Monday, February 27, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Have lucked into a couple of all-session tickets for the 2006 Men's Basketball Tournament in Indianapolis in a couple of weeks, so Dad and I will make the trek (where we'll meet Eric Stalkamp and a fan to be named later). I'm really looking forward to this, not just for the b-ball, but because when I was little kid, every year Dad would get a couple of all-session tickets to the WVIAC tournament in Charleston. Some of my earliest memories are of he and I sitting at the Charleston Civic Center eating popcorn while watching WV Wesleyan, Morris Harvey (now the University of Charleston), Fairmont, or some other small NAIA college duke it out for the league championship. That was the place, in fact, where I fell in love with basketball. So, to revisit this with Dad will be good on a number of levels. Can't wait to get there. Feel free Indiana blog readers to email good places to eat in Indy at .

2) In an effort to do to my son, what Dad did to me, on St. Patrick's Day, Max and I will be making the trek to Cleveland to see the Cavaliers in action. I'll probably go broke just parking the car and feeding the boy, but it should be a good time. At the end of the game, Max will get to go out on the floor at the Q and shoot a free throw (which was something I got to do at Richfield coliseum back in the early eighties... got to give World B. Free "five" too!), so I'm hoping it'll give him some incentive when he gets home to spend a little more time in the cul-de-sac shooting hoops. A big basketball month at the Bucher house.

3) All day this Saturday, and I mean ALL DAY, I'll be in a meeting with 200 lay and clergy people from across the conference to talk about the current transition from 14 down to 8 districts. Without getting into too much trouble, let's just say the prospect of such a discussion isn't exactly "stimulating". I'll be a good soldier, and do my part, but frankly, I wonder how different things would be for the local church if our conference eliminated districts all-together. While I've got nothing against District Superintendents, district offices, events, and staffs, in terms of day-to-day operations in a local church, I don't know how much real impact they really have. Makes one wonder, in an age of internet, email, cell phones, and now video conferencing, is the kind of oversight that was necessary when Ohio was a wild frontier served by Circuit Riders, still necessary today? The kind of "middle management" that's going by the wayside in Corporate America (as witnessed by the dozens of white-collar workers at the local Ford plant who unfortunately lost their last week in Ford's latest re-structuring), is still considered pretty important in the United Methodist Church. But how much longer can we afford it?

After a stint as a conference staff years ago, I openly wonder about the value of employing a whole staff of people whose primary function is to a) figure out where our pastors should be appointed, b) meet with those pastors and lay people at local churches once a year to find out how their doing, and c) put out "fires" at troubled churches. While DS's do a good job helping churches that are in crisis, there are so many of our churches in crisis, one wonders if they wouldn't be better served spending their time a) looking for opportunities for new church plants, b) working with churches and pastoral leaders looking to be revitalized, and c) recruiting high quality pastoral leadership. I hope re-districting leads to these things, but old habits die hard. I'll keep you posted as more info comes available.

4) The situation in Iraq seems to be going from bad, to worse, as now Sunni and Shiite Muslems are becoming so openly hostile that Civil War has now become a real possibility.

Here's the thing about dictators.... while the means with which they keep order are contrary to basic human decency, often the force they use masks deeper divisions which exist among those under their rule. Yugoslavia was a good example of what happens in the aftermath of a regime collapse. Marshall Tito was no saint, by any means, but his iron hand helped keep in check ethnic and religious tensions that had existed in this region for centuries. Imagine our surprise when in response to the fall of the iron curtain, we witnessed terrible atrocities in what we now know as Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia as, literally, neighbors waged battles against neighbors.

By the way, we sent troops there to help restore order in this region, and they are still there.

While a certain amount of bloodshed is probably necessary in situations where self-determination is happening among differing peoples, why would we dream that we'd be getting out of Iraq anytime soon given the serious differences that already existed there, previous to WWII (and WWI, and Spanish American War, and the Hundred Years War, and maybe even before the Holy Roman Empire)? How you could expect anything less than a long-term presence in a place where people are this deeply divided is beyond me. Get ready for a very long ordeal.

5) Went to lunch with my boss (Joseph Bishman) at his invitation, and at the register, he pulled the old "I left my wallet at home" routine. His mock surprise and look of shock/embarrassment need a lot of work. I'd teach him, but some things you're just born with. It's a gift from God. Here's hoping that he continues to manage his money well, because he'll never make it as a mooch.

6) Just read a really, really good book. "To Own A Dragon: Rewriting the Legacy of an Invisable Father" by Donald Miller is a touching, thoughtful look at what it means to become a man. It is a great read whether you grew up with a father, or not. I'd recommend it to anyone with a young man struggling to get their act together, to a mother or father trying to figure out what they want to instill in their son(s), as a graduation (high school or college) gift this spring, or for anyone looking for a good read on the aftereffects of fatherless homes. I left the book at home (and I'm writing this at work), so I'll try to publish a couple of brief excerpts later this week. You can buy it here:

7) Received a nice email from a former youth group-ite. Mr. Mike Deranek is a second-year student at Indiana University studying the social sciences, and aiming for a career in law, ministry, teaching, or politics (quite a combination of possibilities, isn't it?). Mike informs me that he's working as a TA for a Poly Sci prof on campus, and has been active in IU's rather involved effort in getting students from the campus to volunteer their time cleaning up the mess left by Katrina. Mr. Deranek credits his time on mission experiences during his tenure at Goshen First UMC as good preparation for the work he's doing now to help organize a series of these trips for students over the next three years. Just a marvelous young man, and despite the fact that he chose IU, and not an elite Big Ten school, like Ohio State, I couldn't be more proud of how well he's doing.

And, to be honest, he was such a pain in the can as a middle school student, I'm grateful I didn't kill him eight years ago. Goes to show that God really knew what he was doing with that "Do not kill" commandment. Just a life-saver for pre-teens and teens (and probably husbands who are United Methodist Pastors) everywhere.

8) We had a great Home Fellowship meeting at the Bucher home, Sunday. (NOTE TO MY GRANDMOTHER: Home Fellowship is a six week program where a number of people from our church get together, and spend some time getting to know one another.) The meeting itself is bound by confidentiality, but I can say that I'm impressed with the questions being expressed by the people in the group. For example, the topic of creation v. evolution came up, which in Christian circles is really more of a question of how you interpret scripture: literally or from a historical/critical perspective. Just a great discussion among some very intelligent people trying to make sense of their faith in a post-modern age. Am looking forward to meeting three next week.

9) For all of you out there who liked "Brokeback Mountain", my Uncle Dennis, a true Utah mountain man if there ever was one, assures me that there were no gay cowboys. Considering the fact that the man actually chases after bears to hunt them down, which is either an act of bravery or insanity, I'm not going to argue with him.

10) And finally, a moment of silence for Don Knotts, simply one of the best comedic actors of his time. Thanks for Barney Fife, Don.... he makes me laugh every single time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (President's Day +1 Edition)

1) Sorry to post this thing a day late. This weekend, Aimee and Bryan Bucher took another wary step forward as parents. Max, who turned seven (can that be right? seven? really? is that possible?) last Friday asked for an overnight birthday party, which we hosted on Sunday night (which was possible because the kids had no school on Monday). The evening consisted of a trip up to the YMCA for some swimming, the eating of copius amounts of food (first graders can eat when they put their mind to it), the watching of many movies on the "big screen" in the basement, and (the hit of the evening) the playing of multiple video games on multiple X-Boxes hooked up to multiple TV's.

In other words, we provided what is pretty much a vision of heaven for suburban, American first grade boys.

Thus I missed posting this yesterday, not because they wore us ragged (actually, all hands on deck were asleep by 10:30pm), but because one of the boys at the party was Max's best friend, Mitchell, who lives in our old stomping ground of Goshen, Indiana. So, yesterday, I drove to Goshen to drop off Mitchell, stopped to see an old friend (more on that later), and returned home just-in-time for a Staff-Parish Committee Meeting. Hope the extra day's wait didn't cause too much anxiety. It's just the price y'all had to pay because Aimee and I pro-created.

2) The old friend I visited during my brief (two hours) visit to the Maple City was Karen Lyndon. Karen's husband, Dick, was my Senior Pastor at Goshen First UMC for about 4 1/2 years until his untimely and tragic death. Dick died very unexpectedly in January of 2003 of ARDS (Accute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) which was complicated by the failure of his liver. I don't believe that I, or anyone who truly loved him, have ever gotten over his loss, as he was a wonderful, creative pastor, and an even better human being.

Anyhow, I hadn't seen Karen in quite some time, so this sojourn northwest provided me with the opportunity to catch up on what had been going on with her, her kids, and grandkids (two of which I served as a youth pastor while in that fine city). I think the fallout from Dick's passing is still affecting them all, but I was proud of how well I thought Karen was coping with her new reality. I was also very happy to hear that now you might catch her volunteering at the local Hospital or with Hospice of Goshen. I know she enjoyed catching up and seeing the boys (except for Eli, who didn't make the trip with us... we brought pictures, though), and I enjoyed just spending time with someone who loves our family, and we love back. I hope she knows how much I enjoyed, and needed, this visit. Thanks Karen!

3) It's weird, sometimes, how things kinda fall together. This morning, around 8am, Joseph called to ask if I'd host our latest edition of Koinania (a corporate Bible study). He was now expecting unexpected company this evening, and Charlotte (our other Associate Pastor) had left for Haiti with the Medical Team early this morning, so now he was calling in the "third string QB". This wasn't a surprise, actually, as this happens a lot when you are an associate pastor. No, the weird part of the request was that he asked me, as a way of starting off the evening, to do a short Bible Study and devotion on the passage in Deuteronomy 31 where Moses, facing his own death, names his successor, Joshua.

"I thought you could talk about your experience with Dick while you in Goshen", Joseph said. "About needing to lead even though the leader of the group had passed away."

When you go back to something painful in your life, as you unpack the experience again, inevitably you pick at the "scab" that's covering the wound in your soul. So, when I took this phone call, knowing what you now know about my journey yesterday, you'll understand when I say that Joseph's request literally took my breath away. To re-live what had been a very painful experience was one thing.... to share a piece of that experience with 35 people is another. And while, as a pastor, I share a considerable amount of my own personal journey with others, that doesn't mean that it's easy (or, often, wise) to do so.

But the folks tonight were gracious as I struggled recollecting certain moments in history that have help shape what I have become, much in the same way intense heat makes it possible for a metal piece to be re-shaped and molded. And I learned something as I re-lived, mentally, what it was like to try to minister to your boss and his family, while also leading a congregation...

You can reach closure in the aftermath of a crisis like this, without reaching a point where the pain goes away. For closure, I believe, only comes when we accept that God is God, and we are not, and because we aren't God, we can't fully know what in the world He's doing. We can only trust that he still loves us as we stare in the abyss of great mystery. And the pain, well, it never ever really goes away if you truly love somebody. It's just a part of the bond we developed with someone who we loved, and loved us. So, its possible, I think, to reach a point of closure, but still experience pain. Maybe this isn't an earth-shattering revelation, but it made me feel better. Thanks to tonight's presenters, Linda Lawson and Barb Brenneman, the good questions of tonight's participants, and a great conversation yesterday with Karen for helping me see this in a new light.

4) About four or five years ago, Dick and I were at a conference where the presenter, a church-consultant named Lyle Schaller, asked Dick this question:

What is the single most important question facing your congregation right now?

Dick, immediately (because he was always thinking about this stuff) said something about financial resources and staffing challenges. Schaller just shook his head no. Dick tried again by identifying some assimilation and discipleship challenges we were facing at the time because we were encountering great growth. I think Schaller, in response, told him he was "stupid", and to try again. Dick, now throughly stumped, mumbled something about some other challenge, but once again, was dressed down by this frumpy looking man in his 80's who had forgotten more about church development than most people would ever know.

"Sir", Schaller asked, "how old are you?"

"61", said Dick.

"Well then, what are you and your congregation doing now to plan for the day that you are no longer with them, for this is the single greatest challenge that they face, right now."

That was the day that we were introduced to the concept of succession. A process by which a Senior Pastor finds somebody who can come on-board as a staff person and, after a given period during a time filled with great planning and prayer, transition into the role of the new Senior Pastor. Given the complexity of our situation at Goshen (multiple sites serving multiple generations and socio-economic classes in multiple worship settings) Dick really got juiced when he heard about this, and even took the idea to the "powers that be" in the United Methodist Church.

Succession is subversive to our polity. Instead of a Bishop simply making an appointment of a pastor to a church, the Senior Pastor and the lay-leadership of a church largely get to help make the call as to whether or not a new pastor will "make it", or not. To trust in this process is to trust that someone other than the Bishop and the Cabinet (those who assist the Bishop in governing the conference) might have a sense of what the Lord might want in terms of a pastoral appointment. This is largely a foreign idea to UM's, but given the rapid decline (in terms of membership and church attendance) of our denomination over the last forty years, maybe its an idea whose time has come. At least, it could be explored (and it will be in my doctoral thesis!).

Well, anyhow, Dick never got anywhere with a plan of succession, and then he passed away unexpectedly, which caught everyone off-guard. I wonder what might have been if this process had been explored further, and a risk had been taken to do something new to bring stability to a local church? I guess we'll never know.

OK.... enough heavy stuff.

5) To all the nay-sayers who claim that Andre Igoudala was robbed in this year's NBA Dunk Contest, I respond with this: A guy (Nate Robinson) who's only 5' 8" jumped OVER a guy (Spud Webb) 5' 8" WHO WAS STANDING UP to win the contest. How does he not win?

6) Can't say I've watched even one hour of the Winter Olympics. Even skipped my old favorites, skiing and curling (an obsession that developed a year that I watched the 98 Winter Olympics on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC, where they take curling very seriously) . I just never got into it.

7) Seems like cooler heads are finally prevailing in the Arab world, as Muslem leaders throughout the Middle East are now calling for an end to the violent, and sometimes bloody, protests of the cartoons featuring Mohammed that were published in a variety of European newspapers. In light of these events, I guess my question is this: If your hope for that region of the world is the spreading of democracy, and democracy is predicated on the free-flow of ideas and communication, how in the world is this going to work in a culture that freely burns the flags of sovereign nations simultaneous to using violence to curb the freedom of self-expression? Seems like quite a challenge.

8) Our youth pastor, Brent Sloan, decided to cancel the annual youth ski trip to Boyne Highlands this past weekend. Given the abundance of snow (good for skiing, and bad for travel) and the frigid temperatures (bad for skiing, bad for travel), I think he made the right call. He had to take some heat from some unhappy kids, but that just goes with the territory. There's nothing worse than skiing in 30 mph winds when the temp outside is -3 degrees (and whatever wind chill is in effect). You don't want to be outside in those conditions under any circumstances.

9) Tonight, I heard Barb Brenneman, our Older Adult Coordinator, say that aging process is like a big vacuum that sucks all the life right out of us. This vivid (and accurate) description hits home tongiht as we found out today that Aimee's grandmother has been admitted into a nursing home after taking a nasty fall last week that ended up putting her in the hospital. Given that she can't remember falling, or why she ended up hospitalized, I think her husband (Sherman, who will be turning 95 this summer) and their kids really had no other choice. If she ever gets out of the nursing facility, we're told that Sherman has decided that they both will need to move into an Assisted Living facility, a hard decision for a man who wants desperately to stay in the home he built himself many, many years ago. As I hear that vacuum running, I feel badly for them both. Keep them, and my wife who is traveling to Toledo tomorrow to pay them a visit, in your prayers.

10) And finally, pray for our Medical Team in Haiti this week. The news out of Haiti hasn't been all that good lately, but that's generally the case for places in the world ravaged by disease and poverty. Just keep these good folks in your prayers as they attempt to do some very good things over the course of the next week.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Caused a minor stir last week with a blog reader who likes the Rolling Stones, and can't stand Michael Stipe (lead singer for R.E.M.). Has reached the point where today, the disgruntled reader has sent me a recording of The Stones live and in-concert (made by someone on their cell phone) to convince me, I'm assuming, that the age of the members of the band hasn't diminished their ability to play live. The disgruntled blogger is also dismayed with Mr. Stipe because he has little or no appreciation for The Beatles, a band the said blogger appreciates greatly.

The lesson in all of this, for those of you who wish to go into the ministry, is that it is rarely an issue of theology or biblical interpretation that gets you into trouble with your congregation. More likely, you, as a pastor, will be taken to task for something you did, or said, or wrote that has nothing to do with anything remotely connected to the Christian faith. You'll use a piece of slang or say something meant to be funny in conversation, or in a sermon, that someone finds offensive. You'll use an illustration from a movie, and get a letter because that movie was rated "R", or starred an actor that made a controversial political statement (fill in the blank) years ago. You'll wear the wrong tie, the wrong shirt, or an "improper robe" (a comment made when someone found out that I had bought my robe at a used clothing store called "The Velvet Elvis" for $25). It just comes with the territory. Just learn to take it in stride.

Fortunately I've virtually not encountered this kind of trouble at Shawnee. Either the folks here are exceptionally grace-filled, I'm finally getting smarter, or both.

2) Speak of "velvet elvi", I'm reading a good book right now entitled "Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith", by Rob Bell, pastor at Mars Hill Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here's an excerpt..

If there is a divine being who made everything, including us, what would our experiences with this being look like? The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up. And if we made him up, then we are in control. And so in passage after passage, we find God reminding people that he is beyond and bigger and more.

Here's another...

I was reading last year in one of the national newsmagazines about a gathering of the leaders of a massive Christian denomination (literally millions of members worldwide). The reason their annual gathering was in the news was that they had voted to reaffirm their view of the importance of the verse that says a wife's role is to submit to her husband. This is a big deal to them. This is what made news. This is what they are known for.

What about the verse before that verse? What about the verse after it? What about the verse that talks about women having authority over their husbands (I Cor 7:4)? What about all of the marriages in which this verse has been used to oppress and mistreat women?

If you're curious, and would like to read more, get Rob's book here:

3) I wish I could say that I were "into" the Winter Olympics this year, but I'm not. I just don't care for NBC's coverage of the events. Too much "fluff" to make us care about the athletes. Too many edits so that the requisite number of commercials are shown. In 1998, I watched the Winter Olympics on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) and was shocked to find out that they spend their time broadcasting the athletes competing. Not just Canadian athletes, or the events the Canadians have a chance of winning a medal in, but just all the athletes and events, in general, at the time they are being shown. Spent a lot of hours in the middle of the night watching live, uncut, unedited curling that year, and I've been dissatisfied ever since. I wish NBC would just show the events.

4) Did you ever expect that you'd see the headline, "Vice-President Shoots Friend While Quail Hunting" in your life?

5) I talked a little about evil yesterday. About how evil can take something good, like bread, and twist it in a way that can divide us and destroy us. I told a story about how my wife and I wanted to get married, but spent more time worrying about the wedding than the marriage, and how when the honeymoon ended, we really had no idea how to live together. So we fought about stupid stuff ("where the hairbrush was going to be stored" should be the leading vote getter for most stupid thing to argue about in the history of marital arguments), and in the process, a beautiful thing (our relationship with one another) was slowly being eroded. To the point where after only four months of marriage, we were talking about a divorce. We stayed married (fifteen years, and counting), but we had to, and still must, become vigilant about not letting evil, which is the elimination of love, get a foothold in our relationship together. To not let petty things add up, and turn into huge things that would have cost us much (our three boys, for starters). And to try and break the ongoing grip that evil can have as it gets passed down, sometimes generation to generation, by countering it with going good (which is the "right thing" to do).

Easier said than done, I know, but a whole lot easier as we mutually encourage one another toward righteous living in an attitude of grace. For on this is next week's post.

6) A big "thank you" to Kelli Raines, a blog reader who recommended the movie "Crash" to me. Haven't rented it yet, but I will do so this weekend.

7) This just out of Haiti about the election: With 90% of the vote in, the leader in votes is a member of the same political party as ousted former president Aristide. The same political enemies of Aristide are already claiming widespread election fraud and manipulation, and the Aristide-ites are claiming that ballots are missing for their man (the leader, Rene Preval), so that a runoff election will have to take place in March (if nobody gets 50% of the vote, the top two vote-getters run again, and Preval is at about 48%). How is this not going to end badly? You can read about it here:

8) Xavier had a meltdown at pre-school today over some issue involving marshmallows. He's really an easy-going boy, but for whatever reason, the marshmallows issue just set him off. It took him almost an hour to settle down, and in the end he fell asleep in my arms. I've never seen such passion over marshmallows in my life. Chocolate maybe, but never marshmallows.

9) Max is turning seven this week, and my wife has agreed to let him have an overnight party for he and seven of his buddies (including Xavie) this Sunday (the kids get President's Day off). She has determined that she gets the "day duty", and I get the "night duty". Please say a little prayer for this poor dad who'll be trying to get eight little boys to go to sleep.

10) And finally, here's a big "thumbs up" to the OSU basketball team. I don't watch much college basketball (except for the NCAA tourney), but in a year where the big story in Columbus has been the players (i.e. Greg Oden) who are coming to play for the Buckeyes next year, you gotta love a team that's scrapped its way to an 18-3 record. Kudos to Thad Motta for the coaching job he's done this season.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (Super Bowl Edition)

1) I think last night's Super Bowl wasn't a classic, but it was entertaining. Big Ben's performance wasn't his best, but he did what was needed to get the job done (I feel that way on occasional Sundays). It was good to see an organization like the Steelers which exhibits "old school" values like loyalty, integrity, and character win the big one. How refreshing it is that a coach had 14 years to win a Super Bowl in an age when coaches are out the door if they have a losing season. I hope this example of patience isn't lost on us all.

2) As for the halftime show, it was, well, I don't know, kinda not-so-good. I think a bunch of old guys ate the Rolling Stones and are touring under their name.

3) Can you believe that not one person talked about one of the commercials from the Super Bowl last night in this office? Not one "office cooler" moment from any of the hundreds of ads last night, which is just, stunning. You'd think that a million-plus per 30-second spot there'd have been at least one memorable commercial.... I'll betcha heads are rolling on Madison avenue in the coming weeks.

4) A great Haiti Sunday yesterday at church. Some truly great stories came out of this year's "construction team" experience (our medical teams leave in a couple of weeks). As a part of the experience, the team built a home on a piece of land owned by our partner church in Bordes' which will house a single woman who is caring for three handicapped daughters. The picture of Brian Adams, one of our team members, carrying the oldest daughter, who is blind, from her old lean-to hut into a solid home sent chills down the spine. Larry Dietering's story of a Haitian immigrant working at a Starbucks in West Palm Beach refusing to take his money for a cup of coffee as thanks for "helping her people", tugged on the heart strings. All in all, just a great service.

It costs this congregation about $10,500 a year to educate and feed 180 elementary school students, and employ 8 teachers to do the job, at the Victory Christian School of Bordes, Haiti. $45 per student and $300 per teacher. If you would like to support a teacher or student for the 2006-2007 school year, please contact me at . Your contribution is tax-deductable and every penny you give will go to VCS, as we take absolutely nothing for administrative costs (we just send the money to the school administrator, who keep copius records to insure that the money will be used properly). And, remember that your $45 includes a meal a day for your student, which is in addition to their tuition, books, and supplies. It's the best deal going in education.

5) Since I'm one of about only 14 people left in the country that care about the NBA, I considered it very bad news when it was announced last week that Chris Andersen, a forward for the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets (they are in OC this season due to Katrina) was suspended two years for violating the league's drug policy. A two year suspension for a first time offense means that Andersen had to test positive for a "drug of abuse", which would include methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine, or LSD (and all of its derivatives). Andersen had a tough road to NBA. Never a star, he worked his way up playing in pro leagues all over the globe, and eventually catching on in the NBDL, the NBA's "minor league". His long journey, and colorful style made him popular among fans in NO/OK and his performance in the dunk contest last year (which was awful) made him kind of a folk hero among hardcore NBA fans.

I had Andersen on (and off) my fantasy league team last year, and enjoyed following his career, which just seemed to be taking off. A kid who grew up in a group home, Andersen has had a rough life. I hope and pray he receives the help he needs to get his life on track, or that this positive test was a terrible mistake.

6) Our X-Box, which had been broken, returned from Microsoft today, fixed and ready to go. The boys, who had been waiting to play new games they received as Christmas gifts, were glad to see me come home from work..... so the X-Box could be hooked up. Needless to say the hero's welcome I received this evening, and the parade given my honor after the X-Box was working, gave way to blank stares and apparently, my invisability. Oh well... at least I can play "NBA '06" after they go to sleep.

7) "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine". I miss REM (Note to my grandmother: REM was a popular band in the late eighties and early nineties who made music that wasn't defined by the culture, but defined the culture. This is a lyric from one of their best songs, which I am listening to on ITunes). Seems like most of the new music out there now is just crap. I mean, I remember my mom and dad saying the same thing about bands like REM, but none-the-less, I just can't listen to music on popular radio any more. Dr. Bishman, our Senior Pastor, raves about the band Coldplay, but to be honest loyal blog-readers, they're just a poor-man's version of U2. Since Joseph, who is about the age of my parents, thought all the music of my era was crap (and hence, missed U2 in the process), he can enjoy Coldplay as something new and innovative. I guess ignorance really is bliss.

8) Watched "Lord of War" the other night, and if the movie was supposed to make the people who watched it angry, than it worked for me. If you haven't seen it (and if some swear words, sex scenes, drug use, and copius violence offends you easily... then rent the "Sound of Music" instead), the movie is the story of a man who becomes one of the world's first and foremost illegal arms dealers. Since the guy gets rich selling AK-47's to African warlords who use cocaine to hook boys as young as 7 years old (the age Max will be in a couple of weeks) into fighting in their private militia and committing genocide, he's not exactly a lovable hero. For those who have heard the horror stories that have come out of Liberia and Sierra Leone, this movie will upset you in ways you can't even imagine ( I know it did me). But there is a kicker ending, which I won't spoil, and the entire movie is really a set-up to make a strong political statement about the nature of war on this planet right now... and it's a statement that makes you think. How you react to it will determine how "red" or "blue" you are. Enjoy it, if you dare.

And for those who don't really want to think while they're watching a movie, get "Madagascar". Aimee, the boys, and I loved it!

9) I find it amazing that a small newspaper with a readership of 150,000 people in a small country of 5 million virtually-not-islamic people could spark the kind of protests that are going on across the Muslem world.

First, it shows just how quickly and far information can be transmitted on this planet. I don't think there are many people in Saudia Arabia who read the Jyllands-Posten. It was only after the cartoons in question were reported on Arabic TV and were transmitted on the internet that people went nuts. Time and distance are quickly becoming meaningless when it comes to transmitting information.

Second, the cartoons were an attempt on the publisher's part to illustrate the need for free speech and freedom of expression, even if you are afraid of the reaction it might receive. Well, after numerous Danish embassies were attacked, and the Iranian Parliment debated whether or not to issue a fatwah on the editor's heads (like S. Rushdie, years ago), you have to wonder if the lesson they hoped to teach wasn't missed in the Arab world. And what's more, one wonders what it would be like to live in a place where criticism of a particular religion would result in violence and death. All I know is that if you think I'm drawing a cartoon of Mohammed anytime soon, you're crazy.

What is going on the Arab world that's inspiring this kind of hatred and violence?

10) And finally, I'll be preaching this Sunday on the nature of evil (as inspired by the depiction of temptation in the C.S. Lewis', "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe") which generally comes us in forms we mistake as gifts of grace. I hope you enjoy it, find it helpful, and keeps you awake. And if you miss it, I'll try and re-cap here next week.

Until next time...