Sunday, October 30, 2005

October 31

Tomorrow marks two occasions that live in various states of infamy in the minds of faith communities.

First, it is Halloween. The debate has long raged whether Christians should celebrate this holiday, and if so to what extent. It's one of those 'mixed bag' holidays (along with Christmas and Easter, we could argue), claiming its roots both in pagan ritual and in the Christian celebration of All Saints Day (an alternative name for Halloween being All Hallows Eve). Due to the blood and gore and celebration of grisley death scenes that it has inspired over the years, Halloween has been relegated to the 'non-Christian' pile for some, not to be touched except in 'alternative ways' such as Judgment Houses and Fall Festivals where people can dress up in non-threatening costumes. To each their own. As has been our house's custom the past few years, we'll be inviting some friends over and watching a few horror movies. As I'm not a big fan of the genre, I can indulge for a night. I'm more a fan of the creepy psych-you-out type of horror movies than the 'run away from the guy with the knife' type. The latter are a dime a dozen and they usually suck. The former takes work and creativity.

Second, October 31st marks the anniversary of Martin Luther having the gumption to nail his 95 Theses to the Wittenburg door. Fun fact: people were always nailing stuff to the church door. This wasn't even Luther's first attempt to debate the issues. He nailed another set of 97 Theses on the door before the one that got him in trouble. It's just that the first set didn't question the tactics and practices of the leadership. So tomorrow is Reformation Day. It should be noted that it is NOT Protestantism Day. Luther intended no such thing. If we cast the day in terms of reforming church practices to remain true to God's kingdom rather than 'Luther took it to them damn Catholics,' then we in turn remain true to the spirit of the day. And I can't help myself: this is how a fellow blogger celebrated the day. Pretty creative, I thought.

Tomorrow also marks the anniversary of my dad's ordination. 'You are not your own.'

So enjoy the day, however you celebrate it.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Occasionally...

Occasionally a thought passes through my head. I'd say this thought visits me 2-3 times a month on average, usually after I've written something on here that I'm especially proud of. I think to myself, 'I should point my church to this.'

Some pastors blog with their congregations in mind. Others blog for their churches in particular. I've only ever told one church member that I do this, but have never given an address. It's not for fear that people will read this and conspire to fire me. Honestly, up to this point it's been more of a boundary thing.

The internet has long been a hobby of mine. This place was my first attempt at focusing all my efforts on one site instead of 12 different places. This blog has been for me, a place to share my thoughts. I've thought of it as MINE. A good chunk of my week is for THEM, and this is for ME.

This is all petty selfishness, of course. I've long wanted to keep these worlds separate just because I don't want to share every aspect of my life with others. Why I tend to think that this blog is an unsharable piece is something that I really haven't rationalized. I have a good dozen or so regulars who drop by, mostly just to read. I don't get hot and bothered by their presence.

I really wouldn't get hot and bothered by the congregation's presence either. Entries on here might lead to good discussions. They'd see thoughts that I might not always get a chance to share in person. It'd be another way to connect in meaningful ways.

I dunno. I'll keep thinking. What I really don't want this to become is a church function. I don't want to do it because people want to hear what Pastor Jeff has to say. I don't want it to become regulated, institutionalized, part of my ministerial week. Blogging hours won't be counted as hours spent in ministry, but I don't want it to feel like the opposite. This is a hobby, a way to blow off steam, a way to channel creative energy, not a branch of my pastoral duty. There. That's why I've balked at sharing this address. Chalk that up to selfishness, self-care, something else entirely.

Meanwhile, I'll keep thinking about it.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

I breezed through the end of Harry Potter. The books just keep getting darker and the last one is set to be no different judging by the last line of this one. I also enjoyed RealLivePreacher's book this past week. It's a collection of entries from his blog along with a few unpublished additions. He really is an imaginative writer, and as honest and vulnerable as can be. Some might find that refreshing.

Every once in a while as I flip channels, I end up on VH1's I Love the 80s 3D, the latest installment of their series where talking 'celebrity' heads muse on fads, movies and music from afforementioned decade. At first I thought it would actually be in 3D, but now my hunch is that they're playing off the name of the Jaws sequel. Preeeeetty cleeeeever. Who would've thought that an entire series could be made of all the crap a decade produced? I had nearly (and happily) forgotten about the My Buddy doll and the hairstyle known as the 'rat tail,' and these guys have to drudge all that up again. I love me some Sour Patch Kids, though.

As a result of our recent Arrested Development craze, I've been listening to Final Countdown over and over. Otherwise it's been stuck in my head.

Around the web, Emerging Grace has been added to the blog list. She is best described as a post-church Christian (as others on the list are) who is seeking how best to live out the kingdom.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I Can't Think of a Title

Today was a weird day.

Nothing really weird happened to me. All was as it should have been as far as the office, the tasks at hand, the laziness of the cats as they saw me out the door. No, all that was pretty typical, ordinary, run-of-the-mill. Everything was as it has been for months.

It was me who felt a little weird, a little out of place. Still churning Scott's words over in my mind and fresh off the heels of my first experience with pure horseradish, it was a day of The Pensive Absent-Minded Stare. I fazed in and out of the morning work, taking an extra long while to look out over the cemetery and the stones standing at attention, then moving slightly to the right to gingerly sweep my eyes across the mishmash of books on my shelves. I leaned against one of the chairs reserved for those seeking counsel, sipping my Cafe Peru, questioning whether my book of the week would fit better in the Ministry section or the Christian Education section after I was through with it.

My eyes rested on a certain candle that I've retained over the years. I'd bought it shortly after moving to St. Louis. It was a scented candle, Pine Forest. I'd usually light it late at night with all the lights off and just think about What It All Means, move in and out of prayer, pluck strings on my bass. This morning I picked it off the shelf, stuck my nose in it, and sniffed. For just a split second a memory passed through my mind and was gone just as fast. I couldn't tell you what it was, I just know that it was there.

I was visited by one of the church's little treasures. She's two years old, and had been adopted from China by two loving parents just over a year ago. She handed me a bag of cookies that she'd helped bake (her first time helping, no less) to let Pastor Jeff know how much we appreciate him. I then got to hear her talk about going as Lilo for Halloween and how much she likes Kim Possible. I kept egging her on to say 'Boo yah!' and she was happy to indulge me. After we said our goodbyes I wandered back over to the bookshelf, truly thankful for the visit. But I still couldn't completely shake whatever was causing my reverie.

It followed me to the pet store when I bought cat food. It followed me back over to the church to practice my sermon. It followed me to my committee meeting. It was some sort of inward call to take everything at half speed, to not let the bastards get me down, if any had been trying. If it had a body it might look like Jabba the Hutt. If it had a voice it might sound like the Fonz just saying 'Eeeeeeeeh...' over and over again.

It's not always the most stressful life, the most exciting, the most revolutionary. Some days you just feel like doing nothing else than staring at gravestones and book spines, sipping coffee, sniffing candles, munching on a cookie made with love and just giving the whole world a big 'Yeah, whatever.'

'Yeah, whatever' to those who think my career is misguided, worthless, overrun with corruption or laziness. I've heard it all before. You don't think that those of us who have chosen to stick around are aware of the basic points you raise? I love my people and when I can share a moment of Meaning with any of them I am thankful.

'Yeah, whatever' to those who think little churches aren't successful. If you want to define church 'success' by numbers, you're in the wrong vocation. Go join Wall Street for that kind of crap.

'Yeah, whatever' to the endless liberal/conservative bellyaching/fingerpointing/no accountability punditry that runs rampant across the blogosphere and across the nation. To the former, you're boring. To the latter, you're ruining our country.

'Yeah, whatever' to making the church cool. Want to make the church cool? Write a gospel that doesn't end with Jesus on the cross. Then try to explain why your faith is any different than what you see on Oprah.

This post morphed from Jabba the Fonz to Oscar the Grouch. It's a subtle line of difference. What I felt this morning was a 'Que sera sera' sort of 'yeah, whatever.' I guess this is the next stage. Hopefully the next one is Jeff the Kingdom Seeker, or maybe that permeates every phase.

What is Church For?

I ask that question as I share this post from Scott Williams, a new addition to the blog list on the sidebar. I've been wrestling with some of the issues he brings up. An excerpt:

for years i was frustrated as to why more people in the church did not go to bible studies. why they had a hard time making church commitments. with all the amazing opportunities we gave people why were they not responding in droves?

...

as a pastor i believed that serving on a committe and being a part of a small group was the least a christian should do. i have come to understand that for many of us, it is the most we can do. we are insanely busy. church is insanely inconvenient. i was paid to have meetings, hold small groups and work evenings. most people have to come home from working 50 or 60 hours a week, get groceries, clean the house, do laundry, make supper, do the dishes and drop in bed. i never realized before how difficult it is to dedicate 2 or 3 nights a week and some weekends as a volunteer at a church. right now i work a part time job, am starting the club, am renoing the house and trying to have a social life. the thought of spending a couple of evenings a week in church activities stresses me out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

My Gentile-ism Shines Through

While at Eden, we occasionally had opportunities to participate in rituals important to other faith traditions. It was part of interfaith relations with a heavy dose of romanticism mixed in. I can recall an entire week of chapel services devoted to Eastern religious customs. The amount of incense that was burned that week would have stunned a charging bull.

Tonight, my Bible study participated in a mock Seder meal, and if it had been videotaped could have been passed along as the reason why Christians should just stick to Christianity.

If you are not familiar with the elements involved in a Jewish Seder meal, click here.

~The food elements were stored in containers that had a good chance of touching non-Kosher items in their liftetime.

~Our study is done in a room next to my office. When it was time to welcome Elijah, I stood to find that I had left it locked. Don't worry E, let me just get my keys here...

~'These bitter herbs (horseradish) are to remind us of our bitter time of slavery in Egypt'...[crunch]...Hey, this isn't so bad. I thought it would be OH MY GOD!!!

Those were the lowlights of the evening as we observed it. Granted, it was a version of the meal to highlight what goes on and was not meant as a tried-and-true celebration of the Passover (if it was, there would be so many other things that should be added to this list). Nevertheless, such a night caused me to appreciate two things:

1. My own faith and its traditions and rituals. I know them. I'm familiar with them. I've been participating in them since my mind could create memory. They create meaning for me because of that familiarity and help mark those moments in my life when I feel close to God. As a Christian, these are MY rituals. They are signs and seals of God With Us for a particular people who feel a call to follow Jesus. As one who feels such a call, I can see such signs and seals as meaningful.

2. I could not--in an evening, in a week, even in a few years or even a lifetime as a non-Jew--understand the Seder. I can go through the motions even if I follow everything correctly. But I'll never 'get' it. In order for me to 'get' it, I need to see the candles through Jewish eyes, hear the blessings through Jewish ears, taste those bitter herbs with a Jewish tongue. I need to be in Jewish skin to 'get' the Seder, and I'm not, so I can't. I can't appreciate the hope that is behind 'Next year in Jerusalem!' I am only a voyeur into this faith community and it's BS for me or any other Christian to say they 'know.'

Other presentations of the Seder by Christians can be and are much more polished and formal. All the right words and actions are said and done at the right time. But we're still Christians, outsiders looking into a world that no matter how hard we concentrate can we become a part of. We have no claim on this ritual other than as a guest from another land where we dump water on babies' heads and talk about eating some guy's body, where a cross is said to be redemptive and a man--a Jew, no less--is said to have risen again.

Ever tried to explain any of that to a Jew?

Ever become frustrated when 'they just don't understand?'

That's as close as we as Christians can come to 'getting it:' when we realize that we can't. So why then expect someone else to 'get' our faith?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Prophetic Nature

'Don't worry about the vase.'
'What vase...?' Neo turns and brushes a vase, sending it to the floor with a loud crash as it shatters.
'How did you know...?
'Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?'

There is a discussion of prophecy in the latest Harry Potter book. In particular, a prophecy was made concerning Harry and Voldemort and their enmity. Headmaster Dumbledore states that Voldemort's hearing of the prophecy was what began to make it come true. If Voldemort hadn't heard it, he says, Voldemort wouldn't have gone after Harry's family, wouldn't have transferred power to Harry, wouldn't have locked them together in destiny. If prophecy made is not prophecy heard, it cannot become prophecy fulfilled. This is the argument made in the book.

Fascinating, I thought. First, a definition of prophecy foremost linked to prediction and soothsaying as most popular definitions are, but beyond that a definition that considers that it needs to be heard in order to be carried out. Self-fulfilling, we could say.

I couldn't help myself. I started to apply this definition to those deemed prophets in the Old Testament. First, are they primarily about prediction and soothsaying? The argument could be made and has been made, first considering the immediate fate of the people of Israel and Judah carted off to exile for their unfaithfulness. There are plenty of predictions made about that. And then there are those, beginning with the New Testament writers, who read back predictions about Jesus, oracles made about what he would do and what he has yet to do. As we come closer to Advent, we prepare to hear some of these again.

And yet there are other oracles as well. There are oracles that deal with matters apart from some future happening, oracles concerning the here and now; what God thinks about the here and now. They are oracles concerning the widow and the orphan, the people's unwillingness to turn from idols, the political climate of the day (and let's be honest: the Bible is as political a text as much as it is a theological text). They were oracles to turn from present unrighteousness, sometimes to prevent future calamity and sometimes because God in that moment was disapproving. People needed to be reminded of the past and cajoled about the present just as much if not more than they needed to be warned about the future. The prophet's role was much bigger than predicting the future only.

So where's that leave the second part of the definition used by Dumbledore and also used in The Matrix, quoted above? Did the people react to the prophets' message in such a way to fulfill it? Of that perhaps we are less sure, at least in the way that Neo or Voldemort do in their respective stories. The pieces of the message that are more predictive in nature are fulfilled because the people don't listen. 'You are being unfaithful,' the prophet exclaims. 'Who are you to say what faithfulness is,' the people shoot back. It wasn't because the message was heeded that the kingdoms fell; it was because it was ignored. Present wrongdoings go unfixed and they continue on their own path to destiny in Babylon.

What is it about words of warning that cause us to react the way we do? Terror alert levels change, language of WMDs are used and the course of our lives change. A woman is told by all her friends that a man is absolute scum and that somehow makes her want to date him more. Two paths are laid out before someone, one of which carries more risk and also more reward. Will that path always be chosen? Prophecy in some sense involves our reaction. A prophet does not serve his or her purpose if no one is there to listen.

Ultimately, I find that the purpose of Biblical prophecy and the definition above dovetail. Prophecies in the Old Testament were meant to change history's course, not declare it. Little good it usually did (does), though.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Around the web

Yesterday, I mourned the abandonment or neglect of some of my favorite blogs. Well, there is a sunny side of blog life, and it comes from the bloggers who are still around.

Shane at Wesley Blog loves urban ministry and has some challenging words for the rest of us:

Urban ministry is not about putting band-aids on wounds and calling it a day. It's not about doling out money to deal with symptoms while refusing to deal with the root problems. It's not about having cool stories to go back and tell our congregations. And it's not about doing the bare minimum to appease liberal guilt. It's about becoming part of the solution, and expanding the Body of Christ in unfamiliar, sometimes uncomfortable places. And it's about pushing back the gates of hell and fighting for souls that too many people have given up on.

A new addition to the blog list, Storyteller's World, tells of an unfortunate happening during passing of the peace. What a quirky place the church can be:

Something nasty happened at the Eucharist this morning. A member of the congregation refused to exchange the Peace with me.

This distracted me all through the Eucharistic Prayer. If two members of the congregation refuse to exchange the Peace with each other, I believe they should not receive Communion. But what if one person has offered, and another refused? What am I to do if this person comes to the altar rail? In fact she didn’t do so; perhaps she realised it would be impossible to do so; maybe (here is the infectiousness of paranoia) she had only come to church to create a bit of mayhem in me. In the mean time I felt uneasy enough about receiving the bread and wine myself.

One of my new favorites, Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary, shares an e-mail she recieved from a professor in response to her recently published article on Rumspringa, a practice in the Amish community where children are sent out to experience temptations of 'the English' and then given the choice whether to return. She suggested that everyone at her school engage in a theological Rumspringa. Her professor was encouraging (and witty):

Dear Amish sympathizer,

Declaring a theological Rumspringa is the sort of seditious activity we Ordination Gestapo have come to expect from types like you. Since you're familiar with Rumspringa, you probably know that the majority of the Amish do decide to return to the church of their parents, and do so with greater appreciation for its traditions than they had before. We Ordination Gestapo believe that the seminary will be better off without such nonsense. We prefer that students fake their theological orthodoxy and keep their potentially questionable questions to themselves. Although students' constipated inquisitiveness may explode and hit the fan in their ministry, this institution at least will be free of agitation.

So a word to the wise....From your loving Gestapo.

I'm glad I still have blogs like this to read.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Pop Culture Roundup

Back into action! And what better way to kick things off than a P.o.C. staple...

Noting that I needed a major break from theological reading, I am now about 200 pages through the sixth Harry Potter book. For whatever reason, this has been a faster read than some of the previous ones. That's probably because I was reading them in seminary.

This past week we watched the entire first season of Arrested Development. It's absolutely brilliant. People have been fretting about its low TV ratings and the prospect that it might be cancelled, which I call a travesty. Yes, let's cancel this show so we can instead watch Law and Order: Meter Maids or CSI: Roanoke or perhaps another lazily slapped together sitcom with laughtrack. We need more shows like those. Definitely. Seriously, check out this show if you never have before.

I went with a friend to see The Decemberists this past weekend. They have quickly become one of my favorites. Their sound might be compared to They Might Be Giants (and so might their fanbase if the crowd was typical of who you see at their shows), although their sound is also their own. They're a little Irish (even though they're all from Portland, Oregan), a little folk, a little rock. I recommend the albums 'Picaresque' and 'Castaways and Cutouts.'

Around the web, an increasing amount of the blogs on the sidebar are 1) taking hiatuses, 2) committing to posting less frequently, or 3) moving on completely. And with each one of these decisions, cyberspace misses out a little more. What's more, I feed off of them for the energy needed to sustain this trifle of a site. What were the Transformers without their Energon cubes? What, I ask? Nothing! My Energon supplies are waning! What that means is that I must explore new corners of the blogosphere for theological commentary, preferably with a little taste for upsetting the apple cart to them. High Calvinists and longhand Bible quoters need not apply. Nothing (much) against them, but scrolling through half a chapter of the Westminster Confession or 2 Thessalonians to find an original thought and I quickly become bored. The search begins...

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Downtime

I'm taking a brief sabbatical from the blog...only a week or 10 days or so. I'm gonna turn my attention to my journal and other matters. Back in a while to pick up the conversation again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Stewardship

A colleague quoted one of his seminary professors yesterday morning: 'Every time you pull out your checkbook, you're making a theological statement.'

What we spend money on reveals what our priorities are.

I had never heard it put as well as in that quote.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

'Change for Change' - A Sermon for 10/9/05

Pieced together from my outline and morning delivery...

Exodus 32:1-14

When you go to the Ohio State Fair, there is a lot to do. You can see one of the many concerts put on throughout the day by the State Fair band or choir. You can ride the rides. You can view all the livestock and the arts and crafts on display. You can play one of the carnival games. And there are plenty of elephant ears to go around. One other thing that you can view there as you visit the dairy section..Smith's has a display there...is something truly amazing, astounding in its own right. There enclosed in a glass case (and presumably properly refrigerated) is a cow, life-sized, made completely out of butter.

It IS truly amazing. After all, it is a butter cow. How many of those do you see in your lifetime, even if you visit the fair every single year? You have to admire the work, the creativity that went into such a thing. It's a butter cow! Did someone pour butter into a giant mold? Did someone carve it out of a big block of butter? It is truly a specimen to behold. It's a butter cow.

Now, not many people, if any at all, probably consider the butter cow an idol. No one makes a prayerful pilgrimmage to Columbus every summer to worship at its creamy hooves. No one makes offerings in the name of the hamburger, the milk, and the manure. We're relatively safe in assuming that no one mistakes the butter cow for the Creator of the universe or places the butter cow above human worth. While amazing, it really is just a cow made of butter.

The Israelites have something a little more impressive. It's still a cow, but this one is molded from gold collected throughout the camp. Jewelry has been melted down to create what was truly called the Creator of the universe: the golden calf. 'Here are your gods, O Israel,' they exclaim. Moses has been gone for a long time and they've decided to move on, to create a god they can see and touch, something tangible to worship. They even proclaim that this is the god who brought them out of Egypt.

God, of course, hears about this. God sees what the Israelites have done. God sees their unfaithfulness and to say that God is furious would be an understatement. God's decision is to start over, to wipe them out. 'I'll start over with you, Moses. Of you I will make a great nation.' God repeats the promise made to Abraham from Genesis 12. God is going to start over and this time God is going to get it right.

Moses' response? Moses has the audacity to confront God. Moses has the audacity to say, 'No...you can't do that. Remember your promises. Remember the promises you made to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob. Remember the promises you made to this people, to lead them from Egypt to the Promised Land.' You can't go back on those promises now. You can't break covenant with them. Turn from your anger and change your mind.' God has no verbal response to all this. God simply does so. God changes God's mind.

God...changes...God's mind. God changes?

This flies in the face of our Reformed roots. This flies in the face of our heritage that comes down through John Calvin and Reformed Orthodoxy, an orthodoxy that says that God is unmoveable. God is unchangeable. to say that God changes is unthinkable. But here before us is a text where God DOES change. What are we supposed to do with that? Israel has been unfaithful and God...CHANGES.

There's a song that is now eleven years old. It's by Blues Traveler and is called 'Runaround.' During the course of this song, the singer, John Popper, is addressing an unnamed acquaintance or friend, probably more. He lists all the ways that she's been less than true to the relationship, how she's lied, broken trust, been unfaithful, abused what they had. He lists all of these things and yet at the same time the song is peppered with language that says, 'But if you ever want to come back and make this right...I'll be ready.' One line goes, 'I can still see things hopefully.'

Can either cow, butter or gold, do that? Can your television or your IPod offer words of comfort in a broken relationship? Can your car or your house offer forgiveness after you admit that you've blown it? Can anything on this earth, in that parking lot, in our living rooms, in our bedrooms, offer an embrace? At the end of the day, the butter cow's only use is for toast. At the end of the day, the Israelites are worshipping an expensive, glorified doorstop.

In the meantime, God in God's dynamic creative being remains faithful. God adapts and relates to us in our new situations and in our new failures in the name of faithfulness. God changes in the name of consistency. God changes God's mind so that God's steadfast love does not change. God who is ever offering steadfast love, grace and forgiveness, who is ever ready to take us back, is ever challenging us to transform. God offers new life, calls us to new life in the new ways that we face.

God changes so that we might be changed.

And thank God for that.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Professional...what?

Fall is here with a vengeance. It's rainy, it's dreary, if you look out the living room window you can see the leaves in all their oranges and browns beginning to gather around the foot of the tree. I bet if you walked outside right now you'd smell that leafy rainy fall smell. This was the day I'd been waiting for since the first of September. All I need now is a cup of cider and a hayride or cornmaze or something. But a cup of Ethiopian and Jack Johnson will work.

I came upon a realization the other day about the nature of ministry. The M. Div is considered a professional degree (as opposed to an academic degree, I suppose), and so I've been asking myself what I'm a professional in. Why, ministry of course. Right? I'm a professional minister. That works on a theological level: all are called to be ministers, and some are called to specialization. I get that. That's not good enough, I'm afraid. I want to parse 'professional' and 'minister' as just throwing those terms together only reinforces the dilemma.

Here's where I get to share one of my favorite lines that was actually shared during a morning sermon (though not by me): 'Ministry is like pornography. It's hard to define, but you know it when you see it.' Note to the hornballs who find this site because of that keyword or who feel the need to leave their own site in the comment area: you're pathetic.

What was I talking about? Ah yes...what does it mean to be a 'professional minister,' to hold a professional degree in ministry? The best way that I can figure this out is by working backwards, by considering what I do on a weekly basis and coming up with a definition from that list.

Preaching and leading worship on a weekly basis.

Providing care for members wrestling with matters of life and faith whether in my office, in their homes, in the hospital, nursing home, mental facility, baseball field, public park, parking lot, etc.

Teaching matters related to Biblical, theological, social, and cultural issues.

Ex-officio member of all committees, thus present at all committees with voice but not vote (this varies in local churches and denominations, but I like this model the best).

Providing direction (sometimes when it is asked for and sometimes when it is not) for various church programs.

One could add administration, budget matters, and all those institutional nuisances, but I prefer for our purposes to stick with this list. What I see as common to all of them is that people look to the pastor in these matters for their opinion, even trusting their best judgment, and if nothing else taking comfort that the pastor is there. What other sorts of vocations center around lending a professional opinion?

A consultant. I am, for all intents and purposes, a religious or spiritual consultant. Perhaps we could parse that out into more ceremonial and practical duties, but when people come to me they are mostly asking how God is present or could best be realize to be present in a particular situation, be it Aunt Gertrude's illness, the war in Iraq, our relationship to the wider UCC, the youth group, the Music Committee's purchase of a CCLI license, and so on.

While the business language is antithetical to the purpose of the Church, the description fits. 'What do you think, pastor?' is a question desiring a professional opinion. And of course people can and do consider that opinion worthless. An 'expert' or professional opinion is still an opinion. Like I have a corner on what God is thinking. Really.

Friday, October 07, 2005

October: Fair Trade Month

Did you know that October is Fair Trade Month? Well...it is.

Fair Trade seeks a regulated wage to be paid to coffee farmers, among other benefits and products. A short list:

  • Producers receive a fair price - a living wage. For commodities, farmers receive a stable, minimum price.
  • Forced labor and exploitative child labor are not allowed
  • Buyers and producers trade under direct long-term relationships
  • Producers have access to financial and technical assistance
  • Sustainable production techniques are encouraged
  • Working conditions are healthy and safe
  • Equal employment opportunities are provided for all
  • All aspects of trade and production are open to public accountability

Read more about it here.

Related post: Coffee Talk

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm done with Volf. The discussion group has all but completely dried up with him. It really is a good book. It just takes some time.

On Arrested Development this past week, we were introduced to the family's new lawyer, Bob Loblaw. Read that name out loud several times and you'll understand. This show is gold.

Lately I've been in a Blues Traveler kind of mood.

Around the web, Serotoninrain and Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary are both quite good places to stop and read for a while.

Short but sweet this week.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Missed Opportunity

I stumbled upon this blog a little too late. Dead Youthpastor Walking seemed to have been a good place to talk about the reality of church and ministry including the pitfalls and frustrations, much like Real Live Preacher only with a harder edge. By the time I found it, the author had decided to discontinue posting:

bye kids. tired of church and its abuse of people's lives. tired of God and what he allows his commissioned followers to do in his beloved son's name. tired of bad dreams and newsletter scraps from churches gone by. tired of compliance-based "christians" selling real estate in heaven to which they don't have the deed. tired of finding myself fighting back tears during worship, not
because of what Christ did for me, but because of whatever flashback hits me triggered by a hymn, a verse, or the way someone looks at me. tired of being a failure in the eyes of so many. tired of the quiet dark speculating time during the night when i consider whether it was a mistake to leave youth ministry. tired of preaching to the choir and stroking ego's as a means to an end that i'm not that sure of myself. tired of hailing a new class of "emerging" celebrities. tired of pretending things are ok. tired of apologizing in my sleep to hundreds of former youth across the country for being part of the machine that is truly full of shit.


and tired of the church as it stands.


-- when God wants me back he can damned well ask.
i do believe this is my last post. bye. -- DYP



Obviously, churches were not especially kind to him during his time of ministry. If you read back through some past entries you quickly become aware of that. I advise against too much psychoanalisis, too many 'helpful' suggestions that he's 'just bitter,' 'has up and quit just like that,' 'has sinned by turning his back on God,' that 'those weren't real Christians he was working with,' or that he 'has other issues, but not with the church.' None of that does any good, and most of them are worthy for the sewer and not much else.

Churches are capable of sin (laughably understated), and sometimes they do it in a big way...sometimes against those called to minister to them.

We have a lot to repent for.

Related posts: Special Attention, My Journey (So Far) - Part 1, My Journey (So Far) - Part 3

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Early October Meanderings

~The leaves are still green and the weather's still warm. Ahem...autumn now. Hey! Autumn now!

~Yes, yes, no Indians in the playoffs to speak of. The Yankees are division champs and the Red Sox are the wild card. That never happens. This is a monumental playoff year. Maybe we'll even get to see New York and Boston play each other for the pennant. It's a long shot, but we can hope. Seriously though, last year was amazing and I was glad to watch history in the making and Boston can repeat, good for them. Meantime, I only have one other thing to say: Go Cards.

~In my new 'preaching without notes' weekly schedule, today is outline-making day. That assumes that I've come up with illustrations and a coherent idea of what I'll be talking about, which is only partially true. The text is Exodus 32:1-14, the story of the golden calf. It helps that I wrote an exegesis paper on vs. 7-14 my final year of seminary, along with a sermon, but I'm not really feeling the sermon I wrote then. I might borrow pieces from it, but that'll be it.

As far as reflecting on the text in general, I've always been drawn to how God is presented as changing His mind (Hebrew: 'repent'). This is one of those texts that stands out for Open Theists in terms of God being open to Moses' feedback, even learning something from him. Calvinists, in my experience, don't really know what to do with it without suggesting things that aren't there ('God was making Moses think that he was helping out, but God's plan was to stay in covenant all along'). What I more recently realized is that the heart of this text has more to do with God's faithfulness and remembering covenant. God's changing God's mind, while important to address theologically, is not the ultimate message. God's choosing to remain faithful is.

~I feel more creative when the paraments are purple. That's the cute little phrase I came up with yesterday to describe my love for Advent and Lent. It won't be long now...