Monday, May 22, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) As is my custom, this morning I checked out the online Sunday edition of The Goshen (IN) News, which I have done virtually every Monday since I left. Imagine my surprise when I saw this article on the costs of legalized gambling ( Virtually every form of gambling has been legal in Indiana for a number of years now. Gambling related revenues, in fact, make up the single largest form of revenue for the State Government of Indiana, which is a situation that has resulted in much corruption. Mark my words after having lived it: put politicians in bed with the casino industry, and you have a recipe for widespread graft. Now, virually everything the gambling industry asks for, it gets, and while there are local success stories (namely the Riverboat in Lawrenceburg), the overall cost for the people of the state has been staggering. The article does a good job of profiling two people who now make up an estimated 1.5% (a conservative estimate made by the National Gaming Association... opponents of legalized gambling and other special interests estimate 3-5%) of the adult population of Indiana who are now gambling addicts, which comes at a cost (crime, incarceration, bankrupcy, etc...) of $13,200 a year per household.

Go to, get the facts, and join 270 other people by putting your name on our online petition.

2) Tonight, the City Council of Lima will vote on a working agreement with the Eastern Shawnee. Since I am not resident of Lima (I live in Shawnee Township), I do not plan to attend. I trust that if it's coming up for a vote, that Mayor Berger has counted his votes, and expects it to pass. I find it interesting that the two councilmen from Lima's two poorest wards, Derry Glenn and Tommy Pitts, are both vehemently opposed to this project. Having grown up in those neighborhoods, they both realize that the bulk of gambling profit in this county comes not from high rollers that are bankrolled to the hilt, but from the working poor. Tommy Pitts, for one, tells stories about men who signed over their checks to bookies as soon as they received them, leaving nothing for the family at home.

You can use the links page at to let your trustees, mayor, or council members know how feel about this proposed "resort destination" (i.e. casino) in Lima.

Alright... enough about gambling.

3) All reports on the "DaVinci Code" movie are less than positive. Sounds like a "2 hour plus" history and theology lesson about history that never happened and theology that is bad. Yesterday's sermon by Joseph on the book was a great one, so much so that we'll attempt to post it on the church's web page as an MP3 or wave file by the end of the week. It'll lose a little something without the pictures he used in the service (he does a great explanation on how DaVinci's "The Last Supper" is different than the other depictions in art during that age that'll raise the eyebrows... in a good way!), but you'll get the idea.

This week I'll be focusing some time and energy on the Gnostics, who were a group of people in Egypt who wrote the "gospels" that didn't make it into the Bible. It's in the Gospel of Mary that the coptic term "holy kiss" shows up, and since its a kiss Jesus gives to Mary Magdalene, it's the origin of Dan Brown's novel. As a quick precursor, I'll introduce you to the theology of Gnostics, which is essentially that the body and all things created in this world are evil, and that only the divine (spirit) is good. This belief took the Gnostics to make leaps of logic such as, but not limited too, the idea that Jesus never died on the cross, and salvation came not through him but a "secret knowledge" you would receive via the Holy Spirit. Not only did this contradict the Old Testament (where God called the Creation "good" every day He created it), but the single most important theological concept of Christianity, which is the atonement of Jesus Christ for humanity's sins.

Also, we'll discuss whether or not the Gnostics were champions of women's rights (but if you know that they believe the body is evil, and women are the ones that give birth, you can guess the answer to that question), understood "true judiasm" as it was practiced by Jesus, and if they wrote stuff in their texts that more accurate that the original Gospels, which are all claims made by the book. If that sounds boring, I'll make sure there's lots of good music. It'll be a good time for all.

4) Took a little 104 mile motorcycle ride yesterday with Shawnee UMC's "Ride and Dine Club". I don't own a motorcycle. I borrowed one from a gracious Sue Dickerson, a member of our church (and mother of Bruce, who one of my McClaren books). It was my third time on her bike, and by far the longest distance I've traveled on two wheels. I must say that the more I ride, the more I enjoy it. Nobody in the family is crazy about my getting into this, but they've all been supportive. Given the size and scope of the church's ministry with those who like to ride, it makes sense that I'd learn to do this.

Besides, it fits with the rest of my ministry. In fifteen years, I've had to learn a boatload of new things in order to survive. Fifteen years ago I didn't own a pair of skis, a guitar or bass guitar, I couldn't sit in on a drumset, fish, or hit a golf ball decently (although, most days, I still can't). I had never been a trip planner, fundraiser, a video producer/editor, a proprieter of a coffee bar, a contractor (here and abroad), concrete mixer, block layer, paramedic, financial planner, zealous advocate, a human resource person, counselor, trucker, plummer, IT expert, chef, floor stripper (of wax, not as a guy on a pole), event planner, interior decorator (God bless the people who had to live with my choices), real estate agent, mechanic, and (yes, believe it or not) fashion consultant. So, why not learn to ride a motorcycle? It'll just be the next thing.

5) Which leads me to this.... in high school, my father worried about me constantly. His biggest concern was that while I had lots of skills, I wasn't excellent in any one thing. For example, I played basketball, and was good enough to play for Lima Senior, but nobody would confuse me with LeBron James (or even, Jerome James). I sang, but I wasn't a soloist. I made decent grades, but not great ones. My whole life I've been a jack of all trades, but master of none. I guess Dad, and others like him (including a science teacher at LSHS who told me that I was the "biggest disappointment of my senior class.... thanks Mr. Emerick!) wondered if I was just too lazy to do anything particularly well.

Well, almost twenty years later what I have discovered in this job is you need to be able to do, or at least grasp a basic understanding, of a lot of different things. Whether you are talking to a CEO of a hospital or a secretary, dealing with the church's mortgage, discussing the building of a school with a bunch of masons, upgrading a computer, figuring out the political fallout from the decision you are about to make, buying a new boiler, or picking a piece of music of a worship service, you've got to have passing knowledge about a lot of things. While I'm no (fill in the blank here with your favorite preacher), While I hope to be at least be above average when it comes to giving a sermon (and thus become "almost great" at something) the ability I appear to have to learn something new, quickly, has served me quite nicely in the ministry.

So, to all you 2006 graduates and students out there, (here's a little lingo the kids can understand) don't listen to the haters! Use whatever gifts you've been given, whether specialized or not, and do what God created to do. Remember that, and you'll be fine.

6) A fine showing for LeBron James in this year's playoffs. And for all those out there who think he won't be the next Jordan cause they gave away Game Six against Detroit, remember this: Jordan once had a coach who couldn't understand how to use his gifts and a team with uneven talent around him, and early on in his career he couldn't get anywhere in the playoffs either. There's a famous image of Jordan crying while embracing the "Larry O'Brien Trophy". People forget that this picture was taken in the locker room after the Bulls won their first championship (his father, who would be murdered only a couple of years later, is standing behind him). Until that day, the knock on Jordan was that he was too selfish (people forget this, but sports fans debated it endlessly until Jordan settled the question) to ever win a championship, and that picture encapsulates the end of a burdensome journey for a man whose greatness was, until that day, was in question.

This year was only LeBron's coming out party. Whether it be in Cleveland (I hope) or elsewhere, someone will give him the tools he needs (an experienced coach who can coach defense and a teammate that can hit an outside jumper) to make the leap.

7) Watched Barry Bonds take a few cuts the other night (thanks to ESPN's obsession over him passing Babe Ruth's HR total), and it's hard to believe that years ago in Pittsburgh, the guy was known for hitting for average, base-stealing, and great defense. It's strange to think that if he had simply worked on the things that had gotten him to the big leagues that he'd definitely be a Hall of Famer. And now, with all the steroids allegations (the guy's head is so big that it has it's own orbiting moon), who knows?

8) Is the National Hockey League in the middle of its playoffs? If so, who is still playing? If a pro hockey league falls in a forest, and nobody hears it, did it actually happen?

9) Here's a link to what MSN says is the top twenty gifts people are ordering off of its site for 2006 graduates: Want a piece of advice from a youth ministry vet who's attending hundreds of graduation parties: If you want them to be happy and excited, give 'em cash!

10) And finally, tried to go to bed early last night, but unable to sleep, I ended up watching VH-1's latest reality offering, "SuperGroup". The same network that gave you not one, but two shows featuring Flavor-Flav (Note to Grandma Great: He's a rapper who was popular in the 1980's who has somehow resurfaced on D-grade reality television), is now putting five rock musicians together to write a new song and perform it in twelve days.

Oh... and they put them together in Las Vegas, complete with VIP passes to local strip bars and dance clubs because rockers don't have enough distractions or drama in their lives.

The musicians are as follows:
  • Ted Nugent: Having lived out his heyday in the 70's, the "Motor City Madman is now known as much for being pro-hunting, an NRA zealot, and conservative political commentator as a musician. Highly egotistical, Nugent has to be only person in the country praised by a sitting President for being "pro-family", years after convincing a family in Hawaii to make him the guardian of 17 year old female, who then became his live-in girlfriend.
  • Sebastrian Back: Former lead singer of hair metal band, Skidrow, Bach now largely performs on Broadway. The self-proclaimed "bad boy of rock" just finished a stint touring as (I am not making this up) Jesus in "Jesus Christ Superstar".
  • Jason Bonham: The son of the late John Bonham, drummer for Led Zeppelin, his main claim to fame in America is having been in the critically panned "Rock Star" with Mark Wahlburg. In the movie he played a rock musician so messed up that (in homage to Keith Richards who is rumored to do so in real life) he needed regular blood transfusions to survive.
  • Scott Ian: Rhythm guitarist for band called Anthrax, he's credited for coming up with idea of fusing metal with hip hop (and he did so with Flavor Flav!), for having a really bad gotee (you think I'm kidding, but I'm serious).
  • Evan Seinfeld: Was the frontman and bassist for some band called BioHazard, which apparently has sold 20 million albums, and yet I had never heard of them until last night. Now, he spends his time producing (and once again, I am not making this up) pornographic videos that feature his (ahem) wife... I don't even know what to say about this.

Anyhow the show profiles the made-for-TV band (apparently named, as I'm sure we'll learn in future episodes, "Damnocracy") as it profanely seeks a sound, a song, and a gig.... and if you think I'm going to miss an episode of the pop culture disaster, as Judas Priest says, "you've got another thing coming".

Until next time....

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) If you missed Lee Ann Patrick's tribute to her mother, Lois Herwick, yesterday at Shawnee UMC, you really missed some fine work. The obvious love and admiration that the two women have for one another is palpable, and the way that was presented by Lee Ann was very touching. A great "Mother's Day" Service, all around, and a special kudos to Lee Ann for a tribute to a mother that will be remembered and treasured by that family forever.

2) Had a nice day yesterday. We made the trek to Toledo to see Aimee's grandmother, Henrietta Little, who I think is turning 90 this year, and members of her clan from far and wide. Particularly enjoyed catching up with Aimee's cousin, CJ, who is a video guru, preparing to get married this fall in the great city of Chicago.

CJ has always been, well, "creative", and I mean that in a good way. He made a short video of a trip he made to London years ago that is still a favorite of our boys. He organized a music festival in the backyard of his parent's house to celebrate his mother taking beginning drum lessons later in life (she made her debut to great fanfare). He was the mastermind behind one of the flying machine's entered in Chicago's "Flugtag" four years ago, and he recently proposed to his fiance in a monkey suit. The guy has creativity coming out of his pores. Needless to say, I am excited at the prospect of what will happen at his wedding and/or reception. Truly an event not to be missed this September in the greater Chicago area (although, as of now, I'll have to miss it, due to my doctoral program.... curses!). Could be the very first wedding featuring a bear costume, pyrotechnics, and a bicycle made of cheese.

3) Also received the opportunity to spend time with my own family, as my brother and his wife joined us at my parents for Mom's Day. Dad insisted on cooking out on the grill, as per Bucher Family Tradition (which is treated with a mix of sacredness and sarcasm) even though it was 40 degrees and raining. My boys, having spent the day riding in the van to and from Toledo (where they played with CJ's dog "Dingo", to the point that the dog who never gets tired, looked beat), were in rare form last night. The highlight of the evening was a conversation where we re-hashed my Dad's idea for a novel he had a number of years ago involving two baseball players, a showdown in Yankee Stadium, Arab terrorists (which, he points out, was an idea he had years before 9-11), and these two baseball players coming together in the end for world peace. I guess if someone else writes the book, I just cost dad his million-dollar idea, but I've a sense it will still be waiting for him upon retirement, as the sports/political thriller genre is still largely underdeveloped and untapped. Anyhow, Mom and Grandma Great were surrounded by people they loved who were laughing, so you can't ask for a better Mom's Day celebration.

4) Watched the first and last episodes of "The West Wing" last night with Grandma Great. A very classy way of showing that the show, while its writing may have dropped off a few years ago (although this season, in my opinion, was every bit as good as any other), the quality of acting never waned.

I'm feeling, however, a palpable sadness, and yet am very grateful, this day. My love for this show coincided with my arriving at Goshen First UMC, and the start of my relationship with my former boss, Dick Lyndon. Originally, the show aired on Wednesdays, which just happened to be "church night" in Goshen. Because the youth ministry at First met that evening, I wouldn't complete my work until after 9pm (when I'd kick about 20 kids playing basketball out of The Life Center). Dick would tape the episode of The West Wing so we could watch it together. I used to let myself into their house, give his wife a kiss on the cheek, and make a bologna sandwich before we'd settle in to watch whatever would befall President Bartlett and the rest of the gang. I enjoyed this, immensely, because Dick would use it as a learning tool on issues of leadership, and, often, it would help us get a handle on some of the issues we faced as pastors in our church.

Mostly, I just liked spending the time with him.

After his death, I found it hard to watch the show.... until we moved home and Grandma Great and I made this our weekly date. And, much like Dick, she would tape the show, so that if I showed up late, we could watch it together. Now, we'll probably watch "The Family Guy", and whatever show we can both agree isn't awful (we gave "Desperate Housewives" a shot, but that show is just unwatchable), for which I am grateful.

Thus, the passing of the show reminds me of the passing of my friend, and the passing of time I now enjoy with someone who is a treasure in our family. Let's call it a bittersweet experience that has made my life all the richer.

5) As our departure for Wilmore approaches, I must admit that the stress this is putting on our home is growing. While the two oldest boys are excited about our "Kentucky Adventure" (Xavier, in particular, has built up the experience to heights not experienced before), the reality of making another move (our third in three summers) is starting to hit hard. Thankfully, this time we don't need to move all our furniture, but that's because Aimee and the boys aren't staying with me. For ten months, she'll essentially be a single mother, and it's this, above and beyond all other things, that's got us both spooked.

In 1998, I accepted a position on a the conference staff of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry. I knew before I took the job that the position, which largely consisted of my doing a lot of church consulting and attending a lot of meetings, would require a lot of travel. What I didn't understand was how traveling a lot as a non-parent was different than traveling as a parent (as Max, our oldest, wasn't born until after I'd been on the job about a month). The experience of not seeing my family for days at a time was so difficult, that, eventually, although I loved the job (and was pretty good at it), I left it after only 8 months for something that enabled me to be home virtually every evening. It's a decision I've never regretted. Not once!

Now, we're staring down the reality of being apart, not days, but weeks at a time, and I can't say that the prospect of being gone is any more palatable in 2006 that it was in 1998. I don't know if this is true, but it seems like the older my boys get, the more they seem to need me. While I know kids are resilient and cope well with change, and I know what a great opportunity this is for me professionally, I wonder what kind of price we'll all pay this year for my absence?

6) Ben Wallace, Center for the Detroit Pistons, has guaranteed that tonight's game at the Q in Cleveland, will be the last of the Cavs season. Guaranteeing a win, Wallace stated to the journalist that they could print his prediction on whatever page of the paper they wanted, because in every other instance he's made a guarantee like this one, the Pistons have always come through. I've stated, again and again, that this year's playoffs will go down as the year that LeBron had his "coming out party", much like the years that Jordan led those early Bulls teams to defeats despite scoring 60+ points a game. So, don't be surprised if Wallace, and the Pistons, get more than they bargained for tonight.

There will be one more game at the Q after tonight. Just wait and see.

7) Hillary Clinton has fallen into some hot water after making comments related to the lack of a work-ethic among those in Generation X and Y (see this article: Apparently, Senator Clinton forgot she had a daughter making a six-figure income after completing an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a Masters from Oxford, and upon being reminded of this, apologized for her remarks.

I'll tell you that as long as I've lived I've listened to people who decry the state of the next generation. In particular, I've had to listen to baby-boomer pastors who deride the skills, intelligence, creativity, leadership ability, and grittiness of people my age. Phrases like "they've had everything handed to them on a silver platter" are continually thrown around by older people, who, in my opinion, are looking to stand up on the beaten down shoulders of those coming after them for reasons more associated to ego than reality. Having worked with some of the best that Gen X and Y have to offer, I can tell you that I don't harbor the same kind of concern for the future. I think some pretty sharp people are going to take the wheel, and steer this country into a direction that will be good for all.

My belief in young people was renewed again with the news that at Shawnee High School this weekend, the students crowned a Machal Hoops, a Senior with Downs Syndrome, as their 2006 Prom Queen. I'm fairly certain that in my, or my parent's high school, such a thing would have been unthinkable. That in the world that there will be highly intelligent people who will actually make the plight of those who are disadvantaged a priority gives me a sense of optimism that was lost for people like Senator Clinton when they became adults. No matter your age, I beg you, don't follow her example. Our future is in good hands.

8) A big "thumbs up" to the Allen Country Commissioners who have, at least for the moment, cut off negotiations with the Eastern Shawnee. While Mayor Berger continues to push this form of "economic development", the Tribe is now looking for privately held land which they'll have to purchase (as opposed to "given", which is what they wanted from the county) for whatever it is they ultimately hope to construct in this community. I say this because in the Lima News this weekend, we are being led to believe that the city is looking at, not just a casino, but a "championship-level 18-hole golf course", an "indoor waterpark", a "first-rate" convention center, a "five-star" hotel, numerous restaurants, and a shopping complex on par with the Easton Mall in Columbus that would provide "2000-2500" jobs all paying more than $25,000 a year.

Of course, the Eastern Shawnee have never built a facility like this before. They currently employ 400 people at a casino in Oklahoma, where they can, quite frankly, build whatever they want. Considering that another Oklahoma tribe was cited in the paper's article for having already done this kind of development, one would think that nothing would have precluded the Eastern Shawnee from having done this themselves. But, apparently the idea hadn't occurred to them until they tried to entice us with endless possibilities in exchange for a sweet land deal.

And, of course, nothing concrete about this proposal is being released to the public. All of the possible development listed above, is suggested, but never promised, which is an act that is getting old. Maybe if the Tribe, it's lawyers (who are making a killing right now), and local political officials treated us like adults by giving some particulars about this proposal, we could have some meaningful dialogue on the issue. Until then, the mistrust only grows...

9) Have completed five chapters of "The Secret Message of Jesus". No great revelations yet, but stay tuned.

10) And, finally, on Saturday we had the pleasure of attending a system-wide art show where a piece of pottery made by Max was on display. We were, and are, very proud of his work and look forward to bringing his work, and his award home for display on the family mantel. Many kudos to the art teachers and administrators who put on this great event for students and their families.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) This blog has received almost 900 hits in the last five weeks, which, quite frankly, astounds me. Thanks to all of you who actually take the time to read this thing. I hope you continue to enjoy it.

2) Well, my two copies of the "Secret Message of Jesus" have arrived, and with almost tens of entries, here are the winners (and my reasoning for choosing them):

The winner of the first copy of the book is Bruce Dickerson from Hamilton, Ohio. Bruce and his wife are expecting a baby, and Bruce says that I should give him a book so that he'll have something to read during late-night feedings and diaper-changings. I've got to support a dedicated new father! Bruce, you'll get your copy of the book, post-haste. Congrats!

The winner of the second copy of the book, which will be the copy that I read before sending, and thus will contain whatever notes I happen to jot down (if any), is David Grant from Goshen, Indiana. Now, to be honest, this was a tough choice, because another Goshenite, Scott Mattern, offered me a pound of fine coffee from the Dominican Republic for the book, and everyone who knows me knows that I'm not above a bribe. However, listen to some of Brother David's reasoning for why he should get a book: Brian McLaren, like Bryan Bucher, has helped me to recognize the great distance between God and ourselves (myself), and to know that any attempt to reduce that distance by somehow moderating its demands misses the point altogether. And besides all of that, I am now a poor, struggling college student who needs a helping hand with a great new book!

He pled poverty and used flattery, all for a book. I couldn't turn that down.... although I would suggest that David, when he's finished reading, trade the book to Scott for the coffee, and send me a fair-share of God's blessed bean.

Congrats to the winners, and thanks to all for playing. I'll be giving away more books later in the year (as I read them for my doctoral work), so keep your eye on this blog for more chances to win.

And, for anyone who is interested, I do have a number of copies of the first chapter of the book, and would be happy to send it to you, free of charge, so that you decide whether or not you'd like to buy a full copy. I'll also post my review of the book as soon as I'm done reading.

3) The contest leads me to a suggested topic for the blog, which is this: Is there coffee in heaven? The short, straight, theologically-correct, and irrefutable answer is, yes, but only real coffee, and expresso, will be permitted. All instant coffees, flavored (fu fu) coffees, coffee drinks made with milk or milk-wanna-be products, and (of course) all forms of decaf will only be available in Hell, as God will allow no corruption of his holy nectar. While this position isn't biblical, I'm relying on special revelation given to me years ago during a vision I had in a period of great distress (I had given up coffee for Lent, and it was Day 3, when the withdrawl symptoms hit). You'll simply have to take my word for it.

4) A big "thank you" to to my Grandmother (or as we refer to her around the house, Grandma Great, since she is great, and a great-grandmother to my boys), who taped a copy of a debate sponsored by the New York Times on C-SPAN 2, between Thomas Friedman, author of the facinating new book "The World Is Flat", and Noble-winning economist, Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, a member of the faculty at Columbia University.

This was a great program, touching on a number of issues such as political and social instability in China, a question about how "flat" the world really is, and whether places like sub-Saharan Africa will fall further behind developed nations of the world, deepening the crisis of poverty and disease. The most telling, and troubling, aspect of the program was the time spent looking at how globalization will effect the middle-class here in the United States. Stiglitz made a point of mentioning that over the last four years, the actual take home pay of the average middle-class family in the US has actually dropped by about $1,500, while the average household debt continues to climb.

The implications for these trends, if they continue, are enormous. Virtually all sociologists, economists, and political geographers agree that a large middle class is what brings stability to modern societies. What happens if this middle-class gets squeezed economically-downward? You are seeing the results of this, for example, in France, where young adults who are beginning to realize that global competition could result in their being laid off, and are violently denomstrating against that possibility. What will the outlet be for people in this country who lose their jobs because they've been lost or outsourced overseas, particularly if they are unable to find something comprable in pay and benefits? How might the power of American workers, blue and white collar, continue to erode when moving jobs elsewhere can be done so cheaply?

I have no answers.

4) The sixth annual "Blessing of the Bikes" here at Shawnee UMC was another rousing success. About 600 motorcycles were blessed in all, and the Centrum was so packed for the actual service, that an estimated 200-300 people never made it into the door, waiting in the parking lot until it was time for the ceremony. With over 1400+ people here, you could make the argument that this service is bigger for us, attendance-wise than either Christmas or Easter. Just a mindblowing experience.

5) Am hunting down a book released a few years ago called "The Ghost Rider" by Neil Peart. Peart, who happens to be the drummer and lyricist for the band "Rush" wrote a book about a journey of over 55,000 miles he made on his motorcycle in 1998. The man traveled from Central Canada to Buenes Aires and back, by way of Alaska. The book details the places and people he encounters, but mostly it's a look at a man coping with the death of his 19-year-old daughter (car accident) and wife (breast cancer) all within a 10-month span in 1997. It's that story that interests me, for reasons I cannot yet explain. Because we don't have a large bookstore in Lima (Barnes and Noble where are you???), and our local library never bought it (but they are looking for a copy to be loaned from elsewhere), I'm kinda stuck with If you do have a copy, and are willing to loan it for awhile, give me a buzz at .

6) The Cavs are on again tonight, and let's hope they make a better showing against the Pistons than they did on Sunday. 30 point blowouts are no way to compete in the NBA playoffs. While I agree with the pundants that they are likely to lose this series, I'd like to see LeBron do some Jordan-esue things (like score 63 points) during those years the Bulls made the playoffs, but didn't have the firepower to get past the "Bad Boy" Pistons of yore. I just hope he gives notice to the NBA, like he did in the Wizards series, that LeBron is coming, and we'd all better get ready. He is truly going to be, if all things hold steady, the greatest player of his generation.

7) Received a question, via the phone, about the nature of the resurrection of the dead, which would be unusual for others, but I'm a pastor, so it's kinda the norm. The core of the issue for this person was whether or not we (in terms of our soul) go to "heaven" upon death, or stay present on (under?) the earth until Jesus comes back (which kind of a theme in some of Paul's words to the Corinthians). I, of course, whenever I'm asked this question, always go to Jesus' words to the criminal on the cross, who upon asking if Jesus will "remember him in his kingdom", is told that "Surely today, you will be me in paradise.". If "today" and "paradise" are to be taken literally, that would lead one to believe that the soul departs for its great reward immediately. But it doesn't solve the issue of the "ressurrection of the saints" which is something Paul promises, and a belief we reaffirm in the Apostles Creed until this day.

My best guess is that Paul, believing like everyone else in the first-generation Christian church, believed that Jesus was coming back, now. Like, in their lifetime, which was a condrum as the Apostles, one by one, got whacked by the Roman authorities, and various members of the local church died. What, people wondered, happened to those people? Were their souls lost because they had passed before Jesus returned, or not?

Paul's answer is an attempt to assure all the faithful that we will all participate in the return, no matter when it happens. What that will look like, exactly, isn't spelled out clearly, but we should have no fear of death (which is really the issue at hand). If Jesus conquers death by rising from it (Jesus 1, Death 0), then death will not have the last word for us. How that looks exactly (do have a body, what does it look like, etc...) neither I, nor nobody else with any integrity (although I'm sure you can buy a book about it at the local Christian bookstore, which is stocked with quite a few books make theological claims that are at best dubious.... once again, we need a B&N to the rescue) can say. Just trust, friends, in the warmth and compassion of the One who loves you.

8) A big "thank you" to Mayor Berger who came to speak to the Lima Ministerial Association about the issue of a casino in Lima. I'm sure many of you are tired of me talking about this, but the Mayor's presentation only convinces me more that this project is, at best, a mixed bag for the citizens of this fair city. Like everyone else I've heard speak on this issue, no specifics are given on the amount of investment to be made, the nature of that investment (beyond bingo and slot machines that are bingo-themed... whatever that means), the economic effects (negative or positive) on the area, or even the nature of the jobs that will become available (full-time, part-time, etc...). No one can say how much "non-Eastern Shawnee" money is behind this project (which is scary, just from the standpoint that if one can assume that the Shawnee leadership is most concerned with taking care of their own people, their partners are probably more concerned with making as many dollars as possible) or how the construction of six of these facilities, I'm assuming fairly close together, all in our State will effect the projected "legions" of people proponents of this project expect to come to our city.

I mean, if casinos are in Massillion, Toledo, and Dayton, why drive to Lima?

I've learned after 15-years in the faith business, that when you intentionally try to keep people in the dark about the important, specific details, that a lack of trust will undermind their ability to believe in what you are saying. At this point, the Mayor, the Shawnee, their investors, and lawyers wouldn't last a day at a church, given how guarded and secretive they'v been about this things (which, we were told during secret negotiations between the city and Shawnee, was a project focused on "food processing", so the lies, half-truths, and deceit manifest from the beginning).

If you haven't yet done so, voice your opposition by putting your name on the online list of people who don't want a casino in Lima at . Whatever their selling, we won't know what we've bought until it's too late.

9) Played baseball with boys yesterday. Max, who has received little instruction from me, thus far, in this particular game because, quite frankly, I'm not crazy about playing it (although I enjoy taking in a game as a spectator) is getting quite good at hitting and pitching. He still couldn't catch a cold, but I'm assuming that will come, in time. All in all, I enjoyed the time with him far more than the game itself, which is really the point. He could take up cricket, and I'd be there, wicked googlies and all.

10) And, finally, the family is dragging me off to dinner, so I've got to split, but I'd ask, before I go, that you'd take a moment and pray for a friend of mine who is struggling with his call to ministry, the choices he's made historically in that call, and where God might be leading him next. I've known him for eons, and he's really struggling, so light a candle and say a prayer that he might find peace in the midst of what he is discovering to be a difficult job. And say a little prayer for his wife, sons, and daughters.

God Bless.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) One more week until the winners of the "The Secret Meaning of Jesus" contest are announced. We've received scores of inquiries and more than a few entrants, so get your entry in ASAP. For more info on the book and it's author, Brian McClaren, check out my last post. Special Note: For the person who wins my copy of "TSMoJ", you'll get to read all the notes I made in the margins and see real coffee stains left by yours' truly. A collectors item like no other! Once again, you can enter to win a free copy of the book by emailing me at Include your name, a reason why I should give you a copy of the book, a suggestion for a future blog post, and an address where I can send you a copy of "TSMoJ" if you win.

2) Thanks for all the positive comments on yesterday's service entitled, "Grace In Three Movements". As I said in the 9am service, the secret to good preaching is scheduling good music, and yesterday the music department, in my opinion, hit a home run. Just lovely music from Shane and the team.

Lots of people have made it point, either in person or via email, to let me know that they had never heard Wesley's definition of "grace" before. The idea that God would reach out to all us all of the time (prevenient grace) was a new one for many folks, who never thought of the act of grace as being something offered even when its not being asked for. Lots of people were aware of "justifying grace" (the moment you realize that grace is being offered to you by God, and you decide to accept it), but, like me, question whether or not act of choosing to receive grace has to happen in one moment, or could be something that one could grow into over time. And finally, the idea that in "sanctifying grace" that it is as, or more, important to understand God as love as it is to become more loving (i.e. more like Jesus) seemed to throw a few people for a loop (but if you've heard me preach before, you'd know that this wouldn't be the first time I've said this). Anyhow, when people ask if the entire service can be done again, that can't be a bad thing.... we're not going to do it, but it was nice that they asked.

3) The idea of a "Day Without Immigrants", I'm guessing, grew out of an idea that was captured on film a few years ago. The movie, "The Day Without A Mexican" (here's the website: was a political comedy about a day where all of the people of Mexican descent, legal and illegal, vanished for a day in California. The movie did gross large amounts of money in Mexico, and made a blip on the pop culture screen here upon it's release in 2004. I saw it, and it was OK. Am guessing that the real thing today wasn't as disruptive as it was in the movie, but it is an interesting foray into life imitating art.

4) The Mayor of Lima is coming to speak to the Lima Ministerial Association about the proposed casino he is endorsing. The measure is currently on the backburner as we look to primary elections tomorrow, but I'm sure it will heat up again soon given the news that the Eastern Shawnee's request for an extention on their suit against the State of Ohio was granted, placing the new deadline at May 31st. You've got to admire the mayor for accepting the LMA's invitation, especially since he knows that there isn't one person there who will agree with him.

The Lima News ran a news story this Sunday about the Eastern Shawnee's casino and it's effects on tiny Seneca, Missouri (here are the links for the two articles: and ). Basically, what I got out of the article was that the casino is expanding rapidly, but the economic effects on the town have been neglegible. Pretty much the only people with anything good to say about the casino were local politicians, (who like the extra tax revenue) the school superintendent (who likes the extra tax revenue), and people who like to gamble. To those who argue that a casino will stimulate the local economy, I found it interesting that in the nineteen years since the casino's inception, not one new hotel or restaurant have been built in Seneca. Not one. And the effect on the local unemployement rate is still virtually unchanged.

Local clergy claim pretty much what we fear, that instances of addiction, abuse, divorce, bankrupcy, and foreclosure have risen in their churches and community. Not exactly the overwhelming economic windfall we've all been promised.... which why I will help keep up the fight against this casino, and for a Lima area "Barnes and Noble".

5) I am still looking for a motorcycle, and am quickly realizing that given our economic resources, the prospect for such a machine is growing dim. If you're going to take a pay cut to do doctoral work, money for diapers outweighs money for a Honda. In the Bucher house, that's the bottom line.

6) News out of Fiji: 62 year old rocker Keith Richards was hurt falling out of a palm tree. You couldn't make something like that up, even if you were under the influence of drugs.

7) Matt Parish, the young guitarist and singer for the band Ho-Ag, has returned to Boston after undergoing surgery at a hospital in San Francisco for a broken jaw. For those who read last week's blog entries, you'll know that Matt, while on tour, was jumped by seven men outside of a friend's residence in Oakland at 4pm in the afternoon, where he was beaten and robbed. Matt now has a titanium plate in his jaw and faces a long recovery. Thanks for the prayers... please continue to lift him up as he heals from this senseless act of violence.

8) Am thoroughly enjoying a book for my first class entitled, "You Only Have To Die", by James Harnish, Senior Pastor at Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, Florida. Harnish details what he learned after almost dying of a heart ailment which occured while he was struggling to work with lay leadership in his church to turn around a long, steady decline. After my experience in Goshen, which was the best of times, and the worst of times, I can relate to much of what he has to say. Here's a great excerpt from the book, where he details the areas where he thinks now, he blew it as a pastoral leader in this experience.

I Tended To Take Things Too Personally
Too often, I allowed myself, my faith, and my leadership to be the target of criticism and complaint. GK Chesterson supposedly said that angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly. I can see times when things would have gone more smoothly if I had taken myself more lightly. Som of the attacks were very personal, but I wish I had been more consistant in saying, "This really isn't about me. It's about who God is calling this church to be."

Cyrus Vance was a longtime Washington insider who served as Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State. He had a reputation of being a problem solver with a gift for making progress in international stalemates. When he died, Time magazine quoted Strobe Talbott, who said, "He is allergic to the first person singular.... Because he has so little interest in getting credit, the contending parties are more likely to trust him". One of the great dangers for leaders in the transformation process is that we forget that this is really not about us. It's not about credit or blame. It's about God's kingdom coming on earth as it is already fulfilled in heaven, through the life of this local congregation.

Taking yourself more lightly... a lesson I wish I had learned many years ago. Probably not a bad lesson for all of us.

9) On April 21st, 75 United Methodist Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgendered Clergy outed themselves by signing a letter sent to the Judicial Council of the UMC, which is revisiting two decisions it made last time it convened.

The first decision was the de-frocking of Irene Beth Stroud, an ordained minister whose "coming out" as a lesbian during her tenure at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (PA) was captured in the fine documentary, "Congregation", which has been shown repeatedly on PBS. Beth Stroud is still seeking the return of her Elder's Orders, although, at this time, the UM Book of Discipline is very clear in stating that the church will not ordain gay or lesbian ministers.

The other decision was related to a UM-minister in Virginia who refused membership to a gay man who wanted to join his congregation. This issue is really as much about the Book of Discipline as it is about the man being gay, as the Judicial Council ruled that the Elder appointed to a local church/charge gets the final say on whether or not a person can be a member of that church. So, if the person had been denied membership because he advocated the legalization of marijuana, my guess is that this issue would have never have come up.... but that wasn't the case. So these two decisions are at the forefront of JC's work this coming week.

The fact that 75 GLBT UM Ministers signed the document is pretty unnerving. While they are being called "couragious" in certain quarters, at this time, none of the names have been made public. I'll call it "couragious" when that happens, because, essentially, those person will have just put themselves out of a job for their cause. Whether or not that happens this week as the Judicial Council meets remains to be seen, but as things stand now, what was designed to put pressure on a group of people to change past decisions, has, I fear, but into action a headlong collision between the far-right and far-left of our denomination at General Conference in 2008. My guess is that if these clergy aren't de-frocked by the time this meeting convenes, the far-right will call for a denominational split, which they will probably pursue whether or not their call is heeded.

Believe me when I say this: For certain people, there is no middle ground on this issue, and for them, the propect of some sort of compromise is nil. People will fight this thing to the bitter end, which was the conclusion of a body called to discuss this issue, that I helped lead in the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, reached in 1998. Those findings were subsequently buried by Bishop Christopher who didn't want to believe that this would be the case.

Mark my words, folks will not back down on this issue. It is a deal-breaker.

I don't fear a split for theological reasons. Institutions grow, shrink, split, and merge, and, quite frankly, they always will. And as far as I'm concerned, I don't think that at this time, sufficient evidence has been shown to change the UM's position that homosexuality is a sin. I don't happen to believe its a sin that's any worse than adultary, which we seem to treat with a sense of grace, but its a sin, nonetheless. I just don't think it's worth all of this fuss, as adults in local congregations ought to have the leeway to decide what grace this sin, like others, ought to be treated with in their context, and continue to dialogue about the matter at denominational meetings geared for that process, until such time that ongoing discussion is considered fruitless.

And, hey, nothing is forever, except God, so if the UMC looks differently than it does now I can accept that. It's just that when that day comes, all of us who are clergy will have a choice to make: Do we go, or do we stay? And our decision will put local churches in the horrible position of whether or not to follow, or go a different way, than their pastor. None of that decision-making will be pleasant or easy... and we will all have to answer for the pain, agony, and division it caused to God someday. That will be a sad day, where much grace will be needed, and I trust, received.

10) Finally, I don't think there is more amazing story in sports right now than the transformation of Kobe Bryant, guard of the LA Lakers, from "King of the Ballhogs" to "Extrordinary Talent Who Is Making His Team Better by Passing the Ball". If the Lakers win this series against Pheonix, and Kobe keeps his shot attempt numbers low, his transformation will be studied by coaches and players across this country who assess, once again, that basketball is a team-oriented game.

The only other story that even comes close to this one in this year's NBA Playoffs (thus far) is the method by which Reggie Evans tried to get a rebound away from Chris Kaman (which was so vulgur and dirty I dare not mention the particulars in mixed company - and I want to say to those who have played with me, that while I do play dirty, I have NEVER played that dirty. And if you any of you ever do that to me, I'll be sure to take myself very seriously, and lay you OUT. Consider yourself warned.). Just a great series of playoff games.... which of course, if any of my profs are reading this, I'm only reading about in the papers because I'm so hard at work doing my reading.

(Do you think they bought it?)

Have a great week.