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.


Aaron said...

Promise we'll always have our blogs. Promise.

bryan said...

Cross my heart and hope to die; stick a gator-skin boot in my eye.