Friday, March 31, 2006

Psalm 111

I will praise the Lord with all my heart in the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
The Lord's works are great, studied by all who delight in them.
All that He does is splendid and majestic; His righteousness endures forever.
He has caused His wonderful works to be remembered. The Lord is gracious and compassionate.
He has provided food for those who fear Him; He remembers His covenant forever.
He has shown His people the power of His works by giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of His hands are truth and justice; all His instructions are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever, enacted in truth and uprightness.
He has sent redemption to His people. He has ordained His covenant forever. His name is holy and awe-inspiring.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His instructions have good insight. His praise endures forever."

- from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Bethel Park

HERE is an article from The United Methodist Reporter about the ministry of Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, PA, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh. The largest church in our Conference, it is also the largest church in the Northeast Jurisdiction. The reason I'm linking to the article is because a friend of mine, the Right Reverend John Shaver, ministers at Christ church and is mentioned in the article. Go, John!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Lenten Journey

"...he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the suffering that brought us peace,
and through his wounds we are healed."
- Isaiah 53:5

(Image taken from the Crucifixion window in the sanctuary of
Cochran Memorial United Methodist Church, Dawson, PA)

Thursday, March 23, 2006


A pic of my lovely wife, Robyn...

Robyn in August 2005

...amazingly beautiful.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Let Catholic Charities Be Catholic

I read this excellent article this morning; it concerns Catholic Charities' position that they will not allow same-gender couples to adopt children through their program. No one has to adopt through Catholic Charities; if their policy offends someone, that person can go through another agency. Mandating federal government interference will accomplish nothing. Let Catholics be Catholic!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Poverty & Bibles

I read a hilarious online article the other day entitled, "Poverty-Stricken Africans Receive Desperately Needed Bibles". This points to a key problem in the evangelical wing of the Church: we become so preoccupied with sharing the good news contained in Scripture that we sometimes forget to follow all the edicts of Scripture. In other words, the article may not be too far off the mark in terms of how we've strategized over the last century or so.

Conversely, a key problem on the leftist side of the Church has been a commendable desire to ease the physical suffering of people while failing to give proper attention to their spiritual needs. In this regard, certainly the left and the right need one another.

The article, intended as a joke, is a nice little sermonic reminder. The prophets are filled with commands to serve the poor...Jesus claimed to have come into the world to serve the poor, at one point even connecting our faithfulness in this area to our eternal destiny...and Jesus' brother James the Just powerfully reminds us of our mission to the poor.

It's great to give Bibles to those who are starving. But we ought to bring the Bibles with a meal or two or, even better, enough help to supply the needs of the starving.

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and joy. - Mother Teresa

Monday, March 13, 2006

R & R Hall of Fame

This evening, five musical artists and two non-performers will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I am a big fan of rock and roll music, its history, its significance, its beauty, and its power. It is the greatest musical form, in my view, ever devised by humankind. I really like the Hall of Fame, despite its mistakes and deficiencies, and look forward each year to reviewing the list of new inductees.

This year:

*Black Sabbath is credied with creating heavy metal, though I think groups like the Kinks, the Who, and Led Zeppelin may be "co-creators". My favorite of their songs is "War Pigs", one of music's most powerful anti-war songs. They were long overdue for induction.
*Blondie was the first New Wave band to score hits in the USA, making New Wave music accessible to mainstream audiences. Debbie Harry remains one of rock and roll's all-time greatest "frontmen".
*Miles Davis is a jazz legend whose adventurous spirit and willingness to utilize a wide variety of sounds has influenced many rock and roll greats.
*Lynyrd Skynyrd is the second greatest Southern rock band ever (behind the Allman Brothers). The Allmans leaned toward blues, whereas Skynyrd embraced mainstream rock a bit more, and spoke more freely about the experience of white Southerners.
*The Sex Pistols didn't invent punk rock, but they are the best known purveyors of punk. They are one of the few artists in rock and roll history who marked a change in music which no one could later ignore...nothing was the same after they emerged. This band is long, long overdue for induction. They are the first artist ever to decline induction...which I love...the perfect topper for their very subversive, anti-establishment, anti-institutionalist career.

Additionally, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, who together founded A&M Records, will enter the Hall.

My hope is that in the next few years we see Brian Epstein, Col. Tom Parker, and Bernie Taupin inducted as non-performers, and back-up singers the Jordanaires, drummer Jim Keltner, Toto, and the Wrecking Crew inducted as sidemen (Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine is already in the Hall as a sideman, but guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco, keyboardist Leon Russell, and brilliant bassist Carol Kaye deserve serious consideration).

Friday, March 10, 2006

Barry Bonds

A new book (Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams) alleges that former Pittsburgh Pirate Barry Bonds cheated by using massive amounts of steroids and other performance enhancers over a five year period. This cheating, at least in part, enabled Bonds, one of the most unsavory celebrities in history, to break the single season home run record. It looks as if this season he will eclipse both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, two of sports' greatest figures, on the all-time home run list.

What a horrible time to be a baseball fan. I'm really not a big baseball guy, but I do appreciate baseball for its history and undoubtedly would follow the Pirates if they had a season worth following.

But Barry Bonds seems to represent all that is bad about sports. Baseball aficionados should hang their heads in shame over what will transpire this season, as Bonds gets his name on the list with revered icons Ruth and Aaron.

For a good review of the situation, I suggest you read here.

"Idol" update, March 10

No big surprises. Kinnik gone (after an abysmal performance), Will gone. Those two were "givens".

I'm a little surprised that Gedeon left and Bucky stayed. Bucky will, barring unlikely brilliance, be the next to go. Also, Ayla left, which wasn't a real surprise (could have been Melissa or Ayla, and I think the right choice was made).

Of course, my boy Taylor Hicks is still there, and ready to go all the way.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Transforming the World

"The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social, no holiness but social holiness...You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world's hurting ones." - John Wesley

I think that all Christians, especially in America, need to hear these words of Wesley. More than that, I'd urge every United Methodist to review the words of Bishop Thomas Bickerton concerning the "War on Poverty". The bishop's words not only remind us that we are to be advocates on behalf of the poor, the downtrodden, the outcast, and the "least of these", but also reflect my personal philosophy regarding the United Methodist practice of appointment of pastoral leadership.

Oscars: The Day After

Last night's Academy Awards broadcast was...pretty boring. I ended up watching it because there was nothing else on and I was bored...and the Oscars did little to help that mood. Host Jon Stewart was surprisingly boring.

I was happy that Reese Witherspoon won for her brilliant portrayal of music legend June Carter Cash in the film Walk the Line; I wish her co-star Joaquin Phoenix would have won for his portrayal of icon Johnny Cash, but it wasn't to be.

Other thoughts...George Clooney may be the biggest airhead west of the Mississippi River...Crash pulled the only real surprise of the evening by beating Brokeback Mountain for Best Picture, and I didn't really care...the Best Original Song award was an embarrassment to all who love music. John Stewart's best line of the evening came after the "Three 6 Mafia" won the award for the "song" "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" (which sounded to me like a bad skit from "Saturday Night Live"). Stewart was counting total lifetime Oscars: "Three 6 Mafia: one; Martin Scorsese: zero." With that one observation, he pointed out the futility of the evening.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

1st Sunday in Lent

My theme for Lent is "Circumcision of the Heart", based on John Wesley's Sermon 17. I've broken the sermon down into some important points about what it means to walk in holiness (a.k.a. "circumcision of the heart"), and tomorrow I'm preaching on temptation.

What I can relate to in the lectionary's Gospel reading (Mark 1:9-15) is that Jesus is tempted by Satan immediately after a high point in his life, his baptism in the River Jordan. That's how the Enemy works, isn't it? Right when we're feeling good, when we're in the midst of joy and celebration...BANG! We get hit...and we're suddenly in the wilderness. That can make it difficult to enjoy the good times, can't it?

But what is so comforting is what we read in Mark 1:12...the Holy Spirit is the one who drove Jesus into the wilderness. That tells us that we are not alone in those difficult times, and that God has a purpose, a plan...even for the wilderness times. That reminds us just how truly good God is. Thank the Lord for his goodness!

Friday, March 03, 2006

"Idol" update, March 3

I liked David Radford, and, judging by their reactions to his dismissal from the show, so did the female competitors. He'll be missed. Sway Penala was good, but clearly a contender to leave. My hope is that soon both Bucky and Gedeon get the boot, as I found them both annoying.

Supermodel Heather Cox also left the show, which is a real shame. Brenna Gethers had to go, though, having become one of America's most obnoxious and unbearable reality TV stars (and that's really saying something). For the sake of television viewers everywhere, I sincerely hope that her 15 minutes are over.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

"Idol" update, March 2

The guys overall did better than the ladies. Chris Daughtry was far and away the best of the evening, singing Fuel's "Hemorrhage", a perfect match for his voice and vocal style. Other than Chris, several other singers did well, though not spectacular. Among these were self-described sex symbol Kevin Covais ("I Heard it through the Grapevine"), fine singer but lifeless performer Will Makar ("Lady"), and my boy Taylor Hicks (the Commodores' "Easy").

The mediocre of the night...Bucky Covington ("The Thunder Rolls"), Gedeon McKinney (Sam Cooke's wondrous classic "A Change Is Gonna Come"), Sway Penala (Stevie Wonder's beautiful "Overjoyed"), David Radford (Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight"), Elliott Yamin (the obscure "Mood for Love"), and Ace Young ("If You're Not the One").

No one was horrible, but few really took it up a notch. Almost any of the mediocre group could get the boot tonight, but I have to think that Ace is safe for the week. My guess is that David and Sway go home.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Academy Awards

This Sunday, the film industry will hand out its famous Oscars to movies and artists it deems worthy. Many years, I'm excited by the ceremony. I love movies, and often I have one or two favorites heading into the evening. This year...not so much. The Oscars are so inundated this year with politics that it bores me. Many folks are saying how "brave" many of these films are...the anti-big oil Syriana, the thinly veiled anti-Bush tirade Good Night and Good Luck, the transsexual comedy Transamerica, the sexual harrassment drama North Country, and especially the homosexual cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain, which will likely walk away with the Best Picture Award.

Now, don't get me wrong: politics can make for some great movies. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the President's Men, The Hunt for Red October...just a few of the wonderful films centered on politics. But this year, it's all about left wing politics. Very little for the "common man".

More than that, making a movie about a controversial subject isn't necessarily brave. Michael Moore's 2004 anti-Bush propaganda piece a few years ago was pretty gutless and exploitative. Making a left wing movie in an anti-Bush, left wing environment isn't very brave. Far braver was Mel Gibson's 2004 masterwork The Passion of the Christ, for which some in Hollywood threatened to destroy Gibson's career. Bravery, it seems, is a relative virtue. Being anti-war in Hollywood, for instance, isn't even a little brave; being anti-war inside the Bush White House...that's brave.

The films nominated this year might be fine films, but I just can't get past the political hypocrisy. That's too bad, because I love a good movie, and have enjoyed the Oscars in years past.

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the holy season of LENT. Lent is an opportunity for Christians to really look inside themselves, reflect upon their lives, sins, and spirituality, repent, and reconnect with God. Lasting forty days (not including Sundays), Lent is a reflection of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness. An excellent explanation of the season can be found HERE, on the phenomenal website of Ken Collins, one of the best Christian sites on the web.

In the churches I serve, we will be gathering tonight to hear the word proclaimed, receive the traditional ashes on our foreheads (reminding us of our sin and mortality), and celebrate the Eucharist. While I'm sharing from Joel 2 and Psalm 51, my main text will be from Romans 2. My theme for Lent is "Circumcision of the Heart", based on John Wesley's Sermon 17.

It can be a blessed exercise for Christians to be serious about connecting worship and daily living in Lent; I hope to lead the churches I serve in faithfulness this Lenten season.

"Idol" update, March 1

I missed the show last night, as I was attending a meeting of our Bishop's Strategic Planning Team, which he hopes (as do I) will revitalize ministry in our Conference. I watched it on tape later (which is great, as I fast forwarded through all the commercials!). It was "Ladies' Night" on American Idol.

Katharine McPhee is probably the best singer of the group. Her performance last week dazzled; her song choice this week (Stevie Wonder's "All In Love Is Fair") was unfortunate (good song, but not for her), as her performance was fairly forgettable. It would be a tragedy if she went home this week; I hope she sticks around. She also seems to get prettier each week. Lisa Tucker, who sang "Who's Loving You" by the Jackson 5, is a great singer, but, again, the performance didn't do a whole lot for me. Paris Bennett, the third of four great female singers this year, was underwhelming singing one of the all-time sap classics, "Wind Beneath My Wings" by Bette Midler. She should be safe for another week, but needs to do much better next week. Mandisa Hundley, who goes by just "Mandisa" now, didn't do a great job with Faith Hill's "Cry", but did well enough to get by this week (and shows the promise of excelling in future weeks).

Supermodel Heather Cox did well, singing Mariah Carey's "Hero". Her performance was fine, despite a panning from the judges. Melissa McGhee turned it up a notch, and while her performance of "Why Haven't I Heard from You" by Reba McEntire was OK, she looked pretty sexy and seemed to really jazz it up a bit from last week. Of all the ladies, she improved her standing the most. Ayla Brown looked nice, but her performance was forgettable. Also, country girl Kellie Pickler didn't do a great job with Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About", but the "cute factor" might help her survive.

The worst of the bunch was the awful performance of disco queen Donna Summer's "Last Dance" by annoying and arrogant Brenna Gethers. Time to give her a pink slip. Kinnik Sky's country song made me very uncomfortable, for some reason.

So...Brenna and Kinnik should go home later this week.