Thursday, November 03, 2011

Sow it on the Mountain

I'm currently reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall.

As a side note, I was able to download it for free to the Kindle app from my public library for three weeks. Technology can be so cool.

As McDougall meanders through stories of ultramarathoners and other long distance running junkies, he circles, time and again, through the notion that the great runners simply love running and find joy in its simplicity. So far, the people highlighted seem less concerned with all the physical/technical aspects of running. They simply love running and find it to be a great adventure. They also tend to be adverse to promoting themselves, and often go out of their way to lift up other runners.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a joint middle school and senior high choir concert. The middle schoolers sang Sow It On the Mountain with the following lyrics:

Sow it on the mountain, gonna reap it in the valley
Sow it on the mountain, gonna reap it in the valley
Sow it on the mountain, gonna reap it in the valley
You’re gonna reap just what you sow.

Verse One
If you’re feeling lonely,
Won’t you be a friend to someone? (3x)
You’re gonna reap just what you sow!

Verse Two
If you’re feeling hungry,
Won’t you share your bread with someone? (3x)
You’re gonna reap just what you sow!

Verse Three
If you’re feeling weary,
Won’t you lend a hand to someone? (3x)
You’re gonna reap just what you sow!

Somehow, those lyrics find their way into my consciousness as I'm reading Born to Run. Many of the stories so far take place in the mountains, so that has something to do with it, but it's more than that. These runners are sowing seeds of peace and joy as they run, and then then reap those seeds in other areas of their lives.

Many times, I find running serves a similar function in my life. When I feel particularly stressed or bound up about something, I like to lace 'em up and head out for an hour of simply putting one foot in front of the other. I typically spend the first mile or two mulling over the pressing issues, but as time goes by, the wide open sky forces my mind to let go of whatever issue/situation is pressing in on me, and as time goes on, I find myself having big thoughts and exploring lofty dreams. I feel myself loosen up physically, mentally, and emotionally. It is often the peace I experience on a 5-miler that carries through to my day to day engagement with the world.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reading Presbyterians Today

I'm finally catching up on reading the last few issues of Presbyterians Today, which sounds like a daily paper, but isn't. The July/August issue cover touted stories about High Tech High Touch Finding the Balance. Amidst well-written articles by Kathy Wolf Reed about the use of technology in our congregations and Cary Estes about how to reflect creation care in our church facilities, I found an article entitled "Virtual World Congregation." This article takes a look at 1st Presbyterian Church of Second Life (1PCSL), an online worshipping community. I was intrigued by the various comments offered by those who participate in this community. It made me wonder if this kind of virtual worshipping community might be a forecast of things to come, and if it is, I wonder how those of us in professional ministry might adjust our thinking and practice when it comes to leading congregations.

At a recent meeting of the Committee on Theological Education (COTE), we discussed many issues facing theological education both in seminaries and in the church at large, and while distance learning came up, I don't recall anyone talking about virtual community. It seems that we might need to encourage seminaries to take a serious look at how our traditional models of theological education come to bear on the non-geographical, non-physical, probably non-denominational world of Second Life and similar online communities.

For now, I think I'll make an attempt to explore this online worshipping community and find out how it might feed my own need for spiritual nourishment.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A ridiculous Jesus Is My Boyfriend song

I was cruising along with the windows down on this beautiful fall day here in Middle Tennessee, scanning the radio for fun music, when I came across a peppy little tune I knew I had heard before. As the girl with Colbie Callet type voice began singing, I remembered that the song is entitled "Hold Me" and the girl singing was Jamie Grace. I think this song wins the prize for the most blatant "Jesus Is My Boyfriend/I wrote a peppy romantic song and decided to make it about Jesus to make a profit off the Christian market" song I've ever heard. Some sample lyrics:

I’ve had a long day, I just wanna relax
Don’t have time for my friends, no time to chit-chat
Problems at my job, wonderin’ what to do
I know I should be working but I’m thinking of You and
Just when I feel this crazy world is gonna bring me down
That’s when Your smile comes around

Oh, I love the way You hold me, by my side You’ll always be
You take each and every day, make it special in some way
I love the way You hold me, in Your arms I’ll always be
You take each and every day, make it special in some way
I love You more than the words in my brain can express
I can’t imagine even loving You less
Lord, I love the way You hold me

And the sappy love song, oops, I mean praise, no wait, sappy love song goes on and on. I don't really have time to get into a long tirade about why I dislike using contemporary romantic imagery to discuss one's relationship with God, but I'd like to go on the record as saying this song is utterly and completely ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Efficiency in the church

"We take a task that we could simply pay someone to do, and we divide it into fifteen parts so that everyone has a job. Is it efficient? No. Not if all you care about is getting the job done. But in the church we should care less about getting the job done and more about the people doing it. We are not in the efficiency business. We are in the business of making disciples."
--Page 116 in This Odd and Wondrous Calling by Lillian Daniel and Martin B. Copenhaver

I came across these words during my weekly restorative reading time yesterday. Thanks to Lillian Daniel for offering such wonderful insight. I remember, as a youth, serving on the National Presbyterian Youth Ministry Committee (yes, the name was too long) and wondering if the process of bringing together a youth and adult from every Synod in our denomination for an annual meeting for four days was the most efficient/helpful/productive way of "doing youth ministry" for the PCUSA. I've had similar thoughts while sitting in planning team meetings for the Montreat Youth Conferences. Over time, I've come to understand that efficiency wasn't the only priority. The leaders of those groups also prioritized leadership training, spirit-led group process, hearing many voices, and bringing people together who might otherwise never meet, just to name a few.

In my current context as a pastor in a local parish, I sometimes wonder if we might be more efficient if we got a handful of like-minded, passionate, hard-working folks together and made all the decisions. We might be, but we would miss out on the voices of those with whom we disagree or who simply has the church-life-transforming idea bubbling up inside of them.

As I reflect on the biblical witness, it doesn't appear as if God always chose the most efficient people or methods:
  • Was building an ark and gather animals all that efficient?
  • Moses had a speech impediment
  • 40 years wandering in the wilderness. I mean, come on!
  • King David was kind of a runt and "ruddy faced"
  • On the heels of Lent and Good Friday, I wonder how "efficient" the passion narrative and cross of Jesus were.
So, maybe we can let go of efficiency the next time we walk into a church meeting and reflect more on making disciples.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Invisible Realities

"Our worship is often centered on the expectation that our words will change things. Our liturgies remind us of invisible realities that may not be clear in our ordinary lives but become apparent when we gather together." Carol Howard Merritt, Reframing Hope

These are beautiful words about the power of the language we use in worship. To be reminded of those invisible realities of grace, mercy, compassion, etc. each week is powerful.

I wonder why some of those invisible realities are only made apparent when we gather together.
I wonder why we walk out the door, get into a conversation about where to have lunch, and quickly forget about all that was present in the liturgy.
I wonder why our refrigerators aren't more full of bulletin clippings
I wonder how much more extra-ordinary our lives would be if we made those invisible realities more front and center in our minds each day.

Finally, I wonder if anybody even notices the extra-ordinary language of liturgy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Thoughts on Rob Bell

It's been at least two weeks since I went to hear Rob Bell speak at Belmont, but I just finished his book, Love Wins, last week, so his words are still rattling around in my brain. Here are some thoughts from the night I heard him speak:

Kung Fu Commentary: While talking about the discussions that often ensue among pastors and in some Sunday school classes, Rob used the term "Kung Fu Commentary." I sometimes catch myself in the midst of an explanation realizing that I've dissected somebody's question in a hundred different ways, and then I wonder if I've been helpful at all. I also wonder if so many sermons in mainline churches sound like Kung Fu Commentary? I'd also like to see a move with that title.

"For it to be real, you have to own it. For it to be authentic, you may have to wrestle with it." While I don't remember what "it" Rob was talking about, I like these words. There are plenty of platitudes that we "Christian" folks like to throw around, but I wonder how many of us actually take the time to wrestle with our theological platitudes so that they become authentic to who we are and how we see the world.

"The thoughts come in a certain rhythm." When asked about the format of his books, particularly all the white space, Rob said that he formats the book to match the rhythm that his thoughts take. It makes me wonder about how I write. Instead of simply hitting the space bar twice after each thought, maybe I ought to be hitting the hard return.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Evolution instead of a flood

This afternoon I joined a group of Harpeth Youth for coffee and muffins.

As a side note, while we were there, Brad Paisley walked in. His producer, Frank Rogers, is a church member, so as they were leaving I made sure to get his attention. One of the girls with me went ahead and greeted Brad as well. Good times.

The topic of conversation for today's coffee meeting was the authority of Scripture, not that the youth would have said that. "We talked about whether the Bible is true" is probably the report they gave their parents. As were were talking about how we understand Scripture and how we seek to interpret it for our lives today, the topic of evolution came up, as it inevitably does when I have this conversation with youth. In the midst of that conversation, Cayla Jones, a sophomore, said something like, "I see evolution as God's way of changing everything instead of using the flood to wipe everything out and start over." Now, I imagine somebody has made similar theological statements, but I thought that was a pretty cool idea, that God, following the flood, would find another way to bring about change in the world. There's no doubt that humanity continues to find ways to mess up God's plan, but maybe nature is right on track. In any case, I wanted to give Cayla props for offering a great idea and making me see things in a new way.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Nice Weather and Summer Memories

Yesterday evening I was driving home from work with the windows down, and I got a whiff of diesel fumes. I know that for most people that wouldn't be such an enjoyable experience, but it immediately took my mind to the summers of 1997 and 1998 when I stood around buses and trucks while marching with The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. I'm sure fellow drum corps folks will attest to the powerful ability of diesel fumes to transport them to some random parking lot in Anywhere, USA.

For the sake of this post, though, I want to reflect on the thoughts that quickly followed my nostalgia for the wonderful world of drum corps. I remember sitting in some high school gym on a rainy day near the end of pre-tour rehearsals and somehow "realizing" that I was about to be a part of that 49th iteration of The Cavaliers Drum and Bugle Corps. At that moment I was mindful of the thousands of young men who had gone before me, and was full of excitement to join the stream. I had the privilege of being a part of that particular present. As we marched around that summer, the performances of Cavaliers past set the foundation, and yet they had no bearing on how we 128 young men would come together in those summer months.

For a variety of reasons, those two summers with The Cavaliers reflected very purposeful times in my life. The particular present I was called to embody was clearly set forth by the routines, goals, and rituals of the organization of which I was a part. I awoke each day knowing what I was there to do.

It isn't always so clear in the "real world," though, is it? We find ourselves pulled in so many different directions. Mindfulness of the presence gives way to analyzing the past and making plans for the future. We are at once a part of so many organizations or groups of people who vie for our attention and focus.

You will never hear me say that drum corps was "easy," but I do think there was a simplicity to that life that adds to the nostalgia. I imagine we all have our days when moving to a monastery or cloister sounds quite nice. I wonder, though, if we might find ways to simplify, even in the midst of our daily lives. I wonder if we might take opportunities each and every day to pay attention to the particular present to which we have been called.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Much to think about lately

How is it possible that I haven't published a blog post since November of 2010? I apologize to anybody who's still keeping an eye on this thing. I've had a number of opportunities lately to hear great speakers or read great stuff, so for the next few days my goal is to share some reflections.

This was an event sponsored by the College and Young Adult Ministries Unit of my presbytery. We invited author Carol Howard Merritt to come and speak about her books Tribal Church and Reframing Hope in which she addresses the issues surrounding young adults and their participation in churches in the early part of this century. While I haven't read Reframing Hope yet, I thoroughly enjoyed Tribal Church and every young adult I speak to who reads it says that it's "spot on" in describing their experience of the church. While I'm not going to summarize the book here, I do want to share a thought she offered during her time at YCHRCH that was particularly meaningful, in my opinion.

During a discussion of social media, Carol took issue with the prevailing idea that those who blog, twitter, or use facebook are simply narcissistic fame-seekers. Instead, she talked about how she used to join her Mother and Aunt on the back porch to help in the preparation of fresh vegetables for cooking. Actually, as I've thought about this, I may have translated her words into my own memories of sitting on the back porch of my grandparents' house with my own Mom and Grandma. Anyway, she recalled the stories that her Mom and Aunt would tell about their lives, and how great that was for a child to hear. Then, as time marched on and air conditioning became more prevalent, as well as cable television, the chores moved indoors in front of a television. At that point, her Mom and Aunt let the professionals of TV tell the stories. As Carol watches her nieces and nephews now, they sit around together with laptops and smartphones, and, as she posits, they seek to reclaim the role of story-teller. I think the idea of blogs, twitter feeds, and facebook status updates as taking back the story from the professional media is quite wonderful. Instead of lecturing the youth and young adults of our churches about the harmful effects of all that faceless social media, maybe we could be inviting them to share more and to help us reclaim the story of our communities. Maybe the cyber-voices of young people with their consistent insistence on narratives of hope, acceptance, love, and compassion are re-shaping the world around us. Maybe our church websites could be less full of calendars and staff directories and instead contain more story-telling by saints of all ages.

In the days to come, thoughts and reflections on what I heard from Rob Bell at Belmont University this past week.