Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Ford, Not A Lincoln


This has been a week to remember the average guy. The guy who does his job (even if it happens to be President) each day, is kind to his neighbor, loves his wife and his family, and who quietly, makes this a great country to live in. We need more Gerry Fords.

Ben Stein, who used to write speeches for Gerald Ford, has it exactly right here. I give you a short quote, which sums it all up:


Defeated for election, Ford went peacefully into elder statesman mode, helped his noble wife dignify the fight against alcoholism and addiction, and stood for decades as a figure of grace and humility. Five miles east of the lovely home that Ford lived and died in in the California desert, there is a simple cottage where men and women go to attend meetings to bring peace and sobriety. On one wall there is a list of the people who have been coming frequently, just by first name and last initial. Two of those names are "Gerald and Betty F." Not President. Not Minority Leader. Just "Gerald and Betty F." Just two people trying to spread oil on the troubled waters of human existence. A Ford, not a Lincoln, but what a glorious Michigan-made vehicle of the human spirit.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Some Children See Him



I am continuing to revel in the simple beauty of James Taylor's Christmas Album, late to the party as I am. Tonight, I am listening to "Some Children See Him", written by Wihla Hutson and Alfred Burt in 1951, seven years before I was born.




Some children see Him lily white
the infant Jesus born this night
Some children see Him lily white
with tresses soft and fair

Some children see Him bronzed and brown
the Lord of heav'n to earth come down
Some children see Him bronzed and brown
with dark and heavy hair (with dark and
heavy hair!)

Some children see Him almond-eyed
This Saviour whom we kneel beside
Some children see Him almond-eyed
With skin of yellow hue!

Some children see Him dark as they
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray
Some children see Him dark as they
And, ah! they love Him so!

The children in each different place
Will see the Baby Jesus' face
Like theirs but bright with heav'nly grace
And filled with holy light!

O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the infant King
'tis love that's born tonight!

'tis love that's born tonight!



The composer of song has a bittersweet subplot, as can be found, in detail here (click "history"). Alfred Burt lived only 33 years, before succuming to lung cancer, far too early in life. He left behind a wife and daughter, who have carried on his musical tradition.

James Taylor of Chapel Hill, NC, 10 years my senior. Alfred Burt, born the same year as my Dad, and died 4 years before my birth. Neither men met each other, but together, they have created a song that speaks remarkably well of the universality of a faith more than 2,000 years in the making.

And who says Christmas is not, at its deepest center, a mystery?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Deconstructing Church


Sometimes I think I live in a cave. James Taylor has a new Christmas album, and I had no idea, until the other day when my buddy John told me. Tickets for his solo (only James, no band) concert in LA in February are sold out, and now going for up to $400 per seat. Guess we won't be going, although I would love to.

Anyway, I am online just now listening to "In The Bleak Midwinter" from James' new album, and my eyes are tearing up. Here is why. James is a fellow who has had a somewhat wandering, wondering spiritual journey his whole life. He has written songs touching on semi-new age and Earth worship, of sorts. And now, I hear him singing from this tune, one of my Christmas favorites:

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, empty as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my
part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

And listening to this fellow, who's music I grew up with, I am a sniffling mess. I feel like I know James, we have spent so many hours together in the car, in my bedroom at my parents as a teen, in my dorm room at college, in my first house, at many of his local concerts, and more recently, in the family van with the little girls who are now not so little any more. More than 25 years in all. In this new album, James seems very comfortable with Jesus and the songs about him.

Here is what I think. I think we have to deconstruct the way we do church. My guess is that James is not so much disinterested with Jesus, its the church people that claim to speak for Jesus that he has a hard time with. I think James and Jesus might do very well together, as friends. And perhaps, after spending time with him, James might want to "give his heart", if you will. James is not so unique. Our cities and towns are filled with people just like him. Everywhere. Subtly searching, but unwilling to deal with the structures of the church.

We in the church, for our part, need to create a more welcoming, warm, real, relevant, and loving place. Maybe then, the James' of the world would come visit, and over time, become a part, and maybe even....give their hearts.

May it be so.

Monday, December 25, 2006

My Christmas Prayer


Its Boxing Day 2006. The day after Christmas.

Last night we were part of a large festive party with friends and family old and new from church. The food was wonderful, the conversation warm, the laughter abundant, the warmth of Christmas filled the house with joy. After an early dinner, we walked the neighborhood randomly caroling the neighbors, to their delight, in spite of our less than perfect attempts at Christmas carols.

A grey sky looms this afternoon outside; with showers predicted for tonight. There is a momentary calm, as the raucous teenage girls that will live with us for a few short years longer, have friends over, and are quietly conferring in their rooms.

I sit, laptop in hand in the family room, reflecting on this Christmas 2006, listening to Mozart's Laudate Dominum (see below), perhaps one of the most hauntingly beautiful Adagios ever composed. And ironically, it was
written at a point in Mozart's life that was not perfect.

LAUDATE DOMINUM
Psalm 117 (Vulgate)
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes: laudate eum omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super
nos misericordia ejus: et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
Gloria Patri.

O praise the Lord, all ye
nations: praise Him, all ye people.

For His mercy is confirmed upon us: and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.
Glory be to the Father

So much in our world is not indeed far less than perfect this Christmas. Is it not always so? And so, this is my Christmas prayer:

Lord, on this day after Christmas, I am filled with ambiguity.
Mixed emotions. Joy and sorrow, happiness and grief, hope and hurt.
You, who came to live among us long ago on this day we celebrate,
did not come with a thunder clap, an explosion, or cheers of tens of thousands.

You came with a cry, nearly alone, the scream of a helpless, messy, completely fragile baby.
You were not ushered in front of adoring royal hoards
You came among us in a smelly barn full of animals.
Your companions on your arrival were two completely ordinary people,
who themselves must have been scared, and confused, and amazed by your arrival,
with eyes full of tears of wonder, and hearts still unsure what was going on. Like us.

Your first attendants were ordinary shepards,
who likely also smelled like the animals they tended.
And I, this Christmas, often feel like a somewhat smelly shepard.
Not completely sure of all that you are, but wanting to stand close to you,
trying to understand you, to know you.

And our world, your world, is so much less than holy or perfect,
so much like the scene at your birth. Dirty, soiled, yet somehow sacred.
As I look back on the last year, I think often of the dichotomies in my own life,
and those in our world.

I think about our happy Christmas celebration,
and the sadness that fills so much of this earth.
I think about the happy parts of my own life,
and then the sadness that also fill the corners of my heart,
as I often know how far I am from your love.

And I wonder, how can my life
make a difference; to love, to heal, to care. I wonder.
And I think of the places in my own mind and heart
that feel so far from your love and your peace.
I remember the places in this world now that seem so
far from hope and peace and healing.

I bring both the broken pieces of my life, and the broken parts of the world to you,
as did those countless crowds who followed you in your short life.
Seeking healing, hope, forgiveness and peace.
For Darfur, for Palestine, for Iraq, I pray your peace.
For Chechnya, for Myanmar, for Somali and Ethiopia, I pray your hope.
For children who will not eat this night, I pray your provision.
For all places that feel dark and hopeless, may your grace brake through.
And for the dark and uncaring parts of my own heart, I pray for your light.
Bright and blinding light.

May I be haunted by the life and love of the child who became a King.
Amen

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas to All.....































And to all, a good night.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Merry Christmas from Mr Bean!

VERY cool, Presbyterian Global Fellowship

Alright....here is another reason the Internet is completely cool.

Just imagine it, uptight Presbyterians, making a difference. Wonderful!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Mission Street Station, Missional Coffee

There is a train that runs through our town.

For some reason, I like to walk the dog to the Mission Street Station of the Metro, and sit for a while and watch the trains come through. Does anyone else like to do this, or am I just unique? I think I like to do this for two reasons. I think the Metro is cool, I probably just am a big kid at heart. Trains are cool.

Really, I think I like to go to watch all the people on the trains, coming and going, sliding through life, on their way to somewhere. All sizes, shapes, colors income groups. What are they thinking? What are they like? Are they happy today, or sad? Can they see that amazing sunset out the window, and do they ever wonder who created this remarkable planet that we share together? Do they even feel a need for God? And what, if anything does the church mean to them? I ponder these kinds of things.

Last Friday afternoon, I had coffee with
Ryan Bolger, a professor at Fuller Seminary. Ryan's area of academic and personal passion is the emerging and missional church.

I met with Ryan as a result of one of my own personal passions; our own struggling mainline urban church. I have written about this many times here. But last week's meeting was something different, and may lead to many good things. The Kingdom works that way sometimes.

I shared with Ryan the struggles of our church, which really is more of a struggle of modern changing into post-modern for a church in a complex urban setting. I shared of my vision to help our church understand its calling, to hear God's voice in the midst of change, to remain faithful to orthodoxy, and yet to be open to a new movement of the Spirit.

I then asked Ryan, "What are you passionate about? What really spins your beanie?"

Ryan smiled, and was then good for about 10 minutes on the role of missions in the modern culture. As little as 10 years ago, missions was always seen as cross cultural, the sending of people "over there" to "those people". But now, missions, particularly in a place like Southern California and Hollywood, is about being missionaries and missional right where we live. Right here, right now. Being geniune, real, honest, and living our faith daily. How do we do this, what does it look like?

I am sure I will talk more about this soon. But for now, here are three great books that are sitting by my nightstand, ready to be read:


Memories, Hopes, and Conversations - Mark Lau Branson - the story of a small church's journey on the road to discovering a new future and mission.

The Sky is Falling!?! - Alan Roxburgh - A proposal for leadership communities to take risks for the Reign of God

The Missional Leader - Alan J. Roxburgh - Equipping your church to reach a changing world

Phew. Put all this in your church pipe, and smoke it! Then, pray.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Joyous Noel

The simple joys of Christmas are all around us.....

Warning! Abducted Parents!

Alright. I have to get this off my chest.

I am bothered by a growing trend among many of the Christmas "family pictures" we get each year in the mail.

The trend: missing parents.

If I am to believe what I see in our Christmas card photos, our country is slowly evolving toward families consisting entirely of children only.

It seems that there is a strange pattern developing in upper-middle class America; a problem that now appears to be near epidemic proportions. Parents are being abducted, or at least it seems to be this way, because they no longer appear in family photos any more! Our mailbox is stuffed to the brim with photos of kids..only. No adults.

I am about to contact the authorities on this. Each year, over the past 5 to 10 years, I have noticed more and more photos arriving in Christmas cards with the parents missing. Where, I ask you are, these parents? Have they left the country, skipped town, been arrested? Perhaps they just got too tired of the whole kid-raising thing, and have taken permanent residence at a luxury spa someplace? If that is the case, I want the address and directions; I may join them.

Or maybe the kids, realizing how much easier life is without rules, have just locked good ole' Mom and Dad in the basement or attic. Another possibility: abductions by space aliens. At this point, I think anything is possible.

I have one other theory. I think some of us older folk think that we don't look so good, particularly next to our young, vibrant, handsome, hip and lovely kids. We have more wrinkles, more chubbage, less hair, or more grey hair each year. And, if we are honest, we hate the way this looks. We are so yesterday, last year, last decade. So, we just send pictures of the kids. Its easier. Its like we, the parents, the couples who created these families in the first place (along with God) are dead. Gone. Deceased. No longer relevant or important.

This bugs me. What is wrong with us adults? This seems so American to me. We hate anything that looks even the slightest bit, well, old. And so, we have taken to heart what Madison Avenue is telling us - its only cool to be young. Old = looser.

Parents of America, unite! Say no to the advertising conglomerates! Include your frayed, tired, greying selves in your Christmas pictures again. This is what families are all about! Everybody, all together.

You are not dead. Not yet.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Drinking from a Fire Hose


About 10 days ago, I spent a remarkable day in a conference room in Pasadena. Eight hours, drinking from a fire hose.

I spent it
here, with this fellow, and a group of other "advisors" to the Dean of the Fuller School of Intercultural Studies (SIS).

I have written about this opportunity before, and how I feel completely inadequate to contribute much at all.

The focus of the day was on
Children at Risk, which is a key as a part of the SIS cirriculum. To me, this is simply, for a seminary, how it should be. While theology is important, faith needs hands and feet.

Some other key points of the day, in random scatter-shot form:

"The church is like the ark. It if weren't for the rain on the outside, we would not be able to stand the stench on the inside" -- Augustine

"The well being of the vulnerable is a test of the faithfullness of our worship" and, "The well being of children is an indicator of the well being of society" -- Professor Bryant Myers

In western culture, 1 in 5 of the general population are children. In the developing world, 1 in 2 are children.

There are 10 million child refugees worldwide. There are between 10 and 100 million street children worldwide.

Children in the west lead lives that are deceived by our culture. They are told, via the viewing of as many as 40,000 television commercials a year, that the meaning of life is to be active, happy.......consumers. Many children are very "brand conscious" before they are able to read. Advertisers are even co-opting the language of religion. Case in point - Calvin Klein's "Eternity" cologne.

"Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see" -- John Whitehead

The Search Institute has identified "40 assets" that kids need to grow up healthy.

Fuller has a Center for Youth & Family Ministry, that is setting the pace for work in youth ministry.

The Viva Network is a crucial force in the networking of care agencies advocating for children.




Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Apple Tree


Advent. A time of waiting.

T
his song expresses for me much of what my faith means to me.

May it mean something deep, and rich, and mysterious to you, as well. May it mean....life, this Christmas


Jesus Christ The Apple Tree
From Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs
compiled by Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784
Tune by Elizabeth Poston, 1905-1987

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest awhile
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.


Take a minute from your busy holiday schedule. Stop. Go here, and click on "Song of the Month" to hear the most beautiful version of this song I have ever heard.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Lost


Today, as I was walking back to my office late in the day, my cell phone rang. It was my Dad, who is nearly 87. He was calling from the retirement residence where he lives.

"Hi Dad, how are you today?"

"Steve, I am about ready to panic here!"

"What's wrong, Dad?"

"I have been looking around here all day, and I can't find your mother."

My Mom passed away in July of this year. And now, it was suddenly apparent that my Dad's mental decline had reached a new stage, a place none of us has been before.

"Dad, you know that Mom has been gone now for four months."

Silence.

"Dad, Mom is dead, she is in Heaven. She is not with us anymore."

"I know that!" (Pause) "But this morning she woke up and said she was going to go out to the front desk, and then she never came back. I have looked all over this place, and I can't find her."

"Dad, you are not making sense. Mom is no longer alive, and you just told me you saw her this morning. You don't have to look for Mom"

"I know she is gone. You took me to the place where she is at Forest Lawn, and I saw where she is buried...."

This kind of strange, circular conversation continued for about 15 minutes. Dad worried where Mom was, telling me of conversations he had with her today, and then me telling him again that she is gone. Over and over. Finally, I tried to reassure Dad that he did not need to worry, and that we would come over tomorrow to see how he was doing.

"Don't worry Dad, everything is alright, you don't need to worry about Mom, just rest now."

"Ok, sorry to have bothered you, I will do what you say" "Talk to you tomorrow, goodbye......."

I called the nurse at the retirement residence right away, and told her of our conversation. She immediately replied, "Your Dad is standing right outside my door, talking to our staff". I learned that this sort of confusion is typical for folks of my Dad's age, with mild to moderate dementia. Learning this was only slightly calming to me.

Today, my Dad said goodbye in a new way, in a way I was not yet ready for.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Keep an Eye on This

Something new!

This will be worth the reading. I promise.

Amazing Daughter


I underestimate people. And, I do it most often to those in my own family. I was reminded of this again this weekend.

Girls high school water polo season is upon us, and this weekend was the annual JV water polo tournament in our area.

Most days after work this time of year I pick Kelly, our oldest daughter up from water polo practice on the way home from work. I don't think much about what she is doing at practice; our conversation on the short ride home is more about the news of the day at school or home. We live in two worlds, it seems sometimes. I often grieve quietly over this; the loss of my little girl.

I learned again this weekend what a great kid lives in our house. She is no longer a little girl, but is becoming an amazing young lady.

Kelly plays "set" position for her team, which is basically the same thing as being a center in basketball. One difference though; in basketball you cannot spend more than three seconds in the key, and in water polo you can stay there as long as you like. However, your opponents do to attempt to DROWN you, while you are there!

I underestimate my girls every day, and this weekend proved this to me again. Kelly played four games over two days, had at least five assists and two goals. All this without drowning, even once. I am amazed at the character, determination, and toughness of my "little girl".

A little girl is gone. But what a wonderful journey we are on.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Attention Shoppers



If you want to know what to get me for Christmas, this is all I really want.

More on this later.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cyber Christmas Greetings


The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton. In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen. You walk up the steps to the front door. The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing. For a second you catch a whiff of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you've never been and a time you have no words for. You are aware of the beating of your heart…The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark, pp. 2,3

Merry Christmas to All – From the Norris Family!

This life is a mystery, is it not? Each day we awake, gather ourselves, head off to work, school, community events, and life itself. And every year, as the Holidays approach, and almost assault us, we realize how fast the days and weeks go by, and turn into months, then years. A blur. And then, here we are, at the end of another year, wondering where the time went.

It would be nice to tell you of all the accomplishments our family as achieved this past year; the awards, the titles, the successes. But real life is not just about these things. So I think it best to tell you what is real, what matters, and what we hope will make a difference; the things that are really important in life. And so, this past year, for our family, below are the things that we hope will last.

Heather is now in the 7th grade, and is loving her teachers, friends, soccer, volleyball, softball (the most), and life itself. Almost 13, she is turning into a truly remarkable young lady, with a terrific sense of humor, and a heart of compassion for others. This past year, Heather has helped by involvement in the leadership of her Middle School, served lunch to homeless in Hollywood, and packed Thanksgiving boxes for needy families in LA. These are the things that are forming Heather into someone who treasures the things that matter most in life.

Kelly is almost 16 years old, and has seems to spend almost all her spare time studying - the life of a high school sophomore. In her spare time, she is on the JV girls’ water polo team at school, and loves it. In whatever time is left, she is asking to drive the car anyplace, as she now has her learners permit! This past summer, Kelly spent a week in Anchorage, Alaska with her youth group from church, where she helped at all sorts of odd jobs, including helping with vacation Bible School and clearing a hillside. Kelly always fills our home with laughter, song, and fun. When we think of Kelly, her most remarkable characteristic is “true friend” - something the world needs far more of. Kelly is amazing. These are the things in Kelly’s life that will last.

Nancy leads a life that is devoted to others, every day, without fail. Without her, the rest of us in our home would surely descent rapidly into chaos. Besides keeping our home organized (huge job!), she serves in the community in many ways, including leading the Mothers of Preschoolers program at church, and PTA at two schools. She is a caring friend, a loving mom, and a wonderful wife. Nancy is the heart of our home; this is what will truly last from our home. When I think of the persistent, relentless love of God, I so often think of my wife. Another true sign of God’s great care for us is our house guest/family member Jill Williams, who has graduated from Fuller Seminary, and awaits a call to a pastoral position.

For me (Steve), this past year has been one of new joys, exciting challenges, and bittersweet loss. My work continues to be fun and challenging. I have a great group of teammates at the office, and I am thankful for them, each day. This year, I was asked to participate in an Advisory Panel for the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary. This is something that will hopefully make a difference for the Kingdom; this will last. In July, my mother, Betty, passed away after a short illness. Mom was 85 years old, and lived a full life. She was remembered by so many as an elegant lady, dear friend, and accomplished artist. Most importantly, she was my Mom, and the wife of Roland, my Dad, for almost 49 years. Dad and I give thanks for a long life lived graciously. Mom’s life is a legacy that will last.

In April of this year, we had the privledge to serve in a small way, in a completely different setting. We visited our good friends, the Hogg family, in New Orleans. Mike Hogg is the Pastor of Canal Street Presbyterian church, which suffered significant damage in Hurricane Katrina. We spent the week cleaning pews, gutting houses, pressure-washing sidewalks, and just loving our friends. Maybe, just maybe, serving in this way is something that will last. We had a blast!

These are the important things, for us, this year. And now, at Advent, along with the faithful through all of history, we join in the chorus….“Oh Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”. Our world, all of us, need You so.

From all of us, Solo Deo Gloria,

Monday, December 04, 2006

Stupid Church Signs

Whilst in my car today in Santa Cruz (of all places!) for work, I spotted the above thought on the roadside sign of a Christian church. Oh please!

In Santa Cruz, no less. Epicenter of
wacky behavior on the west coast.

I will not be attending this church, as I recall Jesus saying something like
this.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Missional Lives

Yesterday, I am basking in the glory of the Bruin win over USC, watching college football highlights on ESPN - when I am caught unawares by this wonderful commercial by the good folks at Liberty Mutual. What if all of our lives were lead daily in this way? Take a look, and think about it, a lot, all week:


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Gloating Unlimited

"All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming. "
- Helen Keller

"Victory belongs to the most persevering. "
- Napoleon Bonaparte

"In war there is no substitute for victory. "
- Douglas MacArthur




"Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory."

- George S. Patton




A note to "AllSeasons": Reveal thyself, or forever be scorned by this blog. Be ye a Bruin or nay, say so. Are ye a man, or a mouse?

UCLA 13 USC 9 Spoiler, Baby!!


Tiny Tim got new legs. The Swiss Army has more than a knife. The US Hockey team beat the Soviets. David kicked Goliath's butt, but this time with a football in one hand, and a sense of pride, determination, and courage in his heart.

Chalk one up for the little man. The kid with the limp, bad eye, and a funny high voice, was just admitted to Harvard. The plain girl who sits in the back of class and always looks at her shoes was named Prom Queen. The guy with the bad comb-over and belly paunch just made the cover of GQ.

From somewhere deep in their souls, the gutty little Bruins today accomplished what I thought was nearly impossible. Oh me, of little faith. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Bless me Father for I have sinned. I shall perform seven hail Coach Woodens, and an Our Bruin Father.

Today was a day that will live for many years in my catalog of great Bruin memories. For seven years, since 1998, the Sons of Westwood have wandered in the desert of Troy. Parched, helpless, lost. But today, we have seen the Promised Land.

Gloating? You bet! I have eight years to make up.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Big Game and Snow in Hell


Its time for the Big Game.

But this year its not so big. And I am feeling morose. I would like to believe that the Bruins can overcome the steamroller that is SC, but I am also a pragmatist at heart. If the Bruins win, I suspect it will be a rather snowy day in Hell.

In this spirit, I give you excerpts from a classic column by the great sportswriter
Jim Murray. This article was written in 1978, and I clipped it out, and hung it on the door of my dorm room. For months it was there, like an identity badge. People loved it. I still do:

"You all know the kind of school USC is. The girls are built like chorus girls. The boys are all Adonises. Their fathers are all rich. The all live in San Marino and the family works for Guaranty Trust and their biggest worry is the commodity market and where to park the Mercedes at the Opera. There families have always run things in this town and they all belong to fraternities where you have to prove you never drove a used car and you think Hoover was our greatest President. The get their first yacht at age 12."

"And they'll never have to lay pipe or pour cement or sweep floors or serve drinks or wear a hard hat and they'll go through life getting guys to open doors for them and take their hats. That's the public image of SC. Sons of riches. The First World. A very private university, a very private club. That's the image SC projects. Top hats, patrons of art, a Modigliana in the guest bathroom."

"UCLA on the other hand, suggest a whole bunch of people who are going to become, not judges, but storefront lawyers, or child psychologists or oboists in the Philharmonic, or delegates to the Democratic convention. If they go abroad, its with the Peace Corps, not the plutocrats and its Biafra, not Biarritz, If they ever get into the Cabinet, it would be in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Undersecretary. They tolerate the football team because it brings in money for the Ban the Bomb rallies but they prefer volleyball and wish cardiologists got million-dollar contracts instead of guys who barely passed remedial english."
And so, we head to Saturday's game with a 13 point Vegas deficit to the Trojans. But in my mind, it might as well be 130 points. But I will take 21 points from Rob Asghar for a free lunch.

My two favorite teams? The Bruins, and whoever is playing against SC this week. And so, this Saturday is my college football planetary alignment. I so hope the Bruins win. But I also hope that world poverty would cease, that everyone in the Middle East would join hands and sing songs, that it would always be summer time, and that Pat Robertson would just shut up.

In the interest of borrowing from Jim Murray, and in deference to his amazing writing talent, I encourage you to go buy any books by him at Amazon.

Go Bruins!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Crusader Me



In an earlier life, I used to sing. Guess which one I am.

You may not guess the female.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Just Another Song, Just Another Old Church?


This morning a handful of kids stood in front of our aging urban church - in a sanctuary that shows its age, in a church torn by internal struggle over the past two years; now making its way toward an uncertain future. People trickled in, a bit late on the Sunday of a long holiday weekend. Young and old, rich and poor, needy and comfortable.

The singing began, a song from Alison Kraus, a theme on an old traditional:

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown Good Lord, show me the way!

Was it was just another Sunday, just another bunch of kids, just another song?

I looked around at those gathered around me:

- The elderly woman in declining health, for whom even coming to church is a great effort. Slow but purposeful steps toward an uncertain ending.

- The deaf woman with the wonderful smile and quiet servant heart, who comes each week and gladly serves the homeless lunch after church. From silence springs a heart willing to care.

- The otherwise "put together" young professional couple struggling to raise teenagers, who wonder if these strange stages of life have any purpose or meaning.

- The single office worker in her middle years, trying to understand where God is in the midst of her singleness, loneliness, and wondering. No words to heal this pain.

- The homeless man who has recovered his life as a result of a choosing a life of community and accountability, who now serves others from a place of understanding and compassion. A man redeemed.

- The tired and weary choir members, who have suffered emotionally from the painful and confusing church split, who might even wonder why they get up and come each Sunday. Is there grace in the midst of weary souls?

- The c
ouple in their 80s, slightly bent over in their seats, who have faithfully served the church for more than 50 years, and are here again, to worship and serve, on this otherwise ordinary Sunday. Steadfast, giving, determined.

- and
those sitting near the back of church, or maybe in the darkened corners, who come struggling with their sexuality, trying to figure out if God really loves them or not. Wanting to know.

O sinners let's go down,
Let's go down, come on down,
O sinners let's go down,
Down in the river to pray.

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown Good Lord, show me the way !

Just another song? Maybe.

But I think this. Not just a song. Rather, a connection between the ancient past and the modern present. An echo of someplace else, something greater. A taste of home for us all that seems far away, but yet is so much closer than we think. A moment of calm in the midst of the storms of life. A sacred place. A home.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who Needs the Bling? Bruin Women Volleyball!


Today, my family took a trip to Westwood to one of the finest universities in the land. I, on the other hand took a trip down memory lane.

It has been 26 years since I trod the hills of Westwood. Down Bruin walk at 7 AM for a calculus class, back up in the afternoon to eat at the dorm (
Hedrick Hall), and then back down in the evening to study till I could barely stay awake, then back up to the dorm to crash into my bed (or party a couple of hours!).

Those were great times. So long ago.

Fast forward 26 years. Marriage, kids, life. Today, we traveled to UCLA today to watch the Bruin lady volleyball team take on Oregon in their last regular season game of the year. The lady Bruins won again, in a three game sweep, their 19th of the year. On to the NCAA Tourney! Pictured at left is our younger daughter Heather , who has just started playing middle school volleyball, with
UCLA Senior Nana Meriweather, after the game.

It is a joy to watch these girls play! This is college sports at its best, untainted by the lure of professional play, unmarked by prima-dona overgrown boys in tattoos attempting to impress pro scouts. No threat of professional ball here, just pretty much true sport. What a nice change. These young ladies will go on to lead largely normal lives, without all the money, fame, bling, and moral failure of many male college athletes. These women will become the future coaches, business women, lawyers, mothers, and other professionals our world needs. Largely unnoticed, but greatly valued. This is a good thing.

Go get 'em Bruin Volleyball Women. Hail to the Hills!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

This Fair Land


If we are careful, we can listen and hear something important, abiding, and profoud from the past. As we rush to get the turkey in the oven, greet the guests from near and far, and settle in around the table, we need to take a minute to remember.

Remember where we came from.

For the past 45 years, the same two editorials have appeared each year on the Opinion Page of the Wall Street Journal.

The Desolate Wilderness, And The Fair Land

I have found, after some brief research, that, at least on one side of my family, I am an 11th generation American, tracing my family directly to the Carolinas in the period of the Revolutionary war. And so, these words, perhaps mean a bit more to me:

Being now passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before them in expectations, they had now no friends to welcome them,
no inns to entertain or refresh them, no houses, or much less towns, to repair unto to seek for succour; and for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of the country know them to be sharp and violent, subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search unknown coasts.

Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wilde beasts and wilde men? and what multitudes of them there were, they then knew not: for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to Heaven) they could have but little solace or content in respect of any outward object; for summer being ended, all things stand in appearance with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hew.
I find it helpful to remember from whence I have come.

Today, might we remember that for some Providential reason beyond our understanding, we have been placed in This Fair Land. All is not perfect in this land, all is not fair, justice is not universal.

Woody and Billy (Not a Country Band)



My friend Rob Asghar recommended this.....quite amusing. Oh, the good old days, when even agnostics were tolerant and funny.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Miscellaneous Items; Fundamentalists and Failures


For some time, I have wanted to find helpful material for me to process my own thinking/struggling with the Muslim world and the mess our country finds itself in these days.

I have found help from someone I trust. My friend Julie has a post on an important voice in Islam who brings a form of clarity that is greatly needed. I think we should keep our eye on this. And, brace ourselves. I think we have not seen the worst of the radical Islamic movement yet.

Separately, but related are two bits on the whole Ted Haggard mess that really should be looked at carefully. My friend Mark Roberts has done a series on Ted Haggard and the burdens that pastors face.

And again, Julie, that energetic Bruin that she is, has written perhaps the very best thoughts on the set up for failure that the church creates in this piece "No Christian Cure....". Outstanding!

One more thing. James Dobson often makes me nuts. And here is another reason why. I would hope that should I commit a major moral failure (God forbid please!), that my friends would have the time to commit to standing beside me, and holding me up as I seek healing; no matter how ugly. Seems to me, I remember reading something about this once. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Dobson might need to examine his busy calendar and see what priorities most embody the character of Christ. For me, standing beside a fallen friend is near the top of the list. But I am not as important, or influential, or busy, or famous....so perhaps I should just shut up.

There.
I will.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Thanksgiving Prayer a Bit Early

This afternoon, our family had the privilege of serving at The Lord's Lighthouse, a home-grown community service of our church.

About 300 people; some homeless, some down on their luck, some chronically mentally ill, all from the streets of Hollywood, were served today. This happens every Sunday, all year long.

The memory I take away from this afternoon, and everytime I serve, is of the hands. Countless hands, reaching up. Dirty hands, dirty fingernails, weathered skin, holding up Styrofoam cups into which I pour cup after cup after cup of fruit punch and coffee. Hands worn rough by life, by loss, by frustration, by mental demons, by being lost or forgotten, or downtrodden. All those hands.

As we gathered to pray before lunch, a Thanksgiving Prayer by Ralph Waldo Emerson was read:

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

I looked at my hands when I got home to my comfortable suburban home. They seemed clean. But, you know what? My hands are dirty too.

Thankfulness is relative. May I be truly thankful, and may I live a life of thanks that is overflowing and spills over to others.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Big Game Coming



There is a big college football game tomorrow. Let's just pretend this little doll is named Tommy Trojan.

I confess, that when it comes to anything Troy, I have a heart of darkness. Mea Culpa.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Stopping a Moment from the Rush

Today I flew to Sacramento for work; I will return home tomorrow. Today was a very full day, up at 5 AM to catch my flight, a large meeting at 10 AM on a complex government property, and off to look at other commercial sites around the city until the sun went down. I have noticed that when one flys from Southern to Northern California, a new phenomenon occurs. Seasons. Yes people, it is actually Fall up here. The reds and yellows on the trees up this way are remarkable. You want to pull over the car and just stop. And look. And wonder.

On a side note, I have recently been reading more frequently the blogs of my friends
Rob and Julie, who have a more "deconstructionist" view of their faith than I. Their thinking does not scare me, or make me angry, or make me want to change their minds. I like their minds, they are using them well, as they should. They are both remarkable and amazing people. I am very glad I know them both, and count them as friends.

And so, this afternoon, I am in my rent-a-car, whizzing about Sacramento, when rather unexpectantly, I had a small epiphany. While stopped at a red light, I glanced to my left, and suddenly noticed a clump of trees in full Fall color, next to an office park. An otherwise typical suburban landscape. But here, a gentle wind was blowing through these brilliant Northern California trees. I watched, transfixed for several moments, as the wind rustled through the trees, shimmering, dancing, waves of red and yellow. I caught my breath, and remembered.


And then, the light turned green.

Who designed those trees, and the subtle and sublime golden sunset today? Who designed my sweet and loving wife, and my daugthers in all their teenage fury and passion? Who designed me, and put me at that traffic light in the middle of the day in the rush of traffic to silently wonder? Just for a moment; caught in time. I choose not to argue evolution or Darwinian Theory with you. I am not quite deconstructionist. But still, I wonder....Who?

Sara Groves wrote a song that speaks about the core of who I am:

I'm trying to work things out • I'm trying to comprehend • Am I the chance result • Of some great accident • I hear a rhythm call me • The echo of a grand design • I spend each night in the backyard • Staring up at the stars in the sky • .....• Maybe this was made for me • For lying on my back in the middle of a field • Maybe that's a selfish thought • Or maybe there's a loving God • • Maybe I was made this way • To think and to reason and to question and to pray • And I have never prayed a lot • But maybe there's a loving God •

Indeed. Maybe.

I think ....there is.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Concession Stands and the New Congress

Simply stated, I love Peggy Noonan. She has a way of writing that cuts to the chase with simple eloquence. She wrote for Ronald Reagan. Need I say more?

She has just written a piece for the Wall Street Journal that resonates with me completely. Go here to read it, I am not sure how much longer it will be at the top of the page at the free WSJ site. It is called "Concession Stand", if they take it down soon, you can still search for it at this free site.

My favorite bit:

At the end of the day, or the end of this day, I look at the new Congress and wish them so well, such luck. Don't you? I want to say: Go, Nancy Pelosi. Be the speaker of whom historians will write, in 2032, "This was her moment, here was the summit, here she found greatness."

Go, Democrats, be great and serious. Go, minority Republicans, refind yourselves. Go, conservatives.

To the freshmen: Walk in as if you're walking out. Put your heart on your sleeve and go forward. Take responsibility, and love America. No one will think less of you. They will in fact think more, as they do of politicians after the concession speech.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Where are all The Young People?


Recently, I received an invitation to attend a "Stewardship Lunch" at church. I know what this means. It means a box lunch for "church leaders", a chance to catch up with some friends, and then an hour long presentation about, of course, Stewardship - for the uninitiated, the giving of money.

We Presbyterians do this every year. Like someone may have forgotten what the point was last year! Sometimes, I would rather have oral surgery than go.

I could save this process a lot of time, and shorten the basic message to this: 1) We are a church, and order to operate, we need money, 2) Please give us your money; as much of it as you can, 3) Thank you, and please drive safely heading home.

They don't let me run these lunches. Can you guess why?

Anyway, during this event, I felt my mind wandering, and I took a moment to scan the room and take a quick inventory of the 80 to 100 people who were there; the "church leaders". As I have written before, our church is a wonderful mix of people, rich and not so rich, all colors of the rainbow, and a remarkable collection of faith stories.

But as I scanned the room, I saw one of the things I fear about our old, urban, mainline denomination church; an abundance of grey and colored-but-otherwise-grey hair.

Now mind you, I should talk. At 48 years old, I hardly even have any hair in the first place. But often, when attending events like this, I find myself having sort of semi-disembodied moments, when I try, for a moment, to mentally step out of the scene and take an inventory of who is there, why they came, and what motivates them to be a part of the scene in the first place. All these people, why are they here?

When I looked around this semi-and very-greying room, the thought that came thundering into my head, and then filled my heart with a cool wind was, "where the heck are all the Young People?". You know, the people under 40, under 35, or even under 30, for heavens sake! What are we going to build our church around in future years? Are we going to install hearing assistance devices in all the pews, and offer senior discounts to the Christmas pageant? Are future potluck dinners going to eventually transition to only pureed foods? Will we be issuing Clappers to turn on the lights?

Here is my problem. I think I read and think to much. For instance, this summer, I read a book that was formational in my thinking about the future of the Church. But guess what? This future church involves.....gasp!....younger people!

And where the heck were they when I was at the Stewardship Lunch. Not there, that is where. And why? Because I and the other leaders of our church have failed at reaching out, at building real, lasting, meaningful relationships with others, at being missional; we have hard slogging to do in the way of transforming ourselves. That includes me, Chief of All Sloggers. Tally ho!

Veteran's Day


Today is Veteran's Day. More than 60 years ago, my father, Roland Norris, served in the US Army Air Force. The photos to the left (click on them, they are pretty cool) are of my Dad; he was the real deal, a Captain, a training pilot, and a B17 Air Sea rescue pilot.

T
oday, it is not quite popular to celebrate heroes of conflict. I have no hesitation. I am thankful for, and proud of my Dad. Because he, and countless others served, our world has taken a safer path.










Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Rush of Life - Personalized


'Too fast, Daddy! Slow down, slow dooown!"

"Too fast!" This is what my oldest daughter used to say when she was little, I would speed the car up to pass someone on the freeway. I have a problem with that - the whole too fast thing.

And my life is like that too. Poof! My daughters are almost 13 and 16, and how did that happen? And how did I get to be this age I am, and feeling so contemplative about my life and my family?

I recently received my first speeding ticket in about 20 years, for doing 50 in a 35 mile an hour zone. I so deserved it. I move way too fast. Sometimes, there is no stopping me.

And what for? I get up each day, shower, drive kids to school, stop in Starbucks, and off the to office, or meetings, or road trips for work, or flights out of town for more work. Then, each weekday night, its back home for dinner, more meetings (at church!) or in the community. And the sun sets, I go to bed, and get up and do it all over again.

Jackson Browne
wrote a song many years ago that resonates in my head and defines my life these days:

I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
Ill go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
Ill get up and do it again
Amen
Say it again
Amen

Now, perhaps this is reason why I have found The Monastery on TLC to be such a fascinating program. This show follows five men who visit Christ in the Desert monastery for 40 days, each in a separate and personal pursuit of God.

What is remarkable to me about this program is the juxtaposition between the five visiting men and the monks of the monastery. It is Old World versus New. Secular versus Sacred. Fast Lane versus dirt road. Wait. Make that dirt path.

As I watch the lives of the monks, my heart feels strangely warmed. I sense a depth of spirituality and longing that my own life lacks.

The Rush of Life



I find this video to be completely fascinating. More on a theme from this is found in the post above.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sitting Down and Remembering


Yesterday, I went to a place that most of us do not want to go. I paid a visit that was overdue, an obligation of sorts, and a way to honor my Dad. As both of my parents have both requested no memorial service, this was the first semi-formal way that Dad and I have had to remember Mom together.

Yesterday my Dad and I went for a visit to the Mausoleum niche where my Mom's ashes have been placed. Mom passed away just more than three months ago. I wrote about it earlier
here and here.

It was about a 20 minute drive to Forest Lawn, and Dad spent much of the time reminiscing of the old days, talking about friends from his work and social life of 30 and 40 years ago. This is what those familiar with gerontology refer to as "life review". My Dad does a lot of life review these days.

As we drove through the gates of Forest Lawn, my Dad began to remember the resting places of old friends, relatives and family members who had also been buried there, years ago. Being with Dad is often like having your own personal family historian. Nothing about the current state of affairs of the world, or about what is going on in the life of our family now, but much about the events of the period from 1930 to 1980. He usually starts in on the old days about 2 minutes after you stop in to see him. Every time.

We arrived at the "Colubarium of Blessedness" (I love these names) where Mom's ashes are contained. Her resting place is right next to the door and was easy to find. She is in the same section as my Dad's brother Neil (who is a story in himself, but that is for another time). Mom's niche is right at ground level, and one must either bend down to read the plaque, or simply sit on the floor. At this point, something interesting happened. Dad chose to get down on one knee, and then sit on the floor right in front of Mom's niche.

For me, this was a most interesting and touching moment. My Dad is the person whom I have spent the better part of the past 20 years trying to understand and compensate for in my own life. I guess we all do this, figuring out how we are different from and the same as our parents. There we were, father and son, 48 and 86 years old, one standing, one sitting on the floor at the resting place of our wife and Mother. Two generations. Dad needed to be close to Mom in a way, I guess.

Dad needed time to sit, and think, and even talk to himself a bit about the loss of his wife of almost 50 years. More in the long process of grieving. Sitting on the floor and remembering at 86.

I helped Dad slowly to his feet, we got in the car, and headed home.

This life, this journey, this mystery we share. Father and son.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Something Entirely Brand New


I found something that is very important, and I think it bears linking here. There is a lot going on in these ideas, and I want my pastor friends to go read this.

What if God wants the future to look entirely different than the past? What if?

Oh, to view life with the eyes of a child again!

Christian or Christ Follower?



I am with the guy on the right.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

My Halloween Issues


Now that its over, and not wanting to be a party pooper, I have to admit, I am getting to a place in life where I dread Halloween each year.

The reason; Halloween is not at all like it used to be. When I was a kid Halloween consisted of one night spent dressing up like your favorite TV character, scary person, or Super Hero, and running around the neighborhood fetching candy. One year I was a member of the Beatles (I think I was Ringo). Another year I was a robot, complete with a cardboard box outfit. The neighborhood bully saw me, and dressed as some form of low budget gool, pushed me and my unstable outfit over into the neighbor's ivy. Perhaps that was when I started disliking all the dressing up and cavorting for sugar.

Nowadays, Halloween feels like it is careening out of control. According to a study by the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend $5 billion this Halloween, up significantly from $3.3 billion in 2005. That is an increase of 51% in one year! Halloween now ranks as the biggest decorating holiday of the year after Christmas. Two thirds of consumers planned to purchase Halloween d├ęcor and half planned to decorate their home or yard, the federation’s study found.

This yard decorating thing is also getting out of hand. We have several neighbors in our area that put more effort and money into Halloween decoration of their homes than they do Christmas. So then, let me get this straight, a holiday that gets its origins from the Celtics and Druids is now ramping up to surpass the birth of Christ for spending.

Call me a balding, pudgy, middle-aged conservative white guy from the suburbs, but I feel a bit weird about the spiritual future of our land.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Do We Have Souls?


About 10 days ago, I was returning home from a business trip to the Bay Area, and spotted this article in U.S.News & World Report in the airport newsstand. I grabbed the magazine (paid for it, yes) and then hurried to my flight home, weary from a long day.

It was a breathtaking fall evening, as I flew home about 7PM. The sunset out the window seat was every color imaginable of orange, yellow, gray and blue. I was reminded of this verse, as I opened the article on "Science and the Soul", my eyes filled with tears of thankfulness for what God had created right outside my window at 41,000 feet.

After reading, I can only advise every pastor I know to spend some time, and look this article over. Warning: it is not an endorsement of Christian orthodoxy. However, this piece is wonderfully well done, and presents a number of interesting perspectives about developments in the science of consciousness.

I found reading about the competing ideas concerning present understanding of the human soul to be almost a form of a spiritual exercise. This article mentions quantum physics, Buddhism, Platonism, Augustine and Calvin, all together. Another resource mentioned is the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, at the University of Pennsylvania. I also remembered how a psychiatrist friend told me recently, "the things we know now about the human brain, were largely unknown even 10 years ago".

In retrospect, there are lots of new ideas here, and many different brilliant minds trying to grasp the inner workings of the mind, even at the microscopic level. For some more conservative Christian folk, all this thought and science might seem too theoretical and threatening. Not so for me; I love reading and learning. My favorite bit about Oxford physicist Roger Penrose:

"....Penrose proposed that consciousness was a quantum computation within the brain, and infinitesimal collapse of quantum information into classical information that takes place at the level of the neurons."

And people say there is no God.


Sunday, October 29, 2006

TLC - The Monastery



This looks like it might be good television! I just spotted this series yesterday, and will be watching the second episode tonight. Here is the TLC web site for the series; lots of good information.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Golfing For Jesus, First Presbyterian Honolulu


I have found my calling. I have heard the voice of the Lord! And I am bringing my clubs.

Pictured at left is the Koolau Golf Club in Kaneohe, Hawaii. Located just northeast of Honolulu, Koolau is an 18 hole course known as one of the toughest courses in the nation.

And now, to my glee, its a CHURCH too, baby! I am not making this up.

It seems that First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu
has just purchased this golf course. This is just about the best news I have heard in years. Its a golf course, a club house, a restaurant, a catering business, and a place to deepen your faith. Its in Hawaii, for heaven's sake! Could things possibly be any better than this?

I heard this story from a good friend at my church, who just visited the new and improved First Pres Honolulu. My friend, who is in her "golden years" said she heard a wonderful sermon and enjoyed meeting the warm people of this congregation. She reported that after the Sunday service she went to find the ladies room and discovered, on her way back that, "the clubhouse bar was really rockin'!". This is my kind of place.

Astronomers tell us that wormholes in space may lead us to a parallel universe. Given this, I am convinced that somewhere on this golf course there exists a wormhole leading directly to Heaven. This is too good to be true!

I plan on finding the portal to Glory; I think its near the 12th green, in the rough.
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