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.