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Hey! Got Any Grapes? 02/28/2013

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I thought long and hard about discussing the theological, moral and ethical implications of this song. I also thought about sharing with you my thoughts on the statement that this song makes about society and our roll of caring for our brothers and sisters.

But instead, I thought I would just encourage you to watch and decide for yourselves 🙂

Oh come on! It did make you smile didn’t it???


The Crime of Pizza Delivery… 02/25/2013

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2 liter

I haven’t decided whether or not to write this post tongue-in-cheek or to approach it from a serious perspective, so I think that I will just write it and let you decide:)

I was amazed (astounded, flabbergasted, confused… you pick the adjective) when I read this morning that NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban has now been extended to 2 liter bottles delivered during pizza deliveries. I am not sure whether I should be rolling on the floor laughing, or lock myself in an underground bunker to prepare for the end of the world. Seriously, I don’t know whether I should be laughing about this or mourning a great loss.

I have to admit that I am really curious about New Yorkers. The New Yorkers that I have had the privilege to meet though the years have tended to be shoot from the hip, matter of fact, and don’t take… err ummm… “stuff” from anybody types of people. But yet, here it is… one after another of their rights are being taken away from them and I have yet to see my New York friends rise up and say enough is enough??? It really makes me wonder what is going on.

I try to imagine what would happen around here in Southern Indiana if suddenly our governor were to impose a similar ban or worse yet, tell us that something like… say… Twinkies were no longer going to be available, now those would be serious fight’n words around these parts… You say that Twinkies are no longer available… seriously??? Oh the humanity!!!!!! I’m on my way to the bunker right now!! (What you don’t know is that I actually have a lifetime supply of Twinkies already stashed away for moments such as these)

I remember my favorite radio personality Gary Burbank who used to broadcast from 700 WLW in Cincinnati until he retired. I would always enjoy listening to his radio program in the afternoons while I picked up the kids from school. One of his online personalities was a loveable redneck named Earl Pitts, American, (pronounced, Uhmerikun) who would editorialize about various aspects of political and family life in America such as which types of cheese a “real man” would eat. Earl felt that American cheese would be totally acceptable, any cheese that came sliced and individually wrapped in plastic was satisfactory,” Velveeter” cheese was definitely on the list and finally Cheeze Whiz, because any cheese that was willing to name itself after a bodily function was OK in his book. At the end of each editorial, Earl Pitts would end his segment with the words “WAKE UP AMERICA… Pitts off…”

This morning, as I ponder the crime of delivering 2 liter soft drinks with pizza, I think I will just echo the words of the illustrious Mr. Pitts and say… Wake Up America!!!!


I Shall Call The Pebble Dare… 02/22/2013

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One of the greatest privileges (and responsibilities) that I have as a pastor is to officiate at funerals and these past two months have been the most demanding months that I have ever experienced for funerals, averaging nearly one per week. Perhaps it is because I have had the opportunity to use it so often, but for some reason I haven’t been able to get my favorite funeral Scripture, John 14:1-4, out of my mind. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

I have been especially thinking about the last verse “You know the way to the place where I am going.” During the funeral service the scripture reading stops at that point (for good reason) because in the next verse the ever practical Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” I think that I am drawn to that verse so much because I believe that we all feel lost sometimes. We struggle to follow, we want to know the way, but sometimes we fall behind, and sometimes we get lost completely.

Parker J. Palmer in his book “ A Hidden Wholeness,” describes a time when farmers on the Great Plains, at the first sign of a blizzard, would run a rope from their back door out to the barn. They all knew stories of people who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own back yards.

My friends, we all get lost sometimes, whether on a journey into the wilderness our spiritual journey or even in our own back yards. As I continue my Lenten journey, these words from the musical Godspell have been weighing heavily on me. Listen to the words and ask yourself if you know the way to the place Christ is going?

Where are you going? Can you take me with you….

By My Side

Where are you going?
Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold
And needs warmth
Where are you going?

Far beyond where the horizon lies
Where the horizon lies
And the land sinks into mellow blueness
Oh please, take me with you

Let me skip the road with you
I can dare myself
I can dare myself
I’ll put a pebble in my shoe
And watch me walk (watch me walk)
I can walk and walk!
(I can walk!)

I shall call the pebble Dare
I shall call the pebble Dare
We will talk, we will talk together
We will talk (chorus) about walking
Dare shall be carried
And when we both have had enough
I will take him from my shoe, singing:
“Meet your new road!”
Then I’ll take your hand
Finally glad
Finally glad
That you are here
By my side

By my side
By my side
By my side

(Spoken- Judas)
Then the man they called Judas Iscariot
Went to the chief priests, and said
“What will you give me to betray Him to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver.
And from that moment, he began to look out for an opportunity
To betray Him.

Someone Is WRONG on the Internet… 02/21/2013

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My son, Ben, posted a comment on Facebook yesterday. He was concerned that he had taken the time to create an entire Excel spreadsheet in order to win an argument on the internet and he wondered if that much effort would indicate that perhaps he had a problem. In response, one of his friends posted this awesome cartoon. My friends, I can’t tell you how many times in the past few years I found myself it that position. (Ben you are just out of luck, it runs in the family)

I was sharing with my people in Bible Study last night about my blog. (Have you ever tried to explain the word blog to folks who don’t even own a computer?) In our conversation,  I shared with them a little bit of the history of when I started writing and why I began. I actually started writing in a hand written journal shortly after receiving the call to enter ministry. I found it to be a wonderful way to keep my thoughts straight and to remember the ups and downs of the journey. It is humbling to look back now and remember the challenges that I faced along the way and to remember the times when God showed up when I didn’t know where to turn.

I then began writing a blog, Koinonnia in Connexion, during my last year of seminary. ( I know, try explaining to someone what that means, I think I was using big words in an effort to sound smarter than I was) Actually, I began writing as an outlet for stress, it ended up being very inexpensive therapy, which helped get me through one of the most difficult periods of my life.

When I began writing, I had just been slammed very hard by the District Board of Ordained Ministry and I was terrified that I wouldn’t stand a chance when it came time to meet with the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to seek approval for Commissioning. I was also looking ahead to the last year of seminary that I had no idea where the money was coming from for the books, tuition and fees, and, in addition, I was in the process of preparing for my “mandatory” Cross Cultural Immersion trip to El Salvador which I once again didn’t know how I was going to pay for. ( I wasn’t even sure where the money was coming from for the passport, let alone the trip.)

I was stressed, and worried, I feared that I had given up my practice and gone all the way though seminary just to hear the words “Thanks but no thanks.” I felt a little bit like Richard Gere’s character in “An Office and a Gentleman” I can’t quit because “I’ve got no place else to go!” And in many ways I felt alone. So, I began writing, I wrote about things that were happening in school, I wrote about things that were happening in my life and I wrote about the ordination process, what I was doing and what I was thinking and feeling.

The remarkable part was that people started reading it. I always assumed that it would be me and a half dozen people back home in Indiana reading my ramblings, but then I started getting comments and emails from others, some going through the same process, others who had been down the same road and wanted to let me know that there was a light eventually coming at the end of the tunnel. (And it wasn’t just another train.) I also met people who were incredibly supportive, kind and helpful along the way.

As I blogged I began to learn a great deal about myself and about the struggles that others faced. I learned that not everyone was going to agree with me (go figure that one) I also learned that what I thought might be read by only people I knew, might actually be read by people who I didn’t know and that can be humbling as well. (I also learned to choose my words carefully because I never knew when I would have to eat them)

So as I continue to share with you during our Journey through Lent, I encourage you to add the discipline of writing and journaling. It doesn’t have to be online, or even in a fancy journal. A spiral bound notebook and an ink pen work very well. If you do decide to start writing, send me a note and let me know how it’s going.


You’re Doing What For Lent? 02/19/2013

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kayak fishing

My daughter, Terri, asked me if I decided to blog for Lent. She observed that I haven’t touched my blog for over six months and then suddenly I started writing something almost every day. So, in case you were wondering what I have in mind, the answer to her question is… Yes, I decided that I would be more intentional about writing during Lent.

The idea began as a conversation during Bible Study a couple of weeks ago. We were discussing the Biblical significance of fasting and why some people choose to give things up for the season of Lent. During our conversation, I shared with the group that another option that I had heard about recently was that instead of giving something up for Lent, you could add something instead. A great way to honor God during Lent would be to add a spiritual discipline such as an extra Bible Study, additional prayer time, volunteer work, or even extra help around the church.

The more I thought about the idea of adding something this year, the more I was drawn to the idea of writing again. I have no doubt that writing in my blog during seminary helped keep me focused (and sane) and since that time, it has been a helpful outlet and an enjoyable way to stay connected with people.

So, that is my plan, I am pretty sure that writing daily isn’t going to happen. Yesterday, for instance, I left the house at 10:00 AM to go to the hospital and didn’t return home until after 8:00 PM which didn’t leave much time (or energy) for writing. But we will just take things a day at a time and see how the journey through Lent goes.

Oh,  by the way, I hesitate to mention this last spiritual discipline that I would like to add during the Lenten season and although an argument could be made that it is certainly Biblical, I am not sure that everyone would agree with me that it is indeed a “spiritual” discipline.

However, with that said, one of my greatest joys is time spent out on the water in my kayak fishing, and there is no doubt that I haven’t taken any time lately to pursue that discipline (the weather hasn’t exactly cooperated either.) I have always believed that time spent fishing from my kayak could perhaps be one of my greatest opportunities to be in God’s presence. (Jesus seemed pretty partial to a group of fishermen around the Sea of Galilee didn’t he?)

Henry David Thoreau once said, “Many men go fishing their entire lives without knowing it is not fish they are after.” I on the other hand know exactly what I am after when I go fishing. So maybe the best thing I could do during Lent is to go fishing and then write about it….. This is really is starting to sound good to me 🙂

Keep Looking Up… 02/16/2013

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So, I have to admit that I am a bit of a nerd about many things, I can’t help it, it is just who I am. As such, I found the coverage yesterday of the meteor explosion over Russia fascinating. I have spent many hours over the years with my eye glued to the eye piece of my telescope, gazing at the wonder of God’s creation and pondering the vastness of our universe.

One of the questions that I had about the meteor blast was its relationship, if any, to the large asteroid that passed within 18,000 miles of earth yesterday (an eyelash in the cosmic terms) I went to one of my favorite Astronomy web sites, Sky and Telescope, to see if I could get an answer to that question and as usual, these folks were right there with the information. (And in case you were wondering, no they weren’t related at all because they were coming from opposite directions)

Here is a link to the article:  Sky and Telescope

After reading the article, I began reading a few of the comments (which I love to do) and the first comment criticized the author of the article for this line: “Fortunately, we have heard no reports of fatalities, but several dozen people were hurt badly enough to require hospitalization. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers go out to these people, and we wish them a speedy recovery.”

The commenter had this to say: “I would like to offer a bit of constructive criticism; please refrain from using the bromide “thoughts and prayers” in a scientific magazine such as this.”

To be honest, I really didn’t even notice where in the article the author had made that comment, I actually had to go back through and find what the poster might have considered offensive. I realize that as someone who loves both science and religion, I look at the world a little differently than others may. I have never once seen a conflict between science and faith. I am a firm believer in the law of physics, because I believe it was God who invented those laws.

I remember going with a group of friends once to the Wright Patterson Air Force Museum over in Dayton, Ohio, and while there we all went to see an IMAX movie that took us from a simple drop of water, deeper and deeper into the structure of water until we reached the subatomic level, then we began to go out from the drop of water to discover that the drop was a in a small pond and that the small pond was in a large city and we gradually pulled back farther and farther until we had a panoramic view of the universe where our galaxy, the Milky Way, was no longer even distinguishable from the other billions of galaxies.

One of the memorable observations in the movie was that the  very element which makes our blood the color red was formed in the heart of a distant star which means that, in reality, we are made of star-dust…  That sounds like a pretty Biblical concept to me!

And in the end, the narrator made the observation that prior to the “Big Bang,” the mass of the entire universe was so condensed that it could fit into the “palm of the hand…”

My Good friend, Jim Hurt, leaned up to me and without missing a beat said, “And guess whose hand it was in.”  🙂

I remember regularly watching a 5 minute weekly program on PBS called “Star Gazer” where the host always concluded the program with the phrase, “Keep looking up.” I think that as we continue our journey through Lent… that would be good advice for us as well!

Keep looking up my friends!


You Have Been De-friended… 02/15/2013

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Think before you post


I received sad news early this week, someone who I have a great deal of respect for posted on Facebook that he would be leaving Facebook permanently. He could no long deal with the “negativity, the name calling, and the horrible way people are treated and discussed” It reminded me that, like my friend, I was faced with that same decision a few months earlier.

To be honest, I really enjoy the ability to keep up with the lives of family and friends that I would most certainly lose contact with otherwise. I have enjoyed reconnecting with friends from high school who I hadn’t communicated with for over thirty years, and I have to admit that with the way our young people use Facebook, I even know what is going on with my own kids much faster by keeping up with their pictures, games and posts.

For me, a few months ago, I reached a tipping point with Facebook, Although I certainly enjoyed the connection with others, like my friend, I could no longer tolerate the mean spirited, divisive rhetoric that I was being subjected to every time I got on the computer. I will also let you in on a little secret; unfortunately, the worst offenders were my clergy “friends.” You would think that they would know better!

So, I made the difficult (and somewhat painful) decision to de-friend (or is it un-friend, I never know for sure) several of the most offensive posters. And, since that time, my blood pressure has been lower, my outlook has been better and I haven’t dreaded the thought of clicking on Facebook anymore. (I really do enjoy the pictures of kids and dogs and stories and…)

Too often we just “know” that we are right, too often we are filled with such an incredible sense of righteous indignation that we just feel the need to “tell it like it is”. We say to ourselves, “I live in a free country, and I can say whatever I want!” The sad thing is that when we feel so confident that we are telling it like it is…we are really only telling it like we perceive it to be, and sometimes we are wrong.

I want to share one of my favorite stories with you that makes this point better than anything I could ever say. It is simply titled “The Cookie Thief”

The Cookie Thief
by Valerie Cox
A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.

So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, “If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.”

With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.

He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought… oooh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude!

She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.

She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.

If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

How many times in our lives, have we absolutely known that something was a certain way, only to discover later that what we believed to be true … was not?

Oh, by the way, my friend who decided to give up Facebook was overwhelmed with pleas from family and friends not to quit. He even heard from a former student who told my friend that he made the decision not to commit suicide because of a conversation that they had on Facebook, a conversation which demonstrated to the young man that he did have something and someone to live for. So he decided to stay on Facebook! (Well… after he does a significant amount of de-friending)

So before you consider hitting the send button on that next political post (or any post,) ask yourself these simple questions: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? And perhaps most important of all…Is it kind? You never know who might be considering de-friending you 🙂


An Unpardonable Sin? 02/14/2013

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Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Matthew 12:31-32

As a pastor, one of the most common questions that I have been asked through the years is about my understanding of the “unpardonable” or “unforgivable” sin. “Pastor Jim, What does it mean to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?”

The good news, and the answer that I most often give, is that if you are at all concerned about this, or are worried that you may have somehow inadvertently (or intentionally) blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, then you have absolutely nothing to worry about. In other words, if you are troubled by this, then you couldn’t possibly have done it.

To be honest, up until the other day, I am not sure that I would have even recognized what it was if I heard it. But after watching a few minutes of an episode of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” I wonder if I have actually witnessed and experienced what Jesus meant by speaking against the Holy Spirit.

While staying at a hotel Monday night over in Ohio, I happened upon Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of Newsweek magazine, being interviewed on Bill Maher’s program. Ms. Brown was talking about a recent interview that she conducted with Dr. Eben Alexander, a neurosurgeon who wrote a book titled “Heaven is Real” which detailed his near-death experience and his journey into the afterlife. Although I haven’t read the book myself, I have watched his interviews on a number of talk shows and I have found his story quite compelling.

What I witnessed next was one of the most appalling, mean spirited, vile and disheartening displays I have ever seen on television, and while it may not rise to the level of an unpardonable sin, it certainly was offensive.

Bill Maher, in an extremely condescending manor, began mocking God and people of faith in general, he ridiculed Tina Brown for ever considering an interview with Dr. Alexander, and Maher especially couldn’t believe that she would have the audacity to put his interview as the cover story in Newsweek magazine, he also derided Dr. Alexander for not understanding that his experience was nothing more than a loss of oxygen to the brain, nothing more, nothing less and certainly nothing unusual. I guess I was most troubled because I don’t think I have ever heard anyone actually mock God before. (Maybe I live a sheltered life)

What shocked me the most during this exchange was that his audience was laughing and applauding him the entire time. (Father forgive them because they have no idea what they are doing) He even had a physicist on the panel named Lawrence Krauss, who couldn’t have agreed more with Mr. Maher, chiming in saying, “More people believe in angels than believe in evolution. It’s really a shame when nonsense can substitute for fact with impunity.”

I finally changed channels when the panel began celebrating the polls which indicate that the number of people professing faith in God has apparently dropped in recent years, which also elicited another loud and boisterous round of applause from his audience.

As we begin the season of Lent, I am reminded of the question in the United Methodist Baptismal Covenant, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin?”

I think that our scriptures are very straight forward on the choices available to us. Joshua 24:15 says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

My friends, we live in a free country and Bill Maher and his audience are free to choose which god or gods they will follow, and believe me, even though Bill Maher professes to be an atheist, he most certainly has his own gods that he worships and altars that he bows down before.

As for me and my house… we will serve the Lord!

My Thoughts On This Ash Wednesday… 02/13/2013

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I wish all of my friends a blessed Ash Wednesday. In a world which claims to be increasingly “connected” and is ever more dependent upon technology to realize a sense of” being in community” with each other, we instead seem to find ourselves increasingly isolated and disconnected from those we care about the most.

As I begin to prepare my heart for the season of Lent, it saddens me greatly to realize how truly alone we are becoming as a society. We no longer seem to reach out to one another the way we once did. Groups such as Lodges, fraternal organizations, sororities, even the PTA (I know they are called PTO’s now, I’m just showing my age) continue to decline in membership until one day they may be gone forever. Even our churches are feeling the effects of this shift in society. People are too content to send out an email rather than pick up the phone and call. Actually physically going out and visiting someone is almost unheard of anymore. Texting, (for me the most impersonal of all,) is perhaps the most popular way for people today to keep in contact with one another. When was the last time that your family actually all gathered around the table for a family meal without the TV on or cell phones interrupting the conversation? (When was the last time you actually gathered around the table with your family at all?)

I believe that for every step forward we have taken in technology and labor saving devices, we have taken a step backwards in freedom and cost to our families. The more connected we are with computers, cell phones and social media, the more disconnected from each other we actually become. Families will actually sit in the same room and text each other rather than talk.

I remember Karen’s Mom and Dad sitting out on the front porch of their home every nice evening, greeting neighbors and waving at friends who drove past, (or sometimes giving a dirty look to a boyfriend who happened to bring their daughter home later than he was supposed to.) Now all of our homes are built with back decks instead of front porches. It appears to me that in today’s society we seem to go out of our way to avoid human connection and interaction. Despite all of our social media , the more connected we claim to become, the more isolated we truly become.

My challenge for you during this season of Lent is to reach out to someone/ anyone. Pick up the phone and call someone that you haven’t talked to in a while. Stop by and see your neighbor (or even meet your neighbor for the first time.) You might even take them a plate of cookies.( it’s ok if they are store bought.) Tell someone/anyone you know that you care about them, that you are interested in them and that you are concerned about them.

The world which we live in is a difficult and increasingly dangerous place. People we love and care about are facing challenges every day that no one knows about, except for them. Reach out and make a difference to someone today, you will never know what difference that plate of cookies may have made in their life. You may never know what a difference a simple act of kindness or even a human contact can mean to someone. Only God knows and He is waiting upon you to make a difference.