"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded.
And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager

With Ya, my Ga tutor in Mallam
The Rev. Mike Kinman
Executive Director
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation
Age: 38

Check out Forsyth School ...
where Robin teaches and
the boys attend.

Since you're already blowing time surfing,
why not do some cool stuff

  • Watch the Make Poverty History videos
  • Watch Sara McLachlan's "World on Fire" video
  • Take a seat at Oxfam America's Hunger Banquet
  • Look at the "Eight Ways to Change The World" photo exhibition
  • See how rich you are on the Global Rich List
  • Make a promise to do something cool -- and get people to do it with you
  • Use your computer to fight HIV/AIDS and other diseases

    While you're at it, do these things
  • Join the ONE Campaign to Make Poverty History
  • Join the Episcopal Public Policy Network
  • Join Amnesty International
  • Subscribe to Sojourners Online newsletter about faith, politics and culture
  • Sign the Micah Call and join other Christians in the fight against poverty
  • Subscribe to a great new magazine about women and children transforming our world

    People who show us What One Person Can Do
  • Liza Koerner (Teaching soccer and doing mission work in Costa Rica)
  • Erica Trapps (Raising money so Tanzanian children can go to school -- check out her photo gallery)

    What's happening in Sudan might
    surprise (and shock) you

  • Episcopal Diocese of Lui
  • South Sudanese Friends International
  • The Sudan Tribune
  • SudanReeves -- research, analysis and advocacy
  • Save Darfur
  • Darfur: a genocide we can stop

    For your daily fix on the irreverent...
  • Jesus of the Week
  • The Onion

    Interesting People Who Are Great To Read
  • Beth Maynard's excellent U2 sermons blog
  • Global Voices Online
  • Neha Viswanathan - poetry, commentary, humor, reflections

    Some interesting organizations and programs
  • Borgen Project - poverty reduction through political accountability
  • CARE
  • Center of Concern
  • DATA: Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa (Bono's site)
  • El Circulo de Mujeres/Circle of Women
  • Engineering Ministries International
  • Episcopal Peace Fellowship
  • Episcopal Relief and Development
  • FreshMinistries
  • Global Campaign Against Poverty
  • Global Ministries
  • Global Work Ethic Fund -- Promoting philanthropy and fundraising in developing and transition countries.
  • Karen Emergency Relief Fund
  • Magdalene House
  • The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
  • Natural Capitalism
  • NetMarkAid - Humanitarian Entrepreneurs
  • North American Association for the Diaconate
  • Peace Child International
  • People Building Peace
  • Project Honduras
  • Results - Creating political will to end hunger
  • St. Paul's Institute
  • Stop Global AIDS
  • TakingITGlobal -- connecting youth for action in local and global communities
  • Tanzania Educational AIDS Mission
  • TEAR (Transformation, Empowerment, Advocacy, Relief) - An Australian Christian anti-poverty movement
  • Working For Change
  • Xigi.net -- an open-source tool to aid discovery in the capital markets that fund good.

    Some Episcopal churches and dioceses doing cool things
  • Companions of Swaziland - Diocese of Iowa's Companion Relationship
  • International Development Missions -- St. Paul's Church, Sparks, NV
  • The Malaria Villages Project - St. Paul's Church, West Whiteland, PA

    Must-read books and websites about them
  • What Can One Person Do: faith to heal a broken world -- Sabina Alkire & Edmund Newell
  • The End of Poverty -- Jeffrey Sachs

    Learn more about things you really should know more about
  • UN Millenium Development Goals
  • The Millennium Campaign
  • AIDS Matters - a resource for global AIDS professionals
  • Christian Aid's in-depth report: "Millennium Lottery: Who lives and who dies in an age of third world debt?"
  • Foreign Policy In Focus
  • Poverty Mapping
  • Solutions for a water-short world
  • Transparency International: The global coalition against corruption
  • UNICEF's State of The World's Children report 2005

    General cool and/or goofy stuff
  • Alicebot chat robot
  • Bono Quotes -- but what's really wild is that it's from a page on Boycottliberalism.com!
  • Buffy Slanguage
  • Big Bunny

    Useful web tools
  • Gcast - make your own podcast
  • Podzinger - podcast search engine
  • Orb - streaming digital media

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    Listed on Blogwise
  • Thursday, April 29, 2004
    I've been reading a lot of Desmond Tutu's writings recently. Because of Hays Rockwell's friendship with him, we were blessed to have him as a semi-regular visitor in our diocese over the past 12 years or so. He is one of those people who has an otherworldly sense about him -- he is truly plugged into the divine and it just shows in everything about him, but most of all in his childlike joy.

    All I am coming to believe about our need for each other ... a need that crosses every kind of boundary we can set up between each other ... is the truth that he and others before him (Christ, Gandhi, King) have discovered in far more profound ways.

    I got an email from James today. He's mapping out my time in Ghana and has a basic itinerary for me. I've got plane tickets and visa and proof of vaccination and all the stuff I'm going to need and even someone to pick me up at the airport in Accra. It's exciting, but as I looked at the itinerary that has me traveling all over the country not once but twice (once with Robin when she comes), all I could think about was the people I am going to meet whom I haven't met yet but whose lives will touch mine just as mine will touch theirs. I think about what they are going to teach me about Christ. What they are going to teach me about God as revealed in their lives. And what I, if I can let go and let God flow through me, that I can bring them.

    I'm already feeling like I have brothers and sisters in Ghana. James, certainly, since we have shared meals and conversations together, but also the people he has told me about and now these people I can only imagine, people that in less than six weeks I will be sharing meals and conversations and prayers with.

    And even in the thinking about it, the truth hits home a little further. It's not the building of the friendship, the sharing of meals and conversations, the time spent together that makes us brothers and sisters. All that stuff is wonderful and it strengthens the bonds and helps us live into being brothers and sisters ... but God made us brothers and sisters from the beginning. I am going to meet new friends but old family. And just as part of me comes from my dad and mom and my brother, there is a way that my humanity is not complete without them -- whether I've met them or not, whether I know they exist or not. And somehow, I delve deeper into my humanity and all its potential when I strengthen those relationships.

    Desmond Tutu uses the word ubuntu for this. Roughly translated, it means "humanity" but his usage of it comes from a Xhosa proverb (Tutu's tribe) "ubuntu ungamntu ngabanye abantu" or "each individual's humanity is ideally expressed in relationship with others" or "a person depends on other people to be a person."

    What works in the micro is true in the macro. One of the joys of the years I have spent in our campus community is discovering how we are something much greater than the sum of our parts. That somehow, together, we become human, made in God's image, in deeper more profound ways that we can by ourselves. If this is true, if this is our experience as a small community ... how powerful and profound a truth will it be when we live it out globally. Or even set aside globally for now. How powerful and profound a truth will it be when we fully live it out on campus ... when we care for the maintenance workers and people who work at Bear's Den and the construction workers and the unpopular and lonely and everyone else as if they were our brothers and sisters because they are.

    Steve Scharre's favorite phrase is "every person has a story." I remind myself of it as often as I can, because it reminds me how valuable each person and their story is. What's really true ... and what is so amazingly cool ... is that every person does have a story that is uniquely theirs -- and that story is my story, too.
    Mike at 4/29/2004 10:45:00 PM

    Wednesday, April 28, 2004
    I keep reposting comments in the main blog because 1) they're good comments; 2) my responses (surprise) are longer than looks good in a comment; and 3) my comments feature seems to be working only half the time.

    So, Hopie said: "Within Diocesan Council, we break up into different mission groups (like Youth and Campus Ministry, Clergy and their Families, etc.) and we decide individual budgets for each program. We then bring our budget cuts back to the large group and make a case for them. There have been countless times when you, Mike, have said to the rest of our group that we need to fight for the campus ministry budget-- that they can't take another penny away from us. In our fighting for money, we were implicitly saying that we should get more than others. Doesn't this go against your argument about sharing the wealth with ALL our Christian brothers and sisters? Do we distribute everything so everyone gets a little, or do we concentrate our giving to make more of an impact?

    "I think it comes down to a matter of prioritization. People need jobs in America, and people need jobs abroad. The question is who to feed first. And you can only go so long before you have to answer that question."

    This is really good. It just keeps getting more complicated.

    The main reason I have fought for the campus ministry budget is that I believe funding campus ministry at that level is in the long-term best interests of the whole church and because traditionally it has been one of the first budgets to get cut because it is an area that doesn't see immediate financial payback. Now, if I'm going to be completely honest, it's also easy to lead that fight because it involves people and ministry I care about. Using that example, I would say that the principle is still right -- but there have probably been times where my actions have been wrong ... where I should have been more of a team player. These things are really, really tough and I screw them up as much as anyone.

    But the larger issue is the scarcity/abundance issue. People need jobs everywhere and we have ministry all over the diocese that needs funding. Now if there was only a limited amount of wealth, we would have to prioritize -- not only in terms of who got it first, but who got it at all. The thing is, in both cases, there is more than enough wealth to go around -- in both cases the wealth is in the pockets of those who have it and they are holding on to it. Economist Jeffrey Sachs has said (and he's the expert) that this is the first time in human history that we have the combination of the wealth, technology and capacity to END extreme poverty. There is no scarcity of anything except willingness of those who have an overabundance to give to those who are in scarcity. Same on the diocesan level. St. Michael and St. George's (the wealthiest parish in the diocese) stewardship materials a couple years back had a great graphic that showed what a tithe of someone living at the poverty level would be and what the average pledge of an SMSG parishioner was -- the parishioner's was less. There is no scarcity of anything except the willingness of those who have an overabundance to give to those who are in scarcity.

    That doesn't get around your question of whom to feed first. Even with abundance, you have to answer that question unless you have the capacity to snap your fingers and make everything wonderful at once -- which, of course, we don't. But that question is a lot easier if we have the dedication of the people who are being fed, who are being employed, to spend their energy not building up more wealth for themselves but making sure that although they are fed first, that they are not the last, that the circle keeps expanding.

    And the even larger issue is as profoundly spiritual as it gets. It's about who our God is and whether we allow ourselves to be disciples and lovers of the one, true and living God. When we hoarde wealth in its many forms, when we hold onto more than our share. When our neighbor asks us for our coats and we turn away, we are acting as if we are God ... as if we are dependent on ourselves for all that matters in life, as if we have to defend what is ours because we might not get any more. If we are to follow the God who became human in Christ, who gave the divine self to humanity in the most profound way I can imagine, then we need to strive for the same trust and nonattachment that God in Christ showed.

    That's terrifying. Christ put himself in humanity's hands and humanity killed him! This isn't Joyce Meyer Ministries saying that if you give me $1000, you'll get $5000 back. There are no guarantees that if we live this way we won't lose everything and die. The only guarantee we have is that even if that happens we will not have lost what is most important and, in fact, we will have gained our soul, gained life that is eternal not just in length but in depth. The only guarantee we have is Easter, the empty tomb and a Christ who appears to us and shows us his wounds and says "Do you love me? Feed my sheep."

    I am SO bad at this. I look around my bedroom as I write this and I have so much stuff that I don't need. And I can use my wife and family as an excuse for holding onto it, but the truth is I am just learning about sacrifice myself. I can say that I do give 10% of my income not because God is short of cash but because I am paying the ransom on my soul ... a soul that is more often than not owned not by Christ but by my lifestyle, my wealth and my comfort. I am tryinig, little by little, in ways far from heroic, to change. To be a better team player. To not hold on so tightly to the fiction of "what is mine." To trust God. To let go.

    It does come down to prioritization. Who are we going to put first? Are we going to put ourselves or someone else. Hopie is right ... even in a world of abundance, there are tough decisions to make. And if we make them by the American rule of law, which is a damn good rule of law, we can choose putting ourselves first and rationalize it and legitimize it and be completely in the right. But we're supposed to follow a higher rule ... the rule of Christ, the rule of our baptism. That means putting others first and trusting that Christ will provide. Maybe that means the next time I'm at a Council meeting and there's a choice between cutting campus ministry and some other program, we should volunteer to fall on the sword ourselves and trust that God will provide -- and live as an example of how we feel the body of Christ should be.

    I'll have to think about it. But something tells me that's right.

    What does everyone else think?
    Mike at 4/28/2004 12:29:00 PM

    Tuesday, April 27, 2004
    Hopie Welles and Beth Maynard made good comments on my last post:

    Hopie - "This all said by a man who has no risk of losing his job to a priest in India. For the most part, I agree, Mike. But it's just so painful when someone you love is constantly waiting for the phonecall telling him that someone else has his job now, and he has none."

    Beth - "I know *shamelessly* little about all this. But isn't part of the problem (tho perhaps not in the minds of the people you're referring to) that jobs in the US come with the requirement of a minimum wage and some benefits and so on... whereas closing plants here in favor of opening them in developing countries means companies can pay very low wages and ignore the rights of their employees?"

    Yeah, it is easy for me to say. But I hope I would say it even it it weren't. I hope I would say it if my job were being taken by a priest in India. Because whether it's easy or hard to say, I believe it's true.

    And it is painful when it effects us or people we love. But what Christ calls us to do is to look beyond caring just for those we love to caring for those he loves -- everyone. It's very hard to do ... which is why, I suppose, we don't talk that much about it in terms like this. We're told that "charity begins at home" and things like that, and that sounds really good because we don't have to look at the people who aren't at home.

    The larger issue -- and one that is just part of human nature -- is that it's really, really tough to remember and even tougher to act as if EVERY life has equal value. Because people we know and love have more effect on our lives and thus more value to us, it's natural to value them above others whom we don't know. I will hope that one of our students gets a great scholarship to grad school even though that would mean that someone else wouldn't get that scholarship. Am I wrong in hoping for that scholarship. Well, yes and no. I don't think it's wrong to wish good for a person. I think it's very human to want people we love to prosper. But as Christians we have a higher calling and that calling is to transcend our view and ascend to a Christ's-eye view of things, working and praying for justice for all and that God's will -- which is a will which values all equally -- will be done.

    As far as Beth's comments, yes, outsourcing is almost always done because labor is cheaper in countries that don't have our labor standards. But the answer there is not to use that as an excuse for keeping what we have but for using the leverage companies have with countries that really want their business to get those countries to raise their standards, to institute enforceable rights for workers. Unfortunately, this means asking companies to be Christlike -- to sacrifice short-term financial gain for themselves in order to use their power to make the world a more just place.

    "Right! Like that'll happen." is my first response. Until I remember that companies are made of people. And people are inherently good. And good people, when convinced of their call to and ability to do good, often do amazing things. Until I remember that the people who are going to be running those companies the next 10,20, 50 years are the same people who show up at Rockwell House on Wednesday night, the same people who went to Nashville to be with the women of Magdala, the same people who volunteer with "each one, teach one" or at the juvenile detention center.

    Our faith is a faith of conversion. Not of building up numbers on membership rolls but of conversion of heart -- of taking our hearts of stone and having them replaced with hearts of flesh. Of God looking at the dry bones of a society that often seems dead to the needs of any but itself and saying "give these bones life" and then coming down among us to show us what life looks like and then pointing to all of us and saying we are that Body of life.
    Mike at 4/27/2004 11:26:00 AM

    Monday, April 26, 2004
    We think so small.

    I was listening to the news a couple days ago and they were talking about outsourcing -- the buzz word for jobs leaving the U.S. and going to other countries. It's one of the big issues right now, especially with the election coming up, and the basic theme of everyone talking about it is how we need to keep jobs in America.

    My question is: Why?

    The only way you have that line of thinking is if you consider "us" as America instead of the real truth, which is us = everyone, the whole world. You see it on a smaller level, too. We fear companies leaving St. Louis for San Antonio the same way we fear them leaving for Calcutta. Both are mistakes. Everywhere -- be it St. Louis, San Antonio, Calcutta or wherever -- is populated by children of God, our sisters and brothers. And we all need jobs, health care, food, shelter, clothing, education.

    When Jesus passed the cup around at supper with his friends, he didn't say "this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for people who live around here" ... he said "shed for you and for MANY ... for ALL."

    Christianity is the most ubiquitous religion in the world -- spread further than any other faith. And at the center of our faith is our belief in our unity as God's children. Our belief that "us" isn't one town or state or even nation ... but all of creation.

    And still, we think so small. And it's up to us as Christians to broaded our thinking.

    It starts in small ways. Like the next time you hear someone talk about how terrible it is that these jobs are leaving to go to India, stopping and saying:

    "Tell me why this is a bad thing? Don't my sisters and brothers in India need jobs, too?"
    Mike at 4/26/2004 09:02:00 PM

    Tuesday, April 20, 2004
    Whoever named it the "terrible TWOs" needed to check their calendar

    The truth must be told:

    My lovely, adorable, laid-back son, Hayden is a holy terror! And, as we learned with Schroedter, this metamorphasis takes place not on his second birthday but sometime around 18-19 months.

    A primer on how to be Hayden:

    The "I'm hungry ... NOT" game
    Object of game: Drive Daddy insane.
    How to play: Ask to get in your feeding chair and once you're in, reach toward pantry/refrigerator clenching and unclenching hands and making "Uhh.. Uhh" sound. As Daddy goes through every item in both pantry and refrigerator and holds it out to you saying "do you want this?" convulsively shake whole body as if just offered a cup of cockroach poop. Continue to reach and grunt with increasing urgency until Daddy takes you out of chair, brings you over to food and asks you to point at what you want. Point at yogurt. Get excited when Daddy picks up yogurt and hands it to you. Wait until you are back in chair with opened yogurt and spoon on tray to repeat convulsion and push yogurt onto floor. (Alternate version - ask for peanut butter sandwich, after Daddy makes it, cuts it into quarters & puts it on tray ... feed to dog).

    The "All Done" game
    Object of game: Make greatest combination of loud noise/big mess
    How to play: After eating whatever amounts of various foods on your tray, scream "ALL DONE!!!" and throw food off tray onto floor. Extra points for milk bottle hitting dishwasher. Reminder: Feeding dog always more fun than feeding self.

    The "Journey through the Forbidden Zones" game
    Object of game: In as rapid succession as possibile, travel to areas of house where likelihood of damage to self, others and house itself is greatest.
    How to play: Begin in downstairs bathroom (no toilet seat lock because of brother). Climb toilet seat, turn on sink faucets and stick brother's toothbrush in mouth. When dad comes in to get you down, scream briefly, then while he is rinsing off toothbrush, turn on hot water faucet for bathtub. When dad moves to turn it off, move back to toilet, raise lid and stick arm as far into toilet as possible. Scream when arm removed. While hand being washed, use other hand to turn faucets on full blast splashing water all over everyone and everything. Drag towel out of bathroom when leaving. Move to next zone as quickly as possible.
    Other zones:
    *Stove - do various combinations of opening oven/turning oven on/turning gas burners on/playing with stove & oven lights.
    *Dishwasher - Turn dial around and around. Open dishwasher and climb onto door, bouncing as much as possible to try to cause springs to break. Push carts back and forth. Play with silverware.
    *Lower kitchen cabinets -- take pots out of lazy susan that make the largest noise. Bang together loudly. Distribute throughout house.
    *Dining room/living room cabinets (old cabinets, baby locks don't fit) - take out anything glass and carry around house. Take out wine bottles and arrange on floor. Extra points for carrying bottle of Jamieson's Irish whisky to dog dish.
    *Floor air vents -- remove vent covers and distribute throughout house. Find common household objects to drop in vent holes.
    *Dog water dish -- swirl hand in, licking hand occasionally. Once bored, empty dish on self.
    *Hall phone -- pull cord so phone falls out of nook and onto floor/own head. Cry briefly before moving on to next zone.
    *Dad's bedside table -- Reset Dad's alarm to 3:24 am and turn volume up to full. Turn answering machine volume up to full and re-record greeting substituting intelligible directions with baby babble. Drool on Desmond Tutu's picture on book cover.
    Invent other zones as needed.
    Extra points for making it to the basement fireplace without being detected.

    IMPORTANT -- When Daddy is about to completely lose his cool and put you in your crib for 3 hours, sneak up behind him, throw arms around his legs, give big hug and look up at him with big, cute smile. Dad is a complete sucker and this will buy you 90 more minutes of mischief, easy.

    Mike at 4/20/2004 12:22:00 PM

    Friday, April 16, 2004
    I was at the Cardinals game Wednesday afternoon and the people behind me were discussing the president's press conference from the night before. It was a pretty typical conversation -- I got the feeling that the guy who was criticizing President Bush would have criticized him no matter what and ditto for the person defending him. But there was one comment that stuck with me and, sad to say, didn't surprise me. One of the guys asked the other what his wife thought about the press conference and he said, "Oh, she was just pissed that American Idol wasn't on."

    There was a big spread in this morning's USA Today about reality shows, how the stars of them are becoming A-list celebrities and how the ratings are through the roof for them and how the networks love it because they are so cheap.

    All my life, our connection to world events has primarily been through TV. And when that is the case -- and the rest of the TV is fiction -- it's too easy to blur that line between fantasy and reality. On one extreme you have the people who write letters to soap opera characters (not the actors, but the characters) and on the other you have viewing news as entertainment. "Reality" television has further blurred this by purporting to show something that is nonfiction as entertainment.

    I think if you ask most people, they will say that they know the difference between news and entertainment -- mostly because it sounds really stupid to say anything different. But I think the truth is far more subtle. Both are marketed to us in the same way. Both come to us through the same media. We invest ourselves emotionally and mentally in both (often more in the entertainment than in the news). Both allow us to feel like a part of what is happening while remaining detached from it. Both we can turn on and turn off as we please.

    What is sad and scary about the guy at the ballgame's comment is not that his wife was more interested in American Idol than the president's press conference ... but that there is virtually no difference between the two. Both are about marketing and entertainment. The war in Iraq was a ratings success and now, like many shows, its newness has worn off, the buzz is gone, people are tiring of it and some of the ACTUAL reality of the horror of it is starting to seep through -- but not too much, because the option to turn off is so easy.

    What is this year's presidential election to most people but another Kwame vs. Bill on "The Apprentice" -- will your guy win or not. I remember over Sunday night dinner at SMSG during the last presidential campaign, Noah Evans and I were talking about the candidates and he was talking about not only who the best candidates were but which race would be the most fun. "I'm a firm believer in politics as entertainment," he said.

    At the time, I laughed ... and really agreed with him. I get into politics and certainly am entertained by them. But maybe we've crossed a liine -- in fact, I think there's little "maybe" about it -- where it is almost all about entertainment, with the exception of the statistical minority who really care and are not so consumed by economic hopelessness that they believe caring has a point.

    I don't know where this is all headed, but it feels like an erosion of our nation from the inside. Two of our last four presidents have (George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) have been exceptionally intelligent people and two of them (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) have, while not being as stupid as some made them out to be, certainly not the sharpest knives in the drawer. That's not a good batting average. That's downright scary.

    There's a segment of the churchgoing population that argues that religion and politics should be kept separate. I couldn't disagree more. As a Christian, my baptismal covenant mandates that I be actively involved in the systems of this world, making them more loving and just. When we view REAL reality as entertainment, we objectify human beings every bit as much as when we support pornography, prostitution and kids in sweatshops sewing up Nikes.

    These are people's lives that are at stake here ... and because we are the body of Christ, that makes it OUR life, yours and mine. We must demand substance rather than entertainment ... and we can't just change the channel.
    Mike at 4/16/2004 10:23:00 AM

    Thursday, April 15, 2004
    I met Hyim (the rabbi from Hillel) for a beer last night at Blueberry Hill. It was good to have a prolonged conversation with someone over the age of five.

    Hyim once held the coolest job title I can possibly imagine. His first job out of rabbinical school was being the rabbi for all of India. Now, that's probably a heck of a job, but what a great thing to be able to put on your resume. I mean, some people's first job is with Congregation Beth Shalom. Hyim's first job -- Rabbi for India.

    We were talking about the Passion of the Christ movie (Hyim, Gary and John Lottes did a panel on campus about it a few weeks back). Hyim said he walked out of the movie after an hour ... not because of the violence or the anti-Semitism (though he said he really thought there was a lot of subtle anti-Semitism and obviously some not-so-subtle violence) but just because it was a really bad movie.

    Anyway, the whole thing led to this great conversation about theologies of atonement and what Christians believe. Hyim is one of the smartest, most learned people I know -- every time I hear him talk, I learn something about my own faith because he knows Judaism so amazingly well -- but he also doesn't know that much about Christianity, doesn't pretend to, and is always excited about learning. He is the absolute best kind of colleague. Not just a good friend, but someone who doesn't posture and pretend to know more than he does or put up a front. He is who he is.

    Hyim is leaving Hillel after this semester to take a position as Rabbi of a synagogue he and his family have been attending for the past 7 years. The synagogue is on Delmar just West of the Loop and many of the people in it are Wash. U. people, so he'll still be around campus. I'm glad he's not going far. I would really miss him.

    Mike at 4/15/2004 07:09:00 AM

    Tuesday, April 13, 2004
    OK, before I get to some more serious stuff ... a couple things I just have to comment on:

    *I have been duped by Ryan Wallace! I completely bought that the blog that purported to be Rory's blog was actually written by Rory, instead of Ryan pretending to be Rory until she got too bored to do it (and then sent me a comment saying that Rory's blog had "inexplicably disappeared" ... thus continuing the deception). Alas, unlike Ryan, I have no "list" to put her on as a sign of my displeasure. So, I'll merely remove what I thought was Rory's link from my blog and go on with life. (BTW, you might have noticed Nicole's now-active blog added to the ECM blogger list on your right ... if Nicole is lying to me, I GIVE UP!!!)

    *The Nick and Jessica Variety Hour -- When I saw the first ad for this, I thought I must have been watching an SNL skit or something. Of all the genres to resurrect, they went with the variety shows of the 1970s??? And then with Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson. The only possible explanation is that in some network meeting somewhere, a group of executives, stoned out of their minds said "Hey, you know what would be cool? Let's bring back the Donny and Marie show ... except let's make Donny more beefcakey and insipid and shave about 87 points off Marie's IQ and pump up her boobs about 5 cup sizes.") I read in the paper today that this ridiculous show WON ITS TIME SLOT ON SUNDAY NIGHT!!! I guess P.T. Barnum was right ... nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.

    Now that that's off my chest...

    I've been thinking a lot about the Episcopal Church and all its efforts to attract younger people/raise up younger leaders. And the more I think about it and look at what's going on, I feel like we're just not getting it right.

    What's wrong is the parish model. It's not that it's completely failing ... but that's part of the problem. If it were completely failing, it would be obvious that we need to do something different and we would be trying new things. But it's just surviving enough ... and enough younger people are cut out for something resembling the traditional parish model that we think that it's just about tweaking existing churches. But that ignores the throngs of people who are staying away from our parish churches and want nothing to do with them.

    Don't get me wrong ... I think parishes can be great and I certainly admire clergy who can really do parish ministry well. But I know that, with very few exceptions, when I think about going into parish ministry it makes me feel loike someone is putting a pillow over my face! That may just all be about me, but at least part of it is what I hear from my colleagues who are in parish ministry and that is how difficult it is to do almost anything new and creative.

    I also have to ask myself about all the ECM folks -- not the ones who have gone off to seminary, but the others -- who have left ECM after what they have described as a great experience of Christian community and are not attached to any Christian community right now. Not because they don't want it -- they long for what they had at ECM -- but because they can't find anyplace that provides that.

    Sam Portaro (U. of Chicago) told me once that you have to have your campus ministry connected to a parish so that students could experience parish life because if you didn't, they'd never be able to assimilate into parishes when they got out of school. Now, Sam has forgotten more about campus ministry then I'll probably ever know ... and maybe what he says its true ... but I think that's a backwards way to look at it. Why should we train people to get used to something that they wouldn't normally want to be a part of instead of wondering if there is something different we should be doing with folks after they graduate from college.

    We've got a HUGE group of seniors this year ... and I am concerned that when they all leave they won't so much drift away from the church as the church will drift away from them. I'm grateful to Tina Grant for being the point person to set up a post-ECM group for those staying in St. Louis. We need to keep trying more things like that. More things like the "beatnik group" that Emily Peach, Beth Scriven, Kristian Kaufmann and others are involved in that is just meeting once a month with no concept of orthodoxy to discuss spiritual ideas.

    I got something in the mail this week from a new effort in the Episcopal Church called the Pastoral Leadership Search Effort (PLSE). I'm really grateful to the people who have been working hard on this because we really, really need a coordinated effort around attracting young vocations. But even though there wasn't anything I could point to as being wrong about it, it just didn't seem right. If, using the acronym, this was about the Episcopal Church having a PuLSE, I'm not sure it looks like we've got one. It just looks like the same old stuff dressed up in hipper clothes.

    ECM isn't anywhere close to perfect. And there are definitely aspects to our community that couldn't be reproduced in a non-campus setting because they are age-appropriate and student-lifestyle specific. But I think we've got something going on here. And frankly, I'm tired of the expectations that we are supposed to be training students to be good little Episcopalians who will fit nicely into parish models. I'm tired of getting the feeling from my clergy colleagues that campus ministry is good and important but "not a real job" (mainly, I suspect, because I don't complain as much about my job as they do about theirs). I'm tired of having students I love leave ECM and find no home for them.

    So my sabbatical has helped me recognize why I am tired. It's also given me the desire really to try to do something about it. So what do you all think? Am I right or am I off base or both? What do you think? What can be done? For those of you who are post-college or about to be ... what can we start?
    Mike at 4/13/2004 09:53:00 PM

    Monday, April 12, 2004
    Who is the most popular person of all time?

    An interesting question ... and what better way to answer it than to google a whole bunch of names and see how many sites come up.

    The first name I Googled was Jesus Christ (you couldn't just put "Jesus" in there because like saying "Bob", you get a whole bunch of sites about Jesus Martinez and the like - I also ran into this problem on a much bigger scale with Madonna and was unable to resolve it).

    Our Lord and Savior racked up 5,310,000 sites on Google.

    That seemed pretty good ... and it seemed even better when I started putting in some other names and seeing how J.C. stacked up:

    Buddha - 3,270,000
    Mohammed - 2,000,000
    Krishna - 1,480,000
    Allah - 3,360,000
    Dalai Lama - 569,000
    John Paul II - 1,070,000
    Desmond Tutu - 142,000
    Rowan Williams - 43,100

    So Jesus seems to be in pretty good shape in the realm of religious figures. But can he hack it in the secular world? Well, first results are encouraging:

    Michael Jordan -- 1,410,000
    Barry Bonds - 687,000
    Jessica Simpson - 957,000
    Nick Lachey - 63,600 (Ouch ... not the good end of that power couple)
    Janet Jackson - 2,140,000
    Michael Jackson - 2,400,000
    George W. Bush - 4,290,000 (getting DANGEROUSLY close)
    John Kerry - 2,210,000 (those numbers gotta go up)
    Ralph Nader - 544,000
    Howard Dean - 1,260,000 (Hey ... he's more popular than Jessica Simpson)
    Christina Aguilera - 2,330,000
    Demi Moore - 599,000
    Harrison Ford - 1,180,000
    Steven Spielberg - 633,000
    Tom Hanks - 566,000
    Ronald Reagan - 1,080,000
    Bill Clinton - 2,530,000
    Hillary Clinton - 449,000
    Regis Philbin - 52,700
    Jennifer Lopez - 2,940,000
    Ben Affleck - 766,000
    Matt Damon - 390,000
    Bill Gates - 2,760,000
    Al Gore - 1,770,000 (not bad, until you consider he invented the internet)

    But what about historical figures?

    George Washington - 3,050,000
    Isaac Newton - 583,000
    Adolf Hitler - 556,000
    Michelangelo - 1,170,000
    John F. Kennedy - 2,100,000
    Franklin D. Roosevelt - 509,000
    Diana, Princess of Wales - 160,000
    Mother Teresa - 347,000
    Atilla the Hun - 9,600

    and, just to keep myself nice and humble

    Mike Kinman - 96 (Atilla the Hun is 100 times more popular than me!)

    So all through it, Jesus is standing pretty tall. Some get a little close, but none can topple the rabbi from Galilee.

    Except one.

    One name. One person is so popular that they can actually make the Beatles' claim that she is "bigger than Jesus" (BTW, if you're wondering: The Beatles - 1,790,000; John Lennon - 947,000; Paul McCartney - 743,000; George Harrison - 590,000; Ringo Starr - 220,000 -- all of them together don't add up to Jesus).

    It is entirely predictable, but that doesn't stop it from being one of the seven signs of the apocalypse.

    In first place, with a whopping 5,440,000 -- beating the savior of the whole world by 130,000, she's not a girl, not yet a woman, she is .....

    Britney Spears.

    Can you believe it? Britney is more popular than Jesus. Well, of course you can believe it -- any society that can produce the "Nick and Jessica Variety Hour" is capable of making choices like this. But it is enough to curdle your cocoa.

    Except for this.

    God - 61,700,000

    Britney ... Who's your daddy?
    Mike at 4/12/2004 11:17:00 PM

    Sunday, April 11, 2004

    There is so much I could write about Easter -- especially this one, which began inauspicsiouly as yours truly as the Easter Bunny stepped in a big pile of fresh dog poop while hiding eggs in the back yard (there's nothing like trying to get that lovely smell out of your shoes with 5 minutes to go before leaving for church. After all the scrubbing didn't quite do it, I finally had to douse them with aftershave!)

    What brings tears (the good kind) to my eyes more than anything else in the whole world is hope. Hope in the middle of hopelessness and despair. Hope not as wishing but as a sure conviction that good will prevail, that God will prevail and that there is nothing stronger than love. Hope is why I love Easter and Christmas. They are the two times in the year that we make a point of getting together with everything we've got and saying "in your face!" to all the crap going on in the world.

    And that hope breaks through to me in different ways all the time. Today, it happened in church ... but not the way you would expect. It wasn't during the service but when Robin, Schroedter, Hayden and I were cutting through the Cathedral to get to our car right before the 11:15 service started. And I looked over and saw all these amazing ECM students sitting there. And then on the way to the car ran in to Nicole ... and then to Ryan, Rory, Kirsten, Laurie and Emily (yes! I finally got to meet Emily!). And it was like wave after wave of joy seeing everyone.

    I have to have the best job in the world. I just can't imagine a job better than I have. And part of what is wonderful about this sabbatical is that I'm appreciating it more and more. When I saw everyone ... and kept seeing everyone ... my heart just ached and felt like it was going to explode. And as weird as it sounds, I mean that in a good way. I am so incredibly blessed to be even a small part of these people's lives. What God is doing in this community is so profound ... just reading Katy and Hopie and Laurie's blogs about how Holy Week moved them brought tears to my eyes. THIS is what it's all about! It's about a community taking its faith in God and its love for each other so seriously that it moves them to tears ... and also to amazing things.

    So after all the inspirational liturgies, readings, and preaching I experienced this Holy Week, the most powerful piece of it all, the moment of hope that moved my eyes to tears, happened as I was walking to my car ... and I saw all these amazing faces of amazing people who are the most amazing community I can possibly imagine. And I am so thankful and so grateful and so amazed that God has placed me here.

    Christ is risen! Alleluia!

    Christ is alive! Alleluia!

    I know because I have seen him in all these faces. I know because I have heard him in all these voices.

    I know because when I look at all the people who have made up and do make up ECM, I am filled with the sure and certain hope of Christ's life and love.

    Mike at 4/11/2004 09:58:00 PM

    Saturday, April 10, 2004

    I went to the Cathedral last night for the Good Friday liturgy. It feels weird and incongruous to say it is one of my "favorite" liturgies, but it is certainly one of the most important liturgies to me.

    John Kilgore preached a brief sermon ... about how you can't fully appreciate Easter without Good Friday and also that you need to go through Good Friday with the knowledge of Easter coming.

    I'm not sure about that.

    The first part, I agree with. The brightest, most joyous Easters have come after I have had a real experience of Good Friday -- whether that be in the liturgical calendar or in my life. But the second part ... there I'm not so sure.

    Because it seems to me that Good Friday is about meeting the emptiness and desolation head on. Somehow doing it continually reminding ourselves that "it's OK, Easter's just around the corner" is kind of like saying "don't worry, it's not real." The truth is that both are real -- VERY real. The resurrection of Easter is real but so is the bleakness, the death of Good Friday. And at least for me, to experience it as fully as I can, I have to let myself be in that place and not mentally leap forward over Saturday to Easter.

    I live a secure life. That I am almost completely free from suffering and death is emphasized by how the times of suffering and death in my life stand out. In Tanzania, where one of three people is HIV positive and funerals of loved ones are a weekly, if not daily, occurrence. On the streets of our city where children live in utter hopelessness. In families where cancer or Alzheimer's or any number of other diseases have taken people through agonizing, isolating deaths. In countless places around the world and down the block, death and suffering are a way of life. The moments do not stand out. They are a continuum.

    Good Friday is not just remembering a crucifixion of years ago. It is remembering the daily torture and death of God's children, of Christ's body every day. It is, even for one day, allowing ourselves to stare that bleakness, that desolation full in the face and claim it as our own ... claim our own role in causing it AND claim our own part in suffering it.

    Easter will come. We know it will. And thank God. But for one day, especially for those of us for whom suffering is NOT and everyday occurence, let's give it its due.

    For one day, let's sit at the foot of the cross and just be still as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

    Let that stillness creep through until today ... even as we go about our tasks of the day ... doing homework, cleaning the house, taking Schroedter to T-Ball practice. Let Good Friday. Let that desolation. Let it rest on our hearts. Let us spend some time in a place that we absolutely cannot control, that we absolutely cannot make better by ourselves. That absolutely leaves us powerless.

    Let us spend time in that place where we KNOW that we need God because we are utterly helpless and hopeless without God. Cultivate that desparate need. Feel the doubt of Holy Saturday. The doubt of the tomb before it became empty.

    And tonight, as we light the first flame of Easter and hear the salvation history and celebrate with bells and Alleluias the first Eucharist of the resurrection, let us rejoice.

    But not yet. Not now.

    For the tomb is not empty yet. The suffering and death have not been vanquished.

    Easter will come ... no doubt about it. But for now, let us wait without it.
    Mike at 4/10/2004 11:54:00 AM

    Thursday, April 08, 2004

    After 5 months, I finally saw the third Matrix movie last night. I love the Matrix films because besides being great action and visually stunning, they delve into all the questions of meaning and choice and freedom and determinism that underlie our existence.

    And they also look at what it means to be a savior.

    In the Matrix films, Neo is the savior, the one -- and ultimately, his saving the world involves sacrificing himself. But he doesn't realize this all at once. He isn't some superman with absolute certainty who boldly lets the sword get thrust into his chest with a shout of victory. No, Neo grows into his identity as savior. He has to learn to know himself, and as he does he comes to believe that not only is he "the one" but comes to know all that being "the one" means -- giving yourself up for the sake of the world.

    Maundy Thursday night is a night of waiting, wondering and learning. Jesus, alone in the garden, his friends asleep, is afraid of what he is discovering about what it means to be "the one." He has spent his life getting to know himself, learning about his remarkable powers, dealing with doubters and those who believe in him -- maybe even more than he believes in himself, who knows?

    And now he finds himself in that garden, sees finally what is going to happen, what the inevitable end result of his life of love is ... and shows his fear to the only one who hasn't fallen asleep -- God.

    And then he gets up and does what he needs to do.

    History likes to paint its heroes with broad strokes. We like to believe that George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela and so many, many others lived lives of certitude, when the facts are clearly different.

    Doubt is a part of faith. Uncertainty is the necessary precursor to boldness. So it was for Jesus. So it is for us.

    Sit in the garden with Christ ... and let him sit in the garden with you. As you get to know yourself -- not as the world sees you but as God sees you -- don't expect everything to be crystal clear, but recognize that the murkiness, the uncertainty and even the fear are a part of our process of becoming and believing that what God already knows.

    Jesus is The One. And we are the Body of The One. It's a pretty big cup to drink, and although we have the choice to push it away, God will not take it from us. Because God knows us better than we know ourselves.

    And because even in those moments when we can't say for sure what we believe ... God believes in us.
    Mike at 4/08/2004 10:00:00 AM

    Wednesday, April 07, 2004

    "The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will decare me guilty?" - Isaiah 50:5-8a

    During Holy Week, my thoughts turn often to what courage is.

    Usually, I think of courage as heroic in a broad, even loud sense. When I think of courageous people, I think of people who made broad stands for justice. Rosa Parks. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi. People who heard the call of God, whose ears were opened by the Lord God and who were not rebellious, who did not turn backward, but faced the music and said "Who will contend with me? Let us stand together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me." Or, in more contemporary language:

    BRING IT ON!!!!

    I think these things are all true. But it's a dangerous line of thinking. Because I often start believing that the only way to follow Christ is to do something loud and broad that the world will see as GREAT.

    It's seductive. It's seductive in the same way that the devil's voice was seductive when he asked Jesus to turn the stones into bread. Think of the good you can do! Think of all the people you can feed! Think of all the lives you can change!

    For me, it's easy to get tempted by what passes for greatness in the church (what a stupid place to look for fame, BTW!) Rector of a large parish. Bishop. Think of all the good you can do! Think of all the lives you can change!

    It's not that those positions are bad. It's not that it isn't good to do good, feed people and change lives for the better. But to do so in quest for greatness is not only wrong, it's really, really dumb. It's trying to be great in the eyes of the world while clothed in the garments of Christ. It's enough of an irony to keep your head spinning for decades!

    It's all about trying to figure out where God is calling you. Sometimes we are at that crucial moment in time where God calls us to something high profile. We are that Indian lawyer in South Africa who finds himself compelled to stand up and lead others to standing up against the government and soon finds himself leading a revolution in his native land. We are that woman who makes a simple stand that she had every reason to believe would just get her slapped around and not start a HUGE movement and yet when her not going to the back of the bus did start a huge movement did not shy away but quietly, gracefully, stood by her stand.

    And if we are those people, then we need to draw upon all our own strength and, more important, draw upon all of God's strength. But most of us will not be those people, we will be the people without whom those people would be unknown because the work never would have been done. We are the ones whose calling was to be the anonymous faces in the march to the sea to make salt. We are the ones whose calling was to stand up when others were saying "nigger" and say "don't EVER say that word around me."

    The truth is that we all have heard the Gospel and, if we are listening, we hear it anew each day in many different ways. God has opened our ears. Let us not be rebellious. Wherever we are right now, let us be faithful and make the courageous stands that will never make the history books but that, when all put together, will change hearts and change the world.

    And if we never are great in the world's eyes. If we never have that one big stand that we can point to with pride, maybe that's even for the best. If all we do is live our lives in quiet faithfulness but unflinching faithfulness, what a fantastic thing is that. Maybe we aren't the face of the body of Christ. Maybe we're the small intestine or the right ventricle or the aorta or any other part that nobody notices but without which the body would be useless.

    One of the things I love about ECM ... one of the MANY things I love about ECM ... is that I get to have a bird's eye view of this community and often see the many, many ways that members of the community quietly give of themselves for the glory of God. Even those who are in "official positions" don't trumpet it. Especially during this sabbatical as I peer in from time to time and see and hear about everything that is being done, I am so moved by the faithfulness, by the lack of complaining, by the joy.

    If you're reading this as one of those people, thank you. It's not easy to be a Christian in today's America, on today's college campus. And you do it with grace and power.

    Praise God.

    Mike at 4/07/2004 10:05:00 AM

    Tuesday, April 06, 2004

    One of the Gospel readings this morning is from John 13: "Jesus said, 'Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.'"

    If you believe in what amounts to the mainstream doctrine of Christian atonement (that Jesus had to die on the cross as sacrifice for our sins), then Judas' betrayal becomes probelmatic. If the purpose of Jesus' life was his death, then all those who participated in his death ... Pilate, Caiaphas and the other Jewish authorities, the crowd, and the one who gets the worst rap, Judas ... all of them were actually doing God's work. That would mean that Judas' betrayal was not evil, but facilitating one of the highest purposes of all. Or, alternately, that God knew that Judas would betray Jesus and used his weakness to facilitate the crucifixion (which makes Judas the catch-22 screwed person of all time!).

    I don't buy either of those. (But then again, I don't buy the mainstream doctrine of Christian atonement.) I don't buy it for lots of reasons, but mainly because I think Judas wasn't evil or an unwitting pawn of a God bent on using him to balance the cosmic books. I think Judas just screwed up.

    It would be nice if everything were absolute. If there were always absolute right and absolute wrong. But 99% of the time, that's not the case. Complexity is part of every moment of our reality, and our inability to navigate it perfectly every time is one of the many, many things that distinguishes us from God.

    Judas loved Jesus. How could he not? But love is never simple. How many times in your life has love met uncertainty and doubt. Have you ever been torn between wanting to believe in someone you love and what seems like the weight of utter rationality stacked up against them?

    I don't know why Judas betrayed Jesus. Maybe it was because he became convinced that as much as he loved him, he was dangerous to the cause he had worked his whole life for. Maybe he never thought Jesus would be crucified, just arrested and beaten a little -- enough to scare him into tempering his behavior. Maybe he thought Jesus needed a dead-end, the no-win situation like the cross as a stage to burst through in all his glory and power. Maybe he was threatened in such a powerful way that in his weakness he chose betrayal.

    We'll never know. But I do believe that Judas' choice wasn't easy -- you can tell that by his reaction to it. And I also believe that while God didn't program Judas like a robot to betray Christ, God wept with him as he kissed him in that garden and embraced him lovingly as he hung himself from that tree.

    I betray Jesus all the time. Sometimes it's by making choices I know are wrong and choosing the easy over the hard. Sometimes it's by honestly trying to do the right thing and screwing up anyway.

    I would love to say that if I were in Judas' shoes that night, I wouldn't have stolen away from the table and gone to that clandestine meeting with the authorities. I would love to think that I would have been more like the women, or the beloved disciple, or Joseph of Arimathea or even Simon of Cyrene. I would love to think that I would someone have the combination of insight and courage that would allow me to stick with him until the end.

    And maybe I would. But maybe I wouldn't.

    In the end, what ties us all together -- in our most noble and ignoble moments -- is that God is embracing us. That we are all part of a story whose high points are glorious and whose low points are redeemable. It's important to strive for the good and the right, but part of that is having the humility to recognize that the complexity of our choices is often beyond our understanding, and that God's power to redeem us is even beyond our power to choose poorly.

    Judas is part of the tragedy of holy week ... but also part of the triumph. Not because God programmed him, but because God loved him. And that means God loves us, too.
    Mike at 4/06/2004 01:09:00 PM

    Thursday, April 01, 2004
    Yesterday, I went to Borders and bought Mitch Albom’s book The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I bought it because I’ve loved Mitch Albom’s sportswriting for years, because Rand wanted to know what I thought about it, because Jen Claypool said in her blog that she had read it and loved it … and because it was short. I could read it in a day or two and then get on to reading The Life of Pi, which Robin had read and wanted me to read, too.

    I dove into it yesterday afternoon and last night, and it’s as good as I figured it would be. But it’s the first part that really got me thinking. It begins with the end of the main character’s life, chronicling Eddie’s last hour. Each couple of paragraphs starts with the countdown – fifty minutes left on earth, 26 minutes to live … until the end.

    I’ve thought about this before … mostly around Julia’s death. Most people don’t know that they are about to die. Scripture says “you do not know the hour” and that’s certainly true. I’ve thought about Julia driving down that road that we still have no idea why she was on. She couldn’t have known that her last meal was whatever fast food place she probably stopped at. She couldn’t have known that when she got into the car after filling up with gas for the last time that she would never leave that driver’s seat … even when that driver’s seat became one with the rear passenger seat. Was there a clock somewhere, in the mind of God, as Julia went down that road on that rainy night that said

    Fifty minutes left on earth, 26 minutes to live, one minute to live.

    If she had slowed down just a bit, she would still be alive. If she had stayed just a little longer or left that gas station a little more quickly maybe when she hydroplaned she just would have ended up in the field, not on the grille of a Jeep. Maybe she would have been shaken up, not killed, and that weekend we all would have been scared and thanking God for her life being spared instead of standing on that hill in Natchez City Cemetery silently watching the workers lower her body into the ground.

    I am in awe of God because I have absolutely no concept of how the cosmos works when life and death can be decided by something as seemingly inconsequential as taking an extra 15 seconds to wipe your windshield at a gas station. I am in awe of a life where each one of us could have that clock over our heads – fifty minutes left on earth, 26 minutes to live – at any time and have no idea.

    I was thinking all these things this morning as I drove out to Creve Coeur to my travel agent. She had called me this morning with the excellent news that the price on Robin’s ticket to Ghana had dropped $1200 (which is a net $1000 savings after we pay the $200 penalty for canceling the ticket and then buying the new one). As I was driving back to 40 after dropping her old ticket off I started thinking about the book, about Eddie’s last hour on earth, about Julia and about me.

    “You know,” I thought to myself, “this could be my last hour on earth and I wouldn’t even know it. Here I am feeling all self-satisfied with taking this trip to Ghana to help people with AIDS, feeling like a real do-gooder, feeling so in control of my life … and yet just driving around in St. Louis, I could be killed any minute and it all would be gone.”

    I didn’t dwell on those thoughts. Didn’t start looking around more carefully to make sure a car wasn’t speeding toward me. Didn’t start driving any differently. Instead, I kind of gave them a mental “how about that,” and drove on, listening to REM and U2 and Tom Petty on my driving CD.

    I stopped at the AAA office to get the passport photos taken that I need for my visa application and then drove down Maryland to Hanley, took a left on Hanley and headed home. Just as I was getting to the intersection of Hanley and Delmar, I saw that there was no line at the Jiffy Lube on that corner. The Hyundai was past due for an oil change, so I whipped through the parking lot of the gas station on my right, made sure the traffic was clear and then turned left (heading, briefly, West on Delmar) into the left-hand turn lane to get back on Hanley going the other way so I could duck into the Jiffy Lube.

    As I turned, the light was turning from green to yellow. I probably could have made it, but decided not to chance it. I stopped. Traffic on Hanley started up and passed in front of me. I glanced over at the USA Today sports section on my passenger seat and picked it up to look at the baseball transactions while I was waiting, glancing up occasionally to make sure the light hadn’t changed.

    I heard the truck next to me start to move, looked up and saw that the green light/green arrow was on and I laid aside the sports page, took my foot off the brake and was about to step on the gas to make the turn when a green SUV barreled into the intersection, somehow in some way that escapes me given the speed it was going, screeching to a halt inches before hitting the truck that had previously been next to me but that was now in the middle of the intersection.

    I leaned on my horn.




    I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t anything but disbelieving … like when you see something in a movie that is so unrealistic that you know it just can’t be. My horn honking was not in lieu of some unprintable word, it was more like me saying “No Way!” That light had been red for a good five seconds. How could any driver be so absolutely stupid to run a light like that in the middle of a crowded section of town.

    And then it started to sink in. The cogs in my brain began to turn. And as the green SUV sheepishly backed up to its proper place and the flow of traffic restored itself and my green arrow died away, unconsciously I began to do the mental geometry.

    That SUV was occupying the space where my car would have been had I stepped on the gas at the same moment as the truck next to me.

    More specifically, that SUV was occupying the space where my driver’s seat would have been, where I would have been had I stepped on the gas at the same moment as the truck next to me.

    As the light changed and the traffic began to flow on Hanley again, my mind replayed the scene.

    It was the sports section.

    It was that stupid sports section.

    The fact that I was reading the sports page – something that, frankly, you’re really not supposed to be doing when you’re driving … even if you’re sitting at a stoplight – was what bought me those extra seconds and turned me from an active participant in something potentially horrible to a disbelieving bystander leaning on his horn while an idiot backed up a still functioning green SUV.

    The light turned green again. I paused and looked both ways, laughing because at that point I was sufficiently shaken that laughter was all I could produce, carefully made the left turn and the right turn into the Jiffy Lube parking lot. The attendant waved me into the empty garage spot, came to my window and said:

    “How’s it going?”

    “Pretty good.” And then I paused.

    “Except I was almost killed,” I said with a snort-chuckle.

    “Oh yeah, that thing,” he said, nodding with his head toward the intersection as if I’d asked where the bathroom was.

    “Leave your keys in the car.”

    I grabbed Mitch Albom’s book, which was now covered up by the sports section on my passenger seat, and headed into the waiting room. And all I could think of was:

    Fifty minutes left on earth. 26 minutes to live. One minute to live.

    Slowly at first, and then on so many levels at once, I started to process what had just happened.

    I don’t know that I would be dead now if I hadn’t been glancing at that sports page, if I had instead been waiting for the arrow and launched into the intersection at the same time as the person in the truck next to me. It’s possible that the green SUV would have braked sooner and stopped just inches from me the way she stopped inches from the truck. But I don’t think so.

    I might not be dead right now, but I most certainly would not be writing this. I’m no physics major, but the force of the speed of that SUV and the mass of that hunk of metal leaves me pretty sure that, at the very least, I would have been really, really messed up.

    Instead, I was sitting in a Jiffy Lube waiting room. Ellen DeGeneres was blathering with Torii Spelling on TV. Traffic was going on outside. No ambulances. No broken glass. No lunchtime drivers alternately horrified and annoyed at the delay. No people searching my wallet for a clue as to whom to call. No phone calls to Robin. No unthinkable news for her to find some unimaginable way to break to Schroedter. No Christie and Joey arriving at our house tonight expecting to meet my family and instead walking into a funeral. No necessity for the Bishop, Beth, David, Hopie and Laurie to find some way to tell a community that had emerged from one death that it had happened again on the eve of Holy Week and graduation.

    Just Ellen and Torii.

    Traffic moving briskly.

    You need a new air filter.

    That’ll be $17.99.

    I opened the book and continued to read, setting it aside every 2-3 minutes as I kept thinking about what had just happened. I played it over and over. Was I making too much of this. Was I really that close to calamity? Was it really that stupid sports section that made the difference? And that answers I came back with, coldly, rationally, were the same. No. Yes. Yes.

    It’s not just that I may have had a brush with death as this morning turned into this afternoon. It’s the confluence of events. The fact that 35 minutes before I was musing to myself “this could be my last hour on earth and I wouldn’t even know it.”

    I stared out the window of the Jiffy Lube wondering what to make of all this. For little 5-second bursts every 5 minutes, I got shaky inside, thinking about what almost happened.

    What do I do with this? I wondered.

    What do I do with this? I prayed.

    Is there some sort of message in this for me?

    Maybe I’m too much of a rationalist, but I can’t believe that God made me pick up that sports section because “it wasn’t my time yet.” I didn’t hear a voice that said “Check the transactions, my son” or have any weird feeling. It was a normal, seemingly insignificant choice I made just like a thousand or so others I’d made that day. Just like the choice to alter my course home and go to the Jiffy Lube in the first place.

    I’ve never believed God is a micromanager. Leine McNeely and I sat in her car a week ago last Monday having that conversation for the umpteenth time. I don’t think God caused Julia’s death. I believe God was present there and has been present in every moment since, bringing good out of it in every way that we let God through being open to the Spirit in our lives. That good can come out of something as horrible as Julia’s death is one of the greatest testaments to God’s existence and goodness I can fathom.

    No, God didn’t make me stay out of that intersection. But if I hadn’t been reading that sports section. If I was dead now or even really, really messed up … God would be present in that. God would be present with Robin and Schroedter and Hayden and ECM and my parents and with me.

    And even though it would have been horrible. Life would have gone on. And to the extent all of us were open to the Spirit being present through it and being a light in whatever darkness that event would bring, good would happen. God would happen.

    What do I do with this? I wondered.

    What do I do with this? I prayed.

    And one answer came to me out of my gut, in that way that answers come from your gut and not from your head when they just feel right.

    Let it go.

    One of the greatest paradoxes in a cosmos that is full of them is that life is at once incredibly precious and incredibly insignificant. Precious because … well, it just is. Everything that has meaning to us is tied up in it. Insignificant because … well, whether we live or die, we are God’s. We have the gift of being able to sing Alleluia while we are alive and yet even after we die we and those who love us still make our song “Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.” Alive or dead, the song remains the same.

    We need to treasure life and yet not grasp it tightly. It can end at any minute. Even as I sit here in my living room writing this believing I have just dodged the bullet with my name on it, I could still die today. Or Robin or Hayden or Schroedter. Or any number of people I care about deeply. The clocks are always ticking. The countdown is always going on for someone.

    Fifty minutes left on earth, 26 minutes to live, one minute to live.

    Let it go.

    I went back to reading the book, idly wondering as I followed Eddie’s journey to the third person he met in heaven if I would have found Julia waiting for me with a message.

    Let it go.

    The car was done. I got back into that driver’s seat and, perhaps a little more carefully than before, shifted into drive and turned right onto Delmar. The light went from green to yellow and, absolutely certain I didn’t want to risk it this time, I stopped at the edge of the intersection.

    I glanced over to my right and there was the sports section. Smiling, I picked it up and continued to read the transaction column.

    The truck next to me made some noise and I looked up and saw the light had changed.

    I tossed the sports section aside, lifted my foot from the brake and as I put my foot to the gas I noticed the truck next to me was already in the middle of the intersection.
    Mike at 4/01/2004 01:34:00 PM

    Thanks to Ryan's away message, here is a fantastic site where all the world's flags are given letter grades (and some great commentary)

    Also, Joe Chambers, you have not updated your blog in more than six months, leading me to pronounce it dead.

    Please bow your heads and pray.

    In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God Joe's blog and we remove his link from this site; The Lord bless it and keep it updated in some heavenly plane , the Lord make his face to shine upon it and make it interesting and informative agai , the Lord lift up his countenance upon it and give it peace. Amen.

    If there are any resurrection sightings of Joe's blog, updated and clothed in white raiment, please let me know and I will restore the link.

    Hey ... just got a call from the travel agent and Robin's ticket to Ghana just went down in price by $1200!!! Hooray!

    Mike at 4/01/2004 09:19:00 AM

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    What I'm Reading
    Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
    by Doris Kearns Goodwin