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 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..

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!