Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On this date...

On this date in 1965, Bob Dylan released his classic album Highway 61 Revisited. It is generally considered to be among the Top 10 Greatest Albums in the rock and roll era, probably Dylan's best work, and a landmark in folk rock.

US Highway 61 travels from New Orleans through Memphis to Canada, and Dylan used it as a metaphor for American life. According to critic Robert Shelton, " a teenager, Dylan had travelled that way on radio. ... Highway 61 became, I think, to him a symbol of freedom, a symbol of movement, a symbol of independence and a chance to get away from a life he didn't want." Though firmly "folk rock", the album has a very bluesy feel.

The album begins with "Like A Rolling Stone", one of rock's greatest records. Absolute perfection, musically and lyrically. Dylan's only #1 hit, few records in the past 50 years can compare in terms of sheer excellence (the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" and maybe a Beatles single or two, not much else). The song blew away John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and influenced scores of other musicians, including Michael Nesmith, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Frank Zappa.

The album continues with one great song after another, such as "Tombstone Blues", "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry", "Ballad of a Thin Man", and the title track, before finishing with the astonishing "Desolation Row", one of the most ambitious songs ever written, a bleak and bizarre vision of America.

Highway 61 Revisited is a work that should be heard repeatedly by music lovers everywhere. It's one of my personal favorites; I often listen to it in the car during a long drive. I commend it to one and all as one of the best works by the best American songwriter who ever lived.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Katrina: One Year Later

The news is filled with stories of the Gulf Coast region, a year after the hurricane which devastated the region. Some stories seem accurate and meaningful; others are political first, news second. That's the problem with the "Big Media" in America today...the reporting of the news accurately suffers as political agendas (likely on both sides of the aisle) become primary.

Here's my analysis:


* New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco...two elected officials who define ineffectiveness for 21st century America. Neither official stepped up prior to the storm or in its immediate aftermath; both are complete failures as leaders whose errors cost lives and billions of dollars in damage. Nagin, demonstrating his complete lack of leadership integrity, has spent a good part of the last year blaming others (the state, the Feds, whomever else seems convenient at the moment) for his mistakes, sometimes using racist tones. Horrible stuff. It was the job of Nagin and Blanco to evacuate and then to oversee relief and rebuilding; judging by the trash still evident in New Orleans, the fact that half the population of the city hasn't returned, and that the city is in general disarray, these two people should retire.

* FEMA...the response seemed chaotic. I'm not sure who in this department is precisely at fault; likely there are several people, including former director Mike Brown. It was shocking to see how slowly FEMA jumped into action.

* President George W. Bush...overseeing a disaster like this isn't his job, but he made some costly political mistakes throughout the tragedy. Columnist Fred Barnes does a fine job of detailing these mistakes here. The president, admittedly preoccupied with the War on Terror, seemed out of touch with what was happening along the Gulf Coast. Fair or not, the perception of his slow reaction cost him support and will likely cost the GOP Congressional seats come November.

* The "Big Media"...the reporting of the hurricane's aftermath in New Orleans represents the nadir of American journalism. Reporters were so eager to get stories that they stretched the truth and at times seemingly fabricated horrific tales of mass rapes and murders. No major network was spotless in this regard. All seemed eager to spin politics at the expense of accuracy. ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and NBC...shame on you. You diminished yourselves and journalists everywhere.

* The New Orleans a team, they usually look bad, but, if I were a betting man, I'd bet that they move sometime in the future, possibly to Los Angeles.

* Politicians many wanted to turn Katrina into something for their political gain; many are still doing this. Shame on all of them.


* Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Florida Governor Jeb Bush...both did an exceedingly excellent job throughout, and both their states have been rebuilt far more effectively than in Louisiana. Granted, neither had a major problem like New Orleans on their hands, but both have served as models of what to do and what not to do when this kind of disaster hits.

* The Relief agencies...such as UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Church World Service, and the many other agencies and church groups which raised millions of dollars and, just as importantly, sent teams of folks to the afflicted region to help clean up and rebuild. Praise the Lord for all who helped in any way; the area would be far behind where it is without the help of these kind people.

Let's try and do better as a society the next time a disaster of this magnitude strikes. And let us continue to pray for those afflicted.

To help with the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal, click here.


Here's an example of the "Big Media" during the ABC reporter desperate to get some citizens to diss the president, but failing to get what he's looking for...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Old pics

I thought some friends might enjoy some of these older pictures I rediscovered while moving this summer.

The first two pics are of my then-girlfriend Robyn and myself in late 1989. The next is also from late 1989 and features myself and my friend and brother in Christ Dayton Mix. The final pic is from early 1990, and features Robyn and I again.

Back to School

Hallelujah! The day is finally here and the kids are heading back to school! For the McIlwain family, this also means beginning again our family devotional routine. This year, we're using a lectionary-based devotional book.

The best news is that because of proper timing, we are all able to share devotions together; last year, our two older kids shared with us prior to our two younger children, who did not have to get up quite as early to catch the bus.

I thank God for the opportunity and blessing of being able to share these brief but important times with my wife and children. My kids often "don't get it", and often would rather be doing anything else, but what a joy it is to have the privilege of family devotional time. May I never take it for granted.

"Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.
Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.
Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise..."

(Deuteronomy 6:4-7, NRSV)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Misc. thoughts...

I think...

...Delaware Democrat Sen. Joseph Biden looks more and more impressive as a presidential candidate...

...Marvin Olasky's 1999 book The American Leadership Tradition, despite an obvious rightward slant, is right on regarding the relationship between personal ethics/morality and leadership...I'd love to write a Church version of this book, focusing on great leaders in Christian history rather than American presidents...

...Ray Nagin, Democrat Mayor of New Orleans, already proven to be one of the most incompetent leaders in history, may also be one of the most insensitive men on the planet...

...John Karr, whether or not he's guilty of killing Jon Benet Ramsey, is one of the creepiest looking men I've ever seen...if he smiled, I bet he'd look like the Joker...

...the jailing of human rights activist Chen Guangcheng is a tragedy, showing that China has a long way to go...

...Tom Cruise may be a looney tune, but he's still an amazingly talented and underrated actor...

...I love him, and he's got the vote of all faithful Steelers fans, but the campaign of PA gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann seems dead in the water...

...AFC contenders: Pittsburgh, New England, and Indianapolis, with Denver, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, and possibly Kansas City and San Diego challenging...NFC contenders: Dallas, Philadelphia, Carolina, and Seattle, with the NY Giants and Chicago also making some noise...and, while I'm rooting for a Black and Gold repeat, this could be Peyton Manning's year...

...political analyst Dick Morris is absolutely correct most of the time...

...Ohio State and Notre Dame will play in the BCS title game in January 2007 to determine the College Football National Champion...

...Pluto deserved better...

...Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the White House in '08 are very, very slim, despite what the "Big Media" preaches...McCain, Giuliani, will be one of those men (but, again, Biden's looking strong), with Clinton, Kerry, Gingrich, Edwards, and others far, far behind...

...the odds of the Pittsburgh Steelers repeating as Super Bowl champions may be slim, but they are still an awfully good football team...

...Allegheny County (PA) Chief Executive Dan Onorato has a bright future in PA politics; he's an independently-minded Democrat not beholden to party orthodoxy, who seems more interested in doing the right thing than pandering...

...after 66 years, Hawkman is still the coolest superhero on the planet...

...Pennsylvanians are blessed to have two decent men running for Senate this year...both Rick Santorum and Bob Casey, Jr. seem like upstanding, principled men (both devoted Roman Catholics), and we are truly blessed to be able to choose between two fine citizens for U.S. Senate...

...I'm proud of the United Methodists in Illinois offering sanctuary to an illegal immigrant and her son, but I wonder what's really being done to resolve the situation...

...the Thomas Jefferson Jaguars will win the PA title in AAA High School football...the Woodland Hills Wolverines will win it at the AAAA level...

...The Nativity Story, a movie due out in December, looks really cool.

Emmy Madness

This Sunday the Emmy Awards will be broadcast, presumably awarding television's best with little statues. But who cares?

I don't mind this sort of thing, and at times these awards shows can be far more entertaining than most television fare.

But it's hard to be excited at all when television's best aren't even nominated.

The best show on network ABC's Boston Legal. No other show comes close. Yet, it isn't nominated for Best Drama or Best Comedy. So, right from the start, the best series on TV will be ignored. This is particularly sad because one of television's best actors, James Spader, has been recognized in the past for his outstanding work as Alan Shore, one of Boston's most notorious attorneys.

To add insult to injury, the actor who gave probably the best performances in the previous season, Hugh Laurie of FOX's House, was not nominated for his excellent work. The demented Dr. Gregory House is, like Shore and his law partner Denny Crane (played by the legendary William Shatner), among the most bizarre TV characters in many years, and Laurie has been outstanding in a role that would be easy to overwork. Yet, despite the fact that House is nominated for Best Drama, Laurie was forgotten.

Other folks who deserved nominations but were ignored were Rene Auberjonois (Boston Legal), Julie Bowen (Boston Legal), Zach Braff (Scrubs), Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives), John McGinley (Scrubs), and (especially) Tony Shalhoub (Monk).

I don't know what gets into the people who nominate TV shows, movies, and music for the big awards each year. So often they seem either woefully out of touch, overly eager to make political statements, or ignorant of real artistic excellence and achievement. It can make for some boorish awards shows and missed opportunities to recognize some decent art.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Farewell Bishop Moncure

One of United Methodism's more effective episcopal leaders died tragically at 61 earlier this week. Bishop Rhymes Moncure led the Nebraska Area for a number of years before moving to head the Dallas Area. A passionate ecumenist, he also modeled servant ministry by washing the feet of the ordinands of his Conference. A story from the United Methodist News Service can be read here. Thank God for such a faithful leader; may his family and Conference be comforted.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm Gumbel, darn it...

Broadcasting personality Bryant Gumbel is at it again.

In February of this year, he questioned the nature of the Winter Olympic Games, showing his unflattering racist side (see my blog entry here). Now, he's gone and made outrageous remarks about the NFL, outgoing commish Paul Tagliabue, and players union head Gene Upshaw. He's suggested that Tagliabue has controlled Upshaw "on a leash" and that the NFL players have suffered for it (see the report here).

Gumbel, as I said in February, is not a journalist. He's an entertainer...a professional personality. His remarks should never be taken seriously; he is not a serious person.

But these offending remarks should result in his termination by the NFL, which has employed Gumbel as a broadcaster for the NFL Network. And for what?

Gumbel's former partner Katie Couric, one of America's most popular professional personalities (second only to Oprah, perhaps), will soon be taking over the CBS Evening News. Gumbel's former haunt, NBC's Today Show, continues to flourish without him. Maybe Gumbel is searching for relevance, trying to prove that he is important.

Here's hoping he learns to be content without saying untruthful things that only hurt others and make him look foolish.

UPDATE, Wed., Aug. 23: Gumbel is called "jealous" and "desperate" by former NFL star and current Vikings player rep Robert Smith (see here). This seems part of a consensus among NFL folks, journalists, and the blogosphere that Gumbel is unhinged.

Katrina Appeal

This Sunday, Aug. 27, is the Sunday closest to the first anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the American Gulf Coast. The United Methodist Council of Bishops have asked every United Methodist congregation to take up a special offering this Sunday to benefit the Katrina Church Recovery Appeal. Our bishop announced this date at our Annual Conference session in June.

All of the aid that UMCOR sent to the stricken region went to humanitarian, clothing, shelter, medicine, etc. That was certainly needed, and UMCOR did an outstanding job, along with other agencies such as the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, the Red Cross, and Church World Service, to name a few.

But congregations, ministries, and pastors have also suffered tremendously. Many churches don't have facilities, and many more lack basic worship tools such as hymnals or instruments. Essential resources for a wide variety of ministries were destroyed in the flood waters, and, with the focus on humanitarian need, have not been rebuilt. Additionally, many pastors and their families have not had regular many cases, that's been because their parishes no longer other cases, it's because their parishioners have relocated or have "spread out" geographically. The tragedy continues.

Our bishops have organized the Appeal in order for the Connection to help one another. This is one of the best things about our United Methodist connection...we are able to lift up one another at times like this. I'm excited to be a part of this appeal, and Jefferson church will be faithfully participating this Sunday.

For more information on the appeal, click here.

To purchase maroon bracelets which say, "rebuilding churches and communities", the purchase of which will benefit the Appeal, click here.

For a bulletin insert on the appeal (a PDF file), click here.

For worship tools (also a PDF file), click here.

It's a time for United Methodists to stop whining about our connectional problems and actually do something constructive and meaningful. Praise God that we have been deemed worthy to have this opportunity; may the Lord bless our faithful efforts.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Miracle?

Miracles still happen, even in The United Methodist Church.

Read this for more.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Make Poverty History

Click on the "play" button...

Monday, August 14, 2006

Fear of the Lord

Psalm 111:10...
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding."

In 1933, at his first inauguration and during the height of the Great Depression, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt uttered the words, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Those were (and remain) powerful words to inspire a nation to war. But FDR was incorrect.

Fear is real, and ought never to be dismissed lightly. But there is something we need to fear that is far more dangerous than "fear itself", or Dracula, or terrorism, or nuclear holocaust, or even bluegrass music.

We need to fear God.

I am disheartened when I hear pastors explain away the phrase "fear of the Lord" by claiming that the Hebrew word "yirah", which is often translated "fear", actually means "respect", and therefore we should respect the Lord.

The word actually means "terror", and we need to be absolutely terrified of the Holy One of Israel, the One who can wipe out our very existence with less than a thought.

Far too often we are taught how much Jesus loves us (which is true) and how much the Father desires to be with us (which is also true). But what is equally true is that God is so far "above" us, existentially, that we have no right to speak his name, much less approach him in prayer. We certainly have no right to actually expect him to do things on our behalf.

God is absolutely holy; we are rubbish by comparison. God is absolute holiness; we are less than God's excrement. He is absolute power and majesty; we are lower than the dust. God is transcendence itself; we are nothing.

It disturbs me to hear sermons or read books or see preachers on TV dealing with God as if we are in any way worthy to approach him, or that we are worthy of his love. Christianity is far, far more than "Jesus and I having warm fuzzies together." Christianity is, at times - or needs to be - abject lowliness, complete humility before the presence of God.

When pastors enter the pulpit to proclaim the word of God each Lord's day, we ought to be absolutely terrified at what is about to take place...if we actually believe that what we are proclaiming is the living word of a very real God.

Perhaps if we gained a better appreciation of true fear and the true awesome greatness of God, we could and would live our lives in a more godly fashion, more faithful to his call, more grateful for his mercies. He has no need of us; we have a desperate need for him, and ought to be filled with tearful joy that he allows us to live, and to experience his presence and the joy of redemption in Jesus Christ.

Fear the God who created all and who can destroy all. Don't simply respect God; fear God. He alone is worthy of fear.

Sunday's preaching text

"Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever."
(Psalm 111, NRSV)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Blair & Bush

The big news in the past few days (other than Israel/Lebanon) has been that British security forces arrested two dozen men who are believed to have been plotting a terrorist attack using airplanes leaving Britain bound for the United States. Praise God that this plot was halted.

The real test of the success of the U.S.A.'s so-called "War on Terror" has to be this: has there been another attack by terrorists on U.S. soil? The answer is a definitive: no. This is why I am grateful to and for two good men.

I have profound political and philosophical differences with American President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. That said, I believe both men to be honest men of personal integrity. No evidence has been presented to even suggest anything else.

Now, many folks disagree with - strongly - their politics, and that's fine. When critics attack President Bush or Prime Minister Blair personally, though, that reveals far more about the critic than about these two world leaders.

The fact is that America has not experienced another "Sept. 11". We may yet go through that nightmare again. But to date, we have not. As we approach the fifth anniversary of the tragedy that will in many ways define my generation to history, I am grateful. As President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have pursued an unpopular war against terrorism, they have endured scathing criticism - some justifiable, some of a more personal nature quite unfair. They have watched their popularity decline and their political futures vanish (this is particularly true in the case of Prime Minister Blair, who is not limited by term limit laws as is President Bush).

Yet, despite the criticism and at times meanness of their opponents, they have stood fast. They have declared to the world, "These are the principles we hold dear. This is what we believe in. We will not waver." This they do while maintaining their personal integrity and enduring hateful attacks. This is, of course, a lesson for all of us in Leadership 101.

We have not experienced an attack on U.S. soil since 2001, and that is largely because of the leadership of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. Agree or not with their policies, this truth is reality.

And so, I say thank you to Prime Minister Blair and the British security forces. I say thank you to President Bush and the American security forces. While I disagree with you in many ways, no planes have fallen from the sky to kill my children. Thank you, and may God be with you and bless you.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Democrat Party in Trouble

For months, we have been hearing how the Republican Party is in trouble because of (legitimate) questions about the War on Terror, especially the Iraqi front. Many politicos and members of the "Big Media" have been salivating at the prospect of the GOP losing the House, the Senate, or both. But today it seems to me that, while the GOP obviously has some issues, the Democrat Party is in even bigger trouble.

The Democrats of Connecticut yesterday refused to renominate Sen. Joseph Lieberman for the U.S. Senate, preferring instead to nominate a political unknown. "Experts" have been telling us that Sen. Lieberman has paid the price for supporting President Bush regarding the War on Terror, particularly the Iraqi front.

There are a few potential problems with the Democrat Party, it seems clear to me...

Problem #1 - RADICALISM: Sen. Lieberman is hardly a "Bush guy". His voting record is decidedly liberal, including a 100% rating from NARAL (a left-wing pro-abortion group), a 100% from the AFL-CIO (the massive left-wing union), a 100% rating from APHA (a left-wing health care lobby), an 86% rating from the NEA (the left-wing teachers' union), and a 0% rating from the Christian Coalition (a right-wing "family values" lobby). He is a solid liberal...a somewhat moderate liberal, mind you, but a liberal nonetheless. The Democrats in Connecticut have tossed out a solid liberal because...he wasn't liberal enough. Will the Democrats continue to slide to the Left, leaving most Americans behind in favor of the liberal elites?

Problem #2 - COOPERATION: Sen. Lieberman is one of the few senators respected on both sides of the aisle. The Democrat Party has lost one of its primary leaders in terms of healing partisan breaches. They've thus made a bold move (as is their right) to support partisan squabbling.

Problem #3 - SEAT LOSS: Sen. Lieberman intends to run as an independent candidate. This will possibly split the Democrat vote and allow the GOP to pick up a seat in the Senate.

Problem #4 - HYPOCRISY: Why is it that when Sen. John McCain goes against the President or the GOP Majority, he is viewed by Democrats and the "Big Media" as a courageous, maverick hero, but when Sen. Lieberman bucks Democrat orthodoxy, he's given the boot? It seems clear that the Democrat Party doesn't really want independent thinkers (not to say that the GOP necessarily does); they want folks who will fall into line and not question the Party authorities. That's a bad sign.

Problem #5 - POTENTIAL INSANITY: What does it say about a political party when it has no trouble hiring a madman to be its chairperson, but refuses to endorse a more reasonable voice like that of Sen. Lieberman?

There's trouble ahead for the Democrat Party, methinks.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Sunday's preaching text

"So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin;
do not let the sun go down on your anger,
and do not make room for the devil.

Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.
Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,
and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,
and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
(Ephesians 4:25 - 5:2, NRSV)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Pete Best

Last evening, I went to see Pete Best (actually, the "Pete Best Band") live at Hartwood Acres in northern Allegheny County. Pete Best was the drummer for the Beatles in their early, formative years, while they were playing in the Cavern in Liverpool and playing 8 hour sets, 7 days a week in Hamburg, Germany. He was fired by the band and their manager Brian Epstein in 1962, when they were signed to a recording contract. The far more inventive Ringo Starr was his replacement. Pete Best labored in obscurity while the Beatles went on to worldwide stardom and acclaim.

I'm happy to say that Pete Best's ship finally came in the in mid-1990s, when The Beatles Anthology series of CDs was released, featuring several recordings the band made in the early 1960s with their old drummer. As a result of those recordings, and the success of the Anthology project (all three double CD sets topped the charts upon their release in 1995 and 1996), Pete Best became a millionaire, and now tours the world with his band.

First, the concert was slightly marred because Pete's opening act was scheduled to be Denny Laine, former guitarist for both Wings and the Moody Blues, but Denny was a no show. But when the Pete Best Band took the stage, it was clear they were there to have fun and give a good show. Essentially, as my brother and I quickly noticed, they are a good oldies band with a gimmick...Pete Best being their gimmick.

Pete was one of two drummers and seemed to do a fine job, playing rock and roll classics (such as "Twist and Shout", "Besame Mucho", and "What'd I Say") and a few very early Beatles numbers ("I Saw Her Standing There", "P.S. I Love You", "Hello Little Girl"). He spoke a few times, recalling the early days with "John, Paul, George, and Stuart" (Stuart Sutcliffe being the Beatles' original bassist, who left the group and died before their fame), and the Liverpudlian band gave the audience a good show.

Surprisingly, thousands of people turned out for the concert on the lawn, and a good time was had by all. It's probably the closest I'll ever get to seeing an actual Beatle.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Today, while I worshipped with my family, ate lunch, and then relaxed with my children as we watched the X-Games on ESPN, Israel and Lebanon saw 80 rockets fired in a 15 minute period. Dozens and dozens and dozens of people are dead because of the current war in the Holy Land...people for whom Jesus died and for whom he expects us to suffer and die, if necessary. Still, Christians around the world continue to support "just war" (as if such a thing were possible). God created a peaceful and harmonious world, and this is the gift we offer our Lord. It is sickening...truly appalling...and the Church is complicit for failing to stand up and say, "No more!" Some days, I'm ashamed of the Church.

Here's a powerful U2 song about war (click on the "play" button)...

Friday, August 04, 2006


Today, we're taking the kids to Idlewild Park in Ligonier, PA. It's a beautiful amusement park and an excellent place for families to spend a day. We took Christian and Kate when they were just wee McIlwains, but this will be the first trip for Claire and Elliot.

Actually, my first job was at the Idlewild attraction known as Story Book Forest. There, in the summer of 1988, I played a dual role of Muffin the Dog in a walking puppet show and Captain Candy on the Good Ship Lollipop. A heatwave that summer made it pretty miserable at times. The highlight, I suppose, was that I dated Goldilocks. Everything you've heard about her is true.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Beatles at Shea Stadium, 1966

The Beatles, the greatest and most important musical artists of the past century, were so big in their day that they were forced to do something new...perform in sports stadiums to accomodate their fans. Pretty common today, it was unheard of in the 1960s. This is a great clip of their historic concert in New York City. Click on the image to play.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Jesus & the Atkins Diet

"Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.'" (John 6:35, NRSV)

Jesus claimed to be the bread of life. Both John Wesley and Adam Clarke interpreted this to mean that Jesus is the One who has and who gives life. Ultimately, all of our piety must be focused on and toward Jesus, or we are not partaking of worthwhile food.

Last year, the excellent documentary "Super Size Me" demonstrated what happens when someone lives on McDonald's for 30 days. The results weren't surprising: dramatic weight gain, higher blood pressure, loss of libido, lethargy, fatigue, failure to think clearly, lost productivity, etc. If we fill up on "junk" all the time, our bodies pay the price.

Trying to lose weight, some folks will grab onto the latest fad diet plans. You know what? They usually work!

Several years ago, weight loss guru Gwen Shamblin came up with the "Weigh Down Workshop", a "faith-based" plan to lose weight. Some time later, when consulted about theological concerns over her church and her program, Shamblin famously said, "People don't care about the Trinity; they just want to lose weight." (Incidentally, she still denies the Doctrine of the Trinity on her website!) So...Shamblin's program can result in weight loss, but is still not perfect!

Perhaps no other diet program has been as popular in recent years as the "Atkins Diet". Basically an anti-carbohydrate program, the Atkins Diet requires one to basically give up bread.

Does it work? Yes! People lose weight! Why? Because they're essentially starving themselves!

What an analogy for the Bread of Life! The problem in the contemporary Church isn't whether or not we're relevant (as if the Gospel could ever be irrelevant)'s that the Church is in the midst of a severe famine. We are starving ourselves because we are not partaking of the Word of God (with a capital W...Jesus) or the word of God (with a lowercase w...the Bible).

We need a little more Jesus; heck, a lot more Jesus. The Church has been seeking to trim down and look a bit more acceptable to the world, via a spiritual Atkins Diet in which we forgot things like...

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God...

"You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot...

"If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell...

"I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also...

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...

"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock...And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand."

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect..."
(from Matthew 5-7, NRSV)

Difficult, to be sure. C.S. Lewis portayed Jesus as a lion, but reminded us also that he is not a tame lion. Jesus calls for a complete rejection of "self". Our old ideas need to be tossed out in favor of Jesus' radical call. The Church needs to spend more time with Jesus, more time contemplating and acting upon the demands that faithfulness entails, more time in deep prayer and confession of sins, more time seeking the face of Jesus in our neighbors and in "the least of these" in our midst.

The spiritual Atkins Diet needs to go, and we need to taste again the Bread of Life, for only Jesus can fill us and make us complete.