Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Synod Resolutions - The Fluffy

The Fluffy: Sacred Conversations on Race, Ecumenical Commitments in the United Church of Christ

The "Fluffy" category is for those resolutions that make nice statements and usually affirm or re-affirm church relationships but don't have much practical impact.

After re-reading the resolutions I originally put in this category, I moved An Economic Justice Covenant to "The Practical" and Affirming the Accra Confession to "Mildly Divisive."

The Ecumenical Commitments resolution is pretty standard fare...it cites a few scripture verses calling for unity, including one from the Gospel of John that was adopted as the UCC's motto. It also cites a few statements from the UCC's founding documents with similar sentiments. The resolution describes the formation of the UCC as an "experiment" where four very different churches came together, striving for unity in purpose rather than theology, and has always put forth a vision of being a "united and uniting" church. The resolution basically calls for all settings of the UCC to keep that vision in mind; to respect a diversity of voices while continuing to deepen relationships. There's no concrete proposal as to how to go about this...hence, Fluffy.

Back during the election when people were going nuts over the connection between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright, UCC President and General Minister John Thomas called on all entities of the church to hold "sacred conversations on race:" dialogue about racial issues, racism, how it affects us, how to move forward, etc. The designated day for this was Trinity Sunday of last year, although churches were encouraged to hold ongoing dialogue around this theme. Resources were hurriedly produced or referenced in anticipation. I tried to look up how many churches participated, and while I couldn't find any figures, there are several UCNews articles suggesting that some churches have been continually holding such conversations. The phrase itself quickly made it into the UCC glossary, and thus for me it was little surprise that it would somehow turn up this year at Synod.

What was a surprise was when I printed out the resolution. My exact words at that moment were, "You've got to be kidding me."

The resolution is one page long. One. Freaking. Page. And all the resolution ends up saying is, "Yeah, let's keep having these." Do we really need a resolution to do that? Obviously somebody thinks so. This is as fluffy as fluffy can get, folks.

And that brings me to my final thought.

The reader has perhaps noticed that I have approached these posts with a certain amount of...I was going to say "snark," but I was trying to think of...okay, "snark" will have to do. At any rate, I add that element for two reasons: 1) I think it spices up what otherwise would be some pretty dull reading, and 2) I can't help but feel that way about some of the needless muck that I and other delegates have to wade through every two years.

We have three resolutions dealing with issues that the very last Synod dealt with. We have two resolutions adding to the confusing number of labels that churches can slap on themselves. We have one resolution that is a pathetic single page long and seemingly produced for production's sake. And this stuff is going to suck up time and energy that could be better spent outside enjoying God's creation, or participating in service projects, or exploring Grand Rapids. I know we have designated times for those things, but we could have MORE of it. That'd be better stewardship than sitting in conference rooms trudging through all the "if"s and "the"s of these ridiculous things that most people aren't going to do much with anyway.

General Synod is a time to come together from across the United Church of Christ and engage in worship, teaching, and fellowship, to catch up with old friends, to enjoy one another as members of the same church and celebrate our unity and diversity. That's what I've always loved about it, and why I like going. Can't we at least clip off the most blatant overreaching bouts of righteous indulgence--which a good portion of these resolutions end up being and which some of this year's clearly are--and celebrate who we are as God's people and as Christ's church?

I think we can.

See you in Grand Rapids.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Synod Resolutions - The Practical

The Practical: Responsible Meeting Practice, A Call to Be Global Mission Churches, Justice Town Hall Gatherings, An Economic Justice Covenant

"The Practical" category is for those resolutions that directly affect the way in which some aspect of the United Church of Christ goes about its work. They're likely to all be prudential resolutions, which are for this purpose.

I was intrigued when I first saw the Resolution on Responsible Meeting Practice, mostly because it was submitted by the Hawaii Conference. Those who keep up with events in the UCC know that the 2011 Synod was set to take place in Hawaii up until last year, when it was decided that it would be financially impractical for many travelers. It was a good stewardship decision that only seemed to receive praise...at least, all I heard was praise. There may have been grumbling. There's always grumbling.

Anyway, the Hawaii Conference has submitted this resolution that seems to reflect that decision, stating: "This resolution builds on the robust policies of the United Church of Christ regarding environmental, economic, and social justice stewardship to create implementable, educational, and just stewardship (e.g., sustainable) practices for church meetings." Pretty straightforward stuff...we should practice good stewardship when it comes to meetings such as, oh, I don't know, General Synod 28.

The Theological Rationale section lays out a few scriptures dealing with recognizing God's regard for and restoration of creation, as well as some texts about practicing justice. The resolution itself cites multiple resolutions passed at previous Synods dealing with stewardship of creation, as well as a recognition of its interrelatedness. The Be It Resolved section then lays out a few ways, albeit very generally, in which all settings of the UCC should be encouraged to be mindful stewards of creation when planning meetings. In fact, by far the most concrete suggestion that is made in this resolution is to have Justice and Witness Ministries develop a document outlining ways in which this can be implemented. It'll probably take a while to see how this one, if passed, plays out.

Hey, want to play a game? Okay, here goes. Every time you read the word "justice" in the following paragraph, take a shot of bourbon:
The Bible identifies Yahweh as a God of justice that loves justice. The United Church of Christ has, through the years, championed many issues of justice, but in its national setting is currently faced with daunting financial challenges which have diminished the number of staff working on justice issues even though the issues of justice are as pressing today as at any time in the history of the United States. For the United Church of Christ to truly be a “justice” church, it has to mobilize as many of its members as possible to build a coordinated effort to work at the issues of justice, in spite of the financial difficulties we are facing.
How are you feeling?

This is the opening paragraph to the Justice Town Hall Gathering resolution, and if I didn't know better I'd say it has something to do with justice.

More seriously, this resolution mainly calls upon General Synod to establish a "town hall gathering of justice advocates within the United Church of Christ one day before the beginning of each General Synod." From there, these advocates will put together a "two-year justice platform for the United Church of Christ to strive for," and that JWM will partner with a few other UCC entities to plan these.

It begs the question, of course: Whose justice? Which advocates get invited, and for what issues? Or are they invited? Does any advocate just show up? Who gets to speak? Will everyone get a chance to be heard? Are there issues that one may consider "just" that another may consider "unjust," and who decides which? These and many other questions are left unanswered by a very barebones resolution. I suppose that, if passed, that would be left to JWM and others to decide. But I can't help but wonder about the assumptions behind this one.

The final resolution in this category calls for the establishment of yet another designation that local churches and other settings of the UCC may adopt for themselves, that being "Global Mission Church." This is for settings that exhibit and strive for a global perspective on mission outreach.

So, to recap, a local church can choose from the following designations: Multiracial, Multicultural, Open and Affirming, Just Peace, Accessible to All, Faithful and Welcoming, and Still Speaking. If certain resolutions are passed this Synod, we can add Global Mission Church and Earthwise Congregation to that list.

When does it stop? Seriously. I do get how at least some of these may be helpful for people to know about when seeking a new faith home, but many more of these just seem like a lot of self-congratulating silliness that the majority of people may not really care about apart from seeing a congregation or other UCC entity actually practicing what they preach. If I'm Joe Unchurched feeling a pull to check out a local church, am I really going to care that it calls itself "Just Peace?" If I'm Joe Unchurched, I'm actually probably wondering what the hell that means. I'm going to know whether you're multiracial or multicultural when I step through the door. I would hope every church considers itself faithful and welcoming (well...many do consider themselves welcoming, but far fewer actually are; one has to read the fine print on that one).

It's just getting ridiculous. That's all. Personally, the only two I'd retain are Open and Affirming and Accessible to All. At least those are especially helpful in letting others know that there's truly a safe space for them.

My $.02. As for you, add all the freaking designations you want if you think it helps.

I got off on a rant there. Sorry. One more category to go.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Synod Resolutions - The Mildly Divisive

The Mildly Divisive: Mediating Climate Change, Acting on Climate Change, Human Trafficking, A Call for Study of Our Church's Involvement in the Eugenics Movement, NAFTA, HIV Prevention, Global Food Crisis, Iraqi Refugees, Affirming the Accra Confession

All right, I'm going to say right off the bat that I'm not going to address all of these. This category is for resolutions that may or may not stir up some strong opinions, and "pet project" resolutions that some marginal group cares about and that usually pass, but ultimately not much is going to come of them.

Let's say a couple things about the resolutions on climate change. Let's start by saying that Synod 26 just dealt with a climate change resolution, and here we have two more.  I guess I don't understand why an issue that Synod just talked about is being talked about again. Is it to keep it fresh in people's minds? Is it because people missed that a similar resolution was just passed two years ago? Do people see it as a recommitting to the cause?

Both of these latest resolutions acknowledge that point, but don't really answer the question. The Urgency for Action resolution does state that "this resolution urges more vigorous and sustained leadership on the part of the United Church of Christ." It continues by quoting part of a letter by the Collegium from last April:
Our call to become good stewards in God's ever evolving creation is reflected in the many resolutions passed addressing our environment. Beginning in 1959 with the Second General Synod, whereby there was a "call to Christian action in society, 'includ(ing) (a) call for conservation and development of the Earth's resources for the benefit of all people now and in the future.'"...

One thing is certain: for the love of the earth and one another, we may not remain indifferent. We are called to face the challenges with a deep sense of urgency and hopeful attention.
In other words: "No really, we mean it." The resolution itself reflects this with words and phrases such as "urgent" and "intensify our efforts," while the actions proposed are not really that different from what other related resolutions have suggested: churches should educate their members, "green" their buildings, and advocate legislation. But we should do it more urgently than we've been doing it.

The other climate change resolution may actually belong in the "Practical" category, as it proposes a new designation that local churches can adopt: "Earthwise Congregation." What types of activities will an "Earthwise Congregation" engage in? Well, among others, they would educate their members, "green" their buildings, and advocate legislation. And they'd start a new committee that oversees this.

On climate change in general, I've found this webpage to be helpful in my own attempts to understand the issue. I've also found this website helpful as a dissenting view, as in my own reading I've found this issue to be a lot less clear-cut...there seems to be so many factors and variables at work that I'm hesitant to jump on the global warming bus.

I'm only going to look at one other resolution in this space, that being the one on eugenics. I wasn't very familiar with this movement before reading over this resolution.

Essentially, the eugenics movement lasted about a century or so between the mid-19th and mid-20th centuries, and aimed to improve the amount of "desirable" hereditary stock while lessening "undesirable" stock. Translation: we want more white American babies and less black, immigrant, and mentally or physically challenged babies. The resolution cites several cases of pastors, mostly Congregational in background, supporting this movement in various ways. The resolution then argues that we should study the involvement of our predecessors in this movement and seek to correct any residual effects.

I'm struggling to see what possible residual effects involvement by individuals and the publishing of one book by Pilgrim Press in the 1930s (also cited) may have in our denomination, at least as an institution. If the resolution had geared itself more toward attitudes of individual members who harbor eugenics-related attitudes, I could understand that. But the focus is on how eugenics may still manifest itself in the institutional life of the UCC. One Whereas states as much: "WHEREAS, the United Church of Christ has claimed in previous resolutions that institutionalized injustices continue to affect contemporary society..."

The other possibility here is that this resolution wants the UCC to acknowledge its historical ties to this movement, recognize that it is not above the fray, and educate its members on how attitudes like this can become institutionalized. That makes more sense. It's a slice of humble pie for a denomination constantly touting its "firsts." This is, I supposed, one method of serving up that slice.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Synod Resolutions - The Controversial

The Controversial: Options to War Against Iran, Axis of Friendship with Iran, Health Care Reform, In Support of Physician Assistance in Dying

Let's skip to the Physician Assistance in Dying one first. This will likely be the most hotly contested resolution this year. Two years ago, a similar resolution was the only one that was really allowed extensive debate on the floor as I recall. Yes, this issue was presented and debated at the very last Synod, and yes, there wasn't a lot of debate on any resolution last time because they'd crammed all the business sessions into the last two days because they'd planned so much celebratory stuff for the 50th anniversary. And hey, look, they're going with a similar format this Synod. Brilliant.

Man, I've become jaded. But honestly, I love going to General Synod for all the reasons completely unrelated to resolutions anyway. So why do I write these posts? 'Cause I got to. That's all.

Anyway, something about physician aid in dying. Right, so a similar resolution was presented last time, and it was decided that the issue would be studied, and since someone obviously didn't think that was enough (or didn't pay attention), we get to debate it again. And ultimately, it is being recommended that it be referred directly to Justice and Witness Ministries as part of the study process laid out by the Synod 26 resolution.

In order to save us all some time on this, I refer the readership back to what I wrote about it then, because my own opinion hasn't changed too much. Here's a snippet:
Second, I don't like crediting John Shelby Spong with a whole lot, but I liked the quote included in this resolution:
If I have a medically confirmed incurable disease, and can bear the pain of that sickness only by being placed in a kind of twilight zone, where I neither recognize the sweet smile of my wife nor respond to the touch of her hand, do I not have the ethical right to end my life with medical assistance?
In other words, would someone in that "twilight zone" state be fully alive? Are the only choices a life of severe pain or a life where one is basically kept unconscious to endure the pain? It seems to me that death would be an act of mercy, perhaps even love, if these are the only other options. Also note the phrase "medically confirmed incurable." I think that sometimes people oppose resolutions like this because they paint pictures for themselves of children and grandchildren on a whim rushing to nursing homes to inject morphine into their relatives (never mind that many nursing homes have abysmal standards of care...as a pastor, I've seen and smelled some of them). Physician aid in dying is not meant for "inconvenience" sorts of cases...it is for those whose health has reached a point that makes any semblance of normal living impossible.
Aside from that, this resolution is extensively researched and reasoned to the point that it anticipates most common objections, one for many Christians being that "only God should select the moment of death." One delegate opposed to last Synod's resolution stood up, shared a Bible verse stating that "God has numbered our days," and sat down as if its meaning was self-evident. The resolution addresses this argument, asking whether a loving God would want patients experiencing incredible pain as a result of terminal illness to suffer like that. And the resolution gets very specific on the cases that would warrant this treatment: terminal illness, six months to live, legally competant to make decisions, and a few others. So again, "inconvenience"-type scenarios are excluded.

The resolution also cites methods in which physician-assisted suicide already takes place, such as a patient requesting the "pulling of the plug," and "terminal sedation," in which a patient is rendered unconcious in anticipation of the moment of death. I have been present for a few of the latter cases and can testify firsthand that no amount of striving on the part of the medical staff would have been able to bring those people back to anything remotely resembling normal life.

By far, the above resolution has the potential to make the most waves in local churches. On the other hand, the Synod 26 resolution didn't seem to rile up too many people other than those at the event, so this may be a pretty quiet one.

The two resolutions regarding Iran will most likely be dealt with by the same committee, and probably combined in some way, as is the usual practice. And that's a good thing, because quite frankly, the Options to War Against Iran resolution is horribly written. First off, in the Summary it reads, "Be it therefore resolved that the United Church of Christ, based on our Belief that Christ desires peace not violent conflict in God's world, and on our commitment as a Just Peace Conference..." So the UCC is just one Conference now?

Next, we have a long litany of some of the usual Bible texts that either 1) call for peace, or 2) mention the word "peace," and the citing of a resolution from Synod 15 in 1985 where the Just Peace term started being used (Just Peace is one of a half dozen or so designations available for local churches to adopt). Then it rushes to one single Be It Resolved that lists a handful of general ways to support alternatives to war in Iran. Throw in a bunch of grammatical errors and you've got a ridiculous slapped-together resolution.

The other resolution is much better written, though it has plenty of flaws as well. It begins by observing that many in Iran expressed sympathy with the United States after September 11th, but George Bush spurned that sympathy when he lumped Iran into his "Axis of Evil" line. "Since then," the resolution states, "President Bush and members of his administration have repeatedly alleged that Iran poses an imminent threat to the United States, U.S. troops in the Middle East and U.S. allies." These people do know that we had an election last November, right?

The Theological Rationale section is a single paragraph, which doesn't really get theological at all until the second-to-last sentence containing a pithy acknowledgement that Jesus wants us to be peacemakers. Fortunately, the actual resolution contains further theological reasoning, including Biblical passages and citing the Just Peace designation.

The resolution calls upon the General Synod to declare Sunday, September 13th (presumably because it's the Sunday closest to the 11th) Axis of Friendship Day, where churches can put candles in their windows, hold special candle-lighting services, and hold festivals in Iranian-American neighborhoods.

The idea of Axis of Friendship day isn't bad in and of itself. The term is in response to another term that was used some eight years ago, and President Obama has repeatedly expressed that he would pursue diplomacy long before war would even be considered a possibility. Aside from that, dealing with someone like Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who has famously denied the Holocaust and offered other incendiary rhetoric about the Jewish people, takes more than an Axis of Friendship Day. I have no illusions that Obama thinks diplomacy is as simple as saying, "We want to be your friend." This resolution would spark a nice gesture, but 1) it's currently a reaction to nothing, or an outdated something, and 2) relationships between countries, at least at the national level, are more complicated.

I have to sit with the health care resolution for a while longer.  I only include it in this category because of all the "socialism" rhetoric that gets thrown around when such a concept is brought up.  I'm betting that the only one of these that even has the potential to fire people up is the Physician Assistance in Dying one, and even that potential is so remote that it should be a fairly quiet time in Grand Rapids.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Open Forum - Faithful Regret

Just a few questions for this one.

Do you think the original disciples and apostles, in the midst of faithfully carrying out Jesus' call, ever felt stupid or like they were missing out on a wonderful opportunity for themselves?

Have you ever felt like that?

Do you think it's possible or natural to feel regretful in the midst of being faithful?

Discuss.

Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Resolution Season

As I've mentioned before, I'll be a delegate to General Synod in Grand Rapids this summer, part of which means that I am entrusted with the task of reviewing and voting on a series of resolutions that will come to the floor during our business sessions.

What do these resolutions do, you may ask? Well, there are two kinds of resolutions that are written and presented. The first is a Resolution of Witness, which is exactly what it sounds like: a statement to our churches and the rest of the world that the General Synod (not the UCC, mind you...learn your polity) affirms or supports or condemns whatever-it-is that the resolution says. And then there are Prudential Resolutions, which are more practical in nature and establish policy or procedure.

But in the grand scheme of things? These resolutions probably won't actually do much of anything. I'm cynical like that, I guess. Every once in a while, a resolution like the ones on marriage equality at Synod 25 in Atlanta come along that get everyone's attention, but for the most part the churches that like them will do something with them, and everyone else will keep doing what they've always done.  This is my fourth trip, and if I'm being honest, I just looked down the list of resolutions this year with a tired sigh.

Nevertheless, I offer up my own analysis of the resolutions tentatively being proposed for General Synod 27. I say "tentatively," because they don't always seem to make it to the floor, even if they make it to this point. The full text of each one can be found here. They are as follows:

The Controversial: Options to War Against Iran, Axis of Friendship with Iran, Health Care Reform, In Support of Physician Aid in Dying

The Mildly Divisive: Mediating Climate Change, Acting on Climate Change, Human Trafficking, A Call for Study of Our Church's Involvement in the Eugenics Movement, NAFTA, HIV Prevention, Global Food Crisis, Iraqi Refugees

The Practical: Responsible Meeting Practice, A Call to Be Global Mission Churches, Justice Town Hall Gatherings

The Fluffy: An Economic Justice Covenant, Sacred Conversations on Race, Affirming the Accra Confession, Ecumenical Commitments in the United Church of Christ

I'll take one of these categories at a time over the next two weeks or so and give a few thoughts. As a delegate, this helps me work through them. CoffeeNation tends not to pay too much attention, but that's okay. Even if I'm just talking to myself here, it helps me work out some things heading up to the voting process.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm about halfway through The Pastor as Minor Poet by M. Craig Barnes, which is a short book about the pastoral role using a different sort of metaphor. So often, we hear of the pastor as shepherd, CEO, coach, visionary, and whatever else, but here Barnes is presenting the pastor as one who searches for the deeper truths under the surface of ministry situations, which is what poets do. An example: a couple visits Barnes in his office expressing anger over the musical choices of the choir director, how she doesn't do things like their previous director of 25 years or so, doesn't even use his original material, and how Barnes, if he's truly a strong leader, needs to step up and fire her. Barnes recognizes that this has less to do with the choir director or how strong a leader he is and more about their grief over the former choir director's leaving. The pastor as poet digs underneath the surface to help the other person discover that deeper pain. So essentially, this is a pastoral care book, which I figured going in.

We watched Yes Man last night, starring Jim Carrey as a guy who's become a bit reclusive since his girlfriend left him. He sits in his apartment every night watching movies and even stands up his best friend the night of his engagement party. Eventually, he runs into an old acquaintance who convinces him to attend a self-help seminar where the speaker's point is to say "yes" to every opportunity no matter what it is. Hilarity and absurdity ensues. Carrey does his usual crazy rubberfaced thing, which I didn't mind as an appreciator of his early stuff, but the situations got pretty ridiculous even for me. Zooey Deschanel does her signature cute deadpan as Carrey's free spirit love interest, and even gets to show her singing abilities a little. I thought the movie was funny enough...not exactly on the level of his more acclaimed comedy stuff, but there were enough moments for me to be entertained.

The other night, I watched the Detroit Red Wings win the opening game of their playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. My first Red Wings game was actually in Columbus, and I recall as many people wearing Detroit stuff as Columbus stuff. Notwithstanding, the Blue Jackets won that night, and for some reason I've been carrying a grudge against them ever since. It's petty, but seriously: Columbus Blue Jackets, Stanley Cup Champions? Please. Meanwhile, I wanted an excuse to post this picture again:

How many is that now?  I lost count...

Some friends gave me an album by Beth Orton while in St. Louis, a folksy sort rock from the UK. There are a electronic and rock elements in there, along with some horns and acoustic guitar, but this album is mainly propelled by Orton's voice. An excellent melancholy sort of album.

I also had the opportunity to download the first single from Dave Matthews Band's new album, called "Funny the Way It Is." Musically, the song is reminiscent of their stuff from Everyday, so I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about that. It's a tight, radio-friendly sort of tune featuring a brief violin solo from Boyd Tinsley and a longer electric guitar solo presumably from Tim Reynolds, Matthews' usual collaborator for such things. The late LeRoi Moore's saxophone, of course, is notably absent, although I read in Rolling Stone that some unused recordings are incorporated into other songs. But all in all, the song gives off a vibe recalling their least DMB-ish album, so we'll see how that goes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Return to Eden

Yesterday I came home after a couple days back at Eden Theological Seminary for their annual Herbster event, which is open to the five most recent classes of graduates, and also for their spring convocation, which features scholars lecturing on various aspects of theology and ministry. To be more precise, I showed up about 15 minutes before the end of the Herbster event. Yeah, the last Herbster I'm eligible to attend, and I basically missed it. But here's the thing: I wasn't tremendously interested in the program, and was actually kind of looking past it toward convocation, which featured Bible scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.

The evening of Herbster was a reception and dinner with the Eden faculty, followed by vespers. This is a regular feature, and meant to be a close to the day. For me, it was the beginning to my time there. I could think of no better way, really...wine and refreshment at a place and with people representative of a time of tremendous personal growth; a bit of respite from the tasks of ministry. It was a good transitional moment from a full Holy Week and Easter to a time of fellowship, edification, and renewal.

Tuesday and Wednesday were convocation which, again, featured Borg and Crossan. The theme of their lectures was, "Jesus in the 1st and 21st centuries." Borg began with the disclaimer that a lot of what they were going to talk about could be found in their books, which was true to a certain extent. They spoke a lot about Jesus' original context and its significance politically and theologically, which certainly influenced both his message and what the early church wrote and emphasized about him. They set up a couple dichotomies: Empire vs. Eschaton, and "Peace through Victory" vs. "Peace through Justice." The argument progressed that Jesus' message, which was one of God's alternative empire of justice, was set against Caesar's dominant empire based on violence and domination. They also spoke about how Jesus' alternative empire involves our response and collaboration, rather than our merely accepting something from God or waiting around for God to act. They were good, if not somewhat recognizable lectures, particularly from their book The Last Week.

Sidenote on the lectures...of course, there were plenty of copies of some of their books available for purchase, including their latest collaboration, The First Paul. I forgot to bring any of their other books for the possibility of signatures, so this book provided that opportunity, as well as some new reading. When I told Borg that I was looking forward to reading it, he said, "Yes, we like Paul, but the original Paul; the good Paul." Make of that what you will. And yes, they both signed it.

Of course, convocation wasn't the only feature of the week. I was back in St. Louis, for crying out loud. I got to go back and have pizza at Racanelli's, enjoy breakfast at Einstein's (significant just because it was the place to go and we could recognize workers and other regular patrons even five years after graduation), share dinner at Schlafly Bottleworks, and wander down to Vintage Vinyl. I skipped on the chance to hit Kaldi's, my favorite coffeehouse, in favor of an early start to the drive back home.

I always treasure the chance to get back to Eden and St. Louis, to see good friends and enjoy places that I haunted constantly for three years before moving back to Ohio. But it was also more and more evident that change has come and will continue to come...I knew less and less of the other Herbster participants, new faculty have arrived while others have retired, and I was privy to classmates' discussions of changes in life and ministry, as well as whether they'd make it back to Eden in the foreseeable future. This trip was a transitional moment in that regard, but I also noted the changes within myself as I recognized all of this.

What will coming back to Eden be like without familiar faces, or without Herbster? Certainly coming back either by myself or even with family and to not see the usual group hanging around will not bring the same feelings of joy or relief that past trips have provided. Those feelings may still manifest, but they too will be different.

I once again give thanks for the opportunity to travel back, and for now I think that I'll just be content with that.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Further Triduum Reflections

My church's practice on Good Friday is a bit understated, to say the least. After communion and tenebrae the night before, people are invited to the sanctuary on Good Friday between noon and 3:00 to pray, meditate, reflect. I have an appreciation for this time, as there are no paraments, music plays, candles flicker on a bare altar. The atmosphere during this time is very irenic.

In years' past, the most that have come during this time is four. I suspect that, although the hours are what they are due to their symbolism, they still fall in the middle of one's workday and we no longer live in a culture where many businesses close on Good Friday.

Another reason probably has to do with the discomfort of simple silence with oneself. Okay, I'm in the sanctuary...now what do I do? For people unfamiliar with prayer disciplines, the thought of just stopping in for this is just weird.

One possibility to help with this would be to offer some sort of guided meditation, and down the road I might consider that. For this year, at least, I offered a brief communion meditation right at noon instead, borrowing some of the ideas from the other day as my guide for what I would say. Six people showed up for this alone, easily the most who have come during this time that I can remember. Others stopped in as some of these lingered, pretty well thwarting my plan to immediately clear away the communion elements. But hey, that's a good problem to have as far as I'm concerned.

Yesterday was also Coffeeson's birthday, and Coffeewife and I took some time to reflect together on where we were a year ago. Essentially, on the night of April 9th she was feeling extremely uncomfortable and decided to stay up a little while and watch TV, and I just went straight to sleep. Our emergency bag had been packed for at least a week, and it was about 3:00 in the morning when we grabbed it and went to the hospital. At around 6:00 that evening, Coffeeson appeared, naked, wet, cold, and crying. And here we are a year later with him crawling, toddling, babbling, and eating Cheerios. Today's the party, which will feature some good shots of him covered in birthday cake.

This Lent didn't shape up the way I thought it would. I never really got into a groove with any sort of discipline due to March's weird setup. But I did plenty of reflection here and there regarding life, family, and ministry; my call and direction in all of it. One could say that I actually had a very meaningful and productive Lent by accident, due in no small part to the Holy Spirit. I hesitate to share too much because not all of it is "blog appropriate," at least at the moment. But as time goes on, I'll be able to share more.

A blessed Holy Saturday, and a joy-filled Easter, be with you.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vintage POC: Green

Today is Coffeeson's first birthday. It's certainly been a year that has seen all three of us grow so much. Even after this long, I sometimes watch him play and find it amazing that he's here. I wrote this entry two months or so before he was born. I have to say that the worries expressed in this entry aren't as great, but they still linger if only in that general way that all parents experience.

Let’s start from the beginning.

This is one of the many thoughts that I have as I sit at the edge of the double bed in what will eventually become the nursery. The transformational process has been a very gradual one: the walls had been painted a light green color even before we knew we were pregnant. A completed changing table stands along one wall, the deep brown of the wood adding a certain refinement that will be completely contradicted by its use. Against that same wall leans a tall flat box containing the pieces of a crib. It will match the table once it is assembled, but that task will not be tackled until the very bed on which I sit is removed from the room. We’ve really just been putting it off. We’re either ignoring it, or we’re that lazy.

I am sitting in this room, as I so often do, because here the feeling of impending, unavoidable change is the thickest. This will be the hub of the baby activity. The walls, the changing table, and the sheep light switch cover all tell me so. Our DVD collection has not yet been overrun with Bob the Builder and Spongebob. The dining room does not yet feature a highchair. There is not yet a gate across the steps or a pumpkin seat in the living room. Other than a glance at my wife’s stomach, at this point it is only by stepping into this space that one may deduce that something else, someone else, is coming. This fact is more real to me when I sit in this room, on this bed, in the midst of the emerging nursery and my own anxiety.

I absolutely crave the tangible. Every time I pass this room, every time I sit here, every time I look at or feel my wife’s stomach, the desire to see something real overcomes me. I need to feel the little bumping and kicking of my unborn son against my palm. I’m trying to understand beyond some superficial level that one day very soon this room will be inhabited by a little person always in need of a fresh diaper, another bottle, a couple trips around the house in his father’s arms. And I need to understand that he will begin as that little, pooping, hungry bundle of helplessness who will depend on me for love and for his first experiences of the world.

Most of all, I need to understand that he will first appear as a baby.

There’s a reason why I’m now telling myself that we’re going to start from the beginning and not partway through. We’re not going to start when he’s already six and imitating all my worst habits or when he’s fifteen and judging all my worst flaws. I need to understand that he will not first appear with fully formed opinions on religion and politics; that he won’t root for Ohio State just to spite me or judge my career as the dumbest or most embarrassing thing that I could have done with my life. We’re not going to start arguing right out of the womb and he’s not going to squint at me through the remnants of amniotic fluid and blood and demand a second opinion from the midwife.

This sounds tremendously insecure, doesn’t it? I know it does. And yet, thoughts like that have been stuck in my mind more than anything else related to my son’s birth. I wonder what he’ll be like when he reaches those different ages; how he’ll react to the world around him. Mainly, I wonder how he’ll react to me. I’m constantly hounded by this absolute dread that I’m not going to measure up. I’m supposed to help mold the character of this tiny wrinkly wailing person, and if I don’t remember that he’ll start there, I’m going to be too scared to follow through past the first day.

I sit here on this bed and I imagine the follow-through. At times I somehow think that bargaining for my imagination’s approval will help. I conjure these scenarios in my head and try to solve them as if they were an algebra problem, a simple “if A, then B” sort of thing in an attempt at convincing myself that by the time he first colors on the walls or refuses to take a bath or whatever, it’ll just be a matter of remembering my preplanned technique.

Of course, the reality is that I don’t keep conjuring them because I think I can handle them…I think I really do it to think up new ways to torture myself in the face of an already mounting degree of worry that I’m going to suck at this.

That’s right. Apparently Daddy is a masochist at heart. Why else would I worry so much about how I’ll balance work with what he needs and how often I’ll move him around by changing churches, communities, schools? Will he be convinced that I really want the best for him? Will he believe me?

I suppose that it’s stability that I want the most for him. He’ll need a father he can count on to show him through the argument with his friend or how to maneuver through his first crush. He’ll need a father whom he knows would rather be with him than at that committee meeting. He’ll need to be told that this really is supposed to be the last move that he’ll ever have to make and that it’s like a dagger through his parents’ hearts to make him leave what he knows behind. If I can convince him of that, maybe I’ll have a shot at getting a lot of that other stuff right. And I know that I'll have his lifetime to do it, and I can grow into it right alongside him.

Daylight has faded to make way for evening. The streetlight across the parking lot lazily blinks on, casting shadows across the bedspread and the floor. The green on the walls is now a dark gray. I rise to return to the living room, and to feel the bumps against my palm again.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Maundy Thursday

My earliest memory of Maundy Thursday (it actually could have been Good Friday) was when I was in elementary school. My dad was serving what would be his last settled pastorate, and a small portion of the congregation gathered in our country church for a solemn assembly observing Jesus' final hours.

I don't remember much about the service, as I had the attention span of a goldfish (some say I still do). However, I do clearly remember the story of Jesus' final breath being taken. It was at this point that the organist played a loud chord, almost as if she just pulled out the stops and then slammed her hands on a few random keys. When that happened, the lights went out. We'd sit in darkness for a few moments until a single candle was lit in the chancel and the final words of the evening were spoken.

In later years, I recall tenebrae being observed in a darkened sanctuary after a fellowship meal. A few high school kids would be recruited to don black robes and hoods, each holding a candle. After each reading, one of us would blow out a candle. Once we were in darkness, someone would sing two verses of "Were You There?" from the balcony. The first year that I experienced this had to be senior year of high school or later, because I remember being surprised and moved by the song. This remains for me the most meaningful element of any worship service I attend or lead all year.

Tonight at my own little church on the hill, this will mark the end of our time together. We'll observe communion by intinction and hear the tenebrae readings, helped along by music from The Last Temptation of Christ and Dead Can Dance. And then as we sit in darkness, "Were You There?" will echo through the room in a deep baritone voice.

This puts Easter in its proper context. On Palm Sunday I strive to communicate that we don't just go from "Hosanna" to "Alleluia"...those who don't make it out for any mid-Holy Week offerings end up hearing the passion story anyway. As of late, I consider this in terms of Moltmann and his notion that we can't view Jesus' revelation of God apart from the cross. This goes beyond ideas about sacrifice or substitution or final victory...what does it mean to follow a crucified Lord, a suffering servant? It's the kind of thing that throws notions of "all-powerful God" and certain "Jesus as UFC fighter" images into serious question.

Christians follow a Savior who dies. He has his final meal, he's beaten up, and he dies. Alone. Outside the city gates with the outcasts and criminals. He dies far away from squeaky-clean suburban megachurches and cute clapboard country chapels. He dies far away from our self-righteous protests and petitions, from the ongoing war to claim sole possession of the True Christian Voice. He dies far away from our bureaucracies and denominations and national headquarters and people decrying poverty while wearing tailor-made suits. He dies because of power instead of exhibiting it or claiming it or bestowing it. He dies for and with and as the poor.

He dies. And as Christians we have to live with that. As Christians, we have to make sense of that.

And that's really the only way for Easter to make any sense.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Emerging Church and Authenticity

Nadia, aka Sarcastic Lutheran, recently wrote a post espousing what she believes defines the emerging church. But the bulk of her post seems to deal more with established churches attempting to tap into the movement:
Emerging church is not a worship style. I know emerging churches that do traditional liturgy with Jazz (Mercy Seat), who use electronica (Church of the Beloved), who are acapella Gregorian chant (House for All Sinners and Saints) and who do nothing but old time Southern gospel (House of Mercy).

So, when trad churches in the suburbs are wanting to attract young people (with all the good intentions in the world) and they ape some kind of worship style they read about in a Zondervan book by starting an "emerging" worship service, it's a bit ironic.

Ok, now before you leave me angry responses let me say; this is not saying that there is something wrong with the traditional church. Trad church is often a faithful expression of Christian community. But my friends would have to culturally commute from who they are to who the trad church is. This is why I want to make a t-shirt that says "light all the candles you want to; they are not coming". The back of the shirt would say "It's ok to be who you are (traditional, suburban, small town, conservative, Methodist...what ever it is..... Be it."
A pastoral colleague of mine once told a story about the last time he went through the search process. He said that he interviewed with two churches who told variations of the same story: they tried organizing a "contemporary" worship service, and it fell apart a few months into the venture. This colleague observed that it was most likely because their hearts weren't really in it; that they were doing it because it's what you do to attract younger people.

In a sense, this is Nadia's point as well. Traditional churches see what the emerging church has been able to do with more experimental worship styles, and thus they think that starting a similar service patterned after one of them will have their sanctuary bursting at the seams with young hipster types. A better way to do it would be to approach present young people and ask them what would be meaningful to them AND inviting them to organize it--which is how a lot of emerging churches actually started--rather than assuming that one can just airlift a service that works in one place into another.

I'm mainly struck by the bolded line, though. This is a universal truth for churches, I think. Whenever I take a step back and look at any worship style that I've been a part of, I realize that we're asking a lot from people who aren't familiar with church culture. The songs, the rubrics, the unspoken request to sit silently and watch or listen for extended periods of time...for people more used to relaxed interactive time with friends or who listen to music vastly different than what one typically finds in churches of any worship style, it's probably quite a stretch indeed.

It's also what I see as I continue to think a lot about how many churches organize fellowship. Many of us are so used to a model of church where we divide our membership into groups according to age or gender, stick them in the church basement or a classroom, and say, "Here...bond." And we assume that because they have some common biological features it'll just happen.

I continue to rethink this, mostly because I haven't found it to be the most successful thing so far in my own ministry, but also because we're again asking people to make a cultural commute from the people they'd hang out with otherwise to this monolithic Christian ghetto in the fellowship hall. And the best answer for it, I think, is to revisit first Nadia's point about worship. These emerging church groups come together not necessarily because they're the same age, but because they have a common cause: to build a more authentic church model for themselves and invite others who are looking for the same thing.

I think that coming together around common causes and passions is the future of my own little church. We tried the usual fellowship stuff and it hasn't panned out. But what if they organized around something they're really passionate about such as mental health or cancer awareness or building houses, and fellowship is built around these things instead? People would be involved in something that would feel more authentic to them, something they've perhaps wanted to help with for years but couldn't find the opportunity until the church offered it to them. And then the church doesn't have to kill itself trying to entertain people in worship or forcing them into artificial subsets.

Gee...that sounds...missional.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday

14:1 It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him; 2 for they said, "Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people."

3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her." 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11 When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, "Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?" 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, "The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there." 16 So the disciples set out and went to the city, and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.

17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18 And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." 19 They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, "Surely, not I?" 20 He said to them, "It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me. 21 For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born." 22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God." 26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.' 28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." 29 Peter said to him, "Even though all become deserters, I will not." 30 Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." 31 But he said vehemently, "Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you." And all of them said the same.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." 33 He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34 And he said to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake." 35 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." 37 He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38 Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40 And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41 He came a third time and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand."

43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard." 45 So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him. 46 Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47 But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48 Then Jesus said to them, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49 Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled." 50 All of them deserted him and fled. 51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52 but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.

53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54 Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56 For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58 "We heard him say, "I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.' " 59 But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, "Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?" 61 But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 Jesus said, "I am; and "you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,' and "coming with the clouds of heaven.' " 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?" All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65 Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, "Prophesy!" The guards also took him over and beat him.

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, "You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth." 68 But he denied it, saying, "I do not know or understand what you are talking about." And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69 And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, "This man is one of them." 70 But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, "Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean." 71 But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, "I do not know this man you are talking about." 72 At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, "Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." And he broke down and wept.

15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 Pilate asked him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He answered him, "You say so." 3 Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate asked him again, "Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you." 5 But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed. 6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7 Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8 So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9 Then he answered them, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" 10 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12 Pilate spoke to them again, "Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?" 13 They shouted back, "Crucify him!" 14 Pilate asked them, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Crucify him!"

15 So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. 16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters ); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, "Hail, King of the Jews!" 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. 21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.

22 Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. 25 It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." 27 And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!" 31 In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.

33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 35 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, "Listen, he is calling for Elijah." 36 And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down." 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!" 40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.

42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading Founding Brothers this week. I read the first chapter and a half something like a year ago, and then forgot about it for a while. It was always sitting on my nightstand, though, and so I decided to give it another shot. This is a historical recap of a series of events and issues that the "Revolutionary Generation" faced in the earliest days of the nation's life. So far, I've been reading about the incidents that led up to the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, which saw political disagreements turn into more personal insults. I've also been reading about the first Congress' attempts to avoid or put off the discussion of slavery, as many believed that such a divisive issue wasn't healthy to address while the country was still trying to solidify its government and sense of unity. Interestingly enough, the earliest drafts of some of our founding documents contained provisions for abolition, but they were eventually removed before they took their final form. But hey, we finally got that one through...it only took 70 more years...

Coffeewife and I have taken to watching reruns of NCIS. USA shows three episodes of them in a row...we don't usually watch all three, but we have seen enough to know that they're from different seasons. Anyway, it's a crime dramedy where the team investigates military cases. The show has a healthy dose of wit and sarcasm usually courtesy of arrogant jockboy agent DiNozo and cute Goth chick lab analyst Abby. But the show features plenty of drama as well. We like it most for the banter between the characters...otherwise, we may not have paid much attention to the show beyond one episode.

This week I've been listening to Era Vulgaris by Queens of the Stone Age. It features the loud riffs one may be accustomed to, but they aren't adverse to experimentation. For example, "Make It Wit Chu" is more of a funk tune. The CD is dotted with organ lines as well. But all in all, this is a rock album and they don't disappoint. Another solid outing.

I added Questing Parson to the blogroll. I don't know why I didn't do it a while ago. He frequently shares stories from his life of ministry, usually showcasing the quirks and weirdness of the church and its characters.

Dave Matthews Band has a new album coming out in June. They recently posted a video that includes a taste of one of their new tracks. Enjoy:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Fine Wine

The Naked Pastor recently wrote some words that have resonated with me:
I was watching the movie Bottle Shock earlier in the evening. A vintner says don’t give the vines too much water or fertilizer. Keep it sparse because the best wine comes from vines that struggle against adversity. Vines that have it easy produce a lazy taste in a lousy wine. I struggle against my own adversity. I realize someone might say, “Quit your whining (excuse the pun). You’ve got it easy!” And in many ways I do. Some think that I fulfill my own prophecies. And I know some accuse me of holding my own pity-party. Yes, my adversity is intangible. I don’t even understand it. But my sorrow is real. That can’t be denied. Forgive me for this. It’s not really a pity-party. In fact, it’s something I feel I can boast about. It makes sense of my life. And to know this brings me peace. I just wanted to share with you what seems to be a persistent theme in my personal and vocational life. Who knows! I might be a very fine wine.
I've been sitting with this quote for a while now, because I've had to figure out why it is that this quote has struck me the way it has. First off, I'm fascinated by the philosophy about how vines are treated in order to ensure a better wine. But besides that, I think about how adversity in ministry makes one a better pastor.

I'll be honest...the culture in which the church finds itself today does not make for an easy time to be a pastor. To put it one way, the church thrived in a culture that belonged to it, that revolved around it. But that is less and less the case today. When this realization is slow to come to churchpeople used to that church-centered culture, it is difficult to enact necessary changes. It is insisted instead that we keep doing just what we're doing, or if we just bring back what we did 10-20 years ago, or keep to the methods that used to work, we'll be fine.

This is the adversity in ministry as I see it. And I've been caught up in it myself. As much as I've been intrigued by emerging and missional techniques and philosophies, I've either been slow to apply them, or I've cloaked them too much in traditional garb. I just recently realized that in my own context, generation-based fellowship groups don't work. As much as I and other members have insisted that they should, they don't. This realization has come slowly to me, but I'm nevertheless glad that it finally did. The struggle that came before it, I think, has contributed to the prevention of my own lazy taste...it has deepened it and enriched it.

The question then becomes, what happens now? It is so clear that something incredibly different needs to happen in so many smaller family-based churches that never had to ask itself that question until recently. For some, the answer is still to run the same trick harder. But I suspect that there are many more, perhaps even those who deep down insist upon running that same trick, who realize that it won't make a difference.

This adversity has the potential to enrich the entire church, to produce a better taste and a finer wine. It certainly doesn't apply just to pastors, but rather to entire churches willing to go through a somewhat painful transition into a new way of thinking about ministry.

I hope and pray that I am becoming a finer wine. I hope and pray that I'm cultivating better vines in others as well.