Pop Culture Roundup

I've started reading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson, which is all about what he calls "vocational holiness." In one sense this is an exploration of integrity, in another it is a study of calling vs. careerism. Using the story of Jonah, Peterson talks about how easily pastors slip from a sense of God's call to ministry into one's own preoccupation with being the Big Important Religious Professional. The latter is more about feeding the ego: it wrecks havoc on one's family life, leads to poor boundaries, and cultivates a preoccupation with "moving up." By contrast, Peterson encourages pastors to toil in the muck and mundane of the daily tasks of ministry and of people's lives, helping to name the holy in the midst of it all.

I've also found myself back in Walden, figuring that I don't want to be enmeshed only in ministry issues over the next month. Thoreau is quite a disillusioned person, and by that I mean he has stripped so many illusions away of what people typically concern themselves with on a day to day basis. His ultimate concern is not being tied down, whether to work or belongings, such that one becomes enslaved to these things. Of course, this is from the perspective of a single guy with no family who can afford to hide out in the woods for two years without being responsible for anyone else. To that point, he does acknowledge that his way is not a universal ideal; that each person needs to work out this life of freedom and simplicity for themselves.

We've been turned on to a TV show called Pawn Stars. This is about a large pawn shop in Las Vegas run by three generations of men. There is minimal focus on the family, though: the main attraction is what gets brought into the shop. There's one episode where a guy brings in a Massachusetts war bond from the Revolutionary War drafted by Paul Revere. In that same episode, a guy sells a vintage jukebox from the 1950s. To ensure the authenticity of a lot of the stuff people bring in, the guys at the shop frequently call on outside experts to check them out. It's just fascinating to see what people bring, to the point where I often think, "Why would they want to give that up?"

I saw my first LA Ink of the latest season last night. The last thing I remember from the previous season is things coming to a head between Corey and Aubry, as well as tension building between Kat and Corey. Well, when I switched it on last night Aubry was nowhere to be seen, so that answers that question. On top of that, the tension has apparently continued to mount between Corey and Kat to the point where it looks like either Corey will quit or Kat will fire him. I miss Miami Ink - that show was more about the tattoos that people came to get. This show is all about the drama between the artists.

After last week's Roundup, I was told that Lord, Save Us From Your Followers is already available to be viewed on Netflix. I've yet to watch it, but if you have that service you can do that. And the top of the movie website says, "Buy the DVD today!" So what do I know?

Here's a guy playing drums along with the Simpsons theme:

Other Rooms

My church’s sanctuary is of very modest d├ęcor.

A long center aisle of red carpet parts two sets of wooden pews, the ends painted white with a dark natural finish for the backs and trim. You’re able to sit on red cushioned seats that match the floor, facing frontwards in straight formation.

The walls are a bare white, save for the bottom three feet, which are covered in wood paneling. Four clear glass windows line each side of the room, and depending on which side of the room you sit on, you have the option of viewing our cemetery or our parking lot and parsonage.

The focal point of the room is a large ornate gold Celtic cross hanging in the middle of the chancel, augmented by a velvet red curtain hanging behind it. The pulpit and lectern match the pews and walls: white with dark natural trim.

Above you is a polished dark wood ceiling, a remnant from the original sanctuary before various changes had been made. Six gold chandeliers hang from it, along with a large speaker that some thought would compromise the integrity of this beautiful piece before it was installed; sort of an intrusion on history, some may say.

Anyone familiar with church architecture may make the comment that this space recalls New England Congregationalism, and in large part I would agree. But this place was built by Reformed Germans, and it fits that ethos as well: a lack of art, icons, and stained glass so as not to distract from the preaching and hearing of the Word.

I love empty sanctuaries. There is something about a worship space in that time in between worship services that perhaps make them even more sacred to me than on Sunday mornings. The sense of released energy early in the week and the sense of anticipation later on contribute to this, but there’s something about these spaces besides that provides peace for my spirit.

For nearly five and a half years, it has been my practice to walk the aisles of my church's sanctuary a couple times a week. I pray, I rant, I give thanks, I think out loud about the sermon. Sometimes I’m moved to just walk without a word. Sometimes I don't even walk: I just sit in a pew, in the balcony, or on the chancel steps. Early on, I didn’t think of this as any kind of spiritual practice or discipline, but in more recent years I can’t fathom that it’s not. I miss doing it on the days when I don’t have time: it’s become a very centering activity for me.

The time of year affects my walking; I’m very conscious of the liturgical calendar when doing this. Ordinary Time in January is much different than Ordinary Time in July. The room has a much different feel when the Christmas decorations are up, or when the red paraments are up for Pentecost, or when the extra elements used for Ash Wednesday or Maundy Thursday are sitting on the altar. The presence of these things provides guidance for how I spend that time, whether I’m conscious of it or not.

As I walked last week, I became aware of two truths. First, this room has remained largely unchanged over the years that I’ve observed this practice. Major alterations have been made to this space over the years, but not during my time of ministry. Maybe someday somebody will care enough about the little imperfections--the scuff marks on the pews and the worn corners of the polished wood—to suggest changing it. But to me, these things are part of the room’s character. It shows that this place truly has been used; has been worshipped in and lived in by people with joys and anxieties and heartbreak. I actually don’t think that I could abide that suggestion if it was ever brought up.

The second truth is that I was quickly coming up on a five-week stretch of time when I would step away from this space and this practice. It is of my own accord that I do this, of course. Nobody forced me to take a sabbatical. Nobody is even forcing me to make a complete break with the church building. But it is a best practice of sabbatical time for these types of guidelines to be observed, especially for somebody like me with some workaholic tendencies.

Beginning today, I will go five weeks without that empty sanctuary. Maybe it’s for the best. After all, there is a such thing as becoming dependent on a practice to the point of neglecting or escaping real life. I’ll treasure it that much more when I return.

I also know that there will be other rooms in the meantime. There will be the retreat house that I will visit several times. There will be my hotel rooms in Columbus and Nashville, which will provide times for processing and decompression in the midst of enriching activities. There will be the various rooms of my home, through which I’ll chase Coffeeson and in which I’ll enjoy extra time with Coffeewife. There will be the rooms of coffeehouses and wineries that I’ll visit. There will even be other churches’ sanctuaries or chapels, whether for worship, for special moments in my family's life, or that I may even borrow for a couple hours when they are empty themselves.

Barring a worst case scenario, the familiar space will still be there when this time comes to an end. But until then, there are other rooms that will act as settings for my spirit's nourishment.

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm still reading Walking a Sacred Path in preparation for my sabbatical. Artress advises against unreasonable expectations when walking the labyrinth, as if one is assured of some mystical experience. She notes ways to prepare to walk it, such as identifying questions one is wrestling with or hopes for clarity, but also advises to be open to the experience and just let things happen. She uses the analogy of walking through the country and expecting to see a frog: one may either become so preoccupied with finding a frog that one misses the scenic beauty, or if one finds the frog one misses how expectations affect what we see or don't see. So one may experience something in the labyrinth, but one should be open to the high possibility that it won't be what one expects.

I watched The Hangover this past week. I'd heard from pretty much everyone that this was one of the most hilarious, laugh-a-minute movies they'd ever seen, so my expectations were pretty high. I did laugh, but not that often. This is a story of four guys who go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, and who wake up the next morning not only remembering nothing from the night before, but not knowing where the groom is. Zack Galifinakis' character is actually pretty funny in a disturbing sort of way. The rest was uncomfortably amusing, but I hardly laughed out loud. If one thinks about it, it's a string of typical jokes/cliches about Vegas: strippers, drugs, marrying a complete stranger in a gaudy chapel, a tiger, some mob guys, and keeping it all a secret. I just didn't get into it as much as so many others have.

This past week, the news broke that Christian singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp has come out as a lesbian. I saw her in concert about a decade ago (yikes) when she opened for dc Talk alongside The Ws. I remember that she broke 2-3 guitar strings during her set, and that made me think she was hardcore. She's soon to come out with a new album and will be playing her CD release show pretty close to where I live. Of course, this news has the usual people saying the usual sorts of things, which I'm bored with. Not coincidentally, I've taken a great/renewed interest in her music the past week. I actually don't have any of her albums (and of course I already can't find her stuff at the local Christian bookstore), but I've been listening online. Here she is performing "Breathe on Me:"

I've also been on a Green Day kick this week, mostly American Idiot. I had my senior highs discuss "Jesus of Suburbia" this past Sunday, which went very well. And I've just continued to roll with that CD during the week.

Blogger David Hayward, aka the Naked Pastor, has left pastoral ministry. There's been a lot of flux among the pastor/bloggers I read lately.

Here's the trailer for a documentary coming out in September called Lord, Save Us From Your Followers, based on a book of same name. I'm going to fess up and say that I was crying by the end of this trailer. This is resonating that strongly with me right now.

Other Things I Plan to Do During Sabbatical

~Daily exercise. Daily. Exercise.
~Eating well
~Time enjoyed with family
~Bass guitar
~Beginning days with The Living Book of Daily Prayer
~Visits to coffeeshops, used bookstores, wineries, parks
~Spiritual/vocational direction conversations with colleagues
~Time spent in silence
~Deepening my understanding and use of the labyrinth as a spiritual exercise
~Reading poetry and/or Walden
~Worship with faith communities not necessarily of my own tradition
~Just taking in the spring days
~Large chunks of time with my cellphone turned off and my computer shut down
~Rediscovering my love of astronomy
~Getting tattoo #4

If I get to all of it, good for me. If I skip one or more of these things, save the first three, oh well. That's just how I'm gonna roll.

Big Sabbatical Plans

The time for my sabbatical has finally come. It begins a week from today, and will last through May 30th. I will have five weeks of rest and renewal.

Almost from the time I began at my church, it seems, I began thinking about the possibilities for this time. Of course, in comparison to other pastors who have earned sabbaticals, mine will not be that long. Along with that has been the arrival of Coffeeson, so a month-long trip to Europe or some other grand plan like that was taken off the table a couple years ago. Nevertheless, I kept wondering what might be meaningful and worthwhile for this, and I came up with two main questions that seemed appropriate to think about.

First, after so long in one church, how do you keep things fresh and vibrant? After this long in one place (5 1/2 years), many pastors start thinking about updating the profile and seeing what else is out there. The answer to how to keep things new, they may say, is to go to a new church. For a variety of reasons, this is not an option for me, the chief one being that I'm just not finished here yet. So for those of us who aren't ready--who aren't called--to move on, how does one keep the creative energy going in order to keep doing effective ministry after so long?

I think this question can be answered on several fronts. The first is simply exploring new possibilities to do the familiar things or to do some new thing: books, workshops, swapping ideas with colleagues, etc. The second is to find a stimulus for oneself: a hobby, further education or training, a justice cause, something that will not only encourage one's own creativity but help that creativity translate into ministry.

I'm going to think mainly about the stimulus part. Coffeewife completes her nurse practitioner degree in another year, at which point she'll turn to me and say, "Okay, your turn." At this point, I'm thinking about so many possibilities that no one of them stands out. A D.Min? Some other degree? Certification in spiritual direction? More CPE? What might I want to focus on in order to keep the creativity flowing, as well as further my own sense of call?

Second, I look around at some of my colleagues who have been in their churches for 10 or 15 years, and I think, "How do they do that?" Part of the answer has to be what I've already mentioned about doing new things every few years. And I can't think of one of them who hasn't taken a sabbatical, so that has helped as well. But staying anywhere, church or whatever else, longer than 5 1/2 years is just not a part of my life experience. I've been conditioned to expect to move on after this long. How does a pastor stick around for a while?

So those are The Issues. Now I'll tell you briefly about how I hope to think about them.

First, I have a couple programs lined up. Very early on I'll visit Midwest Ministry Development to experience a program called "Health and Excellence in Ministry." This program explores issues of pastoral health (physical, mental, spiritual, relationships, etc.) and encourages good habits, the idea being that health translates to excellence in ministry. I've heard nothing but good things about this program.

The other big program is The Festival of Homiletics. I've always wanted to go, but have never been able to for various reasons. In one place will be speakers such as M. Craig Barnes, Lauren Winner, Thomas Long, Otis Moss III, and many more. Plus I've never really been to Nashville before. So that'll be cool, too.

I'll also spend a few days at a local retreat center. I'll spend time in prayer, reading, walking the labyrinth, journaling, or just sitting and enjoying creation.

Oh, and I have a reading list. No one who follows this blog is shocked. It is as follows:

Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson - Peterson uses the story of Jonah to explore issues related to pastoral vocation, and calls pastors not to run away from what they should be doing in favor of what's comfortable or what furthers one's own career at the expense of the church.

In It for the Long Haul by Glenn Ludwig - This is from the Alban Institute, and is all about what goes into sustaining a long-term pastorate.

Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic by Reinhold Niebuhr - Excerpts from Niebuhr's journals during the first few years of his pastorate, where he discovers that pastoral ministry is nothing like what he thought it would be, good and bad.

And that's it. I kept the list short on purpose. It's only five weeks; it's not like I'll have time to read Barth's Church Dogmatics or anything.

So that's what I'll be thinking about and doing. There'll be other things as well, but these are the big ones.

The New UCC Ad

Color me underwhelmed:

Overstuffed Pop Culture Roundup

I'm putting off the rest of Walden for a time. I feel bad, because this is the second time that I've done so. But I'm getting pretty close to sabbatical and there are some other books that I want to concern myself with right now. Even so, it remains on my nightstand with my place marked, and I'll probably even take it along on my different outings for those moments when I get sick and tired of thinking about theology, church, ministry, whatever.

I finished For the Love of God for my book study group, and I am really freaking happy about that. I can't say that I am tremendously better off for reading it, I can't even say that I was all that good about paying attention as my eyes moved down each page. Part of it is my very limited knowledge of Eastern traditions, and part of it was that every essay started to sound the same. I did not find it edifying or enriching; it only drove me up the wall with its redundancy. I would recommend this book to no one at any time for any reason. I award it no points, and may God have mercy on its soul.

I've been reading Walking a Sacred Path this week, for which I spurned Walden. This provides information on the history and use of the labyrinth, which will be part of my sabbatical. The author, Lauren Artress, spends some time on the geometry of the labyrinth as well, noting the symbolism of the circle and the various angles and pathways incorporated into the design. I haven't reached the chapters on practice yet, though.

We watched I Love You, Man the other week. Paul Rudd plays a sensitive career-minded guy who basically has no guy friends. When he realizes that he'll have no best man at his wedding, he embarks on a search for some dudes to hang out with. Hijinks briefly ensue before he meets Jason Segel's character, a man-boy who loves Rush. I'm a Paul Rudd fan, so it was easy for me to like this movie.

We also watched Pirate Radio the other week. Set in 1960s Britain, where less than an hour of rock music was permitted by the BBC per day. Enter ships like Radio Rock, who broadcast from outside the boundaries of the law. The cast, which includes Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Darby, Bill Nighy, and Nick Frost, goes from one crazy stunt to the next, while Kenneth Branagh plays a British politician obsessively trying to shut them down. There's also a subplot involving a kid who comes on board looking to meet his dad. It tries to be a coming-of-age story for that character, but it's more about the entire crew rebelling against society by rotating rock songs 24 hours a day.

For some reason, we watched Enough this week. It was on the Oxygen network, and laziness about flipping the channel at some point changed to, "fine, let's see how it ends." Jennifer Lopez stars as a wife and mother who eventually tries to escape her controlling, abusive husband. Due to his connections and money, however, he doesn't make it easy for her. Finally, she decides to stop running, trains in martial arts for a month, and then goes and beats the crap out of him. There was something about this that seemed overcooked. The "somebody's sneaking up on her" camera technique was used way too often, and the whole thing was pretty much little more than a revenge fantasy.

Finally, I watched Inglourious Basterds the other night. It took me a while to make up my mind about this movie. Brad Pitt stars as the leader of a small band of Jewish-American soldiers who are dropped into 1940s France to basically do nothing but kill Nazis. Since it's still a pretty recent movie, I don't want to spoil it for people. But let's just say that the movie ends quite a bit differently than what historically happened. Like Enough, this movie was ultimately a revenge fantasy; a study in catharsis. The scenes that I liked the best had the least to do with the plots: a slow-building opening scene where Christophe Waltz's Nazi "Jew hunter" is interrogating a milk farmer, and a tense scene in a pub involving some of the Basterds, a double agent, and a high-ranking Nazi trying to sniff out possible infiltrators. Mike Meyers makes a cameo as a British officer, and he and Brad Pitt may be the worst-acted two characters in the movie. Ultimately, I can't say I liked it, especially when Tarantino decided to get heavy-handed. But the scenes where he took his time were very good.

I picked up the newest album from Galactic last week, entitled Ya-Ka-May. Here, Galactic combines hip-hop with New Orleans jazz for yet another funky, smooth effort. I can't say that I liked it better than their previous album, From the Corner to the Block, but it ranks up there.

Here's Jason Mraz singing to Muppets:

Vintage CC: Innovate, for God's Sake

Note: I wrote this a while back in response to the somewhat common claim that mainline churches are declining just because they are liberal. I figured I'd dig this back out to complement my recap of my time at Eden that I posted the other day.

For decades now, the United Church of Christ and other mainline denominations have been experiencing a slow and steady decline. It's all laid out in the annual National Council of Churches report. Everyone has their own theory as to why this has been happening, but I've maintained that the most ridiculous and unfounded theory has to do with theology.

Critics of the UCC and other mainline churches love to talk about how, if they just gave up their heathen liberal ways, they'd begin to see growth again. People are leaving in droves, and the assumption is that they're heading right to more conservative churches because they're just so wonderfully...conservative. If only we believed in Biblical inerrancy. If only we domesticated women. If only we adhered to the Five Fundamentals. If only we [insert stock conservative stance here].

A closer look at the situation, however, doesn't seem to support that theory. People with an anti-liberal axe to grind may not want to believe it, but a much bigger contributor to decline is lack of innovation.

Consider, for instance, an article cited by the Internet Monk on the decline of the Southern Baptist Convention. Yes, the declining conservative Southern Baptist Convention. A snippet:
Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian at Wake Forest University, believes that conservatives underestimated the power of demographics. Much of the mainline decline is due to lower birthrates in those denominations. For years Southern Baptist churches grew because their people had more children than mainliners.

When that changed, fewer Baptist babies meant fewer Baptists, Leonard said.

The decline in children among Baptists is seen in Sunday school attendance.

In 1971, there were 1,434,892 children ages 6 to 11 in Southern Baptist Sunday schools. By 2007, the last year for which statistics are available, that number had dropped by about 455,000 to 979,429. At the same time, the U.S. population grew by 46 percent.

"Biblical inerrancy can't hold off demographic realities forever," Leonard said.
So Exhibit A is demographics. Fewer children born per family. That doesn't even begin to address the possibility that not as many parents are sending their kids to Sunday School...you know, where they'll learn all about good conservative theology.

And here comes Exhibit B:
The conservative resurgence also had an unintended consequence, said Roger Finke, a sociologist of religion at Penn State University. Finke said growing religious groups often share two characteristics. They have a set core of beliefs as a denomination but allow innovative practices in their local congregations.

Finke believes that the conservative resurgence stifled innovation.

"They preserved a more conservative theology," he said, "but they ended up placing controls on local congregations."The Rev. Rick White of the People's Church in Franklin saw the disapproval of innovation firsthand.

White supported the conservative resurgence, and was part of the conservative takeover of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. In the 1990s, though, White began to experiment with church growth techniques from seeker-sensitive churches like Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago and the purpose-driven Saddleback Church in California.

That put White on the outs with conservative leaders. The Rev. Paige Patterson, an architect of the resurgence, once referred to churches like Willow Creek as "Satan-sensitive churches."
I'm not about to jump on the bandwagon for Willow Creek or Saddleback, but White's general point about opposition to innovation is an important one. The problem facing churches in decline is less theological and more a willingness to innovate, to evaluate programs and ministries, and to try new things. Churches stuck in the same stagnant rut and refusing to change are the ones that are struggling.

If there was still any question about the place of theology in the issue of church decline, consider a book entitled Places of Promise, which takes on the role of physical location as a possible hindrance to church vitality. The authors' conclusion is that it isn't. What is crucial to vitality, according to their extensive research, includes how welcoming they are, how meaningful worship is, how much they interact with the community, how much they care for their younger generations, and how much they consider their future, among others. There is zero mention of how a church's theology plays a role.

Granted, many more conservative or evangelical churches are more willing to experiment with new church forms, but the theology itself is not the issue. If it was, then Joel Osteen must be the most Biblically faithful pastor in the nation.

Churches constantly trying to maintain that the way we've always done it or the way we used to do it will always be the right way are the ones in trouble, regardless of theology. And if the problem of more conservative churches like the SBC is "going back" to correct belief, then the problem for more liberal churches like the UCC is staying convinced that we'll once again return to our former place in society simply by writing more angry petitions to politicians (an idea that actually runs the whole conservative-liberal spectrum).

Both mindsets are faulty because they ignore--willfully or not--the need for local churches to innovate and update what they're doing. The issue isn't theology...it's the willingness to communicate one's theology in a new way.

Back to Eden

Last week, I spent a few days back at Eden Seminary for their spring convocation. No longer eligible for their Herbster alumni event, I wasn't made to be in such a rush to make it there for that program. And that turned out to be a good thing, because a funeral came up for Monday morning, the day after Easter. Needless to say, by the time I got to St. Louis Monday evening, I was pretty beat.

My spirits perked up once I met up with friends at Schlafly Bottleworks for a late dinner, followed by some frozen custard at Ted Drewe's. Ah, St. Louis. How I missed you.

The opening worship at convocation featured Dr. Steve Patterson, professor of New Testament, as the preacher. In part, he introduced the event's theme, "Church Next." But more than that, he preached on how life in Christ is always continuing no matter what sort of state the church is in: "Life in Christ: always ending, always beginning, always incomplete." Dr. Patterson is leaving at the end of this school year to take a new position at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. His book The God of Jesus remains one of the most influential to me in terms of how I read the Gospels and how I read and interpret who Jesus is. The one who follows him will have some incredibly huge shoes to fill.

As mentioned, convocation's theme was "Church Next," featuring speakers Phyllis Tickle and Diana Butler Bass, both of whom have written extensively about the past and future of the church.

Tickle was with us on Tuesday, and sort of set up the situation that the church faces these days. She began by noting, "Every 500 years or so, the church has a big rummage sale." In other words, there is a huge shift that affects the church every 500 years: 500 years ago was the Reformation, 1000 years ago was the Great Schism, 1500 years ago was the fall of the Roman Empire, and on it goes. In the midst of this, Tickle shared that these were not just church events...these were larger cultural events that included shifts in politics and economics that had implications for the church as well. During the Reformation, for instance, we didn't just get Martin Luther and Protestantism (and Tickle would argue that Protestantism was one byproduct of this bigger cultural thing and not its end purpose). Around that time came the printing press, which greatly impacted literacy, book distribution, and mass media.

Tickle refers to the latest cultural shift as the Great Emergence, which is marked in part by an explosion of information technology. In the midst of this shift, new models of church have emerged in response. At that point, she very briefly denoted these new models and movements: emerging, emergent, missional, neo-monastic, etc. For my own part, I wish she'd have explained each of these for the audience. During the Q&A, one person stood up asking where the women authors and leaders of this movement are, mistaking it for "another male-dominated hierarchy." Tickle did at that point clarify that this is far from being the case (especially the hierarchy part), but I think a brief explanation of emergence movements might have avoided that. Then again, some people are going to be angry regardless.

That evening, I crashed the convocation banquet (don't tell anyone!), which was held at one of my former field education sites. It was nice to make that connection, even though my time there was certainly a mixed bag. Among the speakers was Rev. Geoffrey Black, new UCC General Minister and President. The main purpose of the evening was to celebrate the completion of an $18 million gift made to the seminary from the Deaconess Foundation. It was a pretty good evening for being completely free.

Diana Butler Bass was with us the second day. She spent some time with the phrase, "spiritual but not religious," clarifying what those terms generally mean to people in this day and age. "Religion" connotes something institutional and conventional with dogma and budgets, while "spiritual" is something more personal and transcendent. Bass cast the "spiritual" term in the most positive of lights, as I think the term is often used by people in much more gooey, non-committal ways.

Bass used these terms along with some poll data to illustrate that Americans' affiliation with what she termed "conventional religion" is changing: less and less people are identifying with institutional forms of faith, but as many people as ever believe in God.

First off, she said, "it's not the mainlines' fault." People like to blame the mainlines since they're the ones that are especially hurting. Instead, Bass shared that a change in the overall culture has as much to do with this, if not more, as what churches are or aren't doing.

Second, she shared a great analogy about phone booths. There used to be over a million phone booths in the U.S., but that number has declined to over 600,000. But nobody is panicking and saying, "Nobody is communicating! What do we do?" It's just that we have so many new forms of communication such as cellphones and other portable products that we're using instead. Just because less people are identifying with conventional forms of faith, it doesn't mean less people are interested in or devoted to spiritual concerns. This interest and devotion is just manifesting in different ways now.

Along with this official stuff, there was time spent with friends, taking in some familiar St. Louis spots, and worrying about Coffeeson. Coffeewife called on Tuesday to say that he was running a fever, and by that evening they were in the emergency room. As it turns out, it was an ear infection coupled with allergies. He's actually had a rough couple weeks. So part of my time was spent feeling helpless that I was 500 miles away while all this was going on. Fortunately, he was starting to do better on Wednesday. Still, I was glad to get home to help take care of him.

All in all, a good trip.

Kyrie eleison

Shortly after I began blogging, I came across a blog titled The Internet Monk. I can't remember the how or why, but I quickly became a regular reader. I was quickly drawn to the discussions there about "post-evangelicalism," the notion of identifying with a particular Christian system, but also critiquing or rejecting much of its unnecessary elements. He greatly resisted the "herd mentality" that tends to plague every Christian movement to some degree, his being evangelicalism.

As I continued to read, I was struck by discussions of spiritual disciplines and the liturgical calendar, of an appreciation of a wide breadth of Christian practices and ideas. The author, Michael Spencer, self-identified as a Southern Baptist, but rejected his tradition's rejection of those practices, along with lifting up many other Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and mainline practices as enriching rather than hindering a life of faith and discipleship.

Along with this post-evangelical emphasis was commentary on Joel Osteen, struggles with depression and the reality of mental illness, and the Cincinnati Reds. He shared thoughts about his job as a chaplain and teacher at a private Christian school. He'd share moments of pain and joy in his family's life. He'd review books and music. Thanks to his writing, I discovered Thomas Merton, Shane Claiborne, and the emerging church. I truly must call his blog influential in my own life and ministry.

On Monday, April 5th, Michael passed away after a few months of battling brain cancer. I never met him personally, but I lift prayers for his family and give thanks for his life and writing.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Good Friday

Go to dark Gethsemane, Ye that feel the tempter's power;
Your Redeemer's conflict see, Watch with Him one bitter hour;
Turn not from His griefs away, Learn of Jesus Christ to pray.

Follow to the judgment hall, View the Lord of life arraigned;
O the wormwood and the gall, O the pangs his soul sustained!
Shun not suffering, shame or loss; Learn of Him to bear the cross.

Calvary's mournful mountain climb; There adoring at His feet,
Mark that miracle of time, God's own Sacrifice complete;
"It is finished!" hear Him cry; Learn of Jesus Christ to die.

Maundy Thursday

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, "Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:31-35