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Showing posts from July, 2017

A Pastoral Call in Three Questions

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I'd come to the end of a two-month stint as a sabbatical pastor while the full-time pastor was away. It was my first summer after graduating seminary, and I'd begun this gig maybe two weeks after.

You wouldn't think there'd be much to experience in such a short time, but I'd had two funerals, assisted with a wedding, had run into a few colorful conversations and situations. With the regular pastor coming back in, we'd made some time to debrief and I filled him in on some goings-on so he'd be aware.

That part of the conversation was relatively brief. We talked much more about ministry in general, and some of what he'd seen over the years as his own vocation had unfolded. At one point, he was able to characterize his pastorates in terms of what dominant question seemed to pervade his time with each church. As times changed, as he himself changed and grew, and in the midst of particular groups of people, he could look back and name the primary issue that …

July 2017 Pop Culture Roundup

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More than a handful of items for July...
1. I read What Is the Bible? by Rob Bell this month. I'm a longtime Bell fan and always glad when he offers new writing. Here he makes the case for the Bible being more than what many think it is: not boring, not an instruction manual, not something to be merely taken literally. He shows this by uncovering some of the cultural meaning of certain terms and practices in various stories and passages, showing how clever and deep and rich and (often) progressive they are, as well as how they connect to each other. Bell's project is the sort that I've loved since my earliest days of seriously studying the Bible, and he offers many incredible insights in his signature acces sible way.

2. I saw Spiderman: Homecoming this month, the latest offering from Marvel and the latest reboot of this particular superhero. We meet Peter Parker shortly after his appearance in Captain America: Civil War, where he's hopeful about future opportunities …

A Theory of Fandom

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I was a Doctor Who fan before I realized it.

When I was in elementary school, a friend had some episodes on VHS recorded off of TV. He insisted that we sit down and watch while I was over one afternoon, and I recall that we watched them several more times after that.

The particular series focused on Meglos, an evil shape-shifting alien cactus who wanted to steal a powerful object called The Dodecahedron. There were also space pirates, who became lost in the TARDIS and I think were mostly there for comic relief.

At this point, Tom Baker was playing The Doctor, his signature scarf always draped around his neck. I was taken in by all of it: the blue box that was bigger on the inside, the strangeness of the bad guy, the flights through both time and space, the cool theme song. And eventually, I'd find, a hero who regenerates when he dies.

My friend had just enough episodes of this show for me to realize that eventually the Doctor changes. The show keeps going, just with a different …

Vintage CC: Tips on Church Visioning from "Weird Al" Yankovic

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I wrote this post back in July 2014, and was inspired enough by one of "Weird Al" Yankovic's latest offerings to explore its implications for the church. Apparently this one struck enough of a nerve to make its way to the Christian Century blog, which was nice to see as well. The overall point of this post was to highlight one of the many ways we can be our own worst enemies in terms of trying to make difference the world, and I think it still holds up pretty well.

Everyone has music that helps mark their childhood. The artists that one hears during those formative years tend to stick with us, evoking memories when the oldies are played and, while not always the case, we may be likely to follow a few of these throughout their careers, no matter what sorts of turns their musical styles take.

Sometime in elementary school, I first heard "Weird Al" Yankovic's classic song "Eat It," a parody of Michael Jackson's "Beat It." A few years la…

Living Water

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They started their reflection with a story about trout-fishing.

I was sitting in a small hotel conference room with around 40 fellow young clergy. The planners of this activity had set aside this time during the UCC's General Synod to invite this group to a time of worship and renewal before the bigger event really started. It featured a renewal of baptism with drops of water flung onto our heads from tree branches; an encouragement to remember who and Whose we are.

But not before we heard about trout fishing.

Rev. Emily C. Heath was our reflector for the afternoon. They shared an experience of visiting a bait shop to hear about the best places to find fish, during which they heard about living water vs. dead water. As it turns out, there are certain spots in rivers that are considered dead: nothing is moving, and there is no chance to find fish in those places. Contrast this with living water, where there is movement and thus there is life.

If you are in dead water, you won'…

Book Review: Contemporary Churches by Louis F. Kavar

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Those of us who grew up in Christian churches, no matter what denomination, were taught to understand that the church should be the center of our lives and activities: the hub. As attractive as that understanding of the local church may be, there has always been a fundamental flaw in this model of the church. As Christians, it is the teachings of Jesus and the way of life he modeled for us that should be the center of our lives and not an institution. Churches are places where we gather, learn, share faith, and celebrate our way of life and beliefs. But the institution is not a substitute for the experience of leading a spiritual life which is primarily informed by the teachings of Jesus and the experience of God in our midst. - Louis Kavar, Contemporary Churches

I would say that almost from my very first weeks in full-time pastoral ministry, I recognized that the church has a problem. In those earliest days I couldn't articulate what the problem was, but I knew that there was som…

Pastoral Prayer for the Struggle to Change

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based on Romans 7:15-25a

O God, we have so many good intentions. Every day we wake up and think this time it will be different. Today we won't gossip about our co-worker. Today we won't snap at the kids when we're annoyed. Today we won't eat the extra pastry. Today we won't overextend our energy. Today we'll start living better, acting better, turning the corner for our own sake and for the sake of those around us through being kinder, more compassionate, more welcoming, more aware of what we or others need. It's all just a matter of willpower, positive thinking, and inspirational phrases.

But then we're confronted by our first opportunity to do something different and we realize how hard changing our thoughts and actions really is. We want to refrain from bad habits and turn toward better ones, but the good we want to do is more elusive and the bad comes so easily. And so we slip back into what's comfortable, reasoning that we'll try again tom…

More Small Sips But Also Less Small Sips

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Perfectly stated. Joshua Steimle explains why exercise is a higher priority than his career:
If exercise stops, then my health goes downhill. With the loss of physical health my productivity at work goes down. I become depressed. I lose motivation to do the things that makes my business successful. I’ve learned firsthand that excellence in one area of my life promotes excellence in all other areas of my life. Exercise is the easiest area of my life to control. It’s easy to measure. Either I get it in, or I don’t. When I do, it lifts up all other areas of my life, including my business. For a long time, I was fooled into thinking that if my business wasn’t the top priority, then that meant I wasn’t doing all I could do to make it successful. This is an understandable way of thinking, but it’s completely wrong. I've long tried to be faithful to some kind of exercise regimen, and my workouts have almost always been scheduled into my workday in some fashion, although over the years th…

Noticing the Breeze

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I looked up from my computer just now to watch the breeze.

That is not the most interesting sentence I've ever typed. Many may read it and shrug. Who cares about a breeze? What makes that worth writing about?

I'm not exactly sure. I watched the wind blow through the trees in my front window, branches and leaves shaking and dancing in response. I've seen this happen a hundred times through the same glass. 99 times out of 100, it isn't that big a deal.

But today, the way the wind moved reminded me of when I was 6, and the it would blow through other branches overhead while I played outside next to my home.

Today, the way the wind moved reminded me of when I was 12 and running through the gaggle of trees in our side yard next to a different home with friends.

Today, the way the wind moved reminded me of the fall gusts to come while walking with my brother to attend a football game in one of my favorite places.

Today, the way the wind moved caused me to think about a doze…

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