praying for the Middle East


Photo Credit: NASA

The cradle of civilization. From high above it looks so peaceful. It is the confluence of myriad events and people, of nations which have risen and fallen throughout the millennia, and those which have endured, notwithstanding the ebb and flow of wars, alliances, and disasters.

Its beauty belies the suffering which is hidden by distance. Civil war in Egypt. Terrorism via suicide bombers throughout the region. Genocide in Syria. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now the likelihood that the USA will engage yet another war to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against its own citizens, killing at least one thousand people, hundreds of them young children.


Will the international community continue to pontificate, wanting to appear wise, and leave Syria to its own devices? Will they allow a dictator to continue exterminating his own people? Apparently, yes. Except for France and possibly the USA, depending on the results of the congressional debate and vote which will occur soon.

It’s a complicated issue. Russia reportedly is sending its own naval ships into the region in response to the elevated American presence. Putin is denying any wrong doing by his close ally, Assad of Syria. China also opposes any response, given their alliance with Syria’s government.

Every American president has a defining moment in his presidency. This may well become such a moment for President Barack Hussein Obama.

So, I call all followers of Jesus Christ to pray for him and for the congressional members, that they will gain wisdom in how to proceed.

I ask us all to pray for the people of Syria, those who are suffering on both sides of the conflict, and those who have access and power to initiate positive changes.

I ask us to pray for all the people in the Middle East, from Jerusalem to Beirut, from Damascus to Baghdad, from Kabul to Cairo, and throughout these lands.

May God raise up righteous leaders who will benefit their people, and remove those whose only concern is personal power and enrichment.

May God deliver young people from the bondage of militant thinking and terrorist training.

May those of us who live in relative safety remember our responsibility to wield power wisely, and engage tyranny when necessary, particularly when victimized citizens cannot help themselves in overcoming state-sponsored terrorism.

Do I want the USA to go to war again? No. But is it necessary? Quite possibly. Lives hang in the balance. Atrocities continue even after the mass killings which occurred recently.

Let’s do our part in prayer. Never forget, none of this has caught God by surprise. He knows what to do. May we seek him, and encourage our leaders to do the same so that we will better understand our responsibilities in the days ahead.

Do you agree with this post? Please consider sharing it with others. Do you disagree? Please feel free to comment respectfully.

Thank you.

Despicable Me 2: Movie Review


When the world needed a hero, they called a villain (from one of the theatrical posters). Enter the former arch-villain Gru: “I’m back in the game!”

Let’s face it. As adorable as it is to see Gru struggle to be an attentive daddy to three young girls (Margo, Agnes & Edith) and as ironically funny as it is to see him attempt to redeem his professional calling into a respectable jam maker, it just doesn’t make for entertaining theater for very long without the temptation to unleash his inner villainy once again. Besides, the minions and Gru all agree that the jam tastes horrible.

And so he’s back in the game, responding to the AVL’s (Anti-Villain League) request to help them nab a new villain who has pulled off a nefarious scheme designed to usurp Gru’s former claim as the greatest villain of all time.

Balancing his tender care for the girls on one hand, with his devious ability to concoct schemes to expose and foil the new villain on the other, Gru has his hands full. That would be bad enough. But there is a lady (Lucy, the cute AVL agent who lipstick tazored him and then dragged him to her headquarters, later being assigned to him as his partner) now in the mix, and her charms have not gone unnoticed by Gru, or his daughters, especially the youngest who so very much wants a mommy.

The plot thickens and the game is afoot. But this is about Gru, not Sherlock, as even Watson no doubt would point out. As the story unfolds, danger lurks for the minions, the girls, and for Gru. Interestingly, Gru seems to retain aspects of his former villainous character, showing little concern when most of his minions inexplicably disappear, except to express annoyance at the inconvenience to himself. So he lacks empathy on one hand for the minions or innocent bystanders in various scenes, but admirably displays it in spades on behalf of his daughters on the other. Not to mention his growing fondness for Lucy. But you will have to watch the film yourself to see how that works out.


Despicable Me 2 is rated PG for rude humor and mild action. On numerous occasions the humor is more rude than it is funny, resorting to jokes about flatulence and insulting comments about the appearance (baldness, weight, etc) of various characters.

The action shows violence with no real sense that anyone is going to be seriously hurt. These occur as a mixture of pratfalls and comic attacks between adversaries. However, younger children will be hard-pressed to understand the difference between animated violence and reality.

Gru’s oldest daughter, Margo, develops a serious crush on a boy who at first woos her and then dumps her.

Gru shows little regard for his minions, despite his supposedly reformed character, although he does rescue them and the world from their mayhem in the end.

Older kids should be okay. Younger children may become frightened when the minions are transformed into vicious, heartless creatures of destruction.


Despicable Me 2 is an odd mix of cheap laughs which do not quite measure up to that of their predecessor, and subtle complex characterization, showing that you may be able to take the villain out of a life of crime, but it takes far more to uproot his former nature out of him completely. Consequently, I left the theatre feeling encouraged by Gru’s respectful, tender, and even courageous (it takes courage to dress up as a fairy princess for his youngest girl’s birthday party when the hired act refuses to show up!) growth as a father. But I also sensed an underlying potential for him to resort to his nefarious ways once again, given his unresolved anger issues and lack of concern toward his minions and people not close to him.

In a way, I saw a hint of myself in him, capable of self-deprecating tender care, and ruthless disregard for those who anger him. It’s that second part that concerns me…for his sake and mine. How about you?

For an extended review of this film including themes, suggested Bible passages, and discussion questions, go to

Epic: Movie Review


Mary Katherine (she prefers M.K.) is a teenage girl who returns to her father’s home near the forest to live with him. Her mother has passed away, so she decides to give dad another chance to redeem himself, despite his professional and personal idiosyncrasies, both of which contributed to ending his marriage and causing the disenchantment his daughter. Yet when she arrives, it is clear he has not changed at all. He still romps about the house and the forest chasing imaginary little people using surveillance technology and completely ignoring his daughter. Enough. She quickly makes her exit from his world and an inadvertent entrance into the wondrous world of the Leafmen, plus their fellow miniature adversaries, the Boggans.

Now all she wants is to return to her normal size and to get home. Questions are: will she be able to get her father’s attention, especially in light of his grief over her disappearance, and will he even be able to help her?

You will have to watch the film for yourself for the answers to these and so many other questions.

Epic is a grand tale in miniaturized scale. I should clarify. It is grand in terms of a few important themes threaded throughout its narrative. It is less than epic with respect to the scale (no pun regarding the size of the characters intended) of its overall presentation. By that I mean that the story never quite seems to figure out whether it is a comedy, a family drama, or a grand epic quest. Instead it came off as a mishmash of Honey I Shrunk the Kids meets Avatar meets any number of comedic animated features. Yet, looking past its conflicted identity, I managed to enjoy it. The voice talent is superb (meaning they sell the believability of the characters) and the animation and music track is competent. Although most of the characters are one dimensional (either purely good or completely evil), the writers do add greater dimension to Nod, M.K., and in the end, even her father.

Epic is rated PG for frequent war violence which does not show blood and guts other than an evil Boggan splattering the windshield of a car. There is also a brief but romantic kissing scene between M.K. and the young Leafman Nod, plus brief, mildly rude language. Older kids should be okay. Younger children may become frightened at the scenes of peril and bored with the extended dialogue scenes.

The Leafmen stick together. Their queen places the people’s interests above her own safety. They are all valiant and honorable, and their self-sacrifice impacts even a people (humans) and world much larger than their own. No small thing that infinitesimally tiny creatures should have hearts big enough to change the hearts of the mighty. For this reason I commend Epic to you. If we are willing to look past any short-comings in its storytelling execution and look deeper at the themes of reconciliation and belonging in our shared world, Epic just might let fly a Leafman’s arrow which is sufficient to jolt our collective jaded cultural selfishness. It might even prompt us to let go of our hurt and become reconciled to others from whom we have become estranged in our lives. After all, “We may be individuals, but we are never alone” (General Ronin).

An extended review of this film, plus suggested biblical references and questions for discussion, may be found on here.

acoustic connections in the coffee house


Last night I sat with family, friends, and strangers in Cottage House Coffee shop in Newberg, Oregon. My nephew, Trevor Woods, performed a solo acoustic guitar and vocal concert featuring all original lyrics and music written by him. It was a small, intimate group, but it filled the room. And he owned the stage.

For 1 1/2 hours he entertained and ministered, leveraging spot on vocals with intelligent and thoughtful lyrics. As the evening progressed I gained a greater appreciation for his artistry in one sense, and his life journey in another. Although he is young, he has experienced much in life. Not least, he is gaining a wisdom birthed from an understanding of God’s infinite goodness and immeasurable grace.

So, for me it wasn’t simply an evening listening to my nephew perform. It was an opportunity to hear again the heartbeat of Jesus expressing his love for me and the world.

I applaud Trevor for putting himself out there as an ambassador for Christ. It inspires me to do the same within the context of my own gifts and interests. Perhaps God is prompting you, too. Off you go. The world needs to hear God’s story through your life and voice.

Praying for Boston


It happened again. Another tragedy. Two bombs detonated near the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon. Carnage and heartbreak. Heroism in the face of cruel cowardice. A deluge of details fill the news feeds, while family members and friends of runners and onlookers worry, pray, and hope for the best.

What do we who are far removed from the situation do now? I suggest prayer. Heartfelt, persistent, ongoing intercessory prayer. And as you engage in practical expressions of support, continue to pray. Just as you prayed in the aftermath of 9/11, or upon hearing news of the various shootings in recent months and years.

Be vigilant in your prayers for the victims and all who are impacted by the violence. And never stop trusting God. Even in the face of unthinkable horror, he is infinitely good. This is why we pray that his will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven. In so doing, we give full voice to our yearning for Jesus’ return to set the world to rights.

And until his return, we continue to pray in the wake of tragedy and in seasons of peace.

Boston, you are not alone in this dreadful heartbreak. All across the fruited plain and from the opposite coast, we are praying for you. God has not forgotten nor forsaken you. He loves you.

Gun-toting Teddy Bear

Central Eastside Industrial Park. Train tracks cut through a busy intersection at SE 8th and SE Division. Usually I am able to avoid long waits, but not this time. A train loaded down with diverse industrial payloads sliced through the area, cutting off my field of vision. So I sat back and took in the view. A few engines. Several cars full of telephone polls, finished lumber, and closed cars which hid their contents, if not their uninvited artwork.

Graffiti is ubiquitous in industrial areas and on rail cars. I doubt anyone seriously attempts to combat it anymore. Some of the images are quite creative and impressive. They rushed past on their way northward. I saw each of them, but paid little heed, although I did snap a few photos to pass the time.

When the train passed, I continued my route, putting the experience out of my mind. Until I got home.


For some reason, the depiction of an angry teddy bear wielding a nasty looking gun is unsettling. Most train graffiti is abstract or obscure, using gang semiotics. Not so, this image. It makes its point rather clearly.

Just like the gang shooting in North Portland last week.

Although KPTV reports the Portland Police Bureau statistic that as of March 28, 2013 there have been only 13 gang shootings so far this year, last year saw a record 118. And summer is not too far away, which typically causes an uptick in gang activity.

So, a furry grumpy bear wielding a weapon through the heart of gang-affiliated territory takes on new meaning. It’s not simply the expression of a rebel artist; it’s a symptom of something far more ominous plying its trade on the hearts of impressionable young people with no positive direction in life.

It reminds me why I embrace my pastor’s vision to rescue young people from the world and disciple all. I will trade in comfortable living for life-changing meaning without hesitation, understanding that there are thousands of children and youth who need a positive role model, better influences, and most importantly, a relationship with Jesus Christ whose resurrection we celebrate today and throughout the 50 day season Easter, culminating on Pentecost Sunday.

The power of the resurrection overcomes the power of a bullet, the fear of reprisals, the cowering from violence which could explode in broad daylight in a seemingly safe area, as it did last week in Cully Neighborhood. So, I pray for that neighborhood and its people, as well as the entire city. And I seek to live out the joy of Christ as a contributing member of this community as I do life with others throughout the city, but especially within my small neighborhood in the margins of Portland life.

What about you? How are you intentionally doing life in your neighborhood?

saxophone player on Ross Island Bridge

He was playing his heart out. Always does. Running up and down the scale effortlessly as he improvised. I saw him from a distance at the West end of the Ross Island Bridge. Guiding my car down the curve I stopped beside him and reached out my hand. It wasn’t much but it was what I was able to give for the moment. He thanked me profusely.

I should be the one thanking him. He plays in rain or shine and never takes a negative attitude anytime I have seen him over the last few years. Tomorrow I intend to look for him. Get out of my car. Hopefully hear his story. When I find him tomorrow or at some future point, I will let you know what happens.

He captures my imagination because he works hard at doing what he apparently does best: making music. No signs, no aggressive panhandling. Just pure jazz and blues, playing from a musical score no doubt lifted from the pages of his life experiences.

He has a story burning to be told. Unvarnished. Real.

I make no assumptions as to what it might entail. I’m frequently on the wrong end of misguided assumptions, even recently in fact. Why do we feel no compunction about casting dispersions on people who live outdoors? Makes me angry. Enough said. I’m going to log out and think about that amazing, relaxing jazz I heard from my friend on the bridge just minutes ago….