Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Biscotti Christian

This past weekend, my three children and I took the ferry over to visit my mom. I had made a reservation for myself and the car in advance, and once on board, I went up to pay when I was hit with a question I hadn’t expected: “how many children are with you?”

Several thoughts raced through my mind… do kids cost extra? how much? Is there a cut-off age? What should I say? “Two,” I answered with a smile.

Ouch. Three. The correct answer was three! But I said two, and I was sticking with it.

Later on deck, I had a moment to think it over… there I was, selling my integrity for a few bucks. This was not the type of person, the type of Christian I want to be. After a little hemming and hawing, I went back to the bursar’s office, slightly embarrassed, but doing the right thing.

With a hat-tip to Erin Wilson, it later occurred to me that I am a Biscotti Christian. I often have to bake things twice before I realize the right thing to do. I guess you could say that’s I a good thing that I eventually come to my senses… but it would be less frustrating (and less embarrassing) if I got it right the first time. Why can’t I be an All-Natural Christian instead?

I do have more horrible, more hurtful examples (which I prefer not to disclose today) but I take some comfort in knowing I am not alone. In the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul writes:
For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I
keep on doing.

Of course, on the return trip, I was ready with my answer (three) and the extra $13.50. Twice-baked, maybe, but rarely half-baked.

Monday, July 23, 2007


The lead headline on msnbc.com this morning grabbed my attention: Dead, but Farming.

Clicking through, you find that the US Dept of Agriculture distributed $1.1 billion over the past seven years to farmers who were dead. The Government Accountability Office found that officials approved payments without any review 40 percent of the time, including $567,000 to an Alabama farmer who died in 1981. Another estate received payments on behalf of a person who died in 1973—more than three decades ago—without any investigation or review.

What does this say about leadership?

Quick segway—for much of my adult life I got off track on my walk with Christ. Sure, we were members of a church. I was there on Sunday, especially on holidays (and whenever my parents or in-laws were in town). My children were all baptized. And yet, I was just going through the motions--without a lot of action. I guess you could say that I was spiritually dead, but farming.

What does that say about church leadership?

Yes, individuals need to own their own faith. But as members of a church body, perhaps church leaders should be conducting “investigations and reviews” as it were. And perhaps, having ‘dead, but farming’ members shouldn’t be tolerated.

I’ve been intentional about my walk with Christ for the past six years, and there have been ups and downs. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve been held accountable by the teams and small groups I’ve been involved with. But not everyone is so connected – what happens to them when they need spiritual CPR in order to stay alive? Those who are sitting there, year after year, simply farming.
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

The community of faith I belong is trying – the leadership team goes through a page of the directory each week to see who’s “connected” and is on the lookout for people who go MIA. Some people appreciate the "how are you doing" calls and needed the lift up. But my guess is that others simply reply, "doin' fine, just farming, thanks."

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

He's a nut job... or is he... ?

This morning I reflected on a verse from Mark, about the initial reaction Jesus’ family had to his ministry: “He is out of his mind.”

When told his family was waiting for Him outside, Jesus replied “Who are my mother and brothers?” Then looking at the apostles seated around him, He said, "Here are my mother and my brothers!”

I thought first of my family. What would I do if my children encountered a living Jesus here on earth? “Dad, Jesus came back to earth… and I am leaving home to move in with him and his followers?” Would I lock them in their rooms and forbid them to go? Would I have them sent to a shrink for counseling? Would I call the cops? After all, I still remember the fire and deaths in Waco, just 14 years ago. My first instinct would be to protect my children.

Jesus, too, tells us to be on alert, warning us in the Gospel of Matthew that “false Christ's and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible.”

But part of me knows that encountering a living Jesus here on earth is possible… and that left me wondering: is my faith strong enough that I could tell the difference between a false prophet and the one true Lord? How did the early apostles do it? Especially as their loved ones chided them, “what are you doing… this guy is nuts!”

Interesting, then, that as I left for work this morning, the first news story on the radio was about Sergei Torop, a Russian traffic cop who came to “realize” that in his last life, he walked the earth as Jesus Christ. He now understands that God sent him back to Earth because hatred and war and environmental degradation had become rampant.

Given my morning reflection, I wanted to look into this story a bit more and found an article in today’s Washington Post. "This is the first time I have been needed in 2,000 years,” Torop tells is followers. “This is a critical point. Only when mankind becomes one family on Earth will the doors to the universe become open to them."

Today, Torop has over 5,000 followers – who have left their old houses and jobs to form a new way of life in Siberia – and their numbers continue to grow. "That was the end of my search," one of his followers testifies. "I felt my heart beating really fast, and I knew, 'This is the truth. This is Him.' He is the second incarnation of Jesus Christ."

“'This is him,” another exclaims. “This is the one, the teacher I have been waiting for all my life. Yes, I believe he is Jesus Christ. I know it, like I know I'm breathing, and that's it."

Reading this last line startled me. Because it describes how I know that Christ is Lord. I just know it… like I’m breathing… and that’s it. So I will ponder this question some more… is my faith strong enough that I could tell the difference between a false prophet and the one true Lord? Could I recognize Christ if I saw Him?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

WWJD First?

While I can find personal insights in most every book of the Bible, these connections seem to “jump out at me” when reading any of the four Gospels. Feeling a little distant from God this week, I turned to Mark.

Often I am looking for direction in my life. I take to heart the parable of the talents, and when that day comes when God asks me what I did with the resources and gifts he bestowed upon me, I want to make sure I have a good answer.

That is why I was amazed in the opening chapters of Mark. Here is Jesus starting his ministry. The all-powerful Son of God. He had the gifts and talents, if you will, to accomplish anything. World peace? No problem. Build a church? That’s a snap. Strike down a ruthless dictator? Piece of cake.

So what did Jesus do first? He gather together a few friends, and went out to help some individuals in need. Interesting. While John the Baptist was out there calling for people to change their ways, repent and prepare yourself for heaven, the first thing Jesus did was to help people get through another day in the here and now.

In Mark, Jesus invites a few friends (the first four apostles) and proceeds to help a man possessed, an older lady with a fever, a man with leprosy and then a paralyzed man. Of all things Jesus could do – what he chose to do first was to invest time with some strangers who were hurting.

Often, I find myself searching for the “big thing” to do – after all, I don’t want to waste the resources God gave to me! But here’s a radical idea. What if we put aside all the big things. What if we all just went out and started helping people whereever we saw a need. What if we started looking for needs. No organization. No planning. No budgets. Just take time every day to help someone else. I think there would be a word for a place like that: heaven.

Today I called up the home for the elderly in my community and volunteered to come by one evening a week to spend a few hours with some people who are lonely. To do that, I am going to skip my usual church meeting planned for that night. Okay, it’s not like I’m really diving in here, but the way I see it… it’s a first step. Maybe I’ll invite some friends, too.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Maybe I'm not the only one...

Last month, the NY Times ran an op-ed piece titled Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats. In speaking with Democrats across America, writer Melinda Henneberger finds that conventional wisdom missed the mark about what was wrong in the last presidential contest. “Democrats did not lose support among women because ‘security moms’ saw President Bush as the better protector against terrorism," she notes. "What first-time defectors mentioned most often was abortion.”

Well Melinda, you can add me to that count. I too am a pro-life Democrat who voted for George Bush in 2004 for a single reason: Chief Justice Roberts. And while I remain appalled that I helped elect an administration that lied in order to started an arrogant war… heightened the divide between the haves and the have nots… shows no stewardship towards this home we call earth… and continues to turn their backs on those in need—day in and day out… I turn to my party and ask: what choice did you give me?

To me, fighting for the rights of the unborn is so clearly a Democratic principal… for we are the party that fights for those who are unable to fight for themselves. We are the party of justice. We are the party that understands the role government must play in standing up for the rights of those who are not in power.

For many years, I was one of those people who felt abortion was wrong, but felt individuals should be free to make up their own mind. Then two books crossed my desk at the same time: Tom Clancy’s Bear and the Dragon and Dr Seuss’ Horton Hears a Hoo. Clancy describes a procedure in China where it was legal (and in some cases required) to terminate a pregnancy – just as the head was crowning in delivery. How barbaric! It made me sick. But it also made me question… just where can you draw the line? At what point in time does taking the life of a baby cross over from a matter of personal preference... to an act that is totally barbaric and wrong for society? How about a two-year old? What about babies that are only a week old? OK, not yet delivered? 8-1/2 months? At least give me 30 weeks! Surely that voice is too small to count.

Fact is, I now know in my heart when life starts… but I am willing to concede that no one knows. And in that case, in this absence of scientific facts, we as Democrats must err on the side of the powerless. Innocent until proven guilty. A life until proven not.

I love it when pro-choice advocates counter with “what about rape victims… and mothers who would put their life in jeopardy”. Here’s my reply: fine. If you’re willing to draw the line there, I can too. But don’t ask the question if you’re not willing to step up.

Some may say I am soft on principal, but if political compromise can save even one life, then I am all for it. I am just waiting to see Democrats running for office who have the guts to speak what they know in their hearts to be true… and for a party willing to let that voice be heard.

In the interim, I'll share with you the voice that I hear: My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (PS 139: 15-15).