Monday, September 25, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

Hope all is well with you. Sorry to keep you waiting on this week's "Ten Things...". Had an assignment due today for Missiology, so my normal Sunday night free time, wasn't free. I'm here now though, and ready to go!

1) It's great to see the Superdome open, and the Saints doing their thing. New Orleans, by all accounts, is still struggling mightily as homes continue to lay in waste and businesses struggle to get back on their feet. Given the lessons learned in this terrible disaster about building a huge city below sea level, crafting a plan as to who can live where, and determining how sustainable that area is for habitation will take time. Most estimates now stand at five to seven years before the city even approaches normal, and that seems reasonable. Let's hope people learn from their past to create for New Orleans, a more secure, sustainable future.

2) Will be in Chicago this weekend presiding over the wedding of CJ Dugan (Aimee's cousin) and Jill Bzdlakhgnjskt (that's an approximate spelling... after they buy a house, she'll be saving money to buy a vowel). After that I'll be making a beeline to Shawnee for Fall Fest on Sunday afternoon, kids in tow. I'll be taking my usual turn as the engineer for the train ride, so bring your train whistles and train hats! It's gonna be a barn burner.

I know every year I muse about the growth of Fall Fest from a barely passable trick-or-treat alternative event (not for theological reasons... it was started the year after a couple of children were hit by a car in the Shawnee area, and was geared as an event for pre-elementary age kids) to the full-blown festival it is today. Music, rides, games, and all free so that for one day parents don't need to tell their kids "no" because everything is ridiculously expensive. It is an act of grace to the community, and something we should never take for granted. Kudos to Cathleen Baker for the job she does getting this thing organized each year... it's a winner, and see you there!!!

3) We received bad news this evening, as Aimee's mother revealed to us that there is some early detection of a re-occurrence of cancer in her liver. Two years ago surgery needed to be performed on Carol to eliminate the cancerous portion of this most important organ. Now, during a routine check-up, it appears that an inoperable form of this menace has surfaced. Carol will be facing a number of tests and biopsies, and we assume chemotherapy in the coming days. Please keep her in your prayers.

Fight this thing Mom!!! We're right behind you!

4) Strange happenings here at Asbury. The Dean of the Beeson Program, our fearless leader, Randy Jessen, will be heading out to Colorado for this year's "President's Retreat". Except, right now, our President, Jeff Greenway, has been placed on indefinite leave by the Board of Trustees for "insubordinate" behavior. Gee, what do you think the main topic of conversation will be over this three day event? Crazy, crazy stuff.

5) Took the boys to see "Barnyard" at one of the many "dollar-movie" theatres in Lexington Saturday. The movie is a good one. The story is about a young male cow, Otis (yeah, I know, male cow.... whaddya gonna do?) whose father, Ben, is the leader/protector of the farm. The father, a serious cow who's theme song is Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" (Well I won't back down. No I won't back down. You can stand me up at the gates of Hell but I won't back down.... words written, strangely enough, while Petty was in a huge argument with his record company who at the time threatened to ruin him financially if he didn't comply with their wishes). Ben is worried because his son just can't seem to get his act together and start taking life seriously (a metaphor for the recent cultural phenomenon of the extension of adolescence into the early-to-mid twenties, perhaps). Anyhow, Ben ends up dying protecting the hen house from a pack of coyotes, and Otis is thrust into his dad's leadership role.

When Ben, the father, died, to be honest, I shed a tear or two, largely because the thought that someday my sons will probably have to bury me is sobering. Fortunately, since the movie wasn't exactly "Bambi", pulling on every heart string to waste you emotionally when his mother dies, the moment kind of past the boys, which is fine by me. I'm just beginning to ponder my own mortality, so my seven and four year old sons should at least be spared a few more years before they realize I'm not immortal. I'll be Superdad as long as their minds will let me.

6) The case of Otis is interesting, because the movie really explores what it means to be a leader. Otis' dad Ben spends his life trying to teach his son that "a strong man stands up for himself, but a stronger man stands up for others", which of course doesn't become apparent until after he dies living out his ethos. Otis does end up, after much existential angst over his sense of place in the world, owning his father's beliefs as his own. However he is unwilling to own his father's leadership style, and instead figures out his own (organizing his network of friends, as opposed to the individualistic Ben who mainly did his thing on his own). This is a classic example of what it means for the mantle of leadership to pass from one generation to another, and a good cultural reflection of a post-modern person's unwillingness to exert power in traditional forms.

Otis unwillingness to trust himself as the sole powerbroker in the community, either because he's not confident that he's been tested like his old man and thus not strong enough for the job, AND/OR because he's uncertain of what power will do to him, his relationships with others, and how he understands his place in the world, goes to the heart of the reason why all of us Beeson Pastors are here. What does leadership, the nature of the relationship between a Senior Pastor of a church to "power", look like to a generation that's unwilling and uncertain about the forms of leadership we've appreciated, but don't want to emulate?

As the institutional church continues to decline in the west, as fewer and fewer people grow up in the church, and enculturated into it (although the percentage of persons from my generation raised in the church who stayed, or returned after a period of inactivity, is hardly encouraging... and the next generation is shaping up to be worse), we will be faced not only with the demands of evangelising people less and less sympathetic to Christ's story, but also trying to hold together the institution that is the church as we know it.

Thus, pressure is coming from two directions: escalating costs and demands from our own people, and the greater time commitment that will need to be made to connect relationally to those who are not yet friends of Jesus Christ. Otis is able to figure out his leadership style in a post-modern context fairly quickly cause he's a cartoon, but I think for me and my thirty-something-year-old brothers and sister here this year, the answer is more difficult to discern. I talk more about this as I figure it out myself.

7) This topic of discussion, leadership in churches living off the long-tail of Christendom in a rapidly Post-Christendom world, comes up again and again in our classes. Today it cropped up as we contemplated the course of action a pastor going into a new congregation (a reality for 10 out of the 12 of us next June) should take as they seek to contextualize Jesus' ministry into that particular church's setting. Many of us have already witnessed many examples of churches who really didn't want to change in order to be incarnational, and the price pastors paid in churches who did make the change, only to find out that in this day and age that things changed again. Their example, and the aftermath, isn't exactly got us chomping at the bit to follow in their footsteps. Rather, I think most of my classmates would rather plant a brand new church so they can avoid some of the issues long-standing churches present, while the others would like to go to churches so close to dead that any new changes are welcome.

The world is changing so much faster and in ways that are so scary for our people (mention the words "Made In China" or "outsourcing" to a typical Buckeye and see how they respond) that the sheer speed of the change is shaking people's belief in their future and a good God who loves and cares about them. I just get a sense that a lot of people, as they struggle to raise their kids or do business or find meaning/significance to their life or contemplate how complex and overwhelming the solutions to the world's problems are, are feeling like the world is lining up against them... making it harder for each of us to get by day, after day.

Of course these problems aren't new, but they are being posed in a way that we as Christian pastors haven't been asked to complete in the Western Hemisphere maybe, ever. Not since the days prior to Constantine has the place of Christianity in culture been more marginalized, and even demonized by the general populace. Now, unlike the Apostle Paul who battled the superstition held by those in the Roman Empire who couldn't figure out what Christianity was all about, now we not only are confronted by growing number of these kinds of people but also the baggage of two-thousand years of Christian teaching and practice which have not lead to the amount or kind of societal transformation one would think Jesus would call us to.

Is it too late for law school? (Just kidding... I think).

8) Hey, Jerry Falwell was caught on tape joking that Hillary Clinton was a bigger motivator to energize the Christian political right than Satan.


I wish I could come up with something to say that would make Jerry look as ridiculous to the average American as he's making Christians look right now, but unfortunately, HE'S BEATING ME TO THE PUNCH. Just consider me a member of a charter member of the "Moral Minority" who believes that evil incarnate is a more serious threat to common decency than a Senator from New York.

(a bigger motivator than Satan..... good grief!)

9) The mark of a seriously good football team is when they end up crushing an opponent on a day they don't have their "A" game. After Saturday, consider Ohio State marked. And I'll go a step further and say that I think the national championship might actually be played on November 18th when the Bucks play a certain school that should be a greater motivator to mobilize the Christian right than Satan (yeah, see, there you go... Jerry Falwell says that about Michigan instead of Hillary, and it makes perfect sense... I think he needs me to write his copy).

Yep.. I'm slowly becoming convinced that the two best teams in the country are in the Big Ten. AND, after watching the end of the debacles that were the Arkansas/Alabama and Florida/Kentucky games, and still pondering the "greatness" of an Auburn team who isn't going to be truly tested by a mediocre conference schedule, I'm wondering if the SEC isn't the fourth or fifth strongest conference this year after the Big Ten (obviously), Big East (no way any of the SEC schools beat West Virginia, Louisville or even Rutgers this year), Big Twelve (hard to write off Texas considering their only loss was to the nation's premier college football program), and maybe even the Pac Ten (if USC is for real) . Hey kids, at least you still got the ACC and MAC to kick around... oh, accept Clemson and Akron look pretty tough (and you probably don't want to tangle with Boise State either, so maybe you ought to just thank your lucky stars that someone from the SEC can back into a BCS bowl this year).

Hey Auburn fans.... Bo knows the Humanitarian Bowl! (I hear Idaho is lovely in December)

10) And finally... in the "strange but true" category, NBC is editing out of the Veggietales cartoons it's showing on Saturday mornings, all references to God, much to the dismay of the vegetation sensation's creator, Phil Vischer. NBC is even going to the extent of editing out Bob the Tomato's tag line, "Remember, God made you special, and he loves you very much". NBC cited the need to maintain a longstanding policy of seeking programming that is religiously neutrality as the reason for the edits.

Of course, this is the same network that last year launched, "The Book of Daniel", which featured a pill-popping Episcopalian priest who pastored the most screwed up church in the world and talked regularly to Jesus, who was a regular character on the show. Pretty religiously neutral that show was, eh?


Have a great week!

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