Thursday, February 25, 2010


I'm not usually a big fan of hockey. I occasionally watch the Stanley Cup but even that is rare. I do watch the Beanpot and when BU plays BC, but that's only if I remember it's on. But, I love hockey in the Olympics and the last two US games have been as good as hockey gets. The NHL has to be praying that they get some carry over, because if these games don't make you interested in watching more hockey then nothing will.

The game against Canada will simply fantastic just as a game, but with all the undercurrents it was even better. It was not the 1980 story, but it was still good.

David McCollum recounts driving home after the 1980 Olympics and hearing a sermon on the radio talking about that game. He says he remembers saying to his wife, “When a Southern preacher uses a hockey illustration in his sermon, it’s something special.”

So if you haven't been watching the games I strongly encourage you to, even if you know nothing about hockey. Tonight the US women take on Canada for the Gold, and the men go at it on Friday for a shot at the gold medal game.

The US team has been using Joshua Sacco, who delivers a great rendition of Herb Brook's speech to the US team before they meet the Russians, for inspiration. If you haven't seen it, here it is:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


One of my daily stops is at Here are two recent cartoons:

While they're not great all the time, the really good ones make it well worth the visit.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sports Announcing

So we've been watching a lot of Olympics coverage lately, and of course most of it is of sports I don't regularly pay any attention to. So, my question is, why don't the announcers actually tell us something that makes sense of what's going on?

The snowboard announcers say what the tricks are, but most of them look the same to me. What are the differences? Why not have a snowboarding tricks 101 segment? And curling? Forget about it. It's sort of fun to watch, but all I can figure out is that you want to get your "rock" in the center. And what is important about a toepick? One of the announcers said, just after a skater stopped himself from falling, "thank goodness for toepicks." What does that possibly mean?

I know that now I can just look these things up on the internet, but I honestly don't want to take the time. You have my attention right now, tell me what I need to know! Wouldn't explaining the sport draw more interest? More interest would then mean more viewers and more viewers would mean more ad revenue. It seems really simple.

And let's not just stop with these games, let's move it to all sports. I watch a lot of football but have no idea what the difference is between a nickel or a dime defense. If I don't know you can be sure that casual fans don't have any idea about some of the things the announcers say. So, why not explain it to us? Tell us what is actually going on. Make us better fans.

If you saw my earlier post on the amount of actual action in a football game (about 11 minutes) you know they have the time to fill, so fill it with something useful. The same for hockey, basketball and baseball. Make your public as informed about the game as you possible can, because the more they know, the more involved they will be, and the better fan they will be.

Baseball is the best and the worst at this. If you listen to games on the radio, the announcers, who have to fill time because there are no pictures (although often they act as if you are watching it on TV at the same time), will tell you how the fielders are positioned. But they don't tell you what this means. TV is the absolute worst at this because they don't televise games based on people who are actually interested in the sport. If they did, the pitcher-batter duel would be in the bottom corner and a shot of the rest of the field would be on the main part of the screen. That would allow me to see how all the players are positioned, what the runners are doing, how people are moving after the ball is put into play. In other words it would tell me exactly what I need to know about what is actually going on in the game. When people say that going to baseball games is boring it's because they don't understand the intricacies of the game because it has never been shown or explained to them.

Tell people what they are supposed to know and what they should be paying attention to. The more you know, the more you become involved, the more involved you become the more you watch, and the more you watch the more money broadcasters make. Am I the only one to figure this out?

So how does this apply to church? Well it's simple. We have to do exactly the same thing. We as the church have to recognize the fact that the vast majority of our people (and definitely those who aren't even sitting in our pews) are only casually knowledgeable. When we say something is in the narthex, let alone talk about atonement theory, most people have absolutely no idea what we are talking about. It then becomes language of a special club to which they do not belong.

Let us take the same attitude and explain things to them. Let us not assume knowledge, because usually we are wrong. Even if 99 out of 100 know what we are talking about, let's explain it to the one, because the one might then become a disciple and begin telling others about their faith because now they have the knowledge and the words to use to do so.

p.s. Today in 1913 the first prize was put into a box of Cracker Jacks. Did they do it because they knew baseball season was right around the corner?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wedneday meditation

I'm sure there is a way to attach PDF files to this blog, but I have yet to figure it out, so here is my Ash Wednesday sermon, which pretty well sums up my ideas about the day and Lent.

Every year that I participate in an Ash Wednesday service I am always struck by the irony of the passage from Matthew that is used. It just doesn’t seem to match. Jesus tells us in Matthew that when we fast, and when we give and when we pray, that we should do this secretly. We shouldn’t do anything to announce the fact that we are undertaking these things. And then shortly after we have heard these words then we all stand up and process forward in order to have a visible mark made on our foreheads which announces to the world the beginning of our Lenten journey. Now don’t get me wrong, I like this passage and I think it’s a very important passage, but it never seems to work for me for what today is supposed to symbolize. I think there are much more appropriate passages, such as the prophet Joel who says “return to [the Lord] with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning,” that seems like an appropriate piece of scripture to read, but then Joel continues “rend your hearts and not your clothing.” And so we end up with the same problem, for it seems that when talking about spiritual disciplines in the scripture, a point is made about not having a public display and so I’m always puzzled about Ash Wednesday activities.

So what are we doing here? Well the obvious thing is that today begins our Lent. Now the word lent has no special religious meaning. In fact it comes from an Old English word that simply means springtime. The history of Lenten practices are also unclear because there is no pure scriptural basis for it or for Ash Wednesday. What is clear is that the church has combined several different practices into one. During the Protestant Reformation the practices were discarded by many Protestants because they didn’t have a true scriptural basis, but with the liturgical renewal movement many Protestant churches have reclaimed some of the things that in the past were discarded. But in our search for meaning and purpose to this time, we have taken on the theology of the season which is heavily rooted in medieval theology, not exactly the high point of the church’s existence. Now if you’ve been attending here for a little while you are probably aware that Pastor Joel and I have differing opinions on Lenten disciplines. While I certainly promote the idea of fasting, Wesley required his ministers to fast twice a week, I personally reject the idea that we take it on for 40 days and then are relieved when we can go back to our normal lives. That, to me is the wrong way to take on a spiritual practice and also to take them on for the wrong reason.

Notice that Jesus assumes that people are practicing the activities he is talking about, and there is not the assumption that these were time limited. They were practiced year round, not just for forty days as a penitential activity, so that we can suffer some in order to remember Christ’s suffering for us. Again, that is rooted in medieval theology. Now in the past I have advocated that instead of giving something up for Lent that we take on a spiritual discipline. That is add something to our lives. I advocate that position with the knowledge that it takes at least 28 days to establish a habit and so I have the hope that the spiritual discipline that we take on will be something that we carry forward with us. If it’s important enough to do for forty days then I would hope it would be important enough to do all the time, and that includes fasting. I hear stories of things people are giving up and great reasons why, but then I always wonder why do you want to stop? Why not keep going? Aren’t the reasons just as good the day after Easter as they are the day before? The social justice commission is asking us to participate in a carbon fast during Lent, which is great and important thing. But why end it? Isn’t God’s creation important enough to keep going in protecting it and limiting our damage to the environment? What Lent should be about is returning ourselves to right relation with God, and if giving something up or taking something on helps us to do that then that is important work, but if the activities are taken on for other reasons then I think we are deluding ourselves and practicing these things for all the wrong reasons, which is what Jesus has just warned us about.

Perhaps the words we should hear at the beginning of lent are a little simpler and more to the point. They are the words that begin Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel according to Mark, “repent for the kingdom of God has come near.” Now repent is also one of those loaded words, but it simply means “turn around.” But in order to be able to turn around we must first recognize that we are going in the wrong direction. Repentance in this context usually refers to sin, and that’s not something we deal with very well, especially in the mainline churches. It is certainly not something I talk about directly. It is certainly something we discuss, but the word “sin” is not used, and there are negative consequences for this. Joel Osteen was once asked why he doesn’t talk about sin, and he said it was because people know they are sinners and so he doesn’t have to address what is already known. But it’s just not that easy. In the church where I did my internship, I had a member come up to me and say that he didn’t like saying the prayer of confession before communion because he thought he was a good person and didn’t think he had done any of the things that he was having to confess to. Now this prayer of confession, which we will say in a few minutes, is extremely broad and so for him to say he had not transgressed against God in these ways would be to claim that he had, in good Wesleyan terminology, been sanctified or perfected in Grace. And, while not judging him, I can honestly say I knew that was not the case.

Sin means a broken relationship with God. Whenever we do something that is not God’s will for us or for the world then we have sinned. It’s really that simple, and while I can’t speak for the rest of you, I know that I sin all the time. I know that my life is not in total alignment with God, no matter how hard I try, and some days are worse then others. That is why we as Methodists claim that we are moving on to perfection, and we don’t say that we are perfected, because to be perfected is to be in total alignment with God. What Lenten practices, when done correctly, seek to do is to help us recognize that we are mortal beings who simply make mistakes, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, but all of our actions have consequences. Lent gives us the opportunity to slow down and be intentional about our relationship with God, with our families and with each other. It is a time to turn-around from our normal lives, to repent, and to go in a different direction. But that direction shouldn’t end at Easter. It should continue for the rest of our lives, otherwise we just end up repenting of our repentance and start going the same way again.

Hopefully what lent allows us to do is to become better aligned with God’s will and purpose for us, to put us into a place and location in which we can better hear and listen to what God is saying and asking of us, and giving us a vehicle through which we can try and put God first in our lives, and then carry that through to the rest of our lives. Don’t make this just forty days of reflection, repentance and spiritual practice; instead make it the beginning of the rest of your life in seeking to live in right relation with God. Seek to make this the start of a new way of being in the world. Seek to make it foundation for your life as a disciple of Christ. Seek to make it the introduction to your new way of being Christian. View Lent as an invitation by God to come into a better relationship with God, a relationship which will forever change you forever.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's Almost Here

I know I should be writing about Ash Wednesday today, but I'm not. Instead I am happy to inform you that pitchers and catchers report today! Let the defense of the title begin!

Now, I personally like the winter. I like the cold and the snow, but man do I miss baseball. But today, today is different. Because today means that real genuine baseball is right around the corner. So come on April 4th I'm waiting for you.

Although theologically maybe this is important. Pitchers and catchers report on Ash Wednesday and opening day is Easter Sunday. Coincidence?

“People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Usury By Any Other Name Still Stinks

First Premier Bank is now offering a credit card with an interest rate of 79.9%. You did not read that incorrectly nor is it a typo. They are offering a card, with a credit line of $300, with the APR of 79.9%. The card also includes an annual fee of $75. This is down from the prior amount of $256 because of the new law passed by congress limiting the amounts of fees. This is the card they issue to subprime people, or in other words, those who can least afford to pay these sorts of fees.

Shockingly there is nothing in either the Social Principles or the Book of Resolutions about usury, credit cards or debt. This is a position where the church needs to take a stand. By any definition this APR is usury, although from a strict biblical interpretation any form of interest is usury.

If you try and put this card into some online credit card calculator it won't work simply because it won't take an interest rate that high. Using the FTC's calculator, if you make the minimum monthly payment on a $300 balance with a 79.9 % APR this is the message you get, and I quote:

based on the information you provided and assumptions that we used
to calculate the time to repay your balance, we estimate that you will
never pay off your credit card balance if you only make the minimum payment
because your payment is less than the interest charged each month.

You will NEVER pay it off! Talk about a trap. Now I know that people who are taking out these cards have culpability in the activities, but let's be honest. 1) This is predatory lending, you know the thing that got us into our current financial situation, 2) the people who are receiving these cards have usually proven in the past that they cannot handle credit, and so they go out and get this, making their situation even worse, and most importantly 3) Our culture and economy are based on buying things now and buying them on credit. Instant gratification is one of the driving forces in this society.

Now, using another calculator, with a $300 balance, paying $20 a month, which is much more than the minimum, it will take 8.666 years (104 payments) and will cost $1774 in interest. That does not include any late fees or the annual fee of $75. Now if you drop the payment to $15 a month, it totally freaks out on the interest paid and you jump to 50 years to pay it off.

I don't honestly believe that congress is ever going to really tackle this issue because there is too much money involved, but they need to. There is a bill currently in the House which would cap interest rates at 16%. I don't know if that is the best amount, but it's at least a start. I know that passing this bill will mean that many people will no longer have access to credit, but it's credit they cannot afford. Hopefully it would also mean that we as a society would have to deal with the fact that we cannot continue to grow our economy through debt financing. It will always come back to get us in the end.

For more information on what's going on legislatively and how to be informed go to Americans for Financial Reform, which is a coalition of groups concerned about these issues. Maxed Out by James Scurlock is also an excellent book on credit card issues.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Irony of Valentine's Day

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's day. The two services at church, especially the joint service with Greenwood and First Haitian, were wonderful. Of course I think many people miss the true irony of Valentine's day in the political scene. Little is known of St. Valentine whose feast day is February 14. It is not even clear if it celebrates one martyr by that name or several. Even at the time that it was added to the church calendar in 496, the pope who instituted it did not have much information.

However, there is a good story about him, even if maybe it is a later developing story. So to get to the point, apparently Valentine was arrested after being caught marrying Christian couples. This was illegal as Christians were being persecuted by the Romans, and they certainly did not want Christians to be reproducing and so they made marrying them illegal. In other words, Valentine was marrying a group of people which the state and the society did not want to get married. Sound familiar? There is no way of knowing, but those in opposition may have even said that Christians could not get married in order to protect the sanctity of marriage.

I happen to live in a state in which gays and lesbians can marry. I see no indication that the institution has been changed in anyway, either positively or negatively, since this took place. But, I also happen to be in a denomination in which I cannot marry these couples, nor can I allow these couples to be married in my church. If I do either I can and will be brought up and charges and be removed not only from my appointment but also have my license (or ordination when I get that far) revoked.

I support the right of the church to make the decisions it wants on this issue. But, I also support the right of the state to make what decision it wants on this as well. When I marry a couple I actually act as an agent of the state. The marriage license is not issued by the church but by the commonwealth. The way to solve all of this debate is to recognize this simple reality and move back to the way Europe does it, and the way the church did it until Luther. Luther was the one who moved marriages inside the church (for a good reason at the time), but there are really two different activities.

There is the state recognition of the marriage and there is the church recognition. The two do not have to meet, and they often don't. I know some clergy who actually refuse to marry people. They require the couple to go to the JP and get married by the state, and then come to them for a blessing and ceremony by the church. It is two separate activities.

Many in the church do not want to do this because they don't want to lose this "power" to the state. But, the simple reality is, this move would end all the debate and it would also give the church more power. Rather than acting as agents of the state, we would then have greater power in emphasizing what marriage vows, as the church sees them, are and give us more leverage in not only not recognizing marriages but also in recognizing marriages. Under this arrangement, we could say to a couple we're glad you're married, but we don't think you understand the vows the way we think you need to and so we're not going to perform a sacred ceremony. And, the church would also have the power to marry people that the state would never recognize as married (and there are lots of reasons to have this arrangement). Both groups could do their own thing without interfering in the rights of the other.

Making this change would take the church back to its historic roots and end the debates about gay and lesbian marriage which serve no purpose and go no where (other than to divide us and scapegoat a class of people). And if we don't want to make this change then let's stop celebrating Valentine's day because I think we are truly missing the point of what Valentine was doing.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Global Warming

So apparently with all the snow blanketing parts of the East coast (although not New England) people are wondering where "global warming" has gone. After all, if DC is buried under more than three feet of snow can't this prove that global warming doesn't exist? This just shows that people don't really understand the term or what's going on. While "global warming" might be technically correct in terminology in that the atmosphere is warming, scientists have no idea what will happen as a result, except that weather will become more extreme. It is possible that we could actually slide into another ice age as a result of global warming.

Frank Luntz, who is a brilliant Republic strategist and word smith (he was the one who changed the estate tax, which most people were for, to the death tax, which most people were against), has changed his politicians from talking about global warming to climate change. He sees this as a victory for the Republicans, but I actually see it as a move in the right direction. While maybe not as "alarming" as the term global warming, it actually better sums up what's taking place, and removes people from saying "It's not warming up, so obviously global warming is not happening."

I have personally been working on environmental issues for a long-time, and remember back to the time when the environmental chant was "we're killing the planet." I kept saying to the groups I was working with that a) this was not true, and b) it was not effective. It's not true because the planet was here long before we were and it will be here long after we're gone. It's not effective because that talks in the abstract, versus if we say "we're killing ourselves" that's something that people are much more concerned about. It's not about the planet, it's about us. We have to live here, our children have to live here, their children have to live here, etc.

The way to be effective in politics about anything is to make the story about them, not about someone else. This is why the Republicans, with the assistance of Frank Luntz, are so much more effective then the Democrats are. Democrats want to talk about the other and looking out for the other, which I strongly agree with. But most people are too concerned about themselves and their family to be concerned about others. And so the language needs to be changed to be about them, that's why the change to "death tax" was so effective. People began to think, that could effect me, even though it probably wouldn't, and so they reacted and acted.

We need a change of language and approach so that people understand that global climate change will impact them, will change their life and then give them ways to do something about it. How we do that I will leave to the people who study these things, but that is the direction we need to go.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What is an "Evangelical"?

Last night someone came up to me and said, "So, I hear you're an evangelical?" My first response was, "Well that depends on how you define that word." The word has not had a lot of positive connotations in the main-line churches for a while. It hasn't always been this way, just think of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) which is the more progressive/liberal Luthern Church. But lately, evangelists have smacked of greasy-haired huckster Bible salesmen, and I think it's taken even more of a turn for the worst.

This has to do with the fact that fundamentalists are abandoning that name and instead taking on the word evangelical as their nomenclature. They are doing so because the term fundamentalist has now become a negative term. The term fundamentalist comes from a book, The Fundamentals, published in 1910 which laid out the beliefs of fundamentalists against the modernists. But recently those who previously claimed the name have rejected it for several reasons, and after 9/11 it was nearly entirely rejected. Since now we talked about fundamentalist Muslims, they didn't want to be included in the same category (although in many ways they are the same), and so they needed a new word. Their ideals and beliefs did not change, they just needed a new word, and so they chose evangelical, and as a result this term has also now begun to take on all the traits associated with fundamentalists.

This has led progressive evangelicals to either fight for the name or chose something else. For a while Jim Wallace was promoting "Red Letter Christian" as the new term for progressives, but that seems to have fallen aside, or at least I haven't heard it for a while. So we have to ask how do those of us who want to be Christ to the world but reject fundamentalist principles find a location? What do progressives call themselves? Are we going to let the right lay claim to this name and destroy its meaning?

The term evangelical comes from the Greek word Euangelion which literally means "Good Message" or "Good News." It is the word from which we get the term gospel, as well as angel (messenger). It's a good word. It's an appropriate word. So how do we reclaim it? How do we redefine the term not only for ourselves but for society so that it again means "Good News" not close-minded bigot? And, while we're at it lets also reclaim the name liberal. Liberal is not a bad thing. In fact it's often a good thing, look up the definition sometime. I don't want to be called progressive I want to be called a liberal. I want to be known as a liberal evangelical, but if I was to say that phrase now people on both sides of the spectrum would have negative feelings about me.

Phoenix Gets Blizzard

As we are sitting here waiting for the first snow in a month, I didn't realize that this blizzard had already hit all the rest of the country. I grew up in Phoenix and saw it snow three times, and it only stuck once in my 22 years there, so imagine my surprise when I saw this headline on Yahoo! "Second blizzard hits U.S." I had to call my parents and talk them through what to do, how to shovel out the cars, how to drive, after all Phoenix does not own plows so the streets would be snowed in. But then I found out it wasn't the US, it was just the East coast. Silly me, how did I forget that only the East coast counts as the US?

Growing up in the West I knew there was an East coast bias. My entire life I always heard people say "an entire generation has grown up never seeing a World Series game." I could never figure out what they meant because I watched every World Series game, but then it dawned on me. I was not part of the conversation because I lived three hours later and not on the East coast. I didn't matter; they weren't concerned about me. I also happened to have spent nearly my entire life in the two states (Arizona and New Mexico) that the national weather man stands in front of when doing the whether, so he/she can cover the East coast, mid-west and then turn and do California.

If you don't believe what I'm saying, just pay attention to the news on any channel, including ESPN, and you'll see what I'm talking about, and once you notice it you'll see just how glaring it is. And, just so you know there is an entire group of people that live outside of the area known as the Northeast. You should go some time just to see them all, and the countryside is beautiful.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When Torture Isn't Torture

James Q. Wilson and George Kelling wrote an article called "Broken Windows" in which they suggested that one broken window in a building would lead to more broken windows. If, however, the window was replaced then more windows would not be broken. It was their theory that one broken window leads to a sort of spiraling effect of chaos in which people think its okay to break the windows. Their theory has been used extensively in criminal justice and sociology circles and while it has its detractors it also has many people who support the idea. What it really aims at is people's behaviors. If people see something spiraling into chaos then their own levels of reserve and regard are also diminished.

A recent very very short article in the Metro from yesterday I think plays on this and is very disturbing:

"New York. A U.S. soldier has been charged with second-degree assault over accusations he 'waterboarded' his 4-year-old daughter because she couldn't recite the alphabet. Reports said Joshua Tabor, 27, admitted to police that he used the technique because he was so angry. He said his daughter was terrified of water."

I don't honestly know why this isn't a bigger story, perhaps because we don't want to deal with the realities of what this means. When we lower the standards of decency then some people will think that this becomes acceptable behavior. I don't think what happened at Abu Ghraib was just soldiers running wild. It was too culturally specific to have been a mistake. But what I do think happened was that when given the permission to do certain things that the soldiers spiraled out of control, as Stanford Professor Philip Zimbardo showed in his infamous prison experiment.

When we say that certain forms of torture are not torture then we approve of the behavior and things devolve. I do not believe that most soldiers will do this, even the ones who are involved in the activities, but some will feel justified because they continually hear that it is not torture, that there is nothing wrong with it, and it can get positive results. Maybe it can even get a 4-year-old to say her ABC's. We as a society need to stand up and say that this is not acceptable.

The Social Principles state that "the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches whenever it occurs." (164A, emphasis mine)

In addition, the Book of Resolutions also has two resolutions in opposition to torture. Resolution 6120 states "Our commitment to human rights is grounded in the conviction that every human life is sacred.... Among the most significant of human rights is the right to security of person, which includes the right not to be tortured. Yet around the world today, there are countless numbers of persons suffering shocking and morally intolerable treatment at the hands of those acting -- all too often -- on behalf of their governments. such torture violates the basic dignity of the human persons that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved -- policymakers, perpetrators and victims." (emphasis mine)

If we honestly don't believe that this is torture then why is Mr. Tabor being prosecuted? He's being prosecuted because it is torture, and we should not allow it to happen to anyone who has no say or power.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Ads

There were some good ads yesterday, and some not so good. A lot of the talk going into the game was on the Focus on the Family ads and what they would contain. I personally have to say that I do not like Focus on the Family or their founder Dr. James Dobson, so maybe that skews my views but I don't think so. I don't think their ads were going to sway anyone one way or the other, but what I don't understand is what took place.

Why were we shown Tebow tackling his mother, and not only tackling her but blindsiding her? Why was violence needed? Was this supposed to be funny? I understand that it took place during the Super Bowl, but it didn't add anything to the commercial. In fact it seemed to have no purpose at all, other than to say that "violence" against fetuses is wrong but violence against women is okay. It didn't make any sense to me.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Birthday Wishes

It's been a little while since I've posted. We have been crazy busy at the church, and my list of ideas for posts is backing up. But I have to send out to birthday greetings.

The first is to the bambino Babe Ruth, who would have turned 115 today. Anyone who doesn't have the Babe as the greatest baseball player to ever play the game simply does not know what they are talking about. He is one of the greatest hitters of all time (when he retired the next closest player in home runs was Lou Gehrig who had less than 1/2 of what Ruth did) AND he is one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Those two accomplishments are unparalleled.

The second birthday greetings go out to my daughter who turns 4 today. Happy birthday my bear, I love you!