Friday, October 06, 2006

The Real Issues

I think Christiana in her response hits the real issues that many people struggle with. I decided it was better to try to address her responses better here than lost in a previous post.

1) God is a jerk. At least the Bible seems to suggest so.

Christiana writes: Is God a jerk? The Bible certainly portrays him as a total dick. Who’s the dude that God tricked into sacrificing his son to prove his love to God? Of course God took it back once he realized the poor bastard was more than willing to kill his son in the name of God. . . . And a God who required his only son (aka Jesus) to be tortured to death for us? Again…WHAT A DICK! No wonder Jesus had to go to the desert for 40 days—he wasn’t confronting Satan…he was confronting what a jerk his father was.

I think you got the problem right in front of you. But for me neither of those stories tell us who God is, the tell us who we think God is. You see, I do not believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God, neither do I believe that it is history. I believe that it is our attempt to explain who we perceive God to be, and in the context of the culture, the Hebrews and early Christians understood God as hateful and vengeful. I DON'T. I perceive God as a loving presence with me in the good and bad of life.

In other words, I don't believe God sacrificed Jesus for my (or your sins), I believe we murdered Jesus because his "Way" was to difficult for us to follow. I also don't believe that God demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac (Ishmael - in the Koran). They are stories about US attempting to understand God.

So no, I don't think God is a jerk --- I see God in the words of the great theologian Paul Tillich as "the ground of all being." Or as Moses understood God; as "I am".

2) The whole issue of trying to save people.

Christina writes: What's the deal with "saving" non Christians? Case in point: When white man began to assimilate the Indians in the New World, one of the things that REALLY messed with their heads was how amazingly hypocritical Christianity was/is. Cultural assimilation of native populations --- especially religious assimilation --- has done a lot of harm to cultures world-wide (I'm an anthropologist so I know a bit about it . . . )

Your right, and we can look all over the world at our attempts to enculturate people not just with our religion but our social/political systems. Is capitalism the best for the world? Sure it is, if you are on the consuming side, rather than the producing side. And we in America are on the consuming end of the arrangement and aren't in any hurry to switch sides.

The whole notion of "Saving" people comes from our presumptive idea that we have THE WAY rather than A WAY. And of course if religion (as an institution) is going to have power than you have to have some kind of carrot so that you can hit people with a stick. That is exactly what that we have done for 2,000 years. Believe this, give this. do this --- or you are going to hell. It is no wonder the sexual scandal that is going on in the church (particularly the Roman Catholic --- but not exclusively) when one can hold heaven and hell over you --- even the slightest implication, and many people are willing to do whatever you ask (demand). And it is evil!

We don't need to "Save" people from hell. What Christianity has to offer is I believe is the best way to know God, but I say that from my very cultural Christian position. But not the only way. And I am willing to acknowledge that if I grew up in a Jewish home, I would probably believe that that was the best way.

For me, the key is to help people have a relationship with God --- I just happen to do that through the lens of Jesus Christ.

3) Why do people become Christians.

Christina you are right as I just said, most are Christian because that is the cultural system that they were born into, or raised in, or live in.

But the bigger question is why do people remain Christians, and unfortunately I think I know the reason (and I wish desperately I was wrong). Christianity has learned to use as the greatest lever for people to remain Christians the notions of FEAR and GUILT. It makes me sick when I look back and see the times where I have used those very things (often very subtly) but have used them nonetheless.

I am a Christian because I have a relationship to God through the life/death/resurrection of Jesus. Jesus has helped me to understand how my life can be made more whole. I don't always do it, but it is the way that makes most sense to me.

4) What's up with heaven.

Christina writes: When I read what Jesus says (including the books that early Christian power mongers left out of the Bible for political reasons), it seems to me that Jesus was talking about a Kingdom on earth within our selves. I think he was referring to a self love and self acceptance that is all encompassing. When we love ourselves for EXACTLY who we are now, we achieve an inner bliss that is, indeed, heaven on earth. When we achieve that state, then we can effortlessly show that love and give a little bit of our inner Kingdom to others

I agree 100%. I think Jesus message was always earth bound. He invites us to a way of life here and now. And it seems to me, that if we live the way Jesus invites us to live right now, Heaven (whatever it is) will take care of itself.

Christianity has the opportunity to be a powerful force of change in the word. Not by beating people up with Jesus, but rather by living the WAY of Jesus.

  • loving others
  • not judging others
  • sharing all that we have with others
  • caring for others and the world
But that kind of God is hard --- it is easier to seek the God who wants to take care of me, give me stuff, and tell me that I am right and the rest of the world is wrong. But that God, the God of America --- the God of modern Christianity, isn't going to change the world for better.

Thanks Christiana for your honesty. That is what God wants more than anything else, is for us to have a faith with integrity!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is God a JERK?

I had planned to walk into the Old City tonight, see the pilgrims coming to the Western Wall and stop and a store in the Jewish quarter to see if they had something Kathy had tried to get when the group from Ridge was here last November. But I didn’t make it. Instead I decided (or maybe I should say: God told me), that I needed to write. For two nights in a row, as I have sat down for dinner I have been embarrassed by Christians.

I have come to the conclusion that either God is an a**hole or many of us who claim to be Christians are. Why do I say that: the theme both nights was very much the same — If you are a Christian — you will be blessed by God, and if you don’t have things, then you are not doing what God wants you to do. And then how we need to save the Jews and Muslims.

Why are we Christians? Why are you? To get to heaven? To be blessed? Seriously, why? What motivates you? I don’t think we have a clue about the afterlife — how can we? Jesus almost never talks about an afterlife, instead he talks about a here life — the kingdom of God that should be growing inside us. And what does that kingdom look like? Well, listening to the table next to me tonight, or the gentleman who ate with me last night, it looks like a place paved with gold — just like the old hymns. Because God wants us to be children of the king and as the kings children do not live in poverty. What happened to "sell everything you own and follow me?" "Or clothe the naked, feed the hungry?"

Then of course they both launched into how the Muslims and Jews are all heathens (although the woman tonight kept saying how God would never break his covenant — I guess she meant with her, not with the Jews), and needed to be saved. Saved from what? Saved to what? America is one of the most violent nations in the world, with a higher level of social problems than almost anywhere else in the world — are we the model of what they should become? It made me sick, that we as Christians are so judgmental of everyone else in the world — that we believe everyone needs to become like us — or they will go to hell.

Here we are, in the land of the prince of peace, the one who came to bring hope and love to the least and the lost, the one who never judged – only loved, and yet I am filled with the voices of self-righteous angry people. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe in a God who is bigger than my little mind, a God who loves not just me, but the Jews and the Muslims and the Hindus and yes, even the non-believers. Because God is not an a**hole. God doesn’t play favors, God invites us all to come and know that love.

Maybe that is why I am here. To really see a God who cares. To see a God who reaches out and weeps that we are filled with bitterness, racism, greed and claim those things in God’s very name.

Thank you — for reminding me who you are — and who I am not!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Almost Ready to Give Up

Thanks Christina who is a good friends sister who's blog I have been following. She to is on a quest to experience God --- coming at it from a different place in life --- but a similar quests none the less.

Sitting here in my hotel room in Disney Land Israel (there is a lot of similarities to how people pilgrim to Disney and how the pilgrim to Israel), I was about ready to say: "Why am I doing this?" Christianity is not going to change --- people want to live with the fantasies that they have created about God, Jesus and the Bible. They don't want "THE WAY". But she brought me back to my senses.

Christianity has to change. It has become angry and militant --- striking out at people throughout the world who don't believe what we do and who aren't willing to support the Western style of life. We are a people of Jesus, a man who was murdered because he wouldn't go along with the easy way. A man who was hated and vilified because he threatened the "conservative" position. Just like the prophets before, Jesus called us back into a "real" relationship with God. A relationship build on understanding that all of creation is God's, so when we pollute, we are breaking that relationship --- when we take advantage of others (buy products produced at ridiculous wages so we can have it cheap and easy), we are breaking that relationship. When we do whatever we have to do to protect "the American Way of Life", and not God's WAY, we have broken that relationship. And when we continue to create the fantasy that the American way and God's way are the same --- we have totally lost our minds.

Wow, didn't expect all that to come out of my head.

Better shut up before I get into too much trouble.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Introduction --- Wresting With God

OK, here is the introduction to my material --- Comments, suggestions, PLEASE!

It all began with Dan Brown and his novel THE DA VINCI CODE. Well, that is not completely true. It really began, for me, as a child. I read the Bible, I went to church, but to be honest — some things just didn’t make sense. My parents, raised me in the church (my father is a retired minister), but, more importantly, they raised me with a sense that it was O.K. to ask questions. I didn’t have to "believe" everything at face value.

I was a history major in college. Maybe that is where the blame lies. In learning history, I learned that everything is seen through the lens of those who are telling the story. The history of an event, told from opposing sides, sounds sometimes like it is two different events — yet, they both told the truth. That lesson seeped over as I began to earnestly study the Bible and the history of the early Church.

Maybe Albert Schweitzer, the great doctor and missionary is too blame. As I studied his quest to find the historical Jesus, I realized that the only Jesus that we have is not a Jesus of history, but a Jesus of faith. That doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t live — I believe he did. But what we can know about the Jesus of history can never be isolated from the Jesus of faith.

While I have learned to live comfortably in that grey area of life, I know that many people struggle with this. I see this most profoundly in people who are what Bishop Spong calls "The Church Alumni". People who no longer can believe the doctrine of the church, yet are still looking for something. It is for them, and those who still toil in the church that I am writing this.

I want to share an e-mail I received from and 18 year old college student:

"I think it's a really good thing that you're working on a curriculum designed to help people deal with the questions and doubts that they should have about their faith. When I got old enough to realize how historically unreliable and intellectually fallible the Christian Bible is, I pretty much just gave it all up and was really angry because I felt like I had been lied to my whole life by teachers I thought I could trust at church. Kind of how a kid might feel when they finally figure out that Santa isn't real and that they were being systematically lied to.
As much as I wish I didn't, I still feel resentful.
It's really fascinating though, what an incredibly huge role religion plays in shaping the beliefs, views, and actions of huge groups of people all over the world. I am actually considering taking on a theology major because I think it would be a huge asset in my quest to better understand why the world works the way that it does. Right now I am taking a class called "Women In The Bible" and it is really very interesting, but I feel weird because the people in the class all believe in God and Jesus and stuff. I don't have anything against any person of any faith, but I guess I just feel like they probably look down on people like me. But I guess it's probably good for a little white suburban girl to start learning what it feels like to be in the minority for once.

It is to the Casey’s of this world that I am writing this. I believe religion matters. I believe faith matters. Maybe not how it is presented today, but I believe that it is only faith that can solve the worlds problems. Capitalism can’t because it just creates a world of haves and have nots. Socialism can’t because there is no motivation to achieve the greater good. Only faith offers that.

There is a great deal of excellent scholarship out there on the formation of the Bible and the early church. I claim no expertise. What I do claim, is that Christianity is still valid and important in the 21st Century.

The "Old" Christianity may be dead (or at least dying), but Christianity certainly is not. Jesus came to show us a way of life, and he died trying to teach us. My hope is that I will not simply de-construct the old, but will begin laying out a new understanding, a new glimpse of God through Jesus Christ.

I hope that you will join me on this journey as I wrestle with God. At times I will frustrate you, I times I will get you to rise out of your chair and tell me I’m wrong, and at times I will get you to say hallelujah. But more than anything I want to get you to think, to think about your faith — to think about what you do — and why you do it.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Couple more pictures

I guess my dad's way of saying he misses me, is to keep sending me pictures. Here's one of the cutest baby in the world. Taken in August of 1960

The other picture is of two of the three prettiest girls in the world!

Great Day

Wow, today has been one of my best days here in Israel. The day actually started last night. David Aarons, my friend who is a guide, came and got me around 8:00pm last night to show me Jerusalem. We wandered all over the city, through some historic Jewish neighborhoods, to the YMCA, King David Hotel, Machane Yahoda Market, Zion Square (where all the young people hang out), and then around 1230 we heading back into the Old City to the Western Wall which was filled with thousands of Jews coming to pray as the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur begin. Got home around 1:30, but still managed to get up at 530 so I could talk with Nancy online.

After a quick breakfast I decided to head to Emmaus. Along the way I needed gas and I stopped at Castel, once a crusader castle, but known for the role it played in the 1948 War of Independence. I then wandered through Emmaus for a while. On my way back, I stopped at the place where many historians believe that Emmaus really was (today it is a shopping mall). What made it fun was today was like December 24th. Everybody was running around trying to get ready for the holiday. While there I stopped at Pizza Hut (yes I wrote that correct) for lunch.

This evening I was invited by Hillel and Hanna Kessler to join them at their Synagogue for worship. Hillel described it as a unique synagogue made up of a bunch of ex-hippies. He compared it to a "Conservative" Synagogue in the states, but this worship was down right hip. I understood very little of the Hebrew, but the love for God came shining through. It was a blast.

My father keeps sending me these old pictures, so since this is the Jewish High Holy Days, I put this wonderful picture from Christmas 1963.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sunrise --- Sunset

David Aarons, a good friend who is the best guide here in Israel suggested that I drive up on the Golan Heights to catch a sunset. The ride up was frightening. And not the part that I was right next door to Syria and could see their military outposts. The road was the one of the windiest (is that a word) I have ever been on. I did not look forward to the return trip after dark!

Once I arrived it was worth the effort. I took over 100 pictures, I hope some of them turn out.

The next morning, I figures I needed to get both the ying and the yang in harmony so I got up and took sunrise pictures.

Here is one of both.

Off to Jerusalem tomorrow. My stay in Tiberias has gone by fast.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Been a While

Sorry, I am finding it nearly impossible to keep up the website and the blog site, I am concentrating more on the web, I am taking about 100 pictures a day, so as you can imagine, it is not easy to keep it together.

Today is Sunday, and I thought I would take it easy. I have been pushing the limits and my body this morning said NO MORE. So after getting up at 5:30 (I went to bed at 9:00 because I knew I was beat), talking on line to a number of you, eating breakfast, I decided to forgo my plans for today and just take it easy. So I grabbed one of the movies I brought and sat down to watch MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. It was just what the Dr ordered. After I write this I am going to work on pictures --- Kathy wants me to select some to put up on the bulletin board at church, I am going to walk into Tiberias and eat lunch. If I feel up to it, I may go to Hamat Tiberias and Hamat Gader, but I kinda doubt it. I think I will just be lazy today. It seems like I have been running non stop, especially since I came to Tiberias (and this is supposed to be a laid back kinda town). There are just too many places that I still want to get to. I am really going to refocus and just concentrate on places that I have never been to before. And I will have to make some day trips from Jerusalem up here.

My father sent me a couple of pictures I thought you might get a kick out of. One is from around 1968, it is of Stewart and me (he is the younger one). It was titled first day of school, I assume he is entering kindergarten and I would be in 2nd grade. The second is from around 1977. The Glenview UMC would do musical theater once a year and this is take from "Little Mary Sunshine." I was a Canadian Mountie. Hope you enjoy the pictures, I sure did.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


Check out the wonderful view off my balcony tonight. WOW!

Friday, September 08, 2006


Worked all morning on pictures and still haven’t gotten then up on line. I need to try and figure out a better way of getting them up. At lunch time, I decided that I had enough time inside stuck on the computer and that I needed to head into the Old City. I grabbed my camera and off I trekked. My first stop was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I am not sure why. It is the traditional site for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. I walked around taking a look (I have been dozens of times) found a room that I read about, but did not have a flashlight with me, so I will have to return again. I started to walk out, but instead, found myself climbing the stairs to the traditional site of Calvary (all in the same building).

I found myself watching people. Again, like yesterday, there were not many people in the Church. What fascinated me was how people reacted. Some reacted just like I expected, deeply moved by the place, and tortured by what took place 2,000 years ago. Others, however, reacted very differently. The posed for pictures in front of the altar or the statuary. Now that is not strange, because many people have friends take their pictures at these Holy places, but they didn’t just take pictures, they posed and postured for the camera. It was as if they were getting their picture taken with Tom Cruse instead of a icon or altar for Jesus.

Now, I guess I should be really honest with you. I felt nothing. There is a song that talks about that, and it is driving me crazy — I think it is from a musical — maybe Chorus Line, and it kept playing in my head. I felt nothing. The death of Jesus, murdered at the hands of the Romans and the Religious elite, is a horrible reality — but for me, it is not an event to pose for the camera for, any more than I would in front of a display at the Holocaust museum.

Jesus died, because what he invited us to do, to become a part of what too tough. He died, because we didn’t like what he had to say. Yesterday, we got into a discussion about the "literal interpretation" of the Scriptures; are they the "exact" words of God. I don’t believe they are and I was sharing why I didn’t believe that when one of the women turned to me (knowing I was a pastor) and asked: "How many churches have fired you?’ Isn’t that what we did with Jesus? We didn’t like his message, so we fired him?

I needed to leave the Church and go someplace where I could "feel" something. So I wandered through the city to two of my favorite churches. The Dormition Abbey (the church where Mary is said to sleep), and St Peter in Gallicantu (the church remembering Peter’s denial of Jesus). I was alone in both places and I felt something. I felt the peace of God flow over me. A peace that comes despite the racism and religious intolerance that was all around me. A peace that said, we can make a difference — if only we are willing to stand up for what we believe (take up your cross and follow me, is how Jesus put it). As I write I feel that peace and pray that you too, can be filled with God’s gracious peace.

I hate the wall

I went with the Education Opportunites group that is here to Bethlehem and Jericho. I am not allowed to take my rental car into the Palestinian Autonomous Areas, that meant if I wanted to go to Bethlehem or Jericho I would have to catch a ride. Last year Israel began building a wall to fence in the Palestinian people. They do it because it is from these areas that the suicide bombers came. And in the sort term the results have been impressive.

BUT, building walls, isolating people, locking people into small areas and restricting them does not encourage love and cooperation, instead it breeds anger and resentment --- which too often turns into violence.

On section of the wall I saw this slogan painted

  • Shame on Israel
  • Shame on America

Is that a fair statement?

I guess it is one that we must each wrestle with.

Jericho is totally isolated. The city was like a ghost town. There is no work, and even if there was work, there is no money to pay anybody.

I have no doubt that the money that has been given to support the Palestinians is not making it into the hands and homes of the average person.

I wish I had a solution. All I know is walls have never worked.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Adventure has begun!

I am sitting at O’Hare International Airport, waiting for a flight to take me to Atlanta so that I can connect with another flight to Tel Aviv. Seems like I am going backward, but it just makes the day a little longer. The flight to Atlanta is gonna be full, but when I checked the web this morning, the flight to Tel Aviv looks like there will be plenty of available seats — I sure hope so, otherwise it will be a long flight.

This morning was a mad rush of getting everything packed (most was done yesterday) and wondering what I have left behind. I also had to finish the book I was reading: Patricia Cornwell, Hornet’s Nest, I had 20 pages to go, so I had to somehow finish it this morning. The book was great, the ending stunk. Oh well. Just to tell you how crazy I was today, I stopped on my way to O’Hare to make sure that I had my passport (I did). I just have this nagging feeling that I forgot something . . . Zephie (our dog) was very anxious, because he knew that something was going on. It was hard walking out the door.

I am scheduled to arrive in Tel Aviv at 6 pm local time (which is about 10 am Chicago time), then the fun begins. Going through security, finding my luggage, and then renting a car, let alone making the hour or so drive to Jerusalem. No doubt the traffic will be bad when I get there. Once I get to the hotel I plan on crashing until Thursday morning. I will get up, have breakfast and walk into the old city of Jerusalem and get my act together for the rest of the time.

Thanks to everyone who has wished me well. Thanks especially to Diane and Michelle for the great book (Jonathon Kellerman: The Butcher’s Theater), they picked it because it is set in Jerusalem. I’ll let you know how it is.

WELL, I have arrived and am doing great, but it is 10:30 here and I am off to bed, I will get pictures up tomorrow, while you sleep. So far, I haven’t found anything that is missing!

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Reading Update

Someone asked what I have been reading. Well, let me tell you.

I just finished a novel by Tami Hoag called Kill The Messenger. I have never read any of her mysteries before, but I will read more. It was an engaging story that I could not put down and the end surprised me.

I listened to The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent. He is the author that wrote Holy Blood, Holy Grail. While the ideas in that book were wild (became the basis for The DaVinci Code --- this book is ridiculous. He takes the extreme view on every Biblical question, and makes it seem like it is logical and sensible --- but if you have done any textual criticism (which I am sure most of you have not) you know that he is way off base --- but he makes it sound so . . . "good". Don't waste your time.

If you want to read a provocative book about Jesus, check out James Tabor's The Jesus Dynasty. He argues that most of the original disciples were Jesus brothers and that James was the main dude not Peter. He is probably right about that --- some of his other conclusions, however, are a little questionable.

I also just finished Bart Ehrman's book Misquoting Jesus. I heard Bart speak last February at the Stetson Winter Pastor's School. This was a very good book if you want to try to understand the problems and complexities of textual criticism. He is writing not to scholars, but to us, and he puts the issue into rather plan language. A very good book explaining why and how the Bible came to be in the form it is today.

I think that is all the new books I have just finished.
My reading list for Israel includes:
  • Peter Gomes The Good Book
  • Crossan The Essential Jesus
  • Crossan & Reed Excavating Jesus
  • Rick Diamond Wrestling With God

I will probably re-read

  • Marcus Borg The Heart of Christianity
  • Borg & Wright The Meaning Of Jesus
  • Rubenstein When Jesus Became God
  • Bruce Feiler Walking The Bible

Of course I will have the requisite:

  • Fodor's Israel
  • Jerusalem Walks
  • Lonely Planet Israel
  • The Holy Land (the best book on the sites in Israel) by Murphy-O'Conner
  • The NRSV Bible

I need a couple of good novels --- any suggestions. Something light and fun to counter all of this heavy theological stuff. Thank goodness I can take two suitcases --- one will be filled with books!

Just a little update

Tuesday I leave for Israel. Wow, I can't believe that it is already here!

I fly from Chicago to Atlanta where I catch a Delta flight directly to Tel Aviv. From there I rent a car and drive the hour or so to my hotel in Jerusalem. I should get to the hotel (the Olive Tree) around noon your time on Wednesday (8 hours later in Jerusalem). My biggest concern is getting to the hotel that first night, after being on the road for about 24 hours.

My first few days will be spent in Jerusalem. I will try to get adjusted to the new time zone, go to my favorite place in the world (the old city), and just get re-acclimated to the country. What I plan on doing is heading south to visit some of the sites in the Negev (Bet Gurion, Mamshit, Tel Beer Sheeva, Avdat, Makhesh Ramon, Nizzana, etc).

On Tuesday the 12th, I hope that I am able to head into the Galilee to stay for 8 nights in Tiberias (at the Scot Hotel) and visit all the wonderful sites in the north. If for some reason that is not safe, I have made arrangements that I can stay at the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem the entire month rather than just at the beginning and at the end.

When I get back to Jerusalem (on September 20th) I will finish up the Hebrew Bible sites and begin visiting the Christian sites in the area. One of the exciting things is that I will be in Jerusalem for the Jewish High Holy days (Rosh Hashana, Sept 23 and Yom Kippur, Oct 2). They are a real wild card, because I have no idea what will be open that week (many Jewish sites will be closed). But to be there for these special days will be really special.

The first time I visited Israel, Nancy and I were there for orthodox Christmas (in early January), and I was also once there during the celebration of Purim (read the book of Esther). Being in Jerusalem for Judaism most Holy Days will be special!

I am very excited about going (even if I haven't yet packed a thing and will be gone until Monday). For me the hardest part is being gone from my family for a month. That is my biggest regret. Lindsey's soccer season will be over when I return (and her game last night was canceled because the pitch was under water). I will miss open houses at the schools, Haley's soccer games, and who knows what of Jessica's. OK, I really don't mind missing the open houses!

While I am gone, I will be on the internet regularly --- the hotel in Jerusalem has wireless access and I am hoping that the hotel in Tiberias will have some sort of access (if not I will find an internet cafe.) I hope to be on every evening and early morning. I get up early so that I can talk to my girls via IM (instant messenger) every evening. 6 am in Jerusalem is 10 pm the evening before here. My IM address is travelingsmc on AOL IM. If you are on the net when I am say HI, I am sure I will get very lonely for voices from home --- a month is a long time to be gone. Drop me an e-mail

We are off to Indy to attend Lindsey's soccer games in Zionsville (and somehow I imagine we will stop by Butler University).

I will try to post something else before I leave.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Christmas Card Idea

Got this e-mail today. Made me really think.

Christmas Card Idea
Yes, Christmas cards. This is coming early (really early) so that you can get ready to include an important address to your list.

Wanna have some fun this CHRISTMAS? Let's send the ACLU a CHRISTMAS CARD this year. As they are working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday, we should all send them a nice, CHRISTIAN, card to brighten up their dark, sad, little world and to remind them what it is all about.

Make sure it says "Merry Christmas" on it and any other words in a similar theme.

Two tons of Christmas cards would freeze their operations because they wouldn't know if any were regular mail containing contributions. So spend 39 cents and tell the ACLU to leave Christmas alone. Also tell them that there is no such thing as a "Holiday Tree". . . . It's a Christmas Tree even in the fields!!

We really want to communicate with the ACLU! They really DESERVE us!!

Yours in the Spirit of Christmas cheer.
A couple of thoughts come to mind.
  1. Christmas has virtually nothing to do with Christianity. It was a pagan holiday that we stole, plus today it has been given by Christianity to the church of greed (of which most of us are happily members).
  2. What would Jesus do? Would he encourage us each sending a Christmas Card to the ACLU? I doubt it.
  3. Then what would Jesus want us to do?

Maybe we should begin by taking seriously the message of Jesus. A message of hope, of love, of opportunity to all, but especially the disenfranchised.

The Church of Jesus Christ today has become greedy and self-centered. Sure we do lots of great thing, but the main thing we have learned to do, is protect our self-interests. How much do we really care about the other?

Instead of sending the card to the ACLU, maybe we should take the $1.50 each (for the card and postage) and give it to the Red Cross, or UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) to help our devastate brothers and sisters in the Gulf Coast region.

Just a thought

Thoughts About Katrina

Today is the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. I was at the Sisters of Saint Joseph Mother-house in Tipton Indiana when the storm struck. The thing that I remember is not being able to comprehend the devastation that took place.

Ten years after hurricane Hugo, my family drove from Nancy’s parents house down highway 17 through South Carolina and Georgia. What I still remember clearly today is the devastation that Hugo caused along the Atlantic Coast. As we drove through the lowlands, trees were toppled over like it had happened yesterday. Fortunately, that area is largely unpopulated. Unlike our Gulf Coast.

Watching the specials about Katrina renewed my belief that unfortunately, the slow response of this country to the devastation happened for two reasons.
  1. Plain and simple incompetence. Brown, the FEMA director was in way over his head and had no clue as to the magnitude of the disaster. I don’t think his bosses understood (or wanted to understand how serious the crisis was).
  2. Racism. What happened in New Orleans would never happen in Fort Myer. I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.

Remember what happened a year ago, but maybe even more important, look in your heart and see what you can do to make a difference in living in a world in which there is neither greek nor jew, christian or pagan, black or white — a world in which we are all brothers and sisters together.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Nancy and I took Jessica to Butler this weekend. It was an exciting, sad, depressing event. Exciting, because we know this is truly the beginning of Jessica's adult life. The choices she makes will be hers. Hopefully we did a good job in giving her values so that she can make good choices. Sad, because I know that Jessica will never be home the same way again. When she returns, she will not be my little girl, instead she will be a young woman. Depressing, because I am not old enough to have a child in college!!!

It was strange, as we got ready to leave both Nancy and I realized that while we had made arrangements for Lindsey and Haley, we forgot all about Zephie (our dog). Lindsey came to the rescue and came home a number of times to take him out for his walks! Yeah Lindsey! Lindsey had a soccer game on Saturday (unfortunately they lost) and Haley had a confirmation retreat, and a soccer game Sunday afternoon in DeMotte; so it was a busy weekend for the Conger's.

Tomorrow I am heading to my parents to play computer technician (that's a scary thought), but it will be the last chance that I have to see them before I leave for Israel, they are leaving on a holiday next week.

Happy 51st Anniversary Mom and Dad!

I hope to get a detailed schedule of what I plan on doing in Israel on line this week. Check out the Butler pictures. I will try to get some soccer pictures up soon.

Thanks Pat for your comments. I will respond when I have more time. And don't worry Kathryn, I am not a "slave" to my schedule. I would probably do better if I was a little more of a slave to it, but that is another story.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Went into Hammond yesterday to take some pictures, and I was struck by what a failure the United Methodist Church has been. We have one church in the north part of Hammond/Whiting/East Chicago --- and it is small and failing to reach the community. It's not the pastor's fault --- believe me, pastors want people to come to church, and have been known to sell their souls to get the crowd to come. The problem is --- we don't know how to reach those that are on the edges, especially when the church is made up of the middle class (which most UM churches are).

The East Chicago United Methodist Church closed in the late 80's or early 90's, and today houses a Pentecostal Hispanic congregation. Rather than minister to the people in the neighborhood (which obviously changed over the years) we would rather close the doors. Same is true of Centenary UMC which closed the last year or so.

Christ UMC faced the same dilemma in the late 80's. Today the many of the former members attend Ridge UMC in Munster.

The question is --- What must we be doing at Ridge UMC to reach those around us, rather than just taking care of ourselves?

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


I told you last time that I got my flight information for Israel. Well, how I got it was via an e-mail from my travel agent. I am still waiting for more substantial documentation. I e-mailed them last week to ask about 1) availability of hotel in Jerusalem for whole time, 2) seat assignments on flight (I have to have an aisle --- yes, I am a little claustrophobic), 3) what the flight is costing me. Seems like pretty reasonable requests. Well, since I didn't hear anything by Monday morning I decided to give them a call --- and what did I get --- VOICE MAIL. It is now late Tuesday morning (almost noon at my travel agent) and I still haven't heard back. WHAT's THE DEAL?

To add to my frustration, while in Hawaii, we got double charged at a little cafe. They caught it the next day (July 23rd is when it happened), but for some reason, I cannot get them to credit my account. I have called a half dozen times and all I hear are excuses . . .

Yep, I am a little frustrated.

My schedule is a mess, but so what else is new --- I am on sabbatical, why should I be driven by a schedule?

Off to Rotary today. Tomorrow I will get back into the picture taking routine!


Friday, August 11, 2006

Cease Fire

The AP is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has accepted the proposed cease-fire agreement, the Israeli government is expected to do the same on Sunday. YEAH!!!! It sure doesn't mean that the shooting is over, but it is a step in the right direction.

It has been a while since I have written, and I thought I would take a few moments to fill you in on what I have been up to. First, I have put a more current schedule on my web site: I will try to keep it up to date, and as I get closer to leaving for Israel, I will put a more detailed itinerary online. Second, I have done some updating to the rest of the web site and will try to do that every couple of days. Until I leave, there is not a lot of excitement to report.

I have been reading quite a bit. Finished a couple of novels: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and The Templar Legacy by Steve Berry. Both are in the style of the DaVinci Code, but neither reaches that level. I would recommend Berry's book, but Mosse's was too long and drawn out. I am also reading Who Killed Jesus?: Exposing the Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus by John Dominic Crossan. He says that it is not a "scholarly book" but one written for the masses. If that is true he needs a new editor who will tell him to quit writing in such a technical style. There were words in his book that I had to look up (and I think that I read at a higher level than most people --- especially when it is a religious book). It is an interesting look at how he believes the arrest, trial and crucifixion took place; and more importantly, how the early church understood those events. Good book, but too technical.

Earlier this week I went to Plymouth Indiana to the United States Golf Academy at the Swan Lake Resort. When I was the pastor of Pretty Lake Trinity UMC just outside Plymouth, I would play this course quite often. Today it is 36 holes of championship golf, with a teaching academy. I was the only student at this session, so I ended up with 5 hours of personal instruction. I also got to play quite a bit of golf.

The lessons were excellent, and I know that in the long run they will help me get my handicap into the teens, but for now, I expect my scores to soar as I try to remember all that I was taught. It was a great time and I am really glad I did it --- Thanks Nancy for really encouraging me.

I have received my flight info for Israel. I will fly to Atlanta and then travel directly to Tel Aviv. Educational Opportunities has seven people going on a pilgrimage and I will be traveling with them.

Pray for peace!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Newsletter Article

It is hard for me to believe that it has already been 3 weeks that I have been gone. Time goes by so fast. The first week really is just one of letting go and unwinding, by the time we got to the Maui, I was really feeling good. The last week has been filled with much angst as I try to determine if I should still go to Israel. To be honest — I am getting pushed both ways.

But it really sunk in to me that I was gone, when I was talking with Pastor Mark at Dyer UMC and he mentioned to me that he had presided over Betty Foltz’s funeral. I hadn’t even known she had died. When I asked Nancy about it she said that she figured if I wanted to know things like that I would have to ask. That was hard. Because I will pretty much stay in the dark, unless I again, find out in a crazy sort of way.

What is really been the hardest part is being in the area, yet not being in communication with YOU, my friends. I miss the relationships, the laughter and the tears. I miss the men’s bible study, I miss the staff, I miss each of you on Sunday mornings. But, that is part of the process.

I am working on "Wrestling With God". Starting in a few days, I will be asking some questions on my blog that will invite you to respond. I have had to add a "word recognition" protocol, because I was starting to get a lot of spam. Sorry about that. I also may require that you use your name. Be sure if you comment to let me know who you are!

A small portion of my Hawaii pictures are up on the web. I took close to 2,000 pictures and have only a small few up for you to see. I am working with the others to do something with them.

Until I leave for Israel, I probably will not do a lot of changes to the website. I will, however, try to keep up with my blog on a daily or every other day routine.

So, Steve, what is the deal with Israel?

Boy, that is such a tough question to answer right now. I have talked with many, many people — trying to get an honest appraisal of the situation. What I have come up with is:
  • I will probably never have an opportunity like this again to go and spend a month in Israel in solitude.
  • The situation is bad in the north right now, but even as I write, the UN is starting to make cease-fire, if not peace overtures.
  • The southern part of the country — which includes Jerusalem, is calm and safe. In talking with someone in Israel right now, their comment was: "you would never know what was going on up north by the things happening in Jerusalem."
  • I have found somebody who can help me spend part of my time in Jordan (if that is what I desire)

Once I decide not to go, I can’t change my mind. By continuing the plans to go — I will still have the option to bail at a later date if that need arises.

So, as of this moment (Sunday, August 5th) I am still planning on going. Keep me in your prayers, that I can make the best possible decision when the time comes.

Thanks to everyone who has looked at the websites. I appreciate your comments. If you haven’t yet look the address for my website is: The address for my blog is

What A Weekend

I have finally gotten my Hawaii pictures up on my website and have added the first 22 churches that I have taken pictures of. Last night attended the Jimmy Buffett concert with friends and had a great time --- the only down side is that I have a nasty cold right now. It was kicking in at the end of last week and has really laid me low today.

Tomorrow I am going to do some things around the house (get our medical bills all paid), and hopefully play a little golf in the afternoon. Tuesday - Thursday I will be at Swan Lake (Plymouth) for a two day golf school. I told you I was gonna get some golf in while I was on Sabbatical.

To those of you who are wondering what is going on in my mind with Israel --- let me try to explain. Two main factors are influencing me.

1) I will probably never have the opportunity to spend a month in Israel again. This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Anything less would be very disappointing.

2) I have talked with a number of people in the middle east or who have friends in Israel and this is what they have told me.
There is no threat in Jerusalem! Actually stay south of Haifa and everything is fine.
There will be a peace settlement very soon.

I still have a couple of concerns. My travel agent is supposed to get back to me about the availability of the hotel in Jerusalem for the entire time.

I am also looking at spending those 8 days that I had scheduled in Tiberias in Jordan. I hope to get that settled by tomorrow. At least that is on my agenda!

Thanks for everyone's concern.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wander Indiana

Remember the old "wander Indiana" license plates? Well that is what I did today. I headed out of Munster down 41 and hit 22 United Methodist Churches mainly in Benton, Warren and Newton Counties. I am spending the night in Lebanon --- no Israeli bombs dropping so far.

What made today especially fun is that my AC is not working on my car. It was HOT!

So the 64,000 question is: What is your plans as far as Israel?
The answer is not a simple one --- I have been in contact with my travel agent trying to see if I can be assured of a hotel in Jerusalem for the entire month. I also am looking at the possibility of spending a week in Jordan. It is all very complicated right now and it makes my head spin. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to get an answer.

Tomorrow is the big day for Lindsey --- she finds out if she made the soccer team. I hate that I won't be home, but I will be back on Friday and will take her out for something special to celebrate!

I need to run. Still a couple of pages from Hawaii to get up and now I have church pictures to get on the web. I thought this was supposed to be restful?


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Back Home In Indiana

Yikes, We are home already.
We had some plane problems in Maui and were not sure we were going to get off the island. Lindsey was not a happy camper because mandatory soccer try-outs began Monday morning at 9:00 am. When the pilot came on and said it didn't look like we were gonna fly, I thought she was going to kill me.
After about an hour delay the flight got off the ground and we arrived in Chicago around 7:00 am Monday morning. We still had to get from O'hare back to Munster by 9:00, which we did with about 30 minutes to spare.

It is hard to believe that 2 days ago I was sitting on the beach watching the sun set. Now that we are home we have to put up with this horrible heat --- give me back the beach!

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I set off on taking pictures. I am going to head toward Indy and see how many pictures I can take on the way. It is way too hot to golf!

I will be back in town on Saturday, so that I can go to the Buffett concert.

Hopefully by tomorrow I will get the web site up to date. I have had too much stuff to do around the house.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I'm Not Bad Either

When Lindsey and I went cliff jumping the other day, only the pictures of Lindsey turned out (gee -- I wonder who had to come out of the ocean to take them). Since bike riding was still out of the question from the mess --- and the surf was really up on the ocean, Lindsey wanted to jump again. She tried to get her sisters, but . . . So that left me. I worked with Nancy to use the camera so that it could take multiple shots and as you can see, she did pretty good. I managed to service a second jump. The pictures of Lindsey however did not turn out.

This is our last night. Tomorrow afternoon we board a AA 767 and head back to the hot Midwest. Even though the surf is rather rough, the weather is beautiful.

Nancy and I are sending the girls to a movie so that we can have dinner at a restaurant that we ate at 20 years ago. (I hope it is the right one --- my memory is not as good as it used to be.

The challenge comes on Monday as I as sure I will want to swing by the church. Guess I will have to get out my golf clubs!


Not always the way we plan

Yesterday at 1:50 in the morning the phone in our hotel rang to let me know that our bike ride was being canceled! BOO HOO It was the one thing that I was really looking forward to do, the thought was that we might be able to do it the next day, but tropical depression Dennis has really upset the apple cart.

Since we couldn't go biking, we though we would go to Hana instead. Of course it rained all day --- but the views were still spectacular.

We drove all the out to Charles Lindbergh grave, which is besides a pretty little church in the middle of nowhere.

He hiked a bit, but the rain was just too much and so we headed back to Kaanapali.

We stopped to have dinner along the beach at the Aloha Mixed Plate and saw another beautiful sunset. Pat, your right --- why don't we notice them at home, because they are certainly there!

Time is passing too quickly.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Too Busy

We have been way too busy and I am finding it hard to find the time to add pictures to my web. I will try tomorrow afternoon. We get up tonight to catch a ride to ride down MOUNT HALEAKALA a dormant volcano. The ride is 38 miles downhill. First we will get to the top to catch the sunrise. Should be fun, but the ride comes at 2:30 am.

Tonight we are going to a magic dinner show. It should be fun.

Today was spent at the beach and in Lahina town.

Here is a picture of the UMC --- really simple but pretty church.

Before that Lindsey and I did some cliff jumping. Nancy tried to take some pictures, but all she managed was the splash. Lindsey jumped again so that I could get her picture.

Jumping once was enough for me!

Try to add more tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Paradise Found!

It's a funny thing. Now that I have finally unwound --- it takes about a week --- the girls are ready to go home. After last night's sunset, I don't know why anyone would want to ever leave!

Today we hung out on the beach --- playing in the waves and just having a good time. Tonight we are off on a Sunset Dinner Cruise. Tommorow we are going to a magic show, Friday we bike down a Volcano (Haley is terrified!), Saturday we are going to drive to Hana and then Sunday Lindsey will get her wish and we will go Parasailing. Then it is time to go home. Wow the time goes way too fast.

I am being called to go take my shower so that we can head into Lahina for our dinner cruise. Aloha everyone!


I told you about the wonderful Bed and Breakfast that we stayed at in Volcano. Let me tell you about the place we are staying at in Kona. Kona is a wonderful little resort town. The hotel we stayed at is a dump!!! Thank goodness we are only here 2 nights! If you come to Kona, and I will come back some day — do not stay at the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel!

Regardless, we had another wonderful day in paradise. Today we went out snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay. WOW! We had a great time. This bay is famous as the place that the Hawaiians killed Captain Cook (partially because he didn’t know how to swim — but that’s another story). The fish and the coral were awesome. On the way back to the dock we saw some spinner dolphins doing there dancing for us. Great day!

Tonight we are gonna head toward a beach side restaurant to watch the sun go down. Then off to the Sheridan Hotel to see the Manta Rays who come into their bay to feed.

Tomorrow we head to Maui.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Finding God

This morning I got up and took a walk around the place we have been staying at in Volcano. It is a wonderful Bed and Breakfast called Hale Ohia. As I strolled around the grounds, taking pictures of God's beautiful creation --- I thanked God for this opportunity.

We head toward Kona today, after having climbed over the lava flows to see the active volcano. I have never seen anything like it --- dreamed about it all night long. Today we will stop at some black and green sand beaches which will be rather unusual. We also will stop at some historic Hawaiian sites.

If you can't see God here --- you will never find God anywhere!!

This is where we stayed in Volcano.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Anybody Out There

Thanks to everyone who has commented about the pictures. I haven't gotten any comments on the blog --- Is anybody reading it?

We flew to the Big Island yesterday --- drove around the Hilo area, stopped at the TSUNAMI museum, Macadamia Nut Factory and some waterfalls. Eventually we arrived in Volcano. We are staying at a Bed and Breakfast on the edge of the National Park. We drove in last night for a quick look and will leave shortly for a full day in the park. Hopefully we will be able to see some of the lava flows.

Tomorrow we will travel slowly, via lots of stops to Kona.

Let me know if you are reading.

We love the big Island and are happy to be gone from Oahu!!!


Remember the Alamo! Remember the Maine! Remember Pearl Harbor! Remember September 11th. I sometimes wonder how many actually remember the first two. They were once the calls of our nation much like Remember Pearl Harbor has been for a generation. Remember. What are we supposed to remember?

Pearl Harbor is one of the most important things for all people to experience; it is important to remember. We need to remember how hateful and dishonest we can be as nations to one another. We need to remember that war always comes with a high price. We need to remember that being invaded, being attacked, helped us to rally together — much as it did to the people of Viet Nam, Iraq and so many other places.

We need to remember that the only hope is the love of God, and that Jesus Christ came to show us how to overcome evil and not give in to warfare.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Round 1

Vowed I wouldn’t work on Wrestling with God while here in paradise. Seems I just can’t get away from it. Got an interesting e-mail about someone who was scheduled to have surgery next week. He was having doubts about the surgery and another friend called and suggested a less invasive procedure. He wasn’t sure what to do, and while pondering the situation, got a phone call from his surgeon saying one of the machines that was needed for the surgery was needing repair so the surgery would need to be rescheduled. He saw it as the hand of God?

QUESTION: Did God cause that machine to break so that he could avoid the surgery?

And if God did —> what about the poor schmuck who had the surgery before the machine broke; does that mean that God does not like them as much?

How God works is one of the most perplexing issues for modern people.

What is the nature of prayer?
What does it accomplish?

These are the questions that we must wrestle with!

Can’t think of a better place to struggle with these issues.

Aloha. Steve


Had a wonderful day yesterday at the Polynesian Cultural Center. They do an remarkable job showing the various cultures that make up Polynesia. We had a great, but exhausting day.

We started the morning by heading to the Dole Plantation. They have a huge maze that you can work your way through. Jessica, Lindsey and I completed it in about 30 minutes. Haley and Nancy finished about 10 minutes later. Following that we headed up to the north shore and saw some crazy kids jumping off rocks into the ocean. Not surprisingly, Lindsey wanted to give it a try. Unfortunately we didn't have time.

Spent the rest of the day at the Cultural Center. After the show we drove back to our hotel (everyone was pretty much asleep) and I had the joy of finding the parking lot full. I drove around for a while before I finally gave in and parked at one of the outrageous pay lots.

We let the girls sleep in and soon we will leave for Pearl Harbor --- I am really looking forward to experiencing it. The rest of the day will be on the beach and getting packed up, because tomorrow early we head to the Big Island.

Won't get pictures up this morning, but will get them up tonight.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tuesday July 18

Jet lag has finally caught up to most of us.

Monday we tried to take it easy by hanging out at the beach. It was great fun, but boy was it crowded! For dinner we decided to go to "Duke’s Canoe Club", the food was excellent, but the wait was long. We didn’t get seated until about 7:30, and by the time we got home, everyone was exhausted.

Tuesday we got everyone up early so that we could go snorkeling at Hanauma Bay — unfortunately, the bay is closed on Tuesday. We quickly did some new planning and decided to climb Diamond Head instead. It really wasn’t too bad of a hike (less than a mile each way), but we did have to climb up almost 200 very steep steps. Haley is deathly afraid of heights, so I really had to coax her up the final spiral staircase.

The view from the top was spectacular! Well worth the effort.

Nancy saw in the guide book that there was a rain forest we could drive through. I must have missed it, but we did have a beautiful drive along a heavily wooded area. Then we stopped at Nuuanu Pali lookout. The view was awesome.

Nancy, Haley and I went to the ‘Iolani Palace — the former palace of Hawaiian royalty. It was sad to hear about the history of Hawaii and how a few rich men basically stole the country from the Hawaiian people. What is sad about the palace is how much of the possessions were sold off when America annexed Hawaii and how they have been lost.

We came home and crashed because tomorrow will be a long day. We will get up and head through the middle of Oahu to the Dole plantations (one of the families that got rid of the Queen), then up to the North Shore on our way to the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Monday, July 17, 2006

July 17th

Good morning,
We arrived in Honolulu late last night. Got to our hotel around midnight local time (5 am at home). I got up bright and early and am waiting for everyone else to get up. Found some coffee, so I am pretty happy.

First day in paradise! Nancy has already called back to the church to check on VBS -- but I told her not to tell me anything!!! YEAH! I don't know if she got a hold of anybody.

We are going to let the girls sleep as long as they want and then go hang out on the beach. I think I could get used to this life.

I will try to put some pictures up tonight.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Well, I guess it is time to start this blog and see if it really works. It is Tuesday, 5 days until my Sabbatical begins. Everyone keeps asking if I am excited --- well, yes, BUT I am also overwhelmed. I think if I were to do it again, I would take a few days off before we leave for Hawaii; but knowing me, I would end up working, so this is just as well. Somehow I will get everything done, get packed and get on the airplane. Once they close the door, then I think the Sabbatical will begin!

I probably won't write again until next week, this was more of a test to make sure that it would work!

Thanks Ridge Church for letting this happen.
Thanks Lilly for providing the resources!