Honest thoughts on ministry,culture, and living in Utah

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Location: Logan, Utah, United States

I love diversity. I love studying the Bible. science (especially biology and astronomy),and history. I love music, the outdoors...and my family of course. They give me the greatest joy I have ever known!!

Thursday, January 07, 2010

December Passings.....

December is gone. Again. It is far and away my favorite month-and the most significant for me. Each year I try and savor each day, and alas, it goes all too quickly.

It might seem a little morose, but the first thing that always impacts me is Pearl Harbor Day, Dec. 7. This day effected all of us, as we were plunged into a war that profoundly altered the shape of our economy, politics,culture and religion. For me personally, the war brought my dad out to the west coast from Tennessee, where he met my mom and ultimately stayed. He may have never left the south, which he loved, otherwise. He tried to enlist in the marines that day, as thousands of others did, but was told to wait and finish college and become an engineer. And so he did-and saw the world in the Navy. He never went back and ended up in California, where I grew up.

He and mom were married on Dec 15, 1951- a Christmas wedding. Their pictures are all black and white, but they told me everything was red and green. The Christams season was in full swing and they loved it. I enjoyed seeing them celebrate through the years- going out and often dancing in the family room, circulating around the Christmas tree.And so goes the rest of the month-Christmas.

Even though I grew up in southern California, I loved winter and Christmas. I still can remember the rainy days, snow in the mountains, the sound of the huge fans in the orange groves (they blew the warm air from "smudge pots"-metal containers with oil fires in them-through the groves to keep the oranges from freezing.) The sound of them and the sound of the heat coming on in our house through the night was some how special and comforting. Maybe it was because it was so different from the rest of the year-actual weather! I would watch the Christmas shows and look at the books and cards all showing snow, sleighs, all seemed so appealing and well, right (of course I had never had to shovel it, get stuck in it, etc.)

Then there was the music. My folks loved music and it played constantly. Bing, Frank, Ella-all the different artists were decking the halls and sleighriding twentyfour -seven in my house, even though it was 70 degrees outside and palm trees waved in the wind. I love Christmas music to this day and play it well into January. (It's also a welcome relief from the cheesy '70s music they usually play in stores, which is often about sex- very odd when you think about it. Why would you want to hear Rod Stewart singing about his conquests while you choose a head of lettuce?)

The fondest family memories I have are singing around the house, getting a tree, cooking the turkey, shopping for presents, wrapping them with my mom, dad getting a fire going before we would come into the living room for Christmas morning (yes we had a fireplace-hard to explain in SoCal, but hey-it was for atmosphere!) All simple stuff really. Decorating the tree was a family effort too, with mom putting on the aluminum icicles (my brother and I tended to throw clumps and were summarily banned from the ritual...)Perhaps it was special because we all enjoyed it so much-we were united in our love for the season.

Oh-and school was out too! And since I have worked in academia my whole live, I have always had time off in December. No Scrooge demanding I work up to Christmas eve, no way. Later, when I joined a campus ministry, there was the annual Christmas conference. The month has ended for me for the last 26 years in a hotel, surrounded by hundreds of other Christians, praising God and praying in the New Year.

And now it's over. I mourn its passing once again. January just doesn't have a whole lot to offer, but I still love the snow, now that I have some. I really don't mind shoveling it. I wonder what it would look like on palm trees?

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


I just finished a fascinating book, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.Outliers are those extreme cases that you find on the ends of the classic bell curve, the kind that your teachers used to put you on. So if you got an F or an A+, you were an outlier. This book focuses on the best of the best (I'm not sure a book about failures would sell well, although it would be interesting...) Gladwell's findings support several things that I have always believed and are quite biblical.

First, the sovereignty of God is obvious. Events such as when you were born, how close you were to the right university, that you happened to be seen by the right talent scout, etc. are the primary reasons for outstanding success. For example, it turns out that Canadian hockey stars are nearly always born in Jan-March. In their kid's hockey system, the older kids in each age get more attention and training. In the computer world, Bill Gates was born during the explosion of computer technology and lived close to the Univ of Washington, which allowed him 24 hour access to their computers. The Beatles, just another band in England at the time, happened to be heard by a scout from Hamburg's all-night bar and strip clubs. He booked them and they would play all night long , 6 days a week for months! Probably no other band then existing got that much live practice. It often is being in the right place at the right time.

Secondly, hard work. Gladwell looks at atheletes, musicians, business men-and the data suggests a magic number of about 10,000 hours of practice/action to become great! No less! Thus, the old adage from your piano teacher or your little league coach is true: don't miss practice!

What about inborn talent? Yes, it seems to be important too, but not with out the other two factors. Even a child prodigy like Mozart practiced for 1000's of hours. And is not any "inborn" talent" from God as well? We did not choose our DNA, or our parents who gave it to us. AND how many kids practice hard without the enouragement/enablement of their family?(as in who, as we remind our kids, is driving you to all those practices and games anyway?!)

Finally, he actually begins the book with a suprising story about an Italian immigrant community in the USA with incredibly long lifespans. The reason? Not what you would think: e.g. genetics, diet, work ethic etc. No, the reason seems to be community. Generations living together, talking, interacting,etc. NOT sitting in front of the tube or computer. Community is all through the Bible (all those "one another" passages) and it seems pretty obvious we have lost that in our culture, even that of the church.

So, many lessons from this little book. Now I have an excuse for not getting an A+ on that algebra exam my freshman year or being a star on the court! You know, didn't get the right DNA.

Or was it that I hated practice....

Friday, September 25, 2009

Take a Hike

"There is far too much at our fingertips in the artificial world made for our comfort and ease. Cable television and air-conditioning and hiring somene else to fix the sink or iron your shirts. The masculine soul atrophies under those conditions. And God would have us become men. If life always came easy to us, we wouldn't benefit from it. The things we value are the things we've paid for. The victories we treasure are from the hardest battles." John Eldredge, The Way of the Wild Heart

He is right. As I think back, the times I am most satisfied is when my time and effort are devoted to something challenging and I see success. It can be physical, mental or even emotional. It also can be really frustrating when you fail. Who among us has not spent hours trying to solve some problem (find the short in the wiring, get the last lug nut off, try to convince the boss you are right, or help the kid with a "word problem" in algebra).

Sometimes though, I am willing to pay for sheer drudgery. I will gladly pay for some guys to shingle my roof if I can afford it. It is not the physical labor-while they are working, I am sweating on my mtn bike up some trail in the mountains. It is more fun, healthier,and when I reach my destination, the view is awesome and soul inspiring. That being said, I did feel tremendous satisfaction the time I did shingle my roof-and it saved me a lot of money.

But for now, I am taking a hike. It is what my heart and soul needs right now. The roof, the car, the light fixture in the basement and the unfinished basketball hoop can wait. I will do them, not hire someone-for the same reason I need to hike. It is a geat feeling to return to the car tired,sweaty, inspired, and peaceful...and you can't hire someone to hike for you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Casual Christians

Bill Glass was a well known NFL player in the 1960s. Here is a geat quote from his book Get in the Game: "When I play defensive end for the Browns, I get down on the line of scrimmage in a stance of complete intensity.
Every muscle lin my body is tightened to fire across the line..The first movment I see on the other side of the line sets me off like a gigantic spring...Can you imagine a Christian lining up on the "defensive line" of the Christian life casually? I see a lot of casual Christians. If I lined up casually in a game like I see casual Christians "lining up" to serve Jesus Christ, I would get knocked on my casual can. And a Christian who tries to serve Jesus Christ casually will be highly ineffective.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Flag Day, Father's Day and the Fourth of July

The summer holidays are especially linked to our Christian heritage, though perhaps not as obviously as some of the others. I thought Flag Day would be out...nothing very spiritual about the stars and stripes! But I was wrong. (And besides, it's not really a holiday per say-nobody gets it off. All most might do is put out the flag...)

Flag Day was born in 1777, not long after the war for independence began, when Congress selected the "Betsy Ross" flag to represent the new nation. The Christian link-not until 1954, when President Eisenhower signed into law the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance on, yes, Flag Day. Of course, this refers to the Christian God and, from what I have read, was a clear declaration of our differences with athiestic Communism, which was threatening to spread to both hemispheres.

Father's Day,like Mother's Day, began long ago in churches (Christian churches by the way) in the Spokane WA area. It is no coincidence that the God of the Bible is referred to as "Father". It is this member of the human family that apparently best represents the nature of God.

And finally, the 4th of July and the Declaration of Independence. Three times the document refers to God..."the laws of nature and of nature's God", "...that they are endowed by their Creator (with a capital C!) with certain unalienable rights...", and ..."with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence..." Yes, the primary author, Thomas Jefferson was a deist and the words used reflect that, but the signers included several Christians and they all had input to the language, making some 80 changes to Jefferson's original document. But regardless, any reference to God is the one in the Bible-regardless of theological differences.

As I mentioned when I first began this series, our holidays provide a rich history of many things that are good to remember-not the least of which is our profoundly Christian cultural background.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Memorial Day

As I have written before, we try to remember holidays for what they comemmerate, not just take the day off and BBQ. In the case of Memorial Day, we started a tradition many years ago to go to the local cemetary, look for graves with flags but no flowers, and put our own flowers there and pray for the families of the fallen. We also thank God for those who have given their lives so we are free to do such to be who we are and pursue the life God intended for us to live (which is hard to do when you are not free.)

The Sunday before in church, the pastor told a great story of a modern day soldier who fell on a grenade to save his comrades' lives. He didn't have to-but he knew where he was going and wasn't afraid. I wonder if I have that much courage?

Two years ago I went out to the Veteran's cemetary in CA where my dad is buried. I knew they had a big Memorial Day service and my brother and I wanted to go. It was very moving, and it turns out, the biggest in the country that year! Thousands of flags were in the ground, great music and a Marine Helicopter flyover. To top it off, the main speaker was a submarine officer, just like Dad. He would have been proud. I thought of him, buried in his WWII Navy uniform. He would be so glad we were there that day.

Here is a poem from the program:

"Remember Us" by William Dunbar

Memorial Day is a day of tears
For us who died over all the years
We fought in wars to keep you free
Now we lay in graves for you to see
The tears you shed are tears of pride
For every soldier fighting side by side
Alive or dead we proved our worth
In the closest thing to hell on earth
We were different one and all
But in times of need we heard the call
Brothers all for country's sake
We may bend but never break
So remember us and say a prayer
For all the soldiers everywhere
For those of us who got the call
Please pray that God will bless us all

....and as in the other holidays I have mentioned, the link to our Christian heritage is unmistakable. When a Veteran is buried, the family can choose the symbol for the headstone-there are dozens to choose from: crosses of different types,also symbols for Jewish,Islamic,Mormon-even Atheist! (It is the old symbol of the atom.) As I walked the cemetary afterwards to see my parent's grave, I looked at the other headstones as I walked. I passed hundreds of them, on my way to the grave and then back to my car. Easily 99% had the Cross.

We know quite a few people in the Armed Forces now. And we do pray for them. And most of them look to the Cross-that symbol of hope...and eternal life.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mother's Day

Mother's Day as we know it began in the early 1900's, as a woman asked her church to honor her mother. Soon it spread to other churches, some businesses sponsered it, Hallmark took over and there you are. So it too has Christian roots, as it began in an American Christian church (Methodist, for those who like such details). Certainly, the Bible mentions motherhood with a great deal of respect. Recently, my son learned a verse in AWANAS, in Proverbs, about the importance of listening to your mother (I can't remember the reference of course, but HE can!)

My kids have a great mother, one who has persevered in helping them in becoming musically talented (years of piano, and now the drums for my son). She has taught them to respect others, treat living things kindly and gently, pursue discipline, love God....this could go on for pages!

I loved my own mother very much. (There she is above, with my brother and I on Mother's Day when I was about 5) Though she drove me crazy sometimes, she was always there for me, always believed in me, always supported me. She became a Christian later in life and I saw God change her into a more optomostic person; wanting to reach others with the Gospel (she still struggled with depression at times, and was a bit heavy handed trying to share her faith, but who is without their faults?) At her memorial service, I thought of I Cor 13, the famous "love" chapter. She truly exemplified all those characteristics of Godly love towards me. I am truly grateful for my mom and miss her very much. I can still here her voice and feel her joyful hugs whenever we would visit....

Mother's Day, as in everything else, has become sadly complicated and tinged with problems and awkwardness. This simple celebration of motherhood has become another emotional minefield as our culture slowly deteriorates. A fact that should shock us: I just read that 40% of babies born in 2007 were born to unwed mothers. Homosexuals are now adopting children and having them through in vitro fertilization. Too many young mothers are addicted to drugs,etc. and end up abusive. As in other issues related to family, there is now a lot of sadness related to being a mother.

And so in our church this year, mothers were asked to stand for a brief applause. Some of the things just mentioned were said. The sermon had nothing to do with mothers. To be honest, it felt like we were trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. And almost on cue, after all this was done, an unwed mother in a well known family came in with her baby and boyfriend (they might have had a quick wedding-I do not know) and sat down, probably the first time most of the congregation knew about it.

But, at least for now, most of us hold on to the memories of the traditional mother, even with all her faults.

I hope you had a good one too-and that you tell her so while you still can.