Sunday, September 30, 2007

Normal Christians? Heh....

My college chum Julie has made some very fair observations of Christian culture that I feel need a bit of comment.

The post is based on a book that I have no thoughts about yet, and do not plan to read, to no offense to the authors. It seems to me that I have heard many of the issues raised in this book a number of times, and so, the reading for me would feel like an exercise in deja vu.

First, the comment is made that many evangelicals need a "workshop... that would train them to smile and say hello to newcomers". On its face, this is both pathetic and true. I know I am being judgemental and critical, but if the shoe fits.....

Next, we have Julie's most clear thought of her post...."If evangelical Christianity is about spiritual growth which ought to result in deeper human connections, why do they struggle so much to relate to regular people? Why do they need "special trainings" for ordinary human behaviors?" And this is from a friend who has had much experience in things Christian, a former missionary, church worker, and a chick with a Masters in Theology, mind you. This is not someone shouting from outside the gates of the palace; this girl has the keys, and has cleaned many of the bathrooms.

Ok, now I can't stop, there is so much good stuff in this post, such as "Therefore the real issue for the church has to do with the convincing appearance of being good, right, kind, true, and superior, rather than actually being those things or at minimum, real, honest, and human." Yay, Julie! This is so very true, I winced when I read it. God help us church folk, everyone.

Why can't we church people admit our shallow and fearful lives? Why can't we admit we have the feet of clay of the rest of the world? That our lives are often messed up, confusing, and just as fearful as many who do not embrace the faith that we do. What is going on here, anyway?

What if we could say something like songwriter Sara Groves:

We've had every conversation in the world
about what is right and what has all gone bad
but have I mentioned to you that this is all I am,
this is all that I have.
I'm not trying to judge you. That's not my job.
I am just a seeker too, in search of God.
Somewhere somehow this subject became taboo.
I have no other way to communicate to you.
This is all that I am. This is all that I have.

I long for the day when we church people can admit our weaknesses, just to be honest.

Friday, September 28, 2007

SkyVenture, Baby!

Ok, word is out they are building one of these babies in Universal City right now. I think I wanna go for my 50th Birthday Party!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

PC Upgrade?

I am considering purchasing a new PC for the office. One problem; said purchase will require I install 1,500 tons of air conditioning on the roof, potentially collapsing said roof.

Shown here is my IT consultant, installing the memory module that will tell me where I put my car keys.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Painting the Bedroom - Prof. Randy Pausch

I have loved the Wall Street Journal from the very first days I picked up, after leaving the Economics program at UCLA. Last week, there was an article and accompanying video, that proved my love again. Below is a the original video, about the final lecture of Professor Randy

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I Want to Go to this Retreat!

If you can't have a sense of humor, you should not be in this men's group...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This Man in the Wheelchair

He was sitting in his wheelchair.

I sat down next to him, in the bright, sunlit room where he spends his days now. His head is bent forward now almost all the time, so he has a permanent view of the floor. He will be 88 years old in January. As I sat down, he barely noticed I was there, even though he was awake. He is not awake very much anymore. His name is Roland.

Over the past month he has been moved into the "Reminiscence Wing" of this assisted living facility. He was moved because he could no longer get along on his own. About three weeks ago, he just stopped walking, after several months of repeated falls. The professionals here say this decline is normal for a senior, after the death of a "long term spouse". His wife and he were married for 49 years, until she passed away about 15 months ago. He is very well attended here, with lots of attention, care, and love.

He grew up in Whitter, California. He attended Whittier High School, and then spent two years at USC. He did not finish college, as his country called, and he enlisted in the US Army Air Corp. He spent about half of the war training pilots stateside, and the rest piloting B-17 air-sea rescue missions in the South Pacific. He followed MacArthur north, at a distance, through southeast Asia, and was actually on board the
USS Missouri for the signing of the peace treaty with the Japanese.

He returned home after the war to raise a young family, working as a manager in the oil field construction business in Southern California. A daughter and a son, born just following the war, and a young bride from Illinois. But this family was not to last intact; the marriage dissolved after several years, for reasons I did not know for almost 40 years after. The children's mother quickly married another man, and moved on in life.

This man, the one in the wheelchair, sitting in the sun, did not move on as quickly. Divorce was, for him, filled with shame. He chose to hold that shame, and over the years it often manifested itself as anger. But he was a faithful provider for his children, sending monthly child care payments for 18 years for each child. The cancelled checks he kept in a little lock box for more than 50 years in his home.

After almost 10 years of a single life, he met a lovely blond girl at a party that some friends had thrown in Mid-Wilshire. Her name was Elizabeth, named after her mother; Betty for short. It was love at first sight. She had a past as well, a failed marriage without children. She never did speak of that first marriage all her life afterward, although it lasted for about 8 years. Roland and Betty were married in 1957. A son, their only child, arrived just about 10 months afterward, in the late spring of 1958. They named him Steve.

In 1963, they bought a home in Arcadia, California, and settled in. Betty tended the home, while Roland rose in the ranks of the construction company he worked for. He spent his entire career at one company, retiring as a Senior Vice President. He traveled to Alaska in the 1970s on many occasions, working on projects related to the
Trans-Alaska Pipeline. It was a very safe, comfortable, 1960s sort of life. Dad voted for Richard Nikon, hated Vietnam War protesters, and never really understood the civil rights movement.

They threw "dinner parties" in the back yard in summer, with Roland running the barbecue, and Betty wearing MuuMuus, and passing out
h'orderves. In the winter the dinner parties continued, with their only son manning the bar for guests. Drinking was an important part of the culture, but typically not drinking to excess. All things in moderation mind you; Nixon would have been proud.

At the age of 65, the man in the wheelchair retired, and spent the next 10 years in quiet retirement, watching a lot of TV, repairing small things around the house, and on occasion, usually once a year, traveling with his wife of more than 30 years. England, France, Germany, Austria - all in big buses full of seniors. Australia. Several Caribbean cruises. And of course, several trips to their favorite place, Hawaii.
Several years ago, Betty had a fall while in the parking lot at the supermarket; she had broken her hip, and her recovery was never complete. Dad spent the rest of his days looking after his bride, caring for her daily, until finally, the burden was too much. One summer day he had a small stroke, and while still able to get around and take care of some things, it was time for a change in lifestyle. His son and daughter-in-law found a comfortable assisted living facility for them both, not far from their home.

And now, on this afternoon, he sits in the sunshine in his wheelchair. As I sit next to him, I wonder how much he really comprehends anymore, how much of him is really "here" anymore. We don't talk much, we mostly just sit together.

As I sit, I think of Ronald Reagan's letter to the American people, when he gently, and with great dignity, let the nation know that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He mentioned in the letter that he was soon to head on "the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life".

Although there is afternoon sun shining in the window of this comfortable place, it feels very close to sunset to me.

The man in the wheelchair is my Dad.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Spot in the Middle

So, does it feel hot out? For some time now, I have been frustrated by the lack of rational thought concerning global warming.

Finally, it seems there is a rational thinker out there.

His name is Bjorn Lomborg, the free-thinking Dane who, in "The Skeptical Environmentalist" (2001), challenged the belief that the environment is going to pieces. Mr. Lomborg is now back with
"Cool It," a book brimming with useful facts and common sense. Yay for the guy in the middle!

I have been trying to figure this whole global warming hysteria thing out for some time, and frankly, I am annoyed by Al Gore and his Oscar and his heated mansion pool house, making hay by fear mongering about a flooded New York and too many hurricanes. All hell breaking loose. Help, Chicken Little!

Lomborg believes that global warming is happening, that man has caused it, and that national governments need to act. Yet he also believes that Al Gore is bordering on hysteria, that some global-warming science has been distorted and hyped, and that the Kyoto Protocol and other carbon-reduction schemes are a terrible waste of money. The world needs to think more rationally, he says, about how to tackle this challenge.

Mr. Lomborg starts by doing what he does best: presenting a calm analysis of what today's best science tells us about global warming and its risks. Relying primarily on official statistics, he ticks through the many supposed calamities that will result from a hotter planet -- extreme hurricanes, flooding rivers, malaria, heat deaths, starvation, water shortages. It turns out that, when these problems are looked at from all sides and stripped of the spin, they aren't as worrisome as global-warming alarmists would suggest. In some cases, they even have an upside.

Let me be clear; we need to be very careful stewards of this fragile earth. We also need to be rational, clear headed, and not absorb the latest CNN soundbites as if they are well researched truth.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

They Were Hanging a Flag

On my way to work today, I spotted two workers, climbing a ladder, to place an American flag on the exterior of a building.

It was a large flag, and it was new.

And then, I remembered.

And yet, there is

Monday, September 10, 2007

Walking On Water

Found out about this movie by reading Relevant Magazine today. I am going to see it!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

One of Us, After All

I am encouraged by something that some might find as discouraging.

This is an image of arguably one of the most recognizable spiritual models in the past century. A Nobel Peace prize winner, she has been adored as a model of depth of faith.

But it turns out, not all as it seems. A new book, under the interesting title of
"Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light", reveals a lonely and troubled soul inside of this saintly woman.

She is quoted, in her own hand, as feeling "darkness and coldness and emptiness so great that nothing touches my soul", and "Heaven means nothing to me".

However, as noted by Kenneth L. Woodward in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, a number of commentators have concluded from the letters that Mother Teresa lost her faith. They seem unaware that Vatican judges cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith. That figures: What the church looks for in a saint is not just good works -- for that there are Nobel Prizes -- but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization was transformed, inwardly and utterly, by God's grace.

Woodward goes on to observe that Mother Teresa was a special breed of saint: a genuine mystic; men and women who seek to experience union with God in this life. Wanting this experience doesn't mean that God will gratify that desire. In any case, the experience is often short-lived. Mother Teresa tells us in her letters that she once felt God's powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation.

I find this presence and then long absence fascinating. This seeming abandonment by God of one of the most famous of saints would not go well in many congregations here in the US, where God seems to be constantly, almost relentless, chattering to the elect about nearly everything from what He wants you to do with your money, to where the good parking spaces are.

It seems there is something else that is crucial in the life of a mystic: They need the council of others, usually those less spiritually advanced, for direction. No one becomes a saint all by herself, though we Americans like to think anyone can find God unaided. In the case of Mother Teresa it was a theologian, Father Joseph Neuner, who showed her how her sense of abandonment mirrored the experience of the crucified Christ himself, who felt the Father had forsaken him. Afterwards, she wrote, "I came to love the darkness."

Imagine that. Loving darkness. In the end, Mother Teresa had to rely on faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues expected of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite.

Notes Woodward of the Journal - "She was one of us after all."

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Bunch of "P" Words

St Stephen's Cathedral - Vienna

I am still digesting all the information and feelings I took in recently in my trip to the PGF Conference in Houston. In particular, I have been thinking about the ideas of Michael Frost, and the implications they would have for my life - when I take them seriously.

They are a bunch of words that begin with the letter "P".

I once had someone ask me, "Name the five sermons that changed your life the most.....and now name the five people that changed your life the most." Of course, I could barely thing of one sermon, let alone five. But the people were far easier to name, to remember, and to smile about. Remarkable people, who I am thankful for, to this day.

Simply stated, faith is often best developed largely in community, in connected relationships with other people. Proximity. But this means that our disconnected, self-absorbed lives will need to change. We will need to become people who are invested in the lives of others, where our needs often come second. Turn off the Dish Network, go out for coffee, spend time with a troubled friend. Get involved.

Our lives will need to become marinated in the gospel story, and we will need to discover ways make our stories, and our lives, reflections of this gospel. We will need to become a presence in the midst of where we live, not just another institution. Michael Frost, who is himself an Aussie, once met with a group of
Australian Christian surfers. He asked them, "who is the greatest surfer that ever lived?" The answer was easy, and delivered with massive enthusiam; Kelly Slater. The surfer dudes could go on for long stretches about all the amazing and awesome skills and characteristics of this, the world's greatest surfer.

Then, Michael asked them about the characteristics they admired about Jesus. The same room full of surfers who could go on at length about Kelly Slater were at a comparative loss to come up with superlatives concerning the person of Christ. Lots of mouth breathing, instead. Interesting. Am I like this, as well? Are we, North American Christian People. Do we have more to say about Miss South Carolina, than the person we aim to follow daily? Am I too...well, institutional?

No control, no power, weak. Small. Perhaps we need to demonstrate the
powerlessness of the church. The church in the third world is growing by leaps and bounds in many ways because there, the church has adopted none of the temporal symbols of power that we consider so dear. Buildings, political influence, prestige. None of that.

When the Cultural Revolution resulted in the suppression of the church in China, in 1966, there were about 20 million Christians in China. Today, after years of persecution and hiding, the Chinese church is estimated at 100 million. What happened? Over 25 years of powerlessness for the church.

Imagine the Catholic and Protestant churches in America going broke, simply paying back the people they have hurt; and God knows there has been a lot of hurt on both sides of the Christian isle. Might this not be the best thing that ever happened to the American church? Owning up to our faults, and taking responsibility. Being powerless.

We will need to proclaim with our lives the Good News. Michael Frost tell a story of meeting with a prominent Australian who was involved in business and innovation. He remarked of the Christian church, as he knew it...."you have, in Jesus, a bloody good product, but your current delivery system is screwed". I could not agree more. Our delivery system is screwed.

How can we improve it? By being close to those around us - proximity, presence. By being upside down people that are willing to be powerless. And by being willing to proclaim, in new ways the Good News.

Monday, September 03, 2007

In The Shadow of the Moon!

I was 11 years old. We had dinner on TV trays in our den, and watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. It was the buzz of our neighborhood for weeks; we had neighbors who worked in the aerospace industry.

Nearly 30 years later, as a part of my work, I walked through the buildings in Downey, California, where Apollo was assembled. Even walking through those long empty buildings, I got chills.

Just two days ago, I had the privilege of visiting
here, a place filled with the history of space travel. I met with people in Huntsville, Alabama, who actually knew of Wernher von Braun and his team of rocket men.

Truly remarkble stuff....make that "The Right Stuff".

And then, this afternoon, while taking a break at the end of our vacation, I spotted and article about this movie, due out in September. To my friend John Wierick, who reads this blog on occasion -- buddy, we are going to the movies soon!

This is real adventure, real courage! Watching this trailer gives me chills again...

Disconnected and Connecting

Lots of things have been rattling around in my brain of recent. In order to clear space for Bruin Football scores, its time to dump at least one thought out.

While flying to Nashville for our vacation week, I listened to
this podcast, which reminded me, yet again, of how often disconnected my own life, and our lives together in our modern culture, have become. Disconnected from one another. We prefer to spend time with our Tivos, Ipods, laptops and email, rather than with real flesh and blood people. And when relationships between friends becomes strained, (and this is particularly acute in the church) we often choose not to work to heal, but rather to disconnect, to distance ourselves. I will admit, I sometimes am tempted to behave like this.

The podcast was with
Dr. Edward Hallowell, who wrote a book entitled Connect back in 2001 that urges readers to “make time for connectedness,” which he alternately defines as having person-to-person interaction or being involved with something greater than oneself. He identifies “Twelve Points of Connection” (i.e., marriage, family, friends, work, beauty, the past, nature, pets, ideas and information, institutions, religious concerns, and self-knowledge) that can supply this grounding.

As I heard this, looking out the window of American Airlines flight 1974, at majestic thunderheads floating past, I thought "Yes! I need this! I need to connect!"

Our family has spent the last four days in
Huntsville, Alabama, population 160,000. This was a town that had a population of 15,000 in 1950. But then, in the middle 1950s, NASA developed the Marshall Space Flight Center here, populated by Dr. Wernher von Braun and his band of German rocket scientists, and nothing has ever been the same.

And yet. It is so very different here from our home in Southern California. First impression: where are all the people? The streets here seem nearly deserted, compared with the clogged, congested, traffic snarled streets of Los Angeles.

And the people. Oh, the people. They have time. Time to talk, time to listen. And at least with the good Christian folk we spent time with, they have time to grow community, to love, to laugh. There is much we can learn from these folks. They seem to understand what it means to be connected to one another. I envy their connection.

What can I do, in the metropolis of Los Angeles, to become better connected? I wonder.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Rev. Jill Leslie Williams

This is the Rev. Jill Leslie Williams. Over the past four years, she has become very dear to the hearts of our family.

Yesterday, she was ordained a pastor of Word and Sacrament. Below is the prayer I offered during the laying on of hands, at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

"Lord, today we come to you with hearts that are very full. Full of praise and thanksgiving, full of hope and joy, hearts warmed by our friendship with this, your servant, Jill. Many of us here have known what it is to be loved by her, and our lives are so much richer for it. God, we give you thanks for the great gift of our dear friend Jill; hers is a life truly marked by the joy of the Lord.

And now, on this afternoon, we join together in a mystery. With countless legions of the faithful, crossing every generation, hand to shoulder in an unbroken line, You have lead us, and You lead Jill to this ordination moment. We humbly count ourselves among this procession of Believers, eager to lay our hands on upon our friend, and ask your blessing and commission. It is You, Lord that has called Jill to this place…..and we would,….. all of us, seek to know and find the face of Jesus in our time.

Father, we pray your blessing now, on Jill. Your blessing……... We use these words like we might understand what they mean, and yet we often struggle to work out our own understanding of You and your Kingdom. But these things we do know. We know you are infinitely Good, and so, we pray your goodness might shower down on Jill, in the days, months, and years ahead. We know You bring us into Christian community, and so, we pray for deep, meaningful, genuine community to surround her as she begins her journey as a pastor. Lord, we need you. We know you provide deep peace and rest for our souls. And so, in the midst of busy days, and the middle of time spent ministering to the needs of others, we pray that You might afford Jill with deep peace in the form of your presence and peace. Daily. Abiding. Ever present. Be always beside our dear friend Jill, oh Lord.

We know you are a God of mercy. We pray you would continue to expand and deepen Jill’s great gifts for compassion and mercy. Jesus, show yourself through the caring and love of Jill’s pastoral and personal life, so that all those who meet her might sense something truly remarkable, as so many of us have. Something deep and rich. Something of the Risen Christ.

Lord, you are a God of joy. Your Creation shouts at us of your joy, if we will but listen! You have created Jill’s soul with an unmistakable imprint of your Joy. Abundant. Overflowing. We know that to laugh with Jill is to really laugh! And so, oh God, would you now, and each day of her life……. continue to fill Jill with a great, immense, immeasurable joy.

Oh Christ, you are our Hope. You are our Salvation. You are all we have to offer an often dark, and wandering, and wondering world. You are light, You are home, You are hope! Lord Jesus, will you please shower upon Jill, your servant, great light to see the way, abundant hope to serve others, and fill her with a depth of grace that might know that You, Oh God, are our ultimate place called…… Home.

And so, now with great joy, we send Jill forth, with hearts full, and eyes set upon Christ. And will You send each of us,… into Your world,…
to proclaim Your Kingdom come, now!

And with this, ALL of God’s people said together…………Amen!"

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bruin Football is BACK, Baby!

Its Saturday afternoon here in Huntsville, Alabama, and college football season is with us again. Its also half time at the Stanford / UCLA game, and the Bruins are up by 14-7....we need to bury the Cardinal. Take no prisoners, for, at the end of the coming another epic battle.

Forgive me for reliving the
past, but this video is too good to not post:

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