Friday, August 31, 2007

Are you Ready for some Football

Last night I attended the Lions-Bills preseason game. While the action on the field was pretty dull, the event still heightened my anticipation for football season. Earlier this week I had two of my fantasy football drafts and both turned out decent. As always Running Back depth will be a problem but it is for everybody. I have two more drafts this weekend, so maybe I will end up with at least one team that I really love going into the season.

I just read ESPN's football preview and nobody is picking the Steelers to win the Superbowl. What a bunch of morons. How quickly they forget that this team won the Superbowl only two years ago with many of the same players. I guarantee that the Steelers rise above the pundits expectations.

Late last year my friend Charlie "mad dog" Thornhill passed away. For those who never meant him, he was a great guy and former spartan football legend in the 60's. In fact, he told me he once had 50 tackles in a game against Wisconsin. To honor his memory some guys in my building started a scholarship fund in his name and they are selling T-shirts to raise money for the fund. Tomorrow, I am going to the Michigan State-UAB game and wearing the t-shirt in his honor. I am looking forward to that.

As summer winds down, I do get leery of the coming weather and shorter days. But at least football provides something to look forward to this fall.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Spreading the Word

This weekend the Lansing State Journal ran an article about divesting Michigan retirement funds from firms that do business with the Sudan Government. My friend Tashmica is one of the driving forces in this battle and deserves credit for shedding light on this important issue. I would encourage anyone who is concerned with the atrocities taking place in Darfur to contact their state senator and urge them to vote for SB 555. You can find their contact info here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Mother Theresa

Like most people, I have a great deal of admiration for Mother Theresa and the work that she did for the poor. Lately, the church has released a series of letters she wrote that may change the way many view her. In these letters to her church superiors she expresses honest questions about her faith and her relationship with Christ. Her letters suggest that this struggle lasted for several decades even while she was doing so much to help so many.

I am sure some will take her doubts and use them as an example of hypocrisy that didn't match her public acts of faith and service. To me however, her service in the face of such doubts makes her faith all the more real and evident to me. Her faith sustained her during her doubts. Without faith, how else would she have been able to carry on her mission?

Her experience reveals the true nature of faith that we sometimes want to gloss over. True faith is intricately linked to our lack of trust in God. It sounds contradictory but without doubt we wouldn't need faith. Faith is the expectation and belief in something that doesn't seem real to us and let's be honest; sometimes God doesn't seem all that real. We want certainty. We want all our questions about God answered. As Christians we want a perfect relationship with Christ every day. But the real world doesn't conform to these ideals. In fact, Christ's very disciples didn't have a perfect relationship with him despite 3 years of close physical contact. If that's the case why should we expect or demand more faith from us and others?

This is good news for us. It's okay to doubt. It's okay not to understand why God answers some prayers and not others or why he seems nearby some days and very distant on other days. God doesn't mind us being real and authentic with him. Rather he prefers us to be open and honest in our relationship with him. Read the Psalms and the prophets and you will read over and over again people of God, crying out to him, lacking in faith. But their stories didn't end there and neither do ours. When we submit our fears and questions to God, he gives us just enough faith to carry us over the chasm of doubts in our life. God promises to complete the work he started in each of us. He doesn't guarantee that work will get done quickly or without struggle or doubts but he promises to get it done and be with us along the journey.

I am thankful that Mother Theresa felt free enough to be honest in faith. It makes me respect her all the more.

Praying for our Neighborhood

This past week my church participated in a prayer vigil for our community. Lansing has recently had several violent murders take place, including one in Hunter Park which is near our church. We teamed up with Blacksoil church to bring the community together and prayed for peace and justice in this neighborhood. Here is the article that appeared in the Lansing State Journal.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

When was the last time?

One of my previous posts caused a lot of discussion about how one's Christianity influences one's politics. To be honest, I was frustrated by the discussion because it was not based in charity but rather on trying to prove how right we are on certain issues. Furthermore, I am particularly frustrated that we chose to use politics to measure each other's faith. Being a Christian is much more than how we vote and address political issues. Yes, I do believe that God wants us to honor him in our politics but he wants much, much more from us. So instead of using politics, I thought I would share other barometers to measure our faith. Ask yourself the following questions:
  1. When was the last time you really prayed for more than 15 minutes?
  2. When was the last time you thanked God for his vast and unexplainable love for you?
  3. When was the last time you had to trust and depend on God because the task he called you to was more than you could handle?
  4. When was the last time you admitted to yourself and others that you don't have "being a Christian" all figured out?
  5. When was the last time you stayed awake all night and cried for someone who isn't a Christian?
  6. When was the last time you shared the name of Jesus with someone who isn't a Christian?
  7. When was the last time you showed an act of love or mercy to your neighbors?
  8. When was the last time you helped someone who is hungry, homeless, in prison or mentally ill?
  9. When was the last time you actually took care of a widow or an orphan?
  10. When was the last time you forgave someone who didn't deserve it?
  11. When was the last time you gave more money to the church than you could afford?
  12. When was the last time you confessed your sins to another Christian so they could hold you accountable?
  13. When was the last time you experienced lasting freedom from the sinful addictions in your life?
  14. When was the last time God visibly demonstrated his miraculous power in your life?

These questions are not to be used to judge another person's faith. But rather when we answer them ourselves, we get an honest assessment of our relationship with Jesus.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Faith and Politics

Here are some quotes from the 2008 presidential candidates on how their faith influences their politics. See if you can match the quote to the candidate.

A. "I have never been one who is comfortable talking about my faith in the political arena. In fact, the pandering that typically occurs in the election season I find to be distasteful. But for those who have asked, I freely confess that Jesus Christ is my personal Savior, and that I seek His guidance in all that I do."

B. "Faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts. You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it. You need to embrace Christ precisely because you have sins to wash away – because you are human and need an ally in this difficult journey”

C. "I don't think that a person who's running for a secular position as I am should talk about or engage in discussions of what they in their personal faith or their personal beliefs think is immoral or not immoral."

D. "I believe that a higher being has a mission for me in my life, a reason for me to be here. Now, that doesn't mean that he wants me to be elected or not, but it does mean that I have a purpose. And that purpose, I think, is to live a life based on Judeo-Christian principles and honor and integrity."

E. "For Americans, ['first principles'] are found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They include a recognition of God and the fact there are certain rights that come from Him and not the government."

F. "My faith informs everything I think and do. It's part of my value system. And to suggest that I can somehow separate and divorce that from the rest of me is not possible. I would not, under any circumstances, try to impose my personal faith and belief on the rest of the country. I don't think that's right. I don't think that's appropriate. But freedom of religion doesn't mean freedom from religion."

G. "My faith informs me ... It guides my decisions and taught me to promote the common good, social justice and to do everything possible to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable.”

H. "Real faith makes us humble and mindful, not of the faults of others, but of our own. It makes us less judgmental, as we see others with the same frailties we have. Faith gives us strength in the face of injustice and motivates us to do our best for "the least of us."

I. "I feel that through my Roman Catholic beliefs, I care about social justice, I care about improving the lives of those who are destitute, those who are poor."

J. "Faith gives us a broadly held belief in the importance of basic moral principles: the need to care for each other, the need to protect the vulnerable, to refrain from violence, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us."

K. "All of us inevitably live our faith, our ethics, our spiritual principles in everything we do, in every word, in every deed. It is integral to who we are."

L. "Faith doesn't make all your decisions, but you can't segregate it out — it's part of the values basis you bring."

M. "I'm very proud to be Catholic. It's part of my spirituality, part of my identity. When John Kennedy ran for president, I remember being so proud that he was Catholic. But he had to prove that he wasn't ruled by his beliefs. I'm with John Kennedy on the role religion ought to play in politics."

N. "The [Catholic] church has built the road that allows my intellect to traverse to the outer reaches of what is comprehensible and, at that point, the church offers a leap of faith to carry me where my intellect cannot go. For me, being a Catholic is not limiting but liberating."


A. Ron Paul
B. Barack Obama
C. Mitt Romney
D. John McCain
E. Fred Thompson
F. John Edwards
G. Chris Dodd
H. Mike Huckabee
I. Bill Richardson
J. Hillary Clinton
K. Dennis Kucinich
L. Sam Brownback
M. Joe Biden
N. Rudy Giuliani

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Iowa Straw Poll Results

Well the votes are in and my predictions were not far off.
Mitt Romney: 4,516 / 31.5%
Mike Huckabee: 2,587 / 18.1%
Sam Brownback: 2,192 / 15.3%
Tom Tancredo: 1,961 / 13.7%
Ron Paul: 1,305 / 9.1%
Tommy Thompson: 1,039 / 7.3%
Fred Thompson: 203 / 1.4%
Rudy Giuliani: 183 / 1.3%
Duncan Hunter: 174 / 1.2%
John McCain: 101 / 1.0%
John Cox: 41 / .1%
14,302 Total Votes

Romney did what he had to do and is still the Iowa front runner. Huckabee had a strong showing and will be quickly elevate him to the top tier in place of McCain. Brownback despite only finishing 300 votes behind Huckabee has big problems because he spent much more money than anyone other than Romney and planned on finishing second. He will soon drop out and it will be interesting to see where his voters go. My guess is they split between F. Thompson and Huckabee. T. Thompson and Hunter are both done after poor showings. So is McCain whether he admits it or not.

But the real story of the day was the total number of votes which was only about 2/3 the total number of voters from 1999. This reveals two things: First Iowans are dissatisfied with the Republicans candidates as a whole and second it reflects the overall national mood of Republican fatigue. Democrats are more energized and or organized this year. They draw larger crowds, raise more money and have much more enthusiasm. That does not bode well for the Republican candidate whoever it is.

Annoying statements

I wish people would stop trying to encourage me by telling me I will get married someday. Last week, I had the difficult duty of explaining to a female friend of mine that I wasn't interested in dating her. When I explained that conversation and how awkward it was to another friend of mine she mentioned not worry because some day I will find the right woman and get married. Then earlier tonight, I was recapping one of my past dating horror stories. After the story, he told me almost the exact same thing about how some day I will get married.

Both statements annoy the heck out of me. The purpose of sharing my experiences in both cases wasn't to illicit pity and say "woe is me, I will never get married". Rather, I was trying to share how difficult it is to reject a crush even when you have no romantic interest in the other person and I was simply sharing a funny moment from my dating past.

The worst thing about it is that both of these friends are single as well so you would think they would have a better grasp of where I was coming from. Maybe they are both preoccupied with finding the "right" person themselves and they transferred their feelings onto me. Or maybe they were really well intentioned and trying to encourage me. But trite answers that miss the point of my stories aren't encouraging to me. Rather they just served as a reminder that our culture remains marriage obsessed even among those who are still single.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Morning Reflections

This morning as I was in the shower I began to realize all the changes going on in my life. About a year and a half ago a good friend of mine called from NY. She and I hadn't spoken in a long time and she asked me what was new. At that time, nothing was new; same apartment, same job, same church and so on. At the time I remembered feeling almost embarrassed that my life had become so lethargic. Fast forward to the present and I have had major changes occur in my life.

It started last May when I left Faith Church which eventually led me to Barefoot. This change has been a very positive one and through it I have made a lot of new friends and essentially I have an entirely different peer group than I did a year ago. Then a few months ago, I bought a house which was a huge change for me after living in the same apartment for 5 years. On top of that, I now have a roommate and also another friend of mine who rents the upstairs apartment. My latest change is the laser eye surgery which was amazing and makes me feel like a different person.

What I realized this morning is that while I love all these changes in my life, I still have a bout of restlessness that creeps in. I used to think that this restlessness was a result of my lack of change but that was obviously not the case. Now, I wonder if my feelings of unrest arrive from having the same job for the past 9 years. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate my job and enjoy it more often than not, but my zeal and enthusiasm for it have waned in the last few years. Maybe my uneasiness comes from that fact that I will turn 34 later this month and I am not married and have no significant hopes of a relationship on the horizon.

Lately, I have been rereading my favorite author Henri Nouwen. His writing consist largely of his inner struggle and his journey to find peace in this world through prayer and contemplative living. His writings often encourage me and put words to my inner conflicts that I cannot articulate. But how could a man with such spiritual insight spend his entire life battling the same type of restlessness and discouragement that I often feel? Shouldn't there be a secret to reaching a point in one's life where you surpass those feelings that haunt us and hold us back in our life's journey? Maybe not.

Maybe the point is that regardless of all the good changes and good people in my life, I still ultimately need to the Lord to bring me peace. Lasting peace doesn't come from buying a house, or having a strong network of friends or even finding the perfect church. It has to come from something deeper than that. And perhaps we are not even supposed to achieve a permanent peace but we are instead required to seek it out everyday. This approach makes sense when I look back and measure my relationship with God in times of relative peace versus my relationship with him in times of uneasiness. The more restless I am the more I feel compelled to call on his name. So for that reason alone, I am grateful for my restlessness as it serves as a daily reminder of my dependence upon the Lord.

Iowa Straw Poll

This weekend is the Iowa Republican straw poll. The event is a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party and will draw over 30,000 people. The straw poll is the first real test of strength and organization among the candidates and will propel those that fair well into the top tier while weeding out those candidates that fair poorly. This is why they are each spending hundreds of thousands of dollars buying tickets to events, busing in people from all over the state and giving away free food at the even. It's funny to think they our political system requires this much money to spent on a fake vote but that's how the game is played today.

So how do we measure the results today? It will be a bit tricky as they are matched the expectations going into the event. For instance Mitt Romney is expected to win today because neither Rudy, McCain or Fred Thompson are spending any time or money at the event. But Romney cannot just win, he has to win big to meet the expectations and show he is the front runner in Iowa. If he only wins by a few votes, it will be spun as a loss for him. The real key to the results will be who comes in second. Will it be a lesser known candidate like Mike Huckabee, Tommy Thompson, Sam Brownback or even Ron Paul? If any of them win, they will automatically move up to the top tier of candidates. If they get beaten by Rudy or Fred Thompson who aren't even campaigning at the event then they most likely drop out of the race in the coming days.

As a political junkie I will be following the event closely today. Here are my amateur predictions:

Romney 29%
Huckabee 18%
Giuliani 13%
Brownback 12%
F. Thompson 9%
Paul 6%
T. Thompson5%
Tancredo 3%
Hunter 3%
McCain 2%
Cox 0%

The big stories will be Romney not reaching the 30 percent plateau that Bush won in 1999, Huckabee finishing in a strong second and Giuliani finishing third even though he didn't compete. It will also be the final nail in the Brownback, T. Thompson and McCain campaigns.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Barry Bonds finally passed Henry Aaron's all time home run record last. Unfortunately, After watching his first two at bats I missed the swing that set the record as I was flipping channels back and forth. But thanks to ESPN and the Internet I can watch replays of it over and over and over again.

I for one am thankful that this chase is finally over. All the hype and build up was unnecessary and annoying. I guess if I had no life and all I cared about was baseball then maybe last night would have been the life changing experience that the media wants to make it out as. But the reality is that it was just a home run. On top of that, I was sick of watching Giants- National games just to watch Bonds. If it weren't the record there is no way I would ever watch either of those teams play.

For the record, I am admit that I am a fan of Barry Bonds. I may be the only one who doesn't live in San Francisco. As a former Pirate and the last link to our glory days in the early 90's, Bonds will always have a spot in my heart. I realize that he probably took steroids but that doesn't really bother me much. Here is why: Many other players were taking steroids at the same time including pitchers that pitched against him. In fact, the pitcher that he hit 755 off of was busted for taking steroids. Additionally, steroid use was not against baseball rules until just a couple years ago so he was essentially playing by their rules. Finally, while everybody knows he took steroids, he has never been proven to have taken them.

To me Bonds, regardless of steroids, will go down as one of the top 5 players of all time. He now owns the single season and the career record for most home runs. He is the only player ever to have hit over 500 home runs and stolen over 500 bases. He won 8 gold gloves so he was obviously a good defender. He is a 7 time league MVP with many of those coming before he took steroids. Finally, if he plays next year he will pass 3000 hits, become the all time leaders in runs scored and finish third all time in Runs Batted In.

In the end, while I am Bonds fan and apologist, I am glad that this whole saga is over and we can now move on to the rest of the baseball season.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Moving closer

The 2008 presidential race continues to move at a rapid pace. This weekend about 30 thousand Iowans will vote in the Republican straw poll. While some candidates are not competing in the event, it does give lesser known candidates to make a name for themselves with a strong showing. One of those candidates is former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. I didn't know much about him before he entered the race but the more I hear him speak and the more I read about him, the more I like him. I am not quite to the point where I am ready to endorse any one particular person yet but I find myself rooting for Huckabee to do well this weekend and breath some new life and new money into his campaign. The Weekly Standard recently wrote a fair story about Huckabee that has more details about him. I would encourage folks to read it.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Democrat Christians?

One of the things I enjoy most about my church is the diversity of political views among the congregation. Growing up in West Michigan and attending Indiana Wesleyan gave me the impression that all Christians were conservative Republicans. Only when I attended Seminary did I learn that there were honest, God fearing Democrats. It was a real shock.

At Barefoot, we are about a 60-40 conservative to liberal mix. To me, this is the perfect balance as it keeps me open to other ideas but my view is still in the majority. Seriously though, this diversity does add some interesting discussion about the world and the church's role in addressing social issues. This debate is very healthy for a church because no one political worldview has the complete truth of the gospel. One observation that I have noted is that most people hold their political views more firmly than their religious or theological convictions. I attribute this phenomenon to the convenient mixture of religion and politics that defines people's religion more by their political views than by their faith.

An example of this thinking occurred last weekend when my roommate's parents came to town. They were very friendly and both firmly Republican. His Dad enjoys politics so he and I hit it off right away. During our conversation his Mom made a statement about a woman that works at the Christian school but still votes Democratic. This was incomprehensible to her and she asked me how to reconcile that. It was interesting for me to explain and defend the liberal mind but having liberal Christian friends made it easier. What's funny is that I used to agree with her notion that being a Democrat and being a Christian were incompatible but the older I get the more I see how limiting this can be to message of the church.

Attaching the church to a particular political agenda runs the risk of turning our message of hope and grace into a message of judgement and power. No wonder people who don't share our political views are turned off by the church. This does not mean that the church should stop being an agent of change in our culture but advancing that change through politics is not the answer. Our hope is in the gospel, not in government.

I know that many of my cconservative friends will read this post and think that I have been indoctrinated by attending a liberal church and will want to argue their tightly held points of view. But my point is not to argue liberal vs conservative positions but simply to highlight that there is room for both views within the church. No in fact, it is imperative to have both views within the church.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

No Way to Pick a President

I am incredibly frustrated with the Michigan Republican party. Because they cannot get legislation passed to move the presidential primary before super Tuesday, now they want to hold a state convention to select the party nominee for president. This could be the single stupidest thing I have seen proposed in my many years in politics and believe me when I say that I have seen many stupid things.

Basically, what the party is telling the public is that they don't trust outsiders to vote in their primary. But it is these same outsiders that we will be begging to vote for our party's candidate in the general election. Why will they do that when we didn't want their vote in a primary. Add to that fact, that many Republican activists will effectively be shut out of the process as only a handful of party leaders choose the nominee for them. Of course, these are the same party leaders who selected John Smietanka to run for attorney general which opened the door for Jennifer Granholm's rise to power in 1998.

What these party leaders are proposing will set us back in the mind of the voters. They will see us a party dominated by the good old boy network and who could blame them for this judgement. Instead of closing off the process we should be working to make the process more open and inviting to public. Primaries have worked effectively in the past so why change course now?

I realize that there is nervousness that without moving up the primary Michigan will lose out on being a major player in the nominating process. But this thinking is misguided as I am becoming more and more convinced that the primary will not be settled as early as people think. Instead of being a potential key primary after Super Tuesday, we will be left trying to explain why we think a our party leaders know more than the voting public.

I would encourage all my Michigan Republican friends to contact the state party to file a complaint against holding a convention and encourage a fair and open primary. You can find their contact info at