Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Prayer for Peace and Humility

I'm sure most all of you have heard about the pastor of the small church in Gainesville, Florida, that has declared Saturday, September 11th 2010 as "International Burn a Quran Day".

If not, I'd like to crawl under whatever rock you live under, too, because it's probably quiet and peaceful under there.

If you don't live under a rock, no doubt you've seen the headlines and stories, such as this one, or this one.

I don't need to detail the pastor's feelings or reasons for you, you can read about those or watch the news.  I don't need to repeat the political establishment's reactions to the story, you can Google them on your own.  I don't have to give quotes regarding the Muslim world and what their reaction is or will be, we will know within hours if the pastor actually goes through with his plans.  

What I do want to express here is what I see as both an American issue, and a Christian issue.  

First, it's very sad that US news media has focussed so much time and energy to the issues of one very small church in Florida.  Our news media has inflamed this for it's own financial benefit.  The ensuing firestorm of controversy has been a boon to media outlets all over the country.  

They are all benefiting from the increased circulation and viewer-ship of their products.  

They are all making more money. 

They are controlling the news product, and controlling what we see and hear about it.

Understand that to begin with. 

Second, as a First Amendment issue, I have no problem with someone who wants to burn a book as a political statement, no matter if that book is the Bible or the Quran or any other book.  I may disagree with the message and the means of making it, but it's clearly protected "speech" according to the US Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter of what is legal and what is not legal in the US.  

The speech may be offensive to some, indeed it may be offensive to many, but that's exactly what the First Amendment protects - offensive political speech.  Pleasing speech needs no protection, and our Founders knew this very well.  

No one in the US has the right to "not be offended", just as no one has the "right to be heard".  We have the right to speak.  

Whether anyone listens is up to the individual.

Which brings me to my third point - is this action correct or beneficial from a Christian viewpoint?

I contend it is not.

As a US citizen, I'm not terribly fond of anyone who wants to kill me, my family, or destroy my way of life.  Radical Muslims have clearly avowed these very things as a major goal.  They hate western life, culture and prosperity.  They dislike the fact that most of us in the US are what they would call infidels, or unbelievers. We are routinely called "The Great Satan", which I think pretty well sums it up.

As a US citizen, I think it's important to stand up to and resist people who want to hurt you and take away your way of life. God bless the US military and all they stand for in protecting us.

But as a Christian, one who is not only a US citizen, but first a citizen of the Kingdom of God, as Jesus called it, I think this Quran burning is very misguided.  I don't think offending people is the way to win their hearts and minds to favor with Jesus.

Jesus' first and foremost desire on earth was to bring glory to His Father.  Everything He did was pleasing and correct in the eyes of God.

Jesus never, ever, attacked a "foreign" religion or government.  Speaking of an evil and oppressive regime known at the Roman Empire at the time, he declared "give to Caesar that which is Caesar's.  Give to God that which is God's."

Speaking to a heathen Samaritan woman at the well, a person detested by Jews, Jesus offered up a well of living water to the woman, if she would believe he was the promised Messiah.

Jesus told his followers that if they are struck on one cheek, to turn the other cheek. People often argue about this passage, wondering if Jesus meant to literally not resist physical force, but in thinking about this command, consider the fact that Jesus went quietly to his death without fighting back one bit.  He recognized God's will in that moment, and by his obedience brought glory to God by his death.

Jesus was all about saving people from spiritual death, not political power. One day He will come in glory and He will be King of All, both spiritual and political, but for now, the Good News is about saving souls and eternal life, so that we can enjoy Jesus' reign later.

So how are we as Christians supposed to deal with evil people or ideologies?

Jesus told his followers to love our enemies, and pray for them.

He told them to "treat others the same way you want others to treat you".

And in Romans 12, the Apostle Paul wrote, summing up his assessment of how Christians should live:

"Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.  If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, "it is mine to avenge. I will repay", says the LORD.  On the contrary, "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. "

I pray that the pastor has a change of heart, but I fear the damage is done.

If he wants to stand as a US citizen and decry Muslim terrorists, that is his right, but his words and actions have consequences that may be farther reaching than he can imagine.

If he wants to stand as a Christian follower of Jesus, he must evaluate his actions in light of bringing glory to God and spreading the Good News to those who need to hear it.  Will this Quran burning help to achieve that goal? Does God Almighty really need to have His Honor defended by men?

Even Islam acknowledges that God knows what is in the heart of a man or woman, and our actions speak louder than our words.  God knows this man's heart, and I pray that God will speak to his heart, and take him away from this confrontational attitude to an attitude of love and humility in Christ.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Gorgeous Day for Wanderlust

I was struck with a bout of wanderlust yesterday.  I decided to take a drive up Hwy 80 to Auburn, connect with Hwy 49 and drive to Hwy 89 and Sierraville, head down to Truckee, then take Hwy 80 back home. The weather was beautiful, so off I went.

View Larger Map

I took off about 8:30, taking my dog Jett with me.  The first stop was, of course, coffee. My thought was to wind my way through the foothills and mountains, stopping at little coffee shops along the way, tasting my way through the drive.  After the second stop, Dutch Brothers in Auburn for an "ER-911", consisting of 6 shots of espresso, Irish Creme syrup, and steamed milk, I modified my plan just a little bit.  That second stop for coffee was, shall we say, sufficient for the morning. (Dutch Brothers, by the way, is in my opinion one of the best coffee chains in California.  I'm just sayin'.)

I continued up Hwy 49, and came to a little town called Camptonville, with an interesting claim to fame: the invention of the Pelton Water Wheel.  

 Its not much on the map, but as I drove through I found it was a quaint little town.  And I mean little.

I stopped and got lunch at a little diner called the Pelton Wheel Cafe.  It was very small and quaint, but they made a very good burger.  I talked with the gal who ran the place for a few minutes before heading on up the hill.

On up Hwy 49 I went, winding through some beautiful mountain scenery - winding being more of the operative word in this instance.  Jett found it hard to stand in the back seat of the car, so she found curled up and chilled in the sun as we wound up the road. 

I came to a town I wasn't expecting along the way: Downieville.  This is important because it's a favorite place of Alene's, and I didn't realize it was on Hwy 49..  What a cute little town.  While in town, looking for an inn Alene had stayed at some years ago, I talked to an old man named Andy who told me, in five minutes, all about the gold rush history of the town, where the medi-vac landing zone is outside of town, and about a search-and-rescue event where 250 townies volunteered to search for a young boy lost in the hills.  Very nice man.  

And a Scary Bridge.  Literally, just wide enough for my car. 

After leaving Downieville, I continued on up toward Sierraville, coming to the vista point looking out over the Sierra Valley. What an amazing site.  The photos don't do the view justice, believe me. 

Up here in the high Sierra, it's truly cowboy country. 

Leaving Sierraville, I drove past a closed gas station that caught my eye.  For one thing, the last gas price posted was $1.55 a gallon, so how long ago was that, especially up here in the high Sierras? As I looked around, I found an entire pet store inside, simply abandoned.  All the pet supplies, food and toys were just left there.  It's obviously been years. The rest of the store was cleared out, for the most part, but again, simply abandoned.  Signs are all in place, even a California Lotter banner still hanging.  I'm amazed the place hasn't been burglarized and cleaned out. 

So when was this?

Pet supplies, leashes and such, just abandoned.
Dog food and treats still on the shelves. 

Register's cleared out. Looks like they left in a hurry.

Still has some sort of drink product stacked up.

I wound my way back through Truckee, where I stopped at the Wagon Train for a cup of by then needed coffee, and played with Jett at a grassy park.

After that, with the sun beginning to get low in the sky, I pointed the car toward home.  In all, about 240 miles, 11 hours on the road, one tired dog, and a great day. 

Monday, September 06, 2010

When In Sacramento... or is in Greece....Whatever, I Like Food

Labor day weekend dawned with an effusive air of expectation.  A three-day weekend was at hand, and not a single plan had been laid.  72 hours or more of complete freedom lay in front of us, calling to us and challenging us to make the most of the wonderful weekend.

No one had a clue what we wanted to do.  

Sometimes too many choices makes making a single choice very difficult.  

"Let's do this.  Oooo wait, let's do that! That looks cool! Oh, but... but.. hang on.  We could do this, then that, and hit this other thing in between, oh but this overlaps with that, and I don't want to do that because, you know, it has these things there and I don't know if I'll like these things, but over here we can do this! Oh, but if we do this, we won't want to do that..... "

I think you get the picture. I think you've been there with me. 

So, Alene and I got up, had some coffee, talked over the coffee, made some more coffee and sipped that coffee.  I love coffee.  Coffee is just so wonderful.  The aroma and flavor makes me........ Oh jeez I need to stop.  If I go down the coffee road that's all this post will be about.  The succulent little brown roasted beans that when you grind them and combine with water they......Gah!! I'm doing it again! 


So Alene mentioned a few things she'd seen during the week that sounded fun, and we picked Chalk-It Up Sacramento and the Sacramento Greek Festival , both of which turned out to be good choices for a Saturday.  Lots of walking but not too much walking, and the chance to eat some interesting and delicious food.  Like Baklava!

We got down to Chalk-It Up around 12:30 or so.  Not all the artists were out yet, but many were.  It was a festive, fun atmosphere with music, food, and lots of kids.  No Baklava yet, but we did get an Italian Ice which was pretty good. 

Around 2pm or so we headed over to the Sacramento Convention Center, and the Greek Festival.  I knew they'd have Baklava there. 

I'd never been to the Greek Festival before.  I actually grew up near the church were the Sacramento Greek Festival started, on Alhambra Blvd in Sacramento.  I remember being very young, going to play and swim at McKinley Park during the summer, and seeing hundreds of people suddenly hanging around the big Greek church, and smelling wonderful food across the street.  Now I know it was the origins of the Greek Food Festival, which became simply the Greek Festival. 

Also when I was young, there was a Greek family at our church.  Their daughters were in the youth group about the same time, and when it was their turn to bring treats for some event, they always brought some form of Baklava. It was there that I learned what honey dripped walnuts and dates wrapped in filo dough can taste like.  Hence, by love of Baklava. 

So, we went to the Festival and got lunch.  We had some delicious real food for lunch, (chicken, lamb, green beans, rice, etc), as well as some interesting Greek roll-up thingies.  One was a filo-wrapped rice and cheese thing, and the other was a spinich and egg thingy, and both were fantastic!  (You can glance at my Food Diary, because the names of most of the foods were actually in it's dictionary.)

Then I looked for the Baklava, but got sidetracked and distracted by a fellow making Greek coffee.  I wish I took more photos at the festival, but here is one of the more interesting ones. 

They use a very finely ground coffee and boil it in very small batches.  In this photo they are using sand over the burners to even out the heat.  They serve it with with the grounds in the cup so you need to let it set a moment.  With each cup the server warned patrons, "don't drink the mud at the bottom of the cup." 

Excellent coffee.  If you are a fan of espresso, you'll like it.  I don't care what you are a fan of, you won't like the mud.  

Trust me. 

Moving on, we headed over to the pastry section.  Again, I wish I had taking more photos.  There were several different types of pastries, several of which we tried.  And, of course, I found my Baklava.  Mmmmmmmm yummy, honey dripping walnut stuffed...... oh wait, speaking of honey dripped.... 

They also had these honey soaked, cinnamon and walnut sprinkled donut holes.  Yes, they had a Greek name, but a donut hole by any other name is still a donut hole, but it doesn't taste as sweet as these! They take the crispy fried donut hole and literally dump it in a tub of honey stuff.  They stir them around, drain them, and pour a little bit more honey on top.  Then, if you want, some ground walnuts and cinnamon. (Thank you Liz for standing in the interminable line and waiting to get them.)


Oh...... my..... sweet..... goodness.  I almost forgot about my Baklava.  Almost.

As we ate pastries, and elderly couple sat down next to us and struck up a conversation.  Turns out the husbands name is Nick Stathos.  He, apparently, is the oldest bar-tender in Sacramento, according to this Sacramento Bee article. Talk about a nice old guy.  He asked Alene and I how long we'd been married, and when we replied "not yet", he smiled, looked around and said "we've got a priest here, let's make it today!"  Funny, nice, witty man.  Just goes to show you never know who might bump into. 

After looking at the sights at the Festival, and one last trip around the block at Chalk-It Up to check on the artist's progress, we headed home.  I was literally limping by now, my feet and back quite sore, (I thought it was going to be an easy walk day, but I was wrong) but with a full and very satisfied tummy, full of Greek goodness and, yes, honey.

I bet Winnie the Pooh was part Greek.