Monday, January 30, 2012

International Prayer: January 30, 2012

Somalia – Last week U. S. Navy Seals completed a rescue mission freeing two civilians who were held captive in Somalia. Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted were rescued from pirates after being held for the last three months. With the successful rescue the pirates are now tightening their grip on the remaining hostages. According to an AP report posted Jan. 27th on Philly.com there are about 160 people being held by pirates in Somalia. The story quotes one of the pirates as saying U. S. citizens being held hostage might suffer in response to the successful rescue.

Pray for those being held captive in Somalia. Pray also for Buchanan who flew home today according to numerous reports, and for Thisted as he returns to a life of freedom.

Syria – In Syria a ten month battle between the government and rebels continued. Reports out of Syria described a “massacre” in the city of Homs last week with more than thirty people killed. Some of the victims were children. Bombing continued over the weekend as government forces worked to drive rebels away from the capital city of Damascus. According to the U.N., over 5,000 people have been killed since March. Please continue in prayer for the people of Syria.

Nigeria – With violence spreading across Northern Nigeria the nation’s president is trying to reach out to extremists according to a Jan. 27th report on CNN.com. The report goes on to say that the president of Nigeria has conceded that military action cannot stop the extremists. The group has launched attacks against Christians and against government employees whom they say have spoken against their religion. Pray for the people of Nigeria as they face this violence. Pray also for the northern part of the nation where people suffer from poverty and a lack of infrastructure.


Philadelphia – Closer to home the mayor of Philadelphia has “…put a $20,000 bounty …” on the heads of murderers in the city. He said this as he announced a program that will pay up to $20,000 for any information that leads to an arrest in a homicide case. The mayor’s actions come as Philadelphia has had over 30 people murdered in the month of January, giving the city the highest homicide rate of major cities in the U. S. Pray for the citizens of Philadelphia and for all of our nation’s inner cities.

Thank you for standing in prayer, as we lift up our neighbors around our world.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What Should it Look Like?

I was ready to jump in, making my list of goals and plans for what I would do. A brainstorming session provided a number of topics, stoking my excitement over the prospect of time spent in research. It seemed like the task would be easy, a simple matter of turning my love of history into a website. Yet there is one big stumbling point. What should it look like?

I wonder if other writers face this obstacle, having an idea of what they want to do but no idea of how the final product will look. Is it easier for a novelist? After all they know ahead of time if the book will be a comedy or a drama. The novelist works page by page until the pages become chapters. Those chapters come together to form the story. Design some eye catching cover art. Add in a title that pops and the final form sort of takes care of itself.

It all sounds so easy, a cover and some pages. Yet writing is anything but easy. The art of putting words to a page in a way that entertains and/or informs is quite a challenge. Like other artist, the writer does not always know for sure what the end product will look like. This is where I find myself as I plan a new website and as I reshape Fire & Hammer, wishing I could read the final chapter to see how it all turns out.

Right now all I have are a list of topics and the beginnings of a couple of history themed posts. Included on those lists are topics I hope to develop into books. I do not know how things will look in the long run but right now I am having fun. My research is allowing me to meet new historical figures and granting me better understanding of the lives of some I thought I knew. At the same time my preparation for posts and writings concerning the Christian faith are challenging me, helping me better understand the path I walk daily.

What should it look like? Like a parent waiting for the birth of a child I suppose the writer and the artist will not know until the end. I hope you will join me as I move forward, unfolding what promises to be an exciting journey. I also hope to hear from others as they travel their own creative journeys. What challenges and victories have you uncovered as you draw closer to finding out what your project will finally look like?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shaping Our View of Abortion (Repost)

{Repost – Originally posted in 2008 on Fire & Hammer, prior to hitting the reset button on my blog. This version has been edited from the original.}
Genesis 25:22-23

For decades the issue of abortion has divided our country politically and socially. The weight of abortion has even divided the church, joining with other issues to cause those who profess Christ to question each other. This is a problem when we consider what our Lord says about a house divided. Abortion is an issue where the church should speak in one united voice, yet we do not because quite often our view of abortion is shaped by emotion and not by God’s Bible. It is time we return to the Word of God, recognizing it as the Lord’s tool for shaping our view of abortion.

In the Bible we see the story of Rebekah and the birth of her twins. The two children began fighting while still in Rebekah’s womb. Their struggle caused so much discomfort that Rebekah called upon the Lord to find out why such a great blessing was accompanied by such trouble. In his response the Lord spoke of two nations. In the eyes of God Rebekah carried much more than two children. She carried the blessings of the promise of Abraham, the guarantee of offspring too numerous to count. In the eyes of God Rebekah carried a great future, including the Messiah.

Clearly the Lord God saw more than two fetuses living in Rebekah’s womb and we have the blessed opportunity to join in as Rebekah sees her children through God’s eyes before they were born. As we read this we must ask if this is an exception or does God see in every fetus a human life with great God given potential. The true follower of Christ must consider how God sees every unborn baby. Our view of abortion must begin by seeing through the eyes of God as he looks upon every child as it is conceived.

The abortion issue is a clash of world views. As followers of Jesus we need to seek God’s view. God speaks of a human with a future living in the womb of a woman. What should this tell us about abortion?

Friday, January 20, 2012

International Prayer: Tuvalu

During World War II Japan’s plan to control the Pacific ran into a major obstacle in the form of a little nation of islands called Tuvalu. Japan moved quickly through south-east Asia, claiming the Solomon Islands and the former Gilbert Islands by 1941. From there they had hoped to move to Tuvalu but their plans were put on hold during the battle of Midway where Japan had planned to stage an ambush on U. S. forces. Code breakers working in the states warned the navy of the exact day and time of the attack, turning thing s in favor of the states. While Japan regrouped following this defeat, the United States secretly established an important strategic presence in Tuvalu.

Located in the South Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and Australia, Tuvalu was formally known as the Ellice Islands. Unlike what we usually think of when we speak of land, Tuvalu’s islands are examples of atolls made of coral reef and shaped like a ring with a lagoon in the middle. There are nine atolls making up Tuvalu’s 26 square kilometers (10 sq mi). The fourth smallest country in the world, Tuvalu has a population of just over 10,500.

A former British colony the Ellice Islands voted for independence in 1974. Realizing the people were in fact two very different cultures, they voted to split upon their independence. The Gilbert Islands would become Kiribati. The other part of the Ellice Islands would become Tuvalu, gaining their full independence in 1978. The people of Tuvalu, 98% of whom are Christians, are Polynesian whose ancestors came from Tonga and Samoa, settling the islands around 3000 years ago. There is also a small minority whose ancestors were Micronesians who came over from Kiribati.

Most Tuvaluans do not earn traditional wages, working instead as farmers and in other jobs designed to provide items needed to sustain the population. The highest wages are earned by those employed in the nation’s fishing industry. Because so few of the people earn a wage, Tuvalu does not have a strong tax base. Their government has had to look for other sources of income such as the sale of stamps and coins. The government also receives support from a trust fund which was set up during Tuvalu’s independence with help from other nations such as Australia. The fund is an investment fund with proceeds supplementing Tuvalu’s fishing industry. Tuvalu has also made money by selling license to its ‘.tv’ internet country code. However this endeavor has not been as lucrative as expected.

Unfortunately the islands that make up Tuvalu are sinking…or perhaps they are not. An online search leads to all sorts of opinions on the topic. Some say the islands are sinking due to global warming. Others say this is a scam, an opportunity to make Tuvalu a cause while the islands rake in tourists dollars. Still others say Tuvalu is sinking but not due to global warming, blaming the people for ecological missteps which allegedly have lead to erosion. Then there are those who say the islands are adjusting by replenishing the coral that makes up the atolls. Sinking or not Tuvalu has a problem where sea water is causing living conditions to deteriorate.

With no rivers Tuvalu depends on rain water for fresh drinking water. A recent drought combined with salt water moving into the few areas of existing fresh water has left the people with a shortage of clean drinking water. Neighboring countries have tried to help, offering things like desalination plants for making fresh water. Pray for the people of Tuvalu as they deal with their water problems.

The people of Tuvalu have limited career options and poor access to a good education. The government is trying to make their schools more accessible for their youth in order to give more opportunities. Pray for these initiatives. Their main source of income is fishing, a very volatile industry. Pray for stability in Tuvalu’s fishing industry and for the safety of the men who leave their islands chasing the next catch. Pray also for better housing as some extended families live together in overcrowded homes.

Pray for the church as it deals with the problems of this Christian island nation and for the spiritual growth of the people.

Continue always in prayer with thanksgiving and check back next week as we continue to pray for our neighbors here on earth.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

What Pleases God?

One of the advantages of being a dad is having a built-in excuse for watching children’s programs. One of my favorites is “Thomas and Friends,” a show staring a group of talking locomotives. As I enjoy shows like this which teach good life lessons, I never expected anthropomorphic trains to leave me examining my approach to God’s will.

Thomas and Friends is based on a series of stories originally created by Rev. W. Awdry. Looking for a way to entertain his son who was sick with measles, Awdry made up a tale about a talking locomotive named Edward. Eventually he would publish the story as a children’s book. Its success would lead to more stories and more locomotives, including Thomas the most popular resident of the Island of Sodor. Thomas spends most of his time trying to be a really useful steam engine as he pulls his passenger coaches around Sodor. But when called upon by the owner of the railroad (Sir Topham Hat) to take his mother on a fun tour, Thomas makes a major mistake.

Instead of asking Mrs. Hat what she might enjoy, Thomas puts together a tour based on advice from one of his fellow locomotives. After two or three stops he finds Mrs. Hat has fallen asleep out of boredom. When she wakes she orders Thomas to take her home. Embarrassed Thomas does as she wishes going as fast as he can along a shortcut home. As he races down his tracks he hears Mrs. Hat laughing. A speedy ride across a wobbly bridge makes the tour a success as Mrs. Hat has a wonderful time. Seems she wanted adventure, something Thomas would have known had he asked.

I wonder sometimes if I am like Thomas in my relationship with God. How often do I pour myself into some religious activity, trying to drag God along as I do what I believe to be His will? I do what I think best or what well meaning Christians declare is right but am I doing what God will honestly enjoy? I think Thomas’ mistake with Mrs. Hat is a reminder to us all. God’s prayer lines are always open. We need to makes sure we ask the Lord what He will enjoy us doing. We also need to spend time in the Bible, letting God reveal that which will bring joy to his heart.

Have you asked God what will please Him or are you boring the Lord to sleep?

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Reset Button

I did it this weekend. I hit the reset button here on Fire & Hammer. Every post prior to January of this year erased, leaving me with a new beginning. After years of trying different styles and of wandering this way and that, I have restarted.

Why did I hit reset? It was time. After six years I am a different person. My views on some subjects have changed. My idea of how Fire & Hammer fits into my life has also changed. Originally I had planned to use the blog to combine writing about my interests with commentary on the news items of the day. I lacked focus, not being real sure of who I was as a writer or as a person. In the past couple of years I have discovered some interesting details about myself and I have uncovered truths which have changed my perspective on my world.

When I started Fire and Hammer I only had one child and one very old dog. Since then I have gained a son and lost a pet. I have seen my faith in the Religious Right shaken. I was forced to deal with questions I had about the public face of what is called “conservative Christianity.” My relationship with God has matured and as I see the world in the light of the truth my views on many issues have either changed or become more refined. It is time my blog changes to reflect who I have become while revealing the clarity I have gained by confronting my own doubts.

2012 is a new chapter in my life, a new leg in my life’s journey. Hitting reset allows Fire & Hammer to continue as a part of that journey. The future promises a lot of fun. I hope you will continue to join with me along the way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Re-post: Hey Dad, You Can Take Off Your Cape

{Originally posted 3/5/2010}

I remember a line from the first Star Trek television series which seems to sum up the condition of being a dad. (Die hard trekkies please forgive me for not remembering the exact episode.) In this particular scene Bones is discussing the captain with another member of the crew. He points out that each member of the crew has his/her own problems to deal with but the captain has his own plus those of every crew member to deal with. Sometimes as a dad I carry the problems of the entire family and I have heard other men say the same. This comes with the territory of being the head of the family.

It is natural for a husband and/or a father to feel an added sense of pressure when it comes to fulfilling our God given role as head of the family. That is not to say that a wife and/or mother does not feel pressure, but I believe because of nature women have a better way of handling their pressures than do men. Women build relationships with others and are, in most cases, able to talk to a trusted girlfriend. This natural outlet allows them to blow off steam instead of letting things build up inside. By nature we men don’t tend to do that, at times letting the pressure build up until we can no longer contain and wind up doing something we regret as we are eaten alive from the inside.

Am I saying we men should become like our wives? No, that would go against our nature. But we have to recognize that even Superman needs some time where he takes off his cape, puts on a pair of glasses, and takes a break from the pressures of saving the world. Dads need that Clark Kent time where we temporarily get away from the expectations. We need that time for a hobby or for reading or for some other distraction where we can recharge and perhaps even vegetate for a few moments. It may even be something that is done with a group such as taking in a ballgame or fishing. The key is to recognize this need and to deliberately set aside time, with an explanation to our spouses that we are not being slothful but are instead making ourselves better.

Something to Ponder: Even Jesus took time to be alone in prayer. Husbands and fathers when is the last time you took time to recharge?

Friday, January 06, 2012

International Prayer: January 6, 2012

Six days into a new year. Still we have conflict and strife. We still have neighbors dealing with problems, facing trials that are in some cases life threatening. They still need us to stand with them in prayer, so let us pray for:

South Sudan – Earlier today the United Nations announced it will work on an emergency basis to send humanitarian aid into South Sudan. The world’s newest nation is suffering from internal conflict with tribal violence driving thousands out of their homes. According to an AP report posted at ABCNews.go.com the U. N. estimates 50,000 people are in need of aid. The violence has left thousands dead. Pray for South Sudan as it suffers the growing pains associated with becoming an independent nation. Pray for those in need of aid and for the workers who will take on the task of delivering that aid.

Libya – Earlier this week rival groups attacked each other in the city of Tripoli. Tensions between rival militias have become a concern for Libya’s transitional government. According to NYTimes.com the government is concerned the nation faces the possibility of a civil war. Pray for the people Libya and for efforts to rebuild and form a new government.

London – Pray for the people of London after they dealt with a major storm this week. Winds were said to have reached 111 mph during the height of the storm.

Nigeria – Violence against Christians continued Thursday, the BBC reporting 17 deaths in Mubi. A report on Bloomberg.com said that Christians were told to leave a northern region of the country following bombings and attacks during the holiday season.

Iraq – An editorial in Philly.com describes how a number of Iraqis who risked their lives by helping the United States are now stuck waiting for travel visas that will allow them to come to the states. The U. S. government promised to protect these people as they served in various capacities such as translators. Now they need help to leave Iraq for their own safety but are facing delays.

Continue in prayer for people around the world. They are our neighbors and as Christians I believe we are called to stand with each one in prayer.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

A Missed Deadline and…Life Goes On

I did not realize a video game could trigger motion sickness.

It’s sort of embarrassing to be honest. I was playing Lego Star Wars for the Wii with my oldest son. This week we started episode one of the complete saga game. Last night we were on the pod racing level. I had played this level on an older platform but this version was different. There was a lot more going on. At times there was so much that I had a tough time seeing everything. As we were nearing the end, finally beating the other competitors to the finished line, I began to sweat and feel dizzy.

I must be getting old. I have had motion sickness before, suffering first as a child during a long flight. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would show symptoms while playing a video game. The end result: I was incapacitated for the rest of the evening. Everything I had planned for the evening went out the window. I could not enjoy watching football. I did not do any reading. Plus getting sick caused me to miss a self-imposed deadline.

I had a blog post which was finally starting to come together. This was supposed to be the night when I added the final touches, cleaning up sentences and setting a tone that would be interesting to read. Pod racing left me feeling like any attempt to do work would only lead to a mess on my keyboard. The blog post was left unfinished as I wrestled to get myself right.

In the past missing a deadline, even a self-imposed deadline, would have been the end of the world. I know that sounds a bit over dramatic but for many co-dependents missing a deadline is one of the worst things ever. At least that is what I thought back when I was a teen.

Back then small mistakes would often trigger huge tantrums. Little things were seen as signs of disrespect leading to long alcohol induced tirades about how I was mistreating the family. This was my normal and I assumed it was true for everyone. Even as an adult I thought I needed to be perfect lest I cause others to become angry and perhaps even hate me.

So there I was lying on the floor waiting for the room to stop tilting. Writing was out of the question. I watched as my deadline came and passed. But this time I was not worried, being set free from the old fears of my codependent past. As I expected the world did not end. I missed the deadline and yet, life still goes on. I eventually got up off the floor. As for the post, I will have it ready for a new deadline next week.

No I am not advocating a life of irresponsibility. I know I will not make it as a writer if I develop a habit of missing deadlines. But to my fellow codependents, know that we no longer have to walk on egg shells. Drunken outbursts are not normal. In the real world codependents are not the only ones who fail and when others fail they get back up. We codependents can do the same.

Monday, January 02, 2012

New Year’s Day: One of the Planet’s Oldest Holidays

As a child I enjoyed a New Year’s Eve tradition involving Duck Soup. Not the kind you eat, I ended my year every year watching the 1933 movie staring the Marx Brothers. Back then WGN television out of Chicago broadcast the movie as a part of its regular New Year’s Eve schedule. I would watch this movie and a number of other old classics, taking a break as the clock approached 11pm. Then I would turn to one of the national networks to watch the ball drop in Times Square. New York being in a different time zone, the ball would mark the start of the New Year an hour before we celebrated in the Chicago area. To be honest after watching the Times Square celebration our local celebration always seemed a bit anticlimactic.

According to Timessquarenyc.org one million people visit Times Square on December 31st. Billions more watch around the world as the descent of a Waterford Crystal ball marks both the end and a new beginning. In just over a century the Times Square celebration has become the evening’s star attraction but the location was not always the place to be on New Year’s Eve. In fact celebrating the start of the New Year started long before Peter Minuite traded $24 worth of beads for Manhattan Island.

Babylonian Akitu Celebrations

Akitu (or Barley) was a Babylonian religious festival celebrated during the vernal equinox in the month of Nisannu (Nisan on the Jewish calendar; March/April on today’s calendar). The date marked the start of the New Year as well as the beginning of the growing season and the sowing of barley. Just over a week long the celebration included a number of rituals mostly geared towards honoring the Babylonian gods. During the festival a sitting king would do a sort of penitence for his sins, or if needed the country would crown a new king. Similar festivals were celebrated by other cultures, usually with heavy religious significance. These celebrations often occurred at the start of spring with a few countries celebrating at the start of fall.

New Year’s on a Solar Calendar

Where most cultures were using calendars based on a lunar year, Rome moved to a solar year sometime around 45BC. Both calendars were designed to track growing seasons. However, lunar calendars did not accurately reflect the realities of a 365 day year. As a result governments would randomly add and remove months in order to bring their lunar calendars back in sync with the earth. In instating what would be known as the Julian calendar Julius Caesar established a calendar that was a close reflection of the growing seasons. He also established January 1st as the first day of the year.

January was named for the Roman god Janus who was the god of beginnings. The celebration of New Year’s on the first was done in honor of this god who was said to have two faces, one looking forward and one looking back. While the Julian calendar gave a new anchor for the timing of the New Year’s celebration, it was also off by eleven minutes per year and by the 1500’s was a full ten days off from the natural growing seasons. As a result the Catholic Church set out to establish a new more accurate calendar.

Pope Gregory XIII ordered the use of a new (Gregorian) calendar. Initially the church would look for other days on which to start the year but would eventually settle for continuing the practice of celebrating January 1st. Perhaps as a way to justify the use of a day that had previously been associated with pagan gods, the church explained this holiday as falling eight days after the Jesus’ birthday. This marked the time when Jesus would have been circumcised according to Jewish Law.

New Year’s Celebration Comes to New York

By linking the New Year’s celebration with the circumcision of Christ, Christians around the world had reason to celebrate. In New York during the 1800’s this celebration took place outside Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. Large crowds would gather in anticipation of hearing the church bells ring in the New Year. This tradition would continue until 1904 when Alfred Ochs, owner of the New York Times, chose New Year’s Eve as the day to celebrate the newspaper’s move into its new home on a triangular shaped plot of land where Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street meet.

Ochs’ celebration was an all day event, with a festival leading up to fireworks at midnight. Crowds would return on New Year’s Eve the next year to once again see fireworks and the celebration at Times Square was established. However a ban on the use of fireworks during the celebration would eventually force Ochs to come up with something new, leading to the lowering of a large ball, a custom that continues today. The New York Times is no longer headquartered at One Times Square but the annual New Year’s celebration continues.

What is your New Year’s Tradition?

Whether you watched the ball drop or spent the evening watching old movies I wish you a Happy New Year as we celebrate one of our planet’s oldest holidays. May your 2012 be blessed.

For more on the history of New Years see: History.com
For information on “Duck Soup” by the Marxs Bros. see imdb.com.