The Thirty Minute Blogger

Exploring Books and the Writer's Life, Faith and Works, Culture and Pop Culture, Space Science and Science Fiction, Technology and Nostalgia, Parenting and Childhood, Health: Physical and Emotional ... All Under the Iron Hands of the Clock and That 30 Minute Deadline

Thursday, November 28, 2013

No Shop Thanksgiving ...

On Thanksgiving day, each year, do something countercultural. Don't shop. Say NO to shopping, to crowds, to joining the frantic mob, to driving clerks crazy this evening. Stay away from the stores offering the big discounts on Thanksgiving (there will be more discounts to come in the holiday season ahead ... and most of the objects on sale will be on sale again, they are mass produced after all and far from rare in most cases). These stores have chosen to open on one of the few holidays their workers get, one of those rare times their employees had to celebrate with their own families and friends. Many of these folks are working for minimum wage and this is how they are rewarded for sacricifing precious moments with those they hold most dear.

So, don't encourage this kind of behavior from merchants large and small. Let this one day be a day set aside for celebration with loved ones and friends ... not a day for rank consumerism. We have a whole bushelful of days like that all through the year.

Give your fellow men and women a break. Be countercultural on Thanksgiving. You might just find you like it.

Wishing you and yours the best for Thanksgiving ... and every day. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful for the Wonders and the Awe and the Love ...

It is so easy to be robbed of a sense of thankfulness this year with all the trouble in the news, all the folks out there trying to make us dissatisfied enough (on the day we're to give thanks for what we have ... now is that weird or what) to hightail it out to the shops on Thanksgiving evening, thereby screwing up a day with family for the employees and managers of said shops ... and I could go on and on, but why bother. Instead, how about a little list of things to be grateful for that come tumbling over the transom, often unasked for, that create a sense of gratitude and wonder ...

Cassini views Saturn in natural colors. Courtesy of NASA

View of Saturn from above via Cassini. Courtesy of NASA
One of the last of the really big space probes we have, the long-lived Cassini sent us back these views of the mighty gas giant Saturn. Views in natural light and views from above so spectacular you expect to see them in a sci-fi movie. Thanks NASA and Cassini for the really awe inspiring views. This is one program I'm glad my taxes support.
Sunsets like this one seen for free from my office window.

Nothing available on "Black Friday" compares with the sunsets I've seen from my office window a the end of a winter's day. Magnificent. Thanks!

I'm thankful Bill Moyers is out there plugging away providing me interviews like this one with Henry Giroux in which together they explore the ideas of capitalism run amok: Go watch and come back. This will still be here. I'm thankful to all the other reporters and entertainers who enrich the day in one way or another.

The technology here that allows us to share these moments and ideas globally. Unimaginable when I was growing up and I'm thankful to have the chance to share a few ideas with you. That technology may not be free but what comes through it provides a lot of wonder none the less. Through Facebook I've reconnected with old college friends I've lost track of ... and for once I'm able to send birthday wishes to everybody on time through FB, because the program reminds me it's their day. I enjoy receiving those messages more than I thought I would.

All the strange technology stories that come tumbling in about flying cars, SpaceX to Mars, exoskeleton suits to increase our strength, exoplanets abounding, explorations of the possibilities of warp drive, and so much more. Those things ... even though many won't come to pass ... add some spice to my day. Thanks.

Passages from my Bible that affirm my existence and can be had each and every day if I so choose. Passages like John 15:9-17 in which Jesus speaks to us through the author and wants you and I to know this about us being wanted:

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
We are chosen and commanded to love each other without exception, as we are loved. Spectacular and challenging.

Finally, and you knew this was coming, I'm thankful to all the good people out there who have been a blessing in my life and continue to be. I'm thankful for family and friends who helped make me who I am, many of whom have moved on from earthly life but I carry with me as part of who I have become. I'm thankful for the family and friends with me today. My wife and children make my life an adventure and it is wonderful to watch them grow into the people they will be as we journey together and apart. I'm thankful for the talented authors who have shared their ideas and their adventures with me. I never regret any time I've spent with you. I'm thankful for all the doctors and nurses who have kept me well or brought me back to health when things took a bad turn. Thanks to all the working men and women who keep my power on, my water flowing, the electricity coming, who take away the trash, maintain the streets, the bridges, and the buildings and make modern life possible by their skills and their hard work. Thanks to the police and fire fighters who ensure civilization can move forward, even in the face of catastrophe (and the rescue workers, etc.). I'm thankful for the random kindnesses of strangers who pause for just a moment to make the day better. I'm thankful for the educators who taught me to see the wonders abounding in the world, to be able to read about them and think about them clearly. I'm thankful to the readers out there who have made my twenty year career in writing worthwhile. I'm thankful for the dedicated men and women of God, the ministers, who helped show me vibrant paths to take to develop my spiritual life. I'm thankful for the church community for providing me a safe place to explore my gifts and to move on ... and to those who have called me to serve with them on life's fascinating sojourn. I'm thankful for all this and a lot more.

What are you thankful for today ... and throughout the year?

Who can you make thankful today that you stopped and shared a little of yourself with them?

And this, my friends, is an entry for a gratitude log. For more on gratitude logs, see:

Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and a fantastically bountiful year full of wonders and joys to be thankful for all the rest of the year. See you on the other side of the big day. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cultivating Gratitude This Thanksgiving

I ran across a wonderful definition of gratitude, which is a much more complex state of being than one might imagine. The definition reads:
Gratitude is both a primary, spontaneous outpouring of the heart in response to acts of kindness, favor, and forgiveness, and a disposition or virtue to be cultivated, corrected, and developed over time.*
The definition goes further to state that a cultivated sense of gratitude is incompatible with a life of greed and exploitation commonly found in patterns of racial, sexual, and economic injustice. Gratitude is powerful.

The last year and a month have been a very complex time for me and for my family, filled with both wonderful joys and terrible sorrows. A robust and developed sense of gratitude for all that has gone well has helped carry us through. I won't bore you with any details as we all have our own triumphs and tragedies.

This year for Thanksgiving, I suggest starting to develop and strengthen your sense of gratitude for the year ahead. Start on Thanksgiving day by making a point of telling those you love, whoever they may be, that you do indeed love them. I know this doesn't come naturally for a lot of us, but give it a try. Better to tell someone you love them now than regret you never got the job done when they're gone ... and they can go with a terrible suddenness.

Next start a gratitude log ... a journal of all that has gone right in the day that you took note of during the journey. It is a wonderful discipline as it helps you development an eye for the many good things that do happen to you during each day ... and of the people who made that sense of "outpouring of the heart" sometime in that day. Keep the journal handy for the dark times when nothing seems to be going right, when tragedy strikes, or when the terrors of disease and injury strike. Being able to fall back on such a journal and be reminded of better days may be the life preserver you need to get through your current storm, whatever that may be.

There is a lot more you could do, but we'll explore that later if you like.

Safe travels. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

If you're reading this overseas, apply this to any day you like. There is no bad time to tell the loved ones in your life that you appreciate them and there is no bad time to start a gratitude log.

For another post that will help you out by allowing you to create a reservoir of humor you may tap when times get tough, see:

 * If you wish to pursue this further, the quote was taken from the Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, p. 471

Friday, November 22, 2013

50th Anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination, A Remembrance

I was four when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963. The event became modern history to me in school. Seeing the scenes of grieving people, hearing folks tell the stories of where they'd been when the awful event occurred, I was left wondering exactly what that had felt like.

I had dim memories of Robert Kennedy's assassination on June 6, 1968. I was not politically aware at 9, but I remember people gathering in the circle where we lived, upset, talking to one another ... but not entirely sure who had been killed or what his significance was. I wish I could say this event, and the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a greater impact on me and helped mold my life ... but I was still too young.

Years later, I had my "so that's what the Kennedy assassination felt like" moment. My father was a science news journalist who covered the manned spaceflight program from the Mercury program on through the Space Shuttles and I have a deep fascination for that program myself, along with the robotic explorations NASA undertakes. So, I remember exactly where I was on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded so soon after launch and how I shouted "No, no, no!" first thing in the morning when I heard the news of Columbia breaking up over Texas on landing approach on February 1, 2003. For that second event, I vividly remember our young daughter giving me a big hug in empathy for the adult pain around her she didn't really understand ... a situation not all that different for her than my experience with Bobby Kennedy's assassination.

Then there was September 11, 2001, when terrorists turned passenger aircraft into guided missiles in New York, Washington, and failed in a Pennsylvania field, and seemingly endless war began. I think back now on these events and too many others. I remember feeling on so many of these events that human history has just taken a horrid lurch in the wrong direction. History has gone askew ... and wondering if it would ever right itself again. I asked myself then and I ask myself now as I remember, "What can I do to make a positive difference after these awful events? How can I help set at least my little corner of the world right again?"

Wishing you peace on this day of remembrance.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

iPad Photos In Tricky Lighting, An Experiment

I wanted to see what the iPad could do with photos under tricky lighting situations. The camera does fine in daylight. This is a little different. It's fun to experiment with. What follows are first the photos right out of the iPad and below are the same photos with a "little" Photoshop color adjustment. What kind of luck have you had?

Follow up: now seeing them together on the blog site, the original images that looked dull on the other system look fine and the adjusted photos that looked fine on the other system now look overdone. Interesting ...

First Planet I See Tonight

Reflected Sunset Off Eastern Clouds

Flames of Sunset

Long Sunset

First Planet I See Tonight 2
Reflected Sunlight Off Eastern Clouds 2
Long Sunset 2

Flames of Sunset 2

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scientists: Please, Plant Your Flag and Take a Stand in the Climate Debate And ...

DISCLAIMER: This is a rant. If you don't want a rant, please look at quite a few of my other 1100+ posts that are rant free. If you want a rant, roll up your sleeves and climb in with me. Given that this IS a rant, it is not as well researched as it might be ... but I do have experience on both sides of the issue I'm about to rant on.

Two broadcasts on NPR, plus recent weather events, have left me angry. To put my cards on the table, I was trained as a social scientist (meaning I know something of the scientific process not weather events and global warming theory ... and I admit that) and I'm trained as a Christian minister (meaning in this case, I know a great deal of theology and know how much more there is to know of what has been written by brilliant people over thousands of years). Alright, enough procrastinating, here goes.

On Science Friday recently, climate scientists were discussing climate change and the theory that as the globe warms (which most scientists agree is happening) storms of all sorts will become more ferocious. As the program moved toward its conclusion, the host (a very level headed guy from my experience) tried to get these scientists to take a stand on whether the recent super typhoon Haiyan was a product of global warming. Suddenly all the certainty fled the room and much hemming and hawing ensured. The host became quite frustrated, unable to obtain either a yes or no answer with or without caveats, eventually asked, well, how long will it be before you can provide such an answer? Will it be 50 years?! There was more back and forth with no answer.

On the other hand, a "bold" scientist on another show proudly proclaimed that morality was a mere product of the evolved monkey mind and, ipso facto, there is no God. Atheists win, hooray.

This kind of nonsense makes my blood boil. Here's why. On the one hand, scientists have the opportunity to take a stand on an issue that could save the lives of untold millions of people in years to come, mostly poor people living in marginal environments (who admittedly don't provide research funding). On the other, some of their ilk, without any outcry from the rest of science, will proclaim there is no God, something they can't possibly provide measurable data upon as God, being God, is outside the realm of science (never mind all the theology behind this statement, there isn't time right now and I have a rant to finish). So, on an issue where science has reams of data to review and analyze, and where lives are on the line, they refuse to make a stand. On a subject that is not within their means to study in any constructive way, some scientists are willing to make grand proclamations about a subject they cannot measure and often do not know.

So, scientists, please, take some responsibility in an area where you can do good. I know it is difficult. I know it is risky. I know science changes slowly, sometimes only when some well known advocate for an older position actually dies (so does religion if it makes you feel any better), but really, lives are at stake. Raise an alarm. If in the long run it is proven you are not entirely correct (ooo, that would be a first, huh?!), you will have stood up for human life, for the poor, for a cleaner planet better cared for, for a reduction of toxins in the air, land, and sea. You might alleviate the deadly smog in China produced by coal smoke. All these are good things, so says my Christian faith and science. Be a little more like the best among the religious faithful some in your ranks mock. My denomination stands on the side of justice for human beings, for human dignity, for helping the poor, the widow, the outcast, the prisoner, the alien among us, and for the stewardship of this planet that we see as a gift from God.

Less time spent mocking faith, for which you have no reliable data on so many aspects, and far more time promoting a better life on this planet through better stewardship. Stand for the issue where human temporal lives are on the line ... and leave the spiritual life to the experts in that realm. We'll all be better off that way. Thanks!

So ends my half hour and my rant. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Regional Churches Doing Much to Help Communities: The Five Minute Response

Yesterday afternoon, while the Eagles trounced the Redskins on the football field, regional American Baptist Churches USA church leaders met to discuss what they were doing in their communities. It was inspirational. In these times when some feel churches don't do much other than scold others and that their influence is in decline (sadly true for many churches), these dedicated leaders and some of their most active members present spoke of another story. Among the accomplishments being made in local communities and elsewhere were:

  1. Support for local food banks helping those in need get enough to eat in their community. This included in one case creating raised bed gardens on the church property to provide fresh vegetables for the food bank. Keeping a jar available in the church for random cash donations allowed this church to, when it was their turn to distribute food gathered, put a chicken in each bag for a struggling family. This is on top of their regular donation box, which regularly fills with non-perishable food stuffs for those facing food insecurity ... of which there are far too many in this, one of the purported wealthiest nations on earth. 
  2. A variety of support and education programs aimed at addressing poverty in another community. Education is an important component in any program moving forward. Education for those who wish to help and for those who need help.
  3. Prison ministries providing ministers and Bibles in prison situations. They do more than you might imagine. 
  4. Support for the immigrant community in a former industrial town whose members are struggling to make ends meet on minimum wage (or less) and who face many trials and tribulations among us. One dedicated couple, both ministers in their 80s, spearhead this program. The gathered churches gave them a considerable gift of financial support for their vital ministries. 
  5. Youth and adult mission trips to the New Jersey shore and to Haiti to help with storm ravaged communities. 
  6. Finally, as my 5 minutes are up, outreach into communities through the combined efforts of many religious leaders and churches of different denominations and faiths. Joining hands they accomplish much more than a single church working alone.
There are more projects than I can mention here. It was inspirational. I was glad to see so much was being done behind the scenes, good works Jesus calls us to do that never make it into the news. 

That's the five minute response.

Sloggin' Thru Blogging: THANKS!

Life is complicated right now. As much as I enjoy blogging, it it getting put on the back burner in the face of some life changing events looming on my horizon. That explains the delay in this response.

I checked my Google+ account and found a number of you had sent me happy birthday wishes, which I just saw. I want to thank you for taking the time to send me those well wishes. They are much appreciated. This is one of the things that makes blogging worthwhile.

In fact, I find that social media is wonderful in this regards. Between family, friends, Google+ and Facebook, I received a great many birthday wishes that made the day that much more meaningful.

So, thanks again Google+ readers. Thank you very much. Wishing you all a wonderful week ... and happy, blessed birthdays, whenever they may be. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Black at Night: Not So Bright: A J.S. Brooks Public Service Announcement

Here's the situation. It's a dark night and you're out on the road in your local community. You're heading off between one town and another. There are few street lights. There is no moon. The sky is obscured with cloud cover turning everything outside the sweep of your headlights into Stygian gloom. Suddenly, coming into your field of view and much too close for comfort is a human form moving toward your car. The figure went unnoticed as he or she started into the street as the person was dressed in dark clothing. When first seen, the human is a shadow form, just suggesting itself to you as an obstacle seconds before a potential disaster occurs. You realize if that individual had kept coming, crossing into your path, you would not have recognized the danger until it was too late. Worse, this individual is standing in the center lane, that lane cars enter when they intend to pull into a house or business on the other side of the road. You shudder when you think what might have happened if you had needed to turn left ... and had realized a person in black was there far too late to react. 

This has happened to me far too often lately. It's unsettling to say the least. It is always dangerous. Dark clothing is common these days, especially in winter coats. So, please, before you head out along the byways of your town on foot, think about what you are wearing. Lighter would be better. If you need to cross a road, you might want to do it at a pedestrian crosswalk that is lit. Simply crossing the road wherever you like out there in the dark is a good way to get killed. Remember, not everyone out driving in the dark has the night vision of a cat. Many people driving in the gloom don't see as well at night as they used to. A great many more are distracted by their technology, perhaps texting when they shouldn't or fuming over what some pundit on the radio is squawking about. For your own sake, take some precautions. 

Yes, you do have the right of way as a pedestrian. That doesn't mean much if you can't be seen in the dark ... and it really will mean nothing at all if you're hit and lying on that road in the dead of night leaking vital fluids while the driver of the car that hit you either calls 911 in panic, seeks a phone if they don't have one, or drives off in terror, leaving you to your own fate. 

Please be safe. Don't become a crime scene and another sad story in the next day's news.

LeVar Burton Shares MAVEN's Story in a New NASA PSA

LeVar Burton, a.k.a. Geordi LeForge from Star Trek: The Next Generation to all the trekkers out there, explains just why NASA is sending the MAVEN spacecraft to Mars. They want to answer one of the big "why" questions about Mars ... but I'll let LeVar explain it to you.

Martian Vanity Plate and Geordi LeForge Explains the Next NASA Mars Mission

One Spacecraft Views Another: HiRise Sees Curiosity on Mars.
Courtesy of NASA
Driving to work yesterday, I came up behind a bright red Ford F150 pickup truck. The color seemed appropriate for the vanity license plate, which read ON2MARS. Now there's a sentiment I can get behind. There are quite a few earthlings among us who want to become Martians and are ready to get on with it, on to Mars!

Personally, I don't back the one way Mars trippers who basically are willing to consign themselves to a suicide mission to the Red Planet. At least, that's what I've heard. If I'm wrong and they want to establish a thriving colony on their one way journey, that's another story. NASA wants to have humans on Mars ... or orbiting Mars by the 2030s. After the LADEE moon mission, which proved high speed communication between a spacecraft and Earth, or a spacecraft and a robot are possible using laser light, it may be that robots will travel to Mars first, followed by humans who remain in orbit and explore the world through their robots in real time by rapid laser communication. We shall see.

Then again, Elon Musk of SpaceX would like to cut down that time by ten years using his Dragon capsule and appropriate modules and arrive on the red planet in the 2020s. His spaceship just passed another milestone toward carrying crew, deemed an extremely safe system. Good job SpaceX team!

Meanwhile, LaVar Burton, known for many roles including Chief Engineer Geordi LeForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, has just explained why we are sending the Mars orbiter MAVEN to the angry, dry, red world. Spoiler Alert: NASA scientists really want to know why Mars lost its atmosphere way back when ... and what that might mean for us here on planet Earth. You'll find that video in the next posting up from this one. Enjoy!

Update, 11/19/13: NASA successfully launched the Maven robot explorer to Mars on 11/18/13. The trip will take ten months. Noted satellite and robot killer, Mars, responded, "Bring it!" Only time will tell whether human technology or the planet named for the god of war will win this contest.
Maven launches successfully on 11/18/13 for ten month Mars journey.
Image courtesy of NASA

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Flat Tire's Rim Stuck to Hub: How To Loosen It and Actually Change That Flat Tire?!?

The other day, we had a flat on my beloved Yaris. Front passenger's side tire, dead and gone. I used this as a teaching experience for one of our children, who is currently being taught how to drive by yours truly. We did all that was required ... I've done this a few times before and reached the point where the lug nuts had been removed, placed into the hubcap, made the obligatory "Oh, fudge!" joke from the movie A Christmas Story, and ... the rim would not come off of the hub. That small, seemingly innocuous, circular opening in the center of the rim was somehow, seemingly malevolently and magically sealed to the jutting center of the hub. Pull, push, tap with the lug wrench, kick with the feet, put all my weight behind it while keeping an eye on that jack ... NOTHING! It would not move. My teachable moment was taking on new and uncomfortable dimensions.

Now, let's step away from this scene for a moment. After it was all over and the full-sized flat was replaced with the dinky, donut emergency spare I went online to see what others had done. On one Q. & A. bulletin board, I found a lot of suggestions featuring rubber mallets, construction boots, driving the car around without the lug nuts to loosen the rim (YOW), and more. But, I digress ...

Now, returning to the problem. A little back story: my wonderful wife is a farm girl, born and raised. She has a no-nonsense approach to machinery. Car companies, don't bother with your shiny sales approaches about how your car will raise the new owner's status, get them noticed at the office, on the road, by beautiful people ... none of that works. She wants to know about the mechanics, about what's under the hood, and especially about how long that vehicle will last. We kept a Mercury Tracer station wagon for most of its nineteen years ... that's what I'm talkin' about. Now, she suggested a little WD-40 on the offending junction between rim and hub. I knew better than to argue ... besides all else had already failed. Out came the little can with the long, skinny nozzle designed to reach tight places. The lubricant was applied to the rim and hub juncture and apparently acted as advertised, penetrating whatever was fused ... Instantly, and I mean instantly, the rim fell away from the hub without any further coaxing. So, my advice to you ... keep one of those small spray cans of WD-40 in your glove box for just such emergencies. It'll beat the heck out of kicking the crap out of your rim and possibly spraining your ankle in the process some dark night on the edge of a deserted highway.

That was truly a teachable moment.

Happy motoring!

Now, to change the Yaris tire, you'll need to find where Toyota stored the jack, see:
To turn off the Toyota Yaris Maintenance Required light, see:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Contribute To Philippines Super Typhoon Haiyan Disaster Relief Funding

I hate the helpless feeling that comes in the wake of a large natural disaster. It is horrible to watch people suffer and feel as if there is nothing you can do. Well, that's not true in the case of the people of the Philippines in the wake of super typhoon Haiyan. The representative from the Philippines to the UN Climate Change conference broke down in tears and declared he would go on a hunger strike until the conferees decided to take decisive action against the warming of the planet, which traps heat in the Pacific Ocean and creates conditions ripe for massive storms like Haiyans that kill people in the tens of thousands when they hit land. For the rest of us, we can contribute financial resources to the rescue operations currently underway in those ravaged islands. We can send money through American Baptist Churches USA's International Ministries program that is going to get where it needs to go. Doing so will help those in dire need and allow you to feel you are not entirely helpless in the storm's aftermath. Here's what ABC USA is doing and what they have to say about your contribution: 

Super typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippine islands last weekend with devastating force.  The Philippine Red Cross estimates that at least 1,200 people were killed by the storm. That number could grow as officials make their way to remote areas made nearly inaccessible by Haiyan. International Ministries missionaries in the Philippines, Debbie Mulneix, Jonathan and Thelma Nambu, have been contacted by IM and are safe.

In response to this disaster, $10,000 in emergency relief funds is being sent from One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) to help victims of this massive typhoon.

“IM partners, the Convention of Philippines Baptist Churches (CPBC) and Philippine Baptist Church Development Ministries, in coordination with the Asia Pacific Baptist Aid of Asia Pacific Baptist Federation, received requests for relief in the hardest hit areas in the provinces of Capiz, Iloilo and North Negros where the majority of CPBC churches are situated,” reported Dr. Ben Chan, IM area director for East Asia, India, Hong Kong and China. “CPBC would like to assist in the immediate needs of families by providing food, drinking water, blankets and mats.  The relief operation is difficult because of roads destroyed and flooded. Many areas could not be reached yet. Also electricity and communication line are damaged. CPBC is coordinating with government officials to be able to reach the affected areas."

U.S. and Puerto Rico churches are asked to keep the victims, their families, their churches and the Filipino churches in the U.S. in prayer. Additional financial relief aid is urgently needed. To make a tax-deductible contribution online go to  To make a contribution by mail, write a check payable to International Ministries and write on the memo line: "OGHS-PHILIPPINES TYPHOON RELIEF.” Mail it to IM, P.O. Box 851, Valley Forge, PA 10482 or give through your church, designating your gift for OGHS – Philippines Typhoon Relief.

One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) is administered by the World Relief Committee of the Board of General Ministries of American Baptist Churches USA. The Committee facilitates American Baptist emergency relief, disaster rehabilitation, refugee work and the development of assistance by establishing policy guidelines and overseeing distribution of the annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering received by churches.  Learn more:

For a related post, see:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Helping Homeless Veterans on Veterans Day

I had two veteran uncles in my family when I was growing up. One is still with us, the veteran of Korea, while the veteran of World War II has gone on ahead to reconnoiter the new heaven and the new earth ahead of the rest of us. I had an ancestor captured during the Civil War who died in an attempt to escape the notorious Andersonville prison. I've known veterans of wars and I honor them today. However, I think we need to turn to some practical expressions of our appreciation today and throughout the year.

According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, in a rough estimate, over 62,600 veterans of our wars are homeless today. About 13% of the homeless population are veterans of all our wars from World War II on up to the present day. These vets suffer from PTSD, addiction, war-related physical disability and the trauma that goes along with it, a difficult jobs future, high home prices, and the lack of a supportive family safety net. Roughly 1.4 million additional veterans are at risk of becoming homeless in the near future. Does this seem right to you? I didn't think so.

What can we do this Veterans Day to help? Work with local organizations to help homeless and at risk veterans in your neighborhood. Apparently, local community, non-profit, "veterans helping veterans" groups work best, where vets can live in group, transitional housing, with vets who are recovering and having success in returning to a more constructive future. Your "to do" list to help includes contacting your mayor's office to find what organizations are providing help in your community or searching the NCHV database (see below) for that information. Join such an organization in your town and begin working with like-minded people. Participate in homeless veteran coalitions, donate to your local non-profit, and then get a hold of your politicians and ask for more help. For more information, see: Another source to check today and often is the National Alliance to End Homelessness: They have some constructive ideas as well for broad-based policies that will require your help, contacting and recontacting often your politicians to implement. Go to that site as well and see what else you can do.

I can't think of a better way to honor the sacrifices made by the veterans who have laid down their lives and those who returned after defending our freedoms. Wishing you all a reflective and action-oriented Veterans Day.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Prayers for the People of the Philippines Today

Image of Typhoon Haiyan bearing down on the Philippines, Nov. 6, 2013, 11:35 PM EDT.
Taken by MODIS instrument aboard NASA's Aqua satellite.
Image Credit: 
NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
Our prayers today go out to the people of the Philippines who are being hit today by one of the most powerful typhoons on record, called a "super typhoon" by NASA. With maximum sustained winds of 195 m.p.h. and gusts to 235 m.p.h., there will be "catastrophic damage" according to one weather expert. There are not many structures out there that can withstand this kind of pounding. It looks like the capital, Manilia, will be spared, but many coastal areas will not. Towns and villages along the coast have been evacuated, moving over 125,000 people inland. We pray this was enough and that the storm will not reach the anticipated heights and destructive potential. We also pray for those in Vietnam who will be next hit by this storm and for all the crews of all the ships at sea that are in this storm's way.

Be safe all those in the path of the storm.

They say one of the chief characteristics of global warming will be more violent weather, both hot and cold, wind, rain, snow, sleet, whatever. Let's also pray we have not already sown the seeds of our own destruction in the years to come. I heard one report stating that in roughly 50 years many of the lowland areas on coasts will need to be abandoned in the face of increasingly savage weather. The population displacement and hardship will be massive, if this proves true.

Best of luck to you, people of the Philippines and Vietnam, and all fisher folk. To the rest of the world, be ready to help in the wake of this catastrophe.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Earth-like Planets Abound in Milky Way ... Scientists Consider Warp Drive!

Photo courtesy of NASA
One in five stars like our sun is predicted to have planets like earth. That means they are in the "goldilocks" zone orbiting their star where it is not to cold or too hot, they have earth-like (pre-global warming earth-like) temperatures, liquid water, and the potential to support life. They are your "M Class" planets to unlimber the Star Trek lingo. Going strictly with sun-like stars, that gives us about four billion other earths floating around out there in our galaxy alone.

And that doesn't include the red dwarf stars the Kepler Space Telescope discovered have planets as well. Those cooler, dimmer stars burn longer, are far more abundant in the galaxy, and have the potential for many more earths with longer lives than ours. Imagine what sort of complex life could develop on such worlds over the additional billions of years available to them.

For any sci-fi geek, this is the sort of announcement you live for. And living in the new golden age of astronomy, they just keep coming. Now, excuse me for a moment while I get petty here. I'm taking a deep breath and I just have to say it:

HA! Take that old fogey science guys from when I was growing up! Dashing my sci-fi fueled hopes that there is abundant life out in the galaxy with your dried up predictions that there are NO other worlds outside of our solar system. I'm so glad you were WRONG!!!

There, I feel better.

To add fuel to the fire, NASA is working on warp drive. Yes, that's right, warp drive. It's being discussed and explored by NASA's Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program. I saw some articles on this popping up this year ... and frankly I didn't believe it. That was just too good to be true, but here's a link from NASA (very carefully worded and tamping down any expectations, but it's here):

The convergence of these two stories is just too good! Oh yes, and the closest potential system with an earth-like world is a mere twelve light years away.

Could we work a little faster on that warp drive, NASA? We've got places to boldly go!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Compassion, the Watch Word For Authority Figures in the Church: Good News from Christianity

When I started seminary in 2005, Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride was just being released. In it, the parish priest was voiced by the ever scary Christopher Lee. His character was stern, using his symbolic shepherd's staff not to remind himself to guide his flock like the Good Shepherd, but as a weapon to whack the main character, voiced by Johnny Depp, over the head when he forgot his wedding vows. The church was tall, dark, and grim, much like its leader. I knew then that as a pastor-to-be myself that I'd have my work cut out for me, since that quick representation seemed to sum up what most of American and much of the Western world sees when they think of ministers of any stripe.

We have so much work to do. Much of it is of our own making. When the far right of Christianity was kicking up a fuss, the rest of us remained silent. When the far left "new" atheists caricatured us all as far right conservatives, again we said nothing ... or little enough in any platform that reached people in numbers. Now, we have a huge hole to dig out of.

Here's where theologian Henri Nouwen states we may start, as written in his insightful devotional Bread for the Journey:
The Church often wounds us deeply. People with religious authority often wound us by their words, attitudes, and demands. Precisely because our religion brings us in touch with the questions of life and death, our religious sensibilities can get hurt most easily. Ministers and priests seldom fully realize how a critical remark, a gesture of rejection, or an act of impatience can be remembered for life by those to whom it is directed. 
There is such an enormous hunger for meaning in life, for comfort and consolation, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for restoration and healing, that anyone who has an authority in the Church should constantly be reminded that the best word to characterize religious authority is compassion. Let's keep looking at Jesus, whose authority was expressed in compassion.

Let's take compassion to the world. Let's ask for forgiveness from those whom have been hurt by any member of the Christian community, including leaders, whether it was deliberate or through a misplaced word or gesture at the end of a long and frustrating day. Let's listen to the complaints and fears of the community with compassion and respond with compassionate concern and care. Let's see how much of the stereotyping that has been forced upon us unwanted can be removed with Christ-like compassion.

Good luck.