Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Un-organized Religion

I have a patch on my motorcycle jacket that says, "Sure I love Jesus. It's his fan club that bothers me."

I'm often surprised at the comments it generates. There were several toll booth operators that commented about it when I was on my trip -- all believers, btw.
Just recently, a young man at a fast food restaurant asked me about it. I think he was a young believer and was ready to defend his belief. I included myself in my answer saying something like -- I think that we, as believers, often give Jesus a bad name by the way behave. He just nodded his head as he walked away and said, "Yeah, I get that."

Lately, I have become more and more concerned with the way that Evangelical Christians have become more of a cultural (or anti-cultural) organization with a political agenda than a group of people dedicated to sharing the Gospel of salvation by the grace of God.

I often feel like an outsider when with other Christians. I differ from many of them on politics and on many cultural issues. I despise that we have allowed religion to become a political tool.
Understand that I have nothing against Christians being politically active (I'm actually in favor of that), but to leverage religion as a tool or to wave it about like a club and then to back someone that stands in direct opposition to those beliefs is a detriment to those beliefs and to Jesus, himself.

It is my personal opinion that the church (little c intentional) in the US is nothing like the Church that Jesus leads. In my years as an evangelist, I can't begin to recount the number of times that I've been told that someone believes in God but is opposed to organized religion.
I believe I have mentioned that I'm a slow learner. I am beginning to understand their perspective.

I know that the readers of this blog come from a variety of religious beliefs and backgrounds. At one time there were a few atheists. I'm not sure if that's still true or not. I do know that many have stopped following me for a wide variety of reasons. If I haven't ye offended you, consider yourself fortunate. If I have and you're still here, thanks.

I'm thinking about adding a weekly post that shares something of my personal beliefs -- a sermon like message about what I believe and why.
I'm not looking at starting an online church or anything like that.
I'm not looking for debate about my beliefs (although, I do expect some).
I'm not sure that I'm even looking to make converts to my way of thinking or to my beliefs.
I'm just thinking of sharing my faith on a regular basis through this forum -- a kind of un-organized religion.
It might help me to keep what remains of my sanity.

John <><

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Wonderful weekend

Last Wednesday was Chris' birthday.
A couple of weeks ago, Aaron called and wanted to meet this weekend in St Louis to celebrate her birthday.

We arrived at the hotel downtown St Louis on Friday night. The kids didn't get in from Chicago until late. We went out to get a little late night snack when they arrived and then called it a day.
I was up before everyone else on Saturday and walked a couple of blocks to a nearby Starbucks where I enjoyed a little coffee and managed a quick post.

By the time I made it back to the hotel, Aaron was up and wanted to make a run to Blueprint Coffee Roasters in U-City. We went back to pick up our girls and began our Saturday birthday celebration. We started with a trip to The Hill for lunch at Zia's.

Oh my! It was so good and reasonably priced. We sat outside and didn't let the few sprinkles bother us. We were mostly under cover of the awning and I think I was the only one catching a few drops on my arm.

After lunch, we went to the St Louis Art Museum at Forest Park. We spent most of the rainy afternoon inside the Museum and enjoyed walking through the many exhibits. By the time we decided to leave, the rain had moved on and the sun was shining. There was a wedding in the park and they had set up for the reception dinner in the main entrance of the Art Museum.

(Thanks to Jenny for the artfully done pics. See what I did, there?)

We had already decided on Iron Barley for dinner and journeyed out to High Ridge to their new location. I don't know why they moved from their south city location to a place out in the boonies, but it was certainly worth the drive. It was only the third night at the new place and it was a little chaotic, but I have to say it was well worth the wait.
My ribs were superb!
Aaron called them contest ribs. Well done, but not the falling off the bone ribs you often find at restaurants. They had a great crusty sear on the outside and a subtle smoked flavor throughout. The meat separated from the bone easily enough, but you had to do it. It wasn't like picking up the bone and the meat falling away. Easily the best restaurant ribs I've ever had.

We finished the day at an oyster bar downtown, listening to some live music.
All-in-all, it's been a pretty wonderful weekend. We'll have a late breakfast or lunch with the kids before we separate and each travel to our homes. It's really satisfying knowing that your kids have grown into some pretty decent adults, chosen great spouses, and are the kinds of people that are great to do life with.

Life is pretty grand!

John <><

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Adding value to your beliefs by giving value to other's beliefs

This past week I got into a Twitter exchange with a person over a thread that began with a statement about gun rights and the taking of innocent lives in gun violence. The post had the video of Congressman Joe Kennedy III addressing the need for restrictions on gun ownership to prevent further taking of innocent lives.
The comment attached to the tweet said that you can't be against the taking of innocent lives and be pro-choice and pretty much dismissed his pleas for any new restrictions by labeling him as a hypocrite.

My comment was that it is these kinds of arguments that make anti-abortionists sound stupid.
I later said that this tactic to make every argument about abortion, diminishes the value of both issues (whatever the other issue may be at the time).

It's not the only bad argument that pro-lifers use.
If you want people to listen to what you have to say, it is also important to listen to what they have to say. Often times, the arguments we use make no sense to others because we are coming from such different perspectives. We need to find a common ground from which to base our views.

For example:
Not long ago I heard a pro-lifer state that liberals (you know all pro-choice people are liberals, right?) say that scientists have found evidence of life on Mars in the form of simple fossilized cells. How can they find a single cell on a distant planet and call it life but say that an unborn child isn't life?
The problem with this argument is that the person ascribed a belief to pro-choice people that doesn't exist. No one believes that an unborn fetus is a mass of dead cells that miraculously comes to life at birth. The argument has always been -- At what point does the unborn have individual human rights that need to be considered?

Changing the grounds of the debate to something that it isn't doesn't help your cause, nor does it give you credibility. As a matter of fact, it often leads to the belief that you have no valid point because you feel you need to cloud the discussion with statements that have nothing to do with issue at hand.

In the twitter exchange, I asked the question, "If I'm opposed to abortion, does that mean I have to be for stricter gun laws?"
It seemed like that was the logical conclusion from the you can't favor gun restrictions and be pro-choice. Funny, but my question was called non-sequitur.
I'm not sure how that works -- Rep. Kennedy can't favor stricter gun laws and be pro-choice, but I can be pro-life and want unrestricted gun laws.
Like I said -- it sounds stupid.

If you want people to listen to you, you have to speak their language and you have to listen to them, as well.

John <><

Friday, October 06, 2017

Living life ... a day at a time

I have managed to curb my internet time over the past couple of  days.

My Facebook fast has turned out to be more of a Facebook diet rather than a fast. The truth is, that's what I expected it to be. Not getting notifications on my phone has helped, but I'm finding that I have quite a strong habit of checking Facebook on my phone. I'm considering removing the Facebook app from my phone which would restrict my Facebook exposure to when I have access via my computer.

It's been nice not being on it as often. It does give me more time for living life rather than being drawn into the time suck that Facebook generally becomes.

I've also managed a to reach out and make a few contacts this week. I hope to continue to do that, but it does require more of an effort than you might imagine.

It might sound weird to say that I also have to be purposeful about establishing a quiet time or relaxing meditative time. I would consider an hour smoking a cigar on the deck such a relaxing time. I should plan that as a daily activity!

Even as a retired guy, I usually find that I am being carried along life's flow rather than purposely deciding what I want to do.
And life is easy that way.

Life in the Ozarks is pretty easy, anyway.
There is no daily crisis in my world. I see the destruction of storms that have hit in the southern US and Puerto Rico. I watch the news casts of earthquakes in Mexico and see refugees seeking safety from horrendous life situations in far away parts of  the Earth. Even Las Vegas seems to be an unreal event that happened to people in a far away place.

In many ways, it is too easy to detach ourselves from the problems of others.
I have enough difficulty connecting with those that are in my geographically close community. Connecting to people that are not close to me is nearly impossible. I know that I'm not expected to actually contact those people, but it is difficult to even empathize with them because our worlds are so different.
Somehow, they have to become more real -- more human -- to me. They are a part of my world community. They are a part of my human-ness. How do I begin to see them as more than a sad story on the news?

I ask, because I really don't have the answer.

I think our typical day is:
read a sad story
post a link to a sad story
express outrage about a sad story
maybe send money to a program for the victims of a sad story
have another cup of coffee and go about our day until the next sad story comes our way.

The disconnect is real.
But I'm working on it.

John <><

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Facebook Fast

I've decided to take a Facebook fast.
I don't know how long it will last, but for the next few days I will be absent from Facebook.

Part of the decision is to try to actually engage with people on a more personal level.
Part is a realization that the communities we develop on Facebook are communities of people that are like us. While I do have plenty of people that have differing opinions on various topics, the truth is that I rarely read their posts and I doubt that they read mine. The limited dialog that happens between us is often hijacked by others that don't know me and are usually unreasonable in their comments.

I will continue on Twitter and Instagram.
I get the majority of my news from various links on Twitter and enjoy the photographs and links on the much less political Instagram. Another benefit of those two sites is that you can follow me and I don't have to follow you.

Because those two sites are linked to Facebook, my tweets and pics will still appear on my Facebook page. That doesn't mean that I'll be there to see your likes, reactions, or comments.

And that's another reason for staying off of Facebook -- I think that Facebook has become too many people's source of self-esteem. Far too many (teens, especially) are tied to the number of likes and internet strokes they get in order to feel validated as a person of some importance.

In the end, I may drop in on Facebook for a few minutes after a day or so.
I may end up just giving myself a few minutes daily on Facebook.
But for today I'm taking a break.

I'll probably miss a few birthdays. If I miss yours, I'm sorry.
I'll miss a few humorous memes.
I'll miss a few pet videos.
And I will miss some personal posts, but I doubt that I'll miss anything of great consequence.

I'll continue to blog and to occasionally post on Twitter or Instagram. You can find me as @magicianary on either of those social media forums.

John <><

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Happy October!

It is Sunday morning and I find myself at the dining table of a hotel suite in St Charles MO.
We are in this nice suite due a mix up in our hotel reservations that took Expedia over an hour to straighten out at the end of a long (but enjoyable) day.

We were blessed and honored to be invited to the wedding and reception of an old friend. We came into the FAA about the same time (he was already a trainee when I arrived at the facility) and have worked together in two different facilities  during our careers. Since he came in as a young guy and I came in as an old guy, he is still working in his career.

At some point, I will probably decide to write about marriage struggles, failed marriages and second marriages, but for today I'll stick with wishing this new family the very best as they venture into the blending of their two families. My buddy is going to need some counseling (and occasional testosterone outings) -- he'll be living with his wife and four girls (2 his, 2 hers), three of them teenagers!

It was pretty great getting to reconnect with some old air traffic friends. We ended up in a corner away from family and other friends of the wedding party. (I'm not sure if that was by design or just a coincidence.) These were guys (and their wives) that the groom had worked with and I had come to know over the years. I had also worked with a couple of them.

I also got to meet some of the groom's non-air traffic friends. He always introduced me with the additional "John does magic and uses it to share the gospel" bit, so transition into a conversation about the gospel was pretty easy.
And that was a good thing since the week was coming to an end and I still had not completed my part in the one week challenge of sharing "God loves you" and "Jesus died for you."
I did get to have a couple of conversations talking about what I do in sharing the gospel, both through camps and magic shows, as well as through preaching from the pulpit. It does make it easier to share the simple message that "God loves you and Jesus died for you."

Later this morning we'll meet with some other friends and catch up on their lives.
In the day-to-day grind, I often forget about the many people that have touched my life in some way and then moved on. We have such technology available that we shouldn't lose touch with those dear friends and yet, we often do. I really need to make an effort to move beyond the impersonal social media contacts that have taken the place of true friendships today. It is sad that I've fallen into the trap of placing dear friends into the group of Facebook friends or Twitter followers rather than actually talking to them and being with them from time to time.

It's no wonder we have such a difficult time communicating with one another when most messages come in the form of 140 character tweets or cleverly constructed memes.
As much as it pains me to actually talk to people, I think I'm going to challenge myself to have at least one genuinely meaningful conversation with someone (other than Chris) everyday. That probably sounds too simple for most of you, but there are many days that Chris is the only person I see (and I'm okay with that!).

I'm not a list maker, but I guess I'll need to become one.
At the top of every daily to do list:
Talk to someone other than Chris
It may be more than I can accomplish!

Maybe you have an old friend that would be blessed by a call.
Why not do it today?

John <><

Friday, September 29, 2017

Is it too early to be thinking about spring rides?

I know that it's barely fall, but I've started to think about spring rides already.
I'm thinking along the lines of riding to baseball games. The Springfield Cardinals play in the Texas League, a AA minor league organization. The northern division consists of the Cardinals, two Arkansas teams -- one in Little Rock, one in Fayetteville, and a team in Tulsa.

All of those are easy day trips. Tulsa and Little Rock are about 200 miles (one way) and Fayetteville is around 125. A midweek day game would be a perfect outing -- nice ride out, Springfield Cardinal baseball game, nice ride home!

The four teams in the southern division would pose more of a challenge. The Frisco team isn't too bad at around 400 miles (one way), but Midland and San Antonio come in at over 700 miles and Corpus Christi at around 850, making all of those overnight trips and long rides each day of travel.

However, I could add the Dodger's AAA team in Oklahoma City into the mix and pair that with a game in Midland TX. I'd have to count on my big sis taking me in for an overnight stay and I would still have an overnight in Midland and one day of 700+ miles.
The Cardinals pair the Corpus Christi team with San Antonio for a May road trip meaning I could see a game in CC on a Thursday and SA on Friday. It would still be two overnights and two long rides, but just one long trip instead of two.

For now it's just thinking about baseball and riding.
I did ride to St. Louis and back for a day game this season, but missed a trip to Kansas City.
Maybe next year.

There is still plenty of riding to do in 2017, just not much more in the way of baseball.

John <><

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can We Talk?

The internet is full of opinions on the peaceful demonstrations of black athletes during our National Anthem. Coaches, owners, fellow athletes, broadcasters, and of course -- politicians are weighing in on the means of the demonstration.

Unfortunately, I'm seeing very little actual  talk about the purpose of the demonstrations -- the unjust treatment of African-Americans by our police forces and justice systems.

Even though I am Asian-American by birth, I have spent my life within the white privileged society and wouldn't be considered anything else except by the strictest white nationalist sects of our society. I think that I am the least Asian looking of my siblings and many people are surprised to hear that I have an Asian mother.
I have no idea of what it is like to be a black man in the United States  (or any other minority, for that matter). For all practical purposes, I am a white, Christian male and have the privileges associated with that standing. I can live were I want (and can afford). I can go where I want without fear of being stopped due to racial profiling. I can shop where I want without raising great suspicion that I'm going to steal something. I'm not suspected of being lazy or of slopping at the government trough (although I am on a government pension). I live in a part of the country that is nearly uninhabited by minorities.

I say all of that to say that I recognize that I am a part of the problem -- at least up to the point that I allow the problem to continue without some sort of dialog and change.

We, as a society, have responded in a typical way. The instinctual response of any accused is to justify our actions or redirect the blame for our actions on the accuser. It takes great character to admit that we may have been wrong; that our action (or inaction) has caused someone harm. Such an admission means that we have to be the ones to change.
As long as we make the demonstration about something other than its initial purpose, we can insist that the victims of this injustice change their method of demonstration while we continue to allow the racially motivated injustices to continue.

There will have to come a time when law enforcement agencies and criminal justice systems have to acknowledge that the statistics are damning and a change is needed. We (the privileged) can be the motivating segment of society to get our elected government officials to listen to the complaints rather than to dismiss them or deflect them so that they go unaddressed.

Kneeling during the Anthem has never been about disrespecting the Flag, our nation, nor anyone that serves our society. It's time we stopped treating it as such and address the real issue.

John <><

Monday, September 25, 2017

Another Monday Morning...

Somewhere in northern Missouri, someone is asking a co-worker, "How was your weekend?"
And that co-worker is responding with, "I'm glad you asked that. You see we had a guest preacher at our church and he challenged us ... "

Yes, another pulpit challenge to tell people the simple message -- "God loves you. Jesus died for you."

I always put myself into the challenge, although I doubt that anyone will ask me how my weekend was. It's not because nobody cares (nobody really does), but because I probably won't have much contact with anyone during the day.
I also always invite churches to hold me as accountable as they hold each other, but they rarely do.
Somehow I suspect that I'll be getting a tweet or two asking for my story of sharing this simple message.

My ride to Chillicothe MO (The Home of Sliced Bread) was warm and uneventful. (My last ride to Chillicothe was when I lost all my stuff.) I arrived in town shortly after 3 PM with all of my gear intact. I unloaded the things for my magic show at the church and then went to the home of Steve and Pam Miller. The Millers were my host family for the weekend. They live in a grand old house, built in the 1880s. They are doing a lot of work to renovate and keep (and restore) the original character of the house. Perhaps it will be a bed and breakfast place in the future.
Oh! And speaking of breakfast, it looked like a magazine or TV show breakfast.
Coffee, OJ, stuffed French toast topped with blueberries, strawberries and whipped cream, and a side of patty sausage. Beautiful and delicious!

The Saturday evening magic show went well and I believe that a good time was had by all. The church put on a nice event for the neighborhood and community. The program began with a very good puppet show that was put on by a troupe from another local church. While being entertained, the kids (parents, too) enjoyed popcorn, nachos, cotton candy, and lemonade. There was a brief intermission and then the magic show.

I should mention that I believe many churches would pass on such an event simply due to the number of workers necessary to pull it off. The fellowship hall was very well decorated. There were lots of kitchen workers to prepare and distribute snacks. There were greeters and there were plenty of people to clean up and reset the hall for Sunday morning.
Just looking at (or anticipating) all of the popcorn and chips scattered on the floor would prevent many churches from doing this. But the clean up was fast and fun -- yes, I said fun -- as it looked like the people were genuinely enjoying their service to others!

Sunday morning was more of the same hospitality and joy. Pastor Rob is truly blessed to be serving a people that show their love for one another and the community around them. The young staff is energetic and tends to infuse their enthusiasm into the rest of the congregation. It is so much easier to preach to a church full of folks that are happy about serving and worshiping our God and Savior.

After church I changed into my riding gear, loaded up the bike, had lunch with the pastor and headed home. The day was warm (low 90s, 33-34c) and traffic was light. As I neared Springfield, the wind started to pick up and I could see rain ahead. I stopped to check the weather radar for the route and decided to push on. Later, I stopped again to put on my rain gear and did run into some rain before making it home. However, I was treated to a bright and magnificent rainbow as compensation for my short ride in the rain.

I doubt that I'll get much riding in for the remainder of September. I've a lawn to mow, groceries to buy, and other household chores to tend to. On Saturday, I get to celebrate with a friend as he gets married.

It has been a grand month.
I hope that yours has also been a fun adventure.
Finish it well.
Tell somebody -- God loves you. Jesus died for you.

John <><

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Road Trip; the little guy

I was blessed to be able to be the first member of the Hill side of the family to greet our newest member.

I left my lunch meeting in Virginia and headed westward toward Fletcher NC, adding NC as the 15th state to enter on my journey. Jessica missed our family reunion this summer since she was late in her pregnancy and leave management for a young family can be an issue. Originally, I wasn't sure if a stop to see them would work out and I really was concerned about adding to an already overwhelming situation.

When I arrived late in the evening, Jason was out picking up some things for dinner. Jess came out to greet me and introduce me to the dogs. Bella was not a happy dog.
Before making my way to the back gate, Jess had me remove my jacket, gloves and cap. Apparently, Bella already has issues with strange men and those things don't help.

I was the first unfamiliar person to come to the house since baby Jacob arrived and Bella was going to do her best to make sure that I was okay. It took her quite a while to relax. Jason's arrival helped, but even then she positioned herself on the floor between me and who ever was holding the baby.

I got the home tour, enjoyed dinner and our visit, but also worried about being an intrusion as they make adjustments in their new world of life with an infant.

Although they offered their couch, I knew that a less than a week old baby was enough and opted for a nearby motel. Jess' mom was there and using the guest room, so one more person and a nervous dog was an unnecessary burden.

I enjoyed our visit but also wanted to leave when Jacob started his post dinner nap. I know that sleep time can be a precious thing for new parents and wanted them to be able to take advantage of his sleep time to get some of their own.

It had been a good day.
And the next day was the ride to the Dragon!

John <><

Here's a pic of me with Jason, Jessica and Jacob.