Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Time to get fit

I'm not into New Year's resolutions. January 1 is in many ways a bit contrived. What's the difference in starting something 1/1 and starting something 12/18? Why put off until January what you can start now, right? Or maybe it's simply my way of not having to own up to any changes in my life. If I don't make a resolution, I don't need to worry about living up to it, right?

The truth is, I've gotten a little flabby in a few areas of my life and I'm recognizing that I need a specific and concerted effort to get back in shape. Yes, Charles Barkley, I know round is a shape too, but it's not the shape I want to exemplify in my physical body. I've reflected on this a bunch lately, especially in relation to my family history of high blood pressure and heart issues. I'm now 6 months into 30, and I think it's time I get back into a regular routine of physical exercise. I'm going to sit down and figure out the most effective way of tracking that online - without grossing anyone out.

The other area I'm owning up to is financial flabbiness. At one time, I was all over my finances. We never had a credit card we didn't pay off each month (save for large purchases we paid off in a few - and had a plan each time). Well, in the last 5 years, after going to seminary and having 2 kids, that's all changed - and I hate it. So, I've got 2 plans: 1) Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. I'm just not sure if I should save $10 and purchase on Amazon, with my credit card, or purchase in the store with cash. 2) A clergy tax seminar which will hopefully get some other stuff straightened around for us 'cause I'm a little concerned the IRS is going to come after me. I'm now way beyond the EZ file and a little concerned 'cause being a minister & dealing with taxes is not easy.

So... now that I've told "the world" about these two areas of flabbiness, I have everyone out there to be accountable to get in shape. Hmmm... this might have been a mistake...

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm in the right "business"

We were on our way out of town - not far, just to family for dinner - yesterday afternoon, when I got the kind of call you really only get as a pastor, on my cell. It was the kind of "drop everything and tend to this" situation that everyone has from time to time, but not entirely. As we drove back into Columbus, I told Bridgette - "Being a pastor means certain sacrifices. But I'm telling you this, I'd rather make a sacrifice for a situation like this, than simply because I've got a big project due, or a major client is coming into town. This is real life."

I've had tons of moments over the years, since recognizing that ministry is where my heart was, as well as God's call. And this is just one more of those moments that said - there's nothing else I would rather be doing, than being in ministry...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Predatory Rant

I came home the other night to see this "check" sitting on my kitchen table. It didn't take me long to recognize what it was - a scam. I've gotten a half-a-dozen of these or more in the past. They're for various amounts, usually ranging from $5 to $15 and sometimes in quirky amounts. The Dollar figure is always prominent and it's the first thing you see. When economic times are tough, or anytime, when you receive an unexpected "check" in the mail with your name on it... well, it's nice. Problem is with all of these things - there's fine print.

Sure enough, with this one like all of the rest, there's a clause in there (not on the actual check, mind you) that says "by endorsing and cashing this check, payee is registering for XYZ service with annual/semi-annual payments of $XYZ" - and that amount is always significantly higher than any money you get on the check. Yeah, you usually get a 30 day "free trial offer" - but good luck in getting out of that before they make you pay something. Anyway, instead of simply ripping up the check and throwing it in the trash, I called the number.

I spoke to a very polite woman named "Heidi" on the phone. I explained that I knew she was just answering the phones, that she really had nothing to do with this, but that I knew the call was being recorded and I needed a few seconds to vent. And vent I did. Because the simple fact is that this kind of "marketing" is predatory in nature. It prays on the idea that for every person who reads the fine print, there's going to be 1, 5, 10, who simply cash the check - especially when money is tight - even if they know what they're signing up for. And then their credit card gets billed for $50 - and that's all it takes. Bam!

I didn't call them back because I was concerned for myself. Truth is, I'm not going to go for those "free" offers because they take too much time & effort to get out of anyway. I called and said my rant because there's tons of people who DO get preyed on and we need to speak up for them. It's crap like this that makes me ask the question - "As a follower of Jesus Christ, how can ANYONE believe in Laissez Faire Capitalism?" I'm shaking my head in disgust right now...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Utilizing your book shelf

The other day, Brennan dropped by my office. For the life of me I don't remember all of the details - but he ended up climbing into my bookshelf and I think he "pretended" to take a nap. When I came back to the office Wednesday after our staff Christmas potluck, that's exactly what I wanted to do - take a nap. Unfortunately, I'm a little big for that spot in my bookshelf. Funny thing about my bookshelf - it contains almost as many books that I haven't read as books that I have. I found myself getting into the habit a few months back of stocking up on books that I wanted to read, or others said I should read, but unable to keep up. I've even found myself "recommending" books with the caveat "I haven't read this, but others say it's great, so give it a read." I love to read, it's not that I don't enjoy it, but I find that I'm either too tired to be able to read in the evening, when I've got "time" - so I veg in front of the TV. Or, I end up reading "other" stuff (like or Detroit Free Press, etc). This only makes me realize that my bookshelf has become underutilized. I think it's time to take it back - not back to the store, but back from the brink...

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Coming of Age - leadership and the young

I hope our esteemed Moderator takes no offense to this, but I've recently been prompted to think about some things in regard to the hectic schedule our denom has put on him, in his role as moderator. For those of you unfamiliar, the moderator's role is to... moderate the discussion, facilitate the meeting. In the local church, the pastor moderates the governing body of session. In the Presbytery (the elected body that includes many churches from a geographic area), a moderator is elected to preside, usually for a 1 year term at the monthly/bi-monthly/quarterly/annual presbytery meetings during the business/discussion time. In the (formerly) annual meetings of the entire national body of the Presbyterian Church (USA), a moderator is elected from the members as well. Now, meeting only every-other year, a moderator is elected for 2 years, and they travel to various meetings, churches, conferences for 2 years representing the national church. For this post, people actually offer their names and kind of "run" - the election happens as the first order of business at a General Assembly. In essence, it's like having a mini political campaign for the Speaker of the House. Fortunately, a lot less time, money & effort is put into these races than the US Presidency. But I digress...

What Bruce Reyes-Chow, our moderator has caused me to contemplate, is the whole idea of young leaders and the transitioning of leaders. It is also particularly appropriate as we welcome a new President in 5 weeks who is significantly younger, with a younger family, than anyone since 1960 & JFK (help me out if I'm wrong - I'm Canadian don't forget). The fact that the Republican VP candidate had just had a baby, also put this question before me, but it's not just about family...

Here's the thought - "maybe, there's something to be said for biding your time & learning, apprenticing behind good men & women, before taking on the mantle of leadership at an age & stage in life where it is fitting." Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to take anything away from anyone who is ascended to leadership as a 20something, 30something or whatever. I love to be able to look at the face of our moderator, the president elect & others in leadership and say "they're young like me, that's awesome! Maybe they'll have some great ideas about how to do things better." But at the same time, I come face to face with the question of timing. And I come face-to-face with the issue of leadership models. Quickly...

Leadership the "very old" way kinda looked like this - you rose to power with strength of will or arms and held on until someone pried it from your cold-dead hands. Leadership the "old" way meant that you chose a successor and once you'd done everything you wanted to, you handed over the reigns to someone else so you could go and have fun. In both of these situations though, the leader was often autocratic and entirely in control. For the "younger" people, this caused frustration and anger over being left out of decision-making (Vietnam, teen-spirit "angst") - and they either dropped out, or took it on as a challenge and attempted to rise quickly and take power by force. But, with the rise of new communication technologies in the late 20th & early 21st Century, including social media, the world is not simply shrinking, it is becoming flat - the corporate "ladder" is somewhat of a misnomer. Think Al-Quaeda, think the Starfish and the Spider - this is the new way of leadership and it poses some interesting opportunities.

In the old style with power being focused in 1 person, it required that person to be everywhere, be involved in everything and make final decisions. That kind of time commitment and brain power just doesn't fit if you've got a family & young kids to raise. That is, unless you're willing to sacrifice them (which is an entirely different post). So, if we're going to participate in structures that continue to utilize that kind of model of leadership, I'm personally in favour of allowing us young people to wait to ascend to high levels of leadership. Wait, learn, bide your time, be apprenticed, raise your kids.

However, if we're talking about participating in other structures, structures that are less hierarchical, where power is based less in an individual and more spread through a collective, this opens up the opportunity for young leaders to emerge - because they don't have to be everywhere, don't have to be all-knowing and don't have to be all-powerful. (Wow, did I just compare hierarchical leadership to challenging God's authority - oops!) At the end of the day, I'm hopeful that THE Church, as well as our national & local churches, will be able to accept a more Kingdom oriented idea of leadership and structure. I think that's the only way we can allow young people to bring their gifts and talents to places of leadership without having them sacrifice their families...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Time to be convinced - Twitter

Ok, if you're at all checking in or following my blog here, you've probably noticed I haven't had much to post - not quite on a regular basis over the past month. There are many reasons for that. In some ways, I feel like my life's gone a bit faster these past couple months - the addition of a second little guy certainly has helped that along. But in addition to that, I was recently turned on to Twitter. The brilliance of Twitter is that it allows you to send out 140 character text messages to anyone and everyone who's interested in following you. You, in turn, can hear from anyone and everyone that you'd like to receive updates from. You can do it via the web, you can have it update directly to your phone - like Twitterific, the iPhone/iPod touch application.

My friend Rhett blogged about it recently - here - and he referenced this great video, that is really the answer to "so, why should I Twitter" - check it out here:

For me, it's about time. I can send out a tweet in about a minute. It doesn't have to have an enormous amount of significance, it can be simple. I can post pictures of things that are happening, and I can see what's going on with friends who live far away. I can also get updates from Sports Teams I'm a fan of, or News from networks, or even follow Famous People that are down to earth & funny. Certainly there are tons of other reasons - like you can set it to update your Facebook profile at the same time, but when it gets right down to it - I like to know what my friends are up to and share with them what's up with me. So, if this sounds interesting, sign up and let me know - I'd love to know what you're doing...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sometimes, it just works

Sunday was one of those perfect storm Sundays. I returned from vacation the day before. My family was in tow (parents, 3 siblings, 1 brother-in-law & 1 niece). It was a full house. Aidan was going to be baptized. We had a Young Family potluck following worship, to which I didn't know how many were planning to attend until I got to church that morning. It was Scottish Harvest Sunday - meaning we had bagpipers parading in and a canon being fired before & after worship. Saturday night I got a call that one of our co-pastors, John, had fallen off his ladder, cleaning the gutter and I was needed to march in the "parade." Did I mention I was preaching? As I stood among the paraders, waiting to walk across the bridge following the pipers & into the sanctuary, I thought to myself "THIS could be ugly - this could be the worst sermon I've ever preached."

It just happened to be the 3rd Sunday with our lay Stewardship sharing. The gentleman sharing, whose son I'd married about a month ago, talked about the "practical" side of giving - literally, how to set aside money for when it could be needed to give away. Then he shared how he'd done that, and was presented with the opportunity to provide travel for a family fleeing the Philippines a few years ago. I almost began to cry... My entire sermon was all about creating margins (space) so that we could provide for those who exist on the margins. We never talked ahead of time - God just made it fit. Not to say the sermon went off without a hitch - We had mic problems, which meant I preached from the pulpit instead of walking back & forth on the stage. I still thought my sermon was disjointed and somewhat tough to follow. It seemed REAL short too. But it fit with everything else - it was the same message, and that gave it power, well beyond the actual words that I shared.

No, this was not the most well-crafted sermon. And I lamented the fact that it wasn't. But I swear, as I stood there afterward, hearing how some people were touched by the message, I heard God say (in my mind) - "I'm not going to let you get in the way of what I'm doing. You do what you can, and at the end of the day, my Word is going to go out." It was really humbling to be a part of yet another situation where God shows up in a VERY unplanned and wonderful way...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Buffet - Blah!

We spent nearly a week in Myrtle Beach on our family vacation. The first night we went out to dinner and the next four we traded making dinners in our rooms for each other. Then, Bridgette & I went on a little double-date with my sister and her husband. Well, we'd planned to go on a little dinner double-date, but we had to deal with an unruly child (Brennan), which meant we got out much later than we'd originally planned. Well, we went driving looking for something to eat. While Bridgette isn't much for seafood, the rest of us were interested, especially being right on the ocean, we thought it was almost a waste not to get some local seafood. Unfortunately, we made what proved to be a poor decision - we chose Original Benjamin's Calabash Seafood. Here's how it went:

host: "Do you have a coupon?" (red flag)
Me: "no"
host: "Have you dined with us before?"
Me: "no"
host: [says nothing, hands us hush puppies as we walk past buffet] - "Our buffet is here..." (red flag)
Me: (as we're seated) "How much is the buffet?"
host: "$27.99" (red flag)
Me: (trying hard to find a way out) "uhhh... thanks"

Here's what I re-learned from that dinner experience:

1) You can NEVER get your "money's worth" at a buffet, because you simply can't eat enough.
2) The Quantity of the food you consume is NEVER equal to the QUALITY that you could get if you paid the same amount at a non-buffet restaurant
3) No matter how many times I try to tell myself "you've still got room, you're not over-eating" - I still end up over-eating, a lot!
4) Aside from breakfast/brunch buffets and the occasional Chinese food buffet - I'm done with the buffet!

That anchor pictured above is a fairly good representation of what my stomach felt like after I was done...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance Day - the Canadian Way

Today is Remembrance Day. If you're stateside, like me, you may think of it as Veteran's Day - I won't bother to argue, the meaning of it is way to deep to spend time fighting over a name. But see, in Canada, we do things a bit differently. In the US, the emphasis is often on the military, the brave service of men and women in the myriad of areas in the armed forces. Canadians however, have a bit of a different slant - and the famous poem - In Flander's Fields, captures it well.

In Flander's Fields the poppy's blow
between the crosses row on row
that mark our place...

We mark the dead on this day, remembering all those who gave their lives - not with a triumphant pat on the back or a firm chest protruding as if somehow we were proud of the blood that we had shed. I think that the First World War was actually a turning point in our nation's history, as that poem illustrates. We saw the scourges of war, we felt it, and we were marked forever. We've been participants in wars and conflicts since, but always reluctantly calling ourselves to arms, always recognizing that peace is the ultimate goal - and that war is a painful problem that we would like to avoid at all costs. In recent decades it is the blue helmet of the peacekeeper that Canadians most often wear when sent into harms way.

On this whole subject of Canadians in conflict, I received an e-mail from my mother recently, which reproduced an article, said to have been written by present Irish Independent journalist Kevin Myers, formerly of the London-based Telegraph. The e-mail was titled "Salute to a brave and modest nation" - and I wanted to believe it was true. It spoke straight to the heart of Canadians. But as I researched it online, I kept finding various references that I couldn't substantiate, and I wondered "did some Canadian simply write this and throw it out online?" - it would make the entire argument moot. But finally, I was able to track it down, rightly attested to Kevin Myers and the London Telegraph, dated 21 April, 2002.

I want so much to reproduce the entire article here, but I abhor an enormous blog post. Instead, I'll throw down some highlights and reference the entire article in it's original setting at the Telegraph:

"It seems that Canada's historic mission is to come to the selfless aid both of its friends and of complete strangers, and then, once the crisis is over, to be well and truly ignored...

...The Canadians proudly say of themselves - and are unheard by anyone else - that 1 per cent of the world's population has provided 10 per cent of the world's peace-keeping forces. Canadian soldiers in the past half century have been the greatest peace-keepers on earth - in 39 missions on UN mandates, and six on non-UN peace-keeping duties, from Vietnam to East Timor, from Sinai to Bosnia...

So who today in the US knows about the stoic and selfless friendship its northern neighbour has given it in Afghanistan? Rather like Cyrano de Bergerac, Canada repeatedly does honourable things for honourable motives, but instead of being thanked for it, it remains something of a figure of fun. It is the Canadian way, for which Canadians should be proud, yet such honour comes at a high cost..."

When I reflect on Remembrance Day, hear In Flander's Fields and read this article, it makes me damn proud to be a Canadian...

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Chef - not yet

We've been taking part in a class at Liberty with a dozen or so other younger couples based around the book Your Time-Starved Marriage, by Les & Leslie Parrot. Well, part of this final week's session was about making time during mealtimes - slowing it down and making time for you and your spouse together. So, Monday night I thought it would be a great idea to not only cook up Monday night's dinner, but to throw in a few things and make up spaghetti sauce in the slow-cooker for Tuesday night's dinner.

It's got to be said that I love to cook. And I used a ton of yummy things in the sauce including zucchini, mushrooms, black olives and ground beef. I don't usually use recipes when I cook - I see it more as an art, you throw things together, experiment as you go and have fun. Each time you get in the kitchen you come out with a new work of art.

Well, unfortunately, when we were ready to eat the sauce Tuesday night, the sauce that was slow-cooking for nearly 24hrs... well, it was awful. So awful in fact, that it still sits on our counter in the slow cooker. Yeah, I need to deal with it. But it just goes to show that I'm not quite ready to quit being a pastor and open my own restaurant. Truth is, I don't think I'd enjoy it either...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change is on the way, right?

Well, they've given their speeches, and now it turns towards transitioning into governing. All the talk is done, now I can only hope and pray that the US begins to truly move towards some serious change. As a Christian, I find so much in our world that simply does not conform to the Kingdom of God. I don't believe that a political figure can in anyway usher in the Kingdom of God - Jesus already did that. I also hate the idea that any one person is somehow a saviour or scapegoat when it comes to politics. But I find it really hard not to feel like this is a very positive historic moment. For a nation that traded slaves - owned them only 150 years ago, disenfranchised black voters throughout the first half of the last century and only 50 years ago still used segregation as a tool of oppression (which still exists in subtler forms now) - to see that nation elect an African American as President is pretty amazing.

I still remember sitting in my grade 5 classroom as Mr. Scarfino put on a record of Martin Luther King Jr's "I have a dream" speech. It gave me goosebumps. It still does. I know this isn't exactly the mountaintop that he spoke of, but man, this has got to be close. I pray Obama lives up to the chance he's been given - and truly brings that necessary change to a nation that is desperately in need of it...

Monday, November 03, 2008


I just spent a wonderful "weekend" up in Northern Michigan. It wasn't completely a vacation (I preached at a friend's church, baptized their son, and helped him lead communion) - but I was offline, for nearly the entire time. Which left room for talking, spending time with our kids, playing some board games - a favourite pastime of mine, and generally being available. I'm going to post more on this in the next day or two, but I hate looking at my blog and seeing it's been 6 days, so I put this up now, and will return to this thought in a more developed way...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Simply out of hand

Joe the Plumber: "a vote for Barack Obama is a vote for the death to Israel." Seriously? Do strategists think this kind of stuff will really work? This has got to come to an end. Regular celebrity endorsements are nearly worthless, instant celebrity endorsements can't be worth anything at all.

I'm not going to jump on poor Old Joe. But I'm not going to get up and defend him either. He's just like most of us - if we get a chance at a little fame, we're going to take it - because in our society fame usually comes with a little bit of cash. And we can all do with a little bit of cash in this economy, right? But I do, finally have to speak up again, on politics here in the US.

Enough is enough! I'm sick and tired of the bickering, the lies and deception from Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives and everyone in between. The amount of money spent on this is outrageous and this is not the type of race that I hoped for when I saw McCain & Obama hug on the Senate floor, Feb 12, while the primaries were still in doubt. I hoped that they'd run a race that both would be proud of. But that's not what we've gotten. And now, love'm or hate'm, regular "Joe's" have been dragged into this thing and become instant celebrities.

One has to wonder what kind of return on investment that people get when you donate to a particular campaign. When it gets right down to it, is the presidency worth over a billion dollars? And to whom? Because that's what was spent through Aug 31 to get the top 4 remaining candidates onto their party's ticket. Yikes. Not exactly enough to keep Lehman Brothers afloat, but certainly enough to do some good in this country for those about to lose their homes, lose their heat or electricity, or lose something else.

I don't get a vote, and I'd like to think I'm not exactly partisan. But I believe enough has come out that if I did have the opportunity to vote, I'm pretty sure who I'd vote for. It would probably be the candidate who I most believed could change the situation. And that's not the candidate I originally thought it would be...

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Busy little bee"

I've been quite busy over the past week, and haven't really made the time to sit down and write a blog entry. That's not an excuse, it's what has been happening. My life, in many ways is a bit like the photo of our church above. You can see the super structure being built for our carriage house - an 8 classroom building that will finally address our needs for space to teach our kids (and adults). I too am trying to address my own needs, as well as my sons and Bridgette's with regard to teaching them and time together. That doesn't mean I'm abandoning anything, like this blog, which is a great creative release for me. What I mean is that I'm having to sift through things and make sure what I'm putting up as a framework is the most valuable...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beginnings & Endings

I've had the opportunity to reflect on this recently, not so much on my own beginnings & endings, but seeing others. Let me state this a little more emphatically - THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME BEGINNING ANYTHING NEW OR ENDING ANYTHING I AM PART OF - VOCATIONALLY OR OTHERWISE.

It's funny, because the fact that I have to be so explicit about this taps right into one of the main reflections I had - there is both a private and public nature to beginnings and endings. There is a huge difference between the two, and there can be some enormous consequences to neglecting one or the other, and it's usually a proper public beginning or ending. My own beginning at Liberty had both a private and public aspect. The call process began nearly two years ago when I found out representatives from Liberty's APNC would be on campus at PTS. I set up an interview, which followed with a phone interview, then a face-to-face on-site interview and then a phone call to extend the call. However, it wasn't for a number of weeks after that, where I was able to come out again and preach before the congregation, where I was officially and publicly extended a call and my ministry began.

Endings too, have both private and public aspects. If you simply leave fly-by-night, and don't deal with the public nature and give people the opportunity to say goodbye, you run the risk of causing more problems. People need closure and you can end up causing even more rumors and questions if you don't at least acknowledge the need to publicly say goodbye. Some people don't deal well with public endings and sometimes people believe that a public ending isn't necessary or deserved because of the reason for the ending. But I think this only leads to more problems. Even if all the facts don't come out in public, and are kept in private, there still needs to be a public end. If nothing else, a sign to everyone involved that an ending, a real ending, has taken place.

What this really gets down to however, is that there absolutely need to be both beginnings and endings. Whether it's geographical, relational or vocational, things begin and things end, and we need to recognize that and embrace as opposed to holding on or sticking our heads in the sand. If we don't recognize when one thing ends and another begins, we run the risk of making a situation extremely complicated. Whether it's out of fear of the unknown new beginning, or fear of letting go and ending what we've been a part of for so long, sometimes we get stuck in a situation that just isn't healthy. Also, sometimes we want to jump ship to a new beginning at the wrong time - making an awkward ending where one shouldn't be. Discernment in beginnings and endings is tough. That's why it's so important to get all that messy private stuff in line, so that when the public time comes, you know it's right. Because few things are worse than knowing that you messed up - you began something you shouldn't have, you ended something you shouldn't have, or you didn't recognize when you should've ended and now you're stuck making a fool of yourself...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Growing up

I've spent a good deal of time with Brennan over the last couple days - or at least it seems so. I got a chance to go out in the backyard and play with him in the sandbox and build a sand castle Wednesday before dinner. Yesterday we spent time together building a train track in the afternoon and walking to Buehler's for a couple items in the evening. And this morning I brought him in early to the church office so I could get some work done and help Bridgette by only having to get one child together to get to our MOPS program. Anyway, it hit me in a few ways over these past couple days that Brennan is growing up - seriously.

When I say this, it's not one of those "my kid is special" things. He's not quite 3 years old (Jan 11, '09) - he's no Einstein or Mozart, and I don't think I'd want him to be anyway. But I'm thoroughly impressed with how I can have a conversation with him. Not all the time, and not of immense substance, but he does have this way of talking with me that makes me go "wow - he's like a little person!" And honestly, it's probably the most rewarding thing about being a parent - being able to interact with him as he grows up.

I wonder, is this anything like our relationship with God? Does God take this kind of joy in our ability to grow in our faith to a point that we can actually converse with God? And if so, shouldn't the question be for all of us, why wouldn't we want to grow up? Why wouldn't we want to have that interactive relationship with the one who created us - the one who loves us with an everlasting love? I think growing up is a good thing it's just a matter of what we grow up into...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Leaving it in the Pulpit

Well, I got through Sunday's sermon in our Love Series - the Truth About Love, Loving Your Spouse. While Ephesians 5:1-2 & 21 was read during the service, I chose Philippians 2:1-11 that I chose as my text. The opening was a little rough, but it's amazing how things can come together at the right moment - and I think that was the end. Here's a rough summary of my final paragraph:

Donald Trump once said about his second marriage, that he knew it was over because it became too much work. But the truth about love, the truth about loving our spouse and about loving the other, is that love IS costly. And it will either cost us ourselves and our desires, or it will cost us our connection with the thing we profess to love. God knew this and thankfully, God was unwilling that his connection with humanity would be lost, and so he was willing to pay the ultimate price for love - God paid with himself, in Jesus Christ, he laid himself down for us..."

Following this sermon, I had the opportunity to facilitate a class on marriage at church - based on the book Your Time-Starved Marriage. And I was reminded of the tendency of some of us to give our best out there and leave leftovers at home, for our spouses. This is particularly a tendency I've heard/seen in ministry. Pastor's spend all their time and energy tending to the "needs" of their "flock" and leave little or nothing for their family. I read an article about a retired minister lamenting this just today.

For me, it's now been nearly 16 months since I began ministry here in Ohio - my first ordained call. And I think it's the perfect time to revisit a comment I had many years ago - "I'd rather be considered a failure as a pastor than a failure as a husband and father." This is especially important because in the last 16 months, I think I've had many more compliments on what I've done @ the church, than what I've done in my home & for my wife. Which means I probably need to leave a little less in that pulpit and lay a little more of it down for Bridgette...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

"the Hunger"

Heroes is brilliant, let me just get that out of the way in case I wasn't clear in the past. But what was particularly brilliant was something I just realized in conjunction with a blog post and article I commented on @ Rhett Smith's blog about technology as a powerful practice. He's talking, and quoting a friend of his in regard to the idea that technology must be navigated in some way - and we have to essentially decide how we (as people of faith, and the church institutionally) will navigate it. Will we be consumers? Will we be abstainers? Will we find another way?

As I reflected on this, I realized that there's a great parable of this in Monday's episode of Heroes. If you're not up on your Heroes and don't want to know, don't read on... Peter has traveled back with his future self to 4yrs in the future - where future Peter (complete with a huge scar and an even more pronounced lip sneer), is shot by Claire the former cheerleader, who is potentially equal parts hero and villain - the future is murky on that. Anyway, dying breath future Peter - "you need Sylar's power..." - sends Peter to the domesticated Sylar's home, where he figures out how everything works - Sylar's unique power - which enables him, once Sylar cuts off people's skulls, to figure out how their brains work and unique powers then duplicate them in himself. However, Sylar warns Peter that this power comes with a price...the Hunger.

It's classic Prometheus, stealing fire from the God's and giving it to humanity. But in addition to this, he took away the knowledge of their end. In the ancient myth, humans were born knowing their expiration date. Prometheus, along with giving them fire (technology), removed the knowledge of their limitations and created a hunger, that continues today.

What we see in Sylar & Peter are humanity's options for dealing with that hunger. Sylar grew up "knowing" he was special - but not understanding it. Then he killed his "mom" and tinkered around with some brains and voila, he's figured out new powers and continues to hunger for more. But then, somewhere between the present and 4 yrs in the future, he learns to control his hunger and settles down with a child of his own - who he names after the man who'd been his nemesis - horn-rimmed-glasses Noah. You can either give in to the hunger (Sylar as the monster villian, killing everyone with a power in order to learn it and obtain it for himself - which sounds an awful lot like multi-national corporations eating up the competition). Or you can control it, subdue it and hide it away in a corner somewhere as you find another reason to live (the domesticated Sylar making pancakes for his son). The problem with the latter of course is that the potential is always there for catastrophe - which is how Sylar ends up exploding and killing 200,000 people in "Costa Verde."

But then Peter gains this hunger - and he comes face-to-face with present-day Sylar, before he is domesticated, and is told "you're just like me" - right after he's found himself nearly killing his brother because of the hunger. And Peter, who seems more and more to be the protagonist of the story, the "everyman" - realizes that he needs to discover an alternate way. He can't become the monster Sylar is/was and he can't simply pretend his powers aren't there (he needs to save the world...) - he needs to use these powers to bring about good, recognizing the potential is there for evil at every turn.

In a nutshell, that's humanity & technology and particularly Christians and technology. We recognize the power inherent in technology - and how it's hunger when unrestrained, can prove devastatingly costly. But we also recognize that it is a power that can or at least has the potential to be used for good. And we, like "Peter?" are stuck trying to figure out how we're supposed to do that...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Date Night

As I tweeted a couple days ago, Bridgette & I got the opportunity to, as our babysitters said, "be adults" on Friday night. These babysitters just happened to be our co-pastors at Liberty, John & Becky Hart. It was a wonderful opportunity for Bridgette & I to get away and, in a small way, do a few things that just don't happen when you've got a young child, let alone two. Our little "date" included a trip to a couple of Bridgette's favourite places on earth. First, it was Barnes & Noble, and particularly, the 'Bux inside. All of the sudden, Bridgette has become addicted to that little black beverage. Not that she has it every day. As a nursing mom, it's acceptable but only in moderation. But she wants it everyday - and usually in that $4-a-pop, iced-blended, frappuccino kind of way. So, off we went to B&N & the 'Bux to enjoy a drink and browse some books. The amazing thing - we NEVER hit the kids section. Not even just to peak. We looked at adult books! Not the "adult" books that require you to be 18 to read, the adult books that would simply bore a 2.5 yr old because there's no pictures. We hit the bargain bins and looked at some classics. We hit the fantasy section where Bridgette perused her Star Wars books and I looked for Katherine Kurtz, who I fell in love with when I was in JH.

After an hour or so we sauntered on over (as much as you can in a car) to the Cheesecake Factory - where we were greeted with the news that at 8:30pm, a table for two could be 15-25min. I was slightly pessimistic about our chances of waiting less than 30 minutes, but I was happily proved wrong. We then had the opportunity to enjoy some delicious dessert, which I augmented with a little Remy Martin, my first ever experience of Cognac. Which I have to admit, proved not to be my specific style. But we had a great chance to sit and talk about the kind of stuff we don't sit and talk about a lot in our family room, amid the clutter of toys and dishes and laundry. And for that reason alone, we were EXTREMELY thankful for the gift of our pastors. In the end, this was an amazing example of servant leadership - and if they can be servant leaders, it makes it a lot easier for me to do it too...

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Book Review - an inside look @ the church

I recently completed Susan Howatch's Absolute Truths, the sixth and final installment in her Church of England series, focusing on a fictional parish named Starbridge in the English countryside and in particular the lives of a couple of bishops, a dean, a formerly cloistered monk and others whose lives weave through each other. I first read the opening book in the series Glittering Images, during my first year at Princeton Seminary as part of my unofficial field education/mentoring with a former pastor in NJ, now serving in Texas. It was a great book and it was so moving that I jumped on the rest of the series, reading all that the Princeton public library had and then ordering the entire series online when I couldn't get any more at the library.

What Howatch does in each one of these books, is to take the theology and writings of a real member of the Church of England and infuse these into the mind and heart of a fictional character in this fictional parish. Then, she weaves a story of catastrophe-examination-redemption that is powerful on both a psychological and spiritual level. This last book in the series, coming full circle to deal with the "hero" from the first novel, now bishop of Starbridge, is no different. What makes these books so powerful is not simply the excellent story-telling, but the way in which it holds a mirror up and helps us examine ourselves. I think these books are particularly helpful for minsters and clergy, especially those of us who have what might be considered a slightly too exalted view of ministers and ministry. I think the following quote from the very first chapter sums it up pretty well:

“God stood by and watched me for some time. Then in 1965 he saw the chance to act, and seizing me by the scruff of the neck he began to shake me loose from the suffocating folds of my self-satisfaction, my arrogance and my pride.”

This book and this series is the kind of thing that should be required reading for all future ministers. But whether you're in church ministry or not, this book and this series is both worthy of a read and intoxicating enough to hold your attention through all it's 600 plus pages...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sports disappoint

I have to give a little credit to my friend Jeff, and his recent post which prompted me to write about this.

I think I've mentioned my wrestling with sports on this blog in the past. It's a love-hate relationship. Except for the Red Wings - all of my favourite sports teams have disappointed me more often than not. It probably began in 1988, when I fell in love with the Boomer Esiason-Ickey Woods Bengals, who lost with only seconds to go in the Super Bowl to Joe Montana's 49ers. Since then, only the Pistons & Red Wings have come through with a championship out of all of my favourite teams. And on a number of occasions, my teams have faltered on the big stage - '08, '07, '06, '05 Pistons, '06 & '08 Tigers, '07 Bears, '07 Wolverines (football), '05 Bengals - just naming the few that were good & blew up for no apparent reason. And then there's the string of ugliness that I've endured with some teams (Bengals except for '05, Tigers except for '06...) And as I reflect on these disappointments and all of the angst and frustration I've felt over these teams, I can honestly see how amazing it is to be so wrapped up and so utterly effected both physically and emotionally by these teams. Which is kinda crazy, 'cause they're the ones making all the money & putting their bodies in the line. I'm just sitting at home watching.

Well, here's what I read this morning:

1) Psalm 146:3ff
"do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, [sports franchises, coaches & athletes] in whom there is no help...Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God.

2) Hosea 2:16-17
"On that day, says the LORD, you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Baal.' For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more."

The first one is obvious, right? Where is my hope/joy/excitement? If it's in the wrong place, I'll fail. There's only 1 right place and that's the LORD. Interestingly enough, this ties in perfectly with Hosea. Because Baal literally means "Lord" - that is the same language that the Canaanites used to describe their God. So, it's literally saying "You will no longer call me 'my Lord' - you will call me 'My husband' - because I'll remove that kind of talk from your lips." There is indeed no other Lord than THE LORD and yet we all create Lords for ourselves, don't we? I certainly do. I certainly bow my head and my knee and give these things authority over me (over my emotions, over my actions...) But God doesn't want a Lord-subject relationship. God desires an intimate relationship like that of a marriage, where each person is moving towards the same thing, not where one is taking from the other or demanding something of the other. The truth is, it's only in this kind of relationship, with God, that we will be truly fulfilled. And every time I sit in front of the TV and cringe at what's going on on the field (or court or ice) by whatever team I've bowed my knee to at that moment, I'm quite sure that I can only be fulfilled in God...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Final Interview

(imagine interviewing at THIS desk! Bridgette would be thrilled.)

Ok, here's the home stretch, the final 2 questions are really the opportunity for the interviewee to shine:

11) What about our church makes you want this position? Why would we want to hire you?
In one sense, here's the opportunity to butter them up. You say nice things about the church (organization, etc) and you get brownie points. But the truth is, this is more about whether you see them the way they see themselves - do you paint an accurate portrait, or are you naive about who they are? And do you get whether you're a good match or not? Because you could just as easily say - "I want to come here because you don't have X, and X is my passion, and I think you need X - which is why I believe you want to hire me" - as you can say "I love Y, you're great at Y, and so we're such a great fit." This is as much a chance to sell yourself as any other question, if not more. They'll want to hire you more if you actually bring something to the table.

Now, as an interviewee, whether I'm asked this question or not, I'm going to turn the tables and ask them the same question about me. "Why are you interviewing me? What in my resume (PIF for Presby pastors) struck you that said I could be a good fit for this position? Why would you want to hire me?" I will ALWAYS ask this question because it gives me a clear understanding of what they're expecting. Are they expecting a saviour? Are they expecting a team player? Are they expecting someone to rock the boat? Are they simply enamored with a hobby of mine? Do they really know me? And if you're in a late stage interview, a final candidate, you better pray they know you, or you could be in for some trouble when they find out who you really are.

12) What is the single greatest issue/need in our culture today? What is the single greatest issue/need in the Church (overall) today?
Finally, this question gets right to the heart of what you'll be doing. What you believe should directly and deeply impact what you do. If you think the greatest issue in the culture is permissive morals and that the church has lost its fervor for holiness, you'll probably spent time preaching and teaching on this, and you probably won't be drawn to throw vast amounts of energy into ministering to the poor, caring for the sick, etc. On the other hand, if you view justice, or a lack thereof as the single greatest issue/need in our culture and the Church's idol of nationality (driving it into war instead of peace) as #1, then you may not fit in well where you're asked to pray "for the troops" in worship each month, sing patriot songs and shake hands with veterans. Personally, I think the church needs the prophetic witness as much as the compassionate shepherd, but each of us is wired differently, and each situation is unique. If your view of culture & church fits the context of where you're looking, great. If not, it's good to recognize during (or shortly after) an interview, but before you're stuck in a situation that doesn't fit.

I hope this has been interesting reading. As I've reflected on these questions I've continued to go back and forth about whether the interviewer or interviewee is actually gaining the information. And truth be told, I believe it's both. It's like dating. And both people need to figure out if the dating continues toward a permanent (or semi-permanent) relationship or not. If you're serious about it, I believe you'll recognize that honesty and clarity are way more important than simply "getting the job" - whether you're in ministry or secular employment. And clarity takes time and effort. Speaking of effort...

1) Tell me about what you’re doing now – what do you enjoy & dislike? Why do you want/did you leave? (What have you been doing since you left?) What lead you there in the first place & how has that experience informed your view of ministry?

2) How was the transition from volunteer to staff/minster?

3) What has been your greatest struggle in ministry so far?

4) Tell me about your faith journey? What are the 3 most significant moments in your walk with Christ? Who are the 3 most significant people who have shaped you & your understanding of your call to ministry?

5) Tell me about your family? Growing up?

6) Tell me about your support network? Friends?

7) What are your hobbies & interests? How do you keep balanced? What do you do when not involved in ministry? (What did you do when you worked at __________ - away from the church?)

8) What would others say is your greatest strength in ministry? Weakness?

9) How do you apply your degree to ministry?

10) Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Interviewing - practically speaking

Interviews are about so much, yesterday I looked at the groundwork questions about family, friends and hobbies, which get to whether you're a healthy person. Now we turn to some practical questions:

8) What would others say is your greatest strength in ministry? Weakness?
It may be that you don't get asked this question, you just get #3, your greatest struggle. But I think it's important to look at this from both perspectives, yours and other people. Because you could view yourself as highly competent in an area, but others view you as suspect. And they're going to want to know that. Heck, you need to know that. You need to recognize that how other people view you is as much reality as how you view your own strengths and weaknesses. In this way, you can show humility by sharing what others have seen as your strengths - but admit that you find yourself still growing in those areas. They'd LOVE to hear that.

9) How do you apply your degree to ministry?
This is a particularly pertinent question if your education doesn't exactly match your "profession" and ministry lends itself to that. I've seen people with varying BA's (and BS's too) go into ministry - finance, history, philosophy, psychology, biology. And sometimes you could be tempted to say "I was a different person, I didn't realize I was called to ministry" etc, but the truth is, what you learned in College & University has a huge impact on who you are and what you do, whether you recognize it or now. You are now an expert in a certain field, or at least more knowledgeable than most and simply "chucking it" isn't good. So, figure out how you apply what you know (or knew) to what you do, and articulate it.

10) Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
This question comes up 99% of the time and the other 1% were going to ask it but you answered it already in some other way. This question gets at a few things, first: If we hire you, can we expect that you'll be around for awhile, or are we going to have to do this next year? Second, it gives them a glimpse into how you view the big picture: Do you have a plan beyond next week/month? Do you have vision for these people, this context and this ministry? Third, it subtly asks, once again: are you healthy (and realistic)? If your 5 year plan doesn't include anything about yourself (growth, maturity, personal future) it might be a red flag. If your 5 year plan is ONLY about yourself, you can make it sound like this position is simply a stepping stone to something else. And (almost) no one wants to hear that when they're interviewing you for their position...

1) Tell me about what you’re doing now – what do you enjoy & dislike? Why do you want/did you leave? (What have you been doing since you left?) What lead you there in the first place & how has that experience informed your view of ministry?

2) How was the transition from volunteer to staff/minster?

3) What has been your greatest struggle in ministry so far?

4) Tell me about your faith journey? What are the 3 most significant moments in your walk with Christ? Who are the 3 most significant people who have shaped you & your understanding of your call to ministry?

5) Tell me about your family? Growing up?

6) Tell me about your support network? Friends?

7) What are your hobbies & interests? How do you keep balanced? What do you do when not involved in ministry? (What did you do when you worked at __________ - away from the church?)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Interviewing - the groundwork

Continuing on we'll turn to the questions that really are the groundwork for who you are and how you function, not only as someone in a position of leadership in the church, but as a person in the world:

5) Tell me about your family? Growing up?
This is one of those can't lose questions. If you grew up in a healthy intact family (the 5 or so left in N. America), you talk about how you were nurtured and and supported and how that provided you with a safety net so you could take the kind of chances and risks that has made you a cut above. If you grew up in a dysfunctional and broken home where you had to fight tooth and nail to survive, you talk about how God lead you through that and how that has enabled you to relate to troubled kids/youth/adults and empathize with them in their struggles. But what this question is really getting at is this: Have you come to terms with your family and your childhood or are you still there? Better yet, is it lurking in the recesses of your mind waiting to pop out when you hit your first hurdle?

6) Tell me about your support network? Friends?
This question combines with the next one to ask: "Are you healthy?" What they want to know is this: are you going to bring all of your personal & professional struggles to "work" or do you have a sounding board? Do you know how to have healthy relationships, find support when you need it and support others when they're struggling? If you're going to work in the church, you're supposed to know something about being the church and being in relationship with others. In this day and age with PDA's, e-mail, cell phones, IM and everything else, there's no excuse to be alone - not even when you move somewhere completely new. So, if you have no friends & no support network, that screams that you're not ready.

7) What are your hobbies & interests? How do you keep balanced? What do you do when not involved in ministry? (What did you do when you worked at __________ - away from the church?)
Are you healthy #2 is about a well-rounded life more than relationships. If you're always putting energy into your "work," even if that work is "kingdom" work, and finding no way to relax, no time to kick back and enjoy something other than constantly e-mailing about room reservations, meetings and budget crises, how will you ever relate to the world you're supposed to be serving? If you're, for lack of a better expression, a "church rat," how will you talk to the gamer or the armchair quarterback or the quilter? Not to say that you need to relate to them all equally, but if you have no outside interests, you'll seem boring and no one wants to hang out with a boring person, plain and simple. Now, the flip side of this (and I love doing the flip side) is this also gives a chance for the interviewer to assess the health of your outside hobbies & interests. If bar-hopping, internet chat rooms, off-track betting, pyramid schemes and pornography round out your top 5 interests and hobbies... well, do I need to say anything? This doesn't mean you need to have boring hobbies or exciting hobbies, just healthy hobbies...

1) Tell me about what you’re doing now – what do you enjoy & dislike? Why do you want/did you leave? (What have you been doing since you left?) What lead you there in the first place & how has that experience informed your view of ministry?

2) How was the transition from volunteer to staff/minster?

3) What has been your greatest struggle in ministry so far?

4) Tell me about your faith journey? What are the 3 most significant moments in your walk with Christ? Who are the 3 most significant people who have shaped you & your understanding of your call to ministry?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Interviewing - round 2

Picking up where I left off, I'm going through 12 questions that are important in a job interview, geared toward those in ministry, and why you should look at them. So this series doesn't take a whole year, I'll tackle the next 3 questions quickly:

2) How was the transition from volunteer to staff/minster?
Transition is huge. And even bigger is how a transition affects the way you view yourself and your relationship to others. You may or may not have ever transitioned from being a volunteer to being a staff person or minister, but chances are you got your feet wet as a volunteer. What's important to recognize in this transition is that you now have more responsibility - you can't just not show up, you can't flake out, you can't make spelling mistakes or typos in published materials, because now, the buck stops with you. You're no longer "just" a volunteer, you are now THE (wo)/man. If you don't show that you get that, you'll be hard pressed to impress. On the flip side, if you take on an attitude that says you're now better than volunteers, you're equally in trouble. Leadership in the Church is about serving, not about position and authority. Make sure you reflect that.

3) What has been your greatest struggle in ministry so far?
This is tricky. Inevitably, you'll be asked this, or some form of this whenever you interview. And it's important to note this is an INTERVIEW. That doesn't mean you are not honest, you NEED to be honest. But it's a reminder, this is not a confession session. We all have sin in our lives that we need to own up to. If you don't have a healthy place for that (we'll get to that later), don't bother going through with the interview. But your potential boss is probably not the one you should be going to with this. But you can't give some throwaway line. Let them know what to expect because it will come as a greater shock if they thought your biggest struggle was spelling and it turns out you are afraid to talk to people. Answer this question as a way to prepare them to help you succeed. Essentially, pretend they ask "How can we assist you, in your areas of weakness, to be the biggest success at this position?"

4) Tell me about your faith journey? What are the 3 most significant moments in your walk with Christ? Who are the 3 most significant people who have shaped you & your understanding of your call to ministry?
The language of "faith journey" is translatable to "life story" or "testimony" (provided you include details beyond that 30 second prayer you prayed in 3rd grade @ VBS). How you understand your relationship with Christ, how Christ is weaved through your life to this point, how you've recognized God's hand is huge. If you can't recognize it in your own life, you'll be hard pressed to recognize it in others, or even care to ask. Even if they don't ask you about moments & mentors, this is an excellent way to relay the story. Significant moments act like place-markers on a map, for us and for others. People are significant to recognize because there are people who affect us positively and negatively and hearing this signals to someone how you could perceive their interaction with you. Does this person receive criticism well? Can they be corrected? Do they make friends? Is your call to ministry (desire to be here) all in your head, or do you take counsel from others? Do they play well with people? - These are the kinds of questions that you answer when you talk about your faith journey and the moments and mentors that shaped it...

1) Tell me about what you’re doing now – what do you enjoy & dislike? Why do you want/did you leave? (What have you been doing since you left?) What lead you there in the first place & how has that experience informed your view of ministry?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My new crack pipe...

I've been slightly AWOL for various reasons lately, not the least of which is that I've been out, running around the last couple weeks. While that won't change, my "connectedness" may, now that I've found a new friend. Of course, it may not be that long before I discover my new friend isn't quite as helpful as I had hoped. But, with GPS, e-mail & the ability to play movies for my son while we drive... I think this could be a relationship I definitely benefit from. Tomorrow, I'm going to go back to the series I begun on interview questions. In the meantime, I'm trying to catch up on stuff in preparation for one crazy weekend. And trying to figure out how this awesome piece of technology sucks battery life like my 2 month old after waking up in the morning...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Interviewing - first questions

A few weeks ago, a friend and former colleague contacted me, asking me to look over his resume and come up with some questions that he might get asked when interviewed. After looking it over, I came up with 16 questions that I would want to ask, had he been interviewing with me. A few weeks later, he contacted me to thank me and said every question I mentioned was asked in some form or another and no question was asked that wasn't on the list. While I'm sure it was a bit of hyperbole, I thought maybe those questions might be a good thing to reflect on. So, I did a bit of editing and paired those down to 12 questions and I'm going to take them one at a time over the next little while. Here's the first question:

1) Tell me about what you’re doing now – what do you enjoy & dislike? Why do you want/did you leave? (What have you been doing since you left?) What lead you there in the first place & how has that experience informed your view of ministry?

Your past, particularly your recent past is a huge issue when looking at something new. What this question is asking, partly, is whether you're a good fit. Are you going to stick around for awhile? Are you just looking for the next best offer? Are you the type of person who can fit into our structure? Are you a team player? And do your talents and passions mesh with what we're going to ask you to do - and are you smart enough to recognize that?

Those are the questions that are being answered when the above questions about your recent history are asked. Whether you're talking corporate America or the church, if you have a history of "fitting in" and recognizing that, than that bodes well for your next situation. No matter what, there is an established system/hierarchy, or shall we say - organic soil, that you need to plant yourself in. And if you can't fit in with it, can't mesh with it, then there's really no need to continue any further...

Here are the rest of the questions I'll tackle in turn:

2) How was the transition from volunteer to staff/minster?
3) What has been your greatest struggle in ministry so far?
4) Tell me about your faith journey? What are the 3 most significant moments in your walk with Christ? Who are the 3 most significant people who have shaped you & your understanding of your call to ministry?
5) Tell me about your family? Growing up?
6) Tell me about your support network? Friends?
7) What are your hobbies & interests? How do you keep balanced? What do you do when not involved in ministry? (What did you do when you worked at __________ - away from the church?)
8) What would others say is your greatest strength in ministry? Weakness?
9) How do you apply your degree to ministry?
10) Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
11) What about our church makes you want this position? Why would we want to hire you?
12) What is the single greatest issue/need in our culture today? What is the single greatest issue/need in the Church (overall) today?

Friday, September 05, 2008

I'm walking!

CWS CROP Hunger Walk banner
In exactly 1 month, I'm going to be taking a walk. I'll be one of hundreds in Delaware, one of thousands in Ohio and one of hundreds of thousands if not millions walking to raise awareness and money for local and global poverty. It's really simple - and something I actually hated to do as a kid. It involves asking people for money - they make pledges to you to walk. That money goes to the Organization - Church World Service and 75% goes overseas and 25% goes to a local program, in our case, it's called "People In Need" out of Delaware, Ohio.

I invite you to do one of two things. First, check out the organization, especially if you're not familiar. I first heard about it while I was in seminary back in NJ, but they've been around for decades, I just missed them.

Second, I invite you to support me - not me, but those who I'm walking for both locally and abroad. It can be done easily, online actually. Click on the picture or the link on the right and in a couple minutes, you could be helping the hungry. Feel free to give as little ($1) or as much ($???) as you want. But I hope you will seriously and prayerfully consider it. Even if it's just a dollar or two...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I've been tagged... again

Right after I returned from Honduras and before I left for vacation & study leave, I got tagged into this little game called Presbymeme II, begun by the illustrious moderator of our great denomination. Since I'm way behind the times on it, I figure I should probably answer the questions. If you'd like to play along, go ahead.

The Questions // Presbymeme II //

1. What is your favorite faith-based hymn, song or chorus.
That's a toughy right now. But I'm probably going to have to go with what my 2 and a half year old son can't get enough of - I Saw the Light, originally by Hank Williams Sr, but redone by the David Crowder Band. It's so hilarious and awesome to hear Brennan say "praise the Lord - I saw the light!"
2. What was the context, content and/or topic of the last sermon that truly touched, convicted, inspired, challenged, comforted and/or otherwise moved you?
I'll say this: a few months back, when we were talking about raising money to build classrooms for our kids, John said this "All of our dreams for Liberty will always be too small, given the goodness and faithfulness of God." I liked that quote so much, I used it in my sermon the following week.
3. If you could have all Presbyterians read just one of your previous posts, what would it be and why?
Well, I was moved so much by the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight that I wrote a 4 part post on it, that began here. Based on the inspiration behind it, that's probably the best posting I've done in a long time. And I really think that God is out there - if we can just have eyes to see...
4. What are three PC(USA) flavored blogs you read on a regular basis?
Here are 3 "flavored" PC(USA) blogs I read "regularly"
Wes Barry - Assoc Pastor @ First Pres Charlotte
Jeff Lee - Assoc Pastor @ Maple Valley Pres, WA (if he'd only start blogging again...)
Lars Rood - Youth Department Director Highland Park Pres, TX

5. If the PC(USA) were a movie, what would it be and why?
I'm torn here - but I'm going with Momento. Brilliant...we're on a mission, and we think we know what that mission is - but it seems like every day, we wake up having to relearn how to do almost everything. And when we get right down to it, we end up shooting our friends in the foot, even though they were trying to help us. And all along, the train rolls on - if only we could get past our anger, maybe we could be of use to Someone

I'm supposed to tag a few people, but at this point, I have the sense that everyone who thought this was a fun idea has already been tagged. So, I'll just tag the boys above - Lars, Jeff & Wes. You're it...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Hard work in Honduras

It seems like forever ago, but it was merely 18 days ago that I returned from my second trip down to Honduras with our church. This one was a little different - instead of doling out medicine and vitamins, we sanded and painted and did electrical work. "Finishing work" is what I liked to call it. Mainly because when you say "construction" people always think of building something. We did work to structures that were already there, and it was pretty cool.

One of the things that you quite quickly experience when in Honduras, or in any 2/3 world nation, is the disparity between what you have and what others have. Heck, I took more stuff down with me than many people I met there had at all. There seem to be 2 natural reactions. The first is to give everything away - when we went to one particular community (I'll share about later) that was definitely the response of many of us. The other reaction, of course, is to say something to the effect of "that's just the way it is" - and do nothing. I've seen that neither reaction is particularly healthy. In the first, the needs are so great that it would suck you dry. In the second... well, do I even need to say how cold and unlike Christ that response sounds?

The appropriate response, I think is to recognize what you are doing with what you have. What purpose is your wealth serving? Is it only serving your ease and pleasure? If so, it's probably polluting your soul. However, if you can use what you have as a tool to bless others - now you're on to something. While not in anywhere the same way I experienced this in Honduras, part of the vacation I'm just returning from is a testament of those with something, sharing with those without that something - and I can tell you, as one who was on the receiving end - it was a GREAT blessing...

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Not much to say. We're upstate in NY on vacation. That's why I haven't been posting in a few days. And that may be the reason why I don't post in another few days. We'll see...

Friday, August 22, 2008

Dark Brilliance - Part 4 "the Last Word"

Finishing this series on the Dark Knight, I have only a few things to say. I do believe it's a great example of the embodiment of truth, the truth of the gospel, the redemption of humanity - and in the final scene of the movie, I experienced it in a profound way. I experienced it not because it was clever, but because, at the heart of humanity, in the depths of our souls, the redemption of evil is the real story. But what to do with this experience?

Here, in this movie, whether intentional by the writers or director or not, I find a window... No, make that a doorway into the depths of the human situation and a doorway into our souls. The questions raised resonate through our lives and the fact that Batman embodies the greatest need, the story of redemption, provides an opportunity for us to ponder and to discuss issues of faith and issues of Jesus. Some of us Christians talk about evangelism, about sharing our faith with the world. The truth is, it's out there. The story is alive, living and breathing if we can have eyes to see and ears to hear it. Christ is not dead. What it requires of us is to recognize where God is, recognize those 10,000 places where Jesus is playing, and meet people there.

Seriously. If we've experienced Jesus, and we recognize him somewhere, doesn't the depths of our souls cry out to be, nothing less than a sign-post for others to meet Jesus there? And what does that take, being vulnerable? Sharing a little piece of our story? If truly, it is redemption that is at the heart of the story, redemption of evil and not the violent conquest of it, than the humble offering of our story, simply pointing to what we've experienced in Christ and where - that's the response called for. We don't need a crusade, we don't need to violently overthrow others who disagree. If redemption is the last word, than all our words in between need only be faithful to the inevitable - a penultimate note to the ultimate note which will come not from us, but in the redemption of humanity by Jesus himself.

I'm praying that I'll recognize and plug into those places where I can sing a few notes. For me, The Dark Knight is a catalyst and can be a springboard into the song. I'm curious what you think...

Part 1 - "Postmodern Story"
Part 2 - "the Truth"
Part 3 - "the Experience"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dark Brilliance - Part 3 "the Experience"

Picking up where I left of yesterday, I'm contending that redemption is the true overarching story, as opposed to the grand battle between good and evil and it is the movies and stories with this element that are those that grab us because they resonate with our souls. And it is not simply the the theoretical knowledge of the truth of this story, but the embodied existence of this story in a living, breathing person, that is required. Because, beyond the truth as mere theory, lies the lived truth of the redemption of evil. At this point, I'll turn squarely back to the Dark Knight.

My experience watching the film was probably pretty similar to most people. I was blown away by the action, the Joker was expertly portrayed by Heath Ledger, the storyline packed a lot in which left you twisting and turning until the final scene. And that's where I want to go, because that's what ultimately made the experience for me. *WARNING* If I didn't spoil the film for you yet, I certainly will now!

The film, literally, races to the final conclusion where Batman is forced to confront Gotham's White Knight, who unbeknown to the rest of the city, has become the maniacal Two Face. Batman had up until this point, put his faith in Harvey Dent to be the new face, the hero of Gotham and he's faced with what to do after that hero has fallen. And here is his answer to Lt. Gordon:

“You’ll hunt me, you’ll condemn me, you’ll send the dogs on me, because that’s what needs to happen, because sometimes truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more, sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.”

Instead of allowing the truth about Dent to come out, Batman takes the fall for him. He takes the rap for killing 5 people, including cops and Dent himself. But as he's delivering those lines, I began to shudder. hunt, condemn, send the dogs - another man flashed in my minds eye and he wasn't the caped crusader. that's what needs to happen... I could feel it in my gut now and my eyes welled up. Batman runs away now and left in the alley is Gordon and his son, whom Batman just saved from Dent. Gordon is greatful but torn by Batman's words and his son, James, is confused. He calls after Batman:

James - "Batman! Batman! Why's he running dad?"
Gordon - "Because we have to chase him..."
[I have a lump in my throat]
James - "But he didn't do anything wrong!" [the resemblance is uncanny]
Gordon - "It doesn't matter, son"
James - "Why dad, why?!"
[by now, the tears are running down my cheeks]
Gordon - “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now, so we’ll hunt him, because he can take it, because he’s, because he’s not a hero, he’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a dark night.”

By the end of this dialog and the montage playing in front of it, I've completely lost it. Hitting me in the gut, square between the eyes is the fact that this is exactly the same thing that Jesus did - and I'm experiencing the truth of it throughout my body. It's not just intellectual acknowledgment, silent assertion, it's an experience. "the one it needs right now...he can take it...he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector." Jesus is more than these things, but he is certainly not less. And there, right in front of me, blasting through my senses is this portrayal - in my own cultural language - of the redemption of humanity through the sacrifice of an undeserving man. Wow.

And Gordon was right, at the end. Humanity doesn't need a hero anymore than Gotham did. At least, not a conceptual hero - not a Harvey Dent, White Knight. It doesn't need someone merely to inspire hope, to simply inspire people to live better lives. No, Gotham, like all of us, needs someone who will get the job done - whether that means defeating villains or accepting the wrongs of others so as to free them...

Part 1 - "Postmodern Story"
Part 2 - "the Truth"

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dark Brilliance - Part 2 "the Truth"

Picking up where I left off previously, I'm contending that the great story, which resounds in our hearts and reverberates throughout creation is not the violent overthrow of evil by good, but the redemption of evil (individuals, communities, the world) by that which is good. If this is truly the story, it is actually a safe story, maybe the only safe story that exists. And if it is safe, than I contend that it is actually a viable option as a meta-narrative, that overarching story which our lives can be lead by. I recognize that this is a pretty big thing to say, and I'm sure that there are scholars of social theory and culture that would have a heyday with it, but that's not my concern at this time.

I want to leave that where it is for a moment and transition back to the Dark Knight via a quick comment on the Church's use, or misuse of film. There's a great article on my friends Lars & Rhett's new website Relevant Pew by a Jacob Youmans entitled Death of a Video Clip, all about how we need to stop using video clips in sermons, taking pieces of culture out of the whole, and instead infuse faith and Christ into those doors and windows that films leave open. Instead of extracting them as tools for our own use, we need to recognize what is already there and the invitation which is offered by them to have conversations and discussions in their midst. So, with that as a guide, I won't try to extract something out of this film but instead relay what I saw as the huge gaping door into a faith-filled discussion.

First, let me warn anyone who hasn't seen the movie, (seriously though, I think I was the last person on earth who hadn't already seen it) - *I'M GOING TO SPOIL THE MOVIE* - So if you want to see it, and haven't yet, don't read on until you've seen the movie.

With that out of the way, I have to critique some of the reviews that I've found perusing the internet on the movie. One such review, by Jonathan Dodson at Creation Project. While I enjoyed Dodson's faith-filled review, I thought he, and others miss a bit of the point when it comes to some of the dialog at the end, particularly references to truth. And this is actually more of a critique of what I find among a lot of us Christians when we look at culture and the world around us. Instead of looking at what exists, and seeing how it reflects the story, often we try to nitpick at those parts that don't fit. We're so scared that people will miss the point, come to the wrong conclusion, that we spent as much, if not more time clarifying the differences between what is out there in the culture, than those points of contact which resonate.

The line of dialog I'm referring to here comes from Bale's Batman. It's within the last few minutes of the film, where he says "sometimes truth isn’t good enough, sometimes people deserve more." Dodson, in his review, makes reference to the fact that Batman is sustained by the lie that Rachel would have married him, had she not died. While this is the case, I think the statement that Batman makes concerning truth is much greater than his simple experience with Rachel. It's not that people build their hopes and dreams on lies which are sometimes necessary. If concepts were enough to ward off evil, Batman's existence wouldn't be necessary. In fact, he could have just as easily retired and allowed the mystique of Batman to scare Gotham straight. But the lie, the lie that Batman was the villain that slew Harvey Dent, that Batman was the truly evil one, THAT lie only works in the presence of a real person, a real Batman. If the lie is all that is left, if Batman were actually caught and killed - it would not be the lie that redeems but the truth, the recognition that Batman had been the hero after all.

In the end, a conceptual truth is not enough. Batman is dead on. The idea of truth lives only as long as it is embodied in a real person. And that is the more that people need. People need their truth to be embodied - even if it's a lie. And while Batman as the villain is a lie, it is embodied in the actions of Batman (running away) and Gotham chasing him and, in this situation, it becomes the "more" than truth that is necessary. But just like the story, the embodiment of the lie in the person of the scapegoat is eventually redeemed by the sacrifice, and the truth that exists in it. Without the lie, there is no sacrifice and without the sacrifice, there is no redemption. In this way, the lie is a necessary component of the true story...

Part 1 - Dark Brilliance - "Postmodern Story"

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Dark Brilliance - "Postmodern Story" Part 1

Before I went to Honduras, Bridgette and I had the opportunity to go out on a little "date" - nearly 3 hrs of time for just the two of us. We decided to spend it with another 30 people or so watching the new Batman film, which by the time we saw it, wasn't all that new anymore. While most of the focus has been on Heath Ledger's brilliant performance as the Joker, I came away from the movie with some very different impressions searing my mind. While I agree that Ledger was amazing, it was the final scene, the final montage and overlaid dialog that hit me like a ton of bricks right in the gut. I literally lost it in the theatre, it was that moving. In light of that, I want to offer up some thoughts and reflections on both the movie and on popular culture's intersection with faith. Since it'll be too long for one post, I'll break it up into a couple, here goes:

I know one of the anthems of post-modernity is the fall of the meta-narrative - we've seen what an overarching story can do in the hands of men and women and how destructive it can be (Hitler & Nazism, Lenin/Stalin & Marxist Communism, Christians & the inquisition, ravaging of New World natives, slavery, etc). Humanity, for the most part, has recognized that there is danger in believing one single story can explain the world and subjugate others into a subservient position in that story. In popular culture, this has given rise to books and films that no longer follow a simply linear story line, complete with a climax and denouement. Instead, we've been given brilliant visions of life that doesn't resolve (Juno, 2008), and stories that are pieced together from multiple angles and perspectives (Pulp Fiction, 1994 and Momento, 2002), which leave you unsettled. And these have resonated with our postmodern culture because we recognize that life is messy, it is unresolved and the institutions and individuals that we trusted and put faith in (parents, schools, governments, churches), have at one time or another failed us.

With this said, over the last decade or so, I've proposed a thesis, unproven except by personal observation, that those stories which truly grab us, do have something in common. In fact, those "epic" movies that have lined the pocket books of so many movie industry people, have something very similar - they, in one way or another, tell the story which is already in our hearts - and the story that we long to hear. While some movies and stories tell us part of the story, relate to us the tragedy of our world, remind us of its broken and fragmentedness, distract us enough to laugh, they share but a small part of the story. But these greater stories, these "epics" are so because they come closest to showing us what we all long to see, what we all long to hear, the story that resonates within our very hearts and souls.

The caviat that I must throw out is that the story is ultimately not about conquest by force. While it may reside in stories with great battles (LOTR - Return of the King, 2003), it just as easily resides in stories that do not (the Green Mile, 1999), because, it is not about the violent triumph of good over evil. It is about the redemption of - individuals, communities, the world, the redemption of evil - which comes in quite unexpected ways...