Archive for March, 2009

Want a snippet of American history each day? This is your book.  Organized as a daily reader The American Patriot’s Almanac: Daily Readings on America can be read in short (2 minute) intervals throughout the year.   Bennett and Cribb offer a wide variety of historical anecdotes from throughout the USA’s history including some more obscure dates and events that I’d not heard of.

I’m a on again off again history buff so I was eager to read this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Book Review Blogger program.  Part of me was a little disappointed that the book sometimes almost preaches civic religion to the reader.  Nelson is a Christian publishing house and Bennett is a well known Christian author so the book’s tone at times makes it seem that American is tied up exclusively to Christianity and vice-versa.

It is no surprise given the book’s title that this paints an awe inspiring picture of what we have accomplished since the colonies were first settled.

The book is formatted by month and day, unlike some 365 day readers which just say Day 1, Day 2, etc.  At the beginning of each month is a longer essay about some component of American History.  The daily reading is a “this day in history” synopsis about a single event on that day.  Followed by a bulleted list of 4-5 other significant events that occurred on that day in history.

I would recommend this book as a way to get a small piece of history each day for you and your family.  It could also serve a good starting point for conversation about the impact of the particular event and whether it is good or bad.

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Last year you may recall that we had a brief encounter with cold weather camping – unexpectedly and wholly unprepared.  Since then we have acquired more appropriate gear and were eager to test it out.  We just had to wait for a free weekend that wasn’t going to be below 0 degrees (our sleeping bags are only rated above 0). Well we finally got it on Feb 28 and March 1.  We started planning on Monday before and at the last minute decided to throw in some cross-country skiing lessons first thing in the morning.

So we drove to Elm Creek Park Preserve and took a 2 hour lesson on classical skiing (you know the one in the grooves).  This was a lot of fun! It was windy but the sun was out and the temps felt good.  After learning the basics the instructor took us out on a short loop so we could experience some real skiing.  It was interesting to watch everyone in the group catch on – fall over and enjoy themselves! He took us to a very small hill and had us practice going down and then coming back up.  I fell each of these times on the way down – the grooves were worn out at the bottom and my stopping ability was a little shaky! We survived the lesson and then were told we could do any of the trails in the park without the added price of a trail pass.  Not being too confident we did the same small loop and enjoyed every second of it (and for the record I didn’t fall on the hill this time). We did about 5k of skiing which isn’t a lot but was good enough.  For those who know the park we did the Northern Lights Trail.

Following that adventure we drove clear across the Metro to Afton State Park for the camping part of our adventure.  This was our

first time here, but knew they had backpack only sites about a mile to a mile and a half from the parking lot.  So not too far if we had to ditch.  We had an enjoyable walk in, except for a set of shoveled stairs – we didn’t see the snowshoer’s sign that followed the incline.  We shared much of the trail with the cross country skiers so we had to be careful not to walk on the groomed trail if we could help it. From the parking lot it is pretty much straight downhill then flat for a little bit and then straight up hill to the campground area. It made for a little work but we appreciated our rented snow shoes from REI – they kept us out of the deep snow and gave some needed grip on the uphill.

We picked out a campsite on the side of the hill away from Afton Alps and that provided some wind cover.  We proceeded to stomp down the snow around the site (as instructed during a winter camping class at Midwest Mountaineering), setup our tent, and then headed up to get firewood.   Setting up the tent was a little tricky since the ground was frozen, but I had thought about that and bought some pouches that are used for snow and sand camping.  There wasn’t quite enough snow for them to work so we just put pieces of firewood in them. Yes, Afton offers two saws and a huge pile of leftover pieces from making lumber for you to cut up and use for your fire – they also provide trash cans full of kindling!!  While mentioning the amenities they also have pit toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, and water available to campers – roughing it with some provisions!  Christy proceeded to setup the fire and we realized our first major mistake – our matches weren’t strike anywhere and we didn’t have the striker pad. Luckily, we knew there was another camper and he gave us a lighter to use.

Crisis solved.  I got some more firewood and Christy got the fire going.  Now time for dinner.  Second major mistake. When I bought new fuel for the backpacking stove I bought the right mix – but didn’t check the coupler.  This one brand doesn’t have a screw on coupler and I couldn’t get the stove to work.  Ugh.  So we had to boil water over the fire.  It takes a lot longer that way but we enjoyed our Mountain House Lasagna w/ Meat Sauce Freeze Dried 2 Person Pouch eventually.

Look closely,
it might say
2 above
(not counting
wind chill).

Climbing in to our cold sleeping bags wasn’t pleasant but they warmed up fairly quickly.  I went to sleep feeling toasty warm – almost perfect.  Christy was a little cold – despite wearing countless layers.  I awoke in the middle of the night because my toes were freeeezing.  Wiggle, wiggle didn’t help.  So I got dug around and struggled to put on another layer of socks – didn’t help.  For both of us the rest of the night was one of haggard sleep trying to keep blood moving to the toes.   As the sun started peaking up I arose as well to get a fire going and try to warm things up.  Despite being buried in the snow our water bottles had frozen so I began the even longer process of melting snow on an open fire.

The fire helped marginally to keep things warm (though my toes didn’t warm up until after almost 20 minutes in the car).  Now I was struggling with my hands turning into blocks of ice and trying to keep the fire going as hot as possible and keep it cooking able.  I scarfed the hot oatmeal – Christy was too cold to be hungry and we started packing up.  Everything – the tent, our sleeping bags, packs, and sleep rolls were either frozen or had a layer of frost on them, making it harder to pack up and get everything nice and small like it is supposed to be!

All loaded back up we began heading out, the hiking helped warm us up and put us in a better mood. We did a little exploring around trying to enjoy the beautiful scenery. We were glad to see our car unload ourselves and get into some semblance of warmth.   Our fingers and toes hurt but we are always happy to survive an adventure!

I don’t think we’ll be doing  anymore camping in Minnesota during February!

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From Mosque Visit

Last week we, along with the entire community, were invited to visit a mosque that is about 5 blocks from our house.  I run by this center almost every day but had never been inside.  For a variety of reasons I won’t mention the name in text but you can see their sign pictured below and in the news reports.

According to news reports well over 100 non-Muslim neighbors showed up for the opportunity to tour the Mosque, observe prayer time, eat good food, listen to a presentation, and meet some of our Somali neighbors. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a completely altruistic move on the Mosque’s part but a brazen attempt at crisis management.

From Mosque Visit

You see, in recent months this mosque has all but been accused of creating terrorists.  It is hard to really judge the facts for sure, but the FBI was convinced enough that it added the mosque’s Imam (spiritual leader) and youth director to the no-fly list and they were denied travel for haj or the pilgrimage.  There is some truth to the concern because in October a young Somali man from Minnesota traveled home to Somali and blew himself up as a suicide bomber,  (Newsweek reports) a fact that was recently confirmed by FBI Director Mueller.  The young man was a member of the mosque, although they adamantly deny helping radicalize or fund his trip to Somalia.  (A note that it is perfectly legitimate for Somalis to be traveling back and forth and many who attend this and other mosques are US citizens with no desire but to live here peacefully and obtain the American dream)

As you can imagine this created quite a bit of controversy within the Somali community as well as the broader Twin Cities metro area.  Admitted or not, this was the primary reason for the mosque opening its doors, inviting everyone inside (including the FBI Director).  They wanted to provide answers about Islam, their local teachings, and to build some community trust.

We embraced this opportunity to see the mosque and to meet some of our neighbors and hopefully be able to connect and begin building friendships.  Our initial reaction is mostly of disappointment and confusion.  This was a great publicity stunt and opportunity for some to learn more about Islam and to raise awareness of some of the mosque’s programs but only a few from our group really felt like we walked away from the experience with a more positive feeling about the mosque or their desire to befriend us.  My wife and I actually had a great conversation with a local business man but time will only tell if it was a superficial “hosting” experience or something more solid.

It is hard to make snap judgments and we hope and pray that our initial reactions are wrong and that this serves as a turning point for the mosque.  We would love to see it more involved in the inner-working of the neighborhood and that their continued promise of open doors would hold true.

We enjoyed our evening at the mosque and the generosity of their community.  I just wish they had made the effort long before the negative publicity had occurred.

I actually video taped the entire 30 minute presentation from mosque leaders which you can see here.  There was also a 15 minute Q&A session afterward that I captured as well.

New Results from the event:

Minneapolis Star-Tribune includes a picture of my Pastor’s wife and kids.

Pioneer Press (AP Story ran by many news sources)

WCCO Video and Print

Minnesota Public Radio

Fox 9 (video includes a clip of us!)

Twin City Daily Planet

Refugee Resettlement Watch (an ultra-conservative perspective)

MinneAfrica blog

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William Wilberforce (1759-1833)
Image via Wikipedia

We continue to steadily go through the Bible at Seward Church looking for themes of grace and Jesus. This week David shared from the story of 1 Kings.   He began with a story about William Wilberforce and his amazing perseverance trying to abolish slavery in the United Kingdom. You may recall the excellent movie about him, Amazing Grace. David said of Wilberforce that he showed “exemplerly perseverance.”

The book of 1 Kings is about Solomon and the transfer of power from David to his son.  With the passing of the torch came many responsibilities and directives.  One important one was treasuring God.  Something we try to do is be a loving church that perseveres in loving our community.

In 1 Kings 2:1-5 Solomon was told to persevere in the faith so that David’s lineage would continue to reign over Israel.  As if this wasn’t burden enough, in the same breath David asked Solomon to take care of some unfinished business – killing people David had promised not too!  Yikes, David may have had some problems!  We all think to ourselves that we want to be heros like Solomon and David, but we really just need to live a life following Christ and loving Him.

One of Solomon’s first actions was also one of his smartest – asking for guidance and help from God (3:3-9). Unfortunately, the passage also indicates that Solomon was struggling to keep the faith by offering “sacrifices and offerings at the high places”.  High places were where pagans went to worship their gods.  Sometimes we fall under the great burdens placed on us, whether by ourselves or by someone else.  The great thing is that no matter what God accepts us radically for who we are even when we fail.

Another inspiring action by Solomon was when after a dream he “stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings” (3:15).  This is important because standing before the ark was similar to standing in the presence of God.  The Ark also contained a copy of the 10 Commandments, a pot of Manna, and Aaron’s rod.  Respectively, these stand for God’s justice, grace, and intercession all things that Solomon and we need to remember on a regular basis.

Yet today we don’t need to offer sacrifices or offerings to God, we have free grace through Jesus.  We can’t earn it through religiously based acts of worship but through a change of heart.  This grace is the same grace that allows us to accept our broken neighbors – even those who seek to harm us.

Sadly, Solomon didn’t persevere in the faith – look at the differences of language in Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes.  Small compromises such as those we saw in 3:3 begin to pile up and really impact our lives, resulting in something like 11:1-2 where Solomon began putting his wives before devotion to God.  David gave a great analogy, using adrenaline versus the steady pounding of the heart.  The adrenaline rush is like a mountain top experience or quick burst of energy about an idea or topic while the steady pounding is a life-long devotion to change someone or something.  Think back to Wilberforce – many in his day thought slavery was bad and got excited for a short period of time (adrenaline) while few like Wilberforce were willing to commit their entire life to the cause (steady pounding heart).

Jesus gives us lots of hope, even when we fail miserably.  Romans 5:1-5 has this to say:

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Jesus gives us hope.

We ended the evening singing the song Amazing Grace, but I couldn’t help but think of another song, My Hope is Built.  The first verse is below:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

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