Monday, March 29, 2010

Learning by Doing

A few years ago, I took a test meant to determine my best “learning style.” The best minds in education who make it a point to study how people learn have come up with a handful of these learning styles. Some people learn best by seeing, others by hearing, still others by doing, or through music, or reading, and so on. It is not uncommon for one to have at least two of these as their primary learning styles.

So I took this test, and the results indicated that I am primarily a literary learner and a bodily, or kinesthetic, learner. In other words, I learn best by reading and by the experience of doing.

I can point to many examples of how I’ve learned kinesthetically. I’m a big “trial and error” guy; I’m willing to just pick up the tools and figure things out. Ironically, at times I ignore the instructions at the expense of my literary learning style. I’d rather just get into something and either glory in my triumph or reorganize after I mess something up. At least, I tell myself, I’ll know one less possible way to do it the next time.

Today is March 29th. It is the 10-year anniversary of a crossroads moment in my faith. If you're a regular reader, you’ve heard it before. I’ve mentioned it many times. Maybe you’re tired of hearing it. But the reason that I keep telling it is that it was that big of a deal for me.

I thought about re-writing the story, but doing that didn't make much sense. I don't know what could be accomplished by such an exercise. Not everyone with whom I've shared this story--some of whom are fellow Christians--believes that things like this are possible. Telling it again doesn't seem worth it.

I will tell you about a recent revelation I had about that moment, though. If you recall, I've been thinking about some regrets from that time in my life, and I think I've discovered the common thread.

When I went through that time of serious doubt, where God and faith didn't make much sense and bringing myself to pray made even less sense, I really should have stepped away from Christian groups on the spot in order to figure stuff out. What I did instead was subject everyone else to my time of questioning in sometimes overt and sometimes more indirect ways.

I questioned all sorts of stuff about campus ministry activities: vision, direction, philosophy, emphasis. I cautioned against becoming too comfortable or treating "success" like a sign of God's will. I expressed open worry about looking like idiots. I called people out on judgmental behavior. As I look back now, I can see how these sorts of moments may have been my "acting out" of my deeper questions; my method of trying to make sense of the world amid so much uncertainty and anxiety. I was going to get through this by doing rather than stepping back and thinking things through.

By the time I had my experience the night of March 29th, 2000, the damage had been done. I was a theological and ecclesiastical pariah. I'd asked one too many questions and pushed back one too many times. I remember an "accountability" conversation with someone who was trying to set me straight where I shared my experience, and it was callously dismissed. At that time, it was too late to change people's minds about my perceived wandering from the faith, even though by that time I'd never felt so sure of my own.

The rest of the year, I learned some things about how people in faith communities react to others who don't square up with their belief system. I've written about this stuff as well, and I've actually made peace with that, so I feel no inclination to rehash it.

The bigger point is that I reacted to my own faith crisis by bringing others along with me, in a manner of speaking. I was actively working it out in front of everyone, even if they didn't know that that was what was going on. Even so, I learned about being prophetic, about a community's predisposition to love and support people who act and believe like everyone else and, most importantly, what real faith is in times of desperation and despair. Maybe "acting out" this crisis wasn't the best or healthiest of ways, but I learned so much because of it.

I learned all of these things through experience, and not through a book, sermon, Bible study, or cliched piece of advice. I think it's the only way one really can learn what faith is at its core. Of course, I may be biased on that last point.

I don't know how else I'll mark today. I don't know if I really need to do anything. I do like that this anniversary falls during Holy Week, a few days before observing the events of the cross and celebrating the resurrection. Just the other week, I preached on how death makes resurrection what it is; resurrection without death is a hollow joy at best. We don't need the joy of resurrection until we're in the midst of some kind of death.

Today, I celebrate in deep joy. I celebrate the drama of cross and resurrection that has played out in my own journey, and that probably will again in different ways.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Small Sips: iMonk, UCC ad, Willimon, Rosenberg

More sad news about iMonk - The situation has only gotten worse for Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk:
At the encouragement of our oncologist, we have opted to discontinue treatment. He said the chemotherapy was not working, and it would actually be doing a disservice to Michael to continue. We are now receiving help from our local hospice. We know we are in good hands with them, and we are at peace that we have made the best decision under the circumstances.

Several people have already suggested various alternative treatments. While we appreciate their concern and helpfulness, we have discussed this possibility and Michael does not want to try anything else. Please pray for strength and acceptance, for trust in God, for minimal pain and for a peaceful passing.
It really was not that long ago that Spencer had been regularly writing, commenting, interacting with others. This has progressed very quickly, and it's incredibly sad.

The Spencer family seems to have some peace about the decisions that they've made, and I as one who only knows or cares anything about this from a great distance can only affirm that.

Trying...to...get...excited... - The United Church of Christ is coming out with a new viral commercial (except they're using the word "spiral," because "viral" has a negative connotation) that will be released on the internet on April 16th. UCC members are being asked to link or embed the ad on Facebook, blogs, and all those other wonderful social networking media:
Called "The Language of God," the new 90-second video commercial invites people to explore more deeply what it means when, in the United Church of Christ, we say "God is still speaking," Through a rapid-paced experience of images, music and soundscapes, the ad encourages us to broaden our concept of when, where and how God is speaking in the world.
Okay. Did you read the whole article? Yeah, I've got some issues.

First off, my best understanding of a viral campaign is that it just happens. There's no pre-advertising for it, there's no long, drawn-out "Are you ready yet? Are you? How about now? Are you ready now? Look out, here it comes! Almost! Are you ready now?" The promotional card that people are being invited to order is one example of this pre-commercial commercial silliness. Another comes in the form of "fans" of the UCC on Facebook being encouraged to use some pre-released stills from the commercial as their profile picture a few days before the release. All of this flies in the face of what a viral campaign is meant to be: sudden, subversive, and causing the viewer to stop and wonder about what they just saw.

Second: 90 seconds? Most TV commercials aren't that long! And again with the whole idea that viral ads are supposed to be sudden.

Finally, UCC members are being asked to get excited and tell all their friends and fellow church members about something they haven't seen. Why would I do that? Why would I endorse or recommend something I know next to nothing about? Seems I may only be setting myself up to have to justify my support, even or especially if I myself end up not liking it.

I don't know, man. I love the UCC and all, but lately the ridiculousness of their "Support the institution! Rah rah rah!" stuff while attempting to be hip has really been grating on my nerves.

Well played, Bishop Willimon - The other day, I wrote about some things that have been annoying me about Christian Century, particularly a recent article by Will Willimon. These things still annoy me, but I have to give Willimon props for his latest:
At large church meetings there is always someone who seems to derive perverse delight from pointing to the tragedies that the rest of us more calloused ones missed. At one such meeting, we'd been working for three days—struggling with depleted resources and disappointed by the less-than-adequate outpouring of aid for various world problems. We were preparing to end the meeting and head home when a dreadfully earnest participant grabbed the microphone.

"I think it sad," she said, "that in three days there hasn't been mention of the horrible tragedy of landmines in Iraq." A sigh arose in the room. "Children are being maimed. Many of these landmines were purchased from the United States, put there through our tax dollars."

An already deflated meeting rolled over and died. Look at us. We were so busy eradicating killer diseases, curing malaria, raising $3 million to solve AIDS, funding the pensions of suffering African pastors and sending water purification systems to Haiti that we missed the one good work that could have certified us as a church that really, really cares.
This was my experience of General Synod last summer. "We're striving for justice in all these different areas, but you people missed one. HOW COULD YOU~!?"

There is nothing wrong with raising awareness, with expanding one's knowledge of the seeemingly endless atrocities that are being experienced the world over. But individuals, groups, and even entire denominations only have so much time, energy, and resources to give. And how many accusations of willful ignorance or inaction are simply moments contrived by a person or group more interested in wanting to feel offended or self-satisfied?

Mea culpa, Bishop Willimon. I liked this one.

Rosenberg is subjective and biased? Surprise! An Atlanta sports blog, Braves & Birds, picked up on some Michael Rosenberg hypocrisy. You may remember Rosenberg from such hit jobs as the article about Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez going way over practice limits (which turned out to be an hour every once in a while), among so many other columns he's written about RichRod meant to paint him as evil incarnate.

On the other hand, Rosenberg really likes John Calipari:
REFUSE TO LOSE. It sounds like such a simple, inspirational phrase for a team -- and it can be. But it also describes the man. He's a scrapper, and will weigh all of his options besides losing.

Calipari has done the most remarkable coaching job of this season, and nobody is close. Think about it: He convinced John Wall, Xavier Henry and DeMarcus Cousins to come to Memphis, inserted clauses into their letters of intent so they could go somewhere else if Calipari left, convinced Memphis to keep its Notice of Allegations from the NCAA quiet for three months, took the Kentucky job before anybody knew about that notice, then convinced Wall and Cousins to join him in Lexington. That is refusing to lose.
B&B points out that these paragraphs aren't entirely accurate, but also then offers some commentary as well:
Rich Rodriguez is a dirty bastard because your investigation uncovered the fact that Michigan was practicing five hours on certain days instead of four and quality control assistants were watching some summer skeleton drills. John Calipari is an inspiring fighter even though he has left both UMass and Memphis on probation and came within a whisker of winning a national title with multiple players who apparently cheated on their SATs. If you're going to be a moralist, then be a moralist. Don't pick on one guy for running a stop sign and laud an arsonist because the arsonist is a smooth salesman and and the bad driver isn't. Your credibility as a writer sorta depends on whether readers think that your opinions are based on something other than completely subjective judgments about people.
To which I can only add: Yeah! Take that! Boo yah!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I started reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau this past week. Thoreau wrote this about his experience of spending two years living near Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. During that time he chose to live very simply, and later on decided to share his experiences. So far it reads like the book of Ecclesiastes: a lot of revelations about how we work for frivolous things, how there are philosophy teachers but no more philosophers, and how we pretend that we're more important than we actually are. It'd be depressing, except I believe that Thoreau's purpose is not to point out how awful we should feel but how much we should let go of in order to be free. This is a book that one can't rush through if one truly wants to digest it.

I'm also in the home stretch of reading For the Love of God for my book discussion group. The essays are very short, but so far have been very heavy on Eastern religious traditions and American Indian traditions. I'm partway through the fourth section, which has more Judeo-Christian writers such as Harold Kushner. I have nothing against learning from other traditions so long as I'm given some context for the language, and these essays don't provide it. I don't really expect them to, but they are nevertheless difficult to read through and/or pay attention to. Have I mentioned I don't really like this book?

I watched The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy DVD this past week. The main featured documentary is three hours long, and contains a lot of interviews with band members, concert footage, and a ton of footage of members screwing around. That last one got tiresome after a while, I have to admit. I think it was meant to provide a window into their lives during the time they were together, but mostly it was guys shoving their faces into the camera and making weird noises. I would've loved to hear more interviews instead. Reese Roper provides some voiceover stuff, but mostly just lets everyone else tell the story, which is about a Christian ska band that toured endlessly to the point of near-exhaustion, was more interested in playing secular venues as part of their sense of mission, grew increasingly dissatisfied with having to play Christian venues (particularly summer festivals), and whose members basically got older and wanted to do things like start families and move on to other projects. All in all, it was a good look into the band's career, and a nice way of wrapping things up for fans. There's a second disc that includes a ton of extras including music videos and footage of their final show, the latter of which I hope to watch soon.

Here's Weezer performing at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Issues with Christian Century

Okay. Right off the bat, let me say that I enjoy reading Christian Century. It has a lot of helpful news items, articles, reflections on the lectionary, and so on. But lately, I've been having some issues (ha!) with this magazine. Part of me has become weary of the same writers and voices. I love most of these authors, don't get me wrong. Some of them have been highly influential in my own sense of vocation and faith.

But lately, there have been some articles that have led me to believe that this magazine is fairly resistant to new trends and ideas, and it's been increasingly frustrating for me.

For instance, a while back Lillian Daniel wrote a half review, half commentary on the book Why Men Hate Going to Church. I had read this book before this article had come out and thus was interested in her take. I found her to be incredibly dismissive of what I thought to be very good insights. She opted instead to blame the guys who hate church themselves, implied or stated the usual things about real or perceived sexism, and presented an extreme example of a "man-focused" church as if it would be the norm if this book is taken seriously. It was a very cynical take that left the reader no better in terms of addressing the real problem that a lot of men hate going to church in its current incarnation and with its typical foci. (Incidentally, the whole "Oh, everything is just fine the way it is" attitude is one of the chief problems that Murrow cites in his book.)

A few months later, the magazine had a cover story on Rob Bell. Bell just can't catch a break among anybody: he's too liberal for many evangelicals, and in the liberal circles I know who've noticed him some consider him too evangelical. CC's take was part amazement at the dressed-down style and hipster vibe of Mars Hill and Bell, part worry that this style is what speaks to a new generation. It was actually a favorable portrait of Bell and his church overall, but there was this undercurrent of anxiety about the whole enterprise as well, as if our traditional, tall-steeple, pipe organ liberal churches may need to take what Bell is doing seriously, and not just in order to counter it either.

So then the most recent cover story is by Will Willimon, entitled "Too Much Practice." Essentially, Willimon cites a growing movement of books that emphasize spiritual practices and the need to practice faith through acts of service and other countercultural behaviors...and then says that we may be doing too much of that:
One of the things that first appealed to me about the discovery of Christianity as a practice was that the practices of any faith are so wonderfully specific and odd. They tend to be incomprehensible without reference to the specific experience of God that has occurred in that faith. This approach seemed to offer a wonderful corrective to the classic liberal theological construal of religion as a set of ideas (beliefs) about the divine.

But classic liberal theology of the 19th-century German variety is hard to break. A warning sign of the possible error of construing Christianity primarily as a practice is the propensity of books on Christian practice to describe the Christian faith in general. Christianity, generally conceived, shares much with other faiths, generally conceived. Generic conceptions of Christianity, or any other religion, as a practice are as intellectually misleading as conceiving of Christianity as a system of general beliefs. When Christianity is conceived as a practice, a set of paths toward God which some people have found helpful but which lead in much the same direction as every other path, then Christianity has been misconstrued.

For instance, a number of Christianity-as-practice books extol the virtues of recovering the practice of keeping the Sabbath. Yet I search in vain in these descriptions for the theological grounding of such a peculiar activity. Nor do they recognize the ways in which Jesus Christ, a well-documented Sabbath-breaker, is presented in the Gospels as inimical to the Third Commandment.
Throughout the whole article, Willimon argues against these books, but never cites any other than his own. So I have no clue who he's arguing with. I actually just read a decent book on the practice of sabbath that is very intentional about grounding the practice in theological and Biblical justification, so he obviously doesn't mean that one. Must be all those other books he doesn't mention.

Willimon's main point about not ignoring the theological grounding for Christian practice is well-taken. It is important to spend time discerning the Divine Will for what we do (which at the same time is what spiritual practices are meant to do). But that he frames it in terms of bemoaning too much practice and not enough theology irks me. Is there really such a thing as "too much practice?" There didn't seem to be for Jesus, who spent much more time telling stories than in presenting anything systematic. That, and the fact that particularly younger generations want to do things and not just sit around and believe things. Seems to me that movements emphasizing practice are heading in the right direction. Willimon really comes off as a curmudgeon in this one.

And that's been my growing issue with Christian Century: it's been coming off more and more curmudgeon-y lately. Emerging issues for the church are seemingly ignored, downplayed, groused about, caricatured, or dismissed. Meanwhile, the usual writers write about the usual things, and no one seems to be moving forward. CC addresses many important topics, but there are just as many that it doesn't seem to want to give a fair shake.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's In Your Satchel?

Over at the High Calling blog, Gordon Atkinson aka RealLivePreacher shares what's in his satchel during his Lenten journey:
The day before Ash Wednesday, I got an old satchel out of my closet and began filling it with things that are spiritually significant to me. Some of these things might be considered “churchy” and others might not. I make no such distinctions. Everything in my satchel has been an important part of opening my mind, expanding my heart, and teaching me to be more prayerful and able to listen for God’s work and words in our world.

My Lenten satchel contains the following items:

A copy of the Didache with commentary by Tony Jones.
The Creation of Consciousness: Jung’s Myth for Modern Man by Edward Edinger
The Greek New Testament, along with a parsing guide.
A moleskine notebook that contains my new and growing translation of the Sermon on the Mount.
A set of calligraphy pens and a bottle of luxurious black Mont Blanc ink.
A set of drafting tools that I bought in a junk store in Colorado.
Some proofs by Euclid that I learned and drew myself with the drafting tools.
A copy of Inside Out, poems by LL Barkat.
A recorded copy of the New Testament, read dramatically.
Another moleskin notebook that contains my first attempts at calligraphy and my drawings of the negative spaces of labyrinths.
A vision I wrote down for a house church model in 1999.
A dream I had years ago, wrote down, and still don’t understand.
My growing Franciscan rule of life that I’ve been working on in retreats for a few years. (So far I only have one rule and I still can’t keep it well)
Three rosaries, all of my own construction.
The National Audubon Society field guide to the night sky.
The complete short stories of Flannery O’Connor.
A set of water colors.

[...]

During the season of Lent, I take time each day to do something spiritual. I draw proofs and paint them. I work my rosary beads, murmuring memorized prayers and scriptures. I read fiction. I read poetry. I read the Didache. I read the New Testament – albeit in a very slow and halting way – in the original language. I paint. I muse. I write. I pray. And I seek creative connections between all of the things in my satchel. A few days ago Euclid’s “how to find the center of a given circle” proof turned into a cross and that into a watercolor painting.

I do not have to finish anything. I do not have to explain anything. I do not have any goals other than spending a bit of time each day with one or more of these objects. It is the most glorious, challenging, thoughtful, indulgent, artistic, and meaningful Lent I have ever experienced. And I intend to keep my satchel after Lent is over. Why would I stop when I’m having such a good time?
It got me to thinking about what might be in my own Lenten satchel. What items aid in my spiritual journey, "churchy" or otherwise?

This is what I came up with.

~My New Student Bible from high school if not the one I use now.
~Moleskine journal
~Small glass tea light candle holder (with candle and lighter, of course) that I've had since my first year of seminary
~Poetry of Robert Frost
~365 Starry Nights astronomy guide
~The Living Book of Daily Prayer
~Sketchbook
~A "finger labyrinth" in lieu of a real one
~A copy of the E&R Hymnal

A musical instrument wouldn't fit in the bag, so I didn't list it. But I'd be carrying that along, too. Probably my acoustic guitar since I could play that anywhere without much setup.

I don't feel like explaining my items either, not that I think it'd take much explanation.

The only thing that I do feel the need to explain is the absence of any favorite book, as in a novel or work of theology or spirituality or whatever. This is because when I read those kinds of books, I then need to set them aside for a while; I wouldn't want or need to carry an especially meaningful one around with me at all times. Perhaps for the purposes of a finite season like Lent, where I'd revisit a favorite to aid during that stretch of time, I'd choose Secrets in the Dark by Frederick Buechner, New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham, and/or Open Secrets by Richard Lischer.

Methinks I may adopt this "satchel practice" for my sabbatical. Hmmm...

So, what'd be in your satchel?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

"You always have the poor with you"

At our Communal Word discussion group last night, we talked a lot about John 12:1-8, which is this Sunday's Gospel text according to the Revised Common Lectionary. For several reasons, I anticipated that the group would spend some time with this passage over the other two, and I was not disappointed.

First off, here's the passage in full:
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
A few literary and contextual notes first.

Some version of this story appears in all four Gospels. In Matthew and Mark, they're pretty similar: Jesus dines at Simon the leper's house, and an unnamed woman comes in with the ointment and anoints his head. Somebody (not Judas) makes the point about the expense and the poor, and Jesus gives an explanation similar to what's in John.

Luke is vastly different. Jesus dines at a Pharisee's house instead, although the Pharisee's name is still Simon. A woman identified only as "a sinner" comes in and anoints Jesus' feet with ointment, but the complaint is that Jesus is letting an unclean sinner touch him, leading to a conversation about forgiveness, gratitude, and hospitality.

In John, this passage comes right after the story of Jesus raising Lazarus. Jesus hasn't wandered far; he is now sharing a meal at Lazarus' house, with Mary and Martha attending. This is the only instance where the woman who anoints Jesus is given a name: it's Mary the sister of Lazarus. Given the story's placement, Mary may be doing this out of gratitude for Jesus raising her brother, but of course Jesus gives a different explanation.

As a sidenote, I think that many condense elements of Luke and John's description of the woman, suggest that the Mary here is Mary Magdalene, and the result is the theory that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute, the suggestion of which doesn't actually appear anywhere in the New Testament.

Anyway, during the course of this episode in Matthew, Mark, and John, somebody raises a stink (pardon the pun) about the ointment being used in this way, and Jesus responds, "You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

It's kind of an unsettling statement, especially if you consider all of Jesus' admonitions and allusions to helping the poor or being among the poor. It was certainly unsettling for my discussion group. They wondered why Jesus would say such a thing given all the things that he says and does that suggest that the poor are very important to Jesus and to God's kingdom. Is Jesus really dismissing the poor here?

No. He's not.

I've been hearing and reading this verse tossed out a lot since Glenn Beck made his comments about social justice churches. Christians who support Beck's statements or who otherwise want to downplay the importance of helping the poor have used this statement by Jesus as justification for such a view. The argument as I understand it is that faith in Jesus is the more important thing; nurturing that faith and an awareness of that presence is what Christians should be about. There will always be poor people, helping them is an endless task & thus shouldn't be taken too seriously, belief in Christ is the more important thing, and Jesus says as much here.

That's not what Jesus is really getting at here, though.

First off, Jesus was surely familiar with the instruction of the Torah. He was a faithful Jew, after all. Among other things, he would have been familiar with Deuteronomy 15:11:
Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, "Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land."
As a faithful Jew, Jesus would have known this verse. Not only that, but he basically quotes it in the story in question. The command in this verse is not to give in and give up due to how vast the task of helping the poor is. Instead, the command is to keep helping; to always be openhanded toward them.

Second, one needs to consider the context in which Jesus' statement appears. Mary has anointed Jesus' feet with a very expensive ointment, somebody complains about selling it and giving it to the poor, and Jesus gives his statement. In Matthew, Mark, and John, this episode occurs shortly before the passion story begins. In these three versions, Jesus talks about being prepared for his burial, and thus admonishes people to leave the woman alone.

In other words, Jesus' statement is made in anticipation of the events that follow: his journey to Jerusalem, and his final days leading to his death. He's basically saying, "My earthly time with you is running out. I'm only with you for a little while longer, and this anointing is a foreshadowing of things to come. So pay attention to this for now." The poor are no less important, and are not a side project in the grand scheme of things. It's just that at the time of this incident in the three Gospels where Jesus makes this statement, some big and tragic things are about to happen and Jesus' disciples need to be ready for it.

In conclusion, it's a mistake to lift Jesus' statement out of its context to justify ignoring or downplaying the need to help the poor. That's not what Jesus means, and Christians would do well to let that common misinterpretation go.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Communal Word Progress Report

Before Lent began, I wrote a little about the Wednesday evening programs I'm leading during this reflective season. I'm loosely following a practice that Doug Pagitt and Solomon's Porch follow, which is to discuss the scripture text for the following Sunday and develop the sermon as a group.

We've been doing this for three weeks now, and I think it's been going well. I start off each session by having people say their name and then answer some silly question to get the jaw muscles working a little.

I then introduce the three non-psalter texts suggested by the lectionary. This has evolved every week. The first week, I thought that we'd read the first text, talk about it a little, and then move to the next until all three had been covered in an hour. This quickly proved to be foolish, as we spent the entire time talking about the one text (Genesis 15, for those wondering). So the next week, I decided that I'd give a brief synopsis of each one and see which caught someone's interest. This went okay, as we talked about the meaning of Jesus' fig tree parable in Luke 13.

This past week, I once again gave a synopsis of each one, but the group didn't really seem to connect with that approach, so I asked, "Would it help to hear them?" They indicated that it would.

Every week as we've read one or more of these out loud, I've invited people from the group to read. They can read as much or as little as they like, and then someone else picks up after that. I think that it helps especially when we have longer texts such as the Parable of the Loving Father from Luke 15, which is what we ended up discussing. I think that we'll stick with the practice of reading all three for the duration.

During the conversation itself, I try not to get in the way too much. I'm used to leading Bible study, which for me involves some teaching and clarifying up front before turning it over to the group. For this, however, I encourage them to react to the text before I say much of anything. They ask questions, or they point out something they think is strange or don't understand. The first week, for instance, someone was really bothered by the "deep and terrifying darkness" that comes over Abram while he's asleep, which she reiterated throughout the evening several times. In this midst of this time where God needed to reassure Abram about God's promises, here was this moment of darkness. It became one of the major thrusts of my sermon that Sunday. I might have focused on something else if I'd chosen that text on my own.

This past week was much more tricky. As I mentioned, the group chose the Parable of the Loving Father, which people may just assume that they know. Typically, the assumption is that this is a direct allegory for God welcoming back the lost sinner. Very early on in the discussion, one person said, "I think you need to preach on this one, because everyone just thinks they know what it says." I have an awesome group.

After a while, however, the discussion seemed to devolve. After we talked about redemption for a little while, someone picked up on a theme of penitence and started talking about his growing curiosity about Jesuit spiritual disciplines, followed by a question about similar practices in the United Church of Christ. This led to conversation about what our local church does to observe Lent and where it may show up in our denominational heritage. We talked about different rituals and how they can be helpful while cautioning against making the ritual equivalent to God.

I had a hard time with this. I didn't want to curb the discussion, as it would have gone against the intended spirit of the exercise. But I didn't immediately see the relevance to preaching possibilities, especially as I'd just preached on spiritual practices just a few weeks earlier. If I'd strictly gone that route, it would have felt like a retread to me, and possibly to the congregation.

After the conversation was finished and we began moving into our evening vespers time, someone pulled me aside and asked about the necessity of believing in Jesus to go to heaven. "If he died so that we could go to heaven, why do we then also have to believe that he died so that we could go to heaven?" This was followed by an admitted fear that her belief isn't strong enough for God to let her in.

I think that that's when I realized how the entire evening tied into the parable of the loving father. We have people wondering about practices of penitence and people wondering if their belief is acceptable enough. This past week was a case where these things didn't directly feed into the sermon as possible themes or illustrations, but they helped me understand what those who hear the sermon are thinking about. This is an aspect of this exercise to which I haven't paid as much attention, but I was glad to pick up on it this past week.

So on Sunday, I asked who each of us are in Jesus' story. Are we the younger son, wondering about penitence or whether he'll be accepted back, among other things? Are we the older son, offended by or jealous of the forgiveness that someone else has received, among other things? Are we the father, with an opportunity to be an instrument of grace and redemption, willing to forsake social convention to do it? And I tied it all into God's larger story of redemption in which we are all characters, and how that story contains forgiveness, jealousy, uncertainty, grace, joy, and love.

I've been so thankful for this exercise. It has produced so much more than I thought possible. And we still have two more Sundays to go!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm currently reading Turtles All the Way Down, the new book from Gordon Atkinson, aka Real Live Preacher. This is different from his last book, as it was self-published. Not only that, but he invited blog readers to join him in choosing and editing the essays that would be included. This book can almost be read as a daily devotional - that's how well I think he writes. It's one of those where I maybe read one or two of his essays a day (and most are only 1-2 pages long), and I feel content; I feel full. Essay topics are what might be expected from RLP: faith, the Bible, church, fatherhood, some fictional stories. He truly is an incredible writer.

We went to see Alice in Wonderland this past week. In this version, Alice is a teenager who falls down the rabbit hole yet again. She meets up with the usual characters, who are counting on her to do battle with the Jabberwocky in order to vanquish the Red Queen. I think I like Helena Bonham Carter in pretty much any role that I've seen her play, and she's having some fun as a deluded, power-hungry, desperate Queen. Johnny Depp is also good, but I didn't experience him as the scene-stealer that others may have expected him to be. The whole thing is shot in Tim Burton's style, which is dark and a mixture of visually stunning and strange. The story is one where Alice finds herself going from one world to another where there are societal expectations and unquestioned authority and rules, and the only ones willing or able to question them are considered mad. I've been meaning to read the books for years, and this movie helped give me another push to do it.

Lately I've been on both a Weezer and Black Keys kick. With Weezer it's mostly been Make Believe, but I've been thinking about picking up Raditude as well. They have that "nerd rock" vibe going for them, where Cuomo sings about insecurity, wondering about the girl who likes him, and, of course, "Beverly Hills," all with occasionally crunchy guitars, and I've been in a "crunchy guitar" mood lately. I'm also partial to the "Blue Album." The Keys' style has plenty of crunch, and it took me a while to come around to their Attack & Release album, which features Danger Mouse as a producer. I don't care for some of the synth stuff that shows up, but after another listen this past week I realized that there was a lot of greatness that I ignored before. So now, I think I can call it my favorite of theirs.

Okay. So as a father, I am subjected to an incredible amount of childrens' programming on TV. There are some shows that I don't mind (Sid the Science Kid, Sesame Street, Handy Manny), there are other shows that I loathe (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Barney). But one show that I get legitimately excited about is Phineas and Ferb. This is a cartoon about two boys who pass the days of summer vacation by doing things like building roller coasters, opening a restaurant, holding a monster truck rally, or traveling through time. Their sister, Candice, is constantly trying to get them busted, and their pet platypus, Perry, is a secret agent constantly foiling the plots of the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. All of these subplots always interweave in silly, surprising ways, and the humor has some appeal for both children and adults.

Here's the opening credits:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sad News About iMonk

The internet is a funny thing. Years ago when I was a big part of various online discussion forums, occasionally there would be bad news shared about another participant's death or grave sickness. This news would hit harder than one would expect given such an impersonal medium, yet it would also illustrate the possibility of real connection that such a medium can foster.

With that, the latest update about Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, is incredibly sad:
It is with a heavy heart that I bring my latest update on Michael. We have learned that his cancer is too advanced and too aggressive to expect any sort of remission. Our oncologist estimates that with continued treatment Michael most likely has somewhere between six months and a year to live. This is not really a surprise to us, though it is certainly horrible news. From the very beginning, both of us have suspected that this would prove to be an extremely bad situation. I don’t know why; perhaps God was preparing us for the worst all along by giving us that intuition.
I've greatly enjoyed and appreciated Michael's writings over the past five years. I've never met him personally, of course, but I've learned enough about him through reading for this to hit me in a way that just passing through and catching a glimpse of this latest post wouldn't have.

Pray for the Spencer family, and what they will continue to experience over the next months and years.

Glenn Beck and Social Justice

The other day on his show, Glenn Beck had some "advice" for his listeners and viewers...and subsequently revealed his complete ignorance of Christianity:
"I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"

Later, Beck held up cards, one with a hammer and sickle and other with a swastika. "Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That's what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner. . . . But on each banner, read the words, here in America: 'social justice.' They talked about economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth, and surprisingly, democracy."
So, to recap, churches that preach social justice are communists and/or Nazis.

One pastor has been very gracious in his response to Beck's comments. I'm afraid I won't be as kind. You see, if social justice is communist, I guess that means that large chunks of the Bible are communist. In the Levitical law, for instance, the Israelites are given these instructions:
"'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.'" (Leviticus 23:22)
There are many other references to caring for the poor and the immigrant in the Torah; it is essential to how the Israelites are meant to live.

Many of the Old Testament prophets urge the people of Israel and Judah to care for the poor as well. Consider this well-known passage from Amos 5:21-24:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals, I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
In the prophets over and over and over again, the people are told to turn from selfish ways of living that ignore the plight of the poor, the orphan, and the widow. But I guess that's just communist-Nazi talk.

But surely Jesus never alluded to social justice, right?
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' (Matthew 25:34-40)
Oh. Crap. But there's nothing else, is there?
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 4:16-21)
This is to say nothing of Christian movements throughout history such as those of St. Francis, John Wesley, the New England Congregationalists, and Martin Luther King, all of which had a strong social justice component to their messages. Helping the poor was essential to each of these movements, and couldn't be separated out as something extra.

There are some who may differentiate between government sponsorship of justice issues and private or independent social justice movements. I've read the argument that that is the distinction under which Beck may be operating himself. But I've not seen or read any indication that this is the case. Plus, I'm not convinced that the two can really be separated, with the former demonized and the latter lifted up. Should a country not pursue justice for its own people?

If social justice is separated out from Christianity, then we aren't left with very much. If all we're meant to be about as Christians is the defense of right doctrine, going to church every week, and occasionally speaking out about the latest cultural war issue, then Christianity doesn't have much to offer the world at all. And I bet that 99 times out of 100, if one tries to argue back that "Of course, we have something to offer the world! We offer salvation through Jesus!," then the person to whom you're talking may ask, "But what difference does that make in my life today?"

In addition, if we truly believe that Christians shouldn't be about social justice, then Amos' words quoted above are directed at us.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Regret

Ten years later, why does it matter?

I imagine that that question is floating out there among those following my little Lenten cleansing activity here, particularly yesterday's letter. It's a question I'm asking myself, that's for sure.

College is an incredibly formative time for many people. Some may argue that there's a certain superficiality to it all; that college students don't live in the "real world," whatever that is. Instead, the argument goes, there's a bubble quality to college life; an ignorance of real problems Out There. Students are preoccupied with their own drama and each others' immaturity, even as they're just beginning to discover themselves. All of this takes place while away from home for perhaps the first time.

I would largely agree with that. There was an absurd quality to what I got caught up in during my college years. Some of what we put each other through at that age is only slightly better than what we put each other through during high school.

However, I balk at how far to take the superficiality argument. While college can be a self-involved time, it's also a time where newfound independence, hormones, and laying the groundwork for a career combine in a time of what is hopefully growth and maturation from self-involvement to self-actualization. The former can be egotistical and unhealthy for oneself and others, the latter exhibits a combination of temperance, awareness, and assertiveness without arrogance.

The college experience can greatly influence how or whether one develops into a self-actualized being. Classes, friends, and campus groups can all affect this.

By my junior year of college, I was involved in two campus ministry groups: an on-campus house program called the House of God's Servants (HOGS), and a non-denominational Campus-Crusade-loosely-affiliated ministry called Campus Fellowship. A lot of the details can be found in the same post to which I link back every couple of months. I was also in a fraternity and involved in the theatre.

All these things together made for a hectic schedule. There was give and take, but I tried to balance them as best I could. Even after everything went down between myself and some other Christians on campus, however, there was some part of me insisting that I continue with these groups.

The first meeting of the Campus Fellowship planning team that following fall, I walked in with a scowl on my face. I remember it pretty distinctly, actually. Even then, some part of me realized that this group had passed me by, but I persisted because I was studying to be a pastor, and this had to have been what people studying to be pastors were supposed to do in preparation. Even after leaving the group a few weeks into the semester, I eventually decided that I needed to come back. After the disagreements, the change in direction, the lack of passion, I thought I needed to continue. That kills me. That kills me.

With the HOGS, it was a little more complicated: I didn't have a great experience in leadership my junior year and did ponder letting it go, but I convinced myself to come back my senior year because, again, that's what future pastors do.

This is the crux of my regret about those groups and about that time. I don't regret how relationships turned out: I'm friends with some of those with whom I disagreed, and I'm content not to speak with others (and as far as I know the feeling is mutual). I regret continuing with a burden that I should have set down but didn't out of some pre-ministerial sense of obligation.

Picture a guy involved with the Young Democrats who is aspiring to go into politics but who doesn't agree with the direction that the majority wishes to take. Picture a young woman who wants to go into music but whose sense of enjoyment in show choir is paralyzed by disagreements with other members. Letting go of these groups doesn't change these people's career paths. It doesn't even change the relationships with the many who are involved in these groups with whom they get along and whose friendships they treasure. This particular activity just doesn't work for them any more; it doesn't bring them joy or help them grow. So let it go.

"Well," some may say, "now you know something about overfunctioning and saying no." Indeed I do. And the usual statements about being who you are today because of past experiences and all that other crap applies here, too.

It's just that I wonder who I'd be today if I'd just given up campus ministry. That's what all this is about.

Maybe in the long run, not a whole lot would be different. I still would've gone to Eden, married Coffeewife, been called to a church, been ordained, had Coffeeson, continue the same relationships on Facebook and elsewhere with people from that time of my life. But I also would've been able to say, "I quit something related to my career and calling where my involvement was no longer nurturing for me or others."

The next time around, I hope that I can do that.

Monday, March 08, 2010

A Letter Written Ten Years Too Late

Note: This is one of my major "shoulda coulda woulda" items related to what I've been processing lately. In fact, it's pretty much THE item. Further commentary to follow in another day or so.

May 1, 2000

To the Members of the House of God’s Servants and the Campus Fellowship Leadership Team:

I greet you in the name of Christ, who calls us to unity in the midst of our diversity.

After much prayerful consideration in anticipation of my senior year at Heidelberg, I have come to a series of conclusions. These have not been reached lightly, but I feel that they are necessary.

I am hereby announcing my resignation both as a member of the HOGS, and as a member of the Campus Fellowship Planning Team.

It has been a trying school year, one during which I experienced no small amount of turmoil both in terms of my personal faith and in terms of relationships with some members of the Christian community on Heidelberg’s campus. Thankfully, I have regained a sense of stability in my faith by the grace of God.

It is clear to me that I have come to ideological odds with others concerning the direction of Campus Fellowship, with me in the minority. It would be in our mutual best interest if we parted ways. I am comfortable with this decision, and am happy to let this responsibility go. This includes playing in the worship band.

The House of God’s Servants will be more difficult to leave. However, I just don’t have the desire in me to continue. I thought that I did, but it was mostly out of a sense of obligation due to my chosen career path and not much more.

In short, my continuing with either of these groups would only be out of a simple inability to give up something that I really need to give up. It would only be out of ego, or out of some felt need to continue on just because I’m studying to become a pastor.

I have already notified college administration of my intentions, and will move back into the dorms in the fall. This will also allow me to focus on the senior projects that I will need to complete. I will also become more involved in my fraternity…I was incredibly dissatisfied with my level of involvement this past year, and this is the group to which I have chosen to devote more time.

I believe that I will be happier, less stressed, and experience a pleasant conclusion to my college years if I make these changes.

I hope that all of you understand and are as at peace with my decisions as I am.

God bless, and have a great summer.

Christ’s peace,
Jeff

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Click and Read

I don't really know the point of this post, but apparently that won't keep me from writing and posting it.

I like to keep the bloglist on my sidebar neat and trim. Early on, I loved having a big ol' long list of other blogs for me to click on. It helps me stay connected with fellow bloggers, and I just enjoy reading the work of others. These blogs generally are listed due to their humor, or they touch on issues that I'm passionate about, or they're thought-provoking, or they keep me from becoming too comfortable with my own viewpoint, or they keep me up to date on Michigan sports.

Occasionally, I discern that the time has come to drop some blogs from the list. The writer has seemingly abandoned his or her blog, I haven't found the subject matter compelling any more or the blog has shifted focus, the blog was added because of one post that I liked but I haven't really cared since, I haven't clicked on the link in months, whatever.

It's like church: if something isn't meaningful or engaging any more, why keep doing it?

There are a couple blogs listed whose authors I miss, but I find it difficult to click the "Delete" button. Most if not all the others are continually engaging and helpful. I commend each and every one of them to you. Even if you don't agree with the views presented, even if you don't ascribe to the same affiliations as them, I think that you can learn something from them all. I certainly have. I very briefly thought about including a description of each blog currently listed, but I'm not going to do that. You'll just have to click and read.

Like I said, I don't know what I'm trying to say. So I guess I'll stop.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

This week I've been reading Sabbath by Dan Allender. This is part of the "Spiritual Practices" series of books for which Brian McLaren wrote an introductory text; other volumes include one on fasting and one on prayer. The question on the back of the book was what reeled me in: "What would you do for twenty-four hours if the only criteria were to pursue your deepest joy?" Allender argues that the Sabbath is more than a "day off," and not really a day meant to devote to prayer, piety, and self-denial, either. He offers an interpretation of the first creation story where God rests on the seventh day not because God is worn out and needs a break, but because God is taking a day to sit back and delight in what has been created. Allender offers this as a model for Sabbath; that it's not about keeping rigid rules or taking a break, but instead being intentional about delighting in creation, however that may look for each of us. I thought it was a good premise. Having almost finished the book, however, the chapters are starting to run together a little bit, and getting redundant.

I had a new section of For the Love of God to read for my book study. I don't like this book. I haven't for a while. Yesterday I was able to articulate why. This book draws from a huge spectrum of authors who claim a wide variety of religious and spiritual backgrounds. Many contributors are Buddhists, or are devotees of other Eastern faiths. Nothing wrong with that, as far as I'm concerned; that part doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that while I have a very basic understanding of these faiths, I need more background in order to understand how and why they use the terms that they use. A couple of them offer the briefest of explanations for what they mean by "God," but not all of them do this. And so many of them make "We are God" or "I am God" statements that can be quite jolting to Western eyes and ears if one doesn't understand the background behind the statement. So I've been grumbling and grumbling about this book for this reason, and then I got to Joseph Goldstein's chapter, entitled, "Awakening to the Dharma," which takes time to explain that the closest thing to "God" in Buddhism is the Dharma, which is the concept of being and experiencing life at a non-conceptual level, i.e., rather than thinking, "My knee hurts," which is a statement about how one experiences pain, there is only the experience of pain itself. So when one of an Eastern faith says, "we are God," s/he is talking about this fundamental, non-conceptual experience of existence, of which we're a part. This chapter should have been put at the very beginning of the freaking book.

Rethinking Youth Ministry has been added to the bloglist.

Here's the trailer for the Five Iron Frenzy DVD:



Lately I've been enjoying this song from Placebo, "Running Up That Hill:"

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Five Iron Frenzy

In late high school through most of college, I listened almost exclusively to Christian music. Coincidentally, the industry seemed to be enjoying a boom period around that same time, as bands like Jars of Clay, dc Talk, and the Newsboys were at the height of their popularity and even enjoying some mainstream success.

Not so coincidentally, I was going through a time of self-discovery, or one of many. By my senior year of high school, I was exploring my identity on several fronts at the same time.

I was getting serious about my faith as a Christian and trying to figure out what that meant. At the time, it meant contributing some of my "secular" CDs to a bonfire that the youth group at the Assembly of God church were organizing. I bought and started reading my first Bible, an NRSV Student Bible that I still have and treasure. I started attending the chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes that was also open to non-athletic types such as myself. I and my high school crew would have many long theological discussions over euchre and pizza, and we'd frequently head to the local Christian bookstore and stock up on the latest releases from our favorite bands.

I was also beginning to explore my chosen vocation as a pastor. I hadn't been settled on this decision for very long, but I was already getting really excited about it. So I'd looked into college religion programs and started trying to figure out the In Care process of my denomination.

And if I'm being honest, my high school girlfriend had left for college that year, and I was feeling a little more free to explore these other things; to figure out who I was at that time. The less I type about this piece the better.

This path of self-discovery continued when I went to college, the Christian music boom still in full effect. My freshman year I had Jesus Freak and Much Afraid on constant rotation. My new Christian friends were also helping me to broaden my musical horizons, in particular introducing me to ska music and its up-and-coming Christian flagbearers, The OC Supertones, The Insyderz, and Five Iron Frenzy.

I fell in love with ska, and picked up every album I could find from these three bands, but also a few others. The Supertones were from California, and while their early style was smooth and laid-back, their lyrics challenged church disunity and called for Christians to study up on their doctrine to fight the good fight. The Insyderz were from Detroit and had a much harder edge to their sound. Five Iron Frenzy was all about goofy fun, making fun of themselves but also touching on serious themes such as the persecution of American Indians, rampant American consumerism, and Christian hypocrisy.

The height of my ska fandom existence came in the fall of 1998, when these three bands went on tour together for "Ska Mania." It was one of the most high-powered, amazing concerts I've ever attended. At the time, I was much more of a Supertones and Insyderz guy, but the whole thing was awesome. Five Iron Frenzy all came out dressed like characters from Star Trek, which I thought was cute, but wasn't able to get into as much.

As all bands are wont to do, each of these groups changed and evolved. I think that changes in my own sense of self affected how I heard these bands as well. By my senior year of college, The Insyderz seemed to be drifting away from a ska sound, opting for more of a hard rock or even pop sound. They seemed to be hemorrhaging horn players, so that might've played a role.

The Supertones, likewise, were changing, seemingly becoming more of a rap-rock group. In addition, I was becoming uncomfortable with their increasingly militant lyrics: lots of talk about revolution and going out to save the heathen by bashing them over the head with apologetics. In my own spiritual growth and exploration, this version of Christianity made less and less sense to me.

Five Iron Frenzy evolved as well. Their message remained pretty consistent, but they began to toe the lines between ska, rock, and pop. Nevertheless, I continued to resonate with their overall style, moreso than I had earlier on. Eventually they were the only group out of the three that I continued to follow, and remained one of the few artists deemed "Christian music" that I listened to after I left that entire phase. Again, this had to do with my sense of self as much as my musical tastes: for me, FIF's message and overall presentation continued to make sense. They were one of the few bands from that phase that seemed to do more than rattle off a string of cliches over watered-down pap, which is what the genre had largely become for me. But this group's honesty, transparency, self-deprecating humor, and willingness to address social issues made them an enduring favorite.

In late 2003, Five Iron Frenzy broke up. For whatever reason, I was late in finding out about this, and sought out their final album, The End is Near. By the time I had picked it up, it had been paired with a recording of their final show, which brought me to tears the first time I heard it. That's how much this group's music had come to mean to me. They had, after all, helped provide the soundtrack for a time of self-discovery and growth. They also remain one of the few enduring cultural artifacts from a time in my life that, while remembered for many moments of joy, friendship, questioning, laughter, and maturation, is also littered with regret, painful conflict, ridiculous drama, and my and others' immaturity.

Seven years later, members of the band and some fans have put together a documentary DVD, The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy. The official release date is April 13th, but pre-orders (one of which I have secured) will be sent out March 19th. As I continue down this Lenten road of reflection and cleansing related to the period during which FIF played such a big role, I find it fitting that I'll be able to view this film in the midst of it. I'm thankful for the part that their music has played in my life. They'll always be one of my favorites.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Long Lenten Road

Lent is only two weeks old, and I'm already looking at the long month of March that is ahead.

It's not that the discipline is going badly. I'm rather enjoying it, to be honest. It was the right thing for me to choose. And it's not that my Communal Word experiment is going badly either. After some gradual wading into the process, people have been very willing to share and participate.

Songbird has named my thoughts pretty well:
It's really too bad that Lent will last all March long. I can promise you that whether you give something up or take something on there will come a day in the middle of the month--that long, holiday-free month--when you wonder why you made that apparently seemingly brilliant choice and how you can talk yourself out of it.

[...]

But Lent is long. Lent is dreary, especially here in Maine. We slog through muddy March, or some years we wish the snow would for heaven's sake stop! We wish Easter would hurry up and get here.
Again, it's not a discipline-related thing. But looking at March spread out before me, I see the long road to be traveled.

I think that it's really because I have other stuff on my mind.

March 29th is the ten-year anniversary of a very important faith-related event for me. I'm trying to figure out how to mark it. The past month or more, I've been rehashing everything that led up to it; that made it necessary for me. I've been going through some of the "woulda shoulda coulda" type stuff where I wonder how things would have gone if I'd just zigged when I zagged.

One of the craziest things I've discovered? I'm Facebook friends with a couple people who were involved in those events, and while we've long reconciled, I've recently come to realize that they've greatly mellowed with age and life experience. Their incarnations today may not even flinch at some of the stuff we butted heads over years and years ago. And that brings me some strange form of relief that is probably something else, too. A feeling of vindication, maybe? I don't think it's that self-centered. It's just...peace. It helps me let go.

So there's been this slow process of cleansing related to that time that has been happening the past few months. I think it is no small coincidence that it's been happening leading up to the 29th. I also think it quite fitting that this process is now happening during Lent.

And so, if you'll indulge me (and even if you won't), there'll probably be a few posts about this leading up to the 29th. I may try to re-write my account of those months so long ago. I have good intentions about it, anyway.

Monday, March 01, 2010

I'm Never Reading the Detroit Free Press Again

So. The University of Michigan football program underwent an investigation by the NCAA as a result of an article written by Detroit Free Press writers Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder. The big accusation in that article was that the program forced players into practicing way longer than the weekly limits. Like, way longer:
"Players spent at least nine hours on football activities on Sundays after games last fall. NCAA rules mandate a daily 4-hour limit. The Wolverines also exceeded the weekly limit of 20 hours, the athletes said."
(There's no link, because I'm not giving them extra hits.)

Okay, so the Free Press makes it sound like the football program exhibited a blatant disregard for the rules, and worked their kids to exhaustion. Well, here's what the NCAA found:
Between August 31 and October 26, 2008, football student-athletes were required to participate in as many as five hours of countable athletically related activities per day, which exceeded the maximum of four hours a day, on several occasions, including, but not limited to, August 31; September 7, 14 and 28; and October 5, 12, 19 and 26. Additionally, during the week beginning October 19, 2008, the student-athletes were required to participate in approximately 20 hours and 20 minutes of countable athletically related activities, which exceeded the maximum of 20 hours per week. [NCAA Bylaw 17.1.6.1]
In case you missed it: 20 minutes. They went 20 minutes over each week. And occasionally an extra hour on Sundays. Never mind the issue of what is a countable hour and what is not...activities such as weightlifting and watching film usually fall under the "non-countable" category.

This is the type of thing that arguably could be found at any major college football program in the country. I'm not saying that that makes it right, but Michigan is going to end up with some penalties for something that is probably fairly widespread.

Regardless, it remains that the Detroit Free Press made some huge claims and they didn't pan out. I'm sure that they'll argue that this is still a victory, since something was still found. But an occasional extra hour versus an extra five hours every week is a big difference. This again exposes the Free Press' bias, and Rosenberg's vendetta against RichRod in particular.

Now, there were some more serious issues exposed by this investigation, or at least more embarrassing ones. There's an allegation regarding quality control people acting as coaches during voluntary workouts when they should've been making sure that nobody was acting as coaches during voluntary workouts. There's also an allegation that one coach, Alex Herron, lied to the NCAA during the investigation.

From what I've read, the best speculation on disciplinary measures will be as follows: Michigan may self-impose some sanctions and/or the NCAA will make them forfeit a couple scholarships and practices. Herron is probably gone, and the program's quality control will be tightened up. Ultimately, what'll come down probably won't set the program back a la the basketball stuff years ago. And, of course, people who hate Michigan will be able to point and say OMG MAJOR VIOLATIONS LOLZ~!

All said and done, the Free Press made some gross exaggerations and distortions in the name of getting some attention, trying to sabotage Michigan/RichRod, or both.

Journalism at its finest. I'm sure they're very proud.