Tuesday, December 27, 2005

One of the things I got for Christmas was a deck of Bush playing cards. They were from a daughter and son-in-law. The shape is a parallelogram (slanted to the right) rather than a rectangle. Each card has a photo and a quote. Karl Rove is the ace of diamonds with this quote: “As people do better, they start voting Republican—unless they have too much education and vote Democratic, which proves there can be too much of a good thing.”

Sunday, December 25, 2005

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. Hometown Friends Church normally has three services on Sunday. Today there is only one. It’s not that the staff became holiday slackers. They were on duty last night for three back-to-back candle light services.

Hometown Friends has a balcony above the mail floor and both are full. I do a lot of people gazing today because there are people who normally attend the other two services and visitors from out of town—some I recognized and other I don’t. When it’s a special day and a new configuration of people, the service can take on the flavor of being a program. This feels like a real encounter with each other and with God even though it is sandwiched between family celebration of Christmas morning and the Christmas dinner.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

It’s the night before Christmas and we’re back from the candle light service. The first of three services was a full house. Appropriately, there are always more sounds of children at these services than there are on Sunday morning. And there were lots of unfamiliar faces (this is a good thing).

Now some Christmas food, relaxed family time, some sleep, and then another day of Christmas celebration.

Friday, December 23, 2005

I’d love to hear Scott McClellan announce that the President along with Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Rice will be spending Christmas in Iraq. He would then go on to say that FEMA director Joe Allbaugh will be spending Christmas in a tent in New Orleans and other top FEMA executives will be nearby in trailers. The third item in the announcement would be that the 836 top officers at the Pentagon will be eating Christmas dinner with the families of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq since last Christmas. McClellan would explain that these activities were not being funded by the American taxpayer, but by the RNC. Perhaps they could even try using the “compassionate conservative” term again.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Churches opting to not have services on Sunday is still making the news—The Oregonian this morning and NBC Nightly News this evening. I’m surprised this story adequately passes the “who cares?” test.

Easter is on Sunday so I’m wondering if these same churches will opt this spring to have families worship together in their homes instead of interrupting their family celebration of that holy day.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I know people can be very sensitive about religion, but I would have never guessed we had anyone like that on our Barclay Press mailing list. I got a phone call at the office yesterday from a man who was asking what this was that he got from us in the mail.

Instead of asking him to give me a clue about who he was and what the mailing looked like, I guessed it was probably our annual Barclay Press Christmas greeting. He evidently had no idea who we are. I explained we are a Christian publisher and the letter is sent to customers and others who have asked to be on our contact list.

His reply was, “I don’t appreciate you pushing your religion on my family and I'd like you to take me off your list.”

“We’ll be glad to do that,” I replied. And then before I could ask his name, he hung up leaving with no idea who he was or how he got on our list. We'll just have to get his name when he calls next year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What were they thinking? I’d be glad for nonprofits to attract the best and brightest, but $831,000 for the president of Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette is over the top. Michael Miller’s compensation and benefits has been more than any executive at the other 172 Goodwill branches in North America or at Oregon’s other social service nonprofits.

I think it’s a good idea to watch the ratio between the highest and lowest paid within an organization. In 2004 the ratio in the United States of CEO pay to worker pay was 431 to 1. In 1965 it was 44 to 1. The board of directors at Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Willamette seem to be a part of the problem instead of a part of the solution.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Sometimes I just don’t get it. The White House praised the House for passing a $40 billion reduction in entitlements and urged the Senate to do the same. The other bill passed had to do with Alaska oil and, by the way, it included $453 for the Pentagon. I can’t understand how they can call themselves fiscal conservatives. Furthermore, I don’t understand why people of faith give support to an administration that shows such low regard for the needs of the poor and the elderly.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. The group looks more energetic than what they feel because most are being fueled by Christmas adrenalin. The 20s and 30s folk at Hometown Friends Church are excited about plans to go spend Christmas with parents or their children have put a new joy into Christmas that only adult with young children can experience. Some of the older crowd are looking forward to grandchildren and adult children coming to visit. Even the people who are only looking forward to it all being over are acting happy because that is what is expected at this time of the year.

The theme this morning was love. When the pastor asked us to put something on paper that represented a time when we felt loved and included, my mind went the other direction and recalled a couple of times when I felt excluded. Feeling on the outside is not the norm for me, but I felt it was good for me to remind myself how that feels. I don’t want my actions or attitudes to contribute to anyone feeling unloved or excluded.

The service ended with the lighting of the third advent candle. The temperature outside encourages loitering. As people greet each other on their way toward the exits, they are careful not to say “happy holidays.” The faithful like a cause and this year the “enemy” is the word holiday because it does not give Christ the respect he deserves.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Being home from college for our daughter Abbie is insignificant in distance, but the three and a half months and two miles has been a major step on her path toward independence. She is developing a life of her own not to distance herself from her birth family, but she is making that expanded network of friends that is a healthy part of moving into adulthood. Last night she went to a movie with friends and today she is shopping with a friend.

I’m proud of who Abbie is and what she has been learning in the classroom and in the dorm. Since late August she has not had her parents telling her what to do and when to do it. This has been good for her and it’s been good for Cindy and me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Last night was the neighborhood Christmas progressive dinner. Our little rectangular loop was developed about ten years ago and has about 30 homes. We like our neighbors and enjoy living here. But when we got the announcement for this annual event, we knew we weren’t going to add it into the schedule. Getting stretched thin happens too easily especially at this time of the year.

I think the Christmas season can be compared to a really good meal—something to savor and enjoy, but if you over indulge it can make you feel sick.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I wish the ballot in Iraq had a couple of extra questions. One would be, “When do you want the foreign soldier to leave?” There would be check boxes for (1) now, (2) six months, (3) a year, or (4) not until peace and democracy come to the Middle East. The other question would be, “Should we send the United States government a thank you card for what they have done in our country?”

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I happened to catch the end of the CSPAN broadcast of President Bush addressing the World Affairs Council on Monday. The President took a few questions from the audience. A woman asked for the number of Iraqi war-related deaths since the U.S. invaded Iraq. About 30,000 was the President’s response. That’s a lot of people, but it made me wonder what others are saying. It seems to be hard to know, but an independent study reported more than a year ago that their findings indicate at least 100,000 have been killed.

I figure death, destruction, and humiliation would have struck close enough to affect me in a major way if I lived in a country that is just a little bigger than twice the size of Idaho.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

We are sending Christmas letters both at home and at the office. I like the opportunity to make contact with friends and family, but I feel guilty because in some cases it’s the only communication all year. I tell myself it’s better than nothing. I’d like to personalize our Christmas greetings, but I don’t feel I have the time to add a personal note to each letter. “Better than nothing” falls short of the ideal. But the basket of cards and letters received symbolize a caring community and I trust our effort will symbolize the same.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Knock at Midnight is a collection of sermons by Matin Luther King, Jr., that was published in 1998. I’m not familiar with this book. My good friend Curt Ankeny posted a comment about it today on the December book discussion at the Barclay Press Web site. Curt draws attention to the relevance of one sermon that speaks of the negative power of hate and the positive power of love.

This Friend speaks my mind (a phrase used by some Quakers to show concurrence after someone has spoken during a time of open worship).

Sunday, December 11, 2005

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. In two weeks it will be Christmas. At Hometown Friends Church it means a sequence of traditions that includes things like “a taste of Christmas” next Sunday evening and three candlelight services Christmas eve. Christmas events have food or music and some (like the “taste of Christmas”) have both.

The sun is shining through the windows, but it’s cold outside. Of course the music is Christmassy. The music minister tries to keep the faithful happy by using a few traditional carols along with the less traditional stuff. “Have You Any Room for Jesus?” was sung by a small group. One of the phrases is, “Will you ever let him in?” When I learned this song may years ago this phrase was, “Sinner, will you let him in?” It was an era with fewer subtleties.

With Christmas landing on a Sunday, the faithful at some churches will have to either collect their attendance points at the Christmas eve service or attend another church on Sunday morning. These churches are making the news by deciding to not have Sunday morning services on Christmas day. The faithful will have one service they can attend at Hometown Friends instead of the usual three.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Why don’t we see more in the media about the Iraqi people? I don’t see or read things that open a window into the lives of the people we are there to “help.” If this administration cares about the Iraqi people, why don’t we get a chance to see who they are and hear what they think?

It makes me wonder.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Only two weekends before Christmas. The Christmas tree is in the living room, but it’s not decorated. A dysfunctional string of lights on an outdoor tree needs to be replaced. We have shopping to do and Christmas letters to send. Tonight we are going to the George Fox University Christmas concert.

The extra “duties” and activities can be fun and chocolate seems more available everywhere.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I really like the idea of meditation. It’s something I try, but at best the results are mediocre. Clearing the mind of distractions just doesn’t happen. The path toward direct, uninterrupted communication with God has side roads.

A deer crosses the path in front of me and I turn to see where it goes without even realizing I have just turned away from my goal. It walks by trees and ferns and I follow. The deer moves on out of sight at about the same time as I notice a stream off to the side. The water is so clean and clear, I can see the fish. I sit on a log and watch. And only then I remember I was on a mental mission to connect with God. So I get up, go back to the main path, and continue a little farther until the next thing that diverts me from my intention.

I’ve never been tested for ADD, but sometimes I wonder.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Four of the five black Hurricane Katrina evacuees testifying to a special House committee yesterday attributed the slow response to racism. Some congressmen got a little defensive about comparison to genocide and the Holocaust.

Representative Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, used poor judgment when he said, "I don't want to be offensive when you've gone though such incredible challenges," but referring to some of the victims' charges, like the gun pointed at the girl, Shays said: "I just don't frankly believe it." He certainly can opt to not believe, but his response reflects an attitude that lacks compassion and sensitivity.

The hearing was requested by Representative Cynthia McKinney, Democrat from Georgia and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. "Racism is something we don't like to talk about, but we have to acknowledge it," McKinney said. "And the world saw the effects of American-style racism in the drama as it was outplayed by the Katrina survivors."

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Finally! Some Hurricane Katrina follow up in the media that isn’t about pets.

Angry hurricane victims testified before a congressional committee today. We heard from people who experienced what the storm did and what FEMA didn’t do. One individual commented that FEMA tried to behave like a welfare organization instead of a first-responder relief agency.

Monday, December 05, 2005

It was a year and a half ago that I talked with Matt Chandler in my office. Our conversation was for an interview to post on the Barclay Press web site. Matt lived in Baghdad, Iraq, as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) both before and after that interview.

Matt is a low-key guy who did not capitalize on the drama of living in a war zone and a culture where you are an uninvited infidel. The text version of the interview concludes: “Helping Iraqis live a more peaceful life, helping them understand people from my culture, helping people from my culture understand them—I consider these things as part and parcel of God’s overall mission for this world. …What I’m called to do is to be faithful to God’s leading and at this point God’s leading is for me to serve people who are victims of violence, injustice, and poverty.”

My connection with Matt makes the kidnapping of the four current CPT workers in Baghdad feel more personal. More than a year ago when Matt was still in Iraq he posted “What it means to be a foreigner in Iraq” as a response to an internal CPT discussion.

I believe God is pleased with the work and convictions of Christian Peacemaker Teams.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. One of the signs of the season is the number of women wearing Christmas sweaters. Most of these women would not buy a sweater that can only be worn in December. These showcases of reds and greens are gifts of Christmases past.

Poinsettias decorate the platform at Hometown Friends Church. It’s a tradition for people to have the opportunity to pay $6.50 for a poinsettia that is in honor or in memory of a loved one. I enjoy reading the insert. The “in honor of” section has the warm feel of people wanting to publicly acknowledge family or friends. “In memory of” includes an interesting mix of recently departed and those who have been long gone but are certainly not forgotten.

The pastor’s topic is, “Does God really love?” The faithful have a lot to say about how God loves you, but are less articulate and find it awkward to engage mind and emotions with how God loves me.

The service ends with the lighting of an advent candle. A young mother stays away from pious platitudes about peace as she talks about the emotional pressures of the season. Then she lights the candle of peace.

The faithful sing another song and then head for the exits. The path from pew to car is without delay for some, while others use any excuse to visit with friends they see only at church. And since they live up to their name, they will be back next week.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I was wondering this morning what the real motivation is behind the war in Iraq. My thoughts took me to the Star Wars scene where Luke Skywalker is facing his father and the Emperor. The Emperor urges Luke to give in to his anger and come over to the dark side. I’m afraid the people who made the decision to go to war gave in to their anger.

Friday, December 02, 2005

It’s been many years since Lew’s tree farm was in its prime, but each year I continue to find the perfect tree for our living room. I expect tomorrow will be the day—or maybe if the weather is bad enough I’ll be able to put it off for another week. I like the noble firs with a little space between layers of branches. This allows the ornaments to hang instead of lay on top of a green cone.

I look for uniformity—a symmetrical tree. But this isn’t really a good representation of life. Life has a lot of randomness. I wouldn’t mind bringing home an ugly tree this year. We could try to make the decorations turn an unattractive tree into something beautiful. The ugly tree could represent things like the number of times my good intentions (and verbal commitments) have far exceeded my performance. It could represent the fact that once a person has had cancer there is a cloud of potential reoccurrence, or a high school freshman’s below capability performance in the first trimester, or a college freshman’s ragged adjustment to balancing academics, work, social life, and sleep. On the global scene the ugly tree would reflect hurricanes, earthquakes, hunger, and war.

But why would I want those things sitting in my living room until New Year’s Day? I’ll do my best to find a symmetrical tree.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I love the things e-mail makes possible. This morning three of the items in my in box were from guys who live more than 2,000 miles away. Because of e-mail I’m able to have a meaningful connection with people who enrich my life. Two of the e-mails were from people I’ve never met in person, but who I consider ministry colleagues. A text prayer sent over the internet is far inferior to looking the person in the eye and saying, “Can I pray for you?” But it is a good second option.