Thursday, May 28, 2015

My trip to Europe with my son.

For the last couple of weeks I was in Europe with my 13 year old son.  It is a tradition in our family that we take our kids to Europe when they turn 13 to get an idea of what the bigger world is all about.   Last week was Southern Europe.  Two years ago I took my oldest son to Northern Europe.  They get to see the good, the bad and the ugly and it hopefully helps them learn a little bit about humanity and their faith.  I hope the experience lasts with them their whole lives and helps them make good decisions down the road.

So last week we went to Italy, France, Greece and Switzerland.  And we saw a lot . . .

* We drove over 1200 miles.

* We realized that Southern Europe does not believe in road signs.  This caused great internal stress to me.

* We experienced a toothless homeless woman rejecting the food we gave her.

* We felt the kindness from a group of Italian older men in a band called "Temple of Sluts" as they helped us find the train station we were looking for.  Odd.

* My son was particularly perplexed by watching a man drop to his knees in front of a religious relic and then just 5 minutes later yell at a beggar.

* We had a very intellectually stimulating dinner with a very close-talking British couple who were definitely anti-socialist.

* We were approached by hundreds of Indian men wanting to sell us "Selfie Sticks"  ("I give you good price.")

It was a great trip that showed us the best and the worst in people (and sometimes a mixture of both).

There was one thing that stood out to me in these travels.  We saw a lot of history - the Colosseum in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens - we saw the Shroud of Turin and the works of Botticelli and Michelangelo and Brunescelli.  Some of these works were in churches like St. Peters in Rome or Il Duomo in Milan or Florence.  What was weird was how these churches were museums - not places for believers to come together and worship.

In fact, I had planned on visiting Il Duomo in Milan on one Sunday morning at 11am.  Just finding a schedule of Sunday Mass online took over 30 minutes.  The website has everything about maps, schedules for tours and souvenirs for the museum, but to actually find when you worshiped was next to impossible.  But I found it and we got there at 11am.

How weird it was.  

You got to sit in the pew but there were thousands of tourists who strolled all around the cordoned area where church happens.  This was not a church, it was a spectacle.

Shortly after 11am with about a dozen other people who came to worship in a cathedral that covers acres, a young lady came to us and said that mass was moved to 12:30pm.  Worship was moved but the tours went right on schedule.  How sad.  We saw this everywhere.  These magnificent cathedrals are museums in more ways than one.  Tourists stroll in to view the artwork, hear the music and muse over how a few strange people still take time to approach a God that seems just as frozen in time as the stained-glass windows surrounding us.  

It was Christianity entombed.

It is the standard course of entropy for churches.  Churches start out as centers of action - believers trying to bring Jesus to a world that needs it.  Then they imperceptibly move to self-centered clubs that preserve the culture of its attendees.   The most important thing becomes how to preserve the likes of those on the inside.  What I saw in Europe is the next stage - I saw what the church looks like when it finally dies.  It becomes embalmed so that tourists can ponder the once vibrant idea of a God that is relevant.

Action - comfort - history (alive - dying - dead).

God help us to keep our church's obedient to God's calling.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Still no answers on how to deal with Radical Islam

In the next few weeks the international blight known as ISIS will most likely be in control of an ancient city named Palmyra.  It is one of the archaeological jewels of the Middle East.  And if past behavior is any indication, ISIS will destroy it.  

That means thousands of years of history will be lost to a group of people who think it is God's will to take over the world by force and make everyone submit to their version of truth.

This kind of activity has made it popular to shake our heads and pronounce religion and faith as divisive and destructive pursuits that sour everything.  I agree that ISIS is a cancer on humanity that needs to be stopped, but to lump it in with religion everywhere is wrong.

There is a big difference between someone who is pushy with their faith and takes up your lunch break quoting scripture and a group of people who march dozens of individuals onto a beach and videotape their beheading.

Big difference between the guy who wears a T-shirt that reads, "Turn or Burn" and a group of people whose aim is to kill people who draw cartoons of their religious leader.

Let's face it, people are weird no matter what their flavor is.  Watch the upcoming political conventions.  Crackpot democrats with their tree-hugging t-shirts and hats are in the same stream as the republicans who carry signs about their right to own guns.  So it stands to reason you are going to have religious nuts who get carried away with their faith.  That is part of learning how to navigate through life.  You put up with some weirdos and you get on with things.

But how do you get on with life when you have rocks thrown at you because you are not wearing a burqa?  How do we as a society put arms around a religion that says it is okay to kill someone out of honor?  Christianity may have the goal of 'reaching the whole world for Christ' but it is reaching the whole world with 'the Word of God.'  You have the choice to accept it or reject it.

How do we accommodate a faith whose aim is to have the whole world submit?

This is not to say that every Muslim has this aim.  Indeed the majority of Muslims I have met seem fine to talk with me about their faith and if I choose or reject it I don't suffer harm.  

Of course that could be because 70% of the American public is Christian and less than 1% is Muslim.  In Europe they are dealing with very radical sects of Islam whose aim is to forcefully convert municipalities to more radical Muslim ideas.

In just a few weeks we will lose a very valuable piece of history in the Middle East.  

What will it take for us to figure out how to stop the advancement of radical Islam?

Monday, May 11, 2015

"Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children."  Luke 7:35

This is a verse that basically says, "you can talk all you want, but what proves the truth is the way that a person acts."  People were blaming Jesus for all kinds of stuff that was nefarious, but His actions showed they were liars.

Live like that.

Seriously . . . life can be that simple.  Just live in a way that your actions prove who is right.  Sometimes friends will come to me for advice about how to respond to someone who is spreading half-truths about them.  I tell them to live in such a way that people in the future won't believe a word they say.  It usually works pretty nicely.

Unfortunately we see the complete opposite happening right now in the news.  George Zimmerman - the man responsible for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin - is showing us how this works in reverse . . . again.  Apparently today he was involved in a road-rage incident involving someone that he has had previous altercations with and was involved in a shooting.  The man who he was arguing with shot at him through a car window.  Zimmerman was missed, but how many times is this going to happen to this guy?  You have to wonder how one person can get into this much trouble . . .

If you remember, Zimmerman was at the center of a very tragic death of a young man in 2012.  

That's right, I said 2012.

Can you believe it has been three years already?  It feels like three years of continuing racial tension that fuels narratives all along the political spectrum.    

But for those who were sympathetic toward Zimmerman, it is getting harder and harder to see him as a victim.  He was arrested in January for throwing a bottle at his girlfriend.  She later recanted.  And then there was November of 2013 when he pointed a gun at a different girlfriend.  Oh, and then there was the case where he threatened his estranged wife . . . and a series of other speeding and road-rage incidents from 2012.  Yeah, it looks like aggression is a pattern here.

There is a point in which your actions speak louder than your intentions.  For all that George Zimmerman might talk about what his actions mean it does not supersede what his actions do.  

And here is the thing.  This latest incident will bring up the issue again about race and justice.  There will be all kinds of judgment about Zimmerman and race-relations in the U.S.  Those who argued that Zimmerman should have been scrutinized more in his trial were right.  And as time goes on it becomes painfully and tragically clear that people like me who thought Trayvon Martin had more culpability were wrong.  Zimmerman's actions show that he has a penchant for finding trouble, not just reacting to it.  

So not only does this affect our sense of justice, it also must affect how we move through the world.  Our actions are so much louder than our intentions.  The way we treat others speaks so much more clearly than whatever anyone may say about us.  May we live in a pattern that is completely the opposite of what is taking place with George Zimmerman today.  May we live in such a way that if someone even wanted to say something negative about us they would be instantly discredited.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cheaters Always Prosper

 "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."
- James 4:17

   Deflate-gate.  Stupid name.  In fact we need to get beyond the 'gate' suffix on scandals.  It was born with the Watergate scandal.  Watergate was 40 years ago.  Please, can we stop with the 'gate' thing . . .
   I do hope we can end the 'gate' thing, but it is clear that cheating is here to stay.  I say this only because it has such a rich history in the NFL.     
   According to the website, every NFL team cheats at some phase of the game - whether it is using PEDs, using sticky hands for receivers or taping the other teams' signals - everyone cheats.  Oh, and the Broncos are the leagues worst with the Steelers coming in a close second.  
   The Cardinals, Rams, Chiefs, Chargers and Browns are the most innocent (perhaps that is why they are perennially at the bottom of the pack). 
   Thus the urge to cheat.  
   I mean, if you don't cheat you will end up like the Browns.  This team is so messed up they went through a uniform re-do and unveiled their new look with . . . brown . . . and orange.
   *head shaking, eyes closed, lips pursed*  
   So cheaters seem to prosper (despite the childhood rhyme) and it runs pretty deep.  Listen to what current and former players from the NFL have to say about cheating:
   Jeff Blake, former Eagles third string quarterback talked about the current 'deflate gate' saying, "I'm just going to let the cat of the bag, every team does it, every game, it has been since I played . . . Everybody puts the pin in and takes just enough air out of the ball that you can feel it a little better. But it's not the point to where it's flat. So I don't know what the big deal is. It's . . . been done for 20 years."  
   Blakes thoughts are shared by many quarterbacks in the league and the Patriots are not new to the cheating game.  They were fined and penalized by spying on opposing teams and their signals in 2007.  But it seems like everyone has done that at some point:
   Coach Bill Cowher added that "Stealing someone's signals was a part of the game, and everyone attempted to do that."
   Coach Mike Shanahan: "Our guy keeps a pair of binoculars on their signal-callers every game, with any luck, we have their defensive signals figured out by halftime. Sometimes, by the end of the first quarter."
   Coach Jimmy Johnson: "When I came into the NFL, back in '89, I talked to a Kansas City scout and he said, 'Here's what we do, we videotape the opposing team's signals and then we sync it up with the game film.' So I did it."
  Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski would have his backup quarterback spy the defensive signals and drop red flags when he saw the blitz being called.

   Even going way back to the mid 1950's the Giants used James Bond-esque radio receivers to steal signals out of opposing coaches' headsets.  More recently, it is an accepted fact that if you are a visiting team and the score is close that your headset will just sort of inverse-miraculously stop working.  

   Hmmmmmmm.  How unfortunate . . .

   And don't even get started on Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).  Terry Bradshaw of the Steelers said on the Dan Patrick Show back in 2008, “We did steroids to get away the aches and the speed of healing. My use of steroids from a doctor was to speed up injury, and thought nothing of it."  Jim Haslett, former Saints coach, says the Steelers were "the ones who kind of started" steroid use in the NFL saying,  "It started, really, in Pittsburgh. They got an advantage on a lot of football teams. They were so much stronger (in the) '70s, late '70s, early '80s."

   You really need to visit this website and see how your team stacks up.  Whether it is admission from the Broncos linemen that they put vaseline on their arms or the Giants' Lawrence Taylor sending 'escorts' to the opposing team's hotel to interrupt their sleep habits - every team cheats.  

    And yes, it is a sin.  

   Because we, the fans, expect the game to be played by contestants who observe the rules and prevail in light of them.  We expect the playing field to be the same for everyone and when you root for a team like I do that consistently rips your heart out every December you want to make sure that it never happens again.

   But it always does.

   If you haven't figured out I am speaking of my beloved Eagles.

   And the kind of luck that the Eagles have will mean that one day they will win the Superbowl but that will be the year the league gets courageous and decides to punish cheaters.

   The sad truth is I can see it happening.  

   So throw the book at New England now!  De-frock them from championship status.  Let the people taste the blood of punishing cheaters so we can get this out of our system and onto some other mundane thing to make into a drama.  For the love of all things holy.

Monday, May 4, 2015

You see the signs of it everywhere.  Pictures on the front lawn.  Major dress sales and tux rentals for that big night.  Guys finding creative (and often eyebrow-raising) ways to ask girls to the big dance.

Yes, we are smack-dab in the middle of prom madness.  

And yes, the word madness is correct if you are dishing out anything over a hundred bucks (if you are a guy) and maybe a couple hundred if you are a young lady.  However, a study by VISA of over 3,000 people contacted found out that the average cost of the high school prom was over $1100.

I didn't even know what $1000 was in high school.  

If I asked my parents for a $100 pair of shoes they would have laughed . . . and at least shoes last for more than one night!

The word "Prom" is short for "Promenade" and it dates from the late 1800's when it meant the short walk into the ballroom to be introduced to society as a young man and young lady.  Essentially $1100 for a short walk, mediocre food, and about 12 pictures that you will laugh at in a few years. 

Now don't get me wrong, the idea is awesome - have fun with friends, learn some social graces, make a fool of yourself dancing and having a good time . . . but can't we do that for about $100?  $50?  I have a basement that has a pretty nice sound system and an 84 inch video projection system.  Give me $20 and I'll let you and your friends go crazy.

I know, it is about getting out and feeling adult and enjoying the moments of being young and free.  I just want us to realize the irony of that word 'free' associated with an evening that racks up significant credit card debt.

According to the study, those families that earned less actually spent more on the prom - some as much as $1500!  

Question:  What are we compensating for?  

Be young.  Be free.  Enjoy your moment . . . just realize that $1100 is about the cost of a college class.  And if you are really lucky, the experience you get from college lasts your whole life.  

View the VISA survey here.