Monday, May 30, 2005

Rethinking Patriotism

It's Memorial Day. Memorial Day is meant to be a day when Americans reflect upon the supreme sacrifice of those who have fought to "defend our freedom." This phrase "defend our freedom" is an interesting one because I hear it in connection with holidays like this all the time, but I still don't know exactly what it means. It is as if any military conflict can be justified as long as it can be remotely connected to "defending our freedom." Don't misunderstand, I like my freedom. The very fact that I can express an opinion on this web-log may be the result of "defending our freedom" somewhere.

This notion of "defending our freedom" appears to be intricately connected to patriotism. And the moment one calls into question this administration's motives for attacking Iraq, one is not just expressing what may be a minority opinion in our country at the moment, one's patriotism is called into question. I believe that it is possible for both those who favor military conflict in Iraq as well as those who question it to be patriots. Patriotism is not defined by marching lock-step in line with the current administration on every position they uphold. Rather, patriotism is defined by the deeply held belief that real freedom makes it possible to live in relative peace and security whether one is a member of the NRA or the Sierra Club.

When I see veteran's marching with pride in their uniforms three sizes to small, I see a patriot. When I see a protester standing outside the gate of the White House denouncing America's involvement in this or that war, I see a patriot. I'm glad to live in a country where there is room for both.

Following Jesus is Harder than it Looks

Have you ever noticed how difficult Jesus made it for would-be disciples to follow him? When a man approaches Jesus and proclaims, "I want to follow you." Jesus responds with a cryptic saying about foxes and birds and the fact that he can't afford to stay in a cheap hotel. So if following Jesus is what you want to do, be prepared for inadequate accomodations and hardship along the way. When one poor sap requested to bury his father prior to following Jesus (presumably his father hadn't died and he was in fact delaying the inevitable act of followership until after he received his share of the inheritance), Jesus takes him to task and instructs him to be about the business of God's kingdom. Finally, when another would-be disciple is invited to follow, Jesus promptly tells him that one cannot follow Jesus by spending their life looking in the rear-view mirror. "No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom."

This is not seeker friendly evangelism. Jesus doesn't seem to be concerned about his statistical success at attracting followers who are intent on following Jesus on his terms. He simply calls people to follow, and leaves the rest up to us. Based on these three brief encounters between would-be disciples and Jesus, one gets the distinct impression that if Jesus had lived any longer than he did, he would have had a negative success rate at attracting people to join his movement. As it was, there were only a dozen in the end (including the one who betrayed him and another who denied him).

Maybe that's the point. We spend so much time trying to attract the lowest common denominator to our congregations that the real cost of Jesus followership is diluted to the point that it no longer has any meaning. I wonder if Jesus would have been included in Time Magazine's top twenty-five evangelical leaders with his approach to discipleship? I wonder what would happen if Jesus was called to serve my church or your church? Discipleship is hard. On good days, I think I'm up for it. On most days, I wonder what in the world am I thinking?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Contrarian Leadership

There are countless books being published at the moment about leadership. Because most publishers I know are in business to make money, in all likelihood, this publishing interest is tapping into a larger cultural interest in leadership. After a while, books about leadership all begin to sound the same. One wonders whether the authors of some of these books need to publish on the topic in order to increase their speaking invitations. Nevertheless, I continue to be on the look-out for good books on leadership that describe in no uncertain terms the challenges and possibilities of leading organizations well.

I have just finished a helpful book by Steven Sample entitled, "The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership." As the title would suggest, Sample presents an approach to leadership that often is counter-intuitive. To give you an example, while most of the leadership gurus are suggesting that leaders must be decisive, Sample suggests that there is no need to make a decisive decision if the circumstances don't require it. In many cases, the more information one has before making a decision, the more informed one's decision can be.

Another contrarian approach to leadership Sample suggests is: don't spend an inordinate amount of time reading magazines, newspapers, and specialty journals. Rather, with the limited time good leaders have available for reading, read the classic texts (Machiavelli, Tolstoy, et. al). These books provide a wealth of information about the nature of humans and leadership. Be advised however, if you should become a contrarian leader, you may discover that you are the only one playing that tune in your organization.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The Death of Preaching (as we know it)

Everytime I stand before my congregation to preach, I have this nagging feeling that I'm perpetuating an antiquated art form that if it disappeared tomorrow, no one would notice. When I consider some of the innane comments that I often receive after a "well-crafted" sermon, I wonder whether we were in the same worship service (this is not an uncommon experience for preachers). John Buchanan, Presbyterian Pastor and Editor of Christian Century, cites author Anne Lamott's (Travelling Mercies and Plan B) frequent reference to the sermons of her own pastor as evidence of the continuing influential place of preaching in our culture. This may be true for Anne Lamott, but I doubt it reflects the general population.

I recently heard Methodist Consultant, Bill Easum (www.Easumbandy.com) state that any pastor who spends more than two hours a week preparing sermons is wasting their time. He was noting how pastors in America's fastest growing churches don't have time anymore to devote the kind of preparation they once did to the sermon and whether one spends fifteen hours a week studying the greek antecedent to a particular word, or two hours preparing a general outline, the resulting impact is the same.

Everyone knows that most pastors fudge their answers when asked, "how many hours a week do you spend preparing your sermon?" (as if the number of hours spent is directly proportional the quality of the sermon). Perhaps it's time for us to be honest about the place of the sermon in the life of the church. Whether John Buchanan or Bill Easum is right, I don't know. As for me, given the opportunity to sit amidst my dusty commentaries or mull and pray over a particular sermon text as I walk down the fifth fairway, I'll take the fairway every time. If preaching is a dying art form, at the very least we should give it a decent burial. Fore!

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Religious Prostitution-- Part 3

What began as some random thoughts about how I sometimes feel like a religious prostitute when I am asked to provide "religious services" for people who have no interest or intention of being part of the community of faith has developed into a three part rant (it will most assuredly be my last three part blog). This will be my final reflection on this topic for now.

It is clear to me (although it may not be so for you) that the expectation that most church people bring to their church is becoming increasingly distant from what a new generation of pastors view as their role as pastoral leader. This identity gap has become a particularly vexing problem for Superintendents and middle judicatory as they find themselves engaged in internal conflict resolution between pastor and church much more than they used to. "They don't care how much you know until they how much you care", is the refrain I have heard from more than one Superintendent as they seek to impart wisdom to the pastor who find him or herself at odds with their congregation.

To be honest, I don't think the issue has anything to do with caring. Rather, the issue is about identity-- the church identity and the pastoral identity. If a church sees its identity primarily as a religious service station where the pastor pumps the gas, washes the windows, and checks the oil, then it is understandable that a congregation gets a little cranky when a pastor comes along and says, "Pump your own gas." This seems like a rather crass example, but the more I think about it, it seems fitting. Perhaps the ultimate solution will be when more churches become "self-serve" rather than "full-serve" churches. Perhaps it will take a generation for this to happen, but happen it will. In the meantime, there may be some church people who decide they don't like "self-serve" and choose to go elsewhere. My hunch is, in the end the "self-service" congregation will attract alot more people who desire to take responsibility for their own faith than those it sends away. And the church will be healthier for it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Religious Prostitution-- Part 2

This is my first two part blog. This either means that I didn't say everything I wanted to say in the last blog, or I'm not done yet. Either way, let me pick up where I left off by exploring briefly the difference between Pastoral ministry today vs. Pastoral ministry twenty-five years ago. The reason I do this is because I believe that the models of ministry are so radically different that this is a contributing factor to the high percentage of churches that are firing pastors, and at the same time, the high number of pastors who are leaving ministry altogether.

Pastoral ministry education up until the mid-seventies primarily consisted of educating pastors to become good 'chaplains.' When I went to seminary in the early eighties, I remember a seminary professor telling our class that effective pastoral ministry hinged on our ability to provide care to people during difficult transitions. Being a good administrator and effective preacher was optional. During this same time frame, many seminaries adopted the Clinical Pastoral Education model which primarily took place in clinical settings. Thus, further developing a chaplaincy mentality.

Around the same time, the Church Growth Movement began to talk about pastoral identity in terms of being a "rancher" vs. "shepherd." The theory was, if you wanted to have a growing and vital church, one must adopt a "rancher" mentality. The unspoken corollary was also true. If you wanted to pastor a church in decline, then adopt the "shepherd" approach to ministry. This subtle shift from "shepherd" to "rancher" effectively introduced modern management theory to the ministry of the local church. At the height of this model, along came the seeker church which effectively adopted management theory hook line and sinker. And the result in many of these seeker congregations has been stunning.

With the plethora of books on leadership, the dominant model for ministry has shifted yet one more time. Instead of talking about pastor as "rancher" it is now vogue to speak about the pastor as "visionary leader." Although it is too soon to tell what the next shift will be, it is not likely that we will return to the "shepherd" model of ministry anytime soon. But here's the rub. A majority of churches in my denomination (including the one I now serve) have become accustomed to pastor as chaplain. And with the relatively slow pace of change, it is not likely that most churches will shift to the present "pastor as visionary leader" anytime soon.

So what do pastors and churches do in the meantime? Stay tuned for "Religious Prostitution-- Part 3. I'm pretty sure I'll be done after part three. But don't hold me to it.

Religious Prostitution

I met with a couple recently who asked me to baptize their infant. As a matter of routine, I request the opportunity to meet with parents and baptismal candidates to make sure we're on the same page about the meaning and purpose of baptism. In light of the mysterious sacramental nature of baptism, this is harder than it looks. Anyway, I haven't seen this young couple in church since the last time I baptized their child over four years ago.

I have this nagging sense that either they don't understand the meaning of baptism as a communal act of the church, or they are just as happy to be "consumers of religious service." In either case, I feel like a prostitute providing my religious service to satisfy their immediate need. And the next time they happen to have a need for one of the services the church provides, I may see them again.

I find myself feeling like a religious prostitute alot more than I used to. Is it because there has been a shift in the way culture fundamentally relates to the church and I should learn to like it or lump it? Or perhaps my prostitution radar has become more accute as I seek to perform the religious rites of the church with theological integrity and pastoral concern. There's plenty of blame to go around. A generation of pastors before me have been happy to offer any religious service requested because that's what pastor's who operate by the chaplaincy model of ministry do.

On the other hand, how many times have I consented to performing religious services without complaint even though I had a sneaking suspicion that I was being had. And it was easier to perform and shut up than actually try to nurture them into a new understanding of their faith. Whatever the case, I am growing tired of religious prostitution. Even though it might feel good while I'm participating, I always pledge that it will be different the next time. Perhaps by making such a confession, the next time I'm tempted to perform religious prostitution, I'll have the courage to obstain. My only consolation is that Jesus appears to have a special concern for prostitutes in the Gospel, I can only hope the same might be true for me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On Saying Good-bye

A good friend and colleague with whom I have worked for the past five years is leaving to accept a call to another church. I've known this for sometime, but there is something about postponing the last good-bye as long as I can. Perhaps I hope that I can avoid the mixed emotions that come with almost every transition I must face in life. In some ways, saying good-bye to a friend as they pack the moving van and drive away is similar to death. The finality of it all doesn't hit you until much later.

There used to be a time when I avoided saying "good-bye" like the plague. If I had my preference, I would leave in the dark of night to avoid the hugs and tears once and twice over. But as I age, I am discovering that life is filled with "good-byes". We not only say good-bye with the expectation that will see someone again, we also say "good-bye" knowing full well that we may not. These are the "good-byes" that are most difficult for me. These are the good-byes that stab me in the heart everytime I say them.

I am beginning to see all the "good-byes" in my life as another opportunity to give thanks to God for the privilege of walking beside another during this part of our journey together. I'm no longer afraid to say how hard "good-byes" can be for me in hope that my honesty might prompt a joy that only comes after a saying "good-bye" without knowing whether it will be the last time we must say good-bye or not. Good-bye BDN.

Monday, May 23, 2005

"I Read to Know I'm not Alone"

I read alot. I can't explain it. When others spend their free time doing things normal people do, I grab one of a half-a-dozen books that I'm reading at any one time. My favorite quote of all time comes from the movie about C.S. Lewis entitled, "Shadowlands", where Lewis says, "I read to know that I'm not alone". I'm not sure that this is entirely true for me, but at the very least I can say, "I read because I don't have anything better to do."

Reading is becoming a lost art. The increased pace of our lives, the speed of change, the necessity of digesting important information in bite-sized amounts has resulted in culture that prefers the "USA Today" to the "New York Times Review of Books". "Give me my information fast and already chewed so I don't have to spend any additional time discerning the truth," is the unspoken sentiment of most in our culture.

I don't know whether books will go the way of the dinosaur or not with the eventual success of some kind of electronic book format (so far none appears to have caught on). And I don't know what normal people do with all those wasted moments that fill an ordinary day. But one thing I know, I will continue to buy and read books because I can think of a whole lot of other activities that would be worse. Who knows, I might even learn a thing or two in the process?

The "Emerging" Church

Had a phone conversation with a pastoral colleague who is wrestling with his congregation over life and death issues. No, they're not arguing over the color of the carpet, whether they sing hymns or praise choruses. They are having a drag out, hair pulling struggle over whether the people in that church want to live or die. This is a common theme of many of my conversations these days. There are countless pastors who are lured to serve churches with the promised desire to change, grow, and reach unchurched people, only to discover after they get there nothing could be further from the truth.

Churches in decline want to grow for sure, but never at the risk of change. Churches in decline want new people to come fill in the holes in the sanctuary of those who have died or moved to Florida as long as their view of the beautiful stained glass isn't obstructed. Churches in decline want a new pastor to come in and "shake things up" and the moment people get a little cranky, they resort back to their cultural values that insists that happy church members are more important than effective church members.

We read alot these days about the so-called "emerging church". Candles. Post-modern worldview. Authentic spirituality. Based on the largest segment of the church population, I don't think this is the "emerging church" at all. The Emerging Church is comprised of churches like the one my friend serves. Emerging Churches are churches who recognize that they can no longer do business as usual, but they are afraid to do anything different. Emerging Churches don't burn candles and pray ancient prayers, they fight about worship style until the tranditionalists drive out the non-traditionalist or become too tired to keep fighting. Emerging churches aren't interested in authentic spirituality, they are interested in a "wash n wear" spirituality that you can throw in the wash the moment it gets a little soiled.

With apologies to all those young pastors who think meeting in warehouses, sitting on couches in worship, and looking at images on screens constitutes the emerging church. The real "emerging church" in America is in the midst of the fight of its life. There will be a number of casualties along the way. Many churches will go out of business when those who win the battle discover that they still lost the war. If we are not willing to serve this kind of "emerging" church, who will?

Laughter and Tears

I officiated at a Memorial Service this morning. The gentleman who died has been declining from lung cancer for some time. He was one of those rare individuals that didn't allow personal piety to get in the way of his faith. He smoked almost up to the end of his life. He cussed like a sailor. He was filled with regret over failed marriages. And in the end, he died a peaceful death because of the simple belief that Jesus embraced him along with all the baggage he carried with him.

I am always startled by the stark contrast between those who understand this "embrace" of Christ and those who don't. And while I know I'm treading on very thin ground here, I suspect that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity of the loss and grief that one experiences and the depth of one's trust in the embracing love of Christ. The louder the crying, the greater the hopelessness. And because tears have more to do with our own sense of loss and hopelessness, an attentive pastor can always tell the condition of those who gather by the extent of their tears.

Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) suggests that there is a time for tears and a time for laughter. And while it is appropriate for tears to accompany our grief when someone we love dies, it seems to me that it is equally important for laughter to fill the room every time we remember that if it weren't for the embrace of Christ, whether one cusses up a storm or prays in King James English doesn't matter a hill of beans. In the end, we stand on the threshold of a very simple choice that can make all the difference in the world and will determine whether or not there will be laughter or crying after we take our last breath.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The End of a Cultural Icon

I just received word from a friend that he has purchased tickets for us to see the latest installment of Star Wars. I'm a fan, but not fanatical. I would never sleep out on the street for three days so that I could be first in line to view the first showing. That strikes me as a little goofy. In the midst of my excitement to see how George Lucus ties up all the loose ends, I'm also a little nostalgic because Star Wars has been part of my life since I was in highschool.

The first of many times I saw Stars Wars in a theatre was on a date with a girl whose name I can no longer remember. I think she recognized my excitement about seeing the movie surpassed my excietment about the date. A few years later, when I was in college, I remember having to make the painful choice of studying for a mid-term exam in my "Life of Jesus" class with Dr. Lemcio or getting together with some friends to watch the network premiere of Star Wars on television. I chose to watch Star Wars and received a barely passing grade on the test the next day. But it was worth it.

Twenty years later, I took my sons out of school early so they could accompany me to the prequels to the original Star Wars epic. Even though the later versions of this movie are arguably inferior to the originals, the thrill of seeing my boys experiencing the same saga of good vs. evil that I had grown up with was too good to be true. So tomorrow, as I find a seat in the multiplex theatre with popcorn and drink in hand, I will do so with a little sadness because it will be the end of an era. Thank you George Lucas for providing boys and girls young and old with the thrill of intergalactic travel and intrigue for these past thirty years. You have helped shape a generation through telling of a story that never seems to get old.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Desegregation and Me

I attended a dinner this evening commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the landmark case entitled, "Brown v. Board of Education." In 1955, this case struck down the notion of "seperate but equal" and has opened the doors to equality between blacks and whites in countless ways. The speaker at this event, The Honorable William T. Coleman graciously pointed out that even though the United States of America has come a considerable way in correcting the wrongs of our past, we are not yet finished with appropriating the impact of Brown v. Board of Education.

As I sat in this lilly white room of attendees eating my $50 a plate filet mignon, it occurred to me that part of the problem to which The Honorable Mr. Coleman speaks are events like these. The only "colored" (as The Honorable Mr. Coleman referred to them-- he himself being African American) people in the swanky Atheneum Hotel at the Chautauqua Institution on the shores of Lake Chautauqua, New York were probably working in the kitchen washing dishes (I can't confirm this hunch because I didn't go into the kitchen). Nevertheless, here we sit fifty years after the Supreme Court Case that was supposed to make things right, extolling the success of desegregation.

I've never considered myself a racist. I always refer to my black colleagues and friends as "African Americans" (although I've always wondered why I don't refer to myself as a Scandanavian American). My favorite musical group growing up was the Commodores. Yet, I have this gnawing feeling that the first sign of racism is the denial that one is racist. I don't know, perhaps it's late and the filet has disrupted my ability to think clearly. This much I know (and on this The Honorable Mr. Coleman and I agree), desegregation will finally be realized when we quit extolling the virtue of landmark supreme court descisions in swanky hotels and instead invite our African American friends over for dinner and honest conversation about stuff that really matters.

Mount St. Helens and the Work of the Spirit

Twenty-five years ago today, I sat on a life guard stand at a beach on Lake Washington and witnessed with my own eyes the most significant geological event in this century-- the eruption of Mount St. Helens. When I close my eyes, I can relive the moments leading up to the eruption. I can remember the weather (lifeguards tend to take notice of the weather). I can remember the sense of wonder and even awe that I felt as I watched a plume of ash and smoke blast miles into the atmosphere. When the dust settled, the landscape surrounding the mountain looked like a lunar landscape. A thin layer of volcanic dust coated everything. Those who were stubborn enough not to get out of harms way perished without a trace.

Last Sunday was Pentecost. A long time ago, a bunch of rag-tag disciples who were down on their luck and looking for jobs had their world turned upside-down by a blast of the spirit. Some people thought they'd begun their happy hour drinking early in the morning. Others were amazed at the power and truth of the Gospel proclaimed in languages that the disciples were too dumb to know. Still others witness what was going on around them and decided that if it wasn't strong drink, or manipulation, then it must be God. So they believed.

The only recorded memory of this event that we have comes from the stylized version of this story that we find in the Book of Acts. Since it is not an everyday occurance that people's hair catches on fire without being consumed, it is often difficult for us to imagine what it must have been like to be there and feel the wind blowing through our hair. Yet, every year when Pentecost rolls around, the church is reminded that the work of God that began with fire and wind is still moving on the face of the earth. God is still stirring up dust and desire in the hearts and minds of people in places that I can't even pronounce. And a thin layer of "dust" is scattered throughout the earth as the kingdom advances in more ways that I can imagine. And when the dust settles, there will be some who are too stubborn to get out of the way. And when they get bowled over by the dust of the spirit, they may come to their senses. Then again, some may perish without a trace. I hope I'm among the former.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Great Coffee Conspiracy

I don't drink coffee. I don't like coffee. The smell of coffee makes me sick to my stomach. A friend tried to entice me into the conspiracy of coffee drinkers by purchasing me a Latte from one of those well-known coffee cafes. "Coffee is a learned taste", he said. "Once you taste it, you'll enjoy it." Because I felt beholden to drink the five dollar coffee he bought me, I choked down the entire cup. For the next four hours a was shaking like a leaf on a windy day. "It can't be good for a person to shake like this", I said. "Oh, you'll get used to it. Pretty soon, you start to enjoy it." Really?

Whenever I go to an event that serves coffee, you can be sure to find caffinated, de-caffinated, and one of the boutique flavors enticing coffee drinkers to satisfy their base urges. Since I drink tea, I always approach the coffee cart cautiously hoping that this time the non-coffee drinkers among us have not been descriminated against yet again. My hopes are often thwarted and I am required to go beaverageless once more.

There is a great coffee conspiracy in America thanks to Starbucks and all the other coffee sellers. Oh, sure, I can order hot chocolate or a chai in one of those coffee places only to have the person waiting on me sneer at me as if to say, "What is your problem? Why don't you drink coffee like everyone else in the world?" So while the rest of the world gets their jolt of caffiene morning, noon and night, I must either give up and join the ranks of the rest of the coffee drinkers, or get used to the ridicule and descrimination that I feel everytime I ask for a cup of tea. For those who have not yet been converted to the great coffee conspiracy, it's only a matter of time. I'll hold out with my Tetley Tea for as long as I can. But, I suspect that even I willl eventually succomb.

Monday, May 16, 2005

On Sin and Shortcomings

“The minister’s shortcomings simply cannot be concealed. Even the most trivial soon get known…However trifling their offenses, these little things seem great to others, since everyone measures sin, not by the size of the offense, but by the standing of the sinner.” – John Chrysostom

As long as I have been a pastor, I have felt the subtle tension between portraying myself as all too human, while at the same time, recognizing the inevitable perceptions that some church people want a pastor who doesn't smoke, drink, swear, chew, or date girls who do. Part of the tension is precipitated by the pietist tradition that rightly suggests that there is a relationship between right thinking and right living.

On the other hand, as hard as I look at the life and ministry of Jesus, I don't find Jesus spending much time addressing the sins that most churches spend most of their time worrying about. Jesus list of sins (if one could even suggest that such a list can be made) almost always have a corporate character. Treat the poor justly. Take care of the widow. Don't cheat in your business dealings.

Since when has our focus on sin (or "shortcomings" if you are part of a tradition that finds talking about sin uncomfortable) been about whether or not one lives up to the list of personal vices that may or may not have anything to do with the kind of sin about which Jesus was concerned? Perhaps all I can do is hope along with St. Chrysostrom for the day when my sin is no longer measured by the size of my offense, but rather by my standing as a sinner along with everyone else. In the meantime, I will do my best to avoid "dating" girls who chew.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Book of Revolutions

Whenever I am in a hurry, I always pick the slowest line. So there I stood, second in-line at the hardware store waiting for the gentleman in front of me to finish discussing in hushed tones something important-- something religioius. I wanted to lean in and listen, but I live in a small town and it was bound to get back to my church that I was an "eves-dropper." I reasoned if I had to waste time standing in a slow line, at the very least I could listen in to pass the time.

When the cashier finally rung him up and he moved toward the door. I quickly moved forward in line to assure that no one could slip in front of me. I smiled at the cashier and said it sounded like she and the previous person had been in some deep conversation about something important (this is always a good way to elicit additional information from someone without appearing too nosey). She smiled and said that he was a retired pastor and they were speaking about important matters.

I smiled and inquired about the importance of the topic that kept her from allowing me to move through the line when she smiled and said, "oh, we were talking about the Book of Revolutions. You just don't find many people anymore who are interested in that sort of thing." I agreed. The Book of Revolutions was not a common topic over dinner at my house. As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last time I've discussed the Book of Revolutions with anyone. She smiled contentedly.

We returned to the task at hand. I gave her my credit card. She rang up my purchase. And I drove home sighing a cynical prayer of thanks for Tim LaHaye, and others like him, who have now made it difficult for people like me to get through the line in the hardware store without having to wait and wonder whether "The Book of Revolutions" is the reason for the delay. The next time I go to the hardware store, I plan to bone up on the Book of Revolutions before I go, just in case.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

How to Ruin a Good Game of Golf

Every day, I receive an e-mail from the Bruderhof called "Your Daily Dig." The quotes are from a variety of religious persons both living and dead. They are almost always thoughtful and frequently call me to deeper levels of faith and faithfulness. Occasionally, the quotations hit a little too close to home. When that happens, I don't like them very much. This morning I log-on to my computer with the intention of checking my e-mail prior to leaving for an anticipated game of golf with some colleagues. The weatherman was predicting warm weather. And as I'm about to grab my clubs and get in my car, I decide to read my "daily dig" from Bruderhof before I leave. Who knows the positive impact it might have on my golf game? I read the following quote from Dorothy Day: "Loving your neighbor means living in voluntary poverty, stripping yourself, putting off the old Adam, denying yourself, etc. It also means non-participation in those comforts and luxuries which have been manufactured by the exploitation of others. While our brothers and sisters suffer, we must be compassionate with them, suffer with them. While they suffer from lack of necessities, we will refuse to enjoy comforts."

I wish Dorothy Day would have come another day. If it's any consolation, I didn't have a very good round of golf. If you would like to have The Bruderhof's "Daily Dig" ruin a good game of golf, you may subscribe to their free daily reflection at: http://dailydig.bruderhof.org

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Books on my Bedstand

I'm reading the following books that so far seem promising:

David Sedaris, "Me Talk Pretty One Day."
Nancey Murphy, "Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism."
Chuck Smith Jr., "There is a Season-- Authentic, Innovative Ministry in Popular Culture."
Simon Winchester, "The Meaning of Everything-- The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary."
Baltasar Gracian, "A Pocket Mirror for Heros."
C.S. Lewis, "An Experiment in Criticism."
Douglas John Hall, "The Cross in Our Context."
James McPherson, "Battle Cry of Freedom-- The Civil War Era."

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Door-to-door Religion

It was a delightful morning. A large cup of coffee. Bathrobe. Bed-head. You get the picture. My doorbell rings. The other members of my family were occupied with other things so I answered the door. I was greeted by two gentleman wearing suits, carrying Bibles, and handing out tracks about the coming great apocalypse.

I don't mind when sectarian religious folks come to my door. Even though it can be a bother, I'm delighted to have meaningful conversation with someone about something as important as God, faith, and how to escape hell. I wish more people in my church would like to talk about such things. Perhaps the reason we don't is my fault? Anyway, it seems like all we talk about in church is whether we made the budget this week and whether or not last week's service went too long. These may be important, but I can understand why no one in my church would want to go door-to-door on a cold Saturday morning asking people in their bathrobes what they think about church budgets and the length of the worship service.

Door-to-door religion requires us to be passionate about the questions that matter to people. The two gentlemen in suits and ties could see my growing discomfort as we stood in my door. I think they cut their speech short on my account. After exchanging pleasantries, they turned and walked away. I marvel at the dedication it takes to get up on a Saturday morning, put on your Sunday best and ring the doorbells of folks who would rather you didn't to talk about things like God, faith, and damnation. I don't know what their success rate is, but the next time I'm standing around after church talking with someone about the uncharacteristic warm weather in Western New York, I may just bring up God, faith, and damnation for a change just to see what happens.


If I played the organ I'd play like this! Posted by Hello

Baseball vs. Watching Paint Dry

Every year this time, I find myself joining faithful parents on the bleachers of my boys baseball games. I've never really liked baseball (perhaps because I've never been a good athlete). And where I live, the first half of the baseball season takes place in sub-zero temperatures. So there I sit shivering and watching a game I don't understand because that's what parents do. Oh, I know I could read a book about baseball to learn a thing or two, but what would be the point of that? I'm just as happy that my boys know I'm there watching them whether I know anything about the game they play or not. Frankly, I don't think they care that much about how much I know anyway.

On a similar note, I've been painting the inside of my house this spring. You know how it works. Empty the room of all it's contents. Fill in holes. Tape. And by the time I've done all that, I'm tired and ready for a break. But then there is the fun part. Painting. Not one coat, but two. The first coat goes on quickly. The walls suck up the paint like a camel at a watering hole in the desert. Then I wait for the paint to dry. Sometimes I think if I stand there and watch, the paint will dry faster. It never does. The paint drys at it's own pace. There is nothing I can do to change that. So I wait. It doesn't much matter what I do while I wait. As a matter of fact, I'm writing this blog while I wait for paint to dry.

It strikes me that baseball and watching paint dry are similar in this regard. I sit and watch my boys because that's what parents do. I cannot change the pace of the game. I simply sit and watch because I love my boys and I love to see them enjoying themselves. I paint for similar reasons. I wish there was a quicker way, but I haven't discovered it yet. I wish the paint would dry faster so I can get on to more important things, but paint drys at its own pace. So whether I'm watching baseball or watching paint dry, the only thing I know for sure is there's nothing I'd rather do at that moment. I've got to go finish painting. After that, my son has a baseball game.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

What the Bleep! do We Know?

A friend recently recommended that I watch a movie etitled, "What the Bleep! do We Know? I rented it and sat down with low expectations. From the moment the movie began, I was captivated. To describe the movie in a sentence is impossible. So given my propensity for attempting the impossible, here goes. "What the Bleep! do We Know?" is a movie that attempts to describe how the theory of quantum physics intersects with everyday life. The story is a series of interviews with noted scientists and authors (including the new age channeller JZ Knight) interspersed in the midst of a narrative of a photographer going about her daily routine and running into the many of the physical anomalies about which the scientists speak.

The more we know about the random and mysterious character of the physical world, the more confusing our enlightenment attempts to manage the world become. In the end, the movie left me with a sense of hopefulness that we are capable of much more than we even think or imagine. After viewing "What the Bleep! do We Know", I'm more convinced than ever that my answer to this question is, "I don't know much." Perhaps that's the way it should be.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Get Rich, Get Fat

The venerable Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, "Obesity Grows among the Affluent." The gist of the article is that poor people are less likely to be over-weight than rich people for a variety of reasons including: rich people tend to consume high calorie foods, rich people lead more sedentary lifestyles, and rich people tend to eat out more often than poor people. Why the Wall Street Journal would choose to publish this article is beyond me. Unless they occasionally like to point out the obvious to their primary constituency-- rich people.

On the relationship between being rich and fat, I'm reminded that Jesus may have had something to say about this as well. He said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. I never understood this until now. Perhaps the reason why rich people don't make it into the kingdom is as simple and straight forward as the door isn't big enough for our extra-large derriers. If this isn't motivation for going on a diet, I don't know what is. Just a thought worth pondering.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Why I Hate Mondays

I drag myself out of bed. When my spouse greets me with a warm good-morning, I grunt in response. After a cup of tea and hot shower, I drag myself to my office wondering to myself if McDonald's is hiring this week. There's no particular reason why my Monday's regularly look like this that I can think of other than the fact that Monday immediately follows Sunday.

Sunday is the pinnacle of a pastor's week. Whether one worships in a dwindling congregation on Sunday at eleven, or one is responsible for six weekend services with more people than you know what to do with, Sunday is why we pastors exist. Whether the organist was sick and the music was pathetic, or the contemporary worship team leads the congregation to new heights of intimacy with God, Sundays are the anchor of our experience. Whether people enjoyed the well-prepared and thoughtful sermon the pastor preaches, or were agitated with a reference to something that hits too close to home, Sundays are central to the rhythm of a pastor's life.

Mondays for pastors are the equilivent to the day after the Superbowl. After the dust settles, people return to the ordinariness of their lives. There are phone calls to return, and bills to pay. Every Monday, I'm reminded that my life does not follow the same rhythm as businessmen and women, teachers, and auto-mechanics. Every Monday, I come to the stark realization that I am called to do this all over again in a mere seven days. And I wonder whether God will give me the stamina for yet another sermon, another prayer, another journey into the mystery of worship. So far, God hasn't let me down.