Friday, October 26, 2007

Coming Home from Work and tobyMac!

Well, Cathi was driving me home from work. I was tired and still had my own homework to do. We drove past the Grand Wayne Center, our convention center. Outside on the marquee they were advertising the Portable Sounds tour. This is the tobyMac, Barlow Girl and Thousand Foot Krutch concert. Now I am old, a couple of years ago I qualified for AARP membership. Still, I love tobyMac’s music and Barlow Girl knocks me over. Cathi said I should skip homework for a night, and I did. I went to the concert by myself, this is not Cathi’s type of music! Three days later I was still singing.

For those of you who don’t know who these folks are, they are all contemporary Christian groups. Toby is very urban, hip hop/rap. But he does a lot of world music. It is not unusual to hear Indian melodies or Mexican sounds coming from his stage. The Barlow Girls (all three are sisters) are also contemporary, they can rock, do moderate hip hop and they can sing as if they were born in Ireland. One moment they have you swaying to a song that could have been song by Bing Crosby and the next minute the bass is pounding, the drums are keeping three different beats and everybody looks like they are going to get whiplash from all the head banging. I loved them both. Thousand Foot Krutch is a Christian heavy metal band. They did what they did very well. The audience loved them. Thing is, I just don't appreciate heavy metal, did I mention that I’m old?

TobyMac amazed me. The dancing, rapping, energy was phenomenal. Toby is from Washington D.C. originally. In fact his first successful group was d.c. Talk. He lives in Tennessee and his mixture of urban music and southern drawl just adds to the atmosphere of total celebration of diversity. His band is diverse and his music reflects the diversity of humanity. It is difficult to celebrate diversity and not feel that the gifts of diversity reflect in a modest way the gifts of the Body of Christ.

He is gaining notoriety in mainstream music. He is a nominee for an award at the American Music Awards in November. He was part of the soundtrack for Transporter 2 and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. He played all the songs I wanted to hear: Boomin, Irene, Diverse City, Cathcahfire, and Made to Love.

Cathi is right, self-care is important. One night away from work and a week later my batteries are still charged!

P.S., for another fan's perspective of the Portable Sounds tour visit Chad's blog. Chad acutally went to high school with one of the guitar players. I suspect he had really good seats!

tobyMac: Made to Love

Barlow Girls: Never Alone

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The California Wildfires

Like most Americans I am riveted by the news coverage of the wildfires in California. My wife is currently visiting friends in southern California. I am a member of the American Red Cross Mental Health services. Our chapter has approached me a couple of times asking if I could go to California. Due to work commitments that is not feasible. Still, my thoughts, my heart and my prayers go out to California at this time.

I have worked wildfires and it is difficult not to imagine what it is like in California at this time. I know each disaster is different and yet there are some commonalities with wildfires. It is a time of contradictions. A couple of years ago I was stationed 30 miles away from the fire front in Arizona and yet the smell of smoke permeated everything. The temperature was hot, 97 degrees in the early morning and rising to 109 degrees by the afternoon. Still, when the ash fell which was most of the time it looked as if it was snowing. Between the heat, the smell of smoke and the “snowflakes” it was like working in a snowstorm in hell.

During a time of stark destruction the soot from the fires makes for the most magnificent night skies I have ever seen. The sky becomes ruby red. If it was not the result of all of the pollutants from the fire its beauty could almost be a reason for celebrating.

Unlike other disasters, wildfires have a sound and sight all there own. They result in the formation of huge squadrons of planes and helicopters that attempt to thwart and then reduce the wildfire. A large air force is created on site. The firefighters on land are immediate heroes and deserve to be. However, with the army of firefighters on land and planes in the air there is a military atmosphere that occurs during wildfires that may not occur during other disasters.

During wildfires the Humane Society never sleeps. With immediate evacuations companion animals are left behind. The Society moves in to care for these frightened, abandoned and potentially dangerous animals. Livestock also needs to be moved. Wildfires occur in drought areas. So finding suitable land that can sustain herds of cows, sheep or horses is no easy matter. It requires finding land that is fresh enough for grazing, has an accessible water source, will not be further eroded by the animals and is available. It is not unusual for herds of animals to have to be moved multiple times as the fire front changes. All of this must be going on right now.

In California the fires are on the sides of mountains. While people pray for rain they had better not pray for too much rain. Without the trees erosion will quicken and with heavy rains the very real danger of mudslides increases.

I have worked in many shelters and I know the mixture of relief, exhaustion, determination, defeat and hopelessness that is played out in the shelters. Shelters can be the scene of isolated strangers living quietly alongside one another or they can be the scene of vibrant small communities that spring up throughout the shelter floor.

What is critical in wildfires is that the communities affected receive timely, honest information. This seems to be occurring. This is not Katrina. This is a massive disaster but the infrastructure just outside of the disaster is intact. People can leave and can receive services. The hard work for the people affected will occur after the mammoth job of containing and then eliminating the fire is accomplished.

I have been with folks when they return to their destroyed homes for the first time. The loss of things pales to the loss of dreams, memories and the realization that it could have been worse, there could have been loss of loved ones. Disaster Mental Health will be providing services for a long time.

Finally, my thoughts go out to all of the many, many agencies helping. Disasters are never responded to by just FEMA, the Guard and the American Red Cross. They are there but so are Southern Baptists, the Mennonite Service organization, the Salvation Army, the Adventist Community Services, Christian Contractors Association, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Church of the Brethren emergency services, Jewish Federation, Friends Disaster Services, International Orthodox Christian Charities, Catholic Charities and the Islamic Circle of North America-Relief. They are joined by so many other denominational disaster agencies. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and so many more are there. Along side these faith communities are the Americorp. Volunteers, the National Health Service Corps, prison inmates and spontaneous volunteers.

We know that disasters can bring out the worst in people. However, in my experiences, most of the time it brings out the best in people because it brings out the best people. So, today my thoughts and prayers are with the people of southern California and the many Americans from all over American that have traveled there to help them.


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Greek Orthodox chanter: Cherubic Hymn

Holy Trinity Church

I am currently enrolled in our Graduate Theology program. This term I am taking Foundations of Scripture. Tonight the class had a field trip. We visited the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. The priest, Father Paul C. Bebis was a gracious, articulate and entertaining teacher.

He welcomed us to his church and immediately began to teach. The area before entering the sanctuary proper represented the darkness of the world. The sanctuary was the Body of Christ. You move from the darkness of this existence into the Body of Christ each time you participate in the liturgy. So what do you do in the dark? You light a candle! Father Bebis taught us how to enter the sanctuary, with candle lighting prayers, venerating the icon, and the proper Orthodox style of praying the sign of the cross.

Once inside the sanctuary he began to teach us about the various icons. The ceiling, walls and sanctuary had beautiful icons of the Mother of God, Jesus, John the Baptist, St. James and St. George. The dome drew your attention upward to more icons.

The Iconostasis, the barrier between the sanctuary and that part of the alter the congregation may approach was simple and yet a powerful border. It symbolizes the boundary between heaven and earth but reminds me of the veil that was the entrance to the Holy of Holies. The male students were able to go through the Iconostasis, using the side entrance only, and view the inner sanctuary.

Father Bebis showed us the lectionary he read from and the rituals he used to prepare the Eucharist. We learned of the two services that take place, the Prothesis or preparation service and the Divine Liturgy or our Mass.

The differences between our two churches were clear. There were Icons in place of statues. Instead of genuflecting there is veneration of the icons. The bread is risen and the body and blood are mixed together and served by a spoon to the celebrants. The service is sung. There is no pope and the priests who are not considering becoming bishops may marry as long as they marry before they are ordained.

For all of the differences the similarities were far stronger. Body of Christ, Eucharist, liturgy, and the value of both ritual and tradition spoke of two churches that are separated by the stubbornness of people. What we share in common is far more important than what divides us. Still, the divisions are not inconsequential and good people can differ and yet respect and even care for one another.

I loved this visit. The priest was a warm, embracing representative of Christ. As we continue to read about the early church I will keep this church in mind as one of the descendants of the early Christians.

Peace and all good.

Friday, October 19, 2007

In Memory: Lucky Dube: Reggae Superstar

Lucky Dube was born on 3rd August, 1964, in Transvaal, South Africa. At the age of 9 he became a library assistant. This job changed his life. He learned about his country's history and about the world. He read about reggae, then very limited in apartheid South Africa.

In 1979 he launched his singing career. In 1985 Lucky and his partner went into the studio and recorded Rastas Never Die - the first ever reggae album to be recorded in South Africa.

In 1989 Lucky toured France and became an international star. That year his latest album at that time hit double platinum in five days. His music reflected the politics and issues of the day, for South Africa, for people of color around the world, for people.

In 1991 he launched a world tour that included the U.S., Jamaica, Japan, and Australia.

He associated himself with social justice causes. He was instrumental in promoting fellow African artists. He sold more and more albums, won more awards, had more firsts.

Last night Lucky Dube was killed by a random act of violence, an attempted car jacking. One man, because he was exposed to books, because he was inquisitive and gifted with talent changed his part of the world. And now he is gone.

Thank you for having given us the gift of Lucky Dube.

Mother Teresa: My New Hero

Well, I have a new hero. I always admired Mother Teresa, who doesn’t? However, the article in Time Magazine about her faith struggle floored me. The book that will be coming out about her 40+ year “dark night of the soul” casts her life in an entirely different light.

I like saints. Not because they are so holy, just the opposite. Yeah, they live lives of holiness but their attraction to me is they live human lives. These folks are flawed. They are neurotic, at times insensitive, erratic, and unpredictable. But they get the job done, they do what most of us only think about in passing, they actually live a life centered around their faith.

I love Francis because he was willing to be a Fool for God. He took the Gospels literally and he gave up everything to gain everything. I am awed by authentic lives courageously engaged in the world. Gandhi standing up to the British Empire or Martin Luther King Jr. standing up to the nightstick, hoses and attack dogs, I can admire all of their lives from the safety of distance. Then when I read of a personal imperfection in each of them I rejoice, not because they fell, that is a given. I rejoice because perhaps, maybe, just maybe I can someday harness such faith in my own life.

So I read about the enormous discrepancy between Mother Teresa’s public life and her agonizing private faith life. She does not seem less saintly to me, she seems far more impressive. It is so easy to believe without questioning, but what is that. We are creatures of intelligence, while not the Creator, yet we create. Such a mind was meant to question. And so she did.

She lived a life based on a faith she did not feel. She had moments of divine communication. She reports hearing Christ and of seeing Him. But they were the brief exceptions in a life-long journey. The Rev. James Martin who is a Jesuit and wrote My Life with Saints states he has never read of a saint whose life is marked with such extensive spiritual darkness. And yet, she grabbed the attention of the world. She knew the difference between feeling and doing. She knew that faith did not require an emotional counter-point, it was just wonderful when both were present.

And so she served. Because she served the hungry were fed, the dying were not alone and Christians and other people of faith were reminded of what a life dedicated to being Christ-centered looked like.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is not diminished in my eyes by these new revelations. This is a saint who is real.

We are called upon to believe what can only be believed through faith. That faith does not require Instant Messaging from God to sustain us. Mark 9:24, ..."Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"

Thank you Mother Teresa.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Carter Interview

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter never fails to amaze me. Nixon reinvented his image after Watergate. Carter reinvented what can be expected of a former President. From election reform and peacemaking around the world to a champion of civil and human rights, Carter has been a tireless fighter for justice.

This week he fought a different kind of fight. He fought for reality. While President Bush states the United States does not participate in torture Carter strongly disputed this claim.

Carter stated, “But you can make your own definition of human rights and say we don’t violate them, and you can make your own definition of torture and say we don’t violate them,” Carter said. “Our country for the first time in my life time has abandoned the basic principle of human rights,” Carter told CNN. “We’ve said that the Geneva conventions do not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo, and we’ve said we can torture prisoners and deprive them of an accusation of a crime.”

Carter did not shy away from the hard questions nor was he partisan. He described Vice President Cheney as “as disaster” and he attacked Senators Clinton and Obama for refusing to advocate for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces for Iraq.

It is no wonder why this man won the Noble Peace prize in 1992. It is no wonder why he infuriates so many Americans. And it is no wonder why I admire him so much. He cannot be described as “speaking truth to power” since he was once “the power”. Never the less, he does have the persona of a prophet crying in the wilderness.

Keep up the good work Jimmy!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Cougar Football: One in a Row

Nationally ranked 6th USF, defeated fledgling Marian College 57-7 on Saturday afternoon at Bishop D'Arcy Stadium in the Cougars' return home after three consecutive road games.This was USF's first game after Ohio Dominican snapped USF's 54 game winning streak. Not a bad reaction at all.

To emphasize the breadth of the team Quarterback Jeff Wedding rested an injured leg while the game was dominated by two, two, (did I mention two?) USF freshman quarterbacks. Only 53 more to go!

Still, University of Sioux Falls, Carroll College (Montana), St. Xavier College (Illinois) and good ole Ohio Dominican all look hungry, real hungry.

For now though, the focus is one game at a time and next week, Homecoming.

2007 NAIA Football Top 25 Poll - Oct. 1 (Rating #4)

Sioux Falls (S.D.)
St. Xavier (Ill.)
Carroll (Mont.)
Ohio Dominican
Bethel (Tenn.)
St. Francis (Ind.)
Jamestown (N.D.)
Lindenwood (Mo.)
Northwestern (Iowa)
MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Feast of St. Francis

Today is the Feast of St. Francis. So, what is there to celebrate? Far too much for one little post. Here was a man who had been the life of the party who chose to become a Fool for God. A man who gave up wealth, comfort and position to live an authentic gospel life. A man who embraced Lady Poverty and the leper. A man who was suspicious of book learning and yet whose movement lead to not only a spiritual tradition but an intellectual tradition.

What is important to Franciscans?
The Incarnation and the Passion (see “Love”)
Peace and peace-making
All creatures and Creation

Have a great Feast Day

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Francis was a complicated person. He could think big, real big. He saw the connections between all of us. He saw his imperfections. In a world populated with lepers, violence, unimaginable poverty and a very corrupt church he saw good, he saw, The Good, Bonem.

He understood how much we could love God, how much the Father/Mother loved us but he also understood the enormous difference there was between the Creator and creatures. That is what made him so focused, so impressed with the humility, the helplessness of a single baby in a manger.

And so today I am being concrete. I walked where he walked, touched his baptismal font, the walls of his home, stood in the caves he prayed in. However, today is Transitus. We remember not his sad passing from this existence but rather we celebrate his passing, the transition, to his new life. Last year I was in Saint Mary of the Angels in a valley just outside of Assisi. There I stood next to the Cappella del Transito, the site where Francis died. Days later I was at San Damiano. This is where Clare and her sisters lived. This is where Francis body was carried to so she could view the body of her beloved friend, the Father of her religious movement.

Today I am concrete. I am remembering those places and that man. I am not sad. Everybody dies, but oh how he lived!

Peace and all good,

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Saint Francis Sculpture Garden