Monday, December 21, 2009


sorry for the long time between posts...a lot going on, but haven't felt like I have much to say. Life is good, kids are well (except for all the colds coming and going). I've been substitute teaching and tutoring; still looking for a full-time job. That's getting stressful; if I don't find something that pays better soon (like in the next couple weeks); 2010 is going to have a rough start.

But I'm trying not to be stressed. We have always done ok; God provides a way, something comes along...

I have been talking to a friend about a potential church position--just in early stages of conversation, so I don't want to get my hopes up, but it could be a wonderful opportunity.

I'm also looking at a business opportunity that might be good--although it would be very different for me.

I am also really enjoying being back in the classroom. I sub at North Stafford High School most days and have gotten to know a lot of the kids. It's been a lot of fun. I have taught two kids whose parents were classmates of mine in high school--that makes you feel old!

So life these days is up and down. I love my family, and spending time with my wife and kids. I love teaching, and I'm excited about future possibilities. I'm also still struggling with identity--for years my job/ministry was a big part of that--right now there's a kind of a void there.

We are snowed in a few days before Christmas; finally got the driveway cleared today. The boys love the snow. I'm looking forward to good time with family over the next week. Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 06, 2009

It's GMU basketball season!

My favorite time of the year is here--no, not autumn--I'm talking about basketball season! GMU played it's one exhibition game of the season last night, a 100-82 victory over Virginia State.

It was guys' night at the Patriot Center as I took my boys with me. I didn't know how they would do--as they have grown older their attention spans seem to shorten. But it was a truly fantastic evening.

I got the boys excited early, telling them in the morning where we were going, and helping them practice their "Go Mason!" yells throughout the day. C woke up from his afternoon nap shouting, "I'm ready to go to the basketball game!

The ride up was fun, talking about the upcoming game, singing and laughing. At one point B started praying (he has been praying with me at the table lately), saying, "Dear God, thank you for our food." C melted my heart by saying, "God, thank you for Daddy!"

We got to the arena, picked up tickets that Ken and Andy left for us at will call, and headed for the Patriot Club (where people who donate a lot of money get "free" food and beer). Kenny gave me a pass, which I handed to the portly usher at the entrance. He looked at the double stroller and said, "You gotta have three tickets."

I smiled and said, "Come one, they're toddlers, they're not gonna drink any beer!" He waved me through. Kenny got us some pizza and drinks and we began the celebration. The guys were amazed at how the boys have grown.

We finished dinner and headed to the seats. I handed C to Kenny and climbed to our seats with Brady. I reached out to take C back, but he had planted himself on Kenny's lap, and stayed there for much of the first half. He later sat with Johnny for a while--I love how he enjoys being with all the guys.

B wanted to sit in his own seat--it was funny because he wasn't heavy enough to keep the seat from folding up on him. At halftime we walked around the concourse--C rode on my shoulders while B held hands with Kenny and Johnny as they ran and picked him up to fly through the air. He was loving it.

The boys made it through the whole game--cheering often, clapping when the band played, being thrilled by the small blimp that flies through the arena. They switched places in the second half; B sitting with Kenny and C in his own seat. When they got restless late in the game, lollipops helped them get through to the end.

It was so fun watching my friends laughing and playing with my boys, and seeing how much the boys loved the guys. B loves Andy, who always makes him laugh. Johnny was great chasing the boys in and out of a curtained off area, then being told not to go back there (I think by the same usher who let me in the Patriot Club).

But the highlight for me was a moment when I looked over at C sitting on Kenny's lap, and watched C touching and fiddling with Kenny's fingers as they both watched the action on the court. One of those real "Life is good" moments. Thanks guys.

(this is reprinted from our family blog--which is available by invitation only. let me know if you'd like an invite.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The boys' first high school football game

(from our family blog)

Friday night I took the boys to their first high school football game. I've been subbing at North Stafford, and they were hosting their rival Stafford for homecoming. It was cold and wet, but the boys were eager, and I really wanted to take them to watch football.

Walking into the stadium was exciting. There was a light but thick rain falling; it looked really cool in the stadium lights. The band was playing, and there were teenagers everywhere. We found seats just before kick-off; I had packed dinner--sandwiches, grapes and cookies--so we started eating.

The boys were enjoying it--cheering when people cheered, watching the guys run up and down the field, listening to the band and the cheerleaders.

Early in the second quarter B said he wanted to go home, and began to repeat the request. We were all getting colder and wetter. I tried to get him to hold out till halftime, but he kept saying he wanted to leave, so we left near the end of the first half.

Halfway to the van, B changed his mind and said he wanted to go back and watch football. I told him that we had to go home, and he started to lose it. I had to drag/carry him to the van. He was tired, and when he's tired and gets focused on something, he doesn't let go.

The whole way home, every thirty seconds: "Daddy! I want to go back and watch the football! Please! (with lots of tears)."

After about 10 minutes of this, C spoke up, "No, we're going home!" It was classic.

It was really cool to experience another first with my boys. I remembered how fun those nights were as a teenager, and thought about how my boys would be out there in a few years, either playing or watching.

But for now, I love sharing all these special times with them, and I'm so grateful for each one.

North Stafford won 35-7.

Monday, October 05, 2009

the present

I've always been skeptical when I hear people say, "God told me..."

I've never heard God speak. But there have been times when I get the sense that God is trying to tell me something--through other people, something I read, the Spirit inside...

I've been getting that lately in this idea of living in the present. A few different friends have touched on this, and some different things I've been reading. In doing some self-examination, I was amazed to realize how little time I truly spend living in the moment.

I spend a little time looking back, remembering good times, questioning myself or others over things I wish were different. But I spend a LOT of time looking ahead--wondering, worrying, playing out different scenarios--and most of it is not productive.

As a result, I spend very little time truly living in the present. Enjoying where I am, who I'm with--not thinking about the past or the future, just really experiencing life right now...the sights, sounds and the smells...(can anyone name the movie reference?)

So this week I'm working on living in the present. Not letting worries about tomorrow get in the way. I do this best with my kids. They truly live in the present, and they help me do it as well. When I'm with them, just being--those are times when I really sense God's presence as well.

Friday, September 11, 2009

FBS's (first born son) first day of preschool

From our family blog:

B had his first day of preschool today. I know this is just the first of many milestones, but it was a big deal to me...I still get surprised at how emotional I become.

B was born a little over three years ago. My memory is pretty bad these days, but I remember so much about that day. J went into labor while at work; I went to pick her up and she tried to keep on working. Her co-workers forced her to leave, and we finally got on the road to the hospital.

By the time we got there her contractions were coming faster. We tried to walk from the parking lot, but she couldn't get very far so we drove to the emergency room and I got her inside. Her labor went quickly, and a few hours later Brady was born.

A lot of people cry when their babies are born, but I started crying about five minutes before B came out. I realized that this little person we had been talking and singing to and touching and loving was about to come and join us fully. I was filled with this amazing joy and began to cry.

When he came out, all messy and gooey, he was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

When I look back to that day, the last three years seem to have gone by in a blur. B is no longer a baby, he's a wonderful little boy with lots of personality, incredibly bright, and so much fun.

As we walked up the sidewalk toward his preschool, my eyes filled with tears as I thought that he is no longer completely ours--he also belongs to others with whom he will now build new relationships.

It was all worth it four hours later when I picked him up--he saw me come to the door of his class, yelled "Daddy!" and ran into my arms. I love being a dad.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

President Obama to US students

I started a blog about the ridiculous protesting over the President's speech to students. Scrapped it and decided to just let the President speak:

Prepared Remarks of President Barack Obama
Back to School Event
Arlington, Virginia
September 8, 2009
The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

personal update

OK, time to talk about something else, I don't want this blog to just be about politics, and don't want it to always be a debate.

Maybe a little personal update. (If you're not interested in that, I won't be offended if you stop reading here).

I left Convergence two months ago. It's been an interesting time. I've kept in touch with a couple of my closer friends there, but haven't communicate with most of the people. I miss them. But I also find myself hesitating to reach out.

I'm grieving. Letting go of some people, my job, my primary focus. It's kind of like when a relationship ends. Even if you know it was the right thing, it still hurts. you still miss the other person, but at the same time you try not to think about them too much, and although part of you wants to see them, you know it would hurt, so you keep your distance.

That's where I am. I am teaching at a local learning center, working with kids preparing to take the SAT. I enjoy the one-on-one nature of the teaching; getting to know some neat kids.

I umpired one baseball game, hoping to get a lot more in the next few weeks.

I have enjoyed spending more time with my children. We spent the day at Kings Dominion today, it was wonderful. Nothing has ever given more joy than my kids--I love playing with them, watching them experience and enjoy life, laughing, reading, talking, singing, dancing. It's great.

We're winding up the day with another chapter of our John Hughes film festival, watching the second half of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Good stuff.

Friday, August 28, 2009

the non-apology apology

I was going to write a blog post about the lame, "I apologize if..." non-apology that we hear so much these days. The latest was Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins. She got into hot water by saying, "Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope."

When word got out, and she realized how racist her statement was, she offered this,

"I was unaware of any negative connotation, and if I offended anybody, obviously, I apologize," Jenkins told the Lawrence Journal-World. (bold mine)

So what you're saying is, if no one was offended, then you withdraw your apology?

Anyway, I was going to keep going, but then found this by Jim Buzinski, written several years ago, that beautifully says what I was thinking:

Apology Not Accepted: Let's Stop the Trend of "Non-Apolgy Apologies"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

David Gushee on health-care reform

Great piece from David Gushee on the health-care reform debate:

The national debate raging over health-care reform has become a maelstrom of competing claims and counterclaims. It has been deeply infected by political demagoguery and hysteria.

The tenor of the debate raises the legitimate question as to whether our nation still has the capacity to tackle an enormously complex policy challenge such as this one. Each day we spend millions of dollars to defeat external threats -- but if we cannot address our own domestic problems any more effectively than this, then it will not be al Qaeda that undoes us.

The primary Christian interest in health-care reform is the moral imperative to extend adequate health care to all of our nation’s people. Why is health-care access a moral imperative? Choose your Scripture text or your moral theory, but they all point in the same direction:

(read the rest here)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

health-care debate

It's amazing how people can look at something and see two completely different things.

Watch Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow one night; are these two even on the same planet?

Please, people--READ! Be informed! Don't just buy into the black and white rhetoric of either side. I am in favor of the reform being proposed. I don't think the current plan is the perfect answer to everything; but neither will it trigger the apocalypse, which is what many seem to think. Here are some great places to get some info:

Health-care misinformation: Big Numbers (by Mark Silva)

Health-care Reform: check the facts

Health-care resources from Sojourners

I read this in an article about the protests going on at town hall meetings. I know she's only 12, but I'm sure she is repeating what he was told by adults:

Another protester, 12-year-old Micah Vandenboom, was there with her parents.

She held a sign that made clear her opposition to the president's health-care reform plans.

"Under Obama, everyone will get the same health care, that's socialism," she said. "It has failed in other countries, you know, like Europe."

God forbid we try a system that treats people equally.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Great piece on immigration

Panelists offer theological foundation
for immigration debate

By Ken Camp

NORMAN, Okla. (ABP) -- Baptists cannot deal with immigration biblically and ethically until they understand a basic stewardship principle: everything -- including the privilege of living in a particular country -- is a gift from God, said a panelist in a luncheon discussion held in conjunction with the New Baptist Covenant regional meeting in Norman, Okla.

"It all belongs to the Lord," said Javier Elizondo, executive vice president and provost at Baptist University of the Americas. "Democratic capitalism can flourish only when there is a consciousness of whom everything belongs to."

Elizondo said many Americans need the same reminder the nation of Israel required after they left bondage in Egypt and entered the Promised Land.

"Do not oppress the alien, because your ancestors were immigrants and aliens," he said.

Another panelist said Christians need to change their vocabulary when discussing volatile issues surrounding immigration.

"When we talk about 'us and them,' we are on the wrong side of the gospel," said Tom Ogburn, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. "It's not about 'us and them.' It's about us."

"We need to move past the language of marginalization to the language of inclusion," Ogburn said.

Richard Muñoz, director of the Immigration Service and Aid Center (ISAAC) program jointly sponsored by the Baptist General Convention of Texas and Buckner Children & Family Services, said Christians can faithfully observe both the New Testament mandates to obey legal authority and to welcome the stranger.

"I don't believe Romans 13 and Hebrews 13 are mutually contradictory," he said.

Muñoz, an attorney, said most undocumented immigrants in the United States entered the country legally but did not return home when their temporary visas expired. "We are trying to help immigrants comply with the law -- not break it," he said.

Suzii Paynter, director of the BGCT Christian Life Commission, told the audience to expect a cluster of immigration-related legislation to be introduced at the national level when Congress returns to work after an August recess.

She reported that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee, recently outlined seven principles that will form the basis for legislation he plans to introduce. They are:

-- Illegal immigration is wrong, and the goal of comprehensive immigration reform must be to curtail future illegal immigration.

-- Operational control of the borders through increases in infrastructure, technology and border personnel must be achieved within one year of enactment of legislation.

-- A biometric-based employer e-verification system with tough enforcement and auditing is needed to discourage illegal aliens and provide a certain and simple approach for employers.

-- Currently undocumented aliens living in the U.S. when legislation is enacted either must quickly register with the government and submit to a rigorous process of converting to legal status and earning a path to citizenship or face deportation.

-- Family reunification should be a cornerstone value of the immigration system.

-- Encourage the best and brightest to come to the U.S. as immigrants and create new technologies and businesses that will employ American workers, but discourage businesses from using immigration laws as a way to obtain temporary and less-expensive foreign labor to replace American workers.

-- Create a system that converts the current flow of unskilled illegal immigrants into the U.S. into a more manageable and controlled flow of legal immigrants who can be absorbed by our economy.

Paynter pointedly underscored an observation made earlier by Ogburn, that too often "conversations about immigration and about race become the same conversation."

When Paynter arrived in Norman, she said she picked up a packet someone anonymously had left for her at the registration desk. The envelope was filled with materials supporting white supremacy.

Paynter said some of the debate about immigration issues is colored by "a real fear of the loss of power and privilege."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

back to baseball

Tomorrow is a day for which I've waited seven years.

In July 2002 I umpired my last baseball game. For five years, baseball was a huge part of my life. I worked 3 or 4 days a week, from March through November. I loved it. I loved the game, the kids, the excitement, the drama...I loved the friends I umped with, drinking beer and grilling brats after games, going to Razoos for drinks, retelling all the stories of our games...

Those last years in Texas, teaching and umpiring, were some of the best of my life. In 2002 I moved back to VA, got married, started a family, and went back to school. There just wasn't time for baseball. Each spring, when I drive by the local high school and see games going on, I feel a painful longing.

But now, with the changes in my job situation (not having one) baseball is a great opportunity for good part time work. So tomorrow night I umpire a game of 15 year-olds in Ashburn. The baseball probably won't be very good, and I'll be a little rusty, but I am so excited to get out there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

what to write

Haven't written since last week. I feel I should, but don't want to. Don't want to be to self-focused, but what the heck, it's my blog.

Pretty up and down these days. Being home with my family has given me wonderful time with my kids. In the last week we went to Kings Dominion, visited my parents at their camp on the Shenandoah River, swam in our neighborhood lake, danced, played football (Cash is a natural), read stories, made lots of great food, and went to church together at New Hope...

I am grateful for my family, that's really where my identity is these days, and that's good. but it's still a hard change.

For years, I was a pastor, and not just a pastor, but a pastor of a really cool and exciting church community. I loved my job, loved the people I worked with, and cared for, and hung out with. My identity was very tied into that job.

And now that I'm not there, a big part of my identity is kind of missing, or unclear. And the bottom line is that I'm grieving the loss of a ministry, and a lot of relationships that I am beginning to miss.

I will stay close with a few people at Convergence, but will drift away from most of them. I'm sad, but not depressed. I have really seen God work, and felt God's presence, and I am excited about the future (graduating Leland next spring, getting back into baseball--I umpire my first game in 7 years in 2 weeks, trying to read and write more).

But I know I will grieve the loss and change for a while as well. Fortunately, I'm not alone--my family is wonderful, my friends are great, and basketball season is not far away (Go GMU).

I feel pretty good tonight; so I'm gonna close and go to bed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

healthcare arguments

some comments from people on facebook about President Obama's press conference tonight on healthcare reform:

He is full of it...and I don't know how Americans are so stupid to listen to him.

definitely totally full of crap, and I hate listening to the man, but I do because I want to know what he said so that I can refute it all!!! Grrr!!!

Obama's words don't match reality. If he's so concerned about the deficit, why did he spend trillions of dollars we didn't have.

I think responses like these show how self-centered we are as Americans. It's obvious the system is a mess. I have a hunch that most of the people who are complaining about the possible changes have the means to get good healthcare. They are getting what they want; so they are fearful of any change.

The problem with that attitude is that it doesn't consider those who can't afford healthcare. It baffles me how so many Christians just want to keep things the way they are going, especially financially--again, I think it's because they have what they need. They don't want taxes to go up. They don't care that the gap between rich and poor is growing.

How can anyone read the New Testament, especially the words of Jesus, and not take seriously the call to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to help, give, care for others, live lives of simplicity?

I'm not advocating socialism or communism, but where do we find Capitalism encouraged in the NT?

Perhaps if the church were really living out the principles of Jesus, really giving away our wealth, sacrificing, seriously caring for the least of these; we wouldn't need the government to take action like this.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Guys' Rules

got this from Jamie a while ago...don't know who wrote them, but great job!

We always hear "The Rules" from the female side. Now here are the rules from the male side. These are our rules! Please note; these are all numbered "1" on purpose!

1. Men are NOT mind readers.
1. Learn to work the toilet seat. You're a big girl. If it's up, put it down. We need it up, you need it down. You don't hear us complaining about you leaving it down.
1. Sunday sports. It's like the full moon and the changing of the tides. Let it be.
1. Shopping is NOT a sport; and no, we are never going to think of it that way.
1. Crying is blackmail.
1. Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! OBVIOUS hints do not work. JUST SAY IT!
1. Yes and No are perfectly acceptable answers to almost every question we ask.
1. Come to us with a problem ONLY if you want help in solving it. That's what we do.
Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.
1. A headache that lasts for 17 months is a problem. See a doctor.
1. Anything we said 6 months ago is inadmissible in an argument. In fact, all comments become null and void after 7 days.
1. If you won't dress like the Victoria's Secret girls, don't expect us to act like soap opera guys.
1. If you think you're fat, you probably are. Don't ask us.
1. If something we said can be interpreted two ways and one of the ways makes you sad or angry, we meant to the other one.
1. You can either ask us to do something or tell us how you want it done. Not both. If you already know best how to do it, just do it yourself.
1. Whenever possible, please say whatever you have to say during commercials.
1. Christopher Columbus did not need directions and neither do we.
1. All men see in only 16 colors, like Windows default settings. Peach, for example, is a fruit, not a color. We have no idea what mauve is.
1. If it itches, we scratch it. Simple.
1. If we ask what is wrong and you say "nothing," we will act like nothing's wrong. We know you are lying, but it's just not worth the hassle.
1. If you ask a question you don't want an answer to, expect an answer you don't want to hear.
1. When we have to go somewhere, absolutely anything you wear is fine...REALLY.
1. Don't ask us what we're thinking about unless you are prepared to discuss such topics as baseball, the shotgun formation, or golf.
1. You have enough clothes.
1. You have too many shoes.
1. I am in shape. Round is a shape.

Thank you for reading this. Yes, I know I have to sleep on the sofa tonight.
But did you know men really don't mind that? It's like camping.

Friday, July 10, 2009

vacation ramblings

Bellingham, WA

We're coming down to the home stretch of vacation--several activities this weekend for Jamie's 20 year high school reunion. We fly home next Tuesday. It's been a great vacation so far--very relaxing, good time with family and friends, time to think and enjoy my wife and kids, do some reading and writing.

I am looking forward to getting home and getting back into some routine. I am hoping to start doing some part-time work soon--umpiring baseball, something I loved doing when I lived in Texas.

Also looking for full-time work (something low-stress--the focus this fall will be on school).

There is a lot of work to do on the house and yard that I haven't had time for; hope to get some of that knocked out as well...

last night Jamie and I had dinner with her sister L and L's husband C. We always have fun with them, they are such great people. We ate a great Italian/Seafood restaurant called Mambo Italiano in Bellingham.

A lot of our conversation was about the birth of our kids--C and L have an adorable 13 month-old son. It was so nice to relax with great food and wine, and share our lives and stories with each other.

We are talking about moving out to Washington in the next couple years; I love it out there, and see great opportunities for ministry. It would be a beautiful place to raise our kids. We've actually been thinking and praying about it for a few years; now it seems the time is getting close (I'll finish my MDiv next spring).

I love Virginia--but life there feels so rushed and crowded and pressure-filled. Life in the Northwest seems a little slower, more relaxed. I love the mountains and the small towns and cities north of Seattle--would love to work in or near Bellingham....

OK, enough rambling today. On a spiritual note, the trip has helped me slow down and listen for God; especially in the conversations with people around me. It has been encouraging. Nap time is almost over, so I'm going to spend time with my boys.

Friday, July 03, 2009

who am I?

for the last three years, a large part of my identity has been found in my job, my ministry. I was pastor of a really amazing, innovative church that is breaking new ground and doing some things that will influence both church and culture.

Now I'm unemployed. I'm not looking for pity. I mean, I'm sitting next to a window in Burlington, WA, looking out on a beautiful back yard--trees, sunshine, flowers, while the rest of my family naps. It feels good to not have the stress I've been feeling for a while. It's great to be on vacation.

I am excited to get busy with school and look for some work that is low-stress. I'm also eager to spend more time with God--listening, praying, reading and writing. Anyone in ministry knows what a challenge it is to keep a healthy, intimate relationship with God.

I've done OK over the last three years, but not as well as I'd like. I'm looking forward to slowing down, spending some time in silence, and getting more dedicated to writing.

I'm also trying to lose some weight. I used to umpire high school baseball in Texas; I'm planning to get back into it (it's great part-time money and a lot of fun). I got out my old gear the other day and realized I need to order new pants or lose about 15 pounds fast.

So 5 days ago I went on a fast from sweets (I'm addicted to chocolate). No cookies. No ice cream. No candy. this is really hard---I can be stuffed after a meal, but don't feel like I can stop until I've had something sweet for dessert.

Yesterday we were out sightseeing and stopped in a little cafe on a river. Everyone else got ice cream; I had some cherry tomatoes. I feel lighter already.

I started off talking about identity. Since resigning my church that feels more complicated. I'm not a pastor anymore. I am a husband, father, student, writer, umpire, friend. seems like a pretty good list to me.

If you're still with me, thanks for reading as I did some self-therapy today. I hope you are well.

Monday, June 29, 2009

farewell at Convergence

Last night was my last at Convergence; the service was basically a time to honor and thank me. It was very touching and encouraging to hear so many people share how I have impacted them. I felt very blessed.

I wish I had copies of everything everyone said--it was really beautiful. Here is a poem my friend Mike wrote during the service:

of short hair
and long temper

stretching himself
every day
from Stafford
to here
and back again

to push and pull
to plug away
to make a way

leading from the heart
loving from the gut
both family,
and family of faith

soft and hard

It hasn't really sunk in yet that I won't be going to work at Convergence anymore. I am at peace with the decision, and excited about the future, but I will miss seeing so many people on a regular basis. I am only letting those feelings in a little at a time; it's too much to face all at once.

I have done some little things to move on--changing my info on websites and blog...strange to be unemployed...

But I know many of those friendships will continue; so many people at Convergence have become a big part of my life.

Now I need to get busy preparing for our vacation--lots to do.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

my rambling thoughts on thursday's passings

I really had to wait a couple days; couldn't really get my mind around the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. I'm feeling really old right now.

When I was 11, watching Charlie's Angels was the highlight of my week. I was in love with Farrah. I had that poster on my wall; probably all the way through high school. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen; and was the first to stir some strange new feelings in me.

I followed her career, and was glad that she had some later success. I thought she got kind of strange in her later years, but always appreciated her spirit.

Michael Jackson--wow. I'm still in shock. He was as big as they come. His music, along with a few other artists, created the soundtrack for my first 20 years. I remember watching the Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoon when I was 6 or 7. I remember dancing to the Off the Wall album at high school dance parties.

Thriller provided the biggest music for my senior year in high school. Dances, parties, "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" blasting from boom boxes and car stereos.

Michael Jackson was the artist that everyone listened to--no matter what color you were or which crowd you ran with. He was one of those people you felt connected to, because of the music.

I remember the day Elvis died--where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news (at my friend Michael Brown's house, working on our bikes in his backyard). That night my next door neighbor Paul sat on his back patio and got drunk while blasting Elvis songs on his stereo.

That was big, but Elvis was from my parents' generation. Michael Jackson was ours.

I heard about Michael Jackson on a plane that had just landed in Chicago; another passenger had turned his phone on and received a text with the news. I couldn't believe it. I still can't.

I didn't care much for his music in later years, and felt he had become so bizarre that I couldn't really connect with him anymore. He seemed like such a sad person--not really the same one I had listened to years before.

But I will always remember the little boy with amazing talent, and the young man who broke down barriers and helped us to party and celebrate life. I've been listening to his music more the last few days than I had in years. It brings back great memories, and helps me both celebrate his life and grieve his death.

Thanks Michael and Farrah, I hope you are at peace.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the funniest show you've never seen

Mr. Deity is an amazing web show--really one of the funniest things I've seen--better than most of what you see on TV. Brian Keith Dalton, the creator, writer, director and star is hilarious.

Now, those of you who don't like your Christianity to be the subject of comedy may be offended; but the show does make you think, and raises some good questions.

Mr. Deity just began its third season. Brian and his cohorts recently began a second show, Words, that is as funny as Mr. Deity. You can check them out through the website or subscribe on YouTube.

Monday, June 15, 2009

important announcement--transition time

Below is the announcement I made at Convergence last night:

The past three years have been a wonderful journey--I am honored and grateful to be a part of such an amazing community. My family and I are at a time of transition, and believe this is the time to step out of my role here at Convergence.

I am resigning as co-pastor effective June 30. There are several factors that have influenced my decision--please know that none of them have anything to do with the people of the Convergence community. I love each of you and hope our friendships will continue.

Living an hour from Convergence is a huge challenge. We had hoped to move closer, but the economy has made that impossible. Because we're so far away, it is difficult for my family to be as involved as we would like to be. We hope to find a faith community closer to home where we can all be involved.

My primary ministry gifts are teaching and pastoral care. While those gifts have helped us build a healthy sense of community, they don't match as well with what Convergence needs to grow and increase its influence, and we all want what is best for Convergence.

From the beginning, we knew Convergence would be a community marked by innovation, change, and experimentation. I am confident that the staff, the advisory team and the trustees will work together to create an effective plan to move forward and achieve even greater success through this transition.

As hard as it is, this is what is best for my family, and I think this will be a positive for Convergence as we strive to involve more people in leadership, and continue to multiply people and ministries.

My focus will shift to completing my Master of Divinity degree at the Leland Center for Theological Studies next year. At the same time, my family and I will be praying and looking for the next steps in our journey.

I will miss being at Convergence, and will miss the people here tremendously. I am grateful for the ways you have supported and encouraged me over the past three years. I want to thank Lisa, the advisory team and everyone in the Convergence community for their support and encouragement.

I'll be in the office most of this week if you would like to stop by. Next week I will be in Grand Rapids, Michigan, representing Convergence at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Symposium.

June 28 will be my last Sunday; I hope it will be a time of celebration of what God has done and what God will do in our lives and the life of Convergence.

Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of such a wonderful endeavor. I will always cherish the relationships and accomplishments of the past three years, and will pray that Convergence continues to break new ground and make a positive impact in our community.


Todd Cullop

P.S. After June 19, please send all Convergence communication to You can reach me at

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Stories Seldom Told

Stories Seldom Told
by Bud Hensgen

I participated in SPARK recently--an artistic project where writers and visual artists pair up and create work inspired by one another.

My friend Bud and I worked together. Above is his original piece, Stories Seldom Told. Below is the poem I wrote in response.

My life is messy.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve accumulated
a century’s worth of memories in half that time.

Those memories are contained, ordered,
like stories on a page.
Sometimes I read them, and let my imagination take me back,

But on occasion they jump off the page, and come alive,
and suddenly they’re reading me.
It’s frightening, and a little fun
as they surround me and fill me.

I relive the embarrassing moments;
the times I felt famous
or ashamed
or loved.

The truth swirls and flows and is hard to get hold of.
What happened blends with what I wish happened,
or what I fear happened.

I remember the feelings more than the events.
I see the faces of the characters
but often can’t remember their names.

Imagination picks up where memory leaves off,
And the stories grow over the years.

I want to keep my life, my past, my story
neat and linear:
”Look how I’ve grown through the experiences!”
All of it working step by step to create the man I am today.

As if my commendable resume reflected my actual life.
As if I were the man others see.

But who I am today has little to do with orderly growth.
It’s from a lifetime of mistakes, failures, blunders;
with occasional victories that I fell into more than I orchestrated.
Blessings that I don’t deserve.

My good choices have multiplied.
My poor ones minimized.
I’ve been damn lucky.

In all of this mess and marvel of my life,
there is one memory, one story
that I keep fighting off.

I try to beat it away.
I run and hide.
I beg and plead.
I fill my mind with anything else I can think of,
But sooner or later, it always comes back,
big and cold and blood red.

So I remember.
I cry and confess and pray to forgive myself.
I lie there, empty and weak
as my tears carry the weight away.

The story is still there, but it’s a little lighter.
It lets me breathe.
I look through it and around it at the rest of my life,
and see the beauty and joy that have come since.

The pain I feel is more like a punch in the gut
than the complete beating it used to be.
And I can live with that.

I don’t want it to go away completely,
for as much as I hate that story,
it is mine.

I can’t wish it didn’t happen,
because without it, I would not be.

So I keep my story, deep down, seldom told, but always there.

Monday, June 01, 2009

my first poem in like 30 years

I wrote this for SPARK; a really cool partnership between writing and visual arts.

Dad’s Hand

I sit beside his bed,
not looking at the tubes pumping artificial life into his body.
I reach out and hold his right hand
once full of strength, now still and soft.
I wrap my hands around it, and remember
this hand that has so shaped my life.

I was no more than a toddler, walking through a green park,
holding my arm straight up so my hand could reach his.
He lifted me to his shoulders, on top of the world.
The height scared me, but I knew I was safe,
his powerful hands wrapped around mine.

A few years later those rough, tanned hands taught me the manly acts
that he said I must learn.
Throwing and catching, sanding and hammering,
shooting and fishing and building a fire.

But as I grew older, those hands turned on me.
They pounded tables and threw things and backhanded me.
I began to fear the hands I once adored,
and soon I wanted nothing to do with them, or the man.

He pushed me away with his hands and his heart,
And those hands became a memory.

But as we both grew older, we learned to give and receive forgiveness,
and start again.
A letter here, a conversation there, an awkward visit at Christmas.
I no longer feared those hands, or the man.
And with a second chance, I learned to love him, and his hands, again.

He was not affectionate, but I hugged and kissed him anyway,
and in time he hugged me too, those strong hands around my back.

Those same hands held a Bible as he read about love in my wedding.
They played with my daughter as he learned to be a grandfather.
They unwrapped presents as we spent his last Christmas together.

And now I sit in this bright room, with that clean but unpleasant hospital odor.
I realize for the first time that our hands are the same size.
Now I’m the one holding his hand in mine,
hoping for movement, but there is none.

I talk about the memories—hunting, camping,
baseball games and beach vacations;
drinking Dr. Pepper from tall glass bottles.

“Don’t be afraid, Dad,” I tell him. “I’m here, and it’s OK.”
I kiss him and touch his face and squeeze his lifeless hand.
And then his hand moves in mine, his fingers reaching out.
It’s a tiny movement, his last, but it’s everything.

God and Country?

Thomas Nelson publishers has a new Bible: "The American Patriot's Bible."

Jim Evans has a great story on this. Here is an excerpt:

Billed as "The American Patriot's Bible," the Nelson folks have put together a volume of the Bible that presents Scripture in the context of American history. In a promotional piece, spokesman Richard G. Lee wrote, "Joining with the sacred text are stories of American heroes, quotations from many of America's greatest thinkers and beautiful illustrations that present the rich heritage and tremendous future of our nation. If you love America and the Scriptures, you will treasure this Bible."

The pages of this new Bible are also filled with pictures celebrating America's military history. In fact, according to one critic Kaylor talked to, it was shocking to see pictures of military activity featured at the beginning of the Gospels.

Greg Boyd, author of "The Myth of a Christian Nation" and also senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., said, "When you consider the uniform and emphatic teaching of Christ and the New Testament authors that followers of Jesus are called to love and do good to our enemies, laying down our lives for them if necessary, this overt celebration of America's violent victories over our national enemies is absolutely stunning."

Greg Boyd, mentioned above, wrote a great blog post about this.

Thoughts anyone?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

rough week

just realized it's been a couple weeks since I wrote. This past week was the third most difficult week that I can remember. (1 was the week my father died after a 10 day hospital stay, 2 was the week I decided to leave Texas in 2002).

Can't say much now--more info in a couple days...but it was a rough week. Lots of prayer, conversation, seeking counsel, looking back, looking ahead, asking questions...

I haven't slept well, haven't eaten much.

But the one solid (besides God--and he and I are still wrestling through some stuff) has been my family. Jamie has been wonderful, and my kids give me more joy than I ever imagined possible.

Home has really been a place of safety and love; and I am so thankful for that!

Today was particularly rough--I dreamed of my father last night. Dad died 5 years ago--I can't believe that much time has gone by. In the dream I was with him. I remember knowing that it was a dream, but that was OK, because in the dream I could talk to him, and hear his voice, and touch him.

I miss my dad. I wrote a poem about him recently; I'll post it soon.

tonight, however was pretty great. My friend David hosted a party, inviting his Convergence friends and friends from other circles in his life. It was a great time; got to meet and talk to some really neat people. thanks David!

if you're still reading, thanks for checking in.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

President Obama's address at Notre Dame

Following is a transcript of President Obama’s commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on May 17, 2009, as released by the White House:

Well, first of all, congratulations, Class of 2009. (Applause.) Congratulations to all the parents, the cousins -- (applause) -- the aunts, the uncles -- all the people who helped to bring you to the point that you are here today. Thank you so much to Father Jenkins for that extraordinary introduction, even though you said what I want to say much more elegantly. (Laughter.) You are doing an extraordinary job as president of this extraordinary institution. (Applause.) Your continued and courageous -- and contagious -- commitment to honest, thoughtful dialogue is an inspiration to us all. (Applause.)

Good afternoon. To Father Hesburgh, to Notre Dame trustees, to faculty, to family: I am honored to be here today. (Applause.) And I am grateful to all of you for allowing me to be a part of your graduation.

And I also want to thank you for the honorary degree that I received. I know it has not been without controversy. I don't know if you're aware of this, but these honorary degrees are apparently pretty hard to come by. (Laughter.) So far I'm only 1 for 2 as President. (Laughter and applause.) Father Hesburgh is 150 for 150. (Laughter and applause.) I guess that's better. (Laughter.) So, Father Ted, after the ceremony, maybe you can give me some pointers to boost my average.

(Read the rest here)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

snarky thoughts on worship (sorry)

From a friend's facebook on a Sunday morning:

"The band is rocking over 100db today. I love it. Can't wait to see what else God brings today."

Does this seem kind of bizarre to anyone else? No offense to my friend--he and his church are doing incredible things. I used to love the type of worship that they are doing (and I'm sure God did do some great things in their worship).

But I think that "worship" in many churches has become not much more than a rock concert with songs about God, paired with a message that helps us live a better life. There is a sense that worship happens when we rock it out, and sing songs that lead people to emotional highs (or lows).

I'm also concerned that if you don't play an instrument or sing; there is no place for you in worship. think about that. somehow we've created a system where in churches of hundreds of people, with hundreds of gifts, only a few of them are invited to do more than watch and listen and sing along (in an atmosphere so loud, they can't hear themselves).

I don't mean to complain. We don't have it all figured out, but we're trying to expand our understanding of worship so that everyone can participate. We're learning that this means worship looks radically different, and takes a lot of work.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mothers Day poem--Billy Collins

I know I've posted a couple Billy Collins's poems recently; but here's one that is perfect for Mothers' Day (or the day after Mothers' Day). It's also great to hear Billy reading his own work.

"The Lanyard" - Billy Collins

The other day I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly—
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light

and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift—not the worn truth

that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


it's mothers day; the rest of the family is off to Newport News for A's soccer game. I'm sad not to be with them; but am getting some work done in a quiet house before heading to church...

yesterday I was running some errands, and had a long drive through country/farmland. it was a beautiful day--and a really peaceful drive.

I was thinking, praying, reflecting--and I realized that these days I am stressed most of the time. I don't like that. I was thinking back to life before family and pastoring and a mortgage and cars that don't run. I was rarely stressed. (I was poor and selfish, but pretty relaxed.)

I don't want to change my life--I love my family more than anything, love Convergence, (and hoping for a new car soon)--but I want--no need--to be less stressed. thinking about some ways to address that--yoga, better job scheduling prayer and silence, exercising.

something to think about...

Friday, May 08, 2009

Is President Obama a Christian?

A friend sent me a message in response to my post on the National Day of Prayer, with a different thought...wondering whether the President is really a Christian; and stating that they thought the President was moving our nation towards secularism. I want to honor my friend's anonymity, but thought I'd share my response:

I understand your perspective--but I think we sometimes have different ideas of what a Christian should do to prove their faith in a particular role.

President Bush claimed to be a Christian, often quoted Scripture, and usually lined up with what the religious right wanted. But I felt that his use of Scripture was usually done to support his actions--including acts of war and violence that I believe were often un-Christian. He often misquoted and misinterpreted (and I think twisted) scripture to give support to his arguments.

I thought it was very interesting than in an interview after he left office, he said this when asked if the Bible was literally true:

"You know. Probably not. ... No, I'm not a literalist, but I think you can learn a lot from it, but I do think that the New Testament for example is ... has got ... You know, the important lesson is 'God sent a son,"' Bush said.

He also said that he prays to the same God as those with different religious beliefs.

"I do believe there is an almighty that is broad and big enough and loving enough that can encompass a lot of people," Bush said. (From a Fox News interview)

I imagine many evangelicals cringed at these comments. I was glad to hear them; I think they were honest.

I know that many question Obama's faith because of his views on abortion. While I don't completely agree with him there; that's not enough to make me question his faith. I don't think we can use any one issue as a litmus test. (I'm not saying you are doing this--but I know many who do).

I have read Obama's books, and I believe Obama wants to serve and help and care for all people. I think he is for peace and health and opportunity for all people. These are values that line up well with Jesus, in my opinion.

As for his faith, I think we start with his own words:

"So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope."

"And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.

"It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works." [Speech, 6/23/07]

As for his moving the country toward secularism; perhaps. I don't think he is a fan of the religious right, and its exclusivity. (Neither am I, as I'm sure you know).

But even as a Christian, he is the President to all people, regardless of beliefs, and in that role, has a responsibility to represent them all equally. So I don't think he's moving towards secularism, but toward inclusiveness and equality.

I have a diverse group of friends in the Church, with a wide range of perspectives. I'm learning to share and listen--without feeling like I've got to argue or convince others that we are right.

so I hope I don't come across as argumentative. I feel strongly about my opinions, but realize others do too, and want to respect that.

national prayer day

ok, it's been a while since i got into anything controversial; but here goes. Evangelical Christians are up in arms because President Obama did not have an official white house ceremony for the National Day of Prayer.

The white house issued a statement that the President would spend time in prayer as he does each day, and the president issued a proclamation about the National Day of Prayer. But Republican Congressman Randy Forbes, co-chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, said, "Hopefully we'll have millions of people around the country that will make up for the void we see at the White House on the National Day of Prayer."

Void? It appears to me that many people are more concerned with this being a public event than they are with people actually praying. Personally, I'd rather have a president who prays than one who tells others to pray.

Also ironic that many of those upset are baptists, or at least evangelicals, who advocate separation of church and state. It seems that when some people talk about this separation; they want government to leave their religion alone, but they should be allowed to insert their religion into government.

we should pray and love and act to influence people with the love of Jesus, not force it upon them through government sponsored events. Instead of complaining, blogging, facebooking, and calling news conferences to complain about how terrible it was to not observe this event publicly--how about spending that time PRAYING!

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
--Matthew 6:5-6

my birthday

yesterday was my 44th birthday. I think. Jamie sent out evites for a birthday party next week that said I was turning 43. She blamed it on me; said I told her so. But I refuse to take the blame--I mean, I'm's her job to not be confused (anyone know the movie reference there?)

It was a great day. It started with an early breakfast with Josh at McDonald's. Josh is one of my best friends--we always have a great time. we talked for a couple hours and could have gone on, but I needed to get home. we watched the first couple episodes of an internet show called Words. (You've got to check it out--incredibly funny.)

When I got back Brady greeted me at the door. Jamie and Cash were in bed--he was up at 7 but had fallen back asleep.

Brady and I had breakfast--it was a wonderful time. He was in a good mood--smiling and laughing as we munched on Captain Crunch. Halfway through breakfast he reached out and pulled my arm toward him, then hugged me for a minute. Those are the best moments.

I spent most of the day with the boys while Jamie and Ashley were out. We wrestled, bowled in the hallway, read books, listened to Johnny Cash and Bruce Springsteen, watched the greatest basketball game ever played (GMU over UConn, 2006) was a great day.

I got some rare one-on-one with Cash; he woke up from his nap before Brady. I took him into our room and we lay down on the bed next to each other. Then he climbed up on my chest and lay down on top of me; another beautiful moment.

I watched the movie The Wrestler while the boys napped; very powerful--fantastic performance by Mickey Rourke.

After the ladies were home and the boys were in bed, Jamie, Ash and I started to watch a movie together. I was hoping to enjoy some time with them, but I fell asleep during the movie. what can I say, I'm middle aged.

It was an exhausting day; but a great one. happy birthday to me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

another great poem from Billy Collins

I Chop Some Parsley While Listening To Art Blakey's Version Of "Three Blind Mice"

And I start wondering how they came to be blind.
If it was congenital, they could be brothers and sister,
and I think of the poor mother
brooding over her sightless young triplets.

Or was it a common accident, all three caught
in a searing explosion, a firework perhaps?
If not,
if each came to his or her blindness separately,

how did they ever manage to find one another?
Would it not be difficult for a blind mouse
to locate even one fellow mouse with vision
let alone two other blind ones?

And how, in their tiny darkness,
could they possibly have run after a farmer's wife
or anyone else's wife for that matter?
Not to mention why.

Just so she could cut off their tails
with a carving knife, is the cynic's answer,
but the thought of them without eyes
and now without tails to trail through the moist grass

or slip around the corner of a baseboard
has the cynic who always lounges within me
up off his couch and at the window
trying to hide the rising softness that he feels.

By now I am on to dicing an onion
which might account for the wet stinging
in my own eyes, though Freddie Hubbard's
mournful trumpet on "Blue Moon,"

which happens to be the next cut,
cannot be said to be making matters any better.

Billy Collins

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joel Stein Contemplates Circumcision (For His Son)

Great piece from Time:

Joel Stein Contemplates Circumcision (For His Son)

I knew having a child would force me to examine my life, but I didn't expect to have to start with my penis. When my wife and I found out we were having a boy, everyone asked if we were going to circumcise him. All I knew was that circumcision is something the U.S. does and Europe doesn't and is therefore awesome. Our penises are clean and sleek and new like Frank Gehry skyscrapers, while theirs are crumbling, ancient edifices inhabited by fat old men in hats.

But when I thought about it, there was something disturbing about the fact that someone had chopped off part of my penis — a part that not only had nerve endings and a protective function but also could have made me look bigger. When I presented these arguments to my lovely wife Cassandra, she told me to shut up. Her argument was largely based on aesthetics and involved a lot of detailed talk about the surprising number of men she had dated. It's hard to win a debate when you're busy covering your ears and singing to yourself.

I argued that our son would not feel embarrassed either way, since compared with American babies in the 1960s, when 90% got snipped, about half of newborns are now deforeskinned — and only about 30% of California infants. I went on Facebook to ask if being made fun of in the locker room was apocryphal. What I learned is that even Facebook users disapprove of making parental decisions on Facebook. And kids probably don't make fun of one another, since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 69% of circumcised and 65% of uncircumcised adolescents know which one they are. Also, you don't need to be Don Rickles to respond to someone's mockery of your foreskin with a casual "Dude, why are you staring at my penis?"

All I knew was that this is clearly not a decision I should be making for another human being. What school he attends, what he eats, which bouncy seat he should bounce in — sure. Whether to alter your genitals for aesthetic reasons is a question meant for your mid-20s at Burning Man.

Still, I knew this decision was going to be made now or never, so I started asking every medical professional, woman and gay man what kind of penis they preferred, which, to my shock, got me a lot of dinner invitations. Though there seemed to be a slight aesthetic preference for not wearing a hat and a slight functional preference for keeping one on, no one had a really good argument for giving your baby plastic surgery. A pediatrician told me the sole reason he circumcised his son was so that the kid looked like him. If my son looks at my penis and the biggest difference he notices is foreskin, I have far more serious problems. Plus, if I wanted my son to look like me, I wouldn't have worked so hard to marry someone better-looking than I am.

It turns out, though, that there's an enormous group of people who would argue passionately for my son's foreskin. Francis Crick and Jonas Salk were among the Nobel laureates who signed a petition to the World Court to end circumcision. The last week of March was Genital Integrity Awareness Week, which included a march from the White House to the Capitol, which, while not far in miles, is an eternity when measured in baby foreskins. This cause is so real, it has its own ribbon. There's even a group called Jews Against Circumcision, made up almost exclusively of Jews whose parents no longer talk to them.

The antisnipping crusaders argue that the ancient Greeks rejected this violent tribal custom of the Jews and Muslims; hardly anyone practices it anymore besides those groups and Americans. They argue that the Jews created it as a way either to exclude women from their club or to ritualize the sacrifice of the firstborn male. They say it was brought to the U.S. in Victorian times only as a means of reducing masturbation by limiting sensation, in what has to be the biggest failed medical experiment in history.

Cassandra would not hear any of this. She felt strongly that our son should feel Jewish and that when she bathes him, she shouldn't have to touch his penis too much. And then last month, a study from Africa showed that circumcision greatly reduces the chances of catching a sexually transmitted disease. And I had lost my argument.

So in a few weeks, I'm going to buy some bagels, call a mohel who is also a pediatric surgeon and believes in local anesthetic, and do something that I'm pretty sure is wrong. I have a horrible feeling that all of parenthood is like this.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Forgetfulness by Billy Collins

borrowing the idea from my friend Julie, here is a wonderful (and frighteningly appropriate) poem from my favorite poet, Billy Collins:


by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue
or even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall

on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.