Friday, October 31, 2008

Welcome to Silent Hill

I've been thinking a lot about Silent Hill lately. It's one of my favorite scary video game series, and I've been playing the most recent installment this month. And a couple of days ago, it suddenly hit me that life is like Silent Hill sometimes. (Just click any of these to enbiggen them.)
Sometimes you're in a dark place.
Sometimes you can't go the way you used to.
Sometimes there are barriers in your way.
Sometimes there's something scary between where you are and where you need to be.
Even though sometimes it may be circuitous, counterintuitive, hidden, or just plain hellish, there's always a way forward.

Happy Halloween!
Rev. Josh

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This Is Halloween

I've already written my definitive Halloween post, however, there's always something new to discuss, isn't there?

For example, this morning, I ran across this article about how " For 16 years, real horror overshadowed the make-believe terror of Halloween" in Oil City, PA. There's already something about Halloween that freaks people out, especially adults, in my opinion. There are varied reasons for this, I think, but underneath it all it seems to me that Halloween embraces things that are beyond our control. It's an excuse to cut loose from the laws of everyday society, to hide behind masks, to be what we aren't... and of course, there's the specter of death everywhere. So it didn't surprise me to read that Oil City had clamped down hard on Halloween for so many years in response to a horrible murder.

Warning: The following account of the murder disturbs me. Consider it at least a PG13 rating.

You see, on October 27th, 1992, 11 year old Shauna Howe was walking home from a Girl Scouts Halloween party. She was only two block from her house when she was abducted right off the sidewalk. Two days later her body was found in a dry creek bed underneath an abandoned railroad trestle. It was later determined that Shauna spent most of those two days in captivity, that she had been raped, and that she had still been alive when she was tossed from the 30 foot high railroad trestle.

As the article put it:
With the town gripped by fear that a child killer was on the loose, trick-or-treating the next day was held in daylight for the first time. Police watched from helicopters as parents led their children from house to house along quiet streets.

Residents also began locking their doors and driving their children to school. And every year afterward, the City Council voted to allow trick-or-treating in the afternoon only, a move duplicated around the same time by many other U.S. cities and towns worried about children's safety.
I won't say that Oil City overreacted, after all, the three arrests made in the case weren't until the middle of 2004, (This site seems to have the best info on how that all came about.) but I do wonder if the town would have had a similar reaction had it been, say, a 4th of July party, instead. Even granting that Oil City's reaction was appropriate, I will also say that if I were the parent of 10 year old Elizabeth Roess, I'd be very, very proud. There's something very powerful about the fact that it took a 5th Grader's petition drive and very simple arguements (Halloween decorations are best appreciated at night, and many people aren't home during the day to give out candy) to move Oil City into a less fearful place.

Still, Oil City plans to have twice as many police officers on duty, plus all of the school's security guards and crossing guards. And the local radio station has been running a public service announcement warning parents to accompany their children, examine all candy, and have their kids wear reflective material. And two out of three of those precautions are useful and necissary.

Halloween candy tampering is an urban legend. Despite some very well publicized accounts of alleged tamperings in the 60's and 70's, there is absolutely no record of a child being injured or killed by swallowing adulterated Trick or Treat booty. Period. This one gets my goat, I think, because I have clear memories of being sternly warned by a uniformed policeman to thoroughly check candy before eating it on Halloween. It put a real damper on the holiday, at least in my experience as a child. And there's enough real danger in the world without lending credence to a pretend one.

I guess if there's an underlying message to all of this, it is this: As in all things, there is a balance to be had here. There is darkness in the world. Sometimes there are rapists and murderers ready to take your children from you. Sometimes children get run down in the road. But there are appropriate and reasonable precautions to take. After that... just have fun, won't you?

Be safe
Be not afraid
Rev. Josh

Friday, September 12, 2008


It has been amazing how little time I've had the past couple of weeks. The beginning of the program year here at the church (which basically follows the school year) requires a lot of attention! So much so that I was a little off my game yesterday when Emmi, my co-dean for The Written Word told me via AIM that her office was observing a moment of silence in memory of September 11th. "Oh yeah... that's today, isn't it?" I said. That's how busy it's been. But I'm almost ready for Sunday, and I feel bad about (a) not blogging regularly & (b) not reflecting on 9/11, so I thought I'd do both of those things now.

My first memory of disaster is watching the Challenger explosion on TV when I was 9 years old. (I just glanced at the wiki article, and the image of that smoke plume still haunts me.)

The next time I remember being that deeply disturbed by tragedy was the Columbine High School massacre. I was in college then, and remember sitting in my dorm room and watching CNN all day long, trying to wrap my mind around it. I don't think the image of students being rescued through a second story window to the top of a SWAT vehicle, or racing for their very lives across the lawn, will ever leave me. I remember just... devouring every snippet of information I could on what happened there and did my very best to understand why... and I came to some hard conclusions about our society--but that's a post for another time, I think.

But 9/11... I was a student at ANTS and classes were supposed to start on the 12th. My wife was only my fiancée then, and the plan was for her to ride up to campus with me, spend the day with me, and then I would put her on the train home again. My dad was still working for the Navy then, and he and my mom had gotten up very, very early, had breakfast, watched the news and turned off the tv before the attacks happened. Then Mom and I went to the train station in Westerly to buy the tickets for the next day. And the gentelman at the station said, "We're not selling tickets today, nobody's going anywhere." And we were obviously confused, so the man said, "What? You haven't heard? Somebody flew a plane into a building in New York, they aren't sure yet if it's an accident or if somebody did on purpose." So we went back to the car and drove home, listening to the radio. I decided that driving towards Boston the next day, where the planes that hit the World Trade Center had taken off from, might not be my best move... I remember people around me feeling sorrow, and anguish, and... I couldn't feel anything. I was numb. But this disaster caused me to do more soul-searching about my country, my religion, and my God than any other.

I love this country, but I did not run out and buy a flag for my car. Instead, I wondered what kind of person decides to make a buck selling those flags on the backs of the nearly 3,000 dead in those attacks. I have always held dear the ideal of pacifism, because I believe that Jesus taught us to be pacifists and because I believe that violence begets violence and pacifism begets peace. But I cannot fault the passangers of Flight 93 for mounting their assault. There's certainly something about the words, "Are you guys ready? Ok. Let's roll!" that strike deep into the heart. I still struggle with 9/11, and all the things that it changed--all the positive and negative things that it revealed about this country, about this people, that I love.

On Neil Gaiman's blog yesterday there was a post about how layers of meaning have been added to 9/11 over the years, and it uplifts a clip of Jon Stewart as a means of maintaining perspective. My wife and I watched it in silence this morning, but before I embed it below, I'd like to point out one more thing I struggle with about this country, this people. In this clip, Jon Stewart proclaims that the 9/11 attacks forced us to a place where we judged not by the color of a person's skin, but rather by the content of their character. As we gear up for another election, and I hear people tear down the Democratic candidate because his last name is "Obama," I must beg to differ. Maybe in that pure moment of terror, as the towers came down, maybe then every color, race, and creed were for a moment equal. But I ask you, how long did that last?

If you have issues seeing the video, try this.

Be good to each other.
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Magic of the Intertubes

Every once in a while the magic of the internet just boggles me for a second or two. Like the time I was playing World of Warcraft during the day of Christmas Eve and somebody in chat said, "What do you mean tomorrow? It's Christmas today!" It turned out that all of the Americans in-game hadn't considered the possibility that there might be somebody on who's in Australia... where it was already tomorrow! How cool is that? I was playing a video game with a guy on the other side of the world...

Anyway, I had another of those moments when I logged into my e-mail this morning. I had a message from Blogger informing me that I had a new comment on my infamous post about my tattoo. (I say infamous because there was a stir here at church about it, apparently some thought I was teaching our youth to disobey their parents. So let me reiterate. I waited til I was 30 to get Aslan done. If you're yonger than that, listen to your parents, kids!) Anyway, it was a nice complement from a name I didn't recognize, so I clicked on his Blogger profile link and discovered that he's from the UK... So I _really_ don't know him.

I answered his comment with one of my own and found out that he had simply been looking for a pic of Aslan for a video he had been editing for his blog. It's a amazing, have a look.

I've seen similar stunts in television commercials and video games, (Tell me you aren't thinking of Tomb Raider when you saw them hit that wall and pull themselves up!) but never anything so very much real life, unless you count Jackie Chan flicks.

In any case, I thank the internet for allowing me to connect with someone I never would have known even existed otherwise. I also thank the internet for introducing me to parkour, which I'd never heard of before this morning!

One last thing, all you blog-reading teens, I noticed that Ben refers to his parkour outings as "training" and even talks about a fall that could have ended badly, just in the one post I read. Please, for the love of God (and Rev. Josh), don't just run out and try this. Please?

Be safe & be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


This is Aaron. He's one of my best friends ever.

Life has been exciting and good to Aaron just recently. He's an aspiring young actor/puppeteer/musician, and he's actually been getting some exciting work! He was an extra in the latest Indiana Jones movie. And he co-starred in an indie film called Profile. So he's been in an Indy film and and Indie film. Hehe. I've already seen the Indian Jones flick, and it was fun to pick Aaron out of the background in several shots, but I'm more excited about Profile which premieres Sunday, July 20th at the Narragansett Beach Theater with a 6:30pm showtime. Due to the film's content, they'll be holding to an "R" rating.

Also, congratulations to Aaron for getting a job with the Tears of Joy Theatre doing acting/puppetry/singing! We're beside ourselves with joy for ya, man. We love ya.

Watch Aaron with each other.
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rachael Ray... Terrorist?

Imagine my surprise as I logged into my AIM account this morning and was greated with the headline, "Rachael Ray's 'Terrorist' Ad Yanked" Well, I guess the rediculous headline did what it was supposed to do, because I went ahead and had a look. Apparently Dunkin Donuts has pulled an advertisement featuring Rachael Ray because her stylist put her in a white silk scarf with a black paisley pattern.

Yup. Scarf.

Terrorist scarf!

But Michelle Malkin apparently thinks I'm clueless about the symbolism of the terrorist paisley pattern, so let's rectify that, shall we? Malkin says that the paisley scarf that Rachael Ray is wearing "appears to be a black-and-white keffiyeh." She goes on to say,
It's just a scarf, the clueless keffiyeh-wearers scoff. Would they say the same of fashion designers who marketed modified Klan-style hoods in Burberry plaid as the next big thing?
Wow, keffiyeh are exactly like Klan hoods. Maybe I am a clueless... And yet, Malkin's condescending and vitriolic tone doesn't quite have me convinced that she is a neutral and reliable source of facts. I mean, really, who does she think she is? A FOX News pundit? What's that? She is? Oh. Well. That explains a lot.

Anyway, I decided to do a little research into the keffiyeh through Wikipedia, which is linked in my sidebar. And what I learned is that the keffiyeh is a traditional headress of Arab men and "is commonly found in arid climate areas to provide protection from direct sun exposure, as well as for occasional use in protecting the mouth and eyes from blown dust and sand."

It is true that Yasser Arafat has made the particular pattern of his keffiyeh a trademark symbol that has come to represent his politics. Even the way in which he wears the garment is symbolic, as "Early on, he had made it his personal trademark to drape the scarf over his right shoulder only and arranging it in the rough shape of a triangle, so resembling the outlines of the territory claimed by Palestine."

I suspect that it is also true, as Malkin says, that they are "a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos." I also suspect, however, that they are also a regular adornment of shopkeepers, taxi drivers, farmers, tailors... people who are kind and gentle as well as radical Islamic terrorists. In fact, our own military use keffiyeh "in military olive drab or khaki with black stitching" to keep the sand out of their faces as they do their duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Was Rachael Ray supporting Yasser Arafat in a Dunkin Doughnuts commercial by wearing a silk scarf that is the same color, almost the same cut, and not at all the same pattern as the keffiyeh Arafat has made his trademark? I sincerely doubt it. Was Dunkin Doughnuts right to pull the add? Actually... yes. Because Rachael Ray's scarf simply isn't important enough to be arguing over.

Although I am glad that I learned a little bit from all of this siliness. The keffiyeh is more like a baseball cap than a Klan hood. The Klan hood, as far as I can tell, is only worn by those who are in the Klan and subscribe to the Klan's positions. Baseball caps are worn in many different styles and colors for reasons varying from a simple need to keep the sun out of one's eyes to intentional affiliation with a group of people (the Yankees or the Red Sox, for example). Not every red & white cap means "Red Sox fan." Not every black & white keffiyeh means "I support Arafat." Many more times than not, a cap of any color means "this keeps the sun out of my eyes." And many, many more times than not, a keffiyeh means "this keeps the sand out of my face."

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, May 23, 2008

Editing is Neat

This morning I ran across the following video on YouTube, and as I was considering writing a post about cell phone use and etiquette (Just cause it rings doesn't mean you have to answer it!) I noticed another version of the video called "extended cut." Here's the first...

Wow, who hasn't wanted to do that, right? Props to the prof! But wait... who was sitting in the middle of the classroom catching it all on video? Maybe it's been too long since I was in school, but we weren't video-taping lectures then... Maybe the extended cut will give me some answers...

Hehe, I suspect, having seen the full cut, that the whole thing was staged, and that the short cut made it look more real than it actually was. Which is really rather clever, in my opinion!
Seriously, though, silence your cell phones when you're in class, or worship, or a movie. If you really feel you need to look at your phone when it starts buzzing away, go outside and do it. Especially if you're someplace dark, like a theater. Even texting is annoying in a darkened room, because everyone behind you can see the light from your phone. It's like waving a flashlight around in there. And for your safety, and the safety of others, don't talk or, God forbid, text while you're driving. I can't count the number of times I've personally avoided an accident and said aloud, "What are you doing?" and then been able to answer myself. "Oh. You're driving one-handed while talking on your cell phone."

Be polite, be safe, and be good to each other.
Rev. Josh

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Those of you who have been following this blog probably remember my post concerning the IRS and how it was threatening the non-propephet tax-exempt status of the United Church of Christ. The complaint against the denomination was a response to Senator Barack Obama's address to General Synod, the biennial national meeting of the UCC. Sen. Obama was invited to speak to his own denomination at General Synod months before he announced his candidacy for president and as you can see below, the UCC did everything in its power to avoid officially endorcing Sen. Obama's campaign. Nevertheless, Sen. Obama supporters did set up tables outside of the convention center (on public property) and Sen. Obama mentioned his candidacy in the speech itself.

After a great deal of research and thought, I came away not knowing if the UCC had abided by the letter of the law, though I remained convinced that we were very much in the spirit of it. Apparently the IRS has been satisfied, though, as the latest news is that the UCC has been cleared of any wrongdoing concerning Sen. Obama's appearance at General Synod! Huzzah!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Wii Says You're Fat?

You may have seen a news item recently about the Nintendo Wii telling a 10-year-old British girl that she's "fat." Several quotes from the father and from Tam Fry have been circulating the web (and I assume TV, too, possibly) on the subject. Besides the description of the father being "gobsmacked" when he heard what the game had said, the most repeated quote from the girl's father is this:
"She is a perfectly healthy, 4-feet-9-inch-tall 10-year-old who swims, dances, and weighs only six stone. She is solidly built but not fat. She was devastated to be called fat and we had to work hard to convince her she isn't."
The other most quoted quote is attributed (I assume correctly) to Tam Fry, a spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum,
"I am absolutely aghast that children are being told they are fat. A child's BMI can change every month and it is perfectly possible for a child to be stocky, yet still very fit. I would be very concerned if children were using this game and I believe it should carry a warning for parents."
So far, nobody has been convinced that a "warning" or an older ESRB rating is in order here, and apparently Nintendo has made the following statement,
Nintendo would like to apologize to any customers offended by the in-game terminology used to classify a player's current BMI status, as part of the BMI measurement system integrated into Wii Fit.

Wii Fit is still capable of measuring the BMI for people aged between two and 20 but the resulting figures may not be entirely accurate for younger age groups due to varying levels of development.
So here's the deal, near as I can tell after a lot of internet research. Wii fit doesn't use the word "fat." It uses a simple calculation to find the users' Body Mass Index (BMI). Based on their BMI, they are put into categories, the most unfit of which are "overweight" and "obese." So what's the big issue, if you're overweight and the game says so, it's just truth, right? Well, despite Thoreau's famous injunction to "simplify," the BMI calculation isn't completely accurate. As it is a function of weight and height, it does not work well when considering growing children (who's weight and height can vary from day to day!) or, ironically enough, the very fittest among us (muscle mass weighs more than fat!) So, I think I'll leave you with a little promotional video of the Wii Fit so you can see what it is, really, and leave you with this thought. Wii Sports is one of the first video games that promotes getting up out of the chair and moving (The arcade game, Dance Dance Revolution is the first one I became aware of.) and the Wii itself is certainly the first video game platform to do so. I think that if you're aware of the drawbacks of the BMI, and talk with your kids about it before they play the Wii Fit games, that you'll find, in the end, that the Wii is still a positive thing.

Be good to each other
Rev. Josh

Friday, May 09, 2008

Updated Blog! Honest!

I know, I know it's been way to long again. But look! Here's the post about I Can Has Cheezburger? that I promised you. I don't know where they came from originally, but they can't spell, speak kind of broken English and Leet Speak (Hence the term Lolcats. LOL stands for "Laughing Out Loud" and cats. Well, they're the furry mammals that make us LOL.") I have to thank my friend Cort, from Aestus, for turning me on to Lolcats. In fact, they are so much a part of my day, now, that I've linked the site in my sidebar under the heading "Daily Dose of Joy." Cause that's what they are! Also new, is the Communication Stuff down at the bottom, for all of you who have been having trouble finding ways to lay ahold of me. Facebook and E-mail is about all I can keep up with though, so don't expect that list to get any longer any time soon! Anyway, here's one of my favorite Lolcats, I've done all I know how to, but I can't seem to make it smaller. The caption is "Meow Mix." I hope you enjoy it!

humorous pictures
more cat pictures

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Make this 17 seconds good."

I came in to work this morning intending to blog about an internet phenomenon called "lolcats." And I will sometime soon, I'm going to need the joy that it brings, I think. I've basically been holding a one-household boycott of televised news (which I think deserves its own blog entry somewhere down the line), so maybe I'm late running across this news item, but apparently six girls in Polk County, Florida lured another girl into a house, beat her unconscious, then waited for her to wake up with a video camera in hand. Then they took turns beating her on camera. I've seen the part of the video that I'm sure you've all been saturated with already, and I am, like I can only hope that you are, thoroughly disturbed. I will not link it here, if you haven't seen it and want to so bad, I'm sure you can find it on your own.

I guarantee that somebody on the TV has said something along the lines of, "Well, there's so much violence in television and movies and video games that they don't know any better." I don't watch as much TV as I once did, but I do love all kinds of movies (including some violent ones) and I do play video games (some of them violent) and I have never, ever seen anything like this video. Ever.

So what spawned this terrifying violence? Apparently the victim trash-talked about the other girls on her MySpace page. But I suspect that the real causes lie deeper than internet social-networking sites. I found another video, you see, and I want to say this very carefully, because I know how the televised news can make clever cuts and comments to make anyone mean anything--but the mother of one of the attackers speaks about the names that the victim called those girls on her MySpace page, "much worse names than 'slut.'" Perhaps this is a parent desperate to keep the media from demonizing her child. Perhaps the televised news cut the part of her interview where she says, "There is no excuse for what my daughter did." Or perhaps this is a mother thinking, "Heck, I'd want to beat her down, too." I'll never know for sure.

What I do know is that folks are blaming MySpace. And this is a topic that I know a little bit about, at least, being kinda internet savvy. MySpace is a tool, and just like any tool it can be used for good, or evil. A hammer can build up, or tear down, and the same is true of MySpace. But in the end, it's a tool, and can't do anything on its own. Both the victim and her attackers saw MySpace as a tool for evil. This isn't a new thing, MySpace wasn't around when I was in high school, but girls were vicious gossips and name callers then, too. What MySpace has done, is bring that kind of name-calling and bullying to a much wider audience. When girls in my tiny high school were being verbally vicious, it circulated around the school, but that was about it. When you do it on MySpace, anyone with the internet can see it. Anyone. And there are things that social-networking sites can do to cut down that kind of behavior. And I hope that they will.

Luckily, there is something that you, dear parents can and should be doing. Get internet savvy. And check out your kids' blogs, MySpace, Facebook... whatever. Know who their friends are, where they're spending their time, and what they're spending their time doing.

And for the love of God, teach them how to turn the other cheek. I'm not saying to teach them to internalize what others say about them, either. It's quite likely that none of the attackers were sluts. But you can teach your children that the proper reaction is, "Huh, I guess she's not my friend after all. But I know I'm not a slut, and so do the people who know me, so whatever."

In other words, "Let's all get together and beat her on video for 30 minutes so we can post it on the internet for revenge" should be the furthest thing from their minds.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, March 27, 2008


In an earlier post I sounded off on a comment on my post about the United Church of Christ's IRS problems. (For the latest news on that topic, click here.) In that sound-off I said
For the first time (ever, I think) I've gotten a comment on my blog from someone who's name I don't recognize. I don't know for sure if this is someone from my community, or just someone connected with UCCtruths. I suspect that it is the latter, canvassing the internet for blogs making reference to the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ, and slapping a rather nasty comment onto those that side with the UCC.
Well, just yesterday I received a comment on my blog from UCCtruths! "James" writes
Hi Rev. Josh!

I'm the guy responsible for UCCtruths and I apologize if someone enthusiastic about the site is bugging you. I was just doing a blog search for 'ucctruths' and found your site which is pretty cool.

UCCtruths is intentionally irreverent and within the context of the web site, you kind of expect this but it's not acceptable when it's projected onto other sites and people.

God's peace my friend.


I have so much respect for that response. "James" identified himself as responsible for UCCtruths, and apologized for "Drew" ...who apparently has no official ties to the site. He makes sure to tell me how he found my blog, so no mystery there. He touches on the fact that UCCtruths intentionally strikes the tone that it does, which of course is fine. (It doesn't happen to be a tone that appeals to me, but that's not "James'" problem, now is it?) He also says, though, that projecting the tone from his site onto others' isn't acceptable. Which is a really nice, concise way of saying some of what I was getting at when I sounded off in the first place.

Besides which, he thinks my site is "pretty cool." And it's always good to hear nice things, isn't it?

As for his site, it's not really my thing. But I am going to look at it every once in a while, because even though I come to different conclusions than "James" does most of the time, at least he makes me think about why I do.

God's peace, my friends,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Wright Stuff

I don't like talking politics. I don't have the mind, or the heart for it, for one thing. But there have been so many things happening in connection to the upcoming election that have been seriously disturbing me. I knew things were going downhill during the 2000 presidential election when the most unbiased and complete (and therefore helpful) coverage was not a major news program, but rather The Daily Show.

That's the first thing that's been disturbing me, and it has been for a long time now. One of these days I'm going to tell the story that led me to realize how much television editing can change the tone of something, but for now, let me say this: Maybe I'm an idealist, but I thought journalists, all journalists, including television journalists, were supposed to be fair and unbaised, "Just the facts, Ma'am." We've all seen, I hope, that television journalists especially have left that little ideal far behind.

And now we're not going to focus on the candidates themselves, but rather on their churches. And I'm not even talking about some inflamitory political talk show on FOX. I'm talking the ABC News.

Please understand, I'm not upset about this whole thing because it's a UCC church that's under fire. I'm upset because, in my opinion, the casualties of this political move of the media are too high: the impartiality of the press and freedom of the pulpit.

I think that John Thomas said it best in a recent statement responsing to the Wright controversy. He wrote:
What's really going on here? First, it may state the obvious to point out that these television and radio shows have very little interest in Trinity Church or Jeremiah Wright. Those who sifted through hours of sermons searching for a few lurid phrases and those who have aired them repeatedly have only one intention. It is to wound a presidential candidate. In the process a congregation that does exceptional ministry and a pastor who has given his life to shape those ministries is caricatured and demonized. You don't have to be an Obama supporter to be alarmed at this. Will Clinton's United Methodist Church be next? Or McCain's Episcopal Church? Wouldn't we have been just as alarmed had it been Huckabee's Southern Baptist Church, or Romney's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?

I simply ask you, what's at stake here?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Amazing Story

It's not every day that I get permission to repeat a story of a pastoral call someplace public, like this blog is. And specific requests for me to do so are... well, this is the only one, to my memory! I hope I do it justice.

So, the other day I was chatting online with one of my favorite people, and she shared with me the story of a friend that she had met on-line through Pandora's Aquarium. Her friend was living somewhere in the UK, if what she was going through can appropriately be called living. You see, her friend was being sold for sex by her father.

Go ahead, read that again. No, it's not a typo, her friend was being sold for sex by her father.

Luckily, one of my favorite people knew about Love146, an intenational abolitionist organization dedicated to ending child sex slavery and exploitation. She immediately told her friend about the organization, and despite catching flak from an administrator of the message board (for being too "dogmatic"), one of my favorite people contacted Love146 on behalf of her friend. Love146 pointed her to International Justice Mission, who in turn pointed her to CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking). One of my favorite people asked me to pray for her friend, and you better believe that I did, and wholeheartedly.

Some time after that, I received a phone call from one of my favorite people. She told me that she had just heard from her friend, and that she was attempting suicide. It very quickly became clear that one of my favorite people had her friend on-line right there, and so I gave her some advice concerning what she should be trying to do (including getting an address so an ambulance could be sent and giving her online suicide hotlines). Her friend, however, was insistant that suicide was the way out. I told one of my favorite people that she was doing the right thing, and to stay with her friend as long as she could. And when we ended our phone conversation, that's where we left it.

I kept imagining what it would be like, wondering if your friend was alive or dead, possibly never hearing from them again and not knowing one way or the other. It would haunt me...

So I was exstatic when I got a happy phone call from one of my favorite people, and she told me that not only had her friend lived, she had been rescued by CAST! I'm always happy to field those difficult phone calls, but it absolutely makes my day to get one of those joyful ones!

A final note: I recently heard from one of my favorite people that her friend had just had a miscarriage and gone through a surgery that is very similar to an abortion. I have a friend who went through the same thing, and it was very traumatic for her. But one of my favorite people's friend was upbeat, happy, and hopeful. And that was what finally prompted one of my favorite people to ask me to write this post. Because her friend was so very inspiring.

Whatever difficulties you're going through right now, you can make it. Her friend has.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Gary Gygax

In the late 1960's, Jeff Perren and Gary Gygax created and published the rules for a war game played with minatures, and they named it Chainmail. The 1971 edition of Chainmail provided a fantasy supliment which added rules for jousting, man-to-man melee, and conducting battles with fantasy creatures. This supliment was written by Gary Gygax. Three years later Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published an expansion of these rules in the form of three slim books with the following dedication:
"Dedicated to all the fantasy wargamers who have enthusiastically played and expanded upon the Chainmail Fantasy Rules, with thanks and gratitude. Here is something better!"

The name of that "something better" was Dungeons & Dragons.

Gary Gygax died on Tuesday, March 4th. In his own words:
I would like the world to remember me as the guy who really enjoyed playing games and sharing his knowledge and his fun pastimes with everybody else.

I don't think that will be a problem.

Play games with each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Feeding the Troll?

For the first time (ever, I think) I've gotten a comment on my blog from someone who's name I don't recognize. I don't know for sure if this is someone from my community, or just someone connected with UCCtruths. I suspect that it is the latter, canvassing the internet for blogs making reference to the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ, and slapping a rather nasty comment onto those that side with the UCC.

Which isn't to say that there isn't some truth to what "Drew" pointed me towards. He attached this link to the the comment, and if this letter is indeed accurate and legitimate, I'll have to slightly revise my position. As I said (and "Drew" ignored) at the end of my post, I reserve the right to be wrong. I am not an IRS lawyer, so I don't know for sure if the position held by either side is correct.

Assuming, for the moment, that this letter completely accurate, then elements of Sen. Obama's speech crossed the line. As I pointed out in the last post, he was hardly the first to cross that line, but there it is. I remember the general excitement that Sen. Obama would be speaking at General Synod, but I honestly can't remember one way or the other concerning the UCC pushing the idea that a presidential candidate would be speaking to Synod. As to the rest of it, UCCtruths sums it up better than I could:
Obama was not a candidate for office when invited, Obama only slipped twice in his speech in reference to his candidacy and that volunteers were campaigning outside the Civic Center and could not be controlled by the UCC.

Even though UCCtruths makes some interesting points that should be considered, I have a difficult time wading through their tone. There's something terribly absolutist about the way they say things that just sets my teeth on edge. Then again, perhaps I'm guilty of reading their blog with the tone of "Drew" still ringing in my ears.

Here's the comment "Drew" left on my blog:
Before you drink the punch on this, you should read the actual complaint that outlines the rules and specifically how they were violated:

So, what do I know about "Drew"? He or she wants me to look at the link to UCCtruths, which I have done. He or she wants me to carefully consider his or her point of view, which I have done. He or she wants to win me over to the position of the IRS. This, he or she has not accomplished. To be quite frank, "Drew" is lucky that I went so far as to click that link this morning. Because his very first words are such an egregious and disgusting attack that I very nearly deleted his comment out of hand.

"Before you drink the punch..." is an obvious reference to the Jonestown Massacre. Evidence and eye-witness accounts of the very few survivors of that tragedy show that most, if not all, of the 909 people who died were, in fact, murdered. Referencing such a horrendous event in such an off-hand manner is not a good way to start with me.

I have been a member of the United Church of Christ my whole life. I was ordained by the UCC. I have worked as a delegate for two different General Synods, and I have seen first hand how our denomination is made up of an extremely diverse group of people with different theological emphases, different cultural backgrounds and different political ideals. What makes them special is that they are willing to come together, pray together, worship together, and openly work together on some very difficult issues. They respect—no—they treasure being exposed to new ideas and opposing viewpoints. As one columnist for the Hartford Currant wrote, "Really, sending the IRS after these people is like having the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms kick down the door of a bunch of nerds playing Dungeons and Dragons."

Seriously, though, I know these people, and even when I don't agree with them, I trust them. I am deeply insulted that "Drew" decided to make an anology between the United Church of Christ and Jim Jones. I hope, for their sake, that "Drew" is not one of the UCCtruth people, because he or she is not doing them any favors.

As for UCCtruth, I'm glad they're there. Their site says that every denomination should have one of these, and they have a point. If we are never challenged, never criticized, we never grow. However... they refer to the UCC's argument against the IRS allegations as if it were simply a tactic to get the UCC out of trouble. Is it really so shocking to consider the idea that the UCC is arguing that "that the spirit of the IRS rules are to prohibit churches from endorsing a candidate and the UCC went to great lengths not to endorse a candidate," because that's what they believe?

So, revision time: I personally believe that those laws are on the books for the purpose of keeping religious organizations from endorsing candidates. I know for a fact that we went out of our way to not endorse Sen. Obama. If every letter of the law was not followed, then yes, there should be some consequences. I do not, however, believe that yanking our tax-exempt status is a punishment that fits the crime. I believe in the separation of church and state, but I do not believe that means that church and state should not be in communication. And I believe these things strongly enough to provide a link to the Legal Defense Fund again, just in case you feel moved to contribute.

Make up your own minds,
and be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


I don't like talking politics. However, some of you have been asking me about news reports that the United Church of Christ is under investigation by the IRS and that the IRS is in fact threatening our denomination's tax exempt status.

The reports are true. Here is an article from the UCC site explaining the whole thing. In fact, they even supply this link to the actual letter from the IRS.

Basically, the IRS is arguing that having Barack Obama speak at General Synod constituted an endorsement of his presidential campaign by the UCC. Here's why I think they're wrong: Sen. Obama, a long time member of the UCC, was invited as one of 60 diverse speakers, all of whom were asked to speak about the intersection between their faith an their respective vocations. He was invited to do this before he announced his candidacy. Once it was clear that he was running for president, the UCC carefully researched the very laws that the IRS accuses them of breaking. The letter from the IRS mentions Sen. Obama's campaign crew being outside the convention center. They were outside the convention center because they were banned from being inside General Synod. Also... well, check this out:

Did Sen. Barack Obama's speech get too political? I don't know. Was it too political in January when both Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke separately to the National Baptist Convention of America? Was it to poitical in April of 1996, when then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, spoke before her denomination's General Conference? Was it too political when President Ronald Reagan gave his famous "Evil Empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals? Was it too political when John F. Kennedy appeared before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to explain the “so-called religious issue” and “to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election.”?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure that the National Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the National Association of Evangelicals, nor the Greater Houston Ministerial Association had their tax exempt status investigated by the IRS.

So here's the thing, as the general minister and president of the UCC pointed out:
"The very fact of an IRS investigation, however, is disturbing," Thomas said. "When the invitation to an elected public official to speak to the national meeting of his own church family is called into question, it has a chilling effect on every religious community that seeks to encourage politicians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities."

That's why I'm a little hot under the collar about this. Not because it happened to the UCC specifically, but because it happened to anybody. The laws that the IRS are citing are supposed to be in place to keep religion from screwing up the political process and are not supposed to be interpreted so narrowly that they abridge our 1st Amendment rights to free speech. I don't like it when certain politicians trot out controversial topics with severe religious overtones during elections, but I support their 1st Amendment right to do so. I certainly think it is important for poloticians and church members to thoughtfully relate their personal faith to their public responsibilities.

I feel the need to provide a link to the UCC's Legal Defense Fund, but I'm not going to ask you to contribute. I put it here merely to save some time for those of you who were of a mind to contribute already.

That's about all I have to say about that. I reserve the basic human right to be wrong. Perhaps Sen. Obama's speech, despite the best efforts of the UCC to abide by the law, truly did break it. I guess we'll see.

Speak your mind,
but be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 22, 2008

Please Enjoy the Music

Hey, just a short one today, as the snow continues to fall, covering the world around me in a soft, thick blanket. An ever increasing blanket that is cold, and wet, and difficult to walk through. *grin*

Anyway, one of my favorite people sent this to me recently, and I thought you might enjoy it. Some of you local folk might even know some of these people!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Making Sense of the Violence

Sorry guys, back into the dark places for a moment. But before I get into this, let me just say right up front that while I am personally a pacifist, I am still deeply conflicted on the topic of gun control. Having said that...

As most of you must know by now, while many of us were celebrating Valentine's Day, a 27 year old man named Stephen Kazmierczak opened fire on a classroom at Northern Illinois University, killing five students before turning the gun on himself.
This kind of violence is, by nature and definition, senseless.
Without sense.
But trying to make sense of things is a deeply ingrained human drive. We can no more keep from trying to make sense of things than we can keep two circles from looking like eyes. O.O
The things that cause us the most distress as human beings are those that force us to ask the question "Why?" despite the simple truth that there is no good answer to that question.

So, I've done just a little internet research and found two news articles about that horrific crime. The first comes from USA Today, and (despite my completely understandable hesitation to praise the news media) it seems to be a good piece of journalism. It is entitled, "Police: Ill. gunman quit taking meds, became 'erratic'" and it lays out the facts and leaves us to make our own sense of them.
The second comes from the New York Post. It is entitled "COLLEGE KILLER CRAZY FOR VIOLENT VID GAME" and it seems to be less facts than sensationalized quotes.

These two articles are similar in that they try to make sense of a senseless event in their headlines. USA Today quotes the police, who state that the gunman quit taking his meds and became erratic. The New York Post summerizes the gunman's dorm mate, Ben Woloszyn, who actually said, "He played a lot of video games, especially Counter-Strike, really loud." USA Today seems to be saying that the key thing for us to think about when we consider this terrible event is that the gunman chose to go off his medications, which apparently had been keeping him sane and level. The New York Post seems to be saying (in all capital letters) that the key thing for us to think about as we consider this terrible event is that the gunman liked to play violent video games.

My most devoted readers already know how I feel about censorship as well as my take on video games. So instead of rehashing all of that I will now obey the deep-seated need to make sense of something senseless.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose to play violent video games.

Nobody and nothing forced him to do it.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose to legally purchase several guns over the past year.

Nobody and nothing forced him to do it.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose to stop taking his medications.

Nobody and nothing forced him to do it.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose to take his guns to school.

Nobody and nothing forced him to do it.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose to shoot as many people as he could.

Nobody and nothing forced him to do it.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose to kill himself.

Nobody and nothing forced him to do it.

All of these choices affected the other choices to one degree or another. I personally am inclined to believe that the choice to go off his meds had a greater impact on Stephen Kazmierczak's final choices than the choice to play video games did.

Nevertheless, I believe that the key thing to think about as we consider this senseless and horrible event is this: Stephen Kazmierczak is the one responsible. His video games aren't responsible. His guns aren't responsible. His video games and his guns do not have the ability to choose.

Stephen Kazmierczak chose.

Choose wisely,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On the Lighter Side

Ok, considering how very serious and down I've been on the ol' blog lately, I thought it was high time to talk about something considerably lighter. Something from my childhood that I'm fully willing to admit I still occasionally gaze at with an appreciative eye when I stroll through the toy aisle of Target. Yes, I will also admit to strolling through the toy aisle of Target. I'd like to claim that it's an occupational hazard, but let's be honest... I still like toys.

Where was I? Oh yes, today's post is about... LEGO! I have a pretty decent collection of the old Space LEGOS, which I have just descovered are now considered "vintage" on eBay. I also have a decent collection of the old--er, vintage Castle LEGOS. I even have a couple of the old (but not as vintage as the other two) Pirate LEGOS I even used my LEGO guys to create a diorama of a historical battle for school once. (I don't remember which battle, but it had something to do with Oliver Cromwell) Where other people have train sets in their attics or basements (ok, so it was my parents' attic) I had my LEGO models. In fact, it was only recently that my folks made me take them all down and put them away! Someday I'll have my own attic (or basement) and maybe I'll set them all up again, wouldn't that be fun?

Anyway, I'm thinking about LEGO again because I ran across some fun internet stuff. Apparently another use for LEGO is doing stop motion animation!

(Just in case you have a love for stop motion, or old Michael Jackson videos, check this out, too.)
I also ran across this collection of photographs of other people's work in LEGO. The site calls them "weird" but I think a bunch of them are really cool. In fact, I'd like to know how someone ends up being able to make a living as a LEGO artist!

Play with toys,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 15, 2008

Drive Careful

I hate to put up more heavy and depressing things so soon after my post about Ben, but current events have led me there once again. And this is important stuff to think about. As you can see, I've updated my links lists to include material on teenage drivers. We have had yet another wreck, another two lives lost, and it's just so very senseless... These links take you to places that either give you information such as statistics or (more importantly) how teens can drive (and ride) more safely. I also want to share two videos with you from the first you can play right here in the blog, the second is linked here. I hope they help.

Drive Careful,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Potluck

Please enjoy this footage of Meredith, 10 years old, as she performs at our annual Valentine Potluck and Talent Show!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Just a quick note before I really get into this post: Sometimes I create links merely to provide more information to you, my readers. The link concerning A. J. Jacobs below is one of those. However, at other times, I create links to things that are much more important. There are several of those in this post, and I hope that you take the time to explore them.

I've been meaning to blog about this wonderful book my wife gave to me for Christmas. It's called The Year of Living Biblically, by A. J. Jacobs. I'm still doing that, but recent events have prompted me to start with this quote:
Day 230. Here’s a sample from a phone conversation I just had with my wife. I was at the Esquire office for a meeting.
“What time are you coming home?” Julie asks.
“Six o’clock, God willing.”
“See you soon.”
“God willing.”
It’s not an atypical snippet. For the last month, I’ve been saying “God willing” at least eighty times a day.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament say this is a good idea. Proverbs advises us, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” In the New Testament, James 4:13-15 cautions against saying: “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city,” but “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (NAS).
It has become a reflex. Every time I use the future tense, I try to tag on those two words: “God willing.” My mother hates it. She told me I sound like someone who sends in videos to Al Jazeera. And I know my verbal tic comes off as weird in secular settings. But I find it a profound reminder of the murky instability of the future. Yes, I hope to return home at six, but God or fate might have other plans. This, in turn, makes me value the present even more. As James 4:14 says, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (NKJ).
I’ve got to try to squeeze all I can out of that vapor.

I received an e-mail from my mother some time after the local news program aired a report on Benjamin Wu. Ben was in my class in high school, and my high school was tiny, so everybody knew everyone else. I doubt if anyone would say that Ben and I were close. But we got along just fine all through school. And after graduation... well, I saw him briefly at our 10 year reunion, and that was about it. I learned that Ben was doing well for himself, that he was a booker for the Webster in Hartford, Connecticut. He was one of the ones who seemed to change the least, even with the addition of a piercing or two. Smiling, quietly self-assured, vibrant... so it was a shock to hear that he'd disappeared.
The next e-mail from Mom came on February 4th. She said that Ben's roommates were there when his iPod washed up and that they were pretty convinced that he had fallen off a cliff during a rain storm and drowned. She also told me when the memorial service would be. I was sure to get there.
Many people said many beautiful things about Ben, and every one of them struck me. I might have had a good friend in Ben, if I'd bothered to reach out. And now I'll never know. The chance has gone, at least in this life. I don't know, maybe it takes a tragedy like this (one that another classmate described as the kind of thing you read about, but doesn't happen to you, not in a small town like we grew up in) to force this kind of epiphany. But there's nothing keeping you from reaching out, folks. I know I will.

Reach out to each other,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Now I Want a Meat Pie"

Those are the words of my loving wife as we stepped out into the parking lot following our very first viewing of Sweeny Todd in any of its various forms. We chose to cut our teeth on this rather interesting musical in the cinima rather than a stage production because, well, we rather adore just about anything that has Johnny Depp in it. We're also rather fond of just about everything that Tim Burton has ever done. Take into account how many films, including this iteration of Sweeny Todd, involve both of these folk... well, you get the picture. In any case, in honor of Jenny's meat pies, I thought I'd post this unique interview of both Depp and Burton. Enjoy!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh