Eat the fish - Spit out the bones.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007 

Wednesday, August 08, 2007 


Tuesday, August 07, 2007 

The Color of Sales

The Housing slump notwithstanding, sellers of ecofriendly homes are seeing green. "Our local real-estate market is in the tank, but we're hiring people left and right to try to keep up with demand," says David Stitt, an ecofriendly builder in Arkansas. At 340 on the Park, a new green high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan in Chicago, 337 of the building's 343 units are sold - despite prices from $350,000 to more than $2 million.

"We're selling expensive real estate in the city of Chicago, and it can't feel Birkenstockish," says Kerry Dickson, of the developer Related Midwest. In December, Elaine Cottey and her husband will move into their unit. They like the ecologically correct bamboo floors, the bike room and the 11,000-gallon tank that collects storm water used to irrigate the landscaping. All the right stuff, and it still looks luxe. "It's a win-win situation," says Cottey.

Today's buyers want to save money on energy and breathe air without smelly chemicals in the paint. There's also the "cool" factor. "There is a uniqueness to a home that has a countertop made out of recycled glass, or flooring made out of salvaged wood, and they know where that wood comes from," says Jennifer Hattam, green-living editor for the Sierra Club.

The greenest homes embrace native plants, use little water (think low-flow faucets and dual-flush toilets that provide more water for solid waste), require minimal energy and improve indoor air quality. Floors made from rapid-growth eucalyptus trees and countertops made from recycled paper are good for nature - and are "feel-good features," says Grand Rapids, Michigan builder Arn McIntyre.

There are even green real-estates agencies, such as Green Key Real Estate in S.F. and KJM Real Estate in Beverly Hills, California. "This really isn't the house of the future. This is the house of today," says Albuquerque, N.M., home builder Steve Hale. And in this nervous economy, says KJM's Brian Bradley, "by incorporating green features into your home, you can increase its value and make it stand out in the marketplace."
*This article taken from the August 6th edition of Newsweek.

Monday, July 30, 2007 

Out with Soap?

If you are anything like Smitty, you have undoubtedly found yourself restless at night, eating provolone cheese, and pondering the effectiveness of Purell. Admit it, the smooth application and psychological comfort compels usage...frequent usage. But is it effective? Is is more effective than soap and water?

The American Safety and Health Institute posits that alcohol-based hand sanitizer is more effective than soap in fact, they recommend the use of products such as Purell and others. Also, you can skim this collegiate study that tests the efficiency of alcohol-based sanitizer vs. antibacterial soap. They found the ASHI to be accurate.

They key is alcohol concentration. According to a issue of the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal published last year, the alcohol concentration must not fall below 60%. The article says, "What this should say to the consumer is that they need to look carefully at the label before they buy any of these products,” said Elaine Larson, professor of pharmaceutical and therapeutic research at Columbia’s nursing school. “Check the bottle for active ingredients. It might say ethyl alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or some other variation, and those are all fine. But make sure that whichever of those alcohols is listed, its concentration is between 60 and 95 percent. Less than that isn’t enough."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007 

Divine Happenstance, part two

I flew cross country last week to pursue the starring role in a story based on my life (for the record, I didn't get the part). Before I arrived at the airport that would steal all dignity from my soul a mere 24 hours later, I met a young lady who was suffering. She was descending upon death. For no more than an hour, it was my honor to hold my arm in the sky with finger pointed to the man who has carried the burden for all death and separation. She was unaware of the gentleman I pointed to during our conversation. The man that she had always been pointed to had a tarnished reputation in her eyes. At first I attempted to remove the rust and decay from this gentleman's face, but soon realized that I didn't know the man. So, I pointed her to a different man. The man I know - the beneficiary of my Soul Cravings. His face was refreshing to her, for they had never been introduced.

When I got off the plane, I had an eerie feeling that my purpose had been completed. Long before the apex of my journey that all money, time, and emotion had led to, God clearly said, "I'm done." I quickly realized that I was not there to audition for a starring role, rather, I was there to play a small role in the story of God.

I prefer it that way.

Monday, July 23, 2007 

Divine Happenstance

Read the book of Esther. I have plenty of thoughts, but my commentary is trivial at best.

Instead of reading my musings, study Mordecai's words in chapter 4,
verses 12-17.

The River of God flows past us as we stand along its banks.
You can jump in if you like.
Or not.
It flows regardless.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007 

Shoot the Monkey

Ishmael Beah's memoir is the best and worst book I have read in years.

His self-awareness during these experiences is nearly unbelievable.

Read it.

Friday, June 15, 2007 

1 a.m.

A dull pain radiated through my limbs as I cowered in the corner of a classroom in an antiquated school building. The loud silence of anticipation hurt my ears as I waited - consumed with fear. With my gun on it's mark, I didn't move a muscle though the blood had stopped circulating in my legs because of the crouched position I had assumed. The pitch black, abandoned classroom was my fortress. I prepared for the ambush.

Only fifty yards from my position, the Blackhawk landed outside with a subtle roar. Within seconds the Rangers had blown the front door in. In his office, the headmaster turned from his book to find an assault rifle pointed directly at this head. Before he had time to utter the words of protest, zip cuffs bound his arms behind his back. He was shoved to his knees.

Two stun grenades were thrown down the hall outside my locked classroom building. It was the loudest noise I had ever heard in my life. The flash of the grenades were so fierce that the concrete walls that surrounded me exposed its radiance. My death was inevitable, but I would be vindicated if at least one man felt the fatal wrath of my weapon before my life was cut short.

The Rangers moved to the end of the hall and began fusing doors. Loud explosions explained the fate of the wood as each entrance was cleared. My unarmed confidant was apprehended in the room next to me. He was escorted, alongside the headmaster, to the Blackhawk that waited outside. Each stun grenade got more deafening as the men cleared the rooms making their way to my fortress. Mine was the last room to search.

As the men began to fuse the door that protected my position, everything went silent. I could no longer hear the black bird outside - I could no longer hear my heart beating. I picked up a faint breathing that I thought was my own...I quickly realized that it was the inhale and exhale of the German Sheppard that accompanied the men outside my door.

I braced my body and mind for the blast, but it wasn't enough. The scream of the explosion jarred my body out of it's perfect position. I reset just in time to feel the nine charges of the stun grenade that illuminated my dark dwelling. As soon as my eyes adjusted from the nine, brilliant flashes and I saw the first set of the glowing green eyes, I started firing. I squeezed off about four or five rounds before three Rangers entered, turned their assault rifles on the cowering terrorist, and put twenty of their own rounds directly in the center of my torso. The first bullet hit my trigger finger. I had no prayer surviving the rest.

I lay still in the corner of the dark classroom as one of the soldiers took my weapon and checked me for explosives. They surveyed the rest of the room before moving out.

It was 1 a.m.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 

Worlds Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part III - the finale)

Being diametrically opposed to the idea of Christians being polytheistic was not enough to prevent further investigation into the heart of a man who lives in a different world, both spiritually and mentally. I was compelled by the reverence that Kia demonstrated during our discussion. He answered my questions with a great deal of humility and dignity, always assigning honor and glory to Allah. I could not help but think of how mainstream Christianity has become so convoluted with the subconscious idea of God being the supreme novelty. With "Christian" books, music, jargon, and fashion dominating our lives, we seem to be stuck in Christian ghettos where God is the really hip mayor. Christianity has become fashionable. When you read the works of the early church fathers such as Augustine, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus, you interpret a sense of reverence in their writings. They seem to understand the magnitude of the God with which they are referencing. We have lost that; I have lost that. Kia's insights were saturated with reverence for his God, and I was humbled by it.

Inadvertent doses of humility were often given to this evangelical Christian during the course of our brief interaction. After discussing verbal persecution in America, the privilege of white Christians quickly surfaced. Kia admitted to being the victim of countless prejudicial encounters, even several during his stint at the YMCA. The stories are all the same: ignorant and intolerant whites embarrassing America with hearts of stone and the intellects of children. We progressed on through the Civil Rights movement only to regress after the events of 9/11. Kia has come to expect this treatment, though his faith does not waver.

As we enjoyed fresh baklava, I gave my friend the opportunity to conclude our conclave with anything that might be on his heart with regards to something we discussed or failed to discuss. He proposed education as the tool to abolish the acute disease of intolerance that our nation suffers from. Kia wisely forecasted that people will not let go of prejudice until they are taught how and why. I whole-heartedly agree with this prognosis. On a more personal level, my faith was found suspect in the light of this man's humility and respect for his God and his customs (wading through the muck of Christianity is a chore that I often fail to recognize as necessary). I truly feel that I possess more respect and admiration for Kia Jahed than I do for countless followers of Christ that have crossed my path over the years.

The previous statement, though entirely true, is devastating to my spirit.

Monday, May 21, 2007 

Worlds Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part II)

...We trekked on, consuming issues such as the Shiite/Sunni dichotomy, the Iranian Revolution, the kinesiology of prayer, and Bathism. The doctrine of the afterlife, according to the Qur'an, was of particular interest to me, so I inquired. According to Kia, the Qur'an explains that those who believe in the one, true God (Allah), those who believe in the "last day", those who exhibit works of righteousness...anyone who fully submits themselves to God...these people have nothing to fear (with regards to destiny). Kia explained that the doctrine within the Qur'an assures this person's salvation. An enormous exception to this mandate is the person who believes the prophet Muhammad to be a liar; this person is not subject to the mercy of Allah. I was illuminated to the idea of Muslims, Jews, Christians, and others enjoying the fruit of eternity together. Despite this tolerant notion, the previously stated stipulations are without dispute or debate. One is not required to be a graduate of the finest Protestant seminary to know that Christianity does not boast of such "equality". The doctrine of the Christian faith explains that saving grace was provided by Christ when he willingly sacrificed his life for the sins of humanity, past and present. The wrath of God was appeased by Christ's impeccable blood. This sacrifice is sufficient to cover the sin of any individual who declares Jesus as the Son of the living God, believes in his accomplishments through the cross and resurrection, and commits their being to His Lordship. This person is promised God's grace, and this grace is available to all. According to Christianity, the requirements of salvation are nothing more and nothing less. Obviously, the beliefs of Islam and Christianity, with regard to the afterlife, are polarized. In my worldview, Kia's convictions of truth are not sufficient for God's grace and mercy. After hearing my friend's description of Islamic dogma, I was naturally inclined to ask if I was subject to Allah's mercy. After all, I can boast in one God, belief in the "last day", works of righteousness, and submission to a sovereign creator. Kia's response was unexpected and nearly offensive.

Kia respectfully explained that to associate divinity to any one person is a violation of monotheism. Essentially, Muslims believe that the doctrine of the trinity exposes Christians as polytheists. It should be noted that the word "trinity" never occurs in Christian scriptures; rather, it was used to articulate the three manifestations of the one, true God by early church fathers. The most widely used metaphor with regards to the idea of the trinity is that of H20. H20 can take on the form of water, vapor, and ice. Regardless of its form, it still is composed of the basic elements, hydrogen and oxygen. In the same way, Jesus is believed to be God revealed in flesh, one hundred percent man and one hundred percent God. Similarly, the Spirit of God that was given to believers after Christ's ascension is the unseen presence of the sovereign Creator that true followers of Christ possess. In the eyes of a conservative evangelical, this is no violation of monotheism. Rather, it speaks to the generosity of the supreme deity because he has provided his essence both physically and spiritually for those who follow Him. This is problematic for the devout Muslim. Although never explicitly articulated, Kia communicated that the Christian, in his opinion, can not boast of belief in the one true God.

Monday, May 14, 2007 

World's Apart: An Intellectual Conversation between Religions (part I)

It was rather fitting that I sat in a Mediterranean restaurant discussing the doctrinal implications of Islam with a devout disciple of Allah.

Kia Jahed and I sat a few feet apart enjoying customary chick peas and reminiscing about the days when he and I worked together at the local Y.M.C.A. We had a friend who was Jewish, and the three of us usually worked the same shift. Daily, Kia would begin random jokes with... "Hey guys, you ever heard the one about the Muslim, the Christian, and Jew?!" It was a blessing that Kia was always so comfortable and confident with his faith; it made for a less awkward and burdensome fulfillment of a certain intercultural communication requirement. Kia is currently slaving day in and day out at the University of Louisville's medical school. In response to my sincere appreciation for his presence, he assured me that without strategic distractions, such as the one I had provided, he would slip slowly into madness. The appreciation was mutual.

Leaving room for the blessed baklava, we pushed aside our last plate from the buffet to fulfill the purpose of our assembly. Even the tone of our voices slightly changed, reflecting the gravity of the issue at hand. I pressed the record button. My first question to Kia was simply meant to get the ball rolling, but I was given a response that I did not expect. Kia was, in fact, converted to Islam. I ignorantly assumed that anyone of Middle Eastern descent, like my friend's skin so clearly manifested, had been born into the fastest growing religion in the world. "Following suit" had been the biography of Jonathan Smith, but I quickly learned that Kia's parents, despite having migrated from Iran after the Revolution, were nothing more than humble agnostics who had never found their place in religious discussion. Although born in Iran, Kia spent the vast majority of his impressionable years being warped by American culture, as I had. Being toted to church on Sunday morning with friends was nothing new to my dark, bearded crony. After being invited to a Friday prayer by some friends from a local pizza shop as a teenager, Kia was mesmerized by the humility and reverence that saturated the words of the Imam. Soon after this initial encounter, Kia began to haphazardly skim through the Qur'an. His words to me in that Mediterranean restaurant expressed the impact that the divine revelation of Muhammad had had on his young spirit: "It was like swimming in a ocean of truth." After hearing this testimony, I must admit that there was a bit of dissonancy in my spirit. Although I cannot confirm the existence of absolute objectivity (The Myth of Objectivity...coming soon), it seems that Kia's decision to immerse himself in that particular "ocean" came to fruition through untainted, non-parental influenced musings. There is a small part of me that holds contempt for my Christian heritage. Would I have settled for reformed theology, inerrant and infallible scriptures, and the priesthood of the believers if it were not for the overwhelming influence of my parents, and their parents, and their parents, and so on? That question will remain unanswered. The Muslim that sat across from me that day was fortunate enough not to have to carry that weight. Unlike him, being spiritually jaded was the theme of my religious preference. Since I was an infant, the pages of Christianity's divine book have been stamped on my mind, my heart, and my soul. Subsequently, at the ripe age of twenty-two, its dynamism has been tamed, resulting in occasional numbness. There are brief glimpses of its power and authority, but my history and the distractions of my world suppress it with great force. With beautiful rhetoric, Kia articulated his zeal for carrying the words of the Qur'an in his heart. He dismissed the notion of the Qur'an being used as a mere reference as lukewarm and disrespectful to the faith. This conviction left me speechless in the light of my fellow Christians utter lack of reverence and respect for the book we allegedly center our life around. I was devastated to see my people's apathy and disillusionment exposed over humus.

Friday, April 27, 2007 

Against All Foes?

[The following is an article written by David Kinnaman, Strategic Leader and Vice President of The Barna Group... I thought its topic would provoke a smart conversation]
When it comes to faith, many Christians embrace a similar kind of thinking - us versus them. But not necessarily the biblical notion of combating spiritual forces (described in Ephesians 6.12), which is the very real kin of spiritual entanglement that Christians should be engaged in.
Instead, many believers demonize the people with whom they disagree - atheists, homosexuals, environmentalists, political opponents, and even people from other faiths. For these Christians, their motivation is not bringing the Kingdom of God into sharper relief. Rather, they respond to the world and to others based upon impulses of fear and self-righteousness.
Unfortunately, we are in that boat more than we care to admit, aren't we? Mel Gibson's tirade against Jews was extreme, and public failures such as his certainly damage the image of Christianity. But the reputation of the Christian community is not merely created at hands of high-profile leaders. Every one of us, as leaders, communicators and bearers of the image of God, are partly responsible. Do your thoughts and actions always reflect Christ's love toward others? When was the last time you made an off-handed, demeaning joke about homosexuality or some other area in which people struggle? Have you been kind and bighearted - without being condescending or compromising - toward people who believe differently than you?
I can vividly recall verbally hammering two young Mormon missionaries who came to my door. Another time, I remember making a joke about homosexuality, only to be reminded later that one of our houseguests had personally struggled with that lifestyle. I am ashamed at these memories - and others like it, when my behavior stole away a sliver of God's great fame.
A research study I have been working on examines this issue more deeply - how Christians are perceived today in our multi-faith, sophisticated culture. You probably would not be surprised at the findings: the "brand" of Christianity - the set of perceptions and imagery that people maintain about the Christian faith - is not flattering. Most non-Christians think of Christianity as hypocritical and judgemental (among other things) because we have misrepresented God's character by our lives and our words. We have become famous for what we're against rather than Who we're for. Just ponder that for a moment.
I would ask you, based upon what we learned in the research, to re-orient your thinking about people outside the Church. They are not your opponents. It is not an us-versus-them thing; it's an us-versus-us crisis. People bearing the badge of Christ are often at the root of the problem. Yes, there are "mighty powers of darkness" that should motivate us to spiritual contention. But let's look at three ways that the Christian community bears responsibility for cheapening the image of God.
Spiritual Apathy - Lazy Christianity is devastating because it undermines the compelling difference Christ makes in people's lives. the vast majority of Americans are in this predicament: they call themselves Christians, but comparatively few have been transformed by that faith. Their lives are no different than the "average" American. Their Christian faith is a dusty trophy sitting on a shelf somewhere in a cluttered life.
The scope of this problem is huge. Out research suggests that seven out of every eight self-identified Christians and three out of every four born again Christians are dealing with significant levels of spiritual apathy. As an example: less than one in every 10 churched families spends any time in a typical month in spiritual pursuits in the home, aside from praying at mealtimes. So, when non-believers come in contact with a "Christian," the chances are good that they will come away with an apathetic, uninspiring, and theologically scrambled impression of what it means to be a Christ follower.
Spiritual Arrogance - The research points out that spiritually arrogant Christianity is also part of the problem that diminishes God's reputation in our culture. In the interviews, non-Christians explained that they are offended by the assumption that people who are not part of the Christian faith are immoral. They feel threatened by Christian posturing as morally superior. And they often take offense at the terms we use to define them, such as "lost" and "non-believers" - the implicit message of our terminology being that those outside of churches are no spiritually minded.
In a stunning but strategic maneuver of Satan, the people who are most susceptible to spiritual arrogance are the very ones who are least likely to be spiritually lazy. In other words, among the most biblically thinking and functioning believers in the country, much of their effort is undercut by a lack of love. This means that the ones who can best communicate the answers that Jesus provides are often neutralized by their own pride.
Self-absorption - Our research among non-Christians also shows that their perception is that Christians feel the world revolves around them. For instance, Christians sometimes complain about being a persecuted minority in America - that they are misrepresented in the media and other venues. While there may be some truth to this view, cries of abuse don't help non-Christians (who really are a minority) feel more endeared to a faith which draws allegiance from four out of five Americans and that continues to operate with significant opportunities in this country. Non-Christians believe our grumpiness is a reflection of an inflated sense of self-importance. In their view, the nation's most dominant religion - the big faith on the block - shouldn't have (or need) special treatment. Besides, they feel as though Christians consistently misunderstand and mischaracterize them, so what's the big deal?
Another reason why non-Christians believe we are self-absorbed is that our efforts to share Christ often come across as insincere and one-sided. Here's a remarkable thought: How do you feel when Mormons come to your door? Do you believe that they are genuinely interested in you as a person - or do you believe they would very much like to see you convert? Do you feel that they really listen to what you have to say or do they pretty much have an agenda for their visit? Well, guess what? That's not far from the reputation we have among those outside the Christian faith. We have to take a long, honest look at our approach to spiritual conversations: are we operating out of a pure spirit to help people find the living Christ - or does our concern for others come with a not-so-hidden agenda, another notch in the convert belt?
There are no simple solutions or easy way out of the hot water we're in. But here are some guidelines for re-engaging people outside the church and reframing the Christian way of life. The first thing is to remember what our goal is not: popularity. Being well-liked doesn't make Christians more effective. Working harder, saying the right words, and trying the right combination of things doesn't help us break through to more souls. What does? Being more in tune with God's desires and His passion for people.
Instead, our main goal should be life transformation, molding people into the types of disciples Jesus shines though. This is easy to articulate, but very tough to do. Our research shows that transformation rarely happens through brief interactions, but through life-on-life modeling over a long period of time.
Next, you should realize that creativity is vitally important to the future of our faith. One of the undercurrents of non-Christians' perceptions of Christianity is indifference. It has no relevance. Good or bad, they simply don't care. But, for most of them, it's not for a lack of hearing the message of Christ. They have heard it, most of them, before. But the message never sank in; it had neither gravity nor buoyancy, neither humanity nor divinity. That's why creativity becomes so crucial in telling the story of the Christian faith - not just through hyped-up presentations or slick, well- run church services - but through honest people trying to tell the story of Christ's death and resurrection in remarkably relevant ways. If God has given you a passion for trying something new - maybe in your church, perhaps outside of it - keep pursuing that vision. It's not a mistake that you're feeling that way.
Finally, take stock of your own context. God wants to shape you into the best possible servant of His kingdom. If you want to reflect His glory brightly, He will show where to apply the polish.
  • Are there ways in which you are enabling spiritual laziness to exist in your life, your family's life or in your church?
  • Has spiritual pride or self-absorption crept into your faith?
  • Do you use language or phrases about people outside of Christianity that are demeaning and judgmental?
  • What steps do you take to understand other people when you meet them - not just their spiritual journey and needs, but everything about their life?
  • How much leverage do you give the Holy Spirit to show you blind spots in your life?
  • Are you defined by what you oppose or Who you're for? It's easy to claim we are motivated by our love for Jesus - but how would other people describe you? In their view, do your words and actions help or hurt God's reputation?
  • Is your life or your church a place where only perfect people are welcome?
  • Since Scripture has the special ability to cut through us, what parts of the Bible are you rolling around in your brain regarding God's fame and how he wants us to treat others? How does Jesus react to people? Spiritually needy individuals? Prideful people?

We cannot ignore the poor reputation of our faith. You probably already had a sense of this problem. If not, I hope this article spurred your realization of the challenges that we face. And I hope it catalyzes your search for solutions in your life and ministry.

It is easy to live a spiritually lazy life, harder still to catalyze people to true spiritual maturation and transformation. It is cheap excuse to complain that Christians are mistreated at the hands of the culture at large; it is much more difficult to make sacrifices for and serve that culture. Slowly succumbing to pride is a path of minimal resistance compared to humbly measuring our heartbeat every day by God's standards.

But, then, God is pleased when we accomplish big things that increase His fame in our time. Are you up to the challenge?

Friday, April 13, 2007 

I shall return.

Friday, February 02, 2007 

The Greater Mission

This video was created and posted for Ms. Megan Gross of Big Stuf Camps

Tuesday, January 23, 2007 

Bin Laden in a Sleeping Bag

I am a bit confused. A former officer of our nation's Air Force just finished telling me (indirectly) and Rusty Humphrey (directly) about his 1987 experience of supplying Mr. Bin Laden with fire arms and ammunition. He shared with all who cared to listen that he, along with some other men, flew fifteen thousand pounds of cargo that was marked, "Sleeping Bags", into Islamabad were foot-soldiers of Bin Laden retrieved them with intentions of using said "camping gear" against the Russians. He commented that he took part in five similar missions, all to the same region and to the same people. These transactions were initiated by the American government. I'll sleep on this one. Then again, maybe I won't.

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