Friday, December 31, 2010

So Long, 2010!

2010 was a year filled with joy, but there was a lot of sadness as well. So I look on it with smiles but also some relief that it is over. In any case, I am excited to be entering into 2011.

No big trips this year, but lots of fun little ones. That is the nice thing about living in Utah... you are never far away from a vacation spot. We have been in Utah for just over 6 years now. It is incredible to me, looking back, that we made the move from Michigan... however, I never hesitate to think that this was the best move for our family.

One of the greatest treasures we discovered in moving out here was becoming involved with the South Jordan Community Theater. Kathryn led the way, and we have come to love the people in this community like family. We have participated, in some capacity, in 5 shows during 2010. Each one was tons of fun. My parents have even jumped into the fray when they visit.

Our neighborhood in South Jordan is an excellent place to be. Jacob is involved with Boy Scouts.  Kathryn is busy with middle school. She will be a teenager in 2011.... sigh..... I only got to do one movie in the park behind our house this summer; I am determined to do a better run this year.

2010 was definitely a year of spiritual transitions for us. I think we did a lot of clarifying of who we are not. Perhaps in 2011, we will determine who we are.

Thanks to all of you who read and chime in on this blog!  I hope you have a wonderful New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why I Hate/Love my Ipad

I got an Ipad a few months ago for free. It sat unopened for a day as I debated selling it and using the money to buy a future Google tablet. However, I am weak and ended up opening it despite my reservations.

My reluctance was born from my experience with an Ipod a few years back. Unlike my other MP3 players, the Ipod had a very specific way in which music had to be transferred to it and organized. The interaction of Itunes and my Ipod seemed completely counter-intuitive and cumbersome to me. Although my Ipod could hold 10x more music than anything I had previously, I found myself leaving it on the shelf for more nimble alternatives.

That experience caused me to approach the Ipad suspiciously. For the most part, those fears have been proved justified. I have developed a love/hate relationship with my Ipad. It "should" do so much, yet has been needlessly hobbled.

First, what I love about it. It is a great ebook reader. Because of apps, I get access to some of the best ereader software out there.  Ipad's long battery life means I can go for hours uninterrupted.

Speaking of apps, there are a gizzillion of them. Many are free or of inconsequential price.... and yes, there IS an app for that.

Also, touch browsing, or touch anything concerning the screen is just easy and pleasant. Zooming in and zooming out are a breeze.

Now I will move on to the things... I... Just... Can't.... Stand!

Let me say up front that I am aware that there are things a tablet is just not designed to do. For example, I would never attempt to type this blog, or any long response, on my Ipad. A touch keyboard can only take you so far.... but it is a natural limitation of the device. What I refer to now are the limitations that are completely self-imposed.

No flash for web browsing? Not only annoying, but I can't tell you how many times I have had to put down the Ipad and go over to a computer to finish buying this or reading that. I never realized how much Flash and Shockwave are used on the web.

Even with the latest OS update, the Ipad still can't multitask.  The point of being technical IS multitasking.  Very tedious!

Print????  forgetaboutit!

Skype??  Nada.

Attach a file to my email?  Nope, nope, & nope.

Ok, here is the biggie. Let's say I decide to clean the bedroom and want to listen to a recent lecture I downloaded downstairs. Do I reach for the netbook or the Ipad? Using the Netbook, I would hop on to my home network, scroll over to the downstairs computer, and double click the file... this would take me seconds to accomplish. If I want to use the Ipad, I would need to take it downstairs, hook it to the computer, open Itunes, move the file over to Itunes, sync....sync.... still syncing..., whew! By this time, I have completely lost the motivation to clean the bedroom...

This example threads out and highlights the main weakness of the Ipad. I have Terrabytes of movies, books, documents, music, recordings, photos, comics, etc. on my network. Every computer in my house is only a click or two from accessing all of it it.... except for my Ipad, which may be the most expensive piece of tech I own.

This trait renders many of the most worthwhile apps pointless. You can listen to music on the Ipad, watch movies on the Ipad, read comics on the Ipad.... but I rarely do any of these things. These files take up a lot of room and are a hassle to transfer. I would be transferring and deleting all the time. It is just easier to grab the netbook which has instant access to anything.

Do I use the Ipad?  Yes.  Would I pay 500+ for it?

Heh!   Um, no.  Not unless that amount of cash were incidental.

I could buy a netbook that can do more than twice as much with entertainment and productivity, at half the price.

My friends who are devoted to Apple will tell me I just don't understand how Apple works. To them, all of these limitations are normal - a given. They have learned to live with the limitations and are happy.

This just strikes me as funny because the ground-breaking ad of the 80s was the powerful Apple woman coming in to smash the screen of the totalitarian computer leader and free the users.

The old saying is true - you become that which you hate.  Now it is the Apple users on the benches.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas Bruce!

Many of you who read here also read Bruce G. at Restless Wanderings and N.W. Ohio Skeptics. He hung up his blogging and Facebook cap to spend more time focusing on his health and family. I was sad with his decision to quit writing; his history makes him uniquely qualified to speak to many issues on life, politics, and religion - which he did masterfully. Still, I support his decision and have wished him the best.

So, I was extremely pleased to hear that someone spotted a letter to the editor that he wrote to his local paper. It was good to "hear" his voice!

It seems local theocrats are determined to convince us that America was founded as a Christian nation and continues to a Christian nation to this day. No amount of history and reason will convince them that their viewpoint cannot be sustained historically, theologically or politically.

Never mind that the founding fathers spoke of a generic God and rarely, if ever, mentioned the Christian God, Jesus Christ. Never mind that the Constitution commands a strict separation of church and state. Never mind that the deism of the founding fathers is not the same as evangelical Christianity.

Let's grant the theocrats their position for a moment. Every president in my lifetime has professed to be a Christian. Virtually every member of Congress professes faith in Jesus Christ. Even at the state and local level Christianity is the de facto religious faith.

We are a nation dominated by the Christian religion. That's why it is so amusing to listen to evangelicals complain about the "war on Christmas." There is no war on Christmas, any cursory reading of a newspaper will show. Jesus is everywhere this time of year. Evangelicals continue to wage the culture war, out to stop every action they deem sinful. Fear the gay. Fear the atheist. Fear the liberal. Fear the socialist. You get the picture -- fear, fear, fear.

Christianity is the God of American culture. Every community has multiple Christian churches. Ohio state government and local government in northwest Ohio is dominated by the Republican Party, and we all know that GOP stands for "God's Only Party." The truth is that Christians own this country, lock, stock and barrel.

Since it is quite evident that Christianity is the dominant religion in America, and since most of our governmental leaders are card-carrying Christians, it is right for us to ask exactly what has Christianity given us as a nation?

War, torture, homophobia, amoral capitalism, economic collapse, the destruction of the working class and punitive political policies that punish and hurt the poor.

I could go on but space is limited. It is quite clear that the Christianity of this Christian nation of ours is quite antithetical to the teachings of Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible was much more like a socialist than a capitalist. Jesus loved the poor and disenfranchised. If Jesus were alive today I suspect he would have a lot to say about this modern, bastardized Christianity that permeates America.

Bruce G

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chasing Francis: A Book Review

Chasing Francis is a story about a successful mega-church pastor who finds himself feeling empty after having accomplished all of his ministry goals. The book is written in a similar style to Brian Mclaren's "New Kind of Christian" series - i.e. using a narrative to make theological points.

The Pastor, Chase, says near the beginning of the book, "I have this sneaking suspicion that I've been reading from a theological script that someone else wrote. Is this my faith, or one that I bought into as a kid without really thinking about it?" This is a common perspective hitting many religious believers today. In the past, it was easier for one to have a "simple" faith; most people had only one theological input. However, due to the explosion of information in this age, contrary opinions are but a click away.

This is where Pastor Chase finds himself. As the questions began to nestle in his head, anyone giving pat answers became a source of annoyance. He comments at one point that Evangelical responses started to produce a "gag reflex" within him. This attitude begins to disturb his predominately evangelical congregation.

Chase finally comes to a Crisis of Faith moment... unfortunately, it happens during a Sunday morning sermon. His congregation, unwilling to deal with his broken soul, shows him the door. They put him on sabbatical and tell him to get it together or get another job.

In his despondency, Chase calls his eccentric uncle, who is a Franciscan Monk in Italy. His Uncle invites him to come to Italy to meet St. Francis of Assisi. Together, the two of them start a pilgrimage, following the path of St. Francis.

Chase's Uncle feels that Francis is a good model for this generation's spiritually homeless. Francis lived in a time when Christendom was leaving the ancient world for the modern world. The struggles he navigated in his time can serve as an example as Christianity now moves from a modern world to a post-modern world. While in Italy, Chase discovers that Christianity is much deeper than the teaspoon he had known. Francis demonstrates how to live in such a way that you tell a different story than the culture at large.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It meanders at times, and occasionally reminded me of reading a Stephen King novel - the author would do a lot of weaving and winding before he got to his point. However, the point tends to be so satisfying that you quickly forgive the roundabout journey it took to get there. It was a little sentimental at times for my tastes, but it serves as a great introduction to St. Francis. I knew very little of Francis prior to reading this book; so if the author's hope was to encourage readers to pursue this saint further - in my case he succeeded.

A friend of mine who enjoyed this book also did a review and had a chance to meet the author. You can read Bob's thoughts here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Love is the Truth

God is Love

You've heard it before. It says it in 1 John 4:8.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Could you imagine what Christianity would look like if "Love" were the marker of someone who is close to God? Rather than someone who clings to a certain set of postulates?

Instead, most of Christianity chooses to reference John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

This verse is usually used to set up an exclusivism - God is for Christians only. The fact that this interpretation runs contrary to the life and ministry of Jesus is relegated to a footnote.

A few years ago I heard Bart Campolo re-quote 1 Corinthians 13 based on 1 John 4:8. Since God IS love - not something God chooses or decides - he swapped out love and put GOD in the text. So it read like this:

God always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.... God never fails.

So, in the fashion of Brother Bart, I would like to take that approach to John 14:8 -

Love is the Way, Love is Truth, Love is Life. No one comes to God... except through Love.

Heresy you say?

Heh! I got a million of em'! ;)

Happy Winter Solstice!

I want to wish everyone happiness on this day that has been celebrated by a variety of cultures throughout time. In many ways, it is the start of a new year.

If you have ever wondered what makes a solstice a solstice, allow me to explain. Most people understand that Earth rotates on it's axis once every "24" hours and revolves around the sun once in "365" days. But many are not aware of a third relative motion: The Earth's axis tilts forward about 23 degrees for the Northern Hemisphere's summer and 23 degrees back for its winter. It is this tilt that causes the seasons. When the Northern Hemisphere is tilting forward, it gets the most direct sunlight for the longest time and produces summer. As we move toward Winter Solstice we get less direct sunlight and less time in the sun.

The line at which the Northern Hemisphere tilts its furthest distance forward is called the Tropic of Cancer. The line at which the Northern Hemisphere tilts furthest back is called the Tropic of Capricorn. The Equator is directly between these two lines. When the sun sits directly over the equator, we are having either our Spring or Autumnal Equinox.

Happy Winter Solstice!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

So Far, So Good

Today my wife and I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. I have a show to do this evening, and Mary Lee will be taking Kathryn to her winter recital; such is the pace of our life that special days have to sometimes make way for routine. Mary Lee and I will have to toast ourselves once the day's demands are done. :)

Nevertheless, I will celebrate here on this blog my 15 years married to Mary Lee. Lots of grins and some tears. A couple of times we almost hit the eject button, but chose to let the wounds heal. Adventures neither of us could have anticipated; and we presently reside in a pretty happy place with great friends, wonderful children, and a peaceful life.

I love you Mary Lee! Here's to the next 15!

I think this song by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) is kind of an anthem for all those folks choosing to have their marriages go the distance.


Who would have believed we would make it so far
would have thought we would last so long
Truster in fairy tale ends that you are
Me with my slightly worn out rebel song

Sometimes I look in your eyes
I see the pain in the corner
little betrayls and lies
and a part of us dies
Yeah, but call off the mourners

We're here so far
Still holding tight
Through one more storm we can weather
We get it wrong
We set it right
Beat up but warm
like my old guitar
Still playing sweet so far

I still remember a girl with gold hair
and a little catch in her voice
We knew we made an improbable pair
But our hearts didn't leave us much choice

It seems to little to say
just to repeat "I still love you"
and if not quite the same way
as I did that first day
We know life changes the tune

And still so far
from where we've been
We walk that long road together
We don't give out, we don't give in
Battered and strong
like a kid's first car
We're cruisin on so far

I see new lines on your face
Some of them I know I put there
Innocence we can't replace
Still, we're winning the race
somehow foot after foot there

We've come so far
We've got it made
We might just go on forever
And this I know
I would not trade
A single blow that we have withstood
Even if we could
So long
and so far
so good.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Beyond Exclusivism

Is there a step above religious exclusivism? Is there anything more drastic than saying "only those that do it our way" are acceptable?

At one time, exclusivists were concerned for your soul; if you didn't get on the right team fast, you might burn for eternity.  Now though, it has gone a step further. It is no longer about your soul. This is about their offense at your not viewing life their way. Anger builds within them when you do not put their god as supreme, and by association, their view as supreme.

Take for example the perspective of Donald Douglas on the parting words of Elizabeth Edwards, who died recently after a long battle with cancer. She had stated:

"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces -- my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope,"

These last words gave no small amount of frustration to Mr. Douglas who commented:

"Clearly Elizabeth Edwards wants to put her faith in something, be it hope or strength or anything. But not God. I wonder if it's just bitterness, that's she's been forsaken by more than just her estranged husband --- that's she's been forsaken by Him. And imagine if she'd have become First Lady. Americans generally expect outward expressions of faith in our presidents, Christian faith especially, and thus in our First Ladies as well. The Democratic base obviously doesn't care, as we can see in the "wow factor" expressed by the author at the American Prospect. Being anti-religion is cool, so Edwards' non-theological theology gets props from the neo-communists. Still, at her death bed and giving what most folks are calling a final goodbye, Elizabeth Edwards couldn't find it somewhere down deep to ask for His blessings as she prepares for the hereafter? I guess that nihilism I've been discussing reaches up higher into the hard-left precincts than I thought."

My mind reels at the self-centered navel-gazing of this man's religious views. He is offended that Ms. Edwards did not, on her death-bed, give preference to his religious perspective. The fact that there are a myriad of religious views she also did not mention seems to be lost on Mr. Douglas. He missed this obvious point for one simple reason...

He is a bully.

This brand of religious bully-ism is on the rise in America.  As our country becomes more pluralistic, people like Mr. Douglas feel more and more threatened.  In their frustration, their verbal violence is becoming increasingly bitter.

Jesus had to endure religious bullies in his time too.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  He had this to say to them:

“Woe to you; you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. You give a tenth of your spices, but you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

HT: Find and Ye shall Seek
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