Monday, November 29, 2010

First Monday of Advent

Looking back on my time at my church, I think that I can designate an easy label for each year that I've been here according to the general events or emotions that characterized it. For instance, the first year was the Year of Disillusionment, as I was disabused of quite a few notions about local church ministry that year. My second year was the Year of Meh, as I can't really recall anything monumental happening. My third year was the Year of Establishment, during which I felt I was finally beginning to feel "settled in." And so it goes.

Yesterday marked six years at my church. Looking back on the past year, I think I'd call it the Year of Grief. I call it that because I did quite a lot of wrestling with a sense of old pieces of my identity passing away. I actually processed quite a bit of it on this blog. There was the sense that a place where I figured out who I was has greatly changed in the past six years. There was wondering how to cope with living in one place for longer than 5 1/2 years. There's been a lot of grief in the midst of this as I've wondered about what defines me at this point in my ministry and life.

The church was decorated on Saturday morning. There were a dozen or so of us there to help out, and it went fairly quickly, for which I was glad. That evening, we decorated our home, and I can't even describe the excitement with which Coffeeson approached the exercise. He wanted to help pull out branches from the tree box, he loved the sight of the lights, he even helped hang a few ornaments, all with this incredible energy and wonder. Over and over, he'd point at the lit tree and simply exclaim, "Tree!" Just the sight of it made him so incredibly happy.

When I walked into the sanctuary on Sunday morning to organize my stuff for worship, I felt a similar joy. It wasn't nearly as intense as what Coffeeson expressed the previous evening, but the sight of the decorations triggered something within me. The songs, the lighting of the first candle...it all had such a renewing effect for me. Here I was the first day of my seventh year, the first Sunday of Advent, and the newness of both my year and the church year had reignited my spirit, to the point where all those questions that I'd been asking didn't seem to matter nearly as much. In fact, I didn't even feel like asking them.

I've spent quite a lot of time this year thinking about colleagues who have been at their churches for 10-15 years. The way I framed my wondering about how they'd been able to endure for so long was to ask myself the following question: "What's it like to get up and preach on Christmas Eve for the 10th time in the same place?" How do you find something new to say to these people? Does it still seem like a special thing, or by that point does it feel like you've done it all before? I ask this as I will soon preach on Christmas Eve for the 7th time in the same place. I can't say that it feels like I've done it before, although in other areas of my ministry here, it does seem that way. But if yesterday was any indication, I don't think it'll be an issue.

Worship Notes

~As it was the first Sunday, I didn't feel the need to include more than one carol: "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." The other two were Advent hymns: "Arise the Kingdom is at Hand" and "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus." Since the question seems to come from somebody every year about why we sing "these weird songs," I went ahead and addressed it in the sermon. I said that the reason why we don't just go ahead and pass out candles & sing "Silent Night" next Sunday is because part of what makes that song special is our waiting to sing it. People seemed to understand.

~The sermon was based on Romans 13:11-14, where Paul encourages people to live honorably as the best way to prepare for the day of salvation. I used this to compare our culture's way of preparing for Christmas (i.e., starting to advertise as early as September and revving up from there, emphasizing Speed! and Efficiency!) with our being encouraged to linger in the present during the Advent season, and not rushing ahead to the big celebration lest we miss the present moment.

~I always think it's funny when a decent chunk of the congregation coincidentally dresses in similar colors. I don't know if there's any real psychological basis for that, but there was a lot of purple worn yesterday morning, myself included. Since the color of Advent is purple, I wonder if there was a subliminal thing happening there.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I finally finished The Fellowship of the Ring. I don't have a whole lot more to say about that, other than to point out how anticlimactic the ending was. I mean, yeah, it's the first of three books, and so there's more to come. But the book has little to no movement at all. They talk and talk and talk, they travel someplace else and talk and talk and talk, and sometimes they sing in addition to talking. And then Frodo decides to keep on traveling to Mordor. The end. Awesome. Give me a year or so to forget what this was like, and I may be ready to read the next one.

So I started The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Set in Sweden, we meet Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist trying to recover from a libel trial who is hired by an elderly millionaire to solve the decades-old mystery of his missing niece. We also meet Lisbeth Salander, a pierced, tattooed (one's a dragon) investigator who I presume will eventually help him out. I'm not far enough into the book for that to happen, but I figure that's what's coming. The first chapter is quite a slog, but then it picks up after that.

We watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving this week. I don't really make it a point to watch this one the way I basically need to watch the other two classic specials around their respective holidays (those would be Great Pumpkin and Christmas, in case anyone needed to know). I just don't think this one is as strong, nor is it as critically acclaimed (and the latter is due to the former). Nevertheless, we watched it because it's Charlie Brown and because it's Thanksgiving week.

Over at Internet Monk, Chaplain Mike tells a great story about caring for one's neighbor. It's posts like this that keep me visiting that blog.

I caught wind this week of a movie coming out next summer called Cowboys vs. Aliens. Take a look:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Perspective

The Game is this Saturday. Michigan's probably going to lose again. It's upsetting, but not life-ending.

In the meantime, today and tomorrow the Coffeehousehold is going to enjoy Thanksgiving fixins'...twice. Her family comes today, my family comes tomorrow. Coffeeson gets to hang out with both sets of grandparents, we'll eat way too much, we'll play board games, we'll be glad to be together.

We'll be doing this in the house we moved into just a year ago.

On Sunday, I'll celebrate six years of ministry with my church.

There's a lot to be thankful for; all of it much more important than a football game.

Thanksgiving blessings be with you and yours.

(But if Michigan does somehow pull it off, brace yourself for six years of pent up frustration to be unleashed.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unexpected Thanksgiving Meme

From the RevGals:

Name five things that were unexpected in your life that you are now grateful for.

1. Moving to my "hometown." In 7th grade, we moved...again. I hated it, it took me years to get over it, and I still hate the sight of the building where I went to junior high. Nevertheless, I've considered the past couple years just how much positivity came out of that move. Once I got to high school, I came out of my shell in many ways that helped shape my identity for the rest of my life so far: first love, an increased interest in learning an instrument, a cultivation of theatre talents, and discernment in faith and vocation. That all started happening in high school, and set me on the path that I'm still on today in many ways. And it all started with a move that I hated at the time.

2. Getting the third cat. We didn't intend to get a third cat. I was happy with just two. But for a while, Coffeewife had a thing about visiting the Humane Society every once in a while just to visit the animals. I think it made her feel better at times when she was feeling down. So we made a trip there one day and began playing with a black-and-grey striped cat who was so incredibly snuggly and playful that I eventually caved in to the sight of two sets of big round pleading eyes. Snickers is the most laid-back, loveable cat you'll ever meet, and now I'm glad he's a part of our family.

3. City life. After a lifetime of living in small towns and rural areas, I got my first real taste of the big city when I moved to St. Louis for seminary. For quite a while, I wasn't sure about this change; I was a square peg in a round hole for quite a while. After really settling in, however, I came to love the rich cultural diversity that I was experiencing, to the point where I think I'm still more of a city person even as I'm back in a small town area. I continue to appreciate the larger cultural centers around where I live, and take the opportunity to visit larger cities whenever I can.

4. "I know someone who likes you." The story of how Coffeewife and I started dating is somewhat convoluted and has a junior high sort of ending. The short version is that during my sophomore year of college, my best friend and I both liked her, he ended up dating her first, I basically gave up and started turning my attention to others, and after we all came back from Christmas break, one of her close friends approached me in the cafeteria and uttered the line referenced at the beginning of this paragraph. The rest is pretty much history: January 15th is the 12th anniversary of our first date, we'll have been married 9 years next June, and we have Coffeeson. But after expecting that the previous semester's episode had pretty much sealed off any possibility of us being together, here came her friend, and on it went.

5. He-Man makes a comeback. I wanted to throw on a silly one, so here it is. For months and months, my He-Man toys had been sitting in our garage. One day, we got out a couple for Coffeeson to play with, and now they're some of his favorites. It's been an unexpected joy to see him play with the same toys that I loved when I was a kid. So for that, I'm thankful.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm less than 50 pages from the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, and for whatever reason I just can't sit down and do it. It won't leave me, as if it has some sort of control over me. The only way to truly be rid of it is to drop it in the fire out of which it was formed, lest Sauron use it for his own evil purposes. We must travel to the far mountain region of Bawitdaba, at which time we shall meet the good people of that land. Lion-O shall accompany us, he and the mighty Chewbacca. Vouchsafe, we must travel in the shadows or be discovered by the Heffalhumps and Woozles that will no doubt seek to overtake us.. 'Tis the only way we will be rid of this dreadful curse forever. Gird your loins, friends, and take only that which may be necessary. But fear not, for I carry the Sword That's Missing Its Handle. Although it is painful to hold, I know it will do us well, for it was forged by Man-At-Arms himself. Onward, my brave companions!

We went to the midnight opening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, because I still like to pretend that I'm still 19 years old sometimes. Since this story is broken into two parts, the film could afford to include more details and move at a slower pace. And that's good, because I forgot just how much needed to be included. In a wizarding world now controlled by Voldemort and the Death Eaters, the three main characters begin an adventure to find the remaining horcruxes and destroy them, learning about the Deathly Hallows and Voldemort's quest to find them in order to control death. The movie does a lot to set the mood; just how much everyone, including the other Death Eaters, live in fear of Voldemort. There is a strong theme of tolerance for people who aren't like you in its illustration of near-fascist conditions established by those newly in charge. The movie takes its time; even had an epic feel for me by the end. One of the best HP movies made, I think.

During one of the many times I've seen Shrek the Third, I started to wonder, "What's that song that plays while Shrek is being locked up by Prince Charming?" As it turns out, it's "9 Crimes" by Damien Rice. So, I got the whole album, simply titled 9. The rest of the album vacillates between slow & reflective and more uptempo rock. At heart, Rice seems to be more of an acoustic, folksy guy, even on the faster tracks. I'm thinking I'd like to check out more of his stuff.

I picked up Tal Wilkenfeld's debut CD this week, Transformation. I was cruising Youtube one day for bass solos and came across some of her stuff. She's 24, she started when she was 16, and her skills are just ridiculous. Of course, you hear plenty of that on this album, surprisingly her only one as a solo artist to date. She does tour with other acts a lot, particularly Jeff Beck in recent years. Anyway, an amazing artist and a great album.

Here's Tal Wilkenfeld being awesome:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Nap Time

When we first brought Coffeeson home from the hospital, he didn't want to be put down. Whenever we'd set him in his crib or in the side sleeper we kept in our bedroom, he'd start crying, even if he was sound asleep when we'd done so. For at least the first couple nights, we took turns holding him all night long. I watched a lot of early morning Comedy Central; I have no idea what Coffeewife did because I'd pass into a mini-coma when it was her turn.

After quickly deciding that this wasn't going to work for very long, I came up with the idea to start setting him in his carseat at night. He seemed to still like the position he was in while in the womb: somewhat curled up and surrounded by something secure and warm. Being flat on his back was something new and uncomfortable for him, so this was why he preferred to be nuzzled against one of us. So, in an effort to get him to sleep and to preserve our sanity, we placed him in his carseat, blanket underneath and around him, and all of us carried on as a new family.

Eventually, we weaned him off the carseat. While it produced a few difficult nights, he made the transition relatively well. Finally, both the crib and the carseat could be used for their intended purposes.

Coffeeson has never completely let go of his preference for one of us holding him while he sleeps. He's had these brief phases where I'll rock him to sleep, but as soon as his body hits the crib's mattress, he wakes up crying. He only does this for nap time nowadays; it's been a long time since he cried after we put him down at night. That, and he only seems to do it for me, Coffeewife, and CoffeeGrandma. He stays asleep for the nanny, and he'll obediently lie on his cot for nap time at daycare. If one of the three of us is rocking him, he wants us to keep rocking him. I have to conclude that he likes that time with us.

For the longest time, I found this incredibly irritating. In my mind, I was stuck there. I had a list of stuff that I wanted to do while he slept, and here I'd be with nothing besides my own thoughts to keep me company. I knew why he didn't want to sleep out of my arms, but I still didn't like it.

I can't help but think that he's developed some of my sleep habits. I am not a sound sleeper. If something wakes me up at night, it can be quite a while before I can shut my brain back off so that I can get more rest. In recent years, this has been harder: I stay up thinking about something church-related, or Coffeewife's early morning alarm starts going off (and then she hits the snooze and it goes off again, and this little game plays out for the next hour...I am not exaggerating). Just the other night, I knew that I had to go to bed, but then I tossed and turned for quite a while before calming down enough to fall asleep.

This sort of problem has plagued me since college. I had my first bout of insomnia my sophomore year. I was a very busy guy in college, and especially at that point: I was in a play, I was involved with my fraternity, I had this, that, and the other campus ministry thing going on, I had this cool new girlfriend I enjoyed spending time with, and I was getting my grades up after a somewhat miserable middle-of-semester assessment in a few classes. I was enjoying all of it, and none of it seemed to be weighing me down, at least consciously. I was just starting to budget my time better in order to get all of it done. So why couldn't I fall asleep?

Looking back on those sleep-deprived weeks, I think the problem then is the same problem that I have now: I don't know how to wind down. Between church, family, basic household maintenance, and a few hobbies, I structure my day to at least keep up with it, and then when it's time to recharge, it can take some effort to wind down (and then stay down) in order to get what I need to keep going.

One afternoon while getting ready to rock Coffeeson, I had the idea to take a book in with me. I stuffed it into the little side pocket of the rocking chair, and after he fell asleep I started reading. I'd long resigned myself to the fact that he didn't want me to put him down, so I started to adjust. I figured I'd at least try to enjoy myself while he got what he needed.

It didn't take me too long to find enjoyment in this exercise. Turning the pages of a book is not the easiest thing to do with a sleeping toddler on your lap, but that was made infinitely easier after I received a Kindle for Father's Day this past year. You want to know how it seems like I read a new book every week? It's because I have 7-9 hours every weekend where basically all I do is rock Coffeeson while continually clicking "Next Page" on what I now think is one of the greatest innovations in reading ever.

Hey, you know what else I sometimes do when rocking Coffeeson? I take a nap, too. Yeah, I do. If I find myself nodding off, I'll set my Kindle in that handy side pouch, place a pillow behind my head, and allow myself to doze off. The other day, I slept for two hours. You have to understand that I otherwise suck at napping just as much as I sometimes suck at sleeping at night. But rocking Coffeeson slows me down enough that I realize how tired I really am, so we end up napping together.

I now get excited for Coffeeson's nap time on the weekends because I know what I get to do: I get to sit in a comfy chair with my son and just read or sleep. I've learned a lot as a father over the past 2 1/2 years, but one of the best things that Coffeeson has taught me is how to wind down.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

With less than a hundred pages to go, The Fellowship of the Ring has finally been growing on me. The felt need to mention so many names of people or places for no other reason than adding (and adding and adding) to backstory is still incredibly irritating. That, and skipping the songs makes reading go faster. There's been more movement in the story as well. That said, of course, it'll probably be a while before I decide to pick up The Two Towers.

We watched Iron Man 2 this past week, where Tony Stark is even more narcissistic due to his newfound fame as Iron Man. At the same time, the device in his chest that has been keeping him alive is also starting to poison him, which only seems to fuel his devil-may-care style. Eventually, he runs up against Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), a physicist who holds a grudge against Stark for what the company did to his father. Chaos ensues. Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson show up in support roles as part of a secret organization called S.H.I.E.L.D. that keeps tabs on people like Iron Man. Their appearance plants a few more seeds for an eventual Avengers movie, including one brief scene after the credits. The banter between Stark and a few other characters is one of the best parts of the movie; I was left wondering how they even rehearse that stuff. It was as strong a sequel as I've seen, and that's saying something especially for a superhero movie. If I had one gripe, it'd be that Stark doesn't really learn anything during all of this. He's never humbled, he doesn't seem to grow at all. It's just, "Well, this sucks...oh good, everything's okay again. I'm going to be the exact same person either way." But maybe that's asking too much of what was meant to just be a summer popcorn flick. In that sense, however, I'd rank it down the list behind the two newer Batman movies (and the 1989 one), the first two Spiderman movies, the first two X-Men movies, and a few others where the hero(es) deals with his/her flaws.

We also watched Toy Story 3 this week. Andy is about to head to college, and the toys are relegated to a toybox, largely forgotten. Andy's mom tells him to figure out what's going with him to college and what's going to the attic. A few misplacements and miscommunications later, the toys end up at daycare to be abused by toddlers. There are a bunch of new toys, including Lots-O'-Huggin Bear, who turns out to be not all that huggy. This film seemed very different from the first two...it was darker, I thought. Still well-written, still with silly moments. But there were some other moments that were pretty sad, and one or two that'd be scary for little kids. It wasn't a bad movie, just distinct from the others.

Here's an Xtranormal video about seminary:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day Prayer

From an article on the UCC website:
God, we give you thanks today for our nation's veterans. We honor them for their faithful service to our country, and for what they have done to defend and preserve our freedom. Generation after generation, young men and women have answered our country's call. And as a result, their lives have been changed forever.

We are grateful to all who have served, whether in peacetime or in periods of conflict. But today we especially remember those who have been tempered by fire, those who continue to bear wounds of the body or the spirit as a result of what they endured. They lie in our veterans' hospitals or struggle for recovery in rehabilitation centers; they suffer from post-traumatic stress and survivor' guilt; they yearn for peace in their souls.

Dear God, we ask you to heal their wounds, to banish whatever inner demons may haunt them, and to give them peace within so they may return fully to their families and to society.

We thank you, God, for all of our country's veterans—those of past generations, and those who continue to earn this title today. May we never forget what our country has asked of them and what they have given in return. Help us to care enough to give them the respect and honor they are due. And strengthen our resolve to build a world modeled on your realm, where war will be pursued no more.

This we ask in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Amen.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Into an Intentional Future

A couple Saturdays ago, I attended my Association's fall meeting. It was a historical, turning-point sort of meeting, shared with the Association to our north, as each voted to enter into more of a shared relationship featuring the restructure of staff. I go to these things more to enjoy time with colleagues and, if applicable, to experience churches around the Association that I've never visited before.

I'd been to this one a couple times. We'd had a meeting just a few years earlier at this same location. Still, I've always found the structure impressive. The sanctuary, just a few years old, is a large open space. It's a modern take on New England Congregational styles: bare white walls, pews set in a crescent shape, clear windows to let in plenty of natural light. The chancel is fairly large, allowing for plenty of space for movement, with a long communion table set against the back wall. To the right of the chancel is a large choir loft; to the left are 2-3 tiers of tables for a bell choir. A balcony wraps around the back of the sanctuary. It's a magnificent room that seats, by my estimate, between 300 and 400 people comfortably. This is to say nothing of the extensive educational wing or the multi-purpose fellowship building across the parking lot.

When the senior pastor stood to offer his greetings to the gathering, he mentioned that a wedding would be held there that afternoon. All I could think was, "Well, of course there will be." My quaint, traditional country church attracts quite a few engaged couples; I had to imagine that this place with its immense seating capacity and state-of-the-art facilities may attract even more.

It was some point in the midst of this that I started to think about the coordination that it must take to be pastor of a church this size. Its large membership would, I think, entail a larger number of weddings and funerals a year. Practices for musical groups, educational activities, fellowship, outside groups that use the building, and whatever else surely take a great deal of communication, making sure that the schedule is consulted and updated, enlistment of volunteers, and so on.

This is the life of a "programmatic congregation," as Diana Butler Bass calls it in The Practicing Congregation. It is a model of church that began around 1950 and is still very much viable in today's culture. It is the type of congregation that has a wide variety of programs and activities for people of all ages and many interests. My assumption is that programmatic congregations tend to be larger, but I'm up for having that assumption disputed.

I more or less grew up in a larger, programmatic congregation. Even as I've spent time in churches of other sizes, this was the model of church with which I was most familiar. I realized how limited this familiarity was my first couple years at the church where I am pastor. I took great pains to try to get this smaller church littered with large extended families that is more used to revolving around the pastor to function as a church revolving around programs instead. I tried a young adult program and it quickly fizzled. Several other fellowship programs such as our women's guild and quilting group have retired since I began. It took me 4-5 years of trial and error to come up with anything resembling a senior high program.

It took me a few years to finally realize that 1) we aren't a programmatic church, and 2) the programmatic model just doesn't work for us the way it does in other places. Sure, we have programs, but not in the sense that each age group or gender is neatly compartmentalized assuming that they all like to be together and have the same interests. After trying so hard for so long, it dawned on me that that model just isn't appropriate here. And you have no idea how much of a relief that realization was.

In the meantime, here are a couple things that have been working:

~A senior high program that features their being paired with adult sponsors during confirmation, whom they continue to interact with in various service, fellowship, and educational activities until they graduate. We just had a firepit in September that not only brought them together, but saw recent graduates and parents attend as well.

~A pub discussion group that has seen people attend ranging in age from 25 to 80 (yes, 80). Eight people attended last month, but we could have had upwards of 15.

~Mission and service activities that have brought multiple generations together.

Do you detect a pattern?

As I have finally let go of the notion that we should be a programmatic congregation, I've tried to get a handle on what exactly we are instead. We're doing a lot intergenerational things, some of which could be considered "emerging" or "missional," an increased amount of activities that emphasize building community & caring for one another, and all of it without too much polish or finesse. Some of that is my own discovered style, but I'll save that for another post.

When I began reading Bass' book, I finally found a name for what we are. Bass describes the latest model of church that has risen in recent decades as placing an emphasis on practice and intentional community, rather than programs. That's what she calls them, too: "practicing" or "intentional" congregations. The funny part is that I'm not sure how intentional this shift has been.

Since beginning to read this book, I've been thankful to have finally found a name for what we are becoming. I've also been thankful that we are becoming it. I'll shortly begin my seventh year of ministry here, praying that we continue into an intentional future.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Turning the Corner

"Daddy sad."

These were the words uttered by Coffeeson late Saturday afternoon. I had just broken down sobbing, an unexpected and involuntary action in response to what many may deem a silly cause. Nevertheless, there I was, sitting on the floor leaning up against the couch, my face in my hands, tears welling up.

On my television screen were a bunch of kids, ages 18-22, clad in maize and blue jerseys, jumping all over the field. They were smiling, laughing, hugging. And along with them, 110,000 people were going absolutely crazy, happy to join in the celebration.

The Michigan Wolverines had just beaten the Illinois Fighting Illini, 67-65, in triple overtime. My brother had texted me saying he'd just run laps around his apartment. I myself had also thrown up my hands, screaming my head off...which eventually gave way to the crumpled ball of mush that caused my son to worry if I was okay.

I don't cry at the outcome of sports games very often. In fact, I can count these instances on one hand. The only other time, I think, was after the Detroit Tigers had beaten the Yankees in the 2006 playoffs, after which the players ran back onto the field with champagne to celebrate with their fans.

The thing about this instance, however, is that as emotional as this particular outcome was, as insane as this game was, it wasn't just this win that caused it. It was the release that finally came with it. Finally, after 3-9 and 5-7. Finally, after an NCAA investigation and the ensuing tarnished reputation on the coach and program brought about by a hatchet-job of a newspaper article. Finally, after watching this team struggle and stumble all over the field for the past two years and for chunks of this year. Finally, after watching them lose to inferior versions of this Illini team twice, along with loss after loss to nearly everyone else, including others they were supposed to beat. Finally, after being at the Big House in person for '08 Toledo. Finally, after sitting around the week between Christmas and New Year's with minimal interest in any of the bowl games being played because my team hadn't earned a spot. Finally, after two years of fielding a team hampered by injuries, inexperience, youth, and lack of depth.

Finally. Finally. Finally. Finally a 6th win, a bowl game, and no losing record to finish the year. The release that came with that is indescribable. There were plenty of mistakes made; it was far from a perfect effort. There's plenty of improvement left to be made. And many may look at the amount of euphoria being displayed by Michigan fans this weekend and say, "Really? This much excitement about 6 wins? This much excitement about a win over ILLINOIS? This much excitement after your defense giving up 65 points and your offense committing five turnovers?" Yes, really. Read the last paragraph again.

Michigan is turning the corner. After two and a half seasons of crap, they're finally turning the corner.

Finally.

Go Blue.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

The Fellowship of the Ring has gotten better, but it's still far from my favorite read for the year. It's not a book that I feel very inspired to pick up because I'm eager to see what happens next. Like, I never think, "Whoa, what's going to happen to Frodo? I'd better keep reading..." No. Not really. I thought I'd be much more into this than I am. I only read it while I rock Coffeeson on the weekends, so I'll probably be at this for a couple more weeks at least. In the meantime, I found a review on Amazon that named my feelings so amazingly and hilariously perfect:
Just wanted to vent a bit on Tolkien's "masterpiece". Oy. Why does everybody love this stuff so much? I don't get it. I didn't read it when I was in puberty, so maybe I missed some nostalgic connection to it. The plot is:

* Ring bad, if evil guy gets, enslaves world
* Good guys must destroy ring
* Travel
* Fight bad guys
* Travel
* Fight bad guys
* Travel
* Fight bad guys
* ...
* Throw ring in lava

The text is almost totally lacking in humor. The few female characters in the book seem like adolescent fantasies. And I got completely bored and lost keeping track of this needlessly-intricate world of places and names - "Borodor Gorofarp set forth through the hills of Borax to the west of which the Isle of Greepdorf and the dwarven village of Potstunk lay, which the rangers call Harmabon, known to ancient elves as Yakayaka, a village which we will not be concerned with at all henceforth."

Get out your maps and your klingon dictionary, let's look all this up...
Even if you like these books, you have to admit this person hits it right on the nose. Come on, admit it. ADMIT IT.

I read the second chapter of The Practicing Congregation for my book study, since we're taking two chapters at a time. The second is a rehash of all the cultural factors that the church has had to begin facing the past few decades that I've read about many times. She notes that a church in decline wants to search for someone to blame, whether it's the new pastor, newer members, the choir director, or whomever else, when in fact there isn't anyone to blame...it's just the way the world has changed. She also helpfully notes that the changes happening in the world create a lot of anxiety in people, and of course people bring their anxiety to church where it ends up creating conflict. Okay, let's hear more about the model now.

We watched Zombieland this week, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin as four survivors in a zombie-infested United States. The film has some different rules for how zombies behave: they can run fast, jump, climb, and display some measure of intelligence. I could get by my hang-ups about that stuff, though. While it is a comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead, it's also a coming-of-age story of sorts for Eisenberg's character. There's also the theme of what family is, including a moment that Harrelson's character has that might not have caused such a strong reaction from Coffeewife and I 2 1/2 years ago. There's a certain amount of winking at the audience, as it doesn't take itself too seriously even though it has a few serious moments.

We watched part of the live Ghost Hunters on Halloween evening. It was back on TV this year after last year's lame attempt to make it mostly an online thing, save for brief updates during commercial breaks of a bunch of repeat episodes. This year they were at the Buffalo Central Terminal. As always, they cross-promoted SyFy shows by having WWE wrestler Kofi Kingston help (Smackdown is on SyFy now...yeah, I know), as well as a few actors from some other shows I've never heard of. They did experience a couple things while we watched, particularly Jay beginning the "shave and a haircut" knocks, and some unseen thing finishing it. He tried it at least a half dozen times in a row, and it seems it only wanted to play the first time. The guests as always seemed very out of place and either unsure of how to help with the investigation, or silently thinking, "I can't believe somebody is making me be here." Regardless, watching this has become part of the Coffeehousehold's Halloween tradition, and I was glad to have it back.

One of my favorite songs of the moment is "See the Flames Begin to Crawl" by Five Iron Frenzy:

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Kind of Thing That Happens

I officiated a funeral this week. It was for an older gentleman, the patriarch of one of the church's large families. He'd been dealing with Alzheimer's for the past seven years, longer than I've been at the church. As a result, I've been wondering what he was like before the illness started creeping in.

The family shared plenty of stories during the service that helped paint a picture of who he was. And I do have my own memories of him, of course. When his wife would bring him to worship, he'd make it a point to thrust out his hand to me in silly, dramatic fashion, a huge grin on his face. The thing was, he'd only do it if I had my robe on...he didn't recognize me otherwise. This was a fun moment that the two of us were able to share for as long as he was able to attend.

The family and I went through our preparations for the service: choosing hymns and scriptures, sharing memories, figuring out extra elements that they'd want. All five of his daughters wanted to write something to be shared; my custom is to read something on their behalf if they don't feel up to doing it themselves. A few of them didn't have theirs prepared, but they'd make it a point to have them ready the next evening during calling hours.

It was a long line. People who knew him blended in with people wanting to show support for someone in the family they knew. It didn't matter who was who. After greeting the family, I made my way to the displays of pictures somebody had compiled to help remember him. Eventually, my eyes came to a picture of the two of us shaking hands in the narthex after a wedding, he with that soft look of recognition, and I in my robe, smiling back.

Of all the pictures that the family could have chosen from 78 years of life, somebody wanted to include that one.

That's the kind of thing that happens when you pastor the same church for so long.