Wednesday, December 24, 2008


We've been force-fed our culture's version of Christmas for months. Shopping, buying, planning, spending, worrying, and traveling are what “Christmas” has become for us these days. And those days seem to come earlier in the season and last longer into the night every year.

But Christmas is finally here! It’s time to tear away all the excess. Time to forget about the traffic, malls, gifts, trees, lights, treats, and toys.

The simplicity of the manger is so refreshingly ironic. Jesus came to the humblest of women in the humblest of ways. To remember his birth is to forget about ourselves – to revel in the astonishing mystery of Christ.

And so I rejoice in having the opportunity to worship. With the angel, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's the big deal?

To me, the news of Rick Warren praying at the Presidential Inauguration in January is as shocking as C.C. Sabathia going to the Yankees or O.J. Simpson going to jail. It just makes sense.

Rick Warren is indeed an evangelical Christian. His views are more conservative than liberals prefer. He's a tad bit overweight, sports the youth pastor goatee and leads a mega-church. How much more evangelical can you get?

But on the other hand, he invited Obama to his church, he's an intellectual (so says one of today's top theologians), and he cares deeply about social issues.

(By the way, I'm in no way implying that evangelicals can't be intellectuals or don't care about social issues - just that they have traditionally been thought not to have.)

The thing that distinguishes him from both conservatives and liberals though is his commitment to 'reverse tithing'. The guy gives up 90% of his income! What?

Liberals, say what you like, but does Michael Moore, Angelina Jolie, or Bill Maher give as sacrificially to people in need as Warren does? The guy is more progressive than many Evangelical leaders today. And when do you need to agree with the president on the "right" way of reducing abortion in order to pray in D.C.?

Conservatives, we are seeing a new generation of Evangelicals emerge. It is one that is more politically moderate, and more socially conscious. Rick Warren embodies some of these changes. That, in addition to the fact that he's probably the most well-known evangelical (in a positive light) after Billy Graham tells me Obama made the right, if not very boring choice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Svaki Početak je Težak

“Every beginning is difficult”

It was my first time flying internationally. I boarded the Croatian Airways flight from London’s Heathrow airport, found my seat and began to relax my body, anticipating the ascent of the plane and descent of my seatback. As soon as the seatbelt light switched off I found the small button, gripped my arm rests and pushed against the back of my seat. I immediately felt resistance. Again, and with more strength I tried to lower my seat. My strength however was matched by the person behind me who was keeping my seatback in its upright position.

Newton’s 3rd law of motion came to mind - “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

I thought about trying again - then thought about politely asking the person behind me if I could lower my seat back. But I quickly realized that two attempts were enough to know that they didn’t want me to lean back. So I stayed upright and uptight.

I thought about the fact that I had never experienced this kind of behavior before. It was rude but honest – improper but genuine. And if you’ll allow me to generalize (while understanding that there are many exceptions) I can tell you that this sort of behavior – both for better and for worse – is typical in Croatia if not all of Eastern Europe.

I’ve been in line and had grown adults cut right in front of me. My wife has had a store clerk tell her to leave after Petra admitted she was “just looking”. At the end of the aforementioned flight I was pushed back in my seat by someone who must have been in more of a hurry than I while I was trying to locate my carry-on baggage.

But we’ve also been invited to live with a family rent-free for a year. They never asked for anything in return or hinted that we were an inconvenience. I’ve been showered with generosity by people who have less and been thanked by people who have done more. There is a genuine hospitality that I never experienced in my life before Croatia.

And so while the beginning was difficult, and the transition continues to be a challenge, the culture shock has had a profound effect on my life.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Agenda-less Faith

The title was taken from a recent post on one of my favorite musician's blog. Andrew Schwab is a musician/singer/songwriter. In this piece he clearly articulates the importance of living a genuine faith without an agenda:

"We aren’t commanded to make a shallow pitch, a clever presentation, or a witty speech. Nor are we meant to be proud bearers of “bumper-sticker christianity,” complete with tactless t-shirts, tracts, and tokens which advertise spiritual slogans. God doesn’t want telemarketers. Why?"

Go to his post to find how he answers the question.

Here's a picture of Schwab from one of his shows years ago.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Have you ever played the boardgame "Sorry!"?

Today as I was observing my cousins-in-law playing the game I noticed the glee, mischief, and ultimate gloating that would occur every time a "Sorry!" card was picked. There's no better way to say you're sorry than to mockingly take someone else's gamepiece and move it back to their start.

And once, there were two "Sorry" cards in a row. Let me tell you, the best revenge for one sorry is your opponent picking up another sorry and screaming it with triumphant delight.

I think I took note because of those times when my apologies are uttered from selfish motives. Often times I'll give or forgive with my own self-interest in mind.

Funny what a kids game can teach you about yourself.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Spoonful of Sugar

I had the pleasure last week of having my blood drawn. When I received a phone call from my doctor a couple days ago I wasn't at all surprised that I would need to take measures to reduce my level of triglycerides.

Now, any reader of my blog will know that I'm a coffee enthusiast. We all know that "America runs on Dunkin'" and in that way I'm a true American. But even when I abstain from my favorite coffee chain I can't resist the stimulation of bean caffeine. I love coffee and I tend to love it with a spoonful (at least) of sugar.

My blood results, however, have caused me to reconsider how I take my coffee. I can give up pastas, eliminate white breads, and eat fewer desserts, but can I do without sugar in my coffee?

I realize though, if I claim to be a coffee lover, I have to love coffee regardless of what's in it. I've always disliked those fair weather sports fans who root for a team once they're good then drop them once they lose the winning record. How can you be a fan of something that's dependent on something else to continue your interest? Being a Cubs and Bills fan have certainly contributed to this mindset.

And so, I'm resolved. I am still a coffee lover - and maybe even a more passionate coffee lover. But my coffee will no longer come with a spoonful of sugar.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Our "Kumovi"

In my attempt to learn Croatian I've decided I need to start incorporating the foreign language into my blog. We'll start slowly.

A “kum” (sounds like “Coom”) is the Croatian equivalent of a best man. “Kumovi” is the plural version. In Croatia there is a greater significance in the relationship between kumovi than there is here in America. It’s sort of an unwritten rule that your kum will be committed to supporting your family and marriage long after the reception is over.

We had the privilege of having Milo and his family visit us in Massachusetts for 5 days.
It’s been 8 years since I acted as his best man, but our relationship has remained a close friendship since then – even despite my poor best-man-skills at his wedding.

We met almost 10 years ago as Marine bandsmen.

We competed.

We played.

We began our own families.

And our families have been able to stay close despite the physical distance.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fill 'er up!

Sixteen dollars and two cents.

That's the price I paid to fill my gas tank from dangerously empty to overflowingly full today.

A month ago, right before we left Croatia, it cost us approximately $70 to fill up our new car.

In case you hadn't heard, the price of gas here in America has plumitted in the last few months from around $4 a gallon to under $2. The price I paid today was $1.74 a gallon. And if you're like me, you might be a little skeptical. Why the sudden drop? I haven't gotten a solid answer yet. The decrease in price seems to have come at a rather convenient time given our "Materialism is the reason for the season" attitude in America.

But the fact remains; fuel is significantly more expensive in Europe. Guess I'll have to prepare for culture shock at the gas station when we get back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A Moral Question?

As I begin using my new Microsoft Office Word 2007 legally obtained edition I'm reminded of my surprise upon learning that Eastern Europeans often do it differently. CD’s, DVD’s, recently released movies, software, programs, MP3’s (and the list goes on) can be had free of charge for those who know how to beat the system.

Oops, did I let the cat out of the bag?

I wish to neither defend nor attack such behavior. So, just the facts (based on my observations):

1. CD’s, DVD’s and other entertainment related material are much harder to find and at least twice the price as the equivalent piece of merchandise in America.
2. There seem to be no measures set up in this part of the world to keep people from illegal downloads or copies.
3. The only Christian music distributor I’ve encountered who sells the real deal has a full-time day job. He hasn’t been successful in marketing his music despite his good intentions. And number 1 is still the rule here - $25-$30 for a Chris Tomlin CD.
4. It is very possible that the majority of government workers are using illegal versions of Microsoft Office or other programs to complete their tasks.
5. Virtually every high-school and college student knows how to illegally download their favorite CD. They would then make a copy for their friends who don’t.

What do you think?