20 December 2009

Inner Metro Green: Two Big Announcments

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Friday night members of the board and staff of Inner Metro Green, the faith community of my wife and I, met for a few hours to discuss our collective future. It was one of the most honest and open discussions that I have been a part of. It was full hope and doubts and sorrow and relief. Most of all, I think, it was full of peace. Here are two announcements, or "status updates" in current lingo, dated Friday December 18, 2009 delivered via e-mail that came of that.



Hello and happy holidays to all. We are writing to inform you of some coming changes within the IMG community.

Firstly we are canceling our service for this coming Sunday
[December 20, 2009] due to the weather.


Secondly, and more importantly, Sunday December 27th will be very special: it will be Inner Metro Green's last Sunday morning service. If you have been a part of our faith community in any way, we invite you that Sunday to celebrate with us the goodness that has come from our two years of existence. After the music and a short message, the floor will be open for brief reflections by any and all, on what IMG has meant to you or those you know. We hope that you will join us as we sing, remember, celebrate, mourn, hope, and dream loudly together.

For now, house church has also ended. More details will be available Sunday December 27th or if you wish, you may contact us personally, about this.

We haven't taken this decision lightly. It has come through much prayer, reflection, and conversation....

Peace and Blessing to you,

Inner Metro Green

You can read more about Inner Metro Green and find contact information, if you have any questions, by visiting the website here.

18 December 2009

RECENT READS: BLACKEST NIGHT

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BLACKEST NIGHT  script - Geoff Johns / pencils - Ivan Reis / inks - Oclair Albert


Basic idea: "The dead will rise". Dead heroes and villain of the DC Universe are resurrected into the worst, and most gruesome, versions of themselves and chaos ensues. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and the Flash (Barry Allen) are trying to solve the mystery questions. Plenty of other beloved characters make appearances. The mystery involves the powers of different colors. 


Great emotion filled plot that could have been predictable and throw away, instead has true-to-character dialog and truly astonishing art. Seriously, I am not easy-going on comic book artists Ivan Reis' rendering combined with Oclair Albert's show work (inks) blows me away with each issue. Of note is their work on Flash and Green Lantern's detective work scenes which could be pretty dull.

I initially resisted picking up this beautiful limited series (eight issues) for the first four but I had good reasons:

1. Since I don't regularly follow GREEN LANTERN and Hal Jordan, one of the Lanterns, is the main star, I thought I might have missed relevant background material that would make this more enjoyable to read later on. I was wrong. One barely needs to know anything about the characters to follow the plot. Geoff's storytelling is solid on this.

2. Having paged through the first two issues the graphic content was a little on the gory side for my taste. It is true that there is some gore but not in the adult comic book way and it does make sense with the story and lends to the overall emotional impact.

3. If there is another main, hero, star of the book it would be Barry Allen as the Flash. If you have ever talked comic books with me you should know that I love all things Flash so this should be a reason TO read it! On the other hand, the FLASH: REBIRTH mini series, which reintroduces Barry Allen to the DC Universe is currently running.... and by running I mean RUNNING LATE! The final issue just was pushed back another two months which if it arrives will be four months after the last one. That said, BLACKEST NIGHT takes place after FLASH: REBIRTH and I hate to spoil plots for myself. So far this hasn't been an problem at all.

4. I was only buying monthly Flash and Justice Society of America books to keep the budget under control.

Is it creepy? Yes, of course and the storytelling shines all the more because of it.

12 December 2009

Inner Metro Green: Sunday of Worship and Meditation

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Last Sunday my church community, Inner Metro Green, broke out of our normal music -announcements -communion - offering - sermon routine. We spent our sunday service praying, listening, reading, waiting, and singing together for a little over an hour. We set this time aside because we aren't sure where we are going, what we are doing, or who will be along for whatever happens. So, we listened and are continuing to listen to each other and for God to speak. 


Perhaps you or your faith community is going through something similar. Here is a recording of the prayers, the readings, and one song (the only one not copyrighted, thanks Brian McLaren!). In them maybe you will find something useful or at least be amused by our efforts.

25 November 2009

A Thanksgiving Poem: "For the Silent and Small"

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Here are some thoughtful words as a thanksgiving poem written this week by my friend and coworker, Kristan McKinne. Officially it is yet untitled but I am calling it "For the Silent and Small". Enjoy and give thanks.

In life's everday slow rise and fall,
awash in our ball of bright and shining sun
I find ways to give thanks for the silent and small.


When shadows tower so tall
that all glimpse of light is gone
from life's everyday, slow rise and fall - 


when it can seem after all
that the rush of comings and goings has won -
I still have to give thanks for the silent and small.


Thanks for the single smile that will crawl
across your face; that's enough in the long run
of that everyday, slow rise and fall.


And here, with you, in the silent lull
that settles after a long day done,
it's easy to give thanks for the silent and small.


To just consider the tiny moments that sprawl
through a life, vast and deep as the ocean,
adrift in the everyday slow rise and fall - 
I have to give thanks for the silent and small.



19 November 2009

"Please Don't Label Me.." campaign

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How do you feel about this?

For those of you of a religious affiliation or perhaps even another sort of world view or political pole, do you feel like children should be indoctrinated with their parent's beliefs? Sure, parents have a responsibility to raise their kids with morals and naturally they would want to pass along what has worked for them, but do they have to be tied to the same beliefs and rationals as the parents? Could the universal ethics stay with the underlying beliefs there as options among others? Is this possible? Are there universal ethics?

Today over at Friendly Atheist, there was a story on this new billboard campaign that is sponsered by, among others, The British Humanist Association. You can read about it here: http://friendlyatheist.com/2009/11/19/new-dont-label-me-billboard-campaign-in-the-uk/ and http://www.humanism.org.uk/billboards .

Thoughts?

12 November 2009

WHERE I STAND [3]: Biblical "End Times"

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Pax Romana

Yesterday, my friend Jonathan "Siggy" Sigmon posted a wonderfully balanced bit on Facebook commemorating service on Veterans' Day without praising the means of war and instead calling us all to peace. What follows Siggy appropriated from http://carrieanddanielle.com/honoring-peace-not-war-the-pacifists-dilemma-on-remembrance-day/:

" I will pause to pay tribute to those who have died in war. I will honor their commitment to their ideals, and grieve their losses. But the greatest honor I can offer them is to promise that I have learned from their experience and will do my best to work towards a new day when young men and women do not have to die as they did. We can and must work together to find peaceful ways to achieve a just and safe world. Only then can we truly say that they did not die in vain. Be a peace promoter."

I couldn't agree more.

From that came a number of comments and discussion
about the nature and supposed/possible necessity of war that I was involved in. One of them ended with with this:

"Kudos to you [name removed], that coming from a mother with 2 sons in the service, one serving in Afghanistan right now....and what do you do with the end times? in the scripture it says they will cry peace, peace and there will be none...."

I hadn't thought about bringing the Bible or possible "End Times" scenarios into the discussion but the more I think about it, the more our interpretations of both things could play rather strongly into our opinions of war and peace. That assumes that the Bible matters to one and in some way it usually does. So I decided to weigh in on her question whether it was rhetorical or not. This isn't a comprehensive opinion I am sharing nor is it in the format I normally do these Where I Stand blogs. Instead it is a conversation starter and an opportunity to share a few different perspectives that are normally ignored in mainstream media or church discussions on the Biblical End Times. I wrote:

"Hi [name removed].You have a good question. I'd like to give it a try.

People's interpretations of what we call the "End Times" texts in the Bible are pretty diverse. One good one, in my opinion, is that in Revelation John is mostly writing in code so he doesn't get killed about Rome and Caesar as Babylon. Rome brought "peace" through war and oppression, at least initially, but they framed it as true peace through reliefs on architecture, proclamations, and by actually providing infrastructure and stability to society. It was still peace through war and homogenization though. This period of time, which coincides with John's Revelation, was called the Pax Romana ("Roman Peace") and it lasted for roughly 200 years.

Just as today some people see Radical Islam or Western Society as the last great evil to overcome for God's rule to take over, in John's time Rome was ruling all the known world and was at the forefront of everyones consciousness. To them, there could be nothing greater and more evil.


Also, Jesus' disciples were trying to figure out why He had not yet returned to fully bring the Kingdom of God. Jesus had said "Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom" (Matthew 16:28). So this Revelation of John's perhaps is towards explaining this return at "the end of the age" as had also been said.

Hopefully this provides some insight or at least another view. Thoughts folks?"

09 November 2009

Watching: From Jesus To Christ

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Our small group, which we host at 6:30pm every Monday night, started watching the PBS/Frontline documentary From Jesus To Christ tonight. For some reason the DVD player played the fourth part/hour first. Our DVD player also randomly played scenes out of order when we watched Doubt last month so I'll have to sort that out. If you plan on coming next week go ahead and watch the fourth hour online and we'll do the first hour next week.

Did I say to watch online? Yes. In fact you can watch all four hours of this great historical look at Jesus, the assembling of the four canonical gospels, and the rise of Christianity here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/. Just click on the "watch the full program" image. Feel free to comment here on the program or just stop by our group.

This documentary is recommended for anyone as long as you are comfortable with questioning your existing understanding of Jesus, Christianity, and what into making our perceptions what they are today concerning it all. You don't need to be a follower of Jesus or even at all religious to enjoy and gain something from it. Megan and I found it extremely valuable and opening when we first watched it a few years ago and we hope to absorb more this time around. Among the scholars interviewed throughout are such notables as John Dominic Crossan (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography) and Elaine Pagels (The Gnostic Gospels).

05 November 2009

VEGAN PICKS: Breakfast Recipe "Egg McVegans"

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This morning Megan and I had a delicious, Earth Balance-drenched, breakfast made in our very own kitchen.: Egg McVegans. These were even better than the version we had at Sticky Fingers Bakery in DC.... I can't make sticky buns though. I found all the ingredients at Rhubarb's Market here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and I'd imagine most other medium sized natural food stores would have them as well.

The only thing I changed from the instructions is that I cut the tofu block into thirds horizontally before imprinting them with a cup. I didn't need six McVegans (our cats don't like my cooking) so I ended up with three deluxe versions. Recipe and picture are courtesy of VegWeb where you can find an amazing assortment of vegan recipes and food discussions.

My only complaint? They should be called "Tofu McVegans" or "... McMuffins" to avoid ingredient confusion.

Egg McVegans

[http://vegweb.com/index.php?topic=5087.0]

Ingredients (use vegan versions):

1 pound extra firm tofu
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 package veggie Canadian bacon
vegan cheese of your choice (one that melts well, like Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet, or Tofutti singles)
vegan English muffins
vegan margarine
vegan mayonnaise (Vegenaise), optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Take the block of extra firm tofu and press it to get as much of the water out as you can. After you do that you take a drinking glass which is about the same size around at the top as the English muffins are, cut around the cup (or if you want, press the glass into the tofu) so that the tofu comes out round in shape. Take the round piece of tofu and cut it in half horizontally, so you end up with two circular pieces. Take the two halves and cut those into thirds, so that you end up with six round pieces of tofu that are about 1/2 inch thick. If you don't want to make 6 English muffins you can cut the tofu into four pieces if you like, which will yield a thicker egg.

On a rimmed baking sheet, pour the apple cider vinegar, olive oil, and salt and mix together. Put the tofu on this mixture and coat both sides. Bake for 10 minutes on one side, then flip and bake for another 10 minutes. (I usually cut up the extra little pieces of tofu and include them in the cooking, they are good to snack on).

Place the veggie Canadian bacon on a large frying pan on a medium low to low heat, flip it often and don't allow it to dry up, as it will turn up on the edges.

After the tofu pieces are baked, turn off the heat and place a slice of the vegan cheese on top of each of the tofu rounds. I usually make the vegan cheese circular as well, but its your call. Place back in the oven to allow the vegan cheese to melt.

Toast the English muffins, and butter them on both sides with the vegan margarine of your choice, or if you are using Vegenaise put Vegenaise on one side and margarine on the other. Place one of the tofu rounds and Canadian bacon slices between the English muffin halves, salt and pepper to taste (if you want) and they are ready to eat.

It sounds like there's not much to them in the way of ingredients, but they come out really well and taste awesome.

Serves: 6

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Recipe submitted by veganstraightedge, 02/07/06

01 November 2009

Church Controversy and Moving Foward

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Cartoon from Bizarro Artist

Two weeks ago my dear friend and pastor of our community, Shawn Anthony, was given an ultimatum by his overseeing Bishop. Our faith community (church - if you like), Inner Metro Green, is part of the Brethren In Christ, a Christian denomination in the Anabaptist tradition that also informs Mennonite and Amish expressions. So what was the offending issue?

Shawn has recounted the experience in two posts entitled HOLD THIS THREAD AS I WALK AWAY Part One Part Two via his marvelous blog, Lo-Fi Tribe.

Long story made short, Shawn was fired for supposedly not focusing on Jesus enough -- which is a laughing stock because He is what we focus on the most -- and for not being an authoritarian leader -- for not telling us what to think and that it is ONLY correct way to think -- on the issue(s) that were important to the conference: homosexuality.

Sure, our community has a stance. It is the same stance that we have on every issue that divides and is complicated. Actually we apply it to all of our life, or at least we are trying. Our stance has been and will be compassion. We have compassion for those caught up in the issue on any side and for those experiencing and living it.

My friend, Keith Slesser, had this to say about it via his blog:

"I can see the reason he was fired. It is very obvious. It is because he refused to make a public statement about HOMOSEXUALITY, whether it is a sin or not. We happen to have a gay couple coming to our church. We accept them in our midst. We do not condemn or condone them. If it is sin, God can tell them. If he can't, then he is a weak God and we should no longer worship him."

I think it is of note that Jesus had nothing to say (or at least recorded) about homosexuality and yet those things that he did speak of we write off as unrealistic or not valid for us. For instance when Jesus' teachings conflict with our allegiances to empire and the idea of redemptive violence as members of the military or funders of their war chests through taxation we talk of a fallen world that makes this necessary, we honor their service, we cheer on the enemy's death, we pray for their safety and victory, and we welcome and love them in community.

It is incontrovertible that we do that last part but what of the rest in light of the supposed allegiance to the reading of scripture that condemns homosexuals and its practice? Doesn't this sort of reading elevate the Old Testament / Covenant even above Jesus? That is an interesting move for supposed followers of Jesus. That a personal and conscentual choice of relationship is somehow worse than ,or even equal to, the killing of those we are charged to love is ludicrous.

If you don't find this particular example persuasive than know that EVERY FOLLOWER OF JESUS PICKS AND CHOOSES IN REGARDS TO READING AND FOLLOWING THE BIBLE. Everyone. And thank God that we do this. If we really followed the Bible with a literal reading we would alternately kill certain breakers of OT holiness code and then realize that The Kingdom of God is far from us according to Jesus. Thank God for the Holy Spirit to guide and convict us on these things.

Lastly, I'd like to suggest that Christians really take seriously having their mind renewed and changed into that of Jesus' so that we may move forward in applying HIS ethics to our world. Jesus' ethics supersede those that came before. Jesus' way SHOULD be our way. Jesus didn't treat people with love and respect only so far. He didn't welcome them into community, to His sacred table, only so far. All were welcomed and made a part. Let us move toward making this so.

26 October 2009

RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Doubt

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I have devoted two Monday evenings to this film and one winter afternoon (a present from Megan, my wife) to the play on which it was based. Last week watching it with a group and this one discussing all its wonderful characters, themes, pith, and humanity. Let it be known, that I would happily spend another evening with it and shall when it finally makes its way into my library.

Time with this work of revelatory fiction will be time remembered and time well spent. Spend it with some friends that you can talk with afterward.

Five stars out of five.

11 October 2009

QUOTE OF NOTE

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"Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody."

- Ronald D. Moore
from "The Bonding"- Star Trek The Next Generation: Season Three

08 October 2009

In search of a Vegan Pumpkin Latte

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Autumn arrived a few weeks ago and with it thoughts of ciders and other seasonal drinks. Having seen sandwich boards and heard talk of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at various establishments, this year I was determined to find one that was vegan.

One of my coworkers who also works at Starbucks regularly keeps me in the loop about which seasonal drinks are and are not "Chris-friendly"= vegan. There haven't been many lately and, sadly, the Pumpkin Latte also doesn't fit the bill even without the whip cream and with a soy milk substitute for dairy. Starbucks uses a concentrate containing condensed milk. Okay, so the big corporate chain doesn't have it, no big surprise but still a disappointment since their lattes are the most consistent from visit to visit.

Today I visited Square One Coffee on Duke Street in Lancaster. We carry their Fair Trade Organic coffees at my work. I love their coffee and general attitude towards it and since I saw one of those sandwich boards outside last week I've been wondering if I'd strike gold there. Bad news, they use a concentrate with condensed milk too. They did offer a steamed cider for me which helped soften the blow and then did something a chain likely wouldn't. She, one of the owners, suggested checking out Prince Street Cafe since they use syrup instead of a concentrate.

Next stop, Prince Street Cafe.

18 September 2009

RECENT LISTENING: Phoenix / Derek Webb

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Here are two album I am listening to of late. One is a inventive pop masterstroke featuring the husband of director Sophia Coppola and the other beat infused protest album informed by American Christian culture. I will leave you to guess which is which.

06 September 2009

Video: Dawkin's on his new book

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Here is further information on Richard Dawkin's new book, in his own words.

01 September 2009

September Media of Interest

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Music: CURSE YOUR BRANCHES - David Bazan (releases today / September 1, 2009)

If you ever heard of Pedro the Lion and never picked their music up, David Bazan was the band's only mainstay and has been one of mine ever since their first EP came out in the 90's. Bazan's talent for a turn of phrase and forceful arranging make these songs ring as true as the most powerful religious (-like) experience while questioning perhaps those very experiences in light of the world we live in and the foundations of our faiths.

Check out this great feature on Bazan for more background: Chicago Reader: The Passion of David Bazan.


Film: COLD SOULS (in select theaters now)

From Quicktime.com: Is your soul weighing you down? Paul Giamatti has found a solution! In the surreal comedy COLD SOULS, Paul Giamatti plays an actor named… Paul Giamatti. Stumbling upon an article in The New Yorker about a high-tech company that extracts, deep-freezes and stores people’s souls, Paul very well might have found the key to happiness for which he’s been searching. But, complications arise when he is the unfortunate victim of “soul-trafficking.” Giamatti’s journey takes him all the way to Russia in hopes of retrieving his stolen soul from an ambitious but talentless soap-opera actress. Balancing a tightrope between deadpan humor & pathos, and reality & fantasy, COLD SOULS is a true soul searching comedy. Also starring David Strathairn, Dana Korzun and Emily Watson.



Book: THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH - Richard Dawkins (September 22, 2009)

I read and listened to Dawkins a good bit during the height of a personal theological crisis a bit ago. While I don't always agree with his conclusions, usually the more generalized ones, I found his use of reason, logic, and humor to be enlightening and entertaining. Whether one believe in evolution or are a denier, everyone ought to have a good understanding of the hows and the whys that make it function. That is, if one WANTS to have an educated opinion and I realize some may not. In that pursuit, I am looking forward to this late September volume.

From the publisher: In 2008, a Gallup poll showed that 44 percent of Americans believed God had created man in his present form within the last 10,000 years. In a Pew Forum poll in the same year, 42 percent believed that all life on earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time.

In 1859 Charles Darwin's masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, shook society to its core. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke. But he surely would have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity. Now the author of the iconic work The God Delusion takes them to task.

The Greatest Show on Earth is a stunning counterattack on advocates of "Intelligent Design," explaining the evidence for evolution while exposing the absurdities of the creationist "argument." Dawkins sifts through rich layers of scientific evidence: from living examples of natural selection to clues in the fossil record; from natural clocks that mark the vast epochs wherein evolution ran its course to the intricacies of developing embryos; from plate tectonics to molecular genetics. Combining these elements and many more, he makes the airtight case that "we find ourselves perched on one tiny twig in the midst of a blossoming and flourishing tree of life and it is no accident, but the direct consequence of evolution by non-random selection."

The Greatest Show on Earth comes at a critical time: systematic opposition to the fact of evolution is menacing as never before. In American schools, and in schools around the world, insidious attempts are made to undermine the status of science in the classroom. Dawkins wields a devastating argument against this ignorance, but his unjaded passion for the natural world turns what might have been a negative argument into a positive offering to the reader: nothing less than a master's vision of life, in all its splendor.

20 August 2009

The Fresh Market : Food Store Anomaly

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My wife and I were in the Kennett Square area yesterday after visiting Longwood Gardens' beautiful sights in the humid August air and had become pretty hungry. We were making our our way to Philadelphia when we passed one of those behemoth shopping plazas with chain stores and noticed a place called The Fresh Market which I remembered hearing about at work. I expected something like an independent Whole Foods type, based on the size of the store front, but their intentional appearances, inside and out, were deceiving.

Inside there was a very large produce department with beautifully done displays but very little organic or obviously local produce. The store's dim lighting, too dim if you ask Megan, was provided by small spots and police interrogation room styled hanging lamps. The effect was like Whole Foods but more mysterious and gourmet like "open European style markets" (as their website touts, as if you'd found something secret in the aisles. Don't be deceived, you didn't!

Sure, there was a good helping of natural and organic packaged foods throughout the store right along side items containing high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils (trans-fat), and the vivid hues of artificial food dyes. In neither the bakery nor the prepared food displays was there even a single vegan friendly food that a youngish couple from Lancaster could enjoy. That isn't even true at the huge grocery stores we have around here.

We didn't expect to find The Fresh Market to be a vegan mecca but we didn't expect to be this disappointed. The store offered very little, if anything, more than the natural sections do at most supermarkets while giving the appearance that the place was unique, up-scale, and superior in one way or another. Seemingly, some are being duped into this place over a truly natural or gourmet store. Maybe in the Carolinas this sort of place is the best you can get but not anywhere near Philadelphia. Good luck, The Fresh Market. The rest of you, steer clear.

After writing this I stumbled onto this like minded review.

16 August 2009

WHERE I STAND [2]: Universal Publicly Funded vs For-Profit Health Care

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As things stand now with private/corporate/for-profit health care, the health care provider makes the ultimate call for or against payment for any procedure, suture, or even an office visit. Neither the person nor the doctor controls that. They can appeal and often decisions fall in their favor but sometimes not. Sure, a wealthy person could just pay for any of it out of pocket but we aren't all so well funded.

Those opposing universal/public health care often argue that they don't want the government getting in the way of what one's doctor thinks is best let alone telling the doctor what to do. As I described earlier, those in charge now ARE doing this.

The difference between the government being the one deciding vs a for-profit company is that the government is explicitly tasked, and held accountable, to uphold the public interest. In other words, it is for the common good of all its citizens whereas the for-profit company's is ultimately to serve shareholders by making money.

It would be ludicrous to suggest that the companies can sustain themselves by often NOT providing somewhat good care but they can and do make decisions based on the suit's bottom lines (shareholder pressure) and bonuses instead of the patient's well being. They are doing their jobs to serve the bottom line can we fault them for doing their job's well? Not completely at least. It is the system that is flawed.

10 July 2009

A Confession of Unrecorded Songs

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This is a list (partial I'm sure) of unrecorded songs. Some of them are as old as nine years old while a few of them need a little bit of finishing. Regardless, I feel they are all worthwhile but I need some regular kicks in the butt to get some of them put down. I've stalled and stalled for years now, debilitated by options and my own expectations. Sometimes it has seemed better not to ruin it than to try. That has gotten old.

Here's the list. Help me out. Ideas? Anything will do.

And Go To Sleep
As Much As You Want / Before the Sunset Comes
Castles
Day Before the First Snow
Fast
Fields Painted Golden
For One Good Reason
Have You Seen the Morning
In the Park
It's Alright
It's Us We Want
Model Volunteer
Motels and Stages
Need To Take This On
Our Own Plans
Out There
Salt and Spice
Stay By the River (That's Golden)
Sunday's Big Parade
The Beautiful Girl
The Song As Sung
Things I Take For Granted
Unpacking
Whirly Wheel
You Are Bright

P.S. I have not included songs geared towards group church singing. They may have their own path.

29 June 2009

RECENT READS: 52

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When I started reading comic books again last year I remember paging through the first volume of the 52's collected issues at the library and thinking "This looks [visually] soooooo silly and the concept.... ummmm I don't get it. I don't think I can care about this."

I was wrong, at least partly. Background first.

52 was a weekly series put out by DC Comics that ran for, you guessed, it 52 weeks over on year. The point was to cover the period of time following a DC Universe-wide event called INFINITE CRISIS after which all of the comic books skipped a year. During that year Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - their three biggest heroes - where out of commission and so 52 tells us all about what happened and if the world could survive without its biggest heroes.

I hadn't, and still haven't, read INFINITE CRISIS so I had no motivation there. What finally piqued my interest a few months ago, aside from the challenge of the weekly concept, were the authors:
Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, JSA, Superman, Flash),
Grant Morrisson (Final Crisis, JLA, Batman, The Invisibles),
Greg Rucka (Detective Comics, Queen and Country, Action Comics),

and my all-time favorite
Mark Waid (Flash!!!!!, Legion of Superheroes, Kingdom Come, Empire, Impulse, The Brave and the Bold).

These writers are some of the most well known and loved in all of comics let alone just DC. Sure they have their detractors as well but mainly the complaints are that they do the same sort of stories, characters, and use certain plot devices too much. Some of those complaints are valid enough and they perhaps reinforce what a great idea it was to put them all together. The series was co-plotted and co-written by all four authors not each on their own story exclusively but messily and with plenty of checks on each other. In this format each author gets to shine at what they do best while also stretching a bit at the prodding of the others and sometimes just because no one will quite know who wrote exactly what, even the authors themselves it seems.

Each issue, in the four collected volumes, is followed by a two page behind the scenes essay with one of the authors, editors, Keith Giffen - layout overseer (rough panels and sketches for each script for the group of artists to work from)-, or JG Jones - cover artist - revealing the process, what worked and what didn't, personal preferences, headaches, worries, and victories of the project. I wish more collected comics devoted as much space to this sort of thing.

A few of my highlights:
- Finding enjoyment in humorous characters like The Metal Men
- Black Adam's struggle with redemptive violence, love, and societal betterment
- Booster Gold's outrageous sense of self
- The passing of a detective torch (without giving too much away)
- A mindless, prophecy driven group of fanatical criminals
- Diverse and fair treatments of homosexual superhero characters, if sometimes risque
- Lex Luthor's Everyman Project

So, still it isn't my favorite series, run, art, dialogue, or characters ever but I applaud it in pulling off unique tones for each story (slapstick humor, mystery, tear-jerking moments, suspense, horrible feelings, relief ... etc). Also, I am thankful to the authors for using characters such as Booster Gold, The Question, Batwoman, Elongated Man, Metal Men, and Steel who I knew little of before and therefor I found their actions, reactions, and personalities more exciting and revealing. Like watching a decent popular serial-style television adventure mystery I enjoyed this read.

Three and a half stars (out of five).

15 June 2009

FAVORITE THINGS: ABC Coconut Macaroon Cookie

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This is my favorite cookie.

I loooooooooooooove this cookie.

Every year it is available for a few months from the wonderful folks at Alternative Baking Company as their seasonal selection which rotates four or five times a year. I go a little nuts during this block of time and eat at least a few a week. If you can't find this one, hate coconut, or read this too late, check out the Colossal Chocolate Chip a year-round option from this wonderful vegan and more healthy cookie company.

My serving suggestion: Dip it and/or eat it with a glass of good black coffee.

In Lancaster Pennsylvania you can pick this up at Rhubarb's Market where you can also say hello to me if you like. Otherwise, many natural grocery stores are likely to carry it and even a few fine coffee shops. Cheers.

02 June 2009

WHERE I STAND [1]: Following (Soley or Mainly) Because of Claimed Divinity

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Last night during a free roaming discussion in our home, ranging from the fall of Lucifer and the origin of evil to comparative religious studies and truth, the group of thirteen decided to carry part of our talk through to next week with the question:

Why you do follow/believe/claim Jesus and/or Christianity?

Each of us will summarize our own answers to this question next week and I'm betting the answers will be very diverse. This is a question that I have reassessed and answered for myself many times with many different versions having not thought about it for more than half of my life. I want summarize it here but I would like to talk about a former belief rational that I held: believing and following (?) based soley or mainly on claimed divinity.

It is like this. Being (person or otherwise) tells person(s) that Being is divine and so the person(s)
should believe in Being. Being may add that if person(s) do not believe in Being person(s) may not receive the benefits of the Being's blessing and may incur Being's wrath. Notice that there is no demonstration that Being actually is divine nor that if they are that the Being's intentions are good.

This in some ways reminds me of the elementary school bully. Of course the bully most often isn't claiming to be immortal but similarly the most powerful and therefor the most worthy of devotion. What kind of belief does this bring? "Being (or bully) is awesomely powerful and so out of the idea that I may otherwise be pummeled in one way or another I proclaim my belief in Being (or bully) so that all might be saved [Uh-oh!] from Being's wrath."

Generally, this was the belief of the ancients: unity through a religion of fear. I know, not all of them, but at least the one's the most informing our present idea of civilization. I won't detail them here but certainly Greek, Roman, and, even, Jewish mythology (fact or fiction) has elements of this. Yeah, it is true, the Israelites had some pretty interesting views about the character of God (Yahweh, YHWH). And honestly, many of these ideas don't work well with Jesus' view of God, His Kingdom, and the point of following said God.

Richard Dawkins, world famous ethologist, evolutionary biologist, atheist, and author, had this to say in, his book, THE GOD DELUSION: "The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully."

Pretty strong language there wouldn't you say? Sure, Dawkins is trying to prove that not only is this God unlikely to be real but that even if He was you wouldn't want to serve Him. On the second count, I agree. Even though sometimes we read that the God of the Old Testament is loving and forgiving, it is true, but almost always only to His believers/chosen people.

So, am I convinced to believe in THIS God? No. Even at the threat of this God's wrath, I refuse. It is not that I deny the existence of God, quite the contrary. I believe in the God that Jesus preached. The God that saw that His creation didn't understand what He really wanted and so after sending countless prophets who tried their best in their flawed human way to point to God's message, God sent Jesus. Is it any wonder that a people, all people then and now to some degree, who didn't really get God's message, didn't record an accurate view of God? No. I don't blame them any more than us.

In short, I follow Jesus' message of the Kingdom of God because, frankly, it works. The means and the end are the same in the way of Jesus: selfless love. Is it supernatural? At times yes, as it defies what is reasonable in our responses and yet it makes perfect sense. Is this all I believe? No. But this is a good start.

19 May 2009

Wendell Berry's "The Real Work"

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Here is a poem that I used as the opener / tone-setter for a talk I delivered at church a few weeks ago. Today another cyberspace dweller who was in the pews that Sunday asked about it so I thought I'd post it here for all to enjoy. I'd say it was the highlight of the message.


"The Real Work" - Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

09 May 2009

Communitarianism, Don Eberly, and a Graduation Day Speech

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Don Eberly, having worked in government/public service for 25 plus years as a Congressional and Presidential aid/advisor, delivered the commencement address for Millersville University a few Saturdays back and I was lucky enough to be part of the rained-on and then sun-burned family and friends in attendance. Thank you Jonathan, my brother-in-law and housemate, for graduating now and not a little while ago :). Seriously.

According to Wikipedia, Eberly is a proponent of communitarianism much of which, now having read what that word means, his speech explores in practical examples for the everyday citizen and most basically for the then graduating student. The idea of a more civil society seemed to be at the heart of Eberly's talk and, from what I gather, his recent work. I couldn't have been happier to hear these ideas publicly praised and framed as foundational to the future of the world in such a setting. Was I surprised? Yes, especially, as many of his would-be compatriots point out, since he served in two highly polarizing Republican White House administrations (Reagan and Bush II). But what of it? I for one, am thankful that this tempered and generous view was somehow a part of those times. Who knows where we would have gone without it!

Here is a key section of Don Eberly's speech for your enjoyment:

"So in a political culture awash in gall, extend to others respect and civility, and if Lincoln is to be believed, you will have access to minds everywhere. New technologies have dramatically expanded the capacity for everyone to speak, giving each of us the equivalent of a megaphone. But I am not sure we have equally expanded our capacity to listen, or to search for wisdom behind the noise.

We have been a society of factions and competing interests from the beginning, and up to a point this is natural and healthy. But we must not become a tribal society -— each in his own corner, organizing his own lobby, tuning in to his own media channel — each basically looking at our country's challenges strictly through the eyes of his own faction.

Don't misunderstand: You should know what you believe, hold to your beliefs, and be prepared to defend those beliefs through reasoned debate. But treat others and their opinions as you would have them treat you and yours. Your critics have something important to offer you; if nothing else, they can sharpen and refine your views.

We must remind ourselves that we are not Republicans, Democrats or Independents first; we are CITIZENS of a nation that welcomes dissent and debate; indeed, our leaders depend upon it for accountability."


You can find the full text of Don's speech entitled "Serving in the Spirit of Lincoln", from which this was lifted, at http://articles.lancasteronline.com/local/4/236992 .

27 March 2009

WHERE I STAND [0]: Introduction

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Taking two previously proposed series and combining them into one, I plan to write here about where I stand on various subjects, on issues, and in current debates. While I certainly will have a point of view to explain and back up with at least some rational, I am not an unchanging or unchanged person. I have titled these exercises "WHERE I STAND" because they will speak of my present state of thought.

I have believed and embodied different things in the past and guess what, I probably will to some degree in the future. As a friend and I discussed earlier this week, the older we get not only are we made more aware of the possibilities of what to know we also become less certain, or at least dogmatic, about a lot of what we believed/knew before. Does that make me "loosey-goosey" in my beliefs, unable to make a decision on anything? No, not at all but I do spend more time thinking before I decide and speak, though as many of you know not quite enough time. Even as we "decide" I hope our goal is to know more and ultimately toward as much truth as possible. Eager, curious, and questioning discussion is key, not proud debate. There is always more to learn.

Part one coming soon.

22 March 2009

IMG Worship Songs: March 22 2009 (+ video)

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We had a great morning at Inner Metro Green, though we dearly missed some friends who have been on our journey for a long time.

Here are the songs from this morning's service at IMG. Jonathan Sigmon joined me making his debut on electric guitar while Keith Slesser, on half of our usual worship musicians, delivered a great talk about the book of Job. Sigmon wrote a really pretty accompaning part for a newly finished song "Lord Christ" which boosted my confidence in the tune a bit. Thanks Siggy!

PSALM 13 (HOW LONG O LORD) - Brian Doerksen
/ Steve & Karen Mitchinson / Daphne Rademaker
INVITACION FOUNTAIN - Michael J. Pritzl
THE LORD IS GRACIOUS AND COMPASSIONATE - Graham Ord
Communion: LORD CHRIST - Chris Flinchbaugh




Here is a video (courtesy of metrogreentv.com) of part of our Sunday service which contains the new song. Yeah, I forgot the note at the beginning of each chorus but otherwise I think it set well for the Eucharist. Unfortunately technology captured neither his preface to communion here nor his great sermon. I guess we'll just have to use primitive brain power.

16 March 2009

Washington Post: A Gate-Crasher's Change of Heart

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A friend and I have been talking about the practicalities of Jesus centered, and otherwise, non-violence vs the theory of redemptive violence when it comes to issues of personal conflict and even those of the state. How we deal with these conflicting approaches, it so happens, colors our theologies and worldviews pretty heavily - one through the other depending on how it works for you. Important? Seems to be. For now I offer a recent (not Gandhi) real world (no Jedi mind tricks) example of one of both of these theories in play. Don't think the theory of redemptive violence was involved? What do you think the gunman was trying for one way or another? Redemption. Redemption of his act toward goods for food, redemption of lost wages toward paying a bill, redemption of lost trust toward buying a present for his little girl... We don't know, but most likely it was some flawed attempt at redemption now matter how twisted the mode.

Some of you may have read this article via other postings or heard about from my never stopping mouth but I am determined to keep it in circulation.


A Gate-Crasher's Change of Heart
The Guests Were Enjoying French Wine and Cheese on a Capitol Hill Patio. When a Gunman Burst In, the Would-Be Robbery Took an Unusual Turn.
By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 13, 2007; Page B01

A grand feast of marinated steaks and jumbo shrimp was winding down, and a group of friends was sitting on the back patio of a Capitol Hill home, sipping red wine. Suddenly, a hooded man slid in through an open gate and put the barrel of a handgun to the head of a 14-year-old guest.

"Give me your money, or I'll start shooting," he demanded, according to D.C. police and witness accounts.

The five other guests, including the girls' parents, froze -- and then one spoke.

"We were just finishing dinner," Cristina "Cha Cha" Rowan, 43, blurted out. "Why don't you have a glass of wine with us?"

The intruder took a sip of their Chateau Malescot St-Exupéry and said, "Damn, that's good wine."

The girl's father, Michael Rabdau, 51, who described the harrowing evening in an interview, told the intruder, described as being in his 20s, to take the whole glass. Rowan offered him the bottle. The would-be robber, his hood now down, took another sip and had a bite of Camembert cheese that was on the table.

Then he tucked the gun into the pocket of his nylon sweatpants.

"I think I may have come to the wrong house," he said, looking around the patio of the home in the 1300 block of Constitution Avenue NE.

"I'm sorry," he told the group. "Can I get a hug?"

Rowan, who lives in Falls Church and works part time at her children's school, stood up and wrapped her arms around him. Then it was Rabdau's turn. Then his wife's. The other two guests complied.

"That's really good wine," the man said, taking another sip. He had a final request: "Can we have a group hug?"

The five adults surrounded him, arms out.

11 March 2009

NEW MUSIC: St Vincent - "The Strangers"

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New St Vincent music from the lovely Annie Clark makes me happy. The album ACTOR will be out May 5. Enjoy.

08 March 2009

Thoughts on Bill Maher's RELIGULOUS

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Tonight Megan and I watched Bill Maher's (REAL TIME w/ Bill Maher) film on religion called RELIGULOUS. You might find this odd, but I've been looking forward to this film since I first heard about it almost a year ago. Why? I have found that often Bill's critics are a little more unfair towards Bill's witty criticisms rationality than Bill is when he gets off track. Oh you bet he gets a little over the top but what do you expect, he's an comedic entertainer but a thought provoking one for sure. Perhaps that is why he is so demonized . Do you remember in the weeks after 9/11 when he set the record straight on people calling the terrorists directly responsible for the attacks "cowards"? Bill was right, their acts were heanous but they certainly weren't cowardly. Bill's show at the time, POLITICALLY INCORRECT, was ultimately cancelled because of that statement and the advertising withdrawal that followed. So, it is true, I like Bill Maher's rationalism even if I don't always think the often mocking icing on the cake is helpful.

RELIGULOUS did a good job of making fun of fundamentalist religion in many of its forms. Bill often made valid observations regarding the absurdity of doctrines and the way in which the religions' followers alternately have attempted to follow teachings as close as possible and skimp on the really hard stuff. Unfortunately the amount of theatrical editing-in of religious reenactment footage into interviews and other scenes made Bill's reasonable points come off as snobby and sensationalist.

Megan pointed out that he spent very little time with religious moderates who, I think, may have enlightened Bill's understanding of certain theology with yet others which can and do support more rational, and yet no less spiritual or Jesus-centered in my case, points of view. I say "Jesus-centered" because more time is spent in the film talking about the religions of the of the Bible than any others and because Bill's knowledge of Jesus' teachings seem to better than my own growing up going to church at least twice a week, on youth group leadership teams, and playing in the worship music band.

I recommend the film as entertainment and hope that those of serious faith might also thoughtfully consider Bill's, and many other's like him, relevant questions concerning what we proclaim as irrefutable and essential in our faiths. What things truly are at the centers of our walks? Are they the correct things?

Three out of five stars.

Available now on DVD.

04 March 2009

A return to blogging

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Today is my third wedding anniversary. "Happy Anniversary Megan! I got you me sick in bed today as a gift! I hope you like it." Yeah, fun. Two days in a row I've gone to work and ended up back home after a few hours. Not tomorrow though, I'm determined. BTW, I really like being married to Megan. She truly is wonderful.

If I don't chicken out, over the next few months I will be posting two alternating blog series: Things I Believe In: ___________ and Things I Don't Believe In: ____________ . I suspect that I sometimes will write at length while at others I will be as brief as possible. Don't expect deep subjects every time but I am sure occasionally I will surprise even myself. Hopefully there will be some conversation to fill in the gaps.


On to other things. Lately I have returned to comic book reading. After searching through my mid 90's issues of THE FLASH to find a particular artist's (Oscar Jimenez) run to compare to one of the classic Spanish artists we had seen at the Guggenheim, I rediscovered the fun, mystery, and moral struggles found in Mark Waid's writing and comics in general.


Presently I find myself immersed in very polar titles: WATCHMEN and JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA. The later is Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's famous 80's dark maxi-series that deconstructed the superhero concept and sparked more attention for more adult themed comic books and graphic novels. You will be able to see a film version starting this Friday in theaters but you undoubtably already knew that. Without ruining the story, in WATCHMEN the public lose faith and trust in the heroes and the heroes do in-kind. The results aren't pleasant. No kidding.

JUSTICE SOCIETY OF AMERICA deals with a rather large cast of heros made up both of founding members from as early as the 1940s to teenagers newly discovering their powers, what their roles are in the world, and sometimes what it means to take on the moniker of a hero past with all the baggage and former glories attached. The JSA originally disbanded post WWII as "most of the Society chose to disband and retire rather than appear in front of the fictional Joint Un-American Activities Committee, which demanded that they unmask themselves...". Sound familiar? [In actuality readers became more interested in western (cowboys etc) comics than masked superpowered heroes.]


A great difference between JSA and WATCHMEN is that the individual heroes didn't all remain out of commission and more importantly they didn't let the fear manipulated public opinion change the kind of justice they defended and enforced. In the most recent series the teams theme can be, and is often, summarized as "the world needs better heroes." Sappy? Sure, but it does. In the DC comics world it is the JSA led by a cast of experienced but not quite jaded do-gooders. I wonder who will finally take the lead in our real one.



A bonus for, at least, the first 26 issues has been the majestic painted cover art (and occasional interior art and story ideas) by Alex Ross. See his and Mark Waid's masterpiece KINGDOM COME for a wonderful take on the hero mythos intertwined with Biblical text and themes.

 
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