Thursday, December 04, 2008

Love Is...

One of those few emails worth passing on...

A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, 'What does love mean?' The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think:

'When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.' Rebecca- age 8

'When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.' Billy - age 4

'Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.' Karl - age 5

'Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.' Chrissy - age 6

'Love is what makes you smile when you're tired.' Terri - age 4

'Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.' Danny - age 7

'Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.' Bobby - age 7

'If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate,' Nikka - age 6

'Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.' Noelle - age 7

'Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.' Tommy - age 6

'During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that.' Cindy - age 8

'Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.' Elaine-age 5

'Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.' Chris - age 7

'Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.' Mary Ann - age 4

'I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.' Lauren - age 4

'When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.' Karen - age 7

'You really shouldn't say 'I love you' unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget. Jessica - age 8

And the winner was a four year old child whose next door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman's yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, 'Nothing, I just helped him cry'

Monday, December 01, 2008


The following is from a series on leadership that Edward Fudge has been sharing through gracemail...
We have been considering three fundamental truths of spiritual leadership.
(1) Spiritual leadership involves lowly service, not legal power. Therefore we must not confuse spiritual leadership with political position.
(2) Spiritual leaders exercise grace-gifts from God, not worldly qualifications. Therefore we dare not focus on worldly achievements when choosing spiritual leaders.
(3) The Bible identifies gifted people, not legal qualifications. Therefore we should not confuse technical qualifications with spiritual characteristics.

Scripture nowhere provides a single, uniform list of qualifications for spiritual leaders. There are two New Testament passages which people often read in that fashion, written by Paul to his co-workers Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and Titus (Titus 1:5-9). However, when we read these passages carefully, we discover that they differ in several significant ways. Paul gives Timothy a description of the individual gifted for the episkopes ("oversight," "episcopacy" or "bishopric"), the work of overseeing or watching over other believers. He sends Titus a description of the person gifted to serve as a presbyteros ("senior," "elder" or "presbyter"). Christian scholars differ as to whether elders and bishops served in one position or two in the first century.

These two passages also contain different descriptives. Of the 30-35 traits mentioned in the two lists, only five are the same in Greek. If Paul were listing official qualifications, we would expect his lists to be identical. In addition, the descriptives Paul does give are often negative in form (don't pick this kind of person). The named traits are almost always relative as to quality (no precise threshold given). And there is no attempt to define these sometimes ambiguous terms. Paul is certainly not listing formal qualifications for an office, but is rather giving informal descriptions of those who are divinely gifted for the ministry of spiritual leadership.

Copyright 2008 by Edward Fudge.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Community Code of Conduct

From Jim Wallis's blog - pretty good ground rules for discourse in any setting - church, politics, work, community...
  • I will express myself with civility, courtesy, and respect for every member of the community, especially toward those with whom I disagree—even if I feel disrespected by them. (Romans 12:17-21)
  • I will express my disagreements with other community members' ideas without insulting, mocking, or slandering them personally. (Matthew 5:22)
  • I will not exaggerate others' beliefs nor make unfounded prejudicial assumptions based on labels, categories, or stereotypes. I will always extend the benefit of the doubt. (Ephesians 4:29)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Third Places

The concept of 'Third Places' is one of the topics of conversation over on the Facebook group The Missional Conversation in Churches of Christ....

Frost suggests that people generally live out their lives between three distinct places: Home, Work and a third place. For many Christians, their third place is church and church activities. (He goes on to suggest a deep interconnectedness between this reality and the decline of the church.) While many Christians spend their free time engaged in religious activities with religious people, most everyone else has traditionally found their third place in spaces like bowling alleys, pool halls, mothers' groups, local pubs, and beauty shops.

Identifying the third places of your community will tell you a lot about the people we are seeking to reach. Furthermore, it identifies for us the places our churches must go if we are to reach them. People don't have time for a fourth place. That is what the church isn't getting.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Barclay on the Gospel

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
-- Matthew 9:10-13 (NIV)

The social gospel is not an addendum to the gospel; it is the gospel. If we read the Gospels, it becomes clear that it was not what Jesus said about God that got him into trouble (but) his treatment of men and women, his way of being friendly with outcasts with whom no respectable Jew would have anything to do. It has always been fairly safe to talk about God; it is when we start to talk about men that the trouble starts. And yet the fact remains that there is no conceivable way of proving that we love God other than by loving men. And there is no conceivable way of proving that we love men than by doing something for those who most need help.
... William Barclay

Monday, November 03, 2008

Occasional Quote

The two great features of Protestant theology are its doctrines of justification by faith and the law as the rule of life. This is a synthesis of New Testament grace and Old Testament ethics. With this synthesis, Protestants have solved the problem of finding a gracious God, but they have not solved the problem of finding gracious neighbors. They can fellowship with God because he is gracious; but they find it difficult to fellowship with one another, because they are not so gracious.

... Robert D. Brinsmead

Friday, October 24, 2008

God's Politics...

I generally do not engage much in political discussion, but with the election looming I thought that this article by Jim Wallis is worth some thoughtful consideration...

After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that "God’s Politics" will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be "values voters" but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.

In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call "the common good," and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.

I am in no position to tell anyone what is "non-negotiable," and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the "faith priorities" and values I will be voting on this year:

  1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.
  2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having "their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid," as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.
  3. "Choosing life" is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and "pro-choice" and "pro-life" mantras from either side.
  4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new "green" economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.
  5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to "welcome the stranger."
  6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a "countercultural activity" in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

To The Least of These

Give us a heart for the hopeless,
The weary and wounded,
For all who are hungry, helpless, and poor.
Let us see the sorrow,
The pain and the heartache
That all the abandoned endure.

May we reach out to the broken,
the beaten, the battered,
To all who have fallen, disgraced and ashamed.
May we be a comfort, loving forgiving and
Offering grace in Your name.

To the last, to the lost, to the least of these,
Let us be Jesus today.

Randy Gill, 2007

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Quotes for Today

Ultimate confidence in the goodness of life cannot rest upon confidence in the goodness of man. If that is where it rests, it is an optimism which will suffer ultimate disillusionment. Romanticism will be transmuted into cynicism, as it has always been in the world's history. The faith of a Christian is something quite different from this optimism. It is trust in God, in a good God who created a good world, though the world is not now good; in a good God, powerful and good enough finally to destroy the evil that men do and redeem them of their sins. This kind of faith is not optimism. It does not, in fact, arise until optimism breaks down and men cease to trust in themselves that they are righteous. ... Reinhold Niebuhr


Naturally, we are inclined to be so mathematical and calculating that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We imagine that we have to reach some end, but that is not the nature of spiritual life. The nature of spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty, consequently we do not make our nests anywhere. Common sense says - "Well, supposing I were in that condition . . ." We cannot suppose ourselves in any condition we have never been in. Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said, "Except ye become as little children." Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs, we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views; but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy...Oswald Chambers

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Quote of the Day

Genuine outrage is not just a permissible reaction to the hard-pressed Christian; God himself feels it, and so should the Christian in the presence of pain, cruelty, violence, and injustice. God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ, is neither impersonal nor beyond good and evil. By the absolute immutability of His character, He is implacably opposed to evil and outraged by it. ... Os Guinness

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Imagination vs Memory

Charme passed this along to me a couple of days ago. A guy named Mark Batterson wrote it on April 1, and the perspective it lends to the missional discernment process is worthy of consideration...

Neurological studies have shown that over the course of time, there is a cognitive shift from right-brain to left-brain. And if we don't find a way to stop the shift, memory overtakes imagination. We stop creating the future and start repeating the past. We stop innovating and start imitating. We stop doing ministry out of imagination and start doing ministry out of memory.

A few years ago I read something R.T Kendall wrote that impacted me: "The greatest opposition to what God is doing today comes from those who were on the
cutting edge of what God was doing yesterday."

One of the byproducts of the neurological shift away from right-brain imagination toward left-brain logic is that we become too logical. And it seems fitting on April Fool's Day to say that great leaders are illogical. The people God uses the most are people that aren't afraid of looking foolish. In fact, if you aren't willing to look foolish you're foolish!

I Corinthians 1:27 says that God uses foolish things to shame the wise. Nothing has changed. He still uses fools. So maybe the church should adopt April Fool's Day and make it a holy day!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Death, Be Not Proud

Easter came really early this year, and I'm still reflecting on it. I came across John Donne's poem on the powerlessness of death, and thought it appropriate...

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure, then from thee much more, must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.

Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms, can make us sleep as well,
And better than thy stroke. Why swell'st thou then?

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more: Death, thou shalt die.
... John Donne (1573-1631), Divine Poems: Holy Sonnets, no. 17

Monday, March 31, 2008

Oswald Chambers on Prayer

This year one of my daily devotional resources is Oswald Chambers' 'My Utmost for His Highest'. I must admit that some of them kind of pass over my head, but this morning's caught my attention...

The reason many of us leave off praying and become hard towards God is because we have only a sentimental interest in prayer. It sounds right to say that we pray; we read books on prayer which tell us that prayer is beneficial, that our minds are quieted and our souls uplifted when we pray; but Isaiah implies that God is amazed at such thoughts of prayer.

Worship and intercession must go together, the one is impossible without the other. Intercession means that we rouse ourselves up to get the mind of Christ about the one for whom we pray. Too often instead of worshipping God, we construct statements as to how prayer works. Are we worshipping or are we in dispute with God - "I don't see how You are going to do it." This is a sure sign that we are not worshipping. When we lose sight of God we become hard and dogmatic. We hurl our own petitions at God's throne and dictate to Him as to what we wish Him to do. We do not worship God, nor do we seek to form the mind of Christ. If we are hard towards God, we will become hard towards other people.

Are we so worshipping God that we rouse our selves up to lay hold on Him so that we may be brought into contact with His mind about the ones for whom we pray? Are we living in a holy relationship to God, or are we hard and dogmatic?

"But there is no one interceding properly" - then be that one yourself, be the one who worships God and who lives in holy relationship to Him. Get into the real work of intercession, and
remember it is a work, a work that taxes every power; but a work which has no snare.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm Back...

I didn't intend to take 2 months off from blogging - it just kind of happened. It has been an extra busy time at work and I'm in the midst of a 3-month stint as chairman of the elders. So far during this 3 month period we have gone through a reaffirmation process (for the first time ever at Skillman) of 1/3 of the current elders, have had the retirement of our senior adults minister, the resignation of our worship minister, our annual congregational business meeting (as required by Texas state law for non-profits), and the regular congregational meeting that we have on the 5th Sunday of each of the months that have 5 Sundays - and I have another month to go....


My original bracket has North Carolina beating Memphis in the finals - I am still in good shape on that half of my bracket. I won't bring up the fact that my other 2 final 4 selections were Duke and Georgetown...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Post Super Bowl Musings

Being a Cowboys fan, I was ambivilant as the game began, but I found myself in the unexpected state of pulling for the division rival underdog Giants. It was fairly predictable that Tom Brady would move the Patriots efficiently down the field for the go ahead score late in the game. What was exciting was the question of whether the maligned Eli Manning would be able to respond. I wonder how many other non-Giants fans found themselves pulling for Eli in those final minutes?

I'm not that big on all the hoopla and entertainment that surrounds the Super Bowl, and deliberately did not tune in until right before kickoff. Hence, I missed the reading of the Declaration of Independence, which was reportedly one of the highlights of the day....Jordin Sparks did one of the better performances of the National Anthem that I've heard. I hear many variations before the start of most of my basketball games - they are not always inspiring or necessarily pleasurable; this one was....I also thought the half time show was better than usual....Most of the commercials were uninspiring and unoriginal. I did think the fire breather was a little bit funny and the talking stain was more than a little funny. (It also provided a pretty good illustration of the barriers that can interfere with communication) The two Coke commercials and the Diet Pepsi Max one were pretty good. I thought the Sales Genie commercial with the Pandas stereotyped an entire culture and was in poor taste....

Saturday, February 02, 2008

IRC - Barbara's Reflections

One of the experiments planned as part of our second year of Partnership for Missional Church is called 5 in 5. The idea is that we will interact with and get to know 5 different cultures in our community within 5 months. There are several purposes. One is to expand our awareness of God at work in our community. Another is to develop and build relationship with our neighbors. A third is to prime the pump of our imagination as to ways that we can get out of our building and join God in His activities. Last Saturday a group of us visited with refugee children and families who have been resettled in an apartment complex a couple of miles from our building. Barbara compiled her reflections on the day...

Last Saturday, Jan. 26th, 22 Skillman people went to an apartment complex off of Greenville Avenue to host a party for some refugee children. While we were there, we learned about the IRC - International Rescue Committee. This group was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein. The IRC is the oldest and largest non-profit nonsectarian voluntary organization that provides assistance to refugees and victims of oppression and violence in their home countries. Dallas is one of 25 resettlement communities in the U.S.

The terms “refugees” and “immigrants” are not the same. Refugees have been forced to leave their countries due to fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Immigrants voluntarily leave their countries of origin to reside in another country.

The U. S. accepts a certain number of refugees each year, determined by the President and Congress. In 2006, the U. S. admitted 70,000 refugees, although more could have been admitted – in recent years many slots have gone unfilled.

In order to qualify for resettlement in the U.S., a person must come from a country or belong to a group designated by the U.S. Department of State. They have to prove that they have a well-founded fear of persecution. Officers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service conduct interviews to identify people who are eligible for resettlement in the U.S. Once they are approved, they undergo medical and security screenings.

When they arrive in the U.S., the gov’t and non-profit agencies, such as the IRC, provides time-limited assistance, helping refugees to adapt to American society, get jobs, learn English, find housing. They are entitled to refugee status for one year after they arrive, then they are eligible to become permanent residents. Five years after their arrival in the U.S., they may apply for American citizenship.

Our group provided snacks for about 40 beautiful children from Burma and Burundi, and helped them complete an art project. We gave them the socks and scarves that the congregation provided. We also met several volunteer workers who are also refugees. They are grateful for the help they themselves have received and want to give the same help and kindness to other refugees. One of the workers told us her story about her family fleeing their home country of Burma due to persecution related to their political beliefs and how they ended up in a refugee camp in Thailand before they were relocated to the U. S. She spoke of the difficulty in adjusting to a new country with different customs, foods, and language.

We had an opportunity to spend some time with people who don’t look and sound like us, but yet a connection was made in that brief time. It made me think about God’s beautiful creation – this tapestry of people and cultures that God created. What an amazing plan He has! He is at work in the lives of people everywhere, whether they are living in an apartment complex filled with refugees or in this sanctuary of our congregation.

I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be “missional”. I think that I have defined being “missional” too narrowly. It’s more than providing support for mission efforts. It’s more than doing good deeds and working and picking out a particular “cause” or service project to be involved in. All of these things are good. But I think it also involves taking the time to hear the stories of people and genuinely being interested in them. Being “real” with people leads to further discussion and further opportunities to share Jesus. To be honest, this is difficult for me. But I know that this is something that I can do each day if I will only take the time to be aware of what’s going on around me.

I think this experience with the refugees raised our awareness. We became aware of issues faced by refugees and their needs. We became aware of their desire to rebuild their lives in a new country. We became aware of their spirit.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


One last post on our trip to Europe (maybe...). In some ways this was very much a World War II trip. Someone had encouraged us to watch Band of Brothers before we went - an excellent suggestion and a great series. We spent a day at Dachau and got some feel for the German perspective on things. We spent several hours in the World War I and II exhibits at the Military Museum in Paris, and got some feel for the French perspective on things. (Did you realize that DeGaulle was almost single handedly responsible for the Allied victory in WW II?) And on the Friday before we left Paris we took a day trip to Normandy.

We took an early (7:15 am)train from Paris to Caen, where we were met by our tour guide. We spent the morning at the Peace Museum in Caen - an experience I would recommend to anyone who has any interest in World War II. We were served lunch at the museum and then boarded a bus with a couple of other small groups to visit a few of the significant sites in the area, including St. Mere Eglise, Omaha and Juno beaches, Pointe du Hoc, and the American Cemetary. I've seen The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan and now The Band of Brothers, and have a much greater appreciation for those depictions now than when I saw them, but none of them manage to fully convey the conditions that the American soldiers faced at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

I have been to the National Cemetaries at Gettysburg and at Arlington, and am duly appreciative of what they represent, but the American Cemetary in Normandy, at the top of the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach is something extra special. Nearly 10,000 American soldiers are buried there, and more than 1500 additional names are on the Wall of the Missing. Perhaps some of my perspective comes from visiting it with my (then) 19 year old son. Most of the bodies buried there were around his age when they gave their lives on foreign soil for the sake of freedom. It was truly an experience that I will never forget.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Paris Museums

Paris was a bit overwhelming - large city, lots of people, and so many things to see. One of the difficulties was in deciding what we could reasonably do in the time that we were there. Being first time tourists, we had bought a guide book which suggested starting with a walking tour. On our first full day we began at Notre Dame, then walked across the bridge to the Left Bank and a brief tour of the Latin Quarter. Back across another bridge to the Palace of Justice, which houses the Conciergerie (the prison where those sentenced to execution were held - among them Marie Antoinette) and St. Chappelle - a cathedral where the walls of the main chapel are entirely stained glass. We ended the day at the Louvre, which needed about 4 days rather than the 4 hours we gave it.

I did not realize until we were in Paris the organization of the three 'major' art museums. The Louvre houses pieces from Antiquity and the Greek and Roman eras through the early 19th century. The Orsay picks up in the early 19th century through the early 20th century, and the Pomidou houses the modern collection. There are several other significant museums in addition to these three, including the Orangerie, the Cluny, the Picasso museum and the Rodin museum.

The next day our plan was to see Napolean's tomb and visit the Rodin museum, which is just around the corner, and then to finish our day at the Orsay. Napolean's tomb is located in what was the chapel of the former Ecole Militaire (military school), which also houses a military museum. We thought we would spend from 30 minutes to an hour at the military museum, which has an extensive collection of weapons, equipment, and uniforms from the Chaldeans all the way through World War II. There is also an extensive World Wars exhibit and our 30 minutes turned into 3 hours.

The Rodin museum is a collection of sculptures - mostly works of Rodin, but also works of several of his contemporaries. Several of his works are in a beautiful garden, with the rest in the mansion where he did most of his work. By the time we finished, we were museumed out for the day, and decided to postpone our visit to the Orsay until the Saturday before we left. That turned out to be a less than brilliant decision - we waited in line to get into the Orsay on Saturday morning for more than an hour.

The Orsay is housed in what was a train station. Although not as large as the Louvre, it houses an extensive collection of neoclassical and Impressionist paintings, and really needed several days as well. The Louvre was originally built in the 12th century as a royal fortress and palace for Philip II, and evolved over a couple of centuries into a complex of interconnected buildings. The glass pyramid entrance was built in the 1980's - I got a picture of it, but it does not come close to doing justice to the immense complex of buildings that form the Louvre.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Larry James' OpEd Piece

Larry James is the conscience of Dallas, frequently challenging our complacency and comfort levels, and providing leadership in making all of Dallas a better community. He wrote the following piece that was published in Friday's Morning News.

Focusing on volunteering diminishes significance of his life
06:24 AM CST on Friday, January 25, 2008

Several years ago, lots of people got the idea that the best way to celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday was to organize a special day of community service. You've likely heard it: "Not a day off, but a day on!" The idea is that the best way to honor Dr. King's memory and legacy would be discovered in organized volunteer efforts to extend compassion and aid to the less fortunate among us.

Here at Central Dallas Ministries, we manage a rather large AmeriCorps program, so we received word from the Corporation for National Service directing programs like ours all across the nation to orchestrate volunteer projects. Certainly nothing wrong with that.

I picked up on the same sentiment early this week at the Web site of the White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Here's part of the post: "President Bush marked the Martin Luther King Jr. King holiday by volunteering and calling on Americans to honor King's legacy by showing compassion on the holiday and throughout the year.

"The President and First Lady Laura Bush joined dozens of volunteers at the Martin Luther King Jr. library as they repaired and shelved books and taught lessons about King's life to children. More than a half-million Americans are serving in 5,000 King Day of Service projects across the country."

Here in Dallas, we enjoyed the commentary of popular Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow, who bemoaned the lack of organized community volunteer opportunities on this special day of national service ("Ready to go, nowhere to serve," Jan. 20).

I'm all for seeing folks volunteer. I believe in the value of community service. Nothing beats genuine compassion and concern for others, especially for those who are down and out, ill, mistreated, marginalized and neglected. Don't get me wrong.

But, in my opinion, the continuing and growing effort to link the memory of Dr. King to a day of volunteering diminishes the real significance of his life, to say nothing of how badly it misses the mark in understanding his personal mission.

Dr. King didn't call folks to volunteer to help the poor. He wanted to know why so many people were poor in a nation of such opulence and wealth. So far as I know, Dr. King never organized a food pantry or invited the rich to serve in soup kitchens. He asked hard questions about the meaning of hunger and homelessness to our collective, national soul.

He didn't call for mentors and volunteer projects in our public schools. No, Dr. King asked penetrating questions about the quality of education for all of our children. Dr. King didn't just invite people to visit the hospitals where soldiers were returning home with severe injuries and lifelong disabilities caused by a terrible conflict in Southeast Asia. He asked why the war needed to continue at all.

He didn't wonder why more health care professionals weren't volunteering in indigent clinics. He challenged the nation to adopt just universal health care policies to ensure that every American received adequate and routine treatment.

The kinds of volunteer opportunities that Dr. King invited people to take part in often landed them in jail, not on the front page of the society section. He asked people to march, register to vote, sit in, resist and confront systemic injustice and unfair laws. He asked people to lay down their very lives for the sorts of changes that made the American system better for everyone.

His program didn't seek to simply meet needs. His vision called for the elimination of need. To redefine Dr. King's life and legacy in those terms limits his importance and drains his message of its power. And, frankly, such an emphasis lets us all off the hook when it comes to the fundamental and sweeping public policy changes still needing our attention and the full expression of our courage as a people.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


I rarely even read emails that say to please forward, let alone forward them, but today I will make an exception. The following email from one of my fellow basketball officials was in my inbox this morning, and was a reminder of something that I had learned while taking a First Aid course. I think it is worth passing on...

We all carry our mobile phones with names & numbers stored in the memory but nobody, other than ourselves, knows which of these numbers belong to our closest family or friends. If we were to be involved in an accident or were taken ill, the people attending us would have our mobile phone but wouldn't know who to call.

Yes, there are hundreds of numbers stored but which one is the contact person in case of an emergency? Hence this "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) Campaign.

The concept of "ICE" is catching on quickly. It is a method of contact during emergency situations. As cell phones are carried by the majority of the population, all you need to do is store the number of a contact person or persons who should be contacted during emergency under the name "ICE" ( In Case Of Emergency).

The idea was thought up by a paramedic who found that when he went to the scenes of accidents, there were always mobile phones with patients, but he didn't know which number to call. He therefore thought that it would be a good idea if there was a nationally recognized name for this purpose. In an emergency situation, Emergency Service personnel and hospital staff would be able to quickly contact the right person by simply dialing the number you have stored as "ICE." For more than one contact name simply enter ICE1, ICE2 and ICE3 etc.

A great idea that will make a difference! Let's spread the concept of ICE by storing an ICE number in our Mobile phones today!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris...

On Christmas day we took the train from Strasbourg to Paris and then a cab from the train station to our hotel. We had read reviews of our hotel that included comments about the size of the lift (elevator), but it was even smaller than we could have imagined. It was deep enough that I could stand with my back against the rear wall and barely have the door close, and wide enough that Taylor and I could squeeze in side by side.

There was a Metro (subway) stop a few blocks from our hotel, and after we got settled in we figured out how to get to the Eiffel Tower. We got there around 4 pm and there were long, winding lines. The shortest line, by far, was the one for the stairs, so after about a half hour in line we began our ascent. There are two platforms accessible by stairs - the first is about 60 meters high, and the second about 120. There are a total of 704 steps from the ground to the second level. It was beginning to get dark by the time we reached the first platform, and was completely dark by the time we got to the second platform. There is an observation tower accessible only by an elevator from the second platform, but the line was long, it was dark, and it had been a long day, so we did not go to the top.

By the time we got back to the area where our hotel was located and found a restaurant open it was nearly 9:00. Europeans eat late, and the restaurant was busy, but we had a really nice Christmas dinner. The food we ate in France and Germany was good, and the desserts in France were outstanding. More on Paris in the next post.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values - that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

Pity may represent little more than the impersonal concern which prompts the mailing of a check, but true sympathy is the personal concern which demands the giving of one's soul.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.

The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.

To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


We left Munich on December 23rd and arrived in Strasbourg mid afternoon. Strasbourg is more than 2000 years old, established during the Roman Empire, and is located in the Alsace region at the confluence of the Ill and the Rhine rivers. Strasbourg is currently in France - this section of the Rhine currently serves as the border between France and Germany - but the entire Alsace region has gone back and forth from German to French control for the past 3 centuries, depending on who came out ahead in the most recent war. The European Parliament and the European Union headquarters are in the modern part of Strasbourg.

Strasbourg is known for its Christmas market and celebration, and has a significant section where the streets are open only to pedestrians. We spent the late afternoon and evening among the crowds on the streets and in the Christmas Market area. The next day we took a boat tour of the city (covered and heated). The boat was full, and we had the option of 14 different languages to listen to the recorded commentary on the headphones provided. That evening we had an Alsatian Christmas Eve dinner at a quaint restaurant and then strolled the empty streets.

Barbara and I went to the midnight mass at the Notre Dame Cathedral. The doors opened at 11 pm; we arrived about 10 minutes after 11 and were lucky to find seats in the next to last row. By 11:30 the sides and back were full of people standing. There were easily more than 1000 people present, all of whom were bundled up to ward off the cold.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


While in Munich we took a couple of day trips. The second was to Neuschwanstein - King Ludwig's castle that was the model for the castle in Disney's Magic Kingdom. Ludwig, known as The Mad King, was brilliant and creative, and spent his fortune designing and building castles. His best known was Neuschwanstein - the new castle - which overlooked the old castle that his father had built. His advisors declared him insane and removed him from his throne before the castle was finished.

We traveled by train to a small Bavarian village at the edge of the Alps. We had some cold weather in Germany and France, but this was the only real snow that we saw. We hiked along a narrow road for a mile from the village up the hill to the castle, and the view was definitely worth the climb. The scenery was magnificent and the castle was impressive.

PS - Happy Birthday little sister - I love you.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Further Reflections on Dachau

May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because they resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow man.

This marker greets visitors who enter the gate at Dachau. Many memorials are established to bestow honor; this one serves more as a warning to the world to not allow such a thing to happen again. Which begs the question - how could it have ever happened in the first place? A couple of thoughts...

One common assertion is that the German people were, for the most part, unaware of what was taking place. For the extermination camps, it is possible, however unlikely it may seem, that they were not fully aware - these were built in Poland and Russia away from Germany, and the idea that an entire race of people could be systematically exterminated is fundamentally unfathomable. The same could not be said for the concentration camps. These were located throughout Germany and occupied western Europe, and were well publicized by Nazi propaganda. One of their purposes was to demonstrate the consequences of opposition or failure to cooperate with the Nazi party. It took a great deal of courage for those who did resist.

Another idea that is unfathomable is that human beings could be so deliberately and intentionally cruel to other humans. Undoubtedly evil exists in the world; there are examples throughout history. And undoubtedly, many of the camp personnel were evil, but many were average people with families, hopes, and dreams. The only way they could have acted as they did was to dehumanize - to regard as subhuman - their victims. The processes of the camps were designed to remove all dignity and any sense of humanity from the victims, and that paved the way for unimaginable treatment.

That seems to be a pattern in the justification of mistreatment of others - to regard them as less worthy of basic human consideration. It is evident today in the way immigrants are regarded, in the way people of different races are regarded, in politics and in religion. " respect for their fellow man" sounds a lot like "Love your neighbor as yourself".

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Called of God

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. Isaiah 6:8

God did not address the call to Isaiah; Isaiah overheard God saying, "Who will go for us?" The call of God is not for the special few, it is for everyone. Whether or not I hear God's call depends upon the state of my ears; and what I hear depends upon my disposition. "Many are called but few are chosen," that is, few prove themselves the chosen ones. The chosen ones are those who have come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ whereby their disposition has been altered and their ears unstopped, and they hear the still small voice questioning all the time, "Who will go for us?" It is not a question of God singling out a man and saying, "Now, you go." God did not lay a strong compulsion on Isaiah; Isaiah was in the presence of God and he overheard the call, and realized that there was nothing else for him but to say, in conscious freedom, "Here am I, send me." Get out of your mind the idea of expecting God to come with compulsions and pleadings. When our Lord called His disciples there was no irresistible compulsion from outside. The quiet passionate insistence of His "Follow Me" was spoken to men with every power wide awake. If we let the Spirit of God bring us face to face with God, we too shall hear something akin to what Isaiah heard, the still small voice of God; and in perfect freedom will say, "Here am I; send me." --- Oswald Chambers

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Taylor

My son turns 20 today. Oddly, the end of his teenage years is not as much of a shock as it would have been just a few weeks ago. The confident young man who met us at the Heidelberg train station a few weeks ago displayed a degree of maturity and self-assurance that was hinted at, but not fully present in the teenager we had said goodbye to a few short months ago.

Lauren is 5 years older than Taylor, and while he has been physically bigger than her since he was in the 5th grade, she has always been the big sister. On this trip, however, he was like her big brother, taking care of and looking out for her (and us). He is a good young man and a great son, and I am proud of him.

Happy Birthday, son.

Friday, January 11, 2008


After a couple of days in Heidelberg, we took the train to Munich, which served as home base for a couple of day trips. One of the most sobering experiences I have ever had was the trip to the Dachau Concentration Camp.

Dachau is a small city - essentially a suburb - near Munich, about 20 minutes by train. The site of the concentration camp is about a 15 minute bus ride from the Dachau train station. During the Nazi years, many of the high ranking Nazi officials had homes in Dachau.

The concentration camp at Dachau was among the first built, and served as the model for hundreds of camps. The dark labels on the map in the photo show where the main concentration camp sites were throughout Germany and occupied western Europe. All of those lighter squares were subcamps built because the main camps could not hold all of the people. The map does not reflect the Extermination Camps - Auschwitz, Treblinka, and others which were located in Poland and western Russia, and were built for the express purpose of the extermination of the Jewish population.

Although Dachau was not an extermination camp, more than 60,000 people died there during the years it was in operation. Some were executed; many were literally worked to death; others underwent a variety of "medical" experiments; and many succumbed to a combination of mistreatment, disease, starvation, and loss of hope.
There were two crematoriums at Dachau for the disposal of dead bodies. The original crematorium was built in 1939, and was not large enough to handle the volume; the second, larger one was built in 1943. There was a gas chamber in the larger crematorium - there is no record of it having been used, but it was the prototype for those used in the Extermination Camps.
The majority of prisoners at Dachau were Germans. Initially, political opponents of the Nazi party, and then an increasing number of those who were deemed "unfit" - Communists, Socialists, homosexuals, mentally and physically handicapped, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jews. I'm reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's quote
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Top 10 Posts of 2007

For some thought-provoking reading, check out The Top Ten Posts of 2007 at Out of Ur, Christianity Today's blog...

Heidelberg Castle

The Heidelberg Castle was built by Frederich IV in the 1500's, with a couple of additions over the next hundred years or so. Strategically situated on a hill above the Neckar valley, it commanded one of the key transportation routes in that part of Europe. After multiple attempts, it was mostly destroyed by Louis XIV in the 1700's. Parts of it remain and are open to visitors today.

Quote for the Day

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight
of the shore.
-- Andre Gide

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Heidelberg - Dec 18-20

Barbara, Lauren, and I arrived at the Heidelberg train station a little before noon on the 18th. Taylor was waiting for us at the train station - he had been traveling in Hungary, Rumania, and Croatia since finishing his finals on the 7th and it was so good to see him. We checked in to our hotel, which was located in the alten stadt - the old city, and then went out to explore our surroundings.

Heidelberg is an old medieval town, more than 1000 years old. That afternoon we strolled along the narrow, cobblestoned main street, and then after resting for a couple of hours we hiked up several hundred stairs to the Moore Haus - Pepperdine's home in Heidelberg - to see where Taylor was spending his school year. We walked back down to the main part of town; it was beginning to get dark and the Christmas Markets were getting lively. We sampled the sausages, the breads, the crepes, and the gluwein - a hot, cider-like mulled wine.

Being gluttons for punishment, the next day we hiked back up the hill to tour the Heidelberg Castle. That evening we had our first sit-down German meal, and Barbara discovered Spaetzel, a small, dense noodle prepared with various sauces and/or cheeses.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Home; Quote for the day

Barbara, Lauren, and I left December 17 for Germany, and arrived at the Heidelburg train station a little before noon on the 18th. Taylor was waiting for us there, having gotten in from Munich a couple of hours earlier. Over the next 2 weeks we would have a wonderful time in Heidelburg, Munich, Strasbourg, and Paris; the best part was spending 2 weeks together as a family.

We got home last night a little before midnight after having departed our hotel in Frankfurt about 24 hours earlier (7:40 am Frankfurt time) - a couple of hours in the Frankfurt airport, 9 hours across the Atlantic to Detroit, several hours waiting in Detroit for our connection to Dallas as an approaching snowstorm wreaked havoc on schedules, and after our delayed flight to Dallas, another hour at DFW waiting for our luggage.

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. -- Helen Keller

A New Year's Prayer

From Rubel Shelly...

Holy God of Heaven and Earth, I know that a thousand years are as a day to you, but we humans are bound up in time. As a new year is beginning, please teach me to ...
* care more about people and less about money,
* enjoy my work but not let it enslave me,
* and laugh more easily than I did last year.

As I get ready for 2008, help me to remember things that are easy to forget ...
* that it might well be my last year,
* that some people are counting on me,
* and that you have things for me to do.

Lord, with the things I have accumulated over the years, please let me ...
* shake off the monotony of life,
* try some new things in this new year,
* and mend some broken fences.

And, Father of Mercies, please teach me in this new and unspoiled year to ...
* lighten up and enjoy children, sunsets, reading, and long walks,
* avoid quarrels and work at being a peacemaker in this world,
* and start next year with fewer regrets than I bring to 2008.

May we live it for your glory! I cannot know what this year will bring, and I am grateful for that! But help me ...
* eat less junk food,
* exercise and take better care of my body,
* and learn to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

Above all other things, Father, I want to be your instrument for ...
* easing somebody's too-heavy load,
* relieving some sad person's misery,
* and introducing some lost soul to Jesus.

Come what may in the year about to begin, may we live it for your glory, within your will, and to your delight. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.