Take Time for the Meme

1) Your work day is done and the brain is fried, what do you do?  Lately it's involved a glass of wine, plopping on the couch, and vegging out to whatever Coffeewife has turned the channel to.  Or, like this past week, if she isn't really paying attention I've switched it over to the World Series.  All of this also takes place after Coffeeson goes to sleep, too.

2) Your work week is done and the brain is fried (for some Friday, others Sunday afternoon), what do you do?  Sunday afternoons usually feature Chipotle for lunch.  It is my great meal of culmination...unless Coffeewife is working that day, in which case I need to wait until Monday.  Then lately I've been switching on whatever football game is on, though usually I don't care about the outcome...I just like the sight of well-executed plays, which I more than likely didn't watch the day before.  But if the Lions are playing I'm not seeing that anyway.  I'm also half-paying attention to the game because I'm also playing around with Coffeeson.  The day eventually ends with Entourage on HBO.

3) Like most of us, I often keep myself busy even while programs are on the tv. I stop to watch The Office and 30 Rock on Thursday nights. Do you have 'stop everything' tv programming or books or events or projects that are totally 'for you' moments?  I enjoy empty church sanctuaries.  I pray, I rant and rave, I journal, I sit in silence...I can cover two or three of these in one sitting.  My monthly visits to the local emergent cohort could be considered a "just for me" moment as well, though I can't make it as regularly as I'd like.

4) When was the last time you laughed, really laughed? What was so funny?  Just the other day, when I watched this video.

5) What is a fairly common item that some people are willing to go cheap on, but you are not.  Coffee, baby.  Fair trade, wonderfully ground and prepared coffee.  Preferably dark roast.  Aw yeah.

Bonus: It's become trite but is also true that we often benefit the most when we give. Go ahead, toot your own horn. When was the last time you gave until it felt good?  I haven't exactly excelled in this area lately.  Or I can't remember.  But probably the first one.

Happy Reformation Day

Pop Culture Roundup

It's a special Thursday edition.

We watched Iron Man this past week.  I'd always known of Iron Man the superhero, but for me he wasn't on par with many of the other popular characters who've been made into one or more movies.  I just wasn't as into him.  That said, this was an excellent introduction and overall movie.  Robert Downey Jr. stars as Tony Stark, a free-wheeling egotistical technical genius who runs a weapons manufacturing company.  After experiencing being held hostage and seeing his own weapons in use, he has a change of heart about his lifestyle and purpose, eventually creating his Iron Man suit.  I don't want to give away too much of the plot otherwise, but again this was a solid intro that certainly left the door open for sequels, and that presented excellent discussion on the purposes and morality of war and defense.

As it turns out on Entourage, Ari decided not to take the studio head position in a twist that I think is good for the series.  Giving him such a position would have been too easy, and they went a much more creative way in bringing back the former #2 for the studio to take it instead.  So Vince still gets the movie he wants, but in a way that keeps Ari as his agent.  In addition, Jamie-Lynn Sigler had a cameo that 1) combined my two favorite HBO shows and 2) reminded me how great Sunday evenings used to be TV-wise.

On a related note, we've both decided that we don't really like True Blood.  I personally haven't been able to connect with or care about any of the characters.

On yet another TV-related note, tomorrow evening is the live edition of Ghost Hunters that they've done the past few Halloweens.  This time they're going to Fort Delaware, a prison used during the Civil War.  Instead of having an ECW wrestler along this time, however, they'll have Amanda Tapping from Stargate.  Meh.  Coffeewife and I always enjoy these, even though it never seems like anything happens.

And when it's getting so close to Halloween, you gotta watch The Great Pumpkin.  It was on TV on Tuesday, but I had a meeting that ran long.  So I got home just in time to watch Lucy wander out to the pumpkin patch and put her brother to bed.  This was immediately followed by a second Charlie Brown special where Linus runs for student body president, which was okay for what it was.  So I have yet to sit down and watch the second-greatest Peanuts cartoon ever created.  I plan on doing that tonight.

I've continued to enjoy Radiohead this week, as well as some Morphine.  

Around the web, in case you were looking for the t-shirt a few entries down, you can find it here.

The Community at Worship

This Sunday is All Saints Sunday.

It is also a communion Sunday.

We also have a baptism.

This means that my sermon only needs to be maybe 3 minutes long.

I'm sure that there will be a very mixed reaction to how this service will go. At some point, I may face the question of why the baptism was scheduled for this day. Or perhaps people would prefer to look at the baby instead of listen to me talk for 15 minutes.

What might be right for you may not be right for some. Apologies to the Facts of Life, but that's the nature of worship. On any given day, a service can be a wonderful epiphany-producing moment for one person, but it may have been the most awful, target-missing experience for the person in the next pew.

I'm tying it all together on Sunday by talking about how baptism, communion and All Saints are all meant to happen in community.

Some of the community may like it. Some may wonder why so much has to happen in one day.

What might be right for one, may not be right for others.

And when it comes down to it, whaddaya gonna do?

But wait, there's more...

With less than two weeks to go before the election, Focus on the Family has to get in a few fear-mongering parting shots to get people to vote against Obama. So they concocted this Letter from 2012, which chronicles all the horrible things that an Obama presidency will bring, based on the reading of "established trends." These include:

- The Supreme court leans liberal, 6 to 3.
- Terrorist attacks have occurred in 4 US cities.
- Christian doctors, nurses, counselors, and teachers have either been fired or quit.
- Iran perpetrated a nuclear attack on Israel, drastically reducing the size of its borders.
- Pornography is freely displayed.
- Inner city violent crime has dramatically increased due to gun control.
- Russia has occupied 4 additional countries.
- Gas tops $7 a gallon.
- Euthanasia becomes commonplace.
- Blackouts occur throughout the country.
- Homosexual marriage becomes law in all 50 states.
- Campus ministries, Christian adoption agencies and Christian schools nearly cease to exist.
- Home school families emigrate to Australia and New Zealand by the thousands.
- Bush officials are jailed and bankrupt.
- Taliban oppression overtakes Iraq and death of American sympathizers reaches millions.
- Homosexuals are given a bonus to enlist in the military.

Here's the thing for me...I get the objections to Obama based on the actual issues.  I get the concerns about governmental control of various programs.  In fact, it's caused me to take a step back and evaluate not only my vote but also my views on the government's role in general.  I've been meaning to write a theological treatment on governmental assistance for the poor for a while now, actually (which would still come down in favor of it).  Maybe in between Coffeeson naps and church responsibilities I'll get around to thinking about starting it before Christmas.

That's not to say that I'm going to run out and vote for McCain.  I might've considered voting for the McCain of 4 or 8 years ago, but not this one.  And Sarah Palin "sealed the deal" for me.

But I get the objections to Obama based on the issues.  But this irrational, fear-based, guilt-by-association "OMG he's a secret Muslim terrorist" character-attack crap almost makes me want to vote for him just to spite the perpetrators; to be as unreasonable as they're being.

So here's to November 4th...not because it'll signal the end of something or the beginning of something else or whatever, but so we can get back down to normal levels of Christian politicking and lobbying and "base-mobilizing" and tantrum-throwing instead of the heightened absurdity that we're subjected to every four years.

I'm Coffeepastor and I approved this message.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've finished the third Sandman book, Dream Country, and have moved right on to the fourth, Season of Mists.  I haven't made it too far, but as I recall this is the volume where Lucifer gives Hell to Morpheus in some kind of elaborate way to screw him over.  I don't remember the specifics.  I guess I'll just have to read.

Entourage saw Ari being offered a studio head position after the former boss had a heart attack.  This was the same studio head who had blackballed Vince a few seasons ago...coincidentally.  I think I'm too hard on this show sometimes.  Anyway, Ari isn't sure that he wants it until he gets caught up in a demanding moment at his office (including Jeffrey Tambor in a hilarious cameo).  The episode ends with Ari telling Vince about the offer, and Vince being unsure of where that leaves him.  The development with Ari is one of those major things where I wonder how much further the show can go.  If Ari gets this job, he can put Vince in whatever movie he wants.  So what sort of conflict will there be at that point?

During the last scene of Entourage, they used a song that I recognized but couldn't quite place.  It was about 3:00 in the morning while rocking Coffeeson that I thought, "That sounded like Radiohead."  Sure enough, it was "Fake Plastic Trees" off of The Bends.  So the next morning I pulled the CD off the shelf and gave it a complete listen.  I'm very much a late-blooming appreciator of Radiohead...this album came out in 1995, for crying out loud.  The only other album I own is OK Computer, and it's never been in particularly heavy rotation.  Well, I've been giving both some time this week.  OK Computer is an acquired taste, but The Bends is more of a straightforward rock album.  Not that I don't enjoy OK Computer...it just may not be "commercial" enough for some listeners.

We got the new Family Guy DVDs this week, and I've had this stuck in my head the past few days:

Around the web, I've been visiting FactCheck.org a lot the past month or more.

My Most Ridiculous Wedding Experience Ever

Let me tell you about the wedding I officiated this weekend.  I'm calling it My Most Ridiculous Wedding Experience Ever.  And while I'm only 4 1/2 years into my ministry career, it'll be hard to top.

Right, so I've been meeting with this couple off and on over the past few months.  It was the groom's second marriage, the bride's first.  They've been together for 10 years or so already, and they have a 6-year-old son together.  But they wanted to formalize things.  And to that end, the bride.  Took.  Charge.

My first clue as to how this past weekend would go came during one consultation session when she basically took the UCC Book of Worship ceremony, metaphorically ripped it to shreds, and then finally said, "I'll send you copies of what I want read."  Other than my homily and one prayer, I basically had the entire liturgy handed to me.  I wasn't put off by it, really.  I made some suggestions about placement of the various pieces and explained why certain elements are usually included.  Besides that, I was okay with them (her) choosing words meaningful to the couple (her).

Fast forward to the rehearsal on Friday evening, which was scheduled for 5:00.  I sat in my office and heard various family and wedding party members trickle in, so I wandered out to greet them.  After a few minutes, the maid of honor's cellphone rings.  It's the bride saying that she and the groom are caught up in some last-minute details and will be about an hour late.



Not that it was time wasted.  I finished up my confirmation lesson, I tooled around on Facebook, I tweaked my sermon.  But it sure was a good thing that I didn't have any other plans.  The more I think about it, however, the more I think I'm going to introduce some kind of policy where the rehearsal starts when it's scheduled.  I don't know how to word it or ensure that people observe it, though.  Shoot...I figured that common courtesy took care of that to begin with.

So the bride and groom finally show up, and we rehearse.  So there's no chance that something completely absurd happens at the ceremony, right?

The ceremony is scheduled for 4:30.  They had a violinist play all their pre-wedding music (who was incredible, by the way), and then a CD for all the processional stuff.  So the violinist finishes and the CD starts.  An usher comes down to light the candleabras just like we practiced, and then it's time for the moms to be seated.  I keep looking for the moms.  There's no movement by the moms.  They're all just standing back there.

Finally, an usher walks to the back to tell me that the ringbearer (the couple's son) doesn't have his shoes and the bride refuses to let the ceremony proceed until someone drives out to get them (at least a 20-minute drive both ways).  Meanwhile, that one song on the CD keeps playing over and over and over.  Judging by the guests' chatter, I know that they're starting to figure out that something is up as well.  The bride's mom finally stands up front to explain, which doesn't seem to thrill them.

Well, long story short (about 45 minutes longer than it should have been), the ringbearer finally gets his shoes, they get married.  Afterwards I have assorted family members, including the groom, apologize to me for what happened.

The bride didn't, though.  I thought that was significant.

P.S. I originally was going to call this My Worst Wedding Experience Ever, but I decided that Most Ridiculous would be more fitting.  This is because the whole thing was so absurd that I can only laugh about it now.  And it's a great story.  At the same time, if anyone needed any more proof of how self-serving and wrong-headed the wedding enterprise has become, I offer the above.


Earlier this week, I published my 900th post.

At some point very recently, this blog also saw its 100,000th pageload.

We're just all about the milestones this week.

Thanks for reading and...uh...pageloading.

Well Said

"I consider myself a Christian, and as a consequence I don't consider myself to be at war with anyone...I do not identify in any degree with the kind of loud, mass-market certitude that is thought of as religion in some quarters now."
-UCC member and novelist Marilynne Robinson answering Newsweek's question regarding portrayals of spirituality in her new novel, "Home," the follow-up to her 2004 Pulitzer Prize winning work, "Gilead."


Pop Culture Roundup

I'm back into the Sandman books, now at Volume 3, Dream Country.  I'd forgotten about some of the stories told here (it's been three years since I last read these), but this volume isn't a connected story...instead it's a collection of individual stories about some of the past adventures that Morpheus has been on.  In one, he takes the form of a cat.  In another, he has Shakespeare commission a play (Midsummer Night's Dream).  I remember not really liking the cat story, so I skipped it.  I vaguely remember the Shakespeare story, but I haven't delved into it yet.

I caught Recount on HBO the other day, which is all about the fiasco surrounding the 2000 election.  It chronicles/dramatizes each side's approach and game plan and takes time to explain the arguments that each uses.  It goes through what "hanging chads" and "dimpled chads" are and why they were a problem, and it brings to light some events that may not be as widely known, such as the "Brooks Brothers riot," where a bunch of Republican guys dressed in slacks and polo shirts caused the recount in Miami-Dade county to be shut down after they tried to bust into the counting station.  We also get to see a Republican lobbyist hanging out with Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris through a good chunk of her role.  It's a good film, if a little dry at times.  But after a while, it made me tense and caused my head to hurt...too much "team sport" crap obviously got in the way of that entire process.  I actually found it somewhat ironic that the movie had both sides talking about "what's best for America" at the very end, because it had just presented some 110 minutes to the contrary.

I've been listening to The Decemberists' The Crane Wife.  There's something about fall that puts me in a Decemberists mood.  

Around the web, I recently added The Fettered Heart to the blogroll.  Ryan's been a commenter here before, but what's even more interesting is that I recently discovered that we have a mutual friend.  I thought that was cool.  Anyway, good stuff there pertaining to theology and the state of the church.

They Called an Ohio Number

I just listened to a voicemail from the Missouri Democratic Party inviting me to a rally for Obama under the Gateway Arch this weekend.

I probably won't make it.  It'll be a little out of my way.

That's actually the second time this year.

Deep Breath...

So in case you missed it, I was at the Michigan-Toledo game this past Saturday that ended in Lopata missing a chip-shot field goal to cement the first ever U-M loss to a MAC team.  And the collective face of 108,000 people, hopeful about going into overtime and eventually salvaging this near-Appalachian State debacle a second before, began filing out of the stadium while the Toledo football team celebrated with their corner section of fans in the far endzone.

As I slowly made my way out, I overheard two older men--perhaps they were alumni, but I really couldn't tell--proclaiming the season over as they went over the remaining schedule and tried to come up with even one possible win.  And they blamed the coach.  They even blamed that final missed field goal on him somehow.

My brother and I had our own thoughts.  We did question some of RichRod's decisions.  We saw McGuffie attempt to run through a gauntlet of Toledo players in what seemed like play after play after play after play.  I wondered where the innovative spread-out-the-field passing game was.*  I momentarily forgot that this is a young, inexperienced, Lloyd-recruited team largely unaccustomed to the type of offense that RichRod wants to run, and that RichRod has a bunch of spread-oriented studs arriving as soon as January.

The reality of how bad this season would turn out, how patchwork the team is, how far away 2009 is...it all came fully into focus.

Fortunately, Brian at MGoBlog is willing to offer despairing fans some tough love (caution for language)...
Sports suck sometimes, especially when you care so much about something you control not at all. I assure you that every Michigan fan was angry on Saturday, and every one had second thoughts about this New Era thing. Some of them chose to swallow that anger, and some chose to give it to someone else. What's the adult thing to do? What would those people in hats have done in 1935?

They would have sucked it up. So suck it up, you pansies. It hurts. Act like a man about it.**

Go do something else. This makes you mad. People say Hinterland is pretty good and it's only twenty bucks. Go play that. Go ride a bike. Or hike into the woods and look at the chipmunk-bears. Build 60-foot sculptures out of balsa wood and your shattered hopes. Just get off the goddamn internet.

Come back in fits and spurts and keep whatever connection you want to have with the program but don't hit that post button when the vein on your forehead is sticking out. It's not that important.
This has to be rock-bottom.  It can only get better.  The bowl streak is over, and I'm going to have to swallow the prospect of a 5-year losing streak to The Sweatervest (I'm not sure that I'll even bring myself to watch that game).  That's to say nothing about just how much Penn State and Sparty are foaming at the mouth for their upcoming games.

I mean it in the least arrogant-sounding way possible that a losing season is a new thing for many Michigan fans.  This coaching change has brought such a multi-dimensional culture shock that people don't know how to handle it.

As for me, I've already resigned myself to just how bad this year is going to be.  And after the darkness comes the dawn.  There's a reason why these words from Bo have been immortalized:

I can wait.  Not always with patience.  But I can wait.  Go Blue.

*Since wondering that while sulking on the drive home, I've since learned that RichRod's spread is a spread option, which does tend to be run-heavy and is not necessarily all about the passing as other versions of the spread might be.  But still...Threet has a decent arm when he isn't trying to overdo it.  Just sayin'.


In celebration of my 900th post, I made a request for 9 questions for me to answer. Here, then, is a somewhat long compilation of those questions and my answers. Note: I've corrected a few minor spelling and grammatical errors from the original comments.

1. Over the course of 900 posts, what have you learned about yourself, your ministry, and your family - not necessarily in that order - that has simply amazed you? I'm not sure if this a blogging-specific question, as in, what have I learned while writing these 900 posts, or whether it's a more general question about what I've learned during the time frame that I've written the blog. I've certainly used this blog to work through some things. Well, I guess there's no need to separate the two aspects of the question. Here goes...

Myself - I've learned that I'm not as over certain experiences as I thought I was, particularly experiences related to spiritual abuse by trusted people. That theme has popped up on this blog a couple times as I've had to wrestle with new aspects of those experiences. I've learned that my junior year of college was one of the darkest periods of my entire life, and I didn't really know how dark until I started writing about it. And I've learned to look back with a more balanced perspective than perhaps I have before, which has been helpful and healing.

My ministry - If it wasn't for the blogosphere, I may not have learned about emerging/emergent/missional stuff until more recently, when aspects of it have (finally) made it into my own denomination's conversation. There was a time when I couldn't get enough of the books, the blogs, the discussion and debate. I've come through my most obsessed phase, but have nevertheless retained an appreciation and it has certainly influenced the way I approach church and ministry issues. My congregation probably hears about the need to be missional more than they care for.

My family - This is the harder one, because I don't blog about family stuff nearly as often as the above topics. I have taken a hard look at what I experienced as a PK and I'm trying to use it as a basis for my own decisions regarding my family - particularly helping Coffeeson to plant real, lasting roots somewhere rather than moving every 5-7 years.

2. [A]ssociate the first word or brief phrase that comes to your mind with these nine topics:

Familyhood: Awesome
Ordination: Honor and privilege
Palin/Fey: Funny because it's true
State of the Church: Needs to adapt
Detroit Lions: Pathetic
Dirty diapers: Necessary evil
Book-less society: Criminal
Blogging vs. sermonizing: Coin flip
God: Emmanuel

3. I'd like to know your stance on following (because they can be quite controversial within the church):

Assisted Suicide: For me, the key phrase is "quality of life." I look to Jesus' words in the Gospel of John when he says, "I came that all may have life, and have it abundantly." Is one truly able to live under certain conditions, or are they simply able to exist? I think about hospital rooms I've visited where one is hooked up to so many machines...they are physically alive (existing), but they have little to no chance of consciously interacting with their surroundings, let alone enjoying them (living). If the choice is between merely existing or truly, abundantly living, I do not see assisted suicide as something to be barred at all costs.

Gay Rights/Marriage: I believe that many of our scripture texts that purportedly deem homosexuality as wrong are a lot more muddled than many claim. There are cultural and language factors--both the text's and ours--that need to be taken into account when interpreting them. In addition, there are biological factors that prevent homosexuality from being deemed a "choice," as if it's just a switch that can be turned on and off. That, and I've heard enough experiences from real live gay people that lead me to believe that homosexuality is not evil, nor a disease, nor a choice. Nor do I believe that homosexuality (or heterosexuality, for that matter) is merely about who you have sex with. Sexuality is also about who you're attracted to, who you love, whose life you wish to link yours to. Taking all that into account, the union of two consenting adults of the same gender seems the next logical step. No issue with it here.

Tithing:  Honestly, I hadn't been very well-read on the Biblical basic for tithing, but this question inspired me to go and see what exactly it says.  As we generally understand it today, tithing is the practice of giving 10% of one's income to the church or perhaps a charity of some kind.  In the Old Testament, tithes were given by the Israelites chiefly to care for the Levites, the tribe given the special task of minding the tabernacle and ark of the covenant.  A tithe of that tithe was stored up, "designated to the Lord," and every third year brought out to feed any Levites, orphans, widows, and immigrants in the area.  One can see our present practice's origins in these acts of caring for a "priestly" class and for the poor.  I see tithing as something that can be more broad than giving to the church.  First, I see it as a spiritual discipline and not an act of ecclesial obligation, and I don't just think that tithing is meant for the church...it is to be designated for people who need it by people who mean it.

Pre-marital sex: For some reason, I first think of teenagers when I think about this issue. And my opinion on that is that I really didn't know what I was doing when I was 17 even though I surely insisted otherwise. And while there are exceptions, I'm going to go ahead and say that not many 17-year-olds really do. So my short answer is, "Wait until you've really matured, and then be prepared." I'm not a fan of abstinence-only, because it seems to be human nature that telling someone they can't or shouldn't only provides more incentive to go ahead and do it. I'd rather we tell people to be smart rather than try to moralize them into submission. But I'd also stress responsibility and consequences, which I guess is the allegation against "safe-sex" curricula (i.e., they downplay such things, which is crap) over and against "abstinence-only."

4. What is the best thing about being a dad? I actually have two things. First, I love seeing and being surprised by how Coffeeson changes and grows day by day. It's been incredible to watch him learn to use his appendages, to gain more and more control over his motor skills, to recognize his parents and others more and more, to see him go from barely rolling over to being on the verge of crawling. I can literally watch this little human being grow before my eyes.

The second is when I wake up around 7:00 in the morning, and I can hear him stirring on the monitor. Usually, he's just talking to himself. Sometimes, he's rolled over in his crib and he's not happy about it. But I'll wander in, and he'll look over and give me a huge grin. There's no better way to start my day.

5. Name 9 great coffeehouses at which you've sipped in your lifetime.

Cafe du Monde, New Orleans - Best. Coffee. Ever.
Kaldi's, St. Louis - Favorite spot to study in seminary
Coffee Cartel, St. Louis - I didn't frequent this as often as Kaldi's, but being on a key corner of the Central West End, there was lots to observe
Seattle's, Wooster, Ohio - Now defunct, a good place for college hipsters
Tulipan Hungarian Pastry & Coffee Shop, Wooster, Ohio - Relaxing atmosphere
Wholly Ground, Tiffin, Ohio - This place actually went by 3-4 different names while I was at Heidelberg...this is the one I remember
The House Cafe, DeKalb, Illinois - Have only been here once when I went to visit a friend
Matt's, Doylestown, Ohio - Chocolate Raspberry coffee. 'Nuff said.
Sonnet's, Wadsworth, Ohio - Good quiet place to read up on sermon material, plus they host open mics twice a month

6. What are the stories behind your tattoos?

"Luke 24:34," upper right arm - The short version is that, in a moment of deep despair and a horrible crisis of faith, the Spirit led me to this verse: "It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!" I consider that moment incredibly pivotal in my faith journey. For a slightly longer version, read this.

Crumbling stone cross, right shoulder - I wanted to get a cross, but I didn't want to get a "pretty" cross, know what I mean? The cross isn't pretty, and to get something ornate didn't feel right to me. It also carries my own cynical statement concerning the state of the church.

"Full Failure All-American Hero" by Derek Hess, upper left arm - It helps if you see a pic, so go here. Basically, I like the statement that it makes about human limitation and mortality.

7. What do you not want your son to know about you when he grows up? What do you want him to know?  I don't want him to know how insecure I feel sometimes as I strive to meet his needs and do what's best for him.  But I do want him to know that every time I step out for work-related things, I'd rather be at home with him.

8. What's your favorite computer game? Super MarioKart for Nintendo 64. I kick much butt at it. I also love FreeCell.

9. What's the most important thing in following Jesus?
I think that the most important thing is letting him speak for himself and wrestling with what he says, without any extra Paul/Augustine/Luther/Calvin/Favorite Pet Theologian tacked on. Don't get me wrong...other theologians can certainly be edifying, but most of the time Christians allow them to crowd out his teachings, let alone a true sense of discipleship that is more than belief in the right things.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've read all of Recreating the Church this week.  It's actually a very short, easy read, but at the same time it's probably one of the most concise and well-stated books on the state of mainline churches and denominations that I've read.  He hits on the "perfect storm" that has been throwing churches for a loop for decades: change in American culture that they haven't kept up with, organizational structures that older, "joiner" generations established and love but younger ones don't, and a general anxiety that keeps organizations from changing and updating themselves.  Hamm talks about the role of the leader in changing the system, as well as the need for denominations at national levels to adapt as well.  He especially points out the need at all church levels for not just technical change, but adaptive change as well.  Here, UCC folks, see if this sounds familiar:
In my own denomination, I spent a lot of time and energy seeking to downsize the Disciples' General Board from 225 members.  Finally, shortly after I left office, the General Board was downsized to about 145.  Is this adaptive change or technical change?  It remains to be seen as the newly sized board works out its role.  If it turns out to be only a cost-saving measure, it is technical.  If it turns out to alter the way the board does its work and actually enhances its ability to perform its functions to hold denominational units accountable, then it will be adaptive.
It's an excellent book.

We keep watching True Blood, which keeps killing off characters with little movement forward.  One of the overarching plotlines is that ever since a vampire made himself known in town, there have been three murders.  The police keep trying to accuse the dimwit brother, but besides that there has been little development in this particular story.  This past week, we got the origin story of how the vampire was changed to such, as well as some insight that he's a bit of a self-loathing type.  Hmmm...a tortured, misunderstood, non-evil vampire in love with a young spunky human woman.  I swear I've heard this before (BESIDES TWILIGHT).

I've been more into songs than albums this week, particularly Sia's Breathe Me.  I've been striving for mellow stuff this week, given the long days I've been putting in.  Maybe I'll write about that later.

Rather than send you someplace else around the web, I thought I'd bring back a favorite of mine, the LLAMA SONG:

Nearing 900

Not too long from now, Philosophy Over Coffee will see its 900th post published.

It's hard to believe that I've wasted that much time on here.

I could wait until 1000 to do something like this, but I totally wanted to rip off what Scott is doing at his place for his 700th.

So, for my 900th post...I'll answer 9 questions. First come, first served. As long as it doesn't throw my semi-anonymity into something less than that. I'll also be selective about questions pertaining to the church I serve. Anything else is pretty much fair game: favorite color, where I like to vacation, thoughts on gas prices, whatever.

So have at it.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 5-11 is Mental Illness Awareness Week:
In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first week of October as "Mental Illness Awareness Week" (MIAW) in recognition of NAMI's efforts to raise mental illness awareness. "Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day" (BDAD) is held each year on the Thursday of MIAW.

MIAW and BDAD are NAMI's premiere public awareness and public education campaigns. They link the organization's over 1,100 local affiliates across the country.

MIAW has become a tradition in NAMI. It presents an opportunity for all three levels of NAMI--national, state, and local--to work together in communities across the country to achieve the NAMI mission through outreach, education, and advocacy.
In terms of both funds and education, mental health issues are far from being high on the priority list of every state in the union, if this 2006 report from NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) is any indication.  

Actually, Ohio is graded as one of the best.  Yay us.  But we still only got a B.  Nobody got an A.

May this week be a week of prayer, education, and outreach regarding this frequently overlooked, yet very important issue that affects millions of people.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm between books at the moment.  I need to start Recreating the Church in preparation for my Association's upcoming fall meeting, which will feature the book's author and will be centered around the themes contained therein.  I must say that it's been very heartening to me the past few years that these types of conversations around the church relating to a changing culture are happening at the wider settings of the UCC.

TV-wise, it's still mainly been True Blood and Entourage.  For me, there's a huge Sopranos-shaped hole in my Sunday evenings.  True Blood is okay, but it's definitely not the same.  I mean, obviously there's a huge disparity between a mobster-themed show and a vampire-themed show, but besides that, it certainly doesn't grab me like The Sopranos did.  And I really don't watch many other TV shows regularly.  I haven't even been keeping up with new episodes of House, Terminator, Bones...I just haven't had the interest.

This week's main musical selection has been Flight of the Conchords, which caused me to laugh out loud more than once.  Good thing I was in the car so no one else was around to hear me.  This is a duo from New Zealand (maybe you've heard of or seen their HBO show) who clearly don't take themselves too seriously.  Their sound is...uh...acoustic R&B/rap.  It makes more sense if you just listen.  This CD is what I expected Tenacious D's CD to be: sharp musicianship with hilarious lyrics.  

Around the web, the long-dormant blog Bridget Jones Goes to Seminary has a new look and a new name: Irreverently Reverend.  Meg has graduated and is now into her first ministry gig.  Go check it out.

"Call to Action Regarding the Proposed UCC National Board Restructure"

There is a petition located here that UCC members are being encouraged to sign in opposition to the proposed restructuring of the various national boards into one overarching near-90-member (!) board.  This gets a little long, but here's the reasoning:
The next generation of the United Church of Christ will inherit the newly proposed structure. We have concerns and our voices deserve to be heard. Will you join us as we seek to assist in charting the course ahead?

Originated September of 2006

The mission of the Joshua Generation Leadership Team, supported by the Urban Ministries, of the United Church of Christ seeks to:

Provide training in which we recognize, develop, nurture, empower and educate relevant vanguard leadership for the 21st century Church and community with an intentional focus on Urban Ministries.
Create a network which serves as a group of innovative, motivated and courageous leaders who seek not only to witness or advocate, but to also bridge the past and the future with education and empowerment in the lives of those who are oppressed, especially those in the Urban context.
Support young adult PALANAs (Pacific islander, Asian, Latino/a, African, Native, Americans), advocate for a cooperative voice, and provide a safe space to address issues from the local to the national setting.

Here are just 5 of the many reasons why we need your help:

1) The process has been unjust.

a. Despite the multitude of serious and legitimate concerns that have been raised by several different branches of the church, including the historically underrepresented groups (HUGs), the concerns have been ignored and the process has continued ahead.

b. In a restructure of this magnitude, it would seem very appropriate that each of the incorporated board of directors of the Covenanted Ministries would have their own specialists, consultants, and legal counsel advising them on what is in their best interests as an independent corporation of the church. Instead, this process has been facilitated by one sole consultant, who was hired by one arm of the church.

c. Not all of the historic, elder leaders of the church were consulted about the proposed restructure in a timely fashion, despite public claims that the key past leaders were included in the process.

2) We have been a church that has historically chosen not to place power in any one place. Because of our congregational culture, power has always been in the local church however, this proposed restructure shifts the power to a central place. Also, where is the decision making checks and balances of a single governance board? A single governing board is a condensation of power with no checks and balance system. It also seems largely staff driven given that staff will have both voice and vote at the Executive Committee level.

3) We have always been a church who has fought, and continues to fight, against elitism. The single-board structure promotes elitism for the following reasons:

a. A smaller, single-board structure limits the amount of participation (and thus, the development of new leaders) from every single segment of the UCC.

b. We have always fought for economic justice, yet what about the class implications in a single-board structure? Because the board would shrink, the amount of decisions and responsibility of each board member would increase. Board meetings would thus be much longer. Only those who had a surplus of free time would be able to serve.

4) This has not been a mission-driven restructure; it has been a financially-driven restructure. We are a church, not a corporate entity driven by product. The missions of the church have not been the first priority in this restructure; instead it has been motivated by efficiency and money.

5) It is as if we are erasing the rich history of our church and are starting from scratch. The rich history of this church seems lost in this proposed restructure. It is as if we are beginning from ground zero and remaking the identity and culture of the church. We would be appalled if certain chapters of American history were removed from the textbooks, why should the history of the UCC be any different?

For more information please visit about the proposed restructure:


For more information about the Joshua Generation Leadership Team:

You can also contact us by email at:


The points that strike me the most are numbers 2 and 4.

This new proposal is a move toward centralized power, and the UCC was founded on tenets diametrically opposed to such a concept.  We're only 8 years removed from our last restructure, and the common wisdom is that it takes at least 10-15 years for something to truly take hold at a national level like that.  So 1) the checks-and-balances provided by the Covenanted Ministries will be eliminated in favor of one central board, and 2) we're at least 2 years shy of the last restructure truly finding its footing.  And how long until the UCC blows up this latest one in favor of something else down the road?

I'm not totally sold on how a 90-member board will be more efficient, but maybe I need to read a little more on the proposers' reasoning.  Nevertheless, condensing the various boards into one is indeed in the name of efficiency and not mission.
The other side of this, I admit, is what would a mission-focused structure look like?  For my own part, it'd involve less central bureaucracy and more empowering of the local church (kind of, you know, more of what we were founded on).  How will this 90-member centralized board serve the local church?

I think that that's a key question, especially in light of the fact that this isn't really being talked about in many settings other than the national setting (at least, I haven't heard anything...maybe someone can enlighten me with their own experiences).  There's sign #1 that this board probably won't do much for the local church.  If other settings, including the local church, aren't really being actively kept up to date on what's happening before the restructure is put into place, I'm very skeptical to how it will benefit the local church later on.

I haven't signed the petition myself, if only because I wonder how much good it'd actually do.  But I do think that the points made above are important to consider and discuss.

Fair Trade Month

October is Fair Trade Month.
Fair Trade is important because conventional "free trade" often leaves farmers and artisans living in extreme poverty, sometimes even facing malnutrition and starvation when world market prices swing dramatically. These are the conditions that have led in some cases to the use of illegal child labor, including child slave labor, and to the use of unsustainable environmental practices such as cutting down trees in the rainforest.

Fair Trade, by contrast, ensures that farmers and artisans are paid a living wage, and that the products they produce aren't made in sweatshops or by exploited child laborers. Fair Trade also promotes production techniques that will not harm the environment.
Now how can supporting that be a bad thing?

"Well, workers in those countries are just happy to have a job at all. They won't strive for something better." Okay. So we'll keep their morale nice and low so that they never imagine that something better is possible.

"Well, the method of farming in places like Guatamala is simply inferior to the way that many free trade companies produce their coffee." And giving developing countries no chance to improve their methods will fix the problem how...?

"Well, Fair Trade gives an unfair advantage to smaller producers." And tariffs and subsidies by developed countries don't give an unfair advantage to big freaking corporations?  Plus if one of the big coffee companies goes under, the government might consider bailing them out.  So not to worry. [/sarcasm]

"Well, you're just paying more money to make yourself feel better." The other side of this is paying less and completely ignoring the labor problems and exploitation in developing countries. I suppose ignorance truly is bliss. Maybe this isn't the perfect solution, but it's better than the whole "doing absolutely nothing" strategy.

Happy Fair Trade Month.