Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Fat Pastor Academy

I came across an opportunity the other day that I found interesting. I have the chance to take an online course through United Methodist Communications to learn how to use the program Moodle. This is a program that designs online courses. I haven’t been able to figure out many details about it, but apparantly if I take this course I will be able to build an online Bible study that can be accessed by anyone with their own computer and the internet.

The possibilities for such a dynamic teaching tool are very exciting to me. I would love to start with a New Testament Survey course that I designed a few years ago. There are a couple of factors I am still trying to figure out, but first and foremost I want to try and gauge interest. I am not sure if there would be a cost to taking a the course. I know the software is free, but I’m guessing moodle has to make money somewhere. If you are a reader of The Fat Pastor, would you be willing to enroll in an online Bible study? Please answer the poll question below, and please leave comments too.

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What’s Guenther’s legacy?

So the news today in Illini Nation is that Ron Guenther has retired.  After 19 years of service as the  athletic director at the University of Illinois, he will step down on June 30.  As a huge Illini fan, I have mixed feelings.  I think Guenther has run a pretty good program.  They have had spots of success in many sports, and there has no been no major controversies surrounding their coaches. There was the Jamar Smith incident, but that seemed to be more of an isolated case than a part of a program-wide problem.

My first reaction to Guenther is that he ran a clean department that had excellence in non-revenue sports.  Under his watch the Illini became the only school outside of Florida, California and Texas to win an Men’s Tennis national championship.  I think that is pretty cool.  There also seemed to be a steady flow of national champions in track and field, wrestling and gymnastics.  The volleyball and soccer programs seem strong as well.  Most ignore these achievements, but I think it is a source of pride that Illini athletics seems to be pretty well-rounded.

Under his tenure Memorial Stadium underwent major renovations.  The entire football experience has been improved (although the ILL-INI chant is not as cool with the new alignment of the students).   Before the economy went belly-up, there were plans to renovate the Assembly Hall, and the practice facilities – which play a major part in recruitment – have also been improved.

On the field three seasons stand out: the 2001 Sugar Bowl football team, the 2005 Final Four basketball team and the 2008 Rose Bowl football team.  All three provided great memories and lasting records, but ended up falling short of championships.  And in the end, I feel like that is going to be the most enduring feeling over Guenther’s tenure – coming up short.

The football and men’s basketball programs have been frustrating to follow over the last 19 years.  They show signs of improvement and glimmers of excellence, only to slip back into maddening mediocrity.  Bruce Weber and Ron Zook seem like decent guys, and I appreciate their character, but I think the University of Illinois deserves better than decent.  It should be possible to have both character and championships.  While the athletic department seems to have character, the Illini don’t have enough championships.  Is it too much to want both? 

Maybe in the current climate of college athletics it is too much to ask for.  I’m glad the Illini didn’t run out and hire Tom Caliparri or Kelvin Sampson.  But it would be nice to hire a college basketball coach that knows how to beat a zone defense.  It would be nice to have football coaches that help players get better over four years instead of recruiting high school all-stars that never reach their potential.

There are some Illini fans that are celebrating today.  I’m not one of them.  I believe that Ron Guenther is a decent guy and ran a decent program.  I just think the Illini deserve better.

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Doug Rees – Musician

Tonight was date night, so yesterday I googled “Live folk music Quad Cities.”  We love listening to live music.  It is one of our favorite things to do together.  I love to sit in bar or a coffee shop with a mug of a strong-tasting brew (hot or cold) and just lose myself in music.  I can close my eyes, tap my fingers and be made new.

Tonight we were not disappointed.  We found a place called Mojo’s, which is a sort of songwriter’s academy.  We found some comfy chairs, ordered two decaffs, and sat back and listened to some amazing music.  We were treated to the music and storytelling of Doug Rees.  We not only met a great artist, but we made a couple of friends.  It was a wonderful evening.

I’m not a music critic, so I’m not going to try and describe Doug’s music.  Instead, I posted one of his songs.  It was a song that touched me.  It reminded me of the many towns that I call home.  It reminded me of the unifying spirit of people in community.  Many of his songs had this spirit flowing through them – the spirit of friendship, love and roots that run deep.

I hope you take the time to listen to some of his music.  He played a few of his new songs, which will be released soon.  I’d love to hear “Nature Boy” again.

Doug, if you read this, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for a wonderful night.  Thank you for your stories.  Thank you for your songs.  Thank you for making the trip up from Cape Girardeau to sing to a few folks in a coffee shop in Davenport.  It might not have been the bright lights of an arena, but I will remember your concert forever.  Above all, thank you for your sincerity and joy.  It was a pleasure to spend a little while with you.  My only regret is that we couldn’t stay longer.  I’m looking forward to the next CD, and eagerly anticipate your next trip to the Quad Cities.

To hear more of Doug, and a few other great artists, check out the Music link.

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What would they think?

I remember mixing the blueberry muffin batter.  I was so careful not to spill the little tin of blueberries on the counter, because I knew it could stain.  My brother was really in charge of the batter, but he would let me mix it too.  He added the secret ingredient – the honey.   It was my job to make the tea, which meant I put the mug of water in the microwave.  We put the carefully crafted breakfast on our Dukes of Hazard TV tray, but we would cover up Bo, Luke and Daisy with something classy – like a paper towel.  Just one more added touch to make it perfect – go out in the yard and find a flower.  Pick the dandelion, put it in the glass and a perfect Mother’s Day breakfast in bed was ready.

anna jarvisI wonder how much the founders of Mother’s Day would recognize today’s ritual?  What would they think of the handmade cards, the breakfast in bed, and the dandelion bouquets?  There are three women generally recognized as the co-founders of  Mother’s Day.  All of them had similar ideas, and were inspired by similar motives.  They were churchgoing women who wanted to recognize the role of mothers.

They were crusaders, rallying around the universal power of mothers to make the world a better place.  Their passion, their overriding sense of call, was to the cause of peace.  Julia Ward Howe, who wrote, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was appalled by the evils of war and wanted to create a day where women would come together to make change in the world.  Juliet Calhoun Blakely came to the pulpit in her Methodist Church in Michigan when the pastor was too drunk to finish the job and preached about temperance.  Anna Jarvis taught Sunday school at a Methodist Church in West Virginia.  Jarvis advocated for children’s health and welfare and promoted peace in a community torn by political rivalries.  It was in West Virginia that the first Mother’s Day was officially recognized in 1908.  On Mother’s Day we stand in the shadow of these mighty women, and I wonder what they would think.

These were women that had a strong sense for the pain in the world.  What would they think of the sentimentality of the day they helped create?  They understood pain in the world as only a mother could.  Their sons’ bodies were sacrificed on the altar of war.  Their sons had missing limbs, broken bodies and shattered spirits.  Their sons abused alcohol, wasted their income, their time, and their energy on the promise of an empty bottle. Their daughters lived with terror of domestic violence.  Their sons and daughters died slowly of disease.  They were mothers – not just of the offspring they raised – but of all children.

It was in the midst of this pain that they stood.  Out of the ashes of war, out of the shadow of abuse and alcohol, out of the despair of disease, the mothers stood.  They were angry with the state of the world, and wanted a day to recognize the power of mercy and love.  They wanted a day to recognize the power of women – mothers – to make a change in the world.

What would they think now?  What would they do when they saw women in Africa weeping over a child dying every 45 seconds of malaria?  What would they say to those that claim that health care is a privelege, not a right?  What would they think when they saw more sons and daughters going off to another war to kill the sons of other mothers?  How would they respond to the meth labs in living rooms?  What kind of pain would they feel?

I’m guessing that they would feel just as mothers do today when they see their children suffer.   I’m guessing they would continue to stand with their fellow mothers and support a local shelter for victims of domestic violence.  They would get involved with Imagine No Malaria, a project with a plan to eradicate malaria deaths.  They would help at food pantries at their church, organize health clinics, contribute to literacy campaigns.  What would they do when they saw that their children were in pain?  They would do what mothers do today: they would work, volunteer, preach, donate, teach, mentor, guide, and pray.

What would they think of a dandelion bouquet?  I think they would treasure it just as my mother did – like all mothers do.  They would see the love out of which it was made.  They would know that all the work they do in the world is for this: So that children every where can live in peace.  Those women, and women before them, and women since them have wanted this: to live in a world where all of God’s children are free to pick a dandelion bouquet – free of disease, free of fear, free of war.

Its a dream we all share.  It is a dream for which we all work.  In the meantime, take the time to pick a dandelion bouquet, and say a prayer for mothers.

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USA! USA!

Is that what I’m supposed to be chanting right now?  Should I be waving my flag and shaking my fist.  Should I pop some champaign, honk my car horn and shoot off some fireworks?  I just heard (on ESPN of all places) that Osama Bin Laden is dead.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to react.

Should I be excited?  Should I be proud?  Should I feel safer? Should I feel sorrow?

At this point, I’m not really sure what I feel.  I still remember the numbing sadness of September 11.  I remember running out of tears on that horrible morning as I was glued to the television for hours on end.  I remember the anger, the sadness and the confusion.

Now that Bin Laden is dead, should I be happy?  Does the death of this sick and twisted man take away any of that pain?

I’m thinking of the last ten years as the United States has responded to that awful day with two wars, trillions spent, an economy in shambles, and thousands dead.  Will the death of Bin Laden bring our troops home?  Will it make any of them safer tonight as they sleep on foreign soil?

The President is about to speak.  Should I feel proud that I voted for him?  Should I think more of his presidency?  I’m not sure how much he had to do with this.  I am sure in the next few days Republicans and Democrats will tell me about how I should feel about this night.  And I have a feeling that they will tell me very different things.

On September 12, 2001 I bought an US flag and hung it outside my balcony window.  I called a Muslim friend of mine, hoping that he was safe, afraid that he might face violence because of the church at which he chose to worship.  Will he face violence again tonight?

All I can know for sure tonight is that I am thankful for the American soldiers that have dedicated their lives to my protection.  I am thankful that someone else was able to do the work that I could not imagine doing.  I pray for our American soldiers everywhere as they continue their efforts to protect us.  I pray for those that are now in increased danger because of bin Laden’s death.

Above all I pray for peace.  Osama bin Laden died tonight.  It’s not often that I feel that the cause of peace can be advanced with weapons of war, but surely that has happened tonight.  Surely we have taken a step toward peace, right?  It is difficult to know how big of a step.  A man who dedicated his life to evil – to killing innocents and framing it as the will of God – is dead.

I pray that no one else has to die in order to defend liberty.

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The Princess Paradox

After writing a blog about the Royal Wedding, which I called “materialistic pornography,” I decided I should clear a few things up.  I read a few debates on FB and understood the points of all those that were critical of my post.  I decided a long time ago to not engage in long-running online debates with people on this blog, so I am not going to address anything in particular (Although the assertion of one critic that the royals used “their own money” to pay for the wedding made me smile.  I’m not sure how we define what “their own money” is- and neither does the NY Times.) 

The point I was trying to make had nothing to do with the kind of people Will and Kate are.  It had nothing to do with their philanthropic efforts.  It really didn’t even have anything to do with the exact amount of money that was spent – or the source of that money.  My point was this: things like the Royal Wedding, and especially the way the American media portrays it, contribute to the princess mythology that girls are drenched in from birth.

I can spend the next few paragraphs explaining the princess mythology, but instead I’ll share with you a conversation I had last night with my four-year-old daughter. 

“Am I a princess, Daddy?”

I resisted the temptation to just say, “Yes, of course you are.”  Instead I asked her, “What does it mean to be a princess?”

“It means you have lots of pretty dresses.”  Okay – this was her first response to defining what a princess is.  By this definition my daughter is a princess.  She has a lot of pretty dresses.  And I love them all.  I love seeing her in them.  I love watching her twirl her skirts.  I love the joy and confidence she exudes when she wears them.  I love the look on her face when she opens up a gift and finds a pretty dress and she exclaims, “Thank you, I love it.”  I love that she would wear a pretty dress every day of her life if we let her because she knows in her heart that she is, in fact, a princess. 

I have to insert here that this conversation took place while my daughter was wearing one of her favorite pretty dresses.  It’s her “ballerina dress.”  It is pink and has a wide flowing skirt made of touling that twirls when she spins.  She had on a white sweater and a pink overcoat and had a big pink flower in her hair.  And I was wearing a sportcoat and a pink tie.  We were on a date, and were heading to the ballet to see – yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy in this – Cinderella.  And she loved every second of it. Afterwards she met the dancer that played Cinderella, and I now have a new favorite dancer.  I was moved to tears several times during the night while I watched my daughter’s face light up.

But here’s the problem – if the feminine ideal is to be a princess, and being a princess is defined by “having lots of pretty dresses,” where does it stop?  How many pretty dresses is enough to be considered a princess?  And does having lots of pretty dresses define happiness?  I can say with confidence that to my daughter, there is more.  She is kind and compassionate and appreciates what she has.  On our way to the theater we got a little turned around, and for a few tense moments I wasn’t exactly sure how to get there.  She sensed my stress and told me, “It’s okay Daddy, even if we don’t get to the theater, I still had a great time because I’m with you.”  So I feel good about my daughter, the princess.  But even so, here is more of that conversation:

“So, princesses have lots of pretty dresses.  What else?”  I waited, then asked, “Are princesses smart?”

“No, they are beautiful.” 

“Are princesses brave?”

“Yes – but well, sort of.”

“What do you mean, they are sort of brave?”

“Well, princesses wait for Prince Charming to come and rescue them from evil witches and monsters and stuff.”

And here is the princess paradox.  My daughter is a loving, compassionate, intelligent and articulate little girl.  She is smart and brave and beautiful.  She is a princess.  Not because she has a lot of pretty dresses – but because of who she is inside.  She is a princess because she should be honored and adored, and I pray someday she finds someone who loves her as much as I love her mother.  She is a princess, but I do not want her to ever think for even a second that she has to wait for Prince Charming to come and rescue her from monsters and stuff.

There are plenty of monsters in this world, and real monsters are a much bigger threat to my daughter then watching the Royal Wedding.  When those monsters rear their ugly heads, I pray my daughters will have the strength, courage, and confidence to defend themselves and rely on God, family and friends – not wait for Prince Charming.

Maybe the Royal Wedding is just a moment to escape.  Maybe it is just a chance to live in a fairy tale.  Maybe it is just a celebration of two young people who fell in love and want to help make the world a better place.  Maybe Kate is the kind of princess my daughter can aspire to be – I have no idea, and frankly I don’t care.  I have bigger dreams for my daughter than anything that was on TV this week.  I have bigger dreams for her than anything Disney can package and market.

I want my daughters to know how much they are loved.  I want my daughters to know that they are smart and brave and beautiful.  I want my daughters to be strong like my Aunt.  I want my daughters to have faith like my mother.  I want my daughters to be passionate like my sister.  I want my daughters to be kind like my grandmother. 

What turned me off about the Royal Wedding wasn’t so much the wedding itself, but its place in the greater princess myth.  It is a story that is told over and over by our culture.  Disney, celebrity news, tabloids, commercials, and our surrounding culture drown our girls into believing this myth.  The tell them why they are princesses, and most of it is a lie.  My daughters are princesses – not because of anything they own or buy or because of anything that is marketed to them.  They are princesses for this reason:

They are princesses because they are daughters of princesses.  They are princesses because they are daughters of the King of Kings.

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