Thursday, November 30, 2006

Six Strange Things Meme

Erin tagged me for this thing. I'm supposed to list six strange things about me, and then tag six people. I may not do the tagging part, but here's the rest...

1. I make up my own words to songs and sing them around the house. On Thanksgiving I sang the words "Happy Thanksgiving" over and over to the tune of "Deck the Halls." I don't do too badly if I try to make up rhymes. They don't always make sense, but they rhyme.

2. I get excited when I have to go buy office supplies. I don't really know why. Even when I'm just along for the ride when someone else needs to go to Staples, it's like I just walked in to Toys R Us. They'll go look at whatever they need and I'll be fawning over notebooks and calendars and pens. It's kind of sad.

3. Even if I truly need to go, I won't make a doctor's appointment until I'm absolutely forced to do it. I hate going to the doctor's office or to the hospital. It's just a sprain. It's always just a sprain. It'll be fine. Please let me stay home.

4. I'll sing you all the words to "Hail to the Victors" but I couldn't sing you the words to my college's (the one I actually have a degree from) alma mater. I don't know how strange that really is. There's something in there about the echoes bringing back a lay or something. Whatever that means.

5. When I'm out driving I'll see empty storefronts or office space for rent and fantasize about what I'd do with it if I rented it. Maybe this ties in with my getting excited about office supplies.

6. I can't watch when I go to the Bloodmobile and they stick the needle in (let alone look at the packet of my blood afterwards), and I can't watch when they give me a shot at the doctor...but I plop right down in the tattoo chair without a second thought.

Okay, I've come to the end and don't know who to tag. If you read this and feel like doing it, knock yourself out.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Youth

For me, youth ministry has always been a "Jonah and the Big Fish" sort of situation. As hard and as far as I try to run, God has always found me, dragged me back, and said, "Do this!"

I like to think that I've had good reasons for resisting. I didn't want to be stuck perpetually in 10th grade, where I feel like I'm being judged on my coolness level more than what I can teach about spirituality. Some youth pastors try too hard to compensate in this area, and I never wanted to be one of them. I fully realized this a couple months ago during a local parade, which featured another church's youth pastor standing atop their float wearing pajama pants with pictures of Sugar Daddy candies all over them (that was actually creepy) and bleating one of their Bible School songs a la Ferris Buehler. I don't want to be That Guy.

But throughout seminary, I found myself playing a big part in organizing youth groups. My age may have had something to do with this, and after I released my death grip on the doorframe and accepted what was asked of me, the kids and I had a great time together. It's the same scenario wherever I go, actually. I don't want to do it, but it is needed and I can do it. And before I know it, I'm enjoying myself because it's really something I'm gifted at.

I've always taken a low-key approach to youth ministry. This is due to budget restrictions, but it's also because my experience has shown that youth don't necessarily need a big flashy production; they just need the right space and encouragement to explore questions about faith. And they really do have those questions.

I found no better (and probably ill-conceived) an example of this than when I was a staff counselor at our Ohio UCC camps one summer. My very first week, someone thought it would be really funny to stick me as one of the counselors for confirmation camp: a cabin full of junior high boys who found new and creative ways each day to let me know how much they didn't want to be there. Anyway, the very first night we were together they had no intention of going to bed when I told them to go to bed, so in an act of part "wanting to be Cool Counselor" and part "trying to do something worthwhile" (and part "wearing them the hell out so I could get some freaking sleep"), I said to them, "Okay...I'm going to let you stay up, but if I do you have to be quiet and you have to talk about God." They ended up not being that quiet, but they DID have a lot of questions that they wanted to share about God, the Bible, faith, and church. I got reamed for it the next day, but that experience sticks with me as an example that youth, when taken seriously and given the opportunity, have plenty to ask and talk about.

Natalie over at Take My Hand gives her perspective, which is actually the perspective of a senior high youth:

I've always been frustrated with my youth group and youth groups in general. Am I completely knocking the youth group model of ministry? No. But, I do believe that it too often and too easily becomes a place to entertain. Youth group morphs into a social club disguised verbally as "fellowship time", exclusive cliques form, and God ceases to be the obvious focus. Once this happens, it's terribly difficult for the people deeply invested in the group to acknowledge.

...

We played games for a good while, sang songs for a very good while and prayed once. This isn't just a description of a one time event at youth group either, it's pretty indicative of what goes on generally. Youth deserve more than that. Youth need more than that. And, I know for a fact that it's not just me who feels this way. And it's not just because I am an 'older' youth. We deserve more and we need more.


I've never been from the "entertain them at all times" school, and I don't think that youth always need or even desire that. That's not to say that church groups can never have fun...I've just said before that if your big draw is the climbing wall instead of Jesus, they'll come to church for the climbing wall, and they might stay for Jesus.

I've found a genuine passion for youth to come for Jesus to begin with. I think a lot of youth genuinely want to come for the same reason.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Two Years

I've heard a couple different things about the two-year mark of a pastorate.

First, I've heard that it is during the second year when a pastor starts seeing signs that maybe this isn't the place to which s/he's called. It's when the first rough patch hits, or when something else begins to look more enticing. It's when doubt arises. I'll admit that I had something related to this, but my real first rough patch came after I was here about six months, and it's actually been pretty calm since then. So this one applies, but indirectly. And really, I think that this stems more from the so-called "honeymoon period" being over than anything else. When the tone shifts like that, it may be tempting to cut and run. But that'll cause a pastor to keep jumping from one church to another every 12-18 months.

Second, I've heard that for first-time pastors, it is after two years that one's "seminary stink" has completely worn off. I'm not totally sure of the definition of "seminary stink," but I think that it refers to the fresh pastor's only sense of how to preach, teach, care, and lead coming from where they just were, so he or she assumes that everyone will know all these four-syllable theology words and will follow the new pastor into a grand crusade against all injustice, oppression, and ignorance and they'll do it RIGHT NOW. Essentially, the "seminary stink" is the felt need to fix everything that is obviously wrong with these people based on his/her classroom learning. I hope that this didn't apply in my case, but that's probably because I don't want to admit that it did. With the help of a lot of books on missional thinking and a healthy dose of humility, I like to think my stink has wafted away.

Third, a little phrase that I heard in seminary was: "The first year you learn them, the second year you love them, and the third year you lead them." A more common cousin is, "Don't change anything but your underwear the first year." And I can say that I totally screwed this one up. Within the first two months I'd introduced guitar, which was as dramatic a shift as had been seen. I backed off for a while after that, and finally around the middle of my second year I finally moved into "love them," back from "lead them," and now maybe I'm finally "learning them." Or whatever.

Finally, I've heard that a pastor hits his or her best years in a church between years three and six. I've heard from someone else that that doesn't happen until between years eight and 12. I'm at year three, so I like the first one better. But the statement about the longer pastorate makes more sense. After all, do you really know each other after 3-5 years? Do you really trust each other? I don't know where I'll be by year eight. I'm not even worried about it.

I used to worry, though. Believe it or not, I tried to set an end date on this thing. I was bound and determined to be out of here by a certain time, and it wasn't until recently that I realized how much that affected my ministry. I planned entire programs in the mindset that I needed to give them legs before I leave to ensure that they'll continue. That's a freaking horrible thing for a pastor to do.

And really, why set an end date? Where would I go? The lack of any answer, reasonable or not, should have been enough to give up this mindset.

Couple that with how many times I've heard the following in the past two months: "we hope you stick around." This is a legitimate fear that a lot of people seem to have here! My hunch is that it stems from a mindset on their part that since I'm young and just starting out, I'll learn what I need to learn and then move on to "bigger and better" things. But apparently it's been my thinking, too, and that sucks to admit.

Really, though, what does "bigger and better" mean in the church, anyway?

Regardless, I've pretty well purged myself of that mindset and now I need to work at helping change that anxiety in the people I serve.

There won't be any big celebration for this anniversary of mine. I have some visits and meetings scheduled today. Besides that, I might pour a glass of wine and watch the video of my ordination. I haven't watched it since it happened, and it just feels like the right time to revisit it. It might even be an excuse to eat some cake.

After two years, I don't know what I've really done here. I mean, I know I've preached a lot of sermons, taught a lot of classes, made a lot of visits, and generally have tried to be available to people at their highest and lowest points. But sometimes I wonder what I've really done, and that sort of done can't really be measured. I have to trust the Holy Spirit for that sort of thing...whether anyone has been convicted to be more committed to love and justice, whether anyone has felt a sense of true relief after a prayer or funeral, whether anyone has truly learned something through Bible study or a sermon, whether people appreciate the sacraments and weddings as more than just cultural ritual. I don't know how well I do all that, and whether I've done any of that. But maybe that isn't for me to do anyway. I should be praying to be an instrument of God's peace, and leave the rest to the One who knows how to work that.

And maybe that's why I need to watch my ordination. The pastor who preached even said it: "it's not about you."

Indeed it isn't. That's what I keep learning as time goes on, and I pray that the lessons never stop.

Monday, November 27, 2006

UCC Blogring

It's been a while, so I thought I'd remind my readers of the United Church of Christ Blog Network. It's grown steadily since it began back in April, and new members are always welcome.

Maybe it's time to do something more with the host blog. I'll consider that, but the main purpose is the list of blogs off to the side, all somehow affiliated with the UCC and actively seeking the best for the denomination. Go browse a couple.

A few recommendations:

Disciple David - David Loar pastors a UCC church in Akron, Ohio and is also interested in emerging church issues.

Jeremiah's Field - Genxpastor is a seminarian friend, newly called to a UCC church in Illinois.

Kirkogitation - Kirk is a UCC pastor in Illinois and contributes to the Bible section of i.ucc.

Rantings of the Faithful - Pastor Peters is a very new UCC pastor in Maine, who just started her first pastorate a few weeks ago.

New UCC blogs always welcome!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

POC Public Service Announcement

Attention sports writers...

While there is no denying that Ohio State is on top of the college football world right now, and has been all season, there is something in which you need to show better judgment.

If you want to be taken seriously, you need to stop using words like "overpowered" and "dominated" when referring to the most recent OSU-Michigan game.

42-39 is neither overpowering nor domination. It is scraping by. It is making it out alive. It is clutching the top spot by one finger and being thankful that your defense was only slightly better than the other's.

Choose your words more responsibly. In the meantime, approach the particular writer that came up with the tagline on your most recent Sports Illustrated and give him an extreme wedgie.

Thank you. That is all.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

I haven't made any progress on Spook at all. I just haven't set any time aside to read. So it's a wonder that I've decided to alternate between Roach's book and Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. I've heard good things about it...that it's some of Merton's best writing. If I'd actually read either of these before typing this, I'd have more to say.

We saw Casino Royale this past week, which was excellent. Daniel Craig should alleviate any hardcore fan's fears that he'd make a poor Bond. He's actually one of the better ones. This is a gritty, no-BS Bond along the lines of Connery. Brosnan was too noble, too clean. Craig's Bond is more morally ambiguous. The black-and-white sequence at the beginning was my favorite. The love story is actually a love story, whereas in other Bond movies the girl is just a nice bit of frosting on the cake after beating the bad guy....and it doesn't go too well after a while. While a little long, it was worth it.

I popped in Stockholm Syndrome the other day. This is a side project from Widespread Panic's bassist, Dave Schools, and a couple other guys. It's not my favorite but it's fun.

Around the web, here's a video of my brother slipping on the ice while curling with some friends.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Very Similar Day

Last year around this time, I wrote an entry called Blue Christmas...Before Thanksgiving. The other week, this entry flowed back into my consciousness as I began to think about readings that would be fitting to read during our Blue Christmas service. Last year I used parts of a RealLivePreacher essay and an excerpt from the GalPals' Advent book (so needless to say, the blogosphere has been very helpful in putting together this service). I try to hit a multitiude of themes during this service, because it's not just grief that arises during the holidays...it can be stress, or the reminder of how financially limited you are, or loneliness, or doubt. I like looking for essays that touch on these other themes.

So I was reminded of my Blue Christmas essay from just before Thanksgiving, and I remembered the circumstances surrounding it: our church had two people die in the same week, I was just beginning to feel the most incredulous about holiday commercialization that I've ever felt, and because I had been so close to celebrating my first complete year of ministry I wanted to see a light dusting of snow over the field behind my house. We tend to get our first sticky snow right before Thanksgiving where we are, so I was ready for it.

I woke up this morning, and even before I got up I thought to myself, "It'd be really cool to see that light dusting today." And sure enough, it was there. It's been a comfort to me this morning, not because I'm needing any special comfort (other than a slight cold), but just because it's a comforting scene in itself. And once again, it reminded me of my reflection from last year. Even when I lived in St. Louis, I was close to an open area where I could wake up to such a scene.

We did make our first trip to the mall last night as well. We didn't buy anything other than some coffee drinks. I made a few remarks about how Northeast Ohio stores sell an abundance of Pittsburgh Steelers stuff (the Browns' big rivals even though Cleveland usually gets slaughtered), but Michigan stuff is still harder to find. Stores hate Michigan or they hate money, or both. There are plenty of us living around here.

Of course, while there wasn't much Michigan merchandise to be found, the Christmas stuff was up already. They had already decked the halls with all sorts of bells and trees and angels and snowmen and Santa's big chair and camera. The funk that it all put me in last year hasn't kicked in yet, probably because there weren't enough people bumping around me. If the place had been harder to maneuver around, my crankiness probably would've started in 5th gear. I tend to keep my arms at my sides in big crowds, not only so it's easy to get around, but so I don't punch anybody. It's not agoraphobia...I'm not afraid of them. I just want them to stop running into me or hitting me with their bags or talking on their cellphones while running into me and hitting me with their bags.

So it's a similar morning thanks to the snow. I really do like the holiday season. I don't like it when it gets mangled and twisted and manipulated. That's what makes it blue for me. Hopefully that can be avoided this year. Still, maybe my entry from last year will name that same anxiety for others, which is why I'm including it in our service. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy the rest of my slightly snowy morning.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Weird...

I had two church-related dreams last night.

In the first, I couldn't find any of my stoles and the prelude had already started. So there was this long time of silence while I looked for them. And I wasn't looking in my office for them, either. I was looking in the back room where I know they wouldn't be. So then I walk out to begin the service. I'm not actually in my church's sanctuary, but in my dream I think that it's my church's sanctuary...know what I mean? And a neighbor church has brought its youth group and at some point it's become an evening service. And the youth group won't shut up. Some start chanting and some are talking at regular level voices and some start singing. I try to direct them to the call to worship, but no one is having it. By this point I realize that all of the congregation except for this youth group has walked out. Finally one of the adults with this group explains that their church has embraced a much more relaxed style of worship where "whatever the Spirit leads them to do, they do." To me, it's just chaos and noise.

In my second dream, once again I'm in my church but it's not my church but in my dream I know it's my church. They actually meet in what looks like the lower level of a beach house, but it's big enough to have a sanctuary and offices and classrooms. I lead at least part of a worship service and then I find myself outside looking at our facilities and ask myself, "what if I suggested that we actually build a church building?" And then in that weird awake-but-not-awake-yet phase, I remember that we already have one and I have to get up soon to go do stuff at it.

Interesting what my subconscious tries to process. If we looked at these with a Freudian mindset (who Psychology Major Mrs. Jeff says is full of crap), there are all sorts of fun things we could come up with...none of which I'll go into now, because I really do have to go do stuff at the church.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Michigan Pride

Okay, so when it comes down to it, the Wolverines lost 42-39.

I can't bring myself to get too upset about 42-39. And after a week of stewing and moaning about Troy Smith and the expected "Hey Pastor, how'd your team do HAR HAR" that I'm already recieving, I'm pleasantly surprised that I feel this good.

Truth be told, I've been riding a high since June. That's when I first realized that the Tigers might have a shot at appearing in their first World Series in 19 years. I took every opportunity that I could get this summer and fall to wear my Detroit hat out and about. Then college football season started, and simultaneously I got to watch the Tigers plow through the first two rounds of the playoffs and the Wolverines make up for an absolutely miserable season last year.

I told a story during one of my sermons recently. I have an autographed Tigers baseball and I talked about my first visit to Tiger Stadium...the first of a handful of such trips...my first baseball experiences. I thought about that a lot: my first baseball story comes from Detroit. That became significant to me the more I thought about it because people here don't talk about their first game being in Detroit...they talk about Municipal Stadium or Jacobs Field. As I put together that sermon, a light went on: I truly am a Michigander at heart.

There's something here about origins for me that I'm not explaining well right now. How about this: I'm swimming in a sea of origin stories that begin in Northeast Ohio. Mine begins outside Detroit and then all over the state of Michigan for the first 7-8 years of my life. What I'm trying to say is that this is the most I've consciously lived into that origin.

Bo's death drove it home. The reactions from both sides showed me how special this rivalry is; how special it is to be not only a Michigan fan, but to be from Michigan.

And I still do consider myself that. Actually, up until the game started I'd been stewing and moping all week about how horrible it is that I have to put up with this state and how tired I am of hearing "OH...IO" and why am I still here and man, is scarlet and grey annoying. The transition from moping to pride started when everyone started talking about Bo. It transitioned from "How can I sing 'Hail to the Victors' in a foreign land?" to wanting more and more chances to wear my blue and gold and scrounge through boxes to find my Michigan pin so I can use it as a tie tack among all those Buckeye loyalists who will take their little ribs tomorrow. Not that all that wasn't there before...I'm just finally finding it a nice fit.

I wrote the other day about hurt pride. Something started in June that has fully blossomed tonight. I only feel the pride right now.

Yes, Michigan. And Go Blue.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Y'all are in trouble...

...because now, they're gonna do it for Bo.

RIP, and Go Blue.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've started Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach. You may know Roach's other book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. In Spook, Roach turns her attention to such subjects as ghosts, the soul, and heaven and hell. I've only read the introduction so far, so I don't have a whole lot to say about it other than that Roach's humor is intact.

TV-wise, tomorrow I'll be watching the Michigan game with my hands over my face. But I'll spread my fingers enough to see what happens.

As for music, I broke down and started listening to Christmas music this past week. I wanted to find something to arrange and perform in church for Christmas Eve, but my particular crop of Christmas CDs doesn't really lend itself to that. This is what I have to choose from:

Bunch of Believers, Ska-La-La-La-La - A Christmas ska CD. Their take on the classic carols are much better than their originals, where they sing about putting on a Christmas play at church and getting into a snowball fight.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Christmas Eve and Other Stories - Symphonic rock from a group that makes its entire living writing and arranging Christmas music. There's a certain cheese factor here, too, but I'm able to ignore that in most cases.

40 Years: A Charlie Brown Christmas - You would think from the title that this is a digitally remastered version of the original songs from the TV special. Instead, it's a modern jazz group and other artists trying to improve on something that never needed improving. Dave Koz playing "Linus and Lucy"? There's no freaking saxophone in that song. Brian McKnight singing "Christmastime is Here"? Why? Just because he's Brian McKnight?

Barenaked Ladies, Barenaked for the Holidays - Another mix of classics and new tunes, including their rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" with Sarah McLachlan, which is excellent. Their trademark goofiness comes across when they just sing "Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young" over and over to the tune of "Deck the Halls." I could do without the Casio keyboard arrangements of some songs, but all in all this is a pretty good one.

And that's my entire Christmas CD collection. I told you it was slim.

Around the web, watch this Yoshida Brothers music video over at Scott's blog.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bowing to Culture or Being Realistic?

I originally had a youth function scheduled for this Saturday evening, but after a lot of back and forth I rescheduled it.

You don't have to think very hard to guess the reason. There's a football game being played that afternoon that a lot of people take to be a big deal. When I'd scheduled this thing, I hadn't realized that that was the same day.

It finally fully hit me this past Sunday, when I was told by one person that they'd at least be late because they wanted to watch the entire thing. Immediately I started questioning how many others would either be late or not come at all for the same reason. At first, I thought I'd just make do and plow through. But after a while I realized that after an afternoon and early evening of what can really be an involved, emotional event for people (especially in this silly state), would they truly be able to switch gears for what I had planned?

Plus I wanted to see the entire thing, too.

To a certain extent, I feel like I'm in the same category as all those churches that cancelled worship on Christmas day last year. I hadn't agreed with their decision because I thought that it was an act of bowing to the culture, of sending a message that church isn't as important.

I want my youth to be fully engaged and fully present in the experience. This Saturday would have presented some major hindrances to that. That was my main reason. It just wasn't good planning on my part.

So we'll try again right before Advent. College football will be on hiatus. No one is even thinking about the Super Bowl or even Christmas traditions at that point.

In one sense, maybe this does send a message that this stupid game is more important, or that it's okay to see it that way.

The message that I hope it sends is: "Okay, you enjoy the game today and in a few weeks we'll fully engage in fellowship and worship without any distractions. I want you to get something out of this that helps your walk with Jesus and your lives as children of God and as disciples. We won't have to worry about coming late and we won't even be more interested in trash-talking. As your church we hope for your undivided attention and we want to give you the same."

That's what I hope. It really is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Big Week

I've been dwelling on the High Holy Day that will once again descend upon us this Saturday. I use the word "dwelling," because it captures the bad mood that such reflection has put me in over the course of today.

If you aren't a fan of Michigan or Ohio State, you probably don't see Saturday as anything more than the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

For us, it is a crucial day. A sacred day. A day of Super Bowl proportions. And this particular year couldn't be bigger with pretty much everything on the line: a Big Ten championship, a National Title game appearance, bragging rights.

I myself have had to endure The Most Insufferable Fans in the Land for three years running now. I can't avoid it. I live in their state. I pastor 200 of them or so. They all have my phone number. I can't call off the day after the game.

Michigan is a different team this year, this is true. They're mad about last year's craptastic season and the flak that Carr is getting. And Hart is healthy. Manningham isn't so much, but Hart is. And Henne has improved.

Then those other guys have Zwick...haha, sorry...Smith, who is putting up Heisman numbers and a couple offensive guys and special teams guys who are nuisances.

This is how I console myself: this is the same way I felt before the Michigan-Notre Dame game. Michigan destroyed them (of course, Notre Dame is also overrated). This is also the same way I felt before the Tigers met the Yankees in the playoffs...and then when they met the Athletics in the playoffs. I felt this way when the Tigers played the Cards, too, but we won't talk about that.

It's a huge game this year, probably the biggest it's ever been. Michigan has been defying expectations and bulldozed its way to the number 2 spot.

And now here we are again.

Since I'm writing about it, let me share something that I've been wanting to get off my chest. Buckeye fans love to tell the legend of Woody Hayes, how he ran out of gas in Michigan and pushed his car over the state border rather than get Michigan gas. They think it's the most hilarious thing ever. Let me list all the ways that that legend is a bunch of crap: while he was in Michigan, he ate Michigan food, drank Michigan water, peed in Michigan toilets, breathed Michigan air, walked on Michigan soil, and talked to Michigan residents. Hate to be the one to break it to you, but someone finally had to. Unless, of course, he brought his own Ohio water and then peed in the empty bottle afterwards, wore an oxygen mask, learned how to levitate, and acted like a complete diva to anyone with a Michigan driver's license. Possible, but not probable. There, now you know the truth.

Okay, so anyway, this game is on Saturday. I'm hyped up in a please-don't-make-me-play-sick-make-them-shut-up sort of way.

It's only a game, and if you know what else is going on in my life right now, you know this by far is not the most crucial thing in the world. It isn't for anybody.

But still, it'd be nice to hold my head high after a few years of hurt pride. Maybe after Zwick...dangit...Smith graduates. But I'd prefer it'd be sooner.

Go Blue.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Monday

It's already Monday.

Monday of the second full week of November.

The Monday after the second Sunday of November.

As far as my schedule is concerned, we're over halfway through the month already.

Only five more days until Sunday. Five more days to write a sermon, prepare a confirmation lesson, make ready for another go.

Only four more days until a youth function.

Two more days until Bible study.

Less than a day until Consistory.

I live in seven-day increments. Get to Sunday, hit restart. Begin again.

It's already Monday.

And soon Monday will be over, too.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pop Culture Roundup

I started Christianity for the Rest of Us by Diana Butler Bass. Bass took on a three-year study course to attend mainline churches, speak with their members, and experience their programs. The purpose was to show that mainline churches, in their own skin, are thriving. She cites emphases on spirituality, experiential worship, and progressive theology as some of the marks of these communities. However, her book also features the refrain, "as opposed to those other churches" mixed in, which especially seems to contradict her chapter on diversity in which she celebrates how it is about the absence of "as opposed to those other groups." I think her overall point is that mainliners have been written off for so long as spiritually dead, sleepy, and worshippers of tradition (by some of those "other churches" in particular) that she wants to respond to those claims. In that regard, I've sometimes wondered who exactly this book is for. Is it a pep talk for mainliners? Is it a response to those outside the mainline? Perhaps it is a little of both. Once I'm finished with the book, I might treat it in a full review.

Ghost Hunters this week was a highlight show from their 9-hour live Halloween investigation at the hotel that inspired The Shining. They had wrestler CM Punk along, which was little more than a bit of cross-promotion. They heard a girl's voice (no children checked in at the hotel), found some cold spots, and saw some shadows. There hasn't been another episode, I don't think, where they've heard a voice plainly. Skeptics could chalk that up to all sorts of things, but the possibility that it's something else is so much more interesting.

The other day I popped in an older CD by Plumb, a Christian-but-we-don't-feel-the-need-to-sing-about-Jesus-in-every-song-and-our-musical-abilities-are-way-above-average band that I listened to a lot in college. I think what got me into them was their heavier drums. That, and the lead singer is not unpleasant to the eyes. And yes, Christian music labels pay attention to appearance just as much as their heathen "worldly" counterparts. And it obviously worked in my case, because she's a reason I picked up their CD. How many unattractive "Christian" artists can you name? Time's up. Exactly. Don't judge me.

Around the web, my buddy The Masked Doctoral Student is engaged. And kick yourself if you haven't seen Weird Al's White and Nerdy video yet. And then go watch the Women! Know Your Limits! video over at Bob's blog.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Feeding the Hungry

Imagine being buried without books;
a situation making haunting justifiable.
Everywhere: books. Books written after your death,
books written before that you neglected to read-
all their pages unturnable, their riches kept from you.

Living readers, can you feel them?
Peering over your shoulder jealously as you squint in darkened libraries,
as you huddle under covers hugging the words close
and drift towards the Jealous Ones in sleep,
as you lazily scan pages in waiting rooms and the back seat of cars.

If you're wondering, it's why at night,
while locking doors and dimming lights,
I leave books open on the stairs, the table.
It's why in sympathy with the Damned
I spend my lunch hour reading in the graveyard.

Back against tree, gold leaves hissing as they hit the earth,
though I can't quite see them, I can feel them
hovering around me,
pushing each other out of the way like children-
the Dead, bereft readers who try to read my book.

Sometimes, on rare, quiet days when the clouds drift overhead,
my heart breaking under the beautiful weight of the words,
I lower my voice and read aloud
so that all the Wordless Ones may partake, and for a time
be filled.

(God forgive me.)


via McCarty Musings

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

POC Gets Political and Other Stuff

It's a relaxing day for your POC blogger.

We got up fairly early to cast our votes and then go out to breakfast. I was confounded briefly by the electronic voting machine because I couldn't find the card slot. After that, however, it was smooth screen-touching for me.

I have never had more pre-recorded phone messages from anyone before this election season. The most interesting part was that they were all from Republicans, urging me to protect our country and values from the bad people. I even got one while I sat down to type this telling me that "it's not too late if you haven't voted!" None of them did any good. Sorry.

For my Ohio readers, I'll go ahead and let you know that I'm against the encouragement of gambling addictions and increased revenue for race track owners, for the restriction on risk of lung cancer and emphysema in public places (the state law, not the corporate-sponsored constitutional amendment), for the raising of the minimum wage...and I voted for a school levy.

I missed the big UCC webcast. My buddy over at Jeremiah's Field watched it and said it was devoid of long-winded posturing speeches, for which I was grateful. The possibility of those types of speeches being included made me wary about tuning in. The main reason was that I attended a Son's Supper (or Dude's Dinner or Man's Meal). At any rate, it was at a UCC church which to me was symbolic that it took place at the same time as a national webcast celebrating what the UCC is about. We're about fellowship, breaking bread together, welcoming one another, and recognizing our unity in Christ, all which we did without the webcast.

Today is in part about self-care. Due to the unforeseen circumstances of my "vacation" week, today is a half-day for me to help make up for it. I took care of some things in the office this morning and now I'm sitting here taking a bit of sabbath.

The Haggard stuff is getting a lot more blog space. Actually, Mark Driscoll's response to the Haggard stuff is getting a lot more blog space. People have swooped in on this little nugget in particular:

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either.


Emerging Grace and The Parish have the most well-rounded replies to this that I've read. I actually don't feel like writing out anything else about it. Those two blogs say it better than I would.

Enjoy your Election Day. If I'm still awake, I hope to tune in to the Midterm Midtacular on Comedy Central tonight. Otherwise, it's another cup of coffee and book for me.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fishbowl on a Pedestal

Most blogs I read regularly have picked up the current woes of Ted Haggard. The reactions are all over the map, too. Some are worried about how this will tarnish the evangelical image, some are worried for him and his family, some hope that the allegations aren't true, some hope that he, as well as other evangelical Christians, learns something from all this. I am pleased, however, that not one blogger I've read is twisting the knife or trying to use this to prop up an anti-Christian, anti-Religious Right, or anti-Evangelical agenda. I'm sure that some bloggers somewhere are, but the ones I read haven't and that includes some that are usually pretty scathing when it comes to the groups with which Haggard identifies.

There's been a lot of discussion of sin and hypocrisy coming out of this (well, more "conservative" blogs are more concerned with the sin part because they have a particular idea in this case). After all, Haggard has before now been elevated onto a pedestal due to his position and influence. When people on these pedestals fall, they can fall far and hard. After all, when someone seems to have it all together AND adamantly preaches against something that he or she is later implicated in allegedly doing, the significance is not lost on anyone who has been paying attention. Thus, it will be the hypocrisy on which people will focus rather than the particular "sin."

(Apart from disagreements on the sinfulness of homosexuality, there is still the alleged act of adultery, which is much more universally condemned.)

For my own part, the tragedy lies in the pedestal. All pastors are at risk here, from 10,000-member megachurches on down. It is not necessarily of our own doing, but the implications are ever-present in our fishbowl of an existence.

So pastors live in a fishbowl...on a pedestal? Maybe those metaphors aren't the best complementary fit, but I can see how they can work together. People scrutinize us while revering us. It's not easy to get out of the public eye when you screw up. The positive side is that people see you as fully human. The negative side is that people see what you did and you have to live with the consequences. Actually, that may be a positive as well.

Regardless, I remember the words of a seminary professor in one of my own less proud moments: there is grace in the gospel. There is grace for Haggard, the same grace that is for us. It is meant to be a transformative gift rather than a free pass. It's what new life in Christ is all about. That is good news for pastors, and for everyone else.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I'm Going to Write About Music Now

Okay, first a disclaimer. If you've been reading this silly blog for any length of time, you've probably noticed that when it comes to my Pop Culture Roundups, I never go into great detail about the music I'm listening to. I have a very good reason for that. Beyond describing what genre the artist fits into, I find that I can't write much else without sounding cornball. I can't describe music in print without it sounding forced or cheesy.

Here, watch: The Black Keys provide a mix of blues sensibility with raw rock flavor. The drums are no-nonsense, the guitar riffs simple yet powerful, and the singer is comfortable in his own voice.

Actually, that didn't go as bad as I thought it would. But my overall point is that you don't read or write about music. You freaking listen to it. When you write about it, all you get are words like "raw" and "sensibility" and "flavor" and "simple yet powerful," and that really doesn't tell you anything. And I don't like attempting it too much because it DOES sound forced. Why write about something that isn't meant to be experienced in an essay?

This morning, however, I feel compelled to write about music. I want to toss out all the above in favor of writing about something that's always been a part of me because lately I've been finding so much more joy in it. For me, my musical journey is almost as important as my spiritual journey. Yeah, it's that big.

I got up yesterday morning and wrote a song. Seriously. Just like that. I woke up, and even before my daily coffee craving took precedence, I had the following thought: "It's almost Advent and I need to figure out what mildly-simple-yet-theologically-responsible guitar song we're going to use as an introit. I don't like the choices that are currently flashing in my brain. I need to write one." And I did. It's a four-line Advent chorus that mentions hope, peace, joy, and love. Maybe I'll add verses, but this will serve our needs for now. I've long been one of those people who on the one hand is dissatisfied with a lot of praise music, but on the other believes that if you don't like your current options, create new ones. It's the second praise song I've written in almost two years of full-time ministry. This could become a trend.

I love playing music. I've been a drummer since 5th grade. I even had a solo in the elementary school concert arrangement of The Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." It was just a repetitive eighth/sixteenth combo that at the time was really hard but now seems like...uh...kid stuff. Hm.

I got my first drum set in high school after I saved enough money and practiced with my non-existent band (R.E.M. really loud on headphones). My first time playing set in front of anyone was my senior year when the call went out for a drummer during our Friday morning FCA gathering. I sounded terrible my first time. It got better. In college I was in my first real band, again, a praise outfit for the college FCA equivalent, which took occasional gigs elsewhere. Our high point probably came when we opened an on-campus concert for an a capella boy band called Grafitti Tribe. That's when we were "young and indie." The next year some new members came in wanting to seriously convert the masses and get a record deal.

Fun story that goes along with that...I expressed a concern that I didn't want the band to get all corporate and business-like while pursuing this. They said, "Oh, don't worry, it won't." An opportunity came along to record a demo CD, but it was discovered that the set date fell during a time when I'd be out of town. "Well, we'll have someone else fill in the drum tracks. It's just the nature of the business."

The band fell apart shortly after this.

I put together another ragtag bunch my first year of seminary as part of my field education placement. It was a college ministry with enough talent to do something like that, and we even played at a few sponsor churches that year. This marked my turn from "whatever dude" band member to frontman. Leading practice was all-garage, man. It drove our sheet music-reading piano player crazy. "Hey, during this part can you play more like diddla-diddla-duuun, diddla-diddla-duuun." "What notes are those?" "Uh...duuun." By some miracle, we did okay. That was the last band I've played in.

Seminary also allowed for me to lead a drumming circle on occasion. I'd never done this before, so I first had to look up what it's supposed to be about. The philosophy of the drumming circle is twofold: 1) We all have rhythm, even if it doesn't seem like we do. After all, we all have heartbeats, and 2) In the circle, we create rhythm in community, however the spirit moves. Maybe that sounds a little new-agey, but it can be a powerful experience.

Living in a shoebox-sized apartment doesn't allow for leaving a set of drums set up at all times in the living room. I took every opportunity to pull them out of storage in seminary, even if lugging them up and down stairs was a pain. Imagine my delight when I move into a house with spare rooms so that my drums can finally be set up at all times and...collect dust. That is, until recently. Amazing how therapeutic drumming can be when you're feeling pulled in 12 directions by the expectations of others. In the midst of it, I like to think I've shaken off some rust and it's become a compulsion. Hey, I have 15 whole minutes before I have to leave to visit so-and-so. I'm gonna go make a lot of noise. It's a beautiful thing.

I thought I'd transform myself into a guitar player, so I got an electric to accompany my acoustic. Since I started drumming again, I've decided to sell the electric. I'm a drummer who can also play some guitar chords.

And now I write mainline-flavored praise songs.

But what I really want is another band to play with. And the only guy I know who'd be in it is already in another one.

Anyway, I've written about music now. I'd do another entry on the music I like, but then we'd run into all that "flavor" and "sensibility" stuff. So for now this is as good as it gets.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm finally finished with Don't Eat This Book. From beginning to end, this was an indictment of what we eat and all the factors of why we compel ourselves to eat it. Did you know that the USDA's Food Pyramid has changed twice since it first came out, mainly because various parts of the food industry whined that their piece was too small (and thus would drive profits down)? Yeah, our best interests are being kept at heart there.

At our Halloween get-together this past Friday, Mrs. Jeff popped in Underworld before I had a chance to stop her. In fact, I think she purposely did it while I was out of the room (actually, I would have put in Army of Darkness, which is probably another reason she took her opportunity). I don't know why she likes this movie so much. You have to pay extra attention to get all the convoluted backstory, and seriously, vampires and werewolves using guns? Biting gets you too dirty and bloody nowadays I guess.

I'm at a loss for TV shows now that baseball is over. I watch Michigan play football when I can, and while college football is my second favorite sport (take a hike, NFL), it still doesn't capture my interest the way baseball does (unless they're playing Those Yahoos Down South, in which case I acquire a temporary craving for blood). The success of the Pistons and Cavs the past few years has inspired me to watch more basketball, but again it's not baseball. Sigh.

Lately I've been in a Black Keys sort of mood.

Around the web, in honor of Election Day, here's Stephen Colbert with The Word on voting.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A Sad Post-Halloween Church Story

This story from The Parish really got to me:


Let's pretend you're a young mother, about 24, with a biracial one year old son. You've not had much of a good life, to include a stint with drug addiction. Almost all of your experiences with church people have come the salons where you've worked, and almost all have been negative. With the exception of a few Christian stylists with whom you've worked, the clientele has usually evaluated your dress, tattoos, piercings, hair color, comportment, language, etc., and found you oddly lacking in Christian character. Strange? Not really; you didn't grow up in church. Your family was a disaster, and your first marriage was abusive and drug-hazed. Now, you're trying to make things better for your son. You're working steadily, drinking a little with the girls, found a better man, and gotten clean of meth. What should you do on Halloween?

Turns out the church down the street from where you work is having a "Fall Festival." Why is it that Christians will celebrate Halloween but not call it by name, you wonder. This particular church advertises itself as one of those "come as you are" places. Casual dress. A facility that looks like an office building and not a church. A pond out front for their annual boat races. Even a community garden in front. They go to great lengths to not say they're Southern Baptist until you've actually visited a couple times. Everything they do and say lends itself to the idea that you might actually be welcome here. So you dress up junior in an adorable zebra costume and head for the church, exhibiting tremendous courage even to approach the place. You take your son through a couple of the booths. He's too young to really know what's going on, but he seems to be having a grand time, what with all the candy, music, bright colors, and Bible character costumes.

Apparently there is a costume contest. You know your child is beautiful (he really is), so you take him to the table to sign him up.

"I'm sorry, miss, the contest is only for Bible characters."

"But he's wearing a zebra costume."

"I'm sorry. Bible characters only."

"It's not like he's a demon or devil or witch or something."

"Sorry."

Ah yes. The silly Christian insistence on following mindless rules. You put on a Fall Festival for the specific purpose of reaching people like this young woman, and then you dutifully shoot yourself in the foot and ruin your chances with her. All that was required was for one person (these folks are SBC, after all; they're supposed to be serious about that book that most of them never read) who had actually read their Bible to say, "There must have been zebras on the ark," and junior would have been in, mom would have been delighted, and the church would have had an opportunity to help in the redemption of a family. Alas...