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.