Wednesday, April 26, 2006

"The Secret Meaning of Jesus" Contest Update

For those who missed it on this week's "Ten Things I Think I Think", I am conducting a contest to give away two copies of Brian McClaren's newest book, "The Secret Meaning of Jesus". Have had two people who have already emailed looking to win (which is probably two more than I expected). For your chance to win, all you need to do is email me at , and briefly tell me why I should give you this book, offer at least one suggestion for a future blog post, and an address where I can send you your copy if you win (postage is on me). The winner will announced on May 8th.

For those of you who have never read McClaren's work, I think you'd find it thought-provoking and interesting. McClaren is attempting to wrestle with Christian faith in a post-modern world.

What does "wrestle with the Christian faith in the post-modern world" mean?

Well, when I was a kid growing up in the 70's, the church's position on things like how inerrant the Bible is, who Jesus was, and the nature of how the world was created was defined largely by pastors and theologians, and while under attack by a few doubters, was pretty much accepted as "truth" by the rank and file in this country. But a few things have happened since those simple days. First and foremost, as fewer people here and Western Europe went to church (attendance has steadily declined since the 60's in the US, and since WWII in Europe), fewer people were around to hear what the local pastor was saying, and began to look in different quarters for ideas on religious faith. At the same time, scientific theories (like evolution) and discoveries (like dinosaurs) began to challenge the church's worldview about how the world was created, it's age, and how it works.

By the end of the 20th Century, the church no longer was the definitive voice on morality, issues of faith, culture, and education. With the advent of the internet and other means of diffusing information in volumes and speeds we've never encountered before, now people could decide for themselves what they wanted to believe about all things, including God.

Forced into a position where now it was simply "A" voice, not "THE" voice, on spirituality, the church in this post-modern (or as some would term it, post-Christian) age is being forced to deal with ongoing scientific discoveries (cloning, DNA manipulation, etc..), new discoveries made about the Bible by archaeologists and scholars that challenge some long held (and possibly erroneous) assumptions about basic tenets of the faith, and a world where fewer and fewer people know much about Jesus Christ. Fortunately, because science has failed to correct all of society's ills, a new sense of openness, particularly among younger people, is giving Christian apologists a chance to present its message and meaning in a new, fresh way.

Brian McClaren, who founded Cedar Creek Community Church in suburban D.C., through his lectures and writings, has become a leader among those who are attempting to renew trust and faith in people who felt like the church failed them, while at the same time telling the story of Jesus from a new perspective. This book will, for most of you, challenge your basic understanding of who Jesus is, but I guarantee you it will be worth the read and the struggle.

Hope to hear from you. More updates will given as the contest progresses.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An Eleventh Thing I Think: Pray for Matt

Matt Parish, a former youth groupee and lead guitarist for Ho-Ag, was robbed and assulted outside of an apartment in Oakland, California last weekend while on Ho-Ag's second national tour. Matt apparently went outside of the home of a friend to talk on his cell phone, was approached by seven individuals who demanded the phone and his wallet, and beat him when he refused. He was scheduled to be in surgery this morning, and will fly back to Boston (his home) as soon as he is able. Ho-Ag was forced to cancel the remainder of their tour, which, I'm sure, is a huge disappointment to all of its members. Pray for Matt, and the rest of Ho-Ag, as they cope with this senseless act of violence.
Ten Things I Think I Think (Motorcycle Diaries Edition)

1) This past Saturday, I completed, and passed, the State's required course for a motorcycle license. Apart from serving at a church with a motorcycle ministry, I decided to do this out of my experience, while in Goshen, of owning a little Suzuki Samurai, which is (for those who don't know) a very little 4X4 vehicle that looks like a small Jeep. With the help of a Suzuki enthusiast, I was able to take off the doors, modify the sideview mirrors to keep the vehicle street-legal, and with the cloth top off, enjoy the great outdoors at 40 mph. There was many an evening, after a very stressful day of work, that I could wring out my issues with only 20 minutes of freedom on the open road, before I got home, saving all the Buchers much grief.

And all at about 30 miles to the gallon!

I've missed that little thing (as have my kids) almost from the day I sold it. The vehicle didn't provide the most protection in the world, but it was so popular with Max that to this day, when he sees one he almost always asks me why we had to sell our "Jeep"?

Well, I've decided that I need another outlet for my stress beyond eating or watching TV. And while I did see a little Samurai for sale (with "$650" painted on the windshield), I guess I'd just like to try something new. If it doesn't work out, then I'll re-commit myself to four-wheeled vehicles, find a little Jeep, and start a "Blessing of the Topless SUV's". I promise!

2) Had a scare early Monday morning, which resulted in this post being a day late. Sunday, after attending church (not ours - more on that later) that morning, and lunch at my folks, I returned home to spend the day working in the lawn. We've got about 8 billion Shagbark Hickory trees growing in our front lawn, and if you want to be able to get a lawn mower over top of it, occasionally you need to rake up all of the tree waste (bark, sticks, twigs, and oodles of hickory nuts). I had actually started the job on Saturday, and it took another 8 hour day, and about 18 garbage bags to clean up the mess.

Well, after I quit for the day, I went to my grandmothers to watch one of the dwindling few new episodes of "The West Wing" (a show that, in my opinion, is finishing as strong as it started), and over a bowl of ice cream, I realized my left arm was sore. As the evening progressed, the pain refused to subside, and so, upon excusing myself, I headed for home, by way of the office to check some email and gather a little data). By the time I got home, however, the pain had not abated, and was even growing stronger. Thinking that all I needed to do was get some rest, I laid down, only to experience even greater pain as the night progressed.

Finally, at 3am, I got up, took some Tylenol (this horrible grape flavored stuff for the kids because it was the only bottle I could find - it said that kids over 89 pounds needed to take six tablets, so I emptied the seven left in the bottle), and gave a local hospital a call. You see, I thought that maybe, because of the nature of the pain, that I might be having a heart attack. Upon some discussion with a qualified professional, we concluded that this probably wasn't the case (although I'm scheduling a full physical workup with my doctor), but the only way I could get any relief from the pain was to sleep in my recliner. At about 5am, I fell asleep, and since I didn't wake up until 11am, my schedule got "de-railed".

Let me say this... it's a horrible thing to suspect that you are having a heart attack when your oldest child is seven years old. A very horrible thing.

3) Just finished "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. I couldn't recommend it any higher (a link to Amazon where you can buy it is in last week's "Ten Things"). Here's one of the (I thought) more poignant excerpts:

Analysts have always tended to measure a society by classical economic and social statistics: its deficit-to-GDP ratio, or its unemployment ready, or the rate of literacy among its adult women. Such statistics are important and revealing. But there is another statistic, much harder to measure, that I think is even more important and revealing: Does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories?

By dreams I mean the positive, life-affirming variety. The business organization consultant Michael Hammer once remarked, "One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don't want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh."

In societies that have more memories than dreams, too many people are spending to many days looking backward. They see dignity, affirmation, and self-worth not by mining the present but by chewing on the past. And even that is usually not a real past but an imagined and adorned past. Indeed, such societies focus all their imagination on making that imagined past even more beautiful than it ever was, and then they cling to it like a rosary or a strand of worry beads, rather than imagining a better future and acting on that. It is dangerous enough when other countries go down the route; it would be disastrous for America to lose it bearings and move in that direction. I think my friend David Rothkopf, the former Commerce Department official and now a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said it best: "The answer for us lies not in what has changed, but in recognizing what has not changed. Because only through this recognition will we begin to focus on the truly critical issues - an effective multilateral response to weapons of mass destruction proliferation, the creation of real stakeholders in globalization among the world's poor, the need for reform in the Arab world and a style of U.S. leadership that seeks to build our base of support worldwide by getting more people to voluntarily sign onto our values. We need to remember that those values are the real foundation for our security and the real source of our strength. And we need to recognize that our enemies can never defeat us. Only we can defeat ourselves, by throwing out the rule book that has worked for us for a long, long time.

Do yourself a favor, and read, or listen, to this book.

4) Interesting article this past Saturday in The Lima News about the coming "Revolution" in the way people are going to practice Christian spirituality (I would provide the link for you to read it yourself, but I can't find it on their website, which isn't good for you, them, or I). I talked to weeks ago about George Barna's book "Revolution" and his premise that people are tiring of the church in its institutional form, and are starting home churches where they gather for worship, prayer and fellowship on their own. Well, this article basically used this book as its source text, and the interesting part of it are the number of people who don't see how this movement can be viable to the degree that Barna claims it will become (more than half of all practicing Christians in the next 15 years).

Issues of trust (not being duped into joining a cult, for example) are the primary concerns I've been hearing from people. And, it's for this very reason, (a thought well-articulated over lunch by Eric Rummel, a friend, a seminary student, and a person who will always be "Bubba" to me) that I see house churches banding together in some loose form of association to establish some basic rules for things like accounting/theology/etc., which will inevitably evolve into a more institutional form of religious practice. Thus, those that are "sticking it to the man" will eventually become "the man", and some sort of reaction (like contemporary worship with pop music to traditional worship in the 80's) will rear its ugly head. Just wait, and see!

5) When is Lima going to get a Barnes and Noble? My kingdom for a place where one can read books and consume legal stimulants (although, the new "Norwegian" blend at "The Meeting Place" is a welcome addition to true coffee aficionados in this community - drink it if you have contempt for coffees flavored with raspberries, chocolates, or "creams" of any kind).

6) I'm 37 years old, and am now a member of a "street team". This weekend, I was contacted by a marketing person at the publishing house distributing Brian McClaren's new book, "The Secret Message of Jesus". How all this came to fruition is kind of a long story that boils down to me wanting a copy of this book for free. Now, as a member of a "street team", I'll receive two copies of the book (one for me, and one for a friend), and a bunch of "chapter cards" that I'll need to distribute at local bookstores (we have three, two small secular ones, and a religious bookstore where you can find plenty of artwork and very few books) and coffeehouses (which should be easy, cause we've got a grand total of "one") . I also need to write a review of this book on this blog, and on, which I think I can handle, if my public education doesn't fail me.

I've decided, in the spirit of entrepreneurship, to give my second copy (immediately), and my first copy (after I've read it) away to (all) two of you, my loyal readers. All you need to do is send me an email at , with the reason why I should give you one of these books, at least one subject you'd like me write about on this blog, and an address where it can be mailed (postage will be on me). I'll announce the winners in two weeks.

7) The Cavs are on tonight, as the LeBron James coming-out-party continues. As an aside, I can't remember enjoying the NBA playoffs as much as I am this year, when really, I ought to be reading for my first class. Max is rooting for the Miami Heat because he likes Shaq, but I'm sure I'll win him over onto the Cavalier bandwagon as LeBron leads it to victory (as Max tends to root for whoever is winning, which is a real problem during Ohio State football games when the Buckeyes fall behind). Xavier tends play with blocks when the NBA is on, kind of like most of America, so his interest is minimal, at best. He'll be more interested in football, anyway, given the fact he's had to survive being Max's little brother (which will make him tougher than a rhinoceros steak). Anyhow, "Go Cavs"!

8) After a two-week layoff, I'll be preaching this Sunday on the movements of grace: prevenient, justification, and sanctification. It'll be one sermon in three 5-7 minute parts, so hopefully the service will move along nicely. The source text is the "Road to Emmaus" (which is found in Luke 24:13-34), where some gentlemen encounter the risen Christ as they journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They go from not knowing who Christ is even though he is talking to them (prevenient grace), to realizing who he is fully (justifying grace), to witnessing to others that he is truly alive (an aspect of sanctifying grace). Hope you enjoy it, and for those who can't make it, I'll give a recap next week.

9) Sunday, I did go to church, but it was not hear at Shawnee. As a part of my upcoming doctoral work, I decided to make the trek to the Lima Community Church (of the Nazarene, which is a tag they have dropped in their literature and logo). LCC is the closest thing Lima has to a megachurch, averaging over 1900 in weekly worship in four services: a 6pm on Saturday night, a 9am on Sunday morning, and two 10:45am services on Sunday morning - one in their sanctuary and one in another large gathering room on-site that features live music and a sermon taped early that morning). My assignment was to take a look at the tech ministry of such a place, and organize my thoughts before my first class.

Well, I must say I was impressed with their technical set-up, which is expertly led by Sandie Millslagle, a delightful young woman who has more energy than ten of me. And what impressed me most about what I saw was how advanced their technology is, while at the same time how simple they are keeping their use of that technology. And all of this is made possible by Sandie, who breaks down the ministry in parts that can be easily managed by her volunteers. My experience with her confirms what I suspected while on staff at First UMC in Goshen - that if you want to have an outstanding technical ministry that can incorporate a number of different elements (in-service audio and video, simulcasting, taped sermons, webcasting, etc...), you will make light-years of progress if you have one person leading that ministry who isn't learning on-the-job, but is already experienced in such endeavors.

I want to make it clear that this is no knock on the volunteers we had in Goshen. They put in yeoman's hours for no pay, and had we actually provided resources for them to work on their expertise, we'd have saved hours and hours of experimentation that had to happen for them to get over the learning curve of things like video editing, sound engineering, and in-service video production. The longer I am away from there, the more I appreciate the kinds of things they can do, and all the ways it can enhance your ministry.

But, you could just feel the difference with a person with 12 years of professional television experience putting that expertise to work in a church setting. This is an important lesson, as most of us in this business usually nickel-and-dime tech ministry, while using all the available resources we have to hire program, worship, and maintenance staff. I get the sense that the demand for people like Sandie (who can easily put up podcasts or video webcasts, for example, of our sermons, for those of you who can't make it on Sunday) in the life of the church will continue to grow. Thank you Sandie, for sharing your knowledge and time with me.

10) And finally, the children of Shawnee will be holding an art sale this Sunday in support of VBS this June. If you'd like to make a purchase and contribution, just show up Sunday morning and find a piece that fits you. And if you can't make it, feel free to contact me at and I'll make sure to reserve a piece for you that can be had for a free-will donation.

See you soon!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

I wrote at a prolific pace last week, for reasons unbeknownst to me. Hope you enjoyed all the additional musings, and will forgive the late posting of this week's Ten Things.

1) Received my books today for my first doctoral class in July, just in time to pretty much obliterate all the time I would have used watching the NBA playoffs. I guess it's just all a part of this year being the "Year of Living Sacrifice" here at Shawnee UMC. I'll probably still sneak a peak, or two, at the Cavs, though, as it will be LeBron's coming out party (just you wait and see!).

2) Am in the middle of reading a truly facinating book: "The World Is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. Joseph had been raving about this text, and I had seen it cited so many times in various articles/interviews, that I finally had to crack it open myself.... and I'm glad I did. Friedman does an in-depth study of how globalization (in it's third movement) is making it possible for the Chinese to export statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Mexico cheaper than Mexican labor can make them, for Indian accountants to do more than 600,000 individual American tax returns this year, and why Taiwan is the third-richest nation in the world (as measured by cash reserves) although it possesses absolutely no natural resources of its own.

If you'd like to hear the author himself explain the premise of the book, follow this link:

Buy it here:

3) The implications for a flat world are pretty serious for our kids. Back when I was little, it seemed like everybody wanted to be a fireman, pro athlete, or a teacher. Nobody (and I mean, nobody) wanted to be a scientist or an engineer. This lack of desire to enter these professions is now having grave consequences as those Baby Boomers who were inspired by Kennedy's commitment to get to the moon first, are now looking at retirement. While young people will flock to hear the Black Eyed Peas in concert, Bill Gates is quoted in the book as being amazed that in China and India that when he shows up to speak, tickets to the event are scalped at ridiculous prices.

Friedman says this: "In China, Bill Gates is like Brittany Spears. In the United States, Brittany Spears is like Brittany Spears, and that is precisely our problem."

Poor Brittany is already taking it on the chin for having married and had a child with a man her fans are describing as a doofus... now she's the cause of the decline of our economy. I understand, though, what Friedman is trying to say. Our kids are surfing the web, playing video games, watching cartoons, talking on their cell phones, and not cognizant of the fact that it's mathmaticians, engineers, and scientists that have made all of those things possible. The child who figures out that these fields are where the future is, is the child who is going to do well. If Tonka can sell a series of action figures called "Rescue Heroes", which are just glorified fire-fighters, police officers, rescue pilots, and other forms of public servants, why not a series that lifts up engineers, scientists, and mathmaticians ( we could call it, "Electronic Wizards", and in the animated series they can use computers, calculators, and computer code to fight bad guys)?

Let's just say that I'll be taking down Max's poster of Kevin Garnett, and replace it with one of Sergey Brin (a co-founder of Google) later today.(

4) Here's some of Friedman's thoughts on the role of parenting in the "Flat World"....

David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning president of Caltech, knows what it takes to get your child ready to compete against the cream of the global crop. He told me that he is struck by the fact that almost all the students who make it to Caltech, one of the best scientific universities in the world, come from public schools, not the private schools that sometimes nurture a sense that just because you are there, you are special and entitled. "I look at the kids who come to Caltech, and they grew up in families that encouraged them to work hard and to put off a little bit of gratification for the future and to understand that they need to hone their skills to play an imporatnt role int he world", Baltimore said. "I give parents enormous credit for this, because these kids are all coming from public schools that people are calling failures. Public education is producing these remarkable students - so it can be done. Their parents have nurtured them to make sure that they realize their potential. I think we need a revolution in this country when it comes to parenting around education.

This really hits home for me. My brother-in-law, Dr. Jeffery Allen, spent a number of years working for NASA, and now is a Professor of Engineering at Michigan Tech. He's written nationally-renowned scientific studies, sent experiments up on MIR and the Space Shuttle, and played a part in the design of the International Space Station. Now he's on the forefront of the study of hydrogen as an energy source. What makes this amazing, if you live in Lima, is that he's a graduate of Lima Senior High School (my own alma mater). Lima Senior didn't have, and doesn't have, the best rep as an academic institution in this community, but the array of college-prep courses has been, and is second-to-none. Jeff was raised by parents who nurtured his love of learning how things worked, and was told all of his life that education was the ticket to a good life. That's how a kid from the "city schools" went on to become one of only a handful people (or maybe, the only person) from the area to have worked as a scientist at NASA.

Just makes you wonder how much more time, energy, and money we will spend on testing when maybe the answer is figuring out how to motivate parents to push kids at school.

5) Here's an interesting link for a Today feature on the "Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community", a church-plant in Pittsburgh:

What makes HMBFC so interesting to me, isn't the fact that there are no sermons, only dramas presented each week, or that they eat during the service, or employed worship music that can be loud and raucous (we were doing all those things in a worship service I helped start seven years ago... although we did offer a sermon in addition to the drama or self-produced video skit). No, the amazing thing is that this church plant is a partnership between a local United Methodist Church, and a local Presbyterian Church.

Most of the pastors and bueracrats in our denomination don't ever think along these kinds of lines. While cooperative efforts like these are more common in places like the American West (largely due to a shortage of clergy and sparse populations), the idea that two mainline denominational churches would cooperate to do something innovative and new is a shock. Mostly, because I'm sure that too many questions would normally be raised about who controls what, and who contributes what funding. But, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because in an era where our overall attendance is shrinking, while at the same time our finances are being increasingly devoured by our obligations to our retirees, and the maintainence of health insurance, I'm guessing that necessity, being the mother of invention, is going to push us in directions we never dreamed. A United Methodist Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh is probably just the beginning of a whole bunch of things that we, as UM-clergy, will have never seen before.

Here's a link if you'd like to learn more about "Hot Metal Bridge FC":

6) Ominous news last week. Apparently the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church have called together a group of clergy and lay-people from all walks of life (but predominantly, lawyers) to begin to look at issues pertaining to property ownership in the UMC. May not sound like a big deal, but here's what you need to know: the only thing that keeps the United Methodist Church "united" is something called the "In-Trust Clause". The "In-Trust Clause" states that all property in the United Methodist Church is owned, "In-Trust", by the governing Annual Conference (Note to my grandmother: The UMC is orgainized in a similar mode as the State of Ohio, except that instead of having towns, counties and state entities, we have churches, districts, and conferences. Hope that helps!). So each church in the UMC doesn't own its own property, meaning that if you got upset with the denomination (on a issue, like, say, homosexuality), your congregation can sever its ties to it, but it can't take the property they meet at with them. They can't because the property, is owned "in-trust" by the conference.

Well, about three years ago, a number of disgruntled churches in California decided to challenge the "In-Trust Clause" in that state's court system. After a protracted legal batter, last year the Supreme Court of California declared that there was nothing in the state's charter or legal history, that supported such a clause, which is causing a panic among those who realize what is at stake. If churches can leave, with their property, the implications for a denomination like ours, which is hopeless fractured over certain issues is that congregations leaving with their building isn't such a crazy idea. As a result, a massive effort is underway to get all UMC's to update their incorporation as non-profits, and make sure that their property deeds are updated with the said "In-Trust Clause" language. We did this last year, but, while I don't really know, I suspect that many UMC's have figured out what is going on, and are intentionally not complying with the wishes of the conference with an eye on 2008, which is the year of our next General Conference meetings (where the issue of homosexuality will, once again, be put on the front burner). Meaning, that if their charter is older than 1968, chances are they are incorporated as a Methodist Episcopal or Evangelical United Breathern Church, and thus, more likely to be able to leave, keys to the sanctuarly in-hand (at least in their own minds, I suppose).

If the "In-Trust Clause" isn't any good in California, what is the implication for every other state? While I'm sure that this case is being federally appealled, the make-up of this version of our U.S. Supreme Court would tend toward letting the states decide whether or not this kind of arrangement really is legal. They aren't saying this implicitly, but I've a sense this is the issue at hand that the Council of Bishops want discussed by this ad-hoc body, as I'm sure, they are seeing storm clouds on the horizon of our denomination's future.

7) More bad news out of the United Methodist Information Service. Apparently, according to the latest stats, less than 15% of all active clergy are under the age of 35. "What's the big deal", you ask, "particularly when so many second-career have, and continue, to go into the ministry?".

Well, the latest studies are out by those who conduct such studies, and what they are discovering is that Senior or Solo Pastors of churches tend to mostly attract people who are within seven years older and younger, than themselves. Thus, if you are denomination that's getting older and smaller, your hope for reaching scores of younger people diminishes with the aging of your clergy.

As someone who came straight out of college into seminary, I can't say that I'm surprised at this trend. The average age of the seminary student when I was on campus was 36. Now it's 42, so we're not talking about some new. It's at least 15 years old, and growing more serious.

And it's a problem that has a lot of contributing factors. The pay for UMC pastors isn't all that great, which isn't exactly an incentive to take on massive student loan debt to do the post-grad work you need to get ordained. Chances are, too, that upon graduation, you'll be appointed either to some little church in the sticks or the city, that has no intention of changing anything it's been doing for (fill in the blank) years, or as an Associate Pastor in a large church where you'll be asked largely to do everything the Senior Pastor doesn't want to do (read: Youth Ministry, which is a good profession, if you want to do it, and like dying slow if you don't want to do it). The chances of getting to start a new worship service or congregation, that fits a younger pastor's persona, with the necessary resources to make it succeed, are almost nil.

So, a job where you rack up a lot of debt, don't make much money, and take a lot of grief from people who largely don't respect you because of your age.... it's kind of a hard sell.

8) Having lived these realities, here's five things that the conference can do, right now, to turn this around:
  • Don't Require a Semininary Education for Ordination: I know my friends and colleagues in seminary won't agree, but nothing is a better training ground for this work than actually being in a church. If I were on the Board of Ordained Ministry, I'd identify ten churches that would be good training grounds for young clergy, appoint them there, and give them great mentors to help them walk through a three year "apprenticeship". A certain number of basic theology and bible classes could be offered on-line (through a participating seminary, or outsourced directly by the conference) to help develop the inner life of these people. In this way, a student's basic needs could be supported by a church whose ministry we'd like to see replicated in the denomination, and the student doesn't end up with debt that, unlike other professionals who are highly paid, will cripple him or her for life.
  • Use This Three Year Period To Identify Possible Church Planters: Here's the deal... we desperately need to start planting new churches because in them, the rules won't be written yet, and the possibilities for innovation and creativity in ministry will be endless. Since the best way to plant a church is to "birth" it out of a "mother church", these young people will already be connected with healthy congregations that, in conjunction with the conference, can make this happen in their communities.
  • Shape The Denominational Structure Toward Serving Local Churches: There was an article this week in our local newspaper detailing the cuts that the Presbyterians (Presby USA) are making in their national office. One of the major cuts is happening in their mission office, not because the churches are sending less money for mission, but because they are now bypassing the denominational office to do more hands-on mission work. Continued downsizing in our General and Annual Conferences will free up more money for church planting and re-starting, which are the venues where young clergy will thrive. What's more, with lowered apportionment obligations, local churches will be more likely to afford young clergy as additional staff. The other piece of this is that the pension and health package for all active and retired clergy will need to be totally restructured. This will mean we'll all need to sacrifice as some of the entitlements we have enjoyed are reconstituted in a form that won't bankrupt the denomination.
  • Promote From Within In Large Churches: If the best corporations in the world are to be trusted, the trend within them, right now, is to train their own leadership, and promote from within. In our system, pastors are promoted largely based on years of service and salary level. So, as an example, the new pastoral leadership at Everywhere UMC is trained in congregations in other places in a conference. So when Pastor Bob goes from Anywhere UMC to Everywhere UMC, while he might have a grip on some basic principles of ministry, he knows pretty much "squat" about his new church (and vice-versa). What if, instead of from Anywhere UMC, that Pastor Bob was appointed from within at Everywhere UMC, where he had served faithfully for a number of years OR was appointed as an associate two years ago for this purpose? Now, Pastor Bob not only has developed the basic skills for ministry, he knows and loves the church (and vice versa). If Pastor Bob only has four years under his belt when his apppointment as a succeeding pastor is made, then so be it. At least young clergy will know that talent and ability will count as much in the appointment process as number of years served.
  • Ordain Clergy In Churches, Not At Annual Conference: I really think Bishop Judy Craig, the now retired Bishop of the West Ohio Conference, was on to something when she moved ordination for Probationary Elders away from Annual Conference into regional services conducted in local churches around the state. I'd move back in that direction, only instead, ordain the person in the church where they had been serving. That way the people who nurtured him or her could fully participate in the celebration, and more rank-and-file lay people could be challenged to think about this vocation as a career.

9) I love 80's music, but I can't understand radio stations with "80's music based" formats. I listen to a station out of Dayton a lot because it features 80's music, and I bet it plays the "Safety Dance" five or six times a day. How is it that I can hear the "Safety Dance" more times on the radio now, then I did when I was thirteen? And, why would I want to? Well, I'm ready to move on. If you are aware of any new, or older under-appreciated artists whose work should make it onto my Sony Bean MP3 player, send your suggestions to .

10) And, finally, Eli, our youngest, is starting to cruise about the house on all-fours, and upright while holding onto something else. Maybe its my imagination, but he seems to be growing up faster than the other two. I half expect him to be in college before Xavier graduates from High School. Just one of the tricks time plays on you in your late 30's.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A House of Cards

Just pretend, for a moment, that you are looking to buy a house. One day, a realtor who you don't know much about, approaches you and makes you the following offer: He'll sell you a great house because the company he works for sells nothing but great houses. He shows pictures of other houses other companies like his have built, and tells you that although his company has never built a home like any of these, that this is type of house he wants to sell you.... pending a thorough investigation of your credit history and income. All you need to do is sign a contact, and the house will be yours (at very favorable terms!).

Now, when you ask what what interest rate you'll be paying, the salesman says that more investigation has be done before he can answer that question. When you ask whether or not the home will be built on a slab, crawl space, or basement, once again, the salesman says he's not sure... sign the contract, and he'll get you that information, and more, as soon as possible. Pretty soon it's clear that all of your specific questions (What's the square footage? Will it come with appliances and/or window treatments? Where will it be located? Will the exterior be painted, brick, or vinyl? etc...) aren't getting any straight answers. Just a promise that the house will be great, and will rise in value.

"Just sign the contract, and we'll work out all the details later." he says. "Trust me."

In the immortal words of Howie Mandel, "Deal, or no deal?"

Well, this is the position in which the Lima community sits as it tries to decide whether or not to invite a casino into it's midst. For I can safely say after tonight's meeting, the only fiscal data you're going to get out of the Eastern Shawnee and their attorney, Tom Casey is:
  • Allen County's unemployment rate is 6.6%, which is above the state average
  • Ohio was 44th in the country in new jobs creation in 2004
  • 13 billion dollars goes across our borders into casinos in neighboring states
  • The Eastern Shawnee intend to invest 300-400 million dollars in this project
  • This project will create "thousands" of good jobs, above minimum wage, with benefits.
  • The Tribe intends to give the municipalities 2% of it's revenue, although it is not obligated to do so, because it wants to be a good member of the community

I mean, you'd be an idiot not to support this, right? This data overwhelmingly favors building a casino. Only "religious fanatics" would oppose something so breathtakingly beneficial to the Lima area.

Well, here's what you won't hear...

  • A projection of just how much revenue the Eastern Shawnee expect to generate (Tom Casey: There needs to be a marketing study conducted to determine this
  • A breakdown of how many jobs will be full time with benefits, and part-time (Tom Casey: Marketing Study)
  • An actual drawing of the casino itself (Tom Casey: Marketing study will determine size of the casino, and thus the architect's drawings)
  • A projection of where people will come from to go to the casino, and the other services they'll demand once here (Tom Casey: marketing study to determine)
  • What other amenities and services will be constructed to help create this "Destination Resort" (we saw a picture of cool indoor waterpark, but were told by Tom Casey that we couldn't assume we'd get one until, yeah - you got it - a marketing study was conducted)
  • An educated guess as to the total economic impact on the community (Tom Casey: My dog knows. He can talk on evenings when there is a full moon, so I'll ask him then.)

Ok, I made that last "Tom Casey" response up, but absolutely no specific data to any pointed questions was shared tonight. And as a result, people with an ax to grind used the remainder of the 90 minute meeting to let all the elected officials in the room know how much they didn't want this project in their backyard, and that gambling is a sin. It was, basically, a waste of time.

It made me so angry, that I decided to put Tom Casey on the spot (knowing full well that any question I had, like, what percentage of this capital for the creation of the casino will come from the Tribe and from private investors... and where do those investors live, wouldn't get a straight answer). Here's my recollection of the exchange:

Me: Mr. Casey, based on the fact that the Tribe is in negotiation with Massilion about locating a casino there, and the Tribe has no history in Massilion, as evidenced by the fact that the city isn't one of the entities named in it's land rights lawsuit, it's apparent to me that the Tribe would be happy to locate this casino pretty much anywhere in Ohio. Given the fact that our unemployment rate in Allen County is so high, and the whole point of this venture is to make a profit, why not enter into discussions with municipalities in regions of the state are doing well financially, like Dublin, West Chester-Lakota, Ottawa Hills, and Mentor? Wouldn't the tribe do better financially in a more affluent region?

Tom Casey: Well, we like Lima because of its accessibility. People are more likely to stay away in a part of the state that's more congested.

Me: Sir, over 100,000 people get into, and out of Ohio Stadium in Columbus, with little or no trouble 7 times a year. I find it hard to believe that Columbus suffers from being inaccessible.

Tom Casey: Well, we think Lima has a lot going for it economically....

Me (cutting him off): Sir, in my opinion, the Tribe is playing on the economic fear among people in this community that they will not have a job, and their children will not live here because of a scarcity of jobs. You are doing this because you know that people living in more desirable locations won't give you the time of day, and we have no choice but to open our door to you.

Tom Casey: (laughing) Well, you've addressed five or six different issues that I don't possibly have time to address. We want to be here because of the historical connection that the Tribe has to the area.

And that's it. Except that the crowd murmured loudly when I pointed out that affluent areas of the state aren't being approached about this, and "here, here'd" after I said that the casino's main tactic was using our fear against us.

Later, one of the developers (not a member of the tribe) from Canton (who also told another member of the clergy that he should want a casino so it could breed problems that the clergy could help people with.... that's a great statement to win over a room!) addressed my question by stating that the Tribe's niche was operating "destination centers" in rural areas, not large downtown casinos (like the MGM Grand in Detroit).

Of course, when that developer was asked if, hypothetically, the Tribe would turn down an offer from the City Council of Columbus to build a casino next to the Ohio Center because it "wasn't their niche", he laughed and said he didn't answer hypotheticals.

Didn't exactly make him look forthcoming or truthful.... greedy maybe, but not forthcoming or truthful.

So, that's where we are. A place where no more dialogue can really take place because the people with all data claim to have none, no local entity with political or economic development responsibility will conduct their own study of the Shawnee's claims, the believers have swallowed the hype (either because they figure this is best Lima is going to do OR because they are libertarians who don't want anything to be illegal), and those opposed can't make any other argument other than a moral one.

A place where we are being asked to buy a house we haven't seen, don't know the location of, aren't clear on any financial details of sale, or have any clear picture if the value of the house will rise or fall.

"It's a great house.... just sign the contract."

No deal.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

First Class

If you are looking for this week's Ten Things I Think I Think, it's two posts down.... I'm writing at a prolific pace this week.

Just received the first syllabus from my first Doctoral class, DM818 - The Spirituality of Leading, with Dr. Steve Martyn. The reading list includes....
  • The Arbinger Institute, Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting: Out of the Box. San Francisco, BK Publishers, 2002. (180 pages)
  • Buckingham, Marcus and Donald Clifton, Now, Discover Your Strengths. New York, The Free Press, 2001. (260 pages)
  • Cassian, John. The Institutes. (Ancient Christian Writers series #58) New York: The Newman Press, 2000. (287 pages) Please note: Read pages 113-274. [As in most ancient texts there are time bound cultural accretions that should be ignored.]
  • Dunnam, Maxie & Kimberly Dunnam Reisman, The Workbook on the 7 Deadly Sins. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 1997. (185 pages)
  • Harnish, James A, You Only Have To Die: Leading Your Congregation to New Life. Nashville, Abingdon Press: 2004. (193 pages)
  • Kouzes, James and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to Keep Getting Extraordinary Things Done in Organizations. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1995. (405
  • MacDonald, Gordon, Rebuilding Your Broken World (Expanded Edition With Study Guide). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990. (235 pages)
  • Muto, Susan & Adrian van Kaam, Growing through the Stress of Ministry. Totowa, New Jersey: Resurrection Press, 2005. (92 pages)
  • Stott, John, Basic Christian Leadership: Biblical Models of Church, Gospel and Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. (127 pages)

That's 1964 pages of required reading, for all you keeping score. Now, here's the secondary reading:

  • Clinton, Robert J. The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages Of Leadership Development. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1988.
  • Herrington, Jim, Mike Bonem, James H. Furr. Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for The Transformational Journey. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000.
  • Egan, Gerard. Working the Shadow Side: A Guide to Positive Behind-the-Scenes Management. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1994.
  • McNeal, Reggie. The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.
  • St. Gregory the Great, Pastoral Care (Ancient Christian Writers No. 11). New York: Newman Press, 1950.
  • Thrall, Bill, Bruce McNicol, Ken McElrath. The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary
    Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence
    . San Francisco:
    Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999.
  • Van Kaam, Adrian, and Susan Muto. Foundations of Christian Formation: Formation Theology Volume One. Pittsburgh: Epiphany Association, 2004.
  • Van Kaam, Adrian, and Susan Muto. Christian Articulation of the Mystery: Formation Theology Volume Two. Pittsburgh: Epiphany Association, 2005
  • Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1998.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I've never been much of a student. I remember, for example, that Dr. Robert Tannahill gave me a "C----------------------------------------.... you passed (barely)" grade on the final exam of my intro Bible class at Methesco (quite possibly the most sarcastic grade given in the history of that institution). Of course, that class, which taught us how to diagram biblical scripture from a literary critical point of view, turned out to have, um (how should I say this), a limited application once I actually got into the pastor business. But, there's no describing my past academic performance any other way than "you passed (barely)".

Of course, passing (barely) this coming year isn't an option. This might be, quite possibly, the first time a student's grades will be passed on to a Staff-Parish Relations Committee, a Senior Pastor, a District Superintendent, and a Bishop. And to think there was a time when only my mother had to sign off on my report card.

So, if you wondered what I'll be doing the next 12 months, the answer is reading, outlining my reading, and writing papers about the reading that I outlined. If I come across any particularly invigorating books or articles in the process, I'll pass it on. And we'll see if an old dog can do the sufficient studying to learn new tricks.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Existential Meaning of My Fortune Cookie

For those looking for this week's "Ten Things I Think I Think", it's the next post.

I like food, and contrary to the popular wisdom in this burg, we actually have a good variety of places where you can get a good meal. I don't think you can complain about not having enough good places to eat in a town with a La Charreada (Mexican), Burgundys (Italian, Steaks), The Bistro, Casa Lu Au, The Old Barn Out Back, Mark Pi's, and a host of places that serve pretty doggone good food.

Well, my favorite of the lot is the Hunan Gardens, a great little Chinese place on Lima's east side. There, for awhile, I was eating there so much that the waitresses wouldn't even bother bringing a menu.... they'd just grab a bowl of Hot and Sour Soup, and an order of Kung Pao Chicken.

Well, due to the fact that I've been gaining so much weight that I'm in danger of developing my own gravitational pull, I kinda backed off the Hunan Gardens. However, since I was out that way to do my hospital visitations, I stopped by today to sample the fare (which was wonderful, as usual).

Anyhow, at the end, they bring you the check and a fortune cookie, which I took out of the plastic wrapper, broke open for my desert, and, lo and behold, was missing a fortune. Which leads me to this question....

What does it mean, existentially, if you get a fortune cookie without a fortune? Does it mean your future is so bright, words can't describe it, or so bad that you don't want to know? Does it mean you (gulp) have no future or that nothing good or bad is going to happen to you in the near future (just a future of days exactly like the last one)?

Or does it just mean that the quality control at Fortune Cookie Inc. is slipping?

I'm not sure, but it freaked me out enough that I made this mid-week post. Just an un-fortune-ate experience.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) The battle against the location of a tribal casino here in Lima rages on. If you haven't done so already, follow this like to and voice your concern. And if you aren't convinced that a casino in the community would be detrimental to our economy, peruse the "facts" and "links" page to find out more about the true economic and human cost of legalized casino gambling.

This blogger too challenges the Eastern Shawnee Tribe and Mayor David Berger's office to offer evidence of the promises that they are making regarding jobs and economic development in this community. Evidence that can be confirmed by an impartial third party. When terms like "a couple thousand new jobs" and "upscale shopping plaza" are bandied about, it gets the rank and file's knickers up in a wad. While the Tribe, the Mayor, and certain proponents of this plan have called opponents of the plan "unreasonable" and "misinformed", the failure of those who are supposed to protect the good of the public to move beyond wild, unsubstantiated statements of economic plenty should take a good look in the mirror. Otherwise, the impression is that the only concern is to get this plan passed, and construction underway, while nagging details regarding concrete figures are left for later negotiation (and, I'd assume, litigation).

Let's quit putting the cart before the horse, and really investigate whether or not this would be good for our community. I am convinced, not just for moral, but economic reasons, that the numbers would not come out in the favor of Allen County's citizens.

2) On a lighter note, a big "thank you" to Stan Weller, a member of the church who took the Bucher boys (minus Eli... more on that later) fishing today. Now, as a fisherman, I'm pretty inept, but the weather (just a beautiful day in Northwest Ohio!), the boys' enthusiasm (in only a short time, Max picked up the art of casting), and the good company (Stan is hoot) even got me in the mood to throw a line into the water for a catfish or a bass. Just a great way to spend one of Max's days off from school (it's Spring Break).

3) The day got even better when, after a trip to the cardiologist, we discovered that a heart murmur discovered by our family doc (the incomparable Eric Stallkamp) is not life-threatening for our little Elijah. Needless to say, Mom and Dad have been on pins and needles since this small hole was discovered ten days ago. Fortunately, yours truly suffered from the same malady as a child, and grew out of if by the time he was 16, so we knew that genetically, this was a possibility for all the boys. Tonight, in light of the doctor telling us that we don't need to bring Elijah back, we feel very blessed.

4) Itching to rent a movie that's a little off of the beaten path? Then next time you are at the local video store, pick up a copy of "Enron: The Smartest Guys In Room". This documentary (don't let your eyes glaze over just yet..... it's a documentary, but it moves at a swift pace) details the rise and fall of Enron, a small natural gas company from Texas that grew into the biggest, and most colossal ponzi scheme in the history of the Western world. Investors and rank-and-file employees lost $60 BILLION when Enron collapsed, and if you believe the filmmakers, plenty of blame for this can be spread around.

The most fascinating part of the movie, though, is the long look taken at the moral fabric and underpinning of Enron.... even in the early days. It's clear, in retrospect, that the environment that executives like Ken Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Andrew Fastow nurtured was more akin to that of a pirate ship than a legit business. And given the money involved, banks, attorneys, accountants, and politicians (yep..... a couple of Bushes are mentioned in this investigation) were more than willing to look the other way....

until the company bankrupted the State of California and the stock price went through the floor.

"Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room". It's definitely worth your time.

5) A letter from Joseph Bishman to our congregation was sent today, informing everyone that in the coming year I'll be working on a doctorate in a program so intensive that it normally requires the candidate to move on-campus with his or her family. While the letter was a good one (you can email if you'd like a copy), there are a couple of things I'd like to add.

First, I want to make it clear that the idea of this doctorate was not mine. In fact, it was suggested by the Bishop and a District superintendent, in conversation with our Staff-Parish Committee and Senior Pastor, that I pursue this as a means of self-improvement (particularly as a pastoral leader) and as a way to help the conference (which is experimenting with me right now.... more on that in a later post). While I am more than agreeable to enter an elite program on the Beeson Institute's dime, this was not done at my request. I just consider it an act, and blessing of God.

Second, the people who will pay the biggest price in this coming year (as alluded to in Joseph's letter), is our family.... particularly Aimee and the boys. There will be stretches of multiple weeks where I will not be able to come home, and while I do work a rather large number of hours now, that's nothing compared to not being around at all. With three boys (the youngest being the aforementioned Elijah at 9 months), I know that Aimee will be facing many long nights with sick children on her own. And given the fact that my own father lived apart from my mother and I for an extended period of time (due to a job change) when I was not much older than Max, I understand the toll this will take on my children. It's them, quite frankly, who will need prayer and support.

6) Well, my Fantasy NBA Team fell apart down the stretch, and I ended up getting knocked out of the first round of the playoffs for the second year in a row. You can't lose two of your marquis players (Chris Bosh and Tracy McGrady) in the last month of the season and expect to compete. I wouldn't be so bitter, but my brother, a pipsqueak 12-years younger than I whose diapers I used to change, is poised to win it all. While I'm glad the championship didn't end up with one of his bonehead fraternity buddies (they keep me around for entertainment value.... let's just say I make the trash talking more colorful), I still don't like getting bested by someone who once begged me, nightly, to read him "The Pokey Little Puppy".

Next year sir..... just wait 'til next year!

7) Who'd have thunk that in the aftermath of our local sheriff's targeting Hispanic illegal aliens that people would take to the streets and the issue would become frontpage news? Just eerie timing. As Congress seeks to decide whether or not to alienate Hispanic voters (by declaring all illegal aliens felons) or middle class voters (by offering a form of amnesty to those hear illegally) fearful of losing their jobs, I can't tell one way or the other how this thing is going to turn out.

I will say this, though, if the law isn't really being enforced right now, barring the allocation of millions of dollars for additional Immigration Agents, what good will declaring 11 million people who aren't going to be sent home anyway, felons? The ICE agent who came to Lima to speak at a forum hosted by Mayor Berger basically said that given all the things his organization (which is responsible not only for border security, but internal security against terrorism) must do, that they weren't going to bother with people working illegally as gardeners or plant laborers or waitresses. That's a telling statement given all the hoopla around this issue. What's the point of putting another law on the books that won't be enforced?

And I'd assume the crush of people wanting to become a citizen would overwhelm the Bureau of Naturalization also. I guess we'll wait, and see what happens.

8) Sunday, I told the story (in my sermon) of the furor I caused as a pastor at Goshen First UMC the year that there were no palms for Palm Sunday. The mess was exacerbated by my sermon, which strayed from the more traditional Palm Sunday message that Jesus was being recognized as the King that he was, which, really, couldn't be further from the truth. Jesus, on Palm Sunday, was greeted like a revolutionary leader, bent on starting a war, which wasn't further from the truth. That's why as he descends into Jerusalem, he stops to weep over the city that has failed to choose the way of peace.

Kind of downer message on a Sunday, where, traditionally, the sermon is pretty upbeat.

Well, the sermon would have gone over OK if the kids of the church had waved palm branches in a processional that morning, which was actually scheduled to happen. But another staff person, who had the job of ordering the palms for distribution, discovered that very morning that the palms (because they were wet, I assume) were molding and falling apart. So, no palms for the kids on a Sunday where the young whippersnapper associate pastor decided to identify the palm branch as a symbol of war and rebellion, as opposed to peace, in Jesus' time.

It was "Ugly" with a capital U. Thankfully, all (or at least, most) was forgiven, but it's an experience that, while I count it as important to have lived through, one I hope that's never repeated.

9) I miss a lot of things about Goshen, but one of the things I miss most is it's selection of coffee houses and purveyors. How is it that a town of 35,000 can possess three or four first-rate coffee establishments (not to mention the wonderful job that Julie Weddle and her volunteers did at "Sacred Grounds", First UMC's very own coffee bar located at the West Campus..... her's, bar none, was the best coffee in town!), while Lima (who's metro area is three times bigger) only rates one (two, if you count the "Big Apple Bagel" place at one of our grocery stores)?

And the one we have, while nice, is more well known for its fu-fu coffees than dark blends that will wake you up, and get you on your way.

"Barnes and Noble", where are you!?!

10) And finally, I have been taking a fair number of questions about the Coptic scrolls discovered in Egypt that assert that Judas was ordered by Jesus to betray him. Is this, people ask, more evidence of a massive cover-up by the Roman Catholic church (as detailed in Dan Browns work of fiction "The DaVinci Code"?

Well, let's get a couple of things straight. The coptic scrolls that were discovered were written, to the best of our knowledge, about 200 years after Christ died, by a group of people who believed that he had never been human. This denial of Jesus' humanity was a very disruptive, and difficult issue for the early church to deal with. These believers, called Gnostics, believed that Jesus was entirely divine, to the point that he was not present on the cross for the crucifixion. The belief, it is believed, grew out of the influence that other cultic gods and practices in Egypt had on Christians who were struggling to explain how death on a cross was actually a victory. Unable to reconcile this, the cult of Gnosticism was born, and flourished.

The problem was that it was so far off of the course of what the Apostles had taught people, that ultimately church leaders had to call large meetings of leaders leading the faithful (called "councils") to determine how this belief started, and whether or not it could be substantiated from the time of Christ.

The ultimate decision was "no", but because the manuscripts still exist, many people, like Dan Brown, have exploited them to create doubt about whether or not the church has covered up various aspects of Jesus' life (in particular, did he marry, have kids, roam the earth after the resurrection in places not accounted for in the Gospels... just to name a few) to prop up some of its own core beliefs.

Archeological study and further scholarship points toward Jesus, and his followers, understanding his person and mission in an orthodox form (a point that is hammered home by N.T. Wright, one of the most influential scholars of the day, and called into question by other scholars like John Dominic Crossan and the late Robert Funk... feel free to read them all, and listen to their arguments for what "orthodox" Christianity truly is). But the coptic writings are important in that they help give insight into a little-known culture struggling to understand the meaning of Jesus in the world. Their existence is a boon for scholarship.... it's just too bad that opportunists will use them as a way to get rich (and that about sums up my thoughts on Dan Brown.... you dig?)

If you've more questions in light of this simplistic argument, feel free to email me at . Don't worry, I've been grilled so many times my backside looks like a Whopper. Bring it on!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Eleven Things I Think I Think

If you haven't done so yet, visit , send Aimee your email, and add your name to the list of people who aren't ready to say "yes" to a casino in the Lima area. Also, if you are from the area, take some time to utilize the links on that webpage to contact our local political leaders, and let them know that insufficient and/or unconvincing data on this project has been presented, and that you'd rather use county-owned land geared toward commercial development for a purpose other than legalized gambling.

1) As a means of self-preservation, I edit what I say in this blog. Often, I have something I really want to write about, but for a variety of reasons, it's just not prudent to do so. As a rule, it generally takes me a couple of hours to pound this thing out each week, and it takes this long because I am constantly checking, and re-checking what I'm writing to make sure it's interesting, but not going to cause any unnecessary headaches. Just one of the realities of the biz I'm in, but suffice to say, if I could write whatever I wanted this blog would have a totally different feel.

I mention all of this because somebody said something yesterday that really got under my skin. You see, there was a time in my life, not too long ago, when I pretty much said just about everything that came into my head. I'm not saying that this "Bryan" was a better "Bryan" per se. The Book of James has a lot to say about how destructive the tongue can be, and I've learned that lesson first hand, multiple times. But, anyhow, yesterday a very well-intentioned person, while congratulating me on starting a doctorate, made the statement that years ago I was the "Clueless Bryan", and then I went to Goshen and became "Radical Bryan", and now, here I am, years later, and I've become "Corporate Bryan".

In other words, I'm the man I used to stick it too. Maybe this is the price you pay as you get older, or maybe I really am just getting smarter..... I don't know. All I know is that never, in my life, would I ever have thought I could be described as "corporate", and never would I have imagined that most of the time spent writing this thing was carefully deciding what I don't want you to hear me say.

2) Which leads me, I suppose, to this place I've arrived right now where I've become one of the local mouthpieces against a proposed casino to be run by the Eastern Shawnee Tribe here in Lima. I've been told that I really ought to keep my mouth shut, and let this battle be fought by other people because of what it could cost me, long term, in terms of my cred with the local business community. Well, I've basically chosen to speak my mind for a few reasons:
  • I don't want my family living in a small, somewhat economically depressed, town with a casino. I just don't think it will improve our quality of life.
  • Most of the local clergy speaking out on this issue are choosing to use language and terms that aren't endearing the church to the part of the community that is unchurched. I think there is a real economic argument one can make against this thing that will turn more heads than disparaging remarks about Indians, gamblers, and the people who wish to embrace them.
  • I'm afraid of truly becoming "Corporate Bryan", for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and in the process lose his soul (I heard that from somewhere)?

So, here is a link to the copy of my letter to the editor of the Lima news. It will not be last word I have on the subject:

3) Great game tonight! Not especially close, but the effort each team gave was terrific. I reminded me of one of those great heavyweight fights you can only see now on ESPN Classic where two guys just keep beating on one another, long after they reached the point of fatigue. That was tonight's game, which was played baseline to baseline with unbelievable speed and energy. Just a great effort on the part of both teams.

4) I took Max to his awards ceremony for Upwards Basketball up at The Naz (the Lima Community Church of the Nazarene, for those not familiar with the lingo of the locals), and it was, well interesting. The featured speaker was a middle aged lady that did lots of dribbling tricks (which would have probably been more impressive had she not been dribbling on a carpeted floor), some juggling, a little speaking, and a little singing for closers. It could best be described as a surreal experience, although the woman really did go all out and had a good message for the kids (Be an A.C.E. - have a good Aattitude, be Comitted, and show great Eenthusiasm). Then we sat through 40 minutes of handing out door prizes.

Here's a piece of advice for the Upward's people at The Naz - next year, if you have to have door prizes again, just put all the winning ticket numbers on the screen, and tell people to stop at a prize table out in the entry area on their way home. That'll beat watching the league director reading off winning ticket numbers, and peering into a crowd to find the winner. Remember, you don't need to give us a bunch of free crap to make sure we come to the ceremony.... we'll come to support our kids.

5) Well, the first week, and all the receptions, for the Living Sacrifice Capital Campaign, are over. Now, all we can do is wait to see how the congregation responds. I'm not particularly fond of asking for money (a subject I've covered before), but every dollar we can use for mission and ministry, as opposed to paying off a mortgage, is a dollar better spent. I hope the congregation feels the same way.

6) Grandma and I enjoyed back to back episodes of The West Wing last night. I say "back-to-back" because last week the local NBC affiliate, WLIO, decided to conduct a telethon for the United Way during The West Wing, with no plans to re-air the episode later. Grandma and I thought about calling to complain last Sunday, but Jiminy Crickets, how can you be against the United Way? We might have as well called to express our displeasure with the existence of babies or the coming of Spring. So, we just seethed at the telethon (which, remarkably, featured a local guy cooking what looked to be an oversized Ho-Ho for the majority of the evening) and resolved to send donations to the Salvation Army.

Well, believe it or not, the next day when my Grandmother called the station to find out if re-airing what was essentially one of the last nine episodes of a great show was a possibility, she was surprised to have a flustered receptionist fall all over herself, apologizing for the pre-emption, and promising that the station would look into the matter. Apparently, the complaints were more than a few. I guess other people don't care whether or not their complaining made them look shallow and self-serving (God Bless 'em)

Anyhow, thanks to them, the episode aired at 7pm on Saturday. So Grandma, who is the only person in our entire family that actually knows how to operate a VCR (no joke!), taped "the lost episode" and the new one from last night. Couple that with some great conversation and a big bowl of ice cream, and you've got the makings of a great evening!

7) While I worked out this morning at the Y, I found myself watching "Live With Regis and Whatever The Lady's Name Is" (can't say I'm a huge fan). Now, if you want, you can turn on your FM radio and listen to the audio of the show, but, since I'm a child of the seventies who was too young too realize that Disco wasn't cool, I was listening to Jamaraqui and didn't want to turn him off, so I just read the captioning. The subject of the conversation between Regis and the other lady consisted mostly of her talking about how her child got the chicken pox while they were on vacation in some exotic locale. I'm sure it was interesting to somebody, somewhere, but I'll bet you they wouldn't have been half as absorbed into the subject matter if they had read the dialogue. Nobody is winning a Pulitzer on that show anytime soon.

8) Since I was at Mom and Dad's tonight watching the NCAA Tourney, we watched this show on NBC (before the game), called "Deal or No Deal". The premise of the show is that you can win a lot of money, and not be particularly smart or talented at anything. You just need to pick the right briefcase held by the right scantily clad female, and be willing to help wratchet up the suspense factor as much as you can in the process. The best part, as far as I'm concerned, was watching Howie Mandel, a comic from the eighties who used to pull a rubber glove over his head and blow it up with his nose, host. Watching how transform from a manic/crazy lunatic, to game show host is, for me, just about the best entertainment I can think of. I just keep waiting for him to come back from a commercial break in (what was) his trademark doctor's smock blathering incoherently about chickens or buses or calendars like he did in the old days. And how much more suspense is there if you're wondering whether or not the host, at any moment, could whip out a rubber glove, pull it over his head, and blow it up with his nose? See if you can watch that show the same way, now!

9) We're getting ready for Holy Week around here, and at Shawnee, doing so is kind of a rough experience. You see, Joseph (our Senior Pastor), is a big believer that since so many people skip "Good Friday" services, they miss the experience of thinking about Jesus being dead, in the tomb, so, our Palm Sunday service is really just a Good Friday service, five days early. So, if you work at Shawnee, Jesus is in the tomb the entire week, which is not a pleasant thing to think about. And, I guess that's the point really.... thinking about the horrible thing that was done to your best friend and mentor. Since Joseph always likes to make it a point to make sure you know too, that's it's his, yours, and my sin that put Jesus in this predicament, the sense of guilt and responsibility weighs heavy.

But, this year, I'm preaching on Palm Sunday, and I'm just not sure that I'm ready, really, to jump all the way to Good Friday, as Palm Sunday itself holds enough misery in itself. For it is on this day that as he is lauded by many waving palm branches as being the Messiah of Israel, that as he makes his way down the Mount of Olives, through the crowd and into Jerusalem, he weeps over the city. He weeps because he knows that those praising his name see him not as a spiritual deliverer, but as a military figure who is supposed to overthrow the Romans and free Israel. In great detail, in the Book of Luke, Jesus predicts what will happen to Jerusalem because some believed that war with Rome would set the people free. It's a very gruesome, realistic picture that depicts the actual fall of Jerusalem about 30 years later, to the tee.

Of course, most scholars believe that it was Luke that wrote this dialogue, after Jerusalem fell, and that Jesus had nothing to do with the actual text. But, for whatever reason, I think Jesus really did foretell Jerusalem's fall, because he was a keen observer and expert of human nature. He knew what the Jewish freedom fighters were capable of, and more importantly, he had a good understanding of how Rome would respond, in kind. Just a tragic, terrible story.... and not one I want to skip this year. Stay tuned.

10) And finally, if you remember, last week I exchanged emails with one of our local newspaper editors on the subject of faith and government. Well, Sunday, he managed to quote "A Methodist Minister" who had objected to the idea that expressing one views inspired by religious belief in a political forum within a free society was a faithless act. The editor maintains that beliefs expressed in this way amount to nothing more than legislating moral behavior, which is faithless because it looks to government to maintain conduct that ought to come naturally out of one's own religious conviction. You can read his entire op-ed piece here:

Well, as I said last week, I just don't understand why one should keep quiet on issues, even if their opinion is spiritually-motivated in a free society. If we are to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's", it seems, at least from a Christian perspective, that we are obligated, on some level to act in the public forum. Besides, every person's sense of wrong or right, his or her convictions, were not formed in a vacuum. That these morals and virtues were formed under the influence of religious instruction or inspiration shouldn't render them "second class" next to someone who developed their own sense of wrong and right in a classroom or at the library. That's intellectual bigotry, and since godless culture (think of millions killed by Josef Stalin in Communist Russia as one example) and thought has visited upon us comparable misery as a culture shaped by a religious ideal has (we've got to own up to our own sins), I just don't think you can elevate, in a democratic society, one expression over the other. In light of the many people who fought and died so that this wouldn't be the case, to do so seems short-sighted and insulting.

So, Ron Lederman Jr. we'll just need to agree to disagree, because what you call legislating morality, I call being a good citizen true to his/her own conscience.... and if Jesus sits in the middle that conscience, well, then so be it.

11) And finally, there is a small, but growing rumor that the Bucher clan is moving away from Lima, and hence, Shawnee UMC this summer. I want to categorically deny this, and let everyone know that while my doctoral work over the course of the next year will result my being gone a lot (and in my family moving with me to Asbury Theological Seminary during the month of July), that I will still be on the staff at Shawnee, albeit part-time. Long-term, I'm not going anywhere. Soon, we'll let you all know definitively what the church and Bishop's long-term plans are for me here at Shawnee UMC. Just be patient, and be assured that we are here to stay.

Until next time....