Archive for October, 2013

I Can’t Drive 55

October 31, 2013

…so I can empathize with Sammy Hagar.  But I can’t drive 155 either.  Well, I suppose in my current vehicle, I could, but age and common sense and a variety of other factors practically ensures that I never will.  

Those factors don’t appear to be at play for this guy.  Impressive.  Truly impressive.
And, of course, um, reprehensible.  Yeah, that’s the ticket.

Wednesday Wet Bar

October 30, 2013

My parents did not have a huge stash of alcohol in the house, growing up.  Or if they did, I didn’t know about it.  I knew that my Dad would get bottles of Crown Royal from some relatives at Christmas.  Somehow, based on this, I determined that having a well-stocked home bar was part of being an adult.  

Through a comparatively mild introduction to alcohol after coming of age (other than sneaking brandy from my best friend’s parent’s bar one time in high school, I’m pretty positive I never had alcohol until I turned 21), I recognized that while having a well-stocked home bar might indeed be one of the signs of adulthood, it was also really good economics.  I could invest in a mid-range quality/price bottle of liquor which would last me a lot longer than the high-priced drinks at a restaurant or bar.  I’ve never been one to routinely order a glass of wine or other spirits with dinner when dining out.  I’m just too cheap.  I refuse to pay for a single drink when I could pay just a little more for an entire bottle of better quality liquor from which I can easily concoct a dozen or more individual drinks.  
Now that I am an internationally recognized bartender, I have decided that it would be fun to share some wisdom or recipe from my experience each week.  I hope you’ll feel free to chime in with suggestions, questions or recommendations as well.
What are some of my guiding principles in home mixology?
1.  Let’s be reasonable.  What I want is a good tasting drink.  I enjoy a cocktail a few times a week.  I want it to taste good but I am not trying to impress anyone.  I buy mid-range liquors that taste good to me.  In recent years boutique liquors have become all the rage, but  I’m not concerned about having the most impressive/expensive/obscure labels on hand.  What I have is generally recognizable to folks familiar with liquor.  I believe in stocking a good cross section of liquors.  In that respect, quantity and quality need to be properly balanced.  I’d rather have a few mid-range liquors to choose from than one or two high-end trophy bottles. 
2.  Strong is better than weak.  My margaritas are my signature drink, and they continue to evolve with time.  They also continue to force people to sit down and clear their throats a few times after their first sip.   I believe that a drink is better too strong than too weak.  You can sip a strong drink for a long time, or water it down with ice.  You can’t do anything to improve a weak drink except gulp it down and hope for something better next time.
3.  Exploration is half the fun.  I’m willing (even eager) to try drinks that sound interesting, rather than whatever drink might be hot at the moment (not that I’d know, frankly).  While I have a few rock-solid standbys, I enjoy trying new things and offering people new things to see if I can guess their tastes.
4.  Be comfortable.  That being said, I like being able to offer people something they like rather than insisting on something exotic because I happen to have fermented banana leaves that need to get used up.  In a similar vein, while I’m happy to muddle some mint or other botanicals, I don’t really have the time or energy to create a new farmer’s market drink.  Again, I tend to favor the classics rather than the latest how-many-herbs-can-you-stuff-in-this-glass-and-still-have-it-be-liquid creations.  
5. Special requests & suggestions are welcome!  I enjoy knowing what other people like and am willing to work to acquire the ingredients necessary to make a requested drink.  
6.  If it’s not beer, I’m willing to try it.  I just don’t like beer.  Never have.  I love hard cider, but actual beer tastes like horse pee to me.  I can tolerate it if I have to, but would rather drink water than a beverage I don’t like.  The closest I come to liking beer is a good Hefe Weizen with a slice of lemon.   I will drink any wine or hard liquor you like, and will strive to make you a drink you like to those ends.  If you want beer, you should bring it with you because I won’t have any on hand.  Sorry.
Hopefully this will be of interest to someone.  If not, maybe I’ll just amuse myself with it.  

Not a Good Sign

October 29, 2013

Did  you know that you could be considered a terrorist if you attend church regularly?

Apparently according to some armed forces trainers, this is true.  And they are teaching the men and women who serve in your military that this is true.  The Army denies that this is true.  Or they admit that it was true in a very limited, one-time sort of sense because a trainer was using unauthorized materials.  
I had to Google to find out what happened to Nidal Hasan, the Army psychologist who killed 13 of his fellow service personnel at Ft. Hood, Texas.  I can’t remember any major media blitz on the topic.  An apparently obvious terrorist attack by a genuinely radicalized Muslim is hardly mentioned in the papers.  Yet I am being classified as a potential terrorist even though I pray for the men and women in our armed forces every week.  
Not good.  Not good at all.    

Choosing Poverty

October 29, 2013

As long-time readers know, I don’t struggle with the theology of helping the poor.  But I struggle with the application of it.  I struggle with not letting my left hand know what my right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3), and recognizing that within the bonds of Christian community, the equal truth that he that does not work should not eat (2 Thessalonians 3:10).  Christians seem to fall polemically along one verse or the other, without remembering that the other verse exists.  Either we are to give unconditionally – and support a government that claims to be doing this despite pretty compelling evidence otherwise – or we are to guard vigilantly against flawed exceptionalism and misguided notions about grace.  Each side is more than happy to point out the shortcomings of the other side, but neither side seems able to bear both sides of the coin equally.

My wife and I have often talked about how we’d love to stop and talk with someone holding a sign asking for help outside of a Trader Joe’s or grocery store.  What is their story?  What brings them to that point?  What are they like, beyond the grittiness?  And ultimately, what more could be done to be of help to them than buying them a sandwich or giving them a few dollars?
Last night I was at a local bar practicing my pool game in anticipation of tonight’s match-up.  I was waiting for my turn on the table, and watching the last minutes of the football game.  I was aware of another person standing nearby, but wasn’t paying much attention.  You rub elbows with a very diverse group of people in a neighborhood bar.  A few weeks earlier I struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who, it turns out, was preparing to go sleep in the bushes as he has every night for the last decade or so.  Last week at our home game, I conversed with a man who was homeless, but had just purchased The Big Yellow House and was preparing to open an exclusive restaurant experience there, as he had in Tahoe and other places.  
Last night, the unknown person behind me watching the game finally broke the silence.
You’re a pastor, aren’t you?  This got my attention pretty quickly.  I’ve run into a few people out and about that know my line of work from other encounters, but I haven’t lived in this town long enough for it to happen regularly.
Emanuel Lutheran, right?  he continued.  He looked familiar.  I was pretty sure I had seen him in the bar before.  Monday nights are karaoke night (unfortunately), and I was pretty sure I had seen him singing.  But after a few moments of trying to place him, I realized that he was a guy who would call the church every so often or stop by.  In the past year we’ve probably talked three or four times.  He calls to find out if we can spare him any money for food.  He indicated in our first conversation that my predecessor would help him out from time to time.  I’ve given him a few bucks here and there, but not every time he asks.  
We began to talk in front of the television.  He seemed uncomfortable in some ways, breaking off eye contact pretty regularly.  He has a strong voice but speaks haltingly sometimes.  I found out he was born and raised in Santa Barbara and has returned to the area after a year or so up the coast an hour or two.  He has couple of aunts in the area but apparently no closer family.  
I was curious, so I asked him what he used to do, as a job.  He rattled off a list of part-time, temporary-style jobs – telemarketing, grocery stores.  No main calling or line of work.  He seemed pretty relaxed about his transient lifestyle.  We talked about how the weather this week had taken a cooler turn.  I asked him if he stayed at the Rescue Mission or other places that provide a free meal and a place to sleep.  He discounted that pretty quickly.  Some places felt more like prison than a place to sleep.  Some places were populated with mental health cases – a common trait among the homeless.  He didn’t feel safe in those places.  
I discovered he’s a year younger than I am.  He enjoyed joking with me, trying to get me to sing karaoke.  When he saw me having a drink, he promised he wouldn’t tell my congregation.  I told him they already knew.  It wasn’t the kind of conversation I would imagine having with a homeless person.  
He seems to have chosen his lifestyle.  He seems capable of making that choice.  I don’t know why he made it, or whether it was thrust upon him at one point and he’s accepted it as viable by now.  He never indicated regret, there was never a sense of being down on his luck and hoping to get back on his feet.  It seemed very much that he’s accepted this way of life.  I can’t fathom how someone could do that, and yet he has.  
He speaks of being Christian.  I don’t have any reason not to believe him, though I tend to take such statements as suspect until I know that someone is at least attempting to live out that life in some meaningful way.  If he’s Christian, that throws my relationship with him into a different arena.  Now, he isn’t simply some guy that needs some money every now and then.  Now, we are brothers in Christ.  What does that mean for our relationship?  Perhaps seeking to mentor him or guide him in his Christian walk is appropriate?  If he chooses to live a life that requires him to seek the benevolence of others from time to time, is it my duty to tell him that this is contrary to his Christian faith?  
Or is that just a feeble attempt on my part to get out of having to give him some money from time to time?  

Book Review – The Fathers of the Church

October 29, 2013
The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction
by Hubertus R. Drobner, translated by Siegfried S. Schatzmann
Hendrickson Publishers, 2007

If I were popular, I would be posting a book review on the latest statistical analysis of why young people don’t like to go to church or how to be a more invigorating and dynamic pastoral leader.  Most of my peers seem to be reading these sort of books in greater or lesser quantities, and the conferences and workshops that I get invitations to on a weekly basis from across the Christian spectrum mirror these topics.  

But I’m grumpy, not popular, so I’m not going to post a review of such books.  In fact, I’ve decided not to read any more of them for a while.  Instead, I want to focus on going back to read what the earliest Christians were thinking about and grappling with in a culture that was not churched, and that viewed Christians and the Church at best with suspicion, and at worst with outright antagonism.  
Read the news (from a good source) and you’ll see that this sounds a lot like the climate the Church finds itself in right now (in America and Europe, at least).  As tantalizing as navel gazing can be, I’m going to see if the oldest and best minds in Christendom have something to offer that talk-show-host pastoral advice books aren’t.  
It’s fascinating that there aren’t more books or editions of the early Church Fathers.  You can find selective anthologies that include excerpts or selected works, but getting the whole kit and kaboodle means going to one main source – a ten volume work called the Ante-Nicene Fathers (ANF), which hasn’t been substantially updated or augmented since it was first published in the late 19th century (ante is Latin for ‘before’, and Nicene refers to the Council of Nicaea, so the coverage is all the writings of the Christian faith before 325, excluding the New Testament writings).  
But before I invest in this set, I found a different overview text on my bookshelf already – The Fathers of the Church.  This excellent book provides an overview of all the writings of the early Church Fathers that we know about and/or have texts for.  Some of the writings and authors we know about only because they are referenced by other people – their original writings have been lost.  Other people and writings we have some of, and others we have more of.
This book is fantastic because it gives an overview of the various categories of early church writings, and then an author-by-author overview.  Each author is introduced with a basic biography (inasfar as we have information on them).  Then each of their known works is listed with a brief summary.  The real value in this book is bibliographical.  While it is translated originally from German and is heavy on French & German resources, it also provides information on English translations that are available and where to get them.  Most of these are part of the ANF series.  
If you want to learn about the early Church Fathers, this is a good start.  It should whet your appetite for further reading.  Perhaps that reading will prove more fruitful than whatever is currently at the top of the top-selling Christian book lists (other than the Bible, obviously!).

Reading Ramblings – November 3, 2013 (All Saints Day Observed)

October 27, 2013


Date: November 3, 2013 –
Twenty Fourth Sunday after Pentecost; All Saints Day (Observed)

Texts: Revelation 72-8)9-17;
Psalm 149; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12

Context: The early Church
venerated the deaths of martyrs with observances on the day they
died. However, after several centuries of persecution, it became
necessary to appoint a common day when those who had died for the
faith were remembered. We have evidence of such practice as early as
the late 4th century. Over time, All Saints Day has been
extended (perhaps in Protestant observances) beyond just canonized
saints and is frequently used as a day to remember all those who have
preceded us into glory, and more specifically those who have done so
in the last twelve months.

Revelation 72-8)9-17: The
emphasis here is on completeness. The numbers detailed in verses 4-8
should not be taken literally, but rather as numbers of completion,
factors of 12 and 10 centering around the twelve tribes of Israel
which are used to personify all of God’s people. The point is that
everyone who is supposed to be here in this celebration is present –
no one has been forgotten or overlooked. We needn’t worry whether
our loved ones who died in the faith will be remembered by God or not
– they are. The latter verses of this chapter emphasize the
presence and power of God exercised now directly and perfectly over
his people. Sin is no longer an issue for them, nor are the effects
of sin. They do not suffer physically from any form of discomfort,
any lack, any fear. The people of God have been restored to perfect
union and happiness with their God, as Adam and Eve knew prior to
eating the forbidden fruit.

Psalm 149: The people of God
have much to celebrate and give thanks for, many reasons to praise
our God! The psalmist specifies one in verse 4 – the Lord delights
in his people, and provides salvation to the humble. How is it that
the people of God could do anything other than to rejoice and give
thannks to the author of their salvation? Verses 6-9 may seen out of
place here – suddenly the image is not one of praise and
thanksgiving but of violence. Praise of God is joined to the defeat
of God’s enemies. Those receiving judgment in these verses are
understood to be all those who reject the dominion of God and his
desire to delight in them and to save them. Those who reject God in
favor of their own efforts or ambitions remain enemies of God, bound
in their sin and unworthy to remain in the presence of God and his

Some may find these sentiments
unpleasant, but we need to remember that sin will be punished. Evil
will be bound and exiled forever. Those who have perpetrated harm
on others and themselves without accepting responsibility and turning
in repentance to God deserve punishment, as surely as an unrepentant
murderer deserves the full penalty of the law. We must be careful
not to let the punishment of evil be seen as evil in itself!

1 John 3:1-3: What joy we have
in the fact that God loves us! Not only loves us, but has sacrificed
his Son to call us his children once again, to offer us grace and
forgiveness and amnesty for our sins. This is not something that
only becomes a reality after death – it is real and true now.
Though we can only see our sinfulness, we are also saints. We do not
experience and see that reality yet, but that reality will one day be
our entire reality. As such, we seek to live God-pleasing lives
today in anticipation of living such lives in eternity. We have been
purified from our sins through Jesus Christ’s death &
resurrection, so it is only fitting that we begin living as purified
people now. Imperfectly, to be certain – but taking our
sanctification through the Holy Spirit seriously.

Matthew 5:1-12: The first of
several discourses that Matthew records of Jesus, the Sermon on the
Mount is undoubtedly the most famous of Jesus’ teachings. His
statements are a combination of future-oriented and present-oriented
assertions regarding the condition of God’s people. Those who have
been reconciled to God enjoy benefits and states of being that are
not entirely perceptible to those around them, and which may not be
fully recognized even by God’s faithful in this lifetime. Yet,
reality remains reality despite our inability to perceive it fully or

Those reconciled to God receive the
kingdom of heaven (vs. 3, 10 & 12). Those who are reconciled to
God the Father already, by virtue of that reconciliation, are
citizens in the kingdom of heaven. They don’t enjoy the full
benefits of that citizenship just yet, until their dual-citizenship
status in sinful human nature has been renounced and revoked fully.
In the meantime, they live with the promises of what they may receive
partially now but will receive fully and completely in the day of the
Lord – comfort, dominion, righteousness, mercy, being in the
presence of God and being acknowledged by God as his sons (and

The saints may not look like much by
the world’s standards. They may be mocked, insulted, persecuted,
imprisoned, even tortured and killed for their faith. Yet they are
in reality already victors through Jesus Christ. The world may seek
to rid itself of them, but there is no mass grave, no unmarked tomb,
no unnoticed death that God shall not make right. Those who die in
faith will receive in full what they must accept by faith here and
now – that they are the Lord’s and the Lord will look after his

*  *  *  *  *

As we consider All Saints Day, we
should bear in mind a few things. Christians do not believe that the
ghosts of the dead wander the earth. They do not haunt us or cling
to us in over-attachment. To the best of our knowledge they do not
return to give us insight or other messages from beyond. Rather,
those who die in the faith are now in heaven, as surely as the thief
on the cross was promised to be that day in glory (Luke 23:43).
Their spirits are at peace in the presence of God, awaiting the
return of Jesus and the Day of the Lord, when they will receive their
perfected physical bodies.

As such, we do not pray to or for the
dead – there is no need. And we should be careful about how we
talk about them, avoiding expressions that ascribe divine functions
to them. The dead do not watch over us as guardian angels. They are
not with us in some actual sense, beyond our memories of them. We do
not look for them in nature or the stars or anywhere other than the
kingdom of God.

Those who die in faith do not become
angels. We are created as human beings and we trust that this is
what we will remain. Angels are a different type of creature – we
share the attribute of being created by God, but we are not

We remember the dead on All Saints Day
in thanksgiving to God for placing these people in our lives as role
models, mentors, missionaries. We remember them to give thanks to
God for his care for us through them, and as inspiration and
encouragement to each of us to live in such a way as to be inspiring
and helpful to others in their Christian walk.   

Television on the Internet

October 27, 2013

So, hypothetically speaking, if you have a lot of work to get done but are looking for a time-sink that will keep you endless procrastinating, and if you grew up with television in America, this has to be one of the most fascinating sites on the Internet – the The Archive of American Television.  

This site has interviews with writers, producers, directors, and stars of a stunning array of American television shows.  Plug Gilligan’s Island into the search bar, and a page comes up with information regarding the series and links to a dozen different people talking about the show, including some of the stars of the show.  Plug in Gunsmoke and listen to James Arness talking about the show.  Plug in Star Trek and watch Nimoy, Shatner, Koenig, Takei and others (Ricardo Montalban!) talk about the show.  
Truly a great resource if, hypothetically, one is procrastinating or needs to fill some spare hours when sleep is elusive.  

Testing the Waters

October 25, 2013

An article from Get Religion (apparently now a ‘channel’ on the spirituality site on the recent baptism of Prince George, the first-born of the much ballyhooed Prince William & Princess Kate caught my eye.  The first article led me to another article on the same topic.  Some folks are wondering if the royal baptism will reignite public interest in baptisms, or perhaps even in Christianity.  Some of the statistics regarding baptisms included in the first article are truly staggering.

But both articles overlook a more important issue – why are the Prince & Princess doing this?  Why are they having lil’ Georgie baptized?  Is it a formality, part of the persona of the royal family and How Things Have Been Done for a Very Long Time?  What are the respective religious backgrounds of William & Kate?  How often do they attend church?  
If we’re going to talk about baptism we need to remember that it is part of Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28.  Yes, we are to baptize, but we are also to teach.  As such, baptism simply for the sake of baptism is not nearly as appropriate as baptism combined with teaching, bringing the child up in the Christian faith.  Equipping them with access to Scripture and a way to make sense of it.  
In seminary the joke was often made that if baptism in and of itself, as a rite or act, was all that mattered, then Christians should be hiring blimps equipped with fire houses and loudspeakers to float over stadiums and baptize people en masse.  No muss, no fuss.  Well, undoubtedly there would be a fuss – maybe we don’t need the loudspeakers, then people won’t know what’s been to them or for them.  
But we don’t do this.  And it isn’t just because we’re too cheap to rent blimps.  We profess that it is not the rite in and of itself that matters, but rather the rite joined with faith.  Going through the motions without faith is not the point.  The motions should stem from faith – either the faith of the individual engaged in the motions (in the case of an older child or adult), or the faith of the family and Christian community in the case of an infant.  
I’m glad that William & Kate are baptizing George if they intend to raise George as a Christian.  If not, then this really is just a tradition and a photo-op.  And that’s too bad, and it isn’t the sort of thing we want to be encouraging people to do (photo-ops with a religious facade).  
All that being said, what is baptism?  Is it what we do or what God does?  I believe it is definitely what God does.  But if the person baptized is never taught this, then they are at great risk for never knowing God and what He has done for them in creating, redeeming, and sanctifying them.  And without that faith, regardless of their baptism, they are separated from God.  God has done what He has promised to do with water and the Word, but we have failed in what is expected of us – teaching and bringing up the person with that Word and an understanding of it.  

Homeschool Reflections

October 24, 2013

It was interesting to read a rather inflammatory article on public education and the unmitigated benefits of home schooling by Matt Walsh, whose writings I have run across more and more in recent weeks. 

As the father of a homeschooling family (where my wife does 99.9% of the hard work of actual teaching.  I show up and goof off with them from time to time), it is easy for me to talk about the benefits of homeschooling.  I see those benefits every time I interact with my children or hear other people talking about my children.  My children aren’t perfect by a long shot, but I credit my wife’s efforts in homeschooling with shaping our kids into people I like to be around.   
For which she is rewarded with continual bouts of self-doubt and worry that she’s not doing enough, or doing it right.  There are plenty of potential and actual costs to homeschooling, but this is one that is seldom talked about and seems pretty widespread.  When you decide to blaze a trail, there’s always the worry that you’re about to plunge out of the jungle and over a cliff. 
I appreciate Matt’s honesty about his concerns with public education.  Indeed, this is such a ubiquitous institution now that many people can’t conceive of alternatives.  But let’s also remember that part of the reason we can’t conceive of alternatives is that we are daily convinced (taught?   brainwashed?  indoctrinated?) that we not only shouldn’t, we can’t look at other options seriously.  To the point, who can afford to stay home and teach their children?  Both spouses need to be out earning a living.  It is their American right and duty.  It is the duty of a woman in order to demonstrate that she is every bit as equal to (or superior to) a man.  It is absolutely necessary in order to maintain the ever-increasing standards of living which are our American birthright.  We must stimulate The Economy.  We must consume.  
Disclaimer:  there are MANY people for whom it is necessary that both spouses work in order to make ends meet.  I respect those people immensely for the variety of sacrifices they make in order to ensure their family has what it needs.  

Disclaimer:  just because you have credit card debt doesn’t automatically mean that you fall into the aforementioned disclaimer category.  Sometimes, we make choices about our lives that necessitate courses of action that, if we had made different choices, would not be necessitated.   
I personally find Matt’s worries about public education warranted.  Others don’t.  But the objector in this case really isn’t addressing Matt’s main issue.  Matt’s main issue is that public schools are state run institutions and therefore will continually (both consciously and unconsciously) be tools of the state for inculcating values and ideals.  I attended public school for the majority of my schooling life and I can attest to this.  View the major battles over public schooling, curriculum, anti-bullying campaigns, pro-sexual-diversity-campaigns, and you’ll notice that this process of indoctrination has in no way abated.  
Yes, it’s true that there are many dedicated, hard-working and inspirational teachers in public education – I have benefited greatly from some of them.  That in no way eliminates the concerns that Matt expresses.  Great teachers also must abide by school, district, state, and Federal guidelines, standards, and mandates.  In addition to doing what they love in teaching kids, they also must do what they are told in terms of what they teach and even how they teach it.  Failure to do so will pretty much ensure that they will not remain a public school teacher much longer, particularly in this age of hyper-communication.  The system does not reward or retain people who buck the system.  That is the nature of a system.  If you happen to find a great school with great teachers, praise God!  But that fact is not, in itself, a vindication of the public school system.
No, not everyone can (or should) homeschool.  But a lot more people could (and should) than you might think.  Yes, homeschooling can be bungled.  But if we assume that these same bungles don’t already happen in public schooling, we’re not being very objective.  And in a nation where most of us have been through public schools, perhaps this lack of objectivity shouldn’t be surprising.  
We homeschool because we question many of the fundamental assumptions about what it means to raise a child and educate them and prepare them for their future.  Those questions are not going to be answered in public schools.  There is no time to engage in that sort of discussion there, and it is not the purpose of the system to facilitate inquiries as to the validity of the system.  We don’t wish to simply complain and worry, we want to proactively do something that might one day change the system, or demonstrate that whatever the blessings it provides, it isn’t absolutely essential.  
We have been blessed with the opportunity and ability to homeschool and believe we shouldn’t easily set aside those blessings.  We hope to do so without being judgmental about those who can’t or don’t (including ourselves if we one day decide that’s the better option).  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons for why we do what we do, even if those good reasons are hard to listen to.  

When Facebook Isn’t Enough

October 23, 2013

Facebook has made reconnecting with long lost friends, acquaintances, exes, etc. all the rage.  But sometimes it isn’t enough.  What do you do in that case, particularly if you don’t know the names of the people you’re looking for?

If you’re Ringo Starr, you just start asking around, and word spreads.  Ringo Starr is trying to identify five (or six) young fans in a 50-year old photo he snapped.  If you happen to be one of these people, you may want to contact Ringo.  
Try friending him on Facebook!