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Friday, December 30, 2011

We love legends

I am drowning under the annual end-of-year lists that permeate the run up to our calendars rolling into a new 12-month cycle. Some of them are kind of cool (the top ten soccer goals of the year) but the majority are somewhat lame (7 cars for your new year's resolutions...seriously?). However, the one that caught my eye this morning was Year in Review: In Memoriam 2011 on MSN.

All of us have different outlooks on life; and that's just fine. I believe strongly in one thing, others believe something else. Obviously a lot of folks like to keep up with all the happenings in the celebrity world. I've touched on our loosening definition of celebrity before but now seems a good time to take a deeper look into who we (or maybe just the media) think is someone deserving of the term legend or icon...

                                 Amy Winehouse

I've listened to some of Amy's music; I don't like all of it but some of it's OK. I had to resist the temptation to insert a less-than-flattering picture of Amy. There are so many out there that give testament to a troubled life. I'm sorry we lost her so young, but legend?

           I didn't realize they had high heels in Egypt...

Is it fair to say one person is a legend and another is not? The whole legend discussion is still open for debate but I will grant that Ms. Taylor is a screen icon. She was definitely old Hollywood royalty and as the first actress to be paid $1 million for a picture? She's got some cred.

                   Beware of people offering you fruit...

Steve Jobs has millions of acolytes. And these don't include the millions more that just have an iPhone. In a business and technology sense I suppose you could say he classifies as a legend. Still, there's something about this whole picture that makes me wonder...

                    OK, this one is easy...

Jeff Conaway had a couple of popular roles; one as Travolta's sidekick in Grease and another as Bobby on Taxi. Icon? No; legend? No. I pray he rests in peace.
      Can I ask you just one more thing?

Everyone loves Peter Falk as Columbo. I don't know why; they just do. I grew up watching Mr. Falk play the shuffling, disheveled detective in the 1970's. But I also thought he did swell as the grandfather reading the fairytale in The Princess Bride. Icon? Maybe; legend? No.

           Andy had some serious eyebrows...

Here's another guy I remember seeing way back when. It's crazy to think that an unassuming yet opinionated journalist could be considered a legend. I would have to vote yes on his icon status but only his eyebrows were legendary. Rest in peace Mr. Rooney...

                           No

I know several people that thought Ryan Dunne's show (I can't say the name) was crazy funny. I'm sorry he passed away but no, he's neither legendary nor an icon. He gained celebrity by doing insane things, one of which eventually killed him.

One sad thing about any in memoriam list is how many people we know of that died this year. More poignant is how many regular people we know that died this year. Mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters.

I may seem a bit callous deflating the status of the folks highlighted in this blog. I will ask for your forgiveness in advance for that was not my intention. What I strove to communicate is that our society looks at celebrities as our legends and icons. In fact there are millions of ordinary people that no one (but a few) has ever heard of who passed away this year. Many of them were far more extraordinary in their contribution to society at large than most of those we term celebrities.

There is no right argument for this. All of us - each and every one - has value as a creation of God. I mourn the passing of each of His children and pray that good decisions were made before their lights were extinguished on earth. I fear that for some on this list, that is not the case. Fortunately, for anyone reading this, it's not too late...

And to those few who do stop by The Stream periodically to read whatever digital claptrap I happen to  come up with, thank you; God bless you; and God's blessings on you and yours in the coming year.

In closing, I'll list one more that we lost in 2011. He wasn't the most important man on the planet. He did not control the fate of nations. He did not write the great American novel. But he made us laugh and he made us think. Thank you Sherwood, where ever you are...

       Sherwood Schwartz in 2004

                         I remember these castaways..

Happy New Year everyone...

X

Thursday, December 29, 2011

This just in...

[Approx. 1003 BC - Threshing Floor of Kidon] A servant of King David, Uzzah, was struck dead today. Eyewitness accounts are consistent and reveal that in the moments leading up to his death Uzzah did nothing that could have been considered sinful in the eyes of the Lord. After interviews with members of the King's entourage, it appears that just before his death, Uzzah had been walking next to a new cart carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Although details are few, the brother of the deceased - Ahio - and other witnesses say the cart tipped sideways and, fearful that the most holy Ark would fall to the ground, Uzzah reach out a hand to steady the heavy wood and gold object. It is believed that immediately after touching the Ark, Uzzah died.
       Uzzah falls to the ground just before his death (anonymous photo)

King David has declined all interview requests but is reported to be furious that God would strike down one of His servants, especially one who was a member of an elite team bringing the Ark back to Jerusalem. Our sources have also indicated that David will leave the Ark with Obed-Edom, the Gittite, while the King considers the situation and mourns the loss of Uzzah.

Attorneys for the deceased are considering options on behalf of Abinadab and his family.

© Jerusalem Press International
==============================================================================
Of course, this press account of the events detailed in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chronicles 13 is fictional. As I studied 1 Chronicles 13 this morning, I wondered how our modern culture would react to such an event occurring today.
No doubt there would be reporters from major news sources on site; there would be satellite trucks, microphones, make-up artists and other accoutrements of the modern news engine. Eyewitnesses would be telling their stories to anyone who would listen; some with an eye toward turning a profit. 60 Minutes would no doubt be there with special access interviews and disturbing inside information.
But what of the real story?
I've heard several comments over the years about how (and why) God would kill someone who was just trying to help. David, Uzzah and all of the people in this procession were bringing the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. Wouldn't it be sacrilege to let the Ark fall to the ground? After all, this was the holy chest in which the Ten Commandments were kept. The Mercy Seat, where God Himself appeared to the High Priest, was the lid of the Ark, sculpted with two cherubim, outstretched wings touching above the surface.
What seems to be lost in the modern world we inhabit is the nature of obedience. It is untenable for some to be placed in a position where absolute obedience is required. God had told Moses and Aaron that no one could touch the holy things [Numbers 4:15]. But our (human) instinct is to believe that there are exceptions to every rule, no matter what. There will always be circumstances where a rule can be bent, circumvented or completely broken - and for good reason.
On the surface, this seems to be one of those circumstances.
Uzzah was merely trying to keep the Ark from falling. However, what is overlooked by our modern interpretation is that God's rules are absolute. Despite the fact that this rubs against the grain of our sensibilities, there was no room for interpretation.
Has anyone considered the hubris inherent in Uzzah's actions? If the Ark was the object of God's presence on earth, wouldn't it be presumptious of us to assume that God needs help?
Something else that may often be overlooked by those who read the Bible is that while God may seem harsh in His dealings with us, He is not capricious, He does not act on a whim. If He said it, we can bank on it. As harsh as it may seem, this is a silver lining we can take away from Uzzah's death: God keeps His promises.
So what's the point of this event in history? For me, today, the point is we can know that some things in life (and death) are absolute. Truth is not something we can interpret for our own benefit. And there are indeed times when we just need to do what we've been told - even if it doesn't make any sense at the moment.
What do you think?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 in Inanity

It’s nearly the end of the year – or the beginning of another – if you’re more of a glass is half-full type. In this natural environment of mental wandering, I thought it would be nice to talk about some of the most inane news stories I’ve seen this year. And since I suffer from CRS (can’t remember stuff), most of them will be recent.

Jesus had short hair; seriously.


     Jim Caviezel portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ

Perhaps the font of inanity are Brian Palmer’s Explainer articles on Slate. In this edition from December 23rd, he opines on why Jesus would probably not have had the long, flowing hair He is popularly depicted with. Since becoming a Christian, I’m more acutely aware of the artistic image of our Savior – or mis-image, as the case may be. Ancient believers in God were probably not much different than us today in the sense that many seemed to prefer their deities to be good looking. Certainly the Old Testament didn't shy away from going on about how David, Solomon, Absalom, Esther and others were not hard on the eyes. Yet in his Messianic prophesy, Isaiah noted that Jesus would be an average Joe [Isaiah 53:2] …He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.

Although the real reasons that Israel rejected Jesus as Messiah are more complex, it doesn’t take much to imagine how different it might have been if He had been muscular and handsome.

Charlie Sheen and Egypt are homies.

Today (see, I told you these would be recent) an article on Gawker.com listed the year’s top hashtags. Since Twitter in and of itself is somewhat inane, this may be redundant.
  1. #Egypt
  2. #Tigerblood
                                   No caption required...

I’m definitely not implying that the events in Egypt this year were inane…far from it. However, that a Twitter hashtag relating to Charlie Sheen would be number two on the list shows us just how much inanity exists in our world today. Of the two top hashtags, one has global significance while the other, well, doesn’t.
He’s a caddie for Pete’s sake.

                         I'm thinking he cashed all the checks...

Way back in November ESPN ran this story about Steve Williams. In a (sports) world brimming with drama, excitement, heartbreak and a host of other visceral emotions, Golf doesn’t jump right out there. It’s understandable when the media makes high theater out of Tiger Woods winning the 2008 US Open in a playoff…on a torn knee. I mean this is the stuff that packs us in theaters to watch Rocky. Fast forward three years to a world drunk on American Idol, X-Factor and way too much Snooki; now, ESPN presents the pure and emotional drama of…a bunch of golfers and caddies having a few drinks and telling off-color jokes. Was it in poor taste? Absolutely. Was it news? I doubt it. Was it inane…you be the judge.

The 2011 Republican debates.

No, that’s not the number of debates that have been held leading up to the Iowa Caucuses; it just seems like it. I know it’s kind of like fishing a baited pond, but politics and inanity just kind of go together these days. There were – and continue to be – so may inane moments leading up to the kickoff vote in Iowa it’s hard to pick one. I really didn’t want to single out Governor Perry but for sheer inanity, I’d say this sums up the overall tone of the Republican debates.



Maybe he enjoyed a caucus or two backstage prior to the debate? According to Dictionary.com caucus is Medieval Latin for drinking vessel.

Surely there are thousands of inane events that permeated this year. What are your favorites?

X

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Red sky in the morning...

I"m not much of a sailor; God didn't give me inner-ear stability I guess. But we've all heard the proverb that begins Red sky in the morning...

Since I'm usually arriving at work around dawn, I can use the old sailor's wisdom to determine what our weather will be. This morning, it was definitely red:


                              Red in the sky and red on the map...

As we approach Christmas, I thought a little bit about the larger context of Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning. Can we take that simple proverb and expand it to encompass other parts of life? In Matthew 16 Jesus said, "When evening comes, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,' and in the morning, 'Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times." 

This was in response to a request by the Pharisees and Saducees for Jesus to give them a sign from Heaven. At this point, Jesus had accomplished many things and the signs of who He was and what He was about were there for all to see through His work; yet the teachers of the Law were not convinced - they wanted a sign. It's interesting that all the miraculous things that Jesus had done already were overlooked - or ignored - in an effort to get our Savior (to paraphrase the book and film wizard Gandalf) to perform parlor tricks like some cheap conjurer. If you're a Lord of the Rings fan, you'll remember that Samwise had no doubt that Gandalf could turn him into something unnatural, he didn't need to ask for a sign.

In a sense, we haven't progressed at all in the last two thousand years or so. We all seek signs from the world around us; signs to aid us in making decisions. I already knew it was likely to rain today and had my umbrella in the car as I drove to work. The radio weather person confirmed the storm front you see in the picture above from The Weather Channel that also predicts - no doubt accurately - that we'll have some serious rain today. Red sky in the morning...

But that was exactly the point of Jesus' retort to His inquisitors. We, all of us, can easily read the signs in the sky: Red sky in the morning, sailor's warning; red sky at night, sailor's delight.


                     Which way do I go?

And that's my thought for today...what signs do we follow in our own lives? What signs do we look for in order to make wise decisions? Do we act and then wait for positive or negative feedback from our friends, family and co-workers to validate whether a particular action or statement was wise? Do we seek out Dr. Phil or Oprah and listen to what they have to say on a particular subject before making up our minds?

                                  Beni and the charms...

This seems to be my day for film references...in 1999's The Mummy, the smarmy ex-legionnaire Beni is confronted by the mummy. In true Red sky in the morning fashion, Beni pulls out a handful of bling that would make Mr. T blush and one by one begins chanting prayers based on each amulet's origin. I don't remember each one but Beni had something representing Buddha, Jesus, and who knows what else. However, it's the Star of David and the Hebrew prayer that arrests the mummy. Hebrew was the language of the slaves in Egypt - and the mummy needed a slave...Beni was saved...for the moment.

Sunday we'll celebrate Christmas. Christmas gets more and more airplay with each passing year. Christians get up in arms about how society is taking Christ out of the holiday; secularists wish the Christians would lighten up. Erstwhile peacemakers are running around trying to create all-inclusive holidays that we can celebrate together.

What's your sign this year? As you celebrate Christmas, are you truly honoring the birth of Jesus or are the tree, presents and meal plans taking priority? What sign are you seeking that the road you're on is the right one? What color is your sky this morning?

X

Monday, December 12, 2011

For that 'hard-to-buy-for' person...

I don't know what it is. Maybe it's age; maybe it's attitude. A few years back, you'd never find me listening to anything but music in my car.  With the advent of the CD and, more recently, the MP3 format, one might posit that radio as we know it would fade away like a weak signal on a lonely Arizona highway.
                                         Where's that station...

But as visitors to The Stream might have noticed, I occasionally derive inspiration from my daily doses of National Public Radio. Conservatives amongst my friends may be horrified to learn that I think NPR is a wonderful thing - with the possible exception of Terry Gross. Don't get me wrong, Ms. Gross is a great professional; I just don't personally appreciate the directions she takes in (some of) her interviews.

What about those gift ideas?

Right. Listening to Morning Edition on my drive in today, I heard a brief story about what a great cook Martin Ginsburg was. For the uninformed - which I was until about 6:20 this morning - Mr. Ginsburg is the not-so-well-known (late) husband of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Forgive me for using the familiar, but Marty Ginsburg was apparently well known in his own right for many things, one of which was for being an excellent cook.
                  Justice and Mr. Ginsburg

All this is riveting I'm sure, but stay with me...what got my attention during this morning's segment wasn't the fact that Mr. Ginsburg was an accomplished chef; it wasn't that he was married to one of our Supreme Court justices; it wasn't even the fact that a bunch of people put together a cookbook to honor Mr. Ginsburg (on the occasion of his passing, may he rest in peace). What caused me to sit up and listen was the fact that you could buy said cookbook in the Supreme Court Gift shop.

Say what?

Now, after researching this a little further, it should be noted that the gift shop is actually entitled the Supreme Court Historical Society Gift shop...but that's sure not the way NPR put it out there this morning. Maybe I just missed the nuance.

In any case, as we draw near to the day on which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (i.e. Christmas), some of you may be stuck for what to buy the person in your life who has everything, or never likes what you give them, or whatever.

Starting at the low end - there's actually a link in the left frame of the gift shop's website to gifts that are priced at $0 - $20. Something tells me none of these gifts are free ($0). Anyway, clicking on the link yields sixty-one gifts in that price range, ranging from Supreme Court Pencils (a bargain at 95 cents apiece) - complete with two-headed, gavel-shaped erasers...
                                       Work is now in session...

...to a key-keeper turtle for $19.95. I have no idea what this turtle is doing in the Supreme Court Historical Society gift shop. It doesn't have a logo or anything on it - it looks like the standard key-holding turtle you can buy at the hardware store and hide amongst your bushes in case you forget your house key...I don't know, maybe someone forgot the key to the Supreme Court one day and came up with this great idea...

There are several more price ranges to browse through, all of which have quite interesting items for those on a variety of budgets. But I thought I'd take a peak at what sort of top-of-the-line gear you could score for $500 and up...the highest price range available.
                                             These are sweet!

The next time I pick up a dress shirt, I'm going to be thinking about how cool it would be to have these sterling silver, solid 14kt. gold and gold plated cuff links holding my sleeves together. Then I'll remember the $595 price tag and enjoy my buttons.

The rest of the high-dollar gifts aren't nearly as exciting. For the princely sum of $1,000, you can actually join the Supreme Court Historical Society. And the benefits of membership? Mostly, getting copies of quarterly newsletters and a few other publications. Although you also receive an invitation to some swanky dinner once a year (for which you have to pay extra, I think). But hey, you also get 20% off on any item in the gift shop, so those cuff links are looking better already...

Feel free to browse and, by the way, you could pick up a copy of the tribute cookbook dedicated to Mr. Ginsburg - a tasty bargain at $24.95. But sadly, it's currently out of stock.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Space...the final frontier (that we'll never get to?)

Mark this down on your calendar:

Yesterday, according to this article on MSN, our shiny Keppler spacecraft discovered what is believed to be an Earth-like planet, orbiting a sun not unlike our own. The catch? It's roughly 600 light years away.


                        We can't get there from here...

I'm not against exploring our universe. I think it's kind of cool, actually. I still remember watching the Apollo missions on TV and hearing those famous words, "One small step for man..."

I do have lingering doubts though about spending $500 million on a spacecraft that is cruising around taking pictures of far-distant planets in neighboring solar systems. As neat as all this is, I have to ask:

What's the point?

Let's just say for the sake of argument that Keppler 22b is found to be the Goldilocks planet (you know, the one that's just right).
                                                 Road trip!

What are we going to do with that amazing nugget of information? After all, Keppler 22b is six hundred light years away. I'm not very agile with numbers but I have it on pretty good authority that it would take in the neighborhood of 7 million years for someone to get there from here, in our present technological state - assuming for the moment that we could figure out a way to attach a big enough gas tank to our ship.

Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, estimates there are 1 trillion planets in the Milky Way alone. "Surely some of them have undergone what Earth has undergone and developed life, and eventually what we call sentient life," he says.

So, it appears that it's relatively easy for scientists to take probability and trot it out a ways to buy into the possibility of extra-terrestrial life - or at least life-sustaining worlds - yet it's difficult for some of these same scientists to consider the possibility that the Bible is correct and our universe was purposely created. I mean, with all due respect to Carl Sagan, we've spent billions and billions of dollars and found pretty much bupkis.

But I'm not writing to discredit science or start another round of Big Bang vs. Creation Smack Down.

In fact, Shostak goes on to note that the argument (for extra-terrestrial life) is simply one of probability. "If we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, or for that matter in the universe, then we are truly a miracle," he says.

Now there's something that makes sense, don't you think?

In any case, let's get back to my original question: Let's say that Keppler or some other, future, exploration system finds an Earth clone; a planet that mirrors ours and can easily support life.

                                        Home sweet....ach!

Is it possible to get six or seven billion people onto spacecraft and over to the nearest life-sustaining world? Not if you believe we will never be able to economically break the speed of light barrier, and have the technology to do it in huge proportions, ferrying people, livestock, agricultural supplies, etc. to our new home. Oh, and I hope there's plenty of water there or that we also have the technology to generate A LOT of it.

As excited as I am that we're exploring the universe and finding cool stuff out there, I really can't get too overwhelmed at finding a planet that might, possibly, be in the neighborhood of supporting life. Right now, we couldn't even get a couple of folks over there to check it out - much less put together a large-scale exodus ala Battlestar Galactica.

So enjoy the pictures, artist's renditions and bubbly prognostications of sister worlds, etc. I'm going to finish my coffee and think about ways to make this old Earth a better place to live.

What do you think?

X

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's all about me...not

Unless you live in a cave, high in the Himalayas - with no satellite reception or 3/4G air card, you have heard the news that Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) is in the midst of an ugly investigation into allegations they were complicit in the (alleged) horrific child abuse by one-time defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. I say alleged because we live in America where one is innocent until proven guilty. However, in the court of public opinion, Sandusky has already been convicted and the torches and pitchforks came out early. To be fair, I rank among those that believe with so many allegations stacked up, there has to be a least some truth to the accusations - and I wrote about it in this entry.



                        Penn State is a brand?

On NPR this morning, I listened to a short report about a session University leaders had with Penn State students. Apparently, a large number of erstwhile Nittany Lions are concerned that the value of their degree is diminishing even as we speak in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. Using a handy online tuition calculator, and what I believe are the out of state costs per credit hour, I came up with a walloping $63,840 in tuition costs alone for a shiny Turf Grass Bachelor of Science degree. Interestingly, a run-of-the-mill BS in Business costs the same.

So I suppose it's not out of line for PSU students to be concerned that the value of their degrees - in whatever discipline - could be tarnished by recent developments.

What stunned me though, was the sense of selfishness that came out of the report. I'm not naive enough to think that there isn't competition between University graduates or that certain degrees aren't considered more prestigious than others.  I get that.

But every comment I heard was something along the lines of, "What are potential employers going to think when I trot out my Penn State degree in the interview?"

With the answer to that rhetorical question being, "You went to Penn State? Well, thank you for coming in to speak with us...we'll be in touch." Followed by the sound of their resume hitting the bottom of the garbage can as they left the building.

What?

Really?

There are hiring managers in the workplace that would seriously hold the sins of Jerry Sandusky and the rogue's gallery of enablers at Penn State over its graduates' future? That would be like me interviewing Florida State graduates in the wake of the Free Shoes University scandals or academic cheating scandals by football players and calling them Criminoles. Granted, what Sandusky is alleged to have perpetrated is so far beyond comparably petty events that sports fans like to trot out when their team is winning...

But still; I'm not going to hire you because of some completely unrelated event that happened before you even attended the university?



The first thing that Acting Penn State President Rodney Erickson should've said when fielding the first few comments about student's concerns over their diminishing returns?

It's not about you - it's about the kids.

Next question.

X

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Love Stinks

The J. Geils Band, founded in Boston and generally remembered as a feel-good, party band in the 1970's and 80's released an album entitled Love Stinks in 1980. The title track made the Billboard Top 40, and the LP peaked at number 18 on the album charts. The song Love Stinks is an ode denigrating the concept of romantic love.



I remember liking this song; it had an infectious beat, a funny video and it fit into an ethos that resonated with a lot of young men - and probably women, too - real love was way too dangerous, tricky and painful. Maintaining a relationship with a woman was hard work, darn it, and wasn't it easier to just maintain casual relationships that were fun and didn't come with all the drama?



Confession time...

I married young. Really young. Eighteen-years-old-young.

By the time Love Stinks was released, my marriage was already in trouble. I'm sure there are some eighteen-year-olds out there that can marry and have a great relationship until the day they die. Unfortunately, I wasn't one of them. I could go on and on about the why's and wherefors of how my first marriage unraveled. I could even pile on and talk about what a HUGE mistake my second marriage was. But all that would be just beating around the bush. The fact is, I had no idea what love was all about. I didn't know what it was, what it took to find love, where to look, what to do with it once I found it and most importantly, how to take care of it and make it grow into something spectacular over time.

I put it forward that there are very few people in the world today who really have a bead on true love. What shapes our view of love in the world today? Are all of us growing up without the necessary foundation we need to recognize exactly what love is?

I browse a lot of news sites on the web; NPR, MSN, CNN, Slate, local newspaper sites and more. Of these, Slate seems to be the most hip. I don't have time for a survey, but I would guess that younger people would be more attracted to Slate than the others - it seems somehow more edgy, more modern.

Looking on Slate today, I can't say I'm surprised that there were at least three articles on pornography. One was talking about how today's pornography would be better if it wasn't for the demeaning nature of how the women were treated. This, according to the author, was due in great measure to the founders of some well-known men's magazines. If these guys didn't hate women so much, pornography would be fine. Really?

Perhaps the most disturbing article bemoaned the lack of sex education in public schools and even went as far as saying we should adopt the Dutch model, incorporating the concept of pleasure into any sex education programs we administer to young people. A sociologist referenced in the Slate article quoted research showing that the Dutch model, where parents accept their minor children's relationships and even let them have sleepovers with sex partners, results in much better health outcomes for teenagers.

Excuse me?

If I didn't know how to find, process and nurture love as an eighteen-year-old, how on earth are younger teenagers going to learn it from parents letting them have intimate sleepovers with their young paramours?

In my humble opinion, there is only one place where we need to be steering each other to learn about love.

Ask yourself this question: Who invented love?

If you answered God, go to the head of the class.

The first three words of the Bible say, "In the beginning..." The book of Genesis then goes on to chronicle creation and subsequent events. One of the most important of these was the partnership of man and woman. God didn't put Adam and Eve together and say, "Okay you two, give it your best shot; and if it doesn't work out..."

A lot of folks like to pick out verses that seem to cast a negative light on women and love relationships with men. Despite his reputation as a hard-liner, I think Paul said it well in Ephesians 5:25, 'Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church...' and a few lines later in verse 28, 'In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies...' In those two verses Paul laid it out as plain as it gets. Men, ask yourself if you're loving your wife as Christ loves the church (his people) or even as much as you love yourself.

You know why my first two marriages failed? Because I didn't know what love was. I had some weird view of love based on the fractured relationship of my parents coupled with a vast panoply of societal influences that had absolutely nothing to do with love. In truth, my ex-wives could have said to me, 'Your love stinks,' and been accurate.

Unlike J. Geils' assertion, it's not love that stinks - it's (usually) our love that stinks. We need to learn what love is before we can have love, receive love and give love. And as usual, the answer is easy to find, if you know where to look.

What do you think?

X

Author's note: As of today, I've been married more than 22 years to my lovely wife. I'm still learning how to love her the way I'm supposed to, but God is helping me through the learning process every day.

Friday, November 18, 2011

This post is not about Tim Tebow

After going for so long  - several months - without writing much of anything, the blog faucet has apparently been turned on. I'm not up to a post every day, or several posts a day as those professional bloggers do, but I have a boiling cauldron of subjects in my head that want to be written about; the trouble is, which one do I pick when I can only write occasionally as time and circumstance dictate?

It's Friday morning; I've had a subject in my head for about 24 hours that has been working itself into a full-fledged thought line that would make a bang-up blog post. And then last night happened...

                               Tim Terrific does it again...

It's getting to the point where casual fans or those who aren't even really football fans are starting to be touched by the buzz surrounding the man who some call the worst quarterback in the NFL. The problem is, this mess of mechanics, this poster-boy for what is not an NFL-caliber quarterback...is winning. The Denver Broncos are 5-5; not a stellar win-loss record. But they are 4-1 since Tebow began starting games and, believe it or not, are a half-game out of first place in the generally woeful AFC West.

But this blog post is not about Tim Tebow...

I've been thinking a lot about human nature lately. It actually started back in September or October as I was getting ready to head off to Haiti on our latest mission trip. One of these days I'm going to break down and start learning Creole. If God continues to call me to Haiti it's a given that learning the language is something I need to do. But in lieu of learning Creole this year, I brushed up on the little French I know and while researching Les Cayes, the area where we were going to be working, I ran across some Haitian proverbs.

Recent readers may remember the proverb Dye mon gen mon that I wrote about on November 14th. Beyond the mountain is another mountain. The proverb that got me thinking yesterday is Degaje pa peche. The literal translation I found was managed by sin. However it's more colloquially understood to mean to get by is not a sin. What does that mean? Basically, it means if I have to do something that I might not normally do - lie, cheat, steal, bend the rules if not completely break them - in order to get by...to feed myself or my family or to somehow survive, then it's not a bad thing.

I think Solomon recognized this mindset back in the day; Proverbs 28:21 [NIV] says, "To show partiality is not good--yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread."


                              Motorized bike...sort of

In the grand scheme of things, getting a boost from passing vehicles while riding your bike is probably not something many people consider sinful. However, our translator said it was illegal (as it is in the USA). We all agreed the greater risk likely lay in the danger, not the illegality. Driving through Haiti - especially in Port au Prince - can be harrowing enough. But holding on to a speeding truck while riding a rickety bike? The man in the picture was apparently willing to break the law in order to cut his travel time significantly, even at the risk of physical harm, if not arrest.

All of this got me thinking about how we live out our Christian faith. What things do we do each day or maybe just occasionally that would fall under the heading of to get by is not a sin? Do we speed in our cars to get somewhere more quickly - kind of like the man on the bike? Do we hit the express lane at the grocery store with more than ten items because we have somewhere else to be? Do we cheat on our taxes because we need that extra money this year from our return? Do we take advantage of someone else's misfortune when it benefits us and no one knows? Do we throw someone under the bus at work because it makes us look better or gives us a leg up for promotion?

I could go on...and I could give specific examples of where I've fallen short of God's perfect standard...today, yesterday...even while I was in Haiti on mission. How bad is that?

We are creatures who desire comfort. We like to be comfortable. And we like to feel important and valulable. So I totally get the mindset behind to get by is not a sin. And as I've mentioned before, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere so, can we really blame them if hitching a ride, keeping some found money, snitching a loaf of bread for their family...doesn't feel like it's a bad thing?

I'm not writing this to judge the man catching a free tow. I'm trying not to be the judging kind. What I want to do - and what all of us need to do more of - is think about stuff. You may be reading this and you're not a Christian. You might be thinking to yourself, 'How can that guy possibly turn any subject into a discussion about faith?'

The answer to that is, 'Because everything we do impacts our faith.' Jesus' Apostles personally witnessed some amazing things during His time on Earth. But when Jesus told them to go and make disciples of all nations, he wasn't talking about them just going and telling them about the Gospel of salvation, he wanted their whole lives to be a witness for others. He wanted their faith to be an unspoken component of the Gospel that, like creation, bears silent witness to its veracity.

As Christians, we often quote Romans 1:20 when talking to others about how God's creation speaks for itself.  Apply that to your life. If someone you know is talking to others about your faith, can they say it (your faith) speaks for itself? Or do they stumble over some of the things you may have done to get by?

Degaje pa peche may be true on Earth, but if we claim to follow God, we are held to a much higher standard. Yes, salvation is a free gift from our Creator, but our faith should reflect His grace, not the same old, worldly attitudes we carried with us before. I know I've got a ways to go, but I'm trying.

What do you think?

X

Monday, November 14, 2011

Recalculating

How much time do you spend wondering about your life? Family, friends, work, church, recreation, habits, addictions, issues, health; the list goes on and on...

Or is it more likely that you - like me - tend toward what, in the political or corporate realms, is known as damage control? If things are going well in your life; if you're getting enough to eat, you've got a comfy place to sleep and watch television or movies or play video games or read, if things are going okay at the office, you've got no major blow ups in your relationships...things are good, right?

But when you wake up one day and find yourself lashed to the railroad tracks and hear the whistle off in the distance...to quote a popular beverage commercial, "Here we go!"


                        Nell is saved from mean ol' Snidely...

That's when things get crazy and you wish you could hear that annoying GPS voice say, "Recalculating!"
For those who may not have a GPS yet or who haven't seen (or don't get) one of the more recent Allstate commercials...the ones that have the character I like to call the Allstate Harbinger of Doom...


Sometimes recalculating is a good idea - like when you're lost with only a vague idea of where you are and the GPS can actually recalculate and get you back to recognizable terrain.

But often, as is the case with the video above, recalculating at the wrong moment or in the wrong way can have disastrous consequences.

If you would've asked me ten years ago or maybe even five years ago, 'How about you go down to Haiti and spend some time with a few hundred kids,' I don't know what, exactly, I would've replied. But I can pretty much guarantee it would not have been, 'Sure, when do we leave?'

God has a way of leading us to recalculate.

As followers of The Stream will know, I just returned from my second mission trip to Haiti. the organizers call what I do in Haiti Vacation Bible School. I don't really go along with that. Maybe it's the years I've spent recently teaching VBS in Florida or even teaching teachers how to teach VBS at their churches...something about Haiti and the kids we minister to and the term vacation just doesn't seem to mesh.
Maybe it's the fact that Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere...

Maybe it's because the culture in Haiti doesn't lend itself to the term vacation...

In a country where life revolves around a daily effort just to have food, water, and shelter...vacation anything seems out of place.

Recalculating...

The week I spent in Haiti was awesome. It was not without challenges...but it was just as rewarding as my first trip last year. The people we worked with were just as committed to helping the people and children we ministered to. The people and children we ministered to were just as happy to see us.

                                   Deye mon, gen mon...

In Haiti there is a saying that reflects the difficulty of life the Haitian people face every day. Deye mon gen mon basically means beyond the mountain is another mountain. One of the things that surprises just about everyone is how mountainous Haiti is. The mountains make everything a little harder there...often a lot harder. But while there are those who use the expression to give up, after all, why try so hard when we'll just face another mountain when we get over this one; there seems to be a mindset that is more along the lines of getting over this mountain will prepare me for getting over the next one.

Recalculating...



                    What do we know about mountains...

For example, the second day we were in Les Cayes, our Bible school team went to two different schools. The first one, pictured above, consisted of a two-story, cinder block building. Upstairs were the older kids. Bare walls, no windows, a nasty old chalkboard, no doorway between the three classrooms. And here we were, a group of weird Americans who showed up to play some games, sing some songs, make flowers and talk about God and life. It would have been easy for them to look at us and say, 'You've got no idea what our lives are like. You can't relate to us now be gone with you.'

Instead, we found a group of roughly middle school to high school-aged young men and women who welcomed us, listened interestedly to what we said, laughed with us, sang with us, made silly paper mache flowers with us, and felt so comfortable with us after a couple of hours that one even decided it was okay to ask us hard questions about God. Beyond this mountain is another mountain...what do we think God thinks about that?

Recalculating...



                  Life in Haiti is not all sweetness and light...

The picture above is a very mild example of what passes for daily life in much of urban Haiti. Port au Prince especially has areas of heart-wrenching squalor and poverty. Our team spent time during our trip discussing how we felt God wanted to use us - to use our church - going forward. Did He want us to continue to minister to the people of Haiti alone or should we step out farther and go with the message to places where many have not heard?

Before we arrived home, I think most of us were ready to cast our steps farther abroad. But not too many weeks after we returned to the States; returned to our nice homes, comfy beds, and refrigerators that dispense ice and water you don't have to wonder about, we are already talking about a place in Northern Haiti where there is only one church.

Recalculating...

X

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

C'mon man!

The title phrase is used humorously on ESPN's pre-game coverage of Monday Night Football. I didn't watch the pre-game or the game last night. I spent time at our new home with my wife watching something else and talking about the passing of an old friend, among other things.

But in the back of my mind was the continuing reaction to the abuse scandal unfolding at Penn State University. I am having a hard time processing the fact that grown men acted the way they have been alleged to have acted. Jen Floyd Engel, a Fox Sports (dot.com) reporter I'm beginning to admire for her well-written and insightful articles, wrote something today that kind of sums up my thoughts on the matter.

A sidebar in Ms. Engel's article contained a poll asking whether long-time coach Joe Paterno should step down in the wake of these allegations.

FOX SPORTS POLL


Should Joe Paterno step down in light of Penn State scandal?
  • Yes - 59%
  • No - 21%
  • Let's wait and see - 20% 

Total Votes: 21,172

Thankfully, 59% of respondents said yes, Coach Paterno should step down. I'm one of them, and I'll tell you why:

Joe Paterno is the head coach of the Pennsylvania State University football team and as such, next to the university's athletic director and other institutional officers, is the authority in charge of football facilities. Young boys were abused on his watch, in his facilities, by people who had been on his staff. Others in Coach Paterno's chain of command witnessed these events and either did nothing, or hid behind some heirarchical rules.

I'm sorry, but to the 41% of poll respondents who believe Paterno is somehow above the fray on this one - that's roughly 8,160 people - I believe you are horribly misguided.

In my opinion, the buck (i.e. responsibility) stops at Joe Pa's desk. He is the man in charge. He had the opportunity to take action and stop the abuse. He didn't. At the risk of being humorous in the middle of a deadly serious discussion, if the president of Penn State doesn't have the guts to fire Joe Paterno, get Donald Trump in there because today, right now, someone needs to walk into Paterno's office and say, "You're fired."

What do you think?

X

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Are you ready for some...futbol?

The NFL (no Febreeze league) is in full swing; those who know me know that I'm more a fan of the type of football where players use their feet (for more than kickoffs, punts and field goals). I've been keeping up a little with the NFL thanks to my annual membership in a long-running fantasy football league. After this weekend's action, I should be comfortably in (at least) third place.

Followers will also know that I just returned from Haiti and that Jesus has been on my mind a lot lately - as He should be all the time.

But I wanted to update everyone on some potentially exciting news in the world of futbol...

On January 18th 2010, I posted about Landon Donovan's loan move to Everton FC of the Barclay's Premier League. For those who live under a (sports) rock, Landon is widely regarded as the best American football (soccer) player at the moment. He currently plays for the LA Galaxy who are, as we speak, playing Real Salt Lake for the privilege of taking on the Houston Dynamo for the championship of Major League Soccer.

                 Gazing back toward the UK?

And while getting past RSL to the championship game is a priority, there is already some chatter about Donovan reprising his loan move to Everton during the upcoming MLS off-season.

I, for one, believe LD will make the move. Last year, he had played an awful lot of football between the MLS season, the loan to Everton, the World Cup...he needed a break. But this year, he can take a few weeks off and head to Everton during the Premier League's January transfer window.

Everton could certainly use some help as they are currently languishing in 17th position, just one above the dreaded drop-zone.

Come on Landon...make the jump.

X

Jezi se wa!

It's been about a week since we returned from Haiti. Last week I was able to attend services at Ferris Hill Baptist Church, home of the team that went on this year's mission to Haiti. Today, we gratefully accepted the extra hour of sleep afforded by the return to Standard Time, but missed out on worship up in Huntsville due to some, er, health issues. Everyone is fine but somewhat indisposed to phrase it politely. We had looked up several local churches on the web, one or two that I had visited, a couple that our neighbors attend and another that is nearby. Next week!

Thinking about worship brings me back to our experiences in Haiti. I came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ rather late in life, accepting Him as my savior in 2001. Although I like music, I'm not musical and I've always found it somewhat uncomfortable to be overly demonstrative during worship services. This is not because I don't love God and am not moved by the Holy Spirit, it's just because I'm not going to give Jesus shout outs or wave my arms around just because everyone else is doing so.

As a member of Ferris Hill for the entirety of my new life in Christ (so far), I've discovered that Southern Baptists in general are not a very demonstrative lot when it comes to worship time in church. A quick note to those for whom church is not a regular occurance...although we may refer to the entire service as worship, once you are in church the term worship generally refers to the part of the service in which the congregation sings praise to God.

            After revival services at night - church is a party!

With apologies for the long-winded explanations above, all of that was to contrast how we worship God with how the Haitians worship God. It's not an acceptable practice to go about taking photographs during church in Haiti so we were only able to get shots afterward. Suffice it to say that in a Haitian Baptist church, worship is dynamic! And even an old fuddy-duddy like me is swaying and clapping by the end of the night.

You may be wondering about the meaning of this blog's title: Jezi se wa!

That is Creole for, "Jesus is king!" It's a phrase that features often during worship in Haiti. And as I was thinking about how to continue this blog series for our experiences in Haiti this year, I kept thinking back to how often we heard Jezi se wa and how often we saw the name Jesus when we were in Haiti.

                       Christ on the cross in Les Cayes

Just down the street from our hotel was the traffic circle in the picture above. Can you imagine pulling up to a major intersection in your town and seeing a twenty-foot tall cross with a life-sized Jesus hanging there? What an incredible daily reminder of what God has done for all of us.

Jezi se wa!

After our frantic trip to Les Cayes from Port au Prince; after finally getting settled in our rooms following a tasty chicken and French fry dinner; after a decent night's sleep and some seriously strong coffee (sorry, no creamer); we went and worshipped God last Sunday morning at the church in which we would be serving at revival during our week in Les Cayes.

Sunday afternoon, we went back to the church and spent some time with the kids there, playing games and getting to know them. Sunday night we had revival. In between, we continued to ponder and plan for the next day's Bible school. Being somewhat settled, we did what most of us would do when feeling a bit out of our element - we went in search of the Internet!

                      Facebook and Skype are our friends!

It was awesome to speak with - and in some cases see - our families. Modern technology is amazing. It's still somewhat unbelievable that in a small Haitian town, we could hit the dining area in our hotel and get access to the wider world through wireless satellite Internet access. The ability to communicate across the globe always reminds me of what Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 about the Gospel of the Kingdom being preached to all nations - and then the end will come. There is nothing that will help you get over the discomfort of travel and circumstance like remembering that you are actually doing what Jesus has asked you to do.

Jezi se wa!

It had been morning and evening on our second day in Haiti. Monday was to kick off all of our teaching ministries: Pastors, ladies and children. This seems like a great place to stop for today. Thanks for reading and stay tuned to hear about our teaching experiences and see pictures of the kids!

God bless you.

X

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

…but the greatest of these is love.

Bienvenue!



           The welcoming banner at our hotel in Les Cayes

This is the first of I’m not sure how many blogs that I will post over the next few days or weeks in an effort to share thoughts and insights gained from our church’s recent trip to Les Cayes (Aux Cayes) Haiti. This was my deuxième voyage to Haiti and this trip was very different from the first one I went on last year. I’ll write more on those differences later.

Many people ask about what we do when we go to Haiti; in effect, they’re asking, “Why do you go?” For some, it’s not enough that we are spending time with men, women and children, loving them, sharing with them, teaching them, feeding them…giving them something hopeful, something different from their everyday life. I’ve had people tell me that I don’t need to go to Haiti, or anywhere for that matter, and push my beliefs on the people who live there. I respect anyone’s freedom to share their opinion on that with me. I also respectfully disagree.

For one, I’m not pushing my beliefs on anyone. I’m sowing seeds. Each one of us has a choice to make regarding what we believe. All I do – all we do – when we go on an international mission is try to bring light into the life of the people we encounter. That light may be a smile, a helping hand, a meal – or it might be medical care, a new roof, a home.

In 1st Corinthians 12, Paul explains why all of us have to work together for the good of one another and how each one of us has gifts and abilities that we need to use for God’s glory. As I drove to work yesterday, my first day back from Haiti, I wondered about people who don’t believe in God – or maybe do believe in God, but don’t think He’s actively involved in our world. Where is the purpose in their life? From birth to death, they eat, work, play, laugh, cry, get angry or whatever – and then they die. And that’s it. King Solomon must’ve felt a little like that when he wrote what has become the book of Ecclesiastes. How empty it would be to get up in the morning and think that whatever I accomplish today has no ultimate meaning or purpose.  

But I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole today.

Our team consisted of seven people led by our Pastor, Brian Nall of Ferris Hill Baptist Church (Milton, FL). Three of us had been on mission last year and four were experiencing it for the first time. The first of many catch phrases that came out of our trip to Les Cayes is: “Well, last year…” and then you fill in the blank. The four new missionaries wanted to throttle us by Tuesday after about the hundredth time we began a sentence with those words.



                       The team in Port au Prince

This year’s trip was completely different than last year’s. The location was different, the travel experience was different, the climate was different, the kids were different, our in-country team was different, the hotel experience was different, the schools were different, and our team was different.
Corina, Julie, Laura, and Patrick: I’m sorry for beginning so many sentences with: Well, last year…



            The ladies in the back setting out for Les Cayes

The first thing that was different was change. Our first hint of the week to come occurred right after we made our way out of the crowded Port au Prince (PaP) airport at about 4:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Our itinerary called for an overnight stay at the mission house in PaP (about 15 minutes from the airport) and then a five-hour drive west to Les Cayes on Sunday morning. We were all prepped for that after getting up in the pre-dawn hours to make our 7:00 a.m. flight out of Pensacola.



        Everyone out of the bus! Fixing one of our flat tires...

It was a l-o-n-g journey to Les Cayes Saturday night. I think we stopped about five times. A couple for gas and such before we left PaP, and three on the highway. One to tighten lug nuts, two to change flat tires and then to switch vans after the last flat tire so we could complete the journey and get to our lodging in Les Cayes.

Brief word(s) about the term: highway. Potholes; unsafe bridges, detours through a convenient dry wash, speed bumps, mountains, curves…Last year we had a relatively pleasant (sorry Rebekah) drive to Mirebalais. This year, we had Dramamine.

Through God’s Grace, we finally made it to Les Cayes at or about 9:30 p.m. Our in-country team had called ahead and the hotel staff (bless them!) had a late meal of chicken and – of all things – French Fries waiting for us. Believe it or not, the food helped everyone’s stomach feel a little better. Or maybe it was our favorite drink:



               Anyone for a Sprite or fifty?

After dinner, we trooped upstairs to our rooms – three to a room – and were lulled to sleep by the soothing roar of the diesel generator outside. Apparently, it’s cheaper to run the entire hotel off of generator power than pay the government for electricity. In any case, we were most grateful for this modern – if somewhat noisy – luxury. We had survived the journey and were looking forward to a night’s rest and then a morning of worship in God’s house.
We talked a lot about God’s creation during our week in Haiti and it seems appropriate that I end this particular blog here, at the end of our first day. Thank you for reading and I hope you come back to The Stream to catch up on the rest of our mission adventures!

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