December 24, 2010

The Christmas Story


(via CMS)

Christmas Eve Welcome

This is one of those thoughts that just hits you while you are still half asleep... so I'm not sure how good it is, but if any of my pastor-type friends want to use it or adapt it, please do -

We come excited
We come exhausted,
Welcome to this place

We come hopeful
We come humble
Welcome to this place

We come with deepest longing
We come distracted
Welcome to this place

We come wondering
We come wrestling
Welcome to this place

We come compassionate
We come confused
Welcome to this place

We come joyful
We come just happy to have made it through another day
Welcome to this place

We come faithful
We come fearful
Welcome to this place

Welcome,
to one and all
to this place
where we can be who we are
confident that God meets us
as we are

Welcome to this night
Where angels sing
and shepherds seek
welcoming a King
born in Bethlehem, long ago
called Emmanuel:
 God-Is-With-Us
and Still Is With Us
Welcoming us
 receiving us
  redeeming us
even on this Holy Night

Welcome to this place

December 13, 2010

this week's round-up (december 12)

Another catch-up week, further delayed by yesterday's snowstorm:

The question every church must honestly answer: Do You Want to Get Well?

When it's raining, enjoy the rain - Joe Trippi's reflection on Elizabeth Edwards.

Making Membership Mean Something. (via CTG) I've struggled with this idea - do you go with the "high expectation" membership standards of Ginghamsburg and others with multi-week membership classes, or with the Resurrection model (2-3 hour introduction in one afternoon). (Note: Resurrection's membership is also "high expectation" they make very clear the expectation that membership is about responsibility, not privilege and members are expected to attend every week, give proportionally, engage in service and learning opportunities, they just present it in a different package - "belong before believe").

20 Questions for Reviewing 2010. I haven't sat down and answered these, but it is a great set of questions to really get you to think about the year and help clarify your values, accomplishments, and expectations.

Also from Levite Chronicles: I Hate Communication. Great reminder that the oft used phrase, "we need more communication" is fundamentally mis-communication for "we need more explanation", "we need more affirmation", "we need more persuasion", "we need more confession", etc.

On a slightly different tangent - Seth Godin writes how You Will Be Misunderstood. Also worth reading from Seth, Everyone and No One.

A must read for introverts and extroverts alike: Advent for the Intorvert.

What the mayo-moyle.com empire runs on: Why You Should Use Google Apps with a Personal Domain.

Jeremy Smith with more on the UMC Call to Action Report. I get his concerns, but so far I'm not too worried about them; I'd like to believe there is a way to maintain Methodist accountability while easing up on some of the administrative rules. I was speaking with a friend last week, who brought up a greater point of how does the Call to Action report speak to the UMC as a global church - the material is clearly focused on North American congregations; how might we learn from our sisters and brothers in regions where the church is dramatically growing (ie Africa), and might we use that to become a truly global connection, letting go of the traditional US hegemony*?

*Yeah, I was a debate nerd in high school, so from time-to-time I like to bust out words like hegemony.

Another one from my favorite hasidic reggae singer celebrating the miracle of the Maccabee revolt.


Admittedly I enjoy this way more than I probably should, but it's got to be done:



And for something a little more serious - Sufjan Stevens "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" (because it IS still advent).

November 30, 2010

this week's round-up (november 30)

Dan R. Dick on the Divided Methodist Church - this hurts to read, but in too many places he is speaking truth. Great quotes in there:
"We are not a “united” Methodist Church at the moment and focusing on program and structure when the relationships are damaged and the connection is broken promises nothing but disaster.  The problem is, were we to use our General Conference time to clarify what it means to be United Methodist in the 21st century, to reframe and clarify our theological task in contemporary culture, to codify and commit to our Social Principles, and to recover the missional/evangelical foundation that defined our heritage, it would draw a line in the sand and every living, breathing United Methodist would be forced to answer the key question: do I want to be a United Methodist or not.  And, being perfectly honest, we would probably lose a third to a half of our membership no matter which way we turn."
and
"We are not “one in Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”  We are a poster child of dysfunction and we tolerate egregious bad behavior.  We communicate poorly — both in content and style — and use information as a weapon more often than as a tool."
one more line that caught my attention
"We have been a service-provider church for so long that the concept of becoming a disciple-making church is overwhelming."
Be sure to check out the full article. A couple weeks ago I was in conversation with some colleagues about reclaiming the "radical center" in the church, the time for these political divisions has to come to an end so we can really move forward into building the church of today and tomorrow, instead of rehashing the bitter battles of the past century. The radical center isn't about more wishy-washy ambiguity around identity and direction, it's about drawing on the strengths of both camps - vital piety and social holiness, and moving ahead; offering grace to those who can't travel with us. (Of course it's a lot easier to throw these words up on this stupid little blog than to be in the position to make some of those hard decisions).

[I wrote those words above a couple weeks ago, I haven't quite changed my mind since then, but I do find myself feeling nervous about how this "radical center" I speak of will ultimately be understood and defined. There still needs to be room for debate and diversity... it just needs to be done in a better way. If the radical center ever becomes a call for homogeneity in thought or practice, I'd probably have to count myself as one who won't be able to move forward into this new future.]

I was back in Iowa this last week and saw a few articles from a series the Des Moines Register is doing on East High School. I was really struck by the comment by Ruth Ann Gaines that teacher morale is the lowest she's seen in nearly 40 years of teaching, as well as the numbers - 70% of students are on free or reduced lunch, the drop-out rate is around 29% and East has the highest numbers for student absenteeism in the city.  Back when I was there it was a somewhat "rough" school - I knew there were kids coming from difficult situations, and just making it to graduation was an accomplishment for them, but it never seemed as bad as what's being portrayed right now (my guess is the situation has gotten worse, but imagine I was also pretty blind to all that was happening even when I was there). I'm not sure what I can do from 600 miles away, but I've had the whole situation on my mind for the last couple days. There are a couple teachers still on staff from when I was a student there, and if nothing else I think I'll be sending them long-overdue thank you notes for their work.

I've posted this before, but it's worth watching again - Taylor Mali on "What Teachers Make" (warning: some objectionable language and a hand gesture).


Not much really stood out over the past couple weeks, just a couple of posts that caught my attention:

Jay Voorhees on Pastoral Accountability.

Seth Godin on When You Criticize My Choices.

I got hung-up trying to figure out a good song to put up this week... eventually went with Derek Webb, "This Too Shall Be Made Right" - seems like a good song that captures the anticipation of Advent - Luke 1:46-55

November 15, 2010

November 14, 2010

this week's round-up (november 14)

Reflecting on the United Methodist Call to Action report, Jay Voorhees asks, What is Congregational Vitality?

Donald Miller on The Joy of Getting Older. I love this last paragraph:
I wish I could go back and talk to myself when I was twenty. I’d say to myself “listen, don’t worry about the things you’ve been worrying about. Everything is going to work out great.” And I’d likely clarify with myself that “In the future I get everything I need?” And I’d say back to myself “No, you just realize you didn’t need it. And that’s even better.”
Seth Godin on Why We Prefer Live. I had the chance to hear Jim Walker (pastor of Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community) and he made the comment that we live in a world where with a click of a button we can hear great preaching any time of any day. While the church needs to use social media to reach new people, we also have to offer the very thing you can't get over the internet - face-to-face interactions, high-touch experiences, and the power that comes when people are gathered together in the same room.

I haven't played with this, but it looks interesting - RedNotebook which is a wiki/journaling program (unfortunately Windows and Linux only). Also, via Lifehacker, 10 Things to Know about Photography Law.

Tough look at Detroit from Mother Jones (contains some objectionable language).

November 17 is National Unfriend Day... I'd already been thinking about paring down my Facebook friends, maybe this will be the time to do it.


Build your own home for $5000. Seems like an interesting project, probably not in my future (especially if I want to stay married).

I picked up the latest Eels album last week and have been enjoying it, Tomorrow Morning is the name of it available at all the usual places.

November 7, 2010

this week's round-up (november 7)

Lifehacker has some thoughts on delegating.


Levite Chronicles has some good thoughts on giving gifts that have meaning to the recipient. The point is to offer gifts that will bring lasting memories, but I found myself wondering about those gifts that churches often provide to first time visitors as well - are they meaningful, do they create lasting impressions, or is it just a cheap, disposable, easily forgotten item, with little long-term value or association?


Donald Miller on The Fear of Doing - I love this line: "Perhaps we should not put our energy into criticism, we should accept the challenge to squash what we do not like by creating something better." Stop criticizing, start creating!


Kem Meyer on how the abundance of choice is wreaking havoc.


Seth Godin on Childish vs Child-like. Jesus calls us to be child-like, so why do we spend so much time in the church acting childish?




Leadership Network tells of how Darius Rucker writes 77 songs to get 12 good ones. How many ideas are we willing to work on and discard so that we might discover excellence? Are we willing do endure failure for future glory, or do we just give up, or settle for mediocrity before we get to the destination? 

Thinking about seminary?

October 30, 2010

Safe Halloween Tips

Practical advice from around third grade... and yeah, my spelling is just as poor back then as it is now.

October 26, 2010

UMC's Call to Action Report

I had a chance to read through the UMC Call to Action Report report today. I still need some time to digest it fully, but there is some really good stuff in there. For example:
"Objective examination of data, trends, and observations from UMC leaders led to identification of a creeping crisis of relevancy with an accompanying acute crisis of an underperforming economic model that are both linked to frailties in the UMC’s culture. These include the absence of common definitions for the meaning of our mission statement, lack of trust, low levels of mutual respect, the frequent absence of civil dialogue, insufficient clarity about the precise roles and responsibilities of leaders, and a lack of agreed ways to measure success or assure collaboration.
Thus we identify the need for:
• Recognition of the value and need for the Council of Bishops to exercise strong and courageous leadership, working in concert and fostering alignment throughout the Connection
• More clarity and understanding about the UMC’s mission, culture, and values
• Less perceived organizational “distance” between and among the foundational units of the church
• Better-defined leadership roles, responsibilities, and accountability; with greater clarity about outcomes
• More standardized management processes and reporting systems
• Streamlining of connectional structures to achieve effective governance, lowered costs, and higher levels of performance." (pg. 7)
There is a strong push for congregational vitality and pastoral effectiveness. In the report it says:
"Deciding what to measure as indicators of effectiveness is often debated, but the research is conclusive that we can stimulate vitality if at a minimum we join together to:
* increase the numbers of people participating in worship and small groups for prayer and study—starting and maintaining more programs for children and youth
* encourage spiritually devoted lay persons to share leadership roles in every facet of Church life
* offer multiple worship experiences and cultivate dynamic topical preaching
* improve pastoral effectiveness, including aspects of management and leadership
* provide longer clergy appointments where it is apparent that the gifts of the pastor fit the needs of the church and its community
* consistently cultivate incremental increases in financial giving and engagement in outreach, witness, and mission in local communities and the world.
The quality of clergy and lay leadership is essential for effectiveness, and we must retool our culture and systems of clergy recruitment, training, credentialing, and support with renewed emphasis on greater accountability for outcomes, giving appropriate, but much less, focus to intentions." (pg. 15)
And check out this prayer of confession:
 "O holy and merciful God, we confess that we have not always taken upon ourselves the yoke of obedience, nor been willing to seek and do your perfect will.
We have pursued self-interests and allowed institutional inertia to bind us in ways that constrain our witness and dilute our mission. We have been preoccupied more with defending treasured assumptions and theories, protecting our turf and prerogatives, and maintaining the status quo for beloved institutions than with loving you with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. And we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
You have called to us in the need of our sisters and brothers, and we have passed unheeding on our way.
May almighty God, who caused light to shine out of darkness, shine in our hearts, cleansing us from all our sins, and restoring us to the light of the knowledge of God’s glory, in the face of Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen." (pg. 17-18)
And this section on the call for leadership:
 "Leaders, beginning with the bishops and including lay and clergy across the Connection, must lead and immediately, repeatedly, and energetically make it plain that our current culture and practices are resulting in overall decline that is toxic and constricts our missional effectiveness.
Continued pursuit of the most prevalent of current approaches, structures, policies, and practices is likely to produce the same results with continued decline and decreasing mission impact.
Business as usual is unsustainable. Instead, dramatically different new behaviors, not incremental changes, are required.
The absence of strong, adaptive, decisive leadership will hasten the rate and magnitude of the well documented indicators of decline (baptisms, professions of faith, membership, attendance, funding for connectional ministries).
We need a cadre of mutually committed, collaborative, turnaround leaders that (1) make a compelling case for daring, disciplined, and sustained actions and (2) demonstrate strong leadership to vividly change what we emphasize, and de-emphasize many current treasured approaches and programs and forego familiar rhetoric that, though valued, does not lead to effectiveness in achieving different and desired outcomes.
Making this change requires leaders to forge strong coalitions, joining with willing partners who agree to disagree about lesser matters and setting aside many passionate causes in order to focus instead on overarching goals for the greater good. Choosing to continue behaviors that arise from narrow interests and subordinate objectives will lead to increased divisiveness and accelerate the current disintegration.
This calls for nothing less on the part of all who will lead than the kind of denial of self that Wesley placed at the heart of the sanctified life. “The ‘denying’ ourselves and the ‘taking up our cross’ . . . is absolutely, indispensably necessary, either to our becoming or continuing his disciples.” (Sermon 48, “Self-Denial,” emphasis added). But even more so, it requires us to follow Paul’s advice that by “having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other,” we might “adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:2, 5 CEB).
This is not a time for leaders who are ambivalent, reluctant, or unwilling to walk forward with humility and courage." (pg. 18-19, emphasis in original)
There is some brilliant stuff in there, hopefully this gets read, taken seriously, and put into action.

October 25, 2010

this week's round-up (october 24)

We Worship the god of Security.

North Ridge Church is for Liars. I actually saw one of these signs a couple weeks ago, and for about 2 seconds thought, "Wow! Someone really has it out for that church!" but then realized it was just a marketing campaign. I like the fact that it is provocative enough to capture the attention of people driving by, but I wonder about the metrics of how it actually translates to hits on the website, and new faces in worship on Sunday. I also wonder how far you go before "provocative" loses it's edge, and the message people take away if they never go to the website and don't get the underlying message (humor?) of the campaign.

Interesting (tech nerd) article on the 3G and 4G wireless standards, and why your cell phone carrier is probably lying to you.

Hugh MacLeod asks the question United Methodist's need to be asking every day:
(Hugh's stuff is really good, make sure you check it out... I haven't read his book Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity yet, but it's on my list).

Paul Hickernell reminds us that When Churches Keep Quiet: Others Fill the Void.


Seth Godin on the Deliberately Uninformed.

Anyone want to take me to Portland in January June, so we can go hang out with Don Miller?


Storyline Conference from shieldsfilms.com on Vimeo.

Don also suggests surrounding yourself with a few good life editors. (In a similar vein, Lifehacker says you are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself with).

Andrew Conrad on finding value in the connection.

Mike Slaughter chats with Alan Hirsch.

Fred Clark has a great piece on the context of John 14 and embracing grace.

I know I've thrown Matisyahu up here before, but it is (probably) the best Hasidic Jewish reggae music you'll hear all day.

October 17, 2010

this week's round-up (october 17)

Great thoughts by Donald Miller on How to Guide a Team Through Conflict.

Jay Voorhees asks some really good question in his posts on Is a Denomination a Brand or a Something Very Different and Is the UMC a Franchisor? The points he raises related to church identity are really important, and he articulates the problem is a way I never could have, although I think I've suspected the disjunction he points out. From the beginning of the "Rethink Church" campaign my fear has always been that we are projecting an image of the church that isn't what most people will find when they visit. I LOVE the image "Rethink Church" promotes, it casts a vision of where we should be, but many local congregations aren't quite there yet.

Furthermore, many United Methodist congregations (from my perspective) have a limited United Methodist identity of their own - "rethink" isn't even on their radar when they are still trying to understand things like apportionments and the value of UMC missions (like UMCOR and Wesley Foundations), as opposed to non-denominational or para-church counterparts (which can certainly be worthy causes, but lack the theological, administrative, or accountability ties that the denominational programs hold). So not only is the a lack of uniform experience, that Voorhees makes note of, I suspect there are a lot of people who don't even buy-in to some of the core principles within the denomination.

I think Jay is right when he says:
"The more I think about this the more I begin to get a sense that what we are is less of a national brand that is useful and worthwhile in helping persons to access our church, and more of an affiliation of multiple brands that are rooted at the local level. The general church nor the annual conference is not a franchisor in any traditional sense for there is really no attempt to enforce uniformity of experience, nor would we want to do so. For the most part we have tended to suggest that the diversity of experience in the UMC is in fact a virtue which allows many different types of people access to the throne room of God."
 But (as I'm processing this idea as I type it out), I think there is also a basic need for an internal marketing/education effort to take place so that people within the United Methodist Church can come to understand our identity and history, to see how the local connects with the connectional, which in some cases has been lacking.

I'll stop myself before delving too much more into that potential rant.

Seth Godin has some good stuff up this week: Heroes and Mentors being one that caught my attention. Also, check out Do You Need a Permit?

Leading Ideas has an important and insightful article by Chris Duckworth on the choices families make. Be sure to read the whole thing here, but to summarize his main point, Chris suggests that families that are faced with hard choices like soccer or Sunday School, are making the choices out of love, and while it is easy to criticize, sometimes we forget how stressed and overextended families are. Maybe the answer isn't to wag our finger and expect them to "come to us" but to do the Christ-like (and Wesleyan) thing and go to where the people are.

Not an issue for me, but it may be for some (especially if you use a Windows laptop) - avoid connecting to "Free Public WiFi". Also via Lifehacker this week, how handwriting can help your cognitive abilities; as much as I am drawn to the tech stuff, to me there is something powerful and important about using plain old pens/pencils and paper, especially when it comes to the creative or brainstorming type of work.
Ever wanted to make your own bacon? Here's how.

The Beautiful South have come up on my iPod is shuffle mode a few times in recent weeks, so I might as well throw them up on the blog as well.

October 11, 2010

this week's round-up (october 10)

Craig Groeshel on Generational Differences in the Church. I came upon this at an interesting time in that I'm starting to notice some slight hints of generational differences in the church I'm currently serving. Good advice for both ends of the spectrum in that we need more conversation and understanding to move into the future.

Google Apps for church use. Google Apps is what I use for my domain, blog, and e-mail; I've considered moving the church over to it as well - because of recent improvements in blogger I think it is possible to create a very simple, decent looking church website with it (I'm early in the process of tinkering with this, and may change my mind), the e-mail and calendar applications are easy to use. If you need a simple, low-cost solution it is definitely one to examine.

Cory Doctorow on The Real Cost of Free.

Douglas Coupland on A radical pessimist's guide to the next 10 years. Like it says, it's pretty pessimistic, but there are some hard truths in there to consider like "The future is going to happen no matter what we do. The future will feel even faster than it does now."

Seth Godin on demonstrating strength by risking the appearance of weakness.

Spreading the word offline by the Church of the Customer blog. I know we try to affirm the idea that every member of a church is a minister, I really like the idea of taking it a step further and giving everyone business cards that not only affirm this, but could be used to create memorable positive interactions with people outside the church.

David Crumm interviews Kenda Creasy Dean, author of Almost Christian. There's some good stuff in there, I especially liked David's question about how this new buzzword of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" might end up simply being used as a verbal weapon for Christians to continue to exclude, harass, and condemn each other.

Julie Clawson on Citizens or Neighbors? some good thoughts on that problems that arise when we focus on the letter of the law and forget the spirit of the law.

Fred Clark on Christine O'Donnell and why some evangelicals claim to have explored becoming a Hare Krishna even though they never did.

Just watch and enjoy.



Foxtrot cartoon on why blended isn't always better.

October 3, 2010

The B-52's- Don't Worry

One more music post - for the longest time I thought I was going insane remembering a song that didn't exist. One summer when I was working at Adventureland Amusement Park this song was on a 4-hour loop tape that played over the sound system. I was sure it was the B-52s (Fred's voice is pretty unforgettable), I never knew what album it was from, and while I never didn't a completely thorough search of their catalog, the few times I tried to figure out the song, I never could. Google & YouTube to the rescue! Turns out the song was removed after the first printing.

this week's round-up (october 3)

Of interest this week:

Chuck DeGroat on a Rant Against Change. It's worth reading, especially for bits like this:
Now, here’s the deal.  Families (=churches) are difficult.  They are, more often than not, dysfunctional.  Some families  are so dysfunctional that it would be a sin not to leave.  You leave abusive families.  But, you stay and honestly engage in the rest.  It may be difficult, but your own growth depends on it.
(via Scot McKnight)

Shareable's list of recommended books.

The Eternally-Focused Church.

Kem Meyer on Changing Your M.O. for Better Results and Important Skills for Tech Stewards.

Donald Miller on Don't Ask, Don't Tell the Church. (And though I was sad to have missed his recent Storyline conference, the good news is that he is offering it again in January).

Turns out David Byrne (great musician, ex-Talking Heads) was in town this week - (I knew I should have gone on that bike ride in Detroit!! Meeting/biking with Byrne would have nerd pleasure overload). Anyway he writes about his experience of the D here. Unfortunately Byrne's take has a few too many image of ruin porn, and doesn't have quite the same optimism of "Detroit Lives" videos celebrating what's right instead of rehashing what the city is up against.

Brandon Cox on Repurposing Content for Maximum Impact. Great reminder not only of the many avenues churches can use to reach people through social media, but a good reminder that you don't have to reprint entire sermons or full worship services - sometimes smaller "bites" can attract, entice, and move people.

The Daily Green reminds of the importance of local libraries with the reminder that they are a great way to save for people on a budget. Again, because I'm a big nerd, I LOVE libraries, and my current local one is especially awesome with a great selection of books + music and DVDs (including complete series of Dr. Who, Red Dwarf and even Sledge Hammer!!)

Taylor Burton-Edwards on United Methodist Metrics for Discipleship and Mission tough questions, but good ones.

Eugene Cho on the Questions about President Obama's Faith.

Jay Vorhees apparently shares my concern that Glee (so far) isn't as good as it was last year.

I was preaching on the parable of the Good Samaritan and stumbled upon this song which was especially appropriate for the week.


I've been in a very musical mood this week, so let's also give some love to a band I've just discovered from Detroit - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

September 26, 2010

this week's round-up (september 26)

Ron Edmonson on 10 Random Things to Know about Pastors. They are all really good, but I especially appreciate:
Even though I’m teaching it…I may not yet have mastered it…but I’m working on it…
I get nervous every time I start to preach…sometimes sick to my stomach nervous…
Your story probably doesn’t surprise me anymore…but I am never callous towards it…
To my family I’m not a pastor…just a husband and dad…
If you tell me something on Sunday morning…you probably should back it up with an email to remind me…

  • Maps of Racial/Ethnic Populations in U.S. Cities. Check out the depiction of Detroit, based on racial/ethnic identification from the 2000 census (can you guess where 8-Mile is?) (Red = Caucasian, Blue = African American, Green = Asian, Orange = Hispanic, Grey = Other each dot represents 25 people). [Original image here].



  • Race and ethnicity: Detroit

    Great site to find local recycling centers.

    Seth Godin reminds us that the current recession is rooted in a much larger cultural shift. He also has some thoughts on risk-taking, noting:

    The problem with putting it all on the line...
    is that it might not work out.
    The problem with not putting it all on the line is that it will never (ever) change things for the better.
    Not much of a choice, I think. No risk, no art. No art, no reward.
    There's a really important message for the church in there. 

    Jeremy Smith has some thoughts on Why Every Church Needs Video Engagement. He's probably right, but I notice feelings of resistance within myself that I can't quite pinpoint - I think the first main reason is that I'd hate to do video (streaming or podcasts) so poorly that they would be a deterrent to reaching new people and populations (but that's probably just the perfectionist in me). The second is that I'm still nervous about the idea of a purely "virtual" church where a person's interaction is only (or primarily) through a computer screen. I say that knowing the irony is that I tend to be tech-obsessed, and would much rather send a e-mail than call someone. Jeremy isn't even suggesting the virtual church, he's just recommending another tool, but I fear how that tool might be misused in the future, in a way that reduces the incarnational aspect that is vital to ministry.

    Check out Don Miller's post on humility.

    I was having a conversation with a clergy friend last night, who was recounting a conversation he recently had about the future on the United Methodist Church. The person my friend was talking to suggested that people my age probably wouldn't retire from the UMC. Many of the local churches will still be there, but the institutional structure will have collapsed under it's own weight by then and something new (probably more regional in nature) will have replaced it. I find that difficult to think about - on one hand I think what will come out on the other side will be exciting and a healthier institution, but I know it's going to be a long painful process to get there, and unfortunately this change isn't going to come proactively, but as a result of crisis. Then, on my way to church this morning, I listened to this sermon by Adam Hamilton and realized that as long as we carry forward the missional DNA from our Wesleyan roots, we're going to be okay, even if "the institution" radically changes (or goes away completely).

    (Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of mentioning my concerns about churches using video in the same post where I link to a video of a sermon, AND where Hamilton suggests that this might be part of the future model of church. I'm not really anti-video streaming, I just want it to be done well (which COR does) and I think we need to be asking questions about how the incarnational piece is maintained in a virtual setting (which COR is also considering)).

    Music this week from Belle and Sebastian - their new album (Write About Love) comes out October 12.





      September 23, 2010

      have hope

       a few friends are going through a rough week, and with this pastor as minor poet retreat coming up i'm trying to get back into writing... so here's something i came up with this evening - it's rough and not quite my usual style...

      to those
         who are feeling
            wiped out
            washed up
            without a clue of what to do
      to those
         who are feeling
            fearful
            forgotten
            freaked out and full of doubt
      to those
         who know not what tomorrow brings
         who can find no comforts in the little things
         who are left feeling tired and used
         who can go no further being abused
         who just don't know where to turn
         who hold that anger that always burns
      have hope
         that in the dark
            a new day dawns
         that in the cross
            a resurrection song
      have hope
         that fire may burn
            but not consume
         that waters may rise
            but not entomb
      have hope
         that
            love
               still
                  wins

      September 19, 2010

      this week's round-up (september 19)

      Shane Claiborne offers an important reminder about humility and Terry Jones' decision not to burn the Quran.

      Be Unreasonable!

      Bike Maintenance for Beginners.

      Great article at Ragamuffin Soul about being intentional about spending time outside the office. (Thanks to Paul Thomas for the tip!)

      A couple good ones from Seth Godin this week on Self-delusion and Self-loathing and on Marketing and Responsibility.

      Interesting ministry idea: Positive Picketing!

      Scot McKnight gives a thumbs-up to the book by Efrem Smith Jump: Into a Life of Further and Higher; it looks interesting (although the reviews on Amazon aren't quite as strong as McKnight's take).

      Mike Slaughter keeps it short and simple with a few thoughts around When Christians Disagree.

      Fred Clark offers a parable, of sorts, on the moral decisions we have to make when our worldview is incongruent with reality.

      File under trips I'd like to take: Back to the old stomping grounds in Chicago to attend this and then to Washington D.C. at the end of the month for this:
      The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
      Rally to Restore Sanity
      www.thedailyshow.com
      Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

      Music from Jonsi's album Go (worth checking out if you are into Islandic alterna-pop).







      September 18, 2010

      Book Review: Nudge by Leonard Sweet

       Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who's Already There is Leonard Sweet's latest - this time focusing on the topic of evangelism.

       The book starts strong, Sweet makes the case that there is a better way between the strong-arm  approach built around the question, "If you died today, do you know without any doubt that you would wake up in heaven," and the completely passive position where you just sort of hope someone picks up faith by osmosis. He notes:
      "Evangelism as we know it hasn't worked. Either evangelism is so aggressive you want to get a restraining order, or else evangelism is so restrained you want to call it to order. Our strategies have been spectacularly useless at best, counterproductive at worst. We have lived through an exodus, but not of the biblical kind" (pg. 35)
       The alternative is the "nudge" - a touch, but not a shove - gently guiding people into the reality of God's constant presence in the lives of all people, and God's constant desire to be known in the lives of God's people, reunited in a restored relationship made possible through Jesus. The nudge is built upon a foundation of honesty, compassion, and respect, recognizing that we aren't the ones who bring God to people or taking Jesus to the 'unsaved', our job is to help people simply see what God has already been doing. Sweet writes:
      "Evangelism is nudging people to pay attention to the mission of God in their lives and to the necessity of responding to that initiative in ways that birth new realities and the new birth" (pg. 28)
       "The integrity of the nudge requires that it be welcomed and that it be reciprocal. The purpose of the nudge is to manifest Christ in a moment of mutual knowing, which benefits both the person being nudged and the nudger. Nudging is not best driven by fear or by some need within the nudger. Nudges are not contrived but are the natural consequence of being with someone in a moment and wishing them to join you in recognizing a God-moment. The best nudges culminate in a grunt to mutual recognition. God nudges me because God likes me. I nudge others because I like them. There is an implied caring that comes with nudging" (pg. 29).
       Sweet is able to articulate an understanding of evangelism that I've been trying to get my head around for the last few years, he offers a thoroughly Wesleyan concept of grace (prevenient, justifying, sanctifying), with an approach that is accessible to all Christians.

       He then speaks of how nudge evangelism must be rooted in semiotics - the art and discipline of reading those signs from God that are constantly in our midst, but are often missed. God is constantly speaking, reaching out to us, nudging us, but in our attention-deficit-disorder world most of us (even within the church) just aren't paying attention. According to Sweet:
      "When we don't pay attention to what God is doing, we dishonor and devalue him. In everything we do, whether it be reading the Word, hiking in the woods, watching a movie, viewing a painting, we respect God when we ask ourselves this question: 'What is God's invitation here?' By not paying attention to life, we pay God no respect" (pg. 59). 
        Again I'm completely on board with the case Sweet is making here, he does a great job explaining why we need to be paying attention, as well as reminding us of the reasons why we frequently miss Jesus in our midst.

       Len then unpacks the connection between semiotics and holistic evangelism by developing an extended metaphor of a "sensational" Christianity that engages all five senses - we pay attention to God and we do the work of evangelism by engaging all fives senses - to hear, to taste, to see, to touch, and to smell. Unfortunately, for me, it is this second part of this book, focused on this metaphor that the book begins to break down.

       The problem isn't that the metaphor doesn't work, it's pretty inspired as a whole, but it personally felt a little too long (and tortured) in some spots, while lacking in others. For instance, in the chapter on hearing Sweet delves into a discussion around physics and string theory that seems completely unnecessary. I get what he is trying to do here - all throughout the second half of the book he's trying to identify all those signs, big and small, obvious and unseen, that point to God's grand design; he wants this to be an exercise in semiotics. While I appreciate the attempt, it doesn't quite work - it seems a little belabored. Maybe I wasn't reading this section with the right frame of mind or an appropriate level of attentiveness, and Sweet continues to make some good points here; it just felt like there were too many clever metaphors, illustrations and word-play that only obscured the larger point. As I kept reading, it struck me that this is still a good book, but there is a great book hidden within half-as-many pages that could really connect with lay people, instead of feeling like an exercise for scholars.

       Overall, Sweet does a excellent job inviting and challenging the reader to be more intentional about paying attention to God and reaching out to others so that they might experience God who is already in our midst. The first half is brilliant, the second half is a little bumpy but worth your time. If you are at all interested in a vision of evangelism that makes sense, check this out.

      (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for review).

      September 12, 2010

      this week's round-up (september 12)

      Back again! Getting caught up after a week away.

      A few things all Leaders should have. It feels a little like "Hipster Pastor 101" - but I do have a Moleskine, use Google Reader, and have "played" with Evernote (never used it to it's full potential, though).

      Peter Rollins at Mars Hill. It's an mp3 file - very interesting listen.
      Here's the opening blessing from his recent Insurrection tour, beautiful use of language - this is the kind of poetry I wish I could write:


      WTF Church. Apparently this made the rounds on Twitter a couple weeks ago, and everyone assumed it was just a case of a church being horribly out of touch in it's use of language. Turns out they did it on purpose, and it's a core part of their identity. I'm not quite sure where I fall on this one - I like the idea of turning a pop culture phrase on it's head, but I'm not sure this is quite the way I'd go. In the words of Nigel Tufnel, "There's such a fine line between stupid and clever."

      Donald Miller - Knowing Where You're Going will Keep You From Making Bad Decisions.

      Mike Slaughter and Jeremy Smith on the Qur'an Burning controversy.

      Seth Godin on Interpreting Criticism.

      Scot McKnight on fundamentalism and maintaining a public persona.

      David and Ben Crumm provide a nice summary of their recent trip across the US with the reminder that actual conversations (as opposed to shouting matches) still matter, and are needed more than ever.

      Great series on Detroit:
      Part 1


      Part 2


      Part 3


      I apologize for this, but it had to be posted:

      August 30, 2010

      this week's round-up (august 29)

      Another abbreviated round-up this week, less time spent web surfing, more spent with friends and family at Clergy Family Camp. It was a great time to reflect, reconnect, and be recharged.

      More teens becoming 'fake' Christians.

      Leading your church to change.

      N.T. Wright on the Hunger for Worship.

      Donald Miller asks If 40 is the New 30, Then is 20 the New Junior High?

      Nothing is striking me musically this week, sorry.

      August 21, 2010

      this week's round-up (august 22)

      Keeping it short and sweet this week. I working my way through Leonard Sweet's new book Nudge and plan to get a review posted in the next couple weeks. I also want to do something more with Seth Godin's book Lynchpin but not quite sure what it will look like (or how to find the time to make it happen).

      Does Commuting by Car Make You Fat?

      Twitter Lessons from Rick Warren

      Imperfect is the new perfect. Transparency builds trust.

      Scot McKnight gives a thumbs up to Adam Hamilton's latest When Christians Get It Wrong

      I never appreciated The Call like I probably should have - I liked the few songs I heard on the radio, but never bothered to pick up an album. Michael Been, singer and guitarist, died this week; he was working with his son's band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (which are worth checking out, too). Thanks, Michael, for the music. (The first video is the song you're probably most familiar with if you listened to pop/rock from the mid-80s; the second is one I don't remember as well, but am quickly growing to love).




      Spending some time with clergy colleagues and their families this week (as well as my own). A time for renewal, inspiration, and support... which means there might be slim pickings next week as well.

      August 16, 2010

      this week's round-up (august 15)

         Dancers protest church - seems like it should be a story from the Onion, sadly it's not. Todd Rhoades has some great thoughts, and pretty much puts into words what I'd been thinking since I first heard about the story. To summarize the story: for the past few years a congregation in Ohio has been staging protests every weekend in front of a local strip club, which included taking photos of the license plates of the club's patrons and posting the info on the web. This past weekend the strip club fought back by having some of the dancers plant themselves in front of the church, grilling burgers and holding signs like "Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing."
         There are big issues surrounding the sex industry in this country, so I'm sympathetic to a congregation that is trying to do something about it, but at the same time, I can't help but be amused at the dancer's creative response.
         As I've been thinking about "what would I do if I found strippers on the front lawn on a Sunday morning"? I'd like to think that in my very best moments (after my initial panic) I'd announce that we'll be having worship outside this morning with these ladies who have joined us, gotten some more hotdogs and hamburgers and turned the whole thing into a party. As I noted on facebook, "Somewhere along the line we've become allied with the Pharisees, instead of spending time with (as opposed to protesting) the people Jesus hung out with, AND we've forgotten that one of the key images Jesus uses again and again for the kingdom is that of a party! Sometimes we need to take a moral stand on issues, but maybe instead of a protest, we should offer a better party."
         (Or you could try this).

      At EmergingUMC, Matt Kelly takes a slight tangent off the recent article about clergy health, and asks the question, who is responsible for fostering an environment of unhealthy expectations around church. Eugene Cho also offers his take on "Death By Ministry." (In another tangent, one way to help foster personal happiness is to use your "extra" income towards memorial experiences rather than more stuff).

      Fred Clark looks to sewers and storm drains as a possible answer to the current economic problems.

      Seth Godin on "The Incredible Power of Slow Change."

      Lifehacker suggests a list of foods that are cheaper to grow than buy. (I especially found the comments to be fascinating as one commentators suggest things like kiwi and shrimp (raised in a kiddie pool in the basement!?!) might also fall into this category).

      The Most Beautiful Churches in America

      Double-rainbow action in this week's Fox Trot.

      August 8, 2010

      dis at cvs (i'm old and uncool)

      So Friday night I stop in to the local CVS because I needed to grab and gallon of milk and was too lazy to go to the grocery store; to provide some context, his CVS is across the street from DTE Music Theatre. Here's the conversation that unfolded as I made my purchase:

      CVS guy: Hey, how's it going?
      Me: Not bad.
      CVS guy: Do you know who's playing across the street tonight?
      Me: Yeah, I think it's like Rob Zombie and Korn.
      CVS girl standing nearby who overhears our conversation: ARE YOU GOING??!!
      CVS guy (answering before I can get a word in): No, this DOESN'T look like the kind of guy who would go to THAT SHOW!!
      Me (now mildly offended by the judgement): No, I'm not going, but back in the day I did work at a hard rock station and played stuff like Metallica and Tool.

      I saved the two the 20 minute lecture how I was listening to bands like White Zombie while they were still in diapers, met members from The Melvins and Fishbone, and have far more "rocker cred" than my appearance would suggest. But then I also remembered how I never looked liked rock guy, even back when I was a DJ and making frequent visits to Gabe's during college, and today I would be that creepy old dood if I did make it to a show.

      I can admit it - I'm old, I'm not cool (and never really have been), and I'm okay with that... and really even back then I didn't have much interest in bands like Rob Zombie and Korn, but I still have enjoy a good rock song. (And yeah, since I'm old, I've got to go old school) -

      this week's round-up (august 8)

      Playing catch-up from the past couple weeks, but here's a few things that have caught my eye:

      This video is well worth your time - "A Thousand Questions" (via Jeremy Smith)



      From Cornel West:
      "We have a market-driven society so obsessed with buying and selling and obsessed with power and pleasure and property, it doesn't leave a whole lot of time for non-market values and non-market activity so that love and trust and justice, concern for the poor, that's being pushed to the margins, and you can see it.
      You can see it in terms of the obsession on Wall Street with not just profits but greed, more profit, more profit. You see it in our television culture that's obsessed with superficial spectacle. You see it even in our educational systems, where the market model becomes central. It's a matter of just gaining a skill or gaining access to a job to live in some vanilla suburb, as opposed to becoming a critical citizen concerned with public interest and common good.
      It's a spiritual malnutrition tied to a moral constipation, where people have a sense of what's right and what's good. It's just stuck, and they can't get it out because there's too much greed. There's too much obsession with reputation and addiction to narrow conceptions of success.
      And when I talk about love, I'm talking about something that's great, though, brother. I'm talking about something that will sustain you. It's like an Aretha Franklin song, brother, or a Coltrane solo or Beethoven symphony, something that grabs you to the gut and gives you a sense of what it is to be human.
      That's what we're more and more lacking, and it's very sad. It's a sign of a decline of an empire, my brother." (via Mike Todd)
      I love that line "It's a spiritual malnutrition tied to a moral constipation" - don't know how I'd ever work it into a sermon (or a poem), but it's certainly an image that gets the point across. That quote also intersects with part of what I've been reading in Seth Godin's latest book which talks about how that "market" undermines "art" and "community" - rather than delve into it right now, I'll try to pick up more on that theme later. (Actually I have this idea of doing a Linchpin for pastors/churches series of blog posts that aim to apply the lessons of his book to the context of ministry; I don't know if it will see the light of day, but it might).

      7 Reasons Leaders Quit Your Organization

      Scot McKnight points to an article on the erosion of the middle class. Also via McKnight's blog this entertaining little cartoon on Twitter disciples.

      Among my circle of friends and colleagues the NY Times article on clergy burnout has been receiving (needed) attention this week. NPR's Talk of the Nation also provides a discussion of it as well:


      Insightful, short article in Leading Ideas - The Promise and Peril of Conflict by David Brubaker.

      Fred Clark on why every AG in the country should be suing the credit rating agencies. Also check out this post which is a letter written by a former slave to his former slave owner; as Fred says, "The letter provides a valuable glimpse into the atrocious reality of our history, but it should also be studied and relished as one of the all time great examples of the cheerful and elaborately polite 'Screw you.'"

      Donald Miller put this song by Andrew Peterson up on his blog a couple weeks ago; its a lovely little song about life and marriage:


      That does it for this week. I think I will probably be moving to a Sunday posting schedule, for the handful for people who actually follow this little thing.