Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The next week of my life will be spent packing. When faced with the prospect of packing, you wonder why you ever decided to move out of a perfectly livable situation.

Describing the "sojourns" of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, one biblical writer recalls that "they lived in tents." That means, "they were always packing." Can you imagine?

I know that once we get settled in Amarillo, I'll get excited about meeting new people and about teaching, etc. And like the mother who forgets or disregards some of the pain of childbirth because of her new gift, I won't be thinking about all the packing then. But today, I'm thinking about packing.

I went to one of those order-your-boxes-on-line sites and came across this statistic: The average move requires the packing of 150 boxes. For some reason, that seems like a low number to me; probably because the statisticians don't realize that after throwing out more junk than I knew I had, it still seems like a lot of stuff.

I know, I know. One eats an elephant one bite at a time. But when was the last time you ate an elephant? And did you ever want to?

Okay, where are those boxes?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Scriptures and Songs for Christmas

For nearly eleven years, I served as the preacher for the Ward Street Church in Wallingford, Connecticut. That meant I got to plan and preside at a remembrance and celebration of the coming of Christ.

A blessed time, it was always on the Sunday evening just before (or of) the 25th. We'd listen to words familiar but ever-new. And then, beneath that metal ceiling, surrounded by those plaster walls, and warmed by old steam radiators and the eternal love of God, we'd sing with gusto, and sometimes softness, those songs that practically sing themselves.

The following order of worship was typical. I post it as a fond remembrance of those gatherings, and as a starting place for someone who might be planning a similar time of praise:

Call to Worship, Time of Prayer

Matthew 1:18-2:12

"O Come, All Ye Faithful"

"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Luke 2:1-7

"Away in a Manger"

Luke 2:8-20

"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"

"Silent Night"

"Hark! the Hearld Angels Sing"

Philippians 2:5-11

"Fairest Lord Jesus"

"My Jesus, I Love Thee"

Concluding Words of Encouragement

"To God be the Glory"

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Motion in the Ocean

My daughter was a part of the Jonah musical at the Manchester Church of Christ a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, I thought she was the cutest little fish out there. She loves to sing, and she's good at it.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I've recently done a little reading about houses and the cost of living. I've also looked at a lot of houses that are for sale (see previous posts) and talked with some experienced realtors. Here's some of what I have learned:

* Since 1970, the average size for a new house has gone from about 1500 square feet to 2300. Just within the last year or so, the average square footage of new houses has leveled off and actually gone down a little. Turns out, people are spending as much or more as they ever did on houses. It's just that now, fancy kitchen appliances and high-tech entertainment gear represent more and more of the overall cost.

* At least in Amarillo, Texas a house typically sells for about 97% of the asking price. This holds true in all price categories. My guess is that the initial offer is 5-6% lower than the asking price; the seller says, "No." Then the buyer asks to split the difference, and the two settle somewhere in the middle.

* On this the first day of winter, a lot of folks who live in cold and not-so-cold areas are wondering what it will cost to heat their homes until it gets warm again. Meanwhile, roughly half of all the energy used in the U.S. is wasted. Evidently, a lot of lights and TVs are left on when not being used. For some people, wasted energy doesn't feel like money out the window. But it is. So go turn off that light that you don't need to have on right now.

* One of the first things I notice about a house I "look at" is the smell (good, bad, neutral). One realtor told me that pouring a little vanilla extract in a pan and putting the pan in a warm oven gives off that mouth-watering smell of a bakery. Sounds like something worth a try. This reminded me that one of my greatest memories goes back to the time when my mom made roast and potatoes and carrots (was an onion in there?) almost every Sunday. The aroma would fill the entire house, and it was wonderful. I wonder what it smells like in heaven. What's the sensory experience of the aroma of Christ?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Our new home (sale pending!)
See story below. Posted by Picasa

Tale of a Texas Whirlwind

Thanks for your comments on my recent posts. Like the rest of you bloggers, I love good feedback.

After a busy weekend in Amarillo, Texas, Michele and I are back in Connecticut. It was quite a trip. We started Thursday with a late take off at Hartford, which meant we our missed connection at Dallas (we made it to the gate just in time to see the plane moving back from the jetway). So we got to Amarillo about three hours late. But we'd made it!

Then, things got better. For one, Jerry and Kay Chism were our hosts the whole time. They couldn't have been more gracious.

Friday began with a funny wake-up call from Michele's sister, Sharlette. Then, Michele and I spent Friday and Saturday looking at what seemed like half the houses in town. But we had said we wanted to make the most of our time there, and our realtor Cheryl Jones did a great job of helping us do that.

On Friday evening, we took a break from house hunting and had a fun, relaxing dinner with Jeanette, Ken, and Janaye Danley, and Janaye's friend, David. Like a lot of us, the Danleys have moved a few times and knew just what we needed. What a nice time!

Saturday morning, we saw the house we thought we wanted. After a good lunch with Janie and Jerry Klein (Texas barbeque!), we made an offer on the house. Then, we waited.

That afternoon my folks drove over from Altus. We met them at their motel, went out to dinner, and told them all about the previous two days of looking. It was so great to be with them again. We hadn't seen them since August.

That night, Amarillo got a coating of ice. To use the words of the TV weatherman, outside it was "slicker than a greased banana." We wondered, Hadn't we just left cold country?

It was treacherous making it to church the next morning. Not all of the regulars were at the San Jacinto Church of Christ. But it was warm inside; the people were so friendly. During Bible class, the phone in the foyer rang. It was my sister Shari letting us know that she and her family didn't own a sled that could make it from Wellington to Amarillo. They wouldn't be joining us for worship. Of course, I was disappointed that we wouldn't get to see my sister and her family. But something else helped me to feel better.

Going from preacher to college teacher has made me a little anxious. I've wondered a lot about what it will be like to sit during the sermon, listening to someone else speak. Sometimes former preachers are the worst preacher critics, and I don't want to even start being like that, the misery of a ministry. But I have to say that I really like Leonard Harper, the preacher at the San Jacinto congregation. A good Bible class teacher, Leonard knows how to get people to think with Scripture, rather than simply telling them what he thinks about it. And his sermon--on the dilemma that Joseph faced when he learned of Mary's pregnancy--engaged and challenged me. From what I've seen and heard, Leonard is what every congregation deserves to have in a preacher.

After church, we shared lunch with my parents. Then, we got "the call." Our offer had been turned down. So with about two hours before our flight time, we said our good-byes to my folks and met Cheryl at the real estate office to discuss our options. It didn't look like we'd ever get over the obstacles between us and the house. But there was a second house we liked, probably the one we should have picked to begin with.

We decided to ink an offer for the second house and rush to the airport. Within an hour, we found out that all the running was in vain. Sitting at the gate, we heard a loud page. Hearing your named called by a stranger over a public intercom always gives you that grown-up feeling of being called to the principal's office. "What's happened?" we wondered. So we towed our coats and carry-ons back past the check point all the way to the ticket counter where we were told that, because of the ice, we wouldn't make it to Dallas in time to catch the last plane out to Hartford that day. We had a choice: we could spend the night in Amarillo, or we could spend the night in Dallas. But we would not spend the night in Connecticut.

So we called Jerry Chism, who thought he wouldn't see us again until next year, and asked if he could come get us. Jerry was there in a jiffy, and within an hour or so, the Bellizzis and the Chisms were munching on Domino's pizza, delivered by a guy who could have used a pair of ice skates. Was it providence?

Following several phone conversations with Cheryl, who had been on the phone with the seller's realtor, at about 10 p.m. we found out that we'd struck a deal. And, we'd have just enough time Monday morning to sign the papers and travel to the airport for a second shot at making back to New England.

The northern part of the Texas panhandle got even more freezing drizzle on Sunday night. So we woke up Monday wondering what would happen.

What happened was, Cheryl slid to meet us, we signed the papers, and Kay and Jerry took us to the airport. Six hours later, we landed in New England with lots of stories to tell and jobs to do. But now we know a little more about what might happen next. Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christianity and Christmas

A few days ago, I got a newsletter from a writer who wants to defend and advance New Testament Christianity. Guess what one of the articles is about. Big hint: It's the December issue.

That's right, time to break out all of those arguments against anyone thinking himself to be a faithful Christian while remembering the birth of Jesus between September and the first of Spring.

The article begins with the writer's appreciation for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." And, he says, there's so much more that's good about this season.

Snow on December 25th? That's good. Presents? Good. Families together? Good. Eating? Good. Christmas trees? They're good too.

But Christians "conducting special Christmas services"? Now that's bad! In fact, it's right to question any group who would highlight the birth of Jesus at this time of year simply (and I quote), "because we want to do so."

I can only hope that this brother means well. But if he does, then I really wish he'd take another look at Paul's Letter to the Romans. There the Scripture says that if someone wants to consider one day more special than another, then that's between him and God. And if someone decides to tell this special-day Christian that he's wrong or bad, then God wants to ask that someone, "Why do you judge your brother? Why do you look down on him? Won't each one give an account of himself?" (see Romans 14:1-12).

But, of course, Romans 14 isn't the passage quoted in the article. Instead, the writer goes to Galatians 4:10-11, which says, "You observe days and months and seasons and years. I am afraid for you, lest by any means I have labored for you in vain."

Now, I'm guessing that our writer would be among the first to say that the words of Scripture can only be understood in context, and that the immediate literary context, the surrounding paragraph, is the really critical part.

So then, what is the immediate context of the statement in Galatians 4? It appears that Christians who had gotten off to good start with God were now turning back to serve "weak and miserable principles." Their observance of special times was not something done towards God (the Romans scenario). Rather, their observance was meant as obedience to former masters who never even held the true status of "gods" (Galatians 4:8-11). It's a vast difference.

In the New Testament, the question is not, "May we observe special days?" Rather, the question is, "Why do you want to observe special days, and who is the object of your devotion?" If the practice is some kind of supplement to faith in Christ or different from devotion to God, then forget it. Don't do it. But if you want to do it because you love God, trust in his Son, and for some reason that time means something special to you, then by all means, do it to the honor of your Lord.

Now, which one of those two alternatives describes a congregation that wants to remember and honor the birth of Christ at this time of year?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Write On!

Why would anyone doubt the biblical doctrine of the Fall? I mean, isn't it something we all assume all the time?

Listen to talk radio. Pick up a self-help book. Go to church. Read blogs, including the comments. Here's what you'll hear: "The world is a messed-up place, and I can explain what's wrong and what we should do about it. "

We typically differ about the answers. But that there is an implicit and pressing question is something every responsible person seems to know, even if they've never been told.

Of course, I'm one of those billions of people who thinks he knows what's wrong and what to do about it. So I write.

- - - - - -

One of the reasons I blog is because it keeps me writing. Writing something. Anything.

I don't write every day. But I sometimes think I'm supposed to. That's because, years ago, when I first started really trying to write, I came across something the great Flannery O'Conner once said. Sometime after she'd become famous, Flannery told an interviewer that she wrote every single day. It wasn't that her writing was good every day. But she knew that if she didn't write every day, then on the days when it would be really good, she might not be writing.

I'm glad Flannery wrote every day. And I think she was onto something there.

Not all media were created equal. Now that I've learned a few things about what email can and cannot do, I'm still trying to figure out what a blog is and is not good for. But for now, I keep the blog because it's like having a friend who constantly says to me, "Come on, man. Write something."

- - - - - -

Years ago I read something about the number of "pages" that a preacher preaches. The writer(probably a preacher) was trying to quantify the output of a preacher's wordsmithing work. The figure came to something like six or seven novels worth every year.

I remember wondering at the time, Should someone quoting the Bible get credit for creativity? And that pre-sermon banter used by preachers to welcome visitors and promote important stuff? That counts as fiction writing?

But I digress. (Probably an effect of the Fall). For the sake of the point, let's say that the preacher doesn't "write" six or seven good novels every year. Let's say it's just one.

My question is, Why isn't the preacher publishing that? Would you crank out a novel a year and never send anything to a publisher?

"The pen is mightier than the sword." What would that guy have said about keyboards and the Internet? Have things like the Bible, the Nicene Creed, Augustine's Confessions, those ninety-five theses, the "Declaration and Address," and Karl Barth's Commentary on Romans taught us nothing?

If you haven't guessed already, I wish more preachers would put at least something in print every once in a while. Not that many are ever going to match the truly great stuff. But over the course of a year's worth of teaching, is there nothing of which the preacher can say, "But this one thing I'll polish and publish"? Preachers, maximize your ministry of the Word! Write for the Lord's sake, and ours.

Inspiration: Up to this point, everything I've ever submitted for publication in a Christian magazine or journal has seen the light of printed day. (Actually, that should be qualified by "almost." The only thing that's been turned down so far is some stuff I wrote on church-state questions; I think I'm not "right" enough about that stuff. Ooh, maybe I'll publish it here). Of course, serials among the Churches of Christ pay from nothing all the way to next-to-nothing. So the competition for space isn't exactly stiff.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) Posted by Picasa

Stone and the Campbells on Who is a Christian

It might be that many members of the Churches of Christ would be surprised (pleasantly or otherwise) to know how some of the earliest American church reformers, their religious ancestors, dealt with questions of Christian fellowship and unity. Here's a sampling:

"Whoever acknowledges the leading truths of Christianity, and conforms his life to that acknowledgement, we esteem a Christian." --Barton W. Stone, Biography, p. 332.

* * * * * * * * *

Alexander Campbell calls the following definition his "favorite and oft-repeated":

"A Christian is one that habitually believes all that Christ says, and habitually does all that he bids him." --Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 566

This definition grew out of the criticism fired at Campbell after he published an exchange between himself and a "lady from Lunenburg." In his letter to the lady, Campbell allowed that there must be unimmersed Christians in the so-called sects. He added:

"But who is a Christian? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will." --Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 411

To recognize that one may habitually obey Christ even when one's knowledge is defective is to face up to the obvious; we all do it. We're all ignorant about some things. And among those things we understand very well, our obedience is imperfect. But, said Campbell, if a person habitually obeys "in all things according to his measure" of knowledge of the Lord's will, then that person rightfully calls himself a Christian. Among the early leaders of what is now called the American Restoration Movement (a.k.a. Stone-Campbell Movement) this was regarded as a valid basis for unity and fellowship.

In the context of the first definition (Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 565), Campbell warns against judging those "who would die for Christ" but who because they do not yet understand, have never been immersed. He notes that some of these unimmersed folks often show a Christ-likeness that is lacking in those who would judge them. And he says candidly that he expects to see such people in heaven. Interestingly, this comes from one who championed baptism by immersion and its importance as much as any church leader in history.

* * * * * * * * *
Yet another statement comes from Thomas Campbell, Alexander's father. In the historic "Declaration and Address," Thomas offers the following on the nature of the church: "The Church of Christ on earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians."

We can learn from our fathers in the faith. They can press us to consider and think through Scripture with the heart of Christ so that we can (1) avoid a false emphasis and (2) identify what is truly crucial to Christian identity and life.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

I Wonder

1. Can't remember where I came across this, but the question perfectly asks what I've been wondering for a while: "Is blogging a revolution in discourse, or is it CB radio?" Whaddaya think? (I promise not to quote you 10 years from now. And if you don't know what CB radio is, ask an elder).

2. Something else I've been wondering about as I get ready to move is, "Which books move with me? Which ones get given away? And which ones should go straight to the trash?" (It's like a dagger in the heart to even ask that last question, but I've collected a lot of books over the years and some just have to go). I'd be interested in other alternatives and guidelines from those who've done this recently.

3. I also wonder about how the advent of the web will impact book ownership. So far, it seems to have increased the sale of books.

4. Related to the first question: I know that there are some good examples and write ups out there already, but I'd like to hear your suggestions, ideas, experiences about using a blog in a school course.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

People from our Present Past, etc.

One of the occupational hazards of being a historian, even an amateur like me, is that you wake up one day to realize that a lot of your best friends are dead people. Also, you sometimes wonder if you would like these people more or less if you could actually be with them for a few days. I suspect that some great characters of the past weren't all that great to be around; some were no doubt better than we realize. I think that for some people, being outwardly successful and being domestically tolerable are competing principles; for others, the two work like synergy.

But back to this business of people I know at a bothersome distance: Some (or most?) of them might intimidate me I think. For example: I get the impression that the philosopher David Hume would probably goof on me, with me standing there, and I wouldn't even realize it until maybe the next day, if ever. Which is not to say I think he was a bad or a mean person. But it's like he has 21 good gears, while I'm stuck with a worn out 3-speed. We would notice the difference, I suspect.

Like a lot of my other dead-n-dear friends, Kierkegaard is one of those people I'm fond of, but could never be like. I mean, he has this passion and seriousness and compulsion and honesty and wit that I'm attracted to (much like Augustine). But there are times when his romantic bent turns into absolute romanticism, and I think I'd have to say, "I hear you, Soren, but I can't go there with you." He'd probably convince me of his way of seeing, until I woke up the next morning at which point I'd get back to seeing like me.

I think that Karl Barth must have been very charming. However, I have to say that most of the time when I read him, I finally sit back, blank look on my face, and say, "Well . . . . Yeah. But how to put into practice (what to do with) what he just said, I haven't a clue." For me, the Barthian upshot never gets fired. Instead, it feels like I just read really good poetry (which is something I never do, but if I did I think I would feel like that). Would I have liked being one of Barth's students? I'm not sure.

What about you? Any folks you know across time whom you'd like to know better? ("Duh! Jesus!" was just taken by me) :-) Any others?

- - - - - -

Our little old kerosene-burning water heater finally died last night. It was replaced today with a big new electric water heater. I just wrote out the check and paid the man. I don't recommend this to anyone. But then, how nice to be able to make a few calls, and in less than 24 hours have hot water again.

- - - - - -

Many years ago, I sat in a church growth class at Harding Graduate School thinking, "It seems that the next generation of Christianity should more-closely approximate New Testament models and images of the church." Yet I kept trudging along in the ruts that had been carved out by my forefathers.

Now it seems like Generation Next is acting on the kinds of things I was thinking then. In some cases, it's not because of a studied rejection of old forms; instead it seems like they could do no other, being who they are. (How's that for an over-generational-ization?)

Anyway, at once I feel proud and hopeful, lost and untrained. It will be interesting to see what unfolds. I will be looking for new ways in which I myself will be called upon to lead or follow. And I'm learning again to not assume that a different future will never arrive.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Go and read what my former teacher John Mark Hicks recently wrote (Dec. 1) about the Lord's Supper. His blog, Professing Professor, is here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Starting Another Chapter

A week ago last Sunday, I resigned as the preacher for the South Road Church of Christ in Farmington, CT. I told the people that I didn't want them to assume for a minute that I thought poorly of the congregation and its ministry.

In fact, when I consider all this church does and what its prospects can be, I'm amazed. I have never known a congregation with a greater level of knowledge and zeal for the Word than they have. And when it comes to responding to a challenge--like conducting last summer's Vacation Bible School--they reveal how adequate God has made them.

But I've decided to leave Connecticut to become the next director of the Bible Chair in Amarillo, Texas. This ministry serves Amarillo College, a two-year school with over 10,000 students.

Having grown up among the Churches of Christ in Southwest Oklahoma, I've heard about Bible chairs since way back when. But I know it's not a familiar term to everyone.

"Bible Chair" refers to a fairly unique concept of Christian work that is carried out on a college campus. It offers courses in religion that are accredited by the college, and its teacher is regarded as a member of the faculty. The financial sponsorship for the chair comes from interested churches and individuals. So it operates much like an endowed chair of Whatever Studies at Anygiven College.

Bible chairs typically have a facility that is adjacent to the college campus. The chair at Amarillo is no exception. The building includes a large classroom, offices for secretary and director, a library, and a student lounge.

That part may sound a little bookish. But the work of a Bible chair is more than merely academic. It also has a spiritual and whole-life emphasis. Working from a list of purposes written by Jerry Klein, one of the previous directors, I would include the following goals as part of the holistic vision for the Bible Chair at Amarillo College:
  • To provide opportunities for intellectual and artistic self-expression in a Christian setting.
  • To allow students the opportunity to participate in intramural sports on campus, through membership in Kappa Chi, the college-sanctioned group associated with the chair.
  • To sponsor retreats, picnics, ski trips, and other activities designed to build friendships and a sense of community among the students.
  • To train and develop Christian leaders.

That's a tall order. But it's a mission that a Bible chair is perfectly situated to accomplish.

I have to say that a big reason that I feel positive about this change has to do with some people I've recently met in Amarillo. The first person I talked with was Kay Chism, the secretary for the San Jacinto Church of Christ, under whose auspices the Bible chair operates. Kay was friendly and helpful from the very first.

The search committee who contacted and interviewed me consisted of two good men: John Dannelley and Jerry Chism, Kay's husband. Whenever you look at another job thousands of miles away, you depend on those people on the other side. Jerry and John could not have been better.

Becky Hugg handles all sorts of administrative tasks at the Bible Chair. We've already met and emailed back and forth. I've been told by everyone that I will feel fortunate to have her as a co-worker.

I've known Ken and Jeanette Danley for many years. Ken and I both served churches in Connecticut. About the same time I came to the Ward Street Church in Wallingford, he began as the minister for the Whitney Avenue congregation just a few miles down the parkway from Wallingford. Years later, when he was working for the BIC Corporation, Ken was the deacon of education at Ward Street. From there, he went on to become the children's minister at Amarillo Central Church of Christ. When the Danleys moved to Texas a couple of years ago, I never dreamed I'd be reunited with them there.

Earlier I mentioned Jerry Klein. For many years Jerry served as the director of the Bible Chair. He's been handling the fall semester teaching responsibilities while maintaining his work as one of the ministers for the Comanche Trail Church of Christ. He's also done a lot to help me so far, and has pledged to lend his assistance as I get started.

What an array of great friends (present and future) and co-workers!

The immediate future? My plan is to continue with the South Road congregation through the end of the year. We'll make the move shortly after the first of the year. Then, school starts at Amarillo College on January 17th.

With a ministry to wrap up, a house to sell, a house to buy, a cross-country move to make, a new work to begin, and some major holidays in between, we feel overwhelmed. If you don't hear from me at this blog anytime soon, you'll understand why.

Finally, I want to ask you to pray for South Road, for the Bible Chair ministry at Amarillo, and for my family. So long for now.

You can check out the Bible Chair's website here.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Getting ready for school

My older daughter is nearly halfway through her junior year of high school. So you know one thing I'm thinking about: college.

I came across an interesting set of figures for various colleges and universities. The list can help prospective students get a feel for where they stand when in comes to their SAT scores. By the way, only one school affiliated with the Churches of Christ appears in the list. That's because my source (the N. Y. Times) reports on only those schools that accept fewer than 50% of their applicants.

What follows is a short, representative list. It gives the following: (1) The name of the school, (2) the percentage of applications accepted by that school, and (3) the range of the middle 50% of SAT scores among those accepted (i.e., excluding the top and bottom 25% of the SAT scores). Take a look:

Boston College, 32%, 1240-1410

Emory, 39%, 1300-1460

Harvard, 11%, 1400-1580

Notre Dame, 30%, 1280-1470

Oberlin, 37%, 1250-1440

Pepperdine, 27%, 1110-1310

Rice, 22%. 1330-1540

U. N. C., Chapel Hill, 36%, 1190-1390

U. of Tennessee, 44%, 1000-1230

Vanderbilt, 38%, 1270-1440

Yale, 10%, 1400-1560

The school on the list with the most number of applications? U.C.LA. with 43,199! How'd you like to be at the bottom of that stack?

Friday, November 04, 2005

Decisions, decisions

A few days ago, I got an e-mail prayer request from a long-time friend. This person is thinking about going into a challenging ministry that would sometimes bring the threat of violence. The message included this statement: "I know that God is good; but I also know that He is not safe."

That very same day I came across this line by C.S. Lewis: "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."

The idea that God's best might be the harder way, that it might even bring a cross . . . I struggle with that. There have been times when I've regretted being so tough on myself, seeing later that taking the harder way was more noble only in my mind. At other times I've been ashamed that I took the easier way, seeing later that I had dodged an opportunity to act like Christ in his unselfishness.

This is why we're told to pray for wisdom. We don't have the insight we need in order to make most subtle distinctions. If this is right, then praying for wisdom is sort of like the referee getting a look at the replay of a close call. After reviewing the play, the decision is usually a lot easier and is made with more confidence. I think that the passage of time, a good night's rest ("Let me sleep on it"), and talking with respected friends can also serve the same sort of purpose in our decision-making.

- - - - - -

"Think globally, act locally." Along that line, one thing that seems clear enough is that the future of Christianity will be increasingly eastern and southern (think hemispheres) and non-white. So I'm curious about what western, northern, Anglo churches should do or do differently in order to make the most of a sea change like that.

At the same time, it seems like maybe God is dropping the world on the doorsteps of the churches in America. I remember hearing Evertt Huffard talk about this. The other day, wandering around in a Hartford neighborhood, I came upon an all-Vietnamese video store(!)

I already knew that there were some Brazilians in Hartford. But I didn't realize how many. Brazilian flags everywhere, in the windows of apartments, hanging from rearview mirrors of cars parked in the street. Brazilian stores and restaurants. For a minute it seemed like an out-of-the way neighborhood in Sao Paulo.

Meanwhile, a huge percentage of Churches of Christ in the U.S. are almost entirely white and middle class, any immigrant status of the members left behind for at least a generation.

What to do? There's that need for wisdom again. . . .

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Spades, shovels, and a swimming good time

For a few decades now, evangelical Christians of all types have been moving away from the tack that says, "Let's authenticate the Bible with archaeology." But back in the heyday of William F. Albright--the real Indiana Jones--it was common to find Bible-confirming archaeological news in the pages of Christianity Today magazine, the vanguard of modern American Evangelicalism.

A lot's happened since then: Albright died in 1971. About the same time, social currents and political events in the United States cast a heavy shadow on previously-trusted authority. Perhaps never again will Americans believe something just because a father figure announced it. (Think: from "Father Knows Best" to "The Simpsons").

Maybe people at church began to notice that whenever a new discovery seemed to confirm some aspect of biblical history, unbelievers didn't rush in to be baptized.

Maybe some began to rediscover that, even in the first century, Christian faith did not depend on or wait for direct access to historical foundations: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1 Peter 1:8).

And maybe the likes of William Dever, whose more-recent and influential writings on archaeology run counter to Albright's positive interpretations, have put a dent in all the enthusiasm over "something just discovered."

Whatever the reasons, the enterprise called "biblical archaeology" looks a lot different than it did in, say, 1965.

But I have to confess, as someone who grew up going to church and who's now come to some sort of grown-up orthodox Christian faith, I still get a kick out of the occasional story about a team that's recently unearthed evidence that what the Bible casually asserts is exactly the way it was. That is to say, while I don't trust in biblical archaeology news, I do like it.

And here's the latest: the Pool of Siloam. You know, Jesus said to the blind man, "Here's mud in your eye. Now go and wash in the Pool of Siloam"? Well, for a long time it was regarded by some as a metaphor only: the man was sent there by Jesus and, as John 9:7 explains, the name of the pool means "sent."

The strictly-metaphorical understanding of "the Pool of Siloam" fed the idea that John's Gospel has little connection to any real history surrounding Jesus. According to this view, the Fourth Gospel is not the selected biography that modern readers would naturally take it to be. Rather, it's more like a spiritual fantasy, a narrative about Jesus where, unlike in the Book of Revelation, the constant symbolism shows up incognito.

Hmmm. Meanwhile, it turns out that the Pool of Siloam really was there. And you can read about it here. Go ahead, take the plunge.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

It's been a while since my last post. That's mainly because I've been doing a lot of non-blog writing of late. I know, some of you were thinking the delay was all about the Redbirds losing out to the Astros. Actually, following a good cry, I had intended to say my congratulations to Houston and that I was pulling for the National League Champions. But before I could get the words out, the Astros promptly lost the first three games of the World Series! Baseball: the perfect blend of sport and the Book of Ecclesiastes. "Time and chance happen to them all."

- - - - - - - -

When I was in my late teens and early twenties--say, 1978 to 1984--if contemporary music was like plankton, then I was like a very large aquatic animal. It was during those years that I happened upon a group that in my book qualifies to win the "Best Band that Never Hit it Big" Award. In fact, I just invented that award and proudly present it to, . . . drum roll, please . . . Shoes.

That's right, Shoes. Four guys from Zion, Illinois. You've probably never heard them, or of them. But they were good.

Their "Boomerang" album, released by Elektra Records in 1982, wasn't their first. But it was my introduction to the band, and I've loved that collection ever since. With some tunes, like one called "Mayday," the sound is a nice blend of classic rock and then-popular New Wave (think, The Cars). Other songs, like "The Summer Rain" I would describe as melodic with a moderate beat (think, Bryan Adams).

I don't understand the popular music industry, then or now, so I'm not sure why Shoes didn't make it big (assuming they really wanted to). But I can guess. Very few of their songs have that sure-hit sound, although several of them could with just a little tweaking. The music is plenty good, but the recordings come across as spare and understated, begging to be a little fuller and brassier. But then, why critique a group that just received an award?

So tell me, who would you nominate for "Best Band that Never Hit it Big"? Who's your favorite no-name act? Oh, and you can listen to Shoes here.

- - - - - - -

For me, life doesn't get any better than reading from the Psalms and singing traditional hymns that repeat their words and reflect their meaning. In our worship time last Sunday night, we read and sang the following:

Psalm 100

"All People That on Earth Do Dwell"

Psalm 148

"Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah"

Psalm 23

"The Lord's My Shepherd"

Psalm 133

"How Sweet, How Heavenly" (We held hands while singing this one)

I'd be interested to hear about the churchly experiences of others, especially well-planned times of worship and praise.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Lamenting the Lottery

People are now spending $1.7 million per hour buying up tickets for a $340 million power-ball lottery drawing scheduled for tonight. Since yesterday, the odds of winning have grown just a little longer: from 145 million to 146 million to 1.

Now and then, you'll hear the faint voice of a lottery official who's mouthing the message, "Please play responsibly," as though that were possible. Of course, this is followed by yet another live report from a convenience store:

"Here in Podunk, Jim, lottery tickets are selling like hotcakes!"

"It looks like the line goes all the way around the building, Susie! I bought five tickets this morning myself."

This . . . makes . . . me . . . sick.

State legislators know good and well that lotteries represent one of the most repressive forms of raising revenue, two to three times more repressive than, say, an income tax. Not to mention that the fine-sounding reasons for establishing a lottery ("these monies will help fund education" etc.) are rarely followed once the state-sanctioned gambling has begun.

What elected officials are telling their constituencies adds up to this: "As long as we don't have to tell the rich people we've got to raise their taxes, we'll take foolishly-spent money and use it anyway we want."

For all of our collective agonizing over the plight of the poor, why doesn't anyone say that the have-nots would have at least a little more if our states would stop taxing their folly and desperation?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The ninth inning of last night's game between St. Louis and Houston still has me dumbfounded. It was a shot to the solar plexus that Houston will have a hard time overcoming, no matter how much bravery they bring to Busch Stadium. With high drama and real momentum behind the Cardinals in St. Louis, it seems to me that though Houston needs only one win, the pressure is squarely on them. It will be interesting to see how the two teams respond.

Of course, today everyone's talking about Albert Pujols. That's to be expected. But the fact is, without David Eckstein's seeing-eye single, and without that gutsy walk by Jim Edmonds, the smash by Pujols would not have given the Cardinals the lead, nor even a tie. It was neat to hear Albert acknowledging that in the post-game interview. Not only a great player, he seems to be fine person as well.

For folks who drop by this blog and don't really care about baseball . . . I promise to talk about something else very soon.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

So, the Angels of Anaheim (formerly of Fresno, before that from Bakersfield) whipped the White Sox last night, 3-2. The more I see and hear of Mike Scioscia, the Angels' manager, the more I'm impressed with him. Could it be a St. Louis vs. Anaheim World Series? We'll see. In the meantime, feel free to talk baseball to me. Here, halfway between Boston and the Bronx, it's gotten awfully quiet.

- - - - -

Regarding the value of memorization, particularly great poetry and prose, take a look at this piece. Then, get Frost or Lincoln or somebody off the shelf and learn a line or two. Even better, learn it with your kids. It's the expressive equivalent of eating your vegetables. Sounds yucky. But it's good for you. And you might just come to love it.

- - - - -

In our Wednesday-night Bible class, we just started a survey of the Old Testament's twelve Minor Prophets. Because these oracles come from different times and places, it's not easy to give an overview. The words and their messages tend to get overshadowed by the historical background that's essential to the way that we typically approach and use Scripture. All that to say, when a Bible teacher knows and is sensitive to the discrete history surrounding a passage, but also treats that passage as a word from God, be thankful and listen. It wasn't easy and you need to hear it.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Once again, the Cardinals won last Saturday, sweeping the Padres to advance to the National League Championship Series. The expression "They're on a roll" was invented for times like these. What a team!

The Astros will probably put up a fight for the N.L. championship. But I think the Redbirds have the clear advantage. If so, the question is all about who St. Louis will be playing in the World Series. Provided the Cardinals bother to show up for this one, I'd thoroughly enjoy watching them take down the Yankees. But then, the Yankees haven't made it to the ALCS yet. We'll see what happens tonight. Stay tuned.

- - - - - -

"The essence of pleasure does not lie in the thing enjoyed, but in our attitude to it. The person who rejoices in simplicity will find no pleasure in riches. If the simple person asks for a glass of water, and receives the finest wine in the costliest chalice, it will not give pleasure, but pain. We shall enjoy the greatest pleasure in this life if we learn to love the simplest things."

--Soren Kierkegaard

- - - - - - -

I recently read that teachers should "emphasize understanding over memorization." The phrase consciously avoids a false dichotomy, while leaning in that direction. It made me wonder why the writer's experience and observation and conviction is so different from mine.

I'm thankful that my mother and some great teachers of mine didn't think that memorization and learning have little in common. Fact is, in so many cases I've been truly caught by those things that were repeated in my presence so often, or that I said so many times, they became a part of me and shaped me from the inside out. Those things that I can repeat, that I've sought to apprehend through the dreaded route of rote memorization, are what control my imagination as much as anything else.

I wonder, What would I do, and who would I be without . . .

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

"For God so loved the world, . . .

"The Lord is my shepherd . . .

"He who did not spare his own son, . . .

"On Zion's glorious summit stood . . .

"Love divine, all love excelling, Joy of heaven to earth come down . .

. . . And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep"

How about you? What words, what lines are a permanent part of your psyche?

Friday, October 07, 2005

The Cardinals won again! They now lead the division series against the Padres two games to none. The only thing that could make this sweeter? . . . Hearing Jack Buck call the games. They've had professional football in St. Louis for a long time now. But the love of the city is baseball. In fact, the entire region for hundreds of miles around is Cardinal Country. The voice of Jack Buck coming over the airwaves on AM radio KMOX has a lot to do with that. I still miss him.

- - - - - - -

Last Sunday, I read that since 1970 the size of the average new house has gone from roughly 1500 square feet to nearly 2300. With young adults putting off marriage, the prevalance of divorce, and the smaller number of children in families, it's hard to imagine that the increase is due to more people at a single address. In fact, I'd have to guess that in the same period of time the number of people in these increasingly-larger houses has gone down.

All that to say, I have a hard time believing the folks who claim that it's gotten harder and harder to get by in America. The fact is, a lot of us have prospered.

Is the house you now live in larger and better than the one where you grew up? What's behind the increase in the size of houses? And would it hurt us to scale back a bit on the number and size of new houses? (I wonder how the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast might impact all of this, if at all). For Christians, how should the call of the gospel, the demands of the kingdom, influence the choice of a house?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Reggie Sanders is welcomed home after hitting a grand slam in Tuesday's Game 1 of the National League Division Series. St. Louis went on to beat San Diego, 8-5. Go Redbirds! Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 26, 2005

Thanks for last week's discussion about Bible classes at church. Getting ready for the teacher's workshop, this is one of two books I've picked to read. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 24, 2005

My daughter's quite the soccer player. Not so aggressive, but savvy and quick. She's fun to watch. IMPORTANT ADDITION: She scored a goal at this game. Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 23, 2005

Adult Classes at Church: Ideas? Suggestions?

I've agreed to lead a session on the topic of teaching adults in a church context. This will be on a Saturday at a teacher's workshop hosted by a Church of Christ here in Connecticut. I've got to check, but right now I'm assuming that I'll have an hour or less.

The event is about two months away, so I've got a little time to prepare. Naturally, I plan to read and reflect. But I also want to ask for your help.

I'd like your responses to one or more of the following questions. Feel free to add your own:

1. What was the best Bible class you were ever a part of, and what made it so good?

2. What is it about Bible classes at church that really should be changed or improved?

3. If you attended my workshop session, what would want or expect to come from it?

4. Can you offer some ideas for the format of the session?

5. Do you know of a book, internet resource, magazine article, etc. that I really should know about (and recommend or pass along to those who attend)?


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Which time period is longer? From Pearl Harbor Day until the end of World War II, or from September 11, 2001 until the present? For some reason, it seems like it should be the opposite.

- - - - - - -

We got a little dog the other day. She was rescued soaking wet from a busy street in Hartford. She's been named Penelope. Middle name: Harriet. I know, this is more than a little ridiculous. But someone in the family (not me) made a passionate speech to effect that "You wouldn't want to be called something like 'Fluffy' would you?" I could only wonder to myself, "Who would call me 'Fluffy'?" But none of the others needed convincing. They too were ready for a dignified name for their dog. Welcome, Penelope. (She's very cute. Photos to follow. Whenever I can manage it).

- - - - - - -

I'm getting together with my bandmates tonight. We need at least one practice as we ready to play at an annual Christian singles' event called "The October Thing." Our group has played several times as a three-piece, with me as the lone guitarist. But I like it a lot better now that Fred has made it a foursome. Fred plays terrific lead guitar, and that adds a lot. One thing I've noticed about playing in a band: when someone, anyone, is really playing well, everyone else tends to play better. I think this is true of churches and families and businesses, etc. It just shows up more-clearly in a band.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Today, I'm praying with Augustine:

Blessed are your saints, O Lord, who have traveled over the rough sea of this life, and have reached the harbor of eternal peace and joy. Watch over us who are still on the dangerous voyage. Our ship is frail, and the ocean is wide. But in your mercy you have set us on our course with your Son as our pilot, guiding us towards the everlasting shore of peace, the quiet haven of our hectic desire.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Pedro Martinez pitches against the Braves, Friday, September 16th, Shea Stadium. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 17, 2005

A Night to Remember

It was overcast and a little damp in Connecticut yesterday. Same thing in New York. So I had my doubts as I looked at the tickets for last night's game at Shea Stadium between the Mets and their great rivals, the Atlanta Braves.

"Who'll be pitching?," I wondered. With the Mets out of the hunt for the wildcard, maybe the names of two mediocre pitchers would help me decide against the risk of rain. But in a couple of clicks I knew, rain or shine, Ben and I would make it to that game. The likely starters? John Smoltz and Pedro Martinez.

I picked Ben up just as school was letting out. We made it to Queens by late afternoon, just in time to get a quick bite and get ourselves into the stadium.

As expected, both Smoltz and Martinez sat down most of the batters in short order (the game lasted barely 2 hours). But this was Pedro's night. Martinez completed eight shutout innings by striking out the side.

Then, with a pitch count over 100, Pedro returned to the mound for the top of the ninth. I could only imagine how his conversation had gone with Mets' manager Willie Randolph. Whatever was said, two thoughts prevailed: one, Martinez wanted to go the distance, especially in a shutout and, two, with a four-run lead, he should be given the chance.

In the ninth, a lead-off hit by the Braves' Rafael Furcal raised my fears. While trying to prove something, I thought, Pedro was running out of gas. The next batter, Marcus Giles also singled, sending Furcal to third. It was getting worse.

Next, with runners at the corners, the Braves' Chipper Jones came to the plate. Now, for folks who haven't followed the Mets through the years, Jones' appearance would seem daunting enough. But both the legend and the fact is that Chipper Jones stands out as the dasher of hope, many times the deciding difference in a victory over the Mets. This was high drama.

Martinez, clearly recognizing the stakes, threw a mix of pitches that culminated with a fastball in the low 90s. Jones struck out looking.

Just as I was sighing relief, I remembered that the next batter was the other Jones of the Braves: Andruw . . . with one of the best batting percentages in the National League . . . who's hit 50 homeruns so far this year. Pedro's solution? Again, a brilliant array of pitches that concluded with a 77 mph curveball that puzzled the power hitter. Andruw went down with a half swing. The word "magnificent" was invented for just such a performance. But it wasn't over.

Things got tense moments later when Adam LaRoche--whose three previous plate appearances accounted for 3 of Pedro's 10 strikeouts on the night--walked to load the bases. But with his 122nd pitch of the game, Martinez managed to get Jeff Francouer to fly out to left. Just like that, it was over.

We had watched as Pedro Martinez racked up his 17th career shutout, surpassed 200 strikeouts on the season, and moved into 14th place among all-time strikeout leaders. And it didn't rain a drop.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

J. I. Packer

"We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Chrisitan tradition, in the form of sermons, books and established patterns of church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and view points with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world. . . . It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has molded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, . . . We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scripture." Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 12, 2005

View of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges from the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Photo courtesy of Christopher Evans. Story in previous post. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Memories from September 11, 2001

As we were learning the terrible truth on the morning of September 11, 2001, there was one person I especially wanted to see: my daughter Chloe. She wanted to see me too.

When she came in from school later that afternoon, our sad eyes met. We stayed in that mutual gaze for a long time, both of us knowing exactly what the other was thinking.

Living less than a hundred miles from Manhattan, day trips into "the City" are easy to do and always promise an adventure. Earlier in June of that year, Chloe and I had spent one such day together, just the two of us.

On the train ride down that morning, she told me she was really interested in a visit to Ellis Island. She'd been reading about immigrants who came through there. She wanted to know what they once saw, to imagine how they must have felt. Some of them were Bellizzis.

I thumbed through my guide to New York and realized that we weren't going to be able to make it out to Ellis Island that day. I had scheduled a short appointment with a professor at New York University, hoping to set up a plan to read Classical Hebrew there maybe one day a week. It would be expensive, I thought. But on my day off I could enjoy two loves of my life; New York and Old Hebrew. Besides, going through a terrible divorce, I was pretty desperate for something that would help me to feel happy again. No Ellis Island that day, I told Chloe.

I knew she was disappointed. So I promised her that once we'd gotten my meeting out of the way, she could call the shots. I'd be willing to spring for almost any adventure. But it would have to be in Manhattan.

She hadn't imagined an alternative, and wanted to know what I thought would be a fun Plan B. So I started to ask . . .

The Museum of Natural History? Um. No.

(joking) The American Numismatic Society? Lots and lots of ancient coins! Nobody wants to go there except you, Dad.

I bet my teacher, Dr. Oster, would go with me. Then call him.

A few bookstores? (getting irritated) Dad!

Okay, sorry. I know! How 'bout the World Trade Center? What can you do there?

I'm not sure, exactly. (looking it up in the guide) But we could go to the top. Says here that they have places to eat. There's a glassed-in observation deck, and you can take an escalator up to the roof.

(looking at the pictures and starting to smile) Okay. Let's do that.

After the train stop and our walk through Grand Central, we took the subway headed south. Having made it to lower Manhattan, we meandered around in Washington Square Park talking. Then it was over to my appointment, which was over soon enough.

As we stepped out of the office building, I wanted to be sure we'd have enough time that afternoon. So I decided to spend the extra money for a cab instead of the subway. Within a few minutes, the driver was dropping us off so close to the buildings that we couldn't see their tops from inside the car.

Looking at the World Trade Center was sort of like looking at the Grand Canyon. You wondered, "Is it bigger or smaller than it seems?" You also wondered, "How was this ever made?" There on the street, most everything was gray, the sunlight blocked by the shadows of the towers. Even the bright signs had a bit of a pall.

Once inside, it wasn't long before we bought our tickets to take the less-than-a-minute elevator ride to the 107th floor. From that point up, most of the WTC's south tower was the obseravation deck and a level or two with restarants and exhibits. We walked around the perimeter of the deck, looking in all directions, reading the signs that told us what we were seeing. Soon we were on the escalator, riding up to the roof.

It was incredible. I remember looking up the length of Manhattan and seeing well past the north end of the island, all the way to those towns in New York that lay beyond the Bronx, and east into Connecticut. To the west was New Jersey. I wondered about the number of miles we could see.

The wind was strong and blustery, a constant sound in the ears, like standing at the edge of the ocean. I remember thinking, "It must be like this all the time up here. Wonder what it's like on a windy day." For a second my imagination turned horrific and I thought about what it would it would be like if an unexpected gust were to take my feet out from under me and send me flying from the top.

Between the office appointment and the cab, we had looked around in a tourist shop and I'd bought one of those disposible cameras. Now I was ready to use it. I especially wanted to get a picture of the two of us facing south, with the Empire State Building and all of those lesser skyscrapers behind us. I asked a young woman if she wouldn't mind. She snapped the photo and smiled as she handed the camera back to me.

The roof wasn't where you wanted to linger. Within few minutes, Chloe and I were having lunch at the pizza place on one of those top floors. I guess I'll never forget one of the songs that played in the background that day. It was Billy Joel's "Lullabye."

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on
They never die
That's how you
And I
Will be . . .

Of course, it made me think of me and Chloe.

I don't recall much about the rest of the day. There was a late afternoon shower, and we bought an umbrella at a little shop on Broadway. I still have that umbrella.

Within a day or two after we'd gotten back, though, I started wondering where that camera was. We looked, but didn't find it. The week following September 11th, we looked a lot more, but it never turned up.

Since then, when I'm not wishing we had that photo, I sometimes think to myself, "Maybe it's just as well."

Either way, I have these memories. Now and then, I hear that song. It always makes me cry.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

This 'n That

It was neat to see that Impact/Houston Church of Christ made the front page of today's Wall Street Journal, complete with one of those WSJ-type portraits of Charlie Middlebrook. Page A10 includes a photo of the offices at Impact.

I'm impressed at how well those folks are handling the challenges associated with responding to the needs of hurting people. It reminds me of 3 John 6, where the writer encourages Gaius to take care of missionaries "in a manner worthy of God." Apparently, that phrase well describes the ways of Impact.

Lord, please give them strength and success!
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Ever since the President weighed in on the question of teaching intelligent-design theory along with Darwinism in our public schools (he said we should), the New York Times has been on a veritable rampage.

As one would guess, in the Times the dominant theory is considered fact, while the challenger is characterized as void of any scientific backing, "intellegent design" being nothing more than code language for "God." No surprise here.

What gets to me is the tired notion, repeated ad nauseum in the letters section, that science and theology really treat different subjects and should, therefore, be kept separate. For example, one self-described "retired minister" writes:

"Scientists and theologians both make significant contributions to human knowledge. But getting them mixed up creates confusion of the worst possible kind.

"Let scientists do science and theologians theology. And let them stay out of each other's hair!"

Compare such drivel to something Wolfhart Pannenberg wrote 42 years ago:

"A theology that remains conscious of the intellectual obligation that goes along with the use of the word 'God' will try in every possible way to relate all truth, and therefore not least of all the knowledge of the extra-theological sciences, to the God of the Bible, and to attain a new understanding of everything by viewing it in the light of this God. That task might seem presumptuous, but it is the non-transferable burden laid upon any responsible speech about God.

" . . . it seems misleading to me to suppose that theology would be closer to its own 'essential content' when it falls back upon a separate province of divine revelations and becomes one science alongside others, . . . Such a concept of theology might have its advantages for the peaceful coexistence of theology with the other faculties of the university. But the universality connected with the idea of God thereby falls into oblivion, and a betrayal of the first commandment threatens to occur in theological thought at this point, concealed by sweet-sounding assurances about theology concentrating on its distinctive tasks."

Aay-MEN, brother!

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

In the Wake of Katrina

Like a lot of other people, I've discovered that I'm just now starting to grasp the situation along the Gulf Coast.

I read in today's Wall Street Journal that the New Orleans Times-Picayune is determined to keep publishing, at least on the web. (You've got to admire these newspaper folks who don't let things like 9/11 and Katrina keep them from publishing. What spirit!). In fact, the Times-Picayune is inviting storm survivors and people on the scene to submit their reports as they're able. You can read the on-line edition here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Last night I went to bed imagining that Katrina wasn't so bad afterall. But this morning's news made me realize that, for millions of people, "Could've been worse" wouldn't be much of a consolation today.

Dee Andrews, an acquaintance from the blogosphere, is a resident of southern Louisiana. Her post from Sunday gives some perspective to the word "evacuation."


You are a good and powerful God. So today I ask you to give tender mercy to those people who need it the most. I trust that you will.

But even as I say that, Lord, I know that for each person in the headlines there are hundreds and thousands more, and in all parts of the world.

So until that future time that you have promised, help me to remember. Help me to remember that even though I have my little parcels of temporary paradise, what I and everyone and the whole planet really need is for you to come and make all things new.

Please do that soon, dear God.


Thursday, August 25, 2005

Stranger Than Fiction

As you know, on Monday Pat Robertson said it would be a good idea for the United States to assassinate Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. Besides making "Geek of the Week" an easy pick, Robertson completely embarrassed Christianity and gave the unbelieving world another good excuse for staying away from the church.

The response from Jim Wallis that appears in "Sojourners" speaks for me.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Friday, August 19, 2005

Got a caption for this one? . . . It's from the Monday installment of V.B.S. I was sending the preschoolers as shepherds to look for the baby Jesus. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Oh, Yes! V.B.S.

We're having Vacation Bible School at the South Road Church of Christ this week. The first two days in the "Construction Zone," (building character with Jesus!) have exceeded my expectations, which were pretty high. (Photos soon).

I've been a part of Vacation Bible School almost every summer of my life. This is the 20th year that I've been a V.B.S. director. When I was a youth minister, there were some years that I'd direct for three weeks; one V.B.S. at home, then two on-the-road with my high-school juniors and seniors and some of those unsung heroes called youth sponsors. I'll never forget those trips.

I'm aware that some churches have decided that V.B.S. doesn't help them much to advance the mission of the congregation. In some cases, those churches actually have a V.B.S. of sorts. It's just that now, their "V.B.S." is a children's musical or some other sort of programming. In other cases, what Vacation Bible School used to do is no longer being done in any form.

Other churches seem to have maintained a V.B.S. routine, only on a small and often uninspiring scale.

Still other churches seem to have decided that pulling out all the stops and doing the biggest and best traditional all-week Vacation Bible School is a great use of their resources. That's where I am these days.

Either way, what's important is that the church should pay attention to children, not merely because Jesus said we are supposed to be childlike, but also because children are so very receptive and impressionable. I've seen a few senior citizens come to faith. But the overwhelming percentage of people who become Christians do so before they turn eighteen. With hardly an exception, as churches grow larger, they grow younger.

Clearly, children are important to the Lord. So they should be important to non-kids who want to be pleasing the Lord.

Dear God,

Thank you for this week of Vacation Bible School. Please help all of us, in the words of our theme song, to become just like Jesus.

Lord, thank you for the blessing of children and childhood. Please bless the efforts of people who want to see the youngest hearts turned toward you.

In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

Monday, August 08, 2005

My family's trip to Oklahoma was a good one. The highlight was the celebration of my parents' golden wedding anniversary (photo in the previous post). We had it just after Sunday evening worship. Folks from church combined with other friends from the community to make it a memorable event.

One friend had recorded a special CD with music from the mid-1950s, the perfect background. Another long-time friend of ours scanned dozens of photos--beginning with the black-and-white wedding pictures--and created a terrific slide presentation. My sister snagged the best cake decorator in the southwest, one Veronica who knocked herself out. Such a nice time. Oh, and then there were Frank and Joy Bellizzi, who gave the moment its significance. My parents are great people.

It doesn't seem possible that my Mom and Dad have been married for 50 years. And I've only been around for 42 of those years. Anyway, here's to many more.

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Micah 6:1-8 was the text for yesterday morning's sermon. Naturally, I zeroed in on the punch line in verse 8. Just an excerpt from the sermon. On the part about walking "humbly with your God" . . .

Humbleness or humility is a slippery sort of quality. Just about the time you're sure you have it, it's a sure thing you don't. In his book, "Wishful Thinking," Frederick Beuchner writes:

"Humility is often confused with the polite self-deprecation of sayng that you're not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well that you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship.

If you really aren't much of a bridge player, you're apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a low form of comedy.

True humility does not consist of thinking ill of yourself, but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do."

Well said. But it raises the question, How, then, does a person develop that pure form of being humble? I think the answer is found in the way that Micah issues the expectation. He doesn't say, "Walk humbly." He says, "Walk humbly with your God."

When people pen the history of architecture in the 20th century, one name that will come up many times is the name Frank Lloyd Wright, the great American architect. When he died in 1959, someone recalled something that Wright had once said, a statement that helps me understand the significance of the words, "with your God."

Wright said, "Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change."

It seems that, for all of his talent, Frank Lloyd Wright failed to see that there was a third alternative. He didn't really have to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. Because whenever we acknowledge and live with the truth that all of our abilities and opportunities are gifts from God, then we know what the architect might have called "honest humility."

When we are authentically humble, it's not because we've successfully overlooked or downplayed our significance; it's because we have seen and appreciated our significance and immediately said, "Thank you, God."

Heavenly Father,

I am amazed at your majesty, and I thank you for great things you do all the time. I'm most grateful for that ultimate and miraculous condescension by which you came to us in Jesus.

Father, when I am close to you, I am humble. When I walk in your light, I know the joy that comes from your presence. So draw me near you and help me stay there, because really that's where I want to be all the time.

Father, for the times when I've wandered off, please forgive me. I don't understand it. So as it is with my other faults and sins, I'll depend on you to heal me and make me better. My confidence is that I know you can and will.

For I ask you in Jesus' name, Amen.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Bellizzis at my parents' 50th wedding anniversary celebration, July 31st, 2005 Posted by Picasa

Friday, August 05, 2005

Lyle Schaller, You're the Best

I don't know Lyle Schaller. Never met him. But I wish I could have coffee with him at least once a week

Of all the writers I've come across in the church-dynamics-and-growth category, Schaller is the best. One of the few who's right up there with him is C. Kirk Hadaway. I've read at least parts of a couple of things he's written, and it all came across as well-researched and credible.

But I'm excited about Schaller right now because last week, at the Goodwill store in Altus, Oklahoma, I found a nice used copy of his book, "Looking in the Mirror: Self-Appraisal in the Local Church."

I hadn't seen this book since I returned the copy that belongs to the Harding Graduate library. That was 1990. The title was on a long list of books in the syllabus for a "Church Growth" class taught by Evertt Huffard the Younger. I skimmed the book at the time and had remembered it fondly ever since. But I didn't realize how terrific it is until this recent re-acquaintance.

To say the least, I think it's one of those must-reads for shepherds, preachers, church opinion leaders of various stripes, etc. Yes, a lot has changed on the church scene since the book first came out in 1984. But there's a lot more that hasn't changed, which is why this book's still a great read. The first chapter--about congregations of different size being radically different creatures--should be nominated for canonization or something.

So, if there's some aspect of "church" that you'd like to know more about, get your hands on the pertinent title by Lyle Schaller (there's probably at least one) and read.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Leavin' on a Jet Plane + Prayer to Start the Week

Okay, first off I have to say I'm sorry for having been such a slogger over the last few weeks.

Of course I have oodles of excellent excuses. But I've also begun to realize that the expression, "People don't want to hear your problems," applies even to me and most of my problems. Which is not to say that narcissus is dead; but blight has begun to set in. I'll keep you posted . . . so to speak.

Anyway, tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, the Bellizzis (that's me, 1 wife, and 3 kids) plan to head south. Destination: Altus, Oklahoma.

For what it's worth, the first syllable in "Altus" sounds like the first in "Altoids." The best way to get, "You ain't from around here, are ya'?" is to show up in Altus and call it "All-tus."

That settled, I should say that the reason we're going in July and not January is because next Sunday evening, we'll have the celebration of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

Naturally, I've been looking forward to this trip for a long time. It will be so good to see my Mom and Dad, my sisters and their families; to spend a few days in the old house that was my home for a long time, and in certain ways still is; to attend worship at the congregation where for countless hours I've sung and prayed and learned and laughed, the place where I was baptized some thirty years ago.

Just thinking about it reminds me that everyday each one of us is writing a book, creating a history that will be remembered for a long time and make an impact for an eternity. So choose what's right and good. Identify the will of God and do it. Oh, and before you begin, be sure to pray. Here's how I'm praying today . . .

Dear God,

Thank you for my family. And thank you for my much bigger family of which you are Father.

Thank you, Father, for taking care of my parents for all of these years. Thank you that when they were young, you drew them to yourself. Thank you for the the dozens of wonderful people, sold on the gospel and filled with your Spirit, who led and cared for and nutured us.

Help me, with those you've entrusted to my own care and keeping, to be a good and faithful steward like they were.

Please bless my family over the next week as we reunite, remember, celebrate, and look towards a future that promises to be even better in ways that we can't even imagine.

For it's in the name of Christ that I pray,


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Go See "Cinderella Man"

The AMC Entertainment group is doing something unusual. Last Friday, they began issuing a money-back guarantee to anyone who'd pay for a ticket to see the movie Cinderella Man.

For whatever set of reasons (none of them good), this movie just hasn't had many goers. Ironically, Michele and I went to see it the night it opened. We both enjoyed it.

As a film about boxing, it's not going to surpass Rocky. As a movie about the Great Depression, and that tells a true story, it does much the same thing that Seabiscuit does.

One of the best parts of this one: the supporting-actor performance by Paul Giamatti. Terrific! Something I didn't like: it runs nearly two-and-a-half hours. I think that it could easily have been ten minutes shorter and just as good otherwise.

Anyway, it seems that the people who head up AMC thought the same thing that Michele and I have been thinking for the last few weeks: "I can't believe this one hasn't caught on! It deserves to."

So, if you haven't gone (and it sounds like that's likely), go see Cinderella Man. My wife and I and AMC all think you'll like it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

From "Christian Prayers" (1556):

O God, make perfect my love toward Thee
and to my Redeemer and Justifier;
give me a true and unfeigned love of all virtue and godliness;

Increase in me strength and victory against all temptations
and assaults of the flesh, the world, and the devil,
that according to Thy promise I be never further proved or
tempted than thou wilt give me strength to overcome;

Give me grace to keep a good conscience;
give me a pure heart and mind,
and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Backside Billboards

I want to announce one of my current pet peeves. Ready? It's those short shorts with tushy text, something written across the rear end.

I'm wondering, What is it that leads a girl to conclude, "Hmm. I think I'll buy and wear these skimpy shorts with ___________ on the backside"?

I also want to know, About this wear, where's Mom and Dad?

Now, in an attempt to preempt, I want to say that if the print on said pantaloons was smaller, I'd be even more embarrassed to bring up the subject. But, . . . .well, . . . what I mean is, Most examples are legible from otherwise safe distances.

Convinced that the subject deserves more coverage, . . . . I'm asking, What do you think?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Prayer to Start the Week

The weather in Connecticut has been perfect over the last few days. I've hardly been able to make myself come inside.

Michele and I went for a long bike ride last evening, stopping for supper along the way at Anna's in East Hartford. It's this terrific Greek diner where the staff comes right out of the movie about the big fat wedding. What a treat.

Dear God,

Thank you for the rolling seasons which, as they move, proclaim to all of us your constant care.

I'm really glad it's summer here. But I know that today's gladness is just a touch of the joy that all of your people will know in that place where your glory is all the light.

Please continue to call and draw me there. And cause me to help others to also hear that call.

For I ask in the name of Jesus, your Son, Amen.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Random Stuff

Okay, I know that Tuesday's post was more than a little on the depressing side. But that's what I was reading and thinking about at the time.

I know, . . . not everything that's read and thought about should be posted. But I decided to pass along those words from Fatherless America for the same reason that Blankenhorn wrote them in the first place: the idea of happy and successful shared parenting between two divorced people is more a fantasy of adults than it is a reality for children. We ought to say so. And with that, I'm done with the subject for a while.

Like a lot of other people, I'd have to say that music is a big part of who I am and what I love. Can you imagine life without it? I got to thinking the other day about recordings and songs that never fail to have their impact on me. Instead of growing old and dull, they just get better and deeper and more fun as we age together. Got some responses for the following categories? I'd love to hear them . . . .

Something that always makes me laugh: The "jungle interlude" of "Funk #49" by the James Gang. It's good to be a guy.

Something that always makes me cry: M. Janus, J. Schop, J. S. Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (that is, words AND music).

Sometimes I cry when I hear Gladys Knight sing, "Midnight Train to Georgia." . . . "Ooh, ya'll." When I don't cry, it's because I'm wondering about the word "pip."

Favorite Hymn: If I had to pick just one, it would be J. Zundel, Charles Wesley, "Love Divine."

Something that seems like it might have been cliche by now, but isn't: Harry Chapin, "Cat's in the Cradle"

Since that's all I'm doing on this one so far, feel free to add categories as well as your nominations.

Speaking of music, the more I listen to The Beatles, the more I'm impressed at how brilliant they were. I rarely miss the syndicated radio show, "Beatle Brunch," which in my neck of the woods airs on Sunday mornings, which makes it sort of the last step in my sermon preparation.

One more category, then.

Favorite Beatle song: Today, "Penny Lane."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Preparing for Fathers' Day

Like most preachers, this week I'm preparing to preach a Fathers' Day sermon. For me, that means poking around in Scripture, but also reading some recently-published stuff about fathers, what they're supposed to be doing, what they mean to children and, consequently, to society, etc.

Last Saturday I was at a library booksale and happened upon David Blankenhorn's Fatherless America. It was first published ten years ago and made a big splash at the time as I remembered. I'd never read it. And now here was a good paperback copy for a buck. So I bought it and started reading.

I didn't expect this or any book to speak so truly and directly to my own situation as a divorced father. But it does. And now I can't decide between the pain it provokes and the insight it provides.

The hardest part for me has been the section, "Can Visitors Be Fathers?" A few excerpts:

On how children think and feel about visits with their fathers:

"From the child's perspective, paternal love without paternal capacity is primarily a reminder of loss. This fact, more than any other, explains why postdivorce visits between father and child are so frequently painful, even traumatic. For the child, those visit-sized doses of father-love do not serve as a vaccine, as a protection from anguish. Quite the opposite. . . . For the child, this well-intentioned, ritualized wounding--this every-other Saturday reminder of what has died--frequently becomes the central emotional dynamic of father-child visitation after divorce."

"Visiting Father" as a contradiction:

"Visitation unfathers men. This phenomenon gradually strangles the father-child relationship. Indeed, the ultimate result of such not-like-a-father visiting is nothing less than the ending of fatherhood. Faced with the inherent falseness of their situation, many of these fathers . . . start feeling like strangers to their children, like imposters."

The necessity of sharing a residence:

"To be a good-enough father--to sustain the dailiness of effective parenting--a man needs to live with his children. When he does not, he literally becomes an outsider. . . As with the rupture of the parental alliance, the father's physical absensce from the home makes postdivorce fatherhood a radically different--and much more problematic--idea than postdivorce motherhood. For this reason, fatherhood after divorce is not even remotely parallel to motherhood after divorce."

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That's all for now. I love and am thankful for my father. I also value my own fatherhood, and I'm trying to make the most of it. But this is going to be my toughest Fathers' Day so far.