Friday, March 30, 2007

Live From Korea

What can I say? Two days ago I walked Kentucky soil, and now after literally an entire day in planes, trains, and automobiles and another overwhelmed in a culture that’s just pretty unbelievable, I type this laying down in a bed at a retreat center just outside of Seoul, South Korea. In another twist in this amazing year, I and the other domestic and international Beeson Pastors are being hosted by the largest Methodist church in the world, Kwanglim Methodist Church, who’s senior pastor is Chung Sook Kim, a former Beeson Pastor himself.

The day of travel to get over here was brutal. We left at 6am Wednesday morning from Wilmore, and we arrived 25 hours later (2 hours at the airport in Lexington, 1 hour flight to Atlanta, 4 hour layover in Atlanta, 15 hours on a plant to Seoul, 1 hour getting processed through customs in Seoul, 2 hours on a bus to the retreat center. Unable to sleep on the plane, I watched six movies (Little Children, Man of the Year, Black Diamond, The Holiday, It’s a Wonderful Life, and another movie I quite can’t remember) on the interactive entertainment system on the plane.

I rode next to a woman coming to visit her husband who is a serviceman who works on Apache helicopters up at the DMZ. In the six years they’ve been married, after one stint in Afghanistan and almost 2 more years in Korea, they have only lived together about 2 years and seven months. When he left the states, his youngest child was three months old. Now, he’s 25 months. His father has watched him grow up largely on a webcam. The woman said that he’ll be coming home in June, will be home two months, will go to Virginia for 90 days of additional training, and will immediately ship out for another 18 month stint in Iraq. This was her fourth, and final, trip to Korea to see her husband. All this to say that some people in this world make great sacrifices either for a cause, to make a decent living, or both. Anyhow, say a prayer for those who serve in the armed forces, and their families.

For a number of years Beeson Pastors have been coming to Korea largely because the former pastor of Kwanglim Methodist, Bishop Kim (Chung Sook’s dad) believes in the school. Currently there are 40 people from his church studying at ATS working on Masters or Doctoral degrees. Because he, and now his son, believe so fervently in the school, they host the BP’s by putting them up in their retreat centers (the church owns two) as a means of helping us learn something about Korean culture, and a thing or two about leadership…. which they know a thing or two about since their church numbers 35,000 members.

To learn about culture, today we went to the Seoul Girls Commercial High School, a huge school that teaches girls how to make it in the highly competitive business.

Though its eighty years old, in 1991 Bishop Kim volunteered the church’s resources to help turn the school into a Christian institution. Now the girls go to chapel, take Bible classes, and participate in a number of clubs (dance teams, choirs, and the like) that enable worship to take place at the school. Thus, while there, we got to hear a couple of the choirs sing, and see a dance team dance (videos to come later) in the context of a worship setting. But we also toured their state-of-the-art “internet business” room, experienced traditional Korean dress and the art of bowing in the equivalent of the school’s Home Economics class room, and painted our own Korean characters (with much coaching from the girls, like this nice young lady pictured here). For lunch, they fed us (I am not making this up) Kentucky Fried Chicken (cause we came from Kentucky… they must think we eat it every day). Here's the student who helped me make those fabulous Korean characters you now see.

The things I’ll remember most about the experience at the school was how polite and mannerly all of those teenage girls were.

I mean, maybe we just got to see the good kids, but the girls were incredibly kind and respectful to a degree, which frankly, you don’t see much out of American teenagers. Makes me wonder what the hyper-individualism we champion in the United States might be costing us in the way of a more civil and cooperative society. I mean the downside of freedom is that people are free act virtually anyway they please…. even as jerks. How much better off would we be if the elderly were praised for their wisdom and experience, and young people believed that adults had information they needed to make a better future for themselves, and thus should be given attention and honor? I can tell you first hand…. it’s in many ways a lot more pleasant.

Next we went to Kwanglim Methodist Church, where we went in groups of twos and threes with associate pastors in the church to a couple of their “home worship services”. The Home Worship Service is a once a year occasion where an associate pastor, Pastor Jo

(and an assistant of the opposite sex) comes to your home, and leads you in your own worship service. He takes prayer requests from the person or family being visited, talks through these issues with them, takes a special offering, leads some singing, gives a sermon, answers questions about that sermon, and then wraps up the service with prayer. Then the member who is visited brings out some food (some we recognized, but much of which we didn’t) and there is a short time of fellowship.

Just for the record, there are 11 associate pastors who pastor one district all their own. It’s their job to visit all of the members in their district at least once a year, which in order to pull off requires the pastor to make a minimum of 40 home visits a week. Since the associates help lead the daily prayer services at the church (at 5am and 6am every day Tuesday through Saturday), make phones calls to inactive members on Saturday night to invite them to church, and do some teaching in various studies and retreats they work a plenty. For example, our pastor, Jo, works from 5am to 7 or 8pm six days a week (that’s a minimum of a 70 hour work week). It is not an easy job, but it is incredibly important. Looking at Jo’s print out on each both families we visited today, I doubt if any pastors at any of the churches in the United States know more about what’s going among their church members than do the associates at 35,000-member Kwanglim, one of which was this young nine year old girl named Julie, shown here posing with Aaron.

Pastor Jo is a fantastic pastor. His district is located in the neighborhood where the church is located (hence, we were able to walk on a beautiful sunny day). He stopped in at all the business we passed to stop and say hello to a member of his flock who happened to work there. He keeps up with each family in his district so that when he gives his sermon at the home visit, it’s tailored to that family’s needs (think about… that’s 2000 sermons to write, every year). He believes in prayer, dedicating not only much of the visit, but much of his life (two hours a day) to praying for others, and to be directed by God. On our way back to the church, we stopped by a playground to meet his daughter (age 8) and his wife, who is expecting his second child very soon. He intentionally took us there so we (the Beeson Pastor who were with them, Aaron Wymer and I) could pray for his family and in particular, his unborn child.

How cool was it to get to do that?

Anyhow, when we went to do our first visit, he knew the woman, who had converted from Buddhism 20 years ago, we were visiting had a husband (a basketball coach at a local university) who didn’t believe in God. We knew at the second home we visited that the woman there had a nine year old daughter, and husband struggling in his business. And prayed for both people like the whole world rested on his words. I couldn't understand a word he said… but his passion was infectious.

Couple that with getting to pray for people who live halfway around the world in their living room, and saying the Lord’s Prayer in English while others prayed it in Korean, and you could not beat this experience.

We then spent an our with senior pastor Chung Sook Kim, who talked a lot about what it was like to follow his father, who pastored Kwanglim for thirty years, which was the time period the church grew into the behemoth it is today. Coupled with the challenge of following a legend (something I can sympathize with), Kim is now pastoring in a city where younger generations are rapidly becoming increasingly secularized. The influence of western culture and consumerism in this shift is unmistakable. Tonight, for example, for our first dinner in Korea, Pastor Kim treated us for a meal at Bennigans (yep… you just read that right. Bennigans).He explained that while he preferred Korean food, the restaurant has become one of the most popular for young people in Seoul because of the western atmosphere and food. Hence my eating chicken fajitas tonight for dinner. Since less than 20% of people under the age of 30 consider themselves to be Christian, and are looking more toward being non-religious, the old forms and practices (many like the Home Worship Service) which made the church huge, are now no longer effective. You can imagine how difficult this is for Chung Sook, who must live with in the shadow of a legend, and face the kind of carping a pastor faces when things are altered or changed. I enjoyed hit talking about the experience, and how slowly he’s trying to point the church in a new direction.

Tomorrow we head up to the DMZ, where this trusty blogger will spend some time praying for peace, not just here on the Korean peninsula, but throughout the world. I'll try to make an update tomorrow night (or day, or whatever it is).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Well, my Chapter 3 of the dissertation is about done, my Chapter 2 is getting worked over, and my dissertation proposal hearing is scheduled for May 7th. I'm also nailing down some site visits to get my research started for Chapters 4 and 5. I'm down to three final projects (to end three classes) and two sermons (for our preaching class), and my year of intense Beeson study is finished. Well, all that a trip to Korea (we leave early, early on Wednesday - 20+ hours in planes and airports, which is about as appealing as a trip to the dentist), and we're done. I can't believe how quickly the year has gone.

2) A few more updates on where my comrades. Matt Scholl has officially left the "dark side" (one of the Indiana conferences... which will be culled down to one come 2008. How long will it be until we do the same in Ohio?) and will be joining the West Ohio Annual Conference this June. He will be the senior pastor at Aley UMC, which is in suburban Dayton (near Wright-Patterson). Jim Martin will most likely be starting a new church in the Houston area (Katy, Texas) through the North Texas annual conference (pending a couple of final details). Scott Layer has been named an associate pastor at Morristown (Tennessee) United Methodist Church in charge of discipleship and a contemporary worship service that is feeling its way forward.

Still waiting final word on where they are going include Nolan Donald (Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference), Alicia Coltzer (North Texas Annual Conference), and carrel-mate Gordon Griffin, who did kind of an exploratory visit at a Christian Church (ICC) in southern Georgia this weekend. Come the end of May, Wilmore (save Kent Reynolds, who'll be joining the Beeson Center as its "Pastor in Residence") will be the place we'll be from.

3) Yesterday was Xavier's fifth birthday, and all those in town stopped by for cake and ice cream. Earlier that afternoon, the slip-and-slide our dog Lucy gave he and Max as a "come home soon gift" (animals in Aimee's family give gifts.... just another thing you don't realize before you ask someone for their hand in marriage) provided hours of entertainment for the Beeson kids. It was a beautiful day (clear, sunny, and in the 80's). It was, though, a reminder that the friendships we've made will become "long-distance" friendship very, very soon. I don't harbor any illusions that we'll all be best buds as the years go by. You sit in these carrels long enough, meeting Beeson Pastors from years past who have come back to finish their dissertation, talk about how they haven't talked to or seen their classmates since they left, and you realize that's probably your fate also.

Outside of Matt, who'll I'll probably have a cup of coffee with at Annual Conference each year, I'm guessing that the probably that I'll ever see all these people again, post-May 2007, is not high. I mean, we talk about reunions where we can see how big one another's kids are, and we have tools like the Internet, but really when it comes right down to it, when something ends, new things begin. The energy it takes to recapture/connect with those from the past usually gets spent on the relationships you're trying to maintain in the moment. And so the past becomes the past, and you realize that really only in heaven will the depth of that era be reclaimed... which is both a good and melancholy thought. Thus, as these days pass, quickly, I will treasure the community we have enjoyed these eleven months, and then pack into my box of treasured memories I will take with me until either my time on this earth is finished, or my mind goes... whichever comes first.

All that being said, though, I hope we all do get a chance to see each other at least one more time, somewhere down the road. We just can't wait too long, though, or (chuckling) we'll have to meet at Kent's assisted-living facility.

4) A big "thank you" to all praying for my Uncle Fred last week. While he did end up losing the lower lobe of his left lung to lung cancer, the tests on the lymph nodes proved negative, so we doesn't have to do any chemo in terms of post-op follow-up.... which is huge. Considering we lost both my great-grandfather and grandfather to lung cancer, we are all very thankful that this situation was caught early. Please keep him and his family, particularly their daughter (and my cousin) Katie, in your prayers, as they move past this scare and on to new challenges.

5) How much of a beating does a pastor have to take from church members? Particularly if the changes resulting from his or her leadership are resulting in a more positive future?

That's the question two different friends of mine called to ask last week (as they get pounded), and I can't say that I really have any answers. Despite all the gains we made while I was in Goshen through the efforts of the church's planting a second-campus (The Life Center), I watched as a small group of people literally harassed the senior pastor to his grave. Not that they caused his death, but they certainly didn't enrich his life despite the fact the church's ministry was reaching all kinds of people who needed Jesus it couldn't have dreamed of reaching before Dick's dream of that second-campus became a reality. I remember too the criticism Joseph took during my first run (v1.0) at Shawnee, back in the early days when new worship services and outreach events were scheduled and all the pastors getting beaten during my time as consultant in the IGRAC and on staff at Goshen First. Many more pastors than just my two friends are looking for answers to these questions.

This problem is so epidemic, thanks to what I believe to be a post-modern/modern split within congregations (that often, but not necessarily, run via generational lines), that two of the biggest names in the post-modern church, Steve Chalke and Brian McLaren, are organizing a foundation to support effective pastors who are expelled from congregations. They've just, like me, heard so many horror stories of pastors dispatched or used up in situations where the cost of change proved to be too high, that now they don't expect local congregations or denominations to take care of this problem.... which is unbelievable, and yet, probably true.

Here's the thing.... I'm not meeting many young pastors, or good pastors with experience, who are expressing a desire to serve in existing mainline denominational churches, simply because they know that if they attempt to adjust the culture of that church they'll take a barrage of constant criticism from what is usually a fairly small portion of the congregation in the process. Considering the pay most pastors receive, and the effect of this criticism on their family, they have decided the conventional route isn't for them. They know that church members who are already somewhere are usually happy with what they have, so to alter worship style, or budgetary priorities, or the church plant, or program, or all the above simply invokes on the part of those who feel like they need to protect "what is", a hostile response. Hence the rise of new churches all over the country. Even the United Methodist Church is throwing in the towel on this issue as conferences are planting new churches at a record pace. Why spend the energy trying to change attitudes, when you spend it reaching out to new people?

But here's the thing I wonder.... where is lay-leadership during those moments a pastor is getting vilified? In existing mainline denominational churches, the ethos of church leadership standing up to those who, with little or no merit, continue to criticize or complain is almost non-existent. The fear mainly of losing income creates a situation where lay leaders simply hope the situation will go away, or devise plans to try and diffuse the anger usually through informal one-on-one visits or in open forums of discussion. But rarely is a lay-leadership body willing to say to somebody, "This is the way we're going. Sorry if you feel differently, but your attitude and behavior are just unacceptable." And I'm not talking about ex-communication or giving a pastor a license to act like an idiot. I'm just saying that in situations where obviously a shift that's truly good (not necessarily accepted by everyone universally, but good all the same) for the church has been made and now things are starting to change for the better, lay-leadership bodies stepping up to the plate to say "We've got to deal with the naysayers to keep the momentum going forward" has to happen. This, as opposed to dumping the situation in the pastor's lap, or letting it linger so as to zap the strength or momentum of the church and it's leader, is really what's best for that particular church, and ultimately the Kingdom.

Or maybe, most of these kinds of churches, who just want to live in some sort of past that is unlikely to be recaptured ever again, need to close so God can do something new. This prospect seems to be the more likely one as more churches close or dwindle to nothing, each and every year.

In any case, too many good friends of mine doing good ministry, where most folks are enthusiastic about the changes, are taking it on the chin for being faithful from the very people they ought to be joyously living Christian life with, and I don't think they'll take it much longer. How does this make sense?

6) Can Greg Oden and the Buckeyes get past Georgetown to win the national championship? I don't know. The center for Georgetown (Hibbard) is a more polished (if less physically talented) form of Greg Oden, and the Bucks don't match up size wise very well with the Hoyas. That being said, though, the Buckeyes are loaded for bear. Their talent pool, particularly in the guard category, is deep as can be, and while Hunter and Tewilliger aren't Greg Oden by any longshot, they are producing during his absences on the bench with foul trouble.

So the question is, will the refs call the game like a Big East/Big Ten game, or like a SEC/ACC game? Will the players be allowed to play hard (and get away with much), or will this uneven "we'll-call-touch-fouls-without-much-consistency" refereeing continue? If they let 'em play, the Bucks will win that game... but it they don't, I don't see them getting past Georgetown's size.

And to take this a step further, the only way Florida repeats as the national championship is if they are allowed to bang also. After watching them a few times down here with these blindly loyal SEC faithful, their guard play is average (at best), and without Horford producing down on the blocks, they're toast. They barely got past Kentucky, and lost to numerous SEC teams this year namely because when Noah and/or Horford get into trouble, the only guy that can create his own shot on that team is Cory Brewer, who's an out-of-control version of TJ Ford. They can't beat two good teams in three days from the outside (UCLA and OSU/G-Town winner), so they'd better hope the refs let them play.

In short, the championship is up for grabs, the toughest teams in the country are playing, and I'll be in Korea. I don't mind the trade-off, but still, the timing is not the best.

7) For those how haven't heard, or read in my last post, we've decided to buy Joseph and Marty's house on Sandy Lane. In some respects its a curious choice because its a little smaller than the last house we owned in Goshen, and given the potential for financial return, our second choice, the home on 2+ acres of land on Kemp Road across from The Oaks, while much more work, held out the best prospects, long term for financial return. Here's a glance into what I was thinking (can't speak for Aimee) in the midst of this.

First and foremost, of the two locations, a home in a small neighborhood and a home on a country road, we've have been as a family (I think) much more isolated on Kemp Road. There are neighbors out there, but the fact that the road is somewhat busy and in the country doesn't make it likely we'd bump into one another. That kind of living situation is designed for more isolation, hence the huge fenced-in lot, horse stables, and above ground pool. The whole deal just screams "all we need we have right here", and I think coming out of our Goshen and Beeson experiences we've decided we need community in addition to lots of square footage or extra storage. That's not for everybody, and that's OK. We want to give and receive in community to others in everyday living. Considering we've already received a lovely email from an excited neighbor about our coming, we are more confident that the small home on the small lot will provide us with that benefit.

Second, when the Kemp Road house was finished, given all I thought had to go into it, it would not have been the home of a humble preacher. No way. It would have definitely looked to those who didn't know us, ostentatious for a Methodist pastor. Couple that with my sense of obligation to those in the world who live in a hovel or a street, and in good conscious I couldn't have lived in what in my mind would become a palatial situation. Palatial maybe not by the world's standards, but by my own. All you've got in this life is your integrity. I just didn't want to trade it for a piece of property. The home we chose, by the world's standards, is extravagant, but by American standards is solid. I just think if Jesus had his choice for us of the two houses, he'd take the solid one. Once again, this isn't true for everybody. Just given my profession, it's what was right for us.

Third, I'm not coming to Lima to work on a house. If I wanted to work on a house, I'd get out of the ministry, and go flip houses. There's work on behalf of the Kingdom that must be done in Shawnee, Lima, our nation, and world. Between that and raising three boys, I just didn't want any other distractions. This situation at Shawnee, while good, is still precarious. While a good deal of thought and preparation have gone into this transition, statistically (hence my dissertation research) it is still more likely to fail than succeed. That said, I don't like to fail. So if I can but my energy where it needs to be, as opposed to to financing a new kitchen or picking a new jacuzzi tub, I think it the better choice.

Finally, the house we're buying is a nice house. It's fully updated, cared for, and ready to be lived in at a great location two minutes from my work. The yard is plenty big, and with five acres of woods down the street, the boys will have plenty of places to play and explore. If we must move sooner than later (for whatever reason), chances are we could sell it more quickly and painlessly than a home half-torn apart. If we decide to add on to it at some juncture, we've plenty of property to do so. Besides, considering the pastor who lives in it bought from the church who owned it as a parsonage, no one can say it isn't appropriate for a pastor to own or live in. I think living there, we will be very happy, while representing the church well, which is important to me.

Anyhow, we'll be moving (most likely) in Memorial Day weekend.

8) Lately, we've been trying to teach Max the concept of "excellence". This has come up because all too often in school, while he's considered by his current teacher to be the brightest kid in his class, her critique of his is that he often just does what he needs to do to get done. Considering that the scholastic competition, I'm certain, will be more intense at Shawnee as opposed to semi-rural Kentucky, we want Max to learn what it means to do things your best, every single time. Thus, while the Game Boy he bought with his own money sits unused in a drawer, Max is now not just trying to finish his worksheets or only a miss a couple of words on his tests, but shooting for 100's. Being perfect isn't the point. We just want him to keep his standards as high as he can, because most likely it will serve him well in life. Besides, with Bucher genes, he'll need to work hard in life to get ahead. That's just the way we're put together. Better he learn than sooner than in his first year of seminary, law school, or in his first real job. A little pain now, to save much later.

There's a sermon there, eh?

9) With Tubby Smith off to Minnesota, the buzz in Lexington is over who the next coach will be. Much like when Alabama's coaching position opened, what were perceived to be unrealistic expectations (but I guess weren't, given Nick Saban actually took the position) have unfolded here in what the faithful perceive to be the best coaching job in basketball. Hence all the furor over Billy Donovan at Florida. Why, the locals ask, would somebody want to stay at a "football school" where they don't even sell out their sub-standard arena, when they can come be the toast of the town at a state-of-the-art facility where football will always be second-banana?

Of course a local columnist wrote in answer to this question, "more sunshine and less pressure", but after living in the Greater Lexington area for half a year, I'd have to say this place would be a big step up from Florida. As far as quality of life, Lexington (for a non-student) is far prettier and much more genteel than Gainesville, and in terms of really having the tools to dominate college basketball (much like Rick Pitino could have if his wonderlust for the NBA, and the subsequent debacle that was his tenure with the Celtics, had not happened) they're all here. Maybe by the end of Donovan's tenure at Florida, at some point in the future, a Gator basketball ticket will be the biggest deal in that town, but given the fact that Florida isn't really a basketball state (football runs the roost), the chances of this are pretty unlikely. If he comes to Kentucky, he's the biggest thing going, not just in this town, but in the college basketball world, now!

That's why he's going to take the job, after the tournament is over. Just wait and see.

10) And finally, word on the street is that the place we're staying in Korea has no Internet access... which makes no sense since Seoul is one of the most wireless-connected cities in the world. So I'm taking my laptop, but in the event that these nasty rumors are true, there may not be another update on this blog for about nine or ten days. I hope that's not the case, but in the event it is, don't worry about me. I'll be fine.

Until whenever, take care.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Buchers Are Moving To Lima!!!

Well, that probably isn't news to most of you. We were relatively sure we were moving back when we left last July, and absolutely certain (as much as you could be as a UM-pastor) in December when the Bishop made it official. But when we left Beantown last July, you might remember that we had to give up the spacious, lovely, home we were living in (as we did not own it) at 102 Oak Terrace which sported a two-story playhouse, HUGE kitchen, and a in-home theater complete with 100-inch screen (this is where you click if you want to learn more or buy it from the owner) when we opted to move as a family to Wilmore. For those who didn't know, the original plan for this Beeson Pastoral year was for Aimee and the boys, after a month with me in Wilmore, to remain in Lima the rest of the year while I commuted back and forth from Asbury. One month here with all these wonderful Beeson Pastoral families, and my family balked at that plan. Thus all our stuff went into storage, and we did fine in a townhouse living amongst all our new friends.

Fast forward seven months later.

Now, with a pending move back home on the horizon, we began to realize that we needed a house. Thus about six weeks ago, we started looking in earnest for the next "Bucher Castle", which we would, in fact, (with a little help from the bank) own. We looked at a house with an in-ground pool and two (not one, but TWO) jacuzzi tubs, both of which (I am not making this up, or trying to offend anyone) were surrounded by mirrors and colored spotlights. We couldn't decide if this would cause a scandal in the church, evoke envy, or both. So (actually with a little reluctance for reasons I don't dare mention) we passed.

The next house which was a serious candidate was located on Bunker Drive in the (in the Pro Drive subdivision). It was a great house (lots of space, nice Florida room, etc...) but had the distinction of being surrounded by streets on three sides, which I did not think was possible, but is. For the money, we just decided to, once again, pass.

Our next serious contender was the lovely home of Glenn and Jo Derryberry (which is located on Elmview Drive). It's a great house! It's in a great location (near Elmview Elementary School), has been thoroughly updated, and sports three (with a possible fourth) bedrooms. There's a great kitchen/living room that Aimee loved, a dining room, a living room and huge garage. It's a winner of a house, and it remained a contender until Wednesday until we ended up passing only because it sits on a crawl space. If it had had a basement we'd have jumped on it (but then again, if it sat on a basement it would have been way out of our price range... so there you go). We just needed a little more room for the boys.

The next house we were really excited about actually is owned by Sharon Barr, the choir director at Shawnee UMC. Her house, which is on Sandy Lane, a little neighborhood literally two minutes from the church just off of Zurmehly Road which was by far our favorite neighborhood in Shawnee. Sands is basically just one long street, ending in two cul-de-sacs... perfect for boys who like to ride bikes and scooters. At the end of street is five acres of woods, complete with trails, lots of mud, and creeks, that are owned and maintained by our own John Thomas (once again, perfect for boys). To cap all of this off, Sharon's house is amazing. There's a big kitchen, a nice sunroom, a huge deck in the backyard, a finished basement complete with a kitchenette, three bedrooms, and master suite that's bigger than most Great Rooms in Shawnee (or anywhere, for that matter). Couple that with a second garage (which was solid enough to be converted, if necessary to an apartment for my father-in-law, if he were to decide to join us), and we were ready to go. Alas, the home (upon appraisal) ended up being out of our price range (making my wife quite sad). Sharon, I'm sure will be putting it up for sale on the market soon... check it out if interested.

In the end though, our decision (today) came down to two different homes. One was located out on Kemp Road across from the Oaks Golf Course. This house was, for us, kind of confounding. It's in a great location! You can't go wrong with a house across from a golf course. What's more, it's located on a 2.2 acre lot, totally fenced (they owned horses). There was a huge second garage/horse barn, and two great balconies, one on the front overlooking the golf course, and the other on the back overlooking the bulk of a lot that ended at a small creek in some woods at the rear (perfect boy territory). And the house was huge, sporting three bedrooms, a huge great room, a den, a living room, and a dining room. There's even an above-ground pool out back. What's not to like, right? Well..... the home itself needed, in our opinion, a lot of work. How much is a lot? More than what we wanted to do. Not to mention the fact that 2 plus acres of land and a pool need lots of maintenance (not my strong suit) and the place sports well water (also not a fav). None of these things, in and of themselves, couldn't have been fixed (even the yard... Max would have been helping ride the mower next summer), but the sheer amount work coupled with my job, Aimee's growing Web Design business, and raising three kids just sounded like a lot. Besides, my brother is the golfer... not I.

Of course, that didn't preclude us from making two offers on the house, the first being outright rejected a few weeks ago, and the second, made Wednesday, which was counter-offered. If the second had been accepted yesterday, this house would have been ours.

But in the end, while considering the counter-offer, Aimee and I started talking about one other place that we had not only looked at, but had actually admired for a number of years. When we lived here during my v1.0 stint back in the nineties, two different families who were good friends of ours lived in the home. They'd invite us over for dinner or hang out, and we'd just marvel at how nice the house was. It wasn't all that big, but it had plenty of space upstairs and a nice finished, dry basement. The kitchen was tiny, but we always talked about how we'd change things to make it bigger, if necessary. It was just a nice place.

When we moved back, other friends of ours from the church lived in it. They bought it four years ago, and had done serious work to the place. A new roof, new windows, new furnace and central air, new driveway, a new second one-car car garage, a new deck off the back of the house, paint, carpet.... no stone had been left unturned. What's more, it was on the same street as Sharon's house, with the woods and place ride bicycles and the location two minutes from my work and a whole lot of people we knew from the church as neighbors. They found out awhile back that they'd probably be moving, but they weren't sure as to where and when until a few weeks ago. Thus, they were willing to deal and get out of the place by Memorial Day weekend.... which worked for us! I'd always thought that if you took out some of the walls (not load bearing) in the basement you'd have a nice rec room down there, and that at some point a new Florida room off the back of the house would be nice. I called a friend of mine (Don Knepper) who does some building and knew the house. He couldn't praise it enough and said we could probably put that Florida room on there pretty reasonable (if at some time we'd so choose). Our real estate agent (John Lockwood) too told us that for the money, we couldn't do any better in Shawnee and advised us to go for it.

So, we turned down the counteroffer on Kemp Road, and made an offer on the house on Sandy Lane... the one that used to be owned by the church (our friends who lived there were the Burns and Heckamans) and now is owned by Joseph.

He accepted, and we'll move in the end of May. We look forward to the blessing of a fine house, in a fine neighborhood, with great neighbors (just call us if the boys give you any trouble or the dog gets past the electric fence).

We couldn't be happier!

Thursday, March 22, 2007


What questions to use
how to phrase them
how might they be shaped
for different interview subjects

Information I look for
in research that's done
but I don't really care
about methodology

What is the generalizability
is this information
both reliable or valid
or does its validity determine its reliability

I just want to know
how they lived through the past
so I don't really care
about methodology

What are your sources
is Wiersma all you have
better check Yow's book
on doing case studies with groups

What it was like to leave and arrive
and how the congregation handled things
is what I want to know
not methodology

But I want this to end
I want it to be over
I am going for "done"
I've had all the school I can stomach

So its off to the library
to check out Yow... Wow!
and pretend I've slaved away
on my methodology


I'd rather be doing this...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think (plus one - late edition)

1) Yes, I'm back! After two chapters of a dissertation, a sermon for a class, another couple books and a paper for the same class, a trip to Lima, looking at nine potential Bucher castles, a few NCAA basketball games, and two worship services this morning, life is looking up (a little bit more). Anyhow, sorry for disappearing all week, but it just couldn't be avoided. Here's hoping you had a good week too, and that you were blessed in other ways than this little blog.

2) The big news around here is that little by little, each of this year's Beeson Pastors are finding out where they will be serving in ministry come this June.

In an ironic twist, the pastor out of all us who is by far the most capable and proven of the bunch isn't going back into local church. Kent Reynolds, resident sage, mentor to us all, will be staying here in Wilmore, living off of Uncle Frank's money, as the "Pastor In Residence" at the Beeson Center. What does a "Pastor In Residence" do, per se? Well, he'll be teaching leadership classes for both domestic and international BP's, attending to some of the administrative duties our old buddy Jack Connell (who left as the Assistant Dean of the Beeson Center to take another job at Houghton (NY) College) and generally checking in on the new rookies coming this summer. I told him "Congrats on getting the chance to torture unsuspecting seminary students with mounds of reading, endless nights of paper writing, and a sense that something is wrong with the church but nobody knows how to fix it. You are the perfect guy for the job." And I mean it! Between Kent and Randy (who I missed at the airport, if you read that post) the Beeson program is in good hands

Travis Muse,
an ordained Elder who has been, among other things, producing a TV show at a huge church in Oklahoma City before coming here to be with us, will get a taste of small town life as he looks to become the pastor of a church in a small Oklahoma town about an hour from OKC. The church and town sound very nice, and I think Travis, Ginny, their son John David, and "Baby X" will be warmly welcomed.

Jason McIntosh, who came to Wilmore last summer from the Holston (East Tennessee) Annual Conference, will leave a member of the North Alabama Annual Conference, where he will be engaging a church re-start in suburban Tuscaloosa. The church, which had fallen on hard times, is being re-energized with new people looking to do something new in a booming area of the city (Tuscaloosa is booming.... who knew?). They'll be living close to his wife's grandmother, and other members of her family, so all is well.

Trav Wilson who is also from North Alabama will be starting a new church in that conference. I have no idea where, as he's had the pink eye, and thus has been somewhat inaccessible. All I know is that he came into our carrel, told us he was going to get to start a church, and then did a victory dance an engineer would do (which is to say, joyous but not funky). He and Becca are ready for the challenge.

Still awaiting final word, as of this moment are Scott Layer (an Elder in the Holston Conference who is mostly sure of where he's going, but hasn't been given the final word yet), Alicia Coltzer (an Elder in the North Texas Annual Conference, who is hoping to go to a church ready for new life in midtown Houston, which is her home), Matt Scholl (an ordained Elder in the South Indiana Annual Conference, who's final destination is as of yet undetermined), Nolan Donald (a conference in Alabama, but not the one Jason and Trav are in), Jim Martin (Western North Carolina Annual Conference), and Gordon Griffin who is looking to be ordained in the same Independent Christian Church "movement" (don't call it a denomination) as our friend Aaron Wymer and a possible position near his wife's home in southern Georgia (where Gordon could happy hunt deer in a swamp.... I don't even know how to make fun of this, and am not sure I have to).

3) Speaking of Aaron, he'll be heading back to his church where he's served for about nine years now (Grandview Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee), and is already looking forward to the move home. A Florida grad who has been lording the BCS Championship Game over me since the debacle in January, we just found out that we'll be rooming together during our class trip to Korea later this month. So wrap your brain around this.... it is possible (although, not likely if the Bucks play next week the way they played against Xavier Saturday) that we could be sharing common space while Florida and OSU play for another national championship.

Unbelievable. Talk a little trash, and this is what the Lord does to you. What a sense of humor.

Oh... that and Aaron decided that since we were gone this morning, that he'd help himself to our Sunday morning paper. Hope you enjoyed it sir. Every day I have each page sprayed with a special venom I have developed an immunity to that is extracted from a poisonous viper just to deter those who might pilfer my paper.

Aaron, just a word of caution: If you experience some hair loss and maybe a craving for Kona coffee.... get to an ER as fast as you can.

4) By the way Bucks fans.... what do you think about that shot by Ron Lewis Saturday. I think the whole state let out a scream (good ones in most places, and pained ones in Cincinnati). Actually the situation was a little bit bittersweet for one member of our family, who was rooting for Xavier. If you take a look at my profile, you can guess why.

5) Gotta say I thoroughly enjoyed being back at Shawnee this morning. The folks there are being so supportive of this pastoral transition from Joseph to myself that I just couldn't be more blessed. Lots of kind words. Tons of folks praying for us. People offering to help us any way they can..... the love was overwhelming. Fortunately they seemed to like this morning's sermon (although that thing has more of an edge in the local church than the class room, which I thought was interesting) which was about what Jesus meant when he said "turn the other cheek". My take is that, based on the example Jesus set, that we misinterpret this command with being milquetoast, as opposed to responding with to those opposed to us with a creative response emanating out of the dynamic love of God. As an example, Jesus respond to his enemies who hung him to die on a cross, not with a reciprocal response (i.e. his enemies' deaths) but with forgiveness and resurrection (which is about as creative as it gets). Considering we live in a world where school kids respond to bullying with semi-automatic weapons, maybe it's time for a little creativity as opposed to just trying to exact justice and revenge. Just my two cents.

6) As I stated earlier, we're looking for a house, and I have to say that the process thereof excites me not in the least. We saw about nine houses this weekend (and about six more a few weeks ago), but we're still not much closer to buying anything than we were in early January. We made an offer a couple of weeks ago on a home that needed some TLC in a perfect location (across from a public golf course on two beautiful acres of land) that was turned down flat (the people said they were either going to get what they were asking, or put the home up for auction.... ummmmmm, what?). Mostly what we saw that was in our price range in Shawnee would require ample renovation. Fortunately, this was not the case in a few homes viewed (which were quite lovely.... Aimee especially liked one), and even since I arrived back in Wilmore this evening we've received two more invites from home owners looking to sell us their house before it officially goes on the market. By the end of the month, I'm guessing we'll have something nailed down... but you never know.

I'd just assume live in a circus tent behind the church, but Aimee has laid down the law. Some people are just picky.

7) As mentioned earlier, all the BP's, domestic and international, will be flying to Korea for a whirlwind visit in a less than a week. Our host will be the largest Methodist church in the world, Kwanglim Methodist Church which claims thousands and thousands of members, and we'll also worship at the largest Christian church in the world, the Yoido Full Gospel Church (841,081 members). While culturally, Korea is pretty much ideal for the spread of Christianity (a sense of shared identity, a great respect for authority, willingness to be in small groups of unrelated people, etc...), pastoral leaders in that part of the world credit the rapid growth of the church in that part of the world (almost non-existent at the turn of the 20th century, to dominant today) to the power of prayer. That's pretty much what we'll be studying (along with a quick trip to the DMZ, where we'll be doing some serious praying for the troops stationed there, and peace in this part of the world) as we seek to understand the explosive growth of the church in that part of the East.

In an unrelated item, since, we're told, there are tons of tailors in Seoul, I'll also probably be buying a new tailored suit. Yeah, I know, it sounds strange, but it sounds like a pretty good deal. All in all, another unpredictable and unimaginable development in this year's journey.

8) A young mother, Amanda Carter Horn, died at her home this weekend at the age 31. As the family lived and worked in the Shawnee community, we received a lot of prayer requests Sunday for her family. Just thought you might want to add them to your list. They'll be on mine.

9) Spent some time this morning checking out HBO's "Addiction" website. I was curious because I had seen an ad for what was billed as a fourteen-part series just titled "Addiction", and the graphic for the ad featured the faces of twenty to thirty people. I admit that I have a fascination and fear of drug and alcohol addiction. I've heard so many horror stories, and now lived a few walking with others as a friend and pastor, to wonder if there really is life for most people who get caught up in this kind of life. In the past, I'd have to say that in my very uninformed opinion, the answer was "no", and so by continually seeking out stories of addiction, I was just reaffirming how scary this life, and this world is, which is part of, I'm learning, just an overall construct of fear that I fall back on too much to try and deal with life.

And what I mean when I say "construct of fear" is that I'm (like most people, I suppose) always dealing with self-esteem and self-confidence issues that take my brain to a place where my trigger reaction to drama in life is panic, depression, and a sense that I will not succeed. When I was younger, when ever these triggers would tripped, usually in situations where people had some sort of concern related to my performance (student, pastor, parent, husband, son, or whatever) the immediate reaction was usually one of anger (lots of yelling so that people will back off) or cockiness (which was meant to say, you don't know jack, and reinforce my own ego), and usually on the other side, depression. I'm not sure where this comes from. Watching Max, who in many ways exhibits some of the same characteristics at the tender age of eight, I'm wondering if there isn't a genetic factor in all of this.... some sort of sin that's becomes institutionalized in our DNA that's taken a good thing (like fear... it's good to be afraid of things or you'd just jump to your death off of bridges or such fearlessly) and manipulated it into something destructive. I say this because, much in the same way my own parents raised me (with a few minor differences), we've always told him he can succeed at anything... and he's got the basic tools that make that statement true (as does Xavie and as time goes by we recognize too in Elijah). But Max's ego is still pretty fragile. He'd rather not try a lot of different things because of a fear of failure, than give it go and see what happens, which I recognize a lot in myself. Couple that with wanting to be accepted and liked, while always feeling out of step with the rest of the world, and you have a potent combination factors that can send a life careening in a direction it ought not to go. It also, if you decide to deal with it by being afraid of every last little thing, can control your life.

As I get older, though, I am becoming more convinced that the unique, creative, dynamic, healing love of God can slowly (or in a few case, immediately) untangle a tangled life. As breakthroughs are being made in the areas of science, medicine, and behavioral theory, the church, and thus pastors, really need to take more seriously and reflectively the part we play in helping people recover the kind of life that is fulfilling to both them and the Lord. This kind of dynamic partnering with others from all of these other fields, which I see collectively as work of the Holy Spirit, is a huge challenge, and opportunity, for churches who aren't afraid of the costs and the blowback which usually comes from people who think we aren't being "spiritual enough" when we talk about our place with other institutions as being participatory, as opposed to primary. Thus, even though these things can take large amounts of time and money, thinking about developing the resources within the congregation to augment the tough work that people are doing with other professionals and organizations to help them find healing has become an interest of mine

Hence my going to HBO's website, to find out what "Addiction" is all about. I'd to say, after about an hour checking out snippets of the short films that are apart of the series, I can see why reviews of it have been overwhelming positive. It's realistic. It's helpful. It looks at a number of different issues relating to addiction. And mostly, it offers hope, in terms of stories but also scientific data, that the brain, which is the primary organ getting beaten by drugs and alcohol, can actually heal from the experience. It shows how religious belief, or the absence thereof, can contribute to addictive behaviors, or help change them. It is worth your time, particularly if you are looking to discover resources and contacts of people that can be networked with in an effort to deal with these sorts of issues.

10) Finally, if you get a moment, lift up my Uncle Fred (my mom's brother). He's in surgery today where either a spot on his lung will be identified as a spot, nothing more or less, or as lung cancer, which will result in the immediate removal of the lower lobe of his lung. I've always admired Fred, particularly the way with which he deals with difficult life issues. This case has been no different, as he's pretty much up to this point, treated the news of all of this with a kind of grace and sobriety that's otherworldly. Of course, my grandfather who seemed always to be in the thick of helping others through difficult situations, was a great teacher, and Fred obviously was paying attention. Anyhow, for him, his wife Kathy, their daughter Katie, all the Docs and medical personnel, and those who love him, if you could just remember him as you speak with the Lord, it would be greatly appreciated.

+1) On the subject of places for pastors to hang their hats, this news out of suburban Detroit: Apparently a church has purchased a 3.6 million dollar parsonage for it's pastor, creating some consternation among county officials who just lost $40,000 in property tax revenue. The church, a multi-ethnic mega-church that preaches a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel (meaning that the point of the Gospel is that God wants to shower you with lots of stuff) bought the house for their pastor a) because they wanted to surround him with nice things and b) out of concern for his physical security (I'm guessing the community is gated). Of course, by the church buying the property, as opposed to the pastor himself, the county can no longer collect taxes as now it is, by law, tax exempt. Just one more example of how people believe that pastors are really only in it for, what my old friend and South Carolina mission compadre, Willie Graham, called "The Four C's":

Cash, Chicks, Control, and Chicken

As we look for a home, to be perfectly honest, we feel like we're running a pretty thin line. On the one hand, we don't live in a place that just seems like it's out of line with what he believe. I remember, for example, living in the house on Oak Terrace, which was just beautiful and huge, that whenever we had people over we'd always make a point to let them know that we didn't own the house. While we loved living there and were blessed by the family who allowed us to do, we were simultaneously very conscious of how people would perceive the fact that we had a two-story air-conditioned playhouse in the backyard and a home theater sporting a one-hundred inch screen in the basement. It's not that those things are bad in and of themselves, but as a member of the pastorate there are so many horror stories of pastors just looting congregations, that we just don't want to be associated with that kind of behavior.

Of course, on the other hand, I think too there is an expectation that the Senior Pastor of Shawnee United Methodist Church not live in a shack either. To be honest, last fall I was toying with the idea of buying a home in a decaying part of the city of Lima. Aimee and I talked about it... us living in what many would call a ghetto as a means of trying to live out our faith in the context of a situation where we would be forced to grow as people, and confront some of the materialism and prejudice that lurks within us. However, we actually did this when we lived in Toledo when we bought a house on the edge of the Old West End. This past experience raised all sorts of questions regarding the environment our children would grow up in (let's just say we saw some stuff living there, and leave it at that), while at the same time raised up more questions about whether or not, in the mind of the congregation, we were trying to elevate ourselves theologically and morally above them.

The answer? Your guess is as good as mine. Probably some happy medium that we're trying to find. It's the reason we're pushing the end of April, and don't have a solid offer on a house. I do know this, though, I'd never ask a congregation to buy me a 3.6 million dollar home... and not because I knew they'd laugh me out of the meeting. In a world where children die of malnutrition and diarrhea, to me, that just seems not quite right.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Six Things I'm Thinking About Right Now, Instead of the Ten Things I Think I Think

Here's what I'm thinking about right now:

1) Chapter One of my dissertation (rough draft due Thursday)

2) Chapter Two of my dissertation (also due Thursday)

3) The exegetical work for a sermon I'll be giving tomorrow in class on "Turning the Other Cheek" (which will also be given at Shawnee on Sunday)

4) A comparison paper contrasting sermons given by Ellsworth Kallas and Matthew Kelty

5) Delaying this week's "Ten Things" (or some sort of substitute) until Friday

6) My loyal readers agreeing that my staying in school is far more important than updating this blog on this particular day

I hope you agree!

Catch you this Friday!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

Couple days ago, all the BP's received a request from Jenny, the Beeson Center secretary, for a person who'd be willing to go to the airport to pick up our director, Randy Jessen, who was returning from Colorado where he'd fulfilled his duties as a member of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Randy is one of my advisers (the "Second Reader") for my dissertation, and since I'd just fired off a copy of my Chapter One, and he'd already left me a phone message that he had a few thoughts, I figured I could use the time in the car coming back from the airport to hear what he had to say (since Chapter 1 and 2 are due next Thursday). So, via email, I offered to pick him up.

Jenny responded with a thank you, gave me the name of the airline, the flight number, the time it was arriving, and that the flight would be through Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is pretty far (hour and forty minutes, give or take), but Randy's a good guy. You always learn a lot listening to him. I admire him because in stressful situations, his first inclination is to chill, while mine is to panic, so hearing how he thinks has helped me quite a bit in thinking differently. That, and my dissertation needs some help.

I emailed back... consider it done.

So yesterday evening, I go home, eat dinner (a Cajun turkey sandwich with Chicago Fire mustard), watch the Muppet Show with the kids (who are getting tons of screen time right now cause Xavie has strep throat), checked to make sure the flight was on-time (it was) and headed out to my car at 6:15 to head up to Cinci. Including a stop by my carrel (to pick up a CD I had burned for the occasion) and the gas station, I was standing in the baggage claim area by 8:20pm.

On the way up, though, I realized I had a problem (the first of many, you'll soon discover). That day we were expecting a phone call from home, and because I had given this person my cell phone number, and my cell phone doesn't work anywhere in the Beeson Building (especially in my study carrel), I left it with my wife all day. That I did not have it, is not all that unusual. I'm kinda "out of sight, out of mind" as far as folks in Lima are concerned, so I don't receive many phone calls..... and the phone doesn't work in the place I spend most of my time, thus a good many days have gone by where I leave my phone on the charger, and go about my business.

Probably not a good habit to get into.

About the time I hit Erlanger, I realized I was phoneless. Since it was more than 2/3rds of the way to the airport from Wilmore, there wasn't much I could do, so I just put it in the back of my mind.

"What did they do before they had cell phones?" I thought. "Everything will be fine."

When I arrived at the airport, (remember it's about 8:20), I checked the arrival board, and Flight 5015, it said, had landed. Ten minutes later, it said it was the gate.

Now, if you've ever flown Delta in Cincinnati, you know that more likely than not, you'll be flying a small jet into the Comair hub, which is part of Terminal Three. To get from that Terminal to the baggage claim area you have to take a bus and a train. Throw in a quick trip to the bathroom, and it can take awhile.

8:40 - Randy's not there (no big deal)

8:50 - Randy's not there (probably just getting off the train)

9:00 - Randy's not there (must have sat at the rear of a full plane... no worries he'll be here soon

9:10 - Randy must have stopped for a cup of coffee

9:15 - Randy must have stopped for a sandwich

9:20 - I must have missed Randy, and he's waiting by the baggage carousel, so I'll check there, and outside to make sure he isn't waiting for me, AND page him.

9:30 - Randy has been eaten by marauding wolves.


Now remember.... my cell phone, which has his cell phone number programmed into it, is in Wilmore. I have some money, but no change for a pay phone, and by this time, the merchants in the airport are closed. I haven't used a pay phone in twelve or thirteen years, and the calling card number (the one I used to call Aimee from seminary fifteen years ago) is long since forgotten.

I figured I had to call someone collect to get a little help. Who's number do I know? Well, I know Aimee's number. I went through the rigmaroll of dealing with an automated operator, I heard the phone ringing, silence, and the computer tells me she's denied the charges.

Great. I must have gotten her voicemail. No way she heard the phone. She's upstairs asleep, the fan is running (cause 3,457 trains go past our townhouse and everyone of them likes testing their horn between 1 and 4am, so the fan drowns them out), and her phone is charging in the kitchen.

Who else's phone number do I know?

When you have a cell phone, you don't need to remember phone numbers. You just find the name, point, and click, and ten seconds later they're on the phone. Now, I found myself realizing that I didn't know the number for my parents (they dropped their landline, and each have their own cell phone), my brother (# is in cell phone), any of my coworkers at Shawnee (#'s in cell phone), any of my friends (are you getting the picture?), or any of the Beeson Pastor families (we live in the same complex....I just go knock on their door).

And what I discovered is that the only other phone numbers I know besides my wife's are the church's (nobody there at 9:30pm), Jason Reeves (my best friend when I was a kid living in Charleston between the ages of 2 and 10 years old.. I memorized his phone number for a homework assignment we had in the first grade, and still have it up there in the ol' vault), and my grandmother's.


I go back to the pay phone, navigate the automated operator again, and lo and behold, my grandmother not only answers the phone, but accepts the charges.

"Grandma? Man am I glad to hear your voice. I really need a big favor. You see I forgot my cell phone, and I'm airport in Cincinnati to pick up the director of our program. I need to get ahold of his wife to see if he's OK, and if you could....... click click click click click... Hello? Hello????"

The phone is dead.

Sigh. Now I have succeeded in panicking my grandmother.

Let's check the scorecard now, shall we?
Problem #1 - No Cell Phone
Problem #2 - No Randy
Problem #3 - No calling card
Problem #4 - Worried Grandmother

I don't want to call The Great One again, cause that would just mean another collect phone call, and besides, really that plan was pretty stupid from the beginning, because (it is beginning to dawn upon me) you could probably make a call using a credit card to information and call Jessen's direct. They've probably developed that technology since 1993.

EUREKA (part 2)!!!!

I beat on the phone this time until I get a live human operator, who does in fact make the call for me using my credit card (which I expect, given the reimbursement I owe The Great One and the cost of this call have probably just devoured my pension), and I get a hold of Sue, Randy's lovely wife.

"Sue! It's Bryan Bucher. I'm here at the airport and can't find Randy anywhere. Is he OK?"

"Well," she replied, "he's a lot more better off than you. He's at the airport here in Lexington."


Remember when I said that Randy's flight was THROUGH Cincinnati? That's true. It was. It landed in Cinci... and then made it's way to Lexington.

Let's go back to that email from Jenny the secretary, shall we?

Airline: Delta
Flight Number : 5015
Time: 8:31pm
From: Cincinnati

From Cincinnati... not To, but From. The place of final arrival, Lexington, wasn't ever mentioned in the email, because Jenny assumed that a doctoral student could A) read, B) put all the pieces together, C) execute something as simple as picking up someone at the airport.

Problem #5: Beeson Center Director, Randy Jessen, stranded at Lexington Airport
Problem #6: Idiot who is supposed to pick him up is discovering this one hour after Randy's landed... and he's in Cincinnati

Apparently, when he landed, upon my not being there, Randy had called my cell phone and received no answer (Aimee was upstairs getting Eli ready for bed). Then he must have called a number of the other BP's until he rousted up Trav Wilson, who went over and banged on the door of our Townhouse, where Aimee told him I was at the wrong airport and had no cell phone on me. Thus, Trav drove to Lexington to get Randy. No one was upset or angry. Everyone was understanding, and just worried about me. It's good to have loving, forgiving friends who understand that mistakes, even stupid ones, get made by us all. Everyone just wanted me to get home safely.

I asked Sue to call my grandmother (I didn't want The Great One to worry), hopped in my car, paid the parking tab (after inserting my debit card into the machine wrong about eight times... it was that kind of night), drove straight home, to find my wife there waiting up for me.

All that said, here now are all the apologizes.

Randy: Sorry to leave you stranded at the airport. I really did try to pick you up. I hope you can forgive me.

Jenny: I'm sorry I apparently don't know how to read.

The Great One: I'm sorry you incurred a $10,000 charge on your phone bill and that I wrecked your serene evening because I'm too dense to realize that in 21st century, phone companies take credit cards. I promise to pay you back (in installments), and will buy you a Kewpee so we can laugh about it when I get home.

Sue: I'm sorry for leaving your husband stranded and making you worry about my welfare, when really you should have been planning how to wring my neck. Thank you for calling The Great One.

Trav: I'm sorry you ended up getting dragged out of your warm townhouse, away from your lovely wife, to pick up a worried/probably slightly ticked off Randy Jessen. Thanks for covering my back.

Aimee: Sorry to make you think in the moment after our phones both ring, and a knock at our front door that I was dead. I'm sorry that when I got home I was in a less than joyful mood.

To The Owner of the Payphones In The Baggage Claim Area of the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati International Airport: Sorry for the wear and tear on the receiver from when I beat myself in the head out of frustration.

To My Congregation: Better bring your Bible with you to worship... you never know what I might have missed.

To You, The Reader: I'm sorry you wasted the last five minutes reading this... but I hope it gave you a laugh.

Forrest was right.... stupid really is, as stupid does.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Five Things I Think Think

1) 70 people have logged in today, as of right now wondering: Where are the new "Ten Things..."? Well, it's like this, I'm working under about three different deadlines. I sent Chapter One of my dissertation to be checked by my adviser and second reader (Preliminary feedback? TILT! Please play again. Very discouraging.) Am now in the middle of editing/completing my Chapter Two, the bulk of which I wrote as a final paper for a class first semester. Am tracking the history of leadership succession models from the Old and New Testament, through the Early Church, past the Reformation, and into the modern age. Needless to say, it is involving a lot of reading to get the necessary research (i.e. quotes to put in the paper) and since I don't write worth a plug nickel, I'm spending three times longer on the editing than the writing.

Couple that with a few assignments due for a class, the seemingly impossible task of arranging a visit at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, and us trying to care for a couple of sick kids (Eli has a strange rash, and we're afraid Xavie is getting strep throat), and you've got stress. Hence the fact that today we're doing "Five Things" instead of the customary "Ten Things".

We promise to refund half of your money back.

2) In the midst of numerous long days reading and writing, Aimee insisted we get a babysitter, and go out for a date Saturday night, which given all the nights she's spent up at that townhouse alone with the boys until the wee hours until I come home from my carrel, hands tired from typing, isn't too much to ask. As a part of the evening, we went to see "Music and Lyrics", which is a movie about an 80's star-now-a-has-been who is struggling to make it singing his old hits at amusement parks, class reunions of people about my age (I graduated in 1987), and pretty much anywhere he can get signed. One day, he's summoned by the latest young female pop star (modeled on Brittney, before she started chain smoking unfiltered Lucky Strikes and hanging out with motel heiresses) who asks him to write her a song (she's a big fan of his work). Long story short, the lady who waters his plants ends up writing (the lyrics) with him , the contrived conflict to make you think they aren't going to end up together is totally unbelievable, and they end up happily ever-after.

Why go see the movie? Well if you grew up during the eighties you'll laugh at all the Wham! parodies. There was a group of mommies about our age (mid to late thirties) on a "mommy's night out" (heard more than one say daddy could handle whatever little junior had in store for him as they turned off their cell phones) who loved the movie. But then again, they probably liked Wham!. I know Aimee did, and now I have to download "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" for her. Anyhow, here's the "video" of the Wham-esque band, which is pretty much a dead-on parody of the videos of that time and place (you know... back when they played music videos on MTV). If you think it's funny, then you are about my age, and will probably enjoy this flick:

Why not go see this movie? First and foremost, if you just hated that video. Stay home or go see Amazing Grace... trust me.

OK, now that we've got that out of the way, the lead characters, played by Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant, have no chemistry. During the previews, they were advertising a romantic dramedy that featured Meg Ryan as the mother of the female love interest (yikes!). All that did was make Aimee and I wish that the movie had Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in it instead of two people who obviously just weren't clicking.

Also, Drew Barrymore doesn't even act anymore. She plays the same awkward hippy-dippy character she plays in every movie, which Aimee says women love because even though she's flawed, she ends up with the guy. And, since I guess I don't see what the big deal is when Adam Sandler plays another idiot, maybe my critique is a little hypocritical. I just don't think she's bringing anything new to that character anymore.... nothing personal.

And finally, chances are that if you grew up during the eighties, you'll either end up sitting next to someone too young (or in my case) too old to really "get" all the eighties-related references. I spent the entire movie next to a nice older couple who must have had this conversation about sixty times:

Her: What did he say?
Him: He said, "that ugly hair was the style at the time".
Her: I don't get it?
Him: Me either.

Couple that with the few times the Brittney-pre-Chaotic-Kevin character writhes around the floor in barely nothing while someone who reminds you of your grandmother (not my grandmother... she's so cool we watch Family Guy together) sits next to you, and you've got more than enough reasons to rent, instead of blowing your grocery money for the month at the theater.

All that being said.... we had a great time. We were together, alone, holding hands, and eating popcorn, and that's all that counts.

3) Was sent a link to the Westboro Baptist "Church", and was just blown away by the hatred. If you don't know who these guys are, they're the people who picket military funerals with signs that say "God Hates America". Fun bunch of folks. Here's the thing to remember about their kind (besides the fact that they seem to have totally missed the whole "fruits of the spirit" part of the Pauline epistles.... or they didn't miss them and somehow interpret becoming loving, peaceful, patient, kind, not self-seeking, and increasingly kind with screaming "You're a whore!" at military widows):

If your two basic presumptions when reading the Bible are "I'm right while everyone else is wrong" and "The more people show their hatred for me the more faithful to God I am", then Fred Phelps' family "church" is what you end up with. A family literally made up almost entirely of lawyers (and one filmmaker... more on that in a minute) trained to develop their argument while anticipating the argument of their opponent, "knowing" all the while they're always right.

Gives me a headache just thinking about it. How blind and self-righteous can you be when you picket the funerals of the Amish students who died last year in the school shooting because you believe that God punished the Amish for having worked out their own systematic form of righteousness. If you're out there screaming at people how much God hates them as a means of trying to show God you understand his holiness and sovereignty so that he'll let you into heaven, how far up an unmentionable part of the body does your head have to be to see that you and the Amish ain't nothing but "kissin' cousins"? Both sects believe that folks outside their own community are going to hell, the only difference is the Amish demonize those who use electricity, and WBC demonizes those who extend grace. In the end, besides the fact that at least while the Amish think we English are going to hell they still have some sense of compassion for the poor and oppressed and a hope that we can be saved, what's the difference?

Anyhow, the secret to their continued presence is 1) all the kids and grandkids of the "pastor" of the church, Fred Phelps Sr., are lawyers, so they can bury you with pointless motions and mounds of paperwork, 2) they're so shrill and extremist that the media loves to hate them, meaning they continually get attention from 24 hour news channels who really have about 40 minutes of news to report most days, and 3) anybody who doesn't know anything about the Bible can be taken in by their argument. Sad but true.

You see, that's the problem with the Bible. Throughout a good portion of the Old Testament God is punishing one group or another for unfaithfulness, which results in a whole lot of people (thousands and thousands.... think I'm kidding? Go read the book of Esther and find out how many heathen die at the hands at angry Israelites) getting smited, (or smoten... I'm not sure of the form of the tense). In any case, there's smiting going on all over the place...

and then, in the New Testament, you have Jesus, telling us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and forgives us for killing him as he hangs on the Cross. So, a really simplistic reading of the text (and an increasingly common one... check out Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion" as one of the most recent examples) would lead one to think that:

either the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are different,

OR (as Steve Chalke said while here) that God went through an Alpha Course between the two Testaments and changed His demeanor to become more loving or forgiving, meaning that God changes,

OR (if you are member of the Westboro Baptist "Church") that God really does hate humanity, and only out of the graciousness of his heart will save a few of us... well not "us", or at least not me. I'm a United Methodist, so I wouldn't make it in. Me and every other person who attends a church that isn't the Westboro Baptist "Church"... we end up in Hell. But at least a few of "them" sneak through under the wire.

OR you have to decide that God, for whatever reason, refuses to reveal himself in ways that aren't compatible with the culture of the age (a popular idea here at Asbury, largely due to the influence of the Missiology school, I think)

OR you have to be open to the possibility that as humanity spends more time thinking relating to God THEIR impression of how He works and speaks changes and grows... which to me, seems (with limits) to be a reasonable assumption.

In any case, the scary thing is that there are plenty of other Fred Phelps Seniors out there somewhere. They just aren't as bright and well-financed as he is.. but they terrorize a small group of people who follow every word they say all the same. Which, isn't exactly in line with "being a servant of all, to lead all" in my book.

Anyhow, if you've ever seen the group's signs (God Hates America, God Hates You, etc...) you'll be surprised to know that most of the signs have a short video on the church's website explaining what the sign means. The message is, in my way of thinking, so extremest that you can't even take it seriously. My personal favorite? Click on the video below, and find out for yourself.... but first

WARNING: Even though this video was produced by a "church", it contains images and language that are extremely offensive. They are to be, in no way, to be construed as being compatible with my own. That being said, click on the link at your own discretion.

Stuff you can say, if you are never, ever wrong. So what person, or church, anywhere, is never, ever wrong? If you find one, take my advice - turn and run like your life depended on it, or you will become mental slave to an abusive person who is propping up their fragile ego on the smoldering ruins of your hopes and dreams.

4) Made the mistake during a study break today of watching the video of the teenagers teaching a toddler (just a bit older than Eli) and a little boy (just a little older than Xavie) how to smoke a joint today. Just the thought of it turns my stomach. I am torn between ranting about how urban communities are coming apart at the seams (except this happened in a suburb of Ft. Worth, Texas) while the church sits idly by waiting for a government solution, AND wanting the boys to do hard, hard time.

And that's really the issue, isn't it? As a Christian you want to be compassionate and loving, but the depth of stupidity, nay maliciousness, that exists in certain people makes you wonder if it wouldn't be better just to throw the key away in certain cases. As if, somehow, sin can be quarantined. For the District Attorney the choice is easy... the more heinous the crime, put them away as long as you can, and I'd gather that a good portion of Americans feel the same way. They just want to be protected from those who obviously wish others harm, and if I were on the jury after watching that video, I'd be ready to throw the book, figuratively and literally (any book, as long as it's not too big to throw) at these two irresponsible young people.

But what does it mean to bring healing to a broken world? And does the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ have any real power to change lives? If it doesn't, then the New Testament is doomed to become a philosophy text book or Fred Phelps is right... God really does hate the vast majority of humanity.

I choose door "C"., meaning, yeah, what those boys did was patently stupid, dangerous, and reckless. They should pay whatever debt they owe to society. But locking them up for eternity, most likely, will just end up creating new, angry, dangerous citizens who believe the system is out to get them.

The age of impersonal public assistance and overly punitive incarceration, while excluding the building of personal relationships designed to bring healing, needs to come to an end.

5) And finally, my dream of my first perfect 4.0 for a degree program, is over. Received an A-minus for my Anthropology class, which kinda stinks. I say this because I received an A-minus for my final project, which not only involved me going to Johnson City for a weekend to do an ethnography on a fellow BP's church, but also involved me having to interpret the data he gave me on my church, and work up a final paper as to how I'll apply my findings when I return. I can pretty much guarantee nobody else did more than Aaron and I on our projects, and yet I end up with an A-minus (he probably ended up with an A... such is the quality of his brain compared to mine).

Wait a minute.... the guy whose mantra has always been "D equals Diploma" is complaining about an A-minus? What is happening to me? Am I becoming (GASP).....

conscientious about excellence!?! I think they're going to take away my "slacker" card.

Have a great week. I'll write again, when I can.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Images from Bluffton

Cody Betts, Sophomore middle-infielder from Bryan, Ohio

Scott Harmon, a graduate of Elida High School,
Tyler Williams, a fellow alum of Lima Senior High School

Cody Holp, from his MySpace page
Scenes from around campus

Scenes from Atlanta

Here are two links to excellent videos produced by a reporter at The Lima News:

video #1

video #2