Life Happens When You Make Other Plans

So I had planned for the first part of this week to take a personally designed retreat, and it's already hit a snag.

Yesterday I was called to the hospital bedside of a parishioner, whose health had taken a dramatic turn downward since I'd seen him earlier in the week. Some five hours later, he slipped away. The year's strange trend of death coinciding with planned time away continues (Eden's Herbster event being the exception).

Did I mention that I'm also giving the homily at a friend's wedding on Saturday?

Did I mention that I just agreed to do the funeral Saturday morning?

These two events are far enough apart time-wise that making both of them will not be a problem. However, the overall tone of the week has just changed dramatically. What once was to be a time to rest and refocus has now become a time to write, plan, visit, comfort, oh, and there's that thing that I always have to do on Sunday.

It's going to be one of those weeks.

Retreat Over Coffee

The end of July raises a certain antsiness within me. It means that summer will soon be at a close, and the relief with which I welcomed it has started to turn into boredom and a desire for my favorite four months of the year to begin. Fall brings with it my favorite sights, smells, feelings...a glass of red wine while looking over a multi-colored forest, a chill in the air, the smell after the rain...the thought of those things alone cause me to sink back in my chair in contentment.

In anticipation of this season that won't get here quick enough, I'm taking a retreat of my own design next week. I'm just now starting to learn how to make the most of my continuing education time, and taking a few days of intentional personal reflection seemed appropriate, especially as the completion of three years of ministry nears, a new time of programming is set to begin, life and household changes are planned, and a renewal of creative spirit is desired. I always feel renewed by the approach of fall, and the timing seemed right.

So what will I be doing?

On Monday, I'll connect with a new clergy support group that meets in my Association. This group has existed for a while, but I was extended an invitation to join recently. Why, I'm not completely sure. The group isn't easily definable by age or location...perhaps, then, by spirit. That's good enough for me.

Tuesday and Wednesday will feature reading and writing about my current understanding of who I am as a pastor, as well as of ministry in my particular location. I've staked out a couple places around the area where I'll do all this...namely another church's library and a nearby coffeehouse. Each day will open with devotion and scripture and at some point leave room for journaling. I'll devote part of one afternoon to planning fall activities (maybe even Advent). By the end of my time, I'll have written an updated Statement on Ministry which, for those unfamiliar with the UCC Minister Profile, is a big important extensive deal. It's not for the purposes of drawing up a new profile...just that chances are that it's changed since I last had to discipline myself to write one.

At the end of each day, maybe I'll try to post a recap of what I accomplished. I guess the intent of that would be to help other pastors out there interested in structuring their own time of reflection.

It should be good. I hope it's good.

Pop Culture Roundup

This past week I started The Intimate Merton, which is a condensed collection of entries from his journals. It's somewhat amusing that so far, he's actually acknowledged that he's writing with the intent to publish them. It sort of begs the question: how private are our private lives? I'm at least this self-aware when I journal, for instance. There are certain things that I won't write about, knowing that someone might sneak a peek or decide that they are worth publishing (doubtful). Or maybe that's paranoia. Or both. Anyway, Merton is quite candid about his thoughts and feelings during his travels. It seems to me that for him, the more important thing than what he writes is how he writes it...he says that he wants to purposely write with a certain poetry and flare so that if and when they do get published, they'll be worth reading. It's quite obvious that he's a serious writer...he even rags on publishers for not picking up his manuscripts. That's amusing.

I also read the final Harry Potter this week. My lovely Potter-obsessed wife wouldn't let me read it until she was finished (that didn't keep me from reading the first two chapters while she was outside gardening...mwah ha ha!). Don't read ahead if you don't like spoilers or crypic allusions. I think that Rowling did a good job playing up the sense of never knew when the Death Eaters might catch up with Harry and his friends. I had some issues with the last couple chapters, though. First, one character's...uh...unfortunate situation...seemed pretty anti-climactic. I expected this character to get a bigger finish (but had it pretty well figured that he'd get a finish). Then there was a chapter that reminded me of the scene in the second Matrix movie where Neo sits and listens to The Architect for five minutes...which if you know that scene, isn't meant to be a positive statement. And then the details in the Big Final Battle seem a little fudged. Mrs. Jeff tried to explain it to me, but I still didn't get it. So this wasn't my favorite...I liked Goblet of Fire and Half-Blood Prince the most.

We're probably going to see The Simpsons Movie tomorrow afternoon. Sweet.

I've been on a huge Pink Floyd kick lately. I was listening to The Division Bell--after quite a long while of not listening to it--on the way home from a friend's house the other day and thought, "Holy crap...I really really enjoy this." My copy of Wish You Were Here didn't burn right, so Shine On You Crazy Diamond Parts 6-9 skips. Guess I'll get a proper copy of that. It's probably my other favorite right now besides Division Bell. Coming in third is Dark Side of the Moon. I'm into the more spacey Floyd, rather than the grittier Floyd. Fun fact: I quoted Brain Damage in worship this past week.

Around the web, the dramatic prairie dog made me laugh really hard. It's the simple things that do it, really.

Blogger's Block

Right, so my past few entries have either been really short, or have been memes. Memes are easy because you're prompted on what to write. So here's an entry of random thoughts smashed together.

I went to a bachelor party this past weekend. A good buddy from college is getting married in another week or so. I'm filling the role as the Guest Pastor Who Preaches the Homily at the ceremony. Incidentally, the ceremony will be held at the bride's parents' house with maybe 12 other guests (the big party is a few weeks later). This will be the first of three weddings that I'll be involved in this year that will take place at someone's house rather than in a church. That's not a critique, just a point of this some kind of trend, or did I just happen upon a streak of similar-minded people?

My lovely wife picked up the seventh Harry Potter book this past weekend...and then proceeded to ignore me for the next few days until she finished it. Finally, she turned it over to me the other day. I'm about 500 pages or so into it now, but still have to put up with the phone calls in the other room ("Could you believe the part where they blahblahblah?! OMG, no way!!"). All that aside, the book is pretty decent.

I keep thinking about a podcast. It doesn't seem too difficult as far as downloading some software and buying a cheap-o computer microphone. I think that'd be a pretty cool addition to this silly place. I'd pattern it after the only podcast I really listen to, Internet Monk, which would be to comment on 3-4 subjects, interlace some music (copyright issues?), and then stick it on the blog. That can't be that difficult, can it?

Incidentally, iMonk's latest got me thinking about something. He mentions a podcast called The Catholic Guy, which apparently is pretty light-hearted and interacts with culture and all that. He then comments on how a Baptist Guy program would be expected to be much more serious and focus on the horrors of culture (this is from a Baptist insider). I got to wondering, what would a UCC Guy podcast be like?

And then I got all cynical.

1. It becomes the light-hearted commentary on culture, drawing disdain from critics who point to it as the latest sign that "the UCC's" values are eroding and that this podcast doesn't speak for me and is misleading because it's called The UCC Guy instead of One Guy From the UCC and how come he never talks about theology or speaks to more traditional viewpoints?

2. It becomes the more serious commentary on culture where we have to comment on the latest flubs by the Bush administration and it constantly lobbies for universal health care and criticizes the budget and releases action alerts and tells everyone to watch out for The Theocrats who want to hijack American Christianity.

In conclusion, it would be ruined by people who never have any fun.

So I just wouldn't call it The UCC Guy.

Okay, end of cynicism. Guess I'll go get ready for work.

No Really, It Makes Sense...

This morning's worship service is brought to you by Pink Floyd, NASCAR, and the Pope.

And for now, I'll leave it at that.

Past/Future Meme

Foregoing the Roundup this week since these types of questions have been on my mind lately...

1. Share a moment/ time of real encouragement in your journey of faith. During my first year of college when the notions and theories of mainline Bible scholarship started to raise serious questions and doubts within me, the UCC campus ministry really helped me work through some of those questions and doubts. I point to that whole second semester, but I'll focus in on a trip that some of us took that May down to Atlanta for a young adult ministry event called Come to the Feast (my first experience of Christopher Grundy's music). I really felt in my element there, and began to see the richness of faith within my own tradition and those of a similar spirit. It's also when I started drinking coffee.

2. Do you have a current vision / dream for your work/ family/ministry? I've been thinking a lot about the prospect of intentionally serving smaller churches. I don't look at it from a financial standpoint as much as a family's to free me up to raise my kids. I've even thought about a part-time, "tentmaking" model of ministry, but I'm not totally sold on that idea. And even so, aspects of the small church culture might send me to the belltower with a rifle. I would want to be intentional about my calling and not "settle" for a place of less responsibility...that wouldn't be good stewardship. It's very complicated. I'll write more about this eventually.

3. Money is no object and so you will.....Man, this is open-ended. But I suppose that this has to do with future plans. So I will start a church up near Houghton Lake, Michigan, where I'll baptize people right in the lake. We'll have a blended service that pulls from the best of the entire Christian spectrum. We'll minister out in the community, have Bible studies in coffeeshops and bars, and rent space so we can actually do ministry instead of obsess over a building.

4. How do you see your way through the disappointments? What keeps you going? Lately, it's been music. I've been a little concerned/frustrated about the amount of creativity that I'm allowed, and even if something hasn't caught on, I can go to the basement and noodle around on my guitar or bass, creating to my heart's content. Knowing that I can come home, strap on a guitar, and do what I want to do has really pulled me through more than once.

5. How important are your roots? Now, this is an interesting question. I lived in five different communities before I graduated high school. So I'm not sure what is meant by "roots." There are a few places that I was more rooted in than others. I consider Michigan to be roots, though I haven't lived there in 20 years. I consider the town of my high school alma mater to be roots because it's been the long-running constant before and since graduation. These roots are both important in different ways. There's something very comfortable about the thought of moving back north, mostly because then us Wolverine types would be the majority. I make regular stops to my "hometown." My parents live there still, and the faith community that nurtured me is there. I don't know how well that answers the question.

6. Bonus= what would you like to add ? At the end of this month, I'm using a couple of my Continuing Education days to take a retreat of my own design. It'll focus on these same types of questions, and I think that this was a good lead-in. I guess now I'll have to share what I'm doing with you people (which I was probably going to do anyway).

Another Theology Meme

1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 high), how would you rate your theological knowledge and breadth/depth of reading? I'll go with 5. I read a lot of the "dead white guys" in college and then was exposed to other more recent theological trends in seminary, but I still think I've only scratched the surface on a lot of it. And I've forgotten a lot, too.

2. What thoughts and feelings come to your mind when you hear the word "theology"? Nowadays I think a lot about people who devote hours of their day to sitting around reading this stuff, and about how "defending the faith" wasn't high on Jesus' priority list.

3. Who is your favorite theologian, and why? Schleiermacher, from whom I adopted the concept of "God-consciousness" and the feeling of absolute dependence (emphasis on dependence, rather than feeling).

4. Who is your least favorite theologian, and why? Kwok Pui-Lan, whom I once heard advocate for a "Christ-less Christianity" to make it less oppressive or whatever. And I still carry a grudge against John Shelby Spong...not personal, just his books.

5. Which theologians have you been meaning to read, but have not gotten to yet? Reinhold Neibuhr, the Wesleys, been meaning to finish Moltmann's Crucified God

6. If you are Catholic, can you name a favorite Protestant theologian, and if Protestant, Catholic? Thomas Merton...I'm currently reading his abridged journals. But all his stuff is excellent.

7. What theologies do you love like a rescue dog that saved your life? I'll go with Schleiermacher again, who came up with a way to speak of Christian theology without wandering too far off the beaten path as well as the strand of Reformed theology that not a lot of people like to talk about unless it's in reference to Barth's disagreements with him. And what I've read so far of Crucified God.

8. What theologies do you see commonly abused and wish people would stop it? The version of "grace/faith alone" theology where people decry any act of service or justice as "works righteousness" while a ridiculously huge chunk of the Bible is about God wanting us to do acts of service and justice.

9. What theologies do you think are from the pit of hell, inspired by demonic powers? Any theology from any faith claiming that God blesses murder.

10. What theological concept is most needed but ignored in contemporary Christianity? The book of James.

11. What other intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals should blog this meme? I don't care.

(Does this mean I'm going to get some Reformed "drive-bys" now?)

Tuesday Misc.

I've really been paying a lot of attention to the lament psalms lately. It's quite a rich tradition that, as iMonk has recently stated, a lot of Christians are ignorant of. It's a needed counterpoint to the happy-clappy brand of faith that you can pick up in any local Berean outlet. Psalms 13 and 22 have been favorites lately. It can be quite soothing and reassuring to read this tradition when only a bunch of platitudes are offered elsewhere.

Recently the Pope declared that only those in churches under apostolic succession are fully united in Christ. At least he has a point of view, I guess. Some laud this statement as "reaching out" to more conservative Roman Catholics. It sounds a little like circling the wagons to keep out postmodernism and us dirty Protestants. What irks me the most is how high an ecclesiology many people have (not just Catholics, mind you), which depends so much on theory and much less on experience. No one who has spent any time in a local church with their eyes open, let alone at other denominational levels, could possibly declare any church infallible. Christ transcends our institutions, including those that (disputably) come straight from his blessing. And thank God for that.

So after I wrote that piece about playing guitar, I picked up my bass and have started getting into that again. I've been trying to tell myself lately that I should really focus on one instrument, and that weird part of me that wants to be unique thinks that the bass is the best option because, as I've heard, it's "easy to learn and hard to master." Of course, since college, I haven't happened into a lot of opportunities to play regularly with others, aside from wedging my guitar into the Sunday service. And the bass, in particular, needs others around it. It's a supporting instrument. And don't ask why I feel the need to focus on one instrument because I don't have a good answer yet.

For the past two weeks or so, the message on our church sign has been, "God is the Real Transformer." I've seen at least two cars pull into the parking lot just to take a picture of it. To someone who thinks that church signs are one of humanity's sillier ideas, that's pretty cool.

This post has been modified.

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished both my books this week. Jesus Out to Sea was well-done, and I really like the short story format because I can read one in a sitting and then set the book down to do something else rather than try to remember the events before where I left off. James Lee Burke's collection is one that explores human desperation and despair, where one's limits are tested by their circumstances. Which brings us to The New Friars, where emerging types elect to live with the poor in some of those circumstances. A recurring theme in Bessenecker's book is that throughout history when the church seems to be caught up in its own laziness and pride, monastic orders have been the ones to revive it by going out to do the work required of it. The difference this time, I might argue, is that before the church could rest on its place in society and that place is eroding. So the work of these "new friars" may not restore the church in that sense, but certainly might in terms of its true calling.

I've been to a movie theater three times this past week, but have only seen two movies. The first was Transformers, which I saw both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. It's the first movie in quite a while that I've jumped (JUMPED~!) at the chance to see a second time in the theater. It's all action and fast-paced car driving and FREAKING OPTIMUS PRIME VS. MEGATRON THROWING EACH OTHER THROUGH BUILDINGS AND STUFF~! I'm not the premier Transformers fanboy, but dang if it all didn't come rushing back to me while I sat there watching. And Shia LaBeaueuoaueaueeuf has great comedic timing (my favorite line: "Can't talk right now, getting chased by my car"). I wish there'd been more Decepticon interaction, but surely there will be sequels.

The second movie we saw was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. At the last minute, I was convinced to go to a show on Tuesday at midnight with some friends I hadn't seen in a while. Each new movie is less and less concerned with people who aren't familiar with the books and characters, which is a good thing considering they need to adapt over 800 pages to screen. This was one of the better movies in the series, too. Harry's teenage angst comes across well, and Umbridge is every bit as spectacular a villain on screen as she is in the book. I won't say much else since it's still opening weekend and all. But both when I read the book and again while watching the movie, I couldn't help but wonder if Rowling had the current state of our world in mind when she wrote this one.

Whenever I come back from New Jersey, particularly when I've had the chance to jam with my cousin, I head straight for my classic rock CDs. So this week has featured a lot of Pink Floyd and Allman Brothers.

Around the web, A Church for Starving Artists has been added to the blogroll.

The Emerging Church in Rural Ohio

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: “Oh, the emerging church is just composed of a bunch of hipster types who sit around dissecting U2 songs for spiritual meaning, talk with the local philosophy majors at Starbucks, decorate their worship spaces with swirly avant-garde paintings, and evangelize the local bar scene.” It goes on, but I figured that that was enough for readers to recall the variations that they’ve seen and heard…or perhaps made themselves.

The accusation is borne from a series of stereotypes, to be sure. Apparently everyone associated with the emerging church movement is young, wears a turtleneck, and hangs out in cosmopolitan areas, whether coffeehouses, pubs, art museums, or clubs. Other stereotypes are much more serious: charges of heterodoxy, relativism, and heresy are frequently leveled at those who self-identify as part of the emerging conversation.

Of course, it isn’t just the medium that is attacked, it’s the message itself. In fact, it may be that such accusations about the message stem from what one may see and assume about the medium. Traditional church buildings of the mainline denominations, as well as the church-in-a-box movements inspired by Willow Creek and others, are being counteracted by the popular hangouts located in metropolitan cultural centers. Critics see these new meeting places and the type of crowd it attracts, and begin conjuring their most clever arrangements of such buzzwords as “goatee,” “latte,” and “arty.”

And at least in the sense that these accusations and buzzwords come from viewing groups of younger Christians in urban hangouts and reading all the “success stories,” I’m beginning to agree with them.

Hear me out on this. I’m not critiquing the medium or message of these churches. I love the idea of incarnational community, evangelism, and service. I love the use of popular media and meeting people in their own context. How this piece of the movement could come under the fire that it has is actually quite strange to me. This piece is inspired by Jesus born fully human, fully Galilean, fully Jewish, as well as by Paul’s speech at the Areopagus. It makes a lot more sense than to just drop a vacuous message in people’s laps and expect them to catch on without appreciating and speaking to their unique place in the world.

So this article isn’t about that at all. What I’m writing is that I’ve realized that the emerging church has somewhat earned these stereotypes of the beatnik poet reading scripture to bongos.

It all began when I picked up the excellent attempt at summation of this movement by Eddie Gibbs and Ryan K. Bolger, simply entitled Emerging Churches. If you are not familiar with this work, Gibbs and Bolger profile numerous faith communities that identify themselves with the emerging movement and draw out some common themes. Among these themes are that emerging churches attempt to incarnate the gospel in their own unique settings, recognize human beings as creatures gifted by God to create new expressions of faith, and strive to forge communities of deep mutuality. Again, I cannot disagree with these themes and see plenty of Biblical and theological warrant for them.

It was when I began to notice the particulars of the included examples that the questions came. I noticed where these communities are located: Columbus, Santa Monica, Hollywood, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Las Vegas, Phoenix. Only two American cities included in the book would not be considered large. Otherwise, where are the emerging churches and missional communities in rural Ohio, in Appalachia, in the small towns of Iowa, Kansas, or Montana? This is not to pick on Gibbs and Bolger’s book…with few exceptions, the half-dozen or more books on my shelf profiling emerging churches come from large metropolises and boast of their connections to “the scene.”

One possibility is that I simply haven’t read the right books. Another is that there really aren’t that many churches attempting missional engagement. Still a third possibility is that churches in smaller areas and engaging their communities in ways other than plugging into the local arts hotspots aren’t getting the same recognition or coverage.

We can easily rule out the second possibility. All churches with which I’ve ever been associated as a pastor or layperson express, however nominally, a desire to be part of the larger community and identify themselves as part of the local culture. And I’m open to suggestions for books that may include more small-town and rural emerging churches. All in all, however, I’m willing to bet that the best possibility out of the three is the third.

I refuse to believe, as I’m betting many reading this do, that the emerging church is, or can be, only a big-city phenomenon. In fact, I and many others need to refuse this notion because many more of us than are known serve churches that are located on county roads, in the midst of cornfields, or in places with populations under 10,000 people. These local cultures of small-town sports and NASCAR and Harley-Davidson, of garden clubs and heritage festivals and factories and depressed neighborhoods next to new subdivisions, yearn for and are able to receive a genuine incarnation of God’s kingdom just as much as the punk rock kids and ravers in downtown Chicago or Minneapolis.

So let’s hear about the emerging Texas pastor who preaches in cowboy boots. Let’s hear about the group of young people ministering to others in their trailer park. Let’s hear about the church that gathers next to the lakeside cabin in the woods for baptisms. Let’s hear about the work being done with factory workers, miners, and farmers. Let’s hear about relating to attendees of bluegrass festivals and county fairs, of churches started in barns and storefronts, of conversations in taverns and greasy spoon diners and truck stops.

Let’s hear about pastors whose hearts burn for these types of places where postmodernism isn’t the label used, but where people may wonder every bit as much whether Jesus has anything worthwhile to say to them. These are places where there may be less competition by other religious worldviews and more by economics, local or national politics, or “this is just the way it is.”

The opportunity to broaden perceptions about this movement is there. The stories and examples exist.

One doesn’t need a big city to do what emerging churches do. But in these smaller places, we still need to do it.

And then write about it.

This article can also be viewed in Next Wave's August 2007 issue.

In the Beginning...

In the beginning, man aspired to play guitar.

Man started with an acoustic, for he did want to be like unto the Dave Matthews.

Man realized that being like unto the Dave Matthews would be a lot more work than he realized, so he did thus settle for being mediocre and functional.

Eventually, man did want to expand his aspirations, and thus acquired an electric guitar.

But lo, the man was underwhelmed, even with knowledge bestowed as to quickly play scales. The electric did not please the man, for simple rhythmic playing did not suit the electric's intended purposes.

The day came when the man borrowed a small guitar amp. But lo, the man was still underwhelmed.

"It is not good for the electric to be strummed," the man said to himself. "For surely a clean strum is not that for which it was intended." And the man did begin to plan selling the guitar and returning the amp.

The man did then discover a small square button on the amp labeled "Drive." Upon pressing the button, the guitar became aggressive and grungy.

And the man laughed maniacally.

And lo, the woman was about to be greatly irritated.

Pop Culture Roundup

It's a day late, but whatever.

I've been reading
Jesus out to Sea by James Lee Burke. In an effort to read something not related to church or theology, I picked up this book of short stories, which are meant to be set against the backdrop of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hardly any of them mention or even allude to that event, though. The one I most recently read, "Mist," is the first to deal with it in any sort of direct way as it follows a young woman trying to cope with her alcoholism. There are, of course, theological themes to be parsed out whether Burke intended them or not: welcome, the treatment of creation, atonement, brokenness...just to name a few.

At the same time, I couldn't help myself and started reading
The New Friars by Scott Bessenecker. I'm not very far into it, and just sort of picked it up on a whim to begin with. Bessenecker seeks to profile some young emerging types who have chosen to go live in the midst of the world's poor. He spends some time explaining how people are largely trapped in poverty and dispelling the myth that anyone can make it out if they just try hard enough. He provides some commentary on how governments and corporations contribute to this problem. And he presents the monastic orders that have taken vows of poverty over the centuries in order to more fully identify with the people they wanted to help, showing that some in a new generation have made this choice for themselves. Perhaps the most well-known is Shane Claiborne, who wrote The Irresistible Revolution and who adds his own blurb to the back cover. Bessenecker's best phrase so far is "spiritual flabbiness," which he aims at most of the Western Church, if not the American Church in particular.

I'm going to see the Transformers movie tonight. My inner 8-year-old is giddy with delight.

Entourage continues to move along at a somewhat predictable pace. For a couple minutes, we worry that Medellin won't be accepted by the Cannes Film Festival and Vince may lose a $100,000 bet on a soccer game. In the closing two minutes, the movie is accepted by Cannes and Vince makes money. It's a fun lighthearted show, but the only real tension it ever had was when Vince was wrestling with whether to do Aquaman, and the time between the episode when Ari was fired and whenever the show started up again.

The Tigers and Indians are tied for first again this morning. If they keep this up, it really will go down to the wire. All in all, I'd like to see Detroit finish what they started last year (maybe with a freaking Central Division title this time, too). Their last three games against Cleveland and Boston show that they've got the chops to do it, too. And wait'll Zumaya comes back...even better. Meanwhile...uh...what happened between the White Sox and the Twins the other day? 20-13 is a football score, people. That's the exact opposite of a pitchers' duel.

Around the web, I actually found
a funny Mad TV skit. It's a parody of the ridiculous hype around the iPhone.

"I Confess..." Meme

I happened upon this meme elsewhere, and thought it would be fun to try. As best I can tell, the purpose is to list some "confessions" about your theology. This may have begun as a "confessing your faith" thing, but after following it back a few blogs, it seems to have evolved into an "apologizing for your theological quirks" thing. Well, I'll probably do a little of both. Here we go. I'll try for ten...

~I confess that after the initial excitement that I felt over the emerging church movement, I'm starting to get cynical that it's largely a big city phenomenon.

~I confess that when I was a hair's width of giving up Christianity, I'd considered switching to Buddhism.

~I confess a bewilderment and even some anger over the concept of "closed table" communion.

~I confess that I like a lot of John Calvin's actual thoughts and words from his own pen but not necessarily the second-generation theology that bears his name.

~I confess that Schleiermacher can probably be considered my "theological giant."

~I confess that I don't care for pluralism in its militant form, because it goes against what pluralism is.

~I confess that I haven't had use for a theology that states our sole purpose in this life is to get as many people as possible into the next one for quite a while now, because I don't think that's what Jesus was going for.

~I confess that the more I read from Jesus without the caked-on Paul/Augustine/Luther stuff, the more he makes me uncomfortable.

~I confess that hymns drive me nuts sometimes.

~I confess that I'm currently rediscovering the concept that I am not my own, that God doesn't sit around waiting to be discovered, and that the Holy Spirit actively pursues all creation in order to preserve and restore it.

Some of these probably warrant follow-ups. Maybe I'll do that eventually.

You Mean...It's Working?

All of the nuances of what I'm about to try to say probably won't come through very well, but I hope that this makes sense. People in a similar setting may "get it," and I'm not sure about everyone else. So bear with me.

I'm scared that something I'm doing here is working.

It's still too early to tell, but there has been enough indication that people are interested and even energized by it that we could build on it quite easily, and even have it blossom into something wonderful.

Let me start at the beginning. With the approach of the summer months, I offered an open invitation to the congregation to join me in a few trips to local mission agencies to help out and learn about what they do. It was a very simple approach: "I'll wait for people in the parking lot, and we'll go with whomever shows up." It was initially to help illustrate that we don't need a lot of planning or church programs to do what God wants us to do.

My first trip was this past Saturday. I made a date with a UCC city ministry that runs a thrift store and a furniture store, and delivers food and clothing to area families. Five people ended up traveling with me, and we spent some time touring facilities and hearing the story of one family while enjoying an amazing spread of food. She loves to cook. We loved to eat. It worked out.

In the midst of this, the director of this program strongly encouraged us to begin a similar ministry at or near our own setting. She handed us brochures and gave us advice about how to get it started. Chiefly, she refrained, "make it ecumenical. Don't do it all yourself." We're blessed to be a part of a strong Ministerial Association that already has a food bank, so that was easy advice to hear. Furthermore, those who traveled with me had a lot of questions and comments: "So pastor, is there something you'd like to see happen as a result of these trips?" "Hey, you know that unused building on Such-and-Such Street? That'd be a great place for this sort of thing." I'd thought about pulling everyone together in the fall who'd traveled with me and asking them what they'd felt inspired to do as a result of these's becoming obvious to me that maybe those seeds have already been planted.

So why am I scared that this is working? Here's where you have to appreciate the nuances of what I'm trying to say.

Over the course of my 2 1/2 years here, the best work that I think I've done besides the usual preaching and visiting stuff has been our mission program. I have a part-time, always-threatening-to-stall-out senior high group, a young adult ministry that faded in its first few months, and limited permission for creativity in worship. When you experience lack of interest or resistance on several fronts, you begin to accept, however unwittingly, that every attempt at something new will be met with this sort of response. It may even end up defining your entire ministry. Can you imagine 25-30 years of just going through the motions because you've experienced so many good ideas that didn't work?

Apparently our mission stuff is a good idea AND it works. And with these trips arousing such interest already, I wonder where it's going. What were originally meant to be purely voluntary one-off experiences may be inspiring people to want to do more. That can be jolting for one who wasn't sure what sort of difference could be made initially. It means that there'll actually need to be follow-up, more planning, more building. Suddenly, something more is demanded. Suddenly there are signs of life and when it defies history like that, it's exciting but also strange.

Understand that this is not to rag on my church and it's not really to rag on any church. It's more about finally finding something that a place and a people want to get behind; being surprised and energized and scared by it all at the same time.

Suddenly there's an opening to do ministry and not just chaplaincy.

That's awesome.

And frightening.