Someone stole my original blog address, and Blogger still hasn't given it back!
Seriously. This week I was trying to fix the problems importing 1,100+ posts from my Blogspot account to the new one and somehow I left the domain vulnerable to a spammer who snatched it. Immediately. We’re talking three or four hours max. I’m trying to get Blogger to give me the domain back. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, I figured out a more efficient way to import the posts manually (still long and tedious, but better than the previous method). The catch is I’m losing the comments. Argh! It may be that I have to settle for importing the original posts with the comments archived offsite.
Still can't walk and chew gum at the same time
More silliness from our friends rebuilding Ground Zero: the Daily News reports that a contractor banned by the city and feds from government contracts due to alleged mob ties is nonetheless blasting bedrock for the future foundation of the Freedom Tower. Article.
Fewer than 4 in 10 NYC high school students graduate
"Education Week, which published the study, determined that only Detroit, with a 21.7% graduation rate, and Baltimore, with 38.5%, had a smaller percentage of kids earning diplomas in 2003 - the most recent national data available." Article.See also, NPR's report; Urban Institute.
"It was like going to bed single and waking up married"
So says Eric Metaxas of his conversion experience in this NY Daily News article about Socrates in the City, a lecture series that "provides a place where busy people in suits and sports jackets can discuss ... 'life, God and other small topics.'"
For he's a jolly good graduate
What his teacher wrote on his "Student of the Month" award:
"Judah is our youngest and tallest student and one of our 'SPIRITUAL GIANTS.' He loves to pray for his family and friends and he treasures the family God has given him. Miss Cates is proud of Judah. He is a diligent work and willing to help his classmates. Judah's sensitive, tender heart is going to make him a rare man of God!"
Amen, and thank God for my very own spiritual giant!
Great movie. Judah loved it. So did his dad, especially the ending: classy, courageous, character. Not gonna give away the details, but will encourage ya'll to peep that ride.
I gave my first commencement address on Saturday at Flushing Christian School (8th grade), a graduation of sorts for me as well as the students. Nineteen years ago, I was a self-conscious 8th grader giving the saluditory speach at my own junior high school graduation (self conscious mainly because of the make-up hiding bruising from a high and tight little league fastball that had found my face two nights earlier!).
Speaking for a Christian school allowed for a Biblical-based reflection, appropriate, because Scripture speaks time and again of life as a "journey" encompassing many "seasons" that move us "from glory to glory" and "faith to faith." All of the great biblical characters move from one phase to another, and many passages celebrate past accomplishments even as they contemplate new endeavors.
One such passage, Joshua 1:6-8, records the commencement address God gave Joshua as he was graduating from the University of Moses. It identifies three principles every graduate must take with them in order to "be prosperous and successful" (v. 8b) in the next season of their lives.
1. Have courage: "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous." (v. 6-7a)
Graduations are times of mixed emotions, ranging from pride for achieving a milestone to fear about what awaits us in an unfamiliar world. God says to move forward anyway, with courage, trusting that His plan is made perfect in our uncertainty and weaknesses.
2. Be consistent: "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go." (v. 7b)
As I prepared for my original 8th grade speech, my mother dropped a nugget of truth that I've never forgotten: "In consistency lies the power." Our lives are the sum total of the ordinary choices we make every day. Disciplined choices consistently made keep us tracking with God's plan and produce lives worthy of his name.
3. Remain Christ-centered: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. " (v. 8a)
Graduates have their lives turned upside down over night. When they are finally comfortable in one setting and have achieved the pinacle of status therein, it's time to move on. When the transition involves teenagers, the added realities of adolecense and high school society compound the challenges. Meditating on Christ and who He calls us to be reveals identity and belonging.
Paul restates the same principles in another of the great commencement passages in Philippians 3:12-16 where he urges us to "forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead," while also "living up to what we have already attained."
Related: Judah graduates from Kindergarten on Tuesday.
Coming soon to a web browser near you.
[Illustration by Judah]
All things work together
Last December, the NFL family was rocked with the news that the Colts' classy head coach Tony Dungy's son James had committed suicide. (I blogged about it here and here.) In the months since then, Coach Dungy has coped with the tragedy with his usual grace and dignity. ESPN chronicles his story in a moving Father's Day article called "Amazing Grace":
"Dungy is able to live with what other parents who have lost children often describe as an unbearable pain because of his faith. Great coaches have the ability to see the game differently. Great men are able to view life's unfortunate circumstances from a unique perspective. Dungy's doing that.
"Dungy, a devout Christian, believes no matter what happens that all things work together for good for those who love the Lord. We're talking about a man who views it as a blessing that Pittsburgh moved him from quarterback to defensive back in the mid-1970s, because it was only then that he got to room with Donnie Shell, with whom Dungy would study the Bible as much as they did the Steelers' playbook." Article.
Katrina relief money funds erotica and exotica while DHS Chief slashes counter-terrorism dollars
"A $200 bottle of champagne from Hooters and $300 worth of 'Girls Gone Wild' videos were among items bought with debit cards handed out by FEMA to help hurricane victims, auditors probing $1 billion in potential waste and fraud have found." Article.
In yet another Katrina related FEMA fiasco, auditors reported earlier this week up to $1 billion in fraud by purported victims of the worst natural disaster in US history. Emergency money that was supposed to be used for "legitimate disaster needs" was instead spent on strip clubs, vacations, and jewlery.
Anecdotally, there's been buzz about suspected fraud since the first relief checks were being written, but now the early numbers suggest that the scope was far greater than anyone could have reasonably suspected. The Washington pundits rightly are up in arms about what can be done to plug the gaping holes in a system that could allow this to happen in the first place.
I'm more concerned about what this says about us as a people that in a crisis, we could take emergency money for food and instead spend it at strip joints. Abner's been writing on these themes for a while. Check his post on Enablement as a good place to start.
RELATED: Even as Katrina's FEMA fiascos continue to grow, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff (whose agency manages FEMA) and his bureacratic minions decided to cut counter-terrorism funding to New York City by more than 40% ($83 million) while raising it in smaller cities like Louisville (up 70 percent), Charlotte (64 percent) and St. Louis (31 percent). The rationale for the cutbacks included the preposterous finding that New York contains no "national monuments." Apparently in the space between the ears at DHS, the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Brooklyn Bridge, United Nations, and even the departed World Trade Center carry the same national significance as, say, Peoria's Main Street or Apple Valley's orchard farms.
In response, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly outlined 17 reasons (actual terror attacks and/or foiled terror plots in the city since 1990) why New York should receive the lion's share of counter-terrorism dollars:
UPDATE, 6/16: "Cherty" passes the buck
, once again, this time blaming consulting giant Booz Allen for the funding cuts.
Congrats to Jonathan for Taking Adopt-a-School to a Higher Level
In April we celebrated my brother Jonathan's selection as a teaching fellow with the NYC Department of Education. Today, he received two (2!) job offers from his first choice school, PS 34, a historically underperfoming elementary and middle school located on Avenue D, directly across the street from Generation Xcel. It has been the principle feeder school for Xcel since our inception 10 years ago, and at least two dozen students from there (plus six or seven families) have made the subsequent transition into the Abounding Grace family as well.
Jonathan's outdone himself with this one! As a co-founder of Xcel and the youth pastor at Abounding Grace for two years, he has modeled sacrifical love for the community since his first street ministry experience at the age of 6. But by choosing to work within the school itself, and viewing it as an extention of his youth ministry calling, he's raised the bar for the rest of us.
I may now confess that when I wrote "Why Churches should Adopt Public Schools" back in February (reprinted nationally this summer by the National Network of Youth Ministries), much of what I wrote had been inspired by my brother. When he first mentioned to me that he was considering transitioning out of full-time church work into full-time public school teaching to better serve the youth to whom he's called, and his reasons why -- more regular access with kids and parents; opportunities to cultivate deeper relationships; equipping them with eductaional skills, specifically math, to better prepare them for the future -- he got me thinking.
- What if churches began to regard "youth ministry" not as something that's done within their walls, but as something done within the community?
- What if "youth ministry" wasn't a second class church job but something we released saints to do within the marketplace?
- What if we expanded the definition of youth minister to include paraprofessionals, teachers, administrators, custodians, cafeteria workers, volunteers, and coaches within our schools (as well as business owners, librarians, health care workers, and others who interact with kids everyday)?
- What if local churches cultivated creative partnerships with our schools to better equip young people to become who God created them to be?
- What if...? What if...?
The possibilities are literally endless, and Jonathan's daring to turn them into reality.
Love you, bro!
Caleb's Father's Day Promise
"Children without fathers need men who love Jesus to practice what God the Father teaches us." Article.
Paging Bob, Ben, Matt, Rudy, Teter, and Mac aficionados everywhere
An anonymous reader asked: "Im sick of PCs... can anyone tutor me to use a Mac... what are the differences nowadays?" Give us your best 2-3 sentence pitch in the comments section here.
Would you listen to these men?
I've been accused by my Charismatic brethren of being too cerebral when it comes to "receiving" from the Holy Spirit. I counter that God says to love him with all your heart, soul, and MIND. Still, at times I wonder if in my quest to "come now and reason together" I don't at times overcompensate. Consider this Who's Who line-up of Old Testament Prophets (that reads like a ward at Bellevue):
Not to mention Balaam's talking donkey
, the deadmen who visited Jerusalem after Jesus's death, the prophet who mauled 42 boys for calling him bald
(Elisha), and the Levite who cut his concubine's body
into 12 pieces because she had been gang raped. Being the cynic that I am capable of being, I suspect that if I saw naked man lying on his side next to a sandcastle bound like cattle after his wife the prostitute left him yet again, my ears would be closed and eyes blinded.
Oh, that I would have eyes to see and ears to hear, whatever the medium or message.
On motorcycles and family
With news of Big Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident captivating the media all week, I've been reminded of another near fatal motorcycle crash that hit much closer to home.
That said, I've been planing for about a month to learn to ride this summer. Second thoughts?
More good news from Puerto Rico
Monday night and yesterday there were more good signs that Abuelo's internal organs continue to regain function, so much so that the hospital scheduled a visit from another neurologist today to see if there's anything they've missed in their diagnosis.
Abuelo photo set
On Flickr, here
I will be adding pics to this set over the next few days.
El Patriarca: Una Celebracion de Vida
How I spent last week: when not at the hospital, I was hunched over a brand new Macbook (that Uncle Dave and I went on a 4+ hour mission to purchase on Tuesday morning) learning iMovie to create a multimedia tribute for Abuelo. I had it 80% done when the brain scan results came in on Friday, including a final screen shot with the dates, 1928-2006. That got changed real quick, first to 1928-20__, and then to "Una Celebracion de Vida" ("A Celebration of Life"). Here it is (14.5 mins), three songs, about 150 pictures, and 1.5 minutes of video.
FYI - One of many Mac lessons learned last week is that IMovie cannot capture video directly off a DVD. But a free download called Handbrake can convert DVD video into an MP4 format, which IMovie can edit. HT: Rudy.
P.S. My Buy-a-Mac Fund is once again accepting donations. For those interested in making a tax-deductible contribution towards this most useful cause, donations can be made online here, or by mail to Community Solutions, Inc., 9 East 7th Street, New York, NY 10003.
Fathering the fatherless: Nine practical suggestions
From "Caleb's Promise":
- Frame the issue so it's personal. Allow God to turn your heart toward a real child.
- Ask God for eyes to see and ears to hear the need in your local context.
- Take the initiative to reach out to the specific child, and his/her family, in creative ways.
- Hold onto the relationship for the long-term.
- Endure the down-times, misbehavior, and possible resentment that you're not biologically related.
- Resist the urge to preach all the time. Meeting felt needs by being present and involved goes much farther than having all the right answers.
- Invest in their future by exposing them to and even financing educational and professional opportunities.
- Notice and praise both their character and achievements.
- Guide them through life's milestones: school graduations, adolescence, first crushes, weddings, etc.
Happy Father's Day, Dad and Matt (and fathers everywhere)
"Matt Stevens and Rick Del Rio are heroes, both for how they live their own lives and for how they raise/d their sons. But what about the 24 million children in the United States who live with absent fathers, or the 20 million living in single-parent homes? They are our neighbors, attend school with our kids, and worship at our churches. They shop in our local supermarkets, play in our parks, and hang out at our favorite diners.
"Whom do they emulate? Whom do they celebrate?"
My latest article, "Caleb's Promise: A Father's Day Tribute and a Dilemma for 24 Million Children," is now online, in three different versions. The original, 1,500 word feature is posted at Next Wave
and Porpoise-Diving Life
and elsewhere. A 1,000 word version is at Pastors.com
as part of Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox
, and another 1,200 word version was printed in Tri-State Voice
. Take your pick.
Already a playa
My 2-year-old nephew Seth:
To Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq. That's $25 million of the war billions well spent.
Update on Abuelo
UPDATE, 6/12: Flew back to New York last night. A two hour delay put us at the gate in JFK at 1:25 am. Grandpa is still in a coma, but all the signs point towards improvement. Thanks again for all the well wishes and prayers for a miracle!
UPDATE, 6/10: - Today's bloodwork showed Abuelo's creatnin levels have declined from 9 (kidney failure) to 2 (normal kidney functioning).
- Changed the final screen shot in my commemorative video from "1928-2006" to "1928-20__" and finally "Una celebracion de vida" ("A Celebration of Life"). Hopefully we can show it to him for Father's Day?!?!
"Midnight is when the day begins." - Rudy
What a week we've had! Pentecost Sunday the doctors reported that Abuelo had days at most, if not hours, to live. Friends and family that needed to travel to Puerto Rico to pay respects should leave immediately.
Monday, the prognosis was confirmed: kidney failure, lung failure, and a brain scan showing "2," where 0 is brain-dead and normal is 8-14. The hospital moved him from ICU to a private room where the family could make him comfortable. Family continued to arrive, from NY, NJ, OH, FL, and throughout La Isla Encanta. The Del Rios are a big clan!
Then Monday night, he produced two bags of urine, the first in days, and Tuesday the swelling began to subside. By Thursday, the swelling was almost all gone. The neurologist conceeded that grandpa had exceeded all of their expectations by simply remaining alive, but reiterated that he was 100% dependent on the respirator; the bloodwork showed his kidneys were failing to filter out toxins; and the brain damage was irreversible.
Then Friday the docs conducted a second brain scan, expecting to see a drop-off below 2. Instead ... a 6! The doctor had never seen anything like it. The bloodwork showed fewer toxins, meaning the kidneys are rebounding. And now his lungs are functioning at 66% capacity.
Every night since Monday, 30 or so relatives have gathered in the hospital room for prayer and worship and remembrances and grieving, but tonight the atmosphere was different. Whereas yesterday resignation and mourning mixed with joy and love, tonight there was hope that we were witnessing a miracle. Grandpa coughed repeatedly, producing fleghm where earlier in the week there was none. But most surprising was the expressiveness of his face. As we sang, we saw glimpses of the old, expressive Felipe yearning to break free.
Who knows where this is all headed, but would you continue to join the family in believing God for a miracle? Thank you.
Please pray for my grandfather
UPDATE, 6/4: My grandfather has taken a turn for the worse and the doctors don’t expect him to survive the night. My mother, cousins David and Jennifer, and I will be flying down to Puerto Rico tonight to join my father, Jamie and many other family members. Please pray for us.
UPDATE, 6/2 11PM: Not much to report, other than the abundance of prayer that's been raised in the past 36 hrs. Thank you for all the wonderful emails and prayer notes. Keep them coming!
My grandfather Felipe Del Rio was rushed to a hospital in Puerto Rico this morning in a diabetic coma. The doctors are trying to raise his blood suger and conducting tests to see the extent of any permanent damage. Please pray for none. At 78, he's still built like an ox, and as recently as yesterday was working overtime to prepare his coffee farm for the upcoming hurricane season.
UPDATE: As of 9PM tonight, there has been no noticeable change. He's being held in the inensive care unit for ongoing tests and treatment. My father and Uncle Philip are flying down first thing in the morning. I may join them this weekend.
What do Tiger Woods and I have in common
Besides our all-world golf games and uncommon wealth?
We both took our first golf strokes at Dyker Beach Golf Course on 86th Street in Brooklyn. Of course he was a 3-year old with prodigious talent and I was a 20-year old clutz, but those minor details hardly matter. (Tiger's dad was stationed at nearby Fort Hamilton at the time.)
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