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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Rent This Video!

I don't recommend a whole lot of movies to people because I don't watch a whole lot of movies that other people enjoy :-)

However, I'd like to recommend and encourage you to get a hold of a copy of a documentary entitled: Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Hosted by Ben Stein (the guy who does the Visine commercials), this video raises the very valid issue that evolution is bologna.

I could go on and on about this, but the DVD speaks for itself. If you're concerned about the stifling grip that liberalism and atheism have on public debate and education, you'll want to pick this up. I've seen it available at Family Video Stores, through and at libraries.

You'll have your eyes opened and your faith strengthened.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ten Bonuses of Rural Living

A year or two ago, our niece, April, had an itch to move to a small town. April was born and bred a country girl, the daughter of a hog farmer and a school marm, on one of those farm places where the phone company is from one town, the schools in another, and the post office is another.

However, she went to college at Butler (Indiana's answer to Yale*) in Indianapolis and never looked back. She became thoroughly urbanized, getting involved in things like 'sororities' and 'musical theater' and 'graduate school'. She married a guy who also left "Green Acres," and moved to a 'vinyl village' with her husband and two boys in an upwardly mobile suburb of Indianapolis.**

Anyhow, when the itch hit her, she decided to run her ideas by Karen and me. After all, we live in rural Indiana by choice. I'm sure to a girl looking to re-connect with her country roots, we must have appeared to be living the dream.

While helping April make her decision, I came up with some bonuses to rural living. I'd like to share them with you.

1) The Commute. When I drive to work, I drive 20 minutes through green fields, woods, over rivers and streams. I see wildlife - turkeys, foxes, deer, snapping turtles, quail. I don't have to drive to the country to see the changing colors in autumn. The sky is huge and there's little enough traffic to drive slowly and enjoy it.

2) The People. In rural communities, you can't really say anything about anyone because everyone is related to someone somehow. That may sound a little confining, until you realize that the converse is also true: people know you and care about you. They may know more about my business than I'd really like, but they also know enough to be there when I need them.

3) The Shopping. It's no secret that Wal-Mart is the great merchandiser in rural areas. However, they're not the only ones. There are still hardware stores, where the clerks know your name and have an idea of what you're after. TSC (Tractor Supply) and Rural King thrive and we have smaller, lesser known department stores: Alco, Pamida, Dollar General. Nothing beats filling the cart with bargains at Dollar General. We wear labels like Carharrt, Dickies, Red Wing and Harley-Davidson.

4) The History. Rural Indiana is dotted with accessible, living history. Cities put history in museums, but in the country, you can walk through cemeteries that are 150 years old; you'll recognize names that are still alive and vital in the community. You can see the houses that have hosted generations of the same family. There are places like the covered bridge (above) that you simply run across on a quiet drive on a Sunday afternoon.

5) The News. I was having coffee one morning in the restaurant here in Roann and the man at the table next to mine folded up the newspaper he had been reading. Mildly disgusted, he said to me, "There's nothing in this paper." "Isn't that why we live here?" I asked him in response. He agreed. It's true that no news is good news and I'd rather keep the things that make news at arms length.

6) The Perspective. It always cracks me up when I hear the national news folks describe a place like Fort Wayne (pop. 275,000) as a "small town." For us, Fort Wayne is the big city. Our town of 400 souls is big enough, thank you. We can find everything we need in the town where Karen and I work - pop. 6,000 - or in the county seat - pop. 11,000. Maybe the biggest effect this has on 'perspective' is in the statement 'everything we need'. One of the bonuses of rural life is that you go to the city and find that there's an awful lot of stuff out there you don't need.

7) Priorities. Living in the country means that there is distance between people and places and decisions have to be made with that in mind. When we go to town, we try to make it worthwhile. It's not like running down the block to CVS to pick something up. Rural living means that more time is spent at home and more time is spent with each other. Entertaining family and friends at home is still common. Most country people eat out, but we also put a premium on eating at home, too. (A phenomenon the New York Times recently labeled "eating in." Sheesh.)

8) Church. Christianity is still the norm in rural Indiana. We sometimes take it for granted. Even those who don't go to Church (and there are plenty of them) respect the Church and what it stands for. It sounds like a cliche, but we are indeed the people Mrs. Clinton indelicately described as holding on to our religion and our guns.

9) Sunrise and Sunset. The long black silhouette of the sunrise is the backdrop for my morning drive to work. Trees stretching up and out greet the pink of daybreak. Shadows of barns and grain bins break up the open spaces. But mostly there are open spaces. At sunset, the sky is so large that the moon is rising in the east while the sun sinks in the west. It happens every day and I can't get enough of it.

10) Soil. It seems that most people I know in rural Indiana have a connection to the soil. We plant gardens and flowere beds. We love the smell of newly plowed fields in spring. We talk about the weather, even if we're not farmers, because we know that things like rainfall and water tables affect farmers, and we all know them.

To my way of thinking, the benefits of rural living make this the best place to be.

* Butler is Indiana's Yale; the obvious 'Harvard' here is Notre Dame.
** They left the vinyl village a year or so ago and now live in a respectable tree-lined street, still in the 'burbs.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Praying for the New President

Unlike many other conservative Christians, I have never doubted the Christian faith of our new president, Barack Obama. I heard him share his testimony on NPR's "All Things Considered" one evening and I thought to myself, "I wish I knew more Christians who were as sincere and articulate about their faith as Barack Obama is."

As a conservative pastor, I have been inundated (as many people have) with concerns about the new president's connections to Islam, his former pastor Jeremiah Wright, and the liberal leanings of his denomination, the United Church of Christ. E-mails, web sites, mass mailings and phone trees have all done their best to impugn the faith of our new Commander in Chief.

But you would have had to have heard him on that radio program to understand where I'm coming from. Unlike many of Obama's speeches, that are long on rhetoric and short on content, the radio testimony he shared was deeply sincere. He hadn't been coached about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He hadn't run it through a focus group. He wasn't watching his words to avoid misstating something. It was simply, clearly, sincere.

That is why I choose to pray for him. I know that Mr. Obama and I don't agree on many things, especially abortion. But we also agree on a lot, especially the fact that he, as president, is still a subject of the God of Heaven.

I will pray for him as he makes decisions - the right decisions - about abortion. I will ask God to move his heart to keep tight restrictions on funding for programs that endanger human life from the moment of conception.

I will pray for his family. As President Bush stated (in a rare moment of eloquence), when the stress of being president gets to Mr. Obama, "he is only a 45 second commute from a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters who love him dearly." They will need our prayers as they see their husband and father walk into the lions' den that is Washington D.C. They will need our prayers for protection: who of us would put our young children in harm's way the way the president's daughters will be?

Mostly, I will pray that being president will be an experience of humble service to God. It seems ironic to me that presidents most cherished by we conservatives (Reagan and the Bushes) are not known for their regular Church attendance, yet presidents reviled by many conservatives (Carter, Clinton and now Obama) are unflinchingly regular in their Church attendance. My hope is that the faith about which I heard Obama speak on the radio will be deepened, strengthened, and revived through his term as president.

Make no mistake about it, I have very high anxiety about our new preisdent. Unlike nearly everyone I talk to, I am not ecstatic about this 'historic occasion'. I am worried about the strength of our relationship with Israel. I am concerned that taxes will increase. I felt that President Bush's faith-based initiatives were good and should be expanded and I'm afraid Obama will end them. I am opposed to reinstitution of the military draft and gays in the military.

But I thank God for the United States and for the smooth transition of power. I believe that God's hand was in Barack Obama's election and that he is the right man for the hour, whether or not I agree with him (or he with me). If we believe the Bible, we will follow the direction of the Apostle St. Peter to "honor all men; love the brotherhood; fear God; honor the king" (I Peter 2:17).

So join me in praying for Obama and his family, won't you? And may these next four years will be years of God's blessing on our nation.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Going Public With New Year's Resolutions

It's questionable enough to make New Year's resolutions, but it's pretty close to foolish to make the resolutions public.

However, I am both questionable (at times) and foolish (much of the time), so I thought I'd share what I'm thinking about for 2009.

First, I'm making two personal resolutions. The first is to taper down my television viewing to just one hour a day. TV is a personal weakness and I have often neglected other things in order to accommodate my TV schedule. I don't have any delusions about eliminating TV altogether, but I really need to cut back. (The TV is off at the moment, thank you very much.)

The second personal resolution is to get my 50 year old physical and track my health better. There are particular aspects to the 50 year old physical that will make this difficult to accomplish, however, it needs to be done.

Next, I'm making two professional resolutions for my work at Timbercrest. The first is to finish the paperwork necessary for my National Certification. I don't know why this is so hard to do. It's just paper. But it's so easy to put off.

My second professional resolution is to take all my vacation time. And comp time. I am notoriously negligent of my own needs for rest, yet I preach it all the time to my staff. In 2008 I only took about two and a half of four weeks available to me and barely claimed the comp time I should have. The price has been excessive weariness and chronic ennui. The people who live at Timbercrest and the people with whom I work deserve better.

Next, I'm making two professional resolutions as pastor of Peoria Church. The first one is to try and better equip Church members for the disciplines of living the Christian life. I think this will mean better connecting both Word and Sacrament to people's lives, their families, jobs, homes, friendships, etc. In order to do this better, I'm going to have to work on this better myself.

My second pastoral resolution is related to my second Timbercrest resolution: taking better care of myself spiritually. To this point, my pattern is to get all spiritually fired up during the "fasting seasons" - Advent, Lent, Sts. Peter and Paul, and Dormition - and then let those times carry me through the rest of the year. Of course the problem is one of balance. So, I need to practice ways of maintaining a sense of spiritual balance all year. (I already know plenty of ways to do that - it's the practice of them that I need.)

Finally, and certainly not the least important, are my two resolutions relating to Karen. I'm listing these last because I think if I can make a dent in any of the ones above, then I'll be doing a lot toward being a better husband. Watching less TV, keeping better care of my health, taking more breaks from work, and developing better habits spiritually should all help in the husband department.

But I have two specific resolutions relating to Karen. The first is to be more open to her needs for quiet time. I tend to want to fill the empty spaces with jabber. I need to develop more respect for her needs to unwind from work, where her full roster of special needs children keeps her busy.

My second "Karen" resolution is to keep up with the garden this year. In the last several years, our perennial flowerbed has been a nice way of beautifying our home, but in 2008 I let it get away from me. It became a large weed bed more than anything. So this year, it's back to the flowers. I want to create a better quiet space for Karen outdoors - she loves to sit on the swing and enjoy the view.

So that's it. "No resolutions for your kids?" you might ask. Nope. I think if I can work on any one of these, I'll be going the right direction to being a better father, too. And besides, they're adults now: they should be making resolutions for me, right? :-)