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Quote of the Day – Dietrich Bonhoeffer


“Every Christian community must know that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of the community.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.

My High School Reunion

Last Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending my 10-Year High School Reunion (Godwin High, Richmond, VA, Class of ’98). Not only did I attend, but I also got to be on the planning team for the event, which gave me a unique perspective on how High School Reunions are fabricated (or at least ours). The humor of a night like this one is the fact that everyone there is in such a great mood and you end up cheerfully talking to people that you never spoke to throughout all of high school. I remember talking to one guy and introducing my wife to him. After our 5-minute conversation, which was cordial, I looked at my wife and said, “That’s the longest I’ve ever talked to him in my life.” Now, there are those people that I really did know in high school and I got to reconnect with them and see how they’re doing after all these years. It’s seeing those people that made the reunion definitely worth going to. I’m glad I got to be a part of planning it, also. I was the treasurer – and though I thought we were going to fall under budget, we ended up being around three hundred dollars in the positive. We’re going to send any excess money to the people who run the location where we had the reunion since they did such a great job and even gave us a break on our bill with them. All in all, we had 136 people, one of which was a teacher. We had many spouses and guests – no kids, though a few pregnant ladies. Great 90’s music from the DJ, great food from the catering, lots of old faces (most of whom looked just the same), and the satisfaction that we successfully pulled off our 10-Year High School reunion.

College Presidents Seek to Lower Drinking Age

You probably know someone who is going through orientation for their first year of college right now. These fresh 18 year-olds are in for quite a ride, including the pressures of parties involving alcohol. In an effort to curb college binge drinking, there is a movement of around 100 college presidents (from institutions such as Duke and Ohio State) called the Amethyst Initiative. This group has united in order to challenge current legislation over the legal drinking age. They claim that banning alcohol from 18 to 20 year-olds treats them like children when in every other sense these individuals are given adult privileges (such as voting, serving on juries, etc.). Technically, individual states have the freedom to lower the drinking age to 18, but any state that does so is slapped with a 10% penalty on highway money coming from the feds. You can read all about the Amethyst Initiative at www.amethystinitiative.org.

Now, I attended a college (and a seminary for that matter) where alcohol was completely banned. That means that I was under some sort of no-alcohol covenant for the better part of my years until I was 26 years-old. I did not live in an environment where the pressures to drink while underage were present. In all honesty, I moaned a little about having to abstain from alcohol all those years, but looking back on it, I’m glad there was such a standard in place. It was a small “price” to pay (abstaining from alcohol) for the better good of having a dry campus that rarely ran into the potentially devastating (or even fatal) consequences of alcohol. But I’m sure many of you went to state schools or some other institution where drinking was fine at age 21 (or even under that age, culturally speaking). Perhaps you have some insight on what the pressures and consequences are really like for 18 to 20 year-olds in regard to drinking alcohol.

Furthermore, I wonder what will happen at some of these schools where the presidents have signed the Amethyst Initiative? Imagine being an underage drinker at one of those schools. You get caught by the campus police. But then you contest that the president of your college supports lowering the drinking age to 18. I suppose the college presidents are willing to go through an awkward period of having that double-standard in order to seek out what they see as a better policy that may come in future years.

If you look at wine from a Biblical perspective, we know that Jesus partook of wine (John 2) and we know that drunkenness is prohibited (Ephesians 5:18; Romans 13:13). We know that Paul taught against consuming certain foods or wine if such activity causes another person to “stumble” or “fall” (Romans 14:21).

I’m curious to see what you all think about this issue. Let me know your thoughts.

Juggling a Chainsaw

 

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT ATTEMPT!

I juggled a live, running, sharp chainsaw for the very first time last week in North Carolina. I guess I was tired of being a juggler for 15 years and having people ask me, “Soooo, can you juggle a chainsaw?” I would always have to say, “No, but I’d like to try someday.” Now I can say, “Yeah” and then casually move on to some other subject in the conversation.

I was at the International Jugglers’ Festival in Lexington, KY chilling with my friend and mentor David Cain. Somehow chainsaws came up in our conversation (juggler’s talk about the weirdest things) and Dave told me that there was a new battery-powered chainsaw on the market. That caught my interest because that means no gas sloshing around while you juggle the beastly thing. When I got home, I looked up “battery powered chainsaw” on the internet and sure enough, Home Depot has a special right now at $59.

Then, while on a juggling trip in High Point, NC, I visited the local Home Depot. There it was – the 18-Volt Ryobi 10-inch Chainsaw – for $59. I scoped it out for weight, rotation, shape, ability to be fitted with a juggler’s handle, and so forth. I picked it up in the aisle at Home Depot and swung it back and forth in my hand a bit (not flipping it). I tried to lessen my swing when other people were in the aisle. How would you like to see a juggler testing a chainsaw for juggling in your Home Depot? I didn’t think so.

I went to Lowe’s to compare my options. Lowe’s had a similar chainsaw made by Black and Decker. It was $99. But it came with a battery and charger. The Ryobi did not. When you price up the Ryobi with the charger and battery, it came out to $130. The Black and Decker was a shorter blade (8 inches) and it had a better shape for flipping. So I went with the B & D. Then I bought some accessories to fix it up for juggling – mainly the oak dowel.

I told my host pastor what I was up to and he got really excited. “Will you practice it and be able to perform it this week at our church?” he asked. I said, “Sure, I could.” He then offered to raise the money to pay for the cost of the chainsaw – so that his church could participate in this ministry I do. I said he didn’t have to but he insisted. I had already bought the chainsaw. So that night, he showed the congregation the chainsaw and told them that he wanted to raise money to cover the cost of it. They all pitched in and within a short while, all the money for the chainsaw came in. Thank you Community Bible Church of High Point, North Carolina!

I spent an entire work day fixing up the chainsaw for juggling. That means I attached the oak dowel to the chainsaw without drilling anything into the chainsaw. Without boring you with the details, I finished the day with a solid handle on the chainsaw and then I started to practice.

Practicing juggling a chainsaw for the first time is not for the faint of heart. I gathered some staff at the church and had them watch. I stood in the grass out back and (with the chainsaw off) tried my first flip. It worked. I did not kill myself. I flipped it again, and again. No drops.

So I then figured I would try with the chain running. I might be a good juggler, but I hate running chainsaws. Maybe the chainsaw and I have a love-hate relationship. It’s the audience that loves the chainsaw – not the juggler. I zip-tied the trigger so it was always on. Then I popped in the battery to start it up. With blade running, I flipped it – and caught it. I tried again and again. Then, I dropped it.

Not on myself, but on the grass. I stepped out of the way, knowing to respect the chainsaw. I picked it up and tried again. I dropped a few more times, once or twice watching as the saw blade chopped it’s way through the dirt and grass. It is a somber feeling to imagine my hand being the recipient of such a chopping. On that note, don’t go shopping for chainsaws to juggle while wearing sandals. It makes your feet feel very naked and vulnerable.

I practiced enough to get a good clean run of a juggle (with one chainsaw and two juggling clubs – nine total catches). That was it for the day. I went to the hotel, showered up, and came back for the evening program.

I was a little nervous throughout the evening before my chainsaw bit. I had families tell me they were praying for my safety ever since they heard I was going to juggle a chainsaw for the first time. Then, a little 3-year old looked at me before my program and said, “Yu gonna juggle chinsaw, and yu gonna die.” And he said it with a large grin on his face.

I finally got to the end of my 45-minute program and it was time for the chainsaw. We all went outside on the grass (in case I, you know…) After a few attempts at chainsaw jokes, I went ahead and did the real thing – juggling a live, running, sharp chainsaw. I did my nine catches and stopped. Everybody cheered. I became a chainsaw juggler. What a life.

Joggling and Surprising Sarah

I surprised Sarah in two ways this past week. First of all, I won 2 golds and two silvers in the world joggling championships in Lexington, KY (I got in the local paper too). Joggling is the sport of running and juggling at the same time. I won a silver in the 5k (overall), a gold in my age group for the 5-ball 100 meters and two more medals in some relays. My wife is a great runner and I usually give her excuses why I don’t want to run in the mornings. So news of me actually winning something came as a surprise to her. You don’t have to be fast to win at joggling, just consistent (including being somewhat proficient at juggling). To read about the guy that beat me in the 5k (and has joggled 24 marathons), go to www.justyouraveragejoggler.com).

The other way in which I surprised Sarah this past week was by driving 8 hours from Lexington, KY to Richmond, VA just to see her for 36 hours before heading out to my next juggling ministry location. I was going to spend the weekend in Lexington at the International Juggler’s Festival. But I had already been there all week. I did not want to miss out on spending time with my lovely wife for just a few more days of juggling. In fact, half the fun is being with her and the other half is knowing the joy it brings her to surprise her in such a fashion. Call that egotistic, but I think its a mix of egoism and altruism. When my wife is happy, I am happy. So when I see her full of joy, it brings me joy. It’s amazing how God made us that way.

I got home late Friday night, so most of our time was spent together on Saturday. She made a huge green-leafy salad with angel hair pasta and sauce for lunch. Then she took a nap in the afternoon while I caught up on e-mails. In the evening, we made a picnic dinner and went to an outdoor jazz concert at the Wilton House, an historic home overlooking the James River in Richmond. We sat on the lawn, ate kale with olives (with dates and almonds for dessert) and listened to the wonderful jazz by the river. I even indulged myself with a cold Coke (Sarah, jazz, and Coke – ahh). We loved watching the family in front of us. The newly walking child kept running from Dad while he chased her around the lawn. She was hard to keep up with!

My summer tour comes to an end in a few weeks. I’ll see Sarah on the weekends until then. After that, I’ll have a long stay at home with my wife. I’m looking forward to that.

I Love Camp Cedars

I am here in Hordville, Nebraska at Covenant Cedars Christian Camp. It is part of the Evangelical Covenant denomination, which stands for solid Christian doctrine and the authority of God’s Word. Something I really like about this denomination is its diversity on the more peripheral issues that tend to split denominations out there.

Anyway, I want to share one neat thing we did last night with the kids at camp that I think worked really well. The theme this week is “I AM.” So we are looking at various “I am” statements in the Bible where Jesus identifies Himself (light of the world, bread of life, alpha and omega, etc.). Last night, the focus statement was “I am the Light of the world.”). So we gave the kids a night walk with stations along the way. They walked with their cabins and learned a Bible verse about God being the Light at each station. I was the final station at the beach of the lake. Across the lake, we had built a campfire on a hill. So I stood the kids along the edge of the water and had them look at the blazing campfire shining brightly on the hill in the night sky. I told them about Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 where He said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden…therefore, let your light shine before men so that they may praise your Father in heaven.” It was a fantastic visual illustration of the verse.

The kids were exhausted (it was about 11pm). So after my station, I told them to just go to bed (except for a few that won the games that day and got to have night pool time). Don’t ask me where they get all this energy for camp, but I guess the midday naps help out. Camp is fun. Camp is exhausting. And may God bless the ministry here at Camp Cedars.

How to Teach 2-3 Year-Olds a Bible Story

I’m teaching at a VBS in Salisbury, MD (near Ocean City, MD) this week and had a rare challenge on the first night – teaching 2-3 year olds. Now, I have most of my teaching experience with k-5th graders, with a little bit of experience with the preschool age. But my prior interaction with 2-3 year-olds has been slim to none. So, I am not an authority on teaching this age group, but I want to share one idea I tried that seemed to work. The first night was a little hectic (to say the least). I tried my normal stage routine with juggling tricks and volunteers. The 2-3 year-olds just stared at me – with not much reaction (much like preaching to a group of adults!). My volunteers stood on stage and just stared at me – they would not do what I asked. Then one kid started crying – very loudly. I did my best, but let’s just say that first night was a learning experience for me. Then came the second night. And I tried something different. I turned off my headset microphone and sat down on the steps to the stage. I had the kids sit with the adult volunteers on the floor right in front of me (a la library storytime). That was the first tactic that worked – being up front and close with the kiddies.

The second thing that worked was interactive-motion-storytelling. I have no other name for it than that right now. I taught the Bible story of Josiah finding the book of the Law, which had been lost for years. Throughout the story, I would do hand motions for different actions in the story – and I would have all the toddlers imitate the actions with me. That worked great! They seemed to be with it more than the night before.

I have a long way to go with this age group – but thanks be to God for second chances at stuff. Hey, if it weren’t for second chances (or third, or fourth, etc.), then it would be impossible to learn how to juggle anything.

-Jesse

I Love Camp Dixie

Camp Dixie is a Christian camp in Fayetteville, NC and I had the chance to speak at their “Beginner’s Camp” this past week (1st-4th graders). I had a blast at this camp. They had a theme called “Secrets of the Realm” and decked out the camp in Medieval decor. So I ran with that theme and played the character of a storytelling jester from Saxony who was sharing the secrets of the Bible with the kids at the risk of beheading by the evil King Jathan. So I enlisted the help of some Thespian-inclined camp counselors. King Jathan was, of course, defeated by the end of the week by the good King Gregory (who served the Lord), who ran in at the last moment to save my head from being chopped off by Jathan when Jathan caught me red-handed with the Book from the High King of Heaven in my hand. Jathan and Gregory ensued in a struggle of swords, then “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” and finally, arm-wrestling. Gregory won the day, and the kids loved it. There were other parts of the plot, including fair maidens (who were kidnapped) and even a pie-in-the-face scene, but I won’t get into all that.

I normally do not have such elaborate themes with which to work (or rather, I have not taken full advantage of themes given to me in the past). I learned a great deal this past week – namely that kids love story. Yes, I juggle a lot. But even juggling can get boring if it is not couched in a story. When the juggling I do is part of a larger story, then I really enjoy the journey – and the kids give me a ton of feedback showing me that they are “with it.” Kids would ask me throughout the week if Gregory was going to make it – or if Jathan was going to show up that night. There was a level of anticipation to see how the plot would unfold – and anticipation is really what keeps the attention of human beings, especially kids. My prayer is that the ultimate story of Jesus, his death, and resurrection would envelop the kids while we do all of our silly skits, dramas, VBS’s, camps, etc. I would love to learn more about the great art of storytelling. Let me know if you have some good references on storytelling as an art form. Have a great day. – Jesse

To Be a Joyner: for Cara


My brother, BJ, got married this past weekend to his sweetheart Cara. Cara is now a Joyner. Does she really know what that entails? She’s been gaining experience at it slowly and surely.

First of all, Joyners play Scrabble – lots of it. We play slow Scrabble, fast Scrabble, online Scrabble, underwater Scrabble, you name it. My parents are probably the heads of the underground-black-market-Scrabble-gambling operation and I do not even know about it. So far, Cara has adapted to the Scrabble thing.

Secondly, Joyners eat food – lots of it. We often like to get together and just “graze” around large islands full of M&M’s, hours-old eggs, Joe’s Market Chips and Salsa, and whatever else is pouring out the of refrigerator. And then we still eat a full meal, only to follow it with more grazing. I hope Cara likes to eat food as much as we do.

Third, not only do Joyners eat food, but they eat bread – lots of it. Mother Joyner (Maureen) keeps about 20 tons of grain in a large vat beneath the house and grinds it through a machine louder than the Apollo lift-offs all through the night. No wonder she has a cat with a tail that looks like a poofy cleaning product for window blinds found only on QVC for 3 easy payments of $19.95. Then Mother Joyner takes the freshly ground grain and bakes it into bread. She keeps about 8 dozen loaves on hand at any one time – just in case the FedEx guy can’t feed his children because of high gas prices. Either that or she is preparing some showy Sunday School lesson about the loaves and fishes. And these loaves are all kept in the freezer in the garage, so when you are the blessed recipient of her benevolence, you get to carry 4 or 5 frozen blocks of grain in a brown Ukrops bag back to your residence and wait about 5 days for them to thaw in your oven. I sure do hope Cara is ready to be such a recipient.

Lastly, Joyners do church events – lots of them. If there is a scheduled event put on by a church near you in the greater Richmond area, the Joyners are probably there – or they will send a delegation to pay their respects. I think the minimum requirement is at least one large church event and three small ones per day. The other requirement is that if there is music involved in the event, and at least one Joyner is present, then at least 50% of the time, a Joyner must be on the stage doing something. They can stand there and smile. They can play the keyboard. They can juggle flaming bowling balls. They can do whatever they want. As long as they are on the stage and visible to most of those in attendance, then the requirement is met. Since Cara is a dancer and good with crowds, I think she’ll be just fine on this one. Just don’t overcommit yourself Cara.

How to Live Well Without Owning a Car


OK, I still own a car. But this blog title is also the title of a book by Chris Balish which I just checked out from my local library (to which I can easily walk and/or unicycle). Sarah and I have been influenced by this book recently, as we now bike more frequently, and we are playing a game where we have a set gas budget at the beginning of the month (which is dropping each month) and then trying to spend only that amount on gas. Who knows, we may be car-free by the end of the year!

This book was written in 2003 (when gas was half the price it is now) by Chris Balish, a professional news anchor living in St. Louis. He drove a big SUV and “accidentally” took the plunge into car-free living. He wanted to downsize his car, so he put the SUV on the market, planning to buy another car in the near future. Well, the SUV sold almost overnight, and he had not yet bought the new car. So he was forced to figure out ways to commute without the precious hunk of metal customarily sitting in front of his residence.

This interim period between cars turned permanent, and he did not go back. His book gives great advice on how to live well without owning a car. Notice the word, “owning.” This is not an “anti-vehicle” book. In fact, he gives thoughts on how to ride with friends, rent cars, and even a new thing called “car sharing.” He also gives advice on how to live “car-lite” for people who really do need to own a vehicle for some reason or another (i.e. large family, rural living, job-related transport, etc).

The bottom line is: we can all drive less than we currently do. And many of us can make it without a car – really. How often do we just hop in those transport devices on a whim – just to pick up a pack of sodas at the store?

Here are the benefits (some of which are detailed in the book) to not owning a car:
1. Financial (you can save boatloads of money by not owning a car – think about how much you spend on registration, insurance, gas, tires, repairs, oil changes, wiper blades, tolls, parking, lease payments, car washes, annual inspections (for Virginia residents), etc, etc, etc
2. Social – the other day, Sarah and I carpooled with my brother and his fiance to my parents’ house – and it was great social interaction with them – we were all crammed into a little mustang and talked the whole way out to the house
3. Health – when you do not own a car, by nature, you travel more on foot and bike, nuf said about the health benefit
4. Spiritual – it may be intangible, but remember the experience of enjoying God’s creation the last time you went on a walk in a park or rode your bike? now, when was the last time you felt that while driving down the highway at 65 miles an hour?
5. Global – by not owning a car, you are contributing significantly less to the oil industry, which could potentially alleviate the volatility in the Middle East (I know, it is only part of a complicated equation, but every little bit helps – especially if we want to see Middle East peace and Global peace)