Monday, March 31, 2008

Pretty Much All That's On My Mind Today:

Kevin Millwood on the mound vs. the Seattle Mariners tonight at 5:40PM...

photo courtesy: Texas Rangers

And we'll need Michael Young to have a big year if we plan on making any noise...

photo courtesy: Texas Rangers

Oh, man.

I just love this time of year.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

Yes, I know he'll be back relatively frequently. He's already scheduled to preach in 6 weeks.

So, in some ways, this is much ado about nothing.

But my friend "D" is preaching today. It's his "last sermon" as an employee of Crossroads Bible Church. His office is packed and pretty much shipped. There's a reception in the early afternoon for him and his wife, Penny.

I totally get why he's leaving CBC. I mean, if you know him and know what excites him, then you know that his new job fits him and where he is at this stage of his life. So, on that end of things, I'm pretty excited. For him. For his family. For those of he will be ministering to.

And Tuesday he'll be off on his new adventure.

But 12 years of life together and working together...

...countless staff meetings (in the early days, especially) that devolved into that kind of laughter that you try to supress because you're allegedly grown ups but can't stop because whatever silly thing that was just said really was funny.
...getting to watch him teach God's word in settings from children to students to our church's doctrinal foundations to sermons and realizing that you were watching somebody who's really great at what they do do what they do. pranks that actually became traditions, including, but not limited to, the Festivus Cherub. nights for staff on his back porch.
...getting creative to find solutions with him when our old building just wouldn't hold what our congregation needed and working with him to solve the best of all possible church problems for our children, for our students, and for our adults.
...taking lunch trips to check out construction on the new building about once a week.
...secretary races around the upstairs hall. Let's just say that Nancy and Sherry are really good sports and they didn't even wear crash helmets or pads. Of course, they didn't have much say in the matter, either.
...watching his steady demeanor through the worst of all possible church problems was encouraging on those days when you felt you were coming unglued.
...listening to your daughters say "...and Pastor D and Miss Penny" for nearly 10 years praying before bedtime.
...designing and implementing our church's Family Camp (the best-kept secret we've got, IMHO) with him, and watching how cool it was from idea to inception.
...watching that couple parent, knowing they were about 6 years ahead of us on a very similar path, gave us encouragement that teens don't have to go nuts and watching the way they handled the unique demands of having PK's kept Tracy and I from too many potential potholes to count.
...watching so many lives influenced in so many ways.

I could go on.

And, yes, like I said earlier...the two of them will still be around with some degree of frequency.

But, in my mind, today's sermon on John 21 means a little more than the usual. And the usual means a lot when he's up there teaching.

Baseball players on opposing teams will often tip their cap when they see excellence from guys on other teams. These things are usually the subtle things that only players on the inside know about. It's a respect thing. An admiration thing. Even though their friends might be on new teams or whatever, there is an unwritten code that the game well-played deserves respect, and that respect should be shown even if the excellence is not on your team. The game's the thing.

Today, I'm symbolically tipping my hat to D.

The game's the thing.

And he plays it with excellence in the big and little things.

*makes eye contact*
*lifts bill of cap in such a way as the back part of the cap comes ever-so-slightly off the back of my head*
*nods in respect*
*puts cap back on*
*goes back to work without further hoopla, because the moment's over and the game's still the thing and there are more innings to be played*

Godspeed, my friends.

The Management Aims To Please

If only himself.

Margaux, who I dig:

photo courtesy: Higher-Order Life-Liver Jilly

I'm oh-so smitten.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Really Quick & Easy Decision

Get the paper.

Get the cup of coffee.

Notice the gray sky and chance of drizzle.

Decide not to mow the lawn today.

Elapsed time: 0:03.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Browsing Through A Periodical

It was under the stack of stuff on my desk. It'd been there for a while, I guess. I'd been meaning to get it out and read it, but frankly, I have so many periodicals for my work and the articles all start to bleed together into the mire of Charlie Brown's teacher. So, it was once at the top of the stack, now it's unread at the bottom.

For some reason, I want this particular periodical to get some attention before it goes into the bookshelf archives, likely to never be read again. At best, it'll get referenced once or twice when I need an illustration or something.

At any rate, turns out this was a good one to flip through. A few nuggets:

"Leaders must challenge the process precisely because any system will unconsciously conspire to maintain the status quo and prevent change. It is the nature of things organizationally not to change in a healthy direction. It is the nature of things organizationally to find a happy place and stay there forever and ever and ever and ever." Quoting James M. Kouzes& Barry Z. Posner in their book The Leadership Challenge.

"We are always one decision, one word, one reaction away from damaging what has taken years to develop."--Andy Stanley

"If Jesus were to offer extreme makeovers for churches, He'd focus less on worship styles and more on what's really going on inside the hearts of the leaders."--Ben Ortlip

"What if we were so moved by who God is, what He's done, what He will do, that praise, adoration, worship, whatever, continuously careened in our heads and pounded in our souls?"--Dave Crowder

"Then we must reimagine life, picturing this new reality of participating in authentic community. We exist for God and others. Let that be the motto of our lives. Let's not wait for someone else to obey Jesus."--Rick McKinley

"Lonliness is something that happens to us. But I think it is something we can move ourselves out of. I think a person who is lonely should dig into community, give himself to a community, humble himself before his friends, initiate community, teach people to care for each other. Love each other."--Donald Miller

Well, that's plenty to chew on today. Have at it, patrons!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Well, I'm Afraid That Rock & Roll Is Here To Stay

This Internet, man.

Maybe you've heard of it?

It's where they keep web pages and all sorts of information. Apparently, it's been influencing commerce and culture and social networking and all sorts of parts that make up our daily lives for quite some time now.

At any rate, I was thinking about the influence on the music industry yesterday. See, Pennywise decided to give their new CD away for free. That's right. Absolutely free. For one day. You pretty much just made them a friend on MySpace and they sent you a link which let you download their newest music for nothing. Click, drag, burn for backup. Viola! Local bands have been doing it for a long time, too. And Radiohead gave their album away for whatever you wanted to pay for it. That's right. You just paid them what you could afford or what you thought it was worth. If what I read was true, they actually made more money per unit than they would've if they'd sold CD's the conventional way.

Of course, this gets the industry big-wigs into a tizzy. The technology is affecting their sales and bands aren't needing them to make money and all that jazz. So, while only a few bands are at a point in their careers where they can have that level of marketing savvy, the industry execs see the writing on the wall and are adjusting long-term planning based on it.

And this got my mind going on the influence of the Internet in my area of employ: The Church.

I mean, lots of churches started out with having pages that had service times and maps and listing their staff and their ministries and lots of information. Doctrinal statements. Values & beliefs statements. Stuff like that.

Then it branched off into having sermons on-line. Updating past sermons and the whole bit...including the sermon notes. Then came forums and chat rooms and such, where you could develop relationships with all sorts of folks. Pastors started blogging and MySpace and Facebook groups with church connections started springing up. Twitter lets pastors and staff connect with their congregations (and the congregation members with each other) in almost real time. I've even seen baptism services live on a webcam and sermons on YouTube and youth ministry conferences. The Church may be slow to adapt to technology, but they're doing it piece by piece.

But, I'm wondering what's next.

As the tech-savvy group that's currently in young adulthood, who uses technology to enhance community rather than just figure out what time the services start of if there's childcare or downloading the sermon they missed or a grab a map to the campus, I'm wondering how the Internet will be used by churches.

I guess what I want to know is what's next? I mean, I know it's already starting to shift a bit. Somebody told me that over 80% of folks either listened to a sermon on-line and/or checked out doctrine before they ever visited the church...and this is decidedly different that a generation previous.

So, in your opinion, patrons, just like the Internet now has bands giving away music for a day to increase buzz/listeners--what's the "next level" of influence of the Internet on the life-together of a church body?
If You Purchased A Ticket To See The Movie "Into The Wild," What Would You Expect?

Not this.

And, right now, I'm wondering how come cool stuff like this has never happened to me. I mean, I've heard about similar stuff in other cities and other bands. But, these folks purchased a $5 ticket to a movie, and get a lifetime story to tell.

I gotta say I'm kinda jealous.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...about getting another tattoo. I still think my artist puts a substance in the ink of the ones he's already done so that I'll crave new ones.
...that the local hockey team's limp toward the playoffs leads me to believe it'll be another first-round exit.
...that I've GOT to get back to the gym starting in April. I wonder why diet & exercise seems to be the first to go out the window once I get busy.
...that it's pretty cool that Pennywise is giving their new CD away for free if you became their MySpace friend by a certain date. Well, I am their MySpace friend and they're sending me the link today sometime. For those of us that believe in supporting musical artists (which means abiding by the rules of downloading...i.e., paying for it somehow) this is kind of cool.
...I'm still pretty excited about R.E.M.'s new CD and Moby's new one as well. Both are released on April 1 and both have gotten favorable reviews. study of Jeremiah is still as exciting as it was when I started months ago. I rarely tire of that book.
...I can't believe some of the photos that high school students will post on their Facebook or MySpace pages.
...I can't believe that some of my former students who post their photos on Facebook or MySpace pages don't think that their current college life choices aren't easily discernible from the photos they post. Those of us who went to state school football factories know the stories behind the photos, generally speaking, kiddos. And, don't be surprised if your old youth pastor asks you to grab a cup of coffee. Remember the general rule about you asking me to coffee if you want to go and I'd only ask you if there's something I'm feeling particularly strongly about? Yeah. Some of you will be getting that phone call next time you're home for the weekend. Just giving you a "heads up."
...sometimes a good steak with good friends talking about old times and talking about the excitement the future holds is one of the best ways you can spend your evening.
...I kind of get tired of having all these ideas for artistic endeavors (I even have one that would involve painting--the problem is that I don't paint, can't draw, etc., but I think it's a really cool idea) that don't seem to come to fruition.
...that it hit me recently that this summer I'll have been married 20 years. That's in a row, people. Frankly, it's more a tribute to my wife than anything else, but it's still something to get excited about.
...that we'll actually be taking a true vacation this summer as a family. That's something else to get excited about.
...yes, I know. It's been a while since there's been a Margaux update. I think I need a photo fix myself.
...that I'm planning on teaching something for fun this summer and I'm excited about it.
...that my friends Dave & Penny are spending their last Sunday at CBC this weekend. It's the first time I've worked with somebody for so long and it's a strange feeling to be both pensive about them leaving and excited for their future.
...that I have to get going to work today, and I'm kind of late getting started.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Open Notices:

To my best friend from high school (and frequent Diner patron) Hal: You owe Kid1 a dinner the next time you're in town. Remember betting her that the little band she discovered and likes, Bullets and Octane, wouldn't be around for another year? Yeah. They have a song in the recently released movie "Drillbit Taylor." Kid1 and I made surprised eye contact when we heard it right in the middle of the show.

To the dad at an outdoor mall: I'm pretty sure I didn't get the little diatribe verbatim, but let me see if I got the gist of it, okay? As you were yelling this into your mobile phone at your wife these words (I've taken the liberty to PG-13 'em)..."This is b.s.!!! This is b.s.!!! You say that you're going to effen pick us up at 5-effen-20 then you better be here at 5-effen-20!!!" I (and a handful of others) was about 20 yards away and heard every word. I'm fairly certain that your 10-year-old son has likely registered that this is acceptable behavior in your world. Don't be surprised if you see it again from him, sir. I'll be surprised if you make the connection when he does.

To the folks who are putting together the Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival in San Francisco in August (to which Kid1 and I are attending provided we can get tickets, which go on sale Sunday at noon): When you add Beck, Wilco & Widespread Panic to a list that already included Tom Petty, Radiohead and Jack Johnson, well, let's just say the end of summer is looking quite enjoyable.

To the lady who was talking on a cell phone while flicking her cigarette ashes out her car window: You know, when you do those actions simultaneously, you don't have a hand on the wheel, right? Your truck might have a tendency to drift, right? So, when I get startled and reactively move my grocery cart closer to my car, I'm not sure that I deserved getting honked at and given the middle finger. I mean, there are times when I likely do deserve that, but this wasn't one of them. Really.

To the folks at the Dallas Morning News: That new font style & size, plus the "cleaner" look you fired up in today's edition was a good business decision. I'm concerned, though. It looks great to me. It was more easily readable. It was brighter. But I'm concerned because newspapers are dying and readership is, ahem, older. Middle-age struck again when improvements for those with diminishing eyesight were made and I liked it!

To the dude who had three bumper stickers on his car: One from a Christian radio station...fair enough--rock on with that. One that said, "They took prayer out of schools and THEN SANG GOD BLESS AMERICA!" Now I'm not sure who "they" are but I don't think the group that sang God bless America (presumably after Nine-Eleven) had anything at all to do with Murray v. Curlett (1963) or Abington Township v. Schempp (1963), either. And the last one read, "Are You As Close To Jesus As You Are To My Bumper?" Well, while the sentiment appears nice, it falls short. I mean, unless your bumper was INSIDE my car. Then it'd work.

To the lady at the bookstore in Lewisville: That was really excellent customer service. You don't see it much these days, and it was appreciated. I was going to say so to the manager, but it turns out you were the shift manager at that time. So, shouts out to the Barnes & Noble in Lewisville!

To Major League Baseball: The first official game in the 2008 season is a game in JAPAN? Really? Listen, they're already into U.S. baseball. Just play a few exhibition games there and let that be that. The Great Game should never begin off of U.S. soil.

To everyone in America: Please stop watching shows that start out with a certain number of people and then get voted off each week. There's just way too many of them and they don't seem to be getting better. Especially if they involve dancing or singing or marriage or getting a job or a modeling opportunity. You can pick two. Ånd only two. It's the only way to stop them from proliferating.

To my church family at Crossroads: Thanks so much for a wonderful celebration of The Resurrection. I truly enjoy Easter with my CBC family. I just like the vibe on that day, man.

Any open notices from the patrons today?
Do You See What You Miss When You Don't Go To CBC's Sunrise Service?

Photo Courtesy: Lisa Loniewsky

Each and every year, this is my favorite service...and I think people are getting used to wearing jackets. No worries, though. Easter's in April next year.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Open For Business, But Giving Your Poor Service

I blogged a lot over the weekend. I kind of have blogger fatigue.

It was a long weekend, as expected, for church staffers.

That being the case, I'll just open The Diner, make the coffee, and you guys can discuss whatever you like today.

*Management sits behind the counter, engrossed in a book, and thanks you for your patronage when you walk in, but then more or less goes into his own little world*

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I Really Believe This

"But if there is no resurrection from the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith is also vain...and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." 1 Corinthians 15: 13, 14 & 17.

"He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said." Matthew 28: 6a.

And because there has been His resurrection, everything changes.


Happy Easter, everyone.

He is risen, indeed.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 7--or, "The Dispatches, Continued")

Emergents embrace paradox, especially those that are core components of the Christian story.

This is where Tony gets into VERY dangerous waters. It's okay to walk around with shoelaces untied on the Trinity and the Hypostatic Union (Jesus being fully God and fully man at the same time)...but there are still legitimate reasons to believe by faith derived by Scripture in those very things.

My fear is that when you say "embracing paradox" you mean to say you don't have a conviction, Tony, on those things. And, if you don't have a conviction, you don't believe. If you don't can see why many "e"mergents split from "E"mergent Village here, don't you? Most "e"mergents I know have no problem with saying that they believe in the Trinity (or, my new term, "Tri-unity") or Christology that has Jesus as fully God and fully man at the same time.

Emergents hold to a hope-filled eschatology: it was good news when Jesus came the first time, and it will be good news when he returns.

Again, I don't have any framework for what you're kicking against. I don't know who disagrees with this.

Emergents believe the church should function more like and open-source network and less like a hierarchy or a bureaucracy.

This is trouble, too. Because Scripture is clear in that local bodies should be governed. Christ is the "head" of each local body, and Scripture provides encouragement for deacons (deaconesses, too?), and elders. The good thing is that you used the terms "less" and "more."

And if you mean that every member of the body is a minister and should be using their gifts and talents to help the body mature, well, I'd suggest lots of churches are doing that. But I understand where this comes from, because I've seen churches where the senior pastor rules the roost.

Emergents start new churches to save their own faith, not necessarily as an outreach strategy.

This is where you lost me. When you said that "E"mergents have "gone feral," and "never to be domesticated" again...well, Tony, you sound like the little kid on the playground who doesn't like that the game isn't going according to his rules so he takes his ball and goes home. The problem with that is you ruin the game for everybody else. You have a dichotomy that the current church is a lost cause, beyond hope... you take your ball and go home. To "save your faith." Really? Please. I'd respect you more if you used it as an outreach strategy--and that's saying something. Alienating those that have wisdom & experience is not really a good way to be the Body of Christ.

Emergents firmly hold that God's Spirit--not their own efforts--is responsible for good in the world. The human task is to cooperate with God in what God is already doing.

This is okay. Sure, the Holy Spirit is at work. Find out where and what and dig in! However, what if He's at work in the local suburban megachurch? Hmmm. How can you go feral?

Emergents downplay--or outright reject--the difference between clergy and laity.

Scripture defines roles for elders & deacons. it mentions that some are more mature and less mature. So, you can't outright reject "clergy and laity." The Bible makes distinctions. Now, if you want to downplay that and say that ministry should be by the body and these elders & deacons are "equippers," then I'm okay with that.

Emergents believe that church should be just as beautiful and messy as life.

The trend in Christian publishing these days is that the focus is on how "messy" life is and how life doesn't "resolve" like jazz doesn't resolve and how we need "mercies" as we travel. Don't get me wrong. I love those books. I bought those books. I recommend those books. And the strength of those books is that they are allowing the church to come back to the idea that you don't have to have everything all together and live life with a plastic smile in order to be a part of the deal. This is a good thing.

My hope is that those authors' next book involves the beauty of the transformed life. It isn't supposed to stay messy. And those stories of transformation are beautiful and encouraging and need to be told. But a bunch of feral folks sitting around in basements talking about how messy their lives are with no leadership to encourage them to grow doesn't do much for me.

So, in conclusion:

I'd recommend this book for those that want to know more about both the "E"mergents and the "e"merging church. So many folks don't have a clue as to what's happening among the younger members of their congregations, and Tony's right: It's significant and important. I'm grateful he's in our Tribe.

My personal observations is that he has a low view of ecclesiology. Or, the Church. And the local church. His view that the church is a hierarchy that squelches the spiritual life in America today isn't one that I share. I have hope for the church, and a high regard for Christ's headship in the various "flavors." There's more unity in the diversity than he sees.

He tends to have a low bibliology in that I feel the author values the conversation and dialogue and inclusion as of more importance than Scripture...or at least equal importance. I can't agree with that. Granted, it isn't easy when Scripture says one thing about homosexuality or gossip...but at some point you have to take stands and do so in the most loving way. Sure, we've made mistakes as a church in how those issues have been dealt with, but you still have to let Scripture speak. Sometimes the most loving thing is to let it speak to the issues of our culture and not try to make it more palatable.

Finally, if Tony is speaking for "E"mergents, then, well, my hope is that he's careful when he says things like "going feral" and calling conventional forms of church "dead." His words mean things. And, if he's serious in saying that his "orthodoxy" should match his "orthopraxy," (practice), well, he certainly isn't loving, merciful or gracious towards those of us who believe we're doing what God would have us do in more conventional settings.

And, I don't blame the "e"merging church one bit for distancing from you. The "e"merging church as I see it has a greater respect for the church and the Church, Scripture, and a better philosophical outworking of those beliefs.

But, I'd still recommend the book.

It's great dialogue...and I'd still enjoy that cup of coffee and chat, Tony...if you're interested.
Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 6--or, "The Dispatches, Continued")

The emergent movement is robustly theological; the conviction that theology and practice are inextricably related, and each invariably forms the other.

There's no question that what we believe influences our behavior. And there's also no question that there's plenty of "ivory tower" mentality in our churches...we even have pithy sayings about our inward focus.

However, Tony, our behavior shouldn't be able to influence our theological beliefs. I see it as more of a one-way street.

Emergents believe that theology is local, conversational, and temporary. To be faithful to the theological giants of the past emergents endeavor to continue their theological dialogue.

I'm not so sure about this one, Tony. Theology does have one "right" answer. I see it as more objective. Now, this doesn't mean we've "nailed down" that answer once and for all, but we strive to find it. So, for example, liberation theology in South America is influenced tremendously by their situation. That may be "local," but it doesn't mean it has legitimacy. I mean, what if they discovered in Scripture that they should serve amidst their oppression? Would they willingly & joyfully do so? Theology doesn't fluctuate. It is what it is. It's our job to dive in and wrestle.

And, this continuing dialogue? That can be dicey. At some point, you have to arrive at conviction. I mean, you can't sit around and discuss points without some degree of decision. I mean, you can waggle all you want about what "living water" means, but at some point a thirsty guy isn't going to want to talk about what it means anymore. He's going to want that "living water." And the most loving thing is to give it to him. We do need to be better listeners, though.

Emergents believe that awareness of our relative position--to God, to one another, and to history--breeds biblical humility, not relativistic apathy.

Again, we do need to be humble. But, if modern science differs from my interpretation of the Bible, I'll choose God's word. If modern psychology says certain things and I believe Scripture to say another, well, I'm in with the Bible. I don't care about my relative position to the psychologist.

If the Bible is true, it's true in every arena of our lives. This doesn't mean that we can't learn from others, but people can be wrong. Scripture, not so much.

Emergents embrace the whole Bible, the glory and the pathos.

This is where, yes, Scripture has all sorts of things that make us His wrath and the other stuff we find in the Old Testament. The implication is that most churches don't do this...that they spend too much time on Jesus' love & mercy and grace and all that because they don't want to preach the other stuff because it doesn't "sell." Well, that may be true, but I don't know. What I do know is that when you have theological underpinnings that allow you to see how God acted in different dispensations it gives you plenty of confidence to embrace the whole Bible. I've never felt like any church I attended didn't do this...but then again, I've been in Bible churches an awful long time.

Emergents believe that truth, like God, cannot be definitively articulated by finite human beings.

Well, you're right in that it can't be definitively articulated. But it can be argumentatively articulated in order to be discussed. And again, you're going to have to develop convictions at some point.
Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 5--or, "The Dispatches, Continued")

The emergent phenomenon began in the late 1990's when a group of Christian leaders began a conversation about how postmodernism was affecting the faith.

Well, Tony...while I appreciate your desire to recognize the influence of current leadership, please allow me to suggest that folks like Francis Schaeffer were writing about this stuff when you were 9 years old. It's nothing new, really. But Dr. Schaeffer (and many others) were already onto what this "postmodern" influence in the church would be back when Gerald Ford was in the White House. Anything the "E"mergents are doing is an application of their insights.

I'd also suggest that George Barna's research on "Today's Teens" in the late 1980's was asking the same questions your group is championing.

You guys have the Internet and technological advances in publishing/media to have your voices amplified...for good or bad.

The emergent movement is not exclusively North American; it is growing around the globe.

Granted. I love what's going on in Western Europe and my observations of the church there. And, I gotta say it, techno-rave-trance worship is beautiful.

Emergents see God's activity in all aspects of culture and reject the sacred-secular divide.

Amen, Tony! For years we've had "Christian" publishing/music/television/magazines, etc. They were seen as a "better alternative" than the "secular" stuff out there. But for those of us who were told that Rez Band was "just as good" as AC/DC...well, it didn't take long to get jaded. I even had parents tell me about their daughters' "church" swimsuit and their "regular" swimsuit.

It's all life, folks. And to make distinctions between what is sacred and what is "worldly" might be helpful verbage, it does long-term damage to how we engage the culture. It's seen as "us vs. them." And makes people "evangelistic targets" rather than people we love anyway. One of the strengths of the book is this discourse.

Emergents believe that an envelope of friendship and reconciliation must surround all debates about doctrine and dogma.

Again, this involves humility, but within our own Tribe. So, for example, the "issue" of women in ministry is significant. I have certain beliefs that I'm comfy with, and a former student I discipled disagrees in both theory and practice. We're friends. I do love her. And we're free to disagree, but it hasn't affected our friendship one iota that I can tell. She's very bright, articulate and well-educated and funny and insightful. She needs to rock on with what she believes God has called and equipped her to do where she believes God has called her to be.

But this doesn't mean that I should champion her cause in the church I attend. Her denomination believes differently, which is why they're the denomination they are. The danger, Tony, is in allowing that friendship and reconciliation to put all our doctrinal beliefs in a blender and melt them into one blend. The "flavors" are not a bad thing.

Emergents find the biblical call to community more compelling than the democratic call to individual rights. The challenge lies in being faithful to both ideals.

I'd agree that we need to be giving more of our "time, talents & treasures" and be more socially active. Our church has even hired someone to head up our "salt & light" ministries to get more folks involved in our community. I know of a church in Portland that has endeavored to improve and maintain a public park in their city. Wells in Africa is the mission of another church. I could go on.

But you're right about that balance. What's wrong with buying a boat with the fruits of your labor? What's wrong with a nice vacation/wedding/honeymoon/trip/blah/blah/blah? Nothing. I heard a local pastor chide a TV preacher for raising money for Sudan relief while wearing diamond cuff links. That's a perfect example of finding that balance. Maybe those cuff links were a gift from his wife, man. I have a nice watch given as a gift from my former students that I wouldn't sell and give the money to the Sudanese people. But, then again, that might be a way to give sacrificially. See? It isn't so easy finding that balance, but it preaches well and rallies the troops by making people feel guilty for working hard and enjoying the fruit of their labor.
Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 4--or, "The Dispatches")

In my mind, the strength of the book comes from Tony Jones' observations of the "emerging church." I'm not sure if there's anyone who has attended more of these types of churches or studied them in more detail than this author. He makes his observations in the form of "dispatches"...and far be it for me to add or detract from his list. He's the expert, and I'll comment along the way...

Emergents find little importance in the discrete differences between the flavors of Christianity. Instead, they practice a generous orthodoxy that appreciates the contributions of all Christian movements.

While the "E"mergents find little difference, I'd suggest that the "e"merging church does indeed find those differences to be important. See, I've found that, to "e" mergents, theology matters. Theology actually unites instead of divides. So, for example, let's say that some of my "pentecostal" brothers & sisters, who have a distinctly different view of progressive sanctification than I do, want to worship at my church. They choose to speak in tongues. Their practice of the spiritual life in worship has now flown at odds with my pentecostal family members. This would cause all sorts of division among our local church...which I don't think is honoring to God.

So, actually, those differences are important. And, in order for true unity to take place, there's a necessity for those that believe certain things to worship together in unity. This allows those of us in the Bible church to worship as we believe to be in "spirit and truth" and all the other "flavors" to worship in harmony.

However, I agree that the "e"merging church is much more open to appreciate the contributions of other denominations. For example, one year our student ministry participated in a full-blown Lenten observation. For Bible church kids, this was eye-opening as they began to understand what the other "flavors" of their friends consisted of. Instead of bringing a lot of negative baggage to the table, they were open-minded enough to participate in a practice uncommon to them and learn from other "flavors."

Emergents reject the politics and theologies of left versus right. Seeing both sides as remnant modernity, they look forward to a more complex reality.

Amen, Tony. It's high time Christians avoided any consistent allegiance to any American political party.

The gospel is like lava: no matter how much crust has formed over it, it will always find a weak point and burst through it.

The author's point is well-taken in that you can't really nail down the Gospel message in four points or a simple napkin drawing or a six-week session taken from a book. It's a lot more complex than what Americans have done to it. However, where I'd calm down a little bit is to say that those little methods can be one more way that someone CAN come into a relationship with Christ. So, if somebody rolls through something like Rick Warren's book "40 Days of Purpose" and develops a relationship with Christ, rock on Rick Warren! Granted, the Gospel is definitely a journey, but every journey has to start somewhere, and I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss those potential starting points like a Campus Crusade kid at the beach walking someone through the "4 Spiritual Laws."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 3--or, "No Country for Old Churches")

It all started at an IHOP. The beloved International House of Pancakes.

One of my former students was in town and we were grabbing a late-night dinner (or pre-morning breakfast, depending on how you want to define it). This former student has been growing spiritually ever since I've known him and he continues to encourage and challenge me to this day, so it was kind of cool to sit across the table and hear what God was doing in his life and ministry and church and all that jazz.

And God was doing a lot in his life and ministry and church and all that jazz at that time.

Much of that was due to an exposure to an entirely different way of "doing church" than the suburban megachurch experience he'd grown up in. It was (and still is) exciting...but in that excitement, reading between the lines of the excitement was the hint that we'd been doing a lot "wrong" in the suburban megachurch experience of which I'm a part. He didn't mean it that way, but it certainly came through.

And I felt like the character Ed Tom in "No Country for Old Men" as Tommy Lee Jones goes on a rant about all the things that were wrong in this country and there just wasn't room for those of us who are, more or less, from the "old school."

Tony Jones, in this book, fires off from the very first chapter entitled "Leaving the Old Country." Jones hauls off and says that the church in America is dead. That's right. DEAD. Well, at least he qualifies it by saying the "conventional forms" of the church are dead (page 4) In fact, he compares these forms of church to "pay phones." They're still around. Just no one uses them. They're irrelevant.

This is the first place I depart from my Emergent (capital "E") friends: I'd disagree. If for no other reason that the numbers of people that attend those places on any given Sunday. It's Easter weekend and all over America churches will experience high attendance figures.

Granted, they'll level off as summer comes.

But there's a lot of great folks using their gifts and talents for His glory in each and every one of those buildings on Sunday. Doesn't matter if it's a little Methodist church in a rural area or 17,000 in one building having 3,500 watching satellite feeds in another.

There's a lot of people growing in Christ, desiring others to grow in Christ and using their gifts and talents to serve. Your own figures site roughly 255 million Americans who claim a church affiliation. And those are all over the map regarding levels of involvement, consistency in attendance and all that jazz.

But that doesn't make it irrelevant. In fact, I'd say that makes it highly relevant.


All those folks aren't "on fire" and "growing" and all that. And, yes. There's plenty of folks filling up a pew (or interlocking stackable chair) who put in their hour twice a month and that's that.

But, Tony. Ahem. That's where they are in their spiritual growth at this time in their life.

Everybody can't be at some deeply spiritual, highly educated place of spiritual growth. The beauty of the Body of Christ is in the very diversity--everybody in a different place spiritually. Everybody in a different location. Everybody in a different venue. In my own community there will be highly liturgical services celebrating the Resurrection. There will be interdenominational gatherings on the Flower Mound (yes, there is one that our town is named after). There will be big gatherings. Small ones. In Africa and China and all over the world in different forms this will take place. And it's beautiful in the diversity.

So, I have no problem if you Emergents (capital "E") want to gather in a dank basement of a pub and light candles and worship using Gregorian chants. Rock on. Have at it. Worship the Lord in a manner that glorifies Him!

But I don't understand why those of us in multi-purpose facilities who have a relatively strict one-hour time frame for parking issues with well-lit auditoriums using amplified music and big screens and will give 10 times more to missions this year than your entire church budget don't get the same grace. We worship the Lord in a manner that glorifies Him! Why can't we Rock on?

That doesn't make us dead, Tony.
That doesn't make us wrong, Tony.

It just makes us different.

And, like I reminded my IHOP friend, there's room in the Kingdom for us--our suburban "megachurch," too.
And, like I reminded my IHOP friend, don't forget that it was at our very church that we taught you to think about Scripture a certain way, trained you and gave you opportunities to grow in your faith, and loved you and encouraged you every step of the way in your spiritual journey. We wanted you to question us. And now you're doing it. And I'm thrilled by it...because you're poking holes where we need to have holes poked.

So, rock on, emerging church (little "e"). Rock on.

We hope you'll extend the same grace to us as we rock on. Keep sharpening us, okay? But let us rock on. We're in this deal together, okay?
Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 2)

I got an e-mail from one of our church's Bible study leaders yesterday. She was preparing for next week's lesson, in which a DVD is shown and then they break into groups, and the teacher on the DVD took an aside to briefly discuss the dangers of the "emergent" church. The DVD teacher had a lot of negative things to say about that group. Our church's leader asked me to help her understand why this respected teacher would feel so strongly.

Which highlights a very important reality that author Tony Jones does indeed point out in his book:

That any discussion of anything "emerging" or "emergent" you have to make a distinction regarding precisely who it is that you're talking about. In fact, in the introduction, the author does that very thing.

Mr. Jones makes it clear from the outset that when he uses the term "Emergent" (capital "E") he is specifically referring to the "relational network which first formed in 1997; also known as Emergent Village." When he uses the term "the emergents," he is referring to a group of people who bring "new forms of church life rising from the modern, American church in the 20th century."

The reason this distinction is important is that often those that take hard-line critiques of the "emergent church" (little "e") are often setting their sights on the group of noted authors who are publishing books and on-line articles...the Emergent Village (capital "E").

The problem with this is that so often the "emergent church" (little "e") has never heard or read one single thing that Tony Jones or Brian McLaren has ever written (oddly, this is also the case of many of those that take hard-line critiques of Emergent Village), much less believe the same things they publish.

And, yes, there's much the Emergent Village has published that should cause concern (two specifically, of which I'll touch on in later reviews) regarding the Church (ecclesiology) and the Scriptures (bibliology).

But that's another matter. Remember, the "emergent church" contains members of an age range roughly of those born between 1975 and 1995. They come from various church backgrounds, notably coming of spiritual age in the American church during a time of highly-innovative ways of doing church led by highly-trained professionals.

And they're asking questions that make those of us in leadership (and, those in the church at-large who designed and implemented the various ministries and designed buildings and gave money and are now in servant/leadership roles) a little uncomfortable in the best of ways. Things like:

"Why would Christians bother aligning themselves with any political party?"
"Why have youth groups going to play paintball? I can entertain myself. Why don't you just equip me for life & ministry?"
"Why should we have coffee in the auditorium during worship?"
"Why have a multi-purpose facility? If worship is the most important thing we do, why not have a facility dedicated to that purpose? And why would anyone come late to WORSHIP THE LORD?"
"Why aren't women in more visible roles of leadership?"
"Why do we get wrapped around the axle about homosexuality when gossip is acknowledged to be a bad thing but winked at in practice?"
"Can a suburban megachurch foster my desire for authentic community, or does it's very existence detract from that?"
"Isn't worship more than just singing?"
"Why isn't prayer--corporate and personal--a more active part of our worship services?"
"Why don't we practice church discipline?"

I could go on.

But you see how folks could get confused, right? If the Emergent Village (capital "E") writes a book or article that addresses these concerns of the "emergent church" (little "e") then the "capital 'E'" and the "little 'e'" get lumped together in the discussion. So, if controversy is created by the "capital 'E'" writers then the entire argument of the "little 'e'" folks gets dismissed out-of-hand by those who put out DVD's and write web sites and counter-articles.

And, you know what? The "emergent church" is doing precisely what the previous generations did regarding church: They're looking at the way a church operates and asking questions. Good ones, too. If you don't think those questions I listed above aren't good questions that they should be asking then maybe you're a bit too comfy in the pew. Or the stacking, interlocking chairs with comfy cushions. We're blessed to have the emergents (little "e") in our midst, making us beautifully and wonderfully uncomfortable. We--those of us in the previous generation of churchgoers--would be prideful, arrogant and silly to ignore them. They're part of our church today...

...not the church of the future.

I'm glad Tony Jones started his book this way. It'll save everybody a lot of time and energy just knowing that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Review of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier (Part 1--The Author)

As long-term Diner patrons know, the "emerging church" has been an area of interest for me for quite a while. My fascination with how generations interact within the Church began in my Youth for Christ days, continued through seminary studies and been maintained as I've been fortunate to work in the same church for over a decade. I've been reading books on this topic consistently for a number of years now... much so that the very mention of the topic can give me tired-head. It's the same-old back and forth with straw-men and ad hominem stuff from every side. From my vantage point of being a proud, card-carrying GenXer it seems that once was a fruitful discussion has devolved into a defensive pigeonholing that squelches dialogue.

But I got early word that the new book from Tony Jones (scroll down for his bio) entitled The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier was a significant contribution to any works on this "movement." So, I picked it up not long after the retail release.

So, let me say up front that if you Google Tony, you'll likely find that the author has people that love him passionately and rave about him on blogs and web sites and all that jazz. You'll also find folks who declare him a heretic and want him burned at the stake. There's not a lot of middle ground as far as I can tell.

Maybe it's my punk rock sensitivities, but that's usually how I know I'll be endeared to someone. See, some folks who stood on the outside of the punk thing in the U.S. in the 80's immediately associated it with violence and chaos and anarchy. Those of us who got into it saw it as a movement that was about something (even if that something was of little importance to yourself) and a stark contrast to the musical stuff that was out there. We looked past the dive clubs and poor sound boards and dumb jocks who wanted to start fights and saw that some bands were expressing our angst. Later in the late 90's I saw the same things about the "rave" subculture.

So, let me state up front that after reading this book that I find the author likeable and knowledgable. He's very intelligent and outspoken. Not that he'd care what I think, but I'm of the opinion he's a faithful follower of Christ and certainly deserves a hearing. If somebody like Joel Olsteen shows up at our "family" reunions and we view him as the uncle who is the worst-case-scenario sterotype of one who sells used cars, I think we've got room in the family for the "flannel wearing coffeehouse misanthrope" (thank you writers of Grosse Pointe Blank) in the corner pointing out our flaws, trying to use his "inside voice" and failing...even if it makes us uncomfortable.

In fact, let me do you one better: Much like Jane Goodall lived with the chimps and gorillas and then wrote with respectability (and with significant controversy) about their habits and conditions, that's what Tony Jones does for The Kingdom. He's likely been to more churches and studied this up-and-coming generation in the church more than anyone else going today, and he's earned a hearing from those in leadership positions in the Church.

In sum, Tony Jones, as best I can discern, loves Christ, loves his wife & children and is trying to serve. I'd like to hang out in coffee shops with him.

More on his work over the next few days...but I wanted those of you who take the time to Google him where I stand with him. Apparently, folks in our Tribe are polarized by his work--and I'm not sure from reading this book exactly why.
Playing Hooky

I read in the paper this morning that, due to March Madness (for the uninitiated, that's the NCAA College Basketball Tournament designed to crown a champion--something college football higher-ups should take note of), business in the United States will somehow lose $4 billion due to people playing hooky.

Now, as one who thinks Americans tend to work too hard and don't rest enough and don't celebrate enough, I'm okay with somebody knocking off work at lunchtime. There's even a radio station in town that is setting up at a restaurant to encourage folks to skip work today and tomorrow and come to get some reduced-price beer and some hot wings and some attractive young ladies wearing short shorts to bring those to you. The kicker is that there is free wireless internet service so "your boss will think you're working."

I also get the allure of office brackets...I won our fraternity's bracket pool one year which netted me a cool $120.

But what I'm thinking about today is how we like to play hooky and the things that we will play hooky for. Frankly, I'm not too inclined to skip work for the basketball tournament's 1st round. Or any round, really. Sure, during some down time at the office I'll check a few scores, but that's about as involved as I'll get until the 10PM SportsCenter broadcast. I like to see the excitement of last-second underdogs hitting the big shot and stuff, but that's about as far as it goes for me.

So, I was thinking about times I've played hooky (but frankly, so much of my former "Peter Pan" lifestyle looked like hooky, but technically, I was "at work").

I have a standing hooky date with Kid1, but that's about the only time: The home-opener for the Texas Rangers. Ever since my daughter was 8 we've been to the game. She skips school. I skip work. Hope springs eternal. Jets fly over and we get all USA'd. We eat sunflower seeds and spit the shells on the ground. We sing during the 7th inning stretch. We make a day of it.

Once I took a student (so I was encouraging hooky, but technically, I was "at work"), who was my ministry's worship leader, to meet the guys in D.C. Talk. It was a luncheon for youth ministers and the guys in the band, which was big in Christian teen circles at the time, were nice enough to say "thank you" to those of us that loaded up vans and brought kids to their shows. Anyway, the student (who is on my "movie quote" text message list to this day) got to sit across from real, live relatively famous people and ask them a question about how to better lead worship. It was pretty cool.

Another time I took a bunch of kids whose parents let them play hooky to an all-day concert festival in Dallas. There was crowd-surfing (which I later got in trouble for), Wes & Nathan got backstage (another youth ministry perk) and got their pictures made with the girls in SuperChick, and motorcycle jumpers and all sorts of good times and laughs. We ate at China Star, an all-you-can-eat buffet before we headed downtown.

But I've never been much for playing hooky from my appointed rounds. Not even in high school. In college, I skipped classes on a frequent level, but by then I'd learned when you could safely pull that off and when you couldn't.

And today I'm wondering what will get the patrons to play hooky...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Series

I have much to say about the Tony Jones book The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier, and I'll fire it up tomorrow. There's a lot I like and some stuff that makes me wonderfully uncomfortable and some that I have trouble with.

Which I expected.

Which I think would make the author satisfied that he'd done his job.

But I'll start tomorrow and it'll take a few entries in order to keep it readable.
Rain Delay

I think the rain guage at DFW Airport is broken. Nearly 850 flights were either delayed or cancelled yesterday, yet the "official" rain guage said we only got around 2.5 inches of rain.


That small of an amount can delay planes?

Yes. I know. There was lightning involved. Yes. It was windy. But on the weather last night they were reporting totals of 5 or 6 inches at the airports all around DFW. And there are several airports all around DFW.

So, somebody's gotta be mistaken. Or maybe it's all that smog that causes the rain to bounce into the other airport rain guages.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Biggest...Ummm...No...The Best...Ummm...Hmmm

So there's this show on NBC on Tuesday Nights called The Biggest Loser. The premise is that you have some people who are admittedly overweight and they want help in losing that weight and becoming healthier people. They have trainers. They have nutritionists. They have these challenges where they compete in teams against each other for prizes. They have a weekly weigh-in (based on percentages so everybody's competing on a more level field). They have temptations where they can win big or have to eat pizza/chocolate. There are even prizes if you get voted off where you can win by continuing to lose weight once you get home.

What it comes down to, though, is that these folks get to work out roughly six hours a day in the best of conditions. It shows, too. Those "before & after" photos are encouraging. Some contestants have safely and correctly dropped 25% of their body weight or more.

But what I'm wondering about today is what kind of show could we put on television if we had that amount of concerted effort into a spiritual life. So, help me out here, patrons...

...where should the show be filmed and why?
...would there be "trainers" and if so, what would they do? Who would they be?
...what would the challenges be?
...what would the temptations be?
...who else should come alongside on the weekly deals (like on this show they have some famous chef come and show them how to cook)? do you measure winners? How do folks stay on or get voted off?

I (kinda sorta maybe) think there's a market for something like this. I mean, think about it. You could pose deep questions each and every week and get America talking about their spiritual lives and hitting libraries and such. Frankly, I think there's worse ideas for new shows...

...and, oh yeah, what would we call it?

Monday, March 17, 2008

So, Today I'm Thinking...

...that maybe I should've brought the hammock into the garage for the winter, as last night (2nd ride of the spring) two of the support ropes frayed & snapped.
...that, thankfully, there is a Father's Day/Anniversary coming up in the summer so as to replace said hammock.
...that Tony Jones' new book on the Emergent Church/Movement leads me to believe that those that have commandeered what once was a grass roots movement will ultimately be doing more harm than good long-term. I'll have a complete review later.
...that my daughter's "Pi" day celebration (on 3.14 at 1:59 PM, get it?) was pretty funny with her baking pies and having all her friends be here at that time.
...that, to me, it's really nifty how the folks in charge of our podcasts from sermons have the Sunday sermon on the web on Monday mornings. As long as we keep their equipment working at optimum levels, the deliver.
...that I kinda wish I was on the ski trip with the student ministry right now.
...that I enjoyed teaching my two classes yesterday as much as I've enjoyed teaching in a while.
...that even when golf is at it's most exciting (see Tiger Woods finish yesterday) it's still the worst sport to watch on television.
...that I'm not sure I get how much spring break affects society around here. I don't remember as a kid going anywhere or doing anything other than just goofing off because there wasn't any school, but around here it seems like a ghost town.
...that the dandelions have fired off a return salvo in my war on the weeds. They're back after two days.
...that trying to set up summer vacation plans isn't nearly as easy as it used to be before teenagers lived in my home.
...that I'm looking forward to the spring storms coming into our area tonight. I like a good thunderstorm as long as hail stays away.
...that it was good seeing pastor Mike back at church yesterday.
...that it looks like we'll be getting good weather for our sunrise service this Sunday, with temps in the 50s, which beats last year's 30s.
...that I need to get back to the gym, and this is a good week to do that.
...that I'm a pretty happy camper in life these days.
...that there really isn't much going on so I'll just end it here.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Long-Term Effect Of Youth Ministers

The weeds had been mowed. My lawn looked ordered and green (even if the green wasn't grass).

The hockey game started & ended early.

The family was tired from a Saturday of stuff and everybody seemed to power-down, just veggin' out...except Kid1 who drove to Deep Ellum with a friend to see some bands at The Door.

The weather was cool.

My dog knew the drill: I grab a throw pillow, a blanket, a book, and start walking toward the back door. He knows we're grabbing the first hammock time of the season. He's in.

And the book I grabbed is yet another on the so-called "Emerging Church." This one's one I was looking forward to because there's been a lot of yipping back-and-forth about the "emergents" and the good/bad they're doing for the future of the Church. This game's been being played out on the Internet mostly, with the old-guard complaining about the things the old-guard is supposed to complain about & the young-guns fighting the battles they're supposed to fight with passion, excitement and enthusiasm. The best options, as always, are somewhere in the middle. The entire debate--which is going on about 8 years now--has been giving me tired-head for about 5 of those years now.

But this book was written by one of the big-dawgs of the young-guns so I thought it'd have some good insights (thus far, it's more of the same stuff I've been reading on the Internet, but I'm not even 20% finished, so we'll see). Perfect choice for the first hammock ride of the season. Lloyd agreed, so off we went.

My thoughts went in an entirely different direction after reading this:

"An unmistakable strain of the DNA of the early emergents is that we were all reared during the golden era of American youth ministry...'Relational ministry' it was often called, wherein relationships between adult leaders and teenagers had primacy...In 1965, it was unheard of for a church to have a paid youth worker; by 1985, it was virtually unthinkable not to have one.."

I sat up in my hammock. Lloyd raised his head in initial concern, but realized the movement was akin to body shuffle and had little trouble going back to sleep after the initial disturbance. Now, this isn't where the author went with the rest of his insights, but my brain went another direction.

My brain engaged because now this is personal.. It hit me for the first time that I was in the second wave of kids that had grown up in church ministries where youth ministry was professionally done (and done well in my case). Me and my friends were a part of some of the most creative and innovative youth ministries in their relatively early going. Youth for Christ. Young Life. Church youth groups with new ideas for attracting and keeping teens. We were used to changes and changing and innovation and all that.

Then some of us got into youth ministry as a profession. We saw the strengths and weaknesses of the innovations of our predecessors and built on those. Took it to different places, for better or worse. But we were trying new things and some worked and some didn't. Then we hired staffers who came through our very own ministries and they started taking what we did to different places, for better or worse.

And now those of us who earned our stripes in virtual labs of ministry are slowly starting to filter into the more traditional ministries of the church. If we're still in youth ministry it's generally in a more supervisory role letting the young Turks have at it, for better or worse.

We're used to change.
We're used to innovation.
We're used to trying and "winning," and we're used to trying and "failing."
We're used to constant turnover in our ministry since each and every year 25% of our ministry graduated and 25% of new kids entered.
We're used to volume and lighting and loud and then flipping it over to acoustic and candles and contemplative.
We're used to tears and belly-laughs.
We're used to hands-on ministry in the forms of large groups on missions and service projects large and small.

I could go on.

But now we're finding ourselves in more traditional roles with folks who have grown up in different ministries and are comfortable with their ministries the way they are now. They're tried and true. They're friendly and enjoyable. They're stable. They're successful for the most part, so don't mess with it. They're cerebral and measured. They more about funding missions and service projects.

Where the emergent movement (whatever that is) gets all wrapped around the axle in the worst of ways is the presumption that their ways of ministry are "better" or "more biblical" and that the old folks just don't "get it." This is what gives me the tired-head. The more traditional ministries have their good points we can learn from. Somebody's got to oversee the young Turks or the inmates will run an asylum. Somebody's got to fund the mission work. Somebody's got to write curriculum. Somebody's got to teach the young guns the history and values and beliefs of our local body. They shouldn't be criticized for these things like so many younger writers seem more than happy to fire away.

Where the older folks get all wrapped around the axle is that those of us who were in the golden age of youth ministry, both as participants and later as professionals, are pretty astute when it comes to evaluation of systems and correction thereof. We can do it quickly, efficiently, and with the best ideals. We can take an ideal to concrete ministry plan in about 4.8 seconds. We enjoy flux. We're comfy in checking out what Christians in the 1930's or 1830's or 1630's or 30's did and applying that to a modern context rather than dismissing them out of hand (which, interestingly, is what the Baby Boomers did: designed church as a reaction to what they didn't like about their church and now they get offended when the next generation does that very thing).

For some reason, I just never put 2 and 2 together in that I was "brought up" in the Golden Age of youth ministry...

...and that would have repercussions that run far and wide into the future because of how I see Church.

And, oddly, I'm invigorated by that.

Excited by that.

And the idea of putting my punk-rock sensitivities and theological training/beliefs and Golden Age ministry stripes in a blender and seeing what comes pouring out excites me beyond measure this morning.

*synapses firing on all cylinders*
*chomping at the bit to teach my class on Jeremiah today*
*envisioning opening my Bible on my podium at 10:45AM already*

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Game On

Oil in the mower.
New spark plug.
New line for the weedeater, perfect for both trimming and edging.
Weather's good.
Big blue bin at right ratio to allow for grass clippings but not infringe on trash disposal for the rest of the week.
Gas can full.
iPod charged and podcast loaded up.
Crepe Myrtle trimming project completed last week and ready for clean up around their trunks.
Weeds dominate grass at present, and they appear to have an early lead.
Mow shoes inspected and ready for another season.
Sunglasses that magnetically attach to current frames: check.
Baseball cap to wear backwards: check.

It's the first lawn mowing of the season today.

I like my chances against the weeds.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Hot Air

I get it.

It's a slam-dunk if you're a politician.

Random drug testing begins in our fair burg's excellently commended blue ribbon high-falutin' we-rule award-winning playoff-making TAKS-test-dominating college-bound-student factory school district in April. That's right. Random drug testing for students involved in any "extracurricular" activity. It's been going on for athletes for quite some time, but it was my understanding that those tests were specifically for performance enhancing drugs. This makes sense on two fronts: First, it has to be governed to keep the playing fields level. Second, as an added bonus, the health concerns of performance enhancers should be monitored. But those are sports...and these are activities in which the drugs being tested for directly affect the integrity of the games being played.

But now any student in ANY extracurricular activity (such as the chess club, or robotics team, or math club) or any student who drives (needing a parking permit) or any student who has parents sign them up can be tested for any drug at all.

The levels of outrage I had when I heard this story are staggering. If I had a child going to an L.I.S.D. school, I'd have gone to the meeting last night and made sure I was heard. I should've gone anyway as my tax dollars are supporting this nonsense on stilts.

First of all, and by far most important, the message being sent to our young people is that your civil rights don't matter. That you are under suspicion by your mere presence. It wouldn't bother me if those young folks got all civilly disobedient in some form or fashion.

Secondly, it's a waste of time and money. Lemme see if my old youth pastor genes kick in here while I mention that alcohol only can be detected for about 12 hours in your bloodstream. In fact, any drug they test for will be gone by Monday if the kid stopped usage by Saturday night. They might get lucky and catch some cocaine that stuck around longer than usual, and maybe some crystal meth. But let's be realistic shall we? You might catch a few chronic pot smokers (stays 10 days to 21 days depending on frequency of usage) or a first-timer (usually stays 4 days) if you do these on Mondays. But that's about all you'll get...and that's presuming they don't cheat the tests, and any Google search can help them out if they happen to have been too stoned to have it register while the other kids doing the drugs were telling them how to beat the tests.

And, ahem, you blowhards, the rage right now involves prescription stuff that isn't prescribed to them. Oxycontin and other stuff like that. Yeah. Those urine tests won't pick those up.

Thirdly, if I hear one more well-intentioned parent say something stupid like, "Anything we can do to get drugs out of our schools is a positive thing" I think I'll puke. ANYTHING? REALLY? Machine guns? Handcuffing them to their parents all day every day in class? Having lie-detectors at the end of every class day? So...what you're saying is "by any means necessary" we should stamp out drugs? Death penalty for association with known drug users? How 'bout that?

Fourthly, why stop at drugs? Let's do invasive tests to see who had sex over the weekend. Let's scan text messages from their phones to determine who lied to their parents this weekend. Let's put GPS systems in their phones and have the school monitor all their whereabouts all the time and expel the bad seed who trespassed or loitered or skateboarded in violation of code. Let's have the principal hack into their MySpaces and Facebooks and confiscate all the photos of guys mooning their friends on 407 and the girls who kissed each other on a dare. Since we don't trust them to stay sober, let's just go ahead and admit we don't really trust them at all in any area and have at it.

So, blowhard politicians, let me make a suggestion or two:

Teach math and history and robotics and chess and football and science and all that jazz. While we're at it, teach jazz & blues (but don't tell them about roadhouses or selling your souls to the devil just to be sure).
Do that very well. Put your money into that.
You already have rules in place for students who disrupt due to the influence of illegal substances, so just enforce those, okay?
Let the U.S. Constitution be a guideline for you. Even if you don't have to (yes, I know all about in loco parentis).
Make a decision to let parents decide if they're going to drug test their child or not. Even if those parents suck at parenting, well, this isn't your responsibility as teachers or administrators.
Teach our kids that principles matter...even if the desire behind erasing those principles appears to be helpful.
Teach our kids that fiscal responsibility is more important than catching a few stoners.

Teach our kids that politicians have better things to do and bigger fish to fry.

And, once again, parents, do your job. And if there are parents out there who don't see that civil rights and lines of accountability being in the right place with the right people, or even silly use of tax dollars...

...we might be in more trouble than we thought.

Tell you what, though.

I'll make a deal with you folks who think this is a good thing. I don't do drugs. Never have. Can't imagine that I will...although I was addicted to Afrin Nasal Spray once, which I heard showed up on drug tests. However, since I kicked my nasal spray habit when I was 15, I'm feeling pretty good about my chances of passing a drug test. But I don't like the reality that someone can just come in and demand one to or my friends. And I'd be annoyed as all get out if somebody suggested that I should be tested for the greater good...whatever that means to them.

So, we'll get all those lovely neighborhood associations we have to do the very same thing--see, somebody's going to have to pay for it, so we'll just add about $1 a month to your dues. We'll just randomly select grownups who own homes to family drug testing. We'll get the same percentage of homeowners and renters involved and they'll just come into your home... pee in a cup...

...and if you fail, you have to move out of your home for 30 days and live outside the L.I.S.D. district. And we'll take your driver's license.

And, oh, yeah. Your neighbors will see the drug testing vans outside your home. Those false positives because of the bagel you ate will have lasting repercussions when your friends get to Starbucks and gossip about your being shunned. Your property values might drop if you find yourself living in a covenant neighborhood where a higher percentage of pot smokers live.


I just don't see a win here.


And people wonder why GenX is so cynical.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

More On My Blogger Boredom And Lack Of Commenting

It could be something as simple as springtime. Our church attendance is down. Our weekly class attendance is dropping. These are relatively normal things that happen this time of year in our community. The weather gets nicer and folks get outside more and they're at baseball/softball/soccer practice and not sitting in front of computers or are too tired for that class they signed up for in the doldrums of winter.

It could be that when you talk about taking your kid to a concert that it's easy to have an opinion and determine what you might do in that situation. Kind of like politics. It's easy to have quick and thoughtful and passionate opinions. And, when you write about something that makes people think, there's going to be silence. Like when a teacher asks a really good question there should be an awkward silence...seems like a good question would require a thoughtful response.

It could be that blogging has simply played out. Too verbal. Not enough flash. Like reading books is to watching DVD's or movies.

It could be that with colleges and high schools spring breaking this month that folks are not checking the blogs as much because they're busy with family and such.

It could be that I need to be more creative with this space. Maybe my writing's boring others because it's not "fresh" enough to me. I mean, certain themes are bound to repeat when you write every day for four years or so. Maybe I should take more chances. Try new approaches. I have some ideas.

It could be that I'd like to try a side project...kind of like Burnside Writers Collective. That's a neat little project and I could get kind of excited about working with a bunch of other folks on a weekly project like that one. Just a bunch of writers kicking around ideas on themes. I'm not much for the page management & tech stuff it'd need, but I could edit and write, I think. Wonder who'd be with me on that?

I dunno...

...I just really like community in all it's forms and when the comments slow to a snail's pace I wonder if The Diner's little community has had enough of me and/or each other.
An Ongoing Theme

From Today's "Baby Blues" by Rick Kirkman & Jerry Scott:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Is There Anybody Out There?

All that writing about Proverbs yesterday and not one comment?


Maybe I should've taken my daughter to a concert in Deep Ellum and written about that...people really respond to that kind of stuff. They even start talking about music lyrics and album cover art and failed parenting.

That reality is one of the main reasons that I don't feel like writing a book, man.

It just doesn't seem that when I write in that style on those kinds of topics that they resonate with folks. Or maybe it's the blog format that people don't want to comment on that kind of thing and they're drinking coffee and sitting on porches and thinking about it.

Either way... was kind of lonely in The Diner yesterday. For whatever the reason.

Maybe it's time to take some time off from this style of writing...from blogging. I've been threatening for four years and maybe it's time.

I'm not talking about closing down...just taking an indeterminate time, maybe a day, maybe a week, month or year and just...


...not blogging.

I'm not sure that'd be a bad thing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Influence: More Questions Than Answers Today

"My child, if sinners try to entice you, do not consent! If they say, “Come with us! We will lie in wait to shed blood; we will ambush an innocent person capriciously. We will swallow them alive like Sheol, those full of vigor like those going down to the Pit. We will seize all kinds of precious wealth; we will fill our houses with plunder. Join with us! We will all share equally in what we steal.” My child, do not go down their way, withhold yourself from their path; for they are eager to inflict harm, and they hasten to shed blood. Surely it is futile to spread a net in plain sight of any bird, but these men lie in wait for their own blood, they ambush their own lives! Such are the ways of all who gain profit unjustly; it takes away the life of those who obtain it!"--Proverbs 1: 10-19.

I'm reading Proverbs a lot for a discussion group that I'm a part of that meets on Sunday nights. We spend more time praying these days than we do discussing what's in the text...and I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing. But the point is that I'm reading sections of Proverbs. I'm not entirely sure that's a bad thing, either.

Anyway, this little section deals with peer pressure. Granted, the particular pressure here deals with a gang. A gang that will ambush, steal and split the spoils. It's not really a problem I struggle with. I don't think I'd be a very good gang member, frankly. Unless the gang were somehow ambushing librarians or Barnes & Noble employees who smuggled books from their employers. Then I might be seriously enticed to seizing precious wealth and filling my shelves with plunder.

But the issue at hand is the influence of others to get you to do things you might not be inclined to take part in if you had your faculties about you. And, for most of us, we've struggled in various ways with societal types of pressure since we were kids.

My maternal grandfather was a big believer in getting a college education. He stressed it with his own children, and through his own influence and the continued influence of his children, that desire trickled down to his grandkids.

My parents were very big on "yes, ma'am" and "no, sir" and responding to adults and authority figures with respect.

In middle school, I purchased a 6' x 4' KISS poster and carried it around Six Flags Over Georgia all day because all my buddies were buying posters of their favorite bands. Later, I'd purchase Farrah Fawcett and Bo Derek because my friends were pretty much in awe that my mom would actually let me hang them on the walls of my room.

In high school, I'd wear plastic replica batting helmets of Major League teams backwards because me and my friends were into them one spring and summer. They were uncomfortable and mildly irritating but I'd go spend $2 per helmet at Hibbett's Sporting Goods to get a new one even though minimum wage was $3.35 an hour.

In college, in the fraternity house, a great deal went on that probably needed somebody to put the kibosh on, but silence ruled the day from my end...both in a reactive sense as well as a proactive sense. In other words, my silence equalled agreement in some cases and my silence failed to positively influence those around me.

I could go on. You could give your own examples, too. But in each of those times, I didn't really stop to think about what I was doing. I just did what I was told, trusting in the beliefs of others, and sometimes it "worked" and sometimes that didn't "work" and sometimes it was "wise" and sometimes it was "unwise." My point is that I just more or less went with the flow and didn't stop to think about the messages I was getting or sending or how I was being influenced.

But we tend to view influence as something we outgrow. We like the think we move on. We like to think we get past that. That we're our own people and think for ourselves. That we have a well-defined philosophy of living and follow that to logical, consistent conclusions.

I'm not so sure.

I'm not so sure as I examine my own life.

Because we get influenced every day. Billboards. Magazine covers. Commercials. Classrooms. Media in all forms. Folks around us that seem to have it all together. Books. And not only do we have the inherent messages, we also have the issue of how we're getting that message. The methodology...and it's important, too. We buy into a lot more than we think we do. Granted, we're not likely ambushing folks and splitting the spoils with our gang members. No, no. It's much more subtle than that.

The magazine covers that tell us we're not having enough sex or we don't look like [insert pop culture figure here].
Billboards that tell us about the conservative talk-show host who is right, or the hilarious morning DJ's, or the best strip club in town.
The neighbors who move into a bigger home after getting a big promotion.
The families who create so much demand that sports leagues play at midnight or fill up public parks from 8am to noon on Sunday.
The idea that class ranks are important beginning in 9th grade and that college is the key to a happy life. Not to mention the pressure for scholarships.
The belief that churches need to be a little more relevant and bend to cultural trends.
Little girls being taught dance moves and wearing clothes that even the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders don't do.
Little boys being pushed to play a sport year-round at age 7, when they might not be athletically inclined anyway.
Folks will laugh at "Everybody Loves Raymond" and that's cool because dads can take it, but yet, if Deborah were to get the same treatment the audience would "boo" and letter campaigns get started.
The romance novel with the cover or the Disney princess mindset that someday the prince will come and will always be princely and creating all sorts of unrealistic expectations.
That workaholics get praised for their commitment.

I could go on. It's not a lot of ground I haven't covered before.

And, yes, maybe we should be finding ways to serve and please our spouses. Maybe we should be working out to improve our health and appearance.
And maybe we do need to think about politics from another point of view, or relax to funny folks while we drive, or analyze why people would put hard-earned money into a stranger's underwear and why we might think that's a bad thing for us and our town.
And maybe getting a bigger home is enjoying the fruits of our labor and providing time to gather with family.
And maybe we need that friendship that comes from playing on a team of a sport we enjoy. And maybe we spend great family time with our kids and the sport they enjoy.
And maybe education is a very important reality to a student who has a desire to learn and strive to become what they want to become and be a good teacher or engineer or doctor or lawyer. And since when is working hard to earn a scholarship to pursue that debt-free a bad thing?
And how can it be bad if a church decides to present truth in such a way as to be more practical and accessible by more people as long as they don't bend doctrinally?
And dancing and playing dress-up is pretty normal, as is throwing the old ball around.
And sometimes Raymond has it coming to him and what's wrong with pointing that out in a comic way? And why not let Deborah get her yuks? Ultimately, it's just a television show designed to entertain for half an hour.
And what's the matter with a little imagination and storytelling? Nothing, really. Especially if they're well written or have catchy tunes to lift the spirits a bit.
And when is hard work a bad thing?

I could go on. There are two sides to the coin. Every coin. And making snap judgments and having inherent prejudices aren't the answer, either.

But I think the lesson is that we need to think more.
We need to analyze things more.
We need to take a good, hard look at who we are and what we're about.
We need to stop taking certain things for granted.
We need to avoid the tendency to go with the flows and just accept that "that's the way things are" and they won't/can't be changed.
We need to know what we believe and why we believe it.
We need to be willing to change.
We need to be willing to serve.
We need to be willing to love each other and the world around us.

And it's hard. Thinking is hard work, folks.
Change is hard work, folks.
And the influence of others is truly a bombardment of ideas, all of which need to be sifted.

Like I said in the title, I don't know that I have a lot of answers today.

But I do know that if we don't withhold ourselves from their path...

...they'll inflict pain in our lives.
...and they'll rob us of the abundant life.

That's all I've got for today, kids. I've rambled enough for now.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Circadian Rhythms

We "sprung forward" this weekend. Moved our clocks forward because our government seems to think this additional daylight will somehow save energy. I get it...even if it means that later in summer it won't get dark where I live until 9:30PM.

And, yes, there were the obligatory stories of folks not getting the memo (honestly, Daylight Savings Time did seem to sneak up on us this year with it being so early...or maybe I just wasn't near enough media this week to hear them talking about it) and oversleeping. I saw a memo at a local business last night posted where their employees sign in stating that the time-change wasn't good enough for reporting to work late and they'd somehow be disciplined for tardiness. It must've been there a while because they'd all initialed it.

At any rate, yesterday felt strange.

Our first-service attendance at church was obviously "lighter." Enough of a drop off that I wanted to check the "count" to make sure my observations were correct. They were.

My guess is that the malaise carried over into the second service, too. Not as much a percentage of drop-off, but still enough to notice.

Same for our evening service.

Then, because my body is used to going to bed at a certain time, it was an hour "later" and I wasn't tired. So, I read a book.

Now, I can't prove it. But I really think that hour time-change really does affect people's behavior...and I wonder if it just takes us two days to adjust or what.

I'm all out of whack right now, in fact. I blame my newspaper delivery person who kicked my groove out yesterday and I still haven't recovered. I'm about to test my theory that a nap can correct this, and I'm hoping for a government grant to study the effects of napping as a recovery method for Daylight Savings Time-Change Disorder.

*writes down hypothesis*
*logs data for empirical research*
*prepares for Nap 1*

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Heads Up!

There's a whole slew of folks that appear destined to go on The Diner's Double-Secret Probation (failure to blog for 30 days puts you there, one year of probation removes you entirely from the list...addition to "Frequent Patrons" only requires asking me to link to you--rules are rules, folks) tomorrow.

It would behoove you to be a bit more vigilant.

You know who you are.
This Throws Off My Groove

Apparently, my newspaper carrier has forgotten to spring forward.

How the heck am I supposed to blog if my brain hasn't been sufficiently engaged with not only the world, but my world?

And, don't suggest reading them on-line, either. It simply isn't the same. Even with a laptop, sitting in my chair scrolling up and down electronic images isn't the same as the romantic ritual. You taking it out of the protective rain sleeve (and, just to let you know that my newspaper delivery person only has a clock-setting deficiency, my paper comes double sleeved on potentially rainy days), putting the sections in "A-B-C-D, etc." order--Main, Metro, Sports, Business, Entertainment, (every now and then a "Healthy Living" or "Home" section gets thrown in) Comics--and either laying it out on my kitchen table and flipping page by page or sitting in my chair.

This ritual is important, folks. It gets the brain moving.

Scrolling on a screen just doesn't have the same romance. And don't get me started on the coffee issue, either. If you spill a bit on the paper, well, no real biggie...but the caution of the cup around the keyboard and such...well...I think I've made my case for not doing this on-line.

Similarly, on Friday, my smokin' hot shutterbug trophy wife had the detail of trying to secure tickets to Opening Day by getting on-line the minute they went on sale (our Texas Rangers sell out about 6 times a year: Opening Day and the five times the Yankees are in-town. 7 if they have fireworks on July 4.). She had complete success and when I got home there were 3 sheets of paper--one for each ticket and one for the parking pass--that had been colorfully and functionally printed out, complete with bar code for scanning. But somehow, the romance of having the actual tickets and the actual rearview mirror hanging parking pass wasn't there.

I get it.

They're both functional and ultimately more inexpensive. Not to mention convenient.

But I like my ticket stubs that eventually become book marks.

And I like flipping through my 24-inch by 36-inch pages that leave mild ink residue on my fingers and can withstand a little coffee spillage.


Could I *be* more middle aged?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

So, I'm Late To The Game Again...

Yes, yes.

I know lots of people have heard of Damian Loeb and I have, too. But I just started getting into some of his works and wanted to give him a shout out. For some reason, I really like his hyperrealism. Here's a taste:

Also, I'm just hearing of Banksy. Naturally, Kid1 gave me all sorts of attitude when I asked her if she'd heard of him. In return, I gave her all sorts of attitude when asking her why she didn't share this stuff with me. I can't depend on my subscription to Rolling Stone to keep me in the loop on stuff like this. That just started last month.

Anyway, Banksy's a graffiti artist who doesn't sell his (or her) work to commercial galleries. No one knows for sure who the artist is, either. But, man, do I dig it and really enjoy the provocation...

Somehow the artist got this done on the Palestinian side of the Israeli West Bank barrier wall!

In light of this, I'll be adding an "artists I enjoy" set of links on the left in the next few days...