Thursday, August 31, 2006

Haikuapalooza Day #2

Remember, you can still enter and win a free Haiku. Just send me an email ( with your name, location, and something about you, and you get to read a personal Haiku especially written for you by me on this fine blog (plus a chance to win a free coffee mug!). It was a slow day for Haiku entries which inspired...

waiting for entries
no blogging fun without them
won't you play along? let me digress on my most recent Beeson Pastor experience.

We, apparently, are going to hear from all kinds of "Christian leaders" before this year is out. For the past two days we heard from two ladies. One was a woman who had worked for Leadership Network for a number of years, and now works for an organization called "worldconnex" as an (I am not making this up) "Information Broker". Her presentation consisted mainly of information that, if they had given us a booklist, we could have broken ourselves. Filled with all kinds of facts and theories about where the church is now, and where it's going in the future, she was not all that terribly original, but inspired good conversation.

The second woman works for an organization called GlobaLocal, which basically, well... I'm not quite sure what they do. I think they help local churches get active in missions overseas, but I couldn't be quite sure. Anyhow, she was a little bit more, uh... "uneven". Practical and helpful in some ways, and in others.... well, let's just say we weren't quite on the same page.

Example: During her presentation on how to discern the will of God, she talked about how earth mirrored heaven in the sense that there was warfare going on the heavenly realm. Really? War... in heaven? You mean that when Jesus teaches us to pray that earth should be like heaven, it means we're asking for war between superpowers? Hmmm. According to John the Revelator (20:10) in the battle of Armageddon, when Satan amasses great armies, preparing for battle, God will reveal his holiness, and it'll be all over. Not one shot will be fired. God 1, Satan 0 No contest.

Here's the deal folks, evil has no power over God. It can't tempt God to do anything, or destroy God, or hurt God. Evil had its chance, and the result was an empty tomb. God isn't amassing armies or coming up with battle plans. He's God! The only realm where spiritual battles are fought, is this earthly one, and the only power evil has over us is that which we give it.

Let me tell you this story... my Grandmother Bucher was married very, very young. Before she was twenty, she had two kids, my Aunt Laura and Uncle Dick. While the kids were still little, her husband took to beating her. Back in those days, before the Depression, women were just supposed to shut-up and take the punishment, but my grandmother, with two little kids and a third-grade education, left to make a better life. She did end up meeting a good guy (my grandfather) and had four more boys (including Dad and Dave, the twins, in her forties... after that grandpa wasn't allowed to sleep in the same bedroom with her anymore - true story) but until the day she died she never had two pennies to rub together. I remember as a kid (my grandfather died years before I was born), in the city of Lima during the 1970's, using her one-holer in an unheated backshed (later her kids got her a flusher and bathtub)... the same shed where she did her wash by hand.

Thus, as a poor, divorced, widowed, mother, you could say she was as vulnerable as a person could be in this world. She stood no chance against powers and principalities aligned against humanity, except...that woman hung on to Jesus with all that she was. A lack of education never stopped her from reading her Bible through again and again and again. And I don't know how much time each day she spent in prayer... I just know she prayed for countless people, by name, every day. I'm not saying she was perfect, far from it, but in her simple understanding and simple life, she truly moved mountains. That's why when her day came, she told the doc, "Don't put that tube down my throat. I'm ready to go home."

So, here's how much power Satan has... he couldn't keep heaven out of a poor, divorced, widowed mother's home. Fat lot of good fighting God would do him.

Let's just say I took the stuff worth taking, and I left all the rest behind.

Now, on the Haikus!!!

For: Aimee Bucher
From: Our Dining Room
hey you big sluggard
quit writing stupid haikus
take me to dinner

For: Sue Dickerson
From: Lima, Ohio
say "bye" to Shadow
I can't take her in right now
she is a great bike

Our silent retreat at a Trappist monastery ends Sunday afternoon, so look for next week's "Ten Things I Think I Think" and more haikus, next Monday.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Haikuapalooza Day #1

Before I give you today's Haikus, here's a recap of what Haikuapalooza is:

For those who missed yesterday's post, here's the deal: tell me who the heck you are and where you are logging on from, and maybe a little somthing about yourself, and everyone who enters will get an original Haiku written about them on this very blog. Everyone is a winner! It just doesn't get any better!

Oh, and I'll take all the entries, throw them in a hat, and send the winner an official "Asbury Theological Seminary" coffee mug. That's right... totally free! You could impress your friends, and look holy, all at the same time.

And for those Beeson Pastors and their fams who'd like to enter (you know you want to... it's the most fun you can have and not violate the ethos statement) if you win the drawing I'll pony up an official Shawnee United Methodist Church coffee mug (as for the rest of you, if you'd rather the church mug, just let me know).

All entries need to be in by September 15th. Haikus to be written as emails are received.

On to Today's Haikus!!!!

For: Steve Jenkins
From: Lima, Ohio
still a newlywed
very beautiful baby
looks like mom (praise God)

For: Cathleen Baker
From: Lima, Ohio
big exercise freak
calls me a fat tub of goo
go work out tubby

For: Bruce Dickerson
From: Hamilton, Ohio
called to ministry
Asbury Seminary
better get reading

For: Paul Rebelo
From: Chattanooga, Tennesee
each day a challenge
your chance to make your imprint
kick sin's butt - take names

For: Walt Adams
From: Lima, Ohio
am just checking in
been camping with sue - good times
like your blog - do well

For: Andy Bucher
From: Toledo, Ohio
very good looking
but not quite as good looking
as older brother

September is Haikuapalooza!!!

I am floored by the list of places in this great country and across the world, that are showing up as the log-in location to this little blog. Check it out a partial list in just the last few days:

  • Cleveland, Ohio (I am a Witness)
  • Lots of other places in Ohio (especially Lima... where exactly are "Fletcher" and "Okolona"?)
  • Valparaiso, Indiana (and lots of other places in Indiana)
  • Bloomfield Hills, Michigan (too bad they don't play any major college football in that state)
  • Little Rock, Arkansas (all Razorbacks welcome)
  • Smithville, Pennsylvania ("Big Ben" and I have the same great-grandmother... true story!)
  • Babson Park, Massachusettes (sounds very nice)
  • Pompano Beach, Florida (and all the clams we can eat)
  • Englewood, Colorado (I'd be counting the days til the chairlifts start running)
  • Salt Lake City, Utah (Hi Aunt Beth!)
  • Nashville, Tennesse (home of the Grand Ol' Opry)
  • Leesburg, Virginia (pop. 28,311)
  • Lots of Places in Alabama (Auburn or Alabama?)
  • Newnan, Georgia (uh... it's in Georgia!)
  • "The Nest" (Home of "The Great One"... see you next weekend Grandma!)

So, here's the deal: tell me who the heck you are and where you are logging on from, and maybe a little somthing about yourself, and everyone who enters will get an original Haiku written about them on this very blog. Everyone is a winner! It just doesn't get any better!

Oh, and I'll take all the entries, throw them in a hat, and send the winner an official "Asbury Theological Seminary" coffee mug. That's right... totally free! You could impress your friends, and look holy, all at the same time.

And for those Beeson Pastors and their fams who'd like to enter (you know you want to... it's the most fun you can have and not violate the ethos statement) if you win the drawing I'll pony up an official Shawnee United Methodist Church coffee mug (as for the rest of you, if you'd rather the church mug, just let me know).

All entries need to be in by September 15th. Haikus to be written as emails are received.

Monday, August 28, 2006

An Eleventh Thing....

11) I wrote last night's post not really knowing about the crash at Bluegrass Airport yesterday morning. We don't have cable, and I rarely listen to the radio. While the crash was mentioned at the church I attended yesterday, no indication was given as to the size of the plane or the deaths of any people. The gravity of the tragedy didn't hit me until this morning, when I received my copy of the Lexington Herald. Inside, two pages are dedicated to profiling the people who died on that plane. The paper profiles, among others...

  • A young couple married Saturday on their way to their honeymoon
  • A "Habitat for Humanity" volunteer coordinator on his way back to help build multiple homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina
  • A woman on her way to take an Alaskan cruise with her sister... a trip they'd been planning for 2 years
  • A young man with dreams of someday working in the American Embassy in Paris
  • A sixteen year-old daughter whose mother was bumped from the same flight
  • A pharmaceutical rep who was traveling to Atlanta to look for a new home for his family so that they would be separated less because of his work
  • Three members of the same sales team from a local business

Just a terrible tragedy. Please keep all of these good folks' families, and this community, in your prayers.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Lots of people have been emailing, asking why I haven't been emailing back. To be honest, I'm up to my ears in stuff to do. With the fam back in Lima for the weekend, it allowed me to make some serious headway, but it seems like every day just brings an additional book or paper or assignment, so I never get ahead. Please bear with me. I'll get my bearings soon... I promise. I use this blog as a way of kinda keeping up with folks, so keep an eye on it.

2) Aimee and the boys returned home this weekend to get the rest of our stuff out of our house (we don't own it, and neither does the church) and into a storage facility. Thanks to Dick Putnam, Mike Stinson, Mike Sheets, Tony Cox, Roger Rhodes, Herb Shaw, Charlotte Hefner, Ryan Brenneman, Bob May, Ed Boyer, Steve Jenkins and son Andrew, our dads (Dan and Bryant), Pastor Marius (my last post is a meditation on his help), and the honorable Dr. Joseph Bishman for getting all the stuff moved. A big "thank you" to the Craig and Carol Montgomery for the use of a couple of their storage units (we promise to get our stuff out of there by the end of May... or early June... no later than July - tops!). Everything is out now except our grand piano. If anyone has climate controlled space where we can store this until next spring, we'd be grateful. Just email at if you can help us out. And for those outside of the Greater Lima Metropolitan Area, thanks, but no thanks.

3) Worshipped this morning at Southern Acres Christian Church in Lexington (here's the link: I was there to hear Bob Russell, Pastor Emeritus of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville (one of the ten largest congregations in the nation - here's the link: I wasn't there so much because of Pastor Russell's thoughts on whether or not Allah and Jesus' Father are the same God (his conclusion - doesn't seem that way, but doesn't come out and say "no"). I was there for purposes relating to my thesis subject which has to do with leadership transitions in the life of the church.

You see, after 40 years in a pulpit, starting in the basement of his house and ending in a worship facility worshiping over 18,000 in multiple services, Bob Russell stepped down as the Senior Pastor this June. My conversation with him will relate as to how that took place. He was very nice, and I look forward to speaking with him again.

4) We are in the middle of our second complete class (our preaching class meets throughout the year... all the others are about a week each, meaning lots of reading and writing before we hit the classroom). The class is entitled "Theology of Ministry", and it has been very interesting. Lots of highlights, but the lasting piece I'll take from this is the professor, Steve Seamands, asking each of us the question if in our prayers we've been asking God to help us, or if we've been asking Him to help himself to us? There's a huge difference in how you look at ministry in those two statements. In one case, you're asking God to bless what you've started, and in the other, you're asking God to lead the charge. Has got me thinking, that you can be sure.

5) Bit the bullet when we first arrived here and subscribed to a music service where I have unlimited access to over about 10 gazillion songs. I did this because back at Stanton Hall during my freshman year at Miami University, I got into the habit of listening to music while I read. The music really only functions as background noise (to drown out all of the loud craziness happening in that dorm each and every day). I have noticed, however, that the music I tend to gravitate to as I'm doing my work is usually a good read on where my head is at in that time and place. Here are my current "Top Ten Study Tunes" (and you can infer whatever you want)

10) Cool Like You - The Descendents
9) I Will Buy You A New Life - Everclear
8) Symphony No. 9 (The Veni Creator) - Gustav Mahler
7) Landed - Ben Folds
6) Amsterdam - Guster
5) Save Me - Aimee Mann
4) American Mall - HoAg
3) Easy - Barenaked Ladies
2) Appalachain Spring - Aaron Copland
1) Fix You - Coldplay

What's the over-arching theme? If you can figure it out, let me know.

6) If you hadn't heard, the Pastor and Board of Elders at an American Baptist Church in Watertown, New York have decided to remove a woman who has been teaching Sunday School for over 54 years from her teaching position because, well, she's a woman (here's a link to the story: and here's a link to the church: - check out the statement issued by Pastor LaBouf).
The crazy part (as if the removal wasn't crazy enough) of this is that the pastor is a city councilman in a town with a female city manager. LaBouf has made it clear that God hasn't commanded that women shouldn't be in positions of authority in the world, just in the church. Find me scriptural support for that one... win a bag of Twizzlers. One more thing to make Christians look totally insane.

7) Will be spending all of next weekend with Trappist Monks at a 150-year old monastery in Trappist, Kentucky. You've heard the phrase, "when in Rome", well, when in Trappist, we'll do as the monks do (learn more about it here at their link: - yep, the monks have a web page... I think my head is about to explode). Up and at em at 3:15am for a day of worship, prayer, and study, and we'll be laying our heads down at 7:15pm in the evening. The experience will largely be silent, and I'm assuming the monks won't be watching the Buckeyes take on Northern Illiniois (although, they DO have a web site, so one can hope).

8) Very late at night, instead of answering emails, as a means of emptying out my brain, I have been taking the time to watch an episode or two of the third season of "Northern Exposure" (which my brother graciously gave me as Christmas present). I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the show. Nowhere else on network television would you have an episode on the "Power of Metaphor", "The Triumph of the Human Spirit", "The Role of Art", and an existential search for self-identity. You can't imagine how well these topics go with theological reading and study (something I found out during my MDiv days at Methesco). Gonna scrape my pennies together and get "Season Four" sometime later in the fall.

9) Drafted this year's fantasy football team (entitled, "Dr. Love") in a league of which my brother is the commissioner. All of the guys are frat brothers or friends of Andy, but I've been doing this stuff with them for about four years now, so I'm slowly becoming one of the gang. As to my prospects for victory... well, my best player is a running back on the perennially-bad Arizona Cardinals, and my QB's last name is "Manning", but it's the wrong Manning. I drafted three Buckeyes though (including A.J. Hawk), so I was pleased.

10) Was up until 3am this morning fixing my wife's printer. First I checked the software. Downloaded the drivers. Tech support said the problem was probably some malware, so I ran all my anti-viral stuff, spy-checker... the works. Finally, after two hours, I checked the back of the printer.

The USB cable was unplugged.

Have a good week, and check back cause they'll probably be a goody or two posted before I make this monkish life I've been living, official next Friday.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Where Does Hope Come From?

A friend asked me...

Where does hope come from? Where does it originate? How do you find it? How do you feel it? I do. I am. I be. But I have no hope. Can you lend me a cup?

You can bet your sweet bippy that if it went on sale at WalMart, no discounts would be necessary - it would just fly off of the shelves. Carts would fly out of the store, loaded to the gills. Sam Walton's family would be so rich that they'd, well.... be richer than they are now. Believe me, if Sam could have stored it in Bentonville for sale everywhere, he would have.

No, hope is not that easy. You can't get it out of a book. You can't pay for classes that will teach it. It's not found in a bottle or at a buffet. You can't find it next to the Tylenol at the local WalGreens. It isn't locked within and needs to be let out. You didn't misplace it in another life. It is not easily found, but it is all around us.

Hope doesn't come when you've attained your goals, or bore the next generation, or persevered over life's obstacles. Hope is not a product of the will. It is a gift.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago (I can't really remember anymore), I was summoned into Joseph Bishman's office. It was a Monday morning.

"I want you to go Haiti. A member of the church left yesterday. You'll meet them in West Palm Beach tonight, and fly into CapHaitian tomorrow. Go see if there's a mission the church can get involved in. Your ticket is waiting for you in Toledo."

I was in my early twenties.... he was my boss. What choice did I have?

When you land for the first time in CapHaitian, the best word to describe the experience is "overwhelmed". Overwhelmed with the sights, the sounds, the smells. Overwhelmed with the abject poverty. Overwhelmed by a situation so immense, so complicated, so tragic that after you have a little time to process it, you become overwhelmed with hopelessness. There is nothing - not one thing - you can do to make a dent in the country. You are as sure of it as you are alive.

In the middle of that poverty, it was the first time I ever felt rich. I mean materially rich. I made $10k a year, lived in a house so dilapidated the church just tore it down, and I felt rich. That's how poor Haiti is. That's the depth of the hopelessness.

My time that first year was spent mainly in a little village, if you could even call it a village, called Borde' at Victory Christian Church. I spent my first day digging out a hole for a latrine to be used by teachers and children at an elementary school... oh, and us too. A couple of times hiking out into the middle of nowhere to do your business, and still be the main feature for hosts of curious Haitians to find out if you are white absolutely everywhere, is enough motivation to dig a latrine. The rest of the week I mixed mortar on the ground, hauled it in a wheelbarrow, and laid about two blocks. I wasn't real smart, but I could lift heavy things. I also preached and sang "Lord of the Dance". I made friends, good friends, and felt profoundly blessed.

But my first day back in the states, standing in front of a Ford dealer that must have had a thousand cars for sale, I wept. So many children hungry, and only a plane ticket away from a land of milk and honey. It was too big. I was hopeless.

Fast forward thirteen years. The young, dumb pastor was smart enough, or maybe dumb enough, to keep his hopeless message to himself, and a church goes back.

And back. And back. And back.

They all go... doctors and housewives. Engineers and high school students. Pastors and contractors. Truck drivers, photographers, guys who own restaurants.... they go back, and back, and back. They build churches and schools. They give out loans. They open vocational and secondary schools. They make friends. They feel blessed...

and something strange happens.

In this little corner of this Caribbean nation, a piece is annexed into a Shawnee Township. And a little corner where a church with a green roof stands in the heart of Buckeye country, Haitian explorers have raised their flag. They've raised their flag, and call it home. It's so close to home that today the pastor of Victory Christian Church, where I dug that latrine, helped my family move our stuff into storage today.

He moved my stuff, like a neighbor.

Where does hope come from? It comes when God confounds the expectations of man by turning two pastors, one from Lima and one from Borde, into neighbors, blowing needed air on a tiny spark of faith, gasping with its last breath...

"God, please, do it again! Take my expectations, and throw them on the trashheap where a cross stands not too far away from an empty tomb. Do it again God! Do it again!"

That's where it comes from, my friend. That's the origin of hope.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Prayer


Give me a heart for your children
Let it beat as yours beats
In love, hoping, wanting and desiring your best in their life
Let me pray for their protection
that they would find joy
and the knowledge
that there is a depth of compassion and healing
that you have for them

Let me encounter their pain
and seek ways to help bear it
and help them lay it at the foot of cross
with the One who desires that we leave it there

May their voids be filled
lonliness dissapated
rejection rejected
the rejectors forgiven, and the pain they caused released

And help us to acknowledge how we've rejected others
turned from one another
abused ourselves in the name of survival
and created chaos when we are called to people of peace

Make the first words on their lips each
not be "Help Me Lord",
but "Help Yourself To Me, Lord"

Create your heart in me Lord,
for your people


Monday, August 21, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

Note: If you've become used to just checking this out once a week, I've been using the blog as a study break, so feel free to tune in throughout the week. Thanks. On to this week's "Ten Things...)

1) I think this week is going to be a killer. Spent the whole weekend reading in order to be prepared for the next couple of weeks. Now two papers are due and another from an earlier class needs to be finished. A full class schedule, and plenty of reading/writing that needs to take place before the next class starts in September. Just insane. Since this program started in July I've read books or articles by 47 different authors. That's a lot of info to process. Your prayers are appreciated.

2) Did take time out on Friday evening to have a nice anniversary dinner with Aimee. 16 years we've been married... you can imagine the size of her crown in heaven. It was our first evening out sans any children since before Eli was born (14 months), so to Wendy Connell who watched all three boys (including our high need but highly lovable Elijah), much, much thanks.

3) To be perfectly honest, it doesn't seem like its been 16 years since we tied the knot. Time has passed so quickly, and seems to be picking up speed the closer I get to the finish line. My body cries out that 16 years has gone past every day, but in my mind it seems like yesterday I was painting our trailer in anticipation of our moving in after the honeymoon. The memory is so fresh I can still smell the paint. And, to tell you the truth, I don't know if this (time seemingly flying by) is a good or bad thing. I guess its good in the sense that life hasn't been something to be endured, but on the other hand, I've got a nagging feeling that I've spent too much time just "doing" and "going" and not "engaging" or "experiencing". I just think there should be more memories like our weekend together in Toronto. I wonder if I've missed too much...

4) This Beeson Pastor process has been personally, very challenging. When I first left for seminary I was so young and stupid that when the reality of who God is, and who I was, was presented, I was unprepared for the wave of doubt and uncertainty that experience presented. This time, though, the deconstruction of self and professional practice has been all too real, and often, painful. I've been unpacking 15 years of experiences, and while there is a lot of joy there, nobody likes re-living moments in time that weren't all that enjoyable to begin with.

And, on a deeper level, trying to figure out what is at the root of why I serve, or what I'm trying to accomplish as I preach, and generally questioning my motivation in all things (to whose glory is this life for?) is a tough thing to assess and acknowledge. It's one thing to do it in a setting where you are engaged in a lot of different activities. It's another to look deep within when you actually have time, and are expected, to take a good, long look. I'd much rather just read and master some topic of interest like you do in a PhD. The reality of this experience is that you've got to master all your internal dynamics before you can you make any application in the field. This, to date, has been a very mixed bag, but I can feel something very powerful coming as far as profit out of this experience.

5) This whole situation with Maurice Clarett and Israeli gangsters would have made a great novel. To know now that Maurice was out that night, possibly to kill somebody cause his daughter had been threatened is just mindblowing. How many people have woken up one day and realized that they placed their future in the hands of the wrong people? How many of those went out and bought a bullet-proof vest? Tragic.

How long into this coming TV season does the "ripped from the headlines" episode show up on "Law and Order"? 2 episodes? 4? 10?

6) Today in class we spent a great deal of time de-constructing the art of preaching. Let's just say there are whole lot more things you ought not to do in a pulpit, than you ought. The stuff we're focusing in on today has to do with things like hand-gestures, use of humor, guides for self-disclosure... more form than function. After years of watching myself on video, I guess what I've learned is that it's good to have some awareness of how you look and how to say things, but above and beyond all things, you'd better treat scripture with all the respect you can muster. It has more to say than you can imagine, and if you don't approach it in an attitude of humility and hunger, you could easily miss it's message. You can be the funniest guy in the world, but if you missed the message, then you missed the boat.

7) Among the many books completed in the last couple of weeks, I came across this gem from Bishop William Willimon's "Pastor". Willimon assails the medical profession for changing its focus over the course of the latter 20th Century from "care" to "cure" which Willimon asserts is not only at the root of this country's health care crisis, but is having ambient effects on the local church. His theory is that by emphasizing "cure" modern medicine is helping feed the mythologies that "aging is an enemy", life can be lived "pain free", and the possibility of living forever exists. With this in mind, people are willing to do or spend whatever it takes to get well, and ready to take it out on the professionals set with the task if failure ensues. Willimon is worried that the ideas of avoiding pain, suffering, and death any cost is creating expectations in all walks of life... especially the church.

For example, the suffering and self-sacrifice are concepts are deeply connected to the concept of practicing Christian faith. As a result, pastors can unconsciously begin to preach sermons that are all about pain avoidance, when, in fact, personal suffering and pain might actually be what's necessary to personal or corporate transformation. What's more, church staffing could begin to be bent toward hiring folks to "fix people" (cure) in the form of counseling, when in fact biblically the church community is called to mutually serve one another (care), and thus "lose yourself to find yourself". Thus the movement to emphasis on professional cure, from community care in a form that would turn out to be unhealthy for everyone.

And you thought I was just skimming those books....

8) Max's teacher called last Friday night at 9:30 just to let us know how much she appreciated having him in class. Apparently a little boy in class (whose parents are here at Asbury, but not in the Beeson program) who has moved a good many times in his life, was taking his anger out on other students, and in particular, Max. Instead of retaliating, Max attempted instead to befriend the boy and introduce him to others in the class, which (at least temporarily) diffused the anger. One of the few times that a phone call from a teacher at 9:30pm makes life sweeter, instead of more challenging. Way to go Max!!!

9) Aimee is very, very busy down here, and for the most part, is loving every moment of it. A group of women are meeting in our home to pray over their children every morning at 8pm (the setting for an embarrassing moment immortalized in a blog post last week). She meets every Tuesday night with the other spouses from the group for discussion, prayer, and study. She's organizing a new bible study on-campus. She's still teaching music classes for the West Central Learning Academy (she has 24 students, at last count). She's mothering three boys: one in school, one that's ready for pre-school but is as yet is not enrolled, and one who is fun and demanding as he learns to climb, run, and speak. She's also got to put up with me. Despite that last thing, I think she's really coming alive and enjoying herself immensely.

10) Uh, here's a link to a story about a Hitler-themed restaurant in Mumbai, India: Talk about a bad idea. Why not just call your place "The Spoiled Milk Cafe", "The Angry Half-Rotted Carcass" or "The Table of Hate"? Unbelievable.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

A Review Of A Movie I've Never Seen

I have never seen "Snakes On A Plane". I probably never will. I hate snakes and given that I'll be on a plane bound for London in October... well, let's just say I want to be able to sleep over the course of the next month. But in this post-modern age, if a person wants to review a movie he's never seen, that should be OK, because that's really the essence of post-modernism. All the rules that were written before are no more...

Except in the case of trains. Let me explain.

During our little sojourn to Chicago, on the first evening, three other heathen Beeson Pastors (Nolan, Kent, and Travis) and myself decided to skip going to the Wednesday night service at Willow Creek Community Church, and instead, go into the city for some Chicago-style pizza at city's finest pizzeria, Giordanos (here's the link - We were only minutes from the METRA station, and none of us being excited about the prospect of driving a 15-passenger van into the city, we decided to take the train. So we're on the platform, kind of wondering whether or not the train we are about to board is going the way we want it to, when I casually ask a woman, "Is this the train to Chicago". Her response..

"It is if you want it to be", she replied.

This is essentially a post-modern answer... and, by the way, also not true. For when it comes to trains, you can want the train to go to Chicago, but if Dubuque, Iowa is your destination, you are pretty much hosed. No amount of existential longing will change the situation if you are going the wrong way. Changing trains, however, will.

But this is a movie review. So in the grand vein of post-modern theory, I will write a review, because I want it to be a review... and thus it is.

I'm sure than when word leaked on a screenwriter's blog that Samuel L. Jackson signed on to be in a movie called "Snakes On A Plane", people with not enough to do and an internet connection went crazy. This scenario for a movie sounded so impossibly bad, that it was too good to be true. Folks couldn't wrap their minds around the possibilities... but they tried. More than a year ago, before the movie was even in production, people through the power of blogs and websites, started designing logos, t-shirts, composing theme music, produced possible trailers, composed possible scenes of the movie, and starting writing dialogue. The upshot of this is that for probably the first time in the history of media, a target audience shaped the course of a film totally by word of mouth. The producing studio and director even admitted that they re-opened production for five days to incorporate the ideas of fans, without any test screenings or pre-marketing study. It was simply a case of electronic populism at work.

What this means for the culture, I'm not sure, but here are a few stabs...

  • In the last month, the internet has helped shape the course of a movie and decided a primary election. Who knows what else its driving, but you can bet corporations, educational institutions, and the government are dropping mad money to tap its potential. Not since the days when the whole town got to vote on the everything has the individual become such a powerful force on the American landscape. If you've got access to broadband, a computer, an enterprising spirit, and the ability to type, you can be heard. If there are enough of you who feel the same way, you can be organized, and even have an impact. Do not underestimate the possibilities of this.. they are far reaching.
  • "The Long Tail" will begin dictating new means of production and marketing for every conceivable product you can think of. For those who don't know what "The Long Tail" is, let me poorly summarize: companies who once tried to get the masses to buy large quantities of a few things, are finding out that you can make money by selling small quantities of lots of things - particularly if they are digitized. iTunes, for example, in any given month, sells at least one copy of each of the more than a million songs it has in its catalogue. The upshot for record companies, for example, is that now they don't need to spend millions to convince us that Brittany Spears newest release is the best thing since sliced bread. Instead it can spend far less money on more artists, and then use the necessary creativity, demographic database info (someone out there knows every single place you surf, and they are selling the information), and the internet to make money selling people exactly what they want. You are about to see a revolution in production and marketing.
  • The possibilities for the church when it comes to this medium are pretty much limitless. Preachers can now find an audience world-wide, particularly if they are willing to buy the necessary demographic info to help them find their target audience... and if you don't think that's true, in the last twenty-four hours this blog was read by people in Denmark, England, Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, and the French Alps. I have loyal readers in Hawaii, Utah, Virginia, Alabama, Texas, a dozen places in the Northeast, and a variety of locales in Canada. I don't know what's more amazing - that there are people in all those places who know this thing exists, or that without being contacted I know they exist. Hence, the reach of a local church will no longer be limited by geography, but by the creativity used to disseminate their message. The world can literally be our parish, but you can bet this is going to change the way ministry gets done.

In short, the fact I knew a movie's plot, most of its most gruesome details, it's signature tag line, and its ending even before it was released is in itself surreal. That it was tailored-made to order and is making hundreds of millions of dollars off of a loyal audience that knew it existed before it knew they existed is down-right unbelievable. But that this will be the new reality for just about everything we buy (think? believe? think we believe? believe we think?), is sobering. It is "1984" in a way George Orwell never imagined.

The world is changing... faster than you can say, "Snakes on a Plane."

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Hell and Cheese" Love

"Who is that? She's holding a flute... in the red shorts. Who is that?"

You never know who you are going to marry. That day on the parking lot during marching band practice at Lima Senior High School, I saw for the first time the woman who would be my wife. At the time she had a boyfriend, so it wasn't all that clear, but it works that way sometimes.

We were married on August 18th, 1990. Way back in the last century. A different Bush was president. Michael Jackson was only a little crazy. Nirvana was still just an obsession of Eastern mystics. The Cold War was over and the world's future was wide open. Nothing, to my knowledge, was made in China. Americans were as yet ignorant of cheap cell phones, email, and the internet. Flat screens were in your windows. You could still buy a Ford Tempo, brand new.

We were so young when we got married that the first question people always (and I mean, ALWAYS) asked was, "When's the baby due?" It turned out the answer was "eight years". We were just young, dumb, and in love, so desperate to be together that we were willing to work 100 a hours a week all that summer to save enough money to buy a 14x70 trailer. A trailer in trailer park, I might add, so rough that church groups would stop by to give us bread, government cheese, and "Are You On The Highway To Hell" tracts. We were possessed with "hell and cheese" love.

The service was beautiful, but hot. It was the hottest day of the summer (above 100 degrees), and this would be the last un-air conditioned wedding at Trinity UMC. To compound matters, I had picked out the tuxedos in February, so they were made of wool. Thus all I really remember about the service was that it was hot... real hot... a-five-weasel-orgy-in-a-gopher-hole hot...

and, that she was beautiful.

The reception was hotter. Another un-air conditioned building (the UAW hall). Just imagine 300+ guests sweating profusely, draining the free bar dry, and dancing to the beat of music that's now is considered "oldies" (what's that say about me?). To this day, many of my friends from college and high school call it the best wedding reception they can't remember. Frank and Sharon Dugan loaned us their cottage in Galena, Illinois for our honeymoon. The only money we took with us (cause it was the only money we had) was the take from the "dollar dance", and the 200 bucks my Uncle Fred slipped in my pocket as we left. Our car was decorated with condoms.

It was a great day!

But, now, looking back at it, my favorite memory from our wedding day was this moment at her parent's house after the reception. The plan was to drive to Fort Wayne to stay (not sleep) at a Marriott in the "Honeymoon Suite" (which turned out to be a regular room with a King Size bed and a bottle of champaign). We had changed out of the now foul smelling sweaty wedding clothes, loaded up the suitcases, and were imagining our good fortune at now having $356 to blow. I was standing alone in her bedroom, about to go downstairs, and it hit me like a ton of bricks:

I had no idea what was going to happen next.

Sixteen years, one trailer, three parsonages, two mortgages, four states, three kids, two cats, a dog, four degrees, three churches (one of them, twice), lots of fights, and lots of making up, I still feel that way.

I'm glad we did it, all of it, together.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

When Worlds Collide

A group of women gather to pray. They're praying for their children who have just started school. They are praying for God's protection from the dangers of the world, for new friends to be made, for innocence not to be lost too quickly, and for learning to commence. Each teacher of each child is held up to the Lord. They have transformed a living room into a temple of the Lord.

Meanwhile, in a bathroom (just off of the living room) a man obliviously showers, brushes his teeth. He's in his underwear (and only his underwear), singing the one line of "Uncle Walter" he knows. He's in a hurry to get upstairs, get dressed, and get the day moving. He opens the door, not realizing the priest is standing at the alter...

Your Uncle Walter he goes on and on
How could you left us and been gone so lo-

"Oops. Sorry ladies."

Never have so many people been thankful, and not thankful, for a pair of boxer shorts.

Tomorrow I'll shower upstairs.

Monday, August 14, 2006

My Little Boy Starts The Second Grade Tomorrow

He was born on a quiet, cold, snowy winter morning.
He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
An incarnation of God's grace.
Wasn't that yesterday?

Where do seven years go?

They go in long trips across the state of Illinois, doing the "Lord's work".
The boy is at home, alone, with his mother.
"Daddy's Home!" Liberty!!!
Long walks on warm nights.
Time on the swing, lots of time, and he still cries when you take him off.
A tree full of birds, and a crazy lady with a drum trying to make them leave.
The boy laughs at the lady.
We got our kicks on Route 66.
I can't be gone another full week. Something's got to give.

Where do seven years go?

"The Cats In the Cradle" at 4am on a lonely highway.
Daddy begs a Bishop to let him go. He needs to be with his son and wife.
A Bishop agrees. Time to go.
We find a home in the land of Goshen.
Bubbles in the back yard the boy chases.
Time with Mr. Larry in the garden.
Cookouts and a fire-ring.
"Can I stay up later daddy?"
"Ok son. Just a little while longer."
One day he is too little to climb the ladder to the slide... and the next, it is his.
Say your prayers. Pick your Bible story. Yes we can read two.
I love you. Good night.

Where do seven years go?
The only child becomes a big brother.
He wants to play, but the lump can't even crawl, so he just makes him laugh. He gets the first smile.
First time on a bike.
First time in Merv's pool, and Merv gives him cookies.
Slurpees with the guys.
Mitchell is his best friend.
A broken arm, and two shaky parents whispering "We love you" as he goes to surgery.
Trips to the museum, the zoo, the aquarium.
Visits from Grandmas and Grandpas.
"Can we get some ice cream at 'The Chief', Daddy?"
Let me get my keys.
Is this heaven? No, it's Yorktown Drive.

Where do seven years go?
They are inseparable... the former lump and the little boy.
One blond head and one brown.
"We don't want to leave Goshen. Please let us stay!"
I'm sorry, God has called us forward, and He's kicking us out.
Everyone cries.

Where do seven years go?
Lima and Shawnee UMC. A place firmly in my heart, the boy has never known.
Upwards basketball.
Football in the front yard.
Grandmas, Grandpas, and a GrandmaGreat... all here now.
The first day of school. We'd been praying for a good teacher. God listened.
Another brother. Another lump.
Judo lessons.
Swim team.
"I'm faster than you, Dad." And he is!

My little boy starts second grade tomorrow.
Where do seven years go?
Through my life, my heart, and my soul.
Max.... I love you.
Be good at school.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Never had any more time to post any other highlights from "The Summit Leadership Conference" at Willow Creek Community Church (suburban Chicago). The post below this one highlighted day one. Here are the highlights from Days 2 and 3
  • Ashish Nanda (Professor of Business - Harvard Business School): Basically said that you are more likely to be successful training new leaders within your organization than hiring from the outside. Led to Nanda asserting that organizations need to create systems where they're peak performers feel cared for, and committed to a cause (and not just a check). Most helpful session all weekend.
  • Jim Collins (consultant who wrote "Good to Great"): Said that great organizations are ones that are disciplined and focused because it enables employees and users to know what is expecting, and the quality of service that will be received. Once again talked about how an environment must be created in an organization that sets up peak performers to succeed well, and commit to a cause. A truly fascinating man.
  • Bono: Was I disappointed that this interview wasn't live? Yes. Was it still worth my time? Absolutely! Talked about how he's always liked Jesus, but never cared much for Christians cause they don't seem to be concerned with the same things that concerned Jesus. Felt like churches were too interested in excluding people for based on "surface factors" as opposed to what is in their heart. Has been impressed with how the church, though, has woken up to the AIDS crisis in Africa. Could talk about this guy a long time. Let's just say, not many people have studied the scriptures as extensively as this guy has.
  • Wayne Cordero (Senior Pastor - Some Big Church in Hawaii): Told us to take good care of ourselves as pastors because the demands of ministry in a growing church can do you in.

Also saw my wife's aunt and uncle (Frank and Sharon Dugan), and their son & fiance (CJ and Jill) who are getting married the end of September. Thank you Frank for the great pasta and salmon, as well as the mini-tour you gave my friends down on the lakeshore. A great experience all around.

2) All I can say about Maurice Clarett is that if he cleaned up his life, went back to OSU, earned a degree, and dedicated himself to serving people in the city of Columbus, all would be forgiven, and he could still have a good life. Here's hoping that bad influences and a possible alcohol problem haven't done him in forever. Here's a link to a great article on by writer, Tom Friend, who talked to Maurice as he was driving around the night he was arrested. It is just chilling.

3) Am enjoying this Beeson Pastor experience, and largely so because of the other Beeson Pastors who are engaged in this adventure with me. They are a great bunch of people... not very discerning in who they root for in college football (Alicia Coltzer told me that the OSU Marching Band couldn't hold a candle to Texas A&M's band, and Nolan Donald agreed.... lost souls in a lost world), but a top-notch group of pastors.

4) This year, as I have ever since I was in grade school, I will receive a subscription to "Sports Illustrated" from my grandmother. Mom told me that "The Great One" (my boy's great-grandmother, hence the name she will henceforth be known by in this blog, thus saith the grandson), upon only receiving one of the two free gifts she chose for me when she re-newed the subscription, took the people at SI to task. They assured her that the other gift would be there in 4 to 6 weeks, but instead, it arrived in three days by priority mail. Now you know why I've voted for her in every single presidential election since Bush Sr. was president. She'd whip congress into shape in a week, and give the Supreme Court justices the same steely stare we'd receive when she caught us throwing a ball in the house. I'm telling you, the woman has a gift.

5) Am reading a very interesting book. "The Shaping of Things To Come" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (an Australian and a South African, respectively) who assert that the church as we know it, is destined to pass away. The modern western church was created out of a period of history where the Christian church in the west, dominated culture, politics, and educated for more than 1700 years, which they call the era of "Christendom". In "Christendom", the church was so dominant, that everyone just assumed everyone else was a Christian because they were born into Christian families. However, Frost and Hirsch now believe that as the 21 century continues to march on, that the end product of this influence proved to be so ineffectual (culminating in continued genocide even today in such places as Eastern Europe, for example), the days where the church dominates the religious landscape, are over.

This has largely become a reality in Europe, and is very much becoming true across Canada and on both coasts of the USA. As a result the authors start looking in small faith communities within the places where post-Christendom seems to be most at play (San Francisco, for example), where people are doing a new kind of evangelism, and thus, worship and discipleship. Like all the other post-modern/emergent books I've read, this one too beats up pastors and faith communities who do things the "traditional" way (Sunday morning worship and Sunday School in big buildings that dominate our focus, energy, and cash). The fresh morsel it offers, however, is trying to reclaim Christian thought and practice from the dualistic world of the Greeks, to the monotheistic world of the Jews.

For example, the Greeks understood all physical matter to be evil, while they envisioned that which was spiritual to be holy. The result has been a construct of sin where natural urges and passions (anger, sex, enjoyment of food and drink, etc..) have been largely been demonized in the western church. A Jewish understanding of all these passions, good or bad, is that they can be redeemed by God to do his will. Thus, sex, which can't even be talked about in most congregational settings lest the minds of the young be corrupted, is a gift from God and should be more closely examined by Christians, as such. Thus, in a church that arose out of Christendom, a couple living together before they get married (which are great in numbers) would be condemned for doing so, while a new "incarnational" church would affirm the discovery of the couple that sex is a pretty good thing, and then as relationships grew, discussions would take place regarding how sex can be used for destructive and constructive purposes.

Yeah, sounds wishy-washy, but that doesn't mean that at some point the issue of sex being reserved for those who are married never comes up... it just becomes a subject of conversation after trust has been developed, and even then, sex itself is not made a critical issue in terms of what is required of a disciple.

A very interesting book, if it is correct.

6) As for me, my focus this year will be to search out what it means to be a pastor that preaches the Gospel, but do it in a way that leads people to a life of grace of love for Jesus, others, and themselves. In other words, help people get their life ordered, and then find the joy that can only come from losing themselves in being a key player in creating God's original dream for this earth... where love, peace, grace and mercy reign supreme for all.

I'd like people in the church I serve to believe in Jesus, the Bible, and in the God that created them, but I'd like them to be flexible enough that they don't get all bent out of shape. Fortunately, that attitude already exists at Shawnee. I just want to build on that attitude of grace.

7) Gave my first sermon last week for our preaching class, and, well, I know our prof, Dr. Kalas thought my work was a jumbled mess. The focus was on Moses serving God and the children of Israel for more than 30 years after he's been told by God that he will never step foot in the promised land. I compared this realization to that of a person going through a mid-life crisis. Most of us, when we wake up one day and realize that the idealism of our youth has morphed into just wanting to get the bills paid, the kids safe, fall apart when we think of what we've accomplished (or not accomplished) with our lives. But we've still got lot more living to do (hopefully), so how do we keep pushing forward when it's most likely that heaven, not heaven on earth, is our ultimate destination?

Well, Moses, knowing that he'll never live out his dream, devotes himself fully to helping his people live out God's dream of their return to the Promised Land. There is a hint of melancholy about Moses during these days, which culminates in Deuteronomy 3 in his begging God to please let him go with the others into that which has dominated his thinking and actions for years (I tried to capture that in the sermon). But in rebuking Moses, God tells him, "Listen, you know that your job has been getting the next generation ready for this, because your generation has just become too jaded and cynical to believe in my promises with the faith that they'll flourish... their leader, Joshua, feels the same self-doubt you possessed when I appeared to you in that bush. Go tell him what you know: that I'm already in the Promised Land waiting for him."

The point of the sermon, then, was that in our own brokenness, that we too as Christians need to use the rest of our days to make way for the generation that will be the first to realize earth operating as it is in heaven. A little wiser, smarter, battling moments of depression because that reality is most likely not ours, but furiously working away because in the journey we have become bound to God in love. We do it, cause we love God, love his children, and as we serve, get to see a glimpse (just like Moses did on Mt. Pisgah) of what it looks like. And we've always the hope of the resurrection, when we'll get to rise up, and walk through the open gates of the holy city of the New Jerusalem on earth.

Anyhow, the day before, Dr. Kalas spent so much time talking about being poetic that I took it too extremes painting endless word pictures that dazzled the mind, but made little coherent sense. That's what I get for writing a sermon out. Next time, I'll stick with what got me here, and keep it simple.

8) If you ever in Chicago, don't be duped by the folks who tell you get Chicago-style pizza at pizzeria (fill in the blank) cause it's the best in town. You go to Giordano's Pizza down on Randolph (in the theater district - here's the link: Absolutely unbelievable.

9) Have a truckload of stuff to do, but spent the day with family. Max starts school on Tuesday, so before you know it, the 2nd grade will be over, and there will be another year I can never live again (time is merciless). We went to church with Grandma and Grandpa (Southland Christian, the big megachurch that is slowly becoming our home away from home), got some Arby's (Roger Rhodes, the Arby's in the Lexington area desperately need you... but you gotta still stay in Lima), and then went swimming at the public pool in Nicholasville. Xavier is on the cusp of swimming, and when Max jumps on my back I now feel it. I was walking with Eli outside of worship this morning (he likes the music, but doesn't care all that much for preaching) and must have had a dozen people say, "I had one that small once.... better enjoy it cause it goes too fast."

Yes it does.

10) The winner of a copy of the "Secret Meaning of Jesus" is Cathleen Baker, a member of the Shawnee UMC. But, I won't send her the copy until she promises to give it to Glenn Derryberry when she's done reading (otherwise, the book is his). No worries Cathleen - that way we can spread the joy (I know she'll go for this plan). Thanks to all who entered to win!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Summit Leadership Conference - Day 1

If you don't want to spend a good amount of time reading a not-so-quick recap of the four speakers I heard today, just skip reading this, and wait for next week's "Ten Things I Think I Think"... or save it for a rainy day when you are bored.

Well, what a day! It's 9pm here in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and we just broke as a group for the day from our experience at Willow Creek, which is a conference now being simulcast/tape delayed to more than 60,000 people all over the world (and I mean all over the world). The entire focus of the event is to look at issues of leadership. Here's my skewed recollection from the day:

Speaker #1 - Bill Hybles (Senior Pastor - Willow Creek Community Church)
Bill's thoughts are always welcomed. This past year he stepped down as the Senior Pastor of the South Barrington Campus, and turned over regular leadership duties for that place to Gene Apple. He talked a bit about the stages of Christian leadership, which were very interesting. In his estimation they are:
- Heart Stage: This is the young pastor/youth leader/pastor/preacher in their twenties who knows little, if anything, but has a burning heart for the Lord. The person makes tons of mistakes, but is able to get people to follow him/her just out of their sheer passion. Of course, they make lots of mistakes, and at some point, the people who are following start wondering where in the heck the ministry is headed. Needless to say, this brought back a lot of good memories of my experience at Shawnee v1.0.
- Heart & Skills Stage: This is the period of time in ministry when you realize that heart alone won't keep a ministry, or minister, afloat, so you start to acquire some skills. You start reading books, experimenting with different strategies and styles, and look for a good mentor. This process begins at some point, but never ends. Personally, I think back to early days with Joseph and Barry when they tried to learn me a thing or two, but the critical learning stage for me happened at Toledo Epworth UMC when lay-person, Bob Knowles, modeled for me a life of personal spiritual devotion and pushed me to learn how to recruit, train, and utilize volunteers. My skill development really took off at Goshen First with Dick's mentoring... just an invaluable experience.
- Leadership Development: At some point, you've got to start raising up people out of the congregation and on your staff to take on some serious ministry. Looking for intelligent, creative, relationally proficient folks who want to "win", you pour yourself in them so that a ministry can grow. You also start targeting lay-people not just for the purpose of growing a church, but for making an impact in the world. My youth ministry, mission, and worship experiences at Goshen were my first real good stab at this.
- Developing a Constellation of Stars: This is the process where by the people who you develop are permitted to shine as brightly as you are. As you release control and let go of power, people take on major areas of ministry. This is a stage that few pastoral leaders or churches experience for a variety of reasons (pastors don't stay long enough, power struggles, pastors run out of time, etc...).
- Era of Influence Beyond Pastoral Ministry: As a pastor develops a reputation as being innovative and fruitful, other pastors within their sphere of influence look to them for mentoring. In this way, a pastoral leader can leave a pulpit/church, but still serve the cause of Christ, even until death. This is a period precious few pastors ever experience. Billy Graham is a good example of this right now.

Closed the day by talking about an experience he just had in Africa where he was carrying a bag of mealy meal to a village with some locals, and realized that the work the church was doing was literally saving lives in a little village in Zambia. Powerful stuff, and reminiscent of Shawnee's work in Haiti.

Speaker #2: Pastor James Meeks (Salem Baptist Church - Chicago)
Described by Christianity Today as "most successful megachurch pastor you've never heard of", James Meeks' church, which he started in 1985 in the Roseland area of Chicago (Epworth and Goshenites might remember than name - that's where we did our mission ministry here in the big city) has grown from 250 to over 20,000 members. The church does more stuff in the community than can be listed here, but its big claim to fame was that they were able to make Roseland a "dry community", effecting closing the hundreds of liquor stores that had once been open for business. Recently, Meeks was elected to the Illinois State Senate as the Representative, challenging the notion of a role of a pastor in the public sphere. His church and Willow Creek have been working together the last year to bring some racial reconciliation to the Chicago area. Pastor Meeks spoke on the "Ten Enemies Of Churches Being Able To Grow". Here they are
1. Lack of faith (don't believe in themselves, their vision, the power of God)
2. Lack of knowledge (bible, principles of church growth)
3. Failure to realize God is no respecter of persons: Most folks think only a few people are chosen to grow churches, but Meeks assertion is that the same principles make all churches grow, just like the laws of physics are applied by God to everyone.
4. Not believing growth is always the goal of the New Testament Church: There's a reason why Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a seed... they both are expected to grow.
5. The pastor is unsure him/herself: I've got a lot of thoughts on this one, but this blog is getting pretty long, so I'll save it for next week's "Ten Things..."
6. Failure to build on small victories: A crucial aspect of Shawnee's growth in the early days. Nothing was too small that we couldn't use it as a springboard to something else.
7. Failure to preach announcements: Kind of the difference asking for money for mission work, and gearing an entire service, including sermon, to ask for money. Learned this lesson the hard way in Goshen when instead of just doing a Haiti Sunday (which had been plenty effective), lay people spoke four weeks during announcements to ask for cash. It resulted in little cash, and a disconnect from the mission.
8. Lack of Corporate Fasting and Prayer: My day of fasting and prayer for the church last January really stands out now as probably the greatest learning I've had in many, many years, and this just re-enforces it.
9. Not getting started: All plan... no action.
10. Wrong motive for growing a church: There's no point of growing a church if people aren't becoming disciples of Jesus.

Speaker #3: Andy Stanley (Senior Pastor - NorthPoint Community Church, Atlanta)
Probably the most convicting presentation, personally of the day. Stanley said that the most important decision he made as a pastor occurred early on in ministry when he decided that he would reverse his thinking about what "God should take care of". Until that moment, Stanley worked long hours at church while trusting God to fill in the holes he was leaving in his family due to his lack of time with them. In other words, he was afraid that God couldn't grow his church unless he was there, but he trusted God to take care of his family when he wasn't around. Paul commands husbands to "love their wives as Christ loves the church", which implies...
1) God loves the church, and will take care of it
2) Husbands are supposed to do the same thing with their mates and kids
In response to this, Stanley refused to work more than 45 hours a week, and went home at 4pm every day, no matter what. As a result, what he says he learned in the process was...
1) Pastors do too many things they aren't good at, and thus don't play from their strengths
2) Pastors work out of a mode of fear (afraid that if they don't do this, say this, or whatever) that people will get ticked off and (leave, quit giving, call for his head, fill in the blank), which is counter to the command of Jesus that we need not be afraid.
3) All staff people at NorthPoint are required to do this, and as a result, the church is attracting more talented people who want to work and stay there.
4) A more sustainable pace for growth has been set at the church. As an example, NorthPoint, although they worship thousands, haven't added a Saturday night service. Stanley refuses because of what it will do to him and his staff to work a day that is traditionally a day off.

While Joseph is the only SP I've ever had who consistently told me to go home and be with my family, my other experiences as a pastor have set some unhealthy patterns. Let's just say, I heard this, and am tired of working out of a sense of fear.

Speaker #4: Peg Neuhauser (Conflict Resolution Specialist - Consultant)
Talked about active listening and a bunch of other stuff... I wasn't paying attention

(just a little stab at humor)

Without belaboring this talk, Peg talked about a lot of the same things that if you've ever gone through L-E-A-D with Joseph or Charlotte at Shawnee, you'd recognize (difference in communication styles between leaders, analysts, dependables, and expressors). Also talked about the need for developing communication between "tribes" (areas of focus or formal and informal interests groups) in a church, and communication between staff/volunteers that are "specialists" and staff/volunteers that are generalists (which is so true it literally woke me up from a long day of listening).

Great day. More tomorrow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Here's the last installment of Lori Brookman's (Part 4 of 4) courageous story of hope and perseverance: Aimee talked to her yesterday, and as you might imagine, re-living this in print, at times, has been difficult for Lori and her family. Keep them in your prayers.

2) Just one more week to enter to win a copy of "The Secret Meaning of Jesus", the latest book by Brian McLaren. And, to sweeten the pot, I'll also be adding a Marathon Gas Card with enough money to buy a gallon of gas at it's true cost (and if you think it's $3, then you didn't read "Oil Safari" in last week's Chicago Tribune). Just send me an email at with 1) your name and address, 2) the reason I should give you this book, and 3) a suggestion for a future blog post. Here's the link to "Oil Safari", which traces the origin of the oil used to make the gasoline sold at a Marathon gas station in Elgin, Illinois:,0,5759205.special

3) Here's a great article in Newsweek on Billy Graham as he approaches the end of his life. It's definitely worth your time: . Am struck at the difference in outlook between Billy and son, Franklin, on matters of religion and politics. I was also intrigued at Jerry Falwell's description of what he thought about the functional differences between an evangelist and a pastor. I didn't get the impression that Billy Graham agreed, but that might just be an outgrowth of my bias toward Rev. Falwell's ministry (which, despite being directly contacted by phone and sent a copy of the obituary, was still soliciting money from my Grandmother Bucher a decade after she had passed). A fascinating read.

4) We have number of Auburn football fans among the Beeson Pastors and their families. Auburn, for those readers outside of the South who are younger, follow college football, and have never heard of it before, is a university in the state of Alabama. Kids at home, you've never heard of it because the football program hasn't had any national relevance since a player by the name of Bo Jackson won the Heisman there in 1985. Mostly, the program has served as a stepping stone for SEC schools like Florida, Tennessee, and LSU to vie for a national championship.

(Bo knows 21 years of mediocrity)

5) At "The Summit Leadership Conference" we are attending this week, the "exclusive interview with Bono" that they've been touting in their brochure is actually videotaped. The last time I went to this thing President Clinton showed up for an interview with Bill Hybles. Is it a sign of the apocalypse when a church can book a President with "moral issues" to speak on leadership to a bunch of pastors, but can't get worked into a rock star's schedule?

I can't believe I just wrote that last sentence.

6) Saw "Cars" as a family Saturday at a local "second-run" movie theatre. Absolutely excellent. The boys were racing around the Beeson Commune trying to win "The Piston Cup". (Note to my grandmother: Put this one on your "rent" list!)

7) Asked Eli today at church if he wanted to take a nap. He shook his head vigorously, and said plain as day, "No". When I asked if he loved his mommy and brothers, he nodded "yes" both times. Then I got another "no" when I asked again about a nap. Exciting, exciting, exciting!

8) Just went a month without cable or an antenna.... filled most of that extra time looking at motorcycles on Ebay. Needless to say, I am my own worst enemy.

9) Have been intrigued by Walter Brueggeman's description of the "Royal Consciousness" in his book "The Prophetic Imagination" since reading about it last week. Brueggeman's hypothesis, based on his study of the prophetic texts of the Old Testament, is that the role of prophets was to define the "Royal Consciousness" - the socio-political-economic-cultural-spiritual state of the nation as maintained by the succession of Israel's kings. The prophet did this because the "Royal Consciousness" maintained a group that was "in" (i.e. rich with access to power) and "out" (i.e. not "in"), which, over time, resulted in a sense of hopelessness among the "out" crowd, and skewering of priorities among the "in" crowd. Brueggeman says that a succession of bad kings ruined Israel by maintaining this paradigm, which ultimately was bad for everyone (the fall and exile of Israel for everyone, in or out). Brueggeman called the "royal consciousness" a "fictional reality" (which reminded me of Michael Moore's acceptance speech at the Oscars years ago - "We live in fictitious times, led by a fictitious president, elected in a fictitious election, fighting a fictitious war"). A prophet's role was to use evocative language to implore people, in or out, to make a shift to an "Alternate Consciousness" where people would think and act differently about their roles in society, sense of who they were, and how Israel, as a nation, should act and behave.

What role this plays in modern preaching can be tricky. I don't think Michael Moore's approach to challenging the dominant paradigm was really what Brueggeman was talking about (besides, Moore's political alternative doesn't exactly inspire thoughts of an "alternative consciousness" - both Democrats and Republicans took money from Jack Abramoff - money I might add that came from Indian tribes looking to expand the reach of tribal casinos in this country). Breuggeman says that the modern prophet should look at the example set by Isaiah, which encourages people to dig deep into their past using symbols common to all, to help re-awaken a sense of optimism and hope for the future (The genius of Reagan's, "It's morning again in America..."). I wonder if Jim Wallis' work (, which seems to be having a real impact among both liberal and evangelical pastors, is a model for approach for prophets in modern (or post-modern) times? Interesting stuff!

10) Finally, in an update on last week's "Ten Things...", we returned to Southland Christian Church (the site of "the sermon with no scripture" last week) for worship service this morning. We went back cause 1) we wanted to see if not citing scripture was something they were doing weekly and 2) Max and Xavier wanted to go back (which is a powerful testament to the power of a good children's ministry). Anyhow, the sermon today, which was given by someone other than the Senior Pastor (he must have had the week off), was good. You can hear it here: A solid message on acting with humility as an agent of grace. I think we'll give it another go next week.

Watch later this week for updates from Willow Creek. Until then, I'm out like a prophet dwelling in the land of the royal consciousness.

The Lori Brookman Story

Here's Part 3 of 4 in Lori's journey:

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Lori Brookman Story

Here's the link to part two of Lori Brookman's amazing story of recovery from a horrific car accident that left her with burns over 80% of her body.

Oh, and Aimee that I make a correction to yesterday's post: she met Lori the first day of 7th Grade (she and Lori just admired me from afar, as I was big, bad freshman at West Junior High School).

"The Lori Brookman Story"

Our hometown paper, "The Lima News" is running a four-part series on our good friend, Lori Brookman. Today is the 5 year anniversary of a horrific crash that severely burned Lori over 80% of her body. That she is alive is truly a miracle of God. Now, Lori, through her great strength and amazing faith, overcomes physical obstacles that were the outcome of over four-months in a coma and 40 surgeries to take care of her husband Dale, and their three boys. You can check out "part 1" the article and video chronicle here:

We've known Lori, and her husband Dale, since high school, and back when we were all newlyweds and poor (as opposed to not being newlyweds and poor) the four of us would scrounge up enough money for a pepperoni pizza, and watch their baby roll around the floor. Now we have to scrounge enough money to buy four pizzas to feed six hungry kids who disappear as fast as they can into the basement to play X-box, while we talk about the "old days".

Click on the link... you won't be sorry.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

New Look - Same Guy & This Week's Top Ten List

Why change the format, especially since you've got so much do. Whelp, needed a study break, and my wife couldn't stand the old format, so ch-ch-ch-changes were made. Hope you like them. I'll be adding links (that work) to my other Beeson Pastor colleague's blogs in the coming days.

Don't miss...

  • This Week's Ten Things I Think I Think...
  • The article "Oil Safari" which linked in my last post
  • A chance to win a copy of Brian McLaren's "The Secret Meaning of Jesus". Just email me at with 1) your name and address, 2) why I should give you a copy of the book, and 3) a suggestion for a future blog post

Am totally fried after a day largely composed of writing, so I thought I'd add a new weekly feature to the blog: The Weekly Top Ten List. The "TTL" can be about anything... it can rip off David Letterman (just like Leno), or be some sort of personal list of things I really like (books, artists, cars, blenders... whatever). Most of the time it'll just be something else you can read, scratch your head, and say "This guy's a pastor?".

But let us dally no more, as my final paper for "Spiritual Leadership" awaits editing:

This week's Top Ten List: Top Ten Movies as measured by the quality of the viewing experience. OK, confused? Well, have you ever watched a movie in the theatre, had a great experience, stumbled on it at about 1am on TBS seven years later and went... "uh, I liked that?" Well, the experience of viewing of movie isn't just a measure of how good the movie was written, directed, and acted. The actual experience of viewing can add or detract a lot.

I mention this because a couple of weeks ago while and Aimee and the boys went home to get some items in order, I took off into Lexington to the Art House cinema for a late-night showing of "Thank You For Smoking" (rent it... It's a great "dark comedy", and not too many of those are made anymore - it's Rated "R", by the way, so don't bring it home for the kids). The movie was hilarious, but the theatre had five people in it, and two of them (I'm guessing) were there either because they won passes from a local radio station or someone lied to them ("Oh yeah, we're showing Superman. 8 dollars please"), and they just weren't quite sharp enough to realize they'd been duped. Anyway, for the duration of the film I had to live through an endless barrage of "I don't get it", "oh those shoes are cute", "Aren't cigarettes, like, bad?", and "Hello? No I'm not doing anything, just watching this stupid movie".

Great movie... lousy viewing experience. Doesn't make the list. You get it? Here we go.

Excluded From the List

The Passion of the Christ - only movie that made me feel guilty for bringing popcorn into a movie theatre... left totally numb and couldn't speak for, like, two days. The most violently beautiful movie I'll ever see.

Honorable Mention:

Ferris Bueller's Day Off - couldn't' go to a party in the eighties without Ferris on a TV somewhere

The Waterboy - saw it with my brother in Toledo... to this day "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" is his ringtone on my cell phone

Secret of My Success - it was at the drive-in for some unknown reason the entire summer of 1987... saw it with all my high school friends multiple times, and then we all left for college or the military

Star Wars - should have put it in as it was a mind-boggling experience for a seven-year old

Raiders of the Lost Ark - Jeff Gluck had to pay for my ticket cause I didn't want to see it. I paid the next time we went, the next day

One-Hundred-and-One Dalmatians (the animated version) - Cruella DeVille still scares the crap out of me, and my best friend Jason owned two dalmatians when we saw the movie... he liked it so much his mom got him the soundtrack

When We Were Soldiers And Young - saw it with a Vietnam Vet who actually fought in the battle and was suffering from PTSD. A very powerful experience.

Raising Arizona - I can watch it alone because it is possibly the funniest movie ever made

Shrek - watched this one with the staff at Goshen First at a theatre in Boyne Falls that had 12 seats in it, tops. Spent the whole movie laughing hysterically while my boss kept asking, "What's so funny?". Great times!

10) Purple Rain - There are movies, there are good movies, and then there are movies on nights you remember as pretty much magical. I was about 15 years old... not old enough to drive, zits in all the wrong places, and awkward as could be. I was in Charleston, West Virginia, visiting two good friends, and since one had his license, we went out cruising every night. My last night in town we hit the multiplex on opening night for the late show (the best time, when you are teenager, to see a movie). The place was packed and it was filled with people trying to dress like Prince and the Revolution (i.e. lots of purple and paisley). If you've ever seen the movie you know that the only thing that holds it together, as the plot is nebulous at best, is Prince performing live on stage (well, that and Apallonia... hey, I was 15!). The guy can play a crowd, even via the medium of film. All night that theatre rocked, with people singing along to all the songs. People even got up and did "The Bird" with Morris Day. People literally danced all the way out to their cars. Then we went out, cruised, hit on a bunch of girls, picked up a couple phone numbers, and got a couple of cokes at Taco Bell. Just one of those defining "teen experiences" where you can feel the whole world opening up.... getting goose bumps just thinking about it now.

9) The Shawshank Redemption - Saw this with a bunch of friends from college during a "gang reunion" in Columbus. I was in seminary at the time, and thus on the lookout for any kind of theological metaphors I could find. Once again, the theatre was packed, and why not... Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins - what's not to like? I don't think in any way, shape, or form I was prepared for such a great story of grace, repentance, and redemption. When Andy Dufrane crawled through 300 yards, that's the length of three football fields, through waste so foul I don't even want to imagine, and then he emerges on the outside, standing triumphantly in the rain, arms outstretched to heaven, the whole theatre cheering, I remember thinking "every baptism should be like that". And when Red makes it to San Juatinao, well, let's just say it got a little dusty in the room for men and women alike. A movie that taught us that "you gotta get busy living, or get busy dying".

8) Scrooged - I love Bill Murray. The guy is just a comedic genius. I'll admit, this isn't really one of his best films, but I saw this my freshman year of college with a bunch of friends at a crowded, tiny movie theatre (you noticing a theme here), filled with college students facing a week of finals. Everyone pretty much just wanted to laugh, so while the movie is OK, the crowd just loved every minute of it, especially Bobcat Goldthwait, who steals the show when he tries to hunt his former boss on the day he fired him. Plus, I mean, it's still Charles Dickens... do you want a funeral where nobody shows up and Tiny Tim dying? I didn't think so. The crowd even stayed after to watch the credits, following Murray's instructions to sing whatever carol ended that movie. Great night!

7) Mission: Impossible/Twister (tie): These are both pretty awful, especially Twister, but they opened the same weekend. In those days, (i.e. before kids) Aimee and I saw a lot of movies. For whatever reason, be it the big screen, the filled theatre (it was a pretty big deal at the time), good popcorn, etc... Aimee and I came out of that flick pretty amped (I think we both loved the "flying cow scene"). Anyhow, we decided to take off directly from that movie, to go see M:I1. It was "adrenaline junkie" day at the Bucher house.

6) Patton: I saw this in an American History class in the 8th grade. Mr. Harrington, who probably figured that we had enough "fill in the blank" sheets (where you filled in the blank with the answer you found in the book... y-a-w-n), decided to show us a movie as a way of illustrating WWII. At the time, I had just found outt that my grandfather had fought under Patton in the 172nd Infantry (The Lightning Division). Most of the girls hated the movie, the guys loved it, and I developed a whole new appreciation for the sacrifice my grandfather had to make as a soldier in that war. Just watched this again with my father and father-in-law... it never ceases to amaze.

5) A Fist Full of Dollars/A Few Dollars More/The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (the Spaghetti Western Trilogy): In college, my friend Steve (who ended up being the best man in my wedding) introduced me to Sergio Leone, master of the close-up, and "The Man With No Name" who wasn't really a hero or villain, just the baddest man alive. Since Steve's family lived in San Jose, there were a number of times he ending up going home with me over a long weekend, and inevitably, we'd go get the trilogy to get lost in the American West as interpreted by an Italian. We tried to get the rest of our friends into it, but I don't think they ever really got it. Probably, to this day, if I popped in on Wheeler (who now teaches elementary school in Boca Raton), or he popped in on me, I'm pretty sure we'd make time for Clint Eastwood and his gun that never runs out of bullets.

4) Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: I lived in a dorm at Miami for three years (until I got married, bought a trailer, and experienced a new side to America I had never seen before). I think every room on my floor had a VCR and TV (except John and Chuck who lived across the hall from us. John said he didn't need a TV cause he watched ours and Chuck played "Bard's Tale" on his Apple IIe computer right up to the minute he got kicked out of school for not going to class), but none of us owned any movies. It wasn't like today. Video stores didn't stock a thousand copies of the latest hit, and then sell them for practically nothing. Taped movies were generally pretty expensive, and we were college students, so we'd just rent instead of buy. Except, at the time of night (or morning) we were ready to see a movie we a) either were too lazy to walk uptown to "Late Night Videos", b) had the will, but not the money cause we'd spent it on, uh, other things. Anyhow, Paul and Wayne owned a copy of this movie, so, by default we ended up watching about 10,000 times, which is great because then you could quote the movie randomly just about anywhere, and get a laugh out of those guys. To this day my wife won't watch it with me. I always give away the lines in advance.

3) The Blues Brothers: My favorite place in the world to watch it is at my parents house with my Dad. Dad never stops laughing throughout the entire movie. He loves Jake and Elwood. He loves all the times Carry Fisher tries to kill them. He loves the scene in Bob's Country Bunker. He loves seeing all the cops in the ballroom at the big show. He loves all the car chases. And, most of all, he loves how the Blues Brothers pay off the $5000 the orphanage owes for property taxes (although, it's church owned, so it would be tax exempt in Cook County, which is immaterial cause the movie is really all about good music and car crashes) only to be surrounded by every law man with a gun in the City of Chicago. I don't know what I like more... watching the movie or Dad.

2) Field of Dreams: This movie cost me a "C" in Theology 101 at Methesco. The prof, a woman who hated men (and with good reason, as the previous year her ex-husband almost beat her to death) assigned us a project where we had watch a movie, and then explain it's theological premise. I wanted to do Field of Dreams because there was a time during my childhood that I quit throwing the ball with my Dad, which I know hurt him very much, and grew up enough that our relationship was able to thaw. This movie touches on the complex relationship between father and son at a level that just... well, let's put it this way: after my son was born, I begged my father to come with me so he, I, and Max could all play baseball together at the actual "Field of Dreams" in Dyersville, Iowa (true story). Now my brother and I bring our ball gloves every Father's Day so we can "have a catch" with our Dad. It's that important.

Anyhow, this theology professor, who hated men (with good reason), wouldn't let me review "Field of Dreams" because all it was "a dumb father/son movie with no deeming value". Pretty ticked off after arguing how wrong she was, only to be denied, I let her choose the movie. She chose "Gandhi", who upon my viewing, I tore apart as a self-absorbed, terroristic pagan, just to see the Prof get angry in class cause I knew he was one of her heroes. It worked, and I got a "D" for the project, and ended up with a "C" for the class. I think Ganhdi would have been proud.

1) It's A Wonderful Life - My earliest memories of this movie is watching it when I was Xavier's age with my entire family at my grandparents' house on McDonel Street in Lima. I can see everybody in the room... Popo (my great-grandfather), grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and all my mom's siblings crammed into the living room watching the movie while we ate "Harold's Chicken" on Christmas Eve. Then we washed the dishes (my job was to lead the carol singing with Popo), and then we'd open presents (as legend had it, my great-grandmother couldn't wait until Christmas morning). A couple of those people are gone now, and the family has scattered to the four-corners of the globe, so when I hear Clarence the Angel say, "Don't you understand? Each man's life touches another", I remember, and say a silent prayer of affirmation.

Whoops, it's getting a little dusty in here... gotta go.

The Dark Side of The Flat World
(you can find this week's "Ten Things.." below this post, and check out the 10th thing to find out you can win a copy of Brian McLaren's "The Secret Message of Jesus)

Thanks to my wife's cousin CJ, I have read what is one of the most facinating and well-written newspaper articles in some time. It's a facinating read written by Paul Salopek of the Chicago Tribune called "Oil Safari". In the article, Salopek traces the oil that ends up at a Marathon service station in suburban Elgin, Illinois to its points of origin. If Friedman's "The World Is Flat" is a somewhat optimistic view of how the world becoming "smaller" via the internet and an amazing world-wide system of shipping, "Oil Safari" takes a look at the huge price being paid so that we can all keep running on hydrocarbons.

Check it out here:,0,5759205.special

A great story that gives one much to think about.