Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Novel Approach...

November is National Novel Writing Month.

Many writers' clubs and groups encourage setting a daily word goal in order to write a novel (at least a rough draft) during the coming month. I don't think that I'm going to hammer out a novel in the the next thirty days, but I do plan on writing a little bit every day.

During the many miles on the highway while on my long ride this past summer, a couple of ideas went through my head and managed to find a place to settle in. They are rough and undeveloped, but will serve as a place to begin. If nothing else, I'll end up with an unfinished tale and several hours that I managed to stay out of trouble. If we have some decent weather days, I'll probably manage to burn a few cigars as I write.

November has also been the traditional month for bloggers to post every day. I've done that in the past and will try to find something interesting to post on a daily basis during the coming thirty days. One Facebook theme is to post something for which I am thankful every day. That probably works better for Facebook than on a blog. There are 30 writing prompt lists that are available, but I think I can manage without a daily prompt.

I can't say that I'm much of a goal setting kind of guy, but I do look at numbers and things and occasionally get in a personal record contest with my past self.
For example: This is my 138th post of the year. Last year (2016) was my record year with 181 posts. I will need to step up my posting for the remaining 61 days of 2017 if I am going to have another record posting year. Writing every day in November would surely help.

It sounds as if I'll be spending considerable time with my keyboard in the coming days...

John <><

Monday, October 30, 2017

I might need to ride ...

I took a short ride to run an errand yesterday and noticed that I'm only about 150 mile shy of putting on 28,000 miles since I bought my motorcycle. I'll have owned it 20 months tomorrow.
Not bad for a rookie rider!

It is starting to get colder, and so I've put the liner back into my jacket and switched to my winter gloves. It doesn't get too cold here and so most days are still okay to ride. The biggest detriment to winter riding is road condition. For the most part, as long as the roads are clear and dry, I'm good to go!

The pastor of the church where I was Saturday night is a biker. He and his wife put a lot of miles on their bikes and we talked about our experiences quite a bit during the evening. Perhaps we will meet for lunch sometime. It was around 90 miles (one way) to the church, so there are plenty of places that we could meet and both get a good ride as a part of the day.

Well, the sun is shining and it's supposed to make it to 50 today!
I know it's getting cooler and there aren't as many of us still on the road, but watch for us old biker guys as you go about your daily driving!

John <><

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Weekend Rant

I suppose that today's rant in going to offend some people.

By now, most of you know that I lean left of center where politics is concerned and yet have a pretty conservative core where religion and Christianity are in play. You also know that I have little tolerance for politics in churches and I certainly don't look to politicians to be religious leaders.
I have no problems with individuals (Christians or non-Christians) banding together to take a social stance, but I do not care for those that do so "in the name of God" when it is really just their pet prejudice or pet project.

I am particularly distressed when churches feel the need to take on the cultural war as if it is their mission to safeguard the church community from the evils of  ---- (feel free to insert whatever social evil you hate most).

When we choose to stand against the LGBTQ+ community (I know we really love them, but just not their way of life, right? Where's the sarcasm font when you need it?) as a church, we are engaging in a battle that we are not called to fight.
As citizens, we have the right to fight to change laws that make abortion a legal option for women. When we take on that battle as a mission of the church, we disengage from the spiritual battle that we are called to fight and engage the enemy (that's the devil for those that don't speak christianese) on his turf and in a battle of his making.
You can choose whatever social evil you want to go to war against, but when you do so as the church or as an agent of God, you are missing the point.

In the Book of Ephesians, Paul writes that we are not warring against the things of this world, but that our fight is in the spiritual realm. We are to contend for souls. We are to share the Gospel, make disciples and let God worry about the part of changing hearts and lives.
Making abortion illegal doesn't win souls to the kingdom.
Keeping LGBTQ+ peoples out of our churches doesn't win souls to the kingdom.
Guarding our heritage, nationalism, property, ideals, personal beliefs, etc., doesn't win souls to the kingdom.
Building bigger buildings, buying bigger buses, inviting famous politicians, have laser lights and loud bands; none of that stuff adds souls to the kingdom.

For the most part, the kingdom still grows one soul at a time -- when one believer shares the love of God with one non-believer in such a way that the non-believer comes to know the grace of God and follows God's teachings and ways.

Psalm 34:18 says,
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Lately, I've seen too many of "his people" that are all about crushing the spirits of the brokenhearted rather than lifting them up and loving them.

Although I am an evangelical Christian, I am so ready to shed the label and just be about the business of sharing the simple message that God loves you and Jesus died for you.
Why do we choose to make following Jesus so difficult?

John <><

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Trick or Treat!

Happy Halloween!

It's that time of year when Christian churches across the US debate over whether or not to celebrate the holiday or how to counter the celebration of the holiday.
Many will have "Fall" celebrations or "Harvest" festivals. Both will look like Halloween parties with kids in costumes and lots of candy and treats to be given away.
I guess calling it by another name is supposed to make us feel a little better about ourselves as we can hold our self-righteous heads high and say that we don't celebrate Halloween.

There are others that just embrace the weekend and offer a safe place for parents and kids.
Tonight I'll be traveling to Northwest Arkansas to share a little Gospel magic at such an event.

I'm looking forward to this trip. As is usually the case, I'll spend many more hours traveling to and from the venue than I'll actually spend performing, but I get to share in ministry with some old friends.
The woman that called me is originally from a church in my local area. Many years ago, I was there for an event. When her family moved to a church in Mt. Home, AR, she called me and I went there for a few Easter celebrations. Now they are in Pea Ridge, AR and I get to minister with them once more.

Tuesday night (Halloween) I'll be at Hopedale doing the same thing.
If you're in the area for either event, stop in and say hi -- or Trick or Treat.

John <><

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

More on Believing in God

I just wanted to add a little bit to my simplistic reasoning in favor of believing in God.

In nature, nothing moves from chaos to an organized structure.  The opposite happens -- things that are organized become corrupted. Everything about the natural world around has has such a specific, and often complicated design. This design can't happen by random coincidence.

An argument that is as old as the Cosmological Argument is the Teleological Argument in favor of an Intelligent Designer. It simply says that anything with a design, must have a designer. The universe has design. Therefore, the universe must have a designer.

Again, it's a pretty simple view, but it makes good sense to me.
The Bible says that God has shown himself to man in the things he has created (Rom 1:20).

I should also say that simply believing there is a Creator or Intelligent Designer doesn't mean that there is a moral god or that this supernatural being cares about what happens to the works that have been created. That's an issue yet to be addressed.

At one time, the common thought was that the universe was eternal; that it has always been.
That would eliminate the Cosmological Argument since it deals with things that have a beginning. Science tells us that the universe did have a beginning; a singular moment in time when it began to exist!

I find it pleasing and completely natural that the very laws of nature would point us to something supernatural to explain its beginning!
I am also amused by people that refuse to look outside of science or nature to explain creation, but rather choose to say they simply don't know what could have been before that singular moment or what could have possibly caused it.
I truly believe that it takes way more faith to say the universe began, but we don't know how, than to believe in a Supreme Being that acted to create it.

Just rambling a bit this morning.
Have a grand day.

John <><

Sunday, October 22, 2017

On the Outside, Looking In

A week ago I posted about organized religion and promised future posts that distilled my own beliefs down to a pretty simple, but un-organized set of beliefs.

I currently belong to a relatively small Southern Baptist church in southwest Missouri. That church belongs to an association of about sixty other Southern Baptists churches. Together we belong to the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and to the larger international Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).  Although each individual church is autonomous, you can see that we band together and are indeed a part of organized religion.

I didn't grow up in a Southern Baptist church and am still not a dyed in the wool Southern Baptist kind of guy. That will sound odd to many. I am an evangelist in the Fellowship of Missouri Baptist Evangelists and I serve on the Administrative Team for our local association. There are many Christians that seem to hold their denominational standing in pretty high regard as if being (place your denomination or church name here) makes you a better standard of Jesus follower.

I have to say that I truly struggle in my own efforts to follow Jesus and would probably detract from anyone's standing if I were to associate myself with them or wave their banner in claiming to be a Christian. I often feel so far removed from the organizational standard that I sense I am on the outside, looking in.
Because my focus has been on walking with Jesus, I haven't learned how to be a good Southern Baptist yet. I'm still trying to figure out how to be more like Jesus.

But I'm rambling and out of order.
I really want to begin by saying that I am a theist -- I believe in God.
I do not believe in many gods. I believe in just The One God.
I believe that God is The Creator of all things.

Why I believe in God is a pretty simple matter.
It's way easier than believing in no god.

The Cosmological Argument for God is an old one.
It basically says that every thing that has a beginning, has a cause. The universe has a beginning. Therefore, the universe has a cause -- something or someone outside of the universe had to act to create it.
Science says the universe has a beginning.
There was nothing; then there was the universe.
There has to be a cause. And it has to be outside of the universe that didn't exist in the moment before it did exist. As crazy as it sounds, a supernatural being is just way easier to believe than everything coming from nothing!

That's probably not the deep theological reasoning you were hoping for, but it's all I have.

Maybe you have a better argument for why you do believe or don't believe in God.
...or why you believe in multiple gods.
...or why you believe that everything is god (may the Force be with you).

Re-reading that sounds pretty lame.
I sure hope my future posts explaining my beliefs are better. I may have to stick to the organized propaganda that is put out by the organized religious people...

John <><

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 we 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 <><