Saturday, January 31, 2009

Between a rock and a hard place

For Seattle sports fans, tomorrow's Super Bowl is as painful a matchup as one could possibly imagine. The question of "who to cheer for" is well nigh impossible. It feels a little like asking "would you rather drink acid of have all your arteries pulled out?"

To put it bluntly, the choices stink.

Pittsburgh Stealers: The team that was handed Seattle's Lombardi Trophy by the worst refereeing hack job the world has seen. The fans who to this day flood Seattle message boards to gloat about their "victory" in SB XL, who mock the Seattle fans for holding grudges against the NFL, the referees, and the Stealers, who fail to recognize the shaft that was given to Seattle on that cold day in Detroit. To watch them walk off the field with another SB Ring would be like watching your arch-nemesis ride off into the sunset with the woman of your dreams. Bitter. Painful. Blech.

Arizona Cardinals: A hated division rival. A team who, up until three weeks ago, nobody cared about. Not even their own fans. They couldn't sell out home games, they couldn't sell out playoff games. And suddenly they may walk away with the trophy. Leaving Seattle as the sole team in the division without one. Seattle - the team with years of great history, with rabid fans, with a couple of deep playoff runs, but nothing to show for it, while Arizona, the Johnny-come-lately walks nonchalontly into the room, picks up the trophy, saying "Oh, this? Sure, I guess I'll take one."

I guess you could turn it around and ask not "who do I want to win?" but instead "who do I most want to lose?" but I don't think it makes it any easier. Is it too much to ask that Christ returns tonight and saves us from this mess?

As for me, I'll probably just boo everybody, eat a lot of pizza, maybe play some chess in the corner, watch the Boss at halftime, then promptly forget it all on Monday.

Isn't it almost time for spring training?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Angel - Banjo

In which we welcome John Denver, Nickel Creek, and the Dillards to the stage.

Angel of Harlem -U2
Angel Tonight - Leigh Nash
Angels of the Silences - Counting Crows
Annie's Song (Live) - John Denver
Anthony - Nickel Creek
As Time Goes By - Mandy Patinkin
At My Most Beautiful - R.E.M.
Away Down the River - Alison Krauss
Baby Mine - Alison Krauss
Back Home Again (Live) - John Denver
Bad Day - R.E.M.
Banjo in the Hollow - The Dillards

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Raising the 'Bar' in pastoral ministry

I've never been a tavern kind of guy. Didn't grow up in a drinking family, never was around people who drank very much. Went off to conservative Bible College for a couple years, and by the time I had transferred to University I had missed out on all that freshman drinking stuff. So I've never been a drinker, never felt at home in a bar. If I needed social gathering space, the local coffee shop or Denny's was good enough for me.

So it felt a little odd last year when, on a pastoral visitation call, I was asked by Betty "Have you been to the Tides Tavern in Gig Harbor yet?" Apparently that's where all the cool people hung out. But still - a pastor being asked if he'd made it to the tavern? That was a first for me.

Time would catch up, however, and yesterday I made my first visit to the Tides. Where I met another local pastor for lunch. Yep, two pastors, having lunch at the local tavern. I was trying to arrange a meeting with another pastor friend who just moved to Gig Harbor, figuring I'd take advantage of the fact I was already driving into town, but I lost my cell phone so didn't have his number (the cell phone has since resurfaced). But. . .all was not lost. As I was walking down the sloping parking lot toward the Tides, who should come out but this second pastor, along with a member of his church board. Leaving the local tavern. And so it was that two other pastors and I (and a church board member) spent our lunch time at the local tavern.

Sounds like some kind of setup to a joke: "A Covenant pastor and Presbyterian minister walk into a bar. . ."

Truly, I've entered into new ground here.

Note: for those who are wondering, I had a blue cheese burger and a diet coke. And coffee. And a great conversation. So don't go spreading any rumors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Have you seen this picture

High-def image of the presidential inauguration, actually made up of 220 individual pictures. It's a little like playing Where's Waldo. Can you find Yo Yo Ma taking a picture with his cell phone?

Seriously Out of It

I was looking over the nominees for the 2009 Academy Awards.

Actor in a leading role - I haven't seen any of these movies. I don't even know who a couple of these guys are.

Actor in a supporting role - I haven't seen any of these movies. At least I know who 4/5 of these guys are.

Actress in a leading role - Finally! I've seen one of these: Rachel Getting Married. Of course, I didn't plan on seeing it; I just happened to be at the right place and time to get invited to a free showing. And I wasn't all that impressed. Hathaway's nominated for an Oscar for that performance? The pickings must be slim this year.

Actress in a supporting role - Again, haven't seen any. Don't even know who three of these women are.

Animated Feature film - now we've struck gold. I've actually seen two of the three. Wall-E would get my vote.

But then things get back to normal. Work your way down that list, and I pretty much haven't seen any of 'em.

On the other hand, thanks to netflix, we've been watching a lot of BBC television lately. . .

Monday, January 26, 2009

Good night to you, too

I walked out the door onto our deck, to fetch logs for the stove. Three pairs of eyes fixed me in their stare - three raccoons, who until that moment had been seeking an unguarded entry into our recycling bin. They were in no hurry to depart; I was in no hurry to see them away. But alas, the night called, our dog barked, and - leisurely, I must say - three raccoons hopped over the embankment and into the wood.

The fire now burns to keep us warm this night; our new friends are away, up to mischief, I am sure. Tomorrow morning, some homo erectus will find his trash bin upended and curse the rascals for their fun. And for this night, the dog will pace in agitation and offense, while we drift off to our dreams.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm with the band

Went swing dancing last night. Fundraiser for the local youth center. Started with a pasta dinner, then lessons, then dancing the night away. Lots of friends there, as well. Left our kids (and our friends' kids) with a sitter, drove out and enjoyed the evening with those friends and others. Had almost forgotten what that was like.

However, as to the swing dancing. . .I was reminded why it was always better for me to stay in the band and off the dance floor. Somehow that incredible sense of musical rhythm which I possess doesn't manifest itself in any way once I begin to attempt smooth movement on the dance floor.

Although, I still can't believe that you're supposed to dance a 3-beat step over the top of a 4-beat rhythm. Only white people could come up with that.

All was finally made well when they played a little Lionel Richie, and Karina and I got to slow dance while singing "Stuck On You." No better moment that slow-dancing to Lionel, I always say.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Am I a Rob Bell fan?

So that little video below has gotten some attention both here and on my facebook page. A couple of people have asked if I'm a "fan" of Rob.

The simple answer is "no." But that has nothing to do with Rob Bell. It's just that I don't consider myself a "fan" of any preacher, theologian, or pastor. I'm a fan of a writer or two (fiction), and a fan of a musician or two, but I don't consider "fan" to be the correct adjective to use when relating one's feelings about pastors and theologians and inspirational writers.

With that out of the way, I'm generally favorable of Rob Bell. I think he does a good job of speaking in language today's generation understands. I think he does a good job of bridging history and the postmodern world. Bell works hard to understand Jesus and the early church in their own context, rather than read both through a 21st-Century lens. Rob works hard at using the texts correctly, and not as jumping-off points for his own opinions. And Rob truly seems to have a pastor's heart; he seems to care about the people who God brings into his life.

I do think Rob gets a bad rap at times - I think he's asking some questions that are uncomfortable, and I think he's attempting to restate things in postmodern language, which can, at times, sound dangerously close to heresy in the ears of modern listeners. For that, many simply dismiss him is a heretic, and those how listen to him as wayward sheep. But I think those people misunderstand him.

However, Rob Bell is human, and as such will make some mistakes, will say things incorrectly, will hold to some beliefs that, in the end, will be proven to be incorrect. Which is true of all of us, whether we're honest enough to admit it or not. Ben Witherington posted some thoughts on his blog regarding Rob Bell a few months ago, and the most negative critique he could bring was that Bell didn't have a full enough understanding of the lifestyle of the 1st Century Rabbinical world. I think Rob probably uses the work of Ray Vander Laan a bit too much - not that Ray is all that mistaken; I just feel he sometimes works a bit too hard to force archeological and historical evidence into a particular mold, rather than letting them speak for themselves. But that's all a minor quibble.

In the end, I've seen Rob Bell speak, and the sermon he preached was one of the most biblical and historical talks I've ever seen preached to a bunch of high schoolers, and he kept them spellbound throughout. So I hold him in high regard, and have no trouble recommending his books and videos.

I'm just not a "fan."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

All to Angel

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name - Jill Phillips
All I Want is You - Jars of Clay
All I Want is You - U2
All I Want to Do - Ginny Owens
All the Right Friends - R.E.M.
All the Way to Reno - R.E.M.
All Who are Thirsty - Mars Hill Music
Along the Wall - Leigh Nash
Always - Mandy Patinkin
Amazing Grace - St. Olaf Choir
American Girls - Counting Crows
Angel Doves - Mindy Smith

Good Words by Rob Bell

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My new gig

I've decided to do some professional modeling. You can go see some of my work as the coverboy of the CHIC website at this link:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where Were You When?

In years to come, when people reminisce about this most historic of days, and the question inevitably turns to "where were you when?" what will your answer be?

For us, it started with NPR over breakfast, as the parade of dignitaries came onto the capitol steps. Then in the car on the way to school, as Aretha massacred "My Country 'Tis of Thee," (or at least that's how it sounded over the radio - maybe she did better wherever you were?), and on the way back home as Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" was played (complete with interruption by the commentators to note that noon had passed, and thus Obama was officially the President of the United States of America), then back home and watching it live via the internet for the swearing-in, The Speech, the Poem, the Song, and the Benediction (my favorite part of the whole affair).

Oddly, I only remember two other inaugarations with any clarity. I remember watching Ronald Reagan's ascension to office, which I watched in a school classroom. Although, in truth, it's not the ceremony I remember so much, as the reporter (aid?) running up to him shortly after, shouting "Mr. President! Mr. President! The hostages have been freed!" And I remember Bill Cinton's inaugaration; mostly, because I was homeless at the time, living in an airstream trailer in the backyard of a family from our church, and for that morning I sat inside the warmth of a living room, sipping a cup of hot coffee, glad to feel momentarily lifted outside of my world into something so much larger.

I already feel like I handled this one wrong. I think if I had it to do over again, I would have kept Olivia home an extra hour, and watched it together as a family. Whatever the future holds, this is truly a historic moment. And the days ahead promise to be interesting.

Friday, January 16, 2009

A to All

In which, in place of a "Random 10," Dan creates a music list of the songs on his Ipod, in alphabetical order. Even better, instead of the "10," we instead go for an even dozen.

"A Flowery Song, "Five Iron Frenzy
"A Little More," Jennifer Knapp
"A Living Prayer," Alison Krauss & Union Station
"A Long December," Counting Crows
"A Million Parachutes," Sixpence None the Richer
"A Mis Abuelos," Arturo Sandoval
"Above Ground," Norah Jones
"Accidentally in Love," Counting Crows
"Africa," Toto
"Ahead of the Storm," Blue Highway
"All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," Mars Hill Music
"All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," St. Olaf Choir

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Deep Calls Out to Deep

It's been a tough couple months. Personally, and with respect to this ministry. A lot of people walking through some very dark places. Karina and I have family who have wandered some frightening paths over these last few months; I've had conversations revolving around pain and fear and doubt and anger with more than a few people recently.

I don't quite know why this has all happened to so many at the same time. It's too easy to point to the stress of the holidays, the downturn in the economy, the darkness of winter. All I know is that the devil has been sifting those we love, and the wounds have run deep.

It makes for an interesting time in the life of a minister. In walking with others through pain, it forces me to dig deeper, to dwell with painful questions, to spend more time in the interior places, pondering the answers to which there may not be good questions, while at the same time carrying on the public part that is celebrating Advent, rejoicing in the New Year, speaking of Joy and Hope and Light in darkness. Sometimes, keeping a foot in both worlds is tiring.

But this I know: it is perhaps the greatest privilege of my life to walk with people through these dark hills. That I get to sometimes bear the brunt of their anger toward God. That I get forced into places I don't necessarily want to go, to hold somebody's hand when they've lost their way.

I'm listening to a podcast with Dick Staub and Earl Palmer, and Palmer just said "Grace brings us into the present tense." That's what I'm feeling like right now. The past contains too much misery, the future is too unknown, but here we stand, in the present tense, with God's grace enough for right now. Or, to some, the hope that God's grace is enough for right now. We do have a lot of issues "out there," like building projects and budget shortfalls and leaky basements, but for the moment, it seems our call is to remain here, loving and carrying some people through the difficulties and demons that suck at their souls.

God is good. Sometimes, when we can't see it, we need others to be good to us, just to keep us moving, one step at a time, on the road toward glory.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mars Hill Makes the NY Times

"Who Would Jesus Smack Down?"

An insightful article into Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill church he leads. The writer spent significant time exploring the Calvinist underpinnings of Driscoll, and I believe she portrayed it accurately. Nice to see a reporter show decent understanding of obscure theological points.

Page 4 talks a little about the brouhaha in 2007 when Mars Hill fired a couple of associate pastors, one of whom, in my youth, was a strong mentor to me, and a close friend of the family.

If ever I had reason to think Mark Driscoll had gone off the deep end, it was this.

Driscoll told the congregation that he asked advice on how to handle stubborn subordinates from a “mixed martial artist and Ultimate Fighter, good guy” who attends Mars Hill. “His answer was brilliant,” Driscoll reported. “He said, ‘I break their nose.’ ” When one of the renegade elders refused to repent, the church leadership ordered members to shun him. One member complained on an online message board and instantly found his membership privileges suspended. “They are sinning through questioning,” Driscoll preached. John Calvin couldn’t have said it better himself.

Funny, that. I just put the finishing touches on tomorrow's sermon, and spent some time pondering these two texts:

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

"Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
- Mark 10:43-45

What was that again about "not lording it over those entrusted to you?" Oh, yeah.

And where is questioning your leaders listed as a sin in the Bible?

If you want my opinion on who Jesus would smack down, well. . .I'd better not say here.

In all seriousness, though. . .and I don't mean to be offensive. . .and I know some of you attend Mars Hill and respect MD, so take this question as one who is not trying to accuse but who is truly curious - at what point do you cease being a church and become instead a cult? Isn't it just about the time the leader starts threatening people who disagree, start treating faithful servants who just happen to be a little cautious as outcasts, making jokes in front of the church about breaking their noses? Isn't it just about the time you set yourself up as The One who alone can decide what is right and wrong? In my opinion (which probably isn't worth much) Driscoll is heading down an extremely dangerous path here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday Randomness

- Since we live on a narrow peninsula surrounded by the Puget Sound, flooding is never much of a problem for us, like it is for the folks over in Carnation and Puyallup and Centralia. Still, all the wet weather has affected us. Our church chair and his wife have been trying to get home from Canada since early this week, and are still stuck on the other side of freeways that have been closed. The roof of a gym at Vaughn Elementary School collapsed just before Christmas. And on Wednesday we had 1/2 an inch of water in our church basement, coming up through a "previously unknown fault line" in the concrete. Thankfully, we have wonderful, servant-hearted people in our church, and by last night that mess was pretty much cleaned up.

- The first job I ever had was delivering papers for the Seattle P-I. I began around junior high, and carried the job on through high school, eventually handing it off to my brother. Before that, my grandfather worked as an ad man for the P-I for 39 years. So we've always been a newspaper family, and we've always been a P-I family. Yesterday, the story broke that the P-I may be put up for sale, with the thought that nobody will purchase it, and thus, within 30 days, will close for good, leaving Seattle with The Times as its sole major newspaper (The Stranger doesn't count). I would be sad to see it go.

- A headline just appeared stating that sometime today Boeing is going to anounce a plan to lay off 4,000 people. My brother-in-law works for Boeing. This might not be good.

- That obnoxious photo box on the local paper's website leads me to believe it must be awards season again. Pictures of Paris Hilton (are people still enthralled by her?), Ann Hathaway (did I mention how much I didn't like "Rachel Getting Married"?) and the rest. A couple years ago I made a conscious effort to distance myself from celebrity culture. And I resent the way it keeps trying to push its way back into my life. But. . .if you're interested in some reviews of the movies that seem to be getting all the awards buzz, go check out the blog of Barbara Nicolosi. She doesn't shy away from having an opinion.

- What I've been listening to lately:

She may just be the successor to Alison Krauss' crown. To be so talented at 16. . .and from all reports, she's a sweet kid, too. Why is it that artists like Sierra get scant attention, while MixMaster Sledge and the Sexual Perverts get the multi-million dollar contracts and MTV airtime? Rhetorical question, there. If you want a taste, go watch this.

- Good Quote: "Indeed, having people who walk and work and live alongside us, people whom we call 'holy friends,' is indispensable to resurrecting excellence in Christian life. We all need holy friends in our own lives, and we are called to be holy friends to others. We are also called to show hospitality to strangers and to love our enemies, practices that help us discover the grace of navigating relationships in the light of God's friendship with the world, and with each of us, in Jesus Christ. In the midst of sin and brokenness, we discover through hospitality and searching love that strangers and even enemies can become holy friends." L. Gregory Jones and Kevin r. Armstrong, in Resurrecting Excellence

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Every Day I Have This Choice

My left eye has healed to the place where it can focus on close-up objects. I can actually read with that eye, so long as the book is within a foot or so. Better yet, it has healed enough that I can see relatively decently when I put on my glasses, which is a little weird, since the prescription of those glasses was made back when I had the old cornea.

However, the glasses make vision possible, even though they don't make my sight crystal-clear.

So, this is my choice every morning:

1. Wear a contact in my right eye. This gives me perfect vision in the right eye, but leaves the left eye quite blurry and unfocused. Thus, I pretty much see out of only one eye. But I see perfectly out of that one eye.

2. Wear glasses, which gives me half-way decent vision out of both eyes.

So which is better? To see perfect out of one, or somewhat decently out of both?

And then, of course, the tasks which lay before me influence the decision. Driving somewhere? Or reading and computer work? Preaching? Or playing music?

Either way, I still end up with a headache. But, I guess the good thing is, we're making progress.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Book Review: A Faith And Culture Devotional

Kelly Munroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington want to stretch your brain. They want you to think broadly about the intersection between faith and the world in which we live. To that end, they've delivered the Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings in Art, Science, and Life.

The premise is simple enough. Kelly and Lael have searched the archives of Christian thinking , and have pulled out writings of note, organizing them into seven different categories: Bible and Theology, History, Philosophy, Science, Literature, Arts, and Contemporary culture. These are then presented in the devotional, complete with questions for reflection and discussion, and biblical references to shed further light on the topic.

The devotional is set up up to last 15 weeks, with readings from a different category for each day of the week. Thus, on Monday you'll have a reading from Bible and Theology, on Tuesday a reading from History, on Wednesday you get Philosophy, etc.

The authors whose works are used rum the gamut of popular writers, scientists, theologians, pastors, professors, researchers, and musicians. Some are familiar, others are relatively obscure outside of their fields. You get best-selling author John Eldridge, you get Walter Kaiser, Professor of Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, you get Hugh Ross, astronomer and astrophysicist, you get Guillermo Gonzalez, professor of physics at Grove City College, you get J.P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, you get John Stott and Lee Strobel and Randy Alcorn and R.C. Sproul and Michael Card. You even get Covenanter Scot McKnight. And, just to be honest, you get a healthy dose of Kelly Kullberg and Lael Arrington, the editors of the devotional.

The topics range across a wide spectrum. Some of the daily titles include:
- Sex, intimacy, and worship
- The Bible and its Influence of Literary Arts
- DNA: The Beauty and Intelligence of the Designer
- The Strange Small World of Quantum Mechanics
- Jesus' Resurrection: When Truth Confronts our Worst Suffering
- The Secret Gospels
- The Small and the Big Gospel
- The Council of Nicaea: The Voice Beneath the Altar
- Ziegenbalg: India's First Missionary
- Belief, Knowledge, and Truth
- Moral and Ethical Relativism
- Theodicy
- The Periodic Table of the Elements
- Vincent Van Gogh and Seeing
- The Impressionists
- Postmodern Architecture
- U2
- Bob Dylan: Slow Train Coming
- Burning Man

Get the idea? There's something in here to stretch everybody.

The strength of this devotional is in that breadth - every day, you ought to be challenged with something new. Yet each topic is confined to a mere few pages, thus the reader isn't overwhelmed with reams of information on the topic - just enough to get you thinking. The editors have helpfully suggested scriptures that speak to the topic, thus tying everything back to the Word. The questions at the end of each day would be suitible for mulling over on your commute, or sitting in a small group and discussing into the night.

As to weaknesses? Some might point out that "devotional" usually means The Word - beginning with the Bible and moving outward, rather than beginning "out there" and then eventually getting around to scripture. If this book is meant to be primary material for time spent with God, I would have hoped the Scriptures led the discussion, rather than coming in at the very last moment. And, of course, in a book with as many sources as this, there are bound to be authors who the reader isn't going to enjoy. Scanning the list, I quickly found a few on who've been taken off my "people I want to read" list. The premise of this book is "Deep thinking by great minds." Quite often, I don't equate "best-selling Christian author" with "Great Mind." Perhaps the editors relied just a little too much on the shelves of the Christian bookstore for their ideas.

But. . .I plan on continuing to work my way through this book, and would gladly recommend it to anybody and everybody looking for some new spice to throw into the stew. If your reading list has become a little one-dimensional, if your intellectual life has grown stagnant, then please, do pick up A Faith and Culture Devotional and allow your mind and soul to be stretched anew.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Looking for Epiphany

It's just been. . .interesting lately. Mostly good, but a drain on the nervous system. Both Karina and I are dealing with extended family 'issues' that take a lot of time and energy. The holidays were really quite wonderful, but draining, as is always the case. Add to that the snowstorms, and the havoc that created on school and work schedules, the last-minute changes to worship services, the hair-raising trips into town along icy roads. Plus our own activities - birthday parties, a cross-country skiing trip, time spent with family and friends, concerts and zoo trips and snow dates. It honestly feels like I haven't' "been to work" in a month.

What I could use for Epiphany is a little bit more of "normal."