Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Market

I was in the Cleveland airport yesterday when I checked my phone and saw the news that the bailout had failed and that the Dow had plummeted 777 points, its biggest one day points drop ever. It appeared that ALL stocks were facing the bear. But I learned today that on the S&P 500 (a stock market index made up of 500 large, widely traded stocks), 499 of the companies traded lower. There was 1 lonely stock that gained anything that day...

You guessed it, Campbell's Soup.

It reflects the state of Americans these days- sick. And mom knows that when you're feeling sick, it's time for chicken soup for the weary soul.

So my advice, at least until a deal is hammered out and the market gains some stability...

STOCK up on Campbell's.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Happy Google Birthday

So google turns 10 today. It's hard to remember what life was like before google. The internet was young and yes, there were search engines, but nothing so fast and so "on-the-money" with what I was looking for like google. It took me all of a day to switch my altavista allegiance to google as I was amazed and the speed and accuracy of the new site. Not to mention the "feeling lucky" button that was like some sort of mysterious role of the dice.

I have often wondered what affect google has had on our culture and subcultures. Take the church culture. You can google the meaning of life, any sermon from just about anywhere, blogs, wikipedia, youtube videos, all giving you spiritual information that 10 years ago would mean a trip to the library and a LOT of work. Now, it is all "just a click away". How does that change the way sermons are communicated? Or teaching about God? Spiritual formation? Does it confuse people to search and find so much information? Or does it help them on their spiritual journey?

And the same type of questions can be applied across the spectrum from politics to sports to education to finance to family, friend and dating connections etc. The only thing we know for sure is that life was a LOT different before Larry Page and Sergey Brin started their search page with a funny name 3650 days ago. Happy birthday google.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Am I in the Fastest city AND the most Stressful city?

So according to Fast Company magazine, the fastest city (which is their way of saying "coolest" city) in America is... Chicago.

And according to Forbes magazine, the most stressful city (no explanation needed) in America is... Chicago.

I guess that with fastness comes stress.

All of a sudden I feel my heart racing... /\__/\__/\/\/\/\/\_____

note- To be fair, I am in the chicagoland burbs...so I'm a bit removed from the urban jungle.

Palin to Meet World Leaders, Bono

This is the headline from abcnews.com and a variety of other news sites. World leaders AND Bono! They don't even mention the world leader's names or countries. Has there ever been an entertainer with more political influence than Bono? Not in my lifetime. Politicians all make their pilgrimage to see him for their pre-election photo op. Maybe U2 becomes the official band of the U.N. or the world...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Good thought for the day

My post yesterday seemed a little gloomy. So how do I sleep at night with such thoughts? It's all about perspective. I read these verses this morning from Psalm 46 and it was a great reminder...

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Selah (pause and think about it)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Social Networking and the Demise of Western Society as we Know it

So I am watching oil jump $25 a barrel today AND watching the market tumble again AND hearing that our deficit is going to soar to $15,000,000,000,000 because of these bailouts AND THEN I hear about the gas shortage in the eastern US and how there was a "run" on the gas stations. How does the last one relate?

It makes me wonder if our current financial crisis might be worsened by how interconnected we are. Here is my not so rosy scenario. Much like what happened to United Airlines when some website published an old story that said they were filing for bankruptcy (just a couple of weeks ago) and their stock plummetted, what if there is some misinformation that hits a website- something about banks failing, your money isn't safe etc...This then is texted, instant messaged, facebooked, emailed etc. instantly to family and "friends" everywhere. Then the financial "run" begins. Last one to the bank is a rotten egg.

My comments are not really about the likelihood of this happening, but more about how our interconnectivity (which I enjoy) could also hasten the anxiety, paranoia and even panic that could have a chilling effect. I was talking with a friend of mine in the marketing industry who says that they can tell simply by internet chatter what is happening in the world. There are waves of conversation that you can digitally view by plugging into search engines (or big brother). They say that there are spikes in the conversations where they can tell something happened and that people responded in turn. So, we act in waves, based on circumstances. The waves can be positive or negative. My friend tries to harness these digital waves to raise awareness for good causes. These same waves could be used to spur panic.

My hope (I am an optimist) is that there will be enough level-headed and good natured people to speak truth and hope to counteract fear and panic. And that's really how it is with any tool or communication device etc., they're only as good and/or bad as the ones using them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My ESPN Moment

So this weekend I will be officiating a wedding of two good friends from my Cleveland days. The groom works for ESPN and decided to have some fun with what he calls a "screen shot". I spoke to them about how they can't blow my average on marriages, I'm batting 1.000. Of course that was a playful way of saying "I'm not kidding around when I have you repeat your vows".

So here is the graphic he came up with.

PS- the sermons stat was his idea

Friday, September 19, 2008

Storytelling and the Election

Storytelling has been a big part of the election campaign so far. For all of the talk about tax cuts, the war and health care, personal stories have played as big of a part as policies. Here are a few sentences from some stories on the trail...

"And with his sandal on the dirt in the courtyard, he drew a cross. And he stood there, and a minute later he rubbed it out and walked away. For a minute there, there was just two Christians worshiping together. I'll never forget that moment."

"Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story -- of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well off or well known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to."

"My mom and dad both worked at the elementary school in our small town. And among the many things I owe them is one simple lesson: that this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity."
Personal stories humanize the candidates. It takes them from talking heads to real people who have real families, real problems. And with an emerging generation that resonates more with hollywood than politics, stories more than ever speak the language of culture. In settings where the candidates get to go beyond a sound bite, like the conventions or the faith forum, they have a chance to connect on a much more intimate, relevant level.

The LA Times did a nice piece on the story factor in the election called...

In Campaign 2008, the story's the thing


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Palin and Pentecostals

A few weeks back I noticed a status update from one of my facebook "friends". It was from George Wood who is the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. In an effort to stay connected with the emerging generation, he solicited friends on facebook who had roots in this tradition. His status said that "George is back in the USA, and excited that Sarah Palin, who attends an AG church in Alaska, has been selected to run as VP. Congratulations!" which was partially right. This was August 30th, and I knew at that time that this would mean a media magnifying glass would be aimed at the AG.

And good or bad, the AG has never received so much national press. The first of many stories had Governor Palin quickly making it clear that she no longer attends an AG church. Several network shows pulled out their stock footage of people speaking in tongues (not sure why any church would let tv cameras in to video this- it just looks weird and is an invasion of privacy), people waving banners around while they do the holy ghost hop to some old time religion music and then of course you have to see the token bodies hitting the floor after the tv preacher gives them the forehead slap. NPR interviewed my friend Margaret Poloma from Akron U about whether we should be worried about Pentecostals' end-time views and Palin's ability to lead this country, to which she replied that "yes, there is cause to worry." Even Christianity Today had a home page link to a story, All You Need to Know About Pentecostals. I'm waiting for someone at a town forum to ask her what her policy on snake handling is.

While I am the first to admit that Pentecostals and the AG have many issues that need to be addressed, I find myself defensive of the movement that I grew up in. When you remove the critical stereotypes, you find a movement of people who believe that God is not a distant force, but as close as a prayer. You find people who desire more of God through his holy presence. They want to experience God in every way possible. And you find people dedicated to the great commission, a cause bigger than themselves (estimates have 500 million people worldwide who identify with Penteocostals/Charismatics- with potential of 1 billion by the middle part of the century). And with the AG, there is a belief in the sovereignty of the local church which means that every church is unique. While some churches handle snakes, some wave banners, some stir up revival fires etc., many do not. In fact, many are shocked to see how they are depicted on television.

But this political climate has had this effect on faith in general; it has brought out the best and the worst. Rick Warren's faith forum was an example of showing faith in a positive light. Jeremiah Wright, John Hagee, misinformation about Obama's religious backgrounds and George W. Bush's unpopularity (while being cozy with evangelicals) are examples of showing faith in a negative light. And since Palin is such an unknown, Pentecostals have been caught in the jetwash of scrutiny.

The magnifying glass will soon be removed and what's left will be a continued tension between the media and people of faith. Maybe that's the truest "status update" of all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Football Fantasy

I like football. To me it's just a feeling I get every fall that is hard to describe. Going home after church on Sunday, you eat a bite, then retire to the couch and hopefully see a good game.

I have many football memories...
  • Going with my dad to the freezer bowl in 1982 where it was -55 degrees below zero to watch the Bengals advance in the playoffs (something that will probably not happen again in my lifetime...the Bengals in the playoffs I mean)
  • Watching Montana twice crush our dreams, once with 34 seconds left...I had my heart ripped out from San Francisco (would make a great song)
  • Moving to Cleveland and watching with delight as the hated Browns had to leave the city, only to later root for the lowly Browns who had a fresh start with new owners. note-still root for the Bengals if they play head-to-head.
  • Moving to Chicago just in time to cheer them in the superbowl.
And my final memory is being "forced" to join a fantasy football league as a prerequisite for me joining the Life Church staff. I like the game, just not that much. I don't check the stats on my cell phone. I don't pour over the waiver wire. I don't have every game beamed to me simultaneously so I can keep up with my players. And I will never root against my team even if it means my player will do poorly.

No, I set my roster once a week, tweak it maybe here or there, then grab my spot on the couch and watch my game while my little ones climb all over me. And at the end of the season, I'll take my ribbings for being the last place team again. And it's ok, cause it's just football, and I like it...just not that much.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Praying Against the AIDS Pandemic

Last night I had the privilege of being asked to introduce the Prayer and Worship night and Princess Zulu which capped off a week of World Vision's AIDS Experience here in the western suburbs. Below is my intro.

Tonight we are coming together from many different traditions around some simple truths- that there is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

We are one body staring in the face of one great human tragedy, the pandemic of AIDS that has devastated our neighbors across this globe of ours.

The numbers are staggering- 8,000 people die every day because of AIDS. AIDS has created 15 million orphans worldwide, 11 million in Africa alone.

But the good news is that we are called to one hope and that is what this gathering is about…hope.

Tonight we stand united in prayer that God will intervene on behalf of those struggling with this disease. That he will awaken the church to follow in the footsteps of Jesus who scripture tells us was moved with compassion to bring a touch and healing to the hurting, the afflicted, the outcast.

Tonight we stand united in worship to sing praise to our sovereign God of compassion, love, mercy and justice. We worship him knowing that he alone can bring change and healing to this world as we are simply instruments of his peace.

Tonight we stand united to not simply come to a feel good service or an experience that breaks our hearts. But we stand united to develop compassion permanence that will move us to action to make a tangible and lasting difference in the battle against AIDS.

And we have with us a woman that knows all too well about the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic. Princess Kasune Zulu has not simply watched this tragedy unfold in her native country of Zambia, she has been personally touched when she was orphaned as a result of AIDS and finding out that she too is HIV positive. Her life now is committed to do everything she can to fight the disease.

Because of her tireless efforts, she now speaks around the world to encourage people to make a difference for children and families affected by the virus. She has taken her message to the United Nations, international AIDS conferences, the national political conventions, to President George Bush and other global leaders.

Her story is powerful and her message is clear, we must all do something to turn the tide.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

7 years- still fresh

Stacey and I were reflecting this morning about the phone call I made to her 7 years ago. I had arrived at the office in Cleveland Heights and Andrea Mitchell, who was our Administrative Assistant at the time, said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I told her to turn on the radio and then I called Stacey to see if she could check the cable news for any information.

What a beautiful morning it was. Cool, crisp and clear. I checked my email and was preparing my to do list for the day when Andrea said that there had been a second crash into the building. At that moment, everything stopped. We knew- everyone knew. This was not good. Later that day my mother and father-in-law would take a walk and watch Flight 93 do a major 180 degree turn in the Cleveland sky. There was a nervous tension about everything and so many unanswered questions. What was this attack about? Who was behind it? How many people were in the buildings? How big was this attack? Should we get Raegan out of school? Should I stay at the office or go where I wanted to go-home?

The answers to these questions would slowly unfold over the next several minutes, hours, weeks and years. And so now we look back 7 years ago...7 years! Osama is still out there. A man with a name that rhymes with Osama is looking like he will be President. We've invaded two countries, set up secret prisons around the world, been embarrassed by Abu-ghraib. And we've had no other major terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Iran is now a serious new threat. Oil is the other serious threat. A lot has changed and unchanged in 7 years, some lessons learned, many not.

But for now, we simply take a moment and reflect on that one blue-skied morning 7 years ago when the world as we know it changed forever.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Serenity Prayer for a Wired addiction

OK, so maybe I'm not an addict...wait a minute, that's just what addicts say. I need help...

Actually, I decided to power WAY down on internet time this past week or so. I was simply feeling a little too Wired. So, I took time off of facebook and didn't post a status update. And I decided to only post one blog for the week.

What would happen? Would I have curious people wondering what I was doing at that specific moment but unable to find out? Would some feel slighted that I didn't comment on their just posted picture of their creepy Uncle Festus? Would I be inundated with people asking for me to turn my status back on, to just eek out a word or two on my blog to get through another day? Would time as we know it stop?

No, no, no and no... I did receive a wallpost from a friend on facebook wondering if I was OK since I hadn't posted a status update. And that was pretty much it.

It seems that time actually continued to move forward, the earth continued to spin on it's axis and my facebook friends and blog reader(s) didn't skip a beat. And I actually felt a little more productive and fully engaged in other areas. Imagine that. So, if you are one of those people who feel a bit too wired right now, turn off your computer...it's ok...you can do it, and now do something unplugged, unwired and unpredictable. The internet will still be there when you turn your computer back on and the world will continue to spin while your off. And in the meantime, say this prayer...

God grant me the serenity
to accept that the world will still function if I go offline;
the courage to shut down my computer;
and the wisdom to know the difference between an internet "friend" and a real one.


Friday, September 05, 2008

The Facebook Election

When George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, facebook was only in it's infancy and available exclusively to Ivy league campuses. Oh what a difference four years can make. In April of this year, Facebook took over the top spot of social networking websites, knocking MySpace from it's throne. The latest figures lists facebook with 132 million unique users and is growing at a blistering 150% clip annually.

Facebook has changed the definition of a "friend" and has been a conversation catalyst for unlikely connections. The water cooler is no longer just down the hall, it's now easily around the globe. And a Presidential election has never seen the likes of this social networking phenomenon. People are "superpoking" each other by "throwing an Obama". Many are publicly declaring their voting preference for the world to see by displaying "Mccain" flair (a fake button you can place on your home page)or joining a group that supports one of the candidates.

And I have to wonder how this new commmunication frontier will effect the election. Obviously the different campaigns will do all that they can to exploit these sites. But what does it mean for the average facebook user. Will they be more informed? Will they have some of their assumptions challenged? Will they become shocked to find out who their friends are supporting or leaning towards?

What I have observed is that there are many of the same polarizing arguments and talking points with quicker comebacks thanks to google. And while the dialogue and arguments may still be similar to the past, the ability to join a conversation and engage in a spirited dialogue has never been better. Things are only getting heated up in this first Facebook Election and I'm looking forward to observing it...and throwing an occasional Palin.

Monday, September 01, 2008

My New Orleans Memories

It was a year ago that a group of us made the trek straight south from Chicago to New Orleans to work with the Mennonite Disaster Services, an impressive organization targeting long-term disaster relief (a huge need). Their motto is "responding, rebuilding, restoring."

We were assigned to build a home for a pastor (Charlie) who lost everything in Katrina and Rita. It was in a fishing area on the peninsula.

As we approached New Orleans, you could tell that a lot of new construction had been done and on the surface things looked OK. Then we exited the highway ramp and moved into the neighborhoods and we began to see that all was not OK in the Big Easy. Entire blocks were simply gone or had a few dilapidated houses with the signature numbers on them. It was an eerie feeling as you drove through these ghost town that were now overgrown with weeds and dirt with potholes that were literally craters. I counted over 30 blocks of this...it was mind-blowing, something out of an apocalyptic movie.

We talked with one man who cried as he remembered the fear that he felt during that season. He decided to stay after Katrina to help people rebuild, but it took it's toll. He spoke of still having nightmares and fearing every rain storm. The anxiety was high then as I'm sure it is now.

Many ask the question "why should we keep building in an area that is at or below sea level?" I ask the same question, but I met one man who gave me a bit of perspective. He was quite the character with a quick wit and a thick New Orleans accent. He said that he had suffered from a bad bout of depression since Katrina and that Pastor Charlie had help to pull him through. He also said that his roots go back to French descendants who settled in the area some 400 years. He said, "I have a relationship with this land that most people don't understand. And to move would be more than just a simple relocation. It would be asking me to divorce this place that is all that I have ever known. It's all that my family for generations has known. And then he proceeded to name off his descendants going all the way back to the Frenchmen." He shared his story with tears in his eyes and a lump in his throat.

It didn't clear up my doubts, but it helped me to understand the people of New Orleans and how hard it is for them to give up on something so dear to them.

Please pray for Charlie and his new home that was meticulously built to hurricane standards with loving hands from Christian brothers and sisters from all over world (literally). And please pray for the people of New Orleans that they would be safe and protected from Gustav's fury.

UPDATE- Obviously Gustav was not Katrina. Thank God for sparing this region more heartbreak.