Vigorous writing is concise

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1935)

 

Where did “The Serenity Prayer” come from?

Used by Alcoholics Anonymous and a very often printed on plaques and cards, the Serenity Prayer is part of our religious cultural fabric, but where did it come from?

According to June Bingham, a biographer of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), it was Niebuhr who first penned the prayer and spoke it in a small church in Heath, Massachusetts.

Niebuhr occasionally preached in the small church near the place where he had a summer home. After a service where he spoke the prayer, a man named Howard Chandler Robbins, a neighbor, asked for a copy. According to the story, Niebuhr handed Robbins the original saying, “Here, take the prayer. I have no further use for it.”

Those words do not sound likely but that’s how the story goes. Robbins later published the prayer as part of a pamphlet the following year. Since then it has been adopted as the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous; the U.S.O. distributed millions of copies to U.S. soldiers during World War II; the National Council of Churches reprinted the prayer; it’s re-printed today in many forms. It often has no attribution, but according to Bingham’s biography, Courage to Change, the attribution should go to Niebuhr.

O God, give us serenity to accept what cannot change, courage to change what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. — Reinhold Niebuhr, 1934

Why you ought to read The Wealth of the Poor by Larry M. James

Wealth of the Poor Cover Image

You should read Larry M. JamesThe Wealth of the Poor because you need to be inspired to lead like Larry leads. You need to be inspired to do something in your city like Larry is doing in his city. You need to read his story because it’s a powerful story of life change in central Dallas, starting with his own.

Larry is a leader unlike I’ve never seen: part prophet, part businessman, part advocate for government grants/tax credits. Lots of people talk about business as mission. Larry does business as mission. I’ve been following Larry for about twenty years, since he left his church for the inner city, and he is the first leader I’ve truly seen live out “business as mission” in an urban context like Dallas.

Along with many others a few years ago, I suggested Larry write a book. He’d already thought of that, but I gave him a deadline, though I had no authority to do so! The result was that Larry took several months and presented nearly 500 pages of manuscript, telling his own and the City Square story.

I was honored to edit the book for Leafwood Publishers, and I’m proud of how it turned out, because it tells not only Larry’s story but the true and powerful transformational stories of people in central Dallas.

The Wealth of the Poor is about Larry James leaving his suburban church for a “demotion” to work in the poorest neighborhood in Dallas. There he learned to see “the poor” as valuable in communities rather than approaching them for their “needs.”

Many church leaders have read Corbett’s and Fikkert’s very good book, When Helping Hurts. Whereas When Helping Hurts is more academic and theoretical and approaches from a negative title, The Wealth of the Poor tells stories and makes important concrete applications using real examples of operational ministries going on in Dallas. One of the best stories of the book is a chapter where he invites “the poor” not just into a “conversation” but into action as volunteers and on staff.

This is an organizational success story you expect to see in the Wall Street Journal, and yet it is like no other. The author’s own journey provides the platform from which he provides a practical, theological, market-savvy manual written for others who find themselves serving and investing in the work of urban transformation. Using the foundation of Jesus’ teaching and love for the poor, the book shows practical and visionary ways Christ’s teaching can be made real.

“Simply put, this is the best, the most readable, and the most powerful book on the social implications of the Christian religion that I have read,” says Richard T. Hughes, author of Myths America Lives By. Couched as a compelling and vibrant memoir, James has written a revolutionary—but immensely practical—text for people concerned with battling hunger, poverty, and homelessness in America’s cities. If you care about your ‘neighbors,’ this is the one book you must read.”

Chapters include:  “Josefina and the Wealth of the Poor,” “Hunger is Every Body’s Business,” “Health of One Impacts the Health of All,” “Housing First: A Key in Every Pocket,” “Can We Package Hope?” and “So, Where’s The Ministry?”

Larry James has provided executive leadership for CitySquare (formerly Central Dallas Ministries) since August 1994. CitySquare, a faith-based, human and community development corporation, serves several inner-city neighborhoods in Dallas, Texas, as well as in San Antonio, Austin, Fort Worth, and Houston. James has developed and implemented holistic, justice-focused approaches to community service and outreach throughout his career. CitySquare attacks poverty through its work in four focus areas: housing, hunger relief, health, and the creation of hope. A native of Richardson, Texas, James is married to the former Brenda Erwin and they have two grown daughters and four grandchildren. Since 1999, Larry and Brenda have lived in inner-city Dallas.

Learn more about the mission of CitySquare at www.citysquare.org

Talking to your children about sex: Part 2

“The Sex Talk” has morphed into many talks and at an earlier age in our home. Talking about sex seems to come much earlier for my children than it came in my experience growing up. I was in junior high before I understood what homosexuality is, and I had barely discovered the differences between sexes. Now, I talk to my children often about sexuality and what they hear from friends, what they might overhear on television or see on billboards, etc.

Stan and Brenna Jones have written a must-have series on God’s Design for Sex that is divided into Book 1 for ages three to five, Book 2 for five to eight, Book 3 for eight to eleven, and Book 4 for eleven to fourteen. Each book ramps up the story of our sexuality and God’s design with increasing detail and explanation. Jill and I have used the four-part book series as a resource for our kids to talk to them about sexuality, and we keep it on the shelf where they know where to find it. We started this when our children were ages 6, 9, 12, and they are now seven years older (14, 17, 19). The book has helped us talk about sex as God’s idea and ways to live with a healthy sexual outlook and practices.

When they were 6, 9, and 12 we read the first two books to all our children and made Books 3 and 4 available to our twelve-year-old to read on her own. Then as the others were the age range of the third and fourth books, we gave them access to these books as well.

When you talk or read on the subject of sex, you can expect giggles, smiles, rolling eyes, and hidden faces behind throw pillows, but they really do wonder and want to know about sexuality at certain ages. The books and regular discussions help children walk through changes in their bodies and minds. Talking about sexuality through the eyes of faith and God’s design opens children up to a whole different world view from our culture’s view of sexuality. And this is important to talk about openly rather than prudishly or defaulting to reacting whenever we find out they’ve heard something at school or from a friend. We’re like a good local TV station: “You heard it here first!”

Soga cultural views of sexuality
In my novel, High Places I wrote about the rites of passage that allow a young boy in Uganda to become a man. Part of this process is to build and move into his own hut. This allows more privacy for the parents and builds a sense of ownership and responsibility in the young adolescent. Girls often are given in marriage at young ages, after they develop physically, but much of that is changing in those who are realizing that girls deserve education as much as boys do, so some girls are given different rooms of the house or another hut to live in as well.

Often, an aunt or uncle takes a child aside and reveals to them the mysteries of sexuality and marriage. There are taboos of speaking about sexuality with certain direct relations. In fact, a daughter-in-law is not even allowed in the same house with her husband’s father. This is to protect from indiscretions and shameful relationships.

Early parameters for Israel’s sexuality
From Israel’s earliest days as a people, God has set boundaries around their sexual lives, calling this and everything else they do in body as a holy act that must remain worthy of their walk as “my people who are called out” (Hebrew term for title of Leviticus). The holiness codes of Leviticus repeatedly show that the sexual act that creates another life is a sacred act.

In Leviticus 18, immediately following an introduction to separation from Egypt and Canaan and their ways, comes a litany of prohibitions about sexual perversions, starting with the general and becoming more and more specific and grotesque, including beastiality and giving children in prostitution and even sacrifice. At the end of some of the prohibitions is the statement, “I am the Lord.” This says that sexuality is under the authority of God who cares about what we do under the covers. It says something about the nature of God. He cares about and gives parameters for sexual life (18:7-18).

Sharing faith in God for our families means giving important parameters and guidelines for sexuality, communicating what Godly intimacy is, what God desires, practice of self-control, and learning about beautiful sexuality in marriage. There’s no way this can be achieved in “the talk” but in a purposeful and gracious conversation over many years with our children as they grow and mature.

Talking to your children about sex: Part 1

Let me start very personally with a few examples of how I was educated as a child about sex.

I got sick the day my school had scheduled for six-graders to watch a sex education film. We’d all anticipated learning more about the “birds and the bees” from this public school film about adolescence and the difference between boys and girls.

Sensitive to my missing out on this grand occasion, Mom sat down with me in the living room that morning and lovingly walked me through the differences. I couldn’t look at her so I put my head on her lap and for some reason I responded to the news by quietly crying. Perhaps it was embarrassment, and I remember feeling left out of this rite of passage of children at my school. Continue reading

Why I like Willie Robertson

I like Willie Robertson because he is not just using a platform for a witness for Christ, but he intended from the beginning to use his life and platform for this reason: to share Jesus with as many people as he can in his life.

My family enjoys watching Duck Dynasty, though we’ve never called nor shot a duck. Quacked like a duck is about as close as it comes, but we enjoy laughing with the Robertson family.

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

The animal I’m most fascinated by in Uganda

I’ve watched elephants for hours in game parks in Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe . . . and at a few zoos. This one I saw and videoed in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Western Uganda in 2010.

I love the strength, trunk action of feeding, and the awareness of others around with a shake of the ears.

What’s your favorite animal?

Strain for the Finish Line

Happy Birthday, Dad! Dad was 32 when I was born. I’m 46 in a few days. Happy 78th, Dad. Maybe Mom already showed you this on Facebwook, but here’s a little fun video for your birthday. Watch your grandson pushing for the finish line to take third place in 9th grade 2 mile at the Tulsa University cross country meet at Mohawk Park August 31, 2013.

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians

by Helmut Thielicke

Helmut Thielicke.

Thielicke says some have “theologian’s disease” and use truth not to build their congregations by instruction but to tear them down.  Destroying a church in this way is the “starkest possible contrast with love,” Thielicke writes.  (31)

Thielicke says the greatest danger of knowledge about God is that you may lose sight of the Almighty in the process.

Says the first germ that causes theologians to catch this disease that infects congregations is when a minister no longer treats Holy Scripture as a means to come near to God but only as an end in itself of “exegetical endeavors.” Continue reading

Drive Uganda 3: Hitchhiking in Uganda

In Uganda, hitchhiking is common as the cold.  But don’t picture a hippie with a joint in the 60s.  Think of an old lady with creaky joints in her 60s.  A lady of this description flags me down one Sunday on a rural dirt road.  We greet each other through a cloud of rolling dust.

“How did you sleep?” I ask.

“Fine.  Take me to the church!” the old hitchhiker says.

“Which one?”

“The church up there.”

“Where?”

“There! UP THERE!” she points with her lips and hits every syllable hard.

“Huh? Wha? Wher–?  Ok, just get in and show me.” Continue reading

Drive Uganda 2: What are roads like in Uganda?

Here is a short video showing what it’s like to ride in a vehicle in Uganda . . . without the risk of collision! This film is taken while riding a vehicle through Iganga, Uganda.

Have you ever been to Uganda? Drop me a quick line to let me know what part you visited.

By Greg Taylor Posted in God

Drive Uganda 1: Countdown to 100,000 Miles

In the mid-90s my wife, children, and I lived in Jinja, Uganda and worked with a church planting team, what is now more identified in the United States as The Kibo Group. I often wrote about my adventures and misadventures in and around Jinja. Here I wrote about the fascinating sites and sounds along the roads in Uganda.

It was a big day.  I would be preaching in Buvulunguti, Uganda village where a church started recently.  And our ’92 Toyota pickup’s odometer would roll to 100,000 kilometers on the way to that village.

IMG_9874One-hundred-thousand is a vehicle’s rite of passage, and we males actually bond with the hunk of steel as the 99999 rolls over.  You scoff, ‘Kilometers!’  Mind you, there are more bone-rattling potholes and vehicle-crunching bumps in one African kilometer than in 100 miles on most U.S. roads.

The odometer reads 99938 as I begin, and I make a mental note to watch for the important event during the drive. Driving in Uganda is rarely boring or uneventful.  I zoom by a biker with a 20-pound Nile Perch from Lake Victoria laying across the back of his bicycle.  A goat, tied next to the road, strains for a blade of grass just out of its reach. Continue reading