Showing posts from February, 2005

'Is God Among Us or Not?'

This was the sermon heard yesterday at my little church on the hill.

Exodus 17:1-7

The retired and dearly missed comic strip, ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ presents one episode where 6-year-old Calvin is dragging his sled to the top of a hill. There’s only one problem: there’s no snow. Not a problem for our young hero. He looks to the sky and says, ‘Boy, it sure would be great if we had some snow!’ Nothing. ‘I mean it, I’d love some snow right now!’ Still nothing. Over the next few panels this little tantrum gets bigger and more involved. Calvin is running in circles, he gets down on his knees and begs, he shouts and wails and finally in the last little box yells, ‘Do you want me to become an atheist!??!’

In this light-hearted example, Calvin wants God to make things happen. He has a desire, what he sees as a need, for God to respond to his yelling to the sky for snow to fall. And he expects results! Otherwise, he threatens, I just might choose not to believe in you any more. Cartoonis…
On Saturdays I do my best to shine light in some corners of the pop culture world that perhaps you haven't seen before. Or maybe you have and they deserve a second look. I'll leave that up to you.

I saw The Terminal this week. Tom Hanks comes over on a plane from a fictional East European country (according to his accent) and finds out he can't leave the airport because during his flight a coup erupted back home. So he passes the time by playing matchmaker between employees, learning English from travel guides, and getting on the nerves of the airport commissioner. Not a bad film.

In the CD player is a disc I just picked up this week called Passion: Hymns Ancient & Modern. The Passion praise group has put out numerous live CDs featuring modern praise songs, and this one features arrangements of familiar hymns. It was recommended by a friend a while back and I happened upon it the other day. If you don't get too freaked out at the thought of 'How Great Tho…

Time Management and Other Random Musings

~I enter into my two days off with a completed sermon and confirmation lesson sitting in my office across the way. No chance of me going over there to tweak them either. What's done is done.

~On a related note, in order to prepare for a true two days off rather than a day off and my rationalized working Saturdays, both the sermon and the confirmation lesson were tweaked throughout the week. Inspiration, write a few paragraphs, leave it alone. Wash, rinse, repeat. This is actually the way I wrote sermons in college, which while looking back I may have changed my mind about some of the content I still consider to be some of my best ones. And the last couple weeks have seen some pretty darn good ones, in my not so humble opinion. My approach lately has been to set aside one afternoon and force inspiration to come out my ears, producing mixed results. Go figure.

~Over the past year or so, a quote by Winston Churchill (hopefully no relation to Ward) has arisen a couple times on m…

It's not about you - Part 2

This is kind of related to Sunday's post, but not really. But kind of. You'll see.

There's another piece to the whole 'why aren't I more excited to be here this morning?' question, and it has to do with a reason I stated in my previous post: '...I was cursing having to come in Saturday morning to finish my sermon...'

Aha!! For the past, well, pretty much the entire time I've been here, I've only been taking one day off a week. Saturdays have been used for sermon tweaking. I'm either sitting in the church office typing or practicing in the sanctuary. It's been a working day. Friday I've been faithful in making a point not to go anywhere near the church building, but Saturdays which I call my 'on call' day (read: not actually working but available in emergencies) have more often than not been working days.

So I present all this to the pastoral relations committee last night, concluding that I'm going to do better about …

It's not about you

So I had a realization this morning. Not a realization I guess, but a reminder. I'm trudging up the stairs from the basement, having just come from teaching confirmation. My throat is sore from whatever my wife and half the congregation has, I was cursing having to come in Saturday morning to finish my sermon, what the heck difference is my sermon going to make....

For the record, this isn't burnout. It's way too early for burnout. It was more a crappy snowy tired I-feel-a-cold-coming-on morning where I just kept asking myself, 'Why aren't I more excited about what I'm doing this morning?' In part, there are just some mornings like that. We all have them, some more regularly than others.

Well anyway, I zip up my robe and just before I make my way out of the office for worship, I stop myself and just say, 'This isn't about me.' I can't explain it, but that made going through the service much much easier.

There are some who abuse that phr…

Weekend fun

It's Saturday, so you need some stuff to read/watch/listen to. I can help you out.

I haven't settled on a new book yet, but one on my nightstand I'm considering is The Origins of Virtue by Matt Ridley. This book was assigned reading in a college course years ago and I've been meaning to re-read it. The back cover describes the book as 'A brilliant examination of man's most basic instinct--the desire for mutual aid and trust.' It's genetics, psychology, and anthropology all rolled into one. Woo!

We watched Love Actually on Valentine's Day. This is a great film. It fits in the category of 'romantic comedy' but it's not really the predictable sappy kind that Matthew McConaughey always stars in. Instead, it's a British film starring a good dozen or so recognizable people in various relationship scenarios, all kind of interrelated but not really. Just go watch it.

Currently in the CD player is Passion by Peter Gabriel. It's the…


Lots of visitors here as of late. And some good activity in some of the comments sections as well. I was wondering how long I'd really stick with this before getting too bored with it or too busy with other things, but 2-4 new posts a week ain't bad for a guy trying to balance full-time ministry, a marriage,and wasting time on the internet.

I visited a coffeeshop this afternoon that I know will quickly become a new haunt of mine. They have an open mic twice a month, so one day when I work up the nerve I'll climb onstage with my guitar and play a few tunes. Meantime I'll curl up in the corner with a bottomless cup and read.

Speaking of, I've finished God's Politics. It's an excellent read and I highly recommend it. I'm starting to get distracted from my original plan to read an Old Testament-focused book and becoming increasingly interested in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially with at least two mainline denominations, the Presbyte…

Faith in Bath

Faith in Bath is the website for Bath UCC in Maine. They somehow found me (Martha?), so I'll give 'em a little plug, too.

Some Disjointed Thoughts on War

I've been thinking a lot about war the past few weeks.

I've been thinking about my time at Eden and how the general air was against going into Iraq.

I've been thinking about various views on the internet that give reasons why the U.S. needed to go to Iraq.

I've been asking myself if Jesus really was a pacifist.

I've been thinking about all the people in the world who want to kill Americans, who want to kill Christians, who want to kill. And I've been thinking about people in the world who want to kill Iraqis, Arabs, or Muslims. And of course we can add blacks, Jews, homosexuals, and virtually any and every group on the planet to the list, depending on who you talk to. And I've been thinking about how people who want to kill them don't stop until they are imprisoned or worse. But of course their ideas live on.

I attended a talk on war this past Tuesday given by an orthodox rabbi. He gave some of the usual rhetoric some may recognize as 'just war' rea…

That time again....

Happy Saturday. Or as they say in France, bien Samadi. Right? Eh....

I'm about 50 pages from the end of the Wallis book, so I'll be moving on to something else pretty soon. Some may remember my Lenten challenge to come up with a good book related to Old Testament issues not too long ago, and I think I'm going with Walter Brueggemann's The Prophetic Imagination. That'll probably be next.

I'm still digging Radiohead. Currently in the CD player is OK Computer.

For television, I usually watch Family Guy and Futurama on Cartoon Network before going to bed. It's a good way to wind down.

Around the 'net, check out JamBase. It's a website dedicated (or maybe Deadicated?) to reviews, interviews, and concert info on bands that fit the 'jamband' category (think Dave Matthews Band, Phish, Grateful Dead, Allman Bros., Blues Traveler). Well, I like it anyway.

Enjoy your week. Stay tuned for more caffeine-induced rambling.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross....or is it the Old Rugged Cross....

Over at The Parish, Greg gives a few thoughts on the symbology of the cross. This inspired me to make this post.

So it's Lent, and that means churches will be dusting off some of those old hymns about the cross. In addition, some will sing about being bathed in blood, but that's for another post. Let's stick with the cross for a little bit.

I used to wear a simple pewter cross around my neck. I think I know where that necklace is, but I haven't worn it for a couple years. Our sanctuaries are adorned with gold and silver crosses of various shapes and sizes, beautifully handcrafted and shiny. Some have found more creative ways to portray the cross. Ash Wednesday saw black crosses smeared on foreheads and palms. We can buy crosses made of nails bundled together, or crosses made from dried palm leaves. Over the centuries the cross has taken many forms: Celtic, Iron, the Pax cross at the top of the blog, etc.

A few years ago I saw a very different incarnation of the crosses I&…

"...and to dust you shall return."

This served as my invitation to the congregation before the imposition of ashes this evening. It's roughly paraphrased, as I did it sans notes. Maybe there's hope yet for me to work off manuscript. Well anyway, here it is:

"A bumpersticker that has become very popular the past few years has the American flag as a backdrop with the words 'The Power of Pride' laden over top. I think that the people who produced this sticker have underestimated the significance of this simple phrase.

"There is certainly power in pride. Some of it is good. Pride can produce loyalty and it can produce the strength that one may need to get through difficult times. But pride has other power as well. Pride can produce other things within us that are more harmful and destructive, two of which we remember tonight.

"The first thing that pride's power can overshadow is our sense of mortality, our sense of finitude. Pride can become so built up that we begin to believe we're …

Behold, the Ever-Expanding Blogroll

Some of these blogs have been listed on the sidebar for a while, but I thought I'd call attention to them anyway.

The Progressive Pilgrim Cafe is currently beginning a discussion on Marcus Borg's book, The Heart of Christianity. From what I've seen it's a good little community to discuss faith-related issues.

Treading Water is written by Liddy, a young woman making her way through seminary and pursuing UCC pastoral ministry.

Eat My Justice is a music blog written by Nick Dukes. I just dig his writing style.

I didn't expect to get this immersed in the blogosphere. Who knew?

Royal Language

Some may recall an entry I wrote about taking a 'working Sabbath' near the beginning of January. Well, it really did me a lot of good to take an afternoon of study and plan ahead for the next couple weeks. This could quickly become a tradition for the first Monday of the month.

One issue I've been pondering off and on the past few weeks has been royal imagery in relation to Jesus. In preparation for Lent I just switched the sanctuary paraments this morning to purple, the color of royalty. Those who have read my online ramblings here and elsewhere or who have heard me preach know that I have no problem talking about the kingdom of God. But my issue isn't with kingdom so much as 'Christ the king,' 'hail King Jesus,' 'amazing love, how can this be that you my king would die for me,' 'Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king.'

To get a disclaimer out of the way, no, my issue isn't with the apparent patriarchal overtones. Som…

'What Was He Thinking?' - A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday

Matthew 17:1-9

A musician and longtime follower of Miles Davis was at a club one night. His band had just finished their first set and he took a seat by the bar to relax before the group went back on. The bartender motioned to a nearby waitress and said, “You make sure to take extra special care of Miles. He’s a VIP.” The musician’s ears perked up. “Did you just say ‘Miles?’” “Yep,” the bartender replied. “He comes in here all the time. Always sits in the corner booth with a couple friends.” The musician glanced over to find that indeed, Miles Davis was sitting in the corner. What an opportunity! His all-time favorite blues trumpet player, the man on whom he’d based his style, was sitting 30 feet away. Standing up, the musician straightened his jacket, smoothed down his hair, and approached.

“Mr. Davis? My name is Jack, and I’ve been listening to your stuff since I was twelve. I have every album you’ve put out including a couple concert bootlegs. I’ve studied your style since I could …

Dean is UCC

So apparently it was just recently noted that Howard Dean, Democratic National Committee Chair hopeful, is a UCC member.

Dean, you may remember, is the featured player in an overplayed CNN spot where he can be seen yelling at the Iowa caucus. I believe the yell can also be found mixed with different drumbeats on your local mp3-sharing software.

He gives impassioned speeches against racism, but also proclaims hatred for Republicans. Not just what they stand for, mind you.

He accuses the opposition of being all about 'God, guns, and gays,' and declares that his favorite book of the New Testament is Job.

One can't fault him for being no-nonsense, but there are a couple things to fault him for in the meantime. Some, due to a blind sense of loyalty, won't. I will.

But I guess if we like voting for the guy we'd rather have a beer with nowadays, he'll do fine.

Where are we going and why are we in this handbasket?

Check this stuff out

Well, it's Saturday and that must mean you get a list of pieces from around the pop culture world for your viewing/listening/reading pleasure.

I'm still working my way through the Wallis book, and it's very good. He talks about (and I agree) how faith can and should influence politics, but not in ways that forces it upon others or leads one to thoughts of being set aside, chosen, and affirmed in any and all political action one may take. That's dangerous thinking walking a hairline between presumption and idolatry. Good stuff.

Something a little different in music today. A seminary friend got me interested in Chill Out music, and so I recommend Chill Out Album, Vol. 4. I personally like the first CD better, but others may disagree. It's good music for.....chilling.....out.

Television....hmmmm....television.....I got nothing.

We watched the original Shrek last night. Still a decent romp over any and all things Disney.

Around the web, check out Martha's Mu…

Is this really that major an issue?

"Will you stand?" This is the question asked at this website in regards to keeping 'B.C.' (Before Christ) and 'A.D' (Anno Domini, In the Year of Our Lord) in school textbooks as opposed to B.C.E. (Before Common Era) and C.E. (Common Era). Will you stand to keep these Christian-specific terms in place to designate eras in our world's history? From the site:

"Our goal is to get “Common Era” and “Before the Common Era” completely removed from the Ohio Academic Content Standards. The A.D. Calendar has been a part of our history for several hundred years. If “Common Era” and “Before the Common Era” remain in our Academic Content Standards, I fear “B.C.” and “A.D.” will not be a part of our history or a part of our curriculum.

Therefore, we must strongly stress to the members of the State Board of Education that “Common Era” and “Before the Common Era” be completely removed from the Academic Content Standards."

What is interesting about this website is t…

Lenten Challenge

We are a week away from the church season of Lent, that 40-day long time of preparation for Easter that is traditionally marked by study and prayer. Many people 'give up' something or are especially mindful about daily devotions. It really is my favorite season of the church year, as I have a great appreciation for the piety of my E&R ancestors, and book study, if my readers haven't already guessed, is truly important to me.

The first year I really took Lent seriously was my freshman year of college. My good friend Ian and I both decided to give up television that year, and I was just beginning to immerse myself in the content of my Topics in Biblical Literature class. In lieu of being mesmerized in half-hour blocks by drivel that I'd forget a half-hour later, I worked my way through The Historical Figure of Jesus.

The next year we'd give up television again, but it wouldn't be nearly as meaningful or productive. But I continued my own tradition of stud…

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