Small Sips Makes a Monty Python Reference

None of them about unladen swallows, surprisingly. Jan suggests that there are three questions that every church must answer:
After an excellent weekend spent with core leaders from four congregations, it occurs to me that every spiritual community could benefit from asking the following three essential questions:  
  • Why does our congregation exist? 
  • What breaks God’s heart in our community? 
  • Name one spiritually transformative moment you personally experienced in the last year.  
Three simple questions.
Note that they're deeper questions than, "How do we get more young families?" or "How do we boost attendance?" The questions Jan wants to ask try to get at the core of why a church does what it does; its sense of self, its sense of mission to the community, and each member's sense of personal faith. There are other possible questions, but these three are a good start.

What Gen-Xers Want. Tim at Black Coffee Reflections reflects on what those deemed "Generation X" are interested in as far as church and mission goes:
Some will tell you that it’s because Gen X’ers and Millennials are not interested in sharing their faith or as one person shared with me, “I’m concerned your generation has lost its heart to evangelize the lost.” It stung when he said that and it must have stung him when I replied, “That’s tough to hear. But is it more because you never hear anyone my age say that sentence? Because “evangelize” sounds like a lot like ‘proselytize’ and I never call anyone ‘lost’ – it’s an unhelpful and often condescending label.”  
I assured him I and so many other young(er) believers have a heart to share the Christian faith but it really was about sharing – not just sharing my creed, but also about sharing solutions to needs. My generation cannot fathom the idea that almost 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water. We cannot understand how human-trafficking has become the issue it has become. And we don’t understand why some seem more concerned with wearing a hat in church than helping the marginalized. I had no intention of offending him nor do I feel compelled to defend my generation, frankly we could all use all the help we could get but I do think these issues are so important and that we need to come together and serve together. It ended up being a good conversation but I’m sure we both left feeling the generational disconnect.
Tim is writing out of more of an evangelical tradition where social justice is this crazy newfangled idea for many, and he illustrates the problem many still have with it in the quote above.

Younger generations aren't interested in the same labels and causes that the church has used and emphasized over the past few decades. We're less interested in sending people overseas to make converts and more in sending people overseas to drill clean water wells. We're less interested in "evangelizing the lost" and more interested in asking annoying political-sounding questions about the poor and oppressed (just like Jesus did).

So, how might generations serve together? Tim leaves that question unanswered. But it's one to keep in mind. A first step would be to strive to understand one another, which is always a concern.

Yep. A nakedpastor cartoon:

Get it?

How to do it? Rachel Held Evans has a post up with Shane Claiborne's answers to readers' questions. I'm guessing that more than three were asked, and I again didn't see any about unladen swallows. Anyway, the first is about how to do something sort of like what he does except, you know, without having to relocate to an intentional commune in inner-city Philadelphia:
I love this question. What pops into my head is that Scripture that says, “let us not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” And to me, that’s invitation to live with imagination. Non-conformity doesn’t mean uniformity. Choosing non-conformity doesn’t mean we’re all going to end up doing the same thing, that we’ll all find ourselves working in a soup kitchen, or sleeping under a bridge. This is an invitation—a call— to re-imagine who we are and how we are to live in light of Jesus. And I get excited because I see folks who are doing that everywhere, in all kinds of different ways.  
You also see in Scripture that when people encounter Jesus, they don’t all walk away to pursue the exact same lifestyle. For instance, Jesus dealt with two tax collectors—Matthew and Zaccheus. Matthew chose to sell everything, but Zaccheus, from what we know, sold half of everything, paid everyone four times what he owed them, and then went on. So they both reimagine their life and their economics, and they both challenge the system, but they did it in different ways. And you’ll notice that Matthew didn’t get all upset and come out and tell Zaccheus how to do it! (laughter)  
So what this means is that every one of us is called to love our neighbor—including our global neighbor—as ourselves. I know a suburban mom who, for every biological kid she and her husband send to college, they’ve create a trust fund—kind of like another scholarship—for a kid that’s not biologically theirs, but is financially hard-pressed. I know another mom from California who was in this collective with a group of other parents who said they wanted their kids to learn compassion, so once a week they would gather together in a local park to discuss issues related to social justice and also to serve lunch to whoever might need it. One day, the police came and said that they couldn’t serve food in the park, so then it became a lesson on civil disobedience! 
That's pretty much the long and short of it: following Jesus is about attitude, and intentional habits cultivated over time that reflect your ability in your context. Not all of us are called to be Ghandis and Mother Teresas. We're called to be instruments of justice and peace where we are, according to our own situations.

Read the whole Q & A. It's quite good.

Misc. Luke tells a parable about privilege. Matthew Paul Turner is changing things up at his blog. PeaceBang's cat writes a letter to director Ang Lee. Gordon Atkinson is beginning a series on life post-ministry.

The First Week

Perhaps you're familiar with the term "hit the ground running."

Or "baptism by fire."

When I was in seminary, it was traditional to hear letters written by recent graduates giving updates on their ministry endeavors. I recall more than one of these letters describing having to deal with crises within the first few weeks. It instilled within me a slight fear that mostly lurked in the background of my mind that this would be my experience as well. Thankfully, that was not the case. My earliest days as a pastor allowed me to settle in and learn at a relatively easygoing least for the first six months or so, after which the first big crisis hit. I shared snippets of that story on this blog as it happened.

My first week in my second pastorate was a little different.

I walked in Tuesday morning, expecting the same sort of easygoing pace complete with greetings from members who were around for various activities. The greetings happened, which I welcomed and accepted. And then the phone rang, and I got word of the first funeral that I would officiate as pastor of my new congregation.

Subsequently, I learned the following things about my new setting within the first few hours: the concerns and needs of the family, a little of the deceased's backstory, who changes the paraments and how to do it if she's not available, how best to contact the organist, what is needed for a funeral bulletin to be produced, and what might work best for me in terms of adjusting my schedule according to all of it.

All of this happened before noon.

The rest of the day, thankfully, was a little more laid-back than those first few hours. I did my textual study for my sermon and a few other more typical office things along with constantly pestering the administrative assistant with questions about how things are done (or at least how people are used to things happening).

A supervisor once told me that ministry is about interruptions. I've found this to be true many times as a pastor. I didn't expect it to be the case on that first day, but one is rarely able to expect these sorts of things.

This first week was in one sense atypical: how often might one really have to deal with a funeral right out of the box in a new ministry setting like that? But really, such events were quite typical. The needs of a congregation do not account for timing. Pastoral care concerns simply arise when they do. One does need to develop skills in prioritizing, delegation, self-awareness, and anxiety management in order to address them, but they may still come at the drop of a hat.

As an epilogue, the funeral went fine. It's always a privilege to minister to families in moments like these. I may venture that such a moment so early in a pastorate, as much as I needed to learn about the church right away, also gives the church a chance to learn something about me right away; to see me in action and the way I respond to it. If there is anything to be glad about in the midst of a time of grief, I suppose it'd be that.

So, that was my first week. Now it's onto the next.

Pop Culture Roundup

I've been reading Dreadnought, the second book in Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century series. It's not a sequel per se, although it takes place in the same universe and has a couple tie-ins to the previous book. Mercy Lynch, a nurse at a Confederate hospital during the Civil War, gets word that her father has suffered some kind of affliction and she needs to go out west to help him. So she gets a ticket to ride the Dreadnought, a Union military train purporting to be taking civilian passengers while transporting war dead. Of course, there's more going on than that, and the ride isn't nearly as smooth as she's assured. I'm as engrossed in this book as I was the last.

I've continued to enjoy The Walking Dead, and am curious how things are going to resolve, if they do, between Rick's group and Woodbury. As of writing this, I still have the latest episode on my DVR unwatched, so maybe that'll clue me in. I have to say at the moment that I'm not a big fan of Andrea, who likes to pretend she knows what she wants but then latches on to whatever makes sense to her at any given moment. How else might one explain the turnaround from last season's "I wanna get out of here and survive and shoot things" to this season's "Aw, Woodbury is so nice and let's not scare the citizens here by shooting things." She also has horrible taste in men. I'm also curious as to where things are going with Rick beginning to hallucinate.

WWE Elimination Chamber was this past Sunday, and it was pretty good. The chamber match itself was entertaining, although Jack Swagger winning was out of left field. In retrospect, I should have seen it coming since Alberto Del Rio is the World champion and Swagger has a new xenophobia schtick, which is honestly embarrassing to watch. I get that it's a character and he's a bad guy, but it's just painful to sit through promos where he rants about "those people" needing to go back to "wherever they came from." In other news, Rock/Punk was great, and I'm wondering if it'll end up being a triple threat match for the WWE title at Wrestlemania between the two of them and Cena. I'm still not sold as to whether I want to sit through Rock/Cena II, especially with the probability of Cena winning. Anyway, a good event.


I actually haven't listened to anything new lately, due to all my transitioning. So here's Michigan's Dennis Norfleet rapping to himself before a kickoff:

How It Ends

In the fall of 2007, I participated in a mission trip to New Orleans. It was open to the entire Association who wanted to go, and garnered a fair amount of response from a variety of area churches.

On the way down, we stopped at McDonald's for lunch. This gave people a chance to bond over terrible food, which I mainly did with a clergy couple from the southernmost part of the Association. The wife at one point made an observation about her yogurt parfait being at the expiration date, which we didn't give much thought to at the time but would end up being a difference-maker. Pleasant conversation ended and fatty gross concoctions consumed, we continued our trip.

This is where the detail about the yogurt parfait becomes important, because the woman who ate it against her better judgment urgently requested that we stop somewhere, preferably at a place with a restroom. There was no questioning of this, and we ended up at a winery in Kentucky called Springhill Vineyards.

While our patient hurried off to purge herself of the evil within, the rest of us browsed the store. Several of us made purchases; in particular, I and others were taken by a wine labeled "Trappist Red," no doubt after the Gethsemani monastery perhaps best-known for being Thomas Merton's homebase. When we eventually arrived at our destination in New Orleans, we'd use some of this wine for communion during our first vespers service. I left mine in my bag all week.

When I got back home, I set the bottle in our wine rack, probably thinking I'd get to it before too long. But I couldn't bring myself to open it. I don't know why I didn't, but there was something about this bottle of red wine named in honor of a spiritual writer I deeply admire found by chance in the middle of Kentucky during a church mission trip that I wanted to preserve, or at least wait a little longer to open.

I kept letting it sit, not really knowing what to do with it. Eventually I decided that I wanted to save it in a more intentional way, making the conscious choice to wait until some big event related to my ministry, at which point I'd finally open it to help mark the occasion.

Five years at my church came and went. Five years of ordination came and went. The beginning and then the end of my sabbatical came and went. None of these felt right to me, so that bottle remained untouched and mostly out of my conscious thought.

Then I began the search and call process, and as I neared the finalization of a call to a new church, I remembered the Trappist Red. It finally made sense, I thought, to open it the evening of my last day at Emanuel. I had acquired it during my time there, and it seemed to be the right opportunity to enjoy it as a toast to over eight years of ministry completed.

On the morning of February 17th, I woke up a few minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 6:00. I went ahead and turned it off so that it would not needlessly wake anyone else and, knowing that I wouldn't get back to sleep, rolled out of bed to await the coffeemaker finishing its brew cycle.

All of this is what I always do. And since it was Sunday, once the coffee was finished brewing, I launched into a few "what I always do" things that that particular morning brings. I took my coffee and my sermon notes down to the basement to practice in front of Coffeeson's toys. They don't give much feedback, but they also don't judge me, so I feel safe among them doing this.

This all felt very routine until I began to speak some specific line in my notes, and then the full meaning of the day opened to me, moving from the intellectual to the sensual: this is my last day at Emanuel. This is the last Sunday morning where my routine will be geared toward the needs, practices, and people of that congregation. I'd been working on this last sermon for so long and practiced it so many times, but the difference was that that day had finally come. And that changed the feel of everything.

In 2003, one of my favorite bands Five Iron Frenzy announced that they were breaking up. They've reformed in the past year, but of course nobody--including the band, probably--knew they would do that back then. Leading up to their final show at that time, they released one last studio album, full mostly of songs referencing the end of the band's existence. This included a song called "See the Flames Begin to Crawl," described by frontman Reese Roper as "a song about lighting things on fire and quitting:"
I've got notebooks full of misshapen words,
I'll never speak them anymore.
Ten years from now, you won't know my name.
Throw the microphone down on the floor.  
In my worse ministry moments, I've taken to playing this song at an unreasonable volume.

There's another part that I think was quite pertinent to this ending:
The crowds recoil, demand our survival,
fists in the air, mouths caked with saliva.
But you are the one, the spark that was spawned,
who picks up the pieces, and passes it on.
The thing is, I hope they're true. I hope that I've made a difference, and have left something to be carried on, maybe even despite myself.

There were people whom I could have checked in with more often; whose needs I could have met with more care or patience or, in certain cases, more firmness. Sometimes pastoral care requires more off-the-cuff thinking than that, though, and imperfect decisions get made. Human dynamics are what they are.

There were also ministries that didn't do what I wanted them to do. I tell myself that this is human dynamics, too. The setting wasn't right, or there wasn't critical mass necessary for success, or a billion other reasons why this, that, and the other thing failed. A colleague calls these "good ideas that don't work." I've had lots of those. I'm sure I'll have many more.

But in the midst of that imperfection, I hope that some sparks have been spawned, and that they get passed on.

The service itself is uplifting. I'd been thinking about this service for so long, and pretty much everything that I envisioned happening, happened.

Years ago, I played "The Rainbow Connection" during worship as a tie-in to my sermon. One church member gave me a Kermit the Frog pin a week or two later in appreciation, saying, "Thanks for being one of my rainbows." I pin this to my alb right before the service, but during announcements it becomes clear that it's going to interfere with my lapel mic and I have to remove it. It's my latest good idea that doesn't work.

During the children's sermon I present the church with gifts. I first give them two bags of coffee for all the times I borrowed some from the church back when I lived in the parsonage. And then I give them a handmade ceramic pitcher to be used for baptisms. This was one of the moments I was looking forward to the most.

The sermon also seems to hit well. I totally ripped off Rob Bell's idea from when he left Mars Hill, phrasing it as a letter. Since I usually preach without notes I was worried that my switch to reading from behind the pulpit wouldn't connect, but people seem to stay engaged.

I walk downstairs to the church's fellowship hall and laugh out loud at what I find. The room is decorated for the farewell luncheon that will be held after worship: yellow and blue tablecloths adorn the tables, along with corresponding napkins. A maize and blue pennant with a block M hangs over the table where the food will be set.

I comment about this to one of the people whom I know is responsible for decorating, and she responds with a smile, "We figure that we gave you a hard time for eight years, we'll give you one day."

The reception itself sees a full room, which I can't recall seeing here for anything outside the church's Swiss steak dinners. The food is fantastic, the company equally so. Coffeeson collects and plays with the maize and blue beads that have been placed on the table (another decorator calls this "Michigan Mardi Gras").

During dessert, I'm presented with a beautiful painting of a guitar with the first verse to "Be Thou My Vision" helping to outline the instrument's shape. Coffeeson is also given a stuffed animal toy with a ribbon around its neck signed by all the Sunday School kids. I'm also told I get to keep the pennant.

People offer verbal tributes, which I find affirming. The thing about these, though, is that none of them are especially novel. I've been privileged to hear words like these my entire ministry among these people. It's not that I don't appreciate what is said, it's just that I've always found this place to be encouraging both professionally and personally. That's really what makes me thankful for what is said: words like these have always been a part of things.

When the words are finished, gifts are packed, hugs and handshakes are exchanged, the three of us make our way upstairs from the fellowship hall so that I can retrieve my materials from the pulpit and collect everything from my office. I remove the church key from my keychain, place it in an envelope, and leave it marked for the appropriate person. When I shut my office door, there is a sense of finality to it. Of all the events and gestures of the day, the click of the door is the one that really communicates to me that it's over.

I sling my leather bag over my shoulder, pick up my guitar, and the three of us make our way out to the parking lot. It's time to go home.

It's late December, the night before the last wedding I'll perform before leaving. It's the first and only wedding I'll perform for any of the people I've seen through confirmation, which I find to be an interesting full circle sort of happening.

Coffeewife, Coffeeson, and I take our seats in the reserved area of a restaurant for the rehearsal dinner. Coffeeson, of course, charms everybody with whom he interacts. Coffeewife and I exchange pleasantries with various members of the family while enjoying appetizers. Because I do this sort of thing, I can't help but notice the bottles of Apothic Red wine adorned with small Christmas wreaths being used as centerpieces on the tables. I make some comment about them to Coffeewife, which she acknowledges before we turn our attention to other things.

It comes time for the three of us to bid our goodbyes. We make sure to thank the groom's parents for everything, at which point the groom's mom gestures to one of the bottles and encourages us to take it home. I pick one up with a little too much enthusiasm, causing Coffeewife to roll her eyes, and we head out.

When we get home, I place the Apothic Red in our wine rack. As I close the door, the thought pops into my head that maybe I want to hold off on opening it until some special moment, perhaps one related to my ministry.

Yeah. I think I will.

"To Be What We Have Seen" - A Prayer Based on Deuteronomy 34

I wrote this Pastoral Prayer for this morning's worship service, my last in that setting. More reflections about this day later on.

         …when we’re paying attention…
         …or when we least expect it…
         …when we’re looking…
         …or when we’re most unassuming…
         …you show us something that we have longed to see.

We may be vigilant seekers,
         reading into the boring and routine or becoming excitable at the exciting;
         wanting to capture with precision and delicacy a moment that we discern is just
for us.

We may play the fool,
         backing into a divine embrace;
         stumbling upon a transcendent promise;
         no less moved by what we have witnessed.

Regardless of circumstances, it remains that we’ve seen it, and it cannot be unseen.
         You have made it seen. You have shown it to us.

You are the one who led us—willing or reluctant climbers—up the mountain.
         You are the one who says to us, “I have let you see it with your eyes,
                  “this beloved landscape of mine,
                  “this long-sought destination,
                  “this craved place of blessing and promise.”

Now that we have seen it, what would you have us do?
         Now that we have caught a slight glimpse or been given a lingering vision,
we wonder how to get to the place you’ve shown us.
It is too marvelous a place to live without,
         too rich a source of life not to be shared,
         too wonderful a reality to be forgotten.

You lead us back down the mountain—willing or reluctant rappellers—because there is
more to see,
and in one of your more clever twists, we have become the guides,
         the ones to show rather than be shown,
         the ones to help make it seen.

How best shall we move on from what you have shown?
         Simply: forward, to be what we have seen
                  for others longing to see it.

40 Days of Creativity

I must say that the past few Lenten seasons for me personally have been...underwhelming.

I used to be incredibly gung-ho about taking on a discipline for Lent, be it giving something up or taking something on. But the last few years I haven't really given myself to a practice the way that I should, to my own spiritual detriment, I think.

So many people nowadays seem to push back against taking on a Lenten discipline. "Don't take it too seriously, you don't want to kill yourself." Or, "what you're doing (giving up Facebook or chocolate) doesn't take Lent seriously enough." If attempting to choose something wasn't difficult enough, the rise of the Lenten Discipline Critic seems only to have made things worse. There may be some reading this thinking, "What's the big deal? Who cares?" But I myself love the intentionality of a practice during these 40 days as a way to move through the season.

Well. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. Lent is here once again. And yesterday morning I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to observe over the next month and a half.

While doing so, I happened upon a colleague's Facebook page touting something called "The 40-Day Creativity Experiment." The gist is that you choose a creative medium: paint, collage, drawing, writing, etc., and you work a little on the same project every day. It could be for a minute or 20 minutes, but you stay with the same project and see where you end up. The process of creating is the point; you're not required to have produced a masterpiece by the end.

This intrigued me, and I started to think about what I might do. I could attempt to recover a long-lost love of drawing, I could write a story or a poem...

Or I could write a song.

Now, those of you who are musically inclined may look at that and think, "40 days to write a song? Pshaw, I could write a whole album in that much time!" And good for you, overachievers with natural ability. I, on the other hand, have not given myself to my instruments lately the way that I think I should: I play a few little choruses on guitar every Sunday (though there is fast approaching a break in that particular activity), I've long given up bass lessons, and my drums have been sitting in the corner neglected for God knows how long. And outside of a few praise choruses, I haven't written a full-fledged, complete, performance-ready song...ever. I have a few ideas and snippets, but not a song song song.

So. For the next 40 days, I'll write a song. With words and chords and everything. Or at least I'll try. And if you're good, I'll find a way to post it on here at the end.

Unless it sucks. Then not so much, probably.

Have a blessed Lenten season.

"Stay Here"

Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday. In my setting, it was also Confirmation Sunday. I opted not to preach on the transfiguration itself, but rather from Exodus 34 where Moses comes down the mountain, his face glowing from being in God's presence for such an extended period of time and the Israelites unsure how to receive the sight of it.

For one reason or another, the story of the transfiguration shows up again in the lectionary the Second Sunday in Lent. This year, that also happens to be my first Sunday at the new church. So me and my Type A personality decided that that would be my focus text for that day, even if I didn't yet know the specifics. If nothing else, I figured that it would be some version of the Transfiguration Sunday sermon that pretty much every pastor has preached at least once: our experiences on the mountaintop inform our lives at the mountain's base. We can't stay on the mountain; we leave inspired to serve. I figured that some variation on that would be good to kick off a new era of ministry both for myself and for my new congregation.

A few nights ago, I had a dream where my family and I found ourselves in the sanctuary of my in-laws' church. There was no real rhyme or reason given for this, but of course in the dream it felt like being there made total sense. Anyway, while most of the family hung back in the narthex for some reason, Coffeeson actually led me down a side aisle, pointed to a pew near the front, and said, "Stay here."

I woke up shortly after this, trying to make sense of this dream. I didn't have much luck parsing its meaning, but I did experience some certainty that this was related to my upcoming sermon on the transfiguration. I couldn't see the full picture yet, but I knew that it was related somehow.

Yesterday morning, I clicked on the UCC Daily Devotional that I receive in my email, this one written by author Anthony Robinson, which focused on the transfiguration text from Luke 9:
Have you heard the sermon on this story? It goes like this: "We must not tarry on the mountaintops of spiritual ecstasy and encounter. We must return to the valleys of human need and suffering, there to serve." I've heard it. I've preached it. 
It's a good sermon. But I've heard this sermon so often that I began to wonder why we were in such an all-fired hurry to get down the mountain. I began to wonder if a different question were the right question just now. "Have we been to the mountaintop?" 
It's not of course an either/ or, not either mountaintop or valley. Not either encounter with God or service to others. It's a both/ and. But perhaps just now, we need to ask, "Have we been to the mountain?" Have we been in the presence of God, which as preacher Fred Craddock used to say, is where everyone wants to be and where everyone doesn't want to be. 
Holy ground is not safe. It is full of mystery and magic and power. We aren't in control here on the mountain. But should you find yourself there, don't just do something, stand there. Don't speak. Listen. As the cloud swirls and the fog lifts, "This is my Son, listen to him." Let God be God.
My first reaction was one of amazement: it was uncanny to me how well this tied into my dream. I couldn't make much sense of how "stay here" tied in with the transfiguration until I read this. And merely to have these tie into one another was incredible. So sermon themes aside, that was cool in its own right.

Sure, we have to come back down the mountain to serve and to make sense of our experiences in the context of our daily lives. But there's also something to be said for lingering a while. Once we're on the mountain communing with God, it may be that the Holy Spirit is telling us, "Stay here." At least for a little while. Listen, reflect, pray, be. Then eventually, when it's really time, go to serve.

I like it. I think I know what I'll say when I get to that point. But of course, there are some other things to do first.

Pop Culture Roundup

I was given The Hunger Pains as a Christmas gift, which is the Harvard Lampoon's parody of The Hunger Games. So we meet Kantkiss Neverclean who lives in District 12 which is known as the telemarketing district. A boy and girl are chosen for The Hunger Games (the only name they don't mess with) by being the last to touch their finger to their nose at the count of three. Parts of it are pretty amusing; I chuckled and even outright laughed more than once. There were many other points, however, when the humor seemed forced, uninspired, and tiring. Surely there are better efforts at sending up The Hunger Games than this.

The WWE Royal Rumble was January 27th, and is my favorite wrestling pay-per-view of the year. The gist: 30 guys enter the ring at regular intervals, the only way of elimination being to be thrown off the top rope and have both feet touch the floor. The winner gets a shot at one of the world titles at Wrestlemania. If that wasn't enough, The Rock returned to challenge CM Punk for the WWE Championship. Being a regular reader of wrestling websites that have some inside scoops on the WWE's booking plans, I pretty well knew what to expect before the event started: John Cena won the Rumble match, and The Rock beat Punk, setting up a rematch from last year's Wrestlemania. Even knowing this would be the most likely outcome, I was still mildly disappointed to see it actually happen. The Rock is one of my all-time favorites and I was glad to see him win the title again, but it still sets up one of the more predictable roads to Wrestlemania (and main event outcomes at Wrestlemania) that I can remember. I'll still tune in, but I imagine it might be in a slightly underwhelmed way.

The Super Bowl was this past Sunday, which means commercials! Some of my favorites:


The Lone Bellow, The Lone Bellow - The Lone Bellow sounds like a cross between Lady Antebellum and Delta Rae, particularly the country influences that both those groups show. I was surprised that I liked it for that reason, although I've greatly softened on my opinion of country music in recent years. And this group is unapologetically country, not pop-country or country rock or whatever. I'm talking Grand Ol Opry honky-tonk type stuff. And yet I liked it. What's happening to me?

Tristan Prettyman, Cedar + Gold - My local independent community station regularly plays "My Oh My," which is pretty catchy, so I figured I should listen to the whole album. This is a solid pop-rock-country album in the vein of Feist or Beth Orton, mostly of songs reflecting on relationships.

Jessie Ware, If You're Never Gonna Move EP - I first saw Jessie Ware mentioned in a magazine article touting up-and-coming artists worth paying attention to. It said things like "the next Adele" and "electronic beats" and I was all, "yeah, that works for me." The first time I listened to this album, I was less than impressed. I think it was the "electronic beats" thing that disappointed me: I was expecting something a little more prominent; more pop and less chill. But I figured that I needed to give it another listen lest I perhaps have to offer a "mea culpa" around July when I do another one of those. A second listen 1) I was in much more of a chill mood, and 2) I paid more attention to the voice, which while I don't think is "the next Adele" is nevertheless full and strong, at times smoky and at other times velvety smooth. Yeah, it's good.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Lion The Beast The Beat - My first encounter with Grace Potter years ago was an unsatisfactory one. I wasn't really taken by the music or the lyrics. As with most albums I experience, I find that environment and circumstances have a lot to do with this, and that was certainly the case at that point. When I gave This Is Somewhere a second chance a year or two ago, I was in a place to appreciate it a lot more. So I figured I'd give their latest a listen, too. I'd heard "Stars" and "Runaway" already, and the rest is quite good as well. I'm glad to have given them another try.

Ben Caplan, In the Time of the Great Remembering - On the way home from officiating a funeral one evening, I switched on NPR just in time to hear Caplan performing an in-studio version of "Stranger," a coming-of-age ballad that sounds like a pirate shanty and as if Caplan is incredibly angry at the piano he's pounding on. Astounded and mesmerized, I went on a frantic search to find out more about this artist and to hear more as soon as I got home. Caplan pulls from a wide variety of influences including blues, rock, folk, and orchestral to create an incredibly unique sound over which his soulful voice sings. I'm actually disappointed that he only has one album so far, but will eagerly anticipate more.

The Bog Hoppers, Top Shelf - "Captain" Robert Brown of Abney Park recommended these guys, saying that they've opened for his band often. So I gave them a try not even knowing what kind of music they play. As it turns out, they play Irish folk, which I didn't see coming at all. I had a lot of fun listening to them.


To the left is a picture of my church office, taken a few months ago. The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, and to me this picture captures the busyness and coziness that I have experienced and enjoyed in this space over the years.

There are many places on those shelves where books lay haphazardly on top of otherwise neatly- lined rows. I bought that small bookcase at Target because the supplied shelves weren't enough for my ridiculously-sized collection.

The cork board on the wall has a few trinkets accumulated over the years: pictures of church members, a Coffeeson baptism announcement, a palm frond folded into a cross. To the left of the window is a picture of St. Louis; just looking at it calls back to mind some of my most formative years. Strewn across my desk are papers for classes to be taught, mail to be answered, a sermon to be preached, the next Sunday's bulletin, action figures from Happy Meal boxes, and--duh--coffee.

I've always enjoyed the fullness of my church office. I don't mean just the stuff that I keep there, but the work that I've done: phone calls made to or received from grieving or anxious parishioners, moments of guidance for those planning important events or seeking a sympathetic ear. Thousands upon thousands of words typed for sermons, liturgy, newsletters, and reports.

Depending on the time of year, I could look out that window and watch the snow or rain fall, the flowers bloom, the summer wind blow. If you were there at the right moment, you could watch deer or wild turkey wander past. You can barely make it out, but on the middle frame is a solar-powered dancing flower given to me by one of my shut-ins.

This is what this room looks like, as of this past Sunday morning:

The books, the extra bookshelf, the pictures, the cork board, even most of my paperwork...packed away, thrown away, or already moved. I haven't packed up the action figures yet because Coffeeson likes playing with them after worship. I felt like leaving the dancing flower out for the time being, too. Only those things deemed bare essentials remain.

I've moved many times in my life. It's an inevitable part of being in a pastor's family. This, however, is my first time on the other side of it; the first time I've had to pack up and move an office in addition to making arrangements to move home and family.

I'm finding that many of the same feelings accompany the church office aspect as they do moving those other things. At this point, I'm in between worlds, not quite at the new place yet not fully at the current place any more either. There is no longer the same warmth. It's not as busy, not as cozy. The increased emptiness of the room has conjured that familiar empty feeling that comes with moving: that in-between feeling where you're unsure of what feels like home for a time.

As always, I could tell myself that a room is just a room. It doesn't physically hold the experiences and memories forged here; it's a place where they happened. I know this. But to watch my time and my presence decrease in this space is yet another reminder of the conclusion approaching in less than two weeks. In the name of efficiency and order, the interim is lined up and ready to step in. And I have one foot out the door of an office barely occupied.

This doesn't account for how full I am of those memories and experiences. I have eight years' worth of them, after all. And there are times when that fullness has struck me as I've packed and planned and moved. It is that fullness that will carry on with me no matter where I go or what my office looks like.

This is the juxtaposition of any transition. What has been and what will be. Sorrow and anticipation. A dancing flower and an empty bookcase.

Only two weeks remain in this empty space, but a fullness will follow me to the next one.