Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jesus Beyond The Suburbs

For the past six weeks, I've been talking about all the ways life in the suburbs can dry us out spiritually, and different ways we can avoid the desertification of our soul.

To move away from measuring our lives by our own concrete symbols of acheivement, toward the depth of strength and patience we hold in reserve to be able to deal with life's complexities and trials.

To move away from measuring our importance based on ow many people need us and how many appointments we have on our calendar, toward the depth of relationships we have with those who matter to us in our lives and the strength of the connection we have with the living God.

To move away from measuring our endurance by how hard and long we can work and quality of life by how luxurious our downtime is, and move toward appropriate rhythms of work and rest while measuring the quality of our life by how respectful we are of those different than ourselves.

To move away from wanting our children to the best the most competitive they can be, toward wanting our children to have a meaningful relationship with Christ.

It's been a great series, but tomorrow we need to wrap it up. To conclude "Jesus In The Suburbs", and go on to something else. So, with one last day to talk about this subject, here's what I want to say.

In the book, Death by Suburb by David Goetz, which really formed the basis for the ideas behind this series, Goetz ends the book by making the statement that at one point, when he was younger, all he wanted to do was make his mark on the world. That's really where you are at when you are young. You are ready to move others, change things, and succeed. But, at some point as you grow older, you begin to realize that the world (sometimes slowly, but too often at the speed of light) makes its mark on you. Whether its by punching or grinding or gouging or branding makes no difference... pretty soon, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually you begin to show the scars.

I'm sure you know about the funeral service Charlotte did here on Friday. It was a high profile, in the media kind of affair. A nineteen-year old boy whose life was lost fighting insurgents in Iraq. The Patriot Guard was hear. A Major General arrived to speak and present the family with medals of valour. People in uniform stood at attention, bagpipes were played, and a young man's body was slowly lowered into the ground. It was a poignant moment. Nineteen year-olds are supposed to be dating around, working hard to get a foothold in life... not die at the hands of an IED halfway around the world.

But what you didn't know was that there were two military funerals here this week. One Friday, and one yesterday. A service of rememberance for a man who did three full tours of duty in Vietnam as special ops for the Navy. Another patriot who served his country for 17 years until physical limitations stole away from him the life that he loved. A man who saw all kinds of atrocities in battle, struggled to maintain relationships with others, and had to suffer as his body (particularly his lungs) detoriorated so badly he had to have a transplant ten years ago. Only immediate family were here for the service, and because he'd had so much more time on this earth, he had many more marks, more scars, that complicated how people felt about him. There was no news crew or vet on a motorcycle or a buguler sounding taps for Joe... just a bible and flag from the local VFW, and few family members sorting out their feelings.

And that's exactly what Goetz is talking about. The difference between the 19 year old tank driver who just wanted to make his mark on the world by proving himself by military service, and the old veteran, who's desire to make his mark faded long ago only to be replaced with complex relationships, mistakes that had to be dealt with, pain that goes with a body that fails you, and pain that goes with nightmares about things you lived through that will never go away. One man wants to make his mark, while the other is heavily marked and scarred.

One guy is ready to beat life on his own terms, while the other is just about beaten.

The problem is that the older we get, we begin to realize the truth. That the force of our own will or desire to win this game, or the shortcuts we took to be able to move forward faster and further than what seemed possible, or the people we stepped on to help us move just a little higher up the ladder, catch up with us. While on the one hand, this often makes us wiser and smarter, it can also leave scars that are so deep and lasting, that the memories of that which hurt us can make us afraid, bitter, angry, depressed, full of anxiety, addicted, or even just plain ol' tired. Thus, we begin to opt for a safer, more reliable route that will help us avoid the pitfalls of life, or get more reckless, pushing ourselves or the relationships we value closer toward disaster as we seek even more irresponsible behaviors that become more likely to destroy us.

I love the image we have here in John 15. The image of pruning. I think the idea that Christ, though his teaching, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, presence whispers into our ear that which needs to be cut out or off of our life, not so we can end up stunted, but so we can grow in new ways that produce fruit, is a powerful image. In it we sense the pain one must feel by having to surgically remove that which grows out, or on us that would seek our destruction, but in Christ, the point isn't to live life spiritually amputated, but rather ready for new growth and healing so can still push out in new directions, accomplishing new things, living into the New Kingdom as a life that spills over with good fruit that nourishes not only ourselves, but others.

My fear is that like lots of people in the suburbs, we too often end up like the person who has seen what damage life can inflict, like a car wreck, and opt as a result to begin to protect ourselves from the potential of being marked again. We opt for passive safety, replacing our sedan with a big lumbering SUV. Surrounding ourselves with luxury, in a shell that will protect us when life comes roaring along to inflict its damage on our quarter panel. If we aren't safe at home or at work, the only other place we travel to is our lake home or all-emcompasing resort or on a cruise, where life has been sanitized and made comfortable for us. We live there, unaware of the crying need that lies just on the other side of the wall, or track, or street, or sea, slowly allowing ourselves to view that which inconviences us as a major issue worth all our attention. We help, when we're asked, but for the most part, our life is lived quietly, passively, so that attention might not be drawn to us, living out our days looking only for a quiet beach or a delightful game of bridge.

And my other fear is that others in this room this day or getting more reckless, taking greater chances, upping the stakes as the illness, addiction, behavior, hatred, self-loathing or estrangement from others only grows stronger and more dangerous. You've traded in your sedan for a for crotch rocket motorcycle that you push harder and harder... tires growing increasingly bald and brakes slowly wearing down to nothing. Your hoping to outrun life, but narrowly missing hitting the wall again and again and again and again. Your life looks like it's moving a million miles an hour, but you are just living as passively as the guy whose life has become having a well-manicured lawn... because if you ever driven or rode really, really fast, you know how little control you really do have.

And you are probably just traveling the same well-worn roads too, in the process, never going anywhere new. Just the same dead ends.

If your whole life is boiling down to two weeks vacation at the lakehouse and a week on some beach in the winter OR a deeper, darker hole that you can't seem to get out of, don't you think you really need a change?

I remember exactly when I got thrown out of the sedan that was heading on life's highway toward a big lumbering seemingly safe SUV. It was on a summer day, at Lakeside Ohio, when a pastor stepped up to me and asked if I'd be interested in taking a job as a youth director. That day I said yes, I had no idea that in a smelly, largely unkept youth room, hovering over ancient bibles, asking the big questions like "What is life all about?", Why do bad things happen?", "If God is all powerful why doesn't he stop suffering", and "Is there life after death?", that soon my active seeking of the Living God through the Word that is Jesus Christ, would flip over my life. From a future as a corporate attorney, looking to make big dollars so I'd never had to say "no" to myself or my family ever again, to the roller-coaster that trying to explain who God is and what God wants to others has taken me deep into trying to understand my own ego, needs, points of weakness, and sometimes very publically and painfully, my ignorance. I am a living example of what it means to be pruned and how painful it can be....

but, oh, the fruit. I have tasted such good fruit. In the silence, with God, and in service, to others, the blessings were so great. So great indeed.

And instead of an SUV or a crotch rocket, I've opted in my life for a nimble little sports car, that carries people along with me, provides a measure of safety in the instance of a collision, but remains nimble and powerful enough that I can take new road littered with new potholes and still possess what's needed to avoid them. To travel to places with streets that were so unknown to me, that they had no name.

And now, in suffering and joy, that's where I want I to go.... I want to travel this life in places where the streets have no name. Where the people living there feel forgotten or unimportant, but really are invaluable to God and indispensable to the community at large.

I want to go to where Daniel Joseph raises his children on a dollar a day, riding my bike on the footpath that takes me to the side of hill where his hut his. I want to go out into the country, to meet Miss Viola, a ninety-year old woman living in a rundown shotgun shack so decripted that snakes could live her in back room, crawling in and out of the house through holes in the floor. I want to go into subdivision, where large houses pop up seemingly overnight filled with people who spent their life thinking they had it all figured out but suspecting over time that they didn't.

I want to go to streets with no names, not so I can mark them, but so that I might meet Jesus again in the hope that he might, in his grace, mark me.

There is so much waiting for you beyond the high wall and swinging gate. There is so much life available when you crawl out of that hole. When you make that journey with Jesus. He wants to teach us what love really is. Love that prunes us back, and love that grows us strong. Love that wants to nail the sins that our ours to a tree, so that he might be marked with our wounds in order that we might find healing. A love so great that even the pain of death drives us closer to the one who would teach us that the end is never the end... but only a beginning.

What is at the end of our life? What is the reward at the finish line? Is it security? Is it success? Is it just not having to race anymore? Are you just trying to get there in one piece, or as safely and securely as possible....

or is the reward abundantly given, yours, now, every single day, as God takes you places you never dreamed you'd get to see?

Random Thoughts

- The funeral for Christian Neff yesterday was very nice. Charlotte did a nice job of weaving the story of his life (which had a number of chapters: young boy, high school student, soldier, etc...) by inviting a lot of different people to share memories. Between that, the lovely music, a call for peace, and the hauntingly beautiful walk back to the graveside service, not much else could have been said or done to properly celebrate Chris' life. I was blessed.

- A number of rumors were circulating about the Westboro Baptist "Church" (they're the people who believe that God does bad things to people because he's angry about homosexuality) conducting a picket of the funeral, which created a lot of anger and chaos in the Shawnee community. Must have received 50 different phone calls from area law enforcement officers, media people, concerned citizens, and church members about the issue. A woman even stopped me yesterday morning before the funeral to ask if it would be a good idea for her to keep her son from from our pre-school.

Well, to no surprise to me, even though the church on their website said they were going to show up at the "Shawnee Methodist Dog Kennel" (that's how they listed us... guess that makes me the Top Dog) in a press release on their website, they never showed. My guess is that, according to a more detailed schedule on the site that they keep and their past history, that they have a person who does nothing but follow soldier deaths via the internet so they can make a threat about arriving at a funeral. They'd like you to think they have the power to be in a Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Nebraska all on the same couple of days (as what was promised this week), but in all reality, the "church" is only the extended family of Fred Phelps.. a disbarred lawyer who fancies himself to be the world's leading bible scholar. It is only because the gifts and abilities of a man who married into family to be able to create creative media, web-design, and frame the message with a marketing strategy most Fortune 500 companies would pay big bucks for, that the family has any kind of national standing at all. Too bad his gifts are being wasted on a message of hate.

In any event, we were ready for them. The Patriot Guard was there to create a barrier between the WB"C" and the family. The police already had developed a strategy to allow the picketers to do their thing (which is protected by the Constitution) while keeping things under control. And, quite frankly, I was more worried about what would could happen to the family (as the mood of peace which enveloped the crowd would have been disturbed with people carrying signs praising God for doing horrible things) or to the picketers (folks in these parts don't suffer fools gladly, and an injury or death to a member of the WB"C" would only strengthen their resolve and intensify their message) than anything else. I'm just glad nothing happened.

- We have been nursing sick boys at our house all week. Between the stomach flu (and all that involves), colds, and fevers, there hasn't been much uninterrupted sleep at the Bucher house. We kept Max home from a soccer tournament today, which proved fortuitous because he just tossed his cookies (this time in the toilet... thank goodness) yet another time. Such is as it is for parents of children... you just gotta take the good with the bad, loving one another through life. Prayer for good health, though, would be greatly appreciated.

- We, more than likely, will find out the gender of our gestating child this week. Every woman who know us, I think, is pulling for a girl (to offset all the testosterone in the house). Aimee and I just want healthy and happy. A little girl would be nice (I'm sure she'd wrap me around her finger and probably drive me to buy a gun when she became a teenager), but we know how to raise boys, so we're down with that too. Aimee just brought home little onesies and baby rattles. God is good.

- Will probably watch the game with Dad tonight. Go Bucks, beat the Gophers.

Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I Stood Under A Clear Blue Sky Today

I stood under a clear blue sky today
on a tarmac
at an Air Force base
waiting for the return
of a nineteen-year old soldier

I stood under a clear blue sky today
with a grieving mother
a mourning father
a broken sister
aunts and uncles
and a host of young adults
stunned at the loss of a friend

I stood under a clear blue sky today
where bikers who rode in escort
carried flags in silence
and soldiers in clean blue uniforms
carried a flag-covered coffin
to a hearse
so as to conclude the long journey

I stood under a clear blue sky today
looks of disbelief or grim acceptance
on every face
people saluting
as we climbed back into our cars


how a day could be so beautiful
while a war waged
half a world away
produces such ugliness

They stood under a clear blue sky today
students at Apollo
students at the Middle School
students at the High School
where he once was a student
lining the street

They stood under a clear blue sky today
motorists who pulled over
weeping in the sunlight
covering their heart with their hand
remembering another who serves
or another day with another flag-draped coffin
or one who never came come

They stood under a clear blue sky today
the young and the old
stiff from the long ride down and back
appreciative of the respect paid
to the one they love
by a community
who wished to share their grief

We stood under a clear blue sky today
and prayed a closing prayer
Jesus' prayer
which asks for forgiveness for the way we hurt others
while also calling us to forgive others who hurting
so that earth might be as it is in heaven

I stood under a clear blue sky today
wanting to hug my sons
for trips to go bowling
or games of King of the Mountain
quickly fade into yesterdays
where we once stood
under a clear blue sky

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Am in the middle of preparing for our new sermon series (which is on the book of Philippians) and the fall Koinania bible study (which is on the life of Paul). I am enjoying the research (as much as I can enjoy doing piles of reading), but am growing uneasy with the idea of trying to do two separate presentations for six weeks. I'm afraid I'll either end up repeating myself, or do a poor job twice.

Why the concern? Well, I've been here before. In a past life, I was a part of a new worship service startup that we originally conceived for Sunday evenings (which, in retrospect, was a mistake). The service was geared to reach unchurched or de-churched twenty-somethings (which actually ended up happening... just not on the scale we had hoped). But in order to get enough people to make the building not feel so empty, I decided to write two separate sermons... one for the morning worship and one for the evening. At first, I balanced things pretty well, but it didn't take long for the grind of the weekly schedule (which also required a prep for a large adult bible study and another for youth group) to wear me down. As a result, the quality went through the floor, and my preaching and teaching everywhere suffered.

Thus now I sit on the precipice of six weeks of double preps, and trying hard to avoid a similar fate than my Peak experience. But as I plow forward, I'm beginning to realize just how much more energy and concentration it takes to do sermons totally from memory while also writing an in-depth, engaging bible study from scratch. We'll see how it goes.

2) Hillary Clinton has introduced a prospective plan for universal health care, which is getting the debate going about whether not the US should have a single-payer (i.e. nationalized) system. A good many people will get riled about this (right in behind, I'd imagine, the the health care and pharmaceutical industries), trying to scare us with tales of woe and horror stories about things happening overseas to citizens receiving substandard care in government-administrated systems. Driving back from Virginia a couple of weeks ago, I realized the rhetoric had begun while listening to Rush Limbaugh's program as I cruised back home.

Rush told the story of a guy in England who was refused surgery on a broken leg that hadn't been set properly because he refused/was unable to comply with his doctor's orders to quit smoking. The implication here is that by handing over our health care to government bureaucrats you increasingly give away your liberty... which, given how abusive other government oversight agencies have been, could very well be true.

But, while the quality of medical care for Americans is excellent, private business interests have complicated the system of payment so greatly, that's it hard at this point to imagine any thing more intrusive or controlling than than what which we are living with in terms of private health insurance, right now. Case in point... Two weeks ago I went to see my doc, Eric Stallkamp, for the first of what will become an annual physical. Eric, as is the custom in such things, sent me to Lima Pathology to get some blood work done. Nothing big... just checking for routine stuff like cholesterol, blood sugar, and the like.

How much do you want to be that the cost of the blood work will be denied by my health insurance administrator (a plan which , by the way, costs over $18,000 per year)? Blood work which, quite frankly, will probably make real what needs to be changed, and could potentially save thousands of dollars down the line? You would think this kind of thing would be encouraged, but I know I'll just end up paying more on top of the $18,000 which doesn't make me eager to do it again. Yet, another example of how fiscally, short term profit is dictating long-term care.

So, call me a pollyanna if you must, but every horror story you could give me from a botched procedure in Canada, I can give you millions of examples of people right here who live in fear of getting sick. And besides, it's hard for me to find a doc or medical professional who really think this system we have now really makes all that much sense. I sense that the winds of change are blowing and I'm glad the debate has begun.

3) Spent yesterday evening playing a new version of "King of the Mountain" with the boys. In this version, I lay down on my stomach and all three boys battle to be the one to stay up on my back... while occasionally I rise up like a bucking bronco and cast them off. Hard to believe you could spent a couple of hours playing this game (while also watching the Bengals give another game away) but apparently you don't need much to keep three boys entertained.

And if you are thinking poor Eli couldn't compete, I watched him throw his five-year old brother off the bed and onto the floor. I suspect maybe God has given us our linebacker and our opportunity for season tickets at OSU games.

(One can dream....)

4) One of the more fascinating things I've learned about Paul during this study is how the guy rebelled against conventional societal norms in a manner that could only be described as prophetic. He was an educated Roman citizen, but to the disgust of Roman elite elected to use his hands as a tentmaker to help make a living. He was an trained, observant Jew, but to the dismay to those who had grown up in this tradition, advocated liberty from more arcane aspects of the law for gentiles, and even empowered them to be leaders. He was surely patriarchal in his own orientation, but was an advocate that women need not become married and empowered them, once again, to lead within the community. He was an enigma, who could argue with well-developed rhetoric, but unlike the philosophers of his day, didn't wish people to be convinced by his words, but by his example. His life and teaching was a challenge to conventional norms of Romans, Jews, and miscellaneous Gentiles which made him a controversial figure, both in and out of the church.

It's hard to get this picture of Paul, I think, because we envision him as an upstanding leader in a formalized church structure like we have now. But the church was at least 300 years from becoming a centralized, societally-accepted institution. Paul was involved as a leader in a largely disorganized, decentralized small cultic movement that was internally conflicted about it's present and future. A movement that wasn't universally intent on reaching all people, or effecting any kind of cultural transformation. Paul couldn't have been more radical given these circumstances... a guy who not only angered local political officials, but also was often an affront to the original Apostles themselves. A wildly complicated man, who slowly began to show the church the way from a one-generational Apocalyptic movement, to that which has spanned over two-millennium.

5) I've never been a big fan of the Pauline epistles, largely because of the way that Christians have used them (particularly the book of Romans) as a "Rosetta Stone" to understand the teachings of Jesus. Much of the doctrine we follow today comes out of this kind of study. We forget that Paul was inspired by Jesus' thinking and example to modify what he had previously believed, which is far different than what I discern is the current understanding that Paul translated a central message Jesus for others that was supposed to become Christian canon. I suspect this kind of interpretation of what Paul was doing (translating a canonical message) has shaped the way we have presented the gospel over the course of our history.

One wonders, for example, why colonial missionaries in Africa not only tried to undo the religious beliefs of the indigenous people they sought to evangelize, but also tried to tear apart carefully crafted social systems that had sustained people for multiple generations. That did not appear to be Paul's model. Instead, Paul would use the cultural background of the locals to build bridges between what they had known, and what Paul now longed for them to know: the person of Jesus Christ. Thus, working theology that would advocate letting locals eat meat served to foreign idols or advocating the possibility of singleness despite coming from a cultural background that would have vehemently argued against either practice. While Paul didn't simply accept any society or religious norm (one thinks about the anger he raised when freeing the young fortune teller from the spiritual pimps living off her practice of divination), he didn't seem all that interested in ripping them to shreds either.

Of course, if you follow my logic to its conclusion, you get the vision of more of a patchwork quilt of theological underpinnings being held by local churches, as opposed to great maxims and doctrines that are unequivocally held by everybody. But then again, as more indigenous forms of Christian expression are beginning to rise up all over the world, and even across the country (from snake-handling in Appalachia to multicultural faith communities in urban centers) that appears to be the direction the church is heading anyway... much to the fear of those who have enjoyed centuries of centralized power (the Roman Catholic) or are embedded in mainstream culture (mainline protestantism, and more recently, the non-denominational megachurch). To instead go into the local cultural milieu, and make where people the living there the starting place for spiritual transformation, hasn't been the pre-eminent strategy of institutional Christianity for over 1700 years. It'll be interesting to see how this shapes the church, and creates dissension within, in coming days.

6) The funeral for Christian Neff, a young soldier from the Shawnee community who died during his tour in Iraq, will be held here at the church on Friday. Our condolences go out to his family as we continue to pray for peace not just in Iraq, but across the world.

7) Either the Big Ten is just awful, or the Bucks are just dominant. It's too early to tell. But, gee whiz, they made Northwestern look terrible. Couple that with Michigan surviving Penn State coughing up the ball a couple of time inside the ten and A-State losing this week, and wonders who deep the troubles for the Big Ten go.

Or how far this Buckeye team could go. Could they really lose all of their offensive playmakers from last year, and still truly be a national championship contender? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

8) If you haven't checked out the latest issue of Fortune magazine, you might want to. There are not only some great articles on leadership, but another good one on next emerging craze on the internet: networking communities. It was fun to get a glimpse into the paranoia and competition that now marks the relationship between Facebook and MySpace, as well as all the other on-line communities that are popping up all over the world. One wonders who long it will take for these folks to figure out instant translation from one language to another as a means of attaining a global following. That has to be close.

9) Great article last week on Cody Kopilchack, a young man in our congregation who is a featured golfer on Shawnee High School's golf team and the place kicker for the football team. Know that Cody is not only a great athlete, but a great person. I have enjoyed watching he and his golfing buddy, Michael Malone, grow up. They're still as goofy as they ever were, but to watch them emerge as leaders has been very interesting. Anyhow, the article is a great read.

10) And finally, as checks begin to filter in for this year's Harvest for the Hungry Community Food Drive, here are a couple of upcoming events benefiting the cause you should be aware of. Saturday, October 6th our "Man to Man" Men's Ministry will be hosting it's annual golf scramble at the Oaks Country Club (out on Kemp Road). The cost (including cart and meal ) of the outing will be $50 per player or $200 per team. Tee off will be at 1pm, and (it might be added) that the Buckeyes don't tee off until 8pm that evening (against Purdue). Contact the church to sign up your team.

Also, Sunday afternoon on October 14th, we'll hold this year's version of the Harvest for the Hungry Poker Run. The cost will be 15$ per bike with rider, and an additional $5 per bike passenger. The first bike will (probably) leave at 1pm (just go to the early service) and the last will leave (probably) at 3pm. I'll release more details later in the week, but know that yours truly will be there on his bike, ready to ride to eliminate hunger in our community. Tell your all your friends about both of these great events, and hopefully we'll see you there.

Friday, September 21, 2007

To Whom God Entrusts

I am tired

tired of religious faith
resulting in thousands dead

of supposed holy men
passing off passion inflamed
pointless rhetoric
as words from the living God
who long for worldly power
that gives their words
the force of law

there is no law
but that which is written
on human hearts

my Savior lifted no sword
He healed only wounds
and created new ones
only in the hearts of those
who oppressed the people
with unreasonable expectations
that were falsely ascribed
the will and intent of the Father

His battle is waged
in the spiritual realm
where powers and principalities
shape the course of the future
and the present
for all

it's in the cries of parents
mourning the pointless death
of their children
that you hear His battle cry

it's in the prayer of those
who live embattled lives
in embattled places
desiring peace
for themselves
their neighbors
and their children
that you hear His voice

it's in a young woman
seeking to free her sisters
from oppression
that would prevent them
from gaining an education
or living freely
that you see Him acting

it's in a young man
choosing to respect others
living honestly and forthrightly
using his discernment
to look for opportunities
to lift up others
that you can hear the words
"the Kingdom of Heaven is near"

the world I long for
is one where people look for help
to help them get ahead
and people give of themselves freely
because we are all lifted up

the world I long for
is one where differences exist
as does mutual respect
exhibited in grace and mercy
shown mutually
as we respectfully disagree

the world I long for
is marked not by fear
but by hope
filling people tired of what is
voluntarily living their lives
to bring about something new

Let us then live
not just as people
who trust the living God
but as those
whom God entrusts
to drop old biases
create new accountability
embrace justice
singing His praises
freeing souls from sin and death
in this life and the next
and win the peace
so war will be no more

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) It is getting to be tremendously busy right now. Sermon preps, counseling, making contacts, dissertation writing.... and all of that needs to come second to family stuff. It's just plain nuts. Never knew life could be so insane.

Someone asked if I was busier now that I was the senior pastor as opposed to the associate pastor. The answer is "yes". Am just glad I have a semi-understanding wife (who only wants to kill me about 40% of the time) and kids who don't take "no" for an answer when I'm at home. They keep me grounded.

2) Right now my wife is telling me that I should write a post about how wonderful she is, and how she is the best thing that ever happened to me in my life. She also says I need to write about how much joy she brings me and how my life would be incomplete without her. And it's all true.

(She's standing next me, dictating this post... anything else dear?)

She's also exceedingly modest and humble. There, all done.

3) A couple of days ago, Aimee caught her shirt on fire while reading a book to Elijah. She was out in the kitchen and was leaning up against our natural gas stove, when the polyester blouse she was wearing starting to go up in flames. I was out in the garage getting myself a root beer when I heard these screams emanating out of the kitchen.

Have you ever heard your wife yell out the words, "I'm on fire!", repeatedly, as she hurls herself into the kitchen sink? Well, if you do, standing there in a state of shock, just staring in disbelief isn't the best response. Trust me.

Fortunately, outside of a nasty burn on her back, and a few smaller burns on her hands, she's doing fine. Xavier, fresh off of his summer stint at Safety City, informed her that she should have "stopped, dropped, and rolled". I don't think he knew how close he was to bodily danger, but fortunately her sense of obligation as a mother saved him. We're just glad she's OK.

4) If you live in Shawnee and want to eat in a restaurant full of people you either know or recognize, then "Shawnee School Night" at Happy Daz is the place for you. I don't know what percentage of sales goes to the respective PTC's of the schools, but I suspect it doesn't matter. No other restaurant in the city is as busy on a Tuesday night. If I owned a restaurant I be all over a "Shawnee Night" like white on rice.

5) My friend Mandie, who is a student at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, recently was in a car accident that left her with a very badly broken leg. The budding scholar and prospective pastor is now laid up at home, not allowed to drive, hopped up on happy pills to deal with the pain, while teaching herself to play the guitar. Seems she heard that John Mayer taught himself to play guitar while nursing a broken leg, and I guess the stories I've told her about the pastorate have convinced her that maybe it'd be a good idea to come up with a secondary plan. That's fine with me, as long as she writes a song on her third or fourth album that comes from an idea I had so that I have to be named as the co-songwriter. That way I can get a piece of the publishing action (can't just give this stuff away... we've got kids we need to put through college). Here are three possible song titles:

- "Whatever Happened to Sin, Hippy Pastor?": Written from the point of view of a frustrated parishioner in a mainline denominational congregation who can't take another sermon about how much God loves us and just longs to hear a good ol' fashioned fire and brimstone message.

- "You Can't Steal My Daydreams": Written from the the point of view of a pastor who, in moments of great despair and depression, fantasizes about leaving the ministry to drive a truck that delivers fuel to area gas stations. Could include the classic line you "You stole my dreams, but you can't steal my daydreams" (what can I say... I have a vivid imagination and a flair for mournful country/folk songs).

- "Prayer In The Pew": A song about a woman who prays each and every day, including in the pew on Sunday for her husband and children. The songs follows her lifetime of devotion when her family finds her prayer journal after she dies. Each family member find out what she was praying specifically for in their case and how those prayers actually ended up getting answered in their lives. (Tell me that wouldn't make you cry and fill you with hope?)

Anyhow, get well Mandie, and may your F#minors be few.

6) Read Ronald Lederman's Sunday editorial in the Lima News, which cites how great the casinos now operating in downtown Detroit have been for the local economy, while not contributing to a uptick in crime. Lederman cites crime statistics which either remain unchanged, move slightly up, or down as proof that casinos don't create more social problems, while also citing the millions of tax dollars the city of Detroit has raked over the last two years. He also makes it a point to mock the idea (as suggested by various pastors and councilman speaking against the casino) that "trusting God" would somehow turn the city around, stating that this is what the community has been doing since the 70's. Lederman openly mocked the suggestion, stating...

Those of us who believe in taking action to make change just must be too impatient. Relax. We’re on that 40-year plan God uses. Why get a casino when another decade or so will bring divine intervention?

Of course, then today I read in my latest Time Magazine that the city of Detroit in 2007 is seeing an increase of 11% in its foreclosure rate over the previous year, which was, as the author indicated:

In metropolitan Detroit, the 11% drop in home prices over the past year was just one more sign of a local economy in decline thanks to the troubles of the auto industry.

Just another indicator that no matter how you spin the numbers, the reality is casinos don't turn around economies in depressed areas. They simply re-direct discretionary spending, leading to job shifts from existing service industry in the community (restaurants, hotels, recreation facilities, etc...), while either not stemming the tide of poverty and all that comes with it. Also, while violent crime may not be up in Detroit (which might also be a function of the rapidly declining population that is moving elsewhere looking for work), we have no idea how gambling addiction has attributed the increase in foreclosures. That would be an interesting study, indeed.

If we were going to "trust God" as a community, as Lederman sarcastically states, doing so I believe would mean using the creativity, gifts, and graces we have been endowed, with great self-discipline and integrity to seek opportunities to compete in the global marketplace. We'd find ways to capitalize on assets (like a booming health care system and state of the art facilities), resources (abundant land, water, and proximity to huge markets), and our people (who are a willing labor force) to create an environment conducive to economic entrepreneurship. More importantly, we would socially treat one another the way we'd like to be treated, striving to make each person feel respected, so that poor, rich, or in-between, lives would be lived honestly and forthrightly. People would go out of their way to sacrifice for one another, so that mutually our community would possess a spirit not found in many places on the face of this earth.

We would trust God would provide, but would live in such a way that exhibited our belief that God was right to put his trust in us. That'd be God's plan. I'm convinced it would work and it would work far better than trying to cut corners by offering folks a chance to win a few bucks at a slot machine.

End of sermon.

7) Not more than a couple years ago when Notre Dame gave Charlie Weis a ginormous contract extension, in this very blog I predicted that within a couple of years Irish alums would be calling for his head. Why? Well, first and foremost, Irish fans are the most unreasonable and unrealistic fans in all of sport. They long for a yesteryear where best and brightest that Catholic families had to offer would dream of attending a school nestled in the bosom of Middle America, playing for God, Country, and Notre Dame.

Ah, but if only these days, were those days....

Now Irish fans must wake up and realize they live in an age where South Bend is just another cold, mid-sized midwestern city, fighting for blue chip football players who could instead sun themselves in places like Los Angeles, Miami, and Gainesville or attend state schools willing to make far greater exceptions to enroll marginal students who can throw, run, or catch a football.

That, and coaching defense doesn't seem to be a skill Charlie Weis can master.

Anyhow, now my prophecy has come true. Alums across the country are flustered and angry at the lack of progress they are seeing the program making, and largely because the expectations they have are unreasonable. Most folks think ND will stick with him cause he's their boy, but believe me when I say that if they miss a bowl this year (which at 0-3 is a real possibility) that a slow beginning next year will buy Charlie a one-way ticket out of Northern Indiana, and the faithful pining for Urban Meyer or Nick Saban. That's just the way things are working there now.

And, quite frankly, the day has come for Notre Dame to fess up and think about joining a conference. You can see that if ND football keeps spiraling downward, there'll be no way the BCS will give the Irish the free pass it gets now (by making them BCS bowl eligible with just 9 wins) just because of their national following. As the mid-majors get better, the major conferences stronger, and America longs to see the best do their thing, at some point, ND's free ride will be over, and no schedule manipulation (like, say, playing all three service academies and a couple of MAC schools each year) will save them. If they were smart, they'd join the Big East (which is even weaker, top to bottom, than the Big Ten) where they'd have a legit chance to be competitive immediately and would receive increased exposure insuring that they'd continue to be a major player in recruiting kids all along the east coast.

All good things come to an end.... the bell tolls for thee, ND.

8) Am reading the book, "I Sold My Soul On Ebay: Viewing Faith Through An Athiest's Eyes" by Hemant Mehta, an Indian-American who abandoned his family's Jainist faith at the age of 14.

It's a book written by a guy who maintains a website you can find on your own if you want to (I'm sure a good many people would find much of what he publishes offensive) dedicated to pretty much to exposing how ridiculous conservative Christians look. But the book itself is a fascinating look at what happens when a young, 22-year old atheist decides to begin attending church, and then write about what he sees.

One of the more interesting tales he tells is how very early on, Kirk Cameron (he of "Growing Pains" fame, who now espouses a very, very conservative faith and stars in the "Left Behind" movies)
Very early on, Cameron, who at the time hosted a radio program (and might still... I don't know), called Hemant to do an interview with him on his show. Hemant expresses in the book Cameron's unwillingness to talk about Hemant's work at the time (which was going to churches, and writing as an atheist what we experienced), and willingness to mock the author while repeated telling him that he was going to Hell. Thus begins Hemant's journey into discovering Christian America, much of which he shows great appreciation for (it is refreshing to hear an atheist say that the most influential and effective means of making people ethical and moral is through the teaching of religious faith), but you also get to read about his growing disillusionment with conservative evangelical Christianity, which he believes treats people of no Christian faith as the enemy, as opposed to someone Jesus calls us to love. Good stuff.

9) Was in Warsaw and Alexandria, Virginia last week doing research for my dissertation. The focus was the effects of a pastoral transition at the Downtown Baptist Church, which is the least Southern Baptist, Southern Baptist Church I've ever experienced.

While in the 70's and 80's the Southern Baptist Convention grew increasingly more socially, theologically, and politically conservative, DBC was becoming more inclusive racially, economically, and culturally. As women were being cast out of seminaries and church staff positions as the SBC strengthened their position on women not hold positions of leadership in the church, DBC added female Deacons and staff people (including a Minister of Music) to its ranks. While churches of all kinds remained racially exclusive, DBC fostered a welcoming attitude that has now led to a culturally-rich and diverse congregation that is growing and growing and growing. Under the leadership of Don Bowen, a self-described Southern Baptist country preacher, the church discovered a willingness to reach out to all people mostly because in the 60's and 70's they were desperate to keep their doors open in Old Town Alexandria, which was deteriorating due to "white flight". That willingness to reach out and embrace all people, monied or homeless, black or white or whatever color, American or some other nationality, has payed off in creating a unique atmosphere not found in many other churches... a biblically-based (almost fundamental) church inclusive of all people.

It's not liberal, or conservative.... just some other term not coined yet.

A big thank you to current pastor Dale Seley, for his hospitality, and kudos to him as the church continues to grow even more diverse as Old Town gentrifies. Here's a picture of he and his wife.

If you ever get the chance to go out to eat with them, do it. You will laugh out loud, think new thoughts, and enjoy yourself immensely. If you live, or end up moving to the Alexandria area, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give the church a try.

10) Finally, more than $4000 has been raised to established the Jeremy Hutchison Memorial Scholarship Fund. If you live in the Lima area, look for some fun activities designed to raise additional funding to fully endow the scholarship over the course of the next year. Thanks to all who have contributed, and know that you can still do so at the church, or at the Superior Credit Union. Just email me if you have any questions.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Taking a Sabbath

Something is bothering me. I have a sense that the way we've interpreted scripture text relating Jesus to the Sabbath has maybe, well... missed the point.

You see, when I was a kid, at least in West Virginia, the interpretation of what "Sabbath" meant was pretty simple. On Sunday, most stores, virtually all forms of professional services, and a lot of restaurants were closed. Closed because it was Sunday, and that was the law.

But it was law that nobody has seen fit to enforce. And so the world my sons are growing up in is very different. Now, it is the business that isn't open on Sunday that makes headlines. It's the Hobby Lobby or the Chick Fillet that pastors cite now as the exception to the rule. Nationally known corporations who refuse to open on Sunday, and are clear as to why. All the rest of the world, except some professional services and banks, are open for business. Shorter hours, maybe. But open none-the less. My sons won't ever be able to remember a time that alcohol wasn't served seven days a week or you couldn't buy a frozen pizza at 3am.

The world is pretty much open for business now.... 24 hours a day, seven days week, and now in many cases, 365 days a year.

But if you think that I'll be preaching a sermon tomorrow that'll beat up companies for staying open on Sunday, or people for eating out after church you've got another thing coming. Because, personally, I think that in light of the scripture I'll be preaching on, we'd be missing the point.

For if you take a good look at the text, sermons about strict adherence to rules about a Sabbath are more becoming to Pharisees than Jesus. Isn't that true? That's what I found in Mark 2:23-3:16. Twice the Pharisees watch to see if Jesus is going to follow the strict rules that had been laid down regarding keeping the Sabbath. Do so, he would have (maybe) passed one of their own litmus tests for whether or not he was truly a holy man. The first test, Jesus fails miserably when walking with his disciples on the Sabbath, he breaks heads off of some stalks of grain to eat, which violated the religious order's rules on how to rest on the Sabbath. Then, Jesus fails the second test, by on the same day, healing a man... and not just healing him, but challenging the authority of the religious leaders in the process. Jesus, during a time of teaching and worship, asks the man to stand up where everyone could see him, and hearing the murmuring of Pharisees, asked them in front of the crowd assembled:

Is it legal to do good deeds on the sabbath, or is it a day for doing harm? Is this a day to save life, or to destroy it?

The Pharisees are, of course, both humiliated and angered that Jesus would show them in public. He had taken something that had formed part of the cornerstone and foundation of their power - the maintenance of law - and turned their attitude upside down on it's head. It had been argued that strict adherence to the Law, particularly laws like those pertaining to the Sabbath, would save Israel. Because if every Jew started following the law, no matter how unreasonable it might seem, the result would be God smiling his favor upon his faithful children, and their ultimate redemption. So what if a guy with a withered hand had to go without being healed... small price to pay to let God know you were serious about cleaning up your act. Thus explains why, for a relatively small transgression (at least in our minds), according to Mark, the religious authorities begin plotting Jesus' death.

That's why I said if I wanted to take the Pharisee's position, then I'd preach a message today blasting people for doing anything on Sunday, other than going to worship, eating a meal prepared yesterday, and sitting quietly at home with family.

For Jesus, when confronted by this narrow way of thinking, gets angry at the Pharisees for being such knuckleheads... or rather, knucklehearts, that they'd rather a man suffer another day than be healed because the day was the Sabbath day.

Or, more accurately, angry that they, themselves, had become the lords of the Sabbath. Handing down edicts and rules for people to follow on the one day a week they should have been free to worship God and rest. Their heavy handed tactics were little more than a thinly veiled oppression of others. A way to control the masses in order to get them to do what they wanted them to do every day.

Know this... in the days that the rules regarding the Sabbath were handed down, people largely only got days off if a) they were rich or powerful enough to get days off or b) the powers-that-be declared a certain day to be a holiday. What's remarkable about Israel is that in this world, it was determined that everyone, from the lowest slave to most elevated political or religious leader, would get a day to rest. This meant that for at least one day a week, everyone was on a equal level and nobody could use their power or prestige to alter what God deemed necessary. So six days a week, you might have to cook someone else's breakfast, clean their toilet, or plow their field, or vice-versa, you might have the power to determine what hundreds of others were going to do on that particular week....

but only six days of that week.

On the seventh... that day was be shared by the Lord, and yourself. That's the kind of dignity that inspires humans to be better to one another. For if the Lord fundamentally values each one of us, pauper or magnate, slave or free, male or female, part of the in-crowd or no-crowd, then that's fundamentally how we should view, and treat, one another. Maybe each day there are differences in the wages we make, the places we live, or the kind of respect we receive.... but fundamentally, everyone deserves the Lord's day, cause they are the Lord's.

You see, my sermon tomorrow will have little to do with the need to take a day off. I mean, everyone should do it. Speaking as a work-a-holic, who has already missed too much of his children's life, and chosen to come home late to eat a cold dinner, alone, I don't want to come off as saying that what Jesus was trying to do was negate the need for a day of rest. I think that would be just as egregious as beating people over the head with a Bible telling them they are going to hell cause they filled up their gas tank today.

In fact, the question I want to know is, who is the Lord of your Sabbath? Who not only owns this day, but your basic understanding of other people? Of their worth not only in the eyes of God, but in the way you think about, and treat them, in every day life.

For that's what this scripture is about. It's about Jesus challenging the assumptions we hold in regards to others. Assumptions formed with the idea that the bridegroom is with us, and we are at the wedding, and this our moment to think freshly... like a person who is putting new wine into a new wineskin. Assumptions that are different than assumptions formed around the idea that because we worked for it, or earned, that we are entitled to it, no matter what that might mean for others. Or assumptions different that those formed around the idea that we put ourself in this position because of the choices we've made, and now we're getting what we deserve when we find ourselves in work we hate because we are under the fist of others.

Jesus calls us those who are first, to choose to put themselves in position of being last, using their influence, position, talent, resources, and intelligence to bring dignity to all people. And those who feel last, to know that the greatest, most precious fruits of God's grace: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control, are their's in as great, or greater abundance, than anyone else.

That's where I'll be going tomorrow.... seeking out who the Lord of your Sabbath is.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Four Quick Things I Think I Think

1) Well, it's 9:30pm on Monday night, I've been tied up all day in meetings, a funeral, and a physical, and I need to be in Warsaw, Virginia by 4pm tomorrow. Why? I am on my way to do the fourth case study church for my dissertation. The Downtown Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia did a very unique and successful pastoral succession ten years ago. I am traveling to Warsaw, Virginia because that is where Don Bowen, the former senior pastor now lives. I will meet with him tomorrow evening, then drive to Alexandria to meet with the current senior pastor, Dale Seley, and a number of lay-people and staff who went through the transition. The purpose in this approach is that hopefully, after visiting twelve churches that brought on an associate pastor before a senior pastor left with the idea that eventually the associate would replace the senior, that I will find commonalities between the churches that might inform future transitions of this kind.

But it's late, and I want to get three hours on the road done tonight to give myself some breathing room in my schedule tomorrow. Thus, I can only think about four things (as opposed to the customary ten) this week. Hope that's OK.

2) Attended the funeral today for Jeff and Jeremy Hutchison, and was greatly moved. A good many important truths were very well spoken by the pastoral staff at Gardendale Church of God, and by John Hutchison, Jeff's brother. But the most profound thought for me today came out of the revelation that Joel (age 7), the younger brother who survived the plane crash, not only lost a brother (Jeremy - age 9), but his best friend.
These are my three sons. Eli is the youngest. The boy in the middle is Xavier, who is currently the middle child (until our fourth child, due in March, is born), and the boy on the far right is Max. Max and Xavier are best friends. They spend a ton of time together, have similar likes and dislikes, and have invented more games to play together I'll never understand than you could shake a stick at. But the relationship is different for Xavier than it is Max. Max, being the older brother, enjoys playing with kids his own age and in his own grade. Often, he thinks his younger brothers are pests, and needs a little space sometimes to keep his sanity. He's the leader and grand pubah of the pack.

Xavier, on the other hand, pretty much adores his brother. He'd be around him all of the time if Max would allow it. If a friend his age came over to play, he'd choose Max over the friend as a playmate every single time. Nobody, in his mind, is cooler or better than his big brother.

And I can't imagine what it would be like for Xavie, if all of a sudden, Max were gone. The depth of loneliness and pain I just simply can't, or won't, imagine. The trampoline in our back yard wouldn't be nearly as fun to jump on alone. Pokemon TV shows wouldn't be nearly as entertaining if you had to watch them alone. What would be the point of dressing up as a superhero and running around the yard if your brother wasn't there to chase, or be chased by you?

It's like the pastor said... Joel lost his dad, his brother, and best buddy. I'm crying now thinking about it. I just ache for the little guy, because I know how devastated Xavier would be...

Keep praying for the family.... and particularly for a little boy who will wake up tomorrow ready to play in the barn with his brother, and not get to do so.

3) If you haven't heard, after much prayer and discussion with Marty Hutchison, Jeff's mother and Jeremy's grandmother, a number of her children, and through Marty with Joyce, we at Shawnee took up a collection this past Sunday to create the "Jeremy Hutchison Memorial Scholarship". To the delight of the family, the church will be inviting the community to join together in raising enough funds so that a scholarship dedicated in Jeremy's honor, will be awarded to a graduating Senior from Shawnee High School. This past Sunday, over $3500 was raised toward this endeavor, and more money has been coming in throughout the week. We will continue to let people know about this most worthy endeavor, and if you'd like to make a donation toward the cause, you can either stop by here at the church (this contribution can be tax deductible if you so desire) or if you are out there in blogland and want to mail us donation send it to:

Hutchison Scholarship Fund
Shawnee United Methodist Church
2600 Zurmehly Rd.
Lima OH. 45806

Or you can stop by Superior Federal Credit Union and simply let them know that you want to contribute to the Jeremy Hutchison Scholarship Fund. I guarantee you that every single penny will go to toward the development of this fund. It is my hope and prayer that the first award be made this coming May.

4) Thanks so much for all the people who took a moment to say something about the prayer I posted for the Hutchison family. I hope that you were able to use it to generate your own time of prayer, or to encounter the loving grace of the living God. And I hope you know that while it was my own creative ability that enabled the prayer to come into being, that any beauty or healing that might have been derived from it came only from the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. From God who has been so good to our family. If I am becoming a better person, a better Christian, a better husband, a better father, or a better pastor, it is only because the Lord is stripping away my pretensions, challenging me to give Him my sin, and lead me further into His Kingdom. Without Jesus, my whole life would have begun and ended solely with my wants and needs. I praise God that he led to share the pain and suffering of those who are poor and oppressed, chances to articulate in prayer what people long to hear from their God when they are sick or grieving, opportunities to listen those who are bitter or confused, and just generally awaken me to the idea that other people are really just brothers and sisters.

God is so good, and my life is so much richer following Jesus, because he's taught me how to love, and been patient with me when I have failed. No other teacher or mentor (and I've had some mighty fine ones) has been as gracious, or helped me grow more. No other person has directed more good and kind people into my life. And in no other book given to me have I learned more about human nature, spiritual potential, and what could be, than the book God gave to me.

He is humbling, and humbled.
A master who serves.
A king who gives away his kingdom.
A man who'd rather save others than himself.
The first in the universe, who will let you put him last if it be your choice
but will teach the beauty of being last if you put him first.
A friend to those who mess up.
And a visionary who inspires men and women to see visions and dream dreams
about what could be, so that it might become.

To God be honor and the glory, now and forever. A better friend and savior than Jesus, a person could not have.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Someone's Praying Lord... Come by here.

For those not from the area, we woke up to the news that Jeff Hutchison and his nine-year old son Jeremy died in a plane crash last night, just off the coast of Kellys Island. Jeff is the son of Dave and Marty Hutchison, long-time friends and members of Shawnee United Methodist Church, and two people I consider good friends. As a matter of fact, I prayed for five years that Marty would come to Shawnee so that we could work together in youth ministry. My prayer was answered but only one year before the Bishop at the time moved me to Toledo Epworth UMC. It was a prayer though, that Shawnee United Methodist Church benefited greatly from, as scores of children got to experience Marty's deep faith, and Dave's steady guiding hand as she filled in as the Middle School Youth Director. They are wonderful people, cared for and loved by our church.

Jeff was a man who embodied the faith of his parents. The kind of guy who, when two people realize they both knew him, gush over what a kind, funny, loving, hard-working guy he is. He was the definition of "salt of the earth". I can't tell you how much this entire community will miss him.

And Jeremy... well, he had his whole life in front of him. Dreams to chase and love to find... I really can't say anymore about his passing. His untimely death will be hard for all of us to make sense of. Very hard.

Of course in a situation like this everyone really wants to do something. To do something that will somehow ease the family's pain and make their life a little easier. But right now, the best thing, and only thing really we can do is to pray for the family. For Jeff's wife Joyce, and his three surviving children, Joel, Jenny, and Josh. To pray for Marty and Dave, all their kids, grandkids, and everyone connected to them who hurts right now because a massive hole has been opened up that cannot be closed.

And don't pray like a person who just throws a prayer kind of out there. Pray like you know that your words count. They make a difference. Not one of them will be uttered in vain.

Not one.

Pray, not cause it's the only thing to do, but cause it's the only thing to do that will really make a difference in people who desperately need to feel the love and warmth of their Lord and the community of faith right now. I promise that it will make all the difference. And just so you know we're in this together, here's the prayer I'm praying tonight.

A Prayer for the Hutchison Family

Ever-loving, Gracious Father
Master and Redeemer of us all
I beg you this day to shower your love and grace on the family of Jeff and Jeremy.
Because you are great,
you are the author of all healing,
you are life,
and have conquered death,
teach them, and us, what it means to join in that victory with you.

Oh Great Creator God,
fill that place where an empty desk now rests in a fourth grade classroom.
Dwell in the fields where the fruit of your bounty
awaits the kind man who now dwells in your house.
Fill homes of families who must face funerals and wakes and
a first Christmas or birthday or family picnic on a warm spring day.

Bring rest to a mother
life to a father
healing to a wife
a sense or rest to a child
strength to a family
hope to a congregation
and determination to a community
who will not allow these deaths to be in vain
but rather as fuel to live as if each day was their last
and as if your Kingdom was as near as our very breath.

I pray for those serving on the rescue and recovery team this evening
I thank you for their willingness to use the gifts you've given them
to ease the pain of a family.
Guide and protect them as they seek to bring home those who have been lost
so they might be celebrated as those now found by your son Jesus Christ.

Lord, I pray for the pastors and congregation of Gardendale Church of God
who not only have lost a brother and one of it's children
but who now will begin the kind of loving that helps people put pieces back together

I pray for young children who are being introduced to death for the first time in this tragedy
I pray for teenagers who not only hurt now for two of their peers who just lost their dad, but contemplate also the gift of those who love and care for them
I pray for wives who can't image living out this nightmare
Husbands who dearly love their wives
and countless friends who just still can't believe this has happened, and bow their heads to cry

Lord to you I lift these things
with much fear and trembling
knowing your promise
that nothing, not even death
can come between each of us and your love
and wanting to trust that promise
with all that I am.

Give me, and us, Lord, that kind of trust.

In your name
and of the son
and of the Holy Spirit


Monday, September 03, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

If you missed it, I wrote two posts over the weekend. One was reaction to a praise song written by Brian McLaren (who is a noted author and pastor, but doesn't have much of a track record as a songwriter... read and listen here to decide if that will change. An added note.. if you have McLaren's song stuck in your head, the only memorable line is "I Am An Atheist" which is problematic if you are absentmindedly singing them at church on Sunday morning... trust me) and the other was an impromptu reaction to A State's upset of Michigan at the Big House (which actually leaves me with mixed feelings).

1) There has to be a pall over the entire state of Michigan this Labor Day. What a horrible, horrible year for that "state up north". Recent Department of Labor stats detail the rapid decline of Michigan's industrial sector as over the last couple of years jobs have continued to dry up (will note here also that downtown casinos haven't seemed to turn Detroit's economy around, as it's still listed as one of the five most impoverished cities in the country, a list which includes both Cleveland and Cincinnati). Now, the state's premier football program gets it's head handed to them by Appalachian State, a school of 14,000 students nestled in Boone, North Carolina.

Don't think the two things are related? Then you don't live in the Midwest right now. There's a palpable fear in these parts that muscle and brain power in our communities are slowly be drained off to places largely south and west (sometimes very far west). Strange things like sporting defeats are reminders that the place of economic security and industrial strength our communities once held in the world are quickly eroding. Can't tell you many letters to the editor of the Lima News over this summer have detailed people's pessimism about this community and it's future. People have always considered Lima a great place to be from, but the negative self-image people are holding in regards to this community seems to be growing at an alarming rate. Even as more encouraging economic signs like the new ethanol plant, the new Tower at St. Rita's, the commitment of P&G and Husky Oil to the proposed Global Energy electric plan, and new jobs rolling into both the Tank Plant and Dana are reported, the overall opinion here that someday Lima will shrivel up and blow away continues to grow. It is disturbing, and an issue for us as pastors, here and across the Midwest right now as we contemplate our role in the spiritual and emotional health of those who we serve and serve with.

Of course, that won't keep me from poking fun a Lloyd's folly... I am still a Buckeye fan after all.

2) One of the benefits of subscribing to a music service is that you end up hearing a lot of music you'd normally not give a listen. For example, Today's offering: 80's mainstays The Scorpions new album, "Humanity: Hour 1". Pretty much, 20 years have passed, but it's still the same ol' Scorpions. Lots of power chords and English lyrics that sound they were written by someone speaking English as a second language. Lyrics which include dandies like:

Humanity, al vieda zane
it's time to say goodbye
the party's over
as the laughter dies
and the angel cries

At least it all rhymes.

Anyhow, it takes me back to being a shaggy haired kid playing air guitar to "Rock Me Like a Hurricane". Good times

3) Not sure where yesterday's sermon came from. I was obviously still ruminating on the revelation of Mother Teresa's 45 years long spiritual dry spell, but somewhere in there you could also hear my growing frustration with the growing influence of "Health and Wealth" preaching and theology in various quarters of the Christian community. Watched a fascinating discussion last night on BET's "Meet the Faith", (click here, and then click on "Retail Religion" to see the episode) where a pastor from New York, an author, and a comic discussed the growing corporate influence and "health and wealth" theology on the black church. The pastor, Bishop Bernard Jordan openly argued for pastors making ridiculous sums of money and living out posh lifestyles as a means of showing the flock that this kind of affluence is attainable for everyone. The program then concluded with a short interview with Joel Osteen, who in typical Osteen-ese, said nothing offensive while defending his continued preaching of the twin messages that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and that until we are called to that home that God wants to bless you with everything you want right now.

This latest incarnation of Norman Vincent Peale's "Power of Positive Thinking" is taking Christianity to a strange new place. A place where a preacher's ability to fly on private G-4's, live in gated communities, and drive a $350,000 automobiles is being held up as a skill equal with their abilities to preach, teach, evangelize, and lead the faithful. A place where living well is considered a spiritual discipline. A place where the collective voice of large denominations is now being replaced by the voices of high profile stand alone preachers (remember Ted Haggard?) whose power base is derived largely by their own fame.

4) And all of this in the face of unrelenting criticism both inside and outside of the Christian community that organized religion has lost its way because it has failed to keep straight its priorities. Criticism that our community is collectively spending more and more of its resources on itself, while it's overall influence on the nation, and world, continues to diminish.

I guess the frustration I'm starting to feel is that there is no sensible voice in the mainstream with a widespread following within the Christian tradition that is rising up to take on the growing influence of materialism on the institution of the church. Marginally well known pastors like Mike Slaughter (who's a superstar in our own Methodist tradition, but largely unknown in the culture) I think have embraced this message, and are doing what they can to get it across. Authors like David Goetz and Eric Sandras (the author of "Plastic Jesus" who graciously made a comment on an earlier post... here's a link to his website) are addressing the issue with a growing sense of alarm. But what kind of dialog is being opened between the Bishop TD Jakes and Joel Osteens of the country, and those who are growing alarmed at the "corporatization" of the megachurch? That this kind of theology, while fostering huge growth in various specific locations, is making a mockery of us all among the growing numbers of people who see the church as an insular institution?

And what can a punk like me, sitting here in the Midwest, largely untested and unproven as a church leader, do about this?

A friend of mine from the Beeson program last year would just tell me to ask God to bless it all - all the various ministries doing their own thing in their own way - and leave the rest to Him. But I fear that this kind of grace extended by those of us bothered by this is being mistaken by those really thinking about these issues as either cowardliness, or worse, indifference.

I mean, did the prophets of the Old Testament just ask God to bless all the prophets, good or bad, and then let God shake it all out? Where is the prophetic witness that somehow calls people preaching a health and wealth gospel to account, without sounding like an angry activist who is a refugee from the 1960's?

Right now, I have no idea.

5) Couldn't sleep last night, so I must have also (in addition to "Meet the Faith") about six episodes of "Flip That House". If you've never seen it, here's a summary of pretty much every single episode ever produced:

- Flipper buys dilapidate home.
- Flipper walks through the house with contractor discussing what they want to do.
- Most of the focus on the part of the flipper is on the kitchen, bathrooms, and master bedroom.
- Flipper has problems with contractor OR goes over budget OR falls behind on schedule as they face unexpected difficulties.
- Flipper buys stainless steel appliances for the kitchen and installs elaborate shower/jacuzzi tub in bathroom at the Home Depot (and always at the Home Depot)
- Flipper and Realtor walk through the house, so that Realtor can give the Flipper a great assessed value, and the Flipper can tell those watching that if they want to do this for a living they need to do a lot of research on the market before they commit to a home.
- Flipper unexpectedly eaten by flying carnivorous bird.

Ok, I made that last one up. But if I ever flip a house, I'm going to research the market before I commit and make sure the colors in the kitchen go with stainless steel appliances. That seems to be the key.

6) Well the season hasn't even started yet, and already I've had to drop three members of my fantasy team. The biggest surprise was Byron Leftwich (my token MAC quarterback) who, in the face most the prognosticators who thought he was up for a pretty good comeback year, was unexpectedly released by the Jags (I picked up their newly named starter, David Garrard, as his replacement). Priest Holmes apparently hasn't even carried a ball all pre-season and has been put on the "physically unable to perform" list by the Chiefs (should have checked that one out.. picked up Edge James' backup, Marcel Shipp as another RB). And Rod Smith apparently has like a shattered ankle or something, so I had to grab another receiver (which ended up being some guy whose name escapes me from Minnesota). I also let my D (Jacksonville) go in favor of Oakland for no good reason. Not good omens for the upcoming season, and just another reason why I'll never get the call to be a GM in the NFL.

7) Both Max and Xavier like their teachers, as school is now finally in full swing at the Bucher house. Interestingly enough, both teachers are young women just starting their teaching careers. They both look really young to me, but maybe I'm just getting old. In any case, I see a good year on the horizon (or at least that's the prayer).

8) Just in case you missed it, Miss Teen South Carolina:

A classic moment for Social Studies teachers everywhere. And really, when you think about it, when does the person who finishes fourth for Miss Teen America ever get to appear on the Today show? She'll be fine.

9) Just so you know, even when the weather is cold, cold, cold, Appalachian is hot, hot, hot:

Just remember Michigan fans, you're 0-1 against this hot, hot, hot school. Michigan Football... it's fannnnnnnntastic!

10) And finally, this just in from my friend Aaron Wymer's blog:

Somebody ate Mr. Peanut.... classic. Did I mention how much I miss my Beeson buddies?

Saturday, September 01, 2007

I-AA Avenged

Unbelievable! I'd be more happy about this, but it makes the Big Ten look so bad, so indefensible as a legit conference, that my glee is tempered. To all my Beeson buds, in the words of Roberto Duran, "No Mas. No Mas."

The ironic thing about this game for me was that I was disinterested in the Bucks opener today because they were playing a I-AA team. I just figured the game would be a blowout (which it was), so I worked in the lawn all day listening to music on my new Walkman MP3 player (with noise cancellation.... fantastic!). In my opinion, I thought no Division I school should be allowed to play a I-AA school cause all it does is pad the cupcake part of the schedule so you can be bowl eligible. All week I've called the Youngstown State game a travesty and a farce, and all cause they were I-AA.

Um... I guess I stand corrected. I-AA rules.

And as for Lloyd Carr.... someone take the fork out of his back. He's done.