28 February 2014

On "Going Home"

Today Susy and I head to Long Island, where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Here is what I wrote in our newsletter this month about the trip.

Dear Friends,
I grew up in an ethnic sub-culture of mostly Jews and Italians in the suburbs of Long Island, about 30 miles east of New York City. The furthest thing from my mind was Christianity .. or Jesus ... or anything spiritual.

        Three decades ago I left that life and never went back (except to visit my family). Until now. At the end of this month I am the keynote speaker at the Missions Weekend of Grace Gospel Church of Patchogue, NY. It feels strange even writing that!
       It will be a busy weekend. On Saturday morning I teach a Bridges Seminar for 4 hours on reaching out to Muslims; that evening I will speak at a missions banquet, and the next day will preach on Matthew 22 (entitled "A Crazy Banquet and a BIG Kingdom").
        God has quite a sense of humor in having me "go home" to teach and preach. Long Island is my roots - I know it all too well: secular, humanist, fearful of change, skeptical of faith. It is quite the exciting challenge!

27 February 2014

New Book by Michael Hidalgo

The pastor of my church, Michael Hidalgo, just published a new book. Here is the trailer for it. I'm reading the book right now.

26 February 2014

The Boy Becomes a Man

Our son Steven came over for dinner the other night. He lives close to the University of Denver where he will be a senior next quarter. He also turns 20 years old next month.
       Somewhere along the way that boy became a man! Quite the mensch he is in many ways. (for all of you non-Yiddish speakers, mensch means something like "good person" or "person of integrity.")
        Susy snapped this picture of Steven after dinner. He was filling out paperwork for umpiring baseball again this Spring and Summer. I wanted the photo of the beard, because hes going to have to shave it for baseball season. I call that The Return of Baby Face Steven!

25 February 2014

On Promotion... (and vanity... and hubris)

I struggle with self-promotion a lot. Go to my blog... read my book ... come to my event .... blah, blah, blah.
       There are books that instruct us on "how to get noticed," and "how to generate more traffic on our websites," and "key words to use in the beginning of my blog post."
       The message we can so easily buy into is, Look at how great and wonderful and special I am!! And while you are at it, please click LIKE on Facebook.
       Can you tell this drives me a bit crazy? I am being triggered by having to promote the Passover seder we are doing in April (I will not tell you the date nor how you can buy tickets here), although I did it yesterday on this blog.
        My struggle is compounded by the fact that I actually like to promote worthwhile causes, even my own. But we are all so overwhelmed by the many event requests, e-vites, doodles, etc. that I am reluctant to be part of the noise.
        Nonetheless, I have needed to suck it up and deal with life in the 21st century, and be part of the Promotion Noise. My consolation is that I really believe in the people and causes that I give "shout out" to, either on this blog or on Facebook.
        Here's a few of the causes I am passionate about or intrigued by at the moment:
  • Beirut and Beyond -  run by a new friend, Suzann, here in Denver.
  • Immanuel Church, Spokane - a new innovative church led by my friend Rob Fairbanks.
  • Playfull - led by my wildly creative and fun friend Troy Cady.
  • Leadership Connextions - led by Brian Rice. LCI has some of the most impactful materials for leaders on spiritual formation.
  • SUNY Cortland - where I did my undergrad work in New York. A working-class public university that is educating young people well.
  • Carl Medearis - who thinks so well about relationships between Muslims, Christians, and Jews... and challenges me every step of the way (even when we disagree sometimes).
I could go on and on promoting. I like doing it.
        Oh ya, my friends Aram and Ellen are having a Poetry Party with Art from Ashes in Denver this coming Thursday evening. I don't exactly know how to promote it here, but if you are in Denver and are interested then do what we all do in the 21st century: GOOGLE IT!

24 February 2014

Passover Seders This Year

This year will be special for us at Passover (which officially begins on April 14th in the Jewish calendar).
       We will host a seder on Thursday, April 10th at our church, Denver Community Church. If you live in the Denver area you can get tickets here.
       The next day we get on a plane and fly to Amsterdam where we lived for 10 years. We will celebrate the Passion Week with dear friends there, including having a Passover Seder. It will be some time between April 13-17, location still to be determined. This will be hosted with Crossroads International Church. Stay tuned!
       A number of people have asked if you can buy copies of my Passover Haggadah (Hebrew for "Order") so that you can host your own seder. Yes, you can. You can order copies right now at:
* Crescent Project. Click here for the resource center;
Next week you will also be able to order at:
* Urban Skye in Denver. Click here.

23 February 2014

A New Meaning for, "The First Shall Be Last"

Swiss cross-country skier Dario Cologna won a grueling 15-mile race at the Sochi Olympics. He crossed the finish line in 39 minutes just ahead of a Finnish skier.
       Cologna, despite being thoroughly exhausted, waited almost 30 minutes for the last skier to cross the finish line. When Roberto Carcalen of Peru finished 28 minutes later there was the Gold Medal winner to congratulate him.
       This seems to me a unique interpretation of "the first shall be last and the last first."
       I love the Olympics because it offers the possibility for people's character to shine as well as their competence and skill. For me character is what matters the most.
       Here's to Dario Cologna for raising the quality of these Winter Olympics in a unique and special way.

18 February 2014

Sacred Land, Profane Actions

Two days ago the UNHCR found a 4-year-old Syrian boy wandering by himself across the barren land from Syria to Jordan.
       The boy had been separated from his family, who are among the millions of Syrians fleeing the unspeakable civil war in their country.
       For that 4-year-old boy the only thing to do was to keep going. The hope of being reunited with his family was to leave his home and to walk into the great unknown of the desert. Quite the metaphor for life if you ask me.
       Here is one of the great ironies of this tragic scene. The land on which this boy was wandering is the same ground on which Abram wandered from Ur of the Chaldees (present day Iraq) to "a land I will show you." This is sacred land, with a rich history of God providing for all nations (through Abram's seed).
       The land has been profaned in so many lands, most recently by a civil war which has cost more than 400,000 Syrian lives and displaced more than 4 million people to other countries. The sacred has become profane. This we must grieve deeply.
       And like that 4-year-old boy, we pray that the Syrian people and their neighbors continue to move forward out of the misery of this civil war and into God's peace for them.

09 February 2014

That Bare-Chested Putin

The New Yorker magazine blog reported that visitors to Sochi are mystified after they found various  portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin in their hotel rooms.
       The pictures are of him without shirt on, looking quite manly.
       When Putin heard of the complaints he was reportedly dismissive of the complaints, saying the guests are "babies who cry."
      Believe it or not, I appreciate Putin's brazen machismo and arrogance. What? Am I crazy? Here is why I "appreciate" it.
       In my world of church pastors and other spiritual leaders it would be horribly incorrect for a lead person (especially a guy) to be as blatant as Putin.
       But it would be surprisingly honest and almost refreshing. Call it transparent (no pun intended).
       There are senior pastors whose attitude is largely "MY kingdom come" rather than "THY Kingdom come." It is not just the mega-church phenomenon (although such success contributes to this), but rather a persistent "conquering" mentality. Conquer the culture, conquer people, conquer other smaller churches.
       The image that comes to my mind is of the old Pacman video game in which the stronger and faster Pacman man eats the others. The motto is, "gobble up or be gobbled up." 
       If those senior church leaders acted like President Putin we would all see their true colors. Sure, it's politically incorrect for these pastors to tear off their shirts and show those pecs, but it might be more forthright and honest.


03 February 2014

The Brilliance of a Dying Star

I remember the day that John Belushi died of a drug overdose. I was a sophomore in college - March 1982. That night a bunch of us watched the film, "Animal House" and had too much to drink.
       Call it a coping mechanism.
       Today I remember that event because another brilliant star faded from this world prematurely, such as Belushi did 30 years ago.
       Philip Seymour Hoffman died of yet another drug overdose, this time in Greenwich Village. Hoffman was 46 years old.
       Nobody will question Hoffman's absolute brilliance as an actor, both live on stage as well as in film. He captured Truman Capote in the 2006 film in a halting manner, in ways that no other actor could do. There is no question that Hoffman will be missed in so many ways in the entertainment industry.
       We are left with nagging questions in the aftermath of this tragedy. They are the same questions which rattled around in my head and heart 30 years ago when Belushi left us far too soon.
     1. We glamorize and idolize people in the entertainment industry, but why do we not question or challenge their lifestyle decisions (such as abusing drugs)?
     2. I have wondered what the relationship is between a person's brilliant creativity and their drug-taking? Would John Belushi had been as funny in Animal House if he had not been high on drugs for many of the takes?
     3. The Screen Actors Guild is one of the most powerful unions in the United States. With such power and influence, can the SAG institute drug-testing for actors in a manner that Major League Baseball is now testing players for drugs?
     I don't know any famous entertainers. I have found myself on the fringe of "celebrity sightings" when we have visited family in Malibu and West LA. My primary emotion at such times of seeing someone famous in a shop or restaurant is great sadness. While they may be wealthy and famous, I wonder what such notoriety does to a person's soul. And then perhaps I catch a glimpse into the tortured world of Philip Seymour Hoffman (may he rest in peace).