Wednesday, December 14, 2016

How Do You Define Prayer?

Last week I posted on how the dictionary definition of prayer does not cover what happened with Moses at the burning bush. There Moses had one of the most well known conversations with God. But should we call this conversation prayer? You tell me in the comments section or .

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Should Moses Experience at the Burning Bush be Called Prayer?

Part I: A Conversation With God

By Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18898474


I recently looked up the word "prayer" in several dictionaries. Just about every definition limited prayer to simply making requests known to God. Normally I would not argue with the dictionary but it seems as if something is missing from this definition. Then again I guess prayer more often than not is about asking and there is nothing wrong with that. After all the Bible tells us to make our requests known to God (Philippians 4:6). But if prayer is nothing more than asking God for things, what do we call the experiences of people like Moses?

Moses had an interesting and very different prayer life that began, not with him going into his closet and getting on his knees, but with a burning bush. If not for this early version of a flare Moses would have tended his father-in-law’s sheep and gone home after a good day's work. He likely never would have asked to go back to speak to the leaders of Israel and I doubt he would have asked if he could lead his kinsmen out of Egypt. In fact it was God who reached out to Moses, interrupting His life for one of the most well known conversations in history. This encounter had nothing to do with Moses asking for something. Yet, even without his asking, Moses’ conversation with God was the beginning of one of the greatest journeys taken by a man.

Should this be called prayer? It does not fit our normal definition of prayer, a definition that seems to exclude the idea of God making His requests known as He did with Moses. And yet without Him making the first move (for Moses a burning bush but for us: the cross), our prayer requests would go no further than the ground directly in front of us. In calling Moses to turn aside for a moment God gives us an opportunity to see how Moses became a great leader. From this example we see how our prayer life can be much more than simply asking. We see how our relationship with God can grow into something great. It all begins with Him making the first move.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Happened? My Take on the 2016 Election

One campaign gave us a political slogan. The other sold us a brand.

Pictue from Seattle Municipal Archives from Seattle, WA - Voting machine, 1971, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36833119


My office companion is an old Panasonic Radio turned to our local public radio station. Over the last couple of months this companion has, for the most part, talked about the 2016 election. Each day the inner sanctum of my office was invaded by talking heads giving their analysis of the campaigns and predictions about the outcome. With each conversation came the results of one poll or another, each telling me about Clinton's lead. And then came the day after the election when my tabletop friend changed its tune. Instead of telling me that Clinton would win my daytime companion kept asking, "How did she lose?"

There are a number of explanations for the end result of the 2016 election. Most likely the real answer is a combination of factors, including the misreading of the electorate by both the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media. If I may add my two cents, I suspect one of the biggest reasons for the outcome is the fact that one campaign was just that, a campaign. The other was something very different, based on doing what the candidate does best: selling a brand.

"Make America Great Again"

The Trump campaign made a promise to the nation in the embodiment of their campaign slogan. "Make America Great Again," was a promise to do something positive, even though I doubt anyone can actually define what that promise really means. But with polls showing large numbers of voters expressing a feeling that the nation is on the wrong path, the promise to do something likely resonated with a large voting block. As it did so the Trump campaign turned that slogan into a national brand. They sold that brand, clobbering their opponents with it one insult at a time.

On the other side of the aisle we had "Together," and "I'm With Her!" One presented a positive message of inclusiveness. The other seemed to express a commitment to a candidate without a commitment to the country. Both were decent political slogans but neither matched the promise implied by #MAGA. The Clinton slogans did what they were designed to do but they never became a brand.

One campaign gave us a political slogan. The other sold us a brand. Implied in that brand was a promise but it’s the packaging that drew in the voters. Are you surprised? You should not be. After all Trump makes a good amount of money selling his brand. He ran his campaign his way, a master pitchman selling his services to America. And whereas a Trump Steak costs a good chunk of change, buying into the #MAGA brand costs only the time to go to the polls.

In the end the political machine was no match for the branding machine. As a result, come January Trump supporters (and detractors) get to take the packaging off of what we have just been sold. Trump pulled off a major upset. As he sits for the next four years as the most powerful man in the world, we will see if this steak is more than just sizzle.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Do You Stand With or Against Kaepernick?

By Dbenbenn, Zscout370, Jacobolus, Indolences, Technion. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I am truly amazed at the hornet's' nest stirred up by San Francisco 49ers' quarterback Colin Kaepernick. His choice to kneel or sit during the playing of our National Anthem has made him a traitor in the eyes of many. The public backlash has made a major mountain out of this molehill. At one point there was even an article in which "anonymous" NFL executives spoke of how Kaepernick could never play for their teams. And while team GM's must do what they think best, how does exercising a constitutional right make a man a traitor?

For the record, I find Kaepernick’s actions disrespectful. The socks he tends to wear are an even bigger problem, sending the wrong message to children who see athletes as heroes. However I cannot argue with the impact resulting from one man taking a stand. Kaepernick has helped continue a conversation, doing so without the violence which all too often has found its way into our national consciousness about race. It is a conversation which, if handled properly, can only make our nation stronger by forcing us to face areas where we suffer so great a divide.

I cannot stand (sit) with Colin Kaepernick as I choose to stand with pride when I hear our national anthem. I stand to recognize his right to continue his protest into the regular season if he so chooses. I stand because the flag and country for which he refuses to stand allows us all to disagree. It is his right not to stand and to choose a loss of endorsements and perhaps even the loss of his privilege to play in the NFL (I doubt it. Worse locker room cancers have found roster spots.) And while I will not sit with him, Kaepernick has earned my respect for being willing to take a stand.

One thing exercising his rights should not earn Kaepernick is the title of traitor. Being a free country means we do not always have to toe the line. Being free means some of us can choose to sit even while the rest choose to stand.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How Will Ban of Russian Athletes Impact the Olympics?

What teenager would pass up free food? I couldn't and in 1984, going into my junior year of high school, I did not. Thanks to McDonald's and an Eastern Bloc boycott of the Olympics, I ate very well for two weeks in August. I enjoyed watching the U.S dominate in a somewhat lopsided competition. And with each medal we ran to join the line under the golden arches.

The events leading to the 1984 boycott began in 1978 with a coup against the government of Afghanistan. Shortly after taking over the new government faced a number of insurgencies by anticommunist and mostly Muslim leaning groups. In response Afganistan called upon the Soviet Union which responded to its new ally by sending troops in December 1979.

In response to the Soviet Union's actions in Afghanistan, the United States and a number of other countries joined in a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow. While the boycott was not supported by all western countries (France and Great Britain among others did not support the boycott) competition suffered. Meanwhile athletes from the U.S. and many other countries lost an opportunity to fulfill their Olympic dreams.

Four years later the Summer Olympics were hosted by the city of Los Angeles. Citing anti-Communist sentiments the Soviet Union claimed it was unsafe to send its athletes to the 1984 Olympics. Other Eastern Bloc countries followed suit. Without competition from the boycotting nations the United States won a record 83 gold medals. The nation’s very large medal haul would lead to very long lines at the nations’ McDonalds’ franchises.

That summer McDonalds' ran a promotion where each purchase came with an Olympic game card. Each card listed an Olympic event. If an American earned a medal in that event the cardholder received free food and another game card. That summer my friends and I, while attending a special summer science program in another state, lived on free Big Macs, Quarter Pounders and just about everything on the menu.

To my knowledge McDonalds' has no plans of repeating their Olympic promotion and has not done so since 1984. If any company were thinking of a similar promotion, this is not the year to do so. With allegations of tampering with drug testing results, a number of Russian athletes have been been banned from this year’s Olympics. The International Olympic Committee left it up to the individual sports federations to decide on suspensions for other Russian athletes. As a result a number of athletes will have to stay home.

I feel sad for the athletes who dreams may be lost due to the actions of those who came before them. At the same time I think it important to send a message. It is important that nations and athletes know that cheating will not be tolerated. It is also important, perhaps more important, that clean athletes know that the governing bodies of various sports support them in doing what is right.

As a parent I need those who are in charge of officiating sports to support the lesson I teach my children. In sports, while it is always more fun to win, cheating only ensures that everyone loses.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Orlando Shooting: A Reminder to Christians

It remains one of the top stories in the news. Each day we learn a little more about the victims and the alleged shooter who targeted gays in an Orlando nightclub. Along with the related news items it seems each day brings another commentary on how Christians should respond. Usually this advice is written by those who would lecture the church. To be honest, even before this tragedy I agreed with those who say Christians need to examine how we respond to the LGBT community. In fact Orlando should serve as a reminder that we fight not against flesh and blood.

Unfortunately Christians have been drawn into a battle in which all too often people have been attacked because of their sexual orientation. Unlike what happened in Orlando these attacks are not physical but emotional in nature. And yet, in many ways over time these emotional attacks can be just as damaging. Adding to the offence our words are often delivered without the teaching of the Gospel with which we have been entrusted. Such a delivery denies those whom we challenge an opportunity to hear about the love and power by which they will be saved.

Followers of Christ must recognize that our battle is spiritual. When we fight spiritual battles by attacking those whom we can see, we lose sight of the fact that every person is a soul in need of love and salvation. Love should compel us to teach the Gospel. It should also compel us to cry at the loss of human life whether or not we agree with the lifestyle of the victim. Orlando should remind us that the LGBT community is made up of people. As followers of Christ we should approach this community of people the same as we would any other.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Can Parents Inspire Buzzer-Beater Confidence?

Dr. James Naismith - Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

What a game, one we are still buzzing about here in the Philadelphia area. I can still picture that shot going down, the backboard framed in red lights signifying the end of the half. Hitting nothing but net Kris Jenkins came through for his team. With that the Wildcats, after coming together as a team during the season and making a great tournament run, were crowned national champions. As I remember the shot I find myself wondering what I can do to inspire my children to have the confidence to step up when the pressure is on.

I know each child is different and each will respond to pressure by performing to the best of their ability. But are there things parents can do to make sure those abilities are not lost behind a wall of doubt? How can parents nurture children in such a way as to encourage them to take the last minute shot or to be ready for that crucial at bat? Can we do things that give children the courage to take on the challenge that comes with being first chair in the orchestra or of solving the world's most pressing problems? I believe confidence can be made or broken at home and we parents have a huge say in the outcome.

How do we build a home where confidence has what is needed to bloom? The obvious first step is to offer unconditional love and security. Children must know they are loved and must find the home to be a safe secure place no matter what happens outside. Children must know that their parent's love remains strong no matter how big the failure. They must be assured that failure will not become their identity in the family, which will help them keep it from becoming their identity outside the home. I believe this frees children to go out and take risks, knowing that love is not what's on the line.

Now it's your turn. I hope from time to time to open a door where I can learn from you the reader. What ingredients do you believe help in growing a confident child? Please leave a message here on my blog or on twitter where I can be found @denniswcoleman.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Where Christians Find Peace After Tragedy in Brussels

The late Zig Ziggler spoke of being asked how 9-11 changed his life. In response he spoke of God's protection, saying no one could touch him without it being God's will. He went on to say that if as part of His will God permitted someone to touch him, the entire army would not be able to protect him. Remembering this statement of faith reminds me that life is not random. God is in control. His children can draw peace from Him in any situation.

I pray for Brussels, Belgium. I pray for those who were injured in last week's attack. I pray for those who lost loved ones. I pray for those who do not know the peace that comes with being one of God's children.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What I Am Reading: In Golden Splendor

Whatever happened to Seamus Hanley? Seamus was introduced in Flight of the Earls as one many who left Ireland in hopes of finding a better life in the United States. His sister Clare, who traveled with Seamus, overcame many obstacles including a devious plot by their crooked uncle. Seamus was forced into exile after attempting to double cross this same uncle. In In Golden Splendor we join Seamus on the run, leading to a story that is even more engaging than its predecessor.

Like the first book in the "Heirs of Ireland" series, In Golden Splendor is a work of historical fiction, taking us back to the time of the Gold Rush and the San Francisco fire of 1849. Author Michael K. Reynolds gives us a mix of old and new characters who are every bit as compelling as the historical events to which we are given a front row seat. These characters work with history to build an entertaining, unpredictable and at times tragic story with reminders that being an immigrant to the U. S. was often very difficult.

As with the first book of the series, characters are well developed, not coming across as if they are forced fit into their historical backdrop. In support of those characters Reynolds does a good job of weaving a story that can stand on its own while seamlessly connecting to the first book. The characters that carry over into this story grow without becoming stale. New characters add to and compliment, helping the reader see new dimensions in the lives those who are the focus of the story.

There is an art to telling a good story. In the first two books of the series Reynolds has proved his value as a growing artist. I recommend both books and look forward to reading the final installment.


For more on In Golden Splendor and the Heirs of Ireland series see michaelkreynolds.com. Follow Michael K. Reynolds on twitter: @M_K_Reynolds.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Do You Open Spiritual Spam?


There it was: the warning that my antivirus program had not been renewed. The email address looked official, like it could have come from the company that sales the program I use. The date showed the email was sent around the time when my new subscription should have started. And there, maybe two lines below that email, was another with the same company name. This older email acknowledged the fact that my program subscription had in fact been renewed.
I can only guess at what the sender of the spam email was attempting to do. I deleted without opening, sparing myself any possibility of falling prey to an attempt at fishing. Most likely I would have deleted even if I did not have the older email. Having confirmation of the renewal allowed me to hit delete with confidence. If only I had this confidence when dealing with spam as it comes from the spiritual realm.

Like my conflicting emails, Christians receive conflicting messages on a daily basis. On one hand we have the Bible full of truth and wisdom, given to instruct us on how to live godly lives. On the other hand we have the messages that come from the world, often speaking against biblical teaching. We see both and must decide which to follow.

Spiritual spam is attractive, giving the impression of offering more than we might get by obeying God. It pops up leaving us with a choice while causing doubt about the validity of what we read in the Bible. And just like email spam, spiritual spam (better known as temptation) can become a link to all sorts of hidden destruction.

We know the truth. Yet so often we choose the lie. So here is a challenge for every believer. Choose the truth. Stay far away from the spam. In Christ this is possible. Are you willing?


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why I Stopped Blogging and Why I Started Again


Public Domain
I was once a regular blogger: sharing childhood stories, commenting on current events, digging up history, and of course talking about my faith. My time at the keyboard was fun and relaxing, bringing a level of fulfillment I have not found in other endeavors. Between writing and connecting with other bloggers, my hobby continued to grow, encouraging me to try my hand at getting paid for an article ("The History of the Flashlight" published in History Magazine.)

For a while success bred success as I watched my page views grow. Along with that came an increase in comments from which I learned much about my audience. With each interaction I tweaked the scope of my message, priding myself on doing what I thought would keep readers coming back for more. Unfortunately giving people what they wanted did not always mean giving my best and as my numbers grew so did the number of posts with a certain political bent.

I found myself doing what I could to fit in, even if it meant compromising what I believed just to score page views. With each compromise my writing became less real. My blog, the very place where people should have been able to find me, became just an online facade. (This was especially amusing considering one of my posts was about destroying facades.) And as my facade grew, my readers gradually stopped coming. The few remaining visitors generally came looking for arguments: looking to cut me down even as I fought to prove myself.

I stopped blogging because fighting from behind a facade stopped being fun. Now I have a new reason for writing and for returning to the world of blogging. Recognizing that the work involved in being a writer was never an issue, I look to answer what I believe to be my calling. This time I come to the keyboard with a better focus and without the feeling that I am defined by the number of page views. Now it's about the message and about sharing with you, the audience. Now it’s about the challenge of doing things the right way. I know it will be a lot of work but it will also be a lot of fun.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year’s Day: One of the Planet’s Oldest Holidays (Edited repost)


{Originally posted January 2nd, 2012}


As a child I enjoyed a New Year’s Eve tradition involving Duck Soup. No not the kind you eat. I ended my
Photo by Kabir Bakie
year every year watching the 1933 movie staring the Marx Brothers. Back then WGN television out of Chicago broadcast the movie as a part of its regular New Year’s Eve schedule. I would watch this and a number of other old classics, taking a break as the clock approached 11pm. Then I would turn to one of the national networks to watch the ball drop in Times Square. New York being in a different time zone, the ball would mark the start of the New Year an hour before we celebrated in the Chicago area. To be honest after watching the Times Square celebration our local celebration always seemed a bit anticlimactic.


According to Timessquarenyc.org around a million people visit Times Square on December 31st. Billions more watch around the world as the descent of a Waterford Crystal Ball marks both the end and a new beginning. In just over a century the Times Square celebration has become the evening’s star attraction but the location was not always the place to be on New Year’s Eve. In fact celebrating the start of the New Year started long before Peter Minuite traded $24 worth of beads for Manhattan Island.

Babylonian Akitu Celebrations

Akitu (or Barley) was a Babylonian religious festival celebrated during the vernal equinox in the month of Nisannu (Nisan on the Jewish calendar; March/April on today’s calendar). The date marked the start of the New Year as well as the beginning of the growing season and the sowing of barley. Just over a week long the celebration included a number of rituals mostly geared towards honoring the Babylonian gods. During the festival a sitting king would do a sort of penitence for his sins, or if needed the country would crown a new king. Similar festivals were celebrated by other cultures, usually with heavy religious significance. These celebrations often occurred at the start of spring with a few countries celebrating at the start of fall.

New Year’s on a Solar Calendar

Where most cultures were using calendars based on a lunar year, Rome moved to a solar year sometime around 45BC.  Both calendars were designed to track growing seasons. However, lunar calendars did not accurately reflect the realities of a 365 day year. As a result governments would randomly add and remove months in order to bring their lunar calendars back in sync with the earth. In instating what would be known as the Julian calendar Julius Caesar established a calendar that was a close reflection of the growing seasons. He also established January 1st as the first day of the year.

January was named for the Roman god Janus who was the god of beginnings.  The celebration of New Year’s on the first was done in honor of this god who was said to have two faces: one looking forward and one looking back. While the Julian calendar gave a new anchor for the timing of the New Year’s celebration, it was also off by eleven minutes per year and by the 1500’s was a full ten days off from the natural growing seasons. As a result the Catholic Church set out to establish a new more accurate calendar.

Pope Gregory XIII ordered the use of a new (Gregorian) calendar. Initially the church would look for other days on which to start the year but would eventually settle for continuing the practice of celebrating January 1st.  Perhaps as a way to justify the use of a day that had previously been associated with pagan gods, the church explained this holiday as falling eight days after the Jesus’ birthday. This marked the time when Jesus would have been circumcised according to Jewish Law. (Note: the day of the child’s birth counts as day one of the eight days.)

New Year’s Celebration Comes to New York

By linking the New Year’s celebration with the circumcision of Christ, Christians around the world had reason to celebrate. In New York during the 1800’s this celebration took place outside Lower Manhattan’s Trinity Church. Large crowds would gather in anticipation of hearing the church bells ring in the New Year. This tradition would continue until 1904 when Alfred Ochs, owner of the New York Times, chose New Year’s Eve as the day to celebrate the newspaper’s move into its new home on a triangular shaped plot of land where Broadway, Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street meet.

Ochs’ celebration was an all day event, with a festival leading up to fireworks at midnight. Crowds would return on New Year’s Eve the next year to once again see fireworks and the celebration at Times Square was established. However a ban on the use of fireworks during the celebration would eventually force Ochs to come up with something new leading to the lowering of a large ball, a custom that continues today. Though The New York Times is no longer headquartered at One Times Square the annual New Year’s celebration continues.

What is your New Year’s Tradition? Whether you watched the ball drop or spent the evening watching old movies I wish you a Happy New Year as we celebrate one of our planet’s oldest holidays. May your 2016 be filled with blessings.

For more on the history of New Years see: History.com

For information on “Duck Soup” by the Marxs Bros. see imdb.com.