Tuesday, November 20, 2007

With a Name Like Huckabee, It's Gotta be Good!

I have no idea who he is politically, but I'm about to find out because anyone who can a) Laugh at himself to this extent b) sit next to Chuck Norris with a straight face and c) run for President with a name like Huckabee deserves a look. He doesn't have my vote, but he sure has my interest piqued.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A doctor, an artist, a teacher

Recently, in a quiet early morning moment with Riley, I decided to get an update on the all important childhood question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" She said, "I don't know, I think a doctor, an artist and a teacher." This was a slight departure from her previous standard answer of a "firefighter, a clown and a mommy." The doctor part was entirely new to me.

When I was about Riley's age, my standard answer to the question was "a bang bang army man." I expressed it this way, in my 6-year old English to delineate from the kind of Army person my parents were. Of course for anyone who knows me now, the idea that I would be a military man is ridiculous and quite humorous as (unlike Tim), I have never in my life fired a gun.

Riley's answer got me thinking, though. Surely at some point in my own childhood, I aspired to be an artist, at least a writer of some sort. I also figured out somewhere along the way that I had gifts and a passion for teaching. The doctor thing was never so much me, particularly given my reaction to the severe bleeding first aid movies shown in middle school health classes. Right now in what I am doing, I'm finding very little of the artist or the teacher. I see it in the future when the center opens and is a living breathing 15-hour a day thing, but right now, it's an idea that keeps me in an office far from the site where it will be built. I guess, given my meeting schedule (meetings are where imagination and creativity go to die), I'm getting a little claustrophobic given the lack of creative outlet it provides and the dirth of teaching opportunities coming my way while I do what I can to get it built.

Perhaps, this is why I'm turning back to blogging, just to have some creative outlet. John tells me he's writing. Phil's always creating something even when he's resting. My dad gets a new column every two weeks. I guess I'm just jonesing for creativity and teaching a bit. See where it takes me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Home runs, touchdowns and a sovereign God

So a coworker asked me the other day, "what's up with athletes saying that God helped them win or score in a game? Does God really care about sports like that?"

Coming up with an answer took me a bit off guard as I am an unashamed sports fan and in that I have regular conversations about faith with this friend. My best attempt was this--that athletes who are Christians want to thank God for the opportunity to do what they do and they want to be careful that all the glory for what they do goes to God.

We agreed that it's a little odd, a bit like an ad executive or a cashier at the grocery store pounding their chest and pointing heavenward after getting the big account or because you bought over $200 worth of groceries. But what about that? Are there parallels in purely secular jobs in which we can or should give God glory for an accomplishment, personal or of our team (corporate)? It certainly wouldn't look the same as it does when Big Papi hits a home run or Rosevelt Colvin causes a fumble because we don't generally do a dance or emote physically in those cases. We also don't hold press conferences when we achieve things at work, so there's less of a platform for the "I just want to thank God" speech.

I understand what a lot of athletes are saying. It goes something like this, "If I were an accountant, I would want people to know I am a Christian and I want to give God glory." Corey Simon even describes the field as his pulpit, the stadium as his church. I like the fact that he says win or lose, succeed or fail, the man that he is, the Christian that he is matters more than any play on a field.

I guess another question all of this raises for me is that of whether God backs unsuccessful athletes too. JD Drew was a much talked-about offseason acquisition for the Red Sox after he signed a $70 million contract that many thought wasn't commensurate with past performance. He's a professing Christian, but I never heard him declare that God wasn't honoring his efforts. He didn't blame God for his failure to hit the baseball. We would all hope he wouldn't do that, but beyond that, it's not like he was quoted saying, "I guess it's not God's will that I perform well on the field."

It seems contradictory that God only cares about athletes when they score touchdowns, make 3-pointers or hit home runs. Isn't God inhabiting every bit of our lives, personal or professional, successful or failing? I believe in an immanent God who is always there whether the ball bounces our way or not.

Any thoughts you might have would be appreciated.
PS Speaking of athletes of faith, I hope Schilling is right that they can work out a deal to bring him back here.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Grace to rise and follow

"O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, that so I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, "Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away." Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland whre I have wandered so long. In Jesus' name. Amen."

--A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

One Semester of Spanish - Love Song

Thanks Jeff for the trip down memory lane. If you've missed this one on YouTube, check it out now.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Yankees decline wild card.

The Onion nails it today with this story on the Yankees declining the AL Wild Card. Laugh out loud funny. Every baseball fan needs to read this one. Instant classic!

Go Sox!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Truth Greatly Reduced

I knew, even as I was commenting back to Larry on my last post, that I was not expressing myself as eloquently as I would have liked. There was a stronger, clearer, more pointed way to express my concern about cultures being swallowed and the danger that presents for the gospel. Enter Walter Brueggeman with this brilliant quote from "Poetry in a Prose-Flattened World" that expresses all of what I was trying to say and more:

"The gospel is...a truth widely held, but a truth greatly reduced. It is a truth that has been flattened, trivialized, and rendered inane. Partly, the gospel is simply an old habit among us, neither valued nor questioned. [It] takes the categories of biblical faith and represents them in manageable shapes...There then is no danger, no energy, no possibility, no opening for newness!...That means the gospel may have been twisted, pressed, tailored, and gerrymandered until it is comfortable with technological reason that leaves us unbothered, and with ideology that leaves us with uncriticized absolutes."

Brueggeman is focusing on the way that technical theology has reduced the gospel, but I believe that the reason for the reduction is less important than the fact of the reduction. He doesn't just report the problem and walk away. He does present a solution to the problem of this neutered gospel.

"To address the issue of a truth greatly reduced requires us to be poets that speak against a prose world. The terms of that phrase are readily misunderstood. By prose I refer to a world that is organized in settled formulae, so that even pastoral prayers and love letters sound like memos. By poetry, I do not mean rhyme, rhythm, or meter, but language that moves like Bob Gibson's fast ball, that jumps at the right moment, that breaks open old worlds with suprise, abrasion and pace. Poetic speech is the only proclamation worth doing in a situation of reductionism, the only proclamation, I submit, that is worthy of the name preaching."

Obviously, Brueggemann is focusing on the spoken, preached gospel here. I don't know that I can fully agree that poetic speech is the only proclamation worth doing in light of reductionism. I think heroic living is as worthy a pursuit A true commitment to social justice in big and small ways speaks loudly to a world that has closed its ears to the gospel, but that's not the point he's making. I think the stirring story of the gospel has to be told in a way that stirs the pot of our existence. A tolerable gospel is no gospel at all. He goes so far as to call it abrasive and well-paced. How often have you heard a sermon in the last 10 years that could be described that way? Not only are we careful not to offend those outside the church, we're so desperate to retain the remnant that we have that we won't even preach a full gospel inside the "stained glass or silk plant ghettos." (a la Morganthaler)

The church's greatest prayer for penitence must be for allowing the gospel to be reduced to an old habit. After all, we can not control the wider culture, only our own interaction with it. We can't allow the gospel to be disposable despite what our throwaway society would say about it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society: Disposable Culture

So this is the last post in the series. Sorry, it's taken me a while to complete. I think one should always write the whole series first, then post them over time rather than starting the series and trying to keep on top of it. Live and learn.

My sister Heather loves traditions. This has always been true in my memory of her and it's not surprising given the hearty stock of sentimentalists from which we come, but it really took off during her adolescence. Particularly at Christmas time during her high school and college years, Heather became so enthralled with traditions that it seemed like she invented a new one every Christmas during that decade or so. Finding out what the new tradition was each December became a bit of its own tradition. But it wasn't exactly sustainable. As we grew up and moved out of our parents' house and started our lives on our own, we had to let go of some those traditions. We especially couldn't keep adding traditions to the experience.

If traditions create culture, I wonder if the speed of our lives today has put cultures themselves in jeopardy. Obviously, throughout the course of human history, cultures have come and endured and then gone. The Aztecs, the Mayans, the Roman Empire, whole civilizations have been born, reigned for a time and slowly or instantly evaporated. I recently became familiar with a theory called Transculturalism through the book of the same name, which asserts that cultures are merging in new ways creating a new way of life that crosses cultures in unprecendented ways. The book is a collection of essays by well-traveled hipsters, many of whom are of multiple races or have had experiences living outside of their ethnic culture which have had dramatic influences on their worldview. It also deals with cultural phenomena like Cuban-Chinese restaurants and Scandinavians who enjoy hip hop. In a way, I think transculturatlism is a wonderful concept, and if true, a positive step toward understanding each other in the human experience.

The problem, as I see it in the West , (from my very Western worldview,) is that we are not truly experiencing a new crossing of cultures which takes us to a new richer culture. We are being encouraged, if not forced, into a singular culture. Although it pretends at preserving bits of lots of cultures, it mercilessly mashes traditions and the uniqueness of those cultures to a pulp, unrecognizable, vanilla and tolerable. It's done in the name of political correctness, of tolerance and anti-racism, in the name of a global marketing scheme, of simplicity.

Whatever the motives, what is effectively taking place is the disposing of existing cultures, sometimes with each passing generation, often much more quickly than that. Think of the Irish immigration to the states at the close of the 19th century. Where are they today? Do their offspring eat the same foods or sing the same songs? Think of the fact that there are more Puerto Ricans in New York than in Puerto Rico. Are they New Yorkers now--street vendor hot dog, rice and beans or bagel with schmeer? Think of the fact that wealthy Americans want to build massive castles in the suburbs that look awful and unique from the exterior, but all serve the same purpose on the interior--to allow them to gather around the same granite countertops and stainless appliances as the Joneses for a meal prior to sitting down to watch cable shows that are in some subtle way about themselves. Welcome to TLC America.

What's so amazing is that individuality is dying on the altar of a one-world culture. What unites us in our cultural groups--national/ethnic traditions, religious belief and practice, musical preference--what makes us feel part of a group is that there is something unique about that subset of humanity. If we're all becoming one big fat world culture, there will not be anything unique about any of us. Is disposable culture really disposable identity? Are we all giving in to be part of the cool kids crowd? Is there any help for distinct culture in the west? Melting pot, mosaic or masher? More questions than answers.

Take this shirt--polyester white trash made in nowhere...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society: Disposable Heroes

Remember this guy? Yeah, that would be Ruben Studdard. I feel like heroes are another casualty of our throwaway culture and yet in an odd way, we are creating more heroes today than ever in history. In the past, in order to garner hero status, a person had to actually do something heroic or at least noteworthy. Julius Caesar conquered empires. Joan of Arc toppled stereotypes. William Wallace was portrayed by Mel Gibson in a movie. People actually used to do things of note in order to get notoriety.

I feel like there was this big lull on heroes following the tragic assassinations of the 1960's. Many of us grew up only with the history of heroes, great people who had come before, but did not live in our lifetimes. Yes, there are very notable exceptions--Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Mr. T, but it seems like there just weren't enough. And at the same time, the folks who were supposed to be heroes in the previous 3 decades came up short--presidents, televangelists, industry leaders. Lots of scandal, lots of controversy, lots of fodder for SNL, but very few bonafide mentors to look up to.

Enter reality TV with a solution: if you don't have enough heroes or idols or icons, just make new ones, annually with each new season. Now we don't have to wait for someone to do something great, we can just vote for them by 888 number or text message. Poof, there's a hero. And the beauty with these guys is that if they fall off the face of the earth or it turns out they're into cruelty to animals as a hobby, no problem. Just discard your new cardboard hero, there's another one on the way any minute. Now, reality shows are making heroes out of geeks and inventors and people who think they can dance.

So the question is: in an age of declining ethics in leaders, total invasion of media into the private lives of public figures and Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader, do we have any chance at seeing real heroes again? Can offices like the presidency of the US survive its current image problem? Will church leaders ever again be considered heroes outside of the church? Is celebrity the same as heroism?

Enough questions. Gotta go catch Simon Cowell's latest brainstorm: So You Think You are Smarter than a 5th Grader's Big Brother, America?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society: Disposable Relationships

Perhaps no institution has suffered more at the hands of a disposable society like marriage. This is what fascinates me in this theme—is there a more ritualistic event in our lives than a wedding? Graduations & proms come close, but follow trends. Weddings do too, I guess, but the elements that make a wedding unique are timeless. Giving away the bride, the vows, the pinchably cute kids stumbling down the aisle hardly ever doing what they’re supposed to and of course "you may now kiss the bride." Those things never change.

Sadly, this topic hit home recently when I received an email from a college friend. Just last fall, Jen and I attended his wedding. He was one of the last remaining bachelors among my circle of friends and we were all happy for him. He and his bride seemed to go well together and both seemed genuinely happy. She laughed at his jokes. He looked after her sweetly. The email stated that they were getting a divorce—that they were better off as a dating couple than a married couple. It took the wind out of me. Even though they hadn’t known each other for long before they got married, they seemed to be a good match. I was so sad for him, even hearing his assurances that he was doing alright, that his professional life is going well and that he is surrounding himself with friends and family. A short marriage still has profound effects on one’s life.

I also think of so many people who have skipped the ceremony and chosen to live as a couple without the ritual of a wedding. It seems like they are hedging their bets somehow. If it doesn’t work out, at least it doesn’t mean a divorce, as if the pain of that relationship being lost would be lessened by virtue of that fact.

I heard someone on the radio the other day advocating that marriages should be considered 5-year renewable contracts. He'd been married 3 times for decent lengths of time: 9 years, 15 years and 10 years and claimed that instead of having 3 failed marriages, he'd had 3 very successful marriages that didn't last a lifetime.

How do weddings survive in the era of 50/50 marriage survival rates? I'm not asking the question "why does anyone bother to get married anymore?" I'm not questioning the instution of marriage. I firmly believe in int. It just seems amazing that the dream and the ideal seem to have changed so little while the reality has fallen apart. Clearly, it's not just a quaint tip of the cap to some nearly forgotten past. It's not just a way to collect expensive presents from longtime family friends. The question I guess I'm posing is: how has the ritual remained so substantially intact when the attitudes toward marriage have shifted so much? Is it false hope? Is it peer pressure? Is it good enough for one day but people aren't willing to do the heavy lifting to stick it out? What gives?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stuck in your Head

Taking a short break from the Rituals series to bring you this song that will stick in your head until explodes. Enjoy Tay Zonday's Chocolate Rain!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rituals in a Throwaway Society

A theme keeps emerging in a couple of recent experiences and it has me thinking, enough to have me blogging, a modern day miracle. It’s this thing about the disposable society in which we live—not that exciting frankly and lots can be said about the way technology and poor workmanship on products and our obsession with having something new have collaborated to create this lack of appreciation for things that last. However, it’s not just the throwaway nature of our world that has me thinking, it is the enduring nature of certain rituals and traditions that I’ve seen lately and I’m fascinated by how they survive this powerful trend.

So here’s where it all started. Perhaps, no single item has pushed the disposable trend more than cell phones. What other product since the industrial revolution has come with an expected lifespan of 2 years? I’ve had shoes that lasted twice that long. And I wore them every day thanks to Dr. Martin, but I digress. My phone that I’ve had for just about 2 years started to bug out on me. It’s a smart phone and all of the smart characteristics still worked. My calendar was working fine. My contacts were intact. I could search the web in my hand with ease. Only problem was that I couldn’t talk to people on the phone when they called me. I would press talk and they the caller and I could not hear each other at all. I tend to put up with problems like this longer than anyone should, primarily due to my fear that fixing the problem will cost me money. At long last, though, after more than a week of not being able to pick up my phone, except with my headset, I took it to Sprint.

If 2 years is the lifespan of a phone, than 30 minutes is the magic time limit in which any problem can be diagnosed and fixed or so they told me. In the end it took me 90 minutes, a total of 3 trips to Sprint and I had me a brand reconditioned phone. In other words, somebody else gave this one back to Sprint and they cleaned it up so it looked new and then sent it back out to some customer who was already having problems with his phone…me. The phone actually picked up and it looked new. Happily I synched it with my computer so all my data was back. I was good to go. Called Jen to tell her and she asked me why I was in a tunnel. Called another friend later on and he asked why I was banging pots and pans or constantly dropping my phone. It didn’t work any better. In the end, what I got was the latest version of my phone with new features for free. It is reconditioned of course.

All that to say that I was amazed that this gadget that some tech heads waited months for, that some engineers spent a long time creating, that software engineers spent countless sleepless nights developing is commonly regarded as disposable after 2 years. I know I’ll annoy Phil and the other appleseeds by mentioning the iPhone and all of its glitches so I won’t.

Here’s the thing. All of this happened in the same week that I went to Old Orchard Beach, the ultimate ritual of my childhood and countless others. My parents own a cottage there, which is where we stayed. My daughters slept in the room my brother and I had shared for 3 weeks every August until we were 14. I refer to Old Orchard as the land that time forgot quite a bit. The ocean and the beach never seem to change. Institutions at the Pier like Pier Fries and Lisa’s Pizza have been around for decades. Beachwear stores come and go by different names always peddling the same low quality gaudy clothing. It’s timeless in its tackiness, but it’s endearing that way too. Hard to explain to people who didn’t know this beach as the one anchor in their lives while they moved around the country every 3 or 4 years growing up. While there, I took this picture of Sydney riding the same motorcycles my brother and I rode 30 years ago. And I don’t mean the same type of motorcycle kiddie ride. I don’t mean they had something like this. These are the very ones we rode and I would guess they sit within 20 yards of where they were when I was growing up.

Summer is undoubtedly a time when these rituals hold sway, perhaps like no other season. People drive new cars to old places with the same goal in mind—relaxation, togetherness, marking time in safe and comfortable ways—the way life should be as Maine’s license plates once proclaimed. But it feels a bit random. There is no system other than marketing machines and peer pressure that say I should need a new phone in 2 years. Nor is there a system that says that a children’s ride with cartoonishly wide motorcycles spinning in the same circle should endure year after year. But they do. I find myself asking what saves Hogan’s and Dy-No-Mite from being discarded in our brave new world. And what happens to town like this when Rite Aid rolls in? What is lost when the new paves over the old? And how long can it last? This year on the beach, a guy built 4 story luxury condos next to the Pier. But he can’t sell them. I must admit I find some justice in that.

More to come.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Vote Ron Burton

Ron Burton was the 1st Round draft pick of the Boston Patriots in the American Football League. He was the first running back to run for 100 yards for the Pats and had a successful, if short career. Ron was a wonderful man of faith and a Salvation Army board member. He was incredibly generous, putting on a Christmas party with the Patriots through The Salvation Army for kids in need and donating land to establish the Ron Burton Training Village, which enables at-risk youth to get opportunities to excel in football and in education through college scholarships.

Ron is up for the Patriots Hall of Fame. His wife, Joanne, still serves on the Army Advisory Board in addition to running the camp. She has asked for support as the nomination process consists of a public vote for the first time. It's simple and easy to vote at the Patriots website. Voting for Ron is a vote for a man who made his most significant contribution after his football career ended. It's important to Joanne that Ron be inducted into the Hall of Fame to prove to the young men at their camp that personal character and learning are more important than performance on the gridiron. If you have a moment, please stop by and vote for this great man.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Daisuke's Dominance

A friend of mine has a clergy pass to the Red Sox and I had the pleasure of going to the ol' bandbox with him last night. It's a pretty good deal. You show up 2 hours before game time, pay $7 each and get a standing room ticket. We ended up behind home plate in very nice (read expensive) seats for the first 3 full innings. Beautiful night and a great performance from the Sox' big free agent signing this year.

But recent events in Boston, including our trip to Fenway, stir an age old question in me. On Sunday, the Sox were being shut out into the 9th inning down 5 runs with one out and no one one. By that point in the game, many of the Fenway faithful had left. The sox then proceeded to put up 6 runs and win the game on an error at 1st base. Many people missed it. Last night, Rick and I decided to leave the game during the bottom of the 8th because Matsusaka had pitched well, Papelbon was warming up and the Sox scored 4 insurance runs in that inning. We figured they wouldn't send Daisuke back out. But they did and we were on a Green Line train while he was finishing off the first (perhaps only) complete game by a Sox pitcher this season.

When I was a kid, our trips to Fenway usually included 55 of our closest friends. They were most often Sunday School or Vacation Bible School trips from Manchester, NH to reward those who came every Sunday or who attended every session of a VBS. With that big of a crowd and our vans parked at the ARC (Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center) which was near Fenway but on the exact opposite side from the bleachers where we always sat, we would ALWAYS leave before the game was over. I would agonize about that as a kid and resent my father for being so cruel as if those aluminum bleachers with no backs weren't cruel enough in the hot summer sun. Anyway, now as an adult, I have long ago forgiven my father (and understand his reasoning), but I still get a pit in my st0mach somewhere between the 7th inning stretch and Sweet Caroline thinking "oh no, I might have to leave this game early. I don't want to miss anything." So I hardly ever leave early now. Last night I did and I missed something special.

So here's the question all this brings up. Do you leave games early? How do you decide whether or not to leave early? Have you ever missed a big comeback or something special by leaving a game early? Just wondering if anyone out there shares my sports-related issues.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Portrait of the Artist as a Kindergartner

Riley had 3 pieces in the Cottage Street Elementary Spring Art Show last week. She was very proud of her work and it was fun to have her walk us through how she did each of the pieces. Wait until you see her self-portrait. "My what big eyes you have" could have been the caption underneath.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Does He promise and not fufill?

Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?

So I was listening to Numbers this morning in my devotions. Yes, I said, listening. I find the Pentateuch hard to read sometimes, but I gain a lot from listening to it on CD, particularly Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. A couple of years ago, my big Christmas present was the entire Bible on CD. As much as I enjoy quiet time on the couch, with my cup of coffee in the morning, I'm finding that in order to get through Numbers, I have to listen to it on my morning commute.

This morning I was listening to the oracles of Balaam. This verse stuck out to me, particularly as it was uttered by this guy who usually followed the money instead of following God's leading. It was also much needed as we are in some difficult days on the Kroc project and God knows to reassure us of exactly who He is in such moments. As I look back over the last 18-24 months as the Army has contemplated Kroc and my own involvement with it, we have come through many tough times. There have been "impossible" city bureaucracies, "untenable" real estate timing, "insurmountable" fundraising obstacles. I put all those words in quotations because God has erased those words and affirmed His promise of enlarging His Kingdom in Boston through this project time and time again.

God is on the move in some amazing ways in this city. Any time I might be tempted to doubt His plan for the center or for Uphams Dudley, I have to look at the path we've traveled to get to today. He is teaching me trust, patience, instructing us about His sovereignty, reminding us of the need for humility and that He is ultimately in control of it all. Our God is a good God and worthy to be praised. He will not promise and not fulfill. He may not fulfill on our exact schedule or to our exact specifications, but so long as we're obedient, He will fulfill to the perfection of His plans in His time. Good enough for me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Crass or Capitalist?

I know it sounds like one of Larry's post titles, but I was struck by this article about news outlets buying ad space on google and yahoo for searches about the Virginia Tech shooting. I was going to post about the number of flagpoles I saw this week at full mast, but this takes it one step further.

Read the whole article here, but here are the last 2 paragraphs:

One potential problem for news organizations is that keyword ads "can also leave you looking crass -- that you're tapping in for a business purpose on a tragedy," said Danny Sullivan, editor of the SearchEngineLand.com newsletter. "It could make some people's eyebrows go up ... 'Did you have to go after that particular term?"'

But Sullivan added that if news sites have "substantial information" to share about a search term -- even if that information is, after all, a commercial product -- "I would err on their side of that -- that it's not so bad."

Is it really not so bad? Is this any different than what news stations or even newspapers have done for years, putting together flashy logos to depict human tragedy? Is it more sinister because it involves considering what search terms people will use in order to sell your advertising? And who is making the decisions to do this? Is it the NY Times or CNN or is it Proctor & Gamble and IBM who are buying ad space both in TV land and in cyberspace? How cold have we become as a nation that we're willing to sell human tragedy and call it "not so bad?"

PLEASE NOTE: The Gunshot Google image at the top of this post is not actually from Google. I created it to drive home the point.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Old Army Sunday

So we were in Manchester, CT last weekend. They were having an Old Army Sunday. I may or may not blog on the first half of the meeting. I'm a bit ambivalent about it and don't want to speak out of turn as I'm sure there were good intentions.

The second half of the service, the sermon by Lt. Colonel Joe Bassett (R) was excellent. A couple of nuggets from this God-given word.

His opener led the way: "We don't worship The Salvation Army or William or Catherine Booth. We worship Jesus Christ our Risen Savior."
He shared a longer quote from DA Carson about the Church, but this portion stuck out to me: "we're better at organizing than agonizing." He's talking about agonizing over the lost, a world dying in sin. If there's any indictment on the church that hits close to home for me right now, it's this one. If we don't agonize enough and organize too much, we're lost.
Colonel went on to talk about judgment and how people should be treated when they come into a Salvation Army worship service--whether it's a holiness meeting or a salvation meeting or any meeting. "People come into our meetings & they know the problems that they have in their lives. They don't need those problems to be pointed out to them. They don't need to be reminded of the burdens they bear. We need to be prepared to bear the burden with them without being judgmental."
He also talked about full surrender. "When God called me to officership, I siad, 'God, this is stupid.' There are times even now, all these years later, when I say, 'G what u r asking me 2 do is ridiculous.'" I thought that was one of the most honest and true statements I've ever heard about Christian service. What God calls us to do is ridiculous, that's why the cross is foolishness to the world. God's call doesn't come with a stupid-free guarantee. His grace is outrageous and sometimes he asks us to do outrageous things for Him.
I suppose I should tell you what the scripture was on which he spoke. It was Nehemiah chapter 2. Here's the quick 3 points. In Neh 2:4 God asks Nehemiah, "what is it u want?" Nehemiah has 3 answers:
2:5 to be sent
2:7 to be safe
2:8 to be supplied
God gave Nehemiah what he asked for, but that didn't mean he had it easy. Sanballat and friends didn't want Nehemiah to do this good work. God does the same for all who are called, but not necessarily in the way that we might envision sent, safe or supplied.
Here was a real stinger from Colonel Bassett. He was discussing the fact that Nehemiah stood up and fulfilled the calling God had placed on his life. That didn't mean sitting on the sidelines or hoping the wall could be rebuilt or being politically correct. This is the encouragement he gave to the congregation: "There are battles to be caused. Nehemiah, sent, safe, supplied declared war on life as it is." I think we are too small in our thinking sometimes, too safe. Notice the verb that was used--battles to be caused. We sometimes talk of battles to be fought as if we'll stumbled upon them and then do what we ought to. Are we looking for the battles we need to cause in God's name?
He followed it up with this. "There is no concern in the mind of satan about an Army that only goes through the motions. Do you cause satan much worry? How much overtime did the enemy have to do last week because of me?"

Old Army Sunday ended with people at the mercy seat (including me) and a call to prayer as we sang (not O Boundless Salvation -- they started with that one) but this:

In the Army of Jesus we've taken our stand
To fight 'gainst the forces of sin.
The rescue we go, Satan's power to o'ertrhow
And his captives to Jesus we'll win.

I'll stand for Christ, for Christ alone
Amid the tempest and the storm.
Where Jesus leads I'll follow on;
I'll stand, I'll stand for Christ alone.

We go forth not to fight 'gainst the sinner, but sin;
The lost and the outcast we love;
And the claims of our King we before them will bring
As we urge them His mercy to prove.

Jesus pitied our case and He died for our race,
To save a lost world He was slain;
But He rose and now lives, and His pardon He gives
Unto all who will call on His name.

Though our trials be great and God's enemies strong,
To battle undaunted we go,
For our warfare's the Lord's and to Him we belong,
In His strength we shall conquer the foe.

Frederick William Fry (SASB 687)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Easter 2007

I can' blog, but I can take a good photo every now and again. The Easter shot for this year.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A legend pumping gas

So Jen and I were out shopping on Saturday night. We needed to stop for gas, so we pulled into a station in Braintree, MA, just south of Boston. (the Mobil across for South Shore Plaza for the Bostonians reading. Is anyone reading this?) At the pump in front of us was a silver Toyota RAV4. A guy gets out wearing a non-descript winter jacket and a winter hat that was quite silly. It was red, white and blue with a long tassel hanging from the top. I was just about to hop out and pump my gas when Jen, ever the celebrity spotter says, "Drew, that's Bill Belichick." I looked more closely and it certainly seemed to be him. I got out of the car to pump my gas just in time to hear him say "cash" to the attendant over the intercom system. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew it was the legendary coach of the New England Patriots.

I pumped my gas, trying to figure out why he was driving a RAV4, contemplating the fact that he must have to pay cash everywhere he goes so as not to be called out by the person ringing up his purchases with a credit card and trying to figure out what to do in light of the situation. When I finished pumping the gas, we decided Jen would say hi and ask to get a picture with him. She half-chickened out twice and then simply walked up to him and said "Hi, Coach Belichick." He said "hi" nicely enough, but in that way that clearly communicated, "I'm not really looking to be bothered." He wasn't rude at all, but it was clear the picture request was not something he was going to respond to favorably, so we just got back in the car and left the station. Oh and called all of the Patriot fans we could think of who would pick up the phone at 9:45 at night.

I love living in this town.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Duty v. Devotion, Action v. Adoration

There's been a lot of discussion lately somehow related to this topic. I recently heard an excellent sermon on it from Major Linda Jones in Quincy, MA pertaining to the exchange between Martha and Mary in Luke 10 when Jesus was visiting.

Here are some of her thoughts:

We should be careful to live within this tension. The left column represents cultural assumptions or tendencies. The column on the right is what we are expected to do as believers.
Martha Mary
Work v Worship
Duty v. Devotion
Urgent v. Essential
Focus on self & others v. Focus on Jesus - If Jesus needed food, Mary would have gotten it.
Standing & working v. sitting right in front of Jesus

A couple of quotes
"People expect us to be busy." Stephen Covey

"Tension & frustration mount when we are doing the wrong task or trying to cram too many right tasks into one time period" Major Linda Jones

"If we forget God while serving God, we will probably quit God." Mark Collinsworth

I was struck by many of the thoughts she shared and realized that it's a tricky thing. I work hard sometimes to make sure other people know how hard I'm working, how busy I am, how important a given task is that I'm doing. I guess there can be this equal tendency to make our worship something that we want to get credit for. I've been in situations where the Martha-Mary responses are reversed. One person is quietly and faithfully working away at a task wholeheartedly offering it as a sacrifice for the Kingdom, while someone else wants to make a show of their devotion and make it seem like it's more important than the task their peer is doing. But it's a false self-serving kind of devotion.

This is the exception, of course. For the most part, we'd rather be known as hard workers than hard worshipers to coin a phrase. Our culture, even our Christian culture looks down on those who are "So heavenly-minded they're of no earthly good." We have slipped into the trap of glorifying hard work sometimes at the peril of glorifying God. Because our work gives a quick fix of affirmation, we are willing to trade our glory for His.

Apparently, former General Albert Orsborn was living in this tension and had become a bit of a Martha when he suffered an accident and had to recooperate in a nursing home. He realized how far his priorities had shifted and wrote these immortal words to "All My Work is for the Master." Oh that I would live these words every day. When it's all over and I'm welcomed home, I want to be known as a hard worshiper, someone who did everything for God's honor and glory, not a hard worker who was working for my own legacy.

All My Work is For the Master
Albert Orsborn
Saviour, if my feet have faltered
On the pathway of the cross,
If my purposes have altered
Or my gold be mixed with dross,
O forbid me not thy service,
Keep me yet in thy employ.
Pass me through a sterner cleansing
If I may but give thee joy!
All my work is for the Master,
He is all my heart's desire;
O that he may count me faithful
In the day that tries by fire!
Have I worked for hireling wages,
Or as one with vows to keep,
With a heart whose love engages
Life or death, to save the sheep?
All is known to thee, my Master,
All is known, and that is why
I can work and wait the verdict
Of thy kind but searching eye.
I must love thee, love must rule me,
Springing up and flowing forth
From a childlike heart within me,
Or my work is nothing worth.
Love with passion and with patience,
Love with principle and fire,
Love with heart and mind and utterance,
Serving Christ my one desire.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Urban Forum III: a Past Idea

So I know it's now been almost a month since I was at the 614 Network Urban Forum in Atlanta. I am still processing a couple of things I heard there. Thanks to Delta, I arrived exactly 3 hours after I was supposed to. I missed the beginning of a talk given by Bob Lupton who runs FCS Urban Ministries in Atlanta. He also serves on the board of Christian Community Development of America. I walked in just in time to hear him say, " the idea of building a big building in a poor neighborhood is a past idea. We shouldn't be doing that anymore."

This statement shook me as I am occupied entirely right now with a project that is set to build the largest center The Salvation Army has ever built in the Northeast. His point was that gentrification is sweeping the urban landscape in North America. Once blighted neighborhoods are being revitalized largely due to an influx of wealthy professionals returning from their exile in the suburbs. I say that because many of those people returning to cities are actually the children or grandchildren of a generation of wealthy professionals who fled the cities to populate and perfect the suburban landscape following WWII. White flight and the resultant abuse brought on by insurance fraud, municipal negligence and life conditions of the urban poor have destroyed these neighborhoods and now gentrification threatens to reinvent them by vacating the poor, pricing up real estate and "starting over." Lupton's point is that we can not stop this continental trend and so we ought to be careful not to tie ourselves to a new building in a poor neighborhood as it might not be that way for long. We need to be nimble enough as urban ministries to keep up with the geography of the people we're trying to serve.

I should tell you a bit about the 614 crowd if you're unfamiliar with them. The network is made up of a number of courageous people (mostly Salvationists and some Mennonites) who have moved into poor urban neighborhoods to live, work, go to school with the longtime residents of these communities. They are doing incarnational ministry, experiencing a good deal of injustice themselves--cramped grocery stores, no good plumbers, negligent response from city agencies--and a lot of the richness--the cultural mosaic, the interconnected support structures formed by residents, the hope of a brighter day--that is experienced in places like Regent Park in Toronto and downtown Birmingham, Alabama. As a rule, they mistrust bureaucratic authoritarian structures, preferring a streamlined God-inspired ministry model without all of the red tape and politics.

As I spent time there, I found that some people had assumed that we were just going to plop a huge corps (church) community center in the midst of this landscape and not ask anyone's advice about it. One guy even went so far as to tell me that the people in the community don't want the center. As far as I know, he's never been to Dudley. The assumption was that we were going to pump millions of dollars into a changing neighborhood only to end up with egg on our faces when gentrification rolls through and transforms the neighborhood. They were also bothered by what better work could be done with the funds. When I described the process we'd been through to gain trust in the community, listen to the concerns and partner with agencies and residents, very few were hopeful, most were cynical. That same guy wanted to throw out academic terms around community process to make me look foolish for being such a neophyte.

Here's the thing, though. Everything Lupton said was true. Unchecked, gentrification will develop urban neighborhoods by displacing those that stayed when everyone left, leaving them without a place to live and most without any economic advantage for having been displaced. It's true if a community has not stepped up to prevent it from happening. All of that will take place if the residents have not organized to plan a way through this new wave. In Dudley, they are committed to development without displacement. This means they want to preserve it as a mixed-income community, where those with means are living side by side with those living with less. They have strategized around it and done groundbreaking work to ensure permanently affordable housing and to protect the values of the neighborhood they committed not to leave decades ago. And, oh by the way, part of the strategy has included a community center on Dudley Street next to the tracks for 20 years. We have listened to, learned from and engaged that planning process.

Unfortunately, not every neighborhood has this united force to mitigate the coming changes. I fear some of the Kroc Centers will end up being exactly what Lupton and the 614 folks fear most--a monumental waste of resources as wealthy people move into a poor neighborhood and force out the current residents. So isn't it important that the Bob Luptons and Geoff Ryans of the world engage those of us planning Kroc Centers and the communities in which they'll be built?

I guess I'd prefer that to being kicked in the shin and being told that my current calling is a fool's errand.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

No, seriously, I'm back

Gotten a couple of notes from people decrying my declaration of being back on the blog scene. They say things like "well, guess your resolution to blog again didn't work out" or "it was a nice try, maybe next time."

Let me 'splain. I had a 3rd blog post from the Urban Forum all done. It was ready to post, and I made the mistake of previewing it and then in the process of trying to make an edit, I lost it. No number of back button pushes would bring it back to me, so I've been waiting for the opportunity to post it. Let me give you a preview.

It all starts with a quote from Bob Lupton. I walked into the room to hear him say, "The idea of building a big building in a poor neighborhood is a past idea. We should no longer be doing that." You can understand how that threw me since I'm spending roughly 30 hours a day trying to figure out how we are going to get a 90,000 square foot community center erected in the poorest neighborhood in Boston. Anyway, there's more on that topic and it will be coming in a post before Valentine's Day.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Urban Forum II - Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne, founder of The Simple Way and author of The Irresistible Revolution is here. His talks were more or less summaries of his writing, so I'll just share some of his writing. Hits me quite a bit when we brag so much about the largest charitable gift to a non-profit in history, largest social service project in Boston, etc.

Shane says this:

Layers of insulation separate the rich and the poor from truly encountering one another. There are the obvious ones like picket fences and SUVs, and there are the more subtle ones like charity. Tithes, tax-exempt donations, and short-term mission trips, while they accomplish some good, can also function as outlets that allow us to appease our consciences adn still retain a safe distance from the poor. Take this poignant example I stumbled across. Kathy Lee garments, which earn over $300 million in sals annually, are being produced by teenage girls in abysmal conditions in Honduran sweatshops. These girls as young as 13 work fifteen-hour hsifts under armed guards receiving 31 cents an hour to produce clothing sold under a label which promises that "a portion of proceeds from the sale of this garment will be donated to various Children's Charities."

Charity can be a dangerous insulator

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Urban Forum

A long awaited new look for the new year. And a commitment to process more of my life here than I have been lately. I miss the blogging community and the interaction we've shared here. I feel pretty disconnected and look forward to changing that.

I'm at the Urban Forum in Atlanta put on by the 614 Network. Ray Aldred spoke on Tuesday and I took down some of his thoughts. He is of Cree descent from Northern Alberta, Canada. He works with a group called "My People International" doing family ministry programs with in Canadian Aboriginal communities.

Here are some thoughts he gave:

When we reduce the gospel to anything less than the story that it is, we weaken it. The gospel story is the canon of scripture, the whole thing, the whole process--Old and New Testament.

I thought that the mission of God was something that you enacted on someone. In trying to convey the gospel to aboriginal people, we became utilitarian in our understanding of what it meant to be aboriginal. We had to ask ourselves: "Are we using feathers and drums only to draw an audience?" When we checked that understanding, we discovered that there was in indian life, an expression of the gospel. We discovered that if we tried only to express or convey the gospel to aboriginal people, we had failed. We had to find the gospel that was in aboriginal people.

If you are trying to express the gospel to poor people, you need to understand the gospel that is in poor people.

Anybody who does mission to any marginalized group has 2 roles to fulfill: to proclaim the incarnation to people and to proclaim the incarnation in people.
"Coming of Christ into the world describes how he loves all of creation. For God so loved the Cosmos that he sent his only son into the world."

"Canada and the United States have struggled to acknowledge the humanity of aboriginal people. You can't spread civilization unless there are people who are uncivilized. Aboriginal people did not appear as Westerners expected them to be or portrayed them, because they had some type of civilization. Because of this native people couldn't simply be killed. They had to be saved first than conquered."

"The desire of colonialism was to spread the sovreignty of their nation in a way that undermined God's sovreignty."

The Bible is holy and yet, the views held in the West have made this sacredness a way to keep the gospel from ordinary people.

If we do not love the one sitting before us, how can we say we love God? If we can not love the person who is very different from us, how can we say we love God?

The Church has gotten really good at being spiritual. Now we need to remember how to be human again.