Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) I think that the world always looks rosy after a Buckeye win over Michigan. O-H --------- I-O!

2) "Hung Up" by Madonna is my favorite guilty pleasure right now. There's nothing like sampling an old ABBA song to hook those of us who grew up in the 70's. Somebody take the hook out of my mouth, please, or tomorrow I'll be listening to "Dancing Queen".

3) A comment on JB's sermon on "Pre-Emptive Goodness". The good doctor referenced the movie "Pay It Forward", which if you haven't seen it, is the story of a middle school student who comes up with the idea doing good things, things that really matter, for somebody else as a part of a school project. What's interesting is all of the unexpected outcomes of all good deeds, particularly to the main characters of the movie. The boy's mother ends up reconciling with her own homeless, alcoholic mother. The boy's teacher ends up falling in love as well accepting his physical appearance which stemmed from being physcially abused as a child. A heroin addict saves the life of a woman who is about to commit suicide. And, tragically, the boy who starts the entire movement, dies in the end (which, for you English majors, is a clearly an attempt to draw the allusion that the boy is the "Christ Character" in the story). If you haven't seen it... rent it. It's an interesting flick.

4) Another comment on "Pre-Emptive Goodness". I gave a sermon similar to this one about four years ago (using clips from the movie as illustration), and I referenced the "servanthood evangelism model" pioneered by the Cincinnati Vineyard. Basically, people from that church grew it by serving strangers in the community on regular basis.... washing windows at the gas station, passing out bottles of water on hot days, and even cleaning toilets in various community venues. The results of all this work have been pretty amazing. Wonder what we could do here in this community?

5) Heard from an old friend, Scott Perry, who was an early supporter of "The Peak", an alternative-style worship service I helped start in Goshen. Scott just wanted to thank me for my time in that community, which he's done many times. He plays bass in the Peak Band, holding down the spot I held for many years (until, thankfully, a real bass player emerged). I say back to you sir, "Thank you for all you gave, and give, to the church. The gift of your service is greater than you'll ever know". And those goes for all of you, everywhere, who give of your time in a variety of ways to the church. You are all greatly appreciated.

6) I think that as of next summer, I'll be starting my doctorate. Was notified Monday that I've been accepted to Asbury Theological School's "Doctor of Ministry" program. Sounds like a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. I get to take an accelerated biblical language class this summer. Can't say I'm real excited about that.... I've failed, bailed, or just barely passed (it's where my motto, "D = Diploma" came from) every language class I've ever taken. It comes from barely understanding English (a pox on all those elementary and junior high english teachers who failed to assign all those parts of speech/diagraming sentences assignments.... now I'm a total English moron). It'll be a long two weeksk but I think it'll get more interesting from there on.

7) I think timetables for withdrawl from Iraq are unrealistic, given the mess that exists over there, but I am beginning to wonder what "mission accomplished" for this war actually looks like. In WWII "mission accomplished" came in the form of the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt the infrastructure, and created economic opportunity for our war torn Allies, and enemies. How do we win that kind of peace in Iraq, now?

8) I'm a member of the District Transition Team for "District B" of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. For those who don't know (which is virtually all of you), our Conference (think of a conference like a state, a district like a county, and a church like a town.... that's the structure of our church) is re-structuring, which is really just another word for downsizing our bueracracy. By consolidating our 14 districts into 8, we're able to sell off quite a few assets, and eliminate 6 District Superintendency positions, which will, over the long haul, theoretically, save us money (although the jury is still out on that one with me).

As a part of the transition, I've been named the "Technology Liason" from the District to the Conference, which means.... something, I suppose. I know that I'm supposed to have something to do with an eight-country "intranet system" which will enable the powers that be to use the internet wirelessly on their laptops , but I don't know much more than that. As a matter of fact, I don't know what an "intranet" is. I got the job by virtue of the fact that I was able to load a Powerpoint file onto a computer at a conference event last summer. Seems like pretty shaky crendentials for something that sounds as complicated and important as a "District Intranet". It's kinda like making someone the Fire Chief because he knows how to turn on a garden hose. Stay tuned to find out how this ends....

9) I'm having lunch today with George Ricks, an old friend who I worked with at the Rax that used to be on Elida Road years ago. We're brothers in roast beef. It'll be good to catch up on the last twenty years (good grief.... TWENTY YEARS! Where did it go?).

10) I think I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving. Here's to eating yourself stupid and a day of endless football... a man's holiday if there ever was one. Hope yours is a good one!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Eight Things I Think I Think, and Two Things I Hope

1) I think that I need to apologize to all of you for taking an extra day to get this posted. I took Monday off to have lunch with an old friend, and get the leaves off of my lawn. We have 21 Shagbark Hickory trees scattered around our lawn. Last night I was out until 8:30, in the dark, blowing leaves out to the street. Tomorrow I get to rake up hickory nuts. Good times, all around.

2) Thanks to everyone who supported Harvest for the Hungry. With the money raised yesterday, more than 1.6 million pounds of food (that's over 40 tractor-trailor loads) will be shipped to Lima for hungry people over the next year. And the best part... all the commercials quit running yesterday, so I no longer will be horrified at the sight of my ugly mug popping up in the middle of watching the late news. Now, we can all rest a little easier.

3) I think this week is going to be a tough one as Aimee was diagnosed with Strep Throat this morning. Max and Xavie both tested negative, but have redness in the throat, so it's probably just a matter of time. Fortunately, according to the doctor, little babies like Eli don't tend to get strep because of the immunity received through breast milk, so we'll count our blessings. Looks like I'll be home much more than usual this week, as Aimee sinks miserably into a state of yuckiness.

4) I think tonight's presentation by Neil Winget (director of the Better Business Buereau) at our Koinania Bible Study was a good one. The topic was the eighth commandment (Don't Steal), and he gave a presentation on what stealing is doing to our economy. He talked about a lot of things, but the most amazing stats that he had were on identity theft, which cost Americans more than 50 billion dollars last year. The problem is now so pervasive, that 3 people every minute in the US are suffering from having their identity stolen. One lady tonight talked about how she received a call from Sears in light of a scam where someone had tried to steal the identity of her late husband, who passed this past July. Goes to show that God chose ten pretty good rules for us to follow, and the cost to society financially and morally when we fail to do so.

5) I think that Shawnee elected two pretty good new school board members in Clay Balyeat and Ellen Rovner.... and for those of you keeping up on my ongoing Ellen Rovner thread in this blog, and I want to point out that since my embarrassing "Who's Ellen Rovner?" story was published on this blog a month ago, that over 93 new people accessed my profile from the day of that post, until the election. Guess how many votes she won by? Ellen, I'll be calling in my political favors in due time (who can say, "Free Snow Cones for Associate Pastors at Basketball Games?").

6) I think that it's interesting that the last wide receiver to be suspended for the remainder of the season in the NFL by his team for being a pain in the butt in the locker, Keyshawn Johnson, had only one thing to say about this Terrell Owens situation in Philadelphia. In short, he called TO's agent, Drew Rosenhouse a bunch of names I won't repeat on this blog, and warned his fellow bad-boy receiver that he was only out to make a name for himself in terms of signing new clients next year. Guess who Keyshawn Johnson's agent when he got suspended?

7) I think that a number of people commented, in light of last week's blog, that they were worried about my "what if I had become a lawyer.." and "mid-life crisis" comments. Many thanked me for going into the ministry instead of the law, and for that I thank you. Worry not loyal readers... I'm not buying a new sports car or getting a hair-weave anytime soon.

Working in the church is a joy and blessing, most of the time (although, quite frankly, some friends of mine working in other churches, really can't say this.... embroiled in controversy and bickering, they're pretty much miserable all of the time, and for them, you should say a prayer). The only really bad days are the ones that you "lose" the people who you care for and serve as a pastor.

"Lose", as in they die. "Lose", as in they move away. "Lose", as in they decide, for whatever reason that you no longer are fit to be their pastor, which happens all the time but really hurts when it's someone you know and love.

I just worry that I might not have what it takes to survive the accumulation of these days (and other ones, which occur for a variety of reasons) over the long haul: A deep enough spirituality that anchors you in the midst of leading other disciples of Jesus. Being concerned about this is a whole lot better than thinking that I've got this whole spirituality thing beaten, because it's forcing me to do more reading, more praying, more reflection, and more soul searching, which can only be good for a congregation. It forces you to re-evaluate why you do this for a living, which always kicks you ego down another notch, and makes you cling to God just a little bit tighter, and that's good.

You don't want a pastor who fails to think about these things. Trust me. So don't worry. I'll be fine. Thanks for asking.

8) I hope you benefit from this excerpt from Eugene Peterson's new book "Christ Plays In A Thousand Places" dealing with "the sacrificial life".

I don't know of any part (living a life built on sacrifice for God and others) of the Christian gospel that is more difficult to move from the pages of sacred Scripture and our honored volumes of theology into the assumptions and practices of our everyday Christian lives. Very few among us would dissent from what Jesus said, what Paul wrote, what Calvin preached, and yet - and yet when it comes down to actual assent, we more often than not find another way. We begin our morning prayers with Jesus, "Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet..." (Mark 14:36). And our "yet..." trails off; instead of completing Jesus' prayer ("not what I want but what you want") we begin to entertaining other possibilities. If all things are possible for the Father, perhaps there is another way to do something about what is wrong with the world, a way by which I can help out and make things better other than through a sacrificial life. In the jargon of the day, we pray: "sacrifice is not one of my gifts - I want to serve God with my strength, with my giftedness." It's a strange thing, but sacrifice never seems to show up on anyone's Myers-Briggs profile.

For a people like us, trained in a culture of getting things done (pragmatism) and taking care of ourselves (individualism), sacrifice doesn't seem at all obvious; neither does is seem attractive. There is nothing about a life of sacrifice appeals to our well-intentioned desire to make a difference in the wrongdoing in the world and to make things better for our neighbors and ourselves.

But the self-promotion and self-help ways of salvation, so popular among us, do nothing but spiral us further into the abyss. There is no other way but sacrifice. Annie Dillard, one of our unconventional but most passionate theologians, is blunt in her verdice: "a life without sacrifice is an abomination".

Nonparticipation in Jesus' sacrifice as the means of salvation is damning. The failure of our substituted good intentions in the work of salvation could not be more conspicuous. There is only one Gospel way to participate in Jesus' work - live a sacrificial life in Jesus' name.

9) Word from the family in Utah, via my grandmother, is that my Aunt Beth's husband, Dennis, is attempting to give up smoking. This can't be any easier than starting an sustained, on-going exercise regimine, or eating healthy (both of which, I have failed miserably in doing, repeatedly). Dennis is a great guy. Last summer he came with Beth and his grandson, Cade, for a visit here in Ohio, and one of the things we did with him while he was here was go to the Cabella's store (a store that specializes in equipment for those who love outdoor living and outdoor sports) up in Dundee, Michigan. Dennis has spent the better part of his life hunting, fishing, and learning about the delicate ecology that helps maintain this planet, and we got to experience the product of that knowledge as we walked through the store. It was a great experience because instead of just looking at stuff that was for sale, we could actually find out what it did, and how and why it worked. We learned a lot about all kinds of wildlife, and as we asked questions, you feel the love he had for the varying subjects in the patience he showed as he explained to both of us "greenhorns" the mysteries of the forest, the sky, the water, and in the telling of some pretty good stories (like the time he got lost doing some hunting in rural Idaho, and spent the night in the snowy wilderness, using his survival skills). I know that there are a lot of "anti-hunting" or "anti-fishing" people out there, and I can't say I've really done much (or for that matter, any hunting, at all) of either in my life, but he world would be much better shape if each of us took "stewardship of God's creation" as seriously as Dennis.

Here's to hoping he can kick the habit so he can increase the chances of passing all this knowledge to his grandchildren.

10) I think I've got a 7am breakfast meeting tomorrow, so off to bed I go. Hope you have a good week, and I'll try and do another post by Friday (I've been getting a little bit lax). Thanks for reading!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) I think a good time was had by all at Captain D's and at the Harvest Tournament of Champions. I failed to defend my "Harvest Idol" championship, but then again, last year I voted for Eric Truxal and Don Fischer's duet ("To All The Girls I Loved Before") which was far better than my own rendition of "New York, New York". All in all, lots of money was raised yesterday for the West Ohio Food Bank. Thank you to everyone who participated.

2) Watched parts of CBS' Movie of the Week, "Catagory 7: The End of the World", last night with my grandmother. I won't say it was written or acted poorly, but after 30 minutes of viewing we were both rooting for the storms to wipe out all the characters. In was a "disaster movie" in every sense of the word.

3) I think that going to trial this morning as a prospective juror was an interesting look at what my life might have become. I was on my way to law school when this whole ministry thing came up. To have witnessed the culmination of what I'd have spent most of my time doing as a lawyer (researching cases, meeting with clients, and haggling with other attorneys over a multitude of issues) was interesting. Maybe its just a mid-life crisis talking, but I can't help but wonder, "what if?" I wouldn't trade twenty days I've spent in the ministry (although there must have been at least 19 specifically rotten days I'd trade for a Yoo-Hoo Cola in a heartbeat) for anything, but you always wonder about the roads you failed to take.

4) I think that in a world filled with hunger, poverty, and pain, that I'm finding it difficult to care that Terrell Owens dissed his quarterback, and that it's caused chaos in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room. Boys, if you're reading this (which isn't likely), you get payed to play a game. Get a grip.

5) Checked out a great book from the seminary library in Findlay. "Sermons from Duke Chapel" is basically just what it sounds like, a collection of sermons given in the chapel of Duke Theological School. Here's an except from Peter Storey's sermon (a Methodist pastor and Bishop who was active in the Anti-Apartied movement in South Africa) entitled, "When the Cross Lays Hold on You":

When the cross lays hold on us, it moves from religion to faith. There's a crucial difference between religion and faith. Everybody's got some religion. We pick it up from our parents, like having blue eyes or black hair. We absorb it from the culture, like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. We begin to learn that "life goes better," not only with Coke, but with a little religion as well.

But religion is not enough; religion alone can be deeply destructive and dangerous. It's religious people who murder each other in Ireland. It's religion, among other things, that is tearing Lebanon apart. It's religious people who invented the obscenity of aparteid in my land, South Africa. Religious people were part of the process that crucified Jesus. Religion often becomes nothing more than a label to distinguish ourselves from others and to deepen the divides between people in the this world. Religion often becomes a mask behind which we can live out our prejudices and blame them on God. You can keep religion. I don't want it!

Faith is coming face to face with the one who God sent into the world. Faith calls you out of the crowd: out of the safety of non involvement into risk; out of hereditary belief into relationship with the suffering Jesus; out of the crowd into a confrontation with the cross, and the person carrying it. That is the powerful pressure of the cross, when it lays hold on you. There are those who call it an offense and there are those who call it foolishness, but when it lays hold on you, your life changes forever.


6) I think that this is the thought from Romans 12 I'm meditating on this week: "Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality." What does this passage, if anything, say to you?

7) I think that fall is the most beautiful season of the year. While I'm not a big fan of raking leaves, to watch them change colors, and paint the canvas that is God's beautiful creation with hues of gold, yellow, and red is a faith-affirming event for me, each and every year. In some respects, it makes me long for the hills of West Virginia, where I grew up as a child, for I remember the beauty of the mountains as the season did its wonderful thing. But there is enough beauty here in good ol' flat Northwest Ohio to fill up my soul, and for this, I give thanks.

8) Well, the Ellen Rovner saga continues. If you don't know much about the evolution of my political endorsement of Ellen Rovner, check out the last two "I Think I Thinks...". Last night, the story opened a new chapter as I met her husband for the first time at the Harvest Tourney of Champs. Thankfully, he liked the blog, and laughed at my "Who's Ellen Rovner" story, cause he looked to be in pretty good shape and definitely capable of messing me up, bad. He asked if he could put an "Ellen Rovner" sign in my basement, where this whole story began, and I told him he could do whatever he wanted.... just as long as he didn't think I was insulting his wife. I think I'll try to continue to stay on his good side, and encourage you to vote for Ellen Rovner (and Clay Balyeat) as a member of Shawnee's school board. I know who she is, and she is good.

9) And, for that matter, I think all of you should go out and vote and tommorrow. I don't care if the most important item on the agenda is who your county is electing "Assistant Dog Catcher", do the duty of every free citizen in a democratic republic, and vote. Think of it as a moment alone, where nobody else in the world can give you a hard time. Take a cup of tea, and make an event of it.

10) And finally, I think you should join my grandmother, and support "Harvest for the Hungry". Every penny raised (including all the money from our church's offering this Sunday) will be donated to the West Ohio Food Bank, which feeds thousands of hungry people each through through the agencies it supports all across Northwest Ohio. Grandma wrote her check for $25, and she's not exactly in Bill Gates' tax bracket, so join her as we seek to eradicate hunger in our community as the cold months approach us. And, if you want to boss my fat can around, I'll be working as a server at the Arby's on Shawnee Road after church, this Sunday. I'll fetch you whatever you want, or you can spill your drink and make me clean it up... whatever suits you. See you there!