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.


Aaron said...

Springsteen's "The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle" is one of my all time faves. Great stuff.

Aaron said...

Springsteen's "The Wild, The Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle" is one of my all time faves. Great stuff.

Seven Layers said...

Eli is sure getting bigger from that video. Enjoy him while he's little.