Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Things I've Learned the Hard Way in 2008 (That Will Hopefully Make Me a Better Person in 2009)

I have learned many things in 2008. I want to share some of those things. Other lessons I will keep to myself for now, but they will influence how I act and treat other people for the rest of my life.

So, in no particular order:

1. Always tell the truth. Sometimes bluntness and honesty will alienate people, but if you lie (for whatever reason), it will alienate people even further when the truth comes out (and it will come out). NEVER lie to people you love! Lying is a form of manipulation and control, and it is never right to try and control other people.

2. When you have someone’s trust, protect it like it is a precious treasure. Once that trust is lost, it is hard (sometimes impossible) to win it back.

3. The bond between a parent and child cannot be broken, and is induplicable among human relationships. In other words, give your children all the love you can!

4. When people tell you that you are wonderful, talented, etc., don’t believe your “own press.” The moment you do, you have become vulnerable to pride – which always comes before the fall.

5. When people are hurt they will act in unpredictable ways and do things completely out of character. Forgive these actions freely.

6. If you want people to forgive you, you have to offer forgiveness to others first.

7. True love is unconditional. Love freely. If that love is not reciprocated, it will soften your own heart.

8. There is a huge gulf between the virtues that some Christians claim to have, and what they actually practice.

9. In times of crisis, your list of true friends will shrink to just a few. Treasure these people for the rest of your life, and remember who abandoned you.

10. Counselors serve a purpose, but do not put too much trust in them. This also applies to “Christian” counselors. Take their advice, but do not abandon common sense.

11. Human beings have an extraordinarily high tolerance for emotional pain.

12. Indecision is worse than making a bad decision. Don’t vacillate. Choose!

13. Material things have no intrinsic value. Money and fine things are only valuable if you can share them with people you love.

14. Loneliness is as destructive of the human spirit as cancer is to the body.

15. Happiness can be found in small things, and usually comes from within. Do not depend on another person or persons to make you happy.

16. Never make big decisions or serious financial commitments when you are emotionally hyped up or as an act of rebellion.

17. Every family has a pathology. You must figure it out or you WILL repeat it.

18. And finally, to quote a very wise family member, “Charles, you are the dumbest smart guy I’ve ever known!”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Gospel is Not a Weapon

Here's my favorite scene from one of my favorite movies: "Saved."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Am Sorry

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'"

I have been struggling to get into the "Christmas spirit" this year. So much has happened! I feel overwhelmed with sorrow most days. I was preparing myself for the most miserable Christmas of my life. And then - I read, as if for the first time, Luke 2. One word stood out to me - the word "peace." The coming of Christ is not about me and my feelings, nor is it about gifts and gaudy tinsel, nor is it about shopping. It is about peace.

Everyone who knows me, and many who read this blog know that I have been very angry and frustrated! I have done and said things to alienate so many people. This Christmas I feel a gaping hole in my heart and searing grief for all the people I love who will be far from me - both physically and emotionally. So, like never before, I am going to focus on the real meaning of Christmas - peace. If I have hurt you, lied to you, lashed out at you, abused your trust, or used you in any way to further my own selfishness and arrogance, please, I beg of you, forgive me. People don't change overnight, and sometimes it takes a lot for stubborn people like me to discern the leading of the Lord. God deals a little more harshly with us, but He never gives up. I believe that after I have walked through this fire I will have learned how to be honest and humble. I am willing to be made willing.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

NOT Finished

Last year I posted this picture during what I thought was a stressful time. Well, it was "peaches and cream" compared to now! This is how I feel right now about EVERY part of my life without exception.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? A Parable:

Parables are like satire - if you get it a light goes on in your head, if you don't get it, then you just get angry. Jesus said something like that! Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Laugh Out Loud My Friends!

Okay, no serious blogging yet. However, in honor of my friend, "Tim the dentist," I offer up my favorite Seinfeld clip of all time. This is golden!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Personal Update

I hope that those of you who read this blog and show an interest in my scattered, sometimes weird thoughts will be patient with me. While this blog has given me so much opportunity to share things that I deem important, it has also been a constant source of strife and tension. I have been censured by elders, received hateful emails, had many arguments with many people, hurt people's feelings, and in turn I have been misunderstood and even hurt. I am at a point in my life where I don't need more tension. I am overwhelmed with anxiety and sorrow. This is not a good time for me to jump into the fray again. I will have plenty time and opportunity to share my ideas in the future - when I am more sure of myself, and when my faith is stronger. Thank you so much for reading and showing an interest in my opinions. For now, my last word will be, "My name is Charles North, and I am a doubter."

My Name is Charles North, and I am a Doubter!

Religiously speaking, I doubt a lot. My mind is riddled with uncertainty. Maybe it's just my personality type or my analytical training. I used to think that I was alone in my uncertainty, and that sharing my doubts would label me as weak, unfaithful, or even ignorant. I also thought that sharing my doubts would hurt the faith of those who looked to me for answers and certainty. I've discovered, however, that if you ask people in an honest moment, just about everyone has doubts. And I'm not just talking about passing moments of “I wonder if . . ?” I'm talking about deep and prolonged doubts. Recurring doubts that keep you up at night. Since Christians rarely speak of doubt we feel that expressing it is somehow unfit for proper (religious) company. So we stew on it and think we are alone - strange or odd or different, even to the point of deviance.

I've become convinced that sharing doubts is very therapeutic. Ironically, sharing doubts promotes deeper faith. My eyes were opened to this a few years ago when I was talking to a High School Senior (a very bright kid) about religion and the problem of evil in the world. I shared my doubts with this kid. A few days later I got an email from the kid, and he had this to say, “I have been struggling with church for some time, but talking to you opened my eyes. I have never heard a minister admit to doubting God. But hearing you made me realize that it is okay to doubt and that I fit in at church.”

I want to de-pathologize doubt. I want us to speak more openly about our doubts. I think it is healthy to know you are not alone. Here are specific things I have doubted or still doubt. What about you? Is this healthy?

I've doubted that God exists.
I've doubted that God really cares and works in the world.
I've doubted that prayers make any difference.
I've doubted that there is a heaven after death.
I’ve doubted that there is a literal place called “hell.”
I’ve doubted that the Bible is “inspired.”
I’ve doubted that the church is capable of forgiveness.
I’ve doubted love.
I’ve doubted the “stories” of the Old Testament.
I’ve doubted my own “goodness.”
I’ve doubted the value of “truth.”

Friday, November 07, 2008


One of my reasons I gave for voting for Obama (#15) was about abortion. Since then some people have said they don’t understand how abortion can be a non-issue for me. I appreciate the chance to clarify. And remember, this blog is about CLEAR THINKING. So, what is my own personal view? Abortion IS an issue for me – on a moral and religious level. Who the president is does not affect the issue at all. I am opposed to abortion. However, I reject both “pro life” and “pro choice” labels. I am anti abortion, but pro choice. I believe that women should CHOOSE to have the child. Scripture gives this choice in Deuteronomy 30: “I set before you today life and death; blessings and curses. Now choose life.” I think abortion is morally reprehensible! However, all polls indicate that the majority of Americans think abortion ought to remain legal - therefore I am in the minority on this issue. What am I going to do? Force my religious views on the rest of the country? Laws in the United States are not made on the basis of religious teaching or conviction. They are utilitarian because we are a secular nation.

From a LEGAL standpoint I think that Roe v Wade (1973) was a terrible decision - an abominable interpretation of the Constitution. Even liberal law professors (Lawrence Tribe of Harvard) admit this. Both liberals and conservatives need to understand (and I don’t think they do) that if Roe v Wade is overturned, it will not make abortion illegal. It will simply return the issue to the states. At that point all 50 state legislatures will determine their own abortion laws. This is the way federalism works. And, since most Americans want to see abortion kept legal, I don’t believe that any state will ban it outright. Overturning Roe v Wade will have virtually zero effect on abortion in America. Roe v Wade simply incorporated the 14th Amendment so that one state's allowing abortion applies to the other 49 states. Most Americans, including politicians, seem to not understand this.

If you oppose abortion on moral and religious grounds, then you need to get it together. The virulent rhetoric lends the impression of religious fanaticism, and no law in the United States will ever be made on the basis of religious fanaticism. Calling abortion “murder” further marginalizes religious conservatives. You may think abortion is “unjustified killing,” but it is not murder. “Murder” has a meaning. It is the intentional taking of a human life in a manner that is illegal. Abortion is not illegal. In order to have a seat at the table of rational debate, we should all use the language we’ve agreed on – English! I have looked into the distressed eyes of women contemplating this decision, and what they need is love, compassion, and hope – not anger, fanaticism, and labels. And they really don’t need any more laws.

Equal Opportunity Satire!

This video from The Onion is very funny!! Even though I am an Obama supporter, I offer it up just to make you laugh. Enjoy.

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Why I Voted For Obama

Yesterday I boldly declared myself an Obama supporter. I do not believe in gloating however. The past few years have been hard. This election has been bitter, and hard-fought. Today I feel nothing but pride. I am proud to be an American! Since I was five years old, all I wanted was to be an American. Yesterday was the first time I voted for a president in my life. I have a great sense of calm and reassurance that if a nation so diverse and so divided can transfer power so peacefully, that nation can still be a shining city on a hill for all the world to look up to. Now we have a chance to leave the 20th century behind and let a new leader from a new generation take us across this bold new frontier to face the 21st century. Take hope. This country and the world will be okay. Please watch Obama's speech from Tuesday night.

My vote, like so many things I do, is complicated. I voted for Obama, but also against McCain. Here’s why:

1. When John McCain passed his campaign finance reform act a few years ago, I swore I would NEVER vote for him. I consider that law to be one of the most egregious assaults on the constitution ever mustered by Congress. Today I keep my promise to myself.

2. McCain is 72 years old, and it shows; Obama is 47. I think that McCain’s time has come and gone. He represents a bygone generation. It’s time for the Vietnam generation to enjoy retirement, and allow a new generation to lead the country and the world. I’m going with the younger guy.

3. Obama is VERY intelligent and articulate. That counts with me. He is a very quick study, and picks up on things fast. He gives complex and nuanced answers to serious issues and problems. McCain seems to give overly simple answers. Why? Because his right wing base sees the world in terms of “black and white.” We need a serious person to lead.

4. McCain is close enough to Bush in both economics and foreign policy that he represents a third Bush term. George Bush has been the worst president since the Civil War. A vote against McCain is, for me, a repudiation of the Bush administration.

5. In that vein, I have come to reject “trickle-down” economics. At the end of the Bush administration, the country is economically ruined. An obscene amount of wealth is concentrated in a tiny handful of people. These people (oil executives, Wall Street barons, war profiteers, etc.) have the audacity to pillage and pirate without any shame or consequences, while the rest of us are in dire straits.

6. I think the idea that Christian equals Republican is absurd. In the OT and the NT God is ALWAYS on the side of the poor, and against the rich. In this election, Obama’s policies overwhelmingly help the poor, while McCain has spent the past month creating fear in people earning over $250 000 a year that they will be taxed more. My Christian values find better expression in the Democratic Party because my values are deeper than the shallow and trite moralizing of Republican Christians.

7. Our medical system is BROKEN. People are dying and going bankrupt because of obscenely high medical expenses, while insurance companies are wallowing in profits. Republican judges consistently throw out lawsuits against these insurance companies. The sooner we have nationalized health care, and see every HMO go out of business, the better off we will be. Obama will bring us closer to that reality.

8. McCain spoke and acted erratic during all 3 debates. After the debates I had ZERO confidence in McCain.

9. McCain’s war hero status is to be applauded on a personal level, but it does not impress me in any way as a “qualification” to be president.

10. I cannot put Sarah Palin that close to the presidency. I admire her personally, but again, I don’t believe this woman is anywhere near qualified to be poised to take the reins of our government. Her sketchy credentials, her lack of knowledge, and her conservative worldview is not what America needs right now. I don’t want a folksy “hockey mom” running the country.

11. The "guilt by association" attacks on Obama have been so weak and pathetic, they have actually pushed me to support him. The worst has been the “socialist” label. George Bush has been the most socialist president in our history! We are well down the socialist path. Progressive tax rates, property taxes, and public education are all planks of the Communist Manifesto for crying out loud!

12. I refuse to give any Republican any further hold on power. They have squandered that chance. George Bush has presided over the biggest growth of the Federal government in our history. Enough!

13. I don’t respond to fear. My vote for Obama is a thumb in the eye of every conservative fear monger who wants us to look for terrorists behind every bush and under our beds.

14. I am voting AGAINST the war in Iraq. I agree with Obama’s position that this was an unjustified and unnecessary war from the beginning. McCain is a carbon copy of Bush with regards to the war. EVERY reason we were given to go to war is a lie, and we have no reason to still be there. We are wasting billions of dollars every month doing the very same thing that caused the British Empire to go bankrupt. I refuse to give my consent one day longer!

15. While I am pro-life, abortion is a non-issue for me in presidential elections. Even if (and it’s a big if) Roe v Wade is overturned, it just sends the issue back to the states. Abortion will NEVER be illegal in the U.S. Once you realize this, you won’t waste energy making your voting decisions on this one issue.

16. I just plain like Barak Obama. After his speech on Tuesday night, I have hope again!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's Always Saturday - But Sunday is Coming!

In Christian theology the three days that Jesus spent in the tomb are significant for the life of the church. Jesus suffered pain, suffering, and death on Friday; he lay dead in the tomb on Saturday; and he was raised to life on Sunday. His resurrection was a demonstration of the Spirit’s power over death.

The church exists in a similar state – our suffering is in the past, but our resurrection has not yet happened. For us, it is always Saturday. For the past 2000 years it has been perpetually Saturday. We live in an already-but-not-yet state between suffering and victory. In this state we learn patience, reliance on God, love fore one another, concern for the lost, but we also live by hope, anticipating our certain resurrection.

Over the past few days I have seen my own life through this paradigm. Every day is Saturday for me. Every day involves a gut-wrenching, coma-like state of waiting. I’ve been through the Friday of suffering and death, but every morning when I wake up, I feel sick when I see “Saturday” on the calendar of my subconscious imagination. But I know that Sunday is coming! One of these days I will wake up to a new dawn of a new day – a day of resurrection, new life, and hope for a bright future. Sunday is coming!!!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Official Policy Regarding the Role of Women in Public Worship

The role of women in the public worship of the church has become a contentious issue recently. Despite the clear teaching of scripture and long-held traditions, I was asked several months ago to draft a statement that would be distributed amongst Churches of Christ. I have wrestled with this task. I have anguished over the biblical texts. I have incorporated historical, cultural, and extra-biblical evidence from the Greco-Roman world. But mostly, I have remained unwavering in our historic commitment to the inerrancy of scripture, its clear teaching, and hence the need to take it literally without picking or choosing which commandments we will follow as those in liberal denominations do. The following notice will go out over the wires first thing Monday morning:

To all faithful members of the Church of Christ:
Effective immediately the following rules will be adopted with regards to the role of women in the public worship of the church. We regret that such a notice is necessary, but some among us have not taken seriously the plain commandments of the Apostle Paul in 1st Corinthians 14 and 1st Timothy 2. Henceforth all women are to remain silent in the assembly. Thus far we have not permitted women to preach, lead prayers, or make announcements, but now they will not be permitted to ask questions in class, or participate in the singing. Silence means silence! Women will, however, be permitted to serve communion since this involves no speaking or authority. Furthermore, since we are uncertain where to place the comma in 1st Timothy 2:12, women will no longer be permitted to teach in any capacity. This includes ladies classes and children's classes. ALL classes must be taught by a man. It is better to be safe than sorry. Women will be required to dress modestly. This means that no woman will be allowed to enter the assembly wearing braided hair, gold jewelry, pearls, or clothing purchased at major department stores (expensive clothing). As part of our biblical dress code, all women will be required to wear a head covering. Any modest hat or scarf will do. Ladies, if you have any questions, please follow the scripture and ask your husbands at home.
Thank you.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Temple Police

People often wonder why I have such an openly defiant attitude toward authority – civil as well as religious authority. I want to identify three reasons:

1. I grew up in South Africa during the heyday of the apartheid regime. As a child and teenager my father taught me that I had a MORAL OBLIGATION to resist authority. He was right!

2. I follow leaders. True leaders are hard to come by. I know precious few leaders. You can slap a title or a uniform or a badge on any yahoo. That doesn’t make them a leader, and it certainly doesn’t mean I necessarily ought to follow them, obey them, or respect them.

3. I have a theological warrant. Here’s what I mean:

Jesus was not brought down by anarchy. He was brought down by law and order allied with religion, which is ALWAYS a deadly mix. Beware of those who claim to know the mind of God and are prepared to use force, if necessary, to make others conform. Temple police are always a bad sign. When chaplains are seen hanging out at the sheriff’s office, watch out. Someone is about to have no king but Caesar! I doubt that many of us will end up playing Annas, Caiaphas or Pilate. They may have been the ones who gave Jesus the death sentence, but a large part of him had already died before they ever got to him - the part Judas killed off, then Peter, then all those who fled. Those are the roles with our names on them - not the enemies who confront, but the friends who abandon.

No one knows what Judas said. In John’s gospel he does not say a word, but where he stands says it all. After he led about 200 Roman soldiers and the Temple police to the garden where Jesus is praying, Judas stood with the authorities. Even when Jesus came forward to identify himself, Judas did not budge. He stood on the side with the weapons and the handcuffs.

In 1849 Henry David Thoreau wrote a tract called “Civil Disobedience.” Here’s an excerpt:
“The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. Others, as most legislators, politicians, lawyers, ministers, and office-holders - serve the state chiefly with their heads; and, as they rarely make any moral distinctions, they are as likely to serve the devil, without intending it, as God. A very few - as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men - serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Are You a "Good" Person?

I am less fascinated with the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” than with the question, “Why do good people do bad things?” This is much more relevant and interesting. To say that bad people do bad things is to have a VERY simplistic, childlike view of the world. It is usually good people who do bad things. I have become obsessed with figuring out why. This is why I watch disturbing movies like “Hostel.” This is why I have profiled Hitler’s henchmen. I have really probed the question, “Why do good (or normal) people do bad things?” Here’s what I think. (I wrote about some of this last year.)

We tend to see the things going on inside of a person (personality, motives, desires) as more important in regulating behavior than the forces outside of the person (context, situation, social pressures). We downplay the power of context and situation, while seeing ourselves and other people in altruistic terms. We think that people have an inner core that dictates and determines their actions (their “true self”). So we classify people in terms of “kinds” of people - good people, bad people, strong people, weak people. But all these labels are erroneous. There aren't different “kinds” of people. There are simply people in different situations. Configure the situation a certain way and we can make some people look weak and others strong. This doesn’t mean that situations alone determine our behavior (though I do believe in situational ethics), but we tend to dramatically underestimate the power of context and situation. How many times have you heard someone say, “I would never do that.” This is precisely what sets us up for wrongdoing. We tend to overestimate the strength of our character. We see ourselves as a “kind” of person – a good father, a good husband. To see ourselves in this way is a mistake – a very costly one.

This principle applies to all moral issues - addiction, sexuality, spending, violence, and on and on. Situations have way more power than we think. Consequently, “good” people wander into situations that cause them to falter. Treat your own virtue with suspicion. Your strength can easily become your weakness. Don't believe your character alone is sufficient to carry you through. Trust me on this! The world is full of the ruined lives of those who said, “I don't know why or how I could have done that (fill in the blank). I’m not like that!”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's Good to be Alive

I'm in Waco today driving around looking at all my old hangouts, walking around Baylor campus, and yes, mountain biking on the trails along the Brazos river. I went down one of the "advanced" trails this morning. I should have known better. It's been years since I knew what I was doing. As I catapulted down a narrow rocky path, my right handlebar clipped a tree. The handlebars got twisted 180 degrees and I got thrown off the bike. I haven't had a good crash in years! I lay there stunned for a minute with my head against a tree - scratches on my right wrist, bruised left elbow, scratches and cuts all down my left leg. I got up, yelled something at the stupid tree, and hammered on down the trail for another 30 minutes with blood and dirt all over my face, arms, and legs. It feels SO GOOD to be alive!!!

Monday, September 01, 2008


This is the final scene from the movie "The Big Kahuna." I have watched it many times over the past few weeks as I try to make sense of my life.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

I'm Taking a Break

Sorry for removing that last post. I'm really not supposed to be putting up stuff from Postsecret, so I'll respect that. On Wednesday night Cory showed how Jesus learned to say "no" to some things because he had said "yes" to a much greater mission. So, in that spirit, I am going to take a bit of a break from blogging. I need to say "no" to my desire to vent and pontificate for a while so that I do a little life maintenance and construction. I know that for some of you, checking my blog is the most exciting thing you do all day!! (Ha, Ha). Don't worry, I'll be back!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Evil of Hurry

Some time ago I ran across this behavioral experiment on Richard Beck’s blog. It is fascinating because it speaks to my main curiosity – the pathology of human “evil.”

In 1973, John Darley and Daniel Batson published one of the most famous papers looking into human behavior. The study was entitled: “From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior.” The “Jerusalem to Jericho” paper is of interest to me because the study centered on a modern-day recreation of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here's a sketch of what they did:

The study involved seminarians preparing for ministry. The students were randomly split into two groups. The first group was asked to prepare a sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the second group prepared a sermon that had nothing to do with helping others. The students were then scheduled to deliver this sermon at a given time and place. When they arrived at the place, they were told that the location had been changed at the last minute and that they were to go to a new location. At this point, the students were split into three groups. A third were put under strong time pressure, told that they needed to get to the new venue in a hurry. A third was put under moderate time pressure. And finally, the third group was told that they could take their time getting to the new venue. Along the route (an alleyway) to the next venue they had placed a person who showed signs of distress. Specifically, they were sitting slumped against the wall, head down and eyes closed. As the subject passed, the person would cough twice and groan. Basically, they showed signs of abdominal pain. As the students passed the key variable was recorded: Would they stop to check on the groaning person?

What a great study! A controlled simulation of Jesus' parable. Even the use of seminarians is a nice touch, echoing the priest and Levite in the story. Well, who stopped to help? There were three main predictions that were being tested:
1: Almost everyone will stop. These are all seminarians! They are good people, bound for the ministry. Most will stop.
2: Those who were thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan will stop. Half of the seminarians had a sermon about the Good Samaritan in their heads. Those thinking about Jesus' parable would be more likely to recognize the situation.
3: Those who were less hurried will stop. Those who have the time, help. Those who don't have the time, don't.

So, what is your guess as to the outcome? It was 3. The single biggest factor in helping was hurry. The relevant contrast is striking. No hurry: 63% offered aid. High hurry: 10% offered aid. Some seminarians in a hurry literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan!

So, here are some observations about this study:

First, virtue is contextual. We are a different kind of person when we are hurried versus when we are unhurried. There is no “real” you. There is “hurried you” and “unhurried you.” And, as your family, friends, and coworkers can attest, hurried you and unhurried you are really two very different people.

Second, the Jerusalem to Jericho study makes this observation: Most people pursue spirituality as a hobby. Life with God is a leisure activity that compliments our cozy suburban lives. It’s compartmentalized along with baseball, football, PTA, and work. Why do I say this? Because hobbies and leisure activities are what we pursue when we have “free” time on our hands. But when we have “stuff to do,” we tend to place our hobbies to the side. They are not allowed to interfere with our urgent agenda. If so, then the Jerusalem to Jericho study suggests that helping others, for many, is a hobby. It's something to do on weekends, when you have some spare time, rather than a central and urgent feature of your life.

Third, hurry is a form of evil, if evil is defined as lack of empathy for other human beings. Hurry turns us into self-interested, callous jerks. Love sometimes involves slowness.

Monday, July 28, 2008

"Poor Judgement"

Here is a story out of Australia I thought I'd share. I really love the magistrate's quote at the end.

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian man convicted of his seventh drunk-driving charge was spending about $1,000 ($972 U.S.) a week on beer - enough to buy more than 2,500 small bottles a month, a newspaper said Tuesday. The heartbroken construction worker began drowning his sorrows after breaking up with his partner five years ago, the Northern Territory News said, quoting his defense lawyer as telling a court in Australia's remote, tropical north. The magistrate declined to jail the father of four, Michael Leary, noting he had quit drinking since his latest arrest, but he banned Leary from buying or even holding a beer for 12 months. The magistrate also poked fun at Leary's favorite beer, Melbourne Bitter, in a part of the country where drinkers can be as loyal to beer brands as they are to football teams. ''That is poor judgment on two counts there - drinking that much, and drinking Melbourne Bitter,'' magistrate Vince Luppino was quoted as saying.


Friday, July 25, 2008

"We Christians Aint Like the Muslims"

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and some guy called in with this gem: "We Christians aint like the Muslims. They believe that the Koran can change. Christians don't do that. Jesus said, 'If anyone adds or takes away from the book,' they'll be punished! Now some people think that the snake didn't really talk. That's takin away from the book, and God will punish them cause they aint real Christians!"

Okay, let's go:

1. "Muslims" are divided into 2 hostile sects: Sunnis and Shi'ites. The Sunnis believe that God's revelation in the Koran was fixed at the time of Mohammed's death. Shi'ites believe that subsequent prophets received equally as authoritative revelation.

2. "Christians don't do that." HELLO?? The NEW TESTAMENT claims to be a subsequent and more authoritative revelation than the OLD TESTAMENT. The early Jewish Christians were the Shi'ites of first century Judaism!!

3. The warning in Revelation 22:18-19 about "adding" or "taking way" from "this book" applies ONLY to the book of Revelation.

4. Christians have a number of different INTERPRETATIONS about scripture. One interpretation is not more right because it's more literal, and being literal DOES NOT equal more respectful. As far as I know it's only fundamentalist, conservative, evangelicals who take all of the Old Testament literally. Many Christians and virtually all Jews understand much of the OT (the 6 days of creation, Adam and Eve, the flood, Jonah, etc) to be myth - a parable to make a point.

Fellow Christians, please THINK before calling in to national radio shows!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Mr. Opportunity"

Is it just me, or is Honda's new ad campaign the most annoying thing on T.V.? This "Mr. Opportunity" cartoon character seriously makes me feel ill. Wouldn't you love to wipe that smarmy smirk off this guy's face? I'll never buy a Honda if they think this little of their customers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Churches - An embarrassment to the Upright!

From Eugene Peterson:

"The churches of Revelation show us that churches are not Victorian parlors where everything is always picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St. John does not apologize. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms. They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, there are going to be clothes scattered about, handprints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus insists on calling sinners and not the righteous to repentance – and there is no indication as yet that he has changed his policy in that regard – churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright."

Friday, July 18, 2008

"Airship Worship"

Thanks for this Raleen. Watch this and enjoy your weekend - especially Sunday!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

Jour de Bastille Heureux

Happy Bastille Day Froggies! On July 14th 1789 French peasants stormed the Bastille, setting off the French Revolution. Since the French Revolution was largely caused by their aiding the American colonies in our war against Britain, I feel we Americans ought to tip our hats to our French brethren every July 14. So, let the Tricolour fly, let there be an abundance of cheese and wine, and jour de Bastille Heureux! (Happy Bastille Day)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"I Pledge Allegiance . . ."

I love America. I have loved her for as long as I can remember. It has been hard leaving home and going through the interminable process of becoming an American. America has faults, and I'm quick to point those out, but I am more in love with the IDEA of America and all she can be than I ever have been. DO NOT confuse my need for critical thought and my loathing of politicians with a disdain for America!

As this political season really heats up, you will often hear allegations that certain people or parties or positions are “unpatriotic,” or “un-American.” You will no doubt hear about how we are sliding into the morass of godlessness, and evidence of this secular slide comes in the form of court decisions – like the decision from a few years back ruling it a violation of our constitution for a public school to require their students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or that the phrase, “under God” should be removed. Does that make you angry? Why? From 1892 to 1954 the words “under God” were not even part of the Pledge.

The pledge was written in 1892 by the socialist Francis Bellamy. He devised it on the occasion of the nation's first celebration of Columbus Day. It’s wording omitted reference not only to God but also, interestingly, to the “United States.” It said, "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The key words for Bellamy were "indivisible," which recalled the Civil War and the triumph of the Union over states' rights, and "liberty and justice for all," which was supposed to strike a balance between equality and individual freedom. By the 1920s, reciting the pledge had become a ritual in many public schools. The campaign to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of the flood of religiosity of the early 1950’s. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress. The “under God” movement didn't take off, however, until the next year, when it was endorsed by George M. Docherty, the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon - with the president in the pew before him - arguing that apart from "the United States of America," the pledge "could be the pledge of any country." He added, "I could hear little Moscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." Perhaps forgetting that "liberty and justice for all" was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States. The ensuing congressional speeches offered more proof that the point of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative intent of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our government upon the Creator,” and to “deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."

This had not always been the case, however. In 1943 Chief Justice Robert Jackson wrote the following when the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to force school children to recite the Pledge: “Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.

And, one more thing. Should Christians pledge allegiance to any flag or government or nation anyway? Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Caesar (any government) may have your money, but only God is entitled to your allegiance and full devotion. The Jehovah's Witnesses may be right on this one. Your thoughts?

Monday, July 07, 2008

What a Picture!

One of the most popular blogs worldwide is called Postsecret. All they do is post anonymous confessions that people write on one side of a postcard and mail in. This is hardcore heartbreaking stuff. This one really grabbed me by the hear!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Continuing to Mock . . .

In the spirit of making fun of our government, all elected officials, and especially the State Department, I offer this video from The Onion. Enjoy.

Nation Of Andorra Not In Africa, Shocked U.S. State Dept. Reports

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Life Imitates the Onion

Sometimes I come across a news article that is so bizarre, I think I’m reading The Onion – which is the greatest piece of satire and parody ever written! But no, I am soon jarred back to my battered senses by the sheer inanity that this is real! Today’s Wall Street Journal carried an article on how the Democrats are planning their August Convention in Denver to be the “greenest” ever! Yeah, whatever!!

Here’s how absurd this is. The volunteers need caps and fanny packs – but they have to be made from organic cotton, by unionized, U.S. workers. The only problem – such a product does not exist! They intend to use biodegradable balloons – and to prove they are biodegradable; organizers have buried balloons in a steaming compost heap. Plates and utensils must be biodegradable as well. Volunteers, decked out in green shirts, will watch to make sure that every scrap of trash is put in the “proper” trash bin. 70 Percent of all food must be locally grown to cut down on fuel usage hauling in food. Fried foods will not be permitted. And to make sure it’s all “green,” they have hired a “carbon advisor.” (If preaching doesn’t work out for me this will be my lucrative new career.) My first suggestion – don’t run the air conditioner. Sweat it out! We’ll soon see how “cool” Obama is. Maybe they’ll have afternoon naptime? This does sound like a giant day care after all!

And to think that these hysterical, foolish, immature, clowns will be spending millions of dollars between now and November begging me to let them run the country! My response will be to mercilessly parody and make fun of them until the election! Who’s with me?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Nemesis Required!

Thanks to Wade Hodges for this really great idea off Craigslist. Someone posted this last month:

"Nemesis required. 6 month project with possibility to extend:
I’ve been trying to think of ways to spice up my life. I’m 35 years old, happily married with two kids and I have a good job in insurance. But somethings missing. I feel like I’m old before my time. I need to inject some excitement into my daily routine through my arm before its too late. I need a challenge, something to get the adrenaline pumping again. An addiction would be nice, but, in short, I need a nemesis. I’m willing to pay $350 up front for you services as an arch enemy over the next six months. Nothing crazy. Steal my parking space, knock my coffee over, trip me when Im running to catch the BART and occasionaly whisper in my ear, “Ahha, we meet again”. That kind of thing. Just keep me on my toes. Complacency will be the death of me. You need to have an evil streak and be blessed with innate guile and cunning. You should also be adept at inconsicuous pursuit. Evil laugh preferred. Send me a photo and a brief explanation why you would be a good nemesis. British accent preferred."

Isn't that great? I wonder if I have any nemeses? I wonder if I am someone's nemesis? Mmmm? Who is your nemesis?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Take a Look in the Mirror America

Here are some observations that are troubling me this Juneteenth. I heard on the radio that a pet store in Dallas was selling all BLACK cats and dogs at half-price today! At last weekend's Texas state Republican convention, buttons were being sold that said, "If Obama is President ... will we still call it the White House?" The same group also sold buttons with Hillary Clinton's picture that said, "Life's a bitch. Don't vote for one." Exit polls in southern states have many white voters admitting that they did not vote for Obama because he is black. At a recent Obama rally a Muslim woman was removed because she was wearing a headscarf, and that wouldn't look good on TV. And let's not forget New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin's "chocolate city" remarks from a few years ago.

This election is going to show America and the world what we are, and what we are NOT in terms of racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance. And so far . . . it does not look good for us!!!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Food and Drink Prohibited

I have been scanning various church's facility guidelines. Many churches make this statement, and I have even seen this sign posted in a few church foyers, banning food and drink from the "auditorium." So, what is the problem with this? What strikes you as odd?

Monday, June 09, 2008

What is the Object of Your Worship?

From time to time I level some harsh criticism against Churches of Christ on this blog. I can do this because I am the ultimate insider - I "grew up in the church," I never missed Sunday School, we went every Wednesday night and Sunday night, I was part of the youth group, I worked VBS every year, I was baptized as a teenager, I have been educated in Church of Christ schools, and I have preached for 10 years in 3 congregations. The Church of Christ is in my DNA. There are things I love dearly about Churches of Christ, and there are also flaws and inconsistencies that I cannot ignore. To do so would be evidence of brainwashing. I want all my readers who have been critical of me recently to remember that this blog is a protest against brainwashing and blind acceptance of things that ought to be smashed to pieces with a rhetorical sledgehammer! So, if you care to stick with me, I want to take a sledgehammer to your most basic assumptions with a simple question: WHAT IS THE OBJECT OF YOUR WORSHIP? And yes, there is only ONE correct answer!

The Church (any church)?
The Church of Christ?
The Bible?
A political party?
The United States?
The military of the United States?
Certain cultural values and expressions (eg: "southern hospitality")?

The answer is GOD. Only God is to be worshipped. Anything other than God is idolatry. The reason why I am so harsh in my criticism of traditional and inflexible churches and Christians is because I see people WORSHIPPING the institution of the church, the Bible, traditions, and even the U.S. The extreme defensiveness and sometimes harsh reactions of people who feel threatened by my criticisms is evidence of this. So, please, worship God, but have the maturity of thought and attitude to CHILL OUT about everything else!

PS: "Chill out" is the best theological phrase I've learned in over 10 years of graduate school! Feel free to quote me liberally on this.

Monday, June 02, 2008

A Church That Flies

I started a new sermon series yesterday, that a lot of people have responded to very well. So, for those you who weren't there, here's the transcript of the sermon:

I want to begin by explaining a very important distinction that we have sometimes blurred. The largest bell ever cast is known as the emperor’s bell. It is the largest bell in the world. It weighs 440 000 pounds, it is 23 feet in diameter. It was cast in Russia to celebrate the coronation of Tsar Kolokol III. There was a problem, however. The bell could not be hoisted into position. They tried. It fell, and a 12-ton piece broke off the lip. The bell now stands as an ornament in a public park. It has never rang, not once.

Point: Sometimes the form of something (how it looks) can overwhelm its function (what it was intended to do). A bell, regardless of how big and beautiful it looks, is not a bell if it cannot ring. It is useless if it cannot make a sound.

If you drive out of town in any direction, you are likely to go by a junkyard. And you’ll see rows and rows of rusted out cars. Some still have their wheels on. They all pretty much look like cars. They have the form of cars. But the problem is that none of them can get me from point A to point B. They no longer function as cars - and it really doesn’t matter that they look like cars, if they can’t transport me, they don’t work like cars.

One more example: Holly used to work for a foundation that operated 4 house museums. They’re wonderful homes, full of furniture from the Civil War period. Now if I were to take a tour through one of those museums, and I got tired, and sat down on one of these antique chairs, the docent would throw a fit. They’d have me off that chair before I could take a breath! Why? Because what looks like a chair no longer serves the function of a chair. A chair is built, by design, to sit in - that is why it has a seat, a back, and 4 legs. And if you ever come across a piece of furniture that has a seat, a back, and 4 legs, and you may not, under any circumstances, sit in it - well, it’s useless.

So we have two concepts now:
Form (how something looks, its shape, its characteristics)
Function (what it does, and why - its purpose)

Baptism is a great example of form and function working together – the form of baptism is immersion in water b/c the function of baptism is a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection, and a washing away of sin. The reason why you do something precedes the specifics of how you do it. How you do something is only important if you’re doing it for the right reasons. In other words, form (what something looks like, how you do something) is important, but it always follows after and serves function (why you do something, its purpose).

I have been conducting an informal poll – asking people to name the “marks” of the church. What the church looks like. And, predictably, they rattled off the usual list - acapella singing, weekly communion, giving, praying, preaching, local autonomy, plurality of elders, deacons, someone even said having the name “Church of Christ.” But then I asked them to define the function of the church. What is the work that God has called His people to accomplish? If we say that we are the body of Christ on earth, how is that body supposed to function? What is the church for? Why are we here? What is God trying to do through us? Now that is a tougher question. We know the form, but what’s the function? Or is our function to simply get the form right? Is our purpose to be a carbon copy of the 1st century church? Is that it? Surely there must be more? You can have all the forms and structures and language down just right – you can have acapella singing, weekly communion, local autonomy, plurality of elders, deacons – you can even have the “right” name on the sign outside: “Church of Christ” – and be of no use to God. You might as well be a chair in a museum!

So, what are the functions God wants us to perform? What are the goals God wants us to strive for? It has become fashionable to say that we have an “identity crisis” in the church. Well, we don’t. We know who we are. We have a functional crisis in the church. We don’t know what to do! We have wings, but we don’t know how to fly! Instead of asking “how did they do things in the NT?” let’s ask “what were they about? What was their business? And why? What functions did the church perform? What is the business of the Kingdom of God? What goals and ambitions should we embrace? What purposes are central to our very existence?

From our reading of Acts 2 (42-47) and the rest of the book of Acts, I believe there are 7 basic functions of the church: Worship, Holiness, Being a Community, Maturing each other (discipleship), Service, Witness, Influence. This is the work that God has entrusted to His church. These are purposes to pursue - these things transcend time, culture, circumstance. These things are important and necessary for the church to function and exist and bring glory to God. And in the time remaining today we’re going to briefly look at the first function of the church – next week we’ll talk about holiness, community, and discipleship, and the week after that we’ll talk about service, witness, and influence.

1) God’s People are Called to Worship.
Worship is the primary function of God’s people – b/c worship is the acknowledgement that God is in our presence, that He is holy, and we are not!

Isaiah 6:1-5

We must worship. We must let our praises ring out. It is something we cannot not do! Under Moses, the first 2 of the 10 commandments addressed worship. The entire book of Psalms is the record of the worship of the Israelites. The NT church was primarily a worshipping community. Worship is an attitude and lifestyle - it was, and still is, a way of glorifying God in all we do. Worship was the reason the early church came together, and it is the reason we come together.

But we need to remember that true worship must never be confused with assemblies and rituals - it is, rather, the experience of the presence of God in our lives. Worship is when we see our own brokenness, and we express our gratitude to God, with joy, and fear, and humility. The language of worship transcends words. God demands that our worship honor Him and change our lives. Worship is not just an event you attend, it is not merely a set of rules to follow. It is an experience you cannot live without!

And perhaps, the most important practical implication of worship is that it has to change my life. There has to be a consistency between what we do in here one hour on a Sunday, and what we do out there the rest of the week. Worship has to change my life. This inconsistency is what the Jews of old were condemned for:
Isaiah 1:11-17

Our final text is a description of what heaven will be like, and no surprise, it is endless worship in the presence of God forever. But it is worship based on the notion that God, out of His great love for us, actually did something that benefits us greatly!
Revelation 5:1-14

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I Reject the Church of the Angry God

I have been on a journey the past few years that has resulted in the wholesale rejection of almost everything I grew up believing. I guess this post is the first time I have come out and said with clarity that I AM FREE! Like many of my readers, I grew up in a traditional, conservative Church of Christ. I reject that view of God, I reject that interpretation of the Bible, I reject all of their code words, I reject almost every point of doctrine, and I especially reject the blatantly dishonest mental gymnastics you have to go through to believe some of the most hurtful and nonsensical tests of "faithfulness." Larry James feels the same way, and because he says it better than I have, here is an article he wrote called, "The Church of the Angry God."

"It occurs to me that I haven't spent much time unpacking my theological roots, at least not in any systematic manner, at least not lately since I've moved in such a radically different direction over the past several years. For sure, I have spent many hours dislodging many specifics of the legalistic heritage I inherited from my West Texas farm family.

The strange, almost exotic emphasis on things like how to sing in church, the frequency of the Eucharistic celebration, the mode and meaning of baptism, the organizational details and glossary of the local church, the danger of being too cooperative with other congregations, the hard sell of a denomination that claimed it was non-denominational are all part of the list that goes on and on. And, when you stop to think it through, it includes some other really important matters - things like how to view women, how to treat members of other races, ethnic groups, and nations, the politics of war and peace, social justice and the poor - big ticket issues at home and around the world.

The truth is, I may have spent too much time on these issues in an attempt, both to make peace with my rather bizarre religious heritage and, at the same time, to reform it in some meaningful manner. Most likely, I could have avoided wasting so much time had I stepped back earlier for a longer, more comprehensive view of the theological system passed along to me from childhood. I also realize that to some extent, everyone could find such an exercise profitable. And, I expect almost everyone will find some aspects of their “theological inheritance” wanting.

But, I have mine with which to deal. I grew up in a church that was basically kind, welcoming and friendly - at least, that is how it seemed to me as a child. I later realized that this warmth was not necessarily shared automatically outside the church family. I also came to understand that, for the most part, the members of the church of my childhood were incredibly conservative socially and politically. In fact, many were extreme in their political and social worldview. If you are interested, I have stories! In reflecting on my positive feelings about the warmth of the church, I have come to realize that this was likely true because of the gracious soul of one minister in particular who shaped the spirit of the congregation for over a generation, even though he served for a relatively short tenure.

Back to the longer theological view - it is clear to me now that the community of faith of my childhood envisioned God to be fundamentally an angry deity. A God of judgment, punishment and severe actions was the God we attempted to satisfy on Sundays - morning and night, and then again at mid-week prayers and Bible study. Our concern for the details of salvation, church polity, worship style and religious exercises could all be traced back to this notion that God was a God who was defined and best understood as a deity seated on a throne of harsh judgment. Everything had to be just right or the God we served was bound to make it right at our eternal expense. From an early age I read, studied and memorized the details of the mighty acts of this avenging God. In an interesting twist of theological gymnastics, we spent a great deal of time reading the judgments and punishments of this God as revealed in the Hebrew Bible. At times, His judgments wiped out whole nations. At other times, His wrath focused on individuals or small groups who were somehow out of step with His law - the rules that could not be violated without great personal loss. Then, when we turned to deciding how to measure our faithfulness and acceptability as a church, we focused solely on the New Testament, with an emphasis on Acts of the Apostles as we searched for a “safe pattern” for our community. Ironically, we spent very little time focused on Jesus. We knew all about hell and eternal damnation - down to the sounds, smells and feelings. At one time or another, we all felt as if we were bound for the fire, only to be snatched out of the pit of suffering by completing a series of steps on our way to salvation. We learned quickly that salvation also involved “being faithful unto death” - a feat no one seemed sure how to accomplish. As a result, we threw ourselves into religious observances lined out by a clear pattern that had to be followed if we expected to reach the realms of eternal life. Our religion was defined almost completely by judgment - its single most important organizing paradigm.

Actually, this turned out to be very convenient for us. As most of us moved up into the middle class, we found that our religious system allowed us to escape the hard realities of the real world. We found it easy to ignore the American Civil Rights Movement, the War in Vietnam, poverty, injustice, racism, and countless other matters of here-and-now social importance. After all, we were faithful to the precise pattern we had learned in church and we were on the road to heaven, away from hell. We even sang with gusto that “this world is not my home, I'm just a passing through!” The paradigm of judgment insured our complete irrelevance as a people in and to our community. It is this perspective defined by judgment that I have spent the last 30 years or more casting aside."

AMEN brother!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Question to Ponder

I have been asked to speak at a summer series in the Dallas area this July. My assigned topic is: "The Problem of Suffering: Reading Job." I pleaded for another topic. But since "The Allegory of Light and Darkness in John's Gospel" was taken, I accepted. Most of the time, however, I try to avoid this topic because my thoughts are out of step with mainstream Evangelical Christianity. So, here's the scenario: Two people of roughly the same age are lying in side by side hospital rooms. Both are dying of the same illness. Both people have devout family members praying over them. One person makes a recovery while the other dies. Why? Did God only hear one plea and reject the other? Did they have secret sin their lives? Did they pray hard enough? Was their faith strong enough? What's going on here? Think about it, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ten Questions You Need to Ask Before Marriage

I am not an expert on marriage. A list of my faults could fill a book. However, the most enjoyable part of my ministry has always been weddings. Last weekend I was privileged to perform a beautiful lakeside wedding. I have gone to some incredible places and met some interesting people. I don't do as much official "counseling" with couples as some other ministers do. What I have is a list of ten questions that I ask them to answer with brutal honesty. If you are already married, this may be a very scary moment for you, but go ahead - and be honest!

Ten Questions If You're Thinking of Marrying

1. Is the person your best friend or at least becoming so?
It is easy to get excited about a new person. But if you cannot say that the person you are considering marrying has become or is becoming your best friend, you need to figure out why before you decide to marry. This is probably the single most overlooked question among couples. Many people cannot answer this in the affirmative. But you have to answer it. Over time, friendship is the greatest bond between a couple. If the person you marry does not become your best friend, you will either seek someone who will be or simply drift apart. What is a best friend? Someone you tell just about everything to, someone you want to be with as much as possible, and someone you need. One of the most devastating ideas is that depending on another person is a sign of weakness. The opposite is true. The inability to need is a sign of weakness - you are afraid to relinquish power or afraid to be hurt.

2. Do you enjoy each other?
This sounds trite, but enjoying each other (aside from physical intimacy) may actually be the single most important characteristic of a happy marriage.

3. Is there chemistry between the two of you?
As essential as being best friends and enjoying each other are, there should be a vibrant physical component to your relationship. Dating for marriage is not an interview for a strictly platonic best friend. If there is insufficient physical attraction after all other criteria are met and time has passed, you may be in the tragic position of having to end a relationship with a great man or woman.

4. Does the person have at least one very close friend of the same sex?
It is a bad sign if the person you are thinking of marrying does not have good friends of the same sex. Something is very wrong. A woman who cannot hold female friends and a man who cannot hold male friends have issues that will probably sink your marriage.

5. How does the person treat others?
It should go without saying that if the person is not kind to you, quit while you can. But it is far from sufficient that the person you are considering marrying treats you kindly. Watch how they treat waiters, employees, family members, and anyone else they come into contact with. How the person treats others now is how this person will treat you later.

6. What problems do the two of you have now?
Whatever problems you have before the wedding day, you will have during your marriage. Do not think that marrying will solve any problem you have with the person. You have three choices: Make peace with the problem, see if it can be solved before deciding to marry, or don't marry the person. It is imperative that you be ruthlessly honest with yourself. And that is very hard. Nothing is easier than denying problems when you are in love.

7. How often do you fight?
It is normal for couples to fight, but it is a bad sign if you are doing so frequently while dating. That should be the easiest time to get along - no children together, no joint financial problems, and the excitement of a new person. If you fight, do you quickly make up? Does he/she hear your side? Do you apologize after a fight? And most important, do you fight over the same issues with no resolution? Also, Do you miss the person when you are not together?

8. Do you share values?
Opposites attract in the very beginning. Likes stay together for the long term. The more you share, especially values, the better your chances of a good marriage. For example, if you think television watching is a form of self abuse and your prospective spouse loves watching for hours a day, you may have a big problem. Likewise if you have opposing political and social views to which you are passionately committed.

9. Is the person unhappy?
The importance of marrying an essentially happy person cannot be exaggerated. If you are basically happy, do not think for a moment that you can make an unhappy person happy by marrying him or her. On the contrary, the ability of the unhappy to make the happy unhappy is far greater than the ability of the happy to make the unhappy happy.

10. What do people you respect think of the person you're considering marrying?
Young people are certain they know better than anyone else in the world what is good for them. So a lack of enthusiasm for the person you are considering for marriage on the part of family or friends may mean little or nothing. But if objections come, let’s say, from a parent you respect for reasons that are not easily dismissed, and if others you respect are unenthusiastic as well, you should take their objections seriously.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thanks for the Concern

After that last post I have received several calls and emails asking if I'm okay. I really appreciate the concern and prayers. This has been a tough week - for a lot of reasons. Sometimes things just pile up, and you feel like you can't handle it all. That's where I am. So, here are some thoughts that may clarify my last post.

I am not going through a massive crisis at the Kaufman Church - I am just reminded from time to time of how much hurt and frustration I went though during my last few months at the last church I preached. Yesterday was one of those days that triggered some tender memories and emotions. I was having a bit of a pity party.

The past year has been FULL of change and turmoil for Holly and I. We are still trying to sort our way through a lot of stuff and find a settled routine.

I was trying to show that church can also be a place of lament and sorrow. It is very dangerous and shallow to think of church as a place of constant joy and happiness ALL the time.

Ministers are sometimes put on a pedestal, but we are humans too!! Many days I feel like Moses when he said to God, "please give someone else this job. I can't do it. They won't listen to me!" I sometimes have weak faith. I always wonder if I'm the right person doing the right thing. I think that kind of doubt is healthy for a minister.

So, thank you again to all those who "talked me off the ledge!" I'll be okay.

Ministry is Grief

Without getting into too many specifics, this has been a hard week for me. Personal and professional concerns have weighed down on me. Sometimes I feel like I'm barely holding on while a swirling tornado rips apart everything I have spent my life building. (I watched "Twister" last week - it makes sense to me!) Some days the line between reality and nightmare is blurred. One of the best books I've read on ministry ("When the People say No") begins this way:

"To be a minister is to know the most searing grief and abandonment, daily and profoundly. To be a minister is to take as partners in solemn covenant those who are sure to renege. To be a minister is to commit, unavoidably, energy and passion, self and soul, to a people, to a vision of who they are born to be, to their readiness to share and live into that vision. To be a minister is to make that all-out commitment to a people who cannot possibly sustain it. That is the nature of ministry. The minister is called by their need, by their fundamental inability to be who they are born to be, by their fundamental inability to share and live into that vision in which the minister invests all. To be a minister, then, is to be forsaken, regularly and utterly, by those on whose partnership one most relies for identity, meaning, and selfhood. The minister's call is rebuffed and repudiated and grieved for, over and over again. For the minister is called by their need, by their fundamental inability to live into the vision and the compact into which the minister must live so totally. Ministry is called forth and occasioned by such grief and the emptiness of being nobody."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Something to Think About

A couple of weeks ago I received one those emails that church people love to forward - you know, the one about how Barack Hussein Obama is really a covert Muslim, that he is constantly in communication with his militant cousin in Kenya, and that, if he assumes office, he will unleash a pseudo jihad/race war in the United States. Conservative political commentators aren't so bold, but their constant use of the name "Hussein" suggests an ominous Muslim threat - as does this picture which was flashed on TV as to suggest Obama being initiated into Al Quaeda. I've also heard it touted that our enemies (Islamists) consider him "their candidate." I think this is complete nonsense. Here's why:

Because of his father's status as a Muslim, Barack Obama was born a Muslim under Muslim law. His mother's Christian status is without consequence. It makes things worse for him - being half Muslim/half Christian; half black/half white is abominable to Muslims. Islamic law regards conversion from Islam as a crime/sin worse than murder. Anyone who converts from Islam to another religion is to be executed (preferably beheaded by a cleric). It's open season on that person's life. That person is not to be protected or sheltered, and anyone who kills them cannot be prosecuted. If Barack Obama becomes the U.S. President he will be hated in the Islamic world ten times more than Bush is hated, because he is a Muslim who converted to Christianity. Their candidate? I think not!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Some Irreverent Political Observations

Since this blog is a tribute to the greatest American - Thomas Jefferson - it is also a place for political discourse. I have three blunt, brutally honest, irreverent, and incendiary observations. This is just one man's opinion, so take it or leave it.

1. The Reverent Jeremiah Wright controversy has backfired on Hillary Clinton and the right-wing buffoons on talk radio. These are people who do not know the first thing about liberation theology or prophetic proclamation. These things are too complicated for their simplistic way of thinking. Their attack on Rev. Wright has been taken as an attack on the black church itself, which is why 91% of African Americans who voted in the Democratic Primary in North Carolina favored Obama over Clinton. I hope people will now stop saying that race has nothing to do with this election, or that as a society we're past that. Race has everything to do with this election!

2. I hold several things against George W. Bush, least of all the fact that he can't say "nuclear." He is responsible for the greatest military blunder of the past 150 years. Saddam may have been brutal, but he was never a real threat to the U.S. and he kept Iran at bay. Every reason we were given for war has turned out to be false. The ruling Shiites in Iraq now have close ties with Iran, and Iran feeds the Hezbollah terrorist machine in Syria. The political alignment of Syria, Iran, and Iraq means the resurgence of a greater Persia, which is our real enemy, not Saddam! Of course, the fact that most Americans can't tell the difference between a Persian and an Arab, or a Shiite and a Sunni means that we aren't fit to impose a foolish foreign policy in that part of the world anyway. In the meantime we get meaningless platitudes like, "We're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here," or, "We're establishing a beach-head of democracy in that part of the world." Until Sunnis and Shiites agree that it's not the 7th century anymore they're not ready for democracy, and our young men and women should not be dying "over there" in the same kind of meaningless and unending struggle that ended the Roman and British Empires.

PLUS, George Bush has given us massive deficits and a trade imbalance which has weakened the Dollar. This means we are fighting a war on borrowed money, which further devalues the Dollar. Since oil is traded on the commodities market in U.S. Dollars, I think you'll get a feel for my argument next time you fill up your car at 3.55 per gallon! We're way past traditional supply and demand market forces here. The market is being manipulated by oil companies who are in collusion with one another (for example, Exxon-Mobil testified before Congress that they will not increase output until 2012. Why should they? They are the most profitable company in human history!) Their greed is eroding our entire economy like acid, and George Bush, along with Dick Cheney, who rode into office as the most energy-savvy administration ever, has done NOTHING. In fact, one could argue they are also in collusion with oil companies. The only people on the planet right now who seem to be enjoying the waning days of this administration are their oil buddies in Houston and West Texas. And finally, the requirement that 10% of fuel in the U.S. be ethanol is the dumbest idea in the history of dumb ideas! Oil is for fuel, corn is for eating - it's simple!!! The U.S. is the biggest producer of corn in the world. Corn is the staple food of people everywhere! But, so that American soccer moms can have a clean conscience while driving their flexfuel Suburbans around town, the price of food has doubled in the rest of the world. People are starving!!! This is one reason why so many people in the world hate us right now, and on this point, they are right!

3. I am really confused by conservatives who love George Bush, but hate John McCain. McCain is Bush in a different suit. Their policies and positions are IDENTICAL – except for one thing – McCain is fiscally more restrained than Bush, which means he is more conservative. Can someone please explain to me why conservatives flock to Bush’s side, but run from McCain? Until I get a good explanation, I’ll just assume they simply echo what they hear on the radio.

But, like I said, these thoughts are just one man’s opinion. Take it or leave it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Can the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Cause a Tornado in Texas?

For the past few weeks I’ve been reading up on “chaos theory.” It drives my obsessive-compulsive nature crazy! The theory was articulated by MIT professor, Edward Lorenz. In 1961, Lorenz was using a numerical computer model to rerun a weather prediction, when, as a shortcut on a number in the sequence, he entered the decimal .506 instead of entering the full .506127. The result was a completely different weather scenario. When delivering his findings to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, his talk was titled, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

Thus the phrase, “Butterfly Effect” describes the notion of sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Small variations of the initial condition of a nonlinear system may produce large variations in the long-term outcome of the system. For example, a ball placed at the top of a hill might roll anywhere depending on slight differences in initial position. This is why forecasting the weather beyond about a week is impossible.

This idea has been explored in a lot of movies, most notably, “The Butterfly Effect” starring Ashton Kutcher. This is a VERY dark movie. Remember “Back to the Future 2?” Just because Biff won a bet in 1955, an alternate 1985 was projected as a hellish world. One tiny event dramatically changed the future. Actually, the very act of being present in the past must change the future, resulting in an alternate future in which you never went back to the past to begin with. This is explored in the remake of “The Time Machine.” Remember how he kept going back in time to save his fiancĂ© and had to watch her die several times because the very existence of the time machine as a mechanism to save her life depended on her dying to begin with! The British movie “Sliding Doors” runs two parallel stories of the same woman, Helen. In one world, she manages to catch a London Underground train home on time, and in the other she just misses it. This small event influenced her life dramatically.

This is the ultimate “what if?” mind game. I was sitting in traffic on LBJ freeway a few weeks ago, and I got thinking, “How many lives are dramatically altered because one person wasn’t paying attention and braked too late?” How different would the world look in 10 years if that wreck never happened? What about all the “little” events in your life from day to day? What if you left the house 5 minutes later? What if you went to McDonalds rather than Wendy’s? On and on you could go until you drive yourself crazy! What if? What if?? What if??? Can the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil cause a tornado in Texas – and in your life?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Never Forget Your Roots

A few days ago a friend in England sent me an email saying that she had located another friend we both knew while growing up in South Africa. She said I should join Facebook. I did, and within 2 days I have been networked all over 5 countries and have emailed or spoken to a bunch of people that I grew up with or went to school with in South Africa. Yesterday I heard from my best friend in High School – we did EVERYTHING together (including getting into a LOT of trouble). We lost track of each other 14 years ago! Back then, if I wanted to be in contact with someone “back home in the old country” I would have to write a letter and go down to the post office, have it weighed for international postage, and 7 days later they would receive the letter. Has the world really changed that much so quickly??

As I have established contact with a lot of people from my past, a lot of memories have flooded over me. I have come a VERY long way in 14 years, and often I come close to forgetting my roots. But trips to South Africa, and news from family and friends remind me of where I came from – and that’s good. I don’t ever want to forget those roots.

When I go through my closet I often look at my suits. I don’t wear them much anymore, but there is one in particular that caught my attention the other day. It's a sharp-looking charcoal Nieman Marcus suit. It's worn out now, but I'll bet it cost $500 new. Twelve years ago I got my first preaching assignment when I knew nothing and had nothing. When I showed up in Dallas at age 19 I had a visitor's visa that expired in 6 months and $230 in my pocket. As a foreign student I was not allowed to work. I had nothing - nada. I would go out to Mexican restaurants with my classmates and order water. While they ate enchiladas I ate the free chips and salsa! Where was I going to get a suit? A member of the Preston Road Church of Christ gave me his Nieman Marcus suit - gave, not loaned. I was so proud of that suit! I wish I could still fit in it. But I'll never give it away or throw it away. It will always be a reminder to me that I am either the luckiest man ever born, or God has smiled on me! Twelve years ago I was a kid from South Africa with no money and no way to earn money. Today I'm an American, I live in a big house, and I preach at a nice church. God has used so many kind people to bless me. I was reminded this week of the life I left and the new life I now lead. I thank God, I thank all those kind people, and I thank Mr. Nieman Marcus for making the best suit in the world!