Saturday, July 31, 2004

A Love Poem from God

God's Nature

Sometimes we think what we are saying about God
is true when in fact
it is not.

It would seem of value to differentiate between what it
God's nature and what is false about Love.

I have come to learn that the truth never harms
or frightens.

I have come to learn that
God's compassion and light can never be limited;

thus any God who could condemn is
not a god at all

but some disturbing image in the
mind of a

we best ignore, until we
can cure the

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
from Love Poems from God translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Vision
I have been slowly working through the remarkably prophetic book, Red Moon Rising by Pete Grieg and Dave Roberts (Relevant Books, 2003). I quoted from it last week in relation to the 24-7 Prayer Movement and the powerful witness that movement has in the world today. Well, further on in the book is a statement of The Vision that the 24-7 Movement worked from. Here is part of what he wrote:

The vision?
The vision is JESUS- obsessively, dangerously, undeniably Jesus.
The vision is an army of young people. You see bones? I seen an army.
They are FREE from materialism.
They laugh at 9-5 little prisons.
They could eat caviar on Monday and crusts on Tuesday.
They wouldn't even notice.
They are free yet they are slaves of the hurting and dirty and dying.

What is the vision?

The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes. It makes children laugh and adults angry. It gave up the game of minimum integrity long ago to reach for the stars. It scorns the good and strains for the best. It is dangerously pure.
(Red Moon Rising, p. 119)
Well, as with all spiritual visions, it is a deeply idealistic and challenging vision. Like all spiritual pioneers and reformers, their vision is powerful and intriguing. It calls some and angers others. It is filled with hope and life and can reek of self-righteousness- depending on the way your spiritual senses react.

I like the challenge! It keeps me focused. The vision is Jesus!

Note: I just read an article on the 24-7 Prayer web site that
a key family at the heart of 24-7 is moving to America for a year. Pete Greig, who started the first prayer room in Chichester, England, is moving with Samie his wife and their two kids to Kansas City on 10th August for 11 months.

One of the main reasons for the move is to help establish 24-7 Prayer in America, where we already have had hundreds of prayer rooms, a great deal of media exposure and where we have an office run by Amy & Casey Johnson, but where we do not yet have an established Base. "It's so important to get the right connections and ensure that all that grows in America is true to our values as a movement," says Pete.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

A Quote

In a world of fragile self-justifications, the truth made no one happy. [...from Darwin's Radio, by Greg Bear]
Someone else a long time before Greg Bear said that you shall know the truth and it will make you free. Someone else added- but first it will make you miserable. Others have argued about what truth really is?

Well, it appears that it is simply an explanation of the way things really are. Whatever that means. In this postModern world truth has become relative. In his back-page column in the latest Christianity Today magazine Charles Colson argues that we are to fight the "culture wars" as if there is a cultural truth that transcends cultures.

We all seek our own self-justifications. They are fragile. We all seek to be right- and assume that our way is right. In postModern discussions people often get into arguments over whether or not there can be such things as transcendent truths that cross cultural bounds. Are there laws- natural or otherwise- that are part of all humanity's spiritual and social DNA? We get into the issue of not wanting to "impose" our "values" or "truths" on other people who have a right to their own "values" and "truths." SO we end up not wanting to hear anyone speak of "truth" or "values."

Unfortunately, there is no easily understandable answer to this dilemma. Not because there may be no such thing as "truth" but because no matter how we come to look at it, we bring our own biases. Even when someone says that something appears to be a universal truth, someone who disagrees will say so. Take for example, the idea that humans are "spiritual" beings. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung said that because it is found in all cultures in one form or another, the idea of a god or higher power or a spiritual realm was a universal human experience. Which immediately raised the anger of those who said they never had such an experience so how could it be universal?

What we come to, then, is a paradox and perhaps even something that borders on being an oxymoron, a double negative, self-defeating idea. There may be universal truths but they are always clothed in the language and experience of specific cultures.

What does this have to do with anything this week? I have no idea, other than the quote sounded powerful. And it causes me to be cautious about making sure I am willing to be a learner as well as a teacher when dealing with the differences in culture and understanding of people and why they believe and do what they do.

As a Christ-follower, a disciple of the one I believe is the incarnation of universal truth, I cannot and must not deny Him and His ultimate universal authority. But I do always come with great humility knowing that what I know is only a small part of a greater whole. I see only very, very dimly and I know only very, very little. May I keep aware that the greatest and most universal truth may always be love.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Now Showing...
This week's Christian Carnival is now posted over at The Fringe. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader takes us to some interesting locales. Have a look.

Insight into Illness and Health
Being "laid up" this past week with my bad back has given me a new perspective on life. Nothing profound, just some thoughts. Of course it is not the first time I have had an extended "down time." I have had a bout with pneumonia and a really bad siege with my back a couple of times. But here it is- summertime and my living is not easy. It is hard to sit around and have people do things for me. It is hard to watch someone else mow the lawn. It is hard to call someone to say, "Hey, can you plant some flowers in my yard for me?" Those are things I enjoy doing and I am having trouble not doing them.

But just as importantly, or with just as much frustration, is the guilt that I keep feeling about sitting here feeling fine (when I don't move too much) and not being able to go to work. I guess I have the thought in my mind that I have to be feeling lousy all over in order for it to count as "sick leave." Not being able to walk more than ten yards isn't bad enough. I guess I am also fairly programmed by society that men are to "tough it out! Work through the pain!"

Well, I haven't been able to do that. Not when the excitement of the day is going (by car, of course) to the drive-through at McDonalds.

But, as I wrote that last line the story of the man at the pool came to mind. He was helpless and couldn't manage to move fast enough to get to the healing waters. So the healing waters became incarnate in Jesus and came to him. I also thought of the passage in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus points to the lillies (the flowers I want to plant, by the way) and the birds. See how your Father in heaven takes care of them? How much more can and will He do for you?

So I sit here and whine for a while. And I hear the words that Jesus asked- Do you want to get well? In that is also an implied comment- If so, then quit your whining and get on with life. It is all around you whether you are sick or well, happy or sad, in pain or not. What you do with that life is up to you.

Update: Had an MRI yesterday but won't have the results for a few days, I guess. The pain is as strong as it was before taking the medications. Just have to be patient- and I want to be patient RIGHT NOW!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

A Dream
I had a dream the other night that fit with all the watching of the Tour- and lots of other stuff as well. I don't remember all the details but I do remember an event- a theme. I climbed higher without fear than I had ever done before. It was in some kind of structure and I was on one of the upper levels. To get to the top you had to go up a long ramp-like walkway. It wasn't steps- it was an incline. There were railings and it was safe, all things that I knew. Yet it took a lot of courage to overcome fear in order to climb to the top. In the dream I did it.

Most things in life are like that- and not like the Tour de France. It is simply us going against our own individual limitations, fears, shortcomings. It is not for the glory of winning some big, famous event. It is not getting our name into either local or national history books. It is how each of us does in our own lives in facing and dealing with the things that life throws at us. It is not so much that Lance Armstrong won six Tour championships- it is almost more to the point that he did it after being a cancer survivor. It is also the wonderful woman I once knew. She was in her early 80s when she was told she had cancer. The nurse then asked her if she wanted a tranquilizer to settle her nerves after the news. "No," she said, "God and I have some talking to do and I won't be able to do it if I take that pill."

To make the climb, even knowing it is safe, is not always easy. When we put on the mask of bravado we hide the truth of ourselves... that we are struggling and working daily to overcome the things within us that keep us back. We want to stay in our seemingly safe and secure boxes. We want to make sure that the world around us is explainable and tame. But that it never is. Then we reach the top of whatever the struggle is that we are curently working on. We move past it, through it, around it-or turn to see if there is another way.

No. Not usually. I was real whiney yesterday about my pain and bother from the back problem. Later today I will be having an MRI done to see if there is something serious that needs to be attended to. As I was feeling sorry for myself a colleague called to explain why they hadn't answered the phone. They had been a witness to- and marginally involved in- a major auto accident on a nearby road. There were probably falatities. My colleague had to stand around and comfort herself and others as the EMTs worked. My colleague admitted to be in shock.

All of a sudden my life took on a different dimension. It is just one more day of a climb. With God - I will make it. It's all I have. One day- today. I might as well enjoy it.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Notes to Note
Andrew Careaga just can't get enough of his blogging habit. Go see his latest,

Follow the DNC with the DNC 2004 Weblog Aggregator. (And hope the GOP does the same.) Actually, I can hardly wait to see what Jon Stewart and The Daily Show have to say about it all!

Don't forget The Command Post- the ultimate in newsblogging.

Reflecting on the Tour
I have never watched the Tour de France before. I was entranced by it. Like any major atheletic event it is incredible to watch atheletes who are at the top of their form and style. Watching Barry Bonds in baseball, Brett Favre in football, Michael Jordan in Basketball makes me wonder about the limits of human endurance that they have to transcend in order to be among the greatest of their sport. Watching the Tour de France had something different.

In the time trials on Saturday, for example, there was this solid hour and a quarter of nothing but pedaling as hard and as consistently as possible. Words like concentration, intensity, determination, come to mind. Seeing the close-up shots of faces staring or legs pumping made me stop in awe of what a human being is able to do. "Like every Tour de France rider he gave everything he could" said one of the announcers.

The incredible beauty of it all was also obvious. Whether it was those incredible shots of the Alps or the aerial shot of the Arc d'Triomphe with the cyclists approaching. The scenery and sights were not the reasons the cyclists were there, though. They were there to race and prove something. 147 cyclists only a few of whom even had a chance to a place in cycling history. The rest were there just to be there or to be a support for the leader of their team. After 2000 miles in 20 days pedaling at 50 - 60 km/h, just to finish is quite an achievement.

Then there's Lance Armstrong, the current superman of this sport and perhaps most sports. A cancer survivor now racing at 49 km/h in the Stage 19 Time Trial, winning a record 6th Tour in a row. Semingly untouchable, unbeatable. For now. After all, remember Tiger Woods who couldn't lose a major if he tried is being beat regularly. Or the mighty LA Lakers or Chicago Bulls. Or the much feared Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. Sooner or later they are all beatable. The time comes when their superpower status falls to injury, problems, or just plain age.

But while they can, they dedicate their lives to whatever it is that has driven them to be this good. Yes, they are driven. No one would do what they do to their bodies just on a whim. Like the top musicians, artists, business leaders, politicians, factory workers, counselors, and all who work hard at their jobs. There is a need to go beyond the normal, the every day. There is the vision that looks ahead and sees something that very few can even dream of seeing let alone achieving.

Which takes sacrifice. Most of us- myself included- don't know much about sacrifice. I know I have had it easy. Even with my trumpet playing, it is easier to take third parts instead of having to practice to play the firsts. Lance Armstrong- and all the great atheletes- open up for us a window into the amazing results that discipline and devotion can do.

As a Christ-follower, I am at times even unwilling to give up a few minutes of sleep to pray or read the Bible. That, too, takes the kind of discipline that I saw pedaling the roads in France these past few days. I am humbled.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Jesus' Teaching on Prayer
First a couple thoughts on prayer found on other sites (with help from Textweek):

"In general, prayer is a form of communication with someone who is considered to be in charge of life. For most believers, God is in charge of life and everything. Americans, who take pride in their scientific abilities and achievements, have gradually reduced the areas of life of which God is in charge. Only in extreme cases do Americans (turn) to God regarding needs in the economy, health, space conquest, and so on. This is one reason why American believers sometimes find it difficult to pray." Mediterranean and American Prayer by John J. Pilch,
Second from Preaching Peace, Michael Hardin and Jeff Krantz:
"The “petitions” of the Lord’s Prayer are not then petitions in the traditional sense. They are affirmations of a present reality which remains out of sight to those still ensnared in the miasma of mimetic crises. To the one who has died and risen with Christ, all that is needed is given each day, no matter how it may seem to those looking on from outside the wonderful celebration of God’s saving.
Now the words as Luke has given them to us:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
He said to them, "When you pray, say:
" 'Father, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.' "

Short, to the point, no wasted words. Is this how Jesus himself prayed? Or is it the pattern he wants us to use? There are more words in the above quotes than there are in the prayer itself. But I liked those comments. Yes- we have taken over for God in most of our lives. It is only when faced with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that we turn to the all-powerful Creator. We preach a gospel of success by the way we live ignoring the very simple requests of this powerful prayer.

But as the second quote above points out, the prayer is far more than asking and getting. It assumes a future that starts in the here and now. It assumes that our God will be in charge- no matter what- and that we will be supplied with all we need. We don't have to beg, we don't have to grovel, we don't have to pound on the door in the middle of the night. Back to Luke:
Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, 'Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'
"Then the one inside answers, 'Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
The key is in the word needs. Not give him as much as he wants. It is need that triggers a parent's reponse, especially in less affluent times and places. It seems at first to be simply peristence that will cause God to give in. I don't think that's what it's about. It is about the relationship that comes from knowing another person is in need. It is a response of a relationship! So it is to be with us and God. He is not the great santa claus in the sky or the doting grandparent. No, he is the one who knows what we need. Even when we have no idea what in the world we are talking about.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Razzle Dazzle
I have been intrigued by the song, Razzle Dazzle from the play and movie, Chicago. Here's part of it.

Give 'em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle 'em
Give 'em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate
Give 'em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather 'em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
What if your hinges all are rusting?
What if, in fact, you're just disgusting?
Razzle dazzle 'em
And they'll never catch wise!
It's not unlike the quote from the movie Catch Me If You Can where Leo DeCaprio's character explains to the Tom Hanks detetective that the New York Yankees are not all that good a ball club. It's all in the pinstripes.Yet we often feel that in order to get people into church we have to do an equivalent of "razzle dazzle" or "pin stripes."

This thought came through the other day as I was listening to the Chicago cast recording and passed a church with a Vacation Bible School sign outside. Every year the publishers come up with interesting and exciting ideas of VBS. They put cute and catchy phrases together to get the kids (?) attention so they will want to come to that cool VBS. There's a kind of bait and switch to that on a very gentle and purposeful level. Get them there with the ideas and advertising and then slip 'em the Gospel. Of course people know it's a church and that if they go there they will get something "religious" so it is a bait and switch that they collaborate in.

But you know, I am beginning to wonder about all the time and effort we put into putting on a "good show." Elsewhere in the blogosphere from time to time there are discussions on the Sunday morning "show" we call worship. I am being cynical, but how is that all that different from razzle dazzle? All the time and significant talent and a great deal of energy goes into one hour of the week. The old standard in preaching class was that you put in one hour for every minute of the finished sermon. Add to that today the countless hours spent in picking from all kinds of music, the need for in-depth rehearsals, and the prep time for that- well, it is a great deal of time for that one hour.

Are we trying to get people's attention for us? Are we trying to show how well we do worhsip or how talented we are? We can say that isn't true, but just suggest that we don't need to have that kind of worship or that amount of time could be spent in other mission and ministry- and you will start a war. Which is why I am mentally, at least, moving more toward small group/house church ministry as the lead-in to mission.

Because under it all for me is a frightening question:
Who - or what- may be getting lost in the razzle dazzle?
Give 'em the old flim flam flummox
Fool and fracture 'em...
How can they hear the truth above the roar?

Long Week Coming to a Close
Well, let's see- there were....
..: 3 chiropractor visits....
..: 2 accupuncture treatments....
..: 1 visit to the MD which resulted in....
..: lots of pills (especially for one who never takes medicine.

But things do seem to be getting a little better. Time will tell. If I don't over do it. As I tend to do. Thanks for the prayers and support!

Friday, July 23, 2004

The Next Generation
     Earlier in the week I posted some thoughts on Mary, Martha, and Amos from my sermon last Sunday at a nearby church.  I talked about the way these two passages combine to give us a full picture of what spirituality truly is- a full combination of the vertical connection with God and the horizonal with each other in relationship and service.  In the rest of the sermon I talked about how I have discovered the powerful truth of these passages in young adults- twenty-somethings in the past 10 years.

     Now, you can’t lump such a large and diverse group together and say anything with any certainty that describes the whole group.  Any statement can find someone or some group to disprove it.  So let me speak in broad generalities.  These are things I have learned first hand as well as some fairly standard and widely accepted understandings of young adults in this early 21st Century.  For one they are probably among the most spiritually seeking and spiritually interested group of people I have met in my 30 years in ministry.

     Whether in the church or not, whether Christian believers or not, their view of the spiritual encompasses the two scriptures this morning- the need for balance between service and contemplation for BOTH are spiritual activities.
..:: Young adults are looking for both knowledge and experience of the Sacred.
..:: They are looking for both integrity and commitment from those who would seek to teach them, lead them, or work with them- people who walk the walk, not just talk the talk.
..:: They are looking for community, meaning and hope in life and aren’t afraid to admit it.
..:: They don’t want to sit around and talk about mission- they want to actively be doing it.

Yet they are deeply suspicious of religion.  Overall, they are probably the first truly majpr unchurched generation in western history. In a passage from Stuart Murray in a book called The End of Christendom (which I also posted earlier this week) is saw the truth of that:

"In a London school a teenager with no church connections hears the Christmas story for the first time. His teacher tells it well and he is fascinated by this amazing story. Risking his friends’ mockery, after the lesson he thanks her for the story. One thing had disturbed him, so he asks: ‘Why did they give the baby a swear-word for his name?”
That is not an isolated story.  I had a very similar thing happen to me once.  It reminded me that we have an incredibly rich harvest of seeking souls just waiting for the excitement of the Good News.  But they aren’t looking for institutional religion that does it the way it’s always been done.

Some of course are still in the church.  These have often had positive and significant spiritual experiences provided them by the church.  These experiences almost always involve
..:: a community of young people and even older adults in one of the following:
..:: camp,
..:: a youth group that does more than play games, or
..:: a mission and/or service project or trips.

But even those still in the church are watching closely. They know that the society has changed so drastically in the last 20 years that there is no going back- and they want to move forward.  They are often tired of the bickering and negative talk they hear by good church members. They would agree with the words of Amos. Live what you pray. They see many Marthas- busy, busy, busy but not about spiritual matters or in service and mission.  Pray as you live.  These young adults will significantly impact the future of many mainline churches.  Prayer is at the heart of it, especially starting among formerly unchurched young adults.

In England a few years ago a young pastor of 20-somethings found out about a prayer revival that had taken place over 250 years earlier.  There was a little known town in Germany called Herrnhut where in 1727 a small group of about as many Moravians as there are in Carver County- started a 24 hour prayer watch that eventually lasted 24/7/365 for 100 years..  This pastor, in a new book entitled Red Moon Rising, describes what happened to him when he first went to Herrnhut in July, 1999:

It became clear that members of this sheltered, rural community had been shot out like rockets all over the world.  Somehow the power of prayer had turned a very ordinary community into an extraordinary group of pioneers… who had touched the ends of the earth….  For the Moravians, it was the culmination of a process of renewal [and] the beginning of a movement that would rewrite modern history…. But, I was struck by how normal [Herrnhut] was.  There wasn’t a radioactive glow around the village, and I didn’t have any supernatural encounter.  Just the nagging thought that if they could do it, maybe we could, too.

The miraculous result is a movement that in these less than 5 years has spread around the world, starting with young 20-somethings. Mostly new Christians, never having been in church, with spiked hair, piercings, tattoos and grunge or Goth clothing, became the instruments of God in starting prayer rooms and what is called the 24/7 Prayer Movement.  I looked it up on the Internet as I was writing this and right now, this weekend:

  • A group from the Philippines is nearing the end of one month of 24-7 prayer,
  • another group in Ethiopia is one month into a planned full year, and
  • just up the road in Bloomington students at the Bloomington Baptist Church have just begun a month of 24 hour a day prayer. 

Those are just three of the 25 groups listed on the home page. More are starting every week.

       Here we have the image of Mary, on her knees, with the presence of her Lord.  But at the same time we have Amos- calling people to make a difference.  Brennan Manning is quoted in the book after he visited a 24-7 prayer room:

the most powerful thing that can happen in the place of prayer is that you yourself become the prayer.  You leave the prayer room as Jesus’ hands and feet on earth.

       We Moravians have known how to do that.  We have known how to be a community of integrity and Christians hearts united in love.  We have known how to be on our knees in prayer, ceaseless prayer.  We have known how to become that prayer alive in mission.  Our history is still having that impact.  I pray that we can, too as we move from the busyness of an institution, distracted from the things of the Spirit into deep living in God’s presence.  I pray that we can, too, as we move from the quiet and joy of His presence into a life that reflects our prayers.  The young adults are asking for our leadership while showing us the way.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Civilized Incivility
Yesterday, June 21, was the anniversary of the first battle of the US Civil War in 1861.  Known as the first battle of Bull Run (or Manassas), it took place not far from the US capital of Washington, D.C.  As a result the elite and social butterflies headed out of the city for a most civil day of picnic and sun to see the Confederates get beaten silly by the Union.

Can you imagine their surprise when what they saw was a real battle in what was to become a horrifcally bloody war of four years duration?  Can you imagine their shock when the Union was roundly defeated and only some grace or good luck kept the Confederate forces from following the shocked picnickers back into D.C. and winning the war? 

I thought of the way we see and report wars today.  In some ways it has come full circle.  We don't have to pack our picnic baskets and go out for a leisurely afternoon at the war.  We just have to microwave our dinner, place it on the TV tray and turn on the news.  We can even get closer than our picnic basket-carrying ancestors.  We get up close and personal.  Or if we want to get really up close, there's always the Internet.

There are those who think that it was this kind of up close reporting in Vietnam- bringing the death and destruction into our living rooms every evening- that helped raise the anti-war attitudes in the mid- to late-Sixties.  That reporting hasn't changed a whole lot.  In fact we probably see scenes that would have been cut from the newscasts 35 - 40 years ago.  Just as TV and the movies have generally become more explicit and violent, so has the news reporting.  It doesn't seem to be having the impact we thought it did then.  Have we just become used to it - or isn't it as much a deterrent as we peace-people thought it was back then? 

Talk About a Strong Man One of the better things about being home trying to recuperate is I got to see yesterday's time trial segment of the Tour de France.  It was grueling, uphill, and incredible to watch.  Jan Ullrich with a heavy bike and a slower stroke barrelling- no- steamrolling his way up the mountain.  To say the least it was quite a sight to see as he just muscled his way through.

Then there was Lance Armstrong on the way to a potential 6th straight Tour de France win.  He was a different kind of biker than Ullrich, but just as wonderful to watch.  As he pressed for that extra ounce (maybe even several ounces) of strength at the end was watching a man who knew whatv he wanted and was ready to grab it.  A truly remarkable human being!

Bummer of a Couple Days
I have been home from work the past couple of days with a severe back pain problem.  Don't know what it is yet, but I do know that walking from the living room to the bedroom (35 feet or so) is a new experience in pain and trying to walk that I have never had before.  I have had back problems on and off for years.  It never repeats in the same way. Each time is new and unique.

This one started with the simple act of placing an empty gas can on the ground.  Yes, I even bent my knees, but I moved just ever so slightly to the side and ZZZAAPP went somethin on the lower right side.

It's been eleven days and counting.  So far the chirorpactor has been fooled, ultra-sound and electro-stimulation have done nothing, and two days of a muscle relaxer and prednisone are still powerless over it.  One time about 10 years ago I came close to having back surgery.  I sure hope it isn't heading that direction this time.

But, hey, it only hurts when I stand or walk.  So I sit at the computer and write and read and surf.  Time will tell.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Old New Frontier
Was reminiscing about July 20, 1968 when Neil Armstrong took that first step on the moon in the middle of the night in Pennsylvania. It was quite a moment.

I had been on the air that afternoon when they landed and of course we went to the ABC radio network for their coverage. I watched a TV in the newsroom while the announcers, and NASA people, and the astronauts kept us entranced. Later that night we sat at home into the wee hours to see the most incredible sight we had probably ever seen... a real man on the moon.

After ABC radio sent it back to the local stations I played an old Kingston Trio song that was originally written to celebrate the election of John F. Kennedy and his "new frontier." Kennedy, of course, was the one who made the seemingly crazy pledge to put a man on the moon by the end of the Sixties.

Some to the rivers and some to the sea.
Some to the soil that our fathers made free.
Then on to the stars in the heav'ns for to see.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.

Let the word go forth from this day on.
A new generation has been born.
Born to the task to keep us free,
but proud of the rights of the home country.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.


Let us begin for it shall take long.
Let ev'ry man sing out freedom's song.
Not for ourselves that we take this stand.
Now it's the world and the freedom of man.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.

The day will come. It's got to be.
The day that we may never see.
When man for man and town for town
must bring the peace that shall resound.
This is the new frontier. This is the new frontier.

Words and Music- John Stewart (not that one) and The Kingston Trio

But, of course, John Kennedy was long gone by that July day. As were Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and a lot of young men in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam. The New Frontier had morphed into the Great Society had morphed into Richard Nixon as president. The day before the Eagle landing at Tranquility Base, a car driven by Sen. Ted Kennedy would drive off a bridge killing his companion, Mary Jo Kopechne. A few weeks after this historic date, Woodstock would also make history.

But the landing on the moon was probably the last great event of the "New Frontier" and of the hope that we had all placed in the young president. As we watched entranced we probably were mourning the lost innocence and lost hopes of a generation. We had done this- but were failing in so many other ways.

It was the end of dreams that would have one last celebration in a festival of peace and love on Max Yasgur's farm before the violence and polarization that had already killed the Sixties took over.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

This Happened to Me, Too
We in the church can easily forget that there are a lot of non-Christians in the world- even in our backyards.  Now I know it sounds hard to believe that there could be anyone who doesn't know that "Jesus Christ" is the name of a person who lived a long time ago.  But as this anecdote says it does happen...

"In a London school a teenager with no church connections hears the Christmas story for the first time. His teacher tells it well and he is fascinated by this amazing story. Risking his friends’ mockery, after the lesson he thanks her for the story. One thing had disturbed him, so he asks: ‘Why did they give the baby a swear-word for his name?' " (link from Len at Next Reformation, from The End of Christendom by Stuart Murray)
Hard to belive, I know. But don't put it off to having happened in London where there are a lot fewer church goers than in the United States. I had a similar thing happen to me when a student stopped reading a Bible passage, looked at me and said- "I can't read that next word. I'm not allowed to say that." Whether we are willing to admit it or not, we are probably in the midst of having the very first majority unchurched generation in western history since the late middle ages at least.  We are not attracting them back, either, in the institutional religions.  But they are out there, waiting and perhaps even praying for us to understand them and go with them into a new spiritual future.

Monday, July 19, 2004

A Wake Up Call
Talk about getting hit up the side of the head.  I picked up the book of Love Poems from God the other evening just for relaxation and meditation and this is the one I opened to:
I Had to Seek the Physician

I had to seek the Physician
because of the pain this world
I could not believe what happened when I got there -
I found my
Before I left, he said,
"Up for a little homework, yet?"
"Okay," I replied.
"Well then, try thanking all the people
who have caused
you pain.
They helped you
come to
(Kabir, c. 1440-1518, India.  From Love Poems from God,
translated by Daniel Ladinsky. Copyright 2002)
Even when I hate to acknowledge it, this is one of the great truisms of the spiritual life.  Often, if it were not for the circumstances that just kick me in the head, throw me around, and drive me to my knees in desperation, I wouldn't find myself any closer to God and God's grace.  These are times and places that make me remember that I am a poor, powerless human being dependent on God for all that is important in my life.  Sometimes my "prayer" of gratitude starts out more like Job's- through clenched teeth, grunting out the words- "the Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the Lord's Name."  But sooner or later I have to come to recognize the truth.  When I am challenged and hurting and unable to cure myself (which is most of the time!) is usually when I turn to God and grow.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Mary, Martha, and Amos:
A Full Spiritual Life
Which is better? Practicing hospitality or practicing contemplation? Mary sits at the feet of the Teacher and listens. Martha scolds her sister for not helping. Jesus says that Mary’s is the better way.

In Greek it is clear that Martha’s attitude was what made the difference. Martha was distracted- she let her busyness get in the way of other stuff. It isn’t that hospitality isn’t good- it’s the attitude we bring to it, especially if it distracts us from the deeper things.

Interestingly this is a story that is only found in Luke’s Gospel- and it follows a story that is only found in Luke’s Gospel- the Good Samaritan- and it comes right before what may be the most used section of the NT- the Lord’s Prayer. When we put this story into that context Luke gave it, it seems to serves as a literary and spiritual bridge between doing for others- and keeping in close contact with God. It connects both sides of the spiritual life- the horizontal with our neighbor and the vertical with God. The Good Samaritan shows what it means to be a loving neighbor in service. In the next chapter Jesus will open up the simple and powerful secret of prayer through His own example of prayer. Luke ties them together with Martha- the worker and Mary- the listener. Do what you do with the right attitude but don’t neglect the inner life of prayer. Both are essential halves of the one great commandment.

Which is the same message from Amos. The Prophets are blunt. They don’t pull any punches.

4Listen to this, you who rob the poor and trample the needy! 5You can't wait for the Sabbath day to be over and the religious festivals to end so you can get back to cheating the helpless. You measure out your grain in false measures and weigh it out on dishonest scales. 6And you mix the wheat you sell with chaff swept from the floor! Then you enslave poor people for a debt of one piece of silver or a pair of sandals. … 10I will turn your celebrations into times of mourning, and your songs of joy will be turned to weeping.
Amos was a shepherd in Tekoa who was given a message for his own people. He’s not Jonah heading off to those awful people in Ninevah. He’s not talking to heathen- these are God’s people. They faithfully observe the festivals and Sabbath- they religiously observe them. But their attitude is wrong. They can hardly wait until it’s over to go back to their lying, cheating and stealing. This is the flip side of the Mary and Martha story. These are the “spiritual people” ignoring the social and ethical consequences of their faith and having a poor attitude about their spiritual lives.

Put these two passages together and you have a strong reminder that life with God- the spiritual life- is always more than we are willing to accept- and always open to far more than we can even imagine. We can so easily get caught in our own ways and ideas and directions that we miss out on the work of God going on around us.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Identity Crisis? Who Us?
Lucy in a comment on yesterday's post notied the obvious that I missed..

That's quite an image you got. A desperate grunge who wears gold. Do you ever have identity crises?
As a matter of fact, that may be my biggest problem. I can tend to be a chameleon, changing style and stripes to meet the need of the environment. I would like to think that this is just trying to live up to Paul's call to be all things to all people so that in any way possible I may be able to bring some to Jesus. But most of the time I have a feeling it is just that I am a person of broad interests and interesting (or not) paradoxes. At least the gold I wear is "understated."

On Kobe and the NBA
Came across this through Google News yesterday morning from SFGate:
Bryant's selfishness creates a new NBA by Bruce Jenkins

The Los Angeles Lakers have just been humiliated and dismantled by a man about to stand trial on a sexual assault charge. The man stands there smiling, as if he is king, while the owner sips wine in Italy and rejoices over the wonderful vacation he's having. In the ruins lies a once-great franchise and the makings of a new league, not necessarily as interesting as it was before.

With two pathetic strokes of inconceivable selfishness, Kobe Bryant created a new NBA.
I have refrained from saying anything about this case- partly out of an inability to come to a coherent way of saying it and partly out of frustration over the whole sports super star syndrome. But this article was right to the point. All during the playoffs the announcers were commenting about the amazing ability Bryant had in having to appear at a hearing in the morning and then play basketball at night. Seeing Shaq (one of the all-time greats!!) get upset because he wasn't being allowed to play the ball because of Kobe was sad.

To allow one player to be coddled, mollified, and given such power is beyond me. He does not deserve it. Yes, he is a potentially great ballplayer. He has a way to go to become the great human being that he also has the potential to be. Innocent or guilty of the legal charges, as a role model he has some growing to do.
I know that many of my heroes have had clay feet- Mickey Mantle was an alcoholic, Babe Ruth was a womanizer, Brett Favre has had substance abuse issues, Kirby Puckett has faced a messy divorce and other charges. I gather Ty Cobb was at best an SOB.  I am not asking them- or Kobe- to be perfect.  I am just asking the rest of us to not expect more from them than they are able to give- nor to give them such power to control the destiny of an entire team or perhaps league.

Friday, July 16, 2004

A Wandering Day
From Len at Next Reformation:

An Interview with NT Wright

CR: I suspect one response would be that abortion is the defining moral issue of our times. If we can't protect unborn life, this argument runs, we can't protect anyone or anything.

W: This is where I really would get quite angry with that point of view. Though I happen to agree with the stance on abortion, it seems blindingly obvious that it is not the big moral issue of our time. Global debt and the economic systems that were set up in 1944 with the Breton Woods Agreement, to slope the table so the money slides into the pockets of the Western banking system, at the cost of keeping most of the world in unpayable debt, seems to me as big a moral issue as slavery was 200 years ago."

An excerpt from an interview with NT Wright by the National Catholic Reporter.

It is interesting how certain issues become the HotButton issues in any society. We have ours centered around abortion and now the Marriage Amendment and its various sidelines. Has there ever been a culture that had as its main issue and litmus test - the treatment of the poor and the economic reality of the world where, in most cases, the rich get richer- the poor get poorer- and where there is a middle class, they get squeezed. Sadly I have a hunch it won't be the deciding issue of this year's elections.'

My REAL Personality
It has been a long time since I have done an online personality test. Found the link to this one at Jared Keller's Exultate Justi blog. It's called 20 Questions to a Better Personality. Here's me:

Wackiness: 46/100
Rationality: 34/100
Constructiveness: 60/100
Leadership: 66/100

You are an SECL--Sober Emotional Constructive Leader. This makes you a politician. You cut deals, you change minds, you make things happen. You would prefer to be liked than respected, but generally people react to you with both. You are very sensitive to criticism, since your entire business is making people happy.
At times your commitment to the happiness of other people can cut into the happiness of you and your loved ones. This is very demanding on those close to you, who may feel neglected. Slowly, you will learn to set your own agenda--including time to yourself.

You are gregarious, friendly, charming and charismatic. You like animals, sports, and beautiful cars. You wear understated gold jewelry and have secret bad habits, like chewing your fingers and fidgeting.

You are very difficult to dislike.

One More Test....
My 90s Subculture

Which 1990's Subculture Do You Belong To?

[Another Quiz by Kris
Actually, it didn't come as too much of a surprise to me.  I was grunge back when it was known as "hippie."

Psalm 34 Blog
Rudy Carrasco has set up a blog to help all of us praying keep up with his son Sam who has leukemia.  I know how helpful prayers are in a time like this- and how good it is to write about it.  Rudy and Sam and their family are in special need.  May God richly and fully surround and gather them together in love. 

I started this with economics and ended with illness.  In between I just got silly.  Sometimes I have a difficult time not being the court jester to keep things from getting too heavy.   One of those things that at least keeps me sane is humor.  All the things which I think are so important are a joke when we face the big issues of living on little income in sub-standard housing- or of serious illness to a loved one.  But to see all of life is important.  So, while I may get irreverent at times, it may only be to keep my heart from breaking and throwing up my hands in utter futility. 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Architechture Providing the Sacred
It doesn't necessarily fit the "modern" mindset, but I wonder about the place of sacred architecture in the postModern mindset. This came in a discussion today with a co-worker talking about her experiences in going into a Catholic Church. Her comment was that she has never gone into one where she didn't feel the presence of the holy. It had nothing to do with the ritual or the worship, it was the space itself that gave her the experience of the presence of the sacred.

I can say that I would probably have to agree. The spiritual highlights of our trip to Spain two years ago would almost entirely revolve around sacred buildings- cathedrals and churches- all of which were Catholic. All of which were awesome in size, in feel, in Presence. That is why they were built so big. You are supposed to feel "overwhelmed" in a cathedral. You are supposed to feel the awe of the presence of God in that place. It is not about the "consecration" of the space, it is about the very architecture.

Modern churches don't give the same feel. Willow Creek and Saddleback are wonderful sanctuaries, but I didn't get a feeling of the Holy or Sacred in the space. I didn't walk in to those buildings and want to fall on my knees in prayer. Part of it, I think a major part of it, is the design. We are meant to feel "comfortable" or "at home" in those places. They remind us of malls and food courts and gymnasiums and entertainment auditoriums or venues. Nothing wrong with that, don't get me wrong. It has a proper place. Or at least it did. But there is no sense of mystery and wonder and majesty and the power of God.

The postModern mind is often looking for those things. The postModern mind is often more open to hearing and seeing those things. It is the spiritual openness of the postModern worldview that gives me hope that we are actually moving closer to the presence of God than further away. As long as we have sacred places where the Presence of God can be experienced, we are moving in the right directions.

The Christian Carnival
Karen Marie at From the Anchor Hold is this week's host of the Christian Carnival. This pmPilgrim even got around to submitting a post this week. As usual the whole thing is worth the read.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Prayer Request
Rudy Carrasco's four-year old son, Samuel, is in the hospital with Leukemia. May our God of grace and love be with them. Link.

Dangerous Christianity
Darryl at The Dying Church had a quote from Mike Yaconelli's book Dangerous Wonder that he found through Backyard Missionaries:

What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside down? What happened to the category smashing, life threatening anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever he went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude who everyday were unable to get over the grace of God?

I'm ready for a Christianity that ruins my life that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment that is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and... well... dangerous! Yes I want to be dangerous to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered dangerous by our predictable and monotonous culture. (Mike Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder)
Let me pull some of those words out:
    ~~ un-nice
      ~~ category smashing
        ~~ anti-institutional
          ~~ hearts on fire
            ~~ no fear
              ~~ filled with passion
                ~~ unable to get over the grace of God

Now, when was the last time you used those words to describe Christianity as you know it. Sure, we may hear stories about that from the past (John Hus, Martin Luther) or some modern prophets (Mother Theresa, Clarence Jordan) but in your average, Sunday-morning-at-church kind of place?

Or how about me (and you) in the way we live our faith? Might we join with Mike in wishing to be:
  ~~ dangerous to a dull and boring religion
    ~~ dangerous to a predictable and monotonous culture
      ~~ uncomfortable with life as it is
        ~~ filled with astonishment each and every day
          ~~ considered unpredictable?

Ah, but we have so many things to consider- job, family, security, future, retirement plan, being liked. It is dangerous to us- and not just the way things are. And that is scary. But to be involved in something that I can be passionate about, to be involved in something that makes a difference in people's lives beyond a few moments on Sunday can be a life-changing experience in and of itself that produces more and more life-changing experiences.

I realize that these are not new thoughts- they have been asked in various forms for all 2000 years of the followers of Jesus. We are always going to be struggling to find the ways to live as disciples in each new culture and each new generation. The answers can be found in prayer and in community, in God's Word and the Holy Spirit's work of discernment within us and that community. Some of the answers will look just like the old answers for some people. Others will be new and so far beyond the box they may have trouble making sense.

In the end I want to be known as a disciple- a follower- of Jesus. I don't want to have had the best church or the best sermons or the nicest sanctuary or the tastiest covered dish dinners. I want it to be said- here was one who truly sought Jesus will in his own life, even when that meant being outside the institution of the established church. God's grace is at work in our world. This is a remarkably spiritual day and age. Jesus has probably already gone there to prepare our way.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Dealing With Death and a New Orleans-style Funeral
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I seem to be dealing with death a lot recently. My trip to Pennsylvania was to spend time with a friend whose wife died in February. My sister-in-law's mother just died. The second oldest member of our church just died. Another friend's mother died last week as did the sister of another close friend. I have also been dealing with the serious illness of a 26-year old. I came home from Pennsylvania and my wife commented that it was like I had been on a five-day funeral trip.

It was truly affecting me. Grief is real. Grief is powerful. It cannot and should not be minimized. But I needed one of those God kicks in the head again. Naturally it happened. Yesterday I bought the latest album from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. I bought it for the selection of music- hymns done New Orleans-style.

It is called Funeral for a Friend. On the album the Dirty Dozen use music that is standard for a New Orleans-style jazz funeral. It is wonderful music. It doesn't have the high polish of a lot of recordings. It is real and down and dirty spirituality. From the opening "first line" dirge style into the "second line" celebration, they give the feel of a funeral from their tradition. The gritty growl on John the Revelator is a powerful reminder of the raw emotions for survivors. It is not a "pretty picture" but rather is real. But it doesn't end there. For every gritty dirge is the celebration of I'll Fly Away or Down by the Riverside.

I was entranced by the music. I listened to it several times while driving yesterday and today. Until it finally hit me. I needed to experience this kind of funeral. It is more natural to my style than the overwhelmingly depressing style of In the Garden or the syrupy sweet emotions of so much that passes for funeral readings. This is music that is raw- as I said, just like emotions are at that time. This is music that gets into the soul, grabs it and says, "Yes, you hurt. But hold on. More is coming." And it does as the drums dig in, the trombones lead, the trumpets wail, and it's hard to keep from dancing. For on the other side of death we say is a place of celebration.

That's what I needed to hear. It is so easy to get stuck in our own loss or emotions or depression or worry or any of those other human emotions that overwhelm us. But down in New Orleans they found that the music can lead you through both ends of the spectrum as it expresses the grief so very well, but also the hope and joy that is given to us in Jesus. Yes we grieve. But as Paul put it so well, it is not the same kind of grief as the "unbelievers" who have no hope. So, as we leave the cemetery, the place of death, we celebrate. We dance. We party to help us get through it, but also to remember that death has lost its sting and the grave has no victory. Thanks be to God in Jesus our Lord.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Ghost of an American Icon

While in Bethlehem, PA, last week, my friend Ron and I made a visit to the South Side of town where for many, many years the Bethlehem Steel plant was the dominant site. When I arrived in Bethlehem in the mid-60s, Steel was still in full force, both for well and ill. The morning smog, the particulate matter on the cars, the constant sound of blast furnaces, open hearths and what-have-you. It also meant jobs and economy. Factories has summer jobs in those days for college students. They were tough jobs- real factory jobs- unskilled labor. Many of my friends worked at Steel for the summer. (I worked at a different factory one summer. It convinced me that I had to stay in school!) Bethlehem Steel Corp. was like a god. It had been there forever and would be around forever keeping the city's industry strong and vibrant.

Well, Bethlehem Steel does not exist in South Bethlehem any more.

All that's left are some empty buildings and rusting blast furnaces and gates overgrown with weeds. It was a difficult visit.

Ron, who had worked at Steel in several different capacities prior to 1971, could explain in detail the methods and purposes of all the areas. We took a picture from where the rolling mill used to stand. We looked at the incredibly tall structures that used to be noisy and hot and dirty. Some of them were built before WW II.

There were lots of reasons for the decline of Bethlehem Steel. Some had to do with the culture and attitudes of this particular company, others with the whole world steel industry, and still others with the tension between union and management. No matter what the causes, the result is what we see today... a Ghost Factory.

John Strohmeyer, Pulitzer Prize winning former editor of the Bethlehem Globe Times chronicled this in a book, Crisis in Bethlehem.

Jim Collins talks about it in his book, Good to Great where Bethlehem Steel was one of the companies that showed how not to go from good to great.

It was sad to see... and sad to listen to the stories Ron had to tell... and sad to think that manufacturing, as we used to know it, is harder and harder to do economically in the United States. I don't know what the impact will be on us as a nation. But I am sorry to see the impact it had on Bethlehem. In spite of her flaws, Bethlehem Steel was a grand and powerful place.

Pictures at my pmPilgrim Fotopage.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

A Must-Read by Many in the Church
Barky posted a powerful summary of not being in the church and what it means. Here are some of his observations that ring much too true:

People make a lot less effort with you; after all they need to invest their time and energy into spending time with people already in their church community. If you’re not in, you’ll be left out.
Church can be immensely activity and resource focussed. Concerned more about the product, the content and message and less about culture, context and individual lives.

Church places an economic value on you. When you leave you suddenly have little or nothing to contribute anymore. You are worth nothing unless you can contribute something or you are going to consume the ‘product’.

Timescales and timeframes of ‘activity’ are dictated from within the church. Those outside must comply.

Church (depending on the tradition) is predominately interested in morality and disinterested in spirituality.

Everything must be functional. There is very little space for the arts.
Thanks, Barky, for some keen insight. And Thanks to Jordon Cooper for the link.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

A Great Site
Thanks to Jordon Cooper-- The Living Room Candidate, presidential TV campaign commercials since 1952. Don't miss it!

Fact- or Fiction?
As many of you may already know- and I have for a while, also- the big best seller on the fiction charts is The DaVinci Code. I gather it is about some conspiracy or other that involves Jesus, the Church and the person next to Jesus in DaVinci's painting The Last Supper. Until it comes out in paperback, that is probably all I will know about it.

The problem is that a lot of people are reading it with an eye towards what it has to tell us about facts in history. Seminars and books and articles have popped up. There is a whole new market for the religious/historical conspiracy books. We are a people who always want to believe in conspiracies. Someone is out to get us. The government has all the answers hidden somewhere. The church has been hiding the truth about Jesus for two millenia. So this book must be true. It only says what we want to believe. Therefore, it is fact.

I am currently reading a book about murders in Boston in 1865 inspired by the different punishments in Hell described by Dante. (The Dante Club) The main characters include the poets Longfellow and Lowell and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. These were real people. But this did not happen. It is fiction. It is interesting and delves into the depths of the human soul (as Dante so powerfully did). It is a good read and insightful. But it didn't happen.

Why do we, then, persist in wanting to believe in books like DaVinci Code? See, we want to say, we have been duped. We have been led astray. We knew there was more to the story than we were told. We believe The DaVinci Code.

Yet, when given a book that clearly is based on history and explains the human condition, is interesting and a good read, and gives the directions and leads to salvation we want NOT to believe it. We have The Bible and want to prove it wrong or just throw it in the corner heap when we have the same two millenia of experience and hope and actual change in people's lives as a result of what is taught and explained. We believe a human writer like Dan Brown, but ignore the directions that we call God's Word.

It boggles the mind- although it does not surprise. We humans have been like this since the day Adam hid in Eden, Abraham lied about his wife, Moses wanted Aaron to go, the people wouldn't wait for Moses to return, the prophets of Baal thought they could call fire from heaven, and Peter swore he never knew Jesus.

It boggles the mind, but reminds us that there is more to sharing and living the Good News than quoting scriptures. It has to make sense in a life that is lived to the glory of God. It has to make sense in the community of people who live by His Name. It has to make sense in light of the overwhelming desire to turn away from it to our human mis-understandings.

Of course none of us has all those answers. We walk in faith, not sight, more often than not. But we do walk with God. That can be more than a matter of faith. That can be, according to Jesus' promise and two thousand years of witness, a matter of experience, strength and hope in each new day.

Friday, July 09, 2004

A Challenge to Pray
I am always intrigued (a nice way to say nosy) about what people are reading as I sit near them on an airplane. You have the usual range of current best-sellers and paperbacks. Lots of magazines and newspapers, of course. And once in a while, one that God uses to get your attention. Which is what happened on Monday on the flight home from Pennsylvania.

A young man, Army, going home on leave from the sounds of it was sitting across the aisle. Not unusual. Just before we were ready to leave the gate he reached up and got a book out of his carry-on and a highlighter marker. Gee, what is he reading? I glanced over and it was the book The Power of a Praying Husband by Stormie Omartian. Wow, I thought, a Christian and a young man not yet married (no ring) and reading the book. No, I didn't strike up a conversation. I tend to like my space on an airplane so I just continued reading my novel.

Then I started to get thinking. Maybe if I reach in a get out the book I have been reading on 24-7 prayer, he might notice it and ask. Showing off, is what you might want to call it. "Look at me. I'm reading about prayer, too!" So I did just that. I started to read where I left off...

And was blown away.

It was an early chapter about the author going to Herrnhut, Germany, to find out about the 24-7 prayer watch the Moravians were famous for in the 1700s and 1800s. Bang, came the 2x4 up the side of the head. Pow, came the Holy Spirit trying to catch my attention. I read and nearly wept. I was catching a glimpse of a vision that is right under my nose as a Moravian. It is THE history that began with 24-7 prayer for over 100 years that also produced the first Protestant mission movement from a village of only a few hundred people.

Today we wonder what we are supposed to be doing. Today we wonder where God is leading us or we argue (like so many others) over this issue or that issue or this music or that music or this carpet color or that carpet color. The spiritual heirs of Zinzendorf's prayer-filled vision (in the North America and Western Europe, at least) are shrinking.

It was a new insight in a growing vision for me. I forgot about showing off for the young man in the seat across the aisle. I sat in silence and meditation listening for the hints of God into my consciousness. It was another element in moving into a new ministry- beyond the box (as Bill Easum has described it) of institution, back into the work of prayer and life in a home church movement of some kind. Into a renewed vision of prayer as a way of life, that bounds and surrounds life. Into a vision of community that is interested first, last, and always in simply being disciples of this incredible teacher and Savior and Lord known as Jesus.

Isn't it odd (or at least exciting) when God breaks into life like that? It all started with wanting to show off and turned into God showing off to me about His love and grace. So now I will pray for more direction, more guidance. I will see where this is now beginning to lead.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

A Full Month
Today is the 30th day in a row for posts. I didn't go back over the 16 months of this blog to see if I have ever managed to do that before. But I had said I really wanted to try to do that and I have. [Pat on the back]

As I mentioned in one of the posts this past month, blogging has become a spiritual discipline that I have truly come to enjoy. So...

On with the next month.

Ramblings Around
I have not done a lot of leap-blogging in the past few months. I have my list of regulars, but even there I have not been spending a lot of time reading. It is more like catch-up. That is a summer thing, I think. I have been enjoying the summer- with time to work in the yard, band rehearsals and concerts, trips to all three of my home towns in the last month, and just enjoying the slower pace at work since schol is not in session.

So, let's ramble.

Quality at It's Best?
I have discovered from Andrew at Bloggedy Blog that Christian Idol wants to bring quality TV to Christian TV. And like Andrew I find myself asking, "So why are you doing Christian Idol?

So, "Gifted," a rip-off of "Idol," is going to be the type of "quality programming" that "Christian broadcasting has been waiting for desperately," eh?

This is unbelievable. Unbe-freakin'-lievable. When will the purported "leaders" of Christian media (this includes, books, movies, magazines, etc., not just television) stop trying to chase trends? The trends they chase are usually on their way to sinking over the horizon by the time Christian entertainment gets a clue, anyway. Link
Bloggered Blogger
Richard at Connexions noticed the troubles getting into Blogger recently. Like me, he and his commenters also thought it was just them. Michael at The Gutless Pacifist noticed the same thing.

The Modern Mind Is Alive and Well
Darryl down at the Dash House found a truly incredible quote in Christianity Today:
Discovering Noah's ark would be "the single greatest event since the resurrection of Jesus Christ," McGivern told reporters at an April news conference at the National Press Club in Washington. He told CT that discovering the ark would "solidify the faith of many Christians." Even more importantly, he hopes "many people who don't have faith will come to faith."
Well, Darryl didn't comment other than a wonderful title:I would have thought Pentecost would have rated up there, but who am I? but I just can't forego a postModern comment.

For the modern mind the most important religious events would naturally be around the issue of finding "proof" and "evidence" and "facts" for the inquiring and scientific mind. Nothing is more frustrating that a verdict without evidence that can't be proven. It is the whole modern mindset that is just as evident in conservative and fundamentalist Christianity as it is (or was?) in the scientific community. Mystery? Explain it. Unknowns? Irrelevant. Faith? Provable. Which means that if faith is provable, you don't need faith anymore. I don't know what I would call the greatest event since the resurrection, but like Darryl I would vote for Pentecost or maybe the Reformation as somewhat higher than the discovery of an Ark.

A Stunning Site
Thanks to Justin Baeder at Radical Congruency for pointing the way to the new Allelon Ministries site. Well worth an in-depth visit.

Blog Simplifies Reductionism
And a plug for Doug Pagitt's anti-reductionist thinking blog and Tee-shirt:
Camping Mocks The Homeless Shirt Starting to Sell That is a link to his own blog. But for more in-depth reductionism head to the self-titled blog, Camping Mocks the Homeless Here's a quote:
My idea for this blog is to call out reductionistic thinking. Not only in culture and in other people, but in me. The opportunity to think in simple ways is so strong and appealing, that without the proper support I will be stuck there.
We Are the Church
Thanks to Phil at Signposts for finding an important Erwin McManus quote:
Is the Church here for us?
Erwin McManus (pastor of Mosaic in Los Angeles) says:

"We somehow think that the Church is here for us;
we forget that we are the Church,
and we're here for the world"
Source - Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania Future Directions Newsletter - July 2004
And finally
I have started to read Red Moon Rising and it has already convicted me and challenged me and excited me. More later.

And I have posted some more flower pictures over at the pmPilgrim Fotopage from a friend's garden in New Jersey

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

On Home Towns:
Part Two

Yesterday I talked about my "first" home town- the place of my birth and school years. Well I have had a few more that are just as important and just as much my "home town" as the small town in northern Pennsylvania.

The second was the Lehigh Valley in south eastern Pennsylvania. At age 18 I headed off to college and discovered my second home town- Bethlehem, PA, and the greater Lehigh Valley. After four years at college I stayed in the area, met friends like the one I went to visit on this trip and the young woman who was to become my wife. We all got involved in local peace activities (it was 1970), local events, and eventually religion- the Moravian Church. I went to Seminary in Bethlehem and my first church was across the moutain, still in the Lehigh Valley. It was here I grew into an adult. I learned how to be a pastor and tried to learn how to be a good husband. With the northern Moravian headquarters in Bethlehem, it became the spiritual center of my life for many years as well.

Today when I return to Bethlehem the steel mill is cold and quiet and the trees around the Civic Center have grown up. Lehigh has spread down the hill and Moravian has expanded. I go back as an outsider, even more so than in my "home town" because things have changed in the 27 years since I left. Changed even more than up state where my brother still lives and my parents graves remain on the hill.

Third, and perhaps one that will be the most lasting is along the Rock River in southeastern Wisconsin. This is my daughter's "home town" and so has a very special place in our lives. Here we grew through parenthood. Here we made many friends and served a church for 15 years. Here our daughter graduated from high school and I got into recovery. This is as much a home town as my place of birth. Today, when asked where I am from, my first response is "Wisconsin." When we left there almost 5 years ago, we were leaving "home."

Today we live in the West Metro area of the Twin Cities. It is a wonderful city to live around and a wonderful place to live. It is home today, although I have a hunch it will never be where we are "from." A "home-town" is truly a place where we have received both the roots of heritage and experience and the wings of growth and freedom.

Yes, I firmly believe that where we live must always be our home. That implies a commitment to a place and a participation in its community life. I can't imagine living somewhere and not doing that. But a "home town" is a special place in the the heart where we have truly loved and been loved and learned how to be who we are. In this world of movement and transitions and short-term jobs, a home-town is now, more than ever, an important gift to receive. I am richly blessed to have three of them.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

On Home Towns:
Part One

It is a blessing to have a number of places to call my home towns. I spent time in two of them this past weekend. One is the place where I was born and spent my first 18 years of life. It was- and stil is- a small town in north central Pennsylvania. It was there I learned about roots and family and joy and friends. It was, I knew, never the place I would live all my life. It was- and still is- a remarkably beautiful place. The Pine Creek and Susquehanna River Valleys are among the natural wonders of the country. I didn't appreciate them when I lived there. Like my sister-in-law said this weekend, "We take it for granted." Yet it formed me in more ways than I even know.

It was also a place of tragedy and sadness. Parents both dying when I was a teenager. A high school friend dying in an auto accident a year after high school. My best friend from high school died of AIDS following a blood transfusion early in the epidemic.

My brother still lives there and that's where I was for part of this past weekend. Over the twenty years since I moved to the midwest, I haven't been back until last year. It hasn't changed much. It's still an economically depressed area. It is also still unimagineabley beautiful. It is still one of the places that defines me and makes me who I am. It was good to be with my brother and his family who are going through some difficult times. It is good to reconnect with roots and come to terms with aging and change. For that is also something home towns are able to do.

I used to say with a certain amount of snide cynicism that it was a good place to be "from." A wise spiritual director looked at me one day and said, "That's quite a compliment." I was taken aback. Here I meant to express the good feelings I thought I had from "leaving it behind" only to discover that perhaps it was a good place to be from- to call home. I was infused with many things in my small-town home town of birth. Community and family closeness were at the top of the list. While everybody always seemed to know everybody's business, there were also willing to help out if needed.

In June, 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes dumped endless amounts of water on the Valley and the mountains to the north. Pine Creek and the Susquehanna raged through town. When it was over fully one-third of the town was devastated. No one gave up. No one ran away. People helped each other. People worked together. They were community. I have never forgotten that. Nor the support and care of people when my mother died and a few years later my father. Nor the feeling of having a place that in good ways can impact my life even now, more than 30 years after I stopped calling it "home."

More on home towns tomorrow.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Free Tech
Thanks to Lehigh Valley International Airport-
free WiFi in the terminal. Which is why I am at the airport early and not minding it today.

I am heading home early. Managed to get a flight today - that way I can have a day off tomorrow that isn't on an airplane. Had to check-out of the motel so- knowing there was free WiFi- I came over here into the air-conditioning and am surfing. Will probably get some pictures uploaded to the Fotopage before the flight.

The Purpose of Prayer:
To Change God's Mind – or Ours?

In a wandering, all-day conversation with my friend I came east to see we kept skirting around the issue of prayer. It was far too rambling and deep to recreate here. Suffice it to say it dealt with such issues as selfishness in our prayers, expressing our desires in prayer, expecting God to answer our prayer the way we want it answered, and does God heal through prayer? (No wonder it kept coming in and out of conversation for a full 12-hour day!)

But I think I want to sum it up- or parse it down- or make it a little more manageable through asking the question:

Is the purpose of prayer to change God's mind or ours?
I don't know about anyone else, but my first answer is – to change mine. I know I act like I'm trying to persuade God to change His mind and do something for me or someone else. Or I am trying to convince Him in some great debating society that my ideas deserve to be carried out. But in reality I am first and foremost seeking to place my will and life in conformity to His will. In other words I am trying to change my mind to match God's. Yes, I may be expressing my desire and wishes, but it is really about my need to get some insight from God.

But with further thought I have a hunch that the real answer is – prayer is neither of those things. It is actually first and foremost my attempting to deepen my relationship with God. I am seeking to change my mind in the sense that I am seeking to just get closer to God. I talk to him about my dreams and feelings, wishes and hopes. I express them to Him because I have been given a relationship in Jesus that allows me- and expects me- to want to have that kind of close personal relationship with the Creator.

While we may often treat prayer like a Christmas Wish-list it is not. It is at its deepest ad most exciting about the love God has for me and my reaching out to touch and receive it. It isn't about getting what I want- it is putting myself in place to know that I have already been given all I need.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

July 4, 1776-
Under a Spreading Elm

Part of the folklore of my hometown was about July 4th.

It seems there was this group of people called "The Fair Play Men" who gathered under an elm tree where Pine Creek joins the Susquehanna River. There's a bridge there now, though the elm is long gone thanks to Dutch Elm Disease.

But when I was growing up it was still there. A venerable tree. An icon. It took its name after the native name for Pine Creek- the Tiadaghton- hence the Tiadaghton Elm.

Here is the sign that stands at that special spot today.


Saturday, July 03, 2004

More Tech
Even better than WiFi at the airport is my brother's WiFi on his back deck. A beauty of a day in North Central Pennsylvania. Surrounded by hills, mountains and fields. Adding to my blog.

Yes, technology has its advantages.

Look Behind You
I was struck the other day by the words of the flight attendant giving the standard talk on what to do in an emergency. It included the following line:

Remember that the nearest exit may be behind you.
This goes along with put on your own oxygen mask first which Bill Easum has so skillfully talked about. What this quote means to me is actually quite simple..

   Don't assume you are looking in the right direction for what you are looking for.

A profound insight. Just because I am looking that way does not mean that the answer I am looking for is in that direction.. Just because I think I know my way does not mean that the obvious answer isn't in some other direction. Life is not always straight forward. Sometimes the curves and corners hide the ways we are looking for and sometimes we just are going in the wrong direction. So learn to look around and not make the assumptions that the only way to go is the one we are facing.

Friday, July 02, 2004

A Couple Traveling Thoughts
Nothing deep or profound. Just a couple thoughts that wandered around my head this morning....

--1-- On both legs of the flight yesterday seat 17-F was occupied by a crying child. I know because on both legs of the flight I was in 16-D. The Mom in both cases tried hard but couldn't keep the child quiet. Fortunately I wasn't bothered for some reason or another.

--2-- When one goes back to a place that was home, one keeps looking at people to see if you recognize any of them. The problem is that I am usually looking for people who are the age today that I was then which is 20 or more years ago. Sorry. It just doesn't work that way!

Guess that's a couple of thoughts. Nothing more to think about. More at a later time.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Wonder of Travel
Well, we were late- but not because of the storm. That went north of the airport over downtown Minneapolis. We were late because a red light was on that they had to check out. But not that bad a delay fortunately.

Then sitting in Detroit it was interesting to watch the types of groups and people traveling. That has always been a pastime of mine when traveling. Perhaps because it was around sunset- a nostalgic time of day- I found myself thinking about the groups of youth getting on board the flights to London and Paris. They were excited, apprehensive, even filled with a certain sense of wonder as they got ready to go.

I can't say I found myself longing to be with them. Well, maybe it was a little of that and a little awareness that the days of my youth are well passed me now. Maybe it was that part of me that still has a wander-lust—a desire to travel and see things and discover new places. I've never been to London or Paris.

Then an older woman goes by pulling her luggage. I don't know if she was heading to the London or Paris flights, but she knew where she was going and was going there with certainty. There were other older travelers (like me, for example) who were obviously on business, but then there were those who were traveling to visit family and friends- again like me.

And, I am sure, that somewhere in that crowd diminishing as more planes filled and left, there were also those traveling because they are looking for new places and new things. Age should not get in the way of that. The world is an ever changing and ever interesting place. It would be a shame to lose the joy of seeing them just because the calendar has more years behind than ahead.