Monday, December 31, 2007

2007: a year of patience, stability and prayer

2007 has been a good year. One of deepening relationships, subtle growth and refining priorities. No major drama or chaos. Some excitement and the promise of good things ahead.

Much of the beginning of the year, I spent feeling very antsy. I was coming up on living in Shreveport five years. My boyfriend and I had been dating for more than two years. I had commitments at church and to school. Nothing appeared to be changing. For someone who has lived in 10 cities in her 29 years, this was all too much stability.

I was forced to spend time reflecting on where I am and what I want. That meant I had to force myself to learn to listen when I pray instead of talking. God also tried his very best to teach me patience and appreciation for what I have (I think he would give me a C-).

Apparently, God knew what he was doing. In the last quarter of the year, my boyfriend became my fiance, meaning 2008 will be full of upheaval - the good kind. We'll get married. I'll move (just to Bossier). And a new kind of life will await.

So my resolution for the new year is to maintain a spirit of prayerful patience. Instead of wishing 2008 along, I want to appreciate the moments. It too should be a good year.

New programs for the new year

Steeple Chase Community Economic Development Corp. celebrated a new building and the promise of new outreach programs this weekend.

On Saturday they dedicated a facility at 6339 W. 70th St., Shreveport. The building will be able to house after school, addiction recovery, and GED preparation programs. As well, they hope to have classes for senior citizens. The Rev. Gregory Kirby, CEO of the organization and pastor of Steeple Chase Baptist Church, has talked to me about his work with children and desire for his church to be a center of the community. This new facility certainly holds the promise of bringing that vision to life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

More than a mission

Mack McCarter has what the rest of us are seeking: a purpose.

Every time I talk to him for a story about Shreveport-Bossier Community Renewal, I am amazed at his passion and conviction. While he's certainly a persuasive and charismatic speaker, there's always a little extra edge of certainty when he speaks.

As he told me for today's story, "I believe the only reason I’m on Planet Earth is to do what I’m doing now.” How many of us can say that?

He doesn't speak with any sort of conceit. In fact, he always seems a little amazed that all of this has happened and he gives all the credit to God and his staff.

With that spirit, I'm excited to see what what will happen in the next few years as they start the intense fundraising for the National Center. Some new videos are posted on the website, including the Independence Bowl commercial (warning: it will leave you humming for the rest of the day).

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Did you pay attention in church over the holiday?

For your third day of Christmas celebrations, here's a little Christmas Bible Quiz:

It makes you realize how much tradition and legend has woven its way into the Bible. Not all of that is bad, but we should pay more attention to what is really there.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the second day of Christmas...

I return to work, refreshed from a weekend with my family in Memphis. This year was the new and improved version of the family gathering.

My brother and I are both getting married next year and we brought our fiances home for a little bit of Haag family tradition. We ate way too many cookies, spent time gathered in the kitchen while Mom cooked, heard new stories of Christmases past and got out for a little sightseeing.

Christmas celebrates new life, and having two new people at the dinner table (and to help do dishes!) made this year's holiday even more special.

For the next few days of this holiday season, I hope you all are able to enjoy many blessings and a sense of renewal as we roll into 2008!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Crosses at Christmas?

Now that all your Christmas decorations are up, I'm curious about a trend I've seen recently: crosses in Christmas displays.

Before Thanksgiving, I even received a press release from a company marketing Christmas crosses, all lit up for your holiday displays. But I wonder if the cross is really the appropriate symbol for Christmas.

I understand the push to keep Christ in Christmas - it's a sacred day for Christians and should be treated as such. So many other symbols are woven into the Nativity story such as the creche, or the star or even a Madonna and child. Is the cross the only symbol of Christ? And if we use the cross as a generic symbol for Christ, does it lose its power as a symbol of Christ's death and resurrection?

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Reaching through the bars

My job allows me to talk to some fascinating people that most people never get to meet. I'm not talking about "important" people like senators and entertainers, but folks like the men in the Lifers' Association at David Wade Correctional Center.

They amazed me again this week with contributions of toys and bikes worth more than $2,000 to various charities in North Louisiana.

These men have committed crimes that resulted in a life sentence. Objectively, at least at one point in their lives, they were not nice people. But instead of dwelling on their fate, they have decided to do something positive with their future. They also provide examples for younger inmates, many of whom will be released to the public again.

Monday the Lifers and AANA (Alcoholics Anonymous/ Narcotics Anonymous) had a program to present their Christmas gifts to the community. A new project allowed them to help more than 30 children this Christmas. This fall the two groups started refurbishing bicycles.

Debra Cody, administrative sponsor of the group, said it took awhile for the project to be approved because of security concerns such as access to tools. It finally happened, and the first few bikes were given to the Boys and Girls Club of Homer in October. Then a couple of Grambling professors got involved, and sent about 130 used bikes to the prison. Men worked on them and managed to have 17 ready to give to the Boys and Girls Club and another 17 to the Providence House.

On top of those donations, they also had money to give from their usual fundraiser of selling handmade bird feeders. Through those sales and other fundraisers the men donated $1100 to Toys for Tots and another several hundred dollars to buy presents for the children at Hope Youth Ranch.

The men are under no illusion that theycan "make up" for what their crimes, but they do show the spirit of repentance and rehabilitation that we all would hope to see from the prison system. And they are thrilled and thankful for the opportunity. Inmate Roy Ates explained it to me a couple of years ago: "We do this because it's the right thing to do."

Photo: Marines pose with toys donated to Toys for Tots. From Debra Cody at David Wade.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Remembering seniors at Christmas

Kids seem to get all of the attention as Christmas, but a few folks out there have taken special time out for senior citizens. Many seniors have great memories of Christmases past, but for a variety of reasons can't be with family now.

Mary Alice Rountree, director of the Caddo Council on Aging told me about her volunteers at Promise Hospital. They normally deliver eight meals to seniors four days a week. Well, for Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, the meals aren't delivered. So the staff took it upon themselves to fix plates in the hospital kitchen and deliver those, so the seniors still got a good meal.

"That's up and above," Rountree said.

A couple of years ago she asked for volunteer help delivering meals on wheels and she said this is just one example of how the volunteers are now more connected to the needy seniors in the community.

"The community is seeing what’s out there," she said. "To many of them it's shocking."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Tainted memories

I fell in love with Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs because of its purity. For a college student, it was the greatest place to be on spring afternoon.

Wrigley has no parking so everyone takes the El to Wrigleyville and the closer you get to the stop, more royal blue jerseys and caps appear on the train. Walking past the bars, souvenir shops and scalpers, you come to the stadium with its big electronic marquis. It feels like everyone is welcome here -- even though tickets are starting to price some folks out.

Inside, the smell of Chicago-style hot dogs, popcorn and beer fill the air - few gourmet treats here. In the outfield is the old fashioned score board. If you look, you can see the guy that changes the numbers sitting in the hole for the 10th inning. Noticeably absent are the advertisements. They aren't on the scoreboard and no one's figured out how to grow a brand name in ivy so the outfield wall is empty. There's only the Budweiser roof across the street, but that's so quirky it becomes part of the charm. The whole atmosphere was just about baseball.

But apparently, according to today's Mitchell report nine former Cubs were among the steroid users in what some are calling baseball's greatest scandal. In church terms, scandal usually means the acts of one or a few people that discredits the entire institution. It's an apt word here. Somehow Wrigley doesn't seem so pure anymore. The ivy seems a little brown and the beer a little warm.

With that scandal comes our own series of moral questions. What were we seeing? Great athletes? Guys so worried about their stats and performance that they use drugs to supplement their game? Or worse, men trying to take a shortcut instead of actually working out? The fact that most of the guys on the list weren't great stars seems to say the drug route was apparently a waste of time.

Then I wonder how much are we as fans somehow complicit? Do we expect athletes to be like gods - always perfect? Do we put that much importance on sports that they feel compelled to cheat? And do we accept the cheating as part of doing business?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Meet the new pastor

First Presbyterian has called a new pastor after nearly 18 months of searching. I wrote a little about the Rev. Pen Peery in today's paper, but I couldn't include all of what the church told me.

Frank Dodson, chair of the pastor's nominating committee sent me his statement about Peery, now an associate pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Va., to the church and here are a few excerpts:

"If you had told me 11 months ago that I would be standing at this pulpit to recommend a 30 year old to be our next pastor, I’d have said you’d lost your mind.

There are some objective things about Pen’s background that assured us Pen could assume the senior pastor position in this church. Second Presbyterian Church is very similar to our church. It’s an urban church, founded in 1845, the same year our church was founded. The congregation is roughly the same size as ours, and its membership is demographically similar. They face many of the same problems we do, including an aging facility.

We discovered that Pen is warm and charming and appeals to people of all ages. The oldest and youngest members of the PNC, were his biggest fans. He has a “presence” in a group setting and is engaging in one on one conversation. Each of us came away from our visits with Pen convinced that he has a love for people.

Pen is a good preacher with a confident, comfortable pulpit presence. Pen believes that worship is the central act of the church and he is "unapologetically traditional" in his worship style. His sermons are solidly grounded in Scripture and our Reformed theological heritage. They are thought-provoking and challenging and encourage the listener to wrestle with Scripture and its meaning for his or her life.

I believe his youth and energy, his new ideas, and who he is as a person will be immensely attractive to everyone, but especially young adults and young families who will see someone in leadership at this church with whom they can readily identify. He will be a strong presence in Shreveport, representing First Presbyterian Church with love and enthusiasm."

Sounds like exciting days ahead. Good luck to First Pres and welcome Rev. Peery.

National tragedy with local ties

The story of the shootings in two Colorado religious organizations continues to baffle me. None of the mass shootings make sense, but at churches and so far apart?

And more interesting, the pastor of New Life Church, where the gunman was eventually killed was from Northwest Louisiana. The Rev. Brady Boyd grew up in Logansport in the Assembly of God church and went to Louisiana Tech. According to his biography, He was saved at a church in Jonesboro and started his ministry at First Assembly of God in Shreveport (now Shreveport Community Church) in the early 1990s. He started out volunteering in the inner city, ministering to a specific neighborhood. As well, he took a job at Evangel Christian Academy, teaching English, coaching basketball and track, and pastoring students.

Several moves later, he took over for Ted Haggard, who resigned amid scandal. That situation already required some support from home for Boyd and his family, but now I'm sure they need even more prayers. As well, the church has links from its website to a place to donate funds to the affected families.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mea culpa

I read my Hanukkah history too fast and got the dates mixed up. Alexander the Great spread Greek culture to Israel in the fourth century BC. But the Maccabees didn't start their revolution until the second century. Sorry about that!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Taking it to the streets

The pastors seem to be following through with yesterday's press conference decrying the violence that has left three juveniles dead in the last two months.

After covering numerous similar press conferences, I have to admit I showed up a little jaded yesterday and I probably let that show a little too much. After their official statement, something possessed me to ask "what's going to be different this time?" Part of that came from my own frustration with the situation -- I live here to and I'm tired of the violence and the reputation that comes with it.

Afterwards I talked to the Rev. Calvin Kimble, one of the founders of the Pastors on Patrol program, a little more and he said he agreed with me about past rallies. "When you go to these meetings all you hear is the thunder but you don't see the lightning." He promised that this group would produce the work.

Today I got a press release officially announcing the "Enough is Enough - Stop the Violence!" revival service. It will be at 5 p.m. Thursday at the corner of Ledbetter and Hickory Streets.

Happy Hanukkah!

Jews began celebrating the Festival of Lights last evening. The story behind the holiday is pretty amazing.

It goes back to the first ever battle for religious freedom, told in the first four chapters of the Book of Macabees (part of the Catholic Bible, but considered apocryphal by Protestants and Jews). In about the fourth century BC, Syrians took over Jerusalem and defiled the temple. Then the Scripture says: "The king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people,
each abandoning his particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king,
and many Israelites were in favor of his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath." The king further prohibited sacrifices in the temple, circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

Others would not be taken in so easily. "Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death, in keeping with the decree, with the babies hung from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed. But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean; they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with unclean food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die."

Finally a family of five brothers stood up and said no more. Judas Macabeus encouraged his kinsmen to follow despite the odds: ""It is easy for many to be overcome by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven. With great presumption and lawlessness they come against us to destroy us and our wives and children and to despoil us; but we are fighting for our lives and our laws."

Over the course of a couple of years, Judas kept bringing his small armies of untrained men against the tens of thousands sent by the Syrians -- and he kept winning. Finally they reclaimed the temple, purified it and celebrated for eight days.

In this country, where we take our religious freedom for granted, it's a good reminder. And at this time of year, when Christian Christmas symbols are everywhere, it's also worth remembering that we don't all believe the same thing and that's OK.
Photo: Times file photo

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Happy New Year!

Folks in liturgical churches (Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, etc.) began a new year Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent.

Twice in the last week, I've given a little presentation on the Liturgical calendar to various church groups, so I thought I'd share some of that with you. The theory behind the calendar is to mark the cycle of Jesus' life and how it reflects in our own. Through the seasons of the church - including Advent, Christmas, Lent (those vary among denominations) - we mark the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Those episodes have direct correlation to our own spiritual journey.

Advent (the word means "to come") starts the year with a time of reflection and penance. It's not unlike the way we start the secular year with reflections and resolutions. But Advent prepares us for the great feast of Christmas, the birth of Jesus.

It's also a time of great cultural traditions. How many of us had Advent Calendars (the best kind came with chocolate) to countdown to Christmas? And many churches broke out Advent wreaths this weekend to mark the four Sundays of the season.

Do you have special traditions for Advent? Even if you don't celebrate Advent, how do you spiritually prepare yourself for Christmas?

Monday, December 03, 2007

St. Mark's update

St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral seems to be making progress in its search for a new dean (that's pastor in non-Episcopal speech).

Last week's bulletin said its parish profile is finished and available for applicants to peruse. The document presents a pretty comprehensive look at the church from demographics to worship styles to outreach ministries.

It would be helpful for anyone looking at joining the church as well. It might be a good thing for every church to periodically put together a similar document to answer some big questions: who are you? what do you do? what do you need? and make sure ministries are all in line with those needs and goals.

At St. Mark's the calling committee is now sifting through applicants. Good luck to them as they continue to search for a new leader!