Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Wait...this is a real thing that happens?

From Lutheranchik:

Overheard conversation here in Outer Podunk:

"I ain't votin' fer no one named Obama, 'cause that sounds too much like Osama."

Welcome to my world.

Are you kidding me?

Someone told me that people might dismiss Obama for this reason, and I said, "There's no way that'll work. People aren't that irrational."

Okay, then. Apparently I'm wrong.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Catching Up

I had a dream last night. Looking back I can recall snippets of events and conversations that contributed to the combination of images and participating characters. In this dream I was at my grandparents' house. Most of the dream actually took place in the basement, and it was one of those moments where I clearly was not in my grandparents' basement but in my dream I knew it was my grandparents' basement. This basement had a lot more room and was free of clutter. In fact, I don't even remember a furnace or laundry appliances. Anyway, there was a drum set off to one side, and other people setting some things up. And why? Because we were about to have a worship service. And we were expecting lots of people. Apparently I had started a church in my grandparents' house and they didn't mind.

One way that no one really wants to start off their year is by officiating at two funerals in the same month. The second one is this afternoon...the second-oldest member of our congregation.

Saturday was the day to sit down with the family and discuss the service. In and of itself, this was not particularly monumental. It was the context of the entire day that made it interesting. I met with them, and then had to switch gears to have a pre-marital conversation (don't call it counseling or you can get sued) with a couple. There was some point during this conversation that I had to marvel to myself at how versatile a calling this is...I'd gone from the end of life to starting a new life over the span of a couple hours.

This will be the second wedding at which I'll officiate with people for whom this is a second (or more) marriage. These weddings are so cool...the couple has gotten over the felt need for a storybook afternoon with runners and bows and blah blah blah. They've been there and done that and now want to build a new beginning with one another without all the forgettable frivolous add-ons that younger first-timers can't get over.

Speaking of younger first-time wedding stuff, I'll be the officiant at my best friend's wedding this summer. They're doing it while on a New England cruise. Mrs. Jeff won't be able to come. "Who's that guy sitting all alone on that deck chair with a bottle of merlot and a scowl on his face? Isn't that the pastor?"

I don't think that anyone else who reads this is a wrestling fan. Meh. I don't care. Last night was my favorite yearly pay-per-view event, the Royal Rumble. In the Royal Rumble, 30 wrestlers enter this one match and the only way to be eliminated is to be thrown over the top rope. The winner gets a World Title shot at Wrestlemania, the WWE equivalent of the Super Bowl. I would have hopped over to the movie theater that shows these, but I couldn't scrounge up the cash. And apparently I missed one of the better ones in a while. Anyway, for the two people who might care, The Undertaker won. For non-wrestling fans, yes, there's a wrestler named The Undertaker. For wrestling fans, yes, he's still around.

Okay, then. That's it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

I've never read Frederick Buechner before, so I figured that it would be cool to start. I've seen him mentioned in numerous places as an exceptional preacher, so I wanted to see for myself. I picked up Secrets in the Dark, and the first thing that struck me about it was the compilation of blurbs on the back cover by Brian McLaren, Will Willimon, Max Lucado, and Rob Bell among others. That's a fairly impressive range, I think. Anyway, this is a collection of Buechner's sermons that spans his entire career. I'm reading a sermon a day, using it as kind of a devotional tool. I have to say that as I've evaluated my own approach to preaching as something that needs to be accessible and personable, I soon noticed that Beuchner's style is much more poetic, and a little thick for people who would have to process it by hearing rather than reading. There's nothing wrong with some poetry to one's preaching, but Buechner can lay it on pretty heavily and I might have a hard time trying to keep up with him on a weekly basis.

I watched Firewall this week. This is your typical "I've kidnapped your family so now you have to do something for me and you'll try to outsmart me and ultimately we will have a final one-on-one showdown where your love for them shall prevail against my cold evil greed." There. Save yourself two hours. Harrison Ford does his dramatic talking-through-his-teeth thing and Paul Bettany represents British bad guys very well.

We've begun our systematic journey through the entire Scrubs series. Since we're using Netflix rather than purchasing entire seasons at a time, this will take us two years to accomplish. Nevertheless, this is easily one of the best shows on television. Hilarious and moving.

Robert Randolph is just freaking awesome.

Since I've been able to do a fair amount of blog READING as opposed to blog WRITING, I came across a few decent entries this week: iMonk writes about Christians and antidepressants, Scott discusses the pros and cons (mainly cons) of scheduling worship on Sunday mornings, and Brant shares a simple yet effective cartoon.

We'll see how long my ability to post lasts. We'll see if I'm even able to post this.

I Think We're Back

I think.

If so, I'll post a belated Pop Culture Roundup a little later to celebrate.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Not Intentional

I've been having issues with Blogger this past week.

Maybe my being able to post this message is a sign that said issues are resolved.

But I'm not going to hold my breath.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Foosball is of the Debbill

I stayed up last night to watch the end of the Colts/Patriots game. Earlier I kept flipping back and forth from the Bears/Saints to whatever else I was watching.

Here's the thing: I don't really like pro football that much. It might be because I was born near Detroit and now live near Cleveland, so there simply hasn't been anything for me to like. Barry Sanders and Bernie Kosar are long gone. When I lived in St. Louis there was more excitement. My first year there I got to experience what it was like to attend a Super Bowl party that involved actually rooting for a participating team. They lost, by the way.

Regardless, now we're set for two teams from neighboring midwestern states to play in a ridiculous spectacle that will suck in casual fans and even non-fans like moths to a flame. Usually my friends and I talk while the game is on and then watch the commercials. Except last year, I watched with a Steelers fan, so the rest of us talked and he watched.

But none of this is really an excuse for why I was watching the NFL all day yesterday. I tend not to care until the playoffs. Again, that's the lack of quality pro football in Ohio and Michigan. But baseball doesn't start for another couple months and college football just ended. I really think that I want to like the NFL...again, no good reason locally.

I guess that's why ESPN hypes Monday Night Football the way that they do. Commercials are set up to say, "you're going through your week, but football will be on soon." It's not "the Saints will be on soon," or "the Colts will be on soon." It's "football will be on soon." Come watch football. You don't care who the teams are. You just like the sport (and the league) enough that you'll watch whatever is on.

That works for me for baseball and college football. It doesn't yet fully work for me and the NFL. But it did yesterday. And just like for everyone else, it'll work in a few weeks. Still, spring training won't be here fast enough.

By the way, congrats to That Couple in Chicago. You're probably excited at least.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Christian Unity Sunday

Did you know that we're in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity? My UCC desk calendar has it marked down, but I've never really observed it in an official capacity. But there's a first time for everything, so this year I'm doing something extra special.

I'm going to go be United Methodist.

Okay, so I'll really just be a UCC pastor in a UMC church. And it'll only be for an hour or so. And when you really think about it...will I be UMC by virtue of being in a UMC church, or will they be UCC by hosting a UCC pastor? Probably neither.

This is all to say that my Ministerial Association is playing Preacher Swap this Sunday to celebrate Christian Unity. The tragedy is that not every church in our area is participating either because of polity issues or because they just aren't a part of our group. So for our situation, I guess that a more accurate term for the week might be Week of Prayer for Mainline Protestant Unity. It's a start, I guess.

So anyway, I'm heading over to one of the two United Methodist churches that participate in our group. More specifically, I'll be preaching at their contemporary service. This means a couple things for me personally:

1. No tie.

2. No children's sermon.

3. Drums. Glorious, unabashed, loud ear-ringing drums. In church. Yeah.

A strange thing has occurred while putting together my sermon for this special day. Nowadays I speak from an outline...I loved the year or so that I spoke without notes, but it became hard to keep up every week. Anyway, my outlines usually make it to about halfway down the third page. The runtime ends up being around 15 minutes, which is what I generally shoot for. For this Sunday, I chose Paul's metaphor of the Body of Christ because it fit the occasion so well. You don't realize how long this passage is until you read it out loud. And my outline spilled onto about a third of a fourth page. I had to play with the margins just to cram everything back on to three. This is the longest sermon I've written in this form. I hope it keeps them engaged.

The thing about Paul's "Body of Christ" metaphor is that it doesn't need any gooping up. One commentary I consulted this week said as much...that this is one of those texts that is best served by the preacher getting out of the way. Paul has pretty much already laid everything out for us. We should celebrate it rather than go off on tangents that will hinder its profundity more than help it. We are the Body of Christ...all suffer and rejoice one is any less a part of the Body just because they or someone else says so. It writes itself.

I'm welcoming the opportunity to preach elsewhere, for the more superficial reasons listed above, but also for what this day will symbolize by our exchange. Comparatively speaking, we seem to have a pretty good group...pastors who welcome one another and enjoy each other's company. Very early on, I was struck by our Lutheran pastor's presence at my ordination. That communicated something to me about the support that I would find in this group. These are not people who force themselves to endure one another's company; who find themselves hopelessly linked by civic demands. Here I find an earnest network of churches willing to collaborate on mission projects and worship services. We are the Body of Christ, suffering and rejoicing together. For those reasons, tomorrow will be a good day.

The drums will help, too.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Pop Culture Roundup

I started The Misunderstood Jew by Amy Jill Levine this week. Levine is a New Testament scholar and a Jew, which ensures that she'll provide a unique perspective. She spoke at Eden while I was there and many of us were struck by both her scholarship and her feistiness, so when I saw this book I wanted to take a look. Levine explores Jewish-Christian relations as it pertains to the figure of Jesus. In the introduction she suggests that both groups could learn something from the other about him: Christians could gain a better picture of Jesus' Jewishness (as well as an appreciation for its importance) from Jews, and Jews can better understand why he's seen as the central figure of Christianity. After a treatment of the Gospels through Jewish lenses, Levine moves on to the early arguments in the early church concerning who is in and who is out. She shares that gentiles actually fell into subcategories for Jews including "resident aliens" and "righteous gentiles," categories that recognized them as accepted by the community and beloved by God; then suggests that Paul wanted to bring "righteous gentiles" to the forefront of his movement. She's pretty critical of Paul, showing how disturbing and scandalous his removal of dietary restrictions and the requirement of circumcision would have been to Jews. It's a very interesting read so far.

While channel-surfing a few days ago, I wound up finding Brokeback Mountain on one of the HBO channels. This was a movie that I shouldn't have watched by myself because it left me with a lot to process. As I watched, certain scenes were, to me, naturally uncomfortable, but what I think stuck with me the most was having to watch both men's marriages devolve; the people around them hurt. I found myself getting more caught up in what the wives and children were feeling than the dilemma in which Jack and Ennis found themselves; the effect that their increasingly disinterested felt need to keep up appearances had on those around them. Jack and Ennis are not saints, and I think that other supporters of the movie wanted to state that they were. There is, of course, more to the characters' reasoning...they struggle with wanting to be together versus the stigma and violence they might face. But it takes its toll. I don't think that I want to write anything else about it right now. Maybe another time when I can find a way to avoid offending people that I don't want to offend. Nevertheless, it has stuck with me through the week.

We also watched Lucky Number Slevin this week. This is a movie that could be put in the same category as The Usual Suspects or Suicide Kings. It's an organized crime movie with a twist...which I called about halfway through, Ithankyou. I haven't seen Josh Hartnett in too many movies. Actually, the only performances I've seen from him (Pearl Harbor, The Faculty) were in movies that weren't worth watching, but this was a pretty good one for him. I'm kind of a fan of the genre, so that certainly helped. Anyway, the only problem I really had with the movie was that it takes the final 1/3 to explain the first 2/3, which seems like a lot. There's a lot to explain, but the explanation kind of dominates the last part of the movie. But Lucy Liu's in it. So we're fine.

It's been a KT Tunstall kind of week. I don't know what that really means, but it has been.

Around the web, Songbird recently transferred to a new pastorate and I've been enjoying reading about how that's gone. If I've understood correctly over the time I've blog-known her, this is her first such transition since entering ministry. As a first-pastorate guy, I harbor this constant curiosity about that inevitable day when I might have to go through the same (not that that's going to happen any time soon). I'll write more about that some other time, but for now scroll down through her recent entries and read up.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

An Alphabet Meme (Yaaaaaay...)

'Cause I'm bored.

A. Available or Married? Married

B. Best friend? Mrs. Jeff, The Masked Doctoral Student, my brother

C. Cake or pie? Cake. Duh.

D. Drink of choice? In the morning, coffee. In the evening, a nice cabernet

E. Essential item? Bible.

F. Favorite color? MAIZE AND BLUE

G. Gummi bears or worms? Assuming you mean gummi worms...worms

H. Hometown? C'mon, this blog is semi-anonymous

I. Indulgence? Books. Lots and lots of books.

J. January or February? This is actually a tough one. I have two big anniversaries in January, but my birthday is in February. I'll be self-involved and go with February.

K. Kids and names? Two kids eventually (sooner than later, actually)...but I'm not telling you their names because for one thing they've been met with nothing but criticism from my in-laws and for another our selected boys' names both showed up on the 2006 Most Popular list...which is crap.

L. Life incomplete without? Music, wine, and true love

M. Marriage date? 6-15-02

N. Number of Siblings? One brother...he basically runs my alma mater

O. Oranges or Apples? Apples. Ever heard of orange pie? Didn't think so.

P. Phobias/fears? It used to be failure, but I've come to terms with that. Now it's needles and bugs.

Q. Favorite Quotation? "Leaders in this church don't need a thick skin. They need a centered spirit." - Rev. John Thomas

R. Reason to smile? I love lots of people and they love me.

S. Season? Fall

T. Tag three people: No.

U. Unknown fact about me: I failed a summer unit in seminary, but got it overturned

V. Vegetable you hate: Peas and lima beans

W. Worst habit? Procrastination

X. X-rays I’ve had: My teeth at regular dentist appointments (and actually I need to have them looked at now) and my knee

Y. Your favorite food? french fries

Z. Zodiac? Pisces

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Here's a Meme

Thanks, Erin...I think.

1. If you had to choose one vice in exclusion of all others what would it be? I'm gonna have to go with coffee for this one. The amount I drink and how much I enjoy makes sense.

2. If you could change one specific thing about the world what would it be? Just one? Okay...I'd want people to be a lot less focused on themselves...preoccupied with their own comforts while others go without food, shelter, love.

3. Name the cartoon character you identify with the most. I've always identified with Charlie Brown. He wants to do the right thing and he either screws it up or he doesn't express it well.

4. If you could live one day in your life over again which one would it be? Okay, I know that one route a lot of people take for this sort of question is, "Oh, I wouldn't be the person I am today if such-and-such hadn't happened," but let's pretend that the person asking it is threatening to kill a kitten if you don't answer. The day that comes to mind for me is the first day I met Mrs. Jeff (who would not have been Mrs. Jeff then). We were walking home together from play rehearsal and it was raining, so I offered my umbrella. My house came before her dorm, so I stopped at my place and she walked all the way back to her dorm in the rain. Looking back, we both think that we might have been able to avoid the funky detour that we took before finally getting together if I'd walked her all the way home.

I actually have a second choice, also from college. The day that I quit our Campus Fellowship group, I wish I'd resolved to stay quit.

5. If you could go back in history and spend a day with one person who would it be? Martin Luther King Jr., the day he went to Birmingham Jail. Then I'd learn what suffering for the gospel truly looks like and I'd see firsthand the church at its best.

6. What is the one thing you lost, sold or threw away that you wish you could have back? While growing up my brother, my cousin and I drew notebooks full of our own superhero-type characters. I just recently found out that all of mine were inadvertently thrown out. So I wish I could have them back.

7. What is your one most important contribution to this world? A while back, I resolved that there would be no greater thing that I could get right in my life than being a good father.

8. What is your one hidden talent that nearly no one knows about? If it's a hidden talent, there's a reason it's hidden.

9. What is your most cherished possession?
I don't know if I truly cherish them, but my journal and my Pastoral Record book are both pretty important to me.

10. What one person influenced your life the most when growing up? There are a couple, but today I'm going with my former church's pastor. He shows up a lot in my own ministry style and was one who generally exhibited a "less is more" sort of philosophy that has stuck with me.

11. What one word describes you better than any other? Sensitive. I'm stealing Erin's word.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Ode to Thrift Shopping

I was introduced to the joys of thrift shopping in college. A very good friend of mine boasted that a good chunk of his wardrobe was from the local Goodwill. The variety of pastel shirts that he'd collected suited him, but they certainly weren't going to find their way to my closet. However, one can't judge thrift shopping on one person's choices alone. That was his style (he's since moved on...sort of), but perhaps there'd be something more suitable for me.

One needs to understand this about thrift have to spend time with what's there to find something good. Sure, there are a lot of plaid 70s pants and weird sequined sweaters and 80s prom dresses...but there are some diamonds in the rough in these places. Maybe you're one of those who likes to wear the garage work know, the ones with someone else's name stitched into them. Or maybe you like novelty t-shirts that are really novelties and not mass-produced by The Gap. Or maybe you like pants with a little wear on the fringes but have gotten that way from people actually wearing them beforehand. Thrift stores have all that and more: quality dress clothes barely worn in some cases, warm winter coats, vintage apparel you'll actually be proud to wear in public and not just for Halloween, all at a fraction of their original prices. You just have to be willing to look.

My greatest find from a thrift store is a leather dress jacket circa 1970s that I wear in cool weather. I once had an Insyderz t-shirt made up to look like a union shirt. I was with a big group in Philadelphia that discovered a whole pile of old Phillies security shirts. I'm telling you, thrift shopping produces the best treasures.

Since moving back to Ohio, I'd passed by a thrift store for two years before finally stopping in. This store is connected with a local ministry, so one has to put up with southern gospel quartet music while one peruses the racks. It's a small price to pay, I've found. Anyway, I figured that this trip would focus on their books. Maybe a church-related thrift store would have some good discount theology books that I could use (read: pad my shelves with). I was quite surprised at how right I was: Yoder, Hauerwas, and Wesley (detecting a pattern...), all on my first visit. There was also an incredible amount of A.W. Pink, John Rice, and other more evangelical/fundamentalist flavored titles, but I expected that. But seriously...Yoder. Sweet.

You never know what you'll find. Give it a chance, if you never have. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why Bother With Church?

No, this isn't a rant or some reflective piece on what I and my congregation do day to day. It's the working title for the series I'm putting together for our Wednesday soup suppers during Lent this year. And this is my trying to process what I'm doing out loud for others to see. The purpose of this series is actually fairly simple: encourage people to reflect on the effectiveness of the church in terms of what it is and what it's supposed to be. Hopefully, it gets people thinking about the church's mission and existence in ways other than as a thing to belong to and attend and support financially.

This is the tentative list of sessions, with some books that I'll pull from:

1. The Gospel According to the Simpsons: Church and Culture - The one Bible passage that frequently turns up in emerging/Emergent circles is Paul at the Areopagus (or in some translations, Mars Hill) in Acts 17, when he quotes their poets and philosophers to help them understand his point. He pulls from their culture to communicate his message. So this session will explore that text and ask about the parameters of how the church can best use and speak to the culture around us. I don't know if we'll actually watch The Simpsons or not...certain episodes come to mind that are relevant to this overall discussion, so maybe at least part of an episode will make it in.

2. Beyond the Machine: Human Institution vs. God's Instrument - After a hopefully lighter first session, we get into more of the meat and potatoes of the series. I found a blog post a while ago in which someone shared an anecdote where he had a group of people plan a new church. As they discussed together, they came up with things such as scouting land, budgets, zoning permits, and so on. Then he had them plan how best to share Jesus with the neighborhood, and they came up with things such as meeting people and building relationships. I'm thinking we'll start with this same exercise to point out the discrepancy, and then move into a yet-unnamed text...maybe 1 Corinthians where Paul advises the rich people to eat before they come to gatherings rather than eat in front of the poor without of the first instances where constituency becomes more important than community-building. I'm not sure.

3. Ice Cream and Horse Manure: Church and Politics - I got this from Tony Campolo, who suggests that mixing church and politics is like mixing ice cream and horse manure. This'll be a difficult one, I think. I'm thinking that I want to talk about just how political a book the Bible really is, as well as the church's place of power for so long...but I want to leave room for the positive and needed contribution that we as Christians can and should make that involve politics. Maybe the prophet Amos will make an appearance here. I'll need to brace myself for some axes to grind against UCC National, too.

4. "Jesus Ruined My Life:" Radical Christianity - I don't have much for this beyond using Shane Claiborne's The Irrisistible Revolution. It'll probably involve a few of Jesus' so-called "hard sayings." I thought the title was provocative, though.

5. The One Where We Argue About Worship - This is pretty self-explanatory. Everyone has an opinion about worship: music style, the attitude with which someone should approach, how long the sermon should be, whether you should clap/say "amen" or let an awkward unappreciative silence pass while the choir sits back down, etc. It won't really be an argument...I hope. The ultimate end of this session will be to acknowledge that people connect with different aspects and styles and we shouldn't proclaim our own favorites as the One True Worship, so long as people are worshipping in spirit and truth.

That's what I've got so far. Hopefully I'm able to flesh all this out in time. I've got a little over a month, so it shouldn't be too bad.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Best. Lectionary Study Group. Ever.

RLP describes the coolest lectionary study group I've ever heard of:

Then I met Cristopher Robinson, an Episcopal priest here in town. We both grew up playing baseball and were talking about it and also about sermons. I mentioned that I had been wanting to get another lectionary study group together. I was in one years ago and enjoyed it greatly.

Right in the middle of the conversation, I asked Cristopher, “When was the last time you played catch?”

“Just catch?”

“Yeah, just got out with a friend and threw the ball back and forth.”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Years, I guess.”

“So why did we stop doing that? I mean, I LOVE playing catch. I wish I could play catch right now!”

And so was born a new kind of lectionary study group. I pulled my old glove out of the closet – the one I’ve had since I was 12. I had to re-lace parts of it, but it still feels perfect on my hand. Cristopher and I get together once a week or so. We throw the ball around while talking about the passages in the lectionary for the coming Sunday. Sometimes we just play catch and say nothing. Or we might stop, sit down and talk more seriously. We do whatever we want to do.

I was scared the first time we met, wondering how long it would take before I regained my instinctive feel for my arm and my release. The baseball felt very small in my hand, and I was pretty wild. And man, was I ever sore the next day. We’ve gotten together three times now, and my arm has loosened up considerably. It’s starting to feel natural for me to throw a baseball. I don’t worry about it. I just let it loose and feel the power of my arm. My whole body moves in the follow-through, and when our "study session" is done, I feel loose and warm all over.

It’s like the ultimate male yoga.

Pop Culture Roundup

Last night I finished Seven Storey Mountain. I appreciate Merton's insights into the contemplative life...but parts of this book really bothered me. First, I appreciate that he was a Catholic. Generally, I have no problem with Catholicism. However, if you really start to break down the belief that Mary is the "Queen of Heaven," things start to get dicey. If one couples that with the language of "Christ is king," that makes for a strange theology. Second, Merton fires off a few shots against Protestantism, some of which is justified, but all in all it's in the name of becoming a Catholic cheerleader: degrade others to make yourself look better. How does he claim that all Protestants are lazy and not really committed to our faith, particularly without leveling that critique at his own church as well? Finally, Merton spends a decent chunk of the book pining for a cloistered life shut off from the world so that he can get some serious prayer and study done without distractions and corruptions (you know, just like Jesus wanted for us). He seems to realize this faulty thinking near the end, when he says: "I was fully convinced that I was going to indulge all the selfish appetites that I did not yet know ho to recognize as selfish because they appeared so spiritual in their new disguise." All in all, the book left me with a different impression of Merton than I'd I know he's human.

Over Christmas, my family watched a movie called Joyeux Noel. I guess it was nominated for Academy Awards and such, but I'd never heard of it before a few weeks ago...or I don't remember hearing about it anyway. However, I have heard of the concept: set during World War I on Christmas Eve, Scottish, French, and German soldiers call a ceasefire and celebrate Christmas together in the middle of the battlefield. They drink champagne, play soccer, sing, and celebrate mass together. Once their home governments begin hearing about this, they aren't too happy, worrying that the public hearing about it will cause an uproar. The most disgusting scene is when the Scottish priest who presided over the group mass is chastised by his superior, who then gives a sermon to new recruits about why God wants them to kill their enemies. It's a very good film. There's another short film that I saw years ago that features German and Scottish soldiers playing soccer, but I don't know the name of it.

We've both become serious watchers of the show Scrubs. It helps fill the Arrested Development-shaped hole in my being by having both wit and heart. The comedy is a little more slapstick and blunt, particularly when someone gets Dr. Cox going, but the writing is clever and it doesn't strive for cheap laughs. I'm also becoming convinced that Zack Braff can do no wrong.

Just so everyone knows, I was listening to the Chemical Brothers' Galvanize before Budweiser started using it. And while I'm at it, I was listening to Sarah McLachlan before y'all ever heard of Lilith Fair. your face.

Around the web, here's a guy ranting about Pachelbel's Canon in D. Also, Letters from Kamp Krusty has been added to the blogroll and has quickly become one of my favorite new blogs to visit.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On Bowl Games and Obsessing Over the Wrong Things

Brant makes us laugh, then makes us feel bad:

Another University of Florida sport team played really good at their sport!

What it was was football. The University of Florida also played good at another sport, too. What that was was basketball. I say congratulations to all who choose to draw satisfaction, even self-esteem, from the good-playing of these sport teams!

The University of Florida "Gators" (They play-pretend to be alligators! It's really neat to watch!) have many people here very excited! It's neat! Lots of hoopla and carryings-on! The defeated a team called "Buck-eyes!"

In other news, the University of Illinois has silently defeated cancer.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


So it turns out that the sure thing wasn't such a sure thing after all.

And now Smith and half the others are gone.

Hopefully Carr learned a couple things the other week, too.

Congrats to the Gators. And here's to the beginning of something different for Michigan and the Big Ten.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Prove it"

I used to frequent a discussion forum that was a safe haven for disgruntled ex-churchgoers and seekers. The range of discussion there was fairly broad, and pretty much any belief was fair game. The last part of my tenure there, however, saw a shift in discussion with the increased visitation by atheist posters. In and of itself, this wasn't a bad thing. I'm not one who turns up his nose at people who don't believe as I do (if I can help it, anyway), and while I did go through the same phase that most Christians go through where I parrot any number of explanations for why atheists don't believe in God (They're in rebellion, they're human-centered, they're holding a grudge or whatever), I've found that once I let them tell their own story, these explanations and categories don't work so well.

Anyway, back to this discussion forum. Like I said, a growing atheist presence was not in and of itself a bad thing. However, for a time, it seemed that every discussion inevitably would degenerate into the same basic argument: whether or not God exists. I suppose that I shouldn't have been so amazed or surprised that we'd always wind up talking about this no matter where the original thought began, but it became repetitious and I didn't find much meaning or use in it after a while.

I gave up trying to "prove" God many years ago. For me the reason was pretty straightforward: you can't. That's what faith is all about. Anslem, Aquinas, down to more recent e-mail forwards have lifted up various explanations of how one "knows" God exists. Some such as C.S. Lewis have tried to argue from the position that there is an innate sense of morality within us all and God put it there. And of course multiple creationist theories find wide acceptance among Christians. When it comes down to it, I'm a creationist. By definition, all Christians are creationists. I'm just not a "6-day" one. And passing belief off as science raises some red flags for me as well.

Here's why I give up trying to "prove" God. How often has a reasoned discourse on God's existence brought anyone to church, temple, mosque, etc.? How often has a dissertation on God's nature changed a mind, let alone a heart? I'm willing to bet that in the vast majority of believers' cases, they didn't decide to take on a dedicated life of faith because Anselm's proofs convinced them. And when speaking of these things, I also automatically exclude those who have been bullied, shamed or otherwise coerced into "believing" by any religious institution. In those instances, it wasn't the argument that convinced was something else. In the same way, usually it isn't the argument that convinced those who have come to believe. I place tradition, upbringing, and personal "Aha!" sorts of moments all way above being rationally convinced by any sort of creationist argument. People who become Christians have either claimed their family's churchgoing ways for themselves or have otherwise felt moved by some sort of spiritual wind that caught them in just the right way and at just the right moment. After that and only after that might one visit different rationalized discourses and say, "That makes sense to me." It still might not make sense to an atheist, though.

Well, what's this really about? I'm a Christian. Not only by definition am I a creationist, but to many atheists by definition I'm a fool. Why bother with all these inconsistencies both in scripture and between belief and the way the world really works? God is love? Tell that to the families of the tsunami victims. What's your explanation of the theodicy problem? Why is my wife dying? Why should I bother with your God, let alone anyone else's?

You won't find a simple catch-all answer in this post, so if that's what you're seeking, I'll save you the time. The standard answer that I give for why I believe is that I base that belief primarily on personal experience. I truly was within a hair's width of giving it all up and got reeled back in. So then the questions flow: why'd you get an experience and I didn't? How do you know the God you experienced was the Christian God? Why's your experience true, but this other person's whose experience is in direct contradiction to yours but is believed to also be authentic, not?

Assertion and deconstruction. This is typically the way the conversation goes, and it can only go so far. At this point, the entire debate seems like a waste of time to me. I believe because one night I gave up trying to talk myself into anything and that's when the Holy Spirit did what it does.

As an aside, I want to make sure that when I wrote about upbringing above, I don't want to dismiss people who grew up in a Christian family as only being Christian because their family is. I know too many people who were brought up in Christian homes who made their own conscious decision to embrace faith for themselves, and usually after a period of wrestling or wandering. So I hope people didn't read it that way.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Two Years...Again

I celebrate another two year anniversary today.

A little over a month into my church gig, I felt a greater and greater itch to see what I could do with a blog space. By that point I'd become a regular reader of a few, yet was hesitant to start my own. I thought I'd write the first couple weeks, then update every few days or weeks, then decide that I have better things to do with my time.

Here's Philosophy Over Coffee two years later. How'd that happen?

I've truly come to enjoy writing here. At times it helps me process some theological tidbit or another. At other times I try to put my weekly sermon struggles into words. Still at other times I just write to complain or attempt to wax poetic or just talk about baseball or music.

This blog has led to a few published works, which I consider a big deal. It's cool to see my name in print. It's also cool to think that someone gave me the opportunity.

And this blog has led to a small amount of notoriety. Remember the UCC Commercial Leak That Wasn't A Leak? How about my megachurch rant that got another blog all hot and bothered ("OMG he said a swear!!!11")? Those moments were a bit strange...they taught me something about the power of language, and also just how much one's pre-conceived notions color how one reads something.

So anyway, POC is two years old. I think it's kind of cool that I started this on Epiphany. Happy anniversary and happy incarnation. Who knows what the future holds?

Friday, January 05, 2007

A Mostly Better Vacation Week

In lieu of a Pop Culture Roundup this Friday, I thought I'd tell you about my vacation week.

My brother, his girlfriend, Mrs. Jeff, and I piled into a van to travel east to see my father's side of the family. The P.o.C. household had traveled there last January as well, but my brother hadn't been out there in years and his girlfriend had never met that side of the family. At this point, with our grandparents' health being what it is, we felt a sense of urgency about the whole thing, so we made plans to line it up with people's school breaks and were on the road.

Let me first say that driving on major highways on New Year's Day is marvelous. You are one of perhaps five other vehicles on the road, none of them big trucks. Of course, the downside of this is that hardly any gas stations or restaurants are open either. Still, the absence of any congestion or foul weather provided for quite an enjoyable (and expedient) driving experience...until we hit New Jersey, which featured both stop-and-go traffic and a rain/mist/fog combination. There's one stretch along our familiar route that features a clear view of the New York skyline. We had to point out to a general white blank space that it was over there, somewhere.

Once at our destination, we flipped on the Rose Bowl.'s the thing about the Rose Bowl...Carr needs to show some signs of life and help fire up his team instead of always standing there scowling like a gargoyle, Henne needs to learn how to run (and while we're at it, more time to pass), they need to learn that they can't run again when the last three running plays earned them -1 yards total, and ABC's commentators need to ask Pete Carroll out on a date and get it over with. My brother and I both moped about this game for the rest of our stay, frequently letting unprovoked comments slip out occasionally. His were more sarcastic and biting, while mine had a much more blunt angry flavor. Our Wolverines have dropped their last three games to Those Jerks Down South and haven't won a bowl game in at least that long either. The whole sentimental "Do it for Bo, do it for Gerald" stuff won't work, either. This is a problem with fundamentals. They're packed with talented players; they need a new philosophy of how to coach...maybe even, dare I say, a new coach.

In the midst of our brooding, we took an opportunity to spend a few hours in New York. Mrs. Jeff, justifiably confused by the marking of toll lanes on the George Washington bridge, started us off by creeping through one of the EZ Pass booths. For a few moments, she'd wanted to stop and walk her toll money back or wait for a squad car to catch up with her or something, but she was encouraged to do no such thing. I was on the phone at the time, but after I hung up I turned to her and said, "What will probably happen is they took a picture of the plate and will send a our mom." Did I mention we used my mom's van for this trip?

Yeah, so I was on the phone at the time. A disturbing trend has developed recently regarding my vacation periods and church member deaths. I was half-expecting/fearing a phone call of this nature, and it did come on our way in to the city. I had actually compiled a list of possible names, but this person was not on it...she was a sweet lady to whom I'd taken home communion every month for two years. No other pastor could be found, and I said that I'd be back by the scheduled funeral date, so I'd take it. That's today. Three out of my last four (possibly four out of five, if I have my dates right) vacation periods have seen a congregant's death. That's very weird to me.

We saw quite a bit in New York. I've found that there's something just about being there that seemed to generate excitement in our car. I recall a lot of pointing and sentences beginning, "Hey look, there's the..." 3/4 of us had been to the city before, but never under these circumstances: on our own, planning to walk a fair amount of the downtown area, planning our own way. Something about that added to the thrill of being there.

Our very first stop was Ground Zero. Only one of us had been there before, and it has become a point of pilgrimmage for Americans in particular. I was surprised at how much it's been cleaned's been five years, so I don't know why I was that surprised. We did learn while we were there that they're still finding body parts, which does not surprise me. We were pretty quiet during this stop.

Next was a walk to Times Square after finding a parking garage. People move to their own rhythm in New York, especially downtown. Is the light green? It doesn't matter. If no cars are coming, there's a sudden mass of people crossing the street. If a car approaches, it's their tough luck. Everyone is in a hurry and you best stay out of the way if you aren't moving with them. The people who have chosen to drive cars (mostly public transit) like to honk. They don't even need a reason.

So we stood in the middle of Times Square, surrounded by giant billboards and news tickers and screens actively and colorfully advertising all sorts of things. There were plenty around us marveling much the same as we were. There were plenty others who'd seen it all before and just wanted to get to work. Really, what is it about such a grand commercial spectacle that awes so many like it did the four of us? My best guess is that we see so many images of this place from afar, but once you're there you're there. It's you're being there that strikes people the way it does. That's all. Anyway, we walked down to Rockafeller Plaza and then on to the edge of Central Park as well, where we enjoyed New York hot dogs. I waited until all were finished to share what a New York native friend once told me: the secret to a New York hot dog is that they don't change the water. There. Now you know. Didn't stop me, though.

It was a good couple days. Mrs. Jeff the Nurse-to-Be gave her input to some of my grandparents' health issues, and we all learned that the general outlook is much more favorable than previous information had suggested. Sadly, there was no time for music with our cousin this time around due to time and van space limitations, but we did get a chance to see the entire family.

Today I take a half-day of work to help a family say goodbye to their great-grandmother. There's still more vacationing to do, but I've yet to come up with a good explanation as to why I as a pastor should maintain a strong boundary against something like this.

It's been a mostly better vacation week compared to my last attempt. Actually, this has been 150 times superior to my last attempt. I spent time with family and two days ago I was standing in the middle of New York. I've got no complaints.