Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Books

This is kind of a fun way to share what I am reading these days. I am in the middle of my usual 3 or 4 books (some of which I may never finish). But I have just recently completed two.

The first is a Tami Hoag novel. I had never read her before last summer, but I really enjoy her police mysteries. I found a couple of her books at the church rummage sale, and finally decided to take a few days to read one of them. DUST TO DUST is a great story set in Minnesota, centering around the deaths of a number of police officers. We are taken all over the place, as a number of different stories weave together to fill the book and our minds.

Sam Kovak the main character in the book is trying to put the heat on someone he thinks might be the murderer. He believes that guilt will bring a confession out of him. I just loved this exchange:

"Don't we all harbor guilt for something? We carry it around our whole lives like ballast. Something to weigh us down and keep us from reaching for true happiness. It reminds us that we're not worthy, gives us an excuse to underachieve."
I think she nailed it on the head. Way too many of us carry too much guilt that keeps us from becoming all that we could be.

The book ended fairly predictably, but with one pretty good twist. The ending wasn't what I was hoping for. Overall, it was a great read and a fun book.

The second book that I recently finished is totally different. Elaine Pagels and Karen King: Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, is a fascinating look at the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, and how it helps us to understand the dynamics that were taking place in the early church.

The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 is a look at what this Gospel can teach us about early Christianity and the developing Christian culture. It was excellent. They do a great job taking a very complex study and making it understandable and digestible. Part 2 is another story. This is the actual Gospel, along with comments on the translation. The translation and the comments are very difficult and confusing reading. It took the book, which in part one was written for a more general audience and moved it into the academic world. I really struggled to get through it.

I would recommend the first half of the book, but you might want to just skip the second half and trust that they really did their homework.

Summer is almost here!

Tomorrow is the first day of summer. The greatest day of the year when you are a kid. Greater than Christmas even, because it means NO SCHOOL. How I long for those days!

When I came to Ridge Church 9 years ago (yes, I am starting my tenth year at Ridge), Nancy my wonderful administrative assistant was cluing me in about the church. She said, summer is a little quiet around here. I am sure at times she longs for those days when you could clean out files, enjoy the peace and quiet and just do nothing!

Those days are long gone. Yesterday at our staff meeting we began putting together the meat around the bones of two exciting ministries that will take place at Ridge Church.

The first is RIDGE FEST 07. On Sunday, August 26th, we will kick off the school year by having a huge party. Jeff and I will begin a sermon series that will look at the neighbors who live around us, and what they believe. We are hoping to get some interviews with religious leaders from the Jewish, Hindu and Muslim communities. I am really excited about what we can learn, and how we can engage our neighbors. But that is just the beginning. On Sunday afternoon, we will have a huge party --- we are working on getting a live band, dunk tank (I am told that I will be the target), moonwalk, bingo, kid's games and of course FOOD, lots and lots of food. Sounds like it will be a great way to start the year.

The other big project we are working on is WWE@Ridge which is not a website, but a ministry night. Wednesday evenings this fall will be filled with opportunities for the whole family. We are planning Adult studies, Sr High studies, Middle School studies, and classes for our children. And of course, it will all center around FOOD. (We love food at Ridge Church!) I am excited because I will be teaching BIBLE 101 first to an adult class, and then later to the Sr High class. I am working on finding time to teach the Middle School age as well. This spring I will bring back an all new version of WRESTLING WITH GOD --- I can't wait!

Ridge Church is a happening place! And if those things aren't enough --- our 3rd of July festival, the corn sale at the Jazz and Blues Festival, and Vacation Bible School are all around the corner. Those and the Middle School Mission Week, and the Senior High Mission trip to the Gulf Coast will keep us all on our toes!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Building Indiana Magazine

I was asked to write an article for Building Indiana. Below is the article I submitted. If you would like to see the whole magazine, go to :

Somewhere along the way, Christianity developed the idea that the world was evil and Christians were not to be tied to it. That notion would certainly suggest that a clergy person should not be involved with the “secular” community. The Rev. Jerry Falwell (of the moral majority) may have been one of the most vocal advocates for this notion when he said in a sermon on March 21st, 1965:
Believing the Bible as I do, I would find it impossible to stop preaching the pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ and begin doing anything else — including the
fighting of communism, or participating in civil rights reforms. . . . Preachers are called not to be politicians but to be soul winners. (Thomas Road Baptist Church, Lynchburg Virginia)

This idea of the world being evil certainly did not begin with the Jewish Bible (Old Testament) nor with Jesus — both saw the world as intrinsically good, but in need of transformation to reach it’s full potential.

My understanding of religion is quite simple — it’s goal is not to get you into heaven, or enable you to be blessed materially — the goal of religion is to help you develop a relationship with God that will enable you to see the world around you in a new way. The world is not evil, instead God wants us to see the potential that we all have to make the world into the kind of place that God desires. I am not Christian so that I can get into heaven, or become “rich,” which seems to be the motivation for much of the religious right. I am a Christian because Jesus models for me a way of living that seeks justice and a relationship with God for all people.

My passion in life is all about helping people connect in a meaningful relationship with the living God, a God who desires us to learn to live together regardless of our religious tradition. In the fall of 2002, I went to a local bank to open an account, while I was there I met Mike McIntyre the branch manager, we began to talk and Mike invited me to join him the next week at Rotary. I said yes, and he helped, unknowingly, change my life.

Prior to that experience I saw Ridge Church as my parish, but Mike opened up to me a much larger world in which I could share my love for God and maybe, make a difference. From that chance encounter, I joined the Munster Rotary Club, and soon after the Munster Chamber of Commerce and the Munster Education Foundation.

Working with the business community, I am able to see and understand the needs of Northwest Indiana in a better way. I see the poverty and the injustice that exists, but I also see the business leaders who really want to solve those issues, but don’t know how. We don’t always agree on the solutions, but I have come to know and respect great people who want to see, and help create a better world. The wonderful thing is that even though we come from a variety of traditions: Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, Agnostic, it doesn’t matter. Together we can work to make a better world. In the end, isn’t that what we all really want? My God is big enough for us all! Regardless of how we understand the divine, we are all God’s children.

Why did the Munster Chamber of Commerce choose me as their citizen of the year? I don’t know for sure, but it is my hope that I was chosen because they can see my honest attempts to help them navigate the realities of the marketplace and live an authentic relationship with God.

Twenty-five years ago when I was a graduate student at Duke University I was a member of the rebellious culture: long hair, military jacket, sunglasses at night. Some of my friends joke that I sold out, but I don’t think so. I have come to understand that the best way to change the world, is to get to know those who can make the changes; to see the possibilities and to work together to get it done. I am still a revolutionary, just in a whole new way.