Wednesday, December 31, 2008

modest expectations

Just over a year ago, we moved to a suberb of Chicago, Illinois.

This year, Chicago is ranked first (possibly second) for the most murders in a city in 2008. And the state's governor has been accused of trying to sell his appointment to replace Obama's senate seat. This, in the midst of national and global financial meltdown. What a great place to be, eh.

I was reflecting on this as I began to think about the New Year.

In many ways, my expectations for the new year seem quite ordinary and unexceptional. I hope and pray that we'll be able to visit with our children and grandchildren, despite that fact that they are scattered to the four corners of this country. I hope and pray that our daily work will continue, investing in the next generation of Christian servants and seeking to reduce homelessness. I hope and pray that our lifestyle will be simple, but marked by generosity, prudence, and delight. I hope and pray that we will grow in grace and fellowship with God and our neighbors.

And then it occured to me: in a world of financial meltdown, political chaos, and killing violence, if we could stay focused on modest expectations like these, our lives would in fact shine like stars in this, our local universe.

How extraordinary.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

the armour of reality

At the beginning of the semester, students complained about spiritual apathy and a kind of blah atmosphere. We prayed for a stirring. For renewal. For something that would awaken us to a more vital and vibrant life in Christ.

Things have changed. The election bubbled up some ugly sentiments. Most of it occured virtually, in text messages and facebook chatter. That chatter, though supposedly cavalier and not intended to be significant, was. People started to avoid each other. They began to view each other with suspicion. Deeper issues were exposed into the light of day.

So where's the reality? How deep or superficial is the reality of virtual chatter and embodied behavior?

Last week a student dropped in to tell me that he had witnessed an apparition. He went on to describe the appearance of the visitation. The image was like the ghoulish figures of a bad horror movie. He reported that as he lay in bed, the apparition reached out and touched his leg and he felt the chill move up both legs and arms. As this happened the apparition called him back to the old ways, to the good times he used to enjoy. He said he rebuked the apparition in the name of Jesus and after doing this several times it went away.

This student has a history of playing on the dark side. Seances, wikka, black arts, etc. He is a recovering addict and is trying to live in Christ. He admits it's hard and he stumbles a lot. He also admitted that he struggles with whether or not he really wants to give up the old ways ... because there was something strangely seductive and powerful about them, even if destructive in the end.

Is the apparition a projection or real?

A few days ago another student told me of a dream. Christ appeared to her as a lion. The lion affirmed God's love for her, then warned her of danger. She would be attacked by the evil one. Soon thereafter, in the dream, the devil beckoned her to come over to the dark side. The devil assured her it was much more fun, more exciting.

She asked: what should I make of this? It's not usual for me to dream like this. It is real?

Colossians 2:15 Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities ... triumphing over them by the cross.
Ephesians 6:12 Our struggle is ... against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of the heavenly realms. So put on the full armour of God...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


On Sunday, I'm scheduled to give my inaugural sermon in our new church community. That's right, two days before the American election, a fellow who's spent more time in Canada than in the US over the last 30 years gets to offer a final word from the pulpit here in Chicago. I doubt that I'll be able to match the rhetoric ormedia interest of Jeremiah Wright. Nonetheless I have been looking forward to this opportunity, working hard in hopes that my "inaugural" would somehow be noteworthy.

The lectionary text is Joshua 3:7-17, Israel crossing the Jordan. God instructs Joshua to have the priests lead the way, carrying the Ark--the place of God's presence in their midst. The primary point seems pretty obvious: it's not about Joshua or his leadership, it's about God opening up the way before his people come what may (in this case a very flooded river).

One might think I'd have taken the lesson to heart, realized that my goal should be to stay in the background so that the Word could be foregrounded, etc. Alas and alack ... many of us, and certainly I, am a vain creature. Thinking ahead to the event I regularly found myself imagining my presence, voice, leadership in this "first exposure" event.

God thought otherwise.

Over the past few days, I've been struck down with a bad head cold/flu. I'm full of mucus. My nose drips incessantly. It's ugly and off-putting. Even if I wanted to, I shouldn't shake people's hands, embrace them in greeting, or get near them.

By Sunday, I hope to at least be able to preach without coughing too much. To accomplish that, I'll need to forego pulpit theatrics and passionate vocal outbursts and just voice the Word in more ordinary tones and speech. All I will be able to do is let my voice carry it out there.

As always, it's best if God does the rest.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Getting Out and Wading In

These are times of great turmoil.

At the time of this writing, world stock markets have plummeted 30%, a $700 billion dollar bail out plan--more money than I could hope to comprehend, seems a bit trivial for being too little too late, presidential candidates are "taking off the gloves" and getting nasty at one another, Al Quaida and other extremist groups are growing, gas prices have sagged a bit but are still way higher than we would have imagined even a couple years ago, pirates are seizing ships (not in the movies but out on the high seas again), hurricanes and floods have wiped out homes, towns, counties and whole regions, the almanac is predicting a very cold winter!

So what better time than now to get outta town!

For some, of course, the best way to get outta town is to escape to some sheltered resort, where the sun shines on white beaches and glistens across azure waters. In times like these, there's deals to be found for escapades like this. And for people who are in need of sabbath rest and renewal, gettaways like this just may be the right ticket about now. I've never done that kind of holi-days, though I hope to some day.

In the midst of the turmoil of these times, I'm just as excited about another reason to get outta town. This weekend, my wife and I head out for a quick trip to Austin. We probably won't stroll down 6th ave, take in the night life, or dine on the cliffs overlooking the scenic waterways. No, we're all hyped up about going to church.

On Sunday our granddaughter will be baptized. We--individually and communally--will claim the promises of God on her life, witnessing her descent into the turbulent waters of the deep and God's raising her to life everlasting. I don't know if the tradition of the local church is to dunk people or sprinkle them; and I don't really care. What I do care about is that this little girl, along with all the rest of us, will once again dare to wade into the waters of our world with all its chaos and destruction and death because we know that God's saving promise is sure and we will live with him forever.

This weekend, we're gonna get outta town, and with a group of God's people once again wade further and deeper into the promise of God amidst of the turbulence of our world. And I reckon that we'll return both exhausted and refreshed.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

a stinger

I suppose I should have known better.

In my last post I mused about peace and panic, the lingering peace of summer as it begins to mix with the rising panic of all that must yet be done to launch the new academic/ministry year. I left the blog short ... so I could enjoy more of the summer's sabbath.

But truth be told, that didn't last long.

Instead of enjoying the three days of scheduled holiday (holy days), I found myself back in the office, writing sermons and devotionals, interviewing candidates, joining in new faculty orientation, and so on and so on. In it's own way, it was a good week. I worked hard, accomplished some good things, and eased the panic--even if only a bit. But I also ended the week feeling like I had missed out on something ... something holy.

I resolved not to continue my mistake, and so, even though there remains a pile of stuff to do, more details to chase, final edits to make, more interviews to conduct ... I was adamant that I would take this saturday as sabbath.

I woke early, and since I enjoy the quiet of morning, it was a treat to sit outside in the cool dewey air and slowly sip my way through a really good cup of coffee (thanks again for the beans, Bob!) The sun rose, I carefully watered some new plants I've started for next year, picked a few veges, and then hauled out the hose to more thouroughly water the vege garden and perennial flowers. And that was when I spotted a wasp hole. A couple wasps were just emerging, waking, as was I to a bright sunny day.

You know I should have left them well enough alone. I need those wasps. They help pollinate my plants. There aren't enough bees around here, so these little honey wasps are critical to the garden. But before even thinking through all this I just trained the flow of water on the hole to see what would happen .... Duh.

I don't really blame the wasp that stung me. After all, I had just mortally threatened it's home with catastrophic demise. And I don't even think it was trying to "come get me." It just so happened that in it's panicked flight to flee the flood, it flew up my shorts. I don't know just how far it got before it turned around but apparently I inadvertantly blocked it's way out as I shook my leg--the cloth of my shorts rubbing up against my leg closed off the wasp's escape.

The sting itself lasted only 10 minutes or so. But the swelling and itching and tightening of my skin continues. He must have got me pretty good because the swelling is about the diameter of a baseball.

I should have known. When we mess with creation, we inevitably get stung. And sabbath is as much a part of creation as anything else. If we mess with sabbath, one way or another we'll feel the sting.


Thursday, August 7, 2008


I haven't blogged for a while.

'Twas a kind of sabbath ... just letting go. Just as importantly, I wasn't sure I had anything to say that merited a blog (which of course now prompts the question: on what basis does such merit get evaluated? ... and I'm not sure I know, but it felt so).

This fallow, sabbath season is fast drawing to a close. In less than two weeks, the rush of the new (academic) year begins. Panic. But today, it's still summer. Peace.

What odd space this is. Panic and peace. Peace and panic. Beautiful summer days, destructive and deadly storms. Already, but not yet ... the kingdom come/ing.

Knowing when to rest in the peace that still lingers, and when to kick into gear to address the swelling panic is, I find, a matter of deep spiritual discernment. Believing that God will provide is a challenge when the panic swells; but failing to enjoy the peace and quiet that God uniquely provides through the gift of a cool summer breeze seems equally wrong. It is of course paramount that some preparation is done prior to the end of summer, and what better time for careful reflection and imaginative probing is there than the quiet of summer? The need for spiritual discernment is clear.

Soon enough, I will blog again. But that's it for now. There's a cool breeze blowing outside...


Monday, June 2, 2008


We've been hanging around with this Christian community for a while now. New to the area, singed, burned, scorned, and scarred by various Christian communities over the years, we've not been in any particular hurry to formalize the relationship.

It's an interesting bunch of people. There's a wide mix of professionals (professors, business owners, specialists of one sort or another, etc), a burgeoning younger demographic, an array of blue collar folks, and a bunch of very long time survivors. It's these survivors that amaze me.

Along the wilderness path of this community, it's been the point leaders who have done the real damage. Mostly, they violated relationships of one sort or another--mostly sexual. And given that sordid history, the community had times when prospective new leaders decided it was the better part of prudence to avoid the mess of this community.

But here's the thing. The community seems to be the better for it all. They have fashioned a style and commitment to "being the body together" in such a way that it doesn't all depend on the point leader. Point leaders, like anyone else, can come or go; the body will endure. So worship is led by lots of people. The pastoral care, too. Though when a "point leader" is in place, that person's gifts are celebrated and embraced along the way.

Recently, a few of these folks invited Connie and me to join them on a Sat eve trip downtown. We carpooled for the ride, ate together in the open air, and then enjoyed some live theatre together (the theatre was free, since we volunteered to do the ushering duties). It was a great afternoon/evening. But most memorable for me was the "anointing."

About mid-way through our meal, I was being pressed a bit by one of the group about what Connie and my plans were viz a viz the church. Would we become members or not? It was clear that they wanted us to say yes. That was nice, of course. But something didn't feel quite right about it all, either, for the person went on to assume that I'd offer some kind of "leadership."

And that's when the anointing happened. As this person was "pushing" me to accept the legitimacy of the community's expectation that I should be willing to offer something special, a bird flew overhead and dropped its doo on me.

Now, what should a person make of this?

Do we dump a load of crap on a person when we assume roles for them? Or does any person anointed to leadership inevitably suffer a load of crap? And why must people be anointed with so much crap from their leaders?

Whatever the case, it's the survivors that amaze me. May the crown of life--and life more abundant--await those who persevere in faith and hope. Amen: Let it be so.

Monday, May 12, 2008

... and he was a samaritan (Luke 17:16)

Simone Weil suggested that prayer is fundamentally a matter of paying attention. Paying attention is, of course, not always easy to do. Weil believed that if we developed the discipline of actually paying attention right through each petition of the Lord's Prayer, and prayed it in that way first thing each morning, it would transform us.

The Heidelberg Catechism teaches (Q&A 116) us that prayer is the most important way that we can express our thankfulness to God.

So if prayer is how we express our gratitude and thanks, and prayer is fundamentally a matter of paying attention, it should come as no surprise that we rarely give thanks unless something has first caught our attention.

Big leap .....

Lately, I've found myself in a variety of situations and conversations in which the topic has been evaluating worship. It's been quite a ride. Some have argued that worship is "ridiculous" unless it is centered on and consumed by doctrinal instruction (remember, this emerging generation has more than a few who long for the security of the old absolutes). Others claim worship is boring and "churchy" unless it offers mostly music and that music should be led by accomplished praise bands, or rising singer/songwriters (indeed, some of this emerging generation do not know any hymns for ever since they've been in church these past 20 years the only songs sung have been contemporary and up "on the screen"). Others expect worship to be limited to 65 minutes, and not a second more lest the social patterns of Sunday morning get crunched. Some desire "prophetic preaching" while others don't want to challenged so much as to be assured that they don't need to change. Nobody wants a scandal, but a little notoriety is o.k. if it brings in more members. Others want ... and on and on it goes.

In a pluralist world, who gets to decide what worship _ought_ to be like?

Here's a modest proposal.

If worship helps us to pay attention--to notice if we are known by our love (I John), to notice if we are known by our generosity (Acts 2), to notice is we are known as peaceful, gentle, kind, (Galatians 5), to notice whether or not we are "parable people" of the kingdom, etc. it is good.
If worship helps us to pray--to actually live with thanksgiving with what we have (rather than complain about the entitlements we think we deserve), it's good.

If we worshipped like this ... our Samaritan neighbors would notice. That's gospel.

Friday, April 18, 2008

perfectly perfect perfection

Not too long ago, I found the following poem written by a teen about perfection.

Dear Perfection,

Sweating, Working

Perspiring, Aspiring

Never there, always out of reach

In the distance, but on the horizon

Midnight tears

Tears of sorrow

Reaching towards the Goal


but then… there is you

Always winning

Always making the Goal

Laughs and Smiles to all your buds

A smirk back to the losers


the Loser

Trying, failing

To forgive myself



I suspect that desiring to be the perfect leader isn’t far from most of our consciousness. No one wants to lead imperfectly. If you don’t know what your imperfections are, just try leading. They’ll jump out at you like those massive lit signs on a nighttime freeway. They’ll stare you down and wear you down. One thing I’ve learned along the way about leadership: leading exposes imperfections. So, we try to be perfectly perfect…and we fail, miserably.

And then, moments like Maundy Thursday, Good Friday & Easter come along. They challenge the perfectly perfect perfectionism in us. They offer grace. They remind us that God has addressed our imprecations and that when our imperfections show, there is grace, forgiveness and victory in a cross and empty tomb. Suddenly, while leadership seeks to expose our imperfections, God seeks to heal them. This young teen was on to something. “Trying, failing to forgive myself” isn’t possible. There’s only one forgiveness we need: God’s.

Monday, March 31, 2008

a new mantra

Long before consultants endlessly chirped the mantra "Plan the work; work the plan" and way before "strategic planning" surged to the fore, a word of wisdom was heard way out in the desert.

Planning, of course, is necessary and good if we are to properly steward our gifts for the good of the kingdom. I wonder, however, if "strategic planning" is most often just the admission that our other planning is not what it should be. All planning, if done well, is strategic in the most basic sense.

Planning, and especially strategic planning, gets problematic as soon as it takes on the aires of being authoritative, declarative, and settled. It locks down certain possibilities and excludes others. Life is rarely quite that linear.

There's some old advice in scripture that seems to capture the best of what we seek in strategic planning but doesn't lock it down. Leadership, it seems to suggest, is anchored in deep discernment--the fruit of being steeped in the law (God's teachings).

Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no (vision/revelation/prophecy), people cast off restraint (get out of hand/perish). But happy (blessed) are those who keep the law.

This little proverb sits among a number of others that call us to heed the "teachings" of God. Indeed, the term "the law" at the end of the proverb can be translated "the teachings."

People perish, they get out of hand, they cast off restraint, the proverb indicates, when there is no vision or revelation or prophecy from God to lead them. In other words, when we fail to discern--to perceive, to contemplate, to gaze into--what it is, or where it is, or how it is that God is providing for us (as we carry on the teachings), we'll inevitably fall prey to this or that trend of the day, charismatic figure, or fortune teller.

Perhaps we would do well to coin a new mantra: Discern the way; the Way leads to discernment.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

He is risen!

The grave is empty.
Death is defeated.
Now, all that matters, is a new creation.
Today and ever more.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

God is love.
At just the right time, while we were still dead in sin, Christ died.
In this world, Love suffers ...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

leading and following

One day last week during my usual commute, I was travelling with two cars when after a few miles I looked back and realized we had become a “train” of cars. There were probably 10-12 cars moving in concert together. As I began to notice the group holding together along the freeway, I wondered about the interaction of leading and following. None of the original three cars were technically leading – if leading means heading off into unchartered territory. We were following a well laid out freeway – one that provides the stability, the structure, and the direction to get us to the small town where we, presumably, were headed. On the other hand, we were leading - if leading means that others kept joining us and becoming part of our group. Some cars entered the freeway at different locations and joined us. Other cars joined in after we passed them and decided to go the speed we were going. However it came about, it became a “train” that lasted for about 10 miles. The group eventually fell apart as we hit the first of three exits that leads to the area where I live. Eventually, I reached my exit (the third) and went my own way.

As I went my own way, I was struck by the experience. The experience of being in the group. The experience that somehow that day I had traveled with these cars rather than next to them. The experience of whether I was following or leading.

It seems to me that following and leading are almost always this difficult to separate. Leading is in essence being a good follower. Following well almost always leads to some degree of leading because others join in. Maybe, that’s what the foot washing of the disciples was meant to convey? That following well and leading well are almost always inseparable. Maybe that is what gets most leaders in trouble…when they separate following and leading. When we – who think of ourselves as leaders – forget that we must remain followers in order to lead well.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

mccrory meditates

A few days ago, we received an email from a friend of ours who is unable to post comments from his locale (teaching English in China). We were engaged by his thoughts in response to the 2/29 blog and asked if we could post them as part of the blog rather than as a comment. Our thanks to Don for allowing us to do that and for being the voice of hobab's journey this week. We've posted his blog in quotes below. Dan & Bill

"I've been meditating about the choices made by the two criminals who were crucified with JC (Luke 23). It seems to me that the basic issues separating their requests of JC parallel the issues you summarize in your last paragraph. They both had a figurative "gun to their heads." There was no way they were going to get out of their desperate situations alive, and they knew it. And so like hostages in the mall or in the classroom, they had to make critical choices. Criminal #1 wanted JC to perform a miracle that would land him back into his life of crime. All he wanted was the cultural benefit (safety, comfort, security, a way out of his tight situation) of having a conversation with J. (Note that J does not even expend the energy to respond to him.) Criminal #2, however, had a sense that life with God was the better choice. All he asked was that J. "remember" him in the new kingdom. That was the request of faith that prompted J's response. I've noted, too, that nearly every word of J's response is hopeful...I, truth, today, you, will be, with me, paradise. Criminal #1 wanted release; criminal #2 wanted relationship." Don Mc Crory

Friday, February 29, 2008

Recently, PEW funded a major study, and just released its report, on the state of religion in America. From what I can tell from a most minimal perusal, it pretty much parallels my own modest sampling and analysis.

When I explored this matter with a denominationally diverse group of undergraduates the concensus looked something like this:
Church is a place. It's a building with an address. It's something you go to (for a variety of personal reasons), not what you are.
When asked what was the most essential element of Church there was no statistically significant response. It totally depended on the person and what they were looking for.
For people in the lower echelons of the socio-economic strata, Church might play a factor in how they located themselves in a new community. For all others, it was at best a secondary matter that one looked into after all the essentials were taken care of--proximity to work, stable property values, amenities conveniently close by, etc.
When asked why some people don't like Christians, they were quick to identify most of the same maladies that are recounted in the Barna Group's book by Kinnaman (Un-Christian: What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, [Baker, 2007]): hypocritical, judgemental, sheltered, political, pushy, etc. They were unashamed about this, despite knowing it was pretty much the opposite of "they will know we are Christian by our love."
They were unanimous in their rejection of the idea that city planners should be required to designate space in any new development for religious facilities, and non-plussed to learn that this had been the case for most of our history.
In short, my summary of their understanding of the role of religion in American life, including their own, is that
a. it's a purely personal, individual matter
b. the church has no authoritative (or functional) influence in their lives--no-one and certainly not an institution can tell you what you have to believe or how to behave
c. basically, church brings no "added value" to a community
and d. that it's not likely any of this will change. After all, why should it?

Given this scenario, and you can get the overwhelmingly comprehensive data that undergirds my little sample in the PEW report, I'm trying to imagine what gospel might sound, look, live like in this North American world.
Though we live in a culture of violence and death (recent shootings in a mall and classroom close by), there seems to be no sense of warrant, and certainly no urgency, to want life or society to be any different than it is. So if gospel is anything other than a blessing on what is, it's hard to imagine how it would really matter to us.

Thinking (in American style--binary and violent) of the martyrs of the church through the ages, I wonder: if, while we were at the local mall or in our class/office, etc., a rogue were to put a gun to our head and demand that we "sin against the Holy Spirit" or be shot on the spot, what would we do? Which life--life with God or a life immersed in our cultural benefits--would claim our soul?


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


We’ve been having a bit of a nasty winter in Michigan where I live. I commute about 30 miles each way from the lakeshore community I call home with lots of snow (ever heard of lake effect?) to a community 30 miles away where the church I lead is located. Several times this year I’ve driven through near blizzard, or simply blizzard, conditions on my way to the church and back home. What struck me on these drives is that in the middle of a blizzard, strobe lights representing authority are rather comforting. They mean that you are not out there alone. They indicate that help is present for stranded motorists. They mean that some amount of authority is present.

On the other hand, the other day when the roads were clean and traffic was again shooting along at about 75 mph, I saw a strobe light behind a car. The driver was getting a ticket for speeding (presumably). As I instinctively let off the gas (why do we do that anyway?), I realized that strobe lights pulling people over for tickets are not nearly as comforting as those in a blizzard. In fact, the strobe in open space is pretty threatening (maybe that's why I slowed down?). So what’s the difference?

Authority is best when it is recognized, not when it is exercised.

That’s the thought that has been churning inside me this week. How often do we as leaders want to “exercise” our authority so that people know we have it? And when we do that, suddenly we’re not comforting, but instead are threatening. But what if we simply lived in such a way that people “recognized” authority in us, rather than us having to exercise it? It might be more difficult for us as leaders to live that way, but in the end, people might be glad to see us rather than spend time trying to avoid us.

I wonder if that’s what people saw when it says of Jesus in Luke 4:32 “They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.” Wouldn’t it be nice if that were said of us and our teaching? Maybe it will be if we, as leaders, live our lives so that authority is recognized, rather than exercised.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

spiritual formation and violence

Since I last posted a note on this blog about the killings at the clothing store just up the road from where we live, there's been more shootings--this time just a few miles upstate in a classroom lecture hall.

It used to be that the killing fields I read about were continents away, or, if nearer, then mostly hidden away in forgotten neighborhoods that in their own way were worlds away from "normal" suburban life. Not any more. Now the killing fields are located in a local clothing store and lecture hall. These are normal, not exceptional, spaces and places.

In the midst of this localization of violence unto death, I flew off to a retreat/conference for college chaplains. It ws a wonderful spot--green, warm, delightful buffets. The theme for the event was spiritual formation. And even though the news of the Northern Illinois University shooting was breaking news on radio, internet, and television, it didn't penetrate our spiritual formation. I guess we had really retreated from our ordinary worlds.

I did begin to wonder, however, if this wasn't once again a metaphor of sorts ... Has the church just retreated from the world, and so well that the world's violence and trouble just doesn't really reach us any more? But if so, what good is the spiritual formation we get there? How could it possibly make any difference to the reality of gospel in our world? For gospel, surely, is situated in the world.

Or perhaps we haven't retreated at all. No, perhaps the church is so culturally enmeshed in the aspirations and loyalties of our society that these "realities" just seem normal--even if unfortunate and personally tragic for those directly affected.

In this season of Lent, a time of reflection and preparation for all that is entailed in Holy Week, I find myself longing for spiritual formation that will set me apart--body, soul, mind, and strength--from this culture of death and violence and all the "normal, suburban, american, middle class" facades that try to mask it.

Such spiritual formation will likely be found out in the desert, it seems to me. That's where facades are stripped away, the tempter exposed. Jesus retreated to the desert.

In this lenten season, perhaps I would have been better served not to go "on retreat" but to seek out the presence of Jesus in the midst of the cultural wasteland right here at home.


Monday, February 4, 2008

A culture of competitive violence

For some time now, I've been recounting my thesis that one way to describe the culture of america is in terms of competitive violence. I'll leave the competitive element aside here for now, because it's the violence piece that most recently nailed me again.
You see, as it turns out, I not only live in Tinley Park now, but I was at the shooting location when the 5 women were shot down; I was just across the parking lot in the Super Target picking up a couple DVD’s that I plan to use in my class on Tues.
I got “locked down” inside Target as the cops from about every local town and county descended upon us, with more live weaponry than I’ve ever seen before … We didn’t have a clue what was going on/down, til someone phoned home on a cell phone and learned from a radio report that there’d been a robbery/shooting in the store across the parking lot.
I was struck by three things in the moment. First, I phoned home to reassure Connie that, while I would be delayed indefinitely, I was o.k. I had no idea if she was even aware of the situation, but I didn’t want her to worry. Even as I thought of Connie, I couldn't help but also think of the families for whom no reassuring word would come; their loved ones had died.
Second, I was stunned and made a bit fearful by all the weaponry that the law put on display. Fear and violence beget more fear and violence. Not only did every officer have a revolver, etc., but the swat teams had high powered rifles, all on the ready, etc. Everyone was wearing bullet proof vests, etc. They did a sweep of the parking lot, looking into every vehicle to see if the person had taken up hiding in there, and when, after a couple hours or so they let us go, they said it was up to us if we wanted to take the risk … since the offender was still on the loose. Unnerving.
But perhaps worst, as I sat in the little cafeteria area of this super Target, two episodes seemed to capture so much of contemporary American life: a cop came through fairly early on and did a visual search of us all, but then went out of his way to ask a young black fellow who was clearly wearing a Super Target uniform, badge and even Target baseball cap, to take off the cap and stand aside for closer scrutiny. I know the cop had to do it; on the other hand, I thought of my black college students and couldn’t help but wonder what kind of hell they’d have to endure if they had happened to quick run out a minute to Target that morning like I had. Alongside this, a portly white fellow more or less my age commented, in response to Target handing us all $3 coupons for our inconvenience, that $3 was a pretty paltry thing in light of having lost “his Saturday”. I said: “It’s not Target’s fault. They probably are losing hundreds/thousands of dollars for having to be shut down on their biggest day of the week.” But what got to me was that the inconvenience of a couple hours seemed like the most important thing in this person’s life when just across the parking lot people had been shot to death. The incongruity of it all—death, consumer convenience just rattled me.
I’ll be reflecting on this a bit in class tomorrow. Interestingly, my last lecture was a presentation in which I rehearse the state of our culture and had commented, specifically, that i didn't think Columbine or Virginia Tech were exceptional situations, but rather we could expect similar events to recurr with lamentable frequency. Some of my students thought I’d painted an overly grim picture of US life. They began to tune me out; I was getting over the top and boring. Ironic, eh. I go out to buy a CD for that same class, and get caught up in the very violence of which I spoke.

Today, at work, I heard a lecture in which the speaker said that the church in North America was like a thermometer, when it should be a thermostat. One reflects the state of things, the other changes and influences it.

Please pray with me that God will comfort the families of the women who were killed.
And please pray with me that my students will begin to understand the gravity of the situation and God's urgent call for us to be peacemakers ...


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Welcome to our new home

Hey all,

welcome to the new home of "hobab's journey." sorry we had to move, but that's the nature of this transient world we travel through. hope you find this home as great a place to stop by as our old one. thanks for exploring the wilderness with us.

bill and dan