Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading Home, of course. I was thinking the other day about how long it took me to really get into The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. It took me a while because I was usually reading a chapter a night at best after a long day of church/Coffeeson responsibilities. But when I sat down for about an hour one day at a Panera Bread and was able to read 60-80 pages, I felt more connected to the book; at that point I wanted to carve out time to read more. Although I'm enjoying Home, I haven't yet had that Panera Bread type of moment.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was on TV the other night, so I was able to sit down and enjoy that. My favorite part is Snoopy as the WWI Flying Ace, and his trek through "France." I don't know what it is about that part...we spend a good 3-5 minutes in Snoopy's imagination, and it has little to do with Halloween, at least directly. Of course, if one thinks of Halloween as a chance to pretend to be someone else for a night, then it makes perfect sense to devote this much time to it.

This week I've been listening to David Arkenstone's Chillout Lounge. I'm not really well-versed in the chillout genre, but I know enough to recognize some of the tunes on this disc. I mean, I guess it's original material, but I feel like I've heard bits and pieces of these songs before. Not that chillout artists ever sample from each other, of course. Anyway, this is a good laid-back album.

From around the web, here's another "Treehouse of Horror" clip. This was from their parody of The Shining, but I couldn't find a good version of the whole thing, which is another favorite.

Pruning My Bookshelves

In times of transition, it is important to consider what should survive said transition, and what should be left behind.

As the Coffeefamily prepares for The Big Move next month, I've been attempting to figure out the best thing to do with my books. To be clear, I'm talking about all my pastor-ish books. Novels, books of poetry, dictionaries, my Sandman graphic novels, Coffeewife's huge textbooks from nursing school, etc., are going to the house regardless. No, I mean all the theology, church history, Bible reference, church models & ministry, liturgy, pastoral care, preaching, and Catch-all Shelf With Lots of Campolo, McLaren, Lamott, Lucado, And Yancey That I Don't Know How Else To Classify.

A couple years ago, it made sense to move all this stuff to the parsonage study. Now that I'll be living a few miles away from the church and I do most writing at the church, it doesn't make as much sense to lug them to the new house.

Anyway, as I've been slowly moving most of these books back to the church office, I've discovered a couple things:

1. They won't all fit on the shelves at the church. I'm actually going to buy an additional bookcase for my office.

2. Why the heck do I have some of these books, anyway? Chicken Soup for the Soul, some of the aforementioned Lucado books and such, some grossly outdated books that I thought I wanted at some point. I've got a nice stack designated for the thrift store.

And then there's the question of what goes to the house. While I was debating whether any of them would go to the office at all, I figured out that creating a space at the house to reflect, which is the main reason why I had the books at the parsonage to begin with.

So my Bibles, hymnals, and spirituality/devotional books are going to the house. It makes sense. I hope to create a similar sacred space at the new house, much like what the Pastor's Study has been for me at the parsonage.

And I suppose that that has been the biggest learning for me through this anticipated transition. Those books helped create a sacred space at home, but I don't necessarily need them all in order to do that at the new house. But the certain thing is that I'd like to have such a space again. That plus a lack of space in my built-as-an-afterthought-church-office for all of my books made it somewhat of a pragmatic thing.

I've been grateful for this realization concerning sacred spaces. I suppose that I've never really thought about its importance since beginning ministry here, since church and home have been 40 yards or so away from each other. And I never really thought that that's what I was doing when moving the books home to begin with.

And so I prune my bookshelves, and continue the work of creating both a work and home sanctuary.

Good Stuff

I haven't written much about my church on here in quite a while. I never have that extensively, but I think I did more often during the first couple years of this blog's existence. Oftentimes such posts would be about the struggles of a young pastor in a smallish church in a ruralish setting. Those who have followed this blog since those days probably remember, and if you haven't been around here that long or don't remember, they're back there somewhere.

At any rate, I thought I'd write about some of the good stuff that is happening at my church, because I don't think I do it often enough, and because I think I should, and because good stuff is happening.

~In the past, I've written about my attempts and frustrations about starting a senior high ministry. The past four years have seen plenty of starts and stops, hopes raised and hopes dashed. I was working uphill from the beginning: there was nothing when I came, there wasn't necessarily a high expectation that I would change that or that anything I'd attempt would stick mostly due to others' attempts and subsequent failure to stick, and critical mass has been hard to acquire given this church's size.

Our most recent confirmands are the oldest in an entire group of kids who are used to attending church functions. There's a younger group that does a lot of youth group-y things, for whom a continuation of that once they hit high school would just be a natural thing. We've had two activities so far since fall started, with solid-to-excellent turnouts, and even though I've said this to people in the church before, it looks like we really, really have a sturdy foundation on which to build something now. Really.

~We're doing mission work. A lot of mission work. We walk in the Relay for Life. We've sent people to New Orleans. We've built with Habitat. We truck over a sizable amount of food for our food pantry every month. Over the years, getting involved with these projects has helped cultivate a missional attitude and a focus on what we can do in terms of local hands-on service. In the past year, we've begun talking about initiatives that we can take to reach out to our community - building relationships in addition to meeting needs.

~We're in the midst of collecting a Time and Talent survey that we made sure to actually include talents and not just jobs to volunteer for. Assuming that we get a good response to it, it will be used as part of an asset mapping exercise that each committee, as well as the church as a whole, may undertake. We've had a lot of visioning discussion in the past year, and this is kind of the next phase. So right now, the jury is still out on this, but hopefully it yields a lot of positive things for the church.

~I'm going on sabbatical next spring. This may not sound like a "good for the whole church" thing, but I think it is for a couple reasons:
  1. It means that I'll have been here five years, which didn't always seem like a sure thing. But I've heard from multiple places that the deeper kind of ministry is possible after no less than four years. So we may just be starting our best years together.
  2. It gives both pastor and church time to rejuvenate and come back together even stronger, provided that both parties fully understand that that's what a sabbatical is meant to be for.
  3. While I'm away, the church will be pretty reliant on lay leadership, which will be a good learning experience in what the "priesthood of all believers" is about.
So there's lots of good stuff happening, and I want to be sure to celebrate it whenever possible.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading Home, and will be for a while. The book is beginning to explore the relationship between Glory and Jack leading up to and after his return home. Jack is portrayed as being much more awkward and cautious than in Gilead, but I'm still at the point where he's just returned and feeling things out, so this caution makes sense on his part, particularly given what readers familiar with Gilead already know.

I'm also still reading Keating, of course, but I've finished the assigned parts before my next book study meeting.

This week, in another instance of a movie being on TV and both of us being too apathetic to change the channel, we ended up watching The Devil Wears Prada. Anne Hathaway stars as Andrea, the Girl In the Big City Trying To Make It And Find Herself. In trying to Make It, she takes a job at a fashion magazine working as second assistant to Meryl Streep's Miranda, an icy dragon of a woman who sends her on ridiculous near-impossible errands such as getting the unpublished manuscript of the seventh Harry Potter book for her daughters. At first, Andrea scoffs at the fashion industry, but eventually is reeled in in no small part to her pining for Miranda's approval. This eventually leads to Andrea being seduced by The Life, as she loses touch with friends and her boyfriend, but in the final ten minutes or so she realizes what's happened, thus completing the Finding Herself arc of the film. The movie worships Miranda almost as much as Andrea does, and while it inserts a few token gestures to try to make her sympathetic, she is mostly an overbearing, demanding, spine-crushing wench. Streep plays it well, but that doesn't mean I liked her. Critics all gushed over this movie, and I'm trying to figure out why. But because I'm not part of the Sex and the City demographic, I'll probably never know.

Next Saturday, Halloween, Ghost Hunters will once again do their live show. This year they'll investigate Essex County Hospital, where over 10,000 people died. They'll do the usual setup of letting people submit questions to be answered live. I just hope they leave the ECW wrestlers at home this time...that's been a mixed bag at best.

I don't know if anyone else remembers this PSA that aired back in the early 90s. It's the Barenaked Ladies singing "The Ballad of Gordo:"

"The Sound of Church"

An old friend called this afternoon. We caught up on everything we'd missed about each other since we last talked: careers, family, he talked about conflict resolution initiatives he was helping with around his city, I talked about our new house and Coffeeson. And then he mentioned that he and his wife had started attending a Unitarian Universalist church.

I was surprised, but I wasn't. I've compared him before to Larry in W. Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, whose travels around the world lead him to explore multiple facets of human existence, including faith and truth. I even gave him a copy of the book for his birthday one year.

He described his reasons for attending, not the least of which was that it felt right to him at this point in his life and in his faith journey. He described his appreciation for a diversity of opinion around the table in the search for truth.

And then he said, "I was just tired of hearing it."

"Hearing what?"

"The sound of church. You hear it every week, and it's all you hear, and it made sense to listen to something else."

I found it a wonderful phrase that I've yet to fully comprehend: "the sound of church."

Some don't really hear it any more, whether out of habit or genuine appreciation.

Some hear it, and put up with it out of necessity or because there's at least some part that still makes sense.

Many hear it, and are tired of it. And they want to hear something else.

And, of course, there are some who want to change the sound. But it ain't easy. And it involves figuring out what the sound of church is to begin with. To a lot of people, it's a weird sound or a less appealing sound or an annoying sound or a wrong sound, if a sound can be wrong. It sounds hokey, or dishonest, or cheesy, or unbelievable, or insane, or goofy, or stupid. It may be the sound itself or the medium through which it runs, or maybe there isn't a difference.

I sometimes notice the sound of church, and I sometimes notice that I don't like it much, either.

But I like it for plenty of reasons, too.

So I don't begrudge my friend for his decision, because it sometimes makes sense to get away from the sound of church.

But for me it also makes sense to stay and keep listening. And not just because I'm a pastor, but also because I still find a lot of truth in Jesus and the kingdom of God, and those sounds still make plenty of sense.

Bishop Spong Follow-Up

Every once in a while, I write a post that I feel has been so badly misinterpreted that I believe it warrants a totally separate post to attempt some clarification.

As it happens, my recent post about Bishop Spong apparently needs such a follow-up.

I wrote that post about a spiritually vulnerable college kid who picked up one of Spong's books and had an experience 180 degrees different from that of his target audience. A few of his appreciators chimed in after perceiving that he needed defending from something I didn't say, or from something that my 10-years-younger self didn't like but which I've most likely changed my mind about in the time since.

And I admit that. I admit that my experience has kept me from moving on from that opinion of Spong, and even revisiting his work.

The post is about who I was ten years ago.

The post is about who I was ten years ago.

And even as I have grown, have become much more comfortable with and appreciative of mystery and questioning, for some reason I still had a hang-up about one advocate of such things until recently, because I finally decided that there was no reason to have that hang-up any more.

If you're able, read that post through the lenses of somebody emotionally and theologically unprepared to deal with what Spong presents. Don't read it as a disillusioned believer who was helped by his writing. Think about what sorts of things may need to be happening in somebody's life for Spong's writing to cause disillusionment rather than repair it.

I've probably linked to this post a half dozen times over the course of this blog's existence, but it should help get you started.

And in the post I wrote the other day, I'm saying that the person who picked up that book ten years ago (it is all about who I was ten years ago, after all) is not who I am today.

And Spong probably helped with that. But I wasn't ready to admit it until now.

But since, you know, that post was mostly about who I was ten years ago, I definitely wasn't going to admit it then.

So it's there, and for those who will still want to chime in to defend him, all I can say is that I meant what I wrote. But now I'm writing to tell you what I meant. And now that you hopefully know what I meant, I invite you to read it again.

Saturday Plans

The Michigan Wolverines battle the mighty Delaware State Hornets.

Today's high in Ann Arbor will be a balmy 48 degrees, under partly cloudy skies.

There's no way this turns out like my last trip.

Go Blue!

Pop Culture Roundup

I just began reading Home by Marilynne Robinson last night. This is basically the story of Gilead from the perspective of Glory, Boughton's daughter and Jack's sister. It's written in a more conventional style, as opposed to the journal-entry style of Gilead. I'm not very far into it at this point, but the book first gives some backstory to the Boughton family and Glory's thoughts of being back in Gilead to care for her father...so far she doesn't strike me as the most cheery or optimistic person. Maybe that will change.

I've also continued to read Keating's Invitation to Love, and I've made it through chapter 15 in accordance with my book study's assignment. Keating reflects on the Night of Sense, during which the emotional high of initial spiritual awakening starts to give way and the individual must more deeply internalize its meaning. He also reflects on the experiences of St. Anthony traveling into the wilderness to face demonic forces. I've gotten a lot more out of this book after the first couple chapters.

This past week we watched A Cinderella Story, but I'm not sure why. It started playing on Disney or ABCFamily before Coffeeson went to bed, and we wanted something "safe" playing on TV while he was still awake. But then even after he was put to bed, we ended up watching the rest. It's your typical "be yourself" story set in high school, with Hilary Duff playing the part of the girl being mistreated by her stepfamily. The "prince" is the popular jockboy who is also struggling to be himself in the midst of the superficial popular crowd, and even with his own father who seemingly has his son's college and career choices already planned out for him. Yadda yadda yadda happy ending.

Wordgirl is one of the many shows that Coffeeson watches on a typical day. I single it out because it has a certain "Rocky and Bullwinkle" humor to it that makes it appealing to adults as well. The show is all about a girl named Becky, who transforms into WordGirl to combat bad guys such as Lady Redundant Woman, The Whammer, Chuck the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy, and Dr. Two-Brains, all while defining a few big words in each episode. I was surprised when I looked up the voice cast, which includes Chris Parnell, Maria Bamford, Jeffrey Tambor, John C. McGinley, and Patton Oswalt. I don't really mind any of Coffeeson's shows, but this is one that I especially like to watch with him.

From around the web, here are quadruplets laughing:

Making Peace with Bishop Spong

Update: Because it seems that this post may get some slightly heavier traffic, I want to invite readers to read this follow-up that hopefully puts this post in better context. If you feel the need to defend Spong from the person I was ten years ago, I don't think you're quite getting the message of the piece.

"I don't dislike you. I nothing you." - Scrubs

I recently realized that I have a very important faith-related anniversary coming up in March. I had a crisis of faith my junior year of college that I've written about several times on this blog, one which had me on the brink of giving up what I believed, as well as my chosen career path. At my lowest point, I sat in a dorm hallway with a Bible and, in a moment that may not be universally affirmed,* flipped it open after a brief prayer and landed on Luke 24:34 - "It is true! The Lord has risen, and has appeared to Simon!" This moment brought me back, and I name and claim it as a huge turning point in my journey.

March 29, 2010 marks ten years since that night. I have quite a while to decide whether I'll observe it in any special way. Maybe I'll get my commemorative tattoo touched up.

Lately I've been thinking about this anniversary, not just due to my recent realization but also due to this post by Naked Pastor, where he was compared to John Shelby Spong by a worshipping visitor. Bishop Spong's book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, played a notable role in my faith crisis.

If you aren't familiar with Spong, he's a recently retired Episcopal bishop who has stirred up more than a little controversy with his challenges to traditional understandings of Christianity, thanks in no small part to his presentation. He tends to condescend and belittle people who hold more traditional views. Think Christopher Hitchens if he was a super-liberal Christian. Many liberal Christians credit his books with helping them find ways to remain Christian in the midst of their own faith crises. I experienced the opposite.

I picked up his book around Christmas of 1999, and recall being more and more troubled with every passing chapter. At that point I was still working out a lot of what I was learning in my religion classes, which was decidedly different from what most Sunday School classes present. While I had reconciled much of this already, there was something about Spong's book that began an entirely new line of questioning for me.

In retrospect, I probably had no business reading that book at that time due to being so new to the other scholarship I'd been reading (not to lump Spong in with "scholarship," but whatever). It was a fragile point in my life even apart from explicitly theological reasons, but reading the book became part of a "perfect faith-questioning storm."

In the past ten years, I've never picked up another Spong book. I've considered re-reading WCMCOD several times, but haven't even done that. I've worked through a lot of liberal theology and have dismissed some of it while embracing other things. I'm much more secure in my beliefs that Spong's work would probably seem a pretty minor matter in terms of wrestling with content.

Still, over the past ten years I've not only avoided Spong but have occasionally been openly hostile. Sometimes when I see his books in Borders a string of unpastoral words runs through my mind. Yeah, he's really left an impression. It's a very short list of authors that causes such a reaction inside me. All because a college kid who was going through a lot of crap thought it was a good idea to pick up his stupid book.

Now, you can certainly argue that if hadn't been for that book and subsequent time of wrestling, the moment of trust that I will remember next spring may not have happened. And I will mostly agree. We can look back on experiences that shatter our personal worlds for a time and give thanks for what they led to. But the moments themselves still sucked. It took me years to make peace with my family moving to the community to which I still refer as my hometown, even as I recognize all the positive things that eventually resulted, but the original events still felt awful (that'll be a separate post).

So nearly ten years after the fact, I'm ready to let my hostility toward Bishop Spong go. It still doesn't mean I'm going to rush out and pick up his books or sign up for any special talks he's giving in the area. All I'm saying is that I've finally come to a point where I can "nothing" him. Circumstances ten years ago had a lot to do with this, and as I mentioned his thought may seem small potatoes to me now. Heck, I probably agree with him on a decent number of things nowadays. But I really don't care enough one way or the other any more to find out. He's a footnote in my faith journey, and I'm content to give him that, but not much more.

*And I don't care if you affirm it or not.

Quotidian Random

~I once again tried to spend time at the retreat center this past Tuesday, but once again there was no power. The generator will have all winter to recharge before my sabbatical, so I'm still looking forward to some meaningful time there next May. Still, I was disappointed not to have that time. Coffeehouses were certainly enjoyable, and I get the whole "sacred space can be established whenever, wherever" thinking, but I was looking forward to this sacred space.

~We've started packing stuff for the move. It's a slow process right now, but we know that we close on the house the Friday before Thanksgiving. We originally wanted to host Thanksgiving, but if we do it with this timeline we may be passing the stuffing around stacks of boxes. I've also been wondering just how it is that we've accumulated so much crap. It's been very cathartic to fill trash bags or to set things aside to be given away.

~I'm revisiting the home office issue that I wrote about a couple years ago. The issues that contributed to me moving my books home were as follows:
  1. "Hey, look at all these shelves in this Pastor's Study at the parsonage!  What would all my books look like on them?  Awesome!"  (This has led to needing to truck books back and forth across the parking lot)
  2. "My crappy church computer doesn't work, so I need to work at home."  (My church computer works now, but it's still crappy)
  3. "I'd like to work at home sometimes to be closer to my family."  (I'd be closer to them in proximity only...plus I do ALL my writing--sermons, bulletins, Bible studies--at the church)
  4. "A home study would be sacred space where I could go to reflect if I needed to."  (The only one out of these that makes sense)
So with the impending move, I've been thinking about this...whether most or all of my books will go to the house or back to the church. I'd welcome thoughts from CoffeeNation on this.

~This past weekend, I co-officiated my sister-in-law's (and new brother-in-law's) wedding.* It was a great weekend that had me noting a couple things. First, weddings for friends or family are the only ones that really make me nervous. Weddings for church members and non-members don't do that unless the wedding party is a cast of thousands and the rehearsal left lingering questions or doubts. But when I officiate for friends or family, it's more personal, and I really don't want to screw up for their sake. Maybe I should take that attitude for everyone, but I just feel more of a personal stake in those.

The other thing I noted was how freaking young the couple was. They're both fresh out of college, 22 years old. And then I made the connection that, gee, Coffeewife and I got married basically fresh out of college (I'd been a year out, but big freaking deal). So I'm just now realizing how young we were when we were married, and I'm also realizing how old this past weekend made me feel.

*That's not us in the picture.

"The Raven" as presented by The Simpsons

I'm starting to get excited for Halloween, so here's a classic clip from the first "Treehouse of Horror" episode:

Staycation Thoughts

In Leaving Church, Barabra Brown Taylor coins the term "sabbath sickness," using it to refer to that restlessness that eventually seems to creep in as one observes sabbath time. Whether it's after ten minutes or a couple hours, she observes, our thoughts eventually wander back into the day's list of tasks. This is all well and good, we say to ourselves, but what else do I need to do before I go to bed?

This is something that we've absorbed through our modern culture. There's nothing to be gained by sitting still, by resting, by taking a few moments, a whole day, a week, to recharge. Sure, we take days off or vacations from jobs, but then there's laundry or dishes or grocery shopping or mowing the lawn or running the kids around. I don't have time for sabbath, and even if I do, that tasklist is going to be eating at me until I can start crossing off a few things.

Week One of my staycation ended yesterday, and it was a pretty good one. I hung out with Coffeeson on Monday, as we usually do. It was pretty rainy, so we didn't really go outside, but we had a good time nonetheless. Tuesday was my scheduled day at a retreat center in the area, which was something I'd really been looking forward to...I'll be spending some time there next spring for my sabbatical as well. The place is a few acres, complete with two labyrinths and a modest cabin-like retreat house tucked away at the back of the property. Unfortunately, I'd soon learn that the generator for the retreat house runs on solar power, and a string of overcast days combined with the place's recent heavy use made for a power-less generator. I salvaged my retreat day by spending time at a coffeehouse and then going grocery shopping.

On Wednesday I traveled to an area church that hosts contemplative prayer at noon every week, which was how Tuesday was meant to be spent. We were invited to invite a word to come to us, and then to meditate on that word. I had a couple come to me: "stay," "keep," and "carry," interspersed with images of Coffeeson. I was struck by the relationship between the words: they are distinct, yet similar in spirit. While I can perhaps point to how these words apply to current events in my life, I hesitate to explain it too much lest I lose the meaning. So I am content to allow them space to breathe and move, and I expect to make time this second week to reflect on them more.

The big news that came late last week are the dates for our house. We will be able to begin moving in the weekend before Thanksgiving. So this second week can be a time of packing and purging as well. I have some plans for what specifically I'd like to attack, so we should have a very good jump on this process.

This past Sunday was World Communion Sunday on the church calendar. It's one of my favorite holy days, and this was the third year in a row that I've taken this Sunday off. I haven't planned it that way, it's just how things have worked out. But I wanted to make a point of observing the day with a congregation, so I traveled down the road to a church once briefly yoked with mine, and joined in their celebration of that day. This somehow made the day seem complete for me.

So now we're into the second week of staycation, and there are things to be done: laundry, groceries, packing, and a wedding this weekend. We've had enough sunny days to make me confident that tomorrow's retreat day will go much better than the first.

And I think I'm getting sabbath sickness. As much as I've enjoyed the past week, being able to catch up on house chores and sitting down to read a stack of books, magazines, and newspapers, it's actually hard for me to envision another week without the routine that I had at the church. How is so-and-so doing? How'd worship go on Sunday? Maybe the mission committee should meet soon. I can only imagine what a five-week sabbatical next spring is going to do to me.

On the other hand, this is an important thing to realize and reflect on; probably the most important learning from this time off. And thus I make it one of the focal points of this second week, in between but also apart from other tasks.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

At A Church for Starving Artists, Jan reflected the other week on one of the blind spots of seminary education:
If you are a church leader or ever have been, you are surely aware of seriously mentally ill neighbors who have come through our doors. Sometimes they are strangers asking for money. Sometimes they are members projecting pathologies. Sometimes they are staff people who have a God complex. Often they are fine unless they don't take their meds.

Seminaries need to teach about this kind of thing. Case studies on the homeless woman who wants to camp on church property to help locate the tunnels under our building that the government is using to spy on us. Or the church member who believes that the choir is out to get him. Or the officer who hears voices tell him that he is really the pastor and he's been called by God to remove the professional minister.

This is not the kind of thing that came up in seminary.
I am thankful that it did come up in seminary for me. In fact, my time at Eden helped me discover how much of a blindspot mental illness is for many of our churches. It may be out of ignorance, or avoidance, or in the name of maintaining "church basement niceness," or what have you. At any rate, mental illness affects the vast majority of people, whether it is we ourselves or a loved one who is suffering.

The church could do much more to minister to the mentally ill, but it would involve many necessary precautions. The main one would be knowing when to refer to professionals while maintaining a relationship in order to care for their spiritual needs and communicating that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God, who has not abandoned them.

But the first step is knowing how much of a problem mental illness is, and knowing that with every passing year there is seemingly less support for it economically, among other things.

This week 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. Since 1990, mental health advocates across the country have joined together during the first week of October to celebrate.

MIAW is NAMI's premiere public awareness and public education campaign and link NAMI's 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.
The website for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one excellent resource for education and networking.

The book In the Shadow of Our Steeples, which helped make me more aware of these issues to begin with, is an excellent introduction to how the church may minister to those with mental illness.

May this be a week of awareness, education, and of breaking down barriers that prevent those with mental illness from experiencing grace and peace.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been continuing to read Keating's Invitation to Love, which I think has gotten better. He tells the story of Bernie, a fellow monk who was very unconventional in contrast with the typical practices of the Trappists. He went out of his way to greet his fellow monks despite the rules about silence (to which Keating adds, "After a while I just tried to avoid him"). He would look for and appreciate the divine presence in all creation rather than just in prayer and other spiritual disciplines. He eventually became a cook in another monastery, which was a great place for him to continue showing hospitality. This chapter so far is my favorite, and I'm hardly doing it justice here. Keating is much more appealing to me when he's sharing personal narratives and reflections like this.

I've also been reading Advent Conspiracy, the subtitle of which is "Can Christmas Still Change the World?" Yes, I'm reading Advent books already. I always do, to collect new ideas for how to preach the familiar themes of the season. Anyway, the three authors here make observations about the ridiculous consumerism that runs rampant leading up to Christmas, and advocates both reflecting on how Jesus would truly have us mark this season, as well as making specific suggestions: spending less or spending on specific things or from specific companies such as those with fair trade philosophies. They begin with a theological point about worship: what are we truly worshipping around Christmastime when we're spending so much time, energy, and money on expensive gifts? Specifically, the Advent Conspiracy advocates for Living Water International, which helps provide clean water for poorer countries.

I haven't watched LA Ink in a while. I've watched enough to know that Kat's new shop manager, Aubrey, is rubbing everyone the wrong way: she goofs off, she skips work at times, she doesn't have a clue when it comes to setting up artists' workstations, she oversteps boundaries with customers, and her personality is generally grating. Anyway, there were three episodes on in a row leading up to the season finale last night, during which Corey finally decides that he's done putting up with Aubrey and seems to issue an ultimatum to Kat...and then the episode ends! I thought this arc would be resolved last night, but now we have to wait until the next season! Bah.

I've also continued to watch Entourage, which had a lot of things develop this past week. Ari's old estranged mentor proposed that Ari buy him out (we later find out that it's due to his pending divorce). Jamie Lynn-Sigler breaks up with Turtle due to not wanting a long-distance relationship while she's working overseas. Drama and Eric both have health scares. And Vince? He has an easy-going personality and has sex with random women. So after last season when Vince had more of a personality while his career was on rocky ground, he turns back into a mannequin when his career rights itself. It's been kind of a meandering season anyway. Vince's buddies have branched out, which I thought would be a major theme, but Vince himself hasn't done much of anything besides have sex with a different person in every episode. No, seriously. He picks up a different girl almost every week. And yet Eric was the one this past week getting tested for venereal diseases. They could do a theme next season where one of these women winds up pregnant and Vince has to deal with the fallout. HOLLYWOOD SCANDAL~!

Around the web, Brant is back writing at Letters from Kamp Krusty.

Fair Trade Month

Tuesday was National Coffee Day, and October is Fair Trade Month:
Fair Trade certification is a market-based model of international trade that benefits over one million farmers and farm workers in 58 developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Fair Trade certification enables consumers to vote for a better world with their dollars, simply by looking for the Fair Trade Certified label on the products they buy.

Fair Trade Certified agricultural products including coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice, flowers, honey and spices (vanilla) are currently available at over 35,000 retail establishments in the U.S.

Fair Trade empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace. By guaranteeing minimum floor prices and social premiums, Fair Trade enables producers to invest in their farms and communities and protect the environment. But Fair Trade is much more than a fair price.

Fair Trade principles include:

Fair prices: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.

Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.

Direct trade: Importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to strengthen their organizations and become competitive players in the global economy.

Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to use their Fair Trade premiums.

Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like health care, new schools, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.

Environmental sustainability: The Fair Trade certification system strictly prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), promotes integrated farm management systems that improve soil fertility, and limits the use of harmful agrochemicals in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers' health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
Equal Exchange is one such company that sells fairly traded coffee, among other products. They have many faith-based partnerships as well, including the United Church of Christ.