Saturday, May 29, 2010

Glenn Beck Butchers Church History

The Dead Sea Scrolls, according to Glenn Beck:
When Constantine decided that he was going to cobble together an army, he did the Council of Nicaea, right, Pat? Council of Nicaea, and what they did is brought all of the religious figures together, all the Christians, and they said, “OK, let’s put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it. and so they brought all their religious Scripture together, that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. and then they said, “Anybody who disagrees with this is a heretic and off with their head!”

Well that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. Dead Sea Scrolls are those Scriptures that people had at the time that, they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.” whether it’s truth or not is up to the individual, but that, at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved. and so they rolled up the scrolls and put them in clay pots and they, they put them in the back of caves. no one could find them. they were hidden Scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine.

That’s what those things are.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found at Qumran among the remains of what was believed to be a 1st Century (that'd be pre-Constantine by a couple centuries) Essene settlement. They're Jewish texts, not Christian.

The Council of Nicaea was formed mainly to deal with controversies related to doctrine about the two natures of Christ. They wrote the Nicene Creed, not the Apostle's Creed. And they didn't discuss the compilation of the Biblical canon...that was at the Council of Trent in 1546, a good millenium after Nicaea.

Learn your church history, kids.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sabbatical - Endings and Beginnings

"I wonder if the strong sense of frustration which comes over me so frequently on Sunday evening and to which many other parsons have confessed, is merely due to physical lassitude or whether it arises from the fact that every preacher is trying to do a bigger thing than he is equal to -- and fails. I have an uneasy feeling that it may be native honesty of the soul asserting itself. Aren't we preachers talking altogether too much about what can be proved and justified only in experience?" - Reinhold Niebuhr, Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic

I had lunch with a colleague and mentor the other day. He's experiencing a certain amount of flux and anxiety in the setting in which he works, and together we processed both some of that and some of what I've been thinking about lately. Originally, I'd wanted to process some stuff about whether I should get a D.Min vs. another degree vs. whatever, but I didn't really feel like doing that and thus was worried that I was about to waste his time. Instead, I told him about Eugene Peterson's book and Glenn Ludwig's book and walking the labyrinth and the Festival of Homiletics, and he offered responses here and there.

In the end, there was one thing that he said that I'm still thinking about: "The church is pregnant with possibility, and while I probably won't be much involved in it, people like you will be called to be midwives."

I found this statement to be both invigorating and terrifying, but I must admit that the invigoration greatly outweighed the terror. Change is what I know; for the most part, I accept it. But it makes a lot of people incredibly anxious. It puts a lot of people on the defensive while they wish for the former things that are no longer possible. People called to lead others through change can be put in a tough position by how that anxiety plays out: they can be made targets and scapegoats. It's irrational, but it's human nature.

Stories from the exodus have turned up in several places for me lately. The first was during the Festival of Homiletics, when Craig Barnes observed that Moses didn't actually lead the Hebrews into the promised land - he only led them to the edge. And it was really God who was doing the leading anyway. Moses' job was to guide them and show them the daily manna; the work that God was doing among them along the way.

The second Mosaic reference was during this lunch, when my colleague also mentioned Moses not actually leading the people in, but showing them the way through the wilderness. This is increasingly a wilderness time for the church, and daily manna may be harder to see.

Along with these stories of Moses comes Reinhold Niebuhr, who discovered the feeling of frustration within himself and attempted to name it by exploring his tendency to try doing too big a thing. I can relate. I strain myself to preach, teach, envision, and call on others, often with some intention of leading people into the promised land rather than simply loving them and showing the daily manna. But at times, even that is too big, or I try to do it in too big a way. I often try for something spectacular, or hard-hitting, or "relevant," or well-programmed when it is often the humble, the gentle, the simple, and the organic that actually has worked.

In light of that, Walter Breuggemann's quote has been stuck in my mind and has rung true more often than not:
"The world for which you have been so carefully prepared has been taken away from you, by the grace of God.”
I learned a lot of good, worthwhile things in seminary. But I didn't learn that the world of ministry that I'd be entering would be vastly different. I didn't realize that I'd be heading into the wilderness rather than the Temple; the shifting sands of the desert rather than the firm foundations of Jerusalem. I didn't fully realize or appreciate this truth until a little over a year ago. Before that, I either tried to do the traditional programmatic things or tried to make changes without fully understanding why change needed to happen, other than "the old way doesn't work."

Now I know what I'm dealing with and what my entire venture in local church ministry is probably going to entail. And now that I know that, I kind of like it out here in the wilderness. Not many do. But so long as we have daily manna, we'll be fine.

Sunday is my last day of sabbatical. It is the last day of a five-week journey of rest, of surprises, of plans fulfilled and frustrated, of rejuvenation. It is my last chance to worship elsewhere for a while. It is my final day without the familiar rhythms of ministry that mark a typical week for me. On Monday morning I will meet the local chapter of the American Legion in the church cemetery for a brief Memorial Day service. It will be my first official action as a pastor in five weeks. On Tuesday, I'll return to making phone calls, setting up visits, preparing a sermon, attending meetings, and thinking about upcoming programs.

In the midst of doing that, I'll engage this work with a different mindset. I'll have more appreciation for the small things; for the bits of manna that turn up as we struggle along together to be faithful in a rapidly changing world. I'll be even more aware of those things in ministry that bring me joy, which are plentiful, even in more frustrating times. I'll seek that joy in the tangible practice of ministry rather than in the abstract idea of it, with the real people I'm with rather than the perfect people out there somewhere who don't exist.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Something About the Michigan Sanctions

Last year, two Detroit Free Press columnists produced a shoddily-written piece of "journalism" accusing the Michigan football team of OMG THINK OF THE CHILDREN~! - level amounts of practice time, far exceeding the NCAA limits.

This exercise in vindictiveness and lies forced both the NCAA and the University of Michigan to investigate the program.

Yesterday, some self-imposed sanctions were announced:
  • Michigan has reduced the number of QC staffers by 40 percent (ie, by two) and prohibited them from attending practices, games, and coaches meetings for 2010.
  • A new bylaw specifically allows QC staffers at coaches meeting, but Michigan won't take advantage of this until 2011. Michigan will not add more QC staffers until the 2011 season ends.
  • Michigan will give back 130 hours of practice time over the next two years.
  • Michigan has taken "corrective action" to prevent a repeat.
  • Two years of probation.
The whole document is here, if you're really interested.

The NCAA will announce in August whether they accept the self-imposed stuff, and/or whether they'll add anything of their own.

My favorite column written in response is from Jonathan Chait:
The football program turned out to have exceeded practice and training limits by a minuscule amount. The vast majority of the violations during the off-season turned out to center around the strength and conditioning staff's failure to understand that stretching counted as time spent under staff supervision. This bore no relationship to the Free Press's allegations. As for the draconian practice regimen during the season, violations were more minimal still. In 2008, Michigan failed to account weightlifting on Sundays as countable hours, causing "the total CARA time on Sundays to exceed the daily maximum by as much as one hour." As for the weekly maximum, it was violated on one occasion, for a total of 20 minutes.

Nothing remotely resembling the Free Press's Dickensian portrait of players working two or three times the prescribed time appears in the report. This is the equivalent of being accused of massive tax fraud, bringing in the IRS for a thorough audit, and then admitting you mistakenly expensed a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The university confessed to a "major violation" because the NCAA's definition of major is different than the normal English use of the word. "Secondary" violations are so picayune and routine that programs commit them annually by the score, even the hundreds. A major violation is anything higher than that.

Contrary to the Free Press's insinuation, the university persuasively showed that the small excesses in practice time stemmed not from Rodriguez or Barwis but miscommunication by the Athletic Department staff.
So there you have it. I look forward to endless spewage all summer long about whether RichRod will be fired after this season, whether the team can overcome this investigation, blah blah blah. But the bottom line is that the program barely did anything to warrant this and the Free Press is full of crap.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Festival of Homiletics: The Not-So-Short Version

So as I mentioned last week, I attended the Festival of Homiletics.

Before I get to that, I just want to say that I loved Nashville. They'll be dealing with the aftermath of the flooding for years, but at least the downtown areas that were hit looked good. My very first night, I went to a place called the Music Row Bar and Grill, which was advertising gourmet burgers. I walked in, and I was the only person in the place. I asked about the burgers, and the guy behind the counter said, "Let me tell you about this pasta I made today..." He went into describing the dish, and when he was finished I said, "Man, I really had a burger in mind tonight." Out of nowhere, the guy's wife yells from the basement, "He said he wants a burger!" Long story short, the guy gave me a "chef's sample" of the pasta, which was so good that I went ahead and ordered it. He and I talked for quite a while: he went on about his training as a chef and as a musician. I mentioned that I was from the Akron area, and he said, "I've been there. I didn't like it." Okay then.

Another night, I hung out with a college friend in the downtown area. We had Jack's BBQ, which was awesome. Another night we ended up at the Hard Rock, because why not. It was after we ate at the Hard Rock that I saw a brewery and restaurant right across the street, and I was immediately filled with remorse.

So, anyway. The festival itself. It was held at three downtown churches, but I spent most of my time at First Baptist Church of Nashville. Here's who I saw and heard:

Vashti McKenzie - McKenzie is a bishop in the AME church, and preached at our opening worship. She based her sermon on Exodus 14 and spoke about preaching truth to power. She of course highlighted the difficulty in such a task, and this quote stuck out to me: "We've ended up preaching Jesus rather than what Jesus preached. If we preach what Jesus preached, what happened to Jesus may end up happening to us." I think that quote highlights something bigger than preaching, but I'll let that go for now.

Anna Carter Florence - Florence teaches preaching at Columbia Seminary. She's new to me, but apparently she's here every year. She gave a lecture on Monday evening and also preached Tuesday morning. During one of these sessions she focused on "preaching like Mark," where she highlighted the Gospel of Mark's brevity, but moreso who he does and doesn't allow to tell others about Jesus. To a certain degree, she blew the messianic secret out of the water while doing so.

Anyway, she used Mark 5 as her text, and suggested that the three characters there-the Geresene Demoniac, the 12-year-old girl, and the hemorrhaging woman-could be preaching role models. The Demoniac is told, "tell friends what the Lord has done for you." The girl doesn't say anything, but her life becomes her message. The woman tells the whole truth to Jesus with fear and trembling: "You can't tell the congregation the whole truth about God until you tell God the whole truth about you."

Thomas Long - I also heard Long speak twice, in lecture and in sermon. First came the lecture, where he talked about Ecclesiastes and how "the writer of Ecclesiastes has his BS detector set on stun." He talked about the dissident voices in scripture, and how Ecclesiastes is a voice for people who "veto the liturgy because of their pain."

Later on, he preached on the collection of older folks who show up in the first two chapters of Luke, who sing the old songs and pray the old prayers and wait for what God is going to do.

John Bell - Bell was both a new discovery and a disappointment, though he himself did not provide the latter. Bell is a worship leader and scholar from Scotland, and was going to lecture on using imagination in ministry. Unfortunately, he was grounded in Scotland due to volcanic ash and Skyped his lecture. The feed was pretty bad, and became a huge distraction.

Susan Philips - Philips is a local church pastor from Wisconsin. She led a workshop on using projected images in worship. She began with the observation that we have a "visually astute populace;" that people are very tuned in to imagery. She stressed simplicity when using images in worship, and talked about her practice of "imago divina," her name for her process of finding images. She noted that images that tie in to the service in an obvious way are "visual cliches." She also noted that projected images can work in any worship style, and one just needs to be attentive to the specifics of the congregation.

I pause here to mention that Philips was the worship leader on Monday evening, and used this video as the assurance of pardon:

I think I might use this myself before too long.

Craig Barnes - I greatly enjoy Barnes' writings, so he was one I was really looking forward to. He didn't disappoint. He was another who spoke twice: once in sermon and once in lecture.

His first was based on Numbers 6, where "the rabble" complain about the manna. His theme was "preaching to the rabble." First, he described the rabble: how they have a low tolerance for discomfort, how they keep pastors in conversation with God. The Hebrew word for manna literally means "what is it?" To this end, Barnes noted that every day for 40 years, the Israelites were nurtured by a question. He suggested that pastors wake up every morning meant to ask, "What is it you are doing in the world, O God?" He also noted that the rabble is not impressed with this question; instead their favorite statement is "if only:" "If only we could [do something we miss from our 1950s version of church that is no longer viable]." In turn, the pastor starts reciting his/her own "if onlys:" "If only we could be more missional. If only I could go to another church. If only they could go to another church." In the end, he observed that pastors are tempted to think that we are the ones to get people to the promised land, when in fact that's God's job. Instead, it's our job to love them and show them the daily manna.

Barnes' sermon was based on Luke 15, where he talked about "preaching to the elder brother." He described the elder brother as the one who never left home, who never really got in trouble. He in turn asked how to preach to people whose sins aren't so obvious. He suggested that preachers essentially have two options: 1) Explain they actually are lost, which is a popular way to do it. 2) Make the elder brother sacramental. He noted that the elder brother's besetting sin is anxiety: anxiety about health, family, lifestyle. Sermons to elder brothers should be about choosing love over fear.

Lauren Winner - Winner spoke twice as well. During her lecture, she talked about how sermon preparation is a vital part of the spiritual lives of pastors. Essentially, she encouraged us to enjoy doing it rather than see it as a weekly chore. She suggested that sermon preparation can be a time of intimate prayer for and with the congregation as one thinks about connections specific members may make with the chosen text or what is going on in general among the people.

Winner's sermon was on 1 Corinthians 13 and was basically an endeavor to reclaim it in the face of sentimentality: "These words from Paul have inspired more kitsch than any other passage in scripture." She suggested hearing them in a different context, i.e., a hospital or prison. It was okay.

I would certainly attend this again. In fact, like I said, I think I'm going to consider making this an annual thing. In addition to many of the people listed above slated to return, Barbara Brown Taylor and Brian McLaren are already set for next year. There was so much that I found nourishing and rejuvenating at this conference that I actually can't fathom not going now that I've finally had a taste.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Festival of Homiletics: The Short Short Version

I got back yesterday from the Festival of Homiletics.

It was enriching and uplifting, and I think I may have to make it a yearly thing.

I ran into an interesting assortment of people from college, seminary, and the Ohio Conference. It was one of those cool "worlds colliding" sorts of things in that way.

Nashville in itself was awesome, too. It's not all flooded any more, and I ate good barbeque.

I had to come back early because my brother's getting married this weekend, and I really should be there for that.

Also, I got an idea for a book. Like, for real. But I'll hold off on saying too much about that for now.

More detailed recap to come later.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vintage CC: Waiting

From January 2006:

He allowed his weight to do most of the work as he eased back into the driver's seat. A turn of the key and the engine awoke. A flip of a lever and his dashboard glowed a soft orange. He wasn't quite set to take off the brake. Instead, he savored the escape of a sigh that felt like it had been building up for years.

He looked back toward the store he just left. An entire building filled with the knowledge and experience of others printed and bound for the world's consumption, and to him all those words were as thin as the pages on which they were written. Tens of thousands of gallons of ink spilled and not one that satisfied his thirst. Tens of thousands of trees harvested and not one that gave more than a superficial pep talk, a 12-step list to better times, a study of more words from another book.

He had no more breath to waste. He let down the brake and put it in reverse.

A new CD sang to him, fresh out of the shrink wrap. A live set from a lesser-known artist. The guy at the cash register had asked about it. He made an attempt at an explanation. The cashier wouldn't give it a second thought after he left. The guitar wove in and out from behind the bass and drums as he wove around a slow-moving Toyota. He took a quick cream. The guy was trying to juggle an ice cream cone with the steering wheel. Brilliant. And this after he had to wait for the long line of cars in the other lane to pass them both. He was always the one stuck as everyone else showed a little more initiative. One day he'd fix that.

He pulled into the driveway, the garage lighting up as the door rose. A few more bars of the song before the engine came to a rest. He collected his newest acquisitions and made his way toward the front door.

Except this time he lingered.

He gazed up at the steeple next to him, immersed in bright white spotlights for traffic to see. It pointed to a dark overcast night. No stars. Only the glow from a nearby town.

The night was warm enough for a pause, warm enough to wonder about what all those words were trying to define, what this steeple was trying to direct him toward.

He waited, plastic bag softly crinkling in the breeze, as if some heavenly bus was going to swoop down and deliver a real answer.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Vintage CC: Man-E-Faces

From December 2005:

As I mentioned the other day, Greg has been questioning when pastors are described as 'real.' An excerpt:
The reality, of course, is that every pastor that I've ever met, including myself, has a carefully constructed public persona....Congregations don't want real men and women as pastors. They want carefully constructed simulacra of real people. They want real to be nicer than them but not too nice, and holier than them but not too holy, and smarter than them but not too smart, and more honest than them but not too honest. Pastors learn too quickly that real people are messy. Congregations don't want messy pastors.
The concept of the 'pastoral persona' is what I find most interesting. In fact, it got me to thinking about what other personas I have. We show different faces to different people depending on trust level and what we want to get out of different relationships. Sometimes we show the wrong face to the wrong person. Sometimes we need to. Here's a list of the personas I run around with any given week. I feel that I need to preface this by saying that none of these guys are two-dimensional. They are all genuine sides of one person as he seeks to relate to other genuine sides of other people.

~Pastor Jeff (of course): Pastor Jeff might be one of the most cheerful people you've ever met. He wants to talk to you. He's interested in your life with all its ups and downs. He wants to make sure you're 'doing okay.' You can count on him cracking a few jokes on a Sunday morning and he'll gladly invite you into his office if you need to talk to him. However, he's not a pushover. He doesn't come to every single church function because he's also a family man and for him to be cheerful and joking he needs some time off. He's stern in a gentle way, trying to push others to embrace church programs and he'll talk to you about controversial issues without brow-beating you. He's creative, knows the Bible, and perhaps even a little irritating with how damn happy and nice he is.

~Introvert Jeff: Introvert Jeff usually likes to take over as soon as Pastor Jeff leaves the office. He wants to curl up with a book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine and is wondering why you're calling. He despises the ring of a telephone and thinks caller ID is the best invention ever. If you leave him alone for too long, he'll start thinking about people he didn't like in high school. He loves to think, to solve the world's problems all in one sitting (or at least understand one or two a little better). He feels the need to study up for the next argument, because he didn't like how the last one ended. If you try to talk to him, he'll reply with little more than 'Hm' or 'Really?' Can't you see he's journaling or watching pro wrestling? What's with you?

~Class Clown Jeff: Class Clown Jeff is Pastor Jeff, but he's allowed to have beer and fart. He's theatrical and loud and is more inclined to tell you exactly what he thinks. He'll even make fun of you. He sings Creed songs in a humerous mocking manner and quotes Family Guy a lot. He hosts parties, plays board games, makes fun of movies, and will sing karaoke with you. He'll do the Chicken Dance and YMCA at weddings. He's self-deprecating, flirtatious, and exaggerated. Enjoy him while you can, because Introvert Jeff is ready to take over the second he walks out.

~Blogger Jeff: Yes, incredible that this is a separate persona, isn't it? Blogger Jeff is confident in his writing and wants you to know that he has an opinion. In one sense he's the big payoff to all of Introvert Jeff's hard work. He's a little more free with speaking his mind and likes being clever. He also likes talking about himself. He'll engage you in dialogue respectfully until he sniffs out disrespect, however slight, in the other's writing. Then he'll either start dishing it back or drill his point into you to clearly show you that YOU are the idiot, not him. He's sensitive and proud and wants to be taken seriously.

~Cynical Jeff: Yeah, someone had time to write all this crap out and in the meantime a dozen people just died of AIDS. Like anyone really cares how many 'personas' some guy has. What, does he need his ego stroked that much? People are starving and all of you are sitting on your asses in a comfortable chair looking at a computer screen. This is just like church, man. All these pretty people patting themselves on the back for dropping an extra $10 in the plate. That'll go to fund the light fixtures. Feel better now that you're truly suffering for humanity? Yeah, blogging is important work. We gotta be prophetic and give the poor a voice. Here's a thought: go and actually talk to poor people. Whatever.

~Buddy Jeff: Like Pastor Jeff, Buddy Jeff wants to make sure that you're okay, except this is primarily for friends and family. He worries about his aging grandparents and misses his aunts who live far away. He hates it when he misses a chance to send a card on someone's birthday or anniversary. If he sees something at the store that he thinks you'll like, he'll buy it. He helps friends struggling with rent and willingly gives as many hugs as it takes. He wants to do right by you, wants to be liked, and sometimes ends up paving his own road with good intentions. He makes his wife tea when she's sick and tries to make it to his brother's plays. He wants to help you out.

I just thought of something. You know the color wheel? Three primary colors, three secondary colors made from two primary colors, all that stuff? I bet I could set up a 'persona wheel,' with Buddy Jeff, Class Clown Jeff, and Introvert Jeff being my three primaries and Pastor Jeff, Cynical Jeff, and Blogger Jeff being my secondaries. How might that look? I'll figure that out later.

Edit: All right, I've got my 'persona wheel' figured out. Pastor Jeff is a hybrid of Class Clown Jeff and Buddy Jeff: he's nice, he's engaging, he's bubbly and his opposite is Introvert Jeff. Blogger Jeff is Class Clown Jeff and Introvert Jeff: he's outgoing enough to print what he's been thinking about all day and tries to make an interesting presentation. Strangely, his opposite is Buddy Jeff (maybe he's that self-centered). Cynical Jeff is Introvert Jeff and, believe it or not, Buddy Jeff. He wants to help people, but will spend all day thinking about how you're doing it wrong. His opposite is Class Clown Jeff, because poverty isn't funny. Jerk.

It's a slow day in the office.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Vintage CC: I'm Sick of Writing

From April 2007.

I'm sick of writing.

I don't want to do it any more.

In fact, I'm so sick of writing that I'm writing this to tell you how much I'm sick of writing.

I'm using this medium to communicate to you how sick I am of using this medium to communicate how sick I am of this medium. And of communicating. With this medium.

It's time to let this blog go and never come back.

Except I will check in from time to time just to make sure that the blog doesn't disappear. I did have some good stuff on here, in my opinion.

But no more new stuff. No. No more. This is the last new stuff that I do.

This will be the last word that I write.

Except "this" wasn't the last word that I wrote.

"Wrote" is.

Now "is" is.

Now "'is' is" is.

Except those were the last two words that I wrote.

Now "wrote" is again.

Or was.

Now "was" was.

Or is.

But anyway, no more writing. I'm sick of it.

I'm gone. Forever.

Not physically. Or metaphysically. Just blog-aphysically.

I made up a word just now.

I'm sick of making up new words.

I just want to use the same old crappy ones.

And I'm just going to say them. No more writing them. Because I'm sick of writing.

So no more, starting now.

Or right after I post this.

Or after I'm done answering comments from people who want me to stay. Or after I'm done arguing with people who leave comments saying how much they're glad I'm done. Yeah, after I'm done writing about how dumb they are, I'm done.

So done. So very done. Absolutely done. Unequivocally done, done, and really done.

I hope that my writing this showed you how sick I am of writing.

If it didn't, you'll see soon enough.

And if you still don't, I'm going to keep writing until you do.

And then after that I'll stop.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Festival of Homiletics

I'll be at the Festival of Homiletics this week.

In the meantime, I have a few "Vintage POC" posts queued up; they'll appear over the next few days. Enjoy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


The other day, I did something that I thought I'd never do: I went through my "friends" list on Facebook, and deleted probably 30 people. For the most part, these were mild acquaintances at best; mostly people who'd pledged my fraternity or its corollary, yet whom I'd never met. It made sense to add them at the time, but our relationship wasn't moving forward in any meaningful way, and I haven't been back to Heidelberg since my brother's graduation.

I never thought I'd do this because I'm the type of person who doesn't let go easily. On any other day I might have looked down through that list and thought, "Well, something may change someday." Maybe, I'd reason, I would run into these people at some point and befriend them on a level deeper than any online social networking site could make possible. Maybe. But not likely. And so I opted to let them go. As a result, the front page of updates seems less cluttered somehow; more meaningful. It turned out to be a good decision almost immediately.

There were a few others whom I deleted. And if you told me years ago that these people would be among those on the chopping block, I wouldn't have believed you. Nevertheless, I made the decision to let them go as well. These were people involved intimately in those stories of growth, frustration, questioning, and pain from years' past. These were people with whom I'd fought and eventually reconciled. A quiet truce and a rebuilding of relationship had happened between us. And so, why not be friends on Facebook, the method of the moment to mark true friendship, or so we're told?

As I scrolled down my list, I happened upon these names. Who were we to one another now? I'd never really struck up a conversation with them online. Our re-connecting had not blossomed past the same stage as my technical fraternity brothers and sisters. We were friends in an arbitrary sense, the hatchet long buried from years ago, and yet without much to fill the void.

So I clicked the X, feeling some regret but also some release. It was time to let things go; time to realize that it was okay to acknowledge the transitions that relationships experience. Facebook isn't and shouldn't be the barometer for such things, but in our current reality there is at least a lot of symbolism caught up in who your friends are in that medium, much like who you include and exclude from the guest list for your wedding.

Strangely enough, I've interacted more with people from high school on Facebook lately than with people from college. There's much more that I hated about my high school years and much more that I loved about college, and yet this is what has transpired.

Friday morning, while I was snooping around Youtube for the Raze video to be included in yesterday's meme, I was struck by a random curiosity to look up videos by the band Skillet. Before that, I hadn't listened to Skillet in 9-10 years. They began as a Christian grunge band, late to jump on the wagon for that particular sound as many Christian artists are prone to do. They morphed into an industrial/techno/rock outfit, and the last I heard of them they'd continued to pursue that sound.

Yesterday morning, this was the first video that I watched:

I was overcome by an entire wave of emotions for which I wasn't prepared, and which I still don't understand. Music simply has that power over me--as it does for many--and some may simply attribute the emotions to that. But I had to take a step back and think about what was being stirred up.

In the larger scheme of things, this is not the first Christian artist that I have rediscovered the past several weeks. Jennifer Knapp recently came back into my consciousness, albeit less for her music at first and more for her coming out. And neither of these artists seem to identify primarily as "Christian" nowadays, at least in the industry sense of the word. Regardless, two representatives of a subculture with which I used to identify strongly have burst back into my awareness, have presented themselves as something worth listening to, something worth reclaiming as part of my current faith journey rather than being relegated to a stage long past that I'd rather leave where it is.

All of this, I think, was mixed in with the thoughts and emotions that the above video evoked. It was the music, but it was the baggage that the music brought with it. And not only that, but it was about the redemption of that baggage; its reintegration with my sense of self as a human being, as a person of faith, as a child of God as something life-giving and not just something to leave behind.

I don't regret the decisions that I made on Facebook. There are some things that one can let go and have it be for the best. And it may be that some day certain people come back into my life in a more meaningful way than that site makes possible.

There are things from one's past, after all, that can be reborn. They can be reborn and give new life in ways one cannot yet imagine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Family Tree Meme

It's been a while since I participated in the RevGals' weekly meme thing:

1. Do you have any interest in geneaology? My mom is the geneologist in the family. I find the stories that she shares interesting, but I myself haven't really partaken much.

2. Which countries did your ancestors come from? Germany, Sweden, France...those are the ones I know

3. Who is the farthest back ancestor whose name you know? My great-great grandfather, CoffeeGreatGreatGrandfather. Heh.

4. Any favorite saints or sinners in the group? That'd again be CoffeeGreatGreatGrandfather, who was a missionary from Sweden. He planted churches all over the place, and helped found the Evangelical Covenant Church denomination. I have his pocketwatch, which I proudly display. I don't really know of any "sinners" in my family lines.

5. What would you want your descendants to remember about you? Oh geez, I don't know. That I was devoted, even fiercely loyal. And that I patented an invisibility suit. But mostly the "devoted" thing.

Bonus: a song, prayer, or poem that speaks of family--blood or chosen--to you. Okay, I'm gonna go with Phineas and Ferb, if not just for a laugh:

The other song that comes to mind is a little cheesy, and causes me to dig back into my Christian music days. This is a song from the late '90s called "Always and Forever" by Raze, and there's a story behind it. When I was involved in a church praise band in college, someone had put this video on the overhead screen during one of our practices. Somebody commented on how scary the people looked. I was the guy in the group who liked the more alternative/punk/ska Christian bands, so somebody else replied, "Yeah, I bet Jeff likes it." As much pain as those years produced for me, they were also a time of great community and family. So I offer this video and story:

Pop Culture Roundup

I finished In It for the Long Haul, and my feelings about it can pretty well be summed up in what I posted earlier this week. A lot of the material was familiar to me, such that I wound up thinking, "Really? This is what it takes?" Interestingly enough, the book says little to nothing about how to keep the creative energy going after the first few years; how to keep things fresh and vibrant. In various ways it dances around this subject, i.e., making sure that one take time off for renewal, evaluating programs rather than just the pastor, but that's it. That's what I found disappointing about this book.

I also finished Walden this week. This quote from the end sums up the whole book in a sense: "There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dulness." Thoreau spends quite a bit of time appreciating the natural beauty around him; on living in simplicity and seeing life through alert senses uninhibited by what most people concern themselves with. For him, the self-preservation and over-cautionary ways with which we conduct our day-to-day lives have dulled our minds to wonder and awe; to fully living. This book became a great unintentional aid to this time off.

I picked up the new Dead Weather album this week, entitled Sea of Cowards. This is a more bluesy, more mellow album than the last. It isn't as crunchy. That's not to say that it isn't good, though. It's just different.

Pomomusings has been added to the blog list.

Here's a guy doing a poem entitled, "I'm Sorry I'm a Christian:"

And here's a video noting that "contemporary/relevant" worship has a few recognizable features:

"Sunday's Coming" Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

And here's Jose Feliciano singing the National Anthem as part of a tribute to late Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell:

Monday, May 10, 2010

An Anti-Climactic Sabbatical Moment

The past few days, I've been making my way through In It for the Long Haul by Glenn Ludwig, all about sustaining a long-term pastorate. In a sense, this was meant to be the core text of my sabbatical; the wonderfully insightful commentary on the issue that I've made the centerpiece of this time. It was one of the very, very few books that I could find on the subject to begin with. And it was published by the Alban Institute, so it has to be good, right? Yes, this book was going to give me all the answers that I need; all the insights on which I need to reflect.

The anticipation mounted as I neared the chapter entitled "Building the Pillars as Foundations," which describes the five pillars needed to sustain long-term pastorates. After a few chapters relating statistics about average length of stay for pastors, building trust with a congregation, the "myths" of longer pastorates, here came the how-to chapter; the heart of the matter.

And so, here are the five pillars for a long-term pastorate:

1. Monitoring burnout - Continually finding meaning in what one does and managing stress. Strategies to deal with burnout include maintaining spiritual practices, making it a point to take time off, seeking support networks, getting exercise, and a few others.

2. Balancing individual and corporate needs - Building trust with individuals and also instilling confidence in the congregation as a whole; not letting the small group of chronic complainers run your ministry; recognizing when a program has reached its endpoint even if an individual wishes it would remain.

3. Balancing power and decision-making - Inviting new people into leadership; keeping democracy alive by welcoming a variety of opinions and people; sharing leadership.

4. Seeking quality feedback - After a while, clergy evaluations may be more about laypeople not wanting to hurt the pastor's feelings or not being able to see his/her growing edges. Ludwig suggests more of a shared evaluation process of each ministry as opposed to a one-way evaluation of the pastor's performance.

5. Sustaining growth, seeking depth - Essentially, keeping the three poles/pulls of ministry, family, and one's own spiritual formation in balance; recognizing that studying a text for a sermon is not personal Bible study, writing a prayer for worship is not personal prayer time, etc.

After reading through these insights and journaling some thoughts on each one, I set the book down and reflected for another few moments.

Then I said, out loud, to no one: "Um...duh."

Maybe it's because the concepts of self-care and boundaries were nearly beaten into me during my seminary years, not to mention the strong supports that are in place in my Association. Maybe it's because I've been invited to be a part of several clergy support groups such that I'm actually at the point where I think I have too many. Maybe it's because I just completed a Health and Excellence in Ministry program a few weeks ago that again drove home some of these points about boundaries and church dynamics.

But holy crap, man. I know a lot of this stuff already. I do a lot of this stuff already.

That's not to puff myself up or anything. There seems to be a good portion of pastors who don't know or practice a lot of this. Ludwig shares that 1300 pastors leave ministry every month, so obviously there are a decent-sized number of us who aren't putting these safeguards in place.

I'm very fortunate to have had many of these things constantly a part of my ministry; constantly drilled into me as healthy practices for every pastor to observe. So essentially, reading this chapter was very anti-climactic for me. It means that I'm already doing the things that make a long-term pastorate possible.

That's not to rest on my laurels, but to recognize and be thankful that I already know the types of things that I need to be concerned about. In that sense, I suppose that I should simply feel affirmed.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Pop Culture Roundup

I continue meandering through Walden, which I think is fitting. He tells a story of being arrested one day while spending the day in town, and he shares these lines which I find still incredibly relevant:

"But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run 'amok' against society; but I preferred that society should run 'amok' against me, it being the desperate party."

I've also just started In It for the Long Haul by Glenn Ludwig. It's the second of my three sabbatical books, and all about sustaining longer-term pastorates. I'm not too far into it yet, so I don't have much to say about it other than it's only 130 pages or so; it may not take that long to read.

We watched Sherlock Holmes this past week. I confess that I haven't read any Holmes stories save the play by William Gillette, which showcased/reinforced the well-known cultural aspects of Sherlock Holmes, i.e., "Elementary, my dear Watson" and the deerstalker hat, that aren't actually in the books. The movie, I presume, is more true to the books as well and thus doesn't make use of these elements either. In fact, it's a very gritty portrayal set against the backdrop of a gritty London. Holmes is played by Robert Downey, Jr. as nearly antisocial, even savant, in his powers of observation and desperate need to have a case with which to preoccupy himself. Jude Law plays Watson, as his friend and assistant, but also as his foil and keeper. The plot was also good, but I just found myself taking in the whole Holmsian world.

The 150th episode of Family Guy aired this week, which is significant if only because Fox cancelled it twice, but brought it back after realizing how popular it was on DVD and reruns. Now if only that worked with Firefly. Well anyway, the story was very simple, featuring Brian and Stewie visiting the bank so that Brian could work with his safety deposit box, to be ultimately trapped in the vault all weekend together. Some usual awkward, gross-out, "that's-just-wrong" humor for which FG is known happens, along with some more serious moments as the two work out issues in their relationship. It was a very uncharacteristic episode, which I know turned a lot of fans off, but it worked at a different level. If people tuned in expecting the madcap stuff and the non-sequitor flashbacks, they were bound to be disappointed. But I thought it was very well-done.

I ordered two Jennifer Knapp CDs through the library this past week, Kansas and The Way I Am. Kansas is the music for which I remember her from my college years...I like the music itself more than most of the lyrics, which are full of the stock Christian cliches that largely turned me off to the genre. She grew up by the time she recorded The Way I Am: certainly still a Christian focus, but now she's using her own words.

I may actually go see Jennifer Knapp in concert this next week. I also got my Dave Matthews Band tickets in the mail the other day. So, like, go me.

Here's a song from Phineas and Ferb, the Spa Day Rap:

Also, here's a creative way to announce that you're pregnant (no, not Coffeewife):

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

"You're not there yet"

In her book Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor writes about something that she calls "sabbath sickness:"
Anyone who practices Sabbath for even an afternoon usually suffers a little spell of Sabbath sickness. Once you have finished the paper and the second pot of tea, you can start feeling a little jumpy, a little ready to get back to work. You can discover the true meaning of rationalization, which is what your mind does when it wants to do something that you have decided you will not do. Is yard work really work if you enjoy it? Is flipping through a mail-order catalog really shopping? Yes it is.

If you decide to live on the fire that God has kindled inside of you instead of rushing out to find two sticks to rub together, then it does not take long for all kinds of feelings to come out of hiding. You can find yourself crying buckets of uncried tears over things you thought you had handled years ago. People you have loved and lost can show up with their ghostly lawn chairs, announcing that they have nowhere else they have to be all day. While you are talking with them, you may gradually become aware of an aching leg and look down to see a bruise on your thigh that you did not know you had. How many other collisions did you ignore in your rush from here to there?
I bring this up because I wondered for quite a while yesterday whether this time of rest and renewal is overprogrammed. If one looked at my calendar for these five weeks, it wouldn't seem like much. It's more in my mind: I look at a new day with little to nothing to do, and my immediate reaction is to fill it with stuff. A lot of it has been leisure time stuff: reading a book, playing my bass, watching a movie, sitting on the porch, sitting on the couch, sitting at the coffeehouse, taking a walk.

So it looks like I'm relaxing. But once an activity ends, once I'm faced with a moment of nothing, my first thought is, "What can I do next?" My immediate tendency is to use a free moment - I can't just enjoy it, can't just let it be; I feel a need to use it.

I was actually quite disturbed by this realization yesterday. Why can't I just relax? What if I were to just sit; close my eyes and do nothing for a little while?

The other day when I took a nap with one of my cats may have been the only true sabbatical moment that I've had so far.

Could it be that even engaging in leisure activities are sometimes signs of "sabbath sickness?"

Yesterday I visited a local retreat center. It was the first of three trips that I'll make to that spot. It has a small cabin set back in the woods. It's a very irenic space; my sacred space away from the empty church sanctuary, I may even say. I began the day with morning prayers and journaling, which took me right up to lunch. After that, I decided to walk the labyrinth.

The labyrinth is a fascinating, confounding, frustrating, wonderful practice for me. I can't stay away from it, yet I don't fully understand it and can't say that I always receive much from it. I love the journey metaphor that it embodies; that's one of its main draws for me. But I don't always calm or focus myself enough for the experience, which is probably just another sign that I tend toward overfunctioning.

Yesterday, I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth and silently asked a question: "What should I do next?" This question is related to what sort of specialty I pursue, i.e., D.Min, some other degree, etc. It's a concern that I wanted to think about during this time, though I haven't been as inspired by that question since I began.

At any rate, I began my walk. The question remained with me at first, but eventually faded into the background. Instead, I became conscious of the walk itself. I tried to keep my pace slow, but caught myself speeding up several times. I also caught myself anticipating the next turn, trying to gauge how far away I was from the center. A thought began to repeat itself: "You're not there yet." Indeed I wasn't. I was beginning to think that there was a larger truth behind this simple statement.

As I neared the center, I felt a pull to truly slow down, even slower than the pace I tried to keep. I felt like I couldn't speed up if I wanted to. That's how strong this pull was. My feet became heavier and heavier, my body rebelling against my mental urges.

When I reached the center, I can't say that any revelation came to me. I did feel moved to sit down in the grass for a time, but no special message came; no angel descended. I just took a few moments to feel the warmth of the sun and listen to the birds.

When I stood to begin my journey out, however, something had clearly changed. That same pull to walk slowly was even stronger, such that I didn't walk the path so much as shuffle, one foot barely ahead of the other. I paid more attention to the grass: what it felt like through my shoes, the bumps in the ground, the way it moved with my steps. My gaze ahead shrunk from about half a foot to maybe 2-3 inches in front of me. Frequently, I didn't know when the next turn was coming until I was on top of it. I have no idea how long it took for me to complete my walk, but I know it was quite a while before I reached the exit.

Whether this experience was an answer to my question is debatable. I'm an impatient, looking-ahead sort of person in general and not just in a career sense, so the point of this slowing down seems to be more far-reaching than what I'd asked. If nothing else, it was the beginning of the realization of my own sabbath sickness, which had slapped me in the middle of the forehead by the end of the day.

That evening, I sat down with a glass of wine and watched part of a ballgame. It was a conscious effort to move more slowly and to recognize that I'm not there yet, wherever "there" is and whatever I'm trying to do to get there. I want to take slower steps during this time and enjoy the gift I've been given.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Tarshish is a Lie

In his book Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson interprets the story of Jonah in light of the pastoral vocation. Jonah is told to prophesy in Nineveh, a detestable city in many respects, and certainly a city that Jonah finds unlovable. And he not only resists God's call to go to Nineveh; he doesn't just pretend that he doesn't hear God or put off going. Instead, he heads in the opposite direction to sail to Tarshish. Peterson describes Tarshish as an exotic place full of culture, romance, intrigue, and adventure. It certainly was preferable to Nineveh. So that's where Jonah decides to go.

Of course, he never makes it. A storm hits, he has to be thrown overboard, he prays in the belly of a big fish, and eventually does go to Nineveh where he belongs.

Pastors, Peterson says, all want to go to Tarshish. Tarshish is a paradise, with wonderfully perfect and obedient congregations serving in all sorts of efficient, polished ministries. But, he continues, "Tarshish is a lie." Spend enough time in one church, and one quickly finds that it's just another Nineveh, filled with imperfect people struggling with their own lives (to say nothing of their church commitment). So a pastor's tendency is to buy another ticket and look for Tarshish somewhere else.

This approach to congregational ministry lacks an appreciation for place, for context. Peterson observes that a pastor can't engage in ministry without the specifics of where they are located. Ministry is about these people in this place right now, rather than some ideal group of people somewhere that ultimately doesn't exist. He even goes so far to encourage a reverence for place and for the particulars of people's lives; to help identify where God is even in the midst of the mundane, the mediocre, the tedious.

In part, I picked up Peterson's book on a whim. I saw it recommended on another blog and thought it sounded interesting enough to be incorporated into my sabbatical musings about long-term pastorates. It has proven to be far more relevant than I ever thought possible, and helped set the right tone for this time.

It's not the only thing that I've already done in relation to this reflection. Last week I also traveled to Columbus for a couple days to go through a program called "Health and Excellence in Ministry," offered through Midwest Ministry Development. This, too, was on somewhat of a whim (an expensive whim, but still a whim): My Association has been in dialogue with Midwest for this program to be held in a group format in the fall, given that it has received glowing reviews from all who have participated. I didn't know much about content, other than it connects a pastor's personal health to excellence in his or her vocation.

I came to realize that this program is more than that. To be sure, there were some familiar elements concerning healthy boundaries and what my Meyers-Briggs result says about my ministry style, but there was also a lot about support systems, not taking professional criticism personally, and, most importantly, always operating under the belief that God can and does show up in the midst of one's ministry with the congregation. We also discussed the "cycle of change:" the life cycle of any given church program from exploring ways to address a need to the height of its productivity to its decline, all the way to the choice whether to begin exploring again or to opt out altogether.

It was an informative and helpful couple of days, though I must admit that I found some of that value in the one-on-one format; the ability to dialogue with a counselor as opposed to the group format.

I've seen many tie-ins between Peterson's book and this program. Both touch on being slow to opt out of a church due to frustration, boredom, a low-energy season, or a supposed better opportunity elsewhere. Rather than do that, both encourage exploration: of people's lives, of opportunities for the church to engage in ministry and mission, of one's own tendencies to resist going to or staying in Nineveh for the appointed time.

The counter-argument to this may be that there just comes a point where nothing further can be done; when the time truly comes for pastor and church to part ways. Peterson does acknowledge that, but states that pastors should weigh whether that is really the case, or whether it's just a valley in a series of peaks and valleys.

Above all else, both Peterson and this program encourage pastors to trust that God will show up. The way that "excellence" is defined at Midwest is a little different that how one may commonly conceive it. Rather than a corporate term for efficiency and polish, it is used in terms of one's ministry making an impact. The way Peterson puts it is walking with a person in their anxiety, despair, or joy, and not only showing up but actually helping one make a connection between that person's story and God's story.

To do that, a pastor has to be willing to stay put for a while; to appreciate and love where one is in all its particulars, brokenness, and imperfection. Tarshish is a lie; Nineveh is where God wants us.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Ah, sabbatical.

Almost a week into sabbatical, I've already noticed several things.

First, I've noticed the itch to get back into the office. It was to be expected, and it hasn't been an alarming or overpowering sort of urge. It's just been that usual compulsion that people have: they're used to being at their place of work, and time off feels strange, and after what is typically no longer than a week they know they'll be back at it. I've had that feeling. I still do. Even now, some part of me, albeit small, feels like I will get up Tuesday morning and go to the church to begin my usual round of weekly pastoral activities. I've had a week it's time to go back, right? That's how it normally works. Except not this time.

Second and closely related to that is the liberation that I have felt. See, the urge I just mentioned is there, but it isn't that strong. Coffeewife will ask me, "What do you have planned for tomorrow?" And I'll reply, "I dunno." And I really don't know. I could read if I wanted. I could take a walk. I could take a nap. I could sit on my porch all day and just stare into space. I could play my bass. I could visit a coffeehouse. With a few exceptions, I don't have much of an itinerary.

The other day, I fell asleep in a chair with a cat on my lap. I can't remember the last time I took a nap. But I did that day, because I could.

Ah, sabbatical.

Third, I've noticed--and have been surprised by--how interwoven the stuff I've done already has been. As I mentioned, I've been reading Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson. I've also been reading Walden. And this past week I attended a two-day program called "Health and Excellence in Ministry." Believe it or not, all of these things have ended up related to each other. Just a week in, I've been making new connections between what I've been reading and learning about pastoral ministry and who I am called to be as both a person and pastor.

I originally was going to use this post to tell you about those connections, but now I don't feel like it. So I'll take another couple days and maybe come up with something then.

Ah, sabbatical.

Fourth and finally--and this is again related to the liberation point above--I've noticed what I do and don't want to do during this time. Originally, I thought I'd rush right in to reading Peterson, but I couldn't bring myself to do it those first couple days. Something inside me wasn't ready yet to start thinking about church and ministry stuff. I had just begun a time of rest, and thus part of me was actively resistant to getting right down to business with the subject matter on which I'd settled for this time.

That's actually why I returned to Walden. I'd kept it on my nightstand, my place marked, fully intending to return to it in June. But since I wasn't yet prepared to tackle my Official Important Sabbatical Project, I continued reading Thoreau. And it's been wonderful. The past week I've largely been reading Thoreau during the day, and maybe a chapter of Peterson in the evening. Maybe. And not always a full chapter.

Coincidentally, or maybe not so much, Walden is filled with images and ideas of a slower life, a life free of clutter and noise and obligation. Would that we could all experience such a life.

Of course, Thoreau only spent two years at Walden Pond. He didn't re-settle his life there. But those two years greatly altered his worldview. He learned about simplicity, about what's really important, and about the vast amount of stuff that isn't. That time of rest was needed in order for him to gain that perspective.

To a certain extent, that's what this time is meant to be. It's been happening with the Official Sabbatical Project, but it's also been happening in a larger sense as I've been able to slow down, take stock, reflect, and choose day by day, moment by moment, what I feel like doing. It won't last forever, but it at least has shown me something about what's important and what can wait.

Ah, sabbatical.