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Showing posts from February, 2010

Failbooking: How Lent Works (or Not)

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HT to Toothface.

Pop Culture Roundup

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I finished Nightlight, which was a clever send-up of Twilight. The book isn't that long; at one point one of the characters even says something about not having to wait four books and several thousands of pages to see how things turn out. The main character, Belle, is hilariously self-centered and deluded, which is a pretty funny amplification of Bella. My one gripe is that there were numerous typos: words were either spelled wrong or missing. Since it's by the Harvard Lampoon, I would've triple-checked it.

I also read the tenth and final Sandman graphic novel, The Wake. Here the entire universe gathers to pay their respects to the deceased Morpheus, and the new Dream prepares to meet his siblings. Then there are three epilogues featuring characters who have appeared over the course of the series, including Shakespeare, who was commissioned by Dream to write The Tempest. This is truly an excellent series, if you ever get the chance to read it.

I watched the WWE Elimin…

The Communal Word

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Every Lenten season, my church holds soup suppers on Wednesday evenings, which consist not only of a meal but also a program exploring some topic or other related to the Bible, faith, theology, etc. I think that this is still a fairly typical practice in many churches.

I myself try to offer something unique during these suppers. One year I put together a program called Bible Stories You Won't Learn in Children's Church. Another year we discussed some of Rob Bell's NOOMA videos. I think that they have to be something other than what is usually offered over the course of the year, as this time warrants something deeper; something special.

This year, I'm taking a cue from Doug Pagitt and using a practice that his faith community, Solomon's Porch, observes: communal preparation of the sermon. An explanation of this practice can be found in his book Church Re-Imagined. On Tuesday evenings, a smaller group from Solomon's Porch gets together and talks about the sc…

Now He's a Tiger

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That's okay. I learned to like Gary Sheffield pretty easily.

Maybe he'll grow his hair back.

Pop Culture Roundup

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I finished Prozac Nation this week. The last 2-3 chapters really bring out some of Wurtzel's main purposes behind writing this book, I think. She reflects on how people romanticize depression in lieu of how many aritsts and writers suffered from it. She pushes back against the notion that their depression fueled their creativity, saying that it may have provided some influence or inspiration, but these people also spent months or years paralyzed by their illness, during which time they didn't write. And then in the final chapter, she reflects on how our culture has trivialized depression with the onset of medications such as Prozac being marketed so much to the general public, resulting in a rash of people taking it under incredibly flimsy excuses. She calls out the psychiatric profession for using these drugs as quick fixes. She also muses on the possibility that our society actually does feel more angst-ridden as a whole for a variety of reasons that are still with us today.…

"The Mark of Failure:" A Reflection for Ash Wednesday

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Psalm 51:1-17

When Time Magazine celebrated its 25th anniversary, it featured the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr pictured on the cover. It was actually a painting of him, looking off somewhere pensively. Underneath his picture was probably the more striking feature of the cover, which was a caption reading, “Man’s story is not a success story.”

Back then, of course, it was just after World War II. The world had been given the news of some 13,000,000 people murdered during the Holocaust. It had seen the effects of two atomic bombs dropped in Japan, and even though some may argue that that was the right move it was still at best a “necessary evil.”

Today, this quote may be strange to the ears and eyes. “Man’s story is not a success story.” Sure it is! We’ve made so much progress! We’ve experienced such advancement in technology and communication. How could anyone possibly say that we haven’t been successful?

There are multiple meanings for failure, at least as Niebuhr probably saw it. Even in …

Sunday Morning, and All Day Monday

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Real Live Preacher is no longer a preacher. I mentioned that the other day. For those of us who follow his blog, it's a big deal. For him, it's a really big deal. During the weeks between his resignation and final Sunday, he processed this decision a little. Then, the other day, he wrote about what he experienced the first Sunday he's had off in 17 years:
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do the first Sunday morning after Covenant. In the end, we stayed home. I slept until almost 9:00. We ate lunch and went to a fancy shop to buy some fancy tea, which we both love but feel rather guilty about spending money on. We wandered downtown to look at some historic homes that are facing possible demolition. We moved slowly. We were in no hurry. Later that night I brewed our new tea and we sipped some together.

Our weekend might not sound like much to you, but it was crazy wild fun to me. So much time. So little worry. So relaxed. So peaceful.

A body could get used to this.
In her …

Almsgiving

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I love Lent. I love the reflection, the special programming at the church, the worship, and the discipline.

The past few years, I've struggled with choosing a discipline. I just haven't had good experiences with them. The "giving something up" thing has been played out...I haven't found meaning in that sort of a practice for a while. Maybe one day I will, but not now.

In contrast, I have found great meaning in taking something on. Fasting a day a week, adding a daily prayer time (which I could stand to do anyway), study...these practices, some of the classics, have been much more meaningful to me in recent years.

And so this year I add another classic discipline associated with Lent: almsgiving.

I really don't think I do all that well at sharing my resources with others. I'm wildly inconsistent at best. Like so many others, I mean well but mostly end up paving the road to hell with good intentions. I can do much better. As one who calls himself a dis…

A Dream Before Valentine's Day

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I had a dream last night. I had a couple, actually.

The first was about the Batman movie from 1989. It was before Jack Napier became the Joker, and he was arguing with that dirty cop Eckhardt. I was a non-participant in this...in fact I was just making dinner with the movie on in the background.

And then I went from one '80s movie to another, as suddenly I was in Back to the Future Part II. At first, I was a non-participant in this one as well. I watched as Marty dropped the sandbags on the three guys waiting to jump the other Marty who was onstage playing Johnny B. Goode. And then when the onstage Marty is finished playing, he meets his parents in the stairwell.

At this point, I was a participant. Suddenly, I was Marty. And it was no longer Marty's parents, but my own. My parents didn't go to high school dances together. They grew up about 700 miles away from each other. Plus I think that when my dad was a senior in high school, my mom was in 7th grade or somethin…

Pop Culture Roundup

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I finished The Leader's Journey this week, which did end up having some good stuff in it. The authors spend a lot of time talking about living systems: how a system resists change, how change produces anxiety and how the system tries to return to status quo, how self-differentiation helps the system to change, and so on. The basic gist is that the pastor must work on changing him or herself in order to help change the system, which includes recognizing our own behaviors that contribute to a church's unhealthy ethos.

I've moved right on to Prozac Nation, which is a memoir about depression. The author, Elizabeth Wurtzel, is pretty blunt about her condition and background. She has a way with words without attempting to inject extra drama or poetry like the author of An Unquiet Mind. Wurtzel portrays her inability to control the sorts of thoughts and urges that her illness causes. She attempts to "put on a happy face," but after a while it only makes things wors…

Small Sips: Pray for iMonk, The Latest Michigan "Controversy"

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Sometimes the blogosphere goes deeper - The Internet Monk is one of my favorite blogs to read. I don't always agree with him, of course, but he provides a regular dose of mental stimulation on a wide variety of issues related to American Christianity.

Well, for the past few months, its author, Michael Spencer, has been going through the diagnosis and treatment of brain cancer. He's had a handful of guest bloggers filling in for him in the meantime. His latest update reads thus:
My situation is serious. Sleep is a big issue. I need rest and it is hard to get. This cancer situation is not going to give my old life back. It may take the life I have. I choose whatever mission God has for me, the utmost need is a simple prayer on my behalf.

If what I am going through reminds you of what you have been through what you what been through in the past, I pray for you and hope others will be the same.

I am home most of the time but I am on the road on almost every day to various doctors. …

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Pop Culture Roundup

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You know, after reading a certain amount of books on church leadership, this is what I start seeing on the page: "blah blah blah." And yet here I am, just starting The Leader's Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation. I'm going to a discussion group on Tuesday dealing with missional leadership, and the facilitator wants us to read this book. It talks about how the leader has to work on his/her own transformation first, and eventually will talk about being familiar with the systems at work in the congregation. But mostly, right now, to me: "blah blah blah."

We watched Role Models this past week, starring Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott as two guys who get in trouble with the law and are forced into community service to avoid jail time. They are sent to Sturdy Wings, a "big brother, big sister" sort of program where they take on mentoring duties for two kids. Rudd's character ends up with a mock-Medieval b…

"Progressive" Christians Outnumber Evangelicals

Thanks to Luke, I found this Pew Forum survey of American Christianity that shares this tidbit:
The survey traced the spiritual roots of the religious right and left to two broader faith communities. On the right, white evangelical Christians comprise 24% of the population and form a distinct group whose members share core religious beliefs as well as crystallized and consistently conservative political attitudes.

On the left, a larger share of the public (32%) identifies as "liberal or progressive Christians." But unlike evangelicals, progressive Christians come from different religious traditions and disagree almost as often as they agree on a number of key political and social issues.

These differences in the makeup of the religious left and right are an important reason why white evangelicals remain a more politically potent force. On issues ranging from the origins of life to Christ's second coming, evangelicals express distinctly different views from those held by the…

Length of Stay

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My church loves me.

That's not to toot my horn, so much as to celebrate a good relationship. At least, that's how I meant it.

Last night I got together with my Pastoral Relations Committee. Without going into anything of a sensitive nature, which is the sort of stuff that Pastoral Relations Committees are entrusted to talk about, I came away with a re-affirmation that my church loves me. And not just me, but us. The Coffeefamily. They love Coffeewife without expecting her to be my associate pastor. They love Coffeeson's energy and curiosity.

And they love me. And this morning I'm really, really thankful about that.

We mostly talked about my sabbatical. Nothing really sensitive there. I went over my goals and itinerary and how I plan to saturate the congregation with notices that I'm going and what I'm doing and why sabbaticals happen.

I spent a lot of time talking about my goal related to long-term pastorates. I even shared the common statistics: pastors a…

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