Rantoul, Illinois

Ok, it's been a while and you can track my progress at www.bomwhite.com

With that said, here's the new focus on this site and let's call it 'Stories can Walk'....I am asking you to journey with me to simply pay attention and find one thing in each of your own travels to hang on to. One thing. Don't try to remember everything, recount every detail of your travels, but just one thing to remember each new city, each new neighborhood. So, here goes:

Rantoul, Illinois, is less than an hour from where I live. It's a declining city in some respects, a victim of higher than normal unemployment and the closing of some factories. It's also home to the Chanute Air Force Base or the Chanute Air Museum, which is on the campus that was formerly an active air force base. Having helped with my daughter's recent field trip there my goal was to pay attention. I have recently been to Spain, Wales, England, and Ireland on work related trips and also returned from Chicago and Boston within the last few weeks, but none of the aforementioned sites moved me to tears. But, something at Chanute did.

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Why did God allow the tornadoes?

This blog originally appeared as an op-ed piece in WashingtonPost.com.

In moments of severe disasters like the tornado in Oklahoma, people of faith will often speak of “praying for the city” or “praying for the victims.” As the massive tornado outside of Oklahoma City annihilated buildings including a school with students and teachers, some people of faith used social media to speak messages of prayer and hope in God. However, some atheists also posted in social media, referred to this natural disaster as a “gratuitous evil” or evidence against God’s existence. One atheist tweeted:

“NEWSFLASH—If god cared about Oklahoma he wouldn’t have allowed the tornado in the first place. #PrayForOklahoma #Atheism

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Is God Angry at the East Coast? God, Hurricanes, the Bible, and Pain

Global catastrophes sadden us. The images are terrifying and experiencing such moments in history are painful. Why does God allow this to go on? Is He causing it? Where is God in hurricanes and pain? Here are some answers that make sense biblically.

God Is Opposed to Storms

When God first created the world, He pushed back the chaos. He brought order where none existed. This is what much of Genesis 1–2 is about. This is why God’s focus at the beginning is the sky and the waters. He is pushing back the madness. He calls doing so “good.”

When God’s will is connected to natural disasters in the Old Testament—like the flooding of the earth—God is not happy about it. It’s a last resort. It means God letting His own work be undone.

A Small Town Perspective on City Growth

May 2007 article from the Economist still seems like one of the better surveys of urban growth that I have read.
With that said, let me give a bit of a personal perspective and see if this resonates with anyone. Until I was 17 years old, I lived in a town of less than 5000 people in Northern Illinois. No one asked what school I went to, there was only one option. The only major fast food chain was Hardee's and Main Street was truly the main street. Over the years, I have seen the exodus of people my age and younger leave to head to Chicago, the nearest big city or to the four cornes of the earth. Why? First, two major factories shut down. The General Electric and Ethan Allen factories, which used to employ about a third of the town, each closed.
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Would Jesus Use a Plastic Water Bottle?

Would Jesus Use a Plastic Water Bottle?

(I know -- not possible – but just go along with me…)

One of my good friends runs the Surfrider Foundation (Jim Moriarty – you can find interviews with him on this blog) and he has been on the disposable water bottle issue for years.  In fact, ever since I met him he has been an advocate for stopping the use of single use plastics.  I agree.  Surfrider recently published this page that gives a pretty good explanation of why.


But I got to thinking about whether Jesus would have used a plastic water bottle or a snazzy SIGG aluminum jug.  The short answer is there is no way of knowing, but I had a couple of stray thoughts:

  1. Jesus seemed to like nature (His nature) quite a bit.  He lived in it, taught in it, and used it as the subject of many of his parables.  He really did think a lot of it.  Strike against single use water bottles that pretty much do nothing good for nature.
  2. Jesus was a minimalist.  He didn’t carry a heavy load around and it appears he may have been one of the first hyper-light backpackers.  So a reusable bottle would probably have been a good thing.  Why would he want to carry a case of water every day?
  3. Jesus did like new wine skins.  Not really on point, but kind of a funny thought.
  4. Jesus was more interested in pure water (the living kind) than lots of water (see 40 days in the barren waste land).
  5. Jesus never really supported the idea of destruction – except for himself as the temple.
  6. Jesus did not like wasting his time and it seems like making lots of bottles to hold water and then making them over and over and over again because we use them once and toss them is a big waste of time.
  7. Jesus cared more about people than stuff – even nature – so that probably cuts in favor of a single use bottle if that is all they had around.
  8. Jesus walked on water – not an island of plastics in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.
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Thoughts on China

I just returned from 10 days in China (Shanghai and Beijing), which definitely isn’t near enough time to get any sort of grasp on this astoundingly large, complicated country. But over the course of my time there I definitely observed certain things, which I’ll summarize below in the form of somewhat fragmentary,  just-me-and-my-initial-thoughts bullet points:

Scale: The most consistent theme of my experience in China was immensity. Everything was on such a huge scale. The crowds I experienced at the Shanghai World Expo (I just so happened to be there on the record-setting 1 million+ visitors day) redefined my paradigm for crowds. But it wasn’t the exception. On every subway ride, street corner, mall, market or museum, the reality of vast humanity (1.3 billion+ in China, and growing) was ever-present. But mind-boggling scale also showed itself in the country’s infrastructure and jaw-dropping architecture–both old (the Great Wall) and new (the CCTV Tower, Birds Nest, China Pavilion, etc.) Some of it is really impressive… Puts American skyscrapers to shame.

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Does the Earth Care What We Do To It?

One of my most favorite social commentators is George Will. Recently I read an article from him that said that the earth doesn't care what is done to it or for it. His main point is that over "geologic" time (i.e. extended time millenniums, millions of years, etc..) what we do to the earth is so minimal as to barely register. He notes the amount of rain that falls on the earth to illustrate that we should all be flooded out yet we are not drowning on a global scale.

The article raises some good points when one thinks about the big picture and that is necessary from time to time. Comparing our present few generations to geologic time, George Will is right (i believe) that whatever happens will just be a blip and the earth will survive. After all the earth survived ice ages. We can be so short-term near future focused that we forget to look at history or  into the future 20,30 even 1000 years. 

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Where is God in Natural Disasters?

"The mature Christian rarely experiences God. The mature Christian simply knows He's present." I recently attended a 1/2 day spiritual retreat and was struck by that comment the leader made. There have been moments in my life when I feel as if my number one craving is to experience more of God. I have witnessed him act in mighty and tangible ways and I long for those experiences again. Like a child whose daddy is throwing her in the air and catching her back in his arms cries out in delight, "Do it again, daddy, do it again!" I find myself praying those same words often. And when I don't see him act - which I translate into experience - I think he's being silent or not active in my life. 

The comment above has really caused me to stop and think. In 1 Kings 19 the radical Prophet Elijah finds himself in the presence of the living God on the same mountain top Moses stood before him also in the Lord's awesome presence. The elements swirling around him as well as with Moses. But God was not in the elements with Elijah contrary to what I would have expected and I think contrary to what Elijah wanted having just witnessed God in the elements before this. Check out 1 Kings 18 for that story. 

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Interview with Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan is a faith and culture writer who has published over 100 articles in respected outlets such as USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post's “On Faith," BeliefNet, The Huffington Post, and Relevant magazine. He is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (2010). As a respected Christian voice, Jonathan has been interviewed by ABC World News, NPR, PBS' Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Fox News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

Jonathan, you are very gifted writer. Briefly tell ConversantLife, why you wrote this book?

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Chopping Wood Will Save The Earth - All Hail the Axe

I am not sure about this, but I think chopping wood might help us save the earth.  Follow the bouncing ball:

1. We live in San Diego and have a nice chunk of land behind our house thanks to the power line that runs over it and the power pole that is in the middle of it.  Once a year, the power company comes out to trim all our trees in the back area so that they don’t touch the power lines.  This year, they cut down a 50 foot eucalyptus tree and left the trunk and big branches in 2 foot sections on the ground. 2. Enter me, last Saturday, to the back yard with an axe, VERY VERY frustrated by the US v. England result in the World Cup (yes I love the World Cup and yes we need a new coach and yes I tried to cheer for the US instead of England and ended up frustrated with both sides).

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