Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lent: Week 1

One week into Lent and I am 7lbs lighter.
Yeah, it's kind of like throwing a deck chair off of the Titanic but it's a start.

The giving up of fast food during Lent means that I won't be taking advantage of McDonald's Leap Day special of buy a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder with cheese and get a second one for just 29 cents. Other than that I've just been snacking less and trying to eat less. I've still managed to include cookies, donuts, chips and other junk foods; just not too much of them. I'm even cutting back on the diet soda and drinking more water, thereby cutting back on caffeine.

I am using stairs instead of the elevator at work, although I occasionally use the elevator to go down since going down the stairs is a little hard on the fat boy's knees.

I hope that the weight will continue to come off so that a month from now I won't be the "fat" bald guy!
If you haven't read yesterday's post yet, you may not get the bald guy reference, so go read it now.
If you have read it, I know of four boys that are counting on you to make a small donation to a worthy cause and thereby getting to see their Uncle John with a shaved head. Every small donation helps ... $10, 20, 50... whatever you can spare. This is their page. Click on "make a donation" and help them out. Please!

Happy Leap Day!
Time to get ready for work.

John <><

Monday, February 27, 2012

Helping Kids to Help Kids

Today I want to write about a volunteer driven foundation that raises money to fund research to help kids with cancer. You can read about St. Baldrick's Foundation here.

In the numbers for the 2011 fundraising campaign, it show that there were 40,060 male shavees. Most of them were young boys. Four of them were my nephews. For the past few years oldest brother Drew and triplets Ty, Ben and Zach (along with their dad, Mike) have had their heads shaved to raise money to support kids that have cancer. You can help them reach their goal of $1500 by going to their team page and making a contribution. If memory serve me correctly (and it rarely does anymore), they managed to make their goal and a little bit more last year.

This year I've offered them a challenge--one that I'm willing to help them achieve. I told them that if they could reach $2000, their uncle John would join them on March 24th and have his head shaved, too! To be fair, the head shaving is actually a #1 cut (faster and safer with so many boys), but if you come through with the cash, I'll go the distance with the shave!

I know that there are more than a few of you that are warped enough to want to see me with a bald head! Take out your credit card, go back to the link (I'm making it easy) and make a donation. For those of you that aren't as warped but want to help because you are kind hearted and would've contributed anyway, I thank you. Now--grab your credit card, go to the link (easy for you, too) and make your donation. It's less than a month away, so please don't put it off. Fund raising goes on even after the event, but to get Uncle John there, you're going to have to cough it up before the event.

When the deed is done, I'll post a picture here and as my Facebook profile pic.

So there it is! Would you help kids with cancer by helping my nephews to reach their fund raising goal?
From Mike, Drew, Ty, Ben, Zach and Yours truly,
Thank you for your consideration and for whatever donation you can make.

John <><

Friday, February 24, 2012

Not a Political Post

The title of this post is my disclaimer. So before you read the post and want to leave a comment that rants on and on about your opposition to a creative article that has Satan addressing a couple of prominent Republicans reminding them of his methods and madness; understand that the points that I want to focus on are the points the we, as Christians, should be focusing on.

It's a long article, but you need to read it before you continue reading here. Go ahead. I'll wait.

I know that I might be asking for a lot here, but I'm going to ask you to get past the "war on religion/trampling religious rights/using personal faith as a political tool" sort of thing. I don't want to address your (or any politician's) ideas about social issues, health issues, ethical issues or matters of faith from a political point of view. I don't want to know how Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Mormons or atheists feel about birth control or abortion. I don't want to debate who is feeding the poor or paying the most in taxes.

I want to look at and examine the one part of the article that really hit me. If you want to address something else, get your own blog and rant to your heart's content.

Here's the quote that hit me...hard:

You got it all wrong, pal. I don't attack countries or institutions. I go after people. I take 'em down the same way the Competition lifts 'em up: One soul at a time. And I don't work through ethnic groups or countries or religions you don't like. I just burrow my way into a single mind, rent some space there, and go to work.

In case you didn't read the article to that point (and I know some of you didn't), Satan is speaking and the Competition he refers to is Jesus.

Did you get that? The battle is not for countries or institutions. It is not about cultures or ideologies. It is about people. The battle is over souls--one soul at a time. One soul at a time is the way that souls are saved, and the way that souls are lost.

I realize that the article is not a sound treatise of theological doctrine, but this is good stuff. Our real fights are not to be carried out in the halls of Congress or in the courtrooms across the country. The battle for souls is not to be fought in town hall meetings or in public schools and universities. Souls will be won by building relationships and sharing the love of God and the Truth of the Bible one person at a time.

I certainly believe that we need to live out our faith in all aspects of our lives. But that does not give us the right to expect others to live by the doctrines of our faith when they are followers of another faith or follow no particular faith. Somehow, we have come to the place where we believe that we have more of a right to practice what we believe than others have to practice what they believe and the battle has become a political contest to validate our religion in a country that allows for all religions and we have forgotten what Jesus commanded us to do -- Go and make disciples!

Look, I believe that Rick Santorum genuinely believes that he is doing the right thing in trying to get non-Catholics and non-Christians to live by the rules of the Vatican or follow the teachings of the Bible. But it is a futile thing to get non-Christians to act like Christians are supposed to act. Many might say that it is difficult enough to get Christians to act like they are supposed to act.

Christian brothers and sisters, when it comes to politics, vote as you feel led to vote. When it comes to changing the culture of our society, remember that the battle is won by leading one soul at a time to the throne of Grace. We can be agents of our God or tools of the devil. The battle is for souls.

Just because we want to be good, doesn't mean that we are. Just because we are militant about our beliefs doesn't mean that we don't sometimes drive people away from God. Though we would never intentionally bring shame to our Savior, even Christians can be used by Satan to keep others from coming to faith in Jesus.
My greatest fear is that one day I will stand before my Lord and Savior and be faced with the souls that I bear some responsibility for their decision to walk through life alone; without my Jesus.

I possess no goodness of own. My goodness is in Jesus, alone. Without Him, I am as lost as anybody.

The closing statements from the above article are as powerful as any:

I know, I know. You grew up working class. If you've said it once you've said it a thousand times: You used to be a regular guy. So what? I used to be an angel.
Look at us now.

John <><

A Push for a Global Holiday

Next Wednesday is February 29th! Leap Day -- a date that only comes around once every four* years!

I was thinking that this should be a Global Holiday! No school. No work. No wars. Nothing.
Just a day to be with friends and family. We can change the name to Earth Day and move it to coincide with one of the equinoxes so that it isn't in anybody's winter and we all have a fair chance at mild weather.

It would make it so that our extra day could be ... well, an extra day!

So, what would you do with an extra day?

I know that next week I'll be working on 2/29. You probably will be, too. But let's face it; you only get about 20 of these bonus days in a lifetime. What if we could really used them as extra days? Would you sleep late and just use the day to rest? Or would you have a big party and invite your friends to come and celebrate the day together?

This will be the 13th Leap Day since I was born. I've never really thought about it as an extra day and it's a little late to make big plans for next Wednesday. But I think that I will have a different mindset from now on. I'll still be at work next week on the 29th, but I need to think of a way to make the day count in a way that makes it feel like an extra day.

What would you do if Leap Day was a Global Holiday? How would you spend your 1 day out of 1,461 days  if it really was an "extra" day?

John <><

*Actually slightly less than that since century years are only leap years if they are divisible by 400. For example the year 2000 was a leap year, but 1900 was not. The years 2100, 2200 and 2300 will not be leap years, but the year 2400 will be.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Citizen by Birth; Citizen by Choice

According to my younger sister, 50 years ago today my mother became a United States citizen.

I remember a few years ago when the spouse of a co-worker became a US citizen. I really thought that it was such a cool thing to choose to be a citizen of the US of A.

It seems that it has become popular to trash the United States and her ideals. I'm not talking about other countries trashing her; I'm talking about citizens of the US trashing her. I'm talking about celebrities that are so puffed up with their opinions that they think it matters to the rest of us if they leave the country if they don't get their way. I'm talking about people that show their opposition to war by being hateful to the military personnel that dutifully serve our country. I'm talking about the people that use their freedom of speech to attack the very country that gives them that right.

What if each of us--the citizens by birth--had to take a test to keep our citizenship active? (Here you can take a sample test.)

What if each of us had to take an oath of loyalty to remain citizens of the US?

If we could choose our country of citizenship, would you choose to live in the country of your current residence? (I know not of my readers are residents of the USA.)
And having chosen your country of citizenship (and passed the required tests), would you then choose to defend it?
Choose to promote it?
Choose to contribute to its well being?
Choose to make it a better place for all of its citizens?
Choose to quit trashing it?

I'm not opposed to criticism; we can be better than we are. But it makes me cringe to hear people talk like this is a bad place to live or like we're embarrassed of who we are.

I am a US Citizen by birth.
I am a US Citizen by choice.
I am a US Citizen and pretty darned proud of it!

Thanks, Mom, for the choice you made 50 years ago!

John <><

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Candidate for a Pullet Surprise"

I ran across this poem as I was cleaning out "my room" over the weekend. I figure that it probably came from one of our writers' meetings, but there was no title or author attached to it. A quick Google search gave me the title, the names of the authors and a little background.

As an added bonus, I was able to copy and paste the poem rather than typing it out from the copy that I have.

Candidate for a Pullet Surprise
by Mark Eckman and Jerrold H. Zar
I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.
Each frays come posed up on my screen
Eye trussed too bee a joule.
The checker pours o'er every word
To cheque sum spelling rule.
Bee fore a veiling checker's
Hour spelling mite decline,
And if we're lacks oar have a laps,
We wood bee maid too wine.
Butt now bee cause my spelling
Is checked with such grate flare,
Their are know fault's with in my cite,
Of nun eye am a wear.
Now spelling does knot phase me,
It does knot bring a tier.
My pay purrs awl due glad den
With wrapped word's fare as hear.
To rite with care is quite a feet
Of witch won should bee proud,
And wee mussed dew the best wee can,
Sew flaw's are knot aloud.
Sow ewe can sea why aye dew prays
Such soft wear four pea seas,
And why eye brake in two averse
Buy righting want too pleas.
A great play on homophones (I was going to use "homophonics" but my spell checker says it's not a word!).


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Spring Training! What I Like About Baseball

It's been a very mild winter in the Ozarks and this is the weekend that the baseball world has been waiting for since the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series last fall. Spring training camps are open and it's time for baseball to begin once again!

This afternoon I looked out the window and saw a small boy with a ball and bat. I watch for a moment as he placed the bat on his shoulder, tossed the ball one handed into the air and swung the bat ... and missed. He picked up the ball, set himself for another swing and this time he connected. To my untrained (and unimaginative) eye, it didn't appear that he hit it very far. In his world, the ball carried much farther. I watched as he raised his hands and pumped his fist and made his home run trot around a set of imaginary bases before picking up his bat and ball and continuing in his solo game of baseball.

Yeah, it made me smile.

Baseball season is back!


Friday, February 17, 2012

Testimony: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

How much do our actions affect our testimony? If what we do is inconsistent with what we say, which are others more likely to believe--our actions or our words?

Back in the day (long before the existence of Buffalo Wild Wings), Hooters was really the only place to get decent hot wings. In keeping with their 'sex sells' theme, when you wanted them without the breading (I always did) you ordered them 'naked' (the wings, not the person ordering). I used to stop there on my way to work whenever I had a mid shift. I would call in the order for 50 wings, pick them up on the way, and then split them with the person that I was working with that night.

A part of me knew that Hooters wasn't exactly the place for a Baptist deacon to be hanging out, but then again, I wasn't really hanging out there, I was just walking in, picking up my wings and leaving. No big deal, right?

At that time, there was a young couple that had been going to church at Hopedale. They hadn't been married for too long and they were going through some marital problems. One night, as I was walking out of Hooters, I saw the guy with some of his buddies having a good time watching sports and enjoying the fine cuisine. I left quickly and hoped the he hadn't seen me.

Why? Because for a guy going through marriage problems, Hooters was probably one of the last places that he needed to be. Even Chris was never thrilled about me going to Hooters but didn't make too much over it since I was just picking up food to take to work.

I didn't want for him to think that my being there was some kind of justification that it was okay for him to be there. You know, the kind of thing that might be brought up in an argument with his wife: "Even John Hill thinks it's okay to go to Hooters. I saw him there one night!"

The end of the story is that they quit coming to church and ended up getting divorced. I had tried to get a hold of the guy, but nobody seemed to know how and the number I had was no longer working. I ran into him several years later. I told him that I owed him an apology and explained about that night several years before. He assured me that he didn't know what I was talking about and that it had nothing to do with their marriage falling apart.

I guess I knew that my being at Hooters that night wasn't a part of their problem or solution. But I also realized that the things we do often speak louder than the things we say. If we are going to talk a testimony of purity and fidelity, we have to live a testimony of purity and fidelity. I haven't been in Hooters since that night. I am not saying that it is wrong for anybody else to go there, it's just not a place where I can be.

More and more I am realizing that most of the shock and criticism of seeing a preacher/pastor/deacon in a place like Hooters or with a drink comes from people already in 'the church' and the unchurched really don't think anything of it -- at all. Having said that, I'll still make Buffalo Wild Wings my place for wings and try to be as careful about the things I do as I need to be about the things I say.

John <><

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Testing the Waters

In July, a group of people from Hopedale will be traveling to Nicaragua to build homes for 20 families. These are not the kind of homes that you and I are used to living in; they are really just cinder block shelters. In addition to these small "homes," Hopedale missionaries will be bringing shoes, clothes, school supplies, household goods and hygiene items. They will also be sharing the gospel in Bible studies.

It is an awesome way for us to share the love of God by meeting their needs as well as by sharing the Word.

Each person that is going is paying for their own travel. Each home that is being built cost about $2000 in materials. In addition to the many donations, we have had several fund raisers to help with meeting the $40,000 that is required. This past weekend I offered to do a magic show to help raise some money. I would really like to raise enough to build two homes. That may be a little bit ambitious, but I'm really counting on the generosity of God's people. The question becomes, "How many people would actually come to a John Hill magic show?"

I imagine that Hopedale people would come; but I'm wondering if my friends from other churches would participate in this mission by showing up and contributing to this work?

We haven't set a date or even confirmed that it's a go, but I would guess a Saturday night in April or May. It will be a show for the whole family and one that you will want to share with your friends and family. As much as it is for the purpose of raising funds for the mission trip, it will also be a fun night out. I can promise that the gospel will be shared and there will be an opportunity for you and your friends to respond to God as He stirs hearts.

So, what do you think? Any interest or thoughts?

John <><

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Set Apart for Service

Last Sunday, our evening service was a very special kind of service. As a church (a local community of believers) we ordained two men as deacons and installed three previously ordained men into deacon service at Hopedale. While I welcome the installation of the older men, I am especially excited about the ordination of our two new deacons.

Hopedale continues to grow and to reach out to young families and I really believe that adding these two guys will help young families to better identify with our fellowship and to see how there is a place of service and ministry for all of us.

I have been as open as I can be about my church. I absolutely love my church family. Our history is not without its battles and battle scars. We have had disagreements and there have been people that have left with hurt feelings. I believe that some of them needed to leave to fulfill God's calling and had become too comfortable at Hopedale. Often times, God's discipline is difficult to understand until we are able to see the result of His leading. I am sad that there are probably some that have left angry and haven't moved past that or shouldn't have left in the first place. In some ways, we are like many other Southern Baptist churches.

Having said that, Hopedale is not your daddy's church.

We have kept a traditional service for many of our members that prefer that structure and more traditional music. We have an excellent service designed to appeal to young families with kids--lots of kids. Our children's programs are great and our youth group is growing. Much of our growth (but not all) is coming from this area of service.

...And our pastor preaches the Word. Rock Solid. Sound doctrine. Good News. Jesus is Lord and Savior. Good preaching.

As Hopedale continues to grow, we will have the occasion to set aside more men for the purpose of serving one another and meeting the needs of our members. But set aside or not, we are all called to meet the needs within our family of believers.

If you need a church home and are in the Ozark area, I want to invite you to stop by and see us. If you can't make it in person, worship with us on the internet. Our service is streamed live and also available via podcast here.

I guess it seems strange to congratulate somebody or to honor them by placing them in the role of a servant. But that is what we have done. And I mean to honor them and encourage them by this post. Taking on the role and nature of a servant is the best way to model the behavior of our Lord Jesus.

John <><

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 
but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 
so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 
Philippians 2:4-11

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston (August 9, 1963 – February 11, 2012)

January 27, 1991

Just ten days earlier, US military forces entered into Kuwait and Operation Desert Storm was underway. News accounts of the Gulf War were steady and Super Bowl XXV was a welcome break from the constant reports.

Whitney Houston had agreed to sing the National Anthem almost a year prior the date of the big game and at a time when nobody could have expected that we would be at war in the Middle East. In an era that superstars "perform" the National Anthem and often do more to bring attention to themselves and their personal styles than to honor our country, Ms. Houston (pardon the mixed metaphor) hits it out of the park.

*click the title at the top of the video link to watch on YouTube

Friday, February 10, 2012

Christian Right. Christian Left. And Whatever happened to just following Jesus?

Once again Christianity makes its way into the news in the form of politics and social agendas and misses the mark as far as sharing the Salvation story and lifting up the name of Jesus.

The past week has seen the Komen/Planned Parenthood debacle (find your own link, there are plenty of them), the controversial birth control mandate for employers (the ruling is more than a decade old) that includes religious groups that oppose some/many/all forms of medical contraception, and the continuing Presidential primary race that says we have to place a religiously endorsed (as long as it's the right religion) leader in the White House.

While each of these stories provides enough material to fill many days of blog posting, I'm still wondering why there seems to be so little concern among Christian leaders that our people (Christ followers) are obviously living self centered lives and are failing in our calling to "go and make disciples." The agendas that we are apparently most concerned with have more to do with trying to force people that aren't Christians to live like Jesus expects us to live rather than following the command of Jesus to go and make disciples. We're not even doing a very good job of the "They'll know you are my disciples by the way that you love one another" thing that Jesus was trying to get across to us.

Since our government is not a theocracy (and I happen to be okay with that), it's foolish for us to expect that all of the laws of our country will reflect our particular faith's beliefs. If we really expect people to stop -- what's the word for offending God? ...oh yeah -- sinning against our God, maybe we should try to teach them about His great love and let God worry about the judging/converting/changing hearts and lives stuff.

If you are a follower of Jesus that thinks that we need to change the Constitution to make abortion illegal (or same sex marriages or what ever your sin of choice happens to be today), I agree that it would, well ... it would make abortion (or whatever) illegal. But it does absolutely nothing to bring even one lost person to a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior.

...And isn't that really our business?
What if we just did the WWJD thing and took care of the poor, the sick, the fatherless, the widows--you know the social things that Jesus commanded us to do?
What if we became disciples (and by that I mean we literally became students of His life and teachings) and helped others to become disciples, as well?
What would happen if people started to love God?
What would happen if people started to live like the Holy Spirit was living in them and guiding their life?

What would our world look like?
Would there be fewer abortions; even though abortion might still be legal?
Would there be less promiscuity; leading to fewer unwanted pregnancies?
Would we be less greedy and begin to see ways that we can better help those that are in need?
What would happen if we were as interested in what our neighbor/coworker/classmate believed in as we seem to be with what political candidates believe in?

Would people ever get to the point that they recognized us as Jesus followers by the way that we love one another rather than by the signs that we carry or the issues that we protest?

Often times I am just as offended by the Christian Left as I am by the Christian Right. I fear that sometimes I may offend my fellow Christians, but I am even more fearful of offending those that do not know my Lord, Jesus. My fear is that they will wrongly judge Jesus by the mistakes that I make or by the imperfect life that I live; by the mistakes that we make, the imperfect lives that we live.

It's still early in the election year politics and already I'm thoroughly disgusted by it. Disgusted by the obscene amount of money being spent. Disgusted by the outright lies being told. Disgusted by the hate and fear that is being spread. And disgusted by the parading of religion that says, "My religion's candidate will make a better president than your religion's candidate!" or "God doesn't like your candidate because he isn't the right kind of American."

So fellow follower of Jesus, what will you do today to let somebody know that there is a God that has created them with a purpose? Will you share the Good News today? Will somebody be blessed by the love of God showing through your words; your actions--today?

And if you are not (yet) a follower of Jesus, I have a bit of news for you. God loves you. And Jesus died for you!

John <><

Monday, February 06, 2012

For My Magician Friends (both of you!)

Last Saturday night I did a first time "Card to impossible location" effect. It was for an Upwards Basketball Celebration, so naturally the selected and signed card ended up inside of a basketball that had to be cut open. I think that the handling went well, but I am certain that I will make some modifications as I continue to use this or similar effects. (However, I've not yet had any real feed back from an audience member.)

I'm interested to know what methods are the favorites of other magicians for this effect. Leave your comments here on Out of My Hat rather than on Facebook. All comments are moderated by me and your methods will not be revealed. If you prefer, you can e-mail me at I'd be happy to share my method with you, as well.

Thanks for taking the time to share.

John <><

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Facebook Postings

During his sermon this morning, Pastor Terry was talking about "authentic Christians."
(I'll pause to mention that I think that Pastor Terry is an exceptional preacher and you can listen to his sermon here. The service starts at about the 7 min mark. I don't believe that the messages are archived, so you need to listen to it this week.)
Towards the end of his message, he made a reference to Facebook and how confusing our testimony may be--posting scripture verses on one occasion and posting (or linking to) offensive blogs, pics or statuses on another.

Naturally, this got me to reflecting on my own posts, links and blog. I'm pretty sure that what I write reflects who I am and what I think without much pretense. I know that many of my Christian friends do not agree with my political views. But I'm not too concerned about those disagreements. I know that I been told that I can't be a Christian and vote for a Democrat. I know that there are probably pastors that will never ask me back to their churches after reading my blog even though I have never preached anything but the Word of God and Salvation by the Grace of God through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

When it comes right down to it, I'm not too concerned about offending Christians that are secure in their belief and certain of their salvation in Jesus.
However, I am greatly concerned of driving unbelievers away from a belief in God and away from a relationship with Jesus by sending mixed messages of God's love on the one hand and my personal judgment on the other. I do think about how my actions might affect my witness. I do make the occasional wrong call and need to backtrack and make amends. If you are not a follower of Jesus, I want to be able to talk to you about what you believe and share with you what I believe. You are the ones that I am most concerned about offending.

So here is what I want to know from my Facebook friends:

For those of you that are not followers of Jesus (and I know that there are many of you) -- Do the things that you find on my Facebook or Out of My Hat make you more likely or less likely to be willing to dialogue with me (or another Christian) about matters of faith? Or more importantly, do I post things that would keep you away from God? Away from Jesus?

For those of you that are fellow Christians -- Feel free to share your comments about how you feel about whether or not my posts, statuses or links are an asset or a detriment to my Christian witness. You won't hurt my feelings. I've been called out and criticized before so you won't be the first.

As always, if you want to keep your comments private, comment on the blog instead of on Facebook and mention that you want it that way. No judgment from me so there's no need for guilt or hesitancy from you. I wouldn't ask if I didn't really want to know.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saturday AM

Just a quick post before really getting into the day...

I'm looking forward to tonight's Upwards Basketball season ending celebration at South Haven Baptist Church. This is a little bit challenging as the time allotted to me is pretty short. With only a short amount of time, the challenge is to have a good opening effect, a killer closing effect and something in between. Also, since I generally provide an evangelistic message of some kind--well, you can see the problem.

For tonight I'll just go with an opening effect, a message from the opener, and then move into the closer. I'm a little bit concerned about the closer as this is the first time I've done anything like it. I know how it's supposed to work (in my head) but actual performance is generally a little bit different. I had to make some last moment changes in the presentation so ...
I'll get back to you on how it turns out.

And it's Superbowl weekend! I know that means a lot to a great many people. To me it only means that it's a week closer to baseball season starting. More than most big sporting events, the Superbowl is an event designed for the 1%. Yesterday, I heard (it was on TV so it must be true!) that the average cost of a ticket to the Superbowl in 1967 was $9. That's right, $9! The average cost of a ticket to tomorrow's event--$3800! And that's the average cost!

At least it's on NBC so we can all watch it for free.
Enjoy the game. Enjoy the weekend.
Find the time and a place to worship God in all that you do.

...And remember, pitchers and catchers will be reporting to camp in just a couple of weeks!

John <><

Friday, February 03, 2012

President Obama's Address at the National Prayer Breakfast

This is a long post -- but I didn't write it. I read it.
And I would like for you to read it, too.

Over the past few years, much has been said of our President's faith. Much of it has been unflattering and critical and much of that has come from those that profess to be Christians.

Regardless of your opinion of the President's religious beliefs; regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack of them if that applies); please take the time to read this speech. It took the President twenty minutes to say it. It should take you less time to read it. I supposed I could have hunted down a link for you if you prefer to listen to it, but I didn't.

Feel free to comment (or not). Feel free to share it (or not). Retweet it (or not). Just, please, read it.

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THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Please, please, everybody have a seat. Well, good morning, everybody. It is good to be with so many friends united in prayer. And I begin by giving all praise and honor to God for bringing us together here today.

I want to thank our co-chairs Mark and Jeff; to my dear friend, the guy who always has my back, Vice President Biden. (Applause.) All the members of Congress –- Joe deserves a hand –- all the members of Congress and my Cabinet who are here today; all the distinguished guests who’ve traveled a long way to be part of this. I’m not going to be as funny as Eric -- (laughter) -- but I’m grateful that he shared his message with us. Michelle and I feel truly blessed to be here.

This is my third year coming to this prayer breakfast as President. As Jeff mentioned, before that, I came as senator. I have to say, it’s easier coming as President. (Laughter.) I don’t have to get here quite as early. But it’s always been an opportunity that I’ve cherished. And it’s a chance to step back for a moment, for us to come together as brothers and sisters and seek God’s face together. At a time when it’s easy to lose ourselves in the rush and clamor of our own lives, or get caught up in the noise and rancor that too often passes as politics today, these moments of prayer slow us down. They humble us. They remind us that no matter how much responsibility we have, how fancy our titles, how much power we think we hold, we are imperfect vessels. We can all benefit from turning to our Creator, listening to Him. Avoiding phony religiosity, listening to Him.

This is especially important right now, when we’re facing some big challenges as a nation. Our economy is making progress as we recover from the worst crisis in three generations, but far too many families are still struggling to find work or make the mortgage, pay for college, or, in some cases, even buy food. Our men and women in uniform have made us safer and more secure, and we were eternally grateful to them, but war and suffering and hardship still remain in too many corners of the globe. And a lot of those men and women who we celebrate on Veterans Day and Memorial Day come back and find that, when it comes to finding a job or getting the kind of care that they need, we’re not always there the way we need to be.

It’s absolutely true that meeting these challenges requires sound decision-making, requires smart policies. We know that part of living in a pluralistic society means that our personal religious beliefs alone can’t dictate our response to every challenge we face.

But in my moments of prayer, I’m reminded that faith and values play an enormous role in motivating us to solve some of our most urgent problems, in keeping us going when we suffer setbacks, and opening our minds and our hearts to the needs of others.

We can’t leave our values at the door. If we leave our values at the door, we abandon much of the moral glue that has held our nation together for centuries, and allowed us to become somewhat more perfect a union. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, Abraham Heschel -- the majority of great reformers in American history did their work not just because it was sound policy, or they had done good analysis, or understood how to exercise good politics, but because their faith and their values dictated it, and called for bold action -- sometimes in the face of indifference, sometimes in the face of resistance.

This is no different today for millions of Americans, and it’s certainly not for me.

I wake up each morning and I say a brief prayer, and I spend a little time in scripture and devotion. And from time to time, friends of mine, some of who are here today, friends like Joel Hunter or T.D. Jakes, will come by the Oval Office or they’ll call on the phone or they’ll send me a email, and we’ll pray together, and they’ll pray for me and my family, and for our country.

But I don’t stop there. I’d be remiss if I stopped there; if my values were limited to personal moments of prayer or private conversations with pastors or friends. So instead, I must try -- imperfectly, but I must try -- to make sure those values motivate me as one leader of this great nation.

And so when I talk about our financial institutions playing by the same rules as folks on Main Street, when I talk about making sure insurance companies aren’t discriminating against those who are already sick, or making sure that unscrupulous lenders aren’t taking advantage of the most vulnerable among us, I do so because I genuinely believe it will make the economy stronger for everybody. But I also do it because I know that far too many neighbors in our country have been hurt and treated unfairly over the last few years, and I believe in God’s command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” I know the version of that Golden Rule is found in every major religion and every set of beliefs -– from Hinduism to Islam to Judaism to the writings of Plato.

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone. And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.” It mirrors the Islamic belief that those who’ve been blessed have an obligation to use those blessings to help others, or the Jewish doctrine of moderation and consideration for others.

When I talk about giving every American a fair shot at opportunity, it’s because I believe that when a young person can afford a college education, or someone who’s been unemployed suddenly has a chance to retrain for a job and regain that sense of dignity and pride, and contributing to the community as well as supporting their families -- that helps us all prosper.

It means maybe that research lab on the cusp of a lifesaving discovery, or the company looking for skilled workers is going to do a little bit better, and we’ll all do better as a consequence. It makes economic sense. But part of that belief comes from my faith in the idea that I am my brother’s keeper and I am my sister’s keeper; that as a country, we rise and fall together. I’m not an island. I’m not alone in my success. I succeed because others succeed with me.

And when I decide to stand up for foreign aid, or prevent atrocities in places like Uganda, or take on issues like human trafficking, it’s not just about strengthening alliances, or promoting democratic values, or projecting American leadership around the world, although it does all those things and it will make us safer and more secure. It’s also about the biblical call to care for the least of these –- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.

To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” And for others, it may reflect the Jewish belief that the highest form of charity is to do our part to help others stand on their own.

Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great -- when we live up to them; when we don’t just give lip service to them; when we don’t just talk about them one day a year. And they’re the ones that have defined my own faith journey.

And today, with as many challenges as we face, these are the values I believe we’re going to have to return to in the hopes that God will buttress our efforts.

Now, we can earnestly seek to see these values lived out in our politics and our policies, and we can earnestly disagree on the best way to achieve these values. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.”

Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often. (Laughter.) So instead, it is our hope that people of goodwill can pursue their values and common ground and the common good as best they know how, with respect for each other. And I have to say that sometimes we talk about respect, but we don’t act with respect towards each other during the course of these debates.

But each and every day, for many in this room, the biblical injunctions are not just words, they are also deeds. Every single day, in different ways, so many of you are living out your faith in service to others.

Just last month, it was inspiring to see thousands of young Christians filling the Georgia Dome at the Passion Conference, to worship the God who sets the captives free and work to end modern slavery. Since we’ve expanded and strengthened the White House faith-based initiative, we’ve partnered with Catholic Charities to help Americans who are struggling with poverty; worked with organizations like World Vision and American Jewish World Service and Islamic Relief to bring hope to those suffering around the world.

Colleges across the country have answered our Interfaith Campus Challenge, and students are joined together across religious lines in service to others. From promoting responsible fatherhood to strengthening adoption, from helping people find jobs to serving our veterans, we’re linking arms with faith-based groups all across the country.

I think we all understand that these values cannot truly find voice in our politics and our policies unless they find a place in our hearts. The Bible teaches us to “be doers of the word and not merely hearers.” We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives. And each of us is called on to give something of ourselves for the betterment of others -- and to live the truth of our faith not just with words, but with deeds.

So even as we join the great debates of our age -- how we best put people back to work, how we ensure opportunity for every child, the role of government in protecting this extraordinary planet that God has made for us, how we lessen the occasions of war -- even as we debate these great issues, we must be reminded of the difference that we can make each day in our small interactions, in our personal lives.

As a loving husband, or a supportive parent, or a good neighbor, or a helpful colleague -- in each of these roles, we help bring His kingdom to Earth. And as important as government policy may be in shaping our world, we are reminded that it’s the cumulative acts of kindness and courage and charity and love, it’s the respect we show each other and the generosity that we share with each other that in our everyday lives will somehow sustain us during these challenging times. John tells us that, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”

Mark read a letter from Billy Graham, and it took me back to one of the great honors of my life, which was visiting Reverend Graham at his mountaintop retreat in North Carolina, when I was on vacation with my family at a hotel not far away.

And I can still remember winding up the path up a mountain to his home. Ninety-one years old at the time, facing various health challenges, he welcomed me as he would welcome a family member or a close friend. This man who had prayed great prayers that inspired a nation, this man who seemed larger than life, greeted me and was as kind and as gentle as could be.

And we had a wonderful conversation. Before I left, Reverend Graham started praying for me, as he had prayed for so many Presidents before me. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him. I didn’t really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to the man who has prayed for so many? But like that verse in Romans, the Holy Spirit interceded when I didn’t know quite what to say.

And so I prayed -- briefly, but I prayed from the heart. I don’t have the intellectual capacity or the lung capacity of some of my great preacher friends here that have prayed for a long time. (Laughter.) But I prayed. And we ended with an embrace and a warm goodbye.

And I thought about that moment all the way down the mountain, and I’ve thought about it in the many days since. Because I thought about my own spiritual journey –- growing up in a household that wasn’t particularly religious; going through my own period of doubt and confusion; finding Christ when I wasn’t even looking for him so many years ago; possessing so many shortcomings that have been overcome by the simple grace of God. And the fact that I would ever be on top of a mountain, saying a prayer for Billy Graham –- a man whose faith had changed the world and that had sustained him through triumphs and tragedies, and movements and milestones –- that simple fact humbled me to my core.

I have fallen on my knees with great regularity since that moment -- asking God for guidance not just in my personal life and my Christian walk, but in the life of this nation and in the values that hold us together and keep us strong. I know that He will guide us. He always has, and He always will. And I pray his richest blessings on each of you in the days ahead.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)