Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year-end, tax-deductible giving

Support New York City at-risk youth, here.

Happy New Year!

"His parents didn't know about his journey until he told them by e-mail."

More on those tech-savy milennials: A 16-year old Florida boy plays hooky for a week, buys a plane ticket, and flys to Iraq. Mom and dad were clueless until after the fact. He's due home after the New Year. Says mom: "Once he's back and safe in my arms, then, yes, he's going to be without privileges as you can imagine."

The Economist weighs in on megachurches

From "Jesus, CEO: Churches as Businesses" (12/20/05):

... The corporate theme is not just a matter of appearances. Willow Creek has a mission statement (“to turn irreligious people into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ”) and a management team, a seven-step strategy and a set of ten core values. The church employs two MBAs—one from Harvard and one from Stanford—and boasts a consulting arm. It has even been given the ultimate business accolade: it is the subject of a Harvard Business School case-study. ...

This emphasis on customer-service is producing a predictable result: growth. John Vaughan, a consultant who specialises in mega-churches, argues that 2005 has been a landmark year. This was the first time an American church passed the 30,000-a-week attendance mark (it was Lakewood, which earlier this year moved into its new home in Houston's Compaq Center). It was also the first time that 1,000 churches counted as mega-churches (broadly, you qualify if 2,000 or more people attend). Willow Creek has seating for 7,200 (comfortable chairs, not wooden pews). The fastest-growing church in the country, Without Walls in Tampa, Florida, added 4,330 new members in the past year alone. ...

But this rapid growth brings problems in its wake too—problems that usually end up forcing churches to become yet more business-like and management-obsessed. The most obvious challenge is managing size. You cannot just muddle through if you have an annual income of $55m (like Lakewood in 2004) or employ 450 full- and part-time staff (like Willow Creek). Such establishments need to set up a management structure with finance departments and even human-resources departments. They also need to start thinking—like Mr Hybels—about the relationship between the religious leadership and the management team.

Another problem is subtler: how do you speak directly to individual parishioners when you have a church the size of a stadium? Some mega-churches have begun to see members drift away in search of more intimate organisations. And many mega-preachers worry that they are producing a flock who regard religion as nothing more than spectacle. So they have begun to adopt techniques that allow churches to be both big and small at once. ...

Yet three things can be said in the mega-churches' defence. The first is that they are simply responding to demand. Their target audience consists of baby-boomers who left the church in adolescence, who do not feel comfortable with overt displays of religiosity, who dread turning into their parents, and who apply the same consumerist mentality to spiritual life as they do to everything else. The mega-churches are using the tools of American society to spread religion where it would not otherwise exist.

The second line of defence is that they are simply adding to a menu of choices. There is no shortage of churches that offer more traditional fare—from Greek Orthodox to conservative Catholic. The third defence is more subtle: these churches are much less Disneyfied than they appear. They may be soft on the surface, but they are hard on the inside. The people at Lakewood believe that “the entire Bible is inspired by God, without error”. Cuddly old Rick Warren believes that “heaven and hell are real places” and that “Jesus is coming again”. You may start out in the figurative hell of a Disney theme-park, but you end up with the real thing.

The other common criticisms of the mega-churches—and the marriage of religion and business that they embody—are practical. One is that the mega-churches are a passing fad, doomed to be destroyed by a combination of elephantiasis and scandal. Another is that they are an idiosyncratic product of red-state America: amusing to look at, but irrelevant to the rest of the world. Again, neither argument is entirely convincing. ...

Friday, December 30, 2005

Definitely not role models

Evidently the Miami and LSU footballs teams weren't listening earlier this week when one of the great NFL coaches of our time, Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts, buried his eighteen-year-old son after an apparent suicide. At the funeral, Dungy appealed to football players specifically, and world-class athletes generally, to respect their influence as role models. Yet the Miami and LSU teams disgraced his plea in a melee following tonight's Peach Bowl, which left two Miami players unconscious and shamed two storied college football programs.

Not yet ashamed to admit it

I am a Knicks fan. And I don't care if Larry Brown is stealing Cablevision's money.

New Orleans sex offenders -- coming soon to a state near you?

"Governors in states that accepted Katrina evacuees are being urged to locate about 2,000 registered sex offenders who fled the Gulf region during the hurricane's mayhem and may have vanished from legally required tracking." Article.
Locate registered sex offenders in your neighborhood, here. Four live in my Brooklyn neighborhood. Thirty-two live in the East Village and Alphabet City neighborhoods served by Generation Xcel. And no doubt hundreds of unreported and uncharged, nevermind unregistered, offenders lurk around as well.

Google's "message in a bottle" really works

Rudy Carrasco tipped us off to the fact that name dropping in blog posts increases blog traffic from Google and other internet search engines, a lesson that's proven to be very true in Year 1 of this blog. I've had more hits from people searching for Tupac, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, A. R. Bernard, Dr. Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Lou Engle, Joe Trippi, Brian McLaren, Bono, and dozens of other newsmakers than any supposedly novel idea I've written. Curious ... So a couple of weeks ago I used this space for an experiment. I wanted to reconnect with an old friend whom I hadn't seen in ten years until he showed up as a contestant in Season 2 of Project Runway. "Email me, Andrae Gonzalo," the post requested. Exactly three weeks later, he did, and hopefully we get reaquainted after all these years! That's Big Brother Google using its connectivity for good.

The 700 Club

This is the 700th post on this blog. The title hopefully generates additional web traffic. If you're searching for the 700 Club and stumbled on this post, visit for a while. You're among friends (although we may not always agree).

More on the Myspace Generation

Check out Andrew Jones' article, "Linking to Cyberchurch" at Relevant Magazine:

"If you have engaged in the Internet through the reading of religious blogs, downloading church podcasts, watching videos or chatting online with Christian friends—chances are, you’ve participated in cyberchurch. Cyberchurch is one of the fastest growing macro-models of church today. So says George Barna in his book, Revolution, which describes cyberchurch as “the range of spiritual experiences delivered through the Internet.” There’s no doubt that the church has grown through the media of the Internet—but what’s in store for the church on the web in the future?"


Back in May I mentioned two friends who had been falsely accused by former associates. Today, the second was officially cleared of any wrongdoing! They both begin 2006 without the cloud of undeserved controversy hanging over their heads. Thanks for praying!

Happy 5th Birthday, Judah

He's an 01/02/01 baby. We had his kids party today, at Party Gym on Avenue Z. Pictures here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Time for my annual grooming

Thanks to a Christmas gift certificate from our beloved benefactors, Roger and Teresa McPhail, this year's annual grooming came with a full-fledged spa treatment at Cavale Tanuzi, courtesy of stylist Russel Azarin. Here's the before and after:

Last week. Picture by Michael Mowery After the hair wash During the cut. All done. Not too short, but definitely shorter. You decide: longer or shorter?

Christmas Pictures

Judah on Christmas Eve With cousin Joey Christmas morning, with new bike Christmas Day, striking a football pose with Eli Manning jersey Cousin Seth and Titi Taina JJ and the Drummer Boys (he's the youngest kid in the class, but towers over everybody!), at New Hope Christian Academy's Kindergarten and Pre-K Christmas Show. Judah's speaking debut: "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11, NASB) With Grandmas With Mommy More pictures here.

Wanted: Role Models

“I want to urge you to continue being who you are because our young boys in this country, they need to hear from you. If anything, be bolder in who you are. Our boys are getting a lot of the wrong messages about what it means to be a man in this world. About how you should act. How you should dress. How you should talk. And how you should treat people. They don't always get the right message, but you guys have the right messages.”
— Tony Dungy, NFL Head Coach to players at the funeral of his 18-year-old son, whose death was an apparent suicide. Article.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Behind the curve, again

Five years ago, a global evangelical ministry asked a group of youth workers how to become relevant to young people. We suggested leveraging the power of the internet to create a "virtual youth center" where kids could share interests and ideas, find their voice, and connect. Several months later they hired me to write a creative brief unpacking the idea. We called it "" The brief was scheduled to go before the ministry's Board in September 2001, but 9/11 derailed it. Subsequent management and program changes kept the idea shelved. Fast forward five years, and the cover of Business Week heralds "The MySpace Generation" (12/12/05):

"Preeminent among these virtual hangouts is, whose membership has nearly quadrupled since January alone, to 40 million members. Youngsters log on so obsessively that MySpace ranked No. 15 on the entire U.S. Internet in terms of page hits in October, according to Nielsen//NetRatings. Millions also hang out at other up-and-coming networks such as, which connects college students, and, an agglomeration of shared blogs. A second tier of some 300 smaller sites, such as Buzz-Oven,, and, operate under -- and often inside or next to -- the larger ones. "Although networks are still in their infancy, experts think they're already creating new forms of social behavior that blur the distinctions between online and real-world interactions. In fact, today's young generation largely ignores the difference. Most adults see the Web as a supplement to their daily lives. They tap into information, buy books or send flowers, exchange apartments, or link up with others who share passions for dogs, say, or opera. But for the most part, their social lives remain rooted in the traditional phone call and face-to-face interaction. "The MySpace generation, by contrast, lives comfortably in both worlds at once. Increasingly, America's middle- and upper-class youth use social networks as virtual community centers, a place to go and sit for a while (sometimes hours). While older folks come and go for a task, Adams and her social circle are just as likely to socialize online as off. This is partly a function of how much more comfortable young people are on the Web: Fully 87% of 12- to 17-year-olds use the Internet, vs. two-thirds of adults, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. "Teens also use many forms of media simultaneously. Fifteen- to eighteen-year-olds average nearly 6 1/2 hours a day watching TV, playing video games, and surfing the Net, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey. A quarter of that time, they're multitasking. The biggest increase: computer use for activities such as social networking, which has soared nearly threefold since 2000, to 1 hour and 22 minutes a day on average." Article.
Is it petty and childish to say, "ARGH"? My MySpace account.

New, personal affection for Time magazine

My cousin Juliann has always been a fun conversationalist, with diverse interests ranging from art and music to basketball and softball, politics and China. Plus she's brilliant (Princeton sophomore; publisher of a campus magazine; summer abroad in Beijing; blah, blah, blah). But the two-plus hours we spent talking on Christmas Day was special. She told me that two years ago she read Time's cover story on Christian missionaries who risk everything to share faith in Muslim countries (see Christianity Today's feedback on the article). The inspirational story caused her to question her own faith journey and found that it had little significance, if any, one her everyday life. So she began to dig deeper, beyond the cultural dimensions of her religious experience, and read the Book of Matthew for herself. There, the words came alive and she encountered Christ for the first time. She remains very much on a journey, with more questions right now than answers. Join the party! I, for one, have followed Christ for the better part of 25 years and have more questions today than ever before. Who knew the venerable journalists at Time magazine could point my cousin the skeptic back to Jesus? I'm guessing He had a hunch.

“I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.”

In response to my Prima Donna Christianity post, Matt Kruse emailed me about Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, Romanian Jews who found faith in Christ and were repeatedly imprisoned by the Ceausescu communist regime.

In 1945 Romanian Communists seized power and a million ‘invited’ Russian troops poured into the country. Pastor Wurmbrand ministered to his oppressed countrymen and engaged in bold evangelism to the Russian soldiers.

That same year, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand attended the Congress of Cults organized by the Romanian Communist government. Many religious leaders came forward to praise Communism and to swear loyalty to the new regime. Sabina said, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.” Richard warned, “If I do so, you’ll lose your husband.” She replied, “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.” Thus Richard declared to the 4,000 delegates, whose speeches were broadcast to the whole nation, that their duty is to glorify God and Christ alone. ...

On February 29, 1948, the secret police arrested Richard while on his way to church and took him to their headquarters. He was locked in a solitary cell and assigned as ‘Prisoner Number 1.’

In 1950, his wife Sabina was also imprisoned. She was forced to serve as a laborer on the Danube Canal project, leaving their nine-year-old son Mihai alone and homeless. Following her release in 1953, the Romanian authorities informed her that Richard had died in prison.

A doctor masquerading as a Communist Party member discovered Richard alive in prison. In a general amnesty, Richard was released in 1956 after serving eight-and-a-half years in prison. He was warned never to preach again. While in prison, he went through horrific tortures at the hands of the brutal secret police. Despite the treatments and the warnings he received from his persecutors, Richard resumed his work with the ‘underground’ churches after his release.

He was re-arrested in 1959 through the conspiracy of an associate, and sentenced to 25 years. He was accused of preaching ideas contrary to Communist doctrine. Due to increased political pressure from Western countries, Richard was granted another amnesty and released in 1964. (Full testimony here.)

Mr. and Mrs. Wurmbrand, and people like them, truly live their "best life now."

Kirk Franklin on overcoming pornography

On Oprah, earlier this month:

Kirk says he thought marriage would "fix" his obsession with pornography. "[But] that's when I started realizing how much it was an addiction." He found himself sneaking to watch videos while Tammy was sleeping and craving porn more than ever. When marriage didn't erase his feelings of loneliness, he realized the severity of his compulsion. "Then I had to accept that I had a problem," he says. ... Tammy recalls the moment her husband opened up about his addiction. "He sat me down and he said, 'Babe, I want to talk to you about a problem that I've been struggling with.' He had such sincerity in his eyes—you could tell that this pained him. For me, my immediate reaction was to just support him in it."
HT: Youth Ministry Forum, which links to the transcript and video, and Ralph.

Peep my homie's book

My friend Phil Jackson of Tha House in Chicago co-wrote The Hip-hop Church: Connecting With the Movement Shaping Our Culture (InterVarsity Press) with Efrem Smith. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my list for 2006. Check it out.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas reflections

First the bad news: Judah was sick for the fourth straight Christmas (he's only been alive for five of them!), this time with an inner ear infection that caused short-term hearing loss in his right ear, AND a stomach virus. Now the good news: Judah's always been a "great sick," so we still had fun. First words when he woke up on Chritsmas morning (after crawling into bed with mom and dad in the middle of the night): "Can I open my presents now?" Christmas Eve we celebrated at Diana's Uncle Roger and Aunt Teresa's house, after enjoying New Hope's Cantata ... which I left early to prevent the prime rib roast from overcooking. As it turns out, there was no need to worry. I prepared two roasts on the theory that one would be well done and the other medium/medium rare. The one I thought was well done was perfect for the medium/medium rare lovers. The other was, well, not done. The meat itself was delicious (as was the creamed spinach!), but if I'm going to be serious about this new hobby, my presentation skills need lots of improvement. Thank God for Roger and Teresa. 2005 has been a difficult year in many ways, but their steadfast love and support demonstrate that the Word still "becomes flesh and blood and moves into the neighbrohood." (John 1:14, The Message.) Boom 2 and Bill, Richie and Ellen, and of course Judah's incomparable big cousin Joey, made the evening special. Christmas morning was at mom and dad's home, then we drove to New Jersey to hang with mom's side of the family. Great times! Kevin and Erika are nearly 18 and applying to college. Juliann is a Princeton sophomore who was just elected "publisher" of a campus magazine and spent a summer in China. Eleven-year-old Christian is a wiry athlete whom Judah absolutely adores. Uncles Donnie and Richie (mom's younger brothers) and Aunts Barbara and Michele are four of the sweetest people alive (albeit with a biting sense of humor!). Pictures will be posted soon.

A moment of silence

... for the families of the 216,858 people who perished one year ago in the tsunami.

New Years blog resolution

My first year of blogging has been a blast! As a repressed writer, it's been a wonderfully liberating outlet to put e-pen to virtual paper and refine ideas for feedback and discussion. It's also helped establish new friendships and deepen old ones. And it never hurts that in my own corner of cyberspace I can brag about my family without reprisal! Last year the blogging thing was an e-xperiment for me. I enjoyed it so much that next year I hope to grow as a blogger in the following ways:

1. Engage discussions at other blogs more frequently. 2. Learn more about who reads this blog, and establish new cyber friendships. 3. Create an online space where people can ask hard questions. 4. Figure out how to provoke more conversations.
What are other improvements you would like to see here in 2006?

My favorite things from 2005

This is just a sampling... TV Shows Law and Order Law and Order: SVU Law and Order: Criminal Intent VH1: Driven American Chopper Iron Chef America Almost anything else on Food Network Sports Center Yankee Games on YES MSNBC or Fox News or MTV/VH1 or History Channel or PBS Emerican Experience to kill time Books Blue Like Jazz A New Kind of Christian The Revolution will not be Televised 1776 Blink Summoned to Lead The Story We Find Ourselves in Searching for God Knows What Tipping Point The Last Word and the Word After That Unfinished Books Freakonomics Mystery of Capital Pop Culture Moment U2 concert at Staples Center, luxury box seats Seeing Chronicles of Narnia on big screen Introducing Judah to Star Wars movies Giving Judah a bicycle, Nintendo DS, sporting equipment, and a NY Giants jersey for Christmas and his birthday Discovering my teens are all blogging Taking Judah to Baseball Hall of Fame Ministry Moments Judah's response to BibleMan Praying with Billy Graham moments before his final sermon Hiring Xcel graduates as staff Navigating leadership transitions at Coalition, Xcel After School, and Xpress Watching 3 Xcellers share testimonies on Jumbotron at Billy Graham Crusade Speaking more Writing more Teaching at Alliance Theological Seminary Favorite New Music Ozomatli New (old) Hobbies Cooking Building legos and playing action figures with Judah

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hark, the Daily News proclaims

From today's New York Daily News "Blog Patrol" column, by Dawn Eden:

'Twas the night before Christmas, and the preachers were stirring - writing their blogs. Here's a sampling of the ways that spiritual leaders are using their blogs today to share the true meaning of Christmas and Chanukah. ... Pastor Jeremy Del Rio, director of Manhattan youth development agency Generation Xcel (
"Christmas says a loving God became flesh to live among humanity. His method was unseemly (unwed mothers were capital criminals), unsanitary (barnyard birth), controversial (astrologers perceived it from stars), lowly (shepherds, not innkeepers, understood), politically radioactive (Jesus was "king" of occupied people), deadly (the king slaughtered innocents in response) and religiously offensive ('Messiah'). Yet within that scandal we find joy."

Friday, December 23, 2005

(Click picture for larger image)

Prima donna Christianity

John Teter links to a disturbing discussion about a recent incident where Joel Osteen's wife and children were apparently removed from an airplane after causing a disturbance onboard. While I met Joel and his wife once, and my wife and son enjoyed an afternoon playing with their children at a hotel pool, I'm totally unqualified to pass judgment on them or their family or this story. In fact, in our very limited experience the Osteens came across as genuinely nice people, and I respect the fact that as celebrities, never mind religious figures, they have a bullseye on their backs that may attract rumor and unfair innuendo. That said, the discussion points to very real problems with how some evangelicals (again, I do not know enough about Osteen's ministry to lump him in this category) have cheapened the gospel by seeming to equate material success and status with "God's favor." To such theology, I can't help but ask: Was Job removed from God's favor when his kids died and his house burned to the ground and boils ravaged his body? Was David outside of God's favor when he lived on the lam among caves and foraged for food in deserts? Had Joseph violated God's favor when he was sold as a slave, wrongfully accused of rape, and imprisoned for years for a crime he never committed? Had Hosea lost favor when God told him to marry a prostitute and suffer the indignities that came with her abandonment? Was Jesus outside of God's favor when his broken body hung naked from a tree (or for that matter when he was born in a barn)? Had Stephen fallen into disfavor when he was stoned to death, or had Paul - Stephen's redeemed executioner - disinherited God's favor when he was shipwrecked, imprisoned, stoned, beaten, and ultimately martyred? On the countary, there's much to be said for suffering as a mark of God's favor. In fact, Jesus himself said it this way:

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)
James offered:
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4)
And Peter had this to say:
"But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 'Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.' ... It is better, if it is God's will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil." (1 Pet 3:14, 17)
I'll take their truth, and 66 books of complicated Scripture, over our Americanized fluff anyday. What do you think?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Christmas, from the Del Rios

(L-R, back: Jonathan, Mei-Ling, Jamie, Taina, me, Diana front: Judah, mom, dad, Seth)
(TiTi Mei, with mom and dad)
("Uncle" Dave) Pictures courtesy Michael Mowery

Judah, Meet Jesus: Reflections on Childlike Faith

[Below is my January column for the Tri-State Voice, syndicated in Next Wave, Youth Ministry Exchange]

I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. – Jesus, to his disciples (Matthew 18:3, NIV)
"Why didn't we help him?" As Judah's confused yet compassionate eyes gazed at mine, his words cut deep. We had just passed a panhandler in Chinatown on the way to introduce mom to soupy dumplings. I had taken Judah the night before, just the two of us, on a father-son date. He enjoyed the dumplings so much, and the practice chopsticks the waiter taught him how to use, that he wanted to bring mom the next night. "What do you mean, why didn't we help?" I thought. "We're on family time." The rationalization didn't cut it for me, however, so I figured it would mean even less to him. I promised that if the man was still there after we ate then we could give him some money. On the way back to the car, we passed the man a second time. No longer panhandling, he sat on a stoop with his head between his legs. I gave Judah a handful of coins and took him to the man. "Excuse me, my son has something he wants to give you," I said. Slowly the man raised his head and watched Judah approach, hand outstretched. The man grabbed his hand and with tears welling up in his eyes, said, "God loves you, boy." Later Judah offered him his ice cream cone and the tears streamed down his face. The ice broken, the man introduced himself as "Lonnie." He said he'd been strung out for 30 years and homeless for 25. At one time he was a Christian, but he turned his back on God and became hooked on crack cocaine and alcohol. He said he's been off drugs for 12 years, but the booze he can't shake. He wept as he told me that Judah was the sixth person who stopped to tell him that God loves him that day. He kept saying he was scared, afraid that he would go to sleep and not wake up. Judah looked at him lovingly, straight in the eyes and said: "Everyone is scared of something." With that, more tears. Lonnie was chilly, so we gave him Judah's beachtowel from the car, and a brand new Bible I had bought for myself that weekend. But first he asked if Judah would pray for him. He did, along with mom and dad. There we stood, on the corner of Bayard and Mott Streets, around the corner from the ice cream shop, minutes removed from soupy dumplings, spending quality time with Jesus, in the person of a homeless man. "Inasmuch as you've [loved] the least of these," Jesus said, you've done it unto me." Family time, indeed. The best kind. Six months later, Judah still prays for Lonnie at bedtime, and his heart remains sensitive to the needs of people. Following Hurricane Katrina, again with tears in his eyes, Judah prayed that God would give its victims "a new life, a better life." He then declared: "I want to go to states where people are homeless, don't have any food or mom or dad. I want to try and find their mom and dad and I want to try and find them food and love them." Judah turns five this month. Among the other pearls of wisdom he offered last year is the following letter he dictated for his grandpa: "Jesus was put on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus stopped the storm on the ship. Jesus' body was gone from the tomb. Jesus blessed the little boy's food. "Jesus loves us. Jesus takes care of us. He wants us to love each other. He wants us to pray every day. We go to church and praise God. He wants us to tell others about him. "God made everything. Mary had a son that the angel told to name him Jesus. Jesus is God. How could Jesus be God? "Jesus made Judah and other people too. "Jesus gave us food and restaurants." Words to live by in 2006. - Jeremy Del Rio, Esq. directs Generation Xcel in Manhattan. Judah teaches Jeremy how to eXcel at their home in Brooklyn. For more on both, visit

Matt's offering some great pearls

Over at his blog. Check them out, including: My First Christmas in Heaven (a poem about Caleb) and Who's Stealing the Light?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bronx Cheer

Merry Christmas to my friends in Red Sox Nation.

TWU: Tarnished Workers Undone

If I'm a rank-and-file member of the local Transit Workers Union, I'm not too pleased with my leaders right about now. The holiday traffic messes and devastating economic impact generated by the strike have caused a public backlash, not to mention court imposed $1 million-per-day fines for the Union and possible jail time and fines for strike leaders. Even the International Transit Workers Union (to which the local branch belongs) has rebuked the illegal job action and encouraged the members to "report to work." According to CNN, the strike's impact "By the Numbers":

• 7 million-plus -- Daily commuters affected • 30,000-plus -- Transit workers on strike • $440 million-plus -- Daily economic loss to city • $1 million -- Daily fine imposed against Transport Workers Union • 490 -- Subway stations affected • 244 -- Bus routes affected • 10,693 -- Buses and subway cars affected • 55.7% -- New York City residents who don't own a car • 24 F -- Temperature in New York at 9 a.m. ET
Sources: Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2000 U.S. census, New York Office of Emergency Management, court papers

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Meeting Billy Graham

Back in June, I wrote about praying with Dr. Billy Graham 25 minutes before he preached his last Crusade sermon. I received the pictures today, just in time for Christmas!

Being introduced by Dr. A. R. Bernard My youth committee co-chair Dimas Saleberrios Holding Dr. Graham's hand during prayer With Dimas, my father, Rev. Bob Johannsen, and Dr. Bernard
This was one of those God moments that I'll remember for the rest of my life. For more on the Greater New York Billy Graham Crusade, check out my crusade diary in the June archive.

Not too late to make wishes Christmas reality

(Picture by Michael Mowery)
Judah and Daddy, last Thursday at Abounding Grace's Christmas pageant, "The Verdict." It's not too late to make Judah's Wish List a Christmas reality.

New York Times invites readers to live the Gospel

In an article attacking Bill O’Reilly, the NYT invites us all to live the Gospel in the midst of evil:

So I have a challenge for Mr. O’Reilly: If you really want to defend traditional values, then come with me on a trip to Darfur. I’ll introduce you to mothers who have had their babies clubbed to death in front of them, to teenage girls who have been gang-raped and then mutilated - and to the government-armed thugs who do these things. You’ll have to leave your studio, Bill. You’ll encounter pure evil. If you’re like me, you’ll be scared. If you try to bully some of the goons in Darfur, they’ll just hack your head off. But you’ll also meet some genuine conservative Christians - aid workers who live the Gospel instead of sputtering about it - and you’ll finally be using your talents for an important cause.
More Darfur info here. HT: Rudy.

Intelligent Design - An Unconsititutional Theory?

A Pennsylvania federal judge thinks so. Today he entered the outer reaches of reason by ruling that to mention Intelligent Design theory in biology class somehow violates the constitution. The offending reference was a brief statement, read once in class, that says (in its entirety):

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin's theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin's theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin's view. The reference book, "Of Pandas and People," is available in the library along with other resources for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

I'm not understanding how suggesting to young people that they should research a complicated issue in order to make informed decisions about their personal conclusions offends the Constitution, except in a hypersensitive, politically correct universe where no one questions anyone and we all have to drink the proverbial Kool Aid. What an artificially homogenous place that would be, hardly anticipated by the Constitutional framers who were known to engage to spirited debates and very public disagreements in their day.

Prayer Summit

Just got off a conference call about the emerging leader focus at the upcoming Pastors Prayer Summit. Can't say too much right now, but it's gonna be good! Sign up today to qualify for the scholarship as space is filling quickly.


Working from home this morning because our friends at the MTA are on strike. No subways or buses, combined with Mayor Bloomberg's genius solution of limiting all cars in lower Manhattan to a minimum of FOUR passengers before 11 am, means no way of getting to the office. Seven million commuters are feeling the pinch, and the City will lose up to $400 million in revenues PER DAY.

Chronicles of Narnia - What's the meaning of the wardrobe?

Diana and I went to see Narnia last night. Fun movie, fitting for the season of life in which we find our ministry. Aslan's on the move, and the ice is beginning to thaw! One question I've always wondered about the book, and now the movie: Why a wardrobe? The lion, the witch, the sacrifice and resurrection, turkish delight, winter, even four sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, those metaphors are fairly straightforward. But why did C.S. Lewis present the portal to Narnia as a wardrobe? He's too smart a guy and too clever a writer not to have had some meaning in his chosen point of entry. Last night I had an idea. Could the wardrobe in the context of the larger story be a reference to the idea that childlike faith allows us to exchange our filthy rags of self-righteousness for robes of divine righteousness? See, for example, Isaiah 64:6 ("all our righteous acts are like filthy rags"); Colossians 3:12 ("Therefore ... clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience"); Luke 15:22 (The father's response to the prodigal: "Bring the best robe and put it on him"). What do you think?

Nice to see generoisty get its due

Congratulations to Time magazine's people of the year - Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates -- for demonstrating that it's better to give than to receive.

"The rocker's job is to be raucous, grab our attention. The engineers' job is to make things work. 2005 is the year they turned the corner, when Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest; now those countries can spend the money on health and schools rather than interest payments--and have no more excuses for not doing so. The Gateses, having built the world's biggest charity, with a $29 billion endowment, spent the year giving more money away faster than anyone ever has, including nearly half a billion dollars for the Grand Challenges, in which they asked the very best brains in the world how they would solve a huge problem, like inventing a vaccine that needs no needles and no refrigeration, if they had the money to do it." Article.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I am Salvation: the Promise of Christmas

I am Salvation. Not me. Yeshua. The name Yeshua, Hebrew for "Jesus," is a derivative of Joshua, which derives from Hoshua. Hoshua means "salvation." Moses changed Hoshua's name to "Joshua" (Numbers 13:16) which mean "God is salvation." And God -- who identified himself to Moses as "I am who I am" -- named his son Yeshua, which means, "I am salvation." Matthew 1:19-25 tells the story. Mary's fiance Joseph is dismayed by her pregnancy. An angel appears to assure him that the baby is God's doing. He then instructs Joseph to name the baby Jesus, "because he will save his people from their sins" (v. 21). He will save the people from their sins. From. We don't have stay stuck in sin! And when we are, we repent by turning from sin and back to Jesus. Pastor Roger preached on the birth names of God's son this morning. Jesus actually had two names. While God named Yeshua "I am salvation," the people of Israel recognized him as Immanuel, which means, "God with us" (v. 23, quoting Isaiah 7:14). I preached on Isaiah 7 last year at UYWI. Check it here, "A Place of Hope."

The Christmas Shoes

Whose Christmas shoes will you buy this year?

"Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there's not much time You see she's been sick for quite a while And I know these shoes would make her smile And I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight I knew I'd caught a glimpse of heaven's love As he thanked me and ran out I knew that God had sent that little boy To remind me just what Christmas is all about"
From "The Christmas Shoes," by Newsong. Full Lyrics. Video.

Congratulations, Incoming Coalition Leaders

The December Coalition of Urban Youth Workers meeting saw the election of a new leadership council beginning January 2006-June 2007. Congratulations! More here.

Like sons, like fathers

Generation Xcel site director CoCo's dad, Dr. Louis Carlo, Sr. Incoming Coalition council member Esteban Rivera's dad, Dr. Ray Rivera Rudy Carrasco's spiritual dad, Dr. John Perkins, getting arrested at 76 yrs. old
Pictures from last week's prayer protest for a moral budget. More photos and testimonies here.

New Contributor to Youth Ministry Exchange

Youth Ministry Exchange published "Fight of the Fatherless" here. Check it out, and contribute to the online discussion.

Judah's convinced, they're the best movies ever!

Judah watched the original two Stars Wars movies this weekend for the first time. He's an avid collector of Star Wars cards and has a growing collection of the action figures, so I figured it was time to introduce him to the movies. We saw part 1 last night and part 2 today. He's hooked. We're all set to watch Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace during his winter break next week. We'll wait a few months, at least, for Revenge of the Sith, and I'm dreading sitting through Attack of the Clones again, but next week Judah will fall in love with Ewoks, and probably even Jar Jar Binks.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Generation Xcel - Unconventional Christmas Appeal

Dearest Friends: In between bronchitis and deadlines I've been agonizing about crafting the perfect Christmas greeting. Then I realized the labor and hassel were another exercise in missing the point. Christmas is not about dressing up ever so neatly and presenting ourselves in a glowing light. As I wrote in a recent article:

The Christmas story we celebrate this month tells the story of the "firstborn among many brethren," (among whom are we) yet we sanitize the tale (for the sake of the kids, or us?) by focusing on the angelic visitations and cuddly sheep. At its core, however, Christ's birth was unseemly (single mothers were capital criminals); unsanitary (born in a barn, surrounded by farm animals, stench, and bugs); controversial (astrologers were the first to perceive it, by reading the stars); lowly (shepherds got it, innkeepers did not); dangerous (it provoked the ire of a villainous king); deadly (the king slaughtered innocents in response); not to mention politically radioactive (Jesus was "king" of an occupied people) and religiously scandalous ("Messiah"). The oft overlooked Christmas narrative of John 1 puts it this way: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

So in keeping with John 1, I invite you to dwell among the teenagers Generation Xcel loves and serves for a couple of paragraphs. First, their world, in their own words:

  • "Why should I care so much for everyone else when no one gives a s!*# about me?"
  • "y do guys have to say the wrong things, @ the wrong time, @ the wrong places...just to say that they like u but make u feel like s!*#?"
  • "When you are sad, ....I will get you drunk and help you plot revenge against the sorry b@$!@&! who made you sad."
  • "Why is it that life sucks? Why couldn't I have just been happy with it when I had it?"
  • "every freaking thing is going wrong. because of my mother who doesn't freaking listen. ... i can't stand her!"
  • "Ima turn you straight......and blow your back"

These are just a few of the online comments generated by teens I know. They're good kids -- great kids, actually -- but they're finding their way and trying to make sense of emotional conflicts, relationship dramas, family strife, sexuality, purpose. All the important stuff that too many adults never figure out either. In response, Xcel chooses not to condescend to them or resent them or give up on them. Instead, we seek to understand them. Hear them. Forgive them. Restore them. Guide them. Love them. This Christmas, consider empowering us to reach them more effectively in 2006 by sending a year-end, tax-deductible donation. If ever you've considered donating, now is a critically important time. This past year saw many financial challenges, and every penny raised by this appeal will directly support our ongoing after-school programs. Contribute online here, or by mail to:

Generation Xcel 9 East 7th Street New York, NY 10003

Wishing you an unconventional Christmas, Jeremy Del Rio, Esq. Executive Director

The meaning of Christmas, according to Jesus' mommy

"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." Luke 1:46-53

In their own words

"Why should I care so much for everyone else when no one gives a s!*# about me?" "y do guys have to say the wrong things, @ the wrong time, @ the wrong places...just to say that they like u but make u feel like s!*#?" "When you are sad, ....I will get you drunk and help you plot revenge against the sorry b@$!@&! who made you sad." "Why is it that life sucks? Why couldn't I have just been happy with it when I had it?" "every freaking thing is going wrong. because of my mother who doesn't freaking listen. ... i can't stand her!" "Ima turn you straight......and blow your back"

Welcome to the world of teenagers, in their own words. These are just a few of the online comments generated by teens I know. They're good kids -- great kids, actually -- but they're finding their way and trying to make sense of emotional conflicts, relationship dramas, family strife, sexuality, purpose. All the important stuff that too many adults never figure out either.

Don't condescend to them or resent them or give up on them.

Seek to understand them. Hear them. Forgive them. Restore them. Guide them. Love them.

Easier said than done? What do you think?

Just another day in the march towards freedom

Ten million eligible voters (2/3) went to the Iraqi polls today to elect their first full-time government since the fall of Sadaam:

"The high turnout was remarkable, considering curfews, bulked-up security, border closings, road closures and traffic bans across the country. In some cases, voters had to take long walks to get to polls. Many were seen happily thrusting their purple ink-stained fingers at photographers -- the colored fingers a symbol of Iraq's free elections." Story. [Picture courtesy of Rudy.]

New York without a subway

... is like L.A. without a freeway or an airport without a runway. Yet it might happen tomorrow, if the transit workers strike twelve hours from now as planned.

There in Spirit

A bout with bronchitis (mine) and pneumonia (my wife's) prevented me from getting arrested at the Capitol in DC yesterday along with Jim Wallis, John Perkins and others. But much love and respect to those who are willing to speak prophetically against injustice. For more on the prayer protest against domestic poverty, read: More Than 100 Arrested in Capitol Protest (AP): "Wallis called the House budget plan, which would produce $50 billion in savings over five years, 'the real Christmas scandal,' a reference to a campaign by some conservative Christian groups against the greeting 'Happy holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas.''" A Religious Protest Largely From the Left (Washington Post): "Why in recent years have conservative Christians asserted their influence on efforts to relieve Third World debt, AIDS in Africa, strife in Sudan and international sex trafficking -- but remained on the sidelines while liberal Christians protest domestic spending cuts?" `Christmas scandal' outcry (Chicago Tribune): "'When our government stands before God Almighty, Jesus will say, I was hungry but you cut food stamps,' Haynes said. 'I was thirsty but you cut Pell grants. When I needed surgery I was not part of your social class so I was denied access.'" (The thirsty/Pell grant reference is odd, but the point is clear.)

Someone call the exterminator

Could this be legit? I was given a business card from a reputable organization with the name "Attracta Roche" on it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Che the Christmas Icon

63% of those surveyed by Church Marketing Sucks didn't like the Che Guevera inspired Christmas ad. I think it's pretty clever.

Youth Workers Needed at New York Prayer Summit

The Coalition of Urban Youth Workers joins Concerts of Prayer Geater New York in inviting emerging leaders and youth workers to participate in the 15th annual Pastors Prayer Summit:

January 23-25, 2006 Tuscarora Conference Center Mt. Bethel, PA (1 hr. from NYC)
Gather with 300 pastors to "Seek His Face" for the children and youth of Greater New York. Details and Registration info here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Class Act

I'm loathe to commend a New England sports hero for anything, but Tom Brady's acceptance speech upon receiving Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year Award last week (video) was a class act:

"Fifteen years ago, I was a freshman in high school. I started out as the backup quarterback on a team that was 0-8. You can imagine how bad I was. I couldn't even start on a team that didn't win a game. I want to read you something that Leigh Montville wrote about Joe Montana [in the 1990 Sportsman of the Year profile]:
'You look at the poster on the bedroom wall. You could be Joe Montana. Yes, you could. You throw your official NFL ball into the air, narrowly missing the model airplanes hanging from the ceiling by string. You catch the ball and dive onto the bed. Montana to Rice. Touchdown. You could do that. You could hear the same noises Joe Montana hears. You could do the same things he does. Yes, you could.'
"That was me 15 years ago. "I think about this article [profiling Brady in this week's SI], and maybe there's a kid out there who's going to read this article and think big, and have just as big a dream as I had when I read the article on Joe. I think that's something that would mean more to me than any award that I could ever get."

Reindeer reflections, ELAC style

Abner's got a humorous take on Rudolph, the marginalized reindeer exploited by the fat white man for a buck and celebrated by a hypocritical public thirsty for material gain. Check it out.

Monday, December 12, 2005

"Church Planting: A Threat to the Constitution"?

Marci Hamilton, a professor at Cardozo Law School, wants you to think so. At issue for the professor is the most recent federal court decision from November 2005, which ruled that New York City cannot prevent churches from renting school buildings for Sunday morning worship. Specifically, the judge enjoined the Department of Education from enforcing its recently adopted regulation:

"No permit shall be granted for the purpose of holding religious worship services, or otherwise using a school as a house of worship. Permits may be granted to religious clubs for students that are sponsored by outside organizations and otherwise satisfy the requirements of this chapter on the same basis that they are granted to other clubs for students that are sponsored by outside organizations."
What the Court essentially said is that if public buildings (specifically school buildings) are available for rent to community groups for social, civic, or entertainment purposes, they must also be available to community groups for religious purposes. To restrict use from one group while allowing it for others is an unconstitutional "viewpoint discrimination." But rather than discuss the case on its legal merits, the professor resorts to fear mongering and hyperbole:
"An evangelical movement - the record showed - has embarked on a systematic campaign to exploit public buildings for its own purposes. The movement is known as 'church-planting,' and the idea behind it is that churches will be 'planted' in public buildings, where they will 'grow.'" [Ital. added]
And, perhaps even more silly:
"What is next? Will the Supreme Court be turned into the Cathedral of the Supreme Court on those days when oral argument is not being held?"
This is almost as ludicrous as right-wing reactionaries believing that the Constitution is a fundamentally sacred document.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

My dad says the Jets should hire me ...

... to do chapel services for every team they face! The NFL Jets suck this year. Injuries derailed what was a promising season basically before it began. Today they played the Oakland Raiders, who haven't exactly had a great season either and somehow found a way to make the Jets look competitive. Last night I had the privilege of speaking at the Raiders' chapel service. So my father put two and two together and decided the Jets should hire me. Actually, the Jets had nothing to do with it. Much love and appreciation go to Adam Ybarra, Raiders' team chaplain and president of The Tenacious Group, for the invitation, and Brian Meza who introduced us.

CCDA blogging

One of the highlights of the CCDA conference last month was pinch hitting for Rudy to co-present the City Blogging workshop with Neil Cox. Neil's a blog machine while I'm still a relative newbie, so it made for a fun presentation. Neil just posted a question from Linda Dyer, one of the workshop participants, and a terrific response:

"Hi, Neil. The workshop at the CCDA conference was sooooo motivational. I came home and started (after catching up on work I'd missed while gone) blogging! I suppose I'll get more and more ideas as I visit others' blogs, but in my eagerness to "strike while the iron's hot" I went ahead and got started. I figured I could learn "in process". I have been having a lot of fun playing with my new blogs the past couple of weeks, but haven't been able to find the "help" topic for how to add my contact info on the sidebar. Can you direct me? Thanks for your help. "
Read Neil's answer, and other great insights, here. Also, check out his "U B Bloggin" curriculum for step-by-step info on how to get started in the blogosphere. Linda has started three (3!) blogs since CCDA, including:
Amalgamated Burns Blog, Amusing Moment, and Columbia Christians.
Show her some love with a visit!

Next Wave E-Zine ...

... published "Barnyard Births" and "I Went to See U2" in its December issue.

He melts me

Judah suffered a 4-year old meltdown at church this morning when he got nervous singing with the other children at their Christmas presentation. After the service, he looked at me tenderly in the eyes and said:

"Dad, thanks for helping me try to sing this morning. You're a little tough, but you're still the best daddy!"
With that, I suffered a meltdown of my own.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Shayla's got a message

Jesus is her boss ... ... so she wants you to know she loves you. With her daddy, my cousin Steven Brattli, youth pastor of Word of Christ International Church and, unofficially, Bradenton's entreprenuer of the year. If you're in Florida, check out one of WOCIC's Encounter Retreats for a life-changing experience.