Race at School

Within a few days of each other, all three of my children shared with me similar experiences at school.

My children go to a public charter school here in the City of Buffalo.  Like most city schools its student population is a mixture of racial groups.  Our kids classes are almost half black, and half white, with a smattering of other ethnic groups mixed in.  Like most city schools, the staff population is almost completely white, and overwhelmingly female.

My kids came home talking about the way the black kids and the white kids act, and how they act different from each other.  They came home talking about the way the teachers treat the black kids and the white kids, and how they don't get treated the same.  They also came home talking about how some of the black kids accuse some of the teachers, and white classmates, of being "racist."

This is, of course, a wonderful opportunity for us to engage our kids, to talk with them, and to help them gain some tools to use when they are adults.  In particular, we are trying to help them understand the following:

Culture Exists

Your culture is like the rules to a sport.  Everyone on the team knows where to be and what to do to participate.  Once you learn how to play the game, you never really have to discuss the rules anymore.  You just play.

When people engage across cultures, however, its like a group of two dozen kids playing together; except the first dozen think everyone is playing soccer, and the second dozen are trying to play basketball.  They have different expectations, and don't have a common language to use to explore those different expectations.  There is pain, offense, and confusion, without any real understanding as to why the other kids won't just play by the rules.

But in spite of the oftentimes painful results nobody is actually doing anything immoral.

Bad Behavior Exists

Sometimes people break the rules, and they know full well that they are breaking them, they just don't care.  This is true for white kids and black kids.  Sometimes they just do bad things.  This also applies to bigotry.  Sometimes people just mistreat people because of their race.

Neither one of those things is okay, and no one should get a pass because of their skin color, no matter which color it is.

Institutional Racism Exists

The simple truth is that our school, and most schools, are run by white people.  The power dynamics aren't just.  Its hard to see if you are white, but painfully obvious if you are not.  What is more, those power dynamics are the product of a really painful history.  While the events that caused the pain might be generations in the past, the pain of those events, and the institutions created by those events, persist into today.

This means that no one is presently doing anything immoral, but the immoral actions of people from the past, are still doing damage today.  It may not be our fault, but it is our responsibility to change it.


Finally, its really important that we help our kids discern the difference between these three things.  Cross cultural interaction can be beautiful, but often its like someone stepping on your toe and breaking it.  Then the question becomes, did they do it on purpose?  or on accident?  Or maybe, just maybe, its my fault for putting my foot where it didn't belong!

Show up against TERROR!

What in the world is going on?

The same people who are horrified at the rhetoric surrounding Islamic terrorists, and Syrian refugees, are now bringing us... ?

...their own horrifying rhetoric that paints whole people groups as terrorists because of the actions of a few of its members!

I vote we "Show up Against People who can't Think for Themselves" and reject the rhetoric of fear, hate, and prejudice on all sides that the politicians are using to divide us.

I vote we begin to tone the rhetoric down on all fronts.  If you are a liberal, it is your job to tell your fellow liberals to stop the craziness.  If you are a conservative, it is your responsibility to tell your fellow conservatives to put an end to the divisiveness.  Lets engage in thoughtful conversation and productive action.  If you really can't resist the urge to be provocative try engaging in friendship with your enemies.


Church Draft

Hanging out with football geeks means you talk about the best player in each position, drafting your best 'all-time' football team. Hanging out with church geeks means you get to do the same thing for a church leadership team. Who would be the best preacher ever? The greatest worship leader? Here is my list:

  1. Director of Church Discipline - John Calvin
  2. Military Advisor - Joan of Arc
  3. Science Advisor - Ken Hamm
  4. Dance Team Coordinator - Herodias' Daughter
  5. Women's Ministry Coordinator - Mark Driscoll
  6. Youth Pastor - the Prophet Elisha and his bear
  7. Biblical Scholar and General Cultural Advisor - President GW Bush
  8. Senior Pastor - Balaam's Ass
  9. Nursery Worker - Bob the Tomato



I heard an interview on the radio recently.

The woman was a scriptwriter or a playwright (not sure which, maybe both) who had recently written a story about life in impoverished American ghettoes.  She talked some about the genesis of her new work, and she talked some about the characters and the story itself.  She talked even more about the realities of life in America's impoverished inner cities.

I was, of course, interested.  She was talking about where I live, and what I care about.  We live in a neighborhood where most kids grow up seeing violence, addiction, and illegal activity as normal parts of everyday life.  Our neighborhood is improving, but you can still find needles on the ground in front of the school, you can still see the prostitutes walking the main thoroughfare, there are still young men standing at the corners making more money in an afternoon than a roofing job pays in a week, and you can still hear gunshots in the night.

Then she began to talk about why she wrote it and what she hoped it might accomplish.

"I hope it will motivate people to do something, give some money, change how you vote, just DO SOMETHING."

I was a little frustrated.  In her defense, she is a playwright; an artist, not an activist, or an advocate, or even a scholar, but I would have hoped for a more educated response than this.  Throwing money at our problems, and giving power to professional blowhards (regardless of their political stripes), will never serve to accomplish anything helpful.  In point of fact, one of the largest contributing factors to the perpetuation of American poverty is precisely our unreflective need to just do something.

Helping the less fortunate by giving money and voting for certain politicians is actually an abdication of our personal responsibility to engage in helping our fellow man.  Not to mention it's counter productive.  Don't get me wrong, throwing money and votes around works well if our goal is to make ourselves feel better, it just doesn't change anything for those in need.  Indeed free money is often the reason why better solutions fail.

What is needed is personal engagement.  Instead of throwing money at the latest cause, while simultaneously climbing up the social ladder, try climbing down the ladder instead.


On Race

1) The politicians are hurting us:Our political process is such that we give power to those who can whip up social support.  This is much easier and effectively done by exciting people's fear, anger, and pain.  Thoughtfully engaging with complex problems to find comprehensive solutions doesn't get you votes.  This drives the whole conversation in divisive and simplistic directions.  Politics divides us along conservative/liberal lines, but it also divides us along racial lines, economic lines, etc. We need to stop taking our cues from the politicians, and start taking our cues from Scripture, and the wisdom of the church (the global-historical church, not the 21st century American church).

2) Everyone needs to stop talking and start listening:The single largest problem is not that we don't understand each other, its that we don't recognize that we don't understand each other!  Just like in a marriage: its not the places where we recognize our misunderstandings, its the places where we think we understand each other (but we don't) that cause the most damage.  It is a rare conservative that understands liberals, and vice versa.  It is a rare white person that understand black culture, and vice versa.  It is a rare rich person that understands poor people, and vice versa.  But we all think we understand each other!

3) Demonizing your opponents will only make things worse for yourself:Our society will not be able to move beyond our current situation without active participation and engagement from everyone.  Simply put, if we want to see an end to social unrest like what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore, the black community needs to feel included in the consciousness and concerns of white americans.  If we want to see a change in the systemic racial disparities that plague our nation, the white community needs to have their fears and concerns addressed.  Neither of those things will happen if conservative voices continue to paint the black community as criminal and lazy, and liberal voices continue to paint the white community as racist.

4) Liberals ought to stop calling everyone racist:While racism still exists in some individuals and communities, it is no longer acceptable, or prevalent.  As a matter of moral integrity, most white americans are committed to the notions that black and white people are of equal value, that black and white people are deserving of equal opportunities, and that black and white people ought to live together as friends.  Again, this is not universal, but it is the dominant paradigm within white communities, particularly conservative communities.

In recent decades, liberals have shifted the conversation towards issues of systemic racial injustice.  This is proper and good.  The problem however, is that the language of racism has continued to be used.  White people are being accused of racism when they aren't racist.  Again, systemic injustice is real, but it isn't being caused or perpetuated by the bigotry of white individuals.  Its cause lies elsewhere.

This is where liberals need to listen to the voices coming from conservative communities.  Listen and attempt to gain understanding.

5) Conservatives ought to stop denying and/or justifying racial disparities:White conservatives look into their own hearts and think, "I don't dislike or mistreat black people," and then stop thinking about what else might be going on.  Their individualistic view of humanity and society blinds conservatives to the ways in which systems not only exist, but largely benefit white, middle-class, communities; indeed they often do so at the expense of impoverished minority communities.

Conservatives are conservative because they believe in the power of individuals to make their own destiny, as well as find solutions to larger community problems.  Because of this they are reticent to look to government to solve social problems, and this drives them to treat all social problems as driven solely by individual action.  This blinds them to the reality of social forces, both the social forces that marginalize impoverished communities and the social forces that empower middle-class communities.

Even more, this is where conservatives tend to ignore the anecdotes of black experiences of systemic injustice.  Conservatives view them as unique instances divorced from a larger social fabric of attitudes and experiences.  What needs to happen is a willingness to listen to the experiences and perceptions of the minority community.

6) We need to call people to personal engagement in cross-cultural relationships:The real path forward is the path laid out in Galatians 2; namely cross-cultural table fellowship in light of our common allegiance to Christ.  I am convinced that this is the closest thing to a silver bullet.  In many ways table fellowship is both the means and the end of the reconciliation process.  A commitment to maintaining unity in spite of difference, or misunderstanding, is the bedrock upon which understanding and communion can be built.

7) Racism isn't the real issue:The real issues driving the problems surrounding race in America are not overtly racist individuals, subconscious bias, or overtly racist laws; the real issues driving these problems are #1 the social/political/economic systems and infrastructure that were built by racists of a bygone era that persist into today #2 the generational effects of historic racism on the Black communities of the present #3 the apathy of middle-class whites to confront the status-quo if any sacrifice on their part is required.

The reason I believe liberals need to stop crying 'racism' is that it is a misdiagnosis.  If I am convinced the problem is that you are racist, then I will try to convince you to change your attitudes towards other people groups.  If I am convinced that the problem is that you are lazy and unwilling to sacrifice to help your fellow man, then I will try to convince you to change your attitude about your own personal responsibility towards those in pain.

8) The playing field isn't level:The reality of life in America is such that white and black individuals do not have the same opportunities.  The various statistical differences between white and black communities with regard to income, violent behavior, education, family commitments, incarceration rates, addiction, etc. are not to be ignored.  This is, however, one of the places where conservatives and liberals talk past each other and to their own constituents.

I have found that conservatives are very uncomfortable talking about an un-level playing field, but they are susceptible to hearing about the plight of children in poverty, and are concerned about injustice.  For many conservatives, so long as they are not considered the cause of the injustice, they are willing to consider taking responsibility for ending injustice.



I was recently invited to my first UNITE NY meeting and was deeply moved...

One of the most significant pieces of practical wisdom God has granted me in the past years is about the role of business-people in the Kingdom of God. As a pastor I am compelled by my theology to believe that all people have gifts and callings to use for the edification of the Church and the advancement of the gospel in our world, but normal church practices often make that nothing more than pretty words.  In our 'normal' way of thinking, the Kingdom is manifested most gloriously in the church, the church is most evident in the Sunday worship gathering, and the Sunday worship gathering is all about what the pastor says and does.  In short, what the pastor does is Kingdom work, what everyone else does is pay for the privilege of observing the pastor 'doing Kingdom work.'  This is, of course, not what God had in mind...

 God has opened my eyes to the role of business-people, in large part, through my relationship with one person.  My friend is a retired businessman who, several years ago, decided to include me in some of his projects.  Through him I have learned the value of business-minded people working for Kingdom purposes outside of the walls of the church.  He has his hands in endeavors of all kinds, job training programs, ministry training programs, housing renovation, job creation, refugee resettlement programs, medical services, college education for the poor.  In all of these he brings his passion for the Kingdom, his crystalline focus on results oriented praxis, his drive to make every effort as effective and efficient as possible, his creativity and experience, and his intolerance of silly religious games.  He also brings his wallet, his schedule, and a profound willingness to sacrifice for what he believes in.

In collaborating with my friend over the years, I have come to see the tremendous value in partnerships between kingdom-minded business people, and kingdom-minded pastors.  This value goes well beyond the financial resources of the business community.  The value is in the skills, practices, and paradigms of the business world, when those skills, practices, and paradigms are used under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and in partnership with other kingdom-minded people, to accomplish God's purposes in the places where we live, work, play, and worship.

While at the UNITE NY meeting I appreciated the encouragements of the speaker, and the opportunity to network, but I was moved most deeply simply by a room full of kingdom-minded business-people.  I walked into a room full of people like my friend, and I couldn't help but get excited!



Lorigo = Children of Immigrants Against Immigration



"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Upton Sinclair


Upton Sinclair wrote one of the most influential works of literature in the history of the United States of America.  His novel The Jungle was catalytic in the passage of the Food and Drug Act.  Indeed, the act passed into law only four months after the book was published.  Sinclair was pushed into the spotlight as a national figure for his work.

The book detailed the lives of immigrants in America, many of whom worked in the meat processing industry; at the time, a horrifyingly disgusting and dangerous workplace environment.  Sinclair wrote the book as an intended expose on the plight of the poor and immigrant in our country, and the exploitive way the rich were treating them.  The American public responded to Sinclair's book with great uproar, but not in the way Sinclair had hoped…

He is quoted as saying, "I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach."

One of the most gruesome episodes in the novel, (a worker falling into a lard-rendering vat, instantly dead, and unable to be removed), served not, as one might think, to provoke changes in worker safety, but to protect the purity of American lard by the immediate passage of federal legislation.


Safety and Danger in the Church

We baptized several people on Sunday.

One of them was my son.

It was glorious!

People shared briefly of their decision to follow Christ, to be washed clean in His death, and remade in His resurrection.  And then Pastor Cap and I plunged them into a feeding trough full of water!

At the baptism of the first adult, I saw gallons of water slosh over the side and onto the floor, water went everywhere.  I thought, "well, its too late to stop it now, people are here to get baptized, and we will just clean up the mess later."  …and then we kept right at it!


Afterwards I got to thinking about the mess of the baptism, and what that says about the church as a whole.

So often we expect the church to be safe in all of the wrong kinds of ways.  We don't want anyone to come in and bring any of the world in with them.  We don't want anyone to come in who doesn't fit, who isn't tidy, who doesn't play by our rules.  In short, we want our faith community to be comfortable for us.  May our church never be this safe.

But what that ends up producing is a church culture that promotes hypocrisy, secrecy, and emotional isolation.  If no messy people are allowed into the circle of christians, then we can't let anyone know about our own messiness.  We have created a club for perfect people, and that is a very dangerous thing for a church to become.  Dangerous in all of the wrong sorts of ways.  May our church never be this dangerous.

Instead the church is supposed to be a safe place for messy people to let their messiness get dealt with.  People are supposed to bring the world with them right into our community.  The church is supposed to be a safe place for dark secrets to be exposed, it supposed to be a safe place for bad habits to be dealt with, its supposed to be a safe place for vulnerable wounds to be exposed and healed.  May our church always be this safe.

The church is supposed to be dangerous too.  Dangerous in the same way a show at Marine World is dangerous; you might get wet!  Dangerous to our comfort, dangerous to our ego, dangerous to our need for control and our desire for gratification.  Celebration is always a danger to decorum; just as worship is a danger to pride, fellowship is a danger to wealth, and glory is a danger to apathy.  May our church always be this dangerous.


It wasn't just the water that was a little 'messy.'

We joined together with another congregation during the service.  Both congregations had members to baptize, so we celebrated the unity of faith in 'one baptism' as proclaimed by St Paul.  This meant we got to hear preaching that was different than normal, got to see baptisms performed in ways that were uncomfortable for some of us, and heard things said that we didn't all agree with.

I have to say, I was blessed to see the way people entered into the mess, cleaning up the water, engaging in relationships across dividing lines, and celebrating the beauty and potency of the Spirit's work in the lives of the saints.  This is a picture of how the church is supposed to be safe in the right ways, and dangerous in the right ways...


What is Needed for Unity to Flourish?

Be completely humble and gentle;
be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit
through the bonds of peace.

Ephesians 4:2-3

What, precisely, is meant by 'every effort?'

What hasn't been tried yet?

Remembering that Scripture commands 'every effort'
in the preservation of unity,
reflect on the places where disunity is present in your life.


Humility is required.  Humility is the recognition of one's proper place in the order of things.  Knowing where you belong, and whom you belong to.  Understanding what authority you have, and who's authority you are under.  Knowing what wisdom you possess, and knowing what wisdom you lack.  Recognizing that you cannot stand alone, and have been joined (by God!) to those who challenge the bonds peace. Humility is required for unity to flourish.

Gentleness is required.  Harsh words and hard responses invite people to see us as their opponents.  Condescending tones provoke inferiority and/or indignation.  Strong actions, when taken without mutually agreed upon wisdom, lead to wounds; wounds lead to pain, mistrust, anger, and fear.  Gentleness sets aside all of this, and invites trust.  A gentle man can be trusted not to wound; even when he misunderstands, he does not misstep, because his steps are slow and deliberate.  Gentleness is required for unity to flourish.

Patience is required.  Perhaps the older word is better; long-suffering is required.  It has been said, about the work of reconciliation, "if you are bleeding, you are doing it right."  It has also been said, about the fellowship of Christians across cultural lines, "expect to offend, and to be offended."  Patience is the willingness to tolerate discomfort, disagreement, confusion, pain, deprivation, misunderstanding, even egregious offense, with the expectation that the future will be better than the present.  Without patience there can be no maturity, and maturity is a pre-requisite for unity.  A mature believe understands that all holiness, all glory, all wisdom, and all godly power, comes into the community of humans through a process that takes time, energy, and obedience.  Unity will not be sustained without the 'long obedience in the same direction.'  Patience is required for unity to flourish.


Leaders Get What They Want?

We often think that a leader is someone who gets to make decisions; a leader is someone who gets whatever they want.  This couldn't be more wrong-headed; a godly leader is a person who no longer thinks about what would fulfill his own desires, and instead works hard to make the community healthy and fruitful.  A leader shouldn't give people the things that he desires for himself, but instead, a leader should give people the things that they need to flourish.

Leaders don't do what makes themselves happy, they do what makes other people healthy.


Racial Politics: Why our Rhetoric Matters

I heard an interview on the radio the other day…

I am not even sure of the station or the program as I was driving out of the area.  But the program host was discussing with guests and callers the situation surrounding one of the recent shootings of black men by police officers, and the surrounding protests, the movements, the politics, the social forces, etc.

A woman called in and said something that I thought was profoundly important about race relations in our country.

She identified herself as an 'older, African-American, woman,' and she proceeded to say that in her experience white bigotry is no longer an important factor in our racial problems, rather white apathy is the problem.  She talked about other factors (the history of bigotry, and the black community's own apathy), but she talked mostly about how problematic and inaccurate it was to diagnose the problem as 'white racism;' in her experience, most white people aren't racists, they just aren't willing to do much of anything about the plight of black communities if it costs them personally.

I thought this profoundly important for several reasons:

1) Its true: while it is true that bigotry endures in our day, it is not the problem that it once was.  It is no longer acceptable by our culture, indeed calling someone a racist in many circles is a serious charge that most people will respond to with strong emotions.  The majority of white people in America are completely in favor of a society where people of all colors can freely share in the wealth, power, and blessing of our nation, and they are personally willing to engage relationally with people of all colors.  …but not if it costs them anything to do so!

2) Its informed: she had obviously spent enough time engaging with white people that she understood what was going on inside the hearts and minds of individuals and communities.  This is not just about proximity, but also about a desire to understand those who are different than you.

3) Its honest: saying what is true about a situation, instead of throwing insults at one's socio-political opponents, is a display of integrity.  It feels good to insult people, especially if they have hurt you.  But calling someone a bigot, when you know that they are not a bigot, is simply dishonest.

4) Its helpful: imagine a Doctor who was so bent on the eradication of cancer that he diagnosed every patient he saw with cancer and gave them chemotherapy and radiation treatment.  Compare that to a Doctor who was so concerned with the health of her patients that she carefully and methodically diagnosed each patient's symptoms for their various root causes and then applied the appropriate treatment for each individual case.  It simply doesn't help to call someone a racist who isn't a racist.  That usually only produces righteous indignation, and resolute opposition.  It simply doesn't help to ignore apathy in a lazy person or a lazy society.  Pointing at the real problem helps highlight the real solution.  A misdiagnosis erodes trust and hurts everyone involved.

5) Its generous: it would be easier to point at the actual white racism that exists.  It would be easier to point at the rhetoric of politicians who foment racial fear to gain votes.  But instead, she chose to look beyond that, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to seek to understand.  She wanted to point at what was good in the white community and their response to racial politics.

6) Its hopeful: seeking to have an honest dialogue about a sticky topic is an indicator that you want to see progress.  Too often sticky topics are simply used by those attempting to gain political power.  Calling names, provoking anger, inciting fear, fomenting dissension, this is what we see politicians do with all divisive issues, and with race in particular.  They do it so that they can get elected.  But it doesn't help us heal, it actually gets in the way.  To hear a woman speak this way is an indicator that she actually hopes for healing; she actually believes our society can change.


God's (Most Frequent) Commandment

We are all familiar with the 10 Commandments; God's list of moral rules for the people of Israel.  We have a tendency to view them as 'rules to prevent us from having too much fun' but in all honesty, they are actually rules that would provide for our greatest joy!  Can you imagine a society in which those commandments were largely obeyed by all?  No dishonesty, no theft, no murder, no rape, no manipulation, no cheating...

When we look to Jesus we see him practicing and teaching the 10 Commandments, but we also see him amending them in some ways.  He claims that there are 'higher' or 'greater' commandments behind the list from the Covenant through Moses.  The Greatest Commandments are first, to love God with all of our being, and second, to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Indeed, if we were to practice these two commandments as a society, we would fulfill the other 10 without even thinking about them!

But for all our talk about the 10 Commandments, and the Great Commandments, we have forgotten about a very different sort of commandment.  It is God's 'most frequent commandment.'  It may not be on the list, but its the one he repeats more often than any other commandment.  For some reason, whenever God is interacting with a person, or a people, He finds it necessary to repeat the following commandment, over and over again:

Do not fear.

I will leave aside, for the moment, reflections as to why standing in the presence of God, or one of His holy angels, would prompt us to fear.  The question stands before us, can you imagine a society where we were not motivated by our fear? …our fear of each other, our fear of embarrassment, our fear of conflict, our fear of failure, our fear of pain and loss, our fear of death?  Can you imagine a society of Christians who walked into every dark corner of our world, neigh every dark corner of our soul! with abiding hope and faith in the goodness and power of God to overcome that darkness?

That is the society of God's Children, it is the church that God hopes for.

Do not be afraid.
Don't be scared.
Be not afraid.
Fear not.
Don't be afraid.

Do not fear.


Look in the Mirror

I am not nearly as impressed with the man
who can see the fault in his enemy
as I am with the man
who can see the fault in himself.


Christian Prostitution

If you watch the first video, make sure you watch the second one too, its kinda the main point.  The song he is talking about is the third video.


Best Sci-Fi Movies

These are my favorite science fiction movies, sci-fi being one of my favorite genres…

…of course, I don't really like much sci-fi in movie form as Hollywood generally stinks at making good science fiction.  I grew up reading 'hard' science fiction authors like Arthur C Clark and Isaac Asimov, and have been regularly disappointed by film treatments of the genre.  Science fiction is essentially really smart, highly educated people thinking about the possible ramifications of future technologies and edgy scientific theories; as Robert Heinlein defined it, "realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method."

I loved (and still love) the mind-bending concepts, philosophical conundrums, and existential puzzles that are at the core of the genre.  Hollywood, somehow, manages to take that and turn it into explosions in space, or monsters in space, or cute teens in space, or wizards in space, or superheroes in space, or… you get the idea.

So here is my list, its loosely arranged from most favorite on down, but they are all pretty interchangeable.  For something to make my list it must meet the following criteria:

1) I've seen it.

2) It's science fiction.  It is actually speculative about the universe in some way, while simultaneously consistent with what we know about the universe, and the other elements of the film (action, special effects, character development, cinematography, etc) don't overshadow the science fiction.

3) I like it.

So here goes…


My Favorite Science Fiction Films

     The Matrix
     District 9
     Time Crimes
     Minority Report
     Arrival (2016)
     Planet of the Apes (1968)
     Europa Report
     12 Monkeys
     Edge of Tomorrow
     Total Recall (Both versions)
     The Martian
     The Forgotten
     Dark City
     Children of Men
     Eternal Sunshine on the Spotless Mind

Yup, the Matrix is number one.  The reason for that is simple.  I had been disappointed time and time again by Hollywood "sci-fi" and was jaded.  I had seen the trailer that made the film look like sexy, leather clad, ninja-hackers, with guns, performing physically impossible dance moves and ritualized fight scenes.  I had no interest in watching the movie.

Finally, a friend of mine (who had horrible taste in movies) wanted me to go see it with him because he was really into the rave scene and loved the clothes and the music, I went to pacify him.  I walked into the theater expected typical drivel and was blown away.

In some ways I walk into every movie going experience hoping to match what happened to me the first time I saw the Matrix.


Sci-Fi Movies I Didn't Like

Interstellar - I really liked the film's attention to detail, and its the first film I can think of that deals with the reality of time dilation (which is actually pretty standard fare for science fiction literature).  But the absolutely bizarre "love transcends the space-time continuum" plot device completely ruined the movie for me.

2001 - I am aware of the fact that I can't really judge this film outside of the period in history during which it was made.  But I saw it in the 90s and it just fell flat for me.  It may very well be phenomenal as a film, and it objectively impacted both the industry and out culture.  I just didn't like it as either film, or as science fiction.  The homage to visuals and effects that are no longer awe-inspiring detracts from the story which Kubrick never really tells because he is too busy emoting.  When I finally read Clarke's treatment of the film, I loved the story, but never have re-watched the movie.  I recognize that this probably says a lot more about me (and what I want in a movie) than it does about the film, so be it.  I didn't like it.

Snowpiercer - I just couldn't get past the absurd premise of "a post-apocalyptic world where train tracks never got destroyed, or need repairing."


Movies that Aren't Actually Science Fiction!

Star Wars - This is pure fantasy.  There is absolutely no attempt at scientific accuracy, or speculation about the universe, or technological prognostication.

Jurassic Park - Technically this would be science fiction as it is an exploration of the possible dangers of cloning technology.  But that really is only the device by which the film explains itself.  The film is actually a man vs dinosaur movie.  I would argue that the negligible science fiction elements are completely swallowed up by the film itself.

Gravity - Its a film about an accident in space.  It fails to be speculative in any way about the nature of the universe, or future technology.  It could actually be classified as "historical fiction," seeing as how the first fatality in space occurred almost 50 years ago, and the technology depicted in the film is outdated.

Super Hero Movies - Pure fantasy.


Flat Earthers and Biblical Interpretation

I had my first encounter with a real live flat earther…

…ok, not exactly.  But I did have a conversation with someone who is related to one.

My friend sent me a paper written from a flat-earth perspective and I thought I would post some of my response here:

As for the Biblical interpretation…

All I can say is that the paper is an example of what not to do with scripture. Taking metaphors/idioms and using them literally makes for good comedy, (I've got my eye on you) but it is a way to confuse things horribly in serious study. The person who wrote this paper hasn't thought through how their exegetical approach would carry out with other biblical passages.

For example, would Jesus' teaching in Matthew 10:16 require us to eat grass, walk around on four legs, and say "bahhh?" Or are we allowed to take Jesus' words as a metaphor? Again, I am quite confident that the author of this paper loves God, and reveres scripture, but I imagine that they don't take Jesus command (recorded in Luke 10:37) as a requirement to put wounded people on our donkeys and take them to the closest inn.

All that I would want is that the same lenses we wear when we read these two passages should also be worn when we attempt to understand what scripture might teach us about cosmology. Specifically, we should read God's book with the intention of understanding God's message. We rightly understand Matthew 10:16 to be Jesus' attempt to encourage humility, peacefulness, and innocence in the face of evil; we rightly understand Luke 10:37 as Jesus' attempt to encourage human compassion that trumps personal convenience and racial animosity.

We ought to also understand that scripture does not intend to speak to a physical model of the construction of the universe. The passages quoted in the paper are not God's attempt to teach us about the relationship between the sun, stars, heavens, planets, and our earth. They ARE intended to speak to the grandeur of God, or his sovereignty, or the mystery and beauty of the creation, or the destruction that is wrought when God's wrath is poured out on evil.

To 'read the Bible literally' is to take the Bible for what it is, not turn it into something else. Where the Bible is law, we must understand it the way we understand laws; where the Bible is prophecy, we must read it the way prophecy is read; where it is song lyrics, we must interpret them the way we interpret song lyrics; where it is narrative, we must understand it as a story. No one would take the jacket from a CD and use it as an argument about the curvature of the earth, so we ought not to do so with the Psalter...


Felicia Sanders is MY Hero

Felicia Sanders was the mother of Tywanza Sanders. Both Felicia and her son were in the Bible study with Dylann Roof when he began to shoot the people there with a gun he had brought to the meeting. Tywanza was killed in front of his mother. Felicia survived. At the bail hearing for the shooter, Felicia said the following words:

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll, I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. … May God have mercy on you.”

Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, said:

“I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Wanda Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simmons, said:

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.”


Incarnational Ministry

A ministry of presence is a requirement for serving alongside the poor. We must come near to those we desire to serve. We must touch them, and they us. It is not until their problems become our problems that we will ever truly be able to minister. Not in the sense that we care about them so much that their problems burden us emotionally, but rather in the sense that the problems we face in our lives are the same ones they face in theirs. When we suffer the violence of living with corrupt or absent police officers, when our property values drop because of corrupt banking practices, when our schools are failing and our jobs are gone, then we will be trusted to minister.


Decision-making and Delegating

Here are a couple articles that I found helpful:

Decision Tree

Communal Discernment

And here is a diagram that models consensus decision-making:


It's the End of the World!

I'm a good person...

Whenever people find out I am a pastor they say all sorts of things.  Often people will try to convince me of what a good person they are, its almost cute.

Recently I had someone tell me "I'm a good person, I always let people into my home, and help whoever needs help."  The interesting thing was that this person was saying all of this to me to justify their present state of drunkenness, and the vulgarity that had been dripping from their mouth for the 30 minutes they were talking to me before they knew I was a pastor.

But when they said this, something clicked…

In the culture I grew up in, people would often say "I'm a good person…" but the rationale was different, "I'm a good person because I don't steal, use drugs, or hurt people."

But what this person told me was indicative of a different cultural norm, and they were definitely not the first person to show this to me, it was just the first time I had noticed it this clearly.

The culture of my upbringing defined 'goodness' as purity and righteousness.

The culture of many I interact with now define 'goodness' as hospitality and charity.

I'm not sure that one is better or worse, but the difference is there...


How to Help

Go to the people

Live among them

Learn from them

Love them

Start with what they know

Build on what they have

But of the best leaders

When their task is done

The people will remark

"We have done it ourselves."


Above is an anonymous proverb that captures the heart of discipleship.  It also points at a Kingdom perspective in helping those in need.  If we help in such a way that those we have helped are forever indebted to us, forever idolizing us, and forever looking to us for more help, then we haven't done for them what Jesus would do.



The Vineyard offered to help us publicize what we are doing here in Buffalo, check it out!

A Different Kind of Partnership


Love Your Neighbor pt II

The small group I belong to had a blast this week…

…Donna (one of the women in our group) has started making a list of her neighbors who need help on projects around their homes.  One of those people was a woman who has gotten to the point where she can no longer bend over to do work on the ground, her husband has passed, and she has no family in the area to help.  Additionally, the City has been pestering her about some of the peeling paint on her home.

So we went over to brush and repaint her foundation wall.

Almost 20 of us showed up (including kids) and we got about half the job done (you can see pictures below).  There weren't quite enough tools to go around, so several people ended up hanging out with our neighbor while we worked.

Our plan was to order pizza and head back down the block to Donna's house, but instead we were told we had to come inside and eat.  (This is typical Italian hospitality, and our host is proudly Sicilian…) So inside we went!

It was a wonderful blessing to me to watch our small group love each other, and love this woman.  Over the course of the evening people engaged with our host, asking her about her life, chatting with her, encouraging her, loving her…

…at one point she said to me, "this is like a godsend… wait a minute, this IS a Godsend!"

Several of us were able to pray for her, blessing her home and her life.  We are headed back next Wednesday to finish the job!

I was struck by how naturally our small group community was able to serve together, love together, and minister together.  There wasn't anything forced or awkward about the way we were present with our neighbor.

I left with a full heart.


Love Your Neighbor

A friend and I visited a neighboring City.  We ended up staying at a hostel and got to have some really exciting spiritual conversations with the host.  He was not a person who had committed to the Kingdom, but was clearly interested in Jesus, and was open to spiritual things.  We sat on the porch enjoying a beer, and some really deep conversations.  Over our time in the hostel we were able to pray with him, and to invite him to the Christian fellowship we had connections to in that City.  It was really quite a blessing to have that experience, although I have no idea what has happened to him in the time since our visit.

...but here is where the story gets sad.

We found out during our stay there, that there was a Christian 'discipleship house' immediately next door to the hostel.  Unfortunately, we found this out because at some point in our conversation with our host he commented, "you aren't like the other Christians."  Of course we asked him to clarify what he meant by this.

He replied, "there is a christian house next door, and we tried to get to know them, but they told us that they aren't allowed to talk to us.  I think they are afraid we will rub off on them."

A litany of emotions flooded through me... anger, frustration, confusion, depression, compassion, hope, despair.  How could it be possible that a house full of committed followers of Christ could live next door to this man for so long, but it took two men coming from Buffalo to share the love of God with him?



In the years since I have stopped working a second job for the cable company and have focused solely on my ministry work, I have consistently taken a sabbath each week.  On occasion I have to forgo my day of rest, but I would say that 9 times out of 10, on a Monday I am available only to my family, and do no thinking or laboring towards my ministry efforts.  While it has always been a needed time of rest and retreat, it hasn't always been as life-giving as other disciplines in my life like worship, prayer, study, fellowship, service...

I was in conversation with my spiritual director about my practice of sabbath, and he suggested that I find ways to engage on my sabbath; not just retreat from the world, but engage in some particular activity that I find enjoyable for its own sake.  In particular he asked about a 'creative' outlet.

Now, I have some ability at drawing, but its never excited much passion in me, I have a passable ability at guitar, but my passion there lies in worship not in creating music, I like to write, but very little of my writing is 'creative.'  I have, however, long been passionate about building things.  In recent years that has largely taken the form of fixing up the two houses that we own, which, obviously, is not very 'creative' either.  Even more problematic for the practice of sabbath, it just isn't retreat from work.  I derive an income from it, I have deadlines and expectations, it is work.

And so, I have turned my hand back to building furniture...

I have built a few pieces over the years, only one or two that I felt 'proud' of, but have always enjoyed it.  In the last two months of sabbaths I have built a small table, and a wooden offering box for use in our worship service.

Here is the lid and the box before I added the straps to the lid and attached the lid to the box:


Preaching to 'Us' and the Three Magic Words

I was once asked by a younger leader, "how can I teach or lead someone in something that I haven't figured out?  I would be a hypocrite!"

Now, the truth of this statement should not be ignored!  It is quite true that we cannot lead someone where we have not been ourselves.  It is quite true that we cannot teach what we do not know.  It is quite true that we cannot give away what we do not have.  However...

...my response to my friend was this, "when we preach Jesus, we will always be preaching something that is beyond ourselves.  This is not hypocrisy, but faithfulness to the Scriptures.  If we were only preaching what we had ourselves mastered, then we would not be faithful to the whole counsel of the Kingdom."

So how do we reconcile these two opposing truths?


I was taught by my pastor to preach to 'us,' and to rarely if ever preach to 'you.'  I have learned that there are rarely appropriate times to speak in the language of 'you people' but they are most certainly not when speaking difficult truths.  Even though I am a preacher, I am myself included in the congregation who is being preached to.  I must hear the words pronounced; I must receive the revelation, correction, admonition, challenge, encouragement, teaching, blessing, and wisdom.  Are you a teacher or a leader?  Number yourself among those who are taught and led!

Hearing my pastor preach this way modeled for me a humility before Christ, and before the church that I hope to emulate.  It also, however, provided an open door to hear the difficult call to carry the Cross of Christ.  The posture of humility from the preacher, including himself in the challenge, allowed me to be challenged as well.


Then we come to the three magic words...

...I will never forget them.  I heard them often on the lips of my pastor, but the first time I heard him say them, he was standing in the pulpit.  I had never heard a pastor utter these words before.  I don't think I had ever heard a Christian speak them, certainly not about spiritual or theological matters.  They were a shock to my system, but a good shock.  Like cool water on a hot day, or the unexpected arrival of beautiful music that perfectly matches the mood of the moment, or a word of encouragement when rebuke was expected, came these words:

"I don't know."

Again, the posture of humility allows for our walls to come down, and for Christ to be revealed before us in all of His glory, all of His mercy, and all of His judgment.  We can hear the difficult words of challenge, when they come with a recognition of our common need for His grace, His wisdom, and His Kingdom.


Only Jesus...

...throws parties with Pastors, Prostitutes, and Politicians!



Here is what I would say about the 'organization' of the church, and its relative importance to keeping the church on mission, and to advancing the kingdom in the lives of individuals, in communities, and in the world...





The posts above are something I wrote several years ago, and they express my frustration at the rigid structures of church that kill the life within it. However, the metaphor works the other way too, as I have come to see in recent years...

Acts 6 is the tipping point where the early church discovered a need for tomato cages. But here is where I continue to hold the line. While the cages may be necessary at times, they are ALWAYS a means to an end. The point is the life in the garden, and the structures must serve that end. We must be ruthless in this.

What this means is that the 'spontaneous expansion' that results from people falling madly in love with the Kingdom and the King, and then selling everything for that cause, is the life of the church. We can build structures and strategies around that to support, nurture, and foster this central vitality, but we must always prioritize the life of the Spirit, and never the supporting structures...



Good leaders give away all of the credit, but collect all of the blame.



Efforts at Christian unity across denominations and ethnic groups fall into several categories,  it is helpful to distinguish them from each other, and to categorize them in a spectrum.  Having done so, we find that efforts at unity often remain at levels 1 and 2, occasionally rising to level 3, but rarely entering into levels 4 and 5.

Level 1: Having business together

     It is in our mutual interest to share resources or to provide services to each other. i.e., sharing a building.

Level 2: Symbolic acts of ecumenicism

     Public declarations of Christian unity and affection. i.e., worshipping together.

Level 3: Enjoying relationship

     Private fellowship and intimacy.

Level 4: Strategic partners

     Strategizing together, giving each other 'veto power.'

Level 5: organizational unity

     Where we simply come under the same leadership structure.
     This need not be the goal of efforts toward Christian unity,
     although, it shouldn't be kept off the table either.


Yeast, Salt, Seed, and Light

“This then is what I mean by spontaneous expansion. I mean the expansion which follows the un-exhorted and unorganized activity of individual members of the Church explaining to others the Gospel which they have found for themselves; I mean the expansion which follows the irresistible attraction of the Christian Church for men who see its ordered life, and are drawn to it by desire to discover the secret of a life which they instinctively desire to share; I mean also the expansion of the Church by the addition of new Churches.” ― Roland Allen, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church: And the Causes That Hinder It


Easter: You are Worth Fighting For!

We watched this recently, and, while I thought the movie as a whole was 'good' this scene was 'great.'  God ministered to me through it; helping me to experience the brokenness of humanity, and the power of the gospel.


Prayer Reflection


Relax; be still let the tensions of the day slip away from you. Know that you are in God's presence. He rejoices that you have come to him, however forgetful you may have been of him during the day or week


Remember with thanksgiving the gifts of God to you today. A meeting with a friend: a glimpse of deep joy or sadness in a passing face; a flower at the wayside; a babys first steps; a grandparents smile; a friendly shop assistant; a considerate driver; a moment of insight; a job done; a problem solved; a child's hug; a lovers touch; a warm memory; a rising moon; a falling leaf....Be still in the memory and offer God your thanks in your own way.


Ask God to help you see and understand how his love has been working within you today. This is a gift of the Spirit, and it has been promised to all who sincerley seek it.


Reflect peacefully on what has been happening to you and in you today or this last few days, trusting that your prayer for the light of his Spirit has been granted. Let him show you whatever he may want to show you. The questions that follow are only suggestions to prompt your reflection, if you feel drawn to particular question stay with it, and let God speak to you heart about it.

How were you drawn to God today: by a friend, the beauty of nature, a book...

-Did you meet him in fears, joys, work, misunderstandings, weariness or pain?

-Did you sense the presence of God in the wider world, perhaps in what you saw on TV or read in the paper? can you bring him your feelings..your anger, your compassion

-Did anything happen to make you feel loved ? Were you able to show love to another person today?

  • How were your moods today, what made you feel peaceful? where did you experience turmoil? What seemed to cause you to react with these feelings, open them up to God for affirmation or healing.


With hindsight you may realize that much of your reactions to the events of the day has been centered on your own kingdom. This may have led you to fail to respond to the cry of another person, or to allow your own preoccupations to take the center stage and crowd out other people's needs. Your day may have left little space for an awareness of God or of his creation. Whatever inadequacies you find in your day's living, let them be there before God now, not for judgement, but for his Spirit to hover over the mess, bringing wholeness out of brokenness , as once that same Spirit brought creation out of chaos. Express your sorrow to God, and confidently ask for his healing and forgiveness.


Look forward to tomorrow. Ask him to open your heart to whatever surprises it may bring; to open your eyes to notice him in unexpected places; to open your ears to become tuned in to the unceasing song of his kingdom. Pray for sensitivity to recognize the Lord in whatever ways he may greet you or call you. Something of God lies still concealed for you in tomorrow”s journey. Look forward to discovering it.

*This reflection was lead by Tamy during our Sunday worship gathering as a part of her sermon this past Sunday.  Several people asked to see a printed version of it.  This was taken from the book Inner Compass by Margaret Silf.


His Holiness is His Love

It is impossible to overestimate the goodness of God.



Opportunity Knocks

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

-Thomas Edison


Celebrating Black History?

Why would a White man write an article celebrating Black History?

...thats a fair question, but I think the answer is obvious enough.  A better question, however, is why would anyone want to read an article from a White man celebrating Black History?

Hopefully that question is answered in the next paragraphs.

Permit me an observation.  Some of the most articulate African-American voices I interact with are often given a platform to speak to White people about issues of race and racial reconciliation.  White culture, and in particular, White Christian culture, is coming to terms with the fact that the gospel demands that we share meals with Christians of every cultural background (see Galatians 2).  In light of this, articulate African American voices are sought after by some White Christians...  but those voices are quite often only invited to speak about one thing: race and racial reconciliation.

The White Church will have a panel discussion around issues of race, and invite a multi-cultural group to speak, or will have an event focused on the issue and invite an African-American scholar to present some ideas the topic.  In and of itself, this is a good thing.  We need people of all cultures speaking to the issue of a reconciled and reconciling church.  In particular we need the voices of the Black community to share their perspectives and their pain regarding the racial history of our world and the Church.  The problem lies, however, in the fact that this is often the only space where White Christians are willing and able to hear Black voices.

Back to Galatians.

Paul's argument is not that Jews and Gentiles must resolve past hurts for the sake of the gospel, but rather, that Jews and Gentiles must eat together for the sake of the gospel!  Indeed, the entire point of resolving past hurts is precisely so that we can enjoy fellowship in Christ!

What this means to me is that, while it is indeed vitally important for me to hear Black voices explain the history of race from Black perspectives, it is equally, if not more important, for me to hear Black voices speaking about worship, poverty, Christology, prayer, Ecclesiology, discipleship, addiction, Missiology, evangelism, technology, leadership, business, philosophy of ministry, socio-economics, etc. from Black perspectives!

The Church needs the wisdom of the Black community's voice, not just on issues of race and racial reconciliation (although this is one of the great gems that the Black community has to offer the global church!), but on all issues.  The Body of Christ needs every member healthy and fully engaged for us to be healthy as a whole.  If we belong to Christ, then we belong to each other.  While this must be asserted when one part is suffering, it should also be asserted when there is no suffering!  Should we only give attention to our hands when they are injured, or might we consider using them for work, and play, and art when they are healthy as well!

So... back to the question at the top; why would anyone read an article celebrating Black History that is written by a White man?

Simply put, if we are to ask for the African-American voice to speak to every facet of life in God's good creation, then we ought to expect to hear the White voice speak to issues of race and reconciliation.  If I have asked African-Americans to speak about the breadth and depth of life and ministry, then perhaps I ought to speak to the issue of race and reconciliation.

Admittedly, this article has not actually been much of a 'celebration' of Black History or Black culture, so much as a push in the direction a multi-cultural future!  So I will end with a few practical thoughts that might help:

1) Recognize our failure at a multicultural church as a failure at believing the gospel (Galatians 2:14); as a failure at Christian maturity.  We must begin to talk like this and think like this.  "I won't eat at the table with 'them' because I won't trust in the power and truth of the gospel."

2) Start with eating together with those different from you.  Jesus scandalized his contemporaries precisely by who he chose to eat with.  This is because table fellowship builds intimacy.  Let us learn to eat the bountifully diverse fare of the Lord's Wedding Feast!

3) Look for collaborative projects with Christians of different cultures and traditions.  The word conspiracy literally means "to share breath with another."  This is the definition of intimacy.  Let us find conspirators amongst Christians of all cultures!

4) Move towards giving away control, power, and influence.  This means you will get things that you dislike and disagree with.  Do so anyway, for the sake of the gospel.

5) Be true to who you are in Christ, don't hide yourself or pretend to be something you are not.  But be humble and accept others as they are in Christ, allow them the same luxury to be themselves!

6) Expect this to be a painful process.  Don't be afraid to communicate your pain, but be even more attentive to the pain of others!  Think of it like a poodle dating a gorilla, it surely requires a great degree of sensitivity and creativity!


Local Church

"Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff."
Eugene Peterson

See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/09/27/faithful-end-interview-eugene-peterson/#sthash.aZIKrRqe.dpuf



Marriage is about 'two becoming one.'  Two lives becoming a single life.  A common home, a common purpose, a common dream, common finances, common responsibilities, a common reputation… you get the picture!  A single life, with two persons.

So here is whats required:


Firstly, sharing yourself with the other person, and secondly, learning to receive from that other person.  Learning that what motivates you to say and do certain things, is not necessarily what motivates them to say and do those same things.  Understanding and sharing what you are at the core of your personhood with your spouse, and allowing them to share with you as you seek to understand them.


Repenting of sin and offense on your part, over-and-over-and-over-and-over…

Forgiving sin and offense on their part, over-and-over-and-over-and-over...



“The test of character posed by the gentleness of God's approach to us is especially dangerous for those formed by the ideas that dominate our modern world. We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel -- or one desperate for another life -- therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today. Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright.”

― Dallas Willard


Chili Recipe Redux

This is my second attempt at writing down a chili recipe (after my first attempt was probably 2 out of 5 stars).  I would personally add more seasoning, but my wife didn't want me to, so I left it the way it is.  It can use a little more salt, but that can be added at the table.

Start by chopping the following (food processor for all but the onions) and sauté over medium heat in the bottom of stock pan in olive oil:

3 large carrots
3 large celery stalks
2 bell peppers
3 large onions
3 large bay leaves

Once they start to get soft add the following:

2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 beer
24 oz corn (can or frozen)
24 oz pinto beans (can)
24 oz black beans (can)
24 oz red beans (can)

Once the meat is fully cooked add the following:

24 oz tomato puree (can)
24 oz diced tomatoes (can)

Once the chili begins to bubble turn down heat and add the following:

4 medium cloves of garlic (crushed)
1 1/2 oz molasses
5 teaspoons of chili powder
3 teaspoons of cumin
2 teaspoons of paprika
2 teaspoons of oregano
2 teaspoons of black pepper
3 teaspoons of salt

Let simmer over low heat, if the chili is too thin, thicken it with tomato paste, corn starch, or other thickener.