Saturday, August 27, 2005

Caleb Stevens sparked a Chain Reaction

From the Marion Star newspaper (Ohio), 8/26/05:

"Caleb of the Bible gave his life entirely and completely to God. ... It wasn't until he was 85 years old that he finally received his inheritance of land and was rewarded for remaining true to God's command and promise. Caleb Stevens received his inheritance in heaven in the 8th month, on the 5th day." Full story.

Friday, August 26, 2005

We're outta here

Finally, we're going on vacation. After a pitstop this weekend in Mass for Willie's 9th birthday, Diana, Judah and I are flying to Disney World on Sunday! I can't promise much in the way of blogging before Labor Day, but who knows?

Nonna's powerpoint online

Thanks to my "virtual" friend Bob Campbell. (We'll actually meet one day soon, I hope, after corresponding online for almost a year!) Bob is hosting it on his personal website for a month or so, here. There may still be a glitch with the sound (does anyone kow how to embed the music directly into the powerpoint file so the song doesn't have to be downloaded seperately?), but if there is, play MercyMe's "I can only imagine" in your favorite music player as the slides play on the screen. We'll work it out soon, I hope. Thanks so much, friend.

As the Spirit moves you ...

Newsweek, for one, is noticing. And writing about it on the cover. One of the paradoxes:

Whatever is going on here, it's not an explosion of people going to church. The great public manifestations of religiosity in America today—the megachurches seating 8,000 worshipers at one service, the emergence of evangelical preachers as political power brokers—haven't been reflected in increased attendance at services. ... The fastest-growing category on surveys that ask people to give their religious affiliation, says Patricia O'Connell Killen of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., is "none." But "spirituality," the impulse to seek communion with the Divine, is thriving.

Virginity at 40: an object of scorn

"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" skewers the idea that a self-respecting 40-year-old would willingly remain a virgin. Yet audiences made it tops at the box office last weekend with a $20.6 million debut and critics have praised it as "the best comedy of the summer." Consider CNN's glowing review:

'The 40 Year-Old Virgin' is, hands down, the best comedy of the summer.

Yes, the humor is R-rated and adolescent -- there are jokes involving erections, getting chest hair waxed off, and a hilarious scene in which Andy tries unsuccessfully to solve the mystery of putting on a condom. But the good-natured tone of the film and the wonderful comedic talents of the entire cast -- especially Carell -- make the gross-out moments charmingly relatable.

S-E-X still sells at any age.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Free online disk space?

Any tips on acquiring free online disk space for storing and sharing large files? I want to post the slideshow I did for Nonna's funeral (20-25mb .ppt file) for a month or so, so family can download it.

Xcel Summer Photo Slideshow

Experience Xcel summer with us via an online slideshow.

Put a sock in it

Hat tip to Tony on this one. In order to save money and eliminate a "terrific danger" to our country, televangelist Dr. Pat Robertson said "covert operatives" should assassinate the president of Venezuela, even though assassinations are illegal and -- some would argue -- a violation of the 6th Commandment. He said this on his "700 Club" show this week, in connection with a story entitled Hugo Chavez v. America:

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability. We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."
Authorizing covert operatives to take out perceived dangers sounds alot like the Chavez regime itself, and for that matter other fanatical jihadist and communist dictatorships. Evangelicals should be better than that. UPDATE 1, from Bob: ChurchMarketingSucks satirizes the situation and how it impacts the rest of us, here. Download video of the comments here. UPDATE 2: Thankfully, Pat has apologized: "Is it right to call for assassination? No, and I apologize for that statement. I spoke in frustration that we should accommodate the man who thinks the U.S. is out to kill him." DISCLOSURE: Both CBN and Operation Blessing, ministries Dr. Robertson leads, have generously funded Generation Xcel over the years and have profiled various ministry efforts on the 700 Club. They have proven to be sincere and cherished partners in all of our dealings with them.

Bono (and Billy)'s DJ for hire

What do Billy Graham and Bono have in common, beyond status as global icons? They both hired DJ Kenny Mitchell for events in the same week last February. For Bono, it was the launch of his clothing company during Fashion Week in New York, and for Graham, it was the Square One breakfast in anticipation of the final crusade of his career. Why? He's good. Really good. For you emerging church types, he's also a church planter, and he considers his craft worship, whether done in a sanctuary or a night club. He blends seemingly random sounds to convey truth in any context. At the Graham event, for example, he sampled bootleg audio of Graham preaching, and overlayed them on moody instrumental tracks, including a Spike Lee "reality" vocal from a De La Soul album. (Did someone say, "Postmodern"?) Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger feature him in their new book, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures.
At Xcel's 3-on-3 Hoops tournament in July At Xcel's carnival on Saturday The instruments of a postmodern worship leader From his bio at Survivor Records
Kenny and I compared financial notes on the ride to and from the Carnival this Saturday. We're both urban ministers living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood with young families while ministering in the same Manhattan neighborhood without budgets. Go figure! Hire him for your next outreach event or social gathering. Better yet, buy his CD and encourage a friend to do the same.
Contact Kenny here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Yankees 7, Blue Jays 0

Xcel board member Wendell Moore hooked up 200 Xcel and Abounding Grace members with tickets to last night's Yankees game. Great game! In his second game back from injury, Jaret Wright pitched 7 shutout innings; A-rod went 3 for 5 with his 100th RBI; and Hideki Matsui drove in 3 runs. Willie, Amber, and Judah had a blast. (Did I mention they're back? They came down for the funeral on Thursday, and they're staying with us again until tomorrow.)
The hook-up man The ultimate fanatic The Belle of the Ball Uncle Jeremy's inner circle Uncle Jamie and his wife Taina My dad, Pastor Rick
More pictures from the game here and here.

Above and beyond

Ramon went above and beyond the call of duty last week, not only assisting with Chain Reaction, but leaving behind a piece of himself in a mural he painted for Generation Xcel. Thanks again for who you are, how you serve, and sharing your life with us!

Ending in style

Xcel Summer is offically over, celebrated in style with our 4th annual community Carnival this past Saturday. Mild temperatures and a cool breeze graced us this year. DJ Kenny Mitchell, T.R.A., and Harvestfield roused the crowd with music. And kids surrounded the video game tent, game booths, face painting, and prize table all afternoon.
More pictures here and here.
One drag: our carnival game and ride vendor for the last three years flaked out on us, and the inflatable slide, basketball hoops, and dunk tank were innoperable. The upside: they knocked off 60% from the contract. We won't be using them next year!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Worth repeating

"I am here to give a testimony of a generous God, of a loving God, of a healing God, of a God so kind, that He has led us to ministry for Him, leading other souls to the Lord." - Nonna, mid-to-late 1970s

Sacrifical Saddam

Sad Saddam wants the world to know he's a willing sacrifice for a "glorious" cause. Hats off *wink, wink* to such a noble man.

A wasted talent

Disgraced hothead Lawrence Phillips (the #6 overall NFL draft pick in 1996) allegedly ran his car into three teens after arguing about a pickup football game. What a gamer.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

We're going on vacation!

I can't wait! After a grueling summer, we're going here to veg (and refresh) from 8/28-9/4. Originally we had booked a timeshare in New Hampshire begining 8/27 so we could attend a wedding in Vermont. The wedding was canceled, so we changed the destination when someone offered (on Thursday!) to buy us plane tickets and rent a car. We booked the last available unit at Orlando's Sheraton Vistana Resort this afternoon, then got a steal on Jet Blue and a "paperless coupon" for Avis. One week from today, we'll be flying to the wonderful world of Disney. God is sooooooo goooooood! Anyone have a hook-up for free (or discounted) tix to Disney/ Universal/ Wet-n-Wild so we can take Judah? After the blessing we received today, I've been emboldened to ask!

The presence of God

This morning's service at New Hope was one of those charismatic jigs where the pastor has one thing planned but something altogether different happens instead. For the uninitiated, imagine a 2 hour church service with no sermon, an understated offering appeal, and just a handful of announcements. Not possible, right? Wrong!

We experienced that today. Scheduled to speak at the third service was a missionary named Jim Jorgensen, a New Hope friend and frequent guest. The worship time ended, announcements followed, then the offering. Instead of live music or a formal offeratory, the church played a CD as the buckets were passed, and an old CD at that.

But something happened. People spontaneously began to sing along with the CD. Just a few at first, but the words were familiar to many and they quickly joined in. One thing led to another and within minutes the altar was filled with people. Some knelt. Others danced and jumped. Some were still and others roudy. Some were quiet. Others shouted. Then people began to pray for one another in the aisles and at their seats.

No one preached. Instead we all enjoyed the manifest presence of a loving God who showed up and brought refreshing, which I, for one, needed. I can't explain it much better than that.

To top it off, God blessed us with ...

P-O-R-N Sunday

Get involved. Talk the S-E-X talk in church, October 9, 2005.

Phil, get the word out

My friend Phil Jackson was featured on PBS on Religion & Ethics Weekly last February, but were it not for Rudy's belated discovery this weekend, I would not have known. His ministry The House is a church within a church, an outreach of Lawndale Community Church in Chicago, that utilizes hip hop to reach unchurched youth on the city's west side. Each service draws 500 teens.

"Deadly" heroin kills 6 in LES

This seemed inappropriate to post last Tuesday when the story was "news," but it's important to mention because it means we have unfinished business. Despite gentrification, the LES still has a drug problem.

A deadly batch of heroin may have killed six people over five days in downtown Manhattan - including two college coeds found with fresh needle marks on their arms, police and health officials warned yesterday. ... Residents on the lower East Side said a potent brand of heroin called Eden is popular in the area, primarily on Avenue D between E. Fourth and E. Fifth Sts. It costs about $15 a bag.

Two of the victims, both 18 years old, were found dead in the same apartment as a thrice convicted drug dealer from the posse formerly known as the Cut Throat Crew.

Another pain in the backside

[Originally drafted August 9.] Last week and weekend were emotionally grueling. Wednesday, Nonna was sent home with bad news. Thursday, a dear friend had a miscarriage, and on Friday, Caleb was killed in a tragic car accident [8/3-5]. I left Baltimore Monday evening around 5 to return to New York. Exhausted, I pulled into a rest stop for a nap around 7:30. By 9, I was finally crossing the Goethels Bridge from New Jersey into Staten Island. I called my wife to tell her I would be home in 15 minutes, without traffic. As the conversation ended, a horrible noise and gyrating sensation filled the car. My tire blew out. Not just a flat. A bona fide blow out, with shredded rubber hanging from the rim (another end-of-lease expense to worry about when we return the car at the end of the month). Hazzards on, I rolled the car to the base of the bridge determined to change the tire and get home as fast as possible. But the trunk was full, so getting the spare was a project that required wading through summer toys, baby toys we need to get rid of, random tools we never use, and too much junk to list properly here. With the curbside littered with enough trash to hold a garage sale I finally got to the spare, but the tool bag was empty! The essentials needed to remove the tire, most notably the tire's anti-theft key, had fallen into the abyss. Frustrated and exhausted, I called Diana and acted the fool on the phone, blaming her for the trunk (like I've ever really considered cleaning it out) and the empty tool bag. Thank God for a merciful wife. Let's pray for a merciful Volkswagen Credit inspector.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Blog spam

This blog is starting to get spammed. Any tips for screening and/or removing spam?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Divinely inspired

At Nonna's memorial service, Boom2 read the following testimony that Nonna had written in the 1970s. It reminded me again how inextricably linked Diana and I and our families are from before either of us were born. Nonna had shared it many times with me over the years, but hearing it recounted last night was extra-special. (For context: the Vikses are my mother's parents; Good News was a program my grandfather and his business friends sponsored; and Calvary was the church they attended.)

"... We were beset by trouble, in the summer of 1973, of such a degree that each and every member of my family was being affected daily. I didn't know what was going on. ... [S]evere depression had engulfed me. ... "Unable to sleep, my husband and I turned on the television set and happened upon a program called the Good News. It told of the most powerful force in the world; it spoke of a LIVING GOD and HIS HOLY SPIRIT. A telephone number flashed on the screen and I dialed the number. Sister Vikse took down my address and sent me a Voice booklet. It was the beginning of a tremendous hunger for the Word of God. ...

"I read the Bible that gathered dust in my home for over 20 years. The beauty and the revelation of the love of God kept me awake night after night. But there had to be more. So once again I called the number on the screen and this time Brother Vikse told me of a church, called the Calvary Tabernacle. ... "On a Tues. evening, we went to a prayer meeting at Calvary. It was Jan. 15, 1974. There were six of us. My three daughters, my sister, a friend and myself. An altar call was made and my oldest daughter's hand went up. On seeing her hand go up, I raised mine, and so like a chain reaction we all wents forward to receive Jesus into our hearts. It was beautiful. On the way home, we said if it weren't for her initiative, none of us would have gone forward. It was then that we learned that she didn't raise her hand. She told us, "When Brother Vikse said, 'There's a hand raised there,' I was a surprised as he was to see it was my hand'." God had raised her hand for her. ... "My son and my husband came to the Lord immediately after us. All that has happened to us was not by accident, for Jesus does nothing by accident. I am here to give a testimony of a generous God, of a loving God, of a healing God, of a God so kind, that He has led us to ministry for Him, leading other souls to the Lord." [Italics mine.]

It is finished

The rites associated with mourning the loss of a loved one ended today with Nonna's burial at Oceanview Cemetary on Staten Island, in a plot 150 yards or so away from her father Joseph Ingarra and her husband Richard. The memorial service last night was special. Never have I attended one that ended with a standing ovation -- a bona fide, spontaneous, every-seat-empty rousing applause. A fitting tribute to a wonderful woman who beat us all into heaven. Each of Nonna's four children offered uniquely moving tributes. Mary read a poem and spoke of the tenderness in Nonna's hands, even as she used them to hold her loved ones in the last weeks of life and now embraces a loving God. Josephine read a testimony Nonna had written years earlier that Diana found among Nonna's keepsakes in her bedroom. Richie talked of her stature in heaven as a hero of faith and a woman of great love. And Teresa shared memories from Nonna's purse and recorded messages she made during one of her last hospital visits. Nonna's son-in-law Roger reminded us that her faith was ultimately responsible for thousands coming to know Christ, beginning with her entire family. She continued to share that faith until the very end, never missing a church outreach, regularly passing out tracts with Boom2, and co-founding New Hope Fellowship with Teresa and Roger.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

More than Dad's DNA

We've been counting down the days to August 16, five-year-old Samuel Carrasco's last day of major chemo. It's been over a year since his leukemia diagnosis last summer, and Judah has prayed for him nearly every day since we first got the news. On August 17th, Sam's fatigued little body needed a blood transfusion. The previous week, Rudy had donated blood and designated it for his son, just in case. So yesterday, Rudy sat with Sam as blood from his body fed life and nourishment back into his little boy.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I needed this

Yesterday, two thank you cards arrived at my office from our California interns, one for Judah and one for me -- at just the right time to offer an encouraging word. This proud papa can't resist sharing with the blogosphere the one to Judah. (The one to me, I'll keep private for now. Excerpts may come later when we have to recruit new interns!)

Judah, Wazzz up! Judah, we just wanted to let you know how "COOL" you are. We were all talking and and we came to the conclusion that you are probably the coolest four year old we have ever met. We also agreed that you are probably one of, if not the, brightest kid that we have ever met. Your knowledge not only of the Bible but your perceptiveness and ability to challenge uis with good questions was astounding. Aside from your obvious intellectual gifts, the thing that we appreciated the most was your humor and your heart. You were able to bring a smile to our face just about every time we saw you. It was hard to believe that you were so shy the first time we met you. Boy was that a false first impression! Our guess is you were setting us up.

We were touched by the stories that your father told us of your encounters around the city. Judah, we all hope to keep in contact with you and, who knows, maybe you can come out to Cali and we can show you around.

We love you, Judah.

From all your homies from The California IVCF Team

Four year olds grieve too

Judah gets it. Death, that is. The last two weeks have been hard on him. When I told him about Caleb, he got pensive and said, "I'm sad because Caleb won't be able to see his parents anymore." A promise that Caleb could see them from heaven satisfied him for the moment. Then last week the reality of Nonna's situation hit him hard. As I recall, it was Friday night, late, just before bedtime, and he started imagining what Nonna would do when she got to heaven. He acted everything out with as much energy as his wild imagination (tempered only by the late hour) could muster, joyously singing and dancing as only a four year old without rhythm can. Then suddenly he began to sob. He said he would miss not playing with Nonna, that he wanted to be able to see her. We promised that he would see her again in heaven. "But that's too long," he said. Why? "Because she's 80 and I'm only 4." Then on Sunday, when we suspected she wouldn't survive the night, Diana stayed with her at the hospital. Judah wanted to know why Di didn't come home. When I told him, he began a muffled cry. "I want to say goodbye," he said. I tried comforting him with, "You said goodbye to her last week at her apartment." That wasn't enough for him though, because, "That was goodbye for that night. I want to say goodbye before she goes to heaven." Today when we got to the wake, Judah was energetic as ever. I took him to the casket early, before the crowds arrived, so I could explain what was going on. "Can I touch her?" he asked. "Sure, gently." "It doesn't feel like her." "That's because it's just her body, but the part of her that gave her life is with Jesus." He returned to the coffin again before finding mommy in the back of the room, looking into her eyes and bursting into tears. "I want to play with her." "You will, Judah, in heaven." "Not in heaven, here on earth," he said. He calmed down a few minutes later and discovered lots of fun things to do at a funeral home with cousins he never met before today. But he returned to the coffin periodically to gaze at Nonna, gently touch her hands, and kiss her arm. He asked how she got dressed, and if he could take her "Grandma" broach off her blazer, the one he, Willie and Amber gave her for her eightieth birthday. One of his kindergarten friends came to the wake tonight. Judah took her to the casket and explained exactly what was going on: why we and the body were there, where Nonna is now, and why her hands felt "like plastic." Her mom thanked us over and over that Judah could explain everything so well. UPDATE, 8/19: At the Memorial Service last night, Roger mentioned a conversation he overheard Judah have with his friend in front of the coffin. "That's her body, " Judah told her, "but she's not there anymore. Now Nonna's with Jesus in heaven."


From today's New York Daily News: VECCHIONE—Jennie (nee Ingarra). On August 15, 2005. Beloved wife of the late Richard. Loving mother of Mary, Josephine, Teresa and Richard. Cherished grandmother of Tara, Diana, Chris, John and Joseph. Great-grandmother of Willie, Amber, and Judah. Visitation, Wednesday and Thursday, 2-5 and 7-9 P.M. at McLaughlin & Sons F. H., Third Ave. at 97th St., Brooklyn. Funeral Service at 8 P.M., Thursday.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Thanks, Ramon and Abby

Two more heros in my book (for whatever that's worth) are Ramon and Abby Trevino. They're youth pastors in York, PA, who've been involved with Chain Reaction there the last two years. They planned to come to New York this year and arrived as promised Sunday night ready to flex following Caleb's tragedy (and the changes that brought CR New York). Flex they have -- with two children (2 and 4) and two teens in tow -- providing experience, wisdom and invaluable support for Kristina and Ralph and our Xcel team. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thanks, Fred

Why am I blogging this morning? I can't get back to sleep after coffee with Fred Lynch on the drive to the airport for his 9 am flight; and I can't concentrate on one subject long enough to write my September article; and, mostly, because the posts below were cathartic. Fred did a youth camp for a Bronx church this weekend and planned to stay a couple extra days to hang with Matt and me for the start of Chain Reaction. He fulfilled his end of the bargain, including an unplanned devotional for Monday's CR launch, but hang out time was limited for obvious reasons. Fred is a gracious man. Thankfully we spent 3+ hours together (with Judah) Sunday night, including a dousing by a hardcore August downpour on the way to Veniero's for dessert. (I knew Fred is a brilliant youth communicator, but did you know he has a future in children's ministry as well? Just as Judah.) We drove into Manhattan yesterday am, but didn't get to fellowship again until the drive to the airport. Thanks, Fred, for listening and being a true friend.

Feels like a funeral

Sorry that my blog has become so depressing this month. The dog days of August have been unkind, but an eternal God sustains us! Unfortunately, cliche Christianity at times obscures the truth of that statement, but I've been reminded of Truth this month. I can't imagine enduring the loss of a loved one, or, for that matter, the tumult of everyday living -- not to mention the hardships of urban youth ministry -- without faith in One who never fails. One of Nonna's favorite passages, which she asked Boom2 to read to her just weeks ago, promises:

"There is no one like the God of Jeshurun, who rides on the heavens to help you and on the clouds in his majesty. The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." Deuteronomy 33:26-27a

Diana and her best friend

[Click pics for larger images]
As a baby On our wedding day

Hopefully, this is it for a while

Nonna, c. 1945

Nine days, two slideshows to the MercyMe song, "I can only Imagine." Last Saturday was for Caleb. Last night was for Nonna, scanning photos and organizing powerpoint slides into the early am. Some of the pics are here. That's enough (I hope) imagining for a while.


Nonna's wake will be Wednesday and Thursday from 2-5 and 7-9 pm at McLaughlin Funeral Home in Brooklyn. 9620 3rd Avenue (between 96th and 97th Streets) Brooklyn, NY 11209 Phone: (718) 238-3600 R to 95th Street The memorial service will be at 8 pm Thursday at the same location, with the processional to the gravesight Friday morning at 9:30 am.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Resting with Jesus

Jennie Vecchione March 7, 1925 - August 15, 2005
Nonna rests with Jesus tonight, after a five-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She entered eternity surrounded by family at 1:35 this afternoon. More to come.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

A measure of our leadership

Passion for God and compassion for people -- it's the oldest revolutionary idea known to man, timeless in its power and eternal in its impact. Pray it grips hearts anew this week, as Chain Reaction returns to New York City, starting Monday at 10 am when the teens arrive at Abounding Grace. If the measure of a man's leadership is his followers' ability to carry on the mission in his absence, this week will be a good test for Matt and me. Matt may or may not be around at all due to Caleb's untimely passing, and I may not be available either because of Nonna's illness. As a result, please pray that our lieutenants Jonathan, CoCo, Ralph, Kristina, Dorothy, Elsa, Ramon, and Abby lead effectively in our absence, and for the young people who will carry the mantle into the frontline of ministry.

Nonna may not make it through the night

She's been in a semi-conscious state since returning to the hospice on Tuesday, and essentially unconscious since Thursday. Tonight, the doctors said her breathing entered the final stage before total respitory failure. Please pray for the entire family as we endure the passing of the family's much beloved matriarch, and pray a special prayer for Diana. Her and Nonna were especially close, in many ways best friends despite the age difference and prearranged family relationship. Diana has handled Nonna's illness with grace and uncommon compassion, just the way Nonna taught her. But the ordeal has been emotionally exhausting and physically draining.

The last word on a great leader

"He was not a brilliant strategist or tactician, not a gifted orator, not an intellectual. At several crucial moments he had shown marked indecision. He had made serious mistakes in judgment. But experience had been his greatest teacher from boyhood, and in this his greatest test, he learned steadily from experience. Above all, [George] Washington never forgot what was at stake and he never gave up." (1776, p. 293, emphasis mine.)

Abigail Adams (John's wife) wrote of Washington:

"I am apt to think that our later misfortunes have called out the hidden excellencies of our commander-in-chief. ... 'Affliction is the good man's shining time.'" (Id. at 291, quoting English poet Edward Young.)

Regarding the young leaders Washington empowered at the beginning of the war, McCullough writes:

"Greene and Knox, the two young untried New Englanders Washington had singled out as the beginning as the best of the 'raw material' he had to work with, had both shown true greatness and stayed in the fight to the finish." (Id. at 293) Greene in particular was regarded as "the most brilliant American field commander of the war," Washington's handpicked successor if anything happened to him during battle. (Ibid.)

After punishing defeats, they took it to the enemy

"The year 1776, celebrated as the birth year of the nation, ... was for those who carried the fight for independence forward a year of all-too-few victories, of sustained suffering, disease, hunger, desertion, cowardice, disillusionment, defeat, terrible discouragement, and fear, as they would never forget, but also of phenomenal courage and bedrock devotion to country, and that, too, they would never forget." (1776, p. 294)
Rudy's right. Sounds reminiscent of urban ministry.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Convergence, McLaren's way

I hope that recent controversies about emergence will give way to a profound new convergence – where formerly alienated people come together as never before to form Christ-centered communities in which more and more of us learn to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength … in which we learn to love our neighbors and our enemies according to the teachings of Jesus … and through which we teach others by word and example to do the same, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Toward that convergence I will continue to bend my efforts in grateful collaboration with all who dream a similar dream.
Brian McLaren has generated enough press (both good and bad) in the last six months for a few lifetimes, partly because he's asking hard questions about how Churchianity interacts with the larger culture, and partly because he's comfortable offering ambiguous answers. He discusses the controversies and his own "emerging" notoriety in "Being Convergent: Part 1, 2, and 3." The preceding quote concludes part 3.

Thank you, from the Stevens family

Matt asked me to share this with you all:

Dear Friends, Words cannot express how grateful we are for all that you have done and continue to do for our family. Your support, presence and prayers are holding us up through out this experience. We are overwhelmed with the love you have generously given us. You are teaching us that if we all would focus on loving each other it changes everything. Our family has a long road ahead but we are experiencing God's strength more and more with each new day. Anything to serve, Matt, Katy, Josh, Mic, Jacob & Tucker (the dog)

Get over it

[Click the image for a larger view]
Even at 10 years old, Caleb found time to keep a journal. Not everyday, but often enough that it contained some profound insights. One of my favorites included a sketch, with a caption that reads:
"I always have faith in God. Somedays I don't feel like it but I do. So build a bridge and get over it."
The sketch depicts a boy, crying. A storm cloud brings rain along with the tears. But the sun waits patiently to reemerge from behind the clouds, and the rain leaves behind a budding flower. Life persists.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

"Give me this mountain"

"Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the [giants] were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said." (Joshua 14:12)
The words of Caleb's biblical namesake ring true when describing the life he lived and the tenancity with which he lived it. Gospel Tabernacle has posted a tribute to Caleb's testimony at their church website, including the following multimedia materials:

DVD of Caleb's life (large file) (Music by Audio Adreneline, "Hands and Feet") PowerPoint presentation (large file) (Music by Mercy Me, "I Can Only Imagine") Pictures drawn by Caleb "All Things Die Except" "Faith Always" "Tears Of The World" The Celebration of Life Bulletin (MS Publisher)

These are the times that try men's souls

I've been reading 1776 this summer. Completing it has taken far too long, but the delays were evidently a divine thing. They insured that I would read this passage on the train this morning:

"In August, [General George] Washington had an army of 20,000. In the three months since, he had lost four battles -- at Brooklyn, Kips Bay, White Planis, and Fort Washington -- then gave up Fort Lee without a fight [humilitating, abject military disasters, all]. His army now was divided as it had not been in August and ... he had only about 3,500 troops under his personal command. ... "Sick at heart over the suffering and despair he saw, but inspired by the undaunted resolution of many around him, [Common Sense author Thomas] Paine is said to have committed his thoughts to paper during the retreat [across New Jersey]. ... He began what he called The Crisis, with its immortal opening lines: "'These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.'" (pp. 249, 251)
My summer hasn't been nearly as bad as Washington's (to even compare them seems trite), but it has been difficult. Oh, to be one who "stands it now," not the summer soldier or sunshine patriot who shrinks in the face of adversity.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Meanwhile, Nonna's health deteriorates

As I visited the Stevens family in Baltimore this weekend, Diana remained in New York to tend to her grandmother. Without a miracle, Nonna's remaining time is short. She was readmitted to the hospice this afternoon after six days of rapid deterioration despite round-the-clock home care. Diana stayed at her apartment last night and slept not at all, as Nonna's discomfort worsened and disorientation set in. She cried out for her long-deceased mother, sister, and brother throughout the evening. Please continue to pray for the peace that surpasses understanding to fill Nonna's room and the hearts of all those who love her. Diana is especially close to her grandmother.

Too poetic to be missed

Sometimes God speaks with the gentleness and symbolism of a poet. Here are two divine musings from this weekend.

  • Saturday morning, Matt and Katy discovered that a dove built a nest outside Caleb's bedroom window and laid two eggs.

  • Cradling his son Caleb at the accident scene, Matt told him it was okay to go home to Jesus. Caleb closed his eyes, gasped seven more times, and breathed his last. At Monday's Celebration service, seven people received Jesus as Lord.


Matt and Katy Stevens are amazing. I've been a big fan for years, but never more so than this weekend. Despite suffering the worst kind of heartrending tragedy -- the untimely loss of their son -- never once did they express despair, rage, bitterness, or any of the other emotions one might expect. Grief, to be sure, was palpable, but what they did with their grief was heroic. The chose, despite the most extreme circumstances, to honor a faithful God; to thank Him for their time, however brief, with a son He entrusted to their care; to celebrate the richness of the short life Caleb lived; and to invite others to love life as fully as they taught Caleb to do. Matt summed up his gratitude at the gravesight, when he thanked Caleb for giving him ten of the best years of his life. Stevens family, I love you and you can count on us to continue to stand with you in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

Live Well

Caleb did. The Celebration service on Monday lived up to its billing. That a ten-year old boy could have touched so many and left a legacy of compassion and kindness is a testimony to great parents and authentic, child-like faith. Kudos to Pastor Kevin Harrison of Gospel Tabernacle for conducting the service with grace and dignity and delivering a fitting tribute from Caleb's own journals. (More on Caleb's writings later). Many thanks to the hundreds who have expressed their love and support via email, posts on this and Rudy's blogs, and at the viewing and the Celebration service. Both the funeral home on Sunday and the church on Monday were packed. And a special thank you to the Harrison family for opening your home to me as gracious hosts.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Celebration of Life

Caleb Josiah "Cub" Stevens 2/21/95 - 8/5/05 Viewing: Sunday, 4-6 pm, 7-9 pm Ruck Funeral Homes, Towson, MD Celebration Service: Monday, 10 am Gospel Tabernacle, Perry Hall, MD Details here. The family has asked that rather than sending flowers, a tax deductible gift would be made in Caleb’s honor to: Chain Reaction 1355 Deanwood Rd Baltimore, MD 21234 These gifts will be used to serve others in need as a tangible expression of God’s love.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

He died in daddy's arms

From Matt Stevens (8/5/05):

Today I held my son in my arms as he took his last breath. Caleb was 10 years old and lived an amazing life, only to have a car accident on a back country road end it. Besides the tragedy, I want to share with you what he spent his last day doing. Yesterday afternoon he lead some of the Chain Reaction interns as they did random acts of kindness. Last night he led the way as we took food to the doors of families who needed it. Then this morning he came to my room with a hot cup of coffee, and served it with a smile. Caleb was a prince who only knew how to love. We are so thankful for the 10 full years we had with him. Please pray for us over the next days and weeks as we celebrate his life and his love. Katy, Joshua, Micah and Jacob remain strong. We have a long road ahead, but thanks to those who call, email and stopped by we have much strength to draw from. Your love and support is overwhelming and empowering to us. Thank you!

Final arrangements will be made on Saturday afternoon and we will get those out as soon as we have them. We are asking that instead of flowers, gifts can be given to Chain Reaction in memory of Caleb. Thank you so very much! God’s Love, Matt, Katy and the boys PS Please keep the Miller family and those who have been interning with us in your prayers.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Home with Jesus

[Pastor Joe of Abounding Grace baptizing Caleb Stevens last August.]
Ten-year old missionary Caleb Stevens went home to be with Jesus in a car accident in Western Maryland this morning. Details are still sketchy.
Caleb, a cherished member of our ministry family, had committed his summer to work alongside his parents with Chain Reaction. His dad is one of my dearest friends and ministry partner. Please pray for Caleb's parents Matt and Katy Stevens and his brothers Josh, Micah, and Jacob. Please also pray for Joe and Sheri Miller and their children Brandon, Sam, and Hanah. Joe works with Matt coordinating Chain Reaction events throughout the country. Sheri, Josh, Brandon, and Sam were also in the accident and are in the hospital as I write this.

The Stevens family at a Christmas party at my home in December 2003. Big brother Josh (2nd from L) survived the accident.

Joe and Sheri Miller and their family. Sheri and sons Brandon and Sam also survived the accident.

Coalition News

Time sensitive Coalition announcements here.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

One year ago today, dad almost died

At approximately 3 pm, August 4, 2004, my dad was in a shoulda-been-fatal motorcycle accident on an Ohio highway. Providence and a full-faced helment saved his life. Read the full testimony here.

If you ever need a photographer

Call Mike Mowery. Check out his portfolio online.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

They sent Nonna home

[Nonna at her 80th birthday party, 2/24/05]

The doctors released Nonna from the hospital today with instructions to make her as comfortable as possible. There is nothing else, medically, they can do to help her. Either she receives a miracle, or she'll be reunited with her husband Richard and face-to-face with Jesus real soon. Please keep her, Diana, and the family in your prayers.

Congratulations, Frey Scholars!

The Helen and Marvin Frey Scholarship Fund recently announced its scholars for the 2005-2006 academic year. Congratulations, Iris DeJesus, Kevin Cedeno, and Jonathan Del Rio! Past recipients of the scholarship, which was endowed three years ago to provide college scholarships to deserving youth and young adults served by Abounding Grace Ministries and Generation Xcel, include Xcel cofounders Mei-Ling Garcia and Luis Velez, and Taina Santana. Our relationship with Mrs. Frey goes back to the spring of 1996, just after launching Generation Xcel. At the time Mrs. Frey was reviving the ministry her husband Marvin had run for decades with boys in the Lower East Side, with the goal of transfering responsibility for the various outreaches to a local ministry within five or so years. Mr. Frey had died several years earlier at the age of 74. Mr. Frey was most well known as the composer of more than 2,000 hymms. His most famous melody has become the international campfire classic, "Kum Ba Yah." Others include standards such as "He is Lord," "Peace Like a River," and "Jesus in the Morning (Praise Him, Praise Him)." The Freys' legacy endures not only among the kids we serve, but around the world as his music continues to usher people into the presence of God.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mac users - help wanted

Xcel is picking up 6 G3s this afternoon that were donated to one of our youth centers. The problem: empty harddrives. Any tips for accessing free Mac software licenses?

Monday, August 01, 2005

A total Gore?

I'm not a fan of Al Gore (although a picture of me standing behind him at MTV studios appeared in a Newsweek article during his 1992 run for vice president). But I am intrigued by what I've read of Current TV, his "24-hour youth cable network" that launched today.

"The cable channel claims it will do nothing less than democratize television, giving anyone with a digital camera and a computer the kind of power that used to be enjoyed only by the mainstream media. Current TV will invite a young army of 'citizen journalists' to submit edgy 15-second-to-15-minute video segments that the network is calling 'pods.' The idea is that no one knows better than young people what will hold the attention of the elusive, tech-savvy 18-to-34-year-old demographic." Full article here.

(I hate to say this, but) Canseco is credible

Disgraced major leaguer Jose Canseco fingered Rafael Palmeiro as a steroid abuser in his infamous best seller, prompting Palmeiro to point his finger at Congress and emphatically declare: "I have never used steroids. Period." Today, after testing positive under MLB's new testing program, baseball's most recent 3000 hits/500 homeruns "hero" amended his denial, ever so slightly: "I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period." (Emphasis mine.) He continued:

"I want to apologize to MLB, the Baltimore Orioles organization, my teammates, and most of all, my fans. Given my role with the No Tolerance Committee and my relationships with Congress, I feel the need to communicate a serious message to my fellow players and to kids everywhere."
A "serious message," indeed. I, for one, will never "intentionally" root for Palmeiro again. Here's to hoping that he receives "no tolerance" for the scam that has evidently been his career.

They were young and inexperienced, and they changed the world

I'm finally reading 1776, after several false starts the last two months, and am up to page 90 or so. One common theme has emerged time and again in the book, besides the obvious George Washington heroics (he of the "conspicuous courage under fire and a marked ability for leadership.") Washington's success as a general, and by extension the success of America's first revolution, was due in large part to his willingness (born largely of necessity) to trust young and inexperienced innovators. Men like Nathanael Greene, who,

"at age thirty-three, ... was the youngest general officer ..., and by conventional criterion an improbable choice for such responsibility. He had been a soldier for all of six months. Unlike any of the other American generals, he had never served in a campaign, never set foot on a battlefield. He was a foundryman by trade. What he knew of warfare and military command came almost entirely from books " (p. 20).
Henry Knox was another. It was Knox who suggested retreiving the canon at Fort Ticonderoga (and trekking them, at more than 120,000 pounds, three hundred miles in the dead of winter through snow, mountains, and ice) to reinforce the seige on Boston.
"That such a scheme hatched by a junior officer in his twenties who had no experience was transmitted so directly to the supreme commander, seriously considered, and acted upon, also marked an important difference between the civilian army of the Americans and that of the British. In an army were nearly everyone was new to the task of soldiering and fighting a war, almost anyone's ideas deserved a hearing" (p. 60).
When Knox had "fulfilled all expectations" merely two months later,

"The twenty-five-year-old Boston bookseller had proven himself a leader of remarkable ability, a man not only of enterprising ideas, but with the staying power to carry them out. Immediately, Washington put him in charge of the artillery" (pp. 82, 85).

Faithful in little, Washington increasingly trusted them with more.

"In Greene and Knox, Washington had found the best men possible, men of ability and energy who ... would never lose sight of what the war was about, no matter what was to come" (p. 111).
By contrast,
"The British military system, wherein commissions were bought and aristocrats given preference, denied many men of ability roles they should have played" (p. 78).

Catching up with the kids

Willie and Amber have stayed with us an extra week and a half, making 18 days so far. With Nonna's status still uncertain, we're not sure how much longer they'll be with us. I hope they stay a while longer. It's great fun having them around, and Judah's in his glory. One of the favorite make-believe games between Amber and him is "Brother and Sister." (Someday, buddy, someday.) Speaking of Judah's glory, I'm continuously amazed at his ability to influence others. I've written in the past about his prayers for Samuel C. and, more recently, his homeless friend Lonnie. He continues to pray for them faithfully every night, and now, Amber and Willie have enlisted in his intercessory crew. For the last two weeks, they have joined their prayers for "Judah's friends" Samuel and Lonnie with Judah's own.

Nonna survived another scare

Di's grandmother was admitted to the hospital again last weekend and the entire week was touch-and-go. On Thursday, the doctors prepared the family that if things didn't turn around in the next 24 hours, she might have as few as 7-14 days left. Friday morning's blood tests revealed a marked improvement, however, and by yesterday they were saying she may be able to return home this week. The saga continues. We appreciate your prayers.