Friday, November 06, 2009

All Souls Procession

NEWSFLASH! We are going to the All Souls Procession downtown for youth group Sunday! This is something I've wanted to do for a couple of years, but we always had conflicts in schedule, so I forgot about it. Chloe suggested it Thursday, and I thought, "Why not?".

DINNER WILL BE AT 5pm and NOT 5:30. Do not be late, we will leave you. We hope to return by the regular 7:30 ending time, but regardless, we will return close to that time and if there are any changes, you can call.

This is a Tucson tradition (since 1990) that is creative, fun, spiritual, and centers on remembering and honoring those who have left this life. The website for the event is

The low for Sunday is 56, but that will not be the temp at 6pm, but I would wear pants and comfortable walking shoes and bring a sweatshirt or jacket in case you want it. If you have any questions, email me or call me. Parents and friends are welcome to join us!!


Thursday, November 05, 2009

Half of U.S. Kids Use Foodstamps Before Age 20

Mark R. Rank of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis co-authored a study analyzing the financial circumstances of U.S. kids (ages 1-20) over a period of 30 years. Key findings include:

* 49% of all U.S. kids will be in a household that uses food stamps at some point during their childhood.
>> 90% of black kids
>> 37% of white kids
>> 91% of kids in single-parent homes
>> 37% of kids in married homes
* Nearly 25% of all U.S. kids will be in households that use food stamps for 5+ years during childhood.
* 97% of U.S. kids by age 10 who are black and whose head of household is not married with less than 12 years of education reside in a food stamp household.

Even limited exposure to poverty can have detrimental effects upon a child’s overall quality of health and well-being.
- Mark R. Rank :: George Warren Brown School of Social Work

While these findings encompass decades of ups and downs, do not forget that current food stamp usage is at record levels (10%+ of the total U.S. population). Simultaneously, 80% of food banks can not meet demand (based on May ‘09 research).

Churches can help fight this hunger.

(via USA Today)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Psalms Wiffiti

To add a thought on the Psalms, you can
1-post a twitter with "psalm" in it and it will eventually get picked up.
2-Text @wif10874 + your message to 87884
3-Go to and post your thoughts.
[You can click in the right corner of the screen to go full screen.]

Challenging Article on Prayer

I ran across this article on the United Methodeviations blog. Good (but challenging) thoughts on prayer. What do you think?

Why People Think We’re Crazy November 3, 2009

Posted by doroteos2 in Congregational Life, Critical Thinking, prayer, spiritual practices.
Tags: , , ,

charles-finneyThere are times when Christians drive me absolutely nuts. One way this happens is when I hear well-meaning and sincere Christians confuse faith and superstition, relying on prayer as a magical talisman or incantation. I listened to a United Methodist colleague share recently that he no longer prays because it never makes any difference. He told of a time when he was getting a cold and he prayed fervently that he not get sick, but got sick anyway. “I have better things to do with my time,” he concluded. Well, duh! Prayer isn’t our opportunity to tell God what to do or to corrupt it as a selfish want list. This irrational magical thinking does nothing more than give Christianity a bad name. We don’t need any help looking less enlightened than we already do to a growing educated and informed segment of our society. Ignorance, self-centeredness, judgmentalism, and narrow-mindedness are the four most prevalent reasons younger non-Christians give for avoiding the church (and the faith). When we promote a mythical-magical, pre-rational (irrational?) faith, we do ourselves no good. For example –

A weepy woman pastor wails on about how Down Syndrome babies are a gift from God. She explains that this affliction is a blessing to test parents capacity to love. That Down Syndrome children are the happiest and most carefree of all His children. She explains that Down Syndrome children are the earthly equivalent of cherubs, and that anyone with a Down Syndrome child is doubly blessed and will be richly rewarded in heaven — where their Down Syndrome children will be restored to full health (though why God would want to tamper with their perfection and blessedness is beyond me…). This lunatic actually invited mothers to pray with her that they might experience the blessing of having a child with Down Syndrome. Now, I don’t know what this lady’s brokenness is, and she may sincerely think she is offering a message of hope to families with a Down Syndrome child, but I do not for one moment believe that it is “God’s will” that a child or a family endure torments and heartache — especially as a test! OMG!

And then there is the crying couple who discovered that their son, missing for months in Afghanistan, was released and is coming home. “Our prayers brought our Son home safely from Afghanistan,” said the father. Mom added, “Jesus saw the love in our hearts and rewarded our faith. He gave us our baby back!” Touching, sentimental, and as the commentator said, “a powerful testimony to the power of prayer!” So, what about the hundreds of praying parents who receive word that their son of daughter is dead — killed in a senseless war while back home faithful people ask God’s protection and grace? When you link the answer to prayer to one’s level of faithfulness, what are you implying about all those who don’t get their heart’s desire? Is one person’s faith qualitatively different from hundreds of others? When ten people pray for rain and ten people pray for sun, is it an automatic proof who God prefers when it does one or the other? When one town prays the hurricane won’t hit them, is it an indictment of lack of faith on the town it does hit? When a terrorist prays that the bullet they fire will hit with deadly accuracy and it hits and kills the young person praying fervently that they will not be hurt, does that mean the terrorist’s version of God is stronger than our version? Prayer indeed is a comfort in time of distress and tragedy, but it is not some magical incantation that makes us somehow exempt from the uncertainties of life that plague everyone else.

The willingness to ascribe a supernatural cause to the unpleasantness of real life is widespread and has a long history. I sat on an airplane with a thirty-something woman who told me that her ”cancer occurred because I let Satan into my life.” She went onto say that “cancer isn’t really a disease, but an outward manifestation of what you really are. If you are a truly good person, you don’t get cancer. Cancer is the darkness of sin when it takes over your life.” There are so many things wrong with this worldview I don’t even know where to begin. Every person who has ever had cancer got it because they are evil? All the people who avoid it are good? The key to beating cancer is to be good? Where did she get this crazy idea from? “My pastor,” she told me. “She had cancer at a time when she was living in sin. She renounced sin, prayed to God for forgiveness, and IMMEDIATELY,” she reported breathlessly, “her cancer went into remission! I’m not there yet, but I am really trying to be good.”

542421-FB~Woman-Praying-with-Money-Rosary-PostersOh, yeah, and this guy — “My wealth came when I gave my life to Jesus and learned true prayer!” he enthuses. “I began to pray holding money in my hands so that what I had would attract more! The very first time I prayed this way, I held a ten-dollar bill. That same day, I found a ten-dollar bill in a parking lot. Now I have a dedicated prayer space in both my home and my office, and whenever I pray, I place my wallet — my cash, and credit cards, and check book — on the altar. God has yet to refuse to bless me!” Take that Joel Osteen! Even he isn’t this blatant. The “Prosperity Gospel” has all kinds of problems — too many to list here — but once again the implications are troubling: good people get, bad people do not. If you are wealthy, you are blessed of God. If you are poor, or merely middle-class, you possess a sub-standard relationship with God. Shame on you…

I feel sad when I encounter these kinds of “simple faith.” I emphasize the simple, because they reflect a non-critical, non-rational, almost hysteric clinging to magic, where God is little more than a grand genie in the sky waiting to serve our every whim. Many studies into people’s understanding and practice of prayer indicate that these are not isolated examples. Millions of Christians hold this children’s Sunday school understanding of prayer. They might hold Harry Potter in contempt, but they practice no less a Hogswartian approach to prayer as magical incantation than poor Harry and friends.

Readers of this blog know that I regularly raise the questions, “What is prayer?” and “What is prayer for?” I truly believe these are not rhetorical or simple questions. Prayer was a staple of the primitive and pre-modern roots of our faith, where myth, magic, and mystery ruled human understanding. But times have changed. Our spiritual understandings and practices cannot stay mired in archaic and unenlightened times. I believe there is great power and benefit in prayer, but not as a metaphysical means to manipulate the physical. I do believe in spirit and essence and energy, but not so much in magic and occult machinations.

Even our critics often denounce us — not because we believe in magic, but because our magic doesn’t work for them. I remember reading an essay by Steven Weinberg, “A Designer Universe?”, where the main argument was there cannot be a God because of all the bad things that happen. Abdicating all human responsibility for evil and illness, the essay basically says that a God that won’t do what we want him to is no good at all. Only a God that responds to our every whim and absolves us of all responsibility for our actions is worthy of our belief. Yeah, good luck with that…

Christianity in a consumeristic society is bound to be a compromised package at best. We are a culture that wants all the benefits but with the fewest costs. We want an easy faith that will take care of us, but that demands little. Prayer as a discipline? Not a big seller. Prayer as metaphysical mail-order, no money down, no monthly payments? Now you’re talking!

Something That Is Working!!

Last week, my wife Joy and I were front and center when Bill and Melinda Gates launched their new Living Proof campaign in Washington, D.C. I have to imagine that this campaign launch sounded a lot like one of Microsoft’s shareholder meetings. It was replete with charts, graphs, well-defined metrics for success, best practices, and market projections. But present throughout Bill and Melinda Gates’ talk on the state of global health and poverty were not just numbers but the real people whose lives are being saved every day by their U.S. investments in global health. As the Living Proof Web site states,

Much of what people read and hear is bad news — terrible statistics and sad stories. The purpose of the Living Proof Project is to share good news: Together, we can help the world’s poorest people improve their lives. We know, because we’ve seen living proof. People’s lives are improving in measurable ways … They are testimony to the fact that when you improve health, life improves by every other measure.

I believe the Gates Foundation has been so effective in their work for two primary reasons. First, they aren’t afraid to make the “smart case” through clear and definable metrics and at the same time make clear the “moral imperative” for improving global health and ending extreme poverty. Second, they recognize that solutions to problems this big come when everybody is at the table. That means private philanthropy, government policy, NGOs, local leadership, and the faith community all have roles to play.

Too often the well meaning case for the moral urgency of global health and poverty is divorced from a hard nosed look at both what is most effective and what makes the best use of limited resources. The Gates Foundation is changing that. In the “I’m Living Proof” video, they show child after child proudly proclaiming, “I’m Living Proof” that these programs work. They talk about the “Lazarus effect” of how HIV/AIDS drugs are bringing people back to life who were nearly dead. They profiled a small child who nearly died after her mother’s death from HIV/AIDS. Just one year after starting HIV/AIDS drugs, the video shows this same child now thriving. The change is almost unbelievable.

These compelling stories are combined with big goals and measurable outcomes. Bill and Melinda Gates called on each of us to join them in advocating for U.S. investments in reducing the number of child deaths worldwide by nearly half by 2025. That may sound like an ambitious goal, but we’ve already made real progress. The number of children who die before age 5 has been halved since 1960 — from 20 million to fewer than 9 million per year — even as the number of births increased by more than 20 percent. The child death rate declined by more than a quarter (27 percent) from 1990 to 2007 alone. Now we need to further reduce child deaths by half once again.

The kind of gains we have seen in the past and the ambitious goal of repeating them in the future are not the result of any one sector of society, approach, or organization. It is not a choice between private charity, government aid, debt cancellation, trade policy change, or NGO cooperation; rather, it’s a question of getting them all to work together. Change happens most effectively when there is coordination and cooperation between different sectors and forces, not a choice between them. Bill and Melinda make it very clear that even as the Gates Foundation is the single largest philanthropic organization in the world, they can’t accomplish their goals without the cooperation and coordination with government and the nonprofit world — including the faith community.

Bill Gates is known for the smart approach; that came through as he made the compelling case for the results we can have with more investment. Melinda struck me as a real evangelist as she spoke naturally and passionately for all of our involvement. She spoke in moral terms about the “preciousness of every human life.” But the most successful CEO in the world also spoke in moral terms about the deeply held American value of equality and how we now need to be consistent in applying that value around the world. In other words, the poorest kids in the world shouldn’t die from diseases that none of our kids do anymore.

As I spoke with a person at the foundation at the small reception afterward, he explained to me that the Gates had been on Capitol Hill for two days and in almost every meeting they had, Members of Congress told them that the faith community will have to be centrally involved if the U.S. is to make an even deeper investment in global health. At the reception, I thanked both Melinda and Bill Gates for their work and promised that we would be involved.

I almost expected an altar call at the end of Bill and Melinda’s presentation, and I would have gone down the aisle. Because when it comes to the health and well-being of the world’s poorest people, Jesus is already there, and its time the rest of us Christians joined him. And as I suggested to Bill, the combination of the smart case and the moral case is the winning strategy.

The Spiritual Practice of Serving Others

This is a great post from Off the Map blog. Click on this link to see a good video about this subject.

The Spiritual Practice of Serving Others


By Jim Henderson

Word association game time…

I say spiritual practice – what images come into your mind?

If you have been formed or influenced by any of the major world religions (including Christianity) you will think of things like
mediation, prayers you recite, ritual liturgical gatherings you attend, mental disciplines and maybe fasting
What you probably won’t include on that list are things like

  • Listening to someone
  • Holding the door for someone
  • Noticing someone across the room who is struggling
  • Asking someone how they are doing and actually paying attention
  • Feeding someone who is hungry
  • Visiting with or advocating for someone who is trouble with the law
  • Dropping clothes off at Goodwill

You may think of these practices as spiritual

You may even do them intentionally, not for points, but in order to be faithful to the God you follow.

Nevertheless you won’t often hear these practices being referred to by church leaders with the same degree of reverence, frequency or fervency as what has become known as the interior spiritual practices.

For some reason, when it comes to being a serious follower of Jesus, the spirituality of serving others doesn’t count for as much as prayer, worship or church attendance. More insidiously we’ve learned to transfer these same values to God who apparently lacks the capacity to see or value the small and invisible things human beings do in their day to day lives to serve others.

This in spite of the fact that Jesus clearly favored the small, invisible and private over the public and obvious saying such things as when you give don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing and when you pray don’t be like the Pharisees and if you want to be my disciples do things like give those without the ability to thank you something as small and ordinary as a cup of cold water (our cultural equivalent would be paying attention to someone without drawing attention to ourselves).

It’s apparent that by his words and practices, Jesus – the founder of our movement and our Master – clearly thought of serving others as a spiritual practice.

Sunday, November 01, 2009