Wednesday, November 30, 2011

O God, In Whom We Have Our Life

A couple months ago, I woke up and thought, "I think I'll write an Advent hymn today." So I did. Here are the words, to the tune of "O God Our Help in Ages Past:"
O God, in Whom we have our life, in Whom our being dwells,
We thank you for your promised sign of hope: Emmanuel.

In stories passed through centuries, in this our current time,
And in all moments yet to come you guide all humankind.

Awaiting Christ’s approaching birth, we open wide our hearts
To be transformed, that selfish, sinful ways from them depart.

O God, through Whom new life occurs, in Whom our being dwells,
We ever seek your promised sign of love: Emmanuel.
We sang it this past Sunday as our opening hymn, and I think it went well. There's something about hearing people sing words that you wrote that is incredibly cool.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Broken Chain

When most people envision a career for themselves, I think that there's a certain idealism that is common among them. Most who embark into the world, degree fresh in hand, have an idea for how things will play out; how they'll work their way up the ladder, or create a life right out of the American Dream Storybook, or change some portion of the world for the better. These dreams and goals are good motivators; sparkling cinder blocks on which a foundation of the Perfect Life may be built, whatever that may look like.

Once most of us make it out into the Real World--which is really the same world, just with less safety nets--we quickly realize that this dream, if it truly is feasible, is going to be a lot harder to attain than we thought. Before Coffeewife and I were married, we talked about working ourselves through grad school at the same time while living on love and Ramen noodles, the two of us happy little hipsters in the big city, books strewn around our shoebox apartment, legs intertwined while both of us studied for final exams. Reality was very different: Coffeewife took one class at St. Louis University before we discovered that this sort of a life wasn't going to work. We had bills and rent and my tuition already to keep up with, and both of us being in school was not going to produce very much income. So she found a job as a server at Red Lobster and later a second job at a children's inpatient psychiatric facility, and we began to muddle our way through an existence far different than what we'd pictured.

Coffeewife ended up on the fast track to a management position at the restaurant, which certainly provided more income, but it still wasn't what she wanted to do with her life. Her time at the children's facility had triggered something in her, however, and once I landed at a church she started to make plans to take up her own studies yet again, first a nursing degree followed quickly by a Master's as a Nurse Practitioner, specializing in adolescent psychology. It's not the Ph.D she talked about in her original undergrad studies, but it's nevertheless in the field she's most passionate about. This is the sort of thing that happens when what we think will be slams up against what is: maybe we hit the mark we want, maybe we take a detour before arriving to a close enough alternative, or maybe we end up working 12-hour days serving seafood much longer than we'd like, still wondering how things can be different someday.

Seven years ago today, I stood up in front of my congregation to lead worship for the first time. I was filled with as much hope as any new seminary graduate, and even though I botched the announcements right out of the gate (I didn't realize the prelude came first), I knew it would just be a matter of settling in, learning the ropes, and continuing on beloved traditions while slowly tweaking and changing and modifying things to keep us all as faithful as we could be.

It didn't take long for what actually is to tell me otherwise. As it turned out, beloved programs and ministries that had been in place for decades were not doing so well. In my first couple years, we bade goodbye to our women's guild, our choir, and our quilting group. There has not been a whole lot to serve simply as replacements, and thus I've had to make it a major part of my ministry to dream of new possibilities for fellowship and music, not to mention mission and, much more recently, education.

I've mentioned before that Christian education is not my strong suit, and yet we currently find ourselves in great danger of many longstanding activities falling by the wayside in the near future--a future much nearer than I'd anticipated, in fact--unless something perhaps radically different begins to happen. This is now a familiar refrain for me: we've needed to apply "unless something radically different begins to happen" so often, a trend that will continue not just for as long as I am here, but probably everywhere I will serve in ministry. The days of beginning in a new call and walking into a bevy of inherited groups and programs that will mostly just need nurturing and maintenance while working on new initiatives are waning, if they've really existed at all for years. I doubt that the previous generation of pastors had to deal with it the way we have to, and yet here we are in a new cultural moment that is judging familiar models to be obsolete. It's certainly not what we who recently have entered ministry expected, nor was it something that was mentioned much during seminary, probably because not many people there could see it either.

This past weekend was the Game. As usual, I read up on things at MGoBlog beforehand anticipating an afternoon of long-awaited relief and redemption. I eventually combed back through the archives there to find a post that Brian wrote after the 2008 Game during which he imagines a pre-game speech by then-coach Rich Rodriguez:
Nothing you were told about this place has come true. You came here and found a different coaching staff and a different team. A plainly deficient team. No one recognizes you. You run out in the same uniforms but what you do is unrecognizable to these people. This… what we have here is broken. The things we do do not work. The culture we have is dysfunctional. This program is a heap of ash.

You did not sign up for this. And you have every power and inclination to leave. Some of you will. Fine. No one will blame you. It's cold and people scorn you and there are so many of them.

Some of you will stay. And you will go insane. You will work, and you will work, and we will build something here from nothing. Because, make no mistake, this is nothing. You will build something out of this. If you're a senior next year and you teach some freshman something, you will build something. If you're a freshman and you refuse to quit on your stupid decision, you will build something.

What you build will be yours. Few in the great history of his university have had that opportunity. Everything came based on what came before. They were part of a great chain, now broken.

Those of you who stay will forge a new one, starting today. When we are done we will fix the last link to the broken chain, and break the first link, and tell those who come after us to live up to it.
This first week of Advent is meant to be focused on hope, on the anticipation that something new and exciting and life-giving will overtake this present moment of uncertainty and anxiety. Hope is what carries us forward when we fully realize that whatever we thought life would be like isn't going to materialize. It sustains us when we're asked to build something from nothing rather than simply continuing on with whatever we thought we'd signed up for.

Some are very hopeful for the future of the church, others are quite fearful. Plenty of my freshly-minted colleagues have come in, taken a look around, and walked right back out. Those of us who stay, however we feel about what we've inherited, rely on hope in order to keep placing one foot in front of the other, seeking to help create a new chain that may not much resemble what came before, but hopefully will be faithful nonetheless.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Five Iron Frenzy Reunites

My favorite ska band and my favorite "Christian" band is reuniting to record a new album. Their goal is to release it in 2013, but they're doing it all on their own. Here's their official announcement:
We can’t believe it has actually been 8 years ago today that we rocked out with you at the Fillmore in Denver, on a snowy evening as we celebrated our last show. Now, all these years (and marriages and kids) later we feel the desire to write new material and make a record!

So, down to business:
We need your support now more than ever. The inspiration and energy to create an amazing record is there but this time we will be working without the support of a label. This gives us incredible artistic freedom, but it also means we need to raise our own financing.

Our hope is to release an album in 2013, ten years after our initial final show. We are shooting for the financial goal of $30,000. Your pledges will be used to pay for demoing new material, recording, mixing, mastering, and associated travel expenses.

Keep in mind, this budget covers making the album only. Every dollar we raise over $30,000 will be used for such things as promotion of the album once it’s released because we think it would be great to have this album reach as many people as possible! Additional funds could also enable us to play some shows, because yes, we would love to play shows! We will keep you posted every step of the way.

We have recorded this song for you as a little taste of our new material. We are super proud of how it turned out and hope you rock out to it and share it with your friends.

Thank you so much, every one of you for all the love, kindness, support, humor, prayers and friendship you have shown us since 1995. To our absolute joy this band continues to be more than just a band to many of you….and you are more than just folks at a show to us. If the past is any indication of the future we may all be in for a very wild ride.
This. Is. Freaking. Awesome.

You can download the new song here.

For more on my love for this band, read this.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pop Culture Roundup

I read The Magician King by Lev Grossman, the sequel to his excellent and engrossing The Magicians, which I read last year. We pick up pretty much right where we left off, with Quentin and his three friends kings and queens of the magical Narnia-ish world of Fillory. Quentin is getting bored: he has incredible powers in both the magical and royal sense, and life is very easy for him. Longing for a challenge, he eventually sets off in search of the Seven Keys, the incredible importance of which he slowly discovers even if initially he'd just wanted a quest. We also learn about Julia's background, which was probably the more fascinating part of the book for me. The characters face the same questions as in the first book concerning identity and purpose, and there's even a certain desperation on Quentin's part in answering them. I don't know that I'd call this book as good as the last, but it's still up there. The ending is unsatisfying, but it's obviously setting up the reader for the eventual third book of the trilogy.

I watched The Adjustment Bureau this week, starring Matt Damon as David, a former New York Congressman who discovers a mysterious group that intervenes in his and other people's lives in order to "keep them on plan." After his discovery, he's encouraged to forget what he's seen, which of course he finds impossible to do. As he attempts to change their plans for him, there is discussion about free will, human fallibility, and black-and-white vs. emotion. One of the Bureau members argues that every time in history that humans have been left to make their own decisions, it has led to times and events such as the Dark Ages, World War I, and the Holocaust. So, he says, "you don't have free will, just the appearance of free will." Decisions and destinies are controlled by an off-screen figure only known as "The Chairman," who is eventually revealed to be willing even to react and change according to human choice. The film is great fodder for theological discussion.

Coffeeson has become very interested in the TV show Yo Gabba Gabba, where DJ Lance Rock and his wacky bunch of puppet characters learn about things like space, robots, making new friends, healthy food, and all the other usual sorts of things that kid shows usually teach about. The show is very musical in nature, with all sorts of guest artists, songs, and dances. And the artists they choose aren't the usual ones you'd expect: The Aquabats (lead singer Christian Jacobs is co-creator), The Shins, and the Aggrolites. There's an entire episode where Jack Black guest-stars and does wacky Jack Black things. The show makes use of old school video game visuals and dance remixes of the songs they sing through the episode. I was skeptical at first, but after a while the show really won me over.

Here are two cats talking while playing pattycake:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Death of a Ministry

Most churches do their best to offer a variety of ministries. Some are fellowship-based, some more educational, some more service-oriented, and on and on and on. And if organized the right way, there can be a lot of energy and excitement in the early stages: people are getting on board with the new venture, look forward to something different, and at times can't believe the church has either never done something like it before or that it's finally happening.

The bigger trick to any ministry is in the sustaining of it. How do you keep up a certain level of excitement and involvement after those initial good feelings have worn off? How do you keep something from becoming an institution; a bureaucratic lifeless activity, or something pathetically clung to by a small handful of people who rationalize that, well, people will show up in droves if you just publicize it more? All manner of tactics may be used when it reaches that point: browbeating, guilt trips, extra shiny fliers, or just running the same trick harder. In the majority of these instances, such things don't work.

I've presided over the ending of such ministries. It came as a surprise to me, but it was one of my earliest learnings about the state of most churches: the same approach to fellowship that involve ladies sipping tea and wearing hats, or the same approach to music where robed people sit separated from their families the entire service don't garner the same eagerness that they once did. Thus, my church has said goodbye to some of these things since I arrived, complete with some of the aforementioned rationalization (and maybe a little insinuation that I torpedoed at least one of them...look, when your choir is down to a half dozen people, half of whom were planning to quit soon anyway, it was inevitable).

I've also overseen the short life of a few newer ministries. Before I more fully understood how younger generations gather in community, I tried to organize a young adult group. As I recall, it met three times and was already losing steam by that third time.

More recently, there's been my pub discussion group. Ever since my first dips in the emerging church pool, I'd wanted to organize one. I loved the idea of enjoying fellowship outside the church walls, of appealing to people who'd more naturally gather in places like those to begin with, and of engaging in dialogue in a more relaxed setting. Call it a hobbyhorse of mine that the church needs to do some different things that seem radical even to its own members (trust me, I heard all about it).

Here's the thing about pub discussion groups, or any new church activity: context is important. This is Ministry 101, really. Most pub discussion groups that I've read about happen in contexts far different than Smalltownsville USA: they happen in college towns or larger metropolises. I don't hear much about them happening in communities like mine. People like their pubs around here as much as anybody, but the thought of a church group meeting in one? The disconnect is glaring.

I have a core group of three people who've come, with other stragglers here and there. This past Friday night, I sat in the parking lot long enough to realize that no one was coming, and I drove back home to eat a late dinner. I don't blame anyone, and I don't even really blame the context or organizational methods or anything else. Sometimes, a certain ministry just doesn't work in a certain place.

I'm not necessarily going to completely bury this ministry just yet, probably mostly because I'm just a stubborn SOB like that. But I can't help but think that we're pretty much done, and that it'll soon be time to say last rites and try something else.

The other side of this is the feelings that accompany such a realization. It may be failure, or disappointment, or frustration, or a certain lostness that really points beyond one faltering group to the state of things in general. For my part, sure, it's disappointing. This was one of those activities that would surely signal that we're adjusting to our new day and age. I didn't put all my eggs in this basket, but the basket was pretty full.

In this instance, I feel a strange calm. Call it maturity or a more seasoned outlook or even numbness, but I don't feel the ennui that I felt in earlier years when something ended up fizzling out. I'm much more willing to admit that this just doesn't work in this place, or maybe at least in the way that I tried to do it. I accept that there was probably a better way, perhaps even without a clear-cut name and meeting time and whatever else. I haven't figured that out yet.

For now, I shrug, process a little with the few core people who did attend, and move on. Really, what else is there to do?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Vintage CC: Darren

From February 2008. It's been nine years since the events of this post took place. Its seemed like as good a time as any to re-post it.

While I was in college, I joined a fraternity. A lot of people who have never been in a fraternity or sorority wonder what possibly could have possessed me to do such a thing. In fact, I surprised myself the day I seriously began considering it. My experience of this consideration happened because two members lived across the hall from me my freshman year, I’d come to know a few others through my involvement with the Athletic Band and a few others through campus ministries. Essentially, I started relationships with a lot of the guys before I pledged, and as a result going through the process became a real possibility after a while. I got to know them first, and wound up pledging because of that.

That isn’t the full explanation, but it chiefly boils down to relationships that I had beforehand. That still isn’t enough for some, but I can't really call that my problem. Nevertheless, I'll tell you this story.

I pledged with three other guys. Ian was my best friend in college, with a flamboyant personality and usually a Hawaiian shirt to match. Mike was a Cadillac enthusiast with a slight Southern twang. And then there was Darren.

I remember the first time I met him at one of the pre-pledging mixers. He was a stocky guy, still sporting his high school letter jacket and a pocked complexion beneath large-framed glasses. It was easy for this band geek to spot a fellow band geek, and I quickly ascertained that that letter had been earned by playing a horn rather than a sport. In fact, mingling with some of the frat’s other musicians is how he’d ended up at this event to begin with. I forget what we talked about that night, but I do remember that he was in a jovial mood, which was something that defined who he was. The entire time that I knew him, there was a mock punch to the shoulder here, a quick joke there, and always said with a toothy smile and a coy deference afterwards.

That smile, man. There was nothing coy about that smile. It was out there. It sprang from somewhere deep inside him for you to see. Above all else, I saw from the get-go that Darren wanted to be your friend. There wouldn’t be anything fake about this friendship, either. He was friendly to give, not friendly to get. Know what I mean?

So anyway, we all pledged together. Say what you want about what you think you know about fraternity pledging activities, but it brought these four seemingly odd-fitting weirdos together…four autonomous individuals learning to work as one. That was the point, and we caught on. Ian and I had known each other pretty well already; had decided to watch each others’ backs way in advance. But we both slowly came to bond with these other two and by the end of two weeks’ worth of memorization, calisthenics, rituals, fatigue, and even some tears, we became Aps. We were certainly proud of our accomplishment, but we were more proud of how close we’d become.

For the rest of our college careers, Ian, Darren, and I in particular always celebrated this closeness. We set up movie nights or nights out and around. We supported Darren after his diagnosis of diabetes. I prayed with Darren one night for another brother critically ill in the hospital. We took our bonds seriously…the relationships we’d forged before and during pledging only becoming stronger as the years went on.

Near the tail end of my senior year, the frat organized a retreat to an area campground. For one reason or another, Ian couldn’t make it, and Darren originally wasn’t going to go until I talked him into it. I offered to drive us out to the meeting spot. There was something about that car ride that stuck with me, and for this reason: as we rode along, I noticed after a while that whenever we passed a cemetery, he’d make the traditional Catholic gesture of crossing himself.

I could tell that he wasn’t meaning to draw attention to this, but after the first few times he’d piqued my curiosity. So finally, I asked, “What’s that for?”

“Oh, a while back my uncle died. We were pretty close, so I like to remember him by saying a prayer whenever I pass a cemetery.”

That was it. He didn’t embellish that much and I didn’t push. Still, for the rest of the trip—both there and back—it never failed. See a cemetery, silent prayer. There’s something about ritual that helps us mark relationships: we designate times and genuflect in the appropriate moments and appropriate ways to remember what and whom we care about the most. I’d learned something new about Darren that day; about his family and his faith. One simple, even routine, motion had become for him an important act of memoriam.

Darren was a groomsman at my wedding. By this time, he’d taken great steps to control his diabetes and had demonstrated a robust commitment to keeping it in check with his diet and exercise routines. Of course, it didn’t stop him from the odd indulgence: I clearly remember him chowing down on McDonald’s the morning of the ceremony. For some reason, no one thought hard or long enough about it to chastise or rib him about it. It was a warm sunny weekend during which he’d helped mastermind the generous amount of silly string covering my car.

Fall came, and the leaves turned their glorious array of reds, yellows, and browns. During one late fall evening, Ian called, a somber tinge to his voice.

“Are you sitting down?”

“Um…yeah.”

At this point, I’m thinking it’ll be an account of his latest spat with his girlfriend. The two had been on quite a rollercoaster the past few months, so I’m waiting for the “he said, she said” to hit. Maybe I’d already begun forming some kind of helpful relationship advice.

“Okay. There were a series of tornados that passed through northwest Ohio today. They’ve been assessing damage and casualties and apparently there was only one death in Seneca County.

“It was Darren.”

I sat on the steps of the apartment building, trying to keep the phone from falling away limply from my ear. Ian and I spoke for a few more minutes, but I couldn’t tell you anything that we talked about. It was probably something about arrangements, but I don’t know. I once read something about how, when the brain feels threatened or wants to mask pain, it releases endorphins as a defense mechanism. Whether it was this or the near-blinding amount of confusion and disbelief that almost immediately began churning within me, the rest of that conversation is lost to the ages.

Coffeewife reacted much more suddenly, beginning to sob as the news touched her ears. Part of me was actually jealous of her, wishing that I’d reacted like that in order to feel something, but there was nothing for me but more endorphins, more churning, more disbelief. Only a few months ago had he stood up in a tuxedo in support, after wolfing down a couple cheeseburgers and before hosing down my car in silly-string. Him and his leaner, healthier frame thanks to his new diet. He who grinned out of someplace in the center of his being. There was no way that a guy like that was gone already.

One of my mentors would later comment, "People your age aren't supposed to die." Wasn't that the truth. Regardless, in the midst of my numbness and churning, we headed back to Ohio for the funeral.

The priest was obnoxious, loudly cracking jokes with family members during the entire calling hours through this weird nasally voice. Only a year prior had I learned about pastoral care, and this guy had obviously skipped the whole “ministry of presence” thing, let alone any personal sense of discretion. I greeted Darren’s parents, who had remembered me from something or other, and then approached warily. I’m actually surprised that Coffeewife still has use of her right hand, as I’m certain that I’d cut off the flow of blood. I’d gripped it more and more tightly through the line in anticipation, wondering how I’d react, wondering if I’d react.

Seeing him was the worst part. I don’t know what your opinion is about open caskets and how necessary they are to the grief process, but in this instance it didn’t do him any favors. They’d been extra generous with the base, turning him almost white in the process; a ghost of who he’d been, with a hint of rouge and lipstick in an ironic attempt to make him look like himself. I could spot places where they’d had no choice but to pack it on, and looking back I have to wonder whether it would have been worse to see him like that or not see him at all.

Either way, finally seeing him caused the numbness to evaporate and I completely let go. It was a little embarrassing, really. But after days of wondering why I hadn’t yet felt the way I knew I wanted to feel, my emotions kicked on and I wasn’t about to stop them. At 23 years old, he my groomsman and I his pallbearer. Nothing about this—his age, the oblivious priest, the horrible makeup—was fair. I knew that God knew it, but I didn’t know how to tell Him.

There was a mist in the air by the time we’d made it to the cemetery. What seemed like a half-acre of college friends huddled close in the mid-November cold, listening to more nasally words from the priest, now in his serious mock-pious mode. Too little, too late, buddy. He finally said his benediction and we were allowed to disperse, even though nobody really did. We craved the company in this place that we’d visited far too soon. Finally, as if on instinct, a group of his metaphysical brothers stood shoulder to shoulder, looking each other in the eyes as we said words that had become second-nature to us:

Let us drink, Aptonaltons, this toast
May it ever be our creed of fraternity.
That we live out our lives with the fullness and zest
That can come to us only by giving our best.
To our country, our school, and to all whom we meet,
Laughing with strength in the face of defeat.
Let us strive to be always leaders of men
Champions of right and of good to the end.
Let us love with a love neither false nor yet blind
With every respect for all womankind.
And last, as we drink let us ‘ere keep in mind
To be friend and brother to all mankind.
Returning the wrongs that were done us with good
Furthering always man’s brotherhood.
This be our toast, and by it let us live
That to God and to man our best we may give.


There was no moment when the meaning of those words had been rendered any clearer for that circle of young men, their arms wrapped around one another in grief. If the reader is still cynical and judgmental about what fraternities are about, I can only point to what is already written here, because I don't know what else might convince you.

The toast seemed to be what people were really waiting for, as it was only at that point that they began to make plans for the rest of the day. Some opted for an early meal and a drowning of sorrows in a local pub. Others had to get back quickly to jobs, families, schools, or whatever else. Again, I actually can’t remember what I did, but it involved a quick goodbye to Ian, so we were probably on the road pretty soon after.

Nowadays when I pass a cemetery, I think back to my trip with Darren to the retreat and his explanation of his prayer. I don’t make any movement of my own as I pass, but I do often think about him. I think about the gesture that he would have made, and the faith and character behind it all. Somehow, I think that’s enough.

Monday, November 07, 2011

When to Wear a Headset

I tend to see similarities between pastoral ministry and being a college football coach. It may be because I'm obsessed with Michigan football, or it may be because there really is a lot to learn as a pastor from that other profession, or because I'm obsessed with Michigan football.

When Brady Hoke was hired as MIchigan's new football coach, there was no small amount of skepticism among certain parts of the fanbase. Some were simply glad that the team had someone new at the helm, others expressed doubts about the timeline of the hire, and others wondered about Hoke's less-than-stellar resume. As the year wore on, I think Hoke has won more and more people over, and now that his first season is going very well so far (except that one time, and that other time), a non-believer is perhaps becoming harder to find.

When Michigan lined up to play Western Michigan the first game of the season, I and others picked up on something fairly quickly about Coach Hoke. We already know that he likes to point. He also says "well" a lot (man, that video I wanted to upload would've been AWESOME). But that day, I and many others noticed something else. I myself found it so significant that I texted my brother about it:
Interesting that he's not wearing a headset.
When you're wearing a headset, you're connected to people in the booth. Whomever is sitting up there, whether a coordinator or other coaches or staff, you're in their ear when the headset is on. You're making decisions, consulting, giving orders. You're more in control when you have a headset. On the sidelines, fans are accustomed to seeing the head coach wearing one; every Michigan head coach in the modern era usually has had one clamped on their heads nearly the whole game every week, as do most head coaches besides.

Rich Rodriguez developed a reputation for micromanaging his program while at Michigan. He ran the offense and special teams, but also was in his defensive coordinators' ears just enough to make them run a system they didn't know. I have to point out, of course, that every coach has his own style and gifts. RichRod's gifts mainly stemmed from his being an offensive guru: he invented the spread, and naturally was going to be in charge of that side of the ball. It's what he knew and was good at, so that made sense. If there was anything learned about him while he was Michigan's coach, however, it's that he didn't know much about what it took to play defense in the Big Ten. While letting Scott Schafer and Greg Robinson just handle their business may or may not have produced better results (signs from his current run at Syracuse indicate that with Schafer, they might have), trying to do too much ended up hurting the team on Saturdays.

Brady Hoke has a very different style. He has two highly reputed coordinators, and he does indeed let them handle their business. Of course, he has an overarching vision of what he wants his team to do and where he wants the program to go, but he exhibits a certain humility as well. He's been caught with a headset on the sidelines, but he doesn't wear one the whole game. He consults, advises, moves among the coaches, but also lets the people more gifted and knowledgeable than him do what they need to do, and he doesn't feel the need to be in their ear all the time. He manages, but not overly so.

I like to think that I have a pretty good idea about what I am and am not good at in ministry. I like to think that I have a good handle on preaching and worship, on coordinating projects related to mission and other special events, and facilitating discussions related to visioning or that help people in ministry reflect on what they're doing. I also know that while I think I'm good at teaching, I quake in fear at restructuring or developing a vision for Christian education as a whole. I'm not energized by it; I have no clue what will work. In that area, I'm better off consulting someone else or just letting other people do their thing. Likewise, I find budget discussions awful and don't know how best to reinvest a CD that has come due or whatever. Furthermore, I can swing a hammer decently enough, but don't put me in charge of a building project.

Unless it's to hear what someone with the necessary gifts and knowledge is doing, I have no business wearing a headset for certain activities of a church's life. Perhaps I'm meant to offer a certain amount of vision and theological insight, but besides that I'm better off leaving things in the hands of those who know better.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Pop Culture Roundup

This past week I read--by which I mean couldn't put down and gobbled up 50-100 pages at a time--Three and Out by John U. Bacon. As I've mentioned several times already, Bacon was given unfettered access to the University of Michigan football program the entire time that Rich Rodriguez was head coach. As a result, Bacon has a unique insider's perspective on the fumbled hiring process that brought RichRod to Ann Arbor, the fallout with West Virginia, the crummy games and seasons, the Detroit Free Press's hackjob and subsequent NCAA investigation, the infamous final Football Bust featuring Josh Groban, and the end shortly after. The main thrust, of course, is what Rodriguez goes through and how he reacts to every new dramatic turn, as well as how his staff and players handle it. There are strong indications that some within the ranks actively work against him or at least resist his approach, and certain figures don't look good at all: former Athletic Director Bill Martin comes off as incredibly incompetent from the search onward, Lloyd Carr at times seems sinister, at other times merely unsupportive, and the Free Press's Rosenberg and Snyder look every bit the D-list Woodward-and-Bernstein wannabe hack saboteurs that they are. Through most of the book, the players really are Rodriguez's team: they show incredible dedication to him even after every loss, at least until the second half of the Gator Bowl. At the same time, Rodriguez exhibits quite an extensive knowledge of and dedication to the Michigan ethos when working with the team that never really showed up in public. In delineating all of this, two of Bacon's main points seem to be that 1) Ever since Bo died, there hasn't been anyone to keep the entire program unified and focused, which made the fracturing of the department, alumni, and fanbase all the easier during these three years, and 2) Neither RichRod nor Michigan did enough, publicly or privately, to make this a happy marriage. This was one of the most engrossing books that I've read in quite a while. I can't remember the last time I tried to take advantage of every free moment to read another chapter.

We ordered WWE Vengeance, during which CM Punk and Triple H took on The Miz and R Truth. Due to shenanigans involving Kevin Nash, the bad guys won. Dolph Ziggler wrestled twice, first in a tag match and then one-on-one against cult favorite Zack Ryder, losing the tag but retaining his US Title. The big event, I suppose, happened during the Big Show/Mark Henry title match: Henry had Show on the turnbuckle for a superplex, and when they landed the ring collapsed. Here, watch:



After this, Alberto Del Rio and John Cena had to have their Last Man Standing match in the collapsed ring, which made for some fun spots. It wasn't the greatest PPV I've seen, but not on the bottom of the list for 2011.

Phineas and Ferb had a special Halloween episode the other week. During the first half, the kids go through a haunted house that a family puts on every year (the dad, interestingly, is voiced by Michael Douglas). During the second half, Candace and Stacy go to a movie called "Early Evening," featuring a werewolf (voiced by Michael J. Fox; the reference took me way too long to get) a girl (Anna Paquin) and a vampire (Stephen Moyer). After seeing the movie, Candace becomes convinced that she's a vampire based on a series of silly coincidences. The episode was clever as always, and Coffeeson still likes watching it even though Halloween has passed.

This week's random musical discovery is "Frontier Psychiatrist" by The Avalanches:

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

God's Healing Call

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of my dad's ordination. My "home" church celebrated with him this past Sunday morning, which included inviting me to preach. This is what I shared that day.

Luke 5:27:32

Jesus is collecting disciples.

He's already called a few. Earlier in this same chapter, he called a couple fishermen. Besides that, he's been traveling through the region and making a name for himself by healing, teaching, getting into arguments with religious authority. He's been proclaiming his message of the kingdom of God. And all of this together has intrigued people enough to want to follow him. Besides specifically calling some, many others have been struck by what he's been doing, and so they've been tagging along as well.

As they're traveling, they come to a booth where Levi the tax collector is sitting. He's collecting tolls on goods people are moving from one place to another, as well as taxing people who are traveling. Otherwise, he's being avoided: people probably didn't interact with tax collectors if they didn't have to: they were seen as Roman puppets, sellouts against their own people, scammers who skimmed off the top for themselves. They were outcasts. So even when Jesus and his group approach, most if not all of those traveling with him are probably wanting to ignore him.

Of course, you can't really take Jesus anywhere, as he'll inevitably end up embarrassing you somehow. That's confirmed again here as Jesus strolls right up to the booth and says to Levi, "Follow me." And that's it. There's no sales pitch, no explanation of benefits, no protest sign, no mini-booklet with four easy steps. Just, "follow me," and that's it. And that's all it takes: Levi drops everything and follows.

Later that day, Levi throws a banquet for Jesus. And we're told that many other tax collectors attend, which invites the question, "Who else would have attended?" Given how they were viewed by most, it may have been that they only really hung out with each other. Jesus shared table with many different people, and of course this irked the Pharisees. In this instance, they ask the disciples about why he does this. Why has he accepted this invitation; why does he do this so often? It's as if they're questioning his credibility: if this is who he associates with, why should we listen to what he says about God? Jesus overhears this and, rather than allowing the disciples to stumble through their own answer, he says, "Those who are sick are the ones who need a doctor. Those who are sick are the ones who need healing."

Think about that statement for a second. On the face of it, the meaning seems obvious. Jesus has been healing, he's been teaching inclusion, he's been forgiving. But what has Jesus done for Levi? He has no sickness that we know of, he doesn't seem to be possessed by a demon, he's not considered ritually unclean (although people probably thought he was unclean in other ways). As far as we know, the only thing that Jesus has done for Levi, Levi's only reason for giving this banquet for Jesus in celebration or thankfulness, is that he was called.

How has Jesus healed Levi? He called him to discipleship. He called him to a new way of living, a different set of priorities.

How often do we think of Jesus' call being a healing thing?

We're celebrating several things this morning. First, we're celebrating ordination. Specifically, we celebrate 40 years of ordination as of tomorrow. 40 years! That is so far off my radar! I have almost 7 and I think that's great! We can roughly break down these 40 years into two blocks. The first 20 years were spent in settled, full-time local church ministry as a pastor. The next 20 years have been spent in a multitude of ways: at the Wayne County Library, on the Church and Ministry Department of the Association, and working with interim ministers in Ohio.

Now, some--way too many, I would argue--may look at that 40 years and only see the first 20 as "ministry." They may look at those 20 years as a full-time settled pastor and say, "That's clearly ministry." But if we only counted those years, we'd be ignoring so much that we can consider ministry: deepening people's learning through books and other media, encouraging others just starting in ministry or long-established, working with churches in transition as they figure out who they are and who they want to be.

Today, the last Sunday of October, is also Reformation Sunday, a day to celebrate and remember the events surrounding the Reformation and the work of Reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli. Among other things that we remember today may be Luther's concept of the priesthood of all believers, the idea that it's not just the ordained people up front in the funny outfits who are called to ministry. Instead, according to Luther, we're all priests, we're all ministers according to our gifts and passions, whether ordained or not.

So...how is this call to ministry healing? Among other things, it gives us a new identity, it clarifies who we are, it gives us purpose and direction, it gives us a new way of living. It gives us a community to serve with and a vision of God's kingdom to pursue. But it's also healing because, no matter what the particulars, remembering that we are called affirms who we are.

I have to imagine that Levi ran into times after accepting Jesus' call where he was questioned: "You're a tax collector. How could YOU be called? Why would Jesus call YOU?" And in those moments, maybe what continued to heal him was remembering the day Jesus wandered up to his booth and said, "Follow me." Or maybe what continued to heal him was remembering the moment when Jesus defended not only his dining practices, but Jesus' defense of Levi himself, to the Pharisees.

Those of us who are ordained know these moments of doubt and disappointment. As both a pastor's kid and pastor, I've seen them. And those of us who aren't ordained know them as well: doubts about our ability, disappointment when something we're a part of doesn't go well, or generally wondering how it is that what we do can be considered ministry at all.

Healing comes through remembering. Healing comes through remembering when such clarity did come, or when we've been affirmed or appreciated by others, or the promises made at baptism or confirmation or, for some, ordination. Healing may come when we remember that we do have a call and when we remember the presence of the One who called us. Healing may come by remembering that God sees something wonderful in each of us and is ever calling it out.

Jesus is collecting disciples. Jesus says to each of us, "Follow me." Follow me into a new, transformed life. Follow me because you are my beloved child. Follow me because you do have something to offer. Remembering all that can be very healing indeed.