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.

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