Monday, February 27, 2006

The Profound Simplicity of Sabbath

This weekend I went with a group from our church to the Indiana Covenant Men's Retreat. On Friday night, we were asked what we expected or desired to get out of the retreat. This was something I had not really thought about at all, but when it came to my turn, I found myself stating that I wanted the weekend to be a Sabbath. Simple words, but I would not find out how profound they were until the next afternoon.

Saturday after lunch we were graciously granted free time until dinner. This meant five hours of unscheduled time. A lot of the men went to the gym to play basketball or volleyball. A few went for a short drive up to a little place that made homemade maple syrup. Some went on group hikes, bike rides, or played dominoes or euchre.

The first thought in my mind after lunch was that I did not want any interaction with others for a while. I sensed that God had some business with me. I sensed a need to truly keep a Sabbath, if even for an afternoon.

God brought many things to my attention. I spent a solid three hours in His creation, reading, journaling, talking aloud to Him, wrestling with Him, being confronted with a whole lot of ugliness within myself, and ultimately, beginning to learn to love myself and accept His love for me. Quite a productive few hours, eh? Intimate. Profound. Simple.

One catalyst for all these realizations was a book written by Brennan Manning with the assistance of Jim Hancock entitled Posers, Fakers and Wannabes: Unmasking the Real You. I will be reflecting further on the book and the truths which the Holy Spirit confronted me through it over the next few days.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A Commentary on the Sad State of Nickname Imposition

My brother's name is Nicholas.

I call him Chevy.

My dad and I imposed this nickname on him many years ago. Where do we come up with Chevy from Nicholas? Well, it's quite simple.

Nicholas can be shortened to Nick,
which can then be lengthened to Knickerbocker
which can be shortened again to bocker
there is (was, anyway) a car dealership in my hometown called Bocker-Chevrolet
Chevy is, as you know, the common term for a Chevrolet.

Why did we stop there, you may ask? We could have gone all out...

Chevy Chase,
Chase Meridian (from Batman Forever),
Prime Meridian,
prime rib,
rib cage,
cage fight,
Fight Club,
club sandwich...

Okay, admittedly, this could get a little out of hand, but you have to admit that we often fall short of a true effort when we impose nicknames on people. Creativity is lacking in the world of nicknames. Just imagine the possibilities if we were to truly open our minds!

Without creativity, all tall people (ahem, ahem) end up with nicknames like Jolly Green, Goliath and Shorty.

I like Tall Pants, though. Precise. Pithy. Succinct.

Do you dare to take the progression all the way to Sandwich? Even further? More power to you. Viva la Revolucion!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

America's Pastime...Trashtalk

Whether it happens or not remains to be seen, but at least Derrek Lee wants to stay with the Cubs. Spring training is just around the corner. We shall see if the Cards and 'Stros have anything to worry about this year. I sure hope so.

Let's just call 1909-2005 a manifestation of Luke 22:53b. "This is your hour-when darkness reigns." No, not the Darkness...the darkness. It hurts just thinking about it.

Go Cubbies. I'll love you no matter what.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Confessions of a Teenage Drama Pastor Dude

I'm an Intern Pastor, and a good chunk of my ministry falls into the category of youth ministry. I try to run away from the title Youth Pastor because of all the stereotypes I associate with that term. I don't even know what half of those stereotypes are, but I know they are there, and that I'm too good to associate myself with them. God, I'm such a sinner.

Anyway, as I've gotten into this full time youth ministry, I have experienced that all I am doing is taking everything I know, everything I've ever learned, everything I know my church has been through, all the trends that have existed in this church, and I try to synthesize them in a way that makes sense. I guess this means that all I'm doing is contextualizing. It feels that way. I don't know if I'm doing a very good job. Attendance has been less than stellar (a supposed indicator of health that I have always dismissed as unspiritual and stupid), and I don't spend time with individuals like I should. I spend far too much time at my desk, thinking, and far too little time with the youth, getting to know them and helping show them how to live in this world.

I have picked a youth ministry theme for this spring called Following God in a World That Doesn't Want You To. At first, I hesitated with this, because it's not like every single thing about our world and culture are trying to get us to deny God. That is to say, there is truth out there. God has not left us with nothing. But there are enough "principalities and powers" out there beating the tar out of us that we can say in honesty that the world doesn't want us to follow God. We feel it.

And I feel it. I feel a lot of pressure to not follow God. Often the source of the pressure does not label itself all that readily, though. It comes in a voice that convinces me that laziness is okay. It comes in a sudden urge to click where I'm not supposed to on this computer, an urge that I've resisted time and time again, though the urge itself does not relent. It comes in a feeling that I'm not doing a good job because our church isn't growing numerically right now...I mean, when did I buy into that one? - or have I always bought into it, but outwardly fought against it because I know somewhere in myself that I'm not supposed to think that way? It comes when I look at my ministry and think that I deserve better. Where does this crap come from?

A lot of places. As I sort them out in my life, we wrestle with the issues as a ministry. We learn how to discern all the voices. Truth. Error. In media. In our own minds. At school. At work. When we're with friends. When we're all alone. So something that is relevant in my life is also relevant in the youth ministry context, is relevant in the daily lives of the youth, and is relevant to you if you are also trying to follow God.

God give me the strength to follow. Give me the strength and confidence to minister because of your marvelous grace.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Program-Driven, People-Driven, Purpose-Driven, Porpoise-Driven...

This year has marked my first experience in full-time ministry. I have done full-time summer internships and have been involved in part-time college and church ministries for about five years, but beginning this past August, I began my first stint as a full-time intern pastor.

The first shock: the Title
Now technically, since I am not licenced or ordained, I am unsure if it is appropriate for people to call me 'pastor,' but they do. Not all, but a lot. In my previous ministry context, I slowly transitioned from a 'new attender' to a 'youth volunteer' to 'intern.' As an intern at that church, I never really felt like 'staff.' This is natural, of course. I was part-time and was pretty much subordinate to the existing full-time pastors. There is an identity issue inherent in my new title at Hope. When people look at me as pastor. When I come to the church as pastor, never before being a parishioner at said church, there is a huge identity difference from my prior situation. I think you get it.

The second shock: the Reality
Throughout college and my first year of seminary, I took the stance of ironic detachment/observation in my ministry classes. I was pretty skeptical of anything that used the word 'programming' or seemed motivated by numbers increases or that reached the New York Times Bestseller list. I threw around labels like 'inauthentic,' 'sterile,' 'robotic' and 'rote formulas' like they were going out of style (though usually not aloud).

Most of this was rooted in my own arrogance. I looked at the ideas of all these ministers. They all seemed to have thing figured out, and they all had advice for me, but they most often didn't match up. I didn't know what to believe, what to agree with, what to dismiss as trivial, so I did the natural thing. I said, 'give me the Bible. That's all I need for ministry. If I study that enough, I won't need the advice of all these pastors and youth pastors. They seem to have everything all figured out in their ministry context, but I have no idea what my ministry is going to look like, so when it comes down to it, I will look at it Biblically, and my ministry will be all good.

Well, now I'm in my context, and I'm still trying to figure out which way is north. Now I feel like I need the advice of all those 'experts' that I was so cynical about in college. Or maybe I just need to continue to observe, think Biblically, seek input from my congregation, pray like crazy, and adjust accordingly. Or maybe-gasp!-I need all of the above. Maybe I need all the help I can get. Maybe I'm not the great island dwelling genius I have given myself credit for in my mind. Maybe I need God, need others, need help like everyone else. Maybe I need to practice what I preach all the time. One body, many parts with Christ at the head...sound familiar? Oh, right.

The third shock: the Responsibility
As my wife has pointed out from different angles, I have never had to be responsible for myself. I went straight from home to college to marriage to seminary, and here I am at Hope Covenant Church. And I've never had to take care of myself. I have treated my wife like my mom, and have not consistently taken responsibility for maintaining our house, making my meals, making decisions, etc. I have been a mooch.

Well, at Hope, I am responsible. I am in charge. I call the shots. It's a learning experience that I think I'm growing in. I think I am scratching the surface of what it means to be a full-time pastor, being 'in charge' of certain areas of ministry, whatever that may entail: publicity, recruiting volunteers, teaching, music, administrating, coordinating, talking to people, emailing, etc. I am just now seeing how much of my life I put onto others. I have not been very responsible, and somehow taking on more responsibility at church has uncovered my lack of responsibility at home and in every area of my life.

I guess three shocks is enough for now, but I am still figuring things out. Where does God want me to help take this church? What should my focus be? How should I approach ministry? Where does reality intersect with my relentless idealism?

I don't know. But it's a trip just thinking about it.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Hate Policies, Don't Hate People

So I turn the discussion to the socio-policital climate of theology. I've felt it for the last few years, but never stronger than during the 2004 election, but when are evangelicals going to take a stand and refuse to be defined along partisan lines? When will I be able to call myself an evangelical and not have people assume I am also a Republican teetotaler who doesn't watch TV and only listens to Christian music and doesn't know anything about the real world, real people and real needs? I admit that I wrote some things during the time of the election out of pure ignorance, but I guess I was trying to put my finger on something that disturbed me, but my finger just wasn't finding what it was looking for. So what about these associations?

It's especially frustrating since most of the evangelical Christians I know and talk to don't fit into the "evangelical mold." So what is our response? For some it is to no longer associate ourselves with the term 'evangelical.' I think the issue is that we have allowed evangelicalism to be defined by a set of cultural norms, losing the heart of what it stood for in the first place. I guess I have to examine what that heart of the word is (not here) and then decide whether the word evangelical is worth fighting to get back or whether I should follow the crowd of jaded former evangelicals who are fed up with the associations, and just move on. In the meantime, it's not like the Gospel is dependent on whether or not I call myself evangelical, which I do for now.

But I guess I am unwilling to let go of the title solely on the basis of the socio-political associations. If it is something worth fighting for, I will do my work to redeem it (the word evangelical, that is). But I've never been someone who is willing to die on very many hills. I will die on the hill of commitment to Christ. I will preach Him crucified and resurrected and die on that hill. Will I die on the hill of evangelicalism? I used to think this was the only way. The way the evangelicals around me made other Christians seem made me think that there were very few redemptive qualities in the rest of the church. Now I'm not so sure. Sure, I still disagree with a lot of 'liberal' ideas in theology, but I also disagree with a lot of conservative ideas in theology, and I see that theological ideas are not so easily divided into liberal and conservative boxes.

Why? Well, I think it's because the heart of the Gospel espouses liberal and conservative ideas, sometimes in the very same breath. This is what I was getting at in my poem a few months ago. The call to "rightly divide the word of truth" has nothing to do with alienating people. It has nothing to do with polarizing people. Christian theology should not have its mind to determine right answers and turn our backs on and demonize those who don't agree. We continue the discussion. It's hard work, but we address the big questions and we all become better for wrestling with the issues and seeking the truth.

And Christian political action should be in the same spirit. We seek justice. We pursue life. But do we demonize people who disagree with us on these issues? I don't think we can, because no matter how strongly we disagree with a person on some issues, we will certainly agree on other matters. I have never found a person with whom I disagree on every single issue. I think we are called to fight for issues, but not to fight against people. That's when we get to dismissing and demonizing. "Those liberals..." or "those neo-cons..." It's bull. Hate policies, don't hate people. Maybe if Christians do this, I won't be so miserable when all this stuff starts coming up again in 2008. Let me know what you think, especially if you think I'm full of crap right now.

Just after writing this, I found this article, which provides some good clarity about what I'm talking about, and about how similar language has been abused in the past by wolves in sheep's clothing. I have to say that I am truly purple and confused. I am not trying to deceive anyone (consciously, anyway).