Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Would The Real First Ammendment Please Stand Up?

This past month our school district voted to adopt a uniform policy. It's not wonderfully thought out (look, I'm glad people want to pay tribute to the school colors but there isn't too much out there that's plain red), but my wife and I aren't fundamentally opposed to the idea. We live in a community with a wide disparity between the "haves" and the "have nots" in terms of material wealth are happen to be friends with people who, frankly are ruining their present and future because they feel the need to "keep up with the Jones.'" Helping people cut some clothing costs isn't a bad idea (running financial seminars that force people to live under a budget is a better idea, but that's another blog entry). In the High School this takes on another aspect as girls clothing seems to be getting more and more sexualized and guys can't seem to find pants that don't cause them to inadvertently moon everyone in school (I have not idea why the "intentional boxer wedgie" look hasn't faded away around here, but it hasn't). So, no worries. The "uniform" is really a narrow dress-code with three or four options (which is part of the reason it's not well-designed but I didn't get to that meeting so shame on me), and it's just what's going to happen.

Not without a fight it isn't. Parent's are up in arms (so are the High School students, but that's just part of being a High School student and I'm perfectly happy with some teenage rebellion provided society stops allowing it to continue into people's 30's), and others my wife and I have talked to are equally as upset. What's the problem? This is taking away "people's individuality." Now, what's funny about this is that this is the response that I've gotten from people in the range from conservative Christians and liberal pagans (like, actual pagans) - a continuum of people upon which everyone wants people to have "individuality," so long as we can craft our environment to make sure that everyone's "individuality" molds them into our own image. Christians are happy with the individual call of salvation as long as people learn to "act Christian" even if they don't believe a word of the Gospel, my uneducated friends are perfectly happy with individuality as long as no one gets "uppity," my pagan acquaintances champion individuality as long as that individuality doesn't lead people to be "preppy" or "jocks," my well-financed friends are OK with individuality as long as people who aren't as "polished" as they are keep their distance from their own kids. Look, this is a continuum of humanity, I'm on the dang thing too - but at least I don't pretend to not be on the continuum.

Qohelet pointed out that the point of school is to take individuality and harness it to the responsibility of being part of a society. This is a good point and, as this is part of the point of education (Q would say point, I'm not sure I'll go that far), it would seem that fighting something that is meant to assist this process would be a bit counter-productive. I understand that people have visions of 1984 every time we start talking about moderating how we publicly present ourselves (dress-codes are double plus good) - but, really, I'm starting to think that folks who are in power love it when groups of people get involved in fights over things like school dress-codes. After all, if we're so worried about stuff like this then we won't have time to be bothered with the constitution-bashing Patriot Act, and the DMCA which are some of the real threats to our political freedoms.

Yet, people ignore things like that as "things we have no power over," and then raise a school dress-code to the level of First Amendment Rights. Are we serious here? I'm a great fan of the First Amendment (it's what gives me the political freedom to bash the Patriot Act, the DMCA, and enjoy a good dramatic reading of DeCSS after all) - but the First Amendment it meant to protect the rights of citizens to publicly criticize the government, not defend the rights of people to show their butt-cheeks to the world because their pants are too big. The irony is that the people who are whining about their First Amendment rights on this have the political awareness of a dead tick. This in-fighting over having to wear things in a range of clothing is the new opiate of the masses.

If the School Board declared that publicly criticizing the dress-code, I'd be first in line saying, "You know what, you can't do that." This isn't the case. What is the case is that everyone is upset because they are going to have to dress like "the other" for 7 hours a day, and oh by gosh by golly we can't have that can we. We can't have our children being forced to dress like them, those jocks/preps/Christians/pagans/goths/retros aren't our kind of people, they need to be distinct so we can still recognize who they are. Wrangling this into a First Amendment issue just makes Caesar laugh - the gladiators have us distracted.


Friday, May 25, 2007

What Church Father Am I?

Qohelet has been taking quizzes lately because he's not sure who he is. Now I've got the bug, here's what Church Father I am (there was a super-hero one floating around a few months back, I scored as Spider-Man, which was the highlight of my internet-week).

You’re St. Melito of Sardis!

You have a great love of history and liturgy. You’re attached to the traditions of the ancients, yet you recognize that the old world — great as it was — is passing away. You are loyal to the customs of your family, though you do not hesitate to call family members to account for their sins.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Oh The Greek Tragedy Of It All..

I just completed reading The Children of Hurin, it's the latest work of J.R.R. Tolkien to be compiled and released by his son, Christopher. All in all, it's a rewarding read - almost like a "click here to zoom" link on an Internet map. The Children of Hurin is a "zoomed in" version of the tale of Hurin as found in The Silmarillion, adding detail (and expanding the knowledge of Turin's tragic life).

As the subject reads, this book reads like a Greek Tragedy (complete with incest borne of ignorance and people showing up repeating the theme of the tale, which is that the Children of Hurin seem to be unable to accept wise counsel), so it's not a "good book" in that is makes the reader feel happy for reading it. There is no real moment of "tragic triumph" at the end of the book (as there is at the end of ROTK) - this book is just sad, but it's sad with a point and that's what makes it rewarding. If you can stomach a book that has very little hope (any tale that begins with the "Battle of Unnumbered Tears" isn't going to have a surplus of this), yet manages to point the reader towards hope, then go out and this book.

If you happen to be a nerd and/or a geek, then you might also find the appendix to be fascinating. As someone who has grew up in a world where The Hobbit, LOTR, and The Simarillion, were all freely available it's hard to belive just how much Tolkien edited the stories over and over and over again just so they could give his world some back-story. The Children of Hurin was originally conceived as an epic poem, for example, but was abandoned after reaching 5000 lines. In prose form, this particular story morphed over the years, so that key events kept shifting in the narrative. Even with all of his massive notes and editorial comments, Christopher had trouble figuring out what "really happened" in the myth, and found that he was required to add some material to tie various chunks together.

I find this fascinating because we know beyond the shadow of a doubt when Tolkien wrote the tales that make up the Simarillion (of which Hurin is one), and the mystery of his inner-most mind regarding why he edited these tales in verious places will forever be cut off from us. Is it any wonder why Bible Scholars are so confused as to how the books of the Bible came to be in their present form (and OT more so than NT)? Actually, reading some of Christopher's difficulties in putting together a cohesive text from his father's notes makes me rejoice that we've got any Biblical texts in existence - and yet we do. That's just cool.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Apparently, I'm a bit nuts...

Well someone from our Church graduated from college this month and took the time to write notes to people who have had an impact on her life (both my wife and I got notes, which made us happy). Along with the notes were little cartoons that depicted a scene that reminded this graduate of the person to whom the note was addressed - here's the one that was with mine:

As you can see, I'm apparently a bit unbalanced - Praise God!

Sunday, May 20, 2007


For Mother's day every year the nursery school my son attends (and daughter attended) puts together a "cookbook" of the students "favorite recipes." That's in quotes because the "recipes" are from their perspective and put down in their own words. For some reason, my son told the school that "potatoes" was his favorite thing that mom makes for him (he doesn't like potatoes), here's his recipe for the dish:
Buy two potatoes. Cut up the potatoes. Put them in a pan with one hundred cups of water. Cook them in the oven for ten minutes at four degrees. Mash them with a hammer and you get mashed potatoes.
My son has watched my wife make mashed potatoes dozens of times - and this is how his current level of knowledge and experience interpret the process. Is it any wonder why I stress to Christians how they present the Gospel - which most people have neither the language or experience to put the Gospel "into practice" without getting things really weirdly distorted?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Internet Help Desk

I guess this is only tangentially linked to theology or ministry, but it's dang funny. I actually have done some help-desk work as an admin at two different schools and it's really like this. It also explains the frustration that a lot of Pastor's have when trying to explain ministry to a bunch of "12 O'Clock Flashers." Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Resurrecting a Newsletter Article

Back in June of 2004 things weren't going so well in the ministry I'd been called to. It didn't seem like I was going to be long for the congregation, and it didn't look like the congregation had what it took to be around much longer. The in-fighting and constant feuding were killing it from within. It's nearly three years later, and it's no longer the same place. Here's my article from the June 2004 newsletter. For those of you who have been on this ride with me at Central, rejoice in knowing that you don't have to worry about getting hit with the stick any more. For those of you who are just tuning in to my musings - know that Jesus actually can show up in the most unlikely places (I always believed it, but now I believe it).
I once heard it said, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” There is a lot of truth in that statement, even though receiving forgiveness from our fellow human-beings is ofter even harder than getting permission!

Permission can be a good thing, when it’s given in such a way that allows people to roam freely within clearly defined boundaries. Too often, however, “permission” is held out before people as a carrot on a stick; always “just out of reach.” Every human organization is a mixture of both types of permission, it’s a fact of life “under the sun.”

Several days ago, however, I had a conversation with someone that revealed to me that we tend to be more on the “stick” side of the continuum. An idea for an event came up in conversation and I said, “Great! Go for it!” The person responded to me, “I wonder who would have to approve it?” I replied, “Approve it? Why? It’s a great idea! If you’re going to use the building pass that through the Trustees, but get some people together and go!” The reply came back, “But it has to be approved...”

This is the “stick,” people are leery of jutting their necks out too far for fear of getting whacked with said stick. This seriously hinders Mission; because by the time the next month’s meetings role around the idea is usually forgotten; or the board takes a month to mull it over and it gets missed in “old business” at the next meeting. What’s true in political organizations is true in other institutions as well, “If you want to kill an idea, send it to committee.”

I can hear some people thinking, “OK smart-guy, what do you have that’s better? I mean, if the boards don’t tell people what to do everyone will be doing their own thing! That can’t be any better than what we have now!” You know what? I agree. If everyone is doing whatever they want to do we will have a mess on our hands. Thankfully, that’s not what I’m suggesting.

Right now, in many respects, the boards and committees act as the “gate keepers” if people pass muster they are allow through the gate and are able to do their task. Again, this is the “stick” concept of permission-giving. This, however, misunderstands the point of the boards. The people who fellowship here in the name of Christ are already inside the gate! We don’t need gatekeepers so much as we need boundary makers! A boundary marker is much better than a gate because inside the sheep are allow to roam and graze, and live. When clear boundaries are set ideas can prosper and teams can be gathered to pursue mission; but how do we set the boundaries?

The boundaries must be set up by those who have been called into mission already here at Central. To that end, the “leadership” must gather together and define our core beliefs and values so they can clearly be spelled out. This goes beyond by-laws and job descriptions, and dives right to the bedrock of our true beliefs. Once these boundaries have been clearly marked the sheep can be free to roam, and the boards and committees can lovingly bring people back into the fold, instead of jealously guarding their gates. Such boundary-marking makes the words of the Apostle Paul a Reality, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17 NET Bible).”

I know that this type of freedom might be a new concept to many people. For this reason next month, we’ll see how “teams” function within these boundaries. Just remember, the goal in shifting from the carrot to the boundary marker is to release the people of God for the Mission of the Gospel. Let’s walk this road together.

Note: This article got me into a lot of trouble, but it was also one of the triggers that forced CBC to re-evaluate itself. Three years later, I celebrate it as one of the things God did to help this place (and me) wake up to hope.

Being an X'er in a "Boomer's World"

At 34, I'm part of what got labeled "Generation-X." A lot of ink has been spilled trying to figure out this generation of people, a good portion of which has been negative - and I think perhaps wrongly so. Many people used to consider "Gen-Xers" as slackers because large numbers of my contemporaries tended to spend a good portion of their time on the edges of events rather then jumping in with both feet (which is what our Boomer parents tended to do). My generation has never been very good at "signing-up."

My question to our critics is, however, "Signing up for what?" It's true that a lot of X'ers (and our younger cousins in the Mosaic/Y/Millenial generation as well) tend not to run right out and sign up to keep institutions running at peak efficiency. When people ask us to join a bureaucracy we spend a lot of time asking, "Why?" Our failure to jump into actions isn't so much laziness as it is a testing, we want to see how authentic something is before we attach ourselves to it. This approach has a lot going for it, as we tend not to accept the first thing that people say to us in order to get us "on board." It's also got some pit-falls, in that we can lapse into a constrictive cynicism that prevents us from doing anything (that's not laziness, but sometimes it's hard to tell the difference).

What's interesting is that groups that were previously populated by, and run by, Boomers and their Depression-Generation progenitors are now seeing an influx of X'ers that don't accept a lot of the presuppositions that people had before us. This, in my opinion, is what makes pastoring a congregation largely populated by Boomers and a shrinking number of Depression-Generation folk so interesting. While Boomers tended to want to break into their own thing out from the shadow of their parents - they also tended to value individualism, autonomy, and individualism with all but a few close friends. It's not a surprise, then, that mega Churches are made up largely of Boomers who have the flash, anonymity, and small intimate circle of friends provided for them in that world (Boomers in small churches gave up the flash to be in a small church but not the other two). Depression-Generation folks want stability (is it any wonder given the world they grew up in?), and stability means locking everything down and double-bolting the doors.

Into this mix come the X'ers and our cousins. We're OK with confusion (which drives the Depression-Generation folks nuts), but we also tend to think that anonymity in relationships is a lot like being inauthentic (which drives Boomers a little batty). We throw our most intimate details out onto the vastness of the web, and while we have no trouble making plans we also have no trouble shifting gears at a moments notice if we don't get a good enough response to "Why are we doing this again?"

Yet, we also value community without anonymity. When we work-out this value of community, we tend to have no problem submitting to a community that we feel is "authentic" (even if they are making, in our eyes, "Stupid decisions"). Submission, however, doesn't mean we're simply being servile - while we'll submit to a community, we're too aware of our own frailty to hold leaders in awe (we're pretty sure they're screwed up too). What it does mean is that even if we're not going nuts for the latest program handed to us by our Boomer parents, we're happy to experience it and see what comes from it.

I'm not sure that you can make these three groups "happy" when you get them together (and when you add in the Millenials and their gizmos the tension gets worse), but I think that X'ers are in a unique place to show people how to make space for each other without having to have everything like the same things. After all, X'ers value authentic community above most other things. Our communities tend to be dynamic and non-uniform (though as we get older I'm seeing us talk about being non-uniform with other people look like us, and that's worrisome), as opposed to static (Depression-Generation) and uniform (Boomer) - and while that may make our parents and grand-parents scratch their heads it also makes us ideally suited to say, "You know, that's not my favorite, but hey I think we should all be willing to give it a shot and see where God takes it - and if we have to open the doors a bit wider, that's cool."

Eh, just some ramblings from the world of allergy induced mental haze...

Monday, May 14, 2007

Making a Case from Weakness

This week I preached on 1 Peter 3:13 - 22. It's a passage that I don' t think gets enough attention in apologetic discussions. When Christians talk about apologetics we often skip right to the "prove it to be true" stage. What we miss, however, are the theological underpinnings of why and how we are to make a case for our faith. This is unfortunate, to say the least, because it's led us to pursue a course of apologetics based on triumphalism rather than weakness. 1 Peter 3, however, is pretty clear that Christians are more naturally attuned to make a case for our hope from a position of weakness - by doing good, keeping their heads down, and making their case for the Christian hope through the brilliance of what they did - not by what they won politically or how strongly they argued. I believe that we need to heed Peter's advice and begin making our case from this position of weakness, rather than strength. In this world where Christian assumptions are going to be challenged - it doesn't do any good to keep trumpeting how we need to get back to where we were "in charge." We aren't "in charge" any more - and I don' t think that's a bad thing. Here's a quote from my sermon on Sunday about my call to start an apologetic from a position of weakness...
Now, I don't think that Christians in this country are suffering persecution. It’s hard to make that case when the last two Presidents kept running around talking about their personal faith in Jesus Christ. What I am saying is that we are living in an environment where our assumptions will be challenged, and we need to be ready for that. If we encounter a moment where this happens, we can’t afford to immediately get offended and make a big stink (like one woman did when her Starbucks coffee cup had a quote from an atheist on it). After all, how do we feel about people we perceive as whiners? Do we want to listen to them? Of course not, they’re annoying! And if people perceive us a being “whiny” when our beliefs get challenged, no on is going to listen to us. On the other hand, if we can be gracious and respectful in those moments when our Christian assumptions are challenged, maybe we won’t convince people that they are wrong, but maybe we’ll keep them from being nasty towards Christians in the future because they realize, we actually can be pretty-decent folks.

Well, now I'm part of the problem (sort of)

Most people who know me realize that I don't have much time for bureaucracy. The unwieldy nature of bureaucratic structures make it almost impossible to get anything done. Why a lot of congregations have taken up a bureaucratic structure as the one true organization boggles my mind. There's absolutely no good reason why a group of under 200 people can't turn on a dime - but most small congregations tend to turn like aircraft carriers. They can make a turn, but until you've seen it you can't believe that it would be possible.

Well, now I'm part of the problem. Last week I was invited to be one the ABCNJ regional staff in areas of web-design and integrating technology and worship. Basically, it means I'm doing the same thing I've been doing, but now I have to go to staff meetings, I guess I'll have some sort of title (which are so important to me), I'll get a small stipend to fund the position (which is nice), and I'll be getting a yearly continuing education grant (which rocks).

Why did I make the shift? Well, long-time readers of my blogging know how I feel about our Regional Pastor. Lee's a good guy, he loves Jesus, and it helping the unwieldy nature of ABCNJ's bureaucracy to morph into something a lot more functional, flexible, and theologically sound. It's might kinda odd that stacking the "staff" would minimize the power of the bureaucracy, but it's actually working. So I guess I could say that I'm now part of the problem, as the problem becomes the solution (or something like that).

I've never really wanted to be part of our denomination's "power structure," it's not really something that makes my spirit move. I've also had, with several notable exceptions, some bad experiences with people who do want to be part of the power structure and see creative (and/or doctrinally orthodox) people as a threat to their grab for power. Since I really don't want to be part of the regional power-structure, but I have a calling to help congregations learn how to breathe in this culture (for the proclamation of the Gospel) - I guess I'm in the right spot.

Anyway, Dr. Q tells me that this'll be a good thing to have on my resume when I start trying to get my book on the theological underpinnings of CrossPoint-stye worship published.

Friday, May 11, 2007

CrossPointings.org Button

I'm trying to get CrossPointings.org off the ground as a worship resource site (note to self, must write book). So, I figured I'd join throng and create my own web button for the site. So, if you copy this code and put it in on your site:

You'll get this nifty image:

If you've got a desire to see CrossPointings.org grow up - I'd certainly appreciate the link.
Oh, and for those reading this blog in my old location - while my feed is still showing up in it's old position, all my blog entries are originating from: http://wezlo.blogspot.com.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Will the "Christian Apologists" Please Shut Up

OK, when I saw on Christdot that a debate had been set up by Ray Comfort to be aired on ABC to "prove the existence of God without using the Bible," my only response was, "Please somebody stop them." Well, no one did - and we ended up with a train-wreck. My dislike for Ray's "apologetic" is well-known, but his assertion was utterly absurd and I was hoping that someone could make sure that this doesn't happen.

It's not that I think that the "rational response team" had great prose or even great points (and, frankly, they did as much preaching as Ray - complete with an emotional appeal), it's that I think that Ray and Kirk had absolutely no ammo going in, and ended up looking like idiots.


This article actually has a good summary of why Ray and Kirk just shouldn't tried to do what claimed they could do:
In a debate during which one has committed not to use faith or the Bible to scientifically prove the existence of God and then two of your three debate points (creation, conscience and personal conversion) depend solely on faith and the Bible, then you automatically lose. If fact, during his first response Sapient pointed out that Cameron and Comfort had already lost and everyone should just go home and he was actually right. Obviously that did not settle the larger question, but the “debate” was over in my mind.

That's it in a nutshell (and you can see it happen here). This wasn't a debate, Ray and Kirk conceded with the very first point and made Christianity look stupid by comparison. It's frustrating, to say the least.

I get tired of this type of arguing between Christian and atheistic folks - but I get darn-right annoyed with the fact that my fellow Christians keep jumping in to this muck with both feet - all the while not-realizing that they're selling the farm when they do so. Ray's whole premise, that he didn't need to use the Bible to "prove God," set up the playing field entirely in the advantage of the people he'd like to call his opponents. Why? Because he just told them that the criteria for which they prove something as "real" is the true arbiter of reality - whoops. Christianity needs faith, and is built upon assumptions that cannot be proven via the scientific method. This is not a bad thing. I can't prove that there's going to be a general resurrection of the dead. I can't prove that Jesus is reigning over all creation. I can't prove that the people who died in Christ are now "with him." And you know what? I'm OK with that, because we're talking about faith which is belief in things that are not seen. Why on earth do we keep telling people that it's the opposite?

Here's the thing, "contextual" doesn't always mean "using the same tools as everyone else is using." Living out the faith in context simply means finding a way to faithfully live-out this Gospel we keep talking about all the time. My premise is if we concede the match before we play (by trying to pretend that our faith is based on the scientific method) - then we're not being faithful, we're not doing ministry in context because we end up undermining ourselves. I think we just need to go back to proclaiming Christ in weakness, besides being Biblically sound I think it'll be a very contextually appropriate form of proclaiming Christ.

Note: You can also see some of the "rational response squad's" after-debate musing at the end of this video. The most interesting thing about this tape was how Evangelical it sounded. These folks are flip-sides of the same coin.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Thinking about moving..

My friend Jamison told me several months ago that I should consider moving my blog off the CrossPointings.org web site. I balked because it's my blog that partially directs traffic to the CrossPointings.org site - and that's really where my passion for ministry is. However, I've been continually stung by the minimal blogging features in Joomla (like, no blog-roll??) and since I've moved to a dual template layout I haven't been getting the traffic on my posts that I used to get.
So, I'll either move my blog here, or figure out a way to get my blog posts linked on to the front page of CrossPointings.org, we'll see..