Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 - It Was A Year

I tried to think of a good way to blog my end-of-the-year thoughts. While I don't buy into the Most Overrated Holiday Ever, also known as New Year's (see related post), I do like to look back on how the year has gone. And as I look back on this particular year, it's been a pretty eventful one.

As I think back over this year I can pinpoint a few moments that have really stuck with me. I don't think of these in terms of entire events, but points within events. For instance, rather than point to my trip to St. Louis in May as one good moment, I would tend to think of that first few steps into Eden Seminary's chapel and feeling like I'd slipped on a well-worn shoe. It was in that moment that I'd felt like I'd come back home even if I wasn't really home. So while I could remember that entire trip as a good experience, I'd rather point to a specific moment within that experience that in a way captures the entire experience. You see what I mean?

Anyway, I present to you 2007 in a series of moments...

Sitting at the edge of Central Park eating a hot dog. There was something about this moment when I felt connected to the city. I'd watch people entering and leaving the park, people walking their dogs, the carriages, the apartment buildings overlooking the park that reminded me of a Sopranos episode. It was early January and thus probably about 40 degrees outside, but my little group didn't care. It was a transcendent moment where the experience of the city just seemed to engulf me.

Giving my Easter sermon. I won't lie to you...I try to put Something Extra on my Easter sermons. I work harder and think longer about this sermon than any other sermon all year because I know I'll have more ears listening, some of which will be red because that's how their owners were dragged there that morning. So I try to come up with something worth listening to, something that'll be harder to ignore. This year I recounted an experience that I'd had in an Arby's drive-thru where the kids in the car behind me noticed my UCC bumper sticker and tried to shock me by holding up a sign reading "Satan is God." I then launched into a list of some of the things I've experienced in my life that made the thought of being shocked by this sign the most ridiculous notion in the world, and talked about the resurrection being the last thing that would have shocked the disciples. The whole way through, I knew people--even some of the "C & Es"--were connecting.

The afformentioned walk into Eden's chapel. By the time I set out for St. Louis this year, I'd really needed this trip. I'd come off a busy Lent season and the end of confirmation, and I'd been called back from a week's vacation because of a member's death. So by the time I stepped into that familiar space, I'd been craving renewal. Seeing old friends and colleagues in a place where we'd spent so many hours together was just what I needed.

Standing in the Hartford Civic Center with 8000 other people all singing "The Church's One Foundation." This was during the opening worship service for the UCC's General Synod. There was a lot of good stuff at this Synod and I look back on this as a much less tense time than in 2005. But standing and not just hearing, but feeling so many people united in song...that was a clear picture of what the UCC strives to be, albeit imperfectly.

Visiting Grandma on her final day of life. We'd just departed Hartford and decided to swing through New Jersey, where my grandma was in a hospital bed and going downhill. I was able to hold her hand, and whisper a thank-you to her for loving and supporting me, and for putting up with me all those summers I'd spent at her house. She wasn't really able to say much by that point, but she'd squeezed my hand so I knew she'd heard me. The next morning I got the news that she'd died. Not everyone is able to say they could properly say good-bye to a loved one like that, and I'll always be thankful that I could with her.

Awaking early on a Sunday morning with my wife standing over me as she half-whispers the words, "Good morning, Daddy." She'd been grinning ear to ear before leading me into the bathroom to see the test for myself. We made a lot of phone calls that morning. I tried to devise a clever plan to announce it to my congregation. It was no small coincidence that my parents had decided to come out that morning for worship just because. They already knew, but I included them in the gag when I prayed for them during the Prayers of the People, "who will be grandparents next April." I looked out after the prayers were finished, to half the congregation smiling and the other half still trying to figure out what just happened. But that first moment that the two of us shared was one of joy, excitement, and the realization that even then something had changed forever.

Sitting in the Cafe Du Monde sipping The Best Cup of Coffee Ever. I was in the middle of the French Quarter soaking it all in, not wanting to move. The sun was just setting behind the old brick buildings and I'd just enjoyed a beignet absolutely covered in powdered sugar. I'd felt so at ease, like I could melt into the cracks between the cobblestone and become a permanent fixture of the city. This moment was New Orleans for me.

Cancer. This doesn't really have a moment involved, but I have no less than three family members (plus Coffeewife's uncle...I don't think there's a term for his relation to me) who started fighting cancer this year. That's a little uncanny.

So that was 2007. There were many other moments, but these were the big ones. What kinds of moments will 2008 bring? There are a couple big events coming up, so I can count on sharing a few good moments at this time next year. I hope for more than that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2007

Once again, we come to the final Pop Culture Roundup of the year, which features books, movies, TV shows, albums and blogs that I enjoyed over the entire year of 2007. Remember, numbers are only for convenience purposes and do not indicate any sort of ranking. Unless I say otherwise. Which I might.

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Secrets in the Dark - This was my first encounter with preacher/author Frederick Buechner, and I was not disappointed. This collection of sermons spanning a life of ministry are honest, thought-provoking, and deeply spiritual. Buechner has left a lasting impression on my own preaching through this volume. The only thing of which I was critical while reading was his intended audience: these sermons seem to be geared toward a fairly educated demographic. But if that was the context of his preaching, then there's really nothing to criticize.

2. The Last Week - I read this offering from Borg and Crossan over Lent, and it left me with a few things to ponder. In particular, I latched onto their discussions of the symbolism and satire of the entry into Jerusalem and what the concept of sacrifice meant in its original context. In discussing the latter, the authors note that sacrifice was not about suffering and substitution, but rather about an offering to maintain relationship.

3. Organic Community - If I had to have a number 1, this might be it. Joe Myers provides an excellent commentary on church governance out of his experience in business. That description might shy people away, but he actually comes from the opposite direction...he opposes all the "Jesus as CEO" stuff and instead advises churches to pay attention to stories and relationships rather than a master plan and a bottom line. It didn't throw me for a loop, but it affirmed my increased frustration with overprogrammed church models.

4. American Gangster - Intrigued by the Denzel Washington movie of same name, I'd seen this book in the store and decided to pick it up. The story of Frank Lucas is only one of many stories that Mark Jacobson tells about New York City. Others include the gangs in Chinatown, a man trying to break into the horror film industry, and a history of the Village Voice. Jacobson's style is so frank and so rugged that it was hard to put the book down.

5. Jesus Out to Sea - James Lee Burke shares this series of short stories set against the backdrop of post-Katrina New Orleans...at least that's what the back cover says. Only a few actually allude to that event in even a nominal way. A lot of them do take place in that part of the country, and maybe that's what the blurb means. An excellent collection that inspired me to seek out other collections of short stories to help balance out the theology stuff.


Five Movies I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Just Friends - In high school, a fat dork gets burned by his best friend when he wants to take their relationship to the next level, so he leaves home, gets thin, becomes hugely successful in the music industry, and then ends up back home to try again. Ana Faris is hilarious as the wacked-out, Britney-ish pop princess, and this movie helped make me a fan of Ryan Reynolds.

2. Stranger Than Fiction - Will Ferrell is excellent in a rare serious role as a man trapped in a novelist's story about his life. Emma Thompson is also fun as the eccentric author, and Maggie Gyllenhall is fun as the free-wheeling tax-evading girlfriend. This was just a great movie, both with humor and heart. It's one of those where I can't fully articulate everything that was wonderful about it, so I should just shut up and tell you to watch it.

3. Transformers - This movie took a piece of my childhood, animated it, updated it, set some loud music to it, and made me very very happy. I saw it twice in 24 hours on opening weekend. It hit all the right buttons that a movie like that is supposed to hit within a 28-year-old male who loved these toys when he was little. Looking back, I think guys in my demographic were all supposed to identify with Shia LaBeuof's character. What better life than for your car to be Bumblebee and have Megan Fox in your passenger seat while you help Optimus Prime save the world? On some psychological level, I think that helps clarify why I loved this movie.

4. The Simpsons Movie - The other movie I looked forward to this summer. A common criticism of it has been that it felt like a longer TV episode. First, after 18 years what do you expect them to do different? Second...I just didn't care. There were many truly funny moments - I sing "Spider Pig" around the house on a regular basis.

5. The Departed - A tale of two double agents, but moreso a tale of what happens when lies come back to bite you. Matt Damon is excellent as the Irish mafia's man inside the Boston P.D., and Leonardo DiCaprio is equally good as the P.D.'s deep undercover agent. This story doesn't have the happiest of endings, but instead provides a gritty testament to the ambiguity of the situation in which these characters find themselves.


Five TV Shows I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Scrubs - Scrubs was a suitable replacement for my dearly departed Arrested Development. It's one of the few shows still producing new episodes that I keep up with. We made it through the first four seasons on DVD before the seventh and final season started, but we've seen enough repeats on Comedy Central to fill in the gaps. Honestly, though, it's a good thing that it's in its final season...the latest episodes haven't seemed as sharp.
2. The Sopranos - 2007 featured the last ever episodes of the series, so of course they make an appearance on this list. Not many of Tony's crew make it to the final episode, though. Christopher goes out in unceremonious fashion, Bobby much more dramatically. One scene in the finale shows Tony and Paulie sitting outside Satriale's like they have so many times before, but at some point you realize that they're the only two of the notable crew members left (unless you count Patsy...but he was never really a major character). And the final scene was great. I don't care what anyone else says. So there.
3. Entourage - The end of the third season was pretty predictable, but the fourth was much more interesting. Vince puts all his heart and soul into making Medellin only to have it flop at Cannes, which is a refreshing change from the past three seasons where everything has pretty much gone his way. The Ari/Lloyd dynamic is fun to watch, and at times this past year I wondered if I could stand watching this show if Jeremy Piven wasn't a part of it. They've tended to focus more on the goofy antics of Drama and Turtle, which got old.

4. House - This past year featured House's team quitting and/or being fired, so the new season has been all about him being forced to hire a new team. As he slowly weeds out the contenders, the people from his old team re-emerge in new positions at the hospital. The most intriguing reappearance is Foreman, who has been blackballed everywhere else because of his House-like attitude, and so he begins to discover and embrace that part of his psyche.

5. Miami Ink/L.A. Ink - I've been loving both of these tattoo shows. Kat setting up her own shop back in Hollywood was fun to watch. L.A. Ink really plays up the relationships between the artists more, while Miami Ink focuses more on the business stuff. I shouldn't have been surprised at the number of celebrities who show up in Kat's shop...I don't know how many of those are planned, though. I mean, yeah, it's L.A., but a different actor/musician/Steve-O appears pretty much every week. All in all, I give the edge to Miami Ink, but I really do like both. And of course the shows are fueled by the customers and the stories behind their tattoos, which I like the most.

Five Albums I Enjoyed in 2007

1. Back to Black, Amy Winehouse - Amy channels the 50s and 60s Motown groups such as The Supremes while singing about refusing rehab, problems with ex-boyfriends, and how screwed up life can get. For this type of music to come out of a white girl covered in tattoos, that's just awesome.
2. We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, Modest Mouse - MM has kind of a crazy approach to their music...when you expect them to go right, they go left. Some of their stuff sound like pirate anthems, others have a harder rock edge with some horns blended in. Their first single from this album, "Dashboard," has a touch of ska to it, which I really liked.
3. Transformers Soundtrack - Okay, maybe this seems a little obsessive at this point. But the soundtrack was part of the reason that I loved the movie. The Goo Goo Dolls song is weak (SHOCK~!), but the rest is loud grinding guitars that makes driving fun.

4. Wish You Were Here/Dark Side of the Moon/The Division Bell, Pink Floyd - I don't know what caused this, but this past year I really really got into Pink Floyd. They were so freaking creative and the music almost demands that you sit back to take it all in. Not many bands do that for me. (Note: The Wall, not so much)
5. Mezzanine, Massive Attack - On a whim, I went to look up who performs the theme to House, and wasn't totally surprised to discover that a band such as Massive Attack was the one behind it. So I picked up the entire album, which features a collection of laid-back chill music fit for a relaxing evening.
Five Blogs I Enjoyed Reading in 2007


1. Letters from Kamp Krusty - This is #1 on purpose. I first came across this blog through a link at iMonk, sharing that Brant and his family had decided to drop their church commitments in favor of a more laid-back community of friends sharing dinner, conversation, and some Bible study and worship. Since then, Kamp Krusty has been a favorite of mine. I love Brant's humor; he's made me laugh out loud more than once. But while he's doing that, he's usually also making a great point about church or faith. My pick for Best New Blog That I Started Reading of 2007.

2. The Parish - Greg continues to keep me interested in his thoughts and opinions on the state of the church and Christianity. The big memorable moment that I associate with this blog was how it contributed to the botching of my Lenten discipline to give up the internet after I read his post declaring himself post-Christian. I couldn't tear myself away from the discussion. Nowadays, his critique is of Christianity in general (usually the fundamentalist stripe), which is still helpful and interesting. Greg is also a dedicated critic of books and film, which I only recently began to appreciate about his blog to my own shame.
3. Maize N Brew - I added two Michigan sports blogs to the list this year, and I've been a devoted reader of both. However, if I truly want to limit myself to five blogs on this little list of mine, I'll give the slight edge out of the two to Maize N Brew. MNB provides a healthy mix of analysis, honesty, and irreverence, and provided a certain online kindred spirit during the ups and (deep, deep) downs of this past football season.

4. A Church for Starving Artists - Jan is a fellow mainliner (PCUSA) interested in emergent-things. I think that it was her blog title that reeled me in, as it suggests a certain uphill striving for creativity in the church, with which I reasonate. I've enjoyed her reflections of life transitions and the need for the church to adapt to changing times.
5. Nachfolge - A late addition to the blogroll. I found Scott's blog through a RevGal link to a post where he announces his acceptance of a new ministry position. Scott and I have a lot in common: relatively new pastors, young fathers (I'm still waiting, but close enough), college football fans (even if his team is Nebraska...hooray '97). I've enjoyed what I've read so far.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Year-end Meme

HT to fellow tattooed pastor Lutherpunk...

1. Will you be looking for a new job? I believe not.

2. Will you be looking for a new relationship? No, I'm pretty well locked into this one. Happily, might I add.

3. New house? We've started to talk about it, but probably not.

4. What will you do different in 08? I think the rest of these questions will answer this one.

5. New Years resolution? To eat better and exercise more. You know, the usual. And maybe to get over my disdain of talking on the phone and catch up with long-distance friends and family a little more regularly.

6. What will you not be doing in 08? Huh?

7. Any trips planned? The big one will hopefully be Daytona in June. My usual trip to St. Louis is looking iffy.

9. Major thing on your calendar? The birth of my son.

10. What can’t you wait for? The birth of my son.

11. What would you like to see happen differently? I'm gonna go the superficial route here and say a Tigers World Series win and this being the year Michigan breaks its Sweatervest losing streak.

12. What about yourself will you be changing? Well, sleep patterns for one. And probably another slight ink-based skin alteration.

13. What happened in 07 that you didn’t think would ever happen? My fledgling senior high ministry started to grow legs.

14. Will you be nicer to the people you care about? I always try to do that.

15. Will you dress differently this year than you did in 07? I will continue to perfect my Casual Pastor look.

16. Will you start or quit drinking? I don't exactly throw them back nowadays, so I probably won't change much here.

17. Will you better your relationship with your family? Assuming this means nuclear family, then always. But I'm sure I could improve everywhere else, too.

18. Will you do charity work? I hope so.

19. Will you go to bars? Probably not, unless it's to the restaurant side.

20. Will you be nice to people you don’t know? I try to most of the time.

21. Do you expect 08 to be a good year for you? I don't expect stuff like that. But there are some good indications and I'm always hopeful.

22. How much did you change from this time last year till now? Not that much, I don't think. I've started to think about my career in a new way in light of my new little family...certain things becoming a little more real in that department that were only theory earlier. If you think about "mercenary coaches" in college football, who move at the whiff of something better...I can't be a "mercenary pastor." And I'm just now discovering what that means. I didn't have that strong of a sense of a need for stability before.

23. Do you plan on having a child? Um...yeah.

24. Will you still be friends with the same people you are friends with now? I think so. Like Lutherpunk, I don't have that wide of a circle.

25. Major lifestyle changes? Didn't we cover this one?

26. Will you be moving? If I won't be taking a new job and we won't be buying a different house, then what do you think?

27. What will you make sure doesn’t happen in 08 that happened in 07? The one thing that I wish hadn't happened in 07 was out of my hands to begin with, so I can't make sure that that doesn't happen.

28. What are your New Years Eve plans? I've been invited to one or two places, I've thought about hosting people here...it's up in the air.

29. Will you have someone to kiss at midnight? If she gets home from work in time.

30. One wish for 08? That I don't screw this up.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Post-Christmas Lull

Now begins a brief period of time when there are no meetings...

...there are no visits...

...there's only one sermon and worship service left to prepare before vacation...

...there's one little bit of gift-giving left...

...there are only a few days left until the Capital One Bowl (sigh)...

...when do we take down these decorations?...

It's quiet...almost too quiet. The next few days for me, I think, should entail some reflection on Where It's All Going, or something. Maybe I'll even bust out that retreat idea I had months ago and use it as a guide.

But hey, stay tuned for a couple year-end-themed entries. It's gonna be great.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Fourth Monday of Advent/Christmas Eve

"Silent Night," the way it'll be sung in my hometown church tonight...

Stille Nacht! Heil'ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab' im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Have a blessed Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

I've read the first chapter of The Golden Compass. If I wasn't already familiar with the movie and the plot, I would have been all like, "what's up with these talking animals?" I'm sure it gets explained. So another slow reading week.

This week I watched
Alpha Dog. It was on HBO, I had nothing else to do. This is the movie with Justin Timberlake that came out a few years ago where a group of drug dealers kidnap the younger brother of a guy who owes them money. It's based on actual events, which the movie weaves into the story with "interviews" with the "real people." According to Amazon, names and such have been changed, but the director had access to a lot of inside information on the real case, and the result is a very gritty portrayal of a group of young suburban rich kids who want to be big time and end up getting in over their heads. The world of drugs and alchohol that these characters live in is at times painful to watch, and it's repeatedly obvious that lack of parental supervision is the reason most of the younger characters are who they are (and you're absolutely correct if you think that that point scared the crap out of me).

We also saw
Hollywoodland last night, another movie based on real events, this time the death of actor George Reeves. Adrian Brody plays a fame-seeking private investigator hired by Reeves' mother (a closer thing to the truth is that he weasels into getting himself hired) to try to get the case re-opened after what seems like a hasty conclusion by the LAPD. Ben Affleck plays Reeves, and is the heart of the movie. Besides being the subject of the investigation, through flashbacks we're able to watch a man with ambitions to share the movie screen with the greats of his era slowly crumble as he realizes he's been typecast in the only big role he ever had: TV's Superman. The movie suggests that he hated the part from his audition forward, and such typecasting takes its toll when he searches for the parts that he really wants. In one scene where an audience previews From Here to Eternity (which, interestingly, Wikipedia says is false), people begin calling out Superman catchphrases when Reeves appears on screen. We're also treated to various hypothetical scenarios of Reeves' death based on the possible motives of some of the others who surrounded him. While the movie acknowledges that there's still a lot of mystery surrounding his death and thus doesn't come to a definite conclusion, it does suggest that there was plenty of reason for a despairing actor who had already lived through his most successful years to take his own life.

We also watched
A Charlie Brown Christmas last night, because I hadn't yet watched it this season. For some reason, I never picked up on the statement that Schultz wanted to make with the scrawny little Christmas tree. Here it is overshadowed by the flashy commercialism that the season brings, when really it's closer to what Christmas is really all about: something small, subtle, not glamorous in the least. The tree is even "resurrected" in the end. The tree is a Christ figure! Excuse me while I go rewrite my Christmas Eve reflection...

This week I've been listening to
Ska-La-La-La-La by Bunch of Believers, a ska Christmas album. It's not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination and not even a great ska album, but it's fun.

Around the web, here's a silly
Harry Potter puppet show.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

MySpace is TEH SCARYZ

This is a story that I'm slightly embarrassed to tell, but it's interesting where it all ends up.

I started a Myspace account last night. OMG ADD ME 2 YOR BUDDIEZ~!

I had a specific reason for doing it. I discovered through my statcounter that some guy had found an old post of mine and had made a brief post about it. I thought that he'd misunderstood what I'd written, and I wanted to respond. However, the only way to do so was to sign up.

So I signed up, with very little details added to my profile because I wasn't really interested in TEH NETWORKINGZ. But right before I hit "submit" on a reply to his post, I realized what a loser set of actions this was just to respond to a guy on Myspace. LOLOMG!!11

So I dropped the whole thing and added a little personal message to the top of the entry he misunderstood instead for all future visitors from his place.

Now I told you that story to tell you this one. I signed up for this account last night. I checked it this morning just to see if anything new had occurred. There was nothing new in this post I'd been watching, but between last night and this morning I already had a message from some girl looking for local guys to hook up with (this girl is in Texas, so she's not that great with TEH GEOGRAPHEEZ). I haven't had my account for 24 hours and already I'm getting random propositions from people obviously not that interested in doing a little research first? What kind of crap is going on on that site, man? No wonder we hear about people getting killed for deciding to meet up through this place! They don't seem to do a lot of TEH BRAIN USINGZ.

So that's the story of the beginning and end of my relationship with MySpace. Maybe it'd be worthwhile to build relationships with the church youth if they have pages, but there are a whole lot of other relationships on there that I'm not interested in. I'd reconsider for the former. Someday.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pastor Fashion

Shortly after I started at one of my seminary field placements, I was pulled aside by my supervisor and told that I "should probably start wearing a tie." He didn't elaborate too much immediately after, but when we next met for our weekly mentor-mentee pow-wow, he explained what he meant: "When I first started and I wore ties everywhere, one shut-in commented that it showed that I took her seriously." At the time, I thought this made sense. For the rest of my time there, on through the rest of seminary, and into my early days where I am now, I wore ties to all visits figuring that this "take me seriously" thing was true everywhere.

Now that I reconsider the story my supervisor told, I wonder if it was more a cultural or generational issue for that shut-in than anything else. Case in point: I switch to polo shirts for the summer months, evoking the only comment I've ever gotten about my pastoral wardrobe: "Oh...I'm not used to the pastor not wearing a tie." So for this older member it was an issue until I showed up the next time with my tie back on and he said, "You're all dressed up? I figured you'd want to be comfortable." So I guess he quickly acclimated to my non-tie-wearing.

You may be wondering where this is all headed.

It probably wasn't more than a few weeks after I was ordained that I started caring a little less what I wore to the office. Up until that point, it was ties if not just dress pants and a collared shirt or a sweater. Now if you stop into the office, your pastor is wearing sandals or sneakers, usually jeans, an untucked polo in the summer months or a casual sweater in the winter, maybe a UCC t-shirt. My new thing lately has been taking fashion cues from Dr. House, which makes me feel like a college professor more than anything else. I've not received one single comment about any of it, with the exception of my purposeful wearing of my Evil Skull Tattoo Shop t-shirt to choir practice, but again that was on purpose, and a couple people thought it was weird that their pastor was wearing a shirt like that, and then I was all like, "Mission accomplished."

Why shed the tie? Shouldn't a pastor be wearing suits and whatever? Well, in my opinion...no. I dress the way I do to emphasize my Regular Guy-ness. I also do it because the church and I have reached a certain comfort level where what I wear doesn't matter. But I mainly do it as one more piece of a larger goal to dispel the myth that pastors are all uppity high-collar non-Regular-Guy people that no ordinary person would really want to talk to. I get enough of that as a pastor anyway...I don't need to make it worse by dressing the part.

And besides, pastors should be approachable. Coffeewife once worked at a kids' psychiatric hospital in St. Louis. Wanna know who the kids preferred talking to? The employees in street clothes, rather than the ones dressed like they could administer medication or dock their level at any moment. So we, who are so often misrepresented by Golden Compass protesters, people who yell at homosexuals to repent or burn, and others who so often define themselves more by what they're against, are gonna make matters worse by dressing prim and proper so that younger people especially who are already in the process of writing off the church as self-righteous, boring, or irrelevant can just make their exits that much quicker?

The theological word is incarnation. I incarnate a particular thing by wearing a tie. Granted, for some members of an older generation I'm incarnating a form of church that they know and love and there isn't anything necessarily wrong with. I incarnate another particular thing by avoiding a tie, and particularly to younger people it's a church and a Jesus who's interested in other things besides how you're dressed.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

NAMI and House: A Winning Combination




I haven't spouted much in a while about any of my favorite causes, so I figured I'll go ahead and rip one off real quick.


The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has teamed up with the TV show House to produce and sell a special t-shirt with the House-ism, "Everybody Lies." Actually, it'd be more accurate to say that the show is selling these and profits will go to NAMI.


Of course, if you aren't much of a House fan or don't like the idea of wearing this shirt around, maybe you know someone who is or would. So you can either buy the shirt and give it to them, or bypass the shirt altogether and just donate to NAMI.


Mental illness remains a horrendously stigmatized and misunderstood issue. This is one way to combat that stigma and get real people the help that they really need.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Third Monday of Advent

It's being posted early because my home internet is not cooperating. I'm actually writing this from the church, which I don't particularly like to do, but Coffeewife just left for work and the combination of the weather and the lack of attention to the local roads is keeping me from what I really want to be doing. So I have the time.

A friend of mine is being ordained at the exact moment that I'm typing this. Way to stay on top of things, county workers.

Worship went pretty well this morning. The little trio that I'm a part of did our rendition of The Barenaked Ladies' "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." We'd sung it a few Christmas Eves ago but figured we could dust it off and do it again. And then I got up for my sermon and totally demolished the view of Mary where she's all starry-eyed and slightly British. Ever notice that in a lot of movies based on the Bible, everyone is slightly British? Yeah, I made fun of that. A lot. Afterwards I had two people come through the line saying that they were laughing so hard at that that they'd started crying. I think that's a new level of preaching for me! I even channeled some of Lewis Black's hand gestures. If you've ever watched him, you know what I'm talking about.

I sent my senior high kids home without Charlie Brown today. The weather was getting too craptastic and I just wasn't going to mess with it. I myself have not yet settled in to watch it, so this may be in my evening plans.

The rest of the week is a very light one for me, work-wise. Wednesday evening is our Blue Christmas service, but otherwise it's that part of the month where I figure it's better to leave people to their holiday planning. I have to clean the house myself to prepare for some out of town visitors this next weekend, so that suits me just fine. My Christmas Eve reflection is already written, so that's one less thing, too.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

We watched Knocked Up last night, which we both really liked. The ads for it really played up the wacky side of the film, and it really is wacky. But what didn't get portrayed until the reviews started coming out was that this is also a pretty deep story about growing up, responsibility, family dynamics, and relationships. You probably know the basic premise by now: slacker schlub hooks up with out-of-his-league chick for a one-nighter, she discovers she's pregnant, the rest of the movie is about how they deal with it. That includes awkward gynecologist visits, arguments over the importance of reading The Baby Books, coping with the realization that you can't live the way you did before, and trying to make a relationship work for the baby's sake. That's to say nothing of the married couple in the film with two kids who are trying to power through every day while slowly bringing repressed issues out into the open. There's some really good commentary in this movie about all this stuff, as over-the-top as some of it can be.

Let's Go to Prison was on HBO the other night while I was flipping channels, and it was close enough to the beginning that I left it on. This is the Will Arnett movie that came out earlier this year where a rich preppy guy ends up in prison secretly because of his eventual cellmate. Honestly, a lot of the movie reminded me of how prison is portrayed on Arrested Development which--shock!--starred Arnett. The head of the Nazi gang goes after hapless new guy, new guy tricks him into killing himself, new guy suddenly earns massive cred with all other prisoners. This story is exactly the same in both cases, even if the details are different. There's also a lot of "prison love" humor, which is a standard in these types of films. Not a masterpiece, and Arnett isn't going to get the recognition that he really does deserve by doing this stuff.

A few weeks back I watched Wicker Park, and since I still haven't started another book I might as well write about it now since I don't think I have yet. Just like the last Josh Hartnett movie I watched, Lucky Number Slevin, this movie spends almost as much time going back to explain what happened before in order for the current situation to make more sense. Basic premise: Hartnett thinks he sees a former girlfriend in a restaurant. This former girlfriend--with whom he was absolutely smitten--had seemingly just disappeared without explanation. Hartnett, who is clearly feeling stuck and even bored in his current relationship, embarks on this quest to see if it was really her. His best friend--the crazy blond guy from Scream--tries to help him out, and there's also a brunette involved who turns out to be the cause of the whole thing. I won't attempt to explain it. It turns out to be this love-quadrangle sort of situation. The movie almost ties itself in knots in making the connections that it does ("Hey! This person just happens to be with this other person, and this other person just happens to be best friends with this person! What are the odds?"), and then having to go back and explain it all.

An almost frightening portion of the other bloggers on the sidebar are really into a band called Over the Rhine. Seriously. People keep talking about this group and so I figured I finally needed to hear them for myself. They've got this whole Norah Jones thing going on, which I do like. Their Christmas album is the one playing on their website's "record player," and while lines like "Salvation Army bells are ringin'" try too hard to not be cliche ("bells are ringin'" = Christmas cliche; "Salvation Army bells" = still cliche, but in a more original way), their overall musical concept of soft bluesy folk is sweet, if not the stuff that TV shows look for for their montage scenes. I like their music fine, but I think it'll take a few more listens before I figure out what the big blogfuss is about. Although I must say that I almost immediately figured out from the piano on "Goodbye Charles" who Charles is. That evoked a little smile. As you can see, I'm a little skeptical. But I'm still willing to give them a chance. Any fans who stumble upon this, please give me a few non-Christmas suggestions.

The other night there was a poll on the news that asked the question, "Will you continue to be a baseball fan despite the Mitchell Report?" A third of the voters said no, they wouldn't. Let me explain something to you people. MLB is one league. Are you really saying that you will stop being a fan of the game of baseball because a couple guys in one baseball league used steroids? Maybe I'm reading the question in a particular way. It's stupid to think that after so many years of watching a game, one will give up being a fan of that entire game because of a couple morons. As far as I'm concerned, you weren't really a fan to begin with. Now, if you say you'll stop watching MLB and instead go watch the local high school or college team, that's different. But if you completely give up baseball because of this, how much did you really like baseball to begin with? A real fan will seek out alternatives if you really want to go that route. Thank you.

Around the web, Brant at Kamp Krusty has two excellent posts dealing with faith, depression, and medication here and here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

They're All Up North Except Me

Last night my buddy The Masked Doctoral Student called to tell me that he's accepted a teaching position at a small college in Grand Rapids. I already have a good friend from seminary living in that area. My brother is getting his Masters at a university in Detroit.

And here I am. South.

Did you know that there's a UCC church searching in Ann Arbor? Just sayin'.

Nah, it's not so bad in Ohio. There are lots of people here who like me and whom I like. Plus the Tigers assured themselves a spot in the ALCS last week. Now if only a certain school can secure a coach that eats sweatervests...

In other news, try to justify spending $1.3 million on your church's Christmas pageant.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Second Monday of Advent

I figured that I'd have babies on the brain today, and I certainly do. Early this morning we were given conclusive evidence that we are having a boy. So now I can start stocking up on baseball outfits and toys. The trouble is that we loved our chosen girl name much more than the two or three boy names that we were just okay with, so we've gone back to the drawing board for that. We bought a book of names to leaf through, and I've found one that I think we're really starting to like...or at least I do. Our goal, particularly with our boy names, has been to find something less common, but without it being something off-the-wall.

Knowing that it'll be a boy makes this whole thing a little more real, too. Before this morning, there was just this indefinite, invisible thing growing inside Mommy that we could plan a little bit for without it having a real identity or form. This morning's visit changed all of that. It adds a level of exciting/scary that wasn't there before.

I also had a baptism yesterday morning, one of the calmest I've ever done. He just sat there in my arms, the water barely causing him to flinch. His eyes got a little wide as I walked him down the aisle, but he didn't even make a sound. This church is near the tail-end of a baby boom, so I've had quite a few during my time here. It remains one of my favorite things that I do as a pastor.

Preaching-wise, this Advent has been a much stronger year than last. Last year I was pretty daunted by the task of trying to find an original way to touch on the season's themes my third time through, and it seemed like I struggled most of the way. This year, I'd picked up a few new resources heading into the season and they've provided some fresh material. Last Sunday's sermon was entitled, "What to Expect When You're Expecting" (get it?), and yesterday I contrasted the two baptisms that John the Baptist talks about. The fact that I actually baptized someone yesterday also provided some opportunity for reflection. This coming week my focus text is the Magnificat, and I'll use McKnight's The Real Mary to reflect on how strong a woman of faith Mary really was instead of the pious passive little girl portrayed by Amy Grant. My working title: "Not a Desperate Housewife." I might think about that a little more.

This coming week will also be spent wondering whether my senior high kids would get anything out of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas, or whether they'll think it's the lamest thing ever. I figure they all at least need to see it once, but this generation doesn't know Peanuts as well as mine and those before. Oh well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

POC's Greatest Hits

I still haven't started a new book and House was a repeat. So I'm foregoing the Roundup this week to point you back to some of my favorite entries of 2007.

Thinking Out Loud About John 14:6, Part 1
Thinking Out Loud About John 14:6, Part 2

I'd been wrestling with the meaning and implications of a verse like this, so I typed out some thoughts on what the verse says, and eventually mused a little on interfaith relations and the nature of humanity's relationship to God and each other. Probably the most theological I got on this blog the past year.

The Emerging Church in Rural Ohio

This was my critique of a perceived trend in the emerging church conversation that the only and/or best places for emerging forms of church to take place is in larger cities. For all the talk about engaging the punk or hipster scenes, all the talk about meeting in coffeehouses or clubs, there didn't seem to be much of a small town or rural equivalent mentioned. This entry eventually made its way into Next Wave E-zine's August issue.

Children's Sermons That Textweek Rejected

A parody of most children's sermon suggestions found in books or on the internet. I tried to hit some of the worst offenders: a sermon that greatly simplifies the Bible story and hands out absurd "reminders," a sermon that treats the kids like idiots, and a sermon that calls for way more preparation than the pastor is willing to give. This entry set the record for number of comments, so I guess I hit on some truth.

A Review of Take This Bread by Sara Miles
A Review of Shopping For God by James Twitchell

One of my favorite things to do for this blog is review books. I don't know why. Here are the two reviews that I posted this past year. These ended up being two of my favorite books for the year as well.

Sometimes I Get Tired, Too

An entry about how worn out I feel sometimes just looking at some of the stuff that Christians are buying into these days. Whether it's a particular attitude, an aversion to pop culture, or some contribution to the Christian subculture, sometimes it makes me want to chuck the whole thing. This was me saying as much.

New Orleans, Part 1
New Orleans, Part 2
New Orleans, Epilogue

My series of entries recounting my work trip to New Orleans in October. This was one of those defining experiences for me, and probably the highlight of my year.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

One way to look at it...

You Are Likely an Only Child

At your darkest moments, you feel frustrated.
At work and school, you do best when you're organizing.
When you love someone, you tend to worry about them.

In friendship, you are emotional and sympathetic.
Your ideal careers are: radio announcer, finance, teaching, ministry, and management.
You will leave your mark on the world with organizational leadership, maybe as the author of self-help books.
Um...not an only child. I've read someplace that siblings born six years apart or more could basically count as only children, but I think that applies to the younger one than the older one.
The analysis isn't too bad. They nailed my career, so they get points for that.

Bring On Opening Day

Ladies and gentlemen, the starting lineup for your Detroit Tigers...

Curtis Granderson, CF
Placido Polanco, 2B
Miguel Cabrera, 3B
Gary Sheffield, DH
Magglio Ordonez, RF
Carlos Guillen, 1B
Edgar Renteria, SS
Ivan Rodriguez, C
Jacque Jones, LF

American League = pwned.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Stuff I Hate About the Holidays" Meme

The least favorite/most annoying...


1) dessert/cookie/family food - plum pudding. The few times I have encountered it, I recall that the taste, look, and consistency all strongly resemble poo.

2) beverage (seasonal beer, eggnog w/ way too much egg and not enough nog, etc...) - I guess I'm not that experienced in specifically "Christmas beverages," because I can't think of any besides eggnog. So I'll just say that concoction where you mix sherbert, 7-Up and fruit punch. Why not just, you know, have fruit punch? Why turn it into this weird bubbly frothy unnecessary thing? You couldn't, you know, just give people a choice between fruit punch and 7-Up and then have sherbert for dessert? You had to mix them all together? You wanted that much of a taste sensation, or maybe you were that indecisive? Or, like, you could get fruit punch your first time through the line, and then when it's time for a refill, then you get 7-Up? You don't think that's, like, excessive at all? Maybe a little too much? Not concerned about, like, giving someone a sugar coma or anything? You're pretty selfish, man. Stop the madness. Just pick one.

3) tradition (church, family, other) - Is it too early to rag on New Year's? If not, the whole concept of next year being that much different than the past year is stupid. Okay, get together with some friends, but don't fool yourselves. Also, Coffeewife and I have only spent maybe three of them together ever. Otherwise, she works or gets home after midnight or some other thing that helps contribute to me having nothing but negative opinions about this overrated holiday.

4) decoration - when people just wrap a bunch of lights around the trunk of a tree. I get that maybe you weren't tall enough to actually put them in the branches, but maybe that should just deter you from trying at all. String them along your porch railing or something instead.

5) gift (received or given) - One time I got two copies of the same CD, so I turned around and gave one of them to my brother as a birthday present. He knew right away. It was a little lame. But you liked it, DIDN'T YOU?

BONUS: SONG/CD that makes you want to tell the elves where to stick it. - "Feliz Navidad." The nasally voice, the goofy musical style, the stupid novelty of playing it...it must be stopped. In conclusion, I hate it with the fire of a thousand suns. Thank you.

Monday, December 03, 2007

First Monday of Advent

Today should be the last shopping trip that we have to make. That greatly excites me, because that means for the next 3 weeks I won't have to worry about that stuff. I can instead turn my attention to sitting around in my pajamas drinking coffee and laughing at everyone else.

Yesterday was a good day. First, the worship service went very well. I'm kind of a stickler for singing Advent hymns instead of Christmas carols, although I'm not completely rigid. This being "not completely rigid" attitude in part comes from the fact that our hymnal only has maybe three Advent hymns in it. The old E & R hymnal, which we still keep in the pews, has a much better selection, but still not enough to cover four Sundays. So I end up pulling a lot of Advent tunes from the E&R and then mix them with a few lesser-known, lesser-sung Christmas carols from our main hymnal (also in part to placate those who want more Christmas during Advent). So for instance, yesterday's original lineup was "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus," "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence," and "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

I say "original" lineup, because when I wandered into the sanctuary while the organist was practicing "Of the Father's Love Begotten," I remembered that after we'd sung it the previous year I'd vowed that we'd never sing it again. It's not a bad song per se, but it's a horrible melody. So I guess that's to say that it is a bad song, or at least very hard for a congregation unfamiliar with it to sing. So at the last minute I announced that we'd sing "Watchman Tell Us of the Night" instead. That tune is much more familiar to people, I think.

The other big event of the day was going to see one of the church's kids in the play version of A Christmas Story. He'd landed the role of Ralphie for the second straight year, and this year the church had been able to coordinate a group to go see him. We were in the middle section right down front, which was a lot better than my seat up next to the lighting booth last year.

And this morning, there's a nice dusting of snow on the ground. One thing that I love about the setting of my home and the church is that when you get a snow like this, it makes for a beautiful scene. Waking up to this while I make the coffee and switch on the Christmas tree lights is a great start to the day.

Next Monday, I'll have babies on the brain. I have a baptism on Sunday, and then early Monday morning we find out WHETHER IT'S A BOY OR A GIRL!! WOO!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

100 Things Meme

It's pretty self-explanatory. 10 categories with 10 items each. I did this one over the span of a couple days, as my attention span allowed. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this meme comes courtesy of Nachfolge, the newest addition to the bloglist.


I have lived
1. in five different parsonages, including right now, for a grand total of about 16 years of my 28-year existence.
2. in a duplex.
3. in the other side of that duplex.
4. in three different states: Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri.
5. in a shoe-box apartment on the campus of Eden Seminary, which seemed to shrink exponentially after I got married.
6. in a college dorm room only one out of the four years I was there.
7. in various on-campus houses the other three.
8. in a rented fixer-upper house the summer before my senior year of college with three frat brothers, my eventual wife, and one frat brother's now-ex-girlfriend.
9. next to a guy from Ghana whose apartment always smelled funny from his cooking.
10. in the staff house of a UCC camp.


I have witnessed
1. a nut fall off a tree, roll across the road, and get smashed under the tire of a passing truck (it was much cooler than this sounds).
2. kittens being born.
3. a policeman put a wounded deer out of its misery.
4. the death of an elderly woman in the ICU.
5. a school of fish swimming around me in the ocean.
6. a storm rolling over the hills in South Dakota.
7. some weird stuff happen in the haunted Lemp Mansion in St. Louis.
8. a fan run across the outfield and then get clotheslined by a security guard at a Phillies game.
9. back-to-back state basketball championships won by my high school.
10. Jerry "The King" Lawler walk through the Cleveland airport.


I have heard
1. Dave Matthews Band in concert twice.
2. a seminary professor detail the phases of menopause during a sermon in chapel, a moment that has lived on in infamy among my classmates ever since.
3. enough razzing by Buckeye fans to last a lifetime.
4. our baby's heartbeat.
5. the University of Michigan marching band in person.
6. Bach's Toccata in D Minor used as a worship postlude. That was cool.
7. my confirmands tell me that church is boring.
8. my cat meow for her freedom after accidentally being shut in the closet.
9. a roomful of snoring during my week in New Orleans, which caused me to seek out earplugs.
10. the wind blow so hard up where my house is located that I've wondered if we're under a tornado warning.


I have lost
1. 20 pounds in seminary after gaining 35 (I did lose that other 15, but found it again).
2. my Michigan tie.
3. lots of mechanical pencils.
4. a bunch of notebooks full of drawings.
5. a good friend in a tornado.
6. any inkling I may have had that "traditional" worship is the only true form of worship.
7. lots of games of euchre.
8. my prescription card.
9. my copy of the movie Necessary Roughness.
10. any pretense that Church As We Know It is the only right way to do it ever.


I have found
1. a vintage leather dress jacket at a thrift store (I call it my "pimp jacket").
2. that Chipotle is pretty much the best restaurant ever.
3. that if you give them space to ask, youth have a lot of questions about God.
4. that emerging church stuff can be applied in a mainline context.
5. that playing my drums helps me solve a lot of problems.
6. that it is indeed possible to successfully curb "job restlessness."
7. that fair trade coffee actually tastes better than Folgers.
8. that it's possible to see my seminary buddies more than once a year at the reunion.
9. that I'm more a big-city person than I thought I was before I lived in St. Louis.
10. that disciplined diet and exercise of the non-half-assed variety actually causes you to lose weight! Who knew?


I love
1. my wife.
2. the thought of being a daddy.
3. Detroit and U-M sports teams...and the Indians.
4. my Chocolate phone.
5. french fries.
6. my guitar.
7. vanilla bean cheesecake.
8. my cats.
9. reading.
10. blogging.


I can
1. roll my tongue.
2. sing all the words to "Baby Got Back."
3. swing dance.
4. only grow good full facial hair right under my bottom lip (the "soul patch," for the uninformed).
5. play guitar.
6. apply the figure-four leglock.
7. twirl drumsticks.
8. operate a popcorn sprayer.
9. drive stick.
10. draw Garfield.


I loathe
1. Ohio State.
2. sweatervests.
3. Ohio State sweatervests.
4. every Taco Bell commercial ever made.
5. internet pop-ups.
6. "music" that's nothing but seemingly random noise that people insist is some kind of high art.
7. the New York Yankees.
8. committee meetings.
9. Maroon 5.
10. Ohio State.


I hope
1. that I don't suck as a father.
2. that Michigan's next head coach returns the program to glory...or at least beats the Buckeyes.
3. that my church might help younger people find something genuine and exciting about Jesus, even if that means (GASP~!) changing something.
4. that my wife and I still find time to be my wife and I after the baby's born.
5. to go back to New Orleans some day.
6. to live in Michigan again some day.
7. to get my third tattoo in the next few months.
8. that I don't move too often during my ministry career.
9. that Ohio State gets embarrassed again if they make it into the NC game.
10. that the Detroit Tigers finish what they started in 2006.


I am trying
1. to finish this meme.
2. to lose 5-10 pounds.
3. not to worry too much about being a parent.
4. to figure out ways to bring the church into the 21st century.
5. to decide on whether I'd like to pursue another degree, and if so in what and from where.
6. to finish my Christmas shopping.
7. to get a crib out of my car.
8. not to get too upset at the cat who keeps pooping on the floor instead of in the box.
9. to keep up with the laundry.
10. not to sweat the small stuff.