Sunday, December 30, 2007

This just in, I know the Bible...

My friend Jim posted this quiz on his blog - I thought I'd see how I'd do. Pretty well, actually, though (a) some of the questions were softballs, and (b) there were some questions that were asked kinda poorly.

You know the Bible 100%!

Wow! You are awesome! You are a true Biblical scholar, not just a hearer but a personal reader! The books, the characters, the events, the verses - you know it all! You are fantastic!

Ultimate Bible Quiz
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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

(Secular) Christmas Morning

Well, today is Christmas Day. It's a good day with family and, after the last few weeks of hectic religious activity now behind me, it was nice to actually relax. In reality, I'd love it if Baptists typically would have a liturgy of communion on Christmas Day - but it's not in-grained into people to do that. So, I threw the liturgy (sans communion which makes no sense, but even I know when it's a good idea not to cause people's heads to explode - I'll do that next year) on Christmas Even and let Christmas Day just be a "secular" Christmas - meaning, other than typical prayers we just enjoyed the American Rituals we call Christmas, but actually aren't.

I'm not sure how I feel about that - but I'm also pretty dang sure I needed a sabbath so I'm not losing any sleep over it either. Oh well, I'm also a liturgically minded pastor called to a Baptist Church where liturgy and frequent Communion is what "Catholics do, " I don't expect to make sense.

Anyway, this year was the year of the video game in our little secular ritual. The wii really is a remarkable console in that so many of the games are just no fun without another person playing along. It's the best feature of the system, and well-done. Once I get a chance to play a bit more, I'll have to do a full review, but I have to say that Super Mario Galaxy just plain rocks, and Star Wars Lego: Complete Saga is insanely fun (couldn't get my son to play with me however, he was too busy enjoying his pokemon figures, and then he spent a couple of hours playing legos - my daughter then build a lego house out of the same set - I love how my kids actually have an imagination). At this point, I've not even Played Twilight Princess yet, it's a bit more "mature" than the other games we got - and with so many people aroun dwho wants to play a single-player game when you can play a multiplayer version of ping-pong?

While the Wii kept us busy, I have to say that best gift given to our family was a calendar created by my mother-in-law. She took a bunch of photos that were appropriate for each month, and mounted them in a calendar with a gift-card in each month for a place our family likes to eat. The thought that went into it had to be nuts, and the time even more so. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones with not much "flash," but a ton of creativity and love.

Anyway, my secular Christmas ritual is over - not that I ever laid it aside, but it's time for me and mines to realign our focus on the awesomeness of the Incarnation - which is what this season celebrates.

So, thanks fore the gifts folks, I hope the bring our family together some more so we can build up the trust to give of ourselves away in Christ.

Merry Christmas.

BTW: I'm not using "secular" in the bogey-man sense, I'm just pointing out that the rituals we do on Christmas morning have no Christian depth to them at

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The wii has landed...

Well, it was purchased back in August and sat in it's box until the week of Thanksgiving when my awesome wife let me take it out and get it set up while I was on vacation. We've been playing around with it here and there when the kids went to bed - but now it's all out in the open.

A man in Central who is getting married next month is part of a local fire department - every year he dresses as Santa and goes around delivering presents to kids - and this year he wanted us to be on the list. We wondered what present we wanted to be opened a bit early and thought, "Why not the wii? It'll save us the trouble of making sure it gets opened first on Christmas morning." So we gave this guy our empty wii box, set up the wii on the TV, and hung out with the TV "closed" this evening - until "Santa" came (neither of my kids "believe" in Santa, my daughter asked me point-blank about the whole Santa thing when she was in kindergarten and my son knows we're the one's who get presents - but it's fun). When the fire truck rolled up - the household went awesomely nuts. Watch the video to see how much.

One a side note, my daughter then made sure we read a book called The Quiltmaker for bedtime - it's abotu giving rather than receiving, and was a great way to say, "Yes, this is fun - but our lives have to be different, we need to bless others." Anyway, enjoy the madness:



Thursday, December 20, 2007

How Out of Touch is My National Denomination?

OK, I really want to be part of the Body of Christ - I really do. It's bad enough that I don't get why Baptists think things like "soul liberty" are good ideas, but when I get an e-mail from the head of our denomination that says the following I just want to bang my head on the desk and weep:
Forget about fancy electronics that only M.I.T. graduates can operate. Don’t worry about batteries failing at crucial moments. Stop lugging book-sized planners.

Instead, carry the pocket-sized, lightweight 2008 American Baptist Churches USA planning calendar. It’s been tailored so that key Christian holidays, U.S. holidays and American Baptist-designated Sundays are listed. All you need to make it work is a pen or pencil.
Look, I understand that ABC-USA has a clergy population that is getting grayer and grayer and so you're trying to market to your base - but as a person who grew up around "fancy electronics" I read that quote above and was actually embarrassed to be associated with these people. I understand the prejudice of youth, but to me anyone who thinks a PDA or smart phone is too complex for anyone but a graduate of MIT shouldn't be allowed to send e-mail to people. Sorry, but that's kinda where I am. Also, what moron doesn't keep their phone charged? Sorry, but - what??

I know it's the geek in me that's so put-off by this - but I gotta tell you that folks who are my age (and younger), who are already tired of people complaining that they can't understand why we use technology so much, are basically told by e-mails like the one I got, "Hey, we're so hopefully out of date that there's no real reason to hang out with us - why not look elsewhere?"

I e-mailed a friend in my region and he summed it up beautifully:
The year is now 1929! We're in the depth of depression following the market crash!
Sigh.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Why, yes, I'll blog about this song..

OK, this is just dang funny:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ABCNJ Annual Session Baptism Video

On September 30, 2007 the churches of ABCNJ gathered for their Annual Session in Ocean City, NJ. The conclusion to the event was a procession to the beach, followed by a baptism. Here's the video!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Holiday Concert

You know, I really don't care that public schools call it "Winter Break" and the December concert a "Holiday Concert." I really don't. In fact I'm rather pleased that my kids have come home from school with a vague awareness of who Antiochus IV is because they've gone over the story of Hanukkah in school (though I kinda choke when I get told that Hanakkah isn't a religious holiday - as it's about the rededication of the Temple). It's important to understand that there are multiple holidays being celebrated at this time of year - even though the focus of our faith is preparing for the celebration of the Incarnation.

The content of the "Holiday Concert," however, left me a bit freaked out. Most of the songs were typical, "Awww aren't they cute" fare. It ranged from the slightly odd (like a hip-hopized version of "Frosty The Snow Man") to the slightly disturbing ("Hey kids, Santa's going to kidnap you and take you to a awesome dance wtith all the Reindeer"). One song, however, actually left me thinking, "This may actually be doing long-term psychological harm to these kids." What's worse is that the parents loved it. What was this offending song? "Shop 'Til You Drop."

If there ever was a hymn to consumerism, this song was it. I sat there, with my jaw dropped, as one first grade class proudly shouted lines like:

"I was born to shop, shop, shop."
"I'll max out all my credit cards."
"Deck that halls with all my money."

And what did the parents do? Did they cringe as their kids boldly declared that their highest calling in life was to consume, consume, consume? Nope - they cheered. I mean, cheered. Their kids were reciting the creed correctly (and with gusto), and it made them cheer. In fact, it was the topic of conversation as we waited for school to be dismissed.

Sigh. The world ends with applause.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Adams vs. Jefferson

One of the things I like to do when I travel down to Williamsburg on vacation is browse the book store. Given the fact that I (a) love books and (b) adore examining history - going to the book store in the Williamsburg Visitor center is like my version of some sort of mystical ecstasy experienced at the end of a pilgrimage. On a hot summer day, there's nothing better than spending hours surrounded by books all about one of your favorite subjects (especially when you've been told that you can spend money to take some of those books home with you).

On my last day at Williamsburg this past summer I came across the book shown on the left. Adams vs. Jefferson. It was on the clearance table for some paltry sum so I grabbed it - figuring I wouldn't be out anything if the book wasn't that good, that that the topic interested me. I brought it home and there it sat as I read all the other books I had purchased at the Williamsburg book store (oh how I love the book store). I kept putting it off, as I had other reading to do - but when my vacation came up last week I decided to put down my theological reading and dive into Adams vs. Jefferson instead. I just needed a break - and I'm sooooo glad took that breather from theological reading - this is a phenomenal book! Let me sum up some thoughts on Adams vs. Jefferson.
  • I've always felt weighed down by being forced into a position of prominence (a pastor) that I don't really feel equipped for. What's more - the consistent whispers that I'm somehow power-hungry or autocratic suck the joy out of even the few things I do feel I can actually do in this position that I don't really want to be in (it's a calling). Guess what? I'm not alone! Each of the first three presidents of the USA really hated being the president - the served because they felt compelled to, and didn't really enjoy it at all as their political opponents worked to make life miserable for them. I've always said that treating the Church like a political battleground was a really bad idea - now I have even more reason to say that.
  • The one person who really coveted in power in the early days of the Federal Republic was narrowly kept out of power (no thanks to George Washington, who never really saw this guy very clearly). Even with what I already knew about him Adams vs. Jefferson made me very glad that the election of 1800 pretty much ended Alexander Hamilton's political career. It would have been ironic if the Federal Republic would have slipped into Empire by the hands of the man who penned it's Constitution.
  • We are spoiled. We are so used to the idea that power changes hands between various players without bloodshed that we just don't get how insane the very idea is. Back in 1800, with an electoral tie and the thread of secession looming over the infant nation - there wasn't a war. One party left power, and another party came into power, and the electorate (even though the system was set up to keep the electorate away from selecting the president) felt that they were the one's who made a decision. Jefferson posited that the election of 1800 was the fulfillment of the American Revolution (a point which made Adams bristle) - I think he may be correct. It was something that hadn't be done before - and it worked. Amazing.
  • 200 years and politicians are still using the same arguments against their opponents. Folks were telling people to hide their Bibles if Jefferson was elected President!
  • I find it ironic that the fears of both the original political parties (Federalist and Republican) have come to pass. The Federalist would be appalled that we had become so "democratic" that "what people wanted" would take over the country (as opposed to "what people need"). The Republicans would be appalled that the country was in the grip of powerful (and rich) interests which could ignore the people entirely. So we have a supposedly "open" system where everyone feels like they have a the ability to have a say and get what they want ("If I really wanted to I could get involved any time...") yet is, in reality controlled by corporate interests. How sad. I guess it comes from being spoiled - we stopped being surprised by the fact that we don't implode every time the government changes that we're no longer surprised when it doesn't change.
Anyway, do yourself a treat and read this book - you won't be able to put it down. You can click on the link to Amazon and I'll get a percentage of the funds - but I'm not sure I'll ever see them because how they have the gall to ask me for some seriously sensitive information to prove who I am it beyond me (I am in amazon associates, essentially, for the privilege of displaying cover-images with no hassle).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Model Adult

Over the course of the few years I've been a pastor one particularly persistent rumor has constantly dogged me. It's summed up like this, "Pastor Wes doesn't like 'old people.'" Now, in the six years I've been pastoring that's been said to me exactly once (once) - but it flutters on the wind to my ears every so often by voices unknown and I would like to point something out just to cleanse my own soul. My model for adult-hood is, in fact, one of the oldest people I have ever met - my paternal grandfather, affectionately, "Pop Pop."

Pop Pop remains to be the most remarkable person I've ever met. Poor, yet generous. Formerly uneducated, but always learning. A lover of home, but enjoying adventure. Mature, but boisterous. Pop Pop touched so many people with his life that the Church his funeral was held at was standing room only. His children, neighbors of several generations, friends, extended family, neighborhood kids, and grand-children, and even great grand-children all flocked to the Church to grieve his passing. It's simultaneously one of the most wonderful and awful days of my life. Awful because I said good-bye, wonderful because even in death Pop Pop was teaching me how to live. That's what great people do.

Here's some of the things Pop Pop modeled for me, and which I continue to emulate:
  • A sense of wonder: Even though he wasn't formerly educated, and even though he had come of age during the great depression (an experience which has left many to cave in one themselves) - Pop Pop never lost as sense of awe at what was going on around him. He could fix a car with his hands tied behind his back, go fishing at the drop of a hat, and analyze a baseball game like he was a professional, and beamed with joy at all the cool things he lived to see - the Internet, commercial air travel, space flight, digital cameras, special effects. I remember stopping by once for a visit while he was reading his weekly Time Magazine. He looked up and hooted, "Oh wow, the world is about to change!" He had been reading an article on the soon-to-be-realized potential of cold fusion (oops). He never lost that joy of discovery, or sharing in another's discoveries.
  • Voracious Reading: When most of my peers got to college, they were swamped by the reading that was suddenly required of them. Not me, and Pop Pop is largely to thank for that. He read novels constantly, sometimes two or three at once. It was a love passed on to my father (and which my mother shared), and when I and my sisters came of age we essentially had our own book-club. By the time I graduated High School I might not have read many of the text-books (who writes those things? I mean, really...) but I'd read Clancy, Stephen King, and other popular authors over and over an over again. The family used to thrill at finding a new author no one had read yet (though I could never get him to read Star Wars novels...oh well). Because of my family's voracious appetite for reading, which started with Pop Pop, college was pretty much a piece of cake. I still have to have two or three books going at the same time - and, like Pop Pop, I hope that remains until the day that I die.
  • Grew Old with Ghusto: Pop Pop was one of the most mature people I've ever met. It's a distinction he continued to grown into even as an "adult" (my father once pointed out that his family had, growing up tended to ignore problems hoping they'd go away - that wasn't the man I knew later). His children had grown up (and moved around the corner - I grew up with an extended family), he physically had gotten a bit slower, and he eventually lost his wife to Alzheimer's - but he never succumbed to the temptation to say, "I'm old now and all the good stuff is behind me." Pop Pop in his 70's resided his own house. In his 80's went skiing and started competing in the senior olympics. In his 90's he actually hung some cabinets in his kitchen by himself (and got a couple of stitches to prove it). When I was a senior in College he took me out to play tennis, and kicked my butt all over the court. You haven't learned humility until you've been aced by an 89 year old man. I think I won one game in two sets, and I was lucky to have won that! Yet, he wasn't a boyish adventurer, life had left him with wounds and I was privileged to be one of the people trusted with some of his grief. The year my grandmother (Mi Mi) died I was with Pop Pop on New Years, he said to me, "This has been an awful year, between all the things going on in the world and what's been going on with our family - I hope the next year is better." That moment has stuck in my head - he shared his grief, and kept hope. He even began to take pilgrimages to places in his last years so he could say good-bye. Pop Pop knew how to grieve, because he knew that was his way forward.
  • Love those you touch: Pop Pop was not perfect, there were people he did not like, and never did fully get rid of some old prejudices (which Mi Mi sometimes castigated him for) - but if you came into his presence, hospitality was the rule of the day. The fact that so many came to say good-bye on the day of his funeral was evidence that Pop Pop was not simply a person you said nice things about in a eulogy - he was those things. Growing up, my sisters and I were privileged to have the "coolest grandfather ever" (he had an electric bicycle pump he had put together himself) - and the amount of time we all spend ransacking his house, jumping his fence, and climbing the Red Maple on his front lawn we some of the best memories of an entire generation of kid who grew up in that neighborhood. He was always the adult, but we knew without a doubt that he was for us. It's something I try to model in my own life, but not with as much success.
  • A love of teaching: Pop Pop was a born teacher. He could explain concepts to me that I only later found out were dead-on correct (he loved physics), and he spent hours teaching me how to pitch on his front lawn (and probably a couple hundred dollars in lost baseballs). The thing was, when Pop Pop taught something - it stuck. I spend hours in his basement, as Pop Pop tinkered away in his workshop on some project for the house. I learned what all the tools did and how to use them (I've never been any good with them, but I know what they're supposed to do). When I asked if we could make an airplane out of the scaps of wood in his basement he not only worked me through it, but also explained how it was that an airplane propeller worked. Pop Pop's ability to teach, and make it so interesting that I bothered persevering with things I didn't readily get, is one of the key reasons I teach today. I grew up with a master.
I could say more, but you get the picture. An "old person" is the best reference I have for being a true adult. He is someone I respect deeply and love dearly. He died six years ago, if I'm correct he'd been 98 right now - and if cancer hadn't taken him when it did he'd probably still be bowling, reading Time Magazine, and reading about the workings of the Internet (he never had a computer, but could explain the Internet, weird). He'd also have 4 or 5 books lined up for reading, take naps in his hammock during the summer, and his bicycle pump would still be open for business for an entire new generation of kids he not only didn't resent - but dearly loved.

It's not old people I have trouble with, it's people of all ages who have decided that they have gone so far and will go no further. I have difficulty with people who have given up on wonder, the joy of discovery, and who have decided that their every desire should be catered to. Bitter people who have traded life for drudgery, and hope for despair. Those are the people I have difficulty with - and they come in all ages and colors and backgrounds.

I'm not taking that route, because it leads to being dead even before we die. No thanks, I'll run with Pop Pop - because I think he understood how to live, and never gave up the hope that he could. Though Pop Pop was no theologian, I think his life was one of a positive prophet - it's too bad that people listen to those prophets even less than the ones who yell and scream a lot, the world would be a better place if we would.

I thank God for Pop Pop, one of the oldest people I've ever met.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Are you kidding me?

I was reading this article on news.com about how the RIAA and the MPAA are lobbying the entire presidential field to declare that they support those organizations' view on copyright. Here's the quote which led me to this post,
"While national security and health care have dominated this season's campaign dialog, a key issue for the 2008 presidential candidates includes their commitment to recognizing the critical importance of intellectual property rights," wrote MPAA chief Dan Glickman.
Are you kidding me? These two draconian organizations that have demanded DRM to lock down digital downloads and treating the very people who purchase their products as criminals, and who sue pre-pubescent girls into the stone-age is saying their concerns are as important as health care? What moron came up with this campaign?

Here's another quote which leaves me scratching my head,
RIAA chief Mitch Bainwol put it this way: "When Americans vote, they are making decisions about the values important to them. And one of those values must be a commitment to creativity. For some, that commitment will be a function of the economic significance of intellectual property. For others, that commitment will be about the power of the ideas our content spreads throughout the world. But the commitment to intellectual property rights, whatever the motivation, is what we must look for."
Ummm, isn't this from the organization whose member companies are starting to have their artists tell them, "We don't need you anymore?" Anyone else think these folks are desperate. In an age where the Hollywood writers are on strike and no one seems to much care because of all the creative stuff on youtube, the very idea that they'd try to have voters bend over and take it for these dinosaurs is insane. What are they thinking?

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An anual event...

I've already started hearing the (now annual) calls to boycott stores that "dare" to say, "Happy holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" during the shopping rush which has swallowed Advent whole. In response, I think I'll have to make this an annual post. Folks here it is, once again (rendering errors and all) the longest video I've ever made, "Rediscovering Advent."



Monday, November 19, 2007

Wii, first reactions...

I will not post on ministry while on vacation, I will not post on ministry while on vacation....

Back in August I finally located a Wii at a local Target and purchased one. I'd been keeping my eyes open since the spring, knowing that there was a shortage of units and that this was going to be our big family present this Christmas, so when I found one I got on the phone with my wife right away.

For the last several months the Wii's been sitting in our basement as my wife and I gradually completed the package of controllers, games, and a charging station. It's not seen the light of day, and that's where it was going to stay until Christmas Eve (we were going to set it up on Christmas Eve and unveil it to the kids Christmas morning). What I have found, however, is that I have a cool wife.

I'm on vacation this week but, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we really don't have the funds to do any "big splash" activities that wouldn't be on the calendar this week anyway. So my wife thought it would be a nice treat for me to unpack the Wii and get it set up. How awesome is that?

So last night I unpacked the tiny system and got it set up and ready to play. My wife and I must have been on the thing for an hour and a half checking out the channels, creating our mii's, and generally playing around. Then we popped in Wii Sports and had a blast. Here's some thoughts:
  • Whoever thought of bundling Wii Sports with the Wii is an absolute genius.
  • I'm as frustrated with Wii bowling as I am with real bowling.
  • Hitting home runs is freaking awesome.
  • Playing Tennis with someone else will have you laughing so hard your stomach will hurt.
  • The interface of the system is very well thought out (but the photo's channel is a big oddly designed).
  • Always use the strap on the wiimote.
  • My arms hurt!
It's been out for a year, and it's really only now that 3rd-party developers are getting the hang of not using the motion sensing simply as a poorly thought-out gimmick - but man oh man this was a system designed to be played with other people. Tons of fun!

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Emotional Status..

Dejected.
Tired.
Disappointed.
Feelings of inadequacy.
Wondering why on earth God won't let me do something else.

I'm on vacation for a week - couldn't be better timed.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

If you're reading this, you must be rather smart...

I have no idea what this means - but it's dang cool nonetheless.


cash advance

Cash Advance Loans


Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Not-Competitive Enough?

Well, I thought that this blog entry was worth some discussion. The fact that is a blog entry based off an article makes it doubly blog-ish.

Here's the thing, I think asking the question, "Are pastors competitive enough?" Springs from a bad well. Especially given the nature of competition in the corporate workplace where people will strive to protect their little fiefdoms in order to retain the potential for advancement. This type of competition is seen among pastors all over the place, and it's rather sick. We compare worship attendance, budgets, sermon series, what programs we run, and what books we read in order to see where we rate with the pastor down the street, around the corner and in the next down. Pastor gatherings become times to create the pecking-order of dominance of discussion leader, innovative thinker, gentle shepherd, and burn-out struggler. It's sick, but it's hard not to do this. We are, after all, products of our culture - and this culture is designed to foster competition in an effort to bring "progress" (whatever that is). Andy Rowell attempts to redeem the competitive struggle that most pastors find themselves in by saying,
I would encourage pastors to be aware of their competitive bent. If we have a drive to see our congregation "win," that is an appropriate desire. But we should make sure we define what it means to "win" appropriately. We want the church to produce better and more disciples of Christ who live sacrificially. Winning isn’t about the ABC's (Attendance, Buildings and Cash).
I'm not sure, however, that this is enough of a corrective. If the impulse of competition fostered by this culture is a "sick well" (which I believe it is), then we are probably better off dropping the language of "winning" altogether. After all, when we "win" we are celebrating ourselves - I'm not sure this is compatible with the call to be "crucified with Christ."

I'm also not sure about Andy's belief that the corporate world, or people with business saavy, can teach Churches how to make decisions faster. Sure, start ups turn on a dime because they have to do so - but "mature" companies are slow moving and plodding as they look at the bottom line (Microsoft anyone?). Companies like Apple, which re-learned how to make near-instant pivots, are a rare breed. What's more, if we try to take our cue from the business world in helping congregations "wake up," then we're bring that competitive spirit as well - a spirit which says, "If I am going to win, you are going to lose." Haven't we seen enough of that in our churches already? Cripes, this type of competition is so prevalent already that many pastors can't so much as breath about faithfulness, deep-discipleship, or a re-evaluation of the community without having the competitive system move to destroy the threat.

Here's the question I'd like to posit instead, "Are pastors submitted to Christ enough to be a truly prophetic voice in the Church?" See the switch? In the self-promoting world of corporate competition, the idea of submission is anathema - the Church needs to allow that discipline back into the mix!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Interesting Answers

The other day I asked a question on my Facebook, "Which Christian (or other religious) tradition are you part of?" It was a follow-up question to, "What Church are you a member of?" The answers I got were kind of surprising. In retrospect I guess they shouldn't have been, given the Christian circles I run in, but they were really fascinating.

Notice that the question asks, "What Christian tradition....?" The word was chosen carefully, as the different threads of the Christian Tradition guide our actions, language, and beliefs as we try to live out the Gospel in this world. Out of 16 actual responses (one person hit "submit" twice), 7 people essentially said, "I'm not part of any tradition..." and then had various reasons after that.

What's interesting in just about all those responses is that people read "tradition," and then mentally translated it as "denomination." That is, however, specifically what I didn't ask. "Tradition" is the living-breathing story of the "Great Cloud of Witnesses" as we are guided and led by the Holy Spirit to Incarnate the presence of Christ in this world (actually, that language shows what Tradition I lean towards). A "demonination" is often (not always) nothing more than a self-serving bureaucracy. While the Christian Tradition inevitably is expressed through institutions (and that's not a bad thing) - what alarms me is how Protestant Christians (and if you look at the answers, it's always the Protestants) have equated that the living Christian story (Tradition) with denominations and said, "They don't matter."

In so doing, we unknowingly become part of a tradition known as "independent churches." Without an awareness of the fact that we are part of this particular tradition, we become defenseless against the short-comings of the tradition we are part of. What's worse, we lose the ability to learn from the Christians of the past. Devotional practices, the dogma of the creeds, and their reflections on the nature of the Church all get cut off from us as we drift in ecclesiastical independence - the "great cloud of witnesses" literally evaporates. Oops.

Dogma didn't drop out of the sky. Our worship practices didn't drop out of the sky. Heck, the Bible didn't drop out of the sky. These come to us through the great Tradition and are filtered to us through the smaller threads (the tradition) we are part of and swim in. We need to re-capture that understanding - so that we can re-engage the great cloud of our brothers and sisters who worship with us around the throne of grace. If we have no tradition, then we have no past - and without a past, we have no future.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Designed in Mission Interview - 10/27/07: Part 6

Here's the sixth, and final, segment of the 10/27/07 Designed in Mission session.

Designed in Mission Interview - 10/27/07: Part 5

Here's the fifth segment of interview from the October 27th session of Designed in Mission.



Translating "Church Speak"

For no reason in particular, I was pondering the way people in churches try to avoid actually saying what they are feeling and thinking and decided to come up with a starter reference for some commong "Church Speak" phrases.

"Church Speak" is a particular dialect of Christian-ese, which in itself is a dialect of English. I'm using an East-coast varient of this language - if you are from another region feel free to come up with alternative statements.

"I don't think that honors God."
  • Translation, "I don't personally like what you're doing but I don't have a good reason for my dislike so I'll invoke the name of God in order to distract you from figuring out I have no actually point to make other than I have a different taste than you."
"I'm just not being fed."
  • Translation, "There are some issues I'm having with a person or persons at the Church that I'm not comfortable dealing with. As I know that running away from problems is wrong, I need to make my running look like spiritual hunger."
"I just don't feel you're Bible-based enough for me."
  • Translation, "Your interpretation of the Bible isn't the one I'm used to so I'll claim the high ground to ease my discomfort."
"I just don't feel called to do that."
  • Translation, "Just leave me be! I'm happy sitting in the pew and being a 'worker bee' when something not too intrusive comes up - but you're stepping over the line!"
"I want to bring up something to pray about, but don't tell anyone I brought it up."
  • Translation 1, "I've got an issue in my life that I'm kind of embarrassed about because it violates the mask of 'ok-ism' in the Church. I trust you so pray for me."
  • Translation 2, "Did you hear about so-and-so? I know gossip is wrong so I'll say we're just praying for them."
"We're not following the by-laws"
  • Translation, "Other than the fact that I can use them to beat you over the head, I don't care about the by-laws either - but I can take the high ground and make you look bad, so I can."
Well, that's my starter-guide. Feel free to add some more or come up with alternative translations!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Designed in Mission Interview - 10/27/07: Part 4

Part four of the interview segment from Designed in Mission 10/27. I'm still messing with sound issues (our sound system has a nasty hiss), but at least I've figured out how to get it to letterbox!


Designed in Mission Interview - 10/27/07: Part 3

Here is the third portion of the 10/27 Designed in Mission interview segment. Just to let everyone know, the videos are also being posted on CrossPointings.org, so once they roll off the blog it might be easier to go back there to find them. I've also decided that youtube is easier to work with than google video (though I miss the downloading feature). So, to get all my weird videos you can subscribe to my youtube channel.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Important Message

On Sunday things got very quiet for 20 minutes or so. Any parent can tell you that such silence usually means that someone is about to get in a lot trouble. Given that it was Sunday afternoon, and on Sunday afternoons I'm actually quite worthless, I didn't seek out the source of the silence.

Then, all of the sudden I heard, "Boo!" And there was a stormtrooper staring at me! Well, there was only one thing to do, and that was catch a quick video of said strormtrooper uttering the wisdom of the cloned...



Happy candy day!


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Monday, October 29, 2007

Bible Study Spoof (Final Cut)

I changed some of the video levels, added credits, and some excellent music from Michael Tangen. Here's the final cut:


Designed in Mission - Before the interview

This is an exchange that went on before we began the interview segment on Saturday. Apparently, I suck.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Designed in Mission - One Down

Well, the first session of Designed in Mission has come and gone and all I have to say is that I'm glad I stuck with it! This first session accomplished exactly what I was hoping for when this idea came to me almost 10 months ago - get some folks together who are involved in Christian ministry that is unlike Central Baptist (and even unlike each other) and let them chat and see what happens.

All I can say is, "If you're in the area (and certainly if you're part of Central Baptist), then you'll miss something good if you don't check it out." I'm actually rather excited.

Most of the videos from the sessions will be posted on CrossPointings.org (under the Designed in Mission menu) - but I wanted to post the first clip I've put on the web here as well. Enjoy!



Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bible Study Spoof

In a couple of weeks I'll be heading to Eastern University to lead a session of the Student Chaplain Class. My topic is "keeping grow groups fresh," so I figured I'd make a video to let people acknowledge the types of small groups we've all been part of one time or another. Enjoy!


By the way, 1993 is the first year I was a student chaplain at Eastern.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Designed in Mission - Kick Off This Saturday

The first-ever CrossPointings.org "toolbox series" is kicking off this coming Saturday, October 27th. Designed in Mission is an on-going conversation on the relationship between mission and community-structure. One Saturday a month, for the next six months, twelve missional Christian leaders will come to Central Baptist and share with all present how the mission of their communities has lead them to structure their communities. Click on the image to find out more!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Titus Refuses To Come Out Of His Trailer

I pretty sure that I'd never be able to do this sketch in Church - but ohhhhhh how I want to. The comments pretty much area commentary on how Evangelicals™ (a) can't laugh about their faith and (b) are really good at missing the point.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thank The Lord For Friends...

I've got to get my last two sermons from our Decalogue series up on the web. I've got the manuscripts and recordings - I''ve just been working on getting Designed in Mission ready to go so I've not had the time to get them properly uploaded and posted.

Truth be told, I've not been very happy with this series (a point which I've made before). I simply don't like taking broad journeys through Scripture to show how the Decalogue was worked out in the life of God's people in both Testaments. I suppose I could just point out what each of the commandments is and then go off on a rant about how evil our world is compared to the world of the Bible - but I'm just not that sort of preacher (I hope I'm not that sort of Christian). Since I'm preaching the Decalogue, I have a compulsion to point out that folks in the Bible were wrestling with the same garbarge we deal with, screw up the same things we do, and depend on the grace of God every bit as much as we do. That way, I can challenge and point people to the grace of God. It's just that the sermons feel so shallow to me - like 10 weeks of nothing but introductions.

Yet, this is why I'm thankful I've got friends in Christ whom I trust, and whose opinions and counsel I value. Why? Because if I were left on my own I would likely have never done a sermon series on the Decalogue - my ingrained aversion to survey-type sermons would have always stepped in and taken me in another direction. In fact, before the suggestion to preach the Decalogue came this past summer I had never considered preaching the Decalogue. It wasn't even on my radar!

I'm always in need for folks to point out blind-spots like to me. Without their encouragement I'd never grow as a pastor, preacher, and Christian- even if their encouragement leads me to preach a series of sermons that people find informative (and to be honest, I'm getting some great questions from these sermons - particularly from a woman that I wouldn't have expected in a million years to pose them me), but I can't personally stand! I only hope I can constantly return the favor!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Kind of Reader Are You?

My friend Jim took a quiz on what type of reader he is - I took it too. Apparently, I like to read...



What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.

Dedicated Reader

Book Snob

Literate Good Citizen

Fad Reader

Non-Reader

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Should Clergy Wear?

There's an interesting discussion happening over on Church Leadership Conversations about "appropriate clergy fashions." It's interesting to me because the point of the conversation seems to make three-points:
  • We project an image whether we think so or not.
  • Trying to be "cool" is dumb, as "cool" changes so quickly.
  • Hiring "fashion consultants" to figure out how to project an appropriate image for a particular group is a waste of resources.
Here's where I am with appropriate dress for anyone coming to Worship:
  • If people want to wear their "Sunday Best" to worship because they believe that best honors God, I have no problem whatsoever with that . Just as long as their actions the rest of the week continue to reveal a "Sunday Best" lifestyle. If not, then let's not dress it up with "honoring God" language - "Sunday Best" clothing is nothing more than a white-washed tomb.
  • If people simply want to be slobs in terms of style and hygiene because they don't care about themselves - I do have a problem with that, but it's because those folks need to learn what's good in them as the image of God. It grieves me when seem to hate themselves - and the image it projects is gut-wrenching to me.
  • If people want to come "casual" to worship, I'm totally fine with that - just as long as they understand the Christian life is anything but casual. A life of discipleship is work, and the process of being more and more and more formed into the holy image of God in the likeness of our Lord Jesus is often painful.
So what's my dress-style? Business casual. It's about as fancy as I can get while still feeling that I'm not a complete fraud. Yet I do value being "presentable" to show that, (a) I do care enough about myself to give a rip what I look like and (b) so I'm not instantly written-off by people as a "kid." Business casual get's me "in the door," but it flexible enough that I can crawl around on the floor if I need to (this is a reality I learned working IT). It's a good thing - and if occasion warrants it I'll dress-up/down to fit the setting or occasion. No worries.

Now, if I were currently in a tradition in which the outfit of the clergy had any liturgical purpose I'd have absolutely no qualms "dressing the part" as that would be an integral part of the communication of worship. That's not where I'm currently sojourning, however, so I'm not going there at the moment.

Friday, October 5, 2007

New Phone


The battery on my cell phone has been getting worse and worse for the last couple of months. As early as July I was wondering if it would be better to get a new phone (I was eligible for an upgrade) or a new battery. As my battery was still functional (though the time between recharges was getting a bit ridiculous) I kept putting off a decision until either my battery went completely or a good deal on a new phone came up which would cost less. It finally happened.

Last week I ended up upgrading to a Razr V3xx for the price of $0 without any rebates. As this is a 3g phone (should I decide to get a data plan at some point in the future, not likely but you never know) I thought it was worth checking out. Given that my battery life has taken a nose-dive in the past two weeks or so the timing was great. So I popped on line and ordered it. I almost didn't order it because, while the phone didn't cost anything, there was an $18 "upgrade charge" that would go on my bill. Given that I already had a functional phone, I figured I might as well just go out and get a battery - until I found out the price of the battery was around $50! At that rate $18 was a bargain.

So, how do I like my razr? Well, let's review:
  • I ended up naming my razr Hevel (הבל) because I want to remember that it's all smoke. This makes me happy.
  • The inside screen is kick-butt. The screen on my old phone was functional, but that's about all I can say for it. The Razr screen is larger, and has a resolution of 320x240 with anti-aliased fonts. I like this. I also love with AT&T did with the menu layout of the Razr. A lot of folks complain about the look of the Razr UI, and I've not been that impressed with the ones I've seen in the past either, but this is clean and clear with a great screen.
  • The charge port is a ordinary usb port. This makes life soooooo much easier in case I have to charge my phone while I'm out as I only have five or six compatible cables. Another plus is that my wife's headset charges the same way and Motorola says I should have no problems charging with that charger (just that it might take longer). The biggest draw for me and the Razr was always that usb port. I like.
  • The Razr V3xx has an expandable memory slot for micro-SD (up to 2 gigs) which I can use for a music player if I want (I don't, but ok). However, if I get a card that means I could use my phone as a flash drive (or even just bluetooth files to folks). I like that. The phone also has 56.7 mb of free memory right now, which is a huge increase from my Nokia 6102i. Again, I like.
  • Voice dialing is significantly different. In my Nokia I had to create "voice tags" for specific numbers in my address book - and I had a limited number of them (10, I believe). The Razr, on the other hand, has several commands that I can use for voice dialing, including name recognition and number dialing. That's a powerful feature as it means that I can dial a number from memory without taking my eyes off the road and that any number in my address book is able to be dialed with nothing other than my voice. The down-side is that it takes another step (or two if you have more than one number for a contact) - but the power of it blows my mind. I do wish there was a voice trainer so the phone would get accustomed to my intonation - I've had some mis-cues.
  • The sound quality has be suburb so far working with my bluetooth headset (actually, I haven't even used the actual headset to make a call yet) - there is a lot less static with the Razr, which is what I would expect with a newer bluetooth stack running the phone.
  • I have a 1.3 megapixel camera on my phone now. Not as much as other high-end sets (most have 2.0 megapixel cameras now), but it's a significant increase from my 640x480 vga camera on the Nokia. No flash though, bit of a bummer there.
All in all, I'm happy with this upgrade. Since it cost me less than a battery for a phone which usable and not much else - I'm especially pleased.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

The "No Longer Interested Spouse of Christ"

My friend Ron King gave me the link to this blog entry. I have to say that I'd never considered a disconnected spouse as a metaphor for the malaise of the Church - but it's dead-on. Challenging stuff.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Meeting An Unreach Committee...

Today I had a lunch with a guy who is a student pastor in a near-by town. He's a nice guy who puts interesting messages in his IM status-line. From his status-line I discovered that he's having a bit of a difficult time with the church's "outreach committee." Let's summarize:
  • His church has a summer VBS that the entire town attends. There were over 100 kids there this year.
  • Looking at the registration cards he noticed that 20 of those kids have no "Church home."
  • He figured that, as these folks have already started a bit of a relationship with the congregation, it woudl be a good thing for outreach committee to call these families and personally invite them to attend worship some Sunday (preferably for a "special" worship like Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve).
  • When he suggested this to the "outreach committee" one person in-particular grew really flustered and started stammering about it being "the pastor's job."
  • Sigh.
It's a story a pastor in just about any congregation has faced. People get so ingrained in a system of dependence on "the specialist" making sure that the work of ministry gets done that they resist being empowered to do the work of the Kingdom themselves. It's a system that depends on unaccountability, the cold shoulder, and intimidation to survive - a fact that was reinforced to me when my conversation with my new friend was briefly put on pause.

See, as we chatted a woman came up to our table, stood right next to me, and proceeded to have a conversation with my friend that went something like this,

"Hi, I was waving at you from the door, my husband is ordering for me so I came over to say hi. See you later."

As I had been ignored in this exchange I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Wes."
[Looking startled] "Oh, Hi Les."
"Actually, it's Wes."
"Oh Wes, Les, close enough."
"Well, Les worked at WKRP and Wesley founded a religious movement - as I'm a pastor I'll stick with Wes."
[turning away and addressing my friend] "another pastor?" [walks away without looking at me].

I was chuckling to myself when my friend said, "That's the person from the Outreach Committee."


Welcome to the wonderful world of unreach.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

For Cryin' Out Loud, Rest!

Here is the sermon for the fourth word of the Decalogue - it deals with the Sabbath. Frankly, this is a sermon that I'm not quite sure hit what it was aiming for. I got near the mark, but not quite "there." I really just should have sat down and said, "OK, I will now live-out the Sabbath." I didn't, so you get to read my manuscript. Lucky you.

Click here to read along.

If you would like to listen to the audio for the sermon, go ahead and subscribe to the podcast.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Q Did This To Me!

I used to be a casual gamer. I would get a role-playing or adventure game and spend a few months just playing around with it. It was a fun existence, and it was made more fun when I picked up my DS. Then my good friend Q asked me, "Did you pre-order Pearl or Diamond yet?" That is the day my career as a casual gamer ended. Why? Because on that day I decided to get a pokemon game for my son and his DS. A week after that I got the other game so I could catch pokemon and send them over to his game so we could share the experience. Ever since then my casual gaming DS has basically become a dedicated Pokemon machine.

The compulsion is there, I may not have a catch 'em all, but dang it I want a full pokedex! How strong is this compulsion? Oh let me tell you. Yesterday, on one of the most beautiful days of the year, I ended up working on filling my pokedex. I went to Toys R Us with my son, the infamous Q and his youngest minor prophet to download a pokemon we'd never be able to get anywhere else. There we were - a pastor, a college professor, and two of our kids together to download an imaginary animal.

Thanks Q!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

God's Name Isn't a Swear Word

All right, here's the third sermon in my series "The Decalogue." Here's my disclaimers
  • It's topical, so so expect detailed exegesis on one particular passage, I can't do that with the Decalogue, the material is too broad and deep.
  • There's typos, this is a working draft, not a school paper.
  • Pay attention to anything square brackets, you can see how I visually illustrate the sermon in those brackets.
Click here to read the manuscript, if you are adventurous you can now listen in to my sermons by subscribing to the Central Baptist Podcast here.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pura Vida

I think I let it be known on this blog that, currently, my favorite coffee is Trader Joe's Organic, Fair Trade, Sumatra. It's yummy (and they are currently out of it in my area so I'm currently drinking the Organic, Fair Trade, Ethiopian). I really enjoy coffee, and I do go out of my way to make sure that I purchase coffee that I know is providing a living wage for the people who are growing it - that's important to me. It's actually the very least I can do.

If I could easily get Pura Vida Coffee in my area (I hate paying shipping) I'd do that in a heart beat. These folks have the right idea - a for-profit company controlled by a non-profit organization that does ministry in some of the worlds coffee growing regions. You can watch the image below - but they leave out the story that lead to the company's founding, which you can read here (free registration required, sorry). Needless to say, I like these guys.

After you read the story of the company's founding - go ahead and watch the video below that talks about the work they do (sadly, it's leaves out Pura Vida's Christian impulse for the work). I'd love to start serving this coffee at Central.




Thursday, September 20, 2007

Topical Storms

Well, I'm in the midst of a series entitled "The Decalogue," and it's shaping up to be a bit different than I'm used to preaching - it's topical.

Now, I should have realized that this was going to be a topical series when I set it up. After all, the Decalogue isn't exactly what we'd call "detailed." The Decalogue has prohibitions against idolatry and using the Lord's name in vain, bearing false witness and murder, coveting and stealing - but what are these things? How did they play out in the life of God's people in the Tanakh and the New Testament? As a Christian, how did Jesus interact with the covenant expectations laid out in the Decalogue and what does that mean for his disciples? This is what I'm dealing with.

So, to preach a sermon I need to start by interacting with the particular word of the Decalogue the sermon is dealing with. After all, folks nowadays don't understand what an idol is, or why a name was so important in the Ancient Near East, or how to keep a Sabbath rest. Without examining the various ideas that make up the Decalogue then the congregation won't be able to see the Decalogue working out in the story of the Bible or why it's important to their own lives.

Then I need to show how the particular words of the Decalogue work out in the story of the Bible, particularly in the Tanakh. This part is actually fun, and I've had a great time reading this book that deals with the way the story of the "Primary History" of Israel reveals how they broke each of the words of the Decalogue on the way to exile - it's really cool.

Finally I have to go and take a look at how Jesus (and Jesus' earliest disciples) interacted with the words of the Decalogue. Why do I want to do this? Well, largely because that's the thread which directly tracks to the people sitting in the pews (whether they actively know that or not is another question). If the sermons are going call people to be faithful disciples of Jesus (as sermons should) then I need to take folks back into the text along that thread.

After doing all that, I might have something to say. The worst part of this whole process is that I could easily add another twenty minutes to the sermon (at least) by exploring the Church's use (and mis-use) of the Decalogue throughout history - which is almost a necessity because that story is how we got our ideas of what the Decalogue means (apparently it means we set up idols to it in Federal Courthouses). Yet, I've done two sermons in this series so far and I'm already averaging six minutes longer than than my typical sermon. So, unless I have something I really need to throw out for the sermon, I just can't go there and hope to keep people's attention. Bummer.

Anyway, if you're interested in how all this works out click this link to subscribe to the podcast of this series.

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1. David Noel Freedman, The Nine Commandments: Uncovering a Hidden Pattern of Crime and Punishment in the Hebrew Bible (New York: Doubleday, 2000).

Monday, September 17, 2007

You Can't Serve Two Masters

OK, so here's the link to the sermon outline for this week's sermon on the second word of the Decalogue. Here's some interesting tidbits to look for in the outline.
  • There's typos, it's a working copy and I know what I meant to say. The one's I saw, I fixed, the others - ya gotta deal.
  • You'll get to see where I click to advance the projection for the sermon. Anything in square-brackets triggers that in the outline. You might find it interesting.
  • I'm not putting this up because its an awesome sermon, I don't think it is. I thought you all might seeing how I build ideas to shape a sermon. This sermon needs to introduce too many concepts to be a favorite of mine - we just don't have enough of a concept of what a "idol" is or how it functions (which is why we're so prone to accidentally making them, I might add) to get the weight of the second word of the Decalogue (Jewish numbering).
Anyway, hope you find it interesting. Click this link for the outline - comment back here. I'll have the audio up for the first two sermons in the series soon.

What Next?

Last week I got together for lunch with a mentor of mine. During the conversation we were talking about the Jersey Shore and lamenting over the uncontrolled inflation that the bubble real-estate market has created down there. Avalon in particular, a town we both love, it just off-limits to anyone who isn't insanely wealthy any-more - and the building of various "McMansions" in that town have made the place feel claustrophobic and artificial (Dune Drive isn't what it used to be). As we discussed the rising shore prices my mentor mentioned that he and his wife would love to retire back down at the shore somewhere because that was "home" to them - but right now there was simply no way that they'd be able to afford it. It's a great shame for him, as he's got some great connections down there.

His mentioning of retirement led me to ask, "Well, how many more years do you think you can do what you're doing until you retire?" I won't give the answer - except to say it's neither immediate nor far-off.

Now, my mentor has been blessed in his time of full-time pastoral ministry to serve only two churches and do some fantastic work with them. When he dives in, he dives in for the long-haul and really only feel comfortable contemplating when he feels he can trust the leaders of the church enough for permission to leave (submission, folks, isn't a one-way street). That's not to say he's never been tempted to move on without asking - he actually has a name for the days where he wants to run from pastoral ministry screaming at the top of his lungs, "Target Days." Why that? Because those are the days when he wants to go and work at Target! He's never given in to a "Target Day," and the trust he works so hard to develop does some great things (and his current church was much farther gone than Central was when I got here).

His dedication inspires me, and his humility challenges me - but as I look at how both he (after decades of this ministry) and I (after four years of this ministry) have pastored the same number of Churches I wonder if I've really got what it takes to go and start all over again if/when I finally leave Central. Would I really have the energy, drive, and dedication to do that all over again? I honestly don't know.

Now, for readers who are from Central - please understand, I'm not planning on going anywhere for a while. Heck we're doing some wonderful things right now and you all just helped me map out several years worth of sermon-series that you feel Central needs to hear (and maybe a couple of devotional studies to go with them along the way). If I can finally get some breathing room to write my books I'll be a happy camper indeed!

No, I'm talking five or ten years down the line. My kids will be teen-agers (or about to be), I'll have been here almost (or over) a decade, and by that time we'll have developed some decent roots in the community. It would be hard to leave that and start over - particularly given the way that my previous pastorate began ended, and my current one began (though this one will have a much happier ending, I'm sure). Why would I want to go through that struggle again? And could I, knowing the ugliness kids see congregations inflict on pastors as they try to "whip them into shape?" I honestly don't know.

I look beyond my pastorate here at Central and see.......I have no idea what I see. I guess on one level that's a good thing. After all if I can't see where I'm supposed to be going from here my time's obviously isn't finished here yet (which I am currently happy with, who knows what tomorrow will bring). I've also always said that I won't pursue ministry as a "stepping stone." I'm not a career-minded leech, and the fact that I'm not looking to "move up" in ministry is something I'm glad for. I've seen "career-builder" pastors, they annoy me.

So, what next? I have no idea - maybe I've got too much to do right now that envisioning that is beyond my scope at the moment. For that small mercy, I suppose I'll just have to give thanks. After all, I've got to start ordering the books so I can prepare for all these sermon-series you all told me to preach.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Hmmm....Wisdom

Last night I caught a History Channel special on how US and Canadian Air-Space was shut down on 9/11. Nothing like it had ever been done before and, frankly, no one was even sure that it was possible. Amazingly, all the planes in the air (which were not already hijacked) at the time of the attacks got down safely. There were some close calls, and some planes were on the verge of getting shot down due to mis-communications, but everyone got down safely.

I'd never caught the end of this special before, so the last several minutes actually surprised me. After 9/11 people decided that they need to have a plan in place in case anything like 9/11 ever called for the shutting down of US Air-Space again. A commission was set up to put together the plan that would guide air-traffic controllers in grounding all the planes in the air which were under their control. If I heard right, over a year was spent researching the idea and formulating the basis of the plan - but in the end the commission declined to put one together. Were they lazy? Were they incompetent? Was the job just too big for them? Nope. As it turned out, the more they studied the issue the more they realized that a written-down plan would only get in the way. Air-traffic controllers have a "hands-on" grasp for the situation in the air under their control, and their training and experience has created instincts in their actions to account for the insane amount of variables they have to deal with in any given day - training and instincts which had already shown were flexible enough to deal with the "nightmare" scenario of grounding every plane in the sky at once. The commission concluded that if the controllers had to consult a book to make all their decisions for them - then things would not have gone as well when the people asked to do the impossible actually pulled it off. In the end, the commission told those who appointed them to actually trust the people who had been trained to do the job - with full confidence that only those people "at the trigger" could make the snap decisions needed to carry out their jobs.

Think about that. These people were commissioned to come up with a plan, and rather than put one together out of fear that they would would be attacked for failing to accomplish their task - the people on that commission had the courage, and humility, to say, "This cannot be done, we will only get in the way. We have to trust the people we put in charge to do what we've called them to do." How often do you see people in a bureaucracy not try to justify their own existence by putting something together?

Churches need more humility, and more courage, of the type that commission showed. Humility to recognize that they'd end up doing more harm than good by presenting the very rules they were told to create, and courage to stand up to potential detractors and abusive critics. We need more people who will submit to the Church in order to develop disciplines, knowledge, and instincts that will be able to shepherd congregations through the various tumults in life - and more people to trust the people whom they called to ministry (Pastors and Lay-leaders alike) to faithfully do what they've been called to do. Yes, we need to make sure people are staying within the clearly-marked boundaries which the Church has laid-down - but the level of mis-trust (not to mention the lack of clear boundaries) that Churches have in their leaders is killing churches - I hope we all learn to develop the same wisdom that the air-traffic commission displayed - 'cause it puts many churches to shame.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sigh....

Meetings on Monday night were not fun. I don't know when that last time I came home from meetings absolutely discouraged - but it's not fun. That's not to say that nothing good happened though, so I'll start with that.

Our treasurer said that giving has been down since we sold off our old Office Building. I pretty much expected this - but the drop-off was significant. Basically people think that we have "all this money" now and have lowered their giving thinking we can live off it. That sounds like bad news, right? It's actually not. Like I said, I expected the drop-off in giving and we'll deal with that - but the way that our treasurer responded to this drop-off is wonderful. He gave us his report, said we'd hit a low in giving since he'd started the position and summed it up by saying, "So, what I think we need to do is spend money - we've got it, we've said we had ideas for it, let's let people know that this money isn't there to live off of, it's there to be used." Amen! He didn't want to hoard it for a rainy day, or cut-corners on giving the money designated as mission-giving or on projects we envision doing, he wants to use the money the best ways that we can for the Church. And folks nodded in agreement. That made me happy.

The other good thing was that my computer upgrade plan was accepted without any negative reactions. Folks liked how upgrade costs were staggered over several budget years, and people seemed to think that having me provide my own computer was a pretty silly idea. I hope I can get that macbook soon. We'll know for sure how that goes after the budget meetings.

Now for the stuff that was discouraging - without going into specifics (as I need to personally deal with this). To sum it up, what I thought was five or six "sideline-complainers" is actually four (which is encouraging). The bad news is that they've found another mouth-piece in a leadership position and it's stirring up all the old passive-aggressive 3rd and 4th party complaining because "well, people have a right to be heard." One was at least missionally-driven (even if I think it's conclusion misguided there's room for discussion and movement on the part of the ministry of the Church - that's a good thing), I don't think that missional point was handled well - but people have to be trained in that. At worst the other complaint can be labeled "petty," at best it can be labeled, "subjective what I want-ism." Again, no specifics - but it seems that the old systems are trying to exert control again, and as long as we are allowing people who are standing in the shadows work through a 3rd party we're not going to be free to move forward. I knew this would happen eventually - but I was hoping to get through Designed In Mission (was, "Structure through Mission") before that struggle really started. Oh well, deep breath - and move on.

I think what keeps this congregation tied to this system is the notion that we're somehow a democracy. In a democracy (at least, in theory) everyone's opinion is given equal footing, and a vote is taken to see what the will of the people is. Churches, on the other hand, aren't supposed to give equal weight to every opinion (some, like open hostility to evangelism or not caring if Jesus is fully-human/fully-divine are just wrong for a church to communicate). When congregations take a vote they are not checking to see the "will of the people," they are trying to discern the will of God. It's a huge difference - and one that's not understood.