Friday, July 31, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I read The Shack this week, and I think I've written enough about that already.

I'm back to the Sandman graphic novels now. I'm on Volume 6: Fables and Reflections. There's no overarching story in this one. Instead, most stories involve Morpheus interacting with people at different points in history: a spy during the French Revolution, Augustus Caesar, and so on. There is the introduction of Morpheus' son Orpheus, who gets his own story in this book as well.

This week's Entourage focused a lot on Turtle, which can be a good thing or a bad thing. Past Turtle-heavy episodes have involved him searching high and low for a special pair of sneakers, trying to qualify for medicinal marijuana, and being involved in a bet as to who could have a one night stand the fastest. In fact, Turtle is probably the most representative of this show's frat-boy vibe in all the stereotypical ways (not that there's anything wrong with frat boys). So anyway, it's Turtle's birthday and he's feeling down because people are buying him expensive gifts and he takes it to mean that he needs their help. For instance, both Vince and Jamie-Lynn Sigler buy him cars; he responds, "I couldn't have bought my own car?" Turtle's also been the most directionless character on the show, and it's as if he realizes it in this episode. Long story short, he decides to go back to school, thus continuing this season's developing arc that all four guys are branching out.

On a related note, Monday Night RAW has been having guest hosts the past few weeks. Those who regularly watch Sportscenter probably saw that Shaq was last Monday's host. Seth Green and ZZ Top have also done it, along with some injured or retired wrestlers. This Monday, Jeremy Piven--who coincidentally has a movie coming out--is guest host, and if he pulls out his Ari Gold schtick while interacting with the wrestlers I think it may just be one of the top ten best things ever.

I've listened to Guero by Beck this week, which is yet another mash-up of hip-hop, rock, folk, and whatever else he may have been feeling like on a particular day. I always enjoy Beck, and this was a good driving CD.

From around the web, here's a song about Kenya. Coffeeson has pajamas with lions on them that remind me of the lions in this video, so I sing this song whenever he wears them.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Boy Goes to Great Lengths to Avoid Church

You gotta give him points for the effort:
PLAIN CITY, Utah - Police in Utah say a 7-year-old boy led officers on a car chase in an effort to avoid going to church.

Dispatchers received reports of a child driving recklessly on Sunday morning. Weber County Sheriff's Capt. Klint Anderson says one witness said the boy drove through a stop sign.

Anderson says two deputies caught up with the boy and tried unsuccessfully to stop the Dodge Intrepid in an area about 45 miles north of Salt Lake City. The car reached 40 mph before the boy stopped in a driveway and ran inside a home.

Anderson says when the boy's father later confronted him, the boy said he didn't want to go to church. The boy is too young to prosecute and no citations were issued, although police did urge the father to make his car keys more inaccessible to children.
And the dreams of thousands of children every Sunday are realized in this one little boy's courageous feat.

There's only so much that churches should be willing to do to address such dreams. But many don't even want to discuss it to begin with.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I rip on The Shack a little bit

I never really intended to read The Shack, the latest "it" book for pop Christianity's consumption. It seemed like I wasn't going to have to deal with it in any meaningful way in my particular context, and I'd read enough about it on other blogs that I simply didn't want to bother. This was all before it was passed on to me a few weeks ago by someone singing its praises, so I've been reading it the past few days.

The basic gist is that the main character, Mack, is still dealing with the kidnapping and murder of his daughter a few years after the fact. We are very quickly introduced to him, his family, and the background of his grief. This is done so quickly, in fact, that it very much comes off as a formality observed just to set up what follows. The writing is simplistic besides, but I got the impression that any plot exists only to present the theological ideas in a manner other than a typical polemic.

At any rate, Mack is depressed. We're treated to a paragraph or two with about a dozen different metaphors to make sure we know that this is the case. One morning, Mack heads out to get the mail, when he discovers a note inviting him to meet at the shack where his daughter was killed. The note is signed "Papa," which is the name his wife commonly uses for God.

After minimal questioning (we don't want to linger on the strangeness of this note for too long, after all), Mack actually does travel to the shack and meets the Trinity--God as a large black woman, Jesus as a Middle-Eastern carpenter, and the Spirit as a petite Asian woman. This piece didn't bug me...it probably will bug many other people, but the book is clear that God has chosen in this instance to manifest in this way. Big deal. God's personified wisdom, Sophia, also makes an appearance.

Now that we've finally made it to the real purpose of the book, Mack interacts with the three and has conversations about theodicy, relationship, and so on. The general theology is a fluffy evangelical version of open theism. For instance, God talks a lot about being self-limiting in order to honor humanity's free will and refraining from special intervention in human events (such as the prevention of Mack's daughter's murder) in order to uphold the give and take that comes with human choice. God does mention working through such choices to bring about the fullest realization of love, or to put another way, God doesn't necessarily cause pain but does work with and through it. I didn't really have a problem with this piece, as I've long held something similar to it.

The problems for me start when I began to realize that God still avoids Mack's hard questions about suffering, typically responding, "You'll find out later." I didn't necessarily expect much more than what is offered, really. God seems to have invited Mack to the shack only to defer a lot of humanity's ongoing questions, choosing instead to stress how important it is to remain in relationship with God even through the hard moments and to not judge God in the meantime when these same non-responsive sorts of moments occur. In many ways it's the same "don't question God, but don't abandon God either" stuff that I heard so often during my more evangelical phase.

One brief piece that people understandably seem to have passed over takes place during a conversation between Mack and Jesus about the need for humanity to return to God. They discuss the garden of Eden story, and then Jesus starts into this:
Mack reached down, picked up a flat stone, and skipped it across the lack. "Is there any way out of this?"

"It is so simple, but never easy for you: by re-turning. By turning back to me. By giving up your ways of power and manipulation and just coming back to me." Jesus sounded as if he was pleading. "Women in general will find it difficult to turn from a man and stop demanding that he meet their needs, provide security, and protect their identity, and return to me. Men in general find it very hard to turn from the works of their hands, their own quests for power and security and significance, and return to me."

"I've always wondered why men have been in charge," Mack pondered. "Males seem to be the cause of so much of the pain in the world. They account for most of the crimes, and many of those are perpetrated against women and"--he paused--"children."

"Women," Jesus continued as he picked up a stone and skipped it, "turned from us to another relationship, while men turned to themselves and the ground."
In the briefest of scenes, we get a snapshot of traditional evangelical ideas about men and women, and it is suggested that women in particular decided to take on this subservient role for themselves. Women, this passage suggests, choose to depend on men for their identity. The analysis of men taking their identity from their work, I think, applies to both sexes in this day and age, and while this is Young's own roundabout way of critiquing traditional gender roles, he does it in a backhanded way when analyzing the woman's side of things, i.e., "Women shouldn't have chosen to accept that role to begin with."

Finally, the theological terms and concepts in this book are, as one Amazon reviewer put it, "picked up and dropped like the toys of a hyperactive child." And the author betrays his own knowledge of these concepts as he works a lot of philosophical phrases and insider terminology into the conversations. At times this weighs down or obscures the narrative: the book assumes an audience familiar enough with these concepts that they won't become lost, let alone understand them any better after each chapter's brief treatment of them. A few throwaway comments are made about Mack having attended seminary. That's convenient.

I was not impressed with The Shack. It's a different format that offers up some typical answers to hard theological questions. I'd only recommend it to people curious about the latest fad passing through Christian bookstores.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm almost finished with Christianity's Dangerous Idea, and this week have been fascinated by its discussion of Protestantism and the arts. Early Protestant churches and writers were diverse in this area, particularly in music and painting. Plays seemed to be despised universally, and people were ambivalent about poetry. But with paintings, some saw it as breaking the second commandment while others saw it as "too Catholic" (very reasonable, no?) while still others such as Luther saw them as helpful communication tools. Likewise, Luther and some others began to write hymns that weren't just psalms set to music, which were scandalous to many. How dare people bring "worldly" musical styles into the church! And the installation of organs in churches? Awful! This all sounds very familiar...

We watched Tropic Thunder this week, a lampoon of Hollywood set in the jungles of Vietnam as a group of actors shoot a Platoon-style movie. Ben Stiller plays the action movie hero past his prime, Robert Downey, Jr. the ultra-serious method actor, and Jack Black the one-note broad comedy actor. Eventually, art becomes real life as Stiller's character is captured by a drug lord, and the others have to come up with a plan to save him. The funniest parts for me came from Tom Cruise playing the pompous studio head. The movie as a whole has a dark, quirky humor to it...I think it did well in theaters, but word of mouth couldn't have painted this as the goofball comedy it was presented as in commercials.

We also saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this week. It was well-done, as they all are...a few things added and subtracted, of course. They very much played this as a set-up for the next two movies: the budding relationships between Ron & Hermione, and Harry & Ginny, along with the explanation of the horcruxes. I suppose that the book was really meant to be that as well, with such an emphasis on analyzing Voldemort's past in order to defeat him. As such, this movie didn't have as much action. There is an added scene where some of the Deatheaters attack the borough, which may have been to throw a bone to people expecting more. Even The Big Scene At The End is much more subdued, even though it's a chaotic battle in the book. Nevertheless, it told the story well and points the audience ahead, perhaps with an unspoken promise that the chaos is coming.

I've heard a couple new albums this week:

Lessons to Be Learned by Gabriella Cilmi - I was hooked by Cilmi after seeing the video for "Sweet About Me." She'll remind people of Amy Winehouse in certain places, as she exhibits a certain 60s Motown influence, along with more straightforward pop, rock, and folk.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga by Spoon - I saw it at the library and was intrigued. I listened and was underwhelmed. I don't hear too much that might distinguish it from much else if I'd heard it on the radio. Of course, a sampling of reviewers on Amazon indicates that if one didn't like this album, one simply needs to listen to [this other album of theirs] instead to truly appreciate their unique genius. Gee, that happens to me a lot. But if someone who reads this can indeed affirm that I've once again chosen the wrong album as an introduction, then I'll gladly try the recommended choice.

From around the web, here's Michael Jackson's "Bad" mixed with the Ghostbusters theme:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Tidbits

I haven't been much for blogging this week. It's not due to a busy schedule, just a bit of blogger's block. It may not seem like it due to only two days' time elapsing between this post and the last, but it sure seems like it to me.

My thoughts are all over the place this week, especially heading into this weekend.

My thoughts are in anticipation of Sunday worship, with the second part of my mini-series on David and Bathsheba forthcoming. We'll also celebrate an adult baptism, which of course is less common in my tradition. Nevertheless, it will be a joyful moment in this young man's life and I'll be glad to be a part of it.

My thoughts will be in Jamestown, New York on Saturday, when the ashes of my grandparents are finally laid to rest together. I'm unable to go, but it will be a special sacred moment that for some will provide full closure. For me personally, my grandfather's funeral in March provided that closure because there was an air about the service that we really were celebrating my grandparents as a couple and not just my grandfather.

My thoughts on Sunday morning will also be with a pastoral colleague in Michigan as his church worships for the last time before closing its doors. I can't really fathom the emotion that will surround this moment, but I'm certain that it will be powerful.

My thoughts the next two days will be with the Ohio Conference as it comes together for its annual gathering in Columbus. I've purposely elected not to go, mostly as a continuation of devoting time to family after so many earlier summer weekends spent performing weddings and attending Synod.

On a lighter note, my thoughts are in Ann Arbor as a new college football season nears. Almost by default, the Wolverines are expected to do better this year. Still, the anxiety is palpable and I've been clinging to whatever daily updates MGoBlog can provide. They'll again field a young team, but they'll at least be more RichRod's guys and less Carr's leftovers.

These are a few of the things I've been thinking about the past few days, and will think about at least through the weekend. I could have blogged about any of them, and perhaps still will at some point. But for now, I'm content with more of a quick rundown.

Monday, July 20, 2009

David and Bathsheba

Due to the lectionary being fairly unimpressive to me for the Sundays in late July, I took the liberty of switching some texts around and have been preaching on the story of David and Bathsheba this past Sunday and next. This has been an interesting text to prepare for, first of all because children are generally with us in worship during the summer months (we have "children's church" the rest of the year). Maybe it wasn't the best decision to pick this text for that reason, but it's too late now. So moving on.

This past Sunday, I preached on 2 Samuel 11:1-15, which was actually designated for this coming Sunday. I was first struck by how genuinely horrifying David's actions are: he sleeps with the wife of one of his soldiers and, after several attempts to cover it up, has a message delivered to his commander Joab to have Uriah killed. And Uriah is the one who delivers it. This after Uriah refuses to go down to his house to be with Bathsheba because it's wartime and he believes that he should show solidarity with the other soldiers. So Uriah delivers his own death warrant for being loyal to the king.

The second thing to be noted in this part of the story is the absence of God. God has no speaking or acting role, and certainly isn't consulted by David during this episode. God isn't even mentioned in passing; the "lord" references are all to David or Joab. This is a scene of purely human action and exposing some of humanity's worst tendencies, and God is ignored or left out.

The second part of the story proposed by the lectionary is 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, where we are finally told that what David did "greatly displeased the LORD." And so the prophet Nathan approaches David and tells a story of a rich man with many sheep who takes a poor man's single sheep. David predictably gets upset and wants to know who this guy is, and Nathan responds, "It's you, you selfish, power-mongering @#$%&!" (can't you imagine Nathan saying something like that, or at least wanting to?).

Having the mirror held up to him like that finally shifts something in David's soul, and he begins to repent and inquire how he can make things right. Unfortunately for him, God has already laid out a plan for that.

Now, here's where I think God behaves horrifyingly. Anyone out there with major Calvinist or inerrantist leanings is going to take issue with this, but God decides to punish David by killing the child conceived during the course of his indiscretion. Being a father has made me more sensitive to this part of the story, I think: after David kills one innocent person to cover up his secret, God punishes him by killing a second innocent person. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. Not surprisingly, the lectionary's designated reading ends right before that happens, so I don't have to deal with it on this particular occasion, but for me the specter of that punishment hangs over the text regardless.

I'm baptizing an adult this coming Sunday as well, so at least the story that Nathan tells will provide an ample tie-in to our seeing our true reflection in the baptismal waters and the transformational power that it holds.

So that's what I'm thinking about this week.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Quotable Luther

"I do not believe that all the arts should be removed or forbidden on account of the Gospel, as some fanatics suggest. On the contrary, I would gladly see all arts, especially music, in the service of Him Who has given and created them."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been continuing on through Christianity's Dangerous Idea this week. I'm to the part in the book where McGrath analyzes how Protestantism tends to think about issues such as the Bible, the sacraments, and the church. He emphasizes "tends," as he repeatedly points out that Protestantism was not and is not a monolithic entity, as much as critics make it so for handy purposes of debate. I've appreciated McGrath's discussion of sola scriptura in particular: he notes that this principle was meant to establish the Bible as the primary authority above human institutions such as popes and councils. Of course, the question then becomes, "Whose or which interpretation?" McGrath notes two ways Protestants tend to answer this question: 1) in light of inherited tradition such as the creeds, or 2) in light of the contemporary community's discernment together. The book is long, but it's been informative.

I saw the second Transformers movie this past week. Short version: a big silly explosionfest. We revisit the lives of some of the characters from the first movie, most notably Sam (Shia Labeauf) and Mikaela (Megan Fox), and the military guys, who are now teaming with the Autobots to find wayward Decepticons. The Fallen, the "first Decepticon," is waiting on some other planet for the perfect moment to strike back at Earth to unveil a machine that some of the earliest Transformers built, which can create energy for their race by blowing up the sun. Some other classic Transformers are introduced such as Soundwave and the Destructicons.  One subplot had me thinking we'd get Rodimus Prime as well, but they didn't go that route.  Nevertheless, depending on the specific scene most of the movie is blurred robot fighting where you can't tell who's who, explosions, Sam or another character freaking out about something, and more explosions. As an action movie where you can shut off your brain for a couple hours, fine. As a pristine work of cinema approaching Shakespearean levels of genius (which seems to be what a lot of movie critics somehow wanted it to be), of course not. And bonus points are awarded for the Rainn Wilson cameo.

The new season of Entourage started this past Sunday, and not a whole lot of time has elapsed on the show. Vince has completed shooting his new movie with Scorsese, but aside from that not much has changed. Eric is still running his management agency, Drama is still shooting his TV show, and Turtle is continuing in his inexplicable relationship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler. In fact, everyone is in a pretty good place when the season starts, and the episode ends hinting that the guys are all ready to break out from their tight group to pursue their own ambitions. I liked it. To paraphrase one character's line, "You can't keep living in a frat house." That seems to be the direction the show is headed this season.

I picked up The Dead Weather's debut album this week. This is Jack White's other, other band, except this time he's playing drums. I'd compare the sound to the Black Keys or to '70s blues-rock...not a strict comparison, mind you, as they pull from a much wider variety of influences than that. But those are what stuck out in the first few listens, with a lot of stomping beats and crunchy guitars.  The lead singer, Alison Mosshart, has this Joplin/Jett thing going on as well.  This has easily become one of my favorite albums of the year so far.

From around the web, here's The Dead Weather performing "Treat Me Like Your Mother:"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Small Sips: The Cranky Church

Selling your soul: The Naked Pastor offers some advice for candidates entering the ministry:
1. Stop thinking independently and keep your own thoughts to yourself!
2. Memorize whatever it is you are supposed to believe. Regurgitate! Regurgitate! Regurgitate!
3. Agree with everybody and disagree with nobody. Keep your job is job one.
4. Plan on never changing your mind or having a crisis of faith or morals.
5. Read a room and totally conform to it. Never rock a boat, even a bad one.
6. Meet expectations without resentment. You are the composite of everyone’s religious fantasies.
7. Keep about 20 years behind the times.
8. Criticize everything and everyone who is different from the most popular religious status quo.
9. If you have a personality, lose it!
10. If you want out, break any of the above.
Yeah, it's cynical and sarcastic. But it also highlights the hard work that pastors have to do and the courage that they need to do it. Of course, it also speaks to the resistance that they'll encounter and the implicit, if not overt, expectations of congregations.

The common denominator for a lot of these is comfort. The pastor shouldn't have his/her own opinion, shouldn't appear vulnerable, shouldn't change severely outdated models and practices. The kicker is that many pastors probably don't fully realize that these expectations are waiting for them until they get into their first pastorate.  It's one thing to be told or warned about them in seminary, it's another to encounter them face to face.  That's been my experience, anyway.

Cranky Christians: Beth Quick highlights part of a post from another blog about the minutiae that some churchpeople get hung up on:
How the worship bulletin is designed, where the baptismal font is placed, who gets to choose the hymns — these are only important issues to those who have no real understanding of the gospel. Those who reduce our faith to such insignificant issues are those who have no real desire to be the body of Christ — laity or clergy. How to make a difference in the world, how to save a person’s self respect and dignity, making sure a person has a safe place to sleep or a warm meal — these are the things our faith tells us God is interested in...

The reason this came to mind is a short email I received last week that asked me the question, “Why are you so dedicated to helping people who don’t live good lives, when there are so many good Christians that need comfort and care?” I don’t know how to answer this questions. Those who are Christian have got it all. The people who need us are the whole reason we exist! I can’t waste time dealing with coddled malcontents. My ministry is to the lost, the damaged, the sick, and the oppressed. I thought that was what it was all about…

Cranky Christians? I’m trying to love. The world? I wish I loved it better. My goal? To make those who know Jesus care more about those who don’t.
The last sentence is what struck me as an excellent summation of this post.  

First off, it should be noted that the full body of this post includes both pastors and laypeople in its critique (You mean pastors can be cranky and hung up on the little things, too?  Naw, can't be true).

And it boils down once again to comfort.  Ministering to the lost, the damaged, the sick, and the oppressed can be scary.  It means putting yourself out there in situations that won't be completely in one's own control.  And who wants to do that when we can have a rousing argument about the newsletter border?  That's safe and controllable; that other stuff not so much. And thus the anxiety about change manifests itself in these petty ridiculous ways.

Subversive Rather Than Cranky: Finally, Kingdom Grace reflects on the current economic climate and the place of the church in it. After a few quotes from other places as background, Grace offers a few bulletpoints to chew on:
~The dominant cultural model of our churches has been to copy the models of corporate business in organizational structures, leadership styles, productivity, performance, and marketing.
~Perhaps those systems that mirror the corporate culture will also mirror their collapse.
~Should we look to these same systems to organize the recovery of a church that could be different?
~The church that exemplifies the kingdom is not conducive to the powers of an elite oligarchy.
~The church that is an alternative witness to this culture will look radically different than the celebrity-led, consumer-fed, mega-campus complex.
~God forgive us for the turbo-capitalism that drives us to success rather than faithfulness.
I'm still thinking about this post and its implications, and Grace admits that she's only scratching the surface. And the quotes she includes have a lot of meat on them as well, including some stuff that will make comfortable churches cranky.

Monday, July 13, 2009

On Appropriate Use of Righteous Anger

I'm still thinking about General Synod. I'm still thinking about the episode that played out during the Tuesday morning plenary, but I'm also thinking about some other events.

I'm thinking about a report made by the national youth staff, particularly of a national effort to meet with and survey youth and young adults from all over the UCC, during which a condensed version of this video was shown:



And then I think about the person who stepped to a microphone afterwards and complained that there were no minorities included in the video and, as I recall, no minority youth included in the survey. There were plainly minority youth included in the video, and Thomas Chu, the head of this effort, waited very patiently at a mic before sharing that he had, in fact, met with multiple groups of minority youth throughout the UCC.

And I'm also thinking about the nominations for Executive Council, when the youth from Ohio (not that there's anything wrong with that) stepping to the mic to ask why no youth or young adults were on the ballot. The response was that youth and young adults were included on the board, and these were to fill other vacancies.

I think about these three scenarios, and I'm a little concerned. And I know that I'm not going to end up saying this as well as I want to, but I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

At Synod this year, I saw and heard more righteous anger than I think I ever have at these events. People seemed to be ready to jump to a microphone at any real or perceived slight to their own cause or group; to be offended and to express offense at every opportunity. It seems to me that this Synod exhibited a level of sensitivity and emotion that both affected the atmosphere and was preventable.

Consider that the protest of the "single governance" outcome and subsequent insinuations of racism could have been prevented if someone had simply used the process to move for more discussion time. Consider that there were minorities included in the youth video, whom someone didn't see or chose not to see. Consider that the spots being filled on Executive Council did not call for youth or young adults at this time.

I worry that this Synod was illustrative of what is consuming and will consume the UCC over time: misplaced righteous anger. I worry that we're being overcome by a desire to rush to charges of discrimination; an attitude looking for opportunities to be offended that will ultimately distract us from our real work as a church seeking to pursue and embody God's love and justice.

I hear the objection. I hear and understand that part of our work to embody that justice is to make sure that all are fairly represented at the table. And I hear and understand that we need people to remind us when that isn't happening. We need voices calling the entire group to task when someone else's voice is being silenced. I do not disagree, and I hope that this post isn't being read that way.

My point is that, in these specific cases, the cause for offense was not an accurate perception, or could have been prevented. People spoke often at this Synod out of their emotions when a more rational assessment of the situation could have been more productive. And I worry that emotion is becoming the rule of the day in the United Church of Christ. I worry that righteous anger, whether warranted or not, is becoming a primary determinant of our work, rather than a reasoning together of people who share a goal of seeking God's kingdom in the world and a unity in Christ. I worry that moments truly calling for that righteous anger will be lost in the shuffle; diluted to the point that they won't stand out from the rest.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished The Story of Edgar Sawtelle this week. Since it's loosely based on Hamlet, I kind of saw what was coming. I just didn't know how Wroblewski would do it. The final section of the book has a certain anxious quality to it, featuring short chapters switching between different characters' perspectives as the climax mounts. The story is of Edgar Sawtelle, but it's also about the legacy to which he contributes. That part isn't necessarily clear until the end, but then the reader can look back and see all the points at which this piece was being developed. It was an excellent novel, and its 500+ pages are worth it.

So now it's onto another lengthy book, Christianity's Dangerous Idea by noted Christian historian Alister McGrath. McGrath explores the legacy of the Reformation - both the larger context in which it began and the lasting ideas that have carried down through the centuries. McGrath explores aspects of the context that we often should have assumed, such as the fact that Luther wasn't the only one attempting reformation even in his own city at that time...he was just the one who captured the largest audience. In fact, some of his fellow reformers considered him too soft, too conservative. McGrath also explores how both the Lutheran and Reformed movements struggled each in their own ways to gain momentum beyond their immediate regions. I'm enjoying it so far.

We watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist this week. Michael Cera stars as Nick, a lovelorn sad-sack in high school who is unable to get over his self-absorbed ex-girlfriend. Norah happens to be one of his ex-girlfriend's best friends, although the dynamic portrayed between the three female characters is mostly one of sniping back and forth. Most of that is instigated by the ex, who seems to take great joy in causing as much chaos with other people's emotions as possible. They all end up together at a gig that Nick's band plays, which sets up an all-night adventure in downtown New York City (the movie doesn't bother to ask about the parenting wisdom, or lack thereof, that goes along with this). The movie's title hints at the common bond that Nick and Norah share, that being music. One of the subplots of the movie is the entire group searching for an elusive band that leaves clues as to where they'll play next. Another is that Norah's father owns a recording studio originally built by Jimi Hendrix. Mostly thanks to its setting, the movie is able to put a new spin on some well-worn qualities of similar movies. The soundtrack is good, too.

The new season of Entourage starts this Sunday. From reading past Roundups it may seem like I actually don't like this show. There is a certain predictability to it...there's no real sense that the guys' friendships are ever going to hit real trouble or that Vince's career is in real danger. However, this past season was perhaps the most interesting because it really did strive to cast doubt on Vince's future...it was the first time he stumbled, and that provided a good story. But that season ended with Vince hooking up with Martin Scorsese to do a movie, so there isn't a whole lot of concern as this season starts.

From around the web, here's a well-done video of Buffy the Vampire Slayer meeting Edward Cullen. There's even a happy ending. Enjoy:

Thursday, July 09, 2009

An Empty Lot

Here is an empty lot.

It is not our empty lot. Our empty lot hasn't even been mowed, let alone turned into a flat bare patch of dirt.

But it should have been by now. Our basement should have been put in yesterday. But it has not. There's some kind of hang-up with the engineering permit. So the original stated goal for us to be in by early October is now "hopefully before Halloween."

It's a little frustrating. It's not really in our hands, but we're certainly starting to raise a stink. Not a huge stink at this point, just enough for, like, people to wrinkle their noses and say, "Aw man, that's irritating. We should open a window." Except there's no basement, let alone a window. So the people smelling the stink have to live with it until they build the basement so eventually they can build the house with a window that they can open to get rid of the stink.

As you can see, it's a very complicated process.

The other thing that I have to figure out with my Consistory is a housing allowance, now that we'll be moving out of the parsonage. I need to read up a lot more about how to do this. I'm ordering a resource...the scant resources that I already have seem to indicate that I should have figured all of this out before the new fiscal year started, or even before I began here. If that turns out to be the case, this does not bode well. But as I said, I don't know much about that stuff yet.

I have a lot to learn, and it's a little nerve-racking. And having more than an empty lot would do a lot for morale.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Clotheshorse Meme

Courtesy of the RevGals:

1. Are you a hoarder, or are you good at sorting and clearing? I try to sort and clear as much as possible. Every so often, I make it a point to go through my closet and my dresser and fill a bag full of stuff that I know I'll never wear again. Some of it tends to consist of t-shirts from a conference or some other event that I'd only really wear around the people I experienced it with, but...why? That, and I don't kid myself about looks that I was once into but now don't like or am embarrassed by.

2. What is the oddest garment you possess and why? I have a Wal-Mart vest from my short-lived stint in the wonderful world of retail. I was most certainly supposed to give it back, but I never did.

3. Do you have a favourite look/ colour? While packing for Synod, I was struck by how much black I own. Look-wise, take jeans and add either a polo in the summer or an untucked dress shirt and jacket in the winter.

4. Thrift/ Charity shops, love them or hate them? Love them. At one point, at least a third of my wardrobe was compiled of thrift store gems. Then I graduated college, and that slowly faded away. I still like to peruse, though.

5. Money is no object, what one item would you buy? An Osgood Red Wings jersey. I have plenty of dress clothes and suits, and I even own a tux. So I don't need any of that stuff.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Synod Final Thoughts

When I wrote on Monday that this General Synod seemed to be the most laid-back that I'd attended so far, I had no way to foresee what would happen on Tuesday morning.

During Tuesday morning's plenary, we discussed the proposed resolutions on the national setting adopting a single governance model to replace its current multi-board structure (they were submitted later, and thus weren't mentioned during my review of the other resolutions). I have mentioned this topic in general before, but a Synod resolution, if passed, would press the issue in a significant way.

There were nine resolutions submitted on this issue: most for, but also a few against. It was surely to be the most hotly contested issue this year, and plenary played that out, though not in the way one would expect.

The committee presented their report which, predictably, offered one compiled resolution from the many with which they were entrusted. There were amendments to the language discussed, which took up quite a bit of the allotted time. In fact, by the time we returned to considering the main resolution, we'd run out of time and were pressed to vote. The resolution was adopted, and thus the move toward a single board continues. The final draft can be viewed here.

Now, here is where I'm not sure that I can adequately represent what happened next. I myself was disappointed that the main resolution had not been given any debate time, but neither I nor anyone else had moved to extend discussion. That's point one. Point two is that there was someone standing at the microphone designated for proposed amendments, who wasn't recognized. I can only assume that the expiration of debate time had something to do with that as well.

Nevertheless, when it came time for the next committee to present their work, a small group of people, clapping and singing, made their way down the center aisle of the hall and gathered down front. After the singing grew louder, it gave way to one member of the group shouting about the "injustice" that had taken place. It wasn't until another member of this group was given time to address the body that it became clear that she had been the one standing at the microphone for amendments, wanting to introduce a substitute resolution. But again, time had not been extended. There were several attempted motions to revisit the issue, but they were ruled out of order.

Admittedly, I am not as aware of the issues surrounding opposition to this as I could be. One of the main objections seems to center around whether there would be adequate representation of minority groups, and there has been a concern raised that a single governing board should be comprised of at least 50% minority representatives. This objection was voiced in an unnecessary manner by Christians for Justice Action, a UCC justice ministry, that wrote in their Synod newsletter of the "great (white?) sigh of relief" after the vote, implying that the way this episode played out was motivated mainly by racism. Never mind that, among other things, it would be very difficult to truly see whether those who voted in favor of this resolution were only white. Never mind that the Collegium, who is accused of maintaining tight control of the process, is made up of multiple races. Never mind that the same voting body that is being called "racist" also just elected a black General Minister and President. Never mind that, from what I gathered from people present during the committee process, that there were repeated organized disruptions of that committee's work. And, again, never mind that nobody had stepped to a microphone and moved to extend discussion.

And never mind that I and many of my fellow delegates are now being called racist, assumed simply by virtue of our voting a particular way, and by virtue of being a certain race.

I truly feel like I've only been privy to half of a conversation. This is the tragedy of the entire single governance study process up to this point. But it's also illustrated the need for a sacred conversation on race that doesn't make assumptions about me the same way I am being asked (and have striven) not to make assumptions about others. That's what disappointed me the most about Tuesday's events and aftermath.