Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sundry New Year's Eve Thoughts

There was something strange about this Christmas. It wasn't bad per se. We had a good time with family, worship on Christmas Eve went well even considering that I was laid up with a stomach bug the day before (these things have such great timing for me). But there was a certain underlying vibe that I needed to acknowledge, even if I couldn't immediately name what was causing it, or even what it was.

Eventually, I started to reflect on how this was my first Christmas in a lot of new contexts at once: a new church, a new house, a new daughter with whom to celebrate, one less cat running around. And really, the more I thought about it, the more this first-ness, this newness, seemed to be the cause of what I was feeling.

What was perhaps most notable about this realization was the lack of processing that I'd done previous to it. All of these things happened in quick succession--on top of each other, really--and while I made adjustments along the way in response to each, I didn't give myself time to acknowledge the emotional and spiritual aspects, let alone deal with them, until I had some downtime right at the end of the year.

Before it all really started, I envisioned a moment where I'd suddenly crash from all the transition, some morning where I'd see the family off to their various destinations for the day and then crawl back into bed. Thankfully, that didn't happen...or hasn't happened. I don't think it will at this point. If there is one thing I've learned over the past two years, it's to take proper time to care for myself, which I've at least had the presence of mind to do this year in the midst of everything.

With the exception of losing a beloved pet, these transitions have all been good ones. I anticipate more settling in as 2014 moves along, although I'm sure it'll bring its own changes and challenges, too.
___________________

My UCC colleague Rev. Emily Heath recently wrote a blog post listing five things she started doing this year that she vows to keep doing in 2014. It's an anti-resolution sort of post, recognizing that change is a process rather than a stark epiphany moment. I really liked that idea, so here are five things I started doing that I hope to keep doing:

1. Get reacquainted with my drums. I started playing the drums 24 years ago, which is weird to think about. Along the way I've dabbled in bass and guitar, but the drums have always been my first love and I've been neglecting them for quite some time.

2. Call old friends regularly. The difference that even just a few phone calls mid- to late in the year made for my spirit was noticeable. I want to keep up with that. It's a self-care thing for me as much as a relationship thing.

3. Take time off. Believe it or not, this can be a hard thing for pastors to remember to do. I know firsthand what happens when you don't; when you think the church will fall down or so-and-so's life will fall apart unless you're on 24/7. And while in a sense the nature of your vocation is such, I can't be on for the moments when I'm really needed unless I set boundaries otherwise.

4. Live more prayerfully. I've really been inspired this year, particularly since my spiritual direction practicum started, to be more attentive to the ways prayer is meant to influence my day to day living; the ways I am meant to live as a disciple even in the simple decisions that I face on a daily basis.

5. Keep writing. Given that this blog exists, this seems obvious. But it's very much a discipline, and one I haven't always wanted to keep. But writing in itself is important to me, and so I'm going to keep doing it, one way or another.
____________________

And for fun, here are my favorite blog posts from this past year:

1. How It Ends

2. Ghosts

3. Diversity and Identity

4. The Complexity of Help

5. How Your Church Can Attract More of Every Demographic Ever!

6. On Being Burned Out on Church-Related Pontification

7. Gas Bubble Smiles

8. Ministry and Ego Death, Part 1

9. All About Eve

Happy New Year. I hope 2014 is a positive, meaningful year for you and yours.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Year-End Pop Culture Roundup 2013

No matter how I've felt about writing the Pop Culture Roundup over the years, I've always looked forward to putting this one together. So even if I gave up the others (as I've done from time to time), I'd never give up doing this one. Here are my favorites in various media categories that I experienced this past year.

Five Books I Enjoyed in 2013

1. Pastrix - I've long been an admirer of Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, for her irreverence and her insightful commentary on church, culture, and theology. To say that I was greatly anticipating this book's release date so that I could get my copy was probably an understatement, and I read the whole thing in two days once it arrived. Nadia interweaves some of her personal story into her experiences of being a pastor of such a unique congregation, all with the humor and...ahem...vocabulary that anyone familiar with her would expect. This book is personal, insightful, at times convicting, at other times inspiring.

2. Understanding the Spiritual Exercises - It wasn't really my choice, but I had to live with this book by Michael Ivens, SJ all year. And a little of the previous year. And also this next year. And probably for quite a while after that. This is the main text used for my spiritual direction program, a presentation of and commentary on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. At first it was just a textbook to me, into the margins of which I scribbled many of my own notes. But as I have come to appreciate not only the structure and philosophy of the Exercises but also the real ways that they may cultivate depth in one's prayer life, I return to it out of my own interest and not just for homework. This book will be a companion of mine for quite a while.

3. World War Z - I greatly enjoyed Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide a few years ago, and I'm not sure what took me so long to read his follow-up, presented as a series of interviews with people who survived a global zombie outbreak. The movie adaptation (which I haven't seen but looks nothing like the book just from the trailers) inspired me to do so, which I'm somewhat ashamed to admit. Anyway, this is every bit as good as the Guide was, probably better, because here the rules of his universe get applied in more of a story format.

4. The Clockwork Century Series - I continued to enjoy this series of books by Cherie Priest, who writes about an alternative steampunk universe set during the Civil War, where a mysterious gas turns people into zombies. After reading Boneshaker late last year, I was hooked, so I've enjoyed DreadnaughtClementine, and Ganymede over the course of the year, and it looks like I have at least three more to go. So this could very well get a mention next year, too.

5. Hyperbole and a Half - A couple years ago, Allie Brosh of the hilarious blog of same name announced that she was putting out a book based on her writings and cartoons: about half stuff we've seen and half stuff we haven't. Unfortunately, the timeline for the release seemed to be delayed by life (she's explained her struggle with depression in several posts in a humorous yet powerful way). This year her book--which really is her blog in book form--finally released, and the material translates well. Some of her best stuff is included: her two posts on depression, being an adult (ALL THE THINGS), her stupid dog, and eating her grandfather's entire birthday cake, for instance. Much like her blog posts which may go weeks in between being posted, this was worth the wait.

Honorable mention: Sam Halpern, A Far Piece to Canaan

Five Movies I Enjoyed in 2013

1. Rise of the Guardians - We have certainly seen our fair share of family- or kid-friendly movies, including this one that depicts familiar childhood figures (Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, etc.) as superheroes charged with protecting children. Both story-wise and artistically, this was a well-done film that re-imagined these characters and the rules that they live by. This was a good story about belief and childhood wonder, and had something for adults and children alike.

2. Iron Man 3 - Set not too long after The Avengers, Tony Stark is not doing very well in processing the events of that earlier movie. He's dealing with PTSD, most notably manifested in sleeplessness and occasional bouts of extreme anxiety. In the midst of this internal struggle, yet another outward threat comes in the form of The Mandarin. These two things combined make for a long stretch of the movie that is more about Stark figuring himself out as much as figuring out how to defend his loved ones and others from this new menace. The third movie of a trilogy can be hit-or-miss, and this was a hit, perhaps even the best of the three.

3. Silver Linings Playbook - Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a man recently released from an inpatient psychiatric facility and obviously still wrestling with his illness (bipolar). He eventually meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, who won an Oscar for this), who is dealing with depression and grief herself, and the two help each other adjust to life in the midst of their struggles. The film does a great job of portraying the illness of each (it had psychiatric nurse practitioner Coffeewife's approval), as well as environmental factors such as enabling and/or eggshell-walking family members, the death of loved ones, and the role of coping mechanisms, both healthy and unhealthy.

4. Much Ado About NothingAmy Acker stars as Beatrice, Alexis Denisof as Benedick, and a whole host of other Joss Whedon favorites in assorted roles. This modern adaptation takes place at a large house on sprawling grounds, the characters in simple, yet affluent attire, and it's shot in black and white, which gives everything a certain noir feel. There's a lot of visual comedy that complements or helps express the humor of the dialogue: the smallest facial expression helps elevate what's being said, and the cast has proven very well over the years how talented and capable they are at this. This was a wonderful, simplified production of one of Shakespeare's better-known tales.

5. Catching Fire - Sometimes it's hard to judge a movie that is clearly the second in a series. It's not self-contained and often acts as a bridge of sorts between the first film that sets up the characters and conflict and the third/fourth that you know will provide resolution. As a work in itself, this was a great rendition of what happens in the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy. The actors--including worthy additions such as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Jenna Malone, and Sam Claflin--hit the right notes portraying the fear, helplessness, anxiety, and defiance involved in the growing revolution against the Capital. The visual effects are stunning as well, as one would expect. As the "bridge movie," this did very well to set up what is to come.

Honorable mention: Wreck-It Ralph

Five TV Shows I Enjoyed in 2013

1. The Walking Dead - It's crazy to think that I watched the entire series so far just this year. First, I binge-watched seasons 1, 2, and the first part of 3 leading up to the second part of season 3 in February, and then I hung on to every new twist and turn as Rick and the gang fought not only the undead but the living. I couldn't wait for season 4 to start this past October, which was every bit as good. I've been trying to figure out what in general I find so compelling about the zombie genre, and I think this show encompasses it so well: it asks what happens to our humanity when the world we know disappears; when survival becomes the concern over everything else. Various characters answer this in different ways and even according to different circumstances. I can't wait for the show to return next February, especially given the chaotic way the mid-season finale ended.

2. Arrested Development - My heart leaped with joy when I first heard that they really were, seriously you guys, going to be making new episodes of this incredibly clever show about a wealthy dysfunctional family trying to keep it all together. The format of this Netflix-exclusive series would be a little different: each episode would focus on one character each to help get everyone caught up on what has happened since the original show was cancelled. Some characters get multiple episodes for their stories, and each is ultimately interwoven with the others such that some jokes take watching multiple episodes to pay off completely. The writing is every bit as good as it was before, and we're left hanging at the end, the possibility of a movie still looming. It was great to enjoy this series again.

3. Orange is the New Black - I think I first heard about this series through Entertainment Weekly, which talked it up quite a bit. And then I started hearing about it from friends who were completely engrossed. And finally I started watching, and I understood. We meet Piper, an uppity New Yorker who gets sent to prison for something she'd done ten years earlier. The tagline for the show is "Every sentence is a story," which holds true as we learn the background of some of the other inmates: not just why they got arrested, but what their lives were/are like otherwise: relationships, background, and so on. Again, my love of nuance comes through as we're able to get 3D glimpses into the lives of these inmates and how they interact with (sometimes bounce off of) each other to try to make it through each day.

4. Parks and Recreation - When Coffeedaughter and I began spending my days off together, I figured this would be a good show to queue up on Neflix in the background. But the more and more I watched, the more I appreciated its offbeat humor. Amy Poehler plays Leslie with the right amount of earnestness in this mockumentary about a parks and recreation department in a small Indiana town, but it's really an ensemble comedy that includes Nick Offerman as a no-nonsense department manager, Rob Lowe as a high-energy city manager somewhat at war with himself, Chris Pratt as a dim-witted slacker trying to find his way, and Aubrey Plaza as a deadpan administrative assistant, among many others. The cast chemistry is incredible, the jokes wonderfully timed. As of this writing, I'm in the middle of Season 5 and can't wait to see more.

5. Boardwalk Empire - I wasn't sure about the fourth season at first, as plot points always tend to develop very slowly on this show. Things eventually picked up as Capone and Lansky started to step up more and more, and a new villain, Dr. Valentin Narcisse, started making trouble for Chalky. Narcisse was more sinister, manipulative, and calculating in contrast with last season's crash-and-bang Gyp Rosseti, which was a good change to keep things fresh. The last episode of the season was a gutbuster in several ways, as Narcisse ended up in a fate worse for him than death, Eli's son seemed to start a transition into New Jimmy, and Harrow found the sort of resolution that seemed to fit his struggles. Another fantastic season by the end.

Honorable mention: The Newsroom

Five Albums I Enjoyed in 2013 

1. Five Iron Frenzy, Engine of a Million Plots - The musical highlight of my year came in two parts. First, I saw FIF play a show in a very intimate setting that included my meeting and taking pictures with several members of the band. Second, this album came out the next week. What with the group breaking up 10 years ago, neither of these things seemed possible for quite a long time, and yet here I am enjoying one of my all-time favorites yet again. The album itself is a little more mature, still with that fun side, yet both less hindered and more thoughtful than they've ever been.

2. Serena Ryder, Harmony - I heard Ryder perform her song "Stompa," the first single off this album, on an NPR show shortly after another artist mentioned below had. Unfortunately, the full album was not yet available in the United States (she's Canadian), so I had to specially order it through Amazon. Let me say: worth it! Ryder draws from rock and R&B influences for a sound that I think is best described as "Adele if she rocked out."

3. Dessa, Parts of Speech - I'm pretty much impressed with everything that Dessa does. She makes incredibly clever hip hop that had me hooked the first time I heard it, and her interviews show her to be an intelligent, well-spoken woman besides. So I greatly looked forward to the release of her latest album earlier this year, which lived up to the hype that I gave it in my head. "Call Off Your Ghost," "Warsaw," and "Fighting Fish" are favorites.

4. Abney Park, The Circus at the End of the World - The ragtime element of the band's sound is a little more pronounced on many of the songs on this one, giving it a good circus vibe. There are variations, of course. "Not Silent" is a little darker, and is more about current issues of intolerance than the usual steampunk stories. On the other hand, "Buy the Captain Rum" is a silly shanty that incorporates "Drunken Sailor." So as usual, the band shows its versatility and plays up its characters very well.

5. Ben Caplan, In the Time of the Great Remembering - On the way home from officiating a funeral one evening, I switched on NPR just in time to hear Caplan performing an in-studio version of "Stranger," a coming-of-age ballad that sounds like a pirate shanty and as if Caplan is incredibly angry at the piano he's pounding on. Astounded and mesmerized, I went on a frantic search to find out more about this artist and to hear more as soon as I got home. Caplan pulls from a wide variety of influences including blues, rock, folk, and orchestral to create an incredibly unique sound over which his soulful voice sings. I'm actually disappointed that he only has one album so far, but will eagerly anticipate more.

Honorable mention: Rob Leveridge, Dancing on the Mountain

Five Blogs I Enjoyed in 2013

1. Brant's Blog - I've enjoyed reading Brant Hansen's blog in whatever incarnation it's taken over the years. He writes with both a wit and a weight that I've found largely unparalleled in most blogs that I've perused. He and I don't see eye to eye on everything, but I don't have to agree 100% with someone to learn from them, to be challenged by them, to be entertained by them. Brant has written some stuff this year that has hit me in just the right way, whether it was a word I needed to help name something I was struggling through or one I needed to sit with for a while to think over (or rethink) something. I'll look forward to continuing to read Brant's blogging in whatever form it takes.

2. Beauty Tips for Ministers - This blog should have been on 2012's year-end list, too. This is a side project by PeaceBang (really, it's the one she's perhaps more known for) that was begun on a bit of a lark that has turned into a full-blown online ministry. The gist is given in the title: PB is concerned with pastors representing themselves, their vocation, and the faith communities they serve well, and that includes what they wear as they do their work. Her primary focus is female clergy, but she has plenty of advice for us menfolk as well. The very first time last year that I started reading, she began having an impact, and now I'm to the point where wearing jeans to the office (which I did a lot during my "emerging dudebro" phase) feels weird and kind of wrong.

3. Theoblogy - Regular readers of this blog know that I've offered up a lot of commentary lately in response to Tony Jones, usually when I have a disagreement that I think is worth fleshing out. So it may seem strange for me to include his blog on this year-end list. The thing of it is, though, that I spent a lot of time on his blog this year, and was able to articulate my own viewpoints on church and theology using his ideas as a jumping-off point. So I think his blog deserves a nod for that.

4A Church for Starving Artists - Jan continues to offer thoughtful posts on what the church could be if we just consider new approaches to familiar things. By this point, I think there are just certain blogs you can always expect to make this list.

5. MGoBlog - Like I said.

Honorable mention: Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve

Tonight you shall know
that God will come to save me.
And tomorrow you shall witness
God's glory in me.
--Isaiah 66

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fourth Monday of Advent: Song

There come certain points in the day when it is very clear that Coffeedaughter is ready for a nap. It takes her a while longer to realize this for herself, and in those instances I have a few go-to tactics. The one that I use the most is walking around the house while rocking her and patting her back. It's not really a creative or unusual practice, but she likes the movement.

As it turns out, she seems to be a big music fan as well. Whether the radio in the car, or Spotify just before bedtime, music has a calming effect for her.

Oftentimes, when I'm rocking her during the day it comes at a moment's notice and I don't have the hands available to cue something up on the computer or stereo. So I sing instead.

The song selection varies. I most often go to Five Iron Frenzy and Counting Crows (the latter worked really well with Coffeeson back in the day), but hymns seem to work really well, too. And, of course, this time of year has brought some inspiration to sing Christmas carols.

What I think is most appropriate when trying to rock an upset 3-month-old to sleep are, I think, those carols that are meant to be sung at a lower volume to begin with. What makes this even more convenient is that several carols actually seem like lullabies, namely "Silent Night" and "Away in a Manger." As a pastor, I refuse to have the congregation sing these songs during Advent (relax...I make up for it with others), but for the purposes of calming down an infant, they do just fine.

Now, let's be honest. These two carols in particular are a bit silly. They make bold, inaccurate claims about a baby that doesn't cry and that has an extra special divine glow about him. He's a human baby. That's a big part of the whole incarnation thing. The cynical hipster part of me scoffs at such lyrics. But when I sing these songs to a small child, who after a verse or two has calmed down and is even smiling up at me by this point, making those first exploratory language sorts of sounds, the innocence of the song connects with the fragile gentleness of the one I'm holding and it makes perfect sense.

I may return to that cynicism later on. But at least for a moment, those lyrics are true because I see the world's need for them.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

An Advent Discipline

Of course. It was so obvious.

"I've been focusing each week of Advent on the theme of each candle," she said. "So that first week I paid attention to hope, the second week peace, and so on."

That first week, even when dealing with a mother's illness, she searched for hope. The next week, even when dealing with anxiety in relationships, she searched for peace. And so it has gone, her Advent discipline.

Even though the idea is perhaps not terribly original, even though it is the understood encouragement behind the lighting of the Advent wreath, this was somehow novel to me. Seek hope during the first week, then seek peace, then joy, then love. I imagine that most years love gets the short shrift. Rarely do we get a full week between lighting that fourth candle and Christmas Eve.

But to actively and prayerfully seek these virtues, these divine traits through each week? Why hadn't I ever been more intentional about this? Why did this seem like so great a concept to me?

I could chalk it up to a million excuses: busyness and preoccupation of one sort or another. But in the midst of other concerns, where might these greater things be found? What difference would it make to one's preparations and waiting to do this, even and especially while scurrying around to fulfill obligations of holiday, work, and family?

So obvious. Yet not. That, I suppose, is why it's a "discipline."

Next year, I plan to do better. We'll see.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Third Monday of Advent: Healing

At my previous church I started a Blue Christmas service. If you're not familiar with this, it is meant to be a time to acknowledge that the holidays are not really a joyful time for many people for a variety of reasons: grief, loneliness, stress, etc. It was never a packed service--we averaged between 10-20 every year--but numbers wasn't my main concern. It was a needed ministry for those who came, and its low-key nature always spoke to me as well.

I decided to go ahead and organize a Blue Christmas service in my new setting. This was before I'd experienced a full year here, but I figured that I'd been here long enough that a new service like this wouldn't be a big deal.

The central act of Blue Christmas as I've organized it has always been giving people an opportunity to come forward and light candles for the season's burdens. I'd set tea lights on tables along the front, and as people feel moved they may come forward and participate.

As it turns out, this practice is already observed on All Saints where I am. We observe totenfest, remembering those who have died over the past year, and then people may come forward and light candles for others whom they wish to remember. The more I thought about it, the more I didn't want this new service to seem redundant. So I opted to make Blue Christmas a healing service instead, complete with oil of anointing and prayers of healing for the season's burdens. I led healing services quite regularly in my previous setting, and this seemed like an appropriate event during which to hold one.

I have to admit that I've never fully understood what I'm doing during a healing service. It's something that I inherited where I was, and so I took the time to learn what happens as I went. There is a bit of a stigma around such things, conjuring images of television hucksters causing people to convulse on stage with the slightest touch. As I've come to understand it, the emphasis of these services as I've led them has been spiritual rather than the miraculous. People speak their concern, receive oil and prayers, and are encouraged to go in peace.

This was pretty much what happened last night. Again, it wasn't a big crowd, but those who were there needed to be there, seeking healing each in their own way. Joy can be more elusive than we care to admit this time of year; if this brief time to be quiet and to receive these gestures may aid in our finding it, then let it not be withheld. I muddle through it along with those seeking its benefits, hoping that a new sense of God's presence will carry them forward.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Vintage CC: Blue Christmas Prayer

I'll be leading a Blue Christmas service for the first time in my new setting this coming Sunday evening. I wrote this prayer in December 2005 for the first time I'd ever offered one, and have used it most years since. If you are one experiencing something other than joy or peace during this season, maybe this could be your prayer.

Around us, O God, the singing can be heard: ‘Joy to the world…let heaven and nature sing.’ This season is to be one of hope eases our minds, when peace soothes our hearts, when love warms our souls, and when joy comes each morning.

But there are many who do not feel this joy. Some might try, others have given up trying. ‘Where is this joy for us?’ they ask. The world has found joy but some feel as if it has passed them by. Our minds are not at ease…we feel too much doubt. Our hearts are not at peace…there is too much to do. Our souls are not warmed…the chill of death is too troubling. Where, O God, can joy be found? We ask this as we come before you in prayer, opening ourselves to the possibility that hope, peace, joy, and love might still come to us.

We pray for the lonely, that they might find comfort in another’s touch.

We pray for the downtrodden, that they might find relief from their burdens.

We pray for those wrestling with depression, that a light of calm might bring them peace.

We pray for those dealing with stress, that they might find the courage to let go.

We pray for the grief-stricken, that they might experience the newness of life that you bring.


May joy come to the world, O God, and may we grasp some of that. We do not pray for joy that is temporary or fleeting, but a joy that runs deep and sustains us even in moments of despair. We seek this joy in a season that can be less than joyful. O God, hear our prayer.

We wait for Emanuel, God With Us, to come into our hearts once again. May we experience your love in new ways as we in turn love each other. We pray this in the name of the One who is to come. Amen.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Second Monday of Advent: Calm

I'm in the second year of my spiritual direction program, which features a 50-hour practicum. This basically consists of meeting with people for at least 50 hours total for spiritual direction in whatever way you want to structure it, monthly meetings with a supervisor to go over a verbatim based on one such session, and some other reading and writing.

My practicum is pretty simple and straightforward: guide a pastoral colleague through the 19th Annotation version of the full Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, which will end up being 30-32 weekly meetings when it's all said and done, and offer the option of an abbreviated 8-week overview version of the Exercises to church members.

Just this fall, I've been meeting with three people for the 8-week retreats, so that's four people total with whom I've been meeting with for direction so far this year. No two retreats have been the same, as no two spiritual journeys are the same.

One of the most notable takeaways for me so far is how more than one directee has reported how much they've noticed their interactions with others have changed. They report times with difficult people where they've been inspired to take a step back and prayerfully consider how to handle it rather than up the anxiety by snapping back. Their daily prayer time has seeped into other aspects of their lives. It's been incredible to hear about. Here is the importance of spiritual health playing out for others to see.

Coffeedaughter recently dealt with RSV. Her nose was incredibly stuffy, her chest congested. She'd be privy to coughing fits, even to the point of choking. Unfortunately, this choking has led to gastrointestinal pyrotechnics more than once, usually at the most inopportune times.

One such time occurred a few weeks ago when we were already running late for a doctor's appointment. I'd just strapped her into her carseat when the coughing and subsequent vomiting happened. In the past when I've been in a situation like this, I've been privy to a complete freakout, albeit a brief one. This time, however, two things happened.

First, I remembered my directees reporting the difference in their spirits as a result of their prayer time when similar moments happened.

Second, a very clear voice in my head said, "You're no good to her when you're hyped up. She needs you to stay calm."

And so, letting go of how late we were, I set to work in cleaning her up and cradling her to calm her down. We would leave when we would leave. That was not the most important thing in that moment.

Whatever it is that my directees are learning from me, I'm learning just as much from them. At least indirectly, they helped get me through that morning. For that, I'm thankful. And during this week of the season when we're invited to reflect on peace, this will serve as the basis for my own reflection.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Small Sips Feels Pretty Good, Considering

Welp. On Saturday, a football game was played in Ann Arbor. Given how each team's season had gone, many including myself thought it'd be a blowout that wouldn't even be worth watching. I myself resolved to put up Christmas decorations rather than sit through it and be miserable. Then instead of actually just lying down, Michigan nearly won if not for an intercepted 2-point conversion attempt in the last minute. So here's Brian of MGoBlog trying to describe how to feel in the aftermath:
How are you supposed to feel after coming up one play short against an undefeated Ohio State team that was favored by three scores? How about when that makes you two of the last 13 against the Great Satan? How are you supposed to feel after watching whatever that was on offense since the Notre Dame game* turn in the second-most yards Ohio State has ceded in 123 years? After watching the mostly valiant defense turn into the Indiana outfit that necessitated the footnote in the previous sentence? 
Football's ridiculous. There's that. We can all agree on that after the football gods cooked up the worst possible torture imaginable for Harvey Updyke, who is 100% at fault for the way the Iron Bowl ended. That is the only thing that actually makes sense about football, a 109-yard field goal return to beat the #1 team in the country. Football is ridiculous.
Football is indeed ridiculous. I myself came away feeling oddly calm and even optimistic about the future, provided that Michigan's offensive coordinator can get his act together and do what they did on Saturday much, MUCH more often.

Advent humor. From nakedpastor:


Get it?

Sadly, I might know the typical answer. Jan at A Church for Starving Artists poses the question, "If you had to choose between your pastor or your building, which would you choose?"
This is a real question for several churches I know and love.  With a building, weget a place to gather and it’s often a placed drenched with community or personal history.  With a pastor, we get someone to cast a vision and equip the other leaders to do ministry. 
Some churches are identified by their pastors (i.e. “I’m part of Lillian Daniel’s church.”) 
Some churches are identified by their buildings (i.e. “The stone church with the beautiful windows on the corner.”) 
What if we could only afford one?
It's a worthwhile question to ask, especially in an age where congregations really are finding themselves needing to make that choice more and more. My own experience is that such a decision comes down in favor of the building more often than not, because it's such a great resource, or because we have so much left on the mortgage, or because so-and-so helped build it years and years and years (and years) ago. So the pastoral position gets scaled back to part-time, benefits get slashed, and so on.

Churches who choose this way aren't necessarily wrong, so long as the congregation realizes that it entails 1) getting what you pay for from your now part-time pastor, who likely will need to seek a second job of some kind in order to, you know, live, and 2) other members needing to take on a greater amount of shared ministry tasks to make up the difference. Not all churches who make this choice realize this.

A building can be very beneficial. It can also be a tremendous burden. A full-time pastor can be beneficial. It can also contribute to an attitude that s/he does ministry so the rest of us don't have to. There are plusses and pitfalls both ways. Choose wisely.

Misc. Jan on the need for mentors in the church. PeaceBang with some great advice for when wedding parties show up with booze. Rachel Held Evans on crazy youth group games.

Monday, December 02, 2013

First Monday of Advent: Beginnings

For the past eight years, Advent for me was more than just the beginning of the church year. It also happened to be the beginning of my church year: I started my last pastorate on the First Sunday of Advent. So for me the celebration of Thanksgiving and subsequent hanging of the greens for December also signaled a new year with the congregation with whom I was ministering at the time. I always thought that it was a pretty cool thing for the latter to match up so well with the former.

These sorts of anniversaries have always been a big deal to me. They provide a way to look back and do some evaluation; to take time to celebrate steps forward and consider lessons to be learned from missteps. Having begun a new pastorate this year, that time now comes around the beginning of Lent instead, perhaps just as appropriate for such reflection.

Even with these two beginnings now divorced from one another for me personally, Advent still brings with it the end of one year and the start of another. For all the different calendars with which we mark the time--Gregorian, school, seasonal--this particular one provides us with one more beginning to anticipate.

I admit that I'm a liturgy geek. I'm not on the same level as many of my colleagues, but the liturgical year is important to me. Some are down on it for various reasons: it's too confusing, "too Catholic," too rote. The lectionary comes under fire in conjunction, and there are good reasons to critique it. But the church calendar itself can be important and meaningful for the story that it tells. First comes the need for redemption, the crying out of a people for a new revelation of God's love and presence.

That is Advent. We cry out, and we wait. We anticipate a new beginning and the celebration that it will bring, whatever trimmings it brings for each of us. But it also invites a time to reflect on where we've been; to celebrate steps forward and consider lessons from missteps. Part of Advent waiting is the intentional preparation, the questions we may ask of ourselves regarding what to leave behind as Christmas approaches. Sure, lots of people do this citing New Year's as the reason, but for people of faith we may be able to do it in a different way.

I will no longer associate Advent with the beginning of my pastoral year. However, with this being the first time I'll journey through it in a new place, there will still be plenty of cause for reflection and observation, both personally and pastorally. It is still a beginning, a time to slow down and see where new life is needed.