Monday, December 31, 2007

The Golden Compass - pt. 2

I have finished the three books of Philip Pullman. The Golden Compass is the first book in the series. I thought I would chime in with my final thoughts on the book.

First, let me say that I decided that I would not go see the movie. After reading the novels, I didn't feel that the I could agree with where the story was going to go. I am sure that the movie is a wonderful cinematic piece. But I chose not to see it.

The second and third books develop the story of the main character, Lyra, as she continues on the adventure that was begun in The Golden Compass. The story continues to show the opposition of Free Thinkers versus the Church. Lyra, and her new companion Will, seem to be caught between the two sides. Lyra was raised by the church (although she never fit in) but doesn't want to give over completely to her father's anti-church opinion. Along the journey to find Lyra's father, Will acquires a remarkable knife that enables the wielder to travel between worlds. In their journeys, they discover that the knife has more, and even more incredible, power than they first thought.

Pullman makes no effort to hide his opinion of authoritative structures, of which the church is the most prominent. I still am of the opinion that Mr. Pullman's experiences with the church are tainted by the failures of humans within the church. The way he speaks about the church is not the vision that Christ intended and is displayed over and over throughout history and the world. His vision is, instead, the picture of the church when it has failed because of human interest coming before the will of God.

And I suppose that is my overarching observation of this book. Mr. Pullman has created a world within his novels where human interest is the ultimate factor of what is right and good, as long as that interest is subjectively positive. This is secular moral philosophy. There is no ultimate good or evil. Good and evil is what each of us makes it out to be. And as long as we are not hurting another, then what we call good can be good. There is no ultimate source of evil (such as the Devil). Evil is only defined in the acts that people do that cause harm to others.

In Pullman's books, the church is evil because it forces people to live according to rules and takes away choices. It is evil because it limits people freedom to decide what is best for their own lives. It is evil because it prohibits discovery, curiosity, wisdom and knowledge.

There were some minor points brought out in the book that really set me on edge. One is the portrayal of God as an angel who glorified himself above other angels and received the worship of humans.

Another was the portrayal of homosexual angels. Two angels who help Will (Lyra's companion) are written in such a way to show deep abiding affection for each other beyond companionship.

Third is the somewhat obscured idea of a 12-13 year old girl becoming the lover of a 12-13 year old boy. While there is no blatant sex scene, the description of their relationship leaves little other category.

By the end of the book, I didn't feel good about it. As I read the last chapters, I wanted to see how it would end. It is well written. It is also an engaging story. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, an ordained minister of the gospel, and a pastor of some experience, I cannot recommend this book to believers. I would always recommend that you read it yourself to make your own opinion. I can see this book becoming for secular humanists and the Free Thinking Movement what the Chronicles of Narnia has become for the evangelical church.

I will tell you that the promotion of the movie and the related material is deceptive. Everything that I have seen promotes this as a hero story about a girl and her animal friends. This is not what the book or the movie is ultimately about.

I hope that the church will not take a position like that portrayed in the book. We do not need to come out fighting against this story. If it wants to be made, then let it be made. But if followers of Jesus Christ are going to see it, then be prepared to say, "This is not my church. This is not my God. This is not how I live." And if you can't, then be willing to allow change to happen so that you can become the follower Christ wants you to be, the church God intended, and the witness that can share Christ openly.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In Jesus' name, pt. 1 - Prayer and Jesus' name

There is quite the little controversy bubbling up in Tulsa. In Saturday's Tulsa World there was an article about the prayer that opens the regular city council meeting. Tulsa has a tradition (like many other cities) of asking religious leaders to come in an lead the gathering in prayer before the business of the meeting is dealt with.

According to the article, persons representing the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance approached the chaplain who coordinates the religious leaders who volunteer to pray. They approached him in the interest of inclusiveness. Karl Sniderman said that he and another TIA board member attended a council meeting that was opened by a person who prayed in Jesus' name. Sniderman goes on to say, "I'm Jewish and she's Muslim, and it kind of irked us."

This conversation led to the decision by the coordinating chaplain to not allow prayers that were prayed in Jesus' name. Anyone who could not in good conscience abide by this condition is being asked to decline to offer the prayer.

This was brought to my attention by a parishioner. I have also been following along with one of the local talk radio stations. According to conversations and interviews with city council members, the city council was not aware of this decision.

The issue at hand is that praying in the name of Jesus is exclusive. It excludes people of other faiths. A prayer can be offered with other names for God being used. But the use of Jesus' name is not to be used. The article states that religious leaders who did not comply with this condition have been removed from the rotation.

This article has a companion piece. The following information was taken from the Tulsa World and, as one reader has pointed out, is not correct in its details. Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt was court martialed by the U.S. Navy for offering a prayer in Jesus' name, in violation of a U.S. Navy policy. Klingenschmitt challenged that policy, and Congress agreed with him, forcing the Navy to change the policy.Klingenschmitt has gone on to become an advocate for public prayer and the inclusion of the name of Jesus.

This has led me to a study of the subject of using the name of the Lord. I have prayed many years with the familiar, " the name of Jesus, amen." It was something that I had been given through my faith heritage. I had never heard teachings or opinions on this until recently. But it was something that I did.

So my study has begun on this subject. Of course, I wanted to begin with the subject of prayer. This is the pressing issue. So I began to study all of the passages of the New Testament that refer to the name of Jesus. And not once in the entire New Testament are Christians commanded, urged, exhorted, or asked to pray in the name of Jesus.

Before you go ripping into me, get a concordance and look up every passage that uses the word "name". You will find over 900 uses of the word name in the entire Bible. You will find 190 uses in the New Testament alone. In none of these passages, from Jesus' words in the Gospels to Paul's words in the letters to John's words in the Revelation, does it say that believers are to pray "in Jesus' name" explicitly.

There are a host of other things that we ARE to do and MAY do in Jesus' name. We ARE to:
believe in Jesus' name (John 1:12; 3:18; 20:31; 1 John 3:23)
baptize in the name of Jesus {and the Father and the Spirit} (Matthew 28:19; Acts 8:16; 10:48; 19:5)
give thanks always in Jesus' name(Ephesians 5:20)
glorify God in Jesus' name when we suffer for his sake(1 Peter 4:16)
avoid those who live an unruly life not in keeping with the faith passed down (1 Thessalonian 3:6)

Some of the things we MAY do in the name of Jesus include:
receive a child (Matthew 18:5)
gather with others (Matthew 18:20)
perform miracles (Mark 9:39; 16:17; Acts 3:6; 16:18; Luke 10:17)
speak boldly (Acts 4-5; 9:27-28)
proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins for all nations (Luke 24:47)

I believe that the idea of praying in Jesus' name is grounded in these few passages of scripture:
In John's Gospel during the final instructions to the disciples Jesus tells the disciples that they will be able to ask for anything and that Jesus would do it and the Father will give them whatever they ask in Jesus' name. (John 14: 13, 14; John 15:16; John 16:23-24)
Paul instructs the believing Gentiles in Colossians to do everything, by word or deed, in Jesus' name (Colossians 3:17)

These passages would seem to be the source of the tradition of praying in Jesus' name. We also have the example of the disciples using the name of Jesus to produce miracles. But I would remind you that at no point is there a command to pray in Jesus' name.

In fact, Jesus tells us, explicitly, whose name we are to pray in. Matthew 6:9 and Luke 11:2 record the prayer which Jesus offered to the disciples as a model for their prayer. In that prayer, which we call The Lord's Prayer, Jesus explicitly prays in the name of God the Father. "Our Father...hallowed be YOUR name." The model prayer that Jesus gave to the disciples that they could pray themselves was prayed in the name of God.

Toward the end of Jesus' ministry, he again models a prayer in which the name of God (Father) is used. In addition, you see that Jesus' prayer is intensely relational. He speaks of the oneness that Father and Son share. He prays of the sharing of glory, name, lives, and love between God and himself. This is, in it's being recorded by John, another model for prayer. We learn to pray by hearing what and how Jesus prayed. And his prayers were prayed in the name of the Father.

Now, about the exhortation of Jesus to pray in his name and receive it, there is a wide range of teaching. Some believe that this means if we pray for anything then Jesus or the Father will provide. I don't feel confidant enough to argue this point, yet. I will approach it in an upcoming blog, though. But I am confidant enough to say that prayer is NOT just asking God for whatever we want (whether good or bad).

Prayer is a relational link that we have with God the Father through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we pray we are coming into fellowship with all three persons of the Trinity. The Spirit, who dwells with us, has connected us to Jesus Christ who intercedes on our behalf with God the Father. In turn, God the Father speaks to us through the word and life of Jesus Christ that is communicated by the Holy Spirit into our hearts, minds, and spirits.

Prayer is that ongoing relational link. When we pray, we are already coming in Jesus' name. We are coming in that name because we have believed in his name (John 20:31). We are coming in that name because we have been justified in his name (1 Corinthians 6:11). The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ has already brought us into his life and his authority.

To go out in someone's name or to do something in someone's name is not to go around saying that name in order to cause something to happen. It means to bear the authority of the one in whose name you are going. When Peter heals the lame man, it is not the name of Jesus that heals him. It is the authority that Jesus has given to Peter. When Paul casts the spirit out of the girl who is a fortune teller, it is not the name of Jesus that causes the spirit to leave her. It is the authority of who Jesus is.

To pray in Jesus' name has become, in the most innocuous form, a matter of rote ritual or habit or, in its most dangerous form, magical incantation. If we pray in Jesus' name then we should be mindful that our prayers are carrying the full weight and authority of the identity of the King of Kings, the name to which every knee will bow. But the use of the words "in Jesus' name" are not a requirement in order to live out the relational link we have with God the Father, Son, and Spirit through prayer.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winter madness

Oklahoma has been under a nasty bit of weather this week. I am happy to report that our home and church have electricity. We only went about 38 hours without any electricity. Our family didn't suffer any the time we were without. The church is open to anyone who wants to get warm, but we cannot shelter anyone overnight.

But there are plenty of Oklahomans who are suffering. I wouldn't even pretend to think that my family experienced what many are now going through. We were comfortable and hardly put out. There are some who have nothing. No source of heat or light. No way to get a warm meal or water.

Many of the electricity companies are saying that next week will be the earliest before power is restored to all locations. And we are expecting another winter weather system through here tomorrow night.

May God continue to bless those who are without and prepare those who do have to share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A trip to a Wonder filled place

This Advent our family is making a conscious effort to spend a little time together each day. It may be a reading a story together, or making Christmas cookies, or coloring our own Christmas cards. Last Friday our activity was going to a movie. This year's holiday offerings are a little slim. I didn't feel comfortable taking our boys to see Fred Clause. And The Golden Compass was a no go for Lisa. So we settled on Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

No one is giving this movie a good review. Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 38% (out of 100% I assume). Most were complaining about that it was too sweet. One of the reviewers even said that people wouldn't stay to the end. I am going to disagree.

This is perhaps one of the best movies that I have seen in a long time.

No, the acting is not stellar. Dustin Hoffman was a lovable, sort of off-beat character. Natalie Portman is a composer caught between the world of magic and reality. Jason Bateman is firmly entrenched in the real world of accounting. None of them gave Oscar quality performances. But I was drawn into their personalities.

Neither was the plot all that inspiring. It is the story of a magic toy store, the people whose lives are connected to the toy store and each other, and about believing in one self. You knew where the movie was going almost as if you had the script.

What was truly remarkable about this movie was the subtle messages that were being shown in how the characters were living out their lives together. I'm going to ruin the movie's story for you. But you still need to watch it.

Mr. Magorium is at least 275 years old. He has made toys for world leaders. He has lived a long and filled life. At one point he says in the movie, "I found a pair of shoes that I really liked. So I bought a life time supply... I have on my last pair of shoes." And the shoes are worn leather with holes in the sole. We find out that Mr. Magorium is leaving. Not the toy store or even the city. He is, in effect, dying.

This movie deals with death and dying in a wonderful, if not completely believable, way. He is in control of his life. He chooses to face the life he has led with joy and fondness. There are no regrets or ill-will about failures that cannot be changed. He admits to making mistakes, but you still live life.

Those who are around him accept the news of his leaving without much dismay, except for Mahoney (Natalie Portman), the manager of the toy store. She is very close to Mr. Magorium. She cannot accept his leaving/dying. She does everything in her power to change the events, to put off facing the hard truth. But she cannot change his decision. He has to leave/die. But he leaves by his choosing.

Another very powerful subtext to this movie is love. Oddly enough, there was no real romance in this movie. Portman's and Jason Bateman's characters show a little attraction to each other. But there is no deep romantic bond seeking. No, of the 4 principle roles in this movie, there is no blood or romantic connection. But you here characters telling one another that they love them and displaying love in unconditional ways. It was refreshing to see people express love in "authentic" situations and not forcing love into cliched plots such as dying parent/child or ritual mating sequences.

I described this movie to someone as Willy Wonka/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without all the weird, creepy stuff. This was a great movie. No foul language. No violence. No awkward romantic moments. Great character interactions. An amazing portrayal of accepting death.

People, please see this movie.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Book 1 - The Golden Compass

I know most people are focused on the movie than the book. But some movies are based on a story. If you want to get to the heart of where the author originally wanted to go, then read first, watch later. This goes for adults as well as shortcutting high school English students.

The Golden Compass, as I stated in the last post, is an alternate Earth. Please keep that in mind. The world that Pullman has created is his own. It is not this world. But his worldview, how he believes and understands the universe, is the underpinnings of his created Earth in the book series.

The book begins with the hero of the series, Lyra. She is 11. She is rambunctious and feisty. She gets involved in the play wars of the boys from around her. In fact, she is often the leader. She has been abandoned into the care of one of the colleges of Oxford. She is cared for by Scholars, priests, administrators, and servants of the college. Her parents, she is told, were killed early in her life. Her only relative is an uncle who pays her infrequent visits.

The one companion she has is actually a creature of unknown origin. Perhaps it is her conscience or her soul, as one reviewer wrote. But she isn't the only one with one of the companions, these daemon. Everyone in this world has a daemon. Daemons are almost magical. They can change form. They share an empathic link with their human. And they cannot move very far from their human. If they do it causes great discomfort to both.

Lyra is brought into an adventure when she hides herself in a wardrobe (a nod to Lewis?, whom Pullman does not like)and hears her uncle describe an expedition into the frozen North. Through a series of harrowing twists and turns, Lyra finally makes her journey northward, gathering companions along the way. I won't reveal any of the plot more than it is a journey adventure.

The subtext of the book, though, comes out loud and clear: people should be free to think and choose what they want. That's right. It is not about destroying the church. Pullman does make the church to be the "villain" in this story. And he does not use religion in general in this book. He uses the imagery, language, and architecture of Christianity, the Roman Catholic Church in particular. They work behind the scenes of policy and commissions to control freedom of thought and limiting the choices of people. The church exists to control and dominate, to limit and remove freedom. The adventure is the effort to save our freedom to think for ourselves.

Here is where I believe that Pullman has a limited view of the church. Somehow he has come to understand that people are limited in their choices when they choose a religious life. He makes it sound as if religious beliefs are filled with boundaries and limitations. But my experience, growing in knowledge and understanding, is that we are not limited. Instead, we have a greater sense of freedom.

Book 1 does not set out to destroy the church. But it does entice people to think that free thought and free will choice and religion are mutually exclusive. The truth, as I see it, is that we were given the powerful gift to use our minds and apply them to everything that comes before us.

We can use logic and memory to evaluate and judge for ourselves whatever course we want. Because some of us choose to believe that there is a God who has the power to create reality, bend reality, break into reality, and communicate with what has been created (us), then that is within our freedom to choose. We are not limited in that choice. Instead, most who choose to believe AND pursue God find freedom and life.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Golden Compass

Tomorrow marks the release of New Line Cinema's The Golden Compass. I have gotten a little bit of the pre-release anti-publicity about this movie. I received an email and a fax spam from the opposition groups. Since there was some controversy over this movie, I decided to pick up the book and read the story before seeing the movie. At first, I wasn't going to see the movie. Now I may go and see it, if only to compare the book and movie. It really depends on my feelings toward the book.

If you are not familiar with the controversy, I will sum it up as briefly and fully as I can. The Golden Compass is based on the first in a trilogy of novels written by Philip Pullman. I am not familiar with Mr. Pullman's work, so I cannot offer any opinion on his writings. The substance of the controversy is that Mr. Pullman is an atheist and this series of books has been accused of attacking God, the church, and religion.

I am not going to tell you not to see this movie. The beauty of living in the United States is that we are all free to choose what we will and won't do. So I won't cry for a boycott. What I will do is provide the best information that I can so you can make an informed choice. On that note, let get to what I think you may need to know.

Philip Pullman is a British author. He writes fiction and fantasy works. But what gains the most attention is his view of religion. This is from Mr. Pullman's website.

His Dark Materials seems to be against organised religion. Do you believe in God?

I don't know whether there's a God or not. Nobody does, no matter what they say. I think it's perfectly possible to explain how the universe came about without bringing God into it, but I don't know everything, and there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away.

Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it's because he's ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they're r
esponsible for promoting in his name. If I were him, I'd want nothing to do with them.

This comes from a general statement about the articles he has written about religion.

But organised religion is quite another thing. The trouble is that all too often in human history, churches and priesthoods have set themselves up to rule people's lives in the name of some invisible god (and they're all invisible, because they don't exist) – and done terrible damage. In the name of their god, they have burned, hanged, tortured, maimed, robbed, violated, and enslaved millions of their fellow-creatures, and done so with the happy conviction that they were doing the will of God, and they would go to Heaven for it.

That is the religion I hate, and I'm happy to be known as its enemy.

Mr. Pullman doesn't believe in God as the Christian faith has traditionally defined God. That much is clear. But it would appear that Mr. Pullman's greater issue is with religion and it's role in human history.

Mr. Pullman seems to be gathering up the wrongs of all of religious history and holding the current generation of religions responsible. This is nothing new. Those who have stood in opposition to the church lay the blame for countless atrocities and misdeeds at the feet of individuals who had no role and also believe that those acts were horrible. But it is guilt by association.

But as you discover more about Mr. Pullman, you find that religion as most people understand it is not what he means. He is pointing to any group or structure that enforces a set of boundaries upon individuals through a hierarchy of "priests" and established in a set of laws written down. His icon of this is the Catholic Church. But he is just as quick to lump Shi'ite Muslims and the Soviet Union into that definition.

I don't know that Mr. Pullman is actively trying to destroy Christianity. I do get the impression from what I have found that the world would be better off without organized religion.

This is from an article in the New Yorker:

His fundamental objection is to ideological tyranny and the rejection of this world in favor of an idealized afterlife, regardless of creed. As one of the novel’s pagan characters puts it, “Every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.

As to the book itself, I have only read a portion of the first book. I plan to read all three. But I will comment on each book as I work through it. The thing that is helpful to note right now is the world setting of this book. It is a fantasy novel. It is not set in the world of Earth. It is an alternate Earth. It is set in a period much like the turn between the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a time of exploration and scientific discovery. The world is mysterious and far off lands hold strange people.

I would remind people about one fundamental issue. Where Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and even Harry Potter are set in fantasy worlds, they all had the grounding of a Christian idea of morality and good vs. evil. This book does not come at morality and good vs. evil from that direction. This is about philosophical morality. Good and evil are not cast in terms of God and Satan images. It will be human good and human evil that will battle.

This movie is not going to destroy the church. It will not pull God down out of heaven. It will not corrupt our children. (Oddly the evil in the books is exactly what opposition groups are accusing the movie of doing. This movie is not a threat to our existence. No more than The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe nor The Passion of the Christ caused people by the thousands to come to church.

So if you enjoy fantasy movies or novels, check it out. I would say that if you wanted to make a position against this movie, don't do it in ignorance. And don't take my word for the foundation of your position. I'm just stating what I have found. I will likely see this movie at some point. And you will read about it here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Passing of an Icon

I found out over the weekend that one of icons on my childhood years had died. On November 30, Evel Knievel lost his battle with a terminal lung disease. He was 69.

The '70's were Evel Knievel's decade. He was a celebrity daredevil who seemed unstoppable. He was clearly not indestructible. His crashes are famous. His broken bones are just as well known.

I remember the days on the playgrounds pretending to drive motorcycles up and over imaginary ramps. He was a superhero and sport star wrapped up in one.

In recent years, Evel Knievel accepted Christian faith after decades of maintaining a distance from organized religion. His testimony in front of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral is available on YouTube. He was obviously struggling in health. He was not the flamboyant, iconic, superheroic figure I remembered from my youth. But he was passionate in his proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Books a plenty

I mentioned Allan Bevere's blog a couple of posts ago. Well I'm going to draw attention to one of his posts again,
Elements of Good Preaching #3: The Life of Study. Allan makes the point that preachers (one of the comments adds that anyone who desires to grow spiritually) should be constantly reading. And not just the Bible. Preachers should constantly be upgrading their knowledge base by reading from various fields including theology, pastoral ministry, and biblical studies. John Wesley said,

I want to know one thing, — the way to heaven; how to
land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach
the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down
in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!
I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius
libri. [A man of one book.] - Preface to Sermons of John
Wesley, volume 1.

Wesley read the Bible, spoke the Bible, taught the Bible,
and lived the Bible the best he could. But he also read other books.
His life was measured by his reading of the Bible. But his mind was
enriched by the reading of other books.

Anyone who visits my office will see plenty of books. If you go to my home you will find books. If you look on my computer you will find a large folder of e-books that I have downloaded. Reading is my primary source of information. It may be reading on the internet (although you always need to fact check the internet). Or I may pull a book off of one of my shelves. At any time I could be reading from 3 to 7 books. It may not sustained reading. I may read a little each week. But I constantly have books available.

There are some who call the age we are shifting through the "post-literate" age. By that, most mean that we are visually, image, and icon oriented for a our information. Pictures (still and moving) are replacing text as our primary medium of learning.

The simple truth is that we don't read as much as we used to. In days gone by, the newspaper was the main source of, well, news. Now we have multiple 24-hour news services available on our televisions. Talk radio has replaced the editorial page as the opinion platform with talk radio hosts become stars in their own right. The internet puts more information before us than any person had available in the previous two thousand years combined (or so it seems).

We all need to grow our brain matter. According to the Literacy Company, more than 20 percent of adults read at or below a 5th grade level; more than 3 out of 4 of those on welfare, 85% of unwed mothers, and 68% of those who are arrested are illiterate; 44 million adults in the U.S. can't read well enough to read a simple story to a child. 50% of American adults are unable to read an 8th grade level book.

With all of the increase in information available we seeing large numbers of people who can't read or understand it. Prior to the Renaissance (the explosion of culture, art, and learning from 14th to 17th centuries) the ability to read was mostly limited to the clergy and the very wealthy. With the coming of the Renaissance, and especially the printing press, more people had access to books and written material. The spread of the Protestant Reformation, the revival of John Wesley, and the birth of the United States of America all took advantage of the ability to read and the availability of material to read.

There is a lot more I could push on this. But I've gone far afield from where I intended this post to go. So I want to come back around and encourage you to read more. Read fiction and nonfiction. Read your Bible. Read outside of your interests. Read people you know you will disagree with.

Here are some suggestions:

The library. If we don't support this wonderful blessings in our community, they will go away.

The Guttenberg Project - This is an online collection of over 20,000 free books you can download to your computer.

Wowio - This is a subscription based service. You register and can download up to 3 books a day for free. They have many subjects and areas of interest. (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

Plough Publishing House - This is the printing house of the Bruderhoff religious community. There are some outstanding titles on this site. You can download them for free. (You will need Adobe Acrobat Reader.)

I am sure there are many other websites for downloading electronic books.

Then there are bookstores a plenty.

Get out there and read. Give a book for Christmas. Spend some time developing the gray matter. And pass it on to others.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

In Honor of Cyber Monday

My family always wants to know my Christmas list about this time, so I am sharing it with them. Please don't feel that you have to read it. But it may prove insightful to my psyche.

Happy Shopping!

Banded collar shirts (XL) 19.99-24.99 (Great examples: Microfiber by D'Amante; Scandia Woods; Irvine Park)

An Inconvenient Book (Glenn Beck)

TV on DVD - Firefly, complete series; Animaniacs; Doctor Who (with actor Tom Baker); Flash; Greatest American Hero season 3; Highlander; Hogan's Heroes season 2;Quincy; Jericho

Lace up ropers 11 1/2

Bluetooth phone earpiece (the Jabra BT125 as an example)

Bagpipe chanter - Yeah, I'm still hoping

Bagpipes - Ummm, not many hits on this either

Conversation (book by Stephen Miller)

Dremel Workstation
Dremel Plunge Router attachment
Dremel Shaper/Router table
Dremel Router bit set

Under Armour shirts (cold weather/hot weather)

Nintendo Wii w/ Wii Play and Wii Sports

External Hard Drive (320-500 GB; 1 TB would be nice)

Movies - Pursuit of Happiness; Rocky Balboa; I, Robot; SpiderMan 3; Bourne movies; Last Samurai

Chick-fil-A gift cards - I love Chick-Fil-A

Best Buy gift cards

Black and Decker Workmate Workbench

Kyser Capo (6 string guitar/12 string guitar)

Marvel Vault (book)

Star Wars Vault (book)

Wireless headphones

G.I. Joe - Snake Eyes Commerorative Sword

Swiss laptop computer backpack

Segway X2 Adventure Personal Transporter

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Who set the standard?

I need a little help. I keep running across a point of view that I can't find any scriptural basis for it. Perhaps you have heard it as well. It goes something like this.

"Pastors are held to a higher standard than others."

My guess is that somewhere in the history of the earthly church when we created a separate class of clergy, the idea of a higher standard of behavior was imagined. Perhaps it was the self-imposed orders that monastic communities lived by that created a separate standard for ministers. But there is no scriptural basis for a more "holy" standard of living for ministers/pastors/priests that is above all Christians.

I don't want to confuse standards of holiness for qualifications for positions. Paul writes to Timothy about the qualifications for elders and deacons. But when we read those passages we read that the life they were to lead was to be exemplary and without room for disgrace. If I read my Bible rightly, this is no less and no more than what all followers of Christ are to be pursuing.

Pastors are not called to a higher level of holiness just because we are ministers of the gospel. We, all believers of Jesus Christ, are called to "be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:49)." That does not say that preachers are to be perfect while everyone else can live mediocre lives. Every one of our lives is put next to the standard of God in heaven.

Pastors are not professional Christians. Pastors are professional leaders, shepherds, teachers, and proclaimers. They are called to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). Pastors are not the example of Christ in our communities. We are all the embodiment of Christ in this world. We are all ambassadors of God in this foreign land, the earthly kingdoms. We are all the children of God, created in God's likeness, called to live righteous, holy, and true lives.

As we are constantly reminded in news reports, pastors are people. People who struggle every day. People who sometimes fail. People who strive to live up to the same standard that every other believer has been called to live. The next time you want to lift your pastor up next to that higher standard, take a moment, then raise yourself up to that standard with your pastor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Methodist History 101

I recommend that anyone who wants to get a very brief, but decent, overview of the life of John Wesley, please go see this post.

This is one of the blogs that I frequent. Check out all three videos to get a brief overview of the founder of Methodism.

There will be a quiz.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Take the time to make some time

Some of you may be wondering why I would bother putting up a boring story about my families vacation. Reading about someone's vacation is even more boring than looking at their vacation slideshow.

I put our vacation story up on the blog for me. It was an exercise in remembering what we did. It is a way to hold on to the memory of the time that we shared as a family. Even the bad times are a part of the memories.

But let me go on to say that anyone reading my trip report might take it as a reminder to take time away from your work to create family memories. Pastors are some of the worst about removing themselves from work long enough to have an adequate vacation. But studies are showing that our nation as a whole is not taking time off to be together as families.

I remember growing up going to trips with my family. We didn't always get to go to far off places like Disney World or Buffalo. But we did make those trips. Sometimes it was to Dallas to go to Six Flags. But we took the time to make trips as a family. And those trips, in turn, made memories that I hold close today.

Before totally discounting my trip report off as boring filler, think about the memories you have with your family. Have you ever written down the story of a favorite Christmas or a trip you took together? It may be an exercise in memory practice. But who is to say that your family won't be blessed by reading what you feel is important?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

3,000 Miles Around Graceland

Part 1 - Road trip.
Saying those words can spark a wide variety of emotions. In college a friend and I would jump in his red Ford Probe and just take off to where ever the gas tank would
take us. Road trip meant freedom and fun. But I also think of the first year of college driving back and forth to school for a year and a half. 60 miles round trip. Road trip meant monotony and tired butt.

So when I suggested a road trip for our family vacation this year, I entered into that idea with the full range of emotional awareness of what that would include.
Originally we had planned on driving to the west coast. I have family in Las Vegas we were going to see. We also talked about getting a Disney fix at the original park, Disneyland Resort. But “the Plan” never seemed to come together. It wasn’t clicking.
Then one day I had a moment of inspiration.

Lisa had already concocted a weekend trip to Hot Springs. I really couldn’t justify in my mind a mini-vacation to Hot Springs and then another trip to the west coast. So my inspiration was to continue past Hot Springs and take in some Southern states. We could meet Disney friends along the way. We could see sights that we might not ever go see. And we could experience some non-structured vacation time. No plans, just a direction. No objective, just destinations.

So we non-planned and saved. We knew where we were headed but not what we were going to do. We took possession of a “new” vehicle for our over the road travels. We also stocked up on AAA Travel Books and maps. And we prepared to set out on our trip 3,000 miles around Graceland.

Part 2

The title of this little trip report is inspired by a movie (that I have never seen) entitled 3,000 Miles to Graceland. It stars Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell. I have no idea what it is about. But I think it has something to do with bank robbers dressed as Elvis. I don’t have a clue.

The purpose of the title is that we knew if we were going to be going through the South and we were beginning with Hot Springs, then Graceland was a definite stop we would have to make. And the entire trip, calculated by Google Maps, was roughly 3,000 miles.

Lisa was ready to go before she went to work on that Friday. I, on the other hand, was a little behind the curve on that. When she got home from work, I wasn’t really ready to load up and go. I still needed a shower and to load the truck up. But those minor details were easy enough to deal with. We were on the road and headed to Hot Springs.

You may be wondering, as I was, “Why Hot Springs?”. The answer is that it was the most interesting location that Lisa could find between Claremore and Memphis. And Lisa had planned a meet with one of our Disney friends. This is a lady whom Lisa has been chatting with online and on the phone for about a year.

Tink (it is not her real name; it is her Disney handle) is a Cajun in exile. She grew up in the New Orleans region of Louisiana. But because of Katrina’s insistence on disturbing people’s lives, Tink has moved out of the holy land. Lisa planned on connecting with TInk and her family in the Hot Springs area. She selected a condominium in Hot Springs Village and booked us a couple of nights. Then she let Tink know where and when so they booked as well. Our families would meet and spend a couple of days getting to know each other in the beauty of central Arkansas.

We headed to Hot Springs with everything and everybody comfortably packed into our new truck. Lisa wanted a vehicle bigger than our Taurus. She originally looked at a minivan. But she was open to an SUV as well. So I had compared vehicles and knew about what we could afford. Then Lisa one day made the mistake of saying that a pick-up was acceptable. WELL hot dog!! Now we’re talking. I knew exactly what to look for. So now Lisa has a white Chevy Avalanche to drive around. It’s big enough for our stuff and it is comfortable enough to drive miles and miles.

That truck has the power and pick up to handle the highway and the hills/mountains. It is a smooth ride and has plenty of room for the boys to not have to be hanging on each other. It does not, however, keep them from exploding all of their personal trip paraphernalia all over the back seat. From the time they get in to the time to get on the interstate, those boys had everything out of their bags and piled deep in that back seat.

It also does not have anti-motion sickness compensators in the back seat, as Nick found out about in the mountains of Arkansas. And the back seat floorboard found out soon after that.

Part 3
After dealing with Nick’s little problem and Andrew thinking he would contribute to the problem, we rolled into Hot Springs Village and our home for a few days. It was a beautiful little split level house on a little lake. It had two bedrooms, two enclosed porch rooms, and a hot tub. We saw that Tink and her family had also arrived. So after we unloaded, we went down to their house to meet.

We shared greetings and hugs. Then we showed each other our homes.
Tink is quite the chef. She loves to cook. And when she found out that I like Cajun cuisine, she wanted to know what I wanted to eat. That night we were having shrimp boil. That’s shrimp, small potatoes, corn, and sausage boiled with seasoning. It is normally eaten spread out on a table covered in butcher paper, newspaper, or garbage bags. You eat with your hands. We were more civilized. We used plates.

After desert and goodnights we turned in for the night. Because the next day was a work day.

Part 4
Lisa found out about the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. Crater of Diamonds is located on the remains of an ancient volcano. When the volcano had erupted it pushed minerals up to the outer crust of the earth. Among the minerals is diamonds. Crater of Diamonds is the only working public diamond mine in America. Lisa thought this might be a fun activity for our families. We packed our shovels and prepared to dig for a while.

Somehow it escaped Tink’s thought patterns that digging for diamonds would be true work. She wasn’t sure she would get into this dirt and heat. And she didn’t. But we enjoyed giving her a hard time about it. We stuck it out for a little less than 1 ½ hours. Then we had to find air conditioning and iced tea. We drove back into the little town and found Cheryl’s. It was a tasty little diner.

We drove back to Hot Springs and the condos. The night’s plan was for crawfish etouffee. Tink searched high and low for crawfish and finally found it. Etouffee is not an instant meal. So we were set for a long evening of lots of stirring and simmering and waiting. But it was well worth the wait. That was some good stuff.

I had to take Andrew back to the house early. He kept falling asleep on Tink’s bed. But it was 10:00. So it wasn’t really early.

Part 5
Sunday morning was really low key. We were planning on packing up the vehicles and heading back to Tink’s house. We did plan on stopping for breakfast. That was the plan.

We got both vehicles loaded up and set out to find breakfast. We drove out of Hot Springs. And through Little Rock. And after a couple of hours on the road it was realized that the restaurant where we wanted to stop was not on the way. We should have taken a right turn at Albuquerque.

So we found a little roadside diner. We JUST made it in time for breakfast. Pancakes is my choice in a place like that. Usually because then can’t get it wrong. Andrew joined me with flapjacks. Nick, on the other hand, wanted biscuits and gravy. He can put away the biscuits and gravy. He can shame me when it comes to eating that dish. So that’s what he ordered. An adult plate of biscuits and gravy. A couple of the others ordered breakfast platters. The waitress had to come back out and tell us that there were only 6 biscuits left in the restaurant. Fortunately Tink’s family was gracious and allowed Nick his plate.

We got back on the road and set course for Memphis. Not far along the road and I saw the Tinkmobile pulling off on the side of the road. We pulled in behind to see what was the matter. Potential blow out was the matter. One of the tires had tread separating. So it was flat fixing time.

In no time at all, the tire was changed and we were back on the road.

After an uneventful rest of the journey, we arrived at their home. After the grand tour Nick promptly asked if they were rich. He thought it looked like a rich person’s house.

We settled in for the evening. Cooking out with steaks on the grill. Wii played some Wii. And we chatted. A lot. Tink has a warm and inviting home. So we had a wonderful visit.

And I want that bed that we slept in. It was the most comfortable mattress I have ever slept on.

Part 6

We said our goodbyes the next morning. We were headed out, but the Tink’s had to go back to work. So we got the boys around, loaded the suitcases, and got ready to load the truck. I hauled a couple of suitcases out and got ready to load them up into the truck. I have a thing about neat packing. I cannot stand an untidy cargo space. So I knew how I wanted them loaded up into the truck. I put one of the bags up into the truck and was going to push it farther toward the cab. When I did I experienced something that I hope to never experience again.

You have heard of people getting hit on the head and seeing stars? When I pushed the suitcase forward, I bent over the tailgate and shoved hard. When I did, I didn’t see stars. I saw a supernova. Quickly followed by a pain in my lower back like I had never felt before. I stood up, and that was all she wrote. I couldn’t take a step without excruciating pain. I couldn’t bend over. All I could do was stand there propped against the tail gate.

Lisa came out and asked me something. I told her, with as much of the pain as I could, that I couldn’t move. I think she got mad at me.

But for all of the pain I was in, the truck still needed to be loaded. So I was able to lie down in the bed of the truck and move the suitcases into place. But walking was not a pleasant experience. And we still had to go to Graceland.

I told Lisa she would have to drive. I gave her directions and we got to Graceland without any problems. But when we got into the parking lot, I couldn’t take three steps without having to stop and find a support. I didn’t think I would be able to go through Graceland. We all got back in the truck and Lisa dropped the boys and me at the entrance. She parked again and we all went in.

Lisa said if nothing else I could sit in the ticket place while they went. Well, I didn’t want to miss Graceland. We got tickets and got in line for our tour. My back was still hurting, but it seemed that the pain was backing off. Definitely no more supernova going off in my head. But much of that day is hidden in a haze of pain.
I remember a lot of the tour. It had been 20 or so years since I had been to Graceland. The last time I went, they had tour guides. Now they give you a set of headphones attached to a prerecorded tour. We saw all of the kitsch that was Elvis. And Lisa got some decorating ideas for our house.

No, seriously. She did.

Nick was loving every minute of it. He likes Elvis. So this was a treat for him. Andrew was just along for the ride. Nick especially liked the house and the stuff. He wasn’t too thrilled with the gold and platinum record collections. But he was a good boy and kept going.

After we toured the house, we went back across the street and toured the car museum. Of course we saw the famed pink Cadillac. Personally, I liked the Ferrari better.
We grabbed a burger at one of the restaurants and then toured the Lisa Marie. That’s the airplane. Not the daughter. Nick thought that was very cool.

Then it was souvenir shopping and back on the road. My back was still hurting pretty bad. I knew that I couldn’t drive all the way to Atlanta. So we went ahead with our plan to stop in Birmingham, Alabama. We had reserved a room there, but weren’t sure if we would stay or not.

The road to Birmingham was very uneventful. My back wouldn’t hurt, much. Twinges now and then. But getting out to walk I found that I had stiffened up. It was still painful to walk.

When we got to our hotel, I was able to carry a couple of little things up to the room. Lisa was still mad at me, I think.

That night, Lisa did laundry at the hotel. It was a scary place. It was a Days Inn and set back off the road. They were in the process of remodeling and had junk piled all around. It was a smoking hotel so it reeked of cigarette smoke. The laundry was in the breezeway downstairs. And Lisa said the workers would just wander around.
We got in bed and hoped for a better tomorrow.

Part 7

That next morning I was not feeling much better. My back had stiffened up again over night. But I pushed myself up out of bed to face the day.
We were driving to Atlanta today. Lisa does not like traffic. She can handle it well enough (but I make her nervous). So I volunteered to drive. We decided that if I couldn’t make it, we would swap.

We grabbed breakfast and hit the road. One of the blessings of Lisa’s new truck is a little luxury I didn’t think would be necessary on this trip: seat heaters. I used the heck out those things. And the further I drove, the better my back felt. Plus I called in the prayer team at church. Never discount the power of prayer.

We got to Atlanta and drove to Lisa’s friends home. When I was in seminary, Lisa worked for a day care. She became very close friends with another teacher. While we all were in Kentucky, she and her husband tried to get pregnant but had complications. They decided to do in vitro. By this time we were heading back to Oklahoma. We found out, though, that she finally got pregnant – with triplets. It worked out that the triplets and Nicholas were born very close. We visited them one time after the kids were born. But we haven’t seen each other in 7 years.

They welcomed us into their home and the kids got right down to playing. One of the girls took an instant liking to Nick and wouldn’t leave him for very long. The other girls and Andrew just sort of played around each other.

One great thing was by the time we got to their house, they had the name of a chiropractor. I called and got an appointment for that afternoon. We sat and talked until I had to leave.

The chiropractor was a little uneasy treating me since I wouldn’t be there for extra treatments. So he took x-rays (no permanent damage to my back) and did a couple of small adjustments. And sent me out with a verbal promise to come back the next morning and a bill for $170. I kept the bill. Not the appointment.
That evening we enjoyed steak and lots of fun catching up. We got to bed for some rest. For tomorrow was Coke day.

Part 8

I had never been to Atlanta. Well, except for the airport. And I was kind of intimidated by driving through the city. I had always heard how bad the traffic was. So the next morning we had breakfast and packed the truck (Lisa did most of the hauling, I did the organizing). Once our goodbyes were said, we were off to see the World of Coke. I realize now why people have such a bad opinion of Atlanta traffic. The lanes are narrower than standard city highways. And people don’t have a speed below “Blinding Flash” But we arrived at the World of Coke without accident or getting lost. Yay us!

Lisa had been plotting our trip with AAA guide books. We had little concern since the guide book for Atlanta did not include the new WoC building. But we got there without a hitch. The hitch came when the price was almost double what we were expecting. Lisa is still harping over how much it cost. Friends at the church had told us it was about $8 for adults. The new building must have really put a dent in Coke’s pockets (cough cough yeah right). It was $15 for adults. But this was the only thing we wanted to see so we shelled out the dough and went in to see the most expensive commercial in the world.

I will admit that the new building is beautiful. It is a very contemporary design with exhibit halls spiraling off of the center hall. You purchase your tickets outside, pass through security, and into a holding pen. There is a timed video presentation to wait for. So you can look at some art or go to the bathroom. When the doors open you are ushered into another holding pen. Only this one houses Coke memorabilia from around the world and through Coke history. After a little comedy spiel about the items and history you are allowed to enter the theater.
Those of you who watch the Super Bowl for the commercials (who played this year?), you may remember the Coke commercial about the World of Imagination. A person goes up to the machine and puts their money in the slot. Then you follow the coin into an imaginary world inside the machine. Well the movie in the theater was a behind the scenes look at some of the goings on in the world of imagination. Cute movie. Long commercial. (this will be a theme)

After the movie, the screen rises up toward the ceiling and you exit through a tunnel behind where the screen was. This brings you into the central hall hub of the building. Once you have made it this far, you are free to go into any of the exhibit halls. You can tour them at your leisure and in whatever order you want.
It seems like the very first thing we saw was a queue to a meet and greet with the Coke Polar Bear. Polar bears are Nick’s favorite animals. And Lisa loves Coke. And it is a character so Andrew had a kindred spirit. They got in line to meet the bear. What happened next was all a blur.

Lisa pulled Plutopants, our mascot, out of her purse to get a picture with the bear. When it is their turn the bear notices Pluto. The bear sticks out a paw to see Pluto. The bear sniffs Pluto. Lisa warns the bear not to hurt Pluto. The bear eats Pluto.

Since beauty always triumphs over the beast, Lisa convinced the bear to spit Pluto out. After picture snapping we headed off to tour the building. There are manufacturing/bottling exhibit halls, history exhibit halls, art exhibit halls, and a 4-D movie. But of course, the only reason people go to WoC is for the tasting hall. WoC has 7 or 8 tasting stations. Each station has 3 banks of 6 or 7 flavors. And each station is a different offering of flavors. So you can taste 40 or 50 different Coke flavors from around the world. And yes, Beverly is offered. One cool extra is that on your way out of the museum you are given an 8 ounce bottle of Coke.

You exit into the Coke dump shop. The boys had to have their souvenir fix before we left. But we got done just in time to squeak into Macon for a lunch meet at Sonny’s. Except. Remember how I said that we got to the WoC without an accident. Well, we didn’t make it out of the WoC without an accident. As I was backing up the truck in the parking garage I backed into the bumper of a car behind me. I put a dent about the size of desert plate in the plastic bumper. If you read my blog you know what happened next. If not, I’ll tell you.

I pulled into a parking space down the drive (Amy – close your eyes, I parked illegally in a handicap space) so I could go find an Atlanta police officer. I had seen some wandering around the park in front of WoC. I found one and told him what happened and that I needed to file a report. He contacted WoC security and we got all the info.

We got out of Atlanta in time to be very late to Sonny’s to meet friends. Or meat. But after doing every bit of the speed limit plus a little for good measure, we got to Macon.

Part 9

Pulling into Sonny’s I knew we had made the right choice as a place to meet. I was starving. We walked into the restaurant and found Mark first thing. We got ushered to the table and greeted Amy, Rhonda, and Wesley. Everyone got settled in and the chatting began. I’m sure the waitress was wondering what kind of lunch meeting this was. Everyone ordered and that table was soon surrounded with stories and life. As any table should. The food was very good. It involved lots of meat, what could be wrong with that?

After we had stuffed ourselves, we convinced Amy to skip out on the rest of the day’s work and headed over to the church. It is a minister’s prerogative to see their ministerial friends church. So Mark gave us the royal tour. And the special treat was that the church was having a rummage sale. So everyone found little treasures to take home. Mark showed off his Disney Institute graduation, which I am very envious of. Amy got to meet and love on Pluto. And we all posed for a picture in Mark’s inner sanctum.

We followed Mark and Rhonda back to the house. They had graciously offered to provide us a home for the night. That evening was filled with adults chatting, ministers griping, children playing/crying, and Mark discovering that his floor may not be level. I asked that we eat in because I found out that my back was still a little sore when sitting in restaurant style chairs. So Rhonda fixed us a spaghetti supper.
Andrew and Wesley had to show us the costumes and put on a little show for the camera. And when we got them ready for bed, they had matching jammies.

The adults stayed up a little later but we went to bed at a responsible time.

The next morning we had to get gone to make the trip up to Nashville. After saying our goodbyes (and I regretted leaving so soon) we drove back into Macon for fuel and a little fun. The Macon Art and Science Museum participates in the membership program that our Oklahoma science museum, the Omniplex, participates in. Part of our plan for this trip was to visit some of these museum. So we dropped in to see what they had. It is neat little museum.

The dinosaur exhibit is cool for your dino loving kids. They have a science lab and archaeology simulation. They have a set of bunker gear for would be fire fighters. It was a fun little diversion before the kinda long drive to Nashville.

Part 10

Macon to Nashville is quite the long haul. We considered stops along the way to see things, but it didn’t happen. We were pressed to get to Nashville in time for supper at Jami’s. So Lisa slept, the boys watched television, and I got to drive. By this point, my back was almost back to normal. Vacation was going to continue. And this was up in the air. Our plan was that if my back had not improved, we would get on the interstate and point our nose for Oklahoma. But since I was much better, the rest of the vacation was saved.

We got into the Nashville area right about exodus time. But since we were inbound, traffic wasn’t that bad. We found our hotel and called Jami. She gave us very clear directions on how to get to her house. Before we knew it we were hopping out and Jami’s dog was terrifying Andrew. But we quickly got into the house to a warm welcome. The boys set about trying to figure each other out. Nick was excited about the tree house. But he wasn’t quite up to the challenge it presented. Since Evan was in the doghouse (proverbial, not literal), they had to scrounge to find something for our Andrew to play with. But the adults chatted as supper was being prepared. Nick found the dead room.

Mort and I burnt (not really) some animal flesh outside whilst he shared lots of stories about his safari, which made me envious. Lisa and Jami were off in the kitchen doing something. The boys were running around like crazy people. So it was a relaxing evening.

It ended much too soon. We had sleepy children and a big day touring Nashville the next day. We made plans to meet up with Jami and the boys (with the prospect of a Meat and 3 put before us) and parted ways.

Part 11

The next morning we were up bright and early. We had a couple of must haves that had to be accomplished that day. The first stop was the “Vatican” of United Methodism. The Upper Room is a devotional publication printed and distributed around the world by the United Methodist Church. The Upper Room Chapel is literally an chapel built in a room above the headquarter offices of the Upper Room. It is a simple chapel space that is used weekly for services. But has a couple of beautiful pieces of artwork. The first is a 20 foot by 8 foot stained glass window that depicts the Holy Spirit coming on the disciples and the work they accomplished. The other piece of art is a wood carving reproduction of da Vinci’s Last Supper. The wood carving is 17 feet long and 8 feet high. It is truly a masterpiece in its own right.

After touring the religious exhibits downstairs we made a trek to a couple of old buildings from Nashville’s history. Lisa discovered the fascinating history of Downtown Presbyterian Church. What fascinated her was its history of being a hospital during the Civil War. It also has the most interesting interior décor of any church I have ever seen. The sanctuary is Egyptian revivalist in style. You go in and it reminds you of an Egyptian temple or something you might have seen in a pharaoh’s court.

Our next stop was the Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. We considered a tour but we were fiscally limited. So we took a picture of the outside.
We called Jami and made arrangements for lunch. She said that she was taking us to the BETTER Meat and 3. Which proved to be a culinary treat. Especially if you like good Southern comfort foods. We rolled Lisa and Jami out of there and said our final goodbyes in the parking lot.

We really wanted to get our money’s worth out of the science museum membership, so we visited the Adventure Science Center. The boys loved this place. There were activities and a climbing tree. Nick loved the body wars game which is sort of like an educational Buzz Lightyear without the moving cars. There was a slide that simulated the body function of, well, let’s just say that when you got to the end of the slide you felt like saying, “Excuse me.”

Being a huge history nut and Nick being a president nut, I really wanted to take him out to see the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson. The really weird thing was Andrew Jackson’s place was bigger than Elvis’. We toured the house and grounds. Nick thought it was really cool that Andrew Jackson died in that house. But we didn’t see his ghost.

As we drove back toward the hotel, Lisa and I decided to treat the boys to a special supper. We stopped at the Rainforest Café. Every experience we have had with a Rainforest Café property has been less than positive. We haven’t heard of many positive experiences. But it was a treat for the boys. And we had a great time. The service was good for a very busy large restaurant. The food was above average. Nick got to meet some alligator character. The gorillas freaked out at the rainstorm. It was all good.

We were worn out by the time we got back to the hotel. And the new Drake and Josh movie was on, so the boys had to watch it. We got a good night’s sleep and were prepared for the next leg of our journey.

Part 12

Our next vacation stop was the state of Kentucky. We planned on a few little excursions along the way to our destination of Lexington. The first was Mammoth Cave. I went to Mammoth Cave back in the ‘80’s. We didn’t get to take the tour because the family was more interested in Opryland U.S.A. I really wanted to see the caves. But I was outvoted. So we only saw the entrance. 20 years later and it had really changed. Like Kimmie and Doug, we were wanting to just walk up and get a tour. The only tour available by the time we got there was at 4:30. It was 11:00 (or something like that). There was no way we were going to wait around for that. So back in the car and we were moving right along (doog-a-doon doog-a-doon).

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky? Did you know that Abraham Lincoln is Nick Bergman’s favorite president? Well, we knew both of these. So we stopped for Nick to see the birthplace of one of his heroes. We also got the boys to work on the Junior Ranger program. We traveled up the road to also visit Lincoln’s boyhood home site. They have the actual cabin of Abe’s childhood friend and a working garden in the back. Including Lisa’s favorite flower.

We drove on to Wilmore. This is where I attended seminary. Asbury Seminary is named for an English missionary turned Methodist bishop who lived and ministered to the colonies around the time of the Revolutionary War. Francis Asbury traveled from Maine to Georgia on horseback preaching and establishing Methodist churches. The seminary is founded on the principles taught by John Wesley, the most prominent founder of Methodism. We took the boys for a tour and showed them where I went to school, where we lived, and where we worked. That lasted about 30 minutes. They weren’t overly impressed.

We hunted down some supper and checked into our hotel. This hotel included an indoor swimming pool. So Nick was in the water like a flash. Even Andrew got into the swimming thing. He discovered that he likes the water. He even started jumping into the pool. Now he’s ready to learn the swimming stuff.

On Sunday morning, when most responsible, Bible-believing people go to church, we went to a cemetery. Lisa fell in love with the Lexington cemetery. She is fascinated by cemeteries anyway, but she thinks this one is way cool. It was neat driving around this huge cemetery while it was dreary and the morning fog and dew hung heavy in the air.

To lighten the mood we went to the Lexington Children’s Museum. Let me just say that it almost takes longer to say the name than go through it. But the boys had fun and that is what matters. The rest of the day was a time of relaxing and taking a slower pace. We visited old stomping grounds, went to the mall, saw familiar sights, and found the change happens as some things we knew were gone.

Part 13

The next part of the trip involved two things, a long drive and the supernatural.
After Lexington we were headed to Eureka Springs, Arkansas. That is a 10 hour drive. But we had some stops to make along the way. The last portion of our vacation was Nick’s Ghost Hunter’s tour. About a year ago, Nick got hooked on Sci-Fi Network’s show Ghost Hunters. Since then he has been crazy about hunting ghosts. He has two seasons on DVD and watches them over and over. He has seen almost every episode. When we were planning our route, I showed Lisa that if we planned the trip right, we would be very close to three of the locations that were visited by Ghost Hunters. So we decided to make stops to get Nick a ghost hunting fix.

Our first stop was a dismal failure. The Waverly Hills Sanatorium was a hospital for tuberculosis patients. It is in Louisville, Kentucky. The Ghost Hunters had some very strange encounters there. And it is a huge building. So we wanted to see if we could at least look at it. No such luck. The building was set back off of main roads and accessible by one little road that was gated and locked. So we didn’t get to see it.
Our second stop was Evansville, Indiana. This is the home of the Willard Library. The Willard Library is well known for the Grey Lady who supposedly walks the stacks of books and visits the children’s area. Nick was very excited because we not only got to walk around, but he also so the man who guided the ghost hunters on their tour of the building. His little camera was clicking away here.

Our third stop was a surprise for Nick. But it had to wait for the next day. It was midday when we left Evansville and we had to get to Eureka Springs. So we finished out the trip with very few stops. We drove right by Branson without seeing hardly any of the lights. And got into Eureka well after dark. We stayed at a nice little hotel that night that included complimentary breakfast the next day. Which was a huge thing for Lisa. She was looking for as many complimentary breakfasts as we could find on this trip.

After we checked out we went looking for something exciting. Our first visit was to Onyx Cave. Since we couldn’t get to Mammoth Cave, we scaled back our spelunking standards and wandered through this little cave system. The boys were trying to figure out the natural rock formations but had some trouble seeing what wasn’t there.
When we climbed out of the hole we visited a tiger rescue shelter. This place takes in tigers and other exotic animals who may have been mistreated, abused, or became too much for ignorant owners.

By the time we got back into town we were hungry and wanted to do some shopping.
Once we had killed enough time, we sprung the big surprise on Nick. We drove up the big hill in Eureka Springs to the location of the Crescent Hotel. This was the location of Ghost Hunters more interesting encounters. We got there and Nick was pumped just to be there. But he was even more excited when we told him that we were staying the night in the hotel. Lisa and I were scraping by on some extras to be able to afford staying one night in the Crescent and letting Nick take the ghost tour that night. He was excited about every little thing. The room was great. The pool was great. The lobby was great. And when that night rolled around, he was literally jumping in his skin over going on the ghost tour.

It would have been much better if the ghost tour guides weren’t as lame as the two we had. I didn’t really get much out of the stories other than the history of the hotel. In the ‘30’s, a charlatan and con man convinced people that he had a cure for cancer. In the process of bilking people out of their money, hundreds of people died. It is a grisly tale of horrible circumstances that can be laid at the feet of this one man. I didn’t get to finish the tour, though. Andrew was so tired he we asking to go to bed. So I ducked out and got him into bed while Lisa and Nick finished up the tour.

The End

We got up and checked out without any supernatural experiences. The rest of the trip involved getting on the road, getting some breakfast, and getting home. So I’ll end the report with this thought. 3,100 miles, 10 states, 12 days, 1 chiropractor, 1 non-injury incident report, 4 family members, lots of crazy friends who got to know each other over the internet, and one long road equals a great vacation.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ghost Stories

Since Halloween is quickly upon us, I thought I would head into the "spooky" for a blog post.

Nick and I are really into the Sci-Fi television series, "Ghost Hunters". The series follows a team of paranormal investigators as they set out to resolve or solve, debunk or declare hauntings. They focus solely on hauntings. They don't dip into U.F.O.'s or bigfoot type creatures.

We have been watching for about a year. Most of the time their scientific efforts to record evidence of a haunting results in very little. Occasionally they collect evidence of something that cannot be explained based on the evidence they have and they leave it up to interpretation. Then finally, very rarely, the evidence is sufficient to point to something that truly is beyond explanation of any sort.

I have to say that I cannot remember ever having an experience of ghost-type phenomenon. Family members have had some experiences that could fit into this category. And personal experience is just as real as evidence in the mind of the person who has experienced something.

But I have found myself wondering about the experience of hauntings (I'm using that in a broad way) in the life of believers. A recent survey by the Associated Press resulted in about 1/3 of people saying they believed in ghosts with almost 1/4 of the people saying they have had an experience they label as ghostly. The survey went on to provide the information that,
The most likely candidates for ghostly visits include single people, Catholics and those who never attend religious services. By 31 percent to 18 percent, more liberals than conservatives report seeing a specter.

The results of this survey would seem to indicate that conservative leaning Protestant believers don't give as much credence to ghost stories. This really strikes me as odd. Because it is conservative Protestants who have the most supernatural of belief system. Miracles, angels, demons, and life after death are part of the worldview of conservative Protestants. It is accepted almost universally among them. This may be a reason why belief in ghosts is so low. Ghostly phenomena may be attributed to miracles, angels, and demons.

Here is my position on ghosts: there are a lot of things that cannot be explained in the natural and the supernatural (the miraculous). Some things that people perceive to be hauntings are the mind's interpretation of things that are out of the normal but can be explained by knowledgeable persons. The experience of a haunting is so real that people need to express their stories without being seen as nutcases. A person's fear resulting from an experience is no less real than other traumatic events. Acts of prayer and anointing can bring comfort to the mind of the person who has experienced a haunting.

All of that being said, and in the spirit of the season, I would like to hear your ghost stories. If you have had an experience with hauntings or a ghostly presence, and if you feel comfortable, I would like to hear your story.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A label by any other name...

I've been stewing on something all week long. I heard a comment that was not directed at me but involved me. The comment basically came down to the point that because of the people I associate with, I am not within that persons' theological camp.

I realize that the person has no clue of who I am nor do they have any idea of my theological stance. But the fact that they chose to make a blanket statement is what irritated the snot out of me. Out of ignorance this person made a judgment of me. I don't mind if people classify me if they have taken the time to get to know me.

But I believe this is an example of how fractured we are becoming among United Methodists and American Christians in general. If we look at the larger context of the U.S. we see a growing division between factions. We cut the line between two groups: liberal and conservative. The line between the groups is growing more insurmountable but the "qualifications" for identification are not becoming any clearer.

More often than not, the label of liberal and conservative is a subjective opinion and not based on a set standard of principles. So if you believe different than me in some area, then that would make you liberal or conservative. If you promote an agenda I don't agree with, then you are liberal or conservative. If you work for something that is different than what I believe is important, then you are liberal or conservative. Our own ideas, beliefs, objectives, or goals become the standard by which others are judged.

The problem with the division that is growing between the "sides" of the church is that, instead of following the example of Christ and reaching out as Christ would, we fellowship and associate based on our own image. This isn't partisan politics. This is a form of self-idolatry.

I wish I could say that I had moved beyond it, but I know that I haven't. I draw the lines in my own mind of who is on whose side. But I have also made a conscious choice to associate beyond my own theological prejudice. That comes from some wonderful examples that I have had in the past. I have known men and women who were able to set aside differences (racial, gender, circumstance, ideological) to work together for a common purpose.

I also work to put myself in places where my own ideological principles are challenged. I believe that faith, personal doctrine, social and cultural and political worldviews are developed through challenge.

I hesitate to associate with organized groups within the Conference. It's not because I don't like the people. I have found that I like many of my colleagues. But I chose not to associate because of the label that would be attached to my name. But I believe that those days are done.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I'm half the man I thought I was

Popular Mechanics offers an article on 25 Skills Every Man Should Know.

I found out that I only knew half of them. More precisely, I knew 13 about of 25. Not surprisingly, I got almost all of the geek skills covered. I still haven't discovered how to hook up an HDTV. But that is only because I can't afford one.

Sadly I lack certain skills in the physical arena. Saving a person in a capsized boat for instance. Of course I don't feel too much at a loss seeing that I am a hydrophobe. But I have been out on boats more recently than the rest of my life. I may want to get that one learned.

I also can't back with a trailer. Oh, I can get the job done. But it takes much trial, error, and intense concentration. So I save it for the more manly.

But I have to wonder: why is it a man's skill to protect a computer? Women are just as able to protect their valuable information. So that one stumps me.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

United Methodism for the common person and parson

There are two new handbooks out for United Methodists and those interested in what being United Methodist is all about. And they are even interesting to read.

The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook and The Unofficial United Methodist Handbook for Pastors are two different books providing some helpful information about United Methodism while not making it a chore. F. Belton Joyner, Jr. is a United Methodist pastor. He has edited together these two fun and enlightening manuals of everything important about United Methodism.

The Unofficial UM Handbook is designed for lay persons. Basically that means for anyone who is not a pastor or who has been trained in United Methodist "stuff". This book doesn't go deep into details about anything. But it provides enough information to understand the how's and why's of what United Methodists. It also provides practical tips on living the life of a Christ follower. It is broken into 4 sections: church stuff, Bible stuff, everyday stuff, and United Methodist stuff. In church stuff you discover history of how the church of believers has grown over the centuries, basic differences between denominations, important people in United Methodist history. You also gain some helpful tips or "how to's" of church life such as how to listen to a sermon, how to receive communion, and how to not be burned at the stake (yes, that is truly in the book). The other sections are just as helpful and as humorous.

The second book is written with pastors in mind. But it is not limited to only pastors. It provides some insight into the work that pastors perform as well as some of challenges pastors face. For pastors who read it, they can find gems on how to be more effective in their place of ministry as well as balancing their life and vocation.

Both books were published by Abingdon Press and I picked both up at Cokesbury for 14.99. The Handbook would be a great book for anyone who is thinking about becoming a member of a UM church. It is also pretty handy for someone who has been a lifelong member. It's worth your time to read it, even if it's only to get a couple of giggles at ourselves in this funny thing we call the United Methodist Church.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dave Ramsey fans take note

News is coming out of Freedom Plaza (the home of Dave Ramsey's Lampo Group and everything Dave) that Dave will be starting a new television show on Fox Business Network.

Dave created Financial Peace University and has a syndicated radio show heard nation wide. He is one of the people I call a hero. This will be a real bonus for Dave fans, who tend to be die hard fans.

I'm a Marvel

I am not ashamed to admit that I love comic books. I've been reading comic books, off and on, for 20+ years. I still have three boxes of comics that I pull out and read (usually over a bowl or two of my favorite cereal).

I read (that's red and reed) mostly Marvel Comics. This is the group that produced Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, and Captain America. DC, the other major comic book company, is responsible for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the SuperFriends.

There has always been a little friendly rivalry between the two companies. This year, Marvel put out a few videos that play on that rivalry. You can get more information about the videos, and some of the best comic books in the world, over at

But here is the first "I'm a Marvel, I'm a DC" video.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Finish the course

I got word from some friends last night that Robert Jordan had passed away.

Who is Robert Jordan? He is a fantasy author. His most famous work is a series of fantasy novels in the Wheel of Time series. Being a fan of science fiction and fantasy, I got hooked on this series in seminary. To date there are eleven books in the series with a prequel, some short stories, and an encyclopedia.

Fans of the series have been waiting for Jordan to publish the final book in the series. That was expected to come out in the next year or so. Now, that work will be finished by another's hand or never be completed.

Jordan had been fighting a heart condition. He was fighting the good fight, though. He did not want to face defeat. He wanted to make the best of his life. He kept the vision for his last book in mind.

Jordan's story reminds me of the story of one of my heroes. Walt Disney faced his final days (battling lung cancer) with strength and never giving up on the vision he had.

There is the story that while Walt was laying in his hospital bed he was talking with his brother and partner, Roy. They were talking about what would be come Walt Disney World outside of Orlando, Florida. Roy related that conversation of how Walt, using the ceiling tiles as reference points, laid out the vision of streets and where different attractions would be situated. Walt died that next day.

Jordan didn't get the last book finished. The vision was complete in his mind. He even passed the "skeleton" of the story on to loved ones. So how it goes from this point forward will depend on how his family understood the vision.

It begs the question of what we all have in our own lives that needs to be pursued. I have spoken of dreams in the past. But there are visions of things that we all want to accomplish and just haven't accomplished them, yet. Maybe "life" keeps getting in the way. Perhaps we believe we have "grown up" and passed them by. But there may be visions that we have yet to see made reality and are fully able to bring them to reality.

I deal with vision every week. As a pastor it is part of my job to conceive the vision for the church. It doesn't happen in isolation. It happens through intimacy with God, the congregation, and the community. And at times the vision seems very blurry or impossible. But without the vision, there is chaos and confusion.

We are all being called by some vision. Perhaps it is betterment of self (sanctification in good Wesleyan terminology) or bettering the world around us (mission) or perhaps contributing something to the world. Whatever the vision we are called to, we should pursue it. If we aren't going to finish the course, at least make provision for passing the vision on to another generation who might bring it to reality.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dog Days

I may have given some of you the impression that I don't care for the media attention/cultural attention that some celebrities receive. I may have posted in such a way to cause some to believe that the media focuses too much on people who do not have the outstanding qualities we should all be striving to achieve in our own lives. If you got this impression from my blogging, then, you got the point.

Next contestant on the chronically stupid media parade: Michael Vick.

I make no secret that I do not like sports. I don't follow sports nor do I take an active or passive interest in them. I am seldom up to speed on the who's who of athletics. And prior to the current news media blitz regarding the Atlanta Falcon's Michael Vick, I wouldn't know diddly about him.

But because of the media attention he is receiving lately, I have found out something about him. A.) He plays (past tense: played) professional football. B.) He was involved in dog fighting to some degree. C.) He has been given national attention in major, serious news media outlets for a crime that should be mentioned on the 4th or 5th page of a newspaper or in the sports section.

Let me start by saying that I do not believe that dog fighting is a sport. Nor do I believe that the animals are in any way treated humanely. But folks, dog fighting was around a lot longer before Michael Vick was given his first tiny football in his bassinet. This is not a new fad in the circles of the rich and famous. This has been known world wide and historically for hundreds of years. If you throw in together other animal fighting sports such as bear-baiting or bull-baiting (not to mention the Roman coliseum) we can consider this type of thing as having continued throughout human civilization.

But now it is on the front page. Simply because someone "famous" got caught with their fingers in the pudding (so to speak - if you put any body part between two fighting dogs, it will not come back to you in one piece).

But why, oh why, is this getting daily national attention? Not only that, but I heard one news commentator say that Vick is being pursued with the Federal judicial system.

And here is the kicker - he is pleading guilty to the lowest level of the crime: conspiracy. He is saying that, "Yep, me and some other guys were sitting around talking about holding some dog fights. We made the plans. But I didn't actually do anything."

So here is the wrap-up: Michael Vick is getting nationwide media attention for talking with some other individuals about holding some dogfights and the Federal court system is saying, "Okay, we believe you," when this should have never gotten into the Federal system. This is something state courts get to handle.

So we get to watch another celebrity get away with something morally vacant with a minor amount of punishment. But that punishment is outweighed by the amount of publicity (and that folks is the bread and butter of a celebrity) he will receive.

And - just to ice the cake - Michael Vick told everyone in a press conference that he found Jesus through all of this and has turned his life over to God.

Well that just made it all better, didn't it?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The $2,000,000 Dime

Don't Lose This Dime

This article really got me to thinking about a passage of scripture.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 (New American Standard Bible)

7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;

9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;

10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.

11 For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)

Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
[NASB at Lockman] [The Lockman Foundation] [NASB at Zondervan] [Zondervan]

What are you carrying around with you right now? I normally carry a wallet (with no cash), a cell phone, and a Swiss Army knife. Not much of value. But think about the value of those things in various situations. I can prove who I am because of identification in my wallet. I can call for rescue or assistance if trouble arises. And I can MacGyver my way out of a number of situations with a Swiss Army knife.

But what of the value of that which is inside of me. I will be preaching on this text in a couple of Sundays. But I wanted those of you reading to ponder that which is great and valuable within you. Because God has put within you something of value greater than all of the money in the world. Worth more than all of the land on earth. Something that cannot be destroyed by human work but is eternal.

We carry the life-giving Christ within us.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Who's watching you?

Seems Ms. Spears has had another slight "ooopsie".

Britney's parking lot fender bender

Seems she bumped a car in a parking lot, in front of the constant presence of paparazzi, and then drove off. Is this another case of superstar thinking she's above the law? I don't think so. It may be something a little more personal than that. And more pervasive in her life (as well as others). But let me share a little account from vacation.

There will be more about this story in the trip report (beginning Monday), but I had a small accident while on vacation. I backed into a car in a parking garage. When I got out to look, I had put quite a sizable dent in the bumper. So I did what I thought I was supposed to do - I found a cop. There was a police officer close by working security and being off-duty, he had to call the security office to do an incident report.

He and I were waking back to the car and chatting. He turned to face me and stuck his hand out. I thought he wanted to introduce himself (which I thought was weird) but he wanted to thank me for taking the time to make a report. Later that evening the owner called me to thank me for taking the time to make the report. Finally I was telling a friend about it (he happens to be a police officer) and he said, "Good for you," when I told him about making the report.

This got me to wondering if there is so little integrity in this area to make a deal about it when it is done. Weren't we all taught in Driver's Ed to at least exchange information in an incident like this? So why is it worthy of comment?

Integrity is a quality to so many people overlook these days. We don't see integrity very often on television or in the news. We don't even seem to expect it from one another. And when we hear about it, even in something that is obviously a simple circumstance, it causes us to take a moment to acknowledge it.

Now back to Ms. Spears. Here is a parallel situation to what I had. The only exception was that, when I bumped a car there was no one around to see it. I could have driven off without anyone the wiser that it was a short, fat, bald preacher from Oklahoma who bumped it. Britney seems completely disconnected from her reality to think that she could drive off without anyone seeing or saying anything.

Has Britney simply lost all sense of right or good? This is more than superstar-itis. This is an apparent lack of morality or conscience. She portrays no integrity in a positive sense.

So the teachable moment is this - who is watching you when you act? We are often surrounded by someone who can see us. Family, coworkers, church or social circles, complete strangers. There is always the possibility that someone will see us.

But then there is the greater witness. Each of us has a personal direct connection to God. But we act as if that connection were in our control. Psalm 139 states that there is no where we can go and be removed from the presence of God. God is ever present in our lives. And that is the one person we should be striving to show our true self to. For God can see the hearts and minds. God can judge whether we are being true to our self.

Integrity. Being true when no one is watching. Even though someone will always see us.