Saturday, October 27, 2012

Smart Phones - Not So Smart

Technology and innovation seem like positive if not innocuous words. By advances in these areas, we've seen illnesses cured, wars thwarted, and standards of living rise. Yet, we've also seen entire cultures become 'couch-potatoes,' a rise in cancer and nutrition related diseases. For all of the so-called “labor-saving devices” that have been developed, we now see a host of health issues that arise in our increasingly sedentary life-styles—obesity, prostate cancer, heart disease, etc. What looked good in the beginning has turned out to be a growing threat to our very lives.

The “Smart Phone” will be numbered among those great technological innovations that seemed like a good idea at the time. These phones seem helpful enough, but peel back the layers, and we find a device that should worry any thinking, smart person!

The “smart phone” is making us dumber. Rather than actually having to know or remember things anymore, we can rely on our smart phones to do that for us. That would be fine...except the brain in a muscle, and if a muscle is not used, it atrophies. The smart phone may become a leading contributor to both Alzheimer's and dementia in the years to come. People no longer need to remember who was president in 1979—they can Google it on their smart phone. One no longer needs to remember or recall any phone numbers—they're all right at one's finger-tips on the smart phone. Information, hard knowledge, numbers...the smart phones do all of that for us, so our brains can remain unused, untrained. More and more, I see my students relying on their smart phones for what was once basic information. If the evolution scientists are correct in their assumptions and investigations, we should see the human brain begin shrinking in the years to come if folks persist in using smart phones....

Besides the effects on our brains, these smart phones are impacting our social interactions as well. Recently, I sat in a restaurant around the lunch hour and I just glanced around at the couples and groups of folks in the place. A few people were engaged in lively discussion...and this seemed to irritate some of the other patrons...who were trying to enjoy their smart phones. I saw a mother and father both on their smart phones while their son vied vainly for their attention. I saw three men sitting together, each in his own world on his smart phone. More and more, I find people in public places who have no social intercourse because they are busy gazing into the dead eyes of their smart phones. We no long have to ask anyone directions—we just look it up on our smart phones. We no longer have to ask what the special of the day is at the restaurant—it's already on the smart phone. Our flesh-and-blood social lives are being reduced and erased by smart phones. The world—increasingly connected by smart phone—becomes a more and more lonely place.

And, something to touch the heart of every true American, there is the issue of cost. Is it really smart to pay an average of $1700 a year for a smart phone (The Wall StreetJournal)??? Is that cost really worth it?? In my home, our FIVE family members pay around $2000 a year for FIVE phones that allow us to talk and text as we get to exercise our brains and interact socially!! That is a deal!! So why are so many people spending all that money for email, internet and apps in the palm of their hands?? Primarily, we're seeing the amazing success of advertising that has convinced us 1) that we really cannot live without a smart phone or 2) we will be perceived as cretins or ignorant barbarians if we don't have this device. (The smart phone is not a replacement for the computer—desktop or be addressed in an upcoming piece.) And, the industry has named these devices 'smart phones'...indicating that one who purchases the device is smart, but really the phone and their makers are the smart (and opportunistic) ones who are robbing the culture of money, social richness and brain power.

In the months and years to come, I believe we are going to see a revolution. The truly smart, thinking people—the radicals, the bohemians, the artists, the theologians, the revolutionaries, the philosophers—are going to rebel and either refuse to take up smart phones or cast them aside. Consciously, purposefully rejecting 'smart phones' (and calling on others to do the same) will become a statement of social consciousness and awareness, intellectual value and growth, and a way to stand against rampant, unchecked, dehumanizing forms of technological 'progress' and capital gain. 

To be 'disconnected' and knowledgeable; to be social adroit and truly technologically savvy; to invest wisely in appropriate innovations--these will be the trend-setters and standard-bearers of the new future.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Some Thoughts on Living...

Back in April 2009, I was enjoying my morning walk around "la cancha de futbol" near our home in Santa Catarina, and the following thoughts began to come to me.  I had been thinking about how to avoid the mis-steps and stumbles of days, weeks, months and years past.  As I contemplated why I had made mistakes in the past, what I had been thinking...and NOT thinking, these 'guiding points' began to come to me.  While I've not been entirely faithful to them, I do return to them again and again...and when I have been faithful, I have been able to avoid a lot of pain, wasted energy, emotional/spiritual 'skinned knees'...and I've been able to make good decisions with positive results--even though others knew nothing of it.  Here goes:

  • A life of love is the most important thing
  • Live today - in today, for today
  • Do not make quick decisions
  • Only act rashly in love (agape)
  • Take a walk...and talk with the Lord
  • Big plans often grow from big egos
  • An idea to be flouted is probably an idea to be avoided
  • Strive for simplicity - of form, of action, of thought
  • God works through the small, everyday, ordinary
  • Live with levity - don't take it all too seriously

Perhaps someone else on the road of life can use these to help life slow down and to make better decisions....

September 2012

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Church - Carretto

I found this modern "desert father" about seven or eight years ago. He just keeps on pushing me to love and to understand and to grow. Enjoy! Jon

“How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you! How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you! I would like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence. You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand what sanctity is. I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and yet I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, though not completely. And besides, where would I go? Would I establish another? I would not be able to establish it without the same faults, for they are the same faults I carry in me. And if I did establish another, it would be my Church, not the Church of Christ. I am old enough to know that I am no better than anyone else. …)

The Church has the power to make me holy but it is made up, from the first to the last, only of sinners. And what sinners! It has the omnipotent and invincible power to renew the Miracle of the Eucharist, but is made up of men who are stumbling in the dark, who fight every day against the temptation of losing their faith. It brings a message of pure transparency but it is incarnated in slime, such is the substance of the world. It speaks of the sweetness of its Master, of its non-violence, but there was a time in history when it sent out its armies to disembowel the infidels and torture the heretics. It proclaims the message of evangelical poverty, and yet it does nothing but look for money and alliances with the powerful.

Those who dream of something different from this are wasting their time and have to rethink it all. And this proves that they do not understand humanity. Because this is humanity, made visible by the Church, with all its flaws and its invincible courage, with the Faith that Christ has given it and with the love that Christ showers on it.

When I was young, I did not understand why Jesus chose Peter as his successor, the first Pope, even though he abandoned Him. Now I am no longer surprised and I understand that by founding his church on the tomb of a traitor(…)He was warning each of us to remain humble, by making us aware of our fragility. (…)

And what are bricks worth anyway? What matters is the promise of Christ, what matters is the cement that unites the bricks, which is the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of building the church with such poorly moulded bricks as are we.

And that is where the mystery lies. This mixture of good and bad, of greatness and misery, of holiness and sin that makes up the church…this in reality am I .(…)

The deep bond between God and His Church, is an intimate part of each one of us. (…)To each of us God says, as he says to his Church, “And I will betroth you to me forever” (Hosea 2,21). But at the same time he reminds us of reality: 'Your lewdness is like rust. I have tried to remove it in vain. There is so much that not even a flame will take it away' (Ezechiel 24, 12).

But then there is even something more beautiful. The Holy Spirit who is Love, sees us as holy, immaculate, beautiful under our guises of thieves and adulterers. (…) It’s as if evil cannot touch the deepest part of mankind.

He re-establishes our virginity no matter how many times we have prostituted our bodies, spirits and hearts. In this, God is truly God, the only one who can ‘make everything new again’. It is not so important that He will renew heaven and earth. What is most important is that He will renew our hearts. This is Christ’s work. This is the divine Spirit of the Church.”
― Carlo Carretto


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Yes, We Might Question Technology….

Neil Postman was one of those writers/educators that I ran into at the right time…at just the time I needed some influencing. I didn’t run into him literally; I ran into him literarily—I found his books: Amusing Ourselves to Death, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, The End of Education, and others. I was a young grad student at U of L…passionate to be a good teacher, a life-changing teacher. Postman gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t buy everything he was selling, but I bought enough to know that he and I were kindred spirits in a way—we were going to question everything.

In March 1998, Postman presented “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” at a conference in Colorado. I wasn’t there…but I was with him all the way. Even though he penned and voiced these words some 14 years ago, we need to hear them again. Below, I’ve pulled out his five main ideas, in his own words. At the end, there is a link to the full text of his presentation…in case you want to go deeper, in case you want to enjoy his delightful examples and anecdotes. Here are the Five Things in Postman's own words:

First,…all technological change is a trade-off. I like to call it a Faustian bargain. Technology giveth and technology taketh away. This means that for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage. The disadvantage may exceed in importance the advantage, or the advantage may well be worth the cost. …Idea Number One, then, is that culture always pays a price for technology.

Second,…the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population. This means that every new technology benefits some and harms others. There are even some who are not affected at all. …That there are always winners and losers in technological change is the second idea.

Third,…embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. These ideas are often hidden from our view because they are of a somewhat abstract nature. But this should not be taken to mean that they do not have practical consequences. …The third idea, then, is that every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards.

Fourth,…technological change is not additive; it is ecological. I can explain this best by an analogy. What happens if we place a drop of red dye into a beaker of clear water? Do we have clear water plus a spot of red dye? Obviously not. We have a new coloration to every molecule of water. That is what I mean by ecological change. A new medium does not add something; it changes everything.

Fifth, …media tend to become mythic. I use this word in the sense in which it was used by the French literary critic, Roland Barthes. He used the word "myth" to refer to a common tendency to think of our technological creations as if they were God-given, as if they were a part of the natural order of things. …What I am saying is that our enthusiasm for technology can turn into a form of idolatry and our belief in its beneficence can be a false absolute. The best way to view technology is as a strange intruder, to remember that technology is not part of God’s plan but a product of human creativity and hubris, and that its capacity for good or evil rests entirely on human awareness of what it does for us and to us.

And Postman’s closing words: “Our unspoken slogan has been "technology über alles," and we have been willing to shape our lives to fit the requirements of technology, not the requirements of culture. This is a form of stupidity, especially in an age of vast technological change. We need to proceed with our eyes wide open so that we many use technology rather than be used by it.”

I wonder about our world as we rush forward with new technological advances without even thinking to ask, “What will be the results?” “What could be some consequences?” It came home to me just yesterday as I sat in a doctor’s office. In one corner, there were the three children fighting over their mom’s smart phone. Then, there was the child in her mother’s lap beside me was watching a show on the TV about the effect of TV on children. The reporter on the tele was saying that children under age 12 should not have televisions in their bedrooms. The six-year-old girl looked up at her mom and whispered, “She’s stupid…isn’t that dumb?” And they both just smiled….

(revised Oct. 16, 2019)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sweet Relief...

I’m reading Carlo Carretto again (Letters from the Desert), an intimate work that follows Carretto’s feet and mind into the desert of North Africa. 

He had been very active in the Church for many years, and quite suddenly he hears God call him to leave it all behind in his homeland of Italy and follow God into the desert.

At one point towards the beginning of the book, he is contemplating his earnest, dedicated labors and activity in the church back home, his practice of running “continually from one project to another, from one meeting to another, from one city to another”.  While involved in all of that, he had been operating on a worldview that went something like this:  God created the world and then stepped aside to rest; Christ founded the Church and then disappeared in to heaven to let the Church save the world.  Carretto says he imagined that his frenzied life and work were somehow part of the column that was holding everything up and everything together.

I drew back suddenly, as though to fee myself from this weight.  What had happened?  Everything remained in its place, motionless.  Not a movement, not a sound.  After twenty-five years I had realized that nothing was burdening on my shoulders and that the column was my own creation—sham, unreal, the product of my own imagination and my vanity.
I had walked, run, spoken, organized, worked, in the belief that I was supporting something; and in reality I had been holding up absolutely nothing.
The weight of the world was all on Christ Crucified.  I was nothing, absolutely nothing.
What amazing relief…to know that it does not depend on me.  May I never again be suckered into the “sham, unreal…product of my own imagination and vanity.”

(All quotations taken from:  Carretto, Carlos.  “You are Nothing.”  Letters from the Desert. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002.)

Friday, July 27, 2012

How to Joyfully Survive an ‘Economic Down-Turn’ (or Recession, Depression, etc.)

This idea has been swirling around inside my mind for almost two years, so I guess it’s time to put it on paper.  Now, some will say, “Why’d wait TWO years if you have the answer for us!?!?”  I don’t know.  I guess I’m busy…and perhaps a bit lazy…but more than anything,  I really wanted to turn my thoughts over and over in my mind to make sure I wasn’t telling you something misleading or incorrect.  Two years later, I believe this is a big part of the answer.

The secret to joyfully surviving a recession or to living it through it basically unscathed is this: 
Decide to live beneath your means.

Now, the first part of that statement is SUPER important.  You (and I) must make the mental decision, must take that intellectual step.  If it’s forced on us—which is what a recession or depression may really do, then there is no joy in the living.  We find ourselves bitter, jealous, on a long-term ‘pity-pot’…if not in debt, homeless or worse.  That is not living joyfully.  That is nothing more than acquiescing to and accepting the situation thrust upon us.  So, step one is to make a decision.

And, that decision has to be this—we live beneath our means.  What does that mean?  Well, let’s say I bring in $1000/month.  Most Americans will spend all of that…and charge a little more on the credit card.  That is living beyond ones means—spending more than one actually has or earns.  When we live like that, we are always just one small step from a personal economic disaster!  Others will budget in such a way that they spend ONLY what they bring in…and not a penny more.  They will pat themselves on the back…and believe they are doing well.  They are doing BETTER than those who live beyond their means, but they are still going to get ‘smacked’ when the down-turn, recession, depression comes along.

Living beneath ones means is living on less that 100% of the income.

In our family, we live on 80% of what we make.  We’ve done that for over 20 years now…and we’ll keep on doing that.  My parents gave me very sound financial advice when I was just a teenager.  In fact, I can hear the mantra even now: “10% to the future, 10% to God, and the rest with joy and thanksgiving.”  So, that’s what we do.


We put 10% of the income in our annuity—untouchable savings for the future, for that day when retirement comes.  Then, we give 10% to God—through the church, to charities, to those in need, to good causes.  That leaves 80% of the income for us to spend with joy and thanksgiving.  Of that 80%, we decided to take 10% of it and put in what we call our “holiday/house fund.”  The holiday/house fund is just that—when we take holiday or when we need to do something big to the house, we pull a little cash out of that account (yes, it’s a separate account at the bank).  Then, we live on what’s left. 

Now, that does NOT mean that we spend every bit of what’s left.  In fact, we strive to make spending a kind of game—how cheap can we eat out (this week, my wife, my son and I had lunch at Chinese restaurant here in McAllen…and we all ate for $9.48!!  That’s the total bill…not per person), how little can we spend on energy (thermostat set on 83F during the day…clothes hung outside to dry), how can we eat cheaper at home (no red meat, chicken once or twice a week, and lots of fruit and veggies…and this is cutting our healthcare costs as well!), where can we get the best clothes for the least (my wife and daughters bring home designer clothes from our local thrift store—usually $3/item or less.)  So, playing this ‘game’ is a way to make sure we live beneath our means…and STILL have some left over.

We do have a budget, and we know how much we need each month to pay the house payment, the utility bills, buy food, etc.  So, when I get paid, we leave the necessary amount in the checking account…and move any ‘left-overs’ to the holiday/house fund!  So, it grows…and we joyfully survive the economic issues of life.

The catch:  People really need to arrive at this decision to live beneath their means long before the bottom falls out.  I guess this is why I was reluctant to write and post this piece—it’s arriving a little late.  Or, it may be arriving right on time.  As people struggle to make ends meet, maybe they are open to thinking in new directions.  And, no time like the present to prepare for an uncertain future!

Why do we spend it all anyway??  Mainly, it’s nothing more than a result of successful advertising.  We taught our own children when they were small that advertising is basically “people trying to sell you stuff you don’t need.”  Still, there is a LOT of cultural pressure to ‘climb’ on up to the next step—bigger house, newer car, bigger TV, latest “iThing.”  We buy used cars—always—and pay cash or only finance a fraction.  We look for “quality” used cars on Consumer Reports list.  And, we drive fuel –efficient Ford Focus (2008) and a Toyota Matrix (2005)…and I ride a Suzuki 250 motorcycle to work (80+ mpg!!!)  Our house that we bought last year is 13 years old…and 1250 sq.ft.  Our children are all hitting that age where they’re home less…and leaving for college and life in the next few years.  Besides, who wants to heat and cool and clean a 3000 sq.ft. home?!?  (More unnecessary expenses!)  We have cell-phones made for talking and texting…and our computers surf the web just fine, thank you!  My family bought me our first flat screen TV two years ago for Fathers’ Day…and they researched and found the best for the least.  My 32” Samsung (only TV in the house, by the way…intentionally!) will do us just fine for years to come.  And, if not…there’s money in the bank!

So, this on ended up a little longer than usual…but wanted to help you see that by intentionally living beneath your means, you can avoid many of the stresses of economic crises…you will be better prepared for any future crashes or bumps…and you can do so joyfully!  We laugh a lot at our cheap selves.  We explain why we live as we do to our children.  And, when we go on holiday, we come home debt free! 

Decide…to…live…beneath…your…means—while the decision is yours to make!

Jon ~ July 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

To Live by the Sword…?

“Gun control” can be a very divisive topic. Just mention it in a group of 15 or more, and you’re likely to find passionate people of various perspectives. If someone says they favor gun control, most folks jump to the conclusion that one wants to make every kind of firearm illegal…and if someone says they are against gun control, folks imagine that one is fine if you want to park an M-40 tank in your drive and sell AK-47’s out of your trunk on weekends. Yes, the issue is usually one of extremes.

Opinions grow out of how one interprets or applies the second amendment of the US Constitution as found in the Bill of Rights. One problem is that there were at least two versions floated at the time the bill was ratified…Congress ratifying one version and States a slightly different one:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. (Congress)

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. (States)

The difference is in the way the sentence is punctuated and how things are capitalized—small but perhaps significant differences. So, part of the problem grows out of how one interprets this amendment.

However, a deeper problem for those of us who profess the Christian faith begins our inadvertent tendency to confuse Constitution with Scripture. They are not one and the same (obviously). While the Constitution does and should guide our nation, the Scriptures should guide our personal lives if we claim to be Christians.

So, what does Scripture say about this issue? Well, Jesus speaks to it clearly in Matthew 26:32 where He says to his disciple, “…Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (NRSV). If Peter had had a Glock or an AR-15, I think Jesus would say something similar.

Jesus and His 1st Century followers lived in a violent age. Some historians estimate that the average life-span of a male in the Roman Empire at this time was around 26 years. They weren’t all dying of head-colds and athlete’s foot—this was a dangerous and deadly time to live. When Jesus related the parable of the Good Samaritan, the people didn’t respond, “Oh my!! That’s terrible!! Someone beaten and robbed on the Jericho road?!?” They KNEW that this was a common, occurrence…something that happened all the time. And, of course, Jesus missed his great opportunity here—He could have said, “So, since these things happen, I want all my followers to arm themselves…get knives, swords and all kinds of things to keep you safe.” Nope, He really missed the chance to arm His followers.

In fact, when we look at the story of the early Church, we find that they are constantly abused, arrested, beaten, killed…and they don’t fight back. In the Old Testament, we see wars a plenty, but we are New Testament people and followers of Jesus—not followers of Joshua or David. It’s not until Emperor Constantine marries the church to the state (a ‘shotgun wedding,’ no less) that we find Christians arming and literally fighting for the faith. Nowhere in the NT do we find Paul fighting back, pulling swords and practicing any kind of ‘stand your ground.’

Our US Constitution allows us as Americans to “bear arms” (I prefer to do so at the beach…by wearing a tank-top). Personally, I feel we may have been a little broad in our interpretation (Do I or my neighbors really need to be able to buy AR-15 assault rifles when there is not state of war in our land? Should anyone be able to purchase 6000 rounds of ammo on-line?) While I have ‘rights’ as a citizen of this land that I was born into by chance, as a conscientious, self-decided Christian I must decide--do I really want to “live by the sword”…and teach my children to do the same?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gathering and Remembering

My wife and I head to the coast to celebrate her birthday. As always, it doesn’t take long for our conversation to turn to our children. As we drive, we talk of their many experiences in life as part of a parsonage family…as MK’s (missionary kids) in Venezuela and Mexico…and now living along the US/Mexican border. As is the way of children, they are growing up and leaving home….

Jeanne, my wonderful wife of 22 years, remarks, “I hope they don’t forget all their experiences….”

My brothers, Timothy and Jeph, and I are PK’s (pastor’s kids) and MK’s (having grown up in Guyana, South America and Grenada, West Indies). Whenever we get together—even though we now have our own lives, our careers and our families—we always, ALWAYS, remember our lives and talk about our experiences as PKs and MKs.

We remember the Christmas in Guyana when we left all our toys to the side to have crapo (frog) races in the ‘bottom house.’ We remember Dad sneaking up behind Mom in the lobby of the Polynesian Resort Hotel at Disney World with the “old man” mask on…and kissing her…as she screamed! (Dad was like that…ha,ha.) We remember times around the house, in the jungle, in the Rupununi, on the beaches, at the waterfalls, with visiting mission teams, and on special holidays.

So, I doubt very seriously if our children will forget. They will remember. And, as we ride along, it suddenly becomes very clear to me: we gather to remember. Gathering IS remembering. Whether it’s three MKs, a family reunion…or a Sunday morning worship service, gathering is remembering.

We see the cross at the front of the sanctuary, and we remember what God did for us in Christ Jesus. We see the baptismal font or pool, and we remember that important step of faithfulness. The bread and the cup remind us that God loves us so, so much and has given us life through Jesus (“Do this in remembrance of me…”). A song carries us back to a VBS, a SS class, a revival or a youth-meeting campfire…or just to a difficult time of life that God brought us through. If we have lived well within the community, if we’ve invested our lives in the lives of others, just seeing the faces of others reminds us….

I only have to see Samuel’s face, I am transported back to mission teams and meals shared. Just a glance over at Andres and I’m back at that silly but passionate debate we had three years ago. We laugh about it now. I hear a baby cry, look over, and there is Carolina with little Felipe, and I’m back to the struggles that she and Jose suffered early on in their marriage…and the joy of their coming through it all.

With great wisdom, the author of the book of Hebrews calls and cautions us, “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to [gather] together…” (Heb.10:24,25 NRSV). To gather is to remember…and those memories are the glue that holds us together. In fact, no one person holds all the memories. At home and at church, one person starts to tell the story, and everyone jumps in with a detail, something overlooked or forgotten by another. The whole family, the whole community, carries the memories…and the memories carry the community. The only way we forget who we are, how we got here, Whose we are, what we have, and what we have to look forward to is if we don’t gather. If we gather, we remember….

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Ode to Espresso...

Tiny cup, demitasse sits, steams…
      Aroma wafts across empty space…
            Dark, bitter life stings my nose.

I reach out—confidently, willing…
      Handle pinched between thumb and forefinger…
            Lifting life to lips.

Black, sweet, steaming elixir…
      Bites my lips, rolls thickly over tongue…
            Slides smoothly into me.

Morning sun ignites the sky…
      Morning espresso ignites my mind…
            ~ So the day begins…!

                               Jon ~ July 2012

Day Breaking

Day breaking during a morning walk,

     Wandering thoughts nudge me towards the islands—

Morning breezes, bringing hints of my own nearby sea

     Enveloping , embracing , carrying me away.

Healing winds setting me gently on white sands;

     A great bay opening before me, calm seas—

Sea grape trees rustling in the caressing breezes;

    Coconut trees rattling softly high overhead—

Whispering waves of crystal waters beckoning me,

    Promising refreshing, cleansing and renewal—

Hot sand massaging tired feet as I’m stepping out

     Moving slowly toward the sea—

Standing now at the edge of wholeness and youth, cool waters rushing to meet me—

     Opening my eyes to my own reality…

          Waiting for the winds to transport me again…

                to my island paradise.

                                                 Jon ~ July 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Walking…the Perfect Exercise!

Okay, I know it’s NOT the perfect exercise—swimming is probably the best exercise we can do, but not all of us have access to water for swimming.  And, even if there is water—be it pool, ocean or lake--nearby, the weather or climate is not always agreeable.  So, the next best thing is walking—it doesn’t use as many muscle groups as swimming, but at least it can be done almost anywhere, anytime…and the benefits are undeniable.

When I walk in the park (or in our neighborhood), I swing my arms well, feel the roll of the muscles in my thighs, breathe-in deeply through my nose…and I feel that all is well with the world. 

Unlike running, walking does not require that pre-/warm-up stretch.  I can just walk out my door or step out of my car and start walking.  I start slow for the first 10 minutes…allowing the blood to flow through my extremities, slowly warming the muscles.  After that first ten minutes, I slowly but steadily increase my speed until I get to the fastest sustainable walking speed I can for that day.  That word ‘sustainable’ is an important word because I need to get my two miles in, and if I walk TOO fast, I’ll end up burning out before my complete walk is done.

Now, I have set my daily goal at two miles per day because that distance allows me to get my heart-rate up and keep it elevated for a sufficient length of time (about 25 min.)  Everyone will need to set his or her own goal…and that goal should be more about time and sustained heart-rate than about distance.  An article from “SparkPeople” says that good and effective aerobic exercise meets three criteria: it needs to happen 3-5 days a week, should be of “moderate intensity,” and should last at least 20 minutes.  That is, one’s heart-rate should be should be at a sustained rate for those 20 minutes.  Of course, you can click on SparkPeople above to read more.

After a good walk, my body is warmed, my muscles infused with blood and I feel good.  NOW is the time for this walker to stretch.  After my walk, I complete a modified yoga routine that stretches most of my major muscle groups and leaves me flexible and feeling great.  My walk + my stretch take about 40 minutes…and benefit me throughout the day.  This 40-minute investment in my health brings and will bring big returns throughout my life as I grow older.

Some folks find time in the mornings, others make time in the afternoons or evenings.  It really doesn’t matter WHEN one does the exercise—what matters is DOING the exercise.  Make a decision today and go for a walk—you won’t regret it!

Read more here:

Article--Moderate Exercise

Web-site--The Walking Site

Friday, March 2, 2012

Towards a Better Self-Understanding

A long time has passed since I’ve written. Much has transpired—not in the surface, visible parts of my life but in the interior, secret places within. I have come through a great darkness…and I know that I’m not out of the valley yet. However, I have come close enough to the light now that I can write again. For that, I am so very thankful!

The journey back to the US has been a difficult one. Oh, yes, easy in some ways—what a joy to have our own home, how delightful during winter to have indoor heating and in the summer to have air conditioning. What a blessing to have work that provides all our needs and many of our wants (as long as we keep them in check!) How easy to live in a place where most people speak our native tongue, where folks tend to follow the ‘rules of the road,’ where things generally work as expected. In those things, yes, the move back to the US has been an easy thing, a joyful experience.

Yet, there is another side to the coin…. Coming to the US has brought me to question who I am. I’m sure the questioning began even before we moved to Venezuela in 2005. After all, there I was a UM minister serving a wonderful congregation in the mountains of North Georgia—what minister (in his right mind!) serving in such a setting would abandon parsonage, amazing people, the beautiful mountains, salary and all those things? Probably someone looking for something else, probably someone who was not sitting comfortably in the pastoral saddle. I mean, how many other pastors were looking to make such a change? Not many.

So, I donned the missionary cap and moved to Venezuela. There, we flourished in many ways. I was with people—I was making real, tangible differences in people’s lives. I was not pastoring…but I was teaching and encouraging and opening the Scriptures to people. Yet, it was also there that I ran up against the wall of human-ness as irreconcilable differences with a “fellow UM pastor” made life there unbearable. Time had come for a move, a change. As we think back on it all, we did pack up and leave too soon. We might should have moved to another part of the country…might should have stayed around to fight a bit more. But, life is too short to spend time spinning wheels trying to ge people who are set in their ways to try to see other ways of doing things. Some folks are just going to be short-sighted, ethno-centric, and focused on the mighty dollar…and there is not a whole lot we can do about that. So we left.

In Mexico, I continued with the missionary hat…yet modified! Now, I was a missionary teacher…and I took that even farther by securing gainful employment in a private university in addition to my servant teaching at the Methodist seminary. I was living with feet in two worlds—I was thinking that I was taking the first steps in moving from the “sacred” into the “secular,” or I was at least straddling the two worlds…and that gave me a deep satisfaction. In the mornings, I was tossing theological terms and ideas around with future pastors and church teachers; in the afternoon, I was equipping future school teachers—I was impacting the Church and the World. And I was still confused, but didn’t know it!

Then, we decided to leave Mexico. Our teenaged children were at educational cross-roads, faith funding from the US had continued to drop due to the world economic crisis…or to our inadequate communications, and the violence in our part of Mexico was reaching a crescendo. So, we sold our worldly possessions there, brought our professional relationships to a close…and stepped across the border into Texas where we sank our feet deep in the earth, buying home, enrolling our children in public school and where I took a completely “secular” job as a teacher in a public community college.

The last two months have been an amazingly difficult time as I have tried to make sense of who I am. Am I a minister, a pastor, a teacher? Well, according to my church conference I am still very much ordained, even if I am not pastoring a church. According to my W-2 form, I earned most of my income last year as a teacher of English at our community college here. Who am I? Who will I be? As you may imagine, these questions led me into a place of darkness as I contemplated the possible scenarios of the future, the implications of taking one of these mantles as my vocation.

Thanks to the great wisdom of those who have traveled this journey before me, I am coming to some clarity finally. First of all, I fell into that Western-mind-set trap that actually tries to divvy the world up into pieces, that strives to compartmentalize and categorize everything…beginning first by saying this is “sacred” and that is “secular.” That is a messed-up world view that almost left me completely messed-up! Where God is, God is—regardless of what label we slap on it. God is with me, in me…and I am in a classroom. Therefore, the halls of my school and the classroom I teach in is become sacred space.

Then, there were all the ego questions and the questions of acceptance—when will we ever escape them?!?! “What are people going to think if I stay in teaching and don’t go back to pastoring?” “What will people say if I ‘surrender’ my credentials and opt to be a wandering teacher in the world?” I’m really embarrassed that as a 46-year-old man I’m still allowing what others think guide my actions in this too-short life! And then I ask all the other ‘economic’ questions: Will I need to pastor someday to feed my family? What will happen to my pension in the UMC if I step out? Hmmm. Some pillar of faith I am, eh?

Finally, perhaps the deepest question, the one I finally got in touch with this week is this: What will this change of vocation do to my family who have so long found their identity in me—my children, the ‘missionary kids’ and ‘pastor’s kids; my wife, the minister’s wife? My beloved wife has even voiced her wish that I should pastor again; my daughter has said how she preferred when I was a pastor and when she was the pastor’s kid. Now, that is pressure! Yet, can I even allow my family to pressure me to follow a certain path if my heart is leaning another way? As much as my life is wrapped up in my wife’s, do I allow her to guide my steps…or do I defer to God for that “step-guiding” stuff??

The best thing that has happened to me in this journey of discovery has been the encounter with the here-and-now. “Here am I.” How powerful these words. “Here” as in this place and this time—this is where I am. I need not focus on the ‘there and then’ of the future because I cannot know or see the future before me. Instead, I live in the very present. And, today I am a teacher—a follower of Jesus, a lover of God (these things, I imagine, are unchanging)—in a public college helping men and women master the rudiments of writing and cracking their minds open to the importance of ‘critical thinking.’ Here I am. And who am I? I’m just Jon…and I really don’t need more than that right now. In the words of my Mom, “I’m here, I’m alive, I’m happy….”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Readings in Progress–Umberto Eco

While I enjoy writing very much, I also enjoy reading.  In fact, my love for writing has probably grown out of my love for reading.  The two are closely related, and I believe the research will bear out the relationship—those who read more will tend to be better writers; when you find a good writer, you can almost bet he or she is a reader.  So, I thought I’d bring it all together here and write some about what I’m reading!

Translation - Eco

Eco has long been a noted author, know best in our part of the world for novels such as The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum.  In this particular work, Experiences in Translation, Eco talks about the difficulties of translation, using his own works in large measure to show us that the process of translation is a difficult, multi-layered task.  I first became aware of Eco’s interest in this area of writing when I saw his work in Mexico – Decir casi lo mismo…because that is what translation ends up being—saying almost the same thing. 

Two of my favorite lines in the book so far are:

“Every sensible and rigorous theory of language shows that a perfect translation is an impossible dream” (Introduction).

“…Every language has its own genius…every language expresses a different world-view” (p.12).

My own interest in translation was born during my graduate studies as I dealt with literature from different languages, from from different cultures and from different time-periods (ancient to contemporary)…as I wrestled with ancient Greek and Hebrew, French and Middle English.  When I moved first to Venezuela and then to Mexico, my interest grew even more as I learned a second language (Spanish) to the point of fluency…and I was able to compare how translations were made in both directions—from English to Spanish…and from Spanish to English.  More interesting and more curious still were the differences I found between how Venezuelans translated something and how Mexicans translated the same piece.  So, my fascination and interest in translation has grown over the years.

While I am not a professional translator by any stretch of the imagination, I still enjoy writing and translating pieces at times (English/Spanish)…and I want to better my ability (and so you know, it is much easier for me to write something original in Spanish than it is for me to translate something from English to Spanish).  Eco’s work is showing me the difficulties, pitfalls and joys of translation from yet another perspective.  If you have an interest in languages and their interplay, if you enjoy translation and want some great examples of when folks have gotten it all wrong or if you simply want to see that books “in over 20 languages” don’t just “happen,” you’ll enjoy a read of this work.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Salvation, Eternal Life: Simply Symptoms of Something Greater….

When we lived in Santa Catarina, Nuevo León, Mexico, we were blessed to have a large sports park about two blocks from our home. Most mornings, you would find me there early walking around that park—exercising and having my “quiet time.” On that hard packed dirt path each morning, I would walk super fast, almost to the point of running, doing what I could to maintain my physical health. What any on-looker would not see was that I was also working on my spiritual health--talking to the Lord, running by Him all that I had thought about, things I had read in the Scriptures, sermons I had heard from pastors, and things I had read in books. That time was so important as I made sense of the world, of my life and ministry, and I as strived to understand our God as best as I could.

On one morning, back in September 2009, I had been wrestling especially hard to reconcile some things that I was encountering in the church we attended with some passages of Scripture that “had hold of me and wouldn’t let go.” The church leaders were really talking up “salvation”…just really driving home salvation as the end-all in life. All of their preaching was centered on salvation…the discipleship groups were hammering salvation…everything was about salvation and going to heaven.

Now, I’m all in favor of salvation…and I like the idea of heaven. No problem there. But, what I had been struggling with was whether salvation should be the primary message of the Church. Should our first and foremost message be a message of salvation…or are salvation, heaven and eternal life all secondary, more symptomatic than primary?

These were the questions that were roiling in my mind. Personally, there was something that seemed a disconnect in pushing salvation, salvation, salvation. And, pushing salvation as the key to Heaven…seemed too much like selling “fire insurance.” So, what was the real problem? Where was the disconnect for me? What was missing in this message that was being preached and taught and talked about? Something was missing.

No. Someone was missing. Where was Jesus in all of this? As I walked those laps around the path, as had my little talk with Jesus, things began to become clear. I remembered that passage from John’s Gospel—“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (17:3 NIV). Eternal life, salvation and heaven are not something we can separate from the person of Jesus—in fact, they are “symptoms” of knowing Jesus! What that comes down to, what that means is that if we want salvation, if we want to “be in heaven” someday, we have got to want to know and to be in relationship with Jesus.

So, don’t tell me I need salvation…show me that I need Jesu—really need HIM. Don’t try to get me to buy “fire insurance” that will get me into Heaven; show me how knowing Him will begin an eternal friendship that will see me though my hardest times…even through the veil that separates this life from the next. Jesus Himself said it best—“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13, NIV). If the Scriptures say He is first and foremost, perhaps we should, too.

Now, coming to this realization as I walked that September morn was not earth-shattering nor did it undo or negate all the theologies of the Christian Church. What this realization did for me was to help me begin to keep first things first. Do I want to know the gift of salvation that God offers humankind? Then, I have to get to know and spend my life knowing Jesus. Do I want to spend eternity with God in His Kingdom after this life? I better get to know Jesus—His words, His actions, His passion and His purpose…because the only way I’ll be with God forever is to live each day with Jesus on this side.

Knowing God in Jesus Christ IS salvation, IS eternal life, IS the key to God’s Kingdom. Let’s keep first things first….


Saturday, January 14, 2012

What does God REALLY Want ?!?



When my wife laid out the question in the middle of our lunch-time discussion last week, I knew that it grew out of our own frustrations…and gave voice to the frustrations and earnest desires of many, many more.  When we sit in church and hear the preacher…then we listen to various and sometimes competing messages of contemporary Christian music on the radio…and finally we sit with our Bibles in hand, we can at times come away asking that very question—”Okay, so what does God REALLY want from me?  What does He REALLY expect of me??”

The question—at least in our conversation—was centered on what the Christian life should look like.  What should our lives look like on a day-to-day basis??  How does God expect us to live?? 

All too often, we seem to receive these convoluted, complex designs for Christian life.  Some of the recipes for faithful Christian living call the ‘faithful’ to a life of incessant religious work—at the church every time the doors open, mission trips every chance possible, or whatever pet project the church leadership wants to push.  Still other plans call for seemingly unending self-reflection and self-examination—an exhausting way of life that calls every act or thought in question as believers strive to live perfect lives…according their understanding of the Scriptures.  These plans and others that are set forward—intentionally or not—tend to be complex, exhausting, frustrating…or all of the above.

Is this what God REALLY expects of us??  Does God really want us to come to the end of the day frustrated and exhausted??  Hmmmm.  My reading of the Scriptures says otherwise.  As I read, I see those delicious words of Jesus, as refreshing as a mountain stream on a hot day:  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28 NIV).  I like the way the Message puts it: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest….”

As Jeanne and I talked about what God really wants from us, really expects of us, another passage came to mind that allows us to recover some of the balance we need in life.  The Old Testament prophet, Micah, lived in a time when people were following all kinds of ideas about how to please God, when people were wearing themselves out to make things right between themselves and God.  The prophet proclaims these consoling words:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

There we have it!  Do what is right, fair, just…love kindness—be a people of mercy and grace…and walk (not run, not park), day by day, step-by-step, with God.  That’s it.  We each get to fill in the blanks for ourselves.  For some, that doing of justice may mean taking to the streets in protest…or it may mean simply doing the right thing by family members and neighbors.  Being a people of kindness, of mercy and grace, probably means everywhere, all the time, with everyone (family included!).  And walking with God…well, it reveals that our relationship with God is a journey—we haven’t arrived yet.  And, it’s not a race—we don’t have to run ourselves ragged.  We can relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and experiences around about us as we walk forward into the future with God.


The longer I live this life, the longer I live the faith, the more I’m convinced that God wants us—no, EXPECTS us—to live life to the full, to enjoy this life…and to help others to do the same.  That full and truly enjoyable life begins when we decide to walk with Jesus.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A New Year...2012

Well, a new year is upon us...2012. I can hardly wrap my mind around the idea that we are already in 2012. When I was a child, I recall seeing, reading articles that predicted what future life would be like. I even remember that show, Space 1999. The idea was that we would be avid space travelers by the turn of the century. Another article I recall from National Geographic proposed that we would have holiday resorts on the Moon...with hotels and shopping malls there. Obviously, none of that has come to pass...and I'm not too disappointed. In fact, it's probably a good thing we're not spreading our tainted humanity around the universe....

But, that is really neither here nor there...not the purpose of this small bit of prose. Here, I simply want to think a bit on the newness that a New Year brings to me, to many. A new year means a chance to start start get a do-over. Of course, we cannot undo what we've done in the past, cannot escape the responsibility for foolish, thoughtless or even accidental actions we've taken. But, we can have an opportunity to do things differently, to react and respond in a new way. And, we can pick a new path to follow. If we've been hopelessly self-destructive, we can decide to follow a more constructive path, a path purposely chosen rather than one that we just happened upon and follow for lack of initiative to seek another. The new year is a new beginning..and I, for one, am quite glad I have the opportunity, the chance to do things anew and differently.

Part of my plans are more about refining what I had already begun in the year past. I want to be even more determined to exercise...and to exercise better. I want to eat even better than I have been eating. And, I want to allow even fewer things to stress and bother me.

New in my life for this year? That is a good question. I think that the new direction will be my involvement in some sort of helping project(s). I still want to get to know my county, my area, to know the people and the towns that we find in this area. I want to discover the hidden gems that may be out there...but I want to enjoy the search as much any possible discovery. I hope to take some time on weekends to drive the back roads and ways to find what might be out there.... And, I want to step-up the writing projects and processes. Perhaps the novel...certainly lots of essays...and that's about it.

Well, there you have it. The New Year...a time for new beginnings. The New Year...a chance to refine what is already good. The New opportunity to go new places--geographically, professional, emotionally, etc. May this New Year be all this and even more for all of you.