Sunday, March 29, 2009

Automatic egg cremer

I just have this thing for Rube Goldberg-type devices...perhaps that's why I am Episcopalian. Here is an example:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rent-a-prayer on-line

Living a rule of life in the 21st Century is not easy. What would you do to squeeze the Little Hours into a busy, multi-tasking 21st century world? How much would you pay?

I just found the answer in the Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News:



Too busy to pray? For a fee, a computer will do it for you

This might not be the silliest idea I've heard this year.

But that's only because a lot of silliness crosses my desk.

There's a Web service that uses computerized voices to say daily prayers for subscribers.

"It gives you the satisfaction of knowing that your prayers will always be said even if you wake up late, or forget," the site says.

There are prayers for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, and others.

The cost varies by prayer, but most are $3.95 a month.

My first thought when I found this was: No one would be dumb enough to send these people money.

My next thought was: Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, Robert Tilton, Benny Hinn...

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Nano versus The Cyclops

The BBC reports that the Indian car company that bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford has come out with the world's cheapest (new) car. It is called the Tata Nano. (Can anyone in America say this without thinking of Mork from Ork?) According to the BBC it will sell for 100,000 rupees or $1,979:

The four-door five-seater car has a 33bhp, 624cc engine at the rear. It has no airbags, air conditioning, radio, or power steering.

With all the news, I had this strange feeling that I have seen this car somewhere before. Then it hit me.

The car that the Nano most reminds me of is this:

This is the Cyclops. "The 51st best car of the 20th Century." Never heard of it? Well, the joke's on you.

A brief history:
In 1957 Road & Track introduced The Cyclops I. This was the brain child of cartoonist Stan Mott. Why, I don't know but from then on it was treated as a real car. The last known article on R&T about the car was in the year 2000 when it was voted one of the best cars in the century where it came in at 51st place.

The Cyclops was a tongue-in-both-cheeks concoction built in Italy of old Cinzano signs and vaguely similar in shape to today's VW Beetle II (i.e. - a half-cylinder), it had both sides identical and a huge Lucas P-100 headlamp centered in the front. There was no transmission, differential, clutch, or starter, or any other fancy doodads; the single cylinder was mounted vertically at the rear and the conn rod connected directly to a cranked real axle! You just stuck your foot through the floor and pushed back to start it going forwards and v.v. It sat on two fore-and-aft elliptical spring leaves.

As you can see, the Cyclops and the Nano are very similar. Small engine, minimalist design philosophy and funny looking.

What goes around comes around.

The first model built with the inventor at the wheel.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

God so loved the cosmos

Updated Did you see the you see the Sienna-Ohio State game last Thursday night? It would not surprise me if you didn’t, it was a first round game in the NCAA men’s finals last Thursday night. Number 9 cede Sienna beat Number 8 cede Ohio State and will face Louisville this evening.

I saw this snippet of a highlight from that game.



The camera is on the Sienna bench just as the team jumps up--they've just seen a great shot pull them into a second overtime. Behind them, another student stands up behind the bench, pulls out a big yellow poster board with—you guessed it—John 3:16.

He didn’t have it long. This big, bald security guard stepped up, ripped it out of his hands and folded it up and threw it away. It’s not that the guard was some atheistic anti-John 3:16-sign enforcer. NCAA rules don’t allow any signs, religious or otherwise, at a tournament game.

Still, I want to say to the kid who smuggled in his sign: “You've got the wrong verse! If you're going to go through all the work of smuggling in the sign, at least have the correct verse!”

We all know—or many of us do, anyway—John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to the end that all that believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

This is the slogan-passage for many Christians. To them it describes the core of Christian faith. But we forget about the rest of the passage, and its context. This is why if a kid was going to hold up bible-verse sign it should say “John 3:17.” And that reads: “Indeed, God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order than it might be saved through him.”
In other words, God’s salvation is not about “me” but about “we.”

Many Christians focus on the personal part of the passage: “…all that believeth in him…” but the real story is that God loves the world.

We have tended to reduce salvation, and everything that goes with it—sin, redemption, holiness of life—to my personal relationship with God alone.

The Gospel lesson tells us that God’s saving love is for the whole world. In the Gospel, the word is "kosmos." What God loves is not just our culture or the world as we know it, but the whole creation as God knows it. God knows that we love what we know, we stick to what is familiar, and that we usually hate to be accountable. But God wants us to live in the light. Eternal life is more than simply a place in the clouds, it is living in God's light, participating in God's healing of the cosmos.

Living in the light has a moral and ethical implications. We are not only secure in God's love, when we live in the light we are changed and we show that change in how we live. We are called to live in the light, so that everyone may know that our deeds of healing, our works of mercy, and acts of care come from God. John’s Gospel defines “salvation” as being made whole or healed, and he likens this to desire to live in the light.

A long time ago, I was a part of a zoning and inland wetlands commission for a small town in northeast Connecticut. This was my first and last foray into municipal politics and it was during a building boom (remember those? This was in the 1980s, before the last big financial crisis with the Savings and Loans).

There were a couple of things that I learned very quickly: that people who wanted to build houses, or condos or a strip mall would want to do nice things for me. Lesson one: don’t do it. No matter how nice they seem, just say no. You did not want someone to think that you voted a certain way because of favor or a pizza or something.

The second thing I learned was that one could not meet anywhere with any more than one other member of the board, or for that matter with the first selectman (the mayor) and the other elected officials unless one posted a notice and called a meeting. This was because of the state’s sunshine laws. These were laws designed to prevent backroom deals and secret handshakes that could affect public business.

When you live in a small town, a sunshine law can be a pain in the neck. It got to be joke. Meet two people in the supermarket and we’d ask each other “Is this a meeting?” But it also drove home a point: when doing the public’s business, everything had to be in the light. It had to be accountable and accessible. This did not mean that everything did was always right or always wiser and sometimes deciding simple things could be a whole lot slower, but it could not be in secret.

Looking back on it, I see this experience as a metaphor for the Christian life. We are people live in the light.

What does it mean to live in the light?

It means that we direct ourselves towards God in all we do.

Living in the light means that we are honest to ourselves and to those around us about ourselves: that we are imperfect and often ignorant, and we are stubborn and sometimes afraid—these are signs of what we call ‘sin.’ But in living in the light, we are aware of not only where we fall short but also where we are growing.

To live in the light means that what we do as Christians reflects on our relationship with God. There is a transparency in our living when we dare to live in the light: people see us as we are and as we are becoming (and that is not always pretty or predictable). Living in the light means leading with what gives us strength and hope. Living in the light also means that we shine light on the path for others. This happens in a number of ways:

When we lose our temper or judge a person harshly, we can be thought of as a rank hypocrite--until we own up and make amends. Then we show off where we need to grow.

When we show mercy, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and do a kindness for another, we show that we are giving ourselves over to God.

When we call out the best in others, we are living in the light and them to live in the light as well.

When we speak truth to power, we are calling people out of the darkness and into light.

When we care for a person in need or in pain, we shed light on where there was ignorance, or violence or the darkness of sin.

Over and over again, whenever we bring hope to where there was despair we are people who project God’s light into people’s lives. And so we live out God’s will that the world not be condemned but saved through Christ.

Everytime we give in to the temptation to make our relationship with God as a private thing, we are in fact succumbing to fear and choosing to live in darkness. But through our faith and baptisms, through our sacramental and community life, we live in the light. And that light transforms us and makes us whole.

You all know that I am passionate about evangelism. I want the whole cosmos--and every person in it--to know the love and saving power of God in Christ. I want people to know Christ and choose to follow him as friends and apprentices.

Christians have been and always will be communicators. But as useful as they might be, cardboard signs at basketball games nor clever signs on buses nor all the clever ads and tracts in the world cannot communicate the substance of the Gospel. "John 3:16" signs are a parody of themselves because they cannot substitute for a real relationship with a person who is living in the light. A person who dares to live in the light is willing to lovingly and honestly engage people who long for light in their lives.

So here is what I want to say to the young man with the sign at the basketball game: if you want to show off John 3:16 (or better yet verse 17) live in the light—live so that others see God at work in you.

Live in the light…anyone can hold a sign.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barack's bracket 2009

The last president may have been "the decider" but Barack takes a stand! Here are his picks for the NCAA men's tourney.

I agree with many of his picks, especially when he predicts that Syracuse will meet UNC in the fourth round, but I predict that Syracuse will pull off the upset. Syracuse will be the Cinderella team this year and go the Final Four.

I am looking for West Virginia to rock the house. The Moutaineers will pull past Kansas and Michigan State but not Louisville. It would be great but, I think Louisville will make it to the Four.

If Villanova doesn't take out Duke, in the Sweet 16, then Pittsburgh will in the Elite 8. As much as I would love to stay up till 2 in the morning screaming at the television, I look for Pitt to overtake Syracuse once again.

As for UConn, Mr. Obama picks Memphis over the Huskies in the Elite Eight. Sorry, Mr. President. I love you dearly, but no way. No way. It will be UConn vs. Louisville in the Final Four.

I'm calling for UConn and Pitt in the NCAA Final with UConn going all the way.

But, Mr. President, there is still time for you to put your money where your mouth is (for a great cause) with March Gladness. As we said on the Cafe:

Episcopal Cafe is supporting March Gladness, a clever initiative by Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation that has caught the eye of the mainstream media.

Fill out your NCAA men's basketball tournament brackets, picking the winners all the way to the national champion. (You'll need a Yahoo ID to do this. If you don't have one, it's OK, it's free, easy and zero risk -- click on "Sign Up" when you click to register) - MAKE SURE YOUR BRACKET NAME IS YOUR NAME + THE NAME OF YOUR NONPROFIT (e.g. Michael Jordan -- Nets For Life). Got your name and the name of your nonprofit? You're ready to click here.

The deadline looms in 24 hours, so fill out a bracket, and join in. Full details are available in previous posts.

I am playing for Episcopal Relief and Development. Much better than ESPN swag.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Physician's Desk Reference for Anglicans

Father Tobias Haller has put his finger on the pulse of Anglicanism and come up with this compendium of common maladies affecting our Church and our Communion. Here is a sample:

Akinolism A bipolar condition marked by alternating bouts of bravado and sullenness, with periodic eruptions separated by longer quiescent periods. Patients exhibit inflated but easily damaged egos. (see “Peter’s Pout” and Abujamania.)

Benign apostate enlargement An inflammation of the apostate gland, caused by an aggravated sensitivity to differences of opinion. Passing the “stone of dispute” can lead to significant pain but causes no real damage.

Covenant dermatitis Obsessive compulsive disorder in which the patient collects a number of similar but otherwise unconnected things and attempts to assemble a single new entity. Often treated by simply putting all of the objects into a single drawer with a neat label, which appears to relieve all but the most extreme cases. Popularly known as “The Itch.”

Griffith’s standfirmity A condition characterized by rigor and pallor, often mistaken for catalepsy or death; can be treated by application of cardiac warming and softening. Physical therapy is often useful in a full recovery of arm motion enabling a larger embrace.

Haller’s Complaint Condition first characterized by Griffith in 2009; a delusion in which the patient continues to believe himself to be part of a Christian church, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Incurable but not fatal. Best treatment is to ignore; will eventually go away whether treated or not.

Loopus episcopaliensis Malady in which the patient thinks he can believe anything he wants. Condition becomes critical in bishops, causing them to turn purple and burst, spreading the infection further. (See Benign Spongiform Episcopalitis)

Pluralsy Condition characterized by bloating and loss of muscle tone, with fluid buildup due to inability to separate truth from error. (see Pluriforminoma, Griswoldism.)

Primatism Condition in which patient imagines himself to be an Archbishop even though he has no province. A number of cases have been cited in the past; at present isolated to the Pittsburgh area. CDC warns it may spread if encouraged, or even if not.

Wright’s Tic Condition in which an otherwise completely sane and healthy person is given to occasional irrational outbursts of short duration but great intensity, in which he appears to forget everything he knows in his field of expertise.

Read the rest here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Pi Day

Okay, all you math fans out there...

Happy Pi Day!

3/14

Actually, this could be Pi Weekend:

3/14-15.

Seventeen years ago, Pi Weekend would have been especially meaningful:

3/14-15/92

But my geek moment cannot top this:

As Maddow points out, it is also Albert Einstien's birthday today. He once said: "There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is."

(PS -- Remember this?)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Choosing to go unheard

Once, long ago, I was on the communications committee of a diocese. We wanted to do a radio ad campaign. We had a one-time offer for a really terrific package that would have let our bishop's voice be heard three weekdays a week between the traffic and the weather during the morning rush hour on the most listened to radio station in the state. And we would have had this great deal for a year. We had an interesting script to start with, a musical signature was written for us by a musician in the diocese that would have made the ad stand out, we had the technical help to put the thing together.

So we ran it past our bishop--after all we hoped for his voice, or at least his approval to let one of our clergy with radio experience do the talking. His response? He suggested that we might do this instead on the public radio station that covered only the capital city area. Because that is what he listened to. And that is what his friends listened to. Heck, that is what is most of us on the communications committee listened to.

So the plan died.

Well, not exactly. The Catholic diocese bought the space instead. They already owned their own FM radio station and they added this to their existing spectrum.

This exercise turned out to be a lesson in deciding who we were not going to speak to.

We live in a world where the average person makes distinct choices as to how they connect with the world...they can choose newspaper (print or on-line) or tv (over the air, cable, satellite, video downloads), internet (web 1.o, social networking, blogging), radio (over the air, podcasting, and audio downloads) even how they write (postal service, print publishing, e-mail, blogging) and use the phone (land-line, cell, satellite, text) and in-between (YouTube, twitter, text, IM). The media does not choose us. We choose the media.

And this has a profound effect on how we understand and interact with the world.

Everyday in parish ministry is a communications challenge. And it runs in two dimensions: personal and technical.

We in the ministry biz spend a lot of time on the personal...the pastoral arts. But we also have to confront the technical.

The technical is an everyday challenge because everyday we have to confront how the heck we can communicate with large numbers of people every day in a way that they will see and get the message.

But the technical is also the personal because it turns out that we live in a world where technology is not only an impersonal thing that reaches into our lives. Communications technology is a choice that tells us how a person chooses to interact with the world.

Right now, in my own church building the active equipment we use for communicating symbolize the challenge. In the main church building, across the alley from our offices and education building, we have two active phones that have rotary dials. The only connection between the outside world and where we worship, socialize, feed the hungry and host 12-step and other groups is through POTS. (That is, Plain Old Telephone Service).

Meanwhile, in the office and education building, we have four phone extensions (including that church POTS line), an IP phone system that runs over the computer network, a brand new server, an wireless hotspot for visitors, and bells and whistles galore.

Which means that our own parish, we have two worlds side by side. I am struck by the symbolism of this reality: where we do traditional things, we have only one connect with the outside world--POTS. Where we do business and classes, we have a much wider array of choices. The important thing is that by our technology choices we are choosing whom we reach out to.

This Lent we have been holding small groups meeting in people's homes. Everyone has received a written invitation and a follow up phone call. We have reached--that is directly connected with--only about 40% of our congregation. Not bad. But it has been a challenge getting the word out. Especially in finding all the different channels of communication that our members have chosen for themselves.

One issue that we have uncovered is that a few people who still live in town and still come to church (we have seen their presence among us regularly) no longer have land lines but we don't have their cell-phone numbers.

Another challenge is that very often every member of the household has a cell number and that is how they keep in touch with each other and the world. We are hearing from people who got a voice message on their land line...and didn't replay it. Oh...they say, I forgot to play my machine or listen to my voice mail. Why? I ask. Well, it's usually filled with junk...ads, etc.

Most households do not have a single e-mail address but several. One or more per person per household.

What's fascinating is that in my conversations with people, they consider themselves quite conservative when it comes to technology. They don't twitter, use facebook or blog. They haven't a clue about social networking. They may still read the morning paper...printed on paper. But they routinely use e-mail to send notes and pictures and jokes to their relatives. They carry a cell phone "for emergencies" but use as many as thirty minutes of phone time per week. They take for granted the myriad of channels on cable or satellite television. To them, the technology is an appliance...like a toaster. They just don't realize how the technology is changing how they interact with the world.

And then there is the newsletter. For a significant portion of the congregation, the paper newsletter is their link to the wider doings of the parish. But most people don't even open it. And since the rate structure for the postal service is more and more trying to sweep small bulk mailers (those who send 100,000 pieces or less) out of the system, we are forced to look for altheratives. The unopened newsletter is often replaced with one or more on line mediums: the blog, the e-postcard, the text.

This means that we have to repeat and layer what we say in multipe formats. All the time.

Every announcement that goes into the bulletin has to be blogged as an individual item; sent out in the weekly e-newsletter, printed (often several times) in the bulletin and then in the printed newsletter. We are considering how to tweet or IM the folks who use texting systems and Blackberrys. A presence on Facebook is not out of the question. And, oh yeah, our present web-site sucks.

If we are just going to stay where we are and not shrink--let alone approach effectiveness and get the message of the Gospel out there-- we have to become wise users of as many layers of communications technology as possible, and that means we have to be wise choosers and open listeners to how people choose their mediums.

So we have to start over: we have to census the parish (again) this time coming up with a way of doing this that captures the individual cellphone numbers and e-mail addresses while at the same time assuring people of their privacy.

Which brings me back to the personal side of communications technology.

I have come to realize that it is not just a generational question: it is not only that old folks use POTS and younger people use Web 2.0. It is also a question of choice.

We live in a world dominated by a free-market of ideas in which the Christian gospel is but one voice in the market. And we live in a world where people have a choice as how they may connect with the world.

For the average parish in the average town, this means that we have to spend more time and energy thinking about how we do basic communication and spend more time faithfully doing it.

When we choose a medium to use or not use, we are also choosing who we are not speaking to. When we--out of choice or necessity--choose to only communicate through the printed newsletter then we are choosing not to reach out to those who never read printed mail except for (maybe) an invoice. When we choose to advertise only through the radio or the yellow-pages or mass-mailing, then who are we choosing who not to reach.

And it works the other way, too. When we drop the phone message and the newsletter in favor of the internet, who are we leaving out?

Again, it is not just generational. I have lots of older folks who are very web-savvy. And I have young people in my church who are approaching twenty one and still don't drive. We live in a world where everyone can (and does) choose how they wish to connect with the world around them. As communicators--and as Christians we are and always have been communicators-- our choices to use or not use certain technologies will by definition determine who it is we are speaking to.

Our choices will also determine who we leave out.

This means that parishes and dioceses have to be intentional and committed to layering their communications strategy as much as they able, and this may mean that parishes have to band together to work together on getting the word out. This means we need more Christians, lay and ordained, using as many layers as possible.

It means that dioceses and congregations and our lay and ordained leaders must begins seeing ourselves as a network rather than as members of related stand-alone institutions. The Apostle Paul likened this network to a human body.

For us Episcopalians, it means that priests and bishops have to set the example in being proactive in their use of communications tools: the more a priest or bishop blogs, tweets, and uses FB, as well as writing in the diocesan paper and speaks from the pulpit, the more that pastoral leader shows us that Good News is for telling and that we are willing to meet people where they are.

We have content. We Christians believe the Gospel is the most important content of all. Do the choices we make in how we share that content rise to the importance we give it? Who do we choose to tell? Who do we choose to not to tell?

Read more here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Engaging God

David Plotz of Slate Magazine blogged the Bible for two years, starting "In the beginning" right through to the end.



He was surprised to learn that many people of faith do not read the Bible. As any one who listens to or preaches from the lectionary knows, most traditions like to read only snippets...the "good stuff."
Should you read the Bible? You probably haven't. A century ago, most well-educated Americans knew the Bible deeply. Today, biblical illiteracy is practically universal among nonreligious people. My mother and my brother, professors of literature and the best-read people I've ever met, have not done much more than skim Genesis and Exodus. Even among the faithful, Bible reading is erratic. The Catholic Church, for example, includes only a teeny fraction of the Old Testament in its official readings. Jews study the first five books of the Bible pretty well but shortchange the rest of it. Orthodox Jews generally spend more time on the Talmud and other commentary than on the Bible itself. Of the major Jewish and Christian groups, only evangelical Protestants read the whole Bible obsessively.
Plotz says that every literate person, religious or not, should read the Bible thoroughly.
Maybe it doesn't make sense for most of us to read the whole Bible. After all, there are so many difficult, repellent, confusing, and boring passages. Why not skip them and cherry-pick the best bits? After spending a year with the good book, I've become a full-on Bible thumper. Everyone should read it—all of it! In fact, the less you believe, the more you should read. Let me explain why, in part by telling how reading the whole Bible has changed me....

...You can't get through a chapter of the Bible, even in the most obscure book, without encountering a phrase, a name, a character, or an idea that has come down to us 3,000 years later. The Bible is the first source of everything from the smallest plot twists (the dummy David's wife places in the bed to fool assassins) to the most fundamental ideas about morality (the Levitical prohibition of homosexuality that still shapes our politics, for example) to our grandest notions of law and justice. It was a joyful shock to me when I opened the Book of Amos and read the words that crowned Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Just as an exercise, I thought for a few minutes about the cultural markers in Daniel, a late, short, and not hugely important book. What footprints has it left on our world? First, Daniel is thrown in the "lions' den" and King Belshazzar sees "the writing on the wall." These are two metaphors we can't live without. The "fiery furnace" that Daniel's friends are tossed into is the inspiration for the Fiery Furnaces, a band I listen to. The king rolls a stone in front of the lions' den, sealing in a holy man who won't stay sealed—foreshadowing the stone rolled in front of the tomb of Jesus. Daniel inspired the novel The Book of Daniel and the TV show The Book of Daniel. It's even a touchstone for one of my favorite good-bad movies, A Knight's Tale. That movie's villain belittles hero Heath Ledger by declaring, "You have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting"—which is what the writing on the wall told Belshazzar.

While reading the Bible, I often felt as if I had finally lifted a veil from my eyes. I learned that I hadn't known the true nature of God's conflict with Job, which is the ur-text of all subsequent discussions of obedience and faith. I realized I was ignorant of the story of Ruth. I was unaware of the radical theology of Ecclesiastes, the source of so many of our ideas about the good life. I didn't know who Jezebel was, or why we loathe her, or why she is the painted lady, or even that she was married to Ahab.

Many people start to read the Bible cover to cover and can barely get past the begats. People try because they are looking for answers. They hope they will grow spirutually in the excercise. But will reading the Bible cover to cover as Plotz did deepen your faith? That depends on what you mean by "deepen."

On the one hand, Plotz found himself very disappointed in God when he really got into the stories of the Hebrew Bible.
After reading about the genocides, the plagues, the murders, the mass enslavements, the ruthless vengeance for minor sins (or none at all), and all that smiting—every bit of it directly performed, authorized, or approved by God—I can only conclude that the God of the Hebrew Bible, if He existed, was awful, cruel, and capricious. He gives us moments of beauty—such sublime beauty and grace!—but taken as a whole, He is no God I want to obey and no God I can love.
But something happened. He discovered that his very questions caused him to engage God in a new way.
The Bible has brought me no closer to God, if that means either believing in a deity acting in the world or experiencing the transcendent. But perhaps I'm closer to God in the sense that the Bible has put me on high alert. I came to the Bible hoping to be inspired and awed. I have been, sometimes. But mostly I've ended up in a yearlong argument with God. Why would He kill the innocent Egyptian children? And why would He delight in it? What wrong did we do Him that He should send the flood? Which of His Ten Commandments do we actually need? Yet the argument itself represents a kind of belief, because it commits me to engage with God.
Diedre Goode, Professor of New Testament at the General Theological Seminary says:
That's exactly the point! Its not so much where you end up as your commitment to the reading, the thinking, the engaging, the arguing and the discernment. This is what its all about...
And I would take it a step further. The thinking, the engaging, the arguing, and the discernment also engages us in a moral dialogue. When we engage all the stories of all different people--the scoundrels,  the innocent sufferers, the poets, the observers, the ones struggling to remain faithful and the good people gone bad in the Bible--we find our selves in a moral conversation with Scripture itself. We want to correct them. We find ourselves asking "what would I have done?" We ask questions like "What was God thinking when God did this or called out that person?" Even more important, we begin to ask what it means to be a people of God.

If God can work through this vast array of frail, imperfect, implusive (and sometimes repulsive) characters, then maybe God is present and working through me and the people around me, too.
As I read the book, I realized that the Bible's greatest heroes—or, at least, my greatest heroes—are not those who are most faithful, but those who are most contentious and doubtful: Moses negotiating with God at the burning bush, Gideon demanding divine proof before going to war, Job questioning God's own justice, Abraham demanding that God be merciful to the innocent of Sodom. They challenge God for his capriciousness, and demand justice, order, and morality, even when God refuses to provide them. Reading the Bible has given me a chance to start an argument with God about the most important questions there are, an argument that can last a lifetime.
The Bible is meant to be engaged and debated and listened to and argued over. Just like the whole Bible itself, somewhere in that strange messy process we discover God and we get to know ourselves.

Read: Slate.com: What I learned from reading the Bible
Also: On Not Being a Sausage: The Payoff from Reading the Bible?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Not ashamed

This coming Sunday's Gospel says:
(Jesus) called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Nick Baines and Alan Wilson remind us:
25 years ago today (6 March 1984) Martin Niemoeller died in Wiesbaden, Germany. He was Pastor of a wealthy church in Berlin-Dahlem when Hitler came to power and advocated voting for Hitler in 1933 on the grounds that he would clean Germany up. When his eyes were opened to the realities of what was going on (the appointment of Ludwig Mueller as Reichsbischof and the passing of the Aryan Law), he helped found the Confessing Church and joined the resistance. He spent eight years in Moabit Prison, Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps and was eventually released in 1945 from Austria.
He is best known for the ‘confession’ he wrote after his release:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

In English:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Niemoeller was not a perfect man. The stands for which he is most famous did not come easily to him. He came to his resistance to Nazi-ism slowly. As noted above, he initially voted for Hitler's NSDAP and was opposed to democracy in post-First World War Germany.

It took him time (and perhaps incarceration in concentration camps) to repent of the anti-Semitism that he was raised in and taught all through his schooling.

It took time for him to come to his pacifism.

His painful and obviously hard won repentences and his courage to stand up even when it challenged his own deeply held assumptions makes his journey an even more heroic one. His journey is that of a man who allowed Christ to call him, challenge him and change him. He moved from reflecting the values of his time to repenting of them to leading people to see the implications of following Christ even in difficult times.

To live as one unashamed of the Gospel is not always simple nor it is always easy, but it will always challenge us to our core.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Happy square root day.

3-3-09

Enjoy it. The next one won't come for another seven years, one month and one day.