Tuesday, January 31, 2006

When I listen to the State of the Union address tonight I’m going to try to curb my cynicism. I’d like to be fair and thoughtful in my reaction to what I hear. But I don’t want to be naive. When the President talks about helping people with the rising costs of health care, I will not ignore the fact that the White House helped Congress pass a bill that the budget office says will reduce coverage and increase the number of uninsured. This bill has been passed by the Senate and is scheduled for a House vote Wednesday. It makes cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, student loans, and more. Congressmen who vote for it and the President who will sign it will label it as fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction, but they are not being responsible or responsive to the needs of poor and lower income Americans and they are looking in the wrong places for deficit reduction.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. As I look around to see where the church is Monday thru Saturday I note that maybe half this group is retired. Hometown Friends Church has three services and the 9:45 gathering includes quite a few gray heads. These folks are no longer models of Christian living in the workplace. But even an old guy like Kenneth knows the church should be open to smokers, alcoholics, and prostitutes—and he’s willing to stand up and say it.

I notice Dave whose used car lot is a block and a half and a world away from my office. As a Christian publisher, the things that happen in my office tend to have some institutional flavor. We don’t make direct contact with the same type of people that Dave interacts with on his car lot.

The real work of the church doesn’t happen in this sanctuary with its stained glass windows. It’s on the car lot, in the classroom, at the coffee shop, across the street and across the hall, in the store, at the office, and in the home.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Perhaps I’m beginning to see how easily the line between “mission” and “organization” gets so gray it is hard to see. I’m thinking about the church. It can be defined both as a mission driven movement and as an institution. I believe individual Christian faith is best lived out in an organized, corporate context (often called the institutional church). But the church (as an institution) is not the mission. It is merely a tool. At times I’ve been guilty of placing too much importance on the institution. It’s safe to say that the best businesses and organizations are the ones that are driven and guided by their mission. Last night I heard a report from an organization and strategy study group for the Friends churches in the Northwest. It looks like an exciting proposal that will move boards and committees into a setting where they serve the unified mission of the church with less of the entrapments of maintaining programs and positions.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Barbara Lee is one of the voices that will continue to make the issue of poverty heard. She is a Congressman from California and she has introduced three bills to combat poverty. One requires the President to submit to Congress a plan for eliminating poverty. The second would toll back tax cuts for the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans and dedicate the fund to programs for the elimination of poverty. The third would require Congress to report on the poverty impact of any piece of legislation. She wants Congress to pay attention to whether a bill will increase the growing level of poverty in the U.S. and how a piece of legislation will impact the lives and livelihood of low income people.

As the media attention to poverty gradually dwindles after Hurricane Katrina, there are still 37 million people living in poverty in the United States and real change will require a lot more than three pieces of legislation that are unlikely to be passed.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I grew up hearing at church about the Aymara people in Bolivia. Friends (Quakers) in the Northwest ministered to this people group in Bolivia and Peru up until recent years when the national Friends church has developed to the place where support from missionary staff is no longer needed. So I paid a little more attention than I would have otherwise when I saw that Bolivia has a new president. Evo Morales took office on Sunday as the first Aymara president of Bolivia. Indigenous people make up 60% of the Bolivia population, but are among the poorest. Morales pledged to bring an end to 500 years of discrimination against indigenous people and promises to abstain from vengence.

Morales created some fashion attention by wearing a colorful striped alpaca wool sweater instead of a suit in some high level settings. Look-alike sweaters have already become popular in Bolivia and a more authentic "forget protocol" sweater is available online.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

“It was my concern from day to day to say neither more nor less than what the spirit of truth opened in me” (John Woolman). This reminds me that I’ve shot arrows that can never be put back in the quiver and I’ve been silent as an opportunity to speak came and then disappeared forever. I’d become paranoid if I thought about this very much, so my prayer today is simply that both my words and thoughts will be pleasing to God.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I don’t remember if it was college basketball or professional football we were watching this past weekend when I asked Cindy why the male sportscasters can be ugly, but the women have to be beautiful. We will know the gender gap is closing when we see a woman sportscaster who is as homely as some of the men who do live sports commentary.

I'm not complaining, just making an observation.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Supreme Court ruling on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act put Senator Gordon Smith in a place he didn’t want to be. The following message I sent to the Senator’s office is in response to his announcement that he feels this issue has been decided (even though many of his Republican colleagues will want to bring it back to the Senate floor).

“I admire your efforts to find balance as you work for the common good. Balancing personal conviction with serving as the representative of your constituency has to be very challenging, but you seem to be doing it with grace and dignity.

“I am pleased when an elected official denies partisan loyalty the power to override conviction. Your respect for the judiciary and for your constituency is exemplary. I do not interpret this as a compromise of your personal moral values. I hope your colleagues on both sides of the isle and the voters will note that the issues are more important than partisan power plays.” (I should have said principles instead of the issues.)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. Keeping things the way they have been works just fine for the faithful. Big changes are unsettling. Creating a new staff position and discontinuing someone from the pastoral staff goes well beyond the comfort zone for some. I’m glad I’m not in a position where I have to respond to unhappy people.

This old room has seen a lot of change. In fact, isn’t change the whole purpose of the church?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Sometimes I can identify the source of a nighttime dream. Last night I had an unpleasant dream that I can’t connect with anything I’ve been doing or thinking.

I was taking an academic class at what seemed to be a junior college. It was a small class and we were given a test. I couldn’t even understand the questions let alone have any idea how to answer. I was still trying to make some sense of what I was reading when another student handed in her completed test. The teacher was willing to give me as much time as I needed and after everyone else had turned in their test I was making guesses in the multiple choice section. It was an awful feeling. I was the dumbest student.

I’m not sure if it was part of the dream, but I remember thinking that I now know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the class.

Friday, January 20, 2006

It’s been three nights in a row that I’ve become impatient with my son (a high school freshman). I’d like to excuse myself by saying he’s immature, but that doesn’t work. Of course he’s immature. He’s fiveteen. If I try to blame my impatience on him, I only show my own immaturity.

Or maybe I can say it’s normal for a parent to be tired and frustrated. If it’s normal, I’d rather be abnormal.

School work has been at the center of these frustrations and since this is Friday, tonight we break the string. And he’s going to be at a friend’s house for a pizza party. This is a circumstance, not a solution.

I do “slow to anger and quick to forgive” half right. I’m thinking I’d do well to take action at the first sign of smoke instead of trying to fight the fire.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good?

This is a question being asked by the Christian Vision Project. Lauren Winner’s answer is to sleep more. She admits it may seem a curious answer, but she makes a compelling and interesting case and then closes her article saying: “To sleep, long and soundly, is to place out trust not in our own strength and hard work, but in him without whom we labor in vain.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, thinks investors should have better information about what executives make—salary, stock options, and corporate perks. The talk of reporting requirements for the absurd CEO salaries is for the benefit of shareholders. When I heard this news item my thoughts went further down the ladder where I live (consumer as compared to investor). It’s the consumer that is paying for these multimillion dollar salaries, not the shareholder.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Good Night and Good Luck, North Country, and Syriana are movies made by Participant Productions. They call themselves a film company with a mission to make the world a better place. Each film has its own social action campaign at participate.net. “Our goal is to deliver compelling entertainment that will raise awareness about important social issues, educate audiences, and inspire them to take action.” Participant was founder by Jeff Skoll two years ago. Skoll was the first president and first full-time employee of eBay.

The list of current and future films make me optimistic that Participant might really be a new kind of film company.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Martin Luther King’s dream included the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners sitting down together at the table of brotherhood. My perspective is that the table of accommodation, the table of political correctness, the table of strategic alliance, and the table of self interest get more use than the table of brotherhood.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. I tend to close out the rest of the world when I sit in the pew, but this morning I think about the fact that even with the time difference my oldest son is probably now sitting with the multiethnic Voice of Calvary Fellowship in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s there with some other guys on a work project. What I see around me is quite homogeneous compared to what he’s experiencing.

The pastor talks about John the Baptist and does an excellent job of helping me think about what it means to be radical. As a Christian publisher I’d have to say most of my work has more to do with changing the church than with changing the world. John the Baptist—being the prophet he was—saw that the “world” was going to change before the “church” changed.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

If I dug a whole straight through the earth I would come out in the Indian Ocean east of the southern tip of Africa and a bit further south. If I dig a very deep hole, where I go to stop? When I was a child we thought we'd come out in China.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The White House is saying we can expect a 400 billion deficit in 2006. Now why would this be? Do they say:

a. the continuation of tax cuts primarily for the richest people in America,

b. the war in Iraq, or

c. Hurricane Katrina.

Their answer is “c.”

Recent communication from my Congressman’s office (David Wu) says, “The tax cuts enacted since 2001 will cost more than 1.77 trillion over the next five years—many times the anticipated cost of the hurricanes.”

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Roger Newell is moderating the discussion of Life Together on the Barclay Press book discussion this month. Last week he was with a group of students serving the urban poor and he was struck with the way their missional service created community among the group. This reminds me that my best experience of Christian community was living in Jackson, Mississippi, working with people committed to Christian service. Referring to most local churches Roger asks, “Are we working too hard at trying to be a community together and forgetting that we are meant first and foremost to be on a mission?”

Good question.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I am occasionally reminded that we have not made as much progress closing the gender gap as we should. It seems to me that women have been given responsibility more quickly than they are given authority and prestige.

A.J. Schwanz noted in her blog that a session on the emerging church at a national pastors conference is all male. I too easily let male dominance go unnoticed—on boards, among conference presenters, in pastoral leadership. I need to continue to retrain myself to not fall into a cultural mindset that does not give women the encouragement and empowerment to realize their potential.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

This morning Darryl Brown gave me a copy of Geez magazine. He’s the art director for this new venture. When I first heard about it, I liked the way it was described and was surprised to discover I know someone who is involved. It is 96 pages that use illustration generously. “Geez is your story of experiments with truth. Because it’s time we untangle the narratives of faith from the fundamentalists, pious self-helpers and religio-profiteers. And let’s do it with holy mischief rather than ideological firepower.” The description on page four goes on to say “We’ll explore the point at which word, action and image intersect, and then ignite. . . . We’ve set up camp in the outback of the spiritual commons. A bustling spot for the over-churched, out-churched, un-churched and maybe even the un-churchable. A location just beyond boring bitterness. A place for wannabe contemplatives, front-line world-changers and restless cranks.”

Monday, January 09, 2006

Born Again and Again and My Fundamentalist Education are two recent book titles that caught my interest. The tone of these books is what specifically interests me. I expect to hear harsh criticism and some resentment when someone who has grown up in a fundamentalist environment writes a book after they have traded their childhood religion in for something much broader.

I’ve not seen the books, just a review and interview. Speaking of Jon M. Sweeney (author of Born Again and Again: Surprising Gifts of a Fundamentalist Childhood) a reviewer says, “His respect for this fellow Christians, even those with different beliefs, is something we should all emulate in our own spiritual journeys.” When Christine Rosen (author of My Fundamentalist Education: A Memoir of a Divine Childhood) was interviewed on National Public Radio, their introduction of her includes: “In her memoir, she writes without anger or apology about ideas she has left behind.”

Sunday, January 08, 2006

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. The new year is only a week old and many still have that sense of resolve that comes with a new calendar even if they didn’t make specific resolutions. People seem to give more attention to others and listen closer to the message. I’m wondering what our connection here means during the week. I look around to evaluate the depth of my relationship with others in the room. Do I know where they live? Have I ever been in their house or they in mine? Will I see them again before next Sunday? Can a church be effective without also being a community? Does being here this morning make any difference on the rest of my week?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

My dad doesn’t like to wear his seat belt in the car. It takes both the law and the insistence of my step mother to make it happen. He doesn’t like big government telling him what he can and can’t do even if it’s for his own safety. I thought of my dad when I was thinking about the way coal miners are trapped even before a mine shaft caves in. Economics, work ethic, isolation, and family loyalty all play their part in holding them in a situation where their lives are at risk, but they are not rewarded for being risk-takers.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a school teacher in a mining community. (I can’t imagine myself being a school teacher anywhere.) How would you encourage boys to look at other options instead 0f following their fathers and grandfathers without feeling disloyal to the danger and hardship they have endured for their families.

I’m thinking I’d like to watch October Sky again.

Friday, January 06, 2006

When an overweight, overstressed, 77-year-old man has a stroke, it is not because God “smote” him. Pat Robertson should know this is a natural biological event rather than anything God did.

Once again Pat Robertson has shamed the Christian community with his unbridled tongue. Robertson suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine retribution for the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. He also compounded his mistake by trying to claim biblical immunity from accountability when his spokeswoman said, “This is what the Word of God says.”

God’s love for wisdom and for justice seemed conspicuously absent in Robertson’s assertion.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

This morning when I was walking back to the office from an appointment at the espresso shop, I saw a friend in his office across the street. I went over to say hi and rather quickly we were talking about how hard it is for most of society to see any relevance in what happens inside the church buildings on Sunday. He said the people he talks to on his car lot are interested in God, but aren’t interested in the church. His phone rang and I went on up the street before we came up with a plan for how the church needs to change in order to be more effective.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Last night at the end of the Orange Bowl football game the country got multiple looks at the Florida kicker sitting dejected on the bench. He received this special attention because he didn’t send the ball between the uprights at a critical point in the game. This seems unfair to me. There were so many other things both obvious and unnoticed that could have made a difference in the game. Why do we single out the missed free throw at the end of a basketball game, one dropped ball on the baseball diamond, or a missed field goal and then focus in on that player’s misery. Wins are a team effort and loses are as well.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

I’ve been doing some thinking about the balance between “talking” and “doing.” As a publisher my career is focused more on words than actions. I do not doubt the importance of words, but I’m giving some attention to the fact that words by themselves do not put food in a hungry child’s stomach. They don’t bring a family out of the hopelessness of poverty. Words generally aren’t enough to turn injustice into righteousness. The powers of addiction aren’t broken by reading a book. Disease and its effects are not ended by a paper in a medical journal. Part of what I’m trying to do is to make sure in my own mind that publishing does not become an isolated activity, but a telescope that helps people see issues and a stimulus for informed action.

Monday, January 02, 2006

When Cindy got a pound of hamburger out of the freezer, I asked what the plan was. I like the hamburger, tater tot, green bean casserole, but this is a holiday. Tomorrow the holidays are behind us. It seems more like a pizza night instead of a casserole night. I’m not much of a cook, but occasionally I give Cindy a break. So I made a quick trip to Fred Meyer and now the Italian bread mix is in the bread maker on the “dough” cycle and the hamburger is soaking up seasoning on simmer. We’ll save the “tots” for another night.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

It’s Sunday morning and the faithful have gathered. The room looks like everyone showed up even though it’s a holiday. The prelude is usually instrumental, but this morning it’s vocal—the sweet voice of a violin player. She has a first cousin once removed who is a Christian rock star. Their musical styles are a bit contrasting, but I like both.

The topic for the message is “Figurehead Diplomat or Real Ambassador.” This title makes me think of my step brother who is a career diplomat currently serving our country as ambassador to Mauritania. His career and position illuminates my perspective on diplomacy. The pastor’s point today is that we aren’t here just to create a comfortable religious organization and then go to heaven when we die. He seems to think Christians need to be good ambassadors who know the language and the culture of the people and engage the culture in a positive way. I can’t tell whether the faithful are buying it, but whether changed or not they will be back next week.