Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Orange Man Project

This man tried to eat enough carrots to turn orange.
What is wrong with people?


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Culture and Holidays

Katherine and I are hosting a Tiawanese student learning English. Huey-Juin is 23 years old. Her long-time friend is staying nearby. They came together. Huey-Juin liked the Thanksgiving meal that Katherine made, but her friend did not. As I started thinking about it, traditional American Thanksgiving menu is pretty ritualized. That is, there's not much deviation. But secondly, we don't eat those foods much any other time.

Other than Thanksgiving and Christmas, when do you eat cranberry sauce? Pumpkin pie, dressing, baked turkey? It's a great meal. Why do we reserve it for this time only? Maybe because it is hard to make? Maybe because we want it to be special? And why would lasagna be bad for Thankgiving? Of course it would, but why?

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Emotionally Healthy Church

by Peter Scazzero. 2003.

Scazzero is pastor of new Life Fellowship Church in Queens, NY. He also works with Keller at the City Seminary, and has worked with Rob Bell at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids on developing a Daily Office for that church.

Excellent. Highly recommend. One of the few books that I read almost every word. This book contains much of what I learned in CPE, but in a totally different format. He uses enough illustrations that I connected well. Here is a structural summary:

Premise of the book -- you cannot grow spiritually beyond your emotional maturity. Or, more clearly, emotional maturity and spiritual maturity are linked. I believe this to be true.

Six principles of an emotionally healthy church:
1. Look beneath the surface. Your emotions run deep, lots of "subconcious" stuff going on.
2. Break the power of the past. Your history has great power (family secrets, genograms, etc.).
3. Live in brokenness and vulnerability. Defensive postures and lack of approachability are signs of great emotional immaturity.
4. Receive the gift of limits. Learning to say, "no."
5. Embrace grieving and loss. The road to peace always goes through the land of pain.
6. Make incarnation your model for loving well. Jesus models for us the concept of entering into the other person's world to listen first, than help them where they need.

Very practical but not paternalistic. I wish he had more biblical references.
I'm going to read his follow-up book next. Wait for it . . .

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Cities of God

By Rodney Stark. 2006.

Stark is a sociologist specializing in the history of religion. This book is a great resource book, very academic, but not hard to read. He is guarding carefully against his would-be critics. Therefore, some parts feel "bogged down" for readers who easily accept his clearly stated pro-Christian bias.

The content is a sociological study of how Christianity replaced other religions in the 4th Century Roman empire. He looks especially at the urban centers where Christianity grew the fastest. He carefully describes the living environments and the various competeting religions (such as paganism, Judaism, gnosticism, and worship of Cybele and Isis). He talks about the nature of conversion in this world and comes quite close to drawing implications or applications for today.

Good read. A good resource. Dispells quite a lot of myths I had believed before. For example, our best evidence (which is quite good) shows that the Roman roads were quite poor. The great opportunities for travel during this period had more to do with developments regarding sea travel rather than land travel. More on this in the book. Lots of interesting little corrections like this. A couple quotes:

In some sense it is true that there were 'many' Christianities during the first several centuries. But, contrary to the wild claims made by members of the Jesus Seminar and by other media-consecrated experts concerning the lack of an early Christian consensus, the dissidents were mostly gadlfies -- even Marcion was easily turned away. Page 180.

Only monotheism serves as a basis for morality, for compelling and significant "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots." . . . Monotheism prevails because it offers a God worth dying for-- indeed, a God who promises everlasting life. And that's why Christianity triumphed and why, even in the midst of a profoundly Christian world, Judaism has endured. Page 116

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

updated to new blogger

Blogger seems to be updating. A few things have changed. I hope I like it better, but I'm not sure.

Happy Thanksgiving

I delivered this homily at a special Ecumenical Christian service at Baptist Hospital Yesterday.

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Thanksgiving is one week away. Can you believe it? Thanksgiving is a time to celebrate the wonderful gifts that God has given us out of his immeasurable supply of grace.

Thanksgiving began in 1863, when Abraham Lincoln declared it a national holiday. Of course, he was remembering, and we remember the first Thanksgiving, in the fall of 1621, more than 200 years earlier.

We remember the pilgrims who came to this land on a boat called the Mayflower. They landed the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock about this time of year, just before the winter. There were no cities, no houses, no grocery stores, no shops that sold blankets or clothes or even wood to make a house or a bed. God helped them to survive through the cold cold winter of what later became Massachusetts. They met some Indian friends who were tremendously helpful. When springtime came, their new friends helped them plant corn and cranberries and other vegetables. God helped them all along the way and when November came around again, they were so thankful to their Indian friends and especially to God that they had a special celebration. The pilgrims invited their friends and had a party that lasted for 3 days. They ate fish, chicken, turkey, corn, strawberries, grapes, beans, walnuts and a variety of other foods. This was the first Thanksgiving, 386 years ago.

On this special holiday we remember all the things we are thankful for. What were the pilgrims thankful for? Why did President Lincoln start the tradition of Thanksgiving, re-enacting this particular celebration? Well, to answer this question, we need to remember their story.

Before the pilgrims lived in America, they lived in England. Now in the early 1600s England was a very different place than it is now. This is shortly after the Reformation and religious tension was high. There was no such thing as religious freedom – the state dictated how and when and who you would worship. Our future pilgrims were caught between their conscience and the King, which meant that many of them were killed for their faith.

The pilgrims were desperate. They dreamed of a country where they could worship freely, but they needed a lot of money to sail all the way across the ocean to America. God performed a miracle to provide a boat called the Mayflower. It was a risky venture to travel on the open sea, especially for amateurs. The trip from the Old World to the New World took about 2 months. The Mayflower was not a big boat; really, it was pretty small by today's standards, easily tossed about on the open waters. The pilgrims could not cross the Atlantic Ocean by themselves. They needed to find professional sailors to go with them. But who would dare such a dangerous mission, for little or no money? Only people who had nothing to lose in life. Riffraff who could operate a boat but couldn't hold a job, and so they wanted to leave the Old World and find adventure.

On the trip, many of the pilgrims got seasick and disoriented and these sailors mocked and ridiculed them endlessly for sport. They prayed to God, and they knew that he was in control. In the end, none of the pilgrims died on the journey, which was a small miracle in itself.

So what were the pilgrims thankful for when they had the first thanksgiving meal in 1621? Certainly they were thankful for the good food, and their friends the Indians, and for the safe trip on the Mayflower, and for their families. But most of all, they were thankful that God saved them from a country where they could not worship him. Looking back, they had an overwhelming sense that God had carried them to the new world.

Today we are also thankful for good food we will enjoy next week. Perhaps you're already making plans for your great feast. We're thankful for the company of family and friends, for safe journeys of those who will travel far. But more than all of this, we are thankful that Christ saved us from a place where we could not worship him. Christ, by his life and death and resurrection, has brought us into a relationship with himself. We have been brought from death to life, from darkness to light, from oppression, to liberty, from the Old Word to the New World.
In one sense, our journey is complete, but in another sense, we are still on the way. This journey of life to the heavenly city is perilous indeed. At times we are seasick, disoriented, mocked and ridiculed. Yet, Christ is with us and we need not fear, for he is in control. And he when I say he is with us, I mean that in the end the sea will not destroy us, because, having already been destroyed by it, Christ assures us with confidence that he will give us safe passage to home and freedom.

Former slave-trader and hymn-writer John Newton was no stranger to sea travel. He said once, "The love I bear Christ is but a faint and feeble spark. But because he ignited it, and he maintains it, I trust many waters cannot overtake it."

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And this is love, not that we loved him, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the substitute for our sin so that those of us to believe in Christ and call on his name, should not perish, but should be adopted as sons and daughters of the living God. This is what we are thankful for today, above all.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


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We need to think about Borat. His movie earned the top spot at the box-office last weekend. Cohen's style of humor is almost unprecedented as far as I know. If you want to see a sample, a quick search from any engine will produce lots of fodder. No video links here. Keep reading so see why. I predict Borat will be like the original Survivor in that a new genre has arrived. Here are a few beginning thoughts:

1. Cohen is a genius. He is hilarious. I have rarely laughed harder than at some of his work. His sense of timing, his creative improv is just stunning. He has put out a large body of work in a short time. He is simply hilarious. Not only hilarious, but he's got balls of steel. The comic genius of Robin Williams with the balls of Johnny Knoxville. From Wikipedia:

In January 2005, after convincing the authorities that he was shooting a documentary, Borat managed to infuriate a crowd at a rodeo in Salem, Virginia, USA: first by saying that "I hope you kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, down to the lizards...and may George W. Bush drink the blood of every man, woman and child in Iraq" (which received a fair amount of applause); and then, by rendering a mangled version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that was misreported as ending with the words "your home in the grave" by the Roanoke Times (Borat had actually sung "home of the gays"). "If he had been out there a minute longer, I think somebody would have shot him," said one witness. "People were booing him, flipping him off." For his own safety, Borat was escorted from the venue.

2. His humor almost always comes at the real expense of unsuspecting victims. He wanders through a public situation and is willing to engage anyone and everyone. He does not usually plan or know his victims (such as a "punk'd" type show). He never lets his victims know about the joke at their expense (unlike as a practical joke show). His style of comedy is more like an emotional drive-by shooting. For those who can see through his act and thereby disarm his weaponry, there is no real harm, but he preys on those more gullible and emotionally weak. This is not a documentary of people's weaknesses in daily life, but rather he lures them into his trap so that we can all laugh at them in the trap.

3. Some will say that he is illustrating the cultural ignorance and elitism of our country. Of course this is true. Cohen is Jewish. When he (as Borat) sings "Throw the Jew down the well" encouraging a crowd of country music lovers in Arizona to sing along -- they join right in. He is uncovering at least a real apathy for racism. Some will say, "He is only exposing what is already there." Perhaps, but as these people find that they have become the laughing stock for the entire internet community, what is their response likely to be? Borat consistenly accuses Jews of being "sneaky" and "shape-shifters." They can "hide their horns so you can't see them." How ironic!

4. I think I have to put Borat in the category of hilarious but immoral. And this is related to the reality TV problem. It is immoral to exploit real people. TV Shows like Survivor and Big Brother offer false emotional intimacy by displaying real relationships for the voyeuristic satisfaction of emotionally starved people. Not unlike pornography. Cohen's work is cruder. He exposes the weakenesses of people who have not agreed to such exposure. While the stars of pornography and reality TV may feel like victims (and indeed they are), they all "agreed" in one way or another.

Brothers and sisters -- as we call for repentance, we must be careful to do so with all seriousness and care. Sin and brokeness is not a game. A surgeon does not remove a cancer by cutting it open with a rusty knife and inviting other cancer victims to come and marvel at the grotesque patient on the table.

I'm not sure where this is going. I think the spirit of our age will latch onto Borat for a variety of reasons, but that might be for another post. Perhaps someone else can pick up that torch and give us an esasy on why Borat is popular in our culture.

I think I won't see the movie, but I'm sure I'd enjoy it if I did.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

CCDA in Miami 2008?

I met last night with Noel Castellanos and Gordon Murphy from the executive staff of CCDA. Katherine and I are members. We met with Rick and Yvonne Sawyer about 15 other ministry leaders around Miami. Could we host a CCDA conference in Miami in October 2008? If Rick and Yvonne decide to pull the trigger on this, we'll be all very happy and then very, very busy. I'm very excited about having an important role here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Good pictures

NYChildren is a cool site with great photography of children from every nation all living in NYC.
50 Worst Video Game Titles for great laughs.
Knutz updates daily with fascinating photos.
Photoshop Phriday on Something Aweful for for great fun with Photoshop.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Next Tuesday

What's going to happen? Who knows? Nobody's happy with the current direction of the country, but what are our alternatives? I like both these cartoons -- our previous two presidential candidates, both clueless:

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Happy Reformation Day

(actually, I think Reformation Day was yesterday, but the 95 theses were first read on November 1, right? So I think it should be November 1 to replace "All Saints Day" which was the day that all the relics from all the saints were "active" and could give you God's grace if you performed certain tasks. It was a kind of "wild card" day for relics and I think Reformation Day is a good and fitting substitute.)

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I'm not a Lutheran. Don't want to be one. But we owe much to Luther and his 95 Theses. And of course, my own "Reformed" tradition is congruent with the "Reformation." I hope that we can continue in the spirit of the great Reformers like Hus, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Cranmer, Knox, Bullinger, Beza, Melanchthon, and others.