Weekly Meanderings, 26 March 2016

Gotta love Ben and Julianna Zobrist, and so do the Cubs! By Catherine Parks:

When your husband and his team win the World Series, you’d think that’d be the most exciting moment of the year for your family. Or at least, the week. But not for Julianna Zobrist—wife of Ben Zobrist, second baseman during the Kansas City Royals’ winning season last year.

Just a few days after the Royals took home the title, musician Julianna had her own big victory, releasing her single “Alive.” And, after enduring the tension of the championship with a full-term pregnant belly, she gave birth to their third child.

The Zobrists’ packed World Series week showcases the twin pressures of career and family for professional athletes—a topic that recently reemerged in the MLB. Last week, Adam LaRoche opted to leave the Chicago White Sox after the club requested he limit the time his son joined him at work. Baseball fans debated if LaRoche’s family-first expectations were reasonable. Though fans have also questioned whether players should miss games for the birth of a child, the MLB became the first pro sports league to set an official paternity leave policy in 2011.

With a seven-year-old son, four-year-old daughter, and five-month-old baby girl, the Zobrists are once again heading into a new season—this time with the Chicago Cubs. Over a decade of friendship with Julianna, I’ve watched her family grow as she and Ben follow their careers in Christian music and baseball. During spring training, we caught up to discuss her experience as an MLB wife. She told me what it’s like to maintain a marriage, manage a family, and grow in faith, all while following around a professional baseball team… and writing and recording her own music.

From moral relativism to tolerance of all but intolerance, by Jonathan Merritt:

Donald Trump’s candidacy offers a compelling case study. The conservatives who support Trump—perhaps half of all Republicans or more—say they like that he “speaks his mind” even if his views are “politically incorrect.” In other words, Trump makes no effort to be inclusive or tolerate those with whom he disagrees. For his supporters, policies of mass deportation and discrimination are acceptable because they push back against the new moral code.

Staring at Trump’s carefully coifed hairdo across the fence are liberals and younger, more moderate conservatives. Having come of age during the shift from moral relativism, they place a higher value on tolerating others’ opinions and avoiding discrimination. Because they are offended by Trump’s violation of social virtue, this group can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and on meme-laden Instagram shaming Trump and all who support him.

From the Cold War to the War on Terror, conservators have protested the “evils” of moral relativism for decades, and now it may be a relic of the past. But although conservatives got what they wanted, they didn’t get what they expected. It’s hard to say for sure whether they’re better off now than they were before. It depends on how you look at it. Or, as some might say, it’s all relative.

Erin Blakemore:

Grafting plants is hard work: It helps reduce stress on plants’ roots and create sturdier crops, but it can really stress out farmers. Humans have to struggle tocut plants just the right way and bind them together. That’s where a new robot comes in: With the help of steel “hands,” it turns plant grafting from tedious art into swift science.

Vegetable expert Richard Hassell and his team recently revealed a new robotic system that grafts more quickly and efficiently than a human ever could. They modified a Korean-manufactured robot to grab two plants, precisely slice the upper shoot of one and the root stock of the other, and clamp the two parts together so they can grow into a single plant.

Think of the robot as a high-tech plant surgeon that makes precise slices and fuses together two organisms into a Franken-plant in a flash. In just an hour, the robot can graft together over 3,000 plants — a feat a human being could never accomplish.

“Generally, grafting is done by hand,” explained Hassell. “It’s a learned skill, so it’s very time-consuming.” Grafting thousands of plants can be grueling, and the sensitivity of young vegetable plants means there’s a high failure rate. Imprecise or too-quick grafters can damage the plant, and the slow-and-steady can never hope to graft to scale.

Ted Gossard:

That said, I don’t believe we do well for America, and far more importantly, well in terms of the gospel and the mission of the church to get caught up in the political firestorm that is now assaulting our nation. People should see a difference in us no matter what happens in that. Our lives in and through Jesus are to be defined in terms of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, not in terms of the United States Constiution, even while we can have a healthy respect for that document, and for a democratic republic, or liberal democracy. People need to see that our lives are not defined by the latter, even while we seek to live with all due respect, in compliance to the laws of the land.

The challenge for us is to stay informed about what is happening, so we can pray. And above all, stay true to the one who has called us to show the better way. The way of righteousness and justice in the love of God’s kingdom come in Jesus. We have to hold on to that, and in comparison, let the rest go. People ought to say when they look at us that we really do believe Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not. That our confidence is not in the United States of America, even while we seek to conduct our lives here for its good, and God’s blessing on it, the same certainly holding true for Christians in other nations, just as Israel was to do the same for their captive nations when they were in exile.

We can help America through this storm only insofar as we stay true to our calling, and refuse to get caught up in the war of words and the division which is threatening this nation. As we go on in the society that in and through Jesus will flourish, with the hope of seeing good coming out of whatever happens. And with the confidence that God is sovereign over the nations, and Jesus is Lord.

Kathleen Toner:

Cleveland, Ohio (CNN)Foodies savor the French cuisine at Edwins, an upscale restaurant that’s earned a reputation as one of Cleveland’s finest eateries.

But this high-end establishment provides far more than a good meal. It’s staffed almost entirely by people who were once incarcerated.

By day, ex-offenders learn the fundamentals of the culinary arts industry. By night, they put their skills to work.

It’s the vision of Brandon Chrostowski, a chef and veteran of elite restaurants in Chicago, New York and Paris. He realized that the stigma of a prison record made it challenging for ex-offenders to find work, so he decided to do something about it.

“After someone’s done their time, everyone deserves that fair and equal second chance,” said Chrostowski, 36. “At Edwins, you can come to us after you’ve served that time and start over.”

If you are a writer or aspire to writing, these are the best “tricks.”

What percentage? 

American portion sizes, our couch-potato ways and our waistlines are the punchlines of jokes around the world. But how bad are we really? Out here on the East Coast, in an urban area full of lots of highly educated people sporting all manner of Apple Watches, Fitbits and the like on their wrists, you might come to the conclusion that the stereotypes are an exaggeration. You’d be wrong.

A study conducted by Oregon State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga has awarded nearly every adult in the country a failing grade. The researchers used four barometers to measure whether someone’s behavior could be considered healthy. They include an appropriate balanced diet, being active, meeting the recommended criteria for body fat percentage and not smoking.

Using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, they found that 97.3 percent of the 4,745 people they looked at did not meet the criteria.

Writing in Mayo Clinical Proceedings, the researchers described the standards as very reasonable. That is, they weren’t looking for people to be marathon runners but just have a moderate amount of 150 minutes of activity a week.

Ten Sermon ideas for Easter by David Roseberry:

I have looked back over 30 years of preaching Easter sermons and have pulled my best thoughts and approaches.  Some I am proud of and might even argue are great ideas.  Others are meh…  You have decide what’s what.  But I offer these with the hope that they might help all of us communicate the amazing, bed-rock truth of the Resurrection to an unbelieving and needy world.

  1. “Go tell the disciples and Peter…” (Mark) The angels were clear to instruct the disciples to include Peter in the meet-up in Galilee; meaning his denial of Jesus was not going to be the final verdict on his life.  This is an indication that there is forgiveness and restoration; all who sin can find forgiveness through the Risen Christ.
  2. The women left the tomb and they were afraid. The Resurrection is such a massive event that if you are not afraid, you don’t understand it. Perhaps it has been domesticated in the life of the modern church; placed on the shelf of a religious ideas. But the Resurrection should ignite a healthy sense of fear and trembling in every follower of Jesus Christ. It means that the world as we knew it…is being replaced by a world as God wants it.
  3. In the Resurrection accounts, the women come to the tomb with spices; out of duty and devotion they are there to anoint a dead body for a proper burial. But the Resurrection effectively ends all proper religiosity. The ancient rituals to make dead bodies last are over. He rose from the dead; ancient spices are no longer required. As John Stott put it: We live and die; Christ died and lived!
  4. The miracle of the Resurrection is about something NOT being there: the body. The tomb is empty. The grave is not final.  This is a reversal of the common foe that every person in every culture has to face: Death. Now, death is not the end for those who believe. The Resurrection of Christ shows us that death has been defeated. Most people want to cheat death. But Christ didn’t cheat death; he defeated it.
  5. The Resurrection will stand as proof that everything that Jesus said about himself was true.  What he said he would do, he did.What he promised it meant, it means. The Resurrection is the validity of the Gospel message.
  6. What if we were all inexorably behind on our accumulated massive debt.  We had no hope of digging out of the hole we had made for ourselves. Every day would be a pointless exercise in trying to pay off what could never be paid off. Then one day a prince came and gave everything he had…even his own life… for everything we owed.  We owed a debt we could not pay; he paid a debt he did not owe.  And then, as a sign of a whole new order of a debt-free world, he was raised from the dead. Then he could live with us…and we would live with him.  We’d be free.
  7. The single most important prophesy that Jesus gave in his ministry concerning himself was this: that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” (Luke 24:7)  This has been fulfilled in the Resurrection. And we can now look back and see that ALL the prophecies of the coming of the Messiah, the work of the Savior, and the promise of redemption…all of these prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…and those not fulfill WILL be one day!
  8. One interesting observation about the Resurrection is that everyone is running to the tomb or running to tell others about it. No one runs in the New Testament except at the end in every account (in Mark, the women flee the tomb; i.e. run!). At the promise of the Resurrection and the news of the Resurrection everyone starts running.  The disciples are running all over the place; they are out-running each other (John) to get their first or be the first to tell others. Question: do you run anymore about anything regarding your faith or are have you slowed way down?
  9. The Gospel of Matthew has four key words that should animate and mobilize every listener in the room and every hearer of the Good News. Here is the four-point plan to change the world spoken by the angel:  “Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead…”  That’s it. What a mission plan!  Come. See. Go. Tell.
  10. There are about a dozen different episodes or appearances of the Resurrection; 13 if you count Acts 1. (There are over 500 witnesses, I know…but only about a dozen specific stories of His appearance.)  But in every single one of them the effect is the same.  Every person who encountered the Risen Christ or the angels who told them of it was ‘set right and sent out’.  They were set right in their faith, their doubts, their worries, their fears, their depression…and they were sent out to proclaim and to live in it.

I’ll be preaching my last Easter Sermon at Christ Church this Sunday. I hope some of these will help you.

Your delivery is here: Michael Laris:

A brood of sidewalk drones could be rolling around the nation’s capital within a year, if a D.C. Council member has her way.

Executives from Starship Technologies, with roots in Estonia and London, say their goal is to unleash a platoon of “smart, friendly robots” that will ply sidewalks along with pedestrians to make local deliveries of groceries or small packages “almost free.” The company is led by Skype co-founders Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, and launched the effort in November.

Councilwoman Mary Cheh and company officials sought to make a splash by promising one of the squat vehicles on Wednesday would deliver legislation to the council authorizing self-driving delivery robots. The little white device, which looks like an ice chest rolling on six wagon wheels, did indeed scoot its way into Council Secretary Nyasha Smith’s office with the three-page bill in its compartment and reporters on its tail.

But it was guided there by a young Starship employee gripping a video game controller behind his back and trying to blend into the hubbub.

“Robotic delivery!” Cheh announced.

There were no chirpy little R2-D2 sounds, just the quiet churn of bureaucracy starting to roll as Smith stamped in the legislation. “I want it to speak with me. I want it to have a relationship with me!”  Cheh said.

As does Allan Martinson, Starship’s chief operating officer, who saw some 6,000 firms as a venture capitalist before deciding to join the robotic delivery startup. This is no phantom product that will have fizzled in a year, he said.

“It’s a real, tangible, solid thing,” Martinson said. “You can engineer yourself out of any situation. That’s the philosophy of this company.”

Tipping dilemma? Christopher Elliott:

Gratuities, once limited to restaurant servers, bellhops and concierges, are being solicited more than ever, and travelers are prime targets. It’s happening at a time when tipping is reportedly being phased out, leading to confusion and the inevitable question: When should I leave a little extra money on the table?

Consider the experience of Robert Rose, a television producer from New York, who was visiting South Beach in Miami recently. He needed to fix a cuff on a pair of pants and found a nearby dry cleaner. That’s when he noticed a tip jar next to the cash register.

“I declined their services,” he says.

Hands are out in all kinds of places, including fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, food trucks, ski rental stores and even public restrooms. Usually, the gratuities are optional, though they can be strongly encouraged with signs or payment systems that pressure you into adding a little extra. But not always. Some cruise lines automatically add gratuities to your final bill “for your convenience,” and they can be difficult to remove.

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