Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Good Reads book review of Karen Armonstrong's "Islam"

"Islam: A Short History (Modern Library Chronicles)" by Karen Armstrong.

As usual a well written book by the author....condensing a mass of information down to a readable document. Since I don't know much about Islam I can only assume that she has written factually and knowledgeably. Her descriptions of fundamentalism, whether Muslim or Christian or Jewish, were very helpful to me. She says that fundamentalism is a reaction to modernism....modernism being that which diminishes traditional and core values. When fundamentalism is the response/reaction the core values of all religions such as compassion and tolerance are overridden by the struggle to survive. I found this to be a helpful explanation. A helpful read, I recommend it.

Monday, July 25, 2011

passive and active solar and a multitude of other things.....r

Dear Friends,
Greetings from the New Wilmington Mission Conference! I am in New Wilmington Pennsylvania this week on the beautiful campus of the New Wilmington is a Presbyterian college and has small versions of the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. It is hot and humid here, although thankfully the last couple of days have been cooler than the first day, Friday, was.

I preached on Sunday at the Bell Memorial Church in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. What a wonderful church that was! The people like each other! They were friendly and encouraging to me and it was obvious that they put mission at the center of their mutual life together as the church. They are involved in many projects locally such as raised beds for growing produce that is donated to the local food bank. Someone had gone far beyond the call of duty to create and provide a bulletin board that featured pictures I have used in monthly newsletters of both the North and the South of Sudan and the display had a Sudanese shirt and even currency from the North!

This was a people who had a good grasp on the challenges, and opportunities, that I will be facing in the South when I return to a new country and village in August. I will continue in the same work in a new place. I will face the challenge of electricity 12 hours a day, during the evening. This means figuring out how to remain cool during the long hot days in Malakal. Because electricity will not necessarily be consistently available I also have to have alternative ways to cook, light the house, provide a breeze to combat the heat, and power my computer as much of my work involves internet and word processing, among other challenges.

I have heard that alternate sources of cooking fuel such as propane are possibly in short supply because the government of the north in Sudan is making crossing the border difficult for those who would promote trade between the two countries. Sudan, in the north, is the primary source for propane and other fuel sources. I will be taking a solar cooker and black enamelware cooking pot with me, these of course will only work on bright sunny days so I must come up with other ways to cook as well....propane, kerosene and electric being three of these.

When I lived in Khartoum I was able to obtain bottled water so I didn't have to worry about purifying water. This will not be so in South Sudan. The Nile Theological College has a Katedyn water purifier system that should be waiting for me in the south, and I have obtained a portable solar system for using the sun to kill the bacteria in the water as well.

Shenango Presbytery has heeded my call for help in obtaining a solar generator and is in the process of fundraising for one. I am grateful indeed for this partnership! This would enable me to use one of the most consistent and readily available natural resources of South Sudan -- the sunshine! -- to provide for my fuel needs in cooking, lighting, cooling, etc.

I have learned about both passive and active solar heating and cooling during this time in Pennsylvania. At one of my host homes I learned that passive solar is used in places that do not have enough year round sunshine to rely on solar energy alone. Passive solar means that the people who design a home take advantage of what sunshine energy there is and make up the difference between their energy needs and what is available through solar with another power source such as electricity. Large windows are put on the south side of a home, with smaller ones on the other sides. There can be coils put under the flooring in areas where water flows if a person chooses to heat some of their water with solar. Another design feature can be a double vacuum door. This is where there are two entrance doors with an area between them. A person enters the first door and when that door is closed then enters the home through the second door. It is similar to the function of layering clothes in the colder climates, the air is trapped between the this case the heat is not allowed into the home and in the winter the cold is not allowed in.

In an active solar situation solar panels on the roofs of homes are used. When I was in Sacramento, California earlier this year my host home had solar panels. The water was heated with solar and much of the electricity came from solar. The solar is off of the power grid and my hostess only paid for the electricity which was used from the grid when the solar power didn't generate enough energy for her needs. She had small electric bills.

I look forward to the day that solar is a main source of the power in the world. We will probably always have to rely on other sources of power as well, particularly in countries in the north because sunshine is simply not plentiful enough to supply all of the needs people may have, or think that we have.

New Wilmington is in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. I had not seen a horse and buggy with Amish people inside before this week, well perhaps in pictures....I have heard that the furniture that is available here in amazing as it is handmade by the Amish. I have also heard that they grow wonderful organic produce. I must admit that I admire them for maintaining a style of life that, to me, appears to be very difficult when there is such abundance of cars, electricity, cell phones and other modern conveniences surrounding them. I may live a similar lifestyle to theirs in South Sudan but it isn't like I will be surrounded by the conveniences of the United I do have an admiration for that ability to steer a course that they believe in and adhere to it.

The music here at the New Wilmington Mission Conference is remniscent to me of the Prayer and Praise at the Lutheran Bible Institute (Trinity Lutheran College) when I was a student there. So many familiar praise songs. I do believe that there needs to be a mix of praise worship (contemporary) and traditional hymns. Our traditional hymns as the church universal are important to keep alive in both our hearts and in practice, many of them are treasures of theology. I become concerned when all or most of the music at church sponsored or church related events is modern. We do need to support our contemporary musicians, artists and liturgical dancers, etc., and at the same time we need to be sure that our heritage and tradition is not lost to the coming generations. At the Bell Memorial Presbyterian Church this past Sunday I was so happy to experience both a worship team with modern songs and then, later in the service, a beautiful traditional hymn from days gone by.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

American Culture

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I am entering into my third day here in Pennsylvania in the United States. I have the blessing of a morning to myself in a peaceful home with wireless internet.

I am enjoying the rolling hills and compact, rounded trees of Pennsylvania. I have been in this state two or three times now and each time am struck by the differences between the rolling hills here and the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The are both beautiful in their own ways....for me the mountains will always be home.

Yesterday I was able to visit a Presbyterian Church Camp in those rolling hills of Pennsylvania. The camp is located on a large piece of very beautiful property. Tranquil and serene are the words with which I choose to describe this church camp. Of course the scene at the swimming pool was not tranquil and serene -- squealing children, lots of splashing and yelling, and, dare I say, joyous goings on and music made to the Lord? However, the rest of the property was tranquil and serene.

I had an interesting conversation yesterday which led me to reflect on several things....those things are what I am going to share with you today in this blog.

It is possible that around the year 2000 a cultural shift began to happen in the United States. Now, probably some of this was taking place before the year 2000 and certainly it has continued since the year 2000. For a long time our society has been transitioning towards being mobile and, well, temporary. People take a promotion with a job and the whole family moves across a state or across the country. I heard on television about a new scheme being considered for corporations whose employees must frequently relocate; having the employees rent their homes. Then there would be a network of homes for rent across the United States, fully ready for new occupants to move in with just suitcases. Somehow takes the punch line out of giving our kids wings and --- what is that word????? -- ROOTS??????

In having our lives become essentially rootless things are disappearing like, for instance, neighborhoods. Now people just happen to live on a street with other people. The idea of children growing up in the same home with a neighborhood full of other children, their best friends and playmates, who they know all of their growing up years, is becoming a thing of the past.

As I was having this conversation which, on the surface, was related to the shrinking enrollment for Church Camps, I realized some different things.

The face, and the depths, of America are changing. Our values are changing as well. I understand from listening to other people that in perhaps the 50's and 60's (of the 1900s) church tended to be a cultural thing, that was what people did on Sunday mornings, they went to church. Then perhaps later in the century it became that people made a real choice to go to church on Sunday mornings because that was where they really wanted to be. Church held meaning for them. They weren't going to another country club, they were going home.

Church attendance is shrinking now, for a variety of reasons, and so is Church Camp. America's soul is being eaten and occupied by material wealth and consumption. Neighborhoods are rare these days. The kind of neighborhoods where kids grow up together and there is a weiney roast on the 4th of July.

Sports have become King, as far as I hear. There is now a competition for soccer and other sports on Sunday mornings. As I listened to the other person involved in this conversation at the Church Camp yesterday I found myself thinking, someone is making $. Someone is making money, and lots of it. If sports and other camps which are almost required, even though no one would say that out loud, to "fit" in, someone is making money. Sports and consumption are competing with God in American society. MONEY is competing with God, with Jesus Christ, in American society. I kid you not.

The way has been found to undermine relationships. We are kept on the go. We are earning more money and becoming slaves to the jobs which move us to other cities in other states and keep our relationships from developing into RELATIONSHIPS. We are not encountering the Risen Lord in the idolatry of making money, of fitting into American culture and therefore we see no need to send our children to Church Camp where American culture might have a chance of being undermined. OUR lifestyle might be undermined. And by golly, we can't have that! Now, it wouldn't happen by someone verbally attacking capitalism, although that could happen. It would happen because children might encounter God for themselves.

They might encounter God for themselves away from the noise of American consumption and away from the idolatry of Sunday morning sports. They might HEAR God in the quiet places at camp. I found that there were a lot of quiet places at the Church Camp in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. All it took was walking a little ways from the swimming pool and there was plenty of quiet. There were plenty of places to commune with Jesus Christ and discover the he is more important than the money that someone is making by transforming our American society into a transitional, rootless, sports loving, belly gazing country.

While we cannot produce an encounter for someone with the Living God, we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in helping to create spaces for that encounter. It is the work, the job so to speak, of the Holy Spirit to encounter. I saw the "dorms" for the youth at the Church Camp. I was overwhelmed. Those dorms, while extremely frugal to American youth would be considered luxurious to my Sudanese students in South Sudan. My students often have to ride 2 1/2 to 3 hours EACH way to the college on a bus and are as likely to go to a home with no electricity as they are to go to one without. More likely actually. To have a simple dorm with a bunk bed and a kitchen area on the campus of the Nile Theological College in Malakal, South Sudan, would be a miracle. The money that we Americans spend on buildings and structures in the United States is so extravagant, it was a relief to me to see a simple dorm at the Church Camp. Even so I am quite certain that a Refugee Camp anywhere in the world would never look so good.

The youth at the Church Camp aren't allowed to have MP3 players, cell phone, computers or tvs. The space is created for an encounter. The possibility exists.

I wonder if that possibility ever exists for their parents.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Taking Responsibility

Dear Friends,
The last couple of days I have come to see a pattern in the way that governments relate to their predecessor governments. There is a certain period of "grace" when, for instance, the Obama Administration could "blame" the former Bush Administration for many of its woes because it was clear to all involved that those woes were inherited. Wars, economic problems, a devastating recession. The time has come and gone when the Obama Administration is responsible for its own course and can no longer blame its predecessor administration. It must now take responsibility for its own leadership and policies.

In a similar way I have noticed that the newest country in the world, and Africa's 54th country, South Sudan, has acknowledged that as of Saturday the 9th of July, 2011, its problems can no longer be blamed on the government of President al-Bashier in Khartoum, Sudan in the north.
I will say however that I think that the condition the country is in that the new government of South Sudan is an indictment on the governance of the government in Khartoum.

Until this past Saturday South Sudan was a part of the largest country in Africa, the Sudan. Had Sudan wanted to make unity with the south of Sudan a priority, and an attractive priority at that, it might have invested resources in developing the south. It might have chosen not to engage in two civil wars with south, intentionally bombing the infrastructure of the south. The government in Khartoum bombed hospitals, schools, civilian areas including homes, police stations and military compounds. Khartoum was attempting to bring the south to its knees and force the south to remain part and parcel with the north. Strange way to bring compliance, isn't it? It tried to do this by being abusive.

Injustice. South Sudan is a green and fertile region. Yet as a result of years of having her natural resources exploited for use by the north and her people forced into slavery to satisfy the labor needs of the north; as a result of having little or none of the oil revenues which were taken in by the north invested into her people; the new nation of South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Approximately 80% of females in South Sudan are illiterate. A girl child in Sudan is more likely to be married by age 14 than to be in school and it is highly likely that she will have endured female genital cutting. So while South Sudan is a green and potentially fertile area, potentially a bread basket for Western Africa, at this moment in time she is infertile because of the lack of care shown to her by the north. The north has not invested in her, loved her or shared her riches with her.

Now, at some point very soon South Sudan will have to take full responsibility for the condition of her citizens. At some point she can no longer blame, or indict, the north for the goings on in the south which is now an independent and sovereign nation.

South Sudan has some major challenges. Among them are: fighting corruption. There is tribalism run rampant in South Sudan, members of tribes side with one another and fight with one another. Attitudes have been formed in the bush and not in the civilian ranks. In the bush the leader is the one to whom all things are given, the leaders in South Sudan are not used to giving to other people what is rightfully theirs. Along with health care, education, and coming to understand what cultural practices are harmful as well as the value of girl children and women, South Sudan has its hands full. May God be with her and may the international community and the South Sudanese ex-patriots who have benefited from living out of the country be with her as well.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jesus' Yoke Is Light

Dear Friends,
Greetings! I figured out a few weeks ago what this Bible verse is talking about. Come to me all you weary and burden laden. Let me share with you because my yoke is light and you will no longer be tired.

I realized that for me it means I can stop worrying. I have nothing to worry about. Let Jesus' take that burden from me and I will take his take his yoke means to trust him. No one ever said to be a Christ Follower was going to be easy and at the same time I think I know now some of how it is supposed to "work". Being a Reformed Christian of course I know I can't work my way to salvation, but that's the point. If I am working, and worry is work, then I am trying to do things that are not mine to carry. I am taking on the burden of the world and not the yoke of Jesus.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

May 1, 2011, my first sermon while itinerating.

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