Tuesday, October 31, 2006

October 31 Riffs

I was in the mood to listen to Dave Matthews Band's "Halloween" this morning. It took me a while to get used to Dave's growling, but I like the percussion breakdown in the middle.

There's a church here that does one of those Judgment Houses...you know, a scary alternative for Christians except it's all about your immortal soul. I had a conversation recently with the church's pastor since we wound up at the same calling hours. After I described my only experience at such a house (which included graphic depictions of a car accident and Satan yelling at me), he said "it's not one of the scary ones." Apparently the one here follows a girl as she disobeys her parents, gets drunk, questions her eternal state. "There is a heaven/hell room, but it's not like what you describe." Well, I've never gone to this one (and won't), so I'll take his word for it. There's a pretty decent documentary about another such house, called Hell House. Most of it made me cringe, but there are some pretty earnest moments, too.

A while back I wrote about the movie Saved! And writing about the above is conjuring those same uncomfortable feelings. New topic!

Internet Monk has an essay entitled The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast. It's pretty good. You should go read it.

So yeah, it's Halloween. It's not the pagan holiday that lots of people think it is. Tomorrow is All Saints' Day, today is All Hallow's Eve. The Pope made this happen centuries ago. Yeah, there are some pagan roots mixed in, but why do you think we celebrate Christmas on December 25th or Easter after the first new moon after the spring equinox? So throw out that excuse unless you want to throw out everything. Today offers great opportunities to be creative and to be together with others. I went as a poser this year. I had the wristbands, the stupid flat-billed cap, the oversized polo shirt, the baggy jeans. Someone pointed out to me that I wasn't wearing Timberland boots. I'm not shelling out money for those, though.

Don't let the imagination-stifling of a few ruin it for everyone. Enjoy it.

And while you're at it, raise a glass of German lager to our boy Martin Luther. He did a pretty big thing today, too. On Sunday I preached on how he put the Bible in the hands of the people and gave them permission to read and argue and discuss and ask questions on their own, without the religious muckity-mucks hanging over their shoulders. It was a big deal. Now we have bookstores stocked to the ceiling with Bibles in hundreds of different translations and featuring different footnotes and dictionaries and things. And a lot of us are STILL relying on the muckity-mucks. Ah well.

Happy Reformation Day/Halloween.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Late Sunday

I've never had acid reflux like I have had the past week or so. It started as a strange pain in my upper abdomen that came and went. I got really worried at first because I've never had that sort of pain in that spot before. But then came the noticeable lack of appetite and the burping that brought a little something extra with it that I had to swallow back down. I found out today that acid reflux can be stress-related. The stomach starts producing extra acids when you're nervous. Crappy eating helps too, and I've been doing some of that. But I've eaten crappily before and haven't had this happen. The newness bothers me a lot, because it makes me wonder what sort of stress level I'd need to have for this to happen for the first time ever.

[This paragraph used to feature a lot of complaining. Now it's all gone.]

I live next to a church. It's sitting over there now a dark empty building. How many hours a week is it in that state?

We're out of coffee. What am I gonna do when I get up tomorrow?

I love my drums again. I neglected them for too long. The other day I think I went a little more deaf. I should buy some earplugs while I play.

October is basically over. November will go fast.

It's time to post this and go to bed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thanks, Guys


No Tigers fan ever expected what happened this year. It was fun to watch the whole way (save for maybe that meltdown at the end of the season), even if they aren't World Champions. They're American League Champions, they eliminated the Yankees. From beginning to end, they did a lot better than anyone thought they would. Thanks, guys. See you next April. Posted by Picasa

Pop Culture Roundup

Don't Eat This Book has a chapter on "The Nag Factor," which is the real title of a report circulated among some big corporations in 1998 talking about the benefit of gearing marketing to kids so that they'll nag their parents to buy crap for them. We have Ronald McDonald, we have the Trix bunny, and a whole bunch of other cartoon characters shilling candy, toys, fast food, etc. all to get kids to say, "Hey, the Rugrats eat Happy Meals. That must mean that I want one too. MOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!" This is a good book in an infuriating sort of way. Spurlock also says that he once had lunch with Jared from Subway, and concludes that it definitely wasn't just their sandwiches that helped him loose weight. He reoriented his entire life, and it happened to include the healthy sandwiches on a Subway menu.

The other day on ESPNClassic, they showed Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. To many people, this game is better known today as The Buckner Game because it features Red Sox 1st baseman Bill Buckner fumbling a ground ball between his legs, costing the Sox the game. I settled in to watch the entire bottom half of that inning because I wanted to watch it in context. Here's the thing...it wasn't just Buckner's fault. Not by a mile. After two easy outs (and already at that point I could sense why Sox fans would have gotten so flustered), the pitcher (the PITCHER) gave up hit after hit, and a run. So the Sox bring in another pitcher (another PITCHER), who throws a ridiculous wild pitch, allowing the tying run to score. While all this is happening, Buckner is just standing over by 1st base because he doesn't need to help the pitching staff screw everything up. And after all THAT is when Buckner lets that ball by him, costing the Red Sox the World Ser...oh, wait, that was only Game 6. Boston had to lose another game altogether.


Which brings me to the 3-1 elimination that my Tigers now face...due to some of the same types of things that Buckner did. Zumaya and Rodney are having some issues throwing to bases and Granderson had an issue in the outfield. I'm not counting out my guys yet, but this was the Series that I wanted from the beginning (or at least from the point I realized that the Tigers had a shot in getting this far) so if they lose, at least it'll be to the Cardinals. From the way Detroit was falling near the end of the year, I was all set to settle for a Division title, and was upset when I thought they wouldn't even get that. Instead, I got to watch them eliminate the Yankees, I got to watch them win a pennant, and I got to watch them in the World Series. That's all been very gratifying in itself. We're having a bunch of people over tonight (Halloween is Mrs. Jeff's favorite holiday ever), so I'll have to sneak in the other room for updates.

I've really been digging Robert Randolph's new album.

Around the web, iMonk has a great piece on a former student.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Choice Made

You may or may not remember the other week when I was asked to be on my Association's uber-Consistory.

Well, I realized yesterday that I hadn't called my colleague back yet, probably much to her dismay.

Last week, a longtime congregation member died and the family couldn't have been more appreciative that I'd been available to minister to them.

Yesterday, I stopped by a hospice facility to pray for a father with terminal cancer...a request made after his own pastor hadn't visited in over a week.

This morning, one of our church's little treasures stopped by to give me pumpkin chocolate chip cookies and say, "Tank you, Pastoh Jeff." And I got her to "Boo yah!" a whole bunch of times.

This afternoon, I sat with a young woman who will be a first-time mother probably sometime early tomorrow morning. She and the father-to-be expressed so much excitement and nervousness...mostly through how they joked with each other and with their other visitors.

Tonight, I stopped by calling hours for a woman saying goodbye to her older brother...the first of six siblings to die.

Why, I asked myself, do I want to detract from all of this with another committee meeting? What would I really be missing if I my month had this big Council-shaped mass in it? I might miss being silly with a little girl. I might miss holding a newborn baby. I might miss a family's prolonged goodbye to one of their central pillars.

That ain't right, man. It just ain't.

This afternoon, I respectfully declined. My call is to all of these complicated people and all their crazy, joyful, anxious, tearful, wonderful lives.

I'm already on a committee, and it helps people like me better serve people like them. And it is enough.

It is enough.

This Time I Really Should Be Doing Something Else

Another meme from Wayfaring in Sneakers, this time all about music...

1. What song are you listening to now, or did you most recently listen to? "Extreme Ways" by Moby

2. Who gave the best live performance you've ever seen? I'm going with the "Ska Mania" concert I went to in college: The Insyderz, Five Iron Frenzy, and The Supertones. The most high energy show I've been to.

3. Who gave the worst live performance you've ever seen? The second time I saw They Might Be Giants. It wasn't bad per se, but they did this bit where they tried to play along with the radio and it just wasn't working for them.

4. Do you have a favorite musician that would surprise people? Kelly Clarkson

5. Do you have a favorite musician that would embarass you? See #4.

6. Which two musicians do you want to have hot, passionate sex with? There are certain questions that shouldn't be answered for all to see.

7. Which musicians have you been listening to most lately? John Popper Project, Robert Randolph, Gomez

8. Who did your parents listen to while you were growing up? I remember a lot of Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys

9. Which musicians do people say you resemble? No one really mentions any musicians, but people have mentioned David Arquette more than I'd care for. One time someone did mention that guy who sings "Butterfly Kisses," but that was a specific picture of him.

10. Who do you need to see live before you die? I have seen Gov't Mule before, but I didn't really pay much attention. It would be much different this time, so I think it counts.

11. Which musician do you find overrated? I don't want necessarily to suggest that they're overrated, but I really don't like most of U2's music.

12. What were your first three cassettes? The Ghostbusters soundtrack, a California Raisins tape, and Endless Summer by the Beach Boys

13. How many songs are on your itunes/ipod? My wife is the one with the iPod, not me. Ask her.

14. Name 5 obscure bands/musicians you think people should try: In the big picture, these bands aren't that obscure, but they are to pretty much everyone I hang out with: Gomez, The Decemberists, Dionysia (actually, these guys are obscure), Gov't Mule, Keller Williams

15. Put itunes on random and name the first 15 songs to play, no cheating: Again, no iPod/iTunes.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Because I'm Refusing to do Anything Else Today...

I picked up this meme from Wayfaring in Sneakers, which I've been visiting more frequently lately.

1. FIRST NAME? Jeff

2. WERE YOU NAMED AFTER ANYONE? Not as far as I know.

3. WHEN DID YOU LAST CRY? To be honest...when the Tigers beat the Yankees. It wasn't a full-out cry, I just got misty. It was cool to see them hopping around spraying champagne on everybody.

4. DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING? It's not much to speak of.

5. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LUNCHMEAT? roast beef

6. IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU? Probably.

7. DO YOU HAVE A JOURNAL? Yes, although I haven't been very good about keeping it lately

8. DO YOU STILL HAVE YOUR TONSILS? Yep...all my disposable body parts are still in here.

9. WOULD YOU BUNGEE JUMP? Nah.

10. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CEREAL? Cinnamon Toast Crunch

11. DO YOU UNTIE YOUR SHOES WHEN YOU TAKE THEM OFF? When there's something to untie, yes.

12. DO YOU THINK YOU ARE STRONG? In what sense?

13. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE ICE CREAM FLAVOR? Cookie dough

14. SHOE SIZE? 9

15. RED OR PINK? Red

16. WHAT IS THE LEAST FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOURSELF? Today I'll pick inability to leave work alone.

17. WHO DO YOU MISS THE MOST? Recent baseball events have caused me to think a lot about my grandparents, so I'll say them.

18. DO YOU WANT EVERYONE TO SEND THIS BACK TO YOU? I don't care.

19. WHAT COLOR PANTS, SHIRT AND SHOES ARE YOU WEARING? At the moment, a white shirt, black and white plaid flannel pants, and no shoes. I was serious about that "refusing to do anything" bit.

20. LAST THING YOU ATE? See #10.

21. WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? "Decree" by Ani DiFranco

22. IF YOU WERE A CRAYON, WHAT COLOR WOULD YOU BE? Some sort of mellow brown, or burnt sienna or something

23. FAVORITE SMELL? cinnamon buns

24. WHO WAS THE LAST PERSON YOU TALKED TO ON THE PHONE? Mrs. Jeff on her way home yesterday

25. THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE ABOUT PEOPLE YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO? I can't think of any one thing. Seriously.

26. DO YOU LIKE THE PERSON WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? No one sent it to me.

27. FAVORITE DRINK? Coffee

28. FAVORITE SPORT? Baseball

29. EYE COLOR? Brown

30. HAT SIZE? Adjustable

31. DO YOU WEAR CONTACTS? My prescription doesn't allow for it

32. FAVORITE FOOD? Buffalo wings

33. SCARY MOVIES OR HAPPY ENDINGS? Happy endings of the non-chick flick persuasion.

35. SUMMER OR WINTER? Winter is much more interesting.

36. HUGS OR KISSES? Hugs. Since I'm not French, it covers a wider variety of people.

37. FAVORITE DESSERT? vanilla bean cheesecake from Red Lobster

38. WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO RESPOND? No one.

39. LEAST LIKELY TO RESPOND? No one.

40. WHAT BOOKS ARE YOU READING? Don't Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock and I've been leafing through Building a Church of Small Groups by some Willow Creek people.

42. WHAT DID YOU WATCH LAST NIGHT ON TV? The World Series.

43. FAVORITE SOUNDS? A light snow, congas, The instrumental version of "Christmastime Is Here" from Charlie Brown Christmas

44. ROLLING STONES OR BEATLES? I used to say the Stones just to be contrary, but I really don't like the Stones that much. So I say The Beatles.

45. THE FURTHEST YOU'VE BEEN FROM HOME? About 940. I looked it up.

46. WHAT'S YOUR SPECIAL TALENT? Rhythm.

47. WHERE WERE YOU BORN? Southfield, Michigan

48. WHO SENT THIS TO YOU? No one. What a limp way to end this stupid thing.

Linkage

The Masked Doctoral Student just got back from Minnesota, and was glad not to have been required to surrender the jars of sauce he was carrying:

That's right, gentle readers, BE AWARE: If you fly on an American airline you are now NO LONGER allowed more than three fluid ounces of gels, pastes, or liquids. This, of course, includes all manner of simmer sauces and tomato pastes. I suppose the fear is that through some application of scientific knowledge I could somehow have made either:

A) Spaghetti (a truly tasty, edible object on an airplane flight has been, if not forbidden, certainly taboo for decades)
B) Some sort of concentrated super-acid which might have been used to blind the flight attendants and also to burn through the cabin door locking mechanism allowing me unfettered access to a machine I am wholly incapable of operating successfully.

Bob Hyatt has an excellent post about how pastors might determine who needs their attention, who wants their attention, and how to budget time in light of all of it.

Now, clearly- I write about this lightly- but all of these people are people. There are times when the Holy Spirit gives you, the pastor, a kick in the pants and you make room for someone for whom you might otherwise not, "just because." Or maybe you want to make a renewed effort with someone. For whatever reason, this taxonomy might get juggled- but it seems a helpful way to think through prioritizing your people time.

The main thing to realize is this: Not everyone who asks for your time should get it, or get it in equal amounts. As a pastor, you are not "First come, first served." Your role in your community, and the calling on your life is too important not to think through how and with whom you spend your time.

Finally, my buddy at Jeremiah's Field is rooting for the Cardinals, and has declared war on Kenny Rogers. Heh.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Further "Vacation" Week Musings

Thursday night I had what I'll consider my first true vacation moment of the week.

I sat in bed, Mrs. Jeff already drifting off to sleep, the volume on an eventual Cardinals victory turned down low. I was more interested in listening to the new Robert Randolph than whatever Joe Buck had to say, so I popped on my headphones. All the while, a rich glass of cabernet accompanied my sampling of new music and viewing of my favorite sports pastime.

I sat there, my only light coming from the glow of the 13" screen...and I experienced a peace and a level of relaxation that you can't manufacture. Even my realizing it in the moment didn't ruin it. I'd come to a point I'd been clamoring for all week long...and it couldn't have come at a more perfect time if you'd known anything about my day.


On Friday night, I stumbled across a Dana Carvey standup routine from 1995 playing on HBO. I used to have it on tape, but lost it. Carvey does this "choppin' broccoli" song near the end that made me laugh so hard that I cried the first time I heard it.

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I'm batching it this weekend. We'd planned a trip to see the Mrs. Jeff family but I had to stay behind. She's there, not for any emergency reasons, but just to spend time with her people. Your latest update of total nonsensical weirdness is this: Father-in-Law was looking at a liver transplant months ago, but started getting better. He was put back on the list a few weeks ago, and now the artery causing all the problems isn't blocked any more. Chalk it up to the power of prayer, or providence, or sheer luck, or a medical miracle, or whatever, but for the whole family, it's just a happy kind of weird.

It's a combination of moments like this--big and small--that help wipe away a week or so of disappointment.

I want to have some friends over tonight to watch the World Series with me. I haven't seen these people since I got 'em married. I hope they're free.

And then on Sunday morning I'll go wherever I feel like for worship.

I'll make this a vacation week still, or hurt myself trying.

That, and take another day here and there over the next few weeks before all the holiday fun starts.

Friday, October 20, 2006

GalPals Word Association Meme

Someone over at the GalPals is preaching from Job 38. I am not preaching this Sunday since I'm on "vacation." Nevertheless, these five words were pulled from the designated OT lesson and got me thinking about the lectionary anyway. The gist is that one has to write out the first thing one thinks of for each word.

Whirlwind - My "vacation" week in a nutshell. It upsets everything and it blows.

Foundation - The hymn "How Firm a Foundation." We actually sang it just last Sunday.

Lightning - The weather here the past couple days has included lightning. It also made me think of the Tampa Bay hockey team, which I don't care about. Go Wings.

Den - A cozy place where I, like my grizzly mammal friends, can go to escape. Mine happens to include baseball memorabilia and a computer.

Prey - What the Cardinals are now to the Tigers. There's no escaping the baseball references for at least another week.

Pop Culture Roundup

Did you know that corporations sponsor lobbyist organizations masked as "research councils" to release statements that their products are not unhealthy, bad for the environment, or otherwise harmful to the universe? Did you know that McDonald's has a franchise just down the road from the Dachau concentration camp? Did you know that October 16th is World Anti-McDonald's Day in England? All this and more you can learn from Don't Eat This Book. On occasion, Spurlock rides the line between presenting facts and implying a World McDonald's Conspiracy to Make Us Fat (as opposed to simple irresponsibility on both their part and ours), but it's still enjoyable all in all.

I stayed up to see who the Tigers are facing in the World Series. In light of last night's result, I'd like to quote something that I wrote on this blog back in July:

There was one beautiful moment during the All Star game last night that I wanted to make sure my wife shared with me.

Pudge Rodriguez was catching.

Kenny Rogers was pitching.

Albert Pujols was batting.

I said to my wife, 'Just pretend with me for a moment. Just pretend that it's late October.'

And we sat in silence. Pujols flied out and just like that the moment passed.

It could happen, friends. This year it could happen.

And now it's going to happen. But still...go Tigers.

Hey, if you aren't a wrestling fan, you missed the best thing ever on Monday Night RAW this week. Kevin Federline got the crap beat out of him by John Cena. It was glorious. Yes, I know it's fake, but everyone loved it anyway. K-Fed called the crowd a bunch of "posers." He gets irony. It was great.

I'm taking my time reading these days, and combine that with the "vacation" week I'm having and I just want to listen to my music. Relix magazine alerted me to The John Popper Project, which sounds a lot like Blues Traveler except it includes DJ Logic. A few pages later, I read that Robert Randolph also has a new album out, which I've found to be more high-energy than his last. Even the song that most closely resembles a ballad is pretty driven. He does a cover of "Jesus Is Just Alright," which I found amusing, and they get help on other songs from Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, and Leroi Moore (also from DMB).

Around the web, watch these guys in coats.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Waiting

This has become a week of waiting.

It's supposed to be my last vacation week of the year before the whirlwind of November/December descends on our little church. I suppose that, in a way, I'm still waiting for it to start.

Monday, I had to tie a loose end that I didn't tie before the week started.

Yesterday, I got an emergency phone call from a church member's family who was given another day or two. They wanted prayer. They had no way of knowing I'm technically on vacation, but I also wasn't about to correct them. I spent an hour or so by her side and with the assorted relatives who were there. I suppose that now I'm waiting to get The Phone Call.

Last night while getting ready for bed I had to reflect on the experience through my dying parishioner's eyes. What is it like knowing that you're not long for this world, surrounded by your family and your pastor who are waiting for you to take your last breath? I don't know how aware she is of all this, but it has to have an effect if she is.

Today, I'm still waiting for vacation to start. I have to put on my Church Representative hat and go talk about the church at some leadership class tonight. That can't be helped. Today is when it was scheduled months ago.

It's not like I had tickets to Bermuda this week or anything. Sometimes, laying down your responsibilities for a time is enough and that's all this was supposed to be. Life has made other plans.

Apart from all that, I didn't realize how long a wait it would be for the World Series. And I'm regretting hoping for the Cards to win the NL. They have the better starting pitching. But at least the longer series screws up their plans for who starts Game 1.

I was also waiting for Nice Fall, and then I blinked and missed it. Now we're in Crappy Brown November Fall already.

Back to waiting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"Exciting" Churches

I hope that this entry doesn't make me sound like a stick in the mud.

I said some things to my Consistory this week. It's part of what underlies something that I want to get up and running here over the next...hm...let's give it two years.

Ever heard of cell group ministry? You help people plug themselves into small groups of 8-12 people and they encourage each other in Bible study, fellowship, etc.? Ours is what is known as a "regional" church, so it seemed like something worth trying in the 4-5 different communities from which we pull instead of trying to get people to always make the drive. I figure the church go there instead of people come here.

And that last sentence is the essence of a "missional" church vs. an "attractional" church.

Here's where I went on a fairly calm rant during the meeting about "attractional" churches. First, what's "attractional?" "Attractional" uses a "y'all come" approach to get people in the door. It has an emphasis on programming at the church, programming that probably includes a hefty dose of spice if people figure that cars are just going to start pulling into the parking lot on their own.

All churches have some form of an attractional philosophy. It's what's behind any sort of community dinner, contemporary worship service, inviting a college choir in to perform, car wash, bake sale, "sign message ministry" (don't get me started), ad infinitum. There's nothing inherently wrong with an attractional mindset. It's when we plan these programs just assuming that people will drop whatever they have planned on a particular day to come and do your thing instead, that we may end up disappointed. No personal phone call or invitation? Maybe a flyer in the local drugstore and an ad in the paper. That's where we trip ourselves up: the lack of personal interaction and word-of-mouth.

So what did I say during my meeting? I mentioned that some churches do the attractional thing very well because they have the resources. I couldn't emphasize "very well" and "resources" enough. My people are very familiar with one such church. These churches have youth by the boatload flock to them because of their gymnasiums, climbing walls, video arcades, and soccer fields. These are the extreme examples, but they're nevertheless great attractional churches.

"Now," I asked, "what's the difference between a church with a climbing wall and the local family fun center? 'The church has Jesus.' Well, the church down the road also has Jesus. 'But they don't have a climbing wall.' So are you there for Jesus or the climbing wall?"

I'm never going to pastor a huge congregation with this mindset.

I would never say that climbing walls in churches are inherently horrible. For our own part, we go play laser tag every winter (not coincidentally, always yielding the largest turnout of kids by a mile). That really would make me a stick in the mud if I wanted to discourage anything that wasn't nose-in-your-books Bible study (perhaps a reason many have begun turning to climbing walls is in reaction to that). I mean, you don't want church to be "boring" (ask the guys at the first Pentecost if God is boring). That's what it is, isn't it? Churches become "safe alternatives" and exciting places to be, which covers both our desire for our kids to avoid bad influences and our consumerist tendencies. "Because they have a climbing wall" is a church-shopping statement. There's nothing there about seeking meaning or purpose. There's nothing there about being convicted by the Holy Spirit or connecting with God. It's just because they have a climbing wall. This church is more exciting than that church.

Let's be fair, though. Some churches really are boring. They haven't changed in 50 years and if they can help it they'll go 50 more. You know the drill: the organist plays too slow, zero attention paid to youth, and longhand manuscripts read (as opposed to preached) from the pulpit. Style does matter a little. Maybe more than a little. But I've been a part of very "traditional" churches that were also exciting places to be. There wasn't a family fun gimmick to be found, but these are dynamic places always engaged in mission projects, youth outings (but not to laser tag), and darn good preaching. And they're doing it without a gymnasium.

Style, when combined with a healthy amount of substance, can actually change lives. It can make a church exciting and deep at the same time.

And if nothing else, consider this when talking about excitement in a church context: we profess to follow an itinerant preacher who said really offensive things like telling the rich man to sell all he had and THEN he could follow, who said to take up your cross (last I checked, crosses kill people), who said that the lowest of low, the dirty, the ill-reputed, would enter the kingdom before all the big shots. That simply isn't an attractive message.

It's exciting, but not in a climbing wall/laser tag sort of way.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

This week I started Don't Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock. You may know Spurlock from his documentary Super Size Me. Well, now he's written a book further detailing our nation's battle with its own obesity and fast food's contribution to it. It was between this book and Fast Food Nation (which I've been wanting to read forever), and I finally went with Spurlock because I knew it'd be humorous and FFN looked a little more dense. I'm not very far along into it, just the first chapter or so. Spurlock begins with a rant about warning labels: those little fresheners in sneakers that say "Do Not Eat," for instance, probably didn't have a label on them until somebody thought they were mints. Cigarettes, he says, haven't always had labels on them either. But the difference between the two is that there isn't a billion-dollar campaign to get kids hooked on sneaker mints as young as possible. This is his introduction to our nation doing things that we know are bad for us.

Months and months ago, we rented The Island through Netflix. Actually, Mrs. Jeff put it in our queue. It sat on the TV for months with an occasional comment from me: "Can we watch this stupid movie soon so we can send it back and get a good one?" We never did. We finally sent it back unwatched. This week it was on HBO and we caught it close enough to the beginning that it counts, and watched the whole thing. It wasn't terrible. It raises the question whether clones have souls and some "playing God" commentary. My most burning question came after they free the clones at the end: "So, where are they going to live now?" I mean, it's good that they're free and won't be harvested for parts, but now they have to find apartments, get jobs, set up an insurance policy, learn to drive...don't bother with this movie.

Well, let me check my watch here. Huh. Friday the 13th. Oooooooooooo. But wait, let me pull up the TV schedule to see if there are any scary shows on. Nope. Just Game 3 at Detroit with Rogers pitching and a 2-0 game lead. Mwah ha ha!! But besides that, we watched the season premiere of Ghost Hunters this week. They visited Tombstone and saw and heard a whole bunch of cool stuff. A cable got lifted off an alarm bell. They caught phantom music on tape. Jay and Grant by far had the best one: they both saw a full-bodied woman in a white dress run down the stairs. No tape of that, but they separately confirmed it. Sweet.

I picked up the new Decemberists. It's not outstanding, but it provides the usual mix of folk rock with silly-depressing lyrics.

Around the web, RealLivePreacher talks about the religion of denial.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Missional Tension

This is the entry that I said I'd post the other day. I've been sitting on it for a while.. It's rank with my own hypocrisy and in that regard it stings to read. But maybe that's why I should publish it.

I've had a couple really rough phone messages lately. The other week, a woman called asking for help to meet rent. Her family is facing eviction. I listed the usual list of pros and cons in my head: cash might not make it to where it needs to go, do I trust someone with the information on a personal check, why doesn't the church have a separate account for this sort of thing, etc. I sat on that message for a week before calling her back, apologizing for taking so long and that I had no money to offer her. I did pass along an agency's phone number--a number she's already familiar with--and there wasn't much more that I could do. More accurately, there wasn't much more that I was willing to do. During this conversation she shared that her stepson had been recently diagnosed with leukemia as well, so medical bills would push this struggling family to inconceivable limits.

My head sank to the desk after I hung up. The church, of all places, didn't have anything readily available for this woman. A UCC church, on top of that, where according to national rhetoric justice is purported to roll down like water, didn't have anything readily available. And now I wonder: did she find help? Does she still have a home? Will her stepson get the care that he needs?

By now, regular visitors know that I've developed quite the fascination with all things emerging/emergent church. I'm fascinated by how much these groups push traditional and institutional boundaries and by an ecclesiology that is so malleable to the specific context in which each church finds itself. I'm fascinated by the thought of meeting in theaters and rented office buildings and living rooms and conversely I'm fascinated by the lack of attachment to a pretty building that sucks up money in order to remain pretty (not to mention the plaques adorning everything and the committee vote that needs to be taken before moving the furniture). I'm fascinated by how flexible and moveable these churches are.

But it's the ecclesiology and that word "missional" that fascinates me the most. "Missional" is the anchor term for these groups and informs the notion that a church is to be mission-focused (rather than pastor-focused, budget-focused, etc.) and how proactive a missional church is called to be within the community through service and evangelism.

And I'm looking toward my own denomination's 50th anniversary. And I've reflected a lot on the last time I attended their national gathering. And people are getting on board with what I wrote the other week about moving the gathering to New Orleans. And Claiborne's book really unnerved me, more than I even presently realize.

And I keep hearing that man at Synod saying, "We are the people we've been waiting for."

Waiting to do what? To declare something? To have a party and then report to our local congregations on how great the party was? To pass a few more resolutions from which the media might choose the most controversial and that the vast majority of our churches won't care about?

We are the people we've been waiting for.

General Synod delegates don't need to hear that. Entire churches need to hear that, each in their own context; their own communities. I'm discovering more and more that it's better to appropriate beliefs and practices to local conditions. THAT is what people are waiting for. Hardly anyone is waiting for another statement. But homeless people, welfare mothers, the hungry, the lonely, the depressed, the hopeless are all waiting for action. Not a statement, not more rhetoric, and not for us to finish congratulating ourselves.

People are waiting for churches to be permeable, moveable entities that aren't overly preoccupied with their survival and internal maintenance. People are waiting for churches to enact mission according to local needs rather than targeting a market to burst through the doors according to how attractive our buildings or our message is. People are waiting for somebody to do something rather than pay lip service.

I've decided that I'm never going to seek another term as a delegate to General Synod. By the time this term is up I'll be 30, so people will be scrounging for some other 20-something pastor to meet quota anyway. In the meantime, I think I'm discovering something about how I can be a better steward of my own time and resources and how my church can do the same. It doesn't involve spending a grand or so on a plane ticket, hotel, and meals to play prophet for a couple days in some far off city. It involves developing something that will help build God's kingdom here, where we find ourselves.

The United Church of Christ is where I first learned that the local church is where it all begins and ends. The emerging conversation helped amplify that.

I think that I can say I finally get it.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Faced With a Choice

I got a call today from a colleague in my Association.

I quickly remembered that she's the chair of the nominating committee. The reason for my remembering this is because my "name came up" in a discussion of who might be best to fill positions on the Association Council, sort of the uber-Consistory for the Association. It makes the big decisions and it sets the direction.

Guess why I was asked. Go ahead, guess.

Young. We want a young voice. One of these days I'm not going to be that young any more. Then what will people do?

I've had more questions lately about how much the wider church matters if it does anything other than support and encourage and equip local churches. It's my view that local churches are the ones doing real ministry and mission work. In fact, I've been tweaking an entry to this effect that I'll go ahead and post later in the week.

So here I sit turning over this position and am of two minds:

1. I'm already on a couple committees and groups at the Association level and, if I want to hold true to my view that the local church is where it really gets done, maybe I should say no. If I believe in the local church, I should focus my energy there. That, and Consistory is my least favorite meeting so why would I want to go to a second one every month?

2. They want my voice, they think I'd have something positive and needed to contribute especially in a season of change for our Conference...so why not bring my viewpoint about the wider church's main purpose and help affect change in that direction, or at least keep it focused in that direction?

This could go either way. I have a couple days to prayerfully think it over and chat with a few Council members.

What would you do?

Monday Morning Celebrating

The Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees in the playoffs. There is no one part of that sentence that feels as good all by itself. Kenny Rogers really did pitch the game of his life, and Jeremy Bonderman followed it up with five innings of perfection. If the Yankees had won, would we have seen them run back onto the field from the locker room with champagne to celebrate with their fans, people who have waited to see something like this for 19 years instead of, well, again? The As will be tougher. They actually have pitchers. But this is a much better moment than dropping three to the (FREAKING) Royals.

Do other pastor readers know that October is Clergy Appreciation Month? I didn't until last October when a whole bunch of cards started showing up from church members. My church takes it pretty seriously. Yesterday, one member got up and presented a gift card to a local sushi restaurant in recognition of the month. I wanted to use it after worship for lunch, but I think we'll use it today. This, too, was a much better moment than my oversensitive hiccup last Sunday. I've almost logged two years here, and have some big exciting (to me) plans for years three and four. It's nice to be loved, because I really do love them back.

Friday, October 06, 2006

GalPals Election Meme

This one seemed fun and harmless.

1) How old were you when you voted for the first time? I think I was 18 or 19. I do remember that it was in college, because I was home that week for some reason.

2) What was the contest at the top of the ballot? It was an off year. No presidency, not even Congressional. So it was probably some levy. I remember voting for some district judges, too.

3) Can you walk to your polling place? Technically, but it would take an hour or so.

4) Have you ever run for public office? Absolutely not.

5) Have you run for office in a club or school or on a board? The first time I ran for a school office, I was asked if I wanted to be on the VP ballot for my high school's drama club and ended up winning. The next year I was president. I held various low-ranking positions in my college fraternity and just yesterday was elected (read: told I was) the new president of my town's ministerial association, the duties of which include calling meetings and handing out a scholarship in the spring. And I guess being elected as a General Syond delegate counts, doesn't it?

Pop Culture Roundup

I've finally crawled out of my book slump and found some reading that speaks to what got me to give it up for a while. I'd heard some really positive things about The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, which is not a true autobiography but does recount portions of his Christian experience as he seeks to return to what Jesus truly asks of us. He calls himself an "ordinary radical," and parses out the term so we know what he means: "ordinary" as in not special, and "radical" is getting to the root of something's meaning. So here is a guy, not special, trying to live the root of Jesus' message. I picked up a book a while back by Erwin McManus called The Barbarian Way and from the back cover thought that it would be what Claiborne is describing. Where McManus gives a handful of analogies, likening raw Christianity to jetskiing and other Xtreme activities because of how risky they are, Claiborne organizes hundreds of college kids to go down and sit with 40 homeless families to keep them from being evicted from an old church. He hung out with Mother Teresa and took a trip to Iraq to meet victims of "collateral damage." By miles, Claiborne's book seems more authentic and truly more risky. Sure, jetskiiing can hurt you, but what does that really have to do with Christianity the way living with the poor does? Which is truly the Barbarian way? You don't even need to read the whole thing...just read Chapter 6. That'll be enough to stab you in the heart.

I made Mrs. Jeff watch Sneakers the other day. I couldn't believe she hadn't seen it, and I couldn't believe I'd forgotten what a good movie it is. It has wit and charm and a very recognizable cast. "Is that Johnny Depp?" "No, that's River Phoenix." "Huh." Yeah, huh. The plot is kind of a low-tech "the government wants to spy on us/computers are evil/elaborate break-in" hybrid, which is really secondary to the character interaction and the secrets they keep from each other.

Of course, I've been watching the Tigers this week. Well, the way ESPN and FoxSports.net plays it, I've been watching the Yankees and Let's Watch Jeter's Highlight Reel Again During the Rain Delay and Talk Endlessly About How Great He Is Show. The headline on FoxSports after the Tigers tied the series yesterday: "Reign Delay." Nope, no bias to be seen. I get that everyone thinks that the Murderer's Row [stuff] eclipses the Tigers' Magical Season at this point, but New York media could work a little harder to pretend it's not New York media.

No one CD stands out this week. I've been listening to some Gov't Mule, Gomez, KT Tunstall, and I just remembered that a new Decemberists album came out on Tuesday.

Around the web, check out this church flyer. I laughed out loud at how oblivious it is.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What's In Your Cup?

October is Fair Trade Month.

Fair Trade is the paying of a set minimum wage to coffee farmers, first to pay them what they need and deserve and second to help stimulate the economy in which they find themselves. These farmers find themselves in more depressed regions of Latin America and South America, and in a free trade environment see diminishing returns for their labor, barely enough to support themselves. The United States consumes 1/5 of the world's coffee, and coffee is second only to oil in how widely-traded a commodity it is. So yeah, it's important.

Learn more about what Fair Trade is here.

And here's something I wrote a while ago about how much better Fair Trade coffee tastes. Drink a cup of Equal Exchange "Mind, Body and Soul" and then a cup of Maxwell House and seriously tell me Maxwell House is better. I will laugh at you. HA.

That's how justice tastes, man. Truly good to the last drop.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday Morning Grumblings

What. The hell. Happened. Ever have one of those dreams where you aren't prepared for something or your worst fears come true? Any minute now I'm SURE that my alarm clock is going to go off and the Tigers really beat Kansas City (FREAKING KANSAS CITY) and won the Division and aren't going to play the Yankees in New York tomorrow with NATE ROBERTSON starting. Where'd all the spark, the confidence, go? That's what Detroit players were saying all summer long when asked about the big turnaround: "Well, we've just got our confidence back." And you couldn't find any the last week of the season when you're on the verge of winning a title against Kansas (FREAKING) City?

Gah.

Even apart from that, I wanted to crawl into a hole yesterday morning. Due to events the past week or so around here I've been in a little more sensitive mode. I asked my kids during the children's sermon what we can find in a newspaper. Back to back, I got "funeral announcements" and "wedding announcements." So naturally, I have to make the crack about how strange it is that they're so close together, inciting a giggle from the congregation. It was sometime during communion that I started to think too much about that comment, and how so-and-so, who is still grieving the loss of a spouse, heard it. I think too much about it some more, and by the time the prayers of the people come around I've worked myself up so much that I blurt out a prayer for "pastors who make irresponsible comments during children's sermons." Yeah. Seriously. Afterwards I got a whole bunch of "It wasn't bad" and "Oh, it was funny" and one "Did someone actually write that on a prayer slip?" So it was one of those moments where I made things worse (if they were bad to begin with) by drawing attention back to it. Just like I'm doing now by writing about it. Thank God today is my day off.

I'm going to remember September as that sort of month. It was a month of disappointments and second-guessing and anxiety and wondering if certain things will ever be more than they are. For some reason, fall is still my favorite season, even though it tends to bring this kind of drama with it. Or I tend to create it. Both/and.