Saturday, November 18, 2006

Big Weekend, Prayers Sought

It's a big weekend around here...and not just because of the Ohio State game with Michigan.

Sunday is our congregation's annual Consecration Sunday. It's a critical moment for Friendship Lutheran Church as people indicate how they want to use their time, talents, and treasures in the mission of the congregation through 2007.

Your prayers that God will inspire us and help us to renew our commitment to Christ and the congregation would be enormously helpful...and deeply appreciated!
Go, Bucks, beat Michigan!

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Birthday of Symmetry...and a Big Wish!

I turn fifty-three tomorrow. There's a kind of symmetry in that: Born in '53, I will be 53. The perfect birthday gift? A win by Ohio State tomorrow, of course!

Go, Buckeyes!

A Very Sad and Ironic Turn of Events

I was saddened to learn of Bo Shembechler's death earlier today. How strange that it happened the day before what promises to be the greatest game ever between the University of Michigan and Ohio State.

Bo Shembechler loved both the University of Michigan, where he achieved greatness as head football coach and athletic director, and The Ohio State University, where he served as an assistant coach under his friend, Woody Hayes. (Shembechler also played his college football Miami University of Ohio, where Hayes was his coach.)

The not-so-widely reported fact about the greatest rivalry in sports is that the leaders of athletics at both OSU and UofM have immense respect for one another. That began with Shembechler and Hayes.

The scheduled moment of silence in memory of Bo Shembechler before the renewal of the rivalry tomorrow is absolutely appropriate.

They're Taking Nominations...

...for the Best Weblogs of 2006. I have several blogs I intend to nominate. Althouse notes the mysterious disappearance of several categories this year, including Best Religious Blog. Hmmm.

Was Jesus Bragging...

or was He Who He claimed to be? (And what does Taylor Hicks have to do with that question?) Charlie Lehardy considers these and other issues:
Jesus...claimed that he and God were partners. Buddies. God had shared his plans with Jesus. The two of them had divvied up responsibilities. He implied that they were alike in their natures, since Jesus expected to be around on the Day of Judgment sending people off to their eternal reward, or punishment.

Is it any wonder the religious leaders thought he was dangerous? In their eyes, Jesus was a liar, a blasphemer, and a false teacher who was leading innocent people astray.

It makes my fantasies about singing in front of thousands of screaming teen-agers seem pretty harmless.

Why, I could go around impersonating President Bush and be guilty of a lot less than Jesus.

Unless it's all true. As we used to say when I was a kid: It ain't bragging if you can do it. Was Jesus bragging? Was Jesus delusional? Was Jesus a liar?

Or was Jesus the Son of the eternal God?
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Making Contact: God's Mysterious Ways

[In this new series, Making Contact, I present a series of short (almost) daily considerations of Biblical texts that I hope you'll find helpful. The idea behind the name is that in the Bible, we make contact with the God Who has revealed Himself to humanity to millions of people over thousands and thousands of years. God can make contact with us today. The texts are based on the daily lectionary found in the Lutheran Book of Worship.]

Making Contact: Ezra 1:1-11
1In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a 2 written edict declared: 3Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them! —are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; 4and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

5The heads of the families of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites—everyone whose spirit God had stirred—got ready to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. 6All their neighbors aided them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with animals, and with valuable gifts, besides all that was freely offered. 7King Cyrus himself brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8King Cyrus of Persia had them released into the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9And this was the inventory: gold basins, thirty; silver basins, one thousand; knives, twenty-nine; 10gold bowls, thirty; other silver bowls, four hundred ten; other vessels, one thousand; 11the total of the gold and silver vessels was five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar brought up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem.

A Few Thoughts
Early in the Sixth Century-BC, Jerusalem, the once-proud center of Israel's religious and political life, fell to the conquering armies of Babylon. The nation of God's people had long been split into two kingdoms: Israel (or Samaria) to the north, whose religious and political life was centered on the town of Samaria and Judah or Judea to the south, centered in Jerusalem. By the time the Babylonians took the holy city, much of the south and the north had been in that conquering country's hands for a while.

To the prophets and eventually, most descendants of Abraham, Babylon's success in conquering God's people represented judgment from God. They had been arrogant. They had compromised their faith, worshiped other gods, countenanced dishonesty and unethical behavior from their religious and political leaders. In a theocratic nation like Israel, such violations of God's will could not long be tolerated by God.

And so God had allowed Babylon to conquer His people. The Babylonians, in turn, sent many thousands of Hebrews back to their country as slaves. This was the famous Babylonian Captivity. Jeremiah, the prophet, had said that this captivity, would last about seventy years, that after chastening His people, God would send them back to rebuild the nation He had given them.

In 559-BC, Cyrus became king of the Persians. Twenty years later, he led his armies as they conquered Babylon. (That's 539-BC, to which our text refers as "the first year" of Cyrus' rule. It was the first for the Babylonians now under Cyrus.)

There may have been sound political reasons for Cyrus to allow the captives to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild their city. But whatever his reasons, God's people were sure that the unseen hand of God was at work.

A few points...
1. To obey God is nothing more than to trust in--or to believe in--Him. Whatever takes highest priority in your life is your God. Indeed, from a Biblical perspective, to worship God involves a lot more than ritual action. God actually disdains ritual action if it isn't part of a life that keeps Him first. God's people were convinced that the reason for their captivity was that they had chased after--believed in or worshiped--other gods.

2. Sin has its consequences, even if they're only of the internal, psychological variety. Sin can leave scars. But even scars can be God's gracious reminders of the path of better living.

3. God never gives up on us. He didn't give up on Israel and He won't give up on you. If you call on Him, He will hear you. All who turn from sin and trust in Christ can know His presence always.

4. God can use people and events we wouldn't expect to accomplish His purposes. It would seem unlikely that a Persian king would prove to be the benefactor of Israel. But Cyrus the Great was a benevolent ruler who set the people in all of his conquered territories to worship as they chose. He didn't believe in the God of the Hebrews; he was a worshiper of Mardok. Yet through Cyrus we see exemplified a principle I've been teaching my Catechism students for more than twenty years: Either God gets His way or God gets His way. Cyrus freed God's people at precisely that time chosen by God. (See Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10-14)

Prayer: God, through Jesus Christ, I see that you are for me. Help me to put you first in my life. Forgive for failing to have done so in the past. Help me to learn the lessons about Your tough love that I can see from those times when I've exiled myself from You. Amen

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

McCain Forms Exploratory Committee

Hot on the heels of former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani taking the same step, Arizona senator John McCain is forming an exploratory committee for a 2008 run at the presidency. A formal announcement will come tomorrow. But McCain has let a raft of email recipients--including, somehow, me--know that this is coming. A simple web site is collecting email and snail mail addresses and telephone numbers interested in his candidacy.

McCain is the third-most conservative member of the US Senate and as, he reiterated on last Sunday's edition of Meet the Press, he supports sending more troops into Iraq, a course advocated by only 18% of the American public, a decidedly conservative take on things. But he has a demonstrated ability to appeal to independents and moderate Democrats as well as Republicans.

At present, he is the clear frontrunner in what appears to be a three-way race for the 2008 GOP nomination, the other two being Giuliani and soon-to-be former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

In the end, I don't believe that Giuliani can win the Republican nomination. Republican primary and caucus voters might be willing to accept his candidacy if he departed from Republican orthodoxy on just one or two issues. But Giuliani is at variance with most Republicans on a whole constellation of issues.

Romney has apparently done a good job of organizing in Iowa and, as a Massachusetts pol, enjoys such a huge advantage going into the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary that unless McCain, Giuliani, or another candidate wins there, the contest in the Granite State will be meaningless. That will magnify the significance of both Iowa and South Carolina, a state where many believe, the Bush campaign or people allied with it, engaged in a campaign of character assassination against the Arizona senator in 2000.

One advantage, among many, that McCain enjoys going into the 2008 race is that Giuliani on the left and Romney on the right gives him the luxury of being able to run as the right-center candidate, appealing to both Republican voters in the run-up to the convention and to the entire electorate in the general election. I could easily see a McCain-Romney ticket being the result of the pre-convention campaign.

As I've said before, Republicans tend to be more orderly in how they select their candidates for President. There's an informal plan of succession, it seems. It was, Republican primary voters and caucus participants seemed to feel, Reagan's turn in 1980, though his candidacy was contested, and Dole's in 1996. Were it not for the peculiarities of New Hampshire's proximity to Massachusetts and the smear campaign waged against McCain in South Carolina, whose primary follows that of New Hampshire, McCain might be considered the heir apparent.

But at present, few things are apparent about 2008.

[This was cross-posted at]

Art Doesn't Always Have to Be 'About' Something

Jafabrit, a wonderfully whimsical artist who works in many media, reminds us of that in this post:
sometimes motivation [for creating art] has to do with a desire to paint a tongue just because I had never done it before.
Often, it seems, artists only find the real meaning of their work, if there is a meaning to be found, after they've acted on the simple desire to do something with piece of canvas or the musical scale or a blank page they'd never done before.

Read--and view--the whole thing.

[UPDATE: My opinion may have changed a bit since I wrote this. I guess I feel that all kinds of art has its place and that artists who overworry about what meaning they want to convey aren't engaging in art, but propaganda.]

Making Contact: How to Limit God

[In this new series, Making Contact, I present a series of short (almost) daily considerations of Biblical texts that I hope you'll find helpful. The idea behind the name is that in the Bible, we make contact with the God Who has revealed Himself to humanity to millions of people over thousands and thousands of years. God can make contact with us today. The texts are based on the daily lectionary found in the Lutheran Book of Worship.]

Making Contact: Matthew 13:53-58
When Jesus had finished these parables, he left that place. He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

A Few Thoughts
Jesus went back to His hometown, Nazareth. At first, the people of Nazareth, a tiny village that probably never housed more than fifteen or twenty families, are dazzled. But that doesn't last for long. They find it hard to believe--as a man named Nathanael found it hard to believe when Philip told him where Jesus was raised--that anything good could come from Nazareth.

Besides, if Jesus really was all the things the rest of the country claimed He was--a teacher of wisdom, a worker of miracles, it would raise Him above the rest of the townspeople. And, after all, they knew Jesus' family. They were just ordinary people. Now Jesus was supposed to be some hot commodity? When they thought about it, they could only think of Jesus as cheeky and arrogant, His prominence seeming to mock their "lives of quiet desperation."

Jesus, apparently, was ready for their reaction. “Prophets," He said, "are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.”

Nazareth found it impossible to believe that Jesus was the Lord and Savior people were calling Him. They couldn't imagine that God would embody Himself in someone they knew or that God would come that close to them. They couldn't conceive of God bothering with them.

Sometimes the biggest impediment to faith is our low self-esteem and our impoverished capacity to accept how much God wants to connect with us.

"And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief." God can do anything. God can even help repentant sinners experience forgiveness, hope, and everlasting life. But only if we're willing to trust God more than we trust our fears, low self-image, sins, or doubts.

PRAYER: God, through Jesus Christ, Who came right down into our lives, help me to believe that You care about me. Amen

On Simpson's Book and Special

O.J. Simpson has produced a book and accompanying TV special called, If I Did It, Here's How It Happened. More great art from Judith Regan, publisher and TV magnate, it seems.

The entire premise of the book (and special) reminds me of an old Bill Cosby routine about shop class. A "clever" student puts a bullet in the furnace and it explodes. The teacher makes a couple of failed attempts to flush out the culprit. He then says something like, "Whoever would put a bullet in the furnace couldn't respect their mother very much."

That's more than the guy who did the deed can take. He calls out to the teacher, "I didn't put the bullet in the furnace and quit talking about my mother."

Simpson is trying to cash in on fascination with the case and his now-infamous celebrity to produce a book with a tortured premise. I hope he makes no money from the project, unless he needs the cash to pay off the wrongful death verdict rendered by a civil court.

(Ann Althouse doesn't like the grammar of Simpson's title.)

What I Wish One Cro-Magnon (and the Frightened Woman with the Shopping Cart) Knew

It was a bit chilly here in the Cincinnati area this past Saturday. Nonetheless, a group of adult volunteers and our church's youth worked together on a cookout held outside the exit doors of the local Sam's Club.

The sale of hot dogs, hamburgers, chips, and soft drinks--usually summer fare--went surprisingly well on a day when many of us, during our six hour stint, held our hands over the grill to warm up. But chilly fingers were a small sacrifice for a good cause. The proceeds from the sale will support a youth service trip this coming summer.

We met and talked with a lot of great people during the cookout. But one person, one with whom we never talked, who never got out of his car, really ticked me off.

Sometime in the early afternoon, we were startled to hear frenetic honking from a car close to us. We turned to see the person who was making all the noise. It was a man who looked to be in his thirties.

On and on he honked, his eyes, filled with anger, fixed on some target behind us.

I turned to see the object of his wrath.

It was a woman, pushing a shopping cart out of Sam's. When she realized that the honking was directed at her, a look of quaking terror crossed her face. On recognizing the car that was waiting for her, she sped to it, clearly hoping to placate the anger of the terrorist behind the wheel. (And maybe, to avoid further public embarrassment.) All the while, this guy kept honking the horn.

We were probably no more than fifteen feet from the man who was doing this and several of us couldn't help but comment. "Okay, she sees you," I said, maybe loud enough to be heard by the guy behind the wheel if he hadn't been making so much noise.

When the woman pushed her cart over to the car, the guy at last stopped pounding on the steering column. The woman opened the door, put the items from the cart into the car, and then wheeled the cart back to the sidewalk. She got into the car and it drove off.

The incessant, impatient honking. The look of terror on the woman's face. Even if we surmise that the man had a crippling condition that kept him confined behind the wheel, prevented him from getting out of the car to wave and call to her, made it impossible for him to help unload the contents of the cart into the car, those two pieces of evidence say a lot. Their message is simple and clear: Sexism is alive and unfortunately, thriving in our society.

Every time I emerge from my cocoon to see that awful fact, it comes as a surprise. I grew up in a home where my father changed the oil and changed diapers, fixed cars and fixed dinner. And it wasn't as though my folks were Blue state, tree-hugging disciples of Betty Friedan. Nothing of the kind. They just realized a fundamental fact of life: Women and men are both human beings and so, equal. And neither one is meant to be the boss.

I only wish that people like the cro-magnon with the horn knew that. Even more, I wish that the frightened woman with the shopping cart could know it, too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lessons

[These passes are designed to help people to prepare for worship in the coming weekend. They're designed to be helpful to the people of Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, although most weeks, people in other congregations and traditions may find them helpful. That's because most weeks, we use one of the Biblical texts from the Lutheran lectionary. Our lectionary is very similar to those employed by many other churches and is rooted in the Church Year. However, a bishop of the late American Lutheran Church, David Preus, urged pastors and churches to break free from what he said could sometimes be, "the tyranny of the lectionary." We'll be doing that this week at Friendship, using two texts suggested by the staff of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Burnsville, Minnesota.]

The two lessons are Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18, from the Old Testament, and Hebrews 10:19-25 from the New Testament.

The Joshua Text:
1Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel...14“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

15Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” 16Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

The Hebrews Text:
19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Some General Comments:
1. This coming weekend brings our congregation--and apparently, many other churches--to our annual Consecration Sunday. On this Sunday each year, we ask members of Friendship to prayerfully consider how they will commit themselves to the mission that God wants us to accomplish together. Specifically, we're asked to consecrate our time, talents, and financial resources to God and our mission.

2. What does consecrate mean? One definition offered by the American Heritage Dictionary, here, is: "To dedicate solemnly to a service or goal." Another suggested meaning says, "Dedicated to a sacred purpose; sanctified." That gives some sense of what we're about on Consecration Sunday. My working definition for Consecration Sunday says:
“On Consecration Sunday, we dedicate our time, talents, and treasures to God and to the mission of the Church.”
3. The Old Testament book of Joshua recounts what God did through the exploits and faithful leadership of Moses' successor, Joshua. Moses, you'll remember, was the person God chose to lead His chosen people, the Israelites (or the Hebrews), out of slavery in Egypt and onto the Promised Land. But, though God blessed His people, all but two members of the whole generation that rebelled against God and chased after other gods, both in Egypt and during their forty years in the wilderness, were not allowed to enter the land of promise. Moses himself was unable to go there.

But two members of that generation were allowed entry into the Promised Land: Caleb and Joshua. That's because they didn't rebel, always trusting in God and God's promises.

4. Last week, we mentioned that the widow who briefly appears in chapter 12 of Mark's Gospel, is a Christ-figure. That isn't to say that she was sinless or a deity. It means that there was something about her behavior and character that foreshadowed Christ. Joshua is the Old Testament figure who most strongly foreshadows Christ.

There are several reasons for this:
  • His name, Yeshua in Hebrew is the same as that of Jesus. Jesus is the English transliteration of the Hebrew name and of the Greek version, Yesus. Jesus was Yeshua bar Yosef, Joshua son of Joseph (as was thought).
  • Jesus was sinless. Joshua wasn't that, of course. But, unlike the other members of his generation, he trusted God, making him unique.
  • Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. Jesus leads all who turn from sin and follow Him into eternity with God.
  • The name Yeshua means God saves. Through Jesus Christ, God does save us from sin and death.
5. Our lesson from Joshua comes near the end of Joshua's life and career. He brings the leaders of Israel, God's people, challenging them to choose to follow God, not the gods of the generation that died in the wilderness or their ancestors. Joshua was calling the people to consecrate themselves to follow the God Who had faithfully led His people through the wilderness, even when the people were faithless.

6. You can read about some of the background on Hebrews here. The book was addressed to Jewish-Christians facing the prospect of persecution and the understandable temptation to abandon the Christian faith and to call themselves Jews. That's because at that point in history, Jews enjoyed a favorable place in the Roman Empire.

7. In this passage, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, lay in the background. This day, held annually, was a time when a spotless lamb was sacrificed on the altar in the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple where the very presence of God was thought to reside.

Only once a year and only after going through elaborate rituals of cleansing, could the high priest enter this inner sanctum and offer the perfect animal sacrifice, a he-goat, for the sins of the people. After emerging, the priest would dip a hyssop branch into the sactificed animal's blood and sprinkle it on the assembled throng.

As was true of the enslaved Hebrews who were spared the loss of their first-born at the hands of the angel of death when they smeared the blood of a lamb on their doorposts, the people assembled at the Temple for Yom Kippur had their sins from the preceding year covered because a spotless lamb had been sacrificed, taking their rightful punishment for sin.

John the Baptist, according to the Gospel of John, proclaimed Jesus the lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. And the book of Hebrews underscores that those whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ are saved from sin and death "once and for all." We are covered when we trust Christ as our God and Savior.

8. The book of Hebrews sees all Old Testament rituals relating to atonement and the life of the temple being temporary foreshadowing of what God has done in Christ and of what eternity itself will be like. Through Christ, Who has made us clean "once and for all," we can approach God with confidence.

9. The text ends with a call to consecration, making it appropriate for this coming Sunday.

What Lloyd Carr Sees in His Nightmares

You really do have to feel for Lloyd Carr, head coach of the Wolverine football team at the University of Michigan. He's a great coach with a fantastic winning percentage and a national championship. But since Jim Tressel took over as head coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes, Carr's Wolverines are 1-4 against their archrivals from Columbus.

Cincinnati Enquirer writer Mike Lopresti writes about Tressel, Carr's nightmare:
Take a look at Jim Tressel. Bespectacled father of four. Who could guess he would cause so much misery for poor Lloyd Carr, grandfather of 10?

Oh, but he's trouble, all right. Been that way since the first day he took the Ohio State job. Remember what he told a basketball crowd at halftime that night?

"You'll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field."

And 310 days later, there was unranked Ohio State, dumping the No. 11 Wolverines in their own big house. The only man I can think of to cause more pain for the state of Michigan ever since is the CEO of Toyota...
Lopresti goes on to discuss Tressel's respect for Lloyd Carr and how little credit the OSU coach takes for the field play of his own charges. Then this, from Tressel's press conference yesterday:
The rhythm of Michigan week is underway. Tressel was watching film Monday when quarterback Troy Smith popped in with his cereal, so eager to study the Wolverines, "he almost grabbed the clicker and took over."

Now there is more film to study. More dangers to worry about. Some parting thoughts:

"In a game like this, you'd better play better than you are."

Tressel has shown he knows how to make the Buckeyes do that. And they'll be at home.

Poor Lloyd Carr.
However it goes, this biggest Ohio State-Michigan game ever, is likely to be a fantastic one.

And one last thing: Lloyd Carr seems like a great guy. Michigan has a great team this year. But I hope that Tressel and the Buckeyes give Carr more nightmares after an Ohio State win this coming Saturday afternoon.

Go, Buckeyes!

Larry Arnstein Breaks the Pledge

Larry Arnstein, a seasoned writer for television, including a stint at Saturday Night Live, claims that his work isn't really that hard. He says the writers who complain of how daunting writing is, comparing it to manual labor, are really part of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Writer's Guild of America. This is one of the funniest send-ups I've read on a blog. A sample:
You know how they say it's 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? I hate to tell you this, but nobody ever got a writing job in movies or TV by perspiring. The air conditioning in most offices you work in is excellent. You get hired by luck, like having a close relative or maybe a college roommate who happens to be doing the hiring. There is some talent involved: if you're real good at parties, that's helpful. But you don't have to be good at parties. If your writing partner is good at parties, that's just as good.

Another thing about writing. It's not actually "work." If you happen to get a job writing for TV, you go to an office, and if you live at some distance from that office in the Southern California area where most are located, you have to fight through traffic to get there, which is a little like work, but you don't really have to show up much before 10 AM. When you get there, you find a lot of people are working. In fact, everybody on a TV show works, except the writers. The writers just write. If you're the partner who's good at parties, you don't even have to write, just go to parties, and maybe network a little.

One more thing is that writing is just like talking only not as loud. In fact, if you like, you can talk to your computer, and the computer does the writing. But even if you insist on "writing" to save your voice for talking later on, it's just not at all like digging a ditch.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Fiction of 'Restoration'...and the need for the real the Haggard Case

John Schroeder comments on the process of "restoration" that Ted Haggard is undergoing right now. He points out that all Christians have ministries all the time--even when they've been broken by sin--and that the process being referred to as "restoration" may be less about helping Haggard experience wholeness as a child of God than it is about sprucing up the image of one outlet of organized religion.
WE ARE ALL MINSTERS - sometimes we are better ones than others. The whole conversation [about "restoration"] places way too much importance on the role of institutional and organizational leader, at the expense of [the] gospel being spread from person-to-person, life-to-life. Haggard was a minister, he is a minister[,] and he will always be a minister.

RIGHT NOW, RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, TED HAGGARD HAS A MINISTRY! There is nothing for him to be restored to. Haggard's ministry now is to be the best example possible of a person in the process of redemption - of confession - of humility - of being broken and rebuilt by God Himself. [emphasis mine]...My prayer for Ted Haggard is not that he would be restored to ministry, but that he would do this ministry, right now, better than it has ever been done before.

You see, people so anxious to "restore" Ted Haggard aren't so much interested in Haggard as they are in restoring public credibility to that church or to the National Association of Evangelicals. [again, emphasis mine]
John 14:27 - Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
Why are we concerned about public credibility, especially at the cost of a broken man still discovering precisely how contrite he is? That is seeking peace, seeking restoration[,] "as the world gives." We should be seeking Christ's peace, Christ's restoration! [again]
Read the whole thing.

To Prepare for This Coming Saturday's Game Between Ohio State...

and the team from up north, listen and sing along with the following tunes five times each day.

Carmen Ohio (The Ohio State University Alma Mater) and Fight the Team Across the Field. Carmen Ohio is set to an old Swedish hymn, still in Lutheran hymnals. It's beautiful to hear the Ohio State University Marching Band play this melody at the conclusion of each home football game, which 106,000 people sing along, voices and instruments echoing on the banks of the Olentangy. The lyrics of each:

Carmen Ohio
Oh come let's sing Ohio's praise
And songs to Alma Mater raise
While our hearts rebounding thrill
With joy which death alone can still
Summer's heat or winter's cold
The seasons pass the years will roll
Time and change will surely (truly) show
How firm thy friendship ... OHIO!

These jolly days of priceless worth
By far the gladdest days on earth
Soon will pass and we not know
How dearly we love Ohio
We should strive to keep thy name
Of fair repute and spotless fame
So in college halls well grow
And love thee better ... OHIO!
Though age may dim our mem'ry's store
We'll think of happy days of yore
True to friend and frank to foe
As sturdy sons of Ohio
If on seas of care we roll
Neath blackened sky or barren shoal
Thoughts of thee bid darkness go
Dear Alma Mater...OHIO!

Fight the Team Across the Field
Fight the team across the field
Show them Ohio's here
(We've got the team why don't we)
Set the Earth reverberating
With a mighty cheer
Hit them hard and see how they fall
Never let that team get the ball
Hail! Hail! The gang's all here
So let's win that old conference now!

The Buckeye Battle Cry is one I've been whistling a lot since Michigan week began yesterday afternoon.
In old Ohio there's a team
That's known throughout the land
Eleven warriors brave and bold
Whose fame will ever stand
And when that ball goes over,
Our cheers will reach the sky
Ohio Field will hear again
The Buckeye Battle Cry!

Drive, drive on down that field
Men of the Scarlet and Gray
Don't let them through that line
We've got to win this game today
Smash through to victory
We cheer you as we go
Our honor defend
We will fight to the end
For O-HI-O!

We'll scatter to the east and west
When college days are done,
And memories will cling around
The dreams of everyone;
We'll play the game of living,
With head and shoulders high!
And where in wear the spirit of
The Buckeye Battle Cry!

(Repeat Chorus)

Hang on Sloopy, originally recorded by the Rick Derringer-led rock band, the McCoys, has become a favorite at Ohio State games. Derringer, who went on to play with Edgar Winter and had a solo hit with, Rock and Roll Hootchiecoo, Hang on Sloopy is also Ohio's official state rock song. Nobody really bothers with the lyrics anymore, but you'll find them on the preceding linked text.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"I also think we should ban all political advertising."

So says Dilbert-creator on his blog in a fun--and sometimes, interesting--piece on why he doesn't vote.

You know, he might have something. Most of the money raised for political campaigns related to advertising in one way or another. If pols were freed of prostituting themselves to get the money from special interests that they use to pay for all the polling, producing, and purchasing of ads and air time and space in periodicals, they might be fre to make sound decisions. Hmmm.

Free speech issue? Not if all campaigns were banned from having advertising and if you made provision for all points of view and all candidates to get access to the public.

Brooks' Brilliant Assessment of What the Midterms Tell Us

I don't subscribe to TimesSelect. But it's the end of their free week and I was able to copy and paste David Brooks' brilliant explanation of what happened this past Tuesday. Because a link would be like the bridge to nowhere for you, here's the column in its entirety:

The Middle Muscles In

For decades, moderates have been the cowardly lions of American politics. You’d see them quivering in the corner as the anti-establishment left exchanged culture war mortar fire with the anti-establishment right. You’d see them passed over and dissed as the parties mobilized their bases and played to their primary voters.

Well, somebody’s been on steroids, because on Tuesday the muscular middle took control of America. Say goodbye to the era of Rovian base mobilization. Say goodbye to the era of conservative dominance that began in 1980. On Tuesday, 47 percent of the voters were self-described moderates, according to exit polls, and they asserted their power by voting for the Democrats in landslide proportions.

About a year ago, these angry moderates lost confidence in Republican rule. The tens of millions of dollars spent since then — the ads, the robocalls, the microtargeting — did nothing to change that basic decision.

Their disaffection with the G.O.P. was not philosophical. It was about competence and accountability. It was about the accumulation of Rumsfeld, Katrina, Abramoff, the bridge to nowhere and the failure to quarantine Mark Foley. Bill Clinton captured the electorate’s central complaint about the G.O.P.: “They can’t run anything right.”

So voters kicked out Republicans but did not swing to the left. For the most part they exchanged moderate Republicans for conservative Democrats. It was a great day for the centrist Joe Lieberman, who defeated the scion of the Daily Kos net roots, Ned Lamont. It was a great day for anti-abortion Democrats like Bob Casey and probably for pro-gun Democrats like Jim Webb. It was a great day for conservative Democrats like Heath Shuler in North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth in Indiana.

It was even a good day for some moderate Republicans, like Chris Shays in Connecticut, Deborah Pryce in Ohio and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California, who held on because they are independent.

It was a terrible day for anti-immigration restrictionists on the right of the G.O.P., like J.D. Hayworth and Randy Graf in Arizona.

If you wanted to pick out a stereotypical swing voter in this election, it would be a white evangelical suburban office park mom in a blue state suburb. She’s part of the one-third of white evangelicals who voted Democratic this year, as did 20 percent of self-described conservatives. She supported the Iraq war once but believes it has been conducted terribly. She doesn’t have a lot of faith in government generally — 54 percent of voters believe government interferes too much, while only 37 percent want it to do more, according to a recent CNN survey — but she does think government should be able to accomplish its core missions.

She embodies the message of E. J. Dionne’s 1991 book, “Why Americans Hate Politics,” which argues that Americans are sick of symbolic politics, dying ideologies and false choices. Most of all, she’s angry that politicians behave in ways that would be unacceptable in every realm of her life, and she thinks they’re endangering her country.

In some ways, this election reminds me of the 1974 Democratic sweep. The Republicans have screwed up. Democrats have surged in. But the result leads not to a liberal tide but to Jimmy Carter, who in 1976 ran as a conservative anti-political reformer who won on fiscal discipline and with the support of Pat Robertson.

This election didn’t define a new era, but it marks the end of an old one. If Democrats are going to take advantage of their victory, they will have to do two things. They will have to show they have not been taken over by their bloggers or their economic nationalists, who will alienate them from the suburban office park moms. Second, they’ll have to come up with ideas as big as the problems we face. Their current platform consists of small-bore tax credits and foreign policy vagaries about, say, “redoubling” our efforts to get Osama bin Laden. (Why not retripling or requadrupling?)

Realignments are achieved by parties that define big new approaches to problems (see F.D.R.’s Commonwealth Club speech), and neither party has done that yet. In the meantime, if I were a Democrat I’d be like Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana congressman and serial commission member. The country is hungering for leaders like him: open-minded, unassuming centrists who are interested in government more than politics. If the Democrats are smart, this could be the beginning of a new Hamiltonian age.

Why Did Feingold Back Out of a Presidential Run?

Simple. He knew that he couldn't win.

Some might think that when the Dems took the Senate this past Tuesday, staying in that body became more enticing for Feingold. Maybe that just gave Feingold the excuse he needed to bow to the inevitable regarding his presidential prospects.

The announcement of his non-candidacy is about as shocking as the one made by Mississippi Republican governor Haley Barbour a few weeks ago. (Who even knew that Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chair, was considering running for President?)

I guess now Democrats and Republicans will have to content themselves with getting involved in the campaigns, respectively, of Tom Vilsack and Duncan Hunter.

Putting God First

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on November 11 and 12, 2006.]

Mark 12:38-44
Forgive me as I hit you with what may seem like hyperbole: My wife makes the best vegetable soup on Planet Earth! I know what you're thinking: "He's biased." But, I’ve eaten a lot of vegetable soup through the years because I like it so much. And, I'm sure that my wife makes the best I’ve ever tasted.

It’s a funny thing about vegetable soup, though. It seems to share a characteristic that a lot of those things we call comfort foods have in common: Vegetable soup is always better when it’s reheated. On the second and third days, after being cooked and then refrigerated and set on the stove to simmer for a time, vegetable soup hits its stride as a taste treat. Sometimes, leftovers are the very best thing you can set before another person!

But leftovers--the leftovers of our time, our talents, and our treasures--are the worst things we can set before God. Why is that?

First: Unless we give God first place in our lives, He’s likely to have no place in our lives.

“I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,” God tells us in the Old Testament. What? Is God jealous like a lover, demanding exclusivity? Yes, that’s exactly what God is like.

In fact, in the Old Testament, God is portrayed as a husband to His people, Israel. When they chase after other gods, their idolatry is seen as a kind of adultery. And when they ignore His will, they’re seen as turning their back on their relationship with Him.

In the New Testament, the Church is sometimes pictured as “the Bride of Christ” with Jesus as our husband. It also calls the Church, “the body of Christ,” denoting an almost organic connection to the One Who died and rose to give us everlasting life.

Whatever picture of God in relation to you and me that we like best, it’s clear that God means to have a close, intimate relationship with those who follow Him.

Leftovers can sometimes be a great way to express our love for those we care about. But at other times, they can be deadly.

Last week, during MSNBC’s coverage of the midterm election, Chris Matthews mentioned the children of President Franklin Roosevelt, whose lives were almost universally marked by spectacular failure and scandal. “What a litter that was!” he joked. True. But there probably is a reason that the children of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt had such disastrous lives.

I once read about the typical meeting between a Roosevelt child and their father. The meetings would take place in FDR’s office, the child anxiously bursting in to bring some exciting news from their little life, dad absentmindedly listening as he read papers and scrawled notes on memos. After a few moments, FDR would look up from his desk for the first time, put on that classic smile of his, and treat his kid like some intrusive office seeker from Schenectady by saying, “It was grand of you to drop by for a visit.” The interview was finished. All the great man would give to his children was his leftovers.

There are many ways we can put God first. Husbands and wives can listen to each other. Parents and children can be attentive to one another. God cares about how we are with each other.

We can also volunteer our time and donate our money to organizations trying to help the 1 in 5 American children who live in poverty.

We can use our talents in service to God.

We can begin each day in prayer and reading Scripture, using the Our Daily Bread devotional, for example.

We were designed to put God and His purposes first, not because God is an egomaniac, but because God made us for a relationship with Him. We are only complete--what our English translations of the Bible unfortunately call perfect, when the hole that exists in all of our souls is filled by God. Only we can give God permission to do that by putting Him first in our lives.

When we do put God first in our lives, it will be clearly seen not only in how we use our time and our abilities, but also in our checkbook registers.

Most of us remember that the first murder in human history happened when one son of Adam and Eve, Cain, killed the other, Abel. What’s less remembered is why Cain killed his brother.

It turns out that Abel had offered the first offspring of his flocks to God. Cain gave God his leftovers. Their offerings may have been of equal value, but God obviously enjoyed Abel’s offering more.

When Abel gave God the very first bit of his wealth, the first ten percent of his income, he was expressing gratitude to God. He was also expressing faith that God would sustain him even if he only had 90% of his wealth left.

Cain was so resentful of the pleasure God took in Abel’s faith that he killed Abel. The first murder occurred because one child of God thought so little of God that he offered God his leftovers. At least for the moment he took to kill his brother, Cain gave no place to God in his life. Unless we give God first place in our lives, He is likely to have no place in our lives.

There’s a second reason I think that it’s dangerous to only give our leftovers to God’s purposes in the world. In our Bible lesson for today, Jesus lashes out at a group of supposedly holy people, the scribes. He says they “like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” And then an even worse indictment: “They devour widows’ houses...”

Some suggest that Jesus was accusing the scribes, experts in Biblical law, of figuring out how to get their greedy hands on the meager estates of widows, who usually had no money. Maybe. But it seems likelier that Jesus meant something else entirely: The scribes were perfectly content to let the poor--like widows--give and give of their small reources to the support of the Temple and priests. But, while courting reputations of religious faithfulness and piety, the scribes themselves gave a tiny fraction of their fat wallets and of their time and of their abilities to the purposes of God.

You’ve heard me speak before of the man, deeply moved by a sermon he heard in worship one week. He stood up and shouted, “O Lord, use me!” But with all eyes on him, he suddenly thought better of his zeal and added: “in an advisory capacity.” This was the religion of the scribes. They were very free with their advice to others and even to God. But, whether it was their time, their abilities, or their cash, God and others only got their leftovers.

Many of you have heard of the Pareto Principle. It “states that for many phenomena, 80% of the consequences stem from 20% of the causes...” In most businesses, for example, 20% of the people will make 80% of the payroll. And 20% of the people will do 80% of the work and 80% of the people will do 20% of the work.

Jesus was really lamenting the injustice which resulted when a fraction of His fellow Jews--the scribes--demanded that those with less time and treasure give their all while they gave their leftovers.

With His uncomplimentary portrait of the scribes still ringing in his disciples' ears, Mark says that, Jesus:
sat down opposite the treasury [one of the offering receptacles on the ancient temple's grounds], and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he...said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
It's interesting to note that the Greek New Testament word that's rendered as "all she had to live on" in our lesson is the word, bios, meaning life, the word from which we get our terms, biology and biosphere. Jesus says that in spite of the ingratitude of selfish people, she gave her life to God. She foreshadows what Jesus later does on the cross, giving His life--a life which, unlike that of the widow or you and me, was perfect and sinless--for the sake of all of us.

The widow gave everything she had to God. In this, she also foreshadows the early believers. One of the characteristics of the early Christian Church, the Church that began after Jesus rose from the dead and went back to heaven was how it violated the Pareto Principle: 100% of its members did 100% of the work, contributed to the work of the Church and helped one another out.

One passage in the New Testament book of Acts, which tells the history of the early Church, says: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”

What would happen if something of the spirit of the early Church infected the Church today?

What if it infected Friendship Church?

And what would happen in the lives of those Jesus describes as "the poor in spirit," people who have no connection to Christ or the Church, if we in the Church were more like that widow and less like the scribes, giving ourselves, our efforts, and our treasures to Christ and His purposes in the world?

I tell you what would happen: Lives and communities would change for the better!

In northwestern Ohio, I saw some of this spirit in the Mennonite community centered in Archbold. The Mennonites not only made it their business to take care of each other in their local and faith communities. They also extended their care to others. It's no coincidence either, that Mennonites do a commendable job in providing relief and seeking justice for the poor throughout the world. That’s what happens when people dare to violate the Pareto Principle, dare to follow Christ, and refuse to give God their leftovers!

Next Sunday will bring us to the most important Consecration Sunday in our congregation’s history. When you receive your time, talent, and estimate of giving survey this week, please pray about how you will respond to the Savior Who gave His life for you and how you will be part of what God wants to do at Friendship.

Speaking specifically to finances, let me tell you that I know that for many of you, this has been a hard year. Many have seen dramatic drops in their incomes and unexpected expenses. My wife and I have been hit with those kinds of expenses: our kids' college loans are starting to come due and we recently had to fork over $6100 to have our bathroom remodeled after it started leaking into our family room. We've had to dip into our HELOC

I also understand--and more importantly, God understands--how your time for Friendship's ministries can be limited. My wife does less than she would like to do with the church because financial circumstances dictate that she work two jobs. The same is true for many of you.

Whether it's our time or our talents or our money, God doesn't ask us to give anything more than we have.

God also knows that Friendship isn't the only place where you can serve God's purposes in the world.

But I urge you, as you approach next Sunday, to ask God, whatever your ability or limitations, to help you put Him first, to ask God to help you discern what you can do...because you know that on the cross, God put you first.