cowboy boots -- that Bill and I "got" each other.

And as we discussed the deeper cultural commentaries the movie made beyond the fun, irony, and adventure, well, that just strengthened the bond exponentially.

So, do you think God might be like that?

In 2 Chronicles 16:9, the prophet Hanani tells King Asa of Judah that

"the eyes of the LORD range throughout the entire earth, to strengthen those whose hearts are truly His."

Could we read that as God is looking for those who "get" Him?

You see, there's some interesting instances when God is recorded as speaking for Himself in scripture.

First, you have the creation account with God declaring his creation "good" and, in one instance, "very good."

Then you have God responding to Job in chapters 38 and 39 of that incredibly deep book. And let's take a look at that in context - I think we can all imagine a hypothetical situation where a husband is complaining to his wife because he felt she didn't take care of some minor thing (ironing a shirt or whatever) and the wife's response is something like,

"Do you have any idea what I've taken care of? After cooking breakfast for the entire family I took the kids to their appointments, took your stuff to the copy store for your big presentation, re-negotiated the mortgage with the bank to save us thousands of dollars, took care of the grocery shopping, cleaned the bathrooms, dusted and vacuumed the house, cooked dinner for you and the kids, helped the kids with their homework, stuffed the folders for you to hand out at your presentation tomorrow, and packed your lunch. Now, do you think you can iron your own shirt?!"

(again, purely hypothetical - I've never actually been part of a conversation like this myself.)

Now, what is the wife really saying in this scenario? Isn't she saying, "gee, it would really be nice if you noticed what I have done around here"?

That's kind of what I see with this section of Job - in the midst of God "putting Job in his place" there's this under-current of "hey, look at what I've done - can't you appreciate how fast the wild donkey is, or how powerful an ox is… or how about that stupid ostrich? It doesn't have a bit of sense, but isn't it awesome to watch it run with its wings outspread? How about the horse and the hawk - aren't they just the coolest things ever?"

Do you get the feeling that God is looking for people who can look at His creation and say, "Yea, that's pretty cool!"

Maybe this is why David is referred to as a man after God's own heart - I can't even count the number of times he refers to God's character and creation throughout his writings. Could it be that God saw this young shepherd boy who "got" Him? Not only did David "get" God, he was able to express an appreciation for what God created and how God works.

Imagine for a moment how God might respond to someone who is able to look at creation and say, "Wow, this is really cool!"

Think about how God might delight when an individual learns a little more about the universe in which we live, about the way stars are formed and planets are shaped and the incredible timing of comets that come streaking through the solar system on a set schedule, and that person recognizes how awesome that is.

Contemplate for a moment how God might look at someone who is peering into a microscope and discovering the intricate ways that cells interact and that person is struck with wonder.

Let's take it a step further.

I wonder if the God who is searching for those whose hearts are truly His might be looking for a person who is looking at a group of people and saying, "wow, that person's smile is incredible - it really lights up a room. And that man's commitment to detail, I could never have the patience to build the kinds of models he builds - that's pretty neat. And that kid that always seems to get into trouble, I just had a conversation with him and he's actually got some interesting ideas, I think there's something special there."

Is it possible that in trying to look at things from a different perspective, we might catch God's attention and He'll respond with, "hey, I was waiting for someone else to notice that, let me show you some other neat stuff."

If there's even a hint of truth in these musings, I hope we all get a chance to somehow "get" God.

P.S. Bill Berger agreed to let me use his name in this posting -- Bill's currently battling cancer, please keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

But it's for the children...

Samuel Johnson wrote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” While I have no doubt about the truth of that assertion during Mr. Johnson’s lifetime (1709-1784), I have to argue that Patriotism has been replaced as the refuge of last resort for just about everybody, not just scoundrels.

To properly identify this refuge, I’m going to attempt to coin a new term – “Childrenism” – as in “Childrenism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

So, if I’m going to have the audacity to create a new term, I guess I have to offer up a working definition. Let’s try this one on for size:

child-ren-ism noun (2007) 1: any attempt to restrict personal freedom,
infringe on public liberties, or forward an agenda “for the children” 2: any use of the rhetorical question “what about the children?” to justify a weak argument 3: filler

Be honest, how many times have you listened to, or even engaged in, an exchange of ideas and you’ve heard the person proposing something truly pathetic – or even abhorrent – as being an absolute necessity “for the sake of the children”? By the way, when you say “for the sake of the children”, “What about the children?” or any other phrase associated with childrenism, you must do so with an extremely earnest expression on your face and in your voice – you know, almost whine it out of your very being.

One of the most common uses of childrenism is in the realm of censorship and broadcasting. We’ve all heard the conversation:

Self-Appointed Moralist: You have to sign this petition to the FCC! We have to make sure that these radio stations keep their language clean and stop making crude jokes!

Free-Market Advocate: Um, if you don’t like what they’re broadcasting, why don’t you just switch to another station – I mean, I’m not interested in listening to some of this stuff, either, so I just don’t

Self-Appointed Moralist: Well, yes, you and I can do that –
But What About the Children?

That’s it, end of discussion, thank you for playing, you can pick up your parting gift at the door.

Now let’s go into something a little meatier.

I have two teen-aged children attending a local public school. A while back there were two incidents, one involving some girls taking over-the-counter cough medicine to get high, the other involving a student bringing a starter pistol to school.

The school administration and PTA held a meeting with parents to discuss these incidents and address any questions or concerns we parents had. As you can imagine, there was much more of a focus on the gun incident than the cough medicine. Personally, I found the administration’s approach and answers to be informative, forthcoming, and reasonable.

Then, it happened. One of the other parents started asking about the possibility of installing metal detectors in the school. That’s right, metal detectors in a middle school in Newark, Delaware.

And why would we need metal detectors in a middle school in Newark? Why, for the sake of the children!

Like I said, I’m a parent. I have two children attending this school. If this school were to install metal detectors, it is somewhere in the realm of possibility that at some point a student bringing a gun into the school could be stopped and my children would be safer. If I oppose this idea, then am I saying that I would rather my children live with that risk hanging over their heads?

Yes, I am willing to put them at risk of physical harm. I would rather have them live with that risk than be trained and conditioned to sacrifice their freedom for some added sense of security. And yes, I’m willing to fight for the rights of every broadcast radio and television station to air whatever they think the market will bear even if it means my kids might happen to hear a few naughty words and an obnoxious shock jock once in a while.

Why? Why would I have this attitude? Why would I choose a course of action that could risk my children’s physical and mental health? Well, for starters I would rather they lived with a sense of freedom than a sense of security. I would rather they think for themselves than try to create a false world around them.

Yes, I am doing all of this for the children.

By the way, Samuel Johnson wrote something else, and this one remains true today and will most likely remain true until the end of time: “Hell is paved with good intentions.”

Friday, August 10, 2007

How nerdy are you?

Rick Reynolds said something that rings true for me. He said, “The smart people I know are a lot funnier than the stupid people I know.”

Last night, my kids and I were at a gathering of several hundred smart, funny people - or at least smart people with a good appreciation for humor.

That's right, we were at a Weird Al Yankovic concert.

Mr. Yankovic's latest hit song is titled “White & Nerdy” - and that was the audience, we are the white and nerdy.

The concert was incredible, if you ever get the chance to see Weird Al live you will not be disappointed - from the video clips to the costume changes to the sing-a-longs and polkas, this show has it all!

So, let's take a moment to rate ourselves on the “White & Nerdy” scale.

This is simple, below you will find the lyrics to the song. In parenthesis, I've assigned a point value for each nerdy trait. Just add up the number of points that apply to you and check your score at the bottom. If you'd care to share your score and/or any details about your nerdy-ness, please do so in the comments section. Good luck!

White & Nerdy
Lyrics by Al Yankovic (2 points if you can name at least three songs by Weird Al, 5 points if you own any of his recordings)

First in my class there at MIT (5 points if you've been to MIT, 50 points if you've attended MIT as a student, 10,000 points if you were, in fact, first in your class at MIT - subtract one point if you don't know what MIT is)

Got skills, I'm a champion at D&D (5 points if you've ever played D&D, 20 points if you've ever been a “dungeon master” - subtract one point if you don't know what D&D is)

MC Escher, that's my favorite MC (2 points if you can describe a work by Escher, 10 points if you've ever owned anything with Escher's work on it - subtract one point if you don't know who MC Escher is)

Keep your 40, I'll just have an Earl Grey tea (2 points if you've ever had Earl Grey tea, 10 points if you know who regularly requests Earl Grey tea - “hot” - subtract one point if you're scratching your head on this one)

My rims never spin - to the contrary
You'll find that they're quite stationary
(3 points if the rims on your car do not spin - subtract 20 points if they do)

All of my action figures are cherry (2 points if you've ever collected action figures, 10 points if you still have at least one in the original package)

Stephen Hawking's in my library
(5 points if you've ever owned a book by Stephen Hawking, 40 points if you've ever read it - subtract 20 points if you don't know who Stephen Hawking is)

My MySpace page is totally pimped out
Got people beggin for my Top 8 spaces
(5 points if you have a MySpace page, 10 points if it's “pimped out” - subtract 3 points if you've never seen a MySpace page)

Yo, I know pi to a thousand places (40 points if you've ever figured out pi to at least 15 places, subtract 10 points if you think we're talking about something with crust and a filling)

Ain't got grills, but I still wear braces (if you're over the age of 20 and have braces, give yourself 10 points)

I order all of my sandwiches with mayonnaise (3 points)

I'm a whiz at Minesweeper, I could play for days
Once you see my sweet moves, you're going to stay amazed

My fingers movin' so fast, I'll set the place ablaze
(5 points if you've ever played Minesweeper for more than 2 hours in a sitting)

There's no killer app I haven't run
At Pascall well, I'm number one
(20 points if you've ever used Pascall)

Do vector calculus just for fun (30 points if you've done calculus “just for fun”)

I ain't got a gat but I got a soldering gun (10 points if you own a soldering gun, 20 points if you use it - subtract 20 points if you're thinking there should be legislation to ban the sale of soldering gun ammo)

“Happy Days” is my favorite theme song (5 points if you can remember the words and/or the tune to “Happy Days”, 20 points if you can remember what was originally used as the theme song from the black and white days - subtract 5 points if you don't know who “The Fonz” is)

I could sure kick your butt in a game of ping pong (5 points if you have ever played ping pong, 10 points if you are good at it, 30 points if you've ever played in an organized tournament)

I'll ace any trivia quiz you bring on (10 points if you've ever won a game of trivial pursuit)

I'm fluent in JavaScript as well as Klingon (30 points if you know anything about Java, 50 points if you can say at least two words in Klingon)

I've been browsin', inspectin'
X-Men comics, you know I collect 'em
(30 points if you have a collection of comic books, 50 points if you keep them in their plastic covers)

The pens in my pocket, I must protect 'em (30 points if you actually use a pocket protector)

My ergonomic keyboard never leaves me bored (20 points if you've ever owned an ergonomic keyboard, 35 points if you're using one right now)

Shoppin' online for deals on some writable media (15 points)

I edit Wikipedia (20 points if you've ever contributed or edited a Wikipedia entry)

I memorized “Holy Grail” really well
I can recite it right now and have you ROTFLOL
(5 points for every time you've watched “Grail”, 25 points if you can recite at least three lines right now - subtract 20 points if you have no idea what this is about)

I got a business doin web sites
When my friends need some code, who do they call?

I do HTML for 'em all

Even made a home page for my dog
(10 points if you work in the computer industry, 15 points if you use HTML, 40 points if you've ever made a web page for a pet)

Yo, I got myself a fanny pack (20 points if you use a fanny pack)
They were havin a sale down at The Gap (20 more points if you bought it at The Gap)

Spend my nights with a roll of buble wrap
Pop, pop, hope no one sees me…getting freaky
(10 points if you've ever popped a roll of buble wrap)

I'm nerdy in the extreme and whiter than sour cream
I was in A/V Club and Glee Club and even the Chess Team
(20 points for each organization you've joined)

Only question I ever thought was hard
Was, do I like Kirk or do I like Picard?
(10 points if you had to think about that question, 20 points if you've thought about it in the past and already made up your mind - subtract 40 points if you have no idea what the line is about)

Spend every weekend at the Renaissance Faire (10 points for every time you've ever been to a Renaissance Fair, 30 points for every time you dressed for it)

Got my name on my underwear (Um, I really don't want to know, so we just won't count this one)

If you scored:

650 or more - You are the “poster child” for White & Nerdy - I'll be sure to give you a call when I need help understanding quantum physics

450 - 650 - It's safe to assume you've been to your share of conventions, keep an eye out for some of my friends at PhilCon and BaltiCon

250 - 450 - You're in the “borderline” area, you might be able to hang out with the nerdy elite, but some of their conversations go over your head from time to time

100 - 250 - You're probably accepted in polite society and don't ever get any strange looks when you make your observations out loud

10 - 100 - You might want to actually read a book from time to time

less than 10 - Um, are you sure you know how to use a computer?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Thought for the day -- August 8, 2007

The price of freedom of religion, or of speech, or of the press, is that we must put up with a good deal of rubbish.
- Robert Jackson

Sunday, August 5, 2007

God doesn't like bricks, so don't be a brick

So, I’m listening to a sermon recently that focused in on the story of the tower of Babel found in Genesis 11 – the point of the sermon was dealing with man’s use of technology. You see, for that time and that people, the brick was high technology. Because you could make all these bricks the same size and shape, building something – say, for instance, a tower – becomes a lot easier than using rocks or stones.

This got me to thinking – I don’t think there’s too many references to bricks in the bible.

So I looked it up.

Guess how many times the word “brick” is used in the bible – eleven – now that’s not to say that there’s eleven times where the bible talks about bricks, that’s eleven times that the word is even used. The vast majority of those eleven times are contained in two episodes – first, the aforementioned Tower of Babel, second, the bricks the Israelite slaves make in Egypt. Neither case is very positive.

So, what seems to be the building material of choice in the bible?

Well, a quick check shows more than 130 uses of the word “rock” or “rocks” and more than 340 uses of the word “stone” or “stones.” Now, obviously all of those uses aren’t in reference to building something – you have the stone that Jacob used as a pillow, the stone Jacob then moved from the mouth of a well so his future wife’s sheep could drink. Then there’s the stones used as memorials to remind people of things God did for them in certain places and there’s the stone a young shepherd used to take down a giant. Apparently stones can be used for a lot of things.

Immediately I started thinking, but of course, God doesn’t want to use manufactured, uniform bricks – every one looking the same, feeling the same, weighing the same, made the same. God likes using stones and rocks – every one with a different size, shape, weight, and texture.

As I looked a little further into this, I found out some other interesting things.

According to the midrashic commentary on the Torah concerning the construction of the Tower of Babel:

A rabbinic legend relates that people paid no mind if a worker on the tower fell to his death. If a brick fell, however, they lamented the delay in their building project.

Then, according to the p’shat commentary on the Torah concerning the making of bricks in Exodus 5:

Chopped straw or stubble was a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of bricks.
It was added to mud from the Nile, then shaped in a mold and left to dry in the sun. The straw acted as a binder, and the acid released by the decay of the vegetable matter greatly enhanced the plastic and cohesive properties of the brick, thus preventing shrinking, cracking, and loss of shape.

In other words, bricks thrive off of the decay of once living things.

So, it would seem that we have a God who would much rather put in the effort to pick the right rocks and stones to build something worthwhile as opposed to taking the easy, convenient way of using identically manufactured bricks that gain strength from the decomposition of once living things.

Now, here’s the tough part – are we willing to treat people as the precious stones that they are, looking for the areas where they will fit best in the building of our community – or do we want to treat everyone like a brick, forcing them into a uniform mold and killing any living thing inside of them?

The stone that the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone

Psalm 118:22

Faith and Relevance

I’ve been reading an excellent book by John Fischer called “Fearless Faith” (I highly recommend anything John Fischer writes – he is normally very thought-provoking and interesting). The basic premise of the book is that Christians today do not regularly engage themselves with the world and culture around them, but have instead created a safe Christian sub-culture where we can live without fear of having our preconceived notions challenged.

I still struggle with what relevance Christianity has to today’s culture and society. It frustrates me to know that for many, the stereotype of a modern Christian is someone who has disengaged their brain for simplistic, bumper-sticker slogans. It frustrates me even more when I see Christians who live up to that stereotype (trust me, none of you fit in this category). How are Christians supposed to be light and salt to a world that can so easily ignore the trite garbage that many Christians throw around (“the bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”). Again, let me emphasize that none of you even come close to these kind of offenses – but let’s face it, we’ve all seen and heard this kind of stuff.

Allow me to quote from the book now:

“Christians need to become familiar with more than just the Christian point of view … I think, in this regard, of Daniel and his three friends who served in a pagan king’s court and of how well versed they were in the thinking of their day. It says of them that ‘God gave [them] knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom’ (Daniel 1:17, 20). In other words, they knew everything their contemporaries knew, and then some.

For some Christians today, it’s almost as if they are afraid of being corrupted by a thought they haven’t already had, as if they have already made up their minds about everything. A Christian may have made up her mind about the basic doctrines of the gospel, but she is always in the process of figuring out how that doctrine fits into the life she leads in the real world. That’s why the discussion has to go on, and in that discussion, opportunities to dialogue with the world will always come up.

Jesus commands us in Mark 12:30 to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. That means, when properly used, the mind is something to love God with.”

This struck a major chord with me and I remembered something someone had mentioned about that passage in Mark, so I did a little looking and here’s the rundown on what we’ve got:

  • Jesus was answering a scribe who came into the middle of a game of “gotcha” between the Sadducees and Jesus (the Sadducees were losing)
  • The scribe simply asked which was the greatest commandment
  • Jesus answered by quoting Deut. 6:4-5 – BUT, he added something. The passage in Deuteronomy commands us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and strength – Jesus said we were to also love God with our mind (also noted in Matt 22:37)
  • The word “Mind” used here (and in Matthew) is the Greek word “dianoia” which Strong’s translates as “deep thought – the faculty (mind or its disposition) by impl. its exercise – imagination, mind, understanding”
  • Jesus then added the second command from Lev. 19:18 – to love your neighbor as yourself. I had always assumed these two commandments were found in the same place in the Old Testament. I did not realize before that Jesus had taken these two commands from two different parts of the Old Testament and put them together like this
  • The scribe then compliments Jesus for his answer and adds “this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices”
  • Jesus then compliments the scribe, saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God”
  • After that, no one said a thing.

Think about this for a minute: Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our mind – our thoughts, our imagination, our understanding. Not only that, but this scribe who started off challenging Jesus – maybe he was trying to trick him, maybe the scribe was genuinely impressed by the way Jesus was handling the Sadducees and really wanted an answer – either way, he asked the question that lead to the revelation of this great commandment – and by the time the conversation ends, Jesus declares that this scribe is almost at the kingdom of God.

In the middle of all of this, I started thinking about how I relate to my children. Obviously, I appreciate it when they obey my wishes without complaint. Yes, I enjoy it when they express their love and affection for me. But, there is nothing like getting into a conversation with them – when they reveal something they’ve discovered, thought about, read, wondered about – when they ask the tough questions and want to struggle through to find a real answer. I can’t help but think that maybe God is like that. Yes, he enjoys our obedience and praise, but is He waiting for us to engage Him with our mind?

Is this why Jesus encouraged us to ask, seek, and knock? Does He want us to wrestle with those tough questions knowing that the answers we find will help us grow into something more than we ever imagined?

What do you think? Is any of this legitimate?