Monthly Archives: November 2008

Etablished, Unfulfilled

It’s a little cheesy, and you can tell that I have been reading some Dr. Seuss with my daughter, but here’s my first try at poetry in over ten years:

Established, unfulfilled, here and yet to be.
People of God, unwilling to see.

Where’s the Prince of Peace in the midst of such war?
We’re in the image of God, yet corrupt to core.
Peace that we seek, for peace do we yearn.
While cities and buildings and children still burn.

Dividing walls built in hearts and with brick
By people who hold onto Bibles so thick.
Telling us who we can and cannot love,
Pharisees all try to strangle the dove.

Through the darkness does break a beacon of hope.
In midst of rough waters a life-saving rope.
Lo a child is born in a manger so rough,
Letting us know that, YES, love is enough.

Love your neighbor, Love God, there is nothing more.
And suddenly the seams of the curtain, they tore.
In the midst of fighting and chaos and doom,
We know that our Creator is saving a room.

The Kingdom of God is still unfulfilled,
We continue to struggle for what God has willed.
Love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with God.
Eat dinner with sinners, the poor and the odd.

Though sometimes the Kingdom comes painfully slow,
Together we struggle, together we go,
to the Kingdom of God, our victory won
Established, unfulfilled, our stuggle not done.

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We need transformation, not bailouts

The worst grade I received in college was in a beginning accounting class.  I took it because a bunch of my fraternity brothers said it was an easy class.  I forgot that they were all business majors.  I, on the other hand, had been avoiding real math classes since my junior year in high school, when I could take computer programming instead of Calculus. In other words, I am no economic expert, but I can’t help but feel like all of the talk about bailouts and economic stimulus and billions of dollars of corporate aid are all treating the symptom instead of the disease.

All of this reminds me of someone getting liposuction to get more fit, when what is really needed is a change of eating habits (of which I know a lot about).  You can do all the liposuction you want, but until there is a change of lifestyle, and sometimes this takes a radical transformation, the same problems are going to keep popping up.

All the economic fixes that I read about seem to be nothing more than sucking the fat out, without addressing the problem of how it got there in the first place.  We need to stop sucking out the fat, or the same problems will just creep up years down the road.  Instead, we have to go through a transformation of our culture.   We have come to a place in our culture where buying stuff has been identified as the path toward happiness.  We all want happiness, we all want joy – there is nothing wrong with that.  I believe that God wants us to be happy.  God wants us to have joy.  The problem is where and how we pursue that happiness.

To many, happiness, freedom and joy come with the ability to buy stuff we want.  If we have that plasma TV, that game system, and that MP3 player, then we will be happy.  Once those things are acquired, and the happiness still hasn’t come, then we seek out other stuff to make us happy.  Instead of finding freedom and joy, people get trapped into the slavery of consumerism and debt.  Consumer debt in this country is staggering.  The last figures I found claim that we have enough consumer debt (which does not include mortgages) to spread it around to over $5,000 per man, woman, and child.

What we need is transformation.  We desperately need a transformation of a culture that is lost in a world of greed and accumulation.  Our culture needs to stop idolizing the rich and the celebrity.  We need to turn off “Deal or No Deal” and the E! channel.  We need to ignore the advertisers. We need to realize that the only sure source of joy in the world is a relationship with God.  Through Jesus Christ we are offered freedom – true freedom.  We need to find freedom from the gods of accumulation and debt.  Those gods offer nothing in return. 

On the other hand, Jesus offers us life, and life abundant – not stuff abundant.  I believe we are headed for some difficult times.  We as a culture have a choice to make.  Every great empire the world has ever known has crumbled because of one thing: economic turmoil.  We are looking at the same type of collapse unless we have a cultural revolution.  Those are our choices: collapse or transformation. 

The change we need as a people will not come in the form of bailouts or economic stimulus packages or tax cuts.  The change we need will come in the human heart, when we as a people decide stop working to acquire more stuff, and we work instead for the interests of all humankind.

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The Twlight Phenomenon

I have started reading Twilight, and I have to say, I don’t get it.  I understand that as a 31 year old male, I am not exactly the book’s target demographic, but I’m not exactly the target demographic for “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” or “The Giver,” or “Harry Potter,” and all of those books are thuroughly readable.  “Twilight,” on the other hand, is painful to read.

I am about half way through the nearly 500 page book, and I am really hoping that something happens soon, because the last 200 pages have been the following: 

      I love him so much, but I am afraid he’s going to eat me. But he’s so beautiful, and I can’t stand to be away, but I hope he’s so dangerous.
      ‘You need to stay away from me, Bella’ Edward said. ‘I’m sooooo dangerous.’
      I knew he was dangerous, but I couldn’t take my eyes off his beautiful pale face. I love his beautificity soooooo much.

 Seriously, there is nothing original about this story.  There is a 17-going-on-35 girl that has a flighty Mom and a Dad she can’t communicate with.  She is the new girl in a small town, and everyone is fascinated by her, and she is fascinated by the brooding, but devastatingly handsome loner that everyone in said small town misunderstands.  This is every teen romance written since 1950, combined with every vampire story written since 1800.

Like I said, there might be something interesting coming.  I am not done, but it is getting more and more difficult to read the completely unbelievable dialogue between two cookie-cutter characters. 

Last night I was telling my wife about this book and I read a sample paragraph from the page I was on.  She laughed, as I told her that is the entire book so far.  To prove my point, I flipped to a random page and found an almost identical paragraph from the one I found.  If you have this book, give that a try.  Flip to any two random pages from 50-250, and see if you can tell them apart.

Some people must have liked this book.  Please tell me why.


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The trouble with blogging

I started this blog about three weeks ago as a way to help chronicle my struggle to become more fit, to share some of my theological insight, and to have a place to record some random thoughts.  I had no visions of grandeur when I began this endeavor.  I got a real kick out of the first set of comments I received from friends who appreciated my writing.  It was great to hear from a couple of people I was not expecting, and I was flattered by some very kind words both here and in other places in cyberspace.  I enjoyed monitoring the number of visits I had, and I get a small sense of joy when I see the history graph on my blog stats spike past 30 visits in a day.

Last week I achieved two milestones as a blogger.  The first was that I passed 500 visits.  I average about 100 a week, and that is pretty cool – but those are just numbers, and I have no idea who those 500 visits were, but I figured they were mostly friends of mine.  Then the second milestone happened.  Last week, I had a comment from someone named Neal.

I do not know Neal.  I am not sure how he came across my blog, but he commented on my blog about the Social Creed.  He and I carried on a discussion through a few posted comments.  We seem to disagree on the nature of the gospel.  He seems to be a thoughtful person, a Christian, and probably a pretty nice guy.  But I have no idea who he is, and I realized that I have officially expanded my sphere of influence.  I have now reached people with my ideas that I would have otherwise never reached.  There is great power in that concept, but there is also a serious problem.

If you read the comments we left for each other, it is clear that Neal and I disagree about some things.  He clearly has little respect for Chuck Currie, who was a classmate of mine.  And while I don’t agree with Chuck on everything, I respect his passion, his intellect, and many of his ideas.  I also have a great deal of admiration for the mission of the National Council of Churches. 

Neal and I could have gone back and forth for sometime on my comments page and argued about the mission of the Church, the interpretation of Scripture, and the authority of the Bible.  I am willing to bet that we disagree on a lot of things, and could probably argue about abortion rights, homsexuality, immigration, war, poverty, and probably over the advantages of a queen opening in chess and the designated hitter. 

Neal and I could probably argue and argue and argue, and have lots of very logical and eloquent diatribes.  We could quote the thoelogians of the past, we battle with Bible quotes, and have a literary contest of wits and wisdom.  But what good would that do?

I wonder if a single heart has ever been won with those tactics.  Has anyone on a discussion board ever changed their mind?

Theology is a tricky thing.  What makes it so difficult is that we think about God with more than our head.  Knowing God is not a purely intellectual endeavor.  I stand whole-heartedly behind the idea that education and scholarship can bring us to a fuller, and more healthy faith.  At the same time though, I recognize that God-words are written by the heart. 

That is the problem with blogging – with discussion boards – with chat rooms – with call-in TV shows – with formal debates – there is plenty of head-work, but little heart-work.  We can argue all we want, but until there is a relationship, there is no transformation.  Theology is a barren wasteland if it is not connected to human hearts.  Theology, if done without relationship to other human beings, is dead.  And I cannot help but think that the internet has created a vast network of pseudo-relationships that fool us into thinking we are influencing people, when all we are really doing is spitting in the wind. 

I am going to keep blogging.  I am going to keep it up because it strokes my ego just a little to see those spikes in my blog stats.  I am going to keep it up because maybe, just maybe, someone will read my words and be touched or inspired or challenged or entertained.  I am going to keep it up because I am, at heart, a writer.  It’s what I do.  And I am going to keep it up because despite all of its shortcomings, this blog is still a great way to increase my sphere of influence.


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The struggle continues

Yesterday I feel like I made an important discovery.  I worked out at night for the first time in my new endeavor, and loved it.  I commented in a prior post on the stories I have heard about people that work out in the morning and how it gives them more energy thoughout the day.  I have not experienced that yet.  Usually, when I work out in the morning I have been getting worn out quickly during the workout and go home exhausted and remain so for the rest of the day. 

I went to work out at about 6 last night, had an protein energy shake before working out, and then had the best workout I have had since I began.  I went 15 minute strong on the eliptical, I bench pressed 250 pounds (which is more than I have done in over 10 years, and I did it without much difficulty).  I then did 225 twice, and 185 10 times.  I curled, did triceps, back, more chest work, a super-fast set of 100 jumping rope, and more ab work than I have been able to do.  I worked out for about an hour and a half.  Then had dinner, and was tired at 9 p.m. instead of 11 a.m. 

There are still benefits to working out in the morning, but I can’t help but feel like my bio-clock is set for afternoon/evening activity.  I wonder if anyone else has had similar or different experience when they start working out regularly?

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The Social Creed, 100 years later

100 years ago, the Methodist Episcopal Church put forth a Social Creed.  It was a statement of solidarity with the millions of victims of the industrial revolution.  During a time of unchecked capitalism, the industrial revolution had created a system of enormous oppression.  Workers were forced into labor conditions that were dangerous, grueling, oftentimes cruel, and usually for little pay.

In the face of this injustice, the Church found its prophetic voice, and ushered in the era of the Social Gospel.  Reading the creed of 1908 is like reading a summary of modern labor laws.  Among the items covered by the creed was the abolition of child labor, the six-day work week and the right of workers to have a safe working environment. 

Some decried the creed as Socialist, and many thought that the Church was overstepping its bounds.  Critics wanted the Church to stay out of politics and policy.  They felt that the Church should just have worship on Sunday, a few Bible studies on Wednesday night, and a pot-luck from time to time.  If the Church wanted to get involved, these critics felt, then open up a food pantry or give money to a missionary in Africa.

I like a good green bean caserole or deviled egg as much as the next guy, and I love sitting around a table to talk about Scripture, but the Church is about more than pot-lucks and Bible studies.  Read Isaiah 58, and you will find these words:

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day,
   and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
   and to strike with a wicked fist.
Is not this the fast that I choose:
   to loose the bonds of injustice,
   to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
   and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
   and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Isaiah demands that we do more.  Isaiah demands that the Church act when it sees injustice.  In the New Testament, James agrees:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?  If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

I, for one, am proud that the Social Creed of 1908 is a part of the legacy and history of the Church I love.  In this, the one hundredth anniversary of the Social Creed, the United Methodist Church has created a new creed.  It is more universal and timeless.  Instead of being directed at specific injustice, it speaks of the nature of God in hope that believing in a God of justice will lead people to act for justice.  It is more liturgical in nature, and is written to be read responsively with a beautiful musical response.

There are many injustices in this world.  There is economic turmoil, a growing disparity between the rich and the poor; there are preventable epidemics, growing extremism, environmental disasters, and wars being fought that could have been avoided.  The writing of creeds and social principles will not solve the problems of our world.  The idea of a creed though, is to set a standard – to give people a place to fall back on when the work of justice becomes difficult.  It is a reminder of the God to whom we belong, and it holds out hope that in time the world in which we live can reflect God’s goodness more perfectly.


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Blue Ribbon Jug Band

I just found this myspace page for the Blue Ribbon Jug Band.  There are five songs to listen to – they are really good.  They have an O Brother, Where Out Thou? kind of sound.  Give them a listen. You have to love a band that uses a kazoo.  If you like it, look them up on facebook and become a friend of the band – they do shows in the Chicago area.

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Worn out

So far, the exercise regiment has been going well:

Week of Oct. 12: Returned from vacation.  Went to gym on Thu. and Fri. Goal Reached: I went back to the gym.  I was afraid that my fervor would pass after the week off, but I kept going.

Week of Oct. 19: Went to the gym four times: Mon., Wed., Thur., Fri.  Goal Reached: On Friday I bench pressed 225 pounds for the firs time in three years.

Week of Oct. 26: Went to the gym three times: Wed., Thu., Fri. Two Goals Reached: 1) I moved up to fifteen minutes of cardio on the eliptical.  Next goal is 20 minutes.  2) I carried my daughter upstairs to bed, and did not have to wait to catch my breath before telling her, “goodnight.”

Week of Nov. 2: Was in Schaumburg visiting family.  Went to gym once (so far): Wed.

Things have been going well.  I am certainly getting stronger.  I do not know how my weight is doing, but that is not really why I am doing this.  I usually workout for 45 minutes, and my goal has been to keep my heartrate elevated the entire time.  Things are gradually getting easier.  For instance, my near-stroke inducing 100 reps on the jump rope can now be done with relative ease.  And 20 sit-ups on the incline bench made me want to vomit.  Now I can do two sets of 25.

Here’s my problem though: I feel like my body muscles are getting stronger faster than my heart is.  I am getting worn out so fast.  After doing a set of sit-ups or bench press, my muscles feel like they can do more, but I just don’t have the energy.  If I was a car, I feel like my engine just isn’t getting enough fuel.  I am hoping this improves soon.

I am also waiting anxiously for the exercise to start giving me more energy.   I hear people talk about the fact that when they exercise in the morning they feel better all day.  I haven’t gotten to that point.  After I work out in the morning, all I want to do is go to sleep, and I am wasted the rest of the day.  There was a time when I stopped exercising at night because it made it difficult for me to go to sleep, but I think tonight I am going to try it.

Next Goals:

  1. Cardio: Do the eliptical for 20 minutes.  Next: Run on treadmill for one mile.
  2. Bench press: Complete a pyramid that ends at 225. Long-Term: Bench press 285 pounds (my previous best when I was 18 years old).
  3. Jump Rope: 150 continuous reps.
  4. Sit ups: Sets of 50.

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Obama and Hank Aaron.

I have yet to get political on this blog, but I have also not been shy about letting people know who I would vote for in the weeks and months leading up to last night’s election.  We have had Obama ’08 bumper stickers on both our cars since the primary.  My wife and I went to Lafayette, Ind., during the primary to hang signs on doors. 

We went to Springfield to see Obama introduce Joe Biden.  I was quoted on the front page of the newspaper the next day and was identified as “An Obama supporter from Chenoa.”  I also shook Obama’s hand that day and was giddy for a week as I told the story to anyone that would listen.  On facebook I have made a point to let everyone there know that I am an Obamamaniac. I have refrained from making any political statements from the pulpit, and I did not go so far as to put a lawn sign in front of the parsonage, but I think everyone that knows me knows who I voted for yesterday.

While pondering his extraordinary road to victory, I am reminded of Hank Aaron.  You might know Aaron as the second-leading home run hitter in baseball history.  He broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs in 1974. Aaron hit his 713th home run on the second to last day of the 1973 season, and spent the offseason just one home run shy of the most renowned record of all of sports – owned by the greatest figure of American sports history, Babe Ruth.

After the last game of the 1973 season, Aaron wondered if he would make it to the 1974 season, and he had good reason to wonder.  No one knew about it at the time, but Aaron was receiving threatening letters as he approached Ruth’s record.  During the offseason the death threats poured in.  Some of the most hateful, vitriolic things ever written were directed at this quiet and peaceful man.  “Hammerin” Hank was the most consistent hitter baseball has ever known, but because of the color of his skin, he became a target.  Recent accounts of this time have revealed that Aaron had a full squad of body guards, that he lost weight and sleep.   One reporter covering the chase at the time wrote Aaron’s obituary, with the foreboding knowledge of what could come.  After Aaron’s 715th home run, two teenagers ran out on the field to congratulate him, many feared for a moment they were there to harm him.  In recent interviews Aaron admits that he did not enjoy the chase, and that the ugliness that came with it made him bitter for many years.

Last night Barack Obama became the first African-American President-Elect.  As I watched him give his speech, which brought me to tears twice, a nagging feeling lingered.  I believe that one day we will find out that Obama experienced much of the same hatred that encountered Aaron.  I am sure that he has been bombarded with ugliness that most of us have never experienced.  As much as yesterday was about hope, I am realistic enough to know that even though 54% of Americans voted for Barack Obama to be the President of the United States, there are some that hate him with an unyielding passion.

I am full of hope for America.  I believe that we have come a long way, but I also know that we have a long way to go.  Electing a black man to be President is a signal to us all that America is truly the Land of Opportunity.  Electing a man to be President who has a grandmother living in Kenya is a sign to the world that the American Dream is still alive.

Yet I can’t help but think of Hammerin’ Hank, and all those people that threatened to take his life for hitting too many home runs.  I fear for President-Elect Obama and his beautiful family. 

I am hopeful for the future of America.  I believe we are striving toward a better future, one where demonizing those that are different is not accepted, one where diversity is lifted up as a triumph, one where the melting pot looks more like a stew.  I also know that we are not there.  Until that day, I will continue to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is heaven.  God Bless America.  God Bless all nations, and may God bless Barack Obama.

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