Friday, March 28, 2008

Moving...

Wezlo's Musings was an experiment in using an external blog site, rather than doing it on my own. For the most part, it worked. Because I use google's tools so much I decided to try out blogger, and it was good - until I wanted to use tools that other folks were using in other blogs, then it didn't work. Between Christdot shutting down and conversations that have taken part here in it's wake, I want a new start - wrestling with blogger is no longer "fun" for me. So, I'm moving to wordpress. My new blog is called "Painfully Hopeful," which kinda reflects my current emotional and mental state (why I didn't just take vacation this week is beyond me).

Here's to a fresh start. Who knows, maybe I'll even install wordpress for myself as some point.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What I did today...

If anyone keeps up with my twitter, you know that I've been wondering why I do the things to myself that I do. This has nothing to do with self-mutilation (except in the metaphorical sense), it has to do with how I go about accomplishing the calling which has been given to me.

I have some folks who want to get baptized - this is a good thing. They are folks who have been here for a while, and are trying to follow Jesus with varying levels of success, and want to make this step. I'm glad for it, really I am. When many pastors need to do something like a baptism class they'll either look for some pre-packaged materials or get a list of Scriptures together and try to put something together on the fly. For my first couple of baptism classes, the latter was my general methodology - we'd read Scripture, I'd talk.

I always hated doing baptism classes - until I did a one on one session this past summer and got to deal with some other issues, it made me want to re-write the class to be more (grin) "immersive." It was a good goal, and then life happened and I never got to it this fall like I wanted to. The luxury of waiting, however, was taken away from me - I've got folks who want to be baptized and I need to offer them something other than me talking at them for several 45 minute sessions. So what did I do - I rewrote the class, in a day and a half.

Not only that, but I decided that a booklet was a great way to make sure people hang on to the materials, so I created the booklet as I rewrote the class. On software I'd never used for a booklet like this before.

Actually, it's probably not even done yet. Why do I do these things to myself?

Anyway, here's the class order:
  • 2 sessions on the nature and symbolism of baptism (including a look at baptism in other traditions).
  • 3 sessions on the nature of the Apostles' Creed
  • 2 Sessions on "experiencing the narrative" (Prayer and Worship)
  • 1 Pizza party.
Yes, I could do much more, but I don't want to fry people's brains at the start of their journey. The good news is the the bulk of this material can be re-used for a membership class.

There are days when I think I'm just nuts. I mean, I even put a creative commons license on the title page.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Horton Hears a Who...

Today we tried to go to the Franklin Institute with the kids. We have a membership and they are off for the week. Unfortunately, I think everyone else who was off for the week also tried to go to Franklin Institute today. After doing three laps around portions of center city, looking for a parking spot (even the garages near the museum were full), we decided to "bag" it and head back over the river (I'll get back in that model heart one day soon!).

So, instead of heading home, we drove to the local theater and saw "Horton Hears a Who." It's a cute film, and I love how they faithfully transposed the "feel" of the artwork to the world of 3d computer animation. The little touches helped.

One of the things I appreciated in "Horton" was how, for once, it was the people who had "faith" that were the creative and open-minded folks - stretching their world so that they could take in a new reality and yet interact with it within an existing ethical framework ("a person's a person, no matter how small"). As a pastor, I appreciate that. Granted, there's been some positive depictions of film all throughout Hollywood's history (and some that aren't) - but I can't think of any where the people of faith are depicted as the "artsy types." If know of any others, let me know - I'd like to see those films.

The best line of the movie refers to "pouch-schooling." I smiled.

Friday, March 21, 2008

OK, so I'm weird...

I was working on some things for my upcoming series preview and I thought, "You know, I need a rating screen." So, I made one. Yes, I'm odd, but it looks cool!

Jeremiah Wright's Context

I've got to say, he sermon tracked very closely to the one I preached the sunday after 9/11.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kingdom Collision Trailer

Opening
Black background, thunder rumbles in the distance. Text fades-in with time-lapse of clouds forming it’s picture - the text reads “In the days of Caesar Augustus.”

The text fades out - and is replace with a series of words and voice-overs.

Violence
“When I die you will kill those rabbis - there will be weeping at my passing.”

Oppression
“If the Romans take all the best - they grow fat off of our work!”

Rebellion
“The only good Roman, is a dead Roman! Through their deaths we will bring the Kingdom of God!”

Corruption
“If you pay the right tributes, the high-priest will most certainly stay in your family.”

Hatred
“You’re a traitor, tax collector - you’ve betrayed your own people for profit!”

Longing
“One day, the Messiah will come - and then we will be free.”

Hope
“This is my beloved Son, with him I am well-pleased.”

Background fades-in gradually as the voice-overs happen - it is an image of the crucifixion. It says up for a moment and then fades to black. Text fades in saying, “Kingdoms Collide: September 08.” Fade to black.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Boggles the Mind...

I get all sorts of "churchy" catalogs in my mailbox. Often I'll just toss them in the trash, but occasionally I'll take the time to page through them. Once in a while, I get a good idea. More often then not I'll just end up being utterly confused. Such is the case in the last catalog I paged through.

Surprisingly, what left me scratching my head was not the two page spread emblazoned with the title "Celebrate God and Country!" I guess I'm just desensitized, I've come to expect that from catalogs like this. I mean, what's a little idolatry between Christians, right?

No, what really boggled my mind in this catalog was something that had never occurred to me in my wildest dreams. As I was flipping through the pages of the catalog I was suddenly thrust into the realm of church member parking permits. I guess I've never had to deal with the logistics of a church where parking permits seem like a good idea - but this just strikes me as way odd. I mean, is that how you know you've arrived? You don't have to park in the "visitor's" lot any more because you've got a permit for "member parking?" Are you only allowed to park in certain areas depending on your permit number? Do you get ticketed if you park in the wrong section? Is this the updated version of getting offering envelopes?

I don't know - but it does boggle my mind.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Designed in Mission is Over

This past Saturday we completed our Designed in Mission journey. Fittingly, we ended on a high note - this week's conversation between Lee Spitzer and Jonathan Malone was one of the best yet (and I'm not saying that just because Lee is pretty much my bishop). It was interesting to see how Lee and Jonathan are using similar themes to my own to help congregations be renewed. Lee's model of spiritual journey and the idea that congregations frequently replace "faithfulness" with "busyness" tracks very well with what I've been working on at Central. Lee's major point was when this shift happens mission is no longer the focus of the Church, "What I want" becomes the only criteria - which is dead on and describes Central beautifully. Jonathan set up a multi-focused approach of over-lapping circles: Discipleship, Worship, and Outreach (if I remember correctly). His circles (which he deliberately drew to form the Trinity Symbol) match up nicely to my three aspect approach that I formed with our three devotional studies that covered Evangelism, Pilgrimage, and Hospitality.

Now that the conversations are over I'll finish rendering and unloading the video I've taken. Once everything is on the web I'll work on getting the DVD's set-up. As Central Baptist moves forward with restructuring this is going to be mandatory material for the process. Here's a few thoughts as I move into the "post-production" era of DiM:
  • Traditional ways of passing on information are absolutely dead. People will tell you constantly that they want to have information passed to them in announcement, bulletins, brochures, and what-not - and perhaps they do. The problem is, they won't listen to it. We had brochures out in the church, and mailed to our region with a brief letter, bulletin announcements, and audible announcements. Those who weren't hostile to the concept were still like, "Wait, what's this?" five months into the session. Next time I do something like this I'm going to appoint an advertising leader.
  • A lot of the people I enjoy being in conversation with are from communities I'd never actually be able to be a part of. I can appreciate organic churches and mega-churches from a distance (and enjoy intersecting with them and working with them and everything in-between) - but my Ancient-Future leanings lead me to a much more connectional point of ministry. On a personal level, DiM helped confirm that for me in an environment where I was in genuine conversation.
  • Central isn't aware of the danger it's in institutionally (no, I don't think that's a bad word). There's still a lot of people who either think they'll wait people out until the 1950's return, and a lot of people who say, "I already know what I want" and therefor are unwilling to be stretched. This lack of urgency lead to low attendance.
  • I think I'm done trying to be the "front-man" to get people on-board with any new initiatives. Frankly, if I open my mouth people just sigh, "What now?" So, I'm going to tackle some folks who have truly disappointed me with their lack of courage in standing up to their peers and challenge them to step up to the plate. If only one of these people would actually stand up and say, "You know, we're being schmucks" this church would change at it's very core. It's time they took some responsibility for the mess we've been in for 30 years.
  • There's some good work being done out there for the Kingdom. I really don't want to copy any of these conversation partners - but I hope this material challenges/encourages me for years to come.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Blast from the Past...

I was looking over my google videos today as I waited for another Designed in Mission video to process, it's hard to believe this was only a year ago. Let me give some background info for folks who weren't reading my blog before last January.

About 2 years ago I realized that programs weren't going to help Central all that much. The strength and vibrancy of the congregation had atrophied so much that all the big programs were doing was reinforcing that they weren't where they wanted to be. I had identified some areas that Central needed some exercise in, so I wrote three Devotional Studies which were designed to get Central exercising some much needed spiritual muscles. They were: Biblical Evangelism (Evangelism), Stop and Smell the Coffee (Pilgrimage), and Making Space (Hospitality). The first two are actually on-line over at CrossPointings.org - why I've never got Making Space up it beyond me, I guess I'll have to work on that.

Anyway, being a geek who loves stories, I thought that the plug for these studies needed to be in narrative form, something epic. Something like, say, Star Wars. So, I created an "opening crawl" for BE - and then the successive studies (I'll have to dig these up and get them on youtube), and we created an arch-villain to tell the story - "Darth Nohope."

Below is how I want Darth Nohope to be treated when he shows up at Central.


New Script...

Central recently went to using "registration/friendship books" to track attendance and give guests a chance to let us know who they are. Well, people aren't really "getting" the books - and after two tutorials that no one listened to the deacons wondered how we could get the message out. I thought a tutorial film would be good - as even people who don't like the screen remember what's put on the screen.

The catch is that the tutorial film is going to be filmed like a cheesy 1950's "public awareness" video (everyone who saw the posture short on MST3K raise your hands). So, cue the cheesy music, bad acting, and over-the-top narration. Here's the first draft of the script:

[Fade from black - the picture is black and white and grainy, like an old film. Scene is a church sanctuary with a few people in the pews. A young man in a suit and tie walks down the aisle - the camera zooms in on him as the narrator begins]

This is Johnny.

[Cut to Johnny sitting in the middle of a pew]

Johnny is visiting a new church for the first time today and is feeling a bit uneasy. How will get to know people? Will anyone ask even him his name?

[Cut to an older man, similarly dressed, walking down the aisle. Narrator continues]

He doesn’t need to be worried, because there are people like this fine Gentleman named Billy. He knows how to the church’s friendship pad to meet visitors in the pews.

[Cut to Billy sitting in the same pew as Johnny]

When Billy sits down, the first thing he does is fill out the friendship book on the page for that Sunday. Then, with a smile, he passed the book on to Johnny and encourages him to fill out the form as well. The form tells Johnny that he can request a visit from someone, or that he’s looking to join a new church. He’s glad for the opportunity to tell people how he’d like to connect with them - and because Billy’s name is already on the sheet, Johnny decides to take a moment to introduce himself - returning smile he received earlier.

[“Properly Dressed” girl enters in, stage left, and takes a seat near Johnny]

When Sally comes and sits next to him in the pew, Johnny knows just what to do - he hands her the friendship book and she gratefully accepts it with a warm smile. Then, she passes the book on down the row as people gather for worship.

[Cut to close-up shot of the end of a pew, a hand places the friendship book near the end and is pulled back off camera]

When the book reaches the end of the row - it gets set down until the end of worship, when the church ushers come and collect the sheets at the end of worship. That way, the church can see if anyone was missing, or new to worship that Sunday.

[Cut to living room, phone is on the table. As the narrator continues, Johnny comes in and answers the phone - sitting on the sofa]

Two days later, Johnny receives a phone call. Who could it be? Why, it’s the church he just visited, they saw his name in the friendship book and saw he wanted to talk with someone about the Church. Johnny is happy, and grateful for how well the friendship books worked.

[Cut to close up of Johnny. After narrator speaks - he makes an exaggerated wink]

Now he just has to figure out how to sit next to that cute Sally next Sunday!

[Fade to black - cue cheesy music - credits - fade out - end]

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Thoughts: Reading Scripture with the Church

I haven't done a book review in a while, so I thought I'd share some thoughts with you about a book I've just finished, Reading Scripture with the Church. The book is a collection of Essays on Biblical Theology by four Different authors: A.K.A. Adam, Stephen E. Fowl, Kevin J. Vanhoozer, and Francis Watson.

I found the each of the essays intriguing, though Vanhoozer's essay on using Philemon as a framework for theological reading takes a good while to eventually get to the point. Here are some things I found appreciative in the book:

  • Adam's idea that Scripture is a "signifying presence" for the Church in worship. Adam's point is that the Scripture reveals the roles our lives should emulate (or avoid, as the case may be).
  • Fowl gave me a new appreciation for Aquinas, and gave me some new insight into why the Catholic traditions are able to deal with a plurality of Biblical interpretations without leading to fracturing the way Protestants do.
  • Despite Vanhoozer's slow beginnings (prolegomena in an essay is OK, just try to keep it brief), I throughly enjoyed the way he used the "theodrama" of Philemon to show that theological reading can be used to make Scripture applicable beyond typical historical-critical questions (like, "Why does Paul seem to support the institution of slavery?")
  • I enjoyed Watson's discussion on the canonical context for the four Gospels. I especially liked the way he used the Eucharist as a point of declination between the canonical and non-canonical Gospels.
I was kind of disappointed with the "responses" at the end of the book, I think it would have worked better to have a transcript of a discussion between the participants after they read each of the essays. On the other hand, there is much to chew on in this book - which I find to be a nice contribution to Biblical Theology.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm Twittering....

Someone (you know who you are) suggested that I should explore twitter as a way of passing information through churches. So, I set up a twitter account. The only problem at the moment is that I don't use SMS because I refuse to pay the outrageously high fees for something that takes only a fraction of a cent to send. I've got it set up via IM at the moment.

If you want to follow me around and get insightful updates like, "I can haz mr batre lives?" My twitter name is, of course, wezlo.

For practical use, I'm thinking twitter would rock as an actual prayer-chain. You can't gossip as much with limited characters!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The world's a-changin....get a grip and hang on.

I've been marveling at the way the internet is morphing the way "official" information is passed on to people. It's changed our personal communication for a while now - e-mail, IM, Socal networks, and blogs are just the tip of that particular ice burgh - but now "offical" news outlets are changing the way they handle a story and I find it fascinating.

It actually started a while ago when TV news stations like CNN started posting articles (really, they're pretty much properly formatted on-line copy) on their web-site. Sure, videos were there too, but 10 years ago on-line video was clunky at best (in reality, it just sucked). To compensate for their restricted ability to share video news they became what amounted to an on-line newspaper of sorts. After all, they had to get that information out there, somehow.

Now, it's the print-media that is morphing thanks to the internet. Many newspapers realized long ago that they had to have their content on-line because people weren't reading their printed papers as much any more (and that number continues to drop). They tried porting their subscription model over to the web but that was an utter failure for most sites - so they did what CNN had done before them, their articles were out there on the 'net, no subscriptions needed. Then things got interesting. Local news stations started putting their copy on the 'net as well, only because they were on a TV News cycle the content was updated more frequently than on the newspaper sites. Also, in the last two years video on the web has been a pleasant experience (rather than the root-canal it was 10 years ago) - so video new-feeds began to go with the printed copy. With their faster cycle, and video - newspapers were feeling the crunch.

In the last six months or so I've been noticing something on newspaper sites like philly.com - videos. Rather than copying the TV news sites, however, and simply post the video that matches the "print copy" on the page, the newspapers have taken an different track - their videos are almost exclusively supporting content. That is, their print stories have remained the same, but now one or two videos will be shown alongside the article. Sometimes this is just a fuller version of a sources comments, but more and more (especially in the sports section) I'm beginning to see original content. It appears that newspapers as we knew them, no longer exist.

What's this mean for the Church? Well, it means we'd better learn to understand really quick that information doesn't wait to be passed around any more. It's flying out there, and "we'll discuss that next meeting" doesn't cut it any more. Sadly, too many church communities are woefully ill-equipped to function in this context - but we need to try. Heck, if newspapers can post videos, churches ought to be able to get used to a short information-cycle!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Well OK...

Today the kids and I were at my great aunt's birthday party. She's an interesting character, to say the least. My sisters and a some of my cousins were there with their kids as well (I can't believe how much our clan has exploded) and it was so cool seeing them all play together. The highlight of the afternoon came when it was time to cut the cake.

My uncle (also named Wes) made a terrible speech trying to remark on how big our extended family is getting and how it was great that our aunt was able to celebrate that with us (it wasn't a bad idea, but my family has the combined attention span of a gnat so he kinda lost us). Then it was time to cut the cake. My son, however, saw a whole in that logic - no one had prayed! As we often ask the kids to say grace at the table, my son took it upon himself to step forward, tell everyone to fold their hands and bow their heads (I don't teach him that particular posture, but ok). He also commanded, "Now no one talk while I'm praying, OK?"

The prayer started with, and I'm not making this up, "God, thank you that we can be here for [wrong name]'s birthday and that we have this chocolate cake."

This is a completely socialized habit - which I'm perfectly happy with (after all, he's 5) - but it was dang funny and I know that he's seeing this as an important action, so I know we're doing something right. He got lots of high-fives (which I'm not sure was the best way to positively reinforce this behavior, but my family isn't all that religious).

Sadly, everyone said the cake was "blessed." Which my son didn't do. Oh well.

I just might have to read this...

These guys seem to share much of my current misgivings about Emergent. Though they seem to be part of the Evangelical fold-proper while I'm pretty content to be a distant cousin. I had written this book off because it first came to my attention though a snarky, crack-smoking, site that sets up Emergent as a convenient straw-man and I assumed that any book they'd promote wasn't worth my taking a look at. I appear to have been wrong. Once I get some more reading done for my fall sermon series I might just pick it up.

For the record, because I'm not sure I've ever pointed this on my blog, my current misgivings with Emergent are with a noticeable closure of the ancient-future entryway into the conversation. It's hard to be ancient-future in a movement when codifying the Story has largely become anathematized. Once that door shut, I became less and less interested.

Deep Sigh...

I've been reading a lot of stuff on people who have lost their faith lately. The big one was on Christdot - but there's been other blogs I've stumbled into as well. All in all, the stories have made me sigh - the comments on various blogs have made me want to weep. Why is this? It's because the stories all seem to go like this, "I was a conservative Christian/Fundamentalist, I was 'on-fire' for God, I did Evangelism, I went to Church, I started getting restless, I examined the world, my faith told me that the world had to be one way or it was all a lie, the world wasn't that way, I think God is a fable now and I'm so relieved."

This story makes me sad, not only because people have been down a road in which they now find encouragement in the belief that God doesn't exist, but because I'm not even sure that the "either-or" between fundamentalism and atheism is all that different. I've been on the road out of conservative Evangelicalism™ since my seminary days (ever since I went back for a conference and asked a question that freaked people out but was well-within the bounds of historic Christianity). To be honest, I never really was all the happy with conservative Evangelicalism™ - it has to do with the Mennonite Environment in which Jesus socked me on the head - I just went that direction because it "seemed" like that's where the "real Christians" were congregating. Eastern University kinda pulled that rug out from under me and started me on a journey in which I actually am wondering if Fundamentalist Christianity is really Christianity at all. Let's be honsest, we've all got blind-spots. It's part of being human. As I look upon Fundamentalist Christianity (which now, sadly, is Evangelicalism™ almost exclusively) - I wonder if perhaps their blind-spots have gotten so huge that they've fallen off a cliff without even noticing. I wonder if perhaps God's left - and they so internally powerful that no one has noticed! It's not like there isn't precedent for this in Bible, right?

If my concerns are true, this makes all these de-conversion stories all the more depressing. People keep saying that God wasn't there (in the Evangelical™ world) and so they lost their faith. I keep wondering if perhaps God's going, "Duh!!?? Of course I wasn't there, those people are whack jobs - they don't look like my Son at all!" Sadly, this isn't a point that can be brought up with many of the folks who have taken that journey out of faith - largely because there are fundamentalists on that side of the aisle as well, and they are just as rabid and snarling as the theist variety.

Having only ever orbitted the Evangelical™ world, I can honestly say that I don't know what it feels like to have the carpet pulled out from under me the way many of these folks have had done. I can say, given that I'm still attached to Evangelicalism™ in that I'm a Trinitarian Theist who's not part of the high catholic traditions, I have to say I understand a bit of their relief. I mean, good grief, Christdot used to have someone on it that really insisted the Sun must go around the earth because "the Bible said so." I can't imagine the types of mental gymnastics needed to keep that world-view intact - no wonder they burn out!

So, if you're struggling with belief, faith, and are want to believe but have no "reason" for it (given that the world-view which propped up your belief have been revealed to be smoke and mirrors), let me encourage you to find one of those "high churches." Not for the comfort, and not for the cool music, and not for the "great programs." Find one, in order to experience something that Evangelicalism™ has utterly forgotten - the mystery of the presence of God. Will it save your faith? I have no idea. For all I know it might only begin faith in you. At least, however, you'll have encountered a Christianity beyond the boundaries that you're finding stifling.

Friday, March 7, 2008

"New"Blog

Q said that I should put a "new" blog I'm writing in my blog-roll. I say "new" because I've been writing it since December 07 and just didn't think to put a link here. The blog is part of my denominational region's site - abcnj.net (which I helped design). As such, the name is exceedingly bland, Ministry and Technology. The content, I hope, is not. Here's what I have on it so far:
  • Syndication
  • IM Calling
  • Ministry, Meet You Tube
  • Web Sites
  • One Laptop Per Child
  • Is MySpace so Yesterday? (Reposted with permission from another site)
  • Podcasting (three parts)
  • Document Sharing
  • Presentation Clicker (my Salling Clicker review)
Coming up I'm going to do reviews of OpenLP.org and OpenOffice.org, and maybe a short plug on using video games to create community (like some freaks who actually did a Wii Bowling Tournament). Actually, I think I'll be doing a post describing how I use the projection screen for my sermon presentations.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

More Larry Norman

With the passing of Larry Norman I've been listening to his music again. I forgot about this Gem, which sounds eerily contemporary for a song released in 1991 on Stranded in Babylon.

Step into the madness of a million city streets
Where dealers sell white powder and children stand and bleed
Where local gangs are vicious and cops are so impure
That schoolboys carry Uzis so they'll feel secure.

Where fathers rape their daughters and beat up on their sons
Until the mother tries to stop him and goes and buys a gun
Where the local church is closed except a couple times a week
And turns its face from all the homeless in the street.

This is America, land of the free
Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.

Bankers and controllers make deals on foreign shores
And the CIA ships heroin to finance their secret wars
They sell the madmen weapons then send soldiers to their land
And in the name of God we battle for all the oil under the sand.

This is America, land of the free
Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.

Step into the madness as a thousand points of light
Illuminate the warheads for the final fight.
Step into the madness, say your prayers and drink your tea
Get ready for a kinder, gentler world war three.

This is America, land of the free
Everyone gets justice and liberty, if you got the money.

Orthodox-Mennonite Dialog sounds cool...

On March 22 at 1:30 there's going to be a dialog between Mennonites and Orthodox.  This sounds so freaking cool.  Read about it here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I'm a geek...

Why? Well, here's two of many reasons:
  1. I care about the remote clicker I use for speaking.
  2. I am so impressed with the one that I just found that I filmed a demo of it for you tube.
Here it is:

Sadness...

Well, I was just trolling for election coverage and found this on CNN.com. Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons, is dead. This makes me sad.

I know that many Christians slam role-playing games as a convenient whipping-post, I'm not one of them. The fact that my parents surrounded me with books growing up (their house continues to resemble a library) and the fact that you had to read to play D&D are really two huge factors in my love of reading. I haven't played in years, and eventually I moved on to the 2nd Edition of Gamma World as my game of choice, but D&D and AD&D and I spent many hours together. The irony of my immersion into AD&D was that the mythology I was later introduced to as a Bible Major already made sense to me - I'd been reading modern versions of those stories for years.

Role-Playing was also one of the big factors my discovery that participating in stories told you a lot about who you were (and then, later, about who God is). I think I would have liked to meet Gygax, now I won't get a chance.

While I did have the Greyhawk game setting, my favorite Campaign setting of all time is Dragonlance. What's yours?

Reading List Started

I've started to gather my books in preparation for the Fall Sermon Series. I think it'll be entitled "Kingdom Collision," and it'll cover the political implications of Jesus' message in First Century Judea. As with a lot of my sermon series and writings, my aim isn't so much to lay out a "program" for people to follow (as you find in Evangelical™ circles). Rather, I want to give people a decent "tool-box" with which they can interact with the content of the Gospels on a deeper level - and then start moving forward to the political climate of our day and age. The goal is really three-fold:
  1. To explore the political implications of Jesus' kingdom preaching in the first century.
  2. To compare the implications of Jesus' preaching in 1st Century to our own in the 21 Century.
  3. To begin the difficult process of asking how our current context may legitimately or illegitimately change the present-day implications of how we proclaim and live out Jesus' kingdom-message.
Points one and two are relatively easy, point three is where the fireworks begin because:
  • People are going to have honest disagreements at that point which we'll have to live with (gasp, perhaps the Holy Spirit isn't making us all clones!)
  • Some sacred cows are going to be slaughtered and cooked (and, if you are thinking of someone else's sacred cow, please understand that the barbecue is being lit for yours as well).
Anyway, here's what I've ordered (or procured) so far:

  • Gregory A. Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church (Zondervan Publishing Company, 2007).
(The above is a good primer for lay-folk. I take issue with some of his forcing of modern political jargon into the world of Jesus [calling the Pharisees "liberals" in order to make it clear that the Sadducees were the "conservatives" who were holding on to their power is a huge stretch]. Yet, there's a lot to chew on in these pages. I won't be drawing from Boyd that much, he's done too much of the work for me, but if you're part of the Central Baptist community, you should pick this book up because there will be some significant resonance)

  • K. C. Hanson and Douglas E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts, Pap/Cdr (Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2002).
  • Bruce J. Malina, The Social World of Jesus and the Gospels, 1 (Routledge, 1996).
  • John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2 Sub (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994).
In addition to these, I've become fascinated by William Wilberforce, who wrestled with these issues in his own day and age - so I've read this biography and will likely pick up others:
  • Kevin Belmonte, William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity (Zondervan Publishing Company, 2007).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Tell me what I don't know...

After knowing for years that I've got ADD, I figured I'd do a survey to test out the accuracy of my assumption.  The reason I did this after so many years is quite simple, a friend of mine told me about the medication she takes in order to study and I briefly thought, "Hmmm, I wonder what it would be like to have a 'normal' brain for a while?"  I mean, I guess it would be interesting to briefly experience why I get those blank stares from people every now and again.  Not that I'd want to such an experience permanent, mind you - half the things I do are actually helped by my having ADD.

So I took the survey, and it popped up, "You most likely have ADD."

Well, duh.  Oh look, it's shiny!!!!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Dang Cool...

Last night I was watching The Daily Show and heard the credentials of that show's guest while playing a game of Civilization 4. When I heard them I thought, "Wow, that sounds like someone I know." Imagine my glee when I discovered that it was someone I know!

Here's Allen C. Guelzo being interviewed by John Stewart. If you ever get a chance to hear Dr. Guezlo speak in person - run, do not walk. He's that awesome.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Free stuff that kills trees...

As a pastor, I occasionally get a complimentary copy of some magazine or another. Some I enjoy reading, others I wonder how I ever got on the mailing list (I would love to see who sold my name), and others...well....others I repent before God on behalf of Christians who have done nothing better than to kill many trees to spread their message.

Such is the case with a magazine that came in the mail yesterday. It's title made me think that it might be a compendium of sermon illustrations - not my cup of tea but maybe semi-interesting - the reality was far worse. The magazine was actually a compendium of much of the worst of baptist thought. It made me sad. One article in the back was a decent critique of the "bait and switch" tactics many churches use to grow their membership. It didn't redeem the time it took me to page though the rag I had received for free. Here's a sample of some of the things in it:
  • Letters to the editor complaining about the new layout (I have no idea what the old layout was like so I can't say if it was an improvement). One comment was that the magazine was going "contemporary" because the cover had a barefoot girl wearing pants on it, which was inappropriate for a pastor's magazine.
  • A sermon illustration remarking on how the complexity of the leave proves evolution couldn't have happened (I read this and winced).
  • A sample sermon outline (why do people use sample sermon outlines? I mean, really) explaining how the moral depravity of unbelieving Jews meant that Jesus couldn't do any miracles for them, as opposed to believing Gentiles (look ma, bad science and antisemitism in one convenient package).
I could go one, I won't. Christians wonder why people look at us funny?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Geek-ness measurement...

One of the ways I know I'm a geek is that my son saw some boxes that had classic 8-bit images from the NES, including an NES controller with the declaration "I was classically trained," and he demanded my wife get them for me as a birthday present.

He thought I would love them, he was absolutely right.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oh the "scandal"

OK, so the major news networks are all covering the "scandalous" NT Time Article about John McCain. Now, aside from the fact that I deeply appreciate that McCain is noticeably annoyed by the willingness of our current administration to use torture in extracting information from prisoners, I'm not likely going to vote for McCain in the general election. His stances and mine don't over-lap, despite my appreciation for his willingness to take some stances which are unpopular among his fellow republicans.

This "article," however, is pretty much terrible commentary on the nature of American society. If this is a "scandal," we're in serious trouble. Here's a brief run-down:
  • A female lobbyist started hanging out with McCain a lot eight years ago during his first run for the White House.
  • While the lobbyist and McCain say there never was a romantic relationship, McCain's aides grew concerned and worked to make sure nothing could happen romantically. They also were concerned that an appearance of impropriety regarding senate business would not derail his run.
  • McCain apparently heeded their advice - 'cause nothing happened beyond that.
So does anyone want to tell me why this is so "scandalous?" The guy has advisers who watched his back, moved to keep him from crossing a really bad line, and he listened to them. Good grief, does anyone else wish that the over 50% of "Christian Marriages" displayed this type of scandalous behavior going one when things get a little dicey? I dunno, maybe the world would be bit better if people had the type of friends who would be willing to step-in and remind people who they want to be.

The real question here for me is, given McCain's willingness to spend some serious time with a telecommunications lobbyist, what are his technology policies going to be like?

But that doesn't get the ratings I guess.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Oh Boy..

The only thing missing is someone complaining that they aren't singing the songs they grew up with.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

And then there was this...

I got a card from the husband of one our members this morning. He's a good guy who used to go to Central, but felt chased off because he had long hair. Needless to say, I've always felt a connection, and actually apologized to him for the behavior of the church towards him. Usually, when people "vanish" from the congregation, I've tended to encourage them to find another place to worship (after dealing with some issues). This gentleman, I've always hoped would be able to come back and hang with Central. I guess I've thought that it would be a good statement for him and for the congregation, "The type of behavior that leads to people being run-off because they 'aren't us' is unacceptable and we condemn it - but there can be redemption and we're going to bank on that."

Well, several weeks back this gentleman had a rather serious heart-attack that very nearly took his life. I went down and sat with the family briefly while he was on the operating table - and then went down with our head Deacon the next day as he was in the ICU. He was wired, so we prayed briefly for him and went home - now I don't think prayer is meaningless, but I don't often get immediate responses either? Apparently this gentleman experience something rather powerful:
I remember seeing you & Ric at the foot of my bed, and I remember our prayer together....but it was when you touched my forehead and made the sign of the cross...your touch enabled my spirit to soar, and for one short moment, I was looking into the eyes of God and felt at peace....for it was then that I knew that I was going to be all-right.
My doctors are surprised at how quickly I am healing! You have a gift. Thank you for sharing it with me. May God bless you & guide you in your Important work.
OK, so being here apparently isn't pointless. Talk about timing.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

If you schedule it - people won't come.

Today was February's Designed in Mission. We had my friend Chris (hi Chris) and Stephen come and present on their communities. Both were great conversation partners, and I was especially interested in Stephen's perspective as the head of new church development for the Franconia Mennonite Conference.

I was, however, disappointed with the turn-out. Aside from the one person Stephen brought with him (hi Jess), one person showed up. To be fair, several of the people who have been coming were away this weekend, and Q and company would have come if I had managed to set up child-care, but over-all the turn out for these things have been disappointing. There have been times when I've almost begged people to come out and be part of this absolutely necessary conversation - only to look out and see most people crossing their arms in defiance (literally) or trying not to meet my gaze. Honestly, it gets depressing.

I guess most pastors go though seasons like this, wondering, "Why am I hear, Lord?" Knowing that it's common, however, doesn't make it any easier to go through. I'm just at a point where I'm not sure that my voice is very effective here and I'm not sure if this church actually wants to live, or have someone else live for them. I'm at the point where I don't want to come up with any new ideas, because I don't want to be disappointed again. In that sense, I'm guessing that I'm learning the lesson that this culture has been beating into the heads of everyone in this congregation for years, "Shut up and don't make waves and we'll leave you alone." I really don't want to learn that lesson, because once I do my effectiveness as a pastor will be over - but the temptation is there. I mean, why bother trying to move forward if people are just going hang back and hope you get it "out of your system?"

So, how do I wrestle with feelings like these positively to avoid self-pitying navel-gazing? Well, first I'm throwing myself into the ideas that I already have. The fall sermon series here is going to be one most provocative to date - we'll be examining the political implications of Jesus preaching in his contemporary setting and how that might impact the way we interact with the political realities of our current day. What'll make it so provocative is that I'll be preaching the series in the heat of a presidential campaign without simply telling people how Jesus would vote. Of all the things that I still have envisioned for Central, that series is the thing that gets my heart pumping the most. In fact, I'm already reading for it (and suggestions are most welcome). Second, I'm actually daring to ask if I should still be here as the pastor. This is a frightening thing for a lot of pastors to ask (and even more frightening for a congregation to hear), but it's a healthy thing to do. So far, the answer from friends, family, and pastors I trust has been, "Nope, not yet. God wants you here." This helps, even in my frustration, because I know I'm not just wasting my time (even if it feels like I am). It also helps because the freedom to ask that question directly addresses the sense of entrapment that a lot of pastor's have - knowing that if they leave they're also likely to loose their place of residence. Since I can ask that question openly, I know I'm not just staying out of a fear of being homeless - that's a good thing.

So here I am, I've got at least one thing left to do here as the Pastor of Central Baptist and I'm chomping at the bit to get to it. Yet, I have to say that it's getting harder and harder to come back over the bridge to New Jersey when I've been visiting my parents in PA. I miss the hills. Ah well, existential moment.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Dr.Q's Ramblings: Lent 2008: Day 6

Qohelet posted this the other day - I feel all warm and fuzzy.

Dr.Q's Ramblings: Lent 2008: Day 6

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Birthday Reflections

Ok, yesterday was my birthday (and I have to say that I like the Facebook birthday feature, no only did I get many well-wishes from people I also have remembered some birthdays I would have forgotten). Since it was my birthday, I figured I'd do some reflections on my celebration this year.
First, my extended family gave me money and ordered me to get a new TV. We've never had a new TV before so it was a huge surprise. The Wii never looked so good and last night we got to watch the second season premiere of Jericho in HD (everyone watch it please, so it doesn't almost get cancelled again). I can't believe how awesome over the air digital broadcasting looks - wow! Tomorrow we'll get our cable upgraded and I'll finally get to see a regular season hockey game in HD, which is why my Dad insisted I get the TV. I'm looking forward to it. The TV isn't much bigger, screen-wise, than our previous TV (32-inch wide screen, vs. 26-inch standard def). But it's light as all get-out and has connections out the wazooh. I'm actually looking forward to teaching a small group at the house and using the TV with my mac (maybe I'll have to go out and get a mini-dvi to hdmi connector).
Second, yesterday I was subjected to a satellite seminar on "Trends in Media and Technology" as part of our ABCNJ staff meeting. I say "subjected for several reasons:
  1. I'm tired of being handed "new data" that is 2 years old already. All this says is that that Church doesn't have a clue, what's going on the world. I mean, 2 years after "You" was the "person of the year" in Time we're getting told about this new trend that people want to interact with there entertainment? Are you kidding me?
  2. The seminar was a "bait and switch." Barna displayed some "trends" (which were 2 years old, as I said), and the next two speakers talked about Christians should guard themselves against the darker elements of ubiquitous entertainment. The first speaker actually became a prime example of godwins law and the second speaker read some of the hate mail he received from people who read his reviews on his web-site. After reading some of the second speaker's reviews, I have to say I was thinking that the hate mail wasn't strong enough. I know I need to repent of the impulse - but the movie reviews SUCKED.
  3. It was yet another prime example of why I want nothing to do with the Evangelical™ world. If that was an example of what we want Evangelicals to be, all I can say is, "No thanks." I mean, in dealing with an art-form that deals with the great questions of humanity (questions posed in Scripture with even more brutal honesty, read Judges) the second speaker called for discernment by asking, and I am not making this up, WWJD. Are you kidding me? I was also put off by the "don't go on opening weekend because we're saying we want more of these types of movies ("controversial ones) made." Uhh, what if I do want more types of movies that make you think and challenge the nice little bubbles we make for ourselves? It was clear that all three people involved in the seminar were only used to talking with people who already agreed with them.
The only thing that kept the hour and a half I was subjected to the insanity of this seminar was the fact that the regional staff all saw through the smoke-screen and said, "Wow, that was terrible."
As bad as that seminar was, however, my day was redeemed when we all went down to the Franklin Institute for the Star Wars Exhibit. I stood in the presence of the actual Darth Vader costume from Episode IV, as well as host of other props and models (they wouldn't let me sit in the land-speeder though, I was bummed). Some of the interactive games were wild (unfortunately, I suck at setting up a Jawa camp, they all started shooting one another), and they did a decent job of comparing the tech of Star Wars with what we're doing in the world today (I thought the prosthetic and robotics segments were the best). I do wish they would have had a section on all the fighters used in the films, as those are some of the iconic images we relate to Star Wars, but even without that I went away pleased. You have to stand in presence of Darth Vader, or any one of the wookies, to get an impression of how HUGE they are. It's amazing. Some of the essays on the different cultures were pretty cool too. To cap it off we sat in a mock-up of the Millennium Falcon's cockpit and went though a cool presentation in it. My son freaked out almost immediately (it was loud and I think he thought we were actually going into space, his imagination is very similar to mine and we both get overwhelmed sometimes with it). Still, I held his hand and kept my head poked through the curtain so we could see. The x-wing fly by at the end is worth the cost of the ride alone.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sick...

In the six years I've been a pastor I've never been sick on a Sunday.  That streak ends today, bummer.

Last night I woke up and was sick - which was not a pleasant experience.  This morning I'm still feeling a bit queasy, have a killer headache, and am rather sore (though I think this last bit is from playing Wii sports so much).  My wife ordered me to stay home and I called a couple of folks to tell them that I wouldn't be preaching this morning.  This kinda depresses me because I was planning on starting my class on William Wilberforce using the Amazing Grace movie today.  I was also supposed to go over to my parents to celebrate both my own and my sister's birthday.

The good news is that I just cleaned up my manuscript and will have someone read it during worship.  At least that work on behalf of the Church wasn't wasted.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Lent

Well, it's Lent. As has been my custom the previous two years I've taking up turning off the computer from Noon until after our kids are put into bed. This forces me to be more disciplined than I already am with my time in the morning hours, and releases me to the freedom of reading and "meat space" connections in the afternoon. It is an inconvenience, as at lot of my projects make use of my digital tools, but it's a good inconvenience.

My wife has also taken up doing a Lenten devotion with the kids this year which prompted my daughter to ask me, "Dad, why do people give up stuff for Lent?" I thought for a moment and said, "We give up stuff so we can not be distracted so much and be more able to follow Jesus." My daughter thought for a moment and said, "Well, why aren't I giving up anything?" When I told her that there was no reason at all why she couldn't give up anything for Lent she thought for a moment and said, "OK, so no TV for five weeks, I'll read!"

Now, I'm cheering for the reading part - but I also want my daughter to feel like she can succeed in this so I suggested that maybe we could keep the TV off after school until Bed time rather than drop it completely (she like watching one show in the morning before she goes to school, and the rhythm really helps her get ready for school). She smiled and said, "OK, and no Wii except at family time!"

So far, it's been good. My daughter is learning how to lay aside things she's normally free to do (and I hope there will be spiritual gain there), and she's also learning about the Positive side of Lent, she is spending a lot more time reading than she typically does (which is a good deal).

A family religious observance. Kinda nice.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Did he just say that?

This James Dobson quote is from a Reuters Article:
“I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are … I cannot, and will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
Later on he says:
“I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for president in my lifetime. I certainly can’t vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life,” he said.
Click here to read the full statement if you want to.

You know, I had a rant written - but I don't feel like posting it. It's Ash Wednesday and I'm pretty much musing on my own sin at the moment. What I will point out is that someone who has spent the last decade or so trying to get Christians politically active has just threatened not to vote if he doesn't get his way. People wonder why I have absolutely no desire to call myself and Evangelical any more?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

From the bang your head on the table department...

Today I asked people what happens in the pericope immediately proceeding the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew. A couple of people knew, but most just shuffled nervously. So, even though it wasn't part of what I was planning to do, I asked, "OK, well let me ask then, how many of us have read the Gospel of Matthew?" About 1/3 of the congregation raised their hands.

Two thirds of the people attending worship haven't read the Gospel of Matthew? Are you kidding me? I'm trying to figure out why it is that folks who haven't ever read the teaching of Jesus can (a) tell me what the congregation should be doing in Jesus' name and (b) actually say, "Hey, I follow Jesus." I'm not talking about someone who is a brand-new disciple (actually, the newest disciple in our congregation has read Matthew). I'm talking about people who have been part of the congregation for 20, 30, 40, and even 50 years. Are you serious? How the heck can you be a church that doesn't even know the story and content of the Gospel?

I just want to cry.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Not really a radical...

A couple of things happened this that have caused me to muse on the nature of how I pursue Christianity. First, I read a friend's blog on which he quoted a rather obnoxious response that was made to him on theOoze. Now, I've enjoyed a good many conversations I've had on that site but there has always been an element of "radical emergent" people who are quick to condemn anyone who is a vocational pastor, has a church building, or talks about dogma. The post my friend quoted on his blog was one such post.

Over the last couple of years I've really gotten tired of people with an activist bent towards their Christianity sniping at anyone who isn't lock-step in line with them. Encounters with "radical-emergent" folks, conservative Evangelicals™, and church growth gurus have left a bad taste in my mouth. It's not that I don't think that Christians ought to be a light in this world and help others, it's just that I'm tired of watching friends getting smacked in the head for daring to post questions to the activists. They're too busy to be in conversation, it's more easier to verbally assault someone on the way to the next big event.

As I was dealing with my renewed feelings of slightly-negative ambivalence towards activist Christians, I decided to pick up a biography on William Wilberforce to better prepare myself up the upcoming "Amazing Grace" class I'll be leading. Almost immediately I discovered a wonderful truth, for all his struggles supporting one good cause after another, William Wilberforce was not an activist. Rather, he was an idealist.

Now, it might appear quite odd to divide activists and idealists. After all, to most people activists are simply idealists in actions. From my personal experiences with activists and the biographical reading in which I've been immersing myself, however, I've noticed that many activists aren't actually idealists at all. Oh, perhaps at one time they had been idealists who had gotten bitter and in-grown at seeming failure of the world to get with the program - but the activist Christians I've met (and the ones I've encountered in my reading) are actually willing to leave their ideals behind as they attempt to whip people into shape. Activists are, all to often, revolutionaries who enjoy the act of tearing down - but have nothing to offer in it's place.

Idealists are different. Their ideals govern not only their goals and tactics, but also the way they respond when the world doesn't move the way they want. Idealists aren't as likely to write off a group of people (like, say, a political party or those who live in a geographic region) as activists are. Rather, they'll work with people who are in agreement with their goals, and when they are not will learn how to disagree with civility. Idealists may find themselves wielding power, but don't actually want power. Idealists, very often, aren't revolutionaries - they are reformers. Their desire isn't to see society turned on it's head as much as they want to see society ennobled for all. Their desire isn't to win - rather, it's to bless. Activists too often have forgotten that distinction.

Here's the thing. There was a time in which I would have loved to have been an activist Christian - tearing down any obstacle which stands in the way of my understanding of a "pristine Christianity." I've hung around activist Christians of many varieties: Evangelical™, Progressive™, Emergent, and Catholic. There is a vibrancy to all of them that cries out for the Kingdom of Heaven. I may not always agree with what each thought the Kingdom of Heaven was - but I can't deny the passion of the cry or the heart that makes it. The problem with me actually being an activist Christian is, and has always been, that I'm just not made up that way.

I have no problem knocking down walls, asking inconvenient questions or pointing out our corporate faults - but I pursue these out of a desire to devastate or cause upheaval (whether or not I'm perceived that way is another question). Rather, I pursue them because I want us to come back the ideal to which we say we're aligned. That is, the person of Christ and the story of the Church (read, dogma). The theological pursuit which has claimed me for the better part of 15 years pretty much sums up why I do what I do - I see the path forward through what has come before. That is, the path to the future runs through the ancient.

So, while I may admire the zeal of the revolutionary and the activist I have to admit that is not who I am. I'm just not a revolutionary - I'm too much of an idealist for that. My lofty goal is to step into the destructive frays which impede the call to discipleship for people, and enter into them with as much grace as can be mustered. I don't alway succeed - in fact, I too frequently fail - but that is my goal, that's the desire of my heart.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amazing Grace Sunday School Class

I thought last year's Amazing Grace movie was fairly well-done. It wasn't overly preachy, it kept the luster of 18th century political language present without whacking your head with it, and the summary of Wilberforce's life at the end was at least mildly thought-provoking (the sermons delivered by free African-Americans are even more so but I'll have to get to that after I finish Wilburforce's biography). At any rate, in a climate of political power-mongering and the impending collapse of the Evangelical™ political machine I thought it might be good to watch this movie with Christians and have it spark conversation. If anyone shows up, I'll be starting it this Sunday (it's likely that anyone who doesn't read this blog won't show up - because no one in my church pays attention to announcements for anything, much less a movie-based Sunday School class.). I wanted to take 3 or 4 weeks to watch the movie and spend some time on the implications of Wilburforce's life and work on our own lives. I was looking forward to this, because the movie came with a Study Guide that I could use. I should have read it before now. Really.

I don't want to knock people for trying - it's a difficult thing to write a decent curriculum for a small group (I know, I've done it). It's even more difficult to write decent "discussion starter" questions for a movie without being completely leading and hokey. I'm sorry to say that, on quite a few levels, the Amazing Grace study guide doesn't accomplish it's goals. Why is this? Because the guide springs from Evangelical™ roots - roots which are incapable of the type of introspection a movie like Amazing Grace deserves, and the world needs. The guide is a launching pad to make people feel able to be "world changers." While being "world changers" isnt' such a bad goal (provided the "change" is Kingdom oriented and brought though peace - but when you get Evangelicalism™ talking about world-changing the distinct lack of introspection leaves the call feeling rather shallow. This makes me rather depressed, because there was a well-done push to make people aware of present-day slavery alongside of the movie which didn't make the jump to the study guide. I don't know why, it just didn't.

Again, I don't want to vilify folks, they tried to do something that was more worth-while than just package up a DVD and roll in the bucks, that needs to be commended. It's just that in reading the materials (which are salvageable - kinda), I'm reminded again as to why I really am not part of Evangelicalism™ any more - it's not my world. I'm still looking forward to the class, though, 'cause the material is so wonderfully though-provoking and intersects with Scripture in some wonderful ways.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Oh too funny...

I guess it's political commentary week on Wezlo's Musings. Oh well. I just saw this video over on tech president, it made my draw drop. Oh what a wonderful mash-up!

Monday, January 28, 2008

You know...

I just saw the most obvious staged standing ovation of all time during the State of the Union address.  To be honest I was typing something in the lead up to the moment of the offending ovation, but when the President forcefully spoke, "..and the time to act is now" I looked up and saw the Republicans in the House chamber stand and applaud, along with giving a half-hearted cheer.  They did this all at once, there was no leading of one or two people, it was bang instant ovation - the democrats were trying not to look at each other as they remained seated.  Totally staged, ugh.

Other notes on the address.  Dick Cheney looked like he was about to fall asleep, wow.  Also, Nancy Pelosi was rather gracious in her outward appearance and demeanor during the speech.  I'm not a big fan of Speaker Pelosi, but at least she can be civil.

Finally, sports and parade commentators have nothing on TV News Political commentators.  I just heard, "Well, the president knows full-well that none of these things he mentioned are going to happen in an election year, but it's the president's job during a State of the Union to set an agenda and so he set one."  Excuse me?  I mean, those people get paid to make statements like that?  Are you kidding me?  And why is that mentality even considered to be acceptable?  I mean, isn't that the type of crap that churches pull all the time, "Oh, well we'll say we'll do this and this and this because we have to say that we'll do it - but c'mon the chances of those things happening are zero - so don't bother pushing it."

Sigh.  It's all an illusion I guess.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Will Bowling Tourment

The moment I took out the Wii and hooked it up I thought, "We are so having a Wii bowling tournament after Christmas." Well, on January 28th, we finally managed to do it. 28 people from the Central Baptist Community (including two of the Student Chaplains from Eastern University who had been out for the retreat last weekend) got together at 2 O'Clock and hung out until the end around 7 (at which time we awarded the victor's cup to the aforementioned chaplains). I ended up bowling only one game with my son - we actually tied for the last spot in the second round, but we waved the other team ahead as my son was having a good time playing with the kids and time was getting short. The neat thing about the Wii, however, is that you don't really need to be playing to have a good time!

Here's my thoughts on the tournament:
  • Next time we need to have 2 Wiis to cover the first two rounds. Round one took forever (especially since my son knocked over the Wiil and the machine reset in the middle of a game). 2 Wii's will make it go faster, and it'll be a lot more fun. Good thing just about everyone who bowled today said they were getting a Wii at the soonest opportunity!
  • Kids rock at Wii. We absolutely have to get over the "I'm past that life-stage" mentality (or "not to the life-stage mentality) in Central - we're better than we were, but it's still very prevalent. Yet, this was truly a family event with kids, parents, grand-parents, and great grand-parents all participating - and the kids just swing their arms and our-score all the "knowledgeable" adults.
  • We need more events like this - so that an ethic of community beyond the cliques which naturally form in a dysfunctional system can be replaced. It was so cool seeing these 28 people (plus a few more) hanging out, cheering, and laughing at the insanity of fake-bowling. May we have more frivolous times of celebratory rest!
  • Larry is a nut, that's the best compliment I can give him.
So, this will be happening again, possibly sooner rather than later, and it was sooooo much fun.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Wallis on "A" Daily Show

The best line was when John Stewart that he had a Meatball Parm Hero for Passover last year (if you don't get that, read more of the Tanakh, ok?). Wallis did a good job I thought - and the interview was very fair.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Off-Beat Bible Study

As part of our student chaplain retreat we though it would be fun exercise to demonstrate how easy it is to get a small group "off beat" through the use of skits. I set up some scenarios, based on real experiences, and had the chaplains fill in the blanks. Here's the results, the sound's awful (I need to get closer), but they are watchable.

Well, I'm Beat

Every now and again I just have one of "those weeks" where a perfect storm of past, present, and future catch up with me and end up running me over. It's no fun, but I tend to manage my time well enough that they don't come that often (I know some pastors that thing being constantly run-over is part of the job description, I think that's just plain sick). This particular convergence was a mixture of many good things going on at one time. Which is nice because I wasn't running around putting out a bunch of fires, but didn't make it any less tiring.

Let me run down the content of the steam-roller:

  1. I'm working on a web-page for a friend's church. I needed to get some work done on that to feel like I was fulfilling the trust he put in me. That meant some late evenings hacking php and css. The good news is that my html editor runs great on mac os.
  2. Designed in Met this past Saturday, Todd and JR were good conversation partners - but I had a lot to prep for their arrival. Though Bruce brings the donuts like clock-work - I forgot to ask, he brought them anyway. He's a good guy.
  3. My sermon prep was getting behind. I normally like to be working on sermons a few weeks in advance so I can "chew" over stuff. I was riding that weeks sermon at the crest for a bit and it was causing me some stress. Keynote made the presentations easier, however, so it wasn't as much as it would have been pre-Mac.
  4. The Chaplains came last Sunday and Monday for their winter retreat. I love this time - it's the type of ministry I'm passionate about - but it's a ton of work (booklets with the schedule, skit-synopsis, session outlines, worship slides, sign-up sheets, food order - etc). I'm actually hoping this last retreat will be usable by other groups so those materials don't hide in an unopened folder on my hard-drive forever. I forgot my still-camera this past weekend, so I'm waiting on some of the chaplains to get me images. I do have their skits on you tube, however, I'll put them up here shortly.
  5. Hospital visits came in abundance. Two folks went down with issues that were serious enough to get them admitted. The visits were nice (one hospital has a touch-screen TV, how cool is that?) - but they take a lot out of you.
So, right now I'm catching up on sleep. Yesterday I had a massive migraine which laid me out for a couple of hours (I'm thinking that was my body's way of saying, "Doofus, slow down!"). After a nap I was able to finish my goals for the day, and today I actually got caught up to where I want to be with sermon prep. Now I can start looking at the materials for the Amazing Grace Sunday School class I want to teach in February.

And one of these days I'll get a full day-off.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Know Thyself?

For two years I was an interim pastor of the church where I did my seminary's mentored ministry requirement. The pastor there was a great guy, and still a friend, and the Church wanted to test me out to see if I would be a long-term replacement there. For several reasons which I will not go into right now, the Church decided that I wasn't "the guy" and I ended up back in the Philly area at a Church that still has yet to fall into the decay that little church in MA had suffered.

Well, that church continued to decay, and last summer they decided to close up shop for good. It's sad, that was the church I got ordained in, but at the same time the system was so dysfunctional that it had ceased being a blessing to the community and ended up (usually inadvertently) wounding people who came into their midst. Let me be very clear - there were some wonderful people at the church, the system of the place was the culprit. It was a system that many of the people who made it up weren't able to examine critically - and that inability ended up choking the church to death.

Other than being in contact with several friends who remained at the church after I moved, I really didn't say up with the goings on there. I've not blogged on it, but after I saw this newspaper report on the closing of the Church I thought I'd need to make a short comment reflecting on this comment from the article:

We have been, like many churches in the New England area, losing members for one reason or another. People are moving out, they’re changing their perspectives on religion and so forth, but whatever the reason, our membership has been dropping throughout the last several years...
What this quote tells me, even after the church collapsed out from under the remaining members, is that the folks of that church still don't realize how badly their system was screwed up. People are changing their views on religion, that's not in question, but the the congregation did nothing to try and communicate or be in conversation with these new views. Also, the only people who "moved out" were long-term families of that church. The reality is that the population of the town has just about quadrupled over the last 20 years. Again, this church did nothing to reach out to this entire new population that expanded their town. When I lived there, I used to say, "The people who grew up here don't even think these newer families even exist." This quote just confirms that comment for me.

So why bother posting this? Because I want to encourage people to the difficult, but absolutely necessary, work of critical self-reflection. We all need to take the bold step of trying to see the systems we participate in from the perspective of "outsiders." Otherwise, we'll just keep on the path we're on, caught in our various ruts, and when thinks aren't going well we'll just sit back and blame the world, instead of our own interaction with it.

Jesus requires more from us than that.

Friday, January 11, 2008

A Whole New World...

Well, I haven't posted on it yet, but most folks know that I've started using a Mac as my everyday computer.  Now, I tolerated working with Macs back in the days of OS 8 and 9 (and cringed any time I was forced to work with Mac OS 7.x), but I never really was "a mac guy."  In fact, it was while I was working in a Mac environment, a public middle school, that I jumped into the world of Linux and never looked back.

Then, much to my delight, Mac decided that they needed a CLI after all (they didn't, actually, but I got one anyway) and put OS X on top of a BSD core.  I, however, wasn't in the price-range for a mac at the time and never really got a chance to play around with OS X.  Until now, that is.

After watching the Church secretary struggle with using an aging Windows 98 machine that started forgetting which drivers it had installed, I determined that she really needed a Mac mini.  There was some resistance to the idea of getting a Mac, but we went forward and the secretary has been doing quite nicely with it.  While I was setting it up, I got the bug.

I love Linux, I really do.  Without Linux I wouldn't be half the geek I am, and I wouldn't ever have access to the creation tools I've been using for the last several years.  Yet, as I used the Mac I realized that all the things I do on Linux could be done easier, and in less time, in the Mac environment.  So when I laid out my technology plan for the Church (so we never had a repeat of the a dying Windows 98 machine) I pointed out that what I really needed was a Mac.  The Church graciously agreed and now I have a nice MacBook.  Guess what?  Those time-savings I was expecting to have turned out to be real.  This thing is so easy it's nuts.

Linux is still around, it's on my old laptop and it still runs my MythTV box - but for my personal work, it's Mac all the way.  Now I just need to get one for my wife...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

My Eschatology...quizified






What's your eschatology?
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Amillenialist

Amillenialism believes that the 1000 year reign is not literal but figurative, and that Christ began to reign at his ascension. People take some prophetic scripture far too literally in your view.


Amillenialist


95%

Moltmannian Eschatology


80%

Preterist


65%

Premillenialist


30%

Postmillenialist


30%

Dispensationalist


20%

Left Behind


15%


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Root Beer Snob

Well, I've been a snob with things like computers, coffee, beer, and cheese for so long that I guess it was only a matter of time until I became a soda snob. It all started around last Christmas when a fellow X. admin shipped me some Coca-Cola made with cane sugar. I couldn't believe the difference in flavor between the corn syrup and cane sugar varieties - it was night and day. It continued this past fall when I went looking for the Root Beer of my youth (Hires) and found that the conglomerate which had purchased Hires decided that they didn't want to market it in the city of it's birth any more. Kinda ticked off, I went in search for some decent Root Beer, because it was a big company which took Hires away from me I decided the the big brands were not going to be part of my search. Instead, I was going to find a local or micro-brew Root Beer that had the flavor that I was searching for. Ironically, my search took me to a big conglomerate supermarket which had the selection of Root Beers I was looking for. Let me run down my discoveries in the order I like them:

  • Stewart's: I might get kicked out of the region for saying it, but I've got to say that Stewart's is way over-priced for their product. There's nothing great about it other than the bottle, and it uses corn syrup rather than cane sugar. It's also the second most expensive product on this list. I call it "pedestrian."
  • Hank's Root Beer: If this was made with all natural flavors it might be number two. Hank's is made in Philly, and has a great flavor. It's made with cane sugar and is actually the cheapest product on this list. It's pretty dang good - just wish it was all natural flavors.
  • Natural Brew: It's got a distinct flavor, and it creates ice crystal really fast in the freezer. It's kinda pricey, but the complex taste and interesting sweetness make it worth a try.
  • Virgil's Root Beer: This is what root beer should be. It's pricey, over $5 for a four pack (it's a treat, not an every day item) - but ohh how delicious. It's an all natural microbrew, and the only product on this list that doesn't make use of the infamous "caramel coloring" ingredient. This doesn't mean, however, that it's a clear brew. Nope, this root beer has a deep caramel color to go along with it's great taste. They get it by actually caramelizing unrefined cane sugar. It's probably one of the huge reasons Virgil's is so pricey, but as an occasional treat I have to say Virgil's is the best root beer I've ever had.
Those are the four I've been working with so far. Try 'em out and let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy New Year

Well it's January third and I've yet to post my "new year" blog. I don't really have anything huge to say, butI would like to mention some things that made last year remarkable:
  • Oh the wonderful dates: Both kids are now in school (though kindergarten is only a half-day), and besides having my head spin at all the things the kiddos are learning, it's given my wife and I a built-in date without needing to find child-care. This has been wonderful for us, and when both kids are in school full-time next year it'll just make my weekly day-off even better.
  • Reading: My daughter loves to read, she's already downing Junie B. books by the handful and is currently accepting my, "If you haven't read the book, you can't see the movie" policy with great enthusiasm. She's got some movies she wants to see in the near future, and the books are already on her "to read" list. New Year's day I woke up and she was reading a book someone from our Church had gotten her, The Secret Garden. Needless to say, I'm pleased.
  • My son is like me: After my son's first parent-teacher conference I realized that he's more like me than I already realized. How do I know this? Well, when the teacher started talking about how smart he is, but that they have trouble "getting him moving" I started having flashbacks. Apparently, my son likes to look around the room and start imagining stories up for himself. The teacher through he was distracted so they put him in an "office" (basically it forms a cubicle) and before she could get to the "but" I said, "Oh no, that didn't work." The teacher blinked and said, "That's right, how did you know that?" I replied, "Because he found a spot on the office and started thinking up a story for it." The teacher's eyes bugged out of her head as she exclaimed, "That's exactly what he did! He found a hole and was pretending his pencil was a space-ship flying in and out of it!" The apple does not fall far from the tree, after all I have a hard time looking at my toothbrush and not seeing a spaceship (and the sink and tubs are ancient, abandoned, interstellar harbors - imagination is a blessed curse) - the good news is that, even with all his delays getting started, my son still gets his work done with time to spare.
  • The return of Nintendo: I've never owned any game system other than Nintendo. I played the NES incessantly, and had and SNES for a while as well. I never had time enough to play to justify getting other systems (I even kinda regretted getting a Game Boy Advance), but this year the family took the plunge. First, I got a DS and fell in love. Then my son got one for his birthday and multiplayer came home to our house. Then we got the Pokemon games for the DS, and then my daughter joined the party in the fall. The kids love these things, and I love playing with them. If you read this blog, however, you know that Christmas brought the Wii to our house (I purchased it in August) - and that thing is just plain fun for the whole family. Now we just need some time limit rules, because I've played Twilight Princess more than I care to admit and I'm not even through the first temple yet!
  • The return of friends: The Q's moved back to the area and that's been quite nice for me (now if my daughter could stop mixing up flirting with "poking boys in the back of the head" it might be nice for the kids too).
  • Church got really good, and then the panic started: We had an infusion of new blood at Central this year which was really needed. We also got to the point where many folks began to understand how our structure isn't working and needs to be redone. These were good things. I've noticed, however, that many folks are actually intimidated by the newer folks and it left me shaking my head for much of the fall (when all this started surfacing). I finally came to the conclusion that the problem was that these new folks like each other. That's dangerous for a dysfunctional system, which depends on anger and friction to keep the status-quo. So, even though much of the fall was depressing/stressful at Church that epiphany left me thinking that we're still on the right track.
  • ABCNJ: My friend Frank calls me "Not your typical Baptist" (NYTB) - he's kinda right. I'm not really much of a Baptist as all - I'm more "the pastor of a Baptist church." Even so, my theology of Church requires me to reach out to the body with which we are directly connected, and that's been nothing but a blessing for me. ABCNJ has some wonderful leadership, encourages good theological reflections, and is desperately trying to help churches become living bodies. I'm blessed to be connected with it. I've also been given the privilege of being put on the regional staff dealing with ministry and technology issues. It's been a joy to take up and I'm happy to help Central connect more with it's regional roots (even if I'm not a very good Baptist, or even a Baptist at all).
  • Mac: I finally took the plunge and pointed out to Central's leadership that having me purchase my own laptop made no sense. After all, it's my primary piece of office equipment! Do we make auto-mechanics purchase their own lifts? The leadership got the idea right away, the Church at large didn't get it as swiftly (someone asked, "Don't you have a computer?") - but in the end the budget passed. Today I'm getting my Macbook. I know that Macworld is just around the corner, but it looks like most of the stuff coming out isn't anything I'm interested in. So....I'm making the switch - now I don't need to even have to wipe windows off of my machine. Yea!!!
There's much more, but that's enough for now. 2007 was remarkable for many reasons - I'm sure 2008 will be equally as interesting.