Saturday, September 30, 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006


"I thank my God every time I remember you..."
- Philippians 1:3 (NRSV)

This Sunday, which is World Communion Sunday, is a very special day in the life of the Church Universal, for on this day, we will gather at table around the globe and together celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion in a sign of unity and a prayer that, someday, the Body of Christ may truly be one, according to the prayer of our Lord in John 17. It is a great day, a day to be treasured and celebrated, a day on which the sacrament truly transcends, and becomes far more than we could possibly realize.

I'll be focusing on Philippians 1:3 in the sermon at Jefferson UMC. This is part of St. Paul's introduction to his letter to the church at Philippi.

As St. Paul gives thanks to God, he uses a wonderfully rich word: "eucharisteo", translated as "thanks" or sometimes "thanksgiving". This, of course, calls to mind the Lord's Supper, which is often (perhaps best) termed "the Eucharist".

We human beings often give thanks with a communal meal. Thanksgiving Day is a hallowed American holiday, and families gather on Christmas Day and Easter Sunday to break bread; friends often do the same for New Year or Independence Day celebrations. The notion of a communal meal is wired into us as humans.

When the Church gathers to give thanks, she, too celebrates a communal meal. But the thanksgiving is far more powerful even than the most intimate of family gatherings.

I recall the television series "Happy Days", which featured a Milwaukee teenager named Richie Cunningham and his circle of friends, the most interesting of whom was "the Fonz", the tough, street-wise, "cool" guy who functioned as a sort of mentor to Richie.

Years passed, and soon the actor who portrayed Richie, Ron Howard, wanted to leave the series to direct films (such as Parenthood, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind). A tear-filled "goodbye" episode for Richie was quickly scripted, and many Americans were glued to their televisions as the gang bade Richie farewell.

The most heartbreaking scene was the "goodbye" between Richie and his mentor/best friend, the Fonz. The two actors began to cry as Richie said to the Fonz something like, "How do you say 'thank you' to the one who means everything to you?"

Powerful words from a televisison sitcom. How do we say 'thank you' to the One who means everything to us, to the One who has given us new life and hope, who as granted is forgiving and transforming grace, who has blessed us far beyond anything we deserve, who has saved us from the pain of damnation? As Calvinist evangelical theologian Karl Barth wrote in his Deliverance to the Captives, "To be saved does not mean to be a little encouraged, a little comforted, a little relieved. It means to be pulled like a log from a burning fire."

How do we say 'thank you'? Well, in Biblical terms, giving thanks is 'eucharisteo'. We give thanks as the church primarily by celebrating the sacrament which is itself a gift for which to be thankful. We give thanks by faithfully partaking of the bread and the cup and allowing the Spirit - one more time - to renew us for life and for ministry, that tomorrow, we will be more like Christ than we are today.

Here are some Eucharistic resources I've written at one time or another...

"Do This; Remember Me!" (a 2003 hymn drawn from the Biblical institutioal narrative)
"Do This: The Eucharist as a Key to Pastoral Care and Renewal in the Church" (a brief 1997 paper, filled with spelling errors...sorry!)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


For World Communion Sunday (Oct. 1), I'll be preaching on Philippians 1:1-11, focusing on verse three.

Verse one, however, is problematic for many Christians, particularly evangelicals. This is evidenced by the New International Version (NIV) and the English Standard Version (ESV), among other translations.

I believe that when it comes to translating the Scriptures, one must be faithful to the text, but also should take into account the historic translation and understanding of the text. An example of this is the famous translation of Isaiah 7:14 in the Revised Standard Version (RSV):

"Therefore the LORD himself will give you a sign.
Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel."

While it is true that "young woman" is a legitimate translation of the Hebrew word "almah", Church tradition had faithfully used "virgin" (or sometimes "maiden") for centuries, and the decision of the RSV translators to ignore this precedent resulted in a great backlash against this otherwise excellent translation upon its release in the 1950s (which eventually prompted evangelicals to produce the NIV, among other translations).

There exists a similar problem regarding Philippians 1:1. It reads in the King James Version (KJV):

"Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi,
with the bishops and deacons..."

Evangelical translations (such as the NIV and ESV) often translate the Greek word "episkopos" as "overseer", rather than "bishop" ("episkopoi" becoming "overseers" rather than "bishops"). Why are these translators afraid of bishops?

In an attempt to free themselves from traditional Church hierarchy (and, one could argue, traditional ecclesiology), translators seem to have translated a key Church word in a new way. Aside from being guilty of the same crime of which the RSV translators were guilty, they have shown disrespect to great bishops throughout history, such as Bishop Francis Asbury (above).

One of the greatest faults of 20th century evangelical theology was a weak ecclesiology. Presbyterianism provided a model for some, but even that system has weak roots and generally ignores "episkopoi". Both Reformers and evangelicals wished to distance themselves from the medieval Roman Catholic Church, with its imperial trappings. But it seems to me they threw out the baby with the bath water.

Bishops serve a proper and powerful purpose in the Church.

First, they represent our connection with the Church throughout the ages. The Constitution of the UMC states, "There shall be a continuance of an episcopacy in The United Methodist Church...", which, aside from making reference to our predecessor denominations, also infers an historic continuance through the ages. While this "succession" is impossible to verify historically due to the poor records kept during the Dark Ages, Christians can have faith that the historic faith has been faithfully transmitted through the centuries.

Second, bishops order the life of the Church as a whole, even as pastors (elders, local pastors, priests, whatever) order the life of the local congregations. When no one is minding the store in the episcopal sense, disaster can occur, ranging from denominational or jurisdictional collapse or a loss of clarity regarding the mission of the Church (which often results in cynicism and pessimism).

Third, and most importantly, bishops are charged with defense of the apostolic faith. It is the responsibility of the bishop to see to it that all Christians adhere to the essential doctrines and teachings of the Church. They have a supervisory and disciplinary role that we ought to take more seriously.

These three "fundamental roles" for bishops, whether for historic figures such as Bishop Asbury or contemporary leaders such as Bishop Thomas Bickerton of the Pittsburgh Area (above, between my lovely wife and myself), whether for United Methodist, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic, or Lutheran bishops, are what we need to look for in our episcopal leaders. When a bishop or a group of bishops demeans or fails to enforce Church teaching, they not only diminish themselves and the historic role of the episcopacy, they endanger the life and ministry of the Church. Bishops, too, need to be held accountable.

I would encourage more independently-minded Christians to pray about and study the role of episkopoi. Perhaps in the 21st century, evangelicalism can finally develop a sound, faithful ecclesiology, and bring the movement more in line with traditional Christian teaching in this area.

(An excellent online article regarding Methodism and apostolic succession can be found here.)

NFL Rankings - Week 3

1 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 3)...once again, the best in the NFL

2 - Chicago Bears (last week 6)...hard to believe they're this good

3 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 7)...what a performance; those days may be over now that Alexander is out

4 - Jacksonville Jaguars (last week 4)...they lost to the NFL's best; no shame in that

5 - San Diego Chargers (last week 9)

6 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 2)...they took advantage of a sloppy Steelers performance

7 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 8)

8 - New Orleans Saints (last week unranked)...impressive start

9 - New England Patriots (last week 5)...tough loss against Denver

10 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 1)...what a dismal loss in New Orleans

Honorable mentions:
Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos (maybe the best unranked team), Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Philadelphia Eagles

What the heck?:
Pittsburgh Steelers (last week 10)...they need this bye week to figure things out

Player of the Week:
Brett Favre...what a performance from this future Hall of Famer...maybe the QB who has been more fun to watch than any QB in history

Stinkin' up the League:
Cleveland Browns (though they kept it close vs. Baltimore), Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans (despite the fact that they have one of the best coaches in the NFL)

Monday, September 25, 2006

Bill Clinton on FoxNews Sunday

What's up with Bill Clinton?

Bill Clinton, whose character flaws had a disastrous effect on his presidency and his legacy, is turning out to be one of the finest ex-presidents in U.S. history. Actually, he's achieved far more in the six years since leaving office than he did during his eight years in office, rasing money for tsunami and Katrina victims as well as forming a charitable foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative to focus on a variety of issues.

The master politician of his generation, he has typically presented a very slick, intelligent, controlled public image, even in the midst of difficulties and scandals.

Which is why I was so surprised to see the footage yesterday of Bill Clinton being interviewed on FoxNews Sunday by journalist Chris Wallace (son of 60 Minutes legend Mike Wallace). When asked if his administration had done all that it could have done to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, Clinton lost his temper. He railed about a conservative conspiracy (apparently headed by FoxNews) and angrily attacked Wallace. Wallace later said, concerning the interview and Clinton's behavior, "Former President Clinton is a very big man. As he leaned forward--wagging his finger in my face--and then poking the notes I was holding--I felt as if a mountain was coming down in front of me." (You can read Wallace's impressions here.) Though obviously more than a little intimidated, Wallace did a good job of continuing the interview.

Why did Bill Clinton react with such venom? I really was quite surprised to watch the interview, and watching made me very uncomfortable.

Is he sincerely angry at how his legacy is being portrayed? What made him blow his fuse on national television? Analyst William Kristol has three suggestions as to why Bill Clinton lost his temper. One or all may be true.

But, from a pastoral perspective, something seems wrong with Bill Clinton; this reaction may be merely symptomatic.

As I've posted previously, Bill Clinton is not responsible for 9/11. Had he had any idea that such a tragedy were coming, he would have done everything in his power to prevent it; the same is true of current President Bush. Folks who accuse either man of causing or failing to prevent 9/11 are woefully mistaken.

This is an intelligent man with a keen political mind. Was this part of a political strategy, or an emotional outburst? Has the criticism from some bothered him this much? Surely, he's accustomed to that. This is why I am perplexed.

If something is wrong in his heart (and that may not have anything to do with the subject of terrorism), then the Christian reaction to Bill Clinton's outburst is clear: we need to be in prayer for the man. Whether or not we agree with his politics or with his lifestyle choices, we must pray for him, and hope that he finds some peace in the midst of a difficult time for all world leaders.

(You can watch the interview by clicking here.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Steelers review

Cincinnati Bengals 28, Steelers 20

Game Ball: Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, whose acrobatic touchdown reception gave the Bengals the lead.

Play of the Game: Either Houshmandzadeh's TD reception or Bengals safety Kevin Kaesviham's interception in the last minute of the game, which ended the Steelers final drive.

Steelers Grades:

Coaching: looked as if the coaches called a decent game, but the players simply couldn't execute and produce.

QB: D...Ben Roethlisberger looked more than simply rusty...he looked as if he lacked confidence and has a way to go before he's in top form.

Running Game: B...Willie Parker looked solid (31 carries, 133 yards), but Verron Haynes isn't the answer for the team's #2 back; his 4th quarter fumble resulted in a Bengals TD.

Passing Game: B-...WR Cedric Wilson and TE Heath Miller each had a productive game, but WR Santonio Holmes and superstar WR Hines Ward were pretty much non-factors. Big Ben's 3 interceptions were also quite costly (he was 18/39 for the day with 0 TD passes).

Defense: D...Bengals QB Carson Palmer threw 2 TD passes inside of a minute; the Bengals scored 28 points, a surprisingly high number for a Steelers opponent.

Special Teams: D...horrible. Absolutely terrible. Punt returner Ricardo Colclough's devastating fumble resulted in a Bengals TD. This unit has to improve tremendously for the Steelers to have any hope of season success.

Bengals analysis: While they didn't play perfectly and the Steelers could have won the game, they got the job done and did what is most necessary for a successful team: take advantage of your opponent's mistakes. They're not the best in the NFL or even the AFC, but they are a very good team with a very good coach and some real talent (I hate writing that).

Friday, September 22, 2006


(give it a minute to load...)

Clergy Spouses

Robyn left yesterday for Camp Allegheny, one of our Conference's three camps. I must say that our camping program is the finest ministry of our Conference; we are blessed with three world class camps: Allegheny, Jumonville, and Wesley Woods. People from all over the globe come to western PA to participate in our programs. In my view, we simply can't give enough funding and prayer support to our camping program. We are blessed, and we have a great responsibility to maintain and improve this vital ministry.

At any rate, each year, our Conference spouses (mostly but not exclusively women) go on a Fall Retreat at one of our camps. This is an important time for these unsung parsonage heroines, who have a unique role...not clergy, but not completely laity either...and who put up with all kinds of headaches because of their love for their clergy spouse and their faithfulness to Almighty God. The retreat is a time to connect with others who understand what it's like to be a United Methodist clergy spouse in Western PA Conference. It is a time of spiritual renewal and refocus, and to receive loving and prayerful support from dear sisters and brothers in Christ. Bishop Bickerton led last evening's session; I can't recall what special speaker they've brought in for the next two days.

I've also been pleased with the recent leadership. Last year, Robyn organized the retreat. This year, the organizer was Karen Vanderhoff, whose husband was ordained with me a few years back (heaven knows we tried to stop Jeff's ordination, to no avail). Robyn led last year, Karen this year. Our probationer class will soon...dare I say it...rule the world.

So...I'm playing Mr. Mom for a few days. I covet prayers that the kids and I survive and the parsonage remains intact upon Robyn's return on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday's Gospel

"They went on from there and passed through Galilee.
And he did not want anyone to know,
for he was teaching his disciples,
saying to them,
'The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.'
But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them,
'What were you discussing on the way?'
But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, 'If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.'
And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them,
'Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.'"
(Mark 9:30-37, ESV)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

NFL Rankings - Week 2

1 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 2)...right now, the best team in the NFL

2 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 3)...this pains me

3 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 5)...a win this weekend against the Jags makes them the clear #1

4 - Jacksonville Jaguars (last week 7)...a win this weekend in Indy makes them the clear #1

5 - New England Patriots (last week 9)...Brady, the best QB in the NFL, always gets it done

6 - Chicago Bears (last week unranked)...what a defense...and their offense may actually be a threat

7 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 8)...solid team, future Hall of Fame coach

8 - Baltimore Ravens (last week 4)...Billick is a jerk, but usually produces surprisingly winning teams

9 - San Diego Chargers (last week 6)

10 - Pittsburgh Steelers (last week 1)...what a terrible Monday night...the Steelers were smacked around at the line of scrimmage by the Jags impressive D, and need to really improve to beat Cincy this Sunday

Honorable mentions:
Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles

What the heck?:
Carolina Panthers (last week 10)...the biggest disappointment of the season to date...they need Steve Smith back and to get their act together

Stinkin' up the League:
Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Steelers review

Jacksonville Jaguars 9, Steelers 0

Game Ball: The Jacksonville Jaguars defense, which dominated the game, looking Super Bowl-ready.

Play of the Game: Ben Roethlisberger's last interception, which sealed the Steelers' fate.

Steelers Grades:

Coaching: B...I could give them a worse grade, but I think the Steelers simply lost to the better team.

QB: C...I agree with Coach Bill Cowher: Ben was rusty. He wasn't terrible, and starting him was the right call. But, hopefully, he'll pick up his game a notch or two next week.

Running Game: F...what running game?

Passing Game: D...dropped passes left and right.

Defense: B+...they kept a very good team to three field goals. They weren't as opportunistic as I'd have liked, but were solid.

Special teams: B...some improvement from last week, but still room to improve.

Jaguars analysis:

This is a team that has to be an early favorite to go far in the playoffs. An excellent, excellent team which, if it stays healthy, could do great things.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Blessed are the peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
(Matthew 5:9, TNIV)

"Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today..."
(Al Cleveland/Marvin Gaye/Renaldo Benson, 1971)

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people...
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
(Luke 1:68, 79, ESV)

"How many times must the cannon balls fly
before they are forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind...
How many deaths will it take till we know
that too many people have died?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind..."
(Bob Dylan, 1962)

"So then let us pursue what makes for peace..."
(Romans 14:19, ESV)

"Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God as our Father, brothers all are we,
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me, let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow,
To take each moment and live each moment in peace, eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
(Jill Jackson/Sy Miller, 1955)

"God has called you to peace."
(1 Corinthians 7:15, ESV)

"Imagine all the people living life in peace.
You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one ."
(John Lennon, 1971)

"...he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near."
(Ephesians 2:17, ESV)

"Nothing comes from violence; nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are"
(Sting, 1987)

"...a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
(James 3:18, ESV)

"As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself, 'Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?'
And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I wanna know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?
As I walk on through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong and who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony? Sweet harmony?
'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away, just makes me wanna cry.
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?"
(Nick Lowe, 1979)

" peace and pursue it."
(1 Peter 3:11, ESV)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Looking for the Devil

"Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
"He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
"But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.'"
(Mark 8:31-33, NRSV)

In Western society, we have often been preoccupied with the Devil. Lots of music has been written about this enemy of humanity, lots of paintings painted, lots of theological works written in an attempt to understand and identify it.

It seems to me that in this passage from Mark (from this Sunday's lections), Jesus is quite clearly identifying the enemy. We don't need to look for the Devil any further than our own mirrors. How often do we frustrate the Holy Spirit? How often do we take the easy road? How many times have we purposely or inadvertently gotten in the way of God's plans? While we are called to be on the road to perfection in love, most of us are not yet there; I'm nowhere near that destination. Inherited sin is still very much a reality for most of us.

If we look for the Devil behind every tree and under every rock, we're going to find it. Instead, we as the Church need to recognize that the enemy which poses the greatest danger isn't the one in Afghanistan or Iraq or "in hell", but rather the enemy that stares back at us while we're brushing our teeth.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

This Sunday's Psalm

"The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their measuring line goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

"The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the LORD is clean,
enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true,
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

"Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."

(Psalm 19, ESV)

Intolerance in Rosieland

My favorite TV show of all-time is "M*A*S*H". Every episode was great; never a stinker. In daily reruns, it's still the best show on TV.

Near the end of the series, Hawkeye and B.J. get tanked at Rosie's Bar and decide to form their own sovereign nation, which, in honor of Rosie, they name "Rosieland". Funny stuff.

It seems that professional personality Rosie O'Donnell lives in her own reality, which we could also call "Rosieland". Apparently, a few days ago on her ABC program "The View", O'Donnell argued with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck (from "Survivor") about the War on Terror, which is fine. Argue away.

The problem was that O'Donnell made the claim that, "Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam." Now, a key question to Miss O'Donnell could be, "How do you define 'radical Christianity'?" Given her comments later on the program, it seems that radical Christians to Miss O'Donnell are Christian folks who don't agree with her.

Should this surprise anyone? A darling of the "Big Media" and Hollywood, Miss O'Donnell isn't a bad representative of those two elites, which are both extremely anti-Christian (particularly anti-Roman Catholic and own denomination, typically left-wing, is usually spared their venom). This at the same time that country-pop group the Dixie Chicks are using extreme profanity in reference to the president, and talented actor Sean Penn refers to the president as "Beelzebub". Has the radical Left lost any sense of respect and proper, constructive discourse?

The truth is that the Left, which believes itself to be open to a diversity of viewpoints and accepting of dissent, is extremely intolerant. One of my favorite political quotes comes from the great English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge: "I have seen great intolerance shown in support of tolerance." Welcome to Rosieland.

Now, to be fair, some folks on the Right make a lot of stupid statements. Pat Robertson, for instance, has said some things in recent years which should make you scratch your head with bewilderment; neither side has a monopoly on stupidity.

But when Mel Gibson, a conservative Roman Catholic, went on a drunken, anti-Semitic tirade, for which he ought to be ashamed, it was the lead story on the news for days. The media asked, "Will he ever be able to work in Hollywood again?" It seems that the Big Media has given Miss O'Donnell a pass for her own stupid remarks which, like Mr. Gibson's words, show a remarkable level of intolerance.

Liberal political analyst Bob Beckel said, concerning Miss O'Donnell's remarks, that they were, "...not very illuminating..." and "...dumb...", going on to say, "If you're going to have idiots on the left, you've got idiots on the right." He is absolutely correct, and if the Left is smart, they'll have more folks like Beckel speaking for them, and fewer people like Rosie O'Donnell.

Here is the clip in question from "The View"...

For a news report on the incident, click here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

NFL Rankings - Week 1

One week of NFL action behind us, and what a surprising week it was. Boy, did I ever have it wrong with my rankings last week.

1 - Pittsburgh Steelers (last week 3)...the only one of my Top 3 from last week who looked good

2 - Atlanta Falcons (last week 9)...right now, the best in the NFC

3 - Cincinnati Bengals (last week 6)...scary good on both sides of the ball

4 - Baltimore Ravens (last week unranked)...they looked awfully solid, though I don't know how long they can sustain it; the AFC North is the NFL's strongest division right now

5 - Indianapolis Colts (last week 1)...the Great Peyton looked confused, and they need to do something about their anemic running game

6 - San Diego Chargers (last week unranked)...what a good defense

7 - Jacksonville Jaguars (last week unranked)...the Steelers need to bring their A-game to Florida on Monday night

8 - Seattle Seahawks (last week 5)

9 - New England Patriots (last week 4)

10 - Carolina Panthers (last week 2)...they desperately need Steve Smith

Honorable mentions:
Dallas Cowboys (last week 8), Detroit Lions (last week 10), Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, St. Louis Rams

What happened?:
Denver Broncos (last week 7), Tampa Bay Bucs

Looking horrifically bad:
Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers

Monday, September 11, 2006

Prayer on Sept. 11

Merciful Heavenly Father, on this gloomy day when we remember those terrible events of five years ago, we humbly come before you in prayer. We confess to you our many sins, both of commission and omission. We have fallen short, as a people and as a Church, from your vision for us. Where you have desired reconciliation, we have offered war. Where you have desired forgiveness, we have offered vengeance. Where you have desired embraces, we have offered guns. Forgive us, we pray. Inspire us with your Spirit anew this day, that we might strive earnestly toward perfection in love, that someday this date might be remembered for positive change rather than for hatred, violence, pain, and death. Comfort those this day who still grieve for loved ones lost five years ago, and in the war which has followed. Be with the leaders of our nation and the world, that they would seek your will in all things, and that we as a people might finally learn to solve our problems at a common table of understanding, rather than through terror and bombs. Speak this day to Osama Bin Laden and all the terrorists still at large, reveal your Son to them and lead them to faith in Christ, and grant your Church the courage it needs to forgive and embrace them, through and for Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Thomas Coke

Happy 259th birthday to Bishop Thomas Coke, born on this day in 1747.

Bishop Coke remains one of the unsung heroes of American Methodism. Sure, we all learn about him in seminary, and likely we purchase books or church supplies from Cokesbury (whose name comes from Coke and his episcopal partner), but we rarely speak of him in the honored tones we use when speaking of the Wesley brothers or Bishop Francis Asbury.

But Bishop Coke is the man through whom our ordination descends, since he was consecrated to the episcopacy by John Wesley, becoming America's first Methodist bishop. Bishop Coke later ordained Bishop Asbury, among others. It was primarily Bishop Coke who put together our first Book of Discipline, providing for order in the life of the Church.

While Bishop Asbury remained in America, becoming the most significant religious figure of the early republic (George Washington called him "America's Bishop"), Bishop Coke returned to Europe to preside over the Methodists in both Ireland and Great Britain. He also made occasional trips to America, where he was received warmly but rarely with the love and adulation that folks reserved for Bishop Asbury.

Perhaps most significantly, Bishop Coke, who was famous for his soft-spoken nature and overall kindness, as well as his love for the Lord and Wesley's approach to Christianity, is the "Father of Methodist Missions". He traveled to the Caribbean as a missionary and faithfully supported work in Africa and Canada, as well as in America. He passed away, in fact, in 1814, while making the journey to India to begin Methodist mission work in that nation.

The best work I've found on Bishop Coke is Thomas Coke: Apostle of Methodism, written by John Vickers in 1969 (ISBN 0716201283). Sadly, there hasn't been a great deal of historical research concerning our first bishop. I pray that this situation changes in years to come, as this great servant of Christ deserves a hallowed place in the hearts of not only Methodists, but Christians of every denomination and creed.

Thank God for Bishop Thomas Coke.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Steelers review

Steelers 28, Miami Dolphins 17

It was a great night in Pittsburgh as the Steelers kicked off the 2006 NFL season with a solid win. The opening ceremony, highlighting the team's Super Bowl legacy, was wonderful. The city looked great.

Game Ball: Charlie Batch, Steelers QB, who stepped in for Ben Roethlisberger and showed the entire league what a back-up QB should do. Great game...not flawless...but he got the job done, and did it very well.

Play of the Game: Either Batch's TD pass to TE Heath Miller or LB Joey Porter's interception, which he ran back for a touchdown.

Steelers Grades:

Coaching: A-...some bold moves. They adjusted well after the half.

QB: B+...Batch didn't have Big Ben's "magic", but he did a fine job and got the win.

Running Game: A...RB Willie Parker ran for 115 yards and looked great. Batch also ran relatively well when he needed to do so.

Passing Game: B-...some excellent plays (by Batch, Miller, WR Hines Ward, and WR Nate Washington) almost ruined by some mistakes (chiefly by rookie WR Santonio Holmes).

Defense: B...the Steelers did an excellent job stopping the Dolphins anemic running game, but, at times, the secondary was fooled. That said, Porter and SS Troy Polamalu both did fine jobs, making interceptions at key moments.

Special teams: C...they need work. K Jeff Reed missed a field goal, Holmes made some rookie mistakes, and the entire unit allowed the Dolphins to gain too many yards on returns. This seems to be the Steelers' "Achilles heel" right now.

Dolphins analysis:

Coach Nick Saban is a fine coach, but was far too hesitant calling for a review of the Heath Miller TD run. That indecisiveness didn't cost Miami the game, but did cost them 6 points.

QB Daunte Culpepper was miraculous just in his presence, having recovered so quickly from a serious injury last season. By the end of the first half, he seemed to find a certain rhythm, but couldn't maintain it. He made some bad throws, and needs to notch up his game a bit if the Dolphins want to make a serious playoff run.

Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard is all wrong, however, in his claim that the Dolphins loss isn't all that bad. Any loss is bad. They should not feel good; they should let the loss hurt, and spur them to better results next week.

Truth and Lies

On Mon., Sept. 11, ABC is planning to air a "docudrama" about the tragedy which is apparently insulting to Clinton Administration alumni, as the drama supposedly implies that they were in some way responsible for the tragedy, or at least could have prevented it. They claim, perhaps correctly (I don't really know, since I haven't seen the show), that the drama contains several inaccuracies and fictionalizations.

Let me say that while ABC (or anyone else) certainly has a right to produce whatever kind of material they wish to produce, it is very irresponsible of the network to produce something so inaccurate, if indeed it is. As I've stated before, Bill Clinton was not responsible for 9/11, nor was President Bush. To imply otherwise is just wrong.


A few years ago, CBS produced a drama about Ronald Reagan which was filled with inaccuracies and outright fabrications. At the time, many conservatives protested the drama, claiming irresponsibility and partisan politicizing on the part of its producers. Many liberals, on the other hand, defended the drama and CBS.

Now, many liberals are protesting the ABC 9/11 drama, claiming irresponsibility and partisan politicizing on the part of its producers. Many conservatives, on the other hand, are defending the drama and ABC.

To me, this demonstrates a major integrity problem with folks on both sides. We should all be interested in truth, not selected facts distorted to present an inaccurate but politically beneficial perspective.

Sometimes, the truth hurts. Sometimes, the truth can set us free.

In Psalm 15, we read, "O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue...".

So, truthtelling is something that's important to God, and important in terms of our personal eternity.

We flawed sinful humans are so bent on demeaning, stereotyping, and marginalizing "the other side" rather than trying to understand or find common ground, that it must absolutely sicken Almighty God. This is especially true in the Church, "the people of God", "the Body of Christ", where we ought to know better. We find this marginalizing in the homosexuality debate in the Church, and we find it in the abortion debate in society-at-large. We find it wherever any important issue...war, guns, education, and many brought to the table.

As Nick Lowe wrote (and Elvis Costello sang), "What's so funny 'bout peace, love, and understanding?"

Musician/activist Bono has wisely said, "How far should we go to understand each other’s points of view? Maybe the distance grace covered on the cross."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Misc. thoughts

I think...

...Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney looks more and more impressive as a presidential candidate...

...With respect to Peyton Manning, a great player whom I admire, Tom Brady is the best player in the NFL and, when he finally does retire someday, may be considered the best ever at his position (QB), which is arguably the most difficult position in sports...

...I find it appalling and completely disrespectful that Harvard University, perhaps the finest school in the world, has invited former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami to speak on the issue of tolerance (!) on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary...

...Pittsburgh lost a fine man upon the passing of Mayor Bob O'Connor last Friday, a "man of the people" if ever there was one...

...the notion of current Iranian President Ahmadinejad speaking to the United Nations later this month is repulsive...

...Steelers QB Charlie Batch, a Pittsburgh native and graduate of Steel Valley HS, will get the job done tonight against Miami, providing the Steelers' great offensive line can contain Dolphins DE Jason Taylor, a Pittsburgh native and graduate of Woodland Hills HS...

...Tony Blair deserves better...

...Sen. Rick Santorum soundly defeated Senate candidate Bob Casey, Jr. in their first debate last Sunday, though both seem like decent men, not that far apart politically in many ways...

...Bill Clinton is not to blame for 9/11; President Bush is not to blame for 9/11; Bin Laden and radical evil are to blame; if either Clinton or Bush thought anything like 9/11 was ahead, they would have done anything to prevent it...the new ABC "documdrama" to be shown this weekend alleges that Clinton was so distracted by the Monica Lewinsky scandal that he failed to address Bin Laden and Al Qaeda; while that may be true, I cannot believe that Bill Clinton, as self-serving as he was, would not have addressed the issue had he known about the 9/11's categorically unfair to blame Clinton for the tragedy, as flawed as his presidency was...

...Bob Dylan's new album is #1 on the charts, a well-deserved sign of hope, given the horrible state of contemporary music...

...Katie Couric is a professional celebrity and entertainer, not a journalist, and to expect her show to be "hard news" is unrealistic and unfair...

...the Pittsburgh Penguins, with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, will be real contenders this year.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NFL Rankings - Preseason

My picks as the Top Ten best teams in the NFL. The season begins tomorrow night in Pittsburgh.

1 - Indianapolis pick to win the Super Bowl
2 - Carolina pick to win the NFC
3 - Pittsburgh Steelers
...assuming a healthy QB
4 - New England Patriots...Tom Brady is the best QB in the NFL, and will keep them competitive
5 - Seattle Seahawks...they'll surprise no one this year
6 - Cincinnati Bengals
...assuming a healthy QB
7 - Denver Broncos...Shanahan always keeps them competitive
8 - Dallas Cowboys...assuming a healthy QB and no T.O. explosion
9 - Atlanta Falcons...Michael Vick is amazing to watch
10 - Detroit pick as "the surprise of the year"

Other NFL picks:

MVP - Peyton Manning, Indianapolis Colts, QB
Defensive Player of the Year - Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steelers, SS
Coach of the Year - Rod Marinelli, Detroit Lions
Rookie of the Year - Reggie Bush, New Orleans Saints, RB
2007 #1 Draft Pick - San Francisco 49ers
Notable retirements at season's end - Brett Favre, Bill Cowher

Monday, September 04, 2006

Farewell Steve Irwin

God bless Steve Irwin , the "Crocodile Hunter", 1962-2006.