29 March 2014

The Sacred Space of a Firepit

A few years ago my friend Jim and I had an idea to build a firepit in my backyard. I've been reflecting on it as sacred space in my life.
This is in honor of the boyz - Danno, Cid, Ray, Deano, Aaron, Rick, Jim, Brad, Roger, Steven, and others who have graced the pit.

Boyz @ the Pit from Brian Newman on Vimeo.

25 March 2014

Hospital Gowns Level the Playing Field

I went for an annual physical exam at Kaiser yesterday. After the nurse checked me in she told me to strip to my birthday suit and put on the ever-fashionable HOSPITAL GOWN!
       While the guy to the left in the photo is NOT me, I wanted to remind us of a few important realities from the Hospital Gown experience.
       1. The phrase "nice ass" is a fallacy, as my friend Karl reminded me yesterday;
       2. More important, hospital gowns remind us that "from dust you came, to dust you will return." That is to say, hospital gowns sort of "level the playing field." It does not matter if you are rich or poor, black or white, male or female. EVERYONE feels vulnerable and wildly HUMAN and FRAGILE in a hospital gown (except for exhibitionists and a hospital gown is a dream come true).
       3. For many people, the last thing they wear in life is a hospital gown. Personally I think this is proof that God has a great sense of humor.
       4. Everyone I know laughs when you mention someone "hanging a moon" or "mooning someone." Hospital gowns validate this.
       The first time I wore a hospital gown was in Budapest, Hungary on March 15, 1994. It was 2 days after our son Steven was born and I was rushed to the hospital just as he and Susy came home from hospital.
       I had appendicitis and had surgery within 30 minutes of being at the hospital. Mind you that it was only a few years after major social changes in Hungary had begun, and hospital care was anything but modern or westernized! People had to bring in food, toiletries, clothes, etc. for my week-long stay. And Susy could not help out much because she was at home with a baby.
       The mark of a friend is someone who will almost carry you to the bathroom down a long hallway in your hospital gown so you can finally have a bowel movement. The mark of a real friend is someone who gives you a sponge bath with your gown on because there is no other way to do so. And I had such a friend - Bobby Booze needs to get a medal of honor 20 years after the fact!! You are a saint, Bobby!
       The next time you are asked to put on that hospital gown just smile and remember, IT COULD BE WORSE - YOU COULD BE IN BUDAPEST IN 1994!

09 March 2014

Posting a Series on Medium.com

I am writing a series of reflections from Bethlehem this week at Medium.com. Here is the first reflection - a Preface before landing.

08 March 2014

On the Congruent Life

 A while back I read a good book, The Congruent Life: Following the Inward Path to Fulfilling Work and Inspired Leadership by Michael Thompson.
       We don't use the word "congruent" too often in the English language. That's unfortunate.
       Congruent simply means:
adjective: congruent
  1. in agreement or harmony.
    "institutional and departmental objectives are largely congruent"
Based on this definition I struggle to live a congruent life. I think many of us struggle with it, regardless of our faith tradition or lack thereof.
       Recently I was listening to/watching a person I know speak to an audience about 6 keys for the Church in this generation. At one point he made this wonderful statement: "Time spent listening to a person is never wasted time!"
       What an incredible insight! How true! And ... in my interactions with this person he has dominated the conversation each and every time. With me, with others. A tad incongruent I would say.
       I do not mean to pick on this person, because "he who lives in a glass house should not throw stones." I do not listen as well as I would like. I talk and then think often! I want my opinions to be heard and heeded with disregard for others.
       The congruent life is elusive, at least for me. I desire to live in agreement and harmony, and find that this is perhaps my life's greatest work.

07 March 2014

"Sacrifice" and Faith

In the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, sacrifice is a key part of each. In the Jewish tradition it is most evident in two events in the Old Testament - the sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) and the Passover celebration (Exodus 12). In Islam the idea of sacrifice is captured in the festival called "Adha."

        In Christianity, Jesus is the ultimate and final sacrifice. The book of Hebrews puts it this way, "so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him." (Hebrews 9:28).
        The greatest news in the universe is that Jesus is THE sacrifice to God for the sins of the world - for Jews, Gentiles, Muslims. On the cross Jesus made that sacrifice so that people would know forgiveness and a right relationship with God.
        This is the time of year we remember God's sacrifice for us. I want to encourage you with two resources that are developed around the theme of sacrifice.
        The first is "Adha in the Injeel" by Fouad Masri, which explains the concept of sacrifice in Islam and how Christians can build bridges to Muslims through this idea.
        The second is my Passover Haggadah (order). This resource is specifically related to Passover, which the Jewish (and Christian) faith celebrate the week before Easter.
       To order one or both of these resources go the Crescent Project's website HERE.

05 March 2014


The first time I celebrated Ash Wednesday was in 2007 at Lookout Mountain Community Church, where I was serving on the pastoral staff. My colleague Aram, who comes from an Armenian Orthodox background, administered the ashes on my forehead when it was my turn as I came forward.
       "From ashes you have come, to ashes you will return," he said as he made the sign of the cross on my forehead.
       My knees buckled a bit, and I felt sick to my stomach at that moment. I tried to smile at Aram slightly but failed to do so.
      Ash Wednesday and Lent was always for "those crazy Catholics," as we called them on Long Island where I grew up. I found it slightly nuts that people would go to mass first thing in the morning and get a cross of ashes on their forehead and walk around with it on all day.
      My friend Adam Goldberg (Mo) and I used to joke that people who want tattoos should just get them rather than "fake it" for a day.
       I have been repenting of that attitude for many years now.
       The 40 days of Lent begins today, marked by Ash Wednesday. This afternoon I will make my way to the little chapel owned by my church. I will receive the ashes and consider the transformation that God wants to do in my life these 40 days. I will ponder finality - of life, of death. And most importantly, I will again consider this mysterious and magnificent Jesus who IS life.