Monday, June 30, 2008

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) This is a video I produced for last Sunday's service. A big "thank you" to the Hollenbacher family for their cooperation, and for a very nice dinner (we had steak!). Keep Tim in your prayers as he looks to leave for boot camp this summer, and given the current geopolitical situation, may be looking at deployment earlier than expected (you just never know).

2) Great Op-Ed piece in the NY Times by Thomas Friedman about the effect the declining economy will have on the fall elections. As the auto industry continues to go into the crapper while gas prices stay stuck at $4 a gallon and credit continues to be locked up tighter than a drum, things seem to be grinding to a halt. Was driving down Beeler Road yesterday and noticed that a new development that went in last summer is still totally undeveloped. Just a big empty field with a road down the middle of it. It isn't like local builders are backed up or anything. There's just no available money right now. Why somebody hasn't made making America the world's leader in renewable energy a major campaign promise yet is beyond me. You'd think that'd be a winner because of the emphasis on education and the promise of long-term jobs.

3) But right now, nothing is happening on any front - election, economy, job creation, new energy - that would help us get out of the current rut, and there is no better reminder of the current state of things than the big concrete hole in the ground at the old locomotive works. Ten years ago, the local mayor of Lima, Dave Berger, touted a new $900 million coal-gasification electric plant as the key to area's economic future. Outside of the occasional news story talking about how difficult its been for the company behind the project - Global Energy- to get financial backing, the only indication that a new plant is supposedly being built is a big concrete hole that was dug out at the old locomotive works (curiously enough) right around the last mayoral election (when Dave ran against Neb Bushong, whose claim to fame during that election was a commercial that featured him - I am not making this up - riding around in a go-cart to bluegrass music.) The opponent, who was an inept campaigning politician (see note about commercial) was hammering Berger's continued promise that the new electric plant was coming, when at the time it had been six years and no action. Global then dug out their concrete hole, and done nothing since.

By the way, you can follow the "progress" of Global's construction effort on the "Global Energy Cam" which is linked to the home page of the City of Lima's website under the tag line "Lima On The Grow". Who keeps broadcasting non-action for three years as evidence of economic health? Maybe it would be better to link to Global Energy's website, and see what eventually (we hope) will be a major local employer. Just a thought.

4) Looks like we only got to enjoy one year of fireworks that could be viewed from our front yard. With the relocation of the Lima Locos from Shawnee High School's baseball field (to Simmons Field, the former Lima Senior High School baseball field now owned by the City of Lima so that alcohol can be sold at games... ugh) there was no reason for the fireworks to be displayed. With the lack of a central event to help draw a crowd, no title sponsor could be enticed to put up the funds to keep the annual Shawnee fireworks going. Thus ends the dream of my youth to be able to view fireworks sans a traffic jam.

Maybe the church needs to get behind a family-friendly Freedom Celebration festival next year?

5) Went back to the storage closet in the Solid Rock Cafe to buy a small bag of Doritos from the youth group to go with my sub, and low behold, on the same shelf was their own ample supply of "Tang". I didn't even know they still sold Tang. Do astronauts even still drink Tang? Do teenagers even know what Tang is?

What else do they serve the kids? Tab? Shasta Cola? A Burger Chef Funmeal? Jiffy Pop popcorn? Handfuls of Pop Rocks? Cookie Crisp cereal?

6) Went to see Wall-E last night, and even saw most of it (while I wasn't chasing Eli all over the theater). Undeniably one of the most creative movies I've seen in a while. Most of it doesn't have dialog, so the movie is totally dependent on visuals to tell the story. I thought it was great. The wife, not so much. I think the idea of a future where overweight humans fly around in space on big ships owned by a huge corporation ("Buy N'Large", a thinly veiled swipe at WalMart and large multi-nationals in general) kind of turned her off. It's a good one though, and if you're in the area, head on down to the Wapa Theater, where you can get in for $3 and the popcorn is cheap. It's turned into the official theater of the Bucher Family.

7) Did you know that a missionary from Tanzania is spreading the gospel in Ottawa, Ohio? Neither did I until I read this morning's Lima News. One of the unexpected outcomes of the lack of Catholic priests is the rising number of "imported" priests who are being brought to the US to serve local parishes. I had heard a Catholic seminary professor talk about how this was creating tensions in underdeveloped countries who are losing their limited number of priests to a better life in North America and Europe. Just one more strange turn of events as the Christian world continues to change.

8) Saw "The Two Coreys" last night. Man, talk about night and day from last season. Seems that the concept of two lovable friends - one a slob and one a married neatnik - didn't pan out so well in terms of ratings. Instead, taking a flier from the Danny Bonnaduce file, each week is now like watching a car wreck in slow motion as Corey Haim continues to spiral out of control, while Corey Feldman is torn between getting on with his life (which is going well) or trying to save his friend. Strangely compelling, but given the fact I grew up during the 80's, you can't help but wonder when these guys need to just call it quits in terms of the entertainment industry, and make their way in the world separately. Feldman, to give him credit, has already caught on and seems to have moved forward, but Haim is about as messed up as a former child star could be. Here's hoping he lives to see another day.

9) Am kinda struggling to come with Ten Things today, and I think the problem is that I'm tired. June, which is normally kinda slow, was anything but. I haven't taken too many days off in the last month, and the upshot is that my creative engine is kinda fried. The strange thing about my job is that at its heart its about me being a communicator To keep doing this well and creatively takes a lot imagination. I need to spend some time not doing much of anything except reading and study in order to stay fresh, or otherwise I'll lock up and not be able to produce anything. But there just hasn't been much time for that, so for more than a couple of months I've been operating on the equivalent of creative fumes. I'm hoping a week with the fam, and another week of study will help me out of this hole.

10) So, on that note, Happy July 4th all! Hope you have nice holiday weekend.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ten Pearls of Wisdom That I Have Paid For ,In Full

1) "If your daughter is 13, there's nothing you can do about it OR Denial ain't just a river in Egypt"
Was reminded of this story by a friend of mine, George, who I worked with at Rax way, way back in high school. At the time the mascot on the Rax kid's meal box was a character named "Uncle Alligator". Sometimes George or I, for a birthday party or whatever, would be asked to put an "Uncle Al" costume on and mingle with a bunch of little kids. But after doing this a couple of years, they got rid of the original costume (which was like wearing a carpet), and replaced it with one that involved wearing a pair of tights.


So, I put on the tights and rest of the costume, go out into the dining room, and there waiting for me were ten 13 year-old girls. Apparently the parents of the birthday girl were in some form of denial regarding their daughter blossoming into a young woman, and decided that an "Uncle Al" party would be a good way of convincing themselves that she was actually only 6.

Immediately girls at table begin giggling and making googly eyes at the high school guy in tights. Two tried to give me their phone numbers, and one pinched my butt and told me, "Hey Uncle Al... nice tail."

Great call, mom and dad. Great call.

2) "Hell hath no fury like a hungover rodeo clown"
All I can say is this... if you are standing in a continental breakfast buffet line at Holiday Inn Express somewhere in Wyoming, and there's one last box of Fruit Loops, let the clown have it. Trust me.

3) "Don't be fooled - the lawn on the corner lot is a lot bigger than it looks"
Probably should have passed this nugget along to Brother Esq before he bought this latest house. Just remember Brother, mowing your lawn will be just like walking a golf course... only without the clubs and the fun.

4) "If the speedometer on the Mercedes says 125, you're going 125"
We never owned a Mercedes when I was a kid. As a matter of fact, until I was 16 my father had only owned one car during my lifetime: A 1971 Buick Skylark. Thus, after visiting Miami's campus as a prospective student, my future wife offered to let me drive her and a friend back in her dad's Mercedes, how was I supposed to know they build those things to go 160 on the Autobaun? 125 in a Mercedes feels about the same as 70 in a Buick. Thank goodness the State Highway Patrol was busy that day. It took us about 80 minutes to make a trip that usually took 2.5 hours.

5) If your pants are loose, wear a belt.
Either that or after getting off the school bus, your crushed orange corduroy pants will end up around your ankles as you run down a hill and you end up in your underwear in front of all your friends, male and female. Speaking of which, if crushed orange corduroy pants ever make a comeback, you can have my pair.

6) Better keep Mr. Happy covered while you are changing your son's diaper.
Here's a freebie to Brother Esq since I didn't let him in on the whole corner lot thing. Since he has to wear a suit and tie every day as a professional shyster (I go mostly with "motorcycle casual"... gotta love being the senior pastor of the "Blessing of the Bikes" church), one extra little washcloth placed strategically could save him hundreds in dry-cleaning bills. Feel free to use the extra cash you save this Christmas to get your only brother some golf balls. Mine are all on the bottom of various ponds.

7) Coaching a basketball team made up of kindergardeners will either kill you are make you stronger.
In a season where various players would leave the floor in the middle of a game to a) say "hi" to mom, b) ask for a snack, and c) get a "high 5" from costumed teenager serving as the league mascot (Uppy the Puppy), probably the moment that epitomized the season actually occurred outside of a game or practice. One day when I was kicking around my office, I decided to head back to the soda machine to get a little liquid caffeine to get me through the rest of the day. To get there, I had to walk through the Centrum, which is our "Sanctanarium": we worship in the room on Sunday, and play basketball in there the other days of the week.

As I'm walking through the Centrum, I see two brothers going at one another head to head on the basketball floor. One is obviously bigger and more experienced than the other, but the little brother is holding his own. He played tough D, stole the ball once or twice, and drove hard for lay-ups.

"Hmmmmm... that kid seems familiar. Where do I know him?"

Ah yes, he's been the most totally disinterested kid on my team. His poor dad has been dragging him kicking and screaming each week because we only have six players because the league organizers apparently thought we needed four fewer kids than every other team. Next game I ask him to pretend like every guy he's playing against is his brother. He's plays like an all-star, and promptly the season ends.

I will now light myself on fire.

8) The redder the kimchi , the hotter it's going to be.
If you're ever in South Korea, you'll thank me. Also, it doesn't taste like chicken.

9) If you take a really long time to line up and hit a golf ball you most likely won't improve the results of the swing, and you'll drive everyone else nuts.
God bless my sainted Grandfather. I wish he had lived to see the day when I just walked up, swung, and hit the ball. I can still the vein popping out of his temple after my 28th practice swing. I can't say he'd be proud (cause I'm still awful), but at least his blood pressure would be lower.

10) Mo' money, mo' problems.
Wait, that was Biggie's, not mine.

10) You can't always get what you want.
Oops. That's the Rolling Stones.

10) The love you take, is equal to the love you make.
Rats! That's the Beatles

10) No parking on the dance floor (beep beep)
I think Midnight Star stole that one from me.

10) If the child says their stomach hurts, pull over, NOW!
Now that's good advice!

We're off to the boy's swim meet. Go Sharks! Whip the Wave!

Monday, June 23, 2008

As Old Denomational Labels Die, Here's My Proposal For Some New Ones

(Quick note: A big "hello" to a new member of the masthead, Queen Conger, a former High-School-teacher-turned-Mommy who has a story to tell, with proper punctuation and spelling... Hotsy McFarland would be pleased)

Yesterday I made the statement (not unique, or new to me) that it is impossible for Christians to "go to church". You can only "go to church" if church is an entity separate from where you are. As the old Sunday School songs goes, "I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together". If you are a follower of Jesus, committed to being a part of his community, you are "the church". Thus, the church goes we go. People don't "go to church". The church goes to people.

Part of my reason for preaching for preaching this message is that the dominant paradigm for the church has been to figure out how to get people to come to it, in the sense of the church being an institution that you can join or not join. For most of the past 1700 years in western culture, people became part of a local church based of their family history or cultural background. This is still probably true for many American church goers. Pappy was a Lutheran or a Baptist or an Episcopalian, so I am also. But as the number of people who grew up in churches continues to decrease (and the percentage of people who grew up in a church but now no longer attend continues to rise) the old pathways to church membership have proven a might less fruitful than in the past. If your Pappy didn't take you to church, you aren't gonna attend a church you never grew up in as a child. Hence, the church has had to become more "culturally relevant" in order to survive..

and as our culture is materialistic and entrepreneurial in nature, the church has become so also.

That's really where we are now. People "shop" for a new church, much like they look for a pair of jeans. How well it "fits" is based upon the style of worship, the preaching style and quality, programs and services offered, the "friendliness" of the people attending (which is kind of subjective), the quality of the plant where the worship and whatnot are conducted, and the theology/praxis of the congregation. This consumerist approach to church involvement has forced major shifts in the Christian world, slowly rendering the old denominational labels irrelevant.

I mean, think about it... how many people know who Martin Luther was, let alone understand what a "Lutheran" is? Methodists received their name in the 18th by those who were actually making fun of their very organized, scheduled, and methodical approach to spiritual development, worship and outreach. Who knows that now? What percentage of the populace could tell you what a "presbytery" is, or could tell the difference between a Southern, American, Swedish, Primitive, or Northern (all different denominations) Baptist? All of these names emanated out of a time and place in history most people know, or care, very little about. What's more, now a United Methodist church in, say, suburban Dayton can conduct itself and practice faith a whole lot differently than a United Methodist church just down the road. Hence, as the institutional church changes, we need new labels to re-align around both as a means of helping the "consumer", but also as a means of helping us determine our own identity. So, here's my proposal for ten new "denominational labels" we can give ourselves that would make more sense for at least this moment in the 21st Century

1) Traditional Music/Liturgy Never-Change Denomination: These are churches that predominantly use music and liturgy written by dead European males in the 16th, 17th, and 18th century. Churches like these might engage in some forms of social justice ministry or might advocate taking some action on the "right" side of the culture war, but the real unifying factor in the congregation is around its music and liturgy. These churches pledge to never go to more contemporary forms of worship that the members might find offensive even if it means it ultimately will fall out of step with the community its located in or dominant culture. The main thrust of this denomination will be raising the necessary resources to keep it going "as is", meaning that the instruments (organ, piano) will be maintained, vestments cleaned and replaced, additional classical musicians added when needed, the building and grounds maintained, and a pastoral leader employed who can rock the boat in other areas (like outreach to the poor) but not in worship style or liturgy.

2) The Family Chapel Denomination: These are churches that, despite the denominational label (or lack thereof) are really exist for the benefit of one particular family in the community. The hallmarks of this church are that they are usually very small (less than 100 people) and the committees/boards of the church manned mostly by members or friends of the particular family that identifies itself with the congregation over multiple generations. The church remains committed to tradition (in a particular worship style, calendar, etc...), keeping costs low (because the family only has so much money), and generally one or two mission projects that have taken on historical significance with the members. People from outside the family are welcome as long as they don't demand a lot of change or challenge the family's position of power. The main thrust of this denomination will be to let these churches do things they way they've always done them.

3) The Religious Mall of America Denomination: These are churches that huge (2000 in worship attendance or larger). Their hallmark is being able to offer every type and kind of service to the general public that you can imagine (much like a mall which can offer every different type and kind of product to the public). Since these churches are geared toward trying to appeal to the widest demographic possible, so, since most Christians are moderate to the right theologically, they tend to error on this side of the theological spectrum (although as the mood of the country seems to be moving more to the left, so are these churches). The churches in this denomination are committed to offering options: Multiple options for worship style and time. Multiple options for programing for all ages. Multiple opportunities for counseling or self-help groups. This denomination will help develop pastoral leaders who are excellent communicators, and help churches recruit people from the business, logistics, technology, finance, and marketing worlds to keep the church solvent, technologically savvy, and in tune with what the public demands.

4) The Hippy-Dippy Post-Modern Denomination: The hallmark of these churches is that they either don't sound, look, feel, or think like most other churches, and they like it that way. Maybe, someday, the way these churches do worship, fellowship, discipleship, administration, and service will become the new normal, but more likely than not, most of these unconventional communities will go by the wayside. Their appeal will be too marginal to survive among the greater populace or, they'll lack the necessary communicator or creative staff (paid or volunteer) to the kind of tactile or visual things they want to do in order to reach people. This denomination will flourish mainly on the coasts and in large urban communities loaded with young, educated, professional adults (which begs the question, "Are they really post-modern and cutting edge, or are they really the new sanctuary for the intellectual elite?"). In any event, churches in this movement will be mashing together eastern orthodox iconography, cutting edge technical ministry, world or alternative music, and flat hierarchical structures in order to appeal to those not into more conventional forms of institutional religion.

5) The Loose Association of House Churches: In an effort to get back to simplicity and take control back from so-called established religious authorities, people are forming their own churches in the living room of their house. The focus of this movement is for people to feel accepted (particularly those who have a hard time in conventional social situations), an end to passive faith practice (where people just sit in a pew and go home at the end of a service - you can't hide your presence if only 14 people are coming together in some dude's living room), and rejection of the institutional model of the church (whether that's bishops/DS's, or formal denominational structure, or even church governance models that include representative committee groups making decisions on the behalf of everyone else). Nobody is paid, there's no plant overhead, and no denominational obligations (hence this being a "loose association" as opposed to a denomination). Because of the anti-institutionally religious nature of these things, they have a hard time working with other churches, but are effective in cooperating with social agencies here and abroad. The quality of these things will be wildly unpredictable, so the role any central body will be to establish some basic principles that need to be agreed to (mostly in terms of accounting, relational boundaries, and some rudimentary theological positions), and not much else.

6) Health and Wealth Denomination: The main aim of these churches is to teach you the secrets of being rich, staying healthy, and keeping a positive attitude. Right now this is the fastest growing denomination in the world. Not only are these kinds of churches growing rapidly in American urban communities (particularly among minorities), but among the poor living south of the equator - where life is very difficult but, thanks to globalization, wealth creation is more possible than it has ever been - this kind of Christianity is becoming dominant. Many of these churches will look like "Religious Mall of America Churches", but they will differ in the sense that wealth creation and materialism will really be at the heart of the message and purpose of the church, while the "RMAC" churches will emphasize healthy relationships, theological education, recovery groups and many others kinds of services and programs. This church's message will be embodied in the person of the pastor who will become one of the wealthiest (if not THE wealthiest) person in the church. And the richer he or she (yep, there'll be "she's".... just ask Joyce Meyers).

7a) Social Activist Denomination: This is made up of churches that are passionate about only a very small sliver of justice issues relating to one of the following: race, gender, sexual orientation, economic justice, the physically-challenged, or homelessness to just name a few. These kinds of churches are so committed to their particular cause that virtually all their time and energy goes into it, and it only.

7b) Moral Majority Denomination: This is made up of churches that are passionate about political issues from the perspective of the "Moral Majority". They become more energetic and enthused the closer they get to an election.

8) Middle-of-the-Road-One-Size-Fits-All-But-Not-Particularly-
Well-Mid-Major-Church: Despite three national championship losses in three years (one in basketball, two in football), I am a life-long Ohio State Buckeye fan. For those who don't know, the Bucks play in one of the strongest, or major, conferences in Division I NCAA athletics: The Big Ten. Because they play in a major conference where sports are big deal, and often a catapult to a professional career, they tend to attract bigger, stronger and more talented athletes. But while I root for OSU, that is not where I went to school. I am an alum of Miami University. The sports teams at Miami play at the Division I NCAA level


they do not play in a "major conference". Rather, they play in the Mid-American Conference, which is largely made up of smaller state schools with small athletic budgets. They call these conferences "Mid-Majors", because they can earn the right to play on a major stage (the NCAA Basketball Tourney or a major college football bowl game) but the conferences' athletes are generally as big, fast, or talented as they are at the bigger schools.

In the country there are about 2000 mega-churches that average over 1500-2000 in worship or more. But there are many, many more churches that average somewhere between 400-700 in worship attendance, and I guess in my way of thinking, they're kind of in that "mid-major" category. They tend to be able to offer a lot of different services and ministries, but the quality tends to be uneven because they don't have the resources to do what's necessary to be able to do everything excellently. They also tend to have major holes in their programming and ministry offerings. The children's ministry might be great, but the youth ministry needs some work. Or the traditional music team and choir are super while the less resourced and experienced contemporary worship team is mediocre. Or the preaching might be outstanding, but the plant is outdated and too small. They might not have a singles ministry or anything for young adults because its an area that would take resources to improve, and resources being limited are being used elsewhere.

Mid-majors generally aspire to growth, but a lack of resources, talent, or some other limiting factor prevents that from happening. Hence, these churches are unified in their quest to overcome their size, which does enough to make people happy and proud, but not enough to grow the church any larger. They tend to try to offer more options than they can really afford or do well, which means that a certain level of dissatisfaction with the institution never fully abates.

9) Pentecostal Denomination: These folks, who practice outward manifestations of the presence of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues will always be present on the church scene. Other churches on this list (namely the Health and Wealth churches) will often manifest pentecostal tendencies, but only in hardcore Pentecostal churches will you find receiving the "gift of the Holy Spirit" the focus of the ministry experience.

10) The Community Denomination: These are churches holy committed to the life of their local community. They are part-church, part-community center, part-local service organization. Not only will you find countless community events being held in their building, but the congregation will often be made up of people hold community involvement as a mutual value that they practice by also being a part of various service organizations or through a willingness to volunteer. These churches tend not to be the most biblically literate or theologically-developed churches, but their love is practiced practically through care and service to one another, and others beyond the four walls of the church building.

If you got any others, let me know.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Quick Musings

- Have started a book loaned to me by my mother called "The Shack". To be honest, when I saw that on the back cover the book was endorsed by Wynona Judd and Michael W. Smith, my first inclination was to "forget" it, leaving it on the coffee table where my mother sat it down. It's not that I don't trust my mom, it's just that I get lots of books that people drop off or recommend to me, and most are the schmaltzy kind available at your local Christian bookstore. Spending time with Father Cantalamessa, Lesslie Newbigin, Dallas Willard and other great theologians will ruin your attitude toward the pop Christian-esque crap at the local Parable Christian Bookstore (which actually stocks way more trinkets, wall art, CD's, and the like than it does books). But, Eugene Peterson (of "The Message" fame) called the book the "'Pilgrim's Progress' of the 21st Century", so I gave it a whirl, and I'm glad I did. Can't say I agree with everything the author is doing, but you have to love a book that presents God as a black woman who everyone calls "Papa" (as a means of forcing you to re-think your image of who God is). A very interesting read.

- I also took the time earlier in the week (whilst preparing for an upcoming sermon series we're calling "Jesus At The Movies") to watch "Lord, Save Me From Your Followers", and independent film that's focused on trying to help Evangelical Christians understand how they are perceived among American non-Christians. Further, the hope of the filmmakers is to encourage civil discourse between people who disagree as a means of creating mutual understanding among those firmly entrenched in conservative Christianity, and those who aren't. Featured prominently in the film is Tony Campolo you has been arguing passionately that the hijacking of the Evangelical movement by the Moral Majority and other right-wing political action groups has resulted in evangelicals being out of touch with (and thus, unable to reach) ordinary citizens. Here's a little taste of the good doctor from Eastern University (Philadelphia, PA):

The cost of streaming the movie is $7, but I am considering screening it here at Shawnee later in the summer.

- As a part of putting together this sermon series, I've been watching a lot of movies. Saw two that aren't going to be featured, but I think were both interesting. "There Will Be Blood" reminded me a greatly of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden". As a matter of fact, the main character, Daniel, seems to be cut from the same cloth as "Cathy", the anti-christ character in Steinbeck's book who abandons her two sons to go work in, and eventually run, a brothel. The movie is (of course) not nearly as well written, although Daniel Day Lewis (who won an Oscar for the role) was excellent. Call the picture an story of greed, or an allegory to what oil is doing to the world today (just as the author and director of the film believe it did in the late 19th century upon its discovery), but it was interesting, if a little unsettling.

I also saw the film, "Into the Wild", which was the story of a young college graduate, who either haunted by his parent's rocky marriage or his own mental disease (or maybe a little of both) ends up dropping out of mainstream society to become a "tramp" traveling around the US. The young man ends up going to Alaska in the hopes of finding "truth", much in the tradition of Jack London and Henry David Thoreau, and ends up dying there all alone. I was curious about the Sean Penn produced movie (which was based on a book), so I did a little research, and the funny thing is that while the main character, Chris McCandless has become a cult hero for some folks down on modern society and into the idea of living a simpler life, he's become kind of an anti-hero in the state of Alaska. The rugged individualists who live in rural Alaska can't figure out why a guy who went to live in the wilderness in the Denali National Preserve with only a bag of rice, a gun, some bullets, no survivalist training, and (most importantly) no decent map or compass is being perceived as a hero. They think of McCandless as being less romantic (for turning his back on society) and more stupid (cause if he had had a decent map, he would have realized he could have gotten back to main road, as opposed to starving to death). Can't argue with how beautifully shot the film is though. It was worth the buck at the McD's red box.

- Am in the middle this week of doing three funerals and one wedding. They are inspiring lots of musings, but I've little time to write them down (hopefully next week). I will be giving a preview though of this week's sermon on this little blog in the next couple of days. The sermon will take a look at the future of the church, so I'll want to jot down some thoughts and get some feed back from the few of you still reading my now not-so-regularly-updated-blog. So, stay tuned.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hey Travis - Welcome To The Masthead!

Made a few changes on the ol' masthead today, not the least was the addition of "Miner Issues", a new blog by Travis Miner - musician, Christian, and ND fan. Travis is an old friend and witty dude. I hope you enjoy his stuff (and if you're looking for a worship leader who can extensively quote "Spinal Tap", he's your man).

I'll try to hit the blog a little more often. To be honest I've started at least a half-dozen posts, only to delete or not finish them later either because I didn't like what I wrote, ran out of time, or both. One church + One Family = Zero Free Time (it's the new math).

One quick note: If you are in the area, come on out for the Unity Picnic at Faurot Park this Saturday. 35 churches (including ours - enjoy a cold soda on SUMC) are participating with the idea of bringing people across the city together. Dennis Ward and his team have done a great job of pulling this thing together, and I don't think you'll want to miss it.

Also, in case you are wondering... yes, I did skip the last day of Annual Conference. Came home last night on the ol' motorcycle as the sun drifted off to sleep in order to be here for the first swim meet of the year (and Xavier's first swim meet ever) tonight. With practice this morning, and all the details of the day, I thought I'd end Aimee's single momness a day early, and hang with my boys (who were seriously missing their dad).

Gotta go root the Sherwood Sharks onto victory. BOOYAH!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Report From Annual Conference

Every year thousands of Methodists from all over the western half of Ohio descend upon beautiful Lakeside, Ohio one week a year to engage in worship, making reports, and conducting business. The worship and preaching is generally excellent, and this year is no exception. If you had told me we were going to get to hear Will Willimon, Reuben Job, and Rudy Rasmus all in the same week, I'd have laughed like a crazy man. But that's exactly who spoke this year.

Before he was a Bishop, William Willimon was an academic at at Duke Theological School. I have to say I've not been the biggest fan of his books (a little dry for my taste), but as a preacher he's fantastic. Wish he wrote more like he spoke.

I heard Bishop Job years ago while in seminary, and actually have been doing something he suggested to us seminarians back when dinosaurs roamed the earth - maintain contact with a classmate, and talk them with them regularly about life, church, theology, etc. Pauly Rebelo and I took that to heart and have practiced this friendship and community ever since. I told him after the service about how Pauly and I were still following his advice and how much it meant to us, and the man actually got choked up. Click here to take a gander at his new book, "Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living". It's a quick read, and very good.

Finally, we heard Rudy Rasmus, a radical urban prophet who pastors a rather large church in one of Houston's toughest neighborhoods. My Beeson Class met Rudy last year, and one of us, Alicia Coltzer, even talked to him about the possibility of serving at his church. He was nothing short of fantastic. You can order his book here, and if you get the chance to hear him preach live or via the web, do so. You won't regret it.

So the worship part of the week has been great. However, as for the reports and business stuff.... not so much.

My knock on the formal part of Annual Conference is that we rarely discuss business or legislation that makes any difference in any quarter of the world. For example, we spent the better part of an hour debating a resolution on encouraging our churches and members to live more environmentally sensitive. Finally, after endless debate, it passed, and now it will be entered into our conference journal at the end of the year. What impact will it have on the environment... zero. Almost no one will read the legislation, the few who do will barely understand it, and life will go on. We'd have been more environmentally sensitive by not wasting the paper that we printed the resolution on, and not using the fossil fuel necessary to keep the lights on in Hoover Auditorium and the sound system/video screens running.

The real truth is that nobody listens to us United Methodist conference leaders anymore.

Not even our own congregations.

The only thing that makes the news at events like Annual Conference is our debate relating to homosexuality. As for how we feel about gambling, or the war, or the environment, or any other social topic, people outside of those who showed up for AC (and not even all of them) could care less. People aren't waiting with baited breath, wondering what the Methodists think about land management policy in municipalities, yet that won't stop someone from putting some resolution regard such a thing on our agenda. It's just a crazy, crazy system.

How in the world we ended up wasting so much time on work that means so little is a mystery to me. And why we continue to do the same work mystifies me even more. At the current rate of decline, by the time I retire from ministry and work in the West Ohio Annual Conference, instead of an auditorium for 3000 people, we'll be able to meet in Annual Conference at a Tim Horton's in Columbus.

"Before we discuss our position on extraterrestrial life, who wants a jelly-filled donut?"

Yet, our continued march toward irrelevance seems not to bother us to sufficiently to do anything about it. Except maybe passing a resolution condemning the membership decline in the West Ohio Annual Conference. I may have to offer that one up next year just to see how poeple react.

But in the end, all of it, the worship, reports, and debates have been good for me personally, because in their relevance and irrelevance, they are forcing me to consider this question: As a pastor of a mainline denominational institutional attractional church, am I doing what Jesus would call me to do, or am I apart of something so insular and detached from reality that I'm more of a Pharisee than a disciple?

Pharisees would seek to first perpetuate the institution and then maybe do some theological instruction and do a few good things for people. Disciples would do theological instruction and good things for people first, and worry about the religious institution second. Sometimes its hard to figure out where I stand because the demands of the institutions are so doggone demanding. Funding, reports, repairs, paying bills - all the minutia that formal churches require - often overwhelm real opportunities for evangelism and service. And, as such, because we are so busy with the minutia, the lack of evangelistic and social justice activity serve to distance us even further from our mission. It's no secret that the largest churches in the denomination, while they may or may not pay their apportionments, end up turning their back on the denomination and become known for the excellent job they do in reaching and serving people.

What this might mean for me and Shawnee UMC I'm not yet sure, but I certainly want to have some conversation around these issues. I don't wanna be no heartless bureaucratic Pharisee more concerned with the bottom line than with serving those who are at their spiritual, emotional, or physical bottom. But that's the challenge.... being able to discern when you've gone over to the dark side.

In any event it's good to meet up with old friends, and since his office is in Port Clinton, I even got to eat lunch with Brother Esq twice. To see my now-responsible-adult-attorney-brother check his work schedule while gripe about moving into a new home and get a twinkle in his eye talking about his son-to-be is a very, very cool experience. How neat it will be to gather with him at our parent's house, as the cousins run around like wild banshees.

Thus ends another Annual Conference. May God have mercy on our souls.

(P.S. Hey Beeson peeps, Matt Scholl says "Hi")