Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Come, Thou Long Expected Chapel

So, here's the message that's mentioned in the post below. It actually went quite well, once I finally found my inspiration and wrote it (Sunday morning).

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to work...

I have sat in front of my computer for a while now. Trying to write my message for chapel. I selected the passage months ago, so it shouldn't be too hard now, right? Just use that fancy education, pull out the main point and exposit. Spice it up with some stories and, voila, a chapel talk. Doin' this for years, now. No big deal. Right?

A funny thing happened on the way to "world's easiest chapel talk." Seems the transition from "crisis response" to "desk work" is harder than I anticipated. Should I really be sitting at my desk again while others no longer have theirs? Can I justify spending an entire afternoon contemplating 7 verses of Scripture when some in our immediate community have much bigger things to contemplate?

The Tea Fire broke out 18 days ago. For many of those 18 days, I could find something to do that at least felt as though I was making war against the fallen world in which we live, with its fires, tornadoes, mudslides, earthquakes and hurricanes. I could fill sandbags, sift through ash, load and unload U-Hauls and crawl into bed at night knowing I charged the darkness in the name of hope.

But charging the fluorescent lights of my office feels altogether different. And therein, I have concluded, lies the issue and the issue is entirely mine. I fell too in love with the idea of Benji the Hero and am finding it hard to take off the costume and return to my mild-mannered alter ego. But, this is the front upon which I've been called to fight now. At this computer.

Perhaps writing this chapel talk is the boldest act of hope I can muster. Perhaps daring to get back to "normal" will scream loudly to the world that though all is not now right, all is not yet finished. Perhaps "crisis response" is simply character training ground for "desk work." Perhaps this isn't about my fancy education or my ability to exposit at all. Perhaps it is simply about moving on. In hope.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Political thoughts...

Recently, one of my favorite seminary professors asked for the political thoughts of a divided household (mine) on the upcoming elections, the choices for VPs, and other things political.

Here's my response:

As for Palin, I don't know much about her, actually. She seems rather dynamic and a nice change of pace from GOP business-as-usual. I know some Dems like to say she has no experience, but that's a surprising tactic given their own choice for Commander in Chief. Her down-to-earthness may be a stroke of genius given that America is still recovering from 8 years of entrenched political family leadership. Is it enough to offset McCain's image as a career politician? Don't know.

Here's what I'm pretty sure I do know. College kids. And since both parties seem to be tripping over themselves to "win" that demographic, the Millenials seem to hold a level of importance they have never enjoyed before. And college kids like words like hope and change. Idealists that they are, these things catch their ever-wandering eyes like a shiny object attracts a primate. And here's a word they don't like: war. Even when coupled with the word "hero."

I think the GOP may be making a grave mistake by playing up McCain's war record if they hope to attract young voters. For most of the 18-25ers I've spoken to, war brings up one image and it's not a particularly pretty one. It comes along with labels like "unjust," "unnecessary," and "unwinnable." Or, more to the point, how most of their history textbooks describe Vietnam, when McCain was carving out his place in our nation's hero history. Unlike their grandparents, who may still have misty memories of going to war to bring down a freedom-threatening genocidal tyrant, these students have no history with war heroes. Rather they see war profiteers. I fear that playing up McCain's war record will look like another type of profiteering to them. One played out on the world's largest stage of democracy.

I say I fear this result because I really do believe that McCain is the better choice. But, I don't hear his name breathed in the same "talking-about-a-boy-band" voice that these students usually reserve for the Junior Senator from Illinois. This worries me because, ironically, at this point in our history, what America may need most is a war hero in the White House.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The teacher becomes the student...

One of the things I love most about my job is learning that I have so much to learn. Often, I sit at the feet of those much younger than me for my lessons.

This morning I got the chance to speak to a couple of the students who led a trip to Africa that I was involved in sending. The team just landed at JFK this morning for a well-deserved day in the big city after spending the last month in not-so-big Malawi. They all loved their trip, even Emily.

Nobody would fault Emily, of course, if she didn’t exactly adore the experience. After all, a trip to the African ER because malaria chose to take up residence in your bloodstream isn’t most people’s idea of a good time. Add in South African Airlines’ conspicuous lack of knowledge as to the whereabouts of Emily’s luggage when they reached the country a month ago, and it seemed like Emily unknowingly signed up for the lead role in "National Lampoon’s African Safari."

Then, a couple of days ago, I found out that not only did South African Airlines not know where Emily’s baggage was in May, they weren’t any more knowledgeable about it at the end of June. Yup, homegirl lived in Malawi for a month without any of her luggage. Just the clothes she had on when she boarded the plane on May 27 and whatever stuff she had shoved in her backpack (much of which was emergency contact info and the team leader packet I foisted upon her). Most everything else she had to borrow. For a month. Recipe for disgrunt, I say. But, Emily seemed to be baking from a different cookbook than mine.

Emily: “Benji!”
Me: “Emily! It’s so good to hear your voice! Welcome home. I’m so sorry to hear about your luggage. That’s awful.”
Emily: “You know what? It’s not that big of a deal. I’m over it. I think God really used it to teach me. I needed to go through that.”

Emily was already on my short-list for “Least Materialistic College Student,” but now I was really impressed. She told me that it had been hard for her at first, but that she was fine now. She also said that if she never saw her bag again, not such a big deal. If ever someone deserved a New York City shopping spree as a reward for fortitude, it’s her. If ever there was someone completely unlikely to take one, her again.

I have much to learn from my students. I just hope I keep taking notes.

Do not worry about what you will wear…

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dems the breaks, goyim...

Last Saturday morning Greta and I cruised to the fabulous Farmer's Market that descends on Santa Barbara each weekend. We often choose the Farmer's Market for our weekly supply of veggies and fruitstuffs.

As we cruised through the aisles, I noticed the Barack Obama supporters table, a fixture at the Farmer's Market (I can only assume the John McCain table was at a local gun show). As we passed the table the first time, I thought borderline pleasant political thoughts. Later, after picking up a heavy supply of strawberries, we passed the left-wingers again. This time, someone spoke to me.

I heard, "Excuse me, sir? Excuse me?" Immediately my "run-away-from-cell-phone-pimps-at-the-mall" defenses went up. For some reason, I ignore my defenses. Although everything inside of me did not want to turn around in the middle of the Downtown Santa Barbara bastion of liberalism and explain to the kindly people behind the card table why I would not, in fact, be voting for their version of change, I turned anyway.

Democrat guy: "Um, excuse, sir?"
Me: "Yeah?"
Democrat guy: "Do you know Hebrew?"
Me: "Um, kind of."
Democrat guy: "Could you read this? We just got them in and nobody knows what they say."

At this point Democrat guy extends a bumper sticker to me with something scrawled across it in unpointed Hebrew. Unpointed meaning without the vowels. Further meaning not the kind I learned how to read. Fortunately, as with most things in the political realm, this was lowest-common-denominator kind of stuff.

Me: "It says 'Barack Obama.'"
Democrat guy: (to his Democrat buddies) "Oh, it says 'Barack Obama!' That's great! Thanks, man. You should take this bumper sticker. Since you're the one who read it, you should have it!"
Me: "No thanks, that's alright."
Democrat guy: "No really, man. How about this button, then? It's the only one we have in Hebrew, but it's yours. Really, I insist."
Me: "Uh, thanks."

With that I slipped the button into my pocket and walked away beside my beaming/laughing wife. The button is now prominently displayed on the cork board beside the microwave.

So, how did Democrat guy single me out to begin with, you ask? Why not grab some other schmuck and ask him to translate the button? Well, everyone else must have left their Hebrew-language shirts from the Dallas Seminary bookcenter in the closet that morning.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Life on the road, part I...

My swanky job requires me to do a fair bit of traveling over a week typically dedicated to drunken parties in tropical locations. No, I'm not a cameraman for MTV. My traveling has a rather more sober and "did not come to be served but to serve" feel to it. 200+ of my students chose blood, sweat and tears while some of their peers around the country opt for drugs, sex and beer. A few stories from the week...

Started off visiting Spring Break in the City, a group that works in inner-city San Francisco. They serve alongside--not in place of--long-term workers who are seeking to save the lost among the lost. My students served meals, removed graffiti, ran youth center programs and generally poured themselves out as offerings.

Some SF highlights:
-walking through the Mission District and the Castro, seeking to understand what makes the City one of the most unique anywhere.
-having my first impressions of "the street kid with the glare" blown up when we played basketball together. (Nice kid. Quick first step.)
-being told by "random homeless guy in the wheelchair" that I was well-dressed and that he loved me.
-watching the group lay hands and pray for the suddenly grandfatherless girl just before she left to drive to Arizona to be with her family.
-watching leaders emerge when sickness struck.
-losing to "the kid who seems to get picked on" in foosball.
-losing to the girl nobody dares to pick on in ping pong.

Random SF story:
-I leave the City on Tuesday morning for the second leg of my excursion (more on that in part II). I get on the road early in order to A. not get stuck in traffic, B. not get stuck in the middle seat on a Southwest flight (No assigned seats? Really?) Apparently, nobody leaves San Francisco to go to Oakland (with good reason, too). With so little company in the lanes beside me, I cross the Bay Bridge rather quickly in my "world's smallest car" entry. Plenty of time for a real breakfast. Not a fast-food, let's grab a bacon Mcsomethin and then run to the terminal type of breakfast, but a sit-down, use a fork and a ceramic coffee mug breakfast. Problem: someone with my depleted supply of attention-span needs something to read. So, I cruise outside of Carrows and survey my newspaper options. San Jose Mercury-News, Oakland Trib, SF Chronicle. Chronicle it is (my condolences to the Hearst family).
I open it up and find soon that I'm flipping through the obits. Not really steady reading for folks in my age bracket, so I'm just about to turn to the sports section when I see a name I know. Yeah, that's right. One of my high school baseball assistant coaches died and I randomly saw the obit in the Chronicle at a Carrows in Oakland. Coach Z--I had to read closely to make sure it was really him because I only knew Matthew J. Zidich as Coach Z--lived an incredible life. He played baseball in the Pacific Coast League with Joe DiMaggio. He owned an Oyster Restaurant. He taught me the hitting philosophy that trumps all others: "You gotta be a low ball hitter and a highball drinker." Mom said the funeral was huge. No surprise there. One of those folks you just assume won't die had just died and I read the condensed story of his life, kinda shook my head and took another bite of bacon, avocado, jack. On to the airport...