Saturday, December 29, 2007


Another great day!

We got up early again and headed north to visit some of the places in the Northern part of Israel. Again, the weather was wonderful, getting close to 70!!

We began by driving an hour or so to Hazor, the ancient Cannanite and Israelite city. A great deal has taken place here in the year since I was last at Hazor. They have continued to work on the Cannanite palace. We ran down the water system, and did not have much more time to explore.

Following Hazor, we traveled to Tel Dan. This was the northern most point of the promised land. Dan is also a nature park, in which springs provide water for the Jordan River. The key attraction to Tel Dan is a mud brick arched entryway that is over 3,000 years old. Unfortunately, it was covered up in scaffolding and very hard to see.

We then drove the short distance to Caeserea Phillipi. We really did not visit Caeserea Phillipi instead we were across the road at Banyas. This was the site of ancient pagen worship centers to the god Pan.

Then it was off to Nimrod's fortress in the Mt Hermon range. Mt Hermon is beautifully snow covered (not the area we were in). Nimrod's Fortress is a Islamic castle strategically located. We crawled around for a while and then continued on up the Mt Hermon range to a little area called ??Har Ram?? (I am not sure) There was a lake and a place where we could eat lunch. It was a neat place.

David then took us on an excursion to the "Valley of Tears", the site of a major battle with Syria during the Yom Kipur War. It was a moving experience as we could look across the fields and into Syria.

We drove back to the Galilee and stopped at Bethsaida on the way home. This was where I was involved in a dig 12 years ago or so. It was disappointing because we really could not get to the important areas due to current excavations going on.

Back to the hotel exhausted!

We went into Tiberias to the Diamond Factory (Ugh!) and then walked around town for a little while before headed back to the hotel and bed.

For some reason my pictures will not upload. I will try again first thing in the morning.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Friday --- The Galilee

Today we spent the day around the Sea of Galilee. We go to the hotel pretty late last night, and everyone was pretty beat, but we still got going by 7:30 and had a full day. Overall, it was a great day. The weather was and sunny!!! Much better than Munster, that I am sure.

We started off by going to the Valley of the Wind and Doves, this is a valley that Jesus would have walked as he came from Nazareth to the Galilee. I had been up on Arabel before, but never on this path (at least not that I remember). It was pretty awesome. HOWEVER, when we got there I found out that I had taken my SD card out of my camera to upload the couple of pictures last night and forgot to put it back in. Lindsey came to the rescue and let me use her card. I owe her BIG time --- just don't tell her I say so! Not sure why I have the funky blue coloring in the first pictures, something I will need to work on when I get home.

Next we went to Kibbutz Nof Ginnosar --- it is here that the famous "Jesus Boat" is housed. It is pretty amazing, because it is a 1st Century boat.

After Nof Ginnosar we began our visits to the Jesus sites along the northern shore of the Sea. We started at the Mount of Beatitudes. Most everyone got a chance to read a story connected with the area. Following that we headed down the hill to the shore and the two sites known as Tabgha (a corruption of a word meaning seven springs). We visited the church of the Loaves and Fish and also the Church of the Primacy of Peter. They are next door to each other, but you have to drive around to get to them because they are controlled by different branches of Roman Catholicism.

We then drove the short distance to Capernaum --- the Primary outpost of Jesus in the Galilee. It is a great town, although you only see part because it is partially in control of the RC Church and another by the Greek Orthodox Church. We saw only the RC side.

We then we to lunch at Ein Gev. Matthew and I and a few others had St Peter's Fish (check out Matthew's pic in my flikr site.

Following lunch we continued down the Eastern side of the Sea to the Southern end when the Jordan River flows out of the Sea. We stopped at the tourist created Baptismal site --- fortunately it was not very crowded and we all paused to "remember our Baptisms". It was an amazing experience --- I am just glad no one wanted to go into the water because it was COLD!.

We finished up our day by taking a 45 minute drive up a crazy, winding road to the top of the Golan Heights to a little park to watch the sunset. It was a great way to finish our first day in Israel.

The pictures are up, but I had some problem tagging them --- I will try to get to them tomorrow, but I need to get to bed. Nancy is trying to go to sleep. We are up again at 6:00 am and on the road by 7:30. Going all the way North tomorrow to Mt. Hermon.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

We Arrived

We arrived this evening after a long an uneventful set of flights. We got to Tel Aviv about an hour late, and by the time we got through security and got our bags it was about 6:30 pm. We then drove the 1 1/2 hours to Tiberias ate dinner and went to bed!!!! It was a long day.

Tommorow we begin our touring, visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee. It should be fun. I will try to post every early afternoon for you (late evening for us!)

I will be putting more photo's on my Flikr site.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monday Night Fooball

I am so naive! Is nothing sacred anymore. As I turned on my computer, I was checking the sports scores from yesterday, and I received quite a shock. There is Monday Night Football tonight. Yes, tonight. It's Christmas Eve. What is that about?

I guess I thought that the NFL would hold one day as significant. The one good thing is that it is in San Diego so that it is a 5pm local start. But come on!!! I feel sorry for all those player who are gone from home today and will get home very late tonight. And what about the stupid fans, it is the playoff push for San Diego who need to win tonight to avoid playing New England until the championship game --- so you know that they are going to be there.

But what about the families. It is bad enough in our society how we make sports our god (and yes, I am guilty with Duke basketball), but one day, can't we not have sports for one day!!! At least the NCAA has no games until the 26th and almost none until the weekend. Duke is even nice enough not to have any games until the 6th of January (that way I won't miss any while I am out of the country!)

Money is what decides when the games are played. That is why we now have NFL football on Thursday evenings and Sunday night as well as Monday night. It is time to say ENOUGH!

On a final note --- How about those Bears! Where has that team been all season. Maybe we just needed to play more games with Green Bay!


Friday, December 21, 2007

Walking the Bible

As I get ready to head back to the Holy Land next week, I decided to listen to WALKING THE BIBLE by Bruce Feiler. I loved the book when I read it when it first came out in 2001 --- I came as close to reading a book in one sitting as I have ever done --- I could not put it down. The book spoke to my love of Israel and the Holy places.

It follows Bruce Feiler (a secular Jew) as he seeks to find the Holy places that the Bible lifts up, from Mt Ararat in Turkey to Mt Nebo in Jordan and everywhere in between. His 10,000 mile journey is recorded in a wonderful narrative that tells how the stories become real to him. The places make sense and speak to him of God's power and majesty.

In this second go round of his book (I have also watched the PBS special --- we have it at the church), what stuck me, is how dogmatic he becomes. He stops seeing the Bible as a collection of stories, but now sees it as a history book --- and his quest is to find those historical places. I did not notice that before --- maybe it was hearing him read his book and the tone that he used that changed my perception. Maybe it is just that I have changed.

I don't think you can go to the "Holy Places" to prove the Bible or to prove the historical veracity of a place. I believe that you go to be moved by the spirit of the place. The stories are often just that --- stories. They are not meant to be taken historically. Especially the stories that Feiler deals with --- the stories from the Hebrew Bible. We are too far removed, and the Bible writers did not ask the same questions that we do to be able to use them as proof texts.

So why do I keep going back? I have gone on average every two years for the last 16 years. This is my eight trip (I think) to Israel since I first went shortly after I became an ordained minister. I keep going back because every time I am there --- I know it is a place where I belong. NOT because it is where God dwells (like orthodox Judiasm and evangelical Christianity sometimes seems to suggest), but because it is where so much of our religious traditions were formed.

What amazes me is that people are already asking when I am going back. I will plan another trip in late spring or early fall of 2009. If you want to see what I am talking about, let me know and you can help pick the dates.

But in the mean time. Pick up Feiler's book or the DVD's and travel along to the places where Christians and Jews first understood their encounter with God.

Funny Story

A friend gave me for Christmas a leather bound copy of a book that I read a number of years ago. I passed my original copy around which just proved how crazy and what a heritic I am --- it is well read. What struck me was the difference between how we as Christians react and how Muslim's react when we poke fun at our religious traditions.

The book that I am referring to is LAMB: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. A friend shared this book with me years ago, and I don't think I have ever laughed so hard at anything I have read. It is the story of Jesus, told by his friend Bif --- who you might call a smart-ass. This book tells the story of what growing up Jesus was like --- from a hilarious and irreligious point of view. It fills in all those "missing years" that are not found in our Bible. If you are easily offended DO NOT READ THIS BOOK!!!! Some might even call it blasphemous, but if you have a healthy sense of humor, and can laugh at your religious traditions, then by all means --- read away.

What struck me, is how the Muslim community would respond to a book written about Muhammad's childhood from this perspective. Why is it so hard to laugh at our selves? A woman names a teddy bear Muhammad and she is put under a ban. COME ON --- lighten up. Can anybody help me here?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Salty Piece of Land

OK, I have to admit. I am a parrothead. Somewhere along the way, I got introduced to the music of Jimmy Buffett. I remember when I was in college, some of my friends were into his music, but I thought it was too country. Ten or fifteen years ago, I really began to listen to his music. There is such a longing and an angst in the music that it really drew me in. Jimmy is a former Altar Boy who can't stand organized religion (maybe that has something to do with why I like his music). But it is not his music that I want to write about --- it is one of his books.

I have read all of Jimmy's books. Just recently I listened to (I had read it earlier) A Salty Piece of Land. It is the story of a Wyoming cowboy who takes off on a crazy adventure that ends up in the Bahama's with the restoration of a Lighthouse. The story travels throughout the Caribbean Islands and the coast of Central America, visiting some of my favorite places (the Mayan ruins of Tulum being just one place). Like all good fluffy novels, everything turns out good in the end. But before we can get their, we must deal with all kinds of mishaps, broken relationships, and fishing.

If you love the islands, want to learn about lighthouses in a creative way, fascinated by old schooners or always wanted to know something about flats fishing --- Jimmy Buffett will keep you amused.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


I woke up this morning to 9 or so inches of snow. YUCK! Today is the cantata at church and will be interesting to see how many show up. The church is warm and plowed so if people can get out of their garages, we will be here.

Yesterday I judged at the Chesterton HS debate Tourney. I judge debate once or twice a year. Boy it is fun to do it, but debate has changed (and not for the better!). In many ways they have tried to make it easier, rather than keeping some of the real challenges.

NO new in 2 is stupid! If you don't know anything about debate, then that means absolutely nothing to you! The greatest speech in debate is 1AR, but this no new in 2 makes it just another speech. By the way, when people asked me if I followed the no new in 2 idea I said NO! Debate is meant to stretch a person and if the 2nd Negative speaker cannot present any new ideas, you might as well just get rid of that speech.

Well I need to go get ready for the huge crowds here at church.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The First Christmas

For Advent Kathy talked me into teaching the Adult class on Wednesday evenings at our WWE event. She had purchased Mickey Efird's bible study called "The Birth Narratives." Mikey was a professor of mine when I was at Duke, he is now retired, and some former students convinced him to video tape him when he is out teaching at various churches and market them to the rest of us. They are very good --- but, they are watching someone lecture on a TV. After watching a couple of his sessions, I decided not to actually use them, but to go a different direction. That of course meant coming up with material for 4 nights of classes.

I read the classic work on the birth stories written by Raymond Brown: The Birth of the Messiah, close to 20 years ago. It is well worth the effort to get through. A couple of months ago, Jeff mentioned to me that Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan had a new book out on the birth stories. I read the "companion" book, The Last Week, last Lent and was intrigued by their take on the stories. This is a long way in saying that the class I have been leading comes a great deal out of The First Christmas by Borg and Crossan.

I have read most everything written by either Borg and Crossan. I tend to find myself aligning pretty closely to what I understand Borg's theology to be. And so I felt very comfortable with their overall premises.

Of all their books, I found the writing to be rather uneven, however. They spend a great deal of time looking at the birth stories of Roman Caesar's --- particularly Augustus, and it got rather tedious. I know that it was important, but it really bogged me down --- and I had to stay really focused or else I would miss the nuances that they were suggesting.

The power of their work was found not in their treatment of the stories as parables (which I think is right on), but on the implications of these stories for us today. The question, is not whether or not the stories really happened the way Matthew and Luke tell us they happened (which is impossible), but the real question is WHAT DO THESE STORIES MEAN?

They do a great job helping us understand what they meant to a person at the end of the first century CE who was trying to understand the Jesus experience. But their greatest service is found at the end of the second section of the book when they ask us in the good old USA what these stories mean today.
The terrible truth is that our world has never established peace through victory. Victory establishes not peace, but lull. Thereafter, violence returns once again, and always worse than before. And is is that escalator violence that then endangers our world.

The four-week period of Advent before Christmas --- and the six-week period of Lent before Easter --- are times of penance and life change for Christians. In our book, The Last Week, we suggested that Lent was a penance time for having been in the wrong procession and a preparation time for moving over to the right one by Palm Sunday. That day's violent procession of the horse-mounted Pilate and his soldiers was contrasted with the nonviolent procession of the donkey-mounted Jesus and his companions. We asked: in which procession would we have walked then and in when do we walk now?

We face a similar choice each Christmas, and so each Advent is a time of repentance for the past and change for the future. Do we think that peace on earth comes from Caesar or Christ? Do we think it comes through violent victory or nonviolent justice? Advent, like Lent, is about a choice of how to live personally and individually, nationally and internationally.

Christmas is not about tinsel and mistletoe or even ornaments and presents, but about what means will we use toward the end of a peace from heaven upon our earth. Or is "peace on earth" but a Christmas ornament taken each year from the attic or basement and returned their as soon as possible?

WOW! The book gets even better in part 3 in which they explore "Light, Fulfillment, and Joy". Again, they challenge our nice homogenized Christmas celebrations and invite us into a real life changing experience of God.

I cannot recommend this book enough! It is a challenge, and it will challenge a great many of your nice and tidy preconceived notions about the birth of Jesus --- but it will also help you understand WHY Matthew and Luke tell us the stories of Jesus birth they way that they do!

If anyone out there has read this book and would like to dialogue about it, give me a holler, I would love to explore it with someone else.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I am so behind in writing on my blog. I have finished three books and some articles that I can think of since I last wrote, so I will take some time to try and get my reviews and comments online. I will try to put them up one day at a time so that I don’t write too many words at once (you know I only have so many words). I also like putting them online, because it helps me keep track of what I am reading.

Last week is kind of a blur with Margaret taking a turn for the worse, making the decision to stop chemo, going home to Mike’s on Friday and dying on Sunday afternoon. It was a whirlwind — but very appropriate for Margaret — she was always on the go!

There is a huge hole here at the church, because Margaret was always here. Driving us crazy at times, but always trying to help. I loved to tease Margaret and call her a saint, but she really was a saint. Someone just stuck their head in my office to talk about her — it is going to be a long time before we heal.

Margaret’s husband, John, was the first funeral I performed at Ridge on October 12, 1998. I never really knew John, but Margaret was a dear, dear friend. The year after John died, Margaret traveled with a group from Ridge to the Holy Land — it was a wonderful experience. When I go home tonight I will try to find a picture from that trip and add it to this blog.

Friday, we will celebrate Margaret’s life. And it will be quite a celebration. Ridge Church was her family, and she never knew a stranger! She no doubt is busy doing what she understood her Christian role to be: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger! Well done, good and faithful servant!

Monday, December 03, 2007

State of the Church

Last night we had our annual Charge Conference which is the annual business meeting of the church as required by the United Methodist Book of Discipline. It is a rather mundane meeting, but it is one of those things that has to be done. One of the things that I am required to do is present a "State of the Church" report. I have included that below.

Just a side note: we had been told by a number of churches that we should expect the meeting to last two or more hours (it shouldn't be more than an hour!). To my friends chagrin, we completed the task in 45 minutes. God is good! (As if God cared!)

It is hard for me to fathom that I am in my tenth year as pastor of Ridge Church. When I first came to the church, everyone wondered how long I would stay; and I would reiterate the promise that Tom Rough and Bishop White made, that I could stay at least thirteen years to see my children through school. Now that I am getting close to that magical number, people now ask, what about when Haley graduates. My answer has never changed, I will stay as long as Ridge Church desires me to serve as pastor.

Ridge Church has been very good to my family and me. Every now and again, I have to wonder if my Renewal Leave wasn’t just a wonderful dream, but all I need do is look around at my life and see how I have grown, and I know that it was a reality.

You have surrounded me with a wonderful and talented staff who are able to facilitate ministry here in the community. You have allowed me to reach out into the community, helping to bring recognition to Ridge and our ministries. Ten years ago, Ridge was an unknown commodity; today, Ridge is known throughout the community. You have allowed me to serve on the Board of Directors of the Munster Chamber of Commerce, and be actively involved in the Munster Rotary Club. Because of those connections, I also serve on the Munster Education Foundation, and was asked to organize the Community Thanksgiving Service during the Munster Centennial celebration. I was shocked when I was honored as "Citizen of the Year" last January by the Munster Chamber of Commerce, but I believe that it is an honor not simply for me but also for Ridge Church.

Challenges abound at Ridge Church. Of our three primary priorities, (Leadership Development, Missions and Education) the area that we have not achieved success is in Leadership Development. This will be my chief priority in the coming year.

With the formation of the four-part mission team (local, national, international and environmental), we are moving toward being in mission as a part of our culture and not something that we need to do. We live missions, because it is who we are!

Our education program for adults is really growing as we provide a variety of opportunities for people to grow in their faith. This will only expand as our WWE Ministry (Wonderful Wednesday Evenings) continues to grow. Currently we are reaching about 40 adults with this ministry, which is amazing!

But leadership development continues to be a difficult situation. One area that we know needs to be addressed is the role and function of the Administrative Council in the life of Ridge Church. For the past couple of years the council has been floundering — trying to understand its purpose. Dick McClaughry is organizing a task group to evaluate and re-invent this important team for Ridge Church. Hopefully, as we come back together after the first of the year, we will begin the re-invention process. The Finance Team is the strongest it has been in years, (despite having a challenging year financially) and are looking toward a successful 2008. And as I shared earlier, Missions is leading the way in creating a structure more conducive to getting the job done. Education is re-organizing itself along this same model and I hope for a similar outcome.

Overall, 2007 has been a fantastic year. We have touched more lives with God’s compassionate love than ever before. I look forward to the opportunities that await us in the coming year as we continue to make disciples by offering Hope, Unconditional Love and Meaning for Life to all that we meet.

Join the revolution

Right before I went on my Renewal Leave last year I began writing a blog. Wikipedia defines blog as:

A blog (a portmanteau of web log) is a website where entries are written in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function as more personal online diaries. A typical blog combines text, images, and links to other blogs, web pages, and other media related to its topic. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.

I started mine as a tool to keep in contact with the Ridge Church family, and so that I could wrestle with the issues that were bothering me. Since then it has also become an outlet where I can share what I am reading, and other random thoughts of the day. I try to write a couple times a week (I have about five entries I need to write today, but time keeps getting in the way.) The one thing that I haven’t been successful at is getting my readers to comment and make it a dialogue rather than a monologue.

One of the things that I have found is a great resources called "Google Reader", it is a website that allows me to get every blog that I read show up at one place (I currently follow 12 blogs). That way you do not need to go to each individual website to follow their writings. I follow Jeff and Heathers blogs along with blogs written by pastors and others throughout the country.

Take a look some time, maybe you too will want to join the blogging revolution. (

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I have just finished Dead Koontz novel, Icebound. I understand that it is a reworking of an earlier book that he wrote, called Prison of Ice.

Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

This is the first Dean Koontz book that I have read, and to be honest, it was not what I expected. Nancy had previously read a book of his, and said that it was quite bizarre. Nothing bizarre about this book other than the blizzard that the characters find themselves in.

The story is about a team of scientists who are attempting to develop a way to break apart a piece of the polar icecap so that it can be floated and eventually be used to help solve some of the water shortage issues. The reason why they are there is not important, it is the adventure that takes place when a Tsunami causes the ice shelf that they are on to break away, after they have loaded it with explosives set to go off in a few hours. It is a classic tale of: how are we going to survive, along with a murderous twist.

A well told story that I found hard to put down. I would like to read some more of Koontz's work, any suggestions?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Winning At Life

A number of years ago Nancy, the administrative assistant at Ridge Church returned from a conference she had attended. While she was there, she heard about a church the sponsored a breakfast for the football team prior to every game. We all thought that was the coolest idea, but we knew something like that would never fly in the separation of church and state north, but pondered how we could create something similar.

Three or four years ago, WINNING AT LIFE, was born! Initially we worked with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (a group which has gone belly up here), but since then, we have developed a rapport with the coaches that they trust us and know that we are not going to "proselytize" their students.

What do we do? We offer a hot and taste breakfast cooked by the men of Ridge Church, a hearty thank you to the teams and coaches for making our community a great place to live, and a "Two Minute Drill". Wes Lukoshus, a lay member of the church gives a short, positive, funny life lesson to the students. And then we send them off to school.

This morning we had about 140 at our breakfast. For a while, I thought we might have to perform a miracle (ala. the loaves and fishes) but somehow we pulled it off. This was our 5th breakfast this school year, and we will have at least three more and maybe a fourth this spring.

Thanks to everyone who makes this ministry so successful!

Chuck & Dave in the Kitchen - Wes giving the 2 minute drill

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I'm impressed

I have written the last few days about my dealings with State Farm. Somebody at State Farm must do a great deal of web watching, because this blog is now being watched by them. I never knew I was so famous. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


Last week I wrote about my experience with State Farm on getting my camera replaced. On Friday I thought that we were starting to make progress, but of course, they did not call me back. It wasn't until I called on Monday that I heard from them again (interesting how that works). This time I was put in contact with a camera specialist. She felt that the closest replacement was a Cannon G9. A very nice compact point and shoot --- with a much smaller zoom capability that they would rectify with a telephoto converter. She suggested that the D40X was a step up from my camera and she could not recommend it.

Interesting that they will not "step up", but seem more than willing to step down. Hence the suggestion of the Coolpix s51 or the Cannon G9. It became apparent that the goal was to get me to settle at the least cost to the company --- not to get my value out, nor to, in good faith, truly replace what I had. If they had offered me what I had spent on the 8800, minus my deductible, I would have been ecstatic!

The "camera specialist" was not willing to budge. Even though we were comparing a compact car with a full sized car, that was not in her mind grounds to justify looking at anything else. It stinks because I had almost no recourse. When I called back later in the day with the original adjuster, I requested that she let me have the quote they offered me on Friday, even though it is not close to being what I had. This way I would get $230.00 from State Farm, instead of the $125.00 that the camera specialist offered. My loss was $1,000 (for which I had receipts) I have a $500 deductible, so I understand that I have to eat $500, but to have to grovel to get half of that is ridiculous. What would it be like if I didn't have any receipts!

Guess it is time to start looking for a new company to insure my property.

PS I ordered a new Nikon D80 camera --- I can't wait to get it! I ordered if from Amazon, off the church website, so Ridge should get a small portion of the price!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Choose your Creed!

Woody Allen’s:
"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly."

Or D. Christian Larson’s
"Be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
Talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
Make all your friends feel there's something in them.
Look at the sunny side of everything.
Think only of the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
Forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
Give everyone a smile.
Spend so much time improving yourself that you have no time left to criticize others.
Be too big for worry and too noble for anger."

November 11

I intended to write this yesterday, but I just never could get around to it. November 11th is a crazy day for me. But it has gotten easier as the years go on.

I woke up about 3:00 am yesterday, maybe that shouldn't surprise me. Shortly after I woke up, Lindsey woke up too, needing to take Zeke out (at least that is what she said). Maybe it was the lightening (and thunder --- 2 loud bursts) that woke him up? I don't know, I was already awake.

Early in the morning of November 11th, 1985, I too was awakened. Nancy and I were on our way to Downers Grove and had stopped for the night in Frankfort, Kentucky. Around two or three in the morning, I woke up, got Nancy up so that we could continue our drive to Illinois. We arrived early in the morning, much earlier than we were expected. 45 minutes after we arrived, Stewart, my baby brother died from his cancer.

November 11th --- the first few years after his death, I would stay home and be miserable all day. I couldn't function on that day. Fortunately, it wasn't until 1990, that I had to deal with November 11th being a Sunday.

I don't get depressed like I once did on November 11th. But I am still sad, sad about a life cut short. Sad about all the missed opportunities. Sad, because Stewart and I never had the chance to move out of being "boys" together and becoming men.

But there is a lesson for me every November 11th. It is a reminder that life is fragile and short. A reminder that disease and illness can rear it's ugly head at any unsuspected moment. A reminder that if I put off smelling the flowers, enjoying my children, my friends, . . . that the opportunity may be lost.

Sounds like a good reason to be a pessimist. Nah, I think November 11th reminds me to see the glass as half full, to look out the right windows, to see and grasp the opportunities that are set before me.

Enjoy today! It is truly a gift from God.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Nightmare on Oriole Dr.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the break-in to my car (it took place on October 20th). Two days ago I contacted State Farm (my homeowners policy since it is not covered by the auto policy) to figure out where things are at. They were to get back to me and offer me a replacement camera.

This is what they suggested. A Nikon Coolpix S51. It looks like it is a fairly nice point and shoot compact camera. It's suggested retail price is $280.

This is what I had stolen. As anybody can see --- they are not even comparable cameras. When they asked me what would be
more appropriate I gave the the suggestion of the D40X, a nice camera, but I am not sure it is as good as what I had. They have come back suggesting it with a 18x50 mm lens. Not quite the same as the 13 x 350 lens on the 8800. They tried to put me into a conversation with the person who is recommending the cameras, but she could not get the phone to work.

This has been a pain in the butt! I got the window fixed within 48 hours, but getting State Farm to move on the camera has been unreal! I would hate to imagine what it would have been like if this had been something serious. Oh, wait a minute, I remember reading about how quick they were to respond to people after Katrina, and how their strategy was ultimately one of stringing you along until you got tired of pursuing it.

Don't worry, I am not giving up that easily. But I would like to have a camera!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Getting Old

OK, I am not as young or hip as I like to think (using the word hip really dates me!). Jessica, while she was home last weekend, told us that she wanted to get her nose pierced --- just a little small unobtrusive diamond.

Well, I am a parent. She reminded me that she is 19 and is an adult --- I tried to remind her that I was spending lots of money every year allowing her to go to an expensive private school. When she left, the issue was far from settled.

But the truth is, Nancy and I were in a no win situation. As much as I am not a fan of piercings, I did lots of things that drove my parents crazy. (Maybe if you beg real hard I might post a picture of my hair when it was longer than my girls!) But, but, but . . . like I said, it was a no win situation (and I knew it all along!)

Jessica IM'd me tonight (see I am not too out of the loop) to tell me that she just got home from getting it done. I could hear her excitement through the computer.

How can I be mad? I'm not really, I know that as a parent I am supposed to be a little difficult and help my children think through their actions.

And the good news is --- when she gets tired of it, it will close back up. (wishful thinking, I know!)

But please, just don't tell me that I am old!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Renewal Leave -- One Year Ago!

I sit here this morning thinking to myself — has it really been a year? Has it really been that long ago? One year ago today, I was on the last day of my Renewal Leave. To be honest — it seems a lot longer ago than a year. Tomorrow, I will spend the rest of the money from the Lilly Grant, I will use it to pay for the family trip to Israel this Christmas.

As I sit at home this morning, after taking a week of vacation time (not doing the honey do list that Nancy has for me . . .) I wanted to take a few minutes and ponder how my life is different following the Renewal Leave.

First, I don’t think I take myself as seriously anymore. And that is a good thing. I can be so anal about things at times, but I think that I have gotten a lot better. For me, one example of that was the finance campaign that just concluded at the church. I really stayed on the outside and tried to help from there. Often I am writing the letters, etc, but I really did nothing other than help identify the theme that would be used. Even in my preaching during the campaign, I let the speakers deal with the money issues, and I tried to stick with the commitment issues. Big change for me.

On the flip side of that is that I am much less cautious about what I say. I preached about a month ago on the issue of Christianity being the "exclusive way to God." I suggested, and said quite clearly that I did not believe that Jesus said the words in John 14:6 (I am the way . . .no one comes to the father except through me.) I also invited anyone who had questions about it to come and talk with me. Well, the result was predictable. 2 people came and talked with me, One of those two left the church )but they had been on their way out for some time and I just provided them with a convenient excuse. The sad part is, they took two other couples with them who haven’t been willing to talk. I hope and pray that they find what they are looking for.

While speaking my mind is important, I know that I have to temper it with the audience that I am talking to. (Jeez – it is comments like that they make me feel like a shaman!) And that is what I hate about being in ministry. Too many people do not listen — they only hear what they are looking for (myself included!)

The second lesson, is to take better care of myself. I try to be much more intentional about taking days off, and saying NO to some things. Still a work in progress, however.

A third lesson is to enjoy the things that bring me pleasure, and that I am good at. I love teaching, (and I think that I am pretty good at it) and I have decided to make that a priority in my ministry. There are too many things that I am not good at, and that aren’t real important that I do that I can delegate to others. And I know that I delegate a lot more today than I did a year ago.

Finally, I have come to realize that I don’t have it all figured out — and that is OK. My hunch is anyone who says that they do, are full of baloney! I am a fellow traveler on this journey of life, enjoying the love of God and family and friends. And that is really the fourth lesson — RELATIONSHIPS is what life is all about. And I have come to learn, that I cannot have a relationship with God (or Jesus) without being in a relationship with others. And that is the greatest gift in life!

Thanks Lilly and thanks Ridge Church — what a blessing the Renewal Leave was. And YES, I will apply again when I am eligible, and regardless of whether I get another grant, I will take a Renewal leave again!

Monday, October 29, 2007

They Like Jesus But Not The Church

This is the first book that I have read by Dan Kimball, a pastor of a church for emerging Christians in Santa Cruz, California; it probably won't be my last --- BUT, I struggled with many of his theological conclusions.

The first third of the book was right on target. Dan challenges us to listen to those in the emerging generation (under 35) because for the most part, they don't like the church. What is fascinating is listening to the voices of that generation that he shares with us --- that may be the most important part of the book. The other thing that he does really well is remind all of us that we are living in a post-christian era, helping us to understand what that looks like, and gives us some basic tools to bridge that divide. For those two things alone the book is well worth it.

On the annoying side, Dan is constantly trying not to piss off the evangelical wing of the church. He apologizes over and over again, and it gets annoying. At some point we have to say, this is what I believe, this is why, and I am sorry if you disagree --- instead of trying to sooth them over and not get them angry.
The thing that I am going to take from this book is found in a box on page 20 and is really his theme. The church must stop having a mission team and recognize that we have to be missional 24/7.

Throughout this book, you will see the term missional. To be missional is more than just to evangelize. Here are some ways of thinking of this term as the underlying philosophy of this book:
  • Being missional means that the church sees itself as being missionaries, rather than having a mission department, and that we see ourselves as missionaries right where we live.
  • Being missional means that we see ourselves as representatives of Jesus "sent" into our communities, and that the church aligns everything it does with the missio dei (mission of God.)
  • Being missional means we see the church not as a place we go only on Sunday, but as something we are throughout the week.
  • Being missional means that we understand that we don't "bring Jesus" to people but that we realize that Jesus is active in culture and we join him in what he is doing.
  • Being missional means we are very much in the world and engaged in culture but we are not conforming to the world.
  • Being missional means we serve our communities, and that we build relationships with the people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelistic targets.
  • Being missional means being all the more dependent on Jesus and the Spirit through prayer, the Scriptures, and each other in community.
Where I differ with Kimball is what that looks like in the 21st century. Parts 2 and 3 drove me crazy. I would live to sit down with Dan and really here his thoughts. His explanation of how the church is a bride and not a boy's club was a cop out. His understanding of of the church being homophobic is right on --- his solution was ridiculous. But the two "issues" that he addressed that were downright stupid was his understanding of the church being the only way, and his understanding of scripture. His diagram on pages 173 - 175 show no real understanding of other religious traditions. And his attempt to try and pretend that he really isn't a fundamentalist just shows how crazy the church can become.

Despite all that --- I would still recommend the book, especially if you are farther to the "right" than I am, I think you will get a lot out of it. But even if you are more progressive than me, there are still many things of value to be found within Dan Kimball's work.

Steve Berry --- The Third Secret

I think that I have written in the past about other Steve Berry books that I have read. This is my third Berry book, having read The Alexandria Link, and The Templar Legacy; both were fun, thrilling, engaging books. This evening I finished The Third Secret, again in the typical Steve Berry vain, a thriller based at the Vatican.

The story revolves around the "third secret" from the children who saw the visions of the virgin Mary at Fatima for 6 consecutive months on the 13day of each month. The first two "secrets" were revealed right away --- the first was a vision of hell:

Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent. This vision lasted but an instant. How can we ever be grateful enough to our kind heavenly Mother, who had already prepared us by promising, in the first Apparition, to take us to heaven. Otherwise, I think we would have died of fear and terror.

The second secret concerned the convertions of Russia to the Roman Catholic faith:
You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace. The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illumined by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the church. The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.
The third secret was not revealed until June 26th 2000 --- part of the controversy questions whether that was really the secret. Hence the premise of the book. What makes this all the more interesting is if you decide to do a little more research into the secrets of Fatima --- you find that Cardinal Ratzinger (now the Pope) was a major player in its release.

The mystery is fun and intense, however, I have to admit that the secret was a little far fetched. I could believe that part of it might have been true, but it went too far. The weird thing is, as I read, I was convinced that I had read this before, or at least that I have read another book with a similar plot.

If you are looking for a fun religious mystery -- this is a great book for you!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Do People Believe the Bible Stories Are Literal?

That is the question that George Barna asked in a recent poll.
Survey respondents were asked if they thought a specific story in the Bible was “literally true, meaning it happened exactly as described in the Bible” or whether they thought the story was "meant to illustrate a principle but is not to be taken literally." Six renowned Bible stories were then offered to adults for their consideration.
The six stories they asked about were: the crucifixion and resurrection, Moses parting the Red Sea, Peter walking on the water, God creating the universe in six days, Daniel in the lion's den, and David killing Goliath.

The results were predictable. A majority of people responded that they believed the stories were literally true.

But that creates some interesting follow-up questions. What if the Barna Group had asked them what takes place in those stories that they "literally" believe in. Since even the biblical record is not consistent in almost all of those stories --- how would they answer. Would they answer with the biblical version of the crossing of the "red" or is it "reed" sea, or would they give us Cecil B. DeMille's version?

Who would find Jesus at the tomb? Which version would they pick. And which creation story would they follow --- Genesis 1 or Genesis 2.

The sad reality is --- Many people say they believe in the Bible literally, but they have never read it --- or if they have it has only been devotionally, but not critically.

Maybe that is why Barna reached the conclusion that he did:
But Barna also noted a significant disconnect between faith and practice. "While the level of literal acceptance of these Bible stories is nothing short of astonishing given our cultural context, the widespread embrace of these accounts raises questions about the unmistakable gap between belief and behavior. On the one hand we have tens of millions of people who view these narratives as reflections of the reality, the authority and the involvement of God in our lives. On the other hand, a majority of those same people harbor a stubborn indifference toward God and His desire to have intimacy with them. In fact, a minority of the people who believe these stories to be true consistently apply the principles imbedded in these stories within their own lives. It seems that millions of Americans believe the Bible content is true, but are not willing to translate those stories into action. Sadly, for many people, the Bible has become a respected but impersonal religious history lesson that stays removed from their life."
Maybe it is time that we quit saying we believe and really start figuring out what we believe, and what the bible really teaches.

Just a thought. But unfortunately I know the truth --- for many people it is easier to ignore the questions, or if they are good and pious, they just accept the party line and don't think for themselves.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I Don't know

OK, I don't know why I did it. I know better, but sometimes we just can't help themselves. Especially whey you get seduced.

Yep, that's right --- seduced.

Yesterday we got a new dog. I Shih Tzu puppy that we have named Ezekiel. We are going to call him Zeke. He is 5 or 6 pounds right now, but should get up to about 1o or 12. He slept with Lindsey (on her bed) and this morning he is with me while everyone is off to school.
He is afraid of stairs right now. That won't take long to overcome. So while I am down here working on my class for tonight and writing my blog he is still upstairs. He complained a bit when I can down, but within a couple of minutes he quited down, and I assume has decided to take a little nap. Oh to be a dog!

I am sure one of the reasons that we got him was because my week was so lousy! Friday night my car got broken into in front of my house and my $1,000 digital camera was stolen. Today I get to deal with the fun of getting the window replaced. I also have to fax the receipts off to the insurance company for the camera. And that was just the weekend! I don't even want to think about earlier in the week.

I hate not having my camera to take lots of pictures of Zeke (who I keep calling Zephie, although he looks nothing like him.) I will have to find the old Nikon 5700 and use it until I can replace my 8800. I will probably go with a SLR, maybe the Nikon D40x.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


I don't know about you, but sometimes I have just had enough. Enough of the petty bickering. Enough of the egos that aren't willing to see the big picture. Enough of the superstitious bs. Maybe it was because I had gotten a flu shot this morning, maybe it was the "garbage" that was waiting for me when I got back to the church???

Whatever it was, that was me this morning. I was fed up to my eyebrows --- I had enough of "the church" to last a lifetime, and wasn't sure that I wanted any more. Becoming a plumber was sounding pretty good, since we often did much the same kind of work (you will have to use your imagination.)

And then I got the nicest card. I am still not sure why, but it sure came at a good time. Thanks Sarah, your act of kindness went a long way for me today.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Karen Armstrong --- Religion not the problem

One of the blogs that I try to read on a daily basis is Bruce Feiler's. Feiler is the author of: Walking the Bible, Abraham, Where God Was Born. All three of them are worth reading, I think that I have read Walking the Bible at least twice.

In his latest blog, Feiler is directing his readers to an interview of Karen Armstrong that was in Islamica Magazine. Karen Armstrong, former Catholic Nun, is the author of some of the most thought provoking books on the monotheistic religions ever written. A History of God, and Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths are wonderful books. Her autobiographical The Spiral Staircase is especially revealing. I would recommend them all, and I look forward to digging into her newest book The Bible: A Biography.

The interview of Karen Armstrong looks at the issues that separate Christianity/Judaism from Islam --- East from West. If you want some insights into the divide, this interview will be a great help.

At the same time it is very humbling, because she puts much of the blame for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism squarely on the shoulders of the west. (I personally think that she is right on in her assessment.)

If you would like to read Feiler's blog:
Or for the Armstrong interview:

Jesus For The Non Religious

As many of you know, I call myself a "Progressive Christian." Trying to put meat around exactly what that means is not always easy. I consider myself a disciple of the teachings of Marcus Borg, and feel that he has really opened up to me the questions that I have wrestled with for years. I have also been enamored with the writings of John Shelby Spong, but put off by his inability to reconstruct a modern theology.

Spong is like most of us, much better at de-constructing the theology of the past (which does not work for me), but he has always left me short. O.K., what do I replace it with.

FINALLY, Bishop Spong has written his most important work. It is not one for the faint of heart (or afraid of the quest) for he spends the first 2/3rds of the book destroying traditional Christianity. He acknowledges in the preface that many who are tied to traditional Christianity will see this work as negative. As he puts it: "New truth always offends the security systems that have operated in the world of yesterday."

I found in the book — freedom — freedom to truly experience God through Jesus.

For me, the notion of a theistic God (a God who is "up there", listening and interjecting into daily life) doesn’t work. I have outlined that position many times before, but to put it simply, I cannot any longer believe in a God who acts on a whim to save some from disaster and neglect others from another disaster. A God who can be coerced through prayer is not a God to me.

So what is the role and function, what is the purpose of God? Spong spends the last part of his book creating a theology that erupts from the work of Tillich and his understanding of God as "the ground of all being." He also brings to the front Matthew Fox’s works, particularly "Original Blessing."

He concludes his book with a poem, written for him, based on a sermon that he had preached in 1974. The poem CHRISTPOWER is powerful indeed.

Is Christianity dying as Spong argues? That is a difficult question to answer, but if it is to become more rigid, more narrow, more legalistic as the right would have it become — I want nothing to do with it. Instead I embrace the love that Jesus showed and shared.

Spong writes:

The call of the God experienced in Christ is simply a call to be all that each of us is — a call to offer, through the being of our humanity, the gift of God to all people by building a world in which everyone can live more fully, love more wastefully and have the courage to be all that they can be. That is how we live out the presence of God. God is about living, about loving and about being. The call of Jesus is thus not a call to be religious. It is not a call to escape life’s traumas, to find security, to possess peach of mind. All those things are invitations to a life-contracting idolatry. The call of God through Jesus is a call to be fully human, to embrace insecurity without building protective fences, o accept the absence of peace of mind as a requirement of humanity. It is to see that God is the experience of life, love and being who is met at the edges of an expanded humanity.
Clearly, this book isn’t for everyone. If you are still clinging to a theistic notion of God, Spong will probably offend you. But if theism doesn’t work for you anymore, and the church seems to be barking up the wrong tree, take a look at what Spong has to say. I think that he really does offer hope to the majority who have given up (or are giving up) on traditional Christianity.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ghost Riders

My father, who never reads novels, has been after me for a while to read Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. In this last year ha has taken up the reading of novels, and has been reading everything by Ms McCrumb.

Ghost Riders is set in North Carolina, bopping back and forth from the 1860's to today. It is a story about the Civil War in the North Carolina mountains, and the effects that the war continues to have today. This is what you might want to call "historical fiction" since the setting of the story is very real, as are the main characters: Zebulon Vance and Keith and Malinda Blalock. She does a great job blending their stories to make a powerful message about war. Malinda's comment in the book is one that we can learn from today: "wars are easier to start than they are to stop."

But for me, the most interesting part of the book was the discussion on how war had changed. Zeb Vance was distraught at the way some confederates killed innocent men and boys, and even more distraught at the lack of interest in the issue from the war department. McCrumb has Vance quoting letters from Lord Cornwallis during the revolutionary war --- demanding that soldiers who burned civilian homes be brought to justice, he also quotes Robert E. Lee right before Gettysburg, when he demanded that his troops not wage war on civilians. Unfortunately in the mountains of North Carolina, those requests fell on deaf ears. There was no civility in the Civil War in the Appalachian Mountains.

I have to admit, that I am a student of the Civil War. I have close to 400 books on the war, and part of my desire to study in the south was to learn more about this war that has never really ended. Nancy's family farm was part of Sherman's encampment just outside Newton Grove, NC (battle of Bentonville). That certainly attracted me to this book. I also was very aware of the towns and places that are the settings for this story.

If you want a good, complex story (or many stories --- since she weaves together 4 or 5 story lines) I would highly recommend Ghost Riders. It was quick and enjoyable reading.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


This morning was the 30th running of the Chicago Marathon. Both Nancy and my niece Casey were running. As we were driving downtown this morning, I was hoping that Nancy would not look at the temperature that the van was showing --- but we both knew that it would be hot.

Nancy had no problems with her leg -- that is the good news, the heat and humidity was another story. I have never seen so many people walking or taken off the course. It was unbelievable! Shortly after we saw Nancy for the last time (just past the 40k mark) she was told to walk, because the race was being canceled. She ended up finishing --- which maybe is the big accomplishment. If they kept records, this would go down as the slowest marathon in history.

Casey did not get to finish, at some point she was directed off the course (in the Pilsen neighborhood) and she went and found her mom. I understand that she felt good, and said she was disappointed that they would not let her finish the race. That has too be hard, when you have worked and trained so hard.

Next up for Nancy is BOSTON!
More pictures on my flickr site.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Becoming a Christian

One of the challenges in my life is that I read way too much. I am always in the middle of four or five books, and they run the gamut from novels to theology to history (boring books is what my daughter says). I have an insatiable appetite to learn. And I often assume, that others have that same appetite as well. I know who to blame! My parents both read, and read and read. As a matter of fact, they have been known to feed my addiction by passing books along to me. But why is that a challenge to me?

Because the truth is, sometimes I run too far ahead of others, and assume that you are reading and learning in the same way I am — or for that matter that you even care about some of the stuff that I am exploring. So I need your help — when I run too fast or far ahead — tell me to slow down!

I shared last night at Bible 101, that my goal is to help you develop a faith that has integrity — a faith that you live with your mind and heart. Not a faith that is blindly obedient — not a faith that says it assents to belief in one thing, but does not live it out. A faith that seeks to truly follow the example of Jesus Christ. And I know that you don’t develop that kind of faith overnight. It takes work, it takes struggle, it takes honesty. I hope that you will join a Bible Study or small group so that you can grow in your faith journey. You can’t do it in one hour a week!

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Emerging Christian Way

I am in the midst of a number of books right now, and a couple of them are really profound. I am close to finishing Jesus For the Non Religious which just might be the most significant book that I have read in a long time. I will blog more about it when I finish it.

The book that I recently finished is The Emerging Christian Way. It is a collection of articles and stories by persons who are engaged in helping to bring transformation to Christianity. Many of the authors were from the Church of Canada, which I found intreging. Five of the 15 authors really challenged me. The articles by Matthew Fox, Marcus Borg, Bruce Sanguin, Anne Squire and Bill Phipps really hit home.

When I began the book, I thought that it might be a great introduction to Progressive Christianity, but the quality of the articles very so much that I don't think that is true. If you are just beginning your journey in Progressive Christianity, I would hold off on this book, or just read the articles I suggested above ---> if however, you are well on your way to seeing Jesus in a new way, this book might further you on your journey. There are better books, that are more consistent in their approach that would be of more value to many. Books such as: What if Grace Were True, anything by Marcus Borg, or selected books by Bishop Spong.

Happy reading!

Time to go RUN

Tomorrow is the Chicago Marathon and Nancy will be running in it for the fourth time. I love watching the race because it is so unique in sport --- everyone cheers and encourages everyone else. Everyone who runs is a WINNER, but not at the expense of a loser. Everyone wins. It is too cool.

If you can, come downtown and cheer on the racers. Nancy will be running and you can track her progress here:

What is cool is Casey Conger, my 19 year old niece who is a student at De Paul University in Chicago is also running.

I am able to spot Nancy about 5 times during the race, I hope that I am able to find Casey as well. I will put some pictures up as soon as the race is over.

TOO Quiet!

Mondays are my days off, and I am at home cleaning the basement and waiting for a service man to come. Every time I go upstairs I have this strange feeling. Because, every time I would head upstairs, I would be followed by the jingle of Zephie. Today is my first day at home alone without Zephie. It is amazing how such a little animal can provide so much comfort.

I am trying to focus in on some stuff that I need to get done, but the quiet is overwhelming. Strange, sometimes I long for peace and quiet --- and can't get it; now that I have it --- I don't want it!

Last year on October 1st I was taking it easy in Israel because it was Yom Kippur, the most holy day in the Jewish calendar. Today is the day that the people are reconciled with God. It was a strange day to be in Israel, but I am glad I had the opportunity.

It is funny how I am drawn to that crazy place. I am not sure what it is about Israel that keeps drawing me back --- every time that I go, I think that it will be my last one. This trip that I am taking in December will probably be the last one that I lead for 3 or 4 years (I think I have said that before) but the opportunity to travel will get increasingly difficult in the coming years and 2010 is Oberammergau, which I will probably organize a trip to. But to be honest, I really have no interest in seeing the Passion Play. Too much violence has come out of that production.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Great Blog!

I don't normally print somebody else's blog, but I want to do that today. I hope that you will join me in writting the President.

Thursday, September 27, 2007
What Happened to You, Mr. President? (by Jim Wallis)

Dear Mr. President,

When I first heard that you were vowing to veto a bipartisan bill to expand child health care, my immediate thought was more personal than political: What has happened to you?

I vividly remember a call at the office, only one day after your election had been secured. It was an invitation to come to Austin to meet you and to discuss with a small group of religious leaders your vision for "faith-based initiatives" and your passion for doing something on poverty. I had not voted for you (which was no secret or surprise to your staff or to you), but you were reaching out to many of us in the faith community across the political spectrum who cared about poverty. I was impressed by that, and by the topic of the Austin meeting.

We all filed into a little Sunday school classroom at First Baptist, Austin. I had actually preached there before, and the pastor told me how puzzled he was that his "progressive" church was chosen for this meeting. You were reaching out. About 25 of us were sitting together chatting, not knowing what to expect, when you simply walked in without any great introduction. You sat down and told us you just wanted to listen to our concerns and ideas of how to really deal with poverty in America.

And you did listen, more than presidents often do. You asked us questions. One was, "How do I speak to the soul of America?" I remember answering that one by saying to focus on the children. Their plight is our shame and their promise is our future. Reach them and you reach our soul. You nodded in agreement. The conversation was rich and deep for an hour and a half.

Then when we officially broke, you moved around the room and talked with us one-on-one or in small groups for another hour. I could see your staff was anxious to whisk you away (you were in the middle of making cabinet appointments that week and there were key departments yet to fill). Yet you lingered and kept asking questions. I remember you asking me, Jim, I don't understand poor people. I've never lived with poor people or been around poor people much. I don't understand what they think and feel about a lot of things. I'm just a white Republican guy who doesn't get it. How do I get it? I still recall the intense and sincere look on your face as you looked me right in the eyes and asked your heartfelt question. It was a moment of humility and candor that, frankly, we don't often see with presidents.

I responded by saying that you had to listen to poor people themselves and pay attention to those who do live and work with the poor. It was a simple answer, but again you were nodding your head. I told my wife, Joy, also a clergyperson, about our conversation. Weeks later, we listened to your first inaugural address. When you said,
America, at its best, is compassionate. In the quiet of American conscience, we
know that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of our nation's promise. And
whatever our views of its cause, we can agree that children at risk are not at
fault ... many in our country do not know the pain of poverty, but we can listen
to those who do,

my wife poked me in the ribs and smiled. In fact, you talked more about poverty than any president had for a long time in his inaugural addresses—and I said so in a newspaper column afterward (much to the chagrin of Democratic friends). They also didn't like the fact that I started going to other meetings at the White House with you or your staff about how to best do a "faith-based initiative," or that some of my personal friends were appointed to lead and staff your new Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives at the White House. We brought many delegations of religious leaders, again from across the political spectrum, to meet with representatives of that office. Some of us hoped that something new might be in the air.

But that was a long time ago. We don't hear much about that office or initiative anymore. Most of my friends have long left. I don't hear about meetings now. And nobody speaks anymore about this new concept you named "compassionate conservatism." And now, you promise to veto a strongly bipartisan measure to expand health insurance for low-income children. Most of your expressed objections to the bill have been vigorously refuted by Republican senators who helped craft the bill and support it passionately. They vow to try and override your veto. During your first campaign, you chided conservative House Republicans for tax and spending cuts accomplished on the backs of the poor. Now Congressional Republicans are chiding you.

What happened to you, Mr. President? The money needed for expanding health care to poor children in America is far less than the money that has been lost and wasted on corruption in Iraq. How have your priorities stayed so far from those children, whom you once agreed were so central to the soul of the nation? What do they need to do to get your attention again? You will be literally barraged by the religious community across the political spectrum this week, imploring you not to veto children's health care. I would just ask you to take your mind back to a little meeting in a Baptist Sunday school classroom, not far away from where you grew up. Remember that day, what we all talked about, what was on your heart, and how much hope there was in the room. Mr. President, recall that day, take a breath, and say a prayer before you decide to turn away from the children who are so important to our nation's soul and to yours.

God bless you,

Jim Wallis

Take action:
+ Click here to ask President Bush what happened to his "compassionate conservatism" - and urge that he sign this bill.

posted by God's Politics @ 10:04 AM

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Why is that such a hard thing to do?

Somewhere along the way in our genetic structure is seems that their is a breakdown in our ability to truly communicate with one another. We think we say one thing, somebody hears something totally different. It's weird how that happens. Even if the disputed item is recorded, many times we cannot get over what we perceived that we heard.

Sometimes this is over BIG issues, other times it is over nothing of consequence.

We faced that this week at the church. The Education Team decided to dispose of some old wooden chairs, two people ended up giving them away. Who was suppose to make the arrangements --- my hunch is, it depends on who you ask. Both thought they were doing a good thing. Unfortunately, a group of people came to pick them up, and the office found out that they were gone --- oops!

And, why is it also hard for us to dialog with those we don't understand? Are we afraid of what they might say, afraid that they may challenge our own views and we might need to change?

Just some wayward ramblings this morning.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thanks Zephie!

Six years ago, after much pushing and prodding, the girls and I convinced Nancy to let us get a dog. After many trips to the various Human Societies in the area, we came home with a one year old Shitzu. We named him Zephaniah --- Zephie for short.

For the first couple of years of living with the Conger's he wasn't much of a dog --- he was more like a cat. He didn't like sitting on your lap, or coming when called --- instead when he wanted attention he would come and get it from you, but when he was done, he was done! That didn't matter, we loved him all the same, and eventually he became a real loving, affectionate dog.

When I would come home from the church, Zephie would run at me and leap into my arms (the girls say that isn't true, but I know it is!). Every day Zephie and I would go for a 2 - 3 mile walk, it was our ritual, our special time together.

Back in early June, Zephie, almost overnight started to get sick. He would cough and wheeze and be unable to get his breath. When I took him to the Vet, he told me that he had congestive heart failure --- he also reminded me that he had been telling me for 6 years that Zephie had a heart murmur (I never thought anything of it --- now I know what he was trying to tell me.) Overnight, Zephie went from a dog who would walk 3 miles and when we got home want to play, to a dog who could not talk around the block.

Thanks to medicines we were able to regulate the problem, but it seemed like every couple of weeks would would have to increase the dosage. Two weeks ago, Zephie got real bad --- I took him to the Vet and she asked me if I was ready to put him down. I knew that it was coming but I wasn't ready. We gave him all kinds of shots, and even more pills, so that we could let Jessica come home to see him one more time.

Jessica was here this weekend, and yesterday, Zephie was his old self (I am sure the extra pills that I was giving didn't hurt). She got to spend some wonderful time with him, and for that I am thankful.

In a few minutes, I am going to take him on a walk, as far as he wants to go --- we loved our walks together --- and then I am taking him to Dr Matthews so that he can be at peace. Dr. Matthews is a wonderful Vet --- he is truly a Dr Doolittle, and he will let me hold Zephie as we say goodbye to him.

To say that Zephie has been my friend is not enough. He has loved me unconditionally from the day that we brought him home. I am going to miss you my friend!
Here are some pictures of Zephie over the years.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Marathons and Stress Fractures

Nancy is planning on running in her fifth Chicago Marathon in a couple of weeks. And as a result of her fantastic time last year in the Chicago Marathon, (she finished in 3:55) she qualified, and is registered to run in the 112th Boston Marathon in April of 2008.

A couple of years ago, as she was getting close to the race, Nancy felt something wrong in her leg, only to discover that she had a stress fracture. The ortho doctor (who was not a sports medicine doctor) thought that she was nuts for running marathons and told her not to run.

Well, last Friday, after Nancy finished her 20 mile long run for the week, had the same feeling she had before. She was pretty convinced that she once again had a stress fracture. She tried to call the doctor she saw before, but she was not available. I got in contact with Dr Lorin Brown, a ortho doctor who specializes in sports injuries, especially with children and youth. He saw Nancy on Wednesday, and after looking at her was also convinced that she has a stress fracture.

However, instead of ruling out the marathon in 2 weeks, he put an air cast on her leg, told her to run in a pool, and take it easy for the next two weeks, but that she could still run in Chicago on the 7th of October. When you train for something for 6 months, to find out that you might not be able to complete what you have been working for is disheartening. So, finding out that she could still run made her feel great (scared, but great!)
She ran in the Holloway's pool this afternoon, and is going to test the leg in a short run next week --- so keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Purdue Calumet

Last night at Sunset --- Rosh Hashana began, last year I was in Jerusalem and went to an awesome synagogue service. This year, Rabbi Steven's asked me if I would fill in for him and teach his class at Purdue Calumet. The class is The Bible As Literature (Old Testament). Today was their first day actually looking at the scripture and we studied Genesis 1-11.

It was an amazing experience. I love teaching at the church, and thought I would enjoy teaching college age students, but even I was surprised at how much fun it was. About half the class were clearly taking it because I imagine it is a pretty easy grade --- the other half were really engaged in the class. I had a hard time getting the class to talk at first, but (my Disciple classes will enjoy this) I broke them into three small groups and forced at least a larger group to talk. We ended up having a great discussion.

I hope I get the chance to do it again!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


What an interesting afternoon. First, when I got back from lunch I had an email from a visitor to Ridge Church on Sunday. She was upset with Jeff's sermon because it seemed to suggest that Hindu people might be in relationship with God. Just think of what she would have thought about my sermon 2 weeks ago ( I emailed her back offering to meet with her and her husband to share what I believe about God, and Jesus. I am anxious to hear her response.

But that was not a real big deal --- UNTIL --- until Heather forwarded me an article from Leadership ( The article is titled THE REAL WORSHIP WAR, and from the title I almost didn't read it. I am glad I did because this is a powerful and provocative article.

While too often we are busy arguing about worship (style, music, coffee breaks, etc), we are forgetting the whole reason why we come together to worship. Mark Labberton writes: "It's worship as consumption rather than offering." He goes on:
our worship practices are separated from our call to justice and, worse, foster the self-indulgent tendencies of our culture rather than nurturing the self-sacrificing life of the kingdom of God.
Unfortunately he is right, of course. Once upon a time, I used to fuss and fume and lie awake at night, thinking that I wasn't believing the right things. Today, I wrestle with God, not over belief, but over practice --- mine and the church that I am called to lead.
Our community reputation, . . . should be that the church comprises those who pursue justice for the oppressed because that is what it means to be Christ's body in the world. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that it's enough to feel drawn to the heart of God without our lives showing the heart of God.
Thanks Mark! I only hope I can live that way!

Thursday, September 06, 2007


I don't know how many of you got the e-mail about the Dunkin Donuts in the past week or so. My copy arrived Tuesday night. As soon as I read it, I knew if for what it was. A crock! Come on folks, if some military personnel were denied service in a restaurant, they wouldn't be telling a secretary at a High School, they would be telling the newspapers and the police. The Northwest Indiana Times has really covered this story the last two days you can go and look the e-mail up there.

But this whole affair poses an interesting question: Why are we so gullible? And it's not just urban legend stuff like the Dunkin Donut affair. We are gullible when it comes to religion, politics, you name it. As long as it is in print, somebody will believe it.

When I reflect on 2,000 years of Christian Church history, this story is played over and over again. Go to most churches on Sunday morning, and the mythology is taught as fact. (That should get some of you talking).

My favorites, however, are the e-mails that (sometimes) contain wonderful stories, but always end pretty much the same way: "send this to 10 friends in the next 1 hour and you will receive a great blessing in the next week, delete this and you will have 1 year of bad things happen." Does anybody really believe that garbage? The sad part is, when I see that at the end of a powerful story, it throws the whole story into question.

As we get to the politics of election 2008 it is amazing what we will receive from family and friends that tell us the truth about various politicians (like the one I received about Barack Obama and his ancestors). We need to look with a critical eye at all this "stuff" as we try to find the truth in it.

Ask questions, inquire, THINK --- the good news is God gave you a brain and the ability to seek out the truth --- wrestle with things people send you before you hastily send them off to someone else.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Alex Cross

OK, I admit it, I am a sucker for James Patterson's Alex Cross books. I have read/listened to almost all of them, and am trying to catch up on the ones that I have missed. While walking the dog, I have been listening to The Big Bad Wolf. It is in many ways typical Patterson, great action, suspense --- BUT, the interesting thing about this book is how it ends, or rather doesn't end. Many things are left up in the air, but I am not going to tell you. You will have to read for yourself. If you are looking for a good novel -- James Patterson's books will certainly fit the bill.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Couple more books

I finished a couple of other books this past week. They are a rather eclectic lot. One was an audio book about golf, the other is Malcom Gladwell's second book BLINK.

I found BLINK to be better than Gladwell's first book, The Tipping Point. That book seemed to make so many leaps that it drove me crazy at times. Blink deals with the issue of rapid cognition. How people make decisions, or maybe I should say could make decisions in a matter of seconds. The section that dealt with psychologist John Gottman was the most fascinating. He claims that he can, with 95% accuracy determine whether a couple will stay together for 15 years. While the interview he does takes an hour, he suggests that he can make his determination in a much smaller amount of time.

We all make snap decisions, can we really train ourselves so that we can understand what we are doing and use that to our benefit? Fascinating book.

But what sold me on the book was his reason for writing it. Unfortunately, he does not share that until the very end. I don't want to spoil it, but it would have been helpful to have known his motivation a bit earlier.

The second book (audio book) was in many ways similar, even though it focused on how to become a better golfer. Putting Like A Genius, by Dr Bob Rotella is slow and redundant, and he is not a very engaging speaker, but he does offer some great tips to help one putt better, and we can all use help with our putting! Overall, his approach is much like Gladwell's --- trust your yourself, and don't think too much. If only it was that easy.

Rotella tells you how to tune out extraneous factors such as anger, fear and other emotional responses that often cause you to leave the ball short or run it by the hole. Rotella's tips feature a series of exercises and techniques that will help you visualize success on the green.