GalPals July 4 Meme

I've generally been anywhere between indifferent and soured when it comes to 4th of July activities. I rank it with New Year's which, if you know me, means that it's ranked pretty low. But I figured the GalPals have a meme that caught me in the right mood and I'm always willing to give holidays I don't like another shot. So here goes...

1) Do you celebrate 4th of July (or some other holiday representing independence?) Yeah. I eat a hot dog, watch some fireworks, and get up the next morning without much change in my life at all. This is off to a bad start. Maybe I shouldn't play. But yes, I celebrate, but without much flag-waving or pomp. I'm just not into patriotic holidays, aside from the excuse to eat and be with people. That's really the main reason I don't care that much about July 4th.

2) When was the first time you felt independent, if ever? I think it was when I learned how to tie my shoes. I didn't have to run to my parents to get them to do it any more.

3) If you're hosting a cookout, what's on the grill? Hamburgers and hot dogs. No need to get fancy.

4) Strawberry Shortcake -- biscuit or sponge cake? Discuss. I don't think I've ever experienced The Biscuit. So I'll go with spongecake.

5) Fireworks -- best and worst experience All right. I'll go backwards. My worst experience was when I walked around my hometown's festival now many years ago. My girlfriend at the time was two hours away for some reason. Meanwhile, I wound up seeing my ex-girlfriend with the guy she'd eventually marry, being all snuggly and gross. It was at that moment that it fully hit me that we'd both moved on. But that's selfish, because I would've done the same thing if my girlfriend HAD been around. But now I'm married to someone completely different, so who gives a crap any more?

My best experience is any time I went to visit my grandparents in Michigan. My grandfather was big into fireworks, and he'd light a few in the street outside their house (just little bottle rockets or anything like that). I've been thinking about those moments a lot the past week or two. So there's a redeeming quality about July 4th: it reminds me of fun times with my grandparents.

Pop Culture Roundup

This week was a radical departure from books about giving up material possessions and emerging churches. I picked up Ric Flair's autobiography, in which he details his rise through training and being groomed to become a 16-time world champion in the NWA, WCW, and WW(F)E. His stories of life on the road and backstage politics are the most interesting (which is why I think fans read wrestler autobiographies to begin with), along with his true feelings about some of his co-workers. Of course, if you're not a wrestling fan, you probably won't care. Even so, hearing about the business on the other side of the curtain might interest you.

Last week I went to see Cars, which I didn't have much of an interest in seeing until I was invited by someone else to tag along. I can't say that it's really appropriate for young kids, not for any content reasons, just because the story seems to move at a slower pace than other Pixar films. It is a cool homage to different auto-staples: Route 66, Nascar, the 50s era of road trips. And there are a lot of great jokes about car stereotypes, i.e., a VW bus (voiced by George Carlin) is laid back and tries to sell people organic fuel, and an army jeep tries to whip some sissy SUVs into shape (to which a Hummer replies, 'Aw man, now I have sand in my tires!') The cartoon short beforehand made me laugh for a good five minutes. We also watched Fun With Dick and Jane this week, which is not the greatest. Don't expect a lot of Jim Carrey being Jim Carrey, with the exception of a scene where he plays with a voice distortion box (which I thought was quite funny). Otherwise, it seems like the entire movie is spent waiting for something that never comes.

I've been enjoying Entourage so far. Of course, the big story is how well Aquaman is doing (and in one of the recent episodes you got to see 20 seconds or so of it)...but that became sort of the backdrop for other things. The guys have a fifth show up from when they ran around together in New York. This guy just got out of prison and now Vince feels obligated to hire him on. We quickly see that while everyone is happy to see their friend at first, he starts to screw up the dynamic. I found that interesting, because that was my reaction as a viewer as soon as he came on screen. I couldn't wait for him to leave. This week's episode looks interesting, as people start to suspect him of pulling stuff that put him in prison to begin with.

I've been switching back and forth between Groove Armada and Jane's Addiction this week. They're a big contrast, but I've just been digging them both.

Around the web, here's a site where classic movies are acted out in 30 seconds by bunnies.

Odds and Ends

~Last night I dreamt that I went to see Nacho Libre. If you haven't seen it yet, look out. There's a live karaoke part during the beginning credits hosted by a black drag queen. For never hearing the song before, I held my own pretty well.

~I know of two local fireworks displays around where I live. Neither one are actually on the 4th. This will be the first 4th in a couple years where neither of us are working...hold on...when SHE isn't working. I haven't worked on the 4th of July since my job at Wal-Mart.

~It's 7:40 in the morning. I'm drinking coffee, and bouncing up and down (you should see it) to DJ Sammy. It's gonna be a good day.

~My boy over at Jeremiah's Field got called to a church a few weeks ago after a harried year of searching. Depending on the area of the country--'red'/'blue,' Good Old Boys Network in the Association, specific polity requirements, etc.--you really can end up being at it for a while. I'm happy that he's found stability and is ready to use the gifts God gave him.

~Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, has proposed a two-tier membership system to cope with diversity. Those more 'correct' are full members, and those with 'growing edges' can still associate themselves with the Anglicans, but can't vote. How charitable. It sounds like a denominational split without calling it a split.

Clubbed to Death

My wife likes club music. I got her an iPod for her birthday this year along with a gift card for iTunes, and she has spent it with great vigor. She's the pop princess of the house (the cats thought they'd like the Pussycat Dolls but felt hurt and misled), so we've got a lot of current radio hits on the computer: Bo Bice, Howie Day, Rob Thomas (blech), Nick Lachey (seriously), Natasha Bedingfield, and Pink. She's also downloaded a few songs from Rent, but thankfully none of them are that song about minutes to love or whatever. And the rest is club music. She's downloaded a few staples, a few covers (there's a club version of Don Henley's 'Boys of Summer' that I like), and Rob Dougan's 'Clubbed to Death' at my request (watch the scene in The Matrix where Neo sees the chick in the red dress and you'll hear it).

Well anyway, all of this is to say that over the past four years I've come to like club music. In fact, I've come to like electronic music in general a great deal more. I used to think of it as canned, uncreative, minimal effort musical junk food for the masses. I can see now the creativity required to piece together a beat with a sample with a sythesizer, and so on. That, and it's got a beat and you can dance to it.

My new appreciation is mostly due to being...worn down isn't the phrase, but it's the one that comes to mind. My wife, again, is a club music person (and was an active clubber in high school). That, along with two neighbors in seminary (one a clubber, the other a big fan of chill music, which is club music on depressants), got me to really listen to what goes into the creative process and just to get lost in the beats and hooks.

I've only had one actual club experience. But telling of that one experience will already be enough to curl many people's toenails who aren't prepared for it, so the story goes untold.

Club music takes me back to St. Louis, which is what I think my point is by writing this entry. I listen to club music and I'm transported out of semi-rural northeast Ohio back to the street musicians at The Loop and the dancing Elvis clock on the wall of Tangerine (now closed) and the pool tables at Schlafly and the Cardinals being all over my TV and my sweet apartment in Manchester. I never really even heard club music in any of these places. In fact, with the exception of that story that I won't tell, I hardly ever heard club music while tooling around St. Louis, unless I shared a car with the right person when we drove somewhere. It's the mere ambiance, the association of club music with the big city that takes me there. That's the only explanation.

There still isn't much of a point to this entry. I don't know at this point if this is more about music or St. Louis. I know it must be blisteringly hot and humid down there nowadays (summers, unless you had an air conditioner or about 15 fans in your apartment, were awful). I know that the Eden Seminary campus is a ghost town with the exception of those students helping each other through Clinical Pastoral Education and the families playing in the fountain. I know that the UMB Bank Pavilion is hosting their summer concerts and there will be fireworks over the arch on the 4th of July. I know that everyone's relieved that Albert Pujols is feeling better (I salivate at the prospect of a St. Louis/Detroit World Series...sorry Cleveland, you ain't got the chops right now). I know people are enjoying relief via their free cold beer at Grant's Farm.

Club music makes me think about all of that. It's my entry point back into a different culture, a different rhythm of life that I resisted at first but then came to love...much like club music itself.

So I guess there's a point to this after all. Don't mind me...I'm just having a used-to-be-homesick moment. It'll pass, and then I'll go to Vacation Bible School.


After a week that had a lot more turns in it than I expected, I return to this silly little place for more rants, commentary, links, and whatever else.

What I've been thinking about the past week is probably more appropriate to circles of non-cybercolleagues, not really for any privacy reasons or anything like that, but because there is something gained there that the blogosphere and online fora and chatrooms and listserves don't really offer. So you won't get much on why I took my little leave of absence. Instead, I offer one little story that really turned out to be the catalyst for this whole thing. You can do with it what you will.

I sat in my office last week, punching in hymns for the month of July on my handy Excel spreadsheet. On one of the Sundays, I plugged in 'There Is A Balm In Gilead,' a sweet traditional favorite that I honestly don't remember us ever singing since I accepted the call here. It was about two seconds after I typed in the hymn when I sat back and thought, 'Who is going to connect with this song? Will a visitor walk in here and be blown away by the imagery? Will they know what a balm is? Do they know what or where Gilead is?' It was this series of questions that got my brain going about some things that really had been building for weeks, and which convicted me that I needed to spend some time with those thoughts lest they spill out inappropriately all over my screen instead.

My week had a bit of a detour, though. Very early Tuesday morning, I woke up with an angry stomach and, without divulging all the messy unnecessary details, I spent the rest of the night on the bathroom floor. The rest of the day was pretty much lost, and the next day was a hangover from the previous day. Fortunately, a loving wife, sips of Gatorade, the TV remote, and one cat who just felt like hanging around the whole time helped me through. Two funny things have come out of this episode: First, I learned yesterday that both my parents also had some nasty intestinal episodes this week (we all went to lunch together on Sunday). I really wonder if it was food poisoning, though, considering that there was such a long time between eating and puking, AND usually when you have food poisoning, you stop throwing up after the food comes back up (not in my case). Still, it's an interesting coincidence. Second, I can't bear myself to look at or even consider eating again the food that made up my Tuesday evening dinner. And it was some of my favorite stuff! I wonder if that'll wear off.

I also read most of Emerging Churches by Eddie Gibbs this week, despite everything else. I say 'most of' because I didn't finish it. This is a book detailing some of the marks of emerging churches in the U.S. and U.K., and a lot less ink could have been used here. Some good themes run through this book: kingdom of God, community, egalitarianism, 'living the kingdom' vs. 'playing church,' etc. But it gets to a point where the authors beat it to death, seemingly in the name of getting quotes in from every person they interviewed. Halfway through each chapter, I'm thinking, 'Okay, I get it. Let's move on.' One observation that I made while reading is that, while I can't speak for U.K. geography, every emerging church from the U.S. used for this study are in places like Columbus, Seattle, St. Louis, Santa Monica, Minneapolis. So, where are the emerging churches in South Dakota, or rural Iowa, or Appalachia? The book details all the wonderful arty things that these churches can do and are doing in these major cosmopolitan centers in the name of 'responding to the culture,' but how are (or can) emerging churches address these other cultural settings? Is the emerging church a metropolitan phenomenon?

So that's what I did this week.

Silent Time

The last time that I tried to take a break from blogging, I cut it short early because the timing didn't seem right. Well, it seems right this time. I've been going through this weird thing in my heart and mind lately, wondering about my focus and mission, as well as the focus and mission of my ministry setting. So for the next 7-10 days, POC goes silent so I can pay better attention to that.

See you in a little while.

Pop Culture Roundup

I started Thoreau's Walden this past week. I'm finding that this is a book that I have to take slow. Thoreau packs so much into each paragraph that one can't rush through it without missing a lot. So I'm reading the first chapter, 'Economy,' in which he suggests that it's easier for people to acquire things than to let them go, i.e., land, a house, and so on. He has the gall to suggest that clothing is to keep warm and not to adorn ourselves. He suggests that people get their hands in the dirt a lot more. He states that we shouldn't be slaves to other's opinions of human worth according to how well we perform at our jobs. It's Fight Club in the woods and without the fighting.

I watched Walk the Line last weekend, and had mixed feelings about it. The acting is superb, and the story is fascinating. We of course are treated to Johnny Cash's humble beginnings to his sudden rise to his falling into womanizing and drugs to his redemption (at the Oscars, Jon Stewart called it "'Ray' with white people," which actually turns out to be pretty accurate). Reese Witherspoon deserved her Oscar, because June Carter turns out to really be the heart of the movie. Cash isn't really a sympathetic character. He spends most of his time falling apart, washing down pills with alcohol, straying from his wife, wanting to be with June, and dealing with unresolved father issues. If I watched 'Ray' again, I'd probably have the same reaction to Ray Charles. They really are self-involved jerks most of their respective movies, and then we get this two-minute sequence at the end of both where they're on the upswing again and we're told that They Went On To Make Music For The Next 40 Years. One aspect of the movie that took me by surprise is that while Cash is getting his start, we see him touring with a big group including the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis. I hadn't realized that they'd all come up together.

Our viewing of Angel Season 5 was stalled out for a few weeks. My wife hasn't been interested in watching it. Yesterday I just popped the next one in so we can get it over with and move on. I need closure~! I already have plans for what's next, too. I'm thinking the whole series of Firefly (Joss Whedon's lesser-known TV series) followed by The Shield. But I might be persuaded to start watching 24 as well. Meanwhile, Entourage has started. We see Ari's new agency, which communicates how well he hopes Aquaman does. We have yet to see how superstardom affects Vince, but it's only the first episode.

Last Sunday I was driving to my favorite mexican food chain which is not Taco Bell (where the meat is labeled "Grade D, But Edible"), and I had Keller Williams' live CD playing. It was during this car ride that it fully hit me: this guy is a musical genius. First, he's a virtuoso so over the course of the CD he switches from acoustic guitar to bass to some sort of tube instrument, and his lyrics are very clever. If you've never heard him, start with this CD and THEN move to his studio stuff. He's one of those where you have to hear him live to get a true sense of what he's about.

Around the web, this is a very silly video on the evolution of dance.

In SBC News...

While a pastor in the UCC, I feel an obligation to at least be mildly aware of what is happening in other denominations. This is in order to have some sense of what brothers and sisters who choose a denomination (in an increasingly post-denominational America) are facing in their churches. The blogosphere is helpful for that, because I've come across a handful of Southern Baptist blogs that I like to visit and, outside of a mention in Christian Century (or a shameless dig during our own General Synod...which doesn't even count), I might not hear about the goings-on in their church.

Well, it didn't take long for the SBC bloggers to start reacting to the election of a new president during their big Synod equivalent convention this week. Internet Monk offers one such reaction. Monday Morning Insight reports on it as well. While he hasn't yet, I'm betting Steve McCoy will offer a reaction eventually since he was there.

There really seems to be a lot of buzz over this election for a few different reasons: Frank Page was a relatively unknown 'ordinary' pastor from South Carolina, and wasn't touted as The Next President by the inner circle at the national level. In fact, he won by just over 50%, and was a victory credited to blog support (!) and a grassroots advocacy of a changing of the guard, so to speak. I'm even surprised that the SBC had a contested election, as my experience in the UCC is that one just votes up or down the candidate that a search committee chooses....

Well, anyway, let's pull out the key elements here:

1) Wasn't touted by the inner circle at the top,
2) Blogger support gets major props,
3) Grassroots advocacy,
4) Contested

If you haven't caught on by now, I'm wondering what the implications of this event have on the United Church of Christ. Yes, yes, it's all about ME and US after all. There are similarities between the UCC and SBC in terms of polity, i.e., a congregational system with national conventions that make pronouncements that however unwittingly contribute to a national branding. Those more disgruntled in the UCC have been talking about the national inner circle AND have encouraged grassroots advocacy for YEARS. So it's not out of the question that something like what the SBC has just experienced could eventually happen in the UCC.

As far as blogger support goes, I really do wonder what portion of the UCC's membership, pastor and layperson, has discovered blogging. Our two most high-profile blogs would be Chuck and UCCTruths (blogs hosted by the UCC's 3,419 national websites don't count), and they serve as rallying points for those on both 'sides.' The UCC Blog Network (cheap plug) showcases a few, but how many of us are out there, really? And could UCC bloggers have as much of an impact on our denomination as we see in other churches?

At any rate, I'll end this where it began by congratulating the SBC on their newly elected president, and let you know that I'm praying for you as you enter this new chapter of your life together.

Odds and Ends

~I've put up a LibraryThing banner in the sidebar, which will randomly display ten books from my list. This morning, The Gospel According to the Simpsons was sandwiched between The Divine Comedy and Bruce Campbell's autobiography. I love it.

~I've had a fresh batch of visitors over from Monday Morning Insight the past few days. Here's my official welcome to you, if you read anything besides the megachurch rant.

~For anyone who blogs or journals with regularity, have you ever read over what you wrote a year ago at this time? It can truly be an eye-opening experience. In a journal entry from a year ago, I was asking questions that I'm just now beginning to answer for myself. I thought that was cool, to see evolution of thought and self.

~I'll be married four years on Thursday. To say anything else about it would make it sappy. Okay, maybe I'll get a little sappy. But not today.

Yet Another Review of Driscoll's 'Reformission Rev'

Yesterday, I picked up Mark Driscoll's Confessions of a Reformission Rev, and finished it earlier this evening. If you're unfamiliar with Driscoll, he's the pastor of the 5000-member Mars Hill Church in Seattle and is affiliated with the emerging church (as opposed to the emergent church, which he deems the 'liberal' expression of the emerging church, except it's not the emerging church, it's the emergent church). Well anyway, my prior experience with Driscoll is threefold: I first encountered his style in an extremely heated commentary/rant posted on the Christianity Today blog where he called Brian McLaren and others 'homo-evangelicals' because of their sympathy with the struggles of homosexuals. That was just the first sentence. It got even juicier after that. This encounter eventually led me to a few of his sermon podcasts on the Mars Hill website, which are at least 45 minutes long each and a cross between stand-up comedy and Calvinist theology. Finally, I read an article that he wrote differentiating between the different ways in which the emerging church engages itself in the surrounding culture. This last essay suggested to me that there is a side to Driscoll that might balance out his 'homo-evangelical'-type comments, and thus be worth listening to.

So that led me to this book. The short version goes like this: you get both Driscolls here. Now here's the longer version.

Driscoll spends a good amount of time with church polity and how it approaches or responds to the culture in which it finds itself. Very early in Chapter 0 (the new thing is for books like this to have a Chapter 0), he differentiates between the traditional and institutional church (basically most of the 'mainline;' trying to create a safe space for people like us; we still have our place in Christendom; the use of written liturgy, vestments, etc.), the contemporary and evangelistic church ('come be a part of our wonderful and extensive programming;' clamoring to return to a position of influence in the culture; the use of contemporary and casual worship), and the emerging and missional church (accepts that the church is no longer influential in the culture; seeks to influence local communities; use of a blended worship of anything from ancient forms of worship to 'local' forms). He is quick to say that none of these forms are inherently bad because each addresses the culture and community in which it finds itself in a particular way. Of course at the same time, one can easily see which one he favors. He also identifies general trends in demographic that each form attracts, i.e., traditional and institutional churches do very well among retired folks in Florida...sigh...

In terms of polity, Driscoll identifies different forms of church governance. He will ultimately present his preferred 'Biblical' form that makes use of a pastor, board of elders, and deacons which handle church decisions and ministers to the congregation, all with the understanding that Jesus is the Senior Pastor. I was particularly interested in his critique of congregationalism, since my own tradition is largely congregational. His critique is that a democratic approach to making church decisions allows various interest groups to skew voting and ultimately slow church advancement or steer it in the wrong direction. There is some merit to that critique. The flip side is that a pastor and board of elders can function as a interest group in and of itself, and accountability within that structure is no good if they're all in agreement to begin with. The church will sin no matter what form of government it borrows from.

For Driscoll, the main point that he hammers home throughout his story of developing Mars Hill (for that is what this book largely might subtitle it, 'the diary of a megachurch') is the commitment to the (his) mission. He shares more than one story of kicking people out who aren't contributing to or who are hindering the (his) mission (and people get upset about commercials with bouncers and ejection seats), and doing his best to keep people on track with the (his) mission of the church. One thing that I take away from the book is that, between his kicking people out and his preferred form of church polity, he doesn't have a lot of faith in the masses to do what they should. One could attribute that to his Reformed background, among other things.

All in all, I appreciate his discussion of church forms and his discussion of a church clearly articulating and carrying out a mission. Here's what I didn't appreciate.

First, Driscoll's homophobia is glaring. There's a difference between believing that homosexuality is a sin and gay-bashing. He does a little of both. There is more than one comment about how he's a heterosexual and thus does not [dance, fingerpaint, have long discussions about his feelings, etc.]. These are effeminate qualities and thus homosexuals must have them...not me. He has very traditional ideas about gender roles and this is how he expresses his feelings on that a good portion of the time that they come up, never mind what he thinks about female pastors and women in the military as well (side note: I know a few women in the military who could kick a 250-pound guy's ass, so his ideas about that may be a little ill-informed as well). I will admit some sympathy with his general feeling that the hunter/jock/pickup truck crowd will not respond well to fingerpainting and the like when one considers church programming, but the implication that non-hunter/jock/pickup truck types are all effeminate is ridiculous.

Second, there is absolutely no mention of serving the poor, the marginalized, the homeless, or the disenfranchised. This was a big part of Jesus' message (Matthew 25, Luke 4), and it is nowhere to be found in the book. What we do get is needing to raise funds for a bigger building, fretting over hiring a good worship leader, and saving the artsy effeminate porn addict from an eternity in hell. Helping the poor is an extremely peripheral issue, if it is an issue for Mars Hill at all. Surely Seattle has a sizeable population in poverty that the city's largest church could help to address.

This isn't meant to be in the 'I didn't appreciate' section, but I didn't know where else to put it: Driscoll discusses at some length the concepts of spiritual warfare, demon possession, and having prophetic dreams. For me, he brings to the forefront issues that I've been reconsidering as of late. I believe in ghosts, have seen someone speak in tongues, and a Spirit-guided moment is a big part of my faith story. I also believe that mental illness is a very real problem for a substantial portion of the population. But one or the other by themselves no longer seems to be an adequate explanation for certain experiences. I could write a whole other entry on this subject. I'll just move on for now.

All in all, I take away helpful ideas on church structure, governance, and expression. I leave behind the cheap shots at gays, 'effeminate' men, and women. Like I said, one gets both during the course of the book. I wasn't surprised. Driscoll is passionate and committed to church mission and to building God's kingdom. Take away from his experiences what you will. He will offend as well as challenge.

Pop Culture Roundup

I read through In Parables by John Crossan this past week. It's a very thin book, though Crossan's style is a little more dense than some of his buddies (Borg, Patterson). Crossan first gives his thoughts on the characteristics of parable, differentiating from allegory and suggesting, as has Patterson, that parables hardly, if ever, turn out to be simple moral example stories. Instead, they communicate something about the kingdom of God, a reality that in some sense is already here and not yet here, whether it's how God is establishing it, what happens within it, and so on. Crossan divides the parables into a few different groups: advent, reversal, action, and so on, seeking to differentiate between foci within them. My only critique is that I have questions about his attempts to reconstruct the 'original form' of each parable. I can see well enough how he may think certain elements added by the early church (I share some suspicions), but the original form that he usually comes up with happens to coincide with his point, which I find suspect. Over all, a good resource on parables, though Patterson is a little more accessible.

My wife was scandalized that I had never seen the original
Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. In turn, yesterday I was scandalized to learn that she has never seen the original Batman with Michael Keaton. Seriously, they're probably about to try to mess with Jack Nicholson's Joker, and you won't have anything to compare it to?! But that's for another day. We're gonna talk about Superman, since I wanted something to compare the new movie to. Honestly, I didn't find the movie to be that great. The destruction of Krypton took a very long time, as did the big flood scene near the end (Oh no! It's gonna really, it's gonna flood...any minute it comes the flood...oh, this is gonna be really really'll see...the water's getting closer...). The movie all in all is more one of self-discovery for Superman, and his clash with Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman is a great actor in everything he does, by the way) is almost an afterthought. Maybe I'm just jaded. I'm not that big a Superman fan to begin with. Most other big-screen superheroes have some grit to them (Batman, Spiderman, X-Men), but then here comes Superman with his 'truth, justice, and the American Way.' He's the symbol of a good and proper all-American boy scout type, and most of the others listed are more conflicted, darker, have to deal with lives as human beings (in whatever sense). Superman just has trouble remembering not to fly with his glasses on so no one suspects anything. That's simplistic. Like I said, not much of a fan.

We've bade goodbye to
The Sopranos for the year, only for them to return in January. Even with its more explosive moments (Tony getting shot, AJ getting in trouble, Vito running off and then getting whacked), it's been a quieter season. I'm thinking that it's probably the calm before the storm, though. So what's a Soprano fan to do while he waits? Well, this particular fan just tunes back in to HBO because Entourage is starting up again. It appeals to both my inner frat boy and my inner Jeremy Piven fan. When we last left our heroes, Aquaman was about to break (where on the above spectrum does Aquaman fall?) and Ari had been fired by the agency. Can't wait to see what happens next.

I've been listening to Weird Al Yankovic's Poodle Hat, which has both some good and bad moments. Good: Angry White Boy Polka (his usual putting a whole bunch of popular songs to polka, this time focusing on the likes of Limp Bizkit and System of a Down), Bob (an obvious parody of Bob Dylan where he just strings together a whole bunch of palindromes), and parodies of Eminem, Nelly, and a few others. Bad: Genius in France (he probably thought it was hilarious while writing it, sucks), Hardware Store (again, he probably thought it was hilarious...). Weird Al albums are pretty hit-and-miss that way, but when he's on, he's on.

Around the web, there's this book site called Library Thing where you can create a database of your books just by typing in the title. There are other sites like this, but this seems like one of the simpler ones to work with to me.

POC vs. Gigantor, Part 2

A few weeks ago I decided that I probably shouldn't post every day so that people who visit here less frequently don't miss something. I was also in a funk about posting here in general. I don't know what happened since then.

Right, so when we last left a certain rant against the local megachurch, the blogosphere had begun to respond in surprising and constructive ways. In part, it was surprising because it was constructive. It was also surprising because it showed that my blog constituency extends beyond simple agreement. Not that I write for agreement (remember UCC Leakgate?).

So the post got linked and the responses came, and in case you didn't read them, here's a summary and some response of my own. I am going to attempt this while minimizing the felt need to defend my own ministry:

~'Don't blame the megachurch for your problems.' This one is easy: true. I know of no church that would blame a bigger church for their being small, other than perhaps accusations of sheep-stealing which stem from a bigger church offering a choice that a smaller church can't or won't.

~'No one holds exclusive rights to movie showings.' I actually covered this in my previous entry. What raised the suspicion was not that another church was doing a movie night, but that a 'bigger better' church was doing a 'bigger better' movie night so soon after ours. Again, I would err on the side of coincidence and tradition in this instance. However, megachurch supporters should be aware of the 'bigger better' attitude in their context, i.e. 'We have 1000 people, we're doing something right.'

~'Megachurches are big because they're out there. Small churches are small because they're not.' HOW a church is out there is the crux of this issue for me. A church can be out there by hosting concerts and pizza parties and pool tournaments and 'safe alternatives' after football and basketball games. None of these are inherently bad and are needed in the community. A church can also be out there by building a Habitat house, hosting a soup kitchen or food pantry, walking in various fundraising walks (CROP, Relay, March of Dimes), taking local or not-so-local mission trips, and generally cultivating a spirit of mission that reaches beyond Pizza Evangelism (I just made that up). My cynicism about the human condition is going to shine through a little here when I ask: what are people going to find more attractive and gravitate toward? Obviously, at least to me, the pizza and pool. Jesus was out there by turning water to wine and eating with F-listers, but he was also eating with F-listers and healing and feeding the poor and forgiving and so on.

But this whole issue stemmed from a movie night, so how do I explain that? Basically, if you're only doing movie nights, that's how I explain it.

~'You're a pastor. You shouldn't use such foul language.' To me, this is missing the forest for the trees. But more than one person got hung up on this so I guess I have to say something. I don't. But you'd be surprised at how some of the Greek in the Gospels and Paul should be translated. This is more a cultural issue and less a moral one, outside of using such language insultingly. I don't know why I even included this paragraph. Somalian children are starving.

This discussion goes on and on, but I'm done writing about it except in response to comments. In fact, I'm taking tomorrow off. The Roundup comes on Friday. Later, kids.

POC vs. Gigantor, Part 1

An entry that I wrote last week has caused quite a stir. The blog Monday Morning Insight picked it up and it's been quite a conversation piece over there. While I find the comments generally constructive, some commenters decided to render judgment on my ministry and my church in the process, which I found unfortunate. I don't deny that my attitude might need a tune-up, but some took liberties to fill in the blanks where they are simply unaware of what is happening beyond what I wrote before.

Here's what I wrote in response:

"Thank goodness for statcounter or I'd have no idea this conversation was happening.
First, thank you to all who have commented, especially for the generally constructive nature of such comments.

Now, while I cannot respond exhaustively at this time, a few points I want to present and then if the mood strikes me I'll add more later:

~What was written was written out of a passion felt at a specific moment yet, as acknowledged by both the title of the entry and in various tongue-in-cheek moments throughout the entry, I acknowledged that it may be misplaced passion. The original moment has passed and now the entry belongs to the ages.

~No, a movie on the side of a building is not a revolutionary idea. What I meant to explore is what sometimes can and does come across from megachurches is an implicit statement that 'anything you can do I can do better.' Again, I acknowledge that this whole ordeal was much more likely to be a coincidence than anything else.

~It is not, from my reckoning, the ministerial association's fault for the megachurch's lack of involvement. They have repeatedly invited the leaders of this church to participate in community functions and every time, even long before I began serving here (and this church is only a few years old to begin with), those invitations have been met with silence. This is a two-way street, as it usually is. While it may be easy to blame the megachurch for certain practices, from this thread it is apparent that it is also easy to blame the smaller church for being who they are as well.

~There is an assumption from some that maybe megachurches are doing the correct thing after all since they're so big. The assumption carries with it the corollary that the little church must be doing something wrong (as per leo's comment). And that, of course, all stems from measuring right practice by numbers however you want to slice it. How genuine and deep are the spiritual lives of the 500-1000 people who attend your church? How can you possibly tell? Use whatever techniques to bring them in, but there need to be a whole other set of techniques not to make sure that they stay interested but to see that they are recieving or seeking proper spiritual nourishment. These are two different things. In my setting, I am presently much more concerned with the spiritual nourishment of those already here, which I am not convinced has happened as well as it should over the years (at least for members under the age of 55). Still call me a 'crummy leader' for such a focus, but I pray that something is taking hold. And yet as I pray I realize that these people have schedules, jobs, and families that they have to juggle in addition to whatever time they can truly give to nurturing discipleship, so there is much more to deal with than canvassing the neighborhood.

That's all I have time for right now. Again, thank you for your comments and general concern."

There is more to say...a LOT more. But it will wait another day, hence this entry being labelled Part 1.

Yes, Heading to Hartford

A little while ago, it looked as if the UCC was going to move its 2007 General Synod and Ginsu Cutlery Demonstration out of the Hartford Convention Center. Well, it looks like they are the Civic Center.

From the Hartford Courant:

The United Church of Christ will keep its 2007 national convention in Hartford, but it won't be held at the year-old Connecticut Convention Center as all had hoped.

Instead, following a last-minute intervention by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the church will hold its event at the decades-old Civic Center, keeping its people, and their money, in Hartford.

"They told me that the governor wants very much to make this work, and that they will be taking care of the $100,000 fee for the Civic Center," said Edith A. Guffey, associate general minister of the United Church of Christ. "It's a very generous assistance, and we're very appreciative of it."

Also, a hat tip to UCCTruths.

The big problem that others have pointed out and with which I agree is that the state is willing to kick in this $100,000 to help keep us around. That should send up 'separation of church and state' warning flags, especially since the UCC national entity has taken such stands in favor of such separation before. In the name of continuity, UCC national should probably rethink that part.

In my earlier post, I also mentioned that a guy heard from a guy who heard from a friend of a guy about the 2009 Synod being in Grand Rapids. That actually has been confirmed as the spot. That will save me a bundle on travel expenses. And THEN, in 2011, the year in which I'll be ineligible to be re-elected as a delegate, they're going to Hawaii.


RealLivePreacher has written one of the best essays on preaching and worship that I have ever read:

There is a time in every worship service when I become a child for a few seconds. It only lasts a moment or two, but that's all I need.

It happens right after the sermon is finished. Can you understand this? It is finished. It is over. I lived a week waiting for this sermon to be born. When the time came for it to be delivered, I entered the world of sermons, a world that includes me, the text, the people, and the words coming out of my mouth. It is a time of absolute focus. You enter that world and no other worlds matter. In this regard, preaching is almost like a drug. It takes away whatever else is in your mind. In this regard, preaching is also very dangerous for the one doing it.

Is that enough to intrigue you? It gets better. You really should read the whole thing.

Greg points us to a post on a blog called Postmodern Negro, who points out something about The Da Vinci Code that makes me feel incredibly stupid for not catching it:

However, what I am struck by is the relative silence regarding the religious aesthetic and particular racial inference of Jesus and his descendants in the movie. One of the main issues I have with those who take issue with this particular movie is the silence on the racial dynamics and aesthetics of the movie. As it turns out Jesus' descendants are white Europeans. No surprise there! Racial Constantinianism is a mutha!

Finally, Joseph Barsabbas reviews a book by Evangelicalism's Next Big Thing, Mark Driscoll. Actually, it turns out to be a commentary on Driscoll's theology and style with some references to the book:

Mark Driscoll is one of those guys that seems to have a talent for offending almost everyone. He offends the moderate-to-liberals by his extremely conservative theology, with a special disdain for women preachers (which he calls "ministers in skirts") and his closed-mindedness to different approaches to the concept of hell, the atonement, et. al. Indeed, he separates himself from the emergent church, which looks to supposed "liberals" like Brian McLaren, calling his megachurch in Seattle an emerging church. Note the subtle difference.

But Driscoll also offends his conservative brethren by his frequent use of crude language, controversial methods in reaching out to the community, and, in some hyper-Calvinistic quarters, not seem to be Calvinistic enough.

I'll admit, Driscoll and I are on the same page about a few things (but hardly on anything mentioned above). He and I both find that taking some cues from stand-up comedy is helpful for preaching. He and I want to strip away a lot of the 'airs' that people feel the need to put on in church. I find that a little irreverance goes a long way in ministry (for better or worse...I usually think better). It's his style that frequently spills over into pomposity that I can't deal with. That, and every sermon podcast of his that I've heard, every essay of his that I've read...okay, I get it...your church has 5000 members. I figure I'll end up reading his book for myself sooner or later. My nightstand stack is pretty low, anyway.

Okay, I'll Play

The GalPals have a meme posted every Friday and invite group members to participate. It's Saturday, but who cares? It's my blog. This one has to do with summer movies, so I decided to play for the first time ever. Each of these questions is inspired by a different movie:

1. If you were a mutant, what ability would you like to have? (think superpower)
I've always wanted to have the power of invisibility. Of course, I would be tempted to use it for eeeeeeeevil rather than good, but I think all the eeeeeeeevil reasons are why I'd want it to begin with. So maybe I should just choose something else.

2. Tell us about a memorable road trip you've experienced.
I've taken road trips to Daytona the past few years...we've driven all night, playing music, ingesting large amounts of caffeine. And then the first thing we do when we get there is jump in the ocean.

3. Do you enjoy solving riddles and working on puzzles? If so, what kinds?
I really like word puzzles. There's a scramble in the newspaper every day that I like to do during lunch. I also like word finds, but have yet to really get into crosswords.

4. Take two of your phobias and combine them to make a campy horror/disaster flick. What would it be called?
Testicular Cancer in a Tornado. Good luck translating that to screen.

5. Just how batsh*t crazy is Tom Cruise, anyway?
I'll never go to him for advice on psychology, relationships, or religion, that's for damn sure.

Bonus: Name each of the five movies that inspired these questions.

X-Men 3
The Da Vinci Fictional Movie
Snakes on a Plane
Mission Impossible III

P.O.C. Gets Published

You may or may not remember a satire entry I wrote a while back entitled Culture Warriors UNITE!! Well, if you don't, you can't read it now for legal reasons.

On a whim I submitted it to a Christian satire magazine called the Wittenburg Door (with some alterations), and I heard back from them today that it has been accepted and will be published in their next issue.

This sounds like a good excuse to purchase and devour part of, or perhaps even a whole cake.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading Gilead, which sees the narrator question the motives of his best friend's son whenever he brings up theological issues. The narrator speaks to every pastor's skepticism about questions that seem antagonistic or insincere in nature. He long ago gave up trying to 'prove' God or a specific concept of God to someone else, citing it as a futile exercise, especially to one who just wants to argue or prove you wrong to begin with. While the main focus of this story is the narrator's relationships to his family, his church, his friends, there is quite an amount of musings included about spirituality, human nature, and the role of pastor in community. And last week, I screwed up the time setting a little...this book spans the first part of the 20th Century. I'm sure that correction was very important to you.

I wrote this part of the Roundup last Sunday night, shortly after I saw
X-Men 3. If that doesn't certify me as a net geek, I don't know what does. I will begin by saying that I think that as far as the movie having too many characters to keep track of goes, reviewers are overreacting. Yes, there are many new mutants. But, like X2, only a few new characters are really explored with any depth. Most serve as henchmen or have bit roles. At the same time, a few more prominent characters from the previous others fill their spots. Comic book purists will be upset with how some characters are portrayed, nitpicking accents and how they'd REALLY react to different situations and whatnot. Some errors, however, are more glaring: Juggernaut, for instance, is not a mutant in the comic book but is portrayed as one in the movie. As far as the movie as a whole goes, here's how I'd put it: in the original Star Wars trilogy, you had A New Hope which established the main characters, then you had Empire Strikes Back which explored them in greater depth and added a few big developments, and then you had Return of the Jedi which was largely an action movie, albeit an above-average one. That's pretty much what the X-Men trilogy has turned out to be. A great movie, but definitely not the series' best. And be sure to stick around until the end of the credits.

My wife and I have a ritual on Wednesday evening. I come home from Bible study, she scrambles to get to a good stopping point on her homework, and then at 9:00 we watch Ghost Hunters on the Sci-Fi Channel. This show follows the adventures of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) as they are asked to investigate alleged hauntings around the United States. Their approach is to try to debunk the claims and in the process may end up with something else. This past season a boom mic guy was taken off his feet by an unseen force and they caught some freaky footage of what looks like a ghostly woman at one of their stops. The season finale this past week saw them visiting the hotel that inspired The Shining. It's a great show.

I've been listening to a lot of Gov't Mule the past few weeks. I've actually seen these guys live once. I went to a Dave Matthews Band show back in 1999 and they opened. Unfortunately, I didn't pay much attention. All I remember was this big bearded guy singing 'John the Revelator.' At that point I was just so psyched to be at my first DMB show that they were all I wanted to see. A few years later I really started listening to Mule's music and realized what I've been missing out on. They're a blues-rock combo that takes some of its cues from the Allman Brothers (where guitarist Warren Haynes got his big break). I'd have to recommend their album Dose in particular.

Around the web, check out this Youtube clip where King of the Hill makes fun of megachurches.

Paranoia or Legitimate Beef?

Near the middle of May, my little church up on the hill hosted a Family Movie Night to raise funds for the local Relay for Life. This wouldn't just be sitting in a room around a TV...this would be projecting a movie onto the side of the church or, in case of rain, onto a wall of the sanctuary. We advertised it around town, particularly on the local cable announcement channel and on our sign, explaining what it was and to bring blankets or lawn chairs.

As it turned out, it did rain that night, so we held it indoors. No big deal. The group chose Madagascar for our family-friendly movie, which I'd never seen and thought to be absolutely hilarious (the penguins alone are worth it). We ate pizza, we had fellowship, AND we raised money for a good cause. A few of us decided afterwards to try the outside deal again sometime, perhaps later this summer, and advertise it better.

Well, yesterday afternoon I had to drive past the local Gigantor Church which, as luck would have it, is actually right down the street from us. Their sign reads as follows:

Come To Our Drive-In Movie!
Willy Wonka
Support Our Youth

My face must have turned some shade of crimson, because it took on this tense feeling that is beyond description. Such tense feelings HAVE to involve a color change. My stomach started treating my torso as its own padded playpen, suddenly screaming to get out while the guards weren't looking. I couldn't speak, could only grip the steering wheel tighter.

The megachurch stole the little country church's idea.

The megachurch stole the little country church's idea.

That tells me one of two things:

1. I should be happy about this development. It shows that Gigantor Church of the Consumer Nothingness doesn't always have the best ideas. It shows that my little church inspired them to take something on that we had first, instead of the other way around.

2. I should continue to be pissed off about this. This church doesn't acknowledge the local ministerial association and other churches in town resent it for sheep-stealing. Now they have to take our ideas, too? An activity that no one else in town was doing is suddenly being done by the one with the most resources. (Except, of course, they'll do it better...IT'S A DRIVE-IN~!)

So yes, I'm feeling a little put out by this situation. My wife even suggested writing them a letter. For some reason, I don't see that doing a lot of good.

But oh wait, here's the High Road Paragraph:

Well, no one holds a monopoly on an activity. We should celebrate our unity in Christ and not let such petty squabbles weaken our bonds to one another in the Spirit. They are the colon and you are the appendix. We are all pieces of the body of Christ and should serve our functions as best we can as we have been given. Now turn to 356 in your songbooks where we will join in singing, 'They'll Know We Are Christians.'

That's all well and good. I cannot disagree with the above paragraph. But it's a two-way street. Gigantor Church of We Are the Borg has been absorbing people in town for as long as they've been in existence. It is a little suspicious that, so soon after our wall projection evening, they would have one as well. Could they have had one last year? Could this really be an annual thing for them and I just missed it?

I actually hope that that's the case. I hope that they've been doing this since they first moved in. If they have been doing this that long, then I can rejoice that, in this instance, what's theirs is theirs and what's ours is still ours...that for one instance, another church in town--the biggest and richest--didn't just improve on something already being done and thumb its nose at the same time.

Again, no monopoly. Probably paranoia. Christian unity.

But they started it.

Update: For various follow-ups, read this and this.

Second update: I regret ever writing this stupid entry.

While I appreciate the discussion that it has encouraged (when it's focused on the issues and not on what a horrible pastor I must be), the whole thing was ill-advised.

Some part of me likes the extra traffic, but it's really been for all the wrong reasons, and with each passing day and each additional visitor I regret the image of myself and my ministry that I have helped to cast.

I don't get sole blame, however. This was partially meant tongue-in-cheek, hence the addition of lines such as "they started it." Mr. Rhoades over at MMI helped to cast this as full-out jealousy and hatred by titling his link "Church Competition." I've never seen myself in competition with other churches, and that's the last thing that I had in mind when writing this. Instead, I wanted to raise the question of whether a neighbor church thought it could do one of our recent activities in a "bigger better" way.

I love my people. I love my church. I love Jesus.

This whole thing has been very unfortunate.