Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005 In Review The definitive Top 10 List Linkorama

It's New Year's. I flipped on CNN last night, and found (as usual) thousands of people already standing in 36 degree drizzling rain, waiting for the big moment. On the surface, it sounds nuts. But you know what? Before I require a walker to get around, I told my wife I might like to be there, in Times Square on New Years Eve, right in the thick of humanity. Maybe, someday.

I have always wondered about our cultural fascination with New Years. And every year that I can remember, the press spends the last several days of the year reviewing what are considered to be the newsworthy events of the prior year. Not to be left behind, Christian news folks have their own top ten lists; see this and this.

For all 13 of you who routinely visit here, I give you the Steve Norris Top 10 List of Newsworthy Events of 2005.

  1. 1. The Death of John Paul (the Great). And I am not even Catholic.
  2. The ongoing suffering in Darfor, Sudan, and our need to respond.
  3. The elevation of Cardinal Ratzinger to Benedict XVI. Good news for orthodoxy in the Catholic church.
  4. The tragic events of the tsunami in Southeast Asia, and our need, nay, call, to give.
  5. The Pakistani earthquake, and again, our need, as blessed people, to give.
  6. Good that is being done by US Troops in Iraq, and our need to pray for resolution of this pain, democracy for this country, and a return of our troops home.
  7. A review of the year in pictures, a reminder of the real world outside.
  8. The ongoing needs of the people of New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. Want to help? Go here.
  9. The death of Terry Schiavo.
  10. And, of course, this.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Tragic Opera of a Church

As the events of the past year have shown us, the universal church is still one of the most visible forms of the Body of Christ. But often, it is not a pretty thing to look at. Not the perfect ad agency male model, nor the youthful sublime frame of a lovely female fashion star. Lots of wrinkles, bumps, bruises. Even nasty surgical scars. But other times, there are moments, even seasons of life where the church can become something stunning, almost blinding it is beauty.

Recently, I have been sharing some of my reflections on the tragic opera that has unfolded over the past several years in the church we have attended for the past 20 years. Over the next days, I will unpack my thoughts a bit more.

Way Too Many Operas

I think I have recently discovered an interesting (ok, humor me) metaphor for what I have been experiencing over the past year.

Over the past month or so, I have been reconnected with my half-brother, who, after serving in the military for many years, has semi-retired and moved over seas. Our reconnection was brought about by the moving of my parents into an assisted living facility - and we have started a lively exchange of emails. I really like him, he is an honest, gregarious, and forthright fellow. And he has quite a bit of history with organized religion, namely the church. Over the past 30 years or so he has witnessed firsthand some sad and even bizarre dysfunction within otherwise well-meaning Christian folk. This lead him to a place of complete distaste for the Christian faith. He has described the years he spent going to church as "hating opera, but going twice every week". He finally decided, years ago, that he was done with the opera.

He is not particularly bitter, but he has decided that he will very likely not ever become "born again". I wonder, do Christian folk sometimes become participants in an opera that is meaningless to those looking in from the outside. This idea makes me sad, but I continue to correspond with my half-brother, the relationship is rewarding and challenging. Perhaps I can shed a beam of light....

Through all this, I still see evidence that the church can sometimes be something wonderful, lovely, and pleasing to God. Sometimes.

Oh, how I long for it to be so - at the church we attend. Lord, hear my longing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmastime Reunion

The picture here is from a gathering at our home about a week ago, when friends from five families, all old friends from church from many years ago, reunited for an evening. Our guests were Mike and Christina Hogg, and their family. Mike is Pastor of Canal Street Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, and I have written before here and here about Mike and the journey he is on these past four months, and likely for many months to come.

It was a wonderful time of pizza, laughter, listening, and praying for the future of Mike and his flock. I am so thankful for good, faithful, dependable people like the Hoggs. The Kingdom is well served by people like this.

The very next day, I came upon an article (not yet on the web site) by Andy Crouch at Christianity Today entitled "Its Not About Power". The premise of this article is that culture is best changed not by might, or political influence, or power, but most profoundly by nonbelievers "knowing followers of Christ personally and watching their response to disaster. Cultural transformation resulted from the Christian community simply being itself." For support of this notion, Crouch offers this book as crucial evidence. I think I will buy that book!

This is what Mike, his congregation, and those partnering with him throughout the country are all about. Showing people the Savior through humility along with patient, consistent, relentless love.

Please Lord, may it be so.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Come Lord Jesus, Come By Here

This is our house, last night, Christmas Eve. Several years ago my sweet wife, ever the initiator and go-getter, proposed that our entire block participate in the Mexican tradition of Christmas Luminarias. And now, every house on our block is part of this simple beauty.

This humble method of placing lighted paper bags mimics the 16th-century Spanish tradition of the bonfires that led the way to midnight Mass on the last night of Las Posadas, which celebrates the biblical story of Mary and Joseph's search for a place to stay. European missionaries introduced Catholicism to the indigenous people of Mexico in the 1500s, spawning Las Posadas processions that re-enact Mary and Joseph's trek through Bethlehem.

At our home, the luminarias come right up to the front door. If we can, and its not too cold out, we might leave the front door open. Hopefully, Joseph and Mary would be welcome in our home, as would the precious baby Mary carried for nine months of wonder. Wondering "why me, what is going to happen, what will he be like?"

As I bent to light each luminaria last night, it became an act of simple worship. Joseph and Mary, and Baby Jesus, come by here. Please, come by here.

May it be so, with each day, with each challenge of the coming year. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Far From Home

Its almost Christmas. While many of us will be enjoying friends, family, and home this weekend, many of our nation's finest will not be even anywhere close to home.

We need to remember these good men and women, in our prayers and in our hopes for their speedy return home. We sleep safely each night because they choose to stand in harm's way. God Bless them, each and every one.

For perhaps the most powerful visual reminder of the thanks we owe, go view

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Madonna del Magnificat - Sandro Botticelli - Florence, Italy 1480
Over the course of the past year, I have been trying to figure out more of what it means to "get a life". For me, that means trying to spend less time with the daily concerns of work, and more time for people, for investing in others, for fun, for enjoying this life that is such a sweet daily gift.
It even means placing some of the more petty concerns about of church in proper perspective. Yes, even church. Imagine that. I just don't remember the part in the Bible where Jesus said, "Goeth now, and make ye committees of all sorts - of food, and facilities, and personnel, and Christian Education. And maketh sure all of these committees have, for their meetings, snacks of the excellent sort."
So I will take a Christmas break from my ruminations on church.
I want to stop for a bit. To wonder. To look upon a completely miraculous event in a stable some 2000 years ago. Time stood still, and the world was changed forever. Heaven shouted good news to a collection of nobody shepards, then bent low, and expressed itself in the form of a little, tiny, screaming (the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes?), helpless baby. Amazing. Remarkable.

these words:
And Mary said,
I'm bursting with God-news;
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened--
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Think about this. Let it fill your soul.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Past of a Great Church

The Ghosts in the Attic

By way of introduction, my friend Rob Asghar has perhaps the most thoughtful perspective on all of these events I have been thinking about over the past year or so. You can read it
here, it goes a long way to setting up the situation.

I have been active at Hollywood Pres since 1984. I had no idea it had been that long, until my wife found a note the other night referencing when I had joined. So, I have a bit of history. Perhaps my history gives me a biased viewpoint, but hopefully it might also provide a bit of perspective.

Hollywood is known for its historic and almost iconic characters; people who loom larger than life. Perhaps the most monolithic character of all is Henrietta Mears, pictured here. "Miss Mears" as she was affectionately known to many, was an unabashed ambassador for Christ for more than 30 years. You can read more about her remarkable life
here. Suffice it to say that Miss Mears had a direct affect on the lives of a number of influential people including, Donn Moomaw, Rafer Johnson, Bill Bright, and a fellow named Billy Graham. Miss Mears was the founding vision behind Forest Home, and Gospel Light. She was a remarkable woman who lived a remarkable life. Our main auditorium is named after her, and the man who was her student and who now teaches Sunday school each week in this building named one of his children after her.

One of the most recognized pastors in our church's history was Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, who left our church in 1995 to become the chaplain of the US Senate for eight years. Dr. Ogilvie had a nationally syndicated television processed at our church for a number of years. He published or edited more than 50 books, and is still sought-after nationally as a speaker.

And so, you can see that our church is a place with many "ghosts". Grand ghosts of a bygone era in the evangelical world, important and wonderful people who have done much of public note for the Kingdom. However, one of the problems of having these grand people in our past is that they often have the tendency to fog our view of the future.

In the middle - 1990's, I was priviledged to be involved in the process of planning for the departure of Dr. Ogilvie to the Senate, and in the crafting of the Mission Study that attempted to set for the vision for the church in the years ahead. More on this process later.

As our church has faced so much struggle over the past year, I have been pondering how we got to this place. Where did we all loose our way? What went wrong? How can be build a better place for the future?

So, What Does This Mean?
And then, more recently I have been wondering what God is up to in all of this. Why would he cause all this pain in a once-great church? What the heck?! Maybe, I am slowly getting it. Maybe, just maybe God is breaking down all our stereotypes, all our plans, all our dreams, our visions, our ideas,all our smart ideas about what our church should look like, and be, and do. And maybe He means to do a
new thing.

Maybe. And Christ would be lifted up. Oh please, may it be so...

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Train Wreck and Nobody Wins

The past year or so in the life of our church has been really difficult. This is something that is hard for me to write about, as over the course of the past months, I have lost good friends, felt like I can't worship in peace and joy on Sunday, and felt anger in my soul that made me think I would burst a vessel. Our family even needed to take a six month "vacation" from our church and worship elsewhere. All of this over a deep and painful split in the church, First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood.

Kind, good, gentle and genuinely loving people have been deeply hurt, accusations of all sorts have been made, there has been shouting and booing at congregational meetings, angry public pronouncements have been made, and finally and sadly, two senior-most pastors have resigned.

Recently, a friend emailed me to let me know that Hugh Hewitt had a link on his website with the title "now that's a train wreck" and linking to a bitter resignation letter on the web, posted by a member. It has been a train wreck. Completely. Blood on the tracks, people screaming, blame being made, lives hurt, jobs lost, lives seemingly wrecked.

Clearly, nobody won. Nobody. And most sadly, the cause of Christ lost. We blew it. All of us.

The church has been hurt, and she appears silly, petty, and irrelevant in the eyes of a watching world, a world that already mistrusts much of organized religion.

Perhaps in the next several posts, I can talk a bit about my view of what has transpired, outline places where mistakes were made, and perhaps point to ways that we can all behave more like grown-ups in the future. People growing-up in Christ.

When I started this post yesterday, my initial thought was to "get even" with the negative tone of the Hewitt link to the "train wreck" post. But after a long conversation with my wife and a dear close friend (who, as it happens is in seminary seeking ordination in the Presbyterian church), my heart and mind have been changed.

Here is what I want. I want our church to be healed. I want our church to be whole. I want it to be a place that will draw people to the person of Christ - because He is really all that matters. All. Everything. I don't want to win anything. I don't want to have the corner on truth and justice. I want Christ to be honored, proclaimed, and lived out. Lived out in ways that are real and transformational. And my prayer, as I type, is that I would not hinder this by anything I might say.

What should a church, our church look like? What is the ideal? I have to quote the words of my good friend, Tod Bolsinger, who said recently:

"I believe that the goal of every church must be to so grow in Christ, so mature in faithfulness, so increase in love and wisdom and justice and peace that if any person was to ask you what you think heaven will be like you could someday actually say, "Do you want to know what heaven is like? Come and see. Come to my church and hang out with my friends and see the way we live, worship and serve together. Come and see."

And so, with each word I might write in the next post or so, may the words of my laptop, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A New Blog to Watch

Here is a new blog to watch, from the editors of Leadership magazine. Those of us who care for the church, even though it sometimes drives us nuts, will want to keep at least one eyes on what is going on here!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Cyber Christmas Letter

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome Him.
The nobler part Of all the house here, is the heart,
Which we will give Him; and bequeath This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do Him honor; who's our King,
And Lord of all this reveling.

-- English poet Robert Herrick

Christmas Cheer from our home to yours!

How do you condense 365 days of loving, laughing, crying, shouting, whispering, giggling, and living life with gusto nearly beyond measure? How do you define life with Nancy, Heather (almost 12), Kelly (almost 15), Jill our wonderful Fuller Seminary guest, Cindy (8 dog years, almost 60 in people years – complete with bad hips), and Boo Boo (the new kitten)? Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he talked about “the abundant life”. However, often Steve and Nancy think maybe this could be “the exhausted life”.

When Dad asked Kelly if she wanted to write anything here, she said, “you can do it Dad”, and went back to her homework. She is every bit a 14 almost 15 year old, and we love it. She is now a freshman at South Pasadena High School – and we hear your collective sigh – yes, its true. She is funny, creative, chatty (beyond belief) and full of life! Last spring Kelly had a chorus part in the Middle School play “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” (Dad is still working on that one). This fall, she is on the JV water polo team! She is super-involved with her youth group at Hollywood Pres, and went to Mississippi again this past summer for a cross-cultural mission experience. In summary, Kelly rocks!

From Heather – who insisted on writing…..”I am almost 12 (in February) and this past year has a been a time for transition. In June I graduated from Marengo Elementary School and it was time for me to move on. The summer was so much fun and excitement. My family and I went to Hawaii for about two weeks! Before that I went to summer school that lasted about 2 months. It was fun and a good time to get ready for the middle school. I really like moving from class to class. This year has been a tough time for me in Math. I don’t have the greatest math teacher but I am learning to live with her. I have just finished my soccer season for this year. I really enjoyed my team and my coach. I have made many new friends. Every morning I meet my girl friends at 7:35 at the corner of our street to walk to school . I‘m really and looking forward to this next year! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. –Heather”

As for Nancy, she has asked me to highlight the year, as she is busily addressing Christmas cards even as I type. In February of 2005 she took a long weekend trip to Tijuana with a group from Hollywood Pres to build a home for a very deserving family. Wonderful time; transforming and hope-giving! She loves her roll as Mom, and is a mentor Mom with the MOPS program at church. As you may have guessed, we returned to our long-time church home in late summer, after a spring and summer of emotional turmoil in the pastorate, which is now behind us. We are excited to move forward, and see what God has in store in a very challenging time. Just two weeks ago, Nancy had a bit of a jolt – as she learned her father Cliff required a pacemaker at 76 years old. Cliff is doing well, and now it will be he who will be getting the jolt, regularly, thank God. The spring of 2005 brought profound sadness and pain, our dear friend Julie succumbed to her valiant battle with cancer. She leaves behind her husband Tony and two small children – Emma and Thomas. Say a Christmas prayer for continued healing in this dear family.

Steve is just plain thankful. Everyday. Thankful for two weeks with his sweet girls in the brilliant August sun and blue seas of Hawaii, a place so close to Heaven, and a time he will not soon forget. Deeply thankful that his parents are now living in a lovely assisted living facility, with lots of new friends and caring people, only 10 minutes from our house. Thankful for our freedom, and for those defending it, in far off places that are very dangerous. Oh, and if you are really completely bored, you can always see what is on Steve’s mind at his Blog (he is so hip) at

Each day, as we awake, we take a moment as we wake to tell each other “I love you”, as we reflect on the grace of more than 17 years of marriage. We are thankful indeed. We wish you profound Christmas Joy, Peace, and Wonder. Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2005

As Long As You Love Me

What can I say?

A song about a very strange love.

They are at it again.

I just want to know what is with the guy in the background?

What Sweeter Music

Christmas seems to be more of a wonderful and unsearchable mystery to me each year. Last night I was pleasantly surprised by this John Rutter piece at our church's Christmas concert.

What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!
Heart, ear, and eye, and everything.

and later, we hear:

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honor to this day,
That sees December turned to May.

If we may ask the reason, say
The why, and wherefore, all things here
Seem like the springtime of the year?

'Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To heaven, and the under-earth.

We see Him come, and know Him ours,
Who, with His sunshine, and His showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a roomTo welcome Him.
The nobler part

Of all the house here, is the heart,

Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do Him honor; who's our King,
And Lord of all this reveling.

For a bit more depth and links on this lovely piece (including a source to buy the album) from one of my favorite people, go here.

And, to think, some people would say that the older music of the church has nothing to offer us! To that, I say, Bah Humbug!

A special thanks to the Cathedral Choir of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, for a wonderful Christmas concert. It has been a difficult and painful journey for us all this past year, and you took this weary middle-aged heart, and injected true Christmas joy. Bless you all, each and every one, your music transported me to a gentle, restful place, and your musical gifts are gifts of grace!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Santa Has Had Enough!

Caption: "Santa has clearly had enough, after a 13 hour shift at Feldman's Discount Appliance Barn. By secretly applying a 250 volt cattle prod to the unsuspecting hindquarters of his guests, St. Nick realizes that he can cut down significantly on the chronic Santa problem of "lap overload". Seen here, in the green coat, 4 year old Susie was the first to feel the jolt, while her brother Sam, age 6, is caught right at the moment of "prod-contact". Still to understand the implications of electric shock applied to pants is sweet Sara, age 10."

"Isn't There Anybody Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?"

As long as I can remember, I have been watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas". We will watch it again this weekend, as is our family tradition while decorating the Christmas tree, along with "White Christmas".

Yesterday, I spotted a well done article in the LA Times about the popularity of this wonderful little tradition, and I felt a pang of warmth for a show, and a character I remember fondly. Growing up, I always felt I identified with Charlie Brown - the round headed kid who never got the attention of the pretty red-haired girl, always missed kicking the football when Lucy pulled it out of the way, and who pitched for the worst baseball team in town - the team with a dog playing shortstop.

It seems that "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is the home run of television Christmas specials, and made over $5.75 million last year. I find this fascinating. In a world of MTV, reality TV, and the Internet, this simple little 20 minute cartoon still stands very tall in the holiday television landscape, 40 years after it was made. No GCI, no Pixar here. Not even a laugh track, Charles (also known by friends as "Sparky") Schultz would have nothing to do with it. So what is it that is so endearing about this show? For me, it has been the clear proclamation of the gospel, the story of the birth of the Savior. To wit, from the LA Times article:

"Schulz, a Midwesterner who had taught Sunday school, wanted Linus to quote a passage from the Bible about the birth of Jesus to present the "true meaning of Christmas." His collaborators worried it might feel preachy."I was dead set against it," Melendez, now 89, recalled during an interview at his Sherman Oaks office. "It was too religious, too dangerous."Melendez has never forgotten Schulz's response: "Sparky said, 'Bill, if we don't do it, then who will?' "

And so there you have it. An honest, simple man who drew comics brought to us a story that has become uniquely part of our culture. For 40 years. I will always get a lump in my throat when Charlie Brown, at the height of his frustration with a rebel Christmas play cast yells, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about"? And then, Linus responds, "Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what
Christmas is all about".

Thank you Sparky Shultz, for bringing you Midwestern sunday school morality into the world. And, for a post-modern person's view of all this....look here. Remarkable how history repeats itself.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Just Trust

From Henri Nouwen:

"For us who still live in time, it is important not to act as if the new life in Christ is something we can comprehend or explain. God's heart and mind are greater than ours. All that is asked of trust"

Monday, December 05, 2005

I Wonder As I Commute

It was a relatively regular day. Off at 7:30 AM with the girls for drop-off at high school. Then to the office for a typical morning on the phone with clients and friends. Lunch errands. More phone calls and light work at the office in the afternoon.

Then, the commute home. Red lights in a stream in front of me - the seemingly endless flow of the ordinary day. One after the other, generation after generation, down through the centuries.

And then, on the car radio, a reminder:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die.
For poor on'ry people like you and like I...
I wonder as I wander out under the sky.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall,
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all.
But high from God's heaven a star's light did fall,
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
A star in the sky, or a bird on the wing,
Or all of God's angels in heav'n for to sing,
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

I wonder too. I wonder how it is that more than 2,000 years after this seemigly miniscule event in an animal pen in the Middle East, that my life can each day be touched in small ways by this Baby King. The Baby who came as a sign of hope, a lifeline, and an anchor for every soul in this line of traffic before me and behind me. How is this possible? And how can I work each day to connect my life to His?

I I commute.

The New-born
1640sOil on canvas,
76 x 91 cmMusée des Beaux-Arts, Rennes

Sunday, December 04, 2005

O Magnum Mysterium

Fra Filippo Lippi
and Workshop
The Nativity, probably c. 1445
Samuel H. Kress Collection
National Gallery of Art

Yesterday, I heard this piece on the radio.....

Magnum Mysterium - by William Cooper

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum
jacentem in praesepio.

Beata virgo cujus viscera
meruent partare Dominum Christum.

Literal translation:

O great mystery and admirable [wonderful] sacrament
That animals see the Lord born
Lying in a manger.
Blessed virgin whose viscera [womb]
Were [was] worthy to bear Lord Christ.

All so true....this mystery of Advent.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I Said A Cuss Word! all Emergent Church People look and act the same? So, is Emergent, in its own way, just as conformist as the rest of us? Go here to find out the answer, and get a laugh in the process. Thanks to KC.

Secondly, I used a form of Christian swear word yesterday. I said the "R word" - for Relevant. I knew it before, but have been reminded by good people that this word is a major pejorative for some.

As in: rel·e·vant adj. - Having a bearing on or connection with the matter at hand. [Medieval Latin relevāns, relevant-, from Latin, present participle of relevāre, to relieve, raise up]

Ok. Please do not misunderstand me. When I say relevant henceforth, what I mean is communicating a faith that is real, tangible, transforming, honest, compelling, and captivating. In the words of my friend Tod,

"I believe that the goal of every church must be to so grow in Christ, so mature in faithfulness, so increase in love and wisdom and justice and peace that if any person was to ask you what you think heaven will be like you could someday actually say, "Do you want to know what heaven is like? Come and see. Come to my church and hang out with my friends and see the way we live, worship and serve together. Come and see."

Come and see. Hmmm. That sounds so familiar. Where have I heard that before? Darn. Oh wait, I remember!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Lunch Discussion of Relevancy

I had lunch today with a new friend, a recent graduate of Fuller Seminary, with a Master of Arts in Christian Leadership. My friend, Michael and I discussed his vision of his future vocational and ministry calling. I have not been so energized by a lunch discussion in some time.

Michael has a vision for beginning a ministry to recent college graduates, living in community, very much similar to the original vision of Hollywood Urban Project, a ministry I had the priviledge of being a part of a number of years ago. Living in community, sharing lives, learning about the calling of Christ, and figuring out what in the world this means in the context of modern life.

One of the topics that we discussed was the way in which the church seems to often be so irrelevant to our lives today. Here I was, with a Fuller grad, agreeing on the irrelevancy of the church. We agreed that the church is good at sending missionaries overseas, of equipping pastors, of teaching the scriptures, but is completely inept at reaching the world of commerce. The world where so many of us work each day. To coin a phrase, what is with THAT?! Seems like the secular world needs to be affected by the people of the Cross in a way that is new, engaging and affecting.

Can our work be holy? Can we do things at the office that have the same eternal merit as things we do in church or in other ministry settings? Can we make a Kingdom Difference in the real world?

I mentioned in our conversation, that if I could say just one thing to "The Church", I would likely stand on the top of a pew during the hushed silence of an otherwise reverent moment, and shout:

"Please.....Be Relevant!"

Michael and I are starting a relationship, that I hope goes places, blesses people, and brings the Kingdom together more. And maybe, it might just be relevant.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Its That Special Time of Year

As we approach the Holidays I want to share with you the joy of Christmas, as seen by a child. I wonder if this Santa ever returned to the ranks after this experience? I am sure that his beard was actually straight prior to the 500 decibel scream that emanated from this sweet little girl; the sound shock curled the beard. Note that she had the presence of mind to NOT drop the free candy cane. Good job there, little Susie!

I have other holiday thoughts I that are knocking around inside my semi-balding head that I will share soon, including my low budget review of this book.

Only 23 more shopping days....

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Big Game and the BIG Game of Life

As perhaps most of you know, the most important college football game of the year will be happening this weekend. As typical, I can make a connection between the most mundane things of life and the things of the spiritual world. And of course, God is a Bruin.

And as well all know, football is only a metaphor for the spiritual battle of real life. Really. I am not kidding. Shown here is a classic album that illustrates my point. You think I am kidding, go here to listen to what the real meaning of football is all about, and try and keep a straight face.

Update: The link to the sound file appears to have broken....another act of Evil!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Secret Struggles of Pastors

It is sad but true. So many pastors get into their profession because of a deep seated, yet unmet need to be noticed by others. I found this to be painfully true this past weekend. We were attempting to take our family Christmas card photo, when we were harassed by a beachcombing sudo-transient, who alleged he is really a pastor (click photo for an enlargement and to ID the culprit).

We immediately contacted the police and ecumenical authorities.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Bush, Bono, Tim, and Inside Work

Over the past 11 months that I have been blogging, I have often stopped to wonder if this whole blogging thing makes any difference. I still wonder about it. I also wonder about hair loss. And whether I make a difference.

In my mind, perhaps the best thing about this medium is the way in which it can serve to enrich our minds, create of forum of common purposes and friendships, and perhaps, in some small way, further the Kingdom. However, please note that I also think face-to-face time with real people, developing relationships, nuturing understanding, and building community is still by far the best bet for really moving forward for the cause of Christ. Giving ourselves away is where we can find who we really are - I think Jesus may have said something like that.

Given this, I did find a common thread this weekend on the topic of vocation, which I have attempted to comment on before here, although, for the life of me, I cannot find the link. I am technologically impaired. Anyway, I found
this article by Don Williams (thanks Mark Roberts) fascinating, concerning the outlook, vision, and slightly tangential theology of Bono. Bono seems to take his celebrity seriously. Lets hope he avoids this silly political comments that are typical of many celebrities. Second, and much more on a down to earth level, I found this, and this post by my friend Tim a refreshing look at a regular guy attempting to bring Christ graciously into the workplace. Go Tim.

One final place to visit (like you have all day to read Blogs, for Heaven Sake!), my friends at
Inside Work, which is attempting to "reclaiming the spirituality of work". Go guys!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Day of Thanksgiving

Just a moment between finishing the sausage, apple, and sage stuffing recipe and moving on to icing the Killer Chocolate Cake.

This is our national day of Thanksgiving. It bears remembering where this day came from, and where we are all going. Tonight at the table, I will share the following with my family - the words of formal institution of Thanksgiving.

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

God, please bless America, if only that we might be a blessing to all the nations.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Mark Twain....Safe Passage

We think we know it all.

Read this.

Remembering Canal Street Church

This is my friend Mike, pastor of Canal Street Presbyterian church in New Orleans. That is his home to his left, which survived largely undamaged, if you don't count mold. I have mentioned Mike here a number of times. I got a voice mail from Mike just the other day, as he was in New Orleans, looking after his flock. He is his usual jovial self - a man after the heart of God.

If you want to feel just a little bit of what it is still like in New Orleans, go here, and have a look around.

When your Thanksgiving table is overflowing with foods that will render you chubby this Thursday, remember those who are still struggling to recover, and then, do this!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Heather, Coach Scott, and the Agony of Defeat

Pictured to the left is the "No Nombres", my 11-year old daughter's AYSO soccer team. No Nombres translated from Spanish is "No Namers"; the girls thought this would be a funny name. Sorry for the blurry photo, my cell phone can only do so much. This is a great bunch of young ladies.

Today was the last game of the season, and the game was decided in the last minutes of overtime. My daughter Heather was the goalie during those minutes. This is a story about winning and losing and people of character.

The No Nombres have had a less than stellar season. Their season record was something like 1-11, but they had fun in every game, and rarely lost by much. They never stopped smiling, or enjoying time with each other on the field and at practices. They laughed lots.

This team also had a wonderful coach. Coach Scott has been a friend of mine for more years than either of us wants to remember. We are also professional friends, both owning small businesses in the same discipline of commercial real estate. Scott is a wonderful guy, the type of fellow you can always depend on. There are not many Scotts out there in the world. He is also the father of three girls, ranging from 11 to 18 years old; all of whom are lovely young ladies. Coach Scott made sure that every girl played equally, had fun, was valued, and participated. For Scott, winning was definitely not what it was all about. Thanks, Coach Scott - job very well done!

The winning goal went in with about 2 minutes left in overtime. It slipped past Heather, and she immediately crumpled to the ground in tears. Her entire team surrounded her and offered words of encouragement. "Its all my fault", she kept repeating - and I thought my heart would break as well. She got her emotions together, and finished the game, but then fell apart again afterward. Final score 1-0; my shirt got very wet from tears. Sometimes it is hard to be a kid.

Tonight, after the end-of-season swim party was over, and we had settled in back at home, I asked Heather if she had learned any lessons from the day. "Yeah, I think I learned that it wasn't just my fault, you win as a team and lose as a team".

And who says kids can't teach us lessons?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Invisible Children

It has been a long time since a short film trailer captivated my heart like this. Watch it. I have ordered the rough cut DVD, and might invite friends over to watch it.

It is coming. The film is due out in about a year, as the film makers will be returning to Sudan/Uganda to finish filming. My prayer would be that it might change the world. We need more of this kind of film making.

HT (again) to
Rhett Smith.

Walking Forward Through Time

On Tuesday afternoon in DC, I cheated. I took the afternoon off from my seminars and went to the National Gallery of Art. And I was interested to learn anew how our world has evolved; its something to think about.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt, David Gerard, 1510, Bruges

The gallery is arranged in such a way that you can walk forward or backward through time. I choose forward, which moves one through the gallery in a west to east direction.

You begin in the Netherlands and France in the 15th Century, and move forward slowly, through the centuried to modern times.

Artwork of the 15th and 16th centuries is almost soley focused around stories from Scripture and the person of Christ. One is struck by the almost complete devotion and fixation with themes from the Bible. Images of Christ and Old Testament characters fill every room.

However, as one moves from room to room, over time, the subject matter of the paintings changes, and modern life and culture take more precedence. Characters from the Bible loose their dominance. Paintings by the Masters increasingly change to scenes of aristocratic life, country landscapes, with the occasional portrait of a church father. As one continues walking east, the stories of art have evolved away from stories of the saints and Scriptures.

Those living in the early centuries lead lives surely full of struggle, hardship, turmoil, and a constant awareness of the tenacity of life. Through the centuries, as lives became more comfortable, those Bible stories, the narratives of real life, and the remarkable life of the Savior tend to fade in importance.

The Artist's Garden at Vetheuil, Claude Monet, 1880

We have become too comfortable in our aristocratic lives, in our gardens fair, in our inventions and society. We don't need those old stories, we have made a new story that is fairer to the eye, and more easy to digest. I think I fear for our modern society. We have forgotten from where we have come.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Pulpit in an Unexpected Place

If we believe that God inhabits all of Creation, interesting things can happen.

Now, I am naturally an introvert, but I mostly compensate in life by at least acting like I am extroverted. In short, I fake it. Extroverts are energized by being with people; I am energized only to a point. After that point, I get easily weary of people, and find that I am often energized by being either alone, or with a smaller group of people.

As so, I am not a great “talker to the person next to me on the plane” kind of guy. I am often not good at idle chatter with cab drivers, largely perhaps because of the tendency of these folks to drive with a faith and reckless abandon that I do not possess. I often find myself to occupied worrying about my own survival to strike up a conversation. Hard to talk when you are being pressed into the back seat by 2.5 times the force of gravity.

This morning’s cab ride back to the airport proved to be the exception, and I found God inhabiting his Creation in a refreshing way.
First, the speed was relatively calm. Secondly, the cab driver was a remarkable man. “Thoma” is a native of Ethiopia of (I would guess) about 32 years, who always dreamed of coming to America as a boy. About 11 years ago, Thoma was selected in an immigration lottery as an émigré to the United States. He has worked in various jobs here over the past decade, and is now driving a cab. He is so happy to be here, he thinks this is a wonderful country.

Thoma mentioned to me that he was taking off two months in the near future to return to Ethiopia, to visit his wife and infant son – a son he has not yet met. And here is the best part. Three years ago, Thoma became a Christian, was married soon thereafter, in an arranged marriage to a woman in Ethiopia. (I would have loved to have had time to ask more questions about that!) Thoma is serious about his faith, is involved in an Ethiopian Evangelical church in Silver Springs, Maryland, and spends “two hours each day in God’s word”. Thoma has a smile that goes on for miles; his cab is filled with joy.

Here is the best part. Thoma told me that some day he might like to become a pastor or evangelist. He told me, “But for now, my cab is my pulpit. Each passenger that comes into my cab, I ask the Holy Spirit, ok…..what kind of person is this?…..where are they from?……what are they facing in their life? And God gives me the right thing to say.”

We have “cabs” too, each of us. But our cabs are our homes, offices, schools, factories, hospitals. Where ever we are called each day.

May all, every last one, of our own cabs be…..our pulpits.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

What Dad Did on the Business Trip

I have been here in DC for two days now, and will be heading home early tomorrow. This has been an interesting and rewarding time, where I have learned much, on varied topics. Now I know that all six of you typically visit here because you are either friends, friends of friends, blogging pals, or are some Norwegian guy searching Google for an image of the US Capital and picked my site. Also, I want a record of some of the more interesting topics for future reference.

Disclaimer. This post has nothing to do with things Christian, the church, my whining about the church, my church in particular or the usual ranting and rambling. That said, here goes.

Heard a great overview of the housing bubble threat this morning with many pithy comments from the Principal of
this firm in New York. Fascinating.

Afternoon session on military base closure with a panel discussion featuring some guy who works
here. Total bore. People applauded when it was over.

This morning I was priviledged to listen to a short address by
this senator, who seems to have his head on straight, given that he spent at least 20 years of his life outside of politics in the real world. Good Republican, I might add. Then listened to a moving story of survival and recovery to real estate markets in New Orleans. This reminder me, yet again, of my friend Pastor Mike, and how life is slowly, so slowly returning to normal in this great city. The anecdotal stories are that only about 70,000 people spend the night in New Orleans, and some of the worst flooded parts of town will not receive telephone service until March 2006!

Finally, a fascinating presentation by a principal in the
Louis Berger Group about construction of the Kandahar to Kabul highway in Afghanistan and the development of the new US Embassy in Iraq. Talk about high-risk development. There was a ratio of one body guard to each construction worker in Baghdad!

Fascinating stuff - and I am thankful for the opportunity. For more about the organization I am with, and the reason for my attending, look here. If you have trouble sleeping, look here.

Upon reflection, this post should make my regular readers flee in sheer boredom.

Terror Level Report!

This just in. The nation's capital is under threat from an as yet named terrorist. This man, resembling a semi-balding, middle-aged suburban husband and father was last seen late in the day Tuesday on the Capital Mall. Anyone with information leading to the arrest of this bizarre suspect should contact the local offices of The Hair Club for Men.

In response, the national Terror Alert Level has been shifted to Elmo.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

And on the Left Side of the Plane

Greetings from 37,000 feet above Kansas. I am enroute to Washington DC for the Fall Annual Meeting of the Counselors of Real Estate. I will be speaking tomorrow on a panel of alleged “experts” (I am highly suspect as to my own expertise, but lets just keep this a secret, ok?) on real estate issues related to military base conversion throughout the country. Impressed? I thought not. But I enjoy my work greatly, and am thankful for this opportunity. I am honored to be a part of this meeting.

Now that I have lulled you to the point of near sleep, let me share what being at this altitude tends to do for me. I find plane trips more than about 90 minutes have the effect of helping me to refocus on what is really important. Also, I find that I will often slow down my spinning mind long enough to measure where my life is headed, what I am thankful for, and how God’s care and majesty affect all these things. Am I making sense? Have you ever felt this way? Perhaps I just need to lock myself in a closet to achieve the same thing, but in the closet I would just spend my time trying to figure a way out, or perhaps a more efficient way to arrange the closet shelves and hangers.

Looking out the window from this high up tends to make one take stock. Its dark now over eastern Indiana, thousands of lives down there moving forward. How many know they are being watched over by a caring God who longs to come close?

So. Taking stock. What matters, what is important? I am greatly thankful that God has granted our family the grace and resources to be able to place my parents in a wonderful assisted living facility. I spoke with Dad just before I stepped on the plane, and he seems quite content, commenting, “This is just a new adventure for us”. Thank you, Lord.

I am thankful for perhaps the most caring, selfless, and patient woman in the world in my wife Nancy. How did we ever meet, 18 years ago – she from Toronto and me from LA? I thought I might never marry, I was 29 years old with no romance prospects. And then, God provided. Amazing.

And then, three years later, our quite-couple life was changed. I am daily amazed by my daughters Kelly (14) and Heather (11). I could not wish for two more different, unique, beautiful, fun, funny, interesting, and remarkable young ladies. They are little girls no more, but I am deeply, profoundly thankful for each day spent as a part of their lives. And we all daily receive, for this season of our lives, the blessing of sharing our home with Jill Williams, a Master’s of Divinity student at Fuller seminary. Jill adds hope, wisdom, beauty, and a deeply caring soul to our home. Yes, its true, I live with four women. Pray for me.

Beyond all this, I am thankful that my life makes Ultimate Sense; that there is a purpose and a direction to all this. I am not a random collection of molecules, assembled for a brief time to live out my small bit in nature. I am not the end result of Darwin’s theories. I am loved beyond my pathetic little comprehension, understood far greater than I am capable of understanding, and all this time down here is but a practice round for a Hereafter that is beyond my scope of reality. How I wish I had a better way of expressing this to those who find things of faith unimportant, or irrelevant, or meaningless. It is the ultimate relevance; the essence of complete meaning. Relationship with God and service to Him is the reason we are here. The peace that is afforded by Christ is, while not always foremost in my mind, the thing that keeps my life wired together.

Amazing love, how can it be, that Thou, my God, should die for me...

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Moving Day for Mom and Dad

The couple in the center of the photo are Roland and Betty Norris, of Arcadia, California. This picture was taken in 1971 at a Petroleum Club Octoberfest (note: Dad with Stein and Mom with, well, cocktail glass, I think). I, the only child, got to stay home, eat Swanson's TV Dinners - 3rd video down on the left., and watch TV. Dad is 51 years old in this picture, and Mom is 50 (shhhhh....she never revealed her age, and still won't).

Today, Mom and Dad moved
here. Just several miles from our home. I have written briefly about my thoughts on all this here. Mom and Dad have a cute two bedroom unit in a very caring and warm environment where they will be very well looked after. I will get complete monthly reports on their health and well being, and I will be able to stop by at least weekly to have a meal with them and see how things are going. Have I warehoused my parents? I don't know. But I do know that their living in this setting is far more communal, stimulating, nourishing, and beneficial. Besides, if they moved in with us (which they would never do in 7 zillion years), I am quite sure that my Mom would be gone in about a month, purely from the volume level in our home being such a complete shock to her system. She is about 5 feet tall and weights about 90 pounds these days.

This whole process has been one of gradual grace and, in my mind, the intervention of Heaven. Had you told me even six months ago that my father would have willing walked into an assisted living facility, I would have scoffed. One of his most famous quotes to us all used to be, "They are going to carry me out of this house (the one he lived in for 40 years) feet first!" How is that for defiant? But a couple of small strokes, and a life of general forgetfulness and confusion has lead him, by God's grace, to a much better place. I am thankful.

Well, we did not carry him out, we gently placed he and Mom in my Accura, and drove the 3 miles to the assisted living facility. All of the mementos of his life surround him in his room, and this will be their new home.

This was a bittersweet day. Forty years in one home, leaving memories behind. Moving on to a place of hope and cheer. We are all constantly leaving behind what feels comfortable, moving on, and trying to see our way around the next bend in the road.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Much Will Be Demanded

I don't know a thing about Sara McLachlan's theology, but she gets this.

Watch this. (HT to Rhett Smith)

Of Happy Christians and Crippled Soldiers

This is the illusion that I feel as if I have lived under for some 20-odd years in the Christian culture:

"Oh come and join our Happy Christian Church! We are better than most people; we are on the winning team always. We have no problems, and the blessing of the Lord is constantly upon us. We make more money than most people, and have no psychological disorders. Our lives are free of pain, our children are well behaved, we suffer no hair loss, and our teeth are straight. We live in a happy suburb, where all the homes are of conforming architecture, and there is no smog. We have no halitosis here. Come, see the wonderful things that Jesus can do for you too!"

I guess my reflections of the
last couple of days have me again thinking of how fallen my life is, and how failure prone the church can be. I often feel as if the landscape of the place I call my church home is not unlike the highway after the scene of a 25 car pile-up; flashing lights, emergency vehicles, officers with measuring tape determining what happened, and people exchanging insurance information on the shoulder.

Tod Bolsinger has done a
good job of just beginning to probe at the soft, pathetic underbelly of the church. I hope he goes farther on this topic.

I was told the other day by a reader of this Blog that sometimes they feel a bit "too down" after reading some of my thoughts. I am sorry for this, it is not my intension to depress others. My family will tell you that I am largely a goofy kid hiding in a grown-up's body.

Nor do I want to be the fellow chucking turds in the church pool. I guess it boils down to this. What it really needs to be about is...brokenness, need, and healing.

We Christian folk are not the "Winning Team", we are the "Pathetic Helpless Needy Team". We are the
Crippled Soldiers of the Lord. We can barely stand of our own power. We need healing, every last one of us. And for that, I am thankful, hopeful, grateful.

And I will press on.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

What about the Norge Repairman?

Today my friend Tod Bolsinger has an interesting post about what may be a good book. Go look.

As a part of the post, Tod directs us to the Common Grounds blog, which might make great reading. Anyplace where thoughtful Christian folk get together to talk about the Christian Journey is wonderful. Just take a look at the contributors, it looks like the Who's Who of cool Christendom. My favorite, at least visually for scare factor, is this fellow!

However, this leaves me wondering about the regular fellow, the Norge Repairman, if you will. As I peruse the list of contributors to Common Grounds, I don't see a broad collection of regular folk, the lay people of the church. Might broadening the field make it tons more interesting? Just think of it, the "Norge Repairman's Theological Musings!"

However, I do know some of these (regular) folks, and love to read their thoughts - check my BlogRoll for more - both regular and "fancy" people, both those with and without at least an M.A. or M.S. after their names.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Boys Next Door and Where We Are Headed

Last night my wife and I had the pleasure of viewing the play "The Boys Next Door" by the Actor's Coop, which has been performing plays the move the soul on our church campus for 14 years. The director of this play, Nan McNamara, is a friend of ours, and she indicated that the cast actually visited a handicapped program as a part of their research into preparation for the play.

This play is the story of four mentally challenged men living in a communal residence under the supervision of an earnest, but increasingly "burned out" social worker. In the story of the daily lives of these four very special guys, where small things sometimes become momentous (and often hilarious), are moments of great truth.

The most moving moment of the evening for me was the dance scene at a handicapped community center. A young man and woman, who obviously have a crush on one another, are dancing in a rather haphazard fashion, much like the picture above. Although the dancing is awkward and halting, there is much joy beneath the surface of this scene.

And then suddenly, in an instant, the music changes slightly, the theater lighting softens, and the facial expressions of the actors are transformed. We are in caught up in their dream. And miraculously, the dancing is now perfect; gone is the halting awkwardness, the facial expressions of childish wonder. The couple moves together flawlessly, executing dance steps that would be difficult for even us "normal" folk. This is, a glimpse of glory divine, if you are looking for it.

We lead these awkward, halting, faltering lives down here on Earth. We stumble, make big mistakes, skin our knees. We constantly attempt to stand upright again. There is a Kingdom where all things shall be made new; lives restored, broken hearts healed. A place where the dance is perfect. This place is our real Home. We are promised that someday, it shall be
for us all, when we head Home.

If only we could find these glimpses of Home more often, and have a better ability to perceive them as they occur around us.

The photo above is courtesy of this good place.
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