31 October 2009

Do it again!

Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

G.K. Chesterton Orthodoxy

30 October 2009

Spiritual Art

A glass labyrinth.
Louisville, KY

Chameleon Christianity: Moving Beyond Safety and Conformity

A BOOK REVIEW of Dick Keyes' Chameleon Christianity: Moving Beyond Safety and Conformity, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 121 pp

Reviewed by Ron Toews

Dick Keyes believes one thing keenly: that Jesus’ call to serve as salt and light in a decaying, dark world is largely being ignored by Evangelical Christians in the Western world. While Jesus’ salt and light metaphors are radical and interactive and call for a critical engagement of culture, Keyes asserts that Evangelical Christians have handled the metaphors badly and fallen prey to one of two wrong approaches: (1) they have become saltless salt. A distinctive Christian identity is lost, and the believer has nothing to offer the world that the world does not already have. Or (2) they have become a light hidden under a bushel basket and fallen prey to Christian tribalism. In this error, Christian distinctiveness is contained within a Christian ghetto or subculture.

It is into this morass that Keyes wades with Chameleon Christianity. The grist for the book has surely been Keyes’ work over three decades with student-oriented L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, England, and Massachusetts. A graduate of Harvard University and Westminster Theological Seminary, Keyes’ areas of particular interest include apologetics, the intersection between psychology and theology, and Christianity and culture. He has written several other books, True Heroism (1995) and Beyond Identity (1984, 1998), also primarily intended for the young adult reader intent on regaining a more biblically countercultural strategy of engagement. Apologists Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton have evidently been Keyes’ mentors.

Compromise and tribalism are not new to the people of God; Keyes briefly illustrates their existence in the biblical literature before providing a more thorough analysis of the present-day church. He concludes by {197} arguing that (1) the recovery of apologetics, and (2) the recovery of the church as community, will restore the church to Jesus’ salt and light objectives. Regarding (1) apologetics, Keyes asserts that it is not possible to engage people with the gospel until one has first understood their arguments, and so he argues passionately for Christians to listen seriously and lovingly to peoples’ ideas, beliefs, objections, gripes, doubts, and struggles. The flip side of the issue is that Christians who do not understand the Scriptures will have nothing at all to say to unbelievers.

Regarding (2) the church as community, Keyes asserts that the Western church has become a lifestyle enclave. The New Testament church was by far more diverse than ours but corralled chaos through a common commitment to Christ’s lordship. Keyes argues that a recovery of the biblical concept of the church as community will pull the church back from the twin dangers of compromise and tribalism. “Our hope,” he concludes, “lies in being open to the challenge of the Bible in our individual and collective lives” (113).

Ron Toews is Senior Pastor, Dalhousie Community Church, Calgary, Alberta

29 October 2009

SIGNS: Cane Valley, KY

Between Campbellsville & Columbia

Listen, Speak

If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.
Frederick Buechner Now & Then

God spoke to Balaam through his ass... I believe God still speaks through asses today...So if God should choose to speak through you - you needn't think too highly of yourself.

Rich Mullins Lufkin, Texas August 1997

28 October 2009

U2's Global Webcast

The world's greatest band on the world's largest stage - U2 on YouTube. Watch the rebroadcast of the full live streaming performance from the Rose Bowl. Recorded on Sunday, October 25th.

Maturity is long sighted

Painting is so much more satisfying than ministry, well, in the short run it is. When I finish painting a room or a wall, I stand back and say, "Wow, look at the difference!"

You can see the result! Everything is fresh and clean and bright. There's a sense of accomplishment.

With ministry, or teaching or nearly any people oriented helping profession, there's often a lag time, a gap between the planting and the harvesting. With much of what I do there's a need for hope and patience and perseverance.

While I find great significance and meaning in what I do, sometimes I temporarily think of returning to painting for the immediacy of the satisfaction. But then, like mowing the grass or taking out the rubbish, some refurbishments need to be done repeatedly and are not permanent or eternal.

27 October 2009

SIGNS: 1880 Center of US Population

Covington, Kentucky

What's Wrong?

When the country goes temporarily to the dogs, cats must learn to be circumspect, walk on fences, sleep in trees, and have faith that all this woofing is not the last word.

Garrison Keillor We are Still Married

When an article in The Times of London proposed the question "What's Wrong with the World?" the late G. K. Chesterton, an extremely imaginative and teachable sinner replied, "I am. Yours truly, G. K. Chesterton."

Charlie Peacock At The Crossroads

Why do you speak Portugeese?

Africa held many attractions for the European powers during the late 1890's. While explorers including Livingstone, Stanley and Speke had mapped out most of the continent during the 1850's, much of Africa was not under direct European control. But the 1890's marked an era where European powers, namely the British, French, Portuguese and Germans, decided that grabbing land for themselves and setting up colonies was an economic and political necessity. Africans did not consent or even realise their land was now in the hands of foreigners.

"The Berlin Conference was Africa's undoing in more ways than one. The colonial powers superimposed their domains on the African continent. By the time independence returned to Africa in 1950, the realm had acquired a legacy of political fragmentation that could neither be eliminated nor made to operate satisfactorily."
de Blij, H.J. and Peter O. Muller Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997. Page 340.

Ever wonder how we got here? I don't mean here on earth or here at this website, but here, politically, socially, linguistically, from wherever in the world you are reading this? Why do you speak English, of whatever flavour or accent, and other normal people think and speak in French or German? What of hearing an African speak with a European accent and the perfect grammar of an European language? Fascinating, yet the story behind it is full of greed and manipulation of man-made boundaries and borders. Read on.

Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa: The Colonization of the Continent by European Powers

By Matt Rosenberg, About.com

In 1884 at the request of Portugal, German chancellor Otto von Bismark called together the major western powers of the world to negotiate questions and end confusion over the control of Africa. Bismark appreciated the opportunity to expand Germany's sphere of influence over Africa and desired to force Germany's rivals to struggle with one another for territory.

At the time of the conference, 80% of Africa remained under traditional and local control. What ultimately resulted was a hodgepodge of geometric boundaries that divided Africa into fifty irregular countries. This new map of the continent was superimposed over the one thousand indigenous cultures and regions of Africa. The new countries lacked rhyme or reason and divided coherent groups of people and merged together disparate groups who really did not get along.

Fourteen countries were represented by a plethora of ambassadors when the conference opened in Berlin on November 15, 1884. The countries represented at the time included Austria-Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden-Norway (unified from 1814-1905), Turkey, and the United States of America. Of these fourteen nations, France, Germany, Great Britain, and Portugal were the major players in the conference, controlling most of colonial Africa at the time.

The initial task of the conference was to agree that the Congo River and Niger River mouths and basins would be considered neutral and open to trade. Despite its neutrality, part of the Congo Basin became a personal kingdom for Belgium's King Leopold II and under his rule, over half of the region's population died.

At the time of the conference, only the coastal areas of Africa were colonized by the European powers. At the Berlin Conference the European colonial powers scrambled to gain control over the interior of the continent. The conference lasted until February 26, 1885 - a three month period where colonial powers haggled over geometric boundaries in the interior of the continent, disregarding the cultural and linguistic boundaries already established by the indigenous African population.

Following the conference, the give and take continued. By 1914, the conference participants had fully divided Africa among themselves into fifty countries.

Major colonial holdings included:

  • Great Britain desired a Cape-to-Cairo collection of colonies and almost succeeded though their control of Egypt, Sudan (Anglo-Egyptian Sudan), Uganda, Kenya (British East Africa), South Africa, and Zambia, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), and Botswana. The British also controlled Nigeria and Ghana (Gold Coast).
  • France took much of western Africa, from Mauritania to Chad (French West Africa) and Gabon and the Republic of Congo (French Equatorial Africa).
  • Belgium and King Leopold II controlled the Democratic Republic of Congo (Belgian Congo).
  • Portugal took Mozambique in the east and Angola in the west.
  • Italy's holdings were Somalia (Italian Somaliland) and a portion of Ethiopia.
  • Germany took Namibia (German Southwest Africa) and Tanzania (German East Africa).
  • Spain claimed the smallest territory - Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni).
Now you know how Africa got its borders and the people learned from foreigners.
Now you know how a hand full of people in Europe determined the destiny of people in Africa who were not consulted or even informed.
Some people look at Africa and think it is all much the same from top to tip. Africa is rich in culture, variety, smells, sounds & tastes.
It is idealistic to wish it had never been influenced by Europe, but it is intriguing to think how it would be different. As it is, Africans keep reclaiming parts of their continent, for better or worse.

26 October 2009

Twisted Humour

Blemishes: Badges of Battles

In my preparation for talking to a group of ladies about true beauty, I found this essay by Mike Bellah of Best Years blog. Your comments are welcome.

The Myth of Beautiful People

Her skin is hairless and without blemishes: no pimples on this beauty queen. Body contours are perfect; eyes and teeth sparkle. Her hair is immaculate; not a strand out of place. Everything is flawless. Welcome to the world of Scitex.

Scitex is a brand name which has become a catchall term for computer retouching systems. According to Mary Tanner writing in the New York Times Magazine, almost every commercial photograph now contains some computer-generated enhancement, changes so subtle and artful that most people believe they are real. Says Tanner, "Even though we know by now that the computer can altar images--can even splice together the photograph of two people who have never actually met, posing them in a city neither of them has ever been in--we can't help giving credence to the end product."

I agree with Tanner; modern commercials have caused us to subscribe to what I call the myth of beautiful people, a myth that says one can be perfect--physically, emotionally, and circumstantially.

Clearly these smiling successful people, who pass our way daily via the television screen and magazine, have no lack of money for paying their bills, no invalid mother in a nursing home, no lost job or career, no struggling marriage, no estranged children, no serious illness, no addiction to alcohol or nicotine, no weight problem, no chronic aches or pains, no bouts with depression--none of the real struggles faced by real people.

And there are consequences to accepting the illusion. I'm convinced the myth of beautiful people has caused modern Americans, especially midlifers, to struggle with unnecessary shame. According to Dick Keyes in Beyond Identity, "Shame is what you experience when you suddenly realize that you have fallen short of your models."

Too often in our commercial-saturated society we adopt these "beautiful people" for models, a decision destined for disappointment. All we have to do is experience one imperfection--and in a normal life there are many--and we feel shame.

"Something must be wrong with me," we say; "normal people don't experience these things." But normal people do; in fact, heroic people do. In fact, truly beautiful people do.

In Amusing Ourselves To Death Neil Postman reminds us that there are no extant photographs of a smiling Abraham Lincoln. A man who experienced many personal tragedies, not to mention the strain of a nation at war with itself, the midlife Lincoln was given to long bouts of depression.

One wonders if the 19th century political packagers had possessed the technology of their 20th century counterparts, would they have airbrushed the character lines from Lincoln's face? Would they have hidden his personal tragedies from the public? Would they have created a Scitex Lincoln? If so, they would have destroyed the beauty of one of this nation's truly beautiful people.

For the truly beautiful are not made perfect by the computer, but by successfully navigating the real struggles of a real world. And those with blemishes--be they physical or emotional--have no cause for shame. These tell us only that we are truly alive, and in some cases (like the scars on a war veteran), that we have fought and won some hard battles.

25 October 2009

Reason & Paradoxes

I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.

When I get honest, I admit that I'm a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.

Brennan Manning in The Ragamuffin Gospel

Music Links & Tips

Jason Gray writes on his blog:

Three of my friends released really cool new records this week that you should check out:

Thad Cockrell, “To Be Loved” – warm, hymnlike, tunes with elegant and honest lyrics. Part Paul Simon, part Ryan Adams, part Daniel Lanois. Don’t miss this record, it’s a treasure you’ll return to over and over. (Thad is one of my favorite writers, I wrote “When The Sun Falls From Your Sky” that’s on the Special Edition of my new CD) Get it at iTunes or http://thadcockrell.com

Phil Wickham, “Heaven And Earth” – I fell in love with Phil (in a brotherly way :-) when he was out with us at the beginning of this tour. This record is full of amazing vibe, it has a great production value. Modern pop/rock worship from one of the most passionate vocalists in Christian music. iTunes or http://www.philwickham.com.

Downhere, “How Many Kings” – Well, if you followed me the last several years, you know I’ve done 4 tours with these guys and that I love them like brothers. Following the success of their Christmas song, How Many Kings, they decided to make a whole Christmas record. It’s full of what you’d come to expect from them – solid pop/rock with beautiful melodies and amazing voices to sing them. It’s also their most playful record. iTunes or http://www.downhere.com
My friend Tiffany first introduced me to Downhere when I visited her in Australia. Let's see, an American visiting Australia from New Zealand hearing Canadians sing about The Real Jesus. Too funny.

Anyway, here are the lyrics and the video.

Lyrics to The Real Jesus :
Jesus on the radio, Jesus on a late night show
Jesus in a dream, looking all serene
Jesus on a steeple, Jesus in the Gallup poll
Jesus has His very own brand of rock and roll

Watched Him on the silver screen
Bought the action figurine
But Jesus is the only name that makes you flinch

Oh, can anybody show me the real Jesus?
Oh, let Your love unveil the mystery of the real Jesus

Jesus started something new
Jesus coined a phrase or two
Jesus split the line at the turning point of time
Jesus sparked a controversy
Jesus, known for His mercy, gave a man his sight
Jesus isn't white

Jesus loves the children, holds the lambs
Jesus prays a lot
Jesus has distinguishing marks on His hands

If anybody walks behind the Good Shepherd
If anybody holds the hands that heal lepers
And if you recognize the eyes that see forever, please...

Jesus, Jesus
Oh, can anybody show me Jesus
Oh, let Your love unveil the glory, the real Jesus

Oh, can anybody show me the real Jesus?
Oh, let Your love unveil the glory of the real Jesus, the real Jesus

24 October 2009

I gave the "Why?" but not the "What?"

I was kicking myself after a presentation, driving home and telling myself all the things I should have said. I called my dad for the company and perspective. A public speaker and consultant himself, he often has useful and insightful advice.

He said, "Some of my best talks were the ones I gave as I drove home after a presentation."

That sure fit my situation. I had been factual, answering questions as yet unasked, but not connecting on an emotional level with my audience at all. I hadn't provided the "Why?" only the "What?" and had left empty handed and frustrated. Phooey.

While I know it is not all about me and how I perform, I also knew I had not done my best and that I'd do things differently next time.

At this point, that's the best I can do. Live and learn.

23 October 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

What's your favourite children's story? Mine is probably Suzy the Squirrel as it was a lovely picture book my grandmother bought for me when I was a little girl. I also love James Whitcomb Riley poems, Winnie the Pooh and Happy Hollisters, but those are not usually found simply as picture books.

Another friend of mine answered this question in a group setting one time and said it was Where the Wild Things Are. I had never read the story, so I didn't know what he was talking about.

The story has now been made into a film with live actors rather than animation. Where the Wild Things Are is an adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world--a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler.

Enjoy the following review and then a YouTube version of the book with animation.

Karen O and the Kids [DGC / Interscope; 2009] Reviewed by — Stuart Berman, October 8, 2009

Like Wild Things' young protagonist Max, Karen O understands the power of imagination in transforming your mundane surroundings into something spectacular; witness the former Oberlin College student trying to make her way as a folksinger in a unitard, before refashioning herself into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' beer-spitting, mascara-smeared mouthpiece. Unlike most lead singers with a reputation for physically extreme performances, Karen O's onstage behavior is never really subjected to psychoanalytic interpretation, nor should it be: That giddy, childlike smile she routinely flashes lets us in on the make-believe fantasy of it all, reminding us once again that rock'n'roll is really just the grown-up version of building a fort or playing with dolls. Sure, you could look at Karen O's name on the soundtrack to the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are and chalk it up to a convenient byproduct of her close relationship with the film's director, Spike Jonze. But really, there's no one better qualified for the job of translating Maurice Sendak's bedtime-story classic into song.

So for Karen O, Where the Wild Things Are isn't just a soundtrack gig; it's a vessel through which she can again redraft her surroundings. This time, she plays the head mistress of a freak-folk dream-team (christened the Kids) that includes fellow Yeah Yeah Yeahs Nick Zinner, Brian Chase, and Imaad Wasif; Deerhunter's Bradford Cox; Aaron Hemphill of Liars; and Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence of the Dead Weather. Strangely, the Wild Things trailer that's been burning up YouTube for the past month features not a note of music from this soundtrack album, instead luring us into the movie's magic animal kingdom through the choral grandeur of Arcade Fire's "Wake Up". But that track provides a cue for what Karen O and her Kids are aiming for here: a balance of the folky and fantastical, with immediate, all-together-now hooks designed for maximal campfire communalism.

Children's music, in other words-- though, barring the forced simplicity of lead single "All Is Love" (presented in a simple sing-along and a more dramatic, Funeral-ready form), it's music that's direct and participatory enough to engage the kids without aggressively pandering to them; it won't be hard to get your young'un to shout along to the gleeful, wordless hollers on "Rumpus", but the forceful stomps on which they're delivered serves to remind us that, for all their cheek-pinching cuteness, kids can be nasty, destructive little buggers. While the song titles reference the movie's events and characters, the lyrics rarely do; strip away the requisite film-dialogue snippets, and this set could've been a bonus acoustic companion disc packaged with It's Blitz!. In a sense, this soundtrack serves a similar function for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs as the "MTV Unplugged" series did for grunge acts in the mid-90s-- an opportunity to strip down, but also get more elaborate and pile on the vibes, woodwinds, and other acoustic textures.

However, while the spell-it-out chant "Capsize" and the dust-up jam "Animal" tap into the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' feral energy, they ultimately feel like alternate, restrained versions of songs that would sound more effective and natural in amplified form. And, inevitably, there are a handful of incidental acoustic instrumentals that probably sound better when paired with Jonze's widescreen imagery. But the Wild Things soundtrack boasts enough illuminating, atypical turns from Karen O that make it worth experiencing independent of its source. The languorous lullaby "Hideaway" may be the least kid-friendly song here-- both in its strung-out, hazy-headed performance and my-baby's-gone subject matter-- but is a marvel nonetheless, a come-down sequel to "Maps" that the broken-hearted can comfort themselves with after the tears have dried. And it's no discredit to Karen's efforts to say that the soundtrack's most affecting moment is its lone cover-- for a film concerned with the complicated, conflicted relationship between childish whimsy and the real world, there's no better representative than Daniel Johnston, whose beautifully bruised ballad "Worried Shoes" is given a lovely, touching treatment by Karen. Like Johnston, Karen O has used music to access a fantasy world more exciting than the everyday one. The former's eccentricities put him in a mental hospital; the latter's got her on magazine covers. But the appearance of "Worried Shoes" on this soundtrack underscores the fact that, while our wildest fantasies are uniquely personal, the insecurities that inspire them are universal.

22 October 2009

Hope, Gladness, Hunger

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the souland sings the tune without the words and never stops at all and sweetest in the gale is heard and strong must be the storm that could abash the little bird that kept so many warm. I've seen him in the chillest land and on the strangest sea -yet never in extremity he took a crumb from me.

Emily Dickinson

The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.
Frederick Buechner , in Wishful Thinking

Cake Wrecks

icing on the cake- something good that is added to another good thing
He was delighted to have his story published – getting paid for it was just icing on the cake.
NY Times brings us all the important news, including this article about cake decorating gone wrong. Such disasters remind me of church signs that repel more passers-by than entice them in or typos that often smack of truth, though unintended. Read on for a fun bit of trivia that someone has turned in to a blog and a book. Now why didn't I think of that?

When the Icing on the Cake Spells Disaster

OOPS Cake Wrecks, a blog and book, chronicles edible errors.
By DAVID HOCHMAN Published: 13 October 2009

"SOMEONE who decorates cakes for a living should possess certain skills. Spelling is an important one. For example, success is not quite as sweet when the inscription reads, “Contralulation’s Ronan.” An eye for color helps, too. Piped dark brown swirls are never a good idea on a cake dotted with plastic farm animals. Finally, a few words about customer service: When someone requests that nothing be written on the cake, “NOTHING” should not be written on the cake.

For those working outside these margins, there is Cake Wrecks, Jen Yates’s popular blog and new book of the same name (Andrews McMeel, $12.99), celebrating the folly of professional confections gone horribly, horribly wrong. Think of them as epic fails, with frosting. There are Hello Kitty cakes that look more like gerbils with glandular problems, fondant ribbons gnarled into hideous nests, and squishy inscriptions that read, “Happy 3th Birthday, Evan.” As Ms. Yates, 31, defines it, a Cake Wreck is “any cake that is unintentionally sad, silly, creepy, inappropriate — you name it.”

“I can’t get my brain around what’s happening in bakeries out there, but something very wonky is going on,” Ms. Yates said by telephone recently. “Wonky” is a favorite term on her site, as in the wonky Curious George cake that looks more like Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy. Sometimes, the wonkiness lies in the sentiment being expressed, as in the cake inscribed, “Sorry for all those things we said.”

Then there was the wonky miscommunication that started it all. In May 2008, a friend e-mailed Ms. Yates a photo of a sheet cake that looked like a prop from “The Office.” It was not. Amid marzipan flowers, the cursive inscription was a profound reminder of the perils of ordering supermarket cakes by phone. It read:

Best Wishes Suzanne

Under Neat that

We will Miss you

One giant LOL and several Google image searches later, Ms. Yates was in the business of chronicling pro baking train wrecks. “People had been posting pictures of ugly cakes for years, so I just started collecting them,” she said. What began as an amusing distraction from her job as a faux finisher for the specialty painting company she runs with her husband, John, in Orlando, Fla., has snowballed into a genuine Internet phenomenon — or at least a serious time waster.

By last fall, around 100,000 visitors a day were gawking at Cake Wrecks. More than a million people subscribe to Ms. Yates’s Cake Wrecks updates on Twitter.

“Everyone in the baking business follows Cake Wrecks almost daily, if only to make sure our cakes aren’t ending up on there,” said Mary Alice Yeskey, who works at Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and appears on the Food Network show “Ace of Cakes.” David Lebovitz, a former pastry chef at Chez Panisse who now writes about desserts from Paris, is also a fan.

“As someone on the professional side, you can see how these disasters happen, which only makes them funnier,” he said by telephone. “You take an order, leave it to one of your assistants to handle, and walk in the next morning and say, ‘Um, O.K. I think we have a problem.’”

Fortunately for Ms. Yates, an enormous number of those problems go unnoticed. She said she receives 50 to 60 Cake Wrecks submissions a day via e-mail, and usually posts between one and five photos each weekday morning. She posts only professionally made cakes (“It’s too easy and mean to go after your Aunt Sally’s cake wreck,” she said) and nothing excessively gory or obscene.

Much of the joy in following Cake Wrecks comes from Ms. Yates’s wry assessment of every plopped-out flower and bug-eyed snowman. She is particularly savage about punctuation mishaps, like when a baker omitted an exclamation point after the inscription, “Way To Go Bob.” Ms. Yates wrote, “Just try to read this cake without sounding sarcastic. Yeah. Exactly.” Beneath a Father’s Day cake that starkly announced “1 Dad,” the caption read, “Of all the Dads out there, you are one of them.”

At Ms. Yates’s bookstore appearances this fall, Cake Wrecks fans competed in cupcake contests to recreate the blog’s most popular wrecks. Some of the classics are tacky, like the chocolate cake festooned with Bud Light bottle caps. Others are silly, like the cake topped by naked mohawk-wearing babies riding plastic carrots.

A few are unfathomable. When a customer brought in a USB flash drive and asked a bakery to print out a digital picture from it to use on a cake for an office party, the baker instead made an edible version of the flash drive itself. A picture of the resulting cake, accurately frosted in silver and black, is probably the most forwarded image on the blog.

“We’ve all seen a cake at a supermarket or someone’s party and thought, ‘What were they thinking when they made that?’ ” said Heidi Mattson, a fan of Cake Wrecks who drove over an hour with her three children from St. Cloud, Fla., to attend a reading by Ms. Yates in Winter Park, Fla., last month.

Ms. Mattson brought along a cupcake replica she made of her favorite cake mistake on the blog. It is known as the Olympics Rings cake.

“The person had probably called up and said, ‘Can you put Olympic rings on my cake?’ ” Ms. Mattson explained. Instead, the edible red letters read as follows, parenthesis and quotation marks included: (“Olympics Rings”)

Ms. Yates said her intention is not to embarrass anyone, though she has received some hate mail from unhappy bakers, she said. Her point is to “find the funny,” she said, in the simple mistakes that are so easy to make at work.

“There are good excuses, I’m sure, for all these wrecks,” she said. “The person who took the order didn’t speak English very well. Someone was at the end of a very long day. We all slip up. But when you do it in the bakery department, it just so happens it’s a little more obvious.”

19 October 2009

Falling In Love

Jason Gray's new CD is making itself at home in my car stereo. Check out the lyrics to the fist track:

More Like Falling in Love
Give me rules I will break them
Give me lines I will cross them
I need more than a truth to believe
I need a truth that lives, moves, and breathes
To sweep me off my feet
It ought to be
More like falling in love
Than something to believe in
More like losing my heart
Than giving my allegiance
Caught up, called out
Come take a look at me now
It's like I'm falling, oh
It's like I'm falling in love
Give me words I'll misuse them
Obligations I'll misplace them
'Cause all religion ever made of me
Was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet
It never set me free
It's gotta be
It's like I'm falling in love, love, love
Deeper and deeper
It was love that made
Me a believer
In more than a name, a faith, a creed
Falling in love with Jesus brought the change in me

By: Jason Gray and Jason Ingram

Get the idea: "'Cause all religion ever made of me was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet"
Religion is man's attempts to reach God. It's often way too hard, a kind of obstacle course that often defeats people. Obligated, overburdened and oppressed believers can become ugly Christians.

People who realise their limitations and accept God's offer of grace in Jesus become humble honest testimonies to a loving God.

I much prefer a relationship with Jesus. I also like Jason Gray's arty website.

Skip to about a minute into the following video to miss the chat to the audience.

18 October 2009

Write so as not to be misunderstood

Best writing advice

as a young lady, I sought the advice of a wise elderly editor of a weekly magazine. Edwin Hayden had seen and heard it all and had weathers many a deadline.

He said, "Jill, write not so much to be understood, but so as not to be misunderstood."
I knew understanding was the goal, but I was not so conscious of the myriad ways my words could be misinterpreted. Much the same is true with public speaking. I may know what I said, and what I meant to be remembered, but I don't always know what people hear or take away with them.

Effective communication requires the speaker or writer to know what the intended message is. What do you want your audience to take away from their encounter with you?

Look at the following bad examples from church bulletins..

For those of you who have children and don't know it, we have a nursery downstairs.
Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.
The ladies of the Church have cast off clothing of every kind.  They may be seen in the basement on Friday afternoon.
----------------------------------- ------ -----------------------------
Ladies Bible Study will be held Thursday morning at 10 AM. All ladies are invited to lunch in the Fellowship Hall after the B.S. is done.
Low Self Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 PM. Please use the back door.
Weight Watchers will meet at 7 PM at the First Presbyterian Church.  Please use the large double doors at the side entrance.
The Associate Minister unveiled the church's new tithing campaign slogan last Sunday : 'I Upped My Pledge - Up Yours'

17 October 2009

Seth Godin on Decision Making

Make a decision

It doesn't have to be a wise decision or a perfect one. Just make one.

In fact, make several. Make more decisions could be your three word mantra.

No decision is a decision as well, the decision not to decide. Not deciding is usually the wrong decision. If you are the go-to person, the one who can decide, you'll make more of a difference. It doesn't matter so much that you're right, it matters that you decided.

Of course it's risky and painful. That's why it's a rare and valuable skill.

16 October 2009

What's up with the Acorns?

Symbolism is an amazing thing and fascinates me as I move between cultures. It gets really exciting when there are parallels between cultures, shared meanings of similar symbols. Where'd that come from? Consider pineapples as symbols of hospitality, turtles as creativity, fish hooks as wisdom and providence, ferns as new life, forever unfurling.

Walking under many oak trees this time of year in North America will not find so much symbolism as pain, but look, anyway, at the acorn symbol.

Acorns appear only on adult trees, and thus are often a symbol of patience and the fruition of long, hard labor.

For example, an English proverb states that Great oaks from little acorns grow, urging the listener to wait for maturation of a project or idea.

A German folktale has a farmer trying to outwit Satan, to whom he has promised his soul, by asking for a reprieve until his first crop is harvested; he plants acorns and has many years to enjoy first.

The Norse legend that Thor sheltered from a thunderstorm under an oak tree has led to the belief that having an acorn on a windowsill will prevent a house from being struck by lightning; hence the popularity of window blind pulls decorated as acorns.

In ancient Japan, (Jōmon period), acorns were an important food. Acorns were harvested, peeled and soaked in natural or artificial ponds for several days to remove tannins, then processed to make acorn cakes.

In Korea, an edible jelly named dotorimuk is made from acorns.

A motif in Roman architecture and popular in Celtic and Scandinavian art, the symbol is used as an ornament on cutlery, jewelry, furniture, and appears on finials at Westminster Abbey.

In the 17th century, a juice extracted from acorns was administered to habitual drunkards to cure them of their condition or else to give them the strength to resist another bout of drinking.

Young lovers may place two acorns, representing themselves and the object of their affection, in a bowl of water in order to predict whether they have a future together; if the acorns drift towards each other they are certain to marry (they will, if placed closer to each other than to the edge of the bowl).

In some cultures, it is said to be a good luck symbol if one carries acorns in one's pocket.

Any nut puns forthcoming from Converation@Intersections readers?

Becoming Postmaterial Citizens

"Human rights, personal liberties, community, aesthetic satisfaction and the environment?"
I wish my friend Carol was here to discuss these things with me.

An excerpt from nevermindthebricolage, a fairly random blog with a keen mind behind it, Barry Taylor.

"Graham Ward's latest book, The Politics of Discipleship: Becoming Postmaterial Citizens, offers up a definition of a post-materialist that came from the work of Ronald Inglehart. Inglehart argued that as people moved out of economic instability their values change (in this thought he is not alone), and that the contemporary move is towards quality-of-life issues. He names five issues which make up the 'postmaterialist'--human rights, personal liberties, community, aesthetic satisfaction and the environment (this was posited by Inglehart in the 1970s--pretty sharp), with the shift towards these values " it seems a fundamental and profound shift in societal attitudes in process," he wrote. To this postmaterialist position Ward wants to offer a metaphysics and a theology, to deepen the citizenship of the postmaterialist.

He is also arguing that globalization(the environment of postmaterialism) is a religious ideology, like secularism, and one whose roots are Christian. Ward feels that globalization shares an imperialist bent like Christianity, although its version is both different and similar. Essentially what he is trying to do is insert a theological root into postmaterialist values that can help us liberate ourselves from superficial lifestyles and whims of consumerism. Not a bad goal."

. . . and that the contemporary move is towards quality-of-life issues.
He names five issues which make up the 'postmaterialist'--human rights, personal liberties, community, aesthetic satisfaction and the environment
...with the shift towards these values...”
Prodigal Kiwi(s) blog

"For some time now, Ward has blended orthodox theology, biblical study, and cultural theory with an independent originality. Now he has added politics to this mix. An extremely significant volume."--John Milbank, University of Nottingham

"Graham Ward examines the political side of postmodernism in order to discern the contemporary context of the church and describe the characteristics of a faithful, political discipleship. His study falls neatly into two sections. The first, which is the more theoretical section, considers "the signs of the times." Ward names this section "The World," noting that the church must always frame its vision and mission within its worldly context. In the second section, "The Church," he turns to constructive application, providing an account of the Christian practices of hope that engage the world from within yet always act as messengers of God's kingdom.

Ward's study accomplishes two related goals. First, he provides an accessible guide to contemporary postmodernism and its wide-ranging implications. Second, he elaborates a discipleship that informs a faith seeking understanding, which Ward describes as "the substance of the church's political life."

15 October 2009

Comparison of Cell Phone Costs: US - NZ

Comparing cell phone/mobile plans in the US and NZ has been an exercise in frustration. Where in NZ we are offered 60 minutes that expire at the end of each month, in America companies offer 600+ that rollover and are all in a big bucket for families to share. While it is next to impossible to compare as in apples to apples, I've looked at similarly priced plans and have come out a big fan of competitive market pricing. Competition often causes prices to go down and what's on offer to increase and improve. Such is life. Such is life on a small island in the South Pacific too, where there are two major players and the infrastructure is still in the possession of the equivalent of Ma Bell, Telecom.

This has even made it on The Most Expensive Journal:

If you think your cell phone bill is high, try moving to New Zealand. According to a recent survey by the Kiwis’ Commerce Commission, New Zealanders are paying for some of the most expensive cell phone plans in the world.

Due to a network duopoly between service providers Vodafone and Telecom, the typical New Zealander pays between 23% and 46% more than the average price of a cell phone plan in OECD member countries (including the US, UK and Australia, among others).

In fact, Telecom’s Flexi Anytime plan is the most expensive mobile phone plan of any member country—which may just make it the most expensive cell phone plan in the world—at 177% of the average. Users of this plan can expect to pay 189.50 NZD (about $102 US) for their first 450 minutes. Compare this to the $39.99 price of the average 450-minute plan in the US.

Read an excerpt from NZ's National Business Review and an OECD study.

NZ mobile plans
still among world's most expensive
Chris Keall | Friday December 12 2008 - 12:50pm
The Commerce Commission’s latest quarterly telco review finds mobile plans have not got any cheaper over the past 18 months. New Zealand remains near the bottom of the OECD heap.“

Kiwis are typically paying between 23% and 46% more for mobile calls than the average of the OECD countries,” says Tuanz chief executive Ernie Newman. “We are in the dearest half dozen OECD countries in terms of mobile phone pricing and this is costing the average Kiwi hundreds of dollars each year.

“The reason lies almost solely in the existence of a network duopoly. Although there are some alternative service providers emerging, these are dependent on the two existing networks for their connectivity and pricing.“To break out of this we desperately need a third network. One has been under construction for some time [for NZ Communications], but it is being slowed by resource management issues and delays in establishing proper competition policy in relation to sharing of cell towers," says Mr Newman.
Vodafone NZ offers 60 minutes, 250 MB of data and a few hundred texts for what companies in other countries offer for nearly unlimited amounts in all three categories. Such is the limitations of life on an island.

eBooks: Gutenberg's Project Continues

Project Gutenberg is not new, but it doesn't wane. Nobody has done a better job of putting the world's literature at everyone's disposal. And to create a vast network of volunteers all over the world, without wasting people's skills or energy.

Here is the story in a few lines.

In July 1971, Michael Hart created Project Gutenberg with the goal of making available for free, and electronically, literary works belonging to the public domain. A project that has long been considered by its critics as impossible on a large scale. A pioneer site in a number of ways, Project Gutenberg was the first information provider on the internet and is the oldest digital library. Michael himself keyed in the first hundred books.

When the internet became popular, in the mid-1990s, the project got a boost and an international dimension. Michael still typed and scanned in books, but now coordinated the work of dozens and then hundreds of volunteers in many countries. The number of electronic books rose from 1,000 (in August 1997) to 2,000 (in May 1999), 3,000 (in December 2000) and 4,000 (in October 2001).

Thirty years after its birth, Project Gutenberg is running at full capacity. It had 5,000 books online in April 2002, 10,000 books online in October 2003, and 15,000 books online in January 2005, with 400 new books available per month, 40 mirror sites in a number of countries, and books downloaded by the tens of thousands every day.

Whether they were digitized 20 years ago or they are digitized now, all the books are captured in Plain Vanilla ASCII (the original 7-bit ASCII), with the same formatting rules, so they can be read easily by any machine, operating system or software, including on a PDA or an eBook reader. Any individual or organization is free to convert them to different formats, without any restriction except respect for copyright laws in the country involved.

In January 2004, Project Gutenberg had spread across the Atlantic with the creation of Project Gutenberg Europe. On top of its original mission, it also became a bridge between languages and cultures, with a goal of one million eBooks in 2015, and a number of national and linguistic sections. While adhering to the same principle: books for all and for free, through electronic versions that can be used and reproduced indefinitely. And, as a second step, the digitization of images and sound, in the same spirit.

Michael hopes to reach 1,000,000 eBooks by 2015. Each email he sends includes the current number, and the next significant goal to reach.

The first goal of Project Gutenberg was simply to reach totals of estimated audiences of 1.5% of the world population, or the total of 100 million people.

With the advent of cell phone [mobile phone] access we are now setting our goal at 15% of the world population or 1 billion.

Given that there are approximately 4.5 billion cell phones now in service around the world, that means we would have to reach just over 1/5 of all cell phone users to accomplish this.

Possible. . .but not likely unless we make it extremely easy!

To this end we will be emphasizing eBook reader programs for a wide range of cell phones.

Given the estimated 4.5 billion cell phones that we could make eBooks for today, presuming they can all display plain eBooks, and the extremely slow rise in Kindle sales as compared to the iPod, iPhone, Blackberry Curve, and all the others, we should be able to reach more readers than Kindle and Sony combined if we just reach one cell phone user out of a thousand. This has to include many more languages than English, of course, so our effort also has to be multi-lingual, if we are to reach anyone beyond the number of people comfortable enough with English to read our eBooks on their cell phones.

As many of you know, we already have well over a thousand book titles in French, followed by lesser numbers in German and the other more popular languages, but not nearly enough to really, sincerely, say we are offering a library in these languages.

Once we complete a survey of our Top Ten languages we are down to under 50 books per language. . .it’s a start, only a start. [This quote is from the May 2009 Project Gutenberg Newsletter

Project Gutenberg now has most of their titles available in the industry standard EPUB eBook format and free from any DRM (Digital Restrictions Management)!

Although only embraced as an eBook standard within the last 12 months, it has been truly embraced by many big names including; Sony, Google, Penguin, Harper Collins and Adobe, to name but a few. There are also many EPUB readers, both software and hardware, that can read eBooks in this format.

For all you gadget lovers, you can read EPUB formatted books on;

There are a number of desktop readers such as the wonderful Calibre eBook Management program, and the Stanza Desktop reader. Although the Amazon Kindle does not read EPUB files natively, there are several popular programs (Calibre) that will convert our EPUB files so that they can be read on your Kindle device.

There is also the Bookworm ePub Reader, which is an online reading application (hosted by O’Reilly) where you can upload you EPUB books and so read them from any computer or mobile device which has a web browser and internet connection – this also includes the Amazon Kindle!

EPUB eBook Reading Software

There are a number of other readers out there so you might want to search around to find your preferred software.

14 October 2009

Nouwen talks on the Life of the Beloved

Henri Nouwen excerpt: I would like to speak to you about the spiritual life as the life of the beloved. As a member of a community of people with mental disabilities, I have learned a lot from people with disabilities about what it means to be the beloved. Let me start by telling you that many of the people that I live with hear voices that tell them that they are no good, that they are a problem, that they are a burden, that they are a failure. They hear a voice that keeps saying, "If you want to be loved, you had better prove that you are worth loving. You must show it."

But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, "You are the beloved and on you my favor rests."

You are the beloved and on you my favor rests.

Jesus heard that voice. He heard that voice when He came out of the Jordan River. I want you to hear that voice, too. It is a very important voice that says, "You are my beloved son; you are my beloved daughter. I love you with an everlasting love. I have molded you together in the depths of the earth. I have knitted you in your mother's womb. I've written your name in the palm of my hand and I hold you safe in the shade of my embrace. I hold you. You belong to Me and I belong to you. You are safe where I am. Don't be afraid. Trust that you are the beloved. That is who you truly are."

I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts -- by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved.

I would like to talk a little about how to live the life of the beloved. There are four words that I want to use, words that come from the gospels, words that are used in the story of the multiplication of bread, words that are used at the Last Supper, words that are used at Emmaus and words that are used constantly when the community of faith comes together. Those words are: He took, He blessed, He broke, and He gave.

To be taken, to be blessed, to be broken and to be given is the summary of the life of Jesus who was taken, who was blessed by God, broken on the cross, and given to the world. It is also the summary of our life because just as Jesus, we are the beloved.

. . . .

We are broken people. You and I know that we are broken. A lot of our brokenness has to do with relationships. If you ask me what it is that makes us suffer, it is always because someone couldn't hold onto us or someone hurt us. I know each of us can point to a brokenness in our relationships with our husband, with our wife, with our father, our mother, with our children, with our friends, with our lovers. Wherever there is love, there is also pain. Wherever there are people who really care for us, there is also the pain of sometimes not being cared for enough. That is enormous.

What do we do with our brokenness? As the beloved of God we have to dare to embrace it, to befriend our own brokenness, not to say, "That should not be in my life. Let's just get away from it. Let's get back on track."

No. We should dare to embrace our brokenness, to befriend it and to really look at it. "Yes, I am hurting. Yes, I am wounded. Yes, it's painful."

I don't have to be afraid. I can look at my pain because in a very mysterious way our wounds are often a window on the reality of our lives. If we dare to embrace them, then we can put them under the blessing. That is the great challenge.

Quite often we want to solve people's problems and tell them to do this or to do that, that we will help them out and let's get over it. The main task we have is to put our brokenness and the brokenness of the people with whom we live under the blessing. If you live your brokenness under the curse, even a little brokenness can destroy your life. It is like an affirmation that you are no good and suddenly you say, "You see what has happened? I lost my job. This friend didn't speak to me. He rejected me." We can hold on to it and see it proven that we are no good. We always thought so.

The great call is to put our brokenness under the blessing, to live it as people of whom good things are being said.

If we live our life as people who are taken, blessed and broken, then we can give ourselves. We are taken, blessed and broken to be given. I want to tell you something that may sound a little strange, but I really believe deeply that our greatest human desire is to give ourselves. Quite often we say that we want to have a lot for ourselves then we will give a little bit. No, I think the greatest fulfillment of our heart is in the giving, to give ourselves. It is letting go. The mystery is that as we let go for others our lives start bearing fruit. That is a great mystery.

Jesus says, "It is good for you that I die because when I die I can give you my spirit and you will bear much fruit in your life." I really believe that is the final call, to give ourselves. . . .

Read or listen for more at The Chicago Sunday Evening Club.

Fr. Henri Nouwen was born in the Netherlands, where he was ordained to the priesthood and earned his doctorate in psychology. After nearly two decades of teaching at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas and at the Universities of Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, he left to share his life with mentally handicapped people at the L'Arche community of Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. He is the author of many books on spirituality and psychology, including The Return of the Prodigal Son, In the Name of Jesus, and The Life of the Beloved.

13 October 2009

Expectations, attention, significance

“Never allow someone to be your priority
while allowing yourself to be their option.”

Read this kernel this week. What do you think?

No Line on the Horizon?

I know I'm not usually the first horse out of the gate, so I'm just now catching up to music events of '09. If I'd heard about this release earlier, I mighta thought it had to do with an artistic landscape composition. Maybe it does? Check out portions of a review I copied on U2's No Line on the Horizon from Pitchfork Media. I cut out the vicious and detailed bits. Entertainment Weekly was more generous and I've included a portion of their comments below.

Anybody else listening to this music and have an opinion?

"Why U2? How did these four Irishmen become the blueprint for every band with stadium aspirations? The Edge's churchly guitar chime-- which thrives on the same arena acoustics that can turn otherwise booming bands into mud-- is certainly a factor. So is their weakness for the big gesture-- whether it be a giant lemon, heart, or mouth. And Bono's cathartic mix of modern panacea-- love, God, mass culture-- gives them a reach to the back row and beyond. But, perhaps above all else, the band's restlessness and willingness to challenge both themselves and their patrons is why the Killers, Kanye West, and Coldplay want to be the next U2 and not the next AC/DC. It's why these four Irishmen still represent the punk spirit decades after they emerged from it.

"You've got to balance being relevant and commenting on something that's happening today with trying to attain timelessness," philosophized the Edge in the early 1990s. The quote sounds like rock star bs...until you realize that's pretty much what U2 did for 20 years. From 1980 to 2000, it was difficult to tell exactly what the next U2 album would sound like. Briefly: They added atmosphere to new wave, looked for God and found hits, exhumed their rock'n'roll heroes, sent-up those same heroes while losing their religion, and punctured pop via mutated techno. Each move was more audacious than the last-- even 1997 knee-jerk victim Pop saw the world-beating act taking completely unnecessary musical and financial risks in the name of Warholian post-modern pastiche. They then also managed to surprise on 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind by successfully returning to form after shrugging off the notion for so many years. But 2004's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and its subsequent tour were troubling.

That record saw four guys famous for dabbing classic rock into all sorts of impressionistic frames (or dismantling it entirely via Village People costumes) uncomfortably grasping for old-fashioned riffs, when they weren't mindlessly feasting on their own past. It was completely predictable ("City of Blinding Lights"), canned ("Vertigo"), and depressingly Sting-like ("A Man and a Woman"). But the group did little to hide the fact that they were basking in their early-century comeback's afterglow; in concert, in place of the ATYCLB tour's heart-shaped runway was a, um, circle-shaped runway. Still self-aware enough to sense stagnation, the quartet began to work on what would become No Line on the Horizon with new producer Rick Rubin and an imperative to break all those piling U2 trappings once again. As Bono told The New York Times this week: "When you become a comfortable, reliable friend, I'm not sure that's the place for rock'n'roll." Ryan Dombal, March, 2009

EW's view- ''No, no line on the horizon,'' Bono sings on the title track, a raw and moody ode to the muse, where The Edge's rough riffing is soothed by ethereal synth. This is an adventurous experience created by responsible people, for responsible people — a record about searching for meaning, but always knowing the way home.

The album's risk/reward pays off early with a pair of six-minute-plus epics, both of which have Bono seeking and receiving something like divine revelation in the rattle and hum of the everyday world. ''Moment of Surrender'' — wherein a profound encounter with ''a vision of invisibility'' goes down at an ATM — is an organ-fueled hymn that takes its own soulful time coming to an end. It is immediately followed by ''Unknown Caller,'' a rousing if kinda goofy spiritual wake-up call aimed at a culture of blurry-eyed BlackBerry addicts. Computer jargon is turned into spiritual maxims issued by a voice-of-God shout-chant chorus: ''Shush now/Oh, oh/Force quit and move to trash.'' Now you know what didactic spam sounds like.

12 October 2009

Define Success?

How we define success matters. What measurements, values or opinions we adopt are like filters through which we see and judge. I hear much about church growth from people in ministry. I'm going to look in Scripture to see where I can find church growth there? In the Bible I read about God restoring what had been corrupted or healing where there had been wounds. I see people being touched and strengthened, encouraged and included.

What comes to my mind is is a question: What's the perfect sized Church?

What comparisons between faith communities are valid and which are too much part of our treadmill society of achievement and performance?

I thoroughly enjoy reading Jim Martin on A Place for the God Hungry and think many of you might too. Check him out over there. Here's a taste of what got my little grey cells moving today.

A Place for the God Hungry, Jim Martin - Attempting to connect life to what matters most

Two ministers are about to begin a new work with two different congregations.

Minister 1 is going to a congregation that is large, with ample financial resources and a creative staff. The church is located in a fast growing suburb just outside one of this nation's incredible cities. This minister's friends hear about the move and they are delighted for their friend. This seems like a wonderful situation for this minister.

Minister 2 is going to a congregation that is much smaller and has a building that is older and requires much maintenance. The church is located in a dying community in a city where unemployment is very high. This church has a history of problems. Division. Immorality. A nasty lawsuit. Even their assemblies reflect the self-centeredness of these people. Yet, this minister is going to work with them anyway. The minister's friends hear about this future move and they are concerned. (Actually, they wonder if their friend has lost his mind.)

The truth? Both of these churches may actually be triumphal in God's eyes. Yet, they may be triumphal for reasons that do not appear to the eye.


(Note 2 Corinthians 2:14-17.)

This is usually not the word that we use today to describe a church that is doing well. We might speak of a successful church or even an awesome congregation. We may talk about the size of the church, the "phenomenal growth," the number of people in the church, the cutting edge technology, etc. We may speak of a congregation as being one of "our most influential churches."

The minister/pastor/church leader, on the other hand, may speak of some of the high profile conferences at which he has spoken recently. Some will speak of how the church has grown wherever this person has been. Some will drop names so that everyone realizes this person knows important or visible people.

All of this typically communicates a view of success.

Meanwhile, Paul uses the word "triumphal."

What is really odd abut this is that he is speaking to the Corinthians. He tells them how God has led them in triumphal procession in Christ. Now I have to tell you, there are some churches that don't seem very successful to me. In fact, some appear to be one royal mess. If someone were talking to the church at Corinth and considering a ministry with them, I might warn that person: "Don't go near that church! What a mess!"

Yet, in Christ, God leads us in triumphal procession. The triumph that the church experiences is led by God and is because of Jesus. So where is Paul? Where are the elders? Where are the pastors? Where are the ministers? Where are all of the other church leaders?

They are in the procession. Slaves. Servants. Their weakness is on display not their strength. It is God's strength that is on display as exhibited in Jesus. It is in the knowledge of Jesus that we become a fragrance. This fragrance is life-giving to those who are being saved. To those who are perishing, it is the smell of death.

Successful church?

Successful ministry?

Successful minister?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

The success, however, is focused on what God has done in Jesus.

Consequently, 21st century ministry ...
  1. ... is based upon God's leading.
  2. ... happens as the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus spreads.
  3. ... finds its power and effectiveness in what God does - not in what we do. We are not equal to such a task.

Question: If we really believe that God in Christ causes us to have an aroma
(the aroma of Christ), how might we change the way we minister?

Painful Inventions & Lessons

Life teaches us so much.

I would never have known about an incline board to stretch calf muscles if I had not been told I had Plantar Fasciitis. Limping is inelegant. I'm wearing sensible shoes and shopping less. I use those nana scooters in the big stores and . . . well, I've always found parking spots near the door because I usually look for them.

But just look at the things you can get to torture your muscles! Who knew? And why am I not inventing such clever things? OK, that one thing the guy is standing on is crazy. I'd fall off and hurt myself, but the other folding gadget . . . well, a dear man in Kentucky made me one out of plywood. It has a fixed 33% incline and has a homemade feel that I prefer over the plastic.

I can either leave it behind with another sufferer when I return to New Zealand, or possibly donate it as a book end, small shelf or firewood.

Without this painful feet experience I would not know how obnoxious the back-up beepers are on those electric scooters the stores provide. I'd also not know the kindness of some other shoppers who offered to help me reach things. I've also had the encouragement of many other sufferers, massages and kindness of many sorts.

Oh, I'm not happy about having my wings clipped, not going to King's Island, missing zoo visits, dreading long walks to football fields and avoiding some gardens I might have otherwise visited. I've missed heaps of geocaches! I still have a large conference to attend in November and those halls and hallways will seem interminable and the floors way too hard. I'll limp among the old-timers and be embarrassed!

But then, ya know, my limitations are just that, and they are very likely limited to this season of my life. This too shall pass. Complaining won't help, so I try not to. Feeling sorry for myself is just plain dumb, so I don't. I prefer to live and learn, gain perspective and be grateful.

Most days I win, but the limping does make me look like someone's overused nag on uneven ground.

11 October 2009

I want a Turtle

No, I'm not in the market for a tattoo, much as I respect the tattoos people choose for personal or tribal meaning. In Maori culture, most of the tattoos have deep meaning and often have family connections. Some tattoos require permission of the elders before they can be done.

Pop, can I get a turtle? It's a symbol of creativity?

According to archaeological evidence, tattooing came to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesian culture. The word "tattoo" comes from the Tahitian word "tatau". Captain James Cook used the word "tattow" when he witnessed tattooing for the first time in Tahiti, in 1769.

The bone chisels used for tattooing can be found in archaeological sites of various ages in New Zealand, as well as in some early Eastern Polynesian sites.

In New Zealand, it is in the early sites that the widest chisel blades are found, and this lends evidence to the theory that there was possibly a preference towards rectilinear tattoo patterns in earlier times.

The head was considered the most sacred part of the body, and because tattooing caused blood to run, the tattoo craftsmen, or "tohunga-ta-oko", were very tapu persons. All high-ranking Māori were tattooed, and those who went without tattoos were seen as persons of no social status.

Tattooing commenced at puberty, accompanied by many rites and rituals. In addition to making a warrior attractive to women, the tattoo practice marked both rites of passage and important events in a person's life.

There were certain prohibitions during the tattooing process, and for the facial tattoo in particular sexual intimacy and the eating of solid foods were prohibited. In order to overcome this, liquid food and water was drained into a wooden funnel, to ensure that no contaminating product came into contact with the swollen skin. This was also the only way the tattooed person could eat until his or her wounds healed.

The full faced tattoo was very time consuming, and a good tattoo craftsman would carefully study a person's bone structure before commencing his art.

The tattoo instrument was a bone chisel, either with a serrated or an extremely sharp straight edge. The first stage of the tattoo commenced with the graving of deep cuts into the skin. Next, a chisel was dipped into a sooty type pigment such as burnt Kauri gum or burnt vegetable caterpillars, and then tapped into the skin.

It was an extremely painful and long process, and often leaves from the native Karaka tree were placed over the swollen tattoo cuts to hasten the healing process. Wars were frequent,

and the warriors had little time for recuperation. During the tattooing process, flute music and chant poems were performed to help soothe the pain.

SO why would I choose a turtle? The turtle is considered by some Native Americans to be one of their the oldest, most sacred symbols. They believed that North America was created on the back of The Great Mother, a turtle.

In the far east, turtle was carved and worn as a talisman for power over all forms of bad magic.

Earthy, grounded, longevity,
protection, shelter, steady.

The turtle's shell resembled a dome and was seen as a symbol of the dome of heaven -hence heavenly virtue.
Generally turtle is seen to represent: self-containment, creative source, earthiness, b

eing grounded, longevity, protection, shelter, and a steady approach to life.
In dreams they are interpreted as patience, wisdom, or hiding something essential.

In Africa many wisdom stories are told of the tortoise and the hare. Fascinating how the various cultures of the world share stories and meaning.

I've chosen not to get a tattoo. I never know what culture I may live in next and do not know what how a tattoo might be received. If it would hinder relationships or communication, it would not then be an asset for me and my objectives. But if I did, it'd be a turtle.