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Archive for February 3rd, 2009

One of the many excuses – I MEAN REASONS – I have for not blogging as much as I would like to is now up and running at Faith and Leadership, a new online magazine published by Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. I contributed an article about the spiritual practices of several Christian leaders and a couple of  sidebars, one detailing these leaders’ spiritual practices, and one on a successful book about Christian spiritual practices.

I really enjoyed working on this piece because prayer beads are, of course, a spiritual practice. But I was mildly surprised to learn that only one of the leaders I interviewed – Phyllis Tickle, who I have written about here before – actually uses prayer beads. (Phyllis greatly helped me with Bead One, Pray Too)I guess maybe I can’t see the forest for the prayer beads  – they loom very large to me.

What I loved about reporting this story was getting ask leaders I really admire – Jim Wallis, Anthony Campolo, Richard Land and Phyllis – about how they regularly and routinely spend time with the Divine every day. I particularly admire those who perform the prayer of examen at night. You have to be really brave to tackle this – not afraid to face all your failings and shorcomings on a daily basis – and then find sleep right afterwards! Yikes.

I also interviewed a couple of university and seminary professors for the piece, and in the process turned up some great resources for people interested in Christian spiritual practices, of which prayer beads are a form. One of the profs is Dorothy Bass, director of the Project on Education and Formation of People in Faith at Valparaiso University. Bass contributed to and edited Practicing Our Faith, a book about Christian spiritual practices that is the subject of one of the sidebars. Be sure and check out the website she maintains about Christian spiritual practices – it has tremendous resources. I also spoke with Elisabeth Koenig, a professor of ascetical theology at General Theological Seminary. She teaches course for seminary students about spiritual practices, including the Anglican rosary. I particularly liked what she had to say in the story about how  it is important for seminarians to spend time in spiritual practices while studying or their entire seminary education can be one cerebral expercise – not good preparation for a life serving the church.

One of my favorite parts of the interview process was asking these leaders why Protestants are returning to spiritual practices. I for one am not unhappy about the repudiation of some forms of Calvinism. John Calvin does not seem like I a guy I would want to sit next to in a church pew, you know? I think it’s a good thing to bounce back a bit from that extreme.

Take a look at the stories and the entire issue of Faith and Leadership and let me know what you think.

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This is Just for Fun

A good friend of mine recently shared an email sent to friends and family by her son-in-law. The email – really a short story I am calling “The Little Saga of Big Max”  – tells how my friend’s daughter Connie and son-in-law Mark “lost” and recovered their sassy beige pug, Max. I loved the email and just wanted to share it. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH PRAYER OR PRAYER BEADS, SO YOU CAN STOP READING NOW, IF YOU LIKE.

Here is the email . . .

“HAHAH!  Victory is ours!
Astute readers will remember that a bit before Christmas we reported with sadness that our pug Max had run off.  While this is not uncommon (he is very friendly and seeks out the neighbors given any opportunity, including a loose board in the fence), he had always been recovered swiftly with a smug look on his face, as if to say “I have been out visiting and you couldn’t do a darn thing to stop me!”
This time however we could not find him, or a neighbor in possession of him.  The first night without him was sad as we imagined him confused, cold, and hungry, wondering where on earth were his pets that always pick him up by now.  We mounted a full on SAR including posters all over the neighborhood, canvassing the neighborhood using a phone service, trips to the pound, newspaper and internet ads, etc, etc, etc.  No stone was left unturned.  Days turned to weeks, Christmas came and went, and still no Max.  We enjoyed the egg nog as much as ever, but there was a bit of a pall cast on the rest of it.  There was the occasional phone call, but nothing ever panned out.
Until….
Just after New Years we got a call that was strange to the point that it strained credulity.  This woman who called said she was a pug owner, indeed a pug fanatic, and had noticed our fliers around the neighborhood.  She said that about the time we said we lost ours, her across-the-street neighbors suddenly got a pug that looked a lot like ours, and worst of all, she said, they were not pug kind of people! This hardly seemed damning. There are a lot of pugs, they all look similar, and what exactly is a pug kind of person?  Furthermore, claiming to identify a particular pug from the posters we had put up seemed to be a stretch, because while it was a good likeness, the photo we used was not even of our dog!!!  However this woman, this fanatic, seemed absolutely convinced.  We said, fine, snap some photos next time it’s out, and we’ll see if it looks like our dog.  She said she would be happy to do that.
In the meantime my wife showed the fanatic some photos of Max, and she exclaimed “That is DEFINITELY the dog I have seen!”  Well, we think, okay, from across the street, brief glimpses, but it’s a step in the positive direction, so we will try to follow up this lead.  So my son and I stopped by the house, acting like we were handing out lost dog fliers, and said “Here’s a poster of our lost pug, we are going through the neighborhood, just wondering if you have seen any dogs like this?”  The woman there (I will describe her using a term I learned this weekend:  Pure Whiskey Tango) said she had not seen any pugs at all.  I left the flier and said please call if you see one, by which I meant, in case you develop a conscience and want to return him to us.
So then the weeks turned into months, with the occasional sighting by the fanatic, but we were always at work or somehow late to get the message.  We didn’t want to storm the place at the drop of a hat, no telling if these idiots would try to hide him in a dry cleaner bag or down the garbage disposal, or if indeed he was an occasional visitor, if he would never come back.  Every chance we got, we would go on “Doggy Stakeout” and park down the street, waiting for them to let the dog out.  We hired a dog detective who did see the dog and agreed it resembled our dog, and she even took some photos, but it was from too far away and it was impossible to see any detail on the little tan blurry spot in the photo.  I know, you would think that a dog detective would have excellent surveillance equipment.  She didn’t.  But these occasional sightings, and now two witnesses that agree it “sure looks like your dog” kept us focused on that house.
It was during this “wait and watch” period that we got the little black pug (“Bug”) because part of the SAR protocol mandated visits to the pound every 4 days to update the poster and cruise the kennels.  The pound people won’t go look for you, you have to do it yourself.  And my poor bereft wife was wasting away without doggy companionship (apparently my manly ministrations and loyal devotion will take a girl only so far) so she was compelled to adopt Bug to fill the void.
Now I notice I forgot to mention above that pretty early on, when we had got a bit of a better idea that the dog in question resembled Max, we called Fresno PD and they actually walked through the house and said there was no pug to be seen.  Another reason we thought that the dog might also live somewhere else sometimes.
Then, about 2 weeks ago, we got a big break!  The fanatic, who will now be named Eileen because she turned out to be completely correct, not fanatical at all, had actually bought a camera with a big fat zoom lens, and got some EXCELLENT photos.  Good enough that we could see some identifying features, and making us 80-90% sure it was indeed Max.  But… one thing was different… he was VERY FAT.  The dognappers had made our poor pug fat!  They are known to run to obesity and you have to feed them minimally anyway, in order to keep them at a healthy weight.  But, the bottom line was, overnight we went from wondering if it could be our dog, to having pretty good information that it was.  Still, though, we were convinced that for some reason the dog was not at that location every day, and we still did not want to tip our hand.  The new plan was, if either Eileen or Doggy Detective saw the dog, to call us immediately and we would drop everything and go there for a confrontation.  Given that things had moved so slowly up to this point, I thought to myself, great, another 2 months of waiting for a good chance, when we are available AND the dog is definitely there.  The whole stakeout-wonder-if-it’s-even-our-dog-pay-the-damn-detective-HOW-much-money???-is-any-dog-even-worth-it thought process was starting to ring pretty loud.
Today the phone rang…
Connie was asleep and I was out jogging.  I got back and she immediately said “Eileen called 45 minutes ago!  The dog is there!”  I grabbed my keys and cell phone and with fear and trembling jumped in the car.
Got to the PWT house and saw the front yard gates closed (good! means dog is still about) and car still in the driveway.  Hopped the fence and pounded on the door.  PWT opened the door and I said “I believe you have my dog, my missing pug.  I would like to see it so I can identify it.”  She said “I don’t have a pug, I only have a German Shepherd.”  I said, “I know you have a Shepherd, but my friends saw a pug, it is here, and I need to see it.”  She was in the middle of lying to me some more when a little pug face popped out between her legs!!  I said “There it is!  Maxie is that you?” at which point she slammed the door in my face.  I hollered some choice bits at her and dialed Fresno PD.  They have been on my speed dial ever since this fiasco began (never assume 911 will do anything for you from a cell phone).  I explained the situation and they said they would send someone “as soon as possible.”
So I retreated to behind my car in case she was gonna get postal on me over a dog, I’m sure it has happened.  Nervously watched traffic for any sign of my backup.  I assumed the first thing PWT did after slamming the door was call her husband so I wanted 5-0 to be there before he arrived.  But before the husband OR the heat arrived, she loaded up her kid (!), and the dog, into the car, and got ready to leave.  As she unlocked the gate, I said “Can’t we talk about this?  We just want our dog back.”  She snapped that she was tired of us hassling her (!!) and was gonna take it back to the owner’s house, they were just taking care of it.
Now I’m faced with a dilemma.  Do I try to block her in her driveway, or let her leave?  I decide the blockade is too confrontational so hop in the car to follow them.  Meanwhile redialing FPD to tell them we’re on the move.  She pulls out and off we go.
You do realize what this means, don’t you?!?
NOW IT’S A CAR CHASE!  JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIES!  Well without the crashing and the smashing and the flipping and there’s no John Bunnell narrating.
As we pull out the dispatcher answers and I update her.  She seems to spend a lot more time than I think she should trying to locate my original call.  We meander down the street.  This chick is puffing through more smokes than I thought possible.  Every few blocks a new butt flies out the window.  She is obviously experiencing stress.  She turns right from the left turn lane, she hangs wierd U-turns, gets on and off the freeway, I guess trying to lose me.  HA!  That crappy Jeep Cherokee is no match for Turbo Powered Subaru!  But this goes on for quite a while, all the time I am telling the dispatcher where we are as we zigzag our way across town.  She’s really driving aimlessly, probably trying to figure out what to do next.  I remark to the dispatcher that normally I can’t drive across town without seeing a few cruisers, and believe me I am looking for one, and if I see one I am going to create a goddamn ruckus.  She says one in “on the way.”  But further on we go, and still nothing.  Fortunately she never got wiggy because I would have to drop back lest she endanger the Child On Board.  Coming on 20 minutes of this aimless driving however and it’s getting old.  I am just afraid I am going to lose sight of them.
Finally!  The dispatcher says “The officer has you in sight” which was odd since I could not see him, until I craned my neck and looked way behind me… red and blue flashing lights!  Whew, that was a relief.  It took him another half mile to work his way through traffic and as soon as he was behind me I pulled over so he could have at her.  It was awesome.  He totally aggroed on her, honking the fire truck horn, full sirens and lights, shouting out his window for her to pull over NOW.  She made a right turn into a parking lane and he went screaming wide around her in a cut-off move as if he thought she was going to run for it.  He jumped out and did the full defensive approach, ordered her out of the car, and took her to the sidewalk.  Meanwhile I am parked behind them as instructed, waiting for further instructions.
Fortunately we have assembled a Doggy Identification Kit by now and were able to provide the officers with a fat wad of photos.  They looked at the photos, looked at the dog, and said “That’s good enough for us.  Take your dog.  Do you want to press charges?”  I wanted to say, yes, but only if dognapping is a hanging offense.  Really though all we wanted was our dog back and we had that so I said no, and that was that.  Done.  It has been 3 1/2 months and now Max is finally home.  To say we are relieved is to put it mildly.  When I got home I swear I thought I was going to see my wife hyperventilate herself into some sort of coma, she was so happy to see him.  He trotted in like he had never left and plopped his VERY fat ass onto my son’s blanket, just like he used to.  Except now he stinks like cigarettes, being locked in the getaway vehicle with the fugitive PWT, but that will go away with a bath.
Really though, the dog is home AND I got to have a car chase.  How could it get any better?”

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