Monday, July 31, 2006

FROM RESENTMENT TO GRATITUDE

Henri Nouwen offers the following reflection for all who minister to others in Christ's name. God, help me continue to try to respond in a healing, compassionate way to any who live with resentment or who direct their resentment at me:

"Healing ministry can be expressed in two words: gratitude and compassion."

"Healing happens often by leading people to gratitude, for the world is full of resentment. What is resentment? Cold anger. 'I'm angry at him. I'm angry at this. This is not the way I want it.' Gradually, there are more and more things I am negative about, and soon I become a resentful person."

"Resentment makes you cling to your failures or disappointments and complain about the losses in your life. Our life is full of losses— losses of dreams and losses of friends and losses of family and losses of hopes. There is always the lurking danger we will respond to these incredible pains in resentment. Resentment gives us a hardened heart."

"Jesus calls us to gratitude. He calls to us, 'You foolish people. Didn't you know that the Son of Man—that you, that we—have to suffer and thus enter into the glory? Didn't you know that these pains were labor pains that lead you to the joy? Didn't you know that all we are experiencing as losses are gains in God's eyes? Those who lose their lives will gain it. And if the grain doesn't die, it stays a small grain; but if it dies, then it will be fruitful.'"

"Can you be grateful for everything that has happened in your life—not just the good things but for all that brought you to today? It was the pain of a Son that created a family of people known as Christians. That's the mystery of God."

"Our ministry is to help people to gradually let go of the resentment, to discover that right in the middle of pain there is a blessing. Right in the middle of your tears—that's where the dance starts and joy is first felt. "

"In this crazy world, there's an enormous distinction between good times and bad, between sorrow and joy. But in the eyes of God, they're never separated. Where there is pain, there is healing. Where there is mourning, there is dancing. Where there is poverty, there is the kingdom."

"Jesus says, 'Cry over your pains, and you will discover that I'm right there in your tears, and you will be grateful for my presence in your weakness.' Ministry means to help people become grateful for life even with pain. That gratitude can send into the world precisely to the places where people are in pain. The minister, the disciple of Jesus, goes where there is pain not because he is a masochist or she is a sadist, but because God is hidden in the pain."

Learn more about Henri Nouwen at the Henri Nouwen Society.

Resentment is serious stuff. It can thoroughly sabotage and disorient the best people. Learn more about resentment and how to overcome resentment -- click here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

WITH FAITH

“Not only do sacraments say something, but they actually do something...”

“Without inner love and commitment, the marriage ceremony would be a farce, a parody of the true meaning of marriage. Likewise, without faith the sacraments are merely outward forms accomplishing nothing. But with love and commitment the marriage ceremony actually brings a true marriage into being. And with faith, the sacraments accomplish what they were designed to do—impart to the believer the grace of God. The ‘outward sign’ and the ‘inward grace’ working together—these are what make a sacrament.”

“God has ordained the sacraments, and Christ has commanded our participation in them, and when received in faith, they convey to us a special status before God and unlimited access to God’s grace.”

— Rob L. Staples in Outward Sign and Inward Grace

Saturday, July 29, 2006

INTO THE HEART SANCTUARY

“Just as worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience. If worship does not propel us into greater obedience, it has not been worship. To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change. Resentments cannot be held with the same tenacity when we enter his gracious light. As Jesus says, we need to leave our gift at the altar and go set the matter straight (Matthew 5:23, 24). In worship an increased power steals its way into the heart sanctuary, an increased compassion grows in the soul. To worship is to change.”- Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline

Friday, July 28, 2006

BACKYARD GARDEN

Summer foliage is fullest at this time of the year. There's been time for flower and leaf to come to fullness. It's just before the intense sun and heat of August wilt the more fragile vegetation. Becky's efforts at coaxing colorful life from the ground in our backyard is rewarded in spades. It's an inviting place to spend with a book or writing pad or in conversation with family and friends.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

FIVE MONTHS FROM INDIA

We're five months out from our planned 2,000-mile ride up through the heart of India. Bicycle India 2007 will commence on December 28 in Nagercoil at the southern tip of India. Our trek will take us northward through Bangalore, Hyderabad, Nagpur, and an early February finish in New Delhi. This January 2006 photo was taken near Yavotmal in Maharashtra state while we were exploring and mapping possibilities for the ride; Joe James is on the left, I'm on the right. Last evening, our team leader Bob Yardy and I made a presentation about the excursion to over 500 people. We're riding to raise awareness of Umri Christian Hospital...and to raise $400,000 to rebuild this 100-bed, 50-year old facility that serves the rural poor of central India. Learn more at http://bicycleindia2007.blogspot.com

Sunday, July 23, 2006

THE CORNER WE'VE TURNED

[This is a developing reflection, updated occasionally...I'll take this note off when it's as complete as it's going to get.]

We've turned a corner
from which we can't retreat.
We've seen ourselves and
all other human beings
as individuals, each with
infinite soul and worth.

What Jesus opened up and
the Enlightenment recovered
cannot now be put back
in the box for the sake of
countering chaos or controlling
this unruly leader or that
unwieldy populace.

You are as important as me.
They are as valuable as we.
Though some try not to believe,
self-evident truth reveals
the image of the Creator
stamped on us all.

Still armies amass and weapons
strike with a surgical precision
that nonetheless snuff out
the individual lives of suspected
and unsuspecting alike.

War is a relic of antiquity,
a hold-over from an age
when all were expendable
for the sake of the whole,
when the victor's ballad
was written in the blood of
friend and foe, a symphony
soured by its disregard
for the value of one.

When one mattered less
as one, when one mattered
more as a thing, a tool, a pawn--
however patriotically proclaimed--
war could be waged eye for eye
and tooth for tooth.

But the Cross closed that chapter
and Resurrection opened the next--
when one suffered for all and
redeemed the life of even one,
when one life burst forth with
love to grace every last one.

And each life was lifted beyond
the pale of mere existence;
the simplest, the lowest, the basest
was exalted and restored--
never to be cast aside or
undistinguished in the masses.

And even though we demand
blood vengeance in the face
of our own losses, vengeance
no longer satisfies the heart;
though justice be done, justice
is no longer served.

In our killing we surely
poison our own souls; living,
we slowly die by our own sword.
Our warring seeds the earth
with a billion broken particles
that cry out each to God.

But God would hear--
and will surely respond--
if but one in a billion
called out to heaven.
It is in one and for one
God turns the universe.

Dare we lay our weapons down
while others still breathe
a deathly past? Unless we do,
we shall not live the future
into which we are drawn,
nor make it possible for others.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

CICADAS

I wrote the following piece six summers ago. I was reminded of it when I heard the first cicada of the summer wail as I rested during a long bike ride at Southwestway Park earlier in the week.









Cicadas wind up and wail
in surreally uneven rhythms,
in stereo, no, Surroundsound.
Screeching bellows rise and fall,
come and go, here and there
as a summer dusk descends.

My son points out seven empty shells
of cicadas still clinging to a branch
on Bill’s maple tree next door.
The creatures’ backs are ripped open
and whatever had been inside is free.

I touch a cicada shell and it drops
from the branch to the grass below.
Looking down, I cannot find it;
it is not only empty, but now as invisible
as it had been when it raised
such a ruckus.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

SIMPLICITY & ACHIEVEMENT

ARLENE LANDIS WATCHES HER SON. This photo by Carolyn Kaster (AP) is, to me, the most incredible image related to this year's Tour de France.

SIMPLICITY AND TECHNOLOGY. The Landis family of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is conservative Mennonite. Living in simplicity and community, they choose not to possess or routinely use an automobile or TV. Arlene Landis, mother of Tour de France contender Floyd Landis, walks to a neighbor's house to watch her son ride the greatest cycling race in the world.

ENDEARING BONDS. In this photo she not only watches OLN's coverage of the Tour de France, but holds up a phone to the TV, perhaps for a friend or relative to hear of her son's internationally-respected effort. I just love this contrast of cultures and endearing bonds of family!

FREE TO LEAVE. News sources report that Floyd Landis left his cloistered community after graduation from high school. Though not easy, leaving such communities is always a free and considered choice for Mennonite and Amish youth, not an act of rebellion (as some in the news media are trying to cast Landis' departure). Landis loved riding throughout his youth. After leaving his community, Landis has made San Diego his home. From that base he became a nationally-prominant mountain bike competitor before switching to road racing and becoming part of Lance Armstrong's Tour de France-winning team.

RESURRECTION & REDEMPTION

PARDON THE SPIRITUAL LANGUAGE. It's a resurrection! It's redemption! Okay, maybe it's over the top to put what happened in today's stage of the Tour de France in such spiritually-charged terms.

HE WAS DEAD AND IS ALIVE. Let's just say that after yesterday's disasterous Stage 16 finish, American Floyd Landis' realistic possibilities for winning the Tour were dead. But after his long break-kneck breakaway over the last of the French Alps in today's stage, Landis' hopes for wearing the Yellow Jersey in Paris on Sunday are definitely alive.

HE WAS WRITTEN OFF AND IS REDEEMED. Yesterday, folks were writing Landis off as a pretender instead of a contender. Today, he found redemption in the eyes of the toughest of cycling and sports critics. Experts are calling today's comeback the greatest in cycling history. It was truly inspiring to follow.

CHARGING FROM 11th to 3rd PLACE. On this, the last mountain stage in the Alps, Landis broke away from the pack early in the stage. He made a heroic effort to stay clear of his rivals to the very end, using his championship mountain bike experience at climbing and descending to his highest advantage. He became the 10th American to win a stage of the Tour de France. More importantly, he finished with a time good enough--five minutes, forty-one seconds ahead of second-place finisher Carlos Sastre--to put him back into 3rd place overall. Landis is now just 30 seconds behind the Yellow Jersey of Oscar Pereiro and 17 seconds behind Carlos Sastre.

WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO. Everything now hinges on Saturday's individual time trial. Between Landis, Pereiro, and Sastre, Landis has clearly superior ability in time trials. He was over one minute and thirty seconds better than all the current contenders in Stage 7, the first individual time trial of this edition of the Tour de France. He must be considered a favorite to win or finish ahead of his rivals in the 2nd individual time trial stage coming up on Saturday.

HOT POTATO. In recent years, the Tour has been Armstrong’s to lose. But this edition of the Tour de France is anyone’s to win. And so far it has been an unpredictable free-for-all. The Yellow Jersey seems like a hot potato nobody can hold on to for very long. The current leader, Oscar Pereiro, was over 30 minutes behind Landis after the Pyrenees mountains; now he leads. Landis was down and out, it was said; but then he fought back. Go figure! Anything can happen before Paris on Sunday. Tune in. Hang on. It ain’t over…

FOLLOW IT LIVE ONLINE. Find links to follow the 3 final stage of the Tour de France live online (live ticker, live audio, live video) and read my stage-by-stage recaps and Stage Notes at http://tdf05.blogspot.com - The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

HEARTBREAK IN THE MOUNTAINS

YELLOW, NOT, YELLOW, NOT... Just when it seemed like American Floyd Landis was in charge of the Yellow Jersey, having gained it in the Pyrenees mountains, yielded it to a crazy breakaway rider, and regained it on the fabled mountain L’Alpe d’Huez on Tuesday, he lost it again today. Landis rode with his rivals to the base of today's final mountain climb, but with only 15 uphill kilometers to go, he ran out of steam. His rivals sped up and he had nothing left in his tank to stay with them. It was heartbreaking to watch. All he could do was hold on and ride out the nightmare.

AMERICAN CONTENDERS FADING? And so the American we’d hoped would win the Tour de France moved from first to eleventh place. He crossed the finish line over 10 minutes after stage winner Mickael Rasmussen and well behind the contenders--German Andreas Kloden, Spaniard Carlos Sastre, Australian Cadel Evans, Spaniard Oscar Pereiro Soi, Russian Denis Menchov, and American Levi Leipheimer. Leipheimer is now in eighth place, ahead of Landis. Either Leipheimer or Landis COULD ride their way back into contention, but it is a long, long shot.

HOT POTATO. I imagine Americans will find it harder to take interest in the first post-Armstrong Tour de France without an American vying for the lead now. In recent years, the Tour has been Armstrong’s to lose. But this edition of the Tour de France is anyone’s to win. And so far it has been an unpredictable free-for-all. The Yellow Jersey seems like a hot potato nobody can hold on to for very long. Less than sixty seconds separates second through sixth place--an amazing feat after over 1500 miles of racing. The current leader, Oscar Pereiro, was over 30 minutes behind Landis after the Pyrenees mountains; now he leads. Go figure.

TUNE IN. Anything can happen before Paris on Sunday. Tune in. Hang on. It ain’t over… Follow the Tour daily with my stage-by-stage recaps and Stage Notes at http://tdf05.blogspot.com - The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

SERVING IN THE SPIRIT OF JESUS...NOT JUST IN HIS NAME

The importance serving in the spirit of Jesus and not just in Jesus' name recently came home to me in a rather humbling experience. Of all the neighbors who gather at our inner-city church for our monthly clothing ministry, two sisters line up outside the church door at least two hours before our doors open at 5:15 pm. There is little need for such an effort, for all the cothing is available to be shopped freely and no one need wait outside. The single reason these sisters routinely gather early is to be the first to access a special "extras" room of sundry household supplies.

"PLEASE OPEN THE DOOR!" As usual, these women were early last month, but they were being unusually loud as they waited outside. Overhearing them from my office window near the facility entrance, their antics annoyed me as I tried to study. After an hour of waiting, one of them started pounding on the door. Initially I ignored it, trying to stay focused on my preparation for the evening's Bible message. The pounding continued, unabated. I ignored it; all our neighbors would have our full attention all evening, let them wait, I rationalized. In a few moments one of the women appeared at my office window gesturing and yelling "Please open the door! I have to go to the bathroom!"

"I DIDN'T THINK PASTORS TALKED LIKE THAT." Without thinking, I gave her a disgusted look, peavedly pushed back from my desk and walked to the door, all the while mumbling about "what do these people expect?" I opened the door and tersely told her she could come in. As she entered, I proceeded to give her a short lecture on the silliness of arriving so early and of the shortness of our volunteer staffing to accommodate such extra demands. My words were met with an aghast stare and comeback that cut me to the heart: "Well, I didn't think pastors were supposed to talk like that!"

TRYING TO JUSTIFY MYSELF. She was right. But I wasn't ready to admit it. I tried to get back to my Bible study, but it seemed like heaven was closed. All I could think of was this: my high words had hurt the feelings of this simple woman. While all that I said really needed to be conveyed, it was inappropriate to convey it in the manner I had. Still, I wasn't ready to recant. Instead, from that moment until the doors opened for our neighborhood dinner and clothing distribution, I informed staff and volunteers to expect this woman to be talking me down because I had suggested she not come so early. Knowing her to be notoriously disruptive during monthly clothing distribution, they all dismissed it and laughed it off. I felt consoled and somewhat justified. But not really.

DIFFICULT APOLOGY. By the time we opened the doors, I knew what I had to do: I had to apologize. How humiliting, I thought: the senior pastor of a substantial urban congregation having to ask forgiveness of a neighborhood woman who counted on the church for her very clothing. The only thing more difficult than that would be to try to sweep my guilt and this broken sense of spirit under the rug and act as if it were not important and didn't really matter.

EVEN PASTORS HAVE BAD DAYS. I found the woman at the dinner table and sat down beside her. "Are you still upset at me?" I asked. "Yes," she said soberly. "Well, I've been thinking about it and I don't think what I said and the way I said was right. I'm really sorry. Can you forgive me?" She hardly paused even as her countenance changed. "It's okay," she said. "Apparently, even pastors have bad days every now and then." I smiled and thanked her.

THE PEACE OF RECONCILIATION. As I walked away, I began to feel the genuineness of her forgiveness and the peace of having yielded to grace in this small but significant encounter. I felt reconciled to her, to ministry in this place, to my own soul, and to God. I shelved the devotional that I had planned to share with the neighbors and volunteers who gathered for the evening of food and clothing distribution. With the woman's permission, I decided to tell the group what had happened and to point to the importance of offering confession and forgiveness to one another. It felt like the right and best thing to do. That afternoon and evening I discovered in a fresh--if painful--way that serving in the spirit of Jesus is more important than just serving in Jesus' name.

Friday, July 14, 2006

BIKING THE 96th STREET TRAILS

John T. and I drove up to the 96th Street mountain bike trails early this morning and had a good ride. We took a trail labeled "easy" and it was about eight miles of twisting, rolling, challenging terrain. Well maintained, the trail follows along White River south of 96th Street and crosses under I-465 for about half a mile before turning northward. One of the best trail rides in the area, I'd say. Access to the trailhead is about 1 mile east of Keystone Avenue on 96th Street.
LANDIS IN YELLOW

In case you hadn't heard, American Floyd Landis became just the fifth American in Tour de France history to don the coveted Maillot Jaune, or Yellow Jersey, that designates the overall race leader. He gained that privilege by finishing an incredibly difficult stage on Thursday in the Pyrenees mountains near Spain. Landis, a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, finished with a group of three riders that included American Levi Leipheimer well ahead of all other top Tour contenders. He kept the Yellow Jersey at the end of today's stage.

MENNONITE ROOTS. Landis originally hails from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the son of strict conservative Mennonite parents. Landis loved and focused on cycling as a youth. He moved out of his Mennonite community to San Diego and became the National Jr. Mountain Bike Champion before moving over to road racing. He rode with Armstrong on three of his Tour de France victories before becoming leader of the Swiss Phonak Hearing Systems team. Last year, Landis finished 7th in the TdF. Landis is described as the antithesis of Armstrong in every way but one--they share in intense passion for winning the Tour de France.

HIP REPLACEMENT PENDING. What makes Landis' current Tour de France effort interesting is that he has a degenerative hip that needs to be replaced following the Tour. He had a hard fall in 2003 and his hip never fully recovered. He reports that he rides through a lot of pain. Whether or not Landis finishes first in Paris, one has to appreciate what he's attempting to do with the condition that he's bearing. I hope he wins.

HAVE FUN WITH THE TOUR. Below are a few quick links that can bring you up to speed on this year's Tour de Fance and make it fun for you.
  • Full results of each Stage by Cyclingnews. This link gives you a rundown on overall rankings in each jersey category, too. Think of the Tour de France as a series of 21 stages like the NASCAR Nextel Cup series has many races with individual race winners and one champion at the end of the series.
  • Scroll easily through lots of pages of really great Tour photography at Yahoo!
  • OLN provides free video highlights and commentary wrap-ups of each stage by Bob Roll and Al Trautwig.
  • Listen to the next stage live at: http://www.cyclingfans.com/ This site provides a link to Eurosport's live audio coverage of the Tour. Audio coverage usually begins at 6 or 7 AM each day. Limited Internet TV viewing is also accessible at this site.

AMERICANS TO WEAR YELLOW. Who are the other Americans who have had the privilege of leading at least one Stage of the Tour de France? Greg Lemond (won the race 3 times), Lance Armstrong (won the race an unprecedented 7 times), George Hincapie (wore the Yellow Jersey after Stage 1 of this year's race), and Bobby Jullich (wore it for a stage eight years ago).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

HOW DO WE BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS?

How can we cultivate Christlikeness? Richard J. Foster, in his now classic book on the classic Christian spirtual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline, offers this insight:

NOTHING WE CAN DO. “When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change is God’s work, not ours. The demand is for an inside job, and only God can work from the inside."

SOMETHING WE CAN DO. “The moment we grasp this breathtaking insight we are in danger of an error in the opposite direction. We are tempted to believe there is nothing we can do. Happily there is something we can do. God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.”

SOWING TO THE SPIRIT. “The Disciplines are a way of sowing to the Spirit. They are God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where He can work within us and transform us. By themselves the Disciplines can do nothing; they only get us to the place where something can be done. They are God’s means of grace.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

MOLLY IN MEXICO

Our 15-year-old daughter Molly is in Mexico on a mission trip with our congregation's youth group. She's the one in the middle of this photo, snapped during a VBS activity. In addition to facilitating a VBS and soccer camp, the team is doing some construction work.

THE MILLER FAMILY. The group is working with Drs. Joel and Janette Miller. The Millers attended WEMO during medical school and residencies. Joel served two years as physician to homeless neighbors through I U Medical Group, serving part of his service at Horizon House. They became medical missionaries through Free Methodist World Missions and have opened up a clinic on the outskirts of Mexico City. You can learn more about the Millers by clicking HERE.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

WHY DO I WRITE?

I write.
“Why” is something of a mystery to me.
Is it for the yet untold story?
Is it honoring what's inside,
what is given--
not dismissing apparently dismissable things
as insignificant?
Is it mulling over disparate
pieces of a puzzle
in hopes that another will
make a connection,
catch the spirit?
Is it for later reference,
incomplete notes scrawled down
for fuller re-membering?

I find that when I write--
even poorly or dully--
I am quite alive
and whatever is creative in me
breathes, expands,
finds expression.

Writing challenges all of me
that is conventional.
It's where I explore the world
that cannot be contained,
defined, controlled, pigeonholed,
or made to serve
lower purposes.

Friday, July 7, 2006

TOUR DE ANTIQUITY

Riding through the countrysides and towns of the American midwest, one gets the feeling that everything is young; even what is old and crumbling is under 100 years. Riding across the French plains and through its villages must strike a very different chord. Antiquity is the norm--antiquity juxtaposed to modern living.

WHO'S WHO IN LISIEUX? Today's stage of the Tour de France begins in Lisieux. Lisieux: already many generations old in 1887 when a 14-year old girl, taking the name Therese, took vows at its local convent. Though she would die at age 24, the now canonized Saint Therese of Lisieux would broaden and deepen the reflection of Jesus Christ through her life lived in this very village, walking these same streets--streets that will be packed with race fans caring only--for the moment--to get a glimpse of the brightly-colored cycle racers as the peloton flows by and on to another village.

Photo credit: PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images

Learn more about Saint Therese of Lisieux

Follow the race through July 23 with my daily entries at The Tour de France for the Rest of Us blog...just for the fun of it

Thursday, July 6, 2006

TWO KINDS OF FREEDOM

REFLECTING ON FREEDOM. Out of his weekly Sabbath time--a full day of ruminating quietly in the woods near his farm in northern Kentucky--Wendell Berry pens some poignant connections between nature and life. Buried deep within his most recent collection of poems, Given (Shoemaker Hoard, 2005), Berry embeds a brief sequence from his ongoing "Sabbaths" series that apparently emerge from his reflections on America's wars on Afghanistan and Iraq. Here are two initial snippets from "Sabbaths" of 2003. A few more excerpts for the sake of review will follow in a few days.

V

The little stream sings
in the crease of the hill.
It is the water of life. It knows
nothing of death, nothing.
And this is the morning
of Christ's resurrection.
The tomb is empty. There is
no death. Death is our illusion,
our wish to belong only
to ourselves, which is our freedom
to kill one another.
From this sleep may we too
rise, as out of the dark grave.

VI

The politics of illusion, of death's money,
possesses us. This is the Hell, this
the nightmare into which Christ descended
from the cross, from which also he woke
and rose, striding godly forth, so free
that He appeared to Mary Magdalene
to be only the gardener walking about
in the new day, among the flowers.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

TOUR UPDATE

Photo journalist Franck Fife (AFP/ Getty Images) captures the peloton during Wednesday's Stage 4 of the Tour de France as it sweeps into northern France from Belgium. I've been enjoying the Tour's developments thus far and blogging daily updates at The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.

Here's what's interesting to me about it...so far:

1. Five days...four lead changes. Belgian Tom Boonen is the first to keep the Yellow Jersey for more than a day.

2. Three Americans are poised as favorites, not just possible contenders, to win the race. George Hincapie is just 5 seconds behind Boonen. Floyd Landis is down just 7 seconds. Levi Leipheimer is well within striking distance. All three are former Armstrong teammates now leading their respective teams.

3. Alejandro Valverde, the race favorite after the big three--Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, and Francisco Mancebo--were pulled out of the race by their teams on doping allegations, crashed and broke his collarbone in Stage 3. Valverde's misfortune is also the Americans' opportunity.

4. Australian sprint specialist Robbie McEwen has won two stages thus far. He will surely fade in the mountains, but in the tradition of the Italian "Lion King" Mario Cippolini, sprinters like McEwen, Boonen, Stuart O'Grady, and Eric Zabel provide most of the excitement in the first week of the Tour. Their hard-charging bunch sprints in the last kilometers of a stage are deathly-dangerous, contentious, and just plain awe-inspiring to watch.

5. The race is not diminished without the riders barred on suspicion of doping. Would it be better if Basso, Ullrich, etc. were riding? Who knows? But no one is dominating, or looks like they will dominate, this year's race. So, it's quite interesting. There was some discussion among pundits about an asterisk after this year's race results. Perhaps the asterisk will go by the names of the riders who took the risk of questionable or unfair drug and blood manipulation--not on the race itself.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

Here's the text of the declaration which marks this day and from which the United States of America was birthed.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776. THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE THIRTEEN UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

WHEN, in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's GOD entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their CREATOR, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate, that Governments long established, should not be changed for light and transient Causes; and accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security. Such has been the patient Sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the Necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a History of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid World.

HE has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public Good.

HE has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing Importance, unless suspended in their Operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

HE has refused to pass other Laws for the Accommodation of large Districts of People, unless those People would relinquish the Right of Representation in the Legislature, a Right inestimable to them, and formidable to Tyranny only.

HE has called together Legislative Bodies at Places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the Depository of their public Records, for the sole Purpose of fatiguing them into Compliance with his Measures.

HE has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly Firmness his Invasions on the Rights of the People.

HE has refused for a long Time, after such Dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining, in the mean Time, exposed to all the Dangers of Invasion from without, and Convulsions within.

HE has endeavoured to prevent the Population of these States; for that Purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their Migrations hither, and raising the Conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

HE has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

HE has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the Tenure of their Offices, and the Amount and Payment of their Salaries.

HE has erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.

HE has kept among us, in Times of Peace, Standing Armies, without the Consent of our Legislatures.

HE has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

HE has combined with others to subject us to a Jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution, and unacknowledged by our Laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

FOR quartering large Bodies of Armed Troops among us:

FOR protecting them, by a mock Trial, from Punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

FOR cutting off our Trade with all Parts of the World:

FOR imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

FOR depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury:

FOR transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended Offences:

FOR abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an arbitrary Government, and enlarging its Boundaries, so as to render it at once an Example and fit Instrument for introducing the same absolute Rule into these Colonies:

FOR taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

FOR suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with Power to legislate for us in all Cases whatsoever.

HE has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection, and waging War against us.

HE has plundered our Seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our Towns, and destroyed the Lives of our People.

HE is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation.

HE has constrained our Fellow-Citizens, taken Captive on the high Seas, to bear Arms against their Country, to become the Executioners of their Friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

HE has excited domestic Insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known Rule of Warfare, is an undistinguished Destruction, of all Ages, Sexes, and Conditions.

IN every Stage of these Oppressions we have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble Terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated Injury. A Prince, whose Character is thus marked by every Act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the Ruler of a free People.

NOR have we been wanting in Attentions to our British Brethren. We have warned them, from Time to Time, of Attempts by their Legislature to extend an unwarrantable Jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the Circumstances of our Emigration and Settlement here. We have appealed to their native Justice and Magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the Ties of our common Kindred to disavow these Usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our Connexions and Correspondence. They too have been deaf to the Voice of Justice and of Consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the Necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the Rest of Mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connexion between them and the State of Great-Britain, is, and ought to be, totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of Right do. And for the Support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of DIVINE PROVIDENCE, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honour.

John Hancock.
GEORGIA, Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, Geo. Walton.
NORTH-CAROLINA, Wm. Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn.
SOUTH-CAROLINA, Edward Rutledge, Thos Heyward, junr. Thomas Lynch, junr. Arthur Middleton.
MARYLAND, Samuel Chase, Wm. Paca, Thos. Stone, Charles Carroll, of Carrollton.
VIRGINIA, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Ths. Jefferson, Benja. Harrison, Thos. Nelson, jr. Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton.
PENNSYLVANIA, Robt. Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benja. Franklin, John Morton, Geo. Clymer, Jas. Smith, Geo. Taylor, James Wilson, Geo. Ross.
DELAWARE, Caesar Rodney, Geo. Read. NEW-YORK, Wm. Floyd, Phil. Livingston, Frank Lewis, Lewis Morris.
NEW-JERSEY, Richd. Stockton, Jno. Witherspoon, Fras. Hopkinson, John Hart, Abra. Clark.
NEW-HAMPSHIRE, Josiah Bartlett, Wm. Whipple, Matthew Thornton.
MASSACHUSETTS-BAY, Saml. Adams, John Adams, Robt. Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry.
RHODE-ISLAND AND PROVIDENCE, &c. Step. Hopkins, William Ellery.
CONNECTICUT, Roger Sherman, Saml. Huntington, Wm. Williams, Oliver Wolcott.

Learn more about the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives website.

Monday, July 3, 2006

WHAT’S TO BECOME OF BEING A CHRISTIAN?

EMBARRASSED AND EMBARRASSING. I’ve spent much of my youth and adult life being embarrassed by Christians. By this I mean those who call themselves Christian but do not believe that actually means becoming like--or relatively, approximately, hemispherically like--Jesus Christ. Therefore, they make no attempt to cultivate Christlikeness or act in either a personal-relational or social-political dimension in reflection of Jesus Christ. I guess I’d have to say that, for all my conviction about this and my own determination to become more like Jesus, I’ve grandly embarrassed myself more than a few times.

SETTLING FOR SOMETHING LESS. Quite a few Christians have given up on being like Jesus. They are settling for respectable religion. Many are getting into culture Christianity, which is, in fact, civil religion--and insidiously idolatrous. Others unwittingly use Christianity and the church to maintain family traditions and “values” without being measurably moved by the call to radical faith. And in myriad ways folks keep trying to fit Jesus into their secular lifestyles, world-shaped agendas, family plans, career interests, personal priorities, and unholy purposes. None of this reflects the Jesus of Scriptures or the costly grace that makes godliness in this life possible, clear, and accessible. For all our resignation or misguiding, the Scriptures nonetheless describe Christlikeness or godliness (use these terms interchangeably) as the way and the goal of being fully human.

FOLLOWING JESUS. In this connection, I was recently re-reading Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines and underlined these sentences: “We can become like Christ by doing one thing--by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father. Such a faith is strongly opposed today by powerful tendencies around us. Faith today is treated like something that only should make us different, not that actually does or can make us different.”

THE DARING GOAL. Richard J. Foster echoes Willard in this snippet from an online article: “The daring goal of the Christian life could be summarized as our being formed, conformed, and transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ has come among his people as our ever-living Savior, Teacher, Lord, and Friend. He who is the Way shows us the way to live so that we increasingly come to share his love, hope, feelings, and habits. He agrees to be yoked to us, as we are yoked to him, and to train us in how to live our lives as he would live them if he were in our place.”

FOUR CLOSE QUESTIONS. I’m asking myself and our community of faith some “close” questions during July and August, a period of time in which we’re focusing on cultivating Christlikeness. Even with the personal embarrassment my current answers bring, it is not personal embarrassment that bothers me so much as choosing to live less of a life in regard to God, myself, and others than Jesus Christ has made possible, clear, and accessible. Be gentle with yourself if you choose to respond personally to these questions. May they prompt a renewed focus on him who is able to make us fully human, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

1. "What have I done intentionally in the past 7 days that reflects the character of Jesus Christ?" (Such as, forgiven someone for Christ’s sake, withheld judgment, responded kindly, acted beyond my own interests or needs, etc.). You may ask someone to tell you what of Christ they see in you and your actions.

2. "What am I doing/can I do with purpose and discipline each week that cultivates Christlikeness in me?" Make a realistic list, prioritize it, then start or renew it. Report back to your accountability group or keep a journal.

3. Read Romans 12:1-2. "How am I challenging or countering the routines, influences, messages, and patterns that tend to squeeze me into the world’s mold?"

4. "Am I ready and willing to put myself in the places where God’s grace can form me into the likeness of Jesus?"

Sunday, July 2, 2006

AN AMERICAN IN YELLOW...ALREADY

Congratulations to George Hincapie. The faithful lieutenant of Lance Armstrong and only American to ride in all seven of Armstrong's Tour de France victories has donned the Yellow Jersey of the overall race leader at the end of Stage 1.

MY TURN. Big George was in second place, just .73 seconds behind Thor Hushovd, at the end of Saturday's Prologue. On Sunday, he gained a few points (and precious seconds) during an intermediate sprint to put him ahead of Hushovd and into the Maillot Jaune. Hincapie has made a career of helping Lance Armstrong get into--and maintain--the Yellow Jersey. Maybe it's time for the Discovery Channel team to help George keep it for awhile.

DOPING HYSTERIA ASIDE, LET THE RACE ROLL! After all the doping hysteria and dumping of pre-race favorites implicated in the Operacion Puerta affair, the Tour de France got underway without a hitch in Strasbourg, Germany on Saturday with a 7 kilometer Prologue followed by a 183 kilometer Stage 1 on Sunday. One stage down, only 19 to go! Ahh...the glory of July! Let the race roll.

EVENTS JUST FOR DOPERS. I have an idea about what to do with all the sports dopers. Read it...and my other reflections about the Tour thus far at http://tdf05.blogspot.com - The Tour de France for the Rest of Us.