Monday, February 28, 2005

Viva la revolution! My report from Square One

787 youth leaders converged on the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown for the Square One breakfast Saturday morning. Evangelistically speaking, that's eight hundred. Youth leaders. From the New York metro area. There are 298 public high schools and alternative high school programs in the five boroughs. Hmm. 800 youth leaders. 300 high schools. Those schools are still in session until three days after Billy Graham's "Get Real" youth campaign is over. You do the math. Dimas Salaberrios and I had the privilege of co-emceeing the morning. As I prayed about how best to begin the program, I was reminded of how God stretched the prophet Ezekiel's faith by taking him to the Valley of Dry Bones and asking, "Can these bones live?" But that wasn't the message for us. Nor was the passage from Isaiah that speaks about the "new thing" God is doing to bring rivers to the desert and pathways in the wasteland. Instead God directed me to Elijah's 40-day funk. You know the story: 24 hours after the pinacle of his ministry, when he literally called fire down from heaven, Elijah was ready to end everything. He moped around the desert for 40 days asking God to take his life until finally God led him to a mountain. The earth shook, lightning flashed, but God's voice was not in the physical manifestations of his power. God's voice spoke softly, in the stillness of a whisper. And as he spoke, God surprised him. "Elijah, you're not alone. I have reserved 7,000 just like you." For those of us who have felt like solitary voices in the spiritual wildernesses of our communities, Square One was one of those moments where God spoke softly and said: "You are not alone. I am with you, and so are 786 others, at least. Those are just the few (a tithe perhaps?) that made the sacrifice to be here at 9:30 am on a Saturday morning." According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Saturday's breakfast was the largest gathering of youth leaders for a crusade in the ministry's nearly 60-year history. Ron Hutchcraft, the keynote speaker and a youth evangelist in his own right for over 30 years, said it's the largest gathering of youth leaders he's ever addressed. The energy in the room was electric, and the commitment was to a common cause. There are 2 million young people ages 18 and under in the five boroughs (25% of the city's overall population of 8 million). 1.1 million of them are enrolled in the city's public schools. (FYI, 1.1 million represents, by itself, the 10th largest city in America!) Extending those numbers to the greater NY region, where 20 million people reside within a 20 mile radius of the city, there are approximately 5 million youth 18 and under. So what's our takeaway from the breakfast? The cause we have embraced is simple. (Not easy, but simple.) Give every one of those 5 million kids a credible opportunity to come and hear a real man present real answers to real life issues. And stay connected to one another beyond the event so we can properly preserve and expand the harvest. At 86, recovering from hip and pelvis surgeries and battling Parkinson's disease, Billy Graham is physically weaker than he's ever been before. But spiritually, he's stronger than ever, because in our weakness we experience God's strength. We want every young person in the region to have a legitimate opportunity to experience God's anointing through the world's foremost evangelist. In God's providence, he has brought Dr. Graham to our city one last time, for what might possibly be the final crusade of his distinguished career. As the Psalmist wrote: "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come." (Ps. 71:18) So what's next? I will post follow-up steps later this week. Yet another snow storm is raging outside and I really need to leave the office to get home.

Friday, February 25, 2005

29,000 died of hunger today

That many die of hunger every 24 hours. To them we dedicated the Voice of Silence. Over two hundred inner city teens gathered at Primitive Christian Church to consider the pain of hunger as part of World Vision's 30 Hour Famine. Through spoken word, music, dance, and art, they identified with the hurting and vowed to fight this avoidable scourge on humanity. Check out pictures from the evening, courtesy of the incomparable Michael Mowery, here:

Gallery 1 (program)

Gallery 2 (artwork)

Tricky candles

Nonna fooled alot of people. No way she could be 80, right? Wrong! So the family got her, first with a surprise birthday party, then with tricky candles that refused to be quenched. Check out several other pics here.

Belated Birthday Pics

They're nearly 2 months late, but here are a few pics from Judah's 4th.

Gotta love the cake Originally uploaded by Genxcel.

This is why ordinary people resent politicos

"Ten days ago a reporter interviewed [Hillary Clinton] in the halls of the Senate ... and asked if she planned to run for president. She did not say, "I'm too busy serving the people of New York to think about the future." She did not say, "Oh, I already have a heckuva lot on my plate." She said, "I have more than I can say grace over right now." "I have more than I can say grace over right now. What a wonderfully premeditated ad lib for the Age of Red State Dominance. I suggested a few weeks ago that Mrs. Clinton was about to get very, very religious. But her words came across as pious and smarmy, like Tammy Faye with a law degree." - From Peggy Noonan (WSJ, 2/24/05)

We knew her husband was a master (draft and truth) dodger. Hillary's no slouch herself, along with lots of other slick tongued politicians.

Whatever happened to the idea of statescraft, where public officials are encouraged to say what they mean and mean what they say? The never ending dance with truthfulness is why so many people have found W refreshing. Whether you agree with his policies or not, he leaves audiences with little need to parce his words. If anything, he's been criticized as too brash, too blunt, too direct in his manner of speaking. Like him or leave him, you'll never hear him challenge the meaning of the word "is," for example.

The calm before the storm?

It's 1:30 Friday afternoon, and I'm sitting here realizing that I just finished everything that I absolutely had to complete today with 5 hours of discretionary time to spend before Voice of Silence tonight. Not that I don't have a hundred other things to do, but none of them have to be done right now. So I'm bloggin'. Hmm. What does that say about me? I guess in some respects this is just a brief calm before a storm of activity. Tonight is Voice of Silence. Tomorrow, the Square One Billy Graham breakfast. Sunday, I'm taking off, but Ralph and Kristina will represent Xcel at a volunteer fair at Hope for New York. Monday afternoon I have a long awaited appointment with the deputy commissioner of the New York City Housing Authority regarding possible collaborations with Xcel. Tuesday I'll be in Philly with Matt working on details for Chain Reaction. Wednesday I teach my class. Thursday I'm speaking at City College for InterVarsity. And Friday, I'm attending a day-long conference at NYU on social entrepreneurship. After reviewing the calendar, I'd better stop bloggin' and get back to work. It's gonna be a fun week.


Interested in an affordable retreat in the Catskill Mountains? Consider the Red Barn at Grace Ranch.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Join the Club

In response to an earlier post about Brian McLaren, Matt Kruse (a Boston-area church planter) and I have decided to read A New Kind of Christian together and compare notes online. Anyone else want to join our pseudo book club experience?

Last call - invitation to Square One breakfast

Youth workers and pastors interested in the Youth Initiative for the upcoming Billy Graham Crusade, join me at Square One: Saturday, 2/26, 9:30-11:30, at the Roosevelt Hotel Grand Ballroom (45 Street and Madison). For more info and to rsvp, go here. As of Wednesday, 600 guests had already RSVP'd, so confirm your attendance today. Listen to a PSA announcing the event, courtesy of Star 99.1 FM in New York.

Why Art Matters

It communicates Truth viscerally in ways that mere words cannot. See for example, Transformations, the mural we commissioned from artist Greg King for Generation Xcel's 88-Step theater.

Greg King, 2002. Oil on Canvas. Triptych measuring appx. 8x12 Transformations depicts Generation Xcel's vision for community and individual renewal. The perimeter of the cityscape is characterized by the worst that cities offer: drug deals, burning buildings, traffic, rioting, smut shops, and more. But at the heart of the city, a transformation is beginning. The buildings are straighter; it's brighter; even the architecture is different. And the transformation is working its way outward. At the same time, a bridge connects individuals to the community-wide transformation. When they begin the journey, they come with baggage: personal addictions; emotional wounds, failing families. Compelling them across the bridge are young people and the YW8? (Why Wait?) symbol, shining like a beacon from the City's heart, reminding them that they don't need to wait until tomorrow to experience transformation today. As they come, their walk get straighter; their futures look brighter; even their expectations are different. And the transformation that begins in their heart works its way outward. _________________________________ A note on the artist: Greg King is a renaissance artist in the truest sense of the term. Equally adept at painting, filmmaking, photography, and music, Greg communicates Truth in media that speak to people's hearts. To contact Greg about your next art commission, email byfyconsulting at yahoo dot com.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

VOICE (of silence)

Join Generation Xcel in raising awareness of global hunger and AIDS at the "Voice of Silence," an interactive evening of music, spoken word, and artistry presented in partnership with World Vision's 30-Hour Famine.

Friday 2/25/05, 7 pm @ Primitive Christian Church
207-209 East Broadway (b/w Jefferson and Clinton Streets)
F train to East Broadway
Xpress originated the Voice of Silence last year as one of our 88-STEP Theater's inaugural productions. It is our pleasure to watch the concept expand beyond our walls to include seven other local youth agencies, plus a global relief organization like World Vision.
(front copy) (back copy)

Where's the Faith in the Faith-Based Initiative?

Beliefnet is hosting an interesting discussion on the promise and disappointments of President Bush's faith-based initiative. The article that started the controversy by ex-Bush aide David Kuo Responses: Marvin Olasky; White House Ron Sider: Bush's real poverty scorecard

Surprise, Surprise - Bonds Blames Media

Barry Bonds joined the chorus of the unrepentant when he blamed everyone but himself for the firestorm of steroid controversy that threatens to overshadow his baseball legacy.

This just in from Tony S.

Apparently there are three thousand people groups that do not have any Bible in their language. Yet, as Tony Sheng laments, the Christian ghetto here in America debates how to market the umpteenth English translation, the TNIV, for maximum return on investment.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Adoptive Racism?

Bob has a great post about the need for adoptive homes for African American boys. Check it out, especially if you are considering adoption.

Why I Support the Billy Graham Crusade (and Pray You Do Too)

Billy Graham is coming to New York in June for his final crusade in the city, and quite possibly the last crusade of his distinguished career. So what? Why should you care, beyond perhaps the historical curiosity of the 86-year old, so-called “Protestant Pope” retiring? My friend, for one, doesn’t. He's a respected youth pastor in the city who told me: "I don't [care] about Billy Graham and I don't [care] about this crusade." Shocking as this might seem to some, I don't believe he meant any disrespect. ... Locally, our collective response to this Crusade says much more about the makeup of Christ's team in Greater New York than it does Billy Graham or his ministerial association. Can we forgive past frustrations? Can we link arms with folks whose traditions are a little different than ours? Can we join our community mission to a larger ministry vision? Can we bear the relative inconvenience of attending trainings, participating in the process (not just the event!), and sacrificing a June weekend?
From my most recent article. Read it in its entirety here.

Things We Don't Talk About - Part 3

Relevant Magazine posted my article "Things We Don't Talk About" to their website yesterday. An interesting discussion follows.

My apologies

It's been over a week without any posts. Sorry 'bout that. This weekend was loaded with family stuff, and last week was intensely busy at work. Some of the highlights:

  • Judah and I played the part of single adults by joining 35 friends from the S.A.L.T. (Single Adults Learning Together) of the Earth ministry of Abounding Grace on their winter retreat. We drove upstate Friday night with my brother Jonathan, Elsa, Coco, and Dorothy, and returned Sunday. Judah joined me on the "snow movile" (I refuse to correct his pronunciation) and wrestled in the snow with my brother's dog Liza (one of the ministry mascots) before a whirlwind of fun Saturday afternoon with Bryce, Ashleigh, and Nathaniel, three other children ages 2-5.
Once again, Judah seized the moment to make his daddy proud! During Saturday night's worship service, he sat literally on the edge of his seat for over an hour mesmerized as my parents (the pastors of Abounding Grace) tag teamed the message. How many single adults, much less four-year old boys after a full-day of fun, can do that?
  • Sunday night, my nephew and niece Willie and Amber arrived with their parents from Massachusetts for Diana's grandmother's surprise 80th birthday party. Will and Am are enjoying Winter Break this week, so they'll be staying with us for a few days.

  • Monday afternoon we took advantage of what will probably be our last significant snow fall of the season and went sleigh riding. Owl's Head Park was a slushy mess, but that made building a snow man relatively easy to do (for the first time in my life).

  • Monday evening we surprised Nonna (Di's grandma) with an 80th birthday celebration. Nothing too elaborate, but the right mix of family and friends gathered over an intimate meal at an excellent Italian restaurant. Happy Birthday!

Monday, February 14, 2005

For all Valentine's Day romantics

One advantage of marriage, it seems to me, is that when you fall out of love with him, or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until maybe you fall in again. - Judith Viorst Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be. - Robert Browning

Honest Abe - a man of perspective

"'The short and simple annals of the poor.' That's my life, and that's all you or anybody else can make of it." - Abraham Lincoln, quoted in US News, "The real Lincoln" (2/21/05) How inspiring, especially considering Honest Abe is regarded as one of, if not the, greatest American president!

(Just a Few) Observations on the Grammys

Absolute high point of the evening: Kanye West performing Jesus Walks and the rousing response from the crowd. (Go here for more on the impact of this song on me.)

Anticlimax of the night: Kanye's speech accepting "Rap Album of the Year" honors. A perfect set-up seconds after his performance and he bombs the kill with a lame line about champagne.

Most overrated performance by duo or group: The caucophony they called a Tsunami Relief song. Is anyone actually gonna pay to download that? Most amazing voice this night, period: Alicia Keys singing If I Ain't Got You.

Runner-up most amazing voices (tie): Fergie's opening note of the night, and the old(est) Gospel singer.

Most exciting medley: The show's intro -- what a way to "get it started" (right).

Miscasting call of the night: The best they could do for Ray Charles' tribute was Bonnie Rait?

Lamest announcers: Let's highlight Tsunami Relief by getting a B-list actor and the comatose president of the Grammy Foundation to promote it. Doh!

(Not so) Spontaneous moment of the night: Stevie Wonder serenading Norah Jones with a few bars.

Wierdest performance: John Mayer singing Daughters. The song was lovely, but the facial ticks and garbled elocution were surprising.

Intriguing factoid of the night: Bono's dad was a wanna-be opera singer.

Most silly melodrama: J-Lo and hubby #3. The song was enjoyable, but the performances overacted.

Most tired look: Hey Slash, it's time for a haircut.

Most missed: Outkast

Most mysterious genre: Country. I just don't get it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

My boy's a fighter

So I'm in the mountains for some R&R, when I started getting funny vibes. Saturday, Diana and I agreed that I would call her at her sister's house in Mass at 9:30 to say goodnight and pray with our son. When I called, Di's sister Tara said she went for a drive. Judah wasn't too chatty, so he put Willie (my 8 yr. old nephew) on the phone. Will told me Judah got into a fight at Amber's (my 7 yr. old niece) birthday party and I should ask titi (Diana) about it. I tried her cell phone, but no answer. Then I called Di's mom Jo, thinking maybe they were together, but they weren't and Jo said only that she thought Diana went out to eat with Tara's in-laws. Huh? I tried again at 10. This time my brother-in-law answered and confirmed that Di went out with his parents, but didn't know why or where. Why would Diana go out with Tara's in-laws for dinner after 9 when they had been at a dinner birthday party just a couple hours before? Why would the three of them leave the rest of the crew behind? This was odd. Still no answer on Di's cell phone. Finally at 10:30, Di and I connected. She was emotional -- said something about the worst experience of her life. Sounded serious. Amber's party was at one of those fun-land kind of places that kids love so much, with indoor slides and jungle gyms and ball pits and rope ladders and aerial gerble mazes. You know the type, like Chuck E Cheese or Jeepers, where the pizza tastes like cardboard but the kids have a blast. Diana took the phone to a private room and told me how three bullies much older than Judah trapped him in one of the overhead mazes and started hitting him and cursing at him. Willie and his friend Fouad, nine and apparently tall and stocky for his age, were nearby. Fouad ran to Judah's defense, pushing the bullies off him and sending Willie for help. Willie ran to Diana in the party room while Fouad stood between Judah and the terror squad. A random father saw the commotion and yelled to the kids to stop hitting the little boy or else they'd get in trouble. That set off their mother, who started screaming at the man for yelling at her kids. Not just screaming, but cursing, threatening, raging. By the time Willie and Fouad and Amber and Willie's other friend John calmed Judah enough to coax him down, the crazy mother turned her rage at Diana. Her gangsta children gathered around and started cursing as well, blaming the entire situation on Judah for being in their way. Every time Di tried to pull away, the mother and her brood screamed and cursed all the more. It's still unclear to me how everything finally calmed down (I'll get the rest of the story Monday night), but eventually Diana and Judah were ushered back into the party room and the woman and her menaces left. They waited in the parking lot for Diana, but thought better of any more violence beyond a few more curse words. Judah's fine, thanks to Fouad and Willie and the other little heroes that had the guts to stand up to three little misguided and poorly mothered children. It's ironic to me that a 4 year old Christian boy named Judah was protected by an 9 year old Arabic boy named Fouad from three little New England ganstas (although I'm not sure why "New England" is relevant, except to the extent they were all probably Red Sox fans). There's a lesson (or quite a few) in that. Most importantly, my boy Judah will always remember how brave Fouad used his size and strength to protect a frightened little guy from bullies. Judah has God-given size and strength, not to mention smarts and charm, for his age. As he grows, he'll be sure to return Fouad's favor by protecting others who are vulnerable and defenseless.

Off the mountaintop, into the valley

I returned home to bad news. First came word that 4-yr. old cancer fighter Samuel is back in the hospital with a high fever. Please pray for him. Then came an email that a friend's cousin committed suicide a few days ago. He left behind a seemingly wonderful life as a successful lawyer at a prestigious firm, a wife and four young children, and a prominent family. Please pray for my friend and his family as they deal with this tragedy.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Alone, in the mountains

If it was good for JC, it must be good for me. With Diana and Judah away at her sister's for a few days, I'm off to the moutains of upstate NY for a weekend of solitude -- prayer, refocusing, refreshing, and (hopefully) a little rest. Pray with me that God speaks and, more importantly, that I have ears to actually hear what He's saying.

Be you

Comparison, a great teacher once told me, is the cardinal sin of modern life. It traps us in a game that we can't win. Once we define ourselves in terms of others, we lose the freedom to shape our own lives. - Jim Collins
For more on the subject of self-respect and identity issues, go here.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Another responsibility failure

How 'bout good ole Kim Jong II of North Korea? He hadn't heard himself speak on an international stage in a few months, so this week he decided to boast about his possession of nukes and willingness to use them to defend his tyrannical regime against the United States' "ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle [North Korea]." Mr. Jong need not blame the US for his country's isolation. That's a job this charter member of the Axis of Evil does well enough on its own.

Giambi accepts responsibility ... for what?

At a press conference today peppered with vague apologies and "I'm sorry" statements, Jason Giambi claimed to take full responsibility for what exactly? I for one can't figure out what he was saying. He apologized for "distractions," for "letting down" alot of people (including my then 2-year-old son, who wore a Giambi Yankee uniform one year for Halloween), and for not getting "into specifics" about what the distractions were or how he let people down. Those details, he said, he will disclose "someday, hopefully." About the only thing he stated clearly was his claim that Jose Canseco's accusations -- among other things, that Giambi and Mark McGwire injected each other with steroids while teammates in the early 1990s -- are "delusional," rooted in a "desperate" attempt "to make a dime." Funny how full responsibility for Giambi means accusing someone else of profiting from bad acts, but for himself it means simply "trying to go forward" so he can collect the rest of his $122 million Yankee paychecks, retire from baseball, and presumably peddle his own book deal for a lucrative advance. Too bad "responsibility" doesn't pay so well for the rest of us. ----- The NY Post headline on Friday summed it well: "He's no Yankee. He's a Dodger."

Pray for Abner and his team

Abner Ramos is an Intervarsity staff worker at East L.A. College. One of the students in his chapter, Julio, was killed this week in a hit-and-run accident. Abner is in the middle of the tragedy, as is Brad Arnold, and I pray wisdom and spiritual strength as they support Julio's loved ones during a very difficult time: Julio Rodriguez is with The Lord.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Murder made for prime time

Last week I posted a note about the disproportionate news coverage generated by a murder in the Lower East Side. This week's Village Voice chronicles the story behind the story of how a seemingly unexceptional murder became front page news around the country.

Race is undeniably part of the duFresne story. The randomness and location of the crime are linked to race, because white women are so rarely killed and the Seventh Precinct is gentrifying. If skin color didn't figure into how papers handled duFresne's killing—and there were plenty of color-blind reasons to work this story—maybe it should have had a place in the stories themselves. A simple reference to how rare black-on-white crime is would acknowledge the racial dynamic inherent in the facts. "More—not less—information is really important," says McBride.

Local guy makes good

I never met him, but Rocky Stella is a friend of Jose and Mayra, so that's good enough for me. This week's New Yorker of the Week, named by NY1, founded and directs a soup kitchen at a Spanish pentecostal church not far from Xcel. Congratulations.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Bloomberg, get over it

Sunday's New York Times (2/06/08) examined the increasingly routine custom, somehow scandalous in my great city, of churches renting public school auditoriums for weekend services. Among others, the Times profiled our friends at Christ Tabernacle:

Christ Tabernacle is just one of at least two dozen churches and other religious groups that have found homes in New York City public schools since a 2002 federal court ruling said the city had to provide space in school buildings to religious institutions just as it did for other community groups. The churches typically rent on Sundays, when students are not present, and reimburse the city for the cost of custodial services. The churches - often desperate for space - say the arrangement is only fair. But the practice, generally accepted across the country, has run into opposition from some parents in New York City, and the Bloomberg administration is planning to challenge the court ruling. (Read the full article here: "On Sundays, Hymn Books Replace Textbooks in City Schools.")
Curiously, Bloomberg never made a public issue of the practice until this year, when he's up for reelection in the fall. The concern voiced by at least one connected and outspoken parent, apparently shared by members of the administration, is that renting space to churches when students are not present somehow amounts to an "intrusion of religion into New York public schools" that has not been seen since "the early 1930's." It's going to be fun to watch this controversy play out in court -- that is if the aforementioned legal challenge doesn't get dismissed first. Within the last four years, the federal courts have repeatedly said that it is unconstitutional to exclude religious services from NYC public schools. In 2001, the US Supreme Court ruled in Good News Club v. Milford that public schools must allow religious groups to rent space if the schools allow other community groups to rent the same space. In 2002, the Manhattan-based 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a district court's ruling (applying the Supreme Court's decision) that the NYC school board violated the First Amendment by singling out worship services for exclusion from its buildings. Bloomberg will need to devise clever and novel legal arguments in order for a judge to overturn these precedents.

Billy Graham wants you

Friends and youth ministry colleagues: Get real for a second. Your youth are dying. Your neighborhood youth are dying even faster. Your church wants you to reach them. Your God called you to reach them. But you need help. So do I. This June a historic opportunity to reach your kids and mine, our city and the world, is coming to New York when Dr. Billy Graham conducts his final evangelistic effort in New York, and quite possibly the final one of his career, on June 25 and 26th. The Youth Committee is committed to helping you and me leverage the occasion to engage our kids in a relevant way with the transforming power of the Gospel. Learn more about this historic outreach and how your ministry can get involved by attending a breakfast on February 26th @ the Roosevelt Hotel. See invitation for details. Call 212.857.2006 or email to RSVP. In His Service, Jeremy Del Rio Youth Committee Co-Chair

The ill effects of misplaced blogging

I heard terrible (maybe "terrible" is a bit overstated) news this afternoon. Two of my girls (mine insofar as they're little sisters who are part of the Xcel family) are, or have recently been, punished because of things they wrote on their Xanga blog accounts. Girls, come on. You're too bright, too insightful, (dare I say it?) too wise for that. I'm looking forward to linking to your new and improved sites when they're available.

Monday, February 07, 2005

"The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience"

Ouch. A little backhanded reality from Ron Sider in Christianity Today. An excerpt:

Scandalous behavior is rapidly destroying American Christianity. By their daily activity, most "Christians" regularly commit treason. With their mouths they claim that Jesus is Lord, but with their actions they demonstrate allegiance to money, sex, and self-fulfillment. The findings in numerous national polls conducted by highly respected pollsters like The Gallup Organization and The Barna Group are simply shocking. "Gallup and Barna," laments evangelical theologian Michael Horton, "hand us survey after survey demonstrating that evangelical Christians are as likely to embrace lifestyles every bit as hedonistic, materialistic, self-centered, and sexually immoral as the world in general." Divorce is more common among "born-again" Christians than in the general American population. Only 6 percent of evangelicals tithe. White evangelicals are the most likely people to object to neighbors of another race. Josh McDowell has pointed out that the sexual promiscuity of evangelical youth is only a little less outrageous than that of their nonevangelical peers.
To borrow Jesus' words: "white washed tombs" and "brood of vipers." Is that what we've become? Too bad Christ placed such a premium on things like integrity.

Generational divides - something else to make you go hmm

It seems that yesterday's no-nonsense halftime show was loved by everyone 40 and older, but support for Paul's homage to "Get Back" to yesterday weakened proportionately as the viewers got younger. Certainly this was true of the crowd I watched the game with. The upstairs living room was filled with Boomers reminiscing about the days when music was music while crooning along to "Hey Jude." It felt a little like a Karaoke bar. In the downstairs den, the teens and kids could care less. Who's Paul McCartney? What was he doing singing "Live and Let Die" -- wasn't that a Guns-N-Roses song? This halftime's wack! Hmm.

A fresh face, refreshing voice

One of Time's 25 was a man named Brian McLaren. Although I've heard his name mentioned a couple times in the last few years, I had never read any of his books, heard him speak, or known much about his ministry. But after watching the clips from his appearance on Larry King last week, I'm thinking he's someone I need to pay attention to.

Message or messenger -- which is more distressing?

Disgraced baseball slugger Jose Canseco is about to turn a quick buck trying to bring down other Major League disgraces. A serial controversy, Canseco made trouble everywhere he went throughout his long career. He continues in retirement by publishing a book naming names of other accused steroid cheaters. On the one hand, cheaters need to be shamed, but what qualifies Canseco to make a mint doing the shaming? My unsolicited advice to the curious -- get the juice on 'roid cheats from the media reports that are sure to intensify in the upcoming weeks (and investigations which hopefully follow to qualify -- or disqualify -- Canseco's allegations), but refuse to juice up Canseco's already-juiced wallet with your cash.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ho Hum Holiday

The high holy day of American sport is over. Could there have been a less desirable match-up for a New York football fan than the Eagles (a Giants rival) and the Patriots (a Jets Rival)? As someone who roots for the Jets except for when they play the Giants, I had to begrudgingly root for the Patriots, who sealed their fate as a bona fide dynasty with their third title in four years. Thank God Super Bowl XXIX is history. To those who wonder how a diehard Yankee fan could even consider rooting for the football team that rescucitated the hopes and dreams of Boston baseball fans four years ago, good question. I wrestled with this one too. The best I could come up with is: (1) I love the Giants (and by extention loathe the Eagles) more than I hate the Patriots; (2) you can't watch the Super Bowl and not pick a team to root for, even if it's a lousy choice; (3) the Belichek juggernaut got launched in New York during coaching stints with both the Giants and Jets; and most importantly (4) -- Red Sox fans take note -- the Patriots remind me of the most recent Yankee dynasty of 1996-2000 that won 4 in 5 playing team ball more than relying on superstars. That said, we had a great time watching the game at Uncle Rich and Aunt Michele's house in south Jersey. My twin cousins Erika and Kevin turn seventeen tomorrow (and celebrate with their road tests at 9 am -- good luck!), so we coupled the Super Bowl fiesta with cake for them. One postscript, I think my uncle fixed the Super Bowl pool. After coaxing cash totaling $300 out of every guest, he won the grand prize of $150, and my aunt (his brother's wife) won $75.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Not bad for an 86 year-old man

Presumably in light of Time magazine's recent list, Christianity Today is conducting an online poll of "the most influential evangelical." No surprises here:

Chuck Colson: 3% James Dobson: 17% Billy Graham: 53% Ted Haggard: 0% Bill Hybels: 1% Bishop T.D. Jakes: 6% Tim LaHaye: 2% Richard Land: 0% J.I. Packer: 3% Rick Warren: 10% John Stott: 4%

After almost 60 years of ministry, Billy Graham still has it. I had the privilege of representing the Billy Graham Greater New York Crusade this past November at Dr. Graham's final LA crusade, where I stood on the platform during two of his altar calls watching thousands stream into the aisles for prayer. Art Bailey, the crusade director for NY, says Billy's anointing has gotten stronger as his body has gotten physically weaker because he is experiencing God's strength the deepest in his hour of greatest weakness. I agree. A word on the NY Crusade. Any tri-state area youth workers interested in participating in the crusade's various youth initiatives should contact the Youth Committee. Email for info or call the NY office at 212-857-2005. The Committee meets at least monthly, hosted by the Coalition of Urban Youth Workers on the second Monday of every month at the American Bible Society (61 St. and Broadway) from 10-12. The next meeting is February 14. The Youth Committee is hosting a breakfast for youth pastors/workers and their senior pastors/supervisors at the Roosevelt Hotel on Saturday, February 26, from 9:30-11:30 (45 East 45th St. near Grand Central Station). RSVP by calling 212-857-2005.

Mr. President, is this rhetorical or real?

In Wednesday's State of the Union address, much was made of the President's desire to "focus on our most-at-risk youth." The White House summarized the proposals as follows:

The President announced a new outreach effort, to be led by Mrs. Laura Bush, to focus on young Americans, especially young men, to help ensure a successful future. During the next year, the President and Mrs. Bush are committed to:

  • Highlighting the importance of focusing on at-risk youth, especially boys;
  • Educating parents and communities on the importance of promoting positive youth development; and
  • Informing parents and communities of strong and successful prevention and intervention programs that work by highlighting the efforts of coaches, pastors, and mentors from around the country, especially those with programs that focus on boys.

The President's focus on young Americans will include support for programs that help youth overcome the specific risk of gang influence and involvement.

  • The President proposed a three-year, $150-million initiative to help youth at risk of gang influence and involvement. Through grants to faith-based and community organizations targeting youth ages 8-17, the initiative will help some of America's communities that are most in need. These organizations will provide a positive model for youth - one that respects women and rejects violence.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

We're all suckers for a comeback

What do The Game, hip hop's latest sensation, and Martha Stewart, America's incarcerated domestic diva, have in common? Bankability. Based on a comeback. The Game's debut album, the "most anticipated album of the year," hit stores at number one on the charts. MTV attributes his success to "the unconditional street love he's been given by kids from New York to Compton." Why the love? He's a former drug dealer and gang lifer turned rap star who survived, among other things, an execution style attemp on his life. And he's transparent about his past and his present -- the good, the bad, and the ugly:

"I didn't want to stop what I was doing, because I was having fun. Some people don't know. We don't have no other choice, so we develop the love for it. When a child grows up in this type of environment, and the older role models aren't really role models ... it's normal to be a gangbanger here. Don't nobody have a problem out here with being a gangbanger. Don't nobody out here have a problem with killing or shooting to defend themselves or save their own lives." Game's ties to gangbanging existed from birth. Although he eventually followed his brother Big Fase Hunned into the Bloods, his mother was a Hoover Crip and his father and deceased older brother, Javon, were affiliated with the Nutty Block Crips.

"I seen my moms doing her thing," Game thinks back. "I seen my dad and my moms load guns together, take guns apart together. Smoke together, drink together and have good times. [I seen them] go out and do drive-bys. My mom is a hustler. My moms ain't ever have no working job and neither did my father."

Game's older brother Javon, while involved in gangs as well ... was shot at a gas station. He got into a dispute with a man over a girl. ... Shortly after Game left the hospital, he got the call telling him that his brother passed away. "My dad wasn't really there for us like he should have been," says Game, a few tears flowing down his face. "I think ultimately that led to my brother's murder. I really felt that if my dad was in our life a little bit more, then, you know, my brother would probably still be here. We'd probably be doing something even more positive than rap. 'Cause rap ain't always the most positive thing, and rap leads to deaths ... B.I.G., Tupac. I think about that every day when I look in my son's eyes. It's enough to make a grown man cry, you know. I think about the things that I say or the things that I have said and I think like, 'Damn.' "

Meanwhile, yesterday Donald Trump and Mark Burnett anounced on behalf of the queen of domesticity that Martha Stewart will star in a spinoff of Trump's own Apprentice show. Production is scheduled to begin immediately after her March release from prison, with a tentative airdate in fall 2005.

The British-born Burnett said he believes viewers will be ready to accept Stewart as a TV personality — even after she served a prison sentence for lying to federal prosecutors.

"What I learned after coming here [to the United States] was that this is a country that, when you have a problem, you pay your price and Americans allow you to move on," he said. "Americans love to see people make good after being pushed down.

"My friends are tastemakers"

Huh? Did you know the latest, greatest rage among marketers is to entice you to buy their brands by outfitting ordinary "cool kids" in them -- not just athletes and celebrities anymore -- for free? The NY Post calls it:

a new kind of advertising phenomenon - one that goes beyond more established methods like street-teaming (campaigns orchestrated to look as though they're "up from the street," through graffiti or sidewalk chalk scrawls, for example) or stealth marketing (in which corporations hire young, attractive, charismatic people to go into bars and clubs and be "overheard" raving about a brand of alcohol or cigarettes). "If the right person is wearing the right thing, people want it," says Kelly Cutrone, founder of the fashion branding firm People's Revolution. Cutrone gives thousands of dollars worth of free clothes to Saleh and other New Yorkers who aren't rich or famous, but who run in desirable circles and wield a lot of social influence.
Big brother's after your money, and he'll find a way to snatch it. (This is "Merchants of Cool," to the max. If you've never watched Merchants, it's must see viewing for anyone interested in youth culture. You can watch the entire documentary online.)

It's Official

The top law enforcement officer in the land is Latino. Over the objections of 35 vocal Democrats and one nominal Independent, the Senate confirmed Alberto Gonzales on Thursday to be the nation's next attorney general. Democrats who crossed party lines to vote for Gonzalez were Senators Lieberman (CT), Landrieu (LA), Pryor (AR), Nelson (FL), Nelson (NE), and Salazar (CO). Curious that my state's own Senator Schumer endorsed the Gonzales nomination a couple of weeks ago and then voted against him today. Congratulations, Senor Gonzales.

"It started spreading like cockroaches"

This story reminded me of Enid. Last night, fans at an Alabama girls high school basketball game rioted, forcing police to clear the gym and cancel the game. Before Enid became the mature, wise-beyond-her-years youth specialist we at Xcel know and love, my first introduction to her was at a neighborhood football game nine or ten years ago. Xcel cofounders Lou-Box and Rollie were playing, so my brothers and I went to support them. In the third or fourth quarter, girlfriends cheering from the sidelines turned their attention on each other. Someone hit someone, someone else pulled someone's hair, then the claws came out and a certifiable brawl erupted. In the middle of the melee, a high school student named Enid. (In contrast to last night's fiasco, neither Enid or any of her combatants got arrested.) Enid's still a fighter. That's one of many reasons why we love her.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Court Update

The judge agreed today to decide the ownership question once and for all before proceeding any further with the eviction case against Generation Xcel and my dad's church, Abounding Grace Ministries. If she concludes that the purported landlord does not properly own the building, they have no legal basis to continue trying to evict us. Please continue to pray, as she will be deciding the issue, in part, on the basis of testimony from the New York State Attorney General's office in November that their supposed purchase of the building is "voidable." (For more on the nature of the overall litigation, check out the New York Daily News coverage here.)

This is Deep

Thanks to Fritz Kling, who emailed me the following Nelson Mandela quote from his 1994 Inaugural Address.

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?' Actually, who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
I'm feeling this (leaving aside the theological nuances about the light that is within us). Every person everywhere wrestles with identity questions: "Who am I? Why am I here?" We tend to answer them on an imbalanced scale, either thinking too lowly of ourselves, or too highly. That's why helping young people establish healthy self-respect is one of the overriding objectives of Generation Xcel. More significantly, it was critical to Christ's mission on earth. The most important commandment, He said, is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength." Likewise the second is, "Love your neighbor as yourself." It's impossible to love God with everything one has if one hates oneself, or conversely if one overinflates one's self-importance. It's similarly impossible to love one's neighbor as oneself in the absence of self-love tempered by humility.

Five weeks later

... they're still finding victims of the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Yesterday, relief workers in Indonesia found the bodies of 1,000 more lives lost. That brings the official death toll to 157,000, with more than 100,000 people still missing. Even though the Tsunami's shifted from view, keep praying, and giving.

A little perspective

December's tsunami claimed approximately 250,000 lives in one horrific afternoon, making it one of the worst natural disasters in history and triggering an unprecedented outpouring of global compassion. Yet in shear scope of impact, the tsunami pales in comparison to the global reach of HIV/AIDS. "Worldwide, 22 million people have died of AIDS, and today 40 million people are infected - nearly all in developing countries like Uganda. And tragically, there are 14 million orphaned children like Edward, digging out of desperate holes." (Read the entire article here.) When the dust settles and the towns and villages affected by the tsunami have been rebuilt, will we care to look after the Somali, Indian, and Indonesian children orphaned in those same villages by AIDS and not a natural disaster?

Things that make you go hmm

A pretty, 20-something aspiring actress was shot and killed by a thuggish posse of muggers last week in our neighborhood. Her fiance cradled her in his lap as she breathed her last breath. This murder was indeed a tragic crime. People should be outraged. But from the resulting press coverage one would think it is the first time someone leaving a Lower East Side bar in the early morning hours was shot. Her fiance made the rounds of all the network morning talk shows this week. He's gotten airtime on entertainment tabloids and front page exposure in national newspapers. The reward for the killers was doubled almost as soon as it was announced. Would the collective outrage have been the same if the pretty young actress wasn't white? Or if the neighborhood wasn't being rapidly gentrified? It seems to me crimes like this have gone on in the LES for years, but previously the only national exposure was in the form of sensationalized TV cop shows. The storylines in NYPD Blue supposedly take place in our precinct, and the Law and Order series frequently films around here. Hmm.

Hard to imagine, but for years Joel refused to preach.

... That's NBC's Today Show, talking about Joel Osteen. Check out the report here. Diana and I met Joel and his wife at a California hotel last summer. They seemed to be genuinely nice people.