Favorite Quotes

Guttenberg Bible - 1 JohnI’ve kept a text file of favorite quotes on my PC since 1993. I’ve added surprisingly few quotes to the list in the ensuing years, but here they are:

Asesino alevoso, enemigo del pueblo, y digno del escarnio de todos los hombres es todo aquél que, con el pretexto de guiar a las generaciones futuras, les enseña un sistema aislado de doctrinas y les musita al oído, en lugar del mensaje dulce del amor, el evangelio bárbaro del odio.

-José Martí

Treacherous assassins, enemies of the people, and worthy of everyone’s ridicule are those who, under the pretext of guiding future generations, teach them an isolated system of doctrines and whisper in their ear (instead of the sweet message of love) the barbarous gospel of hate.

-José Martí

You can’t step into the same river twice.
– Heraclitus

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead. His eyes are closed.
-Albert Einstein

Posterity, you will never know how much it cost the present generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in heaven that ever I took half the pains to preserve it.
-John Adams

On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question — is it politic? Vanity asks the question — is it popular? Conscience asks the question — is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, not polite, not popular — but one must take it because it’s right.
– Speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
given at the National Cathedral, Washington D.C.
March 31, 1968.

America was a great force in the world, with immense prestige, long before we became a great military power. That power has come to us and we cannot renounce it, but neither can we afford to forget that the real constructive force in the world comes not from bombs, but from imaginative ideas, warm sympathies, and a generous spirit. These are qualities that cannot be manufactured by specialists in public relations. They are the natural qualities of a people pursuing decency and human dignity in its own undertaking without arrogance or hostility or delusions of superiority toward others; a people whose ideals for others are firmly rooted in the realities of the society we have built for ourselves.

Robert F. Kennedy,
Indiana University,
Bloomington, Indiana,
April 24, 1968

It doesn’t require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.
– Samuel Adams

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
– Margaret Mead

“Let them call me a rebel and I welcome it, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of demons were I to make a whore of my soul.”
-Thomas Paine

“Great spirits have often encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
-Albert Einstein (1875-1955)

“That action injured you and saved me. I will not forget it.”
– LCDR Data to CDR Riker – “The Measure of a Man”

My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat; situation excellent. I shall attack.
– Marshall Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929)

There are 10 kinds of people, the ones that get binary and the ones that don’t.

“Bitterness is like drinking a cup of poison and then waiting for the other person to die.”
– Nelson Mandela

“The best portion of a good man’s life – his little nameless acts of kindness and love.”
– William Wordsworth

“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us “universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
– Albert Einstein

All that is gold does not glitter,
not all those who wander are lost;
the old that is strong does not wither,
deep roots are not reached by the frost.
– J. R. R. Tolkien

Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
– G.K. Chesterton

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.” – Lloyd Dobler
Say Anything

“Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and not concerned about the city government that damns the soul, the economic conditions that corrupt the soul, the slum conditions, the social evils that cripple the soul, is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.
-CS Lewis

“Our scientific powers have outrun our spiritual powers. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”
-Carl Sagan

Yes…..you go down a dark hallway alone and I’ll wait here in a dark room alone.”
-Daniel Jackson
The Tomb

The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality.
-Arthur Schopenhauer

A Bureaucrat is the most despicable of men, though he is needed as vultures are needed, but one hardly admires vultures whom Bureaucrats so strangely resemble. I have yet to meet a Bureaucrat who was not petty, dull, almost witless, crafty or stupid, an oppressor or a thief, a holder of little authority in which he delights, as a boy delights in possessing a vicious dog. Who can trust such creatures?

But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
-Thomas Jefferson,
Notes on Virginia

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
-George Bernard Shaw

What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.
-C.S. Lewis

If you can’t take a bloody nose, then maybe you ought to go back home and crawl under your bed. It’s not safe out here. It is wondrous…with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.
-Q (Star Trek, Q Who?)

“Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”
-Winston Churchill

” ‘Master, what’s this I hear? Who can they be, These people so distraught with grief?’ … And he replied: ‘The dismal company of wretched spirits thus finds their reward due Whose lives knew neither praise nor infamy; … Who against God rebelled not, nor to Him Were faithful, but to self alone were true.’ “
-Dante, The Inferno

“By living, no—more—by dying and being damned to hell doth a man become a theologian, not by knowing, reading, or speculation.”
-Martin Luther

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
-Martin Luther King Jr.
Strength to Love, 1963

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
– Blaise Pascal

I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”
– Thomas Jefferson

They washed up the dishes and went to bed. In bed, they made love. Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new. When it was made, they lay in each others’s arms, holding love, asleep.
– Ursula K. LeGuinn
The Lathe of Heaven

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Thoughts After Reading and Seeing Watchmen

Watchmen Cast - Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Watchmen Cast – Courtesy of Warner Brothers

For years I’ve heard friends talk about Watchmen and I never got around to reading it. I’ve always found the style of storytelling in graphic novels to be distracting. I’m a word guy, and superimposing images with words usually distracts me.I finally sat down to read the graphic novel in its entirety this week, and I think it’s fair to say that Watchmen reaches the full potential of the medium. It tells its story on multiple levels with sophisticated interaction between the evocative images and the (several?) brilliant storylines(s).

The movie trims out a few layers to focus on the central themes and images of the novel; an appropriate recognition of the limitations of the genre. Visually, the movie is stunning – it recreates the world of the Watchmen flawlessly, and it does so in ways that replicate the emotional impact of key moments in the novel. The acting feels a little weak and contrived in places (especially Matthew Goode, who clearly doesn’t understand the subtlety of his character); but overall the characters are well-represented. The subtleties and moral ambiguities of the novel’s plot are also generally well-implemented, and the overall experience of seeing it all take place on the big screen was awe-inspiring.

John-Francis and I were actually struck silent for a few moments after it was over, something that is rare for both of us. Then we found ourselves talking for some time about the various moral and anthropological implications of the story.

Having read the novel, I was initially hesitant to take John-Francis to the movie. Admittedly, the violence didn’t exceed what he’s seen on evening television or in James Bond/Jason Bourne movies. In fact, the worst scene in Watchmen almost perfectly mirrors a scene from Battlestar Gallactica. The sexuality barely went beyond that of a perfume ad. And the language is no worse than he’s heard from his classmates. Still, it’s our job to filter that sort of thing and to help him to process what he does encounter in a manner appropriate to his emotional maturity. (Of course, no one was monitoring our emotional maturity as kids when we found my grandfather’s Playboy collection, but you tend to forget that sort of thing as you get older.)

Ultimately, I decided that he was old enough to understand the themes of the movie and appreciate its artistry. I really wanted him to see it on the big screen, and I wanted to watch it with him and interpret it with him. For me, discussing these sorts of powerful artistic experiences – engaging in deep discussions about the nature of good and evil – is the very best part of being a parent. I wanted to share this with him, and I thought he was ready for it.

I was right, and here are some of the things we discussed on the car ride and after we got home. I’m listing them here, because I’d love to talk about them with you if you’ve read the novel or seen the movie; and I’d like to encourage you to talk about them with your kids if they’ve seen it.

– Which is more important, justice or peace?

– Should we have to choose between the two? Do we?

– Is humanity capable of real heroism?

– What defines a “good” person? A hero?

– Are there some flaws that cannot be balanced by any level of heroism?

– Are there any heroes in the movie? Any villains?

– Is fear the only real motivation for peace?

– How do we determine the right thing to do?

– Why is it important to ask these kinds of questions? How does good art make us think in these ways?

In case you haven’t already realized it, this is not a typical action movie, nor is the graphic novel what you might expect if you aren’t familiar with the deep and morally complex themes dealt with in modern works of that genre. Don’t go and see Watchmen if you’re looking for a Superman movie. Also, I’d highly recommend reading the book first.

Even if you don’t see the movie with your kids, I think these are important themes and I hope you’ll find other ways to talk about them. Our children are exposed to more images of violence, sex, and profanity than we realize; and it’s important that the feel comfortable looking to us to help them make sense of them.

Excerpt from Watchmen, Vol 1

Excerpt from Watchmen, Vol 1

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The Great Bread Pan Experiment

Many of you know that I bake all of our sandwich bread. I’ve been baking my own bread for about sixteen years, using the honey-wheat bread recipe that my Grandma Virginia (my mother’s mother) used for decades prior. Interestingly, it goes really well with the pimento cheese recipe that my father’s parents (Sue and Al) made for decades – so there’s a lot of family history in a pimento cheese sandwich at our house. I’ve never picked up the trick of making the pimento cheese, so I have to rely on my dad for that.

The bread recipe I use, almost verbatim from my grandmother, is here:


For years, I used Grandma Virginia’s bread pans, but they were way past their life expectancy. After ruining two consecutive batches, I realized I had to get new pans. I bought the first ones that seemed comparable, and have been unhappy with every subsequent batch of bread since.

Hence the great bread pan experiment. I used one each of the following: a cheap Publix glass bread pan, a slightly more expensive Baker’s Select (Kroger) non-stick pan, a mid-range Faberware non-stick pan, a Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch non-stick 1 1/2 lb. (10″x5″x3″) bread pan, and a Williams-Sonoma Emile Henry ceramic “artisan” loaf pan.

Here they are with the dough first worked into them. You can click on them for larger images:

Back row: W-S Goldtouch, W-S Ceramic; Front Row: Faberware, Publix, Kroger

Back row: W-S Goldtouch, W-S Ceramic; Front Row: Faberware, Publix, Kroger

Now here they are after rising for one hour:

Back row: W-S Goldtouch, W-S Ceramic; Front Row: Faberware, Publix, Kroger

Back row: W-S Goldtouch, W-S Ceramic; Front Row: Faberware, Publix, Kroger

At this point, the glass pan was already suspect. I knew that there was a slightly smaller quantity of dough in the Kroger pan, but it was one of my existing pans and I already knew I didn’t like it.

Here’s what they looked like coming out of the oven:

Bread after baking

Bread after baking

And here’s the final product:

The finished loaves

The finished loaves

Note that both Williams-Sonoma pans (on the left) are quite consistent, but the ceramic one (in the back, on the left) turned out a little too poofy and boxy.

And here are the results:

Publix Glass Pan – The clear loser of the bunch. The bread was not cooked evenly, and, despite the huge quantities of Crisco I’d used to coat it, the bread stuck to the sides on the way out. We whacked this loaf up immediately and ate it in fragments.

Baker’s Select/Kroger Non-Stick Pan – Still not high on my list. It did an adequate job, but is too small for my recipe. More significantly, it’s a darker pan, and seems prone to burning the bottom.

Faberware Non-Stick Pan – I really like the grippy things on the end, and overall a suitable pan. Also a little too small for my recipe. It is a lighter pan, and seems to be a little better-made than the Baker’s Select.

Williams-Sonoma Emile Henry Ceramic – Boy this thing is pretty, and it makes a nice loaf of bread too. The crust wasn’t as brown as I generally prefer, and it did stick in one spot. Overall, though, a really nice pan – but not suitable for regular use. I kept it for baking holiday breads.

Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch – The clear and unquestionable winner. This pan produced one of the best-looking loaves of bread I’ve ever made. We sliced it the next morning, and the loaf was consistent throughout. We went and bought five more pans just like it this afternoon.

Here’s a link to the pan for those who are interested: http://www.williams-sonoma.com/products/sku7081532/

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The Gospel Charge

This was originally written as a Charge to the Candidate for a dear friend, but I have come to realize that it is, for me, the best and only charge I can give to any candidate for ordination. It is also my most succinct statement of the gospel and over our obligation as ministers of word and sacrament.

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, the Apostle reminds Timothy of the day of his ordination. Starting in verse 6 of chapter 1, Paul writes:

Rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel….Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

“Rekindle the power you received in the laying on of hands.” That’s dangerous language in the modern Church for several reasons. “Power” for instance has been abused by so many religious leaders that a seminary education these days is as much a course in surrendering pastoral authority as anything. On top of that, talking about conferring some sort of “powerful spirit” sounds a little too Pentecostal for high church, mainline Protestants like us. We’d be much more likely to talk about what the laying on of hands symbolizes rather than what the laying on of hands does.

Yet Paul is very clear here. In laying our hands upon you we are endowing you with a fire, a powerful flame. There is only one source of that fire, the gospel, and we entrust it to you as it was entrusted to us. You have a choice. You can either use that power to set the world on fire, or you can keep it bottled up inside. As part of my charge to you, hear my warning very clearly: if you ignore or deny the power of the gospel, it will either die out inside you or it will constantly burn you up from the inside until you let it out.

I don’t see that in your future, and so I charge you with one thing and one thing only: the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news that, though we are broken sinners living in a broken world, merciful God loves us enough to die for us in the. The good news, that in dying for us Jesus, his body raised from the tomb, destroyed death itself and offered us life without fear.

Our own sinfulness and God’s mercy, the reality of our fears and the absolute reality of God’s overcoming them: that is the gospel. If you believe the gospel, live the gospel, and preach the gospel, then you will set the world on fire. I am not speaking hypothetically or exaggerating. In this place you are being entrusted with the same good news that led St. Francis to surrender his armor and his wealth and preach a gospel of peace. You are being entrusted with the same good news that led Clarence Jordan to found Koinonia Farm and Millard Fuller to found Habitat for Humanity. You are being entrusted with the same good news that led Julian of Norwich into a life of prayer, that brought Frederick Buechner to tears when first he heard it, and which relentlessly hounded Hildegard of Bingen until she would pick up her pen and write it down.

The simple good news of God’s mercy and Jesus’ victory over death is so powerful that knowing it and it alone, without seminary educations or even the ability to read, thousands and perhaps even tens of thousands were willing to die, to give up their very lives, rather than compromise it even the tiniest bit. If we, having been entrusted with that same gospel, fail it, then their blood is on our hands as well.

How do we avoid failing the gospel? First and foremost we must believe it. That can be harder than it seems as a pastor. We have all the education we need to interpret away things we don’t like. We have the credentials and self-assurance to convince ourselves that we don’t need anyone. But to preach the gospel, we have to live it first, and that means coming to terms with our own sinfulness, our own brokenness, and our own weakness.

When we finally come to terms with our own sin, we then face an even harder task – we must accept God’s mercy. My friend, the day will come when you feel like you’re a failure in ministry. Let me tell you in advance so that, when that day comes, you can remember it. Dear one, God knows all about it and God forgives you. God loves you.

It is in that moment, when you realize what a sweet and generous gift forgiveness is, that you will be able to truly preach the gospel. But remember when you do that you must preach all of it. You must remind us of our sinfulness and brokenness. It is those fragile, painful, scary parts of our lives that is the territory of a pastor. And when you come to those places, you must never fail to offer us the tangible hope of God’s mercy – available to every single one of us, male, female, gay, straight, liberal, conservative. You must find ways to remind the people whom you love that we are sinners, and you must find ways to offer God’s grace to the people whom you cannot stand. If you shortchange either group, the gospel loses its power.

But if you can find a way to preach the gospel, then you can find a way to live the gospel. You will have to determine for yourself what shape your professional goals will need to have for you to live the gospel, but I can point to a few characteristics to shoot for. The gospel leads to healing, it leads to unity, it leads to hope, and it leads us away from the transitory concerns of our mortal lives and focuses us on the holy and the eternal. With your gifts and talents you have so many options open to you. Choose the ones that will honor the power entrusted in you, the power to change the world, to draw us away from our petty problems and into the radical claims of the gospel.

You are worthy of our trust, and you will be wise in how you spread the fire of the gospel. You will not use it to burn and scar as some have. Instead, you will use it to bring light and warmth. You will not shirk from its strength as some have. Instead, you will burn away the thorns and weeds that threaten to choke out the eternal life within us. You will bear the trust of the apostles well, and so I close with the words of Scripture rather than my own:

For I [hand] on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures. [I Corinthians 15:3-4]

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Regarding Mercer and the GBC

This originally appeared in the Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2005.

As a Mercer alumnus and a pastor, I am tremendously relieved by the decision of the Georgia Baptist Convention to sever ties with Mercer University. As the GBC has continued its descent into the far-right margins of evangelical Christianity, Mercer has continued to move forward in building a well-respected regional university. The two directions are obviously inimical, and neither institution was well-served by association with the other.

My primary concern has been with the credibility of the seminary. As an inaugural graduate of Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology, I have winced every time the GBC has made another reactionary or ill-informed statement on society, on the roles of women or on homosexuality. The anti-intellectual, misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric that regularly pours out of the GBC and its member churches has the potential to greatly impair the credibility of a McAfee education in the larger Christian world. It is hard enough to teach people that not all Baptists oppose gay marriage, the ordination of women, or the teaching of evolution. Having to explain that a Mercer education is not the same thing as a Georgia Baptist or Southern Baptist indoctrination is even more tedious.

I am confident that the gospel is so powerful that it will survive the adulterations imposed on it by fundamentalism and the current leadership of the Georgia Baptist Convention; and I am confident that the gospel can also change lives despite whatever impediments mainstream Christianity presents it. Nevertheless, the GBC has moved so far into the absurd extremes of cultural conservativism that any association with it compromises the ability of mainstream Christians to do the work of the gospel with authority and authenticity.

Thank you for allowing us to go our separate ways.

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