Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ten Things That Always Make My Day

10) Anytime my boys show up in my office at work, it's a good thing. Eli wants to crawl up in my lap. Max and Xavie want to tell me what happened at school that day. Toby smiles and gurgles. The wife is always happy to be out of the house and sometimes she even brings ice cream. A huge perk in this old job of mine.

9) This is the sixth year I've been in a Fantasy League Draft with my brother's bozo friends. I'm known as The Rev, and they like giving me crap about being so much older (at least a decade) than all of them. I enjoy them cause I can talk smack and just be one of the guys... which you can't do if you're a pastor. For example, when people cuss in your presence they look at you like you might break in two or shoot them down with thunderbolts. I went to Lima Senior and Miami University... do you think that's first cuss word I've ever heard? It's depressing really. That's why I enjoy Brother Esq and the rest of the punks in The Murmen Ultimatum. I'm just the fat, old guy they like to push around, and who pushes them back. They don't act like I'm made of glass. It's a nice release.

8) I like swim meets. I can't help it. I know they're six or seven hours (or two or three days) long and often unbearably hot (or cold and wet), but I like watching the kids swim. It's fun to watch both the really good ones cut through the water, and the newbies tadpole their way down the lane. The kids usually get into it, and us parents are allowed, even encouraged, to scream our heads off. There's a good chance I'll be taking on a larger role at the WOAL Championships (possibly as the new "voice" of the meet, following in the footsteps of Don Fischer) and I couldn't be more giddy. Two entire days in the hot sun watching hundreds and hundreds of swim heats in the heat, and I can't wait.

7) I enjoy going out to lunch with people. Whether its one of my regulars (Roger the Raxkiller or Eric the Buckeye) or the random person who wants to get together, it doesn't matter. There's nothing like getting out of the office and just spending a little time with someone over a meal. Today was a perfect example. Five other pastors and I sat together, brainstorming how all of us - black and white, suburban and urban, mainline/catholic/orthadox/independent, and the like - can begin working together in the community. The discussion, while not leading to any action yet, did yield, I thought, a lot of important information, particularly as it relates to the differences in the role of black pastors in the community and their congregation, as opposed to us white pastors. We'll be eating lunch again in a couple of weeks to try and take the discussion a step further, hopefully with more people.

Good things come out of eating lunch with others.

6) I like working with my staff. They are all fine people who are all good at their job. They work well together, and seem to respect each other and me as their leader. We have a good time, but get a lot of things done. Considering I've worked in some pretty tense situations in the past, I'm thankful for the environment we have created together at Shawnee.

5) There is nothing better than the look my kids get in their eyes when they are genuinely excited about something. We are heading to Indianapolis for a wedding this weekend, and the boys are practically giddy at the idea of staying in a hotel for a couple of days. Who knew a free continental breakfast and an indoor pool could ever end being such a big deal? You'd think we were going to Disneyworld or some beach resort, not the northwest suburbs of Indianapolis. Throw in a trip to the Children's Mueseum of Indy, and you have one big time adventure. I wish all of us were so easy to please.

4) The combination of a clear sky, little or no wind, temps in the low 70's, the open road, and a Kawasaki Voyager.

3) It is always a good day when someone calls, emails, or comes into the office for a discussion about a biblical or theological issue, or for prayer. Today I wrote an email for a former youth groupite who is now on a Family Ministry committee at a church in suburban Cinci to help outline my philosophy of youth ministry, and my reflection on her spiritual journey as a teen. Then, a member of the church came in with a question about the Reveleation of John and the Ark of the Covenant. Yesterday I prayed for a lady who is in the hospital, and also at the same time mourning the loss of her husband. I'd rather do stuff like that then tend to the budget any day of the week.

2) I dig it when my wife says I'm sexy after I mop the floor or watch the kids so she can get a few peaceful moments away from this circus. I know she's just playing me.... but I don't care.

1) Cool sheets, a soft pillow, and a comfortable bed.

And here are few more...

A newspaper and a cup of hot coffee first thing in the morning (especially if someone else brought in the paper)

opening mail or email

an evening with The Great One

time spent with any and all of our folks

visits with family

phone calls about the NBA from Brother Esq

phone calls and visits from friends

a big bowl of ice cream

a crisp clear day spent on snow skis

any day spent at a lakehouse

and an evening spent blogging

Have a nice weekend!

Friday, August 22, 2008

This Is My Wife's Job

Someone forwarded me this video, and it perfectly describes my wife's job as a web site designer. - Watch more free videos

Pray for her.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Well, the big news from Bucherland this week is that Max and Xavier went back to school today. We celebrated the end of summer yesterday by heading out to the Allen County Fair where the boys proceeded to ride rides, eat food not good for them, and ask to play every single game on the Midway. Neither boy was all that interested in the larger rides - although Max did ride the Gravitron - but they did the smaller ones over and over again.

We bought a "string" ($10 for all the rides you could ride Noon to 5pm) for Eli, but our independently-minded 3 year old hated having something on his arm, so he ripped off the string about ten minutes after we put it on him.... of course making it worthless. Thus he spent the rest of the day eating snow cones (with his daddy, who also loves snow cones).

In any event, even though I can't stand fairs (I worked part-time as a "Carney" selling corndogs the summer Aimee and I were married... let's just say I got a lifetime's fill of county fairs), it was a nice way to see the summer out, cushioning the blow of no more long days of playing in the sprinkler, Mr. John's woods, and riding their bikes on Sandy Lane.

2) Was up until 2am watching Olympic table tennis last night, which is really the lowest of lows. For those who don't know, the Official Father of this blog is a table tennis (I learned very early on to never call it "ping pong") fanatic. Every Christmas The Official Mother gives the Official Father a video copy of that year's Table Tennis World Championships. It's like 2,467 hours of nothing but table tennis, and the OF watches ever hour, sometimes repeatedly. We've just learned that for the remainder of December, and all of January, unless Ohio State is playing, that if we are at his house, we'll be forced to watch non-stop table tennis action. You can't imagine how painful it was to realize that, despite being exhausted in the wee hours of the morning, that I couldn't go to bed until I saw if it was either the Canadian or the Brazilian player that won the match, making it into the field of 64. That's when I knew these Olympics need to end, soon, so I can get my sanity back.

3) Just finished doing some worship planning for the coming fall, and as we look to our next series, "The Marks of Discipleship", I stumbled on a song that will compliment the theme scriptures for the five week series. Sara Groves isn't your typical contemporary Christian artist. While most Christian artists, it seems to me, are intent on writing the next great praise song, stating over and over how great the Lord is, Groves isn't afraid to look deep within, expressing her doubts, questions, hopes and dreams as it relates to faith. I've been impressed with the variety of musical styles she's been willing to embrace, and the depth of theological thought in her lyrics. "When The Saints" is a song she wrote after spending the better part of a year helping Katrina victims, and then getting involved in a ministry that attempts to free slaves of the sex trade in the nation of Rwanda. As we think about following Jesus, and what the effect of pursuing him should be on us, I could sum up message no better than the lyrics of that song. Here's a YouTube video that looks like a powerpoint presentation a church group (not ours) who went to Haiti put together for their congregation at home. I know not one person in the video itself, but I understand why they chose Sara's tune. Hope you enjoy it, but more importantly, I hope you feel the depth of her conviction as she sings a definition of what a "saint" is.

4) This weekend, Shawnee UMC lost it's oldest member. Dorothy Gaulker died at the Lima Convalescent Home early Monday morning. We just celebrated her 100th birthday not more than a couple of months ago. I can tell you that despite her declining health, the joy she conveyed on that special day as we sang some of her favorite songs and ate ice cream and cake, was identical to Xavier's - my six year old - joy on his birthday. I won't forget that smile when we sang "Happy Birthday" anytime soon.

Godspeed, Dorothy. May you rest in peace with your Savior in paradise.

5) If you get bored, and maybe want to rent a movie, I have an unusual suggestion. I can't remember if I actually posted some thoughts I had on the juxtaposition between Kevin Costner's character in "Swing Vote" and the title character in Frank Capra's "Mr Smith Goes To Washington", but on the recommendation of the New York time's film critic, I recently wrangled up a copy (via Free Movies on Demand) of "State of the Union" by Frank Capra. Given the political climate, and the full range of emotions I'm hearing as people reflect on this upcoming presidential election (everything from despair to the most optimistic hopefulness), Capra's movie (which I watched while taking a break from my Olympic obsession), now sixty years old, is an interesting look at how the political process wears on the democratic ideal (which was also his main theme in "Mr. Smith..."). Click here for A.O. Scott's three minute review of the movie, which features a couple of scenes that express ideas that are as pertinent now as they were when the movie was first made. A Capra classic featuring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and Angela Lansbury (who, unlike in "Murder She Wrote", didn't leave a trail of dead bodies in her wake).

6) I've been watching this version of the USA Olympic basketball team, and I'm wondering.... is the difference between this team's performance and the last three or four that were so awful, a matter of talent or attitude? I mean, I don't think this team is all that deeper than the one that lost in 2006 World Championship. In fact, three of the main players - Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, and Duane Wade - were were on the team that was humiliated by Greece in that tournament two years ago. But that 2006 team, and the others before it who got their clock cleaned, seemed more intent on marketing themselves as individuals than the 2008 team, which just seems to want to destroy everyone in their path. Kudos to Jerry Colangelo who did a great job of getting guys to play on the team, not intent to use the experience as a marketing tool to sell more of their shoes, but out of a sense of pride to represent their country, and to a lesser degree, the league they all play for... a league has been much maligned as being short on people that play fundamentally-sound ball. Gets me that much more excited for the upcoming NBA season.

7) Aimee and I have been married 18 years, as of yesterday. While we've had our ups and downs over the years (she reminded me that during dinner on our 15th anniversary, we did a year-by-year synopsis of our marriage, deciding that 8 of them had been pretty good and 7 not so much) we make a great team. I love her much more deeply than so many years ago when we exchanged vows, two kids having no idea what we were really getting ourselves into. After 18 years of moves, jobs, houses, kids, kids, kids, kids, good days and bad, she is truly my partner, lover, and friend. I am blessed indeed.

I love you, my love, very, very much.

8) Last night (while, once again, breaking from table tennis) I watched Charlie Rose do an interview with Rick Wagoner, CEO of General Motors. For those who didn't hear (or didn't care), GM's talks with a Chinese company to sell Hummer fell through, sending the stock into yet another tailspin. Click below to watch the interview:

Wagoner's professional obituary has been written so many times over the last eight years at GM that it's hard to imagine how in the world he's survived as CEO this long. If its worth anything though, he impressed me last night. When the hour was over I felt like GM had a fighting chance to remake itself and remain competitive throughout the world. In fact, I had no idea that the company was growing at such a rapid rate all over the world, suffering poor sales only in North America. Given that they aren't alone in misjudging how quickly oil prices have moved the preference of the American market, they seem no better or worse positioned to succeed than anyone else. Particularly if they get the albatross of retiree health care and pension off their backs (if only the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church would be so lucky) by 2010, they'll be in great shape to start winning back market share.

Of course all of that means nothing if the company doesn't have the cash to withstand this economy (which is what the sale of Hummer, and I imagine eventually Saab is all about). Good interview, though. Can't wait to see what Bob Lutz has to say tonight.

9) I was riding my motorcycle back from Fort Wayne Sunday (after doing some pre-marital counseling with a couple who I'll be marrying in Indy on Labor Day weekend) when I saw a body laying on the ground, underneath a T-Shirt on the side of US 33. As I headed west earlier in the day, I had seen a guy in a white t-shirt walking east and wondered, as I sped past the body alongside the road, if this might be that same guy.

Vaguely remembering another story about a priest and levite passing another man laying on the side of the road, I turned around to see if the guy was OK. Fortunately, he was.

He told me, if you can believe this, that he had left Fort Wayne that morning intent on walking to Columbus, Ohio. The only thing he carried with him was a (now empty) bottle of Gatorade. Also, to make the journey, his choice of foot ware was a pair of flip-flops. I offered him a ride to Van Wert (and, I was thinking, a shelter near that community), and he hopped on the back of my ride. Over the course of the next twenty miles, Aaron told me a somewhat convoluted tale involving getting tossed off a train, shot at on a bus, and all this being caused by a dead cell phone battery.

I just kept moving east.

When we reached Van Wert, he told me that if I could get him to WalMart, he could buy a quick charge for his phone which would, in turn solve all his problems and eliminate the need to walk to our state capital. When I dropped him off, I asked him if he needed any more help (thinking he was probably broke), but he flashed some green in his wallet at me, and told me I had already given him what he needed... which was evidently a ride to WalMart.

Why a WalMart in Fort Wayne wouldn't suffice, I have no idea.

I dropped him off. He thanked me profanely and profusely, and then told me he'd be praying for me. I told him I'd be praying for him too. So if you have the time, lift up a prayer for Aaron the Flip-Flop man. I've a sense he could use every prayer he can get.

10) Isaac Hayes, rest in peace.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Sunday, I thought, went pretty well. The service ran over (a common occurrence when we add an element like a video or drama), and the sermon was a bit too unwieldy (gotta love teens in the front row yawning as you are wrapping up), but overall I really meant what I said. Your life is interesting enough to people to be the entry point (eventually) to speak to issues of faith. I find fewer and fewer people showing up at church cause they made a commitment to Jesus at a crusade, camp meeting, or in their house either after hearing a televangelist speak or talking with someone who knocked on their door to talk about Jesus. The norm here is folks engaging friends or family in conversation, and that conversation leading ultimately to a faith-commitment. In a world where people feel increasingly uncertain about the safety of their neighbors, real, genuine concern and respect will take us far in conveying the message of the gospel. I said it, and believe it to be true.

2) I think that while "Mad Men" is getting a lot of love from TV critics starved in the summer, it moves pretty slow. It's shot beautifully. The set and costume work is impeccable. It must smell like a big ashtray, the cigarette smoke think in an attempt to help us get a good glimpse into another era that we may, or may not, have lived. But it still moves pretty slow. Previews of future look promising, so I'll stick with it as the only show on TV I'm currently following... but if it doesn't start picking up soon, it's off to pre-season football on Sunday nights.

3) If you didn't read the comments section of the last post, you need to do so. Friends of the "Office", Aaron and The Thief through in couple of other good chucklers. Here a few more things you never want to hear as a pastor:

- Mrs. Peabody, next time you read this scripture at worship, the word is "phylacteries", not "prophylactics"

(that one actually happened to me once... you try preaching a sermon after hearing an older lady mistakenly read the word "prophylactics" in a packed sanctuary on Sunday morning).

- "Weren't you going to collect an offering today?"

- "Well, the reason you don't understand that scripture is because you don't know anything about aliens or UFO's."

- "There's a process server out here looking for the music director."

- "I find the defendant, guilty on all charges."

Let me know if you come up with any others.

4) I think that by week 8 Brett Farve will wish he had stayed retired and taken Green Bay's 25 million dollar bribe to stay on the sidelines. That last playoff game he played last year he looked like he was totally out of gas. What shape will he be in after a season of not only playing in New York (and it's fishbowl) but also learning a new offense? It's too bad it had to go this way.

By the way, I promise that when I retire, that I'll stay retired. I know you were worried. Don't worry that pretty little head of yours. When I'm done, I'll be done.

5) Speaking of football, I haven't made it public news via the blog or any medium (hence Brother Esq being surprised when he heard) but I will be in L.A. for the OSU/USC game in September. Eric the Buckeye made the invite, and since I've only seen the Bucks on the road at Indiana University (which was so poorly attended it might as well have been another home game.... except they wouldn't have ran out of food at the Shoe in the 2nd quarter) and Purdue (Michael Jenkins' big catch that propelled them as a team of destiny in a National Championship year), I thought I'd save my funeral and wedding money and give 'er a whirl. I'm sure I'll break out the occasional "Didn't OJ go to school here?", "Yes, Pete Carroll has done a good job. He'll make a NFL team very happy next year."and maybe even a "Kick their Booty!". I'm looking forward to it very much, and feel very blessed to get to go.

6) Stayed up late watching hours of badminton. This is why my wife hates to watch the Olympics with me. When we lived in Toledo during the Winter Olympics back in '98, all I watched was curling. Hours and hours of curling. My wife, who lives for girly sports like gymnastics and figure skating was incensed. She just couldn't grasp the subtle fine points of one of the world's finest sports. When to brush the ice and not brush the ice. How hard to throw the stone. Where to aim it. There's a lot of strategy to it, and since we were watching the Canadian Broadcasting Corp's coverage (which shows the sports, as opposed to all the commercials and athlete profiles on NBC), they explained them to us.

In detail. Suffice to say that if I lived in a town with an ice rink, I think my chances of one day competing in the Winter Olympics would be significantly higher.

Anyhow, the badminton was great! I'm hooked. However, I'll have to buy a set so that, among other things, Xavier will no longer be distressed that they hit a "birdie". Ah, my soft-hearted child.

7) Have you got the itch to go see the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010? I do. Stay tuned.

8) Wednesday, I'm leading "Ride and Dine" for our Holy Rollers biker group. I do this once a year, and if you show up it is truly the only time where we could legitimately get lost. I mean, very lost. You don't want to miss that kind of adventure. We may end up somewhere where can get something to eat, too. Come on out for an adventurous ride.

9) I read the article on Rick Warren in this month's issue of Time Magazine. It was good, but it left me scratching my head. Fact is that a lot of churches and Christian organizations were trying to achieve the PEACE (which stands for promote reconciliation; equip servant leaders; assist the poor; care for the sick; educate the next generation ) initiative Warren has set forth, and have been trying to do so for a good many years. They just never got an article written about them.

Of course none of them ever sold millions of books or hob nobbed with heads of state. Do that and saving the world becomes news.

But considering that Warren got religion on social justice ministry pretty recently (2003, according to article) - as did virtually all these evangelicals who are now stumping for one cause in Africa or another - I think the broader story, which Time missed, was how quickly the Christian landscape has been changing over the last decade. I mean, this was the magazine who has recently as 2001 wondered aloud if T.D. Jakes was the next Billy Graham. Bishop T.D Jakes - a man who preaches that God wants his people to be rich, and proves it by jetting around in a private Gulfstream jet. Now America's latest "Bill Graham" gives away all his book royalties and is trying to turn Rwanda into a "purpose-driven nation".

Ah, the difference a decade makes.

The cynical part of me says that the real reason for the progressive shift among the Rick Warrens and Bill Hybles is that as their congregations aged, they realized that in order to keep attracting young people they had to modify their theology and practice. The huge mega-churches that grew up during the me-centric eighties is finding itself having to re-create itself in the 21st century, and part of the re-creation involves acknowledging the role globalization is playing not just in economics, but on our perspective. Hence the intensely personal theology which contributed to the "church-goer-as-consumer" approach to building churches on the backs of entertaining worship and providing all kinds of goods and services to various niche demographics, is now being forced to ask the question, "Should we have used "the mall" as a metaphor for the ideal church in the first place?" in a world where consumerism is being identified as an ill.

I watched the genesis of this as I kept going back to Willow Creek for various conferences and worship services. In the nineties, for example, nobody who was overweight or looked strange was allowed on the stage during worship (something church leaders would openly boast in their "how to do it like us" conferences). All the singers, musicians, and the like were perfectly dressed, blow dried, smiley and happy.... just like the band on the Lido Deck of the Love Boat. The church boasted every kind of ministry its constituency could want (mostly self-help stuff) and a huge food court, the crown jewel of which was a full-functioning Starbucks.

15 years later all of this changed. The band members dressed like, well, serious rock musicians... which is to say that they had just rolled out of bed. The smiley happy worship leaders were replaced by a grungy looking worship leader who looked serious... as if the worship service in the morning was the most important thing happening in the world that day. Ads to get people involved in one cause or another were posted all over the joint. The Starbucks in the lobby was replaced by "Mr. B's Coffee", which served all fair-trade, shade-grown, organic coffee. As Whole Foods and Wild Oats grew in popularity in West Barrington, Willow began to drink the koolaid... or rather, the organic, grown-on-a-farm-using-unionized-labor kiwi java cooler.

And the same, I'm told, is true of Saddleback, which was at one time the place to see and be seen in Orange County, California... which ain't exactly Compton or the LBC. Slowly the church has transitioned from the "God has a purpose for you" place, to the "God wants to save the world from poverty, war, and disease" place. Was it theological, or a functioning of marketing as my generation rejected the Boomer ethos of self?

Who knows. Ah well... I suppose it shouldn't matter. Whether it was a real spiritual epiphany or church leaders positioning themselves differently to reach the desired 18-35 market. As long as the cause of justice is served. Let's just never forget that justice isn't always fashionable, for I fear in the world of "what's now", this too shall pass.

10) Finally, I just signed up for this season's version of Fantasy League Football. I've been playing in the same league with my brother's friends now for six or seven years. My team name? "Farve From Over". Needless to say, I will most likely be trounced for the sixth or seventh year in a row. As the oldest member of the league (by a good decade or more), I get constantly abused by a league who posts things like "The Rev just tried to pick up Kenny Anderson" and "Rev, can I borrow your leather helmet from high school?"

As always, though, I will soldier on, because, although old, I am Farve From Over!

I'm like fine wine... I just get better with age.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ten Things You Never Want To Hear Said As A Pastor

1) "Oh I wouldn't call that sermon boring..... long-winded and pompous, maybe, but never boring."

2) "We, as the Finance Committee, can sum up our long-term strategy for financial planning in one sentence: "Put it all on 'red'".

3) "This part of the service is sponsored by the Ohio Lottery, who ask you to take a chance on education."

4) Um, this is the fire department. We need to talk to you about your youth group's bonfire tonight...."

5) "Yeah I'm a long-time member. When did you become senior pastor?"

6) "This part of the service is sponsored by Butterworth and Son Attorneys At-Law, specialist in divorce, foreclosure, bankruptcy, and personal injury. If you've ever suffered a neck or back injury during an exceptionally long sermon, we want to hear from you."

7) "I really like the new waterfall in the sanctuary."

8) "No. No. No. Not our pants! I said we were going to remove all our PLANTS outside the main entrance."

9) "Please accept this gift of a one-way ticket to Dust Falls, New Mexico, as our congregation's way of showing how much we appreciate your leadership."

10) "What's that smell coming out of the nursery?"