Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Might Be a Church Dork If...

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists writes about "church dorkitude." She has some very good commentary on the concept, but I'm not going to get that serious here. I'm just going to go all Jeff Foxworthy and reveal some of my own church dorkitude.

You might be a church dork if...

...starting in June, you eagerly anticipate your new UCC desk calendar...

...you measure time by the liturgical year more than the seasons, school year, or national holidays...

...you can't wait for General Synod to roll around again...

...one of your favorite places to be is in an empty sanctuary...

...you collect Bibles, hymnals and/or books of worship...

...you become giddy when the pastor of another church looking to get rid of its pews half-jokingly offers you one...

...you find the quirks of parsonages charming rather than inconvenient.

So, who's got one they'd like to share?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer

Sometime in the winter or spring of 2005, I began reading a blog called the Internet Monk. The specifics of how and why I began reading are lost to me, and I don't suppose they're all that important. What is important is what hooked me: a combination of spiritual memoir and critique of church culture, written in an engaging, earthy style. For a very short time, blogging-wise, I wanted to be Michael Spencer. After I realized that I and everyone else would be much better off if I stuck to my own thing, I became content to just read his posts and listen to his podcasts. Spencer's views and my own diverge on a number of points--he'd still be classified "evangelical" by many, and I one of those "liberal mainliners"--but we agreed enough and I resonated enough for me to keep reading. Since I began blogging, Spencer's blog has been one of the few that I have visited nearly every day.

Due to both the quantity and quality of his posts--long, thoughtful, in-depth pieces churned out almost daily--I and many others wondered why he hadn't yet written a book. His writing displayed a capability of pursuing such a venture, yet there was hardly a mention of him even considering such a project until late in his blogging career. Enter Mere Churchianity: Finding Your Way Back to a Jesus-Shaped Spirituality.

This book is the culmination of Spencer's work as a blogger. Long-time readers will recognize nearly all the major themes of Mere Churchianity. In particular, his coined term and concept of "Jesus-shaped spirituality" takes center stage as he seeks to counter all the caked-up stuff of "churchianity." His other coined term, "post-evangelical," does not appear nearly as often, but the concept does. In fact, these two concepts as they intertwine and diverge are what this book is all about.

First, Spencer lays out his case against "churchianity." He begins by telling a story from his time as a youth leader, when he took his youth group to Dairy Queen one Sunday evening after a day of church activities. They essentially trashed the place, breaking a salt shaker, acting inconsiderate toward the staff, and generally showing little regard for where they were. A few days later, Spencer received a letter from one DQ worker which essentially said, "The behavior of your group is why I am not a Christian any more. If you're all I have to go on, then I want no part of Jesus or your church." While Spencer didn't take the letter too seriously at that time, he notes that it did start him on a long trajectory of thinking about how little the behavior and beliefs of the church resemble Jesus.

After this story, this is where Spencer begins. Over the course of several chapters, he lays out how the practices and preaching of most American churches differ so much from what Jesus taught and lived. No sacred cow remains untouched here as he notes how we've made Jesus a culture warrior, a Republican or Democrat, a wise hippie guru, or a bringer of comfort to suburbia. He notes how we've presented non-essentials such as high-quality worship productions, ten-step programs to financial or family wellness, defending creationism, condemning homosexuals, and Your Best Life Now the main items on Jesus' agenda.

Spencer then takes his argument a step further by noting how little Jesus is actually read or referenced in each of these instances. To be more specific, he notes how obviously little of the actual Gospels have been consulted when the church goes about most of its projects. Jesus' name is attached to all sorts of political causes, is used to justify all sorts of middle-class comforts, is invoked in all manner of crazy church programs, and so much of it displays an ignorance of what Jesus actually taught his disciples. This is "churchianity:" placing the agenda of the institution over the agenda of the person it purports to follow.

This, Spencer notes, is one of the biggest reasons why people are leaving the church in droves. He suggests that they're tired of the show, the hypocrisy, the needless crap that looks nothing like what Jesus wants. And this is his stated purpose for writing the book to begin with; these "leavers" are his target audience. He implores and encourages those who are tired of churchianity to not give up on Jesus in the process.

The second section of Spencer's book concerns who Jesus really was and what he advocated. This is probably the section that raised the most questions and disagreements for me. Spencer lays out what we can know about Jesus, which is always a point of contention for Christians. What he boils down as the basics are that he was a real person, was Jewish, did not live in a democratic society, taught an empire that has values alternative to Rome, and was the incarnation of God. Most Christians would not disagree on that basic list.

As Spencer gets into the specifics of this list, particularly his definition of incarnation, he risks his own doctrinal additions. He suggests many of the beliefs common to more evangelical Christians, including that Jesus himself taught that he was the Messiah and was Son of God in the literal familial sense. I'd argue that there's room and need for clarification on these points, including what even the generation after Jesus began writing and preaching about him. In the midst of Spencer's discussion about what the church has added on to Jesus' life and message, I noted no discussion of the Apostle Paul's contribution to this problem. Perhaps I missed it. He does make brief mention of how much churches would rather preach Paul than Jesus, but my recollection is that this discussion was not extensive. The Gospels themselves also present instances of this. The term "Son of God" in particular would have rankled Rome just as much as Jesus' use of "empire," and thus warrants further explanation and exploration of why the early church began using it, but Spencer instead uses it in the traditional Christian sense.

On the other hand, Spencer does spend a lot of time exploring the alternative empire that Jesus exhibited, as well as how grounded Jesus was in real experience rather than a lot of theory or doctrine. This, he argues, is actually one of the church's big aversions to talking a lot about Jesus: he's just not all that systematic. This could be an implied critique of the church's preference for Paul, but I still wish he'd acknowledged it in a more overt way. Regardless, Spencer notes how much time the church rationalizes away the need to read too much about Jesus or take this alternative empire too seriously.

Regardless of my own (minor) theological hang-ups with this part of the book, Spencer's main point is that the real Jesus, however close we can get to him, is much harder to follow. He doesn't really do many of the things that the church says he does or wants him to do. Thus, a Jesus-shaped spirituality will look vastly different from what is typically found in the church.

The final two sections of the book are all about what a Jesus-shaped spirituality looks like in practice. He cautions against thinking that things like a house full of Christian merchandise and being a shiny-happy person all the time are the point of following Jesus. Instead, he suggests that honesty, humility, and self-giving are the central tenets of a Jesus-shaped existence. It involves spending a lot more time loving and serving the helpless and hopeless and a lot less time in fortified, white-washed communities and churches. Such a life carries no promise to solve all your problems, either. The last section in particular involves a lot of encouragement to seek authentic community even if one can no longer justify being part of an organized church.

Mere Churchianity is Michael Spencer's essential message. It is eight years of blogging (and years more of writing and wrestling) condensed into a couple hundred pages. It is convicting, iconoclastic, at times even permission-giving in what people don't have to adhere to any more to be considered faithful believers. It is written in Spencer's familiar voice, and I was glad to "hear" it one final time.

The epilogue is an entry from Spencer's journal shortly after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. It provides an appropriate "amen" both to the book and to his life. In fact, the entire book provides such an "amen" for those who have read his writing for years, as well as for those who never knew him yet would benefit from what he has to say.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Loving Theory More Than Reality

A while back on this blog, somebody jokingly (at least, I think they were joking) made a comment that when I get to be General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, I'll get around to fixing all the denomination's problems. Or something to that effect. Whether they were joking or not, I immediately dismissed the idea. Truth be told, I wouldn't wish that position on anyone.

My reasoning behind this basically boils down to one point: no matter how well-meaning you are, no matter how transparent you are, no matter how exhaustively you explain your decisions, people will still question you, suspect you, deride you, and condemn you.

I base this in part on what I saw, heard and read about former UCC GMP John Thomas during the last few years of his service in that role. The big blowup was before, during, and after General Synod 25 in Atlanta, where controversial votes were taken on resolutions related to marriage equality and divesting from companies that support Israel. I had my own hang-ups with him and others during that time, particularly related to divestment. I won't make excuses for him or what happened, but it was a time where so much anger and vitriol was being said and written about him that I couldn't fathom anybody aspiring to such a public lightning rod of a position in our denomination.

Colleagues with whom I've conversed at the middle judicatory level have said as much about their own positions as well. There isn't much glory or sense that one has "made it" in these offices. Instead there are phone calls from anxious people in local churches who want their pastor gone, or there are meetings with church search committees that are stalling due to conflict, or there are churches threatening to pull out of the UCC, or there are budget issues, or a pastor has to be reprimanded for misconduct. The list goes on. And when they go into these situations to help, they are afforded various amounts of trust based on their position or their perceived role as apologist for the UCC. One colleague told me a couple years ago, "You truly have to be called to a position like this. You don't aspire to it." I believe him.

As a local church pastor, I actually haven't had to deal with too much of this kind of stuff. We get along great. Sure, there has been disagreement and anxiety here and there, but nothing too explosive for some time. But when it has, it has certain characteristics in common with what Rev. Thomas and my Association colleagues have had to deal with.

Oftentimes, people love theory more than reality.

First, let me set this up up. The other day I read an editorial by Ross Douthat from the New York Times on how Washington liberals are getting anxious about Obama's presidency. You can do what you want with the majority of the piece, but I want to single out one point that he made near the end:

Yet the liberal drumbeat continues. As Tyler Cowen wrote last week: “advocates of fiscal stimulus make it sound as simple as solving an undergraduate homework problem and ... sometimes genuinely do not realize how much the rest of the world, including politicians, views them as simply being very convinced by their own theory.” Nor do they acknowledge how much risk those same politicians have already taken on (with the first stimulus, the health care bill, and much else besides) in the name of theoretical propositions, while reaping little for their efforts save an ever-grimmer fiscal picture.
The point being made here is that people who are further away from the immediate deliberation and decision-making, further away from the facts and the weighing of options, are looking at what's being carried out, don't like it, and immediately come up with their own better solution. "Why don't they just do this? How stupid! I should be in charge!"

The people who say stuff like that aren't close enough to see why a particular decision was made; why somebody thought it would work. The people closest to it all presumably know more about financial constraints, what's at stake for the groups involved, and what resources are really available to carry out each option. I say "presumably" because let's face it: some decisions aren't as well-thought out as others and it shows. Regardless, even the most carefully weighed decisions that take into account what one has to work with are second-guessed by people who don't have nearly as much information on the matter. All they have is their theory, as opposed to the reality that the deliberators hopefully know more about.

I don't exclude myself from this, and I don't think that this is limited to church issues by a long shot. As noted above, this can be about politics. It can certainly be about sports...after all, this kind of thing is where the term "armchair quarterbacking" came from.

But it certainly does apply to churches. I can name a few instances where someone has criticized a decision I've made and has suggested a better way to do things without knowing what I have and haven't tried, without knowing all the details involved, without knowing how I came to the decision that I did. I explain my reasoning based on the reality of the situation, which is met with varying degrees of understanding. Whether one wants the former abundance of generation-based fellowship groups back or can't fathom how younger people like that "contemporary" stuff or just knows that people would become more involved in certain energy-less ministries if we just advertised them more, my explanations of what I think might work better based on the situation at hand may only go so far. The theory of what others think would or should work is more attractive and satisfying.

Anxiety is a big part of this. It only allows us to accept so much reasoning. If one is anxious over decline or change or failure, theory will look much better than reality. But if we as a church, as a nation, as sports fans, as family members, as members of the workforce, etc. want to move forward, then we need to deal in reality, borrowing from theory only when and where it will actually work.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unrelated Musings

It's Vacation Bible School Week. Normally I wouldn't consider this a huge deal, as in years' past I'd show up to pray near the beginning and then spend the rest of the time swiping cookies from the kitchen. This year, I have some added responsibility as Bible Teacher Guy: I tell the daily Bible story, with sets and props and audience participation and stuff. Five days' worth of such things take more time to prepare for than one may imagine: I've had to hunt down supplies and have spent a lot of time drawing background scenery on newsprint. Two nights down, three to go. It's been fun.

Coffeeson was sick yesterday. Well, at least he was sometime during the night. He woke up bawling around his usual time. The crying was somewhat uncharacteristic, but when I walked in and The Smell reached my nostrils, I figured out what happened pretty easily. I'll spare you the gory details. I say "at least sometime during the night" because he didn't seem to slow down too much once I got him cleaned up. He wanted juice, he wanted his usual food, he wanted to go for a ride in the van, he played with his toys. Coffeewife wonders if it was something he ate. We're both wondering about daycare. This is the second time in three months that he's gotten this sick.

It's Michigan Week on the Big Ten Network. Last night they showed the '98 Rose Bowl where Michigan capped its championship season. Tonight is the '69 Ohio State game. They'll also show the '08 Capital One Bowl and some random game against Wisconsin. This is cool, but also depressing: fall is still over two months away and these games are in contrast to the performance of recent incarnations.

Dave Matthews Band is this Friday. Sweet.

I got a Kindle for Father's Day. The first book I'm reading on it is Mere Churchianity by the late Michael Spencer. I'll say more about that on Friday. I don't know what it is, but reading books on Kindle seems to go faster. Anyone else have that experience?

I wrote this post because I didn't have much of anything else to write at the moment, and I don't want to be one of those bloggers that goes too long in between posts such that it causes people to wonder whether he's still around. Call it dedication, call it obsession, call it not wanting to lose even the modest readership that I have, call it kind of pathetic. It's just a thing of mine.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I continue reading Dracula, which has become quite engrossing for me. There truly is a different personality at work depending upon which person's point of view one is reading. The best example that I can give is Jonathan Harker's journal: I've found every one of the writings from his point of view to be irritatingly dull. The first couple chapters are entirely from his point of view, and I was considering giving up on the book because of it. I've noticed that this has been a recurring thing every time he pops back in, and I tend to skim his entries as a result.

I watched 12 Rounds this week, just because it was on. This is the second movie starring John Cena (he of WWE and The Marine fame). Cena plays a cop who pursues and captures a notorious arms dealer to open the movie. Unfortunately, the dealer's girlfriend dies during the chase, and the dealer vows to remember. The guy escapes from prison, kidnaps Cena's girlfriend, and forces him into "12 rounds" of stunts that he has to perform in order to try getting her back. This movie was actually better than The Marine (it doesn't take much), even though I see no reason to watch either of them again. Cena is not a horrible actor, but he's not a great one either. As action movies like this go, though, he does well enough. I was impressed by the cleverness of the plot, as it is revealed that the "12 rounds" are more significant than they first appear.

The first episode of the new season of True Blood was on last Sunday. Part of me continues to wonder why I watch this show. Coffeewife's nickname for it is "Train Wreck," which is apt: it's campy and silly and addicting all at once. Anyway, this season picks up right after the last left off: characters deal with the fallout from the last 20 minutes or so of the previous episode. This episode mostly re-established what each of them were doing at that time, with only slight advancement. So it was okay. Time will tell whether I keep caring, but I'll probably watch regardless out of habit stemming from self-loathing.

Entourage starts in over another week. Here's the trailer for that:



Here are Flight of the Conchords singing a song called "Jenny:"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Bloglist Lament

Every so often, I find that the blogs on my sidebar seem to drop like flies.

The list as it stands today, June 17th, has a good portion of blogs that have been seemingly abandoned, or the blogger has announced that they're stopping, or the blog has changed direction.

The list ebbs and flows. Blogs come and go. You can't help that. It just happens.

So it may be time once again for me to clean out the list. But what, if anything may take their place?

Been reading any good blogs lately? Contributors to the emerging conversation? Rambunctious, irreverent pastors or theologians? Writers of soaring prose that cuts to the heart of what it means to be human?

(By the way, how do you like the new layout?)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lightning Strikes Touchdown Jesus

No, I don't mean at Notre Dame. I mean a big silly landmark down in Monroe, Ohio:
MONROE, OH (WXIX) - The "King of Kings" statue along I-75 in Monroe, OH was struck by lightning Monday evening and became engulfed in flames, according to eye witnesses.

The statue of Jesus in Monroe, dubbed the King of Kings by the Solid Rock Church where it resides, was struck by lightning during the severe storms on Monday.

The 62 feet tall statue weighing 16,000 pounds became engulfed with flames.

Fire crews are on the scene were on scene throughout Monday evening attempting to put out the fire.

The statue nicknamed "Touchdown Jesus" is made out of wood and Styrofoam.

The statue also had a steel frame anchored in concrete and fiberglass.
When driving down in this area, I would make fun of this thing. A lot. He looked like he was coming out of the ground to eat your children. The local nickname "Touchdown Jesus" was fun, too. Buckeye fans would inadvertently make fun of it by getting their picture taken with it while spelling out O-H-I-O, using the statue for the H.

I got in an online argument a while back with a member of the church that produced the Statue of Liberation Through Christ, a replica of the Statue of Liberty, except she's holding a cross and whatever. At that time I argued that the money used to build that monstrosity would have been better used in outreach and help to the poor (among many examples that don't involve erecting a huge eyesore). She said that of course the statue was worthwhile: it was obviously an outreach tool that would call America to go back to its Christian heritage, and it would surely convict many hearts to such a cause.

I recall that conversation as I read of this statue's destruction. People in Solid Rock Church obviously thought that building Touchdown Jesus was a good idea, and they probably thought along similar lines that this statue would convict hearts and be a rallying point for other Christians. They were at least right on the second point, as this statue received quite a few visitors over the years. So they could justify spending the money based on those and other related reasons.

I maintain that it was a silly project and that the money could have been used in more Jesus-serving ways than that. We read plenty of verses in scripture about using resources to help the poor, but there's a notable absence of verses telling us to build giant Jesus monuments or Statues of Liberation or whatever else in order to hopefully convict someone by their huge well-meaning gaudiness.

I also doubt that all the usual people who come out of the woodwork to proclaim this or that natural happening as a sign from God will say much about this one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Workout Meme

I figured I'd do the RevGals meme today, which is related to working out in various ways.

1. Do you work out physically, spiritually, or psychologically? (I'll let you define what that might mean to you) Yes. With it being beach season, I've forced myself back into an exercise routine. When I'm really motivated, I do really well. Five pounds lost already, and going for 7-8 more in the next 2 months. Spiritually, I mainly do my sanctuary thing. But I've been considering scheduling a monthly visit to an area retreat center as well, just to decompress and recharge every so often.

2. Are you more inclined to join a gym, or a book club? I thought about joining a gym a while ago, but couldn't justify the cost. It just didn't seem to be worth it considering what I could do at home. I'm already a part of a book club of sorts, so I guess that answers that. When it comes to exercise, I've become very private. Years ago I worked out in a gym and it was fine, but I'm just not big on being around other people for that nowadays.

3. Are you more inclined to read self-help books like Gail Sheehy's "Passages" or spiritual books like Richard Rohr or Theresa of Avila? And if so, what is your favorite? Spiritual books hands-down. I'm a Thomas Merton fan, with his New Seeds of Contemplation being my favorite. I'd like to delve into his journals again...I tried starting it a while back and trailed off. The only self-help books that I read are things like How to Speed Read and How to Play Guitar. I don't read the Stuart Smalley-type stuff.

4. Are you a loyal fan of a sports team? Or do you join the bandwagon when the local team is winning? And, if so, which one? In the best and worst of times, I am a Michigan Wolverine. I've learned what that truly means in recent years. And I live in Ohio, so there's that added fun as well. Lately I've been lamenting not having more local Michigan fan friends...this is not something one should go through alone. I also follow Detroit teams, mainly the Tigers. Our local teams are Cleveland teams, which I follow in passing. Like, I haven't jumped on the Cavs bandwagon the past few years or anything. I do enjoy baseball games at Progressive Field, and the Indians are far and away the local team I follow most closely.

5. Or do you lean more toward having a favorite theologian/Spiritual writer or self help author and if so, who? And, why. My favorite popular theologian is Rob Bell - I take some preaching cues from him and enjoy the concepts he puts forth. My favorite hardcore theologians are Schleiermacher and Moltmann - the former for his mystical bent on the Reformed tradition and the latter for his theology of the cross. And I've already mentioned Merton.

Bonus: What was the last play-off series you watched and did your team win? I'm pretty sure it was the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And no, they didn't.

Pop Culture Roundup

Dracula has gotten a lot better since those first 50 pages or so (good call, Scott). I like that it's written as a collection of letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings. Not only is it unique, but it adds a certain mystique to the story: Dracula experienced through the eyes of a handful of characters rather than a straight-up narrative that would risk manipulation. A good example is the sharing of excerpts from a ship captain's log as he recounts the crew being spooked by a presence on board that ultimately consumes all of them. It conveys fear and hopelessness in a way that a basic third-person story couldn't.

I've also been reading Stories of Emergence for my book study group. Edited by the late Mike Yaconelli, this is a collection of essays written by different people about their emergence out of one mindset toward another. So far I've read the first section, which are all about crises that people faced in their philosophies of ministry. Tony Jones contributed an essay to this section, during which he realizes as a youth pastor for a large church that he'd become a program coordinator rather than someone who actually ministers to people. Over all, the book is okay. I feel like I've read it before, even though I haven't. Does that make sense?

We watched the MTV Movie Awards last Sunday. It had a lot of amusing moments, such as Tom Cruise doing a dance routine as his Tropic Thunder character Les Grossman. There were also plenty of moments that made me realize how little I relate to or care about youth culture any more. There were a ton of nods to Twilight...wow, another "Team Edward vs. Team Jacob" joke. That's original. And they had the cast of Jersey Shore do a bunch of pointless crap backstage, which caused me to wonder again why people enjoy a half hour of that every week. So some of it was mindless fun, and some of it was depressing because it was so mindless.

Here's a collection of clips from Phineas and Ferb, featuring Norm the Giant Robot Man. He's probably my favorite character just due to how he delivers his lines. You may recognize the voice, as John Viener also provides his voice for Family Guy:

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Small Sips: Mere Churchianity, Brock Mealer, Nadia Bolz-Weber

Spencer lives on...in book form. It's been a couple months since Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, passed away after a brief battle with brain cancer. The blog continues on thanks to the work of a handful of other bloggers.

I've yet to make up my mind completely about whether I like where things are going over there. Spencer was a faithful and loving critic of his tradition, seeking to get past all the silliness and theatrics of evangelicalism to what he dubbed a "Jesus-shaped spirituality." Now the blog is second-generation, and something always gets lost when that happens.

Regardless, Spencer's message lives on in at least one other way. Just before he died, he completed a book entitled Mere Churchianity:
The day many of us have been waiting for is here: Michael Spencer’s Mere Churchianity is now available as an eBook. Those of you who have eBook readers such as the Amazon Kindle, iPod Touch or iPad, Barnes and Noble Nook or Sony Reader can download Mere Churchianity as of today.

Download it now, get to reading, and let us know what you think!

For those who are still in the dark ages and are waiting for the paper version of the book, it will be available two weeks from today on June 15. However you want to read it, you need to read it. You won’t be disappointed.
Indeed you won't. If the excerpt is any indication, this book is vintage Michael Spencer. I think it's actually meant primarily for people who have left the church because they were fed up with the silliness, but I'm betting that churchpeople can get a lot out of it as well.

Anyway, this book is basically what Spencer did for a decade or so at Internet Monk: tear down all the unnecessary, wrong-headed, "culture war," jerks-for-Jesus, stage show mentality of the church, and figure out what something more "Jesus-shaped" looks like.

Impossible is Nothing. I think that only people who really pay attention to Michigan-Ohio State stuff would know about the story of Brock Mealer, and I think that more should:
In October, ESPN's investigative series E:60 aired his story: A 90-year-old Wauseon man ran a stop sign on State Rt. 2 at Fulton County Road 16 and collided with a sport utility vehicle driven by Brock's father, David Mealer.

Mr. Mealer and a passenger, Hollis Richer, his brother Elliott's girlfriend, were killed.

Elliott and his mother, Shelly Mealer, were treated for minor injuries at Fulton County Health Center. The elderly driver was charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter.

Brock Mealer received a metal plate in his wrist and 17 screws in his spinal column. And an invitation that may change his life.

On a recent afternoon, Mr. Mealer wheeled his way into the University of Michigan football weight facility wearing a blue Adidas T-shirt with the inscription, "Impossible is Nothing."

Mr. Mealer is out to destroy the word "impossible."

And his most significant step toward that goal was to accept an offer from a few highly energized University of Michigan coaches who enjoy a challenge.
Mealer is a grad student at Ohio State who played football for them as an undergrad. Brock's brother Elliot plays for the Wolverines. The challenge that is mentioned is to work with Brock a couple times a week to get him walking again.

The goal is to have Brock walking by September 4th, when he'll lead Michigan onto the field before their game with UConn.

I just think it's an incredible story that transcends all the usual rivalry stuff.

Two Pastors Enter, One Pastor Leaves. On Facebook the other day, I came across a group entitled "Celebrity Deathmatch: Nadia Bolz-Weber vs. Mark Driscoll." I have no problem with this. I think Nadia would cause him to rethink his views on gender inequality in such an encounter.

This group stems from an interview that Nadia gave on God Complex Radio with Bruce Reyes-Chow, during which she talks about generational approaches to church, and grounding emerging sensibilities in established tradition. One of my favorite lines is this simple tidbit (slightly paraphrased, I think):
The church has tried to kill the gospel for centuries, but it can't.
Yeah. Nadia's pretty much awesome.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Re-entry

I've been back at the church for about a week now. Memorial Day was good: the veterans did their thing pretty much right before the downpour started. I had a pretty productive week: visits, planning a baptism, back into the rhythm of sermon-writing, meetings. All of this was like putting on an old shoe: comfortable and natural.

On the other hand, I've been dealing with something. I resumed my practice of walking the sanctuary, and something was different. Probably the best explanation that I've come up with for what it was is this:

I've been here over 5 1/2 years.

Maybe that doesn't sound like much, but it's a big deal. I've never lived anywhere this long in my entire life. The previous record, held by the town in which I graduated high school, was 5 1/2 years, and my current context just surpassed that.

I do consider this a good thing. In fact, Coffeewife and I shared a bottle of champagne to mark it. There's a sense of stability that comes with such a milestone, the most that I've ever felt. We'll be here for a while yet. Coffeeson and his eventual sibling may come up through the school system here, if a pastor's family is capable of such a thing (and there are ways, which I have considered and am fairly committed to).

So this feels good. But I'd be lying if I told you that's all I've been feeling.

Part of me is also freaking out. I've never lived anywhere this long. Usually by this point, I've moved or will soon move on to the next thing. There's usually a culmination that happens, and then I go somewhere else. But this is open-ended...I'm at this church until we truly feel called not to be together any more. I don't graduate out of it, I don't check in with a bishop who says it's time to move, I can't point to any clear upcoming sign that says, "You will be finished here, and then you will go over there." There's nothing like that. I'm here until I'm not...whenever that is.

There is no next thing. There is no finish line. There is no culmination. Instead there's just the ongoing interaction with other people in their daily lives, the ongoing successes and sorrows that I have the privilege of sharing with people, the ongoing day-to-day stuff of church and family and neighbors and bass lessons and whatever else. There's always been a sense of temporariness about this in previous places: no matter how deep relationships go, eventually we move away from each other and need more creative methods to keep in touch. But in this case I'm still here, and we keep going.

Please understand that I'm not looking for a reason to leave. This is not what this is about at all. What I'm trying to get across right now is that this is a brand new experience and feeling for me, and I'm trying to understand it and live into it. I don't yet know how because I've never had to before.

I've been where I am for a significant amount of time, the longest so far. Last week, this reality hit me square in the face. And now I'm trying to figure out what it means.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Arizona Mural with Multi-Ethnic Kids' Faces will be Changed to All-White


This can't be a real thing, can it? Apparently it can:
"A group of artists has been asked to lighten the faces of children depicted in a giant public mural at a Prescott school. The project’s leader says he was ordered to lighten the skin tone after complaints about the children’s ethnicity ….

R.E. Wall, director of Prescott’s Downtown Mural Project, said he and other artists were subjected to slurs from motorists as they worked on the painting at one of the town’s most prominent intersections.

“We consistently, for two months, had people shouting racial slander from their cars,” Wall said. “We had children painting with us, and here come these yells of (epithet for Blacks) and (epithet for Hispanics).”"
I guess we've reached the breaking point in this country, where so much change and diversity has occurred that people who can't deal with it are going to cope in stupid, destructive ways. Sure, this kind of thing has been around forever, but it seems to have been ramped up the past few years.

It breaks my heart to think of the kids depicted in this mural (it's mentioned that this mural has faces of real kids who attend the school) having to hear and watch this go on, especially now that the mural will be changed: "Sorry, but you're the wrong skin color. But we'll get it right on the picture, at least."

The school also has no balls. Schools should in part be about protecting their students, not giving in to the people yelling violent slurs at them.

Unfortunately, this episode has in part been stirred up by a local politician with a radio show:
The ranting of one city councilman seems to have revved up the controversy in the community.

"Art is in the eye of the beholder, but I say [the mural] looks like graffiti in L.A.," Councilman Steve Blair said.

"I am not a racist individual," Blair said on a radio show last month, "but I will tell you depicting a black guy in the middle of that mural, based upon who's President of the United States today and based upon the history of this community, when I grew up we had four black families - who I have been very good friends with for years - to depict the biggest picture on that building as a black person, I would have to ask the question, 'Why?'"

The "black guy" in the mural is based on a student of Mexican descent, a school official said.
A picture of a hispanic child looks like graffiti. Fun fact: a lot of city murals are painted to prevent graffiti. You're going to equate a picture based on a student in your community with graffiti?

And what does "based upon who's President of the United States today" mean? We have a black president. Black and hispanic kids go to your elementary school. The better question is "Why not?" And if the best answer is "because it makes white people angry," then you really need to explain how that can be taken as anything other than racist.

This is America in 2010, an America many claim is "Christian." Well, Jesus is bawling his eyes out because you're getting it so incredibly wrong.

Update: The principal of the school has changed his mind, and the mural won't be changed. Thankfully, such realizations still happen.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I started reading Bram Stoker's Dracula the other week, but I haven't made a lot of progress. I've just been preoccupied with other things. It's weird, because I've seen most of the movie that purports to base itself directly off this book rather than popular renderings, and already I know that Count Dracula looks different than he did in that movie. What has surprised me so far is that this book is written as a series of journal entries and letters from different characters, rather than as a narrative. This same sort of eye-opening thing happened when I sat down to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: the popular version is nothing like the book.

I've been on a Skillet kick lately. I picked up Awake the other week. It's their latest, and it's okay. The reason I picked them up again in the first place was because their music punches me in the face. Unfortunately, Awake is less face-punchy. A couple songs are such, but it's more mainstream in comparison to the two albums before that, which I picked up this week. Comatose was their breakthrough/crossover album, which has more face-punch quality to it. Not only that, but they're pretty socially aware: "The Last Night," for instance, is all about someone dealing with depression, as well as those around her telling her "Oh, it's a phase; you'll feel better soon." The album before that, Collide, has an abundance of face-punchiness, and I enjoy listening to it at an unreasonable volume.

I also picked up the Black Keys' latest album, Brothers. It's their familiar power duo stomp-rock sound, though with some added funky elements, much like Attack and Release and their Blackroc project. They seem to grow so much as artists on each album, and I become a bigger fan with each album as well.

The MTV Movie Awards are coming up on Sunday. Coffeewife shared this video with me of Robert Pattinson having a conversation with Les Grossman (Tom Cruise's character from Tropic Thunder):



And I don't know what this is exactly, but I was amused by it: