Friday, February 27, 2009

Oh no! Skynet!

I can't remember if I've said it here in the ol' blog, because I've said it so many times in so many other places, but I'm of the generation that computers grew up with me. I will always remember playing games like Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail on both my family's Apple IIe and the Apple IIgs at school! That's right, back when floppy disks were actually floppy—and existed. You and your new-fangled CD-RWs! Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!

Where was I? Oh yeah. I clearly remember when movies like The Terminator were the new, cool thing. The Terminator—as well as any number of other, less well-known films in the 80's—had the unifying theme of a fear of technology taking over. I also clearly remember this counter argument from the film Short Circuit, when Steve Gutenberg's charcter waxes poetic about a robot, saying "It doesn't get happy, it doesn't get sad, it doesn't laugh at your jokes, it just runs programs!"

Now it's true that computers can play chess and that robots can construct automobiles, but they can't do those things without being programmed by a human being to do them. It is also true that some truly wonderful music has been created primarily through electronic means. It is most definately true that some of the most brilliant and moving animated films of the last decade have been created through the use of computer animation. However, the heart and soul of music and storytelling/filmmaking still comes from the talented human people who utilize these tools.

And that's ultimately the point I'm trying to make. Computers are a tool. Your iPod is a tool. E-mail is a tool. As are Facebook, MySpace, AIM, and your cell phone. These tools can be misused, just like any other tool. You can keep a candle upright in that candlestick, or you can murder your neighbor with it. The candlestick, in and of itself, lies blameless in both counts. It's what you do with it that matters.

So, I was interested to see the following post on Neil Gaiman's blog. He writes:
Just a quick one, as a follow-up to and


1) go and read Wil Wheaton's post

2) Listen, actually listen to Wil and "Alex" reading at

3) Now imagine a world in which someone sits with a novel on the screen and carefully codes every character and tone of voice, every emotion. Imagine the time involved, and the effort involved in making something that, no matter how good it ever gets, will not be as good as a person reading it. This isn't teaching a computer to play chess.

An audio book, read by someone who's good at it, is an audio book, an experience that's different to, sometimes complementary to, the words on the page. A computer reading to you is a computer reading to you. And at the point where they can read books to us as well as we can read them aloud to each other, we will have other things to worry about.

Which—I think—is right on. But more telling is the response that Neil received to his orginal post:
I'm glad to know that you support the Kindle text to speech capability. As a C-4 quadriplegic due to a spinal cord injury a few years ago recent improvements in technology allow me the independence to write this e-mail with assistance only from my computer, software and a microphone. However the technology is still young, clunky and not without drawbacks. (It will probably take longer to "write" this short e-mail than it did to listen to my friend read me the first chapter of Coraline!) (Don't ask how long it took me to write the word Coraline either-twice even!) Because there isn't big money for marketing products for para and quads we have to rely on technology progressing just for the sake of technology progressing. I think it would be silly and sad to slow improvments just because of money issues. Thanks for supporting technology and hope to see you at comic-con. -Brook McCall

As Stan Lee would say, "'Nuff said."

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

PS Do go to Wil Wheaton's Blog and check out the MP3 of "wil wheaton vs. text 2 speech" It's pretty telling.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Labyrinth

If you're expecting me to wax poetic about a
movie from my childhood featuring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, then you are—well, actually, that does sound a lot like me, doesn't it? After all, Jim Henson is my hero. But that's not what I have in mind this morning.

What I have in mind is most famously exemplified in Cath├ędrale Notre-Dame de Chartres. It isn't a maze, like you find in the Jim Henson film, because there are no dead ends. It has only one path, so you can't get lost. Which may lead you to ask me, "What is the point of the thing?" Well, I'll tell you: walking this kind of labyrinth is a spiritual practice.

How so? Well, the winding path is a metaphor for your life's journey. Much like the point I made in an earlier post, as long as you keep carefully moving forward, eventually you'll get to the center. There are going to be twists along the way, so you'll have to be paying close attention in order to stay on the path. There are going to be times that the goal is tantilizingly close, only to recede again, but don't be discouraged—keep going and you'll make it.

I have had the opportunity to walk labyrinths in the past, and I wish I had a full-sized one to utilize on a regular basis. I do, however, have a minature version that was given to me as a present from a very dear friend. Instead of walking the path, I trace it out with the included stylus. Whether I'm walking a full-sized one, or simply tracing the path out on my pewter one, I find that it helps me clear my mind and open myself to hearing whatever it is that God may be trying to say to me. If I have a problem, or a difficult decision, going through the labyrinth often helps me find the proper perspective. And if I enter the labyrinth anxious or upset it forces me to slow down—and by the time I come back out of the labyrinth I am calm once more.

And knowing all of this is all well and good, but no use to you if you don't have access to a labyrinth of your own. Well, not to worry! You don't need a fancy pewter one—although mine is very nice. You can certainly live without a full-sized one—although I wish I had one I could use. I've found that simply having the pattern printed out on a piece of paper does the trick, so here's a pdf file diagram of the Chartres labyrinth for you to use at your leisure!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

PS Here's a video about walking the labyrinth!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fat Sunday

Ever since Katrina, the church I serve has been putting on a top-notch
celebratory jazz service for worship the Sunday before Lent starts. We take a special collection for Gulf Coast relief—and yes, there is still need, even after all this time.

This year, for the sermon, I found some poetry by James Weldon Johnson. I read two of them, with a little explanation of my own wedged between, while Dr. Joe did some awesome jazz piano stuff underneath—he even managed to work in the tunes of all the spirituals mentioned in the second poem. I wish I had his music for you to listen to while you read these, but... I guess we'll just have to settle for the words.

Listen, Lord—A Prayer

O Lord, we come this morning
Knee-bowed and body-bent
Before thy throne of grace.
O Lord—this morning—
Bow our hearts beneath our knees,
And our knees in some lonesome valley.
We come this morning—
Like empty pitchers to a full fountain,
With no merits of our own.
O Lord—open up a window of heaven,
And lean out far over the battlements of glory,
And listen this morning.

Lord, have mercy on proud and dying sinners—
Sinners hanging over the mouth of hell,
Who seem to love their distance well.
Lord—ride by this morning—
Mount your milk-white horse,
And ride-a this morning—
And in your ride, ride by old hell,
Ride by the dingy gates of hell,
And stop poor sinners in their headlong plunge.

And now, O Lord, this man of God,
Who breaks the bread of life this morning—
Shadow him in the hollow of thy hand,
And keep him out of the gunshot of the devil.
Take him, Lord—this morning—
Wash him with hyssop inside and out,
Hang him up and drain him dry of sin.
Pin his ear to the wisdom-post,
And make his words sledge hammers of truth—
Beating on the iron heart of sin.

Lord God, this morning—
Put his eye to the telescope of eternity,
And let him look upon the paper walls of time.
Lord, turpentine his imagination,
Put perpetual motion in his arms,
Fill him full of the dynamite of thy power,
Anoint him all over with the oil of thy salvation,
And set his tongue on fire.

And now, O Lord—
When I’ve done drunk my last cup of sorrow—
When I’ve been called everything but a child of God—
When I’m done traveling up the rough side of the mountain—
O—Mary’s Baby—
When I start down the steep and slippery steps of death—
When this old world begins to rock beneath my feet—
Lower me to my dusty grave in peace
To wait for that great gittin’ up morning—Amen.

James Weldon Johnson

James Johnson was an African American author, politician, diplomat, critic, journalist, poet, anthologist, educator, lawyer, songwriter, early civil rights activist, and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He was one of the first African-American professors at New York University and later in life he was a professor of creative literature and writing at Fisk. James Johnson was born in 1971 and died in 1938 and so he would have been in his 20s during the early days of Jazz. As you hear this next poem, I want you to think about his ancestors, only a generation before, toiling in the fields under their harsh masters. I want you to ask yourself how they continued on in the face of backbreaking labor and little hope of freedom. And I want you to answer yourself, “With the help of God.”

O Black and Unknown Bards

O black and unknown bards of long ago,
How came your lips to touch the sacred fire?
How, in your darkness, did you come to know
The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre?
Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes?
Who first from out the still watch, lone and long,
Feeling the ancient faith of prophets rise
Within his dark-kept soul, burst into song?

Heart of what slave poured out such melody
As “Steal away to Jesus”? On its strains
His spirit must have nightly floated free,
Though still about his hands he felt his chains.
Who heard great “Jordan roll”? Whose starward eye
Saw chariot “swing low”? And who was he
That breathed that comforting, melodic sigh,
“Nobody knows de trouble I see”?

What merely captive thing,
Could up toward God through all its darkness grope,
And find within its deadened heart to sing
These songs of sorrow, love and faith, and hope?
How did it catch that subtle undertone,
That not in music heard not with the ears?
How sound the elusive reed so seldom blown,
Which stirs the soul or melts the heart to tears.

Not that great German master in his dream
Of harmonies that thundered amongst the stars
At the creation, ever heard a theme
Nobler than “God down, Moses.” Mark its bars
How like a mighty trumpet-call they stir
The blood. Such are the notes that men have sung
Going to valorous deeds; such tones there were
That helped make history when Time was young.

There is a wide, wide wonder in it all,
That from degraded rest and servile toil
The fiery spirit of the seer should call
These simple children of the sun and soil.
O black slave singers, gone, forgot, unfamed,
You—you alone, of all the long, long line
Of those who’ve sung untaught, unknown, unnamed,
Have stretched out upward, seeking the divine.

You sang not deeds of heroes or of kings;
No chant of bloody war, no exulting paean
Of arms-won triumphs; but your humble strings
You touched in chord with music empyrean
You sang far better than you knew; the songs
That for your listeners’ hungry hearts sufficed
Still live,--but more than this to you belongs:
You sang a race from wood and stone to Christ.

James Weldon Johnson

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 20, 2009

Breaks My Heart

I don't usually post twice in one day like this, but I just received an e-mail containing the video below from our beloved (and very out) organist here at the church I serve...

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

I am still wiping away tears as I type this. I have already said publically, and I shall do so again here and now, that when you talk about "gay marriage" you're talking about my co-workers, my friends, neighbors and loved ones. You are talking about people I know and love. Dearly. I try not to get political in this blog, but I have to say this much at least. From where I stand, if the definition of "marriage" is a legal issue, then every couple must be given the same liberties, rights, and responsibilities under both Federal and State Law or else we are dealing with a Civil Rights issue. If the definition of "marriage" is a religious issue, then the government is required to get out of it or else we are violating the Separation of Church and State. So whether or not your theology allows you to embrace LGBT folk as loved and accepted by God just the way they are, this Proposition is just wrong.

You don't have to agree with me, but you do need to
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh


Competitive sports, especially professional ones, have grated on me for years. I'll freely admit that part of that has to do with my trying on just about everything I could growing up, baseball, basketball... the usual suspects—and I discovered that sports just weren't where my talents lie. More than that, though, I think that all my experiences of poor sportsmenship—both personally and in the media—soured my joy for what is, at its heart, a game. I've simply had a difficult time connecting to something that produces bullpen assaults, basketball brawls, and killer hockey dads.

However, the recent fantastic sportsmanship and attitudes of blown out Dallas Acadamy team helped me begin to see why people love sports once more. And the story of the Barbs playing a non-conference game on the road against Milwaukee Madison has helped me restore my faith in sport-loving humanity even further!

The two high schools were developing the kind of friendly rivalry that begins with really close games on the court and ends with sodas and pizza together off the court. But this game, their third, almost didn't happen at all. You see, late that afternoon, Milwaukee Madison senior captain Johntel Franklin was at the hospital when the decision was made to turn off the life-support system for his mother, Carlitha Franklin. She died just hours before the game. It was young Franklin who countermanded Coach Aaron Womack Jr's decision to cancel the game, saying that he wanted them to play.

It was early in the second quarter and the game was already very close when Womack spotted Franklin in the stands. He immediately called a time out and Womack and his team went up into the stands and hugged their grieving teammate.

"We got back to playing the game and I asked if he wanted to come and sit on the bench," Womack said during a telephone interview.

"No," Franklin replied. "I want to play."

Since Franklin's name hadn't made it on to the pre-game roster, putting him in would mean committing a technical foul, but Womack felt that letting the grieving young man play was more important than winning a close game so he chose to take the foul. Despite the closeness of the game, Coach Dave Rohlman did not want his team to take advantage of the technical foul. He reluctantly called for a volunteer to take two free throws after the referees made it clear that he could not wave them.

Darius McNeal raised his hand, and after Rohlman asked him a single question he simply nodded his head and went out to the foul line.

His first attempt made it about two feet.

His second barely left his hand.

The Milwaukee team stood as one, turned toward the Barbs bench and applauded their sportsmanship—the crowd followed suit.

"I did it for the guy who lost his mom," McNeal told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It was the right thing to do."

The record will show that the Milwaukee team won 62-47. But as I imagine the two teams sharing pizza after the game, I doubt that the score was all that important to them.

They're all winners in my book.

Be good to each other
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Valentine Potluck

I helped a dear friend move on Valentine's Day this year, so I was unable to go to the church's annual Valentine Potluck and Talent Show. But I did get this wonderful YouTube video of one of our youth performing "I Was Born to Entertain" from the show Ruthless! Enjoy!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday, February 12, 2009

And They'll Know We Are Christians

I don't know if any of you saw this story when it first hit, but it has stuck with me so I thought I would share it with you all.

I also found this...

And so... I have to ask the question... who do you think won that game?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, February 06, 2009

The God Space

I've been thinking a lot about preaching lately. Partly because of this year's General Association, and partly because of all the things that go along with the professional transition I have coming down the pipe. I think I will always remember what it was like to preach my candidating sermon for the church I'm currently serving. For one thing, the church had been struck by lightning the night before, and it was not until that morning that they discovered that the sound system for the sanctuary had been fried. I'll always remember Eric booking out of the sanctuary and returnining with an electric podium and a coil of extension cord! And I distictly remember answering a question afterword about preaching. I said that what I write and say are not necissarily what the congregation hears. And that's a good thing! Because I have found that God can and frequently does wonderful things in that place between what I say and what you hear. That's when I saw this excited hand shoot up in the second or third row. It belonged to Amory, a divorced mother of two teenage boys who later became one of our youth advisors. "Yes?" I acknowledged Amory and her hand. "Fred Rogers calls that 'The God Space'!" she exclaimed!

I don't know how well known the Reverend Fred Rogers is anymore. To me it feels like he died just recently, but it has actually been about 6 years. But perhaps his television show lives on in reruns on Public Televsion. Maybe you've heard of it? It was called Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

Anyway, Amory's citation of Fred Rogers tickled me to no end, and I probably told her right there that I was going to remember it and use it—and I have, in this poem:

Fred Rogers Called That “The God Space”

It starts with a word.
Sometimes it’s a hard word, but that’s where it starts.
The empty kind: Where I desperately hope that inspiration hides.
The full kind: My mind links association to association.
Tell stories, teach history, quote wise people, living and dead.
Make connections for today, our lives, to The Word.
Pray without ceasing.
Make connections for today, our lives.
Tell stories, teach history, quote wise people, living and dead.
Into stillness, the full kind: My mind links association to association.
The empty kind: Where I desperately hope that inspiration hides.
Into the space that lies between what I have said and what has been heard.
The space where the Holy Spirit loves to work on each of us.
Never forget that it starts with a word.
Sometimes it’s a hard word.
But that is still
Where it starts.

Joshua J Sander 12/15/08

I like you just the way you are,
Rev. Josh

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Spoon Theory

That's right, Spoon Theory. It's not one of those new-fangled quantum physics things. Nor is it a sly way for me to make reference to The Tick and his nonsensical battlecry. Spoon Theory is a very concrete way for folk living with chronic diseases and conditions to help the rest of us understand what it's like to be sick.

Spoon Theory comes from short story by Christine Miserandino about a conversation she had with a friend about what it is like for Christine to live with Lupus. Please take the time to read the full story at ButYouDon'

Go ahead, I'll wait...

Okay, fine, here's a thumbnail version I found on YouTube, but please understand that I do not have the rights to the story, and neither does the person who made the video, so do me a favor and read the full story at ButYouDon'!

I would be remiss if I did not thank a dear friend, who struggles with Fibromyalgia, for stopping and explaining to me what she meant when she told me one day that she "didn't have enough spoons" for something or other. I already felt blessed by her friendship, and now I feel twice-blessed that she would utilize any of her hard-won spoons on me!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Yup, I've been slacking off on my blog entries. A dear friend almost gleefully told me, "Yeah! Your last post was Halloween!!" Which is just embarrassing. However, I thought I should tell you, faithful readers—and you must be either faithful or new to my blog if you're reading this after so many months of nothing—what I told him. One of the reasons I haven't updated in so long is because at work I have my blog set to my home page—and I felt that I needed to be taking my own advice in recent months.

With the extreme downturn in the economy, the church I serve has been forced to drastically cut its budget across the board—and eliminate the position I currently hold. So the message I had for all of you about how we can't always go the old and familiar ways, the message about how sometimes there's something scary between where you are and where you need to get to, the message about how even though it might not be obvious but there is always a way forward... I needed that message myself!

It's a little bit like "Be careful what you wish for." or "Practice what you preach." Don't you think? "Be careful what you post, or you might need it yourself?"

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh