Friday, March 30, 2007

Howdy from the Pyramids

Yep. Here we all are in front of the Pyramids at Giza- on camels, of course! Audra wasn't too crazy about the camel thing, but the kids loved it.

Here are some more pictures...

Let me just say this trip was great! It well surpassed our expectations. We spent two weeks in Egypt- a week in Southern Egypt, AKA "upper Egypt"(up the Nile), and a week in the Cairo area (with a day trip to Alexandria). You gotta spend at least 2 days in Cairo, since that's where the Pyramids and the Cairo Museum (and Coptic Cairo) are, but you'll want to spend most of the time away from the Cairo traffic- yikes! Don't miss doing a Nile Cruise- It's beautiful and

a very relaxing and reflective way to make the trip between Luxor and Aswan- sure beats the convoys you otherwise have to take.

It is really hard to grasp a country with over 5000 years of history that you can see, walk on, and interact with. The pyramids were built over 4500 years ago! When Moses was running around with the royal court, the pyramids were already over 1000 years old! Amazing. By the way, you can see the pharoah to whom Moses said "let my people go" at the Cairo museum. There are different theories as to which pharaoh/mummy it is, but all the choices are right there! It's your only chance to look face-to-face at a Biblical character- don't miss it!

Egypt is amazingly inexpensive (once you get there), and very tourist friendly. Hook up with a tour company and you'll have great door-to-door service and personal tour guides. The Company will have somebody meet you at the airport, run get your visas for you, walk you through customs, and help you with your bags to your awaiting van- and that's just at the airport.

We used Memphis Tours, which worked great for us, but I got the sense that most companies would do fine- submit a request on the Egyptian Tourism Board website, and you'll get a couple dozen responses from tour companies. Check out the TourEgypt site's message center for good and bad company reviews).

Our group of 6 had our own van every where we went and our own guides. We particularly enjoyed Mahmoud Hassan Exlanss ( in Upper Egypt for the Luxor to Aswan/Abu Simbel section and our guide in Alexandria, Kholoud Ghazaly ( Mahmoud, the tall guy in our pictures,

has an archeology degree and tourism degree (required for guides), and is a lot of fun- be sure to hook up with him (or at least request him of your tour company). Kholoud (and her husband) work at the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria and provided an amazingly thorough whirlwind tour of Alexandria in the short amount of time we gave her to do so. While there are no doubt plenty of good guides out there, you should ask for these two guides from your tour company and consider just contacting them directly. I'm sure they could easily recommend a company to you. If you just need something specific for their areas, they could probably get you all hooked up with the needed services (via a local tour company) themselves. In fact, Mahmoud got our cruise ship switched to a much nicer choice (the NTS Grand Princess- a new or newly refurbished Italian-focused ship with great service, cabins and food!). Mahmoud was helpful too for figuring out what appropriate tips were (tips are generally expected for about everything). If you email Mahmoud (and you should), his written English is just ok, but don't worry, he is very easy to understand and will take great care of you.

I also highly recommend bringing your kids along (if they're at all travel hardy). The Egyptians loved kids and we got special attention everywhere we went. Mya learned to read and write hieroglyphs and Arabic numbers while we were there, and the educational experience overall would be very hard to beat.

Get this trip on your calendar!

Here are some more pictures...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Adverse Childhood Experiences

I attended a week long, all day, all evening Family Practice Board review in Lancaster, PA last month. Of the many, many lectures that week, one really stood out as the most surprising and probably the most important- "Adverse Childhood Experiences and Their Relationship to Adult Health Status", given by Vincent Felitti, MD.

He reported on a large, well-done study of 17,000 middle-class, essentially average Americans, called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study. The results were rather stunning- and contrary to the prevailing thoughts. ACE's were defined in the following categories, with noted prevalences:
  • Psychological Abuse (by parents) 11%
  • Physical Abuse (by parents) 11%
  • Sexual Abuse (by anyone) 22%
  • Alcoholism or drug use in home 26%
  • Depression or mental illness in home 19%
  • Mother treated violently 13%
  • Imprisoned household member 4%
  • Loss of biological parent before age 18 (divorce/abandonment/death) 22%

These numbers themselves are rather amazing, but the lifelong effect of these experiences was what was truly surprising. Essentially, the findings were that there was a direct, graded, proportionate effect of ACEs on incidence of smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, obesity, depression, suicide, well-being, poor job performance, and disability. These increases were not at all small. For example, the increased incidence of smoking from having 0 of the above to having 4 or more was 300%. It was 800% for alcoholism. 1300% for Suicide, and so on.

What this translates into for the population as a whole is that 65% of alcoholism can be attributed to the above risk factors ("Population Attributable Risk"). It is 50% of drug use, 78% of IV drug use, 54% of Current Depression, 58% of suicide attempts.

There are also stunning increases in the risk of perpetrating domestic violence, becoming a victim of domestic violence, likelihood of >50 sexual partners (300%), history of STDs (250%), later being raped, pyschoses and hallucinations.

Obviously, many of these subsequent behaviors are themselves risk factors for serious, chronic medical disorders- heart disease, lung disease, hypertension, diabetes, strokes, and so on. Interestingly, even when the other risk factors (smoking, obesity, etc.) are taken into account (corrected for), ACEs have a very large direct impact on risk for these diseases, from 30-70%!

The summary statements from the study are:

  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) are very common, but unrecognized
  • ACE's are strong predictors of later social functioning, well-being, health risks, and death
  • This combination makes Adverse Childhood Events the leading determinant of the health and social well-being of our nation.

The effects are typically life-long!

The authors make a big point that most of the identified risks to health (smoking, alcoholism, etc.) are apparently best viewed as attempted "self-treatment" for the true underlying causes- the Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Obviously the implications for health care- both for overall public health, individual patient care and public policy are significant.

I found myself, though, amazed once again at how insightful and pertinent the teachings of Jesus are: anger, lust, divorce (the worst risk of the "loss of parent" category, unless death was by suicide), and other similar sources of bad actions (like the ACEs) really are the heart of humanity's problems; and that the kindness, patience, gentleness, and forgiveness of Love is the cure.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

More Hell

One of my posts not long ago was about some of my thoughts after doing a quick Bible review of hell. I promised to look into it a bit more- especially by reading Brian McLaren's book The Last Word and the Word After That, which deals predominantly with the subject of hell.

It's the third book in his New Kind of Christian trilogy, although the subject seems to have led to a much less pure narrative book. To me (an admitted non-expert), it provided a nice, readable outline of different views typically mentioned on the subject (inclusivism, exclusivism, conditionalism, and universalism). The characters find "problems with all those views" and sort of, but not at all very clearly, I think, suggests another take. I'll leave it to your own reading to explore these options.

I found the historical/cultural background interesting- Zoroastrian, Egyption, Babylonian, and Greek takes on the afterlife, "Hades" and similar concepts- and how that cultural environment seems to have affected the Pharisees in particular. Reviewing Jesus' statement in this context really does raise a lot of questions about the traditional Biblical support of the traditional, exclusivistic view. "So whether or not Jesus endorses the idea of hell, when the Pharisees use hell to threaten sinners to fly right, Jesus takes it and kind of turns it back on them, doesn't he?" (by saying that not showing mercy and justice to the weak/least of these is what would send you to hell).

Another useful part of the book, I thought, was the "homework assignment" that tables out all the instances in the gospels that deal with the subject of judgement (not just those that refer to hell/hades). The table has four columns: the "passage" , the "behavior", the "consequence" and "The Point". I think most people would be shocked by what the list of "behaviors" were that were being judged- for example, sexual sin isn't in the list, but "not bearing fruit" is included many times and in a variety of ways.

It is also perhaps illuminating how many different (and mutually exclusive, if taken literally) ways the consequences are expressed. Jesus is the king of metaphors and parables, after all. The "gehenna" (the perpetually burning garbage pile outside of Jerusalem translated as hell or hades I talked about in my other post) sure seems to fall right in with the rest of the metaphors, it would appear to me.

Of course, at least equally interesting and perhaps more important is "the point" of each of these cases. After all it was "the point" of the parable/statement that was, well his point- regardless of whatever other theological inferences might be made.

At the very least it has been interesting to read the thoughts of so many other well respected, thoughtful Christian scholars/authors (certainly C.S Lewis comes to mind in particular) who are highly critical/skeptical of the traditional exclusivist view.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

An Experience in Worship

Another great time at the Zoe Conference! I think this makes for 4 years I've gone, and it never ceases to amaze me how powerful a worship experience it can be. Unfortunately, I think that probably sounds weird to a lot of Christians, but it's true. The main reason is you got about a thousand of some of the best Church of Christ singers all singing at the top of their lungs. Most of it is Acapella, of course- the guest speakers (that aren't from the Church of Christ tribe) are always amazed. I also really enjoy getting to know some of the elders and other leaders from churches around the country.

Usually, the most useful take away is a bunch of new songs that I can try to teach my church. Their latest CD, Closer, I think will provide quite a few decent possibilities. Current candidates are Rising; Closer; No Other Gods; The Power of The Cross, To God Be the Glory ( an updated version of the classic). mmmm... Can't wait! (If you're one of my family at my church, you can listen to them here.)

Perhaps the most amazing part of the conference was a"Plenary Session" with Dan McVey of ACU's Halbert Institute for Missions. Mostly this was an hour long missions report in which he blew us all away with the amazing statistics of how many people worldwide are becoming followers of Christ. I kind of had an inkling in a couple of places, like much of Africa and South Korea, but I had no idea of the millions being converted around the world. In particular I had no idea of how many Muslims are becoming followers of Christ. Dan told story after story of country after country where God is working powerfully. This includes places like Lebanon, Iran, and Uzbekistan. Part of his speech can be found here, but the breadth and shear numbers were simply staggering. Many, if not most, of this is due to non-American mission efforts. Indeed, South Korea and China and Singapore, and so on are sending out missionaries in numbers greater than the U.S. (at least by percentages). They aren't waiting on us! Praise be to God!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Really Good People lead to Really Good Funerals

After 94 years, my Granddaddy, Dr. BB Phillips, passed on this past Tuesday, October 3rd, 2006.

Everyone has been asking me how things went this week. I keep answering with "It was wonderful!" and it really was. Lot's of laughter, tears, and good remembrances. I don't know if the funeral home director just says this to everyone, but his comment to us after the funeral was "I've been doing funerals for 31 years and I have never seen more heartfelt accolades as I have today." Here are a couple of them...


I want to thank you all for coming. I really don't quite feel worthy- or perhaps qualified- to speak for my family about my grandfather- it's been 22 years since I've lived here in Brownsville, and I just don't have the sustained, recent intimacy, the number of stories, or the story-telling ability of so many in my family. But I just don't think they're going to be able make it up here today.

But let me tell you what I do know.

First, Grandaddy was as strong as an ox. I can remember being a scrawny little teenager helping him bail hay out on the ranch, desperately trying to move around these 100 lb bails of hay, when he'd quitely wander over and effortlessly toss them up on a pile that seemed 3 stories high.

But despite being strong as an ox, he was always gentle as the proverbial lamb.

He also always seemed absolutely fearless. He never seemed to think twice about jumping in some little pen with the biggest bull you ever saw. And if you've never heard Rich's famous Snake & Shovel story, or the time with the Uncaged Lion, then you've really got to ask.

But while he always seemed fearless, he was a man of unparalleled humility. He was never about himself. I can't think of any time that self-pride was ever displayed by him.

Now Granddaddy was not a man of many words. So, when he spoke, people listened- both because he probably had something quite thoughtful to say, and because he had simply the best subtle wit.

While he was not a man of many words, he was a man of action/hard work/responsibility. I learned an awful lot working with him around the ranch that I still use in some fashion- by building barns, sinking fence posts, stringing barbed wire.

If, as I believe, God has put us here in part to build our character and prepare us for the work in his next creation, Grandaddy his no doubt raring to go.

I'm particularly grateful, however, for his Faith. What a blessing his faith has been to his family and, no doubt, all of you. I bet if he were proud of something, it would be that every family member close to him believes in the God and Father who created this amazing universe and in His Son, our Master through whom He created it. More importantly, they all love God and, at least try hard to love their neighbors, and want to bless this world by their presence and actions.

And I'm so thankful that this blessing of faith has extended to the husbands and wives of his daughter and grandchildren. I know my Dad, in particular, connects so much of his faith to the grace of God working through his father-in-law. What a wonderful man!

This world is a troubled place- it really always has been. But it has been a better place for having Doc Phillips here.

Thank you again for coming.

My Brother's:

Barclay Bernard Phillips was the epitome of what every man should be. He had more strength, wisdom and compassion than anyone I've ever known. My Grandfather was a man of few words, but when he spoke, people listened. He also had a great sense of humor. His witty quips and one-liners are something I already desperately miss. My Grandfather loved his family (blood and church families). We love him and will never forget him.

Sincerely, his Grandson,
Richard Barclay Parker

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Most commonly used words in the Bible

While doing my quick little study on Hell this evening (see previous post), I got to noticing which words had the most references in the concordance. So, I decided to do a little informal "most common word" research using the highly professional method of counting up how many words had more than one column of references in my Bible (including related derivatives). I think the results are rather interesting.

4 Columns or more
Lord (9 1/2)
God (8 1/2)
Love (7 1/2)
Faith (4 1/2)
Trust (4)

3 Columns

2 Columns

1 Column

Quick Bible review of Hell

One of the recent Brian Mclaren books I've listened to recently seemed to hint that we've been misled a bit about the Bible's actual teaching on hell- especially what that would have meant to people of Jesus' day. My initial reaction to that was, "huh?" I know a large percentage of people these days- even Christians- supposedly don't believe in a hell, but I figured that has more to do with people not wanting to believe in hell than anything else.

I think Mclaren's The Last Word and The Word After That is supposed to have an expose' on the topic, but I decided to do a bit of Bible sleuthing on it this evening. I don't pretend to have this all sorted out, but here's what seemed to come out.

The word "Hell" is rarely used at all- indeed I think the average sitcom episode these days has the word said more than the entire Bible does. The word is always literally from the "(Valley of) Ge Hinnom"- location just outside Jerusalem that, besides having sacrifices to idols and so forth at various times done there, was in Jesus' time essentially a perpetually burning city dump. Evidently this was useful imagery.

Other phrases typically considered equivalent are things like "the fiery furnace", and "eternal fire." Interestingly, virtually all these references are used in the context of a parable, where that/those which are bad are thrown there.

"Hades" seems to be clearly distinguished as the place after death, but before the final judgement. Reportedly "hades" is equivalent to the Hebrew "Sheol" which I don't think is actually in the Bible.

Note that this dearth of specific references to "hell" is in stark contrast to "heaven" and "eternal life."

Now "punishment" gets some play- and in more explicit passages, like 2 Thes. 1:5-10:
"...will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel...punished with everlasting destruction and be shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power." That sounds bad to me, but, as some have said, those that have fought against God may think that's actually a good thing.
Matthew 25:31ff is a pretty explicit statement too- this time by Jesus himself. He pretty clearly describes the final judgement by the "King" (not really figurative, as in parables) and the separating of the good from the bad (as "sheep from goats") with the result being "eternal punishment" versus "eternal life". It is interesting to note, by the way, that the basis for judgement here is whether love is shown to people (feeding, clothing, providing water).

All in all, it seems a bit difficult to craft a definitive statement on "Hell" from these scriptures. But several things are clear:
  1. There is clearly a Judgement
  2. There is clearly a literal "Heaven" described
  3. It is clear that not all will be in Heaven
  4. Those who won't be in heaven will be punished (evidently both after death- in "hades" and after the final Judgement)

What the punishment will be is not very clear. It seems to my rather untrained eye that a person could, yes, be punished for an eternity, as is traditionally stated. But it does seem reasonable to postulate that the punishment of "eternal destruction" and being "shut out from the presence of God and ...his power" could be consistent with the "snuffing out of existence" theories many hold. The destruction is eternal, but it is not explicitly stated, at least, that the punished are eternal. Indeed they don't have "eternal life". While the fires of the Valley of Ge Hinnom may be perpetually burning, no one thing thrown there persists very long.

Now, those are just quick thoughts after a couple of hours digging around. I'm not going to abandon all traditional theology over these thoughts, or anything, but it will be interesting to now see what can be learned from actual scholars on this subject. Someday...

Friday, September 15, 2006

Pride and Charity

At long last, I suppose, I've found the joys of Mere Christianity. I've heard so many Christians from so many different backgrounds point to this book as being critical to their faith. I got the audiobook version recently and started into it this week. Yep, it's worthy of its praise.

Lewis, is so right about "the center of Christian morality" being Pride. "...the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil:Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind....The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity-it is enmity."

In the "charity" chapter, this quote caught my attention:

"Don't waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor. Act as if you did....When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

More on the kingdom

After now finishing out The Secret Message of Jesus, I've found much of the theme (what Jesus meant by "The Kingdom of God/Heaven is at hand" all over the place (as the book notes)- like this sermon by Tony Campolo.
Somebody gave me an article a few months ago about this very subject. Digging this article -"Is the Church Interested in the Kingdom"- back up (I kept it because it was intriguing), it turns out to be by a sociologist (Christian Smith) written in 1989. Here is some of it:

Consider the following possibility: many churches in our country today have very little to do with the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not a place or an institution. Nor is it the church per se. The kingdom of God is the experience of God reigning among people in history. The kingdom of God is present whenever God's will and intentions for us as individuals, communities, and societies is received and lived out.

Strange as it may sound, God is not at work in history to establish the church. God is at work to establish the kingdom, God's reign among the people of the earth. What then is the role of the church? The church is merely the human institution whose job it is to facilitate the breaking into history of the kingdom of the kingdom. It is, then a provisional institution of instrumental, not intrinsic value. The church is- or, rather can be- a channel, an instrument of the kingdom. But the church is not itself the kingdom, and its outward existence does not guarantee the presence of the kingdom.

When the kingdom of God is present, life gets changed. The kingdom changes a lot about us; our relationships, values, activities, commitments, goals, and ways of life. Because change is so central to the kingdom, Paul urged the Roman churches to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by renewing of your mind, that you prove what the will of God is" (Romans 12:2). The kingdom, then does- or should- produce a transformed people who, because of God's reign in their lives, live in a way that is distinctively different from the world. Unbelievers ought to be able to point to Christians and say, "Ah ha, that is what the kingdom of God looks like."

THE POSSIBILITY UNDER consideration is that many churches today have very little to do with the kingdom of God since they typically- rather than pursuing the kingdom like a pearl of great price- spend themselves trying to maintain and preserve their own institutions and traditions as if they were of ultimate value, are devoted to an ethic (being nice) which is fundamentally irrelevant to the concerns of God and his kingdom, and reflect a way of life virtually identical to those who have nothing to do with the kingdom of God, thereby falsifying the transformative power of the kingdom.

Ultimately, the question at issue, of course, is not a matter of good and evil, salvation or damnation, but what of our work for the Lord will stand in the end. Paul explains:

Be careful how you build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. You can build upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw. But whatever the material, the work of the builder will be clearly revealed when the day comes. That day will begin with fire and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If anyone's work stands, they will receive a reward. But is anyone's work is burned up, they will suffer loss. Though they will be saved, it will as one who has gone through fire. (I Corinthians 3:10-15).

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rethinking Christianity with Brian McLaren

Among all the audiobooks, audio lectures, podcasts and so forth I've become addicted to for my commutes, I've had the opportunity to listen to 3 of Brian McLaren's books. I heard him speak at a Zoe conference a couple of years ago and, while always a bit wary about just where he might go, for the most part I've found myself really appreciating most everything he's had to say. He has a way of bringing focus to what the real message of Jesus was about (particularly as in his newest book The Secret Message of Jesus). My wife and I both have enjoyed his appealling way of summarizing the Bible (in an engaging narrative form) in "The Story We Find Ourselves In", the second in his "A New Kind of Christian" trilogy.

I'm almost done with The Secret Message of Jesus. A lot of the thoughts in here I've been thinking about for awhile. Mostly things like- many, if not most, Christians have largely missed the point of Jesus' message/teachings, thinking and acting like Christianity was mostly about having the exact right beliefs and following the exact right rules. McLaren spends most of the book exploring what Jesus meant by "the Kingdom of God/Heaven". Most people today seem to read the after-life "heaven" into that phrase. McLaren believes that Jesus, in contrast, used this phrase mostly to speak of the here and now (i.e. "at hand")- God working through people's lives- individually and collectively. Here is a pretty thorough review and summary on Amazon.

I'd really like to get my family and friends to read/hear them. We've passed on "The Story We Find Ourelves In to some non-Christian, but somewhat "seeking" friends. I might even try to do a Sunday school class on The Secret Message of Jesus. Check em out.