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.