Friday, December 31

SURVIVOR STORY
One man actually surfed the first tsunami wave into a Sri Lanka beach. He didn't have much choice about it.
HOMO INDIFFERENS -- PART 2
UPI religion editor Uwe Siemon-Netto continues his look at the state of the church in postmodern Europe. The fields ripening for harvest. He's optimistic.
BEE STORY ON DWIGHTS
The Modesto Bee has a story on Don & Lillian Dwight's tsunami experience, based largely on the letter I posted yesterday. Two Merced students were on the same island as the Dwights. One is missing and the other survived.

Thursday, December 30

GMAIL INVITES
Once again they are stacking up. I have 10 available to give away. Send me email at boydstonATgmail.com (yes, replace the AT with @). I'll send one off to the first 10 people who ask. It's the least I can do for the fine folks at google (see my post immediately below).
BLOG STAT PHENOMENA
This is not usually a high stat blog. I average about 45 hits per day.

A few days ago
Rudy linked to my story about Tim Stafford's article on the church. I figure that Rudy's link generated over 300 hits to my site each day over the past two days.

So, I decided to check the sitemeter this afternoon to see if his link was still generating hits. Much to my surprise I had over 1,000 new visitors to the blog -- today! How could that be? Rudy's link wasn't going to generate that much traffic this many days out.

I looked more closely at the sitemeter and found that all the hits were going to an
archived page from three days ago which simply contained a link to the tsunami video. At that point my best guess was that some search engine spider had found the link today and that the site was popping up on searches. I tried google first, typing in tsunami and video. And there it was in the #2 spot. Mystery solved!

How google decided to make my link #2 I'll never know. There are hundreds -- even thousands of blogs linking to that very same download site. So at least part of the mystery is solved. Google itself is still an unsolved mystery -- but that's another matter.


As of 9 p.m. (PST) the sitemeter has registered over 6,000 hits today for this blog. Most won't ever read this post because they're only going to the one archived page with the video link. But it is an interesting demonstration of just how much power google wields.

BTW, I am planning on keeping my day job. My popularity as an Internet pundit will be shortlived -- indeed, everyone is linking to the post with the least amount of commentary. Not much ego satisfaction there.
FIRST HAND ACCOUNT
This is from a very moving and detailed email that is being circulated among the family, friends, and supporters of Don and Lillian Dwight, Covenant missionaries in Taiwan. They were in Thailand on holiday when the tsunami hit.

Thursday, Dec. 30, 2004

Dear Friends,

So much has transpired in the last few days and so many Christians all over the world have been praying for us we wanted to take this chance to thank all of those who were praying. We are home safe and feeling relieved and thankful to God for preserving our lives during the tsunamis that hit the Indian Ocean on Sunday morning.

Most of you know by now that we took a family vacation to Thailand in celebration of Lillian and my 25th wedding anniversary. We brought all of our kids with us. On Saturday we took a ferry to Phi Phi Island off the coast of Thailand. This is a beautiful tropical island no more then a mile long. We enjoyed the beauty that afternoon and evening with not a thought at all that the next morning it would be devastated. There is a small village with many shops and hotels a few feet from the beach.

I believe that the Lord was guiding our steps even months before our trip. When we had tried to make reservations for a beach bungalow almost three months ago they where full. The proprietor recommended a hotel with bungalows on the side of the hill and we were able to make reservations there. Sunday morning we went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The day was beautiful and bright with the clear blue water shimmering a few feet from where we were eating.

At
10:00 AM we finished eating and returned to our rooms up the hill. We rested for a bit and at 10:15 we heard some yelling. We opened our bungalow door and saw some smoke on the top of the hill so we figured it was a brush fire which the staff was yelling about. There didn't seem to be any immediate danger.

In a few minutes we decided to go
swimming and put on our swim suits. As we walked down the path to the shore we realized something was very different. The water level reached up into the hotel restaurant and the bay was full of debris including large pieces of furniture. At first I thought that there must have been some weird high tide that had washed into the beach side shops. I had no idea of the devastation that had already hit this island much less the destruction that would hit other areas. All we knew was that we couldn't go swimming so we just stood there and watched.

In a few minutes several people carried a lady up the
sidewalk and laid her down right where we were standing. She wasn't breathing. Her husband was crying for help. After yelling once or twice that somebody should start CPR nobody did, so Lillian and I decided that we needed to do it. We started the process then a couple of men joined us. Peter, our son, took a couple of rotations to give us a rest, also. Unfortunately, after working for an hour we were not able to revive her.

As Lillian and I put our arms around her
husband and son, Mike and Adam, (13 years old) Lillian prayed for them. I knew that it was hard enough to lose your wife and mother to a tragedy like this, but being thousands of miles from home and all alone without any family or friends would make it even worse. So I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit to stay with them and help them any way I could. Mike, Trish (the wife), and Adam were from London. One other British couple who had meet Mike and Trish the day before were also very helpful and stayed with Mike and Adam for many hours.

By this time, of course, we were getting an idea of the local devastation. When we asked for a doctor's help the locals told us that was impossible because everything was wiped out. Furthermore, a half mile walk along the beach to get to the clinic -- which was already wiped out -- was considered too dangerous because of the possibilities of further tsunamis. All communications and power had been wiped out. A walk along the beach later that afternoon did confirm the massive destruction. Meanwhile, we heard possibilities of evacuation and, indeed, helicopters started to fly over the island. All that afternoon and night we waited. The locals graciously made rice and sausages over an open fire for dinner.

On Monday morning we decided that nobody was going to come to our side of the island to evacuate us, so we needed to get to the pier which was about half a mile away. A hotel staff person arranged for a motor boat to take Mike and Adam and Trish's body to the other side of the island where a makeshift helipad had been set up. As we put them into the boat and sent them off that is the last I saw of them. I assume that a helicopter took them to the Thai mainland to receive the help that they needed. Please pray for Mike and Adam. I gave Mike my email address. I would like more of a chance to share the love of Jesus with him and Adam some day.

Then it was our turn to leave. Fortunately, we had everything in backpacks, so the walk to the pier climbing over the rubble was easier then if we were dragging suitcases. You have seen the pictures, we saw the destruction with our own eyes. We finally made it to the pier and began the wait. I myself was quite nervous about getting on the pier because there appeared to be about a thousand people on it and I was afraid it would collapse. Every 30 minutes or so a boat would come in a take about 50 people. More people kept coming to the
pier. If we didn't get on the pier we wouldn't get evacuated, at least not anytime soon.

After a prayer for wisdom we decided to go
ahead and get on the pier. Low and behold, in about 30 minutes a very large ferry came and several hundred people were able to get on this. Our family was one of the last to get on. There was quite a bit of shoving and pushing to get on so it was a bit wild, but the Lord kept us together and we made the hour an a half boat ride to Phuket.

From
the dock we were taken to a processing center at the city hall. It was here that I was able to finally call my family and let everybody know that we were safe. This was over a day wait for many of our friends to hear this news. We are so appreciative of hearing about all of the people that were praying for us. I believe that God's hand was truly protecting us. Us being in our first choice of hotels or staying for breakfast a few minutes longer or going swimming a few minutes sooner and this letter would be very different. It was at the processing center that these thoughts overwhelmed me and the tears started to come. I don't mean to imply that my family or I am any better than any of those who lost their lives, but God has chosen to give us the gift of life and it is a gift we accept thankfully. I, also, feel strongly that God has said that we -- my family -- have more work to do here and we will continue to serve Him the rest of our days.

From the processing center we were taken to the Phuket airport and amazingly we got on a flight to Bangkok that afternoon. The airport was packed with thousands trying to get home and I thought that there was no chance we would get out that day, but God surprised us with another blessing again. When we got to the hotel in Bangkok some missionary friends were there to greet us and we felt God's love and the love of brothers and sisters in Christ pouring over us.

As we began to see the news reports we have become aware that many many people have had a much harder time then us. Please pray for the rescue and relief efforts that are ongoing and if possible please give a monetary gift to an organization which is doing relief work in the effected areas. Pray that Christians in those areas will take a leading role in caring for the millions in need.

This is all for now.

In Christ,
Don, Lillian, Peter, Matthew, Andy, Olivia, and Megan Dwight
THE BIG 36
Happy birthday to my pastoral side-kick, Dan Whitmarsh.
DISASTER DONATIONS
Amazon.com is collecting relief money through their "honor system" -- giving up their regular 2.7% transaction fees. Individuals and corporations are rising to the occasion. The death toll, as of this morning, is over 120,000. Christianity Today has posted an article highlighting the magnificent response to what Dean Owen of World Vision is calling "the largest and most costly relief effort in known history." Perhaps the outpouring of relief is as much of a story as the disaster itself. At the bottom of the CT article is a list of Christian Relief agencies which can take online donations. Here is the link to the Amazon.com Red Cross collection:

Amazon Honor System

Click Here to Pay
Learn More

Wednesday, December 29

WORTH A LOOK
Crux Magazine is a new publication focused on providing a cultural critic from a Christian perspective. Their "about" page says that they are aiming at 25-45 year olds. (Maybe they'll do a story on the rise of agism in Western thought.) I guess I'm too old -- but I'll keep an eye on it anyway.
SHORTENED DAYS
Sunday's earthquake has affected the axis of the earth, accelerating the spin of the planet. This has caused a shortening of each day by a fraction of a second (I kind of thought that I was being shorted some time). Richard Gross, a geophysicist with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, theorized that a shift of mass toward the Earth's center during the quake on Sunday caused the planet to spin 3 microseconds, or 3 millionths of a second, faster and to tilt about an inch on its axis.
HOMO INDIFFERENS
Postmodernism = Indifference. So contends UPI religion editor Uwe Siemon-Netto. One of the great lines in the column is at the end. Boldly, anchorman Peter Hahne announces on his book's cover "the end of the fun society," a society mindlessly "dancing around the golden Me."

Monday, December 27

TSUNAMI
Home video. Amazing!
HOW WAL-MART IS DESTROYING AMERICA
How Walmart Is Destroying America And The World: And What You Can Do About It
Author: Quinn, Bill
List Price: $10.95 Wal-Mart Price: $7.55 You Save: $3.40 (31%)
Paperback, 188 pages, Edition 3RD
Pub. Date: Feb 2005, Publisher: Ten Speed Press
ISBN: 1580086683

(Thanks MetaFilter)

UPDATE: Wal-Mart caught on and removed the book from their online inventory. O, well...
THE CHURCH: WHY BOTHER?
Tim Stafford has an outstanding gnostic-bashing article on the church in the January Christianity Today. However, it is not yet online. So to whet your appetite here are a few quotes:

+
"There is no healthy relationship with Jesus without a relationship to the church."


+ "...We have always had people who kept their distance from the church, even though they professed faith. We have never, however, had them in such astonishing numbers. They represent a significant trend, one that almost defines US religion. I would call it Gnostic faith. For them the spirit is completely separated from the body. They think your spirit can be with Jesus Christ while your body goes its own way."

+
"I admire the evangelistic spirit behind this (para-church movements & the seeker-sensitive churches). It has attracted many people into a church building who would probably not otherwise attend. But I think it has exaggerated a sense that the church must adapt to the general public, not the other way around. And thus many unchurched people feel justified in believing that they are fine, that it is the churches that have failed."


There's a lot more to it. No one escapes. Stafford even calls Bono on the carpet for his anti-church bias (rightly so!).

If you can't wait until CT puts it online (sometime next month), I bet you'll be able to find a print copy at a bookstore or library. If you're in my face-to-face world ask me for a photo-copy.

Sunday, December 26

YELLOW DOG GRAPHIX
My brother, Greg, now has a website for his graphics business.
KEITH DRURY
has discovered the Didache -- my favorite early church book.
WHY I HAVE GRAY HAIR
Researchers trying to discover the cause of skin cancer have accidently discovered that hair begins to turn gray when the pigment-producing hair cells start dying off. The same thing apparently happens with skin cells -- leading to melanoma.

You thought I was going to say something about my children or my job.

Friday, December 24

IT DOESN'T ADD UP
The most important thing that the church does is worship. This isn't to say that other things are unimportant but that the center-point of all of our ministries is the ministry of worship that we bring to God. Christmas is one of the most important worship days in the life of the church. However, some popular churches are not only skipping Christmas worship but they are also canceling worship services on the two Sundays following Christmas. The reason? "People are too busy and they need to slow down to enjoy family and friends."

You can't skip celebrating the incarnation -- even for good causes like family and friends -- and still expect to maintain anything that looks like biblical Christianity. The root of the problem is a theological imbalance compunded by a tendency to see worship as a "production" or "experience" executed for the benefit of the church.
HOWEVER YOU SAY IT
Afrikaans: Gesëende Kersfees
Afrikander: Een Plesierige Kerfees
African/ Eritrean/ Tigrinja: Rehus-Beal-Ledeats
Albanian: Gezur Krislinjden
Arabic: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Argentine: Feliz Navidad
Armenian: Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand
Azeri: Tezze Iliniz Yahsi Olsun

Bahasa Malaysia: Selamat Hari Natal
Basque: Zorionak eta Urte Berri On!
Bengali: Shuvo Naba Barsha
Bohemian: Vesele Vanoce
Brazilian: Boas Festas e Feliz Ano Novo
Breton: Nedeleg laouen na bloavezh mat
Bulgarian: Tchestita Koleda; Tchestito Rojdestvo Hristovo

Catalan: Bon Nadal i un Bon Any Nou!

Chile: Feliz Navidad
Chinese: (Cantonese) Gun Tso Sun Tan'Gung Haw Sun
Chinese: (Mandarin) Kung His Hsin Nien bing Chu Shen Tan
Choctaw: Yukpa, Nitak Hollo Chito
Columbia: Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo
Cornish: Nadelik looan na looan blethen noweth
Corsian: Pace e salute
Crazanian: Rot Yikji Dol La Roo
Cree: Mitho Makosi Kesikansi
Croatian: Sretan Bozic
Czech: Prejeme Vam Vesele Vanoce a stastny Novy Rok

Danish: Glædelig Jul

Duri: Christmas-e- Shoma Mobarak
Dutch: Vrolijk Kerstfeest en een Gelukkig Nieuwjaar! or Zalig Kerstfeast

English: Merry Christmas

Eskimo: (inupik) Jutdlime pivdluarit ukiortame pivdluaritlo!
Esperanto: Gajan Kristnaskon
Estonian: Ruumsaid juulup|hi

Faeroese: Gledhilig jol og eydnurikt nyggjar!

Farsi: Cristmas-e-shoma mobarak bashad
Finnish: Hyvaa joulua
Flemish: Zalig Kerstfeest en Gelukkig nieuw jaar
French: Joyeux Noel
Frisian: Noflike Krystdagen en in protte Lok en Seine yn it Nije Jier!

Galician: Bo Nada

Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil agus Bliadhna mhath ùr!
German: Froehliche Weihnachten
Greek: Kala Christouyenna!

Hausa: Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!

Hawaiian: Mele Kalikimaka
Hebrew: Mo'adim Lesimkha. Chena tova
Hindi: Shub Naya Baras
Hausa: Barka da Kirsimatikuma Barka da Sabuwar Shekara!
Hawaian: Mele Kalikimaka ame Hauoli Makahiki Hou!
Hungarian: Kellemes Karacsonyi unnepeket

Icelandic: Gledileg Jol

Indonesian: Selamat Hari Natal
Iraqi: Idah Saidan Wa Sanah Jadidah
Irish: Nollaig Shona Dhuit, or Nodlaig mhaith chugnat
Iroquois: Ojenyunyat Sungwiyadeson honungradon nagwutut. Ojenyunyat osrasay.
Italian: Buone Feste Natalizie

Japanese: Shinnen omedeto. Kurisumasu Omedeto
Jiberish: Mithag Crithagsigathmithags

Korean: Sung Tan Chuk Ha


Latin: Natale hilare et Annum Faustum!

Latvian: Prieci'gus Ziemsve'tkus un Laimi'gu Jauno Gadu!
Lausitzian: Wjesole hody a strowe nowe leto
Lettish: Priecigus Ziemassvetkus
Lithuanian: Linksmu Kaledu
Low Saxon: Heughliche Winachten un 'n moi Nijaar

Macedonian: Sreken Bozhik

Maltese: LL Milied Lt-tajjeb
Manx: Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa
Maori: Meri Kirihimete
Marathi: Shub Naya Varsh

Navajo: Merry Keshmish

Norwegian: God Jul, or Gledelig Jul

Occitan: Pulit nadal e bona annado


Papiamento: Bon Pasco

Papua New Guinea: Bikpela hamamas blong dispela Krismas na Nupela yia i go long yu
Pennsylvania German: En frehlicher Grischtdaag un en hallich Nei Yaahr!
Peru: Feliz Navidad y un Venturoso Año Nuevo
Philipines: Maligayan Pasko!
Polish: Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia or Boze Narodzenie
Portuguese: Feliz Natal
Pushto: Christmas Aao Ne-way Kaal Mo Mobarak Sha

Rapa-Nui (Easter Island): Mata-Ki-Te-Rangi. Te-Pito-O-Te-Henua

Rhetian: Bellas festas da nadal e bun onn
Romanche: (sursilvan dialect): Legreivlas fiastas da Nadal e bien niev onn!
Rumanian: Sarbatori vesele
Russian: Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva is Novim Godom

Sami: Buorrit Juovllat

Samoan: La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou
Sardinian: Bonu nadale e prosperu annu nou
Serbian: Hristos se rodi
Slovakian: Sretan Bozic or Vesele vianoce
Sami: Buorrit Juovllat
Samoan: La Maunia Le Kilisimasi Ma Le Tausaga Fou
Scots Gaelic: Nollaig chridheil huibh
Serb-Croatian: Sretam Bozic. Vesela Nova Godina
Serbian: Hristos se rodi.
Singhalese: Subha nath thalak Vewa. Subha Aluth Awrudhak Vewa
Slovak: Vesele Vianoce. A stastlivy Novy Rok
Slovene: Vesele Bozicne. Screcno Novo Leto
Spanish: Feliz Navidad
Swedish: God Jul and (Och) Ett Gott Nytt Ar

Tagalog: Maligayamg Pasko. Masaganang Bagong Taon

Tami: Nathar Puthu Varuda Valthukkal
Trukeese: (Micronesian) Neekiriisimas annim oo iyer seefe feyiyeech!
Thai: Sawadee Pee Mai
Turkish: Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun
Ukrainian: Srozhdestvom Kristovym

Urdu: Naya Saal Mubarak Ho


Vietnamese: Chung Mung Giang Sinh


Welsh: Nadolig Llawen


Yugoslavian: Cestitamo Bozic

Yoruba: E ku odun, e ku iye'dun!

Thursday, December 23

ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS
Several times during the last few months I've ended up in conversations with people who would like to start or complete a bachelors degree online. There are several good regionally accredited options out there -- such as Thomas Edison State College in New Jersey. However, the school which I think gives the most bang for the buck -- a high degree of flexibility (they offer a BGS degree) -- and credibility is Fort Hays State University in Kansas. I've heard several of their online students rave about the attention they are getting from the faculty.

The thing about Fort Hays is that even though they are a part of the Kansas State system they do not charge out-of-state tuition for "virtual" students. Currently the cost is $122/credit hour. Compare that with the California State University system where the fees are about $150/credit hour for residents. IOW, for Californians it's cheaper to go out of state to complete the last two years of university!

California students can accumulate their first two years of credit very inexpensively through the many online community college classes and then transfer the credits. California community college fees are about $20/credit hour.

If you are just wanting to complete a degree and you're not looking to study something specific or with someone specific -- or if you want flexibility to study broadly -- and if you have the discipline -- you might find that studying online at some place like Fort Hays will work well for you.

Wednesday, December 22

UNIQUE SPACE
A few articles on BoingBoing have recently drawn attention to some unique spaces. There are cool looking and highly functional emergency shelters being built out of sandbags. Then, in Germany, a Malaysian entrepreneur has transformed a zeppelin hanger into a tropical paradise. However, the Germans aren't rushing in to get their winter tans.
17 YEARS AGO TODAY...
our youngest was born in Yakima, Washington. Happy Birthday Betsy!
CHRISTMAS EVE PARABLE
It's been my tradition to write and then tell a new story at the Christmas Eve service each year. Wonder of wonders, I have already finished the story for this year and it is even available in my archives on SermonCentral.com. Warning: If you're planning to be at Cornerstone Christmas Eve you will spoil it for yourself by going there now.

Tuesday, December 21

BEAUTIFUL DAY
Not only is it the shortest daylight day of the year (which means that we're finally turning the corner and spring is on the way!) but it was also a fairly clear day in the Valley. Actually, the five of us were on the road to the Bay Area (90 minute drive -- beautiful there, too) for a shopping excursion at the IKEA in Emeryville. Not only did we get Christmas presents and a book shelf for Betsy but we also got to eat at one of the best bay view restaurants. Imagine eating your IKEA Swedish meatballs, drinking lingenberry juice, and looking out at the Golden Gate Bridge all at once. It doesn't get too much better than that!
ALASKA CHRISTIAN COLLEGE
The Anchorage Daily news has an article about ACC today. They seem concerned that so much federal money is being spent at such a small religious school. It is perhaps unusual. But the whole concept is unique and effective.

Of course, I'm biased since Keith Hamilton, president of the school, is a friend and our church has established some strong mission connections there. Last summer we sent a mission team of 25 to work there for a week. Also, Don and Cat Bosworth from our congregation have moved up there to help out.

Monday, December 20

MY TEAM WON...
on Monday night -- and they actually deserved the win -- Dolphins 29, Patriots 28. Wow.
QUOTABLE
- Dr Charles Krauthammer, physician who happens to be Jewish, writing in the Washington Post:

I'm struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

It is the more deracinated members of religious minorities, brought up largely ignorant of their own traditions, whose religious identity is so tenuous that they feel the need to be constantly on guard against displays of other religions -- and who think the solution to their predicament is to prevent the other guy from displaying his religion, rather than learning a bit about their own.

To insist that the overwhelming majority of this country stifle its religious impulses in public so that minorities can feel "comfortable" not only understandably enrages the majority but commits two sins. The first is profound ungenerosity toward a majority of fellow citizens who have shown such generosity of spirit toward minority religions.

The second is the sin of incomprehension -- a failure to appreciate the uniqueness of the communal American religious experience. Unlike, for example, the famously tolerant Ottoman Empire or the generally tolerant Europe of today, the United States does not merely allow minority religions to exist at its sufferance. It celebrates and welcomes and honors them.

America transcended the idea of mere toleration in 1790 in Washington's letter to the Newport synagogue, one of the lesser known glories of the Founding: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights."

More than two centuries later, it is time that members of religious (and anti-religious) minorities, as full citizens of this miraculous republic, transcend something too: petty defensiveness.

Merry Christmas. To all.
DRURY ON MEMBERSHIP
Keith Drury is writing a series of articles on church membership in response to his denominational family's current struggle in that area. In the article he posted today he does an outstanding job summarizing in a very concise and readable fashion how the patterns of assimilation developed -- particularly in the varying cultural contexts. Then he starts asking the right kinds of questions.
NINE LESSONS & CAROLS
The service from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge will be broadcast twice on the the BBC this year -- including the Internet. The first time at 15:00 (GMT) on Friday (Christmas Eve)(BBC Radio 4) and then again on Christmas at 14:00 (GMT)(BBC Radio 3). Read the history behind it.

Speaking of things English, there is an
"Advent Cam" at the Norwich Cathedral.

Sunday, December 19

BROWSER SHARE
BoingBoing has noted that about 50% of their visitors use Firefox and 50% use IE. So I checked my traffic records and have found that 33% of my blog visitors use Firefox, 59% use IE, and the 8% use some other browser (Netscape, old Mozilla, etc.). I'm not sure that there is anything significant about browser share -- at least in regard to the fate of the cosmos -- but it is interesting.

I do occasionally bring up the ole IE -- when I come across a site that requires active x for a function. My spyware problems disappeared when I began running Firefox.
DUMB
The US diplomatic mission in Havana put up a Christmas display wishing the Cubans happy holidays. As a part of the display they included the number "75" -- an obivous reference to the 75 pro-democracy activists imprisoned for lengthy terms last year by the Cuban government. (Link)

The Cubans have retaliated by slapping up several billboards nearby that feature pictures of abused Iraqi prisoners and American soldiers pointing rifles at children. A US diplomat has responded by saying the Cubans aren't playing fair and that the billboards are fanatical and hyperbolic.

What did we expect? When we are stupid enough provoke a bully he is going to lash out. This is no way to carry out diplomacy or free the Cuban dissendents! If anything this kind of nonsense just makes Castro dig his heels in deeper. Why do we persist on a provocative approach with Cuba, when such only serves to further entrench Castro?

Isn't there at least someone in the Bush administration who has some diplomatic smarts?

Saturday, December 18

LINGUISTICS!
Kirk is finally explaining what it is that he's studying and his philosophical take on it all. Of course, we've actually heard a good deal of this before. Most every table conversation in our family has some language component when Kirk is home. And it was that way long before he went off to university.
MORE EMERGENT CHURCH STUFF
Terry Mattingly, the God-beat journalist whose outlook isn't very modern, has trouble with the whole post-modern emergent approach to church. One aspect of this movement that troubles me is its emphasis on taking pieces of ancient Christian art and worship and then, blender style, combining them into something that is brand new and very Protestant, yet the people involved in the service think that what they are doing is very old and even catholic, with a small or a large "c."

However close he is to pegging the emergent movement, he misses the point when he identifies a United Methodist congregation which decided to embrace a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe as an example of the trend. That's just the latest expression of blender style main-line religion.
GOOGLE GROUPS
Google has introduced a new group format which now supports email lists. IOW, they are going to give yahoogroups a run for their money. And since it is Google there will be enhanced search in the archives. Anyone yet had experience with the new Google group format?
YEAR OF THE BLOG
The Christmas edition of Newsweek is being crucified in the blogosphere.

Friday, December 17

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VI!
Born 102 years ago today, Vi Martinson is the oldest member of our church. She's not much of a complainer but she's recently been hospitalized and has been unhappy that it's nearly impossible to carry on all of her email correspondence while in the hospital. Somebody should give her broadband for her birthday. She is spending the day with her daughter in Dublin.
LIFE IN THE OLD COUNTRY...
ain't what it used to be. Pretty soon they'll tell us that they no longer believe in eating lutefisk, either. And they think we're screwed up!

Thursday, December 16

SOUTHERN BAPTISTS SAY "NO"
The Southern Baptist Convention has declined an invitation to join Christian Churches Together (CCT) -- the new collaborative of Protestant, Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches in the US.

"For the most part, we don't do ecumenism because you usually have to give up some doctrinal beliefs or ignore or emphasize others to work with folks that really aren't on the same path, share the same doctrines, the same beliefs - particularly about salvation," said Martin King, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists' North American Mission Board.

Read the CCT organizational statement for yourself. What might they really have to give up to participate? (Other than sectarian isolation)
TARGET BOWING TO PRESSURE
Is the Target ban on Salvation Army bell-ringers the result of pressure put on the store by homosexual organizations who are mad at the army because they won't provide benefits for same-sex couples? The evidence seems indirect. Whatever is behind it the poor are paying for it.
MORE ON GERMANY
Uwe Siemon-Netto continues his strangely upbeat rant on the state of German culture. He's optimistic (I think).

Wednesday, December 15

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE
One of the books that I try to keep on the book table at church is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart. It is the most accessible and easy to read book on biblical interpretation in print. We had run out of the book and so I ordered three more copies; they arrived today. However, this is the third edition, which I hadn't seen before. The paper is a better quality and it is updated to deal with new translations such as the ESV and TNIV. They have also done some updating which takes into account the increasing biblical illiteracy.
EVEN BETTER THE SECOND TIME
I took advantage of my sick day and this afternoon watched Luther. It came out at the end of October on DVD and I'm hoping to have a Luther video night at Cornerstone sometime and I want to show it to my D/C students sometime (yes, we have a license for public showing). Cheryl and I saw it in the theater a little over a year ago while we were on vacation in Florida. It's a great film -- and even easier to follow the second time through.
TURN AROUND CHURCHES
“Turn Around Churches” are congregations in major decline which are given special attention to help them pull out of their dive. I’ve been thinking a bit about such congregations because my pastoral colleague Ralph Moller at the Heartland Community Church in Ripon, has been in the middle of it for the last seven years. And within the last year they have begun to experience “turn around” – new families, new attitude, new outlook, new ministry.

In observing these churches (and having experienced it myself in the first church I served out of seminary) there are generally three critical elements to turn-around.

1. THE CHURCH HAS TO BE DESPERATE. If they are not desperate for change they will not make the necessary adjustments to their ministry. Not all churches which say they are desperate actually are. When people are desperate for change they will embrace it.

2. A REASONABLY COMPETENT PASTOR. By "reasonably" I mean someone who can do a lot of things fairly well – preach, teach, envision, lead... This person tends to have higher than average people-skills and an extreme measure of tenacity. Most of these pastors are not superstars but they are creative people who know how to find the necessary support and resources.

3. A PREGNANT SITUATION. There are churches which are in decline because of population decline or environmental reasons. A pregnant situation is one where change is not only possible but is also probable with the right leadership and the right congregational outlook.

I don’t want to suggest that this is a formula. Because each situation is so different there is no cookbook way to do this important work. It is more art than science. But in my observation of such churches my sense is that the Holy Spirit generally creates a convergence of at least these three elements.
THE GOOD NEWS IS...
that I'm feeling a lot better than last night when I was fighting some stomach flu. Still, I'm sticking pretty close to home today. I can't remember when the last time was that I stayed home sick. More good news: for the first time in four days the sun has broken through the fog (at least a little bit) in Turlock.

Tuesday, December 14

CONSERVATIVE HOTSPOT
Bakersfield?
GERMANY IS STILL DIVIDED
And the fight over the proposal to rebuild the magnificent late-Gothic university church, Paulinerkirche, in Leipzig, is symbolic of the split, says Uwe Siemon-Netto. The original church building was imploded by the Communists in 1968 to make room for a government building. But it's not just a split, says the UPI religious affairs editor, who is originally from Leipzig. It is an identity crisis.
SATURDAY, SUNDAY, MONDAY...
No sun. For the third day in a row we're socked in with fog. The weather people say that the sun should shine again sometime about Thursday. Winter in the Valley makes me SAD.
SURPRISE ENCOUNTER
Cheryl and I went this morning to the memorial service at Hilmar Covenant Church for Kathy Ward's father, Al Erlandson. And there was Owen Youngman, someone I'd never met in person but who I had exchanged email with a few times over the years. Owen works for the Chicago Tribune and is the guy who put them on the Internet. He is also the webmaster at Libertyville Covenant Church. As it turns out, Kathy's sister, Linda, is married to Owen. The cyberworld does eventually intersect with the physical realm. And it's always fun to meet someone face-to-face that you've sort'a known for awhile.

Sunday, December 12

WEBSITE WINNERS
ForMinistry.com is a free website service provided by the American Bible Society and mostly used by churches which don't have much budget for Internet services. They've had a contest to highlight some of their users. None of the sites are especially flashy as websites go but they represent good solid work. I'm impressed by the servant attitude of the ForMinistry people.
REPLICA OF BABY JESUS STOLEN
Someone stole the baby from the manger scene in front of a Merced church. That kind of nonsense happens a lot at this time of the year. What caught my attention about the article reporting the incident is that the writer felt that he had to explain that it was "a life-sized REPLICA of baby Jesus." I wouldn't have imagined that it was anything else but a replica at this point in history. I suppose that might not be obvious to everyone.
ANT WARS
This article from the Merced paper says that the ants are coming in because of the cold weather. I'm sure that must be true. But in our yard they come in when the weather is hot or dry or wet or temperate. All solutions seem to be temporary. We just figure that we're stuck sharing our home with them. At least they are fun to watch.
HILMAR CHEESE PROBLEMS
This morning's Sacramento Bee has a scathing article on the waste-water violations at Hilmar Cheese Company, one of our area's largest employers and most creative ag projects. However, they have been struggling to control their waste water -- but not struggling hard enough, suggests the article.

Saturday, December 11

WHAT A DAY!
Exhausted, I am -- we are. We had the memorial service for Cheryl's father this afternoon. Her brothers' families, as well as niece's family, all made it to Turlock. (My father tried to make it from Phoenix but got stuck in fog down in Bakersfield and ended up turning back.) And 30 or 40 Cornerstone people showed up to be an encouragement. And they were. It is amazing how much it means just to have people come and be with you. Many, if not most of them, didn't really know Earl. But they came for us. And that's very meaningful. The women did an outstanding job in putting together a "snack" spread. It was only suppose to be coffee, a few small sandwiches, and cookies, but they out did themselves and there was salad and fruit and enough cookies and sandwiches to feed an army. Then people just hung around and talked for over an hour. Then the family went to dinner. Then everyone came to our house for dessert -- all 19 of us. It was a wonderful full day. Thank you!

Friday, December 10

FAMOUS ATHEIST IS NO LONGER
Famous British philosopher Antony Flew has changed his mind and now thinks that there was some sort of intelligence or first cause that created the universe. His isn't yet a belief in a Christian God but at least at 81 years he's still thinking. Good for him.
AMWAY CO-FOUNDER DIES
Jay Van Andel, the co-founder of Amway, died Tuesday. He and Richard DeVos turned their multi-level marketing (i.e. pyramid scheme) company into a $6 billion giant. Whether you're a fan of Amway or not (I'm not) you've got to admit that's quite a "diamond."
MORAVIAN DAILY TEXTS
The 2005 Moravian Daily Text, published by Mount Carmel Ministries, is now available. We received our shipment at Cornerstone yesterday. We "sell" them for $6 each. You can order them online for about $8 plus shipping (or cheaper in quantity).
THE ORTHODOX CHURCH ONLINE
Bishop Kallistos Ware's classic introduction to Eastern Orthodoxy, The Orthodox Church, is now available as a free online book via the web. It's a great book -- however, the online version is so full of hyperlinks that it's not an easy read -- hard on the eyes if you try to read a whole sentence at a time. It's still worth the $10.88 you'd pay for an actual hardcopy. But if you're looking for a quick online reference the web version will do quite nicely.

Wednesday, December 8

CAMPOLO ON THE EMERGING CHURCH
Tony Campolo has checked in with his opinion of the emerging church movement. Funny, his view of the movement sounds a lot like the fulfillment of his vision for the church. Robert Webber -- who isn't too much like Campolo in orientation -- also sees it as the fulfillment of his ambitions for the church. We all have our lenses.

For me, the significance of the emerging church movement is not its size nor even its overall impact (unlike Campolo I see the hype as being disproportionately greater than the real impact) but that it exists and that there are Christians trying to work out what it means to follower Jesus in this era. I may not agree with some of their emphases but I can appreciate that they are struggling with the issues.
I BOUGHT IT ON EBAY
Becca, one of the bright eighth graders in my D/C class (who missed class today because her algebra teacher gave her four hours of homework for tonight -- 62 problems! This whole educational retrofit has gotten way out of hand) sent me a link to the Weird Al ebay song. And it is in her honor that I share it with you. BTW, I have never bought anything on that world-wide garage sale. I already have too much junk.
GAS PRICES
Costco has the best in town. Yesterday they were $2.019/gal and today it is $1.919/gal -- a 10 cent drop in less than 24 hours. I'm not sure what kind of economic indicator this is. But it is a welcome relief.

Tuesday, December 7

THE LAUGHING GOD
According to Uwe Siemon-Netto the biblical watch word for 2005 comes from Psalm 2:4, "He who sits in the Heavens laughs; the Lord has them in derision."
DARYL UPDATE
Keeping checking Daryl Holmlund's site. He's been fighting pneumonia.

Monday, December 6

REMEMBERING ST NICHOLAS
The Church has traditionally commemorated the life and ministry of St Nicholas on December 6th. A fourth century bishop in what is now Turkey, St Nick is probably the most popular male saint. It seems that there are more parishes and children named in his honor than any other -- especially in the East. Associations with the contemporary Santa Claus have contributed to his popularity in the West. Refresh your memory about his life and story. James Kiefer also has a nice summary article -- along with prayers.
HUMOR DOESN'T HAVE TO HURT
As usual Frederica Mathewes-Green says it so well.

Friday, December 3

Key Lime Pie

So, you're looking for a recipe for that traditional key lime Christmas pie. Here's the one we use most often. (BTW, it is also the recipe we use for the traditional Labor Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Birthday, etc -- you get the idea -- key lime pies).

Needed ingredients:

=> Between 12 and 18 key limes. 12 should be enough unless they are small. Key limes are also sold as Mexican or West Indies limes.

=> 3 egg yolks

=> 14 oz sweetened condensed milk

=> pre-made graham cracker crust

a) Zest the limes until you have 4 teaspoons.

b) Squeeze the limes to get 1/2 cup of juice.

c) Beat the egg yolks until shiny -- about 2 minutes

d) Combine all of the above with the sweetened condensed milk and wire whisk until smooth (or high beater setting for about 4 minutes)

e) Pour into pie crust and bake for 10-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven (or 325 degrees if your oven runs hotter than average -- as ours does). Center should set but wiggles when shaken.

f) Cool to room temperature (about 45 minutes).

g) Refrigerate 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

h) Garnish with whipped cream to serve.
REAL ESTATE BOOM
Last year real estate appreciated an average of:
13% in the US as a whole
27.2% in California as a whole
22.5% in Stanislaus County (where we live)
21.3% in Merced County (the next county south)
42% in Las Vegas (largest jump in the US)

Many of the SoCal communities jumped over 30%.

Thursday, December 2

COLLECTIVE EYE ROLLING EXERCISE
There is a parade of lights and a downtown lighting ceremony in Denver. But don't expect to hear bands playing Christmas carols. They're banned lest someone becomes offended. "Merry Christmas" signs are out but "Happy Holidays" signs are okay.

You can have holiday celebrations as long as you don't mention the holidays by name. Now that's pretty silly -- or paranoid.


Why are we so afraid of offending people? Why are we so easily offended? It wouldn't bother me in the least bit to have a choir singing Hanukkah songs in a parade or a Sikh or Muslim group singing some of their songs. As a matter of fact I'd find that interesting -- and an opportunity to engage in conversation about the differences between Christian holidays and celebrations that other groups have. If you are solid in your beliefs you aren't afraid to hear or see something different. We are in collective denial about differences.

This spills over into the churches where we want to embrace everyone and everything so that no one feels offended or left out. Check out David Neff's great review of
Caroline A. Westerhoff's new book Good Fences: The Boundaries of Hospitality.

How about another eye roller? A California teacher has been banned from using portions of the Declaration of Independence in his 5th grade classroom because of references to "God," "Creator," and "Supreme Judge." He's suing.
MSN BLOGS
When my blogger-powered blog went down this morning, I was tempted to switch to the darkside (but only briefly -- very briefly). Yes, even MSN now has a free blogging tool. If you want to check it out visit the msn spaces site.
ABC SAYS "REPENT"
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, is strongly suggesting that the Episcopal Church US "repent" of the global rift caused by the episcopal ordination of Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual. This is interesting because Williams himself has been partially responsible for the rift through his own theological waffling on this issue. Indeed, he is not calling the Episcopal Church to repent of its unrighteous and unbiblical position but for rocking the Anglican boat too much through its autonomous activity. This is a start but the repentance must also include the modern Anglican propensity toward an autonomous hermeneutic -- a system of biblical interpretation that has been severed from the roots of historical Christianity.
PANIC
I experienced a few moments of panic this morning when some kind of blogger error caused all of my blog entries -- over two years worth to disappear. They must have some kind of backup system that automatically restored them within a few minutes.

Wednesday, December 1

PRAYER REQUEST
Daryl Holmlund was thrown from a car that hit a deer on November 24th. (His father is Rick Holmlund -- a former Covenant pastor -- and his uncle is Bill Holmlund -- a Covenant pastor and hospital chaplain). He is in bad shape at a Denver hospital. His brother Eric has put together a website with the details. Thanks for praying.
THANKSGIVING SERMON
My sermon from the Turlock community Thanksgiving service -- the one which the men in our Monday morning prayer group insisted that I repeat at Cornerstone -- which I did last Sunday morning -- is now online. Beware, it is a little off the wall.