Friday, February 26, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Nightlight, which was a clever send-up of Twilight. The book isn't that long; at one point one of the characters even says something about not having to wait four books and several thousands of pages to see how things turn out. The main character, Belle, is hilariously self-centered and deluded, which is a pretty funny amplification of Bella. My one gripe is that there were numerous typos: words were either spelled wrong or missing. Since it's by the Harvard Lampoon, I would've triple-checked it.

I also read the tenth and final Sandman graphic novel, The Wake. Here the entire universe gathers to pay their respects to the deceased Morpheus, and the new Dream prepares to meet his siblings. Then there are three epilogues featuring characters who have appeared over the course of the series, including Shakespeare, who was commissioned by Dream to write The Tempest. This is truly an excellent series, if you ever get the chance to read it.

I watched the WWE Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on Sunday night. I love the Road to Wrestlemania, as they really step up their game during these months. The elimination chamber match itself (of which there are two on this show) is a chain-link structure enclosing the ring. Six guys enter, four of whom are locked in plexiglass pods. Two guys start the match, and every five minutes another guy is "randomly" selected to exit his pod and enter the match. Some good stuff, with John Cena winning his match and the title only to lose it in a minute to Batista. And then Shawn Michaels popped up through the floor during the other match to screw The Undertaker out of his title and to set up their rematch at WM. The latter was somewhat predictable for people who've been following the storylines. But it was an enjoyable show.

The next night on Monday Night RAW, they showed a recap promo of Shawn Michaels trying for months to get his WM rematch with The Undertaker, which I as a fanboy thought was incredible. I know that only like two people who read this blog are wrestling fans, but I wanted to include it here because I just thought it was that cool:



At The Fettered Heart, Ryan shares his reflections on Lent, including a piece of commentary about many people's approaches to the season that hits the mark uncomfortably well:
American Christians have a love affair with Lent. It is that time when you give up shit to honor the sacrifice of Christ. Most folks approach Lent with the passion of Richard Simmons at a dolphin shorts convention. Folks give up soda, fast food, sugar, processed flour, masturbation, particular sexual acts, booze, song, and other particularly addictive habit in hopes to lose weight, get fit, get partnered, or some other self serving factor. We seem to treat the Lenten season as a renewed “New Years” a place to make up for failing in our resolutions so quickly.

There seems to be little about drawing nearer to God or to deepen ones faith. It seems to be about subtraction and addition of self and other parts of other’s selves. Lent becomes a depository of crap and broken hopes and ideas. Lent loses its appeal and the fat part of Strove Tuesday conquers the solemn stance of relationship with each other. Difficulties arrive and relationships depart.
Here's another song from BlakRoc:



And with a HT to Songbird, here's a bunny with pancakes on its head:

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Communal Word

Every Lenten season, my church holds soup suppers on Wednesday evenings, which consist not only of a meal but also a program exploring some topic or other related to the Bible, faith, theology, etc. I think that this is still a fairly typical practice in many churches.

I myself try to offer something unique during these suppers. One year I put together a program called Bible Stories You Won't Learn in Children's Church. Another year we discussed some of Rob Bell's NOOMA videos. I think that they have to be something other than what is usually offered over the course of the year, as this time warrants something deeper; something special.

This year, I'm taking a cue from Doug Pagitt and using a practice that his faith community, Solomon's Porch, observes: communal preparation of the sermon. An explanation of this practice can be found in his book Church Re-Imagined. On Tuesday evenings, a smaller group from Solomon's Porch gets together and talks about the scripture passage that Doug has chosen to work with that week. They react to it, ask questions about it, reflect on it, and Doug takes note of the conversation as he prepares further later on.

I'm adapting this to more of a mainline context. My plan is to present the three non-psalter readings from the lectionary and invite discussion on each of them. Maybe we'll get to discuss all three, maybe the group will end up only discussing one of them the entire hour. It depends on what they feel like talking about.

But essentially, I won't know what I'm preaching on until late Wednesday evening...hopefully. This will be a stretch for me, as usually I have an outline by Wednesday evening and it drives me nuts if I'm still working on that piece on Thursday or Friday.

All the same, I think that this will be a good practice. I think that inviting more voices to the sermon preparation process will be a point of learning for me, and the group will hopefully be energized by being able to contribute to the worship moment in this way. I can get out of my own head, as it were, and not only share what I'm thinking but hear from others.

Pagitt's argument in favor of doing this practice is imagining the sermon as a true dialogue from start to finish, rather than a monologue consisting only of the preacher's thoughts. To varying degrees, I think that preachers have individual church members or groups within the church in mind while preparing the sermon, but this practice takes it all the way "back to formula" and begins there with a microcosm of the church contributing from the get-go.

I hope that this goes well. I think it will.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Now He's a Tiger


That's okay. I learned to like Gary Sheffield pretty easily.

Maybe he'll grow his hair back.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Prozac Nation this week. The last 2-3 chapters really bring out some of Wurtzel's main purposes behind writing this book, I think. She reflects on how people romanticize depression in lieu of how many aritsts and writers suffered from it. She pushes back against the notion that their depression fueled their creativity, saying that it may have provided some influence or inspiration, but these people also spent months or years paralyzed by their illness, during which time they didn't write. And then in the final chapter, she reflects on how our culture has trivialized depression with the onset of medications such as Prozac being marketed so much to the general public, resulting in a rash of people taking it under incredibly flimsy excuses. She calls out the psychiatric profession for using these drugs as quick fixes. She also muses on the possibility that our society actually does feel more angst-ridden as a whole for a variety of reasons that are still with us today. She cites the rise of grunge music (this was written in 1994) as a sign that maybe we are more depressed than we used to be. I don't totally buy that last one, considering that the most popular acts today are techno-dance artists such as the Black-Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga and sugary-sweet country pop like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. So is that a sign that we're happier? Or more vapid? Anyway, good book.

And I've already moved on to Nightlight, written by the Harvard Lampoon as a parody of...come on, guess:
He was muscular, like a man who could pin you up against the wall as easily as a poster, yet lean, like a man who would rather cradle you in his arms. He had reddish, blonde-brown hair that was groomed heterosexually. He looked older than the other boys in the room--maybe not as old as God or my father, but certainly a viable replacement. Imagine if you took every woman's idea of a hot guy and averaged it out into one man. This was that man.

"What is that?" I asked, knowing that whatever it was, it wasn't avian.

"That's Edwart Mullen," Lululu said.

Edwart. I had never met a boy named Edwart before. Actually, I had never met anyone named Edwart before. It was a funny sounding name. Much funnier than Edward.
I'm only a chapter in, and have been laughing the entire time.

We finally saw Up in the Air this past week. I think we could only find one theater at which it was playing in the area, so we kind of lucked out. George Clooney plays Ryan, who spends most of his year on the road in airports and hotels, and who absolutely loves it. He mostly stays out of contact with family, he racks up frequent-flier miles, and he loves not being tied down to anything or anyone. Then he meets a fellow traveler and kindred spirit and begins to fall for her, as well as a young efficiency expert who wants to change his business' methodology such that his lifestyle would be threatened. The film is an excellent study of isolationism and what happens when human beings insist that they need no one else to survive. The soundtrack is very good, too.

Here's Jim Carrey playing Conan O'Brien:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"The Mark of Failure:" A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17

When Time Magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary, it featured the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pictured on the cover. It was actually a painting of him, looking off somewhere pensively. Underneath his picture was probably the more striking feature of the cover, which was a caption reading, “Man’s story is not a success story.”

Back then, of course, it was just after World War II. The world had been given the news of some 13,000,000 people murdered during the Holocaust. It had seen the effects of two atomic bombs dropped in Japan, and even though some may argue that that was the right move it was still at best a “necessary evil.”

Today, this quote may be strange to the ears and eyes. “Man’s story is not a success story.” Sure it is! We’ve made so much progress! We’ve experienced such advancement in technology and communication. How could anyone possibly say that we haven’t been successful?

There are multiple meanings for failure, at least as Niebuhr probably saw it. Even in the midst of all this technological advancement, we’ve still failed often and at times in spectacular fashion to love God or creation or our neighbor.

Consider those aspects of technology that alienate us from each other rather than bring us closer. In some ways we actually have less human contact with one another than before, let alone anything resembling real relationship or empathy.

Consider societies’ tendency toward sweeping their less fortunate, troubled, or embarrassing members under the rug. Consider the physical, financial, or psychological support that we deny them for a multitude of reasons.

Consider how often we react with irrational fear toward those who are different from us, some to the point of violence.

Failure could also be a failure to love ourselves. We humans suffer from a tremendous amount of pride that blinds us to our faults; keeps us from admitting mistakes, showing vulnerability, or asking for help. Some of this comes from a radical individualism that we’re often encouraged to adopt. We tend to sweep our own imperfections under the rug so that no one will see.

Psalm 51 is a psalm of failure. Notice the heading: David wrote it after being confronted about Bathsheba and the horrendous actions that he undertook to cover it up.

This is a psalm that acknowledges God as the source of transformation. He writes things like, “Have mercy on me,” “Wash me thoroughly,” and “Cleanse me.” The writer is even haunted by sin: “my sin is ever before me.”

The heart of the matter, the big petition included in this psalm is this: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”

When Niebuhr appeared on that magazine cover with that quote, this is what he meant. Humanity is in need of a clean heart, and an upright spirit. Humanity is in need of new awareness of a Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer to save us from ourselves.

Ash Wednesday is the day to confess our failures. It’s a time to be humble, to remember and admit our mortality and limitations. The objection, which kind of illustrates the point, is, “I don’t want to spend so much time feeling bad about myself.”

The good news of this season is that we don’t remain in this mindset.

Along with admitting our failures is admitting dependence on God for redemption. Along with admitting our failures is God putting a clean heart, a new upright spirit within us. That’s what the psalmist does.

This season is about reorienting our lives around what God is doing in Christ.

It begins with these ashes, but God doesn’t leave us here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sunday Morning, and All Day Monday

Real Live Preacher is no longer a preacher. I mentioned that the other day. For those of us who follow his blog, it's a big deal. For him, it's a really big deal. During the weeks between his resignation and final Sunday, he processed this decision a little. Then, the other day, he wrote about what he experienced the first Sunday he's had off in 17 years:
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do the first Sunday morning after Covenant. In the end, we stayed home. I slept until almost 9:00. We ate lunch and went to a fancy shop to buy some fancy tea, which we both love but feel rather guilty about spending money on. We wandered downtown to look at some historic homes that are facing possible demolition. We moved slowly. We were in no hurry. Later that night I brewed our new tea and we sipped some together.

Our weekend might not sound like much to you, but it was crazy wild fun to me. So much time. So little worry. So relaxed. So peaceful.

A body could get used to this.
In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor gives a similar account of her first post-ministry Sunday...or at least similar realizations about free time and the rhythm of life and so on. I greatly anticipate my own experience of that my first sabbatical Sunday.

In the comments at RLP's place, people are already adding their own accounts of post-church Sunday experiences and how wonderful all the free time is.

One commenter's note about "rediscovering the simplicity and nourishment of life" hit me funny. Here's why.

Last week, I actually didn't work too much. (Sssshh...don't tell anyone!) It was a perfect storm of events: our nanny came down with what was probably H1N1, the snow not only got some church events cancelled but it kept Coffeeson's grandma from her weekly visit (she just came the next day instead, since the nanny was sick). My position affords me a lot more flexibility than Coffeewife's, so in addition to my usual Monday off, I pretty much had Wednesday and Friday off as well.

This turn of events was only annoying to me in the sense that it threw off my basic work rhythms, something that RLP acknowledges in his essay. I'd still have to have something to present to the people on Sunday morning, and I needed to get creative with my preparation. But the extra time with Coffeeson was not annoying...it was the right and good and nourishing thing. Now, if all that had been done this week, which features a funeral and Ash Wednesday and a men's breakfast and ice skating with the senior highs...I still would've enjoyed time with Coffeeson, but I certainly would've been a little more on edge.

Here's my point. I believe that pastors can and do enjoy and discover the "simplicity and nourishment of life." It just so happens that we have to find other days or times of the week to do it. I'm probably reading too much into what the commenter wrote, but every Monday it's just me and Coffeeson chasing each other around the house and us both loving it. And I take bass guitar lessons. And Coffeewife and I go on dates. And I read about Michigan football near-obsessively. And sometimes I need to stay home some other day of the week to chase Coffeeson around some more. I know pastors who line dance, pastors who cheer just as obsessively for some other stupid football team in Columbus, pastors who knit, pastors who are beer connoisseurs, and on and on and on it goes.

It's just that we don't do it on Sunday mornings. On Sunday mornings, we attempt to create and contribute to an experience that is meant to heighten awareness of God in the midst of all that simplicity and nourishment. Sometimes it works, sometimes it flops, sometimes it hits people right in their souls, sometimes it puts people to sleep, sometimes it gets incredibly chintzy and sometimes it gets so stripped-down that you can see the bone. But we do that on Sunday mornings, and then we make time for that other stuff later.

I hear the pushback. "Well, us non-pastors don't have other days of the week...we have Sunday mornings." Yeah, I get that. And I think that us pastors need to be aware of how precious those hours are to people.

But for the purposes of this entry, which may just be an overreaction to a simple off-the-cuff phrasing by an anonymous commenter on some other blog, is to say that we pastors love us some "simplicity and nourishment of life." We just do it at other times of the week.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Almsgiving

I love Lent. I love the reflection, the special programming at the church, the worship, and the discipline.

The past few years, I've struggled with choosing a discipline. I just haven't had good experiences with them. The "giving something up" thing has been played out...I haven't found meaning in that sort of a practice for a while. Maybe one day I will, but not now.

In contrast, I have found great meaning in taking something on. Fasting a day a week, adding a daily prayer time (which I could stand to do anyway), study...these practices, some of the classics, have been much more meaningful to me in recent years.

And so this year I add another classic discipline associated with Lent: almsgiving.

I really don't think I do all that well at sharing my resources with others. I'm wildly inconsistent at best. Like so many others, I mean well but mostly end up paving the road to hell with good intentions. I can do much better. As one who calls himself a disciple of Jesus, I should do better.

The specific way that I'm going to approach this came from a church at which I served as student pastor in seminary. During Lent a few years ago, the pastor there invited the entire congregation to set aside a jar, and then follow a daily calendar of giving in relation to your lifestyle or possessions, just giving a quarter for each item. So one day you put in $.25 for each television you own, and then the next day you put in $.25 for each car, and then the next day you put in $.25 for how many meals you've eaten, and on it goes. On Sundays you just put in $5. I saved that newsletter article because I thought it might be good to invite my church to do this, and then we can give the proceeds to One Great Hour of Sharing, which we always take on Easter.

But for this year, at least, I'll just do it on my own. The season's activities at the church are already planned, and I just wanted to try it out for myself first.

But again, choosing this discipline is not really about my church, not really about any program I want to foist upon them. It's about my need to change. It's about all the preaching I do to give to others in need. It's about all the mission projects I encourage people to be a part of. It's about all the times I myself fall short of that preaching and encouragement. It's about my need to be more faithful to what Christ calls me to be about. So of course, it's not really about me...it's about God and neighbor.

Putting in a quarter for each item may not seem like a lot, but it's about starting small and developing habits. At least that's how I see it.

I hope that your Lenten season is reflective and meaningful.

If you feel so inclined to join me, here is the complete list. Put $.25 in for each of the following. Even if the item listed doesn't relate, put in $1 for the blessing of a new day.

Feb. 17 - gifts received this Christmas
Feb. 18 - pairs of shoes
Feb. 19 - TVs
Feb. 20 - coats/jackets
Feb. 21 - $5.00
Feb. 22 - stereos/radios/mp3 players
Feb. 23 - medicines
Feb. 24 - years of school completed
Feb. 25 - doctors
Feb. 26 - meals/snacks eaten today
Feb. 27 - Bibles in home
Feb. 28 - $5.00
Mar. 1 - rooms in home/apt./condo
Mar. 2 - beds
Mar. 3 - pets
Mar. 4 - years married
Mar. 5 - bathrooms
Mar. 6 - trees in yard
Mar. 7 - $5.00
Mar. 8 - telephones
Mar. 9 - keys on keyring
Mar. 10 - gloves and scarves
Mar. 11 - hats or caps
Mar. 12 - socks
Mar. 13 - slacks/pants
Mar. 14 - $5.00
Mar. 15 - boxes of cereal
Mar. 16 - cans of soup
Mar. 17 - phone calls made/received
Mar. 18 - insurance policies
Mar. 19 - bank accounts
Mar. 20 - chairs around dining room table
Mar. 21 - $5.00
Mar. 22 - closets
Mar. 23 - doorways in home
Mar. 24 - pillows
Mar. 25 - dressers
Mar. 26 - kitchen cabinets
Mar. 27 - pictures displayed
Mar. 28 - $5.00
Mar. 29 - lamps
Mar. 30 - TV shows watched
Mar. 31 - cars
Apr. 1 - shirts/blouses
Apr. 2 - poultry/meat/fish in freezer
Apr. 3 - showers/baths in past week
Apr. 4 - $5.00

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Dream Before Valentine's Day

I had a dream last night. I had a couple, actually.

The first was about the Batman movie from 1989. It was before Jack Napier became the Joker, and he was arguing with that dirty cop Eckhardt. I was a non-participant in this...in fact I was just making dinner with the movie on in the background.

And then I went from one '80s movie to another, as suddenly I was in Back to the Future Part II. At first, I was a non-participant in this one as well. I watched as Marty dropped the sandbags on the three guys waiting to jump the other Marty who was onstage playing Johnny B. Goode. And then when the onstage Marty is finished playing, he meets his parents in the stairwell.

At this point, I was a participant. Suddenly, I was Marty. And it was no longer Marty's parents, but my own. My parents didn't go to high school dances together. They grew up about 700 miles away from each other. Plus I think that when my dad was a senior in high school, my mom was in 7th grade or something like that. So if real life logic were applied to this dream, it just wouldn't work.

Nevertheless, here I was talking to the high school versions of my parents, glad that they had gotten together and that I wouldn't be erased from existence.

That's when I noticed two things. First, I noticed the music. It wasn't that Back to the Future orchestral stuff, it was something else. It was something slower, still strings-based, that sounded like just a simple walk up the scale, yet more anticipatory, like it would eventually build to something if you listened to the whole thing on the soundtrack. And there was a woman's voice, not singing any words but just singing the notes overtop of the violins. It's like if you waited long enough, this music was more than just an interlude.

And that made sense, due to the other thing that I noticed. I fully realized that I was talking to my parents at the very beginning of their relationship, and in light of what I knew about the decades that were to come, it hit me differently. It wasn't just a moment to think about how nice and cute it was that they'd gotten together and how weird it was that I was talking to my parents as high-schoolers. I was in this Hill Valley High School stairwell wishing them well, but also with the knowledge of how often they'd need to move, my dad's fight for his life with Crohn's early in their marriage, the crappy behavior of church people, my mom's discovery of a youth ministry career, their meeting their first grandson.

I was fully aware of all of that stuff as I talked to this teenage couple. The music was thus very appropriate, because something was building, yet it would build so gradually over the next 30 years or more. But when you're a couple in their teens you don't see that. You probably aren't thinking that.

I left that stairwell crying, just thinking about all of that. I left thinking about the amount of work and patience that would be needed after this little moment of sweetness. And for some reason Coffeewife was suddenly there, and I yelled, "I've seen this movie how many freaking times, and I've never cried at this part!"

We sometimes focus too much on those beginning moments, where everything is new and wonderful. At the time, that's all we have. But if we let it, love builds to something more. It builds to something that involves big life-changing decisions and moves involving careers and kids and finances and maybe some hard things about health. I mean, yeah, there are dates and flowers and wine and weekends away and whatever, but those aren't the only things. They're not even the most important things.

We have this picture of us from a fraternity formal where we're both like 18 or 19, all dressed up and pretty and smiling toothily at the world. Every once in a while I want to reach through that picture and yell, "You have no idea what's coming! You'd better be damn serious about this, you schmuck."

And the good thing was that I was. More or less. I figured it out eventually. Or I have it more figured out than I did.

I'm glad my parents did that, too.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished The Leader's Journey this week, which did end up having some good stuff in it. The authors spend a lot of time talking about living systems: how a system resists change, how change produces anxiety and how the system tries to return to status quo, how self-differentiation helps the system to change, and so on. The basic gist is that the pastor must work on changing him or herself in order to help change the system, which includes recognizing our own behaviors that contribute to a church's unhealthy ethos.

I've moved right on to Prozac Nation, which is a memoir about depression. The author, Elizabeth Wurtzel, is pretty blunt about her condition and background. She has a way with words without attempting to inject extra drama or poetry like the author of An Unquiet Mind. Wurtzel portrays her inability to control the sorts of thoughts and urges that her illness causes. She attempts to "put on a happy face," but after a while it only makes things worse. I think that the piece of her story that has caused me the most pause is her account of other people's reactions: how they tense up when she approaches, or how they pat her on the back and encourage her to "just feel better," or how they just look completely helpless or hopeless. In an unintentional way, this is partially a book on pastoral care.

We watched this incredibly stupid movie this week called Disturbing Behavior. It came out in 1999, and was probably one of James Marsden and Katie Holmes' first. The film is basically The Stepford Wives, except about high school students. Stoner/loner/loser kids are taken to the school counselor's "weekend retreat," and come back all preppy and clean-cut. After a while, however, it is revealed that even in their new incarnation, the reprogrammed kids have a violent streak that manifests particularly when one of them is attracted to someone else. But, you know, the counselor who promises better behavior for some reason doesn't consider that a big problem. Throw in a cliche, stigma-reinforcing scene in a mental hospital complete with dilapidated walls and patients who act like flesh-eating zombies, a clever janitor with no backstory, and all the sounds, fashion and haircuts of the late '90s and you've got a cheesy, dimwitted teen horror film. Or at least I think it's supposed to be horror. I really don't care.

Of course, we watched the Super Bowl on Sunday. The game itself was looking iffy in the first half (I was rooting for the Saints), but then got really exciting early in the second. I've already pointed out my favorite commercials. The only thing I'll add here is how disappointing The Who were. The drummer, Zack Starkey, looked like he was afraid to hit his instrument too hard (whereas Moon would've been all over that), and Daltrey and Townshend just looked tired. Pretty listless performance, I thought.

This week I was thinking about that episode of Tiny Toons featuring their characters in music videos set to songs by They Might Be Giants. Here's the one they made for "Istanbul:"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Small Sips: Pray for iMonk, The Latest Michigan "Controversy"

Sometimes the blogosphere goes deeper - The Internet Monk is one of my favorite blogs to read. I don't always agree with him, of course, but he provides a regular dose of mental stimulation on a wide variety of issues related to American Christianity.

Well, for the past few months, its author, Michael Spencer, has been going through the diagnosis and treatment of brain cancer. He's had a handful of guest bloggers filling in for him in the meantime. His latest update reads thus:
My situation is serious. Sleep is a big issue. I need rest and it is hard to get. This cancer situation is not going to give my old life back. It may take the life I have. I choose whatever mission God has for me, the utmost need is a simple prayer on my behalf.

If what I am going through reminds you of what you have been through what you what been through in the past, I pray for you and hope others will be the same.

I am home most of the time but I am on the road on almost every day to various doctors. Tomorrow I finish my first found of chemo and have a fell week off. I am so proud to have come through radiation and to this point.

Thanks for all donations. I will no longer be able to acknowledge them through Paypal. Denise will try to acknowledge all that come via denisespenc@gmail.com.

Once again: Very, very serious. Pray, give and pray. Thanks to all who are buying the book in advance. It will be at Amazon but eventually everywhere. Almost 100% new material.

This post took almost an 3/4 of an hour to write and correct. That’s how much I have changed.
From what I understand, he's already had to give up his position of 15+ years in teaching and chaplaincy at a private Baptist high school, and the insurance money is running out. He does have an account set up for donations as well.

Even though I've never met Spencer, it's one of those things where you feel connected through his writings. The impact that this has had on his family is unimaginable. I don't know how much of my audience (such as it is) intersects with his, but he could use whatever help, thoughts, prayers, etc. that could be given.

Saying "I hope he fails" without actually saying it - The Detroit Free Press used to be my source of choice for Michigan sports-related news, mainly of the Tigers and Wolverines variety. Then it finally dawned on me that the columnists there don't actually seem to like the Wolverines that much, and thus the site is quite a safe haven for Spartan, Buckeye, and WVU fans. Exhibit A is the difference in coverage between RichRod immediately dismissing Justin Feagin from the team for drug-related infractions vs. the Freep's near-glossing over of Mark Dantonio letting Glenn Winston, convicted for assault, back on the team. Exhibit B is the "expose" written by Michael Rosenberg on alleged practice time infractions by RichRod and staff.

Here comes Exhibit C, by perpetual Michigan-hater Drew Sharp, who has decided to condemn RichRod for recruiting Demar Dorsey, a highly-rated safety who was tried but acquitted of several burglary charges a couple years ago. He has implied if not outright suggested that Dorsey probably got away with a few other burglaries at some point, and probably will again, basically. I'm not providing a link to any of this because I don't want to give them hits. However, MGoBlog provides links and commentary on the issue:
So because twits like Sharp will misrepresent hypothetical Dorsey misbehavior it represents a risk that Rodriguez shouldn't take no matter how long Vance Bedford has known the kid—over a year—and how flimsy the sketchy past angle is.

For this he spends two days dragging an innocent—literally—kid's name through the mud. So he can have attention.

Here's the thing: Rich Rodriguez cares about his players. When he left West Virginia, they were the only people in the state to defend him. When the NCAA stuff came down and Rich Rodriguez had his press conference about it, he hit his shakiest, teariest point when he was talking about the effects this had on his players. When you listen to Mike Barwis talk about Pacman Jones, the pain is evident—they just couldn't straighten him out enough. He has a good track record. He was right about Pat Lazear, and his disciplinary record over the past five years is considerably above average. Every time he picks up a guy with a rough past and puts him in college he's trying to make the kid's life better.

And yet he gets painted as a bad guy by people who don't care about anything but themselves. Drew Sharp is a selfish, cynical bastard. He's made a career out of making people angry with his half-assed, research-free opinions. He's a disgrace to journalism. If the Free Press had any scruples whatsoever, rampantly bashing a kid with no evidence, or even an effort to collect any, would be so far beyond the journalistic pale that no combination of weasel words could save him.
I understand newspaper columnists being homers for the local teams. After all, I live in NE Ohio, where they make up reasons to put LeBron on the front page. But the thing is, they support ALL local teams here. They don't try to build up Ohio State while tearing down Akron or anything like that. If nothing else, it's a matter of degrees: "Yeah, Go Zips...BUT GO BUCKS!!!" Even the in-state rivalry between Cleveland and Cincinnati teams doesn't seem to be overly harsh...people just get excited for those games. The only exception might be between Buckeye fans and Bearcat fans, but that's even a recent thing. But I can't wrap my mind around how Freep columnists can justify the blatant double standards (i.e., RichRod/Feagin vs. Dantonio/Winston) and not just engage in healthy rivalry talk...no, they look for any hint that RichRod truly is the embodiment of evil.

Moreso, I can't imagine the amount of crap that RichRod has to let roll off his back as a result. I mean, yeah, he's had two losing seasons in a row. But some people just like to pile on needlessly.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

You know, after reading a certain amount of books on church leadership, this is what I start seeing on the page: "blah blah blah." And yet here I am, just starting The Leader's Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation. I'm going to a discussion group on Tuesday dealing with missional leadership, and the facilitator wants us to read this book. It talks about how the leader has to work on his/her own transformation first, and eventually will talk about being familiar with the systems at work in the congregation. But mostly, right now, to me: "blah blah blah."

We watched Role Models this past week, starring Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott as two guys who get in trouble with the law and are forced into community service to avoid jail time. They are sent to Sturdy Wings, a "big brother, big sister" sort of program where they take on mentoring duties for two kids. Rudd's character ends up with a mock-Medieval battle enthusiast whose parents want to be "normal," and Scott's character ends up with a younger black child whose previous mentors haven't lasted longer than a day. The assumption beforehand may be that you'll want to slap the kids, I think you want to slap the two guys for their self-centeredness. But that's the point, and they learn valuable life lessons and etc., etc., etc. The Medieval stuff provides some of the funniest moments, as you watch people slide in and out of character and as you wonder at how seriously they take it. The always-hilarious Jane Lynch plays the founder of Sturdy Wings. The movie pretty much progresses the way you'd expect it to. Just enjoy how you get there.

This is the time of year where I pay a little more attention to events in the WWE. The past few years I've tended to fade in and out of hardcore, must-watch interest. But this past Sunday was the Royal Rumble, the pay-per-view that kicks off the "road to Wrestlemania," which is the WWE's Super Bowl. The Rumble features a match where 30 guys enter, one every few minutes, the only method of elimination being throwing someone over the top rope. The winner gets a title shot at Wrestlemania. Anyway, Edge returned as a surprise entrant and won. The other matches were okay, but nothing special.

I then caught the tail end of the Grammys. I'll be honest: I don't consider the Grammys to be all that credible. Remember the year that Jethro Tull won Best Metal Album? The Grateful Dead was nominated in that category that year as well. While the Oscars recognize true artistry (with admittedly all the politicking that goes on behind the scenes), the Grammys go more on popularity. And even then, like the above example, somebody or a couple somebodies who decide these things don't really know all that much about music. So then Taylor Swift wins Album of the Year. Yes, over Dave Matthews Band. That peeved me, of course. Swift wasn't the worst choice, but you know how she got all that flack for her wobbly singing performance? Well, DMB was the top touring act (you know...live performance) of last year. What's my point? You can sound great in the studio, or you can sound great actually performing. Screw off, Grammys.

I am in a mood today, aren't I? Well, something that made me happy this week happened on Wednesday, which was National Signing Day for high school football players choosing which college to play for. Even after two losing seasons, RichRod and Michigan scored its third top 10/15 class in a row, including a highly regarded QB and safety. Talent is being stockpiled, defense is being rebuilt, offense is nearly there already. There's nowhere to go but up.

Hey, have you heard of BlakRoc? You probably haven't. This is the Black Keys collaborating with a bunch of hip hop artists. Here they are performing on Letterman:

Thursday, February 04, 2010

"Progressive" Christians Outnumber Evangelicals

Thanks to Luke, I found this Pew Forum survey of American Christianity that shares this tidbit:
The survey traced the spiritual roots of the religious right and left to two broader faith communities. On the right, white evangelical Christians comprise 24% of the population and form a distinct group whose members share core religious beliefs as well as crystallized and consistently conservative political attitudes.

On the left, a larger share of the public (32%) identifies as "liberal or progressive Christians." But unlike evangelicals, progressive Christians come from different religious traditions and disagree almost as often as they agree on a number of key political and social issues.

These differences in the makeup of the religious left and right are an important reason why white evangelicals remain a more politically potent force. On issues ranging from the origins of life to Christ's second coming, evangelicals express distinctly different views from those held by the rest of the public and even other religious groups.
So, to recap: more American Christians self-identify as "progressive," but evangelicals seem to be the bigger group because they're a more unified bloc.

And this is a big reason why you get to see a Focus on the Family ad during the Super Bowl while the UCC's commercials are banned from the network.



OMG INCLUDING PEOPLE IS OFFENSIVE~!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Length of Stay

My church loves me.

That's not to toot my horn, so much as to celebrate a good relationship. At least, that's how I meant it.

Last night I got together with my Pastoral Relations Committee. Without going into anything of a sensitive nature, which is the sort of stuff that Pastoral Relations Committees are entrusted to talk about, I came away with a re-affirmation that my church loves me. And not just me, but us. The Coffeefamily. They love Coffeewife without expecting her to be my associate pastor. They love Coffeeson's energy and curiosity.

And they love me. And this morning I'm really, really thankful about that.

We mostly talked about my sabbatical. Nothing really sensitive there. I went over my goals and itinerary and how I plan to saturate the congregation with notices that I'm going and what I'm doing and why sabbaticals happen.

I spent a lot of time talking about my goal related to long-term pastorates. I even shared the common statistics: pastors and churches typically don't do their best work until years 8-12. But the common length of most pastorates is 3-5 years. They seemed surprised by the first statistic. Their reaction to the second was much more interesting.

I pastor a church that is used to those shorter pastorates. Since the late '50s, the average length of a pastorate here has been 5 1/2 years. Yes, out of curiosity one day, I sat down and did the math. I shared this with them last night as well, and there was a certain amount of acceptance, of "fessing up," as it were. This resulted in some lamentation about a controlling culture that the church has known over the years; of a Pastor-Sized church acting like a Family-Sized church.

By the time I got here, that culture was passing away. Some may still walk in, look at us, and make some assumptions, but reflecting back on my time here I haven't experienced the sorts of things of years' past that were described to me last night. From what it sounds like, the tide began to shift back in the early '90s when an interim came in who was willing to be rough-and-tumble with them in order to get them to face some important things. I'm considering sending this person a note of thanks.

Hey, did you hear that Real Live Preacher resigned from his church the other week? That's a big deal for people who follow his blog. It's a big deal in part because, you know, he's Real Live Preacher. It's a big deal in part because he's been pastor there for 17 years. 17 years! From what little I know and assume about Baptist pastors, they seem to stay longer at churches anyway. I still can't fathom it.

And here's the other thing: when I read down through this entry where he shares the news, do you know how he keeps referring to his church members? He keeps using the phrase "my friends at Covenant." Friends. Call the Pastoral Boundaries Police!

But seriously, that was the most striking thing to me about what he wrote. After 17 years, a pastor is bound to have some friends in his/her church. I think it took me maybe a year or two. That just happens. The other night I had a church member over to watch a WWE pay-per-view. It's inevitable. Relationships beyond the sometimes-fuzzy boundaries set out by required workshops just occur. If this is the case after five years, how much moreso after 17.

I think that part of what makes a long-term pastorate happen is real relationship, real friendship. I don't really mean friendship in terms of inviting the whole church over to watch WWE, but I do mean it in terms of letting down some guards that prevent one from establishing trust.

Anyway, as I continue to think about what goes into a long-term pastorate, last night was a revelation. I think that that's my point.

My experience last night was that this church loves me, and is probably going to be okay with the whole sabbatical thing given what I'll be studying and thinking about. My experience last night was also that we came together at just the right time for both of us. And my experience was that my goal of pastoring only a handful of churches in my career is truly possible. Or at least it's starting out well.

Thank God.