28 December 2007

wholly innocent

Today my Shetland Sheepdog, Duncan, became 11 years old. I told him it was his birthday, but I don't think he understood me. Today is also the day the church remembers the slaughter of the Holy Innocents. They are the little children ordered to be killed by Herod, as recorded in Matthew 2. I'm not suggesting that there's link between my dog's birthday and the mass murder meant to wipe out the Messiah. It's merely a matter of happenstance. I always remember that Duncan was born on the day of the Holy Innocents.

Happenstance. That can be a cruel word. Blind, stupid, bad luck. What else do we say to parents whose children have been killed--by whatever means? At the current posting on the website Journey with Jesus, we read a quote from Stanley Hauerwas: "Perhaps no event in the gospel more determinatively challenges the sentimental depiction of Christmas than the death of these children. Jesus is born into a world in which children are killed, and continue to be killed, to protect the power of tyrants."

If we can take hold of this, that Christmas isn't about the idol-worshipping lust for consumer goods--that it's about a genuine hope for the future--then maybe we can build a world in which children (and yes, Shetland Sheepdogs!) can live safely.

26 December 2007

the second day of Christmas

In the current issue of the Christian Century, John Buchanan notes, "Though the liturgical calendar reminds us that it is Christmastide, a lovely 12-day season extending to Epiphany in January, you cannot live in this culture without experiencing how the air is let out of the holiday balloon on December 26. The Magi may not arrive in Bethlehem until January 6, but the culture abruptly drops the whole matter practically before Christmas Day is over."

The machinery of the Christmas industry has ground to a screeching halt. People have gone about the business of buying all kinds of junk, and much of the time, it's been done in a quite joyless manner--despite what the lyrics of the songs incessantly piped through speakers proclaim. And people also await their credit card bills, letting them know that they're even deeper in debt. When the 25th arrives, there's a sigh as if, "I'm glad that is over!" I've often noticed that when I point this out, I get painted as the Grinch.

At least the Grinch repents. He figures out that the god of Christmas isn't consumerism!

24 December 2007

a teacher and a friend

It's truly a joy to hear from someone who has played a major role in one's development. Dr. Tom McDaniel is such a person for my wife Banu and for me. The bracketed section below is an excerpt from an email we just received from he and his wife, Doris.

[I am attaching our Christmas newsletter and greetings. When you read the first paragraph about my performing the "wedding renewal ceremony" for my granddaughter back in October, know that my thoughts were often with both of you, James and Banu, and my sweet memories of your wedding and the honor I had in being a part of it. I have performed only three family weddings since the two of you were married, so I think of your wedding also as a "family wedding."]

He was our Old Testament professor at seminary (though we did study Hebrew with his younger colleague, Grant Ward). As you might have surmised, he also presided at our wedding. He's a man of many talents: a true Hebrew scholar, computer genius, speaker of many languages (including Japanese, I believe, from his time as missionary there), and many more talents of which I'm unaware. But above all, he truly exhibits the mind and heart of Christ. I thank God for him.

18 December 2007

hey, we're talkin' 'bout whoppers here

Burger King has been talking about a "Whopper freakout"--and rightly so. How dare they try to deprive Americans of their right to eat a really big hamburger? You can see the tyranny at http://www.whopperfreakout.com/ Nations have gone to war for less!

As for freaking out about the bill that would expand the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, why bother? As Homer Simpson would say, "Boooooring!" Who cares if the new FISA bill would give even more power to the executive branch to do warrantless wiretapping--and would grant amnesty to the phone companies that broke the law in going along with it? (See more at http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/12/18/victory/)

I want my whopper! And I'm afraid I won't have to wait very long to fed plenty more of them.

17 December 2007

dolphins win! dolphins win!

Dolphin fans, rejoice! Cleo Lemon's 64 yard touchdown pass to Greg Camarillo may be soon forgotten by the rest of the league, but not by the 2007 Miami Dolphins. Experience the joy of their first win by clicking here.

What? Someone would say, "So what?" Well, if your heart is too hard to celebrate with the Dolphins, consider this: the dolphin was a symbol of Christ in the early church. The dolphin's tendency to swim alongside ships became associated with Christ, who guides believers to heaven. It became associated with the resurrection. Surely now you're convinced...

15 December 2007

doubting in good faith

Two days ago, I mentioned a Pentecostal professor who said that he'd been "Moltmannized" after reading some of Jürgen Moltmann's stuff. As I noted, I've started reading his autobiography, A Broad Place. In chapter 7, he speaks of his awakening interest in theology for the medical profession. Moltmann talks about meeting with people who are specialists in various scientific fields--and of the great interest and energy generated by those encounters. Here's a sentence which really got my attention:

"But there are still very few scientists who expect to profit scientifically from theology, and unfortunately hardly any theologians who read scientific books in order to discover the traces of God in 'the book of nature' too." (p. 90) I'm not terribly surprised about the first half of that sentence. It's the second half that troubles me.

I realize that there are all kinds of attempts to merge science and faith that do justice to neither. Pseudo-science and fuzzy faith appear in many corners: from the new agey "What the Bleep Do We Know?" to the fundamentalist "intelligent design." Maybe it's just Moltmann's perspective (I would hope so), but why aren't there more theologians, Christian thinkers, and rank-and-file church members who are interested in science? Can't we get beyond the politics involved and admit that a genuine search for truth is a good and noble (and even sacred) thing?

Tomorrow, I'll discuss with our congregation Matthew 11:2-11, where John the Baptist from his prison cell expresses doubts as to whether or not Jesus is actually the Messiah. In response, Jesus doesn't scold John. He honors him as "a prophet" and "more than a prophet." It appears, in my humble opinion, that Jesus acknowledges that John's doubt comes from a place of integrity. John genuinely wants to know. He doubts in good faith! If we can get hold of that, there's no reason to fear the good faith searches of people who seem very different from us.

a new low for us

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised--or disgusted--by any new revelations about the Bush administration, but maybe the fact that I am suggests that I'm still a human and a Christian. Here's another story of a life destroyed by the Soviet-style approach of our government: http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/12/14/bashmilah/

14 December 2007

who is this?

Today, the 14th of December, is my 43rd birthday. The accompanying image is that of a duck I've drawn for many years. I was first inspired by Howard the Duck, the Marvel Comics quasi-superhero. The duck evolved, however. He grew long hair, started wearing a headband, and eventually began wearing a Celtic cross necklace--after becoming a Christian.

I've sometimes thought of him as my self-portrait. I had radiation therapy twelve years ago, following surgery to remove a brain tumor. Thus, I lost a good bit of my hair. So even if I never really looked like a duck (let alone, a duck with long hair!), he's been a key part of my artistic expression. (For all the good that does!)

13 December 2007


I recently started reading Jürgen Moltmann's autobiography, A Broad Place. I told my congregation that he's one of my heroes--theologians can be heroes! I also said that when I read books by, and about, people like him, I sometimes have mixed feelings. Sometimes I'm humbled, and I ask myself questions like: what have I done with what I’ve been given? Am I making the most of my opportunities? Do I fully redeem the time? I'm sure I'm not the only one who asks these questions.

But that doesn't matter. Still, it’s not like I beat myself up. I’m not a perfectionist. I try to allow room for grace. I understand that Jesus loves me--just as I am. But it’s precisely because he loves me, because he accepts me, that I know I fall short. And I also know that he doesn’t want me to stay where I am.

As for Jürgen, I was introduced to him while at an Assemblies of God Bible college (a seemingly unlikely place). One of my professors confessed that he had been "Moltmannized." In this time of Advent, Moltmann's focus on hope seems an appropriate theme.

12 December 2007

the advent of hope

I've been thinking about Advent, literally the "coming" of the Christ, and so, here are a few thoughts from my most recent sermon:

One of the central themes of Advent is expectation—specifically, the expectation of hope. What is the basis of our hope? What (or who) is it that we’re hoping in? Do we even dare to hope? Do we have great expectations?

We all have gifts to serve and to learn more about God. Last Sunday marked the beginning of the church year. So in the coming year, how can we use both our strengths and our weaknesses to build this church community for the world?

Are we each willing to contribute to building hope? I think what’s more important than an emerging church is an emerging Christ. If we have that Advent expectation, that rock solid hope of and in Christ, then we’ll find our way to the center with Christ. To be sure, we’ll continue to stumble around, but we’ll abound in hope by the power of the Spirit.

07 December 2007

dizzy with you, too

I have, for the third time, watched the U2 "Vertigo 2005" DVD concert in Chicago. It is simply very cool. They go from playful (Bono goofing with a kid and inviting him onto the catwalk & later inviting a "dancing lady" to join him) to awesome (when they scroll some of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights) to worshipful (during "40," the Edge and Adam Clayton exchange instruments). At the end, when only Larry Mullen is on stage behind the drum kit, with the crowd chanting, "How long...to sing this song?" he must decide, "Why not?" and starts drumming for a couple more lines.

Regarding "40"--it's a song we've sung during our Sanctuary of Hope service several times at church, thanks to Tara, our director of worship and outreach. So we appreciate that!

04 December 2007


I just returned from what I hope is the first of many evening walks in the snow. Yesterday and today, we received our first significant snowfall of the season. Duncan, my Shetland Sheepdog, would probably stay out in the snow until he froze. He seems to experience a joy when he's walking around in the white stuff that borders on doggie euphoria.

That's a good thing, because he and I share a love for this time of year. Winter is, without a doubt, my favorite season. (And by the calendar, we still have 18 more days of autumn to go!)

Glory to God in the highest for Shelties, snow, and Shelties who love snow!