Friday, July 25, 2008

No Matter Who You Are or Where You are on Life's Journey; You are Welcome Here.

This is the famous Steeples' Ad for the United Church of Christ. It is self-explanatory. And wonderful.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Give Me a Break!

Give me a break!

Do you remember Steve Bartman? Bartman is the Cubs' fan who caught a foul ball that was still in play. Moises Alou, the Cubs' left-fielder was going to attempt a play on the ball and didn't give the opportunity.

After that play the Cubs fell apart and lose the game and lost the playoffs.

Bartman is being offered to attend a sports' show and if he autographs one copy of his 'catch' they will give him $25,000.00.

Bartman is still hated in Chicago and blamed the the Cubs losing the 2003 National League Championship Series to the Marlins.

Luis Castillo hit a foul ball that Alou went after. Alou never caught the ball (and this day questions whether he actually WOULD caught the ball---that was NOT a given...)

* Castillo, given new life, drew a walk. Ball four was a wild pitch from Cubs starter Mark Prior, which allowed Pierre to advance to third base.

Bartman did not throw the wild pitch.

* Iván Rodríguez singled to drive in the first run of the inning, making the score 3-1.

Bartman was not the pitcher giving up the hit.

* Miguel Cabrera hit a ground ball to Alex S. Gonzalez, who misfielded the ball. Had Gonzalez fielded the ball properly, the Cubs could possibly have ended the half-inning with a double play. Instead all runners were safe and the bases were loaded.

Bartman was not on the field with Gonzalez.

* Derrek Lee doubled, tying the score and chasing Prior from the game.

Again, Bartman was not pitching.

* Relief pitcher Kyle Farnsworth issued an intentional walk, then gave up a sacrifice fly to give Florida a 4-3 lead. Another intentional walk again loaded the bases.

Again, Bartman was not pitching.

* A bases-clearing double from Mike Mordecai broke the game open, making the score 7-3.

Again, Bartman was not pitching and not fielding allow the double to fall in.

* Pierre singled to put Florida ahead 8-3.

Again, Bartman was not pitching.

* Finally Luis Castillo, whose foul popup initiated the controversy, popped out to second to end the inning. In total, the Marlins had sent twelve batters to the plate and scored eight runs. Florida won the game 8-3.

The Bartman play took place when there was only one out and the play itself was not a hit. It was a foul ball.

Here is the sad reality that Cubs' fans need to grasp. Steve Bartman did not lose the game for them. The Cubs lost the game. Bad pitching and bad fielding lost the game.

I think it's about time people give Steve Bartman a rest. He didn't blow the Cubs' season. The Cubs did.

This year the Cubs look good, very good. They are a distinct possibility to go to the World Series this year. If they succeed it will be because they played well; if they don't, it's because another team beat them.

And Steve Bartman, again, will have nothing to do with it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Random Musings

It is difficult to put long, complex thoughts together after a great vacation. These are just some random musings.

If you have never been to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina or the Outer Banks, it's an awesome place to go. We had a hotel room right on the ocean. Totally perfect.

The Giants traded Jeremy Shockey. They won all their play off games and pulled off an incredible Super Bowl upset without him. They will miss an excellent, if not drop prone receiver. They won't miss his poor blocking ability and lack of interested in blocking. They will not miss his ego or his mouth. One ought to note that Eli Manning's productivity rose after Shockey got hurt. He didn't have someone in the huddle yelling at him, 'I was open," on every play. Adios!

Is it just me or is Mr. Foreign Policy Experience McCain adopting Mr. No Foreign Policy Experience Obama's positions on things like Afghanistan...

If you have not seen "The Dark Knight" run, run to the theater and see it. Wow. The movie is better than I thought it would be and I expected it to be great. It is long and intense and great. My only regret was that there wasn't a Batman III to watch right afterwards.

Brett Favre was a great, great NFL quarterback who appears to be behaving like an infant at the moment. If he comes back the Packers should probably trade him to an AFC team that has no chance of the playoffs. Someone said that the Dolphins would be a good choice. Of course, the fact that they cannot block might hamper his productivity a tad....

Back to Shockey...the Saints made a bad move getting Shockey. He's talented, but he's an ego-maniacal fool who only wants to be part of a player. This is like getting a cornerback who only wants to make interceptions but no tackles.

Friday, July 18, 2008

July 6th Sermon

A Bell’s Message
Text: Leviticus 25:1-10
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
July 6, 2008

One of the great symbols of the 4th of July is the Liberty Bell.

Years ago if you went to Philadelphia the Liberty Bell was in Independence Hall. They eventually built a building just for the bell and moved it onto a green in front of Independence Hall. Since the events of September 11th, however, that building is now used as a security building and the bell resides in a new building next to Independence Hall.

I’ve seen the bell on numerous occasions and have listened to the speech about the bell’s history. Several years ago, a Park Ranger who gave the speech was stunned into silence. He was explaining how the bell had been silenced in 1846 and had not run since that time.

Suddenly a large GONG emanated forth from the bell. People stood in a little bit of surprise looking to hear if this was a recording. GONG. The Park Ranger was rather ashen, however, because he knew that there was no recording.


As the Park Ranger approached the bell a little boy, no more than 7 or 8 came out from underneath the bell and said, “I fooled you, didn’t I?”

The little boy did.

There is widespread disagreement about when the first crack appeared on the Bell. Hair-line cracks on bells were bored out to prevent expansion. However, it is agreed that the final expansion of the crack which rendered the Bell unringable was on Washington's Birthday in 1846.

The Philadelphia Public Ledger took up the story in its February 26, 1846 publication:

"The old Independence Bell rang its last clear note on Monday last in honor of the birthday of Washington and now hangs in the great city steeple irreparably cracked and dumb. It had been cracked before but was set in order of that day by having the edges of the fracture filed so as not to vibrate against each other ... It gave out clear notes and loud, and appeared to be in excellent condition until noon, when it received a sort of compound fracture in a zig-zag direction through one of its sides which put it completely out of tune and left it a mere wreck of what it was."
The Liberty Bell gives to us a bell’s message.

The first is Scriptural. The bell has, on it, a quote from Leviticus 25:10.

Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.

We have used the section of Leviticus from whence this comes.

The quote on the Liberty Bell from Leviticus is powerful. This concept of Liberty in the Bible is generally tied, as it is in Leviticus, to the time of Jubilee. Jubilee was celebrated every 50 years as a time to free people from debts and give everyone a fresh start. At least that was it in theory as most scholars are unclear as to whether Jubilees, in the fullest sense of the word, were ever actually practiced. It’s great to be released from debt----but the people others were indebted to saw it from a different perspective.

This concept of liberty, even jubilee, however, was very much on the minds of the leaders of our soon to be nation in the late 18th century. They had a vision of a nation, and perhaps more importantly, they had the courage and the fortitude to make that dream, that vision, become a reality.

The second thing about this bell that is fascinating, however, are the cracks.

Please note. I said cracks.

The ‘big crack’ that everyone sees on the Liberty Bell is NOT the crack that silenced the bell. That big crack is actually not really a crack but evidence of the repair of a crack. When a bell did crack, they drilled out the cracked section of the bell and placed large bolts in it. The big crack we see is just that. It’s the repair of a crack rather than the crack that silence the bell.
However, up higher, along the top of the bell there is a long hairline crack. This crack, the hairline crack is the one that silence the Liberty Bell.

It is the crack that we don’t usually see that silenced the bell.

There is, in my mind, something of an allegory in all of this.

In recent months and in the coming months the discussion of patriotism is going to be front and center. What, exactly, does it mean to be patriotic?
There seems to be two schools of thought. The protagonists and the antagonists. To put it simply, the cheerleaders and the peanut gallery.
For some people, patriotism is a vocal and obvious love and devotion to country. It is an approach that, quite simply, waves the flag and loves country, no matter what. They are the protagonists, the cheerleaders of our nation.

For others, the antagonists, patriotism and love of country are often being critical of the nation. These people serve as the peanut gallery, reminding people of what might be wrong. Often the cheerleaders get angry at the peanut gallery and the peanut gallery gets mad at the cheerleaders.

We have, as a nation, been well served by both.

During World War I people rallied and felt a deep sense of patriotism. I served a church in Alexandria, Pennsylvania, a small, rural town. Over the front door there was a cement plaque that said’ Reformed Church.’ If you looked at it, however, you’d see that a word had been chiseled out. The word was ‘German.’ When World War I broke out, the people of the church, all of whom were of German descent, took up a ladder and chiseled the word German from their name. They were Americans.

December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor. July 20th, 1969, the first person on the moon. September 11th, 2001 and we are attacked. People band together and cheer for our nation. We are well served by this.

Conversely, the peanut gallery has served us well. In the latter part of the 18th century, individuals such as Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were very much antagonists to the nation----the nation of England. It was on their antagonism a concept of liberty was born.
The fight to end slavery, even the war, came as a result of the peanut gallery decreeing that slavery is wrong, calling people to something better. In the latter part of the 1960's civil rights came as a result of people who were critical of the nation.

The fact that there are different approaches is the large crack in the Liberty Bell. It is there, it is obvious, but it still rings. The little crack, the one that silences the bell’s message is the subtle undertone that there is only one voice, and anyone who disagrees is evil.

When the cheerleaders condemn and mock the peanut gallery the bell is silenced. When the peanut gallery condemns and mocks the cheerleaders, the bell is silence. The little crack dominates the bell.

Which takes me back to Leviticus. Leviticus was decreeing a time of Jubilee, a time of triumph, a time to proclaim liberty to a waiting world. All too often people work hard to silence that bell. Let’s not. Let’s use this weekend, this time, to let the bell ring out and proclaim its message to a waiting world.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

CJ Article about St. Marks

I'm back from vacation. My first day in the office is today and yesterday St. Marks had a wonderful article about what we are doing. Dale Moss did a great job with this:

Mission accomplished at St. Marks church

Members are tops at hands-on help

Send little things, like books and videos and candy and gum. That's what a member of St. Marks United Church of Christ, who was stationed in Iraq, asked of his congregation.

The New Albany church shipped nine boxes, for starters.

It shipped more than plenty, St. Marks was told. Spread the care, and that it did. It rerouted a second batch to flood victims.

This old church, at 222 E. Spring St., makes the most of a relatively new inspiration. St. Marks pushes its missionary spirit increasingly beyond the norm, and then beyond the beyond. It helps with food, with clothing, with manpower to build and fix homes. It provides both at holidays and routinely, and many thousands of people are in its debt.

"I find myself 10 times more energized -- that what I do matters," member Donna Garrison said.

The majority pitches in, in some way, so the church ambitiously follows God's charge.

"This congregation seems to have a passion for hands on," said David Riekhof, its president. "It's not just sending money."

St. Marks stands out by reaching out. From its Indiana-Kentucky denomination office, the church recently received the Barnabas Award for extraordinary local service. Only when member Alan Mason started in on the application did he realize fully the size of his church's heart.

"We had never put it together," Mason said. "It was just what we did."

St. Marks could corral more of a "market share" in suburbia. Established in 1837, St. Marks stays downtown in part because many of those in need are there.

"It does matter where we are, when it comes to opportunities for mission." Garrison said.

Associate pastor Lori Lewis recalls St. Marks deciding to make local missions more of a priority. "It came to life after that," she said.

Lewis guesses members will do more, realizing the impact that is possible.

"We're definitely not tapped out at this point," Lewis said. "I can see the list longer, with cautions."

St. Marks sponsors a weekly free lunch on Saturdays and twice-a-week clothes giveaways. Members pitch in on community Repair Affair projects and they helped Habitat for Humanity in Floyd County get going. Food baskets are distributed for Thanksgiving and toys at Christmas time.

These are only key examples of a daily, commonplace determination. Plus, St. Marks continues to come up with resources for far-flung mission work.

Being downtown, being a mostly traditional, mainline faith, the church indeed pays with fewer people regularly in the pews (200) and on the rolls (500). There is never too much money and always the potential of still more losses to the mega churches. Then again, Francesca Kemper chose St. Marks so she wouldn't be lost in a crowd. She feels at home, appreciates the church's love of music and admires its melting-pot diversity.

"I love the fact that everybody is OK, that there may be people in the room who don't feel the same way you do," Kemper said. "I've heard it called 'a thinking person's church.' "

Mason is proud that the membership of St. Marks resembles the real world. "We're not like most churches," he said. "We're not homogeneous and we don't try to fix people."

At St. Marks, women are a vital part of leadership. A worship service will not remind anyone of a Vegas act, yet the music especially leans occasionally toward the contemporary. Members discuss and vote on significant moves and expenditures. If a venture fails -- like having a Saturday evening service did -- another will be tried.

"Change is not a scary thing," Lewis said.

Just do not count on St. Marks changing locations or its commitment to care.

Dale Moss' column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at (812) 949-4026 or Comment on this column, and read his blog and previous columns, at

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A Veteran's Bill----and Dishonesty

I found the President’s comments on signing the Veteran’s bill the other day to be unsettling. Senator Jim Webb, from Virginia was instrumental in getting this past. It increased veterans’ benefits for those returning from active service and granted educational opportunities. I do recognize that it is expensive, but when we send soldiers overseas on numerous tours of duty in combat situations they have earned this.

The President signed it because of how it was attached and then praised himself for signing it. The problem with this is that he was in stark opposition to this. It wasn’t until the bill was attached to something he wanted to sign and because of the fact that veteran’s groups were not happy with his lack of interest in this bill didn’t seem to occur to him.

One of the people he thanked for his hard work on this bill was a Senator who was opposed to the bill as ‘too generous.’ That Senator is Senator John McCain who, frankly, should know better. I do respect his service to our nation in the military and think he should be respected for it. I also think that he needs to demonstrate respect to the veterans of these two very difficult wars in which we are engaged.

What disturbs me the most and what truly makes me feel unsettled is that the President praised himself and Senator McCain when, in fact, this was a bill they were opposed to. I disagree with their opposition and certainly don’t understand it. It is, however, their right to have their own opinion and act on it. I really have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is the dishonesty of praising a bill which they truly did oppose. I’m tired of the lies and wish that they would finally stop.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Ongoing Dilemma and Gil Grissom’s Rule

If you are a fan of CSI, the original one, you know a bit about Gil Grissom’s Rule. The rule is this. Follow the evidence. Simple rule.

It has come into play on numerous occasions when, on the show, one of the suspects is really a despicable character who one of the agents truly wants to be guilty and go to jail. As a result, they try to pull the evidence together so that they can arrest the person and get them convicted.

On more than one occasion things did not go well because the evidence wasn’t matching up with their conclusion. Grissom’s rule comes into play. Follow the evidence. Don’t try to force the evidence where you want it to go; follow the evidence where it actually leads you.

We suffer both politically and theologically from a desire or need to begin where we want to end up instead of beginning at, well, the beginning. We decree something to be the ‘Truth’ and then do a construct to demonstrate how we got there. If the evidence does not lead to where we wanted it to, we ‘adjust’ the evidence to get us where we want to go.

We preachers often do this. We develop an opinion and then go about proving our opinion. We hang Scripture verses on our opinion like Christmas lights with little regard to context or consistency.

The end result of this, however, has been a growing lack of credibility. Theology is often replaced by political beliefs. Political beliefs are not persuaded by theology, but much the opposite.

The problem often lies with the Bible. It’s not the Bible but what we choose to do or not do with it.

The first problem is when we use the Bible for our own ends instead of following where it is leading us. I heard a sermon once where the preacher was speaking about Jesus wanting lower taxes. He had some interesting quotes but if one actually reads the entire Gospel narratives Jesus didn’t really have much interest in discussing taxes other than his famous render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s remark. We can all have our own opinions about taxes but the reality is that Jesus really doesn’t offer us a lot of insight on this.

This is most often abused with issues of sexuality. One would get the impression that Jesus spent the vast amount of his time, effort, and energy talking about the sex lives of people and mostly what they couldn’t do and who they couldn’t do it with. In reality Jesus said virtually nothing on the subject.

This is a problem when we start at the finish line instead of the starting line. We make conclusions based on what we want them to be as opposed to where the Bible actually might be leading us.

Conversely the Bible does not exist to be ignored. There are issues that are very Biblical that you can nuance any way you want to and they still come out as issues.

People, men actually, have tried to finesse the adultery laws in the Bible creating exceptions to the rule and attempting to make women property. No matter how one tries to finesse it, however, it is still wrong.

People have attempted to rationalize stealing or gouging people and all sorts of things simply ignoring that which they wanted to ignore.

Gil Grissom’s rule is a good one. Start at the starting line and follow the evidence. Don’t presume to start at the conclusion; the lack of evidence makes us look foolish.