Taking the Christ out of Christmas

Some megachurches closing for Christmas
The Associated Press

[Dorkydad NOTE:  Yes, North Point is on the list. I’ve hated this practice ever since I showed up at North Point on the Sunday after Christmas with my Mom several years ago… only to find the doors locked. Talk about taking the “Christ” out of Christmas….]

This Christmas, no prayers will be said in several megachurches around the country. Even though the holiday falls this year on a Sunday, when churches normally host thousands for worship, pastors are canceling services, anti-cipating low attendance on what they call a family day.
Critics within the evangelical community, more accustomed to doing battle with department stores and public schools over keeping religion in Christmas, are stunned by the shutdown.
It is almost unheard of for a Christian church to cancel services on a Sunday, and opponents of the closures are accusing these congregations of bowing to secular culture.
"This is a consumer mentality at work: 'Let's not impose the church on people. Let's not make church in any way inconvenient,'" said David Wells, professor of history and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Hamilton, Mass. "I think what this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing."
The churches closing on Christmas plan multiple services in the days leading up to the holiday, including on Christmas Eve. Most normally do not hold Christmas Day services, preferring instead to mark the holiday in the days and night before. However, Sunday worship has been a Christian practice since ancient times.
Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said.
"If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" she said.
Among the other megachurches closing on Christmas Day are Southland Christian Church in Nicholasville, Ky., near Lexington, and Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas, outside of Dallas. North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., outside of Atlanta, said on its website that no services will be held on Christmas Day or New Year's Day, which also falls on a Sunday. A spokesman for North Point did not respond to requests for comment.
The closures stand in stark contrast to Roman Catholic parishes, which will see some of their largest crowds of the year on Christmas, and mainline Protestant congregations such as the Episcopal, Methodist and Lutheran churches, where Sunday services are rarely if ever canceled.
Cindy Willison, a spokeswoman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church, said at least 500 volunteers are needed, along with staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 people who usually attend. She said many of the volunteers appreciate the chance to spend Christmas with their families instead of working, although she said a few church members complained.
"If we weren't having services at all, I would probably tend to feel that we were too accommodating to the secular viewpoint, but we're having multiple services on Saturday and an additional service Friday night," Willison said. "We believe that you worship every day of the week, not just on a weekend, and you don't have to be in a church building to worship."
Troy Page, a spokesman for Fellowship Church, said the congregation was hardly shirking its religious obligations. Fellowship will hold 21 services in four locations in the days leading up to the holiday. Last year, more than 30,000 worshippers participated. "Doing them early allows you to reach people who may be leaving town Friday," Page said.
These megachurches are not alone in adjusting Sunday worship to accommodate families on Christmas. But most other congregations are scaling back services instead of closing their doors.
First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., led by the Rev. Bobby Welch, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will hold one service instead of the usual two. New Life Church in Colorado Springs, led by the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, will hold one Sunday service instead of the typical three.


A Grave Indictment, but Grave Questions Remain

David Corn

If a senior White House official leaks classified information that identifies an undercover CIA officer to reporters in order to undermine a critic of the administration, he is not entitled to lie about it to FBI agents and a grand jury charged with the task of determining if such a leak violated the law. That was special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's message, as he held a dramatic press conference at the Justice Department to explain the five-count indictment his grand jury issued against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. "This is a very serious matter," he insisted.

The indictment charged Libby with two counts of making false statements to the FBI, two counts of committing perjury (by lying twice to the grand jury) and one count of obstruction of justice. All these charges referred to Libby's account of how he came to learn of Valerie Wilson, the undercover CIA official who was married to former ambassador Joseph Wilson, a White House critic, and who was outed in a July 14, 2003 Bob Novak column. During interviews with FBI agents and in his testimony before the grand jury, Libby--who, before the Novak column was published, told Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA--repeatedly claimed that he was merely passing along information he had heard from other reporters. For instance, on March 5, 2004, Libby, answering questions about a July 12, 2003 conversation with Cooper, told the grand jury,

All I had was this information that was coming in from the reporters....I said, reporters are telling us that [about Valerie Wilson's employment at the CIA]. I don't know if it's true. I was careful about that because among other things, I wanted to be clear I didn't know Mr. Wilson. I don't know--I think I said, I don't know if he has a wife, but this is what we're hearing.

On March 24, 2004, Libby, in another appearance before the grand jury, said,

All I had was that reporters are telling us that, and by that I wanted them to understand it wasn't coming from me and that it might not be true....So I wanted to be clear they [the reporters to whom he spoke] didn't, they didn't think it was me saying it. I didn't know if it [the information about Valerie Wilson] was true, and I wanted them to understand that.

But, according to the indictment, Libby had actively gathered information on Joseph Wilson and his wife after newspaper stories appeared about a trip that Joseph Wilson had taken to Niger for the CIA in February 2002, during which he had concluded that the allegation that Iraq had been shopping there for weapon-grade uranium was highly dubious. In May 2003, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, using Wilson as a source, wrote about this trip without naming Wilson. The Washington Post did the same the following month. And on July 6, 2003, Wilson published an op-ed piece in the Times describing his mission to Niger and his findings, which undercut the Bush administration's use of the Niger allegation in making a case for war.

In late May 2003--after the first Kristof column and before Wilson went public with his op-ed--Libby asked Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman for information on the unnamed ambassador's trip to Niger. Grossman ordered the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to prepare a report on the ambassador and the trip and subsequently told Libby that Wilson had been the ambassador. On June 9, 2003, according to the indictment, classified CIA documents that covered Wilson and the Niger trip (without mentioning Wilson by name) were faxed from the CIA to Libby. Two or three days later, Grossman told Libby, the indictment says, that "Wilson's wife worked at the CIA." About that time, Libby spoke with a senior CIA officer, who also informed Libby that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA. Also about the time, the indictment states, Cheney told Libby that Wilson's wife was employed at the CIA in the counterproliferation division. This is an intriguing fact. Usually in Washington, principles ask their subordinates to dig up information for them. Apparently, Cheney was doing his own fact-finding on the Wilson front. The indictment does not explain what Cheney was up to or why. It notes that "Libby understood that the Vice President had learned this information from the CIA." Cheney had a back-channel behind his back-channel (Libby).

Libby was not done gathering information on Joseph and Valerie Wilson. On or about June 14, 2003--still weeks before Wilson's op-ed article appeared--Libby, according to the indictment, met with a CIA briefer and "discussed with the briefer, among other things, 'Joseph Wilson' and his wife 'Valerie Wilson' in the context of Wilson's trip to Niger." (Fitzgerald's use of quotation marks in this passage of the indictment suggests he has notes from this meeting.)

Libby, as depicted in the indictment, was aware of the sensitive nature of the material he had collected on the Wilsons. When an assistant asked if information on Wilson's trip could be shared with the press to rebut the charge that Cheney had sent Wilson to Niger (an allegation never made by Wilson, who had said that his trip was a response to a request that had come to the CIA from Cheney's office), Libby told his aide that he could not talk about this topic on a nonsecure telephone line.

Yet days later--on June 23, 2003--Libby met with Judy Miller and told her that Wilson's wife might work at the CIA. And the day after Joseph Wilson's op-ed piece appeared, Libby had lunch with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and informed him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA, adding that this was not widely known. That week, Libby twice more discussed Valerie Wilson with Miller. And on July 10 or 11, 2003, Libby, according to the indictment, spoke to a senior White House official--identified as "Official A" and possibly White House aide Karl Rove--who told Libby that earlier in the week he (Official A) had discussed Wilson's wife and her CIA employment with Novak, who would be writing a column about her.

If the indictment is correct, Libby was not only in the loop regarding Valerie Wilson and her connection to the CIA; he had helped to create it. Yet Fitzgerald's indictment quotes Libby declaring over and over he only had heard--and passed along--scuttlebutt received from other reporters. To prop up this cover story, Libby told the FBI agents that it had been NBC News' Tim Russert who had said to him that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA and that "all the reporters knew it." Russert told the grand jury that he had not discussed Wilson's wife with Libby and that in this particular conversation Libby had complained to him about an MSNBC reporter (who goes unnamed in the indictment).

Libby appears to have concocted a rather clumsy cover story, especially in that he pointed to a specific reporter as his source--Russert--for the information on Valerie Wilson that he shared with Miller and Cooper. A reasonable assumption is that even if Libby was not a source for the Novak column that identified Valerie Wilson, he was attempting to distance himself--and perhaps Cheney--from the administration's effort to find and leak information on Wilson and his wife (even if it might be classified) to undercut Wilson's criticism. During the press conference, Fitzgerald noted that Libby was the first official who talked to a reporter about Valerie Wilson when he discussed her with Miller on June 23, 2003.

Fitzgerald's indictment of Libby seems rather tight. Libby said he knew nothing about Wilson's wife except what he had heard from reporters. Fitzgerald has compiled what looks like solid evidence that Libby was actively collecting information on Joseph Wilson and his wife. And if this case goes to trial, possible witnesses for the prosecution include Russert, Fleischer, Grossman, Libby's principle deputy, a CIA briefer, Official A, and Cheney. Libby could be sentenced up to 30 years if found guilty of all counts. Libby, the first senior White House official to be indicted since the Ulysses Grant administration, is in serious legal trouble.

Is anyone else? Fitzgerald's grand jury expired on Friday. But he has asked the presiding judge to keep a grand jury available for him because he has not completed his investigation. His probe, he said at the press conference, is "not quite done." Then he quickly added, "But I don't want to add to a feverish pitch. It's very, very routine that you keep a grand jury available for what you might need." He noted that the "substantial bulk of the work" has been completed. But he said, "Let's let the process take place."

How to read this? Not over, but mostly finished. Fitzgerald seemed a man who was rather close to the end of a long and tough endeavor, and he yielded no hint of any indictments to come. He certainly did not signal or say, "Stay tuned."

Does that mean this leak investigation could end only with Libby indicted--not for participating in the leak but for lying about his pre-leak actions? That's possible. And Fitzgerald, sticking to the rules of grand jury investigations, refused to reveal any information about the case that was not included in the indictment. Who were Novak's sources for the leak? Fitzgerald wouldn't say. Is Official A a new name for Mr. X--the term used by reporters to refer to Novak's original source? Fitzgerald didn't say. Might Rove be Official A? Fitzgerald didn't say. Why did the leak refer to Valerie Wilson by her maiden name of Plame? Fitzgerald didn't say. What sort of cooperation did Fitzgerald receive from Novak (who presumably spilled all to Fitzgerald, otherwise he would have landed in the slammer like Miller)? Fitzgerald didn't say. Was Cheney in cahoots with Libby regarding the latter's false testimony? Fitzgerald didn't say. How much damage was done to the CIA and its operations by the leak? Fitzgerald didn't say. What about George W. Bush? What did he know about Rove's involvement in the leak and when did he know it? No reporter at the press conference even asked about this.

Fitzgerald did not share much beyond the information he had to disclose in order to indict Libby. He did declare that "the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified...but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community" and that "her cover was blown" by the Novak column. (So much for the goofy rightwing conspiracy theory that I colluded with Joseph Wilson after the Novak column to out Valerie Wilson as an undercover CIA operative. If you don't know about that, don't ask.) And he passionately countered the pre-indictment criticism from Republicans and others who argued that bringing perjury and obstruction of justice charges--rather than accusing anyone of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act or other laws that apply to leaking classified information--would be a cheap shot or an act of prosecutorial overreaching. He explained that he and his investigators were assigned the job of investigating the unauthorized disclosure of classified information and determining if any laws--not one particular statute, such as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act--were violated. In such an inquiry, he said, "fine distinctions" are critical, and consequently, it is "important that the witnesses who come before a grand jury, especially the witnesses who come before a grand jury who may be under investigation, tell the complete truth." In this probe, that included Libby.

Fitzgerald indicated he had considered the possibility of charging leakers with violating the Espionage Act, which makes it a crime for government officials to disseminate classified information--to unauthorized individuals. Using the Espionage Act in this manner, some media and legal experts have claimed, would lead to an Official Secrets Act, but Fitzgerald said he didn't accept that analysis. Still, he called this act "a difficult statue to interpret." And he chose not to indict anyone--yet--for violating it. He also defended his choice to pursue Miller and Cooper and to seek Miller's imprisonment, citing a special need for their testimony. ("I do not think that a reporter should be subpoenaed anything close to routinely," he said.) When asked about detractors who have accused him of being partisan, he replied, "for which party?"

Fitzgerald knows far more than what is in the Libby indictment. But the American public may never learn what he has uncovered. There might be no further indictments, and Fitzgerald dismissed the idea of writing a final report. He said that he does not have the authority to issue such a document--and that he does not believe a special counsel should have that authority. Independent counsels used to have the obligation to craft a final report that detailed their investigation and findings and explained decisions to prosecute and not prosecute. But the independent counsel law expired, and Fitzgerald is operating as a special counsel pursuant to Justice Department rules that do not provide for the production of a final report and that do compel prosecutors to keep grand jury material that is not used for an indictment or trial confidential. Feeling the reporter's pain, Fitzgerald remarked, "I know that people want to know whatever it is we know....We just can't do that....We either charge someone or we don't talk about them."

Which means that after the government has paid for a two-year investigation, the public may be left in the dark about much of what happened in the leak case. The leakers may never be held accountable. Rove's role, Bush's knowledge, Cheney's potential involvement--all of that could remain a secret, even though Fitzgerald has apparently dug deep and unearthed much of the tale. When a reporter asked Fitzgerald if he had learned how Washington works, he replied, "Yes," and said no more.

The Libby indictment does stand as a significant development. Libby was an influential aide for an influential veep in an administration that has often been accused of lying to get its way--such as during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And he has been charged with putting himself above the law and undermining an investigation initiated by his administration's Justice Department. On January 22, 2001, Bush, while swearing in the new White House staff, said, "We must remember the high standards that come with high office. This begins with careful adherence to the rules. I expect every member of this administration to stay well within the boundaries that define legal and ethical conduct. This means avoiding even the appearance of problems. This means checking and, if need be, double-checking that the rules have been obeyed. This means never compromising those rules....We are all accountable to one another. And above all, we are all accountable to the law and to the American people."

Libby, who quickly resigned after the indictment was released, has fallen. But Rove, who also leaked classified information by passing information on Wilson's wife to Cooper and Novak, has violated White House rules and Bush's self-proclaimed standards, if not the law itself. He has not been held accountable yet, and that task may be beyond Fitzgerald's reach. Nor have Bush and Rove explained why the White House misled the public when it denied Rove and Libby were involved in the leak. Neither have accepted responsibility for that. As for Libby, Bush, in a brief statement, said he was "saddened" by the news of his indictment. He said nothing about the ethical standards of his White House.

In politics and policy, lying is not always illegal. And it's easy to see why officials in this White House might think they can escape being held accountable for prevaricating. But Libby seems to have lied to the wrong guy in the wrong forum. "Truth is the engine of our judicial system," Fitzgerald declared while explaining the gravity of the Libby indictment. And this is a grave indictment. It just doesn't answer many grave questions that still remain in the CIA leak affair.


LOST about finances?

I'm not a fan of the small group curriculum from Crown Financial Ministeries, so I'm really looking forward to hearing this series!


No QB turnovers? Michael Vick must not be playing...

Let me be the first to say that Atlanta needs to bench Michael Vick and start Matt Schaub.

I've been a fan of Atlanta Falcons backup quarterback Matt Schaub since the 2004 pre-season when he led the NFL in passing yards, completions, and touchdowns. Since then he's been relegated to the bench except when Vick goes out for an injury.

Despite Atlanta's loss to New England yesterday at the Georgia Dome, it was the best home game I've ever seen the Falcons play. As quarterback, Matt Schaub gave the Falcons the best opportunity to win, but our defense let us down.

Yesterday Matt Schaub showed his true colors and why he, rather than Michael Vick, should be the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. With the exception of Atlanta's blowout against Minnesota, Vick has thrown an interception or fumbled the ball in every game so far this year. Compare this to Schaub, who, playing against the defending Super Bowl champs threw NO interceptions and didn't fumble the ball once.

Matt Schaub is listed as being 6' 5" whereas Michael Vick is listed at 6' 0" (though Schaub looks more than 5" taller than Vick when standing side-by-side). Perhaps it's his height advantage, perhaps it's his accuracy, but Schaub is a much better west coast quarterback than Vick. Understandably you can't rate a quarterback on just one game, but what would it hurt to sit Vick out for another week so his hamstring and sprained knee can fully recover while giving Schaub another opportunity to show what he can do? If numbers don't lie, then I'll let their quarterback ratings do all the talking...

Matt Schaub = 90.3 QB rating
Michael Vick = 83 QB rating


"Heroes" sermon by Andy Stanley

I still remember my first visit to North Point Community Church over four years ago. Andy Stanley is the pastor of North Point and happens to be the son of Charles Stanley who pastors First Baptist Church of Atlanta. My wife and I both have "Baptist baggage" from bad experiences with that denomination, so it was with great cynicism that we visited North Point. Visiting a church whose pastor is the son of a prominent Baptist preacher, we expected to hear a fire and brimstone sermon arrogantly delivered from a self-rightousness point of view, a lot of shouting, and a final altar call. Man, were we ever wrong.

Andy has a way of taking a book that's 2,000 years old and making it relevant to life today. And as a bonus, he does it with humor, sincerity, and a big dose of humility. My marriage is stronger, my friendships are deeper, and I'm a better Dad because of the growth experienced as a result of Andy Stanley and North Point. I never thought I'd get up before 7:00am and drive the 20 miles from Marietta to Alpharetta, GA, just to attend church, but I do. I can't imagine life without North Point Community Church (hereinafter referred to as North Point).

Since attending North Point, I'd never heard a questionable sermon from Andy or one that made me wonder where he was coming from until August when he delivered the 4-part "Heroes" series. In a nutshell, Andy made the case that a hero is defined as someone who has 1) clarity -and- 2) an irresistable urge to act. My immediate thoughts in hearing this definition were, "where is this in scripture" and "whose clarity?" In my humble opinion, he gave weak answers to both questions, but I hoped that perhaps in a followup sermon he would comprehensively address both.

As he usually does, in the second sermon of this series Andy gave several examples of individuals he considered heroes, one of whom I believe he's dead wrong about. Hearing what I considered to be blasphemy from the pulpit left me incensed. I figured that I had several options: 1) leave; 2) throw something at him; 3) listen to everything else he had to say and hope for a clarification. Option #1 was out because I would have had to yank my daughter out of Waumba Land (children's ministry). Sitting in the balcony gave me a great shot at tossing some vegetables towards the stage, but alas, all I had was my bible, notebook, and cell phone, and I didn't think this would pass the what-would-Jesus-do test.

So I tried to listen. I learned it's hard to listen when you're angry. I prayed for peace. I prayed for calm. I thanked God that I hadn't brought other like-minded friends, family, and neighbors who would never return to North Point had they heard this sermon. I prayed for patience. I also learned that it's difficult to believe someone's words after you feel they've spoken a lie. I did sit through the sermon, and my blood pressure fell, but unfortunately Andy offered no retraction or clarification. So I heeded Andy's closing challenge. With clarity and an irresistable urge to act, I felt compelled to share with Andy my experience.

I considered sending him an email, but I figured that there were several administrative assistants who managed and screened his email inbox. I could have phoned, but I figured with 18,000 regular attendees at North Point's Alpharetta campus that I'd have little chance of reaching him. I decided to write.

I've learned it's always wise to let someone else read a letter of this nature as I wanted to be sure my delivery was clear and not an impediment to the message I wished to convey. I listened to the sermon again online and then started writing. I took the wise counsel of my wife to make several changes and then mailed the letter. My hope was that the letter would at least reach Andy, but I had little expectation of ever getting a response. Again, Andy surprised me.

About a week and a half later, I was shocked to find a message on my home answering machine from none other than Andy Stanley. He had received my letter, read it, and wanted me to know that he'd meant no offense in his message. He offered his cell phone # if I wished to call him back, and then he thanked my wife and I for our involvement in leading a community group at North Point. Andy does his homework. I felt like I'd gotten a call from the Pope.

We traded several voice messages and finally spoke a couple of weeks later. He listened patiently. I think he heard me. Andy didn't change my mind about "Heroes"--I thought his definition of hero and biblical support were weak--I hated the series. It appears he adapted the series from his book, The Next Generation Leader [synopsis here] he wrote a few years ago, which IMHO would have made a better sermon.

Pastors deserve a mulligan every now and then. The last sermon in this series did touch on the subject of how a hero needs to do the right thing the right way at the right time, but it sounded like an afterthought and seemed to fall out of chronological order with the rest of the series. Regardless, the fact that Andy took the time to read my letter and respond speaks volumes about the kind of leader he is, and perhaps that is the message God wanted me to learn. As brothers in Christ we may not always agree, but we always need to listen.


Where is Sunshine?

One of the many bright spots in the Atlanta Falcons' receiving corps during training camp was Cole Magner, nicknamed "Sunshine" because of his long blond hair

After the preseason game against Baltimore, Michael Vick said, "He's a guy who goes out and catches the ball with no gloves on, straight hands, so you have to respect that. He's a playmaker. I've been watching him the last month and a half and critiquing him. I think he's going to make this football team." Several days later when asked about Magner again, Vick added, "The kid hasn't dropped a ball since he's been here. I'm not trying to jinx him, but he hasn't dropped a ball. You see him make the tough grabs and the 'Wow' catches that Jim is looking for. He does it all."

After the Falcons beat the Ravens in preseason, Coach Jim Mora even named Magner as special teams player of the game for returning 2 punts for 43 yards.

Magner's only mistake in a preseason game was in the 3rd quarter against Jacksonville where he fumbled a punt return with Jacksonville recovering.

Unfortunately Magner was a victim of the Falcons' final roster cut on September 3.

Probably because of his strong showing against Baltimore, the Ravens signed Magner to their practice squad on September 6. But on September 20, the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract.

Aside from Finneran and possibly Jenkins, I think the Falcons still are weak in the wide receiver position. Of course I'd like to see Magner back on the Falcons' roster, but if we don't pick him up I hope he finds a place somewhere in the league.


Our God is an Awesome God

It was refreshing to reacquaint myself with the music of Rich Mullins on Saturday. Listening to each of his albums (CDs) from the self-titled "Rich Mullins" released in 1986 all the way to Canticle of the Plains, I was reminded that, with the exception of two songs, Rich wrote the words to every song he ever recorded.

I'm very fortunate to have a younger brother who shares my appreciation for Rich Mullins and his music, and in the fall of 1997 he gave me a two-CD set that was a Tribute to Rich Mullins, released by 20 The Countdown Magazine. I also had the opportunity to listen to these CDs, something I hadn't done in 8 years. [Listen to it here]

From his very first album, Rich wanted the world to know he was ready for heaven and recorded Elijah, a song about this longing. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that he re-recorded Elijah for the last album released before his death, Songs. When asked why he re-did it, Rich simply said, "because nobody listened the first time."

I became a fan of Rich Mullins my freshman year of college as I wore out the album Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth. It brought back a lot of memories--friends I had forgotten, Campus Crusade for Christ, and working a Steve Camp concert at Texas A&M University. It all seems like a lifetime ago.

If you've never listened to his music, heard him speak, or read anything about him, you're missing out. Rich was an average guy with a profound simplicity who yearned to know God. His next release, Never Picture Perfect, has my favorite song entitled "My One Thing". I've stolen some of his words as a daily prayer:

Save me from those things that might distract me
Please take them away and purify my heart
I don't want to lose the eternal for the things that are passing
After listening to 12 hours of Rich Mullins, I decided that my favorite album is A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band. There's not a song on this album I couldn't listen to for hours. Rich is a true artist and poet. In this album, he brings together two things that impact our faith experience--liturgy and legacy. The liturgy part of the album (tracks 2-6) is a call to worship while the legacy (tracks 7-12) calls us to reflect on our heritage and those things that make us who we are. The songs "Hold Me Jesus" and "Peace" are especially powerful.

Time will tell what the world will remember about Rich Mullins, but for me it's humility and honesty shown through his words and music. There is something profoundly disarming and inviting about Rich that is rare in this world of smoke-and-mirrors. We miss you, Rich.


Rich Mullins, gone but never forgotten

I just read a blog that mentioned September 19 was the 8th anniversary of the death of Rich Mullins. I still vividly remember learning this horrible news--it was a Saturday, and my wife (then fiance) and I had just pulled into a Target parking lot. I was turning off the car when the radio DJ shared the news that Rich had died in a car accident the previous night. My wife got out of the car while I sat in stunned silence (very unusual for me). The radio station went to a commercial, so I got out of the car and walked with my wife into Target. I couldn't have been 10 feet into the store when it hit me. My eyes welled up with tears. I was devastated.

Life does go on. Two months later I was married, and a month after that we moved to Atlanta. The music and memory of Rich is still with me, though. Long after my Amy Grant, 4 Him, and other crappy christian music has been sold off or given away, my Rich Mullins CDs remain. And every Christmas morning we have a family tradition--I play "You Gotta Get Up" loud enough for the neighbors to hear it.

One of my few regrets in life is that I never saw Rich Mullins live in concert. It's been a while since I've played his music, but fortunately this Saturday I have a full day of work on a remodeling project. It'll be nice saying hello to an old friend.


Cheney gets some honest feedback

Watching the news coverage after Hurricane Katrina, one of the most offensive things I repeatedly heard from government officials was the self-congratulatory ass-kissing and positive spin with no basis in reality. I was relieved to finally hear CNN's Anderson Cooper address this very issue when he ripped into Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) the Friday after the hurricane struck. [See the video here]

And not picked up by any of the major news outlets (unless you consider Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to be a news outlet) is a press conference from Gulfport, MS, by Vice President Dick Cheney where he started with the positive spin and got some honest feedback from a local resident.


It's official--the Bush family is nuts!

Last week, after “more than an hour of solemn ceremony” swearing in Rep. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as House speaker, Florida Governor Jeb Bush stepped to the podium to tell “a short story about ‘unleashing Chang,’ his ‘mystical warrior’ friend.”

Here are some of Bush’s words, “spoken before hundreds of lawmakers and politicians”:

“Chang is a mystical warrior. Chang is somebody who believes in conservative principles, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism, believes in moral values that underpin a free society.

“I rely on Chang with great regularity in my public life. He has been by my side and sometimes I let him down. But Chang, this mystical warrior, has never let me down.”

Bush then unsheathed a golden sword and gave it to Rubio as a gift.

‘’I'm going to bestow to you the sword of a great conservative warrior,'’ he said, as the crowd roared.

I have an imaginary friend too. His name is Fuzzy, and he's a polar bear who likes to play lawn darts.


Ganja Baby!

As a parent, Comcast's On-Demand service is now a must-have in our household for no other reason than Sesame Street reruns 24/7.

I haven't found a great selection of On-Demand movies, so we won't be dropping the NetFlix subscription anytime soon, but I've found a new Showtime series that I'm hooked on--Weeds. Weeds is funny, irreverent, and smart. Mary-Louise Parker is a
mom who starts a marijuana business to support her family after her husband dies, which reminds me... it's time to update my will.


For fiscal responsibility, don't turn to the Republican party

My biggest idealogical problem with this republican administration is the war in Iraq. I'm not anti-war; removing the Taliban was the right move. Iraq is another story. My hope was that W would allow the UN weapons inspectors to complete their work which would have determined whether Iraq really possessed WMDs. Instead, W pulled the trigger.

My second biggest issue with this republican administration is its lack of fiscal responsibility. It's scary to have one party in control of both houses of Congress AND the White House. Most don't realize that President George W. Bush has NEVER vetoed a spending bill! Republicans don't like taxes, so they've transformed themselves into the "borrow and spend" party. Meanwhile the federal debt continues to grow, which leads me to today.

"The fact of the matter is when our nation faces these type of emergencies, it unfortunately requires us to deficit spend. It's nothing that anybody in Washington, or anywhere for that matter, likes to do but it's necessary," said White House counselor Dan Bartlett.

American taxpayers are already on the hook for over $60 billion in Katrina aid relief that's been pushed through a republican-controlled Congress. Democrats aren't any better--they're voting for the Katrina gravy train as well, but they're not in control--republicans are. With estimates of the federal tab running as high as $200 billion, it's time for fiscal restraint and creativity. Americans are already on the hook for $7.9 trillion in debt (up from $5.6 trillion when W came to office). Enough is enough.

Don't misunderestimate FEMA

FEMA Convoy Gets Ice to Cities Not in Need

By WOODY BAIRD, Associated Press Writer
Mon Sep 12,11:35 PM ET

About 200 tractor-trailer trucks with ice and water for victims of Hurricane Katrina took a convoluted, weeklong trip to a storage depot in Memphis, partly because of what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called "miscommunication."

The drivers were sent to cities that didn't end up needing water or ice and were final directed to Memphis, said Corps spokesman Bob Anderson.

"They're in the right place now," Anderson said Monday. He said the problem trip may have resulted from "miscommunication, a breakdown in communication between FEMA and the Corps."

The trucks are leased by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while the Corps is responsible for getting them to where they are needed in Mississippi and Louisiana. Memphis has a Corps storage facility where relief supplies are held before being shipped south.

No one went without water because of the mix-up, Anderson said.

"Our supply of ice and water is exceeding the demand right now," Anderson said. "The ice and water will not be wasted."

The 18-wheelers, under contract for up to $900 a day, are part of a relief operations that already has sent more than 5,300 trucks of ice and water to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, Anderson said.

Drivers said they picked up their loads a week ago and were sent to Meridian, Miss., before being dispatched to Selma, Ala., and finally to Memphis. Some also were detoured through Hattiesburg, Miss., drivers said.

Jeff Henderson of Dade City, Fla., picked up his load near Grand Rapids, Mich.

"I drove all the way up from Florida to Michigan thinking I was going to help these people out and now I've been sitting on this load for over seven days," Henderson said. "Somebody dropped the ball somewhere."

A rather telling statement about this presidency...

This is a photo taken over the shoulder of W at the UN. It's unknown whether the words already scribbled are those of Condi or W, but they read "I think I MAY NEED A BATHroom break?"


How Bush Blew It

I certainly haven't figured life out and don't have all the answers. I appreciate disccusion, debate, and opposing views because it helps strengthen, mold, and change my outlook and beliefs.

And perhaps because of this I am embarrassed by our president. As has been widely reported, W has a way of ridding himself of wise counsel who do not toe his party line (Colin Powell was probably the most visible departure). The federal response to Hurricane Katrina is one such result of having a president who insulates himself from the real world, and Newsweek has a must-read article revealing How Bush Blew It.


Maybe THIS is what they meant by compassionate conservatism?

Last Tuesday evening I was watching TV and at first thought it might be a case of the liberal news slandering the good Bush name, and then I realized I was watching Fox news who was quoting the president's mom as saying about the evacuees in the Houston Astrodome, "Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them." Some people really are too stupid to have kids. Damn... too late!

With these feelings coming from the matriarch of the Republican party, it doesn't come as any shock that on Saturday morning the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, while on the tour of a shelter with top administration officials from Washington, stopped to chat with three young boys resting on cots. The congressman likened their stay to being at camp and asked, "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?"

I am reminded of the following sage advice and offer it to Barbara Bush & Tom DeLay: It is better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.


The Iraq war IS a nuclear war

It's not getting much, if any coverage, but the war in Iraq has gone nuclear. [article]

We have the Department of Homeland (In)security focused on keeping a "dirty bomb" from detonating on U.S. soil, but where is the outrage about our country spreading radioactive material over Afghanistan and Iraq? There's nothing politically conservative about the use of DU. And I can't imagine it passing anyone's "What would Jesus do?" test.

More information on DU here.


Jesus' thoughts on Hurricane Katrina Relief

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Matthew 25: 31-46 (New International Version)


Pat Buchanan: "We are being invaded, and the president of the United States is not doing his duty to protect the states against that invasion"

As someone who considers himself conservative, I'm happy to finally read a column from a conservative I agree with...

A national emergency
by Patrick J. Buchanan
August 29, 2005

On Aug. 12, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency "due to a chaotic situation involving illegal alien smuggling and illegal drug shipments" on his southern border. Three days later, Gov. Janet Napolitano followed suit in Arizona .

Reason: the crisis on the border. The ally-ally-in-free immigration policy of George Bush and Vicente Fox, beloved of corporate America , has created a hell on our southern border.

Those Southwestern states are being inundated by illegal aliens trashing ranches, killing cattle, committing crimes and eating up tax dollars. The traffic in narcotics and human beings from Mexico is a national scandal and a human-rights disgrace.

What is true of New Mexico and Arizona is true of our nation, which is now home to an estimated 10 million to 15 million aliens who have broken our laws and broken into our country. It is a mark of the cowardice of our leaders that they are so terrified of being called "bigots" they tolerate this criminality. The moral rot of political correctness runs deep today in both national parties.

A president like Teddy Roosevelt would have led the Army to the border years ago. And if Fox did not cooperate, T.R. would have gone on to Mexico City . Nor would Ike, who deported all illegal aliens in 1953, have stood still for this being done to the country he had defended in war.

What are these Bush Republicans afraid of? Dirty looks from the help at the country club?

The question of whether America is going to remain one nation, or whether our Southwest will wind up as a giant Kosovo – separated by language and loyalty from the rest of America – is on the table.

Where is Bush? All wrapped up in the issue of whether women in Najaf will have the same rights in divorce and custody cases as women in Nebraska . His legislative agenda for the fall includes a blanket amnesty for illegals, so they can be exploited by businesses who want to hold wages down as they dump the social costs for their employees – health care, schools, courts, cops, prisons – onto taxpayers.

Not only have Richardson and Napolitano awakened – they are on the front lines – so, too, has Hillary Clinton, who has spoken out against illegal immigration with a forthrightness that makes Bush sound like a talking head for La Raza.

Why is a Republican Congress permitting this president to persist in the dereliction of his sworn duty?

George Bush is chief executive of the United States . It is his duty to enforce the laws. Can anyone fairly say he is enforcing the immigration laws? Those laws are clear. People who break in are to be sent back. Yet, more than 10 million have broken in with impunity. Another million attempt to break in every year. Half a million succeed. Border security is homeland security. How, then, can the Department of Homeland Security say America is secure?

Who can guarantee that, of the untold millions of illegals here, and the scores of thousands ordered deported for crimes who have disappeared into our midst, none is a terrorist waiting for orders to blow up a subway or mall and massacre American citizens?

Most of these illegals come to work to send money back to their families. They are not bad people. But because they are predominantly young and male, they commit a disproportionate share of violent crimes.

Why should U.S. citizens be assaulted, robbed, raped and murdered, and have their children molested, because their government will not enforce its own laws?

Is this not an indictment of democracy itself? What dictatorial regime would put up with this?

The Republican Party claims to be a conservative party. But what kind of conservative is it who, to cut a few costs or make a few bucks, will turn his family's home into a neighborhood flop house?

In a recent poll, 40 percent of Mexicans – 40 million people – said they would like to come to the United States , and 20 percent expressed a willingness to break in. Time to cut the babble about how NAFTA is going to solve the problem. This is a national emergency.

Twice, George Bush has taken an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States ." Article IV, Section 4 of that Constitution reads, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against invasion."

Well, we are being invaded, and the president of the United States is not doing his duty to protect the states against that invasion. Some courageous Republican, to get the attention of this White House, should drop into the hopper a bill of impeachment, charging George W. Bush with a conscious refusal to uphold his oath and defend the states of the Union against "invasion."

It may be the only way left to get his attention, before the border vanishes and our beloved country dissolves into MexAmerica, what T.R. called a "polyglot boarding house for the world."


Muslims have Al Qaeda while Christians have Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson needs a good ass-kicking by the Christians of this country. As reported by every legitimate media outlet, Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Coalition, called for the assassination of the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

I've never been to seminary, so I can't be called a biblical scholar, but I can't imagine this action or statement would pass the "What would Jesus do?" filter.


Everyone's final trip--six feet down

I always thought it oddly coincidental that Creed’s Weathered CD with the song ‘One Last Breath’ came out the same year that HBO’s Six Feet Under series launched. The lyrics, “Hold me now. I’m six feet from the edge, and I’m thinking that maybe six feet ain’t so far down,” would have been perfect to use in the show’s theme song if not for the rockin’ melody. I digress…

I was an early and regular fan of HBO’s Six Feet Under, and then life got in the way. Dumb luck along with a free Sunday evening with nothing on TV led me to watch episode 63 entitled “Everyone’s Waiting.” Despite missing the last three seasons of this series, watching the hour-long special before this final episode got me caught up.

If you ever watched Six Feet Under, the final episode is a must-see, if for only the last 15 minutes of the show. When I saw “David James Fisher, 1969 – 2044,” I lost it. I too was born in 1969 and 2044 is only 39 years away. Intellectually I’m ready to meet my creator, but I’m sorry, God, I can’t imagine leaving my wife and daughter. Comprehending our own mortality sucks.

Guess whose kids will be footing this bill?

Even ignorning its impact on the price of oil, the war in Iraq will have a $1.25 trillion price tag. For a party so known for fiscal discipline, where is the outrage from Republicans about the growing economic cost of this bullshit war? I don't want my kids paying for the mistakes of our generation.

Stats from the New York Times below:


Jesus loves you, Michael Marcavage. Everyone else thinks you're an asshole.

Church group disrupts Gay Day at Phillies game

The Phildelphia Enquirer
Published on: 08/18/05

PHILADELPHIA — The Phillies found themselves in the middle of the culture war as well as the National League wild-card race Thursday night.

As the Phillies played the Washington Nationals, a confrontation developed in the upper deck at Citizens Bank Park between Repent America, a fundamentalist Christian group, and fans, many of whom were attending the game as part of a gay pride group.

This is the third year for Gay Day, which featured a national anthem performance by the Philadelphia Gay Men's Chorus and a first pitch from Cyd Ziegler of Outsports.com.

It's also the third year Repent America's Michael Marcavage has attended in protest of the event. Marcavage and another man held a sign that read, "Homosexuality Is a Sin, Christ Can Save You" at the top of Section 303 in right field.

At one point, other fans stood in front of the banner, obscuring it. Eventually, officers from the Philadelphia Police Civil Affairs division flanked Marcavage and his unidentified companion.

"This is totally offensive to me," said James Duggan, a fan from Merchantville who stood several rows in front of the sign and engaged Marcavage in debate. "These people are false Christians. I was told the Phillies' lawyers arranged this with Repent America's lawyers, and I find that totally offensive, too."

Mike Stiles, the Philles' vice-president of operations and administration, said the team's attorneys had met with attorneys for Repent America after the group protested the first gay-pride event at Veterans Stadium in 2003.

"It's pretty clear under the Constitution," Stiles said, "that if you're going to have a gay community night, people have the right to express another opinion. We understand it's distressing for some people to have to look at that sign. We believe the leaders of the gay community who arrange this night like any other group know what they're going to have to put up with."

The Phillies have written policies barring fan behavior "interfering with other guests' ability to enjoy the game," as well as banners that contain "fighting words likely to provoke a breach of the peace."

Both policies, Stiles said, are trumped by Repent America's First Amendment rights.

"On a night when we didn't have the gay community, we wouldn't necessarily permit a sign like that," Stiles said. "A sign expressing an objection to the war would not be permitted because it has nothing to do with baseball."

Marcavage and the second man rolled up their sign at the end of the sixth inning, prompting cheers from the fans around Section 303. As the police officers and Phillies officials escorted them out of the grandstand and to an employees' elevator, fans booed and chanted obscenities.

Duggan left the section a few minutes later and headed over to buy a beer.

"I moved here from New York," Duggan said, "and I've traveled a lot. I've found Philadelphia to be the most tolerant place I've ever been. I think that says something. I'm a gay man, I confronted this guy, and I'm not the one who got booed. He is."

Litmus test for war

I was working tonight listening to "Heaven" by Live thinking about the lyrics:

I don't need no one to tell me about heaven
I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth
I can see the sunset and I perceive

And then it hit me why I'm so against the war in Iraq. It's because my litmus test for war is an affirmative answer to the question, "Would I be willing to send my daughter to serve and die?" Of course my daughter is a toddler, so I'm safe for now, but the question is a valid one. Without skin in the game, the war in Iraq is just academic.

I'd sincerely appreciate hearing a reporter ask the question, "Mr. President, given your willingness to commit troops to Iraq, are you willing to send your daughters to fight and die? And if not, then why?"


What the hell is wrong with our President?

I just finished reading Bob Herbert's op-ed today, and as a Christian, I wonder how the "religious right" can still promote George W. Bush as the posterboy for Christian leadership?

To display leadership and convince me his faith is more than just words, here's what I'd like to see..