Thursday, October 27, 2011

Small Sips Really Has Heard of Rob Bell

We apparently suck. Last month, Rob Bell announced that he's leaving his position as Teaching Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids to pursue other ministry projects. Apparently, some on the more Evangelical side of things were/are hotly debating and discussing this move. Tony Jones observes that people in mainline churches haven't seemed to voice opinions on the subject, and he takes a stab at why:
Prominent liberal Christians aren’t objecting to Bell’s departure from parish ministry because they’ve never heard of Rob Bell.

On occasion, I speak to groups of mainline clergy (believe it or not, I don’t get evangelical invitations anymore). As is my wont, I drop Christian cultural references here and there when I speak. And it’s become clear to me that most mainline clergy have never heard of Rob Bell. They don’t know what the emerging church movement is. They don’t read Jesus Creed. In short, they are not familiar with anything evangelical, with the possible exception of pastors who appear on CNN, like Joel Osteen and Rick Warren.

Of course, some mainliners have heard of Rob, and maybe even read his book(s). But, as a whole, mainliners read the Christian Century, and they read their own denominational magazines, newsletters, and websites. They don’t read Christianity Today, where news of Bell’s departure was, ahem, big news.
Oh, we mainline sheltered and inbred and out of touch.

In fact, I know many mainliners who have used Bell's NOOMA videos and have read his books. When the UCC's General Synod gathered in Grand Rapids two years ago, there was at least a little speculation as to whether Bell would be invited. It may be younger types in particular who have heard of him and appreciate him, but nevertheless...yeah, we have.

An observation made by several commenters on this article has to do with length of stay: people involved with mainline traditions are used to pastors moving on from churches every so often. In that sense, Bell's departure is not strange to most of us. On the other hand, Evangelicals are much more used to pastorates that last an entire career in the same place. If Warren, Hybels, Osteen, or whomever else left their prominent pulpits, their decision would probably be questioned and debated in much the same way as Bell's has been.

But no, it's not because we haven't heard of him. Many have, and simply have accepted it.

Good thing Bell left before he received his letter. Mars Hill Church in Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll and in no way to be confused with Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, also made news recently for the very thing I didn't want you to get confused about just now:
The third Mars Hill I know seems caught in the middle. It is pastored in Sacramento, California by a friend of mine, Scott Hagan. Scott planted another church years ago in the Sacramento area, then moved to pastor a mega-church in Michigan and is now back leading at Mars Hill in Sactown. I have Pastor Scott’s permission to share what I am going to write next. Several weeks ago, Scott and his Sacramento congregation received a “Cease and Desist” letter which came from attorneys representing the Seattle Mars Hill Church. They were told that the Seattle Mars Hill had copyrighted the name “Mars Hill” and they demanded that the California Mars Hill churches stop using the name and any logos with similar lettering.
My reaction upon hearing this was...churches do that? Churches copyright their names like this, and really do send cease-and-desist letters to other churches that have the gall (THE GALL) to use that same name? How many First Baptists, First Congregationals, Trinitys, Emanuels, St. Peters (or any other saint), Zions, Graces, and whatever else are there in the United States? I'm guessing hundreds of each. But when it comes to Mars Hill, there can be only one (in my best Christopher Lambert voice).

But wait...Mars Hill Seattle quickly issued a clarification and was in contact with Mars Hill Sacramento to resolve this issue, which will lead to a logo change but not a name change.

It's a strange picture that gets painted when churches become involved in copyright and legal issues like this. On the one hand, individual churches (or, in these churches' cases, networks of churches) want to avoid confusion and be clear about who they are to people seeking them, but issuing a cease-and-desist letter quickly gets churches and individual Christians involved in a game that doesn't seem like Jesus was very interested in playing. After all, when disciples came to him exasperated that others not of their group were casting out demons in his name, he simply responded, "Let them. Whomever is not against us is for us."

I do get peeved when people get the United Church of Christ and the Churches of Christ mixed up. But I don't think there's reason to lawyer up in that instance.

Because I haven't written many posts with the word "Michigan" in them this fall. John U. Bacon's Three and Out was officially released on Tuesday, and I received my copy of it yesterday. Bacon was allowed unequaled access into the Michigan football program the entire time that Rich Rodriguez was head coach, and this is an account of what he saw. Over at MGoBlog, Bacon answered a series of questions in anticipation of the book's release, and one of the most notable answers to me came in response to a question about whether Rodriguez was a good fit:
When Schembechler’s crew arrived with their wives sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, some Michigan insiders took to calling them “The Ohio Mafia.” The players quickly learned the new guy yelled, swore, grabbed your facemask and literally kicked you in the ass. If you were merely hurt, not injured, but didn’t want to practice, you got left behind when the team plane took off.

Instead of turning his back on the new regime, however, Elliott embraced them, hosting parties for their families and introducing them to important people around town. He did not allow players to come to his office in the Athletic Department to complain about the new guy, either. And when Schembechler delivered what today would be an unforgivable comment about changing “Michigan’s silly helmets,” Elliott, Don Canham, Fritz Crisler and Bob Ufer quietly taught him Michigan tradition.

And, to Schembechler’s credit, he was wise enough to listen, and even seek out their help.

When Michigan upset Ohio State that year, they gave Bump Elliott the game ball, and there was not a dry eye in the room.

That’s Michigan at its best. The last three years were not.

Rodriguez had never been to Ann Arbor before his first press conference, and it was clear he had not prepared, nor been coached – a noted contrast to Brady Hoke’s introduction, when his rehearsed lines won over many doubters.

To cross this chasm, neither Michigan nor Rodriguez did enough, soon enough. I believe Rodriguez should have learned more about Michigan faster than he did, but I also believe he received little guidance. Readers will likely be struck by how often Rodriguez invoked Michigan’s traditions – the helmet, the banner, the rivals – when he talked to his team. And he could have helped his cause by reaching out to sympathetic Michigan groups like the M-Club, filled with loyal supporters who could have helped him when trouble hit.
I expect to have the entire freaking 400-page book read before next Friday's Pop Culture Roundup. I've been anticipating this that much. In fact, I've already read the first 80 pages.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Moped Diary

Starting next month, I will begin contributing to a communal blogging project called The Moped Diary. I don't know where the name came from, so don't ask.

The idea behind this project is simple: people from a wide variety of backgrounds will engage texts from the Revised Common Lectionary through prayer and study, and will post reflections according to their assigned texts and weeks. I'm generally scheduled for the third and fourth weeks of the month.

I'll post blurbs and links of my writing here to alert you to my contributions, but you should keep track of the whole thing.

The project kicks off next week.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm between books at the moment, but I am eagerly anticipating the arrival of my pre-ordered copy of Three and Out by John U. Bacon. Bacon was given unfettered access to the Michigan Wolverines football program during Rich Rodriguez's entire stint as head coach, and this is his account of that experience. Apparently nobody comes out looking very well as he details the fractures that took place before and during Rodriguez's tenure that helped contribute to the absolute crappiness of the last three seasons. Part of me is not thrilled about reliving those years, but this is a must-read not just for Michigan fans but for anyone curious about the day-to-day happenings in any major college football program.

We watched Tangled this week, Disney's version of the story of Rapunzel. I didn't know much about the story beyond the "I have long hair, climb up" bit. Rapunzel, voiced by Mandy Moore, is indeed trapped in a tower, but she isn't really aware that she's trapped: her mother (who actually kidnapped her when she was little) forbids her from leaving, saying that the outside world is too dangerous and she wants her to be safe. See, Rapunzel's hair is magical so long as it isn't cut: it has Fountain of Youth-type powers that Evil Stepmom likes taking advantage of. This is all well and good until a thief hiding from the palace guard climbs up and helps her out. It's a good animated film, with lots of goofy humor and, of course, singing including a fun song in a tough guy bar.

A friend of mine sent me a copy of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs, which won "Album of the Year" at this year's Grammys. I haven't had a chance to listen to the whole thing yet, but I've really enjoyed what I've heard so far, perhaps especially "Ready to Go:"

And here are two guys doing awesome things with drums:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Scattered Meme is Scattered

So. I made a video that I was planning to post today, but for some reason it won't load right on Youtube or something. It's one of the greatest things you would have ever seen, too. In that sense, I am very disappointed in the universe at the moment. So here's a

1. I lose my keys all of the time. Even if they are in my hand, I still am looking for them. Sigh! What is something you chronically looking for, if anything? keys. I've made great strides in this area the past few years, but still...I've locked myself out of my house, office, or car more often than I'd like to admit.

2. What movie are you looking forward to watching sometime in the future? (me, the new Footloose!) NOT the new Footloose. The Dark Knight Rises, coming next summer.

3. What is one of your favorite comfort foods? (me, pizza. hands down). A really good gourmet burger. And fries.

4. Story time. Tell us a story of one your favorite people that has touched, blessed your life. Yesterday Coffeeson and I went to the zoo so that Coffeewife could study for her Nurse Practitioner boards. He especially wanted to see "bats and cats," but was also overly fascinated by the Halloween decorations that they've set up as part of their "Boo at the Zoo" program. At one point we went to the black bear exhibit, the bear was sprawled out sleeping right up against the glass, and he was more interested in the nearby ghost decorations. He's quickly turning into quite the Halloween enthusiast.

5. What do you do to focus or calm or center yourself? (please, I need ideas!!!) If I'm feeling restless at the church, I wander the sanctuary for a little while. Since I started spiritual direction, setting aside that time has been helpful, too.

BONUS: Share the first thing (or second thing) that comes to your mind after your read this! That video would've been so awesome.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


I've started meeting with my spiritual director. We've carved out an hour or so on Tuesday mornings at a local Panera to drink coffee, eat bagels, and talk about where the divine presence is in the midst of even mundane places like that. We've hit it off pretty well, I think. He's an older, gentle-speaking guy, active in his Catholic faith. That he's Catholic may give some pause, as if his tradition may be too stark to one's own if one is a Protestant. I'm actually glad for the difference: it helps me think beyond my own tradition, and I think will help me learn Ignatius more in his context. As a bonus, his son graduated from the University of Michigan, so we're doing just fine together.

At this point in the process, I'm in a time of preparation for the Exercises, not yet experiencing them. This consists of working through a series of scripture passages, one per day, and prayerfully wondering how each passage may speak into my own life. "Try putting yourself in the place of the different characters," came one suggestion. "Linger on words and phrases," came another. Having practiced Lectio Divina at times, I'm familiar with suggestions like these, but it's good to be reminded and to process insights with another.

During a recent meeting--not that we've had that many--we somehow got on the subject of keeping thoughts and feelings bottled up, which Coffeewife will tell you is an issue of mine. We've actually been talking about this quite a bit lately, and I've been encouraged to change: better to share more readily and openly than to blow up over some minor thing. I like to think that the past month or more have seen some very positive steps toward correcting this, for which both Coffeewife and I are both very glad.

As my spiritual director and I discussed some of this, he mentioned Ignatius' writing about the Dark Spirit. I don't know what your thoughts are on Satan or the devil or the Dark Spirit or whatever term you prefer; whether evil is somehow personified or whether it's more of a force or whether evil is simply of our own making or something else besides, but apparently Ignatius believed that one of the major tactics that the Dark Spirit uses is to get people to bottle themselves up, to keep things hidden and suppressed. Lately, I've been learning more about what this can do to people: it can damage or end relationships, it can affect physical health, and it can stifle emotional and spiritual growth. Even if you don't believe that the Dark Spirit is a being as such, I think most people can agree that such bottling can lead to suffering and pain, at least some of which we may call evil.

With this conversation fresh in my mind, I turned my attention to the suggested texts for the week, and came to part of the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. Shortly into their conversation, Jesus begins to talk about living water:
Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
I was stuck on the word "gushing" for quite a while. Gushing calls to mind something abundant, moving, and hard to contain. Something that gushes can be overpowering, and it splashes indiscriminately on anything within a close enough range. Something that gushes is not easy to bottle up, if bottling it up is even remotely possible. Try to bottle a waterfall or a geyser or a spring or a river. It's a fool's errand; it just can't be done. There'd be way too much to account for, and the water would likely rip your puny bottle from your hand.

"What is gushing in your life right now?" This was the question posed to me at our most recent meeting as I shared some of these thoughts. My answer was the affirmation and activity I've been experiencing at my church lately. We've moved into an incredible season where our ministry together has been flowing in the same direction in vital and wonderful ways. Of course, I wouldn't have thought to call such happenings "gushing" until this gathering, until scripture had provided the metaphor for reflection.

I think that when something is gushing around you, whether a relationship, a good period in your career, a joyous moment with family or whatever else, it only fuels one's own gushing. If something wonderful is happening around you, it may happen in you as well. If one of your children does something amazing, you'll gush. If you experience a triumph at work, you'll gush. If you experience clarity in your spiritual life, you'll gush. It's hard to keep stuff like that inside; you need some kind of release for it whether that means telling someone or writing it down or shouting it through a megaphone in a crowd. You gush. You can't keep it bottled.

So. What's gushing in your life right now?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Vintage CC: St. Louis - The First Year

I meant to post this a month or so ago, but better late than never. It's been just over ten years since I first moved onto the campus of Eden Theological Seminary to begin my M.Div studies. I credit my time in St. Louis for an incredible amount of personal growth, but it did not come without a lot of pain and self-honesty. I wrote this entry in 2009--which is among my favorites--to illustrate that._______________

It's 1:00 a.m.
A lone candle flickers on the floor of a living room of modest decor, adding the faint yet distinct scent of pine forest to the room.

Shadows of plastic shelving and milk crates dance on the bare walls. I sit next to the candle, its aroma mixed with the taste of rum and Coke, as I pluck another bass string.

It's my first week on campus. Or maybe the second. Or eighth. I don't know. I did this a lot.

Maybe "Crush" by Dave Matthews was playing. Maybe I sat in silence attempting to create something new with four strings and a modest amount of knowledge about the instrument I'm holding.

But I know one thing. I'm not used to this. I hope that I will be soon. But whether I will be or not, this is the way I talk to God these days. This is the way I cope.


"Life is messy," the professor repeats over and over again. She's in between stories of people in crisis: the couple dealing with a stillbirth or a couple struggling through divorce. She has us recount a passage from
Open Secrets, and admonishes us about the difficult life situations we'll come across as pastors.

This is one of my first tastes of what is to come. I quickly begin to see that life is indeed messy...although I'll grow tired of that particular phrase over three years.

I learn about the importance of hearing others' stories.

Later, with a group of friends, I'll hear a lot of complaints about this professor's stream-of-consciousness lecture style. I'm never aware that it's a problem.


Ken Medema has just led a chapel service.
He's blind, yet quite an accomplished piano player and songwriter. He can be over-the-top during his contributions, but his rendition of "Lord, Listen to Your Children Praying" during communion hits me square in my soul.

After four years of a healthy mix of praise bands and more traditional chapel services, this is my first worship moment at Eden that massages my spirit.

That evening, I gather with a bunch of people I just met a week earlier. They exchange barbs at how cheesy and awful the morning's service was. My soul wilts after being so uplifted.

Remembering how "Lord Listen to Your Children Praying" struck me that day, I share that I thought it was the most amazing service I'd experienced so far.

People acknowledge my comment in silence. This is probably my first instance of wondering what I'm in for by coming to Eden.

Coffeefiancee had told me to call whenever I got back in from this gathering. I call around 2:00 a.m. after drinking a six-pack of Labatt's. This is a story that she'll tell for years afterward.


I have the music channels on a lot during my afternoon reading sessions. MTV2 regularly loops Alicia Keys, Gorillaz, Kenna, Jennifer Lopez dueting with Ja Rule, Staind, Jurassic5, and a handful of others. These become the soundtrack of my first year.


After an A on my first theology paper, I've received two Bs and a C.
I'd come to Eden thinking that I'd have a leg up on some people with my religion degree, and my intentional seeking out of other ministerial experiences in college.

It does prove to be helpful, but I quickly discover my overconfidence within the first few weeks. I shrivel from in-class discussions for fear of sounding stupid. I try to overcompensate in future theology papers; I think too much while writing them; I try too hard to please the professor. I keep getting Bs.

All of this together causes me to re-consider what I thought I was so sure of in college. There, I was the clear-cut pastor-type with the go-to theological and Biblical knowledge.

Maybe I was a big fish in a small pond, or maybe I just didn't know as much as I think I did. I want to believe the latter.

I don't know how to deal with the fact that I'm not sure what the professor wants. Much later, I figure out that he--and every professor, really--wants us to figure out and express our own theology instead of repeating cold facts back to him as I learned to do in my undergrad Religion program.
When I finally figure out how to do this, I wish I could take his class over again.

I visit a good college friend in DeKalb, Illinois. As we watch a movie, he points out my expanding waistline.

I've taken to eating McDonald's some 3-5 times a week, and have been catching up on all the drinking I "wasn't allowed" to do under the watchful eye of my evangelical friends at Heidelberg.

Along with my late-night candlelight sessions, these are my ways of coping with a large city, the fact that I don't yet really know much of anything about ministry or theology, and the difference in social cultures.

As best as I can tell, I've gone from a more raucous band of irreverent and crude fraternity brothers and delightfully dorky housemates and friends to a group of more cool, culturally-seasoned, cynical hipsters.

They've been through more than me, or so I think. I marvel at the pieces of their stories that I'm privileged to hear, and wonder how I'm able to keep up.

I don't tell my own story--pastor's family run over by a handful of churchpeople, mainly--until my third year. I actually don't venture much of anything, because I'm

1. Reeling at my surroundings,

2. Waiting for someone to ask (I eventually learn that maybe I should venture information myself every once in a while),

3. Grumpy at how little I really know.

But mainly #2.

I eat fast food and I drink, and I sit up in the middle of the night dealing with all of this.

I eventually learn that over the course of 2 1/2 years at Eden, I've gained 35 pounds.


I arrive on Heidelberg's campus. It's mid-fall, and I feel a sense of relief pulling onto Greenfield Street.
I feel it again in late January. I feel it again in the spring.

I'm here to visit Coffeefiancee. I catch up with friends still on campus. I attend a fraternity party at their new house at one point.

The Gorillaz' "Clint Eastwood" is played, and it strikes me as some sort of sign-of-the-times moment - a reminder that I'm just visiting and that I'll soon need to head back to St. Louis.

Near the end of every visit, I utter the words, "I don't want to go back."


I learn a lot about the city of St. Louis: hotspots such as University City, Ted Drewe's, Tangerine, Kaldi's, Coffee Kartel, Growler's, Blueberry Hill.

I'm treated to a concert by local artist Robynn Ragland by a new friend from Chicago. She later takes me to a Mike Doughty solo show at Blueberry Hill for my birthday.

A big group of us heads to Ted Drewe's the afternoon of 9/11 because we don't know what else to do.

The martinis at Tangerine kick me in the face. In a good way.

I do recognize that I'm slowly settling in and becoming accustomed to the city. It's growing on me, even if I still associate it with my own inadequacy for a while.

The end of my first year finally comes.

I've begun to learn about how much bigger the world is.

I've begun to learn about the incredible limits of my own knowledge.

The seeds have been planted for me to think for myself; to assert my own opinions and my own story. My new group of friends express their desire to see me do just that.

I end my first year, my entire world turned upside-down and wondering where I'm headed. It all seems so up in the air, even if a few things are beginning to take root.

By my first summer, I'm not in such a hurry to leave St. Louis. I become comfortable in my shoebox apartment. I ever-so-slowly become comfortable with the rhythm and culture of my surroundings.

I've gone through a lot of growing pains. I'm in for much more.

A year and a half later, CPE helps me put all of this into proper perspective.

I finally tell my story.
I finally learn how to assert, react, express, discern. Or at least, I'm more conscious of how to do these things.

I come of age as a human being at age 24.
It had to happen sooner or later.

After all of this, I finally begin to work on losing some weight.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Pop Culture Roundup

I'm the type of pastor who starts anticipating the season of Advent in September. I always look for a new resource for that season; a way to express the familiar themes in new ways. I don't do this with any other season...there's just something about Advent that inspires me to do extra planning. Anyway, the resource I picked up this year is The Journey by Adam Hamilton. Hamilton attempts to retrace the steps of the various characters by traveling to Israel and visiting the holy sites commemorating each stop. The book is pretty good: his insights into the geography are interesting. I didn't find a whole lot new regarding the stories themselves, though.

I haven't seen any new Boardwalk Empire episodes yet. I have no real excuse. I am ashamed.

Being a fan of WWE, I see a lot of video game commercials during their TV shows. I saw one the other week that had me thinking, "What was that song playing the background?" A quick Google search showed that it was "My World" by Transmissions:

Here's an instrumental I randomly found by David Tolk called "In Reverence;"

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


This time of year, I always like to remind my readers of two important justice causes that many make it a point to highlight in October. First, October is Fair Trade Month:
This October is the 8th annual Fair Trade Month in the United States. Throughout the month, conscious consumers and ethically-minded brands will unite to celebrate and promote Fair Trade. A variety of education events, in-store sampling programs and online initiatives have been planned to help increase awareness and sales of Fair Trade Certified products, ultimately leading to greater impact for farmers and workers in developing countries. The theme for Fair Trade Month 2011 is Every Purchase Matters.
What follows in that article are 10 ways to observe the month, including purchasing fair trade chocolate for Halloween.

Second, this week is Mental Illness Awareness Week:
In 1990, the U.S. Congress established the first week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) in recognition of NAMI's efforts to raise mental illness awareness. Since 1990, mental health advocates across the country have joined together during the first full week of October in sponosoring many kinds of activities.

MIAW has become a NAMI tradition. It presents an opportunity to all NAMI state organizations and affiliates across the country to work together in communities to achieve the NAMI mission through outreach, education and advocacy.

The MIAW Idea Book suggests activities that can be incorporated into planning for the fall. Stickers, posters and a web banner to use on websites or in documents are available for download in English and Spanish.
A new thing this year (at least, I think it's new) is the National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding on October 4th, which especially encourages people of faith to remember and take action on behalf of those dealing with some form of mental illness. Had I known that, I'd have talked it up at my church before today.

If you're interested, take some time to read, learn more, and find out how you can support one or both of these important causes.