Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Evening with Brian McLaren

Note: I've had a decent flow of traffic to this post the past day or two, some eight months after I posted it. That's amazing to me. But it's also saddening to me that people are reading it as some heavy condemnation of McLaren. Like I mention in my reply to one commenter, I count some of McLaren's books among my favorites. I walked away disappointed by his presentation that night because I know he's capable of so much more substance and so much better articulation. I wasn't looking for him to present his own doctrinal formulas...I was hoping for more of the thoughtful nuances that he's known for. And all I got that night was a history of the conversation and deferment. That's all I tried to say with my critique. To read me as somebody hostile to emergent is an awful misinterpretation, and I will happily clarify anything that paints me in such a light if you stick around long enough to read my reply to you. That said, I regret the tone of this entry now that I'm far enough removed from it.

Last night, I traveled to Malone University to attend a debate between Brian McLaren, emerging/emergent church figurehead, and Bryan Hollon, professor of theology at Malone. The topic of the debate was "Emerging or Diverging: In What Direction is the Emerging Church Movement Headed?" I was a little wary about how this would go, if only because I know Malone to be a fairly conservative institution and to many, McLaren is one of those heathen liberals. So I was concerned that he'd be in front of a hostile audience. To be honest, I was also concerned that he wouldn't do himself any favors...McLaren can be charitable and understated in his approach to the point where he gives away any high ground.

Thankfully, my first concern didn't completely pan out. The second pretty much did.

McLaren was given the floor first, and he first took a few minutes to clarify that the emerging church is not a movement, but a conversation. You know...that old chestnut. A movement, he observed, is something that gets hot for a few years, pastors and churches get on board, and then it fizzles out and everyone moves on to the next thing. In addition, a movement usually has an organizer and a leader, and the emerging church doesn't (O RLY?). A conversation, he suggested, is more of an evolving thing that never really ends. He also observed that when someone is in pain, they want to talk about it and find people experiencing similar pain to have that conversation. This observation was sort of left hanging there, but the connection I think he wanted people to make was that the emerging conversation is being held between a lot of people feeling pain because they can't affirm traditional Christian truths in the same way any more. But that's meeting him halfway.

McLaren then moved into how the emerging has evolved, and told pieces of the story of how the movem...uh...conversation started. This story is chronicled in several books on the emerging church such as Tony Jones' The New Christians: a group of guys got together in 1998 wondering how megachurches can reach people ages 18-35. The discussion eventually turned from how to reach a certain age bracket to how to communicate and think about faith and theology in a changing culture. He then walked people through various emphases that the conversation has taken on over the years, such as gaining an understanding of Christian history beyond the past few centuries, and asking how the gospel speaks to issues such as poverty and ecology. He then made some observations about how the conversation is actually more advanced in other cultures and countries such as places in Africa and Latin America, noting that the group realized the conversation needed to advance beyond white males. Actually, he said "most" of the group realized this (Zing, Driscoll!).

So then Hollon got up, purporting to defend the more orthodox view of things. He made some concessions about the state of the culture, even observing that if certain church trends continue, only 10% of the United States will be involved in churches by 2050. He also stated that he actually agrees with a lot of what McLaren says, but since this was a debate he needed to disagree for the sake of the event. So that was interesting.

Anyway, Hollon first cited McLaren's suggestion that Christian thinking evolves (written in my Moleskine notebook: "Yeah, so?"). He observed that that means that our understanding of Christian concepts is never complete, while the traditional claim is that we've been handed down the One True Faith whole cloth through the various creeds and dogmas. He cited a few Bible verses that suggest as much as well. A little later in his argument, Hollon seemed to suggest that belief and doctrine are keys to "understanding God." That phrase struck me weird, especially since so many great theologians state that our ability to understand God is ultimately limited.

The assumptions on Hollon's end were pretty obvious, and of course he didn't address the issue that these creeds and dogmas need to be reinterpreted for new generations and that prevalent cultural thought may influence how we do that. Hollon suggested that the faith hasn't changed down through Christian history, ignoring the differences between the Athanasian and Arian schools, the changes that came with the Reformation, the divergence in Reformed theology between Schleiermacher and Barth. See...the faith hasn't changed so long as you pay attention to only one tradition.

Hollon's final point had to do with McLaren's advocacy of the use of story and poetry to better communicate in the postmodern era. He first read all the verses of "Joy to the World," noting that many great theologians have also been poets and songwriters. And then he suggested that the story of Christian dogma is the most exciting story in history (Moleskine: "Yikes").

McLaren was offered the chance for rebuttal, which was very gooey. He said that "If what Hollon has said works for you, then great. Don't read my books. But if you have a lot of questions, my books may help you. I like what he said, even if I can't affirm some of it any more." That's a paraphrase. Thankfully, Hollon called him on the gooiness of his reply and stated that he'd hoped for more. I did as well.

At this point, the floor was open to questions, and it very quickly turned into an inquisition of McLaren. One person got up and asked this very precise doctrinal question, to the effect of, "Do you believe that Jesus Christ, God's only Son, came to earth to die as a substitute on the cross to save us from a literal hell so that all who believe may have eternal life?" McLaren first observed the Inquisition spirit of the question, and then stated that he believes that Jesus came to do a lot of things: talk about the kingdom of God, show us something of God's glory and character, etc., and that he can't reduce Jesus to a formula like that. This response actually drew applause.

I had to leave shortly after this, but I nevertheless was glad for the chance to hear McLaren speak, even if I wished he'd been a little more direct about his own positions.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Vintage POC: My journey (so far) - Part 3

Shortly after I started this blog, I briefly chronicled my faith journey in a series of entries entitled "My journey (so far)." Part 3 mainly deals with a period of my life in college when my faith was undergoing a series of major challenges and retooling, and which I frequently point to as one of the darkest periods of that journey. Today is the anniversary of the climactic moment contained in this entry, and so I felt like presenting it in full.

1997-2001: The college years. I entered Heidelberg College already determined to major in Religion. It was my life's call and I would keep my eyes on the goal (my primary regret since graduation has always been not double majoring in either Literature or Theatre, but that's for another time). I was signed up for Old Testament my first semester and was on my way. In addition to my classwork, I connected with three Christian organizations on campus: B.U.C.C. ('Berg UCC, a UCC group), Campus Fellowship (a more evangelical group with loose ties to Campus Crusade for Christ), and the H.O.G.S. (House Of God's Servants, an on-campus house program). By the end of the first few weeks I had already decided I'd be a HOG next year, was the B.U.C.C. chaplain, and was playing drums in the Campus Fellowship praise band. I was on my way.

Old Testament had also begun, and I delved in with great interest. The professor began in Genesis (where else?) and pointed out within the first few class sessions the discrepancy between the two creation stories. The first story has plants before humans, the second humans before plants. He continued by drawing a diagram of the picture of creation that Genesis paints: a flat earth with a dome with stars stuck in it. When it rains, windows in the dome open. The weeks went on and I learned about the theory that the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible) had 4 authors, each editing their material into those that came before.

Um....what? My literalist brain didn't like this. This class was supposed to be an interpretation course. The weeks wore on and I resigned myself to the defense mechanism that the first five books were metaphor. No big deal. So they didn't get all the details right. It was still fact. So there.

Fast forward to second semester and a little course called "Topics in Biblical Literature." The topics for this course would be the historical Jesus, creation, and the apocolypse. I signed up eager to learn, still continuing with all three groups to varying capacities. We spent the first half of the course on the historical Jesus, first reading through this little book. Immediately in the introduction warning signs flashed in my head as the author wrote about how we know little tidbits of what actually happened, but we can't be sure of all the material in the gospels. Class discussions and lectures presented similar issues, including which gospel came first and how others fed off it. Discrepancies began to appear, differing details, missing accounts in some places. Suddenly my 'well, some of it is just metaphor' excuse was beginning to crack. But I did my best to move along in my happy evangelical way....until it all came crashing down.

I remember the exact moment. I was at a Campus Fellowship gathering and we were having a discussion around a couple tables. People were talking about what some gospel passage or another had to say, and suddenly I admitted to myself, "I don't think this is true any more." I went through the motions the rest of the meeting, packed up, and left. It would be a long night. I tried going to sleep and watched as midnight came and went. Then one o'clock. Finally I got up and took a walk around campus. After this didn't help, I called a friend from B.U.C.C. who happened to be up chatting with her boyfriend, so I wasn't actually disturbing her sleep either. She was also in my 'Topics' class, so we talked about the material for a little while. During this conversation she admitted her own doubts and questions. It was good to know I wasn't alone. Then I was finally able to get some sleep.

I credit B.U.C.C. with helping me through the rest of that year. I gained an appreciation for my denomination as I sat around with other UCC members discussing this material. Suddenly I was giving myself permission to think through my beliefs instead of believing what someone else said to believe. It was exhilarating. I couldn't put the material down. It was fascinating to study, to question, to wrestle with my beliefs. I felt alive in my faith. Suddenly for me the Bible didn't have to be taken literally, but the Holy Spirit could still speak through any passage at any time. Jesus was still an atoning sacrifice but it was because the Romans put him up there, not because God told him to. Hell was looking more like being absent from God rather than some literal place under the earth.

The trick for me at the time, in addition to wrestling with these questions, was finding how to wrestle with this AND remain active in Campus Fellowship. I still considered myself evangelical, just a slightly different brand. The UCC has an evangelical background, after all. But I had already heard from some in CF how much they didn't like what was being taught in the Religion program. It was threatening. It didn't teach literalism. It didn't teach The Truth. I'd engage some in discussion about these claims from time to time, but didn't want to ruffle feathers, lest I lose a couple friends. I still very much wanted to remain with the group as I found it spiritually uplifting despite my theological differences with some members.

Fast forward to my junior year, where things went to hell. Again. By this time I'd gained a great appreciation for Calvin and Reformed thought, was back to slightly right of the middle. I needed more faitih and less thinking. A thinking faith was good, but it didn't save you. Just trusting did. So I was a slight Calvinist, had become president of the HOGS, was heavily involved with the Campus Fellowship planning team, and unfortunately B.U.C.C. had all but dissolved (actually it had taken this hard social justice turn under a new campus minister that I wasn't into at the time).

The fit really hit the shan second semester of that year. First, over Christmas break I picked up a book by John Shelby Spong, which threw me for a violent loop. My faith started crashing down around me with each chapter as at the time I couldn't reason through a counter-argument. I had a thinking faith but for whatever reason this book left me feeling stupid. Couple this with a few articles I'd read later in the semester citing various similarities the story of Jesus had with other religious god-men. All this left me depressed, downtrodden, hopeless. I'd have bright spots, but they'd give way to doubts in a few days.

This was only one piece of the whole, though. Various actions by some Campus Fellowship members toward non-Christians (and even Christian non-attendees) were beginning to really test my patience. I was becoming angry at some of the judgmental and mean things I was witnessing. Of course it was all in the name of Preaching the Truth in Love, but I didn't see anything loving about it. By this time CF was also becoming much closer with Campus Crusade, obtaining 'witnessing tools' such as tracts which I found to be overly simplistic and trite as I read through them. "Pray this prayer. You're saved!" Some members were following non-Christians around telling them they'd go to hell if they didn't accept Jesus.

My real breaking point was twofold: first, a biologist came on campus to speak on the topic of whether Christians can believe in evolution (ultimately he'd say yes, they can). Some in CF decided that they wanted to counter this presentation with a creationist speaker. Still being a member of the leadership team, I raised questions and doubts about the integrity and credibility of this presentation. I was accused by some of 'being afraid of offending people.' It was like talking to a brick wall.

Second, a very good friend of mine related her personal experiences with some members of the group. Genuine pain and spiritual abuse was being inflicted on this person (not coincidentally she was another who was greatly appreciative of the Religion curriculum).

So during one CF meeting I made a small presentation in the form of a list of 10 things I thought the group needed to change about itself, among them "We are not God, so we shouldn't judge," "Religion courses and science can both be your friend," "Follow Christ, not doctrine," and so on. I'll admit now that some of these could have been worded better and the tone was probably more confrontational than I would have liked, but the presentation was of course met with opposition from some people. In retrospect, I wanted a non-denominational group (which is actually pretty denominational) to be ecumenical (recognizing multiple faith viewpoints), and some did not agree.

It didn't take long for me to notice that some thought very different of me after that meeting. Cold shoulders, snide comments. Some even took it upon themselves to delve into my personal life, spreading rumors, lies, and half-truths between one another without coming to me to confirm any one of them. Not that I wanted them to. By this time I didn't trust some people in that group, and no matter how often someone tries to Preach the Truth in Love to you, if you don't trust them, it doesn't mean squat. They aren't seen as a loving friend when that happens. They're just a nosy stranger. And at that time some were quickly becoming nosy strangers.

There were also many in CF who agreed with me and supported me to varying degrees. I leaned on them during this time, specifically for my difficulties with other members. But I could not bring myself to divulge to anyone other matters that were greatly disturbing me at the time.

Well meanwhile these Spong-inspired doubts were dragging me down even more, to the point where I couldn't bring myself to pray. I was once again disillusioned with belief, and it didn't help that I was also becoming greatly disillusioned with the church on campus. Finally I hit rock bottom late one night. I remember this exact moment also, even the date: March 29, 2000. I was sitting in the hallway on the second floor outside my then-girlfriend's (now wife's) room with her NIV Bible. It was a moment of desperation, a last resort. I was about to give up on my sense of call, resign the HOGS, switch majors. I just closed my eyes and said, "This is it. Please show me something."

I flipped open the Bible, and opened my eyes.

"It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" Luke 24:34. The road to Emmaus. Two men deeply depressed because their Lord is gone, only to recognize him and proclaim: "It is true, the Lord has risen."

Wow. I'd have that verse tattooed on my arm a year later. And you wouldn't believe how well I slept that night.

I graduated with Honors in Religion, already enrolled at Eden. I still had a thinking faith, but now with a more mystical edge. I had also smoothed things over with some CF colleagues with whom I'd had differences.

But to this day I've never apologized for what I said the night of that meeting. And I'm still not a big fan of Campus Crusade.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I finally finished Process Theology. I don't feel like writing a whole lot about it right now. Suffice it to say, I was struck in later chapters with process theology's emphasis on the interrelatedness of creation, and how the destruction of one part affects others. The chapter on Jesus was also very good, as Cobb talks about how he revolutionizes the concept of diety if we truly allow him...Cobb talks about how convoluted the doctrine of the Trinity is, especially if we make God the Father/Creator more God-ish than Jesus even as we insist that they're all equal. If we believe that we see God in Jesus, Cobb says, then we must consider what it means for our concept of God as we watch Jesus suffer, sacrifice, show weakness. If we simply argue that that was only Jesus' human side doing or experiencing those things, then we miss something about what God is revealing to us. That concept seems especially timely a little over a week away from Holy Week.

Twilight came out on DVD last week. Because Coffeewife is such a nut about it, I've seen it, or at least pieces of it, 7-8 times. Help me.

Flight of the Conchords had its season finale this past Sunday night, and according to many places around the internets it was probably their series finale. After two short seasons (only 12 or 13 episodes each), the show is apparently at an end. In this last episode, the guys wake up first to do a Stomp-like musical number that includes banging on glasses and pots, stomping on trash can lids, and even involving a few New York pigeons. Then they find out that they can't pay their rent because they've been paying in New Zealand dollars instead of American dollars. This somehow leads to their staging a musical about their lives (a sort of retrospective of the show) written by Murray, which reveals that they're illegal immigrants. This would be all well and good, except that a few American customs types had come to see the musical, and the guys are shipped back to New Zealand to resume their lives as shepherds. The show ends like it began, with the guys using wire fences, a tractor, and even a sheep for another Stomp-like piece. The second season wasn't as good as the first, but I loved the understated humor and goofiness of the show in general, as well as the wacky original songs. I don't have that many current shows that I keep up with, and now I have one less.

A couple albums heard this week:

The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists - When I first heard The Decemberists' Picaresque a few years ago, I was immediately taken by their style: folk-rock supporting stories that frontman Colin Meloy writes like classic lore: a mariner seeking revenge on the man who ruined his mother, a barrowboy still selling his wares on the streets long after he's dead, a forbidden love between an aristocrat and a peasant. You can't deny their unique style, which they focused into a theme album in The Crane Wife, as beautiful and poetic and creative an album as there's been. They've now taken that poetry and creativity and poured it into a second, more ambitious theme album, utilizing a range of instruments and a few guest voices. Entertainment Weekly gave this album a D+, which only reveals how little they know about music. They should stick to the latest tripe from Beyonce and Rhianna. Those who appreciate something ambitious and truly creative can check this out instead.

In Rainbows by Radiohead - I've been meaning to pick up this album for months, especially after seeing them perform "15 Step" at the Grammys with the USC marching band. This is as great an album as they've released, albeit seemingly a little more mellow. "All I Need" stands out to me as a song with a haunting sort of groove to it.

The Green World by Dar Williams - I have a few friends who really like Dar Williams, but I can't say that I ever really had a listen for myself until this week. That said, this is a fun album. In front of folk-rock, or maybe rock-folk, Williams is irreverent and wistful. Occasionally, she gets more serious, but for the most part as she muses on the strangeness and complexity of relationships, dreams, life in general, she does it with a certain light-hearted humor that draws the listener in.

From around the web, here's the final scene of Flight of the Conchords. If this was truly the end, you will be missed:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Standoff at the UCC's National Office

Okay, a quick polity lesson: at the national setting, the United Church of Christ has four governing boards that deal with different areas of our denominational life: Office of General Ministries, Wider Church Ministries, Local Church Ministries, and Justice & Witness Ministries. They largely act autonomously and hold one another accountable, as well as serve as resources for other settings of the church. It was set up this way in the spirit of congregationalism; the resistance to having one person or board at the top making decisions for everyone else.

That was, of course, until they decided that they wanted one board at the top making decisions for everyone else.

Over the past several years, a proposal has been making its rounds through the national setting to restructure the various boards into one big 86-member board, mainly in the name of expediency and budget cuts. A counter-petition has also been circulating detailing the reasons against such a restructure, among them: it will not give fair voice to historically underrepresented groups, it will promote elitism, and it will shift power to a more central location, which is against the UCC's founding spirit.

Well, the process has hit a snag. Justice and Witness Ministries, the final board to examine and approve this restructure, didn't approve it:
A proposal to form a single governing board for the national setting of the United Church of Christ came to an abrupt halt on March 20, after the board of Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM) voted 17 to 14, with three abstentions, not to move the process forward.

Meeting March 17-23 in Cleveland, the UCC's five autonomous boards were expected to consider wording changes to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws that would be brought to General Synod 27 in Grand Rapids, Mich., in June. Each of the five boards, including JWM, voted last year to take the governance changes to General Synod for approval.

"No matter what the outcome of our vote had been, I would have to stand before you and report there is considerable ambivalence on the Justice and Witness Ministries board," the Rev. John Gregory-Davis, pastor of Meriden (N.H.) UCC and chair of the JWM board, told a joint gathering of the boards. "We are not of one mind on this."

The boards of Local Church Ministries, Wider Church Ministries and the Office of General Ministries each voted overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.
In the article, members of JWM cite the historically underrepresented groups issue and the central power issue as the main holdups for them as they considered this.

What strikes me as outrageous after JWM shot it down is this:
On the final day of its meeting, the Executive Council defeated a motion from its organizational life committee that would have asked the JWM board to reconsider its decision in hopes of still allowing the process to move forward as planned. Several spoke to the motion saying they felt it would be an untenable request given the short timeline and the emotionally charged atmosphere.
"Come on, you guys! Let's send this back to you, but approve it this time! Pretty please?"

Yeah, I'm being snarky. I've only had one cup of coffee so far, I have a cold, and it's been a rollercoaster of a month. But even besides all that, let JWM's "no" be "no," and consider that maybe there's still room in the United Church of Christ, even at the national office, for disagreement and reconsideration. Naw, can't be true, right? Oops, guess so.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

Last night, I watched Michigan make its first NCAA tournament appearance in 11 years and win. Actually, to be more accurate, I watched the first 10 minutes or so and then the last 13 seconds. The middle was filled with the Akron/Gonzaga game. Don't get me wrong, I was rooting for Akron...but that's not who I'd settled in to watch. Anyway, that's what the graphic is for. Go Blue!

Click here for MGoBlog's postgame analysis.

I'm still reading Process Theology.  I've been distracted a lot this month, so I haven't carved out much time to continue reading.

We went to see Watchmen the weekend that it came out, and I think they did a great job adapting it to screen.  Naturally, they needed to make some choices as to what to include, and I think they were able to capture the main thread well. The way they shot it was very well-done, although some scenes got pretty gratuitous. There's one scene that amounts to softcore porn, and I didn't need to see as much of Dr. Manhattan's anatomy as I did. They also altered the ending, which I didn't actually mind that much. They also highlighted the theme from the comic about human violence and existence, whether we're worth saving, the ethics of method. In particular they did this through commenting on The Comedian as a reflection of humanity's violent tendencies, and how he played it back as a joke on everyone else. I missed that in the comic...I suppose I'll have to go read it again.

I've listened to a couple new albums lately:

Vampire Weekend by Vampire Weekend - Weird pop music. Good, but weird.

Go Away White by Bauhaus - I either need to listen to this again or track down their previous albums, the last of which they released in 1983. It's been a strange week in terms of experienced new music. These guys sound like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds if Cave had a German accent and they were all on downers. Whether that's good or bad...I need to listen to this again.

From around the web, here's "Nothing Sweet About Me" by Gabriella Cilmi, because it was stuck in my head when I woke up this morning:

Monday, March 16, 2009

1000

This is my 1000th post. In celebration, I asked readers to submit 10 questions for me to answer. And here they are:

1. If I was to say to you: Shout the gospel with your life. What comes to mind? What would your life look like? I find it important to start by saying that I believe that the gospel, or good news, is "the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:14-15). That being said, it would naturally follow that the best way to live that gospel is to live a life that reflects the values of God's kingdom: love of God and neighbor, forgiveness, unconditional acts of compassion and justice, regard for the poor and suffering, working against inequality and bigotry of all kinds. If to some that sounds too liberal or too unAmerican, I reply that when Jesus first preached and exhibited these things in his day, they sounded and looked too liberal or too unRoman. This is typically not the stuff of the dominant culture.

I confess that my own life could stand to look a little different than it presently does in light of this...in particular, I've lost sight a little of those justice issues that matter most to me and I'd like to become more involved with them. I regularly push my congregation toward a greater and greater life of mission and service. And those other more subtle intangible things have played out in my life in ways that amaze me.

2. I'll soon be in my first parish. What advice would you give a new pastor setting out in their first call. (especially one who is in the same age bracket as you) As you strive to lead faithfully, realize that your critics aren't nearly as numerous as they seem; when faced with a choice between church and family, choose the family; never underestimate the power of trust, especially as it allows for more change and greater faithfulness the longer you're there; find respite in a non-theological hobby; seek out a colleague, group, or mentor to process with occasionally; allow yourself to be surprised; worship and programs aren't as important as relationships; take special note of those pastoral moments when there is no doubt about your calling, and hang onto and return to them when those other moments happen. I can keep going, but that seems like a good stopping point.

3. What character (book, film, etc.) have you most related to and why? It's always been Charlie Brown. I don't think I'm the sad sack that he is, but I've always been able to relate to his ability to see beauty where maybe no one else can, his timidity around the pretty girl he likes, his attempts to communicate his hopes and dreams that he can't quite word so that others understand, his love of baseball, and the way life sometimes just makes him want to lean his head against a tree or pull the covers over his head.

4. If you were to put a percentage to the joining of the congregation of your member's. Would you say the majority joined out of belief, peer pressure, fear, or possibly to find a warmer community to join. I serve what might be termed a "family church," meaning that a good chunk of the membership is composed of multiple generations of relatives. We have 4-5 of these larger families that dot the pews on Sunday mornings. So for my church in particular, many may say, "Because it's my family's church." Aside from that, most others would probably say they were looking for a faith community other than their former one for reasons particular to each family or individual.

5. If you had to explain, in 5 minutes or less, what is at the heart/what most chiefly defines Christianity and makes it unique among other world religions, what would you say? I think that the first and second parts of this question are very different. I believe that what chiefly defines Christianity is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: his teachings & example, how it led to his death, his enduring presence, and so on. Try as some fringe liberals might, you can't have Christianity without Christ. He is its central figure and reason for being.

The second part of this question is one that hasn't especially interested me for a while: one can find religions with other God-men or wise teachers or prophets and that espouse & inspire love and peace and justice. All that I've ultimately been able to do in discussions with non-Christians is give an account of the hope that is within me, and hope that I'm living it out as best I'm able, and they can take it or leave it. And they usually leave it, but we're both okay with that. We can talk about those finer logical and metaphysical and philosophical points that come with differing beliefs, but the question about uniqueness is something that I don't have much of an answer before aside from what I've personally experienced and strive to live out.

6. What about the drums do you find so appealing - why are they your favourite? I have to preface this by saying that I can play three instruments with varying degrees of skill: drums, bass, and acoustic guitar. I provide that preface because out of the three, when I play drums I don't have to think. Insert drummer joke here, but aside from that, what I mean is that I don't have think about what I'm doing when I play drums...I just feel the song and go with it. With the other two, I have to look for the next chord change or I have to make sure that I get my fingering right if I don't know a chord as well. With drums I don't have to do that. I just sit down and jam. I love that.

7. Why do you keep believing? It is here once again that I'd chiefly point to personal experience, because I think that it is the difference in attempting to rationally argue for or against a particular belief system. For some, an experience that they can name as such never comes, or no logical explanation seems feasible any more (or never did), or too many bad experiences with those professing Christianity have ruined the whole enterprise. I've experienced all of this at various points, but I've also experienced assurance in blatant or more subtle ways that have renewed my faith. You can read one such story here. And in general, I believe that Jesus has something wonderful to offer the world; it is through him that I see God most clearly, and to whom even many non-Christians can point and say, "if the world was more like that, it would be such a better place."

8. How about 10 songs/musical pieces that changed your life, and a bit about each one?
1. "Living in the Sight of Water" by Brian White & Justice - It was during a Christian music concert that the notion of faith "clicked" for me. This was the band and the song that played a part.

2. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" by REM - I taught myself how to play the drumset by listening to this song over and over.

3. The entire Thriller album, Michael Jackson - Michael Jackson was one of my introductions into "adult" music when I was young, and this is THE Michael Jackson album.

4. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye - This was my other main introduction into music. It actually started with those little dancing raisins. Remember them? But I still love Gaye's version.

5. "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" - I can hear some groaning out there, but this was my introduction into a whole world of possibilities for worship that I had no clue about until my senior year of high school. I've outgrown this particular song and others like it, but still have an appreciation for "contemporary" worship and the necessity to at least utilize the philosophy behind it, if not many of its better offerings.

6. The music of Dave Matthews Band - No one who reads this and knows me should be a bit surprised. For quite a while, they weren't really a big deal to me...I had a few of their albums that I'd pop on occasionally. Then in the summer of 1999, I saw them at Riverbend in Cincinnati, and their live show blew my mind. Ever since, they've been my favorite band, the one I turn to for a lift or to get mellow or to space out.

7. "O.T. Rap" by The Rap'Sures - In 6th grade, a friend of mine had this tape of Christian rap songs. It was also my introduction to dc Talk, but this song actually helped me learn the books of the Bible. In fact, I still hear it in my head when I list them off today. All in all, cheesy late 80s/early 90s stuff, but I can't deny its lasting impact.

8. "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys - Not the real version, but the sheet music prepared for a 6th grade bands. You see, there's a drum solo in this particular piece, and I landed it. It took me a while to settle down enough to play it, but this led to a more serious interest in drumming in general, as well as an ongoing habit to drum on tabletops, books, and whatever else with my hands or fingers.

9. "Hold On" by Alton Weaver - You've probably never heard of this band or this song...they were out of Indiana and broke up years ago. This was the first song I learned to play on acoustic guitar.

10. The music of Five Iron Frenzy - This is the only Christian band that I still listen to from my Christian music phase, five years after they broke up. I still listen to some modern worship and a few other albums, but this band has left such an impact on me that it's the only one whose entire catalogue I have in rotation. They were willing to be honest and critical about the flaws and embarrassments of both the church and their industry, and they connected faith to real causes and calls to action. For all that and more, I still appreciate them.

9. Your experience with Campus Crusade as well as being a PK growing up have challenged your faith and (I think) helped you to grow as a pastor and a human being. How you do you feel about sharing a label like "Christian" with such a diverse, and at times, divisive group? Honestly, I don't always want to. This happens especially when I catch wind of some news story about Christians up in arms about displays of the 10 Commandments, or "In God We Trust" being taken off money, or some of the ridiculous stuff some stirred up about Obama during the election. I feel similarly when Christians want to spend all their time and money on church buildings, or on the proposition that Christianity's main purpose is to study theology, or arguing against something Jesus said because of something Paul said, or all the culture war/political games crap. Some of these things used to make sense to me, but they don't anymore. And sometimes it just angers me that people (Christian or non-Christian) believe that these things are what Jesus wanted. I often joke that one day I'm going to quit the ministry, start a coffeeshop, and become a Buddhist; just renounce all of it. Some days it's less of a joke. But I also like Jesus too much to give up on him just because I think some are getting it so incredibly bass-ackwards.

10. No one ever asked a #10, so I'm providing it myself: What's in store for the next 1000 posts? I've greatly enjoyed keeping this blog. It's become something beyond my expectations. I didn't think I'd stick with it this long, use it in the way that I have, gain even the modest audience that I have. At times it's felt like more of a chore, or like something that I can just use for throwaway stuff like memes and videos and two-liners about some stupid thing. But it's been far more rewarding for me and, I think, for my readers, when I've buckled down and really tried to produce something. And I've been trying to be more intentional about producing something since around the New Year, and that in a nutshell is what people can keep expecting. Whether that yields less posts in a week or truly produces what I want is up in the air, but it's what I'd rather this blog be about. So thanks for reading, and I look forward to further writing.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mid-Lent Meme

I'm back...sort of. I thought that this would be a good post to help get back into things, although I still have the weekend to get through. Anyway, enjoy this, and my 1000th post appears on Monday.  This meme comes courtesy of the RevGals.

1. Did you give up, or take on, anything special for Lent this year? This was a hard thing to come up with this year, for reasons I can't really articulate. I wasn't feeling especially focused heading into this season this year...March has been and will continue to be a month chock full of activity. So that made me think that I should take on a prayer discipline. While I haven't been able to keep it every day, I have most days with some positive results. I've also given up fast food, but for me the "giving up" exercise is played out, at least for now. Maybe in a few years it'll take on meaning for me again.

2. Have you been able to stay with your original plans, or has life gotten in the way? That's quite the question. I have been able to stay with original plans until this week. My brother-in-law died unexpectedly last week, and between that and my grandfather's memorial service this weekend, this week has been the epitome of Lennon's classic line, "life is what happens when you make other plans." Did I mention that I came down with the flu the night we arrived at my in-laws' house? Yeah, there was that, too.

3. Has God had any surprising blessings for you during this Lent? That's also quite the question, because I believe God has. Surprising blessings have come in ministerial discernment and church relationships, they've come in family relationships, they've come in changing priorities and renewed energy and vision. Sometime I may flesh all this out more, but through, instead of, or in spite of what even modest amount of plans and inspiration I had coming into this Lenten season, God's been showing up in much bigger ways.

4. What is on your inner and/or outer agenda for the remainder of Lent and Holy Week? To hopefully figure out what I'm doing for the next couple years, or at least the rest of this one. To enjoy Coffeewife and Coffeeson as much as possible. To pray and to listen. To pay attention to the energy around me and what it means. To be thankful.

5. Where do you most long to see resurrection, in your life and/or in the world, this Easter? At this very moment, in the hearts of my in-laws. They/we were spiritually and emotionally punched in the stomach this week, and I hope that healing comes to them.

Bonus: Share a favorite scripture, prayer, poem, artwork, or musical selection that speaks Lenten spring to your heart. Lately, it's been this prayer of confession out of the E&R Hymnal, which I've been using for my prayer time. It's a prayer that I recognize as often appearing in worship in some form while growing up, and so I've been celebrating that connection:

"Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their sins. Restore thou those who are penitent, according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy name. Amen."

Monday, March 02, 2009

Miscellaneous Lenten Thoughts


My thoughts and plans for Lent, even on this first Monday of the season, are not fully formed. I have a few things in place, but I don't feel like I have a clear handle on what I'm doing for my own discipline yet.

We'll start with the church stuff, because that's easy. Ash Wednesday, as best as I could tell, was a very meaningful time for those who attended. The video meditation seemed to resonate with a lot of people, and overall attendance seemed to take a slight bump up. We imposed ashes, I briefly talked about why we're invited to take on any sort of discipline during this time (to remind ourselves how much we get in the way of our own listening for how the Spirit is guiding). The whole thing couldn't have gone much better.

Coming up is our series of programs on Wednesday evenings, and I'll be facilitating discussions around some of Rob Bell's NOOMA videos. For the crowd that usually turns out for this, I'm guessing that these will provide some slight culture shock. But reflections during Lent are supposed to push us, right?

Besides that, I mentioned that my plans for personal discipline haven't fully formed. And they haven't. Let me begin my explanation by offering the following: March's schedule is ridiculous. My weekends are full, including two trips that I have to make out of state, and there isn't much of a set rhythm to any of it. I'm not really upset about the specifics of what's happening...I just have a lot of it. And the lack of regularity has made it difficult for me to plan, say, a daily prayer time. I lost my quiet mornings long ago with the arrival of Coffeeson, and the fullness in particular of the weekends won't provide for much of an opportunity for it either.

At least, that's what I thought. I am right about March being ridiculous, and I am right about mornings being ruled out as an option. However, there are other times available for such things that I think could prove fruitful beyond Easter.

During the week, I watch Coffeeson on Mondays, and then generally do church work Tuesday through Friday. Usually I have early afternoons open before heading out later on for visits and whatnot. That early afternoon, in the middle of my day, might be the perfect time as with enough focus and discipline to become part of the fabric of my day of ministry. My other option is the end of the day, but that's not as much of a sure thing for any number of reasons. I can at least attempt it this next week and see how it feels.

I'm also giving up fast food. But that's actually been kind of a standard thing, and doesn't really provide the meaning or impact that "giving something up" used to.

Like I said...not fully formed.