Coffee Quiz...Over Coffee

You are a Black Coffee

At your best, you are: low maintenance, friendly, and adaptable

At your worst, you are: cheap and angsty

You drink coffee when: you can get your hands on it

Your caffeine addiction level: high

Pop Culture Roundup Redux

I didn't think that this post got a fair shake since I originally posted it Thursday night and then did the meme Friday morning. There's some good stuff in this one. Enjoy.

I picked up Scot McKnight's The Real Mary after deciding that I needed some fresh material heading into Advent. McKnight is very clear that he's gearing his book toward evangelicals, and for the particular purpose of reclaiming Mary for the Protestant tradition. As such, he argues against Catholic positions that downplay or eliminate, for instance, her capacity to sin or her sexuality. Moreso, he argues against the sentimental creche scenes where she sits pious, quiet, and submissive. McKnight points out that by accepting God's role for her, she was taking a huge social risk far beyond a few rumors: a single-mother household carried a lot more stigma and socio-economic difficulty back then. He also points out how the political language of the Magnificat might have sounded to Herod had he heard it. As such, McKnight comes away with a picture of Mary who is gutsy, who has true faith, who sings about the overthrow of earthly kingdoms. That's a lot different from the starry-eyed picture we get in "Breath of Heaven." My one gripe is that he seems to try a little too hard to re-create her thoughts in some Biblical passages, which in itself creates a romanticized picture of Mary, albeit one different from the ones he argues against. My other gripe: if you're wanting to depict the real Mary, you probably want to find a Middle Eastern woman to model for your cover.

Recently, Gordon Atkinson, perhaps better known to blog readers as Real Live Preacher, was informed that his book of same name was being "remaindered." That is, the publisher has decided to discontinue printing it and to remove it from the warehouse. So RLP decided to buy up the remaining copies himself for a measly amount and sell them himself. This way, he reasons, he has total creative license back, and every copy that people order now will include some sort of personal touch: a note, a used Spurs ticket, a pressed flower, etc. He can do whatever he wants. So if you haven't purchased one of his books yet and are interested, they'll now be cheaper and include a special personal treat. So head over there if you want.

This past week I caught a rerun of Scrubs on Comedy Central that has stuck with me. In this episode, obviously from the most recent season, something tragic happens. I won't give it away if fans aren't up to date, but there's some interesting theology that happens during this particular story arc. That's not even why I mention it, though. In this episode, people are dealing with the aftermath of the tragic event, and Dr. Cox decides that he's going to take 20 minutes each day just to sit in the break room and rest. The problem is that people keep coming to him with emergencies and questions, so he never really gets a chance to do this. He rants and complains about it until Dr. Kelso says, "Give me a break...I've been watching you for 20 years and I know how much you secretly love being needed." I think that pastors can learn something from this scene: when we're in our most swamped moments, is there a possibility that deep down somewhere we're enjoying being needed so much?

Next week while I'm on vacation, Gov't Mule is going to be up in Cleveland. I wish I knew someone who likes the same freaking music that I like...

WWE Monday Night RAW is also going to be in Cleveland next week. The one guy I'd go to see it with has a "real job" that he needs to "do" to "support his family." Whatever.

Around the web, here's the website where I "Simpsonsized" myself.

The End of the Meme

1. Best ending of a movie/book/TV show - I'm going with The Sixth Sense. Not the whole twist where we look back and are all like, "Whoa! How did I not see that?" or whatever. I mean the very end, where he's saying goodnight to his wife and there's that subtle shot of the wedding video before the screen goes black. That kicks my ass every single time, man.

2. Worst ending of a movie/book/TV show - I didn't really dig the ending of The Last Kiss with Zach Braff. He sits on the porch forever waiting for her to let him in so they can work things out, andthenshefinallydoestheend. I expected better things from him.

3. Tell about a memorable goodbye you've experienced. When I visited my grandma on the way back from General Synod. We pretty much knew that this would be the last time we'd be able to see her, and so I got up really close to her ear and thanked her for loving me and for helping provide opportunities for me that I might not have had otherwise. She couldn't really say much by that point, but she squeezed my hand. I got the call the next morning that she'd passed away.

4. Is it true that "all good things must come to an end"? To a point. I also think that all good things change and evolve, and nothing is the same from moment to moment. So an evening with friends may end, but a new day comes and maybe it isn't the same rollicking time you had the night before, but they're still close by. And if they aren't that close by, you arrange to meet them in Toledo.

5. "Everything I ever let go of has claw marks on it." --Anne Lamott. Discuss. Not really. Not everything. I'm used to the reality of transitions and new starts. Sometimes I wonder and worry that I don't claw enough.

Bonus: "It isn't over until the fat lady sings." I've never loved this expression. So propose an alternative: "It isn't over until ____________________" Somebody loses an eye.

Sometimes I Get Tired, Too

Greg doesn't have a lot of energy right now. He's gone through a "faith detox" sort of thing lately, where he now declares that he's not a Christian if being a Christian means adhering to what he sees as a ridiculous series of statements. From what I read from him, he's been a longtime critic of most church practices that take away from the essence of discipleship; that needlessly pile on or cater to the whims of a comfortable, consumerist middle-class lifestyle. More recently, he's gotten dissatisfied with beliefs in substitutionary atonement, the Bible as infallible God-bestowed document (which includes accounts of genocide, slavery, divine pettiness, etc.). It's not that he just recently gave up these things...he gave them up quite a while ago. He's gotten tired of arguing for broader thinking on these themes, and finally gave up.

(Understand that I mean "gave up" in a burned-out sort of way, and not in any sort of way that sought an easier path.)

This quote struck me in just the right way:

Just driving by a church makes me weary.

Yes, out of three paragraphs, this one sentence struck me. Because sometimes I feel like that, too.

It's only rarely that it's my own church that makes me weary, though. I live right next to it, and every once in a while I look over at it and sigh. This is mainly an "I live right next door to where I work" sort of thing, though, and less a discontented sigh at everything that is wrong with Christianity and the haplessly broken institution that strives to embody what Jesus really wanted.

But sometimes a sigh does escape my lips for those reasons. I could pass by any church and that would happen. Sometimes it is the church I serve, sometimes not. I'll sigh at the huge non-denominational church that promotes mudpits and carnivals for its youth, that causes reactions of both jealousy and disgust from my membership, that won't give us heathen mainliners the time of day. I'll sigh at the small rural church that keeps promoting it's old-timey cornfield religion. I'll sigh in the middle of Christian bookstores promoting Bible Sudoku and Christian shoes(!). I'll sigh as I happen to overhear two women in Borders decrying a contemporized play adaptation of The Screwtape Letters that apparently addresses sexual temptation in too graphic a manner, and wonder why people think "Christian art" is only supposed to be fluffy and banal.

It's in moments like this that I feel tired, if not even tempted to just throw it all out. Why bother with the divisions, the strong desire to live in one's favorite heyday, the marketing of spiritual pap, the oversensitivity? Why bother with the theological arguments, the sometimes crusty hymns, the flareups over administrivia, the striving to get this, that, or the other demographic interested in some aspect of church life?

I sigh, and then I arrive at my destination. I talk to the young woman with lung cancer interested in baptism. I visit the older woman who can't seem to put life back together after her husband of 50+ years died. I talk to a couple senior high kids about faith themes contained in an episode of The Simpsons over Doritos and soda.

I go to these places and I realize that there's still hope. And I realize that I've got some energy left to do this Christianity thing after all.

Over/Under on How Much Actual Chaplaincy She Does?

HT to Songbird:

Nearly two seasons after her character's demise on the hit series 24, Reiko Aylesworth becomes the latest addition to the ER franchise. According to TV Guide's Michael Ausiello, the actress has signed on as part of the medical drama's 14th season.

Reiko Aylesworth became a household name as the tough and stoic Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) agent and eventual boss, Michelle Dessler for four seasons of 24. She will next play the new chaplain of County General on the long-running and multi-awarded ER.

Though tasked with administering to the spiritual needs of the patients, doctors and staff of the hospital, Aylesworth's character won't be hiding beneath a habit or bound by dogmatic laws on romance and celibacy. ER's new preacher will be permitted to lead a normal life including the use of provocative attire and the freedom to engage in the nuisances of modern dating. She is poised to provide color to the romantic life of John Stamos' Dr. Tony Gates character.

Clergy seem to go one of two ways on television: squeaky-clean milquetoast (7th Heaven) or off the deep end ridiculous (that show about the Episcopalian priest where everyone was on drugs). Or they get portrayed as an evil judgmental foil. This press release is interesting because the last paragraph basically says, "Oh, don't worry...she'll show her cleavage and have sex with people!"

I'm all about a chaplain being portrayed as "normal." God knows clergy struggle with relationships as much as anyone else. I wonder, though...will she pray with people? Will she struggle with some of the tough spiritual questions that come with experiences in the ER? Will she counsel fellow staff after a tough loss of a patient? Will she share her struggles with others in a way that shows how draining and rewarding real chaplains find their work? Obviously, there'll be the sexual tension between her and Uncle Jesse. Oh, and she'll wear low-cut tops. I just hope there'll be more to it than that.

But I'm cynical about it, if you couldn't tell.

A Review of Take This Bread by Sara Miles

There are plenty of conversion stories that we have access to in books and the internet. They may or may not feature the life pre-conversion, which is typically screwed up, drugged up, sexed up, with lots of other bad habits. Then the moment of conversion happens, and in this stereotypical story the habits disappear and the person becomes a deacon or something.

Sara Miles does share her story pre-conversion, which is exciting but not necessarily a tragedy. The conversion moment is better described as a process. And she actually does become a deacon, but not the deacon one would expect.

Miles tells of her life before converting to Christianity. Raised in an atheist home, she finds little to no sympathy for religious causes. She hints that this is, at least for her mother, a rebellion against her own religious upbringing. There is not much of an overtone that her household was an "active atheist" home...that is, one that taught her to go out of her way to disprove God, join the fight against public faith, and sign petitions against the pledge. She tells more of an upbringing of avoidance....that religion was best ignored.

This is followed by two chapters of her job life, first as a cook in New York City and then as a reporter in Nicaragua around the time of the cartels. She describes the people she meets and the sights and sounds of her experiences in the kitchen and in war, and in both instances very careful to describe the food: how it is prepared, how it is served, how it tastes. She's obviously building to something as she learns cooking shortcuts from her restaurant co-worker and the meals she ate alongside revolutionaries and murderers in Central America. In both cases, it is food prepared generously, earnestly, and with feeling, and shared with much the same intentions. She is always in mixed company, and she wants to emphasize that point as well.

Next begins her life in San Francisco. Everything else serves as background for what she is about to do in this place. If her chief memories up to this point center around food, then it makes sense that her conversion happens because of food as well. For reasons unclear to her, she wanders into a liberal creative Episcopalian Church and receives communion, and there is something about that moment for her that makes sense. It is in the offering, the chewing, the drinking, that the act of receiving Jesus becomes real to her. It takes place in this way, rather than in an evangelist sharing a tract or by someone accosting her with their most carefully crafted arguments. She is welcomed and she is offered bread, and that is when she begins wondering how to follow Jesus.

What she comes up with is forever tied to that first experience. As Sara becomes more involved with her church, she seeks to share this experience with others, and finds that the best way to do that is to organize a food pantry. Usually, when we think of food pantries, we may picture a closet or a section of the church basement set aside with rows of canned goods. When St. Gregory offers their pantry, they set the food--which includes fresh produce--right around the communion table in the sanctuary. The theology of communion is always front and center for Miles and for what she wants to organize. She finds no other way to properly offer food to others than to state it's because Jesus offered it first.

This project is undertaken not without some setbacks and roadblocks. Sara notes the mixed crowd that shows up: the homeless, the addicts, the schemers...she has plenty of stories to tell about them all. More than one person expresses thankfulness; even eventually volunteers to help. But for every one of these, there is the man who tries to take advantage of a timid girl's hospitality, there is a rude Russian with a sense of entitlement, there is the uneasy feeling that Miles gets at points when she delivers food to shut-ins. She sugarcoats none of it; she doesn't romanticize the people she helps or lament when they don't immediately change upon entering the doors of the church.

Perhaps Miles' most biting critique is reserved for the Church itself. One may actually be surprised that, while more conservative churches are mentioned from time to time, she's hardest on the liberals. She openly wonders about the dissonance between their wanting to welcome all people and then her need to fight to offer the pantry a second day. She frequently compares the uniquely creative and vibrant liturgy she experiences at St. Gregory's with the dry traditionalism at a denominational leaders' retreat ("If these are the people who want to hear about experimental liturgy, what are the conservatives like?"). She critiques "limosine liberal" activism-at-a-distance, and at almost every turn it's the white educated middle-class who bear the brunt of what she says.

Miles' story and advocacy comes in the form of experiencing Jesus in sharing bread and then turning right around and experiencing it with others. In many churches, we point to Jesus' preferred crowd of prostitutes and tax collectors, but Miles' story is one of witness to what this actually looks like in a particular place, and the underlying question always concerns why more churches aren't doing the same thing. One of her strongest themes to this effect is how simple it really is to feed others, and how needlessly complicated the church makes it either out of its own institutionalism or avoidance. This is as challenging a book as it is encouraging.


Mediocrity never felt so good.

I'm really digging Ryan Mallet. I vote he starts the rest of the year. Maybe that'd be too much. But he runs. Michigan has a quarterback who...runs. I...uh...excuse me...I promised myself I wouldn't tear up...

Anyway, Hart did his thing and UM's defense had somebody to knock around for the second week in a row. Basically Henne transferred to Penn State for the day.

But Mallet, man. He didn't carry the team by any means yesterday, but he hit his receivers and even ran in the first touchdown. He RAN IN the first touchdown. He SCRAMBLES. He's AWESOME. The future looks promising in that regard.

Snippet of conversation:

Coffeewife: So, who do they play next week?
Coffeepastor: Northwestern, I think.

Coffeewife: Wait...isn't Ohio State crushing them right now?
Coffeepastor: Yeah.
Coffeewife: Cool.

There's still a long road ahead. Purdue and basically November is going to be a headache. And I've been reminded by pieces of my Illinois-sympathetic readership that they actually use a spread offense (the part of that readership who cares about college football, anyway), so that might suck as well.

But for now, I'll revel in our mediocrity. Especially because at least one church member picked Penn State in a walk.

A Meme Where You List Four Things that I Think Was Meant More for Chicks

4 crushes:

1. Molly - elementary school. I went through the whole "gave her a valentine and then got crushed" thing with her.

2. Andrea - high school. Looking back, it's a good thing we stayed in the "friend zone."

3. Katy - college. After an entire semester of flirting, we went on exactly one date and to this day I don't know what turned her off.

4. Coffeewife - college. I'd basically thought of her as a long shot after a very long and winding story, but now we've been married five years.

4 Pieces of Clothing I wish I still owned (and/or that still fit):

1. A dark blue dress shirt that somehow got stains on it

2. A pair of black boots that wore out

3. My favorite pair of Structure boxers (you asked for it)

4. A Michigan tie that I haven't been able to find for years

4 names I’ve been called at one time or another:

1. Taco. Yeah, seriously.

2. Bongo Boy - play the bongos for little kids once, and they'll drive it into the ground

3. Bartok - my fraternity pledge name

4. Reverend. Dude, just my name is fine.

4 Professions I secretly Want to Try:

1. Actor

2. Coffeeshop owner

3. Magazine columnist

4. College chaplain

4 Musicians I’d most want to go on a date with:

1. Kelly Clarkson

2. Jeff the Girl from Five Iron Frenzy

3. Petra Haden from The Decemberists

4. KT Tunstall

4 Foods I’d rather Throw than Eat:

1. Communion wafers

2. Lima beans

3. Peas

4. Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches - the last thing I ate before an episode of food poisoning. I've barely been able to look at them since.

4 Things I Like to Sniff:

1. Cinnamon rolls

2. Autumn rain

3. Coffee

4. Red wine

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading Take This Bread, and since I'm working on a review all its own to post soon, I won't write much else about it right now.

We watched Flushed Away this past week, which is a silly animated movie about a housepet rat that gets flushed into the sewer and into crazy adventures with the rat metropolis therein. Hugh Jackman voices the main character, and there's a little sight gag about him playing Wolverine. I didn't know he was capable of comedic roles, but he does very well in this one. Other voices include Ian McKellen, Kate Winslet, and Bill Nighy. The basic plot is that McKellen is a crazed pompous frog mob boss who wants to flood the rat city and wipe out the population in order to repopulate it with frogs. There are also slugs, who threaten to steal scenes more than once. One of the things that I found most interesting was how the movie is animated: there's a certain way that the characters move that makes it look like claymation, as if it's a tribute of sorts to the likes of Wallace and Gromit. The movie is set in England, so that makes sense if that was their goal.

I caught most of the Emmys last Sunday, and was pleased to see it so Sopranos-heavy. They offered a musical tribute, which was actually not that great, after which they had the entire cast stand onstage to be recognized. Gandolfini got screwed out of Best Drama Actor (as did pretty much everyone else in that category who didn't win), but there was little question that the show would win Best Drama. Some of the presenters had decent moments, some of the winners less so (what was Sally Field babbling about?). I turned it on right in the middle of Stewie and Brian from Family Guy singing their "tribute" to television, which was hilarious.

Music-wise, I've been listening to Zero 7 lately.

Around the web, here's the afforementioned Stewie/Brian song from the Emmys.

So Much for the Tigers, I'm Annoyed, and What's On Tap

It's looking to be about over for Detroit. They've blown two games against Cleveland, and if it had been against anyone else I'd be more upset. And I mean "blown," because both nights they got off to strong starts and then their pitching messed everything up. And Robertson is pitching against Sabathia today, so things won't get any better. So congrats to the Indians. I'll be rooting for you throughout the postseason.

I'm annoyed. An event occurred yesterday morning that reinforced all my negative thoughts about weddings. Basically, I was all but baldly told that all I need to do next month is show up, say some prayers, and sign the certificate, and don't bother me too much in the meantime. One-half of the couple considers it a chore to even meet with me once beforehand. We had about a 10-minute argument about it. I suppose that I can be thankful that this person was up front about it. Maybe I should put a Justice of the Peace on speed dial...

I haven't exactly been a frequent blogger lately. But coming up is a full-out review of Take This Bread, something about showing Jesus to others, and, as always, the Roundup.

The Best Time of the Week

Any pastor/church worker whose day finishes at around noon on Sunday might call Sunday afternoon/evening the best time of their entire week. Whatever they'd done that morning, whatever they'd prepared for all week, it's finished. It's over, and if you've invested enough of your emotional energy in the act of preaching and leading worship, you're thankful that the rest of the day involves lying on the couch. Mine was slightly prolonged by an after-worship youth discussion group and a hospital visit, so I've had to catch up on my couch-lying.

Hey, Michigan won a game. How about that? Of course, they played a horrible rebuilding Notre Dame. But a win over Notre Dame is always enjoyable anyway. Next is the opening of the Big Ten season, and judging by every Big Ten team's play thus far, the title is wide open. Here's an exchange relayed during the Michigan game yesterday:

Mike Hart: I think we can win the Big Ten.
Reporter: Really? How do you figure that?
Hart: No spread offenses.

Big Ten football. Where it's always 1978.

So the Coffeepastor household spent yesterday at an old-timey craft festival nearby with some of my relatives. All the workers are dressed up like the colonial days, and the food was "authentic" to the time period as well: turkey legs, corn on the cob...elephant ears? We found a few bottles of wine and Coffeewife fawned over pretty much everything. The guys in our group hung back more, although once we got to the only section where modern stuff was allowed, we stepped it up a little. I bought a thing, but I can't say what it is because my brother reads this and it's for him.

Our cats also came away with a new toy. Coffeewife bought a racoon tail, thinking that they'd like to play with it. One of our cats, the youngest, yet biggest, yet most skittish, has taken to it quite well: he'll grab it in his mouth, flip it into the air, and then try to bat at it while it comes back down. We could learn something from animals, how the simple things can keep them entertained for so long in between their five four-hour daily naps.

And it's fall. There's a chill in the air, the leaves are turning, and I had to break out a jacket for the first time this morning. Sweet.

The "I Hate Meetings" Meme

1. What's your view of meetings? Choose one or more, or make up your own:
a) When they're good, they're good. I love the feeling of people working well together on a common goal.
b) I don't seek them out, but I recognize them as a necessary part of life.
c) The only good meeting is a canceled meeting.

All of the above. It depends what group, the makeup of people, the tasks before us. But I never lose sleep over a cancelled meeting. I recognize that they're a necessary part of life...when they really are necessary. There have been a few lately that I've cancelled just because I didn't see that we had enough to talk about to make it worth people's while. Or consider the committee meeting I was at on Wednesday when we planned all our stuff between now and the end of the year, and then decided not to meet again until January. Less can be more.

2. Do you like some amount of community building or conversation, or are you all business? If conversation makes its way into the meeting, I don't stop it. I don't care. People have to spend their evening here, so go ahead and catch up...provided we aren't here until 9:00.

3. How do you feel about leading meetings? Share any particular strengths or weaknesses you have in this area. I do well if I have a written agenda in front of me. Meetings that are all like, "So...what else do we need to talk about?" grate on my nerves. But I'm fine with leading meetings. As a pastor, my philosophy is to have the committee chair or Consistory president or whomever actually lead the meeting and I contribute agenda items. I could do more to empower some of those leaders in that way.

4. Have you ever participated in a virtual meeting? (conference call, IM, chat, etc.) What do you think of this format? Do phone interviews count? That's all I got. If so, my ear gets pretty sweaty after a while and not being able to see people's reactions is a little unnerving. If 15 people on the other end are rolling their eyes at something I'm saying, I can't see it, which on the one hand is good because I don't feel demoralized, but I also can't adjust what I'm saying to explain it better or to otherwise respond to body language. Plus I just plain hate talking on the phone.

5. Share a story of a memorable meeting you attended. I didn't mind weekly staff meetings at one of my field placements in seminary. It was a larger church where seven of us would sit around a big table in the office, skim over the upcoming church schedule, but moreso make lots of jokes and then order Chinese food. Those weren't too bad.

Pop Culture Roundup

This week I started Take This Bread by Sara Miles. Miles is a former atheist who converted to Christianity because I've yet to reach her actual conversion moment (if conversion really happens in a moment), but it centers around the act of being offered communion. I'm only maybe three chapters in, but she's detailed some of her travels and her days as a cook in a New York restaurant, always noting the food that she learns about or that she's offered while witnessing firsthand some of the events around Nicaragua in the 1980s. As such, she begins to connect the experience of food and hospitality not only with people's physical situations, but also their spiritual situations (even in her days as an atheist).

Out of morbid curiosity I tuned into the MTV Video Music Awards the other night just to see how Britney did. Um...not well. The lip-syncing was the most obvious blunder to me, as she didn't look like she was trying too hard there. People have ragged on her weight a little, and maybe she should have thought twice about the outfit, but come on...she's still very slender. How people justify comments about her weight based on this is beyond me. Besides all that though, honestly, I can't help but root for some of these celebrities who fall off the wagon and then try to climb back on. They bring a lot of the drama and attention to themselves, but when they try to fix things up I tend to hope that they're serious about it, even if their constant attention by the media (ParisNicoleLohanOlsens) annoys the crap out of me otherwise. Britney didn't look serious the other night. Sad.

Waiting for Scrubs to start back up. Hoping JD and Elliot don't get back together. Although the concept of two people who make a terrible couple when they're together, and always want to be together when they're split up, is very true-to-life. But whether it's real life or on TV, it's pretty freaking annoying.

It's fall, so that means I've been listening to The Decemberists.

Around the web, Michigan Against the World and Maize N Brew have been added to the blogroll.

Help Me Help You

I'm feeling a little worn out.

Listless. Unimaginative. A little emotionally, creatively run down.

I think it shows on this blog, but that's just a symptom. Really, I look at my calendar from here to the end of the year, and it's already all been planned out for me. Visits, a funeral, a wedding, a vacation that's already planned, a few youth activities, some other thing, and some other thing, and some other thing after that, and then Advent.

And so on the one hand I think to myself, " new projects." And on the other hand I think to myself, "I can't think of any new projects." What makes it worse is a recent car ride with an uppity colleague the other day carping for 45 minutes about how energetic the pastor has to be in order for the congregation to be excited, too. Don't tell me I'm not. That'd be the wrong thing for you to say to me, or to assume, or to imply, believe that.

It's not that I don't want to do what I'm doing, or that it's a chore to do what is scheduled day to day. I'm fine once I get going. I'd just rather you not expect me to do much more right now. Mmkay?

The Leaders and Best

So a group of people have agreed to work together, to reach goals, to even dress similarly so that others know that they're to be identified together.

They've organized themselves. They have one who guides what they do, one to whom they look as every new situation presents itself. But this guide is set apart from them in certain ways. They have another who is more like them, who governs them from within. Others fill in in assorted positions according to their talents.

But this group isn't doing well. The times have changed. They were once the most revered, the most honored, even the most feared...but lately they haven't inspired these reactions the way they used to. They sit by, ignored, even laughed at. Outsiders have agreed that they're only good for certain functions nowadays, none of which are particularly appealing to those not on the inside.

The group isn't doing well because they're using a set of customs from days gone by. These customs were handed down by a beloved, well-respected, dearly departed patriarch. They worked so well in his day and age...he wasn't to be denied. These customs brought their group such joy, such success, such meaning. These same customs are still used, and by people who were close to him subsequently appointed to his position.

But the world around them has changed. New techniques, new philosophies, new technology has arisen. Others have acknowledged these new developments and have adapted. Certain things now run faster. Multi-tasking has become quite popular. And yet this group, with its traditions from days gone by, forges on, hoping that they will still work, still connect, still address the needs of those who look to them for meaning.

Meanwhile, the world around them keeps marching on. And others wonder if this group will ever catch up. Those who love this group the most ache for them to do just that some day...and may even weep at the thought that those within its ranks still refuse to address what is happening around them.

Am I talking about Michigan football, or the church?

Because For Some Reason I Only Write About Sports Now

Okay, so the Tigers' season looks about done unless A-Rod gets hit by a car. It'll be fun to watch the Indians in the postseason, but I was hoping for 1) more from Detroit, even though they've been keeping close through injuries and struggling pitching, and 2) a Yankee-less October for once. I suppose that there's reason to hope yet and there's definitely cause to look forward to next year for the Tigers. Meantime, I'll go ahead and call a Cleveland-Boston ALCS going to seven games with the Tribe eeking it out to face some NL team that they'll run over.

The Wolverines...are terrible. I was pleasantly surprised, then incredibly depressed that the game was being shown on a TV station that I actually get. But let's expand our discussion to include Akron holding the Buckeyes to a field goal the entire first half, Michigan State not waking up until the second half against Bowling Green, Northwestern and Minnesota barely surviving their games, and Penn State and Wisconsin looking shaky in their wins. What's that mean? It means a pretty weak-looking Big Ten, where the cries of "overrated" can be heard from California and the southeast. It just seems our whole conference is in some trouble right now.

I wrote sometime last year about wanting to like the NFL more. Well, I suppose that I need to devote more time to reading up on the...sigh...Lions. Doesn't hockey start soon?

Screw It, I'm a @#$% Michigan Fan

Scene One: a guy in his car, driving up to a cousin's graduation party. He passes the sign that reads, "Welcome to Michigan."

Guy: (as in relief) Aaaaaaaaah....

Scene Two: same guy in the same car, driving back. He passes the sign that reads, "Welcome to Ohio."

Guy: Aaaaaaaaw....

You know, I've considered myself a resident of Ohio for 20 freaking years.

I'm a Red Sox fan who lives in the Bronx.

A Browns fan who lives in Pittsburgh.

A [soccer team] fan who lives in [rival soccer team's hometown].

I've endured it for 20 years, sometimes vindicated, sometimes while covering my head.

And lately I've been the long-suffering one. I'm not a so-called Wal-Mart Wolverine Fan who struts around Michigan in a sweatshirt when the team is doing well. I'm in freaking Ohio, where once they find out who you like they don't let up whether you're wearing your stuff or not.

So screw it, I'll wear it anyway.

I'll wear it during Lloyd's swansong, during the national ridicule off an App. State loss, during a possible fourth consecutive Buckeye loss if the opener was any indication, during yet another season of high hopes and then crushing disappointment. And if Carr squeaks it out, all the better. Except then, he might be invited back. Ew.

Dammit, they should make maize and blue kamikazee helmets.

Go Freaking Blue.

If we're going down we're going down swinging.

Hint: Oregon does the same stuff that got you beat last week, except they're D-1. Hopefully you looked into that. Also, shout out to my brother who will be at that game, even though he didn't invite me.

Dark Night of the Meme

1. Have you experienced God's faithfulness at a difficult time? Tell as much or as little as you like... I think that some of these questions are going to overlap. I consider my junior year of college to be one of the darkest periods of my life: I was having a dark night of the soul, I was in huge clashes with a few other Christians on campus, and some other things that I'm not going to write about. It was a time when the question, "Does Job fear God for nothing?" got answered, I think. I still had people to lean on such as Then-Not-Mrs. Coffeepastor, who prayed for me when I couldn't pray myself, and a good group of friends who were clashing with others right along with me.

2. Have you experienced a dark night of the soul, if so what brought you through? This was, again, pretty much my entire junior year. However, even aside from all the different things that were happening that weighed me down and which certainly contributed to my crisis of faith, I'd gotten myself into a more academic one as well. I blame John Shelby Spong for getting the ball rolling. I'd picked up his Why Christianity Must Change or Die and by the end was ready to give up my faith entirely. Quite a stark difference from all his oh-so-saintly intentions to keep disillusioned types around, eh? There were a few other "scholarly" articles involved, but this book really started things. Today I might not flip out as much, but that helped send me into a huge faith crisis where I was ready to change my major, find a new career, and explore Buddhism (nothing against Buddhism...I'm still curious about it). So one night I found myself in a dorm hallway with a Bible and a weak little, "please show me something," and I came to Luke 24:34 - "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" That gave me the strength and confidence to continue on my faith journey, as I truly believe that that was a Spirit-guided moment. Perhaps today I can credit Spong with an assist in making my faith stronger, but really, given everything else that I was dealing with, he was just piling on. I award him no points.

3. Share a Bible verse, song, poem that has brought you comfort? Um...besides the one I just shared? Lately, I know I've been harping on this blog about Pink Floyd, but I've taken a lot of comfort in their wandering, ethereal music.

4. Is "why suffering" a valid question? Is there maybe a word or two missing from this question? Anyway, yes, it is a valid question. Whether it's "why am I suffering?" or "why is there suffering?" Plenty of Biblical writers ask it, plenty down through the centuries have asked it. If we were not able or allowed to ask this question, what kind of a God would have made us? I mean, it's fine if you want to take the hard-line Calvinist, "God doesn't need to answer to you" sort of reasoning, but the God encountered in Christ answers to a lot of people...God doesn't need to, but God chose to. So let's ask.

5. And on a lighter note- you have reached the end of a dark and difficult time- how are you going to celebrate? A glass of wine, a silent prayer of thanks, and a big sigh of relief.

Bonus- anything you wish to add....Stay in school, say your prayers, take your vitamins, don't do drugs, drink your milk, wear sunscreen.

Pop Culture Roundup

I discover something new each time I read Open Secrets. I'm actually a little ashamed of how I've missed the way he centers stories around common theological themes in each chapter. For instance, he describes the images of the Trinity in one church window; how it seems to have God all figured out, how it seems to provide a closed and completed formula for how the whole "3 in 1" thing works...and then he tells story after story of human uncertainty and tragedy; the sorts of situations where we try to figure out what exactly God must be doing with us, if anything at all.

We watched Blades of Glory this past week, which was a typical Will Ferrell movie: talented piggish man-child falls from grace, learns a few lessons, makes a big comeback. Insert a few people you've seen from his other movies in assorted roles. It was fine for what it was. Will Arnett and Amy Poehler are great as the brother-sister rivals, and Jon Heder is decent as the other more fragile man-child. Actually, it's too bad that Arnett doesn't get more recognition. Maybe this is just the Arrested Development fanboy talking, but he's great in roles as the self-involved jerk.

Well, wouldn't you know it? Something bad finally happened to Vince on Entourage. They head to Cannes for the premiere of Medillian, and people hate it. A studio head buys it for $1, mostly as an insult. And since this was the season finale, we probably have to wait until next June to see what happens. Maybe the studio somehow cuts it up enough to make it a hit and Vince wins an Oscar. Or maybe Vince rebounds with some other movie and eventually wins an Oscar. We have to end up at the Oscars sooner or later, and then there'll be nowhere left for the show to go.

This week has been heavy on Wish You Were Here.

Around the internets, there's actually a Will Ferrell Movie Generator.

Church and Collaboration

Jan reflects on a book she's reading and comes up with a few observations about technology and church life:

For emerging generations collaboration is the norm a la Facebook, Flickr, and Wikipedia. When The Professional Clergyperson is a lone ranger, creating a sermon in solitude, and preaching doctrine from a high pulpit, it feels foreign and fake to many members of the Net Generation.

I have been asked some disconcerting questions by one of my high school friends in church recently:
  • Why do you stand up in that high pulpit and look down on us and tell us what to believe?
  • Why do you wear that robe and collar as if you are the only educated one?
  • Why are you the only one who gets to talk during worship?


Ouch indeed.

The typical answer may sound something like this: you go to a doctor for medical advice, a mechanic for car advice, and a pastor for theological advice. That's the Pastor as Religious Professional answer, and it's one that I and many of my ordained colleagues may give to such a question. Maybe it will be worded a little better or with the caveat that we simply have a special role in the priesthood of all believers.

There's also an assumption about what preaching is and what robes signify. Both are also not beyond such criticism as contained in the questions above. Even those who choose the alb over the Geneva robe need to justify why they robe at all. Why are you special? Why don't you just wear the stuff that the rest of us wear?

In a new age where so much information is available at people's fingertips and people, especially in younger generations, are used to more of an egalitarian approach to giving and receiving that information, the Religious Professional does have some questions to answer.

I do wonder, of course, if educators are or will be called to task on these same grounds. Will, for instance, a physics professor ever be met with questions similar to those above? "Why do you stand at the front of the classroom and tell us what to think about atomic weight? Why do you get to wear your doctoral hood at graduation as if you're the only educated one? Why are you the only one who gets to talk during class?"

These questions in this setting seem a little more absurd. But in the setting of the church, more and more people are asking them. Maybe it's the nature of the subject. Maybe it's from seeing the results of what too much top-down doctrine can do. Maybe it's the experience of too many unanswered questions cut off before they can be asked. Maybe it's simply that the communicating of such a subject needs to be appropriated to a new generation in ways that it will engage. Maybe, just maybe, it's also a new culture arising that thinks it knows better than the "experts" (consider Tom Cruise spouting off about psychology or the ID/evolution debates). I bet it's a little bit of everything.

At any rate, they're worthwhile questions and possibilities for the church to ask and consider. How do we communicate matters of faith in a collaborative age? What is the pastor's role?

I resist the notion that pastors need to be simply phased out. After all, Facebook and Wikipedia have servers, editors, and moderators. It's not a free-for-all on these sites. Someone is still providing a starting point and a structure to the conversation even while encouraging as much collaboration as possible.

Perhaps the appropriate manner in which to frame ourselves has to do with being guides rather than Keepers of the Sacred Lore. Perhaps when we take on the mantle of priest, prophet, or pastor, we should be more about mediating and helping to name God's presence for others and as others describe their experience rather than tell people what they should be experiencing. This is more difficult and perhaps not even appropriate for a prophetic role, but at least in a priestly or pastoral role it makes much more sense. We may help to name something, but we are not the only ones able to speak. We can collaborate with those we serve, even provide a necessary structure, but not dominate the conversation. We are given permission to express doubt even as we are charged with helping others with theirs.

It's not really a novel idea. We can trace this sort of thing back to the Reformation, when Luther published Bibles in German for the people to read on their own. Granted, there's still been plenty of heretic-burning since then, but collaboration has existed in some form since at least that long. And now as it comes into full bloom, the church must ask itself again about its new role.

Back From Crying in My Beer

I didn't actually have that much beer on Saturday evening. It was like half a cup, and that because the keg was really foamy.

See, I actually got the news about Michigan's most embarrassing loss ever right before I was about to perform a wedding in someone's backyard. Mrs. Coffeepastor kept up on the little ESPN ticker for me and called me on my cellphone. I don't totally get this whole Big Ten Network thing...does this mean they get all the rights to the games that I give a crap about? I mean, Michigan State was on, and I've never been into the Wolverine-Spartan rivalry (I'll cheer for them because they're still Michigan-ish...I hate Notre Dame far more), so I was okay with that.

By the way, the ceremony went fine. Their five-year-old son walked down the aisle with grass stains and dirt all over his tux, which is par for the course for a five-year-old boy at an outdoor wedding. The bride said that they plan on wandering over to worship sometime soon, but I haven't seen them yet.

It's been a different sort of year for weddings. I've officiated at a small second-marriage, a Tuesday Evening Special for a much older couple, a more traditional Cinderella thing for some young first-timers, gave the homily at the Greatest Wedding Ever, this backyard ceremony and then another backyard ceremony at the end of October. Most of these have redeemed my view of weddings because they've been so authentic to the couple's sense of who they are. None of them have been flashy or overdone. The young couple's rehearsal had me on the verge, but we got through it okay.

So anyway, back to how upset I am about Michigan. See, I'm not one of the arrogant Wolverine fans. I'm not one of the constant trash-talking bigmouths, in part because the program has been so shaky since...oh...1998 or so (and don't get me started on basketball). Being stuck in Ohio helps with that, too. So I'm not one of the arrogant Michigan fans...but I am a proud one. I walked into church on November 19th last year with my head still high, purposefully dressed in a blue shirt and gold tie.

Likewise, I walked into church yesterday wearing some random shirt-tie combo but still prepared for my 100% Buckeye membership to remind me about what happened. But they were quite gracious. One guy said, "I'm surprised you showed up today," and later asked my wife if I was impossible to live with the day before (she answered, "Yeah, but he eventually got over it"). Someone else said, "I thought about calling you, but I decided not to." Finally, someone else asked how I was in the typical, agenda-less way, and I answered, "Eh...I'm all right." And even though she reacted in that polite, sympathetic way, something behind her eyes told me that she knew exactly what I was talking about. So I experienced grace from my OSU congregation. That was nice.

Still, we have a problem in Ann Arbor. I've been reading about how Appalachian State was never really the patsy team that people thought they were. I've been reading about how Hart sat for a crucial stretch of the game. I've been reading about early two-point conversion attempts that went bad. I've been reading about how Oregon and others think they're just going to waltz in and do the same thing ( don't think they'll be out for blood now?). I've been reading about everyone's lack of focus. I've been reading about Michigan's terrible coverage of versatile quarterbacks. I've been reading about how everyone else has been able to start playing modern-day football, and UM is still using stuff that worked 20 years ago. And, of course, I've been reading about how Lloyd is still the head coach and probably will remain that way through the season.

I think I'll go fishing or something on November 17th. Just remove myself entirely.

And come as early as November 18th, there'll probably be someone new at the helm. Someone who knows what modern-day football looks like. Someone who will fire up his team instead of standing on the sidelines and scowling. Someone who understands the legacy and tradition that he's just walked into and knows that he can't rest on laurels. Someone who knows that if you're going to win one game all year, it'd better be The Game. Someone who isn't Michigan-arrogant, but who is Michigan-proud.

Until then, Go Blue.

Or Go Spartans?

Or maybe I'll just Go Fishing.

Just Fire Him Now


For me. For all of us.

Save everyone the embarrassment.

Today was unacceptable.

It's Michigan. Not Heidelberg.

This is ridiculous. And Bo isn't around to save him.

Please...make it happen. Take a cue from the guys in East Lansing.

No more Laloyd.

See? You've got me using lame OSU insults now. That's how bad it is.

Just do it.

Just freaking do it.

Pop Culture Roundup

Maugham is on hold and Merton was recently placed on the shelf unfinished. I have every intention of returning to Maugham and eventually when I've worked up to it I'll get back to Merton. But after re-reading Leaving Church, I decided to return to another story that I've already read twice: Open Secrets by Richard Lischer. Lischer recounts his time in his first church, a country chapel outside Alton, Illinois: the quirks, the disagreements, the Good Ideas That Didn't Work, the relationships. My mindset is just geared toward reading or re-reading these stories at the moment.

So in seminary, a friend asked me to burn some songs for her onto a CD for a project she was working on. The assignment was to write one's own creed, and she had the idea to turn in an accompanying series of songs that somehow express her beliefs as well. So she handed me a stack of songs and long story short, I burned a copy for myself just for kicks. The songlist is about 1/3 U2 and 1/3 Live, and then some Tori Amos and others. Anyway, as much as people want to make Bono into one of our Modern Day Prophets or whatever, I don't like that much of U2's music. But the real point of this is to say that I never really listened to Live when they'd peaked in popularity save for the couple of songs played on the radio, but I've really gotten into the stuff included on this CD: "Dance With You," "Run to the Water," "Sparkle," and "They Stood Up For Love," which is my favorite out of the bunch.

I've decided that the reason I watch Entourage is more for the characters than any sort of overarching plot grounded in reality. Ari interacting with Lloyd is fun, Ari interacting with his wife is fun, Ari interacting with his employees is fun, Ari ranting for five minutes is fun. Drama is a good goofy character. Vince and Eric are getting on my nerves. Eric's all like, "Oh no, I'm worried about this thing," and Vince is all like, "Duuuude...don't worry, maaaan," and Eric's all like, "Nope, still worried and I'm not sure whether or not I want to go out with this hot girl who is interested in me but is totally out of my league, and also I think I'll whine a little for fun," and Vince is all like, "Duuuude...stop worrying...hey look, everything worked out for me. Cooool." The supporting cast is much more interesting. So there you go: I mainly watch for whatever Ari is going to do, and some of what Drama does, and sometimes for what the other cardboard cutouts do. It's a half hour of fluff with guys having fun and a wink at Hollywood life. It was unfair of me from the get-go to think it could outright replace The Sopranos. Actually, I didn't really think that was possible...but when it came right after Sopranos I began to see it for what it really is.

It's a good thing that college football starts today, because I'm starting to think that the Tigers have dug themselves into too deep a hole and Cleveland has gotten hot. There isn't a whole lot wrong with that, as the Indians are the only Ohio team I really care about at all, so good on them for doing what they're doing. Meanwhile Detroit can reload and heal and try again next year. Of course, there's still a month left so maybe I'm giving up too early.

I don't have much to show from elsewhere around the internets, but I did watch a show recounting the history of The Game. It got me excited and also a little dreadful, because Michigan is the favorite this year, but Carr is their coach. I did read that he's actually got Henne throwing passes out of the shotgun, which is novel for him apparently. With this offense, the only guy to blame if we lose to The Sweatervest is the guy calling the shots. Surely Carr knows whats at stake for himself this year. Of course, we'll also see if The Sweatervest is more than his anointed Heisman quarterback. At any rate, GO BLUE and we'll see you in November.

If we lose again, maybe I'll put out my profile up north. I'm only joking. Mostly.