Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prince of Peace

On Christmas what better way to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace than by signing a letter urging the incoming Obama administration to work for a just peace between Israel and Palestine. Consider adding your signature here.

December 1, 2008
The Honorable Barack Obama
President-elect of the United States
Presidential Transition Team
Washington, DC 20270

Dear President-elect Obama,

As Christians of the Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox and Protestant traditions, we are united by a Biblical call to be peacemakers and a commitment to the two peoples of the Holy Land who yearn for a just peace. As Americans, we urge you, Mr. President, to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority during your first year in office.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has gone on too long. It has caused untold suffering for both sides, created economic hardships, and provided a rallying cry for extremists.

As people of faith and hope, we believe peace is possible. Majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support a negotiated solution based on two secure and sovereign states as the best way to end this tragic conflict.

In order to achieve a durable peace, your Administration must provide sustained, high-level diplomatic leadership toward the clear goal of a final status agreement. Building on past discussions, we ask you to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make historic compromises necessary for peace.

Your commitment to working for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel can help strengthen U.S. security and improve stability and relationships throughout the Middle East. We believe that Jerusalem – home to two peoples and three religions – has the potential to become a powerful symbol of hope and coexistence for people across the region and the world.

We know the work for a just peace will not be easy. It will require great courage and resolve, but the risk of inaction is even greater. Without active U.S. engagement, political inertia and perpetuation of the unbearable status quo will make achievement of a two-state solution increasingly difficult. Moreover, we are concerned about the negative impact a further delay will have on the Christian community in the Holy Land, whose numbers continue to decline.

We call on all Christians and people of goodwill to join us in praying for the peace of Jerusalem and in supporting vigorous U.S. diplomatic efforts to secure Middle East peace. Mr. President, as you take up the many challenges facing the United States and the global community, we urge you to work for a better future for all the children of Abraham in the land that is holy to us all.


Rev. Fr. Mark Arey
Ecumenical Officer
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

The Most Rev. Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Primate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of
America (Eastern)

Rt. Rev. Wayne Burkette
Moravian Church in America

Tony Campolo
Eastern University, St. Davids, PA

Sr. J. Lora Dambroski, OSF
President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Marie Dennis
Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Sr. Donna Graham, OSF
President, English Speaking Conference JPIC Council
Franciscan Friars (OFM)

Ken Hackett
President, Catholic Relief Services

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rev. Dr. Stan Hastey
Minister for Mission and Ecumenism, Alliance of Baptists

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard
Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dr. Joel C. Hunter
Senior Pastor, Northland Church
Member, Executive Committee of the
National Association of Evangelicals

Archbishop Cyril Aphrem Karim
Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church
for the Eastern USA

The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA

Rev. Michael E. Livingston
Executive Director
International Council of Community Churches
Immediate Past President, National Council of Churches

Reverend John L. McCullough
Executive Director and CEO, Church World Service

Mary Ellen McNish
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley
General Secretary, The American Baptist Churches

Richard J. Mouw
President, Fuller Theological Seminary

David Neff
Editor in Chief, Christianity Today

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer
President, The Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church, (USA)

Very Rev. Thomas Picton, CSsR
President, Conference of Major Superiors of Men

Dr. Tyrone Pitts
General Secretary
Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.

Bob Roberts, Jr.
Pastor, NorthWood Church, Keller, TX

Leonard Rodgers
Executive Director
Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding

Metropolitan PHILIP (Saliba)
Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America

Rolando L. Santiago
Executive Director, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop, The Episcopal Church

Dr. Chris Seiple
President, Institute for Global Engagement

Robert A. Seiple
Former Ambassador-at-Large for
International Religious Freedom

Ronald J. Sider
President, Evangelicals for Social Action

Richard Stearns
President, World Vision, United States

The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President, United Church of Christ

Constantine M. Triantafilou
Executive Director and CEO
International Orthodox Christian Charities

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Jim Wallis
President, Sojourners

The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

The Right Rev. John F. White
Ecumenical and Urban Affairs Officer
African Methodist Episcopal Church

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

another player

so here's another guy - Erik Mongrain - with amazing technique... who is taking the guitar in a direction that few others have even imagined... you can decide whether it is technique for technique's sake... whatever, it is pretty cool to watch

slap that thang

Sometimes guitar players do technique just for technique sake. I don't enjoy listening to that kind of playing. While I can appreciate the ability of a player like that I honestly feel as if I'm watching someone masturbate... not something I particularly enjoy doing.

But when a player has amazing technique and puts it in service of a song, that is something sublime.

Take a look at Andy McKee here. BTW, he is playing a Lowden guitar. George's company builds what I think are the best guitars in the world.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Unintended Consequences

Today on the way into work, I was listening to a report on Somalia on NPR. And aid worker who was being interviewed said that some 2.8 million Somali's are directly dependent upon foreign aid for food. The picture is beyond what I can imagine. They also said that the Ethiopian troops will be pulling out soon and that the possibilities are anything but pretty. I've been rolling that thought around in my head in conjunction with the line from the Brooke Fraser song Albertine, "now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead."

The question, of course, is what deeds are helpful and what deeds have unintended consequences. Africa is a continent with incredible resources. It is also a continent with a terrible history and incredible entrenched problems. I now that colonialism is a major if not the major contributor to those problems, but it is not the only one and at some point, African leaders must take responsibility for the future of their nations and their people. Simple answers, while they seem helpful, may in the end only serve to perpetuate the problems or even make things worse. What US government actions can help to stabilize things and which might increase the violence or strengthen the power of the Islamists.

I think of the scenario with fair trade coffee as an example of unintended consequences... As people of faith and compassion, we want to be fair, so we purchase only fair trade coffee. The farmers who are selling their coffee through a fair trade cooperative suddenly find themselves doing quite well compared to their neighbors growing beans which are a staple in the community. As the local bean farmers watch this, they do the logical thing, pull up the bean plants and put in coffee. Their income goes up but suddenly the entire community is dependent upon imported food and the whims of the international coffee market. Those who do not grow coffee are unable to afford the imported food and if the price on coffee drops, everyone is in a crisis. Have we helped the situation by buying free trade coffee? Yes... and no...

I wonder whether in Africa by doing what seems right and compassionate, we have supported a system of radical unfairness and violence. I wonder whether we have turned peoples into beggars who were once strong and proud. I don't know what the best answers are. I am sure than none are easy or painless.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

fun in advent

I had a lot of fun in church this morning. At Cambridge Drive we do a mix of music - old hymns done in a new style, stereotypical current church music, current Roman Catholic music, newly written hymns, popular secular tunes when they fit, and occasionally an old hymn done in its original style. We have a great band of dedicated and talented players who are willing to take chances. Today, we sang mostly carols even though it is still Advent but we played around with them a bit.
O Come All Ye Faithful was done reggae style
Joy to the World - imagine the Ramones playing it.
Hark the Herald Angels Sing we did with the Rebecca St. James arrangement.
The Friendly Beasts, which was one of my favorite carols as a child, we played more or less in the traditional style.
O Little Town of Bethlehem we played as a ska piece.
And we ended with a little song we do after a ritual of healing called Peace I Am.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I don't follow the Christian music scene very much. There are a couple of artists that I really, really like but in general I find that scene pretty shallow. I came across Brooke Fraser the other day. She is on my really really like list now.

Evidently she had a formative experience during a visit to Rwanda. This song is a reflection on that experience. I find myself on the edge of tears every time I listen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thanks Tom

We've had a pretty sucky week financially - welcome to the club right? I was complaining about it to one of my dearest and oldest friends and he sent me this wonderful poem by Jody Aliesan in her book, Grief Sweat. I wasn't familiar with her work but I will look for her books.

winter solstice
when you startle awake in the dark morning
heart pounding breathing fast
sitting bolt upright staring into
dark whirlpool black hole
feeling its suction
get out of bed
knock at the door of your nearest friend
ask to lie down beside ask to be held
listen while whispered words
turn the hole into deep night sky
stars close together
wintermoon rising over white fields
nearby wren rustling dry leaves
distant owl echoing
two people walking up the road laughing
let your soul laugh
let your heart sigh out
that long held breath so hollow in your stomach
so swollen in your throat
already light is returning pairs of wings
lift softly off your eyelids one by one
each feathered edge clearer between you
and the pearl veil of day
you have nothing to do but live

Tom is one of the best crap detectors that I have ever known and gets right to the heart of... your heart. He hears what you're saying and really hears what is underneath and behind the words, often even hidden from the one speaking. And then he brings deep and appropriate wisdom to the situation. Gently, and without minimizing my distress, he reminded me that the shortest, darkest day is filled with the promise of new light coming.

Thanks Tom for holding me across the miles.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

a harsh light on modern society

I'm not an Apple person. In fact, I don't own even one Apple product. I'm not really sure why as a brand it has such fierce loyalty. All that said, I know that other products have the same cult status

Saturday, December 13, 2008


just some fun silliness

Friday, December 12, 2008

yet more music

One of the blessings of being a hobby musician is that I get to be friends with some amazing musicians.

Miche Fambro is a monster. When he starts crooning, Mick has a voice that could melt Atilla the Hun's heart (check out his Christmas disk). He is a keyboard player and drummer, but his guitar playing is what catches my imagination. Guitar is his primary instrument these days and Mick is one of the most amazing and talented players I have ever heard. If you're a guitar player, you'll probably notice in the video that he is playing left handed. That isn't so unusual.. but then you look closer and notice that his hand positions are all wrong. That is because he plays a right-handed guitar strung normally, upside down. That makes his fingerings and voicings different from a player who plays with the lowest string at the top of the guitar. Add to that, unbelievable chops and a style that incorporates flamenco, jazz, folk, and rock and you get a performer who is basically impossible to copy.

He has a number of other videos on youtube, including a funny series called "Guitar Lessons" which are lessons about life, not paying guitar.

His catalog of cd's is pretty diverse including an electric band - Miche and the Anglos, a band with guitar, violin, cello, and percussion called Big Electric (The Chapel Sessions), and solo material.

If you get a chance to see Mick live, do so, and tell him I sent you. If you don't pick up one of his cd's at his website and be amazed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Guitar Acquisition Syndrome... well, not exactly... I've been jonesing for a ukulele for some time. The idea of this little guy that I can easily carry with me anywhere is very attractive.

They have become very popular with baby boomers with too much money looking for toys and there are scores of builders building incredibly beautiful instruments. The one on the right was built by Tony Graziano who also built the guitar that my daughter Alexis owns (a beautiful little guitar).

And if you think of Tiny Tim when anyone mentions ukuleles, watch Jake Shimabukuro.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I joined Facebook the other day... I guess I'm old because I'm not sure that I get it.

It has been nice connected with some folk that I haven't seen in a long time.

Monday, December 08, 2008

times and seasons

A number of the blogs I read have been writing about Advent. My friend Fernando's has been one. Toni left a comment on one of Fernado's posts that he isn't a "times and seasons kind of person." That got me thinking.

I am a times and seasons kind of guy. That is why the church year is important to me. That is what I miss about living in California where the changes in seasons are so subtle that until you've lived here a while you don't even see them at all. That is why I drove way out of my way a few weeks ago to get the closest thing to real apple cider that I have found in California. That is why I don't get upset about my hair turning gray, my shape changing a bit, and my face becoming a bit more lined. And that is why I remind people that it isn't Christmas season until 12/25. It is Advent now as we prepare for Christmas. Christmas begins on the 25th and lasts for 12 days.

This year, it has been a bit difficult for me to get into the rhythm of Advent. In our house, we read a book together at the dinner table during Advent. We've missed more days so far than we've read and it has only been Cheryl and me at the table. Alexis has moved away and John is mostly MIA - more times and seasons in both cases. We do have our nativity sets up and the tree is decorated. We purchased the few presents we're buying this year. Now, the task is to pay more attention to my spirit and truly get ready to celebrate the coming of Jesus.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


The genius of Christianity is found in the incarnation. The love of God is most clearly seen and experienced when God puts on flesh and blood in Jesus and completely identifies with humanity.

The corollary of the incarnation is contextualization. Putting on flesh involves being found in a specific culture with a specific worldview and a way of experiencing the world that reflects that context. While Jesus experienced the world in his context, we experience Jesus in ours and we overlay him with our understandings and experiences. While some would argue that that moves us a step, or many steps, away from the historical Jesus, I think it is part of God's plan that we bring Jesus into our contexts.

My favorite Christmas carol is one that celebrates the way we contextualize Jesus. It is called Some Children See Him. It was written by Alfred Burt and Wihla Hutson in 1951. Burt wrote 15 carols that accompanied Christmas cards his family sent from 1942-1954.

Some children see Him lily white,
the baby Jesus born this night.
Some children see Him lily white,
with tresses soft and fair.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
The Lord of heav'n to earth come down.
Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
with dark and heavy hair.

Some children see Him almond-eyed,
this Savior whom we kneel beside.
some children see Him almond-eyed,
with skin of yellow hue.
Some children see Him dark as they,
sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray.
Some children see him dark as they,
and, ah! they love Him, too!

The children in each different place
will see the baby Jesus' face
like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
and filled with holy light.
O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering,
come worship now the infant King.
'Tis love that's born tonight!

My favorite recording of the carol was done by Stacy Sullivan. Take a listen to her version on her CD, Cold Enough to Snow. I cry every time I listen to it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video of her version.

Here's a video interpretation of the carol sung by James Taylor. You get a taste of the song even though the arrangement is a bit schmaltzy.


We collect nativity sets and have a bunch of them from all over the world... I love the way different artisans interpret the birth of Jesus and the ways that they contextualize it (more about that later).

As we were browsing a craft store this week we found this beautiful card by Maggie Targoni, a local artist. She has some beautiful cards available so check them out.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8... again

If they're serious about "protecting" marriage, the folk who voted for Prop 8, ought to get on board with this one...

See more funny videos at Funny or Die