Thursday, July 29, 2010

If I had to pick one verse to describe our world today

". . .all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."

Judges 17: 6; 21:25

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Conversation of the day

Precocious 9-year old, to her younger sister: Right. Be nice to your brother and sister. It's one of the 10 Commandments.

Theologian Dad: Actually it isn't.

Precocious 9-year old: Well, it should be.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Book review: Incarnate Leadership

Incarnate Leadership by Bill Robinson (President of Whitworth University) was a gift given to Covenant Pastors at our last Midwinter Conference. Based on John's description of Jesus in John 1:14, Robinson explains what it looks and feels like to lead in the way of Jesus. Eschewing power and glory and privilege, Incarnate Leadership means stepping off pedestals to live among the people we lead; it means transparency and honesty, it means reflecting glory and praise to those who really deserve it (either the people actually doing the work, or the God who is the source of all we have), it means living in a marriage of grace and truth (showing grace while never compromising the Truth), and it means continuous sacrifice.

As Zondervan's press describes this book, it is "Conversational in tone and seasoned with real-life stories from his own successes and failures as a leader. . ." That describes the book perfectly. It's not so much sitting in a seminar under a professional leadership guru; instead, it's like sitting down with a friend who's picked up some good leadership ideas along the way (often learned the hard way), who wants to share it all with you. To that end, parts of the book were fantastic and instantly applicable (to me), whereas others didn't seem to resonate, nor seem all that useful (at the moment). But it's a quick, easy read, while at the same time being one of the best books on Christ-like leadership that I've read. I would have no problem recommending it to any pastor, college president, or business leader who wants to allow their faith to guide their leadership style.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Romance of the Rails is gone; or, How I Almost Got Arrested

Back when I was but a lad, once or twice a year we'd go camping up on Stevens Pass. One of the activities necessary to call it a complete trip was a visit to the Western portal of the 8-mile-long Cascade Tunnel. What could be more exciting to a young boy than watching 5500 horsepower of diesel-electric locomotive bursting into daylight from deep within the mountain? What was more mysterious than watching Amtrak's Empire Builder disappearing into the cold, dark mouth if this man-made cave? Hours were spent, first with my grandparents and parents, and later with my hiking buddies, standing outside the tunnel, wandering 100 yards or so inside, and exploring the remains left over from the 1920s construction camp.

So earlier this month I took Mike up there, he of the recently posted backpacking video. Parked above the portal, wandered down and took a look inside, showed him the gated Pioneer Tunnel left over from the original construction. Nothing seemed to be coming so we turned and wandered the tracks down toward the original site of the Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, covered over and abandoned during the line relocation in '28. Nothing to be seen there, so we wandered back. A railroad employee was cleaning up some paint supplies at the job shack in Scenic. He told us we shouldn't be on the tracks. Then added, somewhat sheepishly, "They make us say that. Tell us to tell any trespassers to get off."

He was friendly enough, and when I told him my grandfather used to work for the Great Northern (the railroad that originally built the tunnel), and that I had a lifelong history of visiting that place, and wasn't just some yokel lookyloo, he warmed up to us. Spend about 20 minutes regaling us with yarns of the railroad. Complaining about "management." Cussing at the idiots who didn't know how to clean up their messes.

But then. . .up drives an official-looking SUV. BNSF Police it says on the side. The guy inside rolls down his window and motions to our new friend to come over. "Who are these guys?" he asks. I quickly shouted (with a smile) "He did his job! Told us to get off the tracks!" Said policeman wasn't amused. "You know you're trespassing? You know I could fine you $250 just for being here? Nobody's allowed on these tracks. If a terrorist blew up that tunnel, you'd destroy the nation's economy!" (I refrained from pointing out that currently Stampede Pass to the south, as well as the mainline through the Columbia River Gorge, were in fine shape and under-utilized, so blowing up the tunnel would be sad and an inconvenience, but wouldn't actually hurt the economy very much.)

It turns out there's now a tall steel tower sitting there about 300 yards from the tunnel entrance. On that tower are no less than three video cameras, giving a direct feed to an office in Texas. Right as we were climbing out of the Jeep and I was enjoying giving Mike the tour, some guy in Texas was gazing into his computer monitor muttering "terrorists, by gum! Terrorists!" and calling up the railroad police to run us off their tracks. Which means no more standing outside the tunnel waiting for trains, no pictures of headlights piercing the darkness, no exploring the remains of the construction village. The whole area is off limits. Go there and they'll think you're a terrorist.

For what it's worth, it wasn't a total loss. The first gentleman we met had to give us a drive back to the Jeep, so we got some more stories. And we discovered the policeman is an avid RC airplane modeler. We ended up having a lovely conversation about model airplanes; he even showed us some pictures. However, when I asked him where we could stand in the future to watch trains, he replied, "Why does anybody care? They're just trains."

Although, it occurred to me that part of the historical romance of the rails was bums running from the railroad cops. Lots of old ballads written about that very thing. So I suppose we just experienced part of the lore of railroading, and got a good story out of it.

But Mike was glad we weren't arrested. He may never have gotten back to his family in Canada.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Tuesday Stuff

- I was looking at the lineup of bands for this year's Creation Northwest Christian Music Extravaganza. Wow. I don't even know half these bands. Am I that out of it? Or is it simply that I have a more cultured and discriminating taste when it comes to music?

-  Good thought for the day: "The number one way to get the word out about any organization is through the words and actions of the people in the organization.Every person in your church is like a walking billboard. How they act, work, talk, respond, and treat people represents you and leaves a lasting impression on others. It doesn't matter if your music is great. Or, if you've got fantastic design skills. Or, if your pastor is the most intelligent person on the planet. If your customer service is average or bad, your church is replaceable"  Kem Meyer, "Less Clutter, Less Noise."

- The first mission trip I ever took part in was a house-building weekend in Tecate, Mexico. A large part of Karina's family is from Tecate, Mexico. The Work of the People just spent a weekend in Tecate, Mexico, and want to remind us the people there have dignity. . .and that God loves them. Watch the video here.

-"Life presents us with a choice of getting what we want, but not the way we might want it. It's disquieting when the long-sought improvements occur in ways we don't anticipate. We are challenged to give up cherished notions that keep us stuck. Facing that dilemma is part of becoming an adult."  (emphasis mine) - David Schnarch, Ph.D., "Passionate Marriage."

- Hooray! New Stephen Lawhead book due out the end of August.

- I'm currently working my way through two books: one is on marriage, and keeps repeating the point that conflict is good, because conflict is what spurs growth. It's how we handle the conflict, and not the avoidance thereof, that matters. The healthiest marriages are not the ones lacking in conflict, but the ones in which people learn to take responsibility for themselves in difficult times.

The other book is on contemplative prayer, and is working on the thought that we have this mistaken goal in prayer to reach out to God "over there," rather than stilling ourselves and finding the voice of God already present in our lives. So the work is toward stillness, developing a calm heart and mind in the midst of life's tumult. Learning to let stresses and anxieties wash away in the calming pools of God's love. Listening and responding instead of guessing and reacting.

In their own way, each book is saying "life is hectic: take responsibility for your own body and soul, learn to self-soothe, learn to be quiet when all of life is raging, learn to be intentional rather than reactionary." Somehow both books seem the perfect fit for life and ministry right now. . .

Friday, July 09, 2010

A night out with the Stringdusters

You know what?

There's nothing quite like real people plucking real strings that vibrate in the air. Nothing electronic (other than some amplification so's everybody can hear), nothing synthesized. Real harmonies without autotune.

And there's nothing like a concert on a grass lawn, under the open blue sky and the bright summer sun, and some nice, cold watermelon to keep you cool.

And there's nothing like the community that develops at a bluegrass show. Families, young and old. People dancing, clapping, singing along. Friendly people sharing food. Band members who mingle with the audience, sell their own CDs, sign autographs and pose for pictures. It's all so. . .nice.

Here's a taste of what you all missed last night. . .

And here's me, with the band:

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Movie Recommend

It's rare that I watch a documentary that really moves me; even more rare that I find one that leaves me with hope (ever watch a Michael Moore movie and come away happy?).

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is that kind of documentary. It tells the story of the end of Liberia's hellish civil war, the end of the reign of Charles Taylor, arguably one of the most evil men alive. It tells the story of tribal warlords laying down arms and choosing peace just moments before the final destruction of Monrovia, Liberia's capitol, was to begin. Yes, it contains much in the way of gruesome violence and disturbing stories that will leave you shaken. But it's ultimately the story of the coming of peace, and the unexpected force that brought not just the end of bloodshed, but a movement toward reconciliation and future hope.

Because when the men (boys?) of the country refused to talk peace, it was the common ordinary women, Christian and Muslim alike, who engaged in non-violent protest, shaming the fighters into giving up their games of domination and violence. Using every weapon in their arsenal, from sex-strikes to threatening to strip naked, to treating the men as the boys they were, to simply sitting, singing, dancing, and a lot of praying, these women transformed the future of their country, and perhaps the world.

It's a story that has mostly passed the American public by, which is a shame, because it's a story that deserves hearing. The power of women, the power of prayer, the power of religion, the power of non-violent protest to end one of the most horrific wars on our continent. It's a story of hope, of redemption, of great personal risk, of tyrants being tumbled by simple people who declare "enough." With echoes of Rahab at Jericho and Esther in Babylon, it is a tale of biblical proportions, and a strong challenge to those who declare pacifism idealistic and unrealistic.

Here's the movie's official website:

It's also available through netflix.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Vacation Videos! With Trains!

Just in case you missed this over on my facebook. . .