Monday, June 30, 2014

Window Shopping

I think that Italy has Walmarts, but that is a statement of faith, just because they seem to be everywhere.  Personally I never saw a big retailer or even what we would call a moderate-sized one.  Instead, the parts of Italy that I have seen are chock full of small stores.  And by small I mean stores only the size of an over-sized walk-in closet.  But they make up in numbers what they lack in size. 

What we enjoy most about shops in Italy are the beautiful window displays in so many of them.  Here's a few to give you the idea.

These small shops seem to be sort of mom&pop kind of operations.  They open around 10 in the morning and close from 13-1400.  They seem to stay open fairly late, but may be closed on Mondays.

It's hard to imagine how this particular produce store, or candy store, or restaurant is different from the one just a block away.  Most apartments seem to have limited storage and small refrigerators, so frequent shopping is a must.

Frequent trips to be replenished are a spiritual requirement too.  A strong relationship with G^d requires a daily restoration.

How's your supply.

Breakfast at Tiffany's (and Rachael and Catie's)

One of the neatest outreaches we have seen was the breakfast-at-supper in Rome, IT.  The Summer Project team bought the groceries:
10 dozen egges
15 packages
Cake batter for pancakes
Lots of delicious fruit.

We went to the local STINT team girls' apartment and began cooking, or rather Brenda began cooking along with some of the Project team members.

The Italians all made about the same comment, "This is delicious, but we would never eat this kind of food for breakfast!"  But, they seemed to really enjoy themselves.
 Here is a small sample of the 15 packages of bacon that Brenda cooked.
Italians are won to the Christ through building relationships.  Relationships are built moment by moment.  Getting a bunch of Italians together for a breakfast supper is a good thing.

Who knows what may, or may not, come of this evangelistic effort?  All we can do is share the Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leave the results to G^d.

Don't forget, obedience is better than sacrifice.

Friday, June 27, 2014

One Colossal Stadium

Bryant-Denny Stadium at the U of AL is an impressive structure, currently holding over 101,000 screaming fans.  But the Colosseo (Coliseum in Rome, IT), is even more impressive.  The structure is enormous.  It is impressive in size, in features, in complexity.  What I found most impressive is that it was completed in only 10 years (AD 70-80).

In this last picture you can see the area under the floor of the Colosseo.  Prior to the addition of this intricate net work of access hallways, equipment and animal storage, and gladiator preparation, the stadium could be flooded to reenact naval battles.

The Colosseo was remarkably like Bryant-Denny.  It had premium seats, middle-price and plebian sections.

It was easy for me to get caught up in the wonder of the engineering.  For Brenda, it was hard to forget what went on there.  In this very spot, slaves, Christians, and gladiators met their demise.  What made it worse was that this cruelty was done strictly for entertainment.  I am guessing that thousands of lives were sacrificed just as a diversion from everyday life.  Most likely many of the spectators got some pleasure simply from the fact that they didn't have to participate in the deadly show.

By the same token, it is easy for us Christians to forget the thousands dying before our eyes.  Everyone who is born again, dies only once, but so many of our friends have only been born once, and thus die the first and then the second death.

People are dying all around, and yet we, and me, mostly focus on our own entertainment.

Now that's not so impressive, is it?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Of Doors and Doorknobs...

Brenda has been fascinated with the many varieties of door knobs here in Bologna.  The doors can be really huge in these old buildings and the hardware is truly impressive.  Here are a few photos of Bolognese doors.

Jesus described himself as "the Door" in John 10: 7-9. 

The Door to what?

In context it tells us that He is the door to eternal life.  No one comes to the Father except by Him.  It's not He is trying to be exclusive, it's just that He is the ONLY way, and He tells the truth, because He IS the TRUTH.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Investing in our Future

Brenda are busy these days trying to have some positive influence on the future of the USA and particularly the future of the Christian Church here.  We spent a few days with a CRU summer project in Rome, and about 10 days with the same in Bologna, Italy.

In order to get there, we went through two pre-departure briefings with students, one for each destination.  Our hypothesis, which we shared several weeks back, is that by connecting with them early, we have a better chance of making a substantial relationship with them, a better chance of winning their trust.

As we might have anticipated, the two groups have substantially different group personalities.  The differences are pretty clear to us and arise from several factors.  It is interesting to see the difference in group function.

We are trying to figure out the most effective means for professors to integrate into these student groups.  It is a BIG transition for the group leaders, the professional staff who direct these groups.  They signed on to work with students.  As naive as Brenda and I may be, we have a hard time really blending in with 20-somethings.  Some leaders take this better than others.

These young men and women will be helping run the country and the church in the USA.  They are the best and brightest, in my view, young people in the Church.

Ultimately, the Church is in G^d's capable hands, and there is no concerns about that.  But as best we can tell, these young people area capable lot as well.

Thanks be to G^d!

Friday, June 20, 2014

New Friends

I enjoy people.  All kinds of people are interesting to me.  I am interested in where people were born, where they grew up, how their life has been.  It is a bit tough in foreign countries.   People may NOT want to share where they were born because they may be illegals, or thought so, even if they aren't.  I still sometimes ask when the circumstances are right.

Early in our time in Rome we met a wonderful CRU couple leading the Summer Project there.  It was a pleasure spending time with them.  Here in Bologna, we hit the jackpot.  Our CRU Faculty leader had a Christian prof in her Sunday School Class and invited her, her husband, and another couple and they were all delightful.

We did quite a bit together.  Every person was kind, considerate, friendly, inclusive; in short just what a gang of Christians OUGHT to be.  So why is this remarkable?  Good question.

Sadly much of Christianity in the USA is the dipped-and-dropped variety.  US Christians, the kind I know best, don't really get much training in Christian living.  We become a number on a list of annual baptisms.

Overly negative you say?  Think about it.  The emphasis is on evangelism, not discipleship.  I have written about it before, so I want repeat the same lament.  The gift of prophecy, calling the Church to repent, is easy, but not fun.

So, I have said it again.  Let's disciple MORE, without leaving off the other.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Learning to Speak Italian to Death

I am terrible at language.  My mother said i was almost 12 before I could make a coherent English sentence.  I have not progressed much.

Needless to say, I am no good in Spanish even after 7, count them, 7 undergraduate classes at UA.  I tried to learn Swedish with the Rosetta Stone system, but I ran out of time.

I signed up to take Italian this past spring semester.  I took the previous 7 Spanish and 1 American Studies courses for free because faculty can take 3 hours each term for free.  Unfortunately Italian is now a 4 hour course.  No problem, I will pay the difference.  The difference came to about $2000!!!!  What?  I know it doesn't make sense, but UA is now on an automated accounting system which seems to struggle with "free" courses.

So here I am again in another country in which I am illiterate and also illspeakarate and illunderstanderate.  Italians do not speak much English, but a good bit more that Americans speak Italian I am guessing.  Somehow we get by.  When we were in Botswana, the inability to speak Tsetswana or understand the local English also put us as considerable disadvantage as I have written earlier.

I hear the language, but as I said I have no ability whatsoever to understand it or to repeat what I hear.  I am glad that some of my friends here are fluent, and can do the hardest stuff.  I just scrape by gesturing wildly and hoping not to offend anyone too much.

Ignorance is a funny thing.  Back in the USA it doesn't matter much that I am not fluent in any language.  I never think about my ineptitude.  Likewise my atheist friends don't seem to notice that they are entirely ignorant of the things that matter in the world.  They go merrily along towards death without realizing that they are clueless.  They know I speak a different language, but they aren't interested.  They are too smart to learn another language, they are so good at English.  Merrily along.  Merrily towards the surety of death.  Merry in their illiteracy.

Who will learn to speak their language?  I am trying.  It's just too sad not to try to save a few.  L6rd send laborers into the harvest.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Sharing the Christ with Attorneys

I am NOT an evangelist.  I think many of our evangelistic approaches are a bit off base.  Most of my friends with the GIFT of evangelism are so eager to get folks to "pray the prayer" that they may occasionally go too far.  As was once convincingly pointed out to me, any gift can become a negative if it is used at the WRONG time.

Two Scriptures fascinate me regarding evangelism.  I have written before about the Rich Young Ruler, and how Jesus sent him away sad.  I ran across another Scripture that is equally convincing.

In Luke 10: 
25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and made trial of him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 And he said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?
27 And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.
28 And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?

Jesus then goes on to tell the story of the Neighborly (Good) Samaritan. 

Note the question posed to the Greatest Evangelist of all time.  Note the answer.  Now, this could easily be interpreted, but not by someone who understands sin and grace.  Jesus wasn't misleading this attorney.  He was merely pointing out to the attorney, to those standing around, and to us that unless someone needs a savior, there isn't any point in going further.  Those who have no consciousness of their own sin will never hear the gospel.

I don't like it, but that's the way I see it.  The Gospel is only good news to those in need of it.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Many of us have heard the famous acronym for traumatic joint/muscle injuries:
  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Compression
  • Elevation.

I recently badly sprained my ankle and added a "T" to the mix for "Thanksgiving".  Because of circumstances, the "T" was about all I could do.

You see, we were walking on one of the Old Roman Roads just outside the Colosseo in Rome when I hit a pothole and sprained my ankle worse than I can ever recall (it has become crystal clear that I can no longer recall things in the recent or distant past; it is likewise true that I do recall lots of things that never happened).

I sprained my left ankle walking to see a three-layer church building dating back about 1500 years.  We were offered a walking tour of the nearby area by and Italian whose family predated the founding of Roma itself.  We saw the prison which likely housed St. Paul in Roma.  The next day we also had a meeting several metro stops away and tickets to see the Roman Forum.  Then the CRU Summer Project students wanted to show us a park a few blocks away.

No RICE for me!!  IT wasn't a tough decision.  I would hobble from place to place, enduring the pain for the sake of seeing so much wonderful history and art.  I knew I was Exercising, Not icing, Expanding (swelling) and Dangling (ENED); but as I said, the decision was easy.

Over the next days, we continued to walk miles a day, sometimes quite vertical.  So, 10 days later, the ankle is still not mended.  No surprise really.  We violate the rules to our own detriment.  The tyranny of the urgent indeed.

I disobeyed man's rehab guidelines to my own detriment.  BUT, I'd much rather violate man's rules than G^d's rules.  "Obedience is better than sacrifice" says Deut 28 and many other passages.

Now, if I can just reduce my own hypocrisy...!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing...

As I have recounted previously, a toxicologist once wisely stated, "Anything in sufficient concentration is toxic, and any toxin in low enough concentration is not toxic."

I was thinking about this observation with regard to food, just this AM during prayer time.

A friend, Rex, once shared that money is like oxygen, you need a little to survive."

Absolutely true in modern culture, but we need to keep in mind that even oxygen and money are toxic in high enough concetrations.

Food is another illustration.  Insufficient food and we starve!  So, we can never eat too much, can we?

WRONG, as we all now know.

But a lot of things are on what we call a "U-shaped" curve.  Too much exercise is as bad as too little.  Too little sodium (i.e. sodium chloride- salt) is as bad as too much.

These illustrations are pretty easy to see, but where I struggle is on money.  Too much money is as bad as too little.

Impossible!  you might say.

Think about a couple of things that Jesus said about money.
1 Tim 6: 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Matt 19:  23 And Jesus said unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
I struggle too.  I have to remind myself over and over that too much of anything is bad indeed.   Even money!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On the Road Again...

A very famous Willie Nelson song goes like this...

And I can't wait to get on the road again.
On the road again

Goin' places that I've never been.
Seein' things that I may never see again

And I can't wait to get on the road again.
On the road again -
Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway
We're the best of friends.
Insisting that the world keep turning our way

And our way
is on the road again.

And, the title of this blog is Bishops on the Road.

And indeed we are going on the road again, and by the time you read this we were there and back.  We have the opportunity to work with two CRU summer project teams.  Our groups are in Rome and in Bologna.  Rest assured there are groups of 10 or so students plus leaders scattered across the globe.

Our main ministry is really not to the citizens of the various locations but to the students from the good old USA!  As I shared with the members of our congregation, after spending a year in Africa, it is clear our calling is the our own USA students.

It can be much more challenging for the leaders than for the students.  The leaders didn't join CRU to work with folk over 60 years of age.  We likely represent a threat is several ways.  The big thing is that most of CRU is totally unaccustomed to even thinking about working with faculty.

Just WHAT do you do with these old guys?  They are likely to scare away the Italian students.  In many countries faculty and students keep a good distance apart.

The answer is easy.  We just want to love on, and shepherd students who are a looooong way from home, and many of them for the first time.  We want to be the "safe place" where they can share their frustrations and fears.  We aren't a place to lodge complaints, but we are a listening ear.

When our kids were young we read to them about a group of school children visiting a farm.  The kids scared all the animals... except the farm dog.  The other animals recognized the dog was pretty ordinary, but that he was a friend to all the other farm animals, as well as the kids.

Dispite the dog's mundane nature, the animals concluded that<
"A friend is a fine thing to be!"


Saturday, June 7, 2014

So What's for Supper?

I am astounded about what I read about what we should, and should not, eat.

A few years ago we were told not to eat saturated fat.

Now we are told that saturated fat is much better for us than... Trans-fats!

We have been told not to take in so much sodium!

Now we find in some research that too little sodium is worse and the usual American diet, high in slat, looks to be about right!

We need to avoid hormone dosed meat, sulfur dioxide, colors blue #1 and #2, plastic packaging, msg, and high fructose corn syrup.

We need to avoid the wax on the apples, artificial sweeteners, sugar, aspartame,nitrites and sulfites, and potassium bromate, though we need to make sure we get enough potassium.

We need to steer clear of soda pop, sugary snacks, and fat, but need to eat enough fat.  Remember those fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, & K)?  Milk is a good source of vitamin D, but it's loaded with saturated fat.

Personally I avoid pork, fish without scales and shell fish and crustaceans (lobster and crawfish).

Most bread has gluten, and we sure don't want that.  We also don't want food that is overly processed.

In fact, it is most remarkable to me that the USA can be the second fattest country in the world, when we are avoiding most of the foods sold in the store. I guess if we ate more food that we didn't like, we'd eat less food and be less fat.

Wait, that may become the newest diet trick:   Eat all you want-- but only of the foods you hate!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Of Doors and Door Knobs...

Brenda has been fascinated with the many varieties of door knobs/knockers here in Bologna.  The doors can be really huge in these old buildings and the hardware is truly impressive.  Here are a few photos of Bolognese doors.

Jesus described himself as "the Door" in John 10: 7-9. 

The Door to what?

In context it tells us that He is the door to eternal life.  No one comes to the Father except by Him.  It's not He is trying to be exclusive, it's just that He is the ONLY way, and He tells the truth, because He IS the TRUTH.

Wanna come in?

Murder vs. Suicide

One thing that atheists argue against Christianity is, "How could your 'good', 'loving, G^d send people to hell?"

CRU colleague Randy Newman responds to that question with, "So you believe in hell?  How do you believe in hell but not in G^d?"

Yesterday, somewhere, someone referred me to  an atheistic www site on this same issue.  In this www site the atheists had posted an animation about a guy on trial for killing a man in the robbery.  The defense attorney shows a video of the robbery in which the robber told the victim, "Give me your money or I'll kill you."

The man refused, so the robber shot him. The defense attorney argued that the victim CHOSE TO DIE (i.e. committed suicide) by refusing to comply, and the jury agreed.

From a devout atheist's view, that is equivalent to G^D holding a gun to an atheist's head and asking for his wallet.  From their perspective the Christians' mythical  G^d holds a gun to their head and demands their "freedom" as a condition for not killing them.  They refuse to give it up, and thus are killed.

Perhaps there is a more apt analogy.

My many atheist friends are driving down the highway heading for a bridge that has been washed away in a flood.  Christians everywhere are screaming, 'The bridge is out!  The bridge is out!"
My atheist friends argue:
  • Maybe the bridge isn't really out, they just don't want me to use that bridge.
  • I have the right to drive anywhere, any time, any way!
  • No one is going to infringe on MY freedom!
  • Those giving warnings are NOT able to EXPLAIN  everything about gravity, about bridge design and construction!   They probably haven't even heard of Einstein's theory of relativity and the wrinkles in the time-space continuum (whatever that means).
  • Sure we won't die (to paraphrase Lucifer in Gen 3:4).

So, then plunging off the bridge is indeed their right, and in their minds these rights trump the dangers that lie ahead.

The chief problem of most of the atheists I know is intellectual ego (pride).  Most of my atheist friends are soooo much smarter than their Christian friends.  These atheists are well educated and argue exceedingly passionately and well.  Profs, lawyers, and MD's have the lowest % of Christians of any groups I know.

There's just the problem of that missing bridge...

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ode to "Isms"

I am a scientist chiefly.  I teach, but mostly I teach science.  And, most people who hang around the University very long figure out that we profs are mostly paid to research, and as long as we don't get in trouble with our teaching, we will win kudos for our research.

As I have written before, that often takes young people away from Christianity and towards naturalism or scientism.  It sounds reasonable to young people discovering a way of thinking that produces good results.  Scientific thinking, and the scientific method has led to a lot of useful discoveries.  It is easy for young folk to begin to think that scientism should be applied to every aspect of life.  And that my friends, is stupid, but all too common.

But there are other "isms" that are also of interest.  One www site lists 234 isms.

Aestheticism is the belief that beauty is central to other moral principles.  Not many of those, you say?  It is extremely common in the USA.  How many clothing shops, cosmetics, barber shops, tanning salons, and plastic surgeons are there?  They only stay in business because aestheticism is so common.

Most of us know of agnosticism, the concept that we can know nothing beyond material phenomena.  Some have described agnosticism as atheism without guts.  Others describe it as thoughtful atheism.  It strikes me that to admit we are ignorant is a bit superior to knowing with confidence that no deity exists.

We are more familiar with communism and capitalism, and egalitarianism, and egoism.

We like words that capture large bodies of information, and these words are convenient.

The key issue is that some of these isms are pretty harmless and others are pretty dangerous.  It is important that we be careful about what enters our mind, what we embrace, and where we place our allegiance.

Remember, we cannot serve TWO masters... (Lk 16:13).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Which is the Bigger Problem, Ignorance or Apathy?

There is a famous joke that goes, "Which is the Bigger Problem, Ignorance or Apathy"

To which I reply, "I don't know and I don't care."

I just read this piece on the www,
"The bad news, in Mr. Busteed’s view, based on Gallup’s findings, is that colleges have failed on most of those measures. For example, while 63 percent of respondents said they had encountered professors who got them fired up about a subject, only 32 percent said they had worked on a long-term project, 27 percent had had professors who cared about them, and 22 percent had found mentors who encouraged them."

Which makes me think, how sad that only about 1/4 of all surveyed college students found profs who cared about them.  Of course this suggests that the majority of students never encountered even one caring prof in 4+ years.

Even fewer found one encouraging prof in 4+ years.

Can this be correct? Surely these students are failing to recognize caring and encouragement.

Really?  Is that possible?

Whereas it is hard to accept this dismal report of failure by me and my colleagues, it is likewise hard to imagine that students fail to recognize these qualities.  In fact, it could be argued that the student's perceptions, in truth, define the reality.  That is, if they didn't feel cared for and encouraged, then they weren't.

Sad.  Sad indeed.

But how about your customers?  Do they perceive you as caring and encouraging?

Now, what should we do about it?