This is my 1000th post. In celebration, I asked readers to submit 10 questions for me to answer. And here they are:
1. If I was to say to you: Shout the gospel with your life. What comes to mind? What would your life look like? I find it important to start by saying that I believe that the gospel, or good news, is "the kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:14-15). That being said, it would naturally follow that the best way to live that gospel is to live a life that reflects the values of God's kingdom: love of God and neighbor, forgiveness, unconditional acts of compassion and justice, regard for the poor and suffering, working against inequality and bigotry of all kinds. If to some that sounds too liberal or too unAmerican, I reply that when Jesus first preached and exhibited these things in his day, they sounded and looked too liberal or too unRoman. This is typically not the stuff of the dominant culture.
I confess that my own life could stand to look a little different than it presently does in light of this...in particular, I've lost sight a little of those justice issues that matter most to me and I'd like to become more involved with them. I regularly push my congregation toward a greater and greater life of mission and service. And those other more subtle intangible things have played out in my life in ways that amaze me.
2. I'll soon be in my first parish. What advice would you give a new pastor setting out in their first call. (especially one who is in the same age bracket as you) As you strive to lead faithfully, realize that your critics aren't nearly as numerous as they seem; when faced with a choice between church and family, choose the family; never underestimate the power of trust, especially as it allows for more change and greater faithfulness the longer you're there; find respite in a non-theological hobby; seek out a colleague, group, or mentor to process with occasionally; allow yourself to be surprised; worship and programs aren't as important as relationships; take special note of those pastoral moments when there is no doubt about your calling, and hang onto and return to them when those other moments happen. I can keep going, but that seems like a good stopping point.
3. What character (book, film, etc.) have you most related to and why? It's always been Charlie Brown. I don't think I'm the sad sack that he is, but I've always been able to relate to his ability to see beauty where maybe no one else can, his timidity around the pretty girl he likes, his attempts to communicate his hopes and dreams that he can't quite word so that others understand, his love of baseball, and the way life sometimes just makes him want to lean his head against a tree or pull the covers over his head.
4. If you were to put a percentage to the joining of the congregation of your member's. Would you say the majority joined out of belief, peer pressure, fear, or possibly to find a warmer community to join. I serve what might be termed a "family church," meaning that a good chunk of the membership is composed of multiple generations of relatives. We have 4-5 of these larger families that dot the pews on Sunday mornings. So for my church in particular, many may say, "Because it's my family's church." Aside from that, most others would probably say they were looking for a faith community other than their former one for reasons particular to each family or individual.
5. If you had to explain, in 5 minutes or less, what is at the heart/what most chiefly defines Christianity and makes it unique among other world religions, what would you say? I think that the first and second parts of this question are very different. I believe that what chiefly defines Christianity is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: his teachings & example, how it led to his death, his enduring presence, and so on. Try as some fringe liberals might, you can't have Christianity without Christ. He is its central figure and reason for being.
The second part of this question is one that hasn't especially interested me for a while: one can find religions with other God-men or wise teachers or prophets and that espouse & inspire love and peace and justice. All that I've ultimately been able to do in discussions with non-Christians is give an account of the hope that is within me, and hope that I'm living it out as best I'm able, and they can take it or leave it. And they usually leave it, but we're both okay with that. We can talk about those finer logical and metaphysical and philosophical points that come with differing beliefs, but the question about uniqueness is something that I don't have much of an answer before aside from what I've personally experienced and strive to live out.
6. What about the drums do you find so appealing - why are they your favourite? I have to preface this by saying that I can play three instruments with varying degrees of skill: drums, bass, and acoustic guitar. I provide that preface because out of the three, when I play drums I don't have to think. Insert drummer joke here, but aside from that, what I mean is that I don't have think about what I'm doing when I play drums...I just feel the song and go with it. With the other two, I have to look for the next chord change or I have to make sure that I get my fingering right if I don't know a chord as well. With drums I don't have to do that. I just sit down and jam. I love that.
7. Why do you keep believing? It is here once again that I'd chiefly point to personal experience, because I think that it is the difference in attempting to rationally argue for or against a particular belief system. For some, an experience that they can name as such never comes, or no logical explanation seems feasible any more (or never did), or too many bad experiences with those professing Christianity have ruined the whole enterprise. I've experienced all of this at various points, but I've also experienced assurance in blatant or more subtle ways that have renewed my faith. You can read one such story here. And in general, I believe that Jesus has something wonderful to offer the world; it is through him that I see God most clearly, and to whom even many non-Christians can point and say, "if the world was more like that, it would be such a better place."
8. How about 10 songs/musical pieces that changed your life, and a bit about each one?
1. "Living in the Sight of Water" by Brian White & Justice - It was during a Christian music concert that the notion of faith "clicked" for me. This was the band and the song that played a part.
2. "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" by REM - I taught myself how to play the drumset by listening to this song over and over.
3. The entire Thriller album, Michael Jackson - Michael Jackson was one of my introductions into "adult" music when I was young, and this is THE Michael Jackson album.
4. "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," Marvin Gaye - This was my other main introduction into music. It actually started with those little dancing raisins. Remember them? But I still love Gaye's version.
5. "Lord I Lift Your Name on High" - I can hear some groaning out there, but this was my introduction into a whole world of possibilities for worship that I had no clue about until my senior year of high school. I've outgrown this particular song and others like it, but still have an appreciation for "contemporary" worship and the necessity to at least utilize the philosophy behind it, if not many of its better offerings.
6. The music of Dave Matthews Band - No one who reads this and knows me should be a bit surprised. For quite a while, they weren't really a big deal to me...I had a few of their albums that I'd pop on occasionally. Then in the summer of 1999, I saw them at Riverbend in Cincinnati, and their live show blew my mind. Ever since, they've been my favorite band, the one I turn to for a lift or to get mellow or to space out.
7. "O.T. Rap" by The Rap'Sures - In 6th grade, a friend of mine had this tape of Christian rap songs. It was also my introduction to dc Talk, but this song actually helped me learn the books of the Bible. In fact, I still hear it in my head when I list them off today. All in all, cheesy late 80s/early 90s stuff, but I can't deny its lasting impact.
8. "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys - Not the real version, but the sheet music prepared for a 6th grade bands. You see, there's a drum solo in this particular piece, and I landed it. It took me a while to settle down enough to play it, but this led to a more serious interest in drumming in general, as well as an ongoing habit to drum on tabletops, books, and whatever else with my hands or fingers.
9. "Hold On" by Alton Weaver - You've probably never heard of this band or this song...they were out of Indiana and broke up years ago. This was the first song I learned to play on acoustic guitar.
10. The music of Five Iron Frenzy - This is the only Christian band that I still listen to from my Christian music phase, five years after they broke up. I still listen to some modern worship and a few other albums, but this band has left such an impact on me that it's the only one whose entire catalogue I have in rotation. They were willing to be honest and critical about the flaws and embarrassments of both the church and their industry, and they connected faith to real causes and calls to action. For all that and more, I still appreciate them.
9. Your experience with Campus Crusade as well as being a PK growing up have challenged your faith and (I think) helped you to grow as a pastor and a human being. How you do you feel about sharing a label like "Christian" with such a diverse, and at times, divisive group? Honestly, I don't always want to. This happens especially when I catch wind of some news story about Christians up in arms about displays of the 10 Commandments, or "In God We Trust" being taken off money, or some of the ridiculous stuff some stirred up about Obama during the election. I feel similarly when Christians want to spend all their time and money on church buildings, or on the proposition that Christianity's main purpose is to study theology, or arguing against something Jesus said because of something Paul said, or all the culture war/political games crap. Some of these things used to make sense to me, but they don't anymore. And sometimes it just angers me that people (Christian or non-Christian) believe that these things are what Jesus wanted. I often joke that one day I'm going to quit the ministry, start a coffeeshop, and become a Buddhist; just renounce all of it. Some days it's less of a joke. But I also like Jesus too much to give up on him just because I think some are getting it so incredibly bass-ackwards.
10. No one ever asked a #10, so I'm providing it myself: What's in store for the next 1000 posts? I've greatly enjoyed keeping this blog. It's become something beyond my expectations. I didn't think I'd stick with it this long, use it in the way that I have, gain even the modest audience that I have. At times it's felt like more of a chore, or like something that I can just use for throwaway stuff like memes and videos and two-liners about some stupid thing. But it's been far more rewarding for me and, I think, for my readers, when I've buckled down and really tried to produce something. And I've been trying to be more intentional about producing something since around the New Year, and that in a nutshell is what people can keep expecting. Whether that yields less posts in a week or truly produces what I want is up in the air, but it's what I'd rather this blog be about. So thanks for reading, and I look forward to further writing.