Thursday, January 26, 2012


Some of the young girls in my church have discovered the Beatles.  I was a young teenager when millions of girls around the US swooned and screamed as they appeared on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Show. The British Invasion had begun.  The Beatles were not my only favorites.  I was a fan of the Dave Clark Five, and here are two of my favorites.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


A whole lot of us invested a whole lot of time this weekend to football-NFL football to be precise.  Even if you didn't watch the pre-game shows, the countdowns, and the post-game highlights; if you watched both championship games you invested about 7 hours of your Sunday.  Two thrillers with much last second drama. The AFC contest was decided by a field goal, or better yet--the lack of one. After kicking 16 field goals in a row, Ravens kicker Bill Cundiff shanked a relatively simply 32-yarder that would have forced that game into over time.  Instead the New England Patriots are heading to their 5th Super Bowl in 10 years.The NFC version featured overtime.  It was settled by a Lawrence Tynes field goal with almost ten minutes gone in the overtime, the second time in his careers has accomplished this feat in a championship game.

The waitresses at my favorite restaurant, Silver Spring Family Restaurant, were clearly for the Giants. In fact they cajoled their boss (who normally could care less about football) to wear a blue Eli Manning jersey for the entire weekend.  George doesn't even like football, but he was caught in the currents of what was dominating his staff and wore a blue Eli Manning jersey with Manning on the back. One of the waitresses told me she was secretly rooting for the 49ers because she didn't like football.  I think she was also defending her sense of personal independence in the hysteria.

Football became the focal point of a cultural debate over a young Christian named Tim Tebow who led the Denver Broncos from a dismal season's beginning to a playoff game where they humbled the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.  "Tebowing" - an imitation or a mockery of Tim's prayer stance became a fad.  And the most zealous of his supporters noted prophetically that he threw for 316 yards in that game.  Say "John 3:16 everyone" and spread the idea that four officials were named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (Actually football has more than four officials.)

A giant and horrendous child molestation scandal broke out in Happy Valley as the charges against Jerry Sandusky mounted and Joe Paterno, fatherly coaching icon was stripped of his job.  I was never sure which aroused more ire in football fandom - the crimes against young boys or the perceived injustice of Penn State Trustees in firing Joe Pa.

Obviously, a whole lot of us care about football.  But at the same time, the iconoclasts have asked the question, "Does God care about football?"

I think certainly not in the way we care about it.  I mean do we truly believe as thoughtful Christians that God seeks vindication by having Alabama triumph over LSU in the BCS?  Are the Tigers somehow spiritually inferior to the Crimson Tide, even though there are fine young Christians on both sides of the ball who publicly thank God for their gifts and skills?

I think not.

God cares about football in the way that He cares about all of His creation.  All of his creation is the object of His love, and all of Creation shares equally in that love.  Be it lilies of the field or puppy dogs or linebackers or coaches who have fallen from grace.  All of His Creation is intended to bring glory to Him and to reveal His goodness.

As with anything He loves, God grieves when it is used to replace Him in the affections of men.  He is saddened by things that He loves, things He has created living at cross purpose to his purposes. After all he went to the cross to affirm that absolute love found in His purposes.

So maybe we need to take football off of its pedestal. We should stop seeking to find our worth and joy in that, which like the other BCS games, will soon be forgotten. We should remember to use football for His purposes so that people might really discover what is important.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I have always been suspicious of cats.
I think they are sly crafty animals with a hidden agenda.
I now have proof!

Drawn by Matthew Inman

You can’t say you haven’t been warned!

What else would you add to this list?

Monday, January 23, 2012


Joe Paterno died early Sunday morning.  A coach of truly legendary proportions, perhaps the greatest tribute was the high esteem in which he was held by the coaching fraternity itself.  Joe Pa died of lung cancer.  Unfortunately, he died under a cloud.  Perhaps the best reflection on this situation and the man that many still honor comes from Howard Bryant of ESPN.  Here are some of his thoughts.  Click the ESPN LINK for his full comments and related posts. Bryant writes:

"When any person dies, his or her time must be viewed in its totality, out of respect for a life lived, to give the ritual of death its dignity; and for the sake of posterity, to provide clarity as emotions surge and cool over the months and years.

For the famous, it is a difficult task, for that totality is a myth. Only the public face exists; the rest is projection. For Joe Paterno, who died Sunday morning at the age of 85, his 60-year football life transformed in less than three weeks from icon to infamous, a total picture of his time might be an impossibility, at least now. The twin ends of his coaching career and life were so defined by some of his final public words -- in many ways a chilling statement from a man who won more college football games than anyone in history. Those words did not contain a hint of double meaning.

It will be difficult to separate the way Joe Paterno spent most of his career from the way it ended.

"In hindsight, I wish I had done more," he said in the days before his firing.

Long before the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke, Paterno had become so much a part of Penn State football, and it had been so much a part of him, that it was commonly presumed the old man would not survive without the game to which he gave his life. It is said of longtime marriages that once one partner passes, the will for the other to remain evaporates.

In this case, that's a wistful narrative, but Paterno did not die of a broken heart. He died of lung cancer. Over the next hours, days and weeks, there will be a reflex to frame his death within the prism of his final, disgraced months, both from supporters who believe the Sandusky scandal hastened his death and unnecessarily destroyed a good man, and from the detractors who believe that only the enormous specter of Paterno's powerful name kept him from being held even more accountable by the public, and law enforcement.

His death marks the end of the Penn State dynasty, a process that began when he was fired on the night of Nov. 9. The school will never hold the same singular, iconic place it did during Paterno's 20th century. And the people he touched -- those who worked with and played for him, as well as Penn State and college football fans who care so deeply about sports and its place in the national culture -- will remember him fondly and reverentially."

My own response to all is this echoes Bryant in many ways.  Collegiate coaches occupy a huge place in a culture where sports is held in such high esteem and often shapes persons' sense of personal well-being. Coaches like Joe Pa were born into a different generation--before the celebrity shaping power of the media, the program intimidating spending of alumni benefactors, and a sense of entitlement that many pampered athletes seem to possess.  Discipline and character-building are often undermined by the need to win and to win the big bucks that go with winning. Sports in a this new age is often more than a coach from Joe Paterno's generation seems able to manage--especially the complexity of the forces that seek to shape college athletics and the cultural poverty that shapes so many athletes.  Joe Pa has long been in over his head in this world. He did not find persons sharing with a common ground of honor and education and leadership.  It is obvious that he found himself living in the neighborhood of some wolves and predators. "I wish I'd done more" says volumes, but one has to question whether it was really within both his worldview and capabilities to do more.

There is still a verdict to be rendered in all of this.  Personally, I am not prepared or even equipped to do so, so I'll simply say, "Rest in Peace, Joe Pa."

Saturday, January 21, 2012


One of the blogs I read is called The OOze by Spencer Burke, who also features other excellent Christian writers. I found this post by Ronnie McBrayer quite thought-provoking and I want to share it. - Steve

I Wonder About Your Wonder Bread (by Ronnie McBrayer)
“If there was one last loaf of bread in this town it would be mine.” I swear that’s what he said. “He” being a rather pretentious member of the clergy, stating how God would take care of him should the world come unhinged tomorrow.

“Everyone else may starve to death, but I won’t. God has promised me that I will never go without,” he trumpeted. Astonishment flashed across my face like racing neon lights. I didn’t even try to mask it. In fact, I took a small step backwards and waited for the fire to fall.

But this strutting preacher quickly defended his statement by quoting Psalm 37:25 – “I have never seen the godly abandoned or their children begging for bread.” See, this fine man considered himself godly. Righteous. Virtuous. Favored by God. Thus, no harm would ever befall him or his family. They lived the divinely-charmed life with no worries about the future for God had written him a blank check. “I’ve got God’s promise,” he kept saying.

The spiritual mathematics of this kind of self-confidence looks like this: “I am godly = I will always have what I need and never go without.” For him the corollary is also true: “You are not very godly = You will not always have what you need, and you may go without.”

To hear him tell it, those who please God always land on top of the heap. Their cupboards are always full, their gas tanks never empty, their table always running over, and their checks never bounce. The reward for righteous living is a full belly.

But what about the godly Christians of yesteryear who did literally starve to death? Women like missionary Lottie Moon who gave her food away to the Chinese she served, only to die of malnutrition herself?  St. Lucian of Rome, and countless others like him, who was starved to death in a prison cell because he would not renounce Christ? Or the 2.5 million souls facing starvation in Sudan, now as you read these words, many of whom are Christians? And going without bread is not the only disaster to fall upon the faithful. Christians in China suffer daily under the ruthlessness of that regime. Believers living in radicalized Islamic countries are persecuted at all levels of society. Faithful followers of Christ, even here in the West, daily bear the economic and social consequences of living out their faith.

Is there something wrong with the faith of these people who meet trouble? Has suffering come upon them because they are unrighteous? Are they bad Christians? Is this the explanation for their misery? See, I don’t think this little mantra will hold up for long; this idea that righteous living always leads to the good life. Countless numbers of good and godly people have suffered, have gone without, have been tortured, have been chained in prison, and have died by stoning, firing squad, holocaust, and worse.

Why? Because they possessed an inferior faith, a faith not big or strong enough to get them out of trouble?

No. They suffered because of their good and great faith, not an absence of it. The writer of the book of Hebrews concludes that those who suffer this way are “too good for this world…and earn a good reputation because of their faith.”

Their stomachs didn’t growl because their faith was defective. On the contrary, they suffered because of their virtue. They met painful ends, not because God was against them, but because God was for them. These heroes of faith weren’t standing behind a pulpit, in the midst of chaotic times, bragging about how the last bread truck in town was going to make a special delivery to their home, sent there by God himself. No, they led a life of faith, a life lived in scorn of the consequences, taking virtue as reward enough.

After leaving the man who had called dibs on the last loaf of Wonder Bread in town, I was left to wonder myself. “What happens to this kind of faith when the promised bread truck doesn’t arrive; when the pantry is found to be empty; when the last check bounces?”

I imagine a chink in this armor of belief makes for one hell of a crisis of faith. And it should. Faith that leads to arrogance isn’t faith at all.
Ronnie McBrayer is a nationally syndicated faith columnist, speaker, and the author of multiple books including “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at

Friday, January 20, 2012


I wouldn't have had to hear Matt Belanger announce it on the 5:00 am weather report this morning. The "frozen sky" at twilight that gave a frosted look to the emanations from the street lights would have been an obvious clue. The email cancellations of Saturday events, of course, were more direct.  The shoppers heading for the milk and bread at Darrenkamp's Market were "icing" on the cake.

A winter storm is on the way.

If it arrives on schedule, it will begin as freezing rain later tonight (Friday), turning to snow in the early hours of the morning, and become a major snow event just when most people would be heading out to a Saturday morning breakfast at Bob Evans or Silver Spring Family Restaurant. 

The cautious and those of the senior citizen persuasion will just stay at home and inside, wondering whether it will be "safe" to go to church in the morning.  Up the street my friend Dave will finally get his wish and head his tractor up the street to open driveways. (It's been gassed up for two weeks.)  Little kids will try to cajole their Dads out into the yard to make snowmen.  Moms will decide the snow event is worth crawling into a chair with a good book and taking a break from the laundry.  Some will lament that they must still go to work and reluctantly head up the street to that job.  I'll probably walk to my office at the church (just two blocks away) to get a lot of work done in a quiet, uninterrupted office.

My wife will pray that it's a "big" storm so she can  simply be snowed in.  I'd rather not have that much snow because it will mess up church the next day.

Whether we embrace it or hate it or are merely ambivalet -- the winter storm will come and do what winter storms will do.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


The past month I have collected a number political cartoons via USA Today on-line and "wisdom" from my Facebook friends posing as sages and sources of truth.  Here are a few of my recent favorites.

Monday, January 16, 2012


I haven't posted in two weeks, which is the longest stretch I have ever gone on this blog.  Reflective writing is one of the joys of my life, but the last two weeks have militated against this simple pleasure.  By profession I am the pastor of a middle-sized Protestant congregation in the Middle Atlantic region of the US.  By calling I am a teacher and mentor for people who are seeking to follow Jesus, and a coach for people who use their gifts in leadership.  But at times, because of the needs--both real and perceived--of my flock, I am a combination father figure, crisis manager, agent of confrontation, and church mother.  That has been pretty much what I have been doing these past two weeks, especially the past eight days.

By preference and experience, I prefer to work with intentionality--being proactive, not reactive.  By situation, I sometimes simply work by triage. Like a doctor in the ER, I take everything (and everyone) who comes through the door, quickly identifying those in critical and/or life threatening situations--and go to work with dispatch.  Most of time I am simply stopping the bleeding and patching the holes.  Like an ER doctor I try not to deny help to someone who is behaving either stupidly or unwisely.  I try to remind them while they are being treated that they should have handled this sooner before it became an emergency.  I try to issue a prescription that will bring some immediate relief to the symptoms; but also the counsel to find a healthier pattern for living.  That usually means to stop doing things that are harmful and unhealthy, even though they want to do those things.  And, as a pastor, I pray for them - for their healing and for their maturing.

People who do triage expend a lot of energy--emotion and physical, and need to take a break or their skills become muted by weariness and their judgment undermined by speed.  In my profession, we call that a sabbath.  In my case, I am about to take a sabbatical - an extended period for rest, reflection, and renewal.

During that Sabbath, I hope to get back into a rhythm which helps me thrive.  It's the reflective, creative writing that I am privileged to do as a blogger.  Two weeks from today that Sabbath begins.  Pray I get there in a healthy manner.  Enjoy the fruit of my rest when I start wielding again keyboard and mouse.

Monday, January 2, 2012


    Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. - (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV)

I stopped at the Sideling Hill Rest Area Monday on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  My ride up to that point had been somewhat difficult.  First, I was tired and was stopping in part, just to close my eyes so that my drowziness would not create a fatality. Secondly, the Turnpike had been literally jammed with cars either racing home from Grandma's house or heading to another holiday event.  Cars traveling at high speeds, filled with baggage, presents both wrapped and unwrapped, the precious cargo of children with Dads grasping a tall cup of Starbucks in one hand as they navigated the various lanes and lane changes.

That reality had already drained me of much energy.  It had also added new meaning to the counsel, "Pray without ceasing."

On the door of the rest area building was a sign "This is a text free Turnpike."  They, of course, were not referring to a school of preaching that infects too much of the church.  They were reminding people of the great hazards involved in texting while driving.

Congress is trying to pass legislation to making texting and driving a crime.  The civil libertarians and the social networking junkies are already crying "Foul!"

Don't get me wrong.  I don't text (and frankly annoyed by the degree to which people plug out the world while they text).  I do, however, use a cell phone, email, and Facebook to communicate regularly.  I just avoid driving while I am doing.

What intrigues me is our desire to remain constantly connected with friends, family, work, and sometimes complete strangers and yet our relatively inconsistent and insignificant communications with God.

For the Bible does teach us that there is one connection that should be constant.  Paul challenges to pray without ceasing, be constantly aware of your connection with God and consistently in communication - listening or speaking - as we go through the days of our lives.  It's a communication that protects you in life instead of putting your life and the lives of others in peril.

And you can do it and still keep your thumbs on the wheel.  (And please keep your eyes open if you are literally at the wheel.)

(C) 2011 by Stephen L. Dunn
This post first appeared December 27, 2011 in my blog THRIVING IN CHRIST, a devotional blog.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


It is New Year's Day 2012.  It's all also a Sunday.  I am preaching this morning, then probably heading to the couch for a much-needed nap (I was up much of the night at a youth lock-in at the church).  Tomorrow is a holiday for a lot of people, but not for me.  I hope maybe to catch some of the Rose Bowl and the Gator Bowl, but I have an Elders' Meeting that probably won't be brief.  So instead of writing anything profound, pretentious, or even provocative--I just want to share with you a series of images and let you use your own imagination to produce the text for your own blog.  Enjoy! - Steve

The photographer claims the basset hound is running

My first-born Christi, traveling the world for Atos Origen

I forget where this is

Volcano Power
Go figure
It's better than marching behind the horses
Jesus and Stacie at Walmart
My sentiment EXACTLY