Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Small Sips: A Christian Response to Torture, More Rev. Wright, The "Real" U-M

"An Act of Blasphemy:" Aaron at Street Prophets posts an excellent response to torture from Tom Perriello, a Democrat running for Congress in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District:

Q: In 2004 as co-director of Faithful America you aired commercials on al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya featuring prominent religious leaders apologizing for the treatment of prisoners in Abu-Gharib. Why did you feel that was necessary to come from religious leaders and should they be apologizing for actions taken by military officials?

A: Torture is immoral and, in my reading, an act of blasphemy against the image of God in another human being. When our leaders make the decision to condone torture, something powerful in the soul of our country is suffocated.

Torture also undermines our national security, produces bad intelligence, and puts our troops at risk. The images from Abu Ghraib became powerful propaganda weapons for Osama Bin Laden to use in recruiting a new generation of terrorists to threaten our great nation. Terrorism is fundamentally immoral and a grave threat to our country, and one purpose of our ad was to blunt the recruiting bonanza that Bush handed to Al Qaeda in the wake of those images. One of the many things this Administration has never understood about the threats we face is how to fight back successfully against their propaganda battle. I am proud that we were able to produce an ad that spoke to America’s highest principles and helped make us safer at the same time.

As for whether one can ethically apologize for someone else’s actions, the theologians and faith leaders involved in this ad were careful to make it an expression of regret, and not an apology in order to clarify the lines of culpability. Our great nation could use a boost of people taking personal responsibility seriously, so it is distressing to see this Administration refuse to step up to the plate. In the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, it has repeatedly had our men and women in uniform take the blame without taking its own responsibility for this disaster. The religious leaders in our ad exemplified what moral leadership looks like.

Perriello nails both the theological and political pieces of this quite well. It's hard to claim the moral high ground and that God has our backs while at the same time refusing, for instance, to call waterboarding torture. It also gives the terrorists fodder for recruiting, and it's human nature to say whatever people want to hear to make the pain stop.

The counterpoint to this, I suppose, has to do with "being tough on our enemies" and "protecting American lives," and "do what it takes to defend ourselves." But I've yet to hear a counterpoint that convincingly justifies it as morally A-OK in God's eyes, or that directly answers the question of bad intelligence.

The Wheels Under the Bus Go 'Round and 'Round: Here's one more from Street Prophets about Obama's complete separation from Jeremiah Wright...

My much-beloved blog friend Pam Spaulding recently asked what it would take to start a sane dialogue on race in this nation. She thinks white folks need to develop the emotional strength to deal with racial conflict. I think it's even more basic than that. I think white folks are going to have to learn to deal with the uncomfortable idea that black folks don't always have the same interests as they do, and that comes out in their political stances.

There's a lot of discomfort that white people need to work through in order to get to a point where we'll be able to speak honestly, but even moreso to hear clearly. While at Eden, I attended a discussion on racial divides that was introduced with a video featuring eight men of different races talking about the problems that each community faces. One of the two white men kept using phrases such as, "I don't understand why blacks just can't get over [this]," or "work through [that]," or "still have an issue with [this]." The two black men kept answering and trying to get him to understand until finally one of them broke out in a loud, passionate rant about what he and his community have had to deal with. He'd run out of patience.

We have too many white people, before and during the Wright fiasco, saying things like, "I don't understand why blacks just can't get over [this]," or "work through [that]," or "still have an issue with [this]." We have to be comfortable and ready enough to hear why not.

Feelin' Blue: Peabody at Michigan Against the World makes me sad:
Memo to "Angry Michael:" You ARE LESS IMPORTANT!! See, when I got the thick packet from the U and you received a thin letter and an application to Dearborn, it basically said that DP's test scores and hard-work through high school earned him a spot at a top 25 school and afforded him the opportunity to participate in student activities. Your thin letter said "here, try getting into the glorified community college we've created, and if there's room, we'll let you drive 25 miles to watch us play football." Hey Angry Michael, I hate to crush your dreams, but if you tried to play football here? You couldn't. BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT A REAL STUDENT.
Regular readers know that I occasionally entertain the notion of enrolling in a U-M program just so eventually I can call myself a U-M alumnus. The minor problem with that is that I live in northeast Ohio, so it'd be a bit of a commute.

The one solution to that problem that I've come up with is enrolling in an online program, and the only U-M campus that offers such a thing is Dearborn.
So I'd have a degree that says "University of Michigan" on it, and I'd give to the University of Michigan Alumni Association, and I'd have an MBA that would be moderately helpful in church work. But the above confirms my one worry: the stigma that it still isn't a "real" U-M degree because I didn't go to Ann Arbor. Obviously, at least some AA students and alumni feel this way. Not surprisingly, Flint and Dearborn students feel differently on the matter.

Maybe at some point I'll wind up closer to Ann Arbor. There are both a UCC and a Congregational church there that are in the search process. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Pentecostal Mother's Day

Jan reflects on a fairly common dilemma that preachers face on Mother's Day:
Here's the thing: it's never felt as comfortable being the mom as it felt honoring the mom on the second Sunday in May. I go along with the whole thing because my kids and husband generously want to give me "my special day." But for lots and lots of people -- women who long to be moms, people with mean moms, people with moms who left, people whose moms died giving birth to them, moms of children who died, moms with children in the military, people with sick moms, and my own club: people with dead moms -- it's a virtual pain fest.
I myself was not overly aware of this side of Mother's Day until seminary when classmates shared how they experience the day, which was certainly not the stuff of Hallmark cards.

At one of my field placement churches, I was actually told to preach on Mother's Day because everyone else on staff hated doing it. They felt the congregational pressure to address it; they knew the true complexity of the day for some, and they didn't like dealing with it every year. So I dealt with it, choosing to reflect on how God can be like a parent--not specifically mother--to us. I aimed to give a message of assurance that God is in relationship with us even when our own parental relationships aren't what we'd like them to be, and then I said something about giving thanks for those who have been like parents to us, biological or no. Something like that. Afterwards, one little old lady pulled me aside and chastised me for using gender-neutral language for God. So for some, I didn't do any better than my colleagues would have.

For me, nearly every Mother's Day since and including that one, I've only alluded to Mother's Day rather than giving a full-out reflection on it: I tell a story, or I do some other small thing to acknowledge it or tie it in, and we always sing "A Christian Home." I say "nearly" because last year I was as direct about it as I've ever been, although the specifics are lost to me now. I do remember not feeling especially proud about it, though.

So this year, preachers have an extra special treat: they get Mother's Day and Pentecost on the same day. I didn't fully realize this until after I'd already come up with a decent theme for Pentecost: I'm going to contrast the sentiment that "church is boring" with some of the exciting things that churchpeople have done over the centuries: the Boston Tea Party, the Civil Rights movement, stuff like that. I was going to argue that exciting church isn't all about upbeat music or climbing walls or the pastor loading his sermons with jokes, but moreso about Spirit-filled people daring to go out on a limb to live out God's kingdom.

Yeah, I haven't quite figured out how to tie Mother's Day into that yet.

As I reflect just now, however, I'm seeing firsthand how much of a risk parenthood (inclusive language~!) is. It's something that for some is easy to minimize or discard or shy away from, but it takes some patience and strength to stick with. There's probably a tie-in between the kind of patience and strength that it takes to be a Christian and the kind that it takes to be a mother, or father, or parent, or guardian, or whatever. And neither of these things are boring, if we're open to the experience, the Spirit's call, or both. Maybe that's my link.

I have a couple more weeks to think about it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ethanol and the Poor

I'm not much of an environmentalist.

By that, I don't mean that I'm against environmental concerns. I'm simply not well-read on many of them and I probably don't do nearly enough to help with them. I recycle paper. I used to recycle other things as well, but that has fallen by the wayside.

I also need to say that I think there is a great theological basis for people of faith to pay attention to environmental issues. Psalm 8 speaks of humanity's dominion of the earth. I take that to mean that we've been entrusted with it, and we should take that seriously. Too often, Christians move the environment to the peripheries, if it's on their radar at all. And tragically, it's usually in the name of baptized consumerism or "being-politically-incorrect-just-because-I-can" that Christians dismiss these types of concerns. I've seen or heard these reasons the most.

It could also be laziness, to which I fess up. For me, that's a big part of it.

Anyway, like I said, part of it is also that I'm not as well-read on some of this stuff as I should be. I'm bothered, for instance, by the global warming discussion. I just began to seriously wrestle with this issue, and there's some indication that humans are less responsible for it than we think. But I have to keep reading up on that.

What I'm really bothered about at the moment, however, is this:

With prices for rice, wheat, and corn soaring, food-related unrest has broken out in places such as Haiti, Indonesia, and Afghanistan. Several countries have blocked the export of grain. There is even talk that governments could fall if they cannot bring food costs down.

One factor being blamed for the price hikes is the use of government subsidies to promote the use of corn for ethanol production. An estimated 30% of America’s corn crop now goes to fuel, not food.

“I don’t think anybody knows precisely how much ethanol contributes to the run-up in food prices, but the contribution is clearly substantial,” a professor of applied economics and law at the University of Minnesota, C. Ford Runge, said. A study by a Washington think tank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, indicated that between a quarter and a third of the recent hike in commodities prices is attributable to biofuels.

Last year, Mr. Runge and a colleague, Benjamin Senauer, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs, “How Biofuels Could Starve the Poor.”

“We were criticized for being alarmist at the time,” Mr. Runge said. “I think our views, looking back a year, were probably too conservative.”

Ethanol was initially promoted as a vehicle for America to cut back on foreign oil. In recent years, biofuels have also been touted as a way to fight climate change, but the food crisis does not augur well for ethanol’s prospects.

“It takes around 400 pounds of corn to make 25 gallons of ethanol,” Mr. Senauer, also an applied economics professor at Minnesota, said. “It’s not going to be a very good diet but that’s roughly enough to keep an adult person alive for a year.”

Like I said, I'm not much of an environmentalist. I need to read more. But I'm also not much for pitting competing justice causes (and, I'd argue, causes that God cares about) against each other. There's some of that going on here, but if I'm honest with myself and if this report is accurate, this seems like a no-brainer to me. It seems to me that this just makes ethanol out to be an inadequate option.

400 pounds of corn to make 25 gallons is not a good ratio to me. That's roughly 2.5 gas tanks based on the average car (read: not trucks, SUVs, minivans, etc.) That's also 400 pounds of corn that someone in the Third World isn't eating, and they're probably more concerned about that than driving a car to begin with (if they own one).

Like I said, I probably need to read more about this. But there are some serious ethical issues involved here, and I don't see ethanol on the winning end. Maybe others do.

If someone out there can make a good case for ethanol, let's hear it. Otherwise, I'm siding with the poor on this one.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still re-reading Gilead. The main character and I both enjoy empty sanctuaries. He talks about wandering to his church before dawn just to watch the room light up with the first rays of the sun. I prefer how it looks in the evening when the sun is setting myself. But maybe I've just never tried it at dawn before, and don't have any basis for comparison. That's really all I have to write about that this week.

We watched Hot Fuzz this week, from the same guys who brought us
Shaun of the Dead. Simon Pegg stars as an overachieving London police officer who is transferred to a sleepy country village after his superiors decide that he's showing up the rest of the station. He's incredibly frustrated by his new assignment: his colleagues are lazy and would rather look the other way, and the town in general has seemingly deluded itself into thinking that nothing bad ever happens there, even when it does. The film is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of cop action movies much the same way Scream was of horror movies: at one point after Pegg defeats a big henchman, his partner asks him, "Did you say something smart afterwards?" Fuzz features the same quick camera shots and seamless transitions as Shaun, which are one of my favorite things about their movies. It's funny, clever, a little gory, and has Timothy Dalton in it. Thumbs up.

We also watched The Number 23 this week, starring Jim Carrey as a dogcatcher who starts reading a detective novel that he swears mirrors his own life. The story he reads also causes him to develop an obsession with the number 23: adding the numbers of famous dates, numerical codes with letters and names, how many pairs of shoes his wife owns (yeah...seriously). The plot payoff and the 23 stuff is based on a ridiculous amount of coincidence and contrivance and required more of a suspension of disbelief than I was willing to give. Besides that, Carrey does better at dramatic roles that have a bit of goofiness built in (
Man on the Moon, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). It seemed like he couldn't avoid bringing some goofiness to this one, whether the part called for it or not. It didn't help that the movie as a whole was pretty goofy, besides.

We also watched Sweeney Todd this week (hooray for paternity leave), the adapted musical starring Johnny Depp as a barber looking for revenge on a judge for wrongfully imprisoning him and trying to steal his family. This is a Tim Burton film, and that's easy enough to tell: dark, twisted characters set against dull grey backdrops. The music is by Stephen Sondheim, who is fully capable of setting a macabre mood of his own, even without Burton's help. Besides all that, we get Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Sacha Baron Cohen rounding out the cast, so we end up with this perfect storm of dreary, bloody, melodic insanity culminating in a message that revenge doesn't tend to work out for the best for anybody.

So this past week on Monday Night RAW, the WWE somehow managed to have all three presidential hopefuls send in taped messages for the fans, encouraging them to vote and somewhat awkwardly tying it into wrestling. We had Hillary ask everyone to call her "Hill-Rod" and assure Randy Orton that she wouldn't come after him for his title yet. We had Obama ask if you smell what Barack is cookin'. We had McCain say something about sending The Undertaker to Iraq to find bin Laden (once he gets to Iraq, he could start by looking in Pakistan). And then we had a fake Hillary wrestle a fake Obama, the very thought of which was so torturous that I left the room. It was a nice gesture for all three to address the fans, as the WWE has encouraged voter registration for years. But whenever they go for the impersonator-comedy stuff, it pretty much tends to suck.

A few weeks ago, I picked up Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City Music Hall. I tend to stay away from full DMB live discs, and there have been a rash of them the past few years...what I'd really like is a new studio album. Don't get me wrong, live Dave is awesome and is his and the band's real M.O. (an M.O. we are scheduled to enjoy in late July). Anyway, I particularly love Dave's stuff with just Reynolds, where he plays stripped-down acoustic versions of his songs. Radio City is another fine outing from them, and this one includes "The Maker," one of my favorite covers.

Around the web, here's an amazing essay from RealLivePreacher about death and love.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Small Sips: Stupid Church Signs, "Gentlemen's Agreements," Paternity Leave, Da Bard

"Small Sips" is a new POC flavor where I run down a few different stories or topics in fairly quick succession.

More on the morons:
According to the pastor who put up the wonderful, loving, certainly-not-false-witness-bearing message, "Obama, Osama, Hummm, Are They Brothers?", he "just wanted to get people thinking." The problem is that he clearly wants people to think a certain thing, and we're way past that thing getting played out. So Obama kind of sounds like Osama, and that must mean that Obama is an evil Muslim terrorist. This pastor is, however, able to take this stupid notion to the next level by asking whether they're brothers. Obama is Barack's last name. Osama is bin Laden's first name.

Obviously, this guy didn't get the memo that suggesting Obama is a Muslim is so two months ago. Most people have moved on to accepting that he's a Christian, but suggesting that he isn't the right kind of Christian. Come on man, try to keep up.

As perhaps readers have guessed based on my past few entries, I'm greatly souring at this whole election cycle.

Update: the church was told by the denomination to take it down.

No Gentlemen in Columbus: I'm a little late to this party, but since I'm already all bent out of shape this morning, why not? A few months ago, Purdue football coach Joe Tiller got all upset after one of his recruits, Roy Roundtree, decided at the last minute to go to Michigan instead. Tiller called Rich Rodriguez a "snake-oil salesman" and stated that there's a "gentleman's agreement" among Big Ten coaches not to go after each others' recruits after they've committed. Well, of course someone had to ask Ohio State coach Jim Tressel about this, specifically whether there really is a "gentleman's agreement" in the Big Ten, to which he responded, "I guess only between gentlemen." And then OSU fans were all like, "OMG he slammed teh RichRod~! Woooo!!1!1"

There's just one problem with that:

Last December, Melvin Fellows orally committed to play football for Illinois, declared his decision final and said, "This is the end of the process for me."

According to a vague, unwritten Big Ten code of conduct, at that point Fellows was off limits to other league coaches. That's how it is supposed to work, at least -- once a kid commits, back off.

Far from backing off, though, Ohio State came after him hard. Just weeks after his Illinois commitment, the Buckeyes offered Fellows a scholarship. And on Saturday, the big defensive end from Garfield Heights will stand on the Ohio Stadium sidelines, watching the Buckeyes' spring game instead of the Illini's game, as he had originally planned.

The high school junior once was rock-solid in the Illini camp, but he now says, "I'm pretty up on Ohio State. I like Ohio State."

So, when Tressel says, "only among gentlemen," I wonder who he's talking about.

Adventures in Paternity: So I'm into my second week of paternity leave, and I thought I'd let you know how it's going. Coffeewife and I take night feedings/changings/prayer vigils that he'll go back to sleep in shifts. She more or less handles 11 to 3, and then I take 3 to 7. Coffeeson is fed both au naturale and with formula, so it's easy for us to do this. Honestly, he's pretty good. Coffeewife feeds him around midnight or 1, and then he's good until sometime between 3 and 4. As such, I've caught some early morning Comedy Central Presents and ESPN highlights, and way more Girls Gone Wild commercials than I'd care to count. For the most part, though, he sleeps pretty well through the night, comparatively speaking.

There's been a bit of a downside to the paternity leave experience. First off, there's this weird aura that tends to surround my time off. This past week marked my fourth vacation/leave time during which a church member has died. She was one of the saints, so I had no issue with stepping in to officiate. I've actually been approached by several people making sure that I'm going to make up this time. I was planning on doing that anyway, but it was great to hear them bring it up first.

Happy Birthday, Bill: Tomorrow is William Shakespeare's birthday, and Coffeeson's projected due date. So in honor of The Bard, here's my favorite of his sonnets, number 112:

Your love and pity doth the impression fill
Which vulgar scandal stamp'd upon my brow;
For what care I who calls me well or ill,
So you o'er-green my bad, my good allow?
You are my all the world, and I must strive
To know my shames and praises from your tongue:
None else to me, nor I to none alive,
That my steel'd sense or changes right or wrong.
In so profound abysm I throw all care
Of others' voices, that my adder's sense
To critic and to flatterer stopped are.
Mark how with my neglect I do dispense:
You are so strongly in my purpose bred
That all the world besides methinks are dead.

Monday, April 21, 2008

People Who Obviously Weren't Very Patriotic

George Washington

Benjamin Franklin

Abraham Lincoln

Thomas Jefferson

Theodore Roosevelt


If they really were patriotic, they'd be wearing little American flag lapel pins.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

As I've mentioned, I've been re-reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I think that when I first read this book, I didn't fully appreciate the narrator's personal musings on everyday, seemingly mundane experiences. For example, he mentions watching a couple walking under a tree after a rain, and the man grabbing a branch and dousing them both with the water from the leaves. The narrator ties this into baptism, and how water is for blessing before it is for gardening or washing clothes. He muses about a facial expression that his son makes, or some activity that they share, and he's able to find the joy and mystery of those types of things and give thanks for them. I really like that.

We watched Ghost Hunters, as we usually do, and this week found them at a resort in New Hampshire to investigate employees' accounts of noises and sightings. In particular, they investigated the "queen's room," which is supposedly still occupied by "the queen" (I may have that term wrong...maybe it's princess...I dunno). When rooting through their collected recordings, the team catches footsteps and a woman's voice ("the queen?") actually responding to the investigators' questions. This was a good one. They aren't all good. But this one was good.

The past two nights I got to first watch the Tigers smack down the Indians, and then the Indians smack down the Tigers. It was a little ridiculous. In his past starts, it could be argued that Verlander wasn't getting run support to complement his decent to good pitching. Last night, however, it was pretty clear that he didn't know where the strike zone was. And as if that wasn't enough, he beaned Jason Michaels after giving up a Ryan Garko home run, which seemed to be intentional. So of course Carmona gets up there and hits both Santiago and Sheffield (Sheffield, by the way, gave him a look afterwards that seemed to say, "I could very well destroy your face right now, but I choose not's your ball back"). So in the Unwritten Code of Ballplayers, everything is square now, right? Apparently Bobby Seay didn't think so, as he comes in and beans another Cleveland player. This is gonna be a long year between these two teams.

Around the web, check out Stuff White People Like. This is a satirical look at "white culture," although one may find that in particular it tends to satirize the young middle class proto-liberal hipster wing of "white culture." It took me a bit to make up my mind about this, but after scrolling down and reading the entry on dinner parties, I was convinced. A fun read if you "get it."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Own Gilead, Part 2

According to one study, the average stay for the average pastor in one church is 7.5 years. That's actually longer and more optimistic than some other studies I've read, which put the average around 5.5 or less.

By the time I graduated high school, I'd lived in five different communities, the longest stay being 5.5 years. One doesn't exactly learn patience or how to take deep root with that kind of life. In fact, my current 3.5-year stay where I am is a pretty average length of time. So if I was to pattern my ministry after what I've experienced, I'm probably about due to start searching for my next gig, give or take another year.

The fortunate side to this is that in contrast to my father's life as a full-time pastor, my own ministry thus far does not feature congregational backbiting, betrayal by friends, anonymous threats, and the demand to put church ahead of family. My church is wonderful for doing none of those things, so I currently have a very good chance of getting to 7.5 or longer, rather than scraping and clawing to 5.5 and moving on.

Besides that, if I actually packed myself up every five years, do you know how many churches I'd serve at the end of a 40-year career? Too damn many, that's how many. In other professions, you can change jobs while staying within the same company and even the same building and thus don't necessarily need to move to a new community each time. Mainline pastors can't do that. They typically need to find out where the open churches of their denomination are, and go there. Doing this would bring way too many transitions for my family, way too many school districts for my son, and way too many "fresh starts" for me as a pastor. And never enough time to do much of anything in any one church. Good ministry is partially about longevity, and so is a healthy home situation as far as I'm concerned.

Will I be in my current church forever? Probably not, if I'm honest. However, the timing of leaving and the amount of time that I've spent here will partially determine how successful or worthwhile our work has been together. I don't necessarily need to set some sort of goal for how long to stay. But I think it's a worthwhile goal for every pastor to pursue more years at fewer churches over the span of a career, unless you're an intentional interim or are single with no kids. For these two groups, it is either the nature of your call or simply easier to uproot yourself.

I'm not into the "mercenary pastor" style of ministry. I'd make a terrible Methodist. I understand the arguments against staying too long (and "too long" is in the eye of the beholder). But if I can look back over my Pastoral Record book and count the number of churches that I've served on one hand, then I'll be satisfied that I tried my best at stability. For me, for the Coffeefamily, and for any and all churches that I end up serving, that'll be the most important thing for all of us.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Own Gilead, Part 1

Almost two years ago now, I read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If you aren't familiar with this book, it is a novel told from the point of view of an old pastor, John Ames. John is reaching the end of his life, yet with a younger wife and 7-year-old son, and the book is meant to be a series of thoughts that John is writing for his son to read when he is older. They are thoughts that range from his own experiences growing up to some theological musings to his love for the church to his jealousy of another man he perceives moving in on his wife to regret that he feels caring for his church at the expense of his family.

I'd originally wanted to make it a point to reread this book every year as a sort of testament to how much I enjoyed it the first time and as a way to pick up on things that I'd missed. I never did get around to doing this in 2007, although I did remember to take it with me to General Synod so that I could get Robinson to sign it.

Just today, in between bidding farewell to visiting in-laws, diaper changes, and other errands, I finally began my second journey through Gilead. I can think of no better time to have done this than during my paternity leave, even at times with my own son cradled in one arm while flipping pages with the other.

I've given much thought to this whole business of fatherhood over the past nine months. There's been the standard, "What will I teach him/how will I discipline him/etc." sort of stuff, but moreso I've been thinking about my own experiences growing up as a preacher's kid and what I may be able to do for Coffeeson to help avoid some of the rougher features of this dubious distinction. That's what this post and maybe one or two more are going to be...talking out some of those rougher features, not necessarily to solve anything, but at least to put them out there for my and others' reactions.

One thing that I've wondered about is how PKs are received in different communities. Is there a difference, for instance, between how a preacher's kid is seen in a smaller town or rural area as opposed to a larger area? I recently asked Coffeewife, who graduated high school with over 800 people, whether she knew who the PKs were in her school. She answered that she was aware of them, but it seemed to have little bearing on how they were treated or viewed by their peers. When your high school is the size of a small college, anonymity can be a perk in that regard.

For me in my rural elementary school, I wasn't a preacher's kid. I was THE preacher's kid. My classmates knew it. My teachers knew it. And while it only elicited an occasional comment from schoolmates (and one from my art teacher--who was an ass, anyway--in front of the whole class), there was a certain stigma that seemed to follow me around. It may have been easier to escape in a larger school, but I was the anomaly in a building full of kids whose parents were farmers, dentists, and any other number of "normal" profession. But a kid whose father is a pastor...that's just weird, man. Are you, like, really nice or something?

By the time I'd entered high school, we'd moved to another district and my father had become a librarian. We moved out of a rural area into a small town, the basic difference being the community's more rabid Varsity Blues-ish dedication to school sports. I did know of one or two PKs, but they didn't seem to endure any grief. Maybe it was the crowd they ran with or that this particular community didn't care as much.

Anyway, all this is to wonder how Coffeeson will be received by his peers, and maybe even where we'll be by the time he begins to interact with them. I pastor a church in a close-knit, small town/rural community. I leave the future open as to where we'll be by the time he's ready to begin school, but certainly he'll be THE preacher's kid in his class in this place. Whatever I can do to help him avoid experiencing all the "aren't you supposed to be really nice?" stuff without him having to resort to overt rebellion as a felt need to prove a point, I want to do it.

Of course, I don't really worry about how he'll be received just on any kind of level where he's judged by what his dad does...I just worry about it in general. For some, being a PK is a sticky point...for others, not so much. Maybe he won't have to deal with that. Maybe he'll click with a good circle of buddies right away and this won't even be a factor. I hope that it isn't.

And that whole "leaving the future open as to where we'll be" thing? Yeah, I'll get to that one next time.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I Promise POC Won't Turn Into a "Baby Blog"

So being a dad is awesome. There. I said it. We began the final stage of our pregnancy journey about 3:00 on Thursday morning, and it was certainly not the mad rush that I was expecting. Coffeewife's contractions were becoming unbearable, which eventually ruled out a natural birth for her. Looking back, if she'd elected to stay on the natural route, she'd have been cramping, contorting, and vomiting for around 15 hours. I left her in severe pain when they did the epidural, and came back to her all curled up under the sheets in bed, as peaceful a look on her face as I'd ever seen.

The actual childbirth part lasted only a little over an hour. Again, she did very well, and we had a wonderfully encouraging midwife and nurse overseeing everything.
And then Coffeeson appeared. There wasn't a baby, and then suddenly there was. And he was ours. And he was cold and cranky. All 8 pounds, 3 ounces of him was writhing, craving the warmth he'd just left. All four grandparents met him that first day, and Coffeewife and I made an endless amount of calls and e-mails to other family and friends. The joy and relief outweighed the fact that we'd both been up for 12+ hours straight (I still came home and crashed, of course).

Now we're home, and I'm just at the start of two weeks' paternity leave. Judging from a brief blogsearch, I think I might be getting shafted a little in this area: some jobs give a month, six weeks, two months, six months. That's not a commentary on my own church, though. These are the guidelines set out by the Conference, so I imagine they're fairly universal in application.

Besides that minor irritation, we've gone two nights now experiencing being new parents. So far, I think we've been very fortunate. First off, besides needing to be fed or changed, Coffeeson doesn't want to sleep unless he's all curled up in a secure-feeling location. Big open Pack and Play? No. His parents' arms? Oh yeah. Lights out. So the first night, we actually took turns holding him so that he'd sleep. Last night, I got the bright idea of placing him in the car seat (one of the tightest, secure-feeling places for him), and was able to get 2-3 hours of uninterrupted slumber.

And yeah, Coffeeson eats and sleeps. A lot. I guess it doesn't take long for the personality to develop; for him to smile at something other than his own farts (babies sure are freaking gassy creatures) and to take more notice of the world around him. I'll look forward to those days, but I'm not especially in a hurry. He's here, and we're happy and feeling blessed. And that's enough.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Moving Meme

HT to Nachfolge. Further thoughts on fatherhood eventually.

1. How many times have you moved? When was the last time?
9 times, not counting to and from college each year. The last time was in November 2004 when we moved from our freaking sweet St. Louis apartment into the parsonage of my current church.

2. What do you love and hate about moving? I love nothing about moving. I have more stuff than I think I do, I don't have enough boxes, I put too much into one box and can't lift it or I waste space in another box, the house begins to feel like an empty shell as things are carted out and if I still have to live there in that state for a while longer, there's a certain melancholy that hangs over everything. In conclusion, moving has been, is, and always will be a pain in the ass. If I could name anything about the moving experience that I do love, it'd probably be the excitement of moving into a new place. Unless that place sucks. And a few places I've moved to have sucked.

3. Do you do it yourself or hire movers? I've only had movers once, and that was because my church paid for them to bring me here. It was fantastic. A couple people came in the day before and boxed everything up, and then it was loaded on the truck. It was easily the least stressful move I've ever been a part of.

4. Advice for surviving and thriving during a move? Hire movers. If you don't or can't, then start packing early, do it a little bit at a time, and don't sweat it too much. And if you have to remain in your old place for a time even after most of your stuff is in your new place, try to get out as much as possible so that empty shell feeling doesn't drag you down too much.

5. Are you in the middle of any inner moves, if not outer ones? I'm a father. So everything associated with that is my inner move at the moment. More on that another day. And because of that big inner move, I don't dare attempt many outer moves at the moment.

Bonus: Share a piece of music/poetry/film/book that expresses something about what moving means to you. The only thing that comes to mind at the moment is the movie Cheaper By the Dozen. It sounds a little corny at first, but I think the combination of the parents attempting to follow their big dreams while their kids try to make the adjustment to a stark new beginning is speaking to me right now.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Blog Babies

If you scroll through the blogs on my sidebar, it seems that we have a baby boom going on.

Katherine just had one.

Lutheran Husker just had one.

LutherPunk just had one.

Bob is expecting.

Scott is expecting.

As for us? Well, we're fairly certain that we're in the early labor stage.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

This Isn't Right

This past week, the first week of the regular baseball season, the Tigers were swept by the Royals.

The Tigers. Were swept. By the Royals.

The Tigers. Were swept. By the


Now, let's face it. Over the past 2-3 years, the Royals have been slowly climbing out of the basement of futility. They've got a few solid hitters and pitchers who have found their form lately and have been trying to build something around them. This actually has little to do with the Royals at all.
No, wait. It has a little to do with them:
"In spring training this year, we had the will to get better -- a conscious effort to play the right way," catcher John Buck said. "It's carried over now against Verlander. If you can continue to have good at-bats against him, you can tire him out."
I'm not about to analyze whether the Royals are in Verlander's head. I hope not. I do think that there's a mental problem here, which I'll address in a second. But what I really want to focus on is Buck's first line, where he talks about "the will to get better" and "a conscious effort to play the right way." You know who that sounds like? The Tigers circa 2006. Remember them? They went to the World Series that year. Even after their season was spoiled by the...crap...Royals. That year, the Royals were terrible. And up until their last six games against each other, the Tigers owned them. But up until their collapse at the end of that season, the Tigers were the ones willing themselves to get better and making conscious efforts to play the right way. And doing that saw them in 1st in the Central for most of the season, it helped them dominate the first two rounds of the postseason. This season so far, it's a different story:
"You look good if you've got your concentration level where it's supposed to be and your relaxation level where it's supposed to be," Leyland said. "I think those are the two most important ingredients in playing the game.

"We don't look like we're relaxed, and we don't look like we're concentrating very good. And that goes back to me. That's just the way it is."

I'm sure that Leyland will help get these guys focused. I'm not going to declare that the sky is falling after the first week. But look at what Leyland mentions here and elsewhere in the article: mental issues. Not being tough enough, not being relaxed enough, lazy at-bats, lack of concentration. Not many signs of the will to get better and play the right way.

And yesterday, WGN showed their game against the White Sox. Today their game is on Fox. Tomorrow night their game is on ESPN. I watched the game yesterday until it seemed certain that Jenks was going to keep them from rallying and getting that first win. So they still haven't won in 2008, not with crappy pitching and not with half-hearted batting. The bats, at least, showed the most life that we've seen so far. That's good until one realizes that one of the Tigers' stars yesterday was Clete Thomas, a AA guy who was only out there because Curtis Granderson is hurt. It wasn't Pudge or Ordonez or Cabrera (although Cabrera's starting to wake up) was some guy named Clete.

You know, I resisted making this comparison, but I think I'll at least throw it out there. The Tigers, with their high payroll full of blockbuster offseason trades, mediocre pitching, and lineup that should be the second coming of Murderer's know who that reminds me of?

The New York Yankees. Excuse me while I throw up in my mouth.

Okay, I'm back. Yeah, those damn Yankees. The Yankees who go out and buy themselves a team every year and just assume that they'll go win it all. The Yankees who despite that philosophy actually haven't won anything since 2000. I didn't want to make that comparison, but when the Tigers picked up Renteria, and then Cabrera and Willis, and then Jacque started to smell to me more and more like we were buying a team. And that worried me, because the other team I know who does this has only gotten so far with it. But at least they've won a game or two.

The Yankees have the confidence to do that, probably because they just look down at their uniforms and say, "Oh yeah, we're the Yankees." For some reason, the Tigers are having a mental block so far and haven't found their own swagger.

It's still only the first week in April, so to declare the season over would be overdramatic. But Detroit needs a bullpen. They need some relaxed starters. They need relaxed, confident, aggressive "Oh yeah, we're the Tigers"-type hitting.

They should probably keep Clete, too.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Jesus for President this past week, and I don't have much to add from last week. I will mention that people wanting to lump Shane Claiborne in with the emerging church movement are greatly mistaken. This book makes the case for Christianity functioning best as a radical counter-cultural movement. He tells multiple stories about what loving your enemies really looks like, including a few about his and others' experiences in inner-city Philadelphia with muggers and bullies. He makes frequent references to people who want to make Christianity relevant (a hallmark of emerging/emergent philosophy) and argues that they have it all wrong; that instead, when Christians move on the margins and live out among the poor, the outcast, and serve them as disciples, they are truly being what Jesus wants them to be. Claiborne isn't interested in relevance in the sense that he wants to make church forms and theology credible for postmoderns. He's interested in relevance between Jesus' preaching of God's kingdom and what living it out really looks like.

Non-wrestling fans, skip. We ordered Wrestlemania XXIV this past Sunday, and for costing an extra $15, it was worth it. I was a little surprised and miffed that Orton kept the WWE Title (I wanted HHH to win), but plenty of the other stuff made up for it. Shawn Michaels retired Ric Flair in a match that communicated a lot of emotion and saw Michaels moonsault himself through a table. We thought he was legitimately hurt, as it looked like he landed on the corner with his ribs. The Money in the Bank ladder match also featured plenty of "holy crap, is he dead?" kinds of moments. Undertaker and Edge closed out the show with a great match, with Taker keeping his WM perfect win streak intact. The Floyd Mayweather/Big Show match definitely wasn't great. I didn't really care much about it beforehand, and I didn't care during or after either. But all in all, a solid show.

I caught a movie on HBO this week called Idiocracy, starring Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph as two subjects of an Army sleep experiment who end up sleeping for 500 years. When they wake up, they find that somehow the world is completely populated by morons. Crowds are easily riled up and manipulated by someone yelling or by explosions, a Gatorade-type corporation has taken over the FDA and heavily influenced what people eat, Wilson's character takes an aptitude test that includes questions such as, "If you have one bucket that holds two gallons, and another bucket that holds five gallons, how many buckets do you have?" We also find that Costco has become as big as a city and that most chain restaurants now feature prostitution. Anyway, because of Wilson's high score on the aptitude test (he becomes known as the smartest person in the world), he's whisked off to serve on the President's Cabinet to help them solve the country's problems, among them being a lack of crops due to them being irrigated with the Gatorade-type stuff. This future world is excessive, violent, overtaken by a handful of corporations, and the population has become so incredibly lazy that they're unable to consider what's really happening.
I'm still trying to figure out whether this movie was stupid or brilliant. Or maybe it had to be stupid to be brilliant.

I recently picked up From the Corner to the Block by Galactic, which illustrates a slight shift in their musical philosophy. Lead singer Theryl deClouet has departed, and the band draws in quite a number of guest vocalists and musicians, most of whom are rappers, to create what I've read elsewhere is close to a classic hip-hop sound. The only guest rapper I recognize is Chali 2na from Jurassic 5, but familiarity doesn't really matter as the entire album delivers. The band retains its New Orleans funk sound, and the rap vocals provide a nice compliment for their style.

Around the web, a blog called Emergingrural found the article that I wrote called The Emerging Church in Rural Ohio. Why there seems to have never been a blog dedicated to this part of the "conversation" until five days ago is beyond me, but a quick trip through some other blogs shows that it seems to have started something. I have to say that I'm glad to have been a part of that.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

"Why is THAT blog on your sidebar?"

Shortly after I started the United Church of Christ Blog Network, I received a request from one member to remove her blog from the list. I didn't need to ask why, as she made her reasons very clear. Her chief reason had to do with the inclusion of a certain other UCC-related blog with which she had strong disagreements. She stated that she did not want to be associated with this other blog, and thus wanted to remove her membership.

It probably isn't tremendously difficult to guess which blog she was talking about. In fact, it is listed on my sidebar as well. And I've occasionally fielded questions from visitors as to why I include it. Others, as noted back during the UCC Commercial Leak That Wasn't A Leak, seemed to want to associate my blog more closely with it; wanted to make my blog part of the Unloving Critic Conspiracy and so on. Well, the reason for my continued inclusion of this blog, as with any other blog on my list, is not necessarily that I'm in lock-step with everything that he writes.

It's because he makes me think.

Let's be honest. There are plenty of blogs that only link to other blogs with which they completely agree. I visit plenty of "liberal" Christian blogs that list blogs all with titles like "A Liberal Christian Blog," "Christian Liberals Unite," "United Christian Liberals," "Christian Liberals for Christian Liberalism," "Liberals Who Are Christian Being Liberal Christians Together," and so on. Same for "conservative" blogs. It ends up just being like that icebreaker activity where you stand in a circle and massage each others' shoulders (I had a well-known, much more crude phrase in mind to describe this, but I figured I'd let that go).

Now, while there are plenty of blogs on my sidebar with which I basically am in complete agreement, the larger issue for me has been whether a blog is able to engage me, make me think, keep me honest.

I visit UCCTruths because it causes me to think about criticisms of the national office and truly wrestle with them. I even share some of their opinions (SCANDAL~!).

Internet Monk and Verum Serum are more "conservative" theologically and/or politically, but they help me understand a different perspective.

Letters from Kamp Krusty, Scott Williams, The Dying Church, and The Parish are all quite critical of the Institutional Church Machine, and help keep me from becoming too comfortable or complacent in my role. I share some of their opinions, too. Plus Letters from Kamp Krusty is just hilarious.

I get my fill of moderate/liberal politics and theology from most other blogs listed. I read plenty about the emerging church conversation. I keep up with Michigan sports. I enjoy visits to other mainline pastoral colleagues, UCC and otherwise. I've found a few college friends. They all make me think or engage me or entertain me as well.

But sometimes the big circle massage isn't enough. My mind doesn't get stretched by only reading those blogs. And somehow, whether it was their humor or presentation, whether they hooked me by getting me to wrestle with a side of an issue that I hadn't seen before, or whether I even agree with them, that's why I include "other" blogs. And I don't even consider them "other."

That's why my bloglist is what it is. Each of these hooked me in some way.

And if you don't like some of them, you're free not to read them.