Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's a small world...

i travel all the way to Cairo and end up being led in worship by a pastor who went to Bexley Lutheran Seminary... located about 2 hours from my hometown in Ohio. go figure. dude was cool, and i was utterly blown away by his ministry. they share the church with 5 other churches (since you can't build new ones in Egypt due to the heavy regulation). he does friday morning service for around 30 people.. if that. the total membership of his church is around 200 give or take. with this limited amount of resource and people, St Andrews puts on education programs for Sudanese refugees.

they're evening starting a hip-hop program to deal with the gangs. two gangs largely, that prey on the refugees. why refugees and not egyptians? cause then there would be a crack down on ALL refugees, and you can't hit the tourists cause they have armed guards with them at all times. so they prey on their own people... but so do many other minority and marginilized people. i remember we poor kids would almost never fight a higher social class kid. it was always same side of the track fighting... very few times i can remember fighting someone from the good side of the tracks. and if i did, it was due to a football dispute taken too far.

but anywho.. Rev Clifford Lewis is really make'n Ohio proud.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

HAPPY ASH WEDNESDAY!! oh wait.. tis not the season to be happy... anywho, we're in Lent now.

Here is my art project from last year from the Christianity and the Visual Arts:

i'll have to reconstruct that sometime again at LTS.

There are some traditional practices associated with Lent. The three traditional practices to be taken up during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbor). Some people give up a vice of theirs thus adding something that will bring them closer to God. I haven't given up anything since I gave up Lent in 2001 or so (around the time when i 'officially' broke from Catholicism). but now i feel i should reclaim it.

so i'm going to give up COMPLAINING. there is much to be thankful for! here at seminary we lose sight of this because we're overwhelmed, overworked, under-slept, or whatever the case maybe. wish me luck and call me out if something reeks of complaining on here!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Pyramids and Sphynx

what most people think of when they think of Egypt. the interesting part was seeing how MASSIVE these things are and then hearing that they have the interior square-footage of a small, 1BR condo. NOT that large.

also, the most touching thing, was afterwards. while waiting for our fellow consumers in the Hard Rock cafe by the 'Mids, we watched a game of soccer being played by tweens and teens, amid the camels they rent out to tourists all day. the big guys watched that they didn't hurt the small guys but really tried to win. the little guys won out and they celebrated by running around. then they hopped on their camels and horses and went home, singing and laughing.

that was an awesome experience.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

What Boogie Gets to Look Forward To

yeah... i'm not ashamed to admit it. i'm not a massive hockey fan, but i think OV is the coolest! and thanks to my buddy Jim, i'm up-to-date on the goings on of my Capitals.

can't wait til that babe comes! 7 more weeks (+/- )!!!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bias & Culture

pulling largely from a lecture given by Nestor Medina here at LTS, i think it's time to talk about Bias and Culture.

lots of talk about culture, but how best can we define it?

there's many ways, i'll attempt to define it here and then discuss what it means to COEXIST.

Culture is 1. a sum total of rules that shape belief, communication, and thinking, 2. refers to particular ways of thinking, acting, and organizing aspects of housing, technology, art, family dynamics, and science, 3. gives coherence and totality in relation to the rest of the world and is transmitted from one generation to the next.

or as my Giradian buddy Bryce would define it: culture is what keeps you from retributively killing people.

example of two cultures coming together: A Danish man and Egyptian man go to play a game of billards. When asked (by a third party) how good they are at billards the Dane replies "I've played before" and the Egyptian replies "I'm very good at this game." Both exhibit their culture... Danish culture values humility where Egyptian culture values embellishment. Imagine the surprise and potential conflict when the Dane throughly thrashes the Egyptian.

now based on these definitions and this understanding of "culture" i would say that one cannot get outside of one's cultural bias. here are some ways of thinking about culture historically in terms of one's "Holy Scriptures" according to the Medina lecture:

Acculturation: Taking a book from another culture and placing it in one's own: i.e. the Bible is Angelo (although it was written by the Hebrews amid their pressures from Assyrian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman Cultures). or as Yael pointed out, the Christians claiming the Torah as THEIRS but largely ignoring and dismissing it.

Enculturation: Our way of thinking is the best! The Qu'ran is Arabic therefore one must be Arabic to be Muslim or the Gospel is Angelo Culture, therefore one must become Angelo to be Christian. This is a false assumption and we've seen the effects on the world in missionaries and Colonial though processes.

Inculturation: Use resonate images to convert other cultures. You guys believe in charity? WE DO TOO! Here's where our scriptures are doing what y'all already are. This is apologetics and falsely thinks that the scripture can be removed from the culture.

Interculturation: Naming own culture specifically and seeing the positives and negatives. i believe this is the best way. when we talk about things, it's best to say "As a white, progressive Christian i see this issue this way" or "As an atheist woman" or "as a Muslim from Egypt" here it helps either party figure out how best to frame the interaction and the friction that occurs from both parties involved.

this is important to do as we're making assumptions about the other... what we should do is to name our assumptions from the get go, question the person we are in dialogue with, and let the "other" fill in their own blanks. for example, when coming to me and knowing that i'm a christian, don't think i'm a creationist, or think the Bible is THE word of GOD, or that i send other faiths to hell. i don't hold either belief as i believe in evolution and that the word of God is in the Bible amid the cultural bias and baggage.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Coptic Christainty

We visited St Mark's, home of the Coptic Pope, Pope Shenouda III. Who are the Copts and how are the different from Orthodox or Catholic Christianity?

According to ancient tradition, Christianity was introduced to the Egyptians by Saint Mark in Alexandria, shortly after the ascension of Christ and during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius around 42 A.D. Some famous Coptic scholars were Athenagoras, Clement, Didymus, and my favorite, Origen, who is one of the most distinguished of the early fathers of the Christianity.

They also gave Christianity monasticism. the most prominent figures of the monastic movement were Anthony the Great and Paul of Thebes (who we've already talked about), and Macarius the Great (who we WILL talk about!).

The Copts had a HUGE impact on the rest of Christianity but are considered to be different, part of the Oriental Christian Tradition, NOT the Catholic or Greek Orthodox traditions. The Oriental Orthodox communion comprises six groups: Syriac Orthodox,Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India) and Armenian Apostolic churches. These churches are different due to a disagreement at the Council of Chalcedon.

Chalcedon declared that Jesus has two complete natures, one human and one divine. The Copts argue that Jesus, though divine as well as human, is only one person. They likened Chalcedon's doctrine to the Nestorian heresy, condemned at Ephesus, which stated that Christ was two distinct persons, one divine and one human. In 2001, the leaders of Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Orthodoxy concluded that they had always believed in the same Christology, but differed over how this was to be formulated, thus healing has begun between the Orthodox and Catholic churches.

Here's the visit to St Marks:

During the Q&A session with the Pope, two really funny answers that stuck in my head.

Q: I like a girl, but she doesn't like me! I pine and yearn, but to no avail, what should i do?

A: I wish these boys loved God as much as they love these girls.

Q: I recently moved to Cairo from a small village. I'm finding city life has a lot more temptations than the village life. How can i keep from sinning amid all these temptations?

A: No one can make you sin. Your heart has to be open to it in the first place. Pray and go to church, but realize that you are the one making the decision to sin or not.

Both of these responces brought a deafening roar of approval from the crowd. it was like being at a rock concert or sports game. maybe i should do a weekly Q&A from my church or even on the blog... ummm......

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Compassionate Anger

Today’s Scripture lesson is Mark 1:40-45 as found in The Message Bible.

A leper came to him, begging on his knees, "If you want to, you can cleanse me."

Deeply moved, Jesus put out his hand, touched him, and said, "I want to. Be clean." Then and there the leprosy was gone, his skin smooth and healthy. Jesus dismissed him with strict orders: "Say nothing to anyone. Take the offering for cleansing that Moses prescribed and present yourself to the priest. This will validate your healing to the people." But as soon as the man was out of earshot, he told everyone he met what had happened, spreading the news all over town. So Jesus kept to out-of-the-way places, no longer able to move freely in and out of the city. But people found him, and came from all over.

We’re in high school forever. We’ve all had to endure the strange, awkward teenage years and go through this experience. As one person put it, High School is the mouse race that prepares you for the rat race. In fact, every ten years we gather in survivor groups and try to figure out what the heck it was all about!! I will use this shared experience--some of you are still going through this time--to talk about today’s gospel lesson.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us (aside from a lucky few) were literally a sack of hormones and confused emotions. We see in the gospel TEXTS that Jesus had some confused emotions. I say TEXTS with an S, plural, meaning MORE THAN ONE TEXT. If you gather up all the ancient texts of Mark 1:40-45, you’ll discover that they say Jesus had three different reactions to the leper. The text we heard this morning says that Jesus was “moved with compassion”. I would imagine that would sound like this… “Yeah I choose..”

Another text says Jesus was moved with pity. Here I picture Jesus looking at the man, with tears welling up in his eyes saying “Yeah…… I choose.” And the third reaction is Jesus was moved with ANGER. ANGER? “OHHH Yeah… I CHOOSE!” That’s quite a variety of mixed emotions! So which is it? Compassion, pity or anger? What’s at stake?

There was A LOT at stake, not only for Jesus, but esp. for the leper. You see, people were scared to death of leprosy. And in Jesus’ time, Leprosy just meant Skin Disease. Imagine that, if you had bad acne, warts, goiters, or even what we know as leprosy, you were made into an instant outsider. The law in Leviticus was clear: “The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ And he shall live alone, his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” (Lev. 13:45-46)

So if you had leprosy you lost everything — job, family, place in the community — everything. The leper who approaches Jesus shows his desperation by breaking the law, by coming into the city, and getting close enough to Jesus that he could talk to him. He’s lucky he wasn’t stoned. I picture that Jesus is just surrounded by people and this leper shows up and the people just part away from him… they can’t believe their eyes! I’m thankful we here in the modern world don’t have any lepers… if someone like that showed up here, right now, we’d all jump up to help them, wouldn’t we? I don’t think we would… and I’m reminded of a similar story from my high school experience.

There are always groups in high school. There are the jocks, the smart kids, the in-crowd who were all beautiful and talented and everyone wanted to be like. I know most of you here were in the in-crowd, right?… lucky dawgs. I wasn’t so special... I was in the class of kids who were the ‘tweeners, those people who were somewhat tolerated by the cool kids, but there was just enough weirdness to keep us in our own separate group. Then there was the untouchable class in high school. Those are the modern day lepers of the high school culture. There was one kid in particular at my high school, his name was Bob.

Bob was from a really poor family. He was working part-time jobs all the time, so his grades suffered. He always had a worn and dirty look. I remember his ears sometimes would just be caked with dirt. He was really asocial. One day Bob is walking the halls with his books in his distracted manner and he trips and spills, books flying out. To make matters worse, it’s in front of the prettiest girl in high school, Katie.

Now Kate (my wife) didn't go to my school, so we had to play the hand we were dealt, and the queen in our deck was Katie.

Katie is surrounded by her friends who upon seeing who is lying at their feet immediately scatter and screech “EEEWW!!” An untouchable is in their midst. But Katie doesn’t flinch. She bends down and starts to collect Bob’s books. He looks around… everyone is watching the situation unfold and everyone is just as shocked as he is. He collects himself and stands up just in time to accept his stack of books from Katie. Just as Katie hands the books to Bob, she reaches out and squeezes his arm and says “It’s gonna be alright Bob.” Then she walks on and a heated discussion follows with Katie yelling at her friends and asking them why they didn’t help her. Bob goes about his day, but I noticed a little spring in his step. Now I wish I could say that there was a great change in Bob’s life from that day forward but this is a true story… and ideal endings are few and far between. Bob ended up going to the public school mid-semester, and I haven’t been in touch.

This is the modern story of what’s going on in our gospel text. Katie felt all of those emotions, I’m sure, Compassion, Pity, and Anger. Compassion at the outcast lying at her feet, pity at his helpless situation and that no one was helping him, and that filled her with anger and she acted! This too must have been Jesus’ feelings… it’s shown in his response.

Jesus’ immediate response—to touch the man and then declare his choice to heal him—reflects his belief of wholeness, embodied in his ministry of good news, hospitality, and inclusion. Jesus’ mission, as noted in John’s gospel, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly” is an explicit challenge to all people who think sickness of mind, body, and spirit results from God’s will and divine punishment. Jesus NEVER blamed the victim for her or his ailment. Illness was an opportunity for healing rather than judgment, guilt, or blame.

Jesus was fully human, he could feel the exact range of complex emotions we do. Jesus felt a compassionate anger. Jesus wasn’t mad at the man or at his request. Maybe he was angry at the social situation the man found himself in. Both anger and compassion are related emotions: both arise from a strong sense of connection with or on behalf of others. Our care for others can inspire righteous anger toward unjust social systems and the ongoing practices of racism, sexism, and all the other –isms. This holy, compassionate anger, can inspire us to imagine and, then, enact alternatives to what’s currently unjust and harmful, whether in a family, congregation, community, or nation.

So if you ever hear or think that someone is suffering because of something they’ve done, or you think that about yourself, I’m here to say that Jesus would disagree with you. You are included as a child of God regardless of the social stigma. The stigmas of sick, poor, widow, orphan, uneducated, or whatever so-called disgrace you or others put upon you has been lifted. Jesus welcomes us all into a new community, smashing down barriers that divide. Let us, as the community of Christ, follow his radical example.

If you see injustice… whether it is starvation, mistreatment on the basis of race, gender, or ANY OTHER DESIGNATION, stand up! In God’s kingdom there are no lepers! If you’re black, white, Hispanic, native, Jew or gentile, you’re welcomed into community! Jesus doesn’t care how the authorities tell you how to act, or how the authorities divide us up. You. Are. Welcomed.

What social laws are dividing us up today? What is keeping us apart? What is holding us back? Let’s get a compassionate anger at these injustices in the world… and let’s do what Jesus would do! Let us take the example of the leper and tell the world! AMEN!


Anchor Bible Commentary, C.S. Mann “Mark” page 219.

Bruce Epperly’s commentary found at

Dr Jeffery K London’s sermon “The Laughter Barrel” found at

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Garbage District

Here's the wiki article on the Legend of St Simon the Cobbler.

This district is named Zabaleen (Garbage collectors in Arabic), so literally, this is "Trash City". There are over forty thousand people living there.It's dusty and has narrow dirt lanes. Here families sort and recycle the garbage produced by Cairo's burgeoning population of around 25 million (which goes up 1 million every 6 months!). There is an odor about the village, but because it was mild, it wasn't too bad.

Thinking about our visit, i can't help but think of the criticism of the movie "Slum Dog Millionare" (sent to me by Mr. Chris Eden). The Slate article What, Exactly, Is Slumdog Millionaire? mentions that:
A columnist at the London Times called it "poverty porn," bringing up the question of exploitation that has largely been elided in stateside discussions.

i think it sums up our visit exactly! just like the film, it gave us overtones of a real life situation and context but it never gets into the reality and deeper issues of the context. i'm happy to have gone but realize i must do more work in trying to figure out the reality that i brushed up against.

i think this says alot about ppl's personalities as well. some will go to the movie, see it, be entertained, and then not really think about it. same with the trip. others will go to the movie or on a trip, and then chew on it, get books on the subject, really chase it down.

isn't that what we see in seminary as well? ppl going to class and either not listen, have the info go in one ear and out the other, or actively pursue the info and challenge it and be transformed by it.

some of my fellow classmates had no questions about this part of the trip.. i on the other hand, couldn't let this issue rest. I asked our tour guide, Romani, a million questions about this area, the people, the culture of the neighborhood, whether they had steady electricity (they do), and if they could move out or not (they can!). i'm not saying i'm better, just different in the reaction.

the point of this post is that the last thing we should say is "awww, they live in unhygenic conditions, let's have a pity-party." in fact, i think we should be setting up similar communities in landfills across the US! i marveled at the brilliance and ingenuity of those living in the district. it challenged my assumptions and made me want to dive deeper.

i hope it's done the same for you!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Mt. Sinai"


I'll let these two videos do the talking.. hopefully there'll be much discussion on these two as there's been much talk over whether Exodus factually happened or not. well, much talk among the canon anyways...

and the following thoughts with Mr Dwight and myself.

love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, February 09, 2009

St Paul the Monk

Day Two: 1.11.2009
St Paul's monastery was great and we were met by Father Thomas, an archtype of holiness. He was soft-spoken, light-hearted, and genuine.

The legend of St Paul goes like this: His parents die and he's left with all the stuff and his brother. Wondering what to do, he heads to church and gets a message that he should leave it all and head
to the desert for a life of prayer and solitude. He does just that and walks into the desert and is led to a cave right near a spring. Everday a bird drops off half a loaf of bread (a reference to Elijah).

St. Antony goes into the desert and thinks he's the first monk. An angel comes to him and leads Antony 4 days across the desert to meet St Paul. that day the raven brings a whole loaf of bread... When Anthony next visited him, Paul was dead. Anthony clothed him in a tunic which was a present from Saint Athanasius and buried him, with two lions helping to dig the grave.

While St Antony is the more popular monk, Father Thomas had a great metaphor. He said that St Antony is like the body of monasticism, you can see it, but St Paul is the heart! You can't see a heart, but you know everyone that is alive has one. Monasticism is alive and St Paul is the heart of it.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Real Red Sea

so while i was in Hurghada, Kate was in the Cayman islands.

hard life, i know.

but it kinda was... even though i was in a wonderful location, snorkeling and seeing new fish and viewing fit europeans in tiny swimwear, i still missed my wife and Boogie (our child that's still in utero). every night i feel Boogie kick, as if he/she is trying to say 'hi'. messages from another world. i missed those. plus my roomate Steve snores. but i had no reason to complain as you'll see in the video:

meanwhile, here's what Kate was doing as evidenced by the pictures her parents took.

it was nice to know that Kate just wasn't at home during this week, it really kept me from worrying too much or fighting to get in contact daily with her.

we had devotions that evening, here's what i wrote:

Praise and thanksgiving, oh God!
I have seen God working in antiquity,
in human history,
in human relationships,
in human culture.

I give thanks to the Creator as I now realize that,
I may only see God in the other,
that I must first go into Egypt,
to be called out of it. (Matt 2:13)

Uncomfort creates growth.
Growth creates understanding.
Understanding, peace.

Praise be to God! Amen

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt. She is generally regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. She was sucessful in warfare and her trade negotiations ushered in great wealth.

so why then did her ancestors try to remove her from history?

The attempt was made to remove Hatshepsut from certain historical and pharaonic records. This elimination was carried out in the most literal way possible. Her cartouches and images were chiselled off some stone walls, leaving very obvious Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork.

Amenhotep II would have had a motive because his position in the royal lineage was not so strong to assure his elevation to pharaoh. but one should never mess with a lady as this only ups the value of articles that are in tact carrying her name.

the TEMPLE OF KARNAK was the highlight of the trip. it's the largest ancient temple of the ancient world and many of the pharoah's helped add onto the temp include'n Hatshepsut and Rameses II, my two faves.

as Craig remarked upon leaving Karnak "i will yearn for this place. I'm missing it already and i wonder when i'll be able to visit this again. I had this same feeling when i left the Sistine Chapel."

i couldn't agree with him more.