Beyond the Comfortable

Andy Stanley, a prominent pastor in Georgia, wrote in his new book Deep and Wide, “I love everything we do and I love the way we do it. But that doesn’t make it right. That just makes it comfortable. Predictable. But perhaps ineffectual.”

Last week, Anchor’s worship team practiced with the worship team of a nearby black church. We’re doing a joint service together on Dec 23. I found it discombobulating, somewhat uncomfortable. They are just so different from us. But they have an extravagant passion for Jesus. And to the credit of our worship team, though we found the experience foreign and out of our comfort zone, we also found it to be exhilarating. I can’t wait to practice with them again on Thursday night.

I like how we do things at Anchor. I like our music, our style, our patterns. It’s all comfortable for me. But that doesn’t make it the right way to do things, nor the best way to do things.

It’s good to be stretched and thrown off balance.

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Our Obsessions with Christian Symbols

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, published an excellent article on the Huffington Post. He mentions how Christians are fighting the secularization of society by advocating for symbols, like the Ten Commandments posted in courtrooms and nativity scenes in public places. There are various other symbols which we Christians make much fuss over–prayer at public gatherings, “In God We Trust” on money, “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the annual hubbub over a “war on Christmas.”

Stearns argues that obsessing over these symbols is backfiring, alienating people from the true Gospel. He writes, “The kind of Christianity the world responds to is the authentic ‘love your neighbor’ kind. Its appeal can’t be legislated through court battles and neither can courts stop its spread.”

I’m totally on board with that.

I get very impatient with these side-issue symbols being the public face of Christianity. It must come across as very petty to a watching world.

Stearns says Christian America needs to “get back to the mission Jesus gave us to show the world a different way to live — a way that demonstrates the great character of God: his love, his justice, his compassion, his forgiveness and his reconciliation.”

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Great Christmas Music You May Not Know About

Pam and I have been listening to gobs of Christmas music–last night as we put up our Christmas tree, and today as we’ve been cleaning the house and cooking in preparation for tonight’s worship team Christmas party. We have a 60-song playlist on an iPod Touch, and it’s been running continuously. Some favorites:

  • “A Tractors Christmas.” This is easily our favorite Christmas album. Really fun.
  • “Christmas,” by Rebecca St. James. I discovered this about 14 years ago, and never weary of it. James has the most creative takes on traditional songs (like “O Holy Night,” “What Child is This,” and “O Come Al Ye Faithful”).
  • “Run Run Rudolph.” This would be my favorite song. The playlist includes three versions–by The Tractors, Luke Bryan, and Sister Hazel (which I just discovered). You can really rock out with that song.

Other Christmas songs I highly recommend you download from iTunes:

  • “Christmas in America,” by Melissa Etheridge.
  • “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” by Josh Wilson with Mandisa. Also, the Little Big Town version.
  • “A New York Christmas,” by Rob Thomas.
  • “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” by the Smithereens.
  • “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” by Los Lonely Boys.
  • “Christmas Baby, Please Come Home,” by Bon Jovi.
  • “Little Drummer Boy,” by Aly & AJ.
  • The Mercy Me “Christmas Sessions” album.
  • “Away in a Manger,” by Billy Gilman (beautiful!).
  • “Silent Night,” by Taylor Swift.
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A Stretch on Amazon Prime

Pam and I love Amazon Prime. Pay $79 a year, and get unlimited two-day shipping on most items. We’ve ordered scores of items through Amazon Prime, from tiny flash drives to much larger items. But nothing as big as the Commander Series 54 gun safe.

I read that Cannon Safe sells a bunch of these six-foot-tall, 1500-pound safes through Amazon. Cannon charges $700 to ship the safe, but when people buy it through Amazon, shipping is free. You wonder what kind of a business model makes that profitable for Amazon.

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The Very Very White Republican Leadership

Can you spot the hidden minorities in this collage of the first 19 Republicans named as House committee chairpersons for the 113th Congress?

The Republicans have taken some shots recently for naming white men as chairmen of all of the House committees. Well, that’s not fair. After the criticism arose, they still had two slots to fill, and they found a white woman, Candice Miller of Michigan, to chair one of them–House Administration committee. John Boehner described this person’s responsibilities as “ensuring that the House runs efficiently and smoothly”–or, as Jon Stewart said, the “Housewife.”

Miller (right) had been a member of the larger and more prestigious Homeland Security committee, and a subcommittee chairperson, and she wanted to become its new chairman. Normally, you choose a chairperson from the persons who have been serving on that committee. But in picking a chairman for the House Administration committee, Boehner had to look outside the existing committee. But hey, at least they now have diversity in the committee chairpersons–19 white men, 1 white woman, and 1 more chairmanship to go.

Actually, the Republicans have more diversity in the current House (which serves until January). Currently, the House chairmanships include 1 woman and 1 hispanic. That would be Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (right), a Cuban-American from Florida who chairs the important Foreign Affairs committee. She’s the ranking Republican woman in the House, serving since 1989. She had to give up her chairmanship because she had served her maximum of 6 years on the committee. Interestingly, they waived the limit for Paul Ryan so he could keep his chairmanship of the Budget committee. Since he’s a white guy, do different rules apply?

In addition to being a hispanic woman, Ros-Lehtinen is a minority in several other ways: she’s a Scientologist, she’s one of three Republican members of the LGBT caucus, and she was the first House Republican to suport same-sex marriage. Not, I’m assuming, a Tea Party favorite.

To be fair, the Republicans don’t have a lot of choices. Out of 235 members of the House, the Republicans have just 17 women, 1 black, and six hispanics. The Democrats alone have 61 women. In the 2012 elections, the Republicans lost 6 women, 1 black, and 1 hispanic. So their minority representation isn’t headed in the right direction.

John Boehner hasn’t yet named a chairperson of the Ethics committee (which, like Budget, has no subcommittees). I imagine he’s searching real hard for a woman or minority.

Anyway, here are the current (through January 2013) House committees, each of which has 2-13 subcommittees, each with their own chairpersons. I pointed out, with each committee, how many subcommittee chairpersons are non-Caucasian male. The Democrat line indicates not the chairperson, of course, but the ranking Democrat on the subcommittees. If you want to factcheck this, go to Wikipedia.

Agriculture (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 woman
Democrats: 3 hispanics, 1 black woman

Appropriations (13 sub-committees)
Republicans: 2 white women
Democrats: 2 women, 2 blacks, 1 hispanic, 1 asian

Armed Services (8 sub-committees)
Republicans: all white men
Democrats: 3 women, 2 hispanics

Education and Workforce (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 white woman
Democrats: 1 hispanic, 1 woman

Energy and Commerce (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 white woman
Democrats: 1 black, 2 women

Financial Services (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: 2 white women
Democrats: 3 women, 1 hispanic, 2 blacks

Foreign Affairs (8 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 hispanic woman
Democrats: 2 woman, 2 blacks

Homeland Security (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 white woman
Democrats: 4 blacks, 4 women, 1 hispanic

House Administration (2 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 1 white woman

Judiciary (6 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 3 black, 1 woman

Natural Resources (5 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 2 hispanics, 1 woman

Oversight and Government Reform (8 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 3 black men

Rules (2 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats:1 black man

Science, Space, and Technology (6 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 2 black women

Small Business (6 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 white woman
Democrats: 2 women, 1 asian, 1 black, 1 hispanic

Transportation and Infrastructure (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 2 black women

Veterans’ Affairs (5 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 white woman
Democrats: all white men

Ways and Mean (7 sub-committees)
Republicans: All white men
Democrats: 1 black, 1 hispanic

Intelligence (4 sub-committees)
Republicans: 1 woman
Democrats: 1 white woman

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Sometimes You Hear Something Fresh…NOT

While listening to ESPN on the way to work, I heard Mike & Mike interview a pro football player. He said something very profound, something I’ve never heard before. He said, “We just have to take it one week at a time.” Wow! Rarely have I heard something so original, so insightful…except from every other football player ever interviewed since the Dawn of Time.

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Gridlock USA

My guess is that the Dems and Reps will work out some kind of temporary fix to avoid the dreaded fiscal cliff, with a new fiscal deadline in 3-4 months. Then we’ll spend those months continually fussing over the same issues, and ultimately reach a VERY PROMISING deal which pushes a final decision down the road another 3-4 months…and after that, another temporary fix that puts another fiscal cliff at the end of 2013.

And by the end of 2013, after all kinds of pseudo-activity and countless meetings and innumerable press conferences and grand posturing, pretty much nothing will have been done.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the future of life in gridlocked USA.

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The Unseemly McCain/Graham Crusade

John McCain and Lindsey Graham are ferociously opposing the idea of Susan Rice being named Secretary of State. Turns out Rice has strong ties to the company that wants to build the Keystone pipeline. Why are McCain and Graham opposed to the Keystone pipeline? (I apologize in advance to the sarcasm-challenged.)

While we’re at it: McCain and Graham say Rice isn’t qualified to lead the Secretary of State because of statements–which everyone agrees were in error–made a few days after the Benghazi attacks. Statements she based on intelligence information she was given.

Let’s go back ten years ago. McCain and Graham both trumpeted the need to invade Iraq because Saddam Hussein, they insisted, was building weapons of mass destruction. They based this on years and years of intelligence assessments–not information based on an event a few days beforehand. Assessments which proved to be in error.

So, using their own barometer, on what basis are McCain and Graham qualified to lead, if they were so wrong in misleading the country into a war which has cost thousands of American lives, and ten of thousands of Iraqi lives?

Or does a different set of rules apply to McCain and Graham?

Seriously, guys, just back off from this petty, petty witchhunt.

McCain, of course, picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, so his assessment of women’s leadership capabilities shouldn’t be questioned.

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Among Mayans, Not a Lot of Concern

The only ones not worried about the Mayan calendar are the Mayans. In the Yucatan State in Mexico, which still has a large Mayan population, a Mayan cultural festival will be held December 21. They’ve already set the date for their 2013 festival.

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Even More Unlikely than Winning the Lottery

We’ve all heard the probability comparisons: “You’re more likely to die of a flesh-eating bacteria than you are to win the lottery.” A friend of mine wrote that you’re more likely to get struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark on a leap year, than to win the lottery. This morning I read that you’re more likely to be killed by a falling vending machine than to win the lottery (it happens to two persons every year.)

Have these been statistically verified? Are Snopes and Factcheck.org on the ball here?

I suspect not. In which case, we are all free to make up our own incredible odds. For instance (and this may sound more-than-vaguely like a Jeff Foxworthy routine):

  • You’re more likely to watch the Chicago Cubs play in the World Series…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to meet an American teenager who can find Botswana on a map…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to watch Michael Moore hosting a primetime show on FoxNews…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to spot a gay black woman in the crowd at a Republican convention…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to buy a piece of clothing made in the United States…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see Chuck Schumer avoid a television camera…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see Microsoft invent something totally on its own…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see Stephen Colbert break character…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to hear Rush Limbaugh praise Barack Obama…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to go through an entire church service without singing a Chris Tomlin song…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see Michael Vick go an entire season without getting injured…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to hear Donald Trump admit to being pompous and severely over-rated…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to receive a deduction in your cable bill…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to here Rob Bell described as “too traditional”…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see Bill Belichick crack a smile…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see a zombie movie win an Oscar…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to find a Walmart employee receiving full benefits…than you are to win the lottery.
  • You’re more likely to see the Post Office end the year in the black…than you are to win the lottery.
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