'That Isn't Right'

I miss my grandfather. One night, in 1994, he went to sleep and never woke up. Instead, I woke up the next morning, received a phone call and cried. I miss him for a variety of reasons and I am sad for many reasons as well. My wife never met him and I hate that. My children never met him and I hate that too. I think that my family may understand me more if my grandfather were still around. Why? Because in his own simple way, he made sense of the world in which we lived. And sometimes common sense is in short supply. And for me, he made sense out of chaos, not because of his simplicity, but because he understood chaos better than most.

Now, he came from a generation that isn’t known for conversation and emotional dialogue. Tom Brokaw called it the ‘Greatest Generation.’ He fought in Asia and was wounded in battle. He worked on the Chicago Northwestern Railroad for over 40 years (a photo of that engine hangs above my son’s bed) was married for fifty years and fathered four children. He had a Marine tattoo that simply looked cool. He was tough, but in a way that was unassuming. He once drove himself to the hospital because he had, what he called, a ‘stomach ache that wouldn’t go away.’ The doctor diagnosed it as a ‘coke can size’ hernia in his stomach. An urgent surgery was performed and a few hours later, he drove himself home.

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Dobson and Pigskin Politics

So I’m scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook the other day and see a link to a story on ABC about Focus on the Family running an anti-abortion ad during Super Bowl XLIV starring Tim Tebow. I may have been the last person on the 'Interwebs' (that’s what my 65 year old dad calls it) to see this, but it sparked a few thoughts.

In the article, Gary Schneeberger, a Focus on the Family spokesman, is quoted as saying, “There is nothing political or controversial about the spot.” Are you kidding me? Nothing political or controversial… right. Focus on the Family has become synonymous with both politics and controversy due to its strong alignment with crazy right-wing ideologies.

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In Search of Global Heroes

“Jody Williams won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her contribution to the international ban on landmines. She achieved that ban not only without much government help, but in the face of opposition from all the major powers. And what did she say was her secret weapon for organizing 1,000 different human rights and arms control groups on six continents? E-mail.” [1]  We now live in the tension of knowing far more than we have ever known about the world, with access to information across the globe coming to us at broadband speed, so we cannot plead ignorance. We can only act or not act.

In the midst of Hollywood’s recent explosion of films dedicated to superheroes and comic book figures, Roger Ebert, in reviewing The Dark Knight, observes: “Something fundamental seems to be happening in the upper realms of the comic-book movie. “Spider-Man II” (2004) may have defined the high point of the traditional film based on comic-book heroes. A movie like the new “Hellboy II” allows its director free rein for his fantastical visions. But now “Iron Man” and even more so “The Dark Knight” move the genre into deeper waters. They realize, as some comic-book readers instinctively do, that these stories touch on deep fears, traumas, fantasies, and hopes.” [2]  And in an age of globalization, our “deep fears, traumas, fantasies, and hopes,” are shared across cultures, generations, and mediums at breakneck speed. If it’s true that we are increasingly becoming interconnected and interdependent on a global scale, then can it be true that we are now in search of heroes that will connect and rescue us all? Our heroes, now, must be people or figures who can not only transcend their context, but cultures as well. In other words, our heroes must be part of something bigger than themselves and challenge us to values that are shared beyond our own immediate context.

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The Worst Idea of the Decade

Recently, Cathleen Falsani, a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times and author of Sin Boldly (which I loved and found to be her something of a kindred spirit), wrote an article for the Washington Post that is worth noting. The article is part of a series entitled 'The Worst Ideas of the Decade,' and Falsani focuses in on the 'Prosperity Gospel.' You can read her article here.

At this point, I agree with Falsani. This incessant need we have to call the American Dream a Biblical idea is more than alarming. The lack of self-criticism of professing Christians and their embrace of 21st century capitalism needs to stop. While there are a great many benefits of America's economic engine and its place in the global economy, calling all things 'capitalism' good and all things 'socialism' bad is too narrow minded. I rather enjoy the fact that Jesus is claimed by Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Baptists, and yes, even capitalists and socialists. Jesus lived his life in such a way that he's difficult to label and modern Christians would be wise to follow suit.

On this note, Falsani follows up with a second post found recently on the Sojourner website.
I think Falsani speaks truth again. Thanks Cathleen, keep up the good work, and if you're looking to send out signed copies of any of your books, my address can be sent out rather easily.

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Three Pastors on the Gospel and Social Justice

Since the idea of justice comes from the Bible, we pause to give three examples of pastors who link the gospel with social change. If you have any other examples of pastors doing this, please add your comments to this post. We're always seeking to learn to walk with churches, leaders, and families more effectively.

Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, has written a book entitled Ministries of Mercy. Click here for a few articles related to this topic. Keller expands the discussion in an article entitled "Gospel Centered Ministry," which you can download in a pdf by clicking here.

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Social Change: Can We Begin the Process in the Schools?

There is an old maxim that goes like this: ‘one cannot not communicate.’ In other words, whether we like it or not, we are always, whether verbally or non-verbally, communicating something. Even ignoring another person is a response and a facial expression is sometimes far more expressive than a few words. In a very real sense, the same is true in terms of schools and social change. Schools influence communities and they “cannot not” influence the communities in which they sit. In other words, schools will indeed leave a mark, so the question isn’t whether or not a school will impact a community through social change, but we must identify whether the influence is one that promotes social justice or injustice?

Do schools promote a certain type of social change or are schools simply reactionary institutions following current trends? In this paper, we will make a case that not only do schools impact social systems, thereby becoming agents of social change, but schools can actually lead the way in ushering in positive social changes by being more intentional in both instruction and influence. We turn first to a foundational question that sets up our understanding of intentionality. What is the difference between education that positively impacts a culture and education that intentionally advocates for social change?

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Paradox and the Development Discourse

Paradox is at the heart of the human experience.  Its defining characteristic--tension--is at the center of the complexity of living. The search for truth (however we define it) and meaning is laden with the weight of paradox: solitude and community; tradition and innovation; liberation and oppression; reflection and action; freedom and order; secular and spiritual; wealth and poverty; pragmatism and idealism; and the list goes on.

How do we navigate this reality? By doing as Parker Palmer sagely advises: we must "live the contradictions." Palmer defines paradox as "a statement that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth." It can be more cogently put this way: The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement; but the opposite of a profound truth may be another profound truth, that is, a paradox.

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Sherlock Holmes and the Human Condition

Why do some literary characters stick around in our consciousness? Take for example, Boo Radley and the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee’s only novel by the way). And then there is the character of Lenny in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer from Mark Twain, Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick by Melville, and Hester Prynne from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter.  There are many other characters that simply haunt us, not because they’re particularly unique, but precisely because each of them invites us in to a deeper knowledge of the human condition. And I dare say that each character understands the depths of human poverty very well.

I believe that is why Shakespeare is still performed, parodied, and praised hundreds of years after his death. Because Shakespeare, whether it is Hamlet’s suicidal soliloquy questioning his own futility through asking simply, ‘to be or not to be,’ or whether it is Jacques’ closing announcement in As You Like It, that all the world is a stage and the men and women are merely players. And it’s the killers who pause in Richard III telling one another that the conscience does make cowards of us all.

These characters, novels, and plays help us to enter more fully in to the human condition and in to human poverty. These characters also all referred to the Bible at some point in their own stories. Sherlock Holmes is no exception and I want to make the case today that the world’s greatest detective is also useful for us in understanding the human condition, global poverty, and if we pay attention, we will begin to look for clues that will lead us ever closer to an understanding of grace.

Sherlock Holmes is Aware of His own Shortcomings

I don’t know what image you have of Sherlock Holmes, but let me destroy a few of them if I can. First, the hat (a deerstalker cap by name) is never mentioned in any of the stories by Doyle himself, instead the hat is a creation by illustrator Sidney Paget (who is an interesting story himself, the magazine thought they were getting his very talented and more well known brother) and only appears in 8 of the 38 drawings that Paget did for Strand magazine.

Secondly, the pipe mentioned in the Holmes’ stories is a straight, long-stem cherrywood piece, the curved step, with the rather large bowl, was an invention of playwright and theatre director William Gillette who staged one of the first Sherlock Holmes plays in England.

Thirdly, never in any of the 56 stories or 4 novels that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, did Holmes ever say, ‘Elementary, my dear Watson.’

So, if your image of Holmes fits the cap wearing, curved pipe smoking detective, who utters ‘elementary my dear Watson,’ at the end of an adventure, then you’re wrong or at least you’ve accepted an image of Holmes that simply isn’t depicted in any of the original stories.

Instead, listen to Sherlock Holmes describe himself in the first novel, A Study in Scarlet. This is also the first time that Dr. Watson ever meets Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is describing himself to Watson and suggesting that together they buy an open flat at 221 B Baker Street that has just opened up and is now listed at an affordable price.

“You don’t mind the smell of strong tobacco, I hope? I generally have chemicals about, and occasionally do experiments. Would that annoy you? I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone and I’ll soon be all right (we find out later that he is also addicted to cocaine, stays up most of the night reading and running experiments, and plays the violin to relieve stress).”

Quite the roommate….but also, quite self-aware. He simply tells Watson of all of these shortcomings and says very clearly that he is difficult to live with, but would enjoy the company if Watson would enjoy his. All of this on the first meeting.

In the Red Headed League, the third story Doyle wrote, Watson goes to Holmes and asks him what he is going to do about the perplexing clues that have been presented to them. Sherlock Holmes replies with these words:

“I am going to smoke. It is quite a three pipe problem and I beg that you won’t speak to me for the next fifty minutes.”

In the novel, The Sign of Four, Doyle opens up the story with this striking exchange between Holmes and Watson:

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Maybe, we don't like children anymore...

We’re in the season in which we celebrate Jesus being born as a human being. He came as a baby boy and we tend to get sentimental with candlelight versions of ‘Away in a Manger,’ and ‘Silent Night’. However, within two years of the birth of Christ, history tells us that an insecure, ruthless dictator slaughtered hundreds of baby boys in search of the one they labeled ‘King of the Jews.’ Obviously, Herod failed, but I wonder if our own modern insecurities are leading us down a path of child endangerment that isn’t as obnoxious and outright evil, but seems abhorrent nonetheless. Maybe, we don’t like children anymore….

Let me explain.

1) Have you ever noticed that in most U.S. budget cuts, one of the hardest hit areas is education? Arizona and California respectively have cut tens of millions out of their state education funds to ‘insure a better future’.

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Praying for Cities (or Why Everyone Should be a Saints Fan This Year)

A few months after Hurricane Katrina, I was walking the streets of New Orleans with friends who were committed to helping in the rebuilding effort. We drove past the Superdome, walked in empty neighborhoods racked with garbage, debris, and broken down homes, previously flooded by activity and people. Hundreds of thousands of people left the city in search of something new.

The prophet Jeremiah, instructs us in both his self-titled book as well as his book of Lamentations that we should care for the city. He puts it clearly in two distinctly related phrases: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare,” (Jeremiah 29:7). Later in Lamentations 1, we read these words:  “How lonely sits the city that was full of people.”  And so images of New Orleans come to mind, both in its beauty and potential as well as in its dealing with its own current loneliness that was once ‘full of people.”

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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.