Monday, October 31, 2005

October 31st

While many of us celebrate Halloween today I want to focus on another event that happened on October 31st which deserves equal attention. On October 31, 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther decided that several of the church's practices were incorrect and he decided to challenge the church on these practices. Specifically he opposed the payment for indulgences. Back in his day, the church believed that you had to achieve a certain level of good works to get into heaven. However, it was almost impossible to meet required number of good works so the church decided to create the idea of indulgences. Essentially, instead of doing the work you could pay the church and they would do the work for you but you would still get credited with it. I know this sounds like a ridiculous system but this was very commonplace in the medieval church.

Luther was so fed up with this practice that he decided to post on the door of his local church a list of 95 reasons why indulgences were not in compliance with the scriptures. His posting is often called the 95 thesis and is considered by most to be the beginning of the protestant reformation. Since I have a lot of time on my hands lately, I decided to actual read the 95 thesis and while the translation is a little stiff I noticed one key point that stuck out to me. While Luther was opposing indulgences he was actually using that practice as a way of challenging the entire notion of linking good works with salvation. He often went back and reemphasized that it is by grace that people are saved and not by works. Needless to say, the church did not respond too kindly to his posting and was driven from the church as a heretic. But nonetheless his message and courage reshaped the religious landscape in Europe and ultimately America.

So why should we care about what happened almost 500 years ago. Here's why; The church today has drifted back towards being more about rules and regulations than about God's grace for a dying world. People inside and outside the church both receive the same subliminal message that if you want to be a good Christian you have to comply with a certain set of lifestyle requirements. You should go to church, pay your tithe, read your bible, pray and maybe take an occasional missions trip. You should always avoid having sex before marriage, getting drunk, taking drugs, stealing, lying and a whole list of other activities depending on what type of church you go to. Complying with these behavioral traits is something that all Christians should strive to do but they don't define our Christianity or save us from our sins any more than buying an indulgence did.

Thankfully, there is a new emerging reformation going on in the church today. Many people in my generation have learned that adhering to a doctrine of works has left them unfulfilled spiritually. We want more out of church and our relationship with God. Instead of works, the emerging church is focusing on how to really connect with God and experience the grace and joy that he wants to offer us. Does this mean that a person can then do anything they want? No. But instead of focusing on works, the focus is on changing people's hearts so they will want to do what is pleasing to God. Not because they have to but because they want to please him.

While this movement is still fairly small and below the surface it is gaining momentum especially among younger post modern thinkers. Changing institutions and traditional practices is difficult to accomplish. We need to be patient and steadfast. If we compare it the reformation again, it should be noted that while historians date the beginning of the reformation in 1517, the seeds of reform were already spreading across Europe as early at the 1300's. Hopefully it will not take today's church several hundred years to reform itself but change takes time. I am thankful that at least there are those in the today's church that are posting their own critiques and that is what I will be celebrating today.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Top 10 signs you're at a bad Halloween party

The main event is bobbing for pumpkins

Your accountant entertains partygoers with scary stories of embezzling your money

The fat naked guy from Survivor shows up and wins best costume

For the scary movie they show Roseanne Barr; the early years

The person in the Michael Jackson costume is in charge of babysitting the kids

Instead of candy corn it's candy asparagus

The prize for best costume is a first edition of Uncle Fester's Halloweenopoly

Your date is seen doing the Monster Mash with Rosie O'Donnell look a like

People compliment you on how funny your costume is even though you forgot to wear one.

The guy dressed up as Elton John follows you around asking if you want to see his trick or treat

Friday, October 21, 2005

One last thing on Katrina

A friend on mine made a video of our trip which is available on his website. I would encourage you to watch it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

We helped Carlos remove debris from his yard

I think this used to be a hotel in Pass Christian

This was in a condominium complex near the kitchen we worked at

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What I learned in Mississippi

I just got back from my trip down south to help the victims of hurricane Katrina. It was an amazing experience and I am having difficulty sharing how much I learned. The funny thing is that I almost didn't go at the last minute when my friend Darren who invited me to go on the trip backed out. He was the only person I knew and I wasn't keen on the idea of spending several days with people I had never meant. But God had a bigger plan for me and so I went and I am glad I took the risk.

My team was great and despite varying personalities and backgrounds we got along very well. I bussed down with a group of people from several Christian Missionary Alliance churches in Indiana. I would say about half the team were college students and the other half a little older. Everybody worked hard and nobody complained. There were no selfish agendas and everybody was flexible. It was amazing to see how we all worked so well together. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was part of a team, a part of something bigger than myself. And while I was only with these people for a few days, I somehow feel a deep spiritual connection with them. People in the church often talk about community and this weekend I experienced it in a very real way.

Before the trip, I thought I was going La. But instead we went to Gulfport Mississippi. We worked with an organization called PRC made up of several Christian volunteers from all over North America. We stayed at the navy base which was kind of cool. They took very good care of us and we ate like kings. We slept in a building with over 1000 other volunteers mostly from the Red Cross but also from the church of scientology. I was hoping to see Tom Cruise with them but apparently he had other things going on and couldn't volunteer.

The first day, half our team helped restock and clean a supply tent and the other half of us went to help clear debris from the local resident's property. The rest of the trip we helped run a makeshift soup kitchen in a town called Pass Christian which was one of the hardest hit spots in the state. We also went into the neighborhoods near the kitchen to help clean properties.

It was hard work hauling trees and rubble from people's property. For those that know me, you understand that manual labor is not really my thing so to speak. But through much prayer I was able to carry my weight and felt like I had accomplished something at the end of the day.

The next few days we worked in Pass Christian, preparing and serving food. It was actually a lot of fun. I even learned how to make hush puppies. It was there that I think our team really began to bond. We served food to people who were from the neighborhood and to the workers that were helping get the area cleaned up.

It's almost impossible to describe the devastation I saw in that town. New Orleans got all the news but this part of Mississippi was hit just as hard by the winds and the sea. Whole neighborhoods were gone with nothing left but a few foundations to houses that used to be there. The wreckage left me in awe of the power that destroyed the city.

The local residents were very grateful for our help. On one of my breaks from serving food I met a couple who lived in the area. They had stayed in their house during the hurricane and about half there house was destroyed by the storm. They were still living there and making due with what they had left. The man's name was Bill and he was scheduled to have knee surgery this week. His house is destroyed and now he will be unable to work or do much to help clean up the house because of his surgery. His wife Pat works part time and is going to take care of him but the doctor wants her to have neck surgery herself. Despite their troubles, they maintained a good spirit and are just happy to have someone willing to sit and talk to them.

I noticed that their story was not unusual and that many of the hurricane victims had large issues that they were already facing before the storm hit. It makes me wonder if there was a divine conspiracy to bring Christian volunteers into their lives to address some of these other needs on top of helping them rebuild their homes.

The last day I met a lady who had lost her home in the storm. She told me that she was helping her neighbors clear their yards because she had nothing left to do at her house and she didn't want to just sit around. At first I thought I heard her wrong but here was a woman who had lost everything and she was serving other people. Amazing.

What still strikes me is the enormous scope of the task. We worked very hard but I felt like all we did was scoop one spoonful of water out of the ocean. I really wanted to stay and do more because there is so much that still needs to be done. What I had to learn was that God was in control of providing the workers. He sent us for one weekend to help. I have to trust that he is going to send other workers to do the work that we couldn't get to. And actually, I could see that already happening as I was down there. People from all over the country were helping out.

One older lady named Marge drove down from Michigan all by herself and was sleeping in a church parking lot. She came down to the soup kitchen to help cook and serve food both days we were there. When I asked her how long she was going to stay, she told me she would be there as long as God wanted her to be there. At first I felt guilty that I wasn't staying longer. Most volunteers were there for at least a week. Then, I realized that the work wasn't about me and that I was only there to play a small role in a larger play. I learned that there was no way our team could solve all this community's problems, but that God had called his entire church into action and if each of us responded the work will get done.

Another thing that struck me was how alive I felt while I was there. I sensed that I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Dare I say it was fun and exciting to be in the midst of so much suffering? I almost felt like I was having too much enjoyment from serving people that I forgot to be compassionate and share in their pain. I'm not sure this makes sense but before the trip I thought my best gift would be empathy and the ability to listen and take on these people's burdens but I didn't cry the entire time I was there. I hope I didn't get caught up in what I was doing to not have my heart broken for the people of the town. Or maybe that's okay because I was supposed to haul debris and slice apples because that's what they needed.

The last thing I wrestled with was the idea of coming back home to the real world. I feel like my work down there was the real world and that what I do in Lansing is not. Shouldn't it be the other way around? My first inclination is to jump in the car and head back to help out again next weekend. Or maybe wait for another natural disaster and help those victims. But on my way to work today I prayed that God would reveal the pain and suffering that is happening in my hometown so I wouldn't have to travel 14 hours to help. Down there the suffering was so obvious and immediate. Here it is concealed and swept under the rug by my daily routine. I trust that God will provide me additional opportunities to serve.

I know this has been a really long post but I had a lot on my mind and it is tough to share it all in only a couple paragraphs. I hope to have some pictures available later that I will post on the site.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Headed South

In one of my recent posts I wrote about how men are looking for adventure in their lives. Recently, I have not felt that adventuresome but had not really pursued anything exciting. A couple weeks ago I was speaking with my friend Darren and he mentioned his church was taking a trip down to the gulf coast to help the hurricane victims. He asked if I was interested because they had one spot open on the bus. Seeing this as my opportunity to pursue adventure I said yes before knowing any of the details. I am still not clear what our team will be doing exactly but I am leaving this afternoon for Lake Charles, La.

I am excited about being able to help the people in the region who have been devastated by the hurricanes and also nervous because I am not sure what I can do to help. But it is this nervousness that tells me I am doing the right thing. Depending on God instead of my own abilities or plans is what makes this trip so adventuresome. I am not taking my laptop with me but I will post an update on the trip when I get back next week.

Monday, October 03, 2005


I woke up this morning hoping to write about the Michigan-Michigan State game this week but then Bush announces Harriet Miers as his supreme court pick. Now I feel inclined to write and share my opinion before every other blogger says the same thing I am about to say.

First of all, who the heck is Harriet Miers and what makes Bush think she is the best qualified candidate? To be honest, Miers is a blank check and I don't know much about her other than she is a Bush loyalist and is his legal counsel. How bout telling us a little about what she believes in before throwing her out for the supreme court? There is no firm commitment from her to overturn Roe v Wade, to protect property rights or religious freedoms. Maybe she will, maybe she won't. But why select her when there are plenty of other capable choices that would do those things for sure.

To me the pick looks like political cronyism which is not a great way to pick one of the nine most powerful people in the country. Bush had the chance to rally his base by selecting a hard line conservative like Janice Rogers Brown but instead chose to reward a friend with the position. Does the president not realize that most Republicans are not happy with him. He was not impressive handling Hurricand Katrina and then tries to make up for it by throwing billions of our dollars at the problem with very little oversight or planning. He is asleep at the wheel on immigration reform and is getting no traction on any of his domestic agenda. Remember social security reform? Neither does anybody else.

I say all this because I have been the presidents strongest defenders but at what point do you say enough is enough. Naming the supreme court is one of the most long lasting and impacting choices a president can make and Bush blew it. Now this decision definitely puts conservatives in a tough spot because they won't want to oppose his pick but what reassurances do we have that she is going to be a legal conservative. We have none, other than Bush's word which lately rings hollow with conservatives.