Saturday, January 31, 2009

Homeless and the Superbowl

What is Tampa doing to prepare for the Superbowl? They are "cleaning up" the streets by housing the homeless in their local jails for the weekend according to this article in It makes me wonder how things went this summer for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Be sure to read some of the comments people have made following this article to find out how other cities around the world have prepared for large international events where there would be major media coverage. Then, continue the discussion on homelessness in your church. Homelessness is on the rise as the world economy still spins and goes down the drain. Silence does no good, talk is a first step, action is what is needed!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Superbowl Sunday and The Boss

Well, it is the weekend of Superbowl Sunday. Those with ties to Pittsburgh or Phoenix are revved up. Some of us who could care less about the game love to see the new commercials and listen to the halftime show.

This year The Boss is doing the big show. Please comment with your guess/hope for what songs you think Springsteen will play during halftime.

Here's my 4 picks. Vegas wouldn't give me good odds, I'd guess.

Hungry Heart
Born in the USA
Born to Run
Title track of his new CD (can't remember the name--haven't heard it yet)

Here's a one that I never really listened to before that I'm sure he won't play it because it is a slow tempo ballad. But it is a good song from 1995 and it was apparently on the Soundtrack of the movie Jerry Maguire based upon this video from youtube. Secret Garden

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Credo of a Change Optimist

More from Ariane de Bonvois founder of and author of Your First 30 Days Your Guide to Any Change (and loving your life more).

Principle 1:
I have positive beliefs--about change, about life, and about myself.

Principle 2:
I know that change will always bring something good into my life.

Principle 3:
I know I am resilient, strong, and capable of getting through anything.

Principle 4:
I know that my emotions, including the negative ones, are there as a guide and that I can replace them with more positive ones.

Principle 5:
I know that the quicker I accept or choose change, the less the pain and the hardship will be.

Principle 6:
I use empowering questions and words, I think better thoughts, and I allow any and every feeling to come up and embrace it.

Principle 7: I know I am connected to something bigger--my soul, my spirit, my higher self.

Principle 8: I surround myself with people who can help and who have an optimistic mind-set, and I create an environment that supports change.

Principle 9: I take action. I have a plan, and I take care of myself.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Promise to Change

I am doing some required reading for our church leadership team. We are reading Bruce Sanguin's book The Emerging Church. It talks about making a "Compact for Change". Meanwhile, in my own reading, I'm reading the book from the library by Ariane de Bonvois who is founder of and has the same title, The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Any Change.

Here is the promise that Ariane made with herself--and urges us to make with ourselves--as we all attempt to undergo changes whether they be forced upon us or whether they are things we know we need to change about ourselves but are not sure we have the personal strength to make these changes.

The Promise to Change

Please promise yourself
No matter who or what you will become
No matter how unpredictable life is
No matter the growth you will experience
No matter the lonliness, pain, and sadness that will arise
No matter the fear, the questions, the disbelief
No matter the doubts, the resistance, and the impatience
No matter the surprises, the joy, and the pain
Always take change by the hand and welcome it
Change will bring strength
Change will bring faith
Change will bring new possibilities, new people, new paths
Change will bring self-esteem
Change will bring you what you are ultimately looking for
Always change
In change you will awaken
In change you will become wise
And in change you will finally be in partnership with life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Jesus Smackdown

The New York Times Magazine recently ran an interesting feature on Marc Driscoll, the pastor of a mega-church in Seattle, Mars Hill. I must confess that the first thing that popped into my mind while reading this article was the YouTube "sermon" by Steven L. Anderson entitled "Him That Pisseth Against the Wall." If you never saw it you need to watch it. Religion can be so entertaining.

Driscoll is very entertaining. He "has the coolest style and foulest mouth" of any preacher you have ever seen. He talks frankly about sexual acts. He swears. He is "cool" with tattoos and rock music and latte-drinking and body piercing. He is not "cool" with women in leadership in the church or home, or homosexuality, or the Jesus who looks like "a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ."

About that effeminate Jesus, is there anyone whose Jesus really looks like that? I suppose if your image of Jesus is shaped by "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" and "In the Garden" Jesus might look something like that. But my guess is that the Jesus Seminar-inspired picture of Jesus has an edge that is harder, not to mention truer, than Driscoll's.

Driscoll preaches a form of Calvinism that holds that everything that happens to us is the will of God. Good and evil; Beethoven and cancer. It all comes from God. We ultimately are not in control of anything. We are, however, completely fallen in sin and utterly deserving of eternal damnation. We are all hanging by that proverbial spider's thread over the eternal fire. And for some of us the chord is going to be cut. All for the glory of God. But some have also been elected to go to heaven. But how would one know? Well, the early American Puritans were among those Calvinists who obsessed about this very question. Although they knew they could never be sure - the ways of God being inscrutable - they came to believe that there might be certain signs of God's election made visible by the manner of ones living. You couldn't know for sure, but you could be pretty sure that if those signs were not present you were not among the elect. My guess is they would have held that swearing, body-piercing, and rock music were not among those signs. I have to wonder, really, how much his congregation understands or lives with the paradox and uncertainty of Calvinism. I wonder if Driscoll does himself.

Here is my take on Driscoll's popularity. First, he is edgy. Think Lenny Bruce for Christians. His audience loves the way he pushes the envelope with his language, music, and style. Their parents' Christianity doesn't look anything like this. There is nothing new about this, of course. Bill Hybel's Christianity didn't look anything like that of the previous generation's. It, too, was hip for a while. There is something that comes along like this for every generation.

But there is also a dark side to Driscoll's popularity. If you really want to know what Driscoll is all about you have to take in this paragraph:
Nowhere is the connection between Driscoll’s hypermasculinity and his Calvinist theology clearer than in his refusal to tolerate opposition at Mars Hill. The Reformed tradition’s resistance to compromise and emphasis on the purity of the worshipping community has always contained the seeds of authoritarianism: John Calvin had heretics burned at the stake and made a man who casually criticized him at a dinner party march through the streets of Geneva, kneeling at every intersection to beg forgiveness. Mars Hill is not 16th-century Geneva, but Driscoll has little patience for dissent. In 2007, two elders protested a plan to reorganize the church that, according to critics, consolidated power in the hands of Driscoll and his closest aides. Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.
Who is attracted to this kind of leadership? Who thinks that this kind of leadership is healthy? Who wants to be this kind of leader? Driscoll is appealing to an age-old male fantasy that if everything was really right with the world our spouses would have dinner ready when we get home from work and our children would be quiet and obedient and our subordinates would unquestioningly follow our every order. And no-one, ever, would dare question our decisions. To his credit, I guess, physical abuse is not allowed. But systemic abuse is built right into the fabric of church and home life. And it is all according to the will of God.

It is no surprise to me that Driscoll has a following. He's a way-cool dictator.

Update: GetReligion covers the NYTimes story here. In the comments section we get this Driscoll quote about pastors cheating on their wives:
“It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness,” Driscoll wrote. “A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.”
Wrapping a sick male-fantasy world in on old-time religious doctrine.

The Church is not Progressive

So say's an emailer who didn't think too much of our church website:
I read a few disturbing things in the FAQ's on your church's website. One of the statements the most troubling is how your church does not believe the Bible to be the literal word of God. The scripture is God Breathed, and alive. Still Relevant. How can you believe parts of the bible, and not other parts of it? It has to be ALL true or none of it. You cannot pick which verses you like and disregard the rest. May God have mercy on the Pastors and staff of this church for they will be held accountable for misleading His people. The Bible says the darkest places in hell are reserved for false teachers. The church is not "progressive". Jesus Christ never changes, nor do His standards.

Monday, January 12, 2009


On a typical winter day the bunnies assemble under the birdfeeders (or in this case under the sparrow trap under the feeder) in the afternoon for feeding. Today is a snow day and I caught this one outside the window; he didn't look like he was enjoying the snow.


I watched the season premier last night and continued to question why it is that both Dick Cheney and I like that show. I know why he likes the show.

Jack Bauer confessed his torturing sins to a Senate committee but was unrepentant about it. Then he gets paired up with an FBI team on the trail of some terrorists; the FBI people do not trust Bauer because they don't believe in torture. Until... Bauer and a female agent have a would-be informant cornered in his room and he isn't about to give up any information to them through the usual highly skilled non-coercive investigative techniques used by law enforcement, at least not in the 30 seconds they have to explore that possibility on the show. So Bauer turns to the hardened, squeaky-clean agent and says, "So what do you want me to do?" And she melts in his arms and says, "Do with me anything you want!" Or that's what it looked like to me even though I heard her tell him to go ahead and torture the hell out of the guy.

So what does Bauer do? He grabs a ball-point pen and yanks the guy's head to the side and is just about to ram the pen into his ear when the guy pleads for mercy. "I'll talk, I'll talk, just don't stick me with the pen!" Fortunately for the informant there was a terrorist sniper outside who put him out of his misery before he could talk or be poked with the pen.

I started laughing as soon as Bauer grabbed the pen and pretty much lost interest in the rest of the show. I keep hoping that the writers will allow Bauer at some point to feel some remorse or question his own sick mind. But until the ratings start to slip he is likely going to keep torturing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best Republican President Ever

There are six candidates vying to be the next chairperson of the GOP. Here is one thing they all agree on:
In one telling moment at a debate last week, all six had the same answer when asked to name the best Republican president in the history of the nation: Ronald Reagan.
This just proves how out of touch the GOP is with the country, and how ignorant, perhaps, those wanting to to run the party are. Ronald Reagan may be the hero of modern conservatism, but Abraham Lincoln is an American hero, one of the greatest Presidents ever, and by far the greatest Republican President in the history of the country. But the modern GOP, beholden to its evangelical and white southern base, is probably not too fond of Lincoln. He wasn't very religious, in the traditional sense, and he wasn't very popular in the south. For some reason.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I wasn't too keen on President-elect Obama asking Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the inauguration, but I have held my nose thinking that Warren was at least an improvement over the Falwell types. Apparently I was wrong. Here, according to Christianity Today blog, is what Warren wrote some conservative leaders in the Anglican community:

... [The Episcopal Church has] already considered me an adversary after partnering on projects with Kolini, Orumbi, and Nzimbi, and writing the TIME bio on Akinola.

But since last summer... I’ve been on Gene Robinson and other’s attack list for my position on gay marriage. ....[Our] brothers and sisters here at St. James in Newport Beach lost their California State Supreme Court case to keep their property.

We stand in solidarity with them, and with all orthodox, evangelical Anglicans. I offer the campus of Saddleback Church to any Anglican congregation who need a place to meet, or if you want to plant a new congregation in south Orange County.

You would think that Warren would at least have the good sense avoid rubbing salt in wounds before the inauguration.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Not my idea of a Fun and Relaxing Vacation!

I just read about the new upcoming sightseeing opportunity for live history at the Coliseum in Rome--Gladiator fights! I put this new tourist attraction into the same category as sitting in bleachers watching Civil War reenactments. Watching choreographed violence is not my idea of a vacation whether it be hand to hand or with weapons!

Friday, January 02, 2009

God is in the Details

My newsletter article this week:

The devil is in the details. It's a phrase we all know well. It means that we better read the fine print. That sub-prime mortgage might look awfully appealing, but we better know what is going to happen to our loan in 5 years, or if we are unable to make a payment.

The devil is in the details. This might very well be true in financial transactions. But more and more I have come to believe that in all other matters we find that God is in the details. First, a confession: I confess that over the years I have gotten less interested in the "big" questions: What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? What happens when we die? Why did Penn State lose to USC in the Rose Bowl? While I enjoy a good discussion about these questions, and will always do my best to provide a cogent response if asked, they don't really occupy much of my thinking time.

I am much more interested in the details of life. The gory details. The beautiful details. The amazing details. For instance, this past week I received my copy of Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. It is a wonderful magazine put out by the Minnesota DNR, and I have learned much over the years about our state's flora and fauna. In the recent magazine there was an article about the return to Minnesota of the American Marten, a woodland member of the weasel family related closely to the Fisher. The Marten was once thought to be extinct due to trapping and decimation of its habitat, but it is making a comeback in northern Minnesota. Did you know that Martens, like most members of the weasel family, reproduce through delayed implantation? They breed in summer but the pre-embryonic blastocyst does not implant and begin to develop until late winter. The article doesn't explain why this happens, but one can guess that Martens evolved to give birth at the "right" time, perhaps when there was an abundance of food. Now I will have to find out if that is true.

I didn't make any New Year's resolutions; I never do. But I did make a winter resolution to spend some of my outdoor walking time learning to identify trees by their bark and buds. I like to think that I know trees. Give me a leaf and I can tell you the tree. But take away the leaves and I am lost, apart from some of the most obvious trees, like sycamore. It has been my aim to rectify this shortcoming during this winter. It is amazing to walk through the woods stopping to look at trees to study the bark. Every family (oak, maple, ash, etc.) has recognizable markers. And every tree has its own kind of beauty in winter. This winter I have been paying attention to trees.

So where is God in all of this? To say that God is in the details is to say that the more we pay attention to what is going on around us, close attention, attention attached to time, the more we are apt to see awesome, beautiful, amazing things that open our hearts and set our minds ablaze. It has been my experience that this is how and where God is found. In the depths. In the unfolding mystery of life, human life, plant and animal life, the evolving life of our planet.

This is not the whole story of where God is found, of course. God is also found among the suffering and grieving. And I find it more than a little interesting that if you open up your Bible and read the parables of Jesus and read about his life, you will find that the details of the natural world and the everyday suffering of his people were the focus of his words and deeds. Apparently, in the beautiful detail of the lilies of the field and in the midst of the gory details of lepers and outcasts Jesus, too, found God.

Where is God found? God is found in the details. I'll give the last word to Mary Oliver. At the end of her poem When Death Comes she says:
When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.