Monday, December 31, 2007

Which candidate should I vote for?

In the United States, we have been given a precious gift: the gift of democracy. As with any gift, my faith tells me that I have a responsibility to be a good steward of the democratic process that has been entrusted to me. It's a responsibility that many, myself included, far too often take for granted. I'm not big into new year's resolutions, but I think a big one for me this year is to make sure I am as informed as I can be when it comes time for the presidential elections in November.

A question that ought to be--and hopefully will be--in the forefront of my mind this year is this: which presidential candidate should I vote for?

In Nebraska, in order to participate in the primary, you have to be registered either as a Democrat or a Republican. Frankly, I'd prefer to just remain a registered independent, but if I were to do that the electoral process would take a relatively important tool out of my hands.

So I'm registered with a party. Frankly, it doesn't matter which.

Because in the end, I really couldn't give a rat's patootie which party a particular candidate has decided to align themselves with. Just tell me where they stand on the issues, how they plan on running things if elected. Yeah, you'll see similarities within each party. But you're going to see a number of differences too. and you'll see plenty of similarities across party lines, whether folks want to admit it or not.

The biggest problem is cutting through all the campaign b.s. to get to where the candidates actually stand on things. I've found a good tool is a candidate selector quiz. There's a number of good ones out there. Their purpose is to do the research and the cutting through the b.s. for you. You answer some questions, and then you can see where different candidates stand on issues relative to where you stand on them.

Now, these are only tools. There's no substitute for doing your own research--watching the news, reading magazines, checking out the candidates' own websites and position papers and such. But the quizzes are a really good jumping off point. And if you take 3 or 4 of them and see a candidate or two popping up at the top of the list more than once, maybe that's a person that would be worthwhile doing some more looking into.

On that subject, I'd definitely recommend taking few of 'em. Because no matter how hard these quizzes try to be clear and unbiased, they all ask the same questions in slightly different ways, they all assign different values to different issues based on what they ask (and what they don't ask). And so you'll probably see different results depending on how the quiz is set up. But again, after taking a few, you may see some trends beginning to develop. And those trends may be worth exploring.

Here's a short list of some that I've run across:

Candi-Date (by Quiz

Candidate Match Game (USA Today)

VoteMatch Quiz (by

Select a Candidate (by Minnesota Public Radio)

Blessings to you to you again next year!


Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Letter from Jesus

Dear Children,

It has come to my attention that many you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I may not have actually been born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine. Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest.

Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember:


Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

And Then There Was One...

Last night, out of the blue, Kiddo announced that he wanted to put on a puppet show. He needed a stage, so we set the piano bench in the middle of the living room and threw a blanket over it. He announced that he'd need spotlights to shine before and after the performance, so we got out a flashlight to wave around. And, of course, he needed puppets. We have three hand puppets that belonged to Sweetie when she was a kid--Kiddo thinks they're pretty cool.

So we were ready. Set, lights, characters...all Kiddo needed was a story. Which he was more than happy to provide. I have entitled his production, And Then There Was One--A Monster Tragedy in Two Acts.

Lights, camera, ACTION!


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Program

This past Saturday, the Lincoln Journal Star's religion section featured an article on church Christmas programs. They focused on 3 different church groups, one of which was Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, where I serve. We put together a slide show of the Christmas story (actually a powerpoint presentation) with about 160 slides. Some of the pictures were taken "on location" (at a farm outside of town for some Bethlehem and traveling scenes, or in the church sanctuary for Caesar Augustus' and Herod's palaces), and others with some rudimentary sets in the church basement. The program was narrated by our middle and high school youth, and interspersed with a combination of congregational hymns and groups of kids singing Christmas music. It was a lot of fun to put together, and I thought came out very well, despite some less-than-desirable weather the weekend of the program. =) And the kids thought it was way cool that they were in the newspaper! (With parental permission, of course...)

The article's been on the paper's website since Saturday, but they only now got the kinks worked out with posting the pictures, so those are now available too.

Here is a link to the newspaper article:

And if you want to see the actual pictures, here is a link to the newspaper's posting of the powerpoint presentation (even including slides indicating the hymns!). Probably the best way to see all the pictures is to maximize the page on your screen, then scroll down to the bottom and use the down arrow just to the right of the pictures to scroll through the pics:


Monday, December 17, 2007

Sounds Like Love

What do you get when you get about 500 high school students together for a weekend of prayer, worship, music, fellowship, singing, pizza, host homes, choreography, and Bible study...and end it all with two amazing concerts?

You get Sounds Like Love.

This past November was my first time ever going to Sounds Like Love—in fact, before coming to my current church I had never even heard of it. As it turns out, that was my loss. Sounds Like Love is a Christian high school choral festival. You get about 500 high school students together for a weekend, they learn music and choreography for 7 songs (imagine the world's largest Christian show choir), and put on two concerts on Sunday afternoon.

That’s it in a nutshell. But if I were to stop there, it wouldn’t do justice to the power of God…the way God uses this weekend to touch the lives of the kids who participate, as well as those who help and come to the concerts, is almost indescribable. But I’m going to try anyway.

As church, we gather as individuals who come from different walks of life, different experiences, God has expressed himself in our lives in different ways. He shows himself to us through the faces of others when we meet, and we become community. I witnessed the same thing happening on a couple of levels last month…first, within our own group of kids from my church, and secondly, within the whole group of 500. The folks that run the weekend do a great job of allowing for that fellowship and relationship building time all while still focusing on the goal of putting together a great concert.

But the majority of our time together focused on the music itself. The kids, over the course of a day and a half, had nine hours of very intense rehearsal time. Friday night they split into their sections to work on just the music. They spent an hour and a half that night going over their part in the seven songs for the concert.

Saturday consisted of seven and a half hours of rehearsals, with worship, meals, Bible studies, and special speakers to help break up the day. This was when all the choreography for the music was learned. The director’s name is John Jacobsen, and he’s just absolutely amazing. As soon as he came in he immediately started working on choreography with the kids, and soon everyone was following along—even those who weren’t all that sure about this whole dancing thing at first.

And everything we did tied back to a sense of mission, a sense of calling. The leaders continuously stressed to the kids that what they were doing wasn’t just having fun singing, dancing, and getting to know each other (though all of those things definitely were happening), they were providing a ministry. They were ministering to each other, to the people who were coming to hear them sing, and ultimately they were being challenged to continue ministering when they returned home. Their gift of music is a ministry unto itself, but it involves so much more than that. I tell these kids all the time that they are not the FUTURE of the church. They ARE the church. They are the church right now. And as the church, God has called them through their baptism to lives of love and service. They are a city on a hill. They are the light of the world. And experiences like Sounds Like Love help empower them to discover, rediscover, and live out their calling.

Here's a clip from the opening number from this year's concerts. It's called Sing.



Friday, December 14, 2007

Twelve Days

Yes, I realize the twelve days of Christmas are the days between Christmas and Epiphany...

...but this video is too great not to share now.

It's by Straight No Chaser, an acapella group from the University of Indiana, and is a wonderfully inventive (and very well-sung) version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. You get your first clue that this is going to be out of the ordinary when from the beginning, they lose track of which day they're on. Sure enough, further in, Rudolph, Carol of the Bells and Deck the Halls all make cameo appearances, as do the Dreidel Song and the 80's rock group Toto.

It's a classic. Even better than the Mackenzie Brothers (you know that one: "and a a tree"). Much better sung, too. Of course, just about anyone can sing much better than the Mackenzie Brothers.

Except, of course, Yoko Ono. Eek.

Anyway, here's the clip. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Kiddo

December 11, 2003

Actually, Kiddo's birthday was yesterday. He turned four...I can't believe my little baby boy is four. It's true what they say about time flying.

To help us celebrate, Mother Nature gave us a big ol' ice storm with a little bit of snow. School was cancelled across the city, which meant no preschool...and Kiddo was looking forward to celebrating his birthday with his preschool friends, bringing Oreos and all. If he had been a few years older, he would have viewed a snow day as pretty much the best birthday present ever.

I mean, I never got a snow day on my birthday...granted, it's in April...

So anyway, in the evening, Sweetie and I took him to Chuck E. Cheese's. I suppose it's a rite of passage of sorts, the whole Chuck E. Cheese thing. "You, my son, have now passed into boyhood..."

Kiddo loved it. Absolutely loved it. Downed two pieces of pizza, loved watching the creepy animatronic animals singing songs, loved playing the video games, riding the pretend roller coasters, playing air hockey and that basketball game where you try to make as many baskets in 30 seconds as possible, loved giving the roaming Chuck E. Cheese mouse a high five, loved the birthday crown they gave him....loved loved loved it all. We were there for 2 1/2 hours, and spent a grand total of $20.

Most of all, we had fun together as a family...Kiddo's last birthday as an only child.

Not too shabby. =)

Happy birthday, Kiddo. Mommy and Daddy love you more than we'll ever be able to show or tell you--but we'll keep trying. You make us so proud. Thank you for all the joy you bring to the lives of everyone you meet.

Practicing his driving

Kicking Daddy's rear end in air hockey

Nuthin' but net


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Star City Parade

This past Saturday was Lincoln's Star City Parade. It was supposed to have been Saturday, December 1st, but due to a pretty nasty ice storm (which came during the night while I was holed up with 23 middle school kids at a church lock-in), it had been rescheduled.

No ice Saturday. But it was cold. High temp of 17 with 10-15 mph winds. But the parade must go on, right?

Apparently so. Even though all of the high school bands canceled because ACT testing was being held that morning, even though the University of Nebraska band canceled because...well, because trying to produce noise by holding a giant piece of metal to your lips in a sub-zero wind chill probably isn't the best idea in the world. Ever seen A Christmas Story?

So yes, there was a parade. There were giant balloons, and floats, and people walking, pretending to be happy and trying to ignore the frostbite slowly creeping up their faces.

Maybe I'm just a giant Grinch or Scrooge, but it's my opinion that whoever thought that having a December...every year...was a good thing and a smart idea...should be drawn and quartered.

Soooo......Saturday morning, we were downtown. The big 14-plex theatre every year has one Saturday morning where they show a different kids' movie on each screen, and anyone can get in for free, and they give you free unlimited popcorn and pop. Santa's there for the little kids, and theatre workers walk around handing out candy. We took Kiddo to see Flushed Away, a harmless but pretty forgettable movie from the creator of Wallace and Grommit. The movie got out at about 10:45, and the parade was set to start at 11.

Now, Sweetie and I aren't idiots. We thought it would be cool if Kiddo got to watch the parade, but we weren't about to stand outside with him in that kind of weather. So instead, we walked about three blocks and took refuge in an upscale downtown pizza place called Yia-Yia's.

Being the first ones through the door at 11, we had our choice of tables. We picked a table right next to the giant plate glass windows, ordered an early lunch, and watched the parade in style:

We are so totally going to Yia Yia's again for the parade next year. Great pizza too, with just about any and every topping imaginable available for you to order. A bunch of different cheeses and sauces to choose from as well. I had barbeque sauce with mozzarella cheese, roasted chicken, almonds, spinach, and sun-dried tomatoes. A big ol' slice made to order with a salad, a giant hunk o'bread and a pop runs about $5.

Good stuff. Good times.


Thursday, December 06, 2007

Omaha Shooting Tragedy

It's a bit surreal when everyday familiar places become fodder for national headlines...especially when those headlines are as tragic as the ones that came out of yesterday's mass shooting at Westroads Mall in Omaha.

I live in Lincoln now (hence the God's country west of Omaha), but I grew up in the Omaha area. Actually, my parents' house is bout 3/4 mile away from the shooter's house. And the McDonalds he was fired from (the speculated "straw that broke the camel's back" leading to the shooting)? Well, if you sit in the right spot in the sanctuary of my boyhood church, you can see the Golden Arches of that very restaurant through the big window around the cross up front. I spent more than one Sunday morning contemplating the promise of quarter pounders with cheese, hoping that those around me assumed I was contemplating the promise of justification by grace through faith.

Actually, they've since put stained glass in those windows, so the view isn't what it used to be. But I digress.

When I was a teenager, Westroads Mall was, and still is I believe, the largest enclosed mall in the state of Nebraska. As such, it was a popular hangout, and I spent many a weekend afternoon ot evening there with friends.

It's now a crime scene. And not just any crime. The largest mass murder in Nebraska since Charles Starkweather back in the 50's.

It hits home particularly because my parents were out shopping yesterday afternoon. They were looking for some things for my mom, and had been to a couple of stores without any luck. Von Maur at Westroads--where the shootings occurred--was going to be their next stop. But it was 1:15, and they had an appointment for their furnace to have its fall check at 2:00, so they figured they'd better get back home and maybe go some other time.

The shootings occurred right at the time that they would have been inside the store.

The kid that did this said in a suicide note that he was about to become famous. I'm not going to dignify his attempt at fame by writing his name here, which would then become searchable by Google and Yahoo, and indirectly contribute to any perceived "fame" from the destruction of lives.

I do wonder, however, if in his feelings of loneliness and unworthiness, he was ever invited to a church.

Not to say that "ya gotta have religion to get right with yerself" or anything like that. But it seems to me, in the midst of church battles over liturgy and worship styles and having the right theology and whether the pulpit should be on the LEFT or the RIGHT side of the sanctuary...that the real battle is this: to whom have I shown love? For whom have I been Christ?

And if the answer in our deepest heart of hearts is only "those whom I am comfortable with and are like me," then shame on us.

In the meantime, we mourn. We mourn the victims of a horrible crime. We mourn for all victims everywhere, those in places where eight deaths wouldn't even be newsworthy. We mourn a loss of a level of innocence. We mourn.

May our mourning also be a call to service and a call to love.


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beaker Sings Coldplay

I stumbled on this and it was too well done not to share...especially if you're a fan of the old Muppet Show. Didja know Beaker doubled as the lead singer of Coldplay? Go figure. =)