Monday, November 30, 2009

First Monday of Advent

There are already only three Sundays of Advent left. This season seems to pass so quickly. But then again, if it was any longer it may not hold as much meaning. If, for instance, Advent began the second or third week of November, I may find myself complaining about how long it takes.

Thus, this is a season to be cherished; to be savored. The theme of preparation takes on a certain richness. I wouldn't say that preparation should have an urgent tone, though, as I think Advent is meant to invite reflection in contrast with the frantic atmosphere found in malls and shopping centers.

I preached yesterday on the idea of "pregnant pause," inspired by a post at this blog. I talked about how "pregnant pause" connotes expectation, and knowing that something is due to arrive. But we still need to wait and prepare in the meantime. Of course, the pregnant pause of Advent is the awaiting of a child, so the phrase is especially fitting. I also took a moment of personal privilege to acknowledge my five-year anniversary and to thank the congregation for all that I've learned and for all that we've done together so far.

Notice the blog is all bannerific again? I wanted to get all festive, and then keep it more personalized like that. I'm not sure I'm feeling this particular banner anymore, though.

I haven't worked through a devotional book for Advent for a year or two, so in preparation for this season I picked up a little book called The Uncluttered Heart. I've only read the first entry so far, but it seems like a decent enough spiritual companion to the season. I don't necessarily need anything groundbreaking when it comes to Advent devotions...I just need something to remind me of what I should be thinking about this time of year, even apart from church work.

I hope that your first week of Advent is shaping up to be a good one.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Five Years

Early in my ministry at my current call, I gathered with a group of fellow Eden graduates for a meal and conversation. There had been a strong contingent of us from northeast Ohio who'd attended Eden around the same time, and so we wanted to make it a point to get together occasionally for fellowship and support. That has since changed due to the arrival of children into the mix, and/or people moving away.

At any rate, during this particular gathering we'd eventually migrated to the back deck of our hosts' home, where one colleague shared something she'd observed during her time at her first church: "After three years, you'll find that the tone shifts. People will be more open and honest with you, and you will find that your relationships will change and deepen."

I respectfully disagree. That may have been when it happened for her, but for me it occurred closer to the end of Year Four.

That was when anxiety surfaced about the church's future, as well as an expressed desire for me to share some new ideas as we watch older established groups "retire." That was when my little church on the hill became more aware of its situation, or at least began voicing that awareness to me, and became more open to my role in helping move it into something different and new. That was when I began saying some hard, honest words about where we are and what we need to do.

It took four years. Four years of hospital visits and sermons and attempted youth functions and mission projects. Four years of establishing enough trust to get to this point. Four years of joy mixed with anxiety mixed with arguments about the inconsequential mixed with glimmers of hope for what could be if enough people believe and work toward it. Four years of accumulated capital, with more and more permission to spend it.

It's as frustrating a realization as anything else. What pastor wants to spend that long laying the groundwork so that s/he can enter a deeper stage of ministry after that? I asked God many times around the beginning of Year Five, "This is when we really get going? Are you serious?" And apparently, at least in this context, the answer was yes.

I've written here and there about the beginning of a more missional approach to ministry eclipsing a more traditional, attractional, social club-based approach where I am. I remember the moment when I realized that people were really latching onto this idea, and I remember when people began using the word "missional" during meetings, as naturally as could be. And I remember being so amazed, so awed by the fact that we were doing it.

It took four years, and over the course of Year Five, things started to happen. In retrospect, things were happening all along: groundwork laid, trust earned, etc. We have a way to go yet, but we're going somewhere. I think. I hope. I'm pretty sure.

Five years has been a magical milestone for me for...uh...the past five years. It has been for reasons that I didn't even really know about until I fully realized what's been happening the entire time. The big reason is because I earn a sabbatical after that time, which is already pretty much planned, reserved, and paid for.

As I collected resources for how to plan that sabbatical, I came across this article on the Alban Institute's website that describes the first ten years of a pastor's stay in one pastorate, which I've found to be pretty spot on. First, there's the description of Year Four:
Something happens to most of us during our fourth year at a church. We get restless. Not uncommonly, we find ourselves sitting in the office, looking out the window, and wondering what other ministry opportunities may lie ahead of us. The fourth year is often a time of low energy. Problems at the church that were previously a challenge have become merely a nuisance; we suspect that we may be solving the same problems over and over. During this year of malaise and ennui, you may, “just in case,” update your résumé and keep it on your personal computer’s hard drive.

One hazard faced by many pastors at this point: they may start paying the price for their lack of study and purposeful work in personal growth and professional development. If all you have is a bag of tricks, you may start running out of surprises to pull out of the bag (and believe me, some parishioners will notice). This malaise and lack of purpose may explain, at least in part, the phenomenon of pervasive turnover of parish pastors before the five-year mark.
Which, like, yeah. I felt that malaise. I looked out that window more than once. I wondered what we were doing together around that time.

But then comes the description of Year Five:
For most pastors the fifth year of ministry seems to be a latency year. People begin to trust you; some even like you. By now, a core group of members has come to love you. You begin to make your mark as the neighborhood pastor and find your niche in your local professional network. Having handled most administrative problems and basking in the renewed good will of a less anxious congregation, you coast a bit. You initiate creative programs or ministries and institute challenging changes. Because you enjoy by now a certain level of congregational trust, these are accepted with little resistance.
With the exception of the "coast a bit" phrase (I don't feel like the past year has involved a lot of coasting), the bold part is how the past year has gone. People seem less anxious, including my most vocal critics, and we've been talking about and slowly implementing some creative changes.

And here we are at the dawn of Year Six. Advent starts tomorrow. A sabbatical is mere months away. And while good things have been happening, there is promise for much more.

I give thanks for this special milestone, for me and for the church I pastor. And I look forward to what lies ahead.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

There's a part in Gilead where Ames writes about Jack attending worship, and he feels inspired to launch into an extemporaneous treatise on Hagar and Ishmael and their abandonment by others charged to care for them. This, of course, is an allusion to something in Jack's past. Ames expresses regret for it afterwards in Gilead, but in Home, of course, we get to read about it from the Boughtons' perspective. As one could guess, the incident gets all of them upset, and we read about trust being broken; the deep relationship between Ames and Boughton that should have produced reconciliation rather than what Ames did.

I got dragged to a late showing of New Moon this past weekend. To be honest, I was actually looking for a way to wind down after a long day of moving, so there was some willingness there. The line was just as long, but the screaming tweenies weren't nearly as abundant. We did sit right in front of a row of women in their late 30s or early 40s who'd gasp and giggle every time Jacob took his shirt off. Coffeewife called them the Cougar Brigade, which I thought was really funny. The quality of this movie was much better than the first, as was some of the acting. What was really helpful was that Coffeewife has talked about so much of this book over the past year or so that I actually knew what was going on and could keep up fairly easily.

We've been fascinated lately by a show on the Travel Channel called Man v. Food. The host, Adam Richman, travels around the country to taste local and regional specialties. But the feature of each show is him taking on a chosen restaurant's "food challenge." For instance, there was one episode serving a humongous breakfast burrito, the challenge being that if you could finish seven of them, your picture would go up on their "wall of fame." You get the idea. The guy has attempted to eat huge pizzas, burgers, & sandwiches, eat ridiculously spicy hot soup, and drink twelve milkshakes. One time he ate a 72-ounce steak. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he doesn't. Coffeewife and I always wonder how he doesn't weigh 400 pounds from eating all this stuff.

I broke out the Christmas albums earlier than usual, one of which being by Sarah McLachlan called Wintersong. It's been on my shelf for a couple years but I've never really listened to it much. It's a decent enough album. She interprets some standards in her own McLachlan-ish way, many of them slower and with some strings. She also covers a few popular songs such as John Lennon's "Happy Christmas (War Is Over)," which I didn't really like when Lennon did it either.

Here's a pretty amusing video showing how Disney recycles their animation templates:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm thankful...

...for Coffeewife, my best friend and partner, who pushes me and supports me in all that I do and who loves me sometimes in spite of myself...

...for Coffeeson, who has already shown such intelligence and creativity in his short 19 months, and who warms me with joy and laughter on a daily basis...

...for a church that has been patient with a fresh seminary graduate as he has shed that freshness and worked alongside them in ministry and mission...

...for our new house that we're just beginning to transform into a home...

...for other family that have come and gone and will come and go this week to help with that transition...

...for departed loved ones who have left lasting impressions on my heart and soul...

...for music and its intangible way of saying the right thing when words fail...

...and for much, much more. Truly, there is so much for which I am thankful, and sometimes I need to be reminded to express that thankfulness more often than one day a year.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You didn't notice, but I left. I'm back now.

I took a few days off from the internet.

From the moment the clock hit all zeroes in Michigan Stadium on Saturday, I decided I didn't want to have anything to do with the internet for a while. I didn't want to read the despair, bellyaching, and second-guessing on my Michigan blogs. I didn't want to read the Buckeye-ness of my Buckeye fan friends on Facebook. And I didn't want to write anything for this blog, because it'd inevitably be about the game, kind of like now but longer and with more anger.

So I just gave it up for 72 hours or so. I feel better now.


Okay, now I feel better.

Actually, I was doing much more important things that necessitated a break from the internet as well. I'm typing this from my new home office, amid plenty of boxes. Yesterday was the Big Move Day, when the vast majority of our stuff was moved by two men and a truck from the company of same name. Today, I have to commute to my church for the first time in nearly five years of ministry there. It's only 2-3 miles, but still. I don't work next door any more. And I believe I'll be very, very okay with that.

We're hosting Thanksgiving this year, as sort of the big family christening of the new place. It's dubious whether we'll all fit in the new dining room, but we'll play that part by ear. The more important piece is that everyone will be together, helping to make this house a home.

As much as I love fall, this time of year right now, Thanksgiving week through February, is a renewing, life-giving time for me. And as many years as that's been the case, I've only recently realized it. I look forward to Thanksgiving, to Advent and Christmas, to Epiphany, to my ordination anniversary, to several family birthdays as well as my own, and even to the beginning of Lent.

In short, I'm looking forward to winter. It has its brutal aspects, especially in northeast Ohio, but there is much to be anticipated, starting with this week. Fall is a favorite as well, but this one was more of a mixed bag than usual.

So I left for a couple days, but you probably didn't notice. Now I'm back. And I look forward to the months ahead as we settle into the new house and into several new seasons simultaneously.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I'd hoped to finish Home this week, but I still have about 100 pages to go. Lately, Ames' family has been present more, with Jack wanting to play catch with Robby and Rev. Ames giving Jack lots of disapproving looks. Since this is from Glory's point of view, there is only interaction between Jack and Ames when the Ameses visit the Boughtons, although we get more of Jack's side. In particular, we discover that Jack really wants to make an effort to win Ames' approval. He's a much more sympathetic character in this book. Or at least is sympathetic more throughout.

The week of The Game, ESPNClassic always shows a handful of past games. The very first that they showed this year was the 1969 game, which was Bo's first. With this year being the 40th anniversary of that game, I made it a point to sit down and watch. Boy am I glad Michigan doesn't do the helmet sticker thing any more. Later in the day, the 1995 game was on, during which Biakabatuka ran all over the Buckeyes (also, it was Carr's first Game after Moeller had to abruptly be let go). In both games, Ohio State came to the Big House as the overwhelming favorite, and Michigan was able to do a bunch of stuff that caught them off-guard and led to convincing wins. It gives me hope that that sort of thing is at least possible. Possible this year? I'm trying not to let my hopes get too high.

Internet Monk has an interview up with Mike Mercer, who is a hospice chaplain. The main concern of the interview is a model--or lack thereof--of pastoral care for the dying and grieving in evangelical churches. Even with that focus, I found it informative for "mainline/oldline" types as well because many of the concerns and things to be improved in our traditions are actually similar, in my experience. So go check it out.

Here's the video for "You and Me" by Dave Matthews Band, which has a cute little concept to it. I suppose that the main reason I post it is due to my surprise at the inclusion of Tim Reynolds, Jeff Coffin, and Rashawn Ross, who have been touring members and who all contributed to Big Whiskey, but whom I didn't think were permanent members. Their inclusion in this seems to give a strong indication that they're at least moving in that direction. Or not.

Dave Matthews Band - You & Me (Official Music Video) - Click here for another funny movie.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Between Homes

I hate moving. Not counting college and the time my family had to move back and forth after a house flood, this will be my 10th time moving. And I've hated it every time.

I hate tracking down boxes. I hate scheduling movers and/or renting a truck. I hate the meticulous process of going through all my crap and packing it (although there's something cathartic about throwing stuff out). I hate driving back and forth between the old place and the new place. I hate thinking I have everything packed up and then discovering that there's still so much left.

When we moved here from St. Louis, I discovered something new that I hate about moving. I've probably hated it all along, but I never picked up on it until that time.

I hate the feeling of being between homes.

When you pack up all your stuff, there are decisions to be made. What are the essentials that need to be left out until the last moment we leave this house? What pots and pans do we still need to cook with? How many sets of clothes to wear? What will Coffeeson need between now and then? Those items deemed essential are all that remain.

Everything else is temporarily removed from your active life. Pictures get taken down. Other items of entertainment stored away. And before long, you're left with stacks of boxes lined up like cardboard gravestones, memorials to a place that used to feel much warmer and much more inviting. For as long as it takes to pack, to finalize plans, and to move everything to the new place, home becomes hard to define. The current house becomes just a house. The new place hasn't really been made a home yet.

I clearly recall the despair that crept in the last time we moved. Our apartment had been packed and most of our stuff was already in transit to Ohio. All that was left was a TV on top of a box, our desktop computer set up on the floor, our sleeping arrangements a couple blankets with no mattress or padding. Coffeewife still had to work a few final shifts, so it was mostly me, our cat, and empty, echoing rooms. This was our life for only a couple days, but it was long enough to feel displaced without changing locations.

Fortunately, this move will go much quicker, and be much less lonely. We're only moving a few miles down the road, and there will be plenty of people around to help, so that feeling of displacement may not be as pronounced.

But It's there. It's always there. Our walls are becoming more bare, and we've been making decisions about essentials. We have to dodge around boxes to get from one room to another. The sense of home is disappearing, albeit more slowly.

I look forward to creating a home in our new place. I look forward to discovering what it will entail; how best to make it our own.

But this time in between homes is awful. As many times as I've moved and will move, I'll never get used to it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Still All In.

"Never mind. Brown fumbled it. They suck today."

This was one of many texts sent to me by my brother during this year's Michigan-Penn State game. It coincided with my church's swiss steak dinner, so I needed to rely on him for updates. But some variation of it could have been texted during the second half of the Illinois game. Or the second half of Purdue. Or the second half of Wisconsin.

Since Michigan's 4-0 start in September, which included an instantly classic win over Notre Dame, they've gone 1-6. That one win was a blowout against an extra-sweet cupcake team, which was an enjoyable Saturday spent at the Big House, but we knew the outcome back when the game was scheduled.

But back to the Notre Dame game. After that win, the fanbase began licking its lips for what this season could possibly bring. There began talk of going 8-4 or 9-3 and a New Year's bowl. Their 3-9 record from the previous season was becoming more and more of a distant memory.

Then they started losing. They lost close games to Sparty and Iowa, but then just fell apart four weeks in a row.

And as early as the Iowa loss, some different talk began. It was talk about how RichRod probably can't get it done after all. More and more people began calling for his head. Back-to-back losses to teams they probably should've beaten didn't help. This talk has persisted up to this point, and there is likely a long year of it ahead leading up to next season.

I'm a regular reader of MGoBlog, which has provided a voice of sanity in the midst of the chaos. The site has a forum, which has featured plenty of "Fire RichRod" rhetoric, but there have been more level-headed opinions offered by Brian (the site's owner) and others, including this one that I made a point to bookmark and will probably read repeatedly over the next nine months. The last couple paragraphs are the ones that give me most hope:
I want to end with just a glimpse of what a more TL;DR answer would be to the question I see spread by some persistently loud posters around here dismayed at Rodriguez and wondering where the accomplishments are. Sink on these numbers, with all rankings per Rivals.

In 2005-07, Michigan brought in 23 five/four star players. Only 13 remain with the program. Eleven of those recruits came from the 2005 class, so that's just 12 five/four star recruits in our jr/sr classes right now.

In 2008-2009, the two seasons where Rodriguez had to get them to sign on the dotted line, Michigan brought in 31 five/four star recruits, with 26 still on the roster that are either sophomore, redshirt freshmen, freshmen or redshirting.

Rodriguez is stockpiling talent. Replinishing the lifeblood of a program that had received guru approvals in the past thanks in large part to brand name alone. It might not be a very savvy or seasoned team right now. I would even grant that it's not a very well coached team right now, either. But, the program has at least twice as much talent in the underclassmen ranks as it does in the upperclassmen ranks. These kids intend on being here for awhile. I hope the coach that brought him here gets the same chance.
This year's Michigan team is the youngest in the Big Ten. They're starting mostly freshmen, sophomores, and walk-ons. But as this poster notes, many of the players that RichRod has signed are highly-touted, and most of them haven't seen the field yet. It'll be a couple more years before this team matures, and thus fans need to learn a little patience. Has RichRod made some questionable decisions during games? Sure. After the Illinois game I wrote an entry that'll remain unposted blasting those sorts of things.

I'm not really going to write much about The Game here. I'd love to see a win, especially since Ohio State will be wearing their cutesy little throwback uniforms on Michigan's field. I'd love to see karma dictate the outcome, but I also thought that Bo's death would help determine the outcome in 2006, and that Henne and Hart would atone for Appalachian State in 2007. Apparently the 1969 Michigan team (read: Bo's first team who upset the Buckeyes that year) will be in attendance, so one would like to think that those sorts of "intangible" things would help.

I no longer have any illusions about that sort of thing. Michigan is young, they're relying on freshman QBs, their defense has no depth and couldn't stop Illinois. A loss would still be upsetting, but not surprising.

But long-term, Michigan's future is bright if fans are able to look at the situation rationally.

I'm still All In. I still can do no other.

Go Blue.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


From Jaroslav Pelikan:

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living."

HT to Songbird.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Video-Heavy Pop Culture Roundup

I continue to read Home, but was glad to read 50 pages or so yesterday. That did a lot for me getting into the book more. Robinson is beginning to intersperse snippets of theology, mostly as Jack and Glory converse. The two muse on what a soul is and whether one can help save another. It's nothing too heavy, which would have weighed down the narrative, and since this isn't theology thinly masked as story like The Shack, that's all the deeper Robinson is going to take it. Fine by me. Interestingly, the relationship between Jack and his father hasn't been dealt with too much. There are small scenes here and there, but then the father gets tired and wants to go back to bed. I'd expected more interaction from those two.

I've finished Keating, which wasn't hard. In the final chapter, he offers the briefest of treatments to a handful of spiritual practices, and not all of them are necessarily practices: he mentions lectio devina, self-differentiation, staying away from groupthink, and a few others. I may give Keating another shot with another book someday, but maybe not any time soon.

Coffeewife and I watched a little bit of the Country Music Awards this past week. Why? Dunno. But we caught Darius Rucker's performance and Taylor Swift made a joke about Kanye and some other stuff. I've actually become fairly appreciative of country music the past few years, apart from the overly whiny stuff and Toby Keith. But then I found out the next morning that Dave Matthews had made an appearance to duet with Kenny Chesney on his song "I'm Alive." I didn't know that they'd even recorded this song together. So naturally I had to track down the Youtube:

This week I also learned of a DVD coming out entitled "The Rise and Fall of Five Iron Frenzy." Here's a teaser trailer that I found for that:

And the United Church of Christ recently produced a new video explaining our special denominational offering, Our Church's Wider Mission, which was debuted at General Synod, showed up at our Association meeting, and has been making its way around my Facebook friends. So now you have the option of watching it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Did I mention...

...that the final walk-through is this Friday?

And that we close next Wednesday, at which point we will be handed keys?

And that we should have electricity, cable, phone, and security all by Thanksgiving week?

And that we'll be moving all our stuff that same week?

And that despite that, we're still planning to host Thanksgiving?

Well...there you go.


Monday, November 09, 2009

Maybe She Was on to Something

Scene: The greeting line after worship yesterday.

An older woman walks up to the pastor and says, "That was a really good sermon!"

The pastor half-jokingly responds, "Yeah, for once!"

The woman quickly replies, "Oh no, I like a lot of them! I want a book of them!"

For a couple years now, I've toyed with the idea of a book project. Not coincidentally, it didn't really pop into my head until after I started blogging. This was due in large part to books generated by the RevGalBlogPals and RealLivePreacher, which of course were direct products of their blogging ventures.

So I started with a similar idea, but I've never been convinced that I have enough quality entries even from nearly five years of blogging to create a collection of "greatest hits" essays like RLP. I've tried to make this blog about that kind of serious content before, and it's just never worked out.

One idea that I've had more recently, however, is a collection of sermons from my first five years of ministry. It would be mostly for my church as a "thank you" of sorts, but certainly open to anyone else as well. My church member's comment yesterday reinforced the idea for me. And my upcoming sabbatical would provide the perfect opportunity to do all the compiling, formatting, and submitting.

Two qualifiers:
  1. I have no illusions of making any money off of this. Only well-known preachers could even dream of a collection of sermons producing a profit. And even then, do anyone other than other preachers and the author's church members buy them?
  2. I also have no illusions of this project being accepted by a real publisher. It'll be a self-published deal, and I'm okay with that. I love having total creative control, anyway.
More details about this to follow for any blog readers interested. Since I'm sharing the news here, it'd be silly for me to withhold the final project from you. This blog is semi-anonymous and all, but it's mostly people who know me who read it anyway.

And so it begins, I think. Will there be a more POC-specific book down the road? I think so. I'm thinking of more of a spirituality-specific focus...maybe a devotional book, but with my own twist. But those thoughts aren't fully formed yet.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Pop Culture Roundup

I've continued to read Home, though still slowly. I passed page 100 recently, and we've gotten hints of Jack's past actions and current concerns, thought they've been subtle. It is still too early in the story for that to be developed too much. Again, an afternoon in a coffeeshop may really get me into this book.

I've picked up Invitation to Love once again, now that my book study group has discussed the previously assigned chapters. The book is only 138 pages long, so I expect to be finished with it in the next week or so. Keating provides his own interpretation of the Beatitudes from Matthew, which he totally reads the monastic life back into. For instance, he takes "blessed are the poor in spirit" to mean that those who are not only poor, but who have consciously chosen to leave possessions "as God or others require," and instead place their trust in God, then they will be blessed. That's such a monk-ish interpretation. There are ways to infer from his other teachings about wealth that Jesus means such a thing, but considering all the time he spent with the downtrodden and outcasts, maybe the "poor in spirit" means the "poor in spirit," without a vow of poverty read back into it.

This year's live Ghost Hunters sucked. In years past, the SyFy network would set aside a 6-8 hour block of time on Halloween to follow the team around, with an online component for viewers to look at live camera feeds in rooms they weren't necessarily investigating at the moment. The idea with the internet was that people could write in if they caught a glimpse of something. So this year, I sat down to watch this live show, only to find that SyFy was counting down the five scariest GH episodes, with updates on the live investigation during commercial breaks. But people could still sit in front of their computers for 6-8 hours and watch the camera feeds. It was an incredibly lame, incredibly disappointing Halloween, and it didn't help that Michigan got blown out by freaking Illinois earlier in the day.

This Sunday's sermon is brought to you in part by Dave Matthews Band's "Funny the Way It Is." The official video for the song is a little odd, so I found a live performance instead:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Local Church Ministries Told to Take Some Cues from Emerging Church

Rev. Steve Sterner, Executive Minister for Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ, reported to the board that "existing churches" could stand to learn some things from "emerging churches:"
In his report to the UCC's Local Church Ministries board Oct. 23, the Rev. Steve Sterner looked back on two years as LCM's Executive Minister and charted a future for relationships with local congregations that serve two expressions of the church: "existing" and "emergent" churches.

"The Existing Church is far and away the largest partner in our mission from a numerical perspective," Sterner said. He expressed that the existing church:

is interested in perpetuating where it is, or where its memory is.
has members. Membership requirements are few.
supports the wider church out of historic obligation.
looks to the denomination for resources for its life.
has lots of committees that focus on programs.
is often pastor- or program-driven.
draws its identity from historic denominational theology and practices.
sees technology as a tool to be used.

Local Church Ministries will continue to take "the existing church" seriously as its partner and will respond to its needs, Sterner said. "Some existing churches," however, "are also increasingly stepping into elements of emerging churches," and understanding the difference is a key to the renewal of any congregation. He said the emerging church:

is interested in moving to where its vision is.
is mission driven.
has less interest in structure and more in relational communities.
draws its identity from multiple connections and partnerships.
has "disciples" rather than "members." There are expectations for being a disciple.
doesn't only "use" technology, but sees technology as part of its ethos.
is drawn to networks and relationships more than historical ties.

"I can't say this strongly enough: these are to some extent characterizations to make a point," Sterner said. "These are not criticisms. They are descriptions. These are only examples from a long list of descriptive possibilities."

Sterner said that LCM needs "to be attentive to both of these churches—new and emerging. We need to balance our staffing and our budget in appropriate ways in support of both." Increasingly, though, "the scales will be tilting to the emerging church" as new congregations grow and established congregations renew their life and become more like "emergent" churches.
People even in "existing churches" may look at this and say, "Well, duh," but the sorts of things that Rev. Sterner is talking about most likely will entail a major overhaul of a church's thinking and culture. For instance, many may argue that they are being faithful disciples, but every description that they provide for what constitutes discipleship relates to their involvement as a church member.

Rev. Sterner is also describing a post-denominational reality, where churches are identifying more and more with multiple networks and communities.

I think it's very important for the UCC to be talking about this at the national level. Continuing to be honest with ourselves about what truly works and what doesn't, what will inspire discipleship and what will just be propping up the institution, will help us face the future with our mind on transformation rather than survival. This includes the denomination as a whole and not just local churches.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Terrains of the Heart, Take 2

Last June, I wrote an entry entitled Terrains of the Heart. The phrase refers to physical locations that replenish our spirits whenever we're able to return, and that hold special places in our hearts when we're away from them. I played with the definition a little, suggesting that "terrains of the heart" can change over time, and depending on the company you keep while visiting them.

I was thinking about this phrase again the other day, because I believe that I've been grieving the passing of my latest terrain of the heart for the past several months.

Putting it into those words surprised me, but it makes sense. In the other post, I name St. Louis as my current terrain of the heart, but I'd probably narrow it to Eden Seminary. This past May, I returned to campus for my final eligible year to attend Herbster, their event for the five most recent graduating classes. It's always a time to revisit our favorite St. Louis haunts and share ministry advice and experiences. This event and the seminary in general had continued to serve as a reference point for us.

It was the final night of my stay this past year when I was ready to go home. I mean, I was mentally ready. I usually soak up as much of the atmosphere down there as possible, but it didn't have that same feel and I didn't have that same inspiration to do so. I was ready to get home to the Coffeefamily, my real home, my only home. This was the first instance of me realizing that I didn't really have a "second home" any more. Fellow graduates from classes ahead of me were no longer eligible to return, and I began to accept that I was about to join their ranks. Couple this with news of professor retirements or accepting new positions at other schools, and my terrain of the heart has become less and less of a reference point in the manner that I've treasured over the years.

I think that what has driven this point home recently is my anticipation of my five-year anniversary with my current call later this month. I am over five years out of seminary, and now I've completed nearly five years at this place. During these first five years, I've been able to return to Eden to recharge, reconnect, swap experiences. We have a Yahoo group for similar purposes, which has been dormant for months. We've become increasingly busy, have connected individually instead, have become busy with budding families or ministry, are settling into or seeking new calls. We've traveled further into careers such that priorities and needs are changing or have changed.

So as I look ahead to the beginning of my sixth year and beyond, I've begun to realize that my priorities and needs have begun to change as well, and a different point of reference, a different way to connect with friends and colleagues, a different terrain of the heart, is necessary.

As I've said, I've been grieving this without even really realizing it. Perhaps I've put it off or ignored the signs. But I'm ready to admit it and confront it now, and I'm more willing to seek out new terrains of the heart for my own rejuvenation and growth. I can already point to contacts and gatherings around my Association for such things. I can point to the retreat center I've been visiting lately. I can point to my own church's sanctuary. I can point to the new house that my family and I will soon turn into a home. And I can certainly point to those relationships from seminary that go beyond annual reunions, that endure through phone calls, e-mails, Facebook, or occasional meet-ups.

I grieve what is passing away, but give thanks for what endures and recognize (and even celebrate) that a new stage of life has begun.

Sunday, November 01, 2009


Yesterday evening, I haphazardly banged out a post about Michigan football. It was angry and doubtful and bitter. My mood was aided by a less-than-festive feel to Halloween...there was just nothing really Halloween-ish about it. We still live out in the middle of nowhere, so no trick-or-treaters bother to come up to see us. The live Ghost Hunters was a disappointment because it was mostly an online thing this year, which kind of goes against the fact that it was being hosted by a TV know, that shows TV shows. On TV.

Out of this sense of irritation arose a post that I decided to hold off on posting. What good would it do to post it? It was overly emotional and harsh, and it's not like I have many fellow Michigan fans who read this who'd chime in with support anyway. That, and what am I doing allowing a football game to affect me like that?

So I waited. I waited, and then I slept.

And then I got up an hour too early because Coffeeson didn't get the memo about the time change. So I made some coffee and settled in to watch his morning shows and read him books and ingest caffeine and think about All Saints Day worship.

Eventually, Coffeewife got up and took over for me so that I could shower and get ready. But before I did that, I meandered into the kitchen to top off my mug and grab a Pop Tart for breakfast. Plus I wanted a moment just to be quiet.

Our kitchen window overlooks a field, at this point in the year filled more with weeds than crops. It has long been harvested, and this is what remains. There is a treeline a fair way off, already bare thanks to a few days of wind.

It was at this point that I was able to take in the full realization that November has arrived. It is now late fall, where the bright colors of the leaves have given way to yellows or browns or bare branches. By Thanksgiving we'll probably see our first snow, as is the tendency of northern Ohio weather.

I set my coffee on the windowsill and finished my breakfast, taking in this scene and appreciating the unique beauty that is this time of year. I love fall in all its phases including this last one before the bitter cold of winter. Special celebrations are on the horizon, and they are marked by this natural scenery that only brings peace to my own spirit.

This was the right start to the day, and to the month. It helped me leave all the feelings of the night before behind.

That's just what November does.