Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve 1968 - The Good Earth

When I was 10 years old, I remember sitting in the den of our house in Arcadia with my parents, on Christmas Eve, watching the astronauts of Apollo 8 conduct the first TV transmission back to Earth.  Since then, 42 years have come and gone, on this, the Good Earth:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mary's Song

Photo information here.

Mary's Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …you who have had so far to come.)

Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.

His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves' voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.

Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new.

Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Into the Darkest Hour

Into The Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
War &  tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Christmas Time
Originally uploaded by andywon

Monday, December 13, 2010

Norris Family Christmas 2010

And so, it’s December again, and how did we get here?  Each of us finds ourselves confronted with the Holiday reveling, rushing, purchasing, partying, and some mild forms of panic.  If you are even a bit like me, you promise yourself that, finally, this year, maybe you will slow down, take some time, and ponder the wonder and waiting of Advent.  But it rarely happens.  For me, the act of sitting down to share with you a bit of our lives is an exercise in slowing down and remembering where we have been.  This past year, together and apart as family, was marked by some significant moments, which can be sorted into some categories; Adventures, Celebrating Relationships, Losses and Gains, and Thankfulness.

Adventures.  In the Spring, Nancy, Heather and I visited Boston, to look at several colleges Heather may consider in 2012.  This summer found Heather, now almost 17, traveling to, of all places on earth, Albania – to serve young people there.  Her time was remarkable, she was moved by the depth of acceptance and love among a people with whom she could barely communicate.  Just a week ago, Heather and Dad snuck off to snowy Seattle to visit the Univ. of Washington, another possibility in less than two years.  Snow in November, what fun!  The fall found Mom and Dad helping Kelly move into her new apartment at DePaul University in Chicago.  Mom and Kelly did a great job of decorating.  Dad paid for it, thankfully.  Kelly is doing well at DePaul, and loving her sophomore year, with never a dull moment.  And to top it off, from the 4th to 18th of December, Kelly has chosen to travel to, wait for it….. Zambia (!) to volunteer her time in working at an orphanage.  At this writing, she is safe in Livingstone, and loving it.  Really now, what an amazing girl!

Celebrating Relationships.  In the end, these are what make life worth living.  This summer we all were graced by the visit from Canada of Nancy’s brother Dave, his wife Pauline, and their kids, Hannah, Julia, and Tim.  Relations between our two nations were significantly enhanced.  Also this summer, Nancy headed again for a week to Lost Canyon Ranch in Arizona for Young Lives camp – an opportunity to love and care for teen moms and their babies.  Nance continues, each day, filing all our lives with order, grace, and laughter.  Earlier this year, Heather was selected for the LIFE spiritual leadership program at her school.  This is something we are very proud of, as it illustrates Heather’s care for the deeper spiritual life of her peers.  In further simple celebration, this year was graced by evenings under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl, and in the elegance of Disney Hall, experiencing the beauty and mystery of great music, shared with dear friends and family.  This fall we joyously celebrated the arrival of two new special friends, Dan & Anne Baumgartner, from Seattle.  Dan is now the new pastor of Hollywood Presbyterian Church, bringing to a close a two year search, and a massive sigh of relief and a loud Hallelujah from Nancy!

Losses and gains.  Just after I wrote you last December, we said goodbye to our dear brown chocolate Labrador, Cindy, after 12 years of companionship.  This was a hard loss for us all.  But in the Spring of this year (after some rather subversive influence from Steve), we adopted a new puppy of similar color and persuasion.  Ella is her name, and she fills our home with happiness (and, Nancy will add, annoyances) each day.  At the same time, we remember our friends who have lost loved ones this past year.  Pets can be replaced, people cannot; this life we lead together each day is such a gift.

Thankfulness.  As for me (Steve), I will not be sad to see 2010 end.  This recession has been not a ton of fun, professionally speaking.  However, by way of perspective – I remind myself daily that I am simply overwhelmed with blessing.  I cannot believe I get to work with such a dedicated and fun staff.  Further, I have been reminded to renew my commitment to use our firm to help, encourage, and nurture others who are less fortunate than us.  And so, with that thought in mind this year, a Christmas gift in the name of you all, our dearest friends, has been thankfully given to Club21 (, a community service organization in Pasadena that works to support families with kids who have Down Syndrome.  Their motto is “Together Is Better”.  Truly, having you as our dear friends; Together is Better, indeed.  For many of us, this has not been an easy year.  And yet, at the core of it all, we have each other, and we still have the relentlessly abiding love of God, expressed in the gift of the Christ child.  We dwell in Christmas Hope!  And so, reflecting this, join with us in remembering the words found on the Oval Office desk of Franklin Roosevelt during the darkest years of the both the Depression and World War II:

“Let unconquerable gladness dwell” 

May this be so in your home and in your heart, always!    Merry Christmas from Steve, Nancy, Kelly, and Heather!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Nativity Carol

Nativity Carol

Born in a stable so bare,
Born so long ago;
Born neath light of star
He who loved us so.

Far away, silent He lay,
Born today, your homage pay,
Christ is born for aye,
Born on Christmas Day.

Cradled by mother so fair,
Tender her lullaby;
Over her son so dear
Angel hosts fill the sky.

Far away, silent He lay,
Born today, your homage pay,
Christ is born for aye,
Born on Christmas Day.

Wise men from distant far land,
Shepherds from starry hills
Worship this babe so rare,
Hearts with His warmth He fills.

Far away, silent He lay,
Born today, your homage pay,
Christ is born for aye,
Born on Christmas Day.

Love in that stable was born
Into our hearts to flow;
Innocent dreaming babe,
Make me Thy love to know.

Far away, silent he lay,
Born today, your homage pay,
Christ is born for aye,
Born on Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

December 7, 1941 - Remembering 69 Years Later

Tonight, I sat in the comfort of our home, and watched the beginning episode of The Pacific on DVD.  I was again reminded that 69 years ago today, the world was changed forever by the events of this date.

I remain thankful for those of my fathers generation, who defended our freedom, and of the countless many who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Little Lamb

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
Gave thee life, and bid thee feed
By the stream and o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing, woolly, bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice?
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb, I’ll tell thee:
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb.
He is meek, and he is mild;
He became a little child.

I, a child, and thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb, God bless thee!
Little Lamb, God bless thee!

Words: William Blake / Music: John Tavener

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wexford Carol - December 1, 2010

The Wexford Carol
Christmas Hymn & Carol Lyrics

Good people all, this Christmas time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done,
In sending His belov├Ęd Son.
With Mary holy we should pray
To God with love this Christmas Day;
In Bethlehem upon the morn
There was a blest Messiah born.

The night before that happy tide
The noble virgin and her guide
Were long time seeking up and down
To find a lodging in the town.
But mark how all things came to pass:
From every door repelled, alas!
As long foretold, their refuge all
Was but a humble oxen stall.

Near Bethlehem did shepherds keep
Their flocks of lambs and feeding sheep;
To whom God’s angels did appear
Which put the shepherds in great fear.
“Prepare and go”, the angels said,
“To Bethlehem, be not afraid;
For there you’ll find, this happy morn,
A princely Babe, sweet Jesus born.”

With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God’s angel has foretold,
They did our Savior Christ behold.
Within a manger He was laid,
And by His side the virgin maid
Attending to the Lord of Life,
Who came on earth to end all strife.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Conducting with Joy

Give me a block of spongy stuff, my own orchestra level pup tent, and a baton. Oh, that we all could conduct our lives with such joy, abandon, and at the end, hilarity!  Watch out Gustavo!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hamlet's Blackberry

I have just finished reading this book, which explores the way in which we modern folk have become tethered to our "screens" in so many myriad ways.  This was a convicting and at the same time enlightening and encouraging read for me.  I often wonder if I might be too connected, too dependent on my electronic doo-dads, and if so, what effect this is having on my soul.  How do I deal with this new electronic culture, and what effect is it having on us all?

As it turns out, this problem is not new, it's as old as humankind. 

The author, William Powers, takes us on a journey into the past, exploring the writing, thoughts, and cultures of Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Ben Franklin, and even Henry David Thoreau.

What do these figures from history and literature have to teach us about dealing with our laptops, desktops, IPads, Droids, and Blackberry's, and even each other?  Quite a great deal, it seems.  Is it all bad?  No.  Is it nothing but goodness?  No, not that either.

And why is it that we are constantly gazing into these gadgets?  What is their magnetic appeal upon our lives?  In a word, affirmation and recognition.  We return over and over to Facebook pages, Tweets and blogs to find out if people like us, or love us, or even if they notice what we just said or tweeted.  This need for electronic affirmation, and how this affects us is powerful stuff. 

But maybe what we really need to be asking ourselves, as Williams Powers so effectively does in his book, is .........Really?  Can't we just be.  Here.  Now?

I don't think for a second that the Windows Phone will free us at all, its just the same as the others.  However, the idea here is just brilliant......

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Attempting to Express an Inexpressable Faith

Religious Talk

Faith.  Believing. Jesus.  Holy
Spirit.  When these terms are mentioned, right away, it seems, our minds start spinning.

And, if you're like me, your mind fills with all the images of faith that you have carried with you, likely for all your life.  For me, it starts with the big stained glass window in the old Methodist church in Arcadia when I was little.  The minister who sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher - I never understood anything he said.

Maybe your mind fills with, well, nothing; as you have no reference points for faith.

And sometimes when the conversation comes to those things of faith, your mind might fill with other things.  Maybe the frustrations, disappointments, and anger you carry around inside you.  The brutal death of someone too young to die.  Angry at God.  Lots of people I know, even good friends, are carrying with them a soft and subtle anger at the Divine.  It's there, and they can't even articulate it.  It weights them down.

For some time now, I have been beginning to sense that expressing my faith to others seems often, at least to me, an exercise in futility.  Not because I don't think others will listen, but more because I have come to a place in my life where it seems that mere words, or paragraphs, or dissertations, or even volumes of books could not express accurately what I have experienced in my life.  Exactly how do you tell someone that for more than three decades you have known, beyond any rational explanation, that not one day has passed that you have felt truly alone.  How do you express something in mere words that is so much a part of your soul?

Nowadays, when I think about the prospect of articulating what I have come to believe, the first feeling, and even first mental image that comes to mind is ... weeping.  And so that may be, at this point on the journey, the best I would have to offer as an explanation.  My tears.  Tears of joy, of knowing, of sadness, of loss, of laughter.  And sometime, tears of confusion.  But all tears forming a testament to Love.  For a long time.  Ever present and unyielding.  

How do you express the inexpressible without cheapening the depth of meaning.  How can you put to words the weight of all the substance of life?  I can't leave it up to some televangelist with big hair in a shiny suit or Hawaiian shirt.  The Guy That Has It All Together.  That Emperor has no clothes.

There Are Some Words That Point the Way
However, their are such bright glimmers of explanation - in words written 2,000 years ago.  If we just leave the explanation to the people who experienced faith in its original form (before we "modern" American religious folk messed it all up), the words seem, if only for a moment, to sing:

Ephesians 3:14-20 (The Message)

 14-19My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
 20-21God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

   Glory to God in the church!
   Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
   Glory down all the generations!
   Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

And then, every once in a long while, someone in the modern paradigm gets it almost entirely right.  Pardon this very loose film analogy, but I think Jodie Foster has been supported by some very good writing here in explaining the unexplainable, from the film Contact.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September Again, Simeon, and Red Rover

September Again
And so, we have come back around to September again. There have been 52 of them for me thus far, 19 for Oldest Daughter, 16 for Younger Daughter.  My lovely wife has had somewhat fewer Septembers in her life.  It's the first September for the new puppy, now 8 months old and sleeping at my feet as I write this. This can be a time of year to take stock of the summer past, and look forward to the fall ahead, and perhaps ponder our place in the Universe.

The end of summer.  Time to say goodbye to longer days, warm evenings; being able to jump in the pool at 8 PM and not get chilled after you get out.  Its also time for the start of school.  The streets in our neighborhood are again full of parents and kids, all walking to school. The 7:45 AM rush, a timeless tradition here for more than 50 years or so, I guess.  Strollers, little bikes, kids in helmets, small students with parents holding hands, backpacks and lunch sacks, moving slowly westward from the top of our street, daily participants in some not-so-distant Big Event.

It really is a Big Event, this life we lead, isn't it?   Full of millions of little events, like your first bike solo, your first day of school, and, as you grow older, heading back to college in the early fall.  All these seemingly little events that begin to pile up, and make something beautiful, or sad, or challenging.  Each step is important, and if we handle them with love and humor, perhaps the finished result might be something beautiful.

We participated in that again this year, for our second time, in the start of college thing. Three weeks ago, we were in Chicago moving Kelly into her completely hip college apartment. Four girls in three bedrooms (and what looks to have been the former den), ready for another year at school.  Trips to Ikea, and Target and Costco, gathering up the stuff needed to make the apartment work.  With my lovely wife along, I felt sort of like Cro-Magnon Man With Wallet.  Following wife and daughter to all these places, grunting occasionally at some decorating choice, and supply my VISA card at the crucial check-out moment.  Most of the sounds I made sounded much like the names of the products sold at Ikea, such as "Fnork", or "Trall", or "Glank".  This is my new roll as the Dad of a college aged daughter; follow, grunt, pay.

Its a gorgeous apartment in Lincoln Park, two blocks from school in one direction, and three blocks from Trader Joes in the other direction. That sounds like the perfect location to me!

As I followed the ladies around Ikea and Costco, I was also quietly reflecting on how life had led me to this place, and remembering, through the fog of middle age, my own college years.  What if I could relive those years, only with the middle life perspective I now have?  What would that feel like, and how might I experience those college years differently?  This is what I wondered, as I pushed the cart around Ikea.

As part of all this pondering, about college and daughters and life, I have been reflecting on the ark that the life of Older Daughter is taking as she reaches toward 20 years.  A sophomore in college now  As a young parent there was no way I could have ever know or fully understood who she was going to become as she grew.  No way I would have known that she decided in the fifth grade that she should become a teacher for her vocation.  So many things I could never have imagined, that have now come to pass.

This place of "not knowing" about where are kids are headed is as old as humanity, and reminds me of one of my favorite stories in the Gospels.  In Luke, where Joseph & Mary present their little child to the Lord, and a man named Simeon is present.   How would you feel if an old man took your child in his arms and pronounced clearly just exactly what his or her future would look like?  My favorite line in this story is:

"Jesus' father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words."

I can completely understand how they felt, those two very young parents.  What was this old man saying?  How did he know?  And for me, what would it have felt like to have been told the future and fate of my own child, when she was so very young?  What a moment.  What a life.  We parents, we need time to take it all in.  Learning it all too fast can break our hearts.

Red Rover
And then, several days ago, I stumbled on this beautiful song by Rosie Thomas.  It seems to connect the pieces together perfectly at just this point in life.  

When they are little, you want to hold them so tight.  I think Mary and Joseph felt that too.  I did.  But as time passes, our grip must loosen.  I keep telling myself that.  Loosen up, dude.  I said that to myself as I circled around inside Ikea.  Loosen up.

I need to remember, that, in spite of my own unconvinced heart, and sometimes undercover smile, that I need to just let her go.  She's beautiful.  Otherwise, she may never know.

Red Rover by Rosie Thomas

Red rover, red rover
Send Mary right over
School books in her hand
And her shawl over her shoulders
And let her run
Run as fast as she can
Don't let her grow up to be
Like her mother
Heart so unconvinced and a world
So undiscovered
And asking for forgiveness
Not knowing how to forgive.

And oh
Just let her go
And oh
She's beautiful
If you hold her back,
She may never know.

Red rover, red rover,
Send Daniel
School books in his hand
And a coat over his shoulder
And let him run
Run as fast as he can
Don't let him grow up to be like his father
Heart so set in stone
And a smile so undercover
And opening the door to love,
Never letting love in.

And oh
Just let him go
And oh
He's beautiful
If you hold him back,
He may never know.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Summer Staycation Reflections

This summer was different for our family. We didn't go anywhere.  And that was just fine for us.

In the past five years I have been keeping this blog, we have been to Toronto twice, Hawaii, England and France, and for variety, a lovely summer trip to Tennessee and Alabama.  Sheesh.  But this year, save for a brief trip to Chicago to help Older Daughter move into her college apartment (post coming soon), we stayed home.  That was just fine for us.  

Chalk it up the effects of the Bush/Obama/NINJA Loan aftermath summer of America's discontent.  The Recession that Will Never Go Away.  With one daughter in University and another in private high school, our summer plans were compacted to the not-even-close-to-purgatory of our own back yard.  A pool, a puppy, and friends and family, that is all you need to get away from it all.

And when folks are blessed as we are by good friends and loving family, a summer at home can serve as a wonderful chance to reconnect, and deepen friendships and family bonds.  Strangely enough, we ended up doing what folks used to do years ago in the summer, before the advent of jet travel and resort destinations.  We played together in the pool, or over board games after dinner (yes, I admit, I am not a lover of after dinner board games!), we laughed, we caught up on life.  We sat in the gathering twilight and talked.  For hours.  Just like 200 years ago.

June was graced by the visit of our one time house guest, now dear family friend Jill, who is a pastor in Austin, Texas.  Long dinners on the back porch, great conversation, and a couple of visits to In N' Out made for a wonderful time with a treasured friend.  A seminary student in a baseball cap on our front porch who turned into someone so close to our hearts.
July was a bit more quiet, but featured a visit to one of the most special concert venues in the world - The Hollywood Bowl.  Twilight, a picnic dinner of simple things, a bottle of wine, and friends together.  These are the things that last.  July was particularly slow at the office; the slowest month in a decade, and in my poorer moments, I let it get the better of me.  But recovery to the economy is coming, albeit at the speed of continental drift.  The future looks hopeful, and we are all still employed.  Again, thankful.

July was also the month of travel, for some, as Younger Daughter went off to Albania, and met people who changed her life and her heart.  My lovely wife spent a week in Arizona with teen moms, serving with Young Life - one of our favorite things on the planet.  Older Daughter and I stayed home, stayed employed (she as a children's swim instructor at the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center), and kept the puppy (mostly) out of trouble.  Somebody has to hold down the fort.

August was the month of Atkins.  From Kitchener - Waterloo, Ontario, the visiting in-laws joyously came.  Five strong, and not a dull moment for 12 days of Southern California fun.  Hollywood, San Diego, the beach, back to the Hollywood Bowl again.  Three cousins, from 8 to 13 in age, and more fun than, well, a barrel full of Canadian monkeys.  Relations between our two nations were significantly enhanced.  My favorite part of the day was being able to come home and jump in the pool with Tim Man - 8 years old.  Mr. Tim, they call him, the only male Atkins progeny.   We invented a modified version of water polo and pool hockey that will soon sweep all of North America.  Look for it, soon on ESPN.

And in the background of all this blessing, there has been a new sound track to this Summer of 2010.  Mumford and Sons, from Great Britain.  Remarkable music from a collection of college friends - and lyrics that leaving you thinking for days.  See below.

Our wish is that your summer had some moments like these, the kind that get frozen in time in your memory.  These are the moments that make us smile, and remind us that we are indeed not alone, that we are loved, and created to love others.  If its only sharing a meal, laughing together, listening to beautiful music, or splashing in the water, we have purpose.  Together.

Roll away your stone, I’ll roll away mine
Together we can see what we will find
Don’t leave me alone at this time,
For I'm afraid of what I will discover inside

Cause you told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I see
Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I've seen

Stars hide your fires,
These here are my desires
And I won't give them up to you this time around
And so, I’ll be found with my stake stuck in this ground
Marking the territory of this newly impassioned soul

But you, you’ve gone too far this time
You have neither reason nor rhyme
With which to take this soul that is so rightfully mine

Sunday, August 15, 2010

To Change the World....or Maybe Not

Whack A Mole for Jesus
Recently, I have been reflecting that there may be a big difference between "Human Doings" and Human Beings.  We seem to get our self worth from what we can do, rather than who we really are.  We need to be busy, to do something, rather than being content with just being.

And much of this may be due to fear; the fear of being powerless, and the fear of not making a big difference in the world.  We like it when we think we are making a big difference, when we are changing the world, so to speak.  When we are shiny, and happy, and powerful, and cool.

This past month, I read a fascinating book entitled "To Change The World", which is ironically subtitled "The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World".  After reading, I am of the opinion that this work should be required reading for those of us who have spent far too many years inside the safe and cozy confines of evangelical Christianity.

James Davidson Hunter, the author (not a turncoat, he is a believing person), provides a very helpful overview of where a variety of sects of Christian culture stand, how they (we) got there, and what the implications of their thinking mean in our modern world.  Largely, this book reminded me of how seldom I and my crowd take the time to critically self examine our motives, and, in turn, how goofy we must look to the world at large.  Quite goofy.

I must share with you one of the crucial premises of this book, in order to illustrate its potential impact:
"At the end of the day, the message is clear: even if not in the lofty realms of political life that he was called to, you too can be a Wilberforce.  In your own sphere of influence, you too can be an Edwards, a Dwight, a Booth, a Lincoln, a Churchill, a Dorothy Day, a Martin Luther King, a Mandela, a Mother Theresa, a Vaclav Havel, a John Paul II, and so on.  If you have the courage and the hold to the right values and if you think Christianly with an adequate Christian worldview, you too can change the world.

This account is almost wholly mistaken."

How is that for a starter? 

But, as the book progresses, one finds very thoughtful and detailed arguments of both the evangelical Christian right, the liberal social-justice Christian Left, and the detachment of the Anabaptists.  It takes time, thought, reflection and effort, but I think this book is one of the most careful surveys of the landscape of American Christian political thought in a long time.

So, if we are delusional in thinking we can be earth shakers - just because of our faith, what are we to do? 

More thoughts soon....

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Angel Flight

My half-brother, a former US Air Force pilot, sent me the link to this video today.  Quite touching, and worthy of sharing with others.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Closing Thoughts from Albania

The Team
Its been a bit more than two weeks for Younger Daughter and team members on their mission trip to Albania.  They are flying home tomorrow.

From the blog updates and the photos, it seems to have been a wonderful trip.  A chance for busy and media affected American kids to unplug from the rush of life here at home, and experience a more simple life, devoid of text messages, cell phones, the Internet, and the rest of the cultural delicacies they are inundated with each and every day.  Maybe two weeks in rural Albania is the best thing that could ever have happened to them.  I like God's timing.

We are guessing that the last post on the Albania blog was written by Younger Daughter:

The Camp
"Earlier this week Emma and I were talking about leaving and she described it as "bitter sweet". I couldn't agree more! We are all ready to be back in the states entering into our daily lives. It's the simple stuff like laundry, flushing toilet paper down the toilet, and easily communicating that we are ready to enjoy again.

However, the culture and mostly the people will be the thing we will miss the most. Maybe its just me, but I feel like our work is not done here. Let's stay another two weeks!! We have developed relationships with people here so quickly that it is frustrating to leave after becoming so close.

This trip has taught me more that I had expected. The most important thing that i have learned is how important it is to cherish and grow in our relationships with one another. So as us girls sit here painting our nails and talking, we are reminiscing about this trip and what fun we have had. Emma is sitting on the windowsill looking out on this little town Erseke with the sun shunning. Devon and Gaby are cuddling in the bunk across from me. Gaby is tending to her allergic reaction and laughing as usual (pray for her rash and throat). Darby and Marisa are sitting below me finishing up their nails singing along with the music. As for me, I am just taking it all in on the top bunk by the window.

So for our last day in Erseke Albania, we are headed out to lunch and back to camp to say goodbyes and play. Tonight we are going across the street to the church for dancing and community time. In the morning we will be on our way by about 930 am for Tirana, which is about a 5 hour drive.

Tomorrow and Monday are going to be very long and exhausting and I am sure we won't all be in the best of moods. But us girls plan to head into London for breakfast since we have the longer layover. Pray for us! Thanks for all your love and support.

From all of us on team California, Mirupafshim."
 Color me a proud Dad.

Friday, July 23, 2010

When You Are Old - Yeats

Sometimes, the words just speak for themselves:

                When You Are Old
    WHEN you are old and gray and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
   How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)                   

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Young Lives - You Were Made for This

She could have spent a week at the beach. Or at a spa, or shopping, or laying in the sun.
But my wife chose to do this for a week.  I admire her so much, I don't know how to express it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Update from Heather in Albania

A week ago we put Younger Daughter on a plane to Albania, via London.  After 7 days we have a wonderful update from a remarkable girl.  Ok, I am biased.  Sue me.

There she is to the right in the orange shirt and shorts, in a photo taken earlier this week.  So far from home, but so close in our hearts.

Update from Heather!

Hey Friends & Family:
Heather here! Hope you all are doing well back in the States. Your prayers and thoughts have really reached us here in Albania, so please continue to do so. This past week has been eventful and for the lack of a better word, amazing! When we arrived in Erseke, we all were too exhausted we didn't have time to soak it all in. However, as this week has progressed, we ALL have had time to adjust and enjoy this different but fascinating country.

As a team, we are working at a camp that the Stoscher family owns. The camp is a 15 minute walk (exactly) from the Stoscher's home. This past week and the next, junior high students from across Albania attend the camp to have fun and learn about God. For me, I started the week with the job of "accommodations" which involves cleaning throughout the camp. In the late afternoon, Emma and I would head back to the church for the neighborhood playground/devotion time. The Brits (which I am sure you have read about from Emma or Devon) run the program with games and a group devotion for about an hour and a half every week night.

I absolutely love helping out during this time. The kids are so kind and welcoming although you have almost nothing in common with them. After just one afternoon with them, Emma and I had several kids run up to us and give us HUGE hugs when we first arrive at the church. Although the communication/ language barrier has been the most difficult aspect of the trip, that doesn't stop us or the kids from connecting. Wednesay night we all attend the community "walk about" (which Emma mentioned). It was such an interesting cultural experience to be amongst the entire community. During the "walk about", the Brits started to dance and form a circle. The Americans (Team California & Seth from Seattle) joined in and we created a GIANT circle. The Albanian people looked as us like we were crazy, but also found us amusing. I am sure they think we are just weird foreigners. :) After a bit of dancing, we all headed over to a tennis court size carpet soccer field that is considered to be "indoors". We then played an intense but FUN game of soccer from 11:15pm-12:30am. (We all woke up sore and exhausted the next morning).

Thursday and Friday I worked in the kitchen almost all day peeling, washing, and cutting all types of food. I have never experienced so many flies in one area before in my life. During the afternoon, I helped with the crafts at the camp. We made bracelets, bracelets and oh, more bracelets. Every night, the children gather after dinner into the hall for a group meeting of singing, skits and a talk. Our team stays for the songs (all in Albanian or Sheep as the language is called here) and skits. The children are so passionate and excited about singing to God and presenting their skits to the entire camp.

Although we have no clue what is being said, there is a feeling of love and God's presence in that hot and sticky meeting hall. Last night (Friday) was the last night at camp for this group of kids. We had dinner and they gathered in the hall for a slide show and skits. Outside by the trampoline and ropes coarse, us Americans and the Brits set up a bonfire to celebrate the last night. We lit the fire and all the kids came out from the meeting hall in tears. The entire camp gathered around the huge fire and sang and hung out for about 25 minutes. Almost every single of the 130 kids at the camp were sobbing. I think this emotion struck all of us and proved that this week is so important and memorable to them (Just a reminder how important our presence is here).

This morning (Saturday), the entire team except for Isaac and I, went out on hike for about 2 hours. Isaac and I went back to the camp to help Seth on the roof (they are building a new roof on part of the camp). We installed fiber glass as insulation for the building in the heat of the morning. Never been so itchy and uncomfortable before! Then we all meet back at the house and went to a fabulous meal in town. Now, we are resting and waiting for a thunder storm to clear so we can head back to camp and go on the ropes course. Tonight, there is a yummy dinner and some traditional Albanian dancing on our schedule! So excited!

I can't tell you all how much fun I am having here. I have never felt such a sense of community and simplicity before and it is so refreshing. We have befriended almost everyone we meet from other American's, the Brits or the Albanian's. We all have found friends outside of our group and its so wonderful how close people get in such a short amount of time. I can't believe we only have about a week left but I am going to enjoy every minute of it. Shout out to Kel, the parents, Ella and Lib.  Missin you guys and my bed!

Mirapafshim (goodbye in Albania)
If you want to see photos and other updates, go to the Albania Blog, here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Allison Krauss - Simple Love

A friend just sent me this video.  Now I am a complete mess.  This is beautiful.  Simply beautiful.

(And now, in November 2012, as this song came on Pandora at my office, I am thinking that the lyrics of this song reflect my prayers that my might life might reflect this kind of fatherly, simple love)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Off to Albania, The Family Tradition Continues

This afternoon, we put younger daughter on a plane (ok, really a church van, that was going to the airport) to that wonderland of eastern European vacation spots, Albania.

For those of you who have suffered along with this blog for more than two years, you may remember that this is Daughter Number Two to pick this lovely location for a summer mission trip.  We are completely pleased.

Daughter will be traveling about 5,700 nautical miles from home; LA to London to Tirane.  But maybe she will be doing a whole lot more traveling than that.  It’s not just about a different culture, or people who speak a different language.  Maybe it’s about exploring the world, and really about learning about two crucial things.  Thing 1: God’s love for ALL of the entirety of the world, including this place called Albania.  Thing 2:  Understanding more about God’s love for each of us, and what He may be doing inside our souls.

I am amazed by this girl.  When most of the kids her age are obsessing over the demise of Lindsay Lohan, or completely absorbed by their little local social circle, or finding ways to waste hundreds of hours on Facebook all summer, this girl wants to try something else.  Can she articulate to others her motivation for traveling more that ¼ of the way around the globe, just to hang out in a little country without the ability to flush toilet paper for two weeks?  It’s no Hawaiian vacation.  What is going on here? 

Maybe, just maybe, it’s what people refer to as “that still, small, voice” , calling her to serve and make a difference.  Even if it seems like a small difference.  Playing games with kids, sharing a laugh, going to church where you cannot understand a word but strangely get what is going on, making a meal, cleaning up.  Little things.  Little things that make a lot of difference.  You will never know how much your just showing up means to the folks where you are going.

But strangely, mysteriously, God’s economy is often not based on grand events, or things that change the world in a day.  His sense of what is important is usually found in the small events of life.  A smile, a hand up, really listening to someone, loving when it’s not easy.
And so, my prayer for this group of teens and leaders:  
God, go with all these great kids and leaders.  Give them a real sense of purpose.  Help them to understand what is going on, even when they have no idea what people are saying around them.  Build solid relationships of trust and service.  Keep them free from mishaps and injuries and funky germs.  But most of all God, give them lots of laughter, because it seems to me that so much of what your Kingdom is about is found in laughter.  We laugh because we know You are there in the laughter, and you love us more than we could ever imagine.  It’s amazing.  And for our girl, give her peace and joy deep inside her soul.  Fill her with enthusiasm, even in times when she would rather be napping.  Fill her heart with laughter.  Amen.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

This 4th, This Land, Our Freedom

Tomorrow will be the 4th of July.  BBQs with friends, flags and bunting, a parade down Main Street.  Bikes festooned with red, white, and blue streamers.  Fireworks just after dusk.

But there is so much more going on here - and it really takes place in the ordinary of everyday.  Its the making of freedom, the slow forging of liberty.  Its the way we live our lives.  We get up, get dressed, go to work, care for the elderly and the less fortunate, and in the process, we make, hopefully, something good.

Today I came across a piece by my favorite columnist, Peggy Noonan, and it talks about words that were edited out of the Declaration of Independence: 

And so were the words that came next. But they should not have been, for they are the tenderest words. 

Poignantly, with a plaintive sound, Jefferson addresses and gives voice to the human pain of parting: "We might have been a free and great people together."

What loss there is in those words, what humanity, and what realism, too.

"To write is to think, and to write well is to think well," David McCullough once said in conversation. Jefferson was thinking of the abrupt end of old ties, of self-defining ties, and, I suspect, that the pain of this had to be acknowledged. It is one thing to declare the case for freedom, and to make a fiery denunciation of abusive, autocratic and high-handed governance. But it is another thing, and an equally important one, to acknowledge the human implications of the break. These were our friends, our old relations; we were leaving them, ending the particular facts of our long relationship forever. We would feel it. Seventeen seventy-six was the beginning of a dream. But it was the end of one too. "We might have been a free and great people together."
 A free and great people. And interestingly enough, all these years later, Britain and the US are again "a free and great people together" in so many ways.

This 4th I am thankful for my country.  But more than that, I am thankful for those men and women, now stretching back more than 234 years, who have lived and died and sacrificed to make this land one of the best places to live on the planet. 

May we not waste this legacy and heritage.  May we use it wisely in future years to bless this planet.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Dusk on the Hill

Up The Hill
A couple of weeks ago, Younger Daughter and I took a short car trip up a hill.  No big deal, but farther and deeper than I thought.

It was a late spring night, and for about an hour, up there on the hill, we just took it all in.  It was nice to have at least a few moments to disconnect from the routine and busyness of these days to enjoy something simple, like enjoying the simple pleasure of a sunset over  the city.  I can't remember the last time I took time out like that.

Daughter wanted to head up the hill and take in the sunset, and get some photos of it, from a lookout at her school.  I am not sure what motivated her to ask me, in the kitchen after dinner, if I wanted to go.  She had just finished her sophomore year, perhaps this mid-point of high school; a marker in the ground of sorts.  Parents:  when you get asked to do something like this from your fiercely independent kids, drop everything and just go.

Top of the Hill
At the top of the hill above the Rose Bowl, you are surrounded on three sides by the City of Pasadena and its suburbs.  As dusk settles in you can hear the low rush of the freeway below.  This world we live is in constant motion, rushing from here to there, never ceasing.  Standing above it all, I suddenly feel out of place - thinking that we had stepped out of that racing world below to a separate place, one of relative calm and reflection.  Above it all, if only for a while.

Am I like all those people down there on the freeway, rushing headlong forward, not perceiving what is really happening to me, letting life flow past me, and not learning?  There is so much going on around us in each moment, and we rarely take the time to stop and listen.  And wonder.

There I was on that hill above the city, in a place I could not imagine being even several short years ago, with a young lady taking pictures by my side who, its seems just yesterday, was just half as tall and confident as she is now.  Am I taking this all in? Do I know what is really happening in the mystery at the core of this life?

Over The Hill
Recently, I heard something on a podcast that has had me pondering, remembering my Dad, and reflecting on that night up on the hill.

It was a thoughtful conversation about the spirituality of Alzheimer's and aging, presented on Speaking of Faith.  Psychologist Alan Dienstag described his relationship with Anna, an Alzheimer's patient, who was at the point of forgetting almost everyone and everything in life.  They both shared a love of the beach, and Alan told his patient/friend Anna that he was going to be heading to the beach soon for vacation.  The beach, Anna thought, her face turning pensive.

Anna smiled, her face lit up, and after some thought she replied...."There is some kind of music that lives there."

In the fog of her mental decline, there was a mysterious place where Anna remembered the essence of being at the beach, and perhaps of this life itself.  The music that lives there.  Where did that memory come from, in a mind that everyone had just about dismissed as non-functional.  Perhaps it was a prayer. Its a place between knowing and not knowing. Its a mystery.

And there we were, up on that hill, taking in the sunset.  Dad, at nearly 52, and daughter at just more than 16, standing in the gathering dusk.

There was music living there too.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Remembering Coach

Last night, in the seventh inning of the Dodger game, longtime broadcaster Vin Scully informed the crowd via the scoreboard video screen that his friend John Wooden had passed away.

"Friends, I interrupt the ball game, and I come to you with a heavy heart," Scully began. "Those of us who knew him and knew him well are the ones who are blessed by his life."
Scully went on to quote Shakespeare: 
"His life was gentle, 
and the elements so mixed in him, 
that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, 
this was a man."
I had friend who was at that game.  This morning I found a text on my phone from that same friend, indicating that after Scully's announcement the fans at Dodger Stadium, nearly to a last man, and many of them in tears, rose to give Wooden a standing ovation.

......this was a man.  Indeed.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Incentives, Inschmentives!

You will need 10:48 to rethink the role of leadership and incentives in business, the church, and non-profits. Its worth the time, and entertaining. Go for it......

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Seredipitous Evening of Memories

Friday night at 5 PM we got a call from friends who suddenly had happened upon 18 EXTRA tickets to see the Troubadour Reunion Tour of James Taylor & Carol King at the Hollywood Bowl.  Lived here all my life, and I still love living in LA, if for nothing else but stuff like this.

Nancy got on the phone, and rustled up 12 close friends, and off we went.  The concert time was 7:30, and we entered the Bowl (two rows from the very very top) right as the band took the stage. 

As we sat in the gathering dusk, eating cold chicken, crackers, and grapes, we listened to two of the icons of our generation.  It was beautiful.  Thanks to the wonders of YouTube, and illegal videos, below, please watch, for the few days before the lawyers shut it down, a moment from that evening.  This is the first encore. 

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