Sit down and shut up

Were those Yankee fans singing "Hey hey hey, goodbye" last night?

Oh snap, that was before Craig Monroe hit that 3-run homer in the top of the 9th.

Welcome to the New Class of Eden Seminary

Greetings, class of 2009. Or 2010. Or maybe 2011. And even the guy who will graduate in 2018. That is not a commentary on how difficult the next three or more years will be for you, it is simply an acknowledgement that while you are all starting this stage of your journeys together, you won't all finish at the same time. Look around the room at your classmates. A core group of you will graduate in 2009. A faithful remnant will take an extra year and graduate together in 2010. I'll be honest, some of you might disappear after a semester or a year. Others will have life's circumstances overcome them to the point that you'll need to cut back on classload or take time off.

Regardless, you have come to this moment. And on behalf of all alumni of Eden Theological Seminary, and I'll even presume to speak on behalf of all current students, faculty, field education supervisors, and Mike the janitor (is Mike still there?)...we are praying for you.

We are praying for you.

Those were some of the first words said to my class upon our arrival. They were important words, to be sure, because it marked something about what we were entering, setting it apart from any other academic undertaking. Now granted, this was still very much an academic setting, without question. And it will be such for you as well. You will suffer...sorry...experience all those elements typical of graduate school: books, papers, study groups, grades, due dates...but in the midst of all of it will be reminders of Why.

And the Why is important. The Why is your ultimate goal, the driving force behind all that you endure for as long as you endure it. It will be spoken and sung; given graciously and pursued forcibly. It will be in your midst always. And all the reminders presented to you, including the prayers of your teachers and peers, will be the next few years' true end.

There's nothing meant to be unique or inspirational about this welcome. You'll hear variations on these paragraphs over the next week and in the first few days of class. I simply want to let you know that people are praying for you: your families, your home churches, those who have gone before you and those who are working alongside you to help you pursue and clarify what brought you to Eden to begin with.

To put it one way, you know Why.

And it is Why that will sustain you toward graduation. It won't be your GPA and it won't be any hope to be placed in a church with a $500,000 budget right out of the box. Those are temporary, frivolous concerns.

We are praying for you to use your gifts and talents, to seek first the kingdom of God, to recognize your call as a privilege, a cost and joy.

We are praying for you to remember Why.

God be with you.

Pop Culture Roundup

I read through The Book of J by Harold Bloom this week, which is a literary analysis of the "J" writer, or Yahwist. The theory of "J" is part of a larger theory that four writers contributed to what we know today as the Torah. This book includes a presentation of J's contributions pulled out and strung together, as well as Bloom's commentary on the characters and storylines included in J's narrative. At times Bloom's pomposity gets the better of him ("Tolstoy recognized the story of Joseph as Tolstoyan"), at other times he takes on an anti-religious tone ("J takes care to avoid making Joseph a religious prig and instead has him reject his master's wife's advances on pragmatic terms"). Bloom's overall presentation of J is one of literary genius (throughout the book he makes comparisons to the likes of Shakespeare and Homer) and religious humorist, depicting Yahweh as "human-all-too-human." He suggests somewhat erroneously that J was a woman based on "her" depiction of imperfect men and conversely strong heroines, conveniently overlooking, for instance, Sarah's jealous rage after Abraham gets his concubine pregnant first, as well as her doubt that God can provide a son for her. Read the book for its imaginative take on part of the Torah, but avoid swallowing it whole.

We watched Three Kings this past week, which seemed to have laid the groundwork for George Clooney's later turn in Syriana. The movie is set right after Desert Storm, where a handful of troops who never got to see any action go looking for one of Saddam's secret bunkers and gold bullion stashes. They end up leading a group of Iraqi refugees around the desert and ultimately to safety in Kuwait, and they all learn firsthand the feelings of resentment, abandonment, and desperation among Iraqi citizens after the U.S. begins pulling out. I felt very tense watching this movie. I can't really explain it. I felt tense for the soldiers getting out okay and for the refugees who weren't being cared for by their own government OR the military forces who had come to "liberate" them. I expected a mere action movie, but this was something else. And very rarely do I feel like this while watching a movie. It was weird.

One episode left of Entourage for the season. I'm not sure, but I think that the guy who played Rufio in Hook was in this last episode...or at least he looks like him. Anyway, Johnny goes to shoot his TV pilot and needs to ease the tension that he he does. Turtle goes to find a limited edition pair of sneakers (that possibly-Rufio-from-Hook designed), and Vince helps voice what a good chunk of the audience is thinking when he says, "They're just sneakers. What's the big deal?" And we get an interesting side character in Bob Ryan who was once a big shot producer and is now discovering that he and Hollywood have lost touch with each other. The way he deals with it is both annoying and understandable. I read this week that this season is actually split, much like The Sopranos was this year. That should be something considering that previews for this upcoming episode feature Vince considering the replacement of Ari.

I've really been digging Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" lately. And while not typically a country fan, I've also been digging "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks. Of course, the only way I'm going to hear the latter now is on Mrs. Jeff's iPod since they've become "conservative" America's whipping posts.

Around the web, I can't wait until Meg starts posting regularly again. Meanwhile, Ian has.

Mainliner's Lament Part 2

There wasn't meant to be a Part 2. That was before I discovered this well-reasoned vitriol-free diatribe from Mark Driscoll about mainline denominations via iMonk. Truth be told, I can't and won't defend against everything he says. Caricatures tend to contain even a kernal of truth to them. But this will mainly be the points of disagreement. Of course, these are only my responses. I can't speak for every mainline denomination, local church, and member. That'd be silly.

My son Zac and I recently attended a Mariners baseball game for his seventh birthday. On the way home we were rolling along in my 1978 Chevy truck with a bacon air freshener and passed a liberal mainline church. He asked me what that church believed and I told him they do not believe people are sinners, do not believe the Bible is to be taken literally but is more like a fantasy video game, do not believe you need Jesus to go to heaven, and do believe that being gay is cool with Christ.

"Do not believe people are sinners." - False. Perhaps "sin" is defined differently, but the notion of sin is alive and well in mainline circles. We tend to think more of sin in corporate terms - the sins of governments and businesses against their people, which has plenty of Biblical grounding particularly in the OT prophets and the story of the exodus where Egypt and even Israel and Judah oppress the poor, the orphan, and the widow. But there's plenty of personal sin that is acknowledged and addressed in mainline churches as well. Besides the Big 10, there is much discussion of the violation of loving God and neighbor, i.e., selfishness, pride, hatred, violence, greed, and so on. I'll venture that the big holdup here is probably The Gay Thing, i.e., "homosexuality is okay, that must mean that they think it's all okay," which is a terribly illogical argument. I'll admit that there is a presence of "cheap grace" in mainline churches, but that's not just a mainline problem. Never has been.

"Do not believe the Bible is to be taken literally but is more like a fantasy video game." - Obviously we need some help here with the definition of "literal." I don't want to presume that "literal" has one definition, but more often than not people tend to mean that every last punctuation mark of the Bible is to be taken at face value and provides an eternally relevant and applicable meaning for Christians, including but not limited to refraining from eating shellfish and making menstruating women sit outside the city in Leviticus, the killing of a mixed-race couple in Numbers 25, people refusing to give everything to the apostles falling over dead in Acts, and a general regulation of indentured servitude in both Testaments. A view of the Bible fairly prevalent in mainline churches has more to do with the Bible being an evolving story between God and humanity that believers are participating in, can learn from, and are actively writing today. And don't read that as "re-writing the Bible." Instead, it is continuing the story. The UCC's own "God is Still Speaking" slogan is meant to convey this and is not, by the caricature of many, "Do what you want when you want." The acknowledgment here is that God did not stop speaking or acting 2000 years ago.

"Do not believe you need Jesus to go to heaven." - Mainliners tend not to have such a simple view ("simple" meaning "easy," not "stupid"). There is a great emphasis on service, based again in the prophets, Jesus' parable in Matthew 25 about the sheep and goats, and the book of James. Adhering to truths about Jesus isn't enough. Living truths about Jesus, what my denomination may name as "accepting the cost and joy of discipleship," is what really counts. I could rattle off the Apostle's Creed, but how has my life changed by my ability to do that? This is not "works righteousness," but does take into account God's commands in scripture to serve and pursue what James calls "true religion." Of course, the intent here was probably more along the lines of mainliners thinking that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Wiccans are okay just the way they are. But I'd rather stick with what "need Jesus" means and then we can start judging and damning others.

"Do believe that being gay is cool with Christ." - Well, here's the big sticky point; the new litmus test for who's a faithful believer and who isn't. First, I've already addressed the "literal meaning/video game" point, so perhaps here is a good opportunity to say that reason and experience tend to play a role in mainliners' thought processes when deciding an issue. So we come to The Gay Thing and listed off are the dozen or so texts supposedly condemning homosexuality. Because it has become such a hot topic, it behooves us to be absolutely sure, so there is a need to examine original languages and cultural beliefs and practices, as well as current scientific, psychological, and environmental studies on the topic. This also applies to other issues such as stem cell research. All this together has caused a chunk of mainliners to conclude that "homosexuality is not a sin for the following reasons based on my own analysis of the Biblical world and our own." But as I recall, Driscoll once heard all of this from Brian McLaren and with one "homo-evangelical" comment dismissed all the careful reasoning laid out for him to debate and discuss. So maybe there's little hope for reasoned discourse here.

Driscoll continues his rant with a few incidents ripped from recent headlines and lifts them up as universally supported by mainliners. There's a beautiful response to this part in iMonk's comments by a poster named bookdragon, and I commend that comment to my readers rather than parse it all out here.

There are, however, a few other comments tacked on after this initial rant that I want to respond to as well. It doesn't look like they're even from Driscoll, but I've read enough from Driscoll to presume that he shares the sentiments. Here they are with some quick replies:

Last year the Episcopal church had a document on its women's ministry web site telling the women priests (the how I wish I was a wiccan types) how to preside over a Milk and Honey ceremony. This instead of that broken body and shed blood ceremony Bible thumpers insist upon.

The Didache, one of the earliest Christian documents--even earlier than some New Testament writings--includes a communion ceremony utilizing fish among other elements as part of the service. Where does the Bible mandate that one may only use bread and wine/juice?

Additionally, the mainline faithful recently gave to the world an online finger Labryinth. Oh yes, you no longer need to walk to a sissy maze while doing Yoga out there in the real world. Now you can sit in your chair and "re-center" from any wifi hotspot on the planet.

Since there's no real theological analysis here, I won't reply with one. I just don't see the need for this other than to take a potshot at "feminized" believers who find meaning in the labyrinth as a spiritual practice. "Finger labyrinths" are for people for whom a real labyrinth is not readily available and for people who cannot physically walk one due to age or disability. And when will people understand that a labyrinth is not a maze? I'd also be interested in hearing why the labyrinth is considered "sissy" at all, but one needs a basic understanding of what a labyrinth is first, and judging by the maze comment, I don't think this writer has one. It just somehow "seems sissy" to guys with bacon air freshioners.

Just think, when someone gives you the finger in traffic, you can just go to the office and move your little finger through the Labryinth and peace and calm shall return to you.

And this statement was just stupid. See? I tried to hold out until the very end to resort to useless name-calling. But it was really just stupid.

Mainliner's Lament

There's something that I increasingly am lamenting about my church, at the local level and beyond.

I am a 27-year-old pastor, almost two years into his first pastorate. Like many colleagues my age, I've followed pastors with a significant amount of years' experience and age up on me. I go to Association and Conference gatherings and am usually the youngest clergyperson AND church representative by 15 years easy. In the instance that my Association combines meetings with our neighbor Association to the north, I have a few colleagues closer in age. Still, we are a small handful in perhaps 150-200 older people at those gatherings.

This past Sunday was our annual church picnic. There was a waterballoon toss. After the official activity was over, something had to be done with the extra waterballoons. Well, if you're at a church picnic with extra waterballoons, there's only one logical use for them. I tried to outrun a junior high track runner and finally just gave up and took my hits.

Now it's true, age isn't more than a number and I know some 50-year-old pastors who would whoop it up with kids in a waterballoon fight. In fact, I've watched one such pastor tumble down a makeshift Slip-and-Slide on a hill. So while I can't assume that only young pastors would have such fun with their kids--not to mention preach a relaxed, joking style, admit and roll with his screw-ups, and passionately and intentionally reach out to an otherwise neglected 18-25 year-old crowd--I do worry about who will come after me. In the far-off yet inevitable event that I move on to another ministry setting, what is the guarantee that another young or young-at-heart pastor is going to follow up on what's going on here? If my experiences at the wider church levels are any indication, there's no guarantee. And what sort of culture shock will that bring?

I don't have an answer. I suppose that if I did I wouldn't include 'lament' in the title to this entry. Something is wrong. Whether it's our image or our process or the institution, I don't know. Where are the younger clergy in the UCC? In mainline denominations in general? We're out there, but not in abundance. Some are seeking positions but are told by churches that they don't have enough experience. Others are relegated to non-ordainable youth ministry positions. Still others do get ordained but find themselves patronized by senior pastors and/or congregations and seek hospital chaplaincy positions after only a few years in the local church.

Maybe it's our attitude. Maybe it's an attitude of condescension and preservation that is keeping younger pastors in single digit numbers in Associations. Maybe a desire to keep that Old Time Religion mixed with a Good Old Boys network (coincidence that both of those include the word 'Old?') is holding younger clergy at bay and ultimately frustrates them into vanishing. Whatever the reason, the church is dying as a result.

But how much of that is us killing ourselves in slow and subtle degrees?

I for one am glad my church took a chance with me. Not to toot my own horn, but I think that they are, too. I pray that more churches do.

Pagitt Soundbites

I picked up a discounted copy of Doug Pagitt's Church Re-Imagined late last week and have been looking it over. Solomon's Porch sounds like an intriguing place, and if I seriously pursue my sabbatical idea it should be a great learning experience to visit there.

Anyway, a few soundbites:

In a recent staff meeting we talked about the occasional person who doesn't feel "fed" at Solomon's Porch. We mused about the kinds of people who need to be fed--babies, people without use of their hands, people too weak to serve themselves. We concluded that "being fed" ought to be a strange metaphor for what happens at church but that it is sadly appropriate. For it seems that the church has trained Christians to expect someone to give them faith in small, pre-chewed bites they can swallow without significant effort.

To move beyond this passive approach to faith, we've tried to create a community that's more like a potluck: people eat and they also bring something for others. Our belief is built when all of us engage our hopes, dreams, ideas, and understandings with the story of God as it unfolds through history and through us.


It helped that we approached the prospect of living as a creative community with a combination of openness and productive cynicism. There can be a tendency in Christian circles, especially ones that venture into new territory, to complain about how things are. But creativity is providing a new way of living, seeing, hearing, or being, and we were blessed with several people who love the process of seeing a possibility and turning it into something tangible. So we allowed ourselves to look at something with cynical eyes only if we were committed to working on it. We agreed not to gripe about contemporary worship music without undertaking to create music that moved us away from those concerns and into a new way of understanding. We agreed not to whine about the lack of art in churches without determining how and why art would play a role in our community.

GalPals Ridiculous British Sayings Meme

Right, so one of the GalPals recently took a trip to England and came back with a bunch of phrases that, in our Amuhrican dialect, sound quite silly. The invitation here is to come up with one's own definition for each like the game Balderdash.

Adverse Camber - a new 14" diameter splash cymbal from Camber that, when you hit it, actually makes the sound of a kitten mewing. This is the first cymbal introduced for the field of psychology and requires a prescription. Patients using the Adverse Camber are to hit the cymbal whenever they become extremely stressed in the face of adversity.

Butts Wynd - a phrase included in a scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that up until recently had been lost. Literature scholars postulate that the scene should come after Romeo and Benvolio's first scene together, as a drunken Mercutio begins to seriously deride Romeo for being a pansy as he pines for Rosaline with the line: "If thou wert truly a man, who cares not if be accus'd of sin/Thou wilt suck it up, have ale, and freely pass butts wynd."

Plague Church - a burgeoning Christian movement in remote parts of Alabama that use the events of Exodus 7-12 as their focus passages. Core tenets in this movement include the belief that frequent sincere prayer can and does bring hardship on people you don't like. This movement has inspired the book The Prayer of Aaron, which has not yet found a mainstream audience.

Free House - does not exist.

Mind the Gap - a popular oxymoron associated with the belief that people who shop exclusively at trendy clothing outlets can think for themselves.

Pop Culture Roundup

Again, I've been slacking on my Moltmann and went with Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith this week instead. Lamott's 'sequel' is a little thicker, but I think that has to do with the layout. It's still a quick read. I'm going to personally recommend her chapters on being with her dying dog, hearing the pastor of the Church of 80% Sincerity preach, and her brutally honest thoughts about being a mother. Lamott is a wonderful mix of humor, irreverence, honesty, and sincerity. She may grate with some more 'conservative' folks, maybe in this one more than the last as her language can be salty...that and she hates the Iraq war so she has some words about our current administration. No problem here, though.

The show Miami Ink is the only show that I will willingly watch on TLC, since every other show is about babies, weddings, makeovers, or interior decorating. Plopped down in the middle of all this on Tuesday nights is a show about a tattoo parlor in Miami. You get to hear stories about the artists as well as stories behind customers' tattoos. A lot of people come in to get 'In Memoriam' tattoos or to remember a harsh moment in their lives like battling cancer or a loved one being attacked. Most end up looking pretty cool. Most. There was one on this past week where a guy wanted to remember his father. Well, his family is part American Indian, so the guy wanted to incorporate a white feather and a bingo card and a slot machine. Ah, sentimentality.

I haven't seen any movies this week, so I'll substitute something else. If you don't like pro wrestling, skip ahead. WWE SummerSlam is this Sunday, and I'm lucky enough to have a movie theater nearby that shows all the WWE pay-per-views for $10 (as opposed to paying $50 to watch it at home, not including whatever food you buy to eat while you watch it). One of the big matches that I'm interested in is Edge vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship because I'm tremendously worried that Edge is going to lose. Once upon a time, John Cena was an edgy white boy rapper character who creatively burned his opponents before matches with clever rhymes. Then he won the championship for the first time, the WWE phased out that part of his character, and up until recently he's been a generic 'I'm gonna beat you because the crowd likes me' good guy. The funny thing about that is once he became an 'I'm gonna beat you because the crowd likes me' good guy, the crowd started not liking him. They liked irreverent edgy Cena. All that, and I really like Edge as champion. He's different. He reminds me a little of when Shawn Michaels was champ as a bad guy. For those non-wrestling fans who have made it through this paragraph, I salute you. I avoided some jargon for your benefit.

I associate The Decemberists with fall, so with the leaves just beginning to turn they've been in my CD player a lot.

Around the web, RealLivePreacher shares his Thought for the Day here and then tries again here.

Ever wonder...

...what a comfort it must be for people to believe that their church is the only one in the whole world that has it exactly right? me from your followers.

My First Ever Dream Entry

Last night I had a church-related dream, although it was a little different than my usual church-related dreams which typically feature some variation of my not being prepared to preach.

In this dream, I led our first ever Sunday evening contemporary/youth service. There were maybe 20 people there and I made a special plea to attendees to bring their friends. I remember feeling highly confident that we were fully capable of filling the sanctuary for that service if people took the time to tell others about it, person-to-person. For me in the dream, this was the most logical and natural thing to consider, and it drew nods from those who were there.

Perhaps the strangest part of the whole dream was that a family who is staunchly against the idea of contemporary worship was in attendance. I didn't get that part at all. But dreams hardly ever make sense.

Anyway, I'm not one to put much stock in dreams as having some special prophetic or psychological meaning. I have thought about an evening contemporary service before, but haven't seriously pursued such a thing yet. And my idea of good 'contemporary' worship is different from a lot of people's, so there would be that issue as well.

What I Learned During My Summer Vacation

~Open mic nights actually can be quite close-knit communities. We went to one on Wednesday night where eight people performed all on acoustic stringed instruments (7 guitar, 1 dulcimer). This was a coffeehouse in a smaller town...not THAT small, but small in the sense that not that many people seem to be interested in open mic nights at coffeehouses. I don't know what that means. Anyway, most of the performers knew each other and it seems like they're pretty regular. Mrs. Jeff and I were two of the perhaps eight pure spectators there, not counting the girls working the counter. All in all, it was a fun night. Through it, we even discovered another coffeehouse nearby that hosts open mics on Wednesdays that alternate with this one, where a lot of the same people seem to go. Hurray for expanding knowledge of social hotspots.

~I got my second tattoo on Friday (Hi Mom!). Apparently I was the first pastor that my artist had ever worked on, which both surprised and delighted him. While he continually jabbed a needle in my shoulder, we got to talking about why a pastor would want to "get into 'toos" (his expression) and his unstable home life. By entering that tattoo parlor, I was able to make a connection that many would see as unconventional. During a lull in the conversation, I considered that there was something about this that could be considered "missional," but didn't want to fully form my thoughts because once I do that I'll lose it.

~The family reunion was on Saturday, which was good while I was able to be there. I knew/remembered more people than I thought I would. Even so, when it came time to eat something peculiar happened. This is a family descended from four siblings. When everyone sat down with their plates, they sat according to which sibling their family originated from, i.e., that part of the family with whom they were most comfortable. It wasn't unlike being at a church potluck, which one of my aunts pointed out during the meal.

~Sunday morning I attended the Lutheran church which is about to lose its pastor to the Chicago suburbs. Before, during, and after, it was interesting to catch myself while planning out my morning. I would ask things like, "Why do I want to wait a few more minutes before leaving for church? Why have I chosen to sit halfway back at the end of the pew nearest the wall? Will I want to stay for coffee hour or will I want to leave right away?" As a pastor, these were important questions for me to pay attention to because they would illustrate something about why my parishioners, in turn, make the decisions they make. And here are the answers, respectively: "Because I don't want to sit around too long beforehand, because I don't want to be the center of attention, and I will leave right away because my wife and I have lunch plans (and I want to see how full our church parking lot is on a Sunday when I'm not wasn't very full)."

While this vacation week wasn't one of fancy trips and postcards, I did experience some mostly great social moments. And I learned a lot that I can bring to my ministry. So tomorrow it's back to office hours, visits, meetings, and...holy crap, it'll already be Tuesday. Better get crackin'.

Hitting the Big Time

I've just discovered the sign that this blog has hit it big. Someone has added a link to this place on that veritable site of populist truthiness, Wikipedia, under the entry for Eden Theological Seminary. Two other Eden graduate blogs which should be familiar to POC readers are also listed.

A thank you to whomever thought this silly little site was worthy of such a mention.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've taken a break from Moral Man and Immoral Society. The short version is that I don't have a lot of interest in pure theory like I used to. And political theory on top of's going on the shelf. That's an entry in itself and I hope to remember to come back to it. I did read another book this week: Is Belief in God Good, Bad, or Irrelevant? This book is a collection of e-mails exchanged between Preston Jones, a college history professor, and Greg Graffin, the lead singer of Bad Religion. Jones just on a whim e-mailed Graffin one day and it evolved into months' worth of discussion on Christianity and naturalism. The title is horrible. Besides that, it's a very quick read (I read it in about 2 hours). Jones' Christianity would probably be characterized as more 'liberal,' as he concedes some points to Graffin that more 'conservative' types would probably be hard-nosed about. Even at the discussion's most heated moments, the two remain civil to each other and only attack the other's ideas. What a concept.

Since I've been on vacation, I've seen a number of movies. Here they are quickie-like:

Talladega Nights - Before seeing this I expected Anchorman on a race track, but it was different enough to ease my worries. The first half hour to 45 minutes, I asked why I should like such an unlikeable character (AND family), but the movie is about his redemption. And the character was redeemed for the other characters and for me. There's enough balance of identifying with NASCAR and making fun of NASCAR to appeal to everyone.

V for Vendetta - 1984 meets The Matrix. But in a good way. Some good political commentary.

Underworld: Evolution - Not as good as the original, and even then I struggle to get my head around vampires and werewolves who use guns to try to kill each other.

Date Movie - A parody of a string of date movies. The jokes are obvious (haha, the parody of Jennifer Lopez has a big butt! That's NEVER been done!). Still a fan of Alyson Hannigan.

Vince's crew beats up Seth Green's crew on
Entourage. I don't know what else to say about that. The preview for this Sunday's episode has a finale-esque sound to it, which makes me sad because the baseball playoffs aren't on for another month and a half. Now what am I gonna do?

I've rediscovered my
Burlap to Cashmere CD. They're a Christian Latin band who only released this one studio album. There are some excellent tracks on here. Some duds, too, but I don't listen to those. This is/was one of those bands who didn't feel the need to mention Jesus in every song and strove for musical quality, thus rising above most of their contemporaries.

Around the web, go to and vote on which kitten is the cutest.

This wasn't a very good one

You scored as Calvin. You are John Calvin. You have a Nestorian Christology and separate the Divinity and Humanity of Jesus. You believe only those who have faith are united to Christ, who is present spiritually, yet you call this "Real."











Eucharistic theology
created with

Just Felt Like Blogging

It's come to that point in the summer where I'm tired of summer. I didn't used to be tired of summer, because I didn't want to go back to elementary/junior high/high school. But for almost ten years now, I've hit a point usually sometime around the beginning of August where every hot humid day is the same, you've seen one green leaf you've seen a million, and since everyone at church is on vacation there isn't as much to do around the office.

Of course, I'm on vacation this week, so I don't care so much about that last one.

The prospect of fall energizes me: the change of the leaves and the thought of college football. Sipping red wine or warm cider on an early October evening is heaven on earth to me. I'm glad that I wasn't called to a church in Florida or California or some other place that never sees this, not that I was looking in those places. I would be tremendously bored without a change in seasons, if every day was like a Beach Boys song. Many people dream of that...not me.

So yes, I'm on vacation this week because I was due for one. I try to take time off every three months, although Easter usually screws that up depending on when it falls. People have asked me where I'm going and actually...uh...nowhere, really. Mrs. Jeff is still in school this week, so both time and money limit any traveling. Instead, I want to do some things in the area that I've been meaning to do for almost two years now but for some loser reason haven't: visit the local winery, stop by a coffeehouse's open mic night, visit the local used bookstore, and worship at a church in town who will say goodbye to their pastor at the end of this month.

I've done the used bookstore thing. I found a couple Merton books and one of Tony Campolo's first books. They had a bunch of Hans Kung and some old hymnals, too. And an entire room full of romance novels! That was amazing. We meant to do the winery yesterday, but opted to see a movie instead. But we'll get there.

The pastor of the local Lutheran church is leaving, much to my surprise. He'll be heading to northern Chicago. He seems pretty happy about the arrangement: a younger church in an environment that he's more accustomed to. I was thankful to have him as a colleague. He made my ordination ecumenical and was the second-youngest pastor in town. Plus he's a Michigan graduate. Hail to the Victors, baby.

Speaking of, that's the other thing I'm doing this week: a family reunion in Michigan. For me, this is meeting family members or reminding people that I'm related to them and less, 'Oh, Cousin Verne! I haven't seen you forever! Remember when we skipped rocks on Winnebago Pond? How's the gout?' But then again, you can't complain that you don't know anybody if you don't make an effort to know anybody. So yeah, I'm gonna go do that.

Healthy Dissention

Over the weekend, I've begun to intersperse Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society with Moltmann. I know, what sort of recreational reading is that? I've just been in the mood for some theological and ethical classics after a long string of books telling me how to make the church more missional, relevant, emerging, cool, Biblically faithful, big, etc.

Niebuhr is not the most optimistic guy in the world. I suppose that's why he's referred to so often as a realist. In this book, he puts out chapter after chapter indicting the true motives of people and communities and how self-serving we really are. One of his favorite themes seems to be hypocrisy, in particular the tendency to pursue the highest moral good and justify our use of dishonest or less-than-moral actions in that pursuit. In other words, we spin immoral actions to say that it is for the greater moral good. My head swims with examples.

But that's not even the reason that I'm bringing it up. Niebuhr has something to say about dissent:

For self-criticism is a kind of inner disunity, which the feeble mind of a nation finds difficulty in distinguishing from dangerous forms of inner conflict. So nations crucify their moral rebels with their criminals upon the same Golgotha, not being able to distinguish between the moral idealism which surpasses, and the anti-social conduct which falls below that moral mediocrity, on the level of which every society unifies its life. While critical loyalty toward a community is not impossible, it is not easily achieved. It is therefore probably inevitable that every society should regard criticism as a proof of a want of loyalty.

Again, my head swims with examples. Accusations of being anti-American, anti-freedom, anti-UCC, anti-Christian and any other anti- that one feels like adding to the mix come to mind. Neibuhr suggests that these accusations come from our own egoism, our own sense of being preservers of truth, which leads back to his commentary on justifying the use of morally dubious actions with the preservation of the greater moral good.

And all this leads me to one of my favorite bloggers and self-critiquing evangelicals, the Internet Monk, who just the other day put up a fabulous post on the culture war:

Evangelicals should come to terms with this: they are in every way virtually identical to suburban, white, upper middle class American culture. They are not as bad as the worst of that culture, but they are increasingly like the mainstream of that culture and are blown about by every wind of that consumerized and materially addicted culture. In fact, go to many evangelical churches and the culture is so present, so affirmed, preached and taught that one would assume that there is nothing whatsoever counter cultural about the affirmation that Jesus is Lord.

Really, that's more a recommendation to read the whole thing than a solid tie-in. The link is that iMonk is willing to address such a critique at the group with which he at least partially identifies. Niebuhr offers a critique similar to the above in his book, but chiefly levels it at liberal Protestants instead.

The overall point here, if there is one, is to note that critique in and of itself is not disloyalty. I am reminded of something one of my seminary professors said: 'The reason that Amos was so angry was because he loved the people so much.' That's not to say that all critique is prophetic or helpful or loving or loyal, only to say that it is necessary lest any group or individual only listen to their/his/her own ego.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been finding some good ways to practically apply The Crucified God to my surroundings. Take, for instance, a recent article I came across detailing a church's building a 72-foot replica of the Statue of Liberty, except she's holding a cross and is called the Statue of Liberation. Moltmann would roll over in his grave, yelling and screaming for someone six feet above him to remind people that Jesus' death wasn't so that we could build cheesy odes to AmeriChristendom and call it discipleship. He would yell through his casket padding that the cross is a dirty ugly instrument of death that symbolizes a God present with the lowly, despised, and rejected and calls us to do the same instead of raising $250,000 for a monstrosity of a lawn ornament. This book needs to be required reading in every freaking seminary in the country.

We watched Secondhand Lions this week. Actually, Mrs. Jeff watched it and I was in the same room and glanced up at it occasionally. Robert Duvall is good as a cranky old guy. Michael Caine had a weird southern-English accent that faded in and out, and his character overall is Alfred Wears Overalls and Shoots Guns. Haley Joel Osment is without his creepy/annoying Sixth Sense whisper and doesn't make me want to hit myself in the head. I'll never stumble over myself to watch this film again, that's for sure. But it does feature Christian Kane (Lindsey from Angel) as the young Duvall, so that was fine.

This season of Entourage has turned out to fulfill my earlier prediction for Vince: him choosing whether he wants to be an actor or a movie star. Last week's episode showed that he's chosen actor, after lambasting a couple movie studio execs during a press conference when they wanted to 'rip out the soul' of an art film he did in order to mass-market it. I actually thought that that would be the cliffhanger for the next season, but we keep rolling. Honestly, I'm wondering how the show is going to have him continue a movie career after this episode AND his getting blackballed by a major studio in a previous episode. Maybe because he gets press for sticking to his principles? I dunno.

Next week while enjoying a lazy seven days' vacation, I'm planning to visit a local winery and hear this folk duo play. Why? Because it's there.

Around the web,
a ninja explains why the fight scenes in The Matrix were all wrong.

Changing One's True Colors

I've been reading with some interest the current saga revolving around Mel Gibson's little drunken tirade. The Cliff's Notes is this: he was pulled over for drunk driving and started yelling slurs about Jews. For good measure, he threw in a sexist comment toward a female officer. Since then, the boards have lit up with theories about how liquor lowered Gibson's inhibitions and revealed his true colors, which might be true, to less logically sound comments like, 'This proves that Passion of the Christ was anti-Semitic.'

Gibson offered one apology, partially to say 'That wasn't the real me.' Again, I can't totally disagree with alcohol lowering your filter. The boards lit up again to say that very thing. Then Gibson offered a second apology, this time expressing a desire to meet with leaders of the Jewish community and face 'the problems that he has.' This sounds closer to admitting that maybe his string of epithets was perhaps really him, and not just the booze.

At this point, I'm willing to give Gibson the benefit of the doubt. One can't excuse what he said. Period. But now he's taken steps beyond apology...if he truly follows through with his expressed desire to interact with the Jewish community and face what he needs to face in terms of prejudice and the hurt he's caused, then that is no less than the road to repentance. I stand with my Christian brothers and sisters (as well as my Jewish ones) in condemning what he said, but also encouraging what he means to do about it. There's no sense in continuing to dog the guy if he's serious about fixing things.

If Christians who talk about grace and repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation can't see those elements potentially at work here, then there are some things that we need to repent of ourselves.

I hope Gibson follows through with this. And I hope he's truly changed by it.