Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Who did you have lunch with today?

This evening the School of Theology at Saint John's is awarding its annual Dignitas Humana Award. This years recipient is 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Environmentalist, Womens Rights and Social Activist, Dr. Wangari Maathi. Dr. Maathi stopped by the Emmaus Hall dinning hall during lunch and answered a few questions posed by some of the graduate students. She made it a point to mention the influence her Benedictine undergraduate studies had on her view of service. It was a great, albeit short, opportunity to interact with one of the leading environmentalists in the world. Dr. Maathi's big program, the Green Belt Movement, plants trees in Kenya to fight desertification that is a result from poor land use practices and more recently a result of global climate change. Although she answered our questions, she also posed a very pointed question to a bunch of theology students - instead of acting like a bunch of domineering power grabbers, when will Christians start acting like stewards of God's creation?

Great question. Great Lunch.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Social Sin

Social sin is part of this weeks lesson from James that I'll be talking about in Sr. High Sunday School. One social sin that continues to be largely ignored is that of the genocide in Sudan and Darfur. In that regard, I've got to give a little bit of recognition to my wife's niece, Kristin, who is now a senior at Southern Methodist University. To say that Kristin surprised us with her activism might be an understatement. (We're the blacksheep of the family, so we were very pleasantly surprised!) Kristin has been very active in Amnesty International, and protesting the treatment of "enemy combatants" held at Guantanomo. She and another student most recently started "Art for Darfur", a program based in Dallas that raised money through art shows for humanitarian and relief programs in Darfur. From two events, they've raised over $12,000 that will be used to build and maintain water supplies via the group Thirst No More. They also support Tents of Hope which will have a large, national event in Washington D.C. in November.

The efforts of a few benefitting a great many. Nice job Krissy.


New look and a few changes

Ever since trying out google chrome and then explorer v.8, blogger hasn't been working very well for me. It logs me out at in opportune times like when I'm uploading a blog (I write these blogs in Word, usually in the morning while I'm eating breakfast and then upload them when lunch rolls around). So, I've tried changing a few things and it seems to be working a bit better. I've also rearranged a few links and added a couple of new ones.

I'm kind of wishing the weather would get nasty .... too much nice weather and all I want to do is play! A few rainy, cloudy, fall-esque days would do wonders for my school work.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

From the Clinton Global Initiative Forum

From the Clinton Global Initiative forum:
"I am not qualified to comment on what has happened in the last week where this city has changed shape, certainly psychologically, and in terms of some people's wallets. And I'm not qualified to comment on the interventions that have been put forth. I presume these people know what they're doing. But it is extraordinary to me that you can find $700 billion to save Wall Street and the entire G8 can't find $25 billion to save 25,000 children who die every day of preventable, treatable disease and hunger."

You can see the entire forum here:


He's got more to say, and it's worth a listen. Also on the panel and worth listening to are President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Her Majesty Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan. If you're short of time, Bono's clip goes from 1:06:20 to 1:15:38.


Monday, September 22, 2008

My Debate, My Rules

Evidently, the first of the presidential debates is coming up. I’ve been wrapped up in schoolwork and haven’t been able to pay much attention to the rhetoric as I would like, although perhaps I should count my blessings for that. I honestly don’t recall the last debate I watched or listened to, probably 1988 or so. I just find the entire made for TV debate thing worthless. They aren’t real debates – no candidate in their right mind would do that in today’s world. We couldn’t stand to hear what we really need to be told.

But this whole thing got me thinking, IF I could run the debates, what would I ask? What kind of format would I use? With that in mind, here’s the outline of Jeff’s First (and probably last) Presidential Debate – moderated by me, questions by me.

Ground Rules
Since this is really a forum, not a debate, here are some ground rules.
Three minutes per response. Period. Microphone goes dead at the three-minute mark.
(If you can’t summarize your thoughts in three minutes you’re not cut out for this job.)
This, like all elections, is about the future. Candidates are not allowed to discuss their past achievements, nor are they allowed to speak about the opponent or the opponent’s position. Because there is no need, no time will be given for rebuttal. Each candidate will be asked 12 questions, 11 of which are generic. Each candidate will also be asked a question that is specific to their candidacy. Questions 4,5,7,8,9,10,11, and Senator McCain's all require a yes or no answer. Once that is provided they can proceed with the rest of the question if so required.

Question 1. What are your specific plans to make a college education affordable for all Americans?
Question 2. Based on what you’ve seen in the housing market and most recently on Wall Street, what specific steps will you take to restore confidence in a free market?
Question 3. What are your specific plans to end the following crises in Africa:
Genocide in Sudan/Darfur; AIDS, Disease, and Poverty?
(I'll give them 5 minutes for this one.)
Question 4. Are you willing to make the U.S. a global leader in combating climate change? If so, what specific steps will you take? If not, please explain.
Question 5. Are you willing to end our nations addiction to oil, both foreign and domestic? If so, what specific steps will you take? If not, please explain.
Question 6. Please discuss your view of Just War.
Question 7. Are you willing to make sound science the foundation of your energy and environmental policies? If so what specific steps will you take, if not why not?
Question 8. Will you fully fund the Federal Government’s obligation of costs associated with special education for local schools?
Question 9. Will you be willing to offer a full and unconditional apology to the Native American people of this country for the genocidal actions taken by this government since its inception?
Question 10. Are you willing to make universal health care for all Americans an reality by the end of your first term? Are you willing to do that with a model that doesn’t use an outdated, free-market economy model as its base?
Question 11. Are you willing to implement meaningful immigration reform that maintains the dignity of the worker and the human being? If so, how?

Question Extra for Senator Obama
Given your pro-choice stance, what specific steps will you take to ensure that abortion is a rare occurrence in this country?

Question Extra for Senator McCain
Given that you are a Medal of Honor recipient, would you be willing to posthumously rescind the more than 20 Medals of Honor awarded to members of the 7th Cavalry for the massacre of over 125 Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, South Dakota in 1889?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Community Day

Yesterday was Community Day at the School of Theology. This year's theme was ecotheology, a topic that is obviously of great interested to me. We started the morning off with a short worship/prayer service which was followed by a lecture on ecotheology by Dr. Dennis Patrick O'Hara from St. Michael's College in Toronto. Now, to be honest I get a little nervous when I hear that a theologian is going to be talking about ecology. Afterall, I spent the better part of 6 years just learning the basics of ecology and am still learning. So, when someone that has been a theologian claims to know ecology I'm a bit skeptical. Yesterday was certainly an exception to that vague rule of mine. Dr. O'Hara knows his science and he knows his theology. He does hang a lot of what he's talking about on work by Thomas Berry, some of which I just can't go with. There were two concepts of the talk that stuck with me and that I'm going to have to investigate much deeper. First, from Berry, is that God creates a universe that creates itself. This isn't a model of intelligent design since the universe isn't a deterministic entity. Neither is it random. God set this energy into motion and what it is ... is. The other concept is that of Christ the Redeemer and Creator. Dr. O'Hara pulled in a number of Patristic-era theologians, Ireneaus, Basil, Origen, and Augustine to demonstrate that we've lost this idea of Christ as a creator. It's fascinating and is shaping up to be the subject of my major grad paper or thesis.
Following the lectures, students and faculty headed out to the woods and St. John's Arboretum for a little Benedictine work. We spent the better part of two hours pulling European Buckthorn from the woods - putting out ecotheology into practice. Tom Kroll, Director of the Arboretum talked about St. John's being among the first actively managed forests in the state to be certified as "green" by the Forest Stewardship Council. While certification means good land stewardship is being practiced during cutting, it also means the forestry is sustainable and based on social justice as well.
Days like yesterday leave no doubt in my mind that I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Two Books that have had a Great Influence on Me

This morning I was pleasantly reminded about two books that had a great influence on me.  Today is the anniversary of the birthday of Robert McCloskey, author of Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal.  Two of my favorite childhood books.  Make Way for Ducklings had a particularly big influence on me.  I used to spend hours drawing and redrawing the ducks that were illustrated in the book.  I can honestly say that book started what has been a life-long love affair with waterfowl.  It is because of that book and the resulting infatuation with anything ducky that I choose to be a biologist. It is because of that book that I flirted with a career in art - I still do some drawings but haven't had the time paint for a number of years.   

I still have flash backs to Blueberries for Sal everytime I hear something hit the bottom of an empty bucket and I'm always a bit on edge whenever I'm in the woods - wondering if momma bear is just around the corner.

Both of these books opened doors to a love of animals and the outdoors that were largely shut for me.  My parents aren't outdoorsy people but they encouraged me explore things that were of interest to me.  For that I am grateful.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I didn't quite work out the way we expected

Here's what you get when you put five theology students - two of whom are scientists - together over a lunch break and the subject of the Large Hadron Collider comes up.
It was decided that once the LHC was fired up it would inevitably spit out a black hole from which Jesus would emerge. However, that wasn't the only surprise. Turns out that Jesus is actually John Cleese and "The Life of Brian" was actually sent as a revelation from God as a true 5th Gospel (apologies to Thomas, again). Only those that had watched the movies were raptured. Which lead to further discussion about our personal creeds that each of had to write for Christology - should we modify them to reflect this new revelation or not?
The personal Christological creed was really an interesting and useful exercise. It's pretty rare that any creed shows up in an UMC liturgy these days, when they do, we generally whip right through them and don't give what they're really saying much thought. Have you stopped and really read the Nicene Creed lately? How about any other creed?
One thing that really struck me was that how the Nicene Creed begins each belief statement with "We". Our personal creed statements (at least mine did) began with "I". That's a HUGE difference. I would have a difficult time reading parts of the Nicene Creed with "I" statements, but not with "We". With the "We" it falls on the community of believers; someone has me covered and I've got someone else covered kind of thing.
So, I got home last night, finished up some readings for Psalms and watched some "Life of Brian", just in case. Guess it didn't quite work out the way we'd thought.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More on "Country First"

Evidentally, I'm not the only one that found the campaign slogan borderline offensive. Please check out Rory's blog for a link to what Sojourner's founder Jim Wallace has to say and also what Christian Scharen has blogged about. Both can be linked from the side bars on this site. I really sense the possibility of something big coming from this. So much so that I'm thinking about making a "God First" yard sign.
This must be a popular topic as I had over 400 hits on yesterday's blog!

Friday, September 5, 2008


A quick follow-up on the books I mentioned a couple of posts ago. I did finish American Buffalo by Steven Rinella. As I mentioned, I wasn't overly impressed with the book at first. I thought the writing lacked strength and failed to really get the reader interested in the subject. However, once the story turned to Rinella's actual hunt of the bison it got much, much better. Along the way he brings in more history about North America's bison and finally brings the reader along with him. I found two comments within the story rather interesting. First, after killing his buffalo, he talks about the feelings he has about taking the life of an animal that he sincerely loves. Having been in that situation a number of times, I thought he did a wonderful job of explaining his emotional state. I also appreciated is not so subtle jab at non-hunting meat eaters who will readily condemn hunting yet have no problem downing a hamburger or a t-bone. I also appreciated his discussion on Native Americans. He makes a great point about some of the misconceptions we have about how Plains people lived. He notes that while it was very true that Plains people did use nearly every part of the buffalo, they didn't use every part of every buffalo that they killed. However, I don't think he did a very good job of relating the spiritual component that bison play to Plains people to the reader. It's a decent book that I'd certainly recommend you pick up at the library.
The other book I've been reading is Acedia and Me by Kathleen Norris. I'm still working my way through that one and it will likely take me a while now that school has started up again.
Speaking of school, I've really enjoyed my first week back. I've been leaving home at 6:00 a.m. to get to the Abby Church for morning prayer, something that always sets a good tone for the day. Reading and chanting the Psalms at morning prayer is an interesting contrast to studying them in an academic, exegetical manner. I hope to be able to attend morning prayer throughout the semester.

One final thought. I've been purposely avoiding all the political rancor these past two weeks mainly because I get too worked up about these things. However, I can't let the McCain slogan slide. Certainly puts those biblical fundamentalists on the ropes .... doesn't scripture say that God is first? I guess that's one of those little things that can just be conveniently overlooked.

I Wonder

I wonder what I've gotten myself into. They must have been desparate. Bottom of the barrel. How else would I have ended up teaching Sunday School? To high schoolers no less! Actually, this a good group of kids and we've all been on the Rosebud trip together over the course of the last three summers so we all know each other pretty well.

We're going to try something new with this. I've set up another blog (appropriately named "I Wonder") that each week I'll post some discussion items for the kids to think about during the week. They'll be able to post comments and such but they'll also be able to see how the discussion items might fit into their daily lives during the week. Then during class we'll dig through our thoughts. My hope is to expose them to a wide range of topics, experiences and maybe even some theology. I'll keep you posted.