Saturday, December 30, 2006

Three Gifts You Can Give This Coming Year

As the end of the year nears, and I think about kings from the east bearing gifts, here's three gifts I am challenging my congregation to give to Jesus this coming year.

Gift #1: Find Yourself In The Scriptures
For thousands of years now, people have been scanning the Bible, trying to understand how they fit into the covenant God made with Abraham. Some have decided the way they fit is by rising up with a sword, a gun, or some other weapon, believing that in their willingness to take life in the name of new life, that the God of the Old Testament will rise with them, blessing their efforts. Others have chosen to disappear into the wilderness either alone, or with a few friends, turning their back on the world hoping and praying that their little community will be redeemed. Still others have taken it upon themselves to let others know how their sins are destroying the chances for our corporate redemption. And many, maybe most, have decided that the world is going to go they way it appears to be going, and they've decided to just go with its flow. And yet Jesus emerged out of humanity's interaction with God, choosing to show us how to live as people not called to violence, or withdrwal, or condemnation, or resigned indifference, or cest la vie hedonism, but out of a higher calling to love God and others. May you find in the words of and about Jesus, the journey of Moses, the hymns of David, the anger of Jeremiah, the faithfulness of Job, and the advice of Paul, enough to inspire and convict you to find your place in the work of God's ongoing redemption of you, this community, and the world. To not feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the task, and yet find purpose and meaning within it.

Gift #2: Be Dispensers of Grace
Richard Dawkins, in his book "The God Delusion", posits the idea that the reason humanity is moral, and in his opinion, growing more moral as time passes by, is because we are genetically programmed to look out for our own best interests. In other words, because we are born selfish, we treat others well so that we might be preserved. Of course, while Dawkins claims that social cancers like racism are waning, simultaneously in his native England, the general populace is more convinced than ever that racial tension is growing into the most destructive problem they face. While I am sympethetic to Dawkins desire for peace, enlightened self-interest will not be the path that will enable us to discover that which eludes us. If Jesus' life teaches us anything, its that grace is a choice that must be chosen every day because what it costs goes against our natural tendancy toward self-preservation. Grace calls us to expend and extend ourselves. Grace beacons us toward sacrificial giving - giving our life away not for own benefit but for others - as the only way the world will become closer to the ideal for all. As the year emerges, let the daily struggle of denying yourself in significant ways become more your objective as we seek to leave God's fingerprints of grace on a world yearning for rest.

Gift #3: Let Love Cover the Multitude of Sins
I will remember the 2006 as the year our son Xavier, at the age of 4, developed a will of his own. Up until this year, whatever his big brother Max wanted, largely defined what he wanted. Then one day he woke up and realized that Max liked some things (like grilled cheese sandwiches), he just didn't care for. As he began acting out in a multitude of unacceptable ways to let us know that he was his own person, I found myself mired in a number of confrontations with Xavi where I was resorting to "do this or else" kinds of language to force him to do what we wanted him to do. While you can't stand by and let a child do whatever they want, you can't crush them into submission either. Somehow, we had to find new ways to listen to Xavier to understand what we wants, while he had to learn new ways to communicate with us so we could understand what his motivations were. This is messy and difficult, but its the price you pay if want children to discover that delecate balance we all must find between being independent and interdependent. Each of us must somehow, together, share one another's burdens, and in the messiness of the real world, where some sins are winked at and others are not, approach one another as sinners on a journey of sanctification who offer one another a great deal of love as fuel for the journey. Not condemnation, or rejection, but love and acceptance that gives space to let people learn from mistakes, and move forward. This is a harder journey to make, but it's the only one we must make if we are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

I hope you all have a happy and safe New Year. Let's make it one where we give something of significance to the one who gave all to us.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Some Talk and Some Stand

I am being baited. Gator baited, if you will, by one Aaron Wymer, an alumnus of the University of Florida.

I have maintained since the beginning of this football season a number of ideas that are being proven out as the days drag along:

That this Ohio State Buckeye team will end up being penned in as one of the few dominant college football teams in history. They've already won their conference championship, beat their rival who lost their a coaching icon on the eve of the game to remain undefeated, earned the only perfect 1.0 rating in the history of the BCS scoring system, and watched their quarterback come back from adversity to win the Heisman Trophy. Only one more game stands between what I have been saying being theoretically-true, and true.... this team will be recognized as being one of the greatest ever in an era where true parity is possible in college football.

That OSU's championship would have never been accepted in the south had they defeated Michigan or USC in the BCS game. The same kind of geographic-cultural elitism that still embraces things like the Confederate Flag is also operable when it come to college football. When you hear people who have become good friends, and who you respect, say things like, "Even a game at Mississippi State isn't a week off for a SEC team, that's why all the other conferences in college football are inferior", you just have to roll your eyes. OSU needs to face an SEC opponent to win the BCS just to the end all whining south of the Mason-Dixon line... a point made during the end of the recent Gator-Buckeye basketball game when the blue and orange crowd started chanting "Over-rated, Also In Football". Nothing less will stop the lips from yappin' in the land o' cotton.

But I'm not just gonna talk. I mean, anyone can talk. Aaron Wymer stood in the sanctity of my cubicle before our break to defame the name of the Big Ten as a means of trying to cheapen the Bucks accomplishments this year. The man can talk up a blue streak.

I'm tired of talking..... I'd rather stand.

I'll stand, or sit, or walk all day on January 9th in a Gator shirt if the Bucks lose on January 8th. I'll even post it, if it happens, on this blog, for all the world to see. I have no problem with putting this into digital print, as I'm not worried this day will ever come to pass.

And if I waited for a SEC fan to make some sort of comparitive offer, where they'd actually have to stand behind all the hot air, well, we know that the south would rise again before that happened, wouldn't it?

And now a YouTube clip of another national championship team that needed no help from anybody to win their crown. They marched through the front door, unlike a Gator team in 1996.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think (Christmas Day+1 Edition)

1) Well, another Christmas has come and has just about gone. No snow here in Lima. In fact, all we have is cold rain, which only begs the question: Why do we live in Northwest Ohio, again? I can handle just about any kind of weather, but I detest cold rain. It just cuts to the bone. And what's more, it just makes everything grey and muddy. So the time with family was great. Worship was everything it should be at Christmas. But the cold rain has got to go.

2) Have noticed over the years, not just here in Lima, but also during my stint in Goshen, that the 11pm Candlelight Service seems to be waining in popularity, at least in Protestant circles. The early services seem to do better and better each year, but the hearty lot that comes late on Christmas Eve seem to be declining. Part of this, I think, is that many of our members and their families who made this service a corner piece of their Christmas experience, have gone on to their great reward, while our younger families seem more interested in a an early worship time. Part of it could just be that the number of people looking for traditional services on Christmas Eve, or just traditional services in general, seem to be on the decline. I mean as the percentage of the general population who attends church regularly gets smaller with each succeeding generation, and with the percentage of those people attending contemporary churches continually growing, one wonders about the future of traditional worship services.

My last senior pastor, Dick Lyndon, would often get into hot water when he would openly speculate about the closing of our Main Campus, which was traditionally-oriented in it's form and worship. He would often just come right out and say that the kind of worship and form those people were holding onto was doomed to obscurity, and he reasoned that within about 30 years it would no longer be economically viable to continue. Of course, those people didn't want to hear such talk, and would be become openly hostile when they heard it, but after seeing so many empty church buildings all over England, and fewer and fewer people in pews for services like late-night Christmas Eve, I am wondering if he wasn't too far off? I suppose only time will tell. It'd be a shame though.... there's nothing like lighting a candle at midnight to celebrate Jesus' birth. Nothing.

3) My mother-in-law was back in the hospital last night and most of today as more than a litre of fluid had to drained from lungs due to the advancing cancer in her liver. After failing to qualify for some experimental radiation treatment in at the James Cancer Center in Columbus, it appears that her oncologist will be ordering a more aggressive round of chemo maybe before the end of the week. Fortunately over the last three days she was able to be with her kids and grandkids for what was really a nice Christmas celebration. Those are the kinds of things a person needs to stay committed to fighting what can often seem like an overwhelming beast. Your continued prayers for her would be greatly appreciated.

4) So what kind of haul did we have at Christmas this year? Well, I'm not sure that we've enough room back at our townhouse for all the new loot. Between both sides of families, I really could not tell you everything the boys received for Christmas.... which is pretty amazing when you think about it. I was there for the opening of all the presents. I helped put together various implements of destruction and amusement, as well as free countless toys from the clutches of overdone packaging.

At what point, by the way, did it become necessary to use 600 yards of wire and impenetrable plastic to pack a pair of toy walkie-talkies? Are the people from the shipping companies really that hard on merchandise? Does somebody who owns a packaging company in China have a brother who's influential in the Communist Party? You pretty much need a chainsaw and a blowtorch on Christmas morning now to unpackage everything.

But I digress...

The boys did well, we have no idea as to how to get everything back to Wilmore, and life is good.

5) Tomorrow we'll be buying all sorts of sundry items for the Crossroads Crisis Center, which is a home for battered women and children here in Lima, and gallons of milk for Samaritan House (another homeless shelter here in the city, which when asked if there was anything they needed, replied, "Yes, milk. We go through a lot of milk." Ask and you shall receive.) We just don't want the boys thinking that Christmas is all about what you get, because they get plenty. We just want to show them, and our Lord, Jesus Christ, how much we appreciate how richly we have been blessed.

6) This is footage of what many believe to be James Brown's finest hour. It is concert footage shot in Boston the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As the country went up in flames in protest over the death of the great civil rights leader, officials in Boston begged James Brown to continue with a previously scheduled show, which was then televised live on local TV as a means of keeping the peace in Boston. In the footage shown, Brown, who realizes a tense situation growing as white police officers toss fans hopping up on stage back into the crowd, is able to get police to back off, and reclaim control of the situation that could have easily spun out of control. Boston, which was dogged by racial tension, remained quiet as people stayed home to watch the show, and listen to a man who encouraged people to take pride in who they were. Much has been made of James Brown's numerous arrests and the demons that dogged him most of life - why even in the wake of his death there is confusion existing among various family members and the man's lawyers - but the role the he played in helping define modern media and race issues cannot be understated. For all his faults, the world will miss James Brown.

7) Dad and I ended up seeing three films in three nights. You already know I made it to "Rocky Balboa", but a glitch while trying to stay online wirelessly at my folks' house cost me a post on "Apocalypto", and time constraints made it impossible for a post on "We Are Marshall".

Apocalypto, if you haven't seen it, is not for the faint-hearted. Gibson, who seems to have a passion for realistic gore, goes to great lengths to help us understand how brutal the world of the Mayans actually was. Much has been made about Gibson's attempt to make comment on the nature of the rise and fall of empires, but for me, the most striking aspect of the movie was the role of religion in the lives of those inside and outside of the empire. Now we know that the Mayans were particularly brilliant, and brutal. The practice of human sacrifice as a means of appeasing their gods resulted, in one point, at almost round-the-clock executions. The contrast to this, however, are the pleas of those people conquered by Mayan warriors, begging their gods for mercy, and then comfort. Such is the role of faith, historically, for us humans. A great comfort at times, and at others, tools to justify violent domination. I think Gibson's point (via one small scene at the end of movie) is that Christianity, for all its beauty, has played its role in this schizophrenic dance between looking to God for grace and for judgement. All in all, a very good movie. NOTE: Grandma Great, take this one off of your list... given the gore, I'm sure you will not find it all that satisfying.

8) Seeing "We Are Marshall" was almost an accident for Dad and I. Originally, I wanted to see "The Nativity Story" before preaching on Christmas Eve, but I realized only after it was too late that there was no late-night showing of this movie at our local movie theatre. Dad, however, still wanted to go see a flick, so "We Are Marshall", kind of by default, ended up being our choice.

The story of the death of the Thundering Herd football team in 1970 is a compelling one. I was only one at the time it happened, but living in West Virginia as a kid during the seventies, it was impossible not to hear about the plane crash, and the struggle of the university to try and overcome it. The movie filled in a lot of holes for me, personally, as to what actually happened and the challenge of fielding a football team the following season.

Was particularly impressed with the portrayal of Bobby Bowden, who at the time was the coach at West Virginia University, Marshall's biggest rival. Bowden played a small role in the re-birth of the Herd's program by allowing Marshall's coaches to study the Veer, which a particular offense that at the time WVU ran. The class Bowden shows to the coaches who are struggling to rebuild a program, which I'm assuming has to be historically accurate to have made it into the film, is top-notch, only re-enforcing the man's reputation of being one of the "good eggs" of the game.

Unfortunately, the movie itself moved pretty slow, and since it seemed like there were a lot of teens who, I don't know, probably were there thinking they would see some version of "Varsity Blues", the distractions in the theatre were numerous. But, long-term, I think the movie will serve as a source of pride and a snapshot of history for Marshall University and the people from that part of West Virginia. That and the message that in the face of great tragedy and grief, at least for awhile in one little corner of the sporting world, winning wasn't everything, should be remembered.

9) Outside of a Charlie Brown Christmas, which we watched as a family via the VCR in my parent's house, I did not see even one Christmas movie or special this holiday season. No "It's a Wonderful Life", or "Miracle on 34th Street", or "The Grinch That Stole Christmas" (despite the fact that I posted the whole show on this blog). I have no idea if TBS showed "The Christmas Story" for 24 hours as in years previous and since Dad and I were out movie-ing, I wasn't up late watching TV, which meant I never stumbled upon a gem like "White Christmas" or a dog like one of those "made for TV movie" Christmas specials they show on Lifetime. Such are the consequences when at your home you have no cable TV.

Of course, I saw last night that some network has actually shot a reality show featuring D-list celebs like Jack Osbourne (famous for being Ozzy's son), Erik Estrada, and Wee-Man (yeah, a whole bunch of you are like, "Wee-who?") training and become police officers. YEEE-UCK. Don't you think the world could have lived without something like this? I know I could have. I think I'll just keep reading books.

10) Finally, two interesting blogposts I want to bring to your attention. First, is this little gem by Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, arguing that the professional athletes are marketed incorrectly. My guess is that this post, which in a nutshell pretty much says that from a marketing standpoint, pro leagues pushing philanthropic causes and athletes "giving back to the community", is a big waste of money, will provoke NBA commissioner David Stern, who has made the "NBA Cares" program a cornerstone of the marketing plan for the NBA. That it was posted on Christmas Day, of all days, kind of adds to the irony.

The other post is this one posted by Dr. Ben Witherington III, touting the movie "Rocky Balboa" as one of the finest movies of this holiday season. I mean, I can see someone like me saying this.... but a leading New Testament scholar and, for theological reasons? Read it yourself, and next time someone makes fun of you for handing Sly Stallone $8 of your hard earned money, just tell 'em you went because you felt the movie was a fine commentary on of the Apostle Paul's idea of perseverance.

I wonder now if I can write the tickets and popcorn off on my taxes?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Win Rocky Win!

Missed a phone call today from my brother because I had turned the ringer off the night before, and had forgotten to turn it back on (we were staying at my in-laws, and all of us were sleeping in one room.... I'd have thrown the phone out the window had it woke up Eli). By the time I remembered, I saw that I had a voice mail from my brother:

"All I have to say is three words: Win Rocky Win!"

I'm not sure where Andy got his Rocky obsession. The first Rocky was made before he was born, and he was too little to have seen Rocky 2 or 3 in the theatre. Maybe it was passed down to him by Bill Simmons, a sports writer on (his link is on my dashboard) who is a rabid Rocky fan, or maybe he watched the movies with me.... I'm not really sure. But Andy was one of the first Toledo-ins in line today for tickets to "Rocky Balboa", and he called me as he walking in the theatre. By the time I called him back, the movie was over.

"How was it?"

"I suspended all my disbelief, and was just immersed in the movie. I thought it was great."

Well, since our tastes in flicks run similar, and since this one movie on my "holiday flicks list" that I want to see, also including

  • We Are Marshall: You couldn't be a little kid growing up in West Virginia (we moved there in 1972 after Dad graduated from OSU) and not have heard about the plane crash that killed so many members of the Thundering Herd's football team in 1970. Outside of an explanation by my childhood best friend, Jason Reeves, in a crowded downtown Huntington bar during a road trip years ago in college, I haven't known much about it, so this movie is on top of the list.
  • The Nativity Story: Partially because I want to see it before I preach on Christmas Eve, and partially because the woman who directed it also wrote and directed "Thirteen", which is one of the most disturbing movies I have ever seen in my life. Quite frankly, anyone who works with teens should see "Thirteen". It is disturbing because 20 years ago that movie would have been called "Nineteen", and I'm afraid that 20 years from now the movie might be called "Ten". A testament to what making kids grow up so fast now in the culture is doing to them. It will make you sick to your stomach, and remind you of why working with teens is so important.
  • Apocalypto: Dad really wants to see this one more than I do, but he went to see Rocky with me tonight, so I owe him one. Get the feeling this one is going to be a real bloodbath.

I shanghai-ed Dad into going with me to the late show tonight (amid much grumbling that we weren't going to see Apocalypto, and that we were suckers who were just putting more dollars in Sly Stallone's pocket) at the beautiful new Regal Cinema 12 out at the Lima Mall (a triumph for the City of Lima). After 8 million previews (including one for what looks to be a bad movie about werewolves named, and I am not making this up, "Blood and Chocolate".... literally, the entire theatre broke up laughing when they showed the title. We could be entering "Ishtar" territory here), Stallone's farewell to the character that made him famous began.

Now, you need to know that the final bell for the series was supposed to be Rocky V, which was made long after Stallone's "crap detector" got lost while he filmed "Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot". But whole premise to the movie, that now Rocky was training and managing a young protege who ends up turning on him, was geared to a) pass the genre on to a new fighter and new generation b) didn't do it because the "actor" in question was Tommy "Gun" Morrison, a real boxer who moonlighted as an actor c) was incredibly not well thought through.

I read in interviews with Stallone that he realized the movie didn't work, and in his heart of hearts, he wanted to end the series differently. Of course, to do this, you have suspend disbelief in "Rocky Balboa" to accept a) that at 50+ (or 60?) years of age Balboa would be capable of one more great fight, b) that the fight would be an "exhibition" with the world champ, and c) that fairies from the planet Xarlon who can turn themselves in purple snakes actually exist. It's that believable.

But, like my brother, I suspended my disbelief factor, and you know what... the movie wasn't all that bad. You still get a chill during the training scenes while "Gotta Fly Now" plays in the background. The fight scenes are well-shot. And, for all bad roles Stallone chose during his career, in the character of "Rocky" he managed to connect with something that resonates with the common American:

Life isn't about how hard you can hit. It's about how many punches you can take, and still keep moving forward.

Suffice to say the movie does a great job of hammering this home. And just like the Philadelphia it is filmed in, and pretty much for any Midwestern city that's taken its lumps as industry moved south, then west, then really far south and west, the great decay and decline that has been experienced in this part of the country over the last thirty years, which spans the Rocky story, may have eroded much of what we once held near and dear but it's never touched the love we have for those who have shaped us, and those who live here now who we try to help shape.

That's really the story of the movie, and it's Stallone's one last gift for all of us who took a little a joy from a mythical, undersized, boxer who took far more punishment than he ever dolled out. A message to not be afraid of what is coming as the balance of power in the world, or the political or economic landscape changes... just hang onto the kind of work-ethic, never-say-die attitude that have sustained those who came before you. That's the kind of spirit that can coax one last great fight out of an old man, and birth new dreams in a young one. You might find that corny, and maybe it is.....

but the whole theatre was filled with people cheering the old man on. People who have taken plenty of punches, but keep fighting on.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Rest of the Things I Think

6) NOTE To those who do not live in Lima: The Kewpee is a local chain of three restaurants that serve what the majority of us from Lima would call, the finest hamburgers and frosted malts in the world. There, now you know what I'm talking about. And for those who are from Lima... Marchocoloate is just around the corner!

Did you know that when you've been going to the Kewpee West location that somebody behind the counter has been praying for you? About two months ago, I asked a young woman from our congregation who works there to try an experiment.... pray as often as you can for whatever you feel led to pray about. Co-workers, people in line, cars going by.... whatever.

She has tried to send me a couple of her prayer journal entries (she's been keeping a prayer journal!) via email, but we've had some technical difficulty. Yesterday, however, between services she sat down with me for a few moments and shared with some things that she's learning.

Mostly she's finding herself praying for patience... which, given how busy that Kewpee is (I was there after 6pm on a SUNDAY night, and the lines went out both sets of doors, and the drive-thru was at least 15 deep in cars.... on a Sunday night!) is understandable. She says that some days she prays for customers to be more patient, but sometimes they grow more hostile (which is interesting). She's prayed for her co-workers. She prays at random for people coming through the line. She's started regularly praying for some regulars. She says mostly she feels like she's being transformed inside as she prays, but she wonders if her prayers are making a difference in the lives of those she's praying for. She's intrigued enough to keep it up, and wants to talk to me more in detail.

So you tell me, what do you think is happening in the midst of this? If you've bought a hamburger at the Kewpee West location in the last two months, how do you feel now knowing that someone behind the counter has been praying for you... praying over you? What would the world look like if everyone silently was saying sentence, or word prayers for people as they encountered them?

This is exciting!

7) My neighbor and fellow BP, Aaron Wymer, is right about a lot of things, but tonight he said something to me that was dead wrong.

"The NBA is pathetic", he said. "The season is too long, and all the guys do is stand around on one side of the floor and watch one guy on the other side of the floor try and score. At least in college they're passing the ball and playing defense."

Nope. Dead wrong. Just like his pick for the winner of the BCS Championship game. Florida hasn't got a snowball's chance in Satan's kitchen of winning that game (Hey London Juliet... another football reference. You are up to 1/3rd a free beverage!), and there's no way college basketball is better basketball that the NBA.

No way.

You people in the suburbs have been brainwashed. You watch a team pass 17 times a possession or play some complex zone, and you think it's better basketball. Watching college basketball is like watching paint dry. Take away all the crazy college kids painting their faces, hopped up on goofballs, screaming like maniacs, and all you have are a bunch of dictators crushing the creativity out of the game. I mean, I'll be rooting for the Thad Five this season, but give me the choice of Bob Knight cracking his whip so those kids will run a motion offense to death, or LeBron creating on the break... and there's no contest. Anybody who's ever played, and knows anything about basketball knows it's true.... the NBA is fannnnnnnntastic!

Just like Jim Tressel, and the future champs of college football! (The Juliet watch - .5 and counting).

Besides, what does Aaron know.... he's from Indiana. They don't know anything about basketball anymore in Indiana. They ruined the HS tourney by forming multiple classes. They chased off Bob Knight. I hear IU will be joining the MAC soon... read it on some blog. Just a disaster over there.

8) Kudos to Dr. Gene Wright on the great job of getting Allen County Health Partners renovated building up and running. ACHP is a local free clinic working in Lima's south end offering medical, dental, mental health, and pharmaceutical services. Dr. Wright was my doc growing up, and is a loyal member of Trinity UMC in town. Since his retirement he's selflessly given hundreds of hours to upgrading the medical care to those who have difficulty affording it.

Also, I'm hearing great things coming out of Shawnee's Haiti medical team. Charlotte Hefner, our associate pastor met with them this past Sunday morning, and it sounds like they're planning to do some very, very exciting long-term work in the western hemisphere's poorest nation. Kudos to all the lay-people who are working hard to help make inroads for the world's destitute poor.

9) And if you are connected with a church in the states, looking for an international mission opportunity, I would encourage you to please send me an email, and we'll be happy to talk to you about Haiti. I would never want to minimize the situation in Africa right now... it is absolutely desperate. But the situation in Haiti isn't much better, and despite how close it is to our own shore (three hours by jet prop plane), it often falls off the radar of places that could use some prayer and a little elbow grease. Shawnee is committed to Haiti. Here's the latest copy of "Haiti On My Mind" a newsletter about what is happening in our Haiti ministry.

10) And finally, received the paper back that served as a final paper for a pastoral theology class, and will also serve as the bulk of the "Chapter 2" of my dissertation. Dr. Seamands returned it with an A, and that meant I received an A for the class. Still pushing the ol' 4.0 for the year.... who'd a thunk it? It was very difficult to do, but it's given me good direction on where to go with this study. I am excited with the progress... indeed.

OK, better get to bed. I am serving as a "room helper" for Xavie's class tomorrow. They are having a pajama party, where they are all going to wear pajamas to school. Should be fun! Have a great day!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Five of the Ten Things I Think I Think

Since I've not had much time to post, and I've been thinking about a lot of things recently, this week's "Ten Things..." is so long, and dense, that I've decided to split it into two days. Five things will be posted on Monday, and the other five things will be posted on Tuesday.

1) I gotta say that Roger Rhodes, our Staff-Parish Relations Committee Chairperson at Shawnee UMC, was right..... they are looking at me differently. You see, while we were home at Thanksgiving, Roger and I stepped out for lunch (at Arby's... I had the usual - a roast beef sandwich, curly fries, and a refreshing carbonated beverage), and in the course of the conversation, Roger said,

"Listen, when we tell the congregation that you're going to be the senior pastor as of next July, people are going to be looking at you differently. You've always been the "support guy", and you've filled that role well. But now that you're going to be the "lead guy", expectations will be different. Just remember that."

Well, today was the first day in church since the formal announcement earlier this month, and I must say, he was right. And you know what? You wouldn't want it any other way. These people love this church, and want to see it move forward, building on the sacrifices that have been made, to be a force for the Kingdom of Heaven, the cause of Jesus Christ, in our community. Any change that might jeopardize that is going to scrutinized, and this is a big change.

It's just the way things are now. They are looking at me differently, and I must say, the reverse is true also.

2) That all being said, how can you not love it when two men who you deeply respect, come up to you after a service, tell you their men's prayer group has been and will be praying for you, and then let you know that they'll be giving a card of all the names and phone numbers of the guys in the group so that if you need prayer, any time, day or night, you can just call? Or when you express doubt that you can fill the shoes of your long-time mentor, a long-time saint of the church says, "Bryan, talk like that again and I will give you serious trouble." Or on your desk, or in your email, or snail mail box, there are heartfelt expressions left for you, expressing grace and excitement about the future.

Kent Reynolds is right. When you take on leadership in Christ's name, you get it all - the blessing, and the Cross. I'm sure that many tough days are in store, but you just can't believe the magnitude of the blessing! I just feel like God is changing me in a hundred different ways this year. You don't know how humbling, troubling, and what a blessing that is, all at once.

Alright... enough about that.

3) Sorry for the lack of posts. Never received emails from people wanting to know where the heck the new posts were before. Between finishing up a HUGE theology paper for a class, preaching this week for another class, caring for a family with the flu, and then getting it myself, the time for posts was non-existent. Fortunately, the fam seems to be getting over this wretched virus, the assignments are done, and now I can start doing some reading for the next class.

And, maybe make a post or two. Anyhow, it was just "one of those weeks". Am glad I feel like I can breath again.

4) I once heard Jeff Foxworthy equate the Dixie Chicks saying they were ashamed that W was from Texas, with someone running through a trailer park in Arkansas screaming "WalMart Sucks" - In both cases, you're just asking for a beating.

Well, guess what? 130 Evangelical Christian pastors, led by a Baptist pastor from Louisville, Kentucky are saying publicly that Jesus wouldn't shop at WalMart.

(Uh, just give me a second.... my head is spinning.)

Don't believe me? Here's the TV ad they're running in a number of markets right now, and a link to their website:

Here's a link to an interview that the pastor in the ad, Joe Phelps, did with a Neil Cavuto on Fox News. It is an interesting debate, as it is obvious that Cavuto couldn't disagree more with Phelps' position. As it doesn't end in a shouting match, I found it thought provoking.

I find it interesting that this debate is being forged around the ideas of wages, health insurance, and loss of industrial jobs to China as it relates to the American worker. Little, if anything, is being said about the working conditions of overseas factories (remember the flap with Kathy Lee Gifford's line of clothing be made by child labor in Bangladesh... nothing like that is on the radar) or the fact that despite the deplorable conditions of these factories, that now millions of people overseas are improving their standard of living. The ethics being argued are based on what Jesus would think is best for Americans, which is interesting, and maybe a tad narrow for a Jewish guy who said that we needed to make disciples to the "ends of the earth".

I mean, if this linked article is true when it says that if you need possess only $2,200 in assets per adult in the household to be in the top 49% of the world's wealthiest people (or $61,000 to be in the top 10%, or $500,000 to be among the richest 1% in the world), AND that 3 billion people live on $2 a day (or less), I'd think Jesus might frame all of these questions a little differently by asking us, "Who is your neighbor?". Call that liberal, or whatever you want, but I can't help believe it to be true.

What can I tell you... a guy goes to Haiti, and his view of the world changes.

4) Something very interesting is happening in the Evangelical world right now. Speaking from the heart of it, Asbury Theological Seminary, I have been surprised at the level of social consciousness among people who recently have been mostly identified almost exclusively with two issues: abortion and homosexuality. Genocide in the Sudan, the AIDS crisis in Africa, issues of poverty and race, protecting the environment, and even the business practices of a place like WalMart are now hot button topics among many evangelicals.

If you had to ask me, "Why the shift all the sudden?", I'd have to say "I'm not sure, but here are three possible reasons.

First, I want to know that in evangelical seminaries, the idea of what a Christian disciple is being thought, and re-thought about right now, very thoroughly. The idea that a Christian is a person who shows up at church, maybe goes to Sunday School, and volunteers in the church is under serious debate and discussion right now (I've been thinking about this too, and I've been trying an experiment with an anonymous accomplice.... Did you know you were being prayed for at the Kewpee? More on this later...).

Ideas like Christian values showing up in family budgets, places of business, and the impact of everyday personal ethics are being discussed around here every bit as much as the need for a time of personal devotion, each day. If you are interested in understanding some of the literature that's fueling this debate, here are three books you should buy with your Christmas money (and you're not gonna find them at your typical Christian bookstore... that much I can assure you. I use Amazon quite a bit, but if you'd rather shop local, I'd encourage Lima residents to go out to Readmore Books to order them, and I'd encourage Readmore Books to partner with our only real coffeehouse, The Meeting Place, and create a Lima version of Barnes and Noble.... The Readmore Place!):

The Other Six Days by R. Paul Stevens
Missional Church by Darrell Guder
The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost

5a) The second reason that evangelicals are changing their focus, I believe, is due to the effect of authors like Dallas Willard, who in their books (Dallas' classic is The Divine Conspiracy - don't buy it unless you like to do heavy reading... it ain't a dime store novel) are challenging the notion that Jesus' main message was that people needed to accept him before they die so that they could escape eternal damnation. I don't think these authors would argue that people need to accept Jesus, but their point is that Jesus came proclaiming that the "Kingdom of Heaven is at hand", and that this message should be our focus.

As Christ followers, they want us to ask these questions: What is the Kingdom of Heaven? What does it mean for it to be at hand, on earth? What does this mean for me, in real terms, as a follower of Jesus Christ? I believe with Dallas Willard leading the way (The Divine Conspiracy will be one of the classic theology books of this era), these theologians are positing that Jesus desired not just internal or personal transformation, but also systematic transformation of the world. They are getting quite a hearing right now, in places like Asbury.

5b) And the third and final reason I think all this churning is going on among evangelicals is cause (hold onto your hats... this is gonna be a little surprising, and I suspect not going to be universally accepted) Bono, the lead singer of U2, effectively cajoled, begged, and shamed the evangelical community to do something about the disaster of AIDS in Africa... and I think the language and means he used to do this really forced some people to re-think their basic understanding of the impetus of the church.

I mean if a lead singer from an Irish rock band, who smokes cigarillos and drinks alcohol, can quote scripture chapter and verse, make a solid argument as to why the Gospel demands action on behalf of the world's destitute poor, and then give amply of his own time on their behalf, I think that got a lot of people's attention. Rock stars usually stage benefits that raise a few million bucks for a cause, and then generally go back out and live dubious lifestyles.... but Bono's example was different. And I guess, evangelicals wondered how they were getting "out holy-ed" by a rock star.

Want to know how important he is right now? When we went to the Leadership Summit at the Willow Creek Community Church, of all the sessions with all the speakers, the one that was totally jam-packed (almost entirely by evangelical pastors and lay-people) was the session that Bill Hybles interviewed Bono' about his Christian faith and how it related to the crisis of AIDS in Africa... and it was the only session that the speaker wasn't there, live and in person. In other words, people jammed the building to see a taped interview. Nobody, not Jim Collins (wrote Good to Great), not Andy Stanley (big megachurch pastor), not James Meeks (pastor of megachurch in the poorest part of Chicago and Illinois State Senator) received the attention that Bono, who wasn't even really there, received.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but there are the three I thought of.

Catch the other five things tomorrow!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'm Down With the Grinch

Spent the evening taking care of the boys (particularly Eli, who had it bad for a couple of days... he's just starting to feel better) while Aimee did the stomach flu, and then was given the opportunity to do it myself this morning. Am hating life right now. I can't believe how much you take good health for granted until the day you find yourself "talking to Ralph on the big white phone". Fortunately this appears to be the 24 hour variety of flu, and Aimee was able to start feeling better before those little viruses took control... so there are a couple of things to be thankful for.

But now my schedule is all messed up. Major papers are due, and I've got no choice but to pull up the bootstraps and give it the ol college try... yuck. If having too small a heart makes you feel lousy, I can see why the Grinch stuck it to those Whos. Have a nice weekend, and enjoy solid foods.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Nine More Things I Think I Think

1) Preached this morning to rave reviews. My subject was the Christmas story (the real one, not the one with Ralphie) and my focus was Joseph (for reasons that will be made clear later). You know, there are some parts of the Bible most of us just kind of skim, or mostly skip over, and then there are other parts that you've read so many times you begin to think you know them cold. Such is the Christmas story.

Mary and Gabriel. Joseph and his dream. A trip to Bethlehem. Shepherds and angels. A manger and a tiny baby boy. It becomes more difficult to get a new take on the subject after awhile.

This morning's sermon really had two parts. The latter was a story of something that happened to me while ringing a bell for the Salvation Army outside of a WalGreens in Goshen, Indiana years ago. A funny story of grace where a woman was touched upon hearing me whistle "Oh Holy Night". I knew I wanted to use the story, just because I like it so much, but I wasn't sure how it connected to the part A...

Which was the difference in how Mary and Joseph perceived the pregnancy. Mary is visited directly by Gabriel and is profoundly touched by the Holy Spirit. He sings hymns and celebrates with Elizabeth. For her, she is blessed to be a vessel to bring the Son of God into the world.

But Joseph's take on the scene is different. Instead of a direct visit, the angel visits Joseph, who is crushed by his fiance's apparent infidelity to the point that he is ready to break the engagement, in a dream. Dreams can be a little harder to sort out. While the Bible says he did as the Angel in the dream orders, marrying Mary and moving on with his life, I speculated that somehow the message of the dream wasn't really confirmed until the moment Joseph laid eyes on the baby.... which is a miracle all its own.... and he named him Joshua, son of Joseph. In my opinion, that's the moment that the dream became "holy adoption papers", and confirmation that the baby isn't just the Son of God but also, the Son of Man.

I won't go into detail as to how I put altogether, since it'll be preached again this Sunday at both 9 and 11am at Shawnee... and we will experiment with streaming video on the web site in the near future.

Anyhow, it turned out pretty well. Dr. Kalas was complimentary, and that, really is about the best confirmation of your preaching ability you can receive.

2) Hey, who said this (and it's a direct quote)

"If you got a problem with Mo Cheeks, there must be something wrong with you,"

If you said Allen Iverson, you just won two roundtrip ticket on Piedmont Airlines good any day it's not a whole owned subsidiary of any other airline, between now and the end of the year! Seems that Iverson, who has clashed with all of the coaches he's ever had in Philadelphia was told my GM Billy King that this latest demand for Mo Cheeks' head would not be granted, and Allen would be on the next bus out of town.

As one of like, 14 NBA fans left in the country, I've always really liked Iverson. For all the tattoos and bluster, the guy plays hard, takes good care of his wife and kids, and is simply one of the best reasons to buy a ticket to see an NBA game today. That being said, taking a little guard in his 30's with the kind of miles on the odometer that AI has on his, should make any GM nervous. The best rumor so far has Iverson going to Sacramento to play with Ron "I Am An Insane Tru Warrior" Artest. Here's hoping that happens, and the Maloofs can also pick up Rasheed Wallace, Zach Randolph, Stephen Jackson, Antoine Walker, Jason Williams, Darius Miles, Bonzi Wells, maybe coax J.R. Rider, Bad News Barnes, Darrell Dawkins, and John Starks out of retirement, and hire Vernon Maxwell as the coach. That's an "All NBA Headcase Team" if I ever saw one, generating headlines that I'm sure would never cease to amaze.

I think my brother, Steve Clouse, and I are the only two people who read and understood that last post.

3) Sounds like the commission to figure out how to get us out of Iraq is meeting with more than a little controversy. The current Iraqi government is upset. The hope by the commission is that we could get Iran and Syria to help patrol the country (good grief.... someone take Moammar Gadaffi off his meds and see if he'll send a few troops too)... which doesn't seem all that likely, or even desirable. Obviously the situation has degenerated into a mess, with the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shites all not wanting much to do with one another, and a whole lot of oil money at stake. If there ever is a functioning democracy in this country, we should all praise God and thank our lucky stars, as it looks like we have a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Balkans post-Marshall Tito on our hands.

4) People have been asking what I've been reading, and the answer is "nothing I'd recommend to others". This part of the dissertation requires a lot of reference books and commentaries, which are designed largely to read like stereo instructions. Which leads me to this...

Why do scholarly texts need to be so stinking boring? At what point in history did people quoting endlessly, other people, start passing itself off as relevant or important? I understand the need to credit others for the work they've done, but there's a reason you'd be better off reading one of Bishop Wright's books when he signs it "Tom", as opposed to "N.T.". The "Tom" books are supposed to be useful (which his series for laypeople on the life of Paul is.... it's terrific), where as "N.T." does so many mental gymnastics that the dense nature of the work almost becomes too obtuse to even be understood.

A new movement among scholars needs to start taking place... perhaps following "Tom" Wright's lead. The texts being produced now out of Biblical, Christo-historical, and theological circles has become so marginalized as to be almost inaccessible to common people. There's a reason they still sell so many Barclay Bible Series books.... folks can understand what the heck he's saying. While William Barclay is by no means cutting edge, his intent was education of the common reader, the everyday Christian, not to add more to the scholarly world.

I mean, all you brilliant guys out there... can't we have more of a balance? You are intellectually pricing yourself out of the market, leaving the stuff that passes as theology at the local Christian bookstore to fill the void. You are "Left Behinding" and "Prayer of Jabezing" the nation.... books not inherently evil in and of themselves, but can't they balanced by something else?

5) Had a nice weekend in Johnson City, Tennessee, interviewing people and surreptitiously observing the goings on at the Grandview Chrsitian Church. Grandview's senior pastor, Aaron Wymer, is on sabbatical pursuing his degree as a fellow BP. He suggested that we switch churches one weekend for the purpose of writing ethnography papers for one another as final projects for our Anthropology class. Here's his initial take of Shawnee, as detailed in his own fine blog.

Grandview is a part of the Independent Christian Church movement, which, as best I could understand it, started with a group of Scottish Presbyterians who were plenty angry at the established church, particularly for establishing creeds which appeared to supplant the role of scripture. There are now three major wings of this movement, the Acapella Church of Christ (which allows no instruments to be used in worship, and recognizes no other baptisms than those done in their own church..... the rest of us "out of luck", as it were), the ICC (which makes central a confession of Christ as Lord and Savior independent of any creeds or statements, looks to participate with other denominations, practices an "open table" at communion where all Christians regardless of background are invited to participate, and requires all members to have had a full-immersion baptism), and the Disciples of Christ (the group my buddy Pauly is affiliated with now... I think they are by far the most liberal of the three groups, and the only one to consider themselves a denomination).

Grandview is located only miles away from the ICC's flagship college (Milligan College) and seminary (Emmanuel School of Theology). If you want to know how closely those schools and the church are, I interviewed three Milligan profs, four more Milligan grads, an Emmanuel prof (an interesting fellow who after an education at Gordon-Cromwell and Harvard, has left his native Acapella Church of Christ Roots to join the ICC), and the youth pastor who is a Milligan grad and Emmanuel student. The preacher in the worship services was an Emmanuel prof, and the Communion meditation speaker in Grandview's second service was the Dean of Emmanuel.

Needless to say, there are more than a few experts in the congregation when Aaron preaches on Sunday morning.

All in all it was interesting experience. Every single person I talked to loves Aaron to death, and afraid he's going to leave after completing this degree, to which Aaron replied, "What kind of jerk do they think I am?" Not a jerk, sir... just thoroughly impressed enough with your ability that they are afraid another church will snatch you up.

No worries friends, he, Cindy, and the girls are coming home, and that right soon.

I was impressed with the depth of biblical understanding and theological depth of all the people who I met. The church is obviously very caring, and a great place for folks to be mentored into greater spiritual maturity. My hosts, the Allmans, are from the Midwest, and the husband is from Ironton and a huge Buckeye fan, so we watched Troy Smith win the Heisman. I ate great bar-be-que (go to The Firehouse if you are ever in Johnson City... trust me) with the Halls (who are passionate about their church... gotta like that). If I had any complaint on the weekend its that the people from Mapquest have never been to Johnson City... maybe they could buy an atlas and clean some things up. But beyond that, all was well. Thank you all for such a warm welcome.

6) East Tennessee might be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I'd love to ride a bike through it someday.

7) Our youngest, Elijah, has the stomach flu, and that on the day of our BP Christmas Party at Belle Notte (that Uncle Frank.... he goes upscale). Bummer. Such is the life of parents. Aimee's taken the brunt of him not being able to keep anything down, so I need to stop and pick up her "Number One Mom" medal on the way home. I just don't do the stomach flu all that well... I'm a wuss.

8) There are blogs, then there are good blogs, and then there are great blogs... and then there's Tina Dietsch's blog (where I lifted the Charlie Brown clip late last night). Tina, who's the pastor of a congregation in suburban Columbus, and former associate pastor at Lima Trinity UMC (my home church), is an unbelievably gifted writer. Mom and Dad loved her preaching while she was at Trinity, and used to bring me her sermons.... which I must admit became reference material for sermons I've done myself. An Asbury grad who is a good friend of fellow BP, Alicia Coltzer, her new blog is funny, insightful, and full of theological insights for all willing to read. I love her stuff!

9) Speaking of Lima Trinity, received news via their newsletter that Grace UMC, the last UMC located in what would be the south-end of Lima, has formally requested a merger which would involve Grace's congregation going to Trinity and putting her building up for sale. Over the course of the last five years, that will make the third UMC that's closed its doors in the City of Lima: First UMC (which merged with Epworth UMC to from Family of Faith UMC), High Street UMC (which merged with Sharon Park UMC to form Westside UMC... High Streets old building, by the way, is packed to the gills with Pentecostals who purchased the building with the intent of moving from suburban Shawnee into the City, which I find interesting), and now Grace. That leaves now only Trinity, Family of Faith, St. Marks, and Forest Park in a city of more than 40,000 people.

I hear a lot of talk at the conference level about making a commitment to urban communities, but in Lima throughout my lifetime, all I've witnessed is a slow retreat from the city. While I applaud pastors like Dave Harris, Senior Pastor at Trinity, Derek Russell (Forest Park) for standing strong in the heart of the community, I wonder what it is about our denomination that no longer easily speaks with an urban accent? Historically, our movement flourished in England's urban communities among the working class... that was the greatest strength of Wesley's movement. Francis Asbury, the first American Episcopal Bishop, found Jesus in a Methodist context while apprenticing to become a button-maker, came from the gritty industrial city of Birmingham, and never had more than six years of formal education.

Has credentialing made it difficult for us reach more impoverished communities? Have the requiring of MDiv's robbed us of the momentum needed to seek out those who might never pursue a graduate degree?

Anyhow, say a prayer for our city-center churches. You can feel the load growing heavier on their shoulders.

Monday, December 11, 2006

One Thing I Think I Think.....

1) I think I'm drowning in work this week. A sermon for my preaching class tomorrow. One last assignment to complete that class due this Thursday. A huge, mondo theology paper I've already received one extension on that relates to my dissertation. A weekend spent in Johnson City, Tennessee doing an ethnography for my final anthropology project... and another sermon for worship this Sunday at Shawnee.


So please bear with me right now as I step back a little and try to avoid flunking out of school. I promise.

Thanks for a little bit of grace. I'll write more later today, or this week.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In the Pasture of the Lord

Went for a walk last night
A "Night Walk"
A great adventure for three boys
We bundled up, put Eli in the stroller
and into the night we went

We walked past Beeson Manor
We stopped and saw John Wesley
"I'm almost as tall as John Wesley, Dad!"
"Me too!"

We stopped to visit the SPOs
where the boys opened the doors
and Daddy got his mail

We stopped by the student center
where we saw Jesus carrying the lamb
Eli was amazed by the big Christmas tree
We ran through the gym
We saw flags from around the world

"Dad, Night Walks are the coolest things ever!"

We stopped by the big town Christmas tree
We stopped by the Dollar General to look at toys

We stopped by Fitch's IGA
Max got a Popsicle
Xavie got a push-up
Daddy and Eli spilt an ice cream sandwich
and we bought Mom some malted milk balls

The night was quiet
my boys were not
they marveled at the stars
they spotted spies on the tops of buildings
they raced down the sidewalk

and I stood in the pasture of the Lord
and the angels appeared before me
and they sang...

glory to God
Heaven is now with you
for the baby in the manger
is not only the Son of God
but the Son of Man

There, in the moonlight
pushing the stroller
Xavier singing John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt

I remembered God's covenant of peace
The noose slipped off my neck
and I breathed in sweet fresh air
mercy and grace filling my lungs
so I could exult with joy
that Jesus is Lord

For I had forgotten the words to the Hallelujah Chorus
The music somehow slipped my mind
Thank God for Night Walks
the sweet innocence of children
and angels singing

It was there
standing in the Lord's pasture with Handel
I heard their chorus
"And He will reign forever and ever"

and I remembered

Let me sing, Almighty God
Let me sing forevermore

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Pastor Backs Down...

For those who were unaware, a bit of drama has been unfolding in the city of Seattle over the past couple of weeks. Mark Driscoll (the anti-Rob Bell Jr.), founding pastor of Mars Hill Church, a huge mega-church that practices something called "Resurgence Missional Theology" landed in a bit of hot water when, in the course of sharing his thoughts about the the Ted Haggard situation, wrote this as a word to young pastors who he mentors through his "Acts 29 Network"...

"Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors’ wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity, which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband’s sin, but she may not be helping him either." (as posted on his blog, Resurgence)

First time I read that I thought... "Uh, did he just suggest that the blame for the Ted Haggard situation is Ted's wife for 'letting herself go'? I can't imagine too many people are going to agree with this."

Highly theological or well-developed my thoughts were not. But, like most things, I clicked off the blog, and went back to work. Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks later to find out that other people did not just "click off" or "move on".

Mark, who I call the anti-Rob Bell, partly because if you've ever heard Rob Bell speak you'll know how sensitive the guy is, and partly because Driscoll has openly ridiculed Bell for not upholding the kind of values he believes Christian men should uphold (i.e. not sensitivity). Thus, Driscoll is famous of deriding men for having become "chickified" and "limp wristed" and for women to accept traditional roles of child-rearing and staying-at-home. In a city as progressive as Seattle, his comments on gender roles, thanks to his blog and the fact that he wrote a column for the local newspapers, for years he's been an object of derision in Starbucks City's blogosphere. I'd link you some examples of this, but, quite frankly, many of them are quite profane (the blog responses, not Driscoll's original posts).

But nothing Driscoll has ever said about gender roles, women in ministry (very opposed), or anything else generated the heat as that quote I listed above. The response was quick and immediate. A group calling itself "People Against Fundamentalism" formed and asked for a formal meeting with Mark and his Elders to explain what they called the latest, and most offensive statement, in a series of what was now be termed "misogynistic" statements".

Uh oh... even Mark realized immediately that this was some kind of trouble he'd never experienced before. While he did offer a kind of quasi-apology on his blog, he never re-tracted his statement, nor did agree to any meeting. This led to PAF scheduling a protest outside of one of Mars Hills' worship campuses for December 3rd, demanding that the Seattle Time fire him as a columnist, and the Elders of Mars Hill release Mark as their Senior Pastor.

Pretty soon, the situation moved off of blog pages and into those of various local newspapers. PAF soon found itself being endorsed from a number of different quarters, and the Elders at Mars Hill wondered what it would be like for families taking their children to church past protesters picketing the worship service. In the meantime, women started coming forward with stories about how abused they had felt (not physically) while attending Mars Hill. Here's an account in a blog written by a female pastor who had met with many of these women, and her attempts to try and meet with Driscoll to talk about the situation:

With the day of the protest nearing, and this story gathering steam locally, my guess is that considerable pressure was placed on Driscoll, who I'm sure didn't want this kind of publicity either, to try and get this thing resolved. Finally, two days before the protest, Mark and some Elders sat down with a group assembled by PAF, and there he formally apologized, and promised to use different language to say what it was he was trying to say not only in his church, but also in the various venues where he has a voice. He also resigned from the Seattle Times, who was ready to remove him anyway. Apparently, one pastor, a female from the local Vineyard Church, an evangelical/Pentecostal-esque movement that emerged out of the Jesus Movement in the early seventies, made a particularly profound impression on Mark. Her name is Rose Madrid-Swetman. Here are her thoughts on this situation.

Anyhow, crisis averted, for now, but given Driscoll's record (just take a look at his blog... go back far enough and you'll find the "Born Against Christian" T-Shirt for sale) I get the sense that maybe this thing isn't over.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Hope your Christmas season is getting off to a good start. The Buchers just went Christmas crazy this weekend. First and foremost, today we bought a tree. It's six feet tall, embraces fiber optic technology, and is, by far, one of the cheapest trees I have bought in my life (although it'll be tough to top last year, when I payed $10 for a tree marked at $95 at The Andersons.... that's a coup for the ages). The Dollar General was having a sale on Christmas trees, and since we're leaving Wilmore on December 17th for the holidays, we decided that something small and easy to put up and away, was in order. Since all we had to do was take this baby out of the box, pull the wire limbs down to give it a little oomph, and plug it in, I'd say we found a winner. I get the feeling you'll see it on this post before it's all said and done... but you'll need to pay attention.

2) The other thing our family did to get into the spirit was head on into Wilmore for the Chamber of Commerce's annual Christmas bash. On this evening, we saw the Wilmore City Christmas tree light up, AND SO CAN YOU (just lay your monitor on it's side to avoid hurting your neck)....

Next we ate chili and peanut butter sandwiches at the Wilmore UMC while we listened to a Big Band play some tunes (which they felt needed to be amplified in a room that's not much bigger than a three-car garage... but, hey, if it's too loud, you're too old!). Then virtually every business in town opened their doors, and invited everyone in for an open house where they gave you free stuff (usually a cookie and spiced cider... although a doc in town gave away boxes of cereal! The boys had Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast), and in every single shop, there were local artists playing Christmas music (the best: a jam-band at the local mexican restaurant one of Beeson spouses named "No Way Jose's"). Lots of lights, big crowds, cold-but-not freezing weather.... we had a blast!

You should have seen Elijah's face. I put him in the baby backpack, and I don't think the look of wonder or a smile, came off his face all evening. Small town America at its very best! You'll see more of Wilmore later... if you pay close attention.

3) We were late to church this morning. Quest Community Church, our temporary church while we're away from Lima, is about a 25 minute drive from our townhouse. Unfortunately, after I lost track of time reading the newspaper and then having to scrape ice off the van, we ended up with only 15 minutes to get there.

But how many times in my life will I ever be permitted to be late to church? Ah, do I detect the sweet smell of grace..... yes! I believe I do!

We were so late, that we ended up going to V2, which is the church's in-house cafe where the 10:22am service is video simulcast. The place was packed so we sat on a loveseat (Aimee, Xavier - who didn't want to go to his class until I pointed out that if he did he'd get a snack, Eli, and myself). The sermon was nice, and gentle, and peaceful. After Xavier went for his snac... er, class, Eli fell asleep, and we nestled in for the service. For the record, I like sitting in a loveseat at church... and because it's too easy to fall asleep, we'll never introduce them at Shawnee.

Like I need more help putting people to sleep.

4) Speaking of Shawnee, tonight Joseph is meeting with a number of laypeople at the church to announce that as of July 1, 2007, I'll be taking over his Senior Pastoral role at Shawnee. While this has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of secret keeping, that still doesn't mean people won't be shocked. Dr. Bishman has been with the church since January 1991, which, if you know anything about the United Methodist Church, is about four-times the normal tenure for an appointed pastor to be anywhere. Needless to say, our family is excited for this opportunity (the story of how all this happened, I'll tell in a later post.... it's pretty interesting) which has been over two years in the making. We just feel beyond blessed, and thank God that Joseph, the Cabinet, and the Bishop were willing to give us this opportunity.

5) I wrote in an earlier blog post that when given the choice to follow a highly successful pastor in a church that's been growing, or follow a pastor that has not done well in a church that's almost empty, almost to the person, my Beeson Pastor colleagues opted for the church deep in the hole. And to be honest, I know why. It's easy to follow someone a congregation was either hostile or apathetic towards. If you just take care of your business, people will just be relieved that you aren't messing up, and then, once they know you mean business, will cut you a lot of slack to try new things.

In churches where things have been rolling, however, expectations are high, relationships that were strong have been broken resulting in lots of grieving, and in many cases the pastor who follows ends up failing simply by not being the person that s/he followed.

Don't think this the case? After analyzing (for my dissertation) all the appointments made in the last 15 years in the West Ohio Conference involving a church averaging 250 people in worship or more, in about 80% of the cases, the church either declined or held steady. And in about as many cases the succeeding pastor only lasted about three years.

This has become such an issue for the conference, that in the case of Shawnee, Bishop Ough has been willing to try this (at Joseph's suggestion) because, quite frankly, he's looking for a new way to do appointments.

So, am I more than a little uneasy about all of this? Yep
Am I going to run away because I'm afraid? 'Fraid not

6) Fifteen years ago when I was hired at Shawnee as a part-part-part-part time youth pastor, the church was not in very good shape. They had declined to the point where they were struggling to meet their bills, had told the Associate Pastor of that moment (for those who remember, Barry Burns - he of the lovely wife Julie and the two sets of twins... yeah, that's right, TWO sets of twins... can't stop laughing when I say that) that he would no longer be in the church's employ come that June, and generally wasn't reaching many people in the community.

Joseph, who at the time was about 42 and fresh off a good stint at a church in Williamsburg, was the perfect fit for the church, and community. Spirit-filled, entrepreneurial (he hired me with $4000 the church didn't really have), funny, a terrific preacher, and fearless leader, Joseph met the challenges of that age, head on. And for all the success, what many people forget were the large number of people who didn't like all the changes, got upset, and left. When they hired me (then a student at Miami University) I actually lived in Oxford (127.5 miles) and only showed up on Sundays to help lead children's church in the morning and youth group in the evening... so, to be honest, much of carnage just kind of flew over my head. However, given my "unrefined personality" at the time, I was one of the changes not appreciated by more than a few people.... and that carnage I remember.

I remember the day Joseph got stopped by yet another older member of the church to complain about my, um, "unconventional ways" (I drug kids in with guitars to play on Sunday morning, dressed like a guy on a $4000 salary, and generally broke every taboo imaginable). "I don't like that Bryan" she told him. "I don't know why we keep him around here."

"Well Aunt Lucy", Joseph said, "that's OK. We didn't bring him here for you. The kids and their parents love him, so he stays."

Having lived through a few nightmares of my own, now I know.... that was gutsy.

But, the church has grown by almost 3 times it's size (attendance-wise). During that time, serving other people, particularly the poor, became one of its hallmarks. In a day and age where all the gurus pressured pastors who wanted to grow a church to get "more conservative", the church stuck to its guns... taking the phrase, "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" seriously, by staying in the center where the door can be held open the widest for all people looking for Jesus. And, most importantly, lots of folks found Christ over all these years. I remember baptizing whole families, folks who hadn't darkened the door of any church in quite sometime (or ever), and just generally being amazed at how many folks were able to get some things straightened out in their lives.

So, again, why not run? Well, my blood, sweat and tears are in this place. I've poured thousands of hours of prayer into her people. I feel resonsible for what happens to her. I'm proud of what Shawnee has become, and when God asked me if I'd be willing to pay the price to lead the faithful on who have been force for the Kingdom of Heaven on the corner of Zurmehly and Shawnee sinc the early 19th century, I couldn't think of a better way to honor his request than by saying "yes". I love the people. I love what they want to do. I love what they want, and what they want their kids, to become. I love what Jesus has done with them, and want to stick around to see what he does next.

Besides... I always said back in the day when the UMC would never have dreamed of doing some thing like this, "God bless the sucker who follows Joseph Bishman at Shawnee UMC".

You know what - I can safely say, that prayer has already been answered, with abundance.

7) Looks like it'll be the Gators and the Bucks in Glendale. I have no fear or qualms. Let the games begin!

8) As of today, I will not write another word about the Jeff Greenway situation. Now that we're officially colleagues (his new church, Reynoldsburg UMC in suburban Columbus) in the same UM Conference, I just don't feel it's proper. I've always tried to write impartially, and from the perspective of outsider looking for leadership lessons in what we BP's have turned into a case study on leadership.... but now, I just think it'd be too hard to be perceived as impartial, one way or the other, and that's a real problem now that Bishops and DS's are invovled... so I'm out. If you're here looking for info, I'd like to gracefully ask you to look elsewhere, and invite you to pray with me that someday, some sort of reconciliation can take place between Jeff and the school.

And, Pastor Greenway, if you're reading this, I look forward to seeing you at conference next year at Lakeside. Take my advise... get your housing now (it always goes fast) and do your best to stay in Lakeside proper. It's a lovely place the whole family would love. Let me know, and up there I'd be happy to buy you a cup of coffee some morning at "The Patio". Welcome to West Ohio!

9) Pray for me. Next Sunday I'll be visiting a church connected to one of my Beeson Pastor colleagues for the purpose of writing my final anthropology paper. It'll involve a lot of travel in a short period of time in the mountains during December, which can always be dicey. I kinda have to stay undercover, so I can't say a whole lot more without complicating the assignment further. An extra moment to whisper some good thing on my behalf to the Lord would be appreciated.

10) It's no secret, even if you've followed this half-heartedly, that I like YouTube. It's one of the few links to the outside world I've had since moving down here in July. We don't have cable, so, for example, if a pastor from a mega-church makes a statement about a so-called scandal involving all sorts of unseemly things, what you watched on 24 hour cable news, I watched on YouTube. It's a place to see sports highlights, old SNL skits (I stopped watching before Will Farrell found his voice, so I'm catching up a little), and some of the weirdist things you'll ever see on the internet.

But, until today, I've always been one who exclusively downloaded things from YouTube, leaving uploading to other souls braver or less busy, than I.

That is, until today!

Before I left for Chicago for Willow's "Leadership Summit", Aimee and I bit the bullet and bought a digital camera that could take both stills and video. It's a weird little Chinese gadget I bought indirectly through that has always worked kind of, well, strangely. But, over time I've started to get the hang of it, and since Aaron Wymer beat me to the punch by posting the first BP produced video to YouTube over thanksgiving (the link to this blog is on the left column under, "go surfing"), I felt the time to keep up with the Wymer's was at hand.

Besides, he's a Florida grad... I can't be outdone by a Gator grad!

So, without further ado, for your viewing pleasure, my YouTube debut. Please pardon the video quality... it looks a lot better before it's compressed. The theme is "Christmas in Wilmore", but it's really just an excuse to put up video of the kids for family (particularly the grandparents.... and The Great One if she'd switch to a full computer) and friends at home. I hope you enjoy it, and that it gets you into the Christmas spirit.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Florida or Michigan?

(With apologizes to Juliet in London.... another American football post. I probably should owe her a pint for every football post that's up between now and the National Championship, but then I'd probably have to rob a bank or sell so much plasma that I'd be perpetually woozy. So, it'll have to be 1/6 a pint for each post... that way I can still buy my kids milk.)

Well, now that USC has crapped all over themselves, I've come to the conclusion that teams on the west coast and Nitre Dame are just really that bad. It can't be for lack of talent.. I mean if you're recruiting in California, or if you have your choice of top picks across the country while the academic provost for the first time in school history will bend the rules to admit your recruits (something that was never done for Ty Willingham), you have to wonder what gives. At least USC has an excuse.. they lost a quarterback and the two top running backs who anchored their offense last year, so I guess you have to give them a pass... maybe even kudos for playing way above themselves all season. But the rest of west coast.... let's face it, Boise State is the cream of the crop, and they just barely survived San Jose State two weeks ago.

Arizona, UCLA, Washington, Colorado, Stanford, Arizona State... where the heck have you guys gone?

And as for Notre Dame.... well, I've heard how fantastic Charlie Weis is, how well prepared the team is under his expert coaching, and how he's the future of football from various football announcers, ND fans, and even blog devotees so many times, that I feel obligated to point out three simple facts about the Charlie Weis era....

- The Patriots seem fine without Weis. They'll be in the playoff hunt again, and it's been two years AND they don't even have a decent receiver on the team. This should make you nervous.
- Last I heard you had to be able to stop somebody in football if you wanted to win games, and Weis just dosen't seem to have the same passion for defense that he does on offense. He's like a modern college version of Don Coryell, and Brady Quinn is Dan Foust. Until he gives two-cents about the time the QB is off the field, ND is going to have problems. is saying as much, even as we speak, which bodes for stormy days ahead. Why anyone would want to coach in South Bend, given the pressure, is totally beyond me.
- Outside the comeback win over Michigan State, which I predicted would happen on Aaron Wymer's couch at the beginning of the 4th quarter (it was a hallmark of the John L. Smith era, which is why he'll be announcing games for the Louisville Cardinal Radio Network next season), ND still has no defining win in the Charlie Weis era. All the "must win" games (last year to USC and OSU, and this year to Michigan and USC), his team got outplayed... which in the days of Woody, Bo, and The Bear would have meant you got outcoached, cause they would have said they got outcoached. I'm telling you, next year he's playing with all players he recruited, and if the defining win doesn't come soon, ND fans will be running out of excuses.

But that's not why I blogged tonight... I want to address the question, "Now that USC is officially headed to the Rose Bowl, who plays OSU in the BCS Championship Game in January? Florida or Michigan?

Well, the truth be told, my belief is that we ought to see the Gators in Glendale... and here are the three reason why?

1) Michigan got their shot. They had their chance. Besides, two fumbled snaps, which aren't exactly products of fine defensive play, kept that game closer than it should have been. Giving Jim Tressel weeks to prepare for a team guarantees the team will be prepared. Giving Jim Tressel weeks to prepare for a team he's already faced, pretty much guarantees a not so close game. But apart from that, in honor of Woody and Bo, let's honor the tradition of The Game, and state unequivocally that when you win or lose, you win or lose it all. And, yes, I would feel the same way if the Buckeyes had lost that game. The mystique of The Game is that it is winner take all. We've destroyed so many other traditions in college football in the name of money, I just don't think most OSU and Michigan fans would have it any other way.

2) Nobody really believes that Florida is better than Michigan, except for a few wags in Gainesville. They run this bizarre two quarterback thing where the one guy who can actually pass moves the ball, and the other guy who should be a tight-end cause he's so large, runs up the middle for touchdowns. They've won consistently (save one game) but they always seem to play to the level of their opponent (which is why they lost the game that they did) which is why you just feel underwhelmed everytime your watch them play. But, I remember back in 2002 that another team, who ended the regular season undefeated after barely beating among others, Cincinnati (one touchdown pass dropped at the end of the game... that's how close it was), Purdue (Dad and I were there... Krenzel to Jenkins on 4th and 2, and a Boilermaker kicker who missed three field goals that day), and Illinois (in OT) ended up playing for a National Championship. None of the so-called experts gave them a chance against Miami that year...

and yet the 2002 National Champions Football travel mug in my kitchen is a constant reminder that the important thing is to win when you have to. Florida won when it had to, all season long. They deserve their shot.

3) If you had spent all year among a bunch of SEC football fans, jawing about how terrible their teams looked, openly mocking them when they talked about how much better the SEC is than everyone else, and generally making a boorish punk out of yourself all for the purpose of baiting them into replying... why wouldn't you rather see an SEC team in this game? For the next five weeks the SEC BP fans will secretly think that this is the ultimate revenge for all my trash-talk (things like "Are those Auburn lineman wearing high heels?" and "Well, at least Georgia's basketball program is superior to Kentuc... oh wait, scratch that.") and so they'll be humble on the outside, but on the night of the big game which I imagine we'll be watching together somewhere in Houston, they'll expect that their time will have arrived. Who wouldn't enjoy all of that drama?

oh, and lest I forget...

In August, Nolan Donald, a BP who graduated from Auburn, made it a point on his blog and in person to note how lonely I'd be this year because when it came down to it, because of our backgrounds, only SEC football would matter this year here on the Beeson commune... and that was when OSU was the pre-season consensus to win the whole shebang. I mean it still boggles my mind that any college football fan anywhere could utter something like this... but then again, I never knew how arrogant SEC fans really were.

(I want to make it clear that for the most part, I'm not talking about my colleagues, but rather the local paper, blogs they've connected with me with about various SEC school, various articles published in various places. Growing up in Lima on playgrounds hooping it up, I've always enjoyed trash-talking. When everyone is loose and having a good time, you're busting one another's chops. That's just the way it is. I tried to bait my colleagues into doing this all season, but either their too Christian/proper to do so, or the Bucks were too overwhelming for anyone to open their mouths. Thus, my biggest disappointment this season: not getting ripped back. Thus, unfortunately, my colleagues, for the most part, were perfectly respectful all year... although Gordon Griffin's take on how Florida could beat OSU a couple of weeks ago was particularly amusing... now if only he had insulted my momma, we'd have had something.)

Weeks of hearing how Iowa or Penn State couldn't hold LSU or Arkansas' candle, and whining about how an SEC school will never win another National Championship cause it's too tough top to bottom kind of leads me to believe that if OSU beats Michigan again... even if it's the true match-up of the best two teams in the country, there will be a bunch of cry-baby SEC fans who never had to fess up to the truth that this year was never their year.

That's why Florida needs to play in this thing. Because the only team we've been talking about consistently, all of us, all season, hails from Columbus and that team has had the last word against the Big Twelve (blasting Texas), the Big Ten (by beating Michigan), and the Pac Ten (vicariously through Michigan stomping ND). Since the ACC and Big East kind of shot themselves in their own feet, there's only one conference left to conquer, and prove to everyone, everywhere, that when it came to college football this year, it mattered, everywhere.

Do that, and you can say that you've truly crowned a National Champion.