Archive for the ‘pictures’ Category

Anyone who has known me for a while has probably heard me say some version of this sentiment:

“Anabaptists center their faith on Jesus and the Gospels and read the rest of the Bible through Jesus”

But this sentiment has some interesting implications.   The biggest of which is; to say that Anabaptists focus on Jesus is to imply that other Christians don’t focus on Jesus.  And that feels like a rediculous thing to say because wouldn’t all Christians say that they center their faith on Jesus?  Isn’t that what it means to be a Christian after all?  Am I really saying that other Christians don’t really have Jesus at the center of their faith?

Well…….actually……….yeah, I am.

Let me see if I can explain what I mean by this with a look at current events.

This last week Michelle Bachmann got herself a couple of headlines for making a joke about how God is trying to get the attention of Americans by sending an earthquake, hurricane to the east coast.  While many people were up in arms about this being in rather poor taste (and generally not really being a joke), the thing that stuck out to me was the theology behind the joke.

While Bachmann might claim to have been joking, she’s still drawing on a particular theological understanding of how God works.  Namely, the assumption is that God  punishes and rewards behavior in this life in very real and concrete ways.  The other side of this belief is that when good or bad things happen to people, either individuals or entire groups of people like whole country, that is taken to be evidence that they have done something deserving of either reward or punishment.  In short, external events of either natural or cosmic origin are taken as punishment or reward by God.

In Bachmann’s case, this logic took the form of a “joke” implying that God was sending a message to the U.S. in the form of natural disasters.  While Bachmann was joking, there have been many people who understand God in this way who are most certainly not joking.  This understanding of divine punishment in reward could be seen right after the September 11 attacks when two leading Evangelical Christians (Pat Robertson and Jerry Fallwell) said that the ones who were really responsible were liberals/ gays/ abortionists/ the ACLU and the like because they made God mad and brought God’s punishment upon us.

Fallwell and Robertson are in good company along with Fred Phelps and the Westboro baptist church who are known for things like maintaining the website godhatesfags.com, maintaining a virtual memorial dedicated to the number of days Matthew Shepherd (a high school student beaten and killed for being gay) has been in hell, and (most visibly) keeping up a rather incredible schedule of picketing various public events especially the funerals of armed service members who have  been killed in the line of duty.  For Phelps, the logic is that God hates the U.S. and is punishing the U.S. by allowing our soldiers to die in war because of a whole slew of things that Phelps deems as sin.

And lest you think this theology only shows up in horrible post-tragedy statements and crazy picketers, this is the core theological principle behind most televangelists who preach the prosperity Gospel.  In the last 10 years this was seen in the rise of the Prayer of Jabez book/ movement/ study/ merchandising line/ anything-else-you-could-sell.  It also shows up in many wealthier churches because the logic is, “God rewards good Christians, therefore if I’m wealthy then I must be a good Christian”.  My favorite was the luxury SUV with the bumper sticker that said “Thanks God!”

Now the problem here is that this understanding of God is very Biblical.  It is most certainly in the scriptural texts.  The Prayer of Jabez comes from I Chronicles.  In Deuteronomy in the Ten Commandments God says that he will punish and reward to 3rd/4th and 1000th generations (respectively), not that God will punish and reward in an afterlife.  In many places in the Bible, the reward and punishment for faithfulness and right behavior comes from God in this life in real and concrete ways.

The problem is that this is a particularly Old Testament way of understanding God.  More specifically, it’s an early Old Testament way of understanding of God.

Granted, the book of Job does some damage to this theology.  Job’s friends are the ones who firmly believed that the horrible things that were happening to Job were God’s punishment and that Job must have done something truly horrendous to deserve it.  (They turn out to be wrong, by the way)  However, in the Old Testament, Job is kind of on his own.

Jesus, on the other hand, is a whole other ball game.

When you look at Jesus, and how he understands how God works, the idea that good or bad things happening in this life are absolute proof of God’s reward or punishment just doesn’t hold water.  This can really be seen in the story from John 9 about Jesus healing a man who was born blind.  The story opens with the disciples asking Jesus the question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”.  To this Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  The core assumption that the disciples start with is that God rewards and punishes directly and thus either this man or his parents surely had sinned and that his blindness was evidence of this.  Jesus soundly rejects this idea offering the possibility that he was born that way to show the glory of God.  This is a fundamentally different way of understanding how God works than what we see in the Old Testament.

So, back to the politicians, TV preachers and Anabaptists.

My original claim was that Anabaptists center their faith on Jesus and that other Christians….well…..don’t.  What I mean by this is that there are many Christians who fully claim Jesus as the Son of God and publicly profess a faith in Jesus, yet when it comes to things like which parts of the Bible are elevated, the understanding of the basic character of God,  the center of ethics, the basis for justice, the understanding the importance of taking care of the most vulnerable in society, basically everything that actually affects how you follow God these Christians look to other places in the Bible long before the look to Jesus.  In many cases, when Jesus conflicts with other parts of the Bible, certain Christians will go to rather extensive lengths to disprove either the validity or sincerity of Jesus and his teachings.

So, have a grand ol’ time claiming that God is punishing or rewarding people the next time a hurricane or earthquake hits, just make sure to leave Jesus out of it.

Read Full Post »

I didn’t plan to be standing in a cemetery on Good Friday, but somehow it seems as though it was the right place to be today.

Someone from out of state who was working on a family history project emailed me and asked me to take some pictures of the grave stone of one of his relatives.  It’s turned out to be a rather nice day and I needed a reason to get out of the office.  After finding the grave stone and snapping my pictures, I thought that I would wander around and look at some of the other gravestones.

As I wandered through the cemetery I began to realize that this had become more than just a burial place to me.  In many ways it has begun to tell a significant part of my story.  Before coming to Harper I was oblivious to the fact that I had any connections with this town or this church.  But as I walked through the cemetery I saw the gravestone of my great-great grandparents Sol and Mary Plank.  As I looked around I soon realized that there are people here who are directly related to me than I ever thought possible.

As I kept on wandering I saw my professional life begin to flash before me as I saw the graves of people who I had the honor to perform funerals for.  I saw Charlie Bickel, my first funeral.  I saw Olive Bare, a woman who I did the graveside service for.  I saw Loren and Florence Gerber, the couple in their 80’s who passed away together in the ICU holding hands, surrounded by family.  I saw Marlin Unrurh, and eccentric old man who I only came to know through amazing stories from family and friends.

As walked around the cemetery I also saw many graves that told the stories of the history of this church.  I saw the graves of people who were among the founding members of Pleasant Valley Mennonite.  I saw the graves of people of who I only missed by a few years, who people still say, “man you should have known them”.  I saw the gravestone of an infant son of a previous pastor.  All of these markers have a story to tell.

It seems like the past 6 months have been pretty rough for me and people that I’m connected with.  A family in the community has suffered the sudden loss of both parents, one from a heart attack and one from cancer, leaving only the teenage children behind.  There was a teen killed in a 4-wheeler accident on a country road.  There is the child in our youth group who is dealing with serious, almost deadly, kidney problems.  It seems like every week I hear more stories from the youth about people they know going through difficult situations.

In January, my wife’s grandmother passed away in Ohio after years of dealing with dementia.  During the week long process of grieving I had the privilege to speak at her funeral.  2 months later, in March, my wife and I switched roles as my grandfather suddenly passed away from a pulmonary embolism.  Adjusting to life after both of these events has been difficult and ongoing.

As I was standing out in the cemetery, on the day that we remember the death of Jesus, I had a heaviness around me.  This year, I can really put myself in the shoes of the disciples as they watched things go from bad to worse for Jesus.  I also had the thought that, this year more than most, I’m really hoping that the resurrection is real.  I’m about as good of a deconstructionist as you can get when it comes to thinking about the historical realities of the Bible.  To say the least, no one has ever accused me of being overly literal with the Bible.

That being said, I just need to have a bit of hope that God’s going to bring me through some stuff.  Stuff that appears to be a dead end in my life right now.  When it comes right down to it, I haven’t the foggiest idea how Jesus came back to life, and I haven’t the foggiest idea how I’m going to find a way forward through some of the things in my future.  But maybe I don’t need to understand everything.  Maybe I just need to trust that it happened once and that it’ll happen again.  But then again, that’s often easier said than done.

Read Full Post »

Be very afraid, or be really afraid!  “Elevated” or “Imminent” are the two new levels of the new National Terror Advisory System being unveiled today by Janet Napolitano, the director of Homeland Security.

The old system featured five different levels that were supposed to communicate how likely we were to be attacked by a terrorist.  Out of the five levels (severe, high, elevated, guarded, and low) it’s worth noting that since its implementation is 2003, we have never been at either of the two lowest levels.  Combined with little to no specific information about any situation, this warning system only produced confusion and fear.

The new system is intended to improve the communication of information about specific situations to the general public through the means of social networking like Facebook and Twitter.  In addition, they will only issue warnings in relation to specific events rather than maintaining a constant terror level.

But will the new “Terror Advisory System” actually address the core issues?  While it is all done under the guise of safety, and implemented by an organization whose job is to make the homeland secure, one has to ask if Facebook messages about impending terrorist attacks really makes us safer or more secure.

Both of these advisory systems share the same fundamental problem: they tell us that we should be afraid of something, yet there is no real way for any of us to do anything about it.  In  the book “How the News Makes Us Dumb”, C. John Sommerville talks about the effect of having relatively short news stories on tragic and violent events.  He makes the argument that in order to truly understand any given situation or event to the point where you feel empowered to actually do something about it, you have to spend exponentially more time learning about it that what the evening news provides.  The news merely gives us enough information to know that we should be afraid of something, yet not enough information to truly understand it.  In the same way, both of these terror alert systems leave us knowing that we should be afraid, yet still feeling helpless to do anything meaningful about it.

In a culture where fear is a skillfully wielded tool of manipulation, it is worth remembering I John 4:16, 18.

“God is love…There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love”

The Security Advisory Systems bring to light one of our deepest human desires, and the great failing of government.  We desire to be safe and secure.  It’s a basic human need.  However, we’ve confused security with the desire to avoid all difficulty or tragedy.  What’s more, we’ve turned to the U.S. government to provide this false sense of safety by any means necessary.

Ultimately, security is really only something that God can provide.  What’s more, living with security and peace has less to do with the terror alert level and more to do with how we chose to live in this world. Living with God’s peace and security means resting in the knowledge that God’s kingdom will eventually win out.  Living with God’s security is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus.  The resurrection shows us that it’s not so much about preventing the tragedy as it is about knowing that God has the final say.  As we turn toward Easter, let us remember where our security comes from and truly live without fear.

Update: Here’s the link for the version on the MWR website.

Read Full Post »

There really is nothing like a county fair in Kansas.  The various animals of all sorts, carefully raised to perfection, plenty of artery clogging foods, a traveling carnival that you are pretty sure you shouldn’t let you kids ride on but you do anyway, and of course the contests.  From woodworking to fruits and vegetables, cakes and canned goods.  Among the contests was the photography contest.  Being the amateur photo buff that I am, I decided to enter.

Out of a total of 9 pictures, 3 got nothing, 1 got a red and 5 got blues.  And one of the blues took reserve grand champion.  I was pretty pleased, even if it is just the county fair.  And yes, my mother will be getting the picture of the flower, complete with the blue ribbon.

Blue – Reserve Grand Champion




The next series of photos were part of a single piece that was supposed to tell a story.  It got a blue


The rest didn’t place.   I was really disappointed by that on a couple of these.

Read Full Post »

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the booming metropolis of my hometown of Goessel, Kansas, it’s a small town tucked away out on the prairie.  As with every small town, they have their annual parade and town festival.  There are all kinds of events and things to see and do, all pretty much relating to all things agricultural.  This year, I didn’t get to stay for much of the festivities, but I did get some good photos of the parade.  Enjoy.

A traditional beginning


Throwin’ candy.

You never really know what you’ll see at the parade.

And of course the tractors

Finishing up with the horses.

The End.

Oh, one more P.S. for you foodies.  Of course we had to go to the grade school for the Low German meal.  That would be Verenika, German Sausage, Zwiebach, a new years cookie and cherry moos.  If you don’t know what all that is, you’re seriously missing out on a glorious food experience.

Read Full Post »

Every now and then you can see someone predict the future.

A couple of months ago a man named Jesse Schnell gave a presentation to a bunch of video game designers at a convention called DICE.  The link is here and you definitely need to watch it.  I also wrote a previous blog about this here, which is also worth checking out.  The important part of his talk (at least for this blog post) is his prediction about the convergence of real life and video games.  Two of the big points were 1) that the Facebook game ‘Farmville’ (and many other kinds of games) is representative of real life and digital life colliding in an amazing way and 2) that eventually, video games could hold the possibility of making us into better people.

Here is evidence of both of these points.

1) Farmville and real life.

My wife bought a bag of carrots the other day that had a sticker where you could get free ‘cash’ in Farmville.  Real farming + virtual farming = just plain weird.

2) The Self-organization game

Epic win is a phone app to help you keep your life organized that is disguised as a game.  Yep, now you can level up through your life.

I don’t know that I have really anything profound to say about all of this but is still strikes me as kind of abnormal.  It’s just odd to see someone tell you that something is going to happen, and then all of a sudden actually see it happen.

Read Full Post »

I was 14 in May of 1995 when the Oklahoma City Bombing happened.  I don’t remember much about that event but I do remember two striking things that have stuck with my for years.

1) In the immediate confusion and aftermath of the event, I remember that the first assumption was that we had been attacked by a foreign born terrorist.  Specifically an Arab one.  I even remember several acts of retaliation against Arabs in Kansas taking place due to the racism and misinformation.

2) Timothy McVeigh bought the fertilizer from the Mid-Kansas Farmers Co-op in McPherson, Ks.  The Mid-Kansas C0-op in my hometown of Goessel has a storehouse that distributes to a number of area Co-ops, including McPherson.  This means that the fertilizer used in the bombing probably came through my home town at one point.

This last weekend Katie and I went to Oklahoma City for a little weekend getaway.  One of the places that we stopped by was the Bombing Memorial site.  It was the first time that I’ve ever been to the Memorial.  Of the various memorials that I’ve been to I would place this one right up with the Vietnam Memorial in terms of respectfully and contemplatively remembering the dead.  Pictures say it better than I can.  Enjoy.

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »


I really don’t know what bird this is, but I love the iridescent blue head.

Read Full Post »


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »