Monday, October 29, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Well, the public has spoken, and it appears at least a few copies of "From Bryan's Office: The Book" will be published. I even had Diane Miller hand me $8 at church Sunday, pre-purchasing the first copy. I'm telling you this book is a winner. It'll essentially be 80 non-related entries that can be read at your leisure at multiple sittings, which is to say it is the perfect book for the bathroom or the person with the short attention span. The perfect gift for someone you have to buy for cause you drew their name for the office pool gift exchange or that cousin you haven't seen in a while who still sends you Yankee Candle as a "gift from Santa" each year. So as soon as I learn a few more specifics, I'll let you know.

2) It is the eve of the start of the 2007-08 NBA season, and I don't think my fantasy team could have gotten off to a worse start. One of my leading point guards, Mike Bibby, just had his wrist operated on and is out for at least six weeks (but most likely 10-12). Also, one of my players (a PF/C), Mark Blount, who finally had a breakout year in Minnesota last year, was traded to the Miami where he'll be buried on the bench. In their place I had to pick up two guys who, while they are projected to start for their respective teams, had horrible years last year. That the season hasn't started yet and I've picked up Damon Stoudamire and Joel Przbilla (yeah, that's his real name). Two not so good omens as the new year begins.

3) Congrats to our youth pastor, Leigh Wise-Ditto, who was married on Saturday at the First Baptist Church (the church her husband grew up at) here in Lima. I didn't make it to the wedding, but the reception was something else. Leigh's family I think worked themselves into a frenzy getting the Centrum ready, while also doing all the cooking and preparation for the festivities. I heard they were up all night Friday night doing the cooking for the reception. That's some serious hearty pioneer stock at work there. Makes me glad, too, that I have only sons. That's four rehearsal dinners.... Hallelujah!

I'm told that they couldn't get their unity candle lit (not the first time I've seen that happen... remember kids, always light that sucker in advance just to make sure the wick isn't so covered in wax that it can't catch fire), but as true Buckeye fans they watched OSU bust up Penn State on the big screens at their reception, so that good omen trumps the bad candle one (big time). Anyhow, a good time was had by all. Now Leigh and Greg are in Gatlinburg for their honeymoon. We look forward to their safe return.

4) As I spend more time studying Paul, his life and work, I am becoming increasingly convinced that I've had him all wrong. I've always struggled to preach from the Pauline Epistles because in my mind much of what he wrote two millennium didn't seem all that relevant. I mean how many of us are arguing over whether or not someone needs to be circumcised before they can become a Christian or whether or not we need to follow Jewish culinary laws as followers of Jesus? Or how much should we pay attention to other stuff that Paul wrote like women "keeping their heads covered and their mouths shut" or a slave needing to return to his master? Stuff like that just seemed archaic.

But I'd never really thought about the task that was before Paul as he sought to essentially graft into the Christian movement non-Jewish people. The world in that age isn't like America is now. We're a nation where regional differences are largely being erased over time. People shop in Wal-Marts in the east, west, north, and south. Even though our population is incredibly diverse, you still need only one language (English) to navigate the culture. For all our bellyaching about the decline of the church, Christianity still largely dominates the religious landscape (even among those who aren't particularly religious). We all pretty much read the same news, invest our money in similar ways, and all are looking toward someday joining the AARP (who just sent me a membership card, even though I'm 38 years old... my wife thinks that's pretty funny).

Not so in the Roman Empire. Every little region had its quirks, culture, language, religion, news, and history. Many of those regions too couldn't stand one another (which is, in many of those places, still true today) because of historic rivalries or long-simmering racial-ethnic differences. To top it off, the fledging church wasn't exactly a picture of happy harmony. All the first major church leaders hadn't ever lived anywhere other than Israel or been anything other than practicing Jews. As Romans and Philippians and Ephesians and Corinthians of every background joined the church, those leaders waged pitched battles regarding what parts of their respective cultures those folks had to leave behind to become Christians.... while at the same time, arguing what parts of their own culture had to be left behind to be faithful to Jesus.

It was in the midst of this chaos of differences that Paul rises up. Paul, who as a Roman citizen is simultaneously educated in Hellenism, Judaism, and Christianity is really the first get the idea that in order to be a follower of Jesus people need to start looking beyond on their nationalistic, racial, ethnic, and religious heritage, and instead see themselves as new residents and citizens of the "Kingdom of Heaven". Essentially, Paul is trying to create an entire new culture out of what already exists in the world... a culture where there is "no male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free" citizen.

But you can't get from what is, what could be in huge sweeping steps.

I mean, I wonder what if I, as an American, from the Midwest, from Ohio, male, post-secondary graduate, married, father of four, overweight, somewhat materialistic, with middle-of-the-road political leanings person had to leave much of my background behind to become a "new creation in Christ"... how on earth does that happen? In what new ways would I have to begin thinking, or acting, or expressing, or dreaming?

Well, that was the case for all those folks from all over the world who began trying to create an entirely new kind of thing. They had to figure out what to leave behind, and what to bring with them, as they sought to live out their lives with one another. And Paul was the guy who ended up getting the call from every quarter to help them figure out what this new community was going to look like. And all they could do was take baby steps in that new direction.

Steps we still take today.

5) Heard from Joseph today. He was expressing sympathy for my wife who shortly will be, as he put it, living with five Bucher boys who keep "standing up and missing the bowl". He suggested that we may have to send her to spend a day or two with Marty getting pampered at some spa/salon in the big city so she doesn't lose mind. Lot of truth there! Anyhow, he's dusting off his alarm clock as his 5 month "spiritual leave" as my associate pastor comes to an end, and he takes the helm in the Shawnee Forest District as the new District Superintendent. He sends his love to one and all.

6) The boys are moving from one sporting season I know little about (Soccer) to one I know even less about (Roller Hockey). They've been skating all over the driveway getting ready for the new season. They don't own hockey sticks, yet, so they've been holding other long items to see what its like to skate while holding something you swing at to hit other things (people?). Xavie's center of gravity is still pretty low (even though he's growing very, very quickly), but its Max who seems at this point to be making the most progress at becoming adept on small wheels. Of course, all the while, Eli, pushing his little play grocery cart, has decided that when his brothers on skates that the game must me him chasing them with said cart to knock them over.

Did I mention that maybe Eli is our future linebacker?

7) The end of last week on some random evening I watched "Half Nelson" (as a free movie-on-demand). In it, Ryan Gosling plays a teacher who has been working for sometime in an inner-city middle school filled with at-risk kids. As he uses his brain to try to creatively help these kids think creatively about their situation, the overwhelming feeling that what he's doing isn't making a difference has pushed him, in his depression, down a downward spiral of alcohol and drug addiction.

The movie is a good one, with a lot of scenes that highlight the dynamic tension between wanting to change the system and yet feeling overwhelmed by it that exists in the soul and mind of Gosling's character. One of the most poignant for me, however, was a scene where Gosling, despondently drinking himself into oblivion in a local bar, is recognized by a father of one of his former students. The father, obviously happy to see this teacher, tells him that his daughter, who as a middle school student took his history class, is now a history major at Georgetown. It's one of those moments that should help the title character get a little perspective on his place in the community, but he's so drunk he can't remember who she is. Thus, the father just ends up, perplexed and confused, leaves, and the teacher continues to drown in his sense of futility.

This movie is not for everybody. It's loaded with heavy topics, graphic scenes, and language that lot of people who read this blog would rather not hear. But the story is compelling, and in ending I heard Jesus' teaching that "the first will become last, and the last will become first". It made me think.... and that's more than I can say about most of the pieces of entertainment I watch.

8) My father-in-law's nine year old Great Dane with bowel issues is back at the Bucher house. Bryant had to go to Alabama for a week for work, so Rufus is boarding with us. My advice: if you were planning on walking blindfolded in our backyard in bare feet, better wait at least a week.

9) I was bowled over by two unrelated Newsweek articles. One article focused on the trend of Halloween costume makers producing "slutty" outfits for girls as young as six or seven years old. Apparently there are people who think that dressing up little girls as nurses in fishnet stockings or in chamber maid costumes that used to be reserved for Halloween parties at the local frat house is a good idea. I was particularly struck by this snippet from the article:

Tack on all the licensed outfits from popular TV shows and toy lines like Cheetah Girls, Bratz and Hannah Montana, and parents are having to search farther a field for something that won't make their little trick-or-treater look like a lady of the night. But with adolescent girls parading around in short-shorts that say JUICY across the bottom, and every younger girls aspiring to be a diva of some sort, is it any wonder that their Halloween costumes have gotten racier? "No, but it is distressing," says Joe Kelly, founder of the advocacy group Dads and Daughters. He sees the trend as symptomatic of a deeper issue. "The hypersexualization of younger and younger girls only serves to reinforce gender roles. When an 8-year-old girl can't find a doctor costume because all they have are nurse outfits, that's a problem." Celia Rivenbark, author of the 2006 parental manifesto "Stop Dressing your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank," has noticed it too, and says that Halloween has become "just another excuse for little girls to dress like sluts."

You know the world is more than a little messed up when someone feels the need to write a "parental manifesto" (whatever that is) entitled "Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank". Call me a prude, but given all the fallout in the culture due to the sexual exploitation and molestation of young children, I find this kind of behavior on the part of corporations that make and sell these kind of costumes teetering on the borderline between "irresponsible" and "obscene". And I can't imagine what's going on in the heads of parents who dress their eight year old daughter in choker collar and high heels.

Of course, my two oldest boys dressed as ninjas, complete with swords, so who am I cast stones. It's easy, I suppose to trivialize both violence and sexuality in a culture steeped to the hilt in both. I wonder what else we just "follow along with herd" in doing that if we really thought about, we'd find ridiculous?

10) The other article is one I read in Slate Magazine this weekend about how Vegas is trying to diversify itself as a tourist destination as the growth of the gambling industry there begins to slow. And why, pretell, would that be the case? Well in the last ten years, as more states legalize more forms of gambling while Indian tribes look for every loophole imaginable to plant federally approved casinos across the country, all forms of gambling revenue together have doubled to over 91 billion dollars. That's just shy of one percent of our total GDP, and still growing far ahead of the total growth of our economy. Now with so many different outlets to put your money down when you are feeling lucky across the country, while the gambling industry continues to boom, old time destinations like Vegas and Atlantic City whose gambling revenue isn't shrinking are pressed to draw new business.

I thought this was poignant as it confirms what I already believed was true.... while the gambling industry hides their corporate cause behind such bogus arguments like "new forms of revenue for governments and schools" and "keeping people from traveling across state lines to spend their money", what's really going on is the intent of these interests to open and develop new markets. New markets created by conveniently located establishments who use alcohol, lights, bells, whistles, and the rush that comes with taking a risk to pry open people's wallets and lose (cause it takes a lot of losers to create 91 billion dollars). Couple the growth of this "industry" with ever-deepening consumer credit mess Americans are finding themselves in, and you have a recipe for throwing gasoline on raging inferno.

And once again, I hear Jesus say: "What does it profit a man to gain the entire world, and lose his soul in the process?" Smart guy, that Jesus. Smart guy.

See you later this week.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Mystery of Faith

It's hard to get inside of the heads of people who lived 2000 years ago. Too often when we try, we make assumptions about who they are based upon our own sense of what we believe to be true. For example, if I say that church and state ought to be separated, to those of you living in the good ol' USA, you'd shake your heads vigourously in agreement. 200 years of indoctrination into that kind of thinking has pretty much taken root into the American ethos and consciounce.

But the rest of the world doesn't feel this way. Got a snootfull of this lesson while walking on the sacred soil of Mother England, touring her cathedrals, and most specifically, the hallowed grounds of Westminster Abbey. There you discover that there is still very much a relationship between the civil state and most specifically, the Anglican Church... although all of Christendom, in some way shape or form, is included. Thus, in England, its no uncommon for the state to partner with churches to provide needed social services throughout the land. That's how a church, like Steve Chalke's can receive millions in government money to build schools, clinics, and hospitals. In that part of the world, and others, the church is an agent of the state, and vice versa.

Thus, think about it like this... if you try to get in the head of a typical upper class British citizen, but you do it having only ever been a typical middle class American, you could end up mistakenly pasting some of what you believe to be true (cause it's all you've known) onto their person. You could have them regularly going out to eat at Arby's or following baseball or even believing that church and state should be separate cause that has been your experience. You've universalized what you believe to be true, when the universe is really bigger, and more diverse, than you are.

Such is the problem with understanding words written by a 2000 year old Roman-Pharisaic-Jew-turned-Christian. His culture world was very much not like our own. It's so different, in fact, that a lot of work has to be done on our part to even get a small sense of what it was like. And since you can't travel to it to ask questions and make observations, all you can do is read what others are discovering as the pour of over ruins of buildings or documents writen in dead languages. Such is the life now, of someone studying the Bible.

One observation I've discovered that has been made of that particular era in history is pertainent for my sermon tomorrow. It has to do with the belief among first century, and even more specifically first generation Christians, that Jesus was coming back in their lifetime. This isn't in and of itself a totally foreign idea in the here and now. Certainly there is more than person preaching somewhere in this world a message pertaining to Jesus immanent return, and all the signes that point to such a turn of events. Rod Parsely has grown a huge church in suburban Columbus built largely on the idea that we live in the "end times" where Jesus' return will happen any day now.

It's just that now, while virtually all circles in Christianity believe in some form of Jesus' eventual return to earth in order to bring God's justice to all, there's quite a bit of division over how immanent His return might be. As a matter of fact, this division actually runs pretty deep, as certain pastors get very upset with other pastors who hold the opposite position on the issue.

I remember once preaching a message on this subject where I was very skeptical of the claims being made by preachers and certain theologians that all the "signs" were there for a return of Jesus. Maybe, I wondered, instead of thinking that Jesus might be returning tomorrow, it would be better if we began thinking that he wasn't going to be back until 2000 years from today. I mean, it's possible, right? We've waited 2000 years already... isn't there a possibility that God is in no great hurry? And if this is the case, what kind of world would we want to leave, to more toward creating, for our children and grand children? I mean, if the world has to survive at least another 2000 years, that might change a few of our priorities.

Well, there was a guy sitting in the congregation who just got irritated with what I had to say. He called my sermon "irresponsible" and "unbiblical" because it didn't purport what he knew to be true: Jesus was coming back in our lifetime, and anyone who didn't preach that message was either a heretic, deceived by Satan, or both. I can still see his beet red face, angry and blustery, screaming at me:

"These people won't get their lives in order if you go around telling them that Jesus isn't coming back for 2000 years, pastor. When they get left behind in the rapture, do you want that guilt hanging over your head? I can't believe the Elders of your congregation would keep you on after saying something like that. You'd better go back and read your Bible if you want to stay in the ministry. Can't believe I wasted my time listening to you today."

Thanks for coming! Tell your friends and neighbors.

So, now, a couple of millennia removed, the Christian community is split on this issue of Jesus' return. Maybe it'll be tomorrow... maybe it'll be in 200 or 2000 years... maybe he already returned... maybe his return isn't physical but spiritual... a number of hypothesis abound with no 100% consensus.

But such was not the case in Paul's day. It's clear reading the Gospels that the Apostles believed that Jesus would return in their lifetime... and why not? They had watched him die. They witnessed his ressurrection. They witnessed his ascension into Heaven (which doesn't happen every day). If we are to believe they saw of this, plus other supernatural events portending his glory and status, surely they could believe in a physical return of Jesus in their lifetime. Given everything else that had happened, it'd be no big deal.

Well, it's one thing to preach this message, but it's another thing to see it lived out. And as the days turn into months, the months into years, and years into decades, believers are dying and people are wondering what happens to you if you die before Jesus comes back. It's a subject Paul has to tackle, and does so by explaining (using both the words of Jesus and that he learned during his Pharisaic career) that all believers will be ressurrected when Jesus comes back, that way nobody would miss it. Hence, years later, the church adopting as orthadox the belief in the resurrection of the body.

But I don't think it really starts to occur to Paul that maybe Jesus isn't coming back before HIS life is going to be over until the end of his life seems much closer as old man, than it did as a young man. I think this is very much on his mind as he sits in a Roman prison, and writes the letter to the church at Philippi. Now, Paul contemplates what it means to have gathered believers into church families, not as witnesses of Christ's return, but rather as witnesses of Christ who someday will return.

14 In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can speak a word of blame against you. You are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them. 16 Hold tightly to the word of life, so that when Christ returns, I will be proud that I did not lose the race and that my work was not useless. 17 But even if my life is to be poured out like a drink offering to complete the sacrifice of your faithful service (that is, if I am to die for you), I will rejoice, and I want to share my joy with all of you. 18 And you should be happy about this and rejoice with me.

Paul, I believe, is realizing that's it's becoming more probable that his work must outlast him, and he is clear as to what he wants Jesus to find in his community of believers when he returns: People who are living together in harmony, living earnest lives bent on doing the right thing, so as to give the world a sense of optimism that broken lives can be mended and that contrary to how people often feel, that doing the right thing even as the wicked prosper, will not go unnoticed by God. In fact, we should celebrate lives lived rightly, together, because our living lives that are Christ-honoring completes the work that other Christians have done, and are doing. Thus, as we work toward all that is good, we are the completion of all that is good.

How appropriate are those words in this time and place?

I think we get a little too caught up in the "now". We read the paper, hear the news, and too often get overwhelmed by what we perceive as the eventual decline and destruction of western civilization. Hence the popularity of someone like Rod Parsely who plays off the notion that everything is heading into the crapper as proof that Jesus' rescue of us from this mess is getting closer and closer. But, that's not, it appears where Paul was heading, even if he couldn't comprehend the possibility that even 2000 years into the future, Christ would still have not yet returned. In his mind, it is the Philippian's continued faithfulness in the face of all that's wrong with the world that becomes his hope and focus. That there are people practicing what Jesus preaches, even as we wait for his return in the midst of uncertain times, is the focus. Not the return, or how what is reported to be happening during these days might portend to that return... or our success at turning the world around... but rather faithfulness in the midst of whatever is, right now. That's what we celebrate and complete.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Job well done, Brother Esquire

This morning was one of those mornings when I was reminded of how quickly times moves. My brother, just after 8am, called to let me know that he passed the Ohio Bar Exam. He'll be sworn in on November 5th. I asked him how long after that he'll begin to practice law at his father-in-law's firm.

"November 6th", he replied. "We've got bills."

Welcome to the world of work, Brother Esquire

Seems like only yesterday mom and dad brought this little bundle with eyes home from the hospital.

Only yesterday I had to make airplane noises to get him to eat another bite of that horrible jarred baby food.

Only yesterday that he attacked me with a pillow, only to get pummeled.

Only yesterday I'd scrounge up enough money to take him to the arcade and get a couple of pretzels at the mall.

Only yesterday he came down to Miami for "Little Sibs" for nights of watching movies and a day at Kings Island.

Only yesterday that on one of those days at Kings Island we tried out the new waterpark even though it was only 55 degrees outside.

Only yesterday he broke his thumb skiing at Boyne.

Only yesterday I wondered if he'd navigate the murky seas of adolescence and college life relatively unscathed.

Only yesterday I realized how much more important it was to be his brother, than his pastor.

Only yesterday... it seems.

Alas, now he's married, owns a dog (Spike the Chihuahua), rents a house, and (after two years as a clerk in the Public Defender's office in Lucas County) already knows his way around a court room. I've said before that up to this point that I have been the older, wiser brother called to dispense advice and generally provide guidance. But as time goes by, there's less and less I'll know that he doesn't. Now, slowly, I get the feeling that, in many ways, the shoe will be on the other foot. As he continues to grow in wisdom and stature in his profession, and life, that it'll be Andy who we'll look to for guidance on various matters I'd rather not think about....




Durable Powers of Attorney

Living Wills

I've no doubt, given how quickly these yesterdays have passed, that time, in its relentlessness will force us to deal with issues of mortality... and all those things, legally, that must be dealt with during those dark days.

But today is not the day to think of such things.

Congrats Brother Esquire! Remember what got you here... a good sense of personal responsibility and lots of hard work. Plan well for the future. Never take your lovely wife, and (eventually) family for granted. Always remember as one blessed by God with much, the responsibility you have to serve "the least and the lost". And may your hope always be in the risen Christ, who has redeemed you from sin and iniquity, so that you might live in the Kingdom of Heaven, now and forever.

We couldn't be prouder.

Job well done, Brother Esquire. Job well done.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Random Thoughts

- Good crowd for Bible study tonight, but as to whether or not attendance holds remains up in the air. Saw some eyes rolling back into heads and a few glazed expressions. But we have to do some of this historical stuff to get to the fun stuff. Hopefully people will hang on. We'll see what happens.

- I suppose as I right Girls Gone Wild is doing its thing in Ada. I hear there's a protest scheduled to start in front of the bar where the event is going down, so I'm going to check the news tonight to see what went down (if anything). I still can't believe that local officials will sit back while the town's young women bare themselves for cameras. I have to believe that would qualify as lewd behavior in Ada, Ohio. Playing certain Billy Joel albums on your stereo is probably classified as lewd behavior in Ada, Ohio. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.

- It was 80 degrees two days ago. Today its raining and in the high fifties. Welcome to Ohio.

- I'm supposed to be eating healthier, working out, and losing weight as during my last physical it was discovered that my cholesterol and blood pressure are both up. Of course, today, the Older Adult ministry at their monthly luncheon had a "pie baking contest". What can I say.. I took one for the team.

- Saw an old rerun of "WKRP in Cincinnati" last night. It's the episode where Mr. Carlson decides to give away Thanksgiving turkeys to people in Cincinnati as a promo. I'll let Les Nessman describe the "greatest turkey event in Thanksgiving Day history" to you:

- As per a couple of suggestions and my own sense that my family would love them as gifts, I am contemplating self-publishing a book containing the top 75-80 posts from this blog, and some new stuff I'll write for the heck of it. I talked to the publishing company (a local Christian publisher called CSS) which has been trying to get me to write for them for a couple of years, and they're willing to work with me. I'm just thinking of printing a couple hundred books, just to say I did it, maybe raise a few extra bucks, and have something tangible to hold after more than 275 posts over the last couple of years. But here's the thing: I was asked what "market research" I'd done on this project.

So, any interest in there in paying $8 for something you could get for free? It's be a great Christmas present for that person who know you have to buy for but you don't have the time to shop for. Let me know via comments or email what you think.

- It's late and a bowl of Raisin Bran is calling my name. Catch you tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) With my father-in law still laid up with badly bruised ribs, I spent the duration of my weekend on a lawn mower. It'd been three weeks since my lawn saw a mower blade, so I put on the blower attachment and bagged seven 55-gallon bags of grass and leaves (which took most of the day). We'd had a lot of wind and an extra mammoth dog last week, so I spent an hour just picking up sticks and poo (lots of poo). Then yesterday, after church and lunch, I popped out to Gomer to hopefully have mowed Bryant's lawn for the last (or next to last time). It don't mind doing it, outside of the fact that it just takes forever cause it's huge. Next year, though, Max will be old enough to start doing some mowing.... Hallelujah!

2) We did, however, take some time out of the weekend to go to MC Sporting Goods to buy the boys roller blades and all the assorted padding. Aimee signed them up to play roller hockey at the Y, which is pretty tough to play without skates. Now they'll follow in their esteemed Uncle Andy's footsteps, brandishing a stick and the infamous
Bucher competitive streak. I've kinda tamed mine, but Andy's verging on a career in law so I think his is still firmly intact. We get it honest. I can remember my Dad talking trash when we'd play one-on-one when I was a kid (which he refused to do anymore after I beat him at the age of 12). We've tried to kind of tame the boys even at their tender age, but I've a sense that while Max is more-mild mannered, Xavier will be a different story.

And Lord help us with Eli. We may finally have our OSU linebacker.

3) Speaking of the Bucks, they've got a big game in Happy Valley this weekend. Saturday confirmed what we all suspected though... the defense is stellar while the offense is still very much a question mark. I've heard people draw comparisons that this was what the 2002 National Championship team was like... great defense, a couple of good wideouts, a heavy-duty back fighting nagging injuries (let's just hope that's the only similarity between Beanie and Mo), lots of close games to teams they should beat. The big difference for me, though, is in the position of quarterback. Craig Krenzel had more field time under his belt than Boeckman does now, and consequently, he made better decisions (not to mention, the guy was an honor student while pursuing a degree in Molecular Genetics... not too shabby). He was really the X factor in that amazing stretch run. Boeckman has spent five years waiting to play behind a Heisman winner, and it shows. Thus, if the Bucks lose during this stretch where they have to play on the road at Penn State and Michigan (which is loaded for bear after crapping the bed against A State), my sense is that it'll end up being inconsistent play from the QB that will do them in.

But, who knows... maybe this is Boeckman's dream come true. I guess that's why they play the games.

4) We had a former Buckeye speak at the church last night. Joel Penton, who played on the defensive line from 2002-2006, now works for FCA doing evangelistic and motivational speaking around the state. Leigh Wise (soon to be Ditto), our new youth pastor, set everything up as a benefit for the Jeremy Hutchison Memorial Scholarship that the church initiated with the family's blessing after Jeremy and Jeff's tragic deaths earlier this year. About a 150 people showed up to hear Joel talk about what Christ has meant to him. More than $1200 ended up being raised, and all had a good time. The night was especially memorable because a good number of Hutchison family members came out for the event. I got to talk to Marty for a while (Jeremy's grandmother and Jeff's mother). She wants everyone to know how much their prayers and support are appreciated. The family is getting by, day-to-day, which is all anyone can really expect. We'll continue to pray for the Hutchisons, and look to other events in the future that will help this scholarship get up and running. Thanks to everyone who helped put this event together, and came out to support this great cause.

5) How about this article about a TB outbreak in St. Maarten's that started with an infected stripper. How do you explain that one to the wife when you get home?

"Uh, honey, I must have bumped into her at the bank or the tourist market while buying you this very big, fancy, expensive diamond ring. Have I mentioned how much I love and adore you?"

6) To be honest, my interest in baseball has not been all that high since the strike in the 90's. I never much enjoyed playing the game as a youngster (hence my forgo-ing playing my senior year of high school, despite repeated invites on the part of the varsity coach to pitch one more year), and after the fantasy league I played in with my college chums fell apart, I just kinda lost interest. Considering Max got plunked in the head with a foul ball at a Locos game this summer, I don't see this changing in my household anytime soon.

But I still dig the Indians. I grew up a Reds fan (largely due to my grandfather and the Unk), but while at Miami I started hanging out with a bunch of guys from Cleveland. One summer we all went to a game in old Cleveland Stadium which was a complete hole, but the vibe of the place was great. In those days, the team stunk perpetually so we could buy a ticket 20 minutes before the game and sit in the front row. After that, I was hooked. Once we even got to see (The Governor) Jerry Browne beat Dennis Eckersley (at his peak) with the long ball to win a game... which is to say we actually saw the Indians win. Good times.

That being said, though, I think the Indians got jobbed this weekend... particularly in game six. The strike zone that the ump was laying out for Carmona was so ridiculously small and inconsistent, that he was forced to throw the ball over the middle of the plate for strikes. That's what happens when you don't get the outside corner, the inside corner, high, or low strikes. You end up working consistently behind, forced to throw grapefruits up the middle of plate.

I also, to be honest, wonder why in the world Westbrook got pulled last night. After a slow start, by the sixth inning the guy was in the zone. He had Red Sox batters diving at bad pitches, which is exactly what you want as a pitcher. Betancourt was amazing throughout the post-season, but in an effort to hide their normal closer, I think Wedge wore him out. To ask for more innings from him last night while Westbrook was cruising just seemed like asking for trouble.

It was, and trouble was delivered. Anyhow, a disappointing end to a season I only started noticing during the Yankees series. Now I'll probably flick between the World Series and some bad 80's movie, Law and Order reruns, or Dog the Bounty Hunter.

7) Am listening to a lot of Kool of the Gang. The occasion gives rise to a You Tube clip.

Speaking of how the 80's rule, have you watched MTV lately? All they show now are reality kids featuring rich kids who live in California and d-list celebrities. Back in the day, MTV used to be cool. It was a place to hear new music you couldn't get on your local radio station. To this day I still dig Madness, Squeeze, The Split Enz, A Flock of Seagulls and dozens of other bands I heard on MTV first. Now... it's just nothing but drek. I'll bet more middle schoolers watch the Disney Channel than MTV. How in the world did MTV's finger slip off the pulse of Teen America?

My theory... not enough spandex and hair spray:

not enough new wave bands from England:

not enough jerr... check that (I stand corrected Thief), jehri curls:

and not enough animation:

and not enough of whatever the heck this was:

or maybe when I was in the eighth grade, I had no taste. You can be the judge.

8) I'm calling the first meet of my academic progress review team for the beginning of November. This is a group required by Asbury Theological Seminary of laypeople who make sure that we, as pastors, continue to make progress on our DMin. I've got a good group of people who will make sure I keep my nose to the grindstone. Of course, I just sent the my Chapter 1 (20 pages) to read as their briefing. Heaven help the person who asks for my Chapter 2 or 3, which are 70 pages of pure boredom (unless you want to read about the history of how churches raise up new leadership). I'm not scheduled to do another round of interviews until January, so progress is moving slow. I'll need to pick up the pace next spring and summer if I have any hope of making my March 2009 deadline.

9) Now from the "truth is stranger than fiction" department, just received a letter from my District Superintendent to protest a "Girls Gone Wild" event scheduled to occur in..... Ada, Ohio?

Umm..... is this April Fools Day?

Well apparently not. After typing in "girls gone wild" into my Google bar, a link sent me to their MySpace page, which lists some place called "The Armory" in Ada as the location for a GGW party tomorrow night. I'm just too incredulous to be outraged. Are there really co-eds going to ONU who want to lift up their shirt and go "woo"? Will the person who owns that bar actually be able to leave their house after inviting a company led by a sleezeball like Joe Francis - currently imprisoned for tax evasion and is awaiting other charges like "contributing to the deliquency of a minor" - to their home town? What a surreal turn of events. I can't believe this sits well with the city fathers of Ada or the powers that be at Ohio Northern University. I mean do you really think the Hardin County sheriff or Town Constable (or whatever officer of the law presides in Ada) will allow public nudity and drunkeness in Ada. Smart money says this even ends up getting canceled, or ends badly with cops and arrested kids. Let's just pray its canceled.

10) Finally, hope to see out at Koininia tomorrow evening for our second "Quest For Paul" Bible study. We had a great turnout last week (about 70 folks) and the buzz afterwards was pretty positive. I mean, nobody is going to get naked or scream "woo", but we'll still have a good time (and free coffee!). And any ONU student who shows up at 6:45pm tomorrow night will not only not have to deal with an eventual arraignment, but also will receive a coupon for a free roast beef sandwich at Arby's. You can't beat that with a stick! All college and non-college students alike are welcome. See you there.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Connection Between Awe and Humility

As a child of the 70's and 80's, it seemed growing up that the only time you heard the world "terrorists" was when a plane would get hijacked, and inevitably would fly to Cuba. That's the only time I can remember the term ever being used in the newspaper or by Walter Cronkite (who we watched religiously every night). Even though Islamic fundamentalism really went front page in 1979 when the American Embassy in Iran was overrun by Iranian students loyal to the Ayatollah Khomeini, nobody was really all that concerned with where the radical ideas taking hold in that part of the world would end up going. In those days the big concern wasn't radical religious ideologues, but rather non-religious ones.

It's hard to describe to kids today what it was like living during the Cold War. Unlike today where the enemy could be literally anywhere (either building an IED in Basra or working in a terrorist cell in Seattle plotting to blow up a shopping mall), the enemy was easily identifiable. He lived mainly in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe (although he did have an outpost in that little island nation terrorists like to fly to and another little nation in the jungles of Southeast Asia... a little nation whose name still provokes anger and shame among Americans today). He worshiped no god. He purported that he believed in classless society where all things were owned collectively, meaning that no government would be necessary (but that society would only be realized if a small group of heavily armed, powerful people could force it into being by controlling, well, everything), and he owned nuclear warheads. Now the world "dirty bomb" makes our skin crawl, but at one time M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) was what kept people awake at night because an all out war between the USSR and USA seemed always like a real possibility.

I wasn't old enough to remember Atom Bomb drills. Those were before my time, during a more naive era where people believed you could survive nuclear warfare like you could a tornado. By the 70's that kind of Pollyan-ish" idea had was all but lost. But I can remember, as a kid, the parades the Communists would hold on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Tens of thousands of troops.... endless lines of tanks and cannons.... and at least one shot of a huge missile that would be pulled through Red Square. A show of force that reminded the world that the Soviet Union had better be reckoned with, and reminded those people living behind the Iron Curtain - people we now know were starving thanks to bureaucratic mismanagement - of who had the power and who made the rules. A show of force, coupled I might add, with an intelligence agency that made it's business to know whether or not you bought the party line.

We knew the Communists scared us. What we didn't know was how much they scared their own people.

The means the Communists used to stay in power weren't new. Nations and empires throughout history have used their military might as a means of flushing out concessions from their enemies and friends alike. What was different in the case of communism was the assertion that the power they wielded came not from a supreme deity, but rather as a mandate of the people. Such was not the case with all others. They took the opposite tack, connecting their power directly with some supernatural entity they believed to supreme above all others.

Supreme above all others, at times, even if they happened to be human beings.

Such was the case with the Romans during the height of the Roman Empire. This had not always been case. As the Roman Empire began to grow, credit most always went to both the power of some Romanized Greek mythological god or goddess and the power of the republic system of governance. But after Caesar Augustus solidified his power as Emperor after many long years of war, the "peace" he then brought to Empire (Pax Romana) began to be explained by his talking heads as being something only a god could bring. Such began the subtle shift away from the representative political principles that had previously guided Roman life and politics, and the shift toward an Emperor cult that elevated a man to a god.

If you think about it, you can understand why the shift occurred. If you are some lowly peon, working in a farm in outer Behoovia, if you are told at the end of a Roman pike that you'd better go to some neighboring city to pay homage to your divine Emperor, you gotta believe the odds of things ever changing in the world are pretty much slim to none. Not only are you powerless against the Roman legions terrorizing Behoovia, your god can't overcome the Emperor cause he's got bigger spiritual hammer than your god does.

A hammer so big it controls both worlds... the physical one you live in, and the spiritual one the gods live in.

What better way to codify, if you are a Roman citizen, your place in the world. You have established yourself superior to everyone else simply because your leader's got it goin on. The world must serve your purposes.

Caesar, the god, comes to bring peace through slavery, heavy taxes and the threat of force.

It is into this world that Jesus makes his appearance. A leader with no army, no taxes, and no grand statues or monuments telling you about his wonderfulness. A man who claimed, or was claimed (depending on what scholar you follow) to be endowed with godly power, but used that power, as opposed to solidifying his political base, to heal people, preach that there was a better way for the world to work than the way it was working now, and seize people's hearts and imaginations. A King with no kingdom on this earth. A conqueror who conquers by dying a criminal's death on a cross to defeat, not an earthly enemy, but rather, the only thing that really scares the hell out of us....


A spiritual giant who didn't see salvation coming from large temples, big alters, and massive festivals in his honor, but rather though people who simply wanted the world to be different by becoming more like him.

The funny thing about the Apostle Paul, is that we forget that he probably lived in Israel while Jesus was preaching his message of the Good News. We forget that the man who until his own conversion, persecuted Christians most likely heard Jesus, live and in person, do his thing. He could have very well have been one of the generically labeled "Pharisees" who would test Jesus again and again, trying to determine if he was of God, or not. For all we know, Paul could have been at the foot of cross, mocking the man nailed to a tree who the Romans sarcastically called the "King of the Jews" (and this will be your fate too if you choose to act like Jews instead of a subject of Caesar).

It makes sense that it would have taken anywhere from one to three years for Paul to begin to realize just how brilliant Jesus was. For others who claimed to be a God-man, a Messiah, had both led open revolts or retreated into the desert to live in apocalyptic communes awaiting the end of all things, and watched them all come to nothing. The open revolts were ultimately crushed, the followers scattered, and the leader soon forgotten. The communes in the desert were soon forgotten, the people living for God and not having babies, soon dying off not to be remembered. And now, here was the movement of this crucified Nazarene who neither picked up a sword or escaped into the desert, but rather turned the other cheek as he continued to preach his message:

"The Kingdom of God is near!"

"When you served the least of these, who are my brothers and my sisters, you've served me."

"The first shall become last, and the last shall become first."

"For widow gave the greater gift for she gave all that she had."

"For no greater love exists than that which compels a person to give up their life for their friends.

This man's movement was going away. In fact, in the face of great opposition and oppression, it seemed to grow even faster. Slowly but surely, it must have dawned on the Pharisee that the kind of adherence to the Law needed to usher in the next Israelite dynasty that would take down the evil Roman Empire could never be voluntarily attained by enough people in this life...

but the power of Jesus message to overcome the world. Well, that was a different story.

How telling, then, it was that Paul the Evangelist, Prophet, and Pastor would say this to the church at Philippi:

3 Don't be selfish; don't live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don't think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. 5 Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. 6 Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. 7 He made himself nothing; F5 he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. F6 8 And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal's death on a cross. 9 Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

For it was only in Christ's apparent political, social, and economic weakness, that people could see past all the bull that someone like Caesar was forcing down their throat, and get to the truth. That a world were God is for us, not against us where people acknowledge the reality of their own sin as well as other's sin, and seek to overcome that sin with love, is the only world really worth living and dying for. Surely someone as educated as Paul realized the difference in Caesar and Jesus' messages. Caesar proclaimed his gospel in order to enslave people to a state, high taxes, and a perpetual underclass. Jesus proclaimed his gospel to free people from religious authorities that stood upon you to prop themselves up higher than all others, a perpetual sense of being condemned by God, and fear that death leads us to nothing else.

That Jesus was able to successfully convey these ideas by the means that he did, I believe, filled Paul with awe. An awe that led him to acknowledge Jesus' greatness and his own apparent blindness to how things really are in this crazy world.

There is a connection, I think, with awe and humility. That's what Paul is trying to convey in the text. That the brilliance of not only who Jesus is, but the message he brings, should inspire humility. Humility that leads a person to question whether or not the true north they have established for their own life really is all that true. Paul wants to make it clear... if the Philippians want to remain a great church, they must never lose their sense of awe of Jesus, for doing so will mean losing their own sense of humility, and subsequently the willingness to buy into the same bull everyone else looking to get a piece of your world is selling.

That's what I'll be preaching about tomorrow (or should I say, today).

Thursday, October 18, 2007

NBA Fantasy League Draft

For those who haven't followed this blog, I am one of the last 13 or 14 NBA fans who don't live in a city where a franchise is located left in the US. I can't help it. As a kid my Mom got me a NBA basketball lamp (that I still own) signed by then commissioner Larry O'Brien. At the time, the Phoenix Suns were all coked up, the Cavs were living through the Ted Stephien years, and columnists openly wondered if the NBA would survive. But in those days, the only NBA games you saw if you lived in a place like Charleston, West Virginia almost always involved in the Philadelphia 76ers... and fortunately that team was fantastic. Dr. J, Cunningham, Toney, Moses.... I loved watching that team on Sunday afternoons. They played basketball like it was a ballet. It was beautiful to watch.

Couple that with that lamp Mom bought, and I was hooked for life.

Over the years I've never stopped enjoying watching the NBA. There were the Magic and Bird rivalry years, Doug Moe's Denver Nugget team that averaged about 140 points a game but gave up about 141 points a game, a love affair with the Cavs that began in 1981 when I saw World B. Free live at the Richfield Coliseum, the rise of those same Cavs during the Price/Nance/Daughtery/Harper years (which were shattered when Wayne Embry traded Ohio native and Miami alum Ron Harper for Danny Ferry, which was like trading a quarter for three pennies and two jelly beans), Stockton to Malone, Sir Charles, talented teams in Portland that kept not winning championships, Jordan, and now a bunch of kids (LeBron, Carmello, DWade, Bosh, Howard, Deron Williams, and Josh Smith just to name a few) that are moving the game into the 21st century.

Even with the quality of play being down the last six or seven years, I still can't understand why anybody would rather watch over-coached-over-managed-pass-four-hundred-times-before-you-score-zone-and-press-to-death. college basketball. It's like choosing a cut rate hot dog instead of a pretty decent steak.

But I digress....

Tonight, we did our draft, and here's the team I ended up with:

Matt Carroll (14th round): Yeah, the twelve of us drafted fourteen players, each, which explains why Matt Carroll got drafted at all. Here's hoping he can sink a few threes... but I suspect I'll drop him when non-drafted free agent starts getting hot.

Mark Blount (13th round): I hated this pick. Mark Blount (pronounced "Blunt") had a great year last year after getting traded from the Celtics to the T-Wolves. But up until then, he found more ways to underachieve than should have been possible. Besides, this year he doesn't have KG opening up the floor. Another guy most likely destined for the waiver wire.

Matt Barnes (12th round): Not a bad pick-up given its the 12th round. The guy really emerged last year, particularly during the playoffs. Not a big stats guy, but he has his moments. Too bad you don't get points for the number of tattoos a player is sporting cause then he'd be fantasy gold. Chances of his still being on my team by December are 50/50.

Michael Finley (11th round): Has seen his best days. He's an old guy on an old team. But he'll still score off the bench. I mean, for pete's sake, I got him the 11th round, so that's not too bad.

Shaquille O'Neal (10th round): Oh how the mighty have fallen. When I first started wasting my time like this five years ago, Shaq was the first player taken in the draft. Now, too many years and too much weight have robbed him of his knees. Poor foul shooting keeps him out of games at crunch time. His point guards are a limping Jason Williams and Smush Parker. The result? I got him in the 10th round, and the rest of the league made fun of me. Life is cruel.

Larry Hughes (9th round): Well, it's like this... when Hughes was with the Wizards he could score like it was nobody's business. He also was good for a lot of steals and the occasional assist. But you always knew he'd miss 25-30 games with something broken. Now, with the Cavs, he's expected to be a point guard (even though he doesn't handle the ball or pass all that well), and he seems to get more brittle with age. But, you never know... if he stays healthy, with Eric Snow hurt he'll handle the ball plenty. Here's hoping he re-discovers his outside shot and his ability to slash to the basket.

Chris Wilcox (8th round): You've never heard of him but he puts up monster numbers for Seattle. That's the stuff you learn when your league goes 168 players deep every year. Now, with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis out of town, he has the chance to go wild statistically... or flop miserably. I'm pulling for going wild.

Richard Jefferson (7th round): If you are a decent scorer and Jason Kidd is your point guard, as long as you stay healthy you'll put up big numbers. But the key is staying healthy. Jefferson is hurt so often I think he and Hughes are actually long lost brothers. A risky pick in the 7th.

Corey Maggette (6th round): His coach can't stand him, every year he's the subject of endless trade rumors, and he (too) seems to be cut from the Jefferson/Hughes injury cloth. But this year Elton Brand is out with a ruptured achilles and if the Clips want to score they'll have to run which is perfect for Maggette's game. Here's hoping he's a stat monster even though his team is mostly likely going to be pretty rotten.

Mike Bibby (5th round): He's getting old fast, but he can still play. That and there aren't a lot of decent point guards in the league right now, so you got to take what you can get. Personally I'd love to see him get traded to the Cavs this year. He could put them over the top.

Mehmet Okur (4th round): Did I take him too high? Yes. But I need at least three centers, and there are fewer decent centers than there are point guards right now, so I had to snatch him up. Besides, he shoots the lights out of the basket most nights, so he helps you in terms of 3 pointers, shooting percentage, and overall scoring.

Deron Williams (3rd round): I drafted him last year and everyone laughed. By the end of the year, no one was laughing. He's one of the top three point guards in the league, plays hard every night, and gets you all kinds of stats. Besides, he and Mehmet both play for the Jazz, which is my favorite Western Conference team (since the days of Mark Eaton) and the team our uncle, Dennis Riggs, follows on his 60" HDTV. You want to stay on the good side of Uncle Dennis. He's a true mountain man. He once got lost while hunting in a rugged, remote, snow-covered part of Idaho.... ended up killing two bears with his bare hands while whipping up a 3500 square foot log home as his temporary shelter in a little less than 20 minutes. Chuck Norris couldn't carry his flannel shirt.

Dwight Howard (2nd round): Once again, did I take him too high? Yes. But centers are few and far between, and despite the fact that this guy is a turnover machine (his hands must be the size of Holly Hobbies'), he's a monster on the boards, in blocks, and scores like there's no tomorrow. In our league, that translates into "W's".

Kobe Bryant (1st round): Yeah, I know what you're thinking... what is a pastor doing drafting a guy who can't seem to keep his nose clean and has been a perpetual malcontent in the first round? Well, the guy is, bar none, still the best player in the league right now, and nobody (and I mean nobody) else on that Laker team can carry it. So Kobe will score early and often... unless he pulls a Vince Carter and quits on his team to force a trade. Hopefully he has too much pride to pull a stunt like that.

And so, that's your 2007-08 Ohio Mixers (named after the beloved CBA team that played here in Lima a couple of years back in the 80's). Here's hoping we see few injuries, a rejuvenated Shaq, and a decent pick-up (not a trade, as the guys in our league would sooner go to a sadistic dentist than make a trade) in order to end my multi-year championship drought.... and end my little brother's multi-year dynasty.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Blood Is Thicker Than Great Danes

When my father-in law goes out of town, we dog-sit his Great Dane, Rufus. Given that Bryant kept our dog, Lucy, for an entire year (while The Great One watched our cat, Trixie, who has still never forgiven us for retrieving her from the comfort and quiet of The Great One's apartment), and that my mother-in law loved that dog as if he were a child, we don't mind being his second home when Bryant needs to go out of town...

very much.

I never grew up with big dogs... or any dogs (except "Puppy Pillow") for that matter. Aimee, on the other hand, can't remember a time the Allen Zoo didn't have a Dane. She, better than I, knows just how big, smelly, and slobbery a big dog can be. The first time we had Rufus over after her new living room furniture was delivered, I thought she was going to have a cow. Given that we have three boys, a dog of our own, not the biggest house in the world, and that Rufus is an old Dane (8, going on 9) with bowel issues, the Bucher landscape gets altered considerably. And to preserve her couch and carpet, part of that altering involves new sleeping arrangements.

I mentioned the bowel issues, right? Nothing worse than a 150 pound dog with bowel issues.

Anyhow, the biggest challenge we face when Rufus stays with us that he has to go out in the middle of the night to deal with the said bowel issues. But the only way you'll know he has to go out is by locking him in a bedroom where you are sleeping, so he has to wake you up. If you don't do this, he'll just take care of business somewhere in the house, go back to sleep, leaving you with an unpleasant gift to deal with in the morning.

Since he can be loud, and the last thing we want is for him to wake Eli (who will use any excuse to not sleep), Xavier moves to his brother's room, and I sleep in Xavie's room, door shut, with both dogs. That way when Rufus wakes up at 3:15am, like he did today, I'm the only one who gets rousted out of bed.

So, the dog wakes me at an ungodly hour, I stumble out of bed (thinking things preachers ought not to think), and let the dogs outside to their business.

Just so you know, we don't own a fence. We bought one of those invisible ones for Lucy, but never were able to get it to work properly. All we own is a chain and pole stuck in the ground. Rufus, being ancient for a Dane, doesn't need to be chained. ON HIS OWN, he'll go out, do his thing, come back in, and go back to sleep. Lucy, though, is another story. She's part lab and part greyhound, so she loves to explore with her nose, and run... fast... and far. And even though she's half Rufus' age, and a quarter his size, she's the leader of the pack.

It is 3:15 in the morning. I am not thinking clearly. I let the dogs out, shut the door, and go back to bed knowing that Lucy or Rufus will bark to be let back in.

Only... it dawns on me, that I have forgotten to use the chain.

I pop out of bed as quickly as an overweight, middle-aged pasty white midwestern pastor could, rush to the back door, just in time to see both dogs disappear into the night.


Since I sleep in my boxers (yeah, I know... to much information), I have to pull on some clothes. The only thing readily available are a pair of swim trunks Aimee folded and left on the dining room table, and the long-sleeve button down oxford shirt I wore yesterday.

And so it was, me, holding two leashes, venturing forth into the night, dressed in swim trunks, an oxford shirt, and a pair of pink flip flops, looking for two dogs who have made a midnight dash for freedom. All the while I am silently praying that the township police department have better things to do than patrol Sandy Lane in the wee hours of the night.

Eventually, I switched from foot to van, and found them just before 4am, wandering slowly back from wherever they had gone back to the house. Rufus, out of shape and older, was laying down in a random front yard panting like it was 120 degrees outside. I hustled them into the van, and got them home.... thankfully, not once having to produce identification or taking a Breathalyzer test. We got home, they drank about a gallon of water, I locked us back in our room, and listened to Rufus pant for another hour. Good times.

I'm going to look at fencing material, today.

Note: No wife or son or dog was harmed or wakened during the making of this story.. but dad is a little sleepy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Well we started the Paul series yesterday. To be honest I was nervous about not kicking it off, but I thought Charlotte set the table well. I was off the preaching schedule yesterday because I had tentatively scheduled myself in Dallas this week to do some dissertation work. Unfortunately the churches I'm trying to schedule are just impossible to nail down, so I ended up staying home. Thus, since Charlotte had been assigned to the week, she put her heart and soul into getting things off on the right foot, and I thought she did a great job.

2) In case you missed it, we're going in two directions for the next couple of months. In the morning, we'll stay focused on the book of Philippians, which Paul wrote during his second, and ultimately tragic, term of imprisonment in Rome. The church at Philippi was unique in the sense that they seemed to embrace Paul's message with a depth of commitment and conviction that was somewhat missing in other churches. Paul's call for churches to be communities of not just spiritual but social transformation was often met by those communities with opposition or, in some cases, indifference. Many of the calls to sexual, culinary, and physical purity were so foreign to people of that era - particularly in religious traditions whose practices had often been marked by excess - that many new Christians had a hard time taking them seriously.

Remember, these churches were made up largely of people who either had been associated with Jewish faith communities in exile from Israel, or folks who had been associated with other faith movements and just walked in off the street into a worship service. They lived in a truly pluralistic world where major and minor cities alike would be awash with numerous different temples practicing all matters and forms of religion. Unwashed in 1700 years of Christian domination of western culture, folks from Paul's day were used to multiple religious practices co-existing. "Exclusive Monotheism" was still largely a novelty, and mostly unheard of in their world. They hadn't been born into the church like many of us were. It's just a totally different world.

And for whatever reason, the church in Philippi seemed to understand that if they were going to try to walk with Jesus, that things were going to be different. We'll focus on that in the morning.

3) On Tuesday evening will peer into Paul's world. The man who was simultaneously a Christian, a Jew, one educated in a Greek tradition (and thus, Greek), and a Roman citizen. How many other people could make these claims in 58 A.D.? I'm guessing not too many. Maybe nobody else in all the world. How strange it is that the Lord would merge together in one person ancient practices of the middle east, an education given in a style that ended up defining the way the western world still educates its graduates, a connection to the most powerful theo-political state the world has ever seen, and faith in Jesus. It's a miracle. Paul is at the intersection of the world that still marks us today.

People shaped and marked by ancient religious practices who fear they'll lose their identity in a rapidly changing world.

Nations that struggle with the role that religious ideals and leaders should play in governance.

The split between religious faith that emphasizes belief in the unseen and education that calls anything that hasn't been measured or observed a theory.

The tension that exists in living the Christian life between spiritual regeneration and social transformation; personal salvation and corporate accountability; emphasis on faith or works.

Paul's words hold keys, I believe, to helping us navigate these murky seas. I don't believe that he makes our way easier.... in fact he confronts us in ways that will make us very uncomfortable. But his way, a new way, Jesus' way, is a way of hope. Hope to you Tuesday.

4) Due to the lateness of the date, and years of unpredictable weather, last year, the local HOG chapter dropped their annual run for "Harvest for the Hungry". I was disappointed when I heard this since this would have been the first year I could have rode (a Kawasaki Voyager tucked in with all those loud American bikes) for the cause of the West Ohio Foodbank. Besides, each year we'd pick up $500 or so, and I hated for the WOF to lose it. I mentioned this to our "Ride and Dine" leader, Larry Inskeep, who, only two weeks ago, promptly organized a ride, which we held yesterday. Despite all appearances (because it was overcast and cloudy), it was a nice day for a ride.

Cool but not cold. Little or no traffic on the road. Corn harvested so there were fewer blind corners. Just a nice, nice day for a ride.

While we didn't end up with the biggest turnout, people pitched in and we still raised almost $700. And all involved seemed to have a great time. There were plenty of doorprizes (yours truly won a OSU cooler), lots of good food, and a nice (if not warm) warmy atmosphere in Solid Rock Cafe (where we ended our trip). We'll probably move this ride to coincide with the Blessing of the Bikes service the first week of May. Don't miss it. Larry lays out a nice ride, and the money will go for a good cause.

5) Is OSU the number one team in the country? The pollsters say "yes", but as for this blogger... well, I'm not so sure. Thanks to Eric Stallkamp, the "Dean Four" (Dad, Brother esq, Unk, and myself) were at the game Saturday where the Bucks manhandled a Kent State team that seemed resigned to defeat almost from the beginning. Here's the list of who the Bucks have beat thus far:

Youngstown State, Akron, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Washington, Kent State

Here's who is left on the schedule:

Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan

Is there even one Top Ten team on this schedule? Nope. Not this year. Michigan seems to be finding itself, and Illinois and Penn State have shown life this season, but beyond that, no elites on the schedule this year.

So will OSU play in a National Championship game if they win out? Yep. Will we know before that game if they really deserve to be there. I don't think so. On the upside, it feels like 2002 all over again, when, thanks to a weak schedule and plenty of close games, not too many experts in the country gave them a prayer against the Hurricanes. On the downside, no Bucks fan could exhale until Dorsey through that last incompletion in overtime. Right now, it's that kind of year.

6) Max's last soccer game is tonight, and we have a SPRC meeting scheduled. I already missed a few of his games this fall due to work-related conflicts. I don't want to miss this one. I'd cancel the meeting (there's not much to tackle on the agenda), but that would make two-in-a-row we've canceled, which would be unparalleled in our history. Remember the SPRC deals with personnel issues, and in the last four years we are a church that's saw an associate pastor leave after less than a year in office, the hiring/loss of five youth pastors, and the succession of a 17-year old tenured pastor to a guy who has never been a senior pastor before. The SPRC has perpetually had a lot to do. No other committee has met more, or for longer, than SPRC. Now, with all salaries set until next June, no pressing issues at least in the immediate future, and an almost entirely new committee coming on in January (thanks to terms expiring and previously unfilled slots being filled) we have little that is controversial or difficult to deal with. Now, we need to start thinking about the future, that's where we'll be heading tonight... possible future hires fueled by dreams of the future.

But I'd still rather Max play soccer. Bummer. We'll see what we can work out.

7) Here are some very cool pictures from last week's Fall Fest. The overhead pics were taken by a fireman from the Shawnee Township Fire Department from the top of the extended ladder attached to the truck they parked outside of the church for the event. Hope you enjoy them.

Thank you to everyone who made it possible.

8) Bill Cosby, yesterday, pulled no punches yesterday on "Meet The Press". Cosby, who has been lauded and reviled because of his take on parenting within the black community, has co-authored a book on the subject. Cosby's take... the disappearance of fathers in the black community is directly linked to the decline of living standards for children in the black community. If you missed what he and his co-author had to say, here's the link.

Cosby's comments are timely, as today in the Lima News there was an article that cites rising graduation rates in urban communities here in Ohio over the last decade. The article goes further to say that the growth of specialty/magnet schools designed for specific minority groups has contributed greatly to this change. I know right now that the drop out rate young black males in the Lima City Schools is an issue that has come to the forefront for the community, school board and teacher's association. It will be interesting to see what creative solutions are suggested and pursued to deal with what has been an on-going issue. As the effects of globalization continue to drain jobs requiring unskilled labor from our area, Heaven knows some creative thinking is needed to help overcome these problems right now.

9) Male leadership is a huge issue right now in the life of the church. Protestant and Catholic churches for years now have watched a slow decline in the percentage of males attending churches with their wives or families. Even though someone like Mark Driscoll (who I blogged about last week) can say and teach things that are often terribly misogynistic, he is lauded in certain quarters within protestant circles as being a "savior" for the post-modern church because so many young males fill the pews of his church. It's no secret that males tend to be more action-oriented and more visually-oriented than females, yet churches tend to be slow-moving institutions that still put forth their message using primarily verbal mediums. As communal and generational bonds that historically tied people to Christian churches continue to break down, how we live out and present our message must change.

My wife sent me an interesting link entitle

The site, which is blog that is published by the Center for Creative Church marketing, gives endless tips on new ways churches not only market themselves in the community, but convey and carry out their message. It seems like the examples of "what to do" are filled with web sites like this one, where the pastor is fit and trim, wears some sort of T-shirt, and preaches in a theater, but that seems to be where things are going. Or, in other words, using a new veneer to make it clear that this church "isn't your mother or grandmother's church". One wonders, though, if this isn't just a lot of window dressing on a message that maybe needs to grow and change... and if that veneer wears off quickly.

I have no idea.

10) Finally, this Saturday, as we approached Ohio Stadium, for the first time I've ever attended an OSU game, a church (one of the ones where the women all wear long skits and wear the their hair up in a bun) stood out in front of the stadium, handing out tracts and calling people to repentance. I always feel uncomfortable when I encounter this kind of evangelism. On the one hand, it takes a lot of guts to spend your day out in the hot sun/frigid cold openly professing not only you love for Jesus, but also a call that others embrace Him also. There is a fearlessness that's almost admirable. It reminds me of a dream I had last year that my Beeson colleagues and I traveled into downtown Lexington and we did street preaching... which I have never done my life. The idea of such an endeavor has always seemed distasteful to me... an offense to my refined mainline sensibilities I suppose.

But, on the other hand, talk about church marketing sucking... I don't know if you could make the Christian faith look more out of touch than those folks did that day. I thought it telling that next to one of the street preachers a woman who worked for a company that makes gum stood there handing out free samples. I don't know how many more people chose the gum than the tracts, but I'm guessing we're talking 10 or 12 times more people took her offering... and later I saw the ground littered with abandoned tracts.

Considering, once again, cause you'll get people at rock concerts, ballgames, and other big events engaging in the same kind of street evangelism, unlike after Peter's first major sermon in Acts, thousands didn't come to Jesus outside of Ohio Stadium. There was no great movement of people down to the banks of the Olentangy River for an impromptu baptismal service. I wondered, again, if maybe more harm than good was accomplished in their efforts.

I don't know if its possible to be challenged and repulsed all at the same time... but that's where I found myself Saturday morning in Columbus. Challenged to be bolder about my faith, but repulsed by the disdain my Christian brothers and sisters seemed to show for those that day who just wanted to see a ball game.

And now I wonder, what did God think about all of that? If you wondered, that's the stuff I think about all the time. Such is my life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Sorry to have missed Monday. This week has been spent, among other things, largely getting ready for what will become an annual stewardship campaign at Shawnee. Since it's my first in the senior pastor chair, I have been very particular about what is published, including both content and appearance. You wouldn't know it from my office, but I am extremely particular about how things look. Even though I had absolutely no talent for art as a youngster (of as an adult for that matter), I think maybe I still missed a calling in advertising or marketing as I've a critical eye for the way things of that sort appear. Maybe that eye isn't all that good, but still if stuff doesn't look right, it drives me nuts. So, I've been slaving both over wording and packaging. I finally turned in everything to my secretary, and will give her all the master copies so that next year, we have templates to work off of. Now, with the Koinania Bible Study and a new sermon series looming, I've got to delve back into Paul with a vengeance.

No rest for the wicked.

2) After sixteen years in this game, I've come to the conclusion that those who give the most money to a church are the least likely to complain, threaten, or cajole a pastor or lay-leadership into changing (or not changing things) things in ways they prefer. They'll discuss, debate, or question at times, but they refrain from the the kind of bullying that often infects people who want shortcuts to get what they want. That's why, friends of this blog, when pastors say financial giving is a spiritual issue, we genuinely mean it.

I type this remembering a particular family in a past church who (it seemed) perpetually threatened to withhold their giving if the church didn't (fill in the blank) by (fill in the time). They would make a big deal of this within their own circle (mainly their sunday school class) and, of course, word would leak back to the senior pastor (cause they'd never talk to him directly). Then, upon the worried phone calls from concerned lay people who "just heard that (blank) was upset, and maybe he should know about it" the pastor (or on occasion, his loyal associate) would have to wade into whatever issue the said family was concerned about, all while listening to open or veiled threats about "how others would join them" along the way. It was like going back in time to the days back on the school playground when at some particularly delicate juncture the guy who owns the ball being used in the game finally decides to push everyone else around by making the pronouncement:

"Well, if you don't like it, then me, and my ball, are going to go home."

Of course, that family, to the best of my knowledge, has never left that church... not do they ever intend to. For they realize that while they aren't well-respected as being particularly spiritually mature or deep, they do have power... because nobody ever called their bluff.

So, when I stand in the pulpit over the next three weeks encouraging people to make a pledge for the coming year, and I talk about why supporting a church isn't about a church being greedy, but a time for church members and friends to assess their spiritual depth, now you know why. The kingdom deserves better than disciples more than willing to take their ball and go home if they don't get their way. Much, much better.

3) Still no breakthrough on a name for the baby. We are as deadlocked as we were when she was pregnant with Eli. Pretty soon we'll need one of those arbitrators that are in between the Big Three automakers and the unions. I don't know what going on strike would look like for me, though. Aimee is the one with all the leverage, or as she likes to say, "She who breastfeeds makes the rules." Hard to argue with that.

4) Have gotten hooked on Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" album. It happened some time last week when I was flicking around the 400 some-odd channels we purchase the right to watch each month, and I stumbled on a show about the making of that album on VH1 Classics (which, unlike VH1, seems to remember that its a music channel). With limited resources (band members and friends mortgaged their houses to pay for studio time), Springsteen labored for months and months trying to get the exact sound he wanted for his music. According to those filmed at the time, it was a do-or-die time for Bruce and the E-Street band which had been doing a lot of touring, but with little in return to show for it.

Springsteen, years later, marveled at how accommodating the band was to doing the endless re-takes he demanded as he searched to capture a sound he had no idea how to get. He called their endless patience, 30 years and millions of copies sold later, a labor of love so great that when they play songs from that album together on stage it is, for the band, their version of "communion": an act of gratitude for not only sacrifices made, but acts that saved the band and preserved their future.

What a powerful definition of communion: An act of gratitude for not only for sacrifice made to save us, but for the way those sacrifices have preserved our future. One wonders how many Christians approach Communion with this kind of reverence. I suppose that the closer you felt to lost when you got found, the more likely it is to feel powerful feelings of connection to not only the One who saved you, but also those you are bound to in love who now know that without one another, life wouldn't mean much.

5) Every so often as I aimlessly surf the web, I venture over to Mark Driscoll's blog. Driscoll is the founding pastor of a huge Christian Reformed church that caters mainly to young adults in the city of Seattle. Thousands of people worship at multiple sites every week at worship services marked by loud contemporary music, eye-popping video visuals, and a fairly young pastor who dresses more like the lead singer for a pop band than the stodgy looking reverend you might have grown up with. I used to have Driscoll's blog posted on my masthead as a place you could go wander if your were bored, but he went through a long period where, either due to exhaustion or controversy over something he wrote during the Ted Haggard scandal (that basically, it was Haggard's wife's fault he strayed in their marriage because she wasn't making herself desirable enough at home... a statement he backtracked off of when the local paper dropped the religious article he had been writing for them as hundreds planned to picket his church in protest), he quit blogging, so I took it down.

But, recently, he's kind of gotten back into the groove. Recently he made this post about going to an Ultimate Fighting event in Las Vegas. As an offhanded comment, he noted that the crowd was filled with young adult men under the age of 30, an age-group he (accurately) surmised the church was unable to reach because...

...most churches and pastors have no idea what to do with men who are not motivated by a weepy worship dude(ish) singing prom songs to a Jesus who is presented as a wuss who took a beating and spent a lot of time putting product in his long hair.

Um.... right.

The interesting thing to me about Driscoll is that essentially as a reformed theologian, he asserts that God has pre-destined all of history, which is generally what reformed theologians say. But his take on this is that in the process God has pre-destined (among other things) gender roles. So young guys who come to his church not only are taught that the only kind of guys are those who know they are kind of the quintessential "alpha male" (i.e. a guy who gets off watching two guys beat one another senseless on a mat surrounded by a cage) and also that the guy has been made by God to be the alpha-male of his household. This is coupled by all kinds of teaching for women that they need to be somewhat subservient to their man, cause that's what God intends (hence the not-so-well thought out statement about Haggard's wife, and a multitude of other Neanderthal-esqe stuff Driscoll has uttered during his ministry life... his blog is archived with numerous examples of his "me-man-you-woman" behavior and teaching).

Quickly, if you're keeping score, guys at Mark's church should be guys who like taking chances and risks, understand that they are programmed to like violent action, should embrace their need to feel powerful and in control, should scoff at emotional "girly men", and make sure their woman (who is taught to be happy about this) at home knows who is the boss.

Couple that with all the bright lights and loud music, and it's not real hard to figure out why Mars Hill Church in Seattle is drawing so many young guys to its services. It's the same reason why every fundamentalist, conservative religion succeeds at drawing guys into their fold. I mean, if you are a young guy, what's not to like? You da man, and that's the way God designed it!

Of course, I don't find this message to be all that radical. Driscoll paints himself as a post-modern Christian, but outside of the unconventional worship service, the theology is as old as it gets. It's just dressed in new duds (complete with a pukka shell necklace, to make it look sexy).

I suppose this kind of reasoning will never fully die. It's too appealing to young guys who, as most young guys, are hungry, horny, and want to make their mark on this world. Strangely too, given the downside, you can see why so many women go for this kind of message. Guys are expected to be good providers and protectors, which can be very comforting to spouses living in a world where either a) they had that kind of male role model in the home they grew up in or b) lived with a guy who was a rotten provider and protector (of which there are, documented in our court system, too many of right now). I'm sure the structure this provides can make life much easier to navigate. And it's not like Driscoll is teaching men to be mean to their wives and children. I'm sure that congregation is filled with a good many loving relationships and strong families.

And there are probably a lot of young guys in that congregation that look up to Mark as maybe the closest thing to a positive male role model as they've ever had.

But (yep... I'm the guy with the big "but") while the church's methods might be "missional" and culturally-compatible, I personally don't really see how what's preached in this setting has anything to do with the cultural and societal revolution that Jesus touched off, and Paul sent into motion. A revolution that obliterated the misogynistic culture embraced by every cultural (Jew or Gentile), religious, political, societal group or movement of that age. A movement that encouraged people to think critically about power (particularly those political or religious leaders who fancied themselves spiritual grand wizards), class, race, relationships, and (yes) even gender roles. How on earth are we to ever aspire to a day where God's will operates on earth like it does on heaven, if we don't begin to think critically, as Christ did, about the kinds of well-worn patterns of behavior that, unchecked, lead to nations where one man's word is worth that of three women? I think Jesus expects better.... far better.

Besides... I think you can make a reasonable case, without being a wimp, that Ultimate Fighting sucks. It's like a bar brawl, only they charge $50 for pay-per-view.

You can go ahead if you must, and ponder at the invitation of Mark Driscoll as to why so many young men go to Vegas and don't go to church, but I don't think it's any big mystery. Vegas tells young men they can get away with anything within reason (what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas) cause they are king. So does Driscoll's church. Mystery solved.

6) Speaking of things violent and primal, thanks to Eric Stallkamp, I'll be making the trek Saturday to Columbus with Dad, Brother, (to be known as "Brother ESQ" after he passes the Bar Exam) and Unk (a frequent contributor of comments to the blog). Last time we planned on this, the wife accidentally tossed the tickets (they were playing a horrible Illinois team a couple of years ago). So stricken was she with guilt she was that she actually planned on paying hundreds and hundreds of dollars for replacement tickets on E-bay so we could watch a total mismatch.

It's good to have wife that loves you so much she'd blow the life savings on football tickets. I wish I was half the spouse she is.

They're playing Kent State this week (part of the "2007 Games Against Other Ohio Colleges Tour", which also included Youngstown State and Akron) so we're going more for the atmosphere of Ohio State's campus on game day than a competitive football game. Let's just the hope the players don't share our attitude. I don't think we could take the Bucks getting A-State'd by the Golden Flashes. In a year where the University of South Florida is the highest rated college football team in the state of Florida, anything is possible.

7) Great column today by Bill Simmons on why he admired LeBron James for wearing a Yankees cap at the Yankees/Indians Game 1 at the Jake last week. I don't agree with him, but I enjoyed the article. I think LeBron is ticked that the team, which is owned by a guy who makes his money making mortgage loans (that doesn't bode well, does it?), isn't spending money to bring him the help he needs to contend for a championship this year. Now, only weeks away from the beginning of the regular season, the team still has no true point guard, no reliable second options for scoring, and a coach whose idea of an offensive scheme is to give LeBron the ball at the top of the key and clear everyone else out (the "go get 'em big fella" offense). I do think he's sending a signal to management that he really could live and work in another city, and they'd better make good on their promise to surround him with a competitive team, where he can do what's he's good at... distribute the ball to others during the game, and deliver in crunch time.

We got a glimpse of just how much LeBron plays like Magic Johnson this summer during the FIBA North American Championships. Surrounded with scorers like Carmelo Anthony, Michael Redd, and Kobe Bryant, while playing with a point guard that made passing fantastic, we got to see just how well LeBron sets up other people to score. How fun would that be on a nightly basis at the Q if that's how he could play that way with the Cavs?

I say, "Beware the Yankees Cap, Danny Ferry." It could just be LeBron's shot off the port bow.

8) My Dad's birthday is tomorrow. Happy birthday Dad... or as you'd rather be known as now, Grandpa.

9) Right now Shane's band is practicing in his office. I think they sound like Rush, except they currently have no lead singer, so they sound like Rush during the long instrumental interludes. Anyhow, they're rattling the walls of my office, and have inspired this haiku.

drums, guitar, and bass
playing loud complex music
but no Getty Lee

10) Be good.