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.