Someone found my blog today after typing the following into Google:

vampire "over my knee" -xxx -porn -tranny

Whoever it was didn't stay too long. Um...sorry for disappointing you...I think.

Memorial Day 2006

I found the original version of this prayer online. This is my edited version. It'll be the one I use at our cemetery service this morning:

Eternal God, Creator of years, of centuries, Lord of whatever is beyond time,
Maker of all species and master of all history --
How shall we speak to you from our smallness and inconsequence? Except that you have called us to worship you in spirit and in truth;
You have dignified us with loves and loyalties; You have lifted us up with your lovingkindnesses.
Therefore we are bold to come before you without groveling [though we sometimes feel that low] and without fear [though we are often anxious].
We sing with spirit and pray with courage because you have dignified us;
You have redeemed us from the aimlessness of things' going meaninglessly well.
God, lift the hearts of those for whom this holiday is not just diversion, but painful memory and continued deprivation. Bless those whose dear ones have died in accident or misadventure.
We remember with compassion those who have died serving their countries. There is none of us but must come to bereavement and separation, when all the answers we are offered fail the question death asks of each of us.
We believe that you will provide for us as others have been provided with the fulfillment of "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Bless those who mourn. Grant us hope for peace. Instill in us courage to face a new day. Amen.

Thoughts Before a Sunday Service

I'm 2 1/2 hours away from worship. I haven't showered yet, haven't even dressed. That's a perk of living next door to where you work.

In my continued attempt to preach with as little reference to notes as possible, I did my final 'dress rehearsal' at around 7:30 this morning. It's a good sermon, if I may say so myself. It ties together my experiences at Eden last week, the choosing of Matthias to be a witness, it references ever-so-briefly Memorial Day, it acknowledges the week that this church has had, and it ends with a story that the congregation is more likely to remember than anything else I'll say. I don't know it well enough to stand outside the pulpit the entire time, and yet I look down at my notes and yell at myself: 'I know all this! Why am I having such a hard time with it?!'

So what about this week? Can we stop with the innuendo already? Fine. This church suddenly lost someone in a fall down a flight of stairs last Saturday night. She was relatively young (61), and a very friendly, vibrant, visible member of our community. I came home to this last Sunday evening and have been dealing with it internally and externally ever since.

The Da Vinci Code has been very helpful because I've been able to use it as a whipping boy...all the hype over what is really a mediocre film at best, all the gasping at the Big Threat that it provides to probably someone, somewhere, we think. I can at least scream and yell about that as a diversion.

Oh yeah, Memorial Day is tomorrow. We'll gather at the cemetery for the briefest of services where some veterans will shoot some guns and I'll say something about how we honor soldiers' lives and how much it sucks that we need soldiers to begin with. It'll be a little more eloquent than that, hopefully.

And then it's another week. I'll move toward another Sunday and another sermon. But then it'll be Pentecost, a time to celebrate renewal and excitement and movement and being moved. Come Holy Spirit, come.

That'll be my prayer for today. I'm feeling better already.


First, at the risk of seeming a little obsessed about the piece of FICTION known as the Da Vinci Code, I wanted to highlight something that RealLivePreacher said the other day:

The second thing I’d like to mention is more important for the Church to consider. Christianity is a major, world-wide religion. It is 2000 years old and is the largest common expression of spirituality in the history of humanity. Does the Christian Church really need to worry about a book and a movie? These things are here today and gone tomorrow, almost literally. The Christian Church has withstood the Roman Empire, medieval Christianity, and the Age of Enlightenment. Somehow the Church even manages to survive its most dangerous challenge - scandal, decadence, and corruption within its ranks. Will Dan Brown now topple us?

I understand a carefully worded response to scholarly inaccuracies, but I don't understand the anger, the outrage, and the hoopla. Anything more than a gentle, factual correction is as silly as if George Bush were to show up at Patooka Elementary School with the secret service because a 4th grader said something mean about him. It's as silly as if Ron Howard and Tom Hanks were to show up at my door, screaming at me for lifting a Da Vinci Code graphic from their website. Why would they bother? What threat am I to them?

The best and only appropriate response for the Church is to be about the business of the Church. Don't we have, I don't know, CHURCH things to be doing? Or even better, human things to be doing? If our love of humanity was as radical as Jesus called it to be, then we would never have to say a word.

Cue 'Threefold Amen.' I figured I'd offer an opinion with which I agreed on the subject that didn't use words like 'nutballism.' So thanks, RLP.

Katherine participated in the GalPals meme the other day, and offered quite a preface:

...Anyway, the RevGalBlogPals Friday Five meme is in regard to belief. I realize that through the years, I've depended on the mostly-helpful notion that Christianity isn't about belief as confidently assenting to the truth of a set of doctrines, but cultivating faith in God as a way of life. The difference between faith and belief (when it is articulated with more clarity than I'm managing here) has been of vital importance to me. When I was about nineteen, I decided that whether or not I believed in the five things I thought I was supposed to make myself believe in to be a bonified Christian, I would try to trust God and participate in communities of faith anyway. For the most part, this has worked out for me, though sometimes the utter ambiguity of my faith exhausts me. The notion of orthopraxis - right practice - as opposed to orthodoxy - right belief - deeply appeals to me. Give me communion over catechesis any day. Which is not to say that I don't love theology; I simply see it more of a practice of imagining the God in whom we have faith rather than laying down a set of orthodox doctrines.

I'm appreciating more and more the concept of orthopraxis. I preach it pretty regularly, perhaps ad nauseum. But Jesus did, too. There. That's my shut-down argument to counter THAT.

And finally,
iMonk is writing about preaching again:

I’ve never had any big ego problems about criticising my own preaching. The next day I went to my tapes, and put on my last few sermons. I was shouting. I’d always been shouting, but now I was hearing it differently.

Those of you who didn’t grow up in the Southern Baptist Bible belt may have no idea what I am talking about here, but in my experiences of Baptist fundamentalism, shouting was fundamental to real preaching. Preachers didn’t talk in conversational tones. Preachers shouted. They yelled. They…”preached” by raising their voices to a shout and keeping it there most of the time. Their voices were in a higher gear, at a higher volume, and came from a higher plane.

Artificial? Absolutely. Biblical? Not that I can tell. Useful? In many places, probably, particularly with older people. Impressive? Yes, if you actually have something to say and say it well. Necessary? Yes. In our church a non-shouting preacher would have been unthinkable. Understood by the general public? Well……probably not. It was “preaching,” and that was about all you could say.

A few weeks ago I was listening to a colleague's sermon podcast, and was quickly struck by how he was shouting. The whole time he kept his voice at this strange level where first you could tell he was reading his manuscript, and reading it at a strange tone and volume that I could barely withstand for fourteen minutes. The message was really good, but the delivery was irritating because he saw the need to shout the entire time. Maybe there comes a moment where you reach a climax of the message or want to drive something home, but to keep it at that level the entire time showcases the worst of the phenomenon that is worshipspeak.

Not Heading to Hartford?

There's a possibility that General Synod will not be held in Hartford, Connecticut after all:

The United Church of Christ will move its 2007 national convention out of Hartford if the dispute between labor unions and the operators of the Connecticut Convention Center is not resolved by June 6, and the organization has asked the governor to intervene.

In a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell Monday, the organization - an umbrella group of Congregational churches - said that it will soon be forced to relocate its 8,000- to 10,000-person event scheduled for June 2007. Organizers say the event would use 18 area hotels for a week and could bring $10 million in economic benefit to the state. If the convention were to move, organizers say, it would be to a venue outside of Connecticut.

"In the event of a just and significant labor dispute, which we currently find this to be, we will not violate boycotts or cross picket lines," the organization said in its letter to Rell. "We are quickly approaching a time when we must make a decision to move our meeting to another city."

The whole article is here. Hat tip to UCCTruths.

I don't have much of an opinion formed about the cause, just because I don't know anything about it. I've only really participated in one boycott that I thought worthwhile, because I think that in general boycotts are a pretty weak form of protest unless you get some massive power and organization behind them. So because I don't know much about the dispute, I won't comment on it.

I do wonder more about issues of practicality and polity. Practicality, because it will take a lot of work to move a gathering this size. Polity, because while I have less faith in 'to, not for' than I used to, all the references in this article to The UCC bother me. I suppose that it takes a lot of effort each time to differentiate between the ultimate authority of local churches vs. what Thomas & Co. say, but the cited letter does use 'we' and 'our.'

If this isn't resolved by June 6th, I wonder where we'll go. A friend recently thought that the next Synod would be in Grand Rapids, so maybe this was floated somewhere as an alternative. That would be awesome, because then I could freakin' drive to Synod. But don't take that as fact. It's just a rumor. I know that the New Truth lies in the blogosphere nowadays (OMG Whistleblowing~!), but I have nothing but hearsay as evidence for this, and I'm not even saying anything related to it is evident.

Or what the heck...let's go to Columbus. Cincinnati. Dayton. Probably not.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson on someone's recommendation...I think it was my dad. The book is told from the perspective of an old pastor quickly approaching the end of his life. He wants to tell his 7-year-old son about his life, his failings and dreams, and his hopes for the boy's future. It is set around the turn of last century. He tells a lot about his father and grandfather, who were also pastors, and who came down on opposite sides on a lot of things, in particular the question of war. The war around that time was the Civil War, and there is a lot of back and forth between the two about whether Christians should engage in it. Here, it comes down to abolitionism vs. pacifism. But mostly, what comes across is the love that the narrator has for his son. This is what drives him to tell any of it in the first place. He worries the most about whether his son will remember or know him after he's gone. It's a great read.

Well, we saw The Da Vinci Code last night. I'm more looking forward to the new X-Men movie, but my wife wanted to see this dumb thing and with the week I've had (I've been pretty cryptic about that, haven't I?), getting out and doing ANYTHING was fine with me. So we made a date with my parents and saw it yesterday. It was...okay. They had to fit a lot into a 2-hour movie, so we jumped from one clue to another with little time to ruminate and discover each secret with great flare and aplomb. Instead, Langdon solves everything in five minutes or less and we're onto the next step. I haven't read the book in a while, but certain parts of the movie (most notably the scene where they explain the actual Da Vinci code) reminded me, even amplified for me, what a bunch of crap the theory really is. But in the book, it's a more fun bunch of crap. The movie wasn't so much. And again, Somalian children are starving, so everyone calm down.

We're still on
Angel Season 5. We haven't made much progress through it because last week was spent elsewhere. I've seen most of this season already (the only season for which I can say that). I keep going back and forth about whether this season 'feels' the same as the others. I know it seems like I'm waffling whether putting the gang in charge of Wolfram and Hart was a good move for the series. There's more polish now...not as much scrimping to do things In The Nick Of Time, because they have all technology and spells at their disposal. It's not as raw. Of course, Angel actually struggles with that, because in the midst of having all these resources he has to keep the law firm's evil clientele happy. So I guess this week I don't like the storyline as much. Next week could be different.

I'm thinking about expanding my
Chill Out collection. Not only is it great to put on during get-togethers, but it's great for background during meditation or putting on the church's sound system while setting things up during the week. Ah, the advantages of being the sole pastor in a small church where you're left alone on some weekday afternoons.

iMonk offers a commentary on the writings of Bart Ehrman. I've seen his Lost Christianities and Misquoting Jesus and own his Lost Scriptures for reference purposes...but have been skeptical of him in this Da Vinci Code/Gospel of Judas day and age where he's become so popular. Apparently he has some real cred and isn't out to Destroy Faith As We Know It...or at least doesn't profess to do so. The Monk's take, anyway, is that he wants to raise the questions, and that they're good worthwhile questions that Joe Pewsitter has probably never considered. That notion is old hat to me. What I'm more interested in is Ehrman's approach. Elaine Pagels deals with many of the same issues in her treatment of the Gnostic Gospels, and her sympathy for other 'lost Christianities' shines through as you read her. Similarly, the titles of Ehrman's books sound sympathetic, even conspiratoral. Is that just to get our attention, or will we be up for another Dan Brown-ish Quest For The Truth? Read the Monk's take, and I guess to know for sure we'll have to pick up one of Ehrman's books.

My Trip to Eden

As I mentioned, I took a trip to my seminary alma mater last week for their Herbster event. This is an alumni continuing education gathering offered to graduates their first five years out of school. I could tell you all the stories we shared, but I'll stick close to the Official Program and let them trickle in. The thing about blogging semi-anonymously is you don't know how much is too much.

Well, the theme of the gathering was how church and culture interact.

So right off the bat, we discussed The Da Vinci Code. In a larger sense, The Da Vinci Code was the theme of the week for me, since the movie opened last weekend. Every news channel had a good amount of discussion devoted to this stupid book, I had several conversations with my in-laws about it later in the week, and I even heard a sermon about it on Sunday. I'm going to see it for myself on Thursday. Just between you, me, and the entire public who reads this, I'm not that excited to go see it. I wasn't that excited to read it. I think all the hype and all the religious 'OMG faith destroying~!' nutballism has ruined this piece of FICTION for me. Yeah, I broke out the caps lock, bold AND italics for that. Get a grip, people. Seriously. Somalian children are starving and this is what you get hot and bothered about.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, so I went to Eden and we talked about this FICTIONAL story and its effect on church and culture. So we talked about the nutballism as well as how this book has inspired laypeople to open their Bibles and read for themselves. Yep, mainliners do that. Rock on. We also compared this book's effects with the hype around The Passion of the Christ, talked about how they're both interpretations, how they're both presented as fact in their own way (nutballism*), and American Christianity's reaction to/endorsement of each one.

The next morning was spent talking about liberals and conservatives and how we should be in dialogue and not shun each other, etc. I really can't bring myself to elaborate on that, because I'm sure most or all of my readers have heard it before. However, I will say that the method of presentation was a little different. Our presenter, Dr. Michael Kinnamon, used 1 John. This book is part of my 'canon within a canon,' so I looked forward to what he had to say about it, even though I thought that this would be about loving those you disagree with or something like that. What it turned out to be was what preachers call 'preaching against the text,' as he focused on the exclusive nature of the 1 John community when the writer refers to those who have left as antichrists and outside the truth. It was a great presentation, 90 degrees out from what I expected.

And the afternoon was spent talking about the pastor as spiritual leader, in contrast with pastor as therapist, talk show host, or CEO. It was an abridged version of any basic spiritual direction course, offering suggestions for contemplative disciplines one may take on to maintain a spiritual life. At one point during the 'pastor as...' discussion, someone asked about pastor as shepherd. I've been thinking about this one since the other Sunday when Jesus the Good Shepherd showed up in the lectionary, since no one is called a shepherd in that passage but Jesus. We're all sheep. The woman sitting next to me wrote me a note that said as much: 'Jesus is the one Shepherd. Pastors are sheepdogs.' I found that really helpful.

So that was the official program of the gathering. There was plenty of time to talk about what's going on in our churches and what we're thinking about ministry now that we've logged some field time, eat frozen custard (you've missed out if you visit St. Louis and have never sampled Ted Drewe's), and generally catch up with friends we haven't seen in months.

And someone caught us in this candid unplanned situation near the end:

It was a relaxing couple of days, followed by a few more relaxing days with my wife's family. And then I came home. But that's another entry.

*Nutballism is my term. No one used it during the presentations. But seriously...it's FICTION.

Thomas Merton's Prayer to Etienne Gilson

Merton is Catholic, but don't read this as his praying to Gilson like a saint. Merton wrote this prayer and sent it to him.

And for those who don't know who Gilson is (I didn't), here's Wikipedia's probably mostly reliable work of truthiness about him.

And here's the prayer:

Please pray for me to Our Lord that, instead of merely writing something, I may be something, and indeed that I may so fully be what I ought to be that there may be no further necessity for me to write, since the mere fact of being what I ought to be would be more eloquent than many books.

Back from Vacation

I'm back from vacation, and back to life as usual. Whatever that is.

Back from sitting in a pew listening to preaching, and back into the pulpit to preach.

Back from a few days spent in St. Louis and all it has to offer, and back to small-town Ohio.

Back from the hospital room of my father-in-law, and back to a family that lost a wife and mother over the weekend.

Back from seeing people I haven't seen in months, and back to wondering who I haven't seen in months whom I could call or have lunch with.

A friend of mine shared a story of the last time he visited Eden. He'd spent a few days in and around St. Louis, and eventually commented to someone, 'I'm ready to go home.' I asked myself if I was ready around the middle of the week, and said no, I wasn't. I asked myself again at the end of the week and actually surprised myself how ready I had become.

I'm home now. I'm where I'm ready to be. I'm where I'm supposed to be.

Pop Culture Roundup

Preface: I spent the first part of this week in St. Louis with some friends and colleagues from Eden Seminary. The seminary has alumni back the first five years after they graduate for Continuing Education Structured Workshop Things, but mostly it's a chance to catch up, swap stories, and drink wine. I consider my time in St. Louis and at Eden pretty formative, and so the things I read, watched, and listened to offer little pensieve moments for me. So without further ado, here is a special St. Louis edition of the Roundup.

Steve Patterson was my professor of New Testament, and his The God of Jesus is still one of the most influential books I've read, particularly for his views on Jesus' purposes for telling parables and Jesus' message of the kingdom of God. The former, he states, are not simple moral lessons but rather stories told to shake one's worldview and be interpreted, re-interpreted, and never fully nailed down. The latter, he suggests, is as much here now as it is not yet. Jesus uses phrases such as 'not far,' 'within you,' and 'among you' to describe what and where God's kingdom is. It is ever moving in and is a kingdom of peace, justice, and love. I've referred to this book in sermons, classes, and conversations. It's one of my favorites.

St. Louis is where I was introduced to Tony Soprano and crew. There were three of us, sometimes four, sometimes five, who rented a DVD at a time, made popcorn, opened a bottle of red, and enjoyed all the corruption, violence, loyalty, and respect that takes place in the world of northern New Jersey. Allegedly. I've managed to work in Soprano references twice in my preaching, and of course it came up a couple times this week. If nothing else, it's a great study in human depravity. There's at least one 'Gospel According To...' type of book on the subject as well.

There are two musical artists local to St. Louis to varying degrees. The first is Robynn Ragland, a singer-songwriter that I mentioned on here a long time ago. She's from St. Louis, but I guess she operates out of Chicago now. Or something. If that's not quite right, I know one faithful reader who will set me straight on that. The other is Dionysia, a Latin-rock-folk-funk act. I can't really describe them much better than that. St. Louis has a decent jamband scene and these guys are doing pretty well for themselves there.

Throughout my time at Eden, I logged a lot of time at 411mania, a pop culture site with reviews, news, and a discussion forum. A great place to waste an hour and suddenly discover you've wasted five.

I'll say more about the alumni event itself in a day or two. I'm kind of on borrowed time right now, so it'll be a little bit.

Questions for Evangelism and a Ballgame

On the subject of evangelism, the Monk has some thoughts on the question, 'How much is too much?'

A sample:

If you are producing consumers or fans or people who think you are really cool, you may be successful and popular, but I’m wondering if you are doing what matters. Our command is clear: make disciples, teaching them everything Jesus commanded. We can’t change the definition of disciple into “guy who really likes the body surfing at the 9 p.m. youth service” and have any integrity.

The Jesus-movement produces Jesus-followers. Wow. What a concept. If you spent $70,000 to entertain people, did you produce Jesus followers, or fans of your show? Answer the question. It’s important.

It is important. It's one of the questions I ask when I find myself in the betwixt and between of wanting worship to be more lively but also have integrity. It's a great post. I think I'll even print it out and distribute it to our Evangelism group.

My wife and I went with my parents to the Indians-Tigers game yesterday. We had awesome seats, six rows up in right field. Casey Blake and Magglio Orondez were RIGHT THERE. Even with the rain delay that came in the middle of the 7th inning, we had a good time. Dad and I checked out the bullpens and we voted for the All Star Game (during which time I yelled at my wife for voting for Derek Jeter...I don't care how good he is, he's a YANKEE).

Now, I'm a fan of both Detroit and Cleveland, so I was somewhat torn. It wasn't until our way up to the stadium that I came up with a great idea to bring both my Tigers and Indians hats, and switch depending on who was up to bat. I was torn yesterday, because the Indians were on a five-game losing streak, but the Tigers are doing so well. So they both needed the win for different reasons. I would've been happy either way, but it's been such a long time since Detroit has done this well, so I was tipping toward them. Sorry, Tribe. But hopefully you'll break out of your funk.

Political Commentary on Why Chris Lost

From the New York Post:

The number of votes seems to remain remarkably constant (this year, somewhere north of 40 million) week to week. This indicates the same people continue to vote each week. It also means that the people who voted for the contestant who was kicked off go ahead and just choose somebody new to vote for.

This is a direct parallel to the presidential primary process. In the early primaries, candidates who do poorly usually drop out of the race, leaving those who would have supported them in other states high and dry. Those supporters then have to pick somebody else among the surviving candidates to vote for.

This winnowing process allows the most appealing candidates to pick up steam by adding new voters to their cadre of supporters. And as they do so, the field continues to be winnowed, until finally there are only one or two candidates left standing. The single-issue candidate, the flash-in-the-pan, the guy who has one fantastic debate - they may all have their moments, but in the end, the candidate with the most broad-based appeal will usually win.

And this is what explains Chris Daughtry's stunning loss this week on "American Idol." He has a distinctive voice and distinctive appeal. The problem is that he never broadened his base very much. If you liked him from the start, you stayed with him - which is why he remained solidly among the top contenders through most of the show's run.

But if you didn't much like his sound when there were still 9 contestants remaining, you weren't suddenly going to decide you liked his sound when there were only 4 remaining.

Read the whole thing here. Hat tip to Bob.

It makes sense. Chris had his own niche, which wasn't duplicated by anyone else on the show this year, while last year after "rocker" Constantine (he sang Nickelback, hence the quotes) got voted off everyone could have moved their votes to Bo. This year, Chris was the only one of his stripe, and with the exception of Taylor and maybe that blonde ditzy girl, everyone else was your garden-variety aspiring pop prince or princess.

Of course, last year both finalists were more niche contestants: pop-country meets southern rock. It was Nashville Star except people watched.

Well anyway, I've already spent too much time on this blog writing about American Idol. People who didn't like rock didn't vote for Chris when there were 12 and they didn't vote for him when there were 4.

That's why Chris lost.

That's why we're probably going to end up with another pop "star."

That's why I'm going to give up on this crummy TV show.

Pop Culture Roundup

I haven't started another book after finishing Lamott, so I guess I'll just plug the Ordinary Time book again. I haven't ordered my copy yet, but I will in the next few days, I'm sure.

We saw Mission: Impossible III this past week. We weren't sure if we wanted to with Tom Cruise going all loony the past year or so (or perhaps we could say publicly loony)...and after the less-than-great production that was Mission: Impossible 2, we were more skeptical about this sequel's entertainment factor. But III is minus John Woo and plus Philip Seymour Hoffman, so we gave it a shot. It was much better than 2. Hoffman is a brilliant bad guy in particular and actor in general. Cruise's character is the usual hybrid of Jerry Maguire/Maverick which passes him. The only really really unrealistic part comes near the end. Otherwise, it's a decent action flick.

Mercifully, Buffy is over. So we've moved to the fifth and final season of Angel. Here we are minus Cordelia, plus Spike. We've only seen the first episode which finds the gang trying to adjust to their new digs at Wolfram and Hart. Re-watching this season unfold, I think they could have explored this over more than one season. This is contrary to my original thought that it's good it ended here because you can't do much more after taking over your enemy's place of business. But there's a lot more they could have done. Anyway...if it's any indication...I like Angel better than Buffy. So I should enjoy this while I can. And since we've gotten into this whole 'let's watch an entire season of a TV show at a time' thing, my vote is for us to start on The Shield next.

This week I've been listening to a little Widespread Panic. This was the main CD I listened to the summer I took CPE, so it's taken on special meaning for me. And this week I've felt this weird connection to Don Henley's 'Boys of Summer.' I can't really figure that out. I've been listening to DJ Sammy's version, which my wife downloaded for her iPod and I really enjoy, and then last night I heard it at the grocery store. I like the song, but there's been this cosmic thing going on the past few days or something.

Around the web, Scott reflects on being ready to move on when he finds himself getting too comfortable. We have something in common. I blame my PK upbringing, but in a good way.

Chris Daughtry and a Sabbatical Idea

Chris Daughtry was voted off American Idol tonight, which reinforces my view that America's collective taste in popular music should be condemned whenever possible. Seriously. I could place all my hope in Taylor now, but they'll probably screw that up, too. It'll probably be the girl, because it's usually the girl.

I came up with a sabbatical idea a few months ago, and I figured that I'd share it here. I get sabbatical leave after five years at this particular church, so I have a while to think yet, but not as long a while as others. Well anyway, I call this idea 'A Tour of the Alternative Church.' I use the word 'alternative,' but mostly I mean 'emerging.' I just use 'alternative' because I'm not sure that I want to take the time to qualify 'emerging.' But if you want to read more about it, you can start here or click on a number of blogs to the right as a lot of them consider themselves emerging. I've been checking out some emerging churches on the web that I'd be interested in visiting, just to see how they do what they do.

I have to make a differentiation here. I'm talking emerging churches as in the ones that meet in bars, clubs, or theaters for their main gathering, which may or may not be on Sunday morning. These are decentralized churches with little building space besides perhaps a small rented office space for storage and smaller gatherings. So while Rob Bell is considered emerging, I'm not planning to visit gigantoid conventional Mars Hill Church up in Michigan because...well...it's gigantoid and conventional.

Here's a working list of alternative or emerging churches that I would consider for this project:

  • ~New Heights Church in British Columbia. This is my long shot visit because it's so far away from where I am. I heard about this church through Scott Williams, who is a co-founder and former pastor here. New Heights operates out of an office next to a porn shop and gathers on Sunday mornings in a local theater.
  • ~Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis. This is Doug Pagitt's church. Small groups meet in homes for Bible study, dinner, or just to hang out. I just found out that they're hosting an Emergent convention. Continuing education opportunity!
  • ~The Evergreen Community in Portland, Oregon. Another long shot. Maybe I should apply for Lily money. I just heard about this one a few weeks ago after visiting Bob Hyatt's blog. Bob is the pastor there. This group's main gathering is in a pub on Sundays. Otherwise it is made up of a few commune houses and other gatherings.

Those are really the main churches that I'm considering. I know of a few 'new monastic' communities that I may add later. This time of sabbatical would involve spending 4-5 days at each church, attend their regular activities, chat with the pastor(s) and members, and simply take in their sense of community, mission, and living as disciples in their setting that doesn't involve upkeep of a building, among other differences.

Why embark on such a tour? Well...the more I read about what these churches are doing, the more I wonder if such a project is not out of the question for me. The theological word for that is 'call,' but it's too soon to say that. More and more, I find myself visiting my bank, my tax place, local businesses for sale, and wonder how it might be converted to be a hub of outreach for an emerging group of Christians, probably younger, but committed to something new and different and unconventional and first and foremost missional. It would want to serve the community and carry out what the kingdom of God expects of them.

I have a few years to whip up this proposal, as well as consider other options. No rush. But it's one that I'm feeling a lot of energy and excitement over.

Ordinary Time Now Available

The RevGalBlogPals webring has published their second devotional book this week entitled Ordinary Time. It covers the liturgical season of same name. I was privileged to be a part of this work, and I know of the writing talent of many others on this webring. Enjoy.

Heading to Hartford

This afternoon I was elected to act as a delegate to the 26th and 27th General Synods of the United Church of Christ. I was asked to step in as a delegate for the 25th General Synod which met last summer in Atlanta. Maybe you heard about it.

These will be my third and fourth trips to Synod, which includes the UCC's celebration of its 50th anniversary next year in Hartford, Connecticut. I was planning on attending the next Synod anyway simply for that reason. Now I will be able to go as an active participant in the business side of things as well.

As I did last year, I will post thoughts on the issues that will face delegates that day, think out loud about resolutions, and, pending web access, will post on happenings during Synod as well. A sample of what I did last year can be found here and here, although there's much more if you browse the May and June archives.

I'm legitimately excited this time around. Last year before I left, I was a little wary of what to expect. I'm feeling much more positive so far, because it will involve the anniversary. But check back with me around early June next year, and I'll let you know whether I still feel that way or not. In the meantime, I feel pretty good.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott this past week. It's my first encounter with her, and I've been pleasantly surprised. For some reason, I expected her book to be sort of a fluffy pie-in-the-sky devotional book. I don't know what cultivated this expectation within me, but it is the exact opposite in the very strongest possible sense. Lamott details her struggles with alcoholism, bulemia, and single motherhood, and how in the midst of it all she discovered faith. The prayer that she prays the night she 'gives in' is better than any pre-packaged 'sinner's prayer' I've ever read. Truly a great book.

We continue to trudge through Buffy Season 7. I honestly don't like it. I can't wait to start watching the next season of Angel. The big bad guy is interesting enough, but the subplots are getting a little tedious: the Potential Slayers being whiny and scared, Spike and whether we can trust him or not, Dawn pouting. It's just not as enjoyable, but then again, I haven't really enjoyed the show since Season 5.

This week I've been listening to Mike Doughty, KT Tunstall, and some old school Dave Matthews Band.

Around the web, Greg critiques a piece of church advertising.


I have vacation time coming up.

While most other pastors jet out mere moments after shaking the last parishioner's hand on Easter, I elected to stick around a few extra weeks.

Last year, my first year at the church, I had two weeks allotted for vacation time. I rationed them carefully, aware of particular ways that I wanted to spend the majority of it. When October rolled around, I happily discovered a few leftover days and used them to attend a friend's wedding.

This year (and all subsequent years) I have four weeks, which compared to last year seems like an overabundance. This month I'll be spending my second week of it hanging out with fellow Eden alumni. There's an Ultimate Frisbee game that I'll try to make, followed by some organized discussion surrounding the ups and downs of ministry. This year we're focusing on the theme of how church and culture connect and collide. That should be worthwhile, but I'm mainly looking forward to 1) getting out of here for a while and 2) being with good friends whom I haven't seen since the afforementioned wedding. May is the month for such reunions, apparently. When all that is over, I'll spend a day or two in Cincinnati where my father-in-law continues to struggle with illness. This will be my first opportunity to see the in-laws since before all this started.

So until then, I'm moving into a mental space where I'm fully aware that time off is approaching, and thus am becoming more irritated that it isn't here yet. You know that space...where you begin to shut down, check out, become more antsy. You start going on vacation early, but you have to keep one foot (preferably both) in what you still need to do before then. It's not that great of a feeling, really. Getting on the road becomes the number one priority despite the call to preach twice more, the meetings and Bible studies and visits that still need to happen. 'Get me out of here' is our prayer to ourselves. 'Help me hang on' is our prayer to God, Whose call we accepted in the first place.

So I'm counting down, trying to pray the latter prayer, trying to stave off the former. There's still work to be done.

But most of it isn't really that important...is it?

Another Aspect of My Life

I don't talk about much of my college experience on here, save for a few reflections on the mixed bag of goods that was my time with campus ministries. Here's another aspect of my time there. I recently went back to Heidelberg to celebrate the 85th anniversary of Alpha Phi Tau, the fraternity of which I was a part.

I know. When you think of fraternities you think of Animal House. I can't really present a strong case against such things, but I'll let people explain for themselves how thousands upon thousands of college students who DON'T belong to frats exhibit the same stupid behavior (seminarians, this is for you, too...and you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about).

Okay, that's the extent of my defense of fraternity life in general. It really doesn't amount to much, other than to say that what you think you know about frat life isn't confined to frat life.

But this post isn't about that. I forged some lasting friendships within this group, and thought that I'd tell you about my Friday evening.

Here are the guys I pledged with. I'm the one in the middle, sans coffee cup for the first time ever on this blog. The guy on my left was best man at my wedding. He also writes this blog. He also dated my now-wife before I did, which is a long and involved story that I'll tell some other time.

You'll notice a picture on the wall behind us. That's Darren. He also pledged with us and he was also a groomsman in my wedding. He was killed in a tornado a little over three years ago. During the evening's ceremonies, a special presentation was made to his parents to make them honorary members. They stay pretty close to the group nowadays, and some of us, actives and alumni, stay in touch with them, too.

Here's Nate, Ian, me, and Orrin. I officiated at Orrin's wedding last summer. My first one. My junior year, Orrin was Romeo and I was Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet.

I don't really have any fun facts to share about Nate. He's a cool guy, though.

Here's everyone who came back for the anniversary...almost. The years range from the mid-70s to 'haven't graduated yet.' Most of us were from the mid-90s onward, so I knew most of the guys who came back. All these pictures were taken up in our hall, which is probably fairly obvious from all the memorabilia.

One of my consistently positive experiences throughout college was this group. When Christians on campus were at each other's throats, giving each other the silent treatment, turning backs on each other, guys who were part of this group didn't have that option. Time to face each other and deal with our crap were built into our meetings, and more than once we stayed late and had to cool down afterwards with a late-night trip to Denny's.

One regret I have about college is not doing more for and with them. I like to think that I did a lot, but there could've been more.

It was a good night, and I'm glad I had a chance to get back for it.