Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hey Turlock People

Kent, Glenn, and Adam came for a visit. We went to Seattle yesterday.
On the ferry.
We fed the seagulls at Ivars.
And we stopped by Mike's office.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Things You Don't See (or, How the Christmas Eve Service Went from Sublime to Chaotic)

The setup
To begin with, the sanctuary was very dark. The only light came from a few candles, and a couple strings of white Christmas lights spread around the edges. In addition, a stand light was clipped onto the podium from which our readers would share the scriptures, and a piano light stood to illuminate the book out of which I was playing. All lyrics were projected onto the screen, so that nobody would have the need to read out of a bulletin or hymnbook.

Beginnings of a Disaster
It was my fault, really. One of the highlights of the evening was to be the Isaiah 9 passage scrolling slowly across the screen, word by methodical word, as the pensive and haunting "O Come" from John Doan's "Wrapped in White: Visions of Christmas Past" played over the sound system. Only I had forgotten to get the powerpoint file of Isaiah 9, complete with transitions, to our display operator. At the last minute she asked me about it; I ran to my office, copied it to a flash drive and ran it up to her in the balcony. She loaded it and checked the title page, and all looked well.

The Disaster presents itself
Here was the problem. I had used a particular font for the main portion of the Word "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. . ." A font that looked beautiful on my laptop. A font that wasn't accessible on the computer used for projections. Thus, rather than seeing "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light," our people instead saw a series of empty boxes and jiggles and wingdings and such. The Scripture reduced to incomprehensible nonsense. The intimacy of Christmas Eve turned to confusion and humor.

But I'm trained to manage disasters.

I say something about "technical difficulties," and grab my Bible, making my way to the reading light, from whence I shall read Isaiah 9 in my best Prophet voice. I assume the powerpoint is turned off.

Only, as I read I can tell from my peripheral vision that the powerpoint is, in fact, carrying on. This, I think, could be confusing. By slide 2 and 3, the font is actually back to normal and thus is readable, but if my reading isn't lining up with the powerpoint, then people will be all the more confused. We'll be out of sync. All this goes through my mind as I continue to read. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. . ."

Disaster hits in full
So I turn slightly, attempting to see where the powerpoint, scrolling behind me, is actually at. And at that precise moment, when my head is slightly turned to look behind me, while my voice is droning on "and he shall be called Wonderful. . ." it is in that rotation of my head, that my contact lens pops out of my left eye and flies into the darkness.

Into the pitch black of Christmas Eve.

My expensive, one-of-a-kind, highly specialized lens for my very rare corneal condition. Gone.

I read on, trying to see if it landed on me, or on my Bible, or on the stand. No luck.

I regret bringing up a Bible with very small print.

I consider that stopping to look for the contact would ruin the moment. That it would be something people talked about for years and years to come. So I press on.

And so, for the second half of the service, I'm completely blind in one eye.

It's very difficult to play the piano when you can't really see your music. And it's tougher to play when you can't really see your left hand, either. And it's tough to lead a group prayer when you can't really read the words on the projection screen, due to its oblique angle and my having only one good eye. And it's really hard to concentrate on the moment when you're watching people walk up to the front in the dark, and wondering which will step on and crush your one-of-a-kind contact lens, your lens which you won't be able to replace until sometime after the New Year. I was thinking about appointments and insurance when I should have been concentrating on the manger scene and all the people gathered around.

And Yet
And yet. . .when Heather read "Mary's Carol," by Walter Wangerin Jr., my soul was deeply stirred. And Ron's reading of John 1 goes down as one of the most powerful scripture readings I have ever been witness to.

And the a capella 3rd verse of Silent Night - it was as if the congregation left and a professional choir walked in, as if the angels joined us to sing along. It almost left me in tears.

The conclusion of the matter
When all was said and done, Doug grabbed a flashlight and helped me find the contact lens, still in perfect condition, on the floor beneath the reading station. And we all went out into a quiet, joyous Christmas, filled again with joy at the good news delivered to all people, that our savior was born to us.

I just keep thinking there must be a metaphor in all this, a good sermon illustration, but I can't figure out exactly what it is yet. Perhaps a kind reader might illumine the rest of us, showing us how God spoke through a mishandled powerpoint and the disappearing eyesight of the pastor.

Or maybe we just ought to get rid of all technology on Christmas Eve and celebrate a Luddite Christmas next year.

Oh My

I haven't been near a radio, television, or computer for three or four days. So I haven't really been paying attention to the news.

Until this morning, when I go online and read about
- tigers mauling young men in San Francisco,
- mass murder east of Seattle,
- assassinations in Pakistan

Seems like the Enemy didn't take a Christmas break this year.

Lord, have mercy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas to all

And to all, a good night.

May the peace of the Christ Child fill your life with joy and laughter, hope and cheer, wherever you are.

Friday, December 21, 2007

And one more inspiring story

Last Sunday I announced that this coming Sunday's offering would be given, in its entirety, to a disaster relief fund at a sister church in Aberdeen, to help people who have suffered so much since the storms hit Washington a few weeks ago. After the service Sarah W and Sarah T, two of our more energetic and precocious junior high girls, came up to me and told me they wanted to do a fundraiser to collect money for disaster relief.

If you spend any time in ministry leadership, you get these all the time. People come with great ideas (usually when you're really busy) and expect you to jump on in and make their ideas happen. So most pastors learn the art of reflection: "That's a great idea. Why don't you make it happen and keep me informed." 90% of the time nothing ever comes of it (until they decide to fire you, claiming that you "never listen to our ideas!", but that's another story).

So imagine my surprise when Sarah and Sarah told me Wednesday night that they were doing a bake sale at the Peninsula Market, and could they borrow a table and coffee pot to heat up water for hot chocolate?

I stopped by and saw them on Thursday, following the men's breakfast, and there they were, miserably cold but laughing and goofing off as only Junior High girls can do. They had a table full of cookies they had made the night before. They had a huge poster announcing that this was a Disaster Relief Bake Sale. And they already had a bucket-full of money. Even local politician Al Yanity stopped by and donated to the cause.

This morning, Sara W.'s mom stopped in with the money they raised, which amounted to a little over $200. And they did it all of their own initiative. They did all the work. And I think they even enjoyed themselves.

That is the spirit of Christmas. Even more, that is the Spirit of Christ at work among His Children. Sarah and Sarah have been an inspiration to me this year, reminding me of all that is good about God's people and this community. So this is a public Shout-Out to the Sarahs (squared). You are wonderful, amazing young ladies who God has used to bless people who are suffering. I am proud of you, more proud than I can say.

Now, can I clone you two? With a few more like you, we could change the world.

I'm not sure this is what he meant

From time to time I am asked about the fact that America is never mentioned in the Bible. After all, the logic goes, the Prophecies in the Bible clearly spell out just how everything comes to a screeching halt at the End Of All Time. And if the prophets knew so much, then why didn't they mention America?

To some, this is a curiosity. To others, it's an existential crisis. How could God's Nation not play some vital role in the End Times?

To me, it's a non-issue, since I don't tend to hold to a strict, literalistic, dispensationalist view on the future. The prophets didn't mention America because, well, mostly because America didn't exist a couple thousand years ago. And also because much of what today passes as True Prophetic Messages of the End Times might just as well have been metaphorical interpretations of the times in which the authors were living. And, again, America was non-existent at that time.

But now all that might have changed. It seems some people have discovered that America actually is mentioned in the Bible. Or, at least, an American Interstate is mentioned in the book of Isaiah.

Here's the text:
Isaiah 35:8 "And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."

And see, here's the genius. Isaiah 35. Isaiah begins with an I. Thus, it's really talking about I-35, a freeway that runs from Larado, TX to Duluth, Minn.

And upon such a strange hermeneutic is founded the "Light the Highway" movement.

(If you'd rather not read through their whole web page, you can read a summary in the news article here.)

Let me state three somewhat disparate thoughts:
1) Seeking righteousness, proclaiming the Name of the Lord, praying for your city and country, fasting and evangelizing and interceding are all good things.
2) This method of Bible interpretation, that would lead one to believe that Isaiah's prophecy of Israel's redemption is in fact speaking of Interstate 35, is completely, utterly wrong.
3) I truly wish I understood where these people were coming from. When I worked in Portland I found myself among the same sort of people. People who regularly had Prophetic Revelations, revelations that sounded biblical, prophesies regarding Portland's revival, or Portland's condemnation. And the people behind these revelations were so sincere, so passionate, so fired-up for Jesus, but it seemed like one huge internal reaction with no external impact. The prophecies never came true; but the people just jumped off into the Next Big Prophetic Thing. It was like a runaway chain reaction that kept these people bouncing around, that had nothing whatsoever to do with reality. Instead of doing the things Christ commanded (feeding the poor, visiting the prisoners, standing up against injustice) they breathlessly forwarded emails about prophesies, they went to parks and sang worship songs, they hiked down highways praying for "demonic walls" to come down. It all seemed like so much wasted energy.

But, anyway, that's not really what all this was about. Instead, it was to let you all know that America is mentioned in the Bible, so we can lay that misperception to rest.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hell for Advent

Throughout Advent, I've been reading a book on Hell. Four Views On Hell, to be exact. If you scroll down and look at the book list on the right, you should see it there (unless you are reading this a long time after I wrote it. . .)

It came about because of a discussion I was in a few months ago. A particular person attempted to make the case that to be "for Jesus," one must also accept the traditional view of Hell as eternal conscious torment. I tried to point out that there were, in fact, good Christians who differed on their interpretations of the doctrine of Hell. I was instantly labeled a heretic, and found myself defending positions of which I was only vaguely aware. Hence the book.

And this is how I like theology. Four authors give the basis for their particular understanding of the issue. Each author then responds to the works of the others, leading to a broad conversation covering the outlines of the topic, which allows the reader to see the strengths and weaknesses of each position and come to their own conclusion as to which rings truer than the others.

From my perspective, the real treasure is not so much the conclusion as it is learning about how people do theology, to see the author's various hermeneutics at play. You learn as much about how people interpret the Bible as you learn about the actual topic. You see how people think, you see their blind spots and their moments of genius, and with all that, you can decide who truly is speaking doctrine that fits the Biblical message.

And so we have:
- John Walvoord (1910-2002), former professor and president of Dallas Theological Seminary, presenting the Literal (traditional) view
- William Crocket, Professor of NT at Alliance Theological Seminary, presenting the Metaphorical view
- Zachary Hayes, Teacher of theology at Catholic Theological Union, presenting the Purgatorial view,
- Clark Pinnock, Professor of Christian Interpretation at McMaster Divinity College, presenting the Conditional (annihilationist) view

And you get this:
Walvoord, true to his Dallas roots, can't get beyond the word Inerrancy, claiming that any interpretation other than a literal one denies inerrancy, thus denying the Truth of the Word. There is no room for nuance or historical interpretation or theological extrapolation. God said it, I believe it, and that's good enough for me. And I'll ignore any evidence to the contrary.

Crockett begins to develop some interesting lines, being (in my opinion) truer to the intent of the text, getting away from wooden literalistic interpretations, recognizing the reality of metaphor in eternal language; in addition, he sees (unlike Walvoord) that the texts themselves are somewhat contradictory, here saying "fire" and there saying "darkness." In the end, though, for Crockett whatever hell is like, all the metaphors say it's pretty horrible.

Hayes, for whatever reason, goes off-topic and speaks instead to the issue of purgatory. His is perhaps the most frustrating chapter simply because it's not Biblical. It relies completely on tradition and philosophy and a few apocryphal writings. Even Hayes admits that there's really no proof for purgatory in the Bible. But being a good teacher in the Catholic Church, none of that matters, because Tradition teaches purgatory, and that's all that matters. Obviously, to non-Catholics, that is an extremely weak argument.

Finally, the Pinnock chapter. This is the real reason I bought the book, in that I'd been intrigued with annihilationism ever since I read about it in Randy Klassen's What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell? Pinnock has become a spokesperson for this viewpoint (as well as for Openness Theology, both of which have made him persona non grata with the Evangelical Theological Society). And I found myself somewhat frustrated, because Pinnock spends very little time laying out the biblical case for annihilation. Instead, he spends most of his pages working at undermining the more traditional position and those who hold to it. Pinnock has been savagely attacked for holding to a few non-orthodox positions, and it comes through clearly as he continually speaks of those who reject his own views as heretical. His pleas for open discussion and review of doctrinal positions is to be lauded, but I wish in the end he had simply laid out a stronger biblical framework and let that speak for him. To be honest, the 3-4 pages in which he actually did work on the scriptures are powerful and show how the annihilationist view should at least be considered, but they didn't make a strong enough case.

That's not to say I've been won by any of the other positions. I still think there is something to the annihilationist viewpoint; I was just hoping that Pinnock would build a stronger case (because there is a stronger case to be made) instead of taking potshots at his accusers.

However, I would recommend the book to anybody who wants to read more on the issue, who wants to read about other options, or who simply wants to see how theologians do theology.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Couple O Things

Classic King FM is streaming Christmas music 24/7. And you can bet that it's going to be quality Christmas music, based on the source. . .

Go to your Itunes song list, or your Windows Media Player song list, or whatever you use to organize your digital music files. Have it sort your music by song titles. Then tell me what song you have the most versions of.

I ask because my #1 song is Silent Night, of which I have 16 different versions listed.
- Bing Crosby
- Brass Mosaic
- City of London Sinfonia
- The Carpenters
- Harry Connick, jr
- John Denver
- John Doan (2 versions)
- Nat King Cole
- Sara Maclachlan
- Selah
- Thomas Moore
- Kathleen Battle
- New York Choral Artists
- Michael Pritzl/Jenny Gullen
- Tom Howard


Speaking of Christmas Music, does anybody want a free copy of Kathy Mattea's Christmas album, Joy for Christmas Day? I bought it a couple years ago and it just doesn't do anything for me, except for making me want to turn it off.


The intelligence of a child: On the way into Seattle last night, Olivia piped up from the back seat, "Daddy, I know how to spell YMCA."


Speaking of Seattle and Christmas music, last night was the Canadian Brass concert at Benaroya Hall. Olivia and I joined my brother Michael for a nice dinner, followed by the two hour brass extravaganza. The CB were superb, the musical selections were rich and broad, the night was a blend of high baroque art and typical CB silliness. Only 2 of the original 5 players remain, but the three who have joined are all very capable (if perhaps lacking a little of the CB quirkiness). From a cell phone ringtone medley to Frosty melting on stage, from Bach to Peter Schickile, the group covered a lot of bases, entertaining adults and kids alike. Truly a wonderful way to usher in the final week before Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


So we've been having this little oil problem in the trusty Accord lately. As in, I've been putting in a couple quarts every few weeks.

Plus it was time to have the brakes fixed, and the suspension is squeaking. Into the shop we went yesterday.

Then cometh the phone call.

"You need a new motor in this car."

That, connected with the brakes and suspension problem. . .let's just say all told it would cost more to fix the car than the car is worth.

So, I think the family is going to be in the market for a new car very soon.

Here's what we would like:
- seats 6 or more
- gets great gas mileage and (hence) is good for the environment
- is capable of towing a pop-up trailer
- costs less than a year of college

Anybody have any suggestions?

Quick snapshot

It was back before music came over the internet, back before CDs came in jewel cases complete with extensive liner notes. Back when you had to listen to music closely to figure out the lyrics. For that matter, it was back when song lyrics actually meant something, back when lyrics were poetry and songwriters were artists.

Back before your average lyric was "oh baby shake that baby baby oh mm oh shake dance oh. . ."


My parents were those people who were usually the last to leave Church on a Sunday morning. They, the Danielsons, the Meyers (Hey Marcia!), the Golikes. . .they would all just sit around and, I don't know, talk or something. For what seemed like hours and hours and hours. And after a while, we kids would get tired of running all over the church while waiting. So eventually we'd go sit in the car and listen to the radio. If it was fall, then it would be the Seahawks game, but any other time meant great stereophonic popular music streaming through the factory speakers in the Catalina.

(connect the dots. . .)

Which is the first place my memory went when I head that Dan Fogelberg died over the weekend. Sitting in the front seat (the bench seat) of the Pontiac, trying in vain to figure out the line from Leader of the Band that I would later learn goes "Living out the life I've chose and grown to know so well."

Let's be honest. Dan Fogelberg is one of those guys, like John Denver, and Barry Manilow, who everybody secretly loves but is too afraid to admit it, for fear of being "uncool."

So let me state for the record - I still can't watch the Kentucky Derby without thinking of The Run for the Roses. If I'm flipping around the radio dial and here Same Old Lange Syne I have to listen to the end. Listening to Dan Fogelberg makes me happy, in a melancholy sort of way.

There, I said it, and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Just a thought

One perfect reason to deny the possibility that the human race is evolving upward toward some New Age of Peace, Harmony, and Universal Intelligence, in which we all achieve Spiritual Consciousness and Bliss


Just one more example that the world is actually becoming dumber by the minute:

The simple fact that anybody would actually pay money to go to a Spice Girls Reunion concert.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Good Ol' Boys

Last summer they logged the 15 acres to the north of the church and parsonage. The forest that bordered us disappeared, almost over night.

For the last few days, they've been slash-burning the remnant. While I hadn't seen anybody up there, at night we were blessed by visions of massive piles of glowing embers sizzling in the winter rain.

Today, the next-door neighbor called and asked if I wanted to meet the guys doing the burning. I wandered over to her house and we walked up the hill together.

There I met Phil and his buddy. They've lived in the area their entire lives. Phil's family has been in the same cove for over 100 years. They're the kind of people you might describe as "earthy." The kind who smoke cigars and drive tractors and say "hell," only to realize they're talking to the preacher, so they wince and say "sorry - heck!" They're the kind who tell you about the time the Burley hit a sand bar and overturned by the Lakebay dock, way back in the 1930s. They're the kind who remember grandpa gettin' his leg busted up when his horse team was startled by a Model T. They talk about "the old Ulsh place" and they actually remember the people who lived there. They remember Lakebay before "The Highway" went in. They know stories about the anarchists in Home. And they'e the kind who don't mind pulling up a stump and telling you all about it. The kind who don't put on airs, who sit in old pickups and watch the fire burn out while cussing and smoking and drinking and laughing.

And I thought, This is the coolest part about my job, meeting people like Phil Johnson, who even now is up on the hill dumping more wood on the fire.

Oh, and Phil told me he'd move some of the choicer pieces of lumber over the bushes into my yard, to make sure I'd have plenty of firewood. "Not a problem," said Phil.

Life in the country can be pretty amazing, if you just decide to get out of your office for a bit.

Friday Random 10

Christmas edition

Nice to get some standards (#2, 6, 9, 10) and some not-so-traditional (#3,5). #4 is from my days at Azusa Pacific, arranged by Barrie Gott, the APU band director who recruited me. He was a trumpet player, which may explain the horrific trumpet parts we had to play in that one. As to #8 - how did this one album, this one TV special, become one of the iconic Christmas sounds? It's so simple, lacking flash and fireworks, and yet it says "Christmas" like nothing else America has produced.

  1. Fredericka Von Stade and the American Boy Choir – Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, from “A Carnegie Hall Christmas”
  2. John Denver and the Muppets – Deck the Halls, from “A Christmas Together”
  3. Steve Tyrell – The Christmas Blues, from “This Time of Year”
  4. Azusa Pacific University Choir and Orchestra – King Jesus is His Name, from “Celebrate the Child”
  5. Choir of King’s College – Blessed Be that Maid Mary, from “Noel: Christmas at Kings”
  6. Jim Brickman – What Child is This?, from “Gift”
  7. New York Pops – Christmas Fantasy, from “Christmas in the Country”
  8. Vince Guaraldi – Skating, from “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
  9. Bing Crosby – Silent Night, from “White Christmas”
  10. Brass Mosaic – Away in a Manger, from “A Brass Christmas”

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Way Early Promo

I had lunch today with a couple other pastors from the Key Peninsula. We've been meeting for the last year or so, and have decided to form the "Key Peninsula Ministerial Association." Which basically means we have lunch once a month and we have a name.

It looks like we're going to combine forces next March and do a series of Community-Wide services for Holy Week, rather than each church doing their own thing. So we'll have a Community Maundy Thursday service, hosted by the KP Lutheran Church. And a Community Good Friday prayer vigil facilitated by the Longbranch Community Church. And a Community Easter Sunrise Service at Penrose Point State Park, hosted by Lakebay Community Church (that's us. . .).

I'm excited about the opportunity to worship together with all the fine folks from the various churches, as well as the chance to send the message to the community that we're really all the same church; we just meet in different buildings.

Look for a flyer soon. Well, after Christmas and Epiphany, anyway.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Dan's Desert-Island Christmas List

In no particular Order:

- Andrew Peterson, Behold the Lamb of God: The True Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ
The Chieftains, The Bells of Dublin
Vince Guaraldi, A Charlie Brown Christmas
The Carpenters, Christmas Portrait
Diana Krall, Christmas Songs
John Denver and the Muppets, A Christmas Together
George Winston, December
- Kenny Loggins, December
John Rutter and the London Sinfonia, John Rutter Christmas Album
Mindy Smith, My Holiday
Thomas Moore, The Soul of Christmas: A Celtic Music Celebration
Sarah Maclachlan, Wintersong
John Doan, Wrapped in White: Visions of Christmas Past
Michael W. Smith, It's a Wonderful Christmas
- David Willcocks and the Choir of King's College, Noel: Christmas at King's

Just to make something clear,

Referencing yesterday's post, I'm not necessarily trying to debate Mormon theology. That could be another post for another day. What I simply want to point out is that Mormons want it both ways. They claim "we're not heretics, we're Christians just like all the others! We believe in Jesus, too!" But when you peel away that veneer, you find that the gulf is much wider indeed. You find that they do ascribe to some of the greater heresies out there.

Now, we could debate whether the heresies are actually the Truth, I suppose. Mormons could say "when the Church made such-and-such decision at this-and-so council, they were wrong." And I would assume that, within the halls of Mormon-dom, they must actually say those things, since the Council of Nicea clearly declared heresy the teaching that Jesus and the Father are NOT of the same substance (which is a basic Mormon belief). But in public, they are guilty of doublespeak, claiming to be "just like all the other Christians" while holding to beliefs that are not just different, but heretical.

The question for the day is not whether their beliefs are right or wrong; the question is whether or not they'll be forced to go more public with their differences, bringing their beliefs into the spotlight for all to see. Then we would at least be able to have a level conversation, discussing the real differences and the validity of the Mormon viewpoint. We could better understand Mr. Romney, and perhaps even respect his willingness to be transparent in his beliefs before all the world. Instead, it feels again like the plumb saying "I'm an orange because I grow on a tree just like oranges!"

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Curious about Mormons?

One of the things I've learned from my (granted, somewhat limited) experience with those who call the Mormon Church home is that they are gifted at misdirection. They play like smoke, shifting and dodging in order to avoid the tough questions, hoping to win you over with their good values and nice personalities. Often, after attempting to have extended conversations with Mormons, I've felt that old adage "style over substance" applied very well. Not that they weren't sincere. And I don't even think they were truly lying to me. It's just that they realize some of their cherished beliefs are somewhat controversial, and they'd rather not bring those things into the public eye.

So when you challenge them on the Book of Mormon's validity, they respond "The Book of Mormon isn't on trial here. . ." But when you ask for proof as to the historical validity of Mormonism, they point you to the Book of Mormon.

When you attempt to point out the massive gulf between Christian orthodoxy and Mormon theology (heresy?) they'll say "We're not here to prove this to you. You just need to read the Book of Mormon, pray that God speaks to you, and see if you get a Burning in your Bosom." And then there are the times I've challenged Mormon missionaries on Mormon doctrines that they themselves were unaware of. Perhaps they even keep their own people in the dark about certain theological positions they hold.

Mormons want to be seen as mainstream, as just another branch of Christianity, and they present themselves as such. Yet they never really want to get into the nuts and bolts of things, where they are truly quite far away from historical Christianity. Reference the article I reviewed a few weeks ago, where a Mormon elder went to great pains to say "we're not heretics!" only to espouse some of the oldest and greatest heresies ever rejected by the Church.

So now Romney has delivered what may come to be known as his "Mormon" Speech. And I have no doubt about his sincerity, or the passion with which he follows his Mormon faith. I'm also not convinced that his Mormon faith automatically disqualifies him as a candidate I would vote for (note: I'm not planning on voting for Romney, but for reasons other than his faith).

What I am curious about is how all this publicity will affect the Mormon Church. They are getting the light shown on them, perhaps like never before. For an organization that tends to work in the shadows, this is a coming-out party for them. So far, the smoke-and-mirrors still seems to hold sway. They aren't dealing with the substance of Mormonism; instead, people are simply lauding Romney for sticking to his convictions (One Southern Baptist said the speech was "Kennedyesque"), or rejecting him because those religious convictions stand against their own agendas.

At some point, will somebody actually bring out the substance of what Romney is giving credence to? Will somebody point out that to accept Mormonism means to accept the fact that we all pre-existed as spirit children, that our souls were deposited into our fleshly bodies when we were born, and that if we live good Mormon lives we get to spend eternity populating another planet with our good Mormon spouse(s)?

In other words, will the conversation reveal the unsavory aspects of Mormonism, bringing it all into the light of day?

Or, will Mormons be forced to rethink their more "interesting" beliefs in this new light, perhaps rejecting some of them and moving ever more closer to True Christianity?

Or, will Americans never ask those tough questions, because they're too excited about the Spice Girls reunion tour?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wednesday musings

It occurred to me last night that the concert I mentioned yesterday - when I saw the Canadian Brass in Calgary 20 years ago, was a turning point in my life. Or, at least, it began to nudge me in a different direction, opening up a gulf that has yet to be closed, and, in the process, causing me to lose some of the innocence of my youth. All because I went with some college friends and faculty to see five guys in tuxedos and hightops play some excellent music.

It all came about because of one song, The Saints' Hallelujah. The story the Brass told was that they were playing for the Queen of England and only had time for one song, but they wanted to play two - Hallelujah! from Handel's Messiah, and When the Saints Go Marching In. So they took the two and made one song, mashing them together into a whimsical, fun little medley in classic Canadian Brass fashion. They played it for us, and I loved it. The playing was superb, and the cuts were hilarious, leading to laughter and smiles throughout the auditorium. I suppose anytime you can pull off Hallelujah in Dixieland style, you're doing something right.

So the show ended, and we all headed out into the cold winter night, walking toward the school van for the hour-long ride home.

I was gushing, excited, thrilled at what I'd seen and experienced. I was inspired to go home and play my trumpet. I wanted to talk about all that we'd just heard and seen.

"Wow, that was incredible," I said to Paul.

"Actually, I was offended by it."

And that - that moment a crack appeared that exists to this day.


And it all came back to that song.

"Hallelujah is a sacred word. It has to do with God. How can they treat it so lightly? I thought it was atrocious."

And I was soon to learn that the majority of people in our group agreed. The Canadian Brass had made a joke of a sacred word. I heard the word "sacrilege" thrown around. Nobody wanted to talk about the antiphonal Gabrielli motet, or the Barber adagio we'd just heard. Instead, the conversation revolved around the CB "laughing and lifting their hands while singing 'hallelujah.'" "Don't they know that that is worship!?!?" So everybody was offended.

I, on the other hand, couldn't figure out why. It was just a fun song. And Hallelujah is, after all, just a word. It's a word that is in our common vernacular, not necessarily imbued with magical powers or anything. And so I tried to argue, but I was quickly shut down. You can't after all, easily convince an offended person that their offense is misplaced, especially when you are a college freshman dealing with upperclassmen and faculty.

It didn't ruin the night for me, but it sure put a damper on it. I also began to realize a few things that night.

For one, I realized how far away from these people I truly was, which didn't bode well for the future. How can you trust your college faculty to teach you anything, when you come to see how goofy their opinions are?

I realized that night that there are many Christians who go out of their way to be offended. Who will ignore the wonders of art and music and friends all because of the smallest perceived slight. Who will pass the opportunity to actually enjoy themselves because their worldview is based on fear and suspicion.

I realized that I'm not meant to spend much time around fundamentalists. They tend to ruin everything in their opinionating, in their accusing, in their constant harping on every little detail that doesn't line up with their view of "how the world should be."

I also realized that many people spend their life being offended. Name the subject, and they'll be offended by it. And then they'll be snarly about their offense. The world offends them. Sinners offend them. Society offends them. Breaking any of their myriad rules offends them. They just can't enjoy life because life offends them.

And, finally, I think I realized I had to live life differently. Jesus entered into this world, he enjoyed people, he went to dinners and parties, he spent time with saints and sinners alike. It seems that the only thing to offend Jesus was Religion's propensity to be offended by "the least of these." And so I had to jump into life, choosing to embrace it rather than be offended by it. I wanted to be surrounded by good music and interesting people. I wanted to make music, to read books, to have conversations with all sorts of people, seeking to find the Divine Spark rather than being offended by the stain of sin.

In many ways, who I am today began on that cold Canadian night, as many walked away disgusted in their offense, while I entered into a trajectory that sought life and love and laughter (and humor), instead.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Got my tickets

Tuesday night, December 18.
Benaroya Hall, Seattle, WA
Canadian Brass Christmas Concert

Handel: The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Solomon
Giovanni Gabrielli: Canzona
J.S. Bach: Concerto in D major
Barber: Adagio
Peter Schickele: Horn Smoke

The world-renowned Canadian Brass quintet returns to Seattle to celebrate the sounds of the season! Featuring traditional holiday tunes, selections from the quintet's High Society album and a Glenn Miller medley!

I first saw the Canadian Brass 20 years ago, fittingly, in Canada. They performed Barber's Adagio that night as well. And any night that includes a Peter Schickele number has to be good. Plus, what is more fitting for Christmas than live brass?

One Crazy Weekend

This was supposed to be a relaxing weekend, since Andy Larsen was visiting. That meant no sermon to write, no Confirmation Class to prepare for. A nice holiday break.

Then I ended up leading a funeral on Saturday. It was, if I dare say, a fun one. Not that funerals are fun, mind you, and I mean no disrespect to those who are grieving in these days. I just find that funerals are more enjoyable when, in one moment, the Gospel is being presented, and in the next, people are telling stories about the deceased starting street brawls, and saying "he was a great S.O.B." Things like that keep life in perspective -we're all part-saint and part-sinner, and God alone is righteous and holy. Yet God loves us in spite of our warts and foibles. So I appreciated the opportunity to step into that place on Saturday and preach the Gospel to some people, many of whom are far, far away from knowing the power of the that Gospel.

Of course, as many of you know, the weather played a factor, too. I was slowly making my way through the day when Olivia ran out of her room to announce that it was snowing. That precipitated a mad rush to get out the door, in case the drive over to the cemetery took longer than expected. Sure enough, snow was falling hard and heavy most of the way, but combined with the Christmas music I was listening to, it made for a very pleasant drive.

And then, Sunday it just kept coming. Our worship leader's car in a snow-filled ditch. Andy slipping and sliding on his way over from Bellevue. Based on attendance numbers, it appears more than a few decided to stay home, rather than face the snow. But it was still a good morning, filled with wonderful stories of what God is doing among the Muslim people through people such as Andy. And for those who have been here for more than 2 years, it was a good reunion with Andy, since he had served at this church in the year before I came. In spite of the weather, it turned out well.

And for those far and near who have been watching the news, people to the north, south, east, and west of us were hit hard by the rains yesterday, but we seem to have been spared out here on the Key Peninsula. I did see one tree across the road over by the brand-new Costco in Gig Harbor. Other than that, it was just another rainstorm for us.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Quote for the Day

St. Irenaeus, a second-century church leader, said, "The glory of God is a person fully alive." Contradicting his vision, Christians are often seen as legalistic, uptight, literalistic, negative, repressed, less likely to celebrate life in God than wag fingers of disapproval at those whose lifestyle or doctrine seems alien to them. Hesitant to transgress, such Christian believers live out of restricted lives following traditional rules rather than moving into fresh, original, Holy Spirit-stirred thinking and living.

Religious fundamentalism of any variety tends to produce fear. Fear flows from the "fortress mentality," a protective, defensive "us-versus-them" attitude. Paranoia may result. Because of the stringent attempt to preserve orthodoxy, because of the fear that any belief that hasn't been spelled out and codified may in some way jeopardize the central tenets of our faith, any attempt to question the standard interpretation of a creedal statement is likely to be characterized as heterodox, a detour into liberalism.

Luci Shaw, in The Crime of Living Cautiously.

And thanks, Luci. I needed that right at the moment.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

One more Christmas Offering

A decade and a half ago, Michael W. Smith blessed us with his first Christmas album. Departing from his pop/CCM vein, MWS moved into the arena of cantata, delivering an album full of choir and orchestra, with tender moments like the Amy Grant solo on "All is Well," and the excitement of the synth/brass pop version of "Angels We Have Heard on High." I had been a MWS fan before, but that album raised his credit with me.

Then he went back to pop music. And it was still good pop music, some of the best in the world of CCM, but it seemed as if he'd given us a glimpse of his potential, only to pull back into the middle of the crowd.

He eventually came out with a second Christmas album, which, while going in a different direction than the first, was also very good, and a staple in my Christmas rotation.

Through the years, though, he has moved in the arena of pop - drums, synths, electric guitars, even through a couple of decent worship albums. And it's all been good; it just never seemed to live up to the potential shown in his first Christmas album.

This year he released It's a Wonderful Christmas. It showed up in the Amazon box the other day.

And finally, all these years later, I think he's done it. He's gone back to the symphonic, choir and orchestra mix that made the first one so exquisite. While not entirely leaving the pop world behind, MWS has loaded this album with charging brass, lush strings, full choirs, bells and tympani, all coming together to create a gorgeous, hook-filled, exciting, tender, deep, rich masterpiece that runs like a soundtrack to Christmas. At moments it plays like the Nutcracker, at others like David Foster, and still at others it's the opening of your favorite holiday specials. It is powerful, it is deep, it is fun, it is, truly, amazing.

And it's all new. Which, as I mentioned before, is risky. How to add something to the collective consciousness of Christmas. How to write new music that fits in with the classics, yet adds something fresh and different. And MWS does it just fine, thank you very much. Yes, there are tastes of Joy to the World, and hints of other well-known standards. But mostly, it's brand new, yet classic enough that it seems to fit well into the Christmas mold.

Oh, and this. One of the criticisms MWS often receives is for his nasal voice, that works somewhat well in some pop, but doesn't mesh well with a more choral-driven sound. I admit that the only place I cringe in the first Christmas album is when, in the opening number, the choir swells into a great crescendo, and then gives way to MWS in solo, his voice clashing with the richness of the choir. But something is different here. It's almost as if MWS went out and got some voice lessons, or he's mellowing as he grows older. I don't know. He still sounds like MWS, but his voice is rounder, it blends better. He actually almost sounds like a decent soloist to be fronting this group.

In case you hadn't figured it out, I really like this album. And I think you will, too.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hail, Alma Mater

You know, I hardly ever mention my Alma Mater, Azusa Pacific University, on this blog. And I don't usually talk about soccer, as I'm just not that much of a fan. But I think I ought to mention that APU won the NAIA Men's Soccer National Championship last week, beating Concordia 2-0. Way to go, Cougs!

Currently Brewing

Our house is now filling with the heavenly aroma of Thanksgiving Coffee Company's Holiday Blend. Their website describes it this way:

A delicate acidity supports the complex flavors that unfold with hints of Nicaraguan flowers and the sweet aromatics of fresh figs and dried berries. These give way to a wide and deep richness of hazelnut, roasted quail, and caramelized carrot. The movements on the palate are hypnotic and the finish is long and lingering. One is left with the impression of edible flowers and wild honey as the terroir of Aranjuez and the Corrales family farm comes to life in your cup.

I don't know about roasted quail. . .but I do know this is a good cup of coffee.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A (slight) moderation on the previous post

About 12 years ago Van Putman put it this way: "Dan, you're a musical bigot." He was only 1/2 joking. I guess I do have pretty definite opinions as to what constitutes good music. Of course, 25 years of studying and playing, a music degree, and time spent playing some of the world's best music gives me perhaps slightly more authority on the subject than your average player of Guitar Hero.

But, in the end, it's still my opinion. If you like Selah, Celine Dion, Carman, and Kenny G, you're welcome to listen to it, and even enjoy it. You can argue with my high-fallutin' opinions on the comments section on any post I make. I'm man enough to take it.

I must also recognize this fallacy in yesterday's post. I was comparing the best of "the world's" music with some of the cheesier product out of the CCM world. In the interest of honesty, I should admit that I do have some "Christian" Christmas albums I like very much - Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God, Amy Grant's 1st Christmas Album, the first 2 Christmas albums by Michael W Smith ( I haven't heard the 3rd yet); there were parts of the Jaci Velázquez Christmas album that I really liked. And, of course, "the world" has produced its share of hideous Christmas albums. The $5.99 CD bin at Big Lots is full of these. Even at Borders the other day I looked through the Christmas display and realized I wouldn't want 75% of their product. Perhaps it's just the sheer numbers of albums that make it seem weighted. If "the world" produces 300 Christmas albums, there's bound to be 20 or 30 that are worth buying. Whereas, when the CCM industry produces 10 Christmas albums a year, and I find one decent one every 3 years, those probably average out.

So, for the moment, I'll be quiet about "the industries" and simply comment on the specific albums, and if you want to agree or disagree, feel free to do so.

BTW - on the 10th time (or so) through of the Mindy Smith, all I can say is I think it makes my all-time top 10 list, and makes #1 for this year. You really ought to get it.

And if you want to listen to the Selah album, I think I'm donating my copy to the church's library.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On Christmas Music

Over the weekend I read an old article by John Fischer, in which he takes a swipe at the CCM industry. He essentially talks about how lifeless, so plastic, so un-original most of CCM turned out to be.

That article came to mind the moment I popped the new Mindy Smith album, "My Holiday," into the CD player.
Because it's that good. Because it's both fresh and classic. Because it's edgy yet traditional. Because she risks singing many of the standards (The Christmas Song, Silver Bells, What Are You Doing New Years' Eve? Away in a Manger) yet makes them her own, and thus makes them sound new again. And also because she includes new Christmas songs, a proposition always fraught with danger, yet they end up songs already sounding like classics. Because she stays true to the soul of Christmas, not pulling any "cute" tactics to try to make a quick sell, but also because she brings something new to the table.

In short - at the first take, I already love this album.

Back to the Fischer quote. It was on my mind because all last week I was listening to the Selah "Rose of Bethlehem" CD.

Somebody had recommended it back when I was looking for new Christmas music for our church. This was the 2nd to arrive, following the schmaltzy Hillsongs Christmas I panned a few weeks ago. And this one, well, at least it was better than the Hillsongs album. In fact, I'd give it a 5 out of 10. But in the end, it is still that pre-packaged, slick, glossy Nashville sound. It's the same formula, a studio-driven vocal group with whiny electric guitars and soaring string machines. The classic songs are overdramatized (I guess that sells big in Nashville), and the new ones just try too hard to be "catchy." And the theology is a little circumspect, especially the line "God predestined that his son would die, but he made man anyway." Why are we doing Calvinist theology in a Christmas album?

The big difference between these two albums is the question of soul. Mindy Smith's album has a soul, and everything on the album comes from that place. The Selah album is more like a Big Mall Christmas, with flashy lights and lots of eye candy to grab your attention, but with no real center to grab you once you've looked their way. In fact, I've probably listened to it 6-8 times in the last week, and I hardly remember anything about it. It's just. . .generic.

It's like there are two Nashvilles. The real one that produces Mindy Smith (and Allison Kraus, who sings backup on Mindy's Away in The Manger) and the Christian Nashville, that continues to spew forth bland, formulaic background music. So why is the Christian version always the cheesy, unoriginal, banal version?

Oh, except for this: Mindy Smith sings about Jesus too. She's just a Christian who eschewed the Christian Nashville promo machine, and we're better off for it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Speaking of Black Friday

I need someone with more tech savvy than I have to make a movie for me. It could be pretty short; nothing more difficult than what your average 15-year old kid posts on youtube.

It would only require two clips, to be played back and forth and back and forth 10 times or so.

Clip One: Lemmings running down the hill and jumping off a cliff
Clip Two: Shoppers rampaging the mall on the day after Thanksgiving.
Soundtrack: The Benny Hill Song

There you have it. Make that, and the point should be obvious.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We had a friend stop by. I think he was hoping for leftovers.

Sorry for the blurriness of the shot. I think we need a super-duper telephoto lens for Christmas. But you get the idea.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More on Mars Hill

I'm no fan of The Stranger, but they ran an article on the firing of two pastors that I mentioned a couple days ago (which, by the way, brought more people to this blog than any other post I've ever written. Maybe there is a marketing strategy there. . .)

What caught my interest was this:

Things got even uglier in a September 30 sermon, when Driscoll—who’s been the face of the church since it was first established in 1996—stated, sternly referencing the two dissidents, that “There are a few guys right now, if I wasn’t going to end up on CNN, I would go Old Testament on ’em. There’s no, like, attorneys and blogging, just like I punched you in the mouth, now shut up. That’s clean; it’s simple.”

The article doesn't footnote the quote, so there's no way of knowing if it's legit or not. But Driscoll is known for his provocative, shoot-from-the-hip, confrontational style, so it very well could be true.

It's not my place to stand here and cast stones across the pond. . .but having been a victim of another charismatic, power-hungry pastor attempting to bend the church's will to his every whim, I've got to say it's all sounding too familiar. Setting off warning bells on my radar, if you will.

Way back when, after I got away from that particular pastor, I found this verse and decided that either it would define my ministry, or I'd get out of ministry:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. (1 Peter 5:2-3)

It's that "eager to serve; not lording it over them" that pulls me up short and causes me to constantly question my motives. And it's a standard I often apply when attempting to discern the ministries of other pastors (well, that and the "not greedy for money," which would be totally different post than this one. . .). So tell me, accepting for the moment that the sermon quote is from Driscoll, how does it line up with Peter's admonition?

Shameless Child Story

#1 rule of preaching: don't use your own kids for illustrations, or you'll embarrass them and drive them away forever.

So instead I'll blog about my oldest.

On Monday we had our 1st parent-teacher conference of the year. Her teacher, Mrs. Brandt, made an interesting observation. "In some ways, Olivia is very mature. In others, she's still a little girl. And I love that about her." She went on to explain: Olivia has very concrete ideas and interests. She goes to the library and says "I want to learn about ancient Egypt." Then she checks out the books about ancient Egypt. Which, I understand, is pretty rare for 2nd graders.

On the other hand, Mrs. Brandt said, "she's just not into a lot of things that the other girls are. Which is stuff that no 2nd grade girl should be into, anyway." Apparently the other 2nd grade girls are talking about boyfriends. And at the moment they're playing the "who's the most popular" game. Mrs. Brandt says Olivia is blissfully unaware of this social game, and plays with whoever comes along. But it also means that, even at this tender age, other girls are excluding her.

And I know the reason. "That's because we don't have television in the house. And we're extremely careful what Olivia watches. It's Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie Island Princess for her, not Hanna Montana and that other Disney/Nick jr. garbage."

Mrs. Brandt seemed surprised. "Is that where it comes from?" Apparently she was unaware that the vast majority of 2nd grade girls are watching the Disney channel girlie shows, most of which focus on, well, boyfriends, looks, and popularity.

So here's the problem. We're choosing to raise Olivia outside of television's influence. Which will, in truth, make her an outcast at many levels. She won't understand why girls play the snotty game, why they obsess about boys in the 3rd grade, why they care what kind of pants you wear (at least, she won't get it until much later). And, knowing the cattiness of the playground, I have no doubt that she'll get teased for it.

But, as Mrs. Brandt said, "You have a definite plan and philosophy in your child raising, which is rare." Which, I would add, is also sad. Not that we have a plan, but that so few parents do have a plan.

So here's to my daughter, who's not playing the popularity game, who's not being influenced by Hannah/Ashley/Britney/whatever current Disney prefab is suddenly famous. And here's to parents who actually think about what they want their children to be, rather than allowing the media to define them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thanksgiving Week Note

Apparently one major store is opening at 12:01 a.m. on Friday, so Christmas shoppers can get a head start. And another major chain is opening at 4:00, as the banner ads on the local paper's website so proudly proclaim.

I guess it's time for my annual reminder:Brought to you by the Fine Folks at

Where the Conversation Breaks Down

On Sunday, someone handed me an article from the November 12 U.S. News and World Report, in which they interview one of the Mormon Church's Council of Twelve Apostles - the LDS governing body. Its tied in with the discussion relating to Mitt Romney's Mormon Faith. In the article, Elder M. Russell Ballard answers a series of questions posed by USN&WR reporter Jay Tolson.

In reading the interview it's easy to see why dialogue breaks down so quickly between Christians and Mormons. Whether Mr. Ballard is disingenuous or clueless is tough to tell, but his answers to the questions show that he just doesn't get it.

- He quickly denies the "heresy" charge, and then glibly states that God, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are separate entities (read: not one Triune God). It's interesting to read how he spins it: This is what most people think anyway. Of course, not those theologians, but average people think just like us!

- The scripture question gets posed, and he quickly spins it by saying they don't deny the Bible, they just add the Book of Mormon. I've never head this one before, but he mentions that "the Book of Mormon has more references to Christ and his teachings and his words than are in the Bible."

- And he works really hard to convince us all that Mormons are Christians, just like the rest of us (well, except maybe they're even better Christians because they are true to the apostolic church).

The point here is not to debate Mormon theology, nor the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon. We could do that another place. The point is that Mr. Ballard makes these claims: Mormons are Christians, Mormons aren't heretics, and Mormons use the Bible as a sacred book. Then he denies some of the most basic tenets of Christianity, he espouses heresy, and he glowingly speaks of a book that flatly contradicts the Bible.

This, I think, is why we have such a hard time talking to one another. They keep saying "but we're Christians just like you!" and then they cavalierly spout off anti-Christian beliefs. And when Christians try to point these things out, they have their list of bullet points as to why they actually are Christians just like everybody else. As if shouting it enough makes it true.

It's like saying to a squash "you're not a potato" and having the squash reply, "ah, but I am a potato!"

So what I wonder is whether they are simply great at spin (as in, do they understand the power of marketing), or do they truly believe they are Christians Just Like Us, and have to resort to all this spin just to make sense of their own worldview?

Mr Whipple

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trouble in Mars Hill Land

The Seattle Times reported today that two pastors have been fired from Mars Hill, the uber-hip, always controversial mega church headed by Mark Driscoll over in Seattle. The firings have caused a certain amount of dissension. The Church says they were fired for "displaying an unhealthy mistrust of Church leadership" and "verbally attacking the lead pastor." Some people in the congregation think the two were fired because "they challenged proposed changes in church structure that . . . would consolidate power in the hands of top church leaders."

One of those pastors is Bent Meyer, who has been with the church for over ten years. Bent led the youth program at our church when I was in high school. He was the last youth leader I had before heading off to college. I went to his daughter's wedding down in Southern California (In fact, she was my date at one of my college's formals). He is still a good friend of my father's. And I've always known him to be a man of integrity and humility. Certainly, I can't imagine the church's accusations to be true of him.

So, it could be a simple matter of misperception. Or the water just might be getting muddy over there. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just because everybody else is doing it

cash advance

Cash Advance Loans

The Season of Our Discontent

If you are the praying type,

Since October 18, we've had at least one person sick in our household. More often it's been two or three sick at the same time. For a brief moment, it was all four of us who had it. Olivia has missed about 10 days of school in that time. I think the girls have made it to church once in the last month. And it just won't seem to go away. They come almost all the way back. . .and then wake up coughing and hacking, or with ear infections or swollen throats.

And, it appears that Humby the Happy Goldfish is in his last day with us. He's doing the floating-upside-down, sinking-to-the-bottom, listless-shaking, death-throes thing. He's been with us since long before we left Turlock, making the drive up to Washington in the back of the Jeep, keeping Scottie and me company along the way. So he's pretty special to Olivia.

We could use a little health and encouragement at the moment.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Absolutely Tasteless

You know, there are a lot of things out there that are sold in the name of Christianity that I wish would just go away. Why Christians go for the cheese factor I'll never know. I'm thinking of things like my Jesus Nightlight ("Let His Light Light Your Way"), Testamints, christian T-shirts, and Carman. And everything sold by the Oriental Trading Company.

When I worked for a christian bookstore I was continually amazed at the stuff that we had to sell in the name of Christianity. It seems you can slap the name "Jesus" on anything, and that makes it good for Christian Consumption. And if you can come up with a catchy phrase like "Jesus Makes Me Beary Happy," then you truly have a winner.

But I saw this yesterday, and this. . .this beats them all. I have labeled this the Absolutely Worst Idea Ever:

They are little mints, shaped like crosses, in a little tin can made to look like a Bible. I can hear the promo now: "The Cross: instrument of terror, the most devious torture device ever invented, and now it freshens your breath, too!" Or "The Cross: It saved the world, and now it saves you from bad breath!" Or perhaps you could get really creative: "Bothered by the demons of bad breath? Frightened by the evil forces of foul smells emanating from your mouth? Then use the power of the Cross to be cleansed and protected again! Cross Mints - Your Salvation from Social Anxiety!"

I mean, really. Who thinks up these things? Who decides this is a good idea? And who actually buys this crap?*

Remember - the cross was not cute. It was terrible. Death by crucifixion was not clean and quick. It was by all definitions cruel and unusual. Those crucified peed and pooped on themselves, they bled for days. They felt the pain of nails hammered through their hands and feet, they hung under the sun all day, they felt the humiliation of hanging naked for the world to see. And the Romans did this to people over and over and over again to make the point: don't mess with us, or this is what you'll get. Nails through your wrists and ankles, legs broken with 2x4s, and one long, slow, excruciating death.**

The cross then became the instrument of the salvation of the world. All our hope goes back to the cross and resurrection. The cross is the singularly most important moment in human history. The cross is at the center of all we say and do and believe as the people of God. The cross ought to be approached with wonder, awe, terror, and joy at God's love portrayed there.

But, no. We're going to turn all that into a mint and sell it to unsuspecting Sunday School teachers to give to their classes. The word "desecration" comes to mind. It certainly is utterly demeaning to Christ's Victory won there. And it sure confuses the little kids who eat these things - how ever will they take the cross seriously when we treat it with such superficiality?

So there you have it. #1 on my list of "Worst Ideas Ever." It would be funny if it weren't so supremely sad.

* I realize that the usage of the word "crap" may offend some of my more sensitive readers. However, in this context, the word is not used flippantly, but is the best word to describe the utter nonsense of turning crosses into mints. Strong situations call for strong language.

** For a more culturally relevant feel for this, imagine if they made mints that looked like trees with nooses thrown over the branches. Or mints that looked like electric chairs. Or mints that looked like concentration camp gas chambers. Imagine the outrage if that happened.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Advent Suggestions

Some books I have in my library, which I have found helpful as devotional guides through the season of Advent:

Watch for the Light

"From Johann Christoph Arnold to Dorothy Day, from Madeline L'Engle to Karl Barth, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Meister Eckhart, this unparalleled anthology offers wisdom beauty and spiritual nourishment from a wide spectrum of classic and contemporary sources.

Containing a selection for each day of the Christmas season, from the last week of November through the first week of January, Watch for the Light can be read through times of leisure or as a guide to daily devotions. Either way it will give new meaning to the phrase 'holiday preparations.'"

The Christ of Christmas: Readings for Advent

by Calvin Miller

"The Christ of Christmas" invites you and your loved ones to thirty-one deep experiences with God this December, complete with devotional readings and Scripture. These devotions paint the familiar in all its amazement, yet bring its beauty so close to home, you can sense its joyful celebration in everything you do and everywhere you go."

Preparing for Jesus: Meditations on the Coming of Christ, Advent, Christmas, and the Kingdom

by Walter Wangerin, jr.

"In this advent and Christmas devotional, best-selling author Walter Wangerin jr. takes you day by day through the major events and characters leading up to the birth of Jesus. Preparing for Jesus offers a refreshing perspective on the meaning of Christmas, from the first glimmers of Jesus' expected arrival clear through to the visit of the wise kings from the East."

Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours

by Phyllis Tickle

Not a devotional per se, this is a collection of prayers and scriptures, or more precisely, an Order of Prayer, to be read and prayed through the weeks and days leading up to Christmas and on to Epiphany. This is not "devotional reading" or "story-telling," these are prayers to be said by the people of God seeking guidance through the frenetic holidays.

In the Days of Angels: Stories and Carols for Christmas

by Walter Wangerin, jr.

This one is at the top of my pile. While not set up as "devotional readings," this collection of stories, poems, and songs has spoken deeply into my heart time and again. Often I pick up a book about Christmas and hope it stirs my soul, more often than not, I am disappointed. Not so with In the Days of Angels. Instead, it dives deeply into the mystery of in incarnation, of Emmanuel, and connects that mystery with the pains of modern life in powerful and evocative ways. While all these books are good, this one is a must.

Accompanied By Angels: Poems of the Incarnation

by Luci Shaw

Last month I heard Dave Kersten say "Every pastor needs a favorite poet." Luci Shaw is my poet. This is a collection of poems she has written over the years, all somehow connected into the life and ministry of Jesus. "Beginning with the joy, terror, and wonder of the annunciation, Shaw leads the reader on a poetic journey through the birth, life, and death of Jesus the Christ, culminating in the joyous and unexpected wonder of his resurrection. Her subjects run from the mundane to the sublime, from birds in flight and waiting old men to fiery angels and storm-ravaged ridges."

Somewhat disappointed

Some time back, the church I worked for subscribed to a worship magazine, one that came with a CD of new worship songs about 4 times a year. Eventually, I came to realize that of the 12 songs (or s0) per CD, only a couple were even suitable for our church, and of those we might use one or two a year. Some of their selections baffled me in their poor quality, bad theology, and general cheesiness.

But, it's been 7 or 8 years, so I decided to give them another shot. I sent away for the free trial magazine and CD, after which I could decide whether or not to pay for a yearly subscription.

And they sent me a Kid's Music CD. Which isn't helpful in the slightest. Both because it doesn't help me in my decision whether or not to pay for a subscription, and also because most of these songs are unusable. I know it's kid's music, but the cheesiness factor is as high as ever (why do we feel that synthesized bands are a necessity for children's albums? Are there no Real Musicians who can play on these songs?).

So anybody out there use the Song Discovery Service? Is it worth the $60 per year? Based on this edition they sent me, I'm leaning away from it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bluegrass Sunday

Sometime last summer I hit upon the idea for our current sermon series, "How to Grow a Church from the Ground Up." As I sketched out the various topics, this Sunday's was one of the subjects that made me pretty excited. However, a lot of that excitement is because of the worship that will revolve around the topic, as much as it is about the topic.

We're talking about Healthy Churches being Hopeful Churches. No matter the circumstances, the trials, the tribulations, the struggles, the pain, God's people have hope because they know the end of the story. The know that, in Christ, we've already won.

Much of the sermon will be about heaven - maybe not specifically what heaven will be like, but figuratively, that we have a home with Christ waiting for us, a home where there will be no more loss, sickness, pain, death, or suffering.

From a musical standpoint, we're going back to a lot of the old songs that the church used to sing about this hope. One of the points I'm planning on making is that the church used to think about heaven a lot more than we do now. They lived through the Dust Bowl, the Depression, a couple of world wars, major disease outbreaks. . .and we suffer because our television is three years old. So, it turns out, we tend to think about God blessing us here and now, while our grandparents used to think about God blessing them in eternity. (truthfully, as in most things, I think we need a healthy balance of those two. . .)

So the church used to sing a lot of songs about heaven, and we're dusting them off again. I'll Fly Away, In the Sweet By and By, When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, When we All Get to Heaven, Soon and Very Soon, and a couple others.

And, to do it right, we've got to sing them hopefully, not like the dirges some hymns become with age. Which means we need to sing them upbeat. With a little "boom-chick." And probably a lot of mandolin.

In other words, we're going gospel, bluegrass-style this weekend.

Only without the hay bales.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Worship Evangelism a Bust

Sally Morgenthaler, a mainstay of the contemporary worship movement, and author of the book Worship Evangelism, has done an about face. She writes about it in an article here.

Some excerpts (emphases mine):

In [a friend's] view, Worship Evangelism had helped to create a "worship-driven subculture." As he explained it, this subculture was a sizeable part of the contemporary church that had just been waiting for an excuse not to do the hard work of real outreach. An excuse not to get their hands dirty. According to him, that excuse came in the form of a book—my book. He elaborated. "If a contemporary worship service is the best witnessing tool in the box, then why give a rip about what goes on outside the worship center? If unbelievers are coming through the doors to check us Christians out, and if they'll fall at Jesus' feet after they listen to us croon worship songs and watch us sway back and forth, well then, a whole lot of churches are just going to say, 'Sign us up!' "

The upshot? For all the money, time, and effort we've spent on cultural relevance—and that includes culturally relevant worship—it seems we came through the last 15 years with a significant net loss in churchgoers, proliferation of megachurches and all.

The 100-year-old congregation that's down to 43 members and having a hard time paying the light bill doesn't want to be told that the "answer" is living life with the people in their neighborhoods. Relationships take time, and they need an attendance infusion now.

It's an interesting article, challenging many of the underlying philosophies guiding the Church Growth movement over the last 20 years. In the end, she gets it. Worship is an outpouring of praise by God's people as he moves in their midst. But the church isn't supposed to stay there. It's supposed to get outside the walls and actually interact with people. "If you build it, they will come" just doesn't work. And it was never the plan of Jesus for his Kingdom. The incarnation alone ought to teach us that.

So go read it. Sally's still on the journey, but she's moving in a good direction.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The compassion of a Child

Perhaps by now you've heard the story of the couple celebrating their one-year anniversary who were almost killed when a cow fell off a cliff and onto their minivan. It happened right here in Washington - one more thing we can be proud of.

This morning it was on the 8:00 news on our local radio station. Olivia sat quietly and listened to the report. I asked her if she understood, and then explained it again for her.

She showed me how much she really cares about these things:

"So was the cow okay?"

And not a word about the people.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Did you vote? And other Tuesday morning thoughts

As Olivia and I drove up to her school this morning, I saw the "Vote Here" sign out front. I'd almost forgotten there was an election today, since I mailed my ballot off a couple weeks ago.

We didn't even get to vote on what is arguably the biggest issue in the area - the King/Pierce County Transit bill. Billions of dollars in taxes to fund light rail, replace bridges, add new highways, and pour more concrete onto the land.

I read somewhere that, even though we live in Pierce County, we've been exempted from the issue, since everybody over here is already paying for the new Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Seems like politicians made the right call on that one, although it took away from us the privilege of voting on the infamous Proposition 1.

And, of course, there were a couple other contentious issues out there that we did get to vote on, so I'll take satisfaction on that.

One more thought: this means we are now 1 year away from the 2008 presidential election, and, as of right now, I have not a clue who I would vote for, other than perhaps "none of the above."

My response to the big TV Writer's strike that's making all the headlines: Maybe with all the reruns showing, people will turn off their televisions and do something that is actually productive. Maybe some day we can thank the television writers for helping us to see how meaningless most of television is. Maybe we can thank them for breaking us of the "must-see-tv" addiction.

Wishful thinking, I know. But 20+ months into our TV-free life has got me convinced. We're so much better without it.

Finally, at the men's breakfast on Saturday we talked about the changing culture around us. I spoke to the fact that we are now in an age when a lot of people truly have no clue what churches do, what they believe, and how they worship. I tried to make the point that we offer a lot for "churched" people, but what to do with the people that wouldn't even think about entering our building, or, if they did, would have no idea why we sing, why we stand and sit, why we pray, why we listen to that guy up front go on and on about the Bible.

Then I read Lori's account of her co-worker who had no clue who Billy Graham is. And had no idea what an evangelist is. Of course, her excuse is classic: "I'm only 26."

I think that story needs to be told at every church revitalization seminar, just to help us get a grasp on how far the divide has opened between church and non-church folks.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

What to do when ministry meets competition

It's an interesting question. For a number of years, Lakebay has held a Trunk-or-Treat every Halloween. People line up their cars in the parking lot and give out candy (and chili this year) to the kids (and adults) who come by. Inside the church we have games and activities and lots more candy and cupcakes and cookies and (this year) Krispy Kreme donuts. Out here on the Key Peninsula this sort of thing works especially well, since there aren't a lot of neighborhoods where kids can go trick-or-treating house to house. Most parents aren't comfortable with letting their kids wander down long driveways to dark houses hidden back in the woods, so they all come by the church and do their candy-gettin' there.

I hear that for many years this was one of the most successful community outreaches we did. Hundreds of kids and their parents, a full parking lot and fellowship hall.

Now others are getting into the act. The elementary school held their own trunk-or-treat. Another church up the street did a harvest festival with games, activities, and candy. Another group held a similar event at the Civic Center. And our attendance was down significantly from previous years.

Now, let me be clear. The main focus is creating safe spaces for children to enjoy themselves, so multiple opportunities for fun and candy is a good thing. We don't own the corner on Halloween parties, nor should we. We rejoice when other churches rise up and offer events in the name of the Kingdom of God, and we are glad our community is making the effort to give kids healthy and fun activities.

The question is, what do we do now? Those that came to our outreach had a great time; a lot of candy was given away; I saw many people enjoying the activities and conversations. But, again, many chose to head over to the school's event rather than ours. And that is a trend that will probably continue. We're doing the same amount of work, but getting significantly reduced results.

As I see it, here are the options:
- cancel our event next year, and join in with the school's event as a way to be involved in our community. Perhaps it would be a good thing to show our support of the school, and to serve the greater community by partnering with the school system. On the other hand, last year at least two girls prayed to accept the Lord at our trunk-or-treat. Should we partner with the school, a more direct witness would be lost.
- maintain ours next year, and just accept the reality that it will be smaller. We may touch fewer people, but we can make it obvious Who we are serving as we serve the community
- cancel ours and stay home with our families

It is an interesting conundrum. One of the guiding questions when seeking to serve your community is "what needs are there that we can meet in the name of Christ?" Then you form your ministries around those needs. But what do you do when suddenly everybody else is jumping in to meet the same needs? Do you find something new? Or carry on? Or join with them?

Please - don't hear me complaining that others are jumping into the Halloween fray. I'm glad to see so many who care and who are doing something about it. I'm just wondering what our place will be in the years to come. In Turlock, we were the only church who ran a Fall Festival (Halloween party) for a couple of years, and we had a great turnout. Then one year something like four more churches held them (including some of the much bigger churches who could throw parties we could only dream of) and our attendance dropped significantly. So the next year we threw a Fall Party out on a farm and just enjoyed each other's company.

I think the feeling in Lakebay is that we continue on with our own trunk-or-treat, but the landscape is changing. It will be interesting to see how it all develops.

In the meantime, here's a picture or two, just to show the loving atmosphere we've developed at this event.