Thursday, February 28, 2008

What Happens When We Die? (We Don’t Go To "Heaven", Suggests N.T. Wright)

I’ve just started reading another “blockbuster” book by my favorite theologian/author, Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright. In his just published Surprised By Hope - Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, he tackles all the tough questions and wraps it all in a powerful message of hope.

Does “resurrection” have meaning here on earth? Is there life after death? What are our post-mortem options? Is it either heaven or hell? Where is heaven? Where is hell? What will happen to the earth?

I’m not far enough into the book to begin to give you an inkling yet of his contemplations. However, I do know that his conclusions are not based on “near death experiences,” nor on what is usually (inaccurately) said at funerals, nor on speculation.

His views, instead, reflect historical Christian orthodoxy, but they are concepts and truths that Wright says have become distorted in the current accumulation of folk wisdom. What most Christians believe today about life after death, he observes, is a “vague and fuzzy optimism that somehow things may work out in the end.”

This is not to be ignored, he says, and I expect the book will endeavor to clear up some of our foggy thinking. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nuanced Political Slogan: It’s “Judgment,” Stupid

I tend to shy away from posts on partisan political considerations, so this is not. But Richard Reeves’ syndicated newspaper column this week made, to my thinking, a salient observation – a reflection that was not even the main point of his writing.

Reeves, in addition to being a columnist, is also a biographer of Presidents. He is most known for his “trilogy” of presidential works – on Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan. His writing perspective as a columnist is usually from the left point of view, but he leans toward the moderate, rather than to the extreme left.

In his February 22 commentary, Reeves was discussing how, in his opinion, Sen. Clinton has been “getting it wrong” in 10 straight primary elections – at least when it comes to communicating. He pointed out that when it came to “words,” President Reagan, as an example, mostly got it right.

He summed up a concept that Reagan understood, and which many current candidates do not. It can be said two ways:

The president’s job is not to run the country; it is to lead the nation.
In that business, words are more important than deeds.

He went on to observe that, in choosing a president, we as citizens are assuming one of the most risky and dangerous responsibilities in the world. Anticipating future behavior is a gamble.

Drawing on his vast experience with and commentary about former presidents, he posited this: “The presidency is not about qualifications or experience; it is about judgment.” Saying it another way, who will best react to unpredictable crises that seem to hit a president almost every day? The answer probably is, it’s impossible to tell ahead of time.

The best we can hope for, he suggests, is to connect with a candidate who can use the right words to explain these things and to persuade us to follow.

A dozen years or so ago, a previous president had a different twist on a similar-sounding slogan, but I like the Reeves-prompted, nuanced version even better: “it’s judgment, stupid.”

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Pharmaceutical-Like Feeling of Well-Being

If you’re of Finnish extraction, you likely get the “feeling” every once-in-a-while. And it’s almost impossible to put into words.

I first had the sensation as a kid when our parents took me and my many cousins to Otter Lake, high in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I’ve never experienced this feeling in a city, by the way, and I’ve learned in talking with others, that it’s for the most part only Finns who can perceive this sensory awareness.

There seem to be four elements present every time a Finn, or anyone, experiences this intense impression: 1) fresh, clean air, 2) blue water, 3) evergreen trees or thick woods, and, 4) a cabin-like, wooden structure, often with blue smoke drifting slowly toward the sky.

Just like the cottage in the photo above, except you'll notice that the sauna-outbuilding is chimneyless in this case. This one, in Finland, is called a “savusauna,” meaning “sauna without a chimney.” (Adding some smoke into the hot steam sauna environment just toughens you more, the Finns believe.)

Authentic Finnish saunas, of course, are not the dry-heat versions we’re accustomed to here. A real sauna consists of large rocks piled over a wood fire. After the flames thoroughly heat the stones, you throw water on them, which causes hissing steam to fill the enclosure. The object is to perspire so intensely that your body is completely cleansed.

Saunas are usually built near a lake, so that you can dive naked into the cold water immediately after heating yourself to a beet-red state. In winter, you just dive into the snow, rather than the lake. It’s as an invigorating experience as there is on earth.

When I first saw this photo, I was immediately overcome by this indescribable sensation. It felt exactly like 60 years ago when we’d drive down the hill and first catch a glimpse of Munninen’s cabin on the shores of Otter Lake. Of course, fishing becomes the fifth element for male Finns and for many of the females as well.

This phenomenon probably somewhat explains why we live where we do today. The five elements are present. In fact, if you pay attention to where Finnish people have settled throughout this country, you’ll find it’ll almost always be in a place where at least four of the five elements are present: Fort Bragg, CA, Astoria, OR, Puget Sound in WA, Duluth, MN, Houghton/Hancock, MI, etc., etc.

The feeling I’m talking about has almost a pharmaceutical-like effect of well-being. And I suppose it can be addicting. So take a look at the picture above. If your endorphins kick-in appreciably, you may have Finnish blood in you.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

“I’ve Been Wondering About That”

The closest male influence in my life as a young boy, other than my father, was my uncle Ed. He was an uncle only by marriage, having married my mom’s sister, but he was as close to me as any blood relative. I can recall fishing wth him on many occasions, for instance.

One of uncle Ed’s most-used expressions was, “I’ve been wondering about that.” He would usually utter the words in our family conversation when someone would ask a general question as to why a certain thing was occurring in a particular way. And, as I remember, he would prefer to continue to mull it over in his mind, rather than to make his personal viewpoint public knowledge.

That said, of late, I, too, “have been wondering” about something. Several recent occurrences have prompted my “wondering,” but I have to concede that what I’m thinking about could be something we’ll never be able to process fully.

The question is this: What influence, if any, does a life lived, have on those who remain?

My inclination initially was to think about well known people from history who, you might say, have “changed” the world (in actuality, that may be acceding too much credit). You can let your mind wander almost infinitely along that vein. In our current political Presidential marathon, for instance, democrats are evoking the memories of Jefferson, F. Roosevelt and Kennedy, while Republicans look back at Lincoln, T. Roosevelt and Reagan.

The Roosevelt-Churchill alliance during WWII is remembered worldwide as being critical to ending the conflict and bringing “peace”. But is the memory of the anonymous soldier any less important (like my father-in-law, who strung radio wires critical to the tactics of company commanders slogging their way across Germany)?

Because, really, I’m more thinking about a “Joe Average” of any culture. Even a “Nobody.” Does the starving child who is born and dies suddenly in Darfur or in India have much effect on a world that continues to spin its way through our galaxy, which in turn is carving its way through the universe, which in turn… You get the picture.

We as Christians hold human life to be sacred. So what does that mean in the context of those who live on in our world, galaxy and universe? If we believe that God created human life in His image, then how should we value and try to understand the meaning of the life of the poor child in Darfur or India? Or of Churchill, Kennedy or Reagan, for that matter?

I’ve been wondering about that.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bad Fish

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am a fisherman. However, here in the Northwest, a Northern Pike is not a common prey. I did fish for them and catch them in Michigan as a kid, and thankfully I never ran into anything like this poor Scandinavian guy did (click below to play):

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

N.T. Wright Crystallizes “Kingdom” Aspect of Easter

Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright (pretty close to my favorite, if not my favorite, theologian/author) says that Easter and Christ’s resurrection are more than just “power over the grave.” He portends that in a “back from the future” sort of way, the risen Christ is our “here and now” link to the Kingdom of God.

I’ve just finished reading his newest (I think) book, Christians at the Cross, in actuality a compilation of eight Holy Week sermons he gave a year ago at a parish in Easington Colliery on the north coast of England. My reading sort of plodded along for a time as I took in the very short book (only 79 pages) – until the last chapter. Then, for me, it exploded with a powerful elucidation of what the Kingdom of God can mean for us.

Rather than me trying to interpret his writing, I’m going to just quote a few key paragraphs:

“When God made this lovely world, he wasn’t making junk. He doesn’t want to throw it away and do something completely different, as though the idea of space, time and matter was a bad one from the start. No: he wants to abolish, from within this world, everything that corrupts and defaces and distorts his beautiful creation, so that he can give the world a giant make over. New heavens and new earth – like the present one only with everything that’s true and beautiful and lovely made even better, and everything that’s bad and sad and degrading abolished forever. That’s what we’re promised. Read Isaiah 65 again and see.

“…When Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter day, it wasn’t simply as though he’d gone on ahead of us… In Jesus’ resurrection a bit of God’s future, of God’s new heaven and earth, has come forward in time… The point of the resurrection is that at Easter a bit of the future – God’s promised future – has come forwards to meet us, ‘back to the present’.

“…In his death, Jesus had taken all the sin and death and shame and sorrow of the world upon himself, so that by letting it do its worst to him he had destroyed its power, which means that now there is nothing to stop the new creation coming into being. Jesus' resurrection body is the first bit of the new creation, the sign of the new world that is to come.

“…And that is why Easter is the start of the church’s mission. Let's be quite clear. The church’s mission isn’t about telling more and more people that if they accept Jesus they will go to heaven. That is true, of course, as far as it goes (though we ought to be telling them about the new heavens and new earth rather than just ‘heaven’), but it’s not the point of our mission. The point is that if God’s new creation has already begun, those of us who have been wakened up in the middle of the night are put to work to make more bits of new creation happen within the world as it still is... (We need to) start to pray for vision and wisdom to know where God can and will make new creation happen in our lives, in our hearts, in our homes and not least in our communities. That’s what ‘regeneration’ is all about. (See my preceding post for a confirming view from the Lutheran perspective.)

Wright concludes, “What we do know is that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, that God’s new creation has begun, and that we have to do two things: first, to be true to our own baptismal vows to die with him and to share his new life, and, second, to allow his Spirit to work through us to make new creation happen in his world.”

I’ve never heard the Christian mission better stated.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lutherans Believe That Every Christian Has A Part In Administering God’s Grace In The World

We’re two lessons into our Sunday morning adult ed class on “Grace,” and already it is changing my perceptions and opening up fresh perspectives. The class is called DOWN + OUT – Where Grace Takes You.

The class consists of a six-part DVD discussion by several distinguished faculty members at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN. The supporting pedestals of the conversation were discussed in the first lesson: Justification and Vocation. We contemplated the idea that, through grace, God has justified us to serve – that is, to serve him in and through our vocation.

In yesterday’s lesson, we moved from the “up and down” concepts of the previous week to the “in and out” ideas of congregational life. We talked about the “priesthood of believers” (one of the basic concepts in the Reformation) and what our purpose is as we meet together for worship. And we learned the nuances of “vocation” and “call.”

If I’m understanding the course material correctly, I’m discovering that the grace of God leads us into a wonderful, freeing existence of becoming what he has created us to be. As our batteries are “recharged” by Word and Sacrament in congregational worship each week, we are empowered to live out our vocations as service to God – at home with the family, on the job at work and in our spare time with our friends.

Each of our actions in these various milieus is an expression of God’s grace at work in the world. For some strange reason he has chosen us to be the propitiators of his abounding grace. And he has done so in spite of our human frailties.

This prayer of Wendell Frerichs, from our class material, says it well:

Lord, what a curious way you have of bringing life and hope into your world, of working peace and justice, of showing compassion and love for all of your creatures. No hands but the hands of us, your servants; no feet but ours; no protection but such as we provide; no money but ours; no friends unless it be we; no shelter except we build it; no institutions unless we found them. Since it does seem to be so: Lord, be in our minds and in our understanding; Lord, be in our hearts and give us compassion; Lord, be in our feet to run your service; Lord, be in our eyes and be our insight; Lord be in our plans and be our hope; Lord, be in our present and give us a future. Amen

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Christians and Politics – Future Hope?

Watching our candidates for President attempt to position themselves in the primaries so that they can be each party’s candidate in the Fall has been an experience that can cause acute nausea. Especially for the Christian.

I came across the following post yesterday on Jim Wallis’ blog, God’s Politics, written by one of Wallis’ friends, a New York City pastor. Linking Christians and Politics has for me in recent months become extremely frustrating. Mainly because you can’t legislate what Christ asks of his followers; what it requires is “heart” change.

But as I read this post, I thought to myself, “this might have possibilities.” So I copied and pasted it here for ease of reading. It better says what is churning in my gut.

A Mosaic Revival: High-Definition Election 2008 Part II (by Gabriel Salguero)

This is part two of my reflections concerning Election 2008 and Generation X, Y, and next. As I said before, this is an exciting time in the national landscape. A revival is taking place that incorporates thousands of younger evangelicals with pioneers in the faith. This is a broad coalition of Moseses and Joshuas and Deborahs, to use biblical language. In my last posting here concerning the election in kaleidoscope, I received some e-mails, phone calls, and postings that demonstrate the need for this conversation.

The question is what does this Mosaic revival reveal? Simply, that we recognize that to promote real movement it will take a broad coalition across racial/ethnic, gender, generational, and denominational lines. Much has been rumored of the tension between black and brown or Asian and black voters. Other tensions have been pointed about differences between female and male voters or young and elderly voters. We're working for a new day. This revival is pleading for people of good will to change the national conversation screen to high-definition.

Let me be clear about some of the challenges to this mosaic in concrete election 2008 terms:
*Refusing to vote for Senator McCain because of his age (ageism);
*Refusing to vote for Senator Obama because of his race (racism).
*Refusing to vote for Senator Clinton because of her gender (sexism).
*Refusing to vote for Governors Romney or Huckabee because of their religion (sectarianism).

*Voting for them only because of any of these criteria presents its own myopia.

I vote for a candidate based on where they stand on the issues that most closely reflect Jesus' ethic of love of God and creation (this is a very long discussion worth having in another forum). I am hopeful that there is a new and creative conversation surging. In this new conversation, leaders in the Asian, Euro-American, Latino, Native-American, African-American, etc., communities are emphasizing the "ties that bind" and not the walls that separate.

In this new kaleidoscopic way of doing policy perhaps we should think of endorsements in another way. What candidates are endorsing policies that are mindful of this global and U.S. mosaic? In a politics-as-usual model, candidates exploit tensions—perceived or real—among demographics. This really needs to stop. A new kind of conversation seeks creative solutions that take particularity seriously but does away with the politics of animosity. There are signs of hope.

Recently, I've joined an organization called New York Faith and Justice and I've learned something about a new wave of voters. Two of the prominent leaders are an African American Cherokee Chickasaw woman, Lisa Sharon Harper, and a white evangelical man, Peter Heltzel. Lisa and Peter are an example of this emerging mosaic. They welcome my Latino perspective and continually want to be challenged and informed by it. Peter and Lisa are working hard to ensure that issues important to multiple constituencies are at the forefront of our city-wide and national dialogue.

Similarly, I've been working closely with Adam Taylor and Patty Kupfer of Sojourners on immigration reform issues. The conversation between this black man, white woman, and myself are a sign of the mosaic that represents the diversity of the kingdom of God. We don't always agree on everything, but we are committed to mutuality and respect and working on behalf of the beloved community - stated in Revelation 7:9 - "from every tribe, nation, people and language." These are signs of hopefulness that the presidential candidates need to heed. What is critical here is that there is not an attempt to assimilate but rather to keep unity while respecting diversity.

Rev. Gabriel Salguero is the pastor of the Lamb’s Church of the Nazarene in New York City, a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary, and the director of the Hispanic Leadership Program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Reading meme - I've been tagged.

I got tagged by Gregg in a "Reading meme," something new to me.

The rules of this meme are as follows:

1. Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. No cheating!
2. Find page 123
3. Find the first 5 sentences
4. Post the next 3 sentences
5. Tag 5 people

The book nearest to me is Jesus' Plan For A New World, The Sermon on the Mount, by Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr.

Here is how the quote come out:

They are not the patterns that cultures of money, power or religion will naturally perceive. It seems they have to break in or "be revealed" from outside the system. These "pattern stories" become very explicit in the teaching of Jesus, although in most cases he is building upon his Jewish roots.

Now, I tag:
1. Kelly and Jonathan
2. Prof. Groothuis

I just realized that my friends don't much blog. In fact, people my age hardly know what a blog is. The first people above are second cousins (read: younger generation), and I don't even know the second person I tagged, but I've read his blog. So if any of my two regular readers have some suggestions, email me, and I'll add them.

Or, if you don't blog, send me your book title and quote, and I'll post it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today’s Clemens Hearing Shows How Pitiful Our Leadership Has Become

There were deaths today in Iraq as a result of war. Older very ill warriors in our Veterans Hospitals were today given less than sufficient care. Families today were forced to walk away from homes they had purchased due to the mortgage fiasco. Worse yet, some very poor families are today mourning the loss of a loved one because they could not get proper health care (not only a problem for the poor).

And yet, for several hours today on television, we watched a Congressional Committee grill a man and his accuser about whether or not he was injected with an illegal substance which might have made his body bigger and stronger – a deed that cannot now be prosecuted in any court of law because the statute of limitations has passed.

What’s wrong with this picture?

So much is wrong that I can’t even begin a first sentence. My only thought at the moment is that the one candidate for president who advocates real, substantive change maybe ought to be given his chance. Even for him, the quagmire we’re all in may be beyond his or anyone’s ability to get us out of.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

There May Be Hope Afterall

I watched and listened tonight to the young Senator from Illinois who spoke on TV from Virginia, after sweeping two Democratic State Caucuses as well as the Virgin Islands Caucus and one State Primary election today.

Barack Obama’s charismatic message is singular and pure. It is a message of hope.

Hope, he says, that the future will be different, under his leadership, if he’s elected the next president. So far in this campaign, I’ve been somewhat of a doubter, as effecting change in our Nation's Capitol is perceived as next to impossible. But after his rousing speech tonight, I’m ever-so-close to being a believer.

Few political leaders in our history could speak words and by them motivate people to believe and take action. FDR could and did; JFK could and did; and Ronald Reagan could and did.

It now is beginning to appear that Barack Obama also has this intangible, unidentifiable, and most unusual quality. I guess it’s now up to him to ride the momentum and see if it can land him the Democratic nomination this summer.

Tonight, with his oratory, he gave hope to the poor, the sick, the young, the worker, and the aged. He has the knack, as did JFK and Ronald Reagan, of believing and saying what your heart desperately wants to hear and feel.

I especially liked his challenge to young people who desire a quality education. “We’ll educate you through the university level,” he offered, “and then you give back something to your country.” He referred to a “partnership” whereby the newly, low-cost educated would offer a year or two of public service to such as the Peace Corps or any of a number of worthy causes.

I love it. Not just a free ride with the government providing a bucket of (tax) money for education, but a challenge to serve and a worthy goal to shoot for. Obama had several other interesting ideas for major problems, all based on hope. Good Lord, who is this young politician? This could work!

For the first time in my life, my vote for President may not be influenced by a particular political viewpoint but by the candidate (and I’ve voted in about a dozen Presidential elections). Hope is catching.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

New Tires Almost Make Our SUV New Again

Today I got a new set of radials put on our Acura MDX. I think I waited far too long to replace the old skins, based on how well the car now drives.

The smoothness of the drive with the new rubber seemingly took off about 50,000 miles from the vehicle. It once again feels almost as well as when we bought it four years ago (pre-owned with a little less than 40K miles showing).

Our odometer is now pushing 100K miles, which means we got a good 60K miles out of the Michelins that were new on the vehicle when we bought it. In comparison with other cars I’ve had, that’s a lot of miles for a set of tires. In fact, I can’t recall ever actually getting 60K miles out of a set before.

So I had a very good reason to again get Michelins, which I did. This time I bought what are called “Cross-Terrain” tires (above pic), supposedly made for SUV “all-terrain” use in all four seasons. In addition, Costco was running a New Years $15-off per tire sale, and I just got in on the end of it due to the graciousness of the salesman.

Costco does a great overall job with tires, even though they are “club” tires (Brand name tires made on contract for Costco or Sam’s Club, etc.). With the sale discount, I saved almost $200 in cold cash on a set of four, than what I would have paid at Sears, Goodyear, or Les Schwab (who don’t even carry Michelins).

Costco prices their tires not only less than the competition, but their published price includes installation AND balancing. Both are commonly “add-ons” at the other stores. Plus my 65K-mile warranty covers just about any eventuality.

Next time, however, I maybe won’t wait quite so long to get new skins. I must have been lulled into an increasingly rougher ride without realizing it, as the contrast of the feel of the car with the new tires is dramatically and pleasantly better.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Ironic Dilemma of American Christianity

First, let me say that this post barely scratches the surface of the topic. But I’m posting simply to try to bring up some considerations for us, as Americans, as we endeavor to live out our faith.

Some years ago I began an earnest effort to read everything I could get my hands on that might shed light on authentic faith considerations. I quickly discovered that our Protestant American Christianity, as well founded and compelling as it is, provides only a diminutive perspective of the total picture.

The Christian church, albeit divided and flawed in many ways, had already “prevailed against the gates of hell” for more than 1,500 years at the time when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the bulletin-board door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. It’s only been less than 500 years since then, but the truth is that the North American church has “put on a lot of miles” in that time.

Part of the reason is that since the Reformation(s), denominations of every variety have sprouted and flourished in our American culture. The Christianity that has emerged has done so in the context of independence, individualism, competition, self-assuredness, self-expression, and (perceived) “freedom” – all esteemed American values.

And therein may lie the roots of the ironic dilemma of American Christianity.

The more I’ve read about “authentic” Christian faith, that is, seeking to follow the teachings and example of Christ in daily living, the more I’m discovering that virtually every one of these values we cherish as Americans are, in fact, quite the opposite of what Jesus espoused.


The “Kingdom of God,” or Reign of God, that began with Christ’s coming to earth in human form, was the beginning of the uniting, or bringing back together, of heaven and earth. Christ’s living among us began a foundationally, fundamentally and functionally “new world order”. And it requires a “conversion,” or turnaround, of worldviews.

Fr Richard Rohr says that conversion “is not a learning as much as it is an un-learning.” Fortunately, we have the life of Christ as our example. But it’s a revolutionary road on which we travel, and the path does not seem to conform much to the culture in which we live – our good old U.S. of A..

Jesus said that in his Kingdom “the last shall be first” and that the “first shall be last” (Matthew 19). What does this mean? Does it sound like anything remotely similar to what’s going on in our country where everyone wants to be “numero uno”?

Americans want “security,” so they hoard “things” and try to accumulate assets so they’ll have “something for the future”. Jesus, on the other hand, said, “Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for Him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.” Another contradiction?

As Americans we strive for success, recognition and status in our power quest. But Jesus said in John 12:34, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Do we actually believe we can do both, or that in this light, the power quest is even important?

I think the obvious emerging impression reveals that our American culture has shaped our “Christianity” maybe more than we’ve allowed Christ himself to do so. Even our churches often reflect this dilemma to a much-too-great degree (mega-churches, popularity preachers, “prosperity” gospel, etc.).

The prayer of our Lord says, “Thy Kingdom come, ON EARTH as it is in heaven.” To me, it is an ironic (and tragic) dilemma that American Christianity, as currently widely practiced, could be a far cry from what the Kingdom of God is all about.