Thursday, July 31, 2008

And Ten More....

Ten more Facebook friends in the last two days, so here are ten more things:

101) Megan Croy: Megan's father, Bill, did two tours of duty at Trinity UMC in Lima. The first occurred when I was a but a wee lad. Thus, even though she is a mother and pastor who's been out on her own awhile, I generally think of Megan as being about 3 or 4 years old and am always shocked when I see her, and she isn't. What's this mean? I am a total idiot.

102) Lindsay Hefner: We have two Lindsay Hefners at Shawnee UMC who are about the same age and grew up in the church. It's very confusing. I think, if we'd been smart we would have set up a watermelon seed spitting contest between these two when they were five, and the winner would have been able to keep her name. The loser would have been the subject of a "choose this girl's new name contest". People could submit as many suggestions as they wanted for a dollar per suggestion, and then we could have drawn the winner. If this Lindsay Hefner would have lost, I would have suggested we name her "Sloopy" so that every time "Hang On Sloopy" played she could stand up and dance, driving her friends into a frenzy. I guess that's why they don't put me in charge of these kinds of things.

103) Tyler Deitering: Tyler attends Shawnee UMC and Spencerville HS, but generally on different days.

104) Tyler Hollis Derryberry: What to say about Tyler...... He owns his own therimin, which he bought from a mail order catalog and had to assemble himself. He plays in a band that once opened for The Melvins. While fronting his former band, "The Rancid Yak Butter Tea Party", he once wrote a song named "Thelonious Monk Surf Helmet". He is a strict vegan who will tell you if you are sitting in a Denny's wondering what in the world he eats that there is plenty of food in the world he can eat just none of it is at Denny's. He is passionately inclusive and welcoming of others on the margins of society. He's a good friend. He lives in Boston. He works a 9-5 job, but only cause it pays the rent. His brother works at a zoo in Orlando, his mother is a librarian, and his father is running for judge in Allen County.

105) Lisa Deakins: Will always be Lisa Shaw to me, because (once again) I am not a bright man. Apparently people do get older even if you aren't around to watch them get older. Lisa is married, living in Indy, has two kids, and works in a chemistry lab coming up with antidotes to poisons crafted by super villains because she works for Batman.

106) Jennifer Lynne Logan: J.L. (my nickname for her since she was but a wee lass) is another former Shawnee youth groupite (like Lisa and Tyler.... Sloopy was too young to have been corrupted by having me as her youth pastor) who is now living in San Diego. Like Davy, she was in the Navy, but she probably won't be for life. J.L. loves animals, Jesus, and apparently after an experience at the Cochella Music Festival, Pink Floyd. J.L. also loves her Mom and sister, and misses her Dad.

107) Russ Cottle: Russ is probably wondering why in the world I invited him to be a Facebook friend. It's cause I knew both his older brother and sister pretty well when we were all kids. Russ was the youngest, quite a bit younger than Robyn and John, and in those days was called Rusty. Now he's married, a father, and living in St. Louis.

108) Kim Sharp: I did Kim's marriage ceremony. I can't remember much about it though. See, I was in the middle of 44 hour Rock-a-thon and hadn't slept in a couple of days. Also, while I did her wedding the kids in the youth group slipped "Dazed and Confused" into the VHS player. I don't know if it was the sexual content, language, or drug use that compelled me to take it out when I returned (and also ask the parental chaperons what the heck they were thinking), but that's the only Rated R movie I ever showed my youth as a youth pastor (except for "Falling Down"... we did watch that one too). Kim is married, has a set of twins, and lives in Spencerville. Her mother has a direct line to God (no foolin').

109) Mike Gossard: Married one of the Elmquist girls. I'm not sure how their father, Ed, survived having three daughters who were all popular with the guys and couldn't be locked up in the house. Mike and his family live in Sidney, where he is active at Sidney First UMC (Chris Heckaman's church). I got to know him while working together on a Habitat for Humanity house built so long ago it was made out of stone. It was located next door to Barney Rubble's digs.

110) Jeff Rempe: Jeff is an old friend from High School. We were in band together, and bowled briefly together on "The Coconuts", the world's worst bowling team. Instead of bowling shirts (which, unlike today, were completely uncool) we wore Hawaiian shirts because they were loved by the ladies. Or maybe we were just too cheap to buy other shirts. No matter. Jeff works for the power company, is active at Lima Community Church of the Nazerine, and lives in a house with a pool. He was so cheap in high school that once he refused to loan our friend Bubba two cents needed to buy a milkshake, so if you need money, don't bother asking him for a loan.

That's it. No more. Consider this chapter closed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

100 Things I Think I Think

Hit a milestone today. I cracked 100 "friends" on my Facebook page. The strange thing about this is that I only had about 50 friends about two days ago. But, somebody added me, and then another, and then I added a few back, and PRESTO.... we're at 100 friends in no time flat.

So the question is, do I know one thing about each one of my 100 Facebook friends? We'll give 'er a whirl.

1) Jaziel Agunia: Amada Cooley's nephew who lives in Mexico. A talented musician and Latin heartbreaker.

2) Dean Altstaetter: Former youth and contemporary music director at Shawnee UMC and current member of the Hepcats.

3) Dave Beckett: UMC pastor whose lived in Alaska since 1992. Married my wife and I.

4) Jacob Berns: Bernsie is in a couple of my fantasy sports leagues. He's a college buddy of Brother Esq.

5) Troy Blubaugh: Former member at Shawnee UMC who was in my youth group back in the day. Was good friends with his folks who I dragged all over creation as counselors.

6) Craig Broadwater: Goes to our church, and his son Wade is a Marine.

7) Shelley Montgomery Buch: Former youth groupee at Shawnee back in the day. I did her wedding, which is notable in the fact that two days before it was supposed to happen, straight line winds knocked down all the power poles on Shawnee Road stretching a mile north and mile south of the church. We had no power for two weeks. I had to call South Side Christian Church to see if we could do Shelley's wedding there. They agreed. Crisis averted. Bride goes from panicked to happy.

8) Rachel Burns: Current youth pastor at Trinity UMC in Lima where her father, Dave Harris, is the senior pastor.

9) Jenny Carson: Former secretary at the Beeson Center.

10) April Casperson: I have no idea who this person is, but I think I added her because she's somehow connected with the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (Methesco), where I completed my MDiv.

11) Jenna Elizabeth Chapman: A current member of Shawnee UMC's youth group who posts a lot of MySpace bulletins and loves her church.

12) Paul Chilcote: Currently a member of the faculty at Ashland Theological Seminary. Taught my first UM polity class at Methesco and provided me with some helpful info on Francis Asbury when I first started my doctoral dissertation (which reminds me, I still owe him a pound of coffee for his time).

13) Alicia Coltzer: Fellow Beeson Pastor, former carrel-mate, pastor in Houston, Texas at Shepherds Drive UMC, and the one who tried to teach me how to get in touch with my inner-princess.

14) Kevin Connor: Real quiet guy who's married to Michelle Mumma Connor.

15) Michelle Mumma Connor: Old friend who sometimes sings at my church, has refused repeated job offers on my part to work in our children's ministry, and secretly owns a lake house at an undisclosed location. Oh, I also sing the first line of the Beatles "Michelle" whenever I see her.

16) Joshua Cunningham: Program director for Clear Channel in Washington D.C. and former manager of OAR who grew up in Lima. Hangs with guys like 50 Cent cause he's of the entertainment world.

17) Nick Daniels: Friend of Eric Dill's who used to do some stuff with Shawnee UMC's youth group back in the day. I remember him as an unfailingly polite young man who was co-developer of the game "Torpedo Dads". The game was played on a trampoline, upon which a number of water-filled two-liter bottles (that had once contained Dads Rootbeer, hence the game's name) rested. The idea was to jump up and down in such a way as to propel the bottles into the groin area of your opponent. How can I make this up?

18) Julian A. Davies: Founding pastor of the University Church in Toledo and the smartest ordained Elder in the universe. I will bring him to Shawnee to do some teaching very soon.

19) Tina Dietsch: T is a former roommate of Alicia's, a former associate pastor at Trinity UMC, and a good friend who will not call you back unless you impersonate her Bishop and make her think she's in trouble.

20) Joanne Ha Dill: Married to Eric Dill, living in Boston. Met her once at the Star Spangled Spectacular about four years ago.

21) J Leigh Ditto: Current youth pastor at Shawnee who is expecting her first child and is a huge Buckeye fan.

22) Susanna Haines Donald: Married to Nolan Donald, fellow Beeson Pastor, and quite possibly the funniest person on the face of the planet. She has plans to write a book about her experience as a middle school English. If she does, I'll make sure you know where to get a copy. She writes a blog, but only close personal friends are allowed to read it (so there).

23) Nolan Donald: Currently the Pastor of Compassion Ministries at a big honkin' church in Houston who is about to be the founding pastor of a church named something like "WordServe UMC", a name which sounds stolen from Bill Gates. One smart funny dude who is a passionate Auburn fan. Too bad they haven't been relevant in college football since Bo Jackson took the backfield. "Bo knows two decades of futility."

24) CJ Dugan: Wife's cousin whose marriage ceremony I performed a couple years ago. Just welcomed his son Spencer into the world (congrats CJ and Jill).

25) Ann Dukeman Lehman: Former youth groupite at Shawnee back in the day, now currently living with her husband in Columbus. The baby of the three Dukeman sisters.

26) Trent Elmquist: Our families both went to Trinity UMC, but Trent was quite a bit younger than I. I knew his brother Kirk really well, and his sister Michelle (who is Craig Broadwater's wife) attends Shawnee and heads up our Centrum Decoration Team. He's a great guy.

27) Jonathan Epperson: Former member of youth group at Epworth UMC during my short 18 month tenure there. I remember he played soccer, had a sister, and liked to hang out with Kevin Gray.

28) Char Evans: Former youth groupite at Shawnee UMC back in the day whose wedding I'll be doing next June. Her grandparents used to own Clyde Evans Markets. The summer before I left for college I delivered pizzas for Dominos. Because the Evans knew me from Trinity, they used to request me as their delivery guy every Friday night when they had over friends play cards. They always left me a killer tip. There's a S-A-V-E in Evans!

29) Kim Faler: Former youth groupite at Shawnee UMC back in the day who liked Danny Kinley and whose brother, Brian, was a good friend in high school. Now she's an artist living in Amherst, Massachusettes. Check out her work at It's good stuff! Buy yourself a Faler for your collection. I am. (seriously, I am!)

30) Whitney Fischer: Current member of Shawnee UMC and it's youth ministry. A fellow Spartan who is off to Ohio Wesleyan University in the fall to study Early Childhood Education. Together, as fellow Lima Senior alums, we make Facebook 40% cooler because we're on it. It's scientifically proven.

31) Ellen Dukeman Gartland: Sister to Anne, Ellen was by far the brightest student I ever pastored back in my days as a youth pastor. She pushed me theologically (in many ways that I couldn't explain until years after her graduation), pushed me ministry-wise (she started our tutoring ministry at the Bradfield Center), and did a good job pointing out the BS in Christian church (which she probably still does). Was living in New York working in the Advertising game, but I think is now moving elsewhere.

32) Rhea Gray: Former youth groupite at Epworth UMC in Toledo. A sweet girl who went to Kent State, and now is engaged and living in North Carolina. One of the truly good people I've met in my life.

33) Kevon Gray: Former youth groupite at Epworth UMC (brother of Rhea) who played drums in what was our awful, yet spirited youth band. Now active in ministry through The Vineyard in Columbus.

34) Kristen Harrand: Former youth groupite (a Beckstedt) who just adopted a daughter with her husband Greg. They live in Lima and attend Shawnee.

35) Greg Harrand: Married to Kristen, Greg just finished coaching the Jr. Acme Baseball team here in Shawnee with Eric Miller. A baseball team coached by an accountant and orthopedic surgeon. At least the stats were straight and all foot and ankle injuries taken care of immediately.

36) Kaylee Hayes: For the life of me I don't know who this person is. I think she's another Methesco person, but don't quote me (if she reads this, maybe she can tell me who she is, or maybe she'll just delete me down to 99 friends... only time will tell).

37) Seth Heckaman: Hang onto your hats Shawneeites. Remember Chris Heckaman, who was a pastor at Shawnee back in the day. And remember he and Lisa had a bunch of kids. And their oldest was this cute little boy named Seth. Well, now Seth will be a senior at Sidney High School, and he just started a ministry to help get children out of the sex trade in Tijuana. No joke. Feel both old, and impressed.

38) Keith Hefner: Son of Charlotte Hefner, my associate pastor, Keith just graduated and is heading off to Marietta College in the fall where he'll study and play baseball (in that order, if he knows what's good for him).

39) Elizabeth Hefner: Dauther-in-law to Charlotte, wife of Dustin, sister-in-law to Keith, and mother of Cade. Member at Shawnee UMC, and computer geek for the Shawnee Weekday Early Childhood Learning Center.

40) Katie Jackson: Youth pastor at St. Paul UCC in Wapak and drag racing freak.

41) Alaina Jenkins: Middle-school aged daughter of Steve and Anne who went to Middle School Lakeside, and, I am told, loved it.

42) Stephen Jenkins: Member of Shawnee UMC and volunteer in the youth ministry at the church, who is also a social worker at SAFY here in Allen County. He has a motorcycle in his garage, and despite the fact that gas is $4 a gallon, hasn't yet pulled it out into the sunlight.

43) Ann Jenkins: Wife of Stephen, she was the housemom for Shawnee UMC at Senior High Lakeside, which makes her special.

44) Shay Furness Kearns: When I first met Shay, Shay was a college student at Grace College majoring in youth ministry. I hired Shay as my youth intern. Since then, Shay has become a seminary student (who owns an Apple laptop whose power supply went kapluey this year, hence the former boss making an early graduation gift in March) at Union Theological Seminary (NYC). Shay is married to Steph, and living in New Jersey.

45) Jenny Kleffman: After a tough divorce, Jenny is now happily married with kids, living on the other side of Ohio. One of the first people from Goshen, Indiana I ever met, and long before I ever thought I'd live there.

46) Karen Kreutzberg: Former youth groupite at Epworth UMC. Her dad managed a theater that musicals and such somewhere in southern Michigan.

47) Logan Latimer: Currently in the Air Force, and stationed at Wright Pattterson Air Force Base in Dayton. He sometimes helps with our youth ministry and occasionally plays bass on Sunday morning worship.

48) Erik Lodermeier: A former part-time Shawnee youth groupite from back in the day who now lives in Colorado and knows a whole lot about music I've never heard of, but I am learning to enjoy (you are expanding my world Erik L).

49) Robert Lopez: I think Robert is an alum at Asbury.

50) Kara Lucas: The former Kara Hastings, I'm pretty much sure that I hadn't heard heads or tails from her for 15 years until she made me a Facebook friend. I had to go back into the wayback machine to place the face. A Shawnee youth groupite from way back in the day.

(whew.... gotta speed this up)

51) Thomas Lyons: Future seminary student who I wrote a multitude of recommendations for in the last two years. All I have to say is that given all the writing I did, he'd better do well in class. On staff at Vineyard Church in Sugarland, Texas.

52) Angie Lysght: Drawing a blank. Another Methesco student. I must have a soft spot for Methesco students.

53) Andy Machin: Former youth groupite at Epworth UMC who is now pursuing a MDiv at one of our 13 UM seminaries. I owe him an email. I promise to write and send it soon.

54) James Thomas Martin: Fellow Beeson Pastor, and founding pastor of a church in Katy, Texas. I bet if you met him a grocery store and talked to him for ten minutes you'd never guess he was a pastor. Not in a million years.

55) Andrew Maurer: Current slav... er, intern at Shawnee UMC. Hurt himself twirling at church camp. (sigh)

56) Jenna Mayer: Student at Bluffton University and all-around good egg.

57) Hayley Mitchell: My niece living in New Bern, NC. I don't care if she is 16, she needs to forget about boys, concentrate on her studies, and forget about boys. Likes to play HORSE with her overweight uncle.

58) Michelle Mitchell: My sister-in-law, and Hayley's mother. She's a nurse anesthetist, so essentially she gets paid to pass gas. Get ready Aunt Shelly cause the boys want to come see their cousins and the ocean. This won't come to pass this summer, but it's coming sooner than later. May you and your home be spared.

59) Justin Modica: Musician, chemist, graduate student studying stuff I'll never understand, and former part-time youth groupite at Shawnee from back in the day.

60) Jeff Moore: Site pastor for Life Church in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I used to babysit Jeff before he started nursery school. Man am I old.

61) Beth Moore: Sister of Jeff. Wasn't even born when I used to babysit her brothers. Man I am really, really old.

62) Nichelle Morris: We graduated the same year (1987) from Lima Senior High School. We ran in different crowds so I didn't know her all that well. But as fate would have it, I ended up moving in next to her father and mother three years ago. She lives in Atlanta and is recently engaged.

63) Travis Muse: Fellow Beeson pastor, baseball freak, father to two boys, and the senior pastor at Marlow UMC in Marlow, Oklahoma. The church he served in the appointment before Marlow was in Oklahoma City, and bigger than the city of Marlow. Pretty big change. Pray for his mother-in-law who is fighting cancer.

64) Steven Neidich: Senior at Shawnee High School who is in the band and active at our church. Will hate to see him graduate and leave next year. A great kid.

65) Lelah Norris: Student at Wright State University and grand-daughter to Marty Hutchison.

66) Amy Orwick: Ummmm.... I think I need a little help here.

67) Naveen Pai: One of the genuine unexpected welcomed surprises of this whole Facebook thing. Naveen played drums in Fpoon, which was a band made up also of Tyler Derryberry, Matt Parish, and Eric Hicks. Back in the day, Naveen used to come to church and play drums for us on occasion at youth group and at the worship service, which was a big deal cause his family is actually Hindu. I have a great story about him but I'll save it for another post) He eventually graduated from Stanford and I think is now working on a graduate degree in a field I'll know nothing about.

68) Matt Parish: Former youth groupite at Shawnee UMC from back in the day, he's now the lead lyricist for the post-punk band Ho-Ag. Based in Boston, Matt also writes and does other stuff to make a living. As a kid he was deep beyond deep. Still true today.

69) Joe Pisel: Another back in the day Shawneeite who was one of the notorious "Pisel Twins". Talk about keeping a youth pastor jumping.... yikes. Now, he's a father of a set of twins himself, and about to realize the full force of the verse, "you reap what you sow". Lives in the Lima area and works with his dad and twin brother in the sign business.

70) Kara Place: A fellow Spartan who graduated a year behind me (I think), Kara now is the choir director at North Middle School in Lima. Her show choir sang for our Older Adult group at Christmas. They were great!

71) Paul Rebelo: Pauly is the guy who rescued me from sleeping in my car when we went to seminary together way back in the early nineties. My dearest friend, I take no crap off him, and he no crap off of me. Has helped save my sanity as a pastor. Someday when the kids are grown, we will take a couple of weeks, disappear, and wreak havoc in some unsuspecting locale. That's all you need to know.

72) Tammy Jo Reiser: Current West Ohio Conference Director of Youth Ministry. Met her at Annual Conference this year.

73) Kent Reynolds: Kent Reynolds once baptized 3000 people in a remote part of Qatar in a pool he created with his staff in the middle of the desert. Kent Reynolds healed 200 lepers living on an island off the coast of India from his living room in Athens, Georgia on a bet. Kent Reynolds gives wisdom pointers. Kent Reynolds is the Pastor-In-Residence at the Beeson Center in Wilmore, Kentucky when he isn't walking on water or turning water into pecan pies.

74) Tyler Rhodes: Tyler just graduated from Shawnee HS, and will attend the University of Findlay this fall majoring in something, and also playing football. He told me once that he really likes hitting people, which is why he plays football. I'll just take his world for it cause he's a big dude.

75) Christa Roberts: One of my wife's best friends in High School. An accomplished harpist (who knew Lima Senior turned out harpists), she now lives in New Philadelphia, Ohio.

76) Ian Rockwood: Another one of Brother Esq's buddies in my various fantasy leagues.

77) Amy Roush: A fellow member of the class of 1987, her, I, and her twin brother are also all Miami University grads circa 1991. I used to hang out with them in elementary and junior high school when they'd stay at their Dad's house (he lived across the street) on the weekends. Their dad is a dentist, and his was the only house that gave out toothbrushes during Halloween. Amy now lives in Atlanta.

78) Darin Rumer: A really good-hearted but goofy kid, Darin was in the vaunted W-Squad of the Lima Senior High School Spartan Marching Pride. He ended up following a girl he liked to Bob Jones University, but I see on his Facebook page that he ended up graduating from Clemson in 1997. We need to catch up.

79) Andrea Sanford: Andrea is a wonderful person. She lived down the street from where I live now, but now lives in Nashville where she works in the record industry. She probably has brunch with Michael W. Smith and Dana Key on a regular basis. I hope she finds happiness in all she does.

80) Matt Scholl: Fellow Beeson Pastor and pastor of Aley UMC in Beavercreek UMC. I'm partially responsible for Matt jumping ship from his native South Indiana Conference to West Ohio by talking about him to a DS looking to pilfer Beeson Pastors to the WOC. Matt doesn't know this, but originally that DS wanted to appoint him to Shawnee UMC to be my associate (an idea I shot down by the way because, if anything, I should be Matt's associate). He has a wife and two kids.

81) Jennifer Shaw: A student and track/cross country runner at Ohio University because she apparently couldn't get into college (that joke, for a Miami grad, never gets old). Her mother is the organist at our church and her father is the chair of the Board of Trustees.

82) Keri Shryock: Keri and her brothers were youth groupites at Epworth UMC during my short tenure there. Her mother, a sweet, patient woman, had the unfortunate assignment of being my SPRC rep at a time in my life when I was very dissatisfied with my job. Sorry you took the brunt of that Mrs. Shryock. I am very, very sorry.

83) Brent Sloan: A former youth pastor at Shawnee UMC, we hired Brent fresh out of bible college. He was a great guy who loved the Lord, but was pretty green when it came to ministry. Just about the time he was just starting to figure out what he was doing, he left us for another opportunity (against my advice, I might add). But, married with a child on the way, he seems satisfied with the direction the Lord has taken him. A more faithful disciple of Jesus you will never meet.

84) Jenny Beckett Smith: Jenny is married, a student at United and on staff at Stillwater UMC in suburban Dayton. She was a little kid when her family moved from Lima to Alaska so her Dad, Dave, could follow his dream of pastoring on the final frontier. So, in short, she left a little girl in pig tales, and came back married and in the ministry. Once again, I feel very old.

85) Robbi Helser Spanoudis: Robbi grew up at Shawnee UMC, and after faithfully serving in the youth ministry, ended up getting hired by me to be an intern while she was in college. Robbi's heart is huge. So is her sister's, and so are their parents. Robbi is now living in Columbus, and (I'm told) is looking to break back into the youth ministry game.

86) Sophie Starr: A senior at Shawnee UMC, Sophie has more musical talent in her pinky than most people do in their whole body. A truly great young lady.

87) Joe Steele: I think my wife knew Joe back in high school, but I can't say I know him all that well. He's now in the ministry, and he too I owe an email.

88) Eric Stone: Eric is the chaplain at the University of Michigan Wesley Foundation. We went not only to seminary together, but we both ended up getting hosed by the leadership of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference. He frequently writes disparaging comments on my wall about Jim Tressel and what a cheater he is while lifting up the virtues of Michigan's program. Well, welcome to the "Rich Rod" era of Michigan Football, Eric. Good luck.

89) Lauren Stubbs: A former youth groupite from Shawnee UMC back in the day, Lauren now teaches Phys Ed in Nashville, and is seriously sweet on some boy down there. We once had a two hour conversation on the nature of baptism.

90) Noel Tabora: Another former Shawneeite from back in the day, Noel is working in advertising in New York City. Another one of my faves from my youth ministry experience. My memories of him still make me smile.

91) Lisa Tordiff: Lisa is another Shawnee youth groupite from back in the day. She is working on a MACE at Methesco, is a Christian Ed director at a church in Columbus, and another deranged person who wants to pursue youth ministry as a career. She'll be a good one.

92) Brian Vinson: A fellow Elder in the UMC, "The Thief" pastors a church in suburban Columbus, loves to play soccer, runs marathons, and enjoys Thai food. His wife is also a professional musician. He was ordained out of the Independent Christian Church movement while on staff at Southland Christian Church in Lexington, which is a huge megachurch. Now he's a United Methodist. A more interesting person you will not meet.

93) Amy Walters: A mother of four, a good friend to my wife, and apparently now the owner of multiple cows, we wish Amy and Joe would move to Lima. It'll never happen, though. The cows won't leave Goshen.

94) Courtney Montgomery Wanat: Another former Shawnee UMC youth groupite from back in the day, I did Courtney's wedding about ten days after I returned to the church back in 2004. I think her mother asked me to do it about ten seconds after the announcement was made that we were returning. She is a teacher, active at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and married to a fireman. She lives in Columbus.

95) Michael Wanat: A fireman married to Courtney. See, this one was short.

96) John Whirledge: A student at Indiana Wesleyan, John is one of the few Goshen youth groupites I'm connected to now via Facebook. I always dug John and his family, but given my (for Goshen) liberal theology and long-hair, I think they kinda didn't know what to do with me. They always treated us well, but I think they kept a close eye and ear on me during my five year tenure at Goshen First UMC to make sure I didn't introduce full-blown heresy into the midst. John is dating a girl who is an intern at Chris Heckaman's church in Sidney.

97) Chris Whitney: I know Chris through his dad, Neil. A good guy, Chris works as a physical therapist at the Orthopedic Institute here in Lima. Girls dig him, but he's still single, so for them there is still hope.

98) Trav Wilson: Another fellow Beeson Pastor, Trav is the founding pastor of ChristGarden UMC in Birmingham, Alabama. He is married to the lovely Becca, who worked for years with terminally ill children at a hospital in Pittsburgh. They have a lovely daughter. Trav too is a misguided Auburn fan, wasting his college football fan prime on a program that hasn't been nationally relevant since Bo Jackson took the backfield. "Bo knows continued mediocrity."

99) Aaron Wymer: Another fellow Beeson Pastor, Aaron is the senior pastor of THE Grandview Christian Church in Johnson City, Tennessee. Did I also mention that he was my next door neighbor in 2006-07 during our Beeson experience in Wilmore, Kentucky. Did I also mention he is a University of Florida grad. Did I also mention that we were rooming together the day the Gators defeated the Buckeyes in yet another National Championship game. I will now light myself on fire.

100) Megan Wymer: Daughter of Aaron. Good kid. Reinvented herself during our year in Wilmore. Hope some of that reinvention stuck when she went back to Johnson City.

That's it! 100 friends. If you've made it this far, you had far too much free time on your hands. You need your own Facebook page. Go get one now!

Ten Things I Did On My Summer Vacation (the other five)

6) On Rose Lake there is a "swimming hole". I'm not sure why that particular area of the lake has been designated as such, but it is. Every day, at least once and as many as three times, we head on over to that part of the lake on the pontoon boat to listen to music (, which could generously be called adult alternative soft rock... if that makes sense) and swim. Sometimes the boys would want to play tag, and other times a game we invented called "tuna and shark" (me, being the "Big Kahuna Tuna", and Max and Xave being sharks). Our trips to the swimming hole were bookended by the two oldest boys taking turns driving the boat (which, with a strong tail wind, goes about 5 mph).

I don't remember which day it was, exactly, but the sky was particularly blue and the sun bright. Music and laughter filled the air. The water was cool and clear. A day that when I'm dead and gone, my sons will remember as one of the best our family ever had. I mean, I plan funerals with families as a part of my living. I know the days that matter are the only ones that get brought up when we sit together in some funeral home, the family sharing memories that will enable me to write a eulogy. This was one of those days that will matter. A day so perfect that in the moment I simply enjoyed being in the middle of it.

You don't get many of those days... or at least not enough of them.

7) One of the things I liked about this vaca was that, unlike other families who feel the need to cram in an many activities as possible in the time allotted, The Buchers are quite content to do as much or as little as they wish. This year, we swam and boated and made sand castles and explored the lake but we also did a whole lot of not much. We watched TV. We read books and newspapers. We napped. The boys played video games.

We vacated. It was relaxing, de-stressing, and overall very refreshing. We didn't come back totally exhausted. It was good.

8) We celebrated my wife's 29th birthday (just as we did last year, and will again next year) with cake, a nice meal (steak that I over-seasoned), and presents. Every year, since my 29th birthday is always in February, my wife gets me the latest Grisham book, and 20 bucks to be used at some coffeehouse while reading it (can't put down one of those babies until I'm finished). This year I got her two books. One was a piece of Christian Chick-lit (which she gobbles up... no sex scenes, just confused relationships) and the other was Phil Vischer's book about the rise and fall of Big Idea Inc., the company that produces VeggieTales. I always wondered how a company with characters as wildly popular as Bob and Larry used to be could fall apart.

Vischer tells the story of what happens when a creative animator gets in over his head when his product takes off and subsequently looks to the "suits" to handle the business-side of a company built to serve a particular entertainement niche they don't really understand... which (if you don't have time to read the book) is bankruptcy and the loss of everything including the characters you lovingly created.

Christians are a strange bunch in that the market is much more segmented than those outside the Christian sub-culture realize. Of course, there is your James-Dobson-Moral-Majority crowd, and they historically have packed the biggest wallop in terms of their economic clout, but there are other crowds too. There are health-and-wealth Christians who buy up books by Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Kenneth Copeland, hoping God will bless them if they live their life the right way. There are the "post-modern Christians" who are making Donald Miller and Rob Bell Jr. famous and rich. There are the peace and justice Christians who subscribe to Sojourners magazine. There are cultural Christians who identify with their churches and communities for reasons relating to ethnicity and heritage. And there are mainline Christians who are more likely to buy secular media than they are the stuff at the local Parable Christian Book Store. And there are suburban mega-church Christians who go to the cool church in the community where the pastor preaches sermons in the style of Bill Hybles or Rick Warren... which is to say self-help sermons generally concerned with helping you find the most meaningful life for yourself that you can.

The groups aren't necessarily isolated from one another, but you can't just label something "Christian" and expect all these different people to buy it. And, in fact, if you begin to bend your marketing strategy or product at one of these various groups, you might very well make it more difficult to sell the product to the other crowds. It's complicated, and I think you have to have a clear understanding of which of these subgroups are going to buy what you are selling before you even get started.

Vischer always knew his bread and butter were James-Dobson Christians who sought to isolate themselves more fully from the influence of secular media, and the mega-church Christians who wanted their children to be taught to have good morals and instilled with high self-esteem. As a matter of fact, since Vischer came from one of these cultures (the Dobsonites), he understood them very well, and his knowledge shaped how the videos were made (watch carefully and you'll notice that Jesus was never portrayed as one of the vegetables and the vegetables never talked about themselves going to heaven.... both done intentionally so as to not tick off churches of a certain ilk), promoted, and sold. But because he lived in suburban Chicago, he knew the values and quality the megachurch Christians wanted in their children's media. Those two markets identified, Vischer's company sold millions more units than he ever dreamed, and in the end, was capable of handling himself. So, he called in the suits with business experience to keep everything straight.

When the suits started violating the rules of the various subcultures (like, for example, when they starting to sell Bob and Larry at WalMart as opposed to the local Christian bookstore, which ticked off the Dobsonites who wanted their Christian bookstores to do well) they started losing their target Christian subcultures, while not sufficiently picking up any of the others, or people in the non-Christian world. Hence the push to sell and frame the franchise differently ended up alienating the core base, which destroyed sales even as the company's overhead started to rise due to all the new marketing and packaging folks the suits hired to beef up sales.

Hence Big Idea going bankrupt, getting sold off to various conglomerates, and Vischer starting over without the characters he is known for. A great read, particularly if you are looking to expand a business, or love animation, or enjoy reading books where you know in the end it's all going to fall apart... you just don't know how its going to happen. Both of us dug it, and I think learned a lot. I'm not sure Vischer has still sorted out where everything went wrong (particularly as it relates to where God was while he watched his company get auctioned off piece by piece.... which is a problem for somebody with a reformed theology who believes in predestination). He claims that the problem was that his dreams supplanted God's, and thus now as he starts his newest venture, Jellyfish Labs, that we won't dream big like he did before (when he wanted to be the Christian Walt Disney).

Of course, now he just wants to be the Christian Nickelodeon or Christian Disney Channel. I'm not sure how that's not dreaming big.... I guess you'll just need to read the book to figure Phil out for yourself.

9) We returned home Friday. On Saturday my folks offered (with a little suggestive selling) to take the boys 1-3 overnight so Aimee and I could at least have a little more peace and quiet than usual. We had a nice meal at Burgandy's. We looked at different vehicles (not to buy... just for the heck of it). And to cap off the evening, we went to a movie.

Mamma Mia

Let me say this.... a movie musical based on a Broadway musical based on the music of Abba would not be my first (or second, or third, or tenth) choice normally. Particularly if the music was going to sung, not by Abba, or Broadway entertainers, but rather Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan (who, upon opening his mouth, sounded so bad that it made my wife weep with laughter), I would pay to see something else. But my wife has this little web design company that landed a fairly big corporate fish, and this company is going to tie one of its products to the release of Mamma Mia on DVD later this fall. So, we went so Aimee could do some research for her project.... or so she says. She loved every blessed moment of that crummy movie.

How crummy, you ask?

Have you ever been naked, covered with angry red ants, in a vat of acid, while the devil peels off your toenails, as twenty off-key lemurs screech in your ears tunes like "Dancing Queen"? Well, neither have I, but as I sat in that dark movie theater, silently wishing aliens would abduct me for crude intestinal scientific study, that's kind of what it was like. Naked with ants in acids with the devil and lemurs.

At least now I have further proof there is a God, because the movie ended. Biggest act of grace I've experienced in many, many years. Needless to say, her finding from the movie is that I am not in the target demographic. Hence, no effort will go into drawing overweight, slightly balding adult males in their late 30's, early 40's to the product she'll be promoting. This one's for you ladies! This one's for you.

10) Finally, while on an errand today, my eldest son, Max, and I were talking about vacation this year, when I asked him, "So, do you think we should go back to Buckeye/Raider cottage on Rose Lake next year?" (as it's graciously been offered already, with the stipulation that I don't paint Eric the Buckeye as being "foo foo" in Sunday morning sermons... which will not be easy. For the love of Pete, the man drinks decaf chocolate mochas and keeps eight different kinds of breath mints in his truck. How can you hide "foo foo" as blatant as that? Good thing I only agreed to sermons, and not the blog.)

But strangely enough, Max got really quiet. After many seconds of pondering he said...

"Dad, the lake is awfully fun, but somehow next summer could we see our friends in Goshen, then maybe our friends in Tennessee, and our cousins in North Carolina? Or maybe take them to the lake with us? That's would be the ultimate, Dad. All of us with our friends at the lake. Could we do that, Dad? Please?"

Thus, for many of you, I now give you your gift from our vacation. No matter how much fun we have had, you, our friends and family, were never far from our heart. You make our life sweet, and for that we thank you.

And who knows... maybe we'll figure out something cool next summer where we can be with at least some of you, sharing our downtime. I hope we can make that happen.

Just... don't bring a copy of Mamma Mia with you. That, and you serve your time as a spotter. That's all I ask.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ten Things I Did On My Summer Vacation (the first five)

Well, we're back. After a (mostly) relaxing and non-stressful week at Eric the Buckeye and Vanessa the Raider's cottage in Michigan, we have returned home. I'm still doing some vacation for the next few days so I won't be around the office just yet. I would have gone to worship this morning but my wife threatened me within an inch of my life to stay away from work, so I worshiped elsewhere. In any event, here's are the highs and lows (we saw "Mamma Mia"... more later) of our vacation experience.

1) Although it technically occurred before we left, the "Midsummer Bucher Brothers Bash" was a hit. 32 (maybe.... we aren't sure, which gives you an idea of how many little kids were here) kids showed up at our house for a long-promised (on the part of the mother member of this family... there's no way I'd have even dreamed this up, let alone promised it as an actual activity) party for the boys to get re-acquainted with their friends after our year away in Wilmore, Kentucky. We actually moved back to Lima in May 2007, so Aimee was overdue. In any event my lawn was filled with sprinklers, small inflatable pools, an inflatable water-slide, and a dangerously slippery trampoline. One kid called our little mini-water park a "kid paradise". We wrapped up the day with an outdoor movie of our own ("Bee Movie", largely cause we own it and it was here) which many parents showed up to view. Fortunately, outside of a few scrapes and fat lip, nobody was seriously injured or drowned. Everything has recovered but my backyard. For one day, we were the "cool parents". Go figure.

2) The Buckeye/Raider cottage is really something to behold. It can easily sleep the Bucher family (all six of us), and still leave unoccupied beds for other temporary residents. The cottage is air-conditioned (although the weather, after a storm on Monday morning, made its use unnecessary), has every amenity a person might need, and comes complete with an X-Box located in a huge family room (done in Ohio State memorabilia). It's also largely kid-proofed (although I'm sure the Buckeye/Raider clan arrived Friday wondering why certain items were on top of the refrigerator. Answer: Eli the Destroyer) as they have two elementary-school aged daughters of their own. In any event, the digs were outstanding.

3) The lake is located about 15-20 minutes south of Coldwater, Michigan which boasts, in no particular order:
- Allen's Drive-In: The best place for root beer floats or any one of fifty different flavored milk-shakes in the world.
- Dutch Uncle Donuts: I have yet to eat a bad donut. These guys helped continue that streak.
- Northwoods Coffee Company: This place is everything an independent coffeehouse should be. Located in a renovated downtown building, the decor combines the charm of Middle America with an Alaskan moose lodge. Not to mention the coffee is out of this world. My daily stop to begin the day.

4) The Buckeye/Raider cottage also sports two jet skis and one pontoon boat for the enjoyment of the temporary residents. Unfortunately, on Sunday, I learned a number of Michigan's boating laws the hard way.

It was a beautiful day on the lake. Hot, sunny, clear..... the boat traffic was pretty heavy. About 4:30pm the boys wanted me to pull them in a raft behind a jet ski. Not a problem. We'd done it a number of times. I noticed though as we pulled away from the dock, that unlike earlier that afternoon, Rose Lake was empty. I mean E-M-P-T-Y. Just two other jet skis and us. Two jet skis that were identical. Ridden my men dressed identically, meaning they were either pizza delivery guys on boats, FABULOUS pizzas delivery guys on boats, or Branch County Deputy Sheriffs.

Guess who they turned out to be?

Apparently, which had I actually read one of the numerous boating law guidebooks at the cottage I would have known, you are not allowed to tow anything behind a boat if the boat itself doesn't have "a spotter" facing the towed apparatus... meaning there needed to be two people on jet ski. I was just using the rear view mirrors on the jet ski to keep my eyes on the Max and Xave. I was both driving and spotting.

Did you know you could be fined for not having a spotter? Me either. Now I know.

5) My misadventure Sunday afternoon with a very nice deputy (who is a High School teacher the other nine months of the year he isn't educating dumb tourists via tickets about Michigan's boating laws) though led me to an unexpected encounter the next day at the Branch County Courthouse. While I waited at the window for the clerk to process my fine, I saw a woman with an honest-to-goodness coffee-can-lid-sized pentagram tattoo on the side of her neck. It was unbelievable. My father-in-law once told me that you should never get a tattoo in a place that can't be hidden from a judge. Let's just say that this lady needed one serious turtleneck to make that happen. I overheard enough her discussion with her lawyer(?) to realize that she was well acquainted with the folks at the Branch County Courthouse. On my way out, I told her how striking her tattoo was. Her response...

"It gives me (how can I make this up) all the power of the underworld, which is why I will prevail here today."

Ummmm... right. The look on her lawyer's face as she said this was a cross between "I wish I had gotten that I.T. degree" and "I think somebody ate my cat". And who knows, by the looks of things, maybe somebody had.

I called Brother Esq to tell him about it later. His response...

"I'm a lawyer who does defense work. I see that stuff every day. You gotta get out of that church of yours a little more."

Not worth the entire cost of the fine.... but close.

(Gotta go on a mission of mercy. I'll post the other five things later today.)

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Short Hiatus for Some R&R (and a quick good-bye)

After a long, but good year, and a party yesterday that featured 30+ (you know it's a lot of kids when you never got a solid number on how many were there) kids in our backyard for the first-ever "Midsummer Bucher Brothers Bash", we're off for some family time on a small lake somewhere north. Hope all is well with you as we bask in the sun, do a little wave-running, and see how fast Eric the Buckeye's pontoon boat will go in open water.

Also, the Yunkers will be the third and final P&G family we'll be losing at Shawnee United this summer. Tara and the kids are slated to move to suburban Cinci the beginning of August, and Tim will follow in October. May you, as well as the Richards and Patricks, be blessed as you begin this new season. You will all be greatly missed.

I'll be back in the blogosphere before you know it. Ten days to two-weeks, TOPS! Until then, have a nice July.

Friday, July 11, 2008

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

There was a time when I played both my guitar and bass quite a bit. Both my jobs in Toledo and Goshen demanded it. Goshen First, especially, taxed my ability as a musician. When I first arrived, I really couldn't play and sing at the same time. But necessity is the mother of invention, so in short order my chops improved just enough to be a below-average song leader (I never led anyone is "worship"... I just played the songs and hoped other people followed).

However, upon arrival here in Lima, my guitar has been used very little, and the opportunities I've had to get out the bass have been few and far between. Hence, the dust gathering upon them both, as my Alvarez 12-string gets increasingly out of tune. I'd like to tell you I miss playing, but the reality is that I really don't. I was never that good. A self-taught guitarist who basically relied on basic chords and a capo get by, the act of playing was really more nerve-wracking than anything else.

Particularly when I played bass with the praise band of "The Peak" worship service, I always felt like I was screwing up... most likely because I was. That was hard given the fact that there were so many good musicians in that band: Jeff and Travis on percussion. Steve and Wade (and later, Mike) on guitar. Becky on the keys. Instrumentally, that band was incredibly talented. I wonder what they would have sounded like with a real bass player, as I was the anchor that never got hoisted on the ship that was ready to sail.

But I do miss playing with a band. There's nothing quite like the moment when everyone on a stage, or in a room, is playing, in sync, and creating some beautiful noise together. It's not an "almost-spiritual" feeling. It's totally spiritual. God is a creating God who keeps creating. To be a part of that in this unique way is really something.

Which is why, as I approach my 40th birthday, I'm beginning to think that the way I'd like to celebrate it is by throwing a concert. You see the band at Shawnee is no slouch, and the talent that Shane sometimes imports to help them out consists of some of the best musicians in the area. So, what I'm thinking, is going back to my first love (which is actually vocals), sing lead or back-up on a few songs prepared by this wonderfully talented group, and raise a few dollars for a good cause. I might even pull out the old guitar to pull an Elvis and pretend I'm playing. It could be a nice bash for anyone who wanted to come mock me as I celebrate four decades of (not quite realized) potential, and I could dust off the instruments and vocal chords for an evening to get the monkey off my back.

For my guitar isn't weeping, but I'd like to make a joyful noise to the God who creates, and keeps creating. Maybe we could even get Prince to come and jam with us.

Whaddya think? Anyone else interested in a Bucher's 40 Jamboree?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

"Our Lips Are Sealed" OR "Advice To A Pastor Getting Reamed By Rumors and Accusations"

Can you hear them
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

There's a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
Silence reveals

When you look at them
Look right through them
That's when they'll disappear
That's when we'll be feared

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Give no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed

Hush, my darling
Don't you cry
Quiet, angel
Forget their lies

Can you hear them
They talk about us
Telling lies
Well, that's no surprise

Can you see them
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed
Our lips are sealed

Of all the strange songs to get stuck on, after stumbling on a covers album that Everclear did this year, I have become hooked on "Our Lips Are Sealed", an old Go-Go's song (there is no Everclear video, so you get the original Go-G0 song instead) I liked as a kid. Outside a catchy hook (even Rolling Stone proclaimed the tune one of the hundred best rock songs of all time) I couldn't figure out why in the world why this song seemed so appealing.

Then it hit me.... read the words preacher man. Read the words.

Periodically, I have found, there are times when strange accusations or rumors about either a pastor or a church will emerge from the underworld. It's just part of the game.

A number of years ago I had a youth pastor under my charge who for reasons that were really beyond his control, became unpopular for a time with a small group of parents and teens. At the height of this drama, a rumor began to circulate about this guy that he had actually been cited for DUI, that the church knew it, and swept it under the table. I remember that after hearing this about six or seven different times from different quarters, after doing some research (always gotta cover your can) and confirming what I knew to be true (that this young fella not only didn't have a DUI, but didn't drink alcohol), I remember choosing a person to whisper this little ditty in great anger that I wanted to spread near and far:

"Upon much research, this accusation is so scurrilous that the person in question and the church are thinking about suing those who are spreading the rumor for slander. Whoever is behind this crap is dead meat."

Magically, the rumor stopped, and, in fact those who had been spreading this gossip began to vehemently deny having done so. Joseph called that approach to dealing with a crisis in ministry "unleashing the dogs of war". In that instance, where people began to realize that serious traffic violations are actually tracked and listed by individual states, making the rumor easy to disprove, unleashing the dogs proved successful.

But in most instances where someone is upset at you, no amount of talking or responding will be able to deter that person from their mission of trying to paint you or the church as something less than Christian. As a matter of fact, often if you try to defend yourself or diffuse the issue by reasoning with said angry people, your words will end up twisted to fit their agenda... which ends up just making things worse. That's why I'm finding, as time goes by, that (mostly) the Go-Go's were right:

There's a weapon
That we must use
In our defense
Silence reveals

When you look at them
Look right through them
That's when they'll disappear
That's when we'll be feared

Most of the time when people are trying to get your goat, or hang you among their circle of friends, in the end its better to just ignore the whole thing than to get caught up in the drama. Five or six years ago that would have been impossible for me. I was drawn to drama like a moth to a light bulb. Everything required a response.

But my last year at Goshen I was involved in a situation where a young person was expelled from school largely because he was set up by a friend who wanted to steal the accused young person's girlfriend. As the story involved a "zero tolerance" (i.e. "zero common sense") policy regarding weapons on campus, as the case was played out in the public arena, and exploited by the local media to sell papers (which is why, while I love reading newspapers, I will never trust them) when the young person who had been set-up and his mother spoke up (taking unnecessary potshots at the school and police in the process) in his defense, all hell broke loose. A bad situation got 10 times worse. Shaken, the family asked for advice as to what to do.

My brilliant suggestion: Shut-up, get a lawyer, and deal with school administrators and local police behind closed doors. Strangely enough, the family acquiesced, and even made me their "official spokesman" (meaning the media got a lot of "no comments"). In the end, the kid, among much controversy, was re-instated as a student and permitted to walk with his class on graduation day.

I'm not sure any other strategy other than the one I suggested would have had the same result. If the family had kept going to the press, the community would have been even more polarized, and the administration even more likely to want to rid themselves of the problem by hiding behind a "zero tolerance policy", even if they knew (thanks to some good police work) that the kid was innocent. By staying quiet, the school could go through their process while public perception was that the family was abiding by that process. Fact was we were fighting tooth and nail to get the boy graduated with his class, but we did so behind closed doors. Gotta say that kid's graduation was one of the sweetest experiences I've ever had.

More importantly, the experience taught me a valuable lesson. While, as the spokesman for the family, I took a number of potshots personally and in the press for my involvement (someone told me I was "the white Al Sharpton" of Goshen, Indiana"... How great is that!?!) I learned in the experience that not only is it better to let things that people say, go, but in ignoring them all together in an effort to stay focused on what was important, that over time you gain weight and influence. For as those who want to respect you watch closely, as you conduct yourself at a level above your opposition, that respect is allowed to grow among those that really matter: The people you serve and want to serve with you.

In my case, that exactly what happened among people in my congregation (who loved the kid and appreciated my support of him), the students (who knew their youth pastor had their back no matter what), police department (because I trusted them, and they trusted me back), and even school administration (who asked to help with a couple of other situations when the whole thing was said and done).

Thus, that is why, oh friend of mine who called me upset because there are folks at his church dragging him through the mud, I offer this advice:

If you did do something to warrant the mud dragging, there's nothing left to do but "throw yourself on the sword". Offer genuine apologies, and work on the other side for true reconciliation (whatever that means).

And if you didn't, keep your nose to the grindstone. Work hard. Do a good job. Say nothing disparaging about others, and ALWAYS tell the truth. Otherwise, people are just trying to bait you to create drama designed to wear you out (so you'll leave) or drag you down to their level (so there will be basis for your can to get booted out the door). You'll be amazed who will come to your defense, and the strength that is added unto you.

Only unleash the dogs of war if the accusations are so ridiculous and easily disproven, that you know the accuser will immediately back down because their fraud will be so apparent.

It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed

Pay no mind to what they say
It doesn't matter anyway
Our lips are sealed

Deep truth in a Go-Go's song. Who knew.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rush, The Supersonics, and other random thougths

- There's a great article in NY Times Magazine on Rush Limbaugh, who is about to sign a $300 million dollar contract with Premier Broadcasting. Rush's heyday is long behind us. The "Rush Rooms" at local restaurants disappeared not long after the "Contract With America" crowd that was elected in 1994 behind Newt Gingrich fell apart. But Rush, who commands a substantial listening audience, is still a political and entertainment force in the country.

One part of the article I found particularly interesting was the author identifying Rush as the legitimate heir to William F. Buckley's throne as the standard bearer for conservative thought in the country. How appropriate, I think, in this particular age that the mantle would go from one of the most educated, intellectual people on the face of the earth to a radio guy who barely made it through high school. Buckley required you read his articles three times and translation with a dictionary in order to understand them. Limbaugh writes tunes like "Barack The Magic Negro" and sells t-shirts that read "My Mullah Went to Gitmo and all I Got Was This Crummy T-Shirt".
That John Stewart (and to a lesser degree, Stephen Colbert) have become the "yin" to Rush's "yang" isn't all that surprising. I know that as I watch the church scene from my little perch here in the Midwest, that the pressure on pastors to be more entertaining in their preaching has only grown over the last 20 years. It's no coincidence that if you examine megachurches that have grown up over the past 15 years, that they tend to led by effective, humorous communicators.

How else can you explain how a church in Granger, Indiana (of all places) could become one of the 10 most influential in the country? Mark Beeson not only is a gifted communicator, but has been instrumental in turning his worship space into something akin to a theater where people become totally enmeshed in the metaphor being driven to death to get the point across.

Granger is now celebrated as the place you go to learn how to turn your worship space into a jungle, or a garage, or a farm. It also is on the cutting edge of producing visual media that is integrated into the worship experience, which is more like a variety show than a conventional worship service. But make no bones about it - Beeson's manic, over-the-top, pastor-on-ten-Red-Bulls delivery is what drives the engine. Without his forty minutes of entertaining preaching, it doesn't matter how good the music is or whether or not there's a fiberglass cow on the stage. It all just falls apart.

Erwin McManus pastors a church, Mosaic, in LA that legions of pastors and laypeople are flocking to in order to figure out how to "do church in the 21st century".

This is a promo for some short films being used as a part of a sermon series at his church. Notice on the clip that McManus is listed as the "Storyteller" as opposed to preacher.

Even in my own tradition, our current uberpastor of the moment, Adam Hamilton, is noted for his ability to communicate. Once the poster boy for traditionalist who touted his church, Church of the Resurrection, as an example of a growing church committed to traditional worship elements (choir, hymns, organ, robes, etc...), Hamilton has moved beyond that to become recognized as one of the finest pulpit communicators in the country. He too is incorporating unconventional elements, such as media, into his presentation as a means of holding the audience's ever-shortening attention.

We are quickly moving from a William F. Buckley, to a Rush Limbaugh/John Stewart world where people don't just expect to be informed and educated, but also entertained. What that will do not only to politics, but education and the formal religious community remains to be seen. All I know is that my congregation snaps to life whenever I start a funny story, or show a video, or figure out some other creative means to make my point. And it doesn't matter how well you craft the rest of the message.... if it isn't somewhat entertaining, you can see eyes glazing over. Given how unprepared most of us in the clergy are, most of us having been trained to preach in an academic style, one wonders about the shifts that are about to take place in the influence Christian institutions will have (or not have) as the demand to be entertained only grows.

- For $75 million dollars, the owners of the Seattle SuperSonics are going to be permitted to move the team from a city that has supported it through thick and thin, to their own hometown of Oklahoma City. The really bizarre piece of this equation is that the NBA's commissioner, David Stern, is supports the move, even though it means abandoning a much larger TV market that has a much firmer connection to the Far East (which is the largest emerging market in the world) for a more parochial setting middle America setting.

That leaves many of us wondering why on earth would the NBA rather have a franchise in OKC than Seattle?

Well, a clue to the answer to this question might be reports that the fiscal state of the league - which just had one of its most entertaining seasons in quite some time - is not good. Had they not looked heartless in doing so, the league would have probably moved their New Orleans franchise permanently to OKC, which is where the Hornets played in the aftermath of Katrina. The team drew well, and more importantly, corporations located in the mid-major city ponied up major dollars to support the franchise as a means of trying to change the town's image. While publicly Stern has been saying Seattle will never receive another team, right now franchises in Memphis, Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and New Orleans are all reportedly hemorrhaging money and are up for sale. Considering the Sonics name, logo, colors, and team history will not be permitted to go with the franchise when it moves to OKC this summer, everything points to another franchise relocating to Seattle in the next couple of years.

Stern simply had a community willing to take his franchise on the line, and wouldn't let them go. In the process, the league is gambling that a year or two without the Sonics will convince Seattle to replace or renovate their current arena, and give added incentive for corporations in that community to get behind the franchise when it returns (most likely from Memphis or New Orleans). Such is the state of professional sports today, as over-expansion in the 90's has left too many franchises - NFL, NHL, MBL, and NBA - in cities unable or unwilling to support them. Expect more moving franchises, broken leases, and fractured relationships with fans.

Hey, I just watch cause I like basketball. I'll only get incensed about a franchise getting its heart ripped out when LeBron's contract with Nike (which pays him an additional $90 million dollars if he plays in NY, Chicago, or LA) becomes the catalyst for him becoming NY Knick or Net in 2010.

3) Am currently reading "Plastic Jesus: Exposing the Hollowness of Comfortable Christianity" by Eric Sandras. I kind of skimmed it last summer when we did the "Jesus In the Suburbs" series, as a compliment to the main text I was using, the aptly named "Death By Suburb". I'm getting ready for another years worth of sermon series.

At this point, I know we'll be doing the "Jesus At the Movies" series for the rest of the summer (focus: a random survey of some of Jesus teachings). We'll be launching a major emphasis on getting people connected in small groups mean to foster community, bible practice, and prayer with a companion sermon series focused on the "Marks of Discipleship" I shared in yesterday's post. I'm hearing rumblings both in the news and out of our community that the idea of "open marriages" is rearing its ugly head again, so we'll do a series focused on relationships later in the fall. Charlotte has talked to me about possibly doing a "40 days of Purpose" series for Lent, which hasn't lighted my fire as that moment, in my mind's eye, has really passed. But that's as far as I've gotten. I'm reading Sandras book as fuel for some new ideas. Feel free to email if you have any of your own. I'm still in the hunting and gathering stage right now.

4) Hope you have a nice Independence Day. We'll be doing some grilling, and if the community doesn't float away (as its raining cats and dogs as it has many, many, many days this summer) we'll get out to the Star Spangled Spectacular at Faurot Park tomorrow. Here's hoping you've got a few fireworks with friends and family in your future.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Combining Work and Blogging (Part 1)

Years ago on the very first day I ever interviewed at Goshen First, I remember asking then senior pastor - the late, great Dick Lyndon - if the church had a clear understanding of what it wanted to accomplish. At the time I had just read Rick Warren's, The Purpose Driven Church (which I didn't understand all that well... which might explain why fifteen years after the book was published why there are so few Purpose Driven churches out there), and I was captivated by the idea that we could voice what we wanted to accomplish, and in turn, enable anyone who decided to become part of the movement to know what we thought being a Goshen First United Methodist Christian was all about. Dick said Goshen First did have possess that clear understanding and that it could be explained using a race track as a metaphor (much like Warren's system uses a baseball diamond).

Well this turned out to be more "theory" than "reality" at GFUMC. Some people thought our purpose was to worship in a particular worship style. Others thought the purpose was to get people involved in a Sunday School class. Still others thought the purpose was to do good things in the community or engage in in-depth Bible study (although Queen Conger makes an excellent point in her latest post that churches should be engaged in "Bible Practice", not "Bible Study".... there's a sermon in there somewhere) or reach people with the message of Jesus. You'd think somehow that all those things would fit together somehow, but in the case of GFUMC that never really happened. The people who wanted to reach Jesus sometimes got into conflicts with those who thought we were supposed to worship in a particular worship style. The Sunday School people couldn't understand people who would rather be engaged in service or a Bible Practice (I'm officially stealing the Queen's idea). It was a real mess because these people, when they'd come together at an Ad Board would all butt heads, particularly when it came to allocation of the pastor's time, and the church's resources.

At a certain point, maybe in my fourth year, realizing what was going on, Dick tried to reel the thing in by casting what he believed was the essence of what we were supposed to be doing, which was "making disciples". We determined what a disciple was and did, and then kind of broke that down into different categories. I was commissioned to write some curriculum that would more fully explain this, and Dick decided that we'd do a sermon series that would break each discipleship category down. The sermons would be taped, and in the future used as kind a visual to go with the written curriculum that could be used in a membership class, Sunday School class, Life Group, or whatever.

So we worked on this stuff for about a month, and Dick found different groups in the churches that could take it all out for a "test drive". Everyone who used it thought it was OK (although the videos were pretty dry). But then Dick got on some other kick, and pretty soon the books and videos ended up in a corner somewhere, gathering dust, never to be seen or heard from again. I even tore apart my office looking for the set I thought I brought with me to Shawnee, but I must have pitched it at some point cause its nowhere to be found.

But the general idea of a church family knowing why it exists, and what its supposed to be doing has continued to intrigue me. I was mulling this over when about 18 months Tim Yunker and I went out to lunch, and then ran over to the new warehouse that P&G had build at their plant (their largest) out on the east side of town. Tim was responsible for the logistics of going from 20-some odd warehouses being used to process and ship P&G products to customers, to one great big honking warehouse, all the while not compromising delivery time or quality. As we walked around the building I kept asking all kinds of questions, and Tim kept giving what was essentially the same answer... in an organization as large and complex as what amounts to the world's largest warehouse, everyone needs to know what they are supposed to be doing, received adequate training so they feel somewhat competent, receive feedback so they can gauge their effectiveness, and as they get up and running be trusted to do what it is they are supposed to do.

I mean, one guy can't process tens of thousands of boxes of soap, or even micromanage others who are doing so. At some point, everyone has to pull their own weight, or the local supermarket or big box store isn't going to get their eight different kinds of Tide.

While we don't make and sell soap, the same could be said for the church. If the church - which I might reiterate is the folks who join together as a part of a mutual body geared to serve, spread the word about, and worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and is NOT the building or institution thereof - those who make it up need to know what to do (and what not to do - I've got an interesting story coming out of something I'm dealing with right now that I'm sure will prove interesting blog fodder at a later date), how to do it, and then be loosed to get'r done.

After years of mulling this over, thanks, in part, to the Bishop of the West Ohio Conference, I've a sense of what it is I think we're about (sometimes in practice, and sometimes in theory) and thus, should be doing, here at Shawnee. In turn, this clarifies for me where we should place our effort in order to help people grow more confident in executing this mission and ministry.

At the Shawnee United Methodist, I believe that our people, as disciples of Jesus, believe serving him entails becoming:

- Radically Hospitable to Others

- Passionate Worshipers of the Living God

- Engaged In Relationships That Intentionally Help Us Grow Spiritually Mature

- Involved in Risk-taking Service and Mission to Others

- Extravagantly Generous to one another, and others in need

We have a swim meet, but I will elaborate on this more tomorrow.