1) I think that once again, I am under the academic gun. Two papers and rough drafts of the first two chapters of my dissertation need to be done this week. The end is drawing near which is at both a relief, and yet, and not a relief as I don't think I'll have much time for resting when I start back at Shawnee in May. You know what they say... no rest for the pastor simultaneously in a succession process and doctoral program!
Or maybe it's just "no rest for the wicked". I'm sure some of you are asking, "What's the difference?"
2) My Uncle Dennis (my Dad's older brother) has been diagnosed with prostrate cancer. He's the member of the family that was smart, and moved from Northwest Ohio to settle down in Southern California. I hope to see he, his lovely wife Sandy, and my fun-to-be-with cousins sometime in March (I'll be visiting a church out there for my dissertation). The prognosis for him is good, but your prayers for him would be appreciated.
3) And while we're on the subject of uncles, I don't think I've ever written about it here, but one of my Dad's other brothers, Kenny Bucher, is looking to finish up a stretch in the federal pen for drug trafficking later this year. Kenny is the, uh, "colorful" member of the family. I'm sure his life hasn't been squeeky clean (obviously), but this time his association with a certain motorcycle gang (he's been an "Outlaw" since the sixties) ended up getting him into a fair amount of trouble. As part of the investigation of the gang, (who was prosecuted under the RICO statute which my brother, the lawyer to be, said was a gross misinterpretation of the statute itself), a good many members of this "motorcycle club" were arrested in the hope that they'd roll on some folks that were higher up in the organization. Kenny refused to flip, so now he's doing time. As the day approaches that his debt to society is paid up, and he's allowed to go free, a prayer that maybe the rest of his life is lived maybe a little less "colorfully" would be nice.
My favorite Uncle Kenny story (and there are a lot of them) is one that came out of my experience at Shawnee. I used to live in an old house that was next door to the church (until they tore it down last summer), and every so often Kenny would stop by (usually at dinner time) to see how were doing. By no means were these visits on a regular schedule, and if you didn't know him, riding up on his motorcycle in his leathers, long hair and beard flared out everywhere (he's never worn a helmet), a metal hook where a hand usually is (he lost it in an industrial accident years ago), he'd probably make you nervous. Anyhow, not long after we moved, the youth pastor hired to replace me, who now lived in that house, called me at my new home in Toledo:
"Um... Bryan? It's Mark. We have a little problem down here."
"Oh really? How can I help?"
"Well, do you have an uncle who looks a little....... interesting?"
"(without pausing, knowing exactly who he means) Oh yeah. My Uncle Kenny. He's pretty interesting."
"That's him. Well, could you talk to him? He's here, and he's worried we did something to you. I don't think he'll leave until he knows you're OK."
"(suppressing great laughter) Well, probably if you just fed him dinner, he'd leave, but sure, put him on the phone."
I'm sure that particular youth pastor, who grew up living on a Christian campground in the rural south, got an education that day. That and I learned that my Uncle Kenny had my back. Remember that before you try to make my life miserable.
(Just kidding! Remember... I want him to stay OUT of trouble, so relax.)
4) So now OSU is going to be #1 in the country. Didn't we just do this? As I remember, it did not turn out well. Couldn't the Bucks just sneak up on everyone this time, instead of being one of the favorites going into the tournament? Especially since nobody seems to want to throw Oden the ball (just read he's averaging 9 touches a game, while the team is launching 24 attempts from 3-land... yikes!).
And what was with that score? 49-48? I'm glad they beat Wisconsin - I really am - but what year is this? Did someone run the stall the entire second half? Did Shooter tell the team to run the "picket fence" to win the game? Were they playing by "ones"?
Just another reason I'll never understand why people prefer college over pro basketball.
That being said... Go Bucks. Restore the pride, boys!
5) On another note, I just read that the NHL All-Star game, which was on some channel called "Versus", finished in the ratings behind, among other things, a repeat of the Andy Griffith Show, one of the shows on the Home Channel where they fix up a house, and reruns of celebrity poker.
I know you love it Eric, but isn't Hockey in a little trouble? Is it time to send Bettman packing, and start over? I don't know any other hockey fans (except Neil Whitney), so you gotta explain this to me...... how can the All-Star Game lose to celebrity poker?
Check that.... a RERUN of celebrity poker? I know you're busy saving lives and all, but help a brother out. Inquiring minds want to know.
6) Since Aimee and the boys were in Lima this weekend while I was here trying to get too much work done in too little time, I slipped out this morning over to the Waffle House to get a waffle, some eggs, and hash browns (smothered, covered, and peppered). I don't know how often (or ever) you go to the Waffle House alone, but it is an interesting study in a particular sub-culture of America... especially here in Kentucky.
Since I was alone, I sat at the counter, and since I "left" my book back at the study carrel, I spent my time watching the help prepare food, heckle the customers, clear tables, and generally keep the place running. Listening to all the servers talk, I'm convinced that they are the most overstressed bunch of people in the world. The place is almost always busy, so they never stop while they're on the clock. I heard three of them say they had just worked all night, and now were going home to watch their sister's/friend's kids. There were tales of woe... relationships gone bad, kids in trouble, medical issues. It's the kind of place where country music is playing, and all the people working are singing the words coming out of the loudspeaker... especially the sad songs (no lie).
And yet, on the counter next me was this big bucket, with a homemade sign on the front, asking for donations to help a fellow server who had fallen, hurt her back, and now was going to be off work for a month. Every person who came to pay was told the story, and on more than one occasion, I saw tip money end up in that bucket. Virtually everyone leaving threw in a couple of bucks, except for one guy who looked a lot like Larry the Cable Guy. I'm guessing he's a regular, as the ladies teased him mercilessly all morning. He tossed a twenty in the bucket as he headed out the door to his rig.
All this to say that there are a lot of working poor in this country, they're one illness or injury or blown transmission away from financial ruin, and they'll give the shirt off their backs to someone in need. It is, quite honestly, heartbreaking and inspiring all at the same time. If it weren't for the vast network of family and friends helping one another in this nation of ours, there'd be anarchy. It is a "love your neighbor" value at the heart of the ethos of what it means to be a Christian and American that preserves our liberty. We should teach this to our children, and protect the sanctity of this idea of mutuality, at all costs.
That's why I paid for my breakfast with a debit card, and threw my cash in the bucket. Aimee can take it out of my spending money for next month. It was well worth it.
7) Am skipping a Beeson Pastor trip next week to Montgomery, Alabama to see Frazier Memorial United Methodist Church... one of our denomination's largest congregations. For whatever reason, the director of the program made it optional, and I actually went to Frazier years ago at the request of my former boss, Dick Lyndon. I'd have probably gone again, but with some major deadlines looming, and trips to LA, Tuscon, Wethersfield (Connecticut), Atlanta, northern Florida, and Seoul in the offing, I thought it better to stay close to home. Besides, they're traveling to Montgomery in a fifteen passenger van.... that's 10-12 hours hunkered down in a backseat. Ugh.
I'll miss my Beeson peeps. They'll be in my prayers.
8) Received some nice emails this past week from former youth groupites, telling me what a positive influence I was in their lives, and how it was instrumental in the development of their faith. That's the thing about MySpace and Facebook... you end up getting discovered by kids who know how to navigate those digital seas. Funny thing... in every email, and my subsequent questioning, none of the kids could remember much, if anything, that I had said or taught in a lesson, but they could all remember something I did for them, or a personal word I said to them (usually in a time of crisis). It was in those moments Christ became real to them.
Which leads me to this.... I don't think when it comes to youth ministry, in particular, that it's the teaching or upfront speaking that's critical to a youth pastor's success. I leaned this late in ministry, and put the idea to work in Goshen, where I taught very, very little (if at all). Instead, I just set the table for the adult volunteer small group leaders, who over material (discussion questions and active learning experiences, mostly) provided by me, did the teaching, listening, explaining, and in the end, praying. It was over the years that as I learned that my influence and "centrality" to the youth ministry experience had to diminish, while other faithful saints were lifted up, that I became more efficient and effective. It's a telling statement that the person who replaced me at Goshen, replaced the 20 minute praise time and the 30-40 minute small group time, with one song and 45 minutes of his preaching, and was gone before a year was up. I didn't teach 40 minutes in total maybe over three years, and yet in those same three years my volunteering as the ski club adviser at Goshen Middle School ended up resulting in dozens of conversions.
Strange, but true.
Now, I must figure out how, in the context of a large church where I am the Senior Pastor and the sermon is so central to the weekly life of the church, how this lesson of "diminishing" I've learned can be applied. They say a great sermon can cover a multitude of sins, and after a year of looking at huge churches, it would be hard to argue against this. The church that emerged out of the Reformation, by virtue of the fact that liturgy became secondary and the importance of the sacramental life was diminished, made preaching on scripture central to the life of the community. For Protestants, that's really never changed. But really, what do people remember, what truly touches them, and ends up changing lives? I'll be pondering this aplenty over the next three months.
9) I'm reading "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard, again for my preaching class. What a classic!
10) And finally, word from home is that maybe in the next week or so Joseph, my Senior Pastor, will know what he'll be doing next in ministry. I think something good is probably on the table, but as I've learned in this system, the appointment ain't made until you're moving into the parsonage. Hopefully it will all come together very soon. Pray for him and for the Cabinet, as they look toward the future.
Also too, congrats to "The Thief" a fellow blogger and UM-pastor who adopted with his wife, young Andrew this week, and to a former intern, Shannon, who, in a civil ceremony, was united in the eyes of the state with the love of her life on Friday. Cheers to you both!