Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The current financial situation (or crisis, if you're following your 401(k) value closely) has resulted in many of us feeling less certain about our future. As often happens in these circumstances, folks "pull in the reins" and reduce spending on non-essentials. The spike of oil prices above $140 a barrel earlier this year caused some frantic number crunching in our local churches as the cost to heat sanctuaries this winter seemed unbelievably high. Other congregations are already bracing for reduced giving in the coming year.
To be honest, I'm not really a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" person. Troubleshooter that I am, I'm more of a "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be" person. But having said that, I also know that our God is a God of Abundance, not scarcity! And God will fill our glass - how big it is, is up to us. And we, as Stewards of God, must give from that spirit of abundance, not from a place of fear.
This week there were plenty of reminders of people who know this to be so. An Associated Press article provided many reasons to be hopeful, including:
· In Seattle, Boeing Co. employees tripled their cash donations this year to Northwest Harvest, operator of Washington's largest food bank. And every week, Northwest Harvest spokeswoman Claire Acey says, companies call to say their employees have decided to skip their holiday party and buy food for the hungry instead.
· Contributions to American charities have increased during 39 of the past 40 years in today's dollars, and a change in the tax laws _ not the stock market crash _ can be blamed for the drop in 1987, said Melissa Brown, associate director of research for The Center on Philanthropy. Between 69 and 72 percent of people give routinely, she said.
· A survey released this week by Federal Way, Wash.-based World Vision indicates that 2008 could actually be a better-than-usual Christmas for the nation's charitable organizations. The telephone survey, conducted in late October by Harris Interactive, found that seven in 10 adults plan to spend less money on holiday presents this year, but about half say they are more likely to give a charitable gift than a traditional present such as clothing or an electronic toy.
Now, I'm not a Pollyanna, and I know we face some difficult decisions in both our local churches and at the Conference about our expectations for income in the coming years. But I would encourage you to faithfully explore (it's amazing how different the world looks through the prism of the Spirit) new and exciting ways to be "church", and not to spend too much time worrying and bemoaning our future. The worrying doesn't help - and the time spent moaning is better spent in prayer.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
I have had an uneasy relationship with Veterans' Day my entire adult life. Although I gave 20 years to the service of my country in the Navy Seabees, the label of Veteran is not one I wear without some discomfort. Indeed, due to injuries to my knees while on active duty, I could also correctly be called a disabled veteran, a moniker with which I am even more uncomfortable.
It is not that I am ashamed or embarrassed of my service. The exact opposite is true. I had, by nearly any measure, a successful and rewarding career. A Chief Petty Officer in 8 years, a Master Chief in 17, and half of my career spent in a specialized program supplying utilities to naval facilities worldwide.
And yet, my internal pictures of Veterans are, for example, the grizzled survivors of World War II, a group whose numbers are significantly decreasing daily, and of which my father is a part. Those who saw things which should not be seen, and did things you shouldn’t have to do. And when they came home, they locked it all away and went on with their lives as if it never happened. Recent works recognizing “The Greatest Generation” have provided the children of those men (and women) with amazing stories of both horror and heroism they had never heard before.
Or perhaps those who served in Korea, the ‘forgotten’ war. Or those who served in Vietnam. Vietnam Veterans, in particular, were treated shabbily by the country they served admirably when they returned. Many of them still wear the scars of that conflict, whether visible or not.
More recently, we have those who served in the first Gulf War, and those who serve as I type.
Those are the men and women I think of when I hear the word Veteran. To be included in their number seems almost a sham. Did I do some dangerous things during my service? Certainly. But nothing that compares to what millions of others have done, sacrifices paid with body parts, damaged psyches, and all too often the ultimate sacrifice for a sometimes ungrateful nation.
I have many fond memories of my service with the Seabees. There was the Christmas I spent at the Mare Island Shipyard with Barney Baker and others as we provided emergency power to the base after the failure of a transmission tower. The day Lynn and Joe Maynard pinned Chief Anchors to my collar for the first time. The 7 months in Haiti, building a 5.5 mile road around Port-au-Prince, and my crew who delighted in giving their meager off time to rebuilding local schools and orphanages, as Seabees are want to do. The three years Lynn, I, and the kids spent in the Philippines, surviving five typhoons, an earthquake, two coup attempts, and finally, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.
And the month spent in Homestead after Hurricane Andrew. We were part of a small Seabee Unit at the Mayport Naval Station in 1992 when Andrew devastated south Florida. The next day, the Commanding Officer of Naval Station Mayport called and said simply, “Go south. Help people.” Best set of orders I ever received. And we went; clearing roads, providing temporary roof repairs, distributing food and healthcare, repairing electrical systems.
All good stuff of which I am very proud, but which seems deficient when compared to the acts of others. And so, on this Veterans' Day, I hope all Americans will honor those who have to ably served their country. And a day I will wear the label of Veteran proudly, but humbly.
Blessings to all of you,
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Nowhere is this more evident than the beauty product ads that feature examples of womanhood which are unnatural, and indeed, impossible without hours of preparation by a team of experts, then manipulating the results further with computers.
We have given people, and particularly teenage girls, an impossible standard to attain, and have perpetuated a culture of self-hate, eating disorders, cutting, and depression.
In the midst of this, Dove has done something revolutionary. Yes, Dove. The facial soap people. Watch this video and see. I don't think it needs any further introduction.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Our story is this nation’s story. We are the people of the Mayflower. More than 600 of our 5,700 congregations were formed before 1776. Eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of UCC predecessor bodies.
As early abolitionists, we came to the aid of the Amistad captives and founded hundreds of schools across the South after the Civil War. We were the first mainline church to ordain an African-American (1785), a woman (1853) and an openly gay pastor (1972). We were also the first to form a foreign mission society (1810). Our multi-ethnic membership includes persons from every immigrant group, as well as native peoples and descendants of freed slaves.
Our unity is not dependent upon uniform agreement, but in our shared allegiance to Jesus Christ. Ours is a risk-taking church, because ours is a risk-taking God. God is still speaking, ®
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
I begin with the musical history of my youth not to try to impress you, but to give you a feel for how important music was (and is) to me. My musical tastes are eclectic – the cd changer in my truck is as likely to contain Mozart as it is Dean Martin as it is Cake as it is the soundtrack from The Music Man.
Sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t born a generation too late. I have a real affection for some of the biggest names of the 1950’s and 60’s, and I don’t mean Elvis or the Beatles. I’m thinking more like Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima, Sammy Davis Jr., Dino, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, and many others. Songs from what is now called the Great American Songbook, classics crafted by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, the Gershwins, and so many more. To listen to this music on line, go to Martini in the Morning for the best internet music station.
Identifying with more modern music is sometimes more difficult for me. But there are several modern artists whom I find very enjoyable.
But only one, really, touches me deep inside, for reasons I can’t begin to explain. And that artist is Bjork.
Bjork is from Iceland, and it is difficult to fit her music into a single genre. In fact on Wikipedia it lists them as:
Her music touches me internally. It is not a pop song quickly forgotten, but something to be savored and explored over time. She first grabbed me with the song Hunter. She has wonderfully expressive vocals, a diverse and deep musicality, and seems to exist for the sheer joy of her music. She has her own record label, and although she has sold 15 million albums worldwide, she probably would not consider herself a commercial success. I heard her say once that the money she earns only serves to help pay for the next project.
And her next project is amazing. Her new song, Wanderlust, would serve as a good introduction to Bjork as any other. And she just spent $100,000 of her own money to produce a video for it. Several months in the making, filmed in 3D, it is amazing. I’ll insert it here. (You might want to listen to it the first time without trying to ‘get’ the video. Just listen. Next time through you can watch)
(updated April 4th - The video has been removed from YouTube, but if you search around you will find the audio and/or video - jim)
Let me know what you think….
Friday, March 7, 2008
Early internet connectivity was, for me and most folks, a slow affair suitable for typing plain text on a BBS, or bulletin board. When I replaced my 300 baud modem with a new 1200 baud unit (yes, that’s 1.2K) I was amazed at my new speed.
I didn’t mean to begin authoring a missive on the history of personal computers and the internet. Where I meant to go was to the internet today and the absolutely astounding amount of information and enjoyment available. I think, for example, of something my kids probably take for granted – multiple encyclopedia sites, dictionary sites, and the like. Nearly every home had a set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s when I was growing up. I suspect very few do now. All 26 volumes now fit on a single cd; or more significantly, on a continuously evolving, adapting, and growing on line version such as Wikipedia.
So, maybe what I’d do in my next few posts is to share a couple of my favorite places to go on the world wide web. Maybe you’ll find someplace new you like as well.
First: music. There are literally thousands of internet radio stations to listen to, providing virtually any format you can imagine. Some are rebroadcasts of terrestrial radio (regular AM or FM stations), but many are designed exclusively for internet broadcast. These latter stations may be simply replaying the contents of someone’s music folder, while others have disk jockeys, personalities and even commercials.
My absolute favorite example of a successful internet radio station is Martini in the Morning, owned by the Standard Media Group, and run by Brad “Martini” Chambers. If you tried to pigeonhole the format, I guess you might call it Adult Contemporary, but it’s really about the Great American Songbook – performed by classic artists such as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland; and contemporary artists like Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., and Diana Krall.
This music is really enjoying a comeback – and while smaller radio markets cannot support such a station, the internet, with no signal boundaries, can.
I’ve been listening for most of year now – it plays on my office computer all day, and often at home on the weekend. Brad is pretty cagey about the number of listeners, but I’ve seen well over 700 just on Shoutcast alone.
So, check it out! Brad is live on the air several hours during the day, with the morning show co-hosted by the delightful Michelle. I enjoy it enough to have 'joined', and become a Lounge Lizard in Exile. Strange to join a radio station you can hear for free? Tell that to the millions of listeners who support their local National Public Radio station!
Click here to go to their website, and click in the box in the upper right hand corner to listen live. Or simply click here to open the site's player in a new window.If you have Winamp, search for Martini in the Shoutcast Radio section. You can also download Winamp here.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
I observed, with much sadness, the passing of Bill Buckley yesterday. I hesitated, briefly, about whether to post something about this or not. Mr. Buckley was among the greatest conservatives of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the knee jerk reaction among many of those with whom I interact will be that being conservative equals being a republican equals all sorts of unpleasant –isms.
I certainly didn’t agree with everything Mr. Buckley espoused – he held several views with which I would squabble. His (albeit with some reservations) support of Joe McCarthy, his late conversion to support for civil rights, and his support for southern whites seeking to retain their culture come to mind.
I remain, however, in awe of his intelligence, wit, vocabulary, and debating skills. Even those with whom he disagreed came to admire him for these same qualities, except, perhaps, for Gore Vidal and Ayn Rand.
I feel my inferior command of the English language surfacing even as I write this – as I somehow wish to rise to a level which befits him. I am not alone. His writing style was well known for its wit, erudition, and use of an immense vocabulary. He inspired others to seek (as if it were possible) the high plain from which he spoke. Here, for example, is a letter written to Mr. Buckley when his was editor of National Review from Julian Schmidt: "Dear Mr. Buckley: You can call off the hunt for the elusive "encephalophonic." I have it cornered in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, where the noun "encephalophone" is defined as "an apparatus that emits a continuous hum whose pitch is changed by interference of brain waves transmitted through oscillators from electrodes attached to the scalp and that is used to diagnose abnormal brain functioning." I knew right where to look, because you provoked my search for that word a generation ago, when I first (and not last) encountered it in one of your books. If it was used derisively about you, I can only infer that the reviewer's brain was set a-humming by a) his failure to follow your illaqueating (ensnaring) logic, b) his dizzied awe at your manifold talents, and/or c) his inability to distinguish lexiphanicism (the use of pretentious words) from lectio divina. I say, keep it up. We could all do with more brain vibrations."
Bill was, without a doubt, a child of privilege. But, unlike many born with a silver spoon, he went on to accomplish much: founder of National Review; host of Firing Line; newspaper columnist; author of more than 40 books; a sailor; an accomplished musician; and the standard bearer for the conservative movement of the latter half of the 20th century. Recently, he gave grudging, lukewarm support for George W. Bush and spoke out about the war in Iraq, of which he said the war was: "…anything but conservative. The reality of the situation is that missions abroad to effect regime change in countries without a bill of rights or democratic tradition are terribly arduous." He added: "This isn't to say that the Iraq war is wrong, or that history will judge it to be wrong. But it is absolutely to say that conservatism implies a certain submission to reality; and this war has an unrealistic frank and is being conscripted by events.”
If you’re not familiar with Mr. Buckley, you can find many videos of him on either Google or Youtube.
A commentator on the National Review website yesterday said that today Heaven was a little more heavenly, and rest assured that God has sent an angel for a dictionary, knowing Bill was coming.
Monday, February 25, 2008
Here’s the front of the house. You almost can’t see out the kitchen windows.
This is the north side of the house. The snow is over four feet deep here. For reference, our camping trailer (under the green tarp) is 11 feet tall.
I have to keep finding the mailbox after the plow goes through. Even on the road the snow is a foot deep.
The old chicken coop. We use it as a storage shed. Glad I don’t need anything in there right now.
The front door. We don’t actually use it, but the fill pipe for the oil tank is against the house to the right of the door, so I have to keep it clear.
Well, you get the idea. It had been a very snowy winter. And we’re no where near done. Some years March is our snowiest month. Yippee!
One more picture before I go. The last few weeks we’ve had an owl hanging around. He comes at dusk and stays a couple of hours each night. He has seriously reduced the squirrel/chipmunk/mole population. He has been as close as sitting on the pole which holds the birdfeeder, less than 2 feet from the front porch. He’s hard to get a picture of, but Friday night I caught him. It’s not a great picture, but the best I could do.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Saturday, February 23, 2008
I had hoped to keep my blog light for a while, only dipping my toes into blogdom and avoiding the hard stuff, at least until I was sure no one was actually reading it!
But, as is often the case in my life, things are put before me in their own time, not mine.
I’ve posted the unedited email over on my personal website. You can read it by clicking here. You can also navigate to the other pages on my site from there if you like.
The email presumes to say that the answer to the title question is no, and offers some selective quoting, thin logic, and outright untruths to support the claim. I should start by saying that quoting the Quran out of context is a fun exercise, and you can do it with our Hebrew and Christian Bible as well. Wanna play? OK, here are a couple of examples.
2 Kings 2:23-24
He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
That’s one of my favorites. Kids giving you a hard time? Call down a curse, and bears will eat them. No? My children never bought that one.
Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death.
Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death.
My kids claimed I couldn’t follow this Bible rule either, although I wanted to a couple of times.
Ok, I think I’ve made my point as far as quoting scripture goes. I have enough examples like this to make your head spin. (All quoted passages above from the New Revised Standard Version of the bible)
So, does being a Muslim preclude someone from being a good citizen? I hope not. There are about 2 million of them living in the US now. That’s an estimate, of course. The US Census is not allowed to ask religious preference, so varying estimates exist
(see http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_islam_usa.html )
This argument reminds me of the questions which dogged JFK in 1960. “We can’t elect him president!” “He’s Catholic!” “He’ll have to follow the Pope’s orders!” More recently, Mitt Romney was forced to answer questions about his faith this election cycle, with some afraid that Mitt was hiding some sort of dark agenda that he would then prosecute once in the Oval Office.
Well, I’m not sure I’m up to debunking every item in this inflammatory email, but I’ll take a stab at a few.
Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.
Umm, ever heard of Turkey?
And our efforts are certainly trying to support a democratic government in Iraq. And Pakistan.
I would argue that many Middle Eastern countries would have come to democracy on their own, and sooner, if not for the long history of imperial rule in the region by Briton, France, and the Ottoman Empire. They were taught about imperial rule, and dictatorship, by supposedly superior European countries. Whether you support the war in Iraq or not, democracy seems a better example to demonstrate for self rule.
Spiritually - no. Because when we declare 'one nation under God,' the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 excellent names.
Hmm, not quite. I’ll set aside whether our Old Testament God could be referred to as a loving and kind God (don’t make me quote the bible to you again), but here are a few of the 99 names of God in the Quran.
The Loving, The Kind One
And here are a few that are also used for our Christian God:
The Judge, The Arbitrator
The Giver of Life
Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.
Would not our country be better if we all prayed 5 times a day?
Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)
Well, that’s weird. They want people to adhere to Islam? That’s so different from us Christians. We don’t want everyone to be Christians, of course. Oops. Wait. I forgot about the Great Commission:
Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20:
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."(NIV)
I admit, that as a pastor of a Christian church, it is a somewhat uncomfortable position to be in, defending Islam. But they have been unfairly painted with a broad stroke of a brush that lumps the vast majority of peaceful people in with a small minority that is extreme and violent. You wouldn’t do the same to Christians. Or would we? As a pastor in the United Church of Christ, I would imagine that my beliefs and traditions would cause some of my more conservative and fundamental brothers and sisters in Christ to recoil in horror. Within Facebook, there is an add-on called MyChurch. They refused to list my congregation, because we didn’t meet their ‘belief system’. After some dialog, they admitted it was because my church is Open and Affirming. They stated that they didn’t consider my church to be Christian. Nice, huh? There is a wide spectrum of Christians, just as there is in Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. Hating all of Islam because of the acts of a small minority would be the same as hating all Italian Americans after watching The Godfather.
This email really pushes a button for me. People forward emails around the net with impunity, never considering whether the drivel they forward is actually true. The immediacy of the medium and the ease with which it can be forwarded seems to have removed all logic and reason from people. The slander, untruths, and rants that fill my inbox daily are disheartening.
More another time (and a lighter topic, I promise)
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Lynn on the mini-golf course. I bought her a carnation on the way to the park, and she carried it with her all day. She still likes to get flowers.
Yeah, that’s me. Having a good conversation with a cowboy on a bench. Don’t ask. By the way, I think I’m wearing a Maynard Ferguson T shirt. We had recently attended a concert in Boston with Maynard and Miles Davis on the twin bill.
Lynn on the airplane ride. This picture still makes me smile. And the one that follows, as well.
Well, that’s all I have from that trip. There may be more pictures somewhere, but I can’t put my hands on them.
This whole thing about Lincoln Park is still simmering in my head and heart. I even managed to tie together the Transfiguration and roller coasters in my sermon a couiple of Sundays ago. Strangely enough, I think it worked.
More another day.
A couple of weeks ago, in the email news headlines I get from the Boston Globe, was an article about a potential mixed use development in Dartmouth Massachusetts. The plan for The Village at Lincoln Park calls for 308 units of housing, including rental apartments and mixed commercial property, in a “traditional neighborhood development” approach.
The development site would be on the acreage that was once Lincoln Park, a smallish (by Six Flags standards) amusement park which had its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, and which I visited many times growing up. The park closed in September 1987, after declining revenues caused by larger, newer amusement parks; a dubious safety record (including a death on the park’s roller coaster, the Comet; and indifference by the ownership.
In the twenty years since it closed, almost nothing has changed at Lincoln Park, meaning nearly everything that wasn't sold off, or burned or torn down by vandals is still there. And with lax security and fencing, it was/is fairly easy to get in. After reading the Globe article, I Google’d Lincoln Park, and found pictures people had posted of the park back when it was open, and others who have traveled through the park as it sits now, overgrown, rotting, and frankly, haunting. Here are some examples of how it looks now:
The Comet. The first hill collapsed under snow load in 2004
Pizza Snack Shack
Loading platform for the Comet
I think this was the popcorn stand
The Comet, from the other side of the Park.
The building that covered the carousel.
Anyway, if you want more, there are hundred of photos on the web of Lincoln Park now, and in years past. You can Google it yourself, but, for example, here’s one site with over 100 photos: http://www.freewebs.com/lpcomet/lincolnparknowphotos.htm
Ok, one more picture:
Frankly, I’m not sure why this is so fascinating to me. Is it a reminder that you can’t go home again? Or a taste of my own mortality? Or perhaps just a morbid curiosity? It is hard to reconcile the pictures I see now with the memories I have of the Park, although I recognize, even among the damage and dilapidation, the Park I once knew. It’s also amazing to me that the town has let it sit like this for 20 years, and no one has gotten seriously hurt in there and sued the town.
By now, either I’ve piqued your curiosity, or you’re wondering whether I’ve lost my marbles. So, feel free to explore some more, or just delete.
More another time.