December 15, 2012

On Christmas and chaos...

   Since I don't have to preach tomorrow, or this Christmas, I'll throw this one up here too, which touches on the same general theme - how we face and handle tragedy, especially in this season; if any of my preacher friends wants to use, quote, edit. etc. feel free. If I were preaching tomorrow, I think this is the direction I would go - the Christmas story isn't supposed to be easy - the reality is rooted in a story of oppression, fear, and violence (think of Herod's slaughter of the children), but the Good News is that God is present in the midst of it all...

Byron First UMC
24 December 2010
Christmas Eve Service

   Did you ever stop to think about what it would have been like to have been there? Imagine, if you had a time machine and could go back to Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, what would you expect to see?

   I think in our minds, at least in my mind, we have this picture of a very peaceful, quiet, pleasant place. Sure, Jesus was placed in a manger, because there was no room in the inn, but in your mind isn’t it a very clean, warm, inviting manger – something like a nice little cottage with a straw floor, and a few animals calmly sitting outside? And what sounds to you hear? Is it a “Silent Night, Holy Night” free from even the sounds of a crying newborn?

   Did Jesus really enter this world in this very ideal serene setting? Or was it possibly a little more complicated. See, when we sing those hymns about silent nights and babies who don’t cry, we are singing about something that is in the imagination of a particular hymn writer, and it may have happened that way, but what’s interesting to me is that there is nothing in Scripture to support that view. 

   Luke’s Gospel doesn’t say that the newborn Jesus didn’t cry or even that the night was particularly peaceful.

   In fact if we really stop to consider what was going on – the small, somewhat rural town found itself suddenly overwhelmed with visitors on account of a census being ordered by the Roman government – it would suggest that Bethlehem may have been anything but peaceful. Imagine if everyone with family ties to Byron – going back 100 years or more, suddenly showed up here tonight – if our town was suddenly flooded with visitors from all over the country. Now I know some of you might actually be getting a taste of that tonight – but what if it wasn’t just the kids and grandkids back in town, but all your nieces and nephews, second and third cousins, people you didn’t even know you are related to, who show up at your door looking for a place to stay? I think that night in Bethlehem must have been this incredibly strange mix of a big party – a great family reunion where everyone is getting together and reconnecting, but also a time of political resentment, maybe even anger at the Roman government for mandating this census, plus just a whole bunch of chaos and confusion as everyone tries to figure out where they can sleep and what they need to have in order for the census. On the night Jesus was born, Bethlehem was in all likelihood a busy, bustling, noisy place.

   And then add into the mix this young couple, in a place far from home, expecting their first child – conceived under very unusual circumstances. Even with that assurance that God was going to see them through, they must have been had that same nervousness and worry that all first-time parents get. Surely they felt that same excitement and fear when Mary’s water broke, “Ready or not, the baby’s on his way.” There is nothing to suggest that Mary didn’t feel that same labor pains every woman who gives birth experiences (and keep in mind this is well before the time of epidurals and medication to ease the mother’s discomfort). There is nothing to suggest that Jesus’ birth wasn’t accompanied by the very same blood, sweat, and tears that accompany every labor and delivery. Not to mention that important detail that the baby Jesus was placed in a manger – in the Greek the word is used to describe a feeding trough or animal stall – which certainly wouldn’t have been the most hygienic place to have a newborn, especially if there were animals around. But then, Messiah or not, even with all the confusion and unexpected moments that night brought, Mary and Joseph must have felt overwhelmed with love, and gratitude, and that happiness that goes beyond words, when they held that precious little baby.

   See, what I think it important for us to acknowledge and remember this night is that Jesus was born into our world, into the real world – not one that is sanitized and perfect, but one that is chaotic and messy, where there are tears of joy and tears of sorrow, where people get emotional – some are angry at the government, while others are just grateful to hold a healthy and happy baby. There were certainly some unusual elements surrounding Jesus’ birth that night – the appearance of angels and shepherds sent to bare witness – but I think we have to be very careful about making this story too idyllic, too picture-perfect, too other-worldly, because it undermines the very nature, and purpose, and message of Jesus Christ – God’s Son sent into our imperfect world so that we might know God’s perfect love.

   In the midst of the pain and the fear and the hope and the joy and the blood and the sweat, in a small, almost insignificant town called Bethlehem nearly 2000 years ago – God entered our world in whole new way, and because of it we are forever changed.

   And what about our lives? Do you find yourself hoping this year will be a picture perfect Christmas, where the food is impeccable and everyone gets exactly what they dreamed of? Do you want that fairly-tale Christmas where no one gets sick, no one argues or gets upset, and there isn’t a worry in the world?

   Maybe that will happen, but as much as I hate to break it to you, most of us aren’t going to see it – we’ll have a good Christmas, but it won’t be perfect.

   It won’t be perfect, because we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in world where there is still a lot of darkness – too much fear, too much violence, too much pain, sickness, uncertainty and sorrow. But what we also know is that the light of Christ, when entered the world so long ago, still shines today. 

   Even in our brokenness, even in our doubts, our disappointments, our tears, even in our imperfect celebrations of Christmas, God still reigns – God continues to be present, and God continues to be at world in the world.

   Sometimes we don’t see it – keep in mind there was a whole town completely unaware of Jesus’ birth, except for Mary and Joseph and a few simple shepherds, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening. Sometimes God’s greatest works, God’s greatest wonders happen so subtlety, so quietly, that the majority of people miss out on the miracle even when it is in their midst.

   Christmas isn’t God’s promise that everything is going to be perfect. Christmas isn’t God’s promise that our every wish will come true.

   Christmas is the revelation and the declaration of the depth of God’s love for us. Christmas is the proclamation that “God so loves the world, that he sent his Son,” a son who entered the world with the absolute vulnerability of a newborn child – entered into a world that is messy and violent, painful and sad, to show us a new way of living, a new way of understanding God, a new way of relating to God. 

   A son foretold many years before by the prophet Isaiah, who told us he shall be called Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.”

   God is with us – that is the great Good News of this night – God is with us – in our joy and in our sorrow, in our hopes and in our disappointments. That is the message all the world needs to know, needs to hear.

   To everyone who is struggling with the hardships of this Michigan economy – to everyone who has been laid off – God is with you.

   To those who are filled with gratitude that God has helped you make it through another year – God is with you.

   To men and women dealing with illness – to those waiting for a diagnosis, and those celebrating this day from a hospital bed – God is with you.

   To parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles who understand that joy Mary and Joseph felt on a night like this – God is with you.

   To parents who can’t understand some of the decisions their children have made – to those who want to step in and fix everything, but know they can’t – God is with you.

   To children whose hearts are simply filled with the wonder and the magic of this season – God is with you.

   To those who feel distant from God, or are angry with God – to those who feel like they are just going through the motions and to those who can’t even come inside the doors of a church even on a night like this – God is with you.

   To those who are feeling alive and on fire for God, who feel overwhelmed at all God has done, and eagerly anticipate what God is going to do in 2011 (and who probably don’t need to hear me tell you this) – God is with you.

   To everyone who is feeling the sting of loneliness and isolation – to those who yearn to be in relationship, but have yet to find that special someone, and to those who are missing loved ones tonight – God is with you.

   God is with you – God is with us – no matter what we are thinking and feeling and dealing with this night. When God came into the world the heavenly angels sang, and the lowly shepherds came out to see – God’s claim is on all of us: rich and poor, foolish and wise, people who’ve got it all figured out and the ones that don’t have a clue. God is with us. God entered into this world so that we might know his love has no end.

   God’s light still shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. Tonight isn’t a night to cover up the pain and the sorrow and the hurt we bring with us, we don’t need to pretend like it isn’t there. Tonight is a night to celebrate the fact that God is greater than all that stuff the world throws at us. Jesus was born into the messy, uncertain world so that we might know God’s unfathomable love, and he even endures the pain of the cross for us – the story that begins with blood, sweat and tears, ends there too… except that isn’t the end of the story. Death isn’t God’s final word. The story concludes with resurrection – of live beyond death that is only possible by God’s power and grace – a witness that 

   God’s will is always on the side of healing and wholeness, of forgiveness and new life.

   And God wants us to be a part of that. “God is with us” – that part of the covenant, the promise, has already been established, the question for us is, are we with God? Are we ready to invite God into the messiness of our lives and let Christ be born in us? Are we ready to receive the King of Kings who was born this night and start living as citizens of his kingdom? Are we ready to follow his commands to “Love the Lord your God with all our heart, and mind, and soul and strength,” and love our neighbors every bit as much as we love ourselves? Are we ready to forgive – not just 7 times, but 70 times 7, are we ready to turn the other cheek, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned? Are we ready to not only receive the holy light of God’s joy, peace, hope and love, and not just keep it for ourselves – not just hide it under a bushel, but let it shine for all the world to see, and share it so that others might live in the light, too?

   Sometimes around this time of year, you’ll hear that old John Lennon song on the radio – the one that begins, “So this is Christmas, and what have you done, another year older, and new one just begun.” In that lyric there is a cynical edge that begs the question for all who follow Jesus – how has Christmas changed you? Has the birth of the Christ child made any difference in your life? And have you done anything to help make the world more Christ-like through your love, action, prayer and service?

   Maybe as you look back over the past year you can see those places where you have fallen short, where you haven’t lived the Christ-like life God has called you to live. If so, there are three things you need to know – 1. God is still with you, God hasn’t given up on you; 2. God forgives you; and 3. 

   Today is a new day, may it be a day and the start of a whole new year where we are ready to receive and celebrate the King.

   No matter what you might find wrapped under the Christmas tree tomorrow morning, know this one thing – you have already been given the most precious gift ever – God’s Son, given for you so that you might know God’s love and live in God’s grace. And this isn’t just a present for you to keep for yourself – the light of Christ is now yours to chare with the entire world – not just once a year, but each and every day.

   God is with us, God has done some amazing things for us, and God’s work isn’t finished. May we life as Christmas people this and every day, rejoicing in the God’s power and presence in all that life brings. Amen.

Thoughts on suffering and pain...

 This is from a sermon I preached in January of 2011 at Byron First UMC; it doesn't specifically address the events of the school shooting yesterday, but maybe it can provide some insight into at least some of my basic ideas around why do bad things happen to good people. Though I don't specifically cite the book, I believe Adam Hamilton's book, Why?: Making Sense of God's Will, helped undergird some of my thinking here.

   This is one of those sermons that seemed a lot easier about three months ago when I came up with a name, title and theme for it, than it was this week when I sat down to really write and figure out what I wanted to say. The big fancy name for what we are going to be talking about this morning is theodicy – it’s the question of if God is good, and just, and loving, and all powerful, then why do bad things happen? It’s a big question, a tough question, a real question; a question we all ask ourselves at some points in our lives – so let me just give the disclaimer right here – I’m not going to answer that question. People of faith, far wiser and smarter than me have been preaching, writing, and wrestling with this same question for thousands of years, and yet we are still asking the question.

   So this morning I’m just going to offer a few of my thoughts, some of what I get out of Scripture when this topic comes up, and there might be a few things you connect with, there might be a few things you disagree with, but I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit will be at work this morning, and help us to mature into a faith that can sustain us even in the midst of crisis, even when the times get tough.
And the crisis will come, it always does – sometimes it’s in the big, national, or global news-worthy events that capture our attention and cause us to wrestle – last weeks violent shooting that claimed the lives of six including that 9-year-old girl born on another tragic day, September 11, 2001; last year’s earthquake in Haiti that devastated an already struggling nation. Sometimes it’s much more personal – the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, an unexpected diagnosis of a serious disease.

   And what happens when those hard times come? What do we say, what do we think, how do we try to make sense of it all?

   Sometimes we turn to what it sometimes called “folk theology” – we use these little, often repeated statements that seem really well intentioned, but sometimes aren’t all that helpful. Here’s a couple I know I’ve used, and maybe you have, too:
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“It must have been the will of God.”

   Like I said, I know they are well intentioned, and I understand and agree with the theology behind them, what they are really trying to say is that no matter what God is still in control. But here’s the problem with them, when you are in deep, deep pain, when you are in the midst of grief, your mind isn’t really able to comprehend that larger picture, and sometimes, some people get a very different message.

   Sometimes when you hear, “Everything happens for a reason” or “It must have been the will of God” when you are still recovering from a miscarriage, when you are standing beside the coffin of a child or a young adult, when you are wondering what happened to that marriage that seemed so perfect years ago, when you are wondering if you’ll live to see your next birthday, what you really hear is “God made this happen.”

   And that is something I completely and utterly reject. I don’t believe God hijacks airplanes and flies them into office buildings, and I don’t believe that God puts the keys into the hands of the drunk driver. I don’t believe that God sends famine into one part of the world so that people will starve, and I don’t believe that God causes floods in another so that people will drown. I don’t believe that God gives little kids leukemia, just to prove some kind of point, and I don’t believe that God causes strokes and heart-attacks just as people are beginning to enjoy their “golden years.”

   To say that God makes any of these things happen to serve some greater purpose, I believe brings you into some very dangerous ground; in the field of ethics it’s called utilitarianism – it’s the idea that the ends justify the means, and when you really get down to it, it almost makes God into this uncaring, calculating monster, who believes people are expendable. And that just isn’t the picture I get of God when I read in Genesis how he formed us in his image and breathed life into us; it’s not the picture I get from Psalm 139, where it says of God, “you formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”; it’s not the picture I get when Jesus tells us in Luke 12 that God not only keeps watch over the sparrows, but us too, that even the hairs on our heads are counted.

   I believe God knows us and loves us – love us so much that he sent his Son to walk among us, so that we might have eternal life, which I think means not just life after death, but also a richer, fuller, more meaningful life here and now. But that doesn’t mean that life is going to be perfect or pain-free, and sometimes I think we fail to really acknowledge this part of the story. 

   In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “In the world you will have distress” but sometimes it seems to me that, especially in the church, we feel the need to sugarcoat our pain, cover up, and deny our hurt. And the problem is, that isn’t really biblical. Yes, in the same verse from John, Jesus also says, “Take courage for I have conquered the world”, and in Philippians it says “Rejoice in the Lord always” but the Bible is also filled with long, painfully honest, passages about anger and sorrow and all those feelings we’ve felt when we’ve been down and out and our hearts our simply crying out to God for help. Listen to what it says in Psalm 69,
“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.”

   This is no, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”, this is “God, I’ve had it up to here, I’m stuck in the muck, I’ve cried my eyes out, I’m looking for you but have a hard time seeing you, I need your help.”

   We live in a world that has pain and sorrow. In some instances it’s just the natural order of creation – God formed the earth with a specific geology – the earth’s outer crust – the land we live on, basically floats on a mantle of liquid iron. The very way it’s been constructed it’s what makes is possible for life to be sustained here, it’s also why there are so many examples of breathtaking beauty – mountains, geysers, and natural hot springs; but it also means there are things like volcanoes and earthquakes that bring natural disasters. God created the universe to follow certain specific laws of physics – like gravity, friction and force – so when I’m driving too fast and my car hits a patch of ice – someone is going to get hurt, or something is going to get banged up pretty badly. That’s not God punishing us, that’s the universe simply following the rules God put into place. Biologically, we are beautifully made by God, be we are also fragile – viruses, bacteria, subtle differences in our DNA, and simply the process of aging, mean that we get sick and we die, sometimes far too soon. It is tragic and we have every right to mourn and cry, just as Jesus did when his friend Lazarus died, but it doesn’t mean that God wanted it to happen. The reality is, sometimes we are just at the wrong place at the wrong time; it can be sad, it can be shocking, it can be disappointing, it can make us angry, but I don’t believe it’s about God trying to punish us, or teach us some kind of a lesson.

   Now there is another source of pain and suffering that needs to be addressed, and that is those that aren’t attributable to natural events, but to human choices. God has given us free will, and that is a grand and glorious thing. God has given us reason, intelligence, creativity. God gave us the ability to think for ourselves, to make our own choices – we aren’t robots, we aren’t helpless puppets dangling from a string, and I believe that is a good thing. I think God knew what he was doing when he made us this way. Because of free will great works of art, poetry, and music have been created to glorify God; because of free will, doctors have found new ways to treat disease, and scientists have helped open our eyes to the wonder of God’s creation. But we all know the down side too – free will means there is room for wrong choices, ones that bring suffering on ourselves, and others.

   A man decides that he can beat a train to a crossing… and he misses by only one second, but he misses.

   A teenager on a dare decides to try drugs and over time becomes an addict… and he suffers and his family and friends suffer and our world suffers.

   A young man, wrestling we inner demons we still don’t understand decides to make some sort of statement by wildly firing into a crowd intent of killing a respected congresswoman.

   Free will, gives us the opportunity to turn toward God, or turn away from God, to choose the darkness to enter into sin. We can choose to love or choose to hate, and our choices have serious consequences. And that’s really the story of Bible, too. Time and time again it’s a series of story of God speaking to his people, making his will known, the people turning away, and God reaching out to restore them, to fix the mess we’ve made.

   And it’s really important that you hear this point before any of you start writing letters to the Bishop, I believe that God is still intimately involved with his creation, and I know God sometimes enters in and even makes miracles happen, but sometimes in the face of suffering – caused by people or caused by natural events – God’s greatest gift is simply making his presence known.

   In today’s reading from John we are told something really important about the nature of God through Jesus. Earlier in the chapter Jesus gets word that Lazarus, a close friend, and brother to Mary and Martha is very ill. Jesus stays where is a preaching and teaching for another two days, before going to see Lazarus, and on the way there, Jesus informs his disciples that Lazarus has died. Martha meets Jesus on the road coming into Bethany; they talk about Lazarus’ death, how Jesus might have prevented it, and how he is the resurrection and the life. Martha confesses her faith in Jesus as the Messiah. He then meets with Mary, and listen again to what happens:

   “When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”

   In those few verses there is a lot that is happening that I believe is really important. First Mary goes to Jesus with total honesty – speaking with grief and maybe even a little anger, she says, “You could have changed this.” But notice this, Jesus doesn’t get angry or defensive; I believe God welcomes our honesty, even if it means shaking our fist at God. Then notice what happens next: Jesus weeps. I believe what we have here is a picture of Jesus’ humanity and the depth of God’s love for us.

   William Sloane Coffin, former pastor of Riverside Church in New York, former chaplain at Yale University, lost his son in a accident. At the funeral, the minister was conducting the ceremony and made some feeble statement about the boy’s death being God’s will. Before he could finish, Coffin stoop up and yelled at the preacher, “The hell it was! It wasn’t God’s will at all. When my son died, God was the first one who cried!”

   In retelling the story Tony Campolo says, “We always ask the question, ‘Where is God?’ when troubles come our way. Like William Sloane Coffin, Martin Luther also lost a son. His wife, Katie, shouted at him, ‘Where was God when our son died?’

   “Martin Luther answered, ‘The same place He was when His Son died. He was there watching and weeping!”

   When bad things happen, it is natural to ask that question, why did God let this happen? But it’s not the real question we need to be asking, the real question is, “Where is God in all of this?” And I believe the answer is, “Right here beside us, weeping with us.”

   There’s more to the story, of course. In the story of Lazarus, Jesus commands the stone to be rolled away and he commands Lazarus to come out of the tomb. All this happens, Jesus explains, so that God might be glorified. In that action is not only the source of our ultimate hope as Christians, the God has power over death, and one day we will all be raised by the grace of God through Christ Jesus, but I think there is something more. I think there is a message in there that even when bad things happen, redemption is possible. And while I don’t think God causes bad things to happen, I believe God can enter into our pain, our suffering, our loss, and help us to grow, and makes new life possible, and I also believe we all have an opportunity to play a part in that redemption and restoration.
The most obvious example of that this morning is in our commissioning of our Volunteers in Mission team – year after year – they have worked, given of their time, talent and resources, to bring hope and healing to people who are struggling.

   A few years ago I came across this cartoon, in the first panel two men are talking and the first one says, “I’ve always wanted to ask God why he allows so much war, why kids go hungry at night, why so many people don’t have a home.” In the next panel the second man says, “Well why don’t you? Ask him in prayer.” In the third panel, the first guy speaks again and simply says, “Because I’m afraid he’ll ask me the same thing.”

   In Genesis, in part of the story of creation, God says that we, as his people, made in his image have dominion over the earth. In other words, we’re responsible for what goes on here, we’re responsible for taking care of each other. We can ask God why, we can cry and be angry, and it’s entirely appropriate to do so, but at some point we’ve also got to start trusting in God’s will, seeking his wisdom, council and strength, and recommit ourselves to simply serve him. Instead of sitting around cursing the darkness, we need to make ourselves available to help carry his light into the darkness.

   Jesus says, “In this world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.” That is the Good News. May we carry it in our hearts all our days. Amen.

December 9, 2012

December already?

I knew I was behind, but had no idea that it's almost been a full month since my last post. Here's a few highlights of what what I've been reading and thinking about of late...

Donald Miller: What's the Danger in Categorizing People?

Leonard Sweet: Is the church afraid of right-brained people?

Adam Walker Cleveland has a great post of contextual ministry and how many congregations operate in ways apart from the community they serve. Check it out: Contextual Ministry and the Cultural Commute to Church.

Semi-related, Fred Clark reflects on the recent case where a judge in Oklahoma sentenced a man to mandatory church attendance, and asks the question do we really want out churches to become places of "punishment"? With friends like Caesar, the church doesn't need enemies. (Also from Fred Clark, check out The all-or-nothing lie of fundamentalist Christianity, Part 1 and Part 2).

At the same time, in the reach for cultural relevance, the church can go too far. I'd personally have to draw the line at congregations offering weapons training based on my partiality to passages like Matthew 26:52 where Jesus says, "All those who use the sword will die by the sword," but I also am well aware that there are plenty of people who can proof-text in the other direction to justify a commitment to guns and Jesus.

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary: The calm in the storm.

Michael Hyatt: The Gift of Today.

Behance: How Rejection Breeds Creativity.

Seth Godin makes a great cast that non-profits have a charter to be innovators, because they don't have investors expecting a financial return, they should be free to take more risks. Unfortunately I don't see this argument being accepted too widely in the church, because there the givers do expect gratification (often immediate) that relates to their own comfort and well-being. Not everyone, but most, have an expectation to the maintenance of the status quo instead of funding innovative (and potentially risky) endeavors to reach new populations (especially if those populations are significantly different demographically).

The Atlantic: Rich People Who Don't Understand Marginal Tax Rates.

Fast Company lists their favorite business books of 2012. On the top of their list is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which I've been meaning to read.

Beautiful images from NASA of Earth at night (of course the problem is that these images also show MASSIVE light pollution which is why we can't see the stars nearly as well).

New music from the Avett Brothers, from their latest album, The Carpenter:

November 1, 2012

maybe i've forgotten the name and the address...

17 Phrases That Will Kill Creativity

Related (and well worth your time) watch David Kelley's TED talk on How to Rebuild Your Creative Confidence:

Donald Miller's take on the word "Integrity".

Also from Donald Miller's Storyline site an important little story about how something as simple as a cup of tea can save a person's life. Every day life gives us opportunities for compassion and caring that can change lives, the question is, are we open to the challenge?

October 17, 2012

Say what you want to say, make it mean everything...

Great thoughts (as always) from Seth Godin, check out his post on Civilization and The Curious Imperative - "It never made sense to be proud of being ignorant, but we're in a new era now. Look it up."

Semi-related: from Lifehacker: How to Spot Truth in the Sea of Myths, Rumors, and Lies on the Internet.

Donald Miller: In Life, Move Through the Fear Rather than Around It.

Taylor Burton-Edwards on the recent Pew study indicating that young people with no religious affiliation has risen from 15% to 19.6%:  "Nones" Rising - What Does It Mean for Us?

Fred Clark, looks at the theological implications (and fundamental limitations) of Calvinism through the lens of science fiction here, also check out his post on Mark Twain vs. Loy Mauch.

McSweeney's: Brand Name Author, also awesome Allow Me to Evade that Specific Policy Question with Sweeping Generalizations about America.

Mike Todd: Part of the Solution, Or...

Thoughts on "amicable separation" in the United Methodist Church by Jeremy Smith, You Need a Left Wing and a Right Wing to Fly. 16 Ways to Connect and Become Unforgettable.

Bicycling Magazine makes a good case that sometimes the biggest obstacles towards bike-friendly communities are cyclists being un-friendly.

Want better health? Try practicing forgiveness. The website, Good, reports that "Truly forgiving those who have wronged us is good for our health in myriad ways—it lowers blood pressure, improves sleep, and increases life span."

New music from Matt & Kim:

October 4, 2012

Stained Glass Scars

It's national poetry day, and I don't think I've put this one on my blog before...

"Stained Glass Scars"

Her tattoos tell a story
She tries to keep them covered up
Lest anyone connect the dots
Disconnected, interwoven, overlapping
Words, pictures, symbols
Painted across her body
Fragments and fractiles
Outward and visible signs
Of something inside
She has no name for
Each mark, a memory
Early attempts at teenage rebellion
One to shock the parents
One from that Spring Break trip
One from the summer job
One from that time down in Dallas
One from that weekend she still can't remember
One for that guy she met
And one for when he left her
Broken and alone
One by one by one
They all add up
But do they equal anything?
She had to wonder
As she wandered
The empty, unnamed streets
In search of something
She's still looking for
She once heard about this guy
Pierced and scared
Maybe he was like her
Maybe he could like her
Maybe he could unravel the artwork
See past the cutaneous canvass
Of stained glass scars
To that place that can't be covered in ink
Once she tried to meet him
But the stares she got
Let her know she didn't belong
Might have been the hair
Punk rock pink
Didn't match the muddy browns
Betrayed by silver roots
She sort of suspects the guy she was looking for
Wasn't really there anyway
There was a cool looking cross on the wall
Sort of like the one on her shoulder
Maybe someday someone will tell her what it means
Frankly she's too scared, too scarred to ask
Do I finish this piece like a comeback story
Where she finds Christ in all his glory*
Or do I make it a tragic tale
Convict a church that often fails
Maybe I leave it a mystery
Leave the answer to you and me.

(*Note: the "comeback story/glory" line is borrowed and rearranged slightly from a song by The Hold Steady called "Charlemagne in Sweatpants", written by Craig Finn. Craig, I think you are awesome, please don't sue me).

October 3, 2012

"Well you forgave and I won't forget..."

Dearborn: Where Americans Come to Hate Muslims. Important and insightful article about the Detroit metro area. I'd know a little bit about Dearborn's history, and Mayor Hubbard, but I had no idea Christian Arabs have been immigrating to the area since the 1880's.

Bikes: Good for You, Good for the Economy.

Jay Voorhees: The Ministry of Resources

Richard Beck on the Hunger Games and Harry Potter: "Well, Christians, at least American Christians, are okay with murder but really, really scared of magic."

Lifehacker: DIY Washing Soda - follow the links to see how to make your own washing machine detergent. I haven't tried this, but some friends have and say it works great.

Roger Olsen: Whatever Happened to the "Evangelical Left"? On a similar note, I may be having a review of the book A New Evangelical Manifesto: A Kingdom Vision for the Common Good coming down the pipe in the next few weeks.

Fred Clark: Gatekeeper Gatecrashes a Wedding - great post on criticism of Brian McLaren officiating his son's same-sex wedding. Also from Fred: A Documented Case of False Prophecy, on the evangelicalist fears surrounding President Obama's election in 2008.

Lifehacker: How Can I Help a Friend Who is Spreading Malware? Disregarding the "help a friend" angle, there are some good basic computer security tips in there.

Jeremy Smith: The Hulk's Secret is Discipleship's Secret. I think Jeremy might be on to something there, even though I probably would have expressed it a little differently. As Christians, I think we need to claim our anger - it's okay to be angry; I have to believe that it was anger that led Jesus to turning over the tables in the Temple. The question is what should we (or do we) get angry about, and how do we channel that anger for good? Bruce Banner wasn't the Hulk 24/7, but he was willing to go there, when it mattered. Unfortunately the church is filled with angry people, but 99% of them seem to be angry at the wrong things, like the color of the sanctuary carpet, or children making too much noise during worship.

Seth Godin: Denying Facts You Don't Like.

Want to look "manly" and "dominant"? Shave your head.

Love this - a newspaper in Iran fell victim to The Onion's article saying that rural whites in the US preferred Ahmadinejad to Obama.

26 Ways You Can Heart Your Pastor.

Awesome new images of Saturn's rings.

"White Flour!" and "Wife Power!" using humor to counter-protest the KKK.

How Reddit Became the Internet's Vigilante Voltron.

Mumford and Sons... I read something recently that unfortunately I didn't save so I can quote it accurately, but said, in effect Mumford and Sons makes great music that reflects their faith, but then the drop the f-bomb enough so they'll never have to play at "Christian music" festivals...

September 25, 2012

The 411 on the 906

 A friend and ministry colleague, Rev. Elbert Dulworth, was recently installed as the District Superintendent for the Marquette District. For the installation, another good friend, Jeremy Peters wrote this piece - and I helped him with the video & delivery. Enjoy!

All along, I keep singing my song...

It's been a long time since I've put a roundup together, and it turns out to be a fairly short list, but hopefully this will get my back into a regular blogging routine...

I find myself really bothered by the whole "voter fraud" crackdown, as it seems to be a cheap ploy to curtail voting especially among minority populations and those in poverty. As The Atlantic reports, an extensive search of "illegal voters" in Florida found exactly 1 person (who happens to be from Austria and collects guns). Also from The Atlantic and worth reading, The Ballot Cops, takes a good look at the fine line between "observation" and "intimidation" and the long history of using these tactics particularly against minority groups. (Sara Silverman also has a few thoughts on this, you can find it here, it's funny, but Sara does drop the f-bomb multiple times so not safe for work or people who are easily offended).

Emily C. Heath: How to Tell if Your Religious Liberty is Being Threatened in 10 Quick Questions.

Seth Godin: The People Who Came Before You. (The reason why more people don't come to church? Maybe, because they've already been there... and the experience wasn't good).

I'll keep myself from commentary of Mitt Romney's "47% of Americans" comment, but feel free to check out Fred Clark's take (and additional links) on it.

Lifehacker: How to Opt Out of Facebook's Newest Attempt to Track Everything You Do. I get why Facebook needs to do this from a monetary standpoint, and I can even understand the case of why additional information means more (better?) targeted advertising, but each step on this path makes me wonder more and more why I have a Facebook account.

Good: How to Start an Urban Farm in a Post-Industrial City. My friends in Cedar Rapids have already started a great urban farm project in their community, hopefully I can talk/help some friends serving churches in Detroit and Flint to do the same.

I've posted from Matisyahu on here before - a new album, Spark Seeker came out this summer, which I thought was pretty good. He looks very different without his Hasidic beard and locks, but still sounds great.

September 14, 2012

An Appeal for Better Baptisms ("Say My Name, Say My Name...")

I've been meaning to write about this for a while, but Jeremy Smith's recent couple posts on baptism fails, helped give me the push I needed to actually add my 2 cents to the blog.

The "standard practice" within the United Methodist Church for infant baptisms (as I have seen and done myself), is to invite the family to come forward at some point during the service, and then instruct the congregation to, "Please turn to page 39 in the hymnal."

The congregation can then read along as the pastor offers the words of introduction, "Brothers and sisters in Christ: Through the Sacrament of Baptism we are initiated into Christ's holy church. We are incorporated into God's mighty act of salvation and given new birth through water and the Spirit. All of this is God's gift, offered to us without price." The congregation continues to read as the pastor follows the rest of the written liturgy, asking the parents the questions about their commitment to live a Christ-like life, and to raise their child in the same manner.

What follows is the problematic piece of the baptismal service, for me. The attention is then turned to the congregation and the pastor asks, as is written:

"Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?"

The congregation responds:

"With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life."

The problem is that the congregation always reads that response as it is written, but not as it is intended. What is meant to be this beautiful statement of a congregation covenant, that I believe is an essential element of the sacrament, becomes this generic, awkward congregation response.

So here's my appeal to my clergy friends - DON'T have the congregation "Turn to page 39" - they don't need to read along with what you are saying - their eyes shouldn't be on the book, they should be on the actions of this beautiful event taking place. They should be experiencing the moment, not reading along with it. In place of the "generic" congregation pledge, offer a specific, printed version - either in the bulletin, or on a projection screen that names the child. No longer will we "surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness" from now on we need to name names:

"With God's help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround Emma with a community of love and forgiveness, that she may grow in her service to others. We will pray for Emma that she may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life."

If you need to make it plural, make it plural; but let's have the congregation say the names. Theologically, the whole point of baptism is about each person being uniquely named and claimed by God, and being held in covenant by the congregation. The "generic" congregational response doesn't let that happen; while it is nice to expect the congregation to simply make the necessary changes to the printed italics, in a group setting, it just doesn't happen, so we need to do the work for them - make the pledge personal.

One other note - this isn't part of my "appeal" just a great idea I got from Rev. Greg Dell when I was in seminary (and regardless of what you may know or think of Greg, this is a great idea): Incorporate the act of baptism into the children's message. What this means is that I always schedule the baptism right after the children's message, but as part of the time with children, I bring out the pitcher of water and a cup, and have the children take turns to help fill the baptismal font. As I do, I remind them that this baptism is a sign of God's love of the person being baptized, but we are also promising to help teach them, pray for them, and show them God's love; assuming it is an infant (or young child) baptism, I tell the kids, "pretty soon (name) is going to be running around, going to Sunday School and VBS with you, and they'll need your help - to be their friend and teach them about Jesus; and you'll be able to say that you helped on the day they were baptized." It also works great because often there will be siblings or cousins of the baptized child there, so they have a part to play in this special day.

August 27, 2012

Still here...

As I've mentioned before, this has been a busy summer, and I've fallen away from regular blogging. I have been playing with making the switch to Blogger's "dynamic views" interface - let me know what you think of the current design/format.

June 26, 2012

I'm not a monster, Tom... well, technically I am.

I fear it's likely to be a pretty sporadic summer in terms of blog updates, until I get into some new routines, but here's a round-up covering pretty much the last month...

Fred Clark on Mutuality Week and the Burden of Proof (make sure to follow the links to see some of the postings from Rachel Held Evan's Week of Mutuality - there is some good stuff in there; although it is rather depressing that we are even still debating these topics related to gender inclusion in the life of the church).

Also from Fred Clark: I Never, Leviticus Edition

The Real Generation Gap - how Baby Boomers have been on the receiving end of government assistance all of their lives. Fascinating article which states:

"There are a lot of incredible things boomers have done for our country, and I admire and learn from many of them. But, history reveals a gaping leadership and responsibility gap between boomers and their parents. Somehow, some way, the shared generational value of baby boomers' parents -- that of civic investment and "paying it forward" through taxes and good governance -- was not transferred to their children, who now, paradoxically, seem to want less government and less taxes, despite having spent the majority of their lives depending on big government and tax revenue."

Roger Olson: What Does "Inerrancy" Actually Do?

Seth Godin: How to Succeed

Mark Engler: Keep Your Government Hands Off My Welfare State

Dan Dick: Cheapening the Church

LaRae Quy: 3 Ways to Find the Truth About Yourself

Wil Wheaton: Famous Novelists on Symbolism in Their Work and Weather it was Intentional

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary: Who Do You Think You Aren't

Jonathan Coulton: Emily and David - I think Jonathan has some great insight into the future of intellectual property as it relates to music and far beyond. The issues are simply going to be much more complex in the years to come, but instead of fighting it, we need to find ways to embrace and adapt to the coming changes.

Lifehacker: Top 10 Ways to Upgrade Your Music Listening Experience

Also, music related, a new Looper album is apparently in the works. I know 99% of you who read this have no idea who Looper is, but Up a Tree is an amazing little album that 15 years later I still enjoy.

Geek Dad: These Lego Birds Aren't Angry, Just Geeky (and pretty awesome!)

Scot McKnight: Baptists Chasing Methodists - and not in some game of denominational tag. The article talks about how, in the Southern Baptist Convention they are starting to see declines that parallel what the United Methodist Church has been experiencing over the last 40 years. Sometimes it seems like some in the UMC believe adopting a "theological purity" like the SBC would be the answer to all our problems, yet this trend shows that the issues surrounding membership and attendance are greater than notions of theological orthodoxy.

Semi-related (but not intentionally), Jeremy Smith asks,  Is the UMC the Rebellion or the Empire?

Also semi-related the Lewis Center Update points to the trends in the 2010 Religion Census Update

Shannon Karafanda: Church Hoarding. Good reflection about the propensity of churches to collect "stuff" that can never be recycled or thrown out, which then keeps us from moving forward in our mission. A good friend will be serving a new church this week and that is item #1 on his agenda - getting rid of all this unnecessary "stuff" that is crowding the hallways and filling the classrooms that has outlived it's usefulness and is a power symbol for how the church has been stuck for some time.

Here's Looper. I prefer the album version of this song to the one in the video, but it's still good...

And we'll do one more to give Jonathan Coulton some love too... I may have posted a version of this one before - an ode to zombies and business culture - Re: Your Brains:

May 31, 2012

can't stand it, i know you planned it...

Lots of catching up to do, so here you go...

Helpful tips from Ann Randers.

Dan Dick, back at the beginning of the month regarding General Conference: To Rainbow or Not to Rainbow and here he Looks Back at General Conference.

Fred Clark: David Barton says things that are not true. (Again, you have to go back to the beginning of the month when Barton was on The Daily Show; I was sorry to see John Stewart give Barton attention he doesn't deserve).

Godin calls the business world to care more; good advice for the church, too. Also from Godin - Avoiding False Metrics - also good advice for the UMC. One more to check out - The Quickest Way to Get Things Done and Make Change.

Rev. Momma on Defending v. Defensive:
"I'm not interested in proof-texting or debating, I'm interested in relationship, in loving, and in sharing how my life has changed by Christ."
To which I simply say, Amen!

From Lifehacker: Turn Your Cassette Tapes into MP3s. I've done this a few times with some my old radio recordings, but still have more to do.

Julie Clawson: Theology in the Dressing Room.

Adam Walker Cleaveland: Why Pastors Should Only Have 1 Facebook Profile.

Jay Voorhees posts An Open Letter to Bishop William Willimon - great reflection on the "trust problem" in the UMC; Jay also offers an important follow-up, I Love our Bishops.

Leilani Euper: Riding the Thunderbolt.

The Tyranny of Extroversion.

Taylor Burton-Edwards encourages us to Move Beyond the Death Metaphors for the UMC.

Is Mitt Romney a Unicorn?

Shawn Smucker: 35 Years in Church and I Still Don't Know How to Respond to Poverty. Powerful and convicting reflection about how the church fails to equip people to "do ministry" and names the struggle we all face.

If You Build Bike Lanes, They Will Ride.

Millennials in Detroit.

Tough month for fans of 90s era college rock, Ween break up (there was a time at KRUI where it seemed like "Push the Little Daisies" was being played every hour), and much more significantly the loss of MCA from the Beastie Boys...

May 29, 2012

Administrative note

I know I'm way behind again on getting a regular posting out. Hopefully that will be corrected sometime this week.

One quick note I wanted to share - a few friends have asked about getting notified when I do add a new post. I have twitter and facebook set up to provide notifications, but sometimes those get lost in the mix. If you'd like to have new posts e-mailed to you, or if you want to subscribe in your favorite feed reader, those options should now be easily available. Just click/fill out the appropriate information in one of the boxes to the right of this post.

Hope that helps!

May 18, 2012

DAC Poem

As part of the Detroit Annual Conference Eric Kieb, Jeff Nelson, Jeremy Peters and I were asked to write a group piece based on Mark 5 - the story of Jesus encountering the Gerasene demoniac. Here's what we came up with...

The waves were pounding
thunder resounding
While the wind was hounding
And darkness surrounding

On a mission - confounding

The boat sides were creakin’
The water was seepin’
The fishermen were weepin’
And Jesus was sleepin’

Jesus was sleeping?

Then who has been keeping
An eye on this trip,
Crossing over the sea, crossing over the border
Facing the chaos, facing disorder

Can’t we go back just like every other
Group that has ever tried to cross before

No hope is ahead,
nothing in store
But more wind and more rain and more terrible storm
It’s easier to complain and conform

One word
Stills the rain
Stills the wind
Stills the pain

Calls the rabbi, calls the Nazarene

After 50 long years they say this boat’s a sinkin’
Some chalk it up to cynical thinkin’
50 long years of desperation, decline
“What’s all the fuss, aren’t we just fine?”

“Peace” he calls out
After a year of baptisms and weddings
and attempted beheadings
from bridezillas who stalk and they squalk
as they threaten to outline our bodies in chalk
if the dog can’t be the one to bring down the rings
and if her little sister isn’t allowed to sing
“The first time ever I saw your face...”

After mission trips and bring-a-dish dinners
"Green-bean casserole - now there’s a winner”
And vain attempts to reach and to preach,
invite and incite, proclaim and teach
After all of the fighting’s without and the fears within
I’m not even sure where to begin

He calls out
After ten days of Tampa high-drama
It's not a period, we’ll call it a comma.
Unsettling storms seem to dampen the Spirit
Of unity and pride, but we cannot hide

The disciples they arrived on the other side of the sea,
And here today we gather both lay and clergy
At Adrian College or in the country of the Gerasenes
We come seeking Jesus always ready to seek the lost and unclean

And just as Jesus stepped out of the boat
A man came up not wearing a coat
Disheveled, delusional and demon possessed
Coming to Jesus beating his breast

Stuck outside living among the tombs
No hope no cure, everyone presumes

Today they like to say that our church is dead
Easier to blame than fix problems instead
Fighting constraints, restraints,
Chained down with no one to hear his complaints

Locked up with lanyards and empty platitudes
A landslide of legislation and bad attitudes
Robbed by Roberts and his Rules of Order
Stuck in the past like some kind of hoarder

“You’re out of order!”
“No you’re out of order!”
"This whole place is out of order!”

Shattering shackles, breaking the chains,
Is there’s no balm in Gilead to heal this man’s pain?

Should we skip the plenary to go see the Avengers?
No, the Hulk is right here, among the Amen-ers
A chain-snapping giant with incredible hope
That’ll make us feel like inevitable dopes
When they tie us down with inflexible rope
Wondering why we just keep trying to cope
“Wouldn’t it be easier to become Presbyterian”
“I’m finding a place with an infallible pope!”

Living night and day in the cemetery
Dawson Auditorium and Shipman Library
Howling and growling, bruising himself with stones
Marginalized madman left all alone

And his fist said to face I don’t need you
And arm said to chest, I think we are through
And his feet they said to his padded posterior
In this body, I am superior

And he deployed the Discipline, like a back-alley razor
Cut himself to pieces like black eye-lined teenager

Running to Jesus he got on his knees,
Listen to me Jesus, listen to me please
Don’t you torment me, don’t make me leave.

He bowed before the cross,
she put her hand in the air
They broke bread with Bishop,
sang hymns with flair

Praying so hard with all of their heart
“Lord, please go away...” don’t mess up our part
We’ve become accustomed to our messes
Our routines and our tombs
Our beautiful colored glass
And Sunday costumes
Leave us to sit in our comfortable pew
We’ll just sit and complain how “the workers are few...”

When Jesus asks,

“What is your name?”

Are we so honest that we proclaim:
My name is anger, resentment and hypocrisy.
My name is faction and fear. My name is pulpit envy.
My name is naked ambition, pride mixed with doubt.
My name’s in incomprehensible acronym, the meaning we’ve forgotten about.”
My name is bumper sticker theology,
my name is Pharisee,
My name is intolerance and ignorance,
and ‘Hey! Look at me!’”

"My name is Legion; for we are many.”

They begged him earnestly not to send them away
Please not to Marquette, that’s all I can say.

Don’t send us a pastor too young or old
Not sure we’re quite ready for a woman or theology too bold.

Don’t send me to the dirty
the downtrodden,
the drop outs and delinquents.
Don’t send me to the queers
to the ones baptized with tears
to those assaulted by fears.
Don’t send me to the
or distraught
I don’t wanna be reminded
that there’s little that separates me
from them
from you
from me
from us.

Lord, heal our church.
Cast out our demons.

Imagine a church united
Imagine a people clothed in mercy.
Imagine a crew willing to engage broken people in broken places.
Imagine setting sail through torrents and storms.
Imagine getting out of the boat and getting the world right
The gates of Hell themselves would tremble at the sight.
After the storm
ministry happens.
On the other side
demons are defeated.
Lives are changed
Grace happens... even in graveyards...
especially in graveyards.

Get out of the boat
Cast out the demons
The world is our parish.
Michigan is our mission.

May 2, 2012

Book Review: Love Does by Bob Goff

  As part of Thomas Nelson's Book Sneeze program, I've had the chance to read and review the book Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff. If you are familiar with Donald Miller's book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (affiliate links), you might recognize Bob and parts of his story - Don talks about Bob as the guy who is engaged in writing down all his memories (chapter 1) and who he meets while kayaking in British Columbia (chapter 24).

 Without a doubt Bob Goff has lived a remarkable life - he's a successful lawyer, the founder of Restore International, which is a ministry focused on restoring justice to children in India and Uganda, and serves as Honorary Consul for the Republic of Uganda. This book, in part tells some of Bob's story, highlighting memorable moments in his life, connects it with his faith, and builds the argument that faith and love isn't about intellectual conviction as much as it is about revealed action.

 Overall, it's a great book. The stories Bob shares are inspirational, engaging, and memorable. The way he speaks of faith, likewise, is in a very straight-forward, accessible way; it feels like you are having a conversation with a friend, instead of someone trying to convert you with a theological worldview. Likewise, the chapters are relatively short and clear to the point - making this both a fairly quick, but also an addictive read. This is one of those books, where you start reading, and the next thing you know it's 2 hours later and you are almost at the end of the book. (For any preachers who might be reading this review, this book is also a great source for some solid illustrations, if you, like me, are always in search of a good story that help show a Biblical truth in a practical way).

 My only criticisms of the book are that towards the middle of the book, the structure of each chapter starts to feel a little formulaic - Bob shares a personal story, relates it to a passage from the Bible, offers some brief concluding words tying it all together, and then moves on to the next chapter. Towards the end of the book, he breaks this routine and more naturally integrates his life story into his theological understanding. My only other complaint would be that I wish Bob would tell more of his life story in a more chronological fashion - I felt like the moments he used were a little too random, and too safe; he never really delves into serious struggles he has faced along the way or how he had ever honestly wrestled with faith. I would guess that's because he wants to keep this book optimistic, focused on the grace in our midst, but I think grace becomes more real when we confess to our brokenness as well - as Donald Miller says in A Million Miles - there needs to be conflict for a story to really work, and I feel Bob shielded us from some of the conflict. Alongside that, at several different points in the book, Bob tries to admit that he is just an "ordinary guy." I know he's making an effort to relate to the average reader, and help us to know we all have the opportunity to do extraordinary things, which I would agree with, but the fact is most "ordinary guys" I know don't have the ability to take our daughters to London for their birthdays, or are asked to be the consul for Uganda. Through, what I'm sure, is a combination of hard work, dedication, and opportunity, Bob has built a life that is anything but ordinary, and I just wish he could acknowledge that and share the story, more fully, of how that happened. Guess I'll just have to wait for "Part 2" of the story to be told.

 As I said before though, I really do feel that overall this is a great book; one that you'll want to read and pass on to your friends. If you are looking for some inspiration in your life, please go and grab a copy. There's the added bonus that all the proceeds from the book go to support The Mentoring Project and Restore International's Leadership Academy.

 (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for the purposes of review. The free book didn't influence my review in any way).

they don't, they don't speak for us...

Seth Godin (via Domino Project): Piracy? You Wish. Great reminder it's the ideas and the art that matter, not the sales. Also from Godin: Tracts, Manifestos and Books.

Jen Lemen: How to be Happy (Part 6).

Bread for the World: Congress Wants Your Church to Spend $50,000 (via Fred Clark). While I sort of "get" the attempt to argue that feeding the hungry should be the work of the churches, it conveniently seems to forget that many of the church pantries I know are already stretched pretty thin even as donor generosity has increased, and it is VERY unlikely that people will turn their personal tax savings into charitable contributions (certainly not at a 1:1 ratio). It also fails to acknowledge the economics of scale - government programs can simply get much more value for each dollar, rather than a bunch of different churches working independently.

I'm pretty sure that when Jesus said to "pray for those who harass you" (Matthew 5:44), this is NOT what he meant. (also via Fred Clark)

Mark Engler: Tax Day Doesn't Belong to the Tea Party Anymore.

My main focus this past week has been the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. Some of the key posts that have caught my eye:

Andrew Conrad developed a #gc2012 Twitter Word Cloud Project.

From Dan Dick: April 25 Reflections; Same Language, Different Meanings; Specific Conference; Value-Addled; and Safety in Numbness.

Rev. Momma on Guaranteed Appointments. (I'm hoping to get a post with my own thoughts on this soon).

Lovett Weems: The Tussle Over Metrics.

And while this post on God's Different Kind of Arithmetic wasn't necessarily General Conference related, it certainly fits some of the main concerns and themes of the week.

Found myself in the mood to listen, once again to the amazing Radiohead album OK Computer this morning...

April 24, 2012

On the blogs and in my brain...

Fred Clark on Evangelical TribalismDe-legitimizing Christians Outside the Evangelical Tribe, and Kirk Cameron, Tim Tebow and Contemporary Christian Tribalism.

Semi-related: Derek Webb on The Marketing of Jesus.

My friend Sherry Parker is at the United Methodist General Conference, and she promises updates from the conference on her blog; UMC peeps should check it out. Other General Conference bloggers to check out include:
Becca Clark
Dan Dick
and the Methoblog which will gather together a number of different news reports, blog posts and highlights.

Seth Godin (via the Domino Project), reminds of just a few of the people who were Self Published.

Lifehacker: DIY Natural Garden Pesticides.

Jeff Goins: One Sure Sign You're a Professional.

Andrew Sullivan: Christianity in Crisis.

Nerd Porn: Tiny Printer Projects.

Good Magazine: Spring Cleaning - Get a Green Thumb.

Geek Dad: 67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10.

Also from Wired/Geek Dad: An Adventure in Cable Cutting. I'm moving in this direction, I just need to find a good way to install an attic antenna and run a few feet of co-ax into the family room.

Britni Danielle: Why I'm Proud to be Part of 'Generation Job-Hop'.

Music from the Soweto Gospel Choir (via NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts):

April 11, 2012

I don't need answers, I just need you...

33 Animals Who Are Extremely Disappointed in You.

Barry Hill, Jr.: What I Learned About To-Do Lists From My 8 Year Old Son. (via Michael Hyatt's blog)

Becca Clark: What's Wrong With This Picture? Some more interesting thoughts on the Call to Action. I suspect is it a little unfair picking apart a picture when we don't know the full context, but I think Becca continues to raise important questions around the Call to Action. Also from Becca: Diary of a Delegate: in Opposition to Disaffiliation.

Love this quote from Virgilio Elizondo (via Inward/Outward):
"Protest without fiesta is empty."
From the Church Marketing Sucks blog: Steve Jobs - Church Communication Hero.

Shawn Lovejoy: Why I Resigned (And You Should Too).

Is your computer desktop feeling a little stale? Check out these wallpapers (via Lifehacker).

Busting Bike Myths. All of them are good, the helmet one is a particular pet peeve of my, and one I was keenly aware of last week on a ride when I saw a number of children and adults without helmets. I fear my upcoming mid-life crisis could turn into a crusade to get helmets on every Clarkston-area cyclist.

Related: Want to bike from Detroit to Windsor? Good luck; a 2 mile trip turns into 127 when you burn fat and not gas.

Jordon Cooper: Treat Employees Well & Make Money.

FastCompany: Generation Flux - Adapting to Succeed in the New Economy and Unlimited Vacation Boosts Productivity. I especially like that second article; within the life of the church I think we try to emulate the administrative and managerial aspects of secular business sometimes to our detriment, when a measure of simple trust and grace might simply work better. (At the same time I know that especially within the church some employees abuse the language of grace and lack of accountability so that even the basic elements of the job don't get done, without any consequences to the individual's bad behavior). 

Big bird with big teeth?

Texts from Dog. Some language and subject matter that might be offensive to some, but I still think it's pretty funny.

Matthew Paul Turner looks at a video by Bob Larson and raises questions about demonic possession. I used to listen to Bob Larson on the radio as a kid; had no idea he was even still around doing this sort of thing.

New music this week from The Welcome Wagon. Vito serves Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY, but he is originally from Tecumseh, MI. The new album comes out in June. If you like what you hear, you can download a copy of this track for free here.

The Welcome Wagon- Would You Come and See Me in New York from Asthmatic Kitty on Vimeo.