Wednesday, December 02, 2009

new perspective

the current evangelical debate on justification rages on. some are excited by a new paradigm they believe better explains the gospel message and mission, as well as the bible texts which articulate them. others are drawing the battle lines, ready, they believe, to contend for the faith delivered once and for all to the saints. and as is often the case in the church, there are large numbers who are either blissfully ignorant or somewhat confused as to what all the hubbub is about.

though i am not always happy with the tenor of some in the debate, this is a discussion that christians must engage. at stake is the core of the gospel message: what makes the good news about Jesus good news? and what does that tell us about God's intentions toward humanity and all creation -- and our purpose and mission as those who believe in him?

trevin wax, a pastor in tennessee, has contributed a couple of articles to evangelical bulwark christianity today to try to clarify the issues. he selects noted pastor and author john piper to represent the 'traditional' position and anglican bishop and new testament scholar n.t. wright to represent the 'new perspective.' links to the articles are on his blog (find it here). i found the articles somewhat helpful (especially the one with the chart comparing the two views side-by-side), but thought that the following comments in response to his blog post were even better -- especially the ones summarizing the 'new perspective,' some of its implications for christian discipleship, and some possible problems, even for those who are mostly persuaded. i've edited them a bit and included them below. are you thinking about these things?
Nice articles, but I think you’re missing the point – or rather the Bishop’s (Wright's) point. He is not just saying that Piper et al are looking at the Doctrine of Justification through 16th century eyes, but that they are basically yanking it out of Paul’s overall argument in his epistles. The Bishop is saying, first, look at the Doctrine through 1st century eyes –Paul’s – but ALSO in the larger context so we get:

Piper–Doctrine of Justifaction–How I get saved–Anthropology Wright–Doctrine of Justification–Gods saving Purpose for the WORLD–Theology(mich)

Piper has called the bishop onto the mat over clarity: what does it mean to be saved, how am I saved? How do we apply redemption in your system? Does justification mean how this is applied? If so, it becomes of supreme importance... It seems the bishop has been very muddy in how his system applies justification to our personal life... are we to buy all without questions and real answers? Piper, keep him on the mat. We are learning more of his real views… (john holmes)

I think I’m with Wright on this one. For too long Western Christianity has tried to interpret first century Jewish issues with a post-enlightenment, neatly packaged Greek philosophy. While I certainly appreciate Piper’s call to a truly holy life, I believe that his interpretation of Justification is more a product of medieval piety and the views it produced. As Christians, I believe we really need to examine the lenses through which we unwittingly read the Bible. The Jews never believed that they could earn their salvation. God has always been and always will be a God of Grace. The purpose of the law was to set Israel apart from foreign nations and their 'gods' so that the name and character of YHWH could be known (and obeyed, etc... all of these stem from an understanding of the reality of YHWH). It was not meant to grind their moral confidence to dust or provide a means of earning salvation. Because of the faithfulness of Christ to the covenant as Israel's representative (and therefore the mediator between God and man), those who were once not included in the covenant can now receive the full benefits of it (forgiveness of sins, resurrection at the last day, eternal life, etc) and among God’s chosen people. This is Justification: those who were originally excluded from the people of God (and those who were but were not faithful) can now partake in the redemptive plan of God as his chosen people because of Christ’s faithfulness to the covenant. Thus the law is no longer what separates the people of God from the nations -- faith in Christ as the Messiah and climax of history does. does Justification apply to our lives personally? Well, as a person who is now included in the people of God (assuming you have submitted your self to the Messiah as his disciple), you now share in the redemptive plan of God. Just as God was to use Israel to make his name and character known to the nations, thereby blessing them, so you too are to be used by God to make his name and character known to the nations. Through YOU the world will know the God who lavishes grace and mercy on his people, who longs to see creation restored through the faithful stewardship of his people and who will accept nothing less than all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Through you, having been justified as one of his people, the world will come to know the it has longed for. Practicals? Feed the poor because God has always identified with and cared for them. Love the foreigner because God has chosen to love you (even though odds are you aren’t from chosen Israel). Hold your community to account, challenging (gracefully of course) sin and always being prepared "in season and out of season" to confess Christ as the Messiah. Live in peace with your fellow man, Serve ONE king (not your own nationalistic agenda) and as Wright as put it, "like an angled mirror,” reflect the image of God to the world. These are the things that describe a person who has been justified by the faithfulness of Christ." (steve d)

The best point that Piper makes is that righteousness language in Paul seems to be more directly tied to moral performance than covenantal credentials (note the way that Paul lays out the charge “No one is righteous” in Rom 3:10-18). Piper, however, is only one of a number of voices protesting Wright’s proposals. Wright’s (and Sanders’s) work on Judaism has come under serious criticism. The Justification and Variegated Nomism series, Simon Gathercole’s Where Is Boasting?, and Francis Watson’s Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith all display the shortcomings of Sanders’s paradigm of covenantal nomism (on which Wright’s proposals depend) through hefty interaction with Jewish sources...

Wright understands “righteousness” language as a reference to “covenant membership,” he understands “justification” to be a verdict in the trial asking the question “who are the true members of God’s covenant people?” and he understands “works of the law” as what Jews thought of as the demonstration of their covenant membership and “faith” as what Paul asserted was the true sign of covenant membership. Thus, the question of whether an Israelite fulfilled the Torah in a way that would redeem from sins is a different question than that of justification.

Wright does, however, think that the point of the nation of Israel was that it was to redeem the world, which the Messiah did through his fidelity to God’s covenant plan, but he links this more with Jesus’ death than with Jesus’ obedience to the law.

The primary question is the meaning of “righteousness” language. Wright has asserted that this language means “covenant membership” when applied to humans; Piper claims that it refers to one’s absolute moral standing before God. What I find less than compelling about Wright’s view is that the terms in which the charges are laid out in Romans 3:10-18 seem to make more sense under Piper’s definition than Wright’s. The charge “No one is righteous” is laid out in terms of moral failure, and verse 20 summarizes the point with an allusion to Psalm 143:2, which says, “Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” This latter text appears to me to be addressing the trial of one’s ultimate moral standing before God, not a trial determining whether or not one is a member of God’s covenant people. Was the Psalmist really asserting that no one would pass judgment in the trial determining if they were a member of God’s covenant people? That would be the implication if Wright’s view of “righteousness” language is correct. I find it more likely that the point of this verse, and Paul’s argument in Romans 3, is that all are sinners and thus cannot pass God’s judgment on their own. The covenantal interpretation of “righteousness” language proposed by Wright just feels forced at this point, and he sometimes makes telling awkward statements that seem to contradict his view of what justification is. For instance, on p. 112 of Paul: In Fresh Perspective, Wright states regarding Galatians, “the point of ‘works of Torah’ here is not about the works some people might think you have to perform to become a member of God’s people, but the works you have to perform to demonstrate that you are a member of God’s people. These works, Paul says, simply miss the point, as Psalm 143.2 had indicated, partly because no one ever performs them adequately, and partly because…works of Torah would simply create a family which was at best an extension of ethnic Judaism.” In this quotation, Wright claims that no one can perform works of the law “adequately,” but adequately for what? The previous sentence claims that their function was to demonstrate one’s membership within God’s people. Is that what no one can perform them adequately to do? That just doesn’t make sense to me. Rather, it seems that for Paul, no one can perform the works of the law adequately to attain the blessing promised in the law contingent upon obedience. The program of Leviticus 18:5 (”The one who does these things will live by them”) fails (cf. Gal 3:10-14; and the neglected Rom 7:7-11). The point, I think, is that the Sinai covenant was not a covenant that a sinner could obey sufficiently to attain ultimate moral right standing with God (this sort of combines the two elements that you contrasted in the final sentence of your comment). I think that Wright’s exposition omits this point, and could use some revising. His definition of “righteousness” in terms of “covenant membership” just doesn’t seem to square with the significant ways in which Paul brings this language into contact with moral obedience and the condemnation of immoral action (Rom 1:18-32, which 3:9-20 is simply reasserting with respect to Jews). Thus, although I love Wright’s work and consider his books to be some of the most influential on my thinking, I am not persuaded on this point. (andrew cowan)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

life saver

i am finishing the book the hole in our gospel by richard stearns, president of world vision. stearns does an excellent job of introducing global social problems to the uninitiated reader -- human trafficking, the plight of AIDS orphans, the stubbornness of abject poverty -- and calling on the church of Jesus Christ to respond with the heart of God and to be good news to the world. i was already familiar with the contours of at least some of these issues.

but here's what i found shocking: malnutrition is the number one risk to health globally -- greater than AIDS, malaria, and TB combined. nine million die each year from insufficient food. five million die from water-related illnesses. those statistics devastated me because, at least on the surface, it seems like these are the kinds of problems we could solve with relatively little cost. we're not talking about finding a cure for a mysterious disease or ultra-expensive medicines -- just access to clean water and enough nourishment. we have the technology and the resources. why wasn't this already done yesterday?

i was encouraged by a story from 60 minutes on plumpy'nut, a 'miracle' food made from peanuts, dried milk, sugar, and vitamins. that simple concoction is saving many lives. click here to see the video.

i realize that the real world is more complex than my brief description. providing this kind of relief is notoriously tricky. we run the risk of engendering an unhealthy dependence on foreign aid and unintentionally reinforcing the very poverty we want to alleviate. unjust governments and social systems oppress the poor, and people need more than just food and water for their starving bodies; they need freedom and the rule of law. and most of all, they need a chance to know Jesus who loves them and wants to redeem their lives, now and forever.

even so, getting plumpy'nut into the hands of children who are dying from malnutrition seems like the kind of thing Jesus (and the early church after him) might do. it's only a beginning, but at least it's a good one.


what use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?
can that faith save him?
if a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food,
and one of you says to them, “go in peace, be warmed and be filled,”
and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body,
what use is that?

even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
james 2:14-17

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

the life that produces fruit

it made perfect sense to me. "if you go to eastern washington and find two apple trees -- one laden with fruit and the other dry, with no fruit or leaves," the speaker said, "you'd conclude that the first tree was alive and that the second was dead (or dying). that first tree doesn't produce fruit to obtain life; it produces fruit because it is alive." God created us to bear the godly fruit of good works (ephesians 2:10), but such fruit is born out of the life of God in us -- not worked up as a way to gain life from God.

Jesus tells us that he is the vine (john 15). he commands us to abide in him -- to remain in a continuous, organic connection in which the life of God himself sustains us and produces lasting fruit. apart from him, Jesus says, we can do nothing. i learned all of this long ago; i've even taught on it. yet still i find it a challenge to live this way.

i'd be hard-pressed to argue that point, given the evidence from my life. besides, i wouldn't want to dispute it. my mind is satisfied by the iron-clad logic of it; and everything in my inner being tells me that it is true.

so what makes it so hard? by nature, i seem to be easily distracted. i am also bent toward doing; without meaning to, i find much of my identity in accomplishing things. besides, it's often easier to act independently than to wait expectantly on God. and i think there is a part of me that doesn't quite know what to do with some of the things that God has done (and hasn't done) over the years -- unresolved, some of those issues are corrosive to my faith.

i have found it helpful to begin my time with God by lighting a liquid candle. i seem to focus better when i have it. i don't really pray a lot during that time; i simply rest in the presence of God. sometimes, i meditate on that passage in john and tell Jesus that i want to abide in him. there's a remarkable freedom that i experience once i get past needing to accomplish something during that time. i can sit in God's presence, sense his love and acceptance, and eventually, invite him to fill and transform me. this has happened consistently.

as some of you already know, i use the candle, in part, because it is an object lesson. the wick on the candle doesn't burn up. it's actually the liquid paraffin that burns. if the wick were the fuel, it would be consumed quickly. but as long as the wick is in contact with the paraffin, the flame can burn indefinitely. that, for me, is a helpful visual reminder of what my life is supposed to be -- like the burning bush which is not consumed.

but God added something this morning. he said that i am like my candle (pictured here). it's a tiny little thing, only an inch or so tall. it doesn't hold much paraffin, and has to be refilled often. so do i.

in days past, youthful enthusiasm inclined me to gather all of my energy and resources, and put them to work serving God. in recent time, i am more convinced than ever of the need to be filled daily with his Spirit, and to nurture that on-going contact with him. that's not as natural for me as it is for some around me (including m, who seems always to be in prayer and in contact with him). but there can be no lasting flame -- and no lasting fruit -- apart from him.

abide in me, and i in you.
as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself
unless it abides in the vine,

so neither can you unless you abide in me.
i am the vine, you are the branches;
he who abides in me and i in him,
he bears much fruit,
for apart from me you can do nothing.
john 15:4-5

Monday, October 19, 2009

back in the pulpit

this past sunday, i was back in the pulpit for the first time since the final worship service of the bridge. our church is in the middle of a message series on the book of james, entitled 'world changing faith.' you can hear the message here.

it has been an amazing thing to be back at lighthouse for what i believe is a special move of the Holy Spirit. this is an affluent, mostly college-educated suburban church -- a recipe for self-absorption and complacency -- but God is growing the hearts of his people in compassion and commitment for the needy, vulnerable, and oppressed, both locally and around the world. the church invited richard stearns (world vision president) to come and speak last week and took time that sunday to purchase and assemble 500 AIDS caregiver kits. people are also taking a more active interest in serving the poor in our local community, notably through jubilee reach center. many are reading the hole in our gospel, and wrestling with the broader vision of the good news Jesus came to proclaim. smaller groupings of lighthouse folks have been attending forums and workshops to better understand global issues like human trafficking, the social impact of AIDS, and extreme poverty -- and what a gospel response might look like. and the church is also putting its money where its mouth is, giving generously to disaster relief in southeast asia and committing a large sum of money (over $200,000) to the needs of the poor in this new fiscal year. all of this is in addition to the church's commitment to more 'direct' proclamation missions, both in sponsoring full-time missionaries and in sending teams (this past summer to japan and the slums of kenya).

the movement is not yet in full bloom, but the buds are definitely visible. it may be a cloud the size of a man's hand, but we pray that the rain will finally come!

thy kingdom come
thy will be done

on earth

as it is in heaven

matthew 6:10

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

heart of a... hobbit?

back in the early nineties, a woman praying for me had a vision of me as a warrior. she said that i was clothed in armor, and she saw me running toward a huge wall. and she thought to herself, "what is he doing? he'll never be able to scale that wall." but in the vision, that's exactly what happened. i clambered over the wall, full armor and all.

i liked that vision (obviously, since it's nearly 20 years later and i haven't forgotten it). that doesn't always happen when you receive a vision. but this one felt right. i thought of myself as a warrior. i was involved in a great spiritual battle, and it was worth everything it cost. though the challenge was huge, i did not feel the impulse to shrink back; i felt invigorated by it.

those were heady days. a lot of people were coming to Christ in our ministry, and i had the sense that it was just the beginning of something much bigger. i used to tell people that this was the trickle, but God was going to send a flood! i was not interested in building a large, 'successful' ministry. my heart was held captive by the longing for a spiritual awakening in which thousands of people would turn to Jesus en masse. perhaps what began in our little corner of the world would spread across the nation and even beyond.

the burden drove me to God in intercession. i used to lie on my side when i went to bed because i always sleep on my back, and i didn't want to fall asleep. i'd stay up late into the night, pleading with God and praying through isaiah 64 - o that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the earth might quake at your presence! though there were rarely tears, i felt like i was crying all through the night.

that season of my walk with God lasted several years. the ministry swelled to over a hundred, then shrank back to the mid-sixties. we just didn't have enough leaders to care for and nurture all of those people. the revival i yearned for did not appear, at least not in the way i was hoping. i grew weary and discouraged.

there were other things that happened at that time and over the next few years that wore me down. i discovered my marriage was not in very good shape, and that i was responsible for the lion's share of our problems. God's faithfulness and the steadfastness of very good friends helped us through that time, but things still felt uncomfortably tenuous. we moved and found that life in the city was scary; we often felt violated or threatened. i remember a time when our car was being broken into every week, a period that was punctuated by someone kicking in our front door and burglarizing our apartment. later, i came down with a mysterious illness that lasted about half a year and weakened me so much that i couldn't hold my kids or even dress myself. i was exhausted, in constant pain, and with each negative medical test, growing more fearful that perhaps the doctors would never figure out what was wrong with me (they never did, but God healed me anyway).

i could go on and on, but the summary version is: life happened, and it was painful and bedeviling. i began to feel my weakness and my vulnerability. my life seemed very fragile. i continued to pursue God and to be as faithful as i knew how to be, but the old confidence was missing. i still took risks, but there was fear and uncertainty. i didn't feel brave at all. and that feeling hasn't completely gone away, even after all of these years. i do not feel like a warrior.

in fact, i feel more like a hobbit. in tolkien's lord of the rings, hobbits are a small (half the size of a human), relatively powerless race in a world populated by larger, more powerful, more dangerous beings. the hobbits love comfort; when they can, they eat seven meals a day, and drink ale and smoke pipe-weed in copious amounts. they prefer a quiet country life, socializing with friends and making things grow. they are not that interested in the happenings in the wider world, in traveling, or in adventure, preferring the peace and relative safety of the shire.

but in the story, a band of hobbits is sent on a mission that will determine the fate of the whole world. for their journey, they are given the protection of more powerful teammates, which is helpful because they face the constant threat of a terrible evil that studies them, learns their weaknesses, and hunts them. the hobbits bear hardship, face death, make foolish mistakes, and contemplate going home on multiple occasions. they are not the obvious choice for this essential-but-dangerous task -- wouldn't someone bigger, stronger, and braver be a better pick? -- but surprisingly, they turn out to be uniquely qualified. in a world where seemingly everyone and everything is stronger than they are, they have a critical role to play.

the hobbits have to learn to handle a weapon and to fight. they have to learn to face peril and adversity with courage. they have to embrace the sacred task that is entrusted to them, knowing full well that they cannot accomplish it without the help and good will of others. and they have to learn to trust that a greater will is at work for good.

i don't particularly want to be a hobbit. i'd rather be a dread warrior. but i know that there is a method to this apparent madness.


and he has said to me, "my grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." most gladly, therefore, i will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. therefore i am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when i am weak, then i am strong.
2 corinthians 12:9-10

Saturday, September 26, 2009

embracing the heart of God

i have spent years praying that i would know the heart of God. somehow, i imagined it would be a warm, pleasant experience, full of love and compassion. but the word of God that has come to me repeatedly in the months following the bridge's closure is paul's proclamation in philippians 3:10, where he says, "i want to know Jesus, not only in the power of his resurrection, but also in sharing his sufferings." to be misjudged, rejected, humiliated, abandoned, and betrayed -- these are the sufferings of Jesus, yet his love -- even towards those who occasioned his suffering -- does not waver. this is the heart of God. could anyone really want that?

looking at God's heart from a different angle, our church has been reflecting together on the book of james, which has some pointed things to say about how people of faith should live, especially with regard to the poor and the vulnerable. many of us have also been reading the hole in our gospel, a book written by world vision president richard stearns -- a man who dared to ask God to break his heart with the things that break God's heart. and if you take a good look at the world, it's not hard to find those things. the brokenness caused by sin is everywhere. millions of women are sold into sex slavery. children are 'recruited' into the lord's resistance army and forced to see and commit murder, rape, and other horrible atrocities. 15 million children have been orphaned by AIDS; a growing number of households are headed by children after both parents have died from AIDS, with the predictable consequences of poverty, lack of education, and lack of health care. almost half the world's population lives on less than $2.50 per day; 25,000 children die each day due to poverty. dare we imagine that God isn't moved by any of this?

some classic theologians, notably augustine, have argued for the impassibility of God, leading some to conclude that God does not suffer or feel emotions, at least not because of anything that anyone else is doing. but does God not grieve over the sinful disposition of humanity (genesis 5:6-7)? is he not pleased when we choose wisely (1 kings 3:10)? does he not delight in us and rejoice over us with singing (zephaniah 3:17)? does he not have compassion for the afflicted and oppressed (judges 2:18)? all christians believe that God loves the world (john 3:16) -- surely that's not a love without any kind of feeling?

whatever one calls it, it is not always pleasant. in fact, when faced with even the palest shade of it, i can feel myself shrinking back. yet his voice persists: do you really want to know my heart? loving, it seems, is a painful business. "you risk tears if you let yourself be tamed..."

you have heard that it was said, 'you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' but i say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Jesus, in matthew 5:43-44


God's Broken Heart (by Michael Digby Foley, aka Midifo Yearns)

The heart of God is torn and broken
a tear rolls down the mother’s cheek
a cry of anguish breaks the silence
the pain disrupts the longed for sleep.
Fist is raised with flashing eyes
pain explodes and snuffs the cries
as wires attached to body parts
tears at the darkness, brings the sign
of horrid thoughts and cruel design
that forces urine down as wine
and makes him lick and slugg and slobber
like pig today and skunk tomorrow.

The heart of God is torn asunder
when empty heads, inhuman acts
distort the truth, unravel facts
and silence those who dare to say
a word of peace, a cry of justice

Then silence breaks the growing thunder
of stench and pain and heartless plunder;
raping virgins, killing life,
breaking bones and causing strife,
in order just for some to prosper,
while others must be quiet
offer up their hurt and name
for freedom to emerge, to claim
a place, for all around
a prayer for mercy and for sound
of voice that’s gentle and affirming

The heart of God is moved and pained
his face is moist, his body strained.
With outstretched arms
he calls and cries
his breath of life reduced to sighs
of strained pleas and spoilt love
that speaks a language from above
and enters in to stir the heart
and move the evil to depart
and so bring life and healing care
to banish darkness and despair.
He comes to conquer pain
and kindle hope that snuffs at evil
brings the rain of mercy sweet
of victory deep,
of joy both simple and divine...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

now what?

a recent sunset from our doorstep

a couple of days ago, the bridge website finally went away. i knew that the closure was in the works, but it still caught me off-guard. i didn't realize it had happened until someone told me that their e-mail to me had bounced. much like the church it publicized, it was there seemingly functioning one day, then gone the next.

looking back over my recent blog posts, i was reminded that i haven't written much in this space about what i've been thinking in the wake of the closure of the bridge. i've covered a wide range of subjects -- race relations in america (yes, imo, christians need to be actively involved in that discussion), family celebrations, a speech i gave at toastmasters... i even took a stab at political satire (on health care and the ever-increasing breadth and power of the federal government). but i really haven't said much about what my family calls 'the collapse' of the bridge.

there were all kinds of reasons for this. first of all, it involved others, and i didn't want to say too much about them. my sense, both then and now, is that it's better to address my part in things and let others deal with their own issues before God. moreover, it's taken time to sort through the criticism of me (both as a pastor and as a person) and to know how to respond constructively. finally, as to why i didn't write more in this space, i think that somewhere in there, i kept wishing that i had something wise or insightful to say about it. for the most part, i knew i didn't and that mostly left my raw feelings, which, while important, were better expressed in other venues.

one such place was marble retreat, a christian counseling center in colorado. i found our time there in early august very helpful. high in the rockies (elevation over 8000 feet/2400 metres), out of cell and internet contact, we had a chance to rest, work through issues with a counselor and in a group discussion with others in a similar situation, and soak in the rugged beauty of that part of the world. good food, fellowship with some wonderful people, and time to reflect, read, pray, and even play a little bit -- all of these were therapeutic in their own way. and in the midst of all of that, the Holy Spirit was able to push through in some needed areas, including some issues that long pre-date the bridge yet still shape my relationships with people today. i recently told some folks that while i know that healing is a process, i felt like i (and we) took a big step forward there.'

celebrating my parents' 50th anniversary

after we returned from colorado, we set aside some time to process everything as a family
. i hadn't realized how much this situation affected our girls. to both of them, but to n especially, this was a costly move and time investment. the largely unspoken assumption, i think, was that the 'trade' was supposed to be our lives in exchange for a new ministry that would bring people to Jesus and make a positive difference in their lives. that would be worth the cost. but what do you do when the ministry not only ends, but does so amid acrimony and blame? surely that's not what God intended. how do you own your feelings (vs. suppressing them) and still stay soft-hearted toward God and others? during our time together (with b via video conference -- thanks skype), we took the better part of a day to reflect together on scripture, to speak openly of how we are doing, and to share our unfiltered feelings about all that has happened. we also took unhurried time to open our hearts to the Spirit in prayer and to ask for his blessing on those who used to be our church family. it was a very powerful and uplifting time, and as a friend recently observed, a real gift from the Lord. i came away both hurting for my daughters and impressed with them; as i shared in a recent prayer update, i was reminded again that they are not babies anymore but young women with their own observations, insight, and understanding, and that i need to accord them the proper respect. we saw that time as the beginning of a conversation rather than the end of one, but it was an auspicious beginning.

i have rejoined the staff of lighthouse christian church, our mother church, for a year-long 'pastoral residency.' i will have responsibilities in the small groups ministry, with the emerging compassion and justice ministry, and in helping lighthouse re-evaluate its church plant framework and be part of the discussion about future ministry expansion plans. as i said at a recent ministry community meeting (the core group of lighthouse), i hope to contribute to the ministry of lighthouse and move the ball down the field in some significant areas, while benefiting from the best that lighthouse has to offer in helping me to gain experience and skills as a pastor.

the future is wide-open at this point, and i would greatly appreciate your prayers for God's leading and blessing as we begin our discernment process.

i was and am so appreciative of the e-mails, cards, phone calls, and even visits of so many of you, who came alongside to offer a listening ear and to speak some much-needed truth -- about me as a minister, a leader and a person; about our situation with the bridge; about success and failure in God's eyes; and about our prospects for the future. you are one of God's most precious gifts to us!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

a modest proposal

it's the latest facebook craze. "___________ thinks that no one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick. if you agree, please post this as your status for the rest of the day." i don't blame people for posting this as their status. what compassionate person would want someone to die for lack of finances or go broke paying for health care?

but why stop there? i would assert that there are things that are even more critical than universal access to health care. how about universal access to fresh, nutritious food and clean water? some 36 million americans are food insecure. they experience hunger and involuntary lack of access to food on a regular enough basis that it can lead to malnutrition. in one of the richest nations on earth, this is not just a tragedy; it's immoral. as with most other resources in america, access is generally dictated by financial ability. are we really okay with people starving just because they can't afford food?

moreover, there is clearly a lot of waste in the system; even middle class americans eat at ridiculously expensive restaurants or frivolously spend on unnecessary luxury items like starbuck's coffee or any kind of alcohol. and some -- both rich and poor -- are clearly eating too much and the wrong things, as obesity is spiraling out of control. a staggering 33% of americans are obese, and obesity is still on the rise.

clearly, the public and private measures that we've taken are insufficient to address this most critical of needs. the 'system,' isn't even a system -- it's a patchwork quilt of hundreds of ways people access food, and too many people are falling through the cracks or getting lower quality foods that are far too high in fats, sodium, and sugar. it's time for food distribution and nutrition reform.

i therefore propose that we adopt a national food plan in which all americans, regardless of income, get access to the same exact food, both in type and amount (adjusted for a person's size, of course). everyone would eat from the same national menu, designed by our foremost experts on nutrition (perhaps something along the lines of the well-regarded south beach diet). with all americans adopting the best nutritional practices, we'd no doubt see a decline in obesity and consequently, obesity-related diseases and obesity-related deaths, which now top 300,000 per year. it's a win-win.

for those of you who think a full-on government takeover of food distribution and nutrition sounds too extreme, i am willing to compromise by suggesting that we offer a public option. those who are currently food insecure or who are overweight or who would just prefer to have the public option could go in. those who like their current food access could continue to access food through their usual channels, as long as they meet certain federal guidelines (e.g. the diet practices laid out in any of a number of approved diet programs or limitations on how much dinner or coffee can cost).

some of you are probably wondering about the overall cost of the program, but first of all, aren't we dealing with an issue of right and wrong here, no matter how much it costs? and secondly, i honestly can't see financing being a problem. there is so much waste in the current system; with all of the money we save from avoiding expensive restaurants and luxury food and drink items, everyone could be fed easily.

in fact, i'm guessing that we'd have enough left over to spend on other critical needs, like housing. you do know that an estimated 3.5 million people are homeless every year. the current 'system' is a hopeless mishmash of single family homes, apartments, condominiums, townhouses, houseboats, and who knows what else. access is, once again, dictated largely by financial ability. and think of the waste and inequality in the system -- wealthy people owning multiple homes or remodeling their homes while others are literally dying in the streets or living in shelters. perhaps it's also time for a national housing program -- or at least a widely available public option...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the latest

a bit of family news:
  • we had a brief visit with old friends c and r from oakland. though our time was too brief, we crammed it full with a lot of catching up and a trip to sushi land -- delicious!
  • m and i returned from a ten-day trip to marble, colorado where we participated in an intensive counseling retreat. excellent and very helpful, but also very demanding. we returned from the trip satisfied with what God accomplished there, but feeling the effects of some hard work. we continue to have plenty to think about and work on. you can see the slide show of some of our adventures on the right side of this blog page (for those of you reading this on facebook, you have to go to the actual blog page here.)
  • b has finished her summer mission and is staying in nyc, volunteering with an organization that is combating human trafficking and connecting with friends. her summer internship seems to have been very fruitful, though she continues to process all that happened. many thanks to those who were able to partner with her in prayer and/or finances. she'll start her pre-semester conferences soon (with a mentoring program she works in and with intervarsity at columbia).
  • n just returned tonight from a two-week visit with family, first in los angeles, then in houston. she came back happy, tanned, and full of stories (including one about the guy who tried to hit on her in the seatac airport!). she is studying for the sat, working on college applications, and researching scholarship options.
  • p, m's sister's husband arrived on friday. he's actually here on business, but came a bit early to visit with us. among the highlights of our time together: some wonderful meals out (at red house, papaya, and simply thai), a road trip to leavenworth and deception falls, and video chats with p's family (starring daughters l and s). he leaves at 6am tomorrow, so naturally, we said our goodbyes tonight. :-)
thank you for your prayers our family. lots of transitions and some big discussions ahead...

Friday, July 31, 2009

"i am not a racist..."

[for those who check this space to get updates on my family and our ministry, feel free to skip this one. on occasion, i try to comment (or raise questions about) the news of the day from a (not the) christian perspective. i have come to believe that some of us in the church (myself included) have tended to downplay some issues that are close to God's heart, including the sin and injustice in our history, and corporate repentance and reconciliation (racial and otherwise). as always, i welcome your gracious, constructive input and interaction, even if we disagree.]

to those who think racism is no longer a problem in the u.s., take a look at this e-mail from boston police officer justin barrett in response to an editorial by boston globe columnist yvonne abraham (re: the gates arrest). i post it here for you to read and draw your own conclusions. if you were a black person stopped by this guy on a rural road, would you expect to get a fair shake? would you even feel safe?


That was by far the worst article I've ever read. I am a former English teacher, writer, current police officer, father, husband and military veteran. You need to be corrected and I certainly hope others have attempted, for your written messages and material is so 4th grade level, I am embarrassed I paid 1.50 for the paper [rest assured, it is my aim to tell as many readers The Boston Globe and your biased reporting is both sub standard and strictly one sided].

For you are not professional and basically, your writing is ridiculous. A reader may assume, per your article, that criminals are never well-dressed with a tucked in polo [2nd paragraph]. Your defense [4th paragraph] of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted [INDEED] with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and will always be a suspect.

His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with the police, for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey, I would have sprayed him in the face with OC [oleoresin caseinate aka pepper gas] deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.

Further [5th paragraph], a reader may assume that crimes only happen in back alleys at 0300?! You're kidding me, right? Are you still in the 5th Grade, Catholic School?

That paragraph was as pathetic as jungle monkey gibberish -- I might as well ax [sic] you the question, Is this your first test at reporting?"

You do not understand roles, tactics, and dangers police officers face, as apparently you think no one wearing a polo might possess a firearm of knife on his/her person. Might you fathom a woman could be a criminal? Or are criminals all hairy, dirty, stinky, mean ugly looking men?

You are a hot little bird with minimal experience in a harsh field. You are a fool. An infidel. You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind [sic] detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning.

My last point counters your final 2 paragraphs, in which you state Gates is, "this immensely famous expert on race" -- you really have to be kidding me? Famous for what? Expert why and says who?

What has he done for the law enforcement community or military veterans or to secure freedoms and our borders in this country? What has he done to limit and reduce my income tax?

He has proven to work to get himself attention and become a wealthy lecturer. He lectures students on the subject of racial ethics and profiling. Jee whiz. I must attend that lecture lest I lose my identity and right to free speech and the right to celebrate God and beliefs as I see fit.

I am not a racist, but I am prejudice [sic] towards people whop [sic] are stupid and pretend to stand up and preach for something they claim is freedom when it is merely attention because you do not receive enough of it in your little fear-dwelling circle of on-the-bandwagon followers.

You mention gates' charges were dropped but that it was too late to stop the damage? Damage? Still kidding? You need to serve a day with the infantry and get swarmed by black gnats while manning your sector. Or you just need to get slapped, look in the mirror and admit, "Wow, I am a failure. I am a follower. Who am I kidding?"

Again I like a warm cruller and hot Panamanian, black. No sugar.

Your final statement reads, Gates, whose great success has allowed him to transcend the racial divide" to which I ask, when did he transcend?

He indeed has transcended back to a bumbling jungle monkey, thus he forever tremains [sic] amid this nation's great social/racial divide that makes it a free and great nation mixed with crazy awkward differences.

Go ahead, ax [sic] me what I think? Gates is a goddamned [sic] fool and you the article writer simply a poor follower and maybe worse, a poor writer.



o Lord, the great and awesome God,
who keeps his covenant and lovingkindness

for those who love him and keep his commandments,

we have sinned,
committed iniquity,

acted wickedly and rebelled,

even turning aside from your commandments and ordinances.

moreover, we have not listened to your servants the prophets…

righteousness belongs to you, o Lord,

but to us open shame…

open shame belongs to us, o Lord,

to our kings, our princes and our fathers,

because we have sinned against you.
daniel 9: 4-8

Thursday, July 30, 2009

race relations in the news

earlier this month, i wrote for the first time in a while about race and race relations in the u.s. shortly after that, race stories were seemingly all over the news:

the cambridge police arrest of harvard professor henry louis gates
. imo, gates unnecessarily escalated the situation. but was it really necessary to arrest him, especially after it became clear that he was lawfully in his own home? shouldn't the officer walk away in that situation?

president obama stirred the pot with off-the-cuff comments on the subject
. i had mixed feelings on this. i'm glad that he was willing to address directly the issue of race and race relations, but publicly 'taking a side' before investigating the episode seemed an uncharacteristic (and unfortunate) misstep. likewise, the fact that he was surprised by the swift, intense reaction was... well, surprising. he's the president of the united states, and he said that the police acted stupidly - he didn't think anyone would have a reaction to that?

conversely, i was grieved at the tone of some of the critics of gates and obama. is it really possible that we don't understand how a black man could get angry about being confronted by a police demanding proof that he belonged in his own home, or that someone might come to the conclusion that the police also overreacted by arresting a senior citizen whom they had confirmed was the homeowner? should we not hear gates' and obama's responses in the historical-sociological context of how blacks have been treated in this country?

of course, the gates episode was a single (if paradigmatic) incident. but the cnn story citing studies that reveal how a person's race could affect the medical treatment they receive took into account a broader data set. the results are both sobering and provocative. where is our outrage over this as a nation -- or as the people of God?

on a different note, i was pleasantly surprised to learn that california has apologized to its chinese american community for racist laws dating back to the gold rush of the mid-1800s. some of these were in force for nearly 100 years, prohibiting the chinese from owning property (including land), marrying whites, working in the public sector, and testifying against whites in court. the time magazine article on the subject points out that this is only the latest government act of contrition with regard to race relations, as there seems to be an outpouring of official remorse from governments around the globe.

yes, the acts are largely symbolic. but symbols mean things. acknowledging the injustices of the past may not fix everything, but that could be said of any apology. an apology, in and of itself, is not 'doing justice' -- but it is often an important step in restoring a broken relationship. and if recent events reveal anything, it's that even accounting for the progress that's been made in the u.s., the relationship between the races could use some more restoring.

the LORD of hosts will prepare a lavish banquet for all peoples on this mountain;
a banquet of aged wine, choice pieces with marrow,
and refined, aged wine.
and on this mountain he will swallow up the covering which is over all peoples,
even the veil which is stretched over all nations.
he will swallow up death for all time,
and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces,
and he will remove the reproach of his people from all the earth;
for the LORD has spoken.
isaiah 25:6-8

Friday, July 24, 2009

running the race

one of the ways that i've tried to connect with renton and to get to know people there is by joining toastmasters, a club dedicated to helping people work on their public speaking. this seemed like a natural two-fer -- a chance to hone an important skill, as well as to connect with people who don't yet know Jesus. i joined the club that meets at paccar, a company that designs and manufacturers trucks and truck parts, and one of the largest businesses in renton. these have been tough days at paccar, with lots of mysterious and sudden layoffs keeping people on edge as the company tries to stay afloat in these difficult economic times.

i like having the opportunity to get to know people in their work environment, to learn a bit about their lives and problems, and to have a chance to build relationship in the hope of introducing them to Jesus. but honestly, i didn't think the speaking aspect of the club would present a huge challenge; i was already speaking publicly 50+ times a year when i joined, and have been up front preaching the gospel for over 25 years. it's safe to say that i'm comfortable in front of a group.

at least, i'm comfortable in front of a group when i have a bible in my hands and i'm talking about God. i've been surprised at how nervous i can feel before a seven-minute message on some relatively trivial topic. thankfully, the club is both constructive and very kind in giving feedback, and i've found that i still have lots to learn as a speaker -- starting with (but not limited to) finishing on time (!).

this week, i did project 4 (how to say it), a speech in which the emphasis is on word selection, sentence structure, and the use of rhetorical devices to communicate clearly, accurately, and vividly. the feedback? people liked the speech, but noted that i looked down at my notes way too much, especially for a personal story like this one. always more to is the speech, entitled 'running the race:'

in 1980, i ran in my first and only 10k – a ‘race’ i’ll never forget.

i had been scheduled to go on a ski trip that weekend. it was my dad who was supposed to run in the san jose mercury 10k – more of a recreational event than an actual race. but when the ski trip needed another chaperone and a math competition got scheduled that same weekend, it made sense that we would switch places. he would chaperone the ski trip, and i would join the 10k with a couple of friends who had already signed up to run. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea.

the switch happened late enough that i didn’t have time to train. but being 17 and in what i thought of as relatively good shape, i figured a short run wouldn’t pose any major difficulty. i imagined enjoying the sun, running and talking with my friends, laughing together along the way, and sprinting at the end to see which of us would cross the finish line first.

the day of the race, i put on my running shorts and shoes, and wore my sj mercury 10k t-shirt. i even had an official number, so that they could log my time and so that they could mail me the photo of my crossing the finish line. i looked the part. i was ready to go – like a lamb to the slaughter.

my friends came and picked me up, and we grabbed a box of donuts along the way. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea, but at the time, it made sense. we needed energy, and i had read about long distance runners who would load up on carbs before a big race. the aroma of the fried dough and the sticky sweetness of the donuts made it a happy thing to be up so early. i was glad i had decided to run.

when we got out to the starting area, there was a huge crowd – thousands of people. it was one of those spaces where you couldn’t turn around without bumping into someone – or having someone bumping into you. i was glad that i wasn’t claustrophobic. some people were stretching; a lot of people were talking with friends and new acquaintances, and everyone seemed quite relaxed and ready for a fun time. i was surprised to feel a bit of anxiety rising in my heart as we got closer to the start of the race, but i was reassured to see people of every age and shape and size in the crowd.

somehow, i lost track of my friends, but i wasn’t too worried, as i figured we’d catch up to one another at the finish line. i noticed for the first time that there were signs that helped people to organize themselves by how fast they expected to run. it made sense for the faster runners to be at the front, the slower ones near the rear. i figured i’d be conservative and found the sign for 9 minutes per mile but i looked around and realized i was surrounded by people who were 80 years old or over 350 pounds. i knew that i hadn’t been training, but i figured i should be able to run a little faster than this group. so i decided to move forward. at the 8:30 sign, the crowd was like 70 years old and over 300 pounds. i kept moving forward past people with walkers, people in wheelchairs and some with very small children who were apparently going to run with them, looking for people who looked more like me – 8 minutes, 7.5 minutes.

i finally stopped at the 7 minute sign. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea. i wasn’t much of a runner, and a typical mile for me might be 7 minutes. having to run more than 6 miles, it only made sense that i’d be a bit slower. but i figured everyone must be exaggerating how fast they expected to run. i decided to stick with this group.

the gun went off, and the race was on. i wasn’t pushing too hard, going at a nice, easy pace, and staying with my group – until we ran by the sorority houses over by san jose state. i don’t even remember making a decision to speed up. there were just a bunch of cute college girls, waving signs and cheering, and i found myself involuntarily moving into a higher gear. in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea. i motored past a number of folks in my group, some 3-4 times my age, and felt the rush of adrenaline as i soaked in the cheers of the adoring crowd. afterward, i was spent – and only 1 mile into the race.

i wasn’t sure how i was going to finish. truthfully, i was not in very good shape – remember, i had stayed behind for a math competition, not a track meet! i was getting passed by nearly everyone for the next few miles – senior citizens, people who were way overweight, the guys in the wheelchairs. the sun was baking me, and i wasn’t carrying any water. by the time i reached mile 4 – the place where they had the gatorade stand – i was so late that they were out of cups! i was so tired that i wasn’t even sure where i was or how to get back to the car. i figured the only way was to finish and find my friends (there were no cell phones back then). so i kept plugging along.

i ended up running with a guy who had brought his two young sons, probably 7 and 5 years old. they were running out of gas – tired, hot, and ready to quit. dad was urging them on in a positive way, encouraging them, exhorting them, explaining to them how great they were going to feel when they finished. i was running along behind them listening and trying to hold on to every word.

i managed to complete the race in just over 54 minutes – about 9 minutes a mile. am i glad i ran? in retrospect, maybe that wasn’t such a bright idea. at the finish, i was completely spent and probably suffering from heat exhaustion. i did find my friends, who had finished much earlier, and managed to stumble back to the car where i ate a couple of donuts and passed out in the back seat.

but thankfully, there’s something to learn in even the most ridiculous situations, and this one was no exception.
  • it’s a dangerous thing to judge a book by its cover – others or yourself. i knew that i was not much of a runner and that i was not in great shape, but i fooled myself into starting the race with the wrong group because i couldn’t get over how people looked. so be wary of judging by appearances.
  • training beats gifting. a 10k is not a long run, and if i had trained for even a month, i think i would have had a much better experience. the 80 year old guys that finished ahead of me weren’t more athletic than i was; they were just more prepared. the time you spend training is time well-spent.
  • keep moving forward, even if the going is slow. the old children’s story about the tortoise and the hare reminds us that a fast start is less important than the stamina to finish. and when circumstances aren’t ideal and even when you’ve made some bad choices along the way, sometimes you just have to keep moving forward toward the goal.
hard not to wonder if there's a lesson or two in there for my current situation...

let us run with endurance
the race that is set before us
fixing our eyes on Jesus
(hebrews 12:1-2)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

ruminations on reparations and racial justice

i read with interest professor allen guelzo's opinion piece in today's christian science monitor, entitled "should blacks get reparations?" while i concede the difficulty of making reparations, i question significant aspects of his argument, as i outlined in a letter to him, which i am appending below.

for those who are willing to read his article and reply, i'm curious: how do you view the question of reparations to african americans -- or japanese americans or native americans, for that matter? would you advocate a formal apology from the government(state or federal?), a check, or perhaps some other form of compensation or corrective for the injustices of that past whose effects are, at least arguably, still with us to some degree? or is it enough to simply acknowledge the past and try to make things as fair as possible today?

race matters. we can confront these issues head-on or try to ignore them, but they won't just go away. the recent high profile case of the new haven firemen and the nationally-reported incident at a swim club pool in huntington valley, pa demonstrate that. do we believe that God has anything to say about these things -- and if so, will our voice be heard in this generation?


dear dr. guelzo,

thank you for addressing the significant and too-often ignored subject of racial justice.

for the record, i have never been in favor of ‘reparations’ in the form of direct payments to african americans. however, i think your reasoning is peculiar in places and thought it worth addressing the questions you raised, at least briefly:

1. who was legally responsible for slavery? i’m not sure this is even the right question. are you trying to limit the responsibility for reparations only to those who held slaves or overtly sanctioned it? slavery was perpetrated by individuals, but legally sanctioned by many states and allowed to continue without interference by the federal government for generations. even individuals who did not own slaves or commit acts of violence against black people benefited socially and monetarily from the systemic injustice. there is enough responsibility to go around. also, are we limiting reparations only to slavery or are we willing to consider the ongoing systemic (and in many cases, legal) injustices that followed for at least 100 years?

2. who should be paid? you raise a couple of points here – one about the mixed racial heritage of african americans, the other about whether or not blacks whose ancestors were not slaves have any right to reparations. the first case, from which you draw the conclusion that paying reparations would be paying money to the descendants of slave owners, seems ridiculous. as you point out, the original mixing generally happened as a result of the rape of slave women. you apparently reason from this that the descendants of such ‘unions’ are to be identified with the oppressors – a dubious conclusion. do you also think that the children resulting from modern day rapes should be identified with their rapist fathers? i’m guessing not.

on the second point, i would reply that racial injustice did not end with the legal demise of slavery. many blacks who came to this country after that time still suffered violence, threats, jim crow, and disenfranchisement, and the effects of that legally-sanctioned oppression are arguably still with us today – financially, educationally, socially. things aren’t nearly as bad as they once were – we have a black president among other things – but even today, the playing field is hardly level. i will concede that what should be done to address that is a separate question; for instance, whether checks from the federal government to americans of african descent would be more harmful than helpful is at least debatable.

3. what about the civil war? in this section, you seem to say that since a lot of people died in the civil war, that should pay (or at least greatly reduce) the debt resulting for slavery. perhaps that is at least partially true, to the degree that those from free states fought and died to help free the slaves. but while every drop of blood drawn with the lash may have been paid for with blood drawn by the sword, that hardly amounts to reparations to the slaves and their descendants. how much of a ‘payment’ is it to get back the freedom that never should have been taken in the first place? what about the productivity and years that were stolen? the high casualty rate among southern white males is tragic, but hardly payment to those who were kidnapped, raped, beaten, threatened, and killed for so many generations. if i kidnap, rob, and abuse your family for decades, then lose a leg in a battle with the police who finally apprehend me, can we call it reparations?

your point near the end of the article is key: many americans are not big on seeing their present reality as growing out of their past. we tend to underestimate how much our current success is built on what came before, both good and ill. and we hate taking responsibility for addressing the actions of our ancestors. but if a baseball game is played for 7 innings with rules that clearly favor one team, and consequently, that team ends up 20 runs ahead, is it enough to notice the discrepancy during the 7th inning stretch, decide that the rules have been unfair, and determine to play the rest of the game treating everyone equally, without acknowledging the major advantage that’s been ‘given’ to one side?

you advocate that we seek racial justice directly in our generation. sounds good. what, precisely, do you have in mind?

thy kingdom come
thy will be done
on earth
as it is in heaven
(matthew 6:10)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

and now, for something completely different...

and just for fun -- a proposal for star trek christian church.

a quick google of the name reveals that it is still available, at least as far as the internet is concerned. i'm still in the early stages of my thinking about this, but there are already some obvious pieces:
  • our continuing mission - to boldly go where no one has gone before with the good news of Jesus (i.e. to preach the gospel in the regions beyond, 2 corinthians 10:16)
  • an identifiable, largely unreached target people group - trekkers and trekkies. if you don't make a distinction between those terms, you're probably neither. but you could always take the test if you want to check.
  • we'll need a core group of people who know and love Jesus and trek fans. (it might help if some of them were attractive, single women, but that's another story...).
  • we'll be looking for core people with an ability to speak the language. this is not just a question of vocabulary (katra, sto-vo-kor, gre'thor, pah-wraiths, q, sha ka ree), but also of a facility with the narrative world of star trek and a knack for communicating the gospel using trek metaphors. here's a quick self-test: name a scene or idea from any star trek series (animated counts, novels don't) or movie that can be used in communicating the good news about Jesus.
  • benediction: live long and prosper in Jesus (a sort of trek paraphrase of 3 john 2).
obviously, there's a lot more work to be done here, but that's the initial skeleton. maybe some of you trek folks (any of the other six fans out there) can help me...

Monday, June 29, 2009


this week, my mom and dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. nearly 200 family and friends from around the country came to town and packed out the great room of the ritzy sharon heights country club to eat, laugh, sing, speechify, and otherwise celebrate my parents' big day.

the day was a testament to many things:
  • the musicality and showmanship of nephew jm, niece m, and the entire h family.
  • the creative artistry of my sister k and affable, humorous, upfront mc stylings of my brother b. those two did a ton of work to make the day a great one.
  • the deep loyalty of some long-time friends. one of the great moments of the day was when "uncles" c and b invited my dad up for a song they wanted to dedicate to him - "oh Lord, it's hard to be humble."
  • the courageous, enterprising, persevering spirit of the generation that immigrated from china.
my brother, sister, and i each had the opportunity to offer a few words to honor mom and dad, sharing our recollections of some of the best of what they have shared with us. the grandkids - all six that can talk - also expressed their appreciation. all of them were great, and m and i had a number of folks come by to compliment b and n for being so poised and well-spoken. lots of talking, but all of it reasonably entertaining.

my father surprised some of us by concluding his words of appreciation by singing a love song to my mom - "the way you look tonight" (acapella, no less) - still the romantic, after all of these years.

i was reminded of more than a few interesting facts about my folks during the trivia game - that my dad's nickname was 'loverboy' (so christened by my mom's dad!), that he had had more than eight steady girlfriends (!), that my mom was only 12 when they met (he was 16 and didn't notice her much, other than that it was remarkable that a 12 year old could drive a big oldsmobile!), and that they had written to each other pretty much every day when they were apart during their courting years. amazingly, my mom still has all of the letters he sent (sometimes, more than one a day!).

all in all, it was a wonderful tribute to my parents' love for one another and the fruitfulness of their generous friendship. here's to you, mom and dad - in honor of your long partnership and in the hope of a future that continues to be filled with significance and overflowing joy!

two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. if one person falls, the other can reach out and help. but someone who falls alone is in real trouble. likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. but how can one be warm alone? a person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

worth celebrating

my baby turned 17 today. this is n, displaying a special gift (le petit prince) at her birthday dinner. shortly after this, we started in on a sampler italiano and the unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks. n enjoyed her favorite olive garden meal, the 'tour of italy' -- a colossal plate of lasagna, chicken parmiagana, and fettuccine alfredo. by the time everyone's order arrived, we had at least a week's worth of food on the table!

during the meal, n shared about her most memorable adventures as a 16 year old -- going on her first cruise, taking solo trips to l.a. and hawaii, suffering through the flu with mom and dad during the big winter snow-in, and much more. she talked about how much she had enjoyed being 16, despite all of the hardships of the past year, as well as some of what she is looking forward to as this new chapter unfolds. one of the top priorities: discovering where she'll be going to university.

i know i'm not quite objective about these things, having believed that both of my daughters were beautiful genius children from the beginning, but as i listened to her sharing, it was hard not to be impressed by her maturity and good humor. she's a playful thing, and enjoys being flamboyant, knowing that it tweaks mom and dad just a little. then in the next breath, she's sharing about her first experiences of having someone look up to her and of the need to be a good role model to the little ones in her life, a responsibility she embraces with an earnest sincerity.

m's aunt s likes to say that "you can never be too beautiful, too smart, or too rich, and two out of three ain't bad!" when i consider n's future, i'm pretty sure she'll be all three -- at least in the ways that really matter.