Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas as Breaking and Entering

God should be thrown in jail. “For what?” you may ask. For breaking and entering. In American law I think that’s more than a misdemeanor when you enter and then actually take something-which he clearly did, eventually. Let me make my point.

We are at the season when Christians everywhere celebrate this breaking and entering; God’s felony. That’s what Christmas means. God broke in—to our world. He came in uninvited. The whole Christmas story of the baby in the barn with the angels and all that is about the start of God’s heist, about his breaking and entering (which leads ultimately to a murder but I’ll talk about that in my Easter post). Most Westerners seem out of touch with the crime. I’m not sure why. I’ve had someone break into my house, and believe me it gets your attention. But in the US, it’s almost as if it didn’t really happen. And anyway, we replace what he stole pretty quickly because we just go out and get more stuff. We don’t even miss anything.

But today when we celebrate this crime, I’d like to offer one thought: in this break-in we have revealed to us the true nature and character of God. He could have broken in by smashing down doors or breaking windows or making a big scene. He didn’t. He could have come on a white horse or in a motorcade or in a tank or something like that. He didn’t. He snuck into our world looking like a snotty nosed kid who cries and poops in his pants, like every other kid. The break in was a farce on the outside, but ultimately it became an inside job. Word has it that the thief looked sort of like the picture on this post!

He broke in because we locked him out. He broke in because we’d bought a bill of goods about who he was and who we are what the future holds for humankind. Some really old writer, who seems to know what he is talking about, said that we preferred stolen fruit with our significant other to sweet friendship with the sovereign creator (Read Genesis 3 to get the full story). There were eternal consequences to our choices. So he broke in, showed up, and revealed himself to woo us back and to demonstrate clearly to everyone, even those who don’t really like him, who he was and what he was about. And, he did this in a way that no religious figure on earth has ever done.

This is what makes Christianity so unique and frankly, it is why I celebrate Christmas. And what did he ultimately steal? Our faults and flaws and sins and mistakes and everything that ruins our lives! But there is more to it than that. God’s break-in was a Robin Hood Christmas. He stole from us, who thought we were rich (when we were actually impoverished) and gives us back something much greater, if we are willing to have it. He offers us back our hope, our lives, and our true selves when we, by faith in what he accomplished through the break-in, reject our false selves, along with the sin that goes with it, and trust the criminal God (Jesus) with our lives. Trust a criminal with my life? It’s an insane idea! But, it’s Christianity. I hope anyone who actually reads this post will ponder this and celebrate the crime with joy! I plan to.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Why I Don't Like Religion

I was in California a few weeks ago and read an article in the San Diego Union Tribune about the nativity scene set up in the Washington State capital building. Next to the nativity scene there was a sign posted that read, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but a myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.” (San Diego Union Tribune, December 7, 2008) I’m sure that will tick off some religious types. Sadly, while I personally disagree the ‘no gods or devils’ thing, and especially with the way irreligious types try so hard to denigrate what is important to so many religious types (like diluting the real meaning of Christmas or Easter) I can actually understand why they say what they say--about religion that is. Frankly, at one level, I agree with them. Religion does harden hearts and minds! And for that reason, I don’t really like religion. Religion has been the root of a great many atrocities. Religion has caused untold heartache. That’s a true statement. The weird thing about their perspective, however, is they seem to forget that the same thing is true about irreligion! While the Christians have the Crusades and the Muslims have their holy war and current jihad against infidels like myself, the irreligious types have Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Talk about hard hearts and enslaved minds?! And all of those guys were atheists! So lets get off the “religion is the source of a great many atrocities” gig. The truth is, so is irreligion. The question really is why? What makes religion and irreligion the same or different? And why, would a guy like me, who is technically religious, not like religion? Hmmm. Sounds like the start of a series of blogs! More later!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What Sean Bell Tells us about Race Relations

Sean Bell has been dead for a while now. But he’s still talking. It’s been a few weeks more than two years since Sean Bell, a black man, was killed outside a strip club early in the morning on his wedding day, November 26, 2006. He died under a hail storm of bullets when a police sting went bad. Two of the three officers involved were minorities. One officer, a minority, fired 50 shots from his service revolver. The officers felt their lives were threatened and had understood one of the suspects to have a gun. There was no gun. There was no crime being committed. There was just one big bad mistake.

Last May a judge handed down a verdict of not guilty for any of the police officers on any charges. I was a little surprised at the time, as it seemed that manslaughter, at least, would have been something they’d be charged with but it was not guilty. The black community was outraged per usual. In all of this there seems to me to be several challenges as we consider race relations and our human condition. First, people want justice. And justice sometimes doesn’t seem to be just. What is just for one person seems unjust for another. Would it have been just to put the police officers in jail? Second, it seems that we all need to believe the best about others a little more. The police officers heard one of Bell’s friends say he had a gun in his car. These friends were formerly convicted felons and they were all outside a strip club at 4:00 am. We can’t bring Sean Bell back but maybe whites and blacks alike need to believe the best in each other a little more. I have some terrific African American friends. I believe the best of them not because they are black or white but because they are human, created in the image of Almighty God, and have demonstrated that they are trustworthy. I could give you the names of some white people I wouldn’t trust for a minute. It’s not a white or black thing! It’s a people thing. Third, I think we need to spend time getting intentionally involved in the lives of those who are different than we are. How many of us actually go to someone’s home and eat if they are of a different race or different religion than we are? It’s rare, even in New York.

Each racial community brings special reminders of God that should be mixed into the soup of life. The relational meal smells really really good when a variety of racial spice is added! I think we all need to recognize the contribution each ethnic community brings and celebrate it. We also need to be aware of the negative tendencies of our own racial community. If we started dealing with the junk our own racial groups contributes to the trash of life perhaps we’d be less likely to be critical of others.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Greed is Greater than Sex

I used to think that sex was the most powerful non-survival drive known to man. After reading this mornings paper, I’m beginning to wonder if its really greed! The financial markets are being shaken to the core today by the demise of yet another series of financial institutions—Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch. These failures have come because of these institutions participation in the recent mortgage scandals and risky real estate deals. What drove these smart men and women, who make millions of dollars a year, to take on such risky investments? Probably the same thing that has driven many “regular” people to buy things on credit that they cannot really afford: Greed! Not many of us are exempt. I’m sure not, but this whole ugly mess has really made me think. I keep running across friends who are either on the verge of declaring bankruptcy or in the process. The lesson for me is to not buy things I can’t afford, not live an extravagant lifestyle, and seek to value treasure that doesn’t fade away. To listen to the commercials on TV during sporting events, the only real way to have security is to allow some of these big financial institutions to invest your money. I guess that theory has been blown to hell! Maybe this will make some more people think! What really lasts? What is really secure? What do you think? Click the comment link to the bottom right, if you have an opinion, and lets dialogue.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Team World Vision and the Chicago Marathon

Rick Warren once said, “The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence.” With that in mind I’m taking a simple step to do something about the AIDS crisis in Africa. I’ll be running the Chicago marathon to raise awareness of AIDS pandemic and to raise sponsorship for children in the countries affected by it. I’m also raising money to provide clean drinking water for a village in Zambia. Through World Vision, over the last five years my wife Janet and I have sponsored several kids in underdeveloped countries. This year I want to invite others in the running and surfing communities to literally take on a child from one of these countries. It costs about $35 a month to sponsor a kid. For most of us, that’s dinner out. For the kids its clothes, an education, and food on the table! It’s an easy way to take our wealth and use it to help someone else.

I’ll run the Chicago marathon as a visual way to give people the opportunity to consider this opportunity. Maybe some of you would like to run it with me? Or maybe others would consider sharing this blog with a friend or perhaps sharing the opportunity with a friend. It won’t take a lot of time or energy and most of all it can make a difference in someone else’s life. Go to the “comment” section on this post and check “open ID” and post me your responses. Or you can click on the “Dave Miles and Team World Vision” link and consider what you might do. Thanks for reading this post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beauty--do we recognize it?

Do we really recognize beauty when we see it? I recently read a story about one of the world’s greatest violinist, Joshua Bell who in conjunction with a group of researchers, decided to test our nations capacity to recognize beauty. Bell, a handsome single man, is also one of the world’s best violinists. Gathering his $3 million dollar Stratavarious violin, Bell went to a busy subway station in Washington DC, and for 45 minutes, played some of the worlds best music created for violin. He was dressed like a street musician and opened his violin case to collect money for his performance.

Someone filmed the experiment and upon review, noted that 1097 people passed by Bell as he played. Of that number, only seven people stopped to take in the performance for at least a minute. Another 27 gave money, most of them on the run, for a total of $32 and change. The author of the article concluded that we have lost our appreciation for beauty in the modern world. At the end of the article the author made this intriguing comment: “If we can’t take the time out of our lives to stay a moment and listen to one of the best musicians on earth play some of the best music ever written; if the surge of modern life so overpowers us that we are deaf and blind to something like that—then what else are we missing?” Intriguing right? It made me wonder what I am missing.

Beauty draws us in an invites us to engage, touch, tap our feet, sing along, ponder, and look. I’ve decided to take beauty seriously. I’ve been trying to smell the smells and see the sites a little more intentionally. The ability to run, surf, smell the ocean, see the mountains and trees, read poetry, listen to music, enjoy architecture, food, and people is all part of the experience of beauty that God gives us. It is my opinion that all beauty points to the creator of all beauty; God himself. The Psalmist says, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (Psa. 27:4). The video is Pipeline in Hawaii. Beautiful!!

Monday, July 28, 2008

What's Driving Dave?

“What is driving you?” I’d said the words before. They sort of slipped thoughtlessly out of my mouth. I’d said those words to my wife, Jan, when she seemed to never take a break. I’d said them to friends whom I self-righteously thought were giving their lives to insane schedules or harried existences or ridiculous endeavors. I’d said them, frankly, to quite a few people. But this time the words, spoken to a friend while running, boomeranged around and hit me back in the head. In my mind the thought came back, “Well, what is driving you, Dave?” I’d slowed down my training for marathons after Boston but remained pretty intense in my regimen. I’d done this on top of an insane travel schedule and a very difficult work and ministry environment. “What’s driving me?”

The flippancy of my comments and the thoughtlessness behind them rattled my cage. “What’s driving me?” Another friend recently admitted that maybe he’d bitten off more than he could chew when it came to training for a half iron man triathlon. My response was muted this time because the thought keeps coming back, “What’s driving me?”

Blaise Pascal wrote a book many years ago entitled Pensees (or reflections/ponderings). Pascal was a brilliant mathematician but what he’s actually best known for is his writings on Philosophy and Theology. In Pensees he has entire section answering the question, “What’s driving Dave?” or to put it another way, “What is diving us?” The section is entitled, Diversions. Pascal, like Augustine, believed that humankind did what they do because they want to be happy. As a matter of fact, according to Pascal, mankind cannot help but want to be happy! He was created to be happy. But still, when pondering life’s difficulties, humankind becomes unhappy. To overcome this people involve themselves in diversions. These diversions, says Pascal, keep our minds off of the difficulties of our existence and the realities that we face daily. Pascal believed that to be truly happy one has to rest: “They have another secret instinct, left over from the greatness of our original nature, telling them that the only true happiness lies in rest and not in excitement.” (Pensees Section 136) But where does this rest come from? Augustine, speaking of a relationship with God through Christ, put it like this, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.”(Confessions Chapter 1)

I believe that I get involved in diversions because I still don’t find my rest in Christ—at least not like I should. I still believe, erroneously, that I’ll be happiest when I am active. I don’t want to believe that I believe that, but I think I still do. I am finished with my ministry in Hawaii. I’m tired. I need a break but still I drive myself. Last week my body shut me down for several days. I couldn’t work. Yesterday I ran a half marathon and substantially missed my target time in spite of being in good condition. I need to take a break. I’m going to take a month off and during that time I’m going to extract myself from some of my diversions. I’m going to go to a monastery and be silent and rest. Who knows what I’ll find. I’ll let you know in future posts.

The picture on this post was taken at Volcano National Park near Hilo, Hawaii on the big island. It was a time of rest in a very difficult time of ministry. It is instructive. Life can be very barren, like what is left over from an irruption. But in the middle of that barreness, we need rest.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Let's Celebrate Twenty Eight

I like being married. I like my female friends. They are very dear. My male friends sometimes send me emails like the one I received yesterday with the title, Fairy Tale. It goes like this: "One day, long, long ago.......There lived a woman who did not whine, nag or bitch. But this was a long time ago....... and it was just that one day. The End." Apparently, some people don't like marriage. Maybe some men don't like women! The friend who sent this to me is a nice guy. He thought this was funny. But I get tired of hearing women constantly criticized by men. Perhaps my friend was constantly criticized by women or hurt deeply by a woman. It makes me wonder.

Saturday, Jan and I celebrated our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary. Not a bad accomplishment for a baby boomer. It doesn't even remotely resemble the Fairy Tale I quoted. I don't have as much hair as I used to and I'm not as muscular as I was the day we got married. Jan doesn't have the youthful appeal she did either. Should I expect her too? Beauty and physical strength is fickle and short lived. Even a sunset over the Pacific ocean, though beautiful, can't be completely captured. "The beauty of the natural world," says N.T. Wright, "is at best the echo of a voice, not the voice itself." The same thing could be said of relationships.

Everyone wants to be liked, loved, accepted, and special. Marriage is the deepest completion of that desire. And yet so many marriages end in bankruptcy. I think people were made for relationship, yet making relationships work, let alone flourish, is remarkably difficult. Jan and I have had our moments. Billy Graham's wife was once asked if she had ever considered divorcing her husband. Her answer is profoundly humorous, "Divorce? No. Murder. Yes!" There was a period in our marriage when, outside of divorce, I would have been happy to get out. Surprised? Sorry to disappoint you. I'm sure Jan felt the same way. But God in his grace and mercy invited both of us to take a deep inner look at what was real in us. It was hard. I'd have rather had a root canal. But in the end, it was worth it.

I had dinner last night with a friend in Christian ministry. He acknowledged that there were things in his marriage that were not right. It was eating him up. Just that morning he and his wife had had a terrible fight. I tried to encourage him and let him know that the best thing he could give his congregation was a healthy marriage. As a few of my friends have said, "The best thing you can give your kids, is a healthy marriage." I believe it. Gerry Scazzero recently asked a poignant question that went something like this, "How would it have benefited your marriage if your parents had gotten help for their own." Great thought! I hope my kids can someday look at me and Jan and answer in a positive fashion.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Boston Marathon 2008

I’ve been trying to think of something philosophical to write about the Boston Marathon. But it just ain’t happening! Actually I measured this years Boston by the people I ran into rather than the running itself. So here goes:

On Saturday I met Randy, a homeless guy, in Connecticut. Randy was hanging out at local rest stop pan handling. We started talking story over lunch and he noted that he was an ex-con, that he had no family, and that he had a few more months of living out behind the rest stop before he had a room in a half way house. I was struck by his candor and commitment to make life work. He had the tenacity of a marathoner, that’s for sure. Then there was Keith, the guy I stayed with on the North End of Boston Saturday evening. Keith is Irish—really Irish with the cool accent and everything. Keith’s hospitality and charitable personality embodies much of the spirit I’ve experienced in running marathons. Everyone on the North End seemed to know Keith. He exudes warmth and acceptance. We went to a concert in a church located in a back alley somewhere and heard a band called Ineloquent. That was Saturday.

On Sunday morning Keith and I went to watch the women’s Olympic marathon trials. Watching Dena Kastor, the winner was amazing. She came from behind and took the lead at about mile 23—talk about negative splits!! Check out Keith's YouTube video of the trials. Its terrific. That evening we ate with the Quantum Feet Road Runners Club in the North End. Eating with Jim, Ken, Chris, Lisa, Jose, Andrew, Jaime, Karen, Karen’s daughter, Sue, and Darlene was lots of fun (did I forget anyone?). Vince, my surprise roommate for the evening, was icing on the cake for Sunday. Vince has an opinion about everything! Ask him, he’ll tell you. He’s been fun to get to know. I've learned a lot about running from Vince and I've learned to text message at his expense.

On marathon Monday I got up early and took a cab with Charlie (a guy from Michigan) to the race. He’d been a hell raiser early in life and found Jesus. The cab driver was a Haitian guy named Francis. He sold “food” supplements on the side. Was food supplement spelled s.t.e.r.o.i.d? I didn’t ask. He didn’t drive like a New York cabby and he spoke English--no turban either. On the bus to Hopkinton I sat next to Eric, a guy who told me he was sick (as I shook his hand and sat down about 5 inches from his face). He was from Portland, was in his mid-30’s, and he got this, “Oh No!!!” look on his face when I was honest with him about being a pastor. I worked hard to quell his fears and soon he was opening up with me about breaking up after being engaged to be married, his family, his job, and his dreams for the race. He was a fun guy. I just wish he’d have stopped saying, “Gee, my throat feels awful.” It freaked me out.

I was alone at the athletes village for a while until my buddy Sue and Darlene got in. Sue is a blast, always fun to talk with, and she has a great son. Darlene is intense. She brought papers to grade. Can you believe it? She was going to grade papers while we sat there trying to talk with her. I ran into my "friend" Lance again while running. Lance Armstrong (the Lance Armstrong who won the Tour de France over and over again) and I have run marathons together twice--we don't talk. He always passes me at mile 16 and finishes about five minutes faster (he's also 15 years younger). But this time he didn’t have a television motorcycle driving in front of him spewing exhaust in my face or honking its horn. As we ran it was like watching the crowd do the wave with arms raising in the air people would yell "Lance, Lance." I kept saying, “No it’s Dave, Dave.” But they didn’t pay any attention.

Other notables include the screaming girls at Wellesley college (mile 13). They had all sorts of signs that read, “Kiss me I’m a Vegan” or “Kiss me I’m a Mormon” or “Kiss me I’m Single.” I kept thinking, “What would your dad say?” I don't think they cared! One of the workers at a water stop wasn't paying attention and dumped an entire cup of Gatorade down the front of my shirt around mile 10. It was real cold!! Towards the end of the race a guy pulled up next to me and waved his arms beckoning the crowd to cheer. I think he'd been doing this for several miles. They cooperated and he did this until we crossed the finish line. Where did he get the energy??!! And then there was the finish line male race volunteer who proudly informed me that it was he alone who was responsible for getting us coed post race changing tents! He apparently thought I'd appreciate that. "Great," I thought, "I can hardly walk and I have to go change my clothes in front of some woman." I don't think he'd ever run a marathon in his life. And of course there was the usual displays of earthiness--people putting Vaseline on their private parts in front of everyone, people urinating out in the open, etc. I don't think I'll ever get totally used to that stuff--but it is funny to see!

Monday evening was punctuated by dinner with my Alley Pond Road Runner Club friends--Nella, Fran, and Andrea and a few others. It was enjoyable, though I wasn't walking too well. And finally, the day after the race there was Margarite from the Corrib Irish Pub. She was from Ireland and we had a great conversation about life.

My right leg cramped up at mile 19 but I never really hit the wall. I had to slow down, but nothing else. I ran a personal best of 2:55:49 in spite of having a migraine headache for the entire race. Everything else hurt, why not my head too?! I think I can break 2:50 but we’ll see. At this marathon, the people were as much fun as the race!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lord, Save us from your Followers

I recently watched a film called, “Lord save us from your followers.” ( Since I am a follower of Jesus I thought it would be interesting to see why some felt they needed to be saved from the likes of me. It was a stunning look at the negative side of religion, particularly conservative evangelical religion, in America. What was most disturbing was that the message of Jesus has been lost in all the verbal cannon fire coming from the right and the left. It reminded me of a book I recently read called unChristian by David Kinnamon. The book, and frankly this movie, have put words to my feelings. For the last three or four years my frustration with evangelical religion has been on the increase. And frankly, I’m frustrated with myself! Have I loved the poor, the hurting, the wounded, the gay and straight, the atheist and the religious fanatics the same? No way. I’ve walked away and smirked like many others when two guys have passed by holding hands. I’ve felt superior to the fundamentalist religious fanatics I’ve encountered on various occasions. I’ve ignored some painful aspects of our world community like AIDS in Africa or immigration here in the United States. I need to change.

I am not ashamed of what Jesus said. He spoke as much about hell as he did heaven. I’m definitely not ashamed of what Jesus did or his claims to be God. I’m not ashamed of the cross or the belief in the literal resurrection or the virgin birth. If people want to hate me for those beliefs, then fine. What I am ashamed of is the way we as his followers have portrayed ourselves. We are anti-everything. I can’t live like that. I won’t give up Jesus, faith in Jesus, his church, or what the New Testament calls the gospel. What I want to give up—and what I’ll encourage the churches I work with to give up—is this “head in the sand” mentality that has separated so many of us who are Christians from reality, and from others in society. What I hope I embrace is a greater willingness to love people by my actions and with my ears. I’ll to listen more and talk less. And then maybe when I’m more like Jesus, others will be more willing to consider Jesus. The movie is only available on line. It costs $6.99. But beware. If you are an evangelical, you probably won’t like it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Beauty and the Soul of a Woman

I’m not a cross dresser. But I’ll admit that this winter, when I couldn’t find a pair of men’s running pants that fit, I tried a medium from the women’s rack—at the suggestion of the store attendant—and they fit perfectly. I have no idea why, but they do! I swore her to secrecy and now I’m coming out of the closet, so to speak, and can craft this post with a measure of integrity. I am going to write about women’s clothing and beauty. Here goes:

A couple of weekends ago I took my middle daughter Katie (see the picture) out to a woman’s clothing store to finalize her fitting for a bridesmaid dress. Walking into the basement I was astonished to see scores of dresses hanging along the walls, all big dresses for big women. And then to my amazement, when I looked into the mirror on the side of wall, I saw but a caricature of myself. I was smaller than usual or at least smaller than I thought I actually was. This was disturbing since I’m not so big to begin with! “All that weight lifting recently has done me no good,” I thought. But then my daughter stepped into the mirror and she looked smaller than she actually was and she’s anything but big. That’s when it struck me: the mirror created the illusion that the person reflected back was actually smaller than they were in real life. I have no idea whether this should be perceived as a really bad mirror or a really good business mind. Had the mirror intentionally been created to be that way? I don’t know. Any way you cut it, it disturbed me.

Being married to the same woman for 27 years, being the father to three daughters, one grand daughter, and having many fine women friends I have been privileged to learn a lot about women. I also have a mother (couldn’t leave her out even though she’ll never read this post). I am more than aware that our society imposes clear standards on what physical features are considered beautiful and which are not for women. Being slender and petite is one of the standards our society values. These standards are not typically applied in the same way towards men. I have recently been reading a book called Sex and the Soul of a Woman by Paula Rinehart. It’s an excellent read. (The last chapter is written about men and is worth the price of the whole book.) In reference to physical beauty, the author notes, “…there is no concept in our culture these days more conflicted than that of female beauty…I’m writing about something deeper, more intrinsic, than a lovely face or body. That kind of beauty a confident woman possesses is an odd mixture of mystery and warm allure that invites you always a little deeper into the essence of really knowing her.” (pg. 49) I think that this is true.

When you read the pages of the New Testament, you'll find that Jesus had a radically different view of women than the prevailing society. He valued women, respected women, and honored women. The same was true of the early church. Women were treated with more dignity than they were in everyday culture. (See The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark, Chapter 5). I know that, as a man, I swim in this culture like a fish swims in water, and its values and mores will affect me. But I hope that I value women not for how they look or how big or small they are but for who they are.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Beauty and Ugly in Hawaii

Someone died at Pipeline (a famous surf break for those who don’t know) last Sunday (March 16). I saw the ambulance go by as I drove out after Sunday service to surf at Alligator Rock and Marijuana’s on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I heard the siren, pulled over, and let the ambulance (which was by then a hearse) race past me. I spent the next hour and a half surfing some of the most beautiful waves I’ve seen in years. Because of the direction of the swell the waves on Marijuana’s were double overhead rollers that, after riding them, deposited me in perfect position to see another break—Alligators—actually crash. The smooth, dynamic features of the curl and the way the wave broke, was like participating in a liquid dance. Back and forth, side to side, the water spilled in graceful beauty around me. I’d catch a giant roller then get a glimpse of a more complex breaker farther in without being punished for looking and getting too close. The sun, the wind, the warmth, the water all pointed me to a beauty beyond myself.

Then there was the siren, the ambulance, the grief of a family who lost a son, a brother, a boyfriend way too early in life. The kid they pulled out from Pipeline was maybe 23. He was a body boarder. The son of a friend of mine gave the guy C.P.R. but to no avail. For all I know maybe my friend’s son, a professional lifeguard, had to risk his own life to pull the body boarder out of the water! It was beauty and ugly in stark relief!! Isn’t this life?! One event, the death of a young surfer, points to the brokenness of this world because of our sin. The other event, surfing some of the most beautiful waves in the world, points to the beauty that can be ours in Christ. I’m unashamedly a follower of Jesus and on this resurrection day, I see the waves pointing towards the giver of new life: Jesus Christ. My wish is that he’d transform me into something as beautiful as those waves! Happy Easter.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Interval Training

Little things matter. More often than not in our culture, it appears to be the big things that catch people’s eye. But I think that small is often more compelling than big. And in the sport of running, for your average person, nothing could be more true. What you eat. How much you sleep. Even the simple act of a short, disciplined, daily workout are all very small things. But together they are big.

Last Spring a friend gave me a book to read called Daniel’s Running Formula by Jack Daniels. The author had several excellent suggestions one being the importance of interval training. I’d practiced intervals on and off for several years. I hate doing intervals. They are hard work and I usually have to do them alone because I can’t convince my friends to do them with me. This is especially true in the winter—its cold, its dark, its tiring, its lonely. It’s awful!! But it’s a little thing.

A recent New York Times article (NYT Jan 31, 2008) noted, “One of the major determinants of endurance performance is oxygen consumption. You have to make training as intense as you can,” says Dr. Tanaka, a research physiologist from the University of Texas. The article went on to say that if you had to cut back on anything, cut back on volume, not intensity. Running with intensity is what intervals do. It’s a little thing. It’s the yeast in the dough of the sport of endurance running.

Last summer I determined to put Daniel’s ideas to the test. I’d flirted with breaking the illusive three-hour marathon barrier for several years. After doing intervals consistently for four months I did it at New York—2:59:16. I didn’t stop my intervals training, even in the off season, and ran several half marathons this winter, each time breaking my previous personal best and finally snapping the 1:20 barrier. Why? Because I’m a great runner? Nope. While my body does process oxygen and lactic acid better than some people, it is my opinion that it was really the intervals. And the results have been no little thing.

Welcome Baby Faye

Over the course of the past two years I’ve spent a lot of time in Hawaii. The mystery of how such beauty can bubble up from the center of the Pacific ocean still amazes me. The God of the universe has a unique way to capture our attention! Last summer our youngest daughter informed us that she was having a baby. I was in Hawaii when I received the news. And now, bubbling up from Southern California (hardly the center of the Pacific ocean) has come our first grand daughter. I’d like to introduce you to Faye Marley Marth. She was born February 22 and weighed in at 5 lbs. 13 oz.

She’s as beautiful as an Hawaiian Island sunset and her connection to that idyllic paradise is cemented in history. Welcome Faye. You are loved and a gift from God to us. The writer of the Psalms says, “children are a gift of the LORD...Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man/woman whose quiver is full of them (Psalm 127:3-5). Chris and Lyndi are a bit tired right now but that is to be expected.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This was written by my friend Eric Heron, a professional musician who works with churches to help restore a sense of worship. You can go to to learn more about Eric, Natalie (his lovely wife) and their music. (Dave)

Today is February 5th, Mardi Gras – (Latin for “Fat Tuesday”).

Mardi Gras has become for many an active reflection on our human tendencies to over-imbibe in drink, over-indulge in food, and allow our other senses to wander far from the things of God. It is a “carnival” in every sense of the word. ("carne" = flesh).

A flight to New Orleans for Mardi Gras might not be worth the decadent experience of it all. Nevertheless, what occurs on Fat Tuesday serves as a powerful set up for the season that immediately follows it. I am speaking of the season of Lent. (click here to view a larger version of the painting to the right, entitled: The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Younger, 1559)

Lent officially begins on the Wednesday that is forty days (minus Sundays) before Resurrection Sunday. Called Ash Wednesday, it is a holy day which evolved relatively late in church history (around the 11th century). On this day, worshipers attend a service in which ashes are imposed on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. Though the exact content of the worship service may vary between Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Mainline churches, these services always contain prayers that acknowledge sin and emphasize repentance. Imagine the increased relevance this holds for the one who has over-indulged just one day before!

Lent is thought to have originated as early as the second century as the final period of preparation for those catecumens (new disciples) who were ready to be baptized at Easter Vigil. In 325 CE, the council of Nicea first referred to Lent as “forty days” and officially fixed this fasting period to immediately precede Easter. Close to 350 CE, Cyril (the leader of the church at Jerusalem) referred to Lent as “a long period of grace, forty days for repentance”. By the 5th century, all Christians – not just those preparing for baptism – viewed Lent as an important part of their personal and corporate worship experience.

The question for us today is: Do we need the season of Lent?

Many Protestants tend to shun such “Catholic” holy days as too programmed or perhaps too somber. I would argue, however, that all believers need Lent. I have heard it said that Protestants tend to “rush to the Resurrection” and avoid deeper reflection on what historically came before. I think this rushing is not helpful and ultimately it is destructive. I know that I personally need to intentionally reflect on my own sin in this world of security and comfort that allows me to so easily ignore the evil that lurks just below the surface. It seems fitting for us to pause and acknowledge our sin, which is what has made the Resurrection necessary in the first place.

Thankfully, media like The Passion of the Christ and various ecumenical movements have helped less “Catholic” Christians see the value in stopping to reflect on all that precedes that happy day when the stone was rolled away.

If we agree that the Lenten season is helpful and maybe even necessary toward forming us as good disciples of Jesus, a second question arises: What, then, will we do about it?

I am choosing to fast for the next forty days. I will kick it off my fast by attending the local Episcopal church's Ash Wednesday service. Each time I deny myself, I will be reminded of the “way of discipleship” (Mark 8:34). Whenever I am tempted to break the fast prematurely, I will go to prayer and thanking God for the many ways his grace has touched me and my family. I suspect that though this will not be easy, it will be a rich way to prepare for the beautiful feasting (just add an “e” to fasting) day when friends and family gather in joy and celebration.

How will YOU prepare for Easter this year?

Some of the historical information above was taken from: James F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship, third edition (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 56 & 69.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Do you really teach that stuff?

I had an interesting conversation with a member of the Alley Pond running club last Saturday night. We were at a dinner dance and awards ceremony and over the meal I was asked, “So what do you do?” The question comes up often, as in any conversation, but even more often when I tell people that I work in Hawaii on a regular basis. They seem to want to know what kind of cushy job I must have that takes me 6000 miles away in paradise. I don’t like telling people I’m a pastor. They start to treat me differently. They quit swearing in front of me—unless of course I swear in front of them which then gives them permission to be themselves but Jan says it isn’t classy and I agree so I try not to do it. But on this occasion I swallowed hard and told the truth. Part of this was motivated by the fact that I was sitting next to a friend who knew the truth so I couldn’t fudge. “I’m a pastor, and I work in churches in transition and this one happens to be in Hawaii. I work on a team.” The guy asking the question was great and began to philosophize on his religious upbringing. He was incredibly gracious and an interesting person. But then towards the end of the conversation he said, “So, I mean, do you really teach this stuff literally, the Bible, after all this is 2008?” I’d heard the question before and didn’t know exactly how to answer on this occasion, but I said something like this, “Absolutely! We believe that you can’t make up the Jesus of the New Testament. The tendency we have today is to drag Jesus down to our eye ball level so we feel comfortable with him. That Jesus won’t change your life. He’s just like you. We believe in the Jesus who really lived, died, and rose from the dead, the Jesus who claimed to be God. That Jesus will confront you when you screw up and comfort you when you feel bad about yourself. The New Testament is very different from much of what we see in religion today. In the Bible, God moves towards us. He pursues us. And we let that gospel, that good news, inform how we live. It touches every facet of our lives from how we handle racism, to conflict, to our money. We definitely teach the bible literally in the churches we work in.” His response to my explanation seemed to be one of genuine interest and respect.

For me personally as a Christ follower, I can’t pick and choose the commands that I want to keep. If Jesus is who he claimed to be then when he says, “Don’t lie” or “Don’t sleep around” that doesn’t mean I can do it now because it’s 2008. “Don’t murder” and “Love your brothers as yourself” is also something he commanded us. If that hasn’t changed, why have the other harder and inconvenient commands, changed? If Jesus is Lord, it doesn’t matter what he tells us to do or not to do. He has the final say. That’s my take on it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Kite Runner

What is the price someone will pay for personal redemption? How far will we go if we think that in us lies the possibility of making things right with a friend we’ve offended, a loved one we’ve hurt, or even the God we’ve somehow turned our back on? The Kite Runner is that kind of a story. The story is set in pre-Soviet Afghanistan. Two boys are friends, one well to do, the other the son of the family servant. Kite flying was a popular Afghani sport and the servant boy has a unique gift related to kiting. As the story unfolds there is a tragic series of betrayals sandwiched between multiple acts of loyalty. The rich boy, Ahmir, betrays his young friend Hamman who would do anything for him. Ahmir eventually finds a way to make things right and the story ends with Ahmir learning to live loyally to those he loves.

The story challenges us to do the right thing even when the right thing is hard or hurtful. The contrast in the plot suggests that for those who fail to do right at first, there is the hope of redemption. The cost is high. “Nothing is free, there is a price” says one of the villains in the story. That line is repeated at several critical times in the course of the movie. In the end, the price for Ahmir is worth it. He risks everything to do what is right and learns the power of loyalty and the wonder of redemption.

This story is a reminder to me that people feel the need to make things right. But at what cost? The writers of the book and screen play got it right, there is a price. What I loved about the movie is the heart wrenching reality that we all feel the need to make things right. We all know deep inside that we’ve blown it, been disloyal to something or someone, and we need redemption, we need to make things right. But what about the cost? For me, as a sincere Christ follower, the cost is not something I have the capacity to pay. My disloyalties, my failures are too great. I'm flawed. I need grace. And what is the cost of grace? It cost a life—the life of Jesus. This is the essence of the Christian message. There is a price but someone else paid it. That person, Jesus, was a real historical figure who claimed to be God. He paid the price. So for us, through faith, it’s free. That’s the wonder of it all. No other world religion offers that. In religion, there is always something we must do for redemption--attend a service, read the bible, try hard to be good, join the Marines and fight the war on terror, quit drinking, give to charity, go to confession, whatever. That is the essence of religion; we do something to move towards God and hopefully we’ll be good enough to merit his favor--we hope. But in Christianity, God moves towards us. It is backwards or upside down of what most people feel must happen.

I loved the movie. A friend recommended it and my wife and one of my daughters have read the book. I can’t recommend it enough myself. Go see it quick before it leaves the theaters or you’ll have to wait a long time for the DVD. I'll be reading the book shortly.

Sweeny Todd

What does vengeance look like? If you want to know, check out this movie. If you don't care or think you have a handle on it, save yourself $10. This was the most gory movie I've ever seen. The message is clear. All of humankind deserves to die, why not help them out and degrade them in the process. Ah, revenge!

The movie's message shows just how easy it is for us to bite and devour one another through our sick, and often misguided, sense of revenge. Sweeny Todd shows how revenge darkens our lives, blinds us to what is real, and turns us into something equal to, or worse than, those we seek revenge on. In Sweeny Todd, revenge steals a man's soul and causes him to miss the points of beauty that come his way at unexpected times and in unexpected ways. Lewis Smeedes once said, "We never bring closure to vengeance. In the exchange of pain the accounts are never balanced. The reason is simple. When I am on the receiving end, the pain you cause me always feels worse to me than the pain I cause you. When I am on the giving end, the pain I cause you never feels as bad to me as the pain you cause me." In fact, the only thing that heals the poisonous drink of revenge is something equally compelling--forgiveness. Hmm. So how do we get that?

The movie is very dark both in its theme and in its visual effects. It recently won a Golden Globe award so someone thought it was worth seeing. It's a musical. One of my kids said, "Why would you want to go see that movie?" I answered, "Because a friend recommended it." I'm not sure I can, personally. I wouldn't see it again, but it does depict the reality of something deeply rooted in the soul of every man and woman so it is worthy of consideration. But for me, the Chinese food and conversation we had with a good friend afterward was more compelling, and not nearly as gross.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Getting Started

A few years ago I got an email from a friend, “Well,” he said, “I’m jumping into it.” He was referring to blogging. Frankly, it didn’t appeal to me at the time. Why share my thoughts and feelings on a venue that even Osama Bin Laden has access to? But things have changed. I want this blog to be a place for me to share the things on my mind with the people most important to me. Right now, there’s a lot of things on my mind and I have a lot of people who are important to me.

The blog is called the 22nd mile because I run marathons. I have not always done this. It is a new “the kids are grown and out of the house” hobby that has captivated my imagination. I love to run. In high school and college I was a wrestler. I loved the organized aggression of the sport. It was a huge part of my life and early in my personal formation the sport, the teammates, and my coaches shaped me dramatically. Now, later in life, running is doing the same thing. The 22nd mile of a marathon is the place where I hit the wall. Others hit it earlier. Some elite runners say they never hit it (we all suspect they are liars) but mile 22 is where I hit it. The wall is that place that defines the kind of runner you will be. The wall is the place where your body says, “I’ve had enough. We are stopping this nonsense, now!” But you don’t stop. You can’t stop. How you handle the wall says a lot about you as a runner and as a person. In fact, how you handle the wall may actually define you as a runner or as a person. But then life is like that isn’t it. Life is a series of walls and how we handle them can often define who we become.

I am also a surfer. I am a member of the Surfrider Foundation. I love the water and the thrill of catching a wave. I’ve been surfing for nearly twenty years. My ability to do it was sharpened when we lived in San Diego. Now we live in New York City. I surf year round in New York (yes, it gets real cold) and at this posting, I am also working on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii—wave heaven. I guess I need a physical challenge to keep me sharp. While running is a hobby, I am beginning to wonder if surfing is more of a calling. Surfing, more than running, gets me closer to the thing that drives me the most, the thing that really defines who I am. Many of us define ourselves by what we do, or what we’ve done, or how much education we have, or who we know, or whatever. I admit that I have been defined myself by those things in the past and to some extent in the present. So what really defines me now?

At age 15 I became a devoted Christ follower and now, more than ever, he defines me. Notice I didn’t say the “C” word (I mean the word Christian). Frankly, the term Christian, though it is a perfectly good word and found in the New Testament, has begun to turn me off. This isn’t because it seems to now be in vogue to no longer describe ones self as a Christian, even if you are. That turns me off too. I would say I have been wrestling with this word for probably two to three years now because it has become a loaded term in our culture. It seems to mean a person who is a “right wing republican who is often uptight about life and who can’t face his or her own issues yet everything is always great because Jesus saved them” kind of word. That’s not me, or at least it is not me anymore. That has changed over the years. I am a follower of Jesus.

For my friends who are not sure where you sit or stand in regards to Jesus or religion (another word I don’t like) please know that I accept you as you are. But because I am a follower of Jesus, and because he defines me, and because I love that relationship, sometimes that will come out in my speech. We all talk about those things we really enjoy whether it is something or someone! As a matter of fact, sometimes I wonder if what we worship comes out in what we talk about most. Hmmm. Maybe not. Though all of us worship or serve something or somebody. Even Dillon said that. At any rate, if you want to know me, this is part of me. For those of you who are followers of Jesus, even Christians described by the above mentioned “right wing republican…,” I am at a point in my life where the religiosity of our faith is hard for me. You’ll have to forgive and forebear me because in my posts I probably won’t always be a popular guy with you. The scary thing is that I am a pastor and it is my job to facilitate change in churches that are often very much into being religious. Does God have a sense of humor or what?! More on that later or visit

Other than Jesus and my hobbies, I enjoy my family. My wife of twenty-seven years has a keen sense of what goes on in people’s lives, often without them even knowing it. She is a courageous woman who has given her life to serve others. We have moved across the country twice—and we are still married. She is a New York City public school teacher. I am outgoing. She is an introvert. I am expressive. She tends to be more subdued. I blurt things out in conversations. She tends to be quiet and take things in. We have worked very hard on our marriage. This has been painful but it has produced a depth of intimacy that is quite enjoyable. We’ve run through the wall together and we are moving towards the finish line and still running!!

I have three girls and two sons in law. Laurel is married to Noah. She is a lot like me. Our high school graduation pictures look like we are twins. She teaches school in New York City. She is 23. Katie is a senior in college and is enjoying life single and young. She dances and wants to be small business owner of a dance studio. She just turned 22. Lyndi is 20 and married to Chris. They are the newest married of our kids. They are expecting a baby in the spring. Chris will be heading into the military shortly (we think) and they live in southern California, the land of broken dreams. Lyndi went there to escape New York. Now she wants to escape southern California! People are shallow there. It is true. But it is our second home. Jan is a native Californian and we were married there, we’ve lived there, helped start a church there, went to school there, vacationed there, have many good friends there, and all our relatives on Jan’s side of the family live there. What can I say? Dude—it’s like totally our second home!

This blog will be the place where I put thoughts on books I'm reading, music, art, bible, pleasure, surfing, running, and relationships on line for everyone to see and interact with. I suspect I’ll add a journal once every week or two once I get things up and running. I'll also add some pictures of my family and friends. In the meantime, thanks for reading this and please feel free to post a response. In the future, I’ll be taking pieces of this first post and placing into different sections of the blog. This is my first stab at it so it will take some time to figure it all out.