Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Different Kind of Spring Break

Its Spring Break week next week for the kids.

About a month ago, my wife and I began a discussion with our girls, now 12 and 15, about what our Spring Break together would look like. We typically have gone someplace for a couple of days, enjoyed being together, laughed, played in a pool. Just family time.

So, this year, we asked the kids what they wanted to do. Heather, our 12 year old immediately offered this suggestion. She wants to learn to snowboard, after loving our ski vacation last spring. Kelly, the 15 year old (after much sighing and eye-rolling about the completely dumb idea of her sister) liked my suggestion for a trip here. This idea was met with howls of protest from Heather, and a look of mild frustration from my dear wife (who, at the end of the day, knows better about most things in life, except pro golf and the finer points of PC operation).

And so, there you have it - an impasse. Typical team work by our family. Unity, joy, happiness. Complete agreement on all things. No conflict. Shiny happy people holding hands. Suburban bliss.

So, what to do? How should we indulge ourselves this year?

And then, a moment of clarity. Something completely different. No ski slopes, no shopping on Fifth Avenue. A contrast might be good, for us all, and even maybe, for our souls. We are going to spend our Spring Break -- in New Orleans.

My old friend, Pastor Mike, who I have mentioned here several times before, leads a church in New Orleans. They need our hands, our feet, and maybe our smiles, words of encouragement, and our love, however brief and fleeting. And come to think of it, we need them - the people of Canal Street church, the body of Christ. I think I need them more than they need me. To learn from them, to experience their world, to look in their eyes, to see what they deal with each day. I hope, I pray, it makes us better people, and more importantly, that our visit might be a cup of cool water to those in need.

Off we go, on Saturday. More soon.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Not Easy Answers

The whole situation in Iraq is painfully difficult, beyond my ability to fully comprehend. However, I would like all six of you who faithfully peek in on my musings to take a good look at this article from The American Enterprise Institute (whose offices I drove past in Washington, while I was there for business just last week).

It should be understood that the author is not a hack for the White House. Most interesting line in this article to me:

"Telling the Iraqis to "sink or swim" soon, therefore, is tantamount to telling them to drown."

I provide this as food for thought for my good friend Rob Asghar.

Note: The photo above was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The caption reads:

"Fallujah - U.S. Marines pray over a fellow Marine killed while fighting insurgent strongholds. (Photo by Murad Sezer, April 8, 2004.)"

To me, the tragedy, heartache, and nobility of this image are beyond words.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Tonight, Its Good to be a Bruin!

Its not over until the Fat Lady sings.

Sometimes, life surprises you. Tonight, my favorite team in college basketball pulled a shocker of a win in the final seconds - in a game in which they had trailed by as much as 17 points. The Gutty Little Bruins did not fold, did not fade, but behaved like the Little Engine That Could, and won. Persistence paid off.

On to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.
March Madness Baby!

After years and years of college football obscurity, its nice to have a basketball team that is performing well. May the Lord find some form of mercy and favor on my
gloating heart.

To my pal Rob Asghar, thanks for the magnanimous good wishes today at lunch, they paid off! You may be "post evangelical", but I still love you, and likely that Jesus does too. But I am not his sole spokesperson.

And to my friend Steve Bock, who sometimes questions my character, I am sorry that your team did play very well this year.

Monday, March 20, 2006

History Speaks

Today, on the way to work, I heard this, the story of this.

Based on my recent musings about this life, I find the words of Henry O. Gusley sobering and meaningful:

Today, though a date of no particular note in history, is one of importance to ourself, being no less than the anniversary of our birth. That event is recorded in the Family Bible at home as having occurred on the 26th day of November, A.D. 1837--making us, therefore, today exactly 25 years of age. It is natural for one to look back and review his past life on days like this. He is forcibly reminded that he is progressing onward in years, and though long and tedious have seemed the days and months as they were passing by, yet when we bethink ourselves of the occurrences [since] our last natal anniversary, and even the one prior to that, we are struck by the swiftness with which years are accumulating upon us. Two years ago we spent this day in the pursuits of peace at home and the number of our years was unheeded. The next found our beloved country torn by treason and divided by civil war, and ourself in the ranks of the defenders of the constitution and the laws. Today we are helping to represent that constitution and to uphold it in one of the traitor-States. Where the next shall find us we know not. But we dismiss the subject, leaving hopes for the future unexpressed, and accepting our fate as a soldier and a bachelor with all the grace in our power.

How interesting, the persistence of human nature. A voice from history speaks to me, to us all, even today.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Update! Possible Pastoral Candidate Located

I am contacting those responsible for the new pastor search at my church. I may have located a potential candidate. I mean talk about emergent, post-modern, relevant, and hip. And he knows the words to "Tiny Bubbles"!

I think we are done searching.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Overcoming Unbelievable Odds

Something remarkable happened today.

In the frigid cold of Nome, Alaska, Rachel Scdoris, who is legally blind and just 20 years old, just finished the 1,100 Iditarod Dog Sled Race. This is her second attempt, after having to scratch last year.

This is just plain amazing. The power of the human spirit is remarkable. I love stories like this.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Time, Drudgery, Bocelli, Lent, and Mercy

I am 47 years old. For some reason, I find myself preoccupied often with the concept of time. If there only was a way in which one could freeze time, that would be wonderful. Oh, how I wish, rather nostalgically, that I could have frozen time when our daughters were little, say, at 3 and 6 years old, perhaps. What a precious time that was (although I did not have a clue how precious then).

My life sometimes feels rather rote. Same thing, each day; get up, pick up the paper, feed the dog, read the headlines (after finding my glasses), shower, shave, dress, drive kids to school, Starbucks stop, 10 minutes to the office, sit down, answer emails, blah, blah, blah.

Does the Creator inhabit the ordinary? Is His Mercy found in each moment? Can the drudgery of each day, in fact become something of Divinity being slowly revealed?

But then, there are these moments. Little epiphanies if you will. Last week, I stole (ok, come and get me, FBI) a CD from a friend's collection. I am not sure why I took it. It might be a quest, deep in my soul for something sacred, a longing for even a peek at eternity. Maybe to understand....time.

The CD you ask? No, not The Carpenter's Greatest Hits.

Andrea Bocelli - Sacred Arias.

Andrea was born among the vineyards of Tuscany, still an infant when he developed glaucoma, and rendered blind by a brain hemorrhage at the age of 12. Music filtering into his room soothed the unsettled child, and his passion for music brought light back into his life. He grew up and went to law school, but always longed to sing. Turns out, Andrea and I were born 92 days apart in 1958.

Music filtering into my car and my office this week has soothed this somewhat unsettled middle-aged guy. In particular arias that remind me of the fragility of life, the condition of our humanity, and the mysteriously great love of God:

Ingemisco - Giuseppe Verdi, Messa de Requiem

I groan, like the sinner that I am;

guilt redeems my face.

O God, spare the supplicant.

You who pardoned Mary and heeded the thief

have given me hope as well

My prayers are unworthy, but you who are good,

in pity let me not burn in the eternal fire.

Give me a place among the sheep and separate me from the goats;

let me stand at your right hand.

I still don't understand much. I don't get time, feeling like life is going through the motions, raising girls that are turning into young ladies far too fast.

But I know a few things. I know where I am headed. I know that this is not my home. I know that each day offers opportunities to care, to serve, and to reflect a life transformed by God. To build the Kingdom here. To aleve suffering, bring healing.

I know I have been given hope. I want a place among the sheep.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Its a Matter of Perspective

So, last week I am having one of my rare quiet lunches. Just me and several back issues of the Wall Street Journal (the world's most excellent newspaper). No clients, no office staff. Just me and the paper. Ahhh, bliss for the sometime introvert that I am. And in the "offbeat" center column of the front page, I come across this article, which definitely has my interest.

I find a link to this web site in the article. I visit the web site, and get nearly giddy with some of the ideas, concepts, and direction of what these folks are up to. Jesus, for the rest of us! To see who is behind this novel idea, look here.

So now, since, as my friend Rob points out, I have a less-than-adequate education, I need some of my more theologically minded friends to pitch in, and post their thoughts on the Off-The-Map folks.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Do We Give Jesus All of our Politics?

I know this remarkable fellow. Rob Asghar. He has lead a most interesting life. Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of this life is his convertion to a Christ-follower, after growing up Muslim. Rob has been a friend for about 10 years, and has never ceased to make me think, question my world view, and consider new ideas. Rob just doesn't fit into a neat Christian Box, darn it. But the older I get, the less it seems (I think) that even Jesus does not fit into that box I made for him, darn him.

I am thankful for Rob.

Recently Rob has been
taking aim at a man I have met and admire; Hugh Hewitt. But the issues Rob raises are really less about Hugh, and are far more about the way some of us Christian folk think. Sometimes I wonder, is it American Christian, or Christian American?

Stuff That Bugs and Confuses Me
A couple of things that bother me. First, the "we have it all together" mentality of the Christian Right. While there is much on the left side of the political spectrum that I find inconsistent with the message of the Gospel, I do not in any way remain convinced that Conservatives have the corner on the sum total of all truth.

While I support the current military action in Iraq, Rob Asghar well points out that "national defense as an extension of Biblical theology" is something to be suspect of. For more on that concept, please see
this. I do not have all the answers, but I do know a pacifist take to the events of WWII would have had disastrous consequences for world history. And I do think deposing Saddam was a good thing, but I am saddened by the ongoing brokenness of Iraq. However, if we, as a country are offended by the concept of brutal dictators, then why, please tell me, do we simply watch from the sidelines what is happening in Dahfur? And what of the band of loonies current semi-starving the people of North Korea? Do we simply invade at will? What would Jesus do....please tell me?

How about the social contracts we make in our own nation? While I bristle at an "entitled class", and the lock-step behavior of many unions, we Christian folk best keep in our mind the Biblical mandate of care for the poor and forgotten. Unsettling ideas that Jesus fellow had.

What about that City?
Christ described our role as followers to be that
city on a hill. But how can we do that if we all look the same, act the same, and have the same politics. I am not sure. But I do know this, if I really, really want to follow Jesus, it means that I need to give Him all of myself, including, even maybe, my politics. The church universal has amazing things to offer, in all its colors and forms. I love Eugene Peterson's take on this:

We are......"here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill"

And so, what does our public form look like? Is it an army perfectly lined up behind James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and their type. On the other hand, do we blindly follow Jim Wallis, Hilary, and Al Franken? Do we all join the National Council of Churches, hold hands, sing inclusive songs, and equally recognize the wonderfulness of the Divinity of the Month?

I hope its neither. I also pray that whatever form we take, it is something mysteriously beautiful. That is my hope.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jesus, Lord of All?

To begin with, if the image at left does not give you some form of the willies, then you might want to move right along, perhaps to another planet.

My friend
Rob Asghar, born and raised a Muslim, and now a follower of Jesus, has some thoughtful things to say about the whole issue of conservative thought. Go, read, and then, please....think! What Would Jesus Do...indeed?!

I want to spend some more time on this soon, but life is tugging me in many directions. This is part of having two girls, age 12 and 15, and something else to do with the fact that the in-laws are visiting from out of town for the next 10 days!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The Lent I Almost Missed

A week ago tomorrow was the beginning of Lent. A time of reflection, repentance, submission, and above all, a six week season of remembering the most profound event in all of human history, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.

It began without me. I am not sure why, but by the end of Wednesday, my workaday life has rushed past, and I was not able to find the time to make it to a wonderful tradition of a Lenten service at my church. Early in the day last Wednesday, I even drove by the door of our local Catholic Church, and wondered if I should go inside, risking my Protestant coolness, and receive the imposition of ashes. A sign of my repentance and helplessness before God. Nope, I thought, I am not gonna do that. Wouldn't be prudent. Stay the course. I drove on, too distracted by my own life, and selfconscious of my own weakness to take a small risk, and step forward to receive a mark upon my forehead.

Somewhat ironically, the word "Lent" comes from a Middle Eastern word for spring. Ash Wednesday is a Christian holiday (holy day) that is not a biblical requirement (rather like Christmas). Nevertheless, it has been honored by Christians for well over ten centuries at the beginning of Lent. In the earliest centuries, Christians who had fallen into persistent sin had ashes sprinkled on their bodies as a sign of repentance, even as Job repented "in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). Around the tenth century, all believers began to signify their need for repentance by having ashes placed on their foreheads in the shape of a cross. Even this sign of sinfulness hinted at the good news yet to come through its shape.

A mark. Upon my forehead. A little cross. What would our lives be like, our culture be like, if the cross would not wash off. Permanent. Now that would make life different. Would I behave differently? One of the reasons I don't have a Christian fish on the back of my car is that I am not convinced that my "vehicular Christian witness" would not be perhaps suitable to witness for Jesus at all times.

And so, I hope to take the time over the next five weeks to pause, to think, to reflect on Jesus, on myself, and on my sinfulness, my feet of clay. And to remember the last weeks of Jesus' life, the difficult road he followed, the pain he felt, the loneliness, the confusion. To reflect on his final words, asking God why he had been forsakened.

We are not forsaken, we are found. We are loved. I will not miss the rest of this Lent.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Serendipitous Sunday

Today, my wife and I took a quick getaway trip to San Diego (work thing for me). We had planned to visit this church, where our friend is an associate pastor.

We showed up, walked in the door, and found out that Bob Bennett was the guest artist in the worship service. I have loved Bob's music now for more than 20 years (although he is not the typical hip and cool Christian recording artist), and find his music, for me, at least, speaks to the heart of the gospel mystery.

Alright now, I have very few things happen in my life that are sort of a "Holy Spirit Whacked Me On The Head" type of thing. But this was one, definitely.

This Sunday I experienced one of the most gentle, wonderful, grace-filled church services in a very long time. A drink of cool, fresh water, after a season of rough sailing at our church home. What did I learn? There is hope, great hope!

I am thankful for the Body of Christ, as expressed in the faithful at Solana Beach Presbyterian Church.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Who Needs Church?`

Just go read this. It says it all.

Building Community, One Dinner At a Time

This has been a typically busy week, which explains in part my lack of dispatches from South Pasadena. However, the past 24 hours have been filled with the blessings of a life full, with kids, people, and marked by a neat sense of community; belonging, if you will.

Tonight our house was filled with conversation and laughter, as we hosted the couples class from our church for dinner. We had the following wonderful folks, as mentioned by their occupations, in no particular order. Fireman, mothers (3), child care workers (2), optician, Christian education director at our church, aspiring musician and child care worker, special education teacher, web designer and aspiring film/tv writer, and business valuation consultant. This is part of our
fellowship that is just starting and this a small part of the Kingdom. I am greatly thankful for these relationships, for their variety, their beauty, and the trust each person places to share their lives with us. May our love for each other grow, and may we grow to know the Savior in a way that brings grace to others.

Last night brought a sense of belonging in another way. It was Father's Follies night at South Pasadena Middle School. For the second year in a row, I was recruited by my wife (like I would volunteer!?) to take part in the "Dad's Who Dance" chorus line. Imagine 20-some middle aged dads performing chorus line kicks, turns, and other risky moves in a middle school auditorium complete with dropping balloons in the big finale. Its a night to raise money for the Middle School PTA; you have the basic concept. There are (thank God) no images of the actual dancing event, but we do have this
image of Heather (age 12) and I after the show. It was a rousing success, and featured a variety of, shall we say, "unique" acts. It was a blast dancing with the other Dads, laughing, and making fun of our middle-agedness together.

Last year, during rehearsal,
the principal commented to me that her motivation for this event was not about more raising money and having fun. In the town where she grew up, the Father's Follies had been a tradition for something like 30 years. Huge crowds came every year. She then added, "This is not all about raising money, its about building community". She was right, and we did - build community that is. It was great. May Father's Follies grow, and may our sense of community deepen.

In this fractured world, we need to be connected. We need a true sense of community.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Little Is Most...In The Kingdom

For the past couple of days...I have not had much to say here. But I have been thinking about some wonderful people who serve the youth at our church. You can go learn about them here. These are amazing folks, serving Christ by serving kids. Spending time.

My thoughts are not of much worth, but the thoughts of Henri Nouwen seem to fit very well in relation to these youth leaders, who give so much of themselves for others:

"Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel. The great mystery of God becoming human is God's desire to be loved by us. By becoming a vulnerable child, completely dependent on human care, God wants to take away all distance between the human and the divine. Who can be afraid of a little child that needs to be fed, to be cared for, to be taught, to be guided? We usually talk about God as the all-powerful, almighty God on whom we depend completely. But God wanted to become the all-powerless, all-vulnerable God who completely depends on us. How can we be afraid of a God who wants to be "God-with-us" and needs us to become "Us-with-God"?

There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love."

Thanks, youth leaders at Hollywood Pres.
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