Hey. Anybody else up yet? It's after 7:00, so I'm guessing that some of you are.

Me? I'm the only one awake so far. That could change at any moment, though.

I'm just sitting here, enjoying some coffee, thinking about the day.

I've got my non-notes ready to be preached. Last Sunday was low-energy, so that felt stunted. But I've got some good stuff for today. I think. The lectionary included 1 Corinthians 13 this week, and I figured it'd be good to reclaim its message as something more than just a wedding text. Because it really is much more than that. "Faith, hope, and love abide...and the greatest of these is love." How many Christians disagree whether in word or action whether love is the greatest out of those three things? How many would rather slide faith in there when nobody's looking? Yeah, that's pretty much the Corinthians' problem, too.

So then it's our annual meeting. Approving the budget, a change to the by-laws. This meeting always makes me antsy. It's mostly unfounded anxiety, but I always worry that somebody's going to use the opportunity to...what? I don't even totally know. Like I said, unfounded.

It's the last day of January. January's been a good month. It's been a good start to the year. February should be good, too. We're now two-thirds through the winter months, more or less. And now we're on the verge of Lent and all its invitation to reflect. Have I mentioned that I love the seasons that bring out the purple paraments? I probably have.

But January...January was good. I started some stuff, like bass lessons and preaching without notes. I continued some stuff, like ministry and family and breathing. I celebrated some stuff, like blogging and birthdays and anniversaries and ordination. Yep, I pretty much have nothing but good things to say about January.

But I'm also ready to say goodbye to January, and hello to February and all that it will bring.

There's no real point to this post, I guess. It's just...January was good. And I wanted to celebrate that with you all.

And now I'll continue with my day.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading The Process Perspective. It's really not holding my interest that well, I must say. I'm just not in a place to pay attention to it. It may just be that I haven't chosen the best times to continue reading it. But it just doesn't excite me at the moment.

I've also been reading For the Love of God for my book study, the second section of which is entitled "The God Within." These are essays all about how God can be found with us or in us. The first essay in this section is by Lynn Andrews, an American Indian shaman, who provides this quote that I found helpful: "Life is not a belief structure; shamanism is a way of experiencing life that expresses the Great Spirit." There are, I believe, parallels to the Christian life in this quote. Faith and discipleship are less about a belief structure and more a way of experiencing God in Christ in everyday life and expressing that through how we live. I never would have picked up this book if it wasn't for my book study, but it's been informative and insightful to read all these snippets from other traditions and faiths.

We watched the pilot episode of Nurse Jackie this week. We were just flipping channels and it happened to be on. If you've never heard of this show, it stars Edie Falco as Jackie, a nurse who has been around the block a couple times. In the very first episode, she flushes the severed ear of an abuser down the toilet, shows that she's having an affair with a pharmacist, and is addicted to pain meds. Coffeewife has since been in conversations/arguments at the hospital about whether this is a worthwhile portrayal of nurses. There's also an overly peppy nurse fresh out of school who gets a reality check the first day, and a cocky oblivious doctor played by Peter Facinelli (OMG TWILIGHT~!). There's also a lot of theology in this show. The characters work in a Catholic hospital (even though I noticed in one scene in the chapel, a character is holding an Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer). Jackie reflects on a quote from Augustine, and the peppy new nurse wonders about how much pain God allows to happen in the world. So there's more theology in this show than there was on ER, which had an actual chaplain.

I've been listening to London Calling by The Clash this week. I'd never heard it and was feeling deprived. It's not the punk album I think a lot of people might expect if they just go off what they've heard from Green Day. The Clash have some jazzy riffs and play some ska, among other things. It's such a diverse album.

Here's a graph from GraphJam:

funny graphs and charts
see more Funny Graphs

Open Forum: Sabbatical Reading

As I've mentioned a few times on this blog, I'll be taking a sabbatical near the end of April. It'll be for five weeks, and will last until the end of May. I have planned some activities for that time, which I'll lay out fully later. Those are not what this post is about.

Aside from those specific activities and trips, I have a few larger goals for this sabbatical.

On one hand, I want to spend time reflecting on Bigger Professional Things. I'd like to take stock of what passions I've discovered since beginning full-time ministry, as well as passions I've let fall by the wayside. I want to think about possibilities for further education or training. I want to think about who I want to be and what I want to be about as a pastor in general.

On the other hand, I very much want to think about me and my church. 5+ years is a long time to be together, and I want to avoid getting stuck in a rut. I want to continue developing healthy ministries, and I want us to keep challenging ourselves. And I want to keep approaching things with a creative eye, recognizing when something has played out and being ready to consider alternatives.

And that, Super Readers, is why I am writing this post.

I'm still developing a reading list for this time, and I'm not coming up with much. I'm looking for books that encourage a pastor's creative spirit, or that speak to issues related to long-term ministry. And I call on ministerial colleagues out there in CoffeeNation to help me out.

Have you come across a book that touches on these themes? I'm not looking for specifics such as "How to Be a Better Preacher" or "How to Give More Effective Pastoral Care" so much as "How to Sustain a Long Pastorate" or "How to Keep Nurturing Your Creativity." Stuff more like that. It may not even be a ministry-specific book.

At any rate, if there are books like that that you know of, please share. The comments are yours.


Every year on this date, I listen to or watch my ordination service. I don't know how much longer I'll keep up this tradition, but at least for now it seems fitting.

When I do this, I especially pay attention to two parts.

First, I grab my UCC Book of Worship, and read along with the vows. This helps me reconnect with the promises that I made five years ago. I reaffirm them, and wonder how well I'm doing at keeping them. The promise that has stood out to me in years' past has been the one to minister impartially. That's been a difficult one to swallow at times, I must admit. But I've done my best to honor it. I read along, and I hear myself speaking the words over and over: "I will, relying on God's grace."

Relying on God's grace. I have certainly had to do that. In moments both strange and routine, both joyful and frustrating, "relying on God's grace" has applied in each instance. More recently, as I've pondered what it takes to be with a church for the long haul while still engaging in vibrant, creative ministry, relying on God's grace is sometimes all I can do.

The second part to which I pay special attention is the sermon. My home church's pastor preached at that service, and said many things that have stuck with me these past five years. Today, however, even leading up to this annual tradition of mine, one quote has already entered my mind:
If this feels like a coronation...get over it.
Again, there have been many moments over five years that have reminded me of this fact. I've found humility in my limited knowledge, in times when I've needed to rely on others with gifts that I don't have, in the reality of the Church's earthly situation, and in my own sense of call to this or any other ministry setting.

Over and over and over, I've been reminded that ordained ministry isn't about me. Over and over and over, I've been reminded that I did not receive this calling to be a king, but to be a servant.

Five years ago today, I celebrated something that has marked me ever since. I haven't always understood it or appreciated it. But I've forged ahead, knowing that it's bigger than me.

And, relying on God's grace, I am thankful.

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished Volume 9 of The Sandman, entitled The Kindly Ones. This is the longest volume, and a huge turning point for the series. Many familiar characters from past stories re-emerge; some meet tragic ends. Reading this very much felt like watching the last episode of Angel...there is resolution for some characters, things are left wide open for others, and still others don't make it to the end. All of it happens with this sense of foreboding and finality, and when the Big Moment finally comes, it's almost a relief.

I've also begun re-reading The Process Perspective by John Cobb. I re-read Cobb's introduction to process theology last year and meant to re-read this shortly after as a refresher, and now I'm finally getting around to it. This book is a "frequently asked questions" list about process theology, with a few pages of explanation at most for each question. Still, I think it assumes some advanced knowledge and thus isn't an introduction so much as perhaps a clarification.

This week I pulled out Our Newest Album Ever by Five Iron Frenzy. One of their songs popped into my head while I was pulling my sermon together. In the song "Every New Day," Reese Roper sings about being more idealistic when he was younger, and more willing to dream. It's basically a prayer to get that ability to dream back. There are plenty of other great songs on here as well, and eventually I felt compelled to listen to the whole thing.

I picked up Gov't Mule's latest album, By A Thread, this week. Truth be told, I've only heard maybe half the album, as I've been listening to it in the car. So far, this album has not made as strong an impression on me. The staple blues-rock sound is still there, Haynes' guitar-playing is still awesome, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top even appears on one song. But there's a certain "been there, done that" feel to some of the songs. "Monday Mourning Meltdown," for instance, is an angry political song, but "Unring the Bell" on High and Mighty was done much better..."Meltdown" seems forced. There was another track that I just skipped over about halfway through because it wasn't holding my interest. Don't get me wrong, I've found plenty to like: "Broke Down on the Brazos" (with Gibbons), "Steppin' Lightly," and a few others have the punch that the Mule is more known for. Once I get through even one complete listen and then hear some of these again, I'm sure I'll appreciate it more. But in terms of favorite albums, Dose and High and Mighty are still your reigning champions.

Here's Laurel and Hardy dancing to The Gap Band:

This Is The Penguins' House. Recanize.

From the Huffington Post:
These penguins are hard, man. Real hard. When you see them walking down the street, you better recognize. Because you do not want to cross these penguins on their own turf. Not on anybody's turf. So do yourself a favor: get out of the way. Penguins are coming through.

The Weekend

This was one of those weekends that stood out; that was especially notable and seemed worth blogging about.

Friday evening was my first bass lesson. I didn't really know what to expect, but I knew that I wasn't going to pretend to be better than I am. From what I'd heard, the first lesson is more about the teacher evaluating your skill level and getting to know you so that he knows where to start. We talked a little about my musical background, and he had me play a song I knew just to judge my technique. I chose the opening riff from Dave Matthew's Band's "Crush." Overall, he thought I looked pretty good, but gave me some pointers on that and then showed me some stuff about the root note, the 4th, and 5th. I sort of knew about this, but had never looked at it in a disciplined way...which was the point of me starting lessons to begin with.

Saturday evening, I traveled to the Catholic church in town. Right around the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the ministerial association of which I'm a part holds a pulpit exchange, and this year I was set to be a part of their Saturday evening mass. The priest and I hung out in the rectory for a little bit, since I'd arrived in plenty of time to try to get my bearings. When we finally did travel over, I noted that he was wearing sneakers. He's a pretty laid-back guy that way. I can't even recall if he wore a collar. Nevertheless, of course, he did get fully decked out in alb and chausible before the service.

For the bulk of the service, my Protestant-ness was on full display. I sat with the priest up front, and couldn't find a missal nearby, so I mostly listened. It felt like an exercise in voyeurism that way. I muddled my way through The Nicene Creed...if it'd been The Apostle's Creed, I'd have been okay. I was familiar with responses such as the Kyrie and after the scripture readings, but that was about it.

Aside from that, this was my first sermon back on the notes-less bandwagon. I had reservations about starting this in an unfamiliar environment, but it didn't really affect me once I got going. I used Isaiah 64:1-5, reflecting on the new names that God gives to the nation and land in that passage, and talked about our common name as Christians no matter what specific name (Catholic, UCC, etc.) that we claim. It seemed to be received very well, and afterwards I had at least one comment about my lack of notes.

Near the end of the service, the priest presented me with a gift: a hand-carved olivewood lion lying with a lamb from Bethlehem. I was very flattered and honored that he would do that. It will be prominently placed somewhere in my office.

Coffeewife and I then went on a real live date in celebration of the 11-year anniversary of our first date. We originally wanted to see a movie as well, but due to my being at the Catholic church it was already getting late. Couple that with a Saturday evening-sized crowd at the restaurant and it was close to 9:00 by the time we paid for our food. We didn't mind...we were content to have even that time to ourselves, talking about career goals and reminiscing on that night 11 years earlier that began at a swing dance hosted by my fraternity (we'd actually both come with other dates, but not on any romantic level), and continued at the after-party.

On Sunday afternoon, my Association bade farewell to our Association Minister, whose family is moving to upstate New York due to a new call for his wife, who is an Episcopalian priest. I myself was disappointed in the turnout for this service, but it may have been due it being on a Sunday afternoon. My more cynical side thinks it also reflected the state of denominational commitment and attributed importance.

Besides that, it was a very meaningful service, with our now-former Association Minister visibly moved by the event. He read part of a homily that he's kept over the years that he'd found meaningful. They gave him several goodbye gifts, and we shared in communion. I've been thankful for his guidance and friendship over the past four years, and wish him nothing but the best.

Oh, and MIchigan basketball beat #15 UConn. Go Blue!

So it was a good weekend. Now I turn my attention to a busy week.

The Devil Writes Pat Robertson a Letter

Satan tries to set things straight with Pat:
Dear Pat Robertson,

I know that you know that all press is good press, so I appreciate the shout-out. And you make God look like a big mean bully who kicks people when they are down, so I'm all over that action.

But when you say that Haiti has made a pact with me, it is totally humiliating. I may be evil incarnate, but I'm no welcher. The way you put it, making a deal with me leaves folks desperate and impoverished.

Sure, in the afterlife, but when I strike bargains with people, they first get something here on earth -- glamour, beauty, talent, wealth, fame, glory, a golden fiddle. Those Haitians have nothing, and I mean nothing. And that was before the earthquake. Haven't you seen "Crossroads"? Or "Damn Yankees"?

If I had a thing going with Haiti, there'd be lots of banks, skyscrapers, SUVs, exclusive night clubs, Botox -- that kind of thing. An 80 percent poverty rate is so not my style. Nothing against it -- I'm just saying: Not how I roll.

You're doing great work, Pat, and I don't want to clip your wings -- just, come on, you're making me look bad. And not the good kind of bad. Keep blaming God. That's working. But leave me out of it, please. Or we may need to renegotiate your own contract.

Best, Satan
HT to Nachfolge.

Pop Culture Roundup

As I mentioned, I re-read Preaching Without Notes this past week. And I'm going to go ahead and get that going this weekend. It's been amazing how effortless the process has been, how easily I've slipped back into preparing this way. A big reason for that, of course, is that I actually took heed to some things in this book that I skipped over the last time. I recommend this book to anyone looking to preach without notes, and even to people who don't think they can do it.

I've returned to reading The Sandman graphic novels, having finished World's End this week. I might call this volume one of my favorites. Gaiman structures these such that each volume can be read on its own or in sequential order, and this volume is about a group of travelers who are stuck at a mystical tavern at the edge of all worlds, who tell stories to wait out the "reality storm" (a huge shift in reality caused by some metaphysical event). It would take me some effort to really explain this. At any rate, the stories told are incredibly well-done, and with the signature strangeness, charm, and brilliance of the Sandman series. Eventually, it is revealed that the "reality storm" has been caused by the death of a cosmic being...the travelers watch the funeral procession pass. The identity of the deceased isn't revealed, but there are more than enough clues for the reader to take an educated guess.

After that, I rushed upstairs and grabbed the next Sandman volume, The Kindly Ones. I'm not very far into it at all, but the introduction confirms what the reader suspects at the end of World's End.

I've been listening to The Jimi Hendrix Experience this week. It's been in my collection for years, but I had never really listened to it that much. This is Hendrix's debut album, containing a few of his classics like "Purple Haze" and "Hey Joe." And if you went only by what classic rock stations play, you'd think these and maybe one or two others were the only songs he ever performed. There are of course many more hidden gems on this album, and it would do people well to get beyond the couple of overplayed favorites that everybody knows, especially in this case to realize that this album features a trio and not just Hendrix. Mitch Michell, for instance, gets some excellent drum licks in. But you need the whole album to appreciate that fully. One other thing: has anyone ever noticed that Hendrix really isn't much of a singer?

I'm a Conan O'Brien fan. I do not think Jay Leno is funny. Back when I lived in the Central Timezone, I'd watch Late Night With Conan O'Brien every night, and when it was announced that he'd take over The Tonight Show in 2009, I was beyond thrilled. When it seemed as if somebody at NBC didn't want to let Leno go completely by giving him another talk show, it just smelled bad to me from the beginning. First, four talk shows in a row? Nobody thought that might be a bad idea? Second, did Leno build his audience in less than a year when he took over for Carson? At any rate, I'll watch wherever Conan's hosting. Here's Conan from the other night joking about the situation:


I was going to write a response to Pat Robertson's latest spewage about the earthquake in Haiti, but I don't have the energy for that.

Plus, the people of Haiti need much more attention than theologically inept blowhards.

The United Church of Christ has set up a fund for relief, as I'm sure most if not all other denominations have done. The Red Cross has as well, of course.

If you are part of a faith community, please consider taking an offering for such efforts.

And pray. They need that, too.

Preaching Without Notes

A couple years ago, I attended my Conference's annual gathering, which always features a "professional event" for pastors the day before or after. I normally don't attend these (actually, I haven't been big on attending the Conference gathering besides, but that's a separate post), but I did that particular year. The featured speaker for this event was David Greenhaw, president of my seminary alma mater and occasional professor of preaching and worship.

I honestly don't remember what Dr. Greenhaw talked about. It surely had something to do with the church. What I do remember, though, is how struck I was by his delivery. Understand that I took two classes from this man, so I saw this same delivery for a year or so, not to mention the times he preached in chapel, convocation, graduation, and whatever other official function arose. But on this evening, in a different context and a year or more removed from school, it just hit me differently. He'd spend large chunks of his talk out among the people, talking, ruminating, telling stories, mentioning a theological concept here and there. Every 10-15 minutes (this was a presentation rather than a sermon), he'd wander back to his podium, take the briefest of glances at whatever notes he had, and then wander back out and talk some more.

I remember being struck by this delivery: by how engaging and conversational and natural it was. Sure, I'd seen this during seminary, but this time was different, mostly given the context, but also for one other reason.

Having been preaching nearly every week for a year by that point, mostly from full manuscripts, this made me think to myself, "Why can't I do that?" Why can't I be more conversational in my preaching? Why can't I rely on my notes for only a few cursory glances? I'd been in theatre, for crying out loud!

There was one other factor that caused me to start thinking about preaching without notes. Again, having spent a year typing out full manuscripts, the process was becoming a hassle. An "albatross," as a colleague has put it. I was getting tired of trying to come up with pages and pages of text and then becoming familiar enough with it that it wouldn't come off stilted and dry. I remember one week--the first time I preached without notes--I finally became so fed up with the manuscript process that I went ahead and wrote out a few notes and spent that next Sunday just walking around and talking, much like I'd seen Dr. Greenhaw do. It was invigorating, and it made me fully aware that preaching like that every week was really possible.

Shortly after, I picked up a book about preaching without notes entitled...wait for it...Preaching Without Notes. It provides an excellent day-by-day breakdown of how to prepare to preach without notes.

Unfortunately, I ended up ignoring half of what it said. I quickly abandoned my original venture of writing out a few sentences, opting instead to type out a few pages' worth of outline and basically memorize it.

This caused a few things to happen. First, I wasn't really preaching without notes. I was simply preaching with memorized, detailed, rehearsed notes. This made the sermon slightly more conversational, but looking back I'm sure it looked like I was reciting something, or at least it felt that way to me many times. Second, I'd be incredibly grumpy on Saturday evenings out of fear that I'd completely forget some important line that I wanted to make sure to use the next morning.

I used this preaching format for nine months or so before I decided that I couldn't keep up with it any more. Given the specifics, it's little wonder. Preaching without notes involves just as much preparation, but I think I was adding even more unnecessary preparation on top of it.

Still, I received some of the most positive feedback about how well people were able to pay attention; how engaging that style was for them. One person said, "I can understand so much better when you preach that way." There's something about preaching without notes that can connect with people in a way that a manuscript read from behind a pulpit can't.

So over the weekend, I re-read Preaching Without Notes. Here are some important items that I missed the first time around, along with some general things for preachers who insist they can't let go of their notes:

~Learn the text inside and out. Historical stuff, literary context, word studies, and every fleeting interaction that you have with it. Webb notes that when you do this, your memory work is already starting as you become familiar with your chosen Bible passage.

~The sermon shouldn't be about more than one thing, not even several things that weave together. Don't make it hard on yourself when memorizing your notes. Notes-less sermons can't be complicated. (Should sermons be complicated otherwise? Not so much, in my opinion.)

~Each section of material should be broken into workable-sized chunks that are distinct from one another in subject matter, yet also flow from one to the next. If one chunk is too big, break it into two smaller ones. Again, this aids in memorization.

I found preaching without notes to be some of the most engaging, rewarding preaching I ever did. I'd really like to return to it, and I hope to soon.

Coffeehouse Chaplaincy

A few years ago, I learned of a colleague who makes it a point to spend a few hours at a coffeehouse each week. Same time, same place. It's advertised on his church's website: "You can meet with our pastor at [this time] at [this coffeehouse]." And as far as I know, he gets visitors. I don't know whether they're members or curious seekers or what. Every once in a while, he advertises that on a particular day he'll have another colleague with him to talk with people. On one occasion, Brian McLaren sat at that coffeehouse with him willing to talk to whomever accepted the invitation.

I actually have yet to ask my colleague about this practice. But it immediately perked up my ears. It doesn't get more missional than what he's doing. I have to imagine that he's getting to know the restaurant staff and other regulars. He's a visible presence on behalf of his church for the community. He's getting out of the freaking church building and interacting with people in a common and popular "third place" (because let's be honest...for an increasing amount of people in our culture, the church ain't so popular of a "third place").

Jan at A Church for Starving Artists recently wrote on a similar theme when she recounts an experience while typing her sermon at a coffeehouse:
The two men were working together on some kind of Republican political event. The other woman seemed to be writing in her diary. After the men left, the remaining woman and I kept to our work, occasionally staring into space in search of inspiration. She was looking towards the bar when she said something out loud - sort of to herself - and I replied, "What did you say?" And she said it again: "I wish my church was like this."

Don't we all?

It wasn't the first time I've come here alone or with friends and heard those words: "I wish my church was like this." I interpret this to mean "I wish the church was easy and warm and comfortable and diverse and tangibly hospitable. I wish there was more art and moving around and conversation and work and laughter and sitting and even praying." I've prayed here many times. I've had staff meetings here. I've celebrated births and deaths here.
This post drives home the point that people find a comfort and energy at coffeehouses that they don't necessarily find in church buildings. I imagine that that's at least part of the reason why my colleague does what he does as well.

So my new ministerial undertaking this year will be to set aside some time to essentially do what my colleague does: spend a few hours a week at a coffeehouse and be more of a missional presence in my church's nearest community. As my church sits out by itself on a hill with its affiliated community a mile or two away, it becomes that much more necessary.

January is going to be my "trial run" before I begin advertising it. This will take some adjustment, as it can be quite a commitment.

I've already learned one valuable lesson. This past Wednesday was my first attempt. I figured I'd go Wednesdays, 1-3 p.m. For a variety of reasons, it seemed like the best time. So I sat down, started typing my sermon, people-watched a little...until everyone but the barista left. So I found myself wondering whether this would be such a great time to do this. Finally, as I stood to leave, I noticed a sign advertising business hours and realized that they had closed an hour earlier. I apologized to the barista, who said they usually let people stay longer. Still, I need to rethink my strategy.

Nevertheless, I've taken the first step. We'll see how it goes.

Edit: Greg at The Parish, whose blog I appreciate for keeping me honest among other things, coincidentally has just posted his own take on this sort of thing. My vision is not to approach people with intentions of proselytizing; of starting up fake chit-chat so I can eventually blindside them. I saw and heard too much of that years ago. My vision is more along the lines of what Dan Kimball describes in They Like Jesus But Not the Church, where he really does just hang out, gets to know people, and then they react with total surprise if/when they find out he's a pastor. In other words, I want this to be much more organic than any proposed method of evangelism.

Pop Culture Roundup

My first book of 2010 is The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. I'd leafed through it a couple times at Barnes and Noble, curious but never committed, and then I got it as a Christmas gift. I thought it would be more madcap, but part of the joke is how seriously the author approaches the subject. In effect, this really is an instruction manual for how to defend yourself from zombie attacks. The most interesting part has been simply learning more about the world of zombies: the book details the root cause of zombie-ism, how to kill zombies, what weapons work best, best options for safe havens, and most effective methods to take down a zombie army. The book finishes with 80 or so pages of zombie outbreaks throughout history. It's been quite fascinating, and entertaining.

I've also been reading For the Love of God for my book study group. This is a series of essays on spirituality and God-experience by a diverse array of authors such as The Dhali Lama and Matthew Good. Good's essay on experiencing God in all of creation and the presence of both death and resurrection has been a personal favorite so far.

We watched Angels and Demons this past week. I was iffy on watching it, because 1) I really liked the book, 2) I got really sick and tired of the Da Vinci Code "controversy" when that movie came out, and 3) I didn't like the Da Vinci Code movie. A&D was done better, although it was still kind of a flat action movie with a lead actor who is not an action star. They also made changes to story, effectively cutting out one of the book's major characters and minimizing the discussion of religion and science that was such a huge part of the book. At best, that discussion was just used to prop up the action stuff. So it still wasn't a great movie, but at least better than its predecessor.

We also watched The Incredible Hulk this week. This is the version with Edward Norton after people realized how awful the previous movie was. This was also a case of "I'm bored, and this movie is on." It actually wasn't horrible. In this version, Bruce Banner is hiding from the government while trying to find a cure for his condition. The military, of course, is trying to hunt him down because they want to weaponize his condition; to create supersoldiers. One soldier volunteers for such an experiment, and eventually we end up with The Hulk versus The Abomination. Lou Ferrigno has a cameo, as does Robert Downey, Jr. in a foreshadowing of a possible Avengers movie down the road.

This past episode of Monday Night RAW was surreal. They've had celebrity guest hosts the past few months, and this past Monday's host was Bret Hart, a former wrestler who left the WWE some 12 years ago under very ugly circumstances. The short version is that at that time, WWE and another company, WCW, were going neck and neck in ratings with WCW starting to have the edge. Hart was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with WWE's direction and started talking to WCW. Hart was also the WWE Champion at the time, and he wanted to drop the belt his way before leaving. The owner, Vince McMahon, came up with a plot to take the belt off of him during the 1997 Survivor Series pay-per-view in Montreal by having Hart's opponent and real-life bitter rival Shawn Michaels apply a submission hold and have the ref quickly ring the bell. That all sounds like a typical scripted wrestling story, but it wasn't. Click here for a much more exhaustive version. And so for 12 years Hart had vowed never to work with WWE again after what has come to be known as the Montreal Screwjob. Well, this past Monday Hart returned to RAW and stood face to face in the ring with Michaels, and the two had appeared to reconcile, even hugging at the end. That last part almost caused a Coffeepastor Head Asplode. It was really strange, but it was the most excited I've been to watch wrestling in a couple years.

I've been listening to Flight of the Conchords' newest album, I Told You I Was Freaky, which is essentially all the music from season 2 of their HBO show. The music is not unlike that season: flashes of brilliance, but not as strong as the first. The guys do more rap and R&B on this one, which again is hit-and-miss. I think that's also what happens when your first album is of songs you've spent years crafting and performing in stand-up routines, and your second album is of songs that were more hurriedly produced for your TV show.

This is my cousin's band, Wayside Manor. I felt like giving him some props here.

The Best and Worst of Five Years of Blogging

Today is my five-year blogiversary. In honor of this more-or-less monumental achievement, I thought that I'd take a look back and bring you my five absolute favorite posts, followed by five mea culpas for posts that should never have been posted.

My Five Favorites

1. I Was Watching - During Lent 2008, I decided to take on a blogging discipline where I would intentionally write longer essay-type posts. This was one result, about how pastor's kids who enter the ministry themselves may often do it despite being pastor's kids. I tell part of my own story in the process.

2. Darren - Another result of that Lenten discipline, and I might call it the single-best entry that I've ever written in five years of blogging. This is about the loss of a college friend and experiencing the community of mourners who gathered to say goodbye.

3. Children's Sermons That Textweek Rejected - I don't know how much time you spend on Textweek.com, or whether you've ever ventured to the "For Children" section looking for children's sermon ideas, but I'm often not impressed with the vast majority of them. They take way too much preparation, are theologically (or just logically) questionable, or may leave the wrong impression with the kids. So I wrote this parody hoping to skewer all these things. This entry holds the record for number of comments, so I'm guessing it's not just me who thinks this way.

4. St. Louis - the First Year - This entry sat in my Drafts folder for a couple months before I actually posted it. It's about the struggles that I went through my first year of seminary; how it seemed nearly everything I thought I was sure about was upended during that time. My experiences both in and out of the classroom sparked a dark night of the soul that didn't end for nine months. This entry's purpose was to look back on what caused it, and to also be thankful for the growth that resulted from that time.

5. The Emerging Church in Rural Ohio - As regular readers know, I'm a pretty big fan of the emerging/emergent church. At times, though, I think aspects of it invite needed criticism. One aspect that I've picked up on is how often the emerging conversation seems to center on urban issues, or is meant to appeal primarily to big-city hipsters. This entry asks the question, "What about the rest of us?" It eventually was published in the online e-zine Next Wave as well.

Five Posts I Wish I'd Never Written

1. Living in Ohio is Awesome! - While walking to my car at a gas station one day, a guy yelled a homophobic slur out of his car window at me because I was wearing a Michigan shirt. So I composed this entry about how moronic it is to treat people like that on the basis of a sports rivalry. It was incredibly sarcastic, and I don't really regret much about the entry itself. It's more the comments that it inspired, which I finally decided to close. I still get hits on this entry through Google, mostly of course from people searching for "ohio is awesome." I didn't feel like having to referee an entry a few years old any more.

2. Paranoia, or Legitimate Beef? - A few years ago my church hosted a movie night. The original plan was to project a movie onto the side of the church and have everyone sit on blankets or lawn chairs. A week or two later, the big non-denominational church around the corner started advertising a drive-in, which I took at the time to be a direct shot at one-upsmanship. In retrospect, I probably blew it way out of proportion and I don't even really care that it happened now. Nevertheless, this entry sparked a flurry of discussion at a more conservative blog that lends itself to defending the honor of megachurches. The whole episode was much ado about nothing in the long run.

3. An Evening With Brian McLaren - This is my recap of a debate that I attended at Malone University between Brian McLaren and Malone professor Bryan Hollon. I don't regret writing this so much as I regret how I wrote it. If I could write this one over again, I would have written a more fair summation rather than the catty entry that I produced. I was needlessly harsh toward Hollon, and I probably could have worded my critique of McLaren much better as well so as not to invite quite so much defensiveness from fellow emergent Christians.

4. Back From Crying in My Beer - This entry should have caused me to get my privileges as a Michigan fan revoked, or at least suspended. Written a few days after the Appalachian State loss, I said all sorts of stupid things like considering switching allegiances (Michigan State? Really?) and implying that Lloyd Carr isn't a real Michigan Man. Dealing with your historically dominant football program showing serious cracks in the foundation apparently can cause you to say incredibly ridiculous things. Notice that the past two years I haven't written anything similar, though. I've weathered a lot as a fan these past 5-6 years, and this was a particularly weak moment.

5. The Entire "365 Albums" Category - You may or may not recall that this was my endeavor to listen to a new album a day for a year. It lasted six weeks. Coffeeson was very young at that point, and I was very tired, and this was mostly a case of bad timing. On the plus side, I heard some good music for that month and a half, and every once in a while I think about resuming. But not yet. As it stands now, I see this as a failed experiment and slightly embarrassing.

Playing Bass

One of my plans for 2010 is to take bass guitar lessons.

"But Coffeepastor...didn't you say something a while back about wanting to focus on drums? Like here?"

Oh, you remember that. Well, here's the thing. I play guitar on Sundays for worship, and the amount of talent and dedication that it takes for that is all that I believe I'm willing to devote to that instrument. I'm actually comfortable with my current "praise song level" of ability. And make no mistake that "praise song level" is a true, albeit unofficial, level of ability...just learn the most common chords and become competent with a few barre chords and you can play no less than 98% of all praise songs ever written. What I really want is something I feel more passionate about, something I can dedicate myself to musically.

I thought that that would be drums. It was a no-brainer, really. They're my first musical love. However, I have a 20-month-old, and the only time I can really practice is when he's asleep. And I can't lug my drums someplace else to practice them. My church doesn't have a square inch of space to spare.

So that leaves the bass.

To begin with, I picked up the bass on kind of a lark. I'd been playing in a band my freshman year of college, and by the end of that year I'd begun to pick up a friend's bass and noodle around. He taught me where a couple notes were, and pretty quickly I'd decided that I could expand my musical repertoire. So I bought his cheap-o headless Cort bass (like so) and continued my noodling. The next Christmas I jammed on bass one evening with my uncle and cousin in New Jersey and discovered that I really did like playing it...that was probably the moment when I started wanting to be a real bass player.

Eventually I invested in a slightly better Steinberger bass (like so) and played it in a church praise band for the majority of my college years. The only thing was that I barely ever practiced it...I was content to play at "praise song level," which for the bass means that I played all the root notes with a few small runs thrown in. I did show flashes of brilliance, if I say so myself, but they were but flashes. Again, I didn't have the commitment, partially because I was involved in way too many activities in college, a regret that I harbor about those years to this day.

At any rate, my bass has sat unplayed for the majority of the time since then. I've pulled it out a little since, but not much. The past week, however, as I've anticipated taking lessons, I've played around with it more and have found a satisfaction in it that I haven't felt musically for years.

So why the bass and why now? I've covered the first. The reasoning for the second is that I've decided I need a hobby, a diversion from both family and church other than blogging. I love both of those things, of course, but I need something just for Coffeepastor. And if that something isn't musical, then there's something wrong with me. Other than what I do to practice my guitar for Sunday worship, I don't play much. And I've wanted to do more for a while.

(The other night after Coffeewife and Coffeeson had both gone to sleep, I sat in the living room, grabbed my bass, and put on a DVR'd episode of Better Off Ted. I can't describe how awesome that hour was.)

And why lessons? So that I really do it. It provides the accountability that I didn't have in college.

I look forward to getting started.

New Year's Meme

From the RevGals:

1. What will you gladly leave behind in 2009? Fast food. Cheap, fried meals in a bag of all kinds. I don't need it, I no longer want it. This past year I ate way too much of it.

2. What is the biggest challenge of 2010 for you? I'm going to be 31 soon, and my metabolism ain't getting any faster. It's a New Year's cliche to resolve to lose weight, but when I completely give myself to it I do what I need to do. The challenge is to do it in light of Coffeeson's schedule. With all I'm looking forward to doing this year, this is the one thing I don't have a clear plan for yet.

3. Is there anything that you simply need to hand to God and say "all will be well, for you are with me"? I just began my sixth year at my church, and I've been reflecting a lot on what it takes to maintain a long-term ministry that is effective and creative. I know that I'm going to be here for a while yet, so letting God handle this would be a big relief for me.

4. If you could only achieve one thing in 2010 what would it be? To continue being the best husband and father that I can be. To support Coffeewife in her career and degree pursuit and to spend all the time that I can with Coffeeson.

5. Post a picture, poem or song that sums up your prayer for the year ahead.... One of my favorite newer hymns is "In the Midst of New Dimensions." Here are the words:

In the midst of new dimensions, in the face of changing ways,
Who will lead the pilgrim people wandering their separate ways?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar leading where the eagles soar
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.

Through the floods of starving people, warring factions and despair,
Who will lift the olive branches? Who will light the flame of care?
God of rainbow, fiery pillar leading where the eagles soar
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.

We are men and we are woman, all persuasions, old and young,
each a gift in the creation, each a love song to be sung.
God of rainbow, fiery pillar leading where the eagles soar
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.

As we stand a world divided by our own self-seeking schemes,
Grant that we, the global village, might envision wider dreams.
God of rainbow, fiery pillar leading where the eagles soar
We your people, ours the journey now and ever, now and ever, now and evermore.

And here's a guy playing it on the organ: