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.