Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is Christianity Changing?

One of the e-lists I receive is a weekly mailing by Bishop Spong. Bishop Spong is one of the proponents of a new Christianity. In his most recent mailing he responds to a question asked by a reader. He is asking what Bishop Spong thinks of a new book by Sam Harris (an avoid atheist) which attacks modern Christianity.

Here is Bishop Spong's response:

I think Sam Harris has a great deal to say to America and I am pleased that he is writing. People need to hear the criticism of an honest atheist who is not afraid to speak his mind about what Christianity has come to mean to him. The public face of Christianity in America is already something with which I do not want to be identified. So many people who call themselves Christians are aggressive, hostile, closed minded and insensitive to anyone with whom they disagree. The public face of the Christian Church today is still both anti-female and anti-homosexual. Yesterday the public face of Christianity where I grew up was pro-segregation and anti-black. I reject the Christianity that Sam Harris rejects. The big difference is that I am aware of another and quite different Christianity. Sam Harris does not appear to be so. When I wrote A New Christianity for a New World, I tried to spell out what that different Christianity might look like. I believe it makes for a far greater and richer dialogue to engage the criticism of Sam Harris than to do what so many Christians seem to me to do, namely to search the Scriptures to find a way to give biblical authority to their latest prejudice.

The question is --- are we really moving toward a new form of Christianity, or is Christianity in America simply changing her clothes. I look at the Emerging Church movement and I hear the same comdemnations --- the same self-seeking --- the same zenophobic attitude --- just dressing in 21st Century trappings.

I pray that Ridge Church and others like her can continue to move toward an inclusive faith. One that shares the love of God as learned through Jesus of Nazareth, but listens and learns from others who have encounter the creator God of us all.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Darkest Evening of the Year

I just finished listening to Dean Koontz latest novel: The Darkest Evening of the Year. This is only the second Koontz book I have read/listened to, and I have gotten the impression from various peoples reviews that this is not typical Koontz. (It is to me . . . )

It is the story about Amy Redwing who runs a dog rescue business for Golden Retrevers. I am a dog lover so I could connect with Amy very quickly and her deep compassion for dogs. The first half of the book is all about Amy and her dogs along with a budding relationship that she is developing with Brian McCarthy (a up and coming architec). As I listened I kept wondering where this was all going to go.

At the same time there was another story going on about some very evil people. They both regarded humans as mearly machines or toys to play with. Killing was not simply an obsession --- it was more than that.

When Amy tells the story of her first dog --- and the dog's resulting death --- you know that Dean Koontz has lost a dog that he dearly loved! That part of the story was worth the entire read. But it is far from over.

In the second half of the book, the twisted pasts of Amy and Brian all come into play as Koontz spins a great story.

The ending was predicatable on one level, but totally unexpected on another. And the spirituality that Amy and Brian encountered is worth exploring in another story.

One reviewer put it this way:

The story's conclusion was set up to be tense, feeding from the inevitable threads that were pulling together--and then it seemed to fall flat. We get a hurried last chapter or two, plus an epilogue of sorts that explains everything. The order of events wasn't my problem, so much as the rushed feel of them. In the end, the magic fell apart for me and changed my thinking from "Wow, one of Koontz's best ever" to "Wow, that was a little disappointing." If you're a Koontz fan, this has everything you expect from him and more, just don't hold your breath for a gripping ending, unless you too share a beyond-average affection for our canine friends.

If you like mysteries, and a little supernatural mixed in --- this is a great book

Monday, January 28, 2008

Catching Up

Wow, I can't believe that it has been two weeks since I last posted. My life has been spinning out of control for the past few weeks, and except for the spinning part --- I think I have gotten most things under control. I woke up with vertigo last Wednesday, and it still hasn't gone away -- so far my doctor hasn't been able to figure it out. But I know what the best cure will be --- I leave for Stetson's Winter Pastor School next Sunday --- if it is not gone before then, it will be after I arrive.

Last week was crazy on the social calendar as well. It really began the week before when we had our first meeting of a book group that we formed with the Kitchell's and Lukoshus'. It was great to get together and dialog about a book.

Last Monday I got up at 3am and headed to Indy to sit with Larry while Lisa had her surgery. The operation took close to 9 hours and was not as successful as we would have hoped. Once Lisa recovers from the surgery she will be facing some lengthy chemotherapy.

Wednesday was Ed Alt's funeral. Boy did he fight hard!

Thursday, Nancy and I went to see MY FAIR LADY in Chicago. It was a part of the Broadway in Chicago series. It was excellent! I did have a hard time understanding some of the dialog, but I blame my ears, not the actors. And their wasn't much chemistry between Prof. Higgins and Eliza --- but that did not take away from the wonderful production!

Friday night we went to see MUSIC MAN at the Genesius Guild in Hammond. Granted it was a blizzard outside and there were maybe 30 people in the audience, but the production stunk! Harold Hill had a wonderful voice but could not act. Marian could act but could not sing --- not a good combination for the lead actors. But Haley was in it along with Shannon and they made it worthwhile! I have posted a few pictures on my flikr site. Check them out.

Today I am playing catchup on worship stuff along with grocery shopping and getting ready for Nominating Committee tonight --- we still have a couple of positions open for this year (like chair of the Administrative Council!). I hope that we get a re-organization plan created for the council, it was totally ineffective last year. I also need to get ready for Staff Parish which is meeting tomorrow night (a week early) because I will be in Florida at it's normal meeting time.

In case you are wondering about my reading lately, since I haven't posted anything; I have been catching up on BAR (Biblical Archeology Review). I am about 18 months behind in reading, so I have just been enjoying a eclectic set of articles about Israel.

But I am also listening to Dean Koonz newest book: The Darkest Evening of the Year. Pretty good so far!

Monday, January 14, 2008


I re-did all of my photos on the Flickr site. They should be easier to look at. I put them into sets related to each place that we visited. I hope it make is better to find things.

Staff Christmas Party

Last Friday, Nancy and I invited the staff to our house for our annual Christmas party. We decided to do it in January a couple of years ago, because everybody is so busy in December. Unfortunately we still ran into some conflicts --- with believe it or not --- another Christmas party. How dare the Town of Munster schedule their party the same time as mine!

We had a great time, sampling a number of different wines. (The winner was 2005 Black Hawk Ridge Tempranillo a wine I got from a wine club I am a member of. This is a great wine with a hint of plum and black pepper.) Kathy once again came up with some great games! And our gift exchange is always fun. Dave Miller got the best gift (HA HA!)

I have a great staff to work with at Ridge Church and we always have a good time --- especially when we can get Al Gore (oops I mean Bill Caddick) to tell us a few stories!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Each year, United Methodist Bishop Woodie W. White writes a “birthday” letter to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about the progress of racial equality in the United States . A former bishop of the Indiana Area now retired and serving as bishop-in-residence at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, White was the first top staff executive of the denomination’s racial equality monitoring agency, the Commission on Religion and Race. King’s birthday is Jan. 15. Americans honor his memory on the third Monday of the month, which will be Jan. 21.

Dear Martin:

April 4, 1968, is a date seared in our collective memory. For many, it is the demarcation of time itself – before and after King. In some ways, it seems so long ago, yet it is so vivid it seems like yesterday.
As we approach the 40th year since your tragic death, the nation is preparing to remember you. Our alma mater, Boston University School of Theology, The School of the Prophets, is planning special services to honor you, our most prominent prophet.
Martin, the racial landscape of America , has changed radically in the past 40 years! You would be utterly astounded at the change. Your heart would rejoice at the evidence of your leadership and that of others. Many of us are still so engaged in the struggle that we do not always see the results of these labors.
Sadly, I am sure that your heart would also break to see the state of many black communities across the nation. It is as though we never marched, protested, or challenged systemic and personal racism. Some communities, schools, and everyday routines are more segregated today than they were 40 years ago.
In this sense, it is still reminiscent of Charles Dickens’ words in his classic work, The Tale Of Two Cities, that these are the best of times and the worst of times. So many people have not been touched by the progress made.
But Martin, I believe that one remarkable change in the past 40 years has not been fully appreciated: a change in the fundamental race ethos of America.
The Civil Rights Movement, our efforts to challenge the old race ethos of America , was born out of a time when black people were denied the basic rights of citizenship. We were denied the simple guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We were second class. In the minds of millions of Americans, we were believed to be subhuman, and were treated so.
As you so aptly observed then, we were defined by the color of our skin and not the content of our character. This was written into the laws and practiced by government itself.
But Martin, rights are not the products of one’s character or extended because they are earned. Rights are guaranteed because of one’s existence - the fruits of citizenship of the nation. Yet these rights were denied to us 40 years ago because we were black, even though we were also Americans.
Martin, I must tell you about a phenomenon taking place. As political parties prepare to nominate a candidate for the U.S. presidential election this year, two of the most prominent candidates are a woman and an African American!
This is not the first time this has occurred. But it is the first time such candidacies have had so little racist and sexist overtones. Indeed, some believe these candidates should receive support because of their gender or race!
This is a fundamental shift in the American ethos. That doesn’t mean racism and sexism are absent from American life, but now they are antithetical to an American ethos, not a reflection of it. Both are illegal today, not written into the law! In this sense, they are considered un-American.
Because my life has been lived in the world of religion and the church, I know this fundamental shift has taken place in the church as well. No longer do clergy justify racist practice or belief based on religion or theology. No sermons are preached today in their name. For the most part, the position of the church is not couched in racism. That would be considered un-Christian.
No church argues today, for instance, that black people are subhuman or do not have a soul, or that God wills they should be enslaved because of their color. Racist belief and practice, even in the church, must be argued on some basis other than religion or theology.
Both state and church finally have it right! The inalienable rights for all is a core value of the state, and the intrinsic worth of human beings is a core value of the church.
In America today, Martin, a person of color can be the head of a Fortune 500 company, a major educational institution or a health-care system. A black person can oversee state and local government and sit in the highest courts of state and nation. And a black person can live anywhere his or her means will allow.
A black person can even run as a serious contender for the highest office in the land – and many would say the most powerful and influential position in the world!
Yet, these rights and advances do not eliminate the fact that some taxi-cab drivers in major American cities still don’t stop to pick up a person of color. And blacks still feel the sting of maltreatment by racist law enforcement officers.
There are still racist employers, supervisors and coworkers who make life difficult and unpredictable for people of color on a daily basis. And Martin, this is true in both state and church.
But these are acts of the heart and mind, not policy and law. Herein is the fundamental change. Of course, the higher positioned such persons are, the more these personal attitudes and acts take on institutional and systemic consequences.
Thus, the battle is not over. Laws must still be enacted to guarantee the rights of all. And laws and policies that have racist consequences, however unintended, must be overturned.
The more challenging task is still before us: to change hearts and attitudes, as well as create a milieu that does not give root to such attitudes in the first place.
Perhaps, the greatest challenge before us in 21st century America, Martin, is to prevent the creation of a permanent underclass that, while not exclusively comprising black Americans, is one in which they are found in too great a number.
So Martin, we remember you on the anniversary of your birth. We thank you for your witness and moral courage. We are still inspired and sustained by your voice and spirit.
Happy birthday!
We shall overcome,


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Back to work

I am finally starting to feel like a human being! Sunday just about killed me, following church I went to the hospital and didn't get home until 3 pm. Then I had Disciple at 6 pm. I tried to come into the office for a little while yesterday (I had a meeting at the chamber office that I had to attend), but could barely function, and Jessica called to let us know that 2 friends were coming for the night (which meant I needed to do some more cleaning). So I went home and paid bills, cleaned up my mess in the basement and vegetated!

I needed it!

Today it is get back into the routine.

It is hard to believe that we have Lent starting in just a few weeks (four weeks from tomorrow is Ash Wednesday!) Way too much to do to get ready for it all, but somehow it always gets done.

I am hoping to go back through the pictures and create a favorites set along with geo-tagging the photos so that you can link them on a map. We will see how soon that happens.

In the nest few weeks I am planning on working on sermon ideas for the summer and fall. Do you have a topic or idea that you would like to share? I always appreciate your help. You can either post it here or drop me an email:

Thanks to everyone who read the blog and looked at the pictures. I was shocked at how many of you followed along with us. Maybe next time you can come and experience it for yourself.

Saturday, January 05, 2008


After an long and arduous trip home, we are safe and sound. It took almost 30 hours from our wake up call to get home! But we arrived. Without too much damage.

Jessica lost her camera bag at O'Hare. We are hoping she left it on the plane, but lost and found isn't open until 9am today. Or if not there, that some good Samaritan would have turned it in to O'Hare's lost and found. A couple of our purchases leaked and one Hebron glass got broken, so overall not too bad. The biggest problem was the bus did not arrive at JFK to take us to LaGuardia, so we were forced to hop in cabs and after having been on the road for 24 hours that was not fun.

Overall, I think the trip was a huge success. I am anxious to talk with everyone after they have had some time to get over their jet lag.

We had an awesome closing communion service in the Garden Tomb --- for many it was the highlight of the trip.

I will get the rest of my pictures up shortly.

Thanks for keep up with us --- We knew you were with us!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Packed Up

Well, I have just finished packing up my stuff. I wore every piece of clothing I brought, except one sock (who's mate got lost!). The weather was fantastic, no rain, no bad days. Everything was great. We ended the trip with a wonderful communion service at the Garden Tomb --- a very peaceful and beautiful place in a crazy yet wonderful city.

It is 9:15 p.m. here (1:15 pm at home) and we have a wake up call set for 1 am. I am going to take a quick shower and try to sleep for a couple of hours. I will be a long trip home. We are scheduled to arrive at O'Hare at 9:00 pm Friday night.

They have Internet at both the Tel Aviv and the Istanbul airports so I will get today's pictures on line while we wait for our planes.

See you all on Sunday!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

What a crazy day!

The day began by us heading up to the Mount of Olives for the obligatory group picture and camel riding adventure --- but it was interrupted when Lindsey and Jessica almost caused an international incident. Jessica was trying to buy some postcards (30 for $1), and Lindsey was going to get a poster of Jerusalem (also $1). While they were getting their money out another peddler tried to get in on the action and began a fight with the first peddler. When the smoke cleared their was postcards blowing in the wind, posters all over the place, one peddler bleeding above his eye and the other being restrained by the police. Remember this was over $2. In the end, neither made a sale and the girls rode the camel instead.

After visiting the sites around the old city we got our first taste of the Old City today. We visited the Palm Sunday Walk, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western Wall, the Southern Wall excavations, St Peter in Gallicantu, the Upper Room, David's Tomb and the Dormition Abbey. Once we were done, with the sites, at about 3:15 a group of us walked back through the Old City to our Hotel on the opposite side. Mary Jo said that this was worse than a 1st grade field trip --- trying to keep everyone together and out of all the shops. The one mile walk took until about 5:00! Fortunately, I remembered the route and we got back to the hotel before it really got dark.

It has been an interesting trip. For some reason almost 1/2 of the group has been sick at some point. For three we had to get a doctor to give them a shot. And almost everyone is exhausted. Even our college kids have run out of gas! I was afraid they would do me in. Next week, I will pay for it!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Too Busy

Sorry I haven't written anything. We have been way too busy and I am having a hard time keeping us just getting pictures on line. But before I go to bed tonight I will be caught up.

We have had a couple of people under the weather, and everyone is exhausted but we are having a great time.

At 8:00 this morning, while we were on the road to Masada, we joined all of you at home ringing in the new year. Our college collection stayed up last night to ring in the New Year here as well (and they are really dragging tonight!).

I need to get back to my pictures. I know I take way too many, but oh well, you can look through them quickly and I never know what image I may want to use for a bulletin or a sermon.

Tomorrow we go into the Old City for the first time! YEAH I love that place!