Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why I Keep Watching Too Much TV

Back in the old days when I hacked around as a youth pastor (way back in 2004), I used to take time on the occasional evening to see what they're showing on MTV. You see "back in the day" when I was in Junior High School (are there any Junior Highs left, or does the Middle School reign supreme?) the trendsetter for all teens, everywhere, was MTV. They played cool music you couldn't hear on the radio by bands experimental (i.e. desperate) enough to make a video in a vain attempt to sell some records and book some gigs. I remember when girls everywhere went shopping in order to look like Pat Benetar within minutes of seeing her video. I remember when Mike Reno of Loverboy was a heartthrob who asked all of his loyal to vote for his video. I remember people with Flock of Seagulls haircuts who wore one glove (a la Michael Jackson... that's right, people used to emulate Michael Jackson!), couldn't wait for the next new British "New Wave" band to break in America. Such was MTV's hold on us, young impressionable teens back in the dark ages.

Of course, that was twenty years ago, and since then its been interesting to see how MTV tries to keep up with with tweens, teens, and college students. It doesn't define "cool" as much anymore as it reports it. So, every so often, I flip over and for an hour or so, just see what's on.

I got my answer in the form of two episodes of "My Super Sweet Sixteen", and a special from MTV News called, "Rocked: Sum 41 Goes To the Congo". NOTE TO MY GRANDMOTHER, WHO IS HIP ENOUGH TO SURF THE INTERNET WITH THE BEST OF THEM, BUT DOESN'T KNOW WHO "SUM 41" IS: They are punk rock band that has become famous making music featuring lyrics declairing how much they don't care about what other people think about them (a popular theme with teens seeking to show how defiant they are to the world around them). Hope that helps, grandmother!

So, what did I see? Let's put it this way.... MTV broadcast two shows (back-to-back episodes of "My Super Sweet Sixteen") featuring two of the most self-indulgent teenage girls they could find, and followed it up with a special featuring the aftermath of a devastating civil war that's claimed over 3.5 million lives since 1996. So, in the first hour, you could watch a little princess brag about how she'll spend $2000 in a hour at the mall because she's spoiled and gets everything she wants, and in the next hour listen to a fifteen-year old boy talk about how many people he killed when he was in the army THREE YEARS AGO (you do the math). MTV shifted gears from profiling a little girl who hires security for her "sweet sixteen party" to kick people she doesn't want off of the "VIP Dance Platform", to a fifteen-year old girl lamenting the fact she'll never get married because soldiers repeated raped her (as well as all the women in her village).

As an aside, the latter program actually made me feel sorry for the guys in Sum 41. The band (which, if you remember, is famous for not really caring about anything) was obviously overwhelmed at what they saw. You could tell that they weren't ready to experience little kids with healed bulletwounds, working long hours mining minerals for export in exchange for one meal a day. They were obviously shaken very badly during their experience, which they did on behalf of the organization "War Child International", a non-profit organization dedicated to helping heal children who have been scarred by living through, or participating in, the horrors of war (here's their website: ) . I'm sure it was a whole new, but beneficial, experience for a pop punk band that would be wise to shift their music toward something more substantial, anyway. But alas, I digress...

Talk about making your head spin.... I don't know if it was intentional on the part of programmers to book these things back to back, but the impression left on me was profound.

Let me say, first of all, that I gave up demonizing the rich a good many years ago. Despite the fairly liberal education I received in seminary, and my own theological orientation, I have learned over the years that just because the rich are rich, that they aren't necessarily "lost", and just because the poor are poor, that doesn't necessarily make them "chosen". God has given us all different gifts, and some people are just better at gathering resources than other people. It's what they choose to do with it that defines their character.

And, given that more than a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar day, what is the definition of "rich"?

I can tell you that as a young youth pastor, making less than $14,000 a year (all inclusive) back in 1998, that I had a change of heart about self-describing myself as "poor" after encountering a widow begging for change outside of a small store in CapHaitian. Knowing that there were tens-of-thousands more like her, living on next to nothing, not more than ten blocks away from where we were standing helped me realize just how blessed I was, and am. After that, living on $40 a day didn't seem all that overwhelming, and I didn't seem all that "poor".

So, I was surprised last night. Surprised enough to wonder if the programmers at MTV were trying to make some sort of statement. I'm just cynical enough to believe that the evening's fare was put together more for demographic reasons than anything else, but hopefully there's a little enlightenment tucked in the corner of a building where shows like "Room Raiders", "Date My Mom", and "Laguna Beach" (a whole other post... I told you I watch too much TV) are dreamed up for public consumption. If that enlightened person by any chance joins my legions of loyal readers (God bless the both of you), here's a show you should pitch to your producers: Combine the two shows, and drop the teenage princesses into the Congo with Sum 41 for a tour of war-torn country filled with orphaned children struggling to survive. It might make "not getting a brand new Beemer for my sixteenth birthday" a little less like the end of the world, and a little more like the unimportant thing that it really is.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) I think that there isn't much of the Gulf Coast that can be destroyed right now. What a horrible hurricane season.

2) I think that Joseph Bishman's sermon on Sunday was dead on. Probably the single best description of the "thorny soil" I've ever heard in my life. And here's the thing, the desire for more stuff and the "good life" can choke the spiritual life out of you even if your worth is very little (or negative). Just a powerful sermon.

3) I think that Charlie Rose's interview with the finance minister of India last week was one of the most interesting I'd seen in a while. India is a nation of extremes: Extreme economic growth (expanding at a rate of 7%, and this is projected to be the case for 15 years - it will be the world's third largest economy in the next ten years). Extreme poverty (more than a quarter of India's population, that's 250 million people, live on less than 1 dollar a day). Extreme expansion (India will need to build enough electrical plants to generate more than 10,000 megawatts of electricity every year for next TWENTY years to keep up with projected demand). Extreme education (Indian universities will graduate over 2 million college graduates this year, most of whom are scientists and engineers). And unlike China, India's economic expansion is built more on the demand for goods in services within its own borders, as opposed to exports, meaning that She has a growing middle class. The world is changing rapidly, and India will help lead the way.

4) I think that going over to my grandmother's to watch The West Wing is most relaxing thing I do each and every week. Her little nest at the Lima Towers is a haven of blessing and peace in my life.

5) I think my oldest cat is slowly going insane. She is 16 (which is 16 in cat years, cause they use the same ones we do), which is pretty old for a cat, but I caught her trying to eat the sponge in our kitchen sink. That's just not right.

6) I think that my friend Steve posed an interesting question to me that came out of his seminary Bible class. Would the church at Corinth have faced all of the challenges that it did if Paul would have stayed, or appointed a strong leader as his successor? Would a strong leader have ended all of the fornication and chaos, or would have the culture of Corinth overwhelmed that person's best efforts? An excellent question that deserves a blog post of its own, very soon.

7) I think the hardest thing in the world for me to remember is to bring my coffee travel-mug home after work. Pretty soon I'll run out of coffee cups (they'll all be at work) and you'll see me in my van drinking straight from the coffee pot.

8) I think that while Desperate Housewives has more twists and turns than US50 in Eastern West Virginia (worst drive I ever made), if stuff like that happened in any suburb I lived in, there would be whole blocks of houses for sale. It's more dangerous to live on Wisteria Lane than the South Side of Chicago.

9) I think the show "Breaking Bonaduce" is by far, the most compelling (in the same way driving slowly to gander at a car crash is compelling) attempts at TV yet. I get the sense that Danny Bonaduce would have been messed up even if he hadn't been a child star. He's deadly smart, and self-destructive to the core. It makes for interesting television, but I can't say I'm entertained while I watch the guy pop pills or shoot up with steroids, just terrified that we'll witness the first reality death scene with this guy. Scary!

10) And finally, I think that Eli, our youngest, is the rolypoliest, happy baby of them all. I love to see him smile.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) I think that the youth program here at Shawnee is really moving in the right direction. I am seeing lots of new faces in the form of teens showing up, and adults helping, and I'm really excited about our hiring Andrea Sanford to be our Assistant Youth Director. The new HS youth Sunday School is getting off to a good start, and the core group of teachers (Roger Rhodes, Mike Mox, Rob Neidich, Linda Lawson, Ryan and Stacy Brenneman) are as excellent a team as you'll ever find. Steve Jenkins a new volunteer small group leader, is doing an outstanding job. We still have a lot of work to do, but I'm encouraged with where Brent, Andrea, Andy, Lindsay, and Marty are taking the program.

2) I think that my head is still spinning after reading John Dominic Crossan's book, "Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography". Ten years ago, a book like this (because it puts so little stock in the occurrence of the supernatural and really questions the historocity of scripture) would have angered me to no end, but after a stint in a congregation (not this one) that refused (theologically) to think outside of the box, it's nice to be in a place that can appreciate new ideas that make good sense... even if they stay a bit from "what always been known to be true". I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying this new freedom.

3) I think that the Bucks' QB situation still isn't settled. I hope Troy Smith shakes off the rust this Saturday against Iowa (especially since my Dad and brother will be at the game).

4) I think the talking heads on TV, radio, and in the newspapers who say the New Orleans Saints are getting "hosed" because they have to play this additional game on the road, are losing their grasp of reality. A half-million people have been displaced in the wake of the worst natural disaster on US soil that we'll see in our lifetime, and a football team having to play an extra game on the road is a lead topic of discussion.... wake up guys!

5) I think that we have absolutely no idea of the magnitude that "shame and honor", and "clean and unclean" played in Jesus' world, and of the upheaval he caused by confronting the dominant cultural norm in real ways. If you can't even look at someone with a skin disease or a bleeding problem or enter into the home a gentile (non-Jew) without facing religious and political consequences, what statement does it make when a person specifically seeks out, and associates with these people? If people with mental disease are deemed possessed by demons, and are to be avoided at all costs, and Jesus gets a reputation for being able to "cast those demons out", how threatening is that to people in power? In a democratic society, I don't think we can fully realize the drama that was taking place between Jesus, and the religious/political leaders (Pharisees and Sadducees) of his age... but we should certainly try!

6) I think the special I saw on TV last night featuring David Blaine doing magic on the street corners of various places in the world, including Haiti, was fascinating. I don't know who would have been more fearful of his card tricks and slight of hand... ordinary Haitians who deal with the reality of voodoo witchdoctors every day, or the missionaries I've met who were sent to proclaim the Gospel. I would have loved to see him walk into a missionary's compound and try to do a couple of tricks... the reaction would have made for great television.

7) Speaking of Haiti, there was great a special on PBS, hosted by Bill Moyers, last week about the current situation there surrounding the holding of new elections next February. The UN has deemed it necessary that more than 4 million Haitians must be registered before elections take place, and at this point less than 400,000 have actually been processed by the nation's election committee. Between widespread violence by pro-Aristide supporters, a lack of true military or police force, the non-confrontational nature of the UN soldiers on the ground, and the sheer difficulty of traveling across the country, it's looking more and more like elections won't take place until later next year, or even 2007. What's more, the news crew on the ground that followed Guy Philippe, the principle player in this last coup, documented well his growing frustration and anger with the process. When someone like this expresses disgust with how this situation is being handled, and wishes they had just taken over the Presidential Palace, you know things aren't good. Compound these problems with continued escalating inflation and pervasive poverty, and you've got the makings of a powder-keg situation. Churches everywhere in this country need to seriously consider getting involved directly in Haiti by partnering with local churches/organizations on the ground there, ASAP. We have the makings of a human/ecological disaster unparalleled in the history of this hemisphere if we don't do something, soon.

The succeeding interview after the documentary with James Dobbins, the man in charge of the "nation building" process in Haiti last time things fell apart was very interesting. You can read a transcript of it here ( ).

8) Call me a fatalist, but I think we've had way too much good weather in this part of the world the past month to warrant a mild winter. I'm getting the snowblower up and ready to go.

9) I think that between the proliferation of new private and charter schools, the academic excellence of the various suburban school systems (particular the one here in Shawnee), and the improvement taking place in the Lima City School system, that our local Catholic churches are being faced with some serious issues that are an outgrowth of decreasing enrollment. All of these schools do an excellent job, and given the identity issues involved, I really feel for the leaders in all of the parish's that are facing the possible closure of their school. I'll be praying for you all.

10) I think that bringing home Lucy, our first-ever family dog, home from the pound was one of the best decisions I ever made. She loves our boys, and the kids from the neighborhood even come over to play with her (Is that unusual?). And, well, it's nice to finally have a dog. Welcome home, Lucy!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Ten Things I Think I Think

I tried this a couple of weeks ago, and received lots of positive comments, so (with apologizes to the concept's originator, Peter King, a columnist for Sports Illustrated), here's my second edition.

1) I think that the "Back to School Blessing" we held here at Shawnee UMC was a rousing success. Teachers from most of the area school systems were present (Doreen Martin, a member of our church, told me that five teachers came from her building in the Lima City School system, alone), and seemed genuinely touched by the service. We had enough giveaway stuff for students, but just barely! I can't say enough about the volunteers from the church, particularly Tara Yunker (who is putting Marketing degree, and years of experience, to work for us, gratis..... thank you so much Tara!). They just really did a great job of making people feel welcome. Special thanks to the Perry Corporation, Cappie's Sports, Kohli and Kahlier, EduProviders, Meiier, and WalMart for their support. Just a great way of celebrating God's gift of education.

2) I think "Crosstraining", our Sunday night youth ministry was really good last night. The new time of worship, the new small group leaders, the addition of Andrea Sanford as our new Assistant Youth Director, and free pizza made for a good time for all. A group of us stayed until after 9pm playing "Move It", and I think kids were genuinely disappointed when they had to leave. Just a great way to start off the new year.

3) I think that getting my first "win" this week, ever, in my Fantasy Football League felt pretty sweet. That it was over my little brother, made it even sweeter.

4) Even though I don't propose to understand the nuance of football coaching, I think that OSU needs to pick a QB, and go with him. Zwick and Smith seem to be looking over their shoulder, wondering if a mistake will cost them playing time. I also imagine the locker room will start dividing as guys pick their favorite QB. Just an awful situation. Tim Conley, a member of the church, put it best when he said that deciding who starts really should take place in the offseason, and I can't agree more. Does Coach Tressel remember the Germaine/Jackson debacle of a decade ago? Let's hope so.

5) I think I felt old today taking Xavier to pre-school today. My boys are growing up fast!

6) I think that the people who are saying that we ought not to rebuild in New Orleans are living a fantasy. You can't close the fourth busiest port in the country (one that is essential to farmers in the Midwest) in a city that functions as the gateway for 30% of our nation's oil. If people in the Netherlands can figure out how to live in an entire country that's under sea level, surely we can figure out how to re-develop New Orleans in such a way as to make it ecologically sustainable.

7) I think that I'm seeing way too many editorials and random articles on the looming debt crisis this country is facing, nationally and personally. That we're now into the world for over 3 trillion dollars as a nation, while simultaneously the personal consumer debt of families continues to climb, is leading many to the conclusion that a major correction is way overdue, and coming soon. The Bucher family has experienced, personally, the pain that comes from not living below your means, and the bill finally coming due. I don't want to think about the scenario on a national scale.

8) I think that people who are surprised that there was looting and violence in New Orleans during this disaster shouldn't be. We weren't born perfect... we were born selfish. Figuring out how to overcome this, with God's help, is the struggle of our lives.

9) I think that any congregation that donates over 12,000 pounds of water and baby wipes, hours of time to collect and pack the cargo, and contribute $9,500 to Katrina aid less than 48 hours after the appeal was made on a Labor Day weekend is a pretty doggone generous congregation. Thank you, Shawnee!

10) I think that if in the event your six year old child is willing to use his own money to buy a "Your First Day of School Sundae" for his little brother, that you'd better be there to witness the act of generosity, in person. So, I'm off to the Dairy Queen!

God Bless,

Saturday, September 10, 2005

My Conversation with Ron

Got off of the phone last night with the driver, Ron Brenneman, who took Shawnee UMC's load of water to the Gulf, and he confirmed what TV reporters had already told us.... the Gulf region is a wreck.

Ron's journey down there has been an interesting one. After volunteering to take the load south last weekend, Ron left Wednesday with over 40,000 pounds of water and baby wipes. Originally, he was heading to Broadmoor UMC in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but about an hour before he supposed to arrive, his contact asked him to forward the load to Slidell, Louisiana. Ron agreed, but after covering the additional distance, upon his arrival, the coordinator of the disaster relief center there asked if he could, instead, take the load to Gulfport, Mississippi. R0n, once again, agreed, however, upon arriving at a Salvation Army corps, and discovering that it might be a day or two before his truck could be unloaded (as there were three trucks ahead of him, and only a few tired volunteers doing the unloading), the corps captain asked if he could take the load into the heart of Biloxi, Mississippi. Ron, of course, agreed, and (thankfully) upon arrival, he found willing volunteers and a long line of cars looking for water, there waiting on him.

So, Ron has seen quite a bit of the south. Here are some of his reflections.

Ron told me that the first thing he noticed driving across Louisiana and Mississippi was the smell. "It smells like Haiti down here", he told me, which is an ominous sign. If you've ever traveled in that part of the world (Haiti), you'll never forget the pungent aroma: A mix of burning charcoal, raw sewage, diesel fuel, and rotting garbage. It is the smell of poverty, a lack of infrastructure, and people struggling to survive. Such is the case right now in the south, as people live with out all of the basic services (water, garbage pickup, electricity, etc...) we often take for granted.

The second thing Ron relayed to me was that the people living, or volunteering in the region are dog-tired. There are police officers that have been working non-stop for over a week keeping order. Residents who are spending their days with chain saws, mops, shovels, and other implements requiring hard labor, sleeping in homes with no electricity or running water in 90+ degree heat. Volunteers, many living in tents, who are spending their days delivering, or distributing necessities, aren't getting a good nights sleep in their primitive conditions. People are tired, and so it's good to hear reports from all over the country of people traveling down south to volunteer, because they will form a greatly needed " second wave" of strong backs and optimistic attitudes. They can't get there too soon.

The final thing Ron made clear was that everything you had been hearing and seeing on TV about the destruction in that part of the world is utterly and completely true. Large water-based casinos washed blocks inland. Virtually every building made out of wood, leveled. Trees snapped in two like pixie sticks. Pictures and video can't convey the level of devastation, and the amount of work it will take to reconstruct what amounts to a coast line that extends from Western Alabama all the way to the Louisiana-Texas state line. It will take contractors, volunteers, and government agencies years to get to all of those that are in need.

So, this truckload of water can only be the beginning of an ongoing effort on the part of our congregation, and the Shawnee community, to help put back together what has been for many of us, a great place to play. Work that will, one day, help result in Ron calling me from Biloxi after making run down there with a load of steel for a booming factory, telling me, "Buke, it's hard to believe there was ever a hurricane down here. It's totally rebuilt."

That'll be a great day. Help play your part.

Friday, September 02, 2005

What Can We Do?

Have received many calls and emails from those that make up Shawnee UMC wondering what the church is doing in the wake Katrina. Am waiting for a word from Bishop Ough to find out what our conference might be doing collectively, and have been in contact with officials in the Louisiana Annual Conference to find out what they need (money, I'm told, is what is needed right now, more than anything else). While many have expressed a desire to travel to that part of the world, I've a sense that given the price of gas, and damage to the infrastructure in the state, that we're going to wait on UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) officials to do their assessments, and let us know what they need.

Right now, United Methodist congregations, campus ministries, children's homes, and nursing facilities are housing thousands of people that have been left homeless. I'm sure that while nerves are frayed, that the Holy Spirit is working to give victims and volunteers alike, the necessary energy and strength to keep going. If and when we receive a concrete plea for help from one of those institutions, or our Bishop, we will do whatever we can to help meet that need. In the meantime, please continue to be in prayer for those living in the Gulf States, and watch this space and our website ( for more information as it becomes available.

God Bless,