Tuesday, September 27, 2005

We need a miracle

One of the purposes for traveling this week is because Generation Xcel (and by extention, my family) needs another financial miracle before Friday. This summer, we had a $75,000 grant to fund our after school programs supposedly in the bag, from a funder that solicited our proposal and worked with me to insure that the proposal would sail through the approval process. Then in August, days after Nonna and Caleb died, I received a brief email saying that the foundation had changed its funding policies and would no longer be providing grants to organizations directly. Instead it had, "committed our budget towards helping families who cannot afford basic necessities." (Nevermind the fact that if Xcel has no funding, its staffs' families cannot afford basic necessities.) That left us with approximately 6 weeks of operating budget in the bank, and this week that window is almost closed. Please pray for a breakthrough. Even as the world's generosity is focused on the Gulf Coast, we need manna from heaven to keep Generation Xcel open this year. All donations to Generation Xcel are tax deductible and can be made online here or by mail to: Generation Xcel, 9 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003.

Gone for a few days ...

... and not sure whether I'll have internet access, so it may be until Sunday before any new posts.

After School Year off to a fast start

Generation Xcel launched its after school programs on Monday with excited students, impassioned staff, and fantastic interns (two graduate social work students from NYU and two education students from Nyack College) ... a recipe for a wonderful tenth anniversary year. Downloads:

Save the Date

Thursday, February 23, 2006 7-10 pm "The Fountain of Youth (Development)" Generation Xcel's 10th Anniversary Gala Location: T/B/A

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Love them enough to pay the bill

"Then he added, as he seemed at times to look straight at Mr. Bush: 'It is not so important what we say, it is important what we do. Defining moments of history cannot be defined by rhetoric and words or anger, or soliciting people to respond in a tempestuous way. But real leadership is defined by what we do. The good Samaritan teaches us that it will cost money to help people, and sometimes we have to love them enough to pay the bill.'" Bishop T.D. Jakes at at a prayer service for the victims of Hurricane Katrina at the Washington National Cathedral (9/16/05). Link (as reported by NY Times, 9/19/05).

New York tabloids find religion (twice in one week)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I love it when ...

Authors do what they say they're going to do, and they do it well. Malcolm Gladwell delivers. I read Tipping Point several months ago and finished Blink this week. Tipping Point explores the dynamics of how some ideas become movements that penetrate cultures and transform societies, while Blink examines how individuals make decisions, and how they can make better decisions more quickly. In Blink, Gladwell sets out to accomplish three "tasks":

  1. Persuade readers that quick decisions can be every bit as reliable, and at times even better, than those made cautiously and deliberately;
  2. Identify when we should question our instincts rather than trust them; and
  3. Show how snap judgements can be educated and cotrolled.

It's a fascinating read. Hopefully I'll have time next week to write about some of his conculsions.

Gulf Coast Relief

"Over that past 3 weeks Somebody Cares America has served over 20,000 people and 200 ministries by distributing over $1.5 million in resources. We are being empowered to do what needs to get done." For the latest on CSI's partnership with Somebody Cares, go here.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Leaving a legacy

Tonight, Concerts of Prayer Greater New York will present my father and me with a "Legacy Award" at their annual gala. It's always a privilege to be recognized for anything alongside my dad. He's my hero and best friend, a mentor in ministry and role model in life. That's why I don't mind when people tell me he's cooler than me. Congratulations to our co-honorees, including:

As if his credibility wasn't already shot

Rafael Palmiero tried to pass the buck for his positive steroid test by blaming a teammate, whose only offense was giving him a vitamin B-12 pill. Enough with the fingerpointing.
Update: Orioles tell Palmiero his season's done.

Another of "Those Days"

This morning started out a drag. My mother-in-law borrowed our mini-van last night so she could pick up a new mattress for Judah's bed. (A blessing!) Then this morning, the car stalled on her way to the house to drop it off, and wouldn't restart despite half a tank of gas. Since the car is still under warranty, we towed it to a dealer for servicing. But the dealer 10 blocks from where we live was full, so it was sent to the other side of Brooklyn. The commute from there to work took 1 hr and 40 minutes, and involved walking 7 blocks to a bus to a train to another train. In all, I arrived at work today at 12:40 instead of 9:30, and we don't know when the van will be fixed nor what is wrong with it.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I'm feeling Abe tonight

"[O]ur fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure." Link.

Wrong on everything

In The Revolution will not be Televised, Dean for America campaign manager Joe Trippi laments how television has reduced political campaigning to posturing around meaningless 30 second soundbites, negative accusations, and empty sloganeering. Case in point (parody alert): What would politics be like if Jesus were here?

Al Gore's campaign manager supports President Bush?

Apparently she does. Democratic party power player Donna Brazile (campaign manager for Al Gore's 2000 presidential candidacy), a New Orleans native whose family was devastated by Katrina, broke party lines in supporting the President's Katrina relief efforts. Yesterday she told syndicated columnist Cindy Adams:

"Right now we need a president who will help. He's helping. I'm so grateful. Poverty and misery is humbling. I'm humbled to the core that this administration is helping the poorest of the poor. Why beat up on a president who's helping? When I'm calling around for willing hands, I'm not worrying about party affiliation. ... "Kicking people who are working 24/7 to bring assistance? I don't think so. When I needed to relocate my family, some of whom were sick and on welfare, when I needed to find them housing, white people opened their hearts and homes. A Red Cross volunteer found my father. I've seen Anne Rice's house. It's in 5 feet of water. People, white and black, are reaching out to one another. If the government didn't act quickly, the people acted quickly. It's no time to play the race card. ... "I applaud this president for stepping up." Link.

Strange news day for people I love


  • My friend's parents, pastors of Living Hope Community Church (where I preached in May and will be returning this November) survived the emergency landing at LAX.
  • My brother was the first police officer to respond to a deadly shooting outside of a Bowery nightclub (10 blocks from Xpress and AGM)
  • A family member was named to a significant position at the Ground Zero memorial. (More on that later.) Ground Zero was then mired in more public controversy as the police officers' union joined the firefighters' union and 9/11 families in denouncing the International Freedom Center.
  • Matt made himself a storm chaser by outrunning Rita into Houston.
Wierd timing.

Is the Assemblies of God ready for the Emerging Church?

One guy's attempt to translate the so-called "emergent church" for an A/G district:

"Now remember, I was to challenge and represent a mindset that is growing inside and outside the church walls. So I don’t necessarily do all these things, or fit into all these mindsets. But I do long to understand this 'people group,' and find myself defending and implementing these ideas more and more. "The response I received was predictable. Many Student and College Pastors were in agreement. Knodding and smiling, and encouraging. Most of the Lead Pastors were either upset or confused. There were some exceptions, but generally speaking they were pretty defensive." Link.
Is this just another generational understanding gap, or is there something inherently different about EC issues?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Third time's the charm

"New York, which won for the ninth time in 10 games, took over the AL East lead from Boston, which lost 7-4 at Tampa Bay. The Yankees had been in sole possession of first place for only two days this season: after an opening night win over the Red Sox and after a July 18 victory in Texas." They regained first place tonight, hopefully for good.

An outright lie, or grossly misinformed?

The account was riveting. Jefferson Parrish President Aaron Broussard wept on Meet the Press about his colleague's mother who died following Katrina, supposedly four days after the storm because of the federal delay in rescuing her. His tale had drama ("Someone's coming for you, mama!"); suspense (four days trapped in a nursing home); and unmistakeable tragedy, even betrayal (she died because no one came). Plus he told it with such raw emotion. It was a masterful performance that film critic Richard Roeper called, "One of the defining media moments of all the hurricane coverage." (Chicago Sun-Times, 9/12/05.) Except one thing: It wasn't true. She died the day of the storm. There were no phone calls, no promises of rescue, no wait, no blame that could appropriately find its way beyond local officials. Either this brother is a slimy con artist or was grossly misinformed. Either way, the problems in Louisiana politics extend far beyond Katrina cleanup.

I just watched friends make an emergency landing at LAX

Brian Meza's parents were on the jetBlue plane that made an emergency landing at LAX 10 minutes ago. He called us to pray a few minutes before, a very tense few minutes, especially when the sparks started flying. Thank God for their safety and the pilot's skills.

Bearing Down

Matt's returning to Houston tonight to resume his work with Somebody Cares, just in time for Hurricane Rita (now a Category 5)! Please keep them in prayer.

Be a Witness to Genocide in Darfur

Here. Encourage media to report the news.

The 10 Secrets of a Master Networker (not named Rudy)

"'I got one of the best educations America has to offer,' Ferrazzi says today. 'Starting with elementary school, prep school, on to Yale and Harvard -- it would never have happened if my father hadn't believed that it never hurts to ask. The worst anyone can say is no. Not many people believe that. Embarrassment and fear are debilitating.'" Link.

Rule 1: Don't network just to network. Rule 2: Take names. Rule 3: Build it before you need it. Rule 4: Never eat alone. Rule 5: Be interesting. Rule 6: Manage the gatekeeper. Artfully. Rule 7: Always ask. Rule 8: Don't keep score. Rule 9: Ping constantly. Rule 10: Find anchor tenants. Feed them.

"What about the manipulation, the gamesmanship, the using of people? Doesn't he ever feel uncomfortable, like a phony? Well, no. This is simply who Keith Ferrazzi is. And I can see that he's is a little disappointed in me, a little saddened that maybe I haven't completely understood."

It's a provocative read. Crass at times, but an insightful case study of what Tipping Point calls a classic "Connector.:

"What he does, he'll say, has nothing to do with quid pro quo, with a running equation in which you give just so you can get. For Ferrazzi, networking may be the power tool for somehow, someday, dislodging that heavy chip. But it's something much more: a way of engaging with the world. For Ferrazzi, networking is about making a difference, exploring, learning, connecting. For Ferrazzi, it's the conscious construction of his life's path."

"Redshirting" preschoolers

Diana and I have to decide whether to bump Judah up to Kindergarten in the next couple of weeks. Deanna Sheng, Tony's wife -- whom I've never actually met but feel indebted to already -- has generously emailed a number of insightful thoughts on the subject from a teacher's perspective (which have been converted into blog comments with her permission for those of you interested in the subject). She also referred me to several interesting articles:

"Young advises parents to be cautious about redshirting preschoolers. If your child turns out not to be ready for kindergarten, he can repeat that year. After all, he notes, 'It's not the end of the world if a kid does kindergarten twice.' In contrast, if your child redshirts but turns out to be bored with his less challenging schoolwork, it can be difficult to advance him a grade." from Redshirting: A Kindergarten Arms Race, Link.

And a "Parent's Guide" from the National Association of School Psychologists: "How Do We Know if a Child is Ready for Kindergarten?".

Too funny not to share

Another Bush parody: "You can't get fooled again."

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

8,029 visits

The 8,000th visiter to this blog arrived today. Not bad (I think) since I started it in December without really considering whether anyone would actually read it. Rudy's much better at deciphering stats like this and what they mean. I'll just keep on keeping on. For future reference, please rank the following topics as points of interest on a scale from 1 to 8, with 1 being most interested and 8 least interested:

  • Culture
  • Youth ministry
  • Emerging church
  • Leadership
  • Socio-economic/Political Commentary
  • Family/Personal
  • Books
  • Other (fill in the blank)


Finished Blink

Now reading Divided by Faith.

Waiting for the Americans

Bush continues to get blasted by the Left for the federal response to Katrina, and -- to the extent the buck stops with him for ousted FEMA boss Michael Brown's inneptitude -- deservedly so. But David Warren of The Ottawa Citizen believes Bush is getting a bad rap:

"If something happened up here [Canada], on the scale of Katrina, we wouldn't even have the resources to arrive late. We would be waiting for the Americans to come save us, the same way the government in Louisiana just waved and pointed at Washington, D.C. The theory being that, when you're in real trouble, that's where the adults live." Link.

Monday, September 19, 2005

More bafoonery

By Nawlans politicos:

"Nagin's decision was an about-face from earlier in the day, when he'd begun to allow people back into the region, and was made under increasing pressure from the federal government to scale back his plan to re-open parts of the city this week and beyond." Link.

Does this blog suck?

My buddy Matt asked me on Saturday. I've been trying to persuade him to start blogging, and even began one for him, but he's skeptical. So he asked me point blank about my blog: Why do so few people comment here? Is it because I "suck" or no one's reading or what? Pastor Roger asked a similar question, although a bit more diplomatically, this summer. Good questions all ... Please discuss amongst yourselves. :) After offering your opinion on this question, please offer one here as well.

Outing a Christian comic

"In the competitive world of stand-up comedians, Mr. Stine, 45, has found a niche .... [I]n 1999, after working with a lesbian comedian who discussed her orientation in her act, Mr. Stine decided to 'out' himself, telling his audience he was a born-again Christian." New York Times, "An Evangelical Comic Provokes Holy Laughter," 9/17/05). Link.

Invitation to Innocent Voices screening

You are invited to an advance screening of Innocent Voices:
  • Monday, September 19th – 6pm – Magno Review 1
  • Wednesday, September 28th – 6pm – Magno Review 2
Magno Review 1 and 2 are located at 729 Seventh Avenue, on the second floor. Please RSVP to dcastillero at optonline dot net or by calling 203.956.9918. What people are saying: Me: "The film is raw without being gory and heroic without oversimplying the issues. Most importantly, it brilliantly depicts the anguish, fear, and trauma imposed on children at war. Innocent Voices has to be seen!" Rev. Luis Cortes, Esperanza USA: “As a clergyperson it is refreshing to see a fellow clergyperson portrayed in a positive light, also caught in the human struggle of good and evil, power and powerlessness. His faith challenged by the evil and corruption around him. Voces Inocentes is a masterpiece.” Pastor Marcos Witt, Lake Wood Church: “I hope that each person who sees the movie will be moved to action and hold those who abuse the children of our world accountable. May the Lord give us the wisdom and the boldness to know how we can get involved in the emancipation of these innocent voices.” Pastor Jim Tolle, Church on the Way: “A true and gripping film about a nation’s desperate struggle to find its true soul. Yet, through the ashes of tragedy hope finally prevails. Strongly impacting and riveting. It won’t leave the viewer the same!"

"He's cognitively off the charts"

So said Judah's teacher Ms. Susan this morning when I dropped him off for Pre-K, which he just started on Monday! So "off the charts" is he that the principal will observe him "helping" in Kindergarten every day this week to decide whether to bump him up. Their only concern is that he's socially ready to be the youngest in his class. Having watched him interact with all ages from infants and toddlers to teens and adults, I'm confident that won't be a problem. Have I mentioned in the last week that I love this kid?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

What would you do?

I just found out that a minister who fled New York in disgrace four years ago due to a sordid sex scandal is now the president of a prominent ministry leadership network, on the speaking circuit again, and on the boards of several global ministries, including one devoted to marriage integrity. The scandal rocked his congregation -- devastating, among other things, what was a thriving youth ministry -- and he never acknowledged wrong doing. Once exposed, he denied the allegations, yet resigned his pastorate and went into hiding. Now he's turned up on the west coast. At no point has he sought forgiveness or did he attempt to make peace with the congregation that he betrayed. Things like this make my blood boil. While I believe in restoration and second chances, I also believe in repentance and restitution. Part of me wants to send a letter to the boards of the various ministries alerting them of the damage he left behind in New York and suggesting that they investigate the circumstances of his move. Part of me thinks this is none of my business and I should simply pray for him and those he influences. What do you think?

Acton Institute - the intersection of faith, economics, AND inquiring minds that don't all think alike

[L-R - Noel, Rudy, DJ, me, Liz, Abner. Click image for larger picture.]
Stimulating discussion + provocative people = a great experience. Thanks, Rudy, for the invite. I'll be blogging about the various discussion points in the weeks to come. An added benefit: meeting bloggers like DJ Chuang, Marcus Thorne, Anthony Bradley, and Tony Sheng; catching up with Liz, Rudy, Noel, and Abner; spending time with Seattle friends Lina Thompson and Tali and Romanita Hairston; and discovering two dozen or so other urban ministry practicioners that will be fun to get to know better, including Acton founder Father Robert Sirico (originally from Bay Ridge and brother of Tony, a/k/a Paulie Walnuts). A word about blogging: it's strange how blogging has totally altered the dynamics of cocktail party conversations. Small talk subjects like kids, hobbies, and summer vacations become passe if you read someone's blog. Liz and I, for instance, have known each other for years, but I have grown to "know" her so much better since she moved to Florida because of her blog. Abner and I met once three years ago, but we've become friends online, and Tony and DJ came to life from off my blogroll.
P.S. Thanks, Tony, for lending me Divided by Faith. I'll get it back to you in York! (He saw it on my wish list!) Update: Liz has more pics and thoughts from the conference here.

All grown up

Hung out with Jose Zayas today, who was in NYC for this weekend's PK event, after not seeing him since Sunday School 20 years ago. Don't be fooled: although he's now an evangelist ministering with Luis Palau, Promise Keepers, Focus on the Family, and Stephen Baldwin's Livin' It tour, he got his start as Donkey in the Sunday school Easter play! Watching him interact with Judah, it's clear he still has that childhood charm. Also met Jose's friend Dave Lubben, who led worship at PK and recently released an album from Integrity called A Place of Surrender. He's originally from North Dakota. What are the chances he knows the only other person I've ever met from Fargo, Nick Hall? Turns out they're a sure bet, since Dave was his youth pastor. At lunch, Judah said that he wants to be "a pastor like Grandpa." Five minutes later he changed his mind ever so slightly to say he wants to be "half a lawyer and half a pastor like my dad." Hmm. Jose first said he wanted to be a preacher when he was six. Judah's only four ... with a bright future no doubt.

Things he now talks about

"The Pro Bowl wide receiver thought he was alone in his inner struggles, and too proud to let any outsiders into his personal prison. But Coles recently decided to free himself of his secret: He was sexually abused as a young boy by his stepfather." Link.
Thank God he's talking about it.

End of the Spear

Coming, January 2006, a mainstream film about missionaries Jim and Elizabeth Elliot. Preview here.

Congrats, Peter and Jamie

Unfortuntely I missed Chinese Macho (a/k/a Peter Ong)'s wedding last month because of the passing of Di's grandmother. But the online photos are special. Thanks for sharing! Love you guys.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Off to DC

... for the Acton Institute. Rudy and I arrive at Reagan International Airport 10 minutes apart tomorrow morning, and both are flying American. This was unplanned. Bodes well for a great couple of days. Rudy's got the low-down on others who will be there. Add Tony Sheng and Matt Stevens to the mix (hopefully) and we're all set for a party.

Katrina Relief Links

Determination Education

"The 85-year-old Kimani, perhaps the world's oldest elementary-school pupil, toured New York Tuesday to promote a global campaign urging assistance for an estimated 100 million children denied an education because of poverty." Link.

Today in Uganda

"For more than 19 years, the rebel group 'the Lord's Resistance Army' (LRA) has been battling the Government of Uganda (GOU) for political power.... [The LRA] creates [its] army primarily through the violent abduction and forced enlistment of children. Children are used as soldiers, laborers and, in the case of girls, sexual slaves. More than 20,000 children have been kidnapped by the LRA." Link for more on World Vision's response to the issue.
Take Action! Send a message to Congress and the President, urging them to help protect the people of Uganda and bring an end to the conflict.

Innocent Voices - Coming October 14th to select cities nationwide

    Today, over 300,000 children fought as armed soldiers in forty countries, a global epidemic that shames all of us. Innocent Voices, directed by Luis Mandoki, tells their story through the eyes of Chava, a 12 year old boy compelled into military duty during El Salvador's protracted civil war in the 1980s. I had the privilege of attending an advance screening of the movie last night at Tribeca Cinemas. Based on the true story of screenwriter Oscar Torres, the film is raw without being gory and heroic without oversimplying the issues. Most importantly, it brilliantly depicts the anguish, fear, and trauma imposed on children at war. Innocent Voices has to be seen! It opens in limited release around the country on October 14. Check your local listings, and make every effort to attend. A good box office will widen release. For more info:

    Reminds me of Lily of the Valley orphanage

    The movie last night reminded me of my brother Jonathan's trips to volunteer at Lilly of the Valley orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico. Up to 100 kids live in the orphanage at any one time. They were not child soldiers, but many of their stories are equally gut wrenching and unjust.

    "The scars on the minds. ...it's just beyond the imagination. Almost every child in here was raped. They come here with absolutely nothing. They don't even know their names, their birthdays. These children are walking miracles." - from KSWBTV (San Diego news), May 24, 2004.
    Kudos to Dorothy Rivera (another of Xcel's trophies) who has organized the opportunities for Jonathan and other Abounding Grace members to serve at the orphanage each August for the past three years.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Somebody Cares for evacuees

    Preview a rough video documenting the Katrina Relief efforts of CSI's partner Somebody Cares America here. (Downloading takes several minutes; please be patient.)

    $20,000 raised for Katrina Relief

    Thank you, New Hope Fellowship (Brooklyn, NY), for generously receiving a $20,000 offering to support Community Solutions' work with Somebody Cares America on Sunday! The funds will be used to ship ten tractor trailer "care packages" from Minnesota to Somebody Cares staging areas in the following areas:

    • Houston, TX
    • Austin, TX
    • San Antonio, TX
    • Beaumont, TX
    • Slidell, LA
    • Long Beach, MS
    • Gulfport, MS
    • Waveland, MS
    • Picayune, MS
    Please consider sponsoring additional care packages. Every $2,000 raised ships one presorted 18 wheel trailer filled with much needed relief supplies including water, diapers, toiletries, and more. Make tax-deductible contributions online here or send gifts payable to Community Solutions, 1355 Deanwood Road, Baltimore, MD 21234.


    Will Sampson had a great post about the need for the officials who failed to respond appropriately to Katrina to take responsibility. President Bush was the first to do so today, when he said:

    "Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government and to the extent the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility."
    This is just a first step toward accountability, but a refreshing first step.

    Has Gov. Blanco contributed anything positive to the recovery efforts?

    New Orleans' Mayor Nagin has said she waited a critical 24 hours after the levees broke to request federal aid. Now she's angry that the feds haven't signed a contract to remove Katrina victims' bodies from the water. Yet she's authorized to execute the same contract on the state's behalf. So after griping about the federal bureacracy ("No one, even those at the highest level, seems to be able to break through the bureaucracy to get this important mission done. ... I am angry and outraged"), she finally signed the contract herself. "I could not bear to wait any longer," she said. Why did she wait so long in the first place?

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    For those who care

    Here's a wish list for my birthday that's coming up in October. Any suggestions for books I should add?

    Recently read

    "The Revolution will not be Televised," by Joe Trippi, campaign manager for the Dean for America campaign. While its politics are suspect, the book delivers on its promise to "show how power, in the hands of all of us, changes everything."

    "This is the story of how Trippi’s revolutionary use of the Internet and an impassioned, contagious desire to overthrow politics as usual grew into a national grassroots movement and changed the face of politics forever. But it’s also more than that. "It’s about how to engage Americans in real dialogue, how business leaders, government leaders, and anyone else can make use of the most revolutionary idea to come along since man first learned to light a fire. No … not the Internet. Or computers. Or telecommunications. "Democracy. "From his behind-the-scenes look at Dean’s shocking rise and fall to his 'seven inviolable, irrefutable, ingenious things your business or institution or candidate can do in the age of the Internet that might keep you from getting your ass kicked but then again might not,' Joe Trippi offers an inspiring glimpse of the world we are becoming."
    Bonus: Sample Gil Scott Heron's song that inspired the title here. Lyrics here.

    Chuck Colson on immigration reform.

    "The Scriptures tells us that hospitality toward the aliens in its midst is the hallmark of a good society. In fact, extending the hand of friendship toward those who are different from them is a way the people of God distinguish themselves from their unbelieving neighbors. While this kind of hospitality doesn't require that Christians advocate open borders, it does require us to be salt and light in the debate over immigration reform. At the very least, we should work to elevate the level of discourse and prevent the demonizing of the 'other' in our midst. And we ought to remind our fellow citizens who are so angry about immigration that it is our desire for cheap labor that has contributed to the problem. It's bad enough that illegal immigration is a 'no-win' issue; it should not be a 'no-truth' issue, as well."
    Full commentary here. Thanks, Noel, at We Still Have a Dream.

    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    Why we're at war

    The confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates, Platonic ideals, nor Aristotelian diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun.

    Islamic governments have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and cooperative councils. They are established as they [always] have been by pen and gun, by word and bullet, by tongue and teeth.

    So says Al Qaeda in their training manual.

    Thank God for dad's collar

    Chris Monroe (a/k/a Paradoxology or Desert Pastor) has an interesting post about clerical collars that reminded me of my father.
    In the summer of 2000, a pastor friend suggested that dad buy a clerical collar for emergencies. This might not seem noteworthy, except that my father is an inner city pastor that one national magazine described as "Not your grandmother's pastor" because of his earrings and tattoos and preference for Harleys. But because he is first and foremost a "fisher of men," he understood why a collar could be helpful in a crisis, bought one, and never used it. It was hanging in his closet until the morning on 9/11, when the planes hit the WTC and he responded. On his way to Ground Zero from a breakfast appointment in midtown Manhattan, the still small voice of the Holy Spirit reminded him of his collar. To this day I thank God for that collar -- which may well have saved his life -- because he took the detour and, as a result, arrived at Ground Zero 10 minutes after the second tower collapsed. After FDNY chaplain Father Mychal Judge died, my dad was the only identifiable clergyman on site, identifiable in the mayhem and destruction strictly because of his collar. That day, he became for many at Ground Zero the only visible reminder that God was still present, even in the midst of the horror.


    Frankly, I'm confused. Four years ago, September 11th changed my life. I never made it to work that day and officially resigned my career as an attorney one week later. I never expected that September 10th would be my last day practicing law, nor could I have possibly imagined what the next fifteen months of relief work would entail. Four years ago, September 11th changed my dad's life. After FDNY chaplain Father Mychal Judge died on the scene, my father was the only identifiable clergyman at Ground Zero that day. He arrived on his motorcycle ten minutes after the second tower collapsed, welcomed by a uniformed rescue worker who asked him to bless body parts. Four years ago, September 11th changed our ministry forever as it opened doors for public-private partnerships, interdenominational partnerships, regional and national partnerships and so much more. It created an unprecedented opportunity for churches to be The Church in our city and spawned a season of prayer that, "buried in the rubble are the seeds of revival." We have begun to glimpse answers to those prayers, including the 1300 local churches and ministries that supported this year's Billy Graham Crusade. Most importantly, September 11th, 2001, changed forever the families of the 2,985 lives slain in the most horrific terrorist attack on our country's soil: 265 on the four planes; 2,595 (including 343 firefighters, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers) in the WTC; and 125 civilians and military personnel at the Pentagon. Yet today, despite being very conscious of the anniversary, it seemed to come and go without much emotion or fanfare. Sure there were memorials in NY, DC, and PA (and elsewhere); Pastor Roger mentioned it in church this morning; and documentaries and retrospectives aired on television networks and cable. But for me, for the most part, it felt like just another day. As a city, we've done everything possible to return to "normalcy." As a nation, we took out the Taliban and Sadaam and have engaged Iraqi insurgents and Al Qaeda in a protracted "War on Terror" that shows few signs of ending any time soon. As a world, we've moved on to other tragedies, notably the most ferocious natural disaster in global history and now the most expansive natural disaster in US history. Resurfacing wounds that began healing four years ago seems inappropriate when so many have wounds that are still so raw. But is it? I'm not sure. Confused.

    "A Bridge Far Enough?"

    What does it mean to be a bridge builder in contemporary culture, the kind of person that pulls people together who ordinarily ignore or avoid or provoke each other? In the wake of the disasterous response to Katrina and the fault lines it reveals about our society, the question is especially timely. Brian McClaren has some ideas, in this SoJourners article.

    "You’ve heard the old saying: The hard thing about being a bridge is that you get walked on from both ends. As someone who spends roughly half of my time in the conservative world and half in the liberal (theologically and politically speaking), I suppose I qualify as a kind of bridge person. Unfortunately, my experience confirms the old saying, and I have a few boot marks on my backside to prove it."
    He describes four bridges we have to deal with in our "hyper-polarized world":
    The Religious Right and the Secular Left; The Religious Right and the Religious Left; The Secular Right and the Religious Left; and The Secular Right and the Secular Left.
    After describing the polarities, he continues:
    "IF THERE IS a rising purple peoplehood out there - people who don’t want to be defined as red or blue, but have elements of both, and for whom faith speaks to both abortion and war, both sexuality and ecology, both family values and fair, respectful treatment for gay people - then we will need to learn new ways of communication. Again, readily confessing that I’m no expert or example, here are a few hunches I have about those new ways of communication - based on the maxim of one of my mentors, who says, 'We must teach what Jesus taught in the manner that Jesus taught it.'"
    He offers seven "hunches" about ways to build effective bridges based on what he calls "Jesus' rhetorical strategies":
    1. We must stop answering questions that are framed badly. 2. We must start raising new questions and issues that need to be raised. 3. We must answer questions with questions. 4. We must go cleverly deeper. 5. We must agree with people whenever we can. 6. We must speak through action, not just words. 7. We must tell stories.
    These, he said,
    "made Jesus something far more valuable than a bridge between 'left and right.' They showed him to be a bridge by which both left and right could come to God, and to God’s truth."
    A provocative read, to be sure.

    How rich are you?

    For a glimpse of what it really means to be poor from a global perspective, check out the globalrichlist. People earning $50,000 US a year are among the top 0.899% richest people in the world, with roughly 5.9 billion people poorer. $100,000 US means the top 0.6% richest people. Even $25,000 US puts a person in the top 10%, and $15,000 US in the top 12%.

    Despite more jobs, US poverty rate rises

    "Despite a year in which the US economy added jobs, the percentage of Americans living in poverty grew from 12.5 to 12.7 percent last year - the fourth straight year it's risen. ... Some analysts say the numbers are particularly troubling not so much for the change they show, but the lack of it - the persistance of relatively high poverty rates over time. The real-life picture for those under the poverty level - or even many above it - can be grim, they say."(Christian Science Monitor, 8/31/2005). Full story.

    Shot down

    Over at Rudy's blog. Seems everyone else liked the Mary J/U2 combo. I watched the video again and still don't get it. Mary J I like, and U2 I like, but together, not so much. Oh well.

    So he's not superman

    Judah and I went on our date with destiny last night, off to "find food" for "the homeless" in answer to his prayer. He was so excited about it all day. We ran into Uncle Roger on Third Avenue, and he told him all about it. We met up with his friend Christian at the park, and more of the same. Judah was a missionary of compassion. Then on the drive to Abounding Grace, he fell asleep in the car. Bad sign. Waking him up from a nap can be unpredictable, and this turned out to be one of those times. He woke up too soon, a complete grouch. Crankiness oozed from every pore. We bought milk for the coffee house, but that was about it. What was funny, though, was his excuses for wanting to bail. First he claimed to be shy. To be fair, he is whenever he meets new people ... for 30 seconds (as our LA interns can attest)! Then he flipped the script and claimed he has "too many friends" and wasn't in a mood to "make new ones." We'll try again soon, probably in two weeks, since I'll be returning from DC next Saturday.

    Saturday, September 10, 2005

    The Heart of a Shepherd

    Just before bedtime, Judah began to cry. Not a wimper and sniffle, but deep, profound sobbing from his gut. He began to shake and say that he was crying for the people "affected by the hurricane." He had prayed for them just a few minutes before, prayed that God would give them "a new life, a better life" after the storm. But the reality of their situation hit him hard, and he cried to Di and me that he wanted to go "help them, but it's too late," because the hurricane came and went and their homes are already destroyed. We promised that he was helping by praying, and that was the best help he could give. "No, I want to go there and rescue them, but it's too late." It's never too late to love them, we promised. Yeah, "but it's too late to pull them out of the water." With that, Judah started to preach. I remembered that my phone was on the table by his bed, so I recorded the end of his message. "I want to go to states where people are homeless, don't have any food or mom or dad, I want to try and find their mom and dad and I want to try and find them food and love them." The people who don't know God, "I want them to know God and be a Christian like me and you." Even though he can't personally go to help the hurricane victims, he decided, "Praying is the best way to save them now because we can't go there and save them." In the meantime, Judah and I made a date with destiny for Saturday night. We'll go to Abounding Grace to feed the homeless of our great city and love them at the Apple's Core Coffee House. This shepherd boy has a few more giants to slay.

    Friday, September 09, 2005

    An Opportunity to Be the Church

    "God is using the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina to give the Church an opportunity to be the Church. He is bringing displaced people into our communities – people who are homeless and need help and love and care and concern. Their lives have been shaken and they are asking the most important questions of life: Who is my family? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is church? People are more open to Christ when they are in a tough time than at any other point in their lives." - Rick Warren. Full story.

    Reflections on "Shelter from the Storm"

    The Concert for the Gulf Coast was simulcast on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and the WB, along with several cable networks. Just a few reflections (I only saw about half of it): 1. It's amazing how Hollywood finds God in times of crisis. 2. Alicia Keys found her calling: Gospel music. Her medley with Alvin Slaughter, Shirley Ceasar, and Eric McDaniel was the highlight of the night for me (although Judah called it a "racket," and when I asked him what the word meant, he was using it correctly). 3. Kanye West knows how to get his point across. When the concert promoters limited him to a song, he simply changed the lyrics. 4. Mary J. Blige and U2 go together like Mike Brown and FEMA. (Granted, that might be a bit exagerated in order to make the point that U2 rocked, but Mary J's vibe didn't blend with "One.") 5. Red Cross and Salvation Army are brilliant marketers. 6. My son was moved to tears, and together, we were inspired to pray, three times during the concert, and afterwards as well (see next post).

    3 days of death, despair and survival

    Amanda swayed her mother from suicide by talking about her future.

    Someone sounds defensive

    "'I'm anxious to get back to D.C. to correct all the inaccuracies and lies,' [FEMA Director Mike] Brown told the AP." Full story.
    This after getting pulled off the job of coordinating FEMA's Katrina response. At least his priorities are in the right place.

    On being poor

    Go here for perspective.

    What the waters have revealed

    "Katrina has revealed what was already there in America; an invisible and mostly silent poverty that we have chosen not to talk about, let alone to take responsibility for in the richest nation on earth. This week, we all saw it; and so did the rest of the world. And it made Americans feel both compassionate and ashamed. Many political leaders and commentators, across the ideological spectrum, have acknowledged the national tragedy, not just of the horrendous storm, but of the realities the flood waters have exposed. And some have suggested that if the aftermath of Katrina finally leads the nation to demand solutions to the poverty of upwards of a third of its citizens then something good might come from this terrible disaster." From, "What the waters have revealed," in Sojourners (9/9/05). Full article. See also "An Embarrasment of Riches: Economic Injustice and the Church."

    "So what is it about life?"

    Judah asked me that question last week. In Florida on Tuesday night, around 9:30 pm, after a duck grabbed a toy from his hand (more on that later), and we continued with our walk. "What do you mean, what is it about life?" I replied. "You know, why did God create life?" he said. After tripping over my tongue for what seemed like ten minutes, I think I finally said something about God creating life so He could have people and things to love. So then he says, "Yeah, but why did he make us special?" This kid's special alright. p.s. About that duck ... we were walking past a duck pond when several approached us. Judah eyed them curiously when one reached up and grabbed a tiny action figure (a wonderworks prize from the arcade) in his mouth, right out of Judah's hand. We lost it in the dark, but found it the next day in the grass.

    Community Solutions Responds to Katrina

    September 11 was a defining moment for me personally in life and ministry. The lessons we learned continue to inform who we are and how we serve others. (Download mp3 of "Place of Hope" message at Urban Youth Workers Institute for recent reflections on 9/11; 4.2 mb). So when Doug Stringer called Community Solutions (the ministry umbrella for Generation Xcel and Chain Reaction) for help responding to Hurricane Katrina, we immediately dispatched Matt Stevens to assist Somebody Cares in responding to the short-term and long-term needs of evacuees throughout Texas and the Gulf Coast. Visit our Katrina blog for ongoing updates from Matt, Doug, and others in the field.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    A Note from Doug Stringer re. Katrina Relief

    ... to Matt Stevens, in preparation for his trip to Houston tomorrow. Please continue to pray, and give.

    Matt, Currently, I am scheduled to be in Laredo Friday afternoon through Sunday evening. This may change, depending upon how things are flowing. We are working through a sorely needed organizational and flow chart, especially who will champion each element. There are numerous simultaneous needs during the immediate crisis Relief stage as you know...especially when we are also needing to transition into the beginning Recovery phase and ultimately the longterm Rebuilding process. As you know the first few days are critical in the crisis portion to just meet some basic needs in the lives of desperate and hurting people. Termed IDP's or Internally Displaced Persons, they are real people with untold suffering, loss and pain. Just getting through this few days has been impossible to describe for those of us who have jumped in to do whatever it takes...how much more indescribible for those who have lost everything...including family members. If were not for some incredible staff, friends, volunteers, etc. it would be without a doubt unbearable. Max, Ruben, Mike Snow, Mike Salazar, Rick Torrison, Tom Moffett, just to name a few ministers who without murmur have jumped in to help sort through the seemingly impossible situations. No one could have ever comprehended or could have been prepared for this devastating time. There are piles of notes, e-mails, requests, nonstop phone calls late into the night...pleas for help from evacuees and victims on this end, plus the requests for any help from those in the hurricane hit areas on that end. The wonderful thing is the way many in the Body are doing whatever they can. The real challenge is to see how many are willing to follow through the initial stages of compassion. Talk to you soon.


    We're off to Houston

    Not me, but my ministry partner, Matt Stevens, along with Joe Miller and five others. Doug Stringer of Somebody Cares requested that Matt bring a team to Houston to assist with the relief efforts. The following note from Matt describes the purpose of the trip:

    Friends, Many of you have been looking for ways to help with the hurricane relief effort. Doug Stringer with Somebody Cares, is in the middle of the relief effort in Houston and parts of Mississippi. He is requesting help from Chain Reaction. Here is what they need: 1st - Money, payable to SOMEBODY CARES. Please consider receiving an offering on Sunday, September 11. 95% of your giving will go directly into the relief effort. If you are able to participate please notify me (matt at chainreaction2005 dot com). 2nd - Donated volumes of bottled water that can be shipped. However, don't purchase water at retail price, since Somebody Cares is able to get water 65% off retail. They would rather receive a financial contribution to purchase this water. 3rd - New or Like New clothing. Please check dollar stores or Wal-Mart or any other outlets. Right now some people still have not had a change of clothes since Saturday. I will be taking an assessment team to Houston on Thursday, at Doug's request, to help determine existing gaps in the relief structure that Somebody Cares can help fill for long-term effectiveness. In addition, Doug has indicated that leaders and workers are needed to assist with direct services for the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced. If you or others within your congregation are interested in going to serve in the relief efforts, contact me directly (matt at chainreaction2005 dot com). Thanks for your help!

    Somebody Cares for Katrina victims

    Doug Stringer of Somebody Cares America has emerged as one of the primary coordinators of faith-based relief for Katrina victims. Based in Houston and with active chapters throughout Texas and Mississippi, SCA has been inundated since the beginning of the storm with requests for assistance and wasted no time getting involved. I remember all too well the urgency of the initial days and weeks following a disaster of unprecedented proportions, and urge all of you to join me in praying for Doug and his team. Those of you considering a financial gift, please consider directing it to Somebody Cares.

    Why isn't this being reported more?

    "What the state was doing, I don't freakin' know. But I tell you, I'm pissed, it wasn't adequate."
    According to Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans, on the day the levees broke, he met with President Bush and the governor of Louisiana on Air Force One. The President offered to authorize federal relief on the spot, but the governor declined, saying she needed 24 hours to decide. Video here: Nagin still outspoken (4:17, at appx. 2:00).

    Rudy has the cover of Prism magazine

    His “Surfacing Hispanic Leaders” is the September-October cover story. Check it out here. (Thanks for the shout-out!)

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    Thy Kingdom come, on earth

    Ok, maybe it's not quite that kingdom, but it's not bad either. First Judah conquered Disney's Magic Kingdom and Typhoon Lagoon, and then on Saturday Uncle Roger and Aunt Teresa surprised us with tickets to Universal's Islands of Adventure as well. Below are just a few of the higlights; for more pics, go here.

    Anatomy of an unrestful (but thoroughly enjoyable) vacation

    Friday, 8/26: Leave New York City after rush hour for Methuen, Massachusetts. Arrive 11:30 pm. Saturday: Celebrate Lil Wil's 9th birthday (for the third time in one week). Sunday: Leave Boston's Logan Airport at 2:30; arrive in Orlando at 5. Rent car and check into Sheraton Vistana Resort by 6:30. Dinner at Ponderosa (blah!) at 7. McPhails arrive at 10 and enjoy (?) Pizza Hut for dinner at our room (actually, a 2 BR/2 bath timeshare unit with a full kitchen, balcony, and jacuzzi -- quite nice for a broke, urban missionary family who relished the providential blessings of Almighty). Monday: Enjoy the "Cascades" pool (1 of 7 at the resort) with Shayla Rose and the Brattli Bunch. Dinner at a Chinese buffet that didn't actually serve the buffet for dinner (?). Tuesday: Brunch with the McPhail's. Visit WonderWorks and play laser tag in the afternoon. Dinner at Race Rock. Wednesday: Attend obligatory timeshare sales pitch in order to secure discounts to theme parks. Ripley's Believe or Not in the afternoon, and dinner at Uncle Isaac's. Thursday: Magic Kingdom. Dinner with the Disney characters at the park. Friday: Typhoon Lagoon (abbreviated by a 45 minute thunderstorm and deafening/blinding/scary lightning strike inside the park). Dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Express at Downtown Disney. Saturday: Universal's Islands of Adventure. Dinner at Sizzler. Sunday: 10 am flight back to Boston. Celebrate big Wil's birthday Sunday night. Monday, 9/5: 12 pm road trip back to New York ($54 for 17 gallons of gas!). Dinner at Chez Del Rio with Boom2 and Bill.

    A very proud big cousin

    On Monday, Judah met his cousin Shayla Brattli for the first time since she was an infant, and was instantly smitten. She's a doll (which he loves) that doted on him all afternoon (which he also loves).
    (Note the tongues sticking out of both mouths. Coincidence, or DNA? )
    Shayla's dad is Steven Brattli, my mom's nephew, who was for me what Willie is for Judah (the older cousin/coolest person on the planet) when we were kids.
    Steven and his wife Sudie just opened a beauty salon a few minutes from their home in Bradenton, Florida. They also serve as youth pastors at Word of Christ International Church.

    It's nice when family treats you like family (even though you're also perfect strangers)

    On Wednesday night, we visited my grandfather's wife Mary, and my dad's Uncle Isaac and his family at Uncle Isaac's house. What a blast! It was great seeing Mary again. She met Judah once, when he was first born, and Diana twice. She's quite the storyteller who enjoyed sharing (too much?) about the time Abuelo took Jonathan and me to the finca (farm) in Puerto Rico to pick coffee beans and returned us to the house covered head-to-toe in mud. Plus, her arroz con home grown gandules rocks!

    [Diana and Judah with Abuela Mary]
    I met Uncle Isaac once before, as a boy, when we visited my father's grandmother at his house before she died. Of course I had no memory of how funny he is, but his dry humor hooked me all night. Except for Reuben, his children (my dad's first cousins) are just a few years older than me. Hopefully, we'll meet some day.
    Odette and I met for the first time through the power of cyberspace last year, when someone (Uncle Miky?) forwarded my email about dad's motorcycle miracle. We've corresponded regularly since then (she's even posted several comments here) and it was a joy to meet her in person. What a gracious and generous host, and delightful cook.
    Their son Reuben is a special kid. He's 12, incredibly well-spoken and polite, and a complete gentleman to our 4-year-old. Judah found an instant friend. Of course, it didn't hurt Reuben's cool-quotient that he gave Judah two bags of toys!

    Congratulations, Kristi

    My cousin Kristi Brattli is engaged!

    The lucky beau Shawn made the trip from Fort Myers to Orlando last Monday for the requisite protective cousin screening. He seems like a great guy. He's met a wonderful woman. A few months older than me, Kristi was my rock as a petrified, four-year-old student on his first day of school 26 years ago. A few months later, Kristi's kidneys failed, propelling her down a harrowing journey of medical scares and near death experiences that continued until her fourth transplant three years ago finally stabilized her health. Kristi's mom (my mother's sister Phyllis) passed away when she was 8 or 9, and our grandmother, who had assumed many of the responsibilities for Kristi's care, died three years later. Yet through it all, Kristi persevered. She lived for six years in the 90s with my parents, and co-founded Generation Xcel in 1996. Her courage inspired the highest prize Xcel awards to its outstanding staff member annually. Shawn, you have a lot to live up to, buddy. Do right by Krisiti or a posse from the LES will come after you!

    After this, I sent it back

    Seriously. This foot-long chili cheese hot dog was blood red on the inside, the worst hot dog I've ever tasted. So I sent it back after one bite, exchanging it for a hamburger with fries.

    Home again

    From Florida and Massachusetts. What an exhilarating ride! Thanks again to all who made it possible. I'll be posting numerous entries, some with pics, throughout the evening, so check back ...