Friday, August 31, 2007

Summer Is Finally Over Meme

The Roundup will come tomorrow.

1. Share a highlight from this summer. (If you please, don't just say "our vacation to the Canadian Rockies." Give us a little detail or image. Help us live vicariously through you!) I'm gonna have to go with finding out that I'm going to be a father. No contest. Honorable mention goes to this past weekend with all the people who were around for Mrs. Coffeepastor's graduation. It was enjoyable to have a full house and eat too much.

2. Are you glad to see this summer end? Why or why not? Nowadays I'm always glad to see summer end. This until the end of the year is my favorite time.

3. Name one or two things you're looking forward to this fall. The big one will be my work trip to New Orleans in October. I've never been there besides, but going there for this reason seems that much more important. Also, Go Blue.

4. Do you have any special preparations or activities to mark the transition from one season to another? (Cleaning of house, putting away summer clothes, one last trip to the beach) The past couple years I've tended to put away my Decemberists albums during the summer to break them out again en force once fall comes. I think it's because I was first introduced to them in the fall and can recall one rainy morning driving through wet brown leaves when I really began to connect with their music.

5. I'll know that fall is really here when: I take my walks around the church cemetary, stop down by the end of the driveway, and see the multicolored leaves in the nearby park in all their glory.

Thank God it's fall.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

2.9 mm

That's how big the (very) little one is at the moment.

Mrs. Coffeepastor had a concern come up the other day that she wanted to have checked out, so we visited an OBGYN. While there, we both got a much more accurate picture and timetable of things.

First, she's fine. The little one is fine. Everybody's fine.

Second, I got a much more intimate perspective of what women go through at such appointments. I salute you all.

Third, we're not as far along as we initially thought. She hit 6 weeks today, so that puts the due date at April 24th. Incidentally, this is Shakespeare's birthday, which we thought was tremendously cool. It's also her sister's birthday, which is also pretty cool. We already have names picked out, and while it would be fun to plan on naming it something like Bianca if a girl and Lysander if it's a boy, we aren't that dorky. Okay, we are that dorky. Just not in this instance.

And finally, we saw it for the first time. It's not much to look at right now, but we did see its tiny heart pumping at a million miles an hour. They printed off a few pictures, all 2.9 mm of it. So that means it's about this long: --.

This is quite an amazing little adventure we're starting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Is This What It Looks Like?

I once heard a pastor say from the pulpit, "Ministry is like pornography...you know it when you see it." That has stuck with me mostly because a pastor said it. From the pulpit. But it's also stuck with me because I'm not always sure whether I'm doing ministry or not.

I wonder if the same thing applies to being missional. I read the definitions and examples. I know that the term refers to stepping out of the church walls and into the community and beyond merely the membership. But in my own time and place, I've wondered what that looks like.

Yesterday I met two guys interested in membership. Usually for these things I set up a Saturday morning where I sit them at a table in front of a whiteboard, say some things about the history of the UCC, point them to the Statement of Faith, and ask them how they want their names spelled on their certificates. Yesterday I decided to let them pick a favorite place to drink coffee and we'd have a conversation. And for close to two hours, that's what we did. They asked questions and told me about their faith journeys and I shared parts of my own. I heard about their families and life situations. I worked in the stuff about the UCC and the Statement of Faith, but it only took five minutes of the conversation.

This has to be what missional looks like. I wasn't really educating people to become good members. I was entering into deeper relationship with people and encouraging their sense of what it means to be disciples.

I have to say I like that a lot better.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Turning a Corner

So it's been a few days. That's been the story of this blog lately. Sorry about that.

The weekend was full. Mrs. Coffeepastor is now a college graduate twice-over. She'll soon be off to take her Big Important Nurse Exam. In the meantime, we had a fun weekend with a packed house - lots of family and friends over for grilling out and games. Our overly friendly cat probably got the best deal, because he just moved from person to person getting his belly rubbed and his head scratched.Yesterday I did nearly nothing...I didn't change out of my pajamas until close to 3:00. Call it recovery. But the good kind, if there is such a thing.

And then the Tigers beat the Yankees 16-0 and I got to watch it on TV.

I feel like our household has turned a major corner. Soon Mrs. Coffeepastor (one of these days I'm going to write a parody post of blogs that give tedious anonymous nicknames to family members) will be a full-fledged nurse. In addition, this Sunday is September 2nd, which means the merciful end of summer and the beginning of something more interesting. For our church, that means a big anniversary celebration. For me, it means a trip to New Orleans. For Michigan, it means Lloyd Carr either using the talent he has to do something great or hopefully moving on (it's win-win, really).

And I can't help but begin to think about Advent, because that's what I do. But maybe not today. Maybe.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

I've decided to supplement The Intimate Merton with W. Somerset Maugham's first volume of short stories. I'd read The Razor's Edge in college and loved it, so I decided to give his short stories a chance. "Rain" is a commentary on the brutality and hypocrisy that can manifest in religion, while "The Fall of Edward Barnard" is a brilliant satire of cultural expectation, similar to The Razor's Edge. Maugham is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers.

This past week I watched The Last Kiss, which stars Zach Braff and that chick from the Manly Deoderant Spray commercials who's all like, "I don't want to smell you from here...not here...not even here...I'm hot, buy whatever this crap is that I'm selling." The movie itself is a story of four guys who all have mid-life crises at age 30. Some of them are just on the cusp of settling down, others would rather settle down, one doesn't want to settle down at all. And they wonder if they're ready or if they want to. The main story is Braff's character, who thinks about straying away from his pregnant girlfriend in favor of a 20-something co-ed (the Manly Spray Chick), but Casey Affleck is the secondary story which ends up having a lot of heart. This effort by Braff wasn't nearly as good as Garden State, but it did have some touching moments. The end kind of fizzles, though.

I've been enjoying Galactic a good deal lately.

Around the web, the United Church of Christ Blog Network recently welcomed its 30th blog. We're doing pretty well, I guess.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

More Children's Sermons Rejected by Textweek

Sometimes, to break the monotony of a good, logically sound object lesson, it's good to just tell a simple story with a sound Jesus-ish message. Here are a few of my favorites...


"I'd like to tell you a story about a boy named Xanish. Xanish needed help with his homework one night, so he asked his father to help him.

'Father,' Xanish asked, 'I seem to be having some difficulty with my math homework. Could you please help me?'

'I don't know, son,' Father replied, 'Doesn't God want us to work out our own problems?'

'Um...what does that have to do with math?' Xanish was confused.

'You see, son, there was this man named Abraham. He was once afraid of the Pharaoh of Egypt, so he told the guards that Sarah was his sister so that they wouldn't kill him. And then it all worked out. So you should work on your math by yourself because it's what God wants so that you'll grow up to be a good American citizen.'

'But didn't Pharaoh find out about Sarah being Abraham's wife, Father? I'm pretty sure that God got upset about that whole thing.'

And Xanish was spanked fifteen times and sent to bed. Obey your parents. The end."


"I'd like to tell you a story about a girl named Newrionah. One day Newrionah went to school, carrying her backpack and her lunchbox, as she so often did. On this particular day, the class was introduced to a new student.

'Class,' the teacher said, 'this is Renquillah. She just moved here from Idaho.'

And Renquillah sat down at a desk next to Newrionah. When it came time for lunch, Newrionah turned to Renquillah and said, 'Would you like to sit with me and my friends in the cafeteria?'

Renquillah blushed with excitement. 'Yes, that'd be great!'

And so Newrionah and Renquillah sat down with Newrionah's friends Goitvan, Atari, Limerick, Zxcvbnm, and Fladelpuss. They all shared their lunches just like something that Paul wrote someplace.

Then they met the boys on the playground: Klattproof, He-Man, Portwevurt, Adfart, and Pete. All the other kids picked on Pete for his stupid name. The end."

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Taking Stock

Every once in a while, I have nothing in particular to write but feel a compulsion to set pen to paper, or fingers to keys. By the time I'm finished and the urge satisfied, I can sit back and see whether the act produced anything or whether it was an act for the sake of the act.

A certain member of my household, now some six weeks pregnant, is beginning to discover the downside of such a state. I'm hearing about aches and pains and queasiness and other things that my RevGal colleagues can write about with it seeming slightly less weird to share with all of existence. I wouldn't be able to pull it off very well. Suffice to say, she settled down for a "nap" around 6:00 and has been there ever since.

It's been a different sort of evening that way. I must say that the feeling around the house tonight seems to be one of silence...the type of silence that is brought about by change. It's not a "calm before the storm" sort of silence, but it is a silence marked by the knowledge that something is ending and something vastly different is beginning. It will upset our lives, but really it will enrich our lives in ways that we may not always or immediately appreciate. We're formulating a game plan while deep down admitting to ourselves and each other that we're much more certain of learning as we go.

I switched my schedule around a little this past week. For close to two years I've counted Saturday as a workday...really an act of surrender brought about by all the stuff that happens here on Saturdays anyway. Other people with normal jobs work during the week and then "do church stuff" on the weekends, so it was out of necessity that I'd made that change in order to assure myself of adequate rejuvenation time.

All this is to say that yesterday was the first Saturday off that I've had in quite a while. We traveled to the closest Einstein Bros. in the area for breakfast, and I was struck by two things: the change in the weather already taking place, a cooler fall morning following us into the eatery. Second, all the other people enjoying their rest day, their in-between day, their "give me a good reason to come to your program instead of sitting here with breakfast and friends" day. It made me think of college football in the afternoons and the days I used to spend in places like this with other aspiring preacher types as we shared our dreams of ministry with one another. Strangely, the possibility of having the opposite schedule of everyone else didn't factor into those conversations that much. But we did have the fall breeze and coffee and bagels and each other and that was plenty. I felt incredibly human in that moment yesterday, and had to be pried away from it in order to run our other errands.

I'm re-reading Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church. The first time around, I read it with a cynicism that probably stifled the message for me, because I'd known that so many would be fawning over her story when I'd already read so many others' around the blogosphere that perhaps weren't put with as much style or with as big of a built-in audience. This time I'm reading it more for the substance of her particular journey.

I can't fully name the felt-need behind wanting to pick this book up again, at least not the initial one. I can now say, however, that it has helped clarify that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. I was told by a colleague this afternoon how much this church will love our newborn, and I completely agree. I think about the snippets of stories that I'd heard and experienced just since I walked into the building this morning. People flocked to Mrs. Coffeepastor to ask questions both about the new life forming inside her and the new career path she's undertaken. People loved that I wore Nike sandals with my robe today, and a young couple shared with me some of the details of their honeymoon in Europe.

Taylor's story is one of trying to claim her full humanity and not have it wrapped up so tightly in an identity bestowed by the church. It is a hard balancing act that has led to burnout and alternate career paths, or to failed marriages and absentee parenting. I suppose that the experiences of the weekend coupled with her shared struggle have made it clear to me this life and call that I've accepted with its shared stories and the comfort of fall mornings and anticipating a little one and struggling to be human in this role - human with others rather than in my spare time - is still possible in this time and place. Whether it always will be for me is a worthwhile question, but right now the answer is yes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's Not What You Think

Some days, I joke to myself that one day I'm just going to re-post everything written over at Letters From Kamp Krusty and claim it as my own, or just shut this blog down and replace it with a link to over there.

Here is his plan to neutralize Al-Qaeda. Hopefully you see what he's really talking about...


Let's get Al-Qaeda to...

1) Complexify the message
Right now, it's so simple, it can pass from one to the next, and be easily grasped by the uneducated, the young -- everyone. This is dangerous, because it's highly contagious, and people on the street feel capable of enlisting others in the cause.


2) Construct a less "flat", more hierarchical structure
Currently, small, underground groups can move nimbly and autonomously, complicating efforts to thwart them. A more regimented, stratified approach, where some members are left thinking, "I can't know enough to do anything" would bring the movement to a halt.


3) Foster "expert" culture, and barriers to entry to the expert class
Promote the idea that the message is not only highly complex, but only some can truly understand it. Construct extensive barriers to entry to the presumed expert class. Promote idea that cells lacking a certified member of expert class, it is not equipped to be activated.


4) Focus on knowledge, rather than doing

Complexification and expert-class development will make cells spend immense amounts of time studying the work, even debating theories of the work, rather than doing it. Better yet...

5) Equate STUDYING the work with the work itself
The cells are called to ACT, of course. But if we can convince operatives that the work, itself, is in trying to understand the complexity of the work? They'll be effectively neutered. We need to get them to spend large amounts of time in study, gathering to study, believing they don't know enough, hiring new experts to teach them again and again, and attending teaching events.


They'll actually believe they're doing their work when they attend events held by experts. This will render the cell, and the whole movement, harmless! Convince them that the most radicalized, militant among them are merely called to bring other non-activated members to the cell events.


6) Sabotage cell multiplication
VERY important! Cells that operate under simple principles, with motivated operatives, devoted to multiplication? Very, very dangerous, fast-growing, and pop-culture endangering. We must stop this in its tracks, and this is done in multiple ways:


A) Foster egos and small-time celebrity. By convincing operatives to set up individual fiefdoms, fewer autonomous cells will be activated. Rather, the emphasis will be on building larger individual cells with numerous unactivated members.

B) Make the basic structure highly difficult to replicate. Al-Qaeda cells currently are, by necessity, simply-structured and easily replicated. Propagate idea that for cells to begin, planning, experts and capital must be simultaneously accumulated. Expert motivational speakers will be necessary, plus paid staff with highly specific training and talents. Operatives will see massively "successful" large cells, and attempt to duplicate them, with very limited success because of the huge inputs required. This will greatly inhibit growth.

C) Convince philosophically-aligned, but non-active, members to choose from among most entertaining, high quality, cells that offer services for them. Not only will this engender a harmless, internal focus, it will require IMMENSE amounts of resources and energy.

7) Make operatives really, really busy.
Replace simple, animating mission with lengthy lists, charts, and programs for cell maintanance. Convince them that this institutional maintenance is, actually, the mission, itself.This will leave them will no actual time for conducting actual mission.


8) Get Al-Qaeda to seek governmental approval.
Offer tax incentives if necessary. The larger cells, requiring large edifices, will also require tremendous amounts of capital. This will also allow a measure of control, to threaten the cell's tax status, thereby threatening funds for internal programs, when necessary. Better: They'll consider actual operational cells that exist without this governmental approval to be, themselves, invalid!


9) Co-opt Al-Qaeda with the larger culture.
Once members are convinced that cell maintenance and study are actually their "mission", the rest of their lives can be harmlessly integrated with the culture at large. They'll be indistinguishable from non-members, and, because of their new understanding of "mission", effectively equivalent to non-members.


10) Convince members to wear Al-Qaeda t-shirts with funny sayings and stuff.

Mission accomplished.

It'll work to thwart an evil message. It even works with the good ones.

Word Association Meme

Foregoing the Roundup, as it wouldn't have been very interesting. First thought that pops into your head for each word, yadda yadda...

1. vineyard - There's an untouched bottle of white wine in the refrigerator that's been in there for months, and now unless I'm drinking it by myself, that's where it's going to stay for a while yet.

2. root - I think of actor Stephen Root, who plays Milton in Office Space, but who also plays a record company executive in Just Friends: "If you don't make me happy, I'm going to find someone to make me happy." It's been on HBO a lot lately. Good movie.

3. rescue - I've been thinking about college football lately since it's right around the corner, and I'd love, love, LOVE for Michigan to rescue me from the past few years' worth of torment watching them lose to The Sweatervest. It wouldn't be so bad if I wasn't surrounded by their fans. This year looks very promising for my boys, but The Game is always its own animal.

4. perseverance - A good word for when I was looking over my calendar the next few weeks. My vacation in October is looking very pretty. Of course, my vacations are also apparently cursed...

5. divided - I felt divided during a recent trip to a used bookstore. There were a few gems there, but I couldn't take them all. I did come away with some old hymnals and a missal, but left the others alone.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sometimes I Say Dumb Things

I don't know what it is, but sometimes I really just say some stupid things as a pastor.

Sometimes I catch myself doing it, and then proceed to say a few more stupid things to try to cover it up.

Exhibit A: last year I used a newspaper during a children's sermon and asked the kids what kinds of things you find in a newspaper. Back to back, two answers were "obituaries" and "wedding announcements." I made a comment about how weird it was that they were on the same page, which drew a modest chuckle from the congregation. For the remainder of the service, I began to wonder how So-and-So, who had lost his wife a few months prior, would have heard that. It ate at me so much that when it came time for the Prayers of the People I blurted out a prayer for "pastors who make inappropriate comments during children's sermons."

Or consider the most recent Consistory meeting, where I was in rare form (probably still giddy over finding out that I'm going to be a father). There's been a rather unfortunate trend lately where almost every time this past year when I've tried to take time off, someone dies. It's actually become a joke with the congregation at this point. So the other night I tell them that I'm taking my last two vacation weeks in October together to take a trip during the second week, "so when someone dies, hopefully it happens during the first week and I can still go."

I didn't need to say that. Sheesh.

Thank God that there's grace in the gospel, or I'd be screwed.

Well, What Else Can I Say?

All right, I think that everyone knows by this point. Joyful phone calls and e-mails have been made, or people saw the blog, or someone told someone else in the grocery store, or a pastor cleverly shared it during the Prayers of the People and the congregation may or may not have picked up on it.

So sometime around the beginning of April, we welcome Mini-Me. Well, Mini-Her-And-Me. Mini-Us. Only singular. We think.

The very realization of this, which only came as recently as Sunday morning, seems to change one's thinking. Already, plans related to career, trips, diet, and whatever else have slowly become attached to the question, "How will that affect the baby?" Suddenly there's someone else to start considering, and aspirations shrink a little. That's not a tremendously original revelation, but I'm just saying that it's happening already.

The Soon-to-Be Nurse Wife is going to work second shift. How will that affect the baby?

I was toying with the idea of going back to school. How will that affect the baby?

We have three cats. I hope they don't affect the baby. Daddy's a little allergy-prone. Are allergies genetic? I have to read about these things.

Of course, right now it's only a few centimeters big and apparently resembles a shrimp, so we have a while.

This is still a little surreal. Exciting, but surreal.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Judas, CEO

Randall K. Osmet may seem at first glance like your garden-variety CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation, but he will tell you differently.

“It’s not of my own doing,” he demurs, “it’s only because I followed what the Bible teaches.”

I press him on this issue as we sit together in his office. Osmet sits across from me sipping a cup of coffee, surrounded by past accolades: the covers of Forbes and The Economist, an MBA from Harvard, photos of him with President Bush and Condoleeza Rice. And all of this because of the Bible?

“Of course,” he says, “without it, I’d be lost, personally and financially.”

Surely this is an allusion to Jesus CEO, the book that came out some twelve years ago, right?

“No, not Jesus,” he quickly corrects me. “Judas.”

And it is at that point where Osmet produces a copy of his book, Judas CEO.

“It comes out in a few months. Zondervan are dragging their feet a little.”

I feel compelled to push him on this point after getting over my initial shock. Judas? He was the one who betrayed Jesus to the authorities!

Osmet dismisses the concern, apparently used to the objection. “Well, we really shouldn’t dwell on that point. Judas knew what he wanted. He knew how to get it. My book explores those points.”

He finally hands me the copy of his book, encouraging me to look through it. I flip to the Table of Contents, which boasts chapter titles such as, “He Always Maintained Focus,” “He Was Honest,” “He Took Advantage of Vulnerability,” “He Had Secret Meetings,” “He Removed People He Disagreed With.” Sensing that my worries are not yet satisfied, Osmet continues.

“Now, this isn’t just some businessman trying to make a quick buck. This is for leaders of any organization. These points work well in church settings, too! You’d be surprised. I’ve tried some of them myself, but mostly I’ve just sat back and observed some of my church friends. They use them all the time.”

I return the book to Osmet, as I feel a story coming on. He takes another sip of coffee before slipping into a look of reverie.

“I remember this one occasion at United Purpose Church in Texas where I grew up…this pastor had been there probably two or three years, and the board was getting tired of his preaching. He was expecting too much personal transformation or something…wanting to go serve in soup kitchens and such. They sent out a secret letter to the membership and sprang a vote to remove him after worship one Sunday. Their next pastor was much more agreeable to what they wanted.

“Or consider Holy Borg Church of the Absorption where I attend now. They have a membership of 10,000, and it’s all because of Pastor Frank’s strong mindset. If he hadn’t run off the people who didn’t like his church philosophy, they’d still only be at a couple hundred.”

But what about the church’s call to follow Jesus?

He chuckles. “Well, of course they follow Jesus. He died on the cross and covered up our screw-ups. In the meantime, Judas’ way was much more efficient. We’re talking about growing churches and business here. You can’t do that while being meek and patient. This produces results, and we’re all about results. All the churches I’ve ever been a part of like this way better, anyway. This meets them where they are and affirms what they already know. Why fix what isn’t broken?

“I mean really. Soup kitchens? That pastor deserved what he got. People want to know how to better their own lives, not someone else’s. And churches that preach that sort of thing are depressing. Judas understood those things, and look where he got. He made a good chunk of money and he got rid of the depressing guy.”

I point out that he also ended up returning the money and hanging himself. Osmet seems to have seen this coming, too.

Chuckling, he replies, “Yeah, well, that’s what happened to Enron. See? Judas shows us both how to succeed, and what happens to people who feel sorry later. He’s the perfect role model all the way around.”

Osmet’s office phone rings at this point. He rises, still smiling, to see who it is. He chuckles again as he picks up.

“Pastor Frank, speak of the devil. When do I get to see the new yacht…”

Osmet motions that this will probably take a while, but that I can take the book with me. I do so, wondering what other tidbits of wisdom are inside.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

The Intimate Merton is going very slowly. Maybe I'll just leave this section off until I finish it, and until you see it again you can pretty well assume that I'm still reading it.

We're going to see The Bourne Ultimatum tomorrow. I've heard and will expect good things.

We watched most of the first episode of L.A. Ink this week, which follows Kat back to Hollywood to start her own tattoo shop. The lone guy she tries to get to join her shop is freaking awesome. He just draws the image right on the person without any paper involved. That's talent. Pixie freaked me out a little bit with her forked tongue. Kim seems to be the spiritual one of the group.

Entourage had a little more direction this week. It focused on Eric getting a new office and trying to get his name out as Vince's manager. There's a weird scene with Gary Busey. And Jeremy Piven shows why he won an emmy, because his character's got the most personality. His stories have so much more breadth and depth than the other guys. Vince sleeps with another girl, Eric complains about something, Drama gets in some ridiculous predicament, and Turtle smokes another joint. And no one has too bad of a day. I think I only watch this show for Ari nowadays. I should start another season of Scrubs or something.

I listened to Alanis Morissette Unplugged this week. It's not bad, if you like her music to begin with. Still can't really stomach Ironic, though. I once heard a comedian say, "No Alanis, those things aren't ironic. They're just unfortunate." True.

Around the web, watch the trailer for this movie called The Ten. I laughed really hard, and looks like a good theological conversation starter besides.

And then go read every single thing that Brant writes, because it's all absolutely hilarious. Start with this one.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Love Doesn't Need a Reason

So let me tell you about the wedding I attended on Saturday.

The first thing that you need to know is that, including the bride and groom, there were exactly 14 people there. It consisted of both sets of parents, his sister and niece (easily in the top 3 cutest kids in the entire world), her aunt and uncle (I think), a best man, the pastor, and the P.o.C.s. The two of us were the only non-related people besides the best man there, which I think I need to feel flattered and privileged about.

It was, as I've mentioned, at her parents' house, which is set back in the woods a little ways inside a gated community near Amish country. Up until this point, I've always thought of gated communities as treeless, soulless subdivisions where homes cost $500,000 or more. I've now been disabused of that notion. This was a wooded area around a large scenic lake, where houses have a few acres in between them. The house itself was a marvelous rustic layout, warm and inviting, with a deck on the upper level overlooking a stream and a waterfall.

The ceremony itself took place in a garden laid out with flat stones and adorned with benches and a modest fountain. The nine guests other than the pastor, the couple, and the witnesses sat in chairs after the couple took a short processional walk to a Sting song that I couldn't identify.

My piece of the service was brief. I based my reflection on Colossians 3:12-15, partially because I'd been barred from using 1 Corinthians 13. This was probably the one and only time that I'd be able to base a wedding homily on The Decemberists' The Crane Wife, as it has taken on special meaning for the couple. So much so that as I launched into the story of the crane wife, they both tried to keep it together. At the same time, a quick glance at Mrs. POC revealed that she was a little confused about why I was telling this story, evidenced by her mouthing the words, "What are you doing?"

Hey, have you ever heard the story? If not, here's the Wikipedia version:



The Crane Wife is an old Japanese tale. While there are many variations of the tale, a common version is that a poor man finds an injured crane on his doorstep (or outside with an arrow in it), takes it in and nurses it back to health. After he releases the crane, a woman appears at his doorstep with whom he falls in love and marries. Because they need money, his wife offers to weave wondrous clothes out of silk that they can sell at the market, but only if he agrees never to watch her making them. They begin to sell them and live a comfortable life, but he soon makes her weave them more and more. Oblivious to his wife's diminishing health, his greed increases. He eventually peeks in to see what she is doing to make the silk she weaves so desirable. He is shocked to discover that at the loom is a crane plucking feathers from her own body and weaving them into the loom. The crane, seeing him, flies away and never returns.

After this, I talked about the difference between a love that needs a reason and a love that doesn't: the husband of the crane wife being the former and the love described in Colossians the latter.

The pastor said a prayer over the wedding rings and a separate prayer over the engagement ring, which I thought was interesting and different. And the last bit of the service was an anointing of the couple's eyes, ears, head, lips, hands, and feet, which I'd also never seen before.

And then they recessed to "I'm Gonna Be" by The Proclaimers.

"I'm Gonna Be." By The Proclaimers.

How often does that happen?

And then we had dinner. The bigger reception is in a few weeks.

This was, by far, one of my favorite weddings ever. It was intimate and stripped of all the fluff and in a beautiful setting, and it reflected the couple while acknowledging God as the center and source for their relationship. Pastors may go a lifetime wishing to be a part of weddings so small, simple, spiritual, and stress-free. Even as just The Homily Guy, I freaking loved it.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Children's Sermons that Textweek Rejected

Text: John 8:1-11
Theme: Jesus Doesn't Want You To Throw Rocks
Props: A handful of rocks, one for each child.

Lesson: Say, "what have I brought with me today?" (Rocks.) "That's right, rocks. What can you do with rocks?" (Paint them, throw them, use as a paperweight, build a house, arrange a meditation garden with them). "Wow. Those are all great ideas. But the one that I want to talk about today is throwing rocks. Have you ever thrown a rock?" (Wait for responses) "Did it feel good?" (Wait for responses) "Did you want to do it again?" (Wait for responses) "Have you ever thrown a rock at another person?" (Wait for responses, take names of those who answer yes)

Say: "Well, I want to tell you a story. There was this group of people who wanted to throw rocks at a woman caught in adultery. Do you know what adultery is?" (Wait for responses. Many probably won't, in which case you say:) "Well, ask your parents when you get home." (Now hold a rock in your hand) "So these people wanted to throw rocks at this woman. And Jesus was nearby and heard about it. And he told them, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Do you think anyone threw a rock after he said that?" (No. Take names of children who answer yes) "No, they didn't. Because we're all sinful and totally evil. So God doesn't want us to throw rocks. So now I'll give you each a rock to remember not to throw it." (Hand each child a rock)

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for teaching us not to throw rocks. Help these children not to throw their rocks at each other or anyone else. Maybe in the river or at trees, but not at each other. And help them remember that it's because you love us and want us to love others. Amen.


Text: Acts 2:42-47
Theme: God Wants Us to Be the Same
Props: A bag of plain M & Ms

Lesson: Say: "Good morning!" (Wait for response) "I brought something along with me today. Can you tell me what it is?" (A bag of M & Ms) "That's right! I brought a bag of M & Ms with me." (I like M & Ms) "Do you? Me too. That's why I brought them. Look at all the different colors in here! What sorts of colors are here today?" (Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, brown) "Very good! You got them all!" (One time we had a bag of red and white M & Ms) "Really? Yeah, there are other colors too, aren't there?" (Yeah, one time we had some Shrek ones. They were green and brown and orange) "Wow, lots of different colors!" (Can we have some now?) "No, not yet. I have to tell you about the church. So when the church first got together, they shared everything. In lots of ways they were the same because they all loved Jesus and had the same faith. Kind of like these M & Ms. They look different on the outside, but on the inside they taste the same, don't they?" (What about the kind with peanuts?) "Well, those don't count." (Why not?) "Because I don't have any of the peanut kind." (What about the peanut butter ones? I like those better) "No, not the peanut butter ones either. Just the plain ones." (Why don't the others count?) "Because we're the plain kind." (Well, who are the other kinds, then?) "No one is the other kind." (But someone has to be the other kind. They're real, too) "The point is that we all taste the same." (God is going to eat us?) "No, we're just the plain ones because we all love Jesus and taste the same." (That's not what I asked) "Look, we're plain M & Ms, we all love Jesus no matter what color we are, and that's it." (After the prayer, give M & Ms to everyone except that kid)

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for bringing us together by faith in you. Help us to remember that we're all the exact same on the inside because of Jesus. And help us to remember that it's because you love us and want us to love others. Amen.


Text: Matthew 28:1-10
Theme: God Resurrected Jesus and It Might Have Happened Like This
Props: A 9V battery, a red and blue wire, a light socket, a light bulb, a small 10" x 8" board, superglue, a Philips-head screwdriver, a cross, a picture of the empty tomb, a white sheet, copies of the medical explanation for fainting, a floor fan, a bag of suckers, stickers that say "He Is Risen!"

Before the lesson: During the hours upon hours that you'll surely devote to preparing for this lesson, glue the port for the battery and the light socket to the board, and attach the wires to the battery port. Screw the light bulb into the socket, but don't attach the other ends of the wires yet! Also, stick the "He is Risen!" stickers on the suckers.

Lesson: Say, "Good morning!" (Wait for response) "Who can tell me what today is?" (Easter) "That's right! It's Easter Sunday! Today is the day when we celebrate Jesus' rising from the dead! First, how did Jesus die?" (On the cross) "That's right, on the cross." (Show them the cross) "But then on the third day after he died on the cross, some women went to the tomb" (Turn on the fan) "And there was an earthquake and all this weird stuff happened where a man wearing white came down" (Hold sheet in front of fan so that it blows around) "And when he did that, the soldiers guarding the tomb fainted" (Read a brief excerpt from the medical explanation) "And the man in white came down and rolled back the stone, and the women saw that nothing was inside" (Show a picture of the empty tomb) "And he said that Jesus had been raised from the dead!" (Turn off the fan. Bring out the light bulb rig)

Say, "Do you know how it happened?" (No.) "No, me neither. But it might have looked like this. Jesus' body didn't have any power, like this light bulb. But God acted like a battery and sent the wires of the Holy Spirit into the tomb to give him life again!" (Attach wires to light socket, and the light will light up) "See? Just like this! How wonderful that Jesus could burn bright again, and that his filament is eternal!" (After the prayer, pass out the suckers with the stickers attached to them)

Prayer: Dear God, thank you for making Jesus burn bright again. Thank you for the everlasting conduit of your Holy Spirit. And help us to remember that it's because you love us and want us to love others. Amen.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Funerals

I appreciate Greg at The Parish for many reasons, the #1 reason probably being how uncomfortable and self-conscious he makes me at times. Here's part of a recent post of his concerning funerals:

Let me say that funerals are hard to do. I did several when I was a pastor, and in no case was the deceased of an age where people think, "He lived a good, long life." The worst was an infant who died in the womb during the 32nd week of pregnancy. Even if you know the people involved, it's difficult to find anything worthwhile to say. I should also say that the funeral industry does not help the plight of preachers, as they bring a certain plastic tackiness to the whole affair: practiced sympathy, grating muzak, faux elegance, and dark suits...always the dark suits (folks, it's in the mid-90's outside. maybe go with the safari outfits and pith helmets.). The unfortunate minister, who if she knows the family, has already spent several hours with the bereaved trying not to feel like there ought to be something hopeful or consoling she can say, walks into this artificial environment where everyone just hopes her homily is short. If you don't know the person, and even if you do, you have to hope you don't screw up someone's name in the obituary. Add to that the feeling that you need to strike just the right balance of somberness and ease, and you have a very difficult one-hour affair. Having said that, I have met ministers who are very good at funerals; it can be done well. The important things are to eliminate cliches, speak truthfully and tactfully, and to genuinely care about the bereaved. (It helps if you cared about the deceased as well.)


With two exceptions, I've mainly officiated at "lived a good long life" funerals. The other two were quite surprising and tragic circumstances, and I like to think that I addressed those circumstances. At the same time, the only feedback that I ever really get is a few pats on the back and some "that was lovely"-type comments. And they never last longer than 45 minutes, and that's if they're held at the church. Funerals I've conducted at funeral homes don't go past 15, I think.

But the main point that Greg raises has to do with both addressing the reality of the situation while being very aware of the non-Christians in the room. This is no easy task. I guess I'm more orthodox in the sense that I do feel the need to speak a word of hope and, as a pastor, a word of hope that is particularly Christian. Greg rightly points out that one can easily lapse into codewords and cliches on this point, and he mentions some of the common ones. One of my frequently-used tactics to this effect is pulling examples from the decedent's life and saying something about the peace of Christ as witnessed through them.

At the same time, I think that we pastor types should use Ecclesiastes 3 more often, especially the line that goes, "there's a time to speak and a time to be silent." This was a very helpful text for one woman's death that came out of nowhere, and for a roomful of people who'd felt punched in the stomach by the whole situation. The tendency here may be to try to prattle on some semblance of an explanation for why it happened or to give a few excuses on God's behalf, depending on your theology. It was better, I said that day, to be silent about the whole thing and to mourn instead, hoping one day that a time to dance might present itself once again. For me it felt like one of the most genuine and honest funeral reflections that I've ever given. It's not that others were less so, but the circumstances called for a different sort of honesty...an honesty centered around cluelessness rather than faith. Sometimes cluelessness is more helpful.

I can't say that I always avoid cliches. Resurrection is a common theme for me, so I'm sure that out there more than once someone has said, "here it goes again." If words could somehow be more than they are for people who can only hear them that way (through no fault of their own), I'd latch on to that. In the meantime, I strive to present this aspect of faith as genuinely as I can as the center of our hope that death has no final claim on us; rather it is God as our Creator who has that claim.

So I'll try to do that again this morning. It won't be perfect. It never is. I always hope and pray that Someone Else cleans up my mess that way.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

Still working through The Intimate Merton, which is taking me a lot longer than I thought it would. I read a few of his entries at a time, which may only mean that I've read 3-4 pages in a sitting. Sometimes what he's writing about demands it. I find that I need to spend a little more time with each entry the more he focuses on a Catholic festival or ritual.

We saw The Simpsons Movie this past weekend, and laughed pretty hard more than once. The cameos by Green Day and Tom Hanks are excellent. Bart's skateboarding will make you do a double-take. And Albert Brooks is always gold whenever he guest-voices. There is, as one reviewer has mentioned, not a lot of focus on individual Springfieldian quirks, but I don't think that a movie can (or should) in the same way that 18-years' worth of episodes can. My biggest letdown: no Kang and Kodos. Oh well.

I also watched Domino this week. It may just be my Y chromosome that enjoys an action flick involving Kiera Knightly...but if I say that people will scream, "cultural conditioning" or whatever, so I need to come up with better reasons...............nope, "action flick involving Kiera Knightly" is all I got. I like this genre, where it's filmed in kind of a gritty lower resolution with lots of Conflicted Bad People. The soundtrack is pretty good, too. And Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green are amusing versions of themselves dealing with life post-90210. I'll admit that it's over-the-top in some places, but I'm comfortable with that.

Entourage, man. Seriously. This past week's episode was all about a bet over whether Turtle or Eric could hook up a one-nighter faster. I guess we needed a break from stories involving...anything else at all. Although following Ari around trying to get his son back into private school was funny and touching. And Dan Castellaneta played the headmaster, so that's some sort of Roundup Simpsons Twofer Special.

On a happier TV note, I discovered yesterday that Kat, who spent a season on Miami Ink before whatever happened with Ami happened and he let her go, will now star in L.A. Ink. Basically, it'll be the same concept, only in Los Angeles and with a bunch of chicks instead. Cool.

Still listening to Pink Floyd. I picked up Animals the other week. The guitar on Pigs is incredible. I'm sure that this'll wear off eventually, or at least come down to some level of normal. Fun fact: when you plug "Pink Floyd" into Pandora, they play a lot of early Genesis. Like, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis. You all need to know that.

Around the web, here's a Livejournal community that "de-garfs" Garfield comic strips. That is, they remove Garfield's thought bubbles, thus making them more funny (or, in their opinion, just funny). If you have a sense of humor like mine, you'll agree that a lot of these are pretty funny. It's certainly more true to the lives of those with cats. And in a way, some of them are actually more tragic now. Take a look for yourself.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

An Epiphany!

Behold! An epiphany!

There's this pastor, see, and he's been trying to form some semblance of a senior high youth group. He himself, while growing up, was part of a youth group that went on a bunch of mission trips and met every week.

The best part about this other youth group, you see, is that it was made up of people who could just be given a topic and they'd discuss, argue, yell, and laugh. There was a notable absence of mudpits and gimmickery and Outings That Cost Money (because you can only have fun if you get away from the church and spend money) and glorified babysitting. This other youth group would sometimes do that other stuff, but they didn't need a lot of it.

Then this pastor came to a church where no senior high group existed. He counts himself blessed when three kids show up to an event, mostly because he knows he can count on those three. Usually.

He's trying a discussion group, which is going "well."

He's doing an ongoing post-confirmation sponsor thing, which also is going "well."

He's taking them on local service trips, and this year adding more "fun" things...even a few Outings That Cost Money. All in the hopes that he will one day be doubly blessed

There was even a prayer involved, sort of. "O Lord, let thou send four, five, or six children, that they may one day realize that church isn't as lame as they think it is if they give it a fair shot...for I do not count myself as blessed if there be less than three."

And behold, the Lord answered, "You're an idiot."

The pastor stuttered and stammered. "Wh...what?"

"Here's a wacky notion," the Lord shot back, "how about you actually focus on the kids who are there instead of the kids who don't show up? Maybe a little less lamentation for the people who aren't there and a little more rejoicing with the ones who are could turn these things into a more positive experience for everybody."

"So..." the pastor slowly uttered, the Lord's words taking effect, "...plan for smaller numbers, and...the rest will take care of itself?"

"I didn't say that, but...maybe. It's fine that you could potentially have X number of people, but you're not getting X number of people. Don't get all hot and bothered about that bit. Just minister to the ones who come and keep inviting the ones who don't without taking it as a personal blow if they don't come."

"Ah. Gotcha."

"Occasionally, yeah, I think you do."

The Lord has spoken. And the people said "Amen."

And that's how the pastor started thinking about ways to minister out of abundance rather than scarcity.

He first heard about this at a recent Conference gathering, but that was pretty boring.