Friday, December 31, 2010


Congratulations go out to both Stanford University for beating the University of Connecticut last night ending their 90 game win streak, and to UConn for putting such a streak together. I do not think they have gotten the credit they deserved for this remarkable run, and it is because lots of people still do not respect women's sports.

Gene Auriemma, the coach of UConn, came out and said that he didn't think his players were being respected because many thought they should be in the kitchen, and was then routinely criticized by some reporters who should know better. I certainly heard comments being made on ESPN, although not by ESPN reporters, that I considered disrespectful.

Can you compare the UCLA run of 88 games and the UConn run of 90 games? I don't know, but I don't think it matters. It's not like UConn did this by playing no bodies, which is often how powerhouses like to pad their stats. In those 90 games, which included two runs through the tournament to national titles, they played 31 teams who were ranked. 1/3 of their victories came agains the best competition available.

They don't turn away from competition; they will play anyone who wants to play them and for that by itself they should be applauded. If major college football programs will schedule the same way college bowl games would look a lot different, and to be honest the game would be better for it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Being Joseph

This is my sermon for last Sunday, based on Matthew 2:13-23.

In my Christmas Eve service, I asked people to picture their nativity sets. Today, rather than thinking of the whole scene, I just want you to picture Joseph. Do you have him pictured in your mind? Now that you have him pictured, now I want you to think about whether he is really necessary for the scene. That is, could you still have a nativity scene if Joseph had stepped out to get some fresh air, or perhaps had gone out for a cup of coffee? I believe you could. If Mary or Jesus were not there, people would definitely notice and ask what was going on. If the shepherds weren’t there, people would wonder if they were still out in their fields watching their sheep. If the wise men had not shown up and laid their gifts at Jesus’ feet people would notice and wonder where they were. But what about Joseph? While Joseph is certainly nice to have around, he is not crucial to the scene. He is the wall flower of the story. He is like Jesus in the old spiritual about his crucifixion. Joseph never says a mumbling word. Joseph is totally silent. In neither Luke nor Matthew’s gospel narratives, the only ones who say anything about him, does Joseph say a single word. Isn’t that a little odd?

Now the truth is we know very little about Joseph. We are told that he is a righteous man, which is how Matthew describes him. We should hear that to mean that he is a devout Jew, one who obeys Torah. Matthew is also the one who tells us his occupation. The problem is, the Greek word translated as carpenter is tekton, from which we gets words like technical and technology, but its meaning is a little ambiguous. It can mean someone who works in wood. This can be someone who is skilled, such as a ship builder, but it can also refer to someone who is less skilled, like those who make yokes and ploughs, which is what Justin Martyr, one of the early church fathers, says that Jesus does. But, tekton can also refer to someone who works in iron or stone. In other cases it simply refers to someone who is basically a day laborer. So we can’t even say for sure what his occupation was.

We are told that Joseph is of the Davidic line, and in Matthew his father’s name is Jacob. This should send off some bells for those are remember the stories in Genesis, which we will get back to in a little bit, so remember that Joseph’s father is Jacob. While Luke also claims that Joseph is of the David line, he says that Joseph’s father’s name is Heli. We also know that he lived in Bethlehem and Nazareth. Luke has Joseph with Mary and Jesus at the Temple when Jesus is 12, but that is the last that we hear of Joseph being around. And that is all that we know about Joseph from scriptures. The Gospel of John only mentions him as being Jesus’ father. Mark does not mention him at all, as Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son, nor is he mentioned in the earliest Christian writings which come to us from the apostle Paul.

With the later development of Marionology, which is the elevation of Mary to theotokos, God bearer, the church developed a theology which said that Mary not only conceived as a virgin but that she remained a virgin the rest of her life. Joseph was chosen only to look after and protect Mary, rather than to be a true husband, and so the marriage was never consummated. Now in order to give justification for the scriptures referring to Jesus as having brothers and sisters, they said that these were step-siblings from Joseph’s prior marriage. If Joseph already had several other children, they also speculated that Joseph must have been much older when he married Mary, which would not have been all that unusual for the time. This also helped to explain why Joseph was not around during Jesus’ ministry. If Joseph was older, then he could already have been dead. But there is no scriptural backing for any of this. Indeed, much of what we hear or believe about Joseph comes from non-canonical works.

We do know, according to Matthew, that when Joseph heard that Mary was with child, even though he had no known her in a biblical way, he wanted to dismiss her, but was told in a dream by an angel that Mary was having a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit, and that he should take her as his wife, and he did what the angel said. Then he was told in a dream by an angel to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt because Herod was looking for Jesus with the intention of destroying him, and so Joseph does what he is told and flees to Egypt in order to save Jesus’ life. Good thing that Egypt did not have strict illegal immigration policies in place.

After they’ve been in Egypt for a while, although we don’t know how long or even what they did there, another angel appears to Joseph in a dream and he is again told to take Mary and the child and to return to Israel because Herod has died. And so Joseph does what he is told, only this time he does hesitate a little bit because he hears that Archelaus is ruling over Judea and so he does not feel safe in returning. If Herod was tyrant enough to have ordered the killing of children, and he certainly was, although he was not all that unusual of a leader in the ancient world, Archelaus was over the top. He was actually removed from power by Rome because of his atrocities, which was almost unheard of. Rome tended not to care what you did as long as you kept the peace, and Archelaus kept the peace by killing anyone who might be in opposition to him or his policies. This included killing 3000 Pharisees who revolted in the year 6 CE, under the leadership of a certain Judas of Galilee, which would make for another interesting sermon, but not today. Anyway, Joseph in this instance hesitates the follow the angel’s direction because of his fear of Archelaus, but then an angel appears to him in a dream and confirms his hunches and so he does not return to Bethlehem but instead goes to Nazareth, which is where Jesus grows up.

Every step he takes, Joseph seems to be obeying someone else’s commands. To Joseph, the angel is like EF Hutton: When the angel speaks, Joseph listens. Now the problem with that joke is there is at least one if not two generations who won’t get it, because they don’t know who EF Hutton is. But, in seeing Joseph and his relationship with God, I believe it is appropriate to stop and ask if this is someone we should be trying to emulate? Should we hold up Joseph as a role model for proper behavior as a Christian? Is that what discipleship is supposed to look like?

In order to begin to understand this question, we do need to look at some of the stories of ancient Israel being referenced by Matthew in this passage. Joseph, the person married to Mary, is the namesake of Joseph, best known to us today for his amazing Technicolor dream coat. Besides for his coat, does anyone remember one of the things that Joseph was famous for? He was able to interpret dreams. Any light bulbs going off yet? Joseph is sold into slavery, and where does he get sent into slavery? Egypt. See you’re catching on. So Joseph goes to Egypt where he rises in power because he successfully interprets the Pharaoh’s dreams, and as a result also is able to save his own family who go to Egypt because Canaan, where they live, is suffering a drought. Joseph takes them in, and they remain in Egypt, but we are told that later Pharaoh’s forget Joseph and become concerned about how many Israelites there are and so all male Israelite children are ordered to be killed. Do you see what Matthew is doing here? And who was it who was saved from this death decree when his mother put him in a basket in the Nile? Moses. I don’t have time to go into everything that Matthew is doing in setting up Jesus’ life story, but if you want to learn more you can take my class on the Gospel of Matthew on Wednesday evenings beginning January 12. But I do have a point here as well.

So we’ve set up how Joseph relates to the older Joseph, now what was Joseph, who is married to Mary, father’s name? Jacob. Now, just one more piece of information as an aside, Jacob had two wives, Rachel and Leah. Rachel is referenced in today’s scripture coming from the prophet Jeremiah, as she weeps for her children and Rachel is the mother of Joseph Now in what town would you find Rachel’s tomb. I’ll give you a hint; it is directly related to the Christmas story. That’s right it’s Bethlehem. Are you seeing all the connections?

Now, I know I’m taking forever to get to my point, but there is one event in particular that is even more important for us today. Jacob spends the night wrestling with an angel, and when the sun comes up in the morning, Jacob is renamed Israel, which means something like, “contended with God” or “wrestles with God.” At the very heart then of Israelite history, and then name itself, is a struggle with God. Throughout scripture, people contend with God, from Abraham to Moses to Jacob to Job to Jonah, to name just a few. As Rabbi David Thomas of Congregation Beth El here in Sudbury recently said to me, “Jews don’t really have a conversation with God; we have an argument with God.”

But then we have Joseph, who we are told is a devout Jew, who would know scripture, who would know that plenty of people have questioned God’s actions in the world, sometimes questioning them directly to God’s face, but Joseph never says a word. Every time God tells him to do something he simply does it, no questions asked. He does this even when what he is asked to do contradicts Jewish law. He is a righteous man, meaning he follows Torah, but when asked to violate it by the angle he complies.

Katherine Mitchell is a Methodist minister in southern Massachusetts. I was her seminary husband and she was my seminary wife while we both attended BU because we spent more time with each other during those three years then we did with our own spouses. Before coming to seminary Katherine had worked as an emergency mental health counselor, and so she is very good at always being able to be in control of situations, telling you exactly what she is thinking and what is going on because in many cases her life depended on that ability. If you are in a group and wonder who is going to be in charge, you can bet that Katherine will be one of the first to step up and take a leadership role.

Recently she was asked to participate in a program similar to dancing with the stars to help support one of the community groups in the town where she serves. At the time she agreed to it, she assumed she would just have to show up on the day of the event do some dancing and then everyone would vote on who was best. But shortly after saying yes, she received a call from Arthur Murray dance studio asking when she wanted to come in and start her dance lessons. She put if off for as long as she could, came up with as many reasons as she could, in other words struggling with the commitment, before she finally had to give in and go.

Now, Katherine is in her upper forties, stands maybe 5’5” and as I said, fully in control of her life. When she showed up for her first lesson, she was assigned to a dance instructor who was 23, although she side he looked like he was 15, and he was shorter than she is. They danced for their hour appointment, and when it was over he said to her, “you have the skills and the ability to be a good dancer, but in order for this to work you are going to have to let go and let me lead.” And Katherine’s response? She said “now look here little man, do you have any idea who I am. I am Pastor Katherine, and I’m the one in control.” To which her dance instructor said, “You’re a minister, aren’t you used to following God’s lead, this should be easy for you.”

Now as you might imagine, this floored her and she had to look deeply at what she was doing and how she was living her life, and what she found was that she was not so good at following and so she made a conscious effort to let go. This decision has not only radically changed her relationship with her family, her relationship with her congregation, but most importantly it has changed her relationship with God. Since that day she has had some life altering experiences that she knows God has led her to, that she would never have had before, because she would never have to let go of what she wanted to do long enough to allow them to happen. For the first time in her life she now feels as if she is truly being guided by God, everyday of her life from the time she gets up to the time she goes to bed, and sometimes even in her dreams, because she was willing to let go and let God lead the dance of her life.

How are we doing? Are we able to let God lead, or are we fighting and trying to be the one who controls where, when and perhaps even what dance is being done? I would have to say that I am not very good at this myself. I have trouble giving up and giving over to God. Even though some of the most profound experiences in my life have occurred when I have turned myself over to God to be led, I have to say that normally I am closer to having an argument with God rather than a relationship, and there are definitely times for that. I do not think that we are called to be fully like Joseph.

Being a dancing partner requires both parties to be involved and participating. Dancing is a give and take relationship. If one person does nothing but let the other person do all the work, then they are like a rag doll and that does not make a beautiful dance. Instead, both partners need to be in relationship with each other, working with each other, but one person has to be in control, and if that person is us then the dance is not as beautiful as it could be.

All of us could use to be more like Joseph than we are. Joseph was willing to trust and to act, to listen and to do, and most importantly to have faith and depend on the word of God that everything was going to be okay, knowing that god would uphold Go’s word and would guide and lead him. May it be so in our lives. Amen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Not So Silent Night

Here is my sermon from Christmas Eve. The title comes from a sermon preached by Rev. Adam Hamilton, but the core idea is from a sermon I preached for Blue Christmas three years ago. The scripture lesson is Luke's birth narrative.

I want you to think about a nativity set, it could be the one in your home now, or the one you grew up with or one you saw somewhere. Picture it in your mind. I’m guessing the image is pretty serene. More than likely, Mary is either kneeling at the side of the manager, or perhaps holding the baby Jesus, while Joseph stands on the other side also with an adoring look on his face. Meanwhile, barnyard animals idyllically lay or stand watch over the babe, while the shepherds and wise men, also looking idyllic, offer worship outside of the barn. St. Francis, better known for his love of animals, is widely credited with creating the first nativity scene in the year 1223. In order to keep from being “accused of lightness or novelty” and therefore earning a rebuke by the Pope, St. Francis determined, in the words of Bonaventure, “to keep it with all possible solemnity.” That “solemnity” of St. Francis’ scene has impacted how we have viewed and seen the birth of Jesus ever since, from paintings to hymns to Christmas cards to movies -- we see a beautiful, calm, peaceful, and tranquil scene, but it’s not realistic.

Instead imagine a young girl, maybe no older than 13, engaged to be married to an older man, and before they are married the girl becomes pregnant with all the attending issues and entanglements that come in such a situation. As the pregnancy progress, I’m sure there was some excitement, but also, like with most pregnancies, some trepidation and fear as well. Would the baby be healthy? Would she survive the delivery? Would they be good parents? And then, just at the time that the birth is approaching she is forced by an authority way beyond her control to travel at the very time she should be surrounded by the women in her life, those who can assist her in the birth, be there to comfort her, to tell her everything is going to be okay. She is taken away from the other women who would have helped her deliver her child just at the time they are most important and instead begins a journey with Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of some 80 miles, at least a four day journey.

Now in our stories, we always picture Mary riding on a donkey, but the scriptures don’t say anything about a donkey, and because Joseph and Mary are poor there may not have been a donkey. Mary may have had to have walked that distance. Can you feel her exhaustion? The way her feet and back must have ached? The way the weight of the baby bore on her and wore her out? And just like every woman I’ve ever known who is nine months pregnant, she was probably just ready to be done with the whole thing.

And then to make matters worse, when they finally arrived, probably late at night, Mary already in the midst of labor pains, they found that all of the places to stay were full. Bethlehem must have been buzzing with activity with all of the other people from throughout the region who also had to come to Bethlehem in order to register, and so they found themselves without a place to stay. Mary ready to give birth with no place to call her own, with only Joseph by her side, and let’s face it guys, when it comes to the birth of children we are just about useless. When my first daughter was born, I was grateful for our doula who assisted us, because I simply did not have enough hands to do all of the things that Linda needed me to do for her, and yes I do have permission to tell this story, and unlike Joseph I didn’t need to worry about the actual delivery because there were doctors and nurses there for that. I didn’t have to worry about how the labor was progressing, or what was coming next, or what to do if something went wrong, nor did I worry about disease, or cleanliness or even where I was going to put the baby when she was born.

What did Mary have? Did she have anyone there besides Joseph to comfort her? To wipe her brow, to calm her fears and tell her everything was going to be okay? Can you hear her crying out… Oh Joseph, help me, make it stop?... What do I do Joseph?... When’s it going to be over?.... What’s happening?... “My God, my God,” she might be saying, “why have you forsaken me?” Can you hear her crying out into the night? Can you hear her crying while all around her is the bustle of the town which is teeming with life and energy? Does she feel alone and isolated, abandoned and forgotten? And then in the midst of this we are told that the child is born, and if you don’t believe in miracles then you have never watched a child being born, because if you have ever seen a newborn infant, and held it in your arms, then you know that not only are miracles possible but that they happen every day…

And Mary takes the child, Can you hear him crying out into the night, and she wraps him in bands of cloth and because there is no other place to put him she lays him in a manger. Mary did not have a crib, or bassinet in which to place her child. All she had was what was near, and so she placed him in a common, ordinary feeding trough, which is what a manger is. (PAUSE) Now in our story telling we imagine Jesus being born in a stable, but the scriptures don’t tell us that, instead all we are told is that he is laid in a manger. But even if Jesus was to have been born in a stable, this image too has been sanitized. If you’ve ever spent any time in a barn, or around farm animals, you know there is, how shall we say, a certain odiferousness that accompanies them.

I don’t think we imagine that in our vision of the nativity. But, because all we know is that he was laid in a manger, it is just as likely that he was laid in a feeding trough outside of the inn, in the mud and muck of the street. Can you picture it? Can you hear their cries? Can you feel the mud? Can you smell the manure? And then, out in the fields, the shepherds are watching their flocks in darkness, but then the darkness is shattered and they are blinded by a bright light, and surely they yelled out in terror, and the angel Gabriel says “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you” to you, to you and to me “is born this day in the city of David a savior who is the messiah, the Lord.”

The Gospel of John says that for God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. God breaks into this world through the birth of Christ not in spite of the muck and the messiness and the smell, but because of it. Just as Mary cries out to God, so too we cry out. Our souls long to be filled and nurtured. We live in brokenness – we are brokenness – we long for something deeper, something more meaningful, something to overcome the darkness and despair that surrounds us, something more than the messiness and the brokenness of our lives. But it is in all of that stuff that God works.

Christ comes because of the messiness and the brokenness, not in spite of it. In the church we often say that Jesus’ ministry begins when, after he is baptized, he proclaims “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near,” but that is not when his ministry began. His ministry and his meaning for us begins with the lonely wail made by a cold, scared, vulnerable infant, born into the broken world in the darkness of night, who is laid in a feeding trough by his mother because she doesn’t have anywhere else to put him. That is the beginning of God’s presence here on earth in the person of Jesus, it is as one of us, a small crying infant, a cry breaking through the chaos and a light shattering the darkness.

We live in a world that’s messy and broken, and yet into this world a child was born, a child which caused the angels to sing and rejoice, that in the midst of despair and disappointment came a miracle, and there was joy and hope, promise and fulfillment; in this moment God was doing something extraordinary and becoming one of us. This is the story of the birth of our savior and it’s smelly, it’s noisy, it’s painful, it’s chaotic, it’s lonely, it’s aching, and it is also joyful, and exciting and awe inspiring and wonderful, it is a miracle and it is the story of a broken world redeemed and given new hope, new life and a new promise. God was not doing this in spite of the messiness and the brokenness, God was doing this because of those things. Christmas happens not because life is idyllic and always full of joy. If life was like that we wouldn’t need Christmas. We need Christmas because are a broken. We need Christmas because life is messy.

In your bulletin, you have a card which on one side says “Hope, Peace, Love and Joy,” and the backside is blank. Take that card out now. At the center aisle end of the pew you will find a basket full of pens. In a few moments, we are going to pray together, then the choir is going to sing, and what I invite you to do is to take a pen and write on the back of your card something you need to lift up to God. It could be an area of brokenness in your life, an illness, a loss, a job needed; it could be some of the messiness of your life, a relationship that needs help, or some situation that is out of your control that you need to turn over to God. Jesus said “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This is a time to give your burden over to God. Or perhaps, right now what you need to offer up is a celebration, a joy, a miracle, or a thanksgiving for family or God’s abundance in your life. We all come here tonight carrying different things, and with different needs, so what I invite you to do is to offer up to God what you feel you need to lay at the feet of the manager, because the good news is for you.

After you have written out what you need to offer, I invite you to come down the center aisle and like, the shepherds, worship the Christ child by laying what we would like to turn over by placing it at the feet of the manger, and then proceed back to your seat by the side aisle. If you would like, I would invite you to kneel as you are able at the altar rail and offer up your prayers to God, before returning to your seat.

What Christmas reminds us is that our God is not a God who is distant from us, who is out there somewhere. This is a God who knows our name, who cares what we are doing, who wants to be in relation with us, and who loves us so much that he gave us Christ, who was born like us, who lived like us, who died like us and who was raised from the dead so that we too might have eternal life. That is the Christ child we accept into our lives on Christmas, that is the savior we are worshipping lying in the manger, and the Lord to whom we make our prayers.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Speed Linking

  • Here are the top Christmas songs selling online. I mention selling online because Bing Crosby's White Christmas is not number one, although it is in the top ten.
  • Maybe you're like me and have been thinking about how wonderful your life would be if you had an Ipad (I could even preach from it), but here are ten reasons not to get one.
  • Charity Fail: Gap was selling bags to help feed people in the US. They claimed the bags were made in the US, but only some of them. The rest were maid in China.
  • Someone damaged books on gay and lesbian issues in the Harvard Library by pouring urine on them.
  • I am old enough not only to remember the debut of MTV, but to remember when they actually played music. They now are officially past the music scene and have removed "music television" from their logo, and as a result their ratings have actually increased.
  • Since I spent some of my professional career before the ministry as a manager in the resort industry, I thought this story of some of the "weirdest hotels" was interesting.
  • Sometimes getting to a bowl game is not what it's cracked up to be. UConn may end of losing money for their BCS game appearance. The fact that they should not be in a BCS game at all is another discussion.
  • As part of the Advent Conspiracy, I have been talking a lot about the cost of Christmas, but sometimes we forget the hidden costs of some presents.
  • Tired of Christmas items appearing in October? Well how about Easter candy appearing in December?
  • Turns out, a lot of the things we think about Poinsettias, including that they are poisonous, are not true.
  • Drop-side cribs have been outlawed.
  • And finally, here are the five worst ways to propose. I violated rule number one, since my proposal was done at a baseball game.

Now that Christmas is over, I hope that I will finally have time to start posting regularly again. I hope you all had a blessed Christmas!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Webpage Fail

I recently finished The Big Red Fez: How to Make Any Website Better by Seth Godin. One of the things he emphasized time and again was making your site as customer friendly as possible, and making sure that you were not getting errors on the page, especially ones that made you look ridiculous. Well here is a recent screen shot from Samsung's page.

I had clicked an add for them from another site in order to look at a projector, and this was part of the page: Now I'm guessing that this should be saying something like "click here and let Anna help you find what you need." Instead it makes Anna out to by a cyborg, or worse. It certainly does not reflect well on them.

They had already captured my attention, knew that I had taken an extra step to get to their website, but did nothing to keep me there. They information they provided about the projector, which was said to work without being attached to a computer, was extremely limited. They didn't even list the programs the projector could use, or how it used them, so I was already inclined to leave the page. This just verified that if I was interested I should go somewhere else for information and to buy the product, or to stumble upon someone else's product and buy it instead. In forms of web retention this was a fail.

One interesting tidbit from the book, when Geocities was online and one of the biggest websites in the world, do you know what there number one page hit was? It was their error page, which I certainly encountered quite a bit. What he says is that Geocities should have had some customer friendly way to get you out of this page and quickly back to what you needed, which they of course didn't.

While I think Seth Gordin could have done a lot more with his book, as it gives examples of things done wrong then it does on how to make it better, it is a very quick and interesting read. I will certainly think about websites I am visiting differently, and it has also sparked some ideas for how church's might do their websites differently, which I might write more about later.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Princesses Are Tough

This is a conversation I recently had with my oldest daughter. To set the scene she was running around the house in her Snow White dress:

Daughter: Daddy, do princesses sometimes slip and fall down?

Me: Yes.

Daughter: Why?

Me: Well because princesses are just like us, and sometimes they fall.

Daughter: Can they scratch up their knees?

Me: Yes.

Daughter: Well what do they do if they scratch their knees?

Me: Well, princesses are tough and so they just let the wounds princess heal.

Daughter: They don't get princess band-aids?

Me: No, they don't use band-aids.

Daughter: Cause princesses are tough.

Me: Yes princesses are tough

Daughter: Like vikings?

Me: Yes.

Daughter: And Mermaids?

Me: Yes, princesses are tough like vikings and mermaids.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Speed Linking

We've been incredibly busy at the church, and so have not had time to make any posts, even putting up speed links. So, this covers the past two weeks:

  • NASA announced the discovery of a new type of life-form which survives on arsenic, although this too has its critics.
  • Remember the Super Bowl Shuffle and wondering why you can't find it on youtube? Here's the reason.
  • Among the documents released by WikiLeaks was a cable which said that American film and television is a greater impact in lessening terrorism by dissuading young people from being jihadists then anything else being done.
  • Tomorrow is the annual Army-Navy football game (Go Navy!). Did you know the first use of replay in a football was the Army-Navy game in 1963?
  • We hear of athletes thanking God all the time for helping them win the game. It's pretty rare to ever hear anyone blame God for losing the game, but that's exactly what Steve Johnson did. At least he's honest.
  • The Congressional Tea Part Caucus, who say they are opposed to ridiculous government spending, particularly through earmarks, took 1 billion in earmarks last year. (Yes, you read that number correctly)
  • As bullying changes forms through the use of digital technology, parents are often finding themselves well behind the technology and left wondering what to do.
  • Unusual baby names are now becoming the rule rather than the exception. What does that say about us and our children?
  • A federal judge has ordered the last two residents out of Chicago's Cabrini-Green public housing complex.
  • Is the era of point and shoot cameras upon us? With just about everyone having the same technology in their phones it appears that we might be seeing that very thing come to fruition.
  • Keith Fitzhugh was recently offered a job by the New York Jets, but has turned it down for the steady paycheck he receives as a train conductor.
  • First Sen. McCain said he would support repeal of Don't Ask-Don't Tell if the average soldier supported it. When that happened, he said he would only support it if the brass supported it. When that happened he said he would only support it if a study was conducted saying it wouldn't have an adverse effect on the military's operation. Now that has happened, and so McCain has said the study is flawed. What will his next position be? Stay tuned.
  • Last year the square footage of the average house actually decreased for the first time in a long time. Now there is also a trend for micro houses (smaller than 100 feet micro).
  • A rare Birds of America by Audubon was recently sold at auction for $10 million, making it the most expensive book ever.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Ceremony of Carols

Traveling by ship between the United States and England in March of 1942 was not the easiest or safest thing to do. Although the trip could have long bouts of monotony, with u-boat activity at its height, it could also have times of terror as well. But that is where composer Benjamin Britten found himself after having spent the previous three years in America, after following frequent collaborator, poet W.H. Auden, across the pond.

Britten, a well-known opera composer of the time, was working on two pieces as he entered a Swedish cargo vessel for the return home. One was a song for Benny Goodman, and the second was his last large-scale collaboration with Auden, Hymn of St. Cecilia. But, on the supposition that the music might contain secret codes, the works were confiscated by customs officials, leaving Britten with a little more time on his hands that he originally intended.

During a stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Britten purchased a book of medieval poems. Using these poems as his inspiration, during the voyage Britten created a work entitled Ceremony of Carols. He also recreated the Hymn of St. Cecilia, although his work for Goodman has been lost.

His original piece consisted of seven carols based on five of the works printed in the book of poems, and another that was hand-written on the flyleaf and back cover. He added other movements based on other poems and songs, including a plainsong procession and recession using the medieval chant Hodie Christus natus est. The procession and recession may have been influenced by Gustav Holst’s earlier work Hymn to Jesus.

The work is not your typical “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” Christmas music, but instead is focused on the mystery of Christmas story and deeply influenced by medieval theology and practice. Although Britten evokes things that are familiar, such as the cold of an English Christmas, much of the world it suggests is very different from ours, or from Britten’s.

Some of this is accomplished through the use of complex and unusual melodies and harmonies Britten created, and other parts come from his unusual choice of accompanying instrument, the harp, an instrument not usually combined with choral music. Britten had been studying the instrument in order to write a concerto for harp, but instead incorporated that work into this arrangement. The piece was also originally scored for a boys' choir, who were the first to perform it, but composer Julius Harrison later created a score for an entire choir.

One commentator remarked, “This piece is incredibly atmospheric – it really is the sound of winter. When Britten wants you to feel cold, you feel freezing. When he wants you to feel enchanted, you do. For many choral singers, this is the piece of the Christmas repertoire.”

Now the purpose of all this background is to get you excited to hear the choir’s presentation of Britten’s Ceremony of Carols this Sunday. The choir has been working very hard, as they always do, and so I hope you will join us to hear them perform this work. And, unlike the past three years I have been here, there is no call, as of yet, for significant accumulation of snow for the Sunday they are presenting their cantata (although I wouldn’t put away your snow shovels quite yet).

Hope to see you all there!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Speed Linking

  • American corporations earned profits of 1.66 trillion last quarter. These are the highest quarterly profits on record. Some of this was from overseas enterprises. The overall economy might not be doing well, but major corporations are doing fine.
  • An editorial from Time, discusses the courts being ahead of the general public on the issue of gay rights. This is not the only time courts have been ahead of society, as they point out in looking at the civil rights movement and the aftermath of court rulings
  • There is some renewed discussion about the possibility of making Pluto a planet again. Go Pluto!
  • A new study has found that use of the drug Truvada, which is already used to treat HIV, has been found to cut the risk of the transmission of the disease to uninfected gay men. If this is found to be true through further studies, this will be a major breakthrough in stopping the spread of this disease.
  • The Pope has come out and said that condom use by both male and female prostitutes to stop the transmission of HIV is okay in some situations. This is a major move. It, of course, is not without opposition.
  • Social networking continues to cause issues and concerns. Two men are being prosecuted in England for comments they tweeted, which they said where just jokes and where also private remarks, which clearly means they don't get it either. A pastor has told clergy not to be on Facebook because it can cause marital infidelity.
  • Tom Delay has been convicted of money laundering and conspiracy. He could face life in prison, although I highly doubt that will happen. I have a friend from high school who worked for Delay on the Hill. He became so disgusted with what he saw there, that he left politics and also moved considerably to the left.
  • Apparently generation Y is handling their money very differently than previous generations. Since they have not seen stable economic conditions during the majority of their lives they are acting more like the depression generation. This will have significant impact on the future for many things, including the church.

Creating A New Christmas Tradition

This Friday marks the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season. People will show up at all hours of the night in order to cash in on the “Black Friday” sales, and then shop, shop, shop. In order to “successfully” do Christmas, we are told, we have to spend hours in traffic, hours in stores, and lots on money in order to make everyone “happy.”

In the meantime, according to a recent survey, 1 out of 3 people say they will return at least one gift they receive; we end up producing 25% more garbage between Thanksgiving and Christmas; and our stress levels, waist sizes, and credit card debt go up, while the meaningful time spent with our family often goes down.

Now think of your fondest Christmas memories. What are they? I would be willing to guess that they probably don’t involve gifts that you received or gave. I know mine don’t. Sure there is the bike I received one Christmas, and a piece of art I created for my brother, but my fondest Christmas memories are about time spent with family, of driving around Phoenix looking at Christmas lights, and worshipping on Christmas Eve. These are things that cannot be bought at the store, but these are the things I treasure the most.

Last year after my Thanksgiving sermon, someone came up to Pastor Joel and said they had more stuff then they needed and didn’t really need to get any more for Christmas. They wondered what the church could do to run a program in which the money that would normally be spent on presents could instead go to charities. We discussed this request during a staff meeting, and while we were in favor of the idea, we did not have the time to implement such a program last year.

But following this request, I started looking around for something that might meet this idea, and came across a program called Advent Conspiracy. Their video, which was shown at the beginning of worship last Sunday (and can also be found here), had me hooked immediately, and so I started doing a little more looking into the program. But I still had some concerns. How was the program received in congregations? What did it look like? How did people undertake it?

In January, I attended a conference in New Orleans and asked other clergy in attendance what they knew about the program. Every single pastor I talked with who had implemented Advent Conspiracy couldn’t say enough about the program and what it had meant to their congregation. In one of the videos created by the three pastors who started the program, they said “kids get this program much better than adults do,” and that is also what every pastor told me. Unprompted they all said, “Kids get it.” They understand that Christmas is about Jesus, not about them.

When I came back from the conference, I presented the video to the staff, the commissions and the church council, who were all enthusiastic and supported us making Advent Conspiracy part of our Christmas tradition. But there is still some confusion for some, so let’s start out with what Advent Conspiracy is not.

It is not a plot to destroy Christmas or to stop you from giving presents. Santa will still be coming to my house this year. Giving is important, but what is being given also matters. Each Christmas when I was growing up, my father received a new pair of Johnston and Murphy shoes for work. He knew what he was going to get, it was important to him, and it was also meaningful to my mother who gave them to him. This was an important part of our Christmas celebration. There is enormous love expressed in giving.

Advent Conspiracy is also not about not receiving presents. If giving is important, receiving is also important, and there is a lot that goes into receiving a gift. When I was a kid, getting socks and underwear was the “dreaded gift.” Now I look forward to getting these things. These are important presents to receive from family members who give them to me. If these are things your family does for Christmas and it is meaningful to you, please keep doing them. Do what makes Christmas special for you, and get rid of, or at least minimize, those things which make this season a hassle and a time to dread or to just get through.

This program is not designed to make you feel guilty about how you have celebrated Christmas. Instead, Advent Conspiracy is intended to return meaning back to Christmas, to move us away from the hyper-consumerism that seems to be expected of us. It seeks to refocus our attention on the coming of God on earth through the person of Jesus, to help us focus on the things that really matter in our lives and to give us a time in which we express our love for friends, family and others through things other than simply spending and accumulating.

In this issue of the Chronicle you will find several “alternative” gift ideas. Use them as you would like, adapt them to fit your needs or ignore them all together. Lots of other ideas can be found at If you have gift ideas you would like to share with the rest of the congregation, please contact Pastor John, and they may be included in future issues.

What the pastors who started Advent Conspiracy also said is that in setting out to celebrate God’s gift to us in the person of Christ, we then also have to understand what Christ calls us to do. One of those things is to reach out to people in need, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And so, as part of Advent Conspiracy, they decided to ask their congregations to take some of the money they weren’t spending on presents and instead to give some of it to those in need.

The outreach commission has chosen to split any money that the church receives for Advent Conspiracy 50-50 between Living Water International, which drills wells around the world to provide people with clean running water, and our school supplies project for the John Marshall Elementary School in Dorchester. There is also a list of other charities supported directly by this congregation, a gift list from UMCOR, as well as other charities listed in this week’s issue of the Chronicle.

If you choose to make a donation in someone’s name as a gift this year, remember that this is about them, not about you. I have a family member who really doesn't care about what’s happening to people in the developing world, and so a gift to Heifer or to UMCOR would not be a good gift for him. Supporting these organizations would be about me. But, he does care deeply about the military, and so a gift to the Wounded Warrior Project or to Local Heroes, would be meaningful to him.

I encourage you to join us for our Wednesday night Advent programs which begin on December 1, at 6 pm. We start with a meal shared together, then at 6:30 the children will head to the chapel for a special program, the 3rd graders will go to a class about the Bible, and the adults will gather for a brief time of worship and will then explore the four focus areas of Advent Conspiracy: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.

Whatever you do this Advent and Christmas season, I hope it is meaningful and important to you and your families. As Dr. Seuss so wisely told us, “Maybe Christmas… doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas… perhaps… means a little bit more!”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blaming the Customer, Part 4

One of my passions is church history, and my particular area of study is Methodism in post-Revolutionary America. What you find in that period is a time of phenomenal growth, energy, conflict and struggle, which is where I focus. What you also find is that almost all of the history of the time focuses on the clergy rather than the laity. This includes my own writing which includes caveats like, "although methodism during this period was a lay driven enterprise, this paper will focus on the ordained clergy who made up only a small portion of those running the church."

Clergy provided support for local congregations, they did not run them. The laity served as class leaders, they served as preachers on most Sundays, they did the pastoral care, they led classes, they did everything except serve the sacraments (and if you go back just a little ways you will find them doing this as well, which is what leads to the formation of the church). The clergy helped "order" the church, but they weren't there to help run the church.

This changed predominantly after the Civil War, although the change began when the Bishops located themselves starting in the 1820s. But the decline of the Methodist class meeting, and the localization of pastors to serving only one congregation occured at the same time, and with that movement I believe we lost a lot of what drove Methodism. I know that is rather simplistic, because there were lots of other things taking place at the same time, but I don't have time in a blog to full explain everything that was going on.

Now there are some who are pushing for the return of Methodist class meetings, but this too often appears as trying to find the "thing" again. "If only we could return everyone to class meetings, we would solve all our problems." Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. We cannot just take an 18th century creation and drop it onto a 21st century reality. I do believe strongly in small groups and believe that they can help us, but will they solve all of our problems? Of course not. We need to be much more comprehensive in our approach.

I do believe the early church has a lot to offer for us, but we need to look at it and see how we adapt it to our reality rather than trying to force something onto the church simply because it worked in the past. As a recent cartoon I saw of someone trying to teach a Sunday school class, which said "felt figure story telling worked when I was a kid, and it will work today." Meanwhile the little kid is in the corner playing with his PSP.

We also need to look at the early church and recognize the mistakes that they made which have burdened us with unsustainable structures, such as large gothic cathedrals that simply cannot be maintained. We need to fundamentally rethink what it means to be church, what membership means, what our buildings mean, what clergy represent, and we need to do this sooner rather than later.

In many ways the conversation is alreay too late as we are facing crisis daily that will force us to make decisions that we may regret, but we also need to begin now. This annual conference is going to look radically different in 10 years. Less than 25% of our churches will be filled by full-time clergy, and the vast majority will have less than 30 people in worship on Sunday.

We can either let this reality come up on us, or we can choose to do something about it: "the future is now."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Blaming the Customer, Part 3

I recently heard Bishop Willimon speak about the serious problems facing the church, and after it was over I thanked him and asked if these conversations were taking place among the rest of the episcopacy because they certainly weren't taking place in New England. I have heard members of the cabinet give some startling numbers to the clergy, but as soon as the laity are in the room a different image is portrayed. There is no doubt we face a serious crisis, one that I do not believe is unbeatable, but in order to face that we have to be honest with ourselves and with our churches, and we are not yet there.

We are not ready to face the serious and hard decisions necessary to turn the church around. What Bishop Willimon told me is that sometimes the problem is so big, and the hole so large, that people cannot simply even begin to talk about it because to do so will make them face the serious challenges, issues, and decisions that they simply don't want to take.

The question is, when will we be ready to face it? When will we be honest with our laity? And what are we going to do if there is a "shareholder revolt"? What if the laity rise up and say, "we are taking back our church because we can tell you can't run it properly?" Could that even happen? Would the clergy allow it to happen?

But here is the more serious question and issue: What if those who truly care, those who want and need the church to be something else have already left? That is, to put it into Rappaport's analogy, they saw their stock prices continuing to diminish and they sold out a long time ago and have left the corporation behind? What if the people who could lead the shareholders revolt have already revolted by leaving?

Now do I think that's the case? No, I think there are still people here who care deeply about the church and have that innovative edge that is needed in order to get the church moving in a different direction. Unfortunately, as I have said many times, most of the time these innovative ideas are not being heard at the center, are ignored if they are heard, or just dismissed because they don't promise the "thing" that will solve everything or because "they are not the way we have always done it."

Unfortunately, we are at step four, but we are still working on the first three solutions. I still hear lots of people who still blame the customer, while also saying we just need to market better, and simultaneously searching for the thing. I don't know what Rappaport would say about companies who are doing all three, but I'm guessing he would say they are in serious trouble.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Speed Linking

Each week I add several articles and links into my favorites tab with the intention of writing on them. Unfortunately this doesn't happen as much as I would like. On his blog, Andrew Conard does what he calls speed linking, in which he just lists a series of interesting things so that you can follow them yourself, and so I have decided to do the same.

My plan is to do this each Friday. This one will be a little longer as I purge out old links:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blaming the Customer, Part 2

The thing that struck me about the article about people dropping cable in greater numbers was a comment made by Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon Communications, "The first thing that happens is you deny it. I know the drill. I have been there."

This really reminded me of a statement made at a conference I attended several years ago sponsored by the Harvard Divinity School, called Finding our Way. One of the presenters was Diana Butler Bass who was talking about a book she read entitled The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics by Matt Bai.

She found some comments made by Andy Rappaport about struggling businesses to be completely applicable to the church. This is what she had to say in conveying her memory of what Rappaport had to say to Bai:

There are four steps of an organization that is not succeeding:
The first step is an organization that does not admit that it has a problem. 'Everything is fine, this is just a little downturn' only this downturn has continued for several years, but they keep saying 'Oh, we’re going to get out of this, there’s not a problem here.' That’s the first sort of flag that there is a problem .

The second step is that an organization admits it has a problem, but then blames it on its customers. The organization says, 'if only we market better, they will buy X item. It’s their problem, they just don’t know that we have this product which will change their lives and so we just need to educate these benighted consumers and that then they’ll come back and buy our product.'

The third step is that the organization recognizes that it has a problem, and it’s not the consumer’s problem, it’s them. And so what they begin to do is they will do everything they can to find 'the thing' that will fix them. When you see companies searching for 'the thing' you know the end is near.

There’s the fourth step, I come in with my cash and I buy the organization. But sometimes there is another step, once in a while, it doesn’t work that way, when they get to that fourth step, and something happens in the corporation itself, and the corporation changes. It almost always occurs in the same way, some innovative edge will begin to be heard by the central structures and powers and it’s that creative edge that has a new vision for what that company should be and they begin to bring in the innovation and practices from the edge to the center. That’s the only way that a corporation can renew themselves, and when it does happen it is quite powerful.

Mainline churches have denied there was a problem, that it was the audiences’ problem. Somehow all those very intellectual, thoughtful, open, tolerant Protestants have deserted us, and what we need to do is market ourselves and get them all back. Then we got to the place where we said to ourselves, we do have a problem, and it’s not our congregation’s problem, but it’s our problem and we have to find a solution in order to fix it.

And that’s where mainline denominations have been for the past ten or fifteen years, that’s the stage where most mainline denominations have been in, and we’ve been looking for “the thing” that will fix us. I don’t know if there are any pictures of the ideal consumer hanging up in the denominational headquarters, but I wouldn’t put it past them. That’s when the handwriting is on the wall. Is there any possibility for our communities, is there a creative edge that is working out there that is wise and transformative that can be adopted and brought into the center to revitalize what we are doing.

This statement struck me at the time, and it still does, although she was not remembering what Rappaport had to say correctly. Bass did have the first steps correctly, which according to Rappaport are:

1) Denial: "It's not our fault. we're right, and everyone else is wrong."
2) Acknowledgement: "OK, something here's got to change."
3) Frantic search for the Thing: "We have to find the thing that will save us."

Bai then asked Rappaport what happened to companies after the desire for the Thing had abated. "In some cases, Andy explained, the entrenched leaders of an ailing institution managed to summon the perspective and creativity to make the radical changes needed to save it. But that was rare. More often, real change didn't come from inside, but through what Andy identified as phase number four: the shareholder revolt. Eventually, he said, shareholders came to understand that the people running the company had failed them, and that they were going to have to take control of the situation themselves." (Bai, 65. Emphasis mine)

Of course what he doesn't say, is that sometimes these companies die because either the revolt is rebuffed, it is done too late, or simply doesn't work. The question I want to ask is, what does a "shareholder revolt" look like in a mainline church? Do the people even know enough to know that a revolt might be necessary? And who are our shareholders?

As Bass says, we certainly have seen the first three points encountered in the church, although as I've written numerous times we are still looking for "The Thing" which will somehow magically solve all of our problems. But when is the leadership of the church completely honest with itself and then as a result with the average person in the pew.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tough Decisions

Tre' Newton, Sophomore running back for the University of Texas, has decided to hang up his cleats after sustaining a new concussion several weeks ago. He had also sustained several concussions in high school and one last year. He was advised by the team's medical staff that he should consider walking away in order to reduce further damage to his brain.

After consulting with his family, including his father Nate Newton, a former NFL player, who told him that he had to consider his future because football would end someday, he decided to quit. Unfortunately, Newton has probably already sustained considerable injury which may hurt him in the future. One of his teammates, who obviously doesn't get it, said that he wouldn't quit because in ten years he wouldn't have the memories of having kept playing. The question is whether he will be able to remember his playing days or not.

That is the reality for Jim McMahon, former Super Bowl winning quarterback, who has announced that his memory is shot, both short-term and long-term. He is now speaking out to let other people know, especially those who continue to downplay the dangers, what the future may hold for them.

What all those who are complaining about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's actions trying to limit violent hits don't understand is that at some point, as the medical knowledge increases, Congress will step in and do something. The NFL does not have a God given right to exist and to remain the preeminent sport in America. Look what has happened to boxing. At one point, boxing was one of the most popular sports in America. Now, to many people, it is little different than dog fighting, and the same thing can happen to football.

Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt stepped in and saved football, which was on the verge of being banned because of the number of deaths taking place, and radical changes were made to the game to make is safer. If he had not done so, football would have been outlawed. I believe we are on the precipice of another such situation.

As more and more ex-players come forward and talk about what is happening to them. And as more evidence mounts of what is happening to these players brains, including what is being found in the brains of high schoolers, people will rise up and call for a change or they will take their dollars, and their sons somewhere else. Here are two pieces about research being conducted at Boston University on head trauma in atheletes (here and here).

Credit must be given to UT for allowing Newton to continue under his football scholarship, rather than rescinding it which is within their prerogative. They have a significant statement about their priorities through this move as well.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

Today is the day set aside to honor all of our veterans.

The Methodist church has a mixed history in regards to the military and military service. But the church does honor those who have given of themselves in service to their country, and so do I. So to all of our veterans out there, thank you.

There is not a prayer for Veterans Day in the UMC Book of Worship, but there is one for those in Military Service:
Righteous God, you rule the nations.
Guard the brave men and women in military service.
Give them compassion for those who confront them as enemies.
Keep our children from hate that hardens,
or from scorekeeping with human lives.
Though for a season they must be people of war,
let them live for peace, as eager for agreement as for victory.
Encourage them as they encourage one another,
and never let hard duty separate them from loyalty to your Son,
our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

As a reminder, this Sunday the outreach commission will be running a collection for supplies for care packages to be sent to our military overseas. They will be collecting at Sudbury Farms from 10:30-4.

They are in need of:
beef jerky
granola bars
hard candies
peanut butter and jams (in plastic jars)
protein bars
chicken or tuna in a pouch
baby wipes in portable packs
AAA and AA batteries
feminine products
foot powder
shampoo and conditioner
plastic bags of all sizes.

They will also take monetary donations as each care package costs $12 to ship. The products will be sent to Local Heroes, Inc. in Wilmington for distribution. If you can, please help out this important cause.

The photos are of Joe DiMaggio receiving his sergeant's stripes in WWII and Ted Williams in his fighter during the Korean War. From

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blaming the Customer, Part 1

A recent report from the Associate Press, says that people are dropping cable in greater numbers in the last quarter and most are not replacing it with a similar service somewhere else. The reason why this is happening is up for debate. Some, ie the cable companies, are saying it is the slow economy that is causing people to cut back their expenses. Plausible. Others are saying that Hulu and Netflix, among others, are finally making a significant impact on people's viewing habits and they are simply removing a cable provider because they are not needed anymore.

I think the second explanation is likely to happen sooner or later, so if it's happening now it would be all that surprising. If this is what's happening this will mark another significant movement in what television, and programming, will look like in the future. Network TV hasn't really adjusted yet to the reality of cable, and now this could be a significant move in a new direction.

I personally would have to say that all of television has not really made the accommodations to today's possibilities or lifestyles. How many people still watch the shows they want to see at the time they are originally broadcast? There are certainly a lot, but with a few exceptions, most people I know are watching things they have DVRed (is that a word?) or are watching on demand. The whole idea of set programming is a thing of the past, but certainly not all networks, or shows, are grasping this reality.

I remember going to a lecture in 1992 by someone whose name I wish I could recall because I would love to hear what he has to say now, but his company talked with Fortune 500 companies to tell them what technologies would be available in the future. At that time he said the technology existed so that anyone anywhere in the world could download any movie ever made any time they wanted. Remember this was 1992! Personal satellite dishes of the time where the size of small compact cars. And while 18 years later we still haven't fully yet realized that claim, our technological capabilities and expectations are way pas that. The world is changing rapidly, and people either get on board or they get left behind.

When I got my first computer, we were using 5.25" floppy disks (although I also had a tape drive if you can remember those). The disk held 160K, and then came double-sided which held 360K. Then I moved up to a 3.5 "floppy" which held 1.44 MB. Amazing storage capacity! Then I was into Syquest disks, which could get 80-120 MB depending on the disk. They also set you back several hundred dollars a piece. Then a zip disk, starting at 100 MB (that's 100 "floppies"), then a jaz at 1 gig (100 zips, or 1000 floppies). These were also very expensive, but I remember being amazed at home much they could hold.

I now have a very small 2 GB stick in my cell phone that I paid a little more than $10 for, and I back everything up on an external drive that is 1 terabyte that I paid $90 for. This is all in less than 25 years. If anyone is still operating on a system that uses a 3.5 floppy, let alone a 5.25" floppy they are obsolete. They simply cannot do anything in the modern world with that machine or technology.

Now the question is, how many of our churches are still operating on those outdated systems? Sadly for some this is something that they are not doing figuratively because they are literally still using these machines. And we wonder why so many people consider the church to be out of touch with what is going on in their lives. We have programming that is set to take place at only one time, on one day, like old television broadcasting, and if you miss it, well that's just too bad, you'll have to catch it in reruns. Except that we don't even have reruns, so if you miss it you can never catch up.

That is simply not the world we live in anymore. So the next question is how do we as the church respond? If people are "cutting the cord" to their cable companies (or satellite, or landline phones, etc.) because they don't need them anymore, where does the church stand in the midst of this change? It seems pretty obvious to me that most younger people (including my generation) are also cutting the cord to the church, if they ever even had a cord, because they don't think they need the church, and the church does little to prove that people need it.

We expect that people will come to us because that is the way it has always worked, or at least in the short-term memory of the church that's the way its always worked. But that is not our reality anymore. We are still trying to sell a computer system using 5.25" disks, or a television set using rabbit ears, or a rotary phone, to generations that are downloading videos, books and television shows on their iPhone.

So what do we do?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taking Time For Yourself

I recently attended the ordination service for the new UCC pastor in town, and one of the speakers said something that I am still trying to digest, and certainly am not yet living into. The speaker was giving his charge to the congregation, and he told them why they needed to support the pastor not working too much, taking a sabbath, taking his vacation and taking time to be with his family. He said, you are not doing this for the pastor, although he certainly benefits, but you are doing it for yourselves.

Someone had once told him, which totally changed the way he did ministry, that if he was not taking care of himself and setting a proper example for the congregation about proper work-life balances then what chance did the congregation have? And so he said, the congregation has to make the pastor do this, and the pastor has to do this, so that the people can have an example to see of how it might be done.

They all know, or at least some of them do, that there is always lots of work to do and by taking time off that means that some work is simply not getting done. That of course is what drives so many of us to work so much. We simply believe that if we don’t keep working that things won’t get done and everything will then fall apart, and so we have to work harder. But that is not sustainable for anyone: the pastor or the church.

As I’m looking at the hours and days I have been working lately this has certainly been rattling around in my mind. I’ve had one day off in the past month, and that was because I took one Wednesday off, and I still did some work directly related to the church. As I write this I am sitting at a conference on a Saturday, which I am supposed to have off, and so I really need to start learning to set boundaries and say no.

Serving a congregation which has lots of people who over function in their jobs, how do I change what I do so that I can set the example for the rest of the congregation? I don’t know. I’m still struggling. And how do I get people to truly understand what this means and why I am doing it, and what this means for them?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Congratulations

I've written several things, but have not gotten them posted, so they will go up next week.

Congratulations to Joe Paterno on his 400th win yesterday. Contrary to what ESPN kept saying, Joe is not the first coach in college history to reach 400 wins. John Gagliardi, from St. John's University, an alma matter of mine, beat St. Olaf's yesterday to collect his 477th victory. Eddie Robinson, of Grambling, had 408 victories. Joe is the first to ever have 400 wins in what was formerly called Division 1 football, an impressive feat and one that probably will never be matched.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Congratulations And The Beginning Of A Long Wait

Congratulations go out to the San Francisco Giants. Who would have thought that Cliff Lee would be beat twice in the series? El Duque's record of starting 8-0 in the playoffs is safe for a while. The only prediction I made that was correct was that we would not witness good baseball, and that's certainly the case. Some of the games were okay, but this is supposed to be the best baseball that can be put on the field, and we definitely did not see that.

So now the winter of our discontent begins as we wait for pitchers and catchers to report on February 13, and we start anew with the idea that once again everyone has a chance. At this time of year I'm always reminded of Hall of Famer Roger Hornsby's quote, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”


Just took my daughter with me and did my civic duty in voting. The turn-out was huge. I have never had to stand in line to vote before, even when elections have had large turnouts. So we'll see where this ends up. I do suspect that the Dems will take a major hit, but I think for the most part it has little to do with their policies and more to do with the fact that they are in power.

There are some who are angry at the Democrats, but it is my sense that more people are just angry at the process and the fact that nothing seems to be getting done. Of course part of the problem is that anger drives politicians to become even more entrenched in their camps, because they think they have the people on their sides, instead of being driven to actually compromise and get things done. I'm sure the republicans will over play their hand on this and they'll end up just like they were in 1996, following the "revolution" in 1994. History does tend to repeat itself.

The one qualm I always have when voting is whether I should vote for who I really want to vote for, or should I vote for the candidate who will best represent my views and has a chance of winning? That of course is a driving issue all the time. All we need to do is remember Gore's election/non-election. I don't want one of the candidates to win and know that in voting for this other person that I do help him because that is a vote away from his opponent. But I felt to vote the way I needed to vote regardless of outcome, and I'm okay with that. And here's the simple truth, if everyone voted for people, regardless of whether they stood a chance, our political scene would be radically different.

My brother has been a supporter of Dennis Kucinich and has had lots of people say, "I like him and his policies, but he doesn't stand a chance and so I can't vote for him." If everyone who said that actually did vote for him he would actually stand a chance. I don't want to have to plug my nose and vote for someone anyways (although sometimes I still have to), I want to be able to vote for the person I think is best for the job regardless of whether they stand a chance to win or not.

If you don't participate in the process then you have no right to complain about the outcome, so please go vote today.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Blog

The Consultation on Common Texts has a list of suggested daily Bible readings which correspond to the Sunday lectionary readings. We have had an insert available at the church for a while which lists these texts, but I have now gone one step further. I have created another blog site which has the full text of these daily readings.

In addition, it also contains a link to two chapters from another book of the Bible as a supplementary reading. If you read just two chapters a day from the Gospels, you will get through all four in about a month and a half. That is where these extra readings will start, and then it will move onto the Book of Acts, then maybe back to the Gospels, before going into Paul's letters. As we progress through the year, you will then have the opportunity to read readings relating to the lectionary as well as progressing sequentially through an entire book.

I hope you will join me in making daily scripture reading part of your spiritual disciplines. The readings can be found at

Friday, October 29, 2010

Pumpkins - Methodist Style

Remember the pumpkins we would carve as kids? Triangle eyes was about as tricky as it got. Boy has pumpkin carving come a long way.

Well if you are looking for something to impress your neighbors and declare your denominational loyalty, here is a John Wesley pumpkin. You can find the pattern here. I have done this pattern in the past. It's not as difficult as it might look as long as you have pumking carving tools.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Day Later

Yesterday I said that we were likely to see some sloppy play because of the layoffs between the end of the championship series and the beginning of the World Series, and unfortunately I turned out to be correct. Six errors were committed by both teams last night. In addition, an 11-7 score is just not good baseball. Cliff Lee finally got beat, and no one can say to me that his layoff did not have something to do with his inability to hit his spots. He had 8 days between his starts, normally he has four. This is supposed to be the best baseball that can be played by the two best teams, but year after year that is not the product that is put on the field. MLB has to address this.

Notre Dame yesterday lost one of their students when the tower in which he was filming football practice collapsed. Declan Sullivan, a twenty-year-old Junior, died from his injuries at a local hospital. I have written here about football coaches needing to be made to understand that they are responsible for their athletes in a way that is much deeper than just as some commodity which can be replaced at will, and I guess I need to broaden that perspective.

The University has said it will conduct a full investigation, and many reporters are saying they hope that negligence will not be found. How can negligence not be found? A student was sent up a fifty-foot tower in fifty-mile-an-hour winds. There is no other way to describe this than as negligent. What is even worse is that Sullivan tweeted both before he went up and while he was on the tower that he was “terrified.”

Even if he went up of his own volition, the university hires adults to make decisions that students might not be able to make themselves. Sometimes being the person in charge includes stopping people from doing what they should not do, even if they want to do it. This is a tragedy that should never have occurred. Practice had been held inside the day before because of these same winds, so it was not as if there was a sudden burst of wind that brought the tower down.

I truly hope the University is committed to this investigation and is willing to take the necessary steps to make sure it never happens again, which must include firing staff. That to me would include anyone, up to and including the coach, who saw him up there and immediately did not say “what is someone doing up in a tower in fifty-mile-an-hour winds,” and order him to be brought down. I’m sure the universities insurance company is already preparing a check that contains at least 6 zeros.

My prayers go out to the Sullivan family and his friends.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Baseball and World Series Musings

After the Yankees lost on Friday night I had basically stopped following sports for a while. I hadn’t watch ESPN or read any of my normal Yankees Blogs, and so boy was I surprised by all that has gone on since then. I discover that pitching coach Dave Eiland has been fired, CC Sabathia is having surgery on his knee, Kristin Lee the wife of Cliff, was unhappy with how Ranger fans were treated (as if somehow only Yankee fans boo and jeer opposing team fans. Did you not hear the “Yankees S*#k” chants at the Ballpark in Arlington?), the official scorer for the Yankees, Bill Shannon, died in a house fire, Pettitte was pitching injured in the playoffs, and the Yankees first goal is to get Joe Girardi signed to an extension. And those were just a few of the stories. Wow.

Fox has got to be very upset with their World Series match-up which starts tonight. Of the final four teams, this was their worst nightmare, because outside of diehard baseball fans, who are going to watch anyways, and fans in Dallas and San Francisco, no one cares. Sure there are some good stories to follow, and the pitching has the possibility of being great, but these are not teams or players that people know, and Fox and MLB are really to blame for this.

Now as a Yankee fan I love the fact I can watch my team play games on national television that might otherwise be blacked out because of the absolutely ridiculous television contract that MLB signed with Fox. But when the teams that they push all the time are the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Braves, Cubs, and a few others, then it is little wonder that people never learn about any of the other teams. And if they don’t know those teams they are not going to be interested in watching them in the post season. In addition, the general marketing and advertising of the game is just ridiculously stupid and behind the times.

In many ways, MLB is like the church. They are counting on their much older fan base to continue to tell the story and bring in new generations rather than reaching out and doing creative things to bring the new fans in themselves. In other words, their marketing plan is doomed to fail at some point. One of the reasons they are working so hard to keep Mark Cuban from buying a team, besides for the fact that Jerry Reinsdorf (who owns the White Sox and is one of the commissioners closest friends) can’t stand him, is because they know that he will push them on this and be a general thorn in their side. As much as I can’t stand a lot of what the NBA does and represents, they do a very good job in marketing their sport and their personalities, and Cuban even pushes the NBA.

I don’t really have a good prediction on the series. I think the Rangers are the better team top to bottom, but I would also say that about the Yankees over the Rangers, so there you go. Both teams have been sitting out for a while, which is absolutely ridiculous. Baseball is an everyday sport, and it needs to be played every day. Every. Single. Day. Give one day for travel between home games, but other than that keep going. The Yankees sat for seven days before they played the Rangers, and it clearly didn’t help them. Remember the 2006 Tigers, they sat forever before the series and they suffered the consequences.

In this case both teams have been sitting for almost an equal amount so it will be which team can get their timing back the quickest. That does also make for the possibility of some ugly, sloppy baseball, which is not a good product to be putting on the field for what is supposed to be the premier event in baseball. For some this might be the only baseball they watch all year and it should be the best that can be found, but often it isn’t, and again MLB and their ridiculous television contracts are responsible.

I think what the series might come down to is which team is happy to just be there and which team wants to win it all. If you remember back to when the Rays made it to the series, they all talked about how happy they were to make it to the series, and that is how they played. They had already achieved what they wanted to do. (I know they all still want to win, but I think there was a letdown because they had already achieved so much. They certainly did not play like the team that won the American League East and pennant that year.) There are other teams that have done this as well.

Bottom line is that I am going with the Rangers in 6. I could be totally wrong because there are just way too many unknowns in this series. As a Yankee fan I’ve been going back and forth of whether it’s better for Lee to win or not, and I think I’ve decided it is best for us to have him win in Texas. This is true for a couple of reasons.

One is that winning the series in the best that is ever going to happen in Texas, and so that is already out of the way. There is nothing else Lee can do there. Two, then the Yankees can say: “Sure you’re a World Series Champion with Texas, but you haven’t won one with the Yankees. Winning in Texas makes you king of the Dallas metroplex, but winning in New York makes you the king of the world. A victory parade through the suburbs simply cannot compare to a ticker tape parade through the canyon of heroes, so come to New York and we’ll really show you what it means to be a champion.”

So what do you say Cliff?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I'm Not Stupid

I've addressed the stupidity in ads several times here, but there is a new one that is just over the top. It's a Dominoes commercial in which it says at the bottom of the screen that they are filming a real marketing test group, and the "participants" are saying that they don't believe the cheese is real, blah, blah, blah. And then to prove that what Dominoes says is true all of the sudden the walls of the room are removed, and voila, they are actually sitting in a field at a farm in Wisconsin, and all the "participants" are shocked at where they are.

Really, do you think I'm actually that stupid Dominoes? First of all, in order to get there, the people would have had to have done one of several different things. One is that they might have had to have driven to the farm themselves, walked out into the field and climbed into the room, so how could they be surprised by where they are. Two, is maybe the room was on a truck and so they were driven out there, which is really creepy, and why weren't the people then talking about why the room was moving. That would be more interesting to me than where the cheese came from. The third option is that the "participants" were blind folded, maybe put in a trunk or a van without windows so they couldn't see anything, driven to the farm, and then only once they were in the room were their blindfolds removed. This is an even creepier idea then the second one and is more like kidnapping than a focus group.

Of course the reality is that all of these actors knew exactly what was going on and where they were. Commercials are not long enough to have us be able to suspend all sense of reality, they are what they are, and this one if just dumb. I don't want to buy your pizza because I think you might actually believe that I am stupid enough to believe this is an actual event.

The other problem is that simply because you show me a picture of cows in a field does not actually prove that you use milk from these cows to make your cheese. The fact that you are trying to deceive me into believing the first stupid part of this ad, makes me believe that the second part of the ad probably isn't true as well. This is just bad advertising and whoever came up with it, let alone approved it should be fired.

And while we're at it, showing the picture of the pizza with the cheese all stuck to the top and saying this is unacceptable and we will do better worked the first time, and that was a good ad. Showing the same picture in a second, let a lone a third ad, just shows me that you are out of ideas and are more interested in advertising than in actually doing anything.

Apparently I am not the only one who pointed out the stupidity of this ad, or I have a much bigger readership than I thought, because Dominoe's has now changed the spot. They now show everyone being taken in a limousine to the farm, but there are still two problems. One, were the windows totally blacked out from the inside? Again, totally freaky. Second, has no one from Dominoe's ever been to a dairy farm? They smell, shall we say nicely, like cows. Therefore there is no way the people could get out of the limo and not immediately know that they were at a farm. Good attempt Dominoe's but your ad is still stupid.