Sunday, April 30, 2006

Friday to Friday (State of the Blog?)

I live my bloglife Friday to Friday, because Fridays are when you can count on the Pop Culture Roundup. Since I do that, I tend to check the quality and quantity of entries in between. I usually manage to post at least twice between Fridays. Four times is probably average. Six or more is a sign that I had a lot of free time.

Last week I offered two entries, only one of which really required any thought on my part. The week before that I offered four, again only one of which really took any brain power.

Every blog is different. Bloggers like RLP and iMonk are true essayists. They're the types that write drafts and stay up late finishing something that they want to get just right. Other bloggers post short reflection, quote, link, reflection, link, joke, quote, Bible verse, maybe all of those within a day or two. I suppose that I'd like to be more like the former, but not to the point that I'm writing book chapters. The subtitle is 'A UCC Pastor Muses,' not 'A UCC Pastor Indexes and Cross-References.'

There's some good stuff on the way, one of which I'm going to try submitting to a few magazines. I've been feeling more confident and compelled to write for submission purposes. One past entry is in process at the moment, actually, but it might not be considered timely now. Once I hear back I'll tell you which one it is. I take pride in it regardless because it's the first time I've ever attempted publication (aside from the upcoming GalPals book), and it was well received by the first editor on staff who read it.

I put a question mark in the entry's title because this isn't a true State of the Blog deal. I'm just saying that I've noticed the past few weeks mostly have been quotes and links and quiz results, and I want to be more intentional about offering something from my own fingers. The inspiration and drive just haven't been there lately. Maybe no one else noticed. I did.

It'll get better. I hope.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Wow...

I've been chewing on this for the past hour or so after reading it. It's truly remarkable. Apparently there's a cure for information overload. You'll have to see it for yourself.

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Stiff the other day, which was fascinating from beginning to end. In one of the later chapters she discusses experiments to re-animate human heads. This was borne from someone's curiosity during the French Revolution about whether a criminal's head was still alive after being lopped off by the guillotine, and for how long. Over the years, this morphed into attempts at head transplants. Many monkeys and dogs were lost during these experiments. Apparently switching the heads of a pair of monkeys was successful, except the geniuses didn't re-attach the esophagus so they starved to death. One thing that I have learned from this book is that I am very, VERY thankful for the state of medicine that is around today versus some of the wacked-out techniques and theories that have been around over the years.

I watched Kung Fu Hustle this past week. It's a subtitled Japanese import movie that did reasonably well at the box office a few years back. I haven't seen many Japanese imports, but this one and the last one I saw, Shaolin Soccer, have a few things in common. First, I didn't realize until I looked both of these up on Amazon that they both involve Stephen Chow, which might actually explain everything else that I'm going to write about them. Second, in both movies there seem to be one or two plot points that don't really get explained. The movie just seems to hope that the audience goes with it. In Hustle, this old married couple that you assume for the first half of the movie is just there for a few comedy bits turn out to be fighting masters and take on a much more serious role in the second half. The movie seems to say, 'Just trust us.'

I picked up K.T. Tunstall's Eye to the Telescope this week, and every time I listen to it I enjoy it even more. Somewhat expectedly, this is not her debut album (although VH1 will let on that it is). I might have to sample some of her other stuff.

Around the web, RealLivePreacher writes about his online community getting together. And tell your UCC friends about the blog network.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What's Your Theological Worldview?

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern. You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.

Emergent/Postmodern

71%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

61%

Neo orthodox

57%

Classical Liberal

57%

Modern Liberal

50%

Charismatic/Pentecostal

46%

Roman Catholic

43%

Reformed Evangelical

32%

Fundamentalist

7%

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

Hat tip to Dwight.

Nowadays I'm not surprised by my top answer, although 'alienated' might be too strong a word when it comes to older worship styles. They have their place, but many do have a hard time connecting with them. Sometimes I do, and I lead one every week.

I don't know nearly enough about the Wesleyan tradition, but I do know just enough to realize that I'm not offended or shocked by my second answer. On the other hand, I haven't considered myself neo-orthodox in quite a while, so that part is somewhat telling to me.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Blogging Ecclesiastes

Ecclesiastes really is a fascinating book. I finished my lectio divina study of it this morning, and have come away with a few impressions that I wanted to share...

The worldview in Ecclesiastes is clearly different from what we find later in the New Testament in a few different ways. Throughout the book, the Teacher's refrain comes through: 'All is vanity and a chasing after wind.' His application of the refrain produces some results that may puzzle or even offend those who strive to be faithful disciples of Jesus.

In my vain life I have seen everything; there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing. Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise; why should you destroy yourself? - Ecclesiastes 7:15-16

The Teacher has observed what happens to righteous people. They get treated like they're wicked. They're frowned upon. Others don't like them. They get taken advantage of. His solution: don't be too righteous. Preserve yourself. Meanwhile, Jesus says, 'Those who save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake will find it.' Jesus had a different take on righteousness: be righteous. You'll actually save your life by doing it.

A sidebar: Yes, this is 'the Bible Jesus read,' to borrow a phrase. But while we see Jesus operate within his tradition in many ways, we also see him operate outside it. Consider his statements about the sabbath. There may even be other instances in the Hebrew Bible where prophets and others disagree with what the Teacher of Ecclesiastes has to say. Consider the strong critiques of those too comfortable to consider the righteousness that God sets forth for them.

The other piece of the Teacher's worldview that is clearly different from what we get in the New Testament and 'orthodox' Christianity is his concept of the afterlife. He mentions heaven four times. In all of them, he presents heaven as a place apart from earth and apart from human beings. This is where God lives, a place 'above' human beings. In the meantime, we all end up in Sheol:

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. - Ecclesiastes 9:9-10

Sheol is the Israelite concept of the place of the dead, perhaps not unlike Hades in Greek mythology. Everyone goes there. Good works, loving God, acceptingJesusChristasyourpersonalLordandSavior...none of these things 'get' you into heaven or 'get' you out of hell (the latter of which is foreign to the Old Testament). There is Sheol, to which everyone goes.

So one aspect of Ecclesiastes that has been fascinating is that the Teacher's worldview clashes so much with 'traditional' concepts of Christian belief. It illustrates so clearly and beautifully the diversity of thought in the Christian Bible, and presents a strong case against claims of inerrancy.

Don't get me wrong. That's not primarily why I would read it. This was just one observation made while moving through this lesser-known work. The Teacher shares his thoughts on accepting and enjoying one's lot in life and making the most of one's time on earth. He cautions against being too consumed with gathering wealth or wisdom, stating that since we all die, we shouldn't obsess over such things. One of my favorite quotes comes toward the very end:

Of anything beyond these, my child, beware. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. - Ecclesiastes 12:12-13

He cautions against having your nose crammed in books all the time. You're not accomplishing anything besides making yourself tired. Go eat and drink. Go get some sun. Go serve God. What I like the best is that for the Teacher, studying and serving God are not necessarily the same thing. Maybe there are moments when they intersect (how to know God's commandments without studying them?), but there's more to it.

But then again, 'don't be too righteous.' Yeah, whatever.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

Yesterday I started a new book entitled Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach. Roach details some uses of cadavers donated to science. I've only read the first two chapters so far, which detail human heads being used by plastic surgeons for practice and a brief history of cadavers being used for anatomical study. The latter includes a history of grave-robbing for such purposes, which for quite a while was not declared illegal. One thesis that pervades her book is that we can still be of so much use after we die. For someone who is all in all quite squeamish about such things (yet does agree that we can be funny about dead people), I find this book absolutely fascinating so far. Her use of humor is wonderful. There's a chapter coming up on cadavers being used as crash dummies. I'll let you know how that goes.

We've started
Buffy Season 7, which finds the gang dealing with a new high school built on top of where the old one was (which also means it was built on the hellmouth). The big bad guy this season doesn't have a body per se, but can take the form of others. In the very first episode it made a speech while switching between forms of every big bad guy from previous seasons, which I actually found cool. In subsequent episodes, it has appeared as a dead girl from a previous episode, Buffy's mom, and Buffy herself. So basically, every major character from previous seasons seems to be set to make an appearance in the last season. Or at least it's possible through this shape-shifting eeeeevil thing. So far it's better than last season, but they still probably could have lopped it off after season five.

I've been listening to the
Disco Biscuits. They're all right. Not my favorite.

Around the web, I haven't seen this
Honda commercial in a while, but I got an e-mail about it the other day. It's still really cool.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Blogged Church Happenings

There are quite a few blogs that I frequent dealing with church issues this week.

Internet Monk is parting ways with the church at which he's been supplying for seven years:


So I did say I left each Sunday feeling something was wrong, didn’t I? And that’s true. I left each Sunday discouraged with the dwindling numbers and the continued decline of my church. I preach my heart out every week. I wear my heart on my sleeve much more than my people know. I would drive home every week saying to myself, “This has become a situation that is all about you. All about supporting Michael Spencer and family so they will stay. I’m not helping the church. They are helping me. They are dying while I am treated well. That’s not right. That’s not ministry.”

Caroline was banned from presenting a seminar at a church because they found out she was affiliated with the emerging church. Seriously.

Greg posts a pastor friend's post-Easter rant:


In my job I often feel like a used car salesman who wants to sell hybrids, but it ain't what people are buying, and the lot down the street is selling Hummer's real cheap (this is barely a metaphor). The "fun bait-and-switch community building events" that I plan these days don't compete with the big church in town and the straight-ahead gospel events I plan (shelter meals, third world fund-raisers, etc.) haven't sparked much interest either. I want to send a letter to my church families and say something akin to:

"Thought it would be important to tell you that by choosing to not participate in the kingdom of God on earth you are placing yourselves in danger of suffering the fires of hell. Cordially, your minister."

Now, the problem I have with the above is that it treads close to saying that not participating in church activities is equivalent to not participating in the kingdom of God on earth. But I'm willing to give this pastor the benefit of the doubt and say that he's referring to the 'straight-ahead gospel events.' But I really can't tell in a definitive way. Read the whole thing and decide for yourself. On the whole, though, I think that many pastors share his frustration.

And finally, Scott visited a megachurch on Easter, and gives his critique on the service:

there was a testimony by a yuppie chick about how she and her husband were told by god not to vacation on a certain island which just happened to be wiped out by the tsunami. in her position i might have believed the same thing but a part of me could not help but wonder why god hadn't told anyone else who was killed there that day. what made this woman so special? god works in mysterious ways i guess.

What a wacky place the church can be.

Ecclesiastes, Easter, and a Prayer Request

It's been a quiet week around the blog. I've been reading plenty interesting material on others, but have had little inclination to write here. Call it the post-Easter lull.

Lectio divina was an excellent discipline for Lent. I read through Luke and Mark, noting some fascinating corners of them both that I've paid little attention to in previous readings. I'm continuing this discipline, and have decided to focus on Ecclesiastes. Here's a shorter book tucked away in the wisdom writings that I think has a great deal to teach us. It is written by 'the Teacher' (or 'Preacher'), who by tradition is thought to be Solomon. The notable refrain in this book is that 'all is vanity and a chasing after wind,' speaking of toil, generations passing away and not being remembered, seeking wisdom and riches, and so on.

The temptation with Ecclesiastes is to glean a moral from the book summed up as such: 'See...this is what happens when you seek pleasure in earthly riches.' This is, I think, too simplistic. The Teacher is making observations on how temporary we are in the whole of existence, yet also reflecting on how life is a gift from God. We just can't let ourselves get hung up so much on the particularities, such as sucking up knowledge, leaving a legacy, and in general thinking that we're more important than we really are. There's a certain humility that undergirds the book's cynicism that I am appreciating more and more.

Easter went well, save for one thing. Back at the beginning of Lent, we sang a slow repetition of 'Alleluia.' You would know it if you heard it, probably. It's a meditative chorus...has a couple verses...well, anyway, as we sang, baskets were passed down the pews and everyone had a slip of paper that said 'Alleluia' on it. As each person dropped his/her slip in the basket they stopped singing. It was to symbolize how we don't sing Alleluia during Lent. Well, we passed them back out on Easter. What was supposed to be a joyful chorus ended as a sleepy drone. Basically we needed more baskets to pass them out more quickly. No complaints about the rest of the service, though.

And if anyone could remember my father-in-law in their prayers, that would be appreciated. He's looking at a liver transplant sometime over the next several months. His liver developed a few clots, which has in turn produced some spleen issues, which has in turn produced some blood issues and ammonia backup issues.

So right now that's my life in a nutshell. Not really. But I figured I should write something.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter Sunday

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. - Mark 16:1-8

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Top 10 Reasons Men Should Not Be Ordained

Hat tip to New Life Emerging:

10. A man's place is in the army.

9. For men who have children, their duties might distract them from the responsibilities of being a parent.

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be "unnatural" for them to do other forms of work.

7. Man was created before woman. It is therefore obvious that man was a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.

5. Some men are handsome; they will distract women worshipers.

4. To be ordained pastor is to nurture the congregation. But this is not a traditional male role. Rather, throughout history, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more frequently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.

3. Men are overly prone to violence. No really manly man wants to settle disputes by any means other than by fighting about it. Thus, they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.

2. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep paths, repair the church roof, and maybe even lead the singing on Father's Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church.

1. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus, his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinated position that all men should take.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

This week the Roundup comes a little early, in lieu of Good Friday.

I've started another book by Thomas Merton called Disputed Questions. This is a series of his essays on spirituality and culture. Some of the chapters aren't as engaging unless you're overly familiar with what he's speaking of. I skimmed his chapter on the Pasternak Affair because it includes an analysis of Dr. Zhivago, which I've never read. However, his chapter on love is one of the best commentaries on divine and human love that I've read, and this comes at a perfect time when the lectionary is about to feature a great deal from 1 John.

We're down to our last episode of Angel Season 4. It's a really fluid season, where the group has to deal with one problem after another. I really like the series for that, because it isn't chopped up into one bad guy for season 1, another for season 2, and so on. It's all one continuous story. And the enemy that they end up facing at the end is a really good bad guy. She really got me to hate her with the way she brainwashes the whole city. Now there's one episode left, and they're about to be offered Wolfram and Hart. Honestly, it's kind of good that the series ends after this next season. After you conquer the enemy that has been ever-present since the beginning, what else is there? That's not to say that I like how the series ends, though.

This week I've been enjoying O.A.R.'s The Wanderer, DMB's Everyday, and Queens of the Stone Age's Lullabies to Paralyze.

As a definite non-fan of the band Nickelback, I was greatly amused to discover this site. It plays two of their songs simultaneously to show how similar they are.

And have you told your UCC blogger friends about the blogring yet?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Hey UCC Bloggers

I know there are quite a few UCC bloggers who stop by regularly or irregularly. Don't you think it's time for a webring or a blogroll of our own? United Methodists have one, Disciples have one, United Church of Canada has one (which I almost mistook for an existing United Church of Christ ring).

I'd love to get a chance to connect with more UCC blogger types outside of where I've already been. I'm sure that others would as well.

Edit: I went ahead and started a ring. The hub blog for it is here. Join up and tell your UCC friends.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Forgiveness and Calling

Here's an interesting article from the current issue of Christian Century:

A debate on absolution was stirred in England recently after an Anglican priest stepped down from her parish duties because she could not forgive those who carried out the July bombings on London's transport system. The attacks resulted in the death of more than 50 people, including her daughter.

"Can I forgive them for what they did? No, I cannot. And I don't wish to," said Julie Nicholson, vicar of St. Aidan with St. George Church in Bristol, in an interview carried on BBC television March 7. Her 24-year-old daughter, Jenny, was among the victims.

"I believe that there are some things in life which are unforgivable by the human spirit," said Nicholson. "We are all faced with choice, and those four human beings on that day chose to do what they did."

The vicar said she felt "unable to stand behind the altar and celebrate the communion and lead people in words of peace and reconciliation and forgiveness." She remains an ordained priest and has taken a job with a community youth project connected with the arts, a subject close to her daughter's heart.

In the midst of arguing over ordaining homosexuals--particularly the argument that states that 'unrepentant sinners shouldn't be ordained'--along with the more general question of whether former convicted felons can enter ministry and so forth, I thought that this article speaks to such issues in a way that we don't see too often. Because she currently feels that she cannot forgive her daughter's murderers, she doesn't feel qualified to serve in pastoral ministry.

One tendency is to wave off such a reason. We may feel more inclined nowadays to send her to therapy, tell her to work out her 'issues' there, advise her to 'get over it' or 'work through the pain.' Obviously, Nicholson sees this as a spiritual issue, as did Jesus. 'You have heard it said, 'Do not murder,' but I say to you, do not hate a brother or sister in your heart.' She felt such a strong conviction about this (to the point that she states she doesn't want to forgive the bombers) that she has stepped down.

The question arises, then, who could possibly serve in ministry? Who could possibly enter the kingdom of God? That's the question that comes with the entire Sermon on the Mount. Regarding Jesus' statement on material possessions, the disciples ask, 'Who, then, can be saved?' Jesus' reply is, 'What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.'

Pray for the possibility of forgiveness on Nicholson's part.

Pray for the possibility of hearts drawn to God in faithful service.

Pray in thanksgiving for a kingdom that transforms us as we seek to be transformed.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Pre-Holy Week Brain Droppings

~Do 'C and E' people know that they're referred to as 'C and E' people? And if so, what do they think about that?

~Why do critics of the Emerging Church act like no one's ever grown a goatee before?

~If your best argument against Fair Trade is that it 'sounds like communism,' you ain't got much.


~If I have to choose between a shallow yet upbeat praise song and a theologically magnificent yet tedious plodding hymn...I just won't go to church that day. Oh crap, I'm the pastor...

~Write a 1-page reflection on why and how Numbers 25 is divinely inspired and fully applicable to our modern situation.

~If your best argument against evolution is that there's no moral connotation to it, you ain't got much.

~Whether they admit it or not, even 'liberal' Christians believe in some form of Intelligent Design.

~Maundy Thursday is underrated...especially if you just skip from Palm Sunday to Easter.

~If your best argument against instruments in church is 'It's not in the Bible,' you ain't got much.

~Easter is the church's Super Bowl. You get a bunch of people together who wouldn't normally watch, and those supporting the event put in a little extra effort to produce their best commercial of the year.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've finished To Kill a Mockingbird, and there are some really good themes there. There's a conversation about what a 'real Christian' is in relation to racism, with which I agreed. One character makes everyone think that he's perpetually drunk so he can be left alone to live how he wants to live (which includes regular fraternizing with black people). I found that something worthwhile to chew on...realizing that his behavior wouldn't be accepted by society any other way. It's an excellent read.

I'll be looking over Shakespeare's
The Winter's Tale today and tomorrow before I go see my brother's college production of it. I read it in college, but don't remember much about it. Or maybe it was Twelfth Night. And why do I always get those two mixed up?

We're still watching
Angel Season 4. This season marks the token appearance of Angelus, the non-soul version of Angel. It had to happen sooner or later. They already did the outright Moment of Pleasure when he was with Buffy, so they had to be a little more creative this time. A big lava rock beast shows up and as it turns out Angelus has information about it, so they need to remove Angel's soul so he can tell them. But of course it's not that easy. And Faith's back, so all is right with the world as far as I'm concerned. They do some interesting twists with Cordelia's character who, as I remember, isn't back for much of Season 5.

I've been mellowing to Zero 7 this week.

Around the web,
Internet Monk reflects on the discovery of the Gospel of Judas.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Linkage

Greg has a preliminary review of Brian McLaren's new book, The Secret Message of Jesus. He and I agree that McLaren should have chosen a different title, because it really isn't that much of a secret.

McLaren's argument is that Jesus really means what he says. Really. Again, [John Howard] Yoder makes this argument at length in [Politics of Jesus] and Royal Priesthood, but McLaren presents the argument as if it is "the secret message of Jesus." The reality, of course, is that the Anabaptists have always believed that (it's never been a big secret to them), thus McLaren's dependence upon Yoder...The Radical Reformers, eventually Anabaptists because of their insistence on believer baptism, understood the words of Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, as the controlling grammar and vocabulary of the kingdom. The kingdom wasn't tied to a secular state; it was a state unto itself. The Anabaptists understood Jesus to be talking about a present reality, not a future state of bliss in heaven, nor a future millenial reign on earth, nor a standard that drove us to grace. Rather, they saw the grammar of the Sermon on the Mount as the grammar of the kingdom. This is who Jesus is, so this is who we are to be. This is what Jesus says, so this is what we are to do. Simple, right?

Steve McCoy offers a lengthy quote to talk about spiritual formation. A taste:

Jesus facilitated spiritual formation in his disciples by introducing them to life situation and then helping them debrief their experiences. He taught them to pray. He did not lead them in a study course on prayer. He took them on mission trips (Samaria, for example); he didn't read books to them on the subject of missions. He sent them on learning junkets and exposed them to situations. He asked their opinion on what they were hearing and observing ("Who do you say that I am?"). He asked for radical obedience from them. He asked them to take up a cross and follow him. He did not send them to school and wait for them to graduate before giving them a significant assignment. He sent them out before they were ready to go and then helped them to learn from their experiences. He talked about the kingdom of God, but mostly he lived the kingdom of God, practicing a life in front of his followers that modeled very different core values than those given to them by the Pharisees in the synagogues.


The iMonk reflects on culture warriors freaking out about tongue piercing.

Meg posted a much lighter April Fool's prank than mine the other day. Her being set to marry 'Chaz Finney' tipped me off. Still a funny little bit of satire.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Having a Disgruntled Moment

Before you read anything beyond this sentence, read this entry.

Done? No really, did you read it? Don't read any further unless you did. I'm serious. Did you? Okay, then. Go ahead.

And settle in for a few minutes, because this turned out to be really long.

So the National Council of Churches has published its new Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. Various other blogs have picked up on it, including Chuck and Shane. As has been expected, they each have very different foci and takes on the information. Not only does the Yearbook report membership for all denominations and faith groups, but this particular book focuses on the influence of blogs and the emerging church and other ecclesio-trends. The one figure I was particularly interested in was, of course, the following:

-United Church of Christ, 1,265,786, reporting a decrease of 2.38 percent.

Guess how that drop happened. If you've thought about it for more than a half second, you either haven't been reading up on recent UCC events or...I can't think of a good smartass comment. Something about living in a cave or a bubble or having the attention span of a 2-year-old. Whatever works. Come up with your own if you have the time.

At last count, 103 churches have left the UCC since the Equal Marriage Rights for All resolution that was passed at General Synod. I got this information from the Faithful and Welcoming website (you read that other entry, right?), a group that makes it a point to know things like that.

A comment found elsewhere after this figure was reported was the following: 'Maybe it was their ejector seats.' This was from a non-UCC member. Remember that whole thing about defining church by who you are rather than who you aren't? That's not just for UCC people. But besides that, what could I as a UCC pastor say to that? There really isn't much beyond a rant about kicking people when they're down. Really, we've known since July that we'd lose members and churches, we just didn't know the degree to which it would occur. Now we have some idea.

103 churches. 2.38 percent.

The positive version looks like this: 5800+ churches still UCC, 1,265,786 members.

And boy howdy we shouldn't worry because we've got our new exciting commercial. I had two parishioners approach me the other day about it. They'd seen it twice, and still weren't sure about its point. They said it went by too fast for them to get what was going on. 'I just saw people getting ejected into the air...and then suddenly the UCC is mentioned.' There's a lot to unpack there, but let's stick with the overall impact that it made. They had to see it a few times to 'get' it. I wonder how typical this will be as this ad starts showing. And how much can we really expect from it? Is this going to bring back that 2.38 percent? Maybe we can report a growth next year thanks to the brilliant minds who concocted such a whimsical concept that, as it turns out, flies by too quickly for Jane and Joe TVwatcher?

Perhaps they can go to the Find a Church feature on the UCC website. Go ahead and click on the link after you get past the Big Giant Comma and find that listing of Still Speaking links. Know where it takes you? The listing of Still Speaking churches, not the general listing of UCC churches. You won't find my church on there unless you know your way to the general Find a Church listing. Sorry. If you were trying to locate me, you can't. Not the way they've got it set up.

This entry is not meant to be an open letter to UCC National, but I'm a little confident that with my recent involvement with the Leak That Wasn't A Leak and my link to UCCTruths, someone from National now stops by on occasion. So here are some thoughts that you can take or leave. I'd rather you'd take, seeing as how to a certain extent I have to clean up your mess at the local level on occasion...when my people care enough to pay attention (they actually prefer to ignore you, which is certainly within our polity but it makes for some rough Association relationships sometimes).

~God is Still Speaking is not all there is. The slogan was repeated ad nauseum during Synod, commas all over the place, the Big Giant Comma on the website now...I'm glad that there's still excitement in this campaign, but how about giving the rest of your churches a fair shot? And we reaffirmed the cross, crown, and orb as our symbol. The last thing that denominational critics need is more fuel to what was originally an overreactionary issue. Now the main site has been seemingly hijacked by the comma and GISS. It used to be that these things were part of who we are, now it's being made to look like it's the main thing.

~I agree that those disenfranchised with institutional church could use a reason to come back and give it another try, but the new commercial is basically a retread of the bouncer commercial and an indication that perhaps GISS needs more depth and a wider target audience.

~We're gonna lose more members. Sorry. But the Equal Marriage thing made a lot of people mad, and that's just going to happen. I and many others voted for it knowing this. A commercial isn't going to save us. A(nother) website where people can post how they've been burned by organized religion isn't going to save us. A 'return to orthodoxy' or whatever isn't going to save us. Flashier ads and big screens and praise bands and lattes in the narthex will bring in more consumers but won't make better Christians; none of that will save us. Local churches interacting with communities, rather than this 'ya'll come' approach, will be how the UCC will thrive.

Maybe National can do some things to help with that sort of campaign, rather than asking for money for ad buys.

Some Blogreading

The author is long gone, but every once in a while I visit this blog and take a look at a few entries at a time. There's a lot to think about here:

Dead Youthpastor Walking

Much to my surprise, he actually returned not too long ago to respond to comments to what was supposed to be his last entry. Then he disappeared again.

Go ahead and poke around. He won't care.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Coming Clean, The Aftermath

Yesterday's April Fools trick was a success. It had people worried until the end...and at least one person a little past the end.

You know that show Punk'd on MTV? Aston Kutcher sets up this elaborate scheme to get some celebrity hot and bothered about something, and then he sneaks into the scene and said celebrity realizes that they've been had, sometimes to the point of wailing on Kutcher either verbally or physically? One has to wonder if, after a really good prank, the ruse is worth the person finding out.

Well, I dunno about that. But what I do know is that this entry's purpose is to separate the more factual from more fictitious.

I'm staying in ministry. Of that my dear readers can be certain. It's way too early for a guy like me to feel burned out. So all the stuff about praying in earnest and in secret and jeopardizing plans...that was all fictitious.

The stuff about no one being open to thinking? Mostly fictitious. I still have yet to detail what's been going on during my Lenten study, but it's really been inspiring people to raise questions about the Bible that they never considered before, and about the God depicted in some of these stories. It's even inspired at least one person to read it more...period. So while perhaps I was more worried about such things before and while perhaps it's a bigger problem elsewhere...people are thinking and reading and discussing and I've been enjoying it.

The stuff about mission projects...is a work in progress. The same people show up for everything. That's the drawback to a church our size. You have your 'core' group, but beyond that and people need a little prodding to get interested.

The stuff about sermonwriting...not every week is golden, I'll give you that. This series on the cross which, mercifully, ended this morning, was dreadful. Inspiration and imagination took a vacation, and there are only so many weeks and so many ways you can talk about death, even if the guy comes back in the end.

So I guess you could say that the concerns raised below are, for me anyway, certainly in my mind but amplified a few hundred times for the purposes of an April Fool's chuckle.

I'll venture that every pastor--save for the ones who are very comfortable, the ones who have holed themselves up behind a cult of personality, the ones who don't know all their people by name, the ones who have tens, twenties, hundreds of people willing and able to give every moment of their free time to their church--has thoughts that in some sense resemble what I've written below. Lack of resources, perceived lack of commitment, lack of energy beyond what the pastor him- or herself can provide, expectations with little or no backup, drives these thoughts.

Can it be helped? In some ways, yes.

In every instance? No.

So you run screaming for the hills or for a 'real' job, or you move to another church that you think will be any better, or you lock yourself in your office until they call for your resignation, or you bulldoze forward and hope someone will follow. And you pray. This is not an or. AND you pray. Pray for your people, pray for their families, pray for yourself, pray that this little or not so little place will embody the kingdom of God, if only for a moment. Then pray for another moment. Then pray for another. Keep praying. And go serve.

God be with you.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Coming Clean

I haven't shared what I'm about to type with very many people before now. It's been brewing in my heart and mind for a while, and at this late hour it's starting to consume me. I need an outlet, a time to vent, a place to share, and now that things are officially moving forward, I feel more free to discuss it.

I'm quitting the ministry.

It was strange to type those words. It's strange to read them.

I was convinced for so long that this was my life's vocation, what God was calling me to do. Through four years of college and three years of seminary I was convinced that this was my path. But then I actually started doing it. It's a different matter from the dream to the reality. A disappointing reality. A disheartening reality.

I thought I'd be engrossing people in theology and the Bible. They want to believe what they've always believed. No one wants to think. They want to be told what to think.

I thought I'd be leading people to interact with their communities, to work alongside those who need help, to establish connections in the mission field. Turnouts for these events have been absolutely pathetic. People would rather spend their Saturdays at the mall.

I thought I'd be able to provide a stirring message to the masses every single Sunday. Most weeks I barely scrape by.

I thought I'd help make a difference for the kingdom of God. I can't do that unless others are willing to be different, to give new ideas a chance.

I've prayed about this long and hard. I've anguished in secret, behind closed doors. I can't put into words how sick this makes me, how sick I've felt for quite a long time now. But this is the right thing to do. While it doesn't feel as if a burden has lifted yet, I know that in the long run I will feel more free and more alive than I have over the past 14 months. My family and friends with whom I've wept and on whom I've depended throughout this process have been understanding. My wife, who is in the middle of nursing school, is less than thrilled because it puts her education and career in question. I'll need prayers from a lot of people for a long time while we figure this out.

In the meantime, I discussed this with my church's executive council and will be drafting a letter to present to our Consistory this coming month.

As it currently stands, the plan is for my final day to be July 1st, three months from today...

...which is April 1st.