Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Changes This Election Brings

I wish President Elect Trump well. I did not vote for him. I did not support the idea of him being President. I feel that the Republican Party gave into popularistic tides so that, instead of saying, "NO" to Trumps run for the office, they rolled over and allowed themselves to compromise their entire ideology. But choices have consequences. Now we have to live with their choice.

But the election of Donald Trump leaves all of us facing some uncertainty about the future. And there are changes coming. The question is are we prepared to face them?

Can we accept the permission for hate, racism, and bigotry that the Trump campaign has granted to certain groups?
Can we accept the tens of thousands of people who were receiving NECESSARY medical care under the Affordable Care Act who will most likely lose their health care coverage?
Can we accept that our neighbors will be screened and profiled for having brown skin, wearing a head scarf, or associating with non-white, non-Americanized-religious types?

Here is the biggest change that I have to face personally. I can no longer associate myself with the descriptor EVANGELICAL.

For nearly 25 years, I have been proud to declare that I was an evangelical. It represented the worldview I tried to live out as a Christian. It represented the belief that the Bible was a message of Good News for all people. It represented that the mission of the Church (universal) was to bring a better life for all people on Earth. It represented the offer of a grace, hope, and forgiveness to anyone without judgment or condemnation.

But that word no longer represents those things to me. It doesn't represent those things because exit polls showed that 4 out of 5 self-identified evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. It doesn't represent those things because 4 out of 5 self-identified evangelicals were accepting of the lifestyle the Donald Trump was unrepentant about; bigoted, misogynistic, abusive, and fowl in his treatment of people he decided were un-worthy. Women reporters, Hillary Clinton, people of other races and nations, people with conditions that Trump found subject for humor. All of these were publicly documented facts. All of these were part of his campaign to become the leader of THESE people, ALL people. And 4 out of 5 self-identified evangelicals found NO PROBLEM WITH THIS BEHAVIOR.

But I guess it is worse to be gay than a bigot. I guess it is worse to love someone of the same gender and want to support them than verbal/emotional/physical abuse of a woman just because you have power. I guess it is a greater sin to think that all people are of sacred worth than to permit violence against a people group because they are different.

So be it.

I will no longer associate myself with 4 out of 5 evangelicals. I will no longer use that descriptor in naming the things I hold dear.  I will no longer use that descriptor to look through toward the world.

I will still believe in a God who is love, has shown love, will use me to extend love. I will still believe in Jesus Christ, who I believe walked on this earth, died by human instrumentation to fulfill a bigger agenda, was raised by the power of God beyond human understanding, and who reigns in full authority over this world until God's Kingdom can be fully established among the people of the world. I will still believe that the Church (universal) represents God in this world and offers a better world to all people, not just white men with wealth and privilege and women who follow them. I will still work under all the power God has given me to touch lives and improve them when and where I can.

I will stand with the oppressed, the broken, the lost and the least.
I will not ignore the cry of the needy or the forgotten.
I will open my door to the stranger and feed the hungry.
I will use my training to bind up the broken, the sick, the hurt as far as I am able.
I will love my "one anothers" (those connected by blood and bond), those who are like me, those who are different than me, and with God's help even those who want to hurt me.

But I am not an evangelical any more.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Icons for a New School Year

Some community members gathered at the front door to the high school in Turpin one Wednesday evening. It was hot. The sun was beating down out of the still bright, western sky. Shade was not in abundance as we stood in the parking lot. But the discomfort we all experienced was with purpose. We gathered to pray for the school and community.

The prayer walk was to take us through the entire community in teams. But it began with a walk around the school property. Prayer would be lifted over the boundaries of the property to make this new school year something new in the name of the Lord.

We were instructed on the practicals of how to go about the prayer walk, but left to our own method of prayer as we journeyed. My method was to allow God to inspire the prayers. To drop from my mind the things I wanted, and allow God to feedback into my spirit what God wanted prayed.

As I began the journey, one thing after another popped into my imagination. It took an entire trip around the school to realize that God was showing me icons around the school – images that led me into deeper prayer, reflection, and meditation upon God. An image captures 1,000 words, or something like that, but an icon leads us into the infinite.

Here are the icons I discovered and prayed through for a new school year:

Classrooms where minds are expanded – May God open the minds of students and teachers to the greater mind of Christ. The world is the creation of God and all that is within it is God’s own possession. As we live and move through this world, as we live and move as God’s own, let our minds be expanded to see the world differently, to think of others as Christ would, to pursue thoughts worthy of the kingdom of God that the earth may become the kingdom God intended. Science and history, English and math are ways to approach the world and how it works. But the creator God approaches that which is in the world in order to be revealed to others.

Cafeteria – May God pass along to all those within the hunger and thirst for righteousness. Do not allow them to be satisfied with the junk food of appearing righteous. Do not allow them to gorge themselves upon the fat of judging others as unrighteous. Do not allow them to starve because of distractions that tempt. Let that hunger and thirst drive them to the table of righteous life, hosted by the living Christ.

Pre-K and Kindergarten – May God birth into the community of faith new babes in Christ. Let faith begin to flourish among children – young and old – that there will be an increase in the blessing of God’s people. May they begin to grow and be strong in grace, truth, and faith. May their excitement bring others to see the faith as a life of joy and hope.

Locked doors – May God protect the children and the vulnerable from the predators of this world. There are devourers who prey upon the innocence, the vulnerability, of little ones. It is sad that doors must be locked to keep our children safe at school. But may God also protect them in their homes, where some of the devourers live. May God watch over them and protect them from harm in body, mind, heart, and soul.

Water tower – May the Living Water pour out of the lives of all believers in that school. May the youth and adults be fountains, springs, lakes and rivers, oceans of the grace that Christ brings forth in our own lives. May they pour themselves out in service and love to one another – friend and family, neighbor and stranger, frenemy and enemy. Do not allow shame or embarrassment, guilt or peer pressure prevent the witnesses of God’s mercy from testifying in word and deed the great flowing love of God.

Bus barn and workshop – May God guide the hands that keep the school running. May those who serve others be honored. May their works be appreciated. May their tasks be completed with purpose. May they find that the humble hand that serves surpasses the apparent glory of honored people.

Buses – May God guide the journeys of the lives of all within that school. From the first day of their school life to those who see this as their retirement year, let this journey be one of meaning and purpose. May your lives be filled with hope for what the next day, the next turn, the next rest will bring. As you set out on the new year and seek to find what is at the end, remember that along the journey, God will guide you. God will also stop you, when needed, to show you something glorious. God will slow you down when you try to outpace yourself. God will speed you up when you drag along. God will help you find the places of shelter and rest. God will also allow you to experience ups and downs along the way. Rejoice in the journey!

Athletic fields – You who choose to fight for the glory and honor of your school on the fields of “battle”, choose to be warriors of Christ. Do not mistake being a warrior for Christ for yours is not to battle others. You are not sent out into war against enemies or forces – the battle belongs to the Lord. Instead be warriors of Christ, seeking to take his name, his honor as your own. Seek to serve as he served, willing to lay down his life for the sake of others. Seek to follow the will of God instead of lead God into places from which you must be rescued. Seek the peace that Christ brings.

Running track – You who set yourself to this life, run a race worthy of Christ. Run for the glory of God, not to accumulate cheers and awards. Be recognized not for your speed but for your testimony. Stand in front of others with humility, for even Christ gave up the glory of heaven to run the race with us.

Playground – May God allow children to discover the gift of holy play. To find refreshing times in the midst of their day. To experience and hear laughter as a healing bond. May games be played for the benefit of all. May harsh words, shaming, and bullying be squashed in the heart before they can take root and produce destructive fruit. May the games build community. May the players be friends beyond competition. May their times of play reinvigorate them for times of work.

Old buildings – God provides when the time is right. May those buildings that are falling into disrepair remind us that providence doesn’t mean we get what we want when we want it.  Sometimes we must wait upon the Lord’s provision. Sometimes we must get something out of the way before the Lord can provide. And sometimes, we have to do a little work – tilling, planting, tending, harvesting – to enjoy the Lord’s provision.

A damaged driver’s education car – School is not brought into the lives of students in the places they live. Students are brought to a place to learn and grow. And sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes harm is intentional. Sometimes lives get bumped and dented. And sometimes lives are wrecked. God stay by the side of all those in the school, that their lives may be protected as they travel to and from school. May those who drive be alert and aware of children walking, immature drivers, and those rushing without always looking. May those who drive be intentional to put down phones, turn down radios, quiet the passengers, and focus on being as safe as possible.

Artwork – May the creativity and imagination God put within all bloom and flourish. May the school be filled with the gifts of artwork that spring forth from God’s inspiration. May there be a culture where art and science, imagination and logic work hand in hand to produce individuals of talent and craft.

Weight room – As school begins, we recognize that children, teachers, and staff are all under burdens that weigh down their lives. Some are so burdened they cannot lift their head to look into the eyes of another. Some are barely standing under the weight of loss, shame, guilt, pain. Some are so weighted down that every step to finish the bare minimums of daily living are sometimes overwhelming. May they find the Lord’s yoke that is light. May they experience his lifting of their burden. But may they also find that there are shoulders around them to help carry the load. Let them encounter others who will help them with their burden, who can help them carry forward. And if those who come alongside cannot carry the burden, then help them to carry the one carrying it.

Dumpster – Remember the cast-offs, the throwaways, the forgotten, and the overlooked. And those who feel they are. God looks to those that society has pushed to the edges and walked away from. And God calls the people who follow Christ to remember them. They are “Blessed be’s” of the sermon on the mountain. They are the recipients of Jesus Christ’s fulfillment of prophecy. Let us seek those at the edges, who are so close to being cast-off, thrown away, forgotten, and overlooked. Remember them and bring them close.

Swimming pool – May God bring many to faith, that they may know of life and experience new life through baptism. May they seek the kingdom through the water that brings to new life. May the die to self and old ways of living, that rising out of the water there will be a refreshed soul. May the find a home among a people baptized in one Lord by one Spirit into one God.

Musical instruments – Let songs of praise and worship usher forth from the mouths and hearts of the faithful. In this school year, let words of joy and peace be sung over one another. Let the discord and noise of hate be silenced. Let the anthems of God’s great love be heard in the word and deed of the faithful who fill the halls of the school. Even in the quiet times, let those be rests before the great music of the kingdom is taken up again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hospitality in the midst of a virtual craze

If you are hiding under a social media rock, then you probably have not heard about Pokemon Go. It is a game played on cell phones or other portable devices. The Pokemon property has been around about 20 years and has spawned games, television shows, comic books, and movies.

The basic rule of the game is to catch imaginary creatures and collect them, power them up (by collecting more of the same), and sending them to fight others. The collecting part requires a player to wander around the real world until they cross paths with a critter. Then, using the device on which they are playing, the critter is captured by flicking a ball on the screen toward the object of their capturing desires. Part of the real world interaction are places of interest or gathering. Pokestops are a sort of refilling station. Gyms are places where rival players can "battle" their Pokemon. No real violence is committed.

What Niantic and Nintendo have done is create an intersection of virtual reality and real life.

I believe churches have been given an opportunity to show hospitality like never before.

There are a lot of people playing this game. Within 1 week, it was accessed more than almost every other mobile app that is used by the on-the-go world. There are a lot of people playing this game. And, because it uses real world locations, there are people being brought into the circle of influence of our churches that may have never been interested in stepping foot on our property.

If a church is fortunate enough to have a Pokestop or Gym overlapping their physical location, there will be plenty of people coming within feet of the front doors. A player does not have to enter a facility to access the Pokemon location. They only have to be within the radius of the virtual location. But the Pokestops refresh every 5 minutes. It is not uncommon for players to "camp" at Stops to reload on needed virtual tools to play the game. Gyms afford Teams an opportunity to claim a location or individuals a chance to level up their critters.

What is your church going to do with all of those people who come within your hospitality range?

Some will ignore this: It is just a silly game. It doesn't offer our church anything. It will be played out shortly and not last long enough to mobilize any effort.

Some will resist this: They don't need to trespass on our property. They don't want to know anything about us, they just want to use the property for themselves. They don't respect the spiritual nature of the place.

But this is a chance to become known for hospitality. This is an opportunity to show grace in radical ways. It is a chance to get to know the neighbors and strangers who will seek out our churches. Sure, it may be a goofy, frivolous game that gets them there. But thanks to a multi-million dollar effort, our churches have free publicity. People are playing the game. People are traveling around.

How will we welcome the stranger? How will we receive the searching? How will we open our doors to the people who come onto our property with a welcome and inviting spirit?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tuesday Geek Reflections

My social media feeds were filled with unending samples, comments, and memes regarding Pokemon Go! In order to be a well rounded geek, I downloaded the app and proceeded to discover what it was about.

Walking around looking at your phone. Stopping occasionally and flipping something on the screen. Walking some more.

In other words, it is an exercise program hidden within a conditioned response device.

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I purchased the Steam updated version of System Shock. Originally released when computer game graphics were less realistic, that game had a fantastic story line as well as atmosphere. And all these years later, it still spawns some of the same gut reactions. It is not graphically pleasant to watch. But that may not be extremely necessary. It remains to be seen how it will hold up the further I play into the story.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A fan letter to Stan Lee

Mr. Lee,

The days of finding a "fan mail" address for favorite stars seems to have disappeared. But I wanted to use some form of correspondence to make known how much you have been for me.

I wanted to express this to you in person. I was at Dallas Fan Expo in early June. I was looking forward to getting an autograph or photograph just so I could have the 30 seconds to express my admiration. Unfortunately, the cost was beyond my budget. I was disappointed that a financial barrier such as $100 would keep me from meeting you. But I was able to sit in on the spotlight panel in the arena. That was the highlight of the weekend for me.

I appreciate the time and energy you devote to your fans. It is understandable that you would retire from making as many appearances at conventions. I don't know how extensive your retirement will be, but if I don't ever get the opportunity again, I treasure the little time that you shared with your fans. I have to admit to a streak of envy as Todd McFarlane recounted the hours that he got to spend with you as a young man. On the list of people I would like to sit down with, you are among the tops of my list.

My fan appreciation goes back to the late 1970's. I started reading comics around that time. My comics of choice were Marvel titles. It isn't that I thought DC titles were bad or less interesting. I thought that the Marvel characters and stories were more engaging. I still have parts of a Daredevil comic (guest starring Nova!) and Defenders comic (co-starring the original Guardians of the Galaxy!). They are in rough shape, but I treasure them.

One of my favorite features was always Stan's Soapbox. I thought your comments were funny, as a kid. Today I realize that you were giving us a regular glimpse into the charisma and charm you still exhibit.

As I got older, one of your creations - your most famous - became something of a personal hero. Spider-Man was my favorite costumed hero for many years. But Peter Parker represented even more. I was becoming an introverted and nerdy youth. I felt like an outsider. I wasn't bullied or mistreated by schoolmates, but I didn't feel like I belonged. My interests took me away from the more popular pastimes of athletics. I was interested in science. I loved reading. And I found in Peter Parker a kindred spirit.

But his mantra about responsibility has left the most lasting impression. Today I consider duty and responsibility as important. I didn't understand it as deeply when I was young. Perhaps it is a facet of being young that we don't responsibility. Perhaps it was just a matter of learning as I grew. But I have discovered that the power I do possess (influence, skills, talents) does bring with it a set of responsibilities and duties. And those responsibilities and duties are a sacred trust between myself and others. If I don't fulfill those, the power is meaningless.

I realize that you didn't write the stories that I read as a youth. I think you may have even moved on to other pursuits. But your legacy, your influence, was in every page, every word bubble, I read. You are one of the great legends that I look to because you have made such a lasting impression on the things you have done. I count you with Walt Disney as one of the great persons of our nation. You both have gone beyond just being a comic book writer and editor. You and Walt seem to share the same depth of charisma and energy. You both are unstoppable creative forces. You both have not let critics or nay-sayers stop you from pursuing your vision.

I respect and admire Walt Disney for these qualities. But I also believe you exhibit many of the same qualities that I would love to have in my life. I could never reach the levels that you possess of these traits. I feel that I am too restrained or driven to those ends. But I learn from the example you have set. Maybe I can some day be a fraction of the visionary and influence that you have been to me and many others.

Thank you Stan Lee for being an amazing influence in my life. It would be remarkable if this came to your attention. But even if it doesn't, I need to express that you have been an important part of shaping who I am.

Sincerely, a life-long fan.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Ghost Rebellion: A Mininstry of Peculiar Occurrences book - review

I discovered this series by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris a couple of years ago. They were my first foray into the genre of steampunk. I fell in love with the main heroes - Eliza Braun and Wellington Books - in the very first book. I was instantly intrigued by the setting and fascinated by the steampunk genre. In all, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series hooked me from the very beginning.

The fifth, and latest novel, is Ghost Rebellion. I was sent a preview copy for a fair and honest review. Perhaps, it isn't fair because I like the series so much. But it will be an honest review.

The first thing I enjoy about the books is that they are fun. The stories are filled with adventure. The characters, main and supporting, are truly heroic. I feel my own adrenaline rush reading through their exploits. Ghost Rebellion offered that same thrill. The conflicts are quick paced and do not get drawn out with gory details. The action moves quickly, but is related efficiently so that you can create the mental visuals to "watch" the scene unfold.

Second, the historical references are usually an interesting alternate history perspective. The Ministry novels are set in last years of the 19th and early years of the 20th centuries. The Ministry is a secret agency within the British Empire and servants of Queen Victoria. This also is the dawning of global travel, so adventures will take them the heroes to all corners of the Empire. They encounter historic and literary figures well acquainted to that time period. But because of the alternate history angle, they may be more heroic, or villainous, than remembered. The Ghost Rebellion takes our stalwart heroes to the length of the Empire, India. The beginnings of the Indian independence revolution are played out as the background to the larger narrative of the Ministry's ongoing struggle with a nefarious conspiracy involving a familiar literary character. I love the weaving of the historic, fantastical, and alternate history.

Third, steampunk tickles my fantasy and techno-geek funny bones. Steampunk is a hard genre to describe. It is pre-science fiction science fiction. These are not spaceships flying across space with hypothetical, theoretical physics bending warp or hyperspace drives. There are no blasters or phasers shooting beams of projected energy. Instead, it takes steam and sound, brass and copper, to make things that are more beautiful in imagery. Yes, these are tools of a more elegant age. The fundamental understandings of electricity and biology are the foundation of the theoretical weapons and vehicles.

If you have watched the Robert Downey, Jr version of Sherlock Holmes or the abominable movie adaptation of Wild, Wild West with Will Smith, you have seen steampunk.

The Ministry novels sprinkle in little nuggets of the genre. It isn't so heavy as to force you to think about it. When Wellington is tinkering about with some gadget, it feels natural. The Ghost Rebellion offers up the continuation of a good balance between steampunk fandom and casual reader ability to grasp the technology.

Ghost Rebellion is a fun and fantastical example of steampunk literature. But it is also an easy adventure read. It reminds me of the classic adventure tales of Flash Gordon or the Lone Ranger. But if you pay attention, you also learn something of the times these books are set within. It doesn't ignore the real world history. A careful reader could get hooked into going beyond the novels to discover a wider, very real world.

Ghost Rebellion is not, however, a book where you want to start your adventures with the Ministry. I have read (well listened to the audio version) of almost all of the books. I missed the fourth, The Diamond Conspiracy. The Ghost Rebellion requires knowing some of the previous story. Wellington's backstory has been unfolding across the series and this chapter in his story could prove confusing without knowing what has happened before. I must confess to being a little lost at times just because I missed the 4th book. I would not recommend picking this book up as your introduction to the Ministry series.

For fans, though, The Ghost Rebellion is a great return to our heroes and their struggle.