31 March 2011

Ah ... a Most Cross-Cultural Experience...

Once in a while I go to a Vietnamese supermarket in Lakewood which I absolutely love. First off, none of the workers speak English, except a young Asian gal who is a cashier. It's funny having to point and "play charades" with someone to describe that you are looking for canned anchovies rather than dried ones. I finally was led to a jar of anchovies ... I think.
       And the smells in the market are phenomenal. Go from one aisle to the next and it smells like raw oysters to soy sauce to sambal (spicy) sauce to Asian sweets. Many of the items on the packed shelves are completely unfamiliar to me. Check out the picture from yesterday for one such item: Fried-Gluten Vegetable Minced Pork. Yummy! Let's buy a can.
       The other thing that cracks me up is watching Vietnamese, Thai, and other Asian women standing in front of the fresh fish case seemingly debating about which fish to buy. Several of these languages are tonal in pronunciation so their conversation sounds to me like aliens trying to figure out how to live on earth.
       The other day when I was in the store two older Vietnamese women were talking, presumably about the taste of the fish in front of them. Here's a picture of the fish which was "staring" at them as they had their lively conversation! One of them was seemingly insistent on buying this fish. Other other seems to have wanted to buy the Saba fish. I wish that fish in the case could speak; I'd love to know his perspective on it all!

30 March 2011

Speaking of Passover

I will be leading a Passover Seder meal at our home church, Lookout Mountain Community Church in Genesee, on Thursday, April 21st.
If you are in the greater Denver area and would like to attend you are very welcome (you don't need to be part of Lookout). Click HERE to register and to purchase tickets. The meal is catered by Cynde Pribil (of Tempting Thyme) and is simply awesome! It will be the best $15 meal you have ever had!

29 March 2011

Writing a Passover Haggadah

This week I am "holed up" in an RV borrowed from friends in an campground in Golden. I'm working on and will hopefully finish the first and second drafts of a Passover Haggadah I am writing.
       It will not be as elaborate and eye-catching as this one (The Sarajevo Haggadah), but I do hope it will have a niche for people who celebrate Passover in a messianic tradition.
       I realize there are already a number of good Haggadah's from the perspective of Jesus/Y'shua being the the ultimate and final "Lamb of God" and fulfilling the Exodus narrative. And yet I find myself adding or changing portions of the "telling" when I use each of these.
       In addition I almost always add "local color" from my background as a New York Jew, some of which I want to include as "sidebars" to the main story of Israel's rescue from Egypt.
       Now it is back to writing for this boy.

28 March 2011

An Umpire's Journal: Games in March

You might know the expression, "March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." I don't think there is anyspiritual significance to this statement, but rather it is about cold weather at the beginning of the month and warm weather near the end.
       I have never been so mindful of March weather until I started umpiring baseball in Colorado. Last Friday I worked a game at 5pm in Golden. The temperature was 55 degrees when we started. Then it got cloudy ... and windy ... and darker. I think the temperature dropped to about 45 degrees and the wind picked up to 15-20 mph.
       Now try to call safe-out at a close place at first base as the wind is in your face, your hat is about to fly off, and just about everyone on the field is pretty grumpy due to the weather!
       The key to surviving March baseball games in Colorado is GOOD GLOVES! Forget the fact that it's difficult to hold a ball-strike indicator when you wear them. Gloves are a lot better than the indicator sticking to the palm of your hand because it froze to your skin!
       I don't have any games to work for the last week of March. Steven and I will work a tournament in South Metro April 2-3. Hopefully April will be a lot warmer than March.

27 March 2011

A Very Good Read from Rob

Rob Fairbanks (president of Christian Associates) wrote a blog entry the other day that's very important, in a lot of ways. Check it out here. The quote from Francis Schaeffer is such a great reminder to me about what really matters in life and ministry. Even though Schaeffer penned these words a generation ago they are still prophetic today.
       I won't repeat Rob's commentary (read what he wrote!), but will add a personal comment:
       Over the past 25 or so years I have had the privilege of serving in several churches. Perhaps what I am most proud of is that I served in one of them as senior pastor and transitioned out after 5 years and the community did not fall apart. On the contrary, it continued on in its mission without very much disruption.
       Now I want to be honest and forthright about this: It was humbling and a "blow to my ego" that the church did NOT need me that much! I'm not proud of this, but I mention it because it relates to the "disease" of the Evangelical Church in the West  and the cult of personality. Many of us in leadership need to be needed - desperately.
       One of the largest churches in Denver says this on their website when you click on "About Us:"
Our Senior Pastor
Missions and Outreach 
       What is your church known for? I hope Jesus ranks in the top three and that mission might come before the senior pastor, children, adults, music, and youth.
       Here's my crass take on it - many of us want a superstar/rockstar as our leaders in church. We want to be "successful" and entertained and we make our leaders into uber-humans. And in doing so we get off mission, and make most especially make Jesus less than he is.

26 March 2011

Serve the City Team Going to Amsterdam

Susy and I are leading a team of 11 people to Amsterdam in June to be part of "Serve the City." Check out this video created by our friend Rogier a couple of years ago. It's exciting to be part of what God is doing around the world!

25 March 2011

WAY Proud of Our Kids

This is an "I'm a Proud Dad" blog entry. Here's what my kids were doing last week.
       Carly (age 19, to be 20 in June) spent the week with other Westmont College students in Mexico doing a Vacation Bible School for under-privileged kids. I have not spoken with Carly at length about it, but she said it was difficult, exciting, confusing, and fulfilling! I would say that was a GOOD week!
       A few days ago Steven (age 17) and I went out to dinner with our good friend Jim (in photo) to Buffalo Wild Wings. We spent a couple of hours talking philosophy - Plato, Socrates, the pros and cons of Capitalism, the reality of good and evil in the world. We had this indepth discussion about things that really matter in our lives! And Steven initiated it.
       I have found it pretty challenging and fulfilling to help my kids become young adults. It has perhaps been the most complex time of parenting for me over the past 20 years, but also a time of "iron-sharpening-iron" for us.
       So here's to Car-Car and Pishti! You two are awesome!

24 March 2011

Why I Adopted a Terrorist for Prayer

I decided to adopt a terrorist for prayer (see my previous post regarding Philip Yancey's blog about this).
I went to the Adopt-a-Terrorist website and clicked on "adopt." Then I scrolled through scores of photos, names, and brief bios on a wide variety of suspected terrorists. After browsing the database for a while I decided on: Dr. Ayman Muhammad Rabaie al-Zawahiri
So why did I decide to adopt a terrorist and pray for him? Well there are a few reasons:
       First, Zahahiri has been in the news a lot as Al-Quaeda's number 2 man so I have some vague familiarity with him. And I remember grumbling under my breath a few times, "I hope someone kills that guy."
       Second, it would be a really wild, crazy news conference if Zawahiri was to begin to follow Jesus and announced that! Man, that would be so cool!
       Third, Jesus taught us to "pray for your enemies." I think he was speaking specifically to his students/disciples rather than making grand pronouncements about how governments should respond to people like Zawahiri. Somehow I become a little bit more like Jesus when I pray for Zawahiri.
       Lastly, this requires surrender on my part, a sort of self-emptying of having to be right or in control or in power. It cuts me to the bone and exposes my frail humanity.
       If you want to know more about Zawahiri, go to the Adopt-a Terrorist for Prayer website by clicking HERE.

23 March 2011

Learning by Listening

One of my mentors many years ago told me that great leaders learn much by listening well. That mentor, Homer Dowdy, was an intent listener himself. He was 40 years my senior and soaked in everything that I said in many conversations, even though I was a "green" and inexperienced 22-year-old journalist.
       I am trying to grow in my auditory learning abilities, by listening to books on CD. I started by listening to John Grisham novels as I drove places, although this could become dangerous as I got into an intense scene in the book and almost drove off the road a couple of times!
       Now I have "graduated" to listening to non-fiction. I have started with Philip Yancey's book, "What Good is God?" It is also read by Yancey, which I find much more compelling than if some actor or professional reader did the recording.
       Listening to a book has its benefits and its drawbacks. The major drawback is that it is difficult to take notes and "absorb" what is being communicated. A major benefit I have found is that I listen best when I am still and focused, two traits that are excellent when I am in a conversation and I want to listen well.

22 March 2011

Hearts & Mind bookstore

In a small town in south-central Pennsylvania lies a bookstore which is a throw-back to decades ago. In today's "Amazon Era," most local bookstores have become dinosaurs, sad as that is. I don't know very many locally owned and operated private bookshops. One of them, Hearts and Minds in Dallastown, PA is worth a visit and much more!
Byron Borger
       Hearts and Minds is owned by Byron Borger, one of the brightest and well read people I have ever met (I've only met him a few times, via my friends at Living Word Community Church in York, PA).
       If you are anything like me, I read a lot based on people's recommendations and synopses of books. You can walk into Hearts and Minds and ask Byron about a book and it's likely that he has read it. If you really don't want to read the book but want a good summary, just ask Byron and he will give it concisely. This is not good for his business (as you would not buy the book), but it's great if you don't have time to read the book!
       Two other things that Hearts and Minds does that is tremendous, and a real "labor of love" for Byron and his team. They put out a "top books of the year" blog once per year that is amazing. It easily gives you the best reading list for the coming year. The other thing Byron does is write book reviews and comments periodically. If you check out the website these days you will find several very helpful entries about Rob Bell's new book. And often if you buy any of the books mentioned in the blog entry you get a 20% discount on them! What a deal!

21 March 2011

An Umpire's Journal: Partners

Every Monday for a few months I am going to use this blog for "An Umpire's Journal," giving some personal reflections on umpiring. Every weekend from late March through mid-July Steven and I will be working various tournaments. We will ump 6 to 10 games on a weekend, and I'm sure I will have some fun and funny stories to recount.
       Steven and I work as partners umpiring a fair amount. In almost all of our games we work the two-man system, meaning there are only 2 umpires on the field to make all the calls.
       It is a huge advantage to work most games with the same partner. You know each other's rhythms and tendencies, you can cover for each other. And when a player or coach is griping about something you can stand together between innings and remind each other you are not crazy!
       To be honest, Steven probably is stronger behind the plate calling balls and strikes than I am. That's partly because he was a catcher for years and is used to batters swinging the bat in front of his face. I see the field and can interact with coaches more easily when I am working the bases, which Steven would prefer me to do. He's more "get to business" of umpiring a game, I will listen to the chirping of coaches and players more and banter with them.
       Two weeks ago Steven and I umped the championship game for a 12-year-old majors tournament (the photo here is from that), next weekend we will do a tourney for south Metro Denver.

20 March 2011

Umpiring Occupational Hazard

Steven and I are umpiring higher level baseball these days. That means better competition, faster pitches, sharper hits, better defensive plays, quicker action.
       It also means that for whoever is umpiring behind the plate there is a greater chance of getting hit by a foul tip from a fast pitch. That's what happened to me a few days ago when umpiring a high school game. Foul tip from an 80-mph fast ball from a left-handed batter.
       The ball caught me square on the right bicep, just to the right of my chest protector and below the shoulder protection. And this is what it looked like a few days later! Looks worse than it feels now.

19 March 2011

Grieved by this...

This will be the only blog post I do regarding Rob Bell and his book, "Love Wins." I do not know if Bell is specifically advocating Universalism. I personally know several pastors who would argue that they would "like to believe that ultimately God wins and all people are saved in eternity." Interestingly enough, these pastors are also quick to NOT use the word "universalism." One pastor put it this way: "Some people say I am a Universalist. I do not know what that word means." What? Don't know what it means? An amazing statement from a person who I know to be one of the most intelligent people around.
      My friends at Leadership ConneXtions have done two posts in the last few days about Bell and his views. Click here to read them. These are helpful reference points and I won't reiterate them here.
       I have three comments about this topic of heaven, hell, and the fate of people.
First, I find that the theological issue is hugely charged with emotional appeal, angst and manipulation. Rob Bell's publisher, HarperOne, did a magnificent PR job in a 3-minute video tugging hard at people's emotions when Bell said, "Ghandi's in hell? Really? And someone knows this for sure?" At that moment the background music intensifies, Bell freezes and stares intently at the camera. Wow, it is powerful cinema indeed! And I am sure it increased pre-sale orders by thousands if not tens of thousands. In the end, for HarperOne this is a business.
Second, there is dramatic extremes in the conversation which I believe is plain wrong. On one side is the depiction that God saves only a very select few people and the vast majority of humanity is destined to eternal conscious torment. One pastor, who advocates salvation for all, depicted THIS God to me with this metaphor:
       "It is like a father who has a son and every day the father drags the son outside the house and behind the wood shed, takes a 2x4 to his head and beats the crap out of the son. And this happens ... every day ... for ever ... for eternity ... without end."
I am not sure if the person got this image from the Bible or from a book or if he heard someone use this illustration. But to be clear, I do not believe in this God either - one who gets sadistic pleasure out of punishing His creation. This is a gross distortion of God.
       On the other side is the depiction that "all roads lead to heaven" and that Jesus has little if anything to do with salvation. Often times conservative Evangelicals depict others as "liberals" who do not believe in the atonement and are just "wishy-washy" about salvation.
       To be sure, there ARE those type of Universalists out there. But there are also those who DO believe in the cross of Christ and his atonement and believe that because "God is making all things new" this means that all people will ultimately be saved.
Third, Evangelicals tend to have a difficult time with mystery. Conservative theological traditions which hold to a view that a literal hell exists seem to have a lot of clarity about who is in hell, how many people are in hell, and sometimes derive pleasure from this knowledge. 
       The reaction to these air-tight conclusions is more air-tight conclusions, although many people who believe in universal salvation are more subtle and coy about their beliefs. They use words such as, "it would appear" and "I suspect that" while being quite convinced that ALL people will ultimately be saved from an eternity of torment away from God. I find that people who have grown tired of traditional theologians' inability to live with mystery have also dispelled the mystery, in a different way.
       Perhaps we could learn from some of our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox Christian traditions who sometimes embrace the mysteries of God more readily than many Evangelicals.
So where do I end up on this issue of heaven and hell? Many people in my church here in Denver have asked this over the last few years. This is not a comprehensive statement of my beliefs, just around this issue.
  • I believe in a true heaven and a hell, and I believe that Scripture teaches that each of these lasts for eternity (outside of time);
  • I believe that it is only in and through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (Y'shua in Hebrew, 'Isa in Arabic) as the one and only promised Messiah that people "inherit eternal life." Jesus is the Lamb of God (the Christ, Lord) and God by His grace gives people the ability to come to faith in God through Jesus or to not do so. (I find that much of the debate in Calvinism and Arminianism over pre-destination and election is largely a waste of energy.)
  • I believe there is much mystery in Scripture about the nature of eternal separation from God. I believe that images of fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth are symbols and metaphors for desolation, ultimate isolation and aloneness. I have been greatly helped by C.S. Lewis' understanding of hell in "The Great Divorce" and elsewhere in his writing. I believe that ultimate separation from God is beyond imagination and far more grave than we care to admit.
  • I do not know if heaven will be populated with the vast majority of people who have lived through the course of time, nor do I know if hell will be populated with the vasty majority of people who have lived through the course of time. The Bible tells us to "enter through the narrow gate" because wide is the way to destruction. It says that a "multitude" from every tribe, nation, and people will be in heaven and that the number is also limited (as represented by the number 144,000). I would argue that the Bible does not treat this as a puzzle to be solved, but rather as a mystery to live within.
  • I believe that it is totally and absolutely God's deal to determine people's eternal destiny; God enlists people to be his "evangels" (messengers).
  • And finally, I believe that we Evangelicals have gotten terribly distracted by this debate about who is in heaven and who is not. My church here in Denver has split and splintered over this very issue, resulting in unnecessary pain in many people's lives. We Evangelicals have gotten away from our primary calling as "God's sent ones" to announce Jesus' Kingdom by focusing so much energy and attention on what is ultimately a tremendous mystery. It's time to return to being messengers who announce the Kingdom of God.

18 March 2011

Yes! A Team With No Superstars!!!

Last month the Denver Nuggets basketball team traded their superstar Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. Most pundits thought this was the final nail in the coffin of the Nuggets, who lost their franchise player.
       Earlier this month the television station TNT dropped a couple of Nuggets games which were to be nationally televised because of the Nuggets lack of "star power." In the age of LeBron James spectacles, there seems to be little room for a professional basketball team which plays really well together, has awesome chemistry, and works exceedingly hard on defense...
...except the New Nuggets, who have 9 wins against only 2 losses since the blockbuster Carmelo trade. The Knicks, on the other hand, are 6 and 6 since Carmelo arrived.
       I have been a Nuggets fan since I arrived in Denver 6 years ago. I became a MUCH more loyal fan the second Carmelo was traded (although it was a huge bummer that Chauncey Billups had to be dealt with him). Even if the Nuggets had lost every game since Melo left, I would cheer for them. Why?
       Because every player has to check their ego at the door every game. NO superstars.
       Because every player is working hard to play DEFENSE, which is generally a dirty word in the NBA.
       Because every player helps the others be the best they can be - TEAMWORK!
So, Let's Go Nuggets! So long, Melo!

17 March 2011

On Moonlighting ...

Last Sunday after teaching a class on Isaac and Ishmael at my church a woman came up to me and said, "I heard you were moonlighting yesterday!"
      "Well, that depends where you saw me!" I said.
      "My grandson had a baseball game in a tournament and you were one of the umpires," she explained.
      "Yep, that was me." I replied. "And my son Steven was the other umpire."
      I wanted to ask if she thought we did a good job but I decided not to in case we blew a call or two!
     Yes, I moonlight (I like that word). When I am not teaching about Jews and Muslims or writing funding proposals for the Isaac-Ishmael Initiative or mentoring via Skype, I umpire baseball.
      And I really love it, for a lot of reasons. I like working with Steven, who is a very good umpire. I like baseball a lot, I like interacting with coaches, players, and even fans (although the crazed parent who screams all game wears thin on me).
      This is the beginning of about four months of umpiring a ton of baseball games for Steven and me. We will do tournaments just about every weekend through 4th of July weekend culminating with Colorado State competition. Most weekday evenings in April through June we will have Jefferson county youth league games. It's crazy busy, a fair amount of work, and loads of fun being on baseball diamond every day.
      So next time you yell at a ref or umpire at a sporting event think of me and be a bit kind! We're just human too!

16 March 2011


A post by Philip Yancey on his website last week has really gotten under my skin. It's a adopting a terrorist for prayer.
       This is a noble endeavor, one that as a Christian I am supposed to embrace with joy and hope. I check out the website of the Adopt-a-Terrorist for Prayer and it looks great! At the very top of the home page there is Jesus' words in the sermon the mount, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
       Ya ya, I know. I've read the Sermon on the Mount a bunch of times. Even preached a 12-week sermon series on it when I lived in Amsterdam.
       But I'm having a really hard time with this whole thing. Maybe it's because I keep getting the image of Osama bin Laden in my head when I think of "terrorist."
       Maybe it's because I have a pretty good sense that most terrorists are unrepentant about their terrorism.
       Maybe it's because I wonder why God allows terrorism and simply does not blow up all the terrorists.
       Maybe it's because ... well you get the idea.
       I would really like to pray for terrorists, it is good and right and noble. It's just not as easy for me as I would like it to be. Thanks for the challenge, Philip!

15 March 2011

Os Guinness on Civility

 Os Guinnes of the Trinity Forum is one of the most forward and helpful thinkers about civility in the public square. The 2-minute video is worth a watch and the accompanying article is helpful as well.

14 March 2011

A Note from a Friend about Church Buildings

On January 25th of this year the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, "Churches Find End is Nigh." A copy of it was sent to me by a friend with a hand-written note from him on the top. The note said this:
     "What is it about the way we as Christians handle money that shows the world around us that we belong to Jesus? Or do we show them that we are slaves to lenders just as they are?"
       GULP! The question is more than poignant, especially upon reading the article. It states that the number of religious institutions unable to pay their mortgage is surging in the midst of the current economic downturn. Like many individuals, churches find themselves upside down in facility debt.
       Along the way many of us have gotten swept up by the "success" of our churches. As we grew larger we built larger and rationalized our decisions along the way. Many churches decided to fund debt through bonds rather than a straight mortgage, leaving little room to wiggle when the offerings dropped over the past years.
       For all my years in ministry I have been a proponent of renting facilities, something my church in Amsterdam did and continues to do. Renting keeps you "on your toes" and mobile. It allows a church great flexibility and we do not become wedded to inanimate objects.
       Whether we like it or not, many churches will be faced with the reality of losing a building and having to rent. From where I sit that will not be such a bad thing for the American Church.

13 March 2011

Desmond Tutu interviewed by Craig Ferguson

Friends told me about this interview from a year ago. I was fixated on every word Just loved it. Here is the final 7 minutes on it. Desmond Tutu explaining forgiveness and reconciliation to Craig Ferguson, who is riveted on Tutu's every word. Amazing!

12 March 2011

Steven at 17 - He used to be "Pishti"

Steven in Budapest, Spring 1995
Steven in Denver, Spring 2011
Steven is 17 years old today. He was born in Budapest; we named him Steven in part because it is a very well known name in Hungary, where we were living at the time. You see, Hungary's first king was Istvan (Steven).
       Well in Hungary, a child whose name is Steven/Istvan is often nicknamed Pishti, or Ishti Pishti. Practically speaking that was (and is) Steven's name to people who we lived with in Budapest for 3 years. 
       Our friends Paul and Stacey were the first people on earth besides Susy and me to see Pishti when he was about 3 minutes old! I got a message from our friend Debbie the other day who only knows Steven as a 1-year-old named Pishti. She and her husband Bobby still live in Hungary.
       It is such a crack-up to me to hear from other friends and family - Suzanne and Rob, Dwight and Kelly, Sue, Wendy, Corey, Patty, Calvin and Kristi and a slew of others - who want to wish Pishti a happy birthday! 
       So to all of our friends around the world who know us from those days in Hungary, Ishti Pishti is 17 years old today!

11 March 2011

My Glorious

I spoke with a friend on the phone the other day. She is ill, almost certainly will die in the next months. I wanted to speak with her and pray Numbers 6 to her, "May the Lord bless you and keep you..."
       I got off the phone and had a hard cry.
       What came to mind immediately was a rocking, electric-guitar driven song by the band, "Delirious." I first heard it/sang it at my church in Amsterdam. I think our youth director Jeremy introduced it to the congregation.
       This line sticks in my throat today, "God is bigger than the air I breath." Gulp!

My Glorious
Words and Music by Delirious
The world's shaking with the love of God
Great and glorious, let the whole Earth sing
And all you ever do is change the old from new
People we believe that...

God is bigger than the air I breathe
The world we'll leave
God will save the day and all will say
My glorious!

Clouds are breaking, heaven's come to earth
Hearts awakening let the church bells ring
And all you ever do is change the old from new
People we believe that...

God is bigger than the air I breathe
The world we'll leave
God will save the day and all will say
My glorious! My glorious! My glorious! My glorious! My glorious! 

God is bigger than the air I breathe
The world we'll leave
God will save the day and all will say
My glorious! 

10 March 2011

My Email Address

Hey everyone - 
Please use bnewman5280@gmail.com as my only email address. The email brian@caimail.net has now been closed so mail to that address will bounce back to you.

09 March 2011

Ash Wednesday

I have no previous tradition of Ash Wednesday. Jews don't celebrate the beginning of Lent!
       A few years ago I participated in my first Ash Wednesday service. It was at Lookout Mountain Church and my friend and co-pastor Aram (who comes from an Armenian Orthodox background) administered the ashes to my forehead.
       At first I thought, "do I need to cross myself, or genuflect, or say to him in response, 'l'chaim!'" I didn't do anything. Just let his word to me sink in:
"From dust you have come, to dust you will return." Bombshell! Those words cut through my self-sufficiency, control, and sense of self-worth. There I was with a cross of ashes on my forehead beginning a new tradition of these 40 days of Lent.
       This year I am doing something new in this season. I will attend early morning prayers at the Next Level Church for the next 4 Fridays, 7:30 to 8:00am. A good way to end a work-week and begin the weekend during this important season.

08 March 2011

The Potential for Growing Up in Diversity

When I was in seminary my leadership professor taught the principle of, "like attracts like" in ministry teams. People gravitate to others with similar beliefs, gifts and talents, skin color and ethnicity. That's just how the human heart and mind work.
       We see it in politics to the extreme: Democrats on one side of the aisle, Republicans on the other.
       Calvnists and Arminians in the church;
       Pro-gay or pro-straight (anti-gay);
       Pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian;
       Simple church or big church, traditional or contemporary;
       It seems to me that Jesus broke with this pattern in selecting his 12 disciples. They WERE homogenous in one way: ethnicity and their overall religious views as Jews. But they diverged from there - several of them were certainly politically hostile to each other; they were different socio-economic classes; they had different family upbringings and conflicting and complementing personalities; and there were numerous religious sects which competed with each other.
       Living in a diverse context challenges me in some healthy ways:
1. I need to shut up and listen to other people;
2. I have to know what I believe and why. Diversity forces me to believe more clearly (it does not mean watering down my beliefs to accommodate)
3. I have the possibility of loving someone I would not normally love - sounds Jesus-like!
4. I learn a whole lot more about God and His creation when I live in  diverse community.

07 March 2011

Steven Gets His Hair Cut

The pre-cut look
Steven got his hair cut yesterday, after many months of letting it grow long (which has fit the role for him of lead electric guitar player in his band). But the locks had to get chopped for baseball season and Steven umpiring, which starts next weekend with a pre-season tournament. So it's now the "New Look" Steven for the Spring!
The haircut in process!

06 March 2011

Life Around the Firepit

Last summer a bunch of guys helped me build a firepit in my backyard. It's not really a "pit," but rather a corner that we put gravel in and created a nice border with 4x4s.
       Whenever we move from this house I will miss this firepit the most. I have had a lot of real-life conversations with friends around the fireplace, even in the middle of winter as we are freezing our buns off!
       I consider this one of the "sacred spaces" in my life. There are few of these in most of our lives - places to truly meet people, to discuss important things of faith, politics, and of course sports! To listen in on other people's journeys.
       I often wish I could mysteriously transport friends from around the world - living in Budapest, Bucharest, Geneva, Australia, Holland, Spain and a bunch of other places - and plop them in chairs in the firepit. We would talk and catch up on our lives until the wee hours! Now THAT would be amazing!

05 March 2011

I Love Apple Products, but...

I love Apple products and I use them seamlessly. I have a laptop and recently got an iphone. I HAVE ARRIVED in the 21st century, or so I am told by Apple's outstanding marketing.
       The other day I watched the frail-looking Steve Jobs temporarily come back from his medical leave to do his thing in introducing the ipad2. If this was a cult it would have been the perfect script. As much as I love Apple products I have growing questions about what its marketing is doing to our culture.
       I know that what I am saying is sacrilege to many faithful Apple users. This is a "cult-like culture" at its finest, as Jim Collins described in his book Built to Last.
       I was struck by a number of things in the Steve Jobs speech:

  1. Steve Jobs HAD to do it, even though he is clearly not well physically. In other words, he is not replaceable. That does not bode well for Apple;
  2. Much of the talk was about ACQUIRING ... 100 million books downloaded in a year, 100 million iphone users, 200 million Apple accounts with credit card numbers and 1-click purchasing. Now I realize this is just good capitalism, and I guess that is part of my struggle. Is life all about acquiring? He with the most toys wins???
  3. Jobs and Apple have been incredibly successful in demonizing the PC world. There are ads, jokes, digs, and flat-out insults toward anything non-Apple. Jobs quoting an Samsung executive about that companies failure in the Tablet market was way smug. Apple has figured out that creating a cult-like culture around their products means you make the competitors look like nerds and idiots;
  4. Who are those people who sit in the audience at these Steve Jobs events? Clearly they are the most loyal followers.
These are just a few of my questions and concerns. And these are growing.
I have to go now. I've been typing on my MacBook and my iphone is ringing, and I have to look for my ipod before I go to the office. But I have not bought a iPad.

04 March 2011

God's Way to Temper Me?

I really like hanging out with our friend Nate. He has Alzheimer's and there is much sadness in seeing him fade in many ways. But there are a couple of things that Nate really loves, and these things humble me tremendously!
       Nate loves music, especially songs from his earlier years which he taps his hand on his lap to. The genres are quite foreign to me: Country music and older gospel hymns. So we drive around together doing errands and listening to country and hymns! And Nate is totally into it, tapping his feet and smacking his hands on his lap.
       As for me, let's just say that I am learning to acquire a taste for different types of music! God must have a sense of humor with me ~ He will get me to listen to those old hymns yet!

03 March 2011

Interested in Amsterdam '11 Trip?

If you are interested in going on the Amsterdam Mission trip from May 30 - June 7 (slight change in dates) here is a Q&A sheet I handed out at the meeting last Sunday. Have a look.

02 March 2011

A Chance Encounter in a Cigar Bar

In a auto-congested strip mall on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City sits Havana cigars, a 30+ year-old hole-in-the-wall establishment. It is owned by a middle-aged Syrian man who grew up in the rural northeast of that country.
       I came upon Havana Cigars a couple of weeks ago while visiting Los Angeles and walked into the cigar lounge mid-afternoon. There in well-worn brown leather chairs sat four men smoking their over-sized stogies.
       I went into the humidor, checked out the fine selection of cigars and got one. The owner looked at me a bit suspiciously as I paid him, clearly not having seen me in the shop before. I asked him to cut the cigar so I could light it and have a seat in the front lounge.
       Sitting down with the other guys I introduced myself - Brian from New Yawk.
"Where in New Yawk?" asked a curly blacked-haired Jewish looking guy who sounded strangely like all of my friends on Long Island.
"North Babylon," I said.
"Northport," he said. We had become friends in that moment. We shook hands. His name is Ira, whose mother is an Israeli and father a New Yawker.
       Sitting by him was a Lebanese Christian; they were clearly friends and had been for many years.
       Across the way sat an older gentleman, Richard, who I found out is an orthopedic surgeon in LA. Also Jewish, he has lived his adult life in Los Angeles but grew up in New Yawk. He speaks of the "old neighborhood" in Queens where he grew up.
       There was one other guy who was there for only about 5 minutes after I got there - he works in the "industry," as they say (TV or movies). Italian Catholic I learned from our 5 minutes together.
       Somehow I found this chance encounter in the cigar bar incredibly encouraging. We clearly had divergent beliefs and opinions, and yet we were able to speak about important issues. We debated, laughed, questioned, cracked jokes. I realized quickly that not only had these guys known each other for years, they respected each other even in the midst of differences. Hmmm, seems that I stumbled into a ... community!


01 March 2011

Missio Dei and Children of Abraham

This image is from the blog of Austin Garrett Ward. I do not know him and do not know his blog, except for an entry called "expressive theology" some time ago.
       This photo was part of that entry. It is indeed expressive ... beautiful to me.
       Next Sunday in the Isaac-Ishmael class we are speaking about "The Mission of God and the Children of Abraham." The mission of God in Latin is "Missio Dei."
       I have a couple of first thoughts on this as I begin preparing this week:
       First, Jews and Muslims are integral to the Missio Dei, in different ways. Jews have a clear calling that the nations will be blessed through them. The Muslims play a significant part in the unfolding of the historical drama. We are witnessing it in the Mideast and North Africa right now.
       Second, the Missio Dei is all about the Kingdom of God, it is about a robust theology of the Kingdom. This is of greater importance than a theology of Israel, or of Palestine, or of the Church. Karl Barth and George Eldon Ladd were right in calling Christians to Kingdom theology.
       Third, the Missio Dei is to seek and to safe that which is lost. See Luke 15 for parables about this. This vision of God's seems to me to be for "the nations," (ta ethne) without exception. I am not saying that all ways lead to God, or that everyone for all time will be saved. What I am saying is that the Missio Dei is not limited by ethnicity, religious upbringing, or socio-economic status. Awesome news!