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.

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.

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 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.

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, 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


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."


"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

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.
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