Monday, April 23, 2007

A Temporary Hiatus

Right now, I'm afraid, is not a good time to be blogging. Lots of stuff due, another trip the end of this week in Connecticut, and a pending dissertation proposal hearing are squeezing me something fierce. Hence, I'll be laying off the posts for about a week or so, and then I'll be back.... I promise.

Thanks for understanding.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tired and new contest v2.0

As added this morning as an example to my Beeson Pastoral colleagues of how a few well-chosen words can have far greater effect than lots of semi well-chosen ones:

Well, travel most of the month of April all over hell and high water, and the result when you get home is just being plain tired. Such is my state of mind now that I'm ensconced back in Wilmore, Kentucky, facing the completion of two late final projects, one sermon, another trip to do some interviews at a church in Connecticut, and final completion of three chapters of a dissertation all in the next nine days. They said you should never get behind in this program, and now I know why. The hammer has fallen. That being said, here are few rambling unconnected thoughts as we speed toward the weekend:

- Here are more updates on my Beeson Pastor colleagues and where they'll be headed when this year is over the end of May:

Alicia Coltzer will be heading back to Houston to serve at a small struggling church in a part of the city that is gentrifying. With the support of a large congregation that has been for a year working with this small church to try and help turn it around it, Alicia will try and take a group of eighteen congregants (most over the age of 70) in a section of town where property values are exploding as people come to take advantage of what have been large homes that had been rundown but are now being rehabbed, and reach a community mostly made up of young singles, married, and baby-boomers downsizing into retirement. It's her dream job.

Nolan Donald will also be heading to Houston to the same church our colleague Jim Martin will be serving for the purpose of starting a new congregation somewhere in that huge city sometime in the next two years.

Matt Scholl will be making the leap from South Indiana to West Ohio to service as Senior Pastor at Aley United Methodist Church, which is in suburban Dayton. Home to his folks, Dayton is a bit of homecoming of Matt. I know he's excited about the church, and the possibilities it presents for ministry.

Aaron Wymer has decided against returning to Grandview Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, and instead has elected instead to join the circus to pursue his dream of becoming a lion-tamer. As he does his training, he'll also be filling out the slate of clowns, tent putter-uppers, and cotton-candy salespeople needed to keep "Pincher and Finch's Greatest Show In the mid-Atlantic New England Area" on the road. Of course the good folks at Pincher and Finch, at this time, cannot afford actual lions, so Aaron will begin his training with nineteen cats from the local Humane Society of Portland, Maine. Good luck Aaron, as you live the dream.

(Note one of the last four updates was faked. Make your guess as to which one by emailing me at by May 2nd. Guess the right one and you'll be entered in a drawing to win John Goldengay's riveting best seller, "Models for Interpretation of Scripture" OR the Michigan t-shirt I'll be wearing because the Buckeyes let me down not once, or twice, but thrice against Florida over the last five months, for my last sermon here at school on May 3rd, which I will subsequently also personally deface. Your choice.)

- Reconnected recently with Stacy Foster, a fellow LSHS grad and Spring Street homey, via MySpace. Stacy's name is no longer "Foster", and hasn't been for ten years now, as she's happily married and has three great kids. No matter how old she and her husband get, though, they'll both be the coolest parents among ever, given the fact that Stacy met her husband while he was a drummer in a rock-n-roll band, and he met her while she was working as a graphics artists doing custom graphics on tricked out cars. Yeah... a guy who covered Alex Van Halen and a lady who used to work at a "Pimp My Ride" body shop. Their kids are going to rebel by becoming a stock-broker, environmental scientist, and city planner. Just wait and see.

- I heard Alicia marveling today that rent in the area of Houston she'll be living in starts on a tiny house at $1300 a month, and that you can't touch buying a home in that area for less than $190,000... which would have impressed me, except that I just returned home from Southern California, where on the radio they advertise starter homes "starting only at $600,0000". It's no wonder why they're doing 50 year, interest-only loans out there. Otherwise, everyone would be living on the beach.

Which by the way, is where I had this view while eating dinner my last night (actually on the Huntington Beach Pier at a little fifties diner called "Ruby's" - I'd recommend it to anyone) in LA:

No offense to my family members who live out there, are suburb hosts, and wouldn't live anywhere else, but I'd sooner spend the next three years living above the Arctic Circle than five living in LA. True, it's beautiful, the weather is great, there are no mosquitoes, and you can surf and ski without having to take an airline flight. Couple that with the chance to see the stars (I think I saw that actress in Spiderman at a parking garage getting into a Toyota Spider.... but then again, I could be wrong), and LA is probably the most desirable place to live in the country....

if you like living in a place where every last person is jammed as close together as humanly possible, they all drive cars, and the landscape is largely made up of nothing but freeways and strip-malls.

Not for me, thanks.

I'll be happy to take the wife and kids out west to visit the family, and then go home where, yeah, it snows and you have to wear "Off" all summer, but you can also get anywhere in fifteen minutes or less (as opposed to LA where everything is an hour away, except a Starbucks... there's a law there that apparently you can't be further away than a couple of blocks from one so they are everywhere, which is another good reason for me not to live there - I'd die of caffeine poisoning within three months.) Also, I've decided that I like big open spaces filled with nothing with soybean and corn plants. We'll be getting our Barnes and Noble in Lima soon, so as far as I'm concerned, the town is about perfect.

That's why they call us "settlers". We stopped in a place in Lima, looked around, shrugged our shoulders, said "Eh... good enough", and settled for what we got. I'll take it, happily.

Come visit. We'll go to the Allen County Museum and get a Kewpee. On me!

- Finally, on a more serious note, given the tragedy in Blacksburg, have to tell you I heard a conservative talk show host arguing that what we need to do is arm students in our schools with concealed weapons to deter such things from ever happening again.

Um..... call me a liberal hippy if you want, but I've a sense that might create more problems than it solves. Just a hunch.

More likely, I suspect that in cases where students are obviously mentally ill, like this young man was, instead of letting he or she just hang around campus, that something more pro-active than just sending him for treatment will become the norm. I mean, if a college junior isn't willing to say his name or read out loud in class, something is wrong. Severely wrong. We're not talking about a run-of-the-mill-malcontent here. He creeped out a prof so bad, he had to go to a tutor the rest of the semester or the prof was going to quit. That's a pretty serious sign something was not right. Whether it be greater monitoring of whether or not the student is taking their meds, or the possibility of requiring more extensive treatment, I'd suspect we'll see some changes in how campus administrators deal with mentally ill persons exhibiting wildly anti-social behavior.

At least, let's hope so.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A Brief Word from Blythe, California

Am on my way back to Costa Mesa after a weekend in Tucson at Casas Adobes Church, which is a fascinating megachurch in the middle of multiple transitions. They are transitioning primary leaders. They are transitioning their worship style. They are transitioning all their program. Staff are being transitioned as some are laid off or retire. It's just a place in complete flux.

Spending time at the Southern Baptist Casas Adobes and the Episcopalian All Saints all within days of one another was an experience. At one place the congregation is grappling with the pain that comes with living an individual life, while at the other there is grappling with the pain that comes with living in unjust systems. Thus at Casas the main function of the church is to get people into something called Adult Bible Fellowships (which are essentially Sunday Schools that meet throughout the worship services on Sunday morning) while the main function at All Saints is to get people in some sort of activist ministry. Whether it be environmental justice, or alleviating the plight of migratory farm workers, or volunteering in a free medical clinic, All Saints wants you to find your passion and turn you loose. This is simplified explanation, of course. There are hundreds of ministries going at Casas right now (one lady I met started one geared toward reaching out to young mothers who have just moved to the community) and they do a lot of mission work in their community, the immediate far west, and in Mexico. But you can feel the difference in emphasis. It's palpable.

What there is no difference in, however, is the passion that the people in both congregations feel for their worshiping community. I think with all the flux that maybe Casas is feeling some strain right now (as probably did All Saints 12 years ago when they made the shift in Rectors) but in both cases there was a sense of belief in the church's mission and ministry. A devotion to the idea that the church attended makes the the world a better place. And that sense that everyone, from the lead pastor to staff to laity, all believe that they are part of something bigger and more important than themselves, creates an attitude of mutual humility. If people treat one another in humility, then grace, even when there are differences, is what people extend to one another by default. Grace that results, I think, in mutual love and admiration, as well as an ongoing challenge that people demand the best out themselves as they seek to worship the Lord.

I don't know, exactly, what Jesus envisioned when we talked about the need for Christian community, but I've a sense both churches have captured at least a piece of that vision.

Anyhow after an interesting six days, seeing the landscape of two beautiful areas of the country (Southern California, and the painted mountains of Tucson), and some catching up with some family and friends, I am headed back to California, where I'll be flying out of Orange Country tomorrow morning. I'm trying to get some other papers finished, so this week's Ten Things will be delayed until Wednesday.

Hope you had a nice weekend.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A brief update after a day at All Saints Church in beautiful Pasadena

After driving on THE 405, THE 605, THE 5, and THE 110, (Aaron Wymer kids me about how we call it THE Ohio State University... well, every highway, as pointed out to me by former SoCal resident and blog reader, John Rex, is THE number that it is. You don't take I-5, or Number 5, or are told to go over on 5. It's always take THE 5. I'd rather take THE bus or THE subway, but this is the most car dependent place in the world. It's an urban planning nightmare) let me just say I take everything back about Dad not moving here that I wrote yesterday. SoCal is a great place....

to visit.

Heard an ad for a Mercedes Benz convertible which used the tag line, "out here, you have love being in your car". Considering traffic is so bad that virtually everything is an hour away, maybe never before has advertising been so truthful. Let's just say I wouldn't want to drive a beat up Geo Metro here every day. That's a fact jack. Ohio is looking better and better all the time.

Did a bunch of interviews today at All Saints Episcopal Church (all though in an effort to be more inclusive, they've dropped the "Episcopal" from the name). What Asbury is to conservative Wesleyan theology, All Saints is to liberal social justice ministry. I think it will be by far the most "leftist" church included in my study, and will probably be in many ways the most instructive and interesting. The pastor emeritus, George Regas, who really helped put All Saints on the map nationally, made his name as a young pastor coming out against the Vietnam War. Considering at the time Pasadena was one of the most conservative areas in California (an area that was staunchly supportive of Ron Reagan while he was governor, and then President) you can imagine how much hot water he was in at the time. However, on the other side, I guess the admiration he won in his stand ended up leading to more people coming to the church than leaving it, so he kept his job, and All Saints became the activist church that is today.

Which leads me to ask this question: How much of what we preach and teach is really determined by the cultural environment we're in, and how much of it comes out of our conviction? I mean, LA isn't exactly a hotbed of conservatism, and Regas exceedingly progressive message (which has been continued by Bacon... let's just say they're not big George Bush fans) has found a huge, and growing audience in this part of the world. Of course, if he preached the same thing in most places at home, his impact and following would be somewhat diminished. So would he have pushed the same message as a pastor in say, Columbus or Dayton or Sidney over the years or not? Considering that he expressed in his book, and in our conversation today, the idea that the various constituencies in his church pushed him out of his comfort zone again and again, one wonders. If George hadn't been pushed by his people and the issues pertinent in a place like LA, would he have retired being recognized for being more conventional theologically? Would he have taken the same risk in say, Omaha back in 1971?

I suppose we'll never know, but considering it seems that I am recognizing in my sermon planning how much I edit and censor myself, I wonder how much of what we preach is tempered by seeking approval and support from our people. Evangelicals, for example, didn't really get all that interested in the AIDS pandemic in Africa or environmental justice until their own constituencies began to express their concern about these issues. How often is our prophetic voice muzzled until we think maybe it'll be OK to stretch out neck out and not risk getting out head cut off?

Anyhow, say what you want about the church and its theology (as I'm sure my conservative colleagues will do so in abundance once they investigate the website some more) but you can't argue with the church's track record. The willingness to empower laity to reach out and serve others in multitude of ways has made All Saints a respected church in the LA area. It fostered an AIDS ministries, a free medical clinic to uninsured children, and one of the first shelters for battered women years for other churches took similar initiatives. And the number of people at the church who are involved in some kind of justice ministry (everything from environmental justice, to a group that has decided to show their support to the troops and their families) is staggering: Literally thousands of people from every walk of life, ethnicity, and part of the Greater LA metro area.

Anyhow, the place made me think a lot about what is required of a pastoral leader, and what it means to be not just a priesthood of all believers, but a prophethood of all believers. While I can't ever see myself taking some of the extreme positions theologically or politically these guys do (I'm just a guy who believes the narrow way is the one in the middle) I don't want our people's lives or their community to be same after encountering our church. I think Jesus demands more of us. Now just how that looks in Lima, Ohio, is what I'm praying about, in earnest, right now. I'm sure it will lead to some interesting conclusions.

Tomorrow, one last interview with a person at All Saints (a retired foreign correspondent with a major newspaper), and a drive to Arizona. See you Tucson!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

This is the O.C.

In another strange twist in a wonderfully bizarre year, I find myself typing this blog using pirated wireless internet in the guest bedroom of my Uncle Dennis' home in Costa Mesa, California. As a part of this Beeson Pastor experience, we were told we could go visit two churches we want to see, all expenses paid by the Beeson Center (Thank You Uncle Frank!). Thus, after a totally (and I am not making this up.... it was the best flight I've ever been on) smooth flight on Delta Airlines, a rented MPV mini-van (I reserved a HHR.... they apparently knew how to TAKE the reservation, but couldn't HOLD the reservation, which is really the most important part of the reservation process), a trip to the Soup Plantation (it's like the Golden Corral, except there's no meat... just salad and soup and surprise - it was great!), a nice day long visit with family, and a few frantic phone calls to bolster some last minute arrangements, I'm in the heart of the O.C., thirty minutes from Laguna Beach.

Strange, but true.

Have never been California before, and it pretty much looks like Ohio, except its pretty and warm. Am wondering why my Dad's brother had the foresight to come out here years ago and buy real estate that is now priced out of the stratosphere (no joke kids... I'm in a very nice ranch style house, with no basement, on a tiny lot, and the average value of a home on this street is $750,000) and I'm living near my folks in Lima? How did that happen? Dad became an engineer cause Dennis became an engineer. Why not follow his lead and move somewhere where it's in the 70's year round with no mosquitoes?


Anyhow, over the next six days I'll be doing nine interviews at All-Saints Episcopal church in Pasadena, making what MapQuest says is a seven-hour trek to Tucson, Arizona to do eight more interviews and some worship at Casas Adobes Church, a stop in Phoenix to see a former youth group-ite from the very old days, and will end my experience eating a place called Ruby's which sits on a pier, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I already received the treat of seeing my cousin Brenda, her husband Brad, and most of their kids (the oldest is 22 and a senior at Cal-Poly, while their youngest is 5 and starting kindergarten next year.... pardon me while I laugh so hard that I damage my spleen. Also, that reminds me, I'll need to make a little appointment with a doctor when I get home). Here's a couple of pics:

All of Brenda's boys play all kinds of sports, ski, ride motorcycles in the desert, have lots of fun, and break lots of bones. They are great kids. Their folks are doing a great job raising their boys.

Later in the evening Dennis and Sandy's daughter (my cousin) Heather and her husband Paul stopped by for dinner (Salmon on the grill, salad, green beans, and lots of other healthy stuff... between that the salad today my system doesn't know what to do), as did also Sandy's mother. It was a lovely evening of my catching up with family and hearing what Californians talk about, which is mostly the price of real estate, the beautiful place they just went to or about to go to, and how to drive from point A to point B.

And by far, most of the time is spent on talking about the best way to get places. It's like an obsession in these parts, where everything (except the beach) is an hour away unless the traffic is bad. So you talk about the best ways to beat the traffic. I'm just hoping I don't get lost and end up in Compton with Dr. Dre or in the LBC with Snoop Dogg . I've seen to many rap videos and movies about South Central to feel safe in that part of the world. Fo shizzle, my hizzle!

Anyhow, I've been up since 4am EST, and now it's almost 2am at home, so I'd better hit the hay. More tomorrow if the neighbor doesn't encrypt their wireless internet before tomorrow night.

But before I do, say a little prayer for my cousin Rhonda (Brenda and Heather's sister) who just had surgery (probably the only breast reduction done in the last six months in Southern California - I hear it's already made a huge difference for the better in how she feels), Sue Dickerson (knee replacement surgery - heard her knee was so bad that the surgeon said she'd have less pain in post-op with no meds than what she experienced walking around on that thing), and for Stacy Minger, a prof at Asbury (who traveled with us to London and Korea) who has been experiencing some MS-esque symptoms the past few days (very serious!).

Guess I'll do a little California dreamin'.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Well, it's good be back in the ol' USA. Don't want to make it sound like we were treated poorly in Korea or that the experience wasn't a good one. To the contrary, the way we experienced Korea is one of those things few people get to experience. The kind of hospitality shown to us by the Kwanglim Methodist Church was unparalleled... an unbelievable blessing of God. It's just that there's no place like home.

That, and here I can read the signs.... a real bonus in my book.
Anyhow, after seven great days and one terrible 32+ hour flight back to Korea I'm thankful for the way Christianity is expressed differently in different cultures. In every language of this world over the last 24 hours, Easter was celebrated, and the rising of Christ proclaimed. Pretty amazing thought, really, and one that humbles this blogger.

2) There were lots of great moments as we walked in a place 13 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone. Aaron and I prayed for a famous Korean college basketball coach in his home, with his wife. We heard Bishop Kim tell us the story of how at one time in his life, he had been forced to learn and speak Japanese against his will, and how now he would be traveling to Japan to use the words of those who had once been his oppressors, to now speak words of life. We listened to a typical associate pastor at a Korean church explain to us how he works 70-80 hours each six day work week, and talk about how its strengthening his faith. I listen to the story of Samuel, a pastor from Sierra Leone who lived through the horrible 10 year civil war in that country, only to emerge on the other side as a spiritual and political leader in his country thanks to the great faith and integrity he showed during that experience. I stood with Kent Reynolds watching a Korean tightrope walker and never laughed harder in my life as he described the experience. I ate things I can't describe. I prayed in a freezing cold closet while I felt sick as a dog, and count the experience as one of the spiritual highs of my life.

Even the miserable flight home had it's moments. Specifically, I met a young woman on the plane returning to Lexington who dreams of being a professional make-up artist and wants to get started in NYC by living with her aunt who is a nun living in that city (who could make that up?).

Just a great blessing. OK... I'll stop gushing and move on.

3) Enjoyed being home for Easter this morning. One of the great blessings this morning was seeing Joseph and Marty with their family in 9am service. Their daughter's family, Marty's sister's family, and her mom, were all there, taking up an entire row. It was a bittersweet blessing, for while I'm ready to spread my wings and shed the title "associate pastor" (and have been for some time, I think), there is a moment in time at that church captured in my memory that will forever be one of the most exciting and fulfilling ministry experiences I've ever had, and working with Joseph was a huge part of the equation.

I mean, I can't really explain what it was like in the early days when Joe first arrived at Shawnee, and the church was slowly turning around. There was a sense of belonging he nurtured for those of us who were a part of the experience. I used to love going to Annual Conference because we'd all stay together in one house, pastors, lay-members, and our families, and there was just always this sense that we were apart of something different... good... miraculous. I can still see him teasing Helen Price, and her giving it right back to him, while we ate ham sandwiches on the porch for lunch. I can remember him introducing Chris and I to all his friends, and listening to him rave on and on about all the great things happening as the church started coming alive. It was just the best kind of mentoring experience a young pastor could have had.

And I can remember all the Easter sermons. All the Sundays in the gym at Shawnee High School because four services on Easter morning in the sanctuary couldn't touch all the people who wanted to worship at the church that day. In those days, doing a benediction or a prayer, in front of all those people, seemed overwhelming, and I'd marvel as he'd just march up there and do his thing in the pulpit, totally unfazed.

This morning, him sitting in the crowd, and me, most certainly fazed, up there trying to preach something somewhat coherent, brought all those memories back, and reminded me that it's a season that will never be captured again.

That, and how much he's praying that I capture a new season in this wonderful church. I guess we'll see what God is going to do.

4) Never really commented on the Bucks dropping the big game to Florida. A parishioner told me this morning that a number of people from the community through a private, low profile bash for Jamar Butler - OSU guard and Shawnee HS grad - as a way of trying to lift his spirits. I'm sure those guys really wanted to win that game, especially after the drubbing they took from Florida early in the year, and the embarrrassment that was the BCS Championship Game. I'm sure they wanted to restore Ohio State's good name, and bring the championship trophy home to Columbus for the first time in 47 years.

Sometimes no matter how hard you try, you can't come through in the clutch. It's just in life, unlike sports, there are usually few moments where everything hangs upon one particular moment in time. Of course, years from now I'm sure all Bucks fans will talk about how special this team was... how they came together over the season, a few upperclassmen and a bunch of freshman. In time, the accomplishments of the team, winning the Big Ten championship, the Big Ten tourney, and NCAA Midwest Region, and making it all the way to the Championship Game a year or two ahead of schedule, will take on more and more luster over time. It doesn't feel that special in this moment, especially since Florida handed the Bucks their head twice in three months on the biggest stages in collegiate sports ( a fact, given a Florida grad not only lived next door to me this year, but roomed with me in Korea as the Bucks went down in defeat last week demonstrates how strange a sense of humor God has), but over time this team will become increasingly appreciated. That, you can take to the bank.

5) Had a nice Easter dinner with the fam Sunday. The Great One, my brother and his lovely wife, and our family gathered at our folks to feast on ham and give thanks for Christ's sacrifice for us this weekend. My brother, at his wife's instance, even showed up dressed like a deranged Easter Bunny, which brought no short amount a joy (we were laughing at him, not with him) to us all.

The Scariest Easter Bunny, EVER!

Andy With "The Great One"

Andy with the "Official Mom of From Bryan's Office..."

We missed Aimee's dad who had spent the day (Saturday... we did Easter dinner a day earlier to accommodate various schedules) working on a project at the plant, and mom's brother, Jack, and his wife Beth, who couldn't make it cause Jack was having dental issues. But all in all, we gorged ourselves, and enjoyed one another's company.

6) If you have access to such things via some sort of music service, check out the latest collaboration between Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby. A bluegrass album, Hornsby convinced Skaggs that they needed to do a re-make of Rick James' "Superfreak", which was about as far from Bluegrass as humanly possible. The results made me laugh.

7) While in Korea, after leading my fantasy basketball league most of the year, injuries down the stretch ended up depleting my team (who'd have ever thought my season would get torpedoed with an ankle injury to David Lee?), and while my brother (who is twelve years younger) made all the right pick ups and thus is still vying for the championship, I will, once again, end up in 5th place. Excuse me while I now light myself on fire.

8) While on the plane to and fro to Korea, I watched a rather sizable number of movies. You see, being of considerable girth, I cannot get comfortable, and thus cannot sleep, in an airline seat. Since Korean Airlines offered what amounted to "movies on-demand" for the 29 hours (total) I spent in their plane, here are some of movies I saw during the experience:

The Good
- Night at the Museum: Starring Ben Stiller. To be honest, when I saw it advertised during it's original distribution, I thought it looked terrible. I ended up (thankfully) being wrong. A good, clean movie. Robin Williams even summons up a decent acting job. Very enjoyable.

- Black Diamond: A movie so well done, and so personally disturbing, I had to watch "The Holiday" immediately following it's conclusion just so I could settle down. A flick not for the faint hearted (if you can't watch children be manipulated into becoming killers, don't rent this movie), this is a tragic story that takes place during the deadly civil war in Sierra Leone. Hard to believe people could be this evil, but that's what makes the movie so important. While the story is improvised, the war, and the way it's depicted, is accurate. As a father of sons, it was hard to watch, but very good.

- It's a Wonderful Life: Hey, next time you spend 29 hours watching movies, you can make your own list. For me and my house, we dig George Bailey.

- Rob B Hood: One of two foreign language films I watched. This one was produced by Jackie Chan, and it pretty much is everything you'd expect from a Jackie Chan movie. It didn't even need subtitles... the stunts by themselves, were the movie, and were fun to watch.

- 200 Pound Beauty: The other foreign language film (Korean) I watched. A movie so bad, it was unintentionally hilarious. Picture this... a woman who is overweight, but has a beautiful singing voice, has total plastic surgery only to become the biggest singing sensation because her beauty looks so natural. And that doesn't capture how convoluted the plot was. So bad, I laughed pretty much non-stop.

- Casino Royale: I don't even like Bond movies, and I liked this movie. The new James Bond is a good one. I might even rent this so I can see the ending (we landed before the ending.. I watched The Good Shepherd in it's entirety instead. Check under "The Bad" to find out how that went).

The Bad

- The Holiday: When the words "chick flick" show up in the dictionary, they should list this movie as the "grade A example". My estrogen rose to peak levels within 15 minutes of it's start. At least it did numb the pain of Black Diamond... that much I'll give it.

- Little Children: Had high hopes for this movie. An indie flick staring Kate Blanchett, it received lots of praise and high reviews when in the theaters. But this story about bad marriage, affairs, and the suburbs was long on cliches, and short on a decent plot.

- The Good Shepherd: About a guy who helped start the CIA. Aaron Wymer recommended it to me. Apparently he likes movies that last 3 hours and move slower than a frozen worm.

- Man of the Year: A movie where Robin Williams plays a political comedian who runs for President, and his love interest works for the computer company that throws the election, and they face all kind of trouble and.... oh, just forget it. Rent something else.

The Maybe

- Flags of our Fathers: I know I should have liked this movie more. Clint Eastwood filmed it, and it was an interesting story about WWII that came out of the famous photo of the soldiers putting up the flag at Iwo Jima. Just didn't click with me. Don't know why.

- Dreamgirls: Aimee loved this movie. I thought there was a lot of singing. Good singing, but lots of it. Found myself fast forwarding through all the songs to find out how the story turned out. If you like singing, this is for you.

9) Wow, is this long, or what?

10) Found on YouTube a fascinating documentary filmed for the BBC by Louis Theroux about the family who makes up the Westboro Baptist "Church". "The Most Hated Family In America" follows the Phelps family in their Topeka, Kansas compound, their "church", on their funeral pickets, and even gives us a glimpse at the patriarch, Fred Phelps, himself, who is quite simply one of the most hateful people alive. I found it very well done, and a good explanation by Theroux of what seems to make this group tick. I'll post the preview of it here, and it'll be up to you to follow the seven other links for the documentary (It's over an hour long). Note, that there is a great deal of profanity, and a number of disturbing images. Just wanted to warn you before you started watching what happens when a charismatic leaders convinces a group of people that they are the only ones in the world who truly understand the Bible. It gets a little ugly...

and that's because it is.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Back Safe and Sound In the USA, but I Don't Know What Day or Time It Is

Well, after an unexpected 10 hour layover in Atlanta yesterday (because our original flight was canceled) which led to a 31 hour stretch of no sleep, I am thankfully here in Wilmore safe and sound. I'm fighting a cold, and the effects of Korean food, but other than that, all is well. I slept until 2pm today, and though my body is totally confused (my body thinks its 8:30am even though I'm living in 7:30pm... now you know why it's so confused), I am finishing up Chapter 3 of my dissertation so I can go home to Lima tomorrow and be with my family (who's been there all week since its the boy's Spring Break).

Thus, I'm whipped, but happy. I'll do a new "Ten Things..." next Monday, and then Wednesday morning I'll hit the road again for six more days journey to see All Saints Episcopal Church (Pasadena, California) and Casas Adobes Church (Tucson, Arizona) which are two my research subjects for the dissertation. Thanks for all the prayers regarding my time in Korea, and I'll try to share more about it while I'm on the road, again.

Also, I'd like to encourage you to check out Matthew French's blog. I don't think you'll be sorry if you do.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think (South Korea Version)

Ten Things I Think I Think (South Korea Version)

As a part of my year-long intensive doctoral program, I am currently in Seoul, South Korea, where the largest Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and the largest church, the Yoido Full Gospel (over 750,000 members) are all located. We’re here at the behest of the Kwanglim Methodist Church, whose Senior Pastor, Chung Sook Kim, is a Beeson Pastor (96-97) himself.

1) The trip over here has been interesting, to say the least. For more info on the first two days, just check out the last post. I’ll pick up things up Day Three, which saw us make the trek up to the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). For those not old enough to have watched M.A.S.H., or who have forgotten their 20th century history, as a result of WWII, Korea was split between the Communists and the Free World nations, creating two separate countries, North and South Korea. In 1950, Communist China made the decision to unify the two Koreas, initiating a war that the United States made a decision to get involved in. By 1953, the war had bogged down into a stalemate, and as a result of the peace accord, a stretch of land at the 38th parallel across the Korean peninsula is a big no-man’s land (the DMZ) between the two countries where human feet largely do not tread. We went to go see it.

2) The weird thing about the DMZ isn’t the level of military presence (although if you’ve never been in the military, or lived near a base, it is a bit unsettling), but rather that the South Koreans have (how could I make this up?) attempted to develop it as a tourist attraction. There are three visitors centers. At one place, there is a museum dedicated to the entire saga of the war and its aftermath (which included a skirmish in the mid-seventies where 26 men lost their lives after fighting ensued between North and South Korean soldiers because the South Koreans tried to cut down a Poplar Tree in the DMZ that interfered with the site line of the American army base) and a tour you can take of one of the four North Korean constructed tunnels the South Koreans have discovered that run under the DMZ into their country.

At museum, a seven minute video on a wrap around screen was shown that is supposed to be a history of the experience. But, instead, it basically talks about how the DMZ, after the 2000 accord, is now becoming the center and symbol for peace in the world…. which given the recent tension over the North Korean’s testing nuclear weapons just seems bizarre. That and the soundtrack to the video was a re-incarnation of bad 80’s American Hair Metal. It was the most unsettling piece of propaganda I’ve ever seen.

3) The second visitor center we were able to see (a third was closed because of tension over the center and symbol of peace in the world) was an observation post where you can stand on a big platform and see the DMZ. Unfortunately, it was foggy, so all the stuff I wanted to see (particularly Propaganda City, which is a fake town built by the North Koreans in the DMZ right after the war that nobody lived in until about three or four years ago) wasn't visable. Of course, because I’m me, standing on that platform, I took out my camera to start videoing the foggy scene, when I thought better of it, and put my camera away. Good thing, because apparently the guy at the door who was supposed to tell me not to take pictures of the DMZ wasn’t around as I walked outside (I was one of the last folks out cause I was asking a tour guide some questions). Of course, two minutes later, a South Korean soldier asked to see my camera, and after my showing him many of the pictures on the memory chip, he finally let me go. Of course everyone enjoyed watching me almost go to prison. Randy Jessen, the program director, said that he had composed a letter to Aimee on this very subject before he left on the trip, because he thought the possibility of my imprisonment while here to be high. Such is my stellar reputation.

4) After narrowing escaping a South Korean jail and discovering that the “center and symbol of peace in the world” is one of the most heavily land-mined spaces anywhere we went shopping where a bunch of us bought tailored suits…….

Yeah, it was a surreal kind of day… the realization of nuclear annihilation and Abercrombie and Fitch knock offs connected by one two hour bus ride.

Apparently, at some point, Beeson Pastors started going to a particular tailor (one of hundreds) in Seoul to buy tailored suits. I’m not sure how or why this started, or who in the world even dreamed up such a possibility, but the tradition remains. And after haggling with the tailor, I ended up getting measured for a new charcoal grey suit. It will supposedly be ready by Tuesday, and we’ll take them back with us to the states.

The rest of the day I spent looking for gifts for Aimee and the boys, drinking Starbucks coffee (it’s three stories high, and was packed…. Koreans must love strong coffee). I also found out that they make a lot of luggage, handbags, backpacks and pocketbooks over here. Never in my life had I had so many people try to sell me a Louis Vitton or Burberry purse. I also saw a lot of (Marco) Polo jeans (that’s how they were labeled). They like to haggle here which is a pain in that if you leave a store without buying something, you always feel like a schmuck who just stoned the best efforts of people working hard to make the sale. And if you do buy something, you always think you get taken, so either way it's not that enjoyable. I did manage to find yo-yos that come with a CD-ROM (???) for the boys. Can't wait to see how the CD-ROM and the yo-yo go together.

5) After a good night’s sleep, we spent all day today (Sunday) in church. We started at Kwanglim Methodist Church (where I begged someone to get me to a computer so I could follow the end of the Buckeyes big win over Georgetown in the NCAA tourney – more on that later) where we were split up and sent to observe various Sunday School classrooms. I am pleased to announce that 5th and 6th grade boys are the same, everywhere. They can’t sit still, they can’t keep their hands off their neighbor, and they are violent. Watching them this morning sit through a twenty minute sermon from one of the church’s 25 pastors brought back lots of great (when I was their age) and trying (when I was their youth pastor) memories. The experience just re-iterated to me that I was not called to be an elementary school teacher, and that elementary school teachers are underpaid.

6) We then worshipped at the 11am service at KMC as honored guests of Pastor Kim, who, if you remember, is a Beeson Pastor himself. Hence the affinity he has for our kind, and the church’s willingness to host us (including paying virtually all expenses except for our airfare) during this experience. The service was very traditional. Hymns, liturgy, choir, orchestra, organ, lots of standing and sitting at the right times…. It basically reminded me of my upbringing at Trinity UMC in Lima (including the choir not singing in English). It was a trip down memory lane, just minus me helping take up the offering and slipping out the back door with a few buddies to get breakfast during the sermon. Now that I’m older and don’t get to hear first class classical orchestra and a choir numbering in the hundreds singing classical pieces, I appreciated the change of pace. I did note, however, that the average age of the congregation had to be in the fifties. More on this later.

7) Pastor Kim’s sermon was interesting in and of itself. Since today is Palm Sunday, he focused on the text in Matthew where Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey. He compared that to how a Roman soldier would ride into town on a huge horse. In one case, the man on the horse inflicts his will by force, while in the other case, the man on the donkey chooses to express himself through humility. He then promptly drew an analogy to the political situation here by comparing North Korea, which likes to show off its military might on a regular basis, and South Korea which would lose a war with the North in no time if it weren’t for the fact that the United States has its back. This, Kim said, is the reason the South will ultimately win out in the reunification process.

I don’t think you can possibly realize how much this conflict shapes this nation unless you experience it first-hand. The peninsula can’t be, size wise, much bigger than a few states in the Midwest, and yet 13 million people in Seoul live with the reality that nuclear missiles in mountains not more than 100 kilometers away are pointed straight at their head. Couple that with the fact that the soldiers who will launch the missiles are relatives that haven’t been seen in generations, and you can get some idea as to how deep this conflict goes. That this moment in Kim’s sermon received by far the loudest “Amen” of the sermon, goes to how desperately folks here want this thing to end, and how earnestly they beseech God to make that a reality.

My theory is that in the end, the country who makes DVD players, watches American Idol, and who sports citizens who carry cell phones always, in the end wins these kinds of battles. While ideology can inspire a degree of loyalty, and coercion can keep everyone else in line, hunger has a way of overcoming ideas and guns. That’s what ultimately sunk Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, and despite their best efforts to cut their people off from the world in the hope they’ll never know a better life exists, what will also sink the North Koreans. Such is the power of freedom, which I believe to be great gift from God. Don’t’ underestimate the role the spiritual dimension associated with these things plays, particularly when it comes to Christians facing a seemingly “godless nation”. Pray enough to God for this particular ending to this story, and more often than not, its what comes to pass. Don’t ask me to explain it. It’s just one of the dynamics of prayer we don’t really understand.

8. The Koreans believe in prayer. I'm not sure if this is the legacy of the teaching of the missionaries, or a connection to the ancestor worship and Confuscionism that shaped this nation for generations. A general message we hear from every pastor is that belief in Jesus will bring a happy, blessed life, and peace, which sounds suspiciously like the kind of folk religion connected to animinism. But it's impossible I think to peer into the human heart and discern its intent. All you can assume is that if people wholly devote themselves to Jesus, that to Jesus they will be devoted.

That said, the Korean fascination with prayer, regardless of wherever it comes from, is absolutely amazing. Prayer services are offered at multiple times every day of the week. I'm typing this right now from a huge retreat center dedicated wholly to encouraging constant prayer from those who attend, and it's packed every day of the year. What's more, every large church in Korea has a retreat center like this one, and they're all booked. At Yoido yesterday, a group of teens (about 100) were leaving for Yoido's prayer retreat center to for a week-long prayer retreat.

Here this: they missed school for a week to go pray. And this isn't an isolated occurence.

The results are that there are a lot of hardworking and believing Christian people in this country. Korean churches are filled with folks ready and eager to go all over the world to share the Gospel. They are afraid of nothing, and ready to tackle the world. They not only believe they will reunite the Koreas, and eventually win the entire world for Jesus Christ. It's an amazing kind of faith that's really humbling.

9. That being said, the same kinds of erosion we're seeing in the United States to the basic foundation of spiritual belief and Christian influence is operating too here in Korea. Secularism, materialism, and a growing belief in the power of the sciences (natural and social) to solve all ills are claiming more adherants, particularly among the young, each and every year. While about 30% of the nation claims Christianity (30% also claim to be Buddhist) the fast growing segment of the population in Korea are those who claim to be nothing. And the younger the demographic, the greater the percentage (to the point that pastors we've talked to believe that less than 20% of people under the age of thirty claim Christianity. It is a strange dynamic, at work here, but as the country westernizes, moving even more solidly in the affluent first world of nations, spiritual faith of all kinds continues to diminish. What challenges this will present to the church over here are unknown, but I suspect the same kind of post-modern "question why everything is the way it is" and a growing fascination with the rest of world will leave pastors scratching their heads, much like most of us are doing in the US. But such is life in this day and age, where the young are seen flocking to Starbucks, even in Seoul, South Korea, while churches wonder what they need to do in order to reach them.

10. And finally, be it known that I am rooming with a University of Florida graduate, Aaron Wymer. Given that OSU has to play Florida, again, for another National Championship, I'm wondering what lesson it is God is trying to teach me in this experience. Here's hoping that it's not that I need to become even more humble through additional humiliation of watching the Buckeyes lose, again. Although "watching" is just a euphanism. I'll actually be in a bible study with about 4000 other people. I'm sure the rest of Buckeye nation will pick up the slack of my absence.

On that note, tonight I will be engaged in prayer for family, friends, our congregation, and the world. I've have tried to remember as many of your needs as I could. As I seek the mystery that is in the power of prayer, may you be blessed in the midst of it.