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...