Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas cards revisited

First of all, thanks to everyone who has been offering thoughts on my previous post about Christmas cards. As I would expect from such quality people, the comments have been insightful and have caused me to think quite a bit. While I'm still not sure that Christmas cards en masse are my favorite thing, I received a Christmas card today that actually brought me to tears, so I stand convicted by those of you who are making the claim that Christmas cards are a way to reach out and touch someone in a special way. Here's the inside of the card:
In case it's hard to read, the note on the left hand side says, "Alan, I opened this card and knew that it was made for you. Keep working and praying for it. Peace, Mr. Peeler."

James Peeler is one of my go-to guys in the youth advisor team at Harpeth. The guy is always willing to lend a helping hand. He went on both of our summer mission trips last summer and was always a voice of support and comfort at times when I most needed that voice. During my time at Harpeth, I've walked alongside James in the death of his Mother and his Father. As some of you know, I sign my e-mails with Peace. I often challenge the youth (and adults for that matter) to think about the peace/shalom that God offers and how we might live as peaceful people. Anyway, James has noticed that during our time together and thought of that as he was signing Christmas cards, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

So, Christmas cards aren't all bad. :)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas cards

OK, I'd like to know how much folks spend on Christmas cards every year. Beginning about two weeks before Christmas, I receive three or four cards a day in the mail. I should keep track of the postage folks have collectively spent sending me Christmas cards and pictures of the family at the beach. Now, I'm not one to get into the whole, "Jesus wouldn't do that" stuff, but I'm beginning to wonder about the stewardship of Christmas cards. Here are some reasons I think folks might want to re-consider the whole Christmas card thing:
  • The trees we kill with all those envelopes.
  • The envelopes and cards that people don't recycle.
  • The extra work for postal workers who are already over burdened during Christmas was extra packages and whatnot.
  • Does everybody in your address book really want to see you and the family at the beach?
  • The chemicals that go into developing the pictures that go with the card.
  • The time you spend addressing cards.
  • The money you could go for something else like food banks, heifer project, or Salvation Army
In line with that last thought, I wonder what would happen if everybody in a given congregation would take the money they usually spend on sending Christmas cards, pool it together, choose a charity or worthy organization, and send them the money. What if everybody donated the x number of hours they usually spend addressing Christmas cards and helped to feed the homeless, or read to children, or a variety of other service projects?

On a lighter note, I hope my Mom doesn't read this, because she works for Hallmark. :)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

irony...or something

irony=being given a multi-tool pocket knife for Christmas and then realizing you could really use a multi-tool pocket knife to open the ridiculous package the multi-tool pocket knife is in. Seriously.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's a silly thing

Weather really is a silly thing. Here I sit on the porch of Bongo Java next to the campus of Belmont at 8:30 pm on December 11th and I'm wearing short sleeves because it's something like 65 degrees outside. Meanwhile, folks back in Joplin, MO are still without power because of snow and ice storms over the weekend and continuing sub-freezing temperatures. Wild stuff.

So, yesterday I was driving to work and I was eating an apple and I had a thought (yes, only one). I wonder if talking on my cell phone while driving is really any more dangerous than eating an apple while driving. I mean, while I'm on the phone, the phone stays stationary, and I'm able to watch the road. But, when I'm eating an apple, I'm always looking down to figure out where to bite next. I just kind of wonder.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Does faith matter in politics?

As I was eating breakfast this morning, I read the half page "Controversy of the Week" section in The Week (seriously, everybody should subscribe to this rocks) that asked the question "Mitt Romney: Does it matter that he's Mormon?" It raised the question of whether Mormonism is a cult and mentioned some of their more outlandish beliefs, such as the ability of human beings to evolve into gods. Now, I'm pretty skeptical of the Mormon faith and do not grant the Book of Mormon the same authority as the Bible, but let's not act like Mormons have the market cornered on wild stories and strange customs. The Bible is full of "ridiculous" stories and claims. I mean, we Christians go to church every Sunday and worship a guy we claim rose from the dead. We put water on people and say that it represents something powerful. We break bread and drink juice or wine and call it the body and blood of Christ...but not really (but really if you're Catholic). The claims of any faith are not logical. Our religion doesn't make "more sense" than that of the Mormons. Faith isn't often about what "makes sense."

Finally, has the gospel been tamed so completely that we really think that devotion to our country is more important than devotion to the gospel and the kingdom of God? I say it often, and I'll say it again: Our ultimate allegiance is to God's kingdom, not the kingdom of the United States of whatever. Don't hear me say that I think religious law should be the law of our land. I don't think that. I do think, though, that when people of faith are faced with discrepancies between God's law and the law of the land, serious consideration should be taken as to what law one is going to follow. What if all the Jews and Christians in the U.S. observed jubilee? That would be amazing!

Simply put, I really don't give a lick what faith someone claims to have as they run for public office. I want to know how he or she is going to live out that faith in the way he/she governs. I want to knowhow someone plans to provide liberty and justice for all people (whether it's "under God" or not). I want to know how someone plans to care for the least of these.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Somebody has to be on the take

Seriously? The Cotton Bowl? Kansas goes to the Orange Bowl? Tell me how Kansas gets a better bowl game than Missouri when MISSOURI KICKED THEIR JAYHAWK TAILFEATHERS ALL OVER THE PLACE!!! I seriously don't understand. We got hosed. Somebody must be on the take. Seriously.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

My day yesterday

Yesterday started off a decent day. Sure, I had to get up before the sun to be at the airport for a 7:00 am flight, but I had a delightful ride with my girlfriend and had time to grab a mocha and a muffin from the coffee beanery. I greeted a fellow Mizzou fan as we boarded the flight and I settled in with my ipod, Scene newspaper, and novel for the two hour flight to Houston on my way to Tulsa and eventually on to Joplin, MO where I'm officiating a wedding this evening. Oh, but not so fast, Renderings fans. After taxiing onto the tarmac, our pilot received word that there was low visibility in Houston, so we would be delayed by 30 minutes. Well, 30 minutes turned into an hour, and then, Mr. Pilot came back on to say that we would be returning to the gate, because it would be another hour before we could take off, again, because of bad weather in Houston. I'm realizing at this point that my connecting flight is scheduled to depart approximately 20 minutes before we're not schedule to leave Nashville. I stand in line with all the other "my connecting flight will be long gone when we get to Houston" folks. I'm assured that I will be on the next connecting flight.

Fast forward to 10:30, when our flight finally departs Nashville. I'm doing the math again and realizing that my new connection is supposed to be at 12:40 and this is a two hour flight. Yes, you guessed it, by the time we landed and I waited for my updated boarding pass, and made my way to Gate B84, the 12:40 flight was already boarded and taxiing away. Ah, but there's a 1:00 you can catch. It's in an adjacent terminal, but if you hurry, you should make it. I flash my half marathon running skills and approach the gate by 12:50 only to see on agent and a very dead looking gate area. "Oh," Ms. Escobar tells me, "that flight was moved to gate B84." "I was just there," I say. "They sent me here. The screen here says there's a flight at 1:00 at this gate." "The screen in wrong," Ms. Escobar says, "and that flight is now closed. We'll put you on the 2:30 to Tulsa." "Great" I say.

So, now I'm definitely going to miss the wedding rehearsal of the wedding I'm officiating. Great. I resign myself to the fact that I'm simply a victim of all this airline travel hullabaloo I've been hearing about. Frustrating, but what can you do.

Baggage issus: I arrive safely in Tulsa and make my way to the baggage claim and wait eagerly for my grey/blue suitcase to come sliding up the conveyer belt. Alas, the big metal beast stops, the screen reads "Last bag placed on belt" and my bag is nowhere to be seen. Perfect. I go stand in line at the Continental service desk (Continental is now on my "no fly" list by the way...more on that later). There's a guy in front of me who's in the same position I am. We've been standing in lines together all day, beginning in Nashville. "Well," the Continental agent says, "it looks like your bags came in on the 1:00 flight. They ended up being delayed and didn't leave Houston until 3:30, but it just arrived, so your bags should be upstairs now." Sure enough, there they were. Now, this turn of events makes me wonder how it is that I was turned away from the 1:00 flight at 12:50 if it didn't leave until 3:30, but I like to take some pleasure in thinking that I may have avoided another hour and a half on a tarmac by taking the 2:30.

Finally, I picked up my rental car, made the two hour drive to Joplin and arrived in time for a lovely rehearsal dinner. Yes 13 hours after I left my house yesterday, I finally arrived at a destination to which I could have driven in approximately 9 hours.

OK, so here's my Continental is on my no fly list. I get that there are delays and that you can't fly into someplace with zero visibility. Totally get that. But, I approached the counter to ask about my connecting flight, the agent didn't give me the new flight number or gate number. She simply said I'd be on the next flight out. Then, when we all got off our plane, you know, three hours late, there were absolutely no agents standing by to help us find our way. Then, when I finally wait in an eternal line and get to the front and hand my three hour expired boarding pass to the agent, do not condescendingly tell me that I missed the flight. Yeah! No shit I missed the flight. Your airline got me here three hours late! Fix it! Call down to the gate and ask them to hold the flight. And then, don't send me to three different places for a flight that was in the original place I looked. Communication people! I know you have stuff on your computer. Anyway, the delays can't be avoided. I get that. But when you have planes full of people in tough spots, don't treat us like the bad guys. Call in extra help. The only person who gets any props is Ms. Escobar and her supervisor who was standing there. They actually said, "We're really sorry for the inconvenience." A simply apology goes a long way in my book.

OK, enough ranting an raving. All is well here in Joplin. Looking forward to the wedding.

Happy Advent!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mizzou #1

That's right, sports fans! The Mizzou Tigers are #1 in the BCS! Unbelievable! I never thought I'd see the day when Mizzou would be the top football team in the country. I'm totally psyched about a potential trip to the national championship game. How awesome would that be. Here are some pictures of our star players.
Chase Daniels

Martin Rucker

Monday, November 12, 2007

Save you it will not

So, I was in the bathroom last week and came across this ad:
Now, besides the fact that one can't even use the bathroom anymore without being bombarded with advertisements that try to convince you to buy stuff, I found this ad to be particularly ridiculous. I'd just like to go on record as saying MONEY WILL NOT SAVE YOU!!! What a farce. What idolatry. Maybe I should sneak in there and replace it with an add that says:

Save your money, you Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? (Luke 12:20).

Do I put money into an IRA every month? Yes
Do I spend money each month on a car payment and a house payment? Yes
Do I accumulate stuff on a regular basis? Yes
Do I trust in all of these things to bring me "security" and salvation? Absolutely not

Money: Save you it will not.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Irresistable Revolution

I'm currently reading The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne. It's definitely rocking my world and making me ask a lot of questions I don't always encounter here in Williamson County. Here's a paragraph I came across this morning that made me nod vigorously and say YES. This is found in the midst of a discussion about Jesus' conversation with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-30, and Luke 18:18-30 where Jesus basically tells the rich man that he must sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor in order to "inherit the kingdom." Claiborne is skeptical of the way many preachers clean this text up or contextualize it to simply mean "Don't worship money," even thought that's not what Jesus said. In response to our desire to stay rich and not make anyone uncomfortable with whatever level of wealth they've attained, Claiborne says this:

In our culture of "seeker sensitivity" and radical inclusivity, the great temptation is to compromise the cost of discipleship in order to draw a larger crowd. With the most sincere hearts, we do not want to see anyone walk away from Jesus because of the discomfort of his cross, so we clip the claws on the Lion a little, we clean up a bit the bloody Passion we are called to follow. I think this is why the disciples react as they do. They protest in awe, "Who then can be saved?" ("Why must you make it so hard? We need some rich folks here, Jesus, we're trying to build a movement.") And yet Jesus lets him walk away.
I have often wondered if a radical obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ is really all that "seeker sensitive." It's awesome to hear someone else articulate that wondering.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Golf carts

So, we pastor types usually get one day during the week off because Sunday is a working day for us. For the past year or so, I've been taking Thursdays off. I find that I'm better about actually taking the day off than I did when my day off was Friday. Anyway, yesterday, on my day off, I decided to go play golf. My golf game has really dropped off in the past few years and I'm determined to get back to at least bogey golf by the end of the year. Now, I'm a bit of a golf purist in that I walk and carry my clubs whenever possible. I really don't like using a golf cart. It throws off my rhythm somehow. I really love that time of walking in between shots. If I've hit a marvelous shot and hit the green or placed the ball in the middle of the fairway, I have time to admire my skill. More often, though, my ball is in the rough, or the sand trap by the green, or maybe even about to roll into a pond. In this situations, as I walk in between shots, I have time to shake it off, clear my mind, and decide how best to recover. I just really love walking and carrying my clubs. Well, yesterday, I got behind a group of three players (a threesome in golf parlance) who were sharing two carts. No matter what anyone tells me, I'm convinced that two people walking will play faster than two people sharing a cart. I stood and watched as these guys would drive to one side of the fairway for Duffer One to hit his shot and then drive to the other side of the fairway for Duffer Two to hit his shot. Then, sin of sins, they would drive up the middle of the fairway in their cart. Hello!! We have all of these dumb cart paths all over the place for my golf ball to ricochet off of. Why don't you use them? By the end of the round, I had to force myself not to watch the ill used carts ahead of me. Yeah, I really dislike golf carts. I'm now reminded of a time when I was playing a round of golf with my friend Jeff. We were walking and carrying our clubs and were playing fairly well. We were ahead of pace and actually had actually had to wait on the group ahead of us a couple of times. On the 8th hole, as I was preparing to chip on to the green, this bozo in the twosome behind us (both with their own cart), comes driving up to tell us to hurry up. I almost turned around the hit the ball right at his face. I should have told him to drive on ahead and tell them to hurry up, or better yet, I should have told him to get his lazy butt out of his cart and walk and carry his clubs and see if he could finish 18 holes without having a heart attack. But, instead, I simply pointed to the group ahead of us on the 9th hole who were just hitting their second shot and said, "Sure thing, buddy." There's a whole other blog post here about taking time to actually enjoy what you're doing instead of always being in a rush to finish, but I've rambled on long enough. Thank God for a beautiful day and being healthy enough to get out there and enjoy creation by chasing a little white ball.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

School lunch

I'm back on the school lunchroom social circuit. Last Friday I joined a 2nd grader from church at her school for lunch. She invited me. That makes me way cool. :) As I stood there waiting for her class to make its way down the hall, I took note of the huge banners that hung on the wall. They had big words printed on them, like integrity, cooperation, honesty etc. and included stick figures depicting the honorable trait listed. Some of the stick figures were kind of funny looking...maybe even scary looking. As I stood there looking at those banners, I began to wonder if having those banners up really instills those values in kids. Do posters advocating Respect really cause more respect to be given? I wonder.

I also continue to wonder why the lunch room always has to be so quiet. I mean, aren't those kids expected to be quiet and attentive all day long? Couldn't they have 30 minutes to just laugh and be silly with their friends? I'm sure from the perspective of the teachers, it can get old to hear the yelling and loud voices day after day, but I wonder if that's really the kids' problem.

Today I ate at a middle school. Middle schoolers are great. They'll talk to you just because you're there. I get the occasional, "Who the heck are you?" but mostly the kids sitting with my youth just include me in the regular table conversation. Today was college spirit day, so students could wear college jerseys and even hats. Lots of Vols and other SEC schools represented, but a few Big 10 and ACC folks, too. I don't think I saw one jersey/hat from a Big 12 school. That's a real shame.

On a totally unrelated note, I'm really loving life in Nashville right now. There are a number of reasons for that, and I won't go into them all here, but I just want folks to know that I'm enjoying myself and really feel like I'm in a good place.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday night at Fido

Well, I sit at Fido (not Fido's) at 10:00 on Tuesday night. I'm here with a friend who was in desperate need of internet access so she could finish some work. We're definitely the cool cats sitting across from each other and both typing on our laptops, although we're not totally cool because we have Dells. Here at Fido (and most coffee shops for that matter) you pretty much need a mac to be totally cool. I swear the music skips and the entire place turns to look when I pull out my Dell. It's like those Visa commercials where the guy tries to pay in cash when everyone else is using their Visa card. And no, I'm not being sponsored by Dell and Visa to place their products in my blog.

Sitting here "late" at night reminds me of freshman year of college when I spent hours upon hours "studying"/hanging out at Rockin' Java on the main square in Kirksville, MO. Rockin' Java changed names a couple of times while I was at good old Truman State University, and I'm not sure it even still exists, but it was one of my late night haunts. I mostly drank italian sodas and the occasional mocha. I'm not sure I was all that productive there, but I loved the atmosphere and it gave me a reason to take a walk and clear my head from time to time. Shout outs to Molly Nahm, Amy Maslan, Colleen Reid, and anybody else I used to go there with. I remember nights when it was snowing outside and I so didn't want to make the trek back to campus. I wished there were underground tunnels from Rockin' Java to Centennial Hall.

There's a guy over my right shoulder who looks like a portly Art Garfunkel...mostly because of the crazy hair, but also because of his nose. I wonder if he ever gets the "hey, you kind of look like Art Garfunkel." In high school, when I had hair down to my shoulders and a one inch goatee, people used to tell me I looked like the lead singer of Spin Doctors. That guy and I have both since cut our hair. I saw the Spin Doctors at a club here in Nashville last year. It was kind of surreal. I felt like more people should have been wearing army boots, blue jeans, t-shirts with a band name on them, and flannel shirts tied around their waists. Apparently that's not cool anymore.

Why coffee shops? Why are they the place to go and hang out? We didn't have the wireless free internets back in the day, but we still went to Rockin' Java to study. What's that about? Is it the groovy music? Is it the caffeine? Is it the mix of cushy chairs for those who want to lounge and the hard wooden tables and chairs for those who really need to stay awake? Yeah, why coffee shops?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Why bottled water is lame

So, bottled water really bothers me. It bothers me that people buy it by the case, drink half of a bottle, and then throw it away. It bothers me in so many ways. Here's an article from The Week that made my day: The High Price of Bottled Water.

Check it out and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's up with the word "Beautiful"?

So, I was cruising around Nashville and Brentwood today, and I flipped to our local Way FM radio station. You know, the one with uplifting music that's safe for the whole family? As if safety is our call as Christians. But, that's another issue for another post. The song that started as soon as I flipped to The Way was Beautiful One by Jeremy Camp. Here are the lyrics to the chorus:
Beautiful one I love
Beautiful one I adore
Beautiful one my soul must sing
Beautiful one I love you
Beautiful one I adore
Beautiful one my soul must sing
As I listened, and actually caught myself singing along, because, let's face it, Jeremy Camp is catchy, I stopped to wonder why "beautiful" seems to be such an important praise song word these days. David Crowder Band's There is no one like you begins like this:
You are more beautiful
Than anyone ever
Everyday You're the same
You never change, no never
Again, an emphasis on God being beautiful. Now, I'm pretty sure that both Jeremy Camp and David Crowder are singing about God as Trinity, and not singing specifically to their boyfriend Jesus, because that would be utterly ridiculous, seeing as Jesus was despised and the prophets talk about him not being beautiful. But even singing about God's beauty sounds strange to me. Why would beauty even matter? Is this one of those "allowing who God is to redefine a word" kind of things? Well, I decided to come back and do some work with a concordance. Just how often is God called beautiful in scripture?

Um, how about never. That's right, not once is God referred to as beautiful. God's word is called beautiful. God's holy mountain and zion are called beautiful. Kings and messengers are called beautiful. There are a lot of beautiful women in Scripture. Wisdom is called beautiful. There are some beautiful garlands being placed on heads. There are even some proverbs and prophetic words that deride beauty as something not to be pursued. But God, in God's self is never called beautiful. I suppose if you want to take the 5 or 6 times the lovers in Song of Solomon call each other beautiful as justification for all this talk of God being beautiful and whatnot, well, I guess that's OK, but not really.

So, what does it say about the contemporary Christian music movement that beauty has become a definitive description of who God is in God's very self? What about one's faith would lead them to perceive God as beautiful? Even if we grant that God might be beautiful, how does that redefine our cultural norms about beauty? Might beautiful be kind of a charged word to use?

OK, enough cynicism for today. As always, comments that help to clarify and enlighten are always welcome and encouraged. Peace to you all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A prayer for world unity

This prayer from Zaire is found in the Prayers for the World section of the Book of Common Worship: Daily Prayer edition. I found it to be especially poignant in light of current world events.

O God,
you love justice and you establish peace on earth.
We bring before you the disunity of today's world:
the absurd violence, and the many wars,
which are breaking the courage of the peoples of the world;
militarism and the armaments race, which are threatening life on the planet;
human greed and injustice,
which breed hatred and strife.
Send your Spirit and renew the face of the earth;
teach us to be compassionate toward the whole human family;strengthen the will of all those who fight for justice and for peace;
lead all nations into the path of peace,
and give us that peace which the world cannot give.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Amendments Five and Six

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

So, these are Amendments five and six of the Constitution of the United States of America (bold emphasis has been added by the editors here at Renderings). As I hear more about this Padilla case, I wonder if the Bush administration has read these two amendments. I mean, three years of sitting in solitary confinement while the government searched for enough evidence to try him? This guy is a citizen of the United States! Is that what the military is overseas protecting? The right of our own government to deny a U.S. citizen due process and the right to a speedy and public trial? Regardless of whether this guy is guilty, I think it's a shame that he was treated as guilty before being proven innocent. Strike, oh, a million against Bush and Darth Cheney.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Missouri State Fair 2007

That's right, folks! It's State Fair time in the Show-Me state, and for one glorious day, I was there. My Mom and Dad and I loaded into the white Buick LeSabre and made the one hour trek to Sedalia, MO, the home of the Missouri State Fair. We spent the day walking from place to place, including stops at the commercial buildings, which are now air conditioned (I mean, what's up with that?), the highway patrol building, the conservation department (see pic of Smokey the bear below), the swine barn (where we saw goats being judged), various agriculture buildings, and a mule barn with no mules (sad day).

Now, as some of you may know, my favorite part of any fair is the food. Here's the rundown of the food I ate while at the Missouri State Fair:
  • Chocolate Milk at the Farm Bureau building
  • Hard boiled egg soaked in something sweet at the Poultry tent
  • Pork burger at the Pork: The Other White Meat tent
  • Funnel cake from a stand
  • Beef jerky from an agricultural building
  • Budweiser Select from the All American beer tent (lots of bad country being pumped through the speakers there)
  • Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream from the American Dairy Association building

Things noticably missing from my list:

  • Fried twinkie. Apparently these aren't as readily available as they were two years ago.
  • Huge Mountain Dew logo tub filled with Mountain Dew. I saw them being carried around but never bought one.
  • Corn dog. Had the opportunity but was full.
  • Frozen lemonade.

All in all, an excellent day at the fair. Here are some pics from the day (including one of the amazing hat that I bought).

Mom communes with the llamas

Me with Smokey the bear. Only you and all that good stuff.

My new Missouri State Fair 2007 hat. Come on, you know you want one.

Me with a red tractor. Enough said.

Mom with Otto (the Missouri Highway Patrol talking car). He remembered her.

Me and Dad having a beer.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Landscapes matter

The space teaches and landscapes matter. As a midwestern child at heart, I find the landscape of midwestern farmland to be extremely comforting. While driving from Nashville to Columbia, MO this past weekend, I drove through some of that comforting farmland. There were no mountains to break one's view...not even small hills. Nothing but corn and soybeans and wheat for as far as the eye could see. Various shades of green, brown, tan, and yellow marking crops in various stages of growth and development and harvest. Cingular/ATT wireless commercials abounding as trees, adjacent crops, telephone poles, and even houses lined up to signify more bars in more places. In midwestern farmland, the tall stuff is so conspicuous. The things that used to dominate the higher echalons of the midwestern pastoral landscape were church steeples, water towers, and silos...mostly silos...fewer water towers...scattered steeples. All three representing sustenance of one sort or another. The things that protruded from the ground and dwarfed the ever growing stalks of corn and wheat represented nourishment of both the body and the soul. There's something to be said about the waters of baptism and the wheat that is used to make bread for holy communion and the church where these holy sacraments live and dwell and challenge and sustain...yeah there's something to be said, but I'm not sure what it is. Silos, water towers, and steeples, oh my. Those used to dominate the landscape and draw the eye, and they still do, but now they share the skies with cell towers. Actually, the cell towers dwarf the silos and towers and steeples just as they used to dwarf the corn and the wheat. Cell towers always in view. I suppose they represent an element of sustenance...the sustenance of communication with loved ones. But somehow they jar the eyes as they stand there in the midst of all the other landmarks of the midwestern landscape. Question: What do the protruding, tall things say about a culture?

I really love the midwestern landscape. I love seeing the patchwork quilt of crops. I love seeing the barns and silos of varying size, shape, and color. I love seeing that old church off in the distance that probably stood long before cars were whizzing by on an interstate highway. I love the occasional cattle that stand there chewing their cud and whipping their tails to chase away flies and gnats. I love being able to see to visual infinity...being able to see rain coming from miles away...being able to see the shadows of large masses of clouds as they meander by overhead...being able to see so far. I really do love the midwestern landscape.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Perseverance of the Saints

On Monday afternoon I made a pastoral visit to Ms. Mary Smith. She's an 87 year old lady who is a total pillar of the body of Christ as it's found at 3077 Hillsboro Road. She's the woman at Harpeth who lovingly prepares the communion elements the first Sunday of every month. Unfortunately, on Saturday night, she took a spill and dislocated her shoulder, so she was unable to make it to church to prepare the elements this month. Then, on Sunday afternoon, she found out that her sister, who had recently moved to hospice card, had died. Thus the pastoral visit on Monday afternoon. When I asked her how she was doing, she recounted her fall and told me that The Lord must have been with her on Saturday night, because it could have been so much worse. As the conversation shifted to the loss of her sister, she expressed sorrow in losing her sister, but also expressed great joy in knowing that she was in the loving arms of God. So much that isn't about theological assertions or formulas or that simply trusts in God to be good, because, "Alan, God has always been so good to me." In the previous two days, she has fallen, dislocated her shoulder, hit her face on the way down, and lost her sister, and she sits there and genuinely professes "God has always been so good to me." Amazing...absolutely amazing. I pray that I might have that kind of that simply trusts in the goodness of God and proclaims it, even in the midst of hardship and adversity. Thanks be to God for Ms. Mary Smith.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

At the 'netta

So, I'm currently sitting in the lobby of the Historic Inn here at Massanetta Springs. We're in the middle of our second week of middle school conferences. It's been an amazing experience serving as the keynoter for the conference. Thanks to the help of a ten member team of youth "enablers," I think the keynotes have gone well and have been well received. The theme for this conference has been Signed. Sealed. Delivered. and our key scripture has been Exodus 3:1-12 (Moses and the burning bush). As last week was unfolding, I remember experiencing many blog-able moments but never really had the time to sit down and get them out. Now that I'm just chillin' out, it seems that my memory has failed me for the most part. Here's what I do remember:
  • It's fun to simply play with middle schoolers. They're not "too cool" yet. Seeing the many games being played during station rec reminded me that I need to mix up the games back at Harpeth.
  • Speaking of Harpeth, I find myself really missing "my" youth. As fun stuff is happening, I wish I could share it with the youth that make up my daily life back in Williamson County. More than ever, I'm committed to getting youth to Montreat next year.
  • The enablers here are amazing. Enablers are hs youth who apply to serve as leaders for the middlers who come here. They really take a lot of initiative and make this conference run. It reminds me that youth really can take a huge part in leading if given the right training and adequate opportunities.
For now, that's all I've got. Maybe I'll find time this week to blog as stuff happens.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Summer chaos

So, I'm sitting at Fido (not Fido's, as I have recently learned) on a Saturday afternoon, frantically trying to pull my disparate thoughts together for the sermon I'm supposed to preach tomorrow. The text is Luke 7:36-50 if anyone happens to read this today and have thoughts. You know, in some ways, preaching is easier now that I've been doing it once a month for two years, but in many ways, it's just as hard as it ever was. For my great love of "the word" and liturgy and language and worship, I have hard time getting it together for "the sermon." Somehow it feels more and more false. I suppose I'm not saying anything the emergent folks haven't already been saying for years now, but there it is.

On a totally unrelated note, I'm staring summer chaos in the face. Bible school starts on Monday, I leave for a mission trip on Friday, return on a Sunday10 days later, and then leave for Massanetta Springs the day after that. Will I still be standing on July 13th? "I will, with God's help."

I haven't been home to CoMo since Christmas. By the time I get back there in August or September, I believe I will have been away longer than ever in my life. I know that the visits will be fewer and fewer as I put down deeper roots here in middle Tennessee, but sometimes I just want to walk out the front door of 1714, hop on my bike, and ride downtown for coffee at The Coffee Zone, lunch at Shakespeare's, and a stroll through Cool Stuff just to see what they have.

Back to the sermon..."Open my eyes that I may see" and all that good stuff.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Two totally unrelated thoughts

Totally unrelated thought number one: In the past few days, I've come across the term Bible believing Christian or Bible believing church a couple of times. Honestly, I really dislike that term Bible believing. I'm not exactly sure why. I think those who use it would say that a Bible believing Christian is one who believes that the Bible is true (maybe even inerrant) and that it's God's word to us. They might even use a capital W in word. I guess part of my objection to the term is the same one raised by Luther (or some other reformed theologian) that said that Christians are sometimes liable to worship the manger instead of the baby in the manger (the manger being the Bible and the baby being Jesus Christ). In the end, I don't place my faith and trust in Scripture, but in the loving arms of the One who we encounter in Scripture. Do I think the Bible is true? Yes. Do I think it's inerrant? No. Do I believe in the Bible? I'm not sure. I'm just not sure believing in the Bible is semantically correct. Now, I know I'm opening the door to be called a heretic and a (oh my gosh, the biggest insult some can think to give) a liberal, or a relativist, or some other label, but I'm willing to take that risk. Somebody help me see why Bible believing is something I should embrace.

Totally unrelated though number two: What's up with stars like Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears popping in and out of rehab like it's a bed and breakfast? Is rehab really something you do for a week and then check yourself out of? What leads stars like that to seek the highs of cocaine and/or the numbness of alcohol? Where are these stars' friends? I mean the real friends. The ones who know them deeply and intimately. Do they have those people in their lives? Living as one who is "recognized" by everyone but not "known" might have something do with the destructive behavior. I find myself being frustrated by people like Lindsey Lohan who complain about how difficult their lives are, and yet in the grand scheme of things, they have it so great. It's all relative I suppose. Does the church have anything to offer these self-destructive starts? How do we minister to such people? How do we offer an alternative narrative to those entrenched in the world of stardom?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Waiting for somebody to push him

This past weekend, my sister and her husband came to visit. We explored Franklin and Nashville, heard some live bluegrass, went to church, visited The Hermitage (the home of Andrew Jackson), and went to the zoo. While we were at the zoo, we were watching some sort of monkey (it had another name, but I can't think of it right now) play in it's paddock. One of them jumped on a swing of sorts, you know, the type with the log tied to trees with rope. A little girl was sitting there watching and said, "Hey, that one's waiting for somebody to push him." For some reason, that struck me as really great. How many times have we been sitting on a swing simply waiting for somebody to push us? Sure, swinging by yourself can be fun, but it's so much more thrilling to have someone pushing you as you scream, "Higher! Higher!" And then there's always the unexpected halt in the midair as the person pushing grabs the chains of the swing. So many metaphors for life there somewhere:
  • Going out and coming back in.
  • The first push to disturb inertia being the most difficult.
  • Getting into the rhythm of life.
  • Little nudges in the midst of the motion of life.
  • Being willing to sit there and wait for somebody to push you.
For today, my mind is settling on that last one. This past Sunday at church we talked about going (or shuv-ing if you're into Hebrew), and David used the analogy of not being able to steer a parked car. But sometimes, in the midst of a go go go society, maybe we need to simply find a nice park with a swing that's completely still and simply sit there and wait for somebody to push us. Maybe we spend too much time trying to push ourselves and so we miss the joy of feeling the loving hands of God on our backs as we squeal with delight. I don't know...Maybe I'm making too much out of a little girl's comment, but I like thinking about that swing with God pushing me higher and higher.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Thoughts on worship...

So, I ran a half marathon last weekend. More on that when I have some pictures to share. For now, though, I'm reading Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. It's brilliant, as most of her writing is. Anyway, I just read this paragraph about worship and I think it captures some of the thoughts and meditations I've been having for the past 6 months or so:

If this terrific mystery is not apparent to most people sitting in the pews, then there are at least two things wrong. One is that worship has become too tame, and the other is that those who come have stopped bringing their own fire. The two may even be related, but neither is easily solved, nor am I sure that many people want them to be. Tame worship is easier to agree on than any other kind, and bringing fire requires a lot more energy than simply showing up. When life is pretty good and church is pleasant enough, who needs resurrection?
Wow! "Tame worship is easier to agree on than any other kind, and bringing fire requires a lot more energy than simply showing up." Do we who plan worship settle for "tame worship?" Do the masses who come to worship bring fire or simply show up? Who needs resurrection indeed? Powerful thoughts and a powerful question.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Thoughts on violence

So, this past Sunday was one of my weeks to preach. It was just that time in the rotation. It was when it worked out with my schedule and with David's schedule. I spent a better part of last Monday morning reading Acts 9:1-19 (Saul's blinding experience on the road to Damascus). For some reason, I left my e-mail alone and didn't really touch base with the outside world until I got a phone call about the killings at Virginia Tech. I had just spent two hours thinking about call narratives and suddenly I knew I would be spending the week re-imagining the sermon as my community and I faced the violence of 33 dead at Virginia Tech. As the week went on, I kept clinging to the call narrative, because, let's face it, preaching about violence isn't exactly easy. But, after a couple of great conversations with my friend Emily, I decided to tackle the violence of Cho Seung Hui and hold it up next to the violence of Saul and the violence in our own hearts. Tough subject matter. Anyway, after swimming around in that water for awhile, I've come up with the following conclusions (always tentative) and questions:
  • When we persecute anyone, we persecue Christ (Acts 9:4-5)
  • All of us are capable of doing violence to others, and sometimes we do it in the name of justice
  • Violence is never OK, even in the name of justice (sorry, no just wars for me)
  • We need to be more like Ananias who reached out in reconciliation and love to one who had done violence to people he loved and might have done violence to him (Acts 9:17)
  • Why is called a massacre when people die on a college campus but simply violence when it happens in a market in Baghdad?
  • Why do we change the channel when the media tells us how many people have died in Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Sudan, etc. but rush home to watch never ending coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting?
  • Why does the Virginia Tech shooting bother us more than those who die everyday in the war in Iraq?
  • Shouldn't Christians care equally and be equally outraged?
All of this is just the tip of the iceberg of my own dealing with the current issues of violence in our society and in the world. Comment as you choose. I welcome all viewpoints. I really do ask questions in seek of answers.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Welcome to 30

That's right, folks. I've come around the bend and have joined the ranks of those who have lived for at least 30 years. I'm 30 years old. How is that possible? I can't say that 30 feels any different than 29. Anyway, here are some pictures from my birthday celebration up in Media, PA.

Andy, Wes, Me, Laurie, Shelli, John

Me and Laurie

Me and Wes

Me, my three chins, Weicher, and Shelli at the top of the Rocky steps in Philadelphia.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Timeless books

Hey gang. I just finished a book called An Ethic for Christians & Other Aliens in a Strange Land by William Stringfellow. It was first published in 1973 and yet is so apropos of 2007. Basically, Stringfellow posits that America is living under the delusion that it represents Jerusalem/Israel in the vision of the apocalypse, when it actually embodies Babylon. He asserts that death is the true idol and ruler of principalities and super powers. Anyway, near the end, as he's concluding that there really isn't hope for America to ever overcome the rule of death, the calls for Christians to live as kingdom people. Here's what he says:

In the face of death, live humanly. In the middle of chaos, celebrate the Word. Amidst babel, I repeat, speak the truth. Confront the noise and verbiage and falsehood of death with the truth and potency and efficacy of the Word of God. Know the Word, teach the Word, nurture the Word, preach the Word, defend the Word, incarnate the Word, do the Word, live the Word. And more than that, in the Word of God, expose death and all death's works and wiles, rebuke lies, cast out demons, exorcise, cleanse the possessed, raise those who are dead in mind and conscience.

Wow! This is a book that could seriously have been written last week. Stringfellow raises thoughtful questions about the power of death in the military complex in the United States and how it pervades all parts of American culture.

On a note that I think is related, I attended a middle school motivational talk about bullying today. The school is planning to implement a big anti-bullying campaign next year. It sounds like a solid program with intentional times of community between students and teachers. I wonder, though, about the hypocrisy of the drivers of a parking lot full of SUVs with W stickers sitting around in a middle school library bemoaning the act of bullying as our President uses the tactics of a bully to impose his agenda on nations around the world. Doesn't our condescending rhetoric about Israel, Palestine, Iran, and Iraq sound like bullying? Bullying is bad...unless our government does it in the name of peace. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Palm Sunday Hymns

So, on Sunday (Palm Sunday), as I was singing All Glory Laud and Honor, I took special note of the refrain:
All glory, laud, and honor to Thee, Redeemer, King!
To whom the lips of children made sweet hosannas ring.
"Interesting" I thought. I never noticed that bit about the lips of children ringing out Hosannas. I mean, we always do the Palm Sunday parade with children, and this year, at Harpeth, we bordered on being Pentecostal with our shouts of Hosanna and Amen, but I never noticed that emphasis in that old classic hymn.

Then, later in the service, while we were singing Hosanna, Loud Hosanna, I noticed that the whole first verse was about little children singing Hosanna.

I stood there feeling like an idiot for never noticing that it was children who were standing along the route to Jerusalem. Did the gospels emphasize the throngs of children and I missed it. Pretty lame for a youth and families minister not to notice such a thing.

Well, upon further inspection of Scripture, it isn't until Jesus goes into the temple, after the triumphal entry that Jesus is confronted with children in the temple singing Hosanna. Of course, the Pharisees don't like it, and Jesus rephrases Psalm 8 by saying, "Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies you ahve prepared praise for yourself."

So, while the time frame is a little bit out of sync, I'd like to give props to the 19th century hymn writers who sought to emphasize the importance of children in this narrative. In the midst of Palm Sunday parades, may our ears be specially tuned to the voices of the children who sing with joy and excitement...the children who sing out loud with no regard to whether it sounds pretty or whether it's "proper." Hosanna indeed!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Taking flack

Now that I'm looking at the word "flack" I'm not sure that's how it's spelled, but whatever. The title of this post indicates the flack I've taken from a few of you Renderings readers for not posting in awhile. I do apologize. I've been entertaining family or been out of town for the past 2.5 weeks. So, here's some thoughts I had last Saturday as I was staring out my bedroom window:

As I look out my window I see one tree with little white blossoms and tiny green leaves announcing the arrival of spring...and this juxtaposed against the tree next to it that's still clinging desperately to brown shriveled leaves of the 2006 variety. I wonder if the students/youth/teens that we minister to and with have both of these trees inside of them. Sometimes they're so excited about new things, new life, new seasons, new desires, new whatever but at the same time they're afraid to let go of the old and desperately cling to what used to be the new. And aren't we all like that to some degree? Don't we all have both trees inside of us? I wonder if these trees might provide good questions for daily examen. What new life is God calling into? What old life to you desperately cling to? Spring is such a visible example of our transition from old life to new life. We're so close to the Hallelujahs of Easter morning, but we still have to face the Hosannas of Palm Sunday and the tears of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and the deep deep sorrow of Black Saturday. So, yeah, two trees.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Tests in English

After being thwarted by Mayor Bill Purcell in their efforts to make English the official language of Nashville, proponents of such ridiculousness have proposed a bill that would require all drivers license tests to be taken in English. I mean, seriously? Why is this such a big deal, people? Is it about terrorists? I'm sure that they're just lining up to get drivers licenses. Is it about making some statement about the importance of the English language? If so, maybe we should address all the misspelled and grammatically incorrect signs I see all over the place, or maybe outlaw text-ese. I just don't understand why we can't let people take exams in their native language. What does it hurt? What is it about people speaking Spanish, French, German, Swahili, Arabic, Russian, whatever that make people so uncomfortable? Can the metro city council spend some time on issues that actually matter, like, oh, homelessness, poverty, hunger, crappy public transporatation, etc.?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

This is a sermon I preached for the Ash Wednesday service at Harpeth this evening. I'll include the Scripture from Isaiah 58:6-11 as well. I wrote it in the form of a letter to my Grandpa, who passed away while I was in high school and who I still miss.

Isaiah 58:6-11

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

The Fast I Choose

Dear Grandpa,

It’s been 13 years since you left us. 13 years since you passed away so suddenly and so unexpectedly. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 13 years. I think about you almost every day for one reason or another. Every time I pick up my golf bag and hear the clink and clack of the clubs knocking against each other, I think of how we used to get up so early in the morning to go play a round of golf before it got too hot. Every time a little kid comes up and only half heartedly gives me five, I remember how you used to hold your hand out there until I gave you five like I meant it…until it sounded right…until it stung just a little bit…and then you’d shake your hand and say “that’s the way.”

I’m taking piano lessons again. Every time you would come to visit, you would want to hear my latest masterpiece, and, to be honest, I never really wanted to play. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play for you, but I was so much more eager to go outside and play catch. Nobody else ever wanted to play catch. And it wasn’t just the catch…it was the conversation…it was talking about baseball and basketball and other sports stuff.

For some reason, the night you were given an award by the Marshall municipal band has been on my mind lately. I’m sure you remember that night. It was a warm summer night and we were all sitting there in our lawn chairs as the Marshall band played one of its outdoor concerts. You were up front announcing all the pieces like you did each week, and then someone else took the microphone and said that they had something special for you. They handed you a plaque and thanked you for your 30-odd years of service to the band. When they gave you the opportunity to say something, you didn’t give a speech like you hear at the Oscars where you thank “all the little people.” You stood there and asked everyone to join you in prayer. You thanked God for all of the ways that God had blessed you over the years, including all your family and friends. You put everything in the context of God’s gifts. That was so amazing, Grandpa. I feel like that was the kind of moment when God smiles down and says, “That’s the way…that’s the way.”

I’m working on a sermon for Ash Wednesday, and the service is tonight, Grandpa. You know, usually on Ash Wednesday, we all make decisions about what we’re going to give up for lent. Some people give up chocolate or soda or caffeine or some other kind of food. Some people give up a bad habit like smoking or biting their nails. Some people give up something they like to do like watching TV or biking or running. Some people decide to add a spiritual discipline like journaling or daily prayer or fasting. I don’t remember if you ever gave anything up, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Well, as I was reading all the suggested scriptures for Ash Wednesday, I came across these words from Isaiah 58:

6Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

I feel like you would like these words, Grandpa. Here’s the thing, though: this kind of fast is so much harder to do than giving up soda. There’s so much injustice in the world that leads to oppression. How am I supposed to loose those bonds? I do my best to buy fair trade coffee and when I order t-shirts, I order sweat-free. I didn’t do so well on that Taco Bell boycott when the PCUSA was trying to help loose the bonds of injustice for tomato pickers in Florida. But, I do try.

And what about sharing my bread with the hungry? I wonder, is it good enough to just write a check to the second harvest food bank or to donate canned goods when the church has a food drive? Somehow that doesn’t feel like sharing my bread with the hungry.

Grandpa, I have never once brought the homeless poor into my house. Sure, I’ve spent the night at homeless shelters and helped out with Room in the Inn, but again, that isn’t my house. How does that compare to giving up caffeinated beverages for lent?

I’m pretty good at giving clothes to Goodwill, but really only the stuff I don’t want anymore, or stuff that has shrunk too much in the wash. How many times have I seen homeless men and women sleeping on the streets on a cold night and just kept walking or drove right by? It’s so hard to think about stopping and giving them the coat off my back or one of the blankets I have in my car. I remember being so astonished at how little clothing the men at the homeless shelters in Atlanta owned. What does God think about my closets full of clothing?

Oh, and the hiding, Grandpa. We’re all so good at that. Sometimes Mom and Dad ask me how I’m doing and when I say “fine,” I’m not. I don’t want them to worry. Sometimes I hide what I’m struggling with from my church family here at Harpeth, because I’m afraid to seem too vulnerable. I guess we all wear masks from time to time, Grandpa. Authenticity and integrity are virtues I strive to attain, but sometimes I hide myself from my own kin, and I imagine some of my kin hide themselves from me. I hope that lent can be a time for me to be more…transparent…that I will be more comfortable revealing who I really am to those who love me and care about my well-being.

After reading these words from Isaiah, Grandpa, it sounds like all the fasting and all the Lenten disciplines and all the devout worship and all the holiness in the world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if injustice still exists and people are still oppressed and if people are still hungry and if people don’t have homes and if people are without clothing and if we all continue to wear masks and pretend to be something we’re not. These words leave me feeling a bit lost…like I’m wandering in the wilderness. And maybe that’s where I need to be for awhile. Maybe lent isn’t so much about taking control of some area of my life but letting go and wandering in the wilderness for a little while. It’s comforting to know that God promises to be with me in the wilderness…that:

The Lord will guide me continually,
and satisfy my needs in parched places,
and make my bones strong;
and I shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.

It’s time to go now, Grandpa. The YITS are coming. Thanks for all the golf and the playing catch and the early morning donut shop trips and for being a man I can look up to. Grandpa, I hope that my Lenten fast of wandering and struggling with the role I’m called to play in loosing, freeing, housing, clothing, and revealing will be pleasing to God. I hope that you’ll watch over me. Maybe you could tell God about holding out your hand until I gave you five like I meant it…so that God might hold out his loving hand and keep holding it out until I do things just right. I could sure use that kind of guidance from the Spirit.

With love and adoration,

Your Grandson, Alan

Sunday, February 18, 2007

blog-able moments

The way I see it, each day is full of blog-able moments...moments that, upon further reflection, can be seen to have deeper meaning that we realize. Anyway, this week, there were two particular events that left me reflecting for hours and days afterward:
  1. The Old Spaghetti Factory: On Thursday afternoons, I tutor reading for boys and girls at the Martha O'Bryan center in east Nashville. These are kids who need extra help with reading skills and comprehension. We usually read a story and talk about various reading skills associated with the story. But, this Thursday, a group of nine of them had reached the goal of reading 400 pages, so we were scheduled to go to dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory in downtown Nashville. The nine munchkins and I were dropped at the door while the other adults parked the van, so we sat around in the lobby talking about how nice the building was. As we were all waiting for our table to be ready, one of the little boys looked at me and one of the other adults and asked, "Why is this place so full of white people? Where are all the black people?" It now dawns on me that I failed to mention that all of our students are black. One of the other adults stammered out an "I don't know," and he was off to look at a scale in the corner that other kids were standing on. As I stood there thinking about that little boy's question, I realized that the only black people I could see in the restaurant were the two hostesses. Not one black person was actually dining in the restaurant or having a drink at the bar. If I were to be honest and answer that little boy's question, I would probably say something like, "Well, most of the black people who live in downtown and East Nashville can't afford to eat here." We still live in that world. A world segregated by socio-economic class and race. Anyway, that little boy's questions continues to gnaw at me.
  2. Youth Lock-In: This past Friday night, the youth of Harpeth had a lock-in. We began the night with a Parents' Night Out fundraiser hosted by the sr. highs and then, at 10:00, the little kids went home, the middle school youth showed up, and the lock-in began. But, shortly before 10:00, three young ladies I'd never seen before walked in the door. As they were introducing themselves, I smelled alcohol on their breath. That's right. Someone had dropped off thre drunk eight grade girls at our lock-in. I asked them to call their parents and have them come right back. Oh, did the stories start flying at that point. "My Mom's out of town." "My Mom's not picking up." etc, etc. So, finally, two of them get picked up, and one of them is still trying to get ahold of a parent. Well, a few minutes later, other youth are running up to me to tell me that she had thrown up. To make a long story short, one of my adults had to take her home as she threw up in a trash can the whole way there. When that adult got back, there was a man in the parking lot asking for gas money. On a Friday night? Are you kidding me? Then, as the night progressed, there was the inevitable drama of girls flirting with boys and boys paying attention to the "wrong" girls and the "right" girls being upset, and crying, and he said and she said and wandering around like zombies in search of brains. Finally, at 5:00 am, everyone realized that it was snowing, so they put on their shoes and their North Face jackets and walked around in packs out in the parking lot. Yes, it was 20 degrees and they were all standing around in a pack under a street light in our church parking lot. Ah, the sociology of adolescents. I'd like to go back in time and find the guy or gal who invented lock-ins and take them out...kind of like the Terminator and John Connor, only I wouldn't have any pity like the Terminator did.
OK, enough rambling for now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

I love it when Jesus gets snippy

Mark 11:27-33

Again they came to Jerusalem. As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?” Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin? Answer me.” They argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But shall we say, ‘Of human origin’?” —they were afraid of the crowd, for all regarded John as truly a prophet. So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

I just love passages like this when Jesus gets snippy with people who ask him rude questions. As one who seemed to be pretty good at reading people, Jesus senses that the chief priests, chief priests, and elders are coming to him with an attitude of condescension and arrogance, and clearly, Jesus doesn't like it. He rarely has much patience with those who would lord their own positions of authority and importance over other people. Jesus was so postmodern. :)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Always "Other"

So, last night, I was registering for The Country Music Marathon, and it came time to select my occupation from a drop down list of options. Was "Clergy" listed? Of course not. When I took a moment to think about it, I don't think a clergy-esque option has ever been available. What's up with that? Do ministers/pastors/christian educators/missionaries not warrant our own option on drop down lists? Why do they oppress my people?

Any thoughts?

Monday, February 05, 2007

I'll heal them anyway!

These words from Isaiah 57:16-21 were part of the daily lectionary today:
Isaiah 57:16-21
For I will not fight against you forever; I will not always show my anger. If I did, all people would pass away – all the souls I have made.
I was angry and punished these greedy people. I withdrew myself from them, but they went right on sinning. I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them and comfort those who mourn. Then words of praise will be on their lips. May they have peace, both near and far, for I will heal them all," says the LORD. "But those who still reject me are like the restless sea. It is never still but continually churns up mire and dirt. There is no peace for the wicked," says my God.
I'm particularly struck by verse 18: I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them and comfort those who mourn. This comes in the midst of God basically calling out Israel for all the ways that they've strayed from God's plans for them. Then, even though God voices a preference for God's people to be humble and repentant, God proclaims that God will not fight against us forver, nor will God always show us anger. God sees what we do, and even when we fail to repent and turn from evil ways, God promises to heal us anyway and to continue to lead us and comfort us when we mourn. What an amazing God we worship!! A God who wishes for us to have peace...a shalom peace...a shalom peace that means we are made whole.
And how about those last two verses about "the wicked?" When we ignore the peace that God plans for us...when we continue to seek after vain glory and selfish ambition...our lives will be restless like the sea...churning up all the muck that we create in our brokenness. Somehow, even as God offers us peace/shalom/wholeness/healing, we still find ways to muck it up. We find ways to miss the stillness that God wants so badly for us. Somehow these words redefine wickedness for me. I haven't figured out how yet, but I know there's something here to spend some time with.

I have seen what they do, but I will heal them anyway! I will lead them and comfort those who mourn.

Amazing...Absolutely Amazing!

Friday, January 26, 2007

My brain this week

This has been one of those weeks when my brain has been all over the place. Here are a few of the meanderings of my mind:
  • Last Saturday afternoon, I went to Starbucks in Franklin to wrap up my Sunday school lesson and to do some reading. The only place to sit was at a long table where two people were already sitting. They were gracious enough to let me pull up a chair on the end. I had placed myself in the midst of a discipleship meeting. An older woman was telling a 20 something young woman that God had put it on her heart to disciple her. OK, as soon as I hear "God put it on my heart," my skeptic radar starts beeping pretty loudly. As I faded in and out of hearing their conversation, I kept hearing just about every altruism in the book: that's the devil making him thing that...God wants you to be happy...there's a whole in your heart that only Jesus can fill...blah blah blah. As far as I could tell, the young woman was voicing some doubts and some struggles, and all the older woman could do was throw altruism bombs at her and hope they exploded in the right spot. I wanted to turn and say, "You know, it's OK not to have all the answers and wonder if God is acting appropriately." Anyway, that was interesting.
  • On a lighter note, I caught myself laughing out loud (lol for short) at Taco Bell on Monday when I saw these two hot sauce packets:
I mean, come one, those are hilarious. The Hot sauce packet is sitting there totally annoyed by the Fire sauce packet who is saying stuff like, "Hey, I'm hotter than you!" "I'm en fuego" "I am soooo on Fire" Then, there's the whole notion of scratching and sniffing a hot sauce packet. Anyway, I'm still holding to my theory that Taco Bell hires 3rd and 4th grade boys to come in and write stuff for the sauce packets. I love it.

  • On Monday mornings, I spend a couple of hours at The Good Cup (my favorite local coffee shop) reading. I know it's a luxury that not many people get, but I wish they did. It's so nice to just sink myself into a good book and let new ideas wash over me. I'm currently reading The Secular City by Harvey Cox. I just read a chapter that discusses India and the prediction that by 1966, the country would starve to death. Then, just 10 years after the book was written, Norman Borlaug comes along and introduces high yielding dwarf wheat. I spent a good 10 minutes sitting there thinking about momentous events like that that totally change the landscape of the world and destroy all of our predictions. Anyway, I wish everybody could have time to just sit and read.
  • Finally, I've woken up every morning this week to hear a report on NPR about people dying in Iraq, or more troops going to Iraq, or continued hostility in Iraq. I didn't watch the State of the Union address, because I thought I might either break something or cry. I've honestly been on the verge of tears each morning as I sit down and go through the ritual of Morning Prayer. Today, I was asked to pray for:
    • those subjected to tyrrany and oppression
    • wounded and injured people
    • those who face death
    • those who may be our enemies
  • I heard that Bush and his cronies are asking for time for his new plan to work. HOW MUCH MORE TIME DO YOU NEED? We've been enmeshed in an occupation and now a civil war for five years! Thousands of lives, Iraqi and American have been lost. How can sending more people in harm's way be the answer? When does it stop? When do we realize that the Iraqi people may not be ready for the constitutional revolution that we want them to have? When is enough enough? I'm so sick and tired of waking up every morning and hearing that more people are dead. Sure, I could switch my clock radio to a pop radio station and hear about the latest hollywood breakups and makeups, but people would still be dying...people would still be wounded and injured and facing death. NO MORE! more.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Friday at Harpeth

No lie, this guy was outside Harpeth this morning filming a music video with some women who've recorded a song about looking for a guy like Goober...No Lie.

I made it back safely from the collegiate conference at Montreat. It was a great conference. I hope Montreat commits to doing it again.

This evening I'm headed out of town with the members of the session of's session retreat time. I'm pretty pumped about the weekend actually. I can't wait to hear what kind of dreams and visions these folks have for our church in the coming years.

I've been trying to observe morning and evening prayer everyday (with some midday prayer in there as well) since the new year began. I haven't been totally disciplined, but carving out some time for prayer at various times throughout the day has really changed my outlook. It's funny how often the readings for a given day seem to be so perfect for where my heart/mind/or soul is at that moment in time. Anyway, I'm diggin' it.

OK, off to the session retreat.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Collegiate Conference Episode One...Powerhouse Perks

I'm currently sitting at Powerhouse Perks, a relatively new coffee shop in Black Mountain, NC. I'm here with a bunch of college students from Vanderbilt.

We're up here at Montreat for the collegiate conference. We were all drawn here by the promise of hearing Donald Miller speak, but it ends up he's not speaking until Saturday evening. :( Oh well. So far, worship has been great. I went to a workshop this morning about emerging worship. I'll have more thoughts about the qualities of Experiential, Participatory, Something about visual that started with I, and Connectional. It all spelled EPIC. Anyway, more later.

So, we're currently playing Apples to Apples, as evidence by these photos...must go now and focus more on nouns and adjectives.